written by Sugarberry

"Chocolate Chip, you're going to have a path worn between the kitchen and the front door if you keep this up!" Sugarberry smilingly chided the slim brown pony who was checking the street for the umpteenth time.

"Where are they?" Chocolate Chip asked worriedly. "They were supposed to be here by now!"

"It's only twenty minutes past the time they said they'd get here. And they did have to check in at the university first." Sugarberry was fixing the evening meal in preparation for Chocolate Chip's expected guests: her father, Drifter; her brother, Wishbone; and Wishbone's friend, Snowdrift.

"It's just that I get so nervous waiting." Chocolate Chip paced the kitchen floor. "Yikes! Raptor! You can't eat the cake!" She scooted the inquisitive and hungry kitten off the counter. "Bad kitty!" she shook her hoof warningly at the unperturbed creature.

"Better put the cover over that cake," Sugarberry advised. "Once he's got the scent, he won't let his quarry go." She reached out to pat the purring black tiger-striped kitten who then stood up against her leg.

At that moment, a rap came at the door.

"They're here!" shrieked Chocolate Chip, dashing out of the kitchen, sending both Fluff and Raptor scurrying for cover.

Checking the components of supper, Sugarberry made sure everything was in order before following Chocolate Chip from the room.

She found Chocolate Chip wrapped in a hug from her brother, his deep pink color and gold hair encircling her. Wishbone released her to a giggling hug from Snowdrift, and then Chocolate Chip faced her father. For several seconds, the room was silent, and a troubled look crossed Sugarberry's face; but Drifter came through with a hug of his own for his oldest child, even if it was slightly stiff and reserved.

"I'm so glad you could come, Dad," Chocolate Chip smiled at the stallion who had not only bestowed life on her but also her name, commenting on first sight of his newborn daughter that she was as drab as a chocolate chip. The name had stuck and had been made official. "How are Mom and Lollipop?"

"They are busy with the restaurant, but are both fine," her father responded, looking around the room nervously.

Chocolate Chip drew her dad to Sugarberry and made the proper introduction. Sugarberry smiled graciously; but inside, she questioned the workings of a father who could ignore his daughter for so long simply because of her non-pastel look.

But there was no time to meditate as Wishbone greeted her with an exuberant hug. "It's nice to see you again, Sugarberry! You've been making my sister walk the straight and narrow, I hope." He playfully pulled a lock of Chocolate Chip's hair, which she returned in kind.

"Bratty little brother!"

Behind them, Snowdrift softly cleared her throat. Wishbone immediately rectified his oversight. "Sugarberry, this is my friend from back in Neighberry, Snowdrift."

"Nice to meet you, Snowdrift," Sugarberry said as the two lightly embraced. "Are you looking forward to college this fall?"

"Oh, yes, definitely," the white-bodied filly acknowledged. "And I'm so glad Wishbone decided to attend, too."

"No more glad than I am," Chocolate Chip grinned. "Now my little brother can get smart, like..."

"Like you?" Wishbone finished for her, and grimaced. "I take the math placement exam tonight; I'm not looking forward to it."

"Oh, that reminds me--" Sugarberry realized the time. "You are on a schedule, aren't you? I'd better get supper on the table." She turned to Chocolate Chip. "You can entertain your guests while I finish things up."

Chocolate Chip laughed. "Don't be silly, Sugarberry. These aren't guests; they're family. They can help in the kitchen."

"Whatever you say!" Sugarberry responded. "But we still eat in the dining room irregardless."

Sugarberry's dining room was the least used room in the house as her large kitchen served as a homey hangout for all who came to eat. But tonight, she was making use of the dining room in honor of Chocolate Chip's family.

Many hooves made light work of the final meal preparations. Drifter was a chef at his and his wife's restaurant back home, so he gladly contributed his expertise and soon felt at home. Sugarberry suddenly became very self-conscious about her cooking ability, but shrugged off her concern. Chocolate Chip was so happy to have part of her family here that Sugarberry would undergo anything to make the event a success.

