written by Sugarberry

Sugarberry gave Fluff a final hug before picking up her suitcase and opening the front door. She turned and glanced over the room one last time, then stepped out to the front porch where Tabby and Chocolate Chip waited for her.

"Come on! Come on!" commanded Tabby, her red mane shining in the early morning light. "You don't want to be late for your flight." She was tapping her pink hoof impatiently on the porch railing.

"I just wanted to look everything over one last time," Sugarberry sighed.

"Sugarberry, you'll only be gone a few days; and I'll take care of the house and Fluff for you," reassured Chocolate Chip as she took the suitcase from Sugarberry.

Tabby was already prancing down the sidewalk, eager to get Sugarberry on her way to a well-earned vacation at Birdwatch, a town in Rolling Hills. Sugarberry and Chocolate Chip started down the porch steps after her.

"I hope I've remembered everything," worried Sugarberry. "I watered the plants, mailed all the bills, took out the garbage..."

"Relax, Sugarberry!" Chocolate Chip laughed. "I'll be right here to take care of it all!" Chocolate Chip roomed with Sugarberry while attending Pony Pride University.

"Don't forget to clean Fluff's litter box often; he's fussy about that."

"Sugarberry!" interjected Tabby. "You left Chocolate Chip a list of ‘Things To Take Care Of' a foot long. Don't worry!"

Sugarberry smiled weakly. "Vacations are too nerve-wracking for someone like me. I wish I were just staying home." She stopped in her tracks and looked wistfully back towards her house.

"Don't get sentimental on us," snapped Tabby as she grabbed Sugarberry's hoof and started her on her way again.

Just then a pair of beige mourning doves fluttered down to rest on the wooden fence surrounding Snuzzle's lawn; their round black eyes viewed the Little Ponies inquisitively amidst their gentle cooing.

"Remember to fill the bird feeders twice a day!" Sugarberry reminded Chocolate Chip.

"It's on the list," Chocolate Chip muttered.

Tabby turned to face Sugarberry. "Enough, Sugarberry. Lighten up. The whole idea of this vacation was to get some peace and quiet among the birds you like so well. Start enjoying it!"

"You're right, Tabby. I'm sorry." She smiled apologetically at her two best friends. "I've always wanted to relax in a quiet, rural setting, and Birdwatch is the perfect spot for that. As of right now, I'm having fun!"

With that settled, the three ponies continued on their way to the airport. Once there, they took care of the baggage and ticket, and grabbed a glass of milk and a poppy seed muffin in the food court while they waited. Tabby recounted her latest experience at the Pokèmon Center. " after the Muck was healed, we had to fumigate the entire place!"

"Flight lll is now loading at Gate 2," suddenly came over the speaker system, and Sugarberry jumped to her feet.

"That's my flight," she gulped. "I guess I have to go!"

Tabby winked at Chocolate Chip. "As tense as she looks, I think we'd better guide her to Gate 2 to make sure she gets there."

So doing, they deposited Sugarberry at her gate and hugs were shared all around. As Sugarberry proceeded down the ramp, she waved one final farewell and then disappeared into the body of the gleaming silver airplane that waited patiently for lift-off.

Easing herself into a window seat, Sugarberry looked out to see Tabby and Chocolate Chip waving from the observation deck. Sugarberry waved back, amid the roar of the engines revving up. She fastened her seat belt and the plane moved out to the runway, and, gaining speed, soon lifted off into the vast and empty sky. Sugarberry reminded herself, I'm not afraid of flying; it's the crashing that worries me. Peering at the ground below, she was able to catch a glimpse of her house before the plane headed west across the green fields and glistening rivers.

Watching the beauty pass underneath, Sugarberry checked the time. Chocolate Chip should be opening up the clinic by now. With her semester of classes completed, Chocolate Chip was able to fill in for Sugarberry at the clinic for a few days. Let's see, thought Sugarberry. Princess Tiffany is bringing in her black Bombay, Theodora, first thing. I hope she remembers that Tiffany expects Theodora to rest on that special velvet blanket during her examination.

The plane was already approaching the mountains that separated Dream Valley from the Flatlands. Light, fluffy clouds hung about the highest peaks, but otherwise the sky was brilliantly blue. Sugarberry recalled Clever Clover's journey across these mountains to get to a summer job in the Flatlands. And there, down below, spread out that great expanse of empty countryside, nothing but cropland for miles and miles in every direction. She shuddered to think of crossing it on hoof, and was proud of Clever Clover's success there.

