“Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing to what I shall unfold,” the armored specter replied to the white stallion.
“Speak; I am bound to hear.”
“So art thou to revenge, when thou shalt hear,”
“What?” queried the stallion posing as Hamlet.
“I am thy father’s spirit...” the specter intoned, but Hamlet’s attention wandered as if under siege by some other phantom. His eyes swept the rows of empty seats until they came to rest on a mare sitting in the back row, nearly invisible under the dim lights. Icon stared at her for a second, then shook his head and turned back to the specter’s continuing lines.
“But this eternal blazon must not be...”
“O God!” Icon yelped, his head whirling to again study the form of the mare in the auditorium, his brain registering something about her that was familiar. Forgetting all about Paddock, the other actor on the stage, Icon’s steady gaze centered on the spot where he had seen the mare. There was no one visible now.
“Let’s see if we can keep our concentration, Icon,” Vivi, the play’s director, reprimanded the stallion as he stared dazedly into the nonexistent audience. “You anticipated your line before the ghost was finished speaking. Let’s try it again.”
Icon returned to the present and succeeded in responding with his lines as needed, but Vivi was sharp in her criticism when the rehearsal was over. “Your mind wasn’t on your character, Icon. We could have had a six-year-old reading the part. Let’s try to get up some enthusiasm, shall we?” She stalked off in a huff.
“What happened?” asked Paddock, coming to Icon with a grin. “You looked like you’d seen a real ghost.”
Icon’s gaze reverted to the back of the theater once more. “I did.”
“Well,” responded Paddock, punching Icon in the shoulder, “I hope he doesn’t offer any competition to my representation on opening night.” He looked at Icon closely. “Or was it a she?”
“A real harpy.”
As Paddock moved away, Icon remained where he stood, lost in thought. The mare-- whether flesh and blood or a figment of his imagination-- had a decidedly familiar figure; and if she was in town, there could only be trouble ahead for him. The stallion had not given Splotch a thought for days-- or at least not more than a passing tug at his heart. Why would he conjure up the image of his nemesis now when he had worked so hard to purge her memory from his mind?
The mare in question had smitten Icon the moment her emerald eyes had laughingly fastened on his face that fateful day in Golden City; and after that one encounter, he would have gladly followed her to the ends of the earth. Splotch’s sensibilities, however, had not been similarly engaged.
Sighing in a manner that would have greatly pleased Vivi if it had come from Hamlet, Icon left the stage, ignoring the chatter going on around him, and headed for the exit.
He stopped short, for he came face-to-face with Splotch.
Time stopped for Icon in that moment as his world exploded and his heart thudded in his chest; the emerald eyes were fastened on him, those deep green eyes that could cause him to feel emotions that were foreign to him before their acquaintance; and if there had been any sign of affection, the stallion would have capitulated to the state of a love-lorn puppy in an instant; but, as it was, he saw only a cold and defiant challenge that poured over him like ice water. Clearly, he remembered the last message this emerald-eyed vixen had sent him: “Revenge will be sweet.”
Revenge it was she was after.
So Icon’s words were as cold as her look. “What are you doing here?”
“I was critiquing your acting style,” the mare offered.
Burying a desire to kiss those lips that taunted him, Icon repeated his question. “I ask again, what are you doing in Woodlawn?”
“I’m in need of some fresh landscapes.” The avocational artist’s eyes were twinkling now in such a manner that Icon found his defenses shattered just as they had been at their first meeting; it took all his resolve to hold his true feelings at bay.
“I would find it easier to believe that you’re here to cause more trouble for my company; but the courts ruled against Macrohard, remember? If you don’t understand what that means, I suggest you talk to Anchor.” Icon began to move past her.
Splotch was undeterred. “If you think Anchor will be sorry to see me in this quaint little town, you’ll be sadly disappointed.”
Not waiting to discover exactly what Splotch meant, Icon continued on his hurried way. He, therefore, did not hear Splotch’s conversation with Vivi.
* * *
After a night of fitful sleep dominated by a pair of emerald eyes, Icon high-tailed it to Anchor’s law office the following morning to warn him of the advent of Splotch in their midst and nearly collided with that stallion as he rounded the corner onto Main.
“Where are you headed in such a hurry?” asked Anchor, steadying the younger stallion with a firm hoof.
“I was coming to see you; do you have some time to talk?”