Raptor was intrigued to find ponies eating in the room he seldom frequented, and made a pest of himself while Fluff sat in the doorway and watched the proceedings with his round golden eyes.

When the meal was finished, Chocolate Chip prepared to accompany Wishbone and Snowdrift to Pony Pride where the two new freshmen were going to take a placement test before facing the next two days of orientation and registration for the fall semester.

"I'll hang out on campus while their testing is going on," Chocolate Chip informed Sugarberry and Drifter. "Afterwards we'll take in the other activities planned."

"Can you find your way back to the dorm we're staying at, Dad?" Wishbone teased the yellow stallion.

"I could ask the same of you," Drifter shot back.

When the three had left the house, Sugarberry and Drifter sat with their coffee at the table.

"You'll have a busy couple of days with all the meetings and things going on; Chocolate Chip is excited to be conducting tours for the new students and their parents," Sugarberry said.

"Just glad I could make it," Drifter replied. "Snowdrift's parents couldn't take off from their jobs; but my backup chef was able to fill in for me, so it worked out okay."

"What's Wishbone planning on majoring in?"

"He's undecided at this point. I'll just be glad to get this registration stuff over with and get him back home to help at the restaurant for the rest of the summer."

"Chocolate Chip and Wishbone are both wonderful; you should be very proud of them." The words were said before Sugarberry realized what effect they might have on Drifter. She looked uneasily at him.

But Drifter seemed to be contemplating her statement thoughtfully. Finally he replied. "Yes, I'm very proud of both of them, and their sister, too." He helped himself to a refill of coffee, and stared into the steaming cup.

"Their mother and I were both very young when Chocolate Chip was born," Drifter finally continued. "We had high hopes for our future, and our plans had all been made." He fell silent again, and Sugarberry honored his need to sort out his thoughts. "Twilight Jewel had her heart set on a prim and proper pastel foal, and when Chocolate Chip was born all gangly and ordinary, her heart was broken. I understood how my wife felt, but I should have stood up for my daughter. But I didn't," Drifter ended lamely.

"She's stronger for what she's been through," Sugarberry tried to sound reassuring. "It's part of what makes her so special."

"Special..." Drifter repeated the word as if for the first time. "It took you and your friends here to see that in her; her mother and I never could."

"Chocolate Chip told me how you and she grew closer when she was home at spring break. That meant a lot to her."

Drifter looked up in surprise. "We worked her like a servant while she was home. Twilight Jewel always thought that was all she was good for... and I went along with it."

"Your daughter loves you and her mother very much, unconditionally. She realizes that you see her in a different light, but she doesn't hold that against you. She very much would like

to know that you love her, too." Sugarberry had longed to say those words so often, yet she surprised even herself to actually have been able to accomplish it now that she had the chance.

Pushing his chair away from the table, Drifter changed the subject. "How about I help you clear the dishes? I can wash; you dry." He quickly picked up a platter and bowl, and headed for the kitchen but not before Sugarberry saw a lone tear trickle down his cheek.

Conversation was brief while the kitchen was cleaned up, but Drifter became more talkative when the dishes were finished.

"I'm planning on taking the young ‘uns and you out to supper on the last day of this college rigamorole. What's the best place in town to eat?"

"Hmm... the Estate Manor is the best, but it's also the most expensive."

"That's what I'm looking for. It gives me a chance to check-out the competition, so to speak. Maybe I can glean a new recipe or a better way of doing things."

"I can get you the number; you'll need a reservation."

While Sugarberry checked the phone book, Drifter asked, "Anyone special you'd like to include?"

"My ‘someone special' is out of town," Sugarberry blushed. "But ask Chocolate Chip. She might like to invite a friend."

"So she's got herself a fella?"

"Well, she's been primping more than usual, but I have no idea who she's interested in. She hasn't confided in me yet."

Drifter gave her a piercing look. "You've been good for the girl."

Sugarberry smiled. "No, just the opposite. She's been good for me."