The boringness of the landscape had just about put Sugarberry to sleep when the terrain became more undulating; the contours of the land adding depth and interest to the passing images below. River valleys cut between rounded hills covered with tress; this was certainly the land of Rolling Hills. Sugarberry's eyes danced as the plane prepared to land on an airfield in a broad valley; and soon, with a gentle bump, the plane was coasting down the runway to the terminal.

After debarking and retrieving her luggage, Sugarberry looked around nervously; she suddenly felt very lost and alone. The bed-and-breakfast where she would be staying had said they'd send someone to meet her flight; but no one seemed to be looking for her. She was just about to ask at the counter for directions when a young sea-green stallion rushed into the terminal, his turquoise blue mane streaming behind. He quickly spotted the white earth pony with strawberry design (Thank goodness I have an obvious pattern, thought Sugarberry) and trotted up to her. "Miss Sugarberry?" he asked, while reaching for her suitcase. Not waiting for a reply, he continued, "My name is Buck and I'm from the Birdsong Bread-and-Breakfast where you'll be staying."

Sugarberry nodded and followed behind Buck as he headed outside; she had to nearly run to keep up with Buck's long strides. He continued his monologue as they headed down the street. "You've picked a good week to visit; the weather is going to be warm and sunny, except for a shower passing through tonight. You'll get a lot of good bird-watching in; the birds are busy feeding their nestfuls of young ‘uns."

By this time, they'd reached a path that led across a flower-strewn meadow that ran along the meandering Laughing Lark River. Sugarberry fell behind as she enjoyed the myriad variety of wildflowers that crowded up to the path.

Buck paused to wait for her. "You like flowers, do you? It's been a good year for flowers. Plenty of rain and sunshine. My mom likes flowers, too. She and Dad are the owners of Birdsong."

"Where exactly is Birdsong?" interjected Sugarberry quickly.

"Well, it's at the top of the hill over there." Buck pointed off to the right. "The path curves into the woods and winds its way up through the tress until there you are-- Birdsong."

Sugarberry silently assessed the distance, and wished she'd eaten lunch before they'd left the terminal. As if reading her thoughts, Buck said, "Mom packed a lunch; we'll eat it when we get to the woods. There's a picnic spot not too far in. You should get your first look at the birds while we eat-- grosbeaks, warblers, finches, quail-- you name it, we got it."

Buck seemed not to notice the abundance of bird life surrounding him in the meadow. Tree swallows circled closely, feasting on the insects in the air. A meadowlark serenaded his mate. A killdeer sent up her distress call as they passed her hidden nest. Sugarberry saw several species she couldn't identify, and wished her guide book wasn't buried in her suitcase.

Just as they reached the edge of the woods, a dark shadow passed over them; Sugarberry looked up to see a black turkey vulture skimming majestically overhead; he was so low, she could make out his bald red head; he was huge, and his wingspan was awesome. He dipped around the trees and disappeared.

Now passing under the fully-leaved trees, the path began a gradual incline. Patterns of sunshine danced between the leaves and gave the woodland a magical feel. Before long, they had reached an opening in the tress with a picnic table and pump. Buck got two tumblers out of his backpack, and while he cranked the pump handle, Sugarberry filled the glasses with the fresh, crystal water. Buck set-up the simple fare of sandwiches on home-baked bread, carrot and celery sticks, and a luscious chocolate brownie for dessert. Sugarberry breathed deeply of the fresh air and sunshine, and enjoyed her lunch surrounded by the beauty of nature. As she ate, the birds came out to investigate this stranger in their haven. A chickadee hopped from branch to branch, calling his "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" call as he went. Closer and closer he came until he sat within easy reach. A Baltimore oriole sat on a high branch providing music while the white-crowned sparrows scratched through the grass looking for crumbs that Buck tossed them. From a decaying tree trunk at the edge of the clearing, a red-headed woodpecker added his "rat-a-tat" drilling as back-up for the oriole's melody. Sugarberry sighed contentedly. This was exactly what she had hoped her vacation to be. All was peace and harmony with only the natural sounds of life floating through the air. Even Buck was quiet.

But the tranquility was interrupted as a squirrel scampered out on a branch over the table and began dropping nutshells from his vantage point, accompanied by a shrill chattering that sounded amazingly like a scolding.