Anchor cleared his throat. “As a matter of fact, I was just on my way to see you; let’s go on to Hood’s Place for some coffee.”
Keeping his news to himself until the two were settled at a corner table, Icon finally dropped his bombshell. “That conniving lawyer of Casale’s is in town; and she’s snooping out trouble for us if her past history is any indication.”
“I’m aware that she’s here,” Anchor said calmly, blowing across his hot brew.
“You don’t seem surprised,” muttered Icon, suddenly remembering Splotch’s warning last evening that Anchor would not be sorry to see her.
“You might say she’s here by my invitation.”
Choking on his coffee, Icon croaked, “Why, for Pete’s sake?”
Now that the moment was here, Anchor seemed to find it difficult to say the words. He flicked several crumbs of muffin off the table before glancing at Icon, then focused his gaze on his napkin. “I hired Splotch to work with me.” Anchor’s body had stiffened as he said the words as if expecting a physical rebuke, but the lawyer was still not prepared for the eruption of Icon’s total shock over the news.
“You what!?” roared the stallion, half rising out of his chair and leaning threateningly toward his companion, causing every pony in the place to send startled glances in the direction of the two.
“Splotch works for me now.” Unsettled by the sparks of pure rage emitted by Icon, Anchor hurried on. “It seems that she found her position with Casale undermined by Justin who never ceased to blame her for H.C.I.’s victory over Macrohard. It became impossible for her to work there; and when she heard that I was looking for a legal assistant, she contacted me to see if I was interested.”
“And you hired that... that... jezebel?”
“I’ve been swamped with work, Icon, since the court case with Macrohard; that was the best advertising I could have. And I know from experience that Splotch is an efficient and dedicated pony.”
“She tried to ruin us!” Icon retaliated. “You’re bringing the wolf into the flock!”
“Her priorities will be with my clients now-- H.C.I. included- not with Casale. I would never question her loyalty.”
“You are making a serious mistake, Anchor.”
Frowning at his young friend across the table, Anchor was having a difficult time understanding this complete abhorrence of Splotch on Icon’s part. It had been obvious that something had ignited between the two ponies in Golden City, even though they had been on opposite sides of the issue under question. Anchor had assumed that Icon would see the possible benefit in renewing his acquaintance with the magenta mare; he had not anticipated this level of animosity. Looking for a neutral point to soften the stallion’s vexation, Anchor said, “Splotch had an exceptional reference.”
“If you tell me that you trust anything from Casale, I’ll truly doubt your sanity.”
“Not Casale, Icon; I’m speaking of Lattice.”
“Queen Majesty’s lawyer? What good things did she have to say about Splotch?”
“She was quite free with her recommendations,” Anchor smiled. “She is Splotch’s sister.”
Icon was stunned. “They couldn’t be sisters! Lattice is an intelligent, compassionate, refined mare... none of which can be said of Splotch.”
“Splotch is some years younger than Lattice and has an unique personality; Lattice assures me that Splotch is capable of becoming a fine associate once away from the influence of Macrohard’s lawyer, Justin, and Guido Casale- and Lattice thinks that is the best thing for her- although from what I’ve heard, Guido has mellowed since he escaped Princess Tiffany’s clutches,” Anchor added judiciously
“That’ll be the day,” grumbled Icon, his mind reeling from the news with which Anchor had floored him. He pushed back his coffee cup and stood. “Time will tell, won’t it? I just hope you haven’t made the biggest mistake of your life, Anchor-- for H.C.I.’s sake as well as your own.”
* * *
Reaching his own office at H.C.I., the software development company begun by Icon and two of his friends, Icon found Hodgepodge and Cachet lingering over the coffee pot. Without waiting for a greeting, he launched into his complaint. “Were you aware that Anchor has hired an assistant?”
“I know he’s been complaining of his work-load; I just thought he was gearing up for an increase in his fees,” grinned Cachet.
“I heard he was considering some stallion from up north, but the fellow didn’t like the small-town atmosphere here.”
“Well, you’re both wrong. You’ll never guess who he’s taken on.” The vehemence in Icon’s voice garnered both co-workers’ attention as well as that of Fidget, the office coordinator, who had just come in with the morning’s mail.
“Then you’d better tell us,” said Cachet, lifting a questioning brow.
“Anchor’s lost his mind, if you ask me,” Icon ranted. “He’s hired a lawyer away from Macrohard... Splotch, by name.” He looked at his friends expectantly.