Picking up the post-a-note with the dining spot's number on it, Drifter moved to safer ground. "The Estate Manor, you say?"

"Yes. It's got a great reputation, delicious food, and a charming setting."

"Remember to keep that evening open... night after tomorrow."

"I'll look forward to it."

"Well, it's getting late. Thanks for that wonderful meal, Sugarberry. And thanks... well, thanks for everything."

* * *

The following morning, Sugarberry was the first one down to breakfast. After giving Raptor and Fluff their morning meal, she proceeded to prepare scrambled eggs and toast for herself and Chocolate Chip. She had just gotten the eggs and milk mixed together when Chocolate Chip entered the room.

"Good morning!" Sugarberry greeted. "How did it go last night with Wishbone's placement exam?"

"He didn't think he did too well. Mathematics is not his strong point."

"Maybe he did better than he thought."

"Yah. We can always hope."

Sugarberry poured the egg mixture into the hot skillet. "Do you give your tours today?"

she asked of Chocolate Chip, who seemed a little down this morning.

"No, not until tomorrow. The new students will be running all over campus today, but they don't get an official tour until tomorrow. Who can figure?" Chocolate Chip came and stood next to Sugarberry at the stove.

Keeping one eye on the eggs and the other on the toast, Sugarberry asked, "Did you see your dad on campus? He left here rather early."

"As a matter of fact, I did." She grabbed Raptor in midair as he made a desperate attempt to attain some of the fresh scrambled eggs that Sugarberry was serving onto the plates. "He asked me to invite someone along to the Estate Manor. Did you have anything to do with that?"

"I just mentioned it in passing."

Chocolate Chip didn't respond. She got the orange juice out of the refrigerator and set it on the table, then fidgeted with the napkins. "Do you think it would be okay if I invited Wigwam?"

Sugarberry's eyes grew round. "That's who you have your sights set on?" she asked in apparent surprise, and saw Chocolate Chip blush for the first time since she'd known her.

"You don't approve." Chocolate Chip looked crestfallen.

"Oh, sweetie, no." Sugarberry pulled the filly close. "That's not what I meant. I was just taken off guard. I thought you'd fallen for Prime or Chip, not Wigwam."

"You think he's too old?"

Sugarberry laughed. "Hey, girl, we're not that much older than you young sprouts!"

Flustered now, Chocolate Chip looked as if she was ready to cry.

"Oh, come on now," Sugarberry grinned. "If Wigwam's the one you want to ask, then do it!"

"I don't see why you find this so amusing!"

"I don't either, although it may have to do with all those pointed remarks that Vanguard has been making in his letters about Wigwam and I working with the Native Pony Tales."

Chocolate Chip looked confused.

"I think Vanguard's been feeling a bit jealous," Sugarberry went on, "and nothing I could say would alleviate his worry... especially after our hike last month. But now, I can set his mind at ease. He will be so grateful, Chocolate Chip, if you keep Wigwam occupied. Straight A's for you once Vanguard's back home!" She smiled radiantly at the befuddled filly before her.

"You're not making any sense," Chocolate Chip muttered.

"Sure I am. It's simple. You've got a crush on Wigwam, and your timing's perfect. I think you are a dear!" And she hugged Chocolate Chip again.

"You're not taking me seriously."

"Trust me. I am. I am." Sugarberry smiled. "Sit down and eat your breakfast before everything is cold. And when you are finished, give Wigwam a call."

Chocolate Chip sat down and toyed with the eggs on her plate. "Maybe you should call him, Sugarberry."

"Oh, no, I'm not doing it. If you want Wigwam at your dad's dinner party, you're going to have to do the inviting yourself."

"What if he says no?"

"Then move to Plan B and invite Prime or Chip or Digger or..."

"You're no help at all, Sugarberry!"

"His phone number is by the telephone on my desk. That's all the help you need."

A rap at the back door sent Sugarberry flying. "That's Tabby. I've gotta run. Clean up the kitchen, please?" She bestowed a motherly pat on Chocolate Chip and scurried on her way.

* * *

The next day, Chocolate Chip was in good humor when Sugarberry returned home from work. "Sugarberry! Look what Dad gave me!" She removed a shimmery purple bow and several matching hair pieces from a box labeled Lemon Treats Boutique.

"Oh! They are beautiful!" Sugarberry squealed. "Are you going to wear them tonight?"

"Definitely," Chocolate Chip exclaimed. "But wasn't it great of Dad to get me a gift? He's never done that before... not ever!"

"I think he is seeing you in a new light... the poised, intelligent filly you are that can handle any situation she finds herself in. And beautiful to boot!"

"I don't believe a word you're saying, but I like the sound of it." Chocolate Chip clipped one of the hairpieces, which was composed of white flowers and lace with narrow streamers of the same sparkly ribbon as the bow, experimentally in her mane. "What do you think?" She turned to Sugarberry.

"Wigwam will be impressed," Sugarberry grinned. "And you know what? I could help you weave a few braids down through your mane to make a new look for you."

"Would you? Oh, this is so great! You know, I've never been to the Estate Manor for a real dinner before."

"Well, it's about time you did then, isn't it? And speaking of time, when is Wigwam picking us up?"

"Six-thirty, which is... Oh-my-gosh, that's only half an hour from now!" The brown filly dashed upstairs to her room, and Sugarberry followed, chuckling.

The two ponies had just added the last decorative bouquet and braid to Chocolate Chip's mane when they heard the knock at the door. Taking one last look in the mirror, the filly ran down the hall but stopped at the top of the stairs to compose herself, then primly continued on to the front door.

The added fuss with hair and adornments had been worth it. Chocolate Chip could see in Wigwam's eyes that he was impressed by what he saw. "Turn around once," he said.

Turn around once... Chocolate Chip's mind flashed back to her growing-up years in Neighberry. Turn around once... Every morning before she left for school, Chocolate Chip had heard her mother say those words to her little sister. Turn around once... In other words, let me see you from all sides and make sure everything about you is perfect. Turn around once... And Lollipop always got a hug because she was always perfect. Turn around once... Her mother had never cared enough about Chocolate Chip to see the whole effect. Turn around once...

Chocolate Chip stood in momentary suspension as the thoughts raced through her mind; then she smiled at Wigwam and slowly pirouetted before him.

"Perfect," he said, handing her a white box from which she uncovered a simple but lovely corsage of daisies and lily of the valley.

"It's so pretty," Chocolate Chip murmured. "Thank you, Wigwam."

The orange stallion lifted the flowers from the box, and helped fasten them to Chocolate Chip's slim, brown foreleg. "You look great." Seeing Sugarberry coming into the room, he asked, "What do you think of your girl, Sugarberry?" He gazed at Chocolate Chip with open admiration.

Sugarberry was quick to respond. "I think she's just perfect!"

* * *

The party of six was seated cozily around a round table at the Estate Manor, and the conversation was animated.

"The atmosphere here is too formal," Drifter declared early on. "This medieval setting depresses me!"

Chocolate Chip rolled her eyes. "That's because you don't have a romantic bone in your body, Dad."

Wishbone agreed. "The entire restaurant would be stainless steel if you had your way. That's one area where Mom outshines you by far... her flair for the right ambiance." He rolled the word off his tongue and waved a hoof through the air for effect. Snowdrift giggled. "Oh, by the way, Chocolate Chip, Juggler says to say ‘Hey'," her brother added as an afterthought, with a side glance at Wigwam.

"Does he still make deliveries to The Right Place?" Chocolate Chip asked, hoping Wigwam didn't think Juggler was anyone special to her.

"He sure does," Drifter interjected. "He's a good worker."

"How did the campus tours go, Chocolate Chip? " Sugarberry got the conversation started in a new direction.

"Speaking of which, I saw you while I was in my literature class this morning," Wigwam told her.

"You're in school, too, Wigwam?" Drifter asked.

"Well, I'm just taking a course on Shakespeare this summer. I have a couple semesters completed, but got sidetracked from earning a diploma yet."