Buck laughed. "Yes, little friend, it's time to move on." He and Sugarberry cleaned-up, and resumed their trek up through the trees. "Lunch wasn't much, but wait until tonight. Mom's roasting a turkey and all the fixings; and I'll be picking fresh strawberries this afternoon for shortcake."

Sugarberry mentally apologized to Rex, her turkey friend, for looking forward to such a delightful meal.

Buck continued to tell Sugarberry how he attended Binks University which was located on the far side of Rolling Hills, but he spent his summer at home so he could help his parents during their busiest season. "The bed-and-breakfast is booked solid from spring to fall," he said proudly. "Mom and Dad make sure every visitor has a great time."

By now, glimpses of Birdsong were possible between the trees. The reason Sugarberry had chosen this particular bed-and-breakfast was because of its Victorian design-- she'd always wanted a bedroom with turret access. As they drew closer, the turrets came sharply into view, one at each corner of the front facade. Sugarberry squealed in delight.

"You like it?" Buck asked with pride showing in his eyes. "We changed her color this spring-- she's a real ‘Painted Lady' now."

The house was painted a purplish pink with trim in purple, pink, and green-- truly Victorian.

Buck led the way up the front steps and held the door for Sugarberry. "Welcome to Birdsong!" greeted a vibrantly lively lavender pony with green mane and tail. She drew Sugarberry into the gracious foyer. "Did you have a pleasant walk? And did my son remember the lunch I sent along? He can be very forgetful if he starts daydreaming about all that historical stuff he's studying in college."

Sugarberry turned her head to smile at Buck, but found that he had disappeared. His mother continued. "Did he tell you he attends the university in Binks? But he never misses a summer helping out his dad and I around here."

She stopped for breath, and lovingly caressed the banister of the main stairway. "I was born in this house," she continued. "Buck was, too. It's a very special place to me."

Her eyes got a dreamy look for a second and then she exclaimed, "Where are my manners? I'm Lilac." She extended her forehoof to Sugarberry. "And you are Sugarberry. What a beautiful pony! But you must be tired from your journey. Follow me upstairs to your room."

As Sugarberry followed Lilac up the gracefully winding staircase, Lilac pointed out portraits of her family. "...and this one is my parents on their wedding day. And this one is myself and Trendy when Buck was only a baby. He was our first. You'll meet his brothers later; Tramples is working out in the garden and Licorice is probably hiding up a tree somewhere reading an adventure story. That stallion can certainly make himself scarce when there is work to be done!"

They had now reached the top of the stairs and Lilac moved down the hall to open the door into Sugarberry's room. Buck had already delivered her suitcase to the room, so there was one point of familiarity. But more than that, Sugarberry felt like she was stepping into a dream-come-true. She was drawn immediately to the curving set of windows that circled the turret. Lacy curtains framed a view of the woodland, and the open windows wafted in the fragrance of flowers and the twittering of birds.

Sugarberry dropped onto the cushioned windowseat that ran under the windows and gazed breathlessly around her. As a filly, she had often envisioned her own room in a tower with just such a windowseat. She imagined spending countless hours curled-up here lost in the pages of a good book, or working on the pages of a manuscript, or just day-dreaming.

Sugarberry sighed deeply and looked at Lilac who was fluffing the many pillows about the room. "This is perfect, Lilac! I'm going to enjoy every minute of my vacation!"

"If you need anything, just let one of us know. You'll have time to rest before supper, or you can walk the grounds. But don't be late! I've got a special meal cooking in the kitchen," informed Lilac.

Once Sugarberry was alone, she unpacked her suitcase and washed up. The room felt like it was her very own by then; she could live a life of Victorian luxury for a couple of days! And I don't even have to cook! Sugarberry rejoiced. This is too good to be true.

Taking up the new journal that she'd packed especially for this vacation, Sugarberry spent her time recording her memories of the day--- with frequent interruptions to simply gaze out the window at the peaceful countryside. In no time at all, the dinner bell sounded, and Sugarberry hungrily headed for the dining room.

Rich walnut wainscoting and heavy ornate furniture presented a feast for the eyes, while the air was filled with the luscious smells of a holiday feast for the palate. Gathering around the table were the other four guests of Birdsong. Lilac introduced the ponies to each other. Besides Sugarberry, there was one married couple from the Flatlands--Audrey and Popcorn; Vanguard, a stallion who taught college mathematics at Binks University; and a Friendship Gardens pony Sugarberry had never met before by the name of Merry Moments.