“Splotch...” mused Hodgepodge. “We met her in Golden City, didn’t we?”
“Met her?” Icon spat. “She was with the opposing side.”
Cachet looked thoughtful. He remembered clearly the night in Golden City when Icon had come back to the motel and confided that he had met a mare with whom he had fallen in love, an emotion which up until that point had evaded Icon. Cachet remembered, too, the severe disappointment Icon experienced to learn that Splotch was of the enemy camp; Cachet had seen the callous attitude of the mare toward Icon and had felt Icon’s disappointment. Now, he wondered what close proximity would do to this tenuous acquaintance. “When will Splotch be in town?”
“She’s here now.” Those words were pronounced as a death knell.
The jangling of the telephone and the arrival of the first appointment of the day ended the conversation; and the ponies got down to business; but every moment when Icon’s mind was not compelled to be useful, he conjured up the image of emerald eyes, sometimes coldly calculating, and at others, warm and welcoming.
* * *
A late lunch found Icon back at Hood’s Place for a quick sandwich and a glass of milk which he was partaking of at the counter when a hoof was placed on his shoulder and a svelte body slipped into the place next to him.
“Jules, give me the same as Icon,” Vivi trilled. Then, turning to Icon, she continued. “You left the rehearsal last night too quickly; you missed an interesting development.” Accepting a glass of cold milk, Vivi took a sip. “We’ve got ourselves a new set designer to assist Stargazer; her name’s Splotch, and she’s new in town... and she has a background in art. She’ll help Candleglow with the costumes, too.”
Vivi’s sandwich was delivered, so Icon could get in a word. “This Splotch just walked in and offered her talents?”
“She said she’s just getting settled- works for that lawyer in town, I believe she said- and read an article in the newspaper about our production and thought it would be a good way to get acquainted with some of Woodlawn’s ponies. Oh, and she said she’d met you once; is that true?”
“She has a lot of enthusiasm and energy; I like that in a pony. I think she’ll work out well for our group. She’ll bring in new ideas; that’s important, too. But I keep forgetting; you already met her, so you know what she’s like. What do you think?”
“She’ll definitely have new ideas.”
“And as I said, that’s important. Candleglow is a good seamstress and gets the job done, but she doesn’t have any original ideas. And Stargazer is good, but he doesn’t really have the time to do as much as he should; Splotch will take up the slack. She’s very pretty, too, don’t you think?”
Vivi stopped her chattering to take a bite of her sandwich, and Icon took the opportunity to excuse himself and return to his office. He threw himself down in his chair and steepled his hooves in front of him.
He had to face the facts. Splotch was in town, and it looked like she intended to cement herself with the local ponies. But why did she pick Woodlawn as her destination after leaving Vulcanopolis? Certainly she would have had her pick of jobs in New Pony or Hayton or any other of Ponyland’s major cities. Why Woodlawn? That question irked Icon to no end.
The only possible answer Icon could see was that she had been planted here by Casale so that he could fulfill his vendetta against H.C.I. Casale had already made one underhooved attempt and failed; he surely would not give up that easily. Having Splotch on the scene would certainly give him the leverage to cause untold damage to the operation of H.C.I., Icon was positive of that.
Even if Anchor had fallen blindly into Casale’s web, Icon would never falter. He, of all the ponies in Woodlawn, knew that Splotch was not to be trusted. Hadn’t she used him to further her consequence with Casale (even though she had ultimately failed?) and then tossed him away without a second thought... except that of revenge? No, Icon would never let his guard down for a second. Whatever Splotch’s goal in coming to Woodlawn, Icon would make sure that she had no success.
Icon turned to his computer to resume work on his current project. He stared at the screen for several minutes before throwing up his hooves in exasperation. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. Would those green eyes haunt him forever?
* * *
In the days and weeks ahead, Icon found that Splotch made herself a very big part of Woodlawn life. He could not avoid her presence; she was at the rehearsals at the theater, of course, and had been helpful in bringing off a successful presentation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. She was at Hood’s Place, at church, at the grocery store, even at H.C.I. when Anchor brought her around to introduce her to Cachet and Hodgepodge. No matter where Icon went, he would hear her energized voice or her lilting laughter, and he did not know which was worse: the days when he could not avoid her or the days that their paths did not cross.