"It was neat when Chocky took us through the classroom buildings; the teachers all had to close their doors when they heard her coming. She was talking so much, she was interfering with classes," Wishbone grinned.

Drifter frowned at his son across the table and set his hoof reassuringly on Chocolate Chip's foreleg. "Chocolate Chip gave a very informative and helpful tour, which was the purpose of her endeavor. She did a fine job."

Snowdrift concurred. "Yes. You really did, Chocolate Chip. I toured a couple other campuses, and didn't get much help. You were truly good at it."

Grimacing at her brother, Chocolate Chip responded, "Thanks, Dad and Snowdrift. And as for you, Wishbone, I hope you get lost your first day of classes this fall!"

Wigwam chuckled. "One classroom you can't miss is Gauntlet's. He is always ranting and raving about something."

"What does he teach?" Snowdrift asked.

"He's the art teacher," Wigwam replied. "Rather a peculiar fellow."

"He owned Raptor until Raptor got sick eating some of Gauntlet's art supplies," Sugarberry offered, finding a chance to contribute something to the talk.

"Aw... the poor thing," Snowdrift looked appropriately saddened.

"Luckily there were no lasting effects, as you saw the other evening. He's an energetic kitten." Looking at Wishbone, Sugarberry asked, "How did it go for you in scheduling your math class after the placement test results were in?"

"Actually, better than I had hoped. That exchange professor from Italy was really helpful."

"In what way?" prompted Wigwam.

"Well," confessed Wishbone, "he said my results were borderline, but he thought-- with a little extra work-- I should be able to handle the higher level course. So he approved me for it, and I'm all set. He's an okay guy."

Snowdrift tapped on Wishbone's foreleg. "Look! There's Professor Giorgio now."

All head turned to follow Snowdrift's gaze. Sugarberry hadn't met Giorgio yet, and it was with a mixture of curiosity and disdain that she looked his way. When she caught sight of the deep green stallion with dark blue hair and a stack of books as a symbol, a strange feeling of paramnesia came over her; she felt as if she'd lived this moment at some point before, and it made her feel almost hypnotized.

Giorgio noticed Wishbone, and came directly to stand between Wishbone and Sugarberry's chairs at the table. "Hello again, Wishbone. Are you satisfied with your introduction to campus life?"

"Yes. I'm looking forward to the start of classes."

Moving his gaze to Snowdrift who sat at Wishbone's left, he asked, "And you, my dear, what were your impressions of Pony Pride?"
"I'm sure I made the right decision to attend here," she blushed under his scrutinizing gaze.

"Drifter, this is your daughter, I presume?" He had turned his attention to Chocolate Chip. "You mentioned this afternoon that she is an excellent mathematics student. Will I have the pleasure of seeing you in one of my classes?"

"Well... yes... actually I'm registered for Calculus III," Chocolate Chip stuttered.

Next in the circle was Wigwam. Giorgio looked at him closely. "I remember now. I've seen you with the students at Pony Pride, but not in a math class."

"I'm just taking one class on Shakespeare this summer; but I do plan to pick-up a math class in the fall. I've been out of school awhile. The name is Wigwam."

Giorgio's verbal journey around the table ended now with Sugarberry. She felt his gaze on her before she turned her head to face him. Still caught in the feeling of reliving a moment trapped in time, she smiled mechanically.

"Ah, and who do we have here?" Giorgio bestowed his most winning smile.

Filling in the missing information, Drifter made the introduction. "This is Sugarberry, a close friend of the family."

"Sugarberry." Giorgio repeated the name as if tasting it. "Sugarberry. What a lovely name."

He's going to take my hoof and he's going to... Sugarberry knew without knowing why.

Giorgio took her hoof and after staring into her eyes for what seemed like an eternity, he kissed it.

Sugarberry couldn't break away from his mesmerizing effect. Snakes do this to their prey, she thought, but still she looked into his eyes-- unwillingly, yet irresistibly.

At what point he released her hoof, Sugarberry wasn't aware, but his spell was finally broken as he said, "I see my guest has arrived. If you will excuse me..." Amid a chorus of appropriate farewells, he left the table.

Sugarberry turned back, and found that everyone was looking at her. She turned to Wigwam on her right and met a quizzical expression on his face that undermined her confidence. "What?!" she snapped at him.

Before Wigwam could reply, Wishbone opened fire. "He was impressed with you, Sugarberry. Smitten, I'd say."

Chocolate Chip and Snowdrift giggled. "It was so romantic... and he even kissed your hoof!" Sugarberry felt like grounding a certain brown filly for the next millennium.

"Lay off, children," Drifter seemed the only compassionate face at the table. "This Giorgio is a smooth one."

And if anyone had thought about it, the pony who normally blushed so readily at any encounter that rocked her calmness was more bleached than rosy.

The conversation turned to mundane things, and Sugarberry listened, but couldn't shake the feeling that hung over her. Why had Giorgio had this effect on her? she wondered. She was quiet the rest of the evening, and wanted a chance to talk with Tabby; so it was with relief when the final farewells were said, and she, Chocolate Chip, and Wigwam headed homeward.

She noticed with annoyance that Tabby's house looked empty at the moment, and claimed a headache once she was in the house, leaving Chocolate Chip and Wigwam staring after her as she beat a hasty retreat to the privacy of her bedroom where she sat in the falling dusk and considered the impression that Giorgio had made on her. By the time she fell asleep, she had resolved nothing.

* * *

Chocolate Chip was up and out early the next morning; her dad and brother and Snowdrift were checking out of the dorm and they were going to have breakfast together before the visitors returned to Neighberry.

Sugarberry was relieved when Tabby stopped by to walk her to work. "I met Giorgio last night," she admitted to her friend.

"Ah-hah!" Tabby exclaimed. "And did you find him utterly fascinating? Tell me the truth, Sug. Did you forget all about Vanguard? Are you madly in love with him?"

From anyone else, those words would have irked Sugarberry; but from Tabby, they only caused her to giggle. "Have a heart, Tabby. You don't plan on forgetting Thomas every time you meet a new stallion, do you?"

"Oh, no. I only do that with cartoon characters," Tabby replied cheerfully.

Turning sober, Sugarberry confessed her uneasiness. "There's something strange about him, Tabby. Something unsettling."

"You're just angry that he took Vanguard away."

"I'll admit to that. But it's deeper than that."

"Hmm. I don't know what to say, Sug. Maybe you should talk to May-Lah about it." Tabby's confidence in Furbys was unshakeable.

"At this point, it's the best logic I've heard so far." When the two mares reached the vet clinic, Tabby stopped in to say good morning to her fiancé before continuing on to the Pokémon Center.

"Sugarberry thinks Giorgio's strange," Tabby informed Thomas.

"What prompted this?" Thomas grinned at the mares.

"I met him last evening, and he sends out some worrisome vibes, that's all. I don't trust him," Sugarberry related to her boss.

"There's something to be said for mare's intuition," Thomas surmised. "Maybe there is some deep dark secret hiding in his past."

"Oh!" squealed Tabby. "A mystery stallion!"

"I hope it's nothing too bad," Sugarberry worried. "Vanguard is in his place over in Vulcanopolis, you know."

"I'm sure it's nothing to worry about," Thomas consoled her. "Why not ask May-Lah about it?"

Sugarberry looked from Thomas to Tabby. Were these two serious about their confidence in their Furbys' mental powers, or were they just teasing? She thought she understood them, but sometimes...

"Any insight will be appreciated," Sugarberry admitted. Furbys were better than nothing.

* * *

It was evening when Sugarberry put a call through to her mother. Throughout the course of the day, her mother had been close to her thoughts; after a supper alone (Chocolate Chip was at work at Bushwoolie Bargain Books at the mall and Tabby was with Thomas and her folks), Sugarberry went to the telephone, then paused. May-Lah, her Furby, was sitting on the desk and she suddenly felt the need to ask him a question or two.

After several unsuccessful tries, she finally got him in the "Ask Furby" mode. Coming straight to the point, she asked, "Is Giorgio somehow evil?"

May-Lah contemplated the query, then responded with big eyes wide, "Very big yes." Sugarberry shivered.

"Is Vanguard safe?"

"Me see... maybe."

"Should I talk to Mom?"


Sugarberry looked around her, hoping no one had witnessed her lapse into Furbyland. Quickly dialing her mom's number and counting off the rings, she soon heard Strawberry Shortcake's comforting voice respond, "Hello."

"Hi, Mom," Sugarberry said. "It's me, Sugarberry."

"Hi, dear. How is everything with you?"

"I've been missing you," she said a little forlornly.

She heard her mother chuckle. "I would think Vanguard would be the one you'd be missing most."

"Oh, Mom, you know that I do miss him. But today you were on my mind. And Dad. How is he doing at this busy time of year?"

"Working with the berry patch and the orchard from sunup ‘til sundown," she replied. "He's never happier than when he's working with the plants."

"I'm glad Raspberry is helping you out with the business."

"Oh, my, yes. And she's a big help. Spends half her time tending plants outside, and half in the kitchen with the baking. Business is booming."

"I met Chocolate Chip's Dad. Wishbone's going to attend Pony Pride in the fall."

"I'm happy to hear that. He seemed like such a nice young stallion when we met him at Christmas. Oh, and before I forget, Vanguard sent your dad and I a little note."

"He did? What did he say?"

"Just the usual... that Vulcanopolis is a pretty spot and that he misses you terribly." Strawberry Shortcake waited, knowing her daughter well.

Sugarberry wiped a tear from her eye. "I love him so much, Mom."

"I know, dear. And he will be back soon enough. Christmas will be a special time for the two of you this year."

"I only wish he didn't have to go in the first place. This exchange program makes no sense to me."

"I would assume that it's a good opportunity for the teachers to learn new methods," Sugarberry's mom replied.

"I met the teacher that is taking Vanguard's place," Sugarberry casually mentioned. "His name is Giorgio."

There was a slight pause on the other end of the line. "Giorgio," her mom finally repeated. "It's been a long time since I heard that name." But Strawberry Shortcake didn't elaborate further.

The two ponies continued their chat until Strawberry Shortcake was called away by the ringing of her doorbell. Sugarberry hung up the receiver, feeling better for just having touched base with home.

She had no longer sat down in her favorite chair-- the wooden rocker-- when the phone rang. Mom forgot something she wanted to say, Sugarberry surmised. But it was Wigwam.

"Just checking on how you are feeling," he prodded. "You seemed... rattled by your meeting with this Giorgio last night."

But Sugarberry had shaken off her concern. "No. I just needed to suppress the desire to give him a piece of my mind for taking Vanguard away from Dream Valley," Sugarberry explained. "I'm sure you can understand that Giorgio is not one of my favorite ponies for that reason."

"Are you sure that's all?"

"What else would there be?" Changing the subject, she softened. "Bringing flowers for Chocolate Chip was awfully sweet of you."

"The pleasure was all mine," he said gallantly. "She's a special young mare."

"And don't you forget it!"

Sugarberry could imagine the grin on Wigwam's face as he retorted with the line Chocolate Chip used when she felt Sugarberry was becoming too overbearing-- "Yes, Mother!"

"For your insolence, I'll gladly dig out the yearbook and give Chocolate Chip your complete dating history," she threatened.

He laughed. "I don't think that will be necessary, Sugarberry. I see you're feeling fine, so I'll let you go."

Sugarberry smiled, and bid him goodnight.

* * *

It was several days later when the letter from her mother appeared in her mailbox. Sugarberry puzzled over the receipt of it so soon after a phone visit, tearing into it as soon as she got into the house. After reading the first couple of lines, she sank into the rocker, every sense geared to the words on the paper.

Dear Sugarberry,

I haven't been able to clear my mind since our conversation the

other night. When you said that name, Giorgio, my thoughts went back

in time, and I feel that to purge myself of them, I must confide some things

to you.

Years ago, when I was pregnant with you, your father took me and

your sisters with him to a fruit growing workshop at Hayton. Your dad was

kept busy for the five-day event, but the girls and I had nothing to do but relax

and swim in the pool, and enjoy the other amenities of the hotel.

Your sisters loved to swim and play with the other foals that

frequented the pool, so I spent a lot of my time sipping lemonade on the

veranda. I met a stallion who was attending an education conference, and

we got to talking about our lives and one thing and another. He explained

that his wife was expecting as well, but was unable to travel with him; so

he was there alone. He proudly told me that if their foal was a boy, he would

be called Giorgio just like him.

One evening while your father and I were at dinner, Giorgio came to

our table and-- as he always did-- he took my hoof and kissed it. Your father

found that act very annoying, and let me know later that he found this Giorgio

to be a lady's man, and not to be trusted. I assured him that Giorgio was

always charming and gentlemanly to me and the girls, but Strawberry Baskets

would not soften his opinion of Giorgio.

I've never admitted this to another soul, Sugarberry, but I was

rather mesmerized by this stallion and the attention he paid me. It was all very

innocent, you understand, but yet he held a tiny bit of my heart.

He even had a hotel employee snap a picture of himself, the girls,

and me one day by the pool. He gave one copy to me, and kept one for himself.

I kept that picture, unknown to your father. You, my dear, came across it

once when you were small and had helped yourself to rummaging through

my desk. Maybe you remember the picture-- a dashing stallion with a deep

green color and dark blue hair, and a stack of books for a symbol. I told you

he was a handsome prince who thought I had lovely daughters. Giorgio often

commented on Gooseberry and Raspberry's Twice-as-Fancy look, and said he

hoped my third foal would be a girl and similarly adorned.

Your father came into the room just them, and saw the picture in my

hoof. For the first and only time, Sugarberry, I saw your father's anger.

And worse than that, I saw his disappointment. It only lasted a moment--

he lashed out verbally at me for harboring these memories-- and I saw the

pain it caused you to experience it, too. I destroyed the picture then, but at

a great cost to your father's trust in me. I never gave him another reason

to feel that way, Sugarberry; I hope that you and Vanguard will always be

honest and true to one another.

I never saw Giorgio again, but there was an article concerning

him in our newspaper once. He was chancellor at a university in Vulcanopolis,

but was stepping down to pursue a political career. An accompanying picture

showed Giorgio; his wife; and their son, Giorgio, Jr. And Sugarberry, the son

looked exactly like his father!

As I said at the beginning of this letter, I felt the need to unload my

soul to you since hearing you mention that name, Giorgio, the other night.

I hope this story doesn't upset you. I know it has freed me.



Sugarberry drew a deep breath, not sure that she had taken one since she began reading this glimpse of the past. She closed her eyes, and relived a memory long suppressed... a violent moment for one who had been raised wrapped in love and tenderness from both her parents.

The memories tumbled out of their hiding place, and she felt the grief and torment of that brief encounter with uncertainty-- the picture, the harsh exchange of words between her parents, and the remorse of them both. "I blotted that all from my consciousness," Sugarberry whispered to herself as the letter floated from her grasp. "I couldn't handle it. Mom and Dad were hurting so."

She sat in silence, sorting out her feelings. "No wonder I was confused at meeting this stallion," she murmured. "He was the same image as the picture that shattered my perfect world, if only for a moment."

She contemplated the mystery of it all, then sat up suddenly in new amazement. "How does this explain my knowing he'd take my hoof and kiss it? I was only an unborn foal at the time my mother experienced it; how did I know with such certainty? Recognizing a stallion from a picture is one thing, but knowing what to expect from that stallion..."

Sugarberry leaned back in the rocker, and pondered deep thoughts before penning a long epistle to her mother which gave them both a lifetime of reflection.

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