After eating, Sugarberry, Merry Moments, and Vanguard took a walk past the gardens and orchards of Birdsong, and along a curving path to a gazebo set under a spreading maple tree. There they sat and talked as the sun set and dusk began to descend.

Back in her room, Sugarberry prepared for bed, and switched off the light. Before crawling into bed, she sat in the windowseat listening to the muffled sounds of the nighttime animals. Over the breeze came the haunting "whoo-whoo-whoo" of an owl, and the clanking of a garbage can as a raccoon carried out his evening raid. Yawning heavily, Sugarberry finally climbed into bed, and sank almost instantly into a peaceful slumber.

A deafening boom of thunder jolted Sugarberry out of her dreamless sleep, and she jumped out of bed to close the windows where the curtains flapped in the stiff breeze. Cold raindrops pelted her skin before she finally managed to lower the last window.

Didn't Buck say there'd be a shower tonight? pondered Sugarberry. But this is more than a shower! And although there were no more peals of thunder, the rain continued to batter down. At least it came in the night and should be cleared up by morning, thought Sugarberry as she returned to bed and let the barrage of raindrops lull her off to sleep again.

Drip, drip, drip, drip. Sugarberry rolled over to look at her clock, and was surprised to see that it was eight in the morning already; yet the morning light was grey and sullen. The rain was falling at a steady rate, with no sign of letting up. Sugarberry sat up and frowned out the window at the soggy-looking landscape. So much for birdwatching this morning with Vanguard and Merry Moments, she muttered. But then she brightened at the thought of a leisurely breakfast, and cheerfully made ready for the new day.

When she arrived downstairs, she found Vanguard in the breakfast room just pouring himself a cup of coffee. "Good morning, Sugarberry," he greeted her. "Coffee?"

"Yes, please," Sugarberry smiled. "My mom and I used to share many a pleasant conversation over a cup of coffee, but now none of my friends enjoy drinking it, so I've gotten away from it." She slid onto a chair and Vanguard served her cup of coffee. At that moment, Lilac cane bustling into the room from the kitchen, drying her hooves on her apron.

"Anyone hungry?"

"Extremely so," admitted Sugarberry, and Vanguard agreed.

"Good morning everyone," squealed Merry Moments as she breezed in. "Don't you just love a rainy day?"

She was followed by a more subdued Audrey and Popcorn. "A rainy day is a waste of good money," complained Audrey. "We'd planned on photographing birds today."

"We have games to play, movies to watch, and books to read," soothed Lilac. "I promise you won't be bored. This rain should end very soon." But she worriedly looked towards the window.

As Lilac returned to the kitchen to prepare breakfast, Buck and Trendy came in the back door, raincoats shining with wetness, and water dripping eagerly into the carpet. The river is rising fast," reported Buck. "If this keeps up, it'll overflow its banks by noon."

"Oh, no!" groaned Lilac. "What about the homes in the valley?"

"Everyone is preparing for the worst; they'll evacuate in time," comforted Trendy as he hugged his wife to him. "We can use any extra help we can get," he continued, eyeing the group clustered around the table.

"Count me in," Vanguard volunteered immediately.

"I'll do what I can," added Sugarberry valiantly.

Merry Moment, too, offered to help. Audrey, however, crossed her forelegs across her chest. "I didn't come here to risk my life out in a rainstorm," she griped. Popcorn said nothing.

"First things first!" declared Lilac. "I'll have a hearty breakfast ready in no time; then you will all be ready to battle the weather." Everyone pitched in to help while Audrey smoldered in the background. She eventually declared that she had a headache, and was retiring to her room. In the doorway, she turned and cast a commandeering glance at Popcorn, who simply waved her on. Her hoofsteps could be heard angrily echoing down the hallway.

"She'll be fine," Popcorn apologized. "She'll be out supervising the rescue efforts once she realizes that no one if feeling sorry for her."

As soon as breakfast was over--very tasty, but not leisurely as Sugarberry had hoped--rain gear was dug out of the closet and donned by all.

Out in the midst of the rain, Sugarberry found that the whole world was saturated and running in rivulets in every direction. The group slipped and slid their way down the path to the valley below Birdsong. Footing was treacherous, and Sugarberry slid to her knees several times. The river, which had been a lazy silver ribbon upon her arrival, now roared with anger as it carried the brown, dirt-laden torrents downstream. Trees and garbage were being swept along its course. The situation suddenly became very frightening to Sugarberry as she, Vanguard, and Buck turned south to help families in that direction while Trendy led Merry Moments and Popcorn to the north.