The suspicion and the anger he had felt for her when she had first showed up soon tempered; he found he was no longer watching for her to keep track of what she was up to in connection with her suspected spy work for Casale but was searching every crowd simply because he wanted to see her face, to see those emerald eyes. Yet he did not seek her out on purpose because he could not completely forget that she had tried to ruin H.C.I.-- and in the process, had destroyed his hope that in Splotch he had found a life-mate.
When they did come in close proximity of one another, conversation consisted only of the briefest exchanges that worked as a double-edged sword rife with meaning. Neither pony would relent; neither would admit defeat.
One evening in mid-August, Icon was on the way to his parents’ home to procure a dose of his mothers’s home-baked cookies and was taking a shortcut across the neighbor’s lawn to reach the back door when he saw a pony dash around the corner of the house from the front and stealthily- or so it seemed to Icon- make his way along the side of the house. Icon stopped in the shadowed overhang of the lilac bush to watch the progress of the pony until the trespasser stepped into the ring of light from the porch.
As the light crossed the pony’s face, Icon gasped. The pony was Splotch. After all this time, he had caught her in the act of spying on his family! A part of him recoiled in horror, and the other part beamed with success.
Splotch had heard the intake of breath behind her and turned with a muted scream which soon turned to words of anger as Icon grabbed her foreleg roughly and growled, “I knew I’d find you sticking your nose in where it doesn’t belong if I waited long enough. What are you trying to snoop out at my parents’ house?”
“I was here as a guest of your mother’s, and I left my purse behind and was just going to slip in the back way to fetch it,” a surprised Splotch explained. “And I’d appreciate it if you’d get your hoof off of me!”
Instead of releasing her, Icon tightened his grip. “My mother’s guests shouldn’t feel the need to sneak in the back door.”
“Speaking of which, why are you weaseling your way to the house?”
“We were talking about you, Splotch.”
“Your mother held a craft night to work on projects for the church bazaar,” grated Splotch. “You would know that if you read the church bulletin.”
Splotch gritted her teeth and tried to step back from the determined stallion, but she could not. “I came to paint some trinkets; and when I was finished and left the house, I realized that I had left my purse in the kitchen...”
“So you felt the need to sneak back in to steal your own purse?” Icon finished for her.
“I came this way knowing that the back door was off the kitchen and I could more easily recover my purse without traipsing through the entire house again!” an exasperated Splotch divulged.
Listening to this explanation, Icon realized that his mother had referred to this crafting bee, and it was possible that Splotch had volunteered her painting ability for the project. He also realized that he and Splotch had not had this long a conversation since they had met in Golden City, or that they had stood this close together since that night. And another thing, her cologne was the same as he remembered when they had talked by the fountain in the plaza, a sweet yet spicy fragrance of gardenia and...
Icon shook his head to clear the memories; he also loosened his grip on Splotch’s foreleg, but he did not release her entirely. “I would prefer that you didn’t encroach on my mother.”
Bristling, Splotch retorted, “Floral Breeze is very much like my own mother, and we enjoy each other’s company; you have no right to dictate who I can or cannot see!”
“It’s too bad, Splotch, that you didn’t inherit any of your mother’s attributes; obviously, Lattice got all the feminine charm in the offspring.”
“Why you miserable, insensitive, obnoxious lowlife,” bridled Splotch, her eyes narrowing. She took a deep breath to continue her litany of Icon’s faults, and the porch light caught the emerald glints from her eyes like green flames.
Whether to live up to Splotch’s opinion of him or simply because of the circumstances, Icon suddenly pulled the mare to him and caught his lips to hers; after the first moment of shock, Splotch found herself returning the kiss when just as suddenly as it had begun, Icon pushed her away. His eyes held the emerald ones. “Revenge is sweet,” he drawled easily. He had the satisfaction of seeing those eyes, which had softened to a gooseberry green, turn to a cold hard jade.
Icon’s revenge was short-lived as Splotch’s hoof came up and caught his cheek in a sharp slap. “You are despicable!” she breathed. Stifling a sob, she turned on her heal and ran.
* * *
His own hoof cradling his stinging cheek, Icon stood looking after the retreating Splotch until she disappeared from sight, then he went up the back steps and across the porch and opened the door. He found his mother standing by the kitchen table with a purse in her hooves. “Did you meet Splotch on your way here by any chance? She forgot her purse.”
“I saw her, but she’s too far away to catch now,” Icon admitted. “I can take it to her... after I help clean-up your left-over desserts.” His gaze settled on what was apparently a snack for the crafters she had hosted.
“Good,” Floral Breeze smiled. “Your father will be here in a minute to have his share, too.”
Icon enjoyed a pleasant conversation with his parents, but he found that he could not get that commandeered kiss off of his mind; nor could he forget the look of distress on Splotch’s face after he had ended it. He was soon on his way to Splotch’s apartment with her purse in hoof.
If he had hoped that Splotch would be appreciative of his assist in this matter, he was sadly mistaken. The mare opened her door only far enough to claim the purse, and that only because Floral Breeze had called her telling her to expect her son with the forgotten reticule. The transfer being made, the door closed in Icon’s face with a sharp snap that mimicked the earlier slap.
Maybe revenge was not so sweet after all.
* * *
His action had been uncalled for, Icon decided in the days ahead. He never should have used a kiss to provoke Splotch; their first kiss should have been wondrous, not the trivial reprisal he had used it for. He could not blame Splotch for despising him now, and it was his own fault.
Unable to face the consequences of his unjust actions, Icon avoided anyplace where Splotch might be; and if they involuntarily ended up in the same room, he stayed clear of her. And Splotch herself made no effort to speak with him. As the days passed, Icon could stand his self-recrimination no longer. He went to his mother for advice.
* * *
“So that’s why you were so despondent when you returned from Golden City,” Floral Breeze said when she had heard the story of Icon and Splotch’s meeting in the capital city. “But why are you still downcast when she’s here now?”
“I’ve blamed Splotch for all H.C.I.’s trouble with Macrohard- she became the scapegoat for me. That night she left her purse here, I was downright rude to her when I met her outside the door. I wanted my own revenge for her not being honest with me up front. Now I’m afraid to approach her again.”
“Revenge, at first though sweet, bitter ere long back on itself recoils,” Floral Breeze quoted.
“Milton,” Icon observed. “For what it’s worth, it’s true.”
“You were playing with fire,” said Floral Breeze, and Icon remembered the flame-like appearance of Splotch’s eyes. “I liked Splotch from the first moment I met her; I’m not surprised that she was the one who broke down your resistance,” Floral Breeze said soothingly, patting her son on the hoof. “It was the same with Morning Dew and Sugarberry; my sons choose wisely.”
“But, Mom, I think I’ve lost her because of my stupid pride!”
“Then win her back.”
“Slowly. Let her see you at your best for a change. And I’d start with an apology.”
“That will be difficult to do as she’s always in a crowd, and I don’t think she’ll open her door to me.”
Floral Breeze considered this problem. “There’s another crafting night here tomorrow,” she eventually grinned. “Your dad could use some help with those bird feeders he’s building.”
“That would work if I hadn’t told her I wanted her to stay away from you,” Icon admitted sheepishly.
Waving a hoof through the air, Floral Breeze assured her son. “She’ll be here.” Then she grew thoughtful. “I’ve been wondering why Splotch chose to come to Woodlawn with the experience she has; she could have had her choice of jobs after working for Macrohard, don’t you think, and with a much more lucrative salary than Anchor could afford? Surely her choice was determined by something... or someone... close to her heart.”
For the first time in days, Icon truly smiled.
* * *
Sailing across the room, the pillow took out one potted plant, one wooden sculpture, and an empty soda glass before coming to rest against the entertainment center. Splotch did not even notice. She was pacing her living room with angry strides. Why had she ever thought she wanted to live and work in Woodlawn anyway!
After the court case between Macrohard and H.C.I. had been resolved, Splotch had been angry with the ponies from Woodlawn, yes. But she found that she could not entirely forget the enjoyable tete-a-tete that she and Icon had shared. Why did they have to meet under those circumstances? Another pillow followed its mate, merely taking out a stack of CD’s in its wanton flight.
If she had it to do over again, Splotch decided, she would have identified herself as legal assistant to Macrohard as soon as Icon had introduced himself; that would have negated their impromptu supper that night. And if they had not been thrown together in such an enjoyable encounter, Icon would not have shown his charming side to her and she would not have fallen in...
No! She could never love such an egotistical, overbearing, opinionated stallion as Icon! Admittedly, she had found conversation with the less sophisticated stallion from the small town a pleasant diversion. And she had thought he had liked her, too. Well, that was proven untrue when he used something as precious as a kiss so shoddily! He was as uncouth as any stallion she had ever met!
There were no more pillows; a paperback romance on the arm of the sofa served just as well.
And come to think of it, she had always wondered why Lattice had called her about this job in Woodlawn anyway; it was not like her older sister to try to direct Splotch’s life. Splotch wryly grinned. Lattice knew from experience that Splotch would never listen to her advice. That’s what should have warned Splotch about this call; Lattice had actually pointed out the down side of taking the job with Anchor, which she knew would only encourage Splotch to look at it more kindly. Lattice had set her up! But for what reason? How could Lattice have known Splotch’s feelings for Icon? Why did her big sister always have to be right!!!
For several seconds, Splotch was at a loss for something to throw, until she spotted her purse on a chair, and that unfortunate clutch was suddenly airborne. It sailed against the telephone receiver just as that object had begun to ring; and the jolt knocked it flying.
A breathless Splotch ran across the room to salvage the call. “Hello?”
There was silence for a moment, then Floral Breeze’s voice came over the line accompanied by a chuckle. “Is everything okay there, Splotch?” she queried.
Oh! Tonight was the night of the crafting bee. She could not go; she would not go! “Everything is fine, but I don’t...”
Floral Breeze’s voice interrupted. “I’m glad to hear that, because I need your help. Would you stop at the store on your way over and pick up a gallon of milk? I just realized I don’t have a drop in the house.”
“The two percent will do just fine. Remind me to reimburse you for it when you get here. Oh, there’s the doorbell. I gotta run. And thanks for helping me out, Splotch!” The line went dead.
* * *
Surveying the miniature floral scene she had just painted, Splotch cocked her head to envision what the work still needed. The room was quiet as the other crafters had retired to the kitchen for a snack before the evening ended. Splotch had wanted to finish this one last trinket box with a flowery meadow, but something was just not quite right with the design.
“Some white lacy flowers would look good on the left side,” a voice commented from very close range.
Splotch spun around, dropping her paintbrush which clattered across the floor. “You!” she hissed.
Undaunted, Icon rescued the paintbrush. “I have a legitimate reason to be here,” he said as he handed it back to her. “I’m helping Dad with some bird houses down in the basement workshop.”
“Underground is an appropriate place for you... worm!” Splotch turned her back on him.
“Would you look at me, Splotch? I only want to apologize...”
“A... apologize?” Splotch turned, looking shocked. Why would this vermin want to apologize?
“Yes.” Icon’s contrite expression was priceless. “I’m sorry...” He hesitated for just an instant. “I’m sorry I broke off that kiss.” The stallion’s eyes suddenly sparkled and a cocky grin lighted his face.
“You abominable wretch!” she hissed scathingly. “You cannot be Floral Breeze’s son!”
Icon laughed. “Relent, Splotch! Can’t we be friends?”
Before Splotch could answer, Floral Breeze peeked into the room. “You two are going to miss out on some awfully good desserts out here if you don’t hurry up.” She smiled sweetly. “I’ll set something back just in case.” She left them to themselves once more.
Icon turned back to Splotch, and their eyes met. There was just the beginning of a twinkle in those emerald depths as Splotch responded. “Friends, then.”
* * *
Why hadn’t he asked her to the dance last night? The answer was easy. Icon was afraid that she would shy off if he seemed to be pushing too hard. Splotch had consented to his walking her home from his parents’ house, which was a major concession on her part; but now the damage was done. Boxwood had asked Splotch to accompany him to the street dance on Friday night during a meeting of the actors’ group, right in front of everyone; and Splotch had no polite choice but to accept. Of course, maybe she wanted to accept, griped Icon to himself, looking at the couple with a dark, brooding gaze.
“You look like I feel,” a soft voice said at his side.
“The same thing that’s bothering you, I’d imagine.” She grinned her shy smile at Icon’s puzzlement. “I’d expected Boxwood to invite me to the dance.”
Looking at the quiet mare with cornflower blue eyes and pale yellow coloring as if for the first time, Icon said, “What do you see in that bore?”
“What do you see in Splotch?”
“She’s personable and pretty and...” Icon stopped and grinned. “I suppose from your point of view, Boxwood is a handsome prince as well.”
“I think he and I would get along very well,” Candleglow replied modestly. “If he ever would notice me.”
“Well, as he already has a date for the dance, how about you and I hang out together?” Icon suggested, realizing that he and Candleglow had seldom been in the same company except the theater production since the two of them had graduated from high school in the same class.
“That way, we can keep an eye on them,” Candleglow confided.
“Yeah. Something like that.” With a wink, Icon guided the diminutive mare across the room to join in the camaraderie of the assembled thespians. He never noticed the black look that Splotch centered on him.
* * *
Pending thunderstorms had never materialized, and the evening of the street dance was marked by a glorious sunset that streaked orange and yellow and magenta bands across the horizon just before the sun slipped from sight. Candleglow and Icon had watched the spectacle with other friends from the overhead balcony of the hardware store. Turning their attention back to the street below them, they quickly picked out Splotch and Boxwood getting a soft drink after finishing a dance.
“Come on,” urged Icon of his date. “If we hurry, we can claim our respective intendeds for the next dance.”
They were hindered on their way, however, by any number of friends who stopped to chat including Vivi who was never short on words; so by the time they reached the spot where they had last seen Splotch and Boxwood, those two had already garnered new partners and were once more in the dance.
Icon watched Splotch as she swirled about with Hodgepodge, of all ponies. “Butterfly Blue must be out of town again,” he grumbled to Candleglow.
Candleglow giggled. “She and her mother and sisters went to Hayton for the fittings for her wedding apparel; Hodgepodge may be feeling a bit nervous.”
“Another nail in his coffin, you mean?” queried Icon smugly.
“Why, Icon! What a thing to say!” retorted Candleglow. “If the way you look at Splotch is any indication, I’d think that you would be contemplating matrimony with a more benevolent outlook.”
“One step at a time, Candleglow. I have to find a mare willing to be my wife before I can turn my thought to wedded bliss.”
The music had stopped, and Icon looked up to see Splotch and Hodgepodge standing before him and Candleglow. Splotch had heard only the end of Icon’s comment and rather desperately wondered why he and this pale little mare would have been discussing wedded bliss. But she smiled politely when Icon requested her for his partner in the next dance which ensued without incident, although Icon thought that Splotch was keeping him at a distance with her tone and her actions.
Boxwood claimed Splotch immediately when the dance ended and Hodgepodge returned Candleglow to Icon, so Icon escorted the mare to a spread of bistro tables where they joined several other ponies and were soon engrossed in revelry. Icon was immensely enjoying the evening with his friends and was surprised when Candleglow nudged him, her gaze focused on the crowd behind him. “Icon, I suddenly feel claustrophobic here; could we walk or something?”
Hiding his disappointment, Icon helped Candleglow to her hooves and led her through the press of the ponies and beyond to the path to the park. The mare moved at a fast pace, not at all like someone who was languishing. “Feeling better?” Icon asked as they gained the open vista of the park, softly bathed in the glow of strategically placed lamps. He looked at Candleglow with some concern, never having known the mare to express any kind of discomfort under any circumstances.
“A little better,” Candleglow acknowledged, but she said no more until they reached the arched stone bridge at the center of the park. Once there, unexpectedly, she spilled out her heart to Icon.
“Why doesn’t Boxwood see me as anything but the scrawny little foal that grew up with him? Why doesn’t anyone see me as anything other than a servant? If anyone needs a babysitter, they ask Candleglow; she’s always available. If someone needs a fill-in for lector at church, call Candleglow; she’ll do it. If the diner needs an extra waitress, give Candleglow a buzz; she won’t mind coming in! I’m a doormat, plain and simple.” She blushed at the double meaning those words conveyed, but stumbled on. “Even you are here only to gain a chance at Splotch. I’m sick of being second-best, Icon! I want to be first in someone’s- in Boxwood’s- world.” Her eyes were wet with tears.
Feeling uncomfortable under the circumstances, Icon knew he had to come up with some bracing advice for the forlorn mare. “Candleglow, you’re seeing this all topsy turvy. You’re not second-rate; you’re indispensable. That’s why none of us can get along without you.” He gently put his hoof under her chin and lifted her head to meet his gaze. “Boxwood will come to realize that in time.”
“Do you really think so?” Candleglow said disconsolately.
“We’ll make sure of it,” Icon grinned, bending to give her a comforting kiss on her cheek.
* * *
Approaching the bridge, Splotch and Boxwood saw the tender scene in profile, the two participants like actors on a stage under the spotlight of the park’s luminaries. Gasping and staring wide-eyed, Splotch stopped in her tracks, disappointment sapping her energy and dulling her sensibilities. Boxwood, however, was furious.
“What’s going on here?” he roared, making a hurried rush toward Icon and Candleglow. “You leave your hooves off my girl.”
Icon and Candleglow put some distance between themselves while Boxwood claimed Candleglow’s hoof and glared at Icon. “What do you think you’re trying to prove?”
“I was just...”
“Let me tell you something, Icon. You can have any other mare in Woodlawn, but Candleglow is spoken for; set your sights elsewhere.”
Candleglow looked at Boxwood in adoring wonder.
As those two started off at a leisurely pace entirely engrossed in each other, they brushed past the still frozen Splotch; that mare finally came out of her trance. She looked accusingly at Icon, assuming from the night’s events that he and Candleglow were much closer friends than she had originally suspected. “This is a first; I’ve never seen you take that kind of treatment without some sort of defense on your part. Are you just going to stand there while he walks off with your date?”
Icon only laughed as he came to Splotch and drew her forward to the crest of the bridge where they could look over the balustrade at the flowing river. He was still chuckling as he explained. “Candleglow should be the leading lady in our next theater production; her talent is being wasted in wardrobe. She set the stage for Boxwood’s unsuspecting capitulation to her charms.”
“You mean she planned this rendezvous to make Boxwood jealous?”
“Exactly. And I’m glad for Candleglow’s sake that it seems to have worked splendidly.”
“And you’re not hurt by the outcome?”
“Why would I be hurt? It’s what we set out to do.”
“But you surely appeared to be quite close to Candleglow this evening.”
“Candleglow and I were in school together for years and years; we grew up together, actually. Of course, we’re close.” He saw the confusion in her emerald eyes. “Just friends.”
“Like us?” whispered Splotch.
Icon chuckled again. “Not exactly like us.” He looked at Splotch closely, sorry that his former actions had caused Splotch to doubt his feelings for her. “Splotch, I was very unkind to you when I first saw you here in Woodlawn, and I’d give anything to change that.” An idea burst upon Icon’s senses. “You wait right here. I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Where are you going?” Splotch put a hoof out to stop him.
“I’m going out of sight and then returning as if I hadn’t yet encountered you since your arrival in Woodlawn. I’ll see you standing here staring out over the water, and we’ll have a chance to start all over again... and maybe get it right this time.”
“Then, go,” Splotch smiled.
* * *
It was only a short space of time before the white stallion walked casually up the path to spot the magenta mare gazing dreamily down into the highlighted water of the brook.
“Splotch!” Icon called upon seeing the mare. “Is that really you?” He breathlessly came to her side.
The magenta mare turned her head and smiled at the stallion. “Why, Icon, how nice to see you again!”
“What brings you to Woodlawn?” Icon adopted a stern demeanor. “You aren’t going after H.C.I. again, are you?”
“No, silly,” Splotch rolled her emerald green eyes. “Actually, I’m here because of a job offer from Anchor.”
“From Anchor? He’s always worked alone.”
“Well, no more. He’s hired me to be his legal assistant.”
Impassionedly, Icon responded. “You mean... you mean that you’ll be living here... in Woodlawn?”
“Yes; I’ve taken an apartment at The Willows; maybe you could come over for supper sometime.”
“Better yet, why don’t I pick you up tomorrow evening, and we’ll dine at the best restaurant in town?”
“If you’re referring to Hood’s Place...”
“No, silly; I mean Fernwood; the lights are low, there’s slow dancing, and the food is good, too.”
“It sounds perfect.”
“Good. I’ll pick you up at your place at seven-thirty.” Icon enthusiastically claimed Splotch’s hoof. “I’ve dreamed of seeing you again like this; I’ve dreamed of those emerald eyes of yours, that sparkling voice, your sweet lips...” Icon moved closer to Splotch and lowered his head toward those lips...
A discreet cough sounded behind the two enamored ponies, and they jumped apart as if dealt an electrical shock. Icon turned to see his parents standing a short distance behind them.
“Excuse us for interrupting,” Whirlpool said, a smile on his face. “But we were on our way home, and this is the most direct route.”
“And Splotch and I were just... taking a breather from the dancing.” Icon looked at the mare beside him. “Well, Splotch, are you up to another dance?” Blushing very becomingly, Splotch answered in the affirmative, and the two young ponies went off toward the brighter lights of Main Street.
Floral Breeze and Whirlpool watched them until they were out of sight. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, Whirlpool led his wife to the spot so recently vacated by their son and Splotch; and they continued from where those two had left off.