Christmas in Dream Valley 1999
written by Tabby and Sugarberry

Tabby was not too surprised when her mother showed up on her porch one Saturday afternoon. It was customary for her relatives to show up unexpectedly at her house. However, as she stared at the pastel blue unicorn waiting outside the door with a suitcase held in her hoof, it began to set-in on Tabby what a visit from her mother meant. In the end, she just screamed.

All this had taken place in about three seconds. The dignified Agatha Fershund, however, was not phased by her daughter's reaction. "Now, Tabitha, I didn't alarm you, did I? I meant to call before arriving, but I was never able to," Agatha said promptly, brushing past Tabby and entering the house. "Yes, I suppose this is a nice enough place. I wouldn't think it's large enough, however--"

"What are you doing here, Mom?" Tabby was finally able to say. "And why?"

"It is only a few weeks before Christmas, and it has been so long since I've been to Dream Valley after moving to Italy," Agatha explained. "I thought I'd visit for the holiday season. I knew you wouldn't mind having me. You don't, do you?"

"That depends..." Tabby said slowly.

Agatha continued on further into the house, ignoring Tabby's last remark. "Is Tamara home? You must inform her of my arrival."

"She's in her room," Tabby supplied. "I'll go get her." Before Agatha could comment further, Tabby had scurried up the stairs and threw open Tamara's bedroom door. "Tamara! We've got company!"

"Oh, Tabby, you just made me smudge my eyeshadow," Tamara scowled, reaching for a Kleenex. "What was that you just said?"

"Mom has just shown up unannounced on my doorstep, much the same way you did," Tabby filled in quickly. "She's staying for Christmas, and I just hope she's not going to make my life miserable!"

"Aunt Agatha?" Tamara squealed, abruptly standing up from her chair. "She's here? Now? Oh, this is so exciting!" She dashed out into the hallway.

"I wish I could share your enthusiasm," Tabby muttered as she followed after.

"Oh, Aunt Agatha, it's so good to see you again!" Tamara exclaimed, running to her relative.

"Tamara, your eyeshadow is smudged," Agatha frowned, inspecting her niece for the first time in years.

"It is?" Tamara gasped. "I thought I'd wiped that off. Ooh-- Tabby!" She promptly fled to the bathroom to get her face properly fixed up.

"While we're waiting for Tamara, why don't you show me to my room?" Agatha suggested cheerfully to Tabby.

"Eh... your room?" Tabby faltered.

"Of course!" Agatha said briskly. "All well-equipped houses should have at least five spare rooms to be prepared for all emergencies."

"My last empty one was taken over by Tamara... all the other rooms have My Little People and stuff in," Tabby said meekly.

A shadow crossed Agatha's face. "You should really do something about that, Tabitha. I suppose the couch will do for me. You do still have a living room in this place, don't you?"

"Oh, excuse that delay, Aunt Agatha," Tamara said breathlessly, coming up on the two, minus the smudged make-up. "Why don't we go to the living room and we can all catch up?"

"Yes, Tabitha was just informing me that I would have to use that as my temporary room," Agatha said. "But I must make allowances. Now, where is it?"

Once everyone was seated around the coffee table and Agatha's suitcase was stashed next to the couch, the conversation began. "Aunt Agatha, first off you have to tell me what you're doing here," Tamara started off.

"I just wanted to visit over the holiday season; nothing in particular," Agatha smiled. "I think I'll stay over New Year's."

"You didn't bring... anyone along, did you?" Tabby asked anxiously.

"That reminds me, Tabitha, have you given any more thought to Guido?" Agatha questioned. "He really is quite charming."

"Mom! I thought you'd given up on that!" Tabby protested.

"I've simply given up hope for Tabby ever getting married," Tamara sniffed. "It's useless trying to convince her."

"We must never give up hope!" Agatha said quickly. "How about you, Tamara? I'm sure you've met up with a handsome stallion by now."

"Oh, yes, of course," Tamara said dreamily. "There's Tex. You'll really like him when you meet him, Aunt Agatha."

"Tex? I seem to remember that name..." Agatha said thoughtfully.

"He's the one that put those awful worms in my lunchbox in sixth grade," Tabby supplied.

"That's right!" Agatha recalled. "What's he doing for a living now?"

"He runs a cool salsa shop," Tamara said excitedly. "I'll have to show you that, too. I even got to help him out a few times--"

"A salsa shop? Is that the tacky-looking place I saw with the large red pepper out front?" Agatha said, horrified.

"Well-- yes," Tamara said, slightly confused by her aunt's reaction. "He does sell mild salsas, too, if you're concerned about that..."

"I can't believe you are being seen with the lowly owner of a local salsa shop," Agatha said indignantly. "It's a disgrace to the family name!"

Tamara shrunk back in her chair. "Really, just wait'll you meet him..."

"Oh, Mom, you won't like him any better then," Tabby said quickly, who was rather pleased with how things were going now. "He's really quite hard to get along with."

"We will just have to see..." Agatha murmured. "It's so hard keeping you girls in line when I'm not around."

"He's not hard to get along with at all," Tamara interjected. "Tabby, you're wrong; and Aunt Agatha, you'll understand when you meet him."

"Like I said, Tamara, we'll see," Agatha said firmly. "And now, Tabitha, what are we going to do with you?"

"What do you mean by that?" Tabby gulped.

"There must be plenty of good-looking stallions around town," Agatha prodded. "If you can't get along with Guido, you must pick someone else out."

"Oh, Aunt Agatha, she's been seeing Thomas for the past year now," Tamara said impatiently. "But there's still no hope for her getting married."

"It hasn't been a year yet," Tabby snapped, but quickly recoiled when she realized what she'd said. "Eh... that is..."

"Of course, she never fully admits it," Tamara continued. "Like you're seeing now."

"I've never been informed of this Thomas before," Agatha said, eyeing her daughter. "Who is he, Tabitha?"

"Well... he runs the vet clinic in Dream Valley now," Tabby said slowly.

"Ah-hah! Is he the one that run you out of business?" Agatha queried.

"Eh... yes..."

"And how successful is his clinic?"

"Pretty successful, I guess... better than mine was..."

"Hmm, I'm so glad I found out about this," Agatha said thoughtfully. "How often do you see him, Tabitha?"

"Oh... sometimes..."

"Hah! ‘Sometimes'!" Tamara laughed. "They're always at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe together. Or at the... really-fancy-restaurant-place-thing. Or--"

"How nice!" Agatha said delightedly. "I can't wait to find out about all your friends, Tabitha."

"You can meet Sugarberry and Chocolate Chip at supper tonight," Tabby said eagerly.

"Are you having them over this evening?" Agatha questioned.

"Oh, no! I always eat supper at Sugarberry's," Tabby said matter-of-factly.

"Sugarberry was always so nice to you," Agatha sighed. "But don't you think you should make your own meals?"

"Of course not," Tabby said in dismissal. "I can't cook a thing to save my name."

"It's true," Tamara added.

"Tabitha! You can't cook?" Agatha gasped. "Certainly, I have my maids to do that, but I know how to fix a meal myself. We'll have to do something about this, as well!"

"I hate cooking," Tabby interjected. "It's time-consuming. And then there's the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe for dessert."

"That's all beside the point," Agatha declared. "I'm just going to have to teach you."

"But why?" Tabby wailed.

"When you get married--"

"--she won't," Tamara interrupted.

"--you will have to know," Agatha finished. "But we can save cooking lessons for later. We'll have plenty of time. But, for tonight, I suppose we can visit Sugarberry. Who is that Chocolate Chip pony you mentioned? And is that pirate Barnacle still around? How are the princesses of the Royal Paradise doing? Do you still have that cat of yours-- Callie, is it? And--"

* * *

"Mrs. Fershund, I just can't believe you're actually here in Dream Valley!" Sugarberry gasped, her eyes open wide, after the story had been explained to her and Chocolate Chip.

"Oh, please, call me Agatha," Agatha smiled dazzlingly. "And it's so good to be here."

"If I'd known, I would have prepared something better for supper," Sugarberry apologized.

"Besides Hamburger Helper," Tabby grimaced as she peered into her friend's kitchen.

"Never mind about that, Sugarberry," Agatha said quickly. "It's kind enough of you to do the cooking for Tabitha." She glanced over at her daughter disapprovingly.

"We're used to Tabby coming over here every night," Chocolate Chip laughed. She was boarding with Sugarberry while attending Pony Pride University.

"That may be, but I'm still going to teach her to use her own kitchen while I'm here," Agatha said. "Even Tamara can fend for herself-- and not just on cherry pie filling."

"What did you think of Tarquin, Mom?" Tabby asked brightly, changing the subject.

"He's rather charming, for a Pokèmon," Agatha declared. "I really must learn more about those things."

"Oh, I can teach you everything," Tabby said enthusiastically.

"You'd better be able to; you're the Pokèmon nurse," Sugarberry pointed out.

"I'd kinda like to get a Togepi if I ever get a Pokèmon for myself," Chocolate Chip said thoughtfully.

"Togepi? But it's so... unsettling," Tabby said slowly.

"However," Agatha said firmly, ending the conversation on Pokèmon, "those lessons will have to wait until the more important matters are attended to."

"Like getting me married," Tabby muttered under her breath.

"Precisely," Agatha said brightly, overhearing her daughter's remark.

"Well, shall we sit down to eat?" Sugarberry suggested.

Seated around the table, the four ponies were too busily occupied with talking to pay much attention to the meal. "So, you just got here this afternoon, Agatha?" Sugarberry queried.

"Correct," Agatha nodded. "I would have caught an earlier flight, but it just wasn't possible."

"Well, it's still two weeks before Christmas," Chocolate Chip pointed out.

"Yes, but I want to spend every possible second with Tabby and her friends," Agatha declared.

"Aww," Sugarberry sighed happily.

She wants to spend every possible second getting me married, Tabby figured to herself.

Their conversation progressed onto several more topics, but the time to leave finally arrived. "And, Sugarberry, it's been lovely talking to you and Chocolate Chip, and thank you very much for the meal," Agatha started, pushing back her chair. "But Tabitha and I should go back to her house now to prepare for the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe."

"Of course," Sugarberry smiled. "I'll be there, too, so we'll probably run into each other later."

"You've still got to tell me more about Italy, Agatha," Chocolate Chip added.

"We have to wash the dishes, so you'll get there before us, Tabby," Sugarberry winked.

"Dishes?" Agatha's eyes flew open. "Why, Sugarberry--"

"Oh, that's fine," Sugarberry assured her. "Chocolate Chip and I will do okay. You go along on your way."

"Wonderful," Tabby said weakly, not sure whether she would rather endure dish-drying with Sugarberry or a make-over by her mother.

* * *

"Tabby, your mane is lop-sided!" Agatha protested as she primped over Tabby's appearance in preparation for the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe.

"Lop-sided?" Tabby questioned, cocking her head.

"And your necklace is hanging crookedly," Agatha frowned as she adjusted the silver chain around her daughter's neck.

"It's just the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, Mom," Tabby said helplessly. "There's no need for jewelry."

"Now, Tabitha," Agatha said seriously. "Your father gave me this necklace after a trip involving the flying saucer men. Or was it the Incan Yetis? Wait, no, something to do with Loch Ness--"

"That's fascinating," Tabby murmured, looking down at the chain with newfound respect. She'd never known her father, as he was lost on a hiking expedition in the Himalaya Mountains shortly before she was born. She only knew him through the tales her mother told her.

"I suppose you look satisfactory now," Agatha said critically after messing with Tabby's mane.

"You didn't make this much of a fuss when we went over to Sugarberry's," Tabby pointed out.

"There were no young stallions at Sugarberry's house," Agatha said immediately.

"You're not really going to teach me to cook, are you?" Tabby asked hesitantly after a moment's silence.

Agatha raised her eyebrows. "Of course I am! You need the training."

"I'll fail. You'll see," Tabby said confidently.

"Tabitha, we must get to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe," Agatha urged, changing the subject. "Tamara is ahead of us, and I must find out more about this Tex, as well as your Thomas."

Tabby lifted her head up into the air in order to look unconcerned. "Of course, Mom." She swiftly thrust open her front door and walked off into the dark evening.

"Tabitha, be sure to walk with your hooves pointing outwards!" Agatha called after her as she locked the door up.

* * *

"Well, here we are," Tabby commented, stopping as they reached the building of the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe.

"It doesn't look much different from before," Agatha said, scrutinizing the establishment. "I still remember the time after we got married when Hubert brought me here..." she trailed off with a starry look in her eyes.

"Come on, we might as well go inside," Tabby prodded. "It's no use standing out here all night."

"Oh, yes, of course." Agatha came out of her daydream and followed Tabby through the door. "I suppose you still always insist upon having a strawberry sundae, Tabitha."

"Obviously," Tabby said promptly. "Nothing can compare to a strawberry sundae."

"Just like Hubert," Agatha commented.

"Another relative of yours visiting, Tabby?" a voice queried from behind.

Tabby whirled around. She knew that voice. "Oh! Thomas!" she exclaimed. "Well, eh, yes, actually--"

"I'm Agatha Fershund," Agatha said promptly, extending her hoof to the white unicorn. "Tabitha's mother."

"I could see the family resemblance," Thomas said, shaking Agatha's hoof, "though it's not as striking as between Tabby and Tamara. I'm Thomas, by the way, Mrs. Fershund."

"Thomas? Wonderful," Agatha said, smiling triumphantly to herself and quickly taking hold of the conversation. "I have heard mention of you."

"What brings you to Dream Valley?" Thomas questioned.

"Just the holidays," Agatha laughed. "I thought it'd be wonderful to come here for a change, especially after Tabitha's visit earlier this year."

"She just got here this afternoon," Tabby put in quickly. It was hard even for Tabby to contribute to a conversation once her mother got into it.

"Unexpectedly, just like Tamara?" Thomas winked. "It is fascinating to be able to meet your mother, Tabby."

"Why don't we all order and sit down?" Agatha suggested. "I can't wait to acquaint myself with Tabby's friends."

After the three were seated, Tabby absentmindedly stirred a spoon through her strawberry sundae as Agatha took hold of the conversation. Man, it is only two weeks until Christmas, Tabby mused, as if realizing it for the first time. And I don't have a single present picked out for anybody.

"It was so kind of you to pay for our orders, Thomas," Agatha commented.

"Oh, it was nothing for two lovely laides such as yourselves," Thomas said in dismissal.

Last year I was off in Atlantis around this time, Tabby figured to herself. I don't think I bothered with presents then.

"And you work as a veterinarian?" Agatha continued. "Is it a good business?"

"It is the only clinic of its kind in Dream Valley, so I have a lot of pets to attend to," Thomas pointed out. "Though it was easier before Tabby ran of to become the Pokèmon nurse," he added cheerfully, glancing in her direction.

"Probably the moonstone, but I'm not sure," Tabby said thoughtfully, staring out the window. "Oh! Excuse me! I was just pondering over the secrets of Atlantis," she explained. "What was that you said?"

"I was just commenting that you make a better vet than a Pokèmon nurse," Thomas said innocently.

Tabby looked indignant. "I make a better Pokèmon nurse than anyone else," she sniffed.

"I'm just kidding, Tabby. You know that," Thomas apologized.

"Whatever the case, your vet clinic is a well-to-do business?" Agatha directed at Thomas.

"As well-to-do as Tabby's status at the Pokèmon Center," Thomas decided.

Agatha glanced suspiciously at her daughter. "Your job is well-paying, isn't it, Tabitha?"

"I guess so," Tabby said after a pause. "Except that I spend most of it on My Little People."

Agatha raised her eyebrows. "Considering the money you put into those things, I'll assume that you mean it is a good job."

"You still have to see my collection, Mom," Tabby said eagerly. "I simply adore showing off all my My Little People."

"But you could be devoting your time to doing more valuable things than buying toys," Agatha frowned slightly.

"Are you saying that I should get rid of my collection?" Tabby's eyes flashed as she assumed a standing position.

"Calm down, Tabby," Thomas advised. "I'm sure she doesn't mean anything by it."

"No, of course not," Agatha said quickly. "But you could, for example, devote some of your paycheck to--"

"Oh, Aunt Agatha, there you are!" Tamara's voice exclaimed as she slid into the booth, with Tex right next to her. "Aunt Agatha, this is Tex, the owner of the salsa shop; and Tex, this is my aunt, Agatha."

Agatha looked up at this comment. "So, Tamara, this is Tex," she said critically.

"Tamara told me about your arrival," Tex explained. "Pleased to meet you."

"I'm sure," Agatha murmured. "Tex, you're the salsa shop owner?"

"That's right," Tex nodded. "It's always been my dream in life to own such a place."

"And I help him out there sometimes," Tamara added. "It's really a nice establishment."

"You could always set your dreams higher," Agatha suggested, smiling slightly, so her remark could be taken as an innocent joke-- not the way she had meant it to herself.

"Ah... yes," Tex grinned uneasily. "So, what do you think of Dream Valley after your long absence, Agatha?"

"The city itself is fine," Agatha said after a pause, "but I'm not so sure about the decisions Tamara is making in her life."

Tabby and Thomas during this time had been siting in silence and watching the scene before them. "The last time I saw her like this," Tabby commented with a look of enjoyment in her eyes, "was when Mom found out about the worms Tex had placed in my lunchbox."

"Yes, the worm incident," Agatha said coolly, overhearing Tabby's remark. "In fact, I hate worms even worse than Tabitha does."

"Aunt Agatha--" Tamara started.

"Please! I've tried to clear my name of that," Tex said pleadingly.

"But everybody knows you did do it," Tabby pointed out.

"I know I did it," Tex stuttered, "what I meant was--"

"It isn't very enjoyable spending an afternoon-- and part of the evening-- in the principal's office discussing worms," Agatha continued.

"He's tried to make it up to everyone involved," Tamara said in defense.

"Hah!" Tabby laughed. "All Tex has ever done in that regard is mumble something about ‘forgiveness'."

"But I was telling the truth," Tex persisted.

"For once, Tabitha has the right idea about something," Agatha said snobbishly.

"Tabby's wrong! Aunt Agatha, you're wrong!" Tamara wailed.

"Agatha, tell me one thing I can do to gain your forgiveness, and I'll do it," Tex said fervently.

"Tsk, tsk," Tabby said, shaking her head. "Now you're even beginning to sound like--"

"There's nothing you can do, Tex," Agatha said loftily. "You had no right to stick worms in Tabitha's lunchbox."

"He obviously had no discipline," Tabby nodded knowledgeably. "And still doesn't."

"Exactly," Agatha agreed. "Much unlike my Tabitha."

Tex's eyes swiveled from Agatha to Tabby and back again, and finally gave them a weak smile. "Um, well, you know," he said abruptly, jumping up from his seat. "I just remembered something I have to get done. I'll, um, see you all later." Realizing that resistance was futile, he fled from the shop.

Tamara threw her cousin and aunt a last disapproving glance, and then ran off after him. Agatha and Tabby said for several moments in a smug silence.

Thomas was the first to say anything. "Even Tex is no match for two Fershunds," he said in awe.

* * *

"Lasagne?" Tabby asked skeptically, staring at the recipe card her mother had handed her.

"That's correct," Agatha nodded. It was the next afternoon, and she was determined to start Tabby on her cooking lessons.

"But doesn't that take a long time?" Tabby prodded.

"Yes, but the experience will be worth it," Agatha said firmly, trotting on into the kitchen. "Now, where do you keep your pots and pans?"

"Oh... somewhere," Tabby said vaguely, strolling in after Agatha.

Agatha began opening cupboard doors. "Oh, here they are!" she exclaimed, surveying the stack of metal dishes. "This one should do--" She was cut off as she pulled down the first pan and glanced inside it. "Why, Tabitha! This is absolutely filthy with dust!"

"Hmm." Tabby came over and looked at the pot for herself. "I guess it has been awhile since I used any of those."

"However does Tamara get by?" Agatha queried.

"Oh, I think she just buys microwaveable stuff," Tabby said, unconcerned. "So what're we going to cook in this thing?"

"We're not cooking anything in it yet," Agatha said, promptly walking over to the sink. "The dishes we're going to use must all be washed first if we want this lasagne to be sanitary."

"O-o-oh," Tabby nodded. "You wash; I'll dry." She instinctively took her place next to the dishdrainer, towel in hoof, while Agatha filled the sink.

"Have you seen Tamara at all today?" Agatha queried, placing the first dish into the water.

"No, not really," Tabby shook her head after a moment in thought. "Do you suppose we upset her last night?"

"Probably," Agatha said knowledgeably, "but she must learn sooner or later that Tex is not worthy of her companionship."

"That's exactly what I was thinking," Tabby nodded vigorously, wiping her towel around the pan Agatha handed her.

"I'll have to talk to Tamara again this evening," Agatha mused. "That should give her sufficient time to cool down."

"I always knew Tex was trouble since the first time I laid eyes on him in sixth grade," Tabby said venomously, nearly dropping the pan she was holding as her thoughts got carried away.

"Yes, I'm really disappointed that Tamara got mixed-up with him," Agatha sighed. "I can't imagine what her parents think. Do they keep in contact with her? It's so surprising that you actually made a better decision in this department than your cousin did."

"Really?" Tabby gasped. To get her mother's approval on anything was practically a miracle.

"Oh, yes," Agatha affirmed. "Thomas is quite charming-- and successful, too, by the sounds of it. Whereas Tex, on the other hoof, is--"

"Despicable," Tabby filled in for her.

"Right," Agatha continued. "No pony of well-breeding would have stooped so low as to put worms in anyone's lunchbox."

"Weed-o would have," Tabby said absentmindedly.

"I'd nearly forgotten about Guide since I arrived here," Agatha laughed. "There's been too much to do."

"He's easy to forget," Tabby offered.

"Actually, it's a good thing you reminded me of him. I'm still going to save him for you for the present moment," Agatha decided.

"Why, Mom? I can't stand him," Tabby protested.

"You'll need someone to fall back on if you and Thomas ever break up," Agatha advised. "I don't believe he'd do such a thing, but you..."

"Mom!" Tabby said indignantly.

"Well, anyhow, we have finished washing everything we'll need," Agatha declared, drying her hooves off.

"Bi-i-ig fun," Tabby mumbled under her breath as she prepared herself for the onslaught of instructions.

The actual fixing of the lasagne did not go so well. First, Tabby nibbled down all the grated cheese while waiting for the noodles to cook; and then she let those cook too long, so they simply fell apart. She managed to burn the hamburger; and it would seem that cutting an onion up wouldn't be too hard, but Tabby proved that wrong. She immediately cut her hoof on the knife, and that caused her to drop most of the onion slices on the floor, rendering them useless.

Upon viewing the finished disaster, Agatha simply said, "You'll do better next time."

* * *

"AHHH! HELP ME! HELP ME-E-E-E-E!" Tabby screamed as she ran at top speed into the Pokèmon Center the next morning.

After the initial shock, Tarquin walked over and inspected his trainer, who was now cowering under the computer desk. "What happened this time, Tabby?"

"You must protect me with your life against that thing outside, Tarquin," Tabby said fervently.

Tarquin calmly turned around and walked towards the main door. He knew by now that Tabby was very prone to overreacting. This sort of thing had happened a million times before.

The Meowth opened the glass-plated door and peered around. "Is that all?" he mused as he noticed the figure standing on the steps.

Tabby, meanwhile, had ventured out from under the desk and was readjusting her nurse's cap. "Tarkie, is it gone yet?" she asked anxiously.

Tarquin stayed outside several more moments, apparently acquainting himself with the villain that had so frightened Tabby. Finally, he came back in, with the other creature following.

"It's just a Mr. Mime," Tarquin explained. "He needs help."

"Mr. Mime," the short somewhat human-like Pokèmon agreed.

At this, Tabby let out another ear-splitting screech. "NO-O-O! TARQUIN, THAT WAS MY POINT! YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO EVICT IT FROM THE PROPERTY!"

"Tabby?" Tarquin queried, waiting until she had calmed down.

"I don't like Mr. Mimes," Tabby whispered, slowly dropping to the floor. "I don't like mimes of any kind. It's creepy, Tarquin."

"Mime?" The Mr. Mime stared down at the floor.

"Don't worry," Tarquin instructed the other Pokèmon, and then turned back to Tabby. "You can't be scared of him. You're a Pokèmon nurse," he pointed out. "You can't leave Mr. Mimes out."

"But-- but--" Tabby faltered, backing farther into the room. "It's a mime. It's as bad as giant squid!"

"Just wait'll someone brings in a Tentacruel," Tarquin muttered under his breath.

Tabby's eyes opened wide. "I'd never even thought of that! Tentacruels do look like squid! Oh no-o-o-o-o!"

"Tabby," Tarquin said sharply, "this Mr. Mime has been abandoned right before Christmas, and he came here for help. If you turn him down, who knows what it'll do to your reputation?"

Tabby stared into Tarquin's stormy eyes, and began to regret what she had said. She hated having him mad at her. Using all the energy she could muster, she pulled herself over to the main counter, where the two Pokèmon were waiting. "What's the full story?"

"Mister mime, mime! Mime, mime, mister mime!" Mr. Mime began rattling off, throwing his hands out in the air to elaborate.

"His trainer was too busy over the holiday season, and let him go to fend for himself," Tarquin translated.

"Mime, mister mime," Mr. Mime added.

"But he managed to get to Dream Valley, and saw the Pokèmon Center," Tarquin continued. "He knew there'd be someone who could do something for him here." He glanced at Tabby.

"Mime," Mr. Mime affirmed.

"Well," Tabby gulped. "Well, I guess I'll check you over for any injuries." She began striding across the room towards the examination table.

A smile spread across Mr. Mime's face. "Mime!" He obediently followed Tabby and jumped up on the counter. Tarquin stood by to ensure that Tabby didn't do anything rash.

Tabby was cautious as she inspected the Pokèmon, but she had to admit that he was cooperative. Her fear of mimes had been firmly installed in her since she was a baby pony, but in her career as a Pokèmon nurse, she hadn't had to worry about treating a Mr. Mime... before now.

"Oh, poor thing, you've got a cut," Tabby murmured before realizing what she had said. "That is-- I'll put some ointment on it." She reached for the tube and lathered the cream onto Mr. Mime's shoulder.

"Mister mime!" he said brightly. "Mister mime!"

"But that's all," Tabby continued. "You're free to go now." She turned around and began heading out of the room.

"Mime..." Mr. Mime said slowly, his face looking a bit dejected.

"Tabby," Tarquin said after a pause, "it would be appreciated if you'd let him stay here until he can find a new trainer."

"Mime," Mr. Mime clarified, nodding.

"Well... I suppose there's room for him," Tabby said thoughtfully. "He can just go in a PokèBall. Tarquin, you--"

"Mime! Mister mime!" Mr. Mime exclaimed as he jumped down off the counter and ran towards Tabby. Throwing his arms around her front legs, he exclaimed, "Mime!"

Tabby stared down at him, and her heart began to slowly melt. Her face softened. "Very well. I can take you."

"Mime!" Mr. Mime smiled.

"Then I'll put you in a PokèBall and you can go with the other Pokèmon needing homes," Tabby said quickly, impulsively bending down and picking up the Mr. Mime.

Tarquin looked on in approval. "Are you sure your old trainer won't want you back?" he queried.

"Mister... mime," Mr. Mime said slowly and mysteriously.

"Well, anyhow," Tabby went on, reaching for a PokèBall. "You can just get in this PokèBall here--"

"Mime!" Mr. Mime said firmly, jumping down from Tabby's grasp and avoiding the beam of light from the ball.

Tabby looked puzzled. "What, you don't like PokèBalls?"

"M-m-mime..." Mr. Mime said indecisively.

And just then, the doors to the Pokèmon Center opened and a human figure strode in on the scene. "The problem isn't with the PokèBall, miss," he said simply. "My Mr. Mime has just been doing some good miming for me."

"Your Mr. Mime?" Tabby echoed. "But... but didn't you abandon him?"

"Oh, no, of course not," the man said. "That was simply a story I made up. I sent him here to test you."

"Test me on what? And say..." Tabby stared at the man's face. She had seen this guy before... she knew him... "That's right! You're that dude that gave me that treasure map!" she exclaimed. Now she remembered. Months back, when she was still working as a veterinarian, this same person had come into the clinic. Rather mysterious, he had ended up paying with a ancient map that supposedly led to a great treasure.

"You remember, then?" the man smiled. "The reason I sent Mr. Mime here was to test your abilities as a Pokèmon nurse, and to see if you could overcome your fear of mimes."

"Wait a second!" Tabby said suspiciously. "Just how did you know I don't like mimes?"

"There are ways of finding out," the man said cryptically. "However, the main thing is that you have passed the test."

"You don't say..." Tabby murmured. She and Tarquin were both looking at each other with blank faces.

"And, as a result, Mr. Mime is yours to keep," the man continued. "Consider him a Christmas present from me."

"Mr. Mime? Mine?" Tabby echoed.

"Mime! Mime!" Mr. Mime said gleefully, running back over to Tabby.

"But-- who are you?" Tabby demanded of the man. "Where do you come from? What--"

"Perhaps you will find out someday," he said simply. "Farewell." With that, he disappeared out the door.

Tabby blinked several times. "I guess I've got a Mr. Mime."

"Guess so," Tarquin agreed.

"Mister mime!" Mr. Mime exclaimed.

"You're really rather cute," Tabby murmured, staring down at Mr. Mime. "Once I get used to you, that is."

"You see, Tabby, you wouldn't have ended up with him if you'd ignored him," Tarquin pointed out.

"Mime," Mr. Mime agreed.

"Oh, it will be nice having a Mr. Mime," Tabby sighed blissfully. "But what is up with that strange guy? I've gotten a treasure map and a Pokèmon out of him, but still nobody knows who he is."

"You must know something about him," Tarquin said, looking at Mr. Mime.

Mr. Mime just smiled to himself and shook his head. "Mime, mime!"

"Someday he'll reveal himself again," Tabby said decisively. "And then I'll find out what he's up to."

"Or maybe you'll just get another Pokèmon," Tarquin suggested.

"True," Tabby nodded. "Which wouldn't be half bad, either. But something tells me he's not going to show up again in the near future..."

"Mister mime," was all Mr. Mime had to say on the topic.

* * *

"Oh, you're going to New Pony for your Christmas shopping?" Tamara asked in a rather dull tone as Tiffany explained to her about her latest plan that evening.

"Yes!" Tiffany clarified. "I booked a flight for tomorrow morning, and I'll get back on Friday. There just aren't any decent gifts to be found in this town."

"I could really stand to get out of ‘this town' for awhile, too," Tamra grimaced.

"Really? Why's that?" Tiffany's ears perked up at the sound of regret in Tamara's voice. "Is there something I don't know?" She had been making preparations for Christmas the past few days, and hadn't had much time for gossip.

"Aunt Agatha thinks I should break up with Tex," Tamara said in a huffy voice. "It's getting annoying."

Tiffany looked at her sympathetically. "That's unfortunate. I still must stop in and see Mrs. Fershund. If she lives in Italy, she ought to know a lot about the latest fashions there."

"Just be careful if she decides Toby is too poor to be seen with you," Tamara said sarcastically.

"Well, as rich as he should be-- being a doctor and all-- he still hasn't given me any engagement ring," Tiffany sniffed.

"Anyway, I'm just getting sick of all this talk from Aunt Agatha," Tamara fumed. " ‘He's just a lowly salsa shop owner. You're so much more sophisticated than he is. He doesn't come from a rich family,' " she mimicked.

"Why don't you just come with me to New Pony?" Tiffany suggested.

Tamara's eyes opened wide at the prospect, but they quickly dimmed. "Could I get a plane ticket this late?"

"As a matter of fact, I bought two," Tiffany continued. "At first Dawn was going to go with me, but then she decided not to because she just met a ‘really cool stallion' from Friendship Gardens."

"So you mean...?" Tamara began.

"I'll let you use my extra ticket," Tiffany offered. "It'll help you get your mind off the situation with Tex."

"Oh, that'll be great, Tiffany!" Tamara exclaimed. "I'll owe you one for this!"

"Just pack your bags and meet me at the airport at eight o' clock tomorrow morning," Tiffany instructed.

"I'll be there!"

* * *

"This was a good idea to come here Christmas shopping," Tamara bubbled over excitedly as she and Tiffany walked through the crowded streets of New Pony. After they had checked in at their hotel, they had gone out in search of some really expensive gifts for their friends.

"Only I don't know what to get Toby yet," Tiffany frowned. "You'd think there'd be something that would work for him in one of these stores."

"Well, it wasn't that hard for me," Tamara reflected. "It was simply good luck that we stumbled across that display of designer cowboy hats."

"Tex already has a good supply of cowboy hats," Tiffany pointed out.

"But not a designer one like this," Tamara defended herself, but then sighed. "You're right. But there's nothing else to get him. Do you think Aunt Agatha might be right about him?"

"I wonder if I could get a diamond-studded stethoscope anywhere," Tiffany murmured to herself. "Oh! What was that, Tamara?"

"Do you suppose Tex is too lower-class for me?" Tamara said thoughtfully.

"Well, I'm sure he makes less than Toby does," Tiffany said after a pause. "But even what Toby makes doesn't seem to be enough to afford a diamond ring."

"I'll worry about it later," Tamara said, wiping the memory from her mind. "We should really find a place to eat supper. It's getting late in the day."

"That looks like an extra-expensive restaurant over there," Tiffany commented, pointing across the street.

"Perfect! Let's go!" Tamara readily agreed.

* * *

Later, when Tiffany and Tamara were served and seated at their "extra-expensive" restaurant, the two continued their gossip. "I wonder what Toby's going to get me for Christmas," Tiffany pondered.

"Maybe you'll get your engagement ring," Tamara suggested. "It's traditional."

"Perhaps," Tiffany said thoughtfully. "But I'm not sure if he's ever going to get around to that. That stallion can be so annoying at times!"

"Just like Tex," Tamara sighed, sobering.

The two sat in silence for several moments, moping over their luck. They were positive they were the worst-off mares in all of Ponyland... until a new voice greeted their ears.

"Why, Princess Tiffany, is that you?"

Tiffany looked up in surprise at the teal stallion with bright aqua hair that had stopped at their table, until a look of recognition spread across her face. "Jack! I didn't think I'd ever see you here!" she exclaimed, smiling dazzlingly.

"Jack?" Tamara looked puzzlingly at Tiffany.

"Do have a seat," Tiffany said quickly, motioning to the empty chair beside her, and then turned to Tamara for a moment. "I met Jack at one of those governmental affairs last year. I'm obligated to attend, being royalty, you know."

"Wow," Tamara said in awe as Jack seated himself at the table.

" was such a surprise to see you here, Tiffany, but I'd recognize that stunning silver hair of yours a mile away," Jack was saying to the white pegasus.

"Oh, you're too sweet," Tiffany said, batting her eyelashes rapidly.

"Um, Tiffany," Tamara spoke-up, slightly annoyed. "Don't you think you should introduce your friend to me as well?"

"Oh, yes," Tiffany said offhandedly, waving her hoof at Tamara. "Jack, this is one of my friends, Tamara. Now, you--"

"What a pleasure to meet you," Jack said, smiling charmingly at Tamara. "Do you live in Dream Valley as well?"

"I moved there earlier this year," Tamara affirmed. "I'm a breed cat shower." She paused and blushed after realizing her mistake. "That is-- a show breed catter. I mean-- a show cat breeder." She giggled nervously.

"That's fascinating," Jack commented. "And Tiffany, how are you getting on?"

"Oh, just fine," Tiffany said, sighing deeply.

"She's seeing a doctor who lives in Dream Valley," Tamara put in quickly before Jack could show any sympathy.

"You see, Jack," Tiffany began, grinning smugly at Tamara, "we came here in order to find a Christmas present for Tamara's boyfriend."

Tamara looked across the table murderously at Tiffany. "And, of course, Tiffany is looking for a diamond-studded stethoscope for Toby," she said, her voice sugary-sweet.

"They probably don't sell those at every jewelry store," Jack said with a laugh.

"You know I was just joking when I said that, Tamara," Tiffany chided. "I'm not so sure that Toby deserves a present from me, anyway."

"He's not up to standard, is he?" Jack commented.

"Toby is not going to be up to standard," Tiffany sniffed, "until he gives me a diamond ring."

"Oh, Tiffany! He's just waiting for Christmas," Tamara said reproachfully.

"That may be, but matters won't be changed until then," Tiffany retorted. "Oh, Jack, excuse me! Tamara and I have been talking about ourselves and you haven't been able to get a word in. Tell me, what brings you to New Pony?"

"Oh, Christmas shopping as well," Jack said in dismissal.

"For anyone in... particular?" Tiffany asked anxiously.

"To tell you the truth, I was planning on picking out something to send to you," Jack said, winking.

"That's so nice of you," Tiffany cooed.

"I'm making so much money, I couldn't leave you off my Christmas list," Jack explained.

That figures, Tamara thought sarcastically as she took note of Jack's symbol-- a pile of gold coins.

"You should really visit Dream Valley sometime," Tiffany urged. "It'd be so... exciting showing you around town."

"Tiffany, I might have to do that now that you suggested it," Jack said in agreement.

"Oh, yes!" Tamara added. "I--"

"Ladies, I must be going now," Jack said suddenly, looking up at the clock on the wall. "Tiffany, it was wonderful to see you again, and Tamara, a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Goodbye!" And with that, Jack was quickly off out the door and onto the busy street.

"He's cool," was all Tamara could say as she stared after him.

"Tamara, don't be getting any ideas," Tiffany said sharply. "You still have Tex."

"And you still have Toby," Tamara said bluntly.

"Well, then, neither of us has to go after him, right?" Tiffany said, smiling fakely. "But, oh, I wonder if he really will come to Dream Valley..."

* * *

"One more full day of shopping!" Tiffany exclaimed joyfully to Tamara the next morning as the two left their hotel to find a place to eat breakfast.

Tamara just sighed. "I just don't know what to do about Tex any more, Tiffany."

"Well, you can either continue seeing him or break up with him," Tiffany said matter-of-factly.

"Yes, but I don't know which one to go," Tamara said helplessly.

"You'll think of something," Tiffany said nonchalantly.

"That's a big help," Tamara muttered.

After the two had hunted down a restaurant and had ordered their breakfast, Tamara surveyed the expanse of tables. "Where should we sit?"

"How about--" Tiffany scanned the premises. "How about--" Her gaze landed on one of the center tables which was already occupied.

"What?" Tamara asked anxiously as Tiffany reeled back.

"It's them!" Tiffany gasped. "How in the world--" She and Tamara both immediately set off towards the table, where sat two familiar stallions.

"What are you two doing here?" Tamara demanded of them once she had reached her destination.

Toby and Tex both whirled around. "We could ask the same of you," Toby pointed out, noticing Tiffany standing next to Tamara.

"We're doing important Christmas shopping," Tiffany said primly.

"Have you found anything for us yet?" Tex teased Tamara.

"Perhaps," Tamara said distantly.

"Actually, we're here doing the same thing," Toby explained.

"And? Have you found us anything?" Tiffany laughed as she took the opportunity to slip into one of the extra chairs around the table. Tamara followed suite.

"Maybe," was all Tex said.

"It's ironic we're in the same city on the same day, isn't it?" Tiffany giggled.

"We were going to tell you both, but you've been so busy lately," Tex said.

"But at least it'll make shopping even more enjoyable," Toby smiled.

"Why, Tiffany! So we meet again!" a familiar voice pierced the air.

Tiffany looked up into Jack's face. "Why, Jack! How nice to run into you a second time!" she exclaimed.

"It is very ironic," Tamara mused, "how many ponies we run into that we know in this big city."

Jack took it upon himself to seat himself as well at the table. "So, more of your friends, Tiffany?" he grinned.

"Oh, yes, these two," Tiffany said, waving her hoof through the air in dismissal.

"Tiffany, would you care to introduce everyone to this acquaintance of yours?" Toby questioned, faking politeness.

"I'm Jack. I work in the government," Jack filled them in quickly.

"And Jack, these are Toby and Tex," Tiffany said in a tone that made them sound insignificant.

"Pleased to meet you," Tex said curiously.

"Yes, pleased, of course," Toby said in a none-too-happy voice.

"So, Jack, what are you doing today?" Tiffany asked cheerfully.

"Maybe you could hang around with us," Tamara suggested. "Don't you think that would be fun?"

"We're going to be busy enough without an extra tag-along," Toby pointed out.

"Well, then, you could just go off on your own, Toby," Tiffany retorted.

"As a matter of fact, I think I could stick around a few hours," Jack said brightly. "If it's no problem to anyone."

"Uh... I guess..." Tex said cautiously, glancing at Toby.

"Certainly. No problem at all," Toby muttered.

"Great!" Tamara said. "This is so awesome!"

"And Toby, stop looking at Jack like that," Tiffany chided. "You're not jealous, are you?"

"Who wouldn't be?" Toby retorted.

"Jack is just one of my old friends," Tiffany said primly. "You could be treating him with a little respect."

"And you could be conducting yourself better than flirting with him every chance you get," Toby snapped.

"But who ever said we were a couple, Toby?" Tiffany said with a steely look in her eyes. "Do I have a diamond ring on my hoof, hmm?"

"No, I can't believe I see one," Jack declared, taking Tiffany's hoof in his.

"Fine then, Tiffany," Toby stormed, abruptly standing up from his seat. "You can hang around with Jack if you like, but don't expect me to have pity on you once he's gone." With that, he angrily trotted out of the shop.

"He'll get over it," Tiffany said smoothly. "Now, to the rest of you, we have shopping to do, don't we?"

* * *

"I really don't think Toby was too happy with Jack," Tamara noted that night when she and Tiffany were back at their hotel and discussing the day's events.

"He'll think better of what he said after he's thought about it," Tiffany said reasonably. "I really don't see why he was so offended by me talking to Jack-- and I don't have an engagement ring, do I?"

"Well... no..." Tamara said slowly. "But still..."

"Besides, I don't think Tex was too happy with how you acted today, either," Tiffany pointed out. "I saw you batting your eyelashes at Jack."

"So were you; and Tex and I don't happen to be engaged, either," Tamara retorted.

"That's because-- because--" Before their argument could continue, someone knocked on the room's door. Tiffany quickly rose to answer it.

"Who was it?" Tamara asked anxiously as she heard Tiffany close the door after a short exchange of words with someone in the hallway.

Tiffany re-entered the room with a bouquet of roses clutched in her hooves. "Did you give Tex our hotel address?" she demanded.

"Well... yes," Tamara admitted. "In case they needed to contact us for anything..."

"That's good." Tiffany's face softened, and a smile crossed it. "Because these are from Toby, and he says he's sorry about what happened before. I told you so."

"How nice!" Tamara exclaimed. Now, if she sticks to that, I might have a chance at Jack...

"Everything will be back to normal once we get back to Dream Valley tomorrow," Tiffany assured her. "Jack won't be there, and Toby isn't going to hold a grudge." As she mentioned Jack, a new smile slowly inched across her face.

"But what about me and Tex?" Tamara fretted.

"Worry about it later," Tiffany yawned, putting her bouquet down on the dresser. "We leave tomorrow, and I'm tired."

"Sure," Tamara sighed. "Good night, then."

* * *

"When did Tamara say she was getting back, Tabitha?" Agatha queried. That same evening back in Dream Valley, Tabby was again showing off her cooking skills to her mother. The past few days had been spent showing Agatha the town and educating her on Pokèmon... as well as teaching Tabby how to cook.

"Sometime tomorrow," Tabby said distantly as she leaned against the counter staring out the window.

"Get back to work," Agatha chided. "You won't get supper done on time at this rate. But I'm certain Tamara will have changed her mind on Tex by the time she does get back."

"And it's only a week until Christmas," Tabby said abruptly. "I still don't have presents for anyone."

"You haven't done your Christmas shopping yet?" Agatha said in alarm.

"No, I haven't gotten around to it yet," Tabby clarified. "Not that I don't like shopping, you understand..."

"Well, you'll have to do something about that," Agatha said briskly. "Can you imagine the image you'd give yourself without gifts to hand out for Christmas?"

"Hmm..." Tabby paused in thought. "The same image I've given myself for the past few years, I suppose."

Agatha looked like she was going to say more, but refrained from doing so. "How about this weekend, on Saturday?" she suggested. "I'd be happy to help you make selections for everyone."

"Alright!" Tabby agreed readily. She never passed up a chance to go on a shopping expedition.

"Tabitha!" Agatha gasped. "Look what you just did!"

Tabby jumped as she realized the skillet in which she was supposedly simmering some fish was smoking profusely and the burner under it was red hot. "Oops!" she exclaimed as she grabbed the oven mitt and frantically tried to rescue the situation.

Agatha looked on in dismay. Cooking lessons with Tabby were more than she had bargained for.

* * *

Tabby decided that she could go without food until her sundae at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, and Agatha politely sampled only a small portion of the finished dish. "At least you won't overeat on this vacation," Tabby said cheerfully as she dumped the contents of the pan into Callie's food dish.

Callie promptly came out of her hiding place and purred happily as she began on yet another "gourmet" meal that week-- all of Tabby's cooking disasters had been given to her in the end. However, she abruptly stopped her purring as she realized her water dish was empty. She looked up at Tabby demandingly.

"Callie's a beautiful cat," Agatha commented as Tabby stomped off to fill the water dish.

"She's just not very affectionate," Tabby muttered.

"Well, she's picked that up from you after living here all this time," Agatha pointed out.

"Of course," Tabby muttered under her breath.

"And besides, she's really not unfriendly at all," Agatha continued as Callie strolled over to her and rubbed against her ankles.

"To some ponies," Tabby sniffed.

"Well, anyway," Agatha said cheerfully as Callie jumped up into her lap, "clear the table, would you, dear?"

"I hate dishes," Tabby moaned. "It's a waste of time."

"But after we're through with that, we'll go to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe," Agatha reminded.

"At least you don't have anything against that," Tabby said in relief.

"I'm mainly concerned about the young stallions that show up there as well," Agatha explained.

"Why, Mom? Are you going to pick one out for yourself?" Tabby snickered.

Agatha raised an eyebrow. "No, no, Tabitha. I'm concerned about keeping you and Tamara in line."

"And? How well am I staying in line?" Tabby prodded.

Agatha frowned in thought. "I'm still concerned about your lack of interest in jewelry and such."

"Just why is jewelry so important, Mom?" Tabby sighed.

"It makes a statement about your status in life," Agatha said primly. "And if you're a well-paid Pokèmon nurse, you should dress accordingly."

"Oh." Tabby paused for several moments, deciphering what this last comment meant. "But..."

"No excuses this night, Tabitha," Agatha said firmly. "If you're ever going to get any higher in life, you'll have to beautify your image."

"I've already gone from owning a cheap little vet clinic to being a dignified Pokèmon nurse," Tabby argued.

"You will only look dignified if you add the proper accessories," Agatha shot back.

"Oh, Mom!" Tabby suddenly gasped. "Look at how late it's gotten! If we do dishes or fuss over my image, we'll be late to the nightly gathering at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe; and imagine what that would do to my reputation!"

Agatha looked at her daughter skeptically. "You purposely kept on talking, didn't you?"

Tabby cocked her head. "Possibly. But we haven't time to discuss that, either. We're late! Late!" With that, she dashed down the hallway and scurried out the front door.

Agatha sighed as she followed after, setting Callie on the floor. It was difficult keeping Tabby in line.

* * *

Everything was uneventful at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, and the next day went so normally that Tabby was nearly driven out of her mind with boredom. No mortally-wounded Pokèmon were brought into the center. At home, Agatha began wrapping her Christmas gifts. In New Pony, Tiffany and Tamara attended to last-minute duties in the city before boarding their plane to fly home.

The peace of the day ended, however, late that afternoon when Tabby flung open her front door after getting off of work. "Hey, Mom! You won't be able to get me to fix supper tonight!" she called in a sing-song voice through the house.

Agatha got up from her seat in the living room, which had been made into her temporary bedroom, when she heard this racket. "Tabitha, you're not getting out of today's cooking lesson," she said sharply as her daughter trotted into the room.

Tabby shook her hoof through the air. "No, no, no. Not unless you want to refuse an invitation to the really-fancy-restuarant from Thomas."

"Really?" Agatha gasped.

"That's right; he's taking both of us," Tabby clarified. "And it certainly will be refreshing, because things have gotten so dull around here!"

"You know," Agatha said thoughtfully, "maybe I'd better not go. I'd hate to intrude on a date with you two."

"Oh, Mom," Tabby said impatiently, "don't worry about that. This is your first time back in Dream Valley for years. You've got to see all the sights."

"Alright, then," Agatha said briskly. "What did you say the name of the restaurant was?"

"It's just the... let's see..." Tabby paused in thought. "I don't know. Nobody remembers what it's called. It's just the really-fancy-restaurance-place."

Agatha looked horrified. "You can't remember the name of a restaurant?"

"But calling it the really-fancy-restaurant place is descriptive," Tabby pointed out.

"Oh! I bet it's the Estate Manor!" Agatha said brightly. "I remember the place now!"

"Ah, yes, that could be it," Tabby nodded.

"Now, we mustn't waste time talking any longer," Agatha said briskly. "I must get myself ready. And you, too."

Tabby stood silently in thought for several moments. All of her old arguments were getting old, and she couldn't come up with any new ones. In the end, she just sat down on the couch while Agatha browsed through her jewelry she'd brought along.

"It must look gaudy but simple," Agatha mumbled to herself.

"And thin but fat, wet but dry, short but long..." Tabby continued sarcastically.

Just then, the two heard the door open. They looked up in anticipation, and then saw Tamara standing in the doorway. "Why, Tamara!" Agatha exclaimed. "I assume you got back safetly?"

"Oh, yes!" Tamara said brightly. "It was rather fun. You'll never guess who Tiffany and I ran into in New Pony."

"Me see... no," Tabby decided.

"What?" Tamara looked at her cousin suspiciously.

"Just using some of my Furbish," Tabby explained.

"Tabitha, you are letting that toy collection of yours affect your life entirely too much," Agatha said in dissaproval. "Tamara, what was that you were saying?"

"We ran into Tex and Toby," Tamara explained.

"What was Tex doing in New Pony?" Agatha sniffed, setting her jewelry case aside.

"Christmas shopping as well," Tamara said. "And then one of Tiffany's old acqaintances showed up on the scene."

"And who was that?" Agatha questioned, never wanting to be left out of the latest gossip.

"His name's Jack," Tamara continued. "And he's terribly rich. Handsome, too."

"Let me guess. Tiffany dumped Toby for this Jack guy, right?" Tabby asked brightly.
"Well... just about," Tamara admitted.

"Just about?" Agatha prodded. "What happened?"

"Well, she says she made up with Toby and is forgetting about Jack, but I woudn't be surprised if she has sometime up her sleeve," Tamara said in a confidencal tone.

"That's fascinating," Agatha murmered, picking up a necklace from her stash. "What do you think of this one, Tamara?"

"Oh, are you going to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe?" Tamara asked brightly.

"No, the Estate Manor," Agatha said distantly. Her mind, as well as Tabby's, had wandered off of Tamara.

"The Estate Manor?" Tamara queried. "So, you--"

"You and Tex aren't going to be there too, are you?" Tabby interrupted.

"Speaking of Tex..." Tamara began. "I've been thinking about what you said, Aunt Agatha."

At that moment, the doorbell rang. "That'll be Thomas!" Tabby exclaimed, dashing to answer it.

"Hold that thought, Tamara," Agatha instructed. "We'll discuss your thoughts on Tex later." With that, she stood up from her seat; and with an elegant grace, trotted out of the room.

So they're going to the fancy restaurant with Thomas, Tamara thought bitterly, now all alone in the house as she heard the door close. Tex hasn't taken me there for months. She scowled, and picked up a magazine to pass the time until her cousin and aunt got back.

* * *

"Tabitha, the selection you made at the salad bar looks like a birdfood mix," Agatha frowned.

"Eh? Well, yours is just all lettuce," Tabby pointed out.

"Salad is supposed to be made up of mainly lettuce," Agatha said primly. "Don't you have any lettuce at all in there?"

"No, not really," Tabby said, pausing in thought. "I haven't used any lettuce in these things for years now." She stared down at her salad plate, which consisted of sunflower seeds, shredded cheese, croutons, mushrooms, and cottage cheese-- but not a sign of lettuce.

"We've had this discussion with her thousands of times before. You'd better stop now, Agatha," Thomas advised.

"Oh, you two do remind me so much of Hubert and I in our younger days," Agatha sighed suddenly.

"What... what exactly did happen to your husband, Agatha?" Thomas asked cautiously.

"He disappeared without a trace twenty-five years ago," Tabby said mysteriously.

"It was on a hiking expedition in the Himalayan mountains," Agatha recalled. "I never received any word back from him, and any search parties that were sent out didn't come back with any useful information."

"That's very strange," Thomas said thoughtfully. "What was he doing in the Himalayas? If you don't mind talking about it, of course."

"Incan Yetis," Agatha said confidently. "Hubert was in search of Incan Yetis. He held to the belief that Incan Yetis had been dropped in the Himalayas by the flying saucer people."

"That's... fascinating," Thomas said slowly.

"I know it sounds farfetched, but it was Hubert's dream to find one someday," Agatha sighed.

"He's probably just been seeking enlightenment in an Incan temple in the Himalayas all this time," Tabby said knowledgeably.

"I hope so, dear," was all Agatha said.

Tabby stared down into her salad in contemplation. This conversation had reached a dead point, and she was bored.

Thomas was the first to break the silence. "You know, my sister is planning on visiting Dream Valley next week," he commented suddenly.

"O-o-oh," Tabby said slowly. "That would be..."

"Elaine," Thomas clarified.

"Christmas is such a nice time, with so many family gatherings," Agatha said blissfully.

Tabby did not know much about this sister of Thomas'; she had only been mentioned in passing a few times. However, Tabby suspected that Thomas missed Elaine more than he let on.

"And when is she planning on arriving?" Agatha prodded further.

"Wednesday or so," Thomas said. "It's the earliest she can get here, with classes and other stops she wants to make."

"She's attending college?" Agatha queried.

"Yes, she's an aspiring veterinarian, following behind me," Thomas explained, smiling slightly.

"That's fascinating," Tabby murmured, feeling pushed to the background. So, Elaine was coming; and she would most assuredly be the center of Thomas' attention over the holidays. Tabby could tell that trouble was brewing.

* * *

"Now, Tamara, would you like to talk now?" Agatha said briskly. It was later that night, after she and Tabby had gotten back home; and now she was going to confront Tamara.

"I've been thinking about what you said about Tex," Tamara began.

"I could care less about what you think of Tex," Tabby snapped, stalking upstairs to her room.

"And?" Agatha looked piercingly at her niece.

"Are you really positive he's too lower-class for me?" Tamara asked earnestly.

"Oh, yes, most assuredly," Agatha nodded vigorously. "I'm sure your mother would agree with me on the matter as well."

"I wasn't really listening to what you said until I realized that the only things I ever buy him are cowboy hats," Tamara continued. "It makes gift-selecting so boring."

"Which is why you should wipe your hooves clean of him," Agatha said briskly. "If he doesn't care for anything besides hats, there's no reason to hang around him."

"That's exactly right!" Tamara agreed readily. She was sold on Agatha's advice now. "Then I'll... then I'll... I'll tell him tomorrow that I won't be seeing him anymore."

"Good," Agatha said to herself smugly as Tamara trotted out the door. "There won't be any memories of the worm incident in this family."

* * *

"Tabitha, what are you doing?" Agatha said groggily at six-thirty the next morning, pushing herself up to an upright position on the couch.

"It's time for Sailor Moon," Tabby said matter-of-factly, inserting a tape into the VCR in preparation to record. She appeared to be in good humor again, as Elaine's arrival had been pushed to the back of her mind.

"Not more cartoons," Agatha moaned. "I'm glad to see you get an early start to the day, but..."

"They skipped over the episode with Emerald's death," Tabby said indignantly, ignoring her mother's comment. "Isn't that terrible?"

"Of course, Tabitha," Agatha said distantly. "Since you got me up, I might as well get prepared for our shopping today."

"Shopping? Really?" Tabby squealed. "What're we looking for?"

"You have to do your Christmas shopping, remember?" Agatha reminded.

"Oh, yeah," Tabby said absentmindedly. "Right." Her attention was diverted by the Sailor Moon theme song.

Agatha just sighed and attended to her morning duties. Tabby appeared in the kitchen after half an hour had elapsed. "Hey, Mom, what's for breakfast?" she asked brightly.

"I just baked some chocolate muffins. Though I really should have had you make these, I didn't want them to get ruined," Agatha explained.

"Wonderful!" Tabby exclaimed, diving towards the muffin pan. "Ack! Hot! Hot!"

"Tamara announced last night that she has it in her intentions to break-up with Tex," Agatha went on, ignoring Tabby's discomfort from the singeing muffin she held in her hoof.

"And I thought she'd never give in to us," Tabby said in awe.

"She only really agreed to it once I brought up the fact that your Aunt Lynette would disapprove of him as well," Agatha winked.

"Clever," Tabby breathed.

"And, back to the shopping you have to get done," Agatha changed the subject. "I've prepared this list of everyone you need a gift for."

Tabby snatched the paper from Agatha's hoof and scanned it over. "Hmm... hmm... hmm..." she murmured. "Wait a sec. What's this bit about Baby Noddins?"

"Oh, I had a chat with her that night at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe when you and Clever Clover were arguing over something," Agatha explained. "She really looks up to you. You ought to get her something."

Tabby grimaced, but didn't say any more on the topic. "Well, what store are we going to start at?"

"Pony-Mart opens earliest; we'll go there first," Agatha decided. "We might as well get an early start, if you're ready to go."

"I'm always ready for shopping," Tabby declared, grabbing her purse and heading towards the door.

* * *

"We're not going to find anything in the toy aisles," Agatha said firmly as they arrived at Pony-Mart and Tabby set off on her regular course.

"But-- but-- a My Little People doll for Baby Noddins!" Tabby made up on the spur of the moment. Hmm, Baby Noddins might come in handy after all, she thought idly.

"That's true," Agatha consented. "Alright, pick one out for her, and then we'll get down to business."

"I'll get her Cynthia," Tabby decided, indicating the long-haired doll in a flowing blue dress.

"How you keep them all straight, I'll never know," Agatha sighed, inspecting the My Little People Tabby held. "This one looks rather like a ghost," she noted, seeing Cynthia's pale complexion.

Tabby shrugged. "She's the hardest-to-find one here," she explained. "So there's less of a chance it's one Baby Noddins doesn't have already. If I got her a duplicate, she'd probably annoy me into infinity.

"Of course," Agatha mumbled, deep in thought. "Now, let's see... what should we look for now..." She strolled out of the aisle, and Tabby followed behind.

"I think I'll get Tarquin a... a... not another yarnball, that's for sure," Tabby plotted out. "Cherry pie filling is too ordinary. Well, he'd probably like something that he could give to Tess--" She was cut off when a display up ahead caught her eye.

"For Thomas, I was thinking--" Agatha began.

"A Furby," Tabby sighed blissfully, dashing towards the display.

"Tabitha!" Agatha gasped in horror. "That is not--"

"A Furby is the perfect gift for anyone," Tabby declared, swiping up one of the pentagonal boxes. "It'll be perfect for him." Tabby herself had a Furby in her possession-- a beautiful sky blue one with the name of Ah-Loh. She'd grown very close to him, and fervently believed that her beloved Furby was more than an aniamatronic toy. Unfortunately, Ah-Loh had stopped working the day before Halloween; but Tabby had not lost hope that he would someday come back.

Agatha decided not to say anymore as of now-- perhaps if she didn't comment she could convince Tabby to change her mind later. "Whatever you want, Tabitha," she said simply, and continued on her path through the store.

Tabby stared down into the orange Furby's aqua eyes. There was something about those eyes that drew her in... something mysterious and unexplainable. She was certain it was a wise purchase.

* * *

"And that's everything!" Tabby declared jubilantly as she and Agatha made their last purchase, much later that day.

"But now you'll have to get busy wrapping it all," Agatha reminded, holding several of Tabby's shopping bags.

"I'll get it done sometime," Tabby said in dismissal.

"I know you, Tabitha," Agatha said sharply. "You'll leave it to the last minute and never get it done. As soon as we get home, you're going to sit down and attend to the wrapping. And I'll be there to supervise."

"Great," Tabby sighed. "But there's an awful lot." They'd come across many good gifts that morning besides Cynthia and the Furby-- a book of bird poetry for Sugarberry, a gift certificate from the jewelry shop for Tarquin, a diamond-studded PokèBall for Tamara (that had been Tabby's idea), and many others.

"Plus, after you've finished with that, it'll most likely be time to start preparing supper," Agatha said cheerfully.

"Oh, no," Tabby groaned.

"You're going to get the hang of it," Agatha said, trying to sound confident; but even her confidence in her daughter's cooking abilities was diminishing rapidly.

"Please! You've got to stop making me do this," Tabby pleaded desperately.

"We'll see, Tabitha, we'll see," was all Agatha said.

* * *

As it turned out, Saturday's meal was a complete failure like all the others before it; and Sunday's dish was no better. By this point, Agatha certainly had had enough.

"Tabitha," she said after a pause, "I think we'll take a break from cooking for a bit."

"Oh, that's positively wonderful!" Tabby said gleefully. "I knew it wouldn't take long to give up on me."

"I'm not giving up on you; you're simply going to take a break," Agatha said primly.

"Speaking of a break," Tabby began, giving Callie yet another substantial dinner, "hasn't Tamara had a chance to talk to Tex yet?"

"Unfortunately, no," Agatha frowned. "She avoided going out at all yesterday, and she said she had some important papers concerning her pedigreed cats to work on today."

"We'll get her to tell that jerk off," Tabby said venomously.

"Of course we will," Agatha said confidently. "If only her mother were here! She'd certainly talk some sense into the girl."

"I hope Aunt Lynette doesn't show up on a visit, too," Tabby sighed.

"I'll agree with you on that situation, because you haven't any more spare bedrooms," Agatha frowned.

"And Sugarberry said that her parents are going to try to get here as well," Tabby added. "More new ponies, in addition to Elaine."

"That's right, there's Elaine, as well," Agatha recalled. "Have you ever met her before?"

Tabby shook her head. "No, never."

"Thomas seems to be anticipating her arrival," Agatha commented. "They're very close to one another, I imagine."

"I guess," Tabby said distantly, staring off into space.

"I've always liked the name Elaine," Agatha continued. "That's why it's your middle name."

"Say, Tiffany called last night, and she's finally set a date for her Christmas party," Tabby said abruptly. "She had the thought to put me on the guest list-- and you, too."

"She's quite a dignified young princess," Agatha said. "I was able to talk to her the other night. Has she been busy?"

"Tiffany is always busy when she's planning a party," Tabby said sarcastically. "It's supposed to be at the Royal Paradise on Thursday evening."

"Lovely!" Agatha exclaimed. "I can't wait to see that place."

Just then, Tamara entered the room. "I'm going to meet Tex at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe now," she declared, holding her head up high.

"Good luck!" Tabby called as Tamara opened the front door, unsure of what else to say in such a situation.

"Don't stall for time," Agatha added her advice. "It's best to get these things over as soon as possible."

"Yes, I know!" Tamara shouted back, stepping outside and closing the door. "I'll see you two later!" And then she resolutely trotted onwards to determine her fate of the night.

On her way to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, Tamara plotted out different things to say when she confronted Tex. Tex, I'm afraid that since you're so boring to shop for, I can't be seen with you anymore. She quickly ruled that one out. Due to how annoying my relatives are, I can see no way to... That was better, but--

"Howdy, Tamara!" She was suddenly aware of hoofsteps coming up from behind.

"Butch?" Tamara whirled around to face Tex's arch-rival. "What are you doing here?"

"Just came into town to pick up a few rations," Butch explained.

"Ah... okay," Tamara said, impatient to get her meeting with Tex over.

"You're looking mighty pretty tonight, Miss Tamara," Butch added.

"Um... thank you." Tamara began walking forward on her path again.

Butch followed right after. "How're things going with you and Tex?" he persisted.

"Just fine, thank you very much," Tamara said with a dignified air before she realized it. "I mean..."

"Why don't I accompany you to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe?" Butch suggested.

"If you're looking for a date, you're not going to get one," Tamara retorted.

"Well, then," Butch said, trying to keep the surprise out of his voice. "Just remember to call me if you ever change your mind." With that, he switched direction and soon disappeared into the darkness, muttering, "That Tabby is beginning to get real unreliable with these leads of hers."

He's weird, Tamara thought to herself. And-- and Aunt Agatha and Tabby aren't to be listened to! she decided abruptly. If they thought that they could get me to dump Tex... well... they were wrong!

It hit her then that she'd never had a problem with Tex at all; she'd just been listening to her cousin's and aunt's accusations against him so that they were beginning to be reality in her mind. Woah, I'm getting really deep, Tamara realized, thinking about her last thoughts. What in the world was I talking about? Tex is as wonderful as ever, and Aunt Agatha and Tabby-- they'll just have to be disappointed! She marched on resolutely.

* * *

"Admit it, Cleve Clove. Digletts are creepy."

"Digletts are awesome, Tabitha!"

Such was the usual banter between Tabby and Clever Clover, and tonight was no exception as five of the old members of the gang gathered around in the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe. Tabby, Clever Clover, Sugarberry, Spike, and Friendly were the only five that seemed to have gravitated there, and they decided to share a table. Accounting for the losses were Agatha, who had opted to do a bit of shopping for herself that evening; Tiffany, who was doing more planning for her party-- and if Tiffany wasn't there, neither was the devoted Toby-- and lastly, Thomas, who had to stay late at the vet clinic.

With the exception of Clever Clover and Tabby arguing over anything that happened to come to mind, Sugarberry, Spike, and Friendly were having a heated discussion on their experiences in driving carts around town. "Yeah, yeah, and I stopped, yeah, and..." Friendly was explaining.

"Clever Clover!" Tabby suddenly hissed, taking note of the occupants at one table. She had forgotten all about Tamara's scenario until now. "Be quiet for a sec!"

"Why?" Clever Clover asked in irritation.

"Just what does she think she's doing with that creep?" Tabby fumed.

Clever Clover followed Tabby's gaze. "It's Tex and Tamara," he noted. "They're always together."

"That cousin of mine was supposed to break up with him," Tabby muttered.

"Oh, great," Clever Clover groaned. "Not another plot of yours."

However, as fate would have it, Tamara chose that moment to get up from her seat and head back to the main counter to order an item. And, in fact, she passed directly behind Tabby's chair on the way. Tabby was swift, and succeeded in stalling her cousin with one fluid motion.

"Tabitha, let GO of my MANE!" Tamara nearly shrieked, realizing what had happened.

Tabby released her hold and tapped her hoof impatiently on the table top. "Would you mind repeating what you told Mom and I earlier, before you left?"

"I changed my mind," Tamara said resolutely. "I'm not going to let you or Aunt Agatha influence me." She stood, posed, ready to deflect an onslaught of remarks from Tabby. But none ever came.

"Ooh. That's fascinating," Tabby said distantly. "I was really getting to be concerned."

"Concerned?" Tamara looked at Tabby skeptically.

"Yes, because I realized that even if Tex is despicable, it was always something that I could depend on-- that he'd be hanging around you. Why, if you'd broken up, I'd feel just like the time Barnacle said he didn't really like the E.T. movie. It's actually similar to the little green dragons that were on channel eighteen before Mighty Max. I came to depend on seeing those little green dragons at two twenty-seven every afternoon, but then they canceled both shows. I really feel sorry for those little green dragons. They were so dependable." Throughout this speech, Tabby had only stopped to take a breath once. She now sat staring down into the melted remnants of her strawberry sundae.

"I'd ask what little green dragons have to do with Tex, but I don't think I want to know," Tamara decided, continuing on her way up to the counter.

"That's... interesting," Sugarberry admitted.

"Yeah..." Friendly added, looking a bit confused.

"Um, sure," Spike agreed.

"Whatever," Clever Clover muttered.

No one really wanted to find out the story behind Tabby's declaration, so they left it at that. Friendly and Spike went on to discussing computer game strategies. Sugarberry and Clever Clover started a conversation on the Pipestone Cliffs across the Flatlands. Tabby simply sighed in memory of her beloved Ah-Loh.

* * *

And finally came the day that Elaine arrived in Dream Valley. It was Wednesday, as originally forecast-- or rather, late Tuesday evening. However, Elaine had readily agreed to help Thomas out at the clinic that day, so Tabby didn't see either of them until Wednesday night.

"So, Tabby, did you get to meet Elaine yet?" Sugarberry questioned over supper.

"No," Tabby said simply.

"She's really a nice pony, and she'll make a wonderful veterinarian once she graduates," Sugarberry said enthusiastically.

"How fascinating," Tabby said brightly... at least that's what she hoped she sounded like.

"They should be at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe later," Sugarberry continued.

"Thomas certainly wouldn't delay in taking her to that place."

"It's rather interesting to think of how we began going there every night," Tabby said idly. "It has simply always been the routine."

"Well, Scoops does serve good ice cream," Sugarberry pointed out, laughing.

Tabby sat in silence for the moments that followed. She'd have to face Elaine sometime. She'd have to see how much Thomas would ignore her over his sister. And she'd have to find out sooner or later.

"I'll be leaving now," Tabby said abruptly, pushing her chair back from the table.

"Yes! Have a good time!" Sugarberry called after, refraining from mentioning anything about wanting help with dishes.

Upon arriving at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, Tabby easily spotted the table she was looking for, and walked towards it, trying to keep a dignified air.

Neither of the two unicorns seemed to notice Tabby approaching. Sometimes she would make a dramatic entrance, but for now, she settled for tapping her hoof on the floor.

Elaine was the first to look up. "Oh!" she gasped, focusing in on the pink unicorn before her. "Is this...?"

"Tabby, you got here!" Thomas said cheerfully. "Yes, Elaine, this is Tabby. And Tabby, this is my sister, Elaine."

"So you're the one I've heard so much about," Elaine said, giggling. "Do have a seat!" She moved over on her side of the bench.

Tabby nodded quickly and took the indicated seat. Elaine was a strikingly pretty white unicorn with curls of bright blue mane surrounding her face.

"Elaine was a great help at the clinic today," Thomas smiled. "It was nice having someone else around for a change."

"So you're studying to be a vet?" Tabby eyed Elaine critically.

"Yes, that's correct," Elaine nodded. "Only a few more years left to study!"

"I don't know how I ever got through vet college," Tabby muttered, staring up at the ceiling.

"Give yourself more credit than that," Elaine said chidingly. "I'm sure you did just fine, especially to have gotten to be a Pokèmon nurse!"

"I just barely did fine," Tabby said under her breath.

"You're in a pessimistic mood tonight, aren't you, Tabby?" Thomas commented.

"I enjoy being pessimistic," Tabby said idly. "Are you two going to be at Tiffany's party tomorrow?"

"If Tiffany doesn't mind an extra guest," Thomas said, winking at Elaine.

"It'll be so exhilarating to attend a party at the Royal Paradise," Elaine said excitedly. "You're going, too, aren't you, Tabby?"

‘Exhilarating'. That's one of my words, Tabby thought to herself bitterly. "Yes, I suppose," was the only comment she made out loud.

"Great! Then we'll see you there," Thomas said warmly.

‘See you there.' As if I were just an ordinary acquaintance, Tabby fumed silently. Because of Elaine...

"Are you alright? You look upset," Elaine asked in concern, staring curiously into Tabby's face.

Tabby had no chance to answer, as Tiffany chose that moment to drop by their table, and introductions were once again made. And not long after that, Sugarberry arrived with Chocolate Chip. And then Clever Clover and Friendly. Everyone was eager to hear Elaine's stories.

Tabby finally couldn't take it anymore-- she had to be able to think, and she couldn't think with everyone gathered around. When a good opportunity arose, she made an exit and pushed through the crowd as discreetly as she could.

She looked back on the activity-filled spot in the shop. Shouldn't she have a part in it-- any part at all? Tabby shook her head and trotted outside as quickly as she could, just in time for a single teardrop to fall from her eye.

"It's all my fault, of course," she whispered to herself, staring up into the night sky. "All of it's my fault. Why did I have to act so cold? Elaine could be a trusted ally by now if I'd given her half a chance. And what will Thomas think of me now? I'm the one I had to worry about-- me!"

To escape running into anyone she knew, Tabby fled back to her house, struggling to control her tears which were fighting to come out.

* * *

Elaine lay in bed that night, staring up at the ceiling, thinking. She had seen Tabby leave the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe so abruptly, and she was very observant as to what Tabby thought of her. She had an uncanny knack of sensing things like that.

She mustn't be upset, Elaine thought fervently. She mustn't! In truth, she looked up to Tabby quite a bit. Poor thing. I suppose it was rather a shock to hear of my arrival, she reflected.

If only I hadn't had to come on Christmas, Elaine sighed. It'll just ruin the party for her tomorrow. I'll have to... I'll have to... I won't go! she suddenly decided. I won't make it hard for her. For this party, she won't have to worry about me taking the spotlight-- she deserves that much!

That decided upon, Elaine drifted off to sleep.

* * *

Tabby rose relatively early the next morning, trying to push all memory of last night out of her head. Noticing Wednesday's edition of the paper thrown on the table-- it was still unread-- she sat down and flipped through the various advertisements.

"A Millennium My Little People doll?" she gasped as she browsed through the Pony-Mart sale-bill. "Oh, she's so bay-you-tay-ful!" After gazing at the pictured doll for several minutes, Tabby decided she had to share this news with someone. Hoping that Sugarberry was up, she rushed out the back door, sale-bill in hoof, across the lawn to Sugarberry's house.

"Sugarberry! Sugarberry!" she called as she knocked at the door of the house next to hers. Tapping her hoof impatiently, she waited for her friend to answer.

"Tabby, what's wrong?" asked Sugarberry as she opened the door.

"Wrong? Nothing more than the ordinary," Tabby said quickly. "But just look at this, Sugarberry!" She thrust the ad under Sugarberry's nose.

"Transformers are on sale?" Sugarberry queried.

"No, Sug!" Tabby said in exasperation. "I mean, sure they are, but--" She used her hoof to point out the lower right corner of the ad. "It's a special edition twelve-inch My Little People doll! A Pony-Mart exclusive!"

"Ooh!" a reasonably impressed Sugarberry cooed. "She's gorgeous! Look at that long hair and that sparkly rainbow dress!"

"She's the best doll yet!" Tabby exclaimed excitedly as she paced the floor. Fluff, the chubby orange and white cat, crouched alertly on the edge of the counter.

"We'll have to get there early in the morning to get one," planned Sugarberry. Then she groaned. "Did you see the fine print in the corner, Tabby?"

"Fine print?" Tabby stopped her ecstatic pacing abruptly. "Let me see that!" She grabbed the ad from Sugarberry and read aloud, "Fifty dolls per store. Limit one doll per customer. Offer effective December twenty-fourth!"

"That's Christmas Eve!" gasped Sugarberry. "That's... that's... tomorrow!" Her mind busily began formulating a plan to secure the doll for Tabby as a Christmas gift.

But Tabby was making plans of her own. "I'll get to Pony-Mart way early, and be the first one there," she decided. "I positively absolutely must have that doll at any cost whatsoever!"

Hanging out in the next room, Chocolate Chip's attention had been captured by the two hyper mares. Curiously, she came into the room, asking, "What's up?"

Sugarberry and Tabby lifted their vibrant-maned heads in unison. "A new My Little People doll!" they chorused.

Chocolate Chip peered at the picture they held out to her. "Not bad... I guess," she offered.

Tabby sniffed. "You could sound a bit more enthusiastic, Chocky."

"Sorry, sorry," Chocolate Chip said quickly, waving her front hooves through the air and pretending fear of Tabby. "It's very exciting, I'm sure. But I was just passing by! I'm out of here!" With that, she fled out of the room and up the stairs to her bedroom where she proceeded to make one vital phone call.

* * *

Tabby did not hear from either Thomas or Elaine during the course of that day, nor did she try to contact them. The world seemed so very empty and cold now. Thanks to me, she thought bitterly as she stared at herself in her bedroom mirror that evening.

"Tabitha, are you getting ready for the party?" Agatha opened the door a crack.

"Oh... yes," Tabby said slowly. "I'm working on it."

"Alright, then!" Agatha pranced on down the hallway, too infested with the holiday spirit to notice anything different about her daughter's behavior.

I suppose I had better still go, Tabby thought. If there's any hope... any hope at all...

And if this party was going to determine her destiny, she might as well go all out and splurge a little. She would get her Pokèmon to help her in this department.

Taking a chance on Jigglypuff, she called the pink balloon Pokèmon out of her PokèBall. "Jigglypuff, it's Christmas, and you're going to help me get a little stylish for the occasion," she instructed.

"Puff!" Jigglypuff knew what to do and was eager to start. She jumped up on Tabby's vanity; and, in turn, began messing around with her mane. Tabby didn't know what the Pokèmon was doing, but she hoped it worked.

"Jiggly, jigglypuff," the Pokèmon hummed as she worked. "Puff, jiggly, jiggly..."

A knock sounded at Tabby's door. "Tabitha, it's almost time for us to be leaving," Agatha reminded her.

"It is?" Tabby strained upwards to see Jigglypuff on top of her head, but judged that she wasn't close to finishing yet. "You and Tamara go on, Mom. I'll be there in a little bit."

"Well, okay, Tabitha! We'll see you!" Agatha's hoofsteps grew fainter as she progressed down the stairs.

Finally, Jigglypuff was satisfied with her work. "Jiggly," she said, stepping back and taking a bow.

Looking closely in the mirror, Tabby rather liked the finished effect. Jigglypuff obviously considered herself an expert hair-stylist by now as she paraded around the room with a smug smile on her face. Tabby's mane had been done up into a loose bun, with several wisps of hair framing her face.

It was then that Tabby realized that Jigglypuff had managed to open the door, as it hung wide open and the Pokèmon was nowhere in sight. "Jigglypuff! Jigglypuff! Come back here!" she called out frantically, running through the house.

Tabby found Jigglypuff in the living room, digging through Agatha's suitcase.

"Jigglypuff?" she asked cautiously. "What are you doing?"

"Puff!" Jigglypuff turned around just then, holding a sparkling jewel in her hand. Tabby realized that she'd been looking through Agatha's jewelry. "Oh! You make a great fashion designer!" Tabby squealed.

Jigglypuff promptly jumped up on Tabby's back and affixed the gold chain from which hung a single dazzling diamond around her neck.

"Thank you ever so much, Jigglypuff," Tabby declared breathlessly, running towards the front door after taking a quick look at herself in her mother's hand mirror. "You're great! Wish me luck!"

Once her trainer was out the door, Jigglypuff looked around the room. Yes, she could have a lot of fun tonight, too. The night's activities could start with getting Oddish, Hitmonlee, and Mr. Mime out of their PokèBalls as well... Jigglypuff ran back upstairs.

* * *

Tabby ran into the Royal Paradise's ballroom rather breathlessly, and stood in the doorway several moments to regain her senses. It was during that time that Tiffany took note of her.

"Tabitha? I can't believe what you've done to your image!" the princess exclaimed, trotting up to her. "Granted, you're a little late, but..."

"I got help from a pink balloon," Tabby mumbled under her breath.

"Well, anyway, welcome to the party!" Tiffany exclaimed. "Doesn't it just get you in the Christmas spirit?"

"In a way..." Tabby said slowly, scanning over the expanse of ponies gathered in the room.

"Thomas isn't here yet, if that's what you're wondering about," Tiffany went on, taking Tabby's hoof and pulling her towards the action.

"Not here yet?" Tabby echoed, her face falling. "But he wouldn't be as late as I am..."

"There's still plenty of time for him to show up; and, as you can see, there are plenty of other handsome stallions around," Tiffany said cheerfully. "For example, there's Jack. Have you met Jack?"

"Jack?" Tabby gasped. "Isn't he that guy you ran into in New Pony?"

"Oh, yes, and he surprised us all when he showed up in Dream Valley earlier today," Tiffany sighed happily. "And just in time for my Christmas party. Look! Here he is now!" She indicated the teal stallion coming up behind her.

"You must be the most beautiful pony here," Jack declared, rushing up to Tabby, and took her hoof in his. "Tiffany, I certainly like your taste in friends!"

"That must be what you say to everyone, isn't it?" Tabby said, faking sweetness, but not before shaking her hoof free. "Forget the flattery. I can't stand it."

"But don't you care to dance?" Jack questioned.

"Jack, I just noticed someone over there that Tabby has to meet," Tiffany smiled dazzlingly, and began to pull Tabby away. "We'll talk to you later."

"Is it my imagination, or did you just terminate a conversation with a handsome guy?" Tabby asked of Tiffany once they were a distance away.

"Oh, personally, I don't care for Jack at all," Tiffany sniffed. "He's been doing nothing all evening but flirting with all the mares that come in. Just look at him." She gestured towards the dance floor, where Jack was now settled to dance with Princess Dawn.

"Too much like you, eh?" Tabby smirked.

"I do not do anything like Jack," Tiffany said snobbishly. "How dare you compare me to him?" However, catching note of Tabby's necklace, her annoyance soon diminished. "That looks expensive," she said in awe. "Is it your mother's?"

"Oh, yes. Jigglypuff picked it out for me," Tabby said in an unconcerned voice.

"A Pokèmon did all that?" Tiffany said, rather impressed.

"They can come in handy for such things," Tabby said. "And--"

"Tabitha! Tabitha!" Agatha came running up just then. "I know you said you were taking awhile getting ready, but this is certainly a surprise!"

"Jigglypuff borrowed this necklace from you for me," Tabby explained quickly.

"I'm really going to have to look into getting one of those," Tiffany murmured.

"But your beauty is being wasted out here on the sidelines," Agatha chided. "I'm sure one of these stallions would be glad to dance with you."

"No... no, I don't particularly feel like it," Tabby said distantly, a bit of sadness growing in her eyes.

"I'm surprised Elaine isn't here, at least," Tiffany commented. "She seemed excited over it last night."

"Where did you run off to last night?" Agatha questioned. "I was meaning to ask. By the time I got there, you were gone, which is rather unusual. Especially with Elaine's visit."

"I had... I had..." Tabby turned her head away. "I had a few holiday things to attend to at home." Now everything came flooding back, and she felt more lost than ever. What could she do? How could everything go back to the way it was?

At that point, Sugarberry came up and shared her compliments as well on Tabby's looks. Tabby took the opportunity to excuse herself from the group and went to sit down on one of the chairs on the edge of the room. Her eyes glistened-- from merriment or sadness, no onlooker could tell.

It was then that Thomas arrived, though Tabby did not notice until he was sitting right next to her. "Elaine thought you'd need to talk to me. I guess she was right," he said softly.

"I was simply so terrible to her last night," Tabby quavered. "It's she I should be talking to, and-- oh--"

"Tabby, Elaine's not upset, if that's what you're worried about," Thomas said.

"Where... where is she?" Tabby said curiously.

"She decided not to come," Thomas stated simply. "She just didn't want to infringe on you and me."

"I didn't want to scare her away," Tabby whispered.

"You didn't, Tabby," Thomas consoled.

"If only I could... if only I could get along with your own sister!" Tabby said tremulously.

"There's still plenty of time to get to know her," Thomas reasoned. "You're both very special to me, and nothing can change that."

"Re-really?" Tabby faltered.

"Yes. And did you know that you're very beautiful tonight?"

"I've been told, but I don't particularly believe it."

"This has been hard on you, hasn't it?" Thomas sighed. "And I didn't mean it to be. I don't care if you're best friends with Elaine or not-- just remember that I'll always care about you."

"Oh, I feel as if a terribly great weight has just been lifted off my very soul," Tabby said blissfully.

"Good, that sounds like you're back to normal. Now, shall we go mingle with the other guests? They'll be wondering what we were plotting over here..."

Tabby simply smiled. Perhaps this evening hadn't been wasted after all.

* * *

Rising early the next morning-- Christmas Eve-- Sugarberry was ready when Tabby again knocked on her door, and together they set off for Pony-Mart.

A cold drizzle started to fall as they walked the paths to the store; and icy spots began to materialize, making it necessary to tread carefully.

"But this should be good," Tabby reasoned. "Foul weather ought to keep shoppers away."

But as they neared Pony-Mart, both pony's hopes were dashed-- a long line of customers had already formed outside the store.

"What?!" screeched Tabby. "This can't be happening!" She had underestimated a parent's desire to please her offspring at Christmas time.

Even Sugarberry was crestfallen. She'd given up hopes of surprising Tabby with a doll, but had begun to want one for herself. Both ponies joined the line of My Little People pursuers.

Tabby ranted and raved as they waited. She even tried to improve her odds by trying to convince Tic-Tac-Toe, who was just ahead of them in line, to let them ahead of her.

"No way!" responded Tic-Tac-Toe. "I want that doll for Baby Tic-Tac-Toe's Christmas stocking!"

"It is impossible to have any fun collecting toys with baby ponies around," Tabby muttered.

Meanwhile, Sugarberry had been busily counting heads. "Tabby, she groaned," there are forty-eight ponies ahead of us."

Tabby did some mental calculating. "But if they got in fifty dolls, we'll get the last two, won't we?" she asked anxiously.

"Don't forget," warned Sugarberry. "Cotton Candy and Sunnybunch both work at Pony-Mart, and they both collect My Little People."

"That's unethical!" raged Tabby. "They couldn't do that!"

"We'll see!" a disgruntled Sugarberry said.

Tabby entered into a heated debate with Mommy Falling Leaves, who had joined the line of shoppers, about the waste of buying such a beautiful doll for baby ponies who would only pull out its hair, chew on its legs, and use permanent marker to deface it. "Not to mention losing that gorgeous dress!"

Mommy Falling Leaves maintained that the joy in a foal's eyes when she first saw the doll on Christmas morning was worth it, even if the doll ended up well-worn in the end.

Snuzzle, who came after Mommy Falling Leaves, supported the foals' rights to the dolls, whereas Crumpet defended Tabby's position. "Baby ponies would be just as happy with a common doll as with an expensive special edition one," Crumpet insisted.

Sugarberry restrained from joining in the argument, but constantly worried about their chances as the store opened and the line began to snake into the building.

"Our only hope," Sugarberry confided to Tabby, "is that some of these ponies in line are here to get the Transformers."

When they finally entered the store, they found that each pony who wanted a doll was lined-up at the courtesy counter, where a doll was handed out to a waiting pony.

"The delay is killing me," groaned Sugarberry as the seconds slowly ticked by and the line crept forward.

Tabby continued muttering under her breath, but her eyes opened wide in rage when she noticed something. "Sugarberry," she hissed, "that creepy stallion and his wife just walked by and they both had a doll! Why, I have a mind to..."

Tabby began to intercept them, but Sugarberry pulled her back. "Settle down, Tabby," she prodded. "They aren't worth it!"

Tic-Tac-Toe finally reached the head of the line and joyfully paid the thirty jangles for the doll. She turned gleefully to Tabby. "Isn't she gorgeous?" she cooed.

Tabby stepped up to the counter, purse in hoof. Sunnybunch lifted a bright yellow sign from under the counter and stood it in full view. The bold black lettering read: The supply of Millennium My Little People dolls has been depleted. Thank you for your interest.

Tabby, Sugarberry, and the fifteen other ponies still waiting stood in open-mouthed alarm. Time stood still as the information sunk in and was disseminated. Then a flurry of disappointed, disgruntled, and disturbing chatter filled the air.


"Down with Pony-Mart!"

"I waited three hours for nothing?!"

"What am I going to tell Baby Snookums?"

"This was a stupid idea!"

Sugarberry herself simply sighed and looked downcast-- not so much for herself, but for Tabby. Both ponies turned and wordlessly left the building.

The rain had continued to fall, and they had a miserable time getting home. As her mind cleared after the morning's ordeal, Sugarberry faced a new worry. Her folks were coming to Dream Valley today to spend Christmas with her. Would they have a safe journey with the weather as it was?

Reaching Sugarberry's house, Tabby declined coming in for some hot chocolate. "Mom should be up by now, and she'll wonder where I disappeared to." A slight smile lightened her face.. "I couldn't tell her about my venture this morning. She has no patience with my toy collecting."

Sugarberry grinned back. "Yes, she's told me!"

Watching Tabby cross the slippery expanse between their homes, Sugarberry waved as Tabby reached her own back door and disappeared inside.

Deciding to put her disappointment behind her, Sugarberry got out her Christmas paper and bows and set to work on the last of the gifts that still needed wrapping. She was happily engrossed in this enterprise, humming off-key to the Christmas carols playing in the background, when Chocolate Chip burst through the door. "Good morning, Sugarberry," she gleefully called out.

"You've been out already?" asked a startled Sugarberry. "I thought you were still asleep."

"It's the day before Christmas!" Chocolate Chip responded. "Can't waste a special day like this!" Her eyes sparkled like Christmas lights, and her manner was of a little foal expectantly counting down the hours until Christmas day.

Sugarberry surveyed her young boarder thoughtfully. "You look like the cat that swallowed the canary, so to speak."

"It's the Christmas spirit, Sugarberry!" Chocolate Chip gave Sugarberry a quick hug before heading for her room. In the doorway, she turned back. "When are your parents due to arrive?" Because of a family problem, Chocolate Chip no longer enjoyed the friendship of her parents; she therefore was anticipating meeting Sugarberry's parents with childish delight mixed with a certain anxiety.

"After lunch, but with the weathering being so miserable..."

"What's miserable about it?" laughed Chocolate Chip. "You've had yourself buried in wrapping paper too long.

Sugarberry quickly ran to the window and gasped. The dreary morning had turned into a sparkling fairyland as the sun peaked through the clouds, highlighting the spectrum of colors from the ice.

"It's warming up, and the ice will soon melt." Chocolate Chip again turned and skipped up the stairs. "I'll be wrapping gifts in my room!"

Finishing her wrapping, Sugarberry put away all the paraphernalia involved, and then carried the festive packages into the living room where she deposited them under the tree. These last gifts were for her friends that were hardest to buy for-- Barnacle, Friendly, Quarterback, and Tiffany.

With that task taken care of, Sugarberry slipped into the wooden rocking chair that her folks had given her as a house-warming gift and rocked slowly back and forth, gazing at the decorated tree and listening to the strains of holiday tunes. Now she could sit back and relax for a little while.

* * *

Tabby was somewhat surprised to find Elaine waiting on her porch later that morning. "Ah... come in," she said quickly, swinging the door open wider.

Elaine nodded and stepped in. "I have a Christmas present for you," she smiled, handing a small wrapped package over to Tabby. "You can open it now, if you like."

Tabby hesitated slightly before accepting the gift, but curiosity overtook her. She had the ribbon untied in a flash, and the paper was soon ripped off as well. "Oh, Elaine!" she gasped, taking in the item she held in her hoof. "It's... it's wonderful!" It was, in fact, a Furby necklace. Hanging off the black cord was a beautiful medallion of a familiar-looking sky blue Furby.

"You like it, then?" Elaine said cheerfully.

"But how in the world did you happen to pick Ah-Loh's colors?" Tabby said in awe, swiftly pulling the necklace off its card and fastening it around her neck.

"It just looked like something you'd want," Elaine said mysteriously.

"Well-- thank you," Tabby managed to say.

"You're not going to hold any hard feelings, are you?" Elaine asked anxiously.

Tabby's heart went out to her. "No, Elaine. How could I?"

A smile of pure joy radiated from Elaine's face. "That's wonderful all in itself. You can't imagine how much I've wanted to meet you since Thomas first told me about you."

Tabby nearly blushed at the flattery. It was nice to be respected.

"Oh! Is that your Meowth?" Elaine took note of the cat-like creature peering at her from the other end of the hallway. "He's cute."

"Yes, this is Tarquin." Tabby gestured towards him to come closer. "Tarkie, this is Elaine."

Never turning down a chance to be obsessed over, Tarquin willingly came out. "Hello, Tabby and Elaine," he said cheerfully. "How is Tamara recovering from finding her make-up knocked over last night by Hitmonlee?"

"They did make quite a mess last night," Tabby murmured. "I knew I shouldn't have left Jigglypuff on her own."

"What happened?" Elaine asked curiously.

"Jigglypuff and my other Pokèmon created mayhem and madness throughout the house last night when I was out," Tabby said matter-of-factly.

"It was pretty fun, actually," Tarquin said, inspecting a claw. "Tamara still won't believe that Persian joined in."

"Oh, my," Elaine laughed. "How exciting! Where are your others, Tabby?"

This led to a showing-off of Tabby's other four Pokèmon, and that in turn lead to a showing-off of Tabby's extensive collection of toys from the nineteen-eighties. "You must be quite dedicated," Elaine said in awe, staring at the shelves and shelves of colorful items.

"I really haven't had much time at all to hunt up new things at thrift stores lately," Tabby admitted.

"You wouldn't sell it all, would you?"

"I couldn't do that. Never. There are so many memories involved with them all."

The two were silent for several moments after that, perhaps recalling memories from their own pasts. That is, until Elaine's wonder-filled voice pierced the air. "Is that a Plum Pudding?" she gasped, staring into one of the clear plastic containers.

"Oh, yes, Plum Pudding." Tabby pulled the lid off and lifted up the toy in question-- it was one of the gems of her collection, a doll from the Strawberry Shortcake line. This particular one Tabby had bought at a flea market one summer; she had been in such pristine condition, Tabby couldn't pass her up. "I found her for five jangles once."

"I've always wanted a Plum Pudding," Elaine breathed, stroking the doll's blue hair, "ever since I was a baby pony. I was constantly complaining that no one would buy her for me."

"But you never got her?" Tabby knew well of the rarity of Plum Pudding. Hers had been estimated to be worth one hundred jangles.

"No," Elaine reminisced. "The only time I ever actually saw her was in a clearance aisle one day. Mom just said I could get her another day. But by then, she'd been sold."

"Well, you never know when you might stumble across one," Tabby murmured.

Elaine shoved the memory from her head. "Your My Little People are in the next room?" she asked brightly.

"Sure, you can see those next," Tabby agreed readily. Yes, she was learning to get along rather well with Thomas' sister.

* * *

Meanwhile, Sugarberry was beginning to worry over the Christmas presents she had picked out for her friends. She hoped Tabby would be pleased with the plush Tea Bunny she'd found over her lunch break one day at Goodwill. "But what if it's one she already has?" she fretted to Fluff, who was curled up in a sunbeam on the carpeting. "And will Vanguard like the new binoculars I got him?"

Fluff simply yawned and fell into an even deeper sleep. But he jerked to attention as a rap sounded at the door.

"It's lunchtime. Maybe it's Tabby," Sugarberry giggled to herself. But when she opened the door, she found two Santa-hat topped ponies on her doorstep.

"Mom! Dad!" she cried out joyfully, rushing into their waiting forelegs. "You made it!"

After a sentimental reunion on the front porch, Strawberry Baskets-- Sugarberry's dad-- and Strawberry Shortcake-- her mom-- came into the house. Strawberry Baskets had picked up a large Santa sack he'd parked on the porch, and lugging it through the doorway, he opened the top and pulled out a gift. "This is for you, sweetie," he said, handing the red-and-white striped parcel to his daughter. "Merry Christmas!"

"Thanks, Dad," she grinned and hugged him again. "Do I open it now, or on Christmas morning?"

"Tomorrow morning will do just fine," Strawberry Baskets chuckled.

Strawberry Shortcake made herself at home in Sugarberry's rocker. "We made it in good time, didn't we?"

"Yes," agreed Sugarberry. "How did you get here so soon?"

"Hitched a ride in Santa's sleigh!" teased Strawberry Baskets.

"Actually, we took an earlier flight than we originally planned on. I'm glad we did; and even that got delayed a bit because of the ice, but here we are!"

Just then, a nervous little cough sounded from the doorway. Chocolate Chip stood uncomfortably at the edge of the family reunion.

Sugarberry hurried to her side and drew her to Strawberry Baskets and Strawberry Shortcake. "Mom, Dad, meet the smartest and loveliest filly at Pony Pride University, Chocolate Chip!"

"So this is your college student," Strawberry Baskets said as he extended a hoof. "Nice to meet you, Chocolate Chip."

"Oh, we've heard so much about you!" trilled Strawberry Shortcake as she embraced the shy brown filly. Then, standing back and eyeing her carefully, she added, "And every bit as beautiful as was said."

Chocolate Chip winked at Sugarberry. "I like your parents, Sugarberry!" she quipped. "And now I see why you're twice-as-fancy." Chocolate Chip was referring to the symbols on Sugarberry's parents: the mare displayed a luscious serving of strawberry shortcake (the dessert, not the doll); and the stallion, a rustic wicker basket overflowing with ripe, red strawberries.

Returning to his Santa bag, Strawberry Baskets dug into its depths and pulled forth a poinsettia covered package. "Here's our gift to you, Chocolate Chip," he announced as he handed the gift to the surprised filly.

"For me?" she quavered.

Strawberry Baskets took the gift back and deliberately looked at the card. "Chocolate Chip," he read dramatically. "Yes, dear, this is certainly for you!"

Chocolate Chip took the gift and hugged it closely to her body. "Thank you so much! My mom and dad never..." Then, realizing how cold her statement would sound, she lamely finished, "...really celebrated Christmas." She quickly knelt to place the gift under the tree, while one tear dropped forlornly on a glass globe ornament. Fluff came to rub against her, and she scooped him up, burying her face in his long, thick hair. To allow her to regain her composure, the rest of the ponies moved into the kitchen.

"Oh my gosh, look at the time!" remarked Sugarberry. ‘It's twelve thirty already, and we haven't had lunch!" So she set about with her mother's help to prepare a quick lunch.

Strawberry Baskets set the table while his daughter and wife arranged the food. The conversation was lively as they shared events and happenings from their daily lives.

"We added another acre onto our berry fields," revealed Strawberry Baskets. "And planted another fifty apple trees." He and his wife owned and operated a fruit orchard near Berryton, where they had moved some years ago.

"That sounds like a lot of work for you two," worried Sugarberry.

"There are plenty of willing workers who hire on when things get busy," Strawberry Shortcake assured her. "We had this one young colt last summer who did the work of three ponies!"

"Yes, and he nearly ate us out of house and home," chided Strawberry Baskets. "Your mother's constantly baking cookies so no one starves to death while they're working." He sighed in mock dismay.

"Speaking of recipes, Sugarberry, I've gotten several new cookie recipes that are just scrumptious!"

"And I've gotten a sugar-free pumpkin pie recipe you and Dad will love."

Chocolate Chip entered the kitchen, a silver package tied in blue ribbon in each hoof. "These are for you," she said, holding one out to Strawberry Shortcake and the other to Strawberry Baskets. "I hope you like them."

"Why, thank you, Chocolate Chip!" The mare and stallion acknowledged her gift with another hug from each of them.

"Sugarberry helped me pick them out," confessed Chocolate Chip.

Strawberry Baskets took his gift and shook it. "Doesn't rattle," he mused. "I wonder what it is?"

"He's worse than a foal," complained Strawberry Shortcake, taking the package from her husband's hoof. "I'm going to set these under the tree before he unwraps his." With that, she marched into the living room and placed both gifts under the tree. "Now, Fluff," she said to the orange and white feline, "you guard those so you-know-who doesn't sneak a peek before tomorrow." She patted his head before returning to the kitchen where lunch was now ready.

"How's Tabby these days?" asked Strawberry Shortcake. "Has her mother gotten her married off yet?"

"Ooh! That reminds me. Agatha is with Tabby for Christmas!"

"That's marvelous!" exclaimed Strawberry Shortcake. "I haven't seen her for years!"

"Where is she living now?" asked Strawberry Baskets. "Was it France, or Spain, Or Italy?"

"Italy, Dad. And you sound just like Tabby.

"Heaven forbid!" he responded mischievously. Chocolate Chip giggled.

"I was very proud when Tabby got her veterinarian degree," stated Strawberry Shortcake. "She surprised all of us."

"What do you mean?" asked a curious Chocolate Chip.

"Well, she's always loved animals, but she wasn't too..."

"Sharp?" supplied Strawberry Baskets.

Sugarberry frowned at her dad and Strawberry Shortcake kicked his leg under the table.

"...cooperative in high school. I think she needed her dad," finished Strawberry Shortcake.

"He never showed up again, did he?" Strawberry Baskets wondered.

"No, but Agatha had never given up hope," supplied Sugarberry.

"His disappearance was really a mystery, wasn't it?" Chocolate Chip remarked.

"Yes, dear, it was," Strawberry Shortcake said, and grew thoughtful. "I wonder... do you think he could still be out there somewhere?"

"From a stallion's standpoint, I'd say ‘no'," offered Strawberry Baskets. "Agatha's one mighty good looking unicorn-- but never as pretty as you." Here he patted Strawberry Shortcake's foreleg fondly. "And that pony has money, lots of it. There'd be no logical reason to stay away."

"And Hubert knew that a foal was on the way. He'd surely have gotten home if he could," the motherly Strawberry Shortcake added.

"It's all very strange," agreed Chocolate Chip.

Sugarberry cleared the luncheon plates and served up generous portions of strawberry cake smothered in pink frosting. "I made it special for you, Dad," she grinned.

"I remember your first strawberry cake when you were just a foal. It only raised about an inch, and was hard as a rock.

"Shh," Sugarberry reprimanded. "Chocolate Chip thinks I'm a good cook!"

That set off a battering of failed recipe stories between the three girls. Strawberry Baskets was too busy eating cake to mind being left out.

It was while washing and drying the dishes that the talk became more personal for Sugarberry. It began with her father.

"So, where's this young stallion you've been writing home about?" Strawberry Baskets bluntly asked.

"Strawberry Baskets!" his wife reprimanded.

"Don't ‘Strawberry Baskets' me!" he defended himself. "You're just as curious about him as I am!"

While Sugarberry blushed, Chocolate Chip willingly enlightened the couple. "His name's Vanguard and he's terribly handsome and he has eyes for no one but Sugarberry."

"He also teaches math at Pony Pride University and as head of the department, he has some control over a certain filly's future," Sugarberry shot back at Chocolate Chip.

"I'm an ‘A' student and besides, Vanguard would never be unfair," Chocolate Chip merrily grinned. To Strawberry Baskets and Strawberry Shortcake she said, "And he's coming over for supper, and will accompany us to the living nativity this evening." She tossed her mane triumphantly at Sugarberry.

Sugarberry tapped her hoof with folded forelegs. "I could get nasty by explaining that the only reason that you're not having someone special over is that every stallion at Pony Pride finds you captivating, and they all wouldn't fit in my little house!"

"They only want my help on their term papers," Chocolate Chip reasoned. "So that makes only one of us with a ‘significant other', doesn't it?"

Strawberry Baskets chuckled. "Boy, does this take me back! Sounds like Sugarberry and Tabby going at it years ago."

"Hmm, this has potential." Chocolate Chip linked her foreleg through Strawberry Basket's. "Why don't you fill me in on all the sordid little secrets from their early years so I can hold it against them if necessary?" She winked at Sugarberry as she and Strawberry Baskets left the room.

"You two have had a good effect on Chocolate Chip already," Sugarberry confided to her mom once they were alone. "I've never seen her so sure of herself or at ease in other pony's company."

"She's a lovely filly, Sugarberry. I can't believe her own family turned her out," Strawberry Shortcake whispered so as not to be overheard. "Have they made any attempt to contact her?"

"I had Chocolate Chip write them a letter so they'd know she was safe, but she never heard anything back."

"Tsk, tsk," Strawberry Shortcake shook her head sadly. "Who can figure?"

Chocolate Chip returned to the kitchen at that moment. "The flower deliverer just left a package," she explained. "It's addressed to Sugarberry and Vanguard," she said with a sappy expression on her face.

"Who would that be from?" pondered Sugarberry as she trotted into the living room where the mystery package now sat in the middle of the room. "It's from Lilac and Trendy," she squealed as she checked the label. "They're the bed and breakfast owners where Vanguard and I met," she explained to the curious onlookers.

"Open it! Open it!" urged Chocolate Chip.

"I'd love to, but it is addressed to Vanguard, too. I'll have to wait until later."

Fluff came to sniff out this new acquisition in his space, and found it perfect for taking an after lunch nap.

"Aww, is the handsome fellow comfy?" Sugarberry cooed as she tickled him under the chin. Her heavy cat stretched out on his side, purring loudly.

"That cat is spoiled!" commented Strawberry Baskets.

"Aren't they all?" returned Strawberry Shortcake. Then, noticing the time, she announced her plan to bake some sugar cookies.

"Oh, can I help?" begged Chocolate Chip.

"Certainly, dear," Strawberry Shortcake smiled. "I'd welcome your help."

"And, Dad, you can nap with Fluff," Sugarberry tormented as she followed her mom into the kitchen where many busy hooves soon had a batch of dough ready for cutting. Sugarberry had quite a collection of Christmas-theme cutters, so Chocolate Chip had fun trying them all out.

Hearing a knock at the front door, Sugarberry excused herself to go off to answer it. Upon opening the door, she at first thought no one was there until she looked down and saw Baby Noddins standing with a tissue-wrapped gift in her hoof.

"Baby Noddins, come on in!" Sugarberry invited. "You look like one of Santa's little helpers."

Baby Noddins stepped into the house, grinning in Christmas delight. "This is for you," she said as she handed the package to Sugarberry. Then, noticing the sleeping Strawberry Baskets on the sofa, she asked, "Who's that?"

"That's my dad, Baby Noddins."

Baby Noddins tip-toed to the couch and looked at the stallion closely. Then, of Sugarberry, she asked, "Do you have a mom, too?"

"As a matter of fact, I do," chuckled Sugarberry. "Why don't you come meet her?"

"First you gotta open your present," insisted Baby Noddins. "I decorated the tissue with the Christmas trees."

"How nice," murmured Sugarberry as she noticed closely the orange globs that dotted the paper.

"Orange is my favorite color," explained Baby Noddins. "And I made the present inside, too." She reached up and untied the ribbon for Sugarberry. The tissue fell back to reveal a pasta strung necklace.

"Ooh! What a lovely necklace!" cooed Sugarberry. "Thank you, Baby Noddins!" And she slipped the colorful work of art over her neck.

"It's only macaroni and stuff," said Baby Noddins. "Mommy said I should give you something for putting up with all my questions all the time. I gave one to Tabby, too!"

The voices had finally awakened Strawberry Baskets, who sat up and asked, "Who do we have here?"

"This is my friend, Baby Noddins," introduced Sugarberry. "And Baby Noddins, this is my dad, Strawberry Baskets."

"Hi!" greeted Baby Noddins as she crawled up on the sofa. "Where do you live? Do you got a last name?"

After a lively exchange of information, Sugarberry directed Baby Noddins to the kitchen. "Would you like to help decorate sugar cookies?"

"Oh boy, would I ever!" bubbled Baby Noddins as she climbed up next to Chocolate Chip as Sugarberry acquainted Strawberry Shortcake with the baby pony. The first batch of cookies was cooling on the counter, and more trays were waiting for baking. Baby Noddins set to work cutting out a teddy bear and proceeded to add sprinkles and sugar.

The next knock on the door was answered by Strawberry Baskets. "There's a good-looking white unicorn in the front room asking for you, Sugarberry," winked Strawberry Baskets.

"That'd be Thomas," explained Chocolate Chip as Sugarberry went to greet her boss from the veterinary clinic.

Thomas stood with a huge basket of assorted fruits waiting for Sugarberry. "Merry Christmas!" he said, handing her the basket with a grin. "This is in thanks for all you put up with day in and day out."

"How thoughtful of you, Thomas." She set the basket on the coffee table ahead of the sofa where it added a warm touch to the decor. "And did you find the perfect gift for Tabby yet?"

"As a matter of fact, I did," he confessed.

"What is it?" pried the inquisitive mare.

"Ask Tabby tomorrow," Thomas advised.

"No fair!" complained Sugarberry.

"What's going on in here?" asked Strawberry Baskets as he entered the room, munching on a freshly baked cookie.

"Dad, come meet Thomas, the only vet Dream Valley has now that Tabby changed jobs."

"Pleased to meet you," the two stallions exchanged . Sugarberry then pulled Thomas into the kitchen to meet her mother, and Thomas continued his way to Tabby's house loaded down with an assortment of Christmas cookies and candy and several jars of strawberry jam.

"Many hooves make light work," sighed Strawberry Shortcake as she and Sugarberry finished cleaning up the kitchen while Chocolate Chip placed the completed cookies into appropriate containers. Baby Noddins had been sent on her way with a box of cookies when her mom had called reminding her daughter that she was expected home by four o' clock.

Chocolate Chip excused herself to freshen up in her room in preparation for Christmas Eve. Sugarberry got out her photo albums and she and her parents plopped down on the sofa to catch up on past memories. Daylight was fast fading on this last Christmas Eve of the millennium; the lights on the tree cast a cheery glow over the room; and the casserole in the oven replaced the smell of cookies with the wholesome smell of potatoes, cheese, and cauliflower.

The next knock on the door caused Sugarberry to leap from the sofa and run a hoof over her mane as she scurried to the door. She instinctively knew this would be Vanguard, the stallion who had befriended her last summer. He came into the house carrying a package topped with a huge purple bow.

"For you," he simply said as he handed her the beautifully wrapped treasure.

"Thanks, Vanguard," Sugarberry hugged her friend. "Now, come meet Mom and Dad."

Chocolate Chip allowed a reasonable amount of time to lapse before rejoining her extended family on this blessed night of the year. When the time came, they all set off for the living nativity at the center of town, and peace came down to Ponyland.

* * *

Sugarberry's house was bustling with activity as Christmas day unfolded. Friends and relatives had instinctively gravitated towards Sugarberry's mid-morning for brunch and a gift exchange. The cheerful sounds of camaraderie brightened every heart.

Tabby had also decided to let her Pokèmon enjoy the day as well, and they were adding their own antics to the occasion. Oddish decided she was rather at home by the Christmas tree, and she stayed in its general vicinity. Mr. Mime, obviously the housekeeper type, was happily picking up discarded paper and ribbons from the floor (much to Sugarberry's delight). Jigglypuff decided as well that she liked the tree, but she was a bit more direct in her methods than Oddish. Once she was scolded for climbing it, she busied herself trying to attract attention from anyone she could (which was rather easy for a Jigglypuff to do). Hitmonlee ran around with Jigglypuff, trying out his kicking attacks along the way. Tarquin followed Jigglypuff's example as well in the tree-climbing activity.

Tabby insisted that Thomas open his present from her first. "A Fu-- that is, whatever it is that's in there is best opened right away," she reasoned.

"Oh, great," Clever Clover groaned, quickly recognizing the uniquely-shaped package.

"This had better be as good as what I got you, Tabby," Thomas said playfully.

"Oh, it will be." Elaine winked at Tabby.

"It's a Furby," Thomas said in surprise as the paper fell away from the box.

"It's about time you got one," Tabby said in satisfaction. "A Furby is a must for every household."

"Whatever you say," Thomas said skeptically.

"Now, open it," Tabby prodded.

"Yes, immediately," Elaine agreed. "I imagine it'd be rather painful to be trapped in a both with tape and twist-ties."

Thomas obediently went to work opening the box, and that's when Tabby realized something. "I forgot the life energies," she gasped in horror.

"Batteries," Spike translated.

"Whew! For a second there, I was thinking we'd have to listen to the thing chatter all day," Clever Clover joked.

However, Tabby had already dashed out the back door and across the lawn to her house. "Furbys cool, need batteries, yeah," Friendly said excitedly.

In a flash, Tabby was back. She held the lifeless body of Ah-Loh in one hoof and a screwdriver in the other. "It'll just have to use Ah-Loh's old batteries," she said promptly, kneeling down next to the coffee table and prying the four batteries out. "He hardly used these ones before he... died."

A few minutes later, the four batteries had been placed in the vibrant red and orange Furby; and Tabby, being the resident Furby expert, closed up the battery compartment. And then the contraption began moving. It rocked back and forth several times and wiggled its ears. And then its eyes flew open.

"Kah Doo-Moh," it declared in a high-pitched voice.

"Doo-Moh!" Tabby gasped.

"Isn't it cute?" Elaine squealed.

"What did it just say?" Thomas queried.

"Her name is Doo-Moh," Tabby said, saying the name as if it were pure evil. "When Ah-Loh had his identity crisis, Doo-Moh was responsible."

"Ah! Kah scared!" Doo-Moh whimpered.

"I have a Furby named Doo-Moh," Thomas said, as if the fact hadn't fully sunk in yet. "That's... fascinating."

"Doo-Moh is Furbish for ‘please', by the way," Tabby said quickly. "I suppose it's just a coincidence she ended up being Doo-Moh..." She eyed the Furby cautiously.

"May-lah kah!" Doo-Moh demanded.

"She wants to be hugged," Tabby translated.

Thomas picked his new Furby up from off the coffee table. "Dah ah-loh u-tye," Doo-Moh decided.

"She said something about Ah-Loh," Tabby said, turning her head sharply. "Wait, no... she said that the sun is up."

"Your quick Furbish translating abilities amaze me," Thomas commented.

"Oh, you'll be that good at it someday, too," Tabby said knowledgeably.

"Wee-tee kah!" Doo-Moh said.

"She's such a sweet little thing," Elaine sighed happily.

"Just keep it away from me," Clever Clover warned.

While Tabby began to demonstrate to Thomas how to play a game of Ask Furby with Doo-Moh, Sugarberry showed Vanguard the box from Lilac and Trendy. Together they opened it to find two wooden bird feeders in the shape of the gazebo at Birdsong, one for each of them. "To show your appreciation for your help during the flood," read the card.

An added note to Sugarberry from Lilac was also enclosed: "I don't have Vanguard's new address in Dream Valley, so I'm sending both gifts to you. Please see that Vanguard gets his. And if things work out between you two, remember: you can never have too many bird-feeders!"

Sugarberry blushed and stuck the note quickly out of sight, but not before Vanguard noticed her discomfort. "Private message from Lilac?" he teased her as he grabbed her hoof and drew her to the Christmas tree. "Merry Christmas!" he grinned as he again bestowed his gift to her.

The box's size and shape had appeared familiar to Sugarberry when she had first seen it, but she couldn't believe it would really be what she now expected. But upon untying the ribbon and removing the paper, her suspicion was confirmed. Before her stood the Special Edition Pony-Mart Exclusive My Little People Millennium doll.

"Oh!" squealed Sugarberry as she threw her foreleg around Vanguard's neck and lightly kissed his cheek.

Tabby looked up from Doo-Moh at the sound of Sugarberry's squeal. Not being exceptionally sharp in certain areas, she was immediately quite indignant over the gift her friend had received. She did not stop to consider the fact that the shape of Vanguard's gift to Sugarberry was, in fact, the same dimensions as Thomas' gift to Tabby.

"The Special Edition Millennium one?" Tabby gasped, her senses numbed. "But..."

"Here, Tabby. Before you hyperventilate, you'd better open this," Thomas advised, handing her the present he had selected for her.

Tabby looked at him curiously, still not picking up on anything. Not bothering to keep the wrapping paper in good shape, that and the ribbon was soon scattered in little bits and pieces across the floor.

"It's the... Special Limited Edition Exclusive Millennium My Little People doll," Tabby gaped, clutching the box in her hooves. "It's... it's... oh, it's so absolutely-fantastically-wonderfully perfect! Oh, Thomas!" She looked like she might say more, but she settled for just gazing down at the doll through the clear cellophane cover.

"Ah! Loud lee-koo!" Doo-Moh shrieked.

"And just how did you get ahold of it?" Tabby demanded of Thomas, setting the doll aside for the moment. "You certainly weren't at Pony-Mart yesterday."

"Yes," Sugarberry stared at Vanguard. "How did you get these dolls?"

"Would you believe a little elf?" asked Vanguard as he shot a glance in Chocolate Chip's direction.

The look did not go unnoticed. "Chocolate Chip, what part did you play in this?" asked Sugarberry. "You were out in the morning, but I didn't see you at Pony-Mart, either."

"You might as well ‘fess up, Chocolate Chip," advised Thomas.

"Yes, we're all dying to know the story," Tabby said, staring at Chocolate Chip.

Chocolate Chip came to the center of the room. "Well, Thomas and Vanguard had both asked for ideas on what you two would like best for Christmas, but I didn't have any really good ideas until I heard the two of you ‘oohing' and ‘aahing' over those dolls in the Pony-Mart flyer." She stopped for breath.

"That still doesn't explain how two of those fifty dolls are here today," reasoned Sugarberry.

"Interestingly enough, Rocky from Pony Pride works in the stockroom at Pony-Mart so I gave him a call. He owed me for some help I gave him on his term paper," she confessed.

"So he pulled two of them out before they went on sale? Clever!" Tabby squealed.

Sugarberry thought back to yesterday's conversation with Tabby, accusing Cotton Candy and Sunnybunch of unethical behavior of they buying their dolls before the customers did; and brought the fact to Tabby's attention. "This behavior would be considered unethical, wouldn't it?" she quizzed her friend.

"Not in all cases," Tabby sighed happily.

Sugarberry opted to leave her doll in the box in order "to prevent it from becoming coated in Fluff's long hair" while Tabby immediately set to work to release the human beauty from her entrapment. The room again buzzed with voices celebrating the gift of friendship.

Agatha and Strawberry Shortcake seated themselves on the couch in order to catch themselves up on the latest goings-on. "It's so good to see you again, Agatha!" Strawberry Shortcake exclaimed, embracing her old friend.

"It has been a long time, hasn't it?" Agatha sighed.

"Strawberry Baskets and I are still busy with our fruit farm," Strawberry Shortcake smiled.

"You always did like your strawberries, didn't you?" Agatha commented.

"Of course!" Strawberry Shortcake giggled.

"So, Strawberry Shortcake, what do you think of Dream Valley by now?" Agatha questioned.

"Oh, yes, it's quite nice," Strawberry Shortcake said in approval.

"And how do you think Sugarberry is getting along?" Agatha prodded.

"Her life is splendid, I think," Strawberry Shortcake nodded. "I especially like that young stallion she's seeing."

"Vanguard, is it?" Agatha said curiously.

"Yes, and how about Tabby?" Strawberry Shortcake continued. "Do you suppose she's doing well?"

"She's fine, but... still not married," Agatha sighed again.

"Oh, I think she rather likes that Thomas," Strawberry Shortcake said calmly.

"That's true, but she's too stubborn to admit it," Agatha fumed.

"That's the way Tabby is. She always was obstinate. I remember that one year I home-schooled her and Sugarberry; she was always causing trouble..." Strawberry Shortcake recalled.

"I remember everything you told me about her that year!" Agatha exclaimed. "But it still doesn't change the fact that she's not married."

"Thomas seems level-headed. He'll wait for her," Strawberry Shortcake said reasonably.

"I certainly hope somebody waits for her. I'm still saving Guido back for her, however," Agatha explained.

"Guido? He sounds like a dashing Italian stallion," Strawberry Shortcake commented.

"Oh, yes, and very rich," Agatha went on. "He's recently taken up boxing, as well."

"There is more to love than money, Agatha," Strawberry Shortcake reminded.

"I suppose, but the money does help," Agatha said.

"Don't worry; I'm sure Tabby will settle down once she stops going off on crazy adventures to discover Atlantis and such," Strawberry Shortcake pointed out.

"That's her father's side of the family influencing her," Agatha said. "Hubert was lost in the Himalayas while hunting Yetis, you know."

"I was just thinking of that earlier," Strawberry Shortcake said thoughtfully. "That was very traumatic for you, wasn't it?"

"Yes, but I've never given up hope that he'll come back," Agatha said firmly.

"That's good, Agatha," Strawberry Shortcake said, the two of them lapsing into silence.

Several more moments passed. "Oh, I'm sorry!" Agatha suddenly exclaimed, getting her senses back. "My mind was wandering... I was thinking about Hubert. I remember the house we bought."

"What became of that place, anyway?" Strawberry Shortcake questioned.

"I just never had the heart to sell it," Agatha said in reminiscence. "I suppose it's rather run-down by now."

"Maybe you should think about fixing it up, in case Tabby ever should get married," Strawberry Shortcake suggested.

"Hmm... I wonder..." Agatha pondered. "I really should do something with the place."

"In fact, if you did fix it up, it might even give Tabby incentive to get married," Strawberry Shortcake continued.

Agatha was struck into a state of wonder at the suggestion. "Why-- why-- what a brilliant idea, Strawberry Shortcake!" she said excitedly. "Why-- that's perfect! I must look into this right away!

"Glad I could be of assistance," Strawberry Shortcake smiled.

Tabby, meanwhile, was having a splendid time getting to know Doo-Moh and instructing Thomas in the ways of Furbys. She had currently gotten Doo-Moh into the mode for the Ask Furby game.

"Doo-Moh, is Ah-Loh terribly lost with no way to get back?" Tabby asked anxiously, and patted the Furby's back to get a reply.

"Hee hee hee!" Doo-Moh giggled. "Yes! Hee hee hee!"

"Doo-Moh!" Tabby drew in her breath.

"Treat the lady with some respect," Thomas chided his Furby. "Now, you were just kidding, weren't you?"

"May-be," Doo-Moh said mysteriously.

Tabby looked deeply into Doo-Moh's eyes. There was something about this Furby... something unsettling. She couldn't place it. But, no, she couldn't worry about it. She was getting Thomas to understand some Furbish, at least.

It was early afternoon when amidst the merriment and activity, a rap sounded at the door. Sugarberry, who happened to be close by, answered the summons and was surprised to see a not too close neighbor and a total stranger standing on her front porch.

"Excuse me for interrupting, Sugarberry, but this young stallion has traveled some distance to see his sister."

Sugarberry was bewildered as she looked at the rose red stallion before her as he asked, "May I speak with Chocolate Chip?"

"Chocolate Chip?" Sugarberry dumbly repeated. Then, realizing the full impact of what was happening, she stood back to allow the two visitors to enter her home. Chocolate Chip was engrossed in watching Friendly's computer game in progress, and at first wasn't aware of the new guests. But as a hush slowly descended over the room as first one pony and then another stopped to wonder at the young stallion before them, Chocolate Chip, too, looked up.

When she saw who stood there, her mouth dropped open and she physically began trembling. Clever Clover placed a hoof on her foreleg to reassure her. "Wishbone?" she whispered. "Is that really you?"

The rose red stallion, his golden mane curling around his youthful features, softly responded, "Yes, Chocolate Chip. It's me," and in a rush and a volley of tears the two ponies embraced and clung tightly to each other until Chocolate Chip stepped back to take a good look at this brother she hadn't seen since months back.

"How'd you find me?" she finally asked.

"When I told Mom I was setting out to search for you, she admitted that she'd received a note from you, and had your address. So I came straight here, with a little help from a friend." He turned and thanked Daddy Leafy for his help.

"Glad to be able to show you the way," Daddy Leafy responded. "And I wish you all a Merry Christmas," he addressed the entire room.

"And does Baby Leafy like that Christmas kitten I checked over yesterday?" asked Thomas.

"He seems to be the perfect gift," replied Daddy Leafy.

After chatting a bit, Daddy Leafy confided to Sugarberry that his family was awaiting his return; accepting a parcel of cookies, Daddy Leafy was soon on his way home.

By the this time, Strawberry Shortcake and Agatha had ensconced Chocolate Chip and Wishbone on the sofa so that the two could catch up on the events of the past months. The two mothers regaled Wishbone with food from the buffet and kept an attentive eye on Chocolate Chip.

"The excitement might be too much for her," fretted Strawberry Shortcake.

"Nonsense. A visit from her brother will do her good," Agatha argued.

"Noh-lah doo-ay!" Doo-Moh exclaimed.

Chocolate Chip was, in fact, having the time of her life filling in the details of the last nine months to her brother's satisfaction, and hearing about the ponies and places from her former days in Neighberry.

And it was then that Tabby presented Elaine with a gift from her. Elaine was spellbound by what she found inside the package.

"It's Plum Pudding!" she gasped, clutching the doll and gazing at it with misty eyes. "How long I've wanted her..."

"It's the least I could do," Tabby said simply, staring down at the Ah-Loh medallion which was still strung around her neck.

Elaine gazed spellbound into Plum Pudding's face, and realized what a sacrifice Tabby had gone through-- Plum Pudding would have been no easy thing for her to give up, let along to someone she hardly knew. "Tabby, I don't care what you think, but you're every bit as nice as my brother said you were," she said earnestly.

Suddenly, from the front porch came a scurry of hooves and the unmistakable "ARR" of Barnacle. Throwing open the door, Sugarberry was met by not only the pirate pony from Port Scurvy, but also Tex. And they were surrounded by a shower of snowflakes.

"Come in! Come in!" invited Sugarberry. "Although seeing the two of you together somehow signals trouble ahead!" she grinned as she hugged each in turn.

"ARR! What do you be meanin' by that?" asked Barnacle sorrowfully. "Am I not welcome in your house, Sugarberry?"

"Oh, Barnacle, you know I'm only teasing!" the strawberry-covered pony replied. "But I'm sure you and Tex remember as well as I do of the trouble you two caused in school."

"Trouble?" repeated Tex. "Why, Sugarberry, what trouble did Barnacle and I ever cause?"

"ARR," agreed Barnacle. "Model students we were!"

"What about the time Curly Locks' tail got dipped in the inkwell?"

"Nothing was ever proven."

"And the snake in study hall?"

"ARR. Wandered in on his own, me be thinkin'."

"Any idea why the fire alarm only went off in heavy downpours?"

"Why, Sugarberry, whatever are you getting at?"

"Well, you two seem to have a different recollection of certain events than I do; but, come, Barnacle, you must say hello to my folks and Tabby's mom. Tex has already become reacquainted with them," she smiled at the yellow stallion as he cringed over the recollection of meeting Agatha. He took off in the opposite direction, joining up with Spike, who had received several Transformers as gifts.

"Cool looking toys, Spike."

"Sugarberry and Tabby each got me one," happily reported Spike.

"And let me guess," reasoned Tex. "They each got Friendly a computer game, and he's busily playing them now on Sugarberry's computer."

"You got that right," Spike chuckled. "Come on. Let's go watch."

So, the stallion and dragon joined Clever Clover at the computer where Friendly was actively engaged in fighting aliens in War of the Worlds.

"Very interesting," mumbled Tex as he pretended to watch the screen. But his eyes and his thoughts were focused on the pink unicorn with yellow eyes who was talking loquaciously to Tabby across the room.

"Game fun, yeah, yeah," confirmed Friendly.

Strawberry Shortcake came to steer Tex toward the buffet table which she was keeping bountifully supplied. Strawberry Baskets was deep in conversation with Vanguard while Sugarberry went her way making sure everyone was happy.

"Strudel, anyone?" she asked of Clever Clover, Spike, and Friendly.

"Full already, yeah," Friendly responded.

"I'll have some of that." Clever Clover grabbed the two pieces for himself, leaving an empty plate for Spike.

"Never fear," comforted Sugarberry. "Mom made plenty. I'll be right back." Soon, she delivered an entire strudel topped with chocolate frosting to the computer table.

"Thanks, Sugarberry!" Spike grinned as he helped himself to a generous portion.

"Martian attack! Yeah!" yelped Friendly, caught up in his game.

"Sure, whatever," remarked Sugarberry distractedly. She had noticed Barnacle and Tex deep in conversation at the buffet table, and they somehow seemed like the mischievous little colts she remembered from grade school. "They're up to something," she muttered under her breath.

* * *

"Agatha and Tabby still haven't forgiven me for that worm incident in sixth grade," Tex confided to Barnacle.

"ARR! That was a splendid affair," remembered Barnacle.

"I know, but they don't think so."

"That reminds me." Barnacle reached into his backpack and rustled through the assorted gifts he had brought with him. "ARR. Here we go. I be thinkin' Davey or Jones dropped these in." He pulled out a cellophane bag of gummy worms and discreetly showed them to Tex.

Tex's eyes opened wide. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"ARR. And I bet she screams even louder now than back then."

"I hope so! How do we pull it off?"

"Me be thinkin'," contemplated Barnacle. "We have to be certain Tabby and only Tabby gets them."

"How about wrapping them as a gift?"

"ARR. Or hiding them in a serving of cherry pie."

"What's up?" asked a voice behind the two connivers.

Barnacle hid the worms deftly while Tex turned to respond to Clever Clover's inquiry.

"Just checking out the food," Tex lied. "Bu the way, Tamara was looking for you."

"She was? But I was just talking to her."

"Oh. Did I say Tamara? I meant Tiffany."

Clever Clover looked closely at Tex, and then at Barnacle, who now was innocently describing his latest adventure to Strawberry Baskets. "You two are up to no good!"

"On Christmas, Clever Clover? Surely you can't suspect us of stooping that low."

"We will see, won't we?"

Tex only grinned.

As Clever Clover moved away, Tex and Barnacle continued their scheming. "ARR! We've got to wrap it as a gift with a name-tag so only Tabby will open it," decided Barnacle.

"Where do we find wrapping paper?" asked Tex; and as if in answer, Tabby's Mr Mime, who had busily been picking up ribbons and bows and paper, scurried by. He didn't even notice when Barnacle slipped a lovely ribbon from his hand and Tex pilfered a sheet of paper.

The pirate and the salsa seller looked at each other and smiled. "Step one taken care of," smugly stated Barnacle as he ripped the name tag off Tabby's original gift and handed it to Tex.

"Step two may be more difficult," frowned Tex abruptly. "How do we wrap it without being seen?"

"ARR. Plenty of privacy in the bathroom," Barnacle smirked as he shoved Tex in that general direction.

Barnacle himself slipped off to visit with Princess Tiffany and Tamara. When he caught sight of Tex coming back into the room, he excused himself and met his accomplice in a relatively quiet corner.

Tex slipped the now-wrapped parcel of worms back into the backpack. "I took the gummy worms out of the cellophane so they'll seem more lifelike when the ribbon is untied," he whispered to Barnacle.

"ARR. Now you be thinkin' like a pirate!" declared Barnacle.

"Tex! Tex!" Tamara approached the stallion. "You've been here over half an hour, and you haven't even wished me a Merry Christmas," she said in disapproval.

"I always save the best for last," Tex said as he put his foreleg around the unicorn while flashing a wink at Barnacle. "Shall we go wish Aunt Agatha a happy holiday?"

Barnacle, too, mingled with the Christmas guests until he found himself in front of the Christmas tree. Lifting the backpack off his shoulder, he set it on the arm of the sofa. "ARR! If I be havin' everyone's attention, I got some gifts to hand out!"

He reached into the depths of the pack and pulled out the first package. "Sugarberry, you be a gifted first."

"Why, thank you, Barnacle!" she gasped. "I'm flattered." Sugarberry untied the ribbon to reveal a purple gemstone. "Barnacle, it's lovely!" she exclaimed.

He put his hoof in the pack once more and intoned the next name: "Clever Clover."

The archeologist was impressed to find an ancient golden trinket in his package. "Fascinating!"

"ARR! Tiffany!" called out Barnacle, obviously enjoying his role as Santa Claus.

"Friendly." And so it went. It appeared that a pirate's life was rather rewarding.

"ARR. Tabby," Barnacle called.

Tabby trustingly took the ribbon-bedecked gift and excitedly tore into it, pausing only a second to notice that the paper looked a lot like one of the patterns Sugarberry used.

The shriek that followed was everything Barnacle and Tex had counted on, and more. In her fright, Tabby had tossed the worms upward, and they rained down on the gathered guests in random fashion, eerily seeking out those ponies with the greatest repulsion to worms as they dropped, so that the shrill sound was repeated again and again, echoing through the once peaceful home.

Doo-Moh added her thoughts on the incident. "Dah boy-bay!" she wailed, translating into "Big afraid!"

Standing with hooves on hips like sentinels of doom, Sugarberry and Strawberry Shortcake scowled disapprovingly at the guffawing pirate. Agatha, who was watching Tex's obvious enjoyment of the event, added her displeasure by stating an, "I told you he was trouble" to Tamara.

Wishbone thoroughly enjoyed the situation and confided to his sister that any reservations about her new friends were now erased-- anyone who could set up such a scheme met with his full approval.

Tiffany had conveniently swooned into Toby's hooves; and luckily for him, she really had fainted, or she would have let him have it for laughing at the panicked mares.

Spike and Friendly scurried through the room rounding up the wayward gummy worms. "Wiggle, wiggle, yeah," joked Friendly as he held one of the gelatinous critters in the air. Spike promptly grabbed it in his mouth and swallowed it down.

"You're vile. You're just simply vile," Tabby's voice, filled with emotion, challenged the guilty stallions. She glared at Barnacle and Tex in turn; and if looks could kill, Ponyland would have lost two of its mainstays this Christmas day.

"Oh, Tabby," chuckled Barnacle as he tried to put a foreleg around her. "You were perfect!"

Tabby jostled the pirate away. "You... you... worm," she hissed, using the lowest possible term in her vocabulary.

"ARR, Tabby. You can't be meaning that," a persistent Barnacle went on. "We be best of friends, right?"

"That's what you think!" snarled Tabby.

"Hee hee! Fun!" Doo-Moh's high-pitched giggle sounded through the room.

Strawberry Baskets intervened at this point. "Christmas is a time of peace. Barnacle, don't you think you should apologize to Tabby?"

"ARR. Me be sorry, Tabby." Barnacle tried to put on a sorrowful face, but failed miserably. "But you got to admit it was awfully funny," he grinned voraciously.

"Now, Tabby," Strawberry Baskets continued. "Do you accept Barnacle's apology?"

"Not particularly, but..." Tabby's glowering countenance stared at Barnacle, but a flicker of a smile began to soften her anger. "...I might make an exception."

"Now, Tex." Strawberry Baskets turned to the colleague of the wayward pirate. ‘It would appear that you, too, owe Tabby an apology.

But Tabby waved her hoof through the air in dismissal. "He's not worth the bother," she declared.

"Tabby, I'm..." Tex tried to right the situation.

Tabby cast him such a withering glance then that he shut his mouth in defeat.

Barnacle reached into his backpack one more time and pulled out an unmarked package. "This be your real gift, Tabby," he announced. "Merry Christmas!"

"For real?" Tabby asked skeptically, reaching out for it skeptically.

"ARR. For real!"

Tabby held the gift at foreleg's length and slowly undid the ribbon. As the paper slid down, it revealed a shining golden tube approximately two inches long. Tabby gasped in delight.

"I knew you not be likin' jewelry and such, but this item seemed right for you somehow."

Drawing the small but rather heavy cylinder in close to her heart, Tabby declared blissfully, "I bet you it came from Atlantis and there's some terribly exciting mystery around it involving Furbys and deranged Atlantean spirits."

Thomas, who was at Tabby's side, looked perplexed. "I don't know why, but I'll agree with you on that." Their eyes met, and something ethereal passed between them.

"Kah very happy," Doo-Moh decided.

"Your theories are deranged more so than Atlantean spirits," Clever Clover mumbled under his breath.

"Look, the snow is still falling," called out Spike as he passed the picture window. Everyone's attention was drawn to the feathery snowflakes being blown in the wind.

"I love a Christmas snow," sighed Sugarberry as she stood in Vanguard's embrace.

"Yes, it makes the day all the more special," agreed her mother.

Agatha softly reflected, "Hubert always loved the snow."

Thomas and Tabby moved to her side, and two tears rolled down Agatha's cheeks. "You're a lot like your father, Tabitha," she whispered.

Sugarberry softly began to sing. "Joy to the world, the Lord is come; let earth receive her king..."

And one by one, the clustered friends joined in. "He rules the world with truth and grace..."

Sugarberry smiled at Tabby as their eyes met, and the two ponies knew for a fact that Jesus was the best gift yet.

"Hmm... boring," was all Doo-Moh had to say.

Go Back to Library Index
Go Back to Tabby's Dream Valley