The rain came down steadily around them, and even Sugarberry's untrained eye could see that the banks of the river could not hold back the flow of ravaging water much longer.

Nearing the first farm in the valley, Buck directed Sugarberry to help at the house while he and Vanguard helped the farmer move his livestock to higher ground. Sugarberry found a mother and daughter gathering together the few essentials that they could carry away to safety. Thankful for the aid, they loaded Sugarberry down with items that otherwise would have had to be left behind, like photographs and journals. Wrapping everything in sheets of plastic, they were soon hurrying to take shelter with a family off the floodplain of the valley. Once their possessions were safely stashed, the family joined in with Buck and crew to help the next family down the river, and so their morning continued.

Buck's estimate of when the river would finally spill over its banks was quite accurate. By noon, the brown highway down the center of the valley had widened and grown until it became a huge lake between the hills. The last farmstead still to be evacuated was inundated with the dirty, smelly water as Buck, Sugarberry, and Vanguard sloshed up to the open door of the house. A tearful mare stood wringing her hooves in despair. Her husband was away from home, and she was unprepared for such a catastrophe. Her five foals, including two sets of twins, were huddled behind their mother; and clutched in the forelegs of the oldest foal was a wide-eyed black and white long-haired cat.

Buck grabbed one set of twins, and Vanguard the other, while Sugarberry scooped-up the cat, and the mother pulled the fifth foal along with her. No one said a word until they reached a knoll from which they could pause to catch their breath. Looking back, they saw the murky water already climbing the side of the house to the height of the window sills.

"Thank God you got there when you did!" whispered the distraught mother. Tears poured down her face, yet she smiled through the tears in thanksgiving. "We would have been trapped...." Her voice broke as she buried her face in her hooves.

Buck gently hoisted up the twins again, and suggested that they hurry on before the waters got even higher. Vanguard grabbed the others, and the tired group continued to fight their way to higher, safer ground. Eventually, their route met up with a path that Buck assured them would get them to Birdsong within a half hour.

But to Sugarberry, whose muscles were sore and aching, it seemed to take an eternity. She clutched the wet and trembling cat to her chest, and painfully kept putting one hoof in front of the other, over and over and over again. When she thought she simply could go no further, Buck called out, "There she is! We're home!"

Once through the doorway, Sugarberry collapsed into the saving forelegs of Audrey, who indeed had taken over the indoor aspects of this volunteer operation. She gently helped Sugarberry to her room and drew her bath water, then left her to sink into a soothing mound of fragrant bubbles. Sugarberry closed her eyes and let the warm water draw out the pain and stiffness of her battered body. She tried to block out the vision of the raging floodwater, but the constant beat of raindrops at the window would not allow any relief. Tiredly, she stepped from the tub and wrapped a warm, soft towel around herself and headed for the windowseat.

Even at its high vantage point at the top of the hill, Birdsong had the appearance of a drowned rat. The trees were drooping, and brown rivulets ran everywhere. Flower beds looked as if giants had stepped through them, and the garden appeared to be an eroded mudslide.

A knock sounded at her door, and Sugarberry called, "Come in!" Audrey marched into the room, closing the door behind her. "I brought you a mug of hot chocolate."

"Thank you!"

Audrey hesitated a moment before proceeding. "Lilac sent me to ask a favor of you."

Sugarberry stifled a yawn. "What is it?"

"That family you came in with needs a room, and with all the evacuees this morning who came here for shelter, your room is the only one left. Would you mind sharing it with Creampuff and her foals?"

Groaning inwardly at the realization that a good long nap was not to be her reward, Sugarberry agreed. "Of course they can move in here! The more, the merrier!" she fibbed.

Opening the door, Audrey revealed five little ponies who were anxiously awaiting the outcome of this traumatic day. As it turned out, the cat was the first one to saunter into the room; she quickly determined that the bed was the place to be, and enthroned herself comfortably in the center of it. She was followed by the foals and their mother. Audrey disappeared back to her duties.

"Well, now we have time for introductions," Sugarberry smiled. "I'm Sugarberry, and Audrey tells me your name is Creampuff." Scanning the faces of the foals clustered at her hooves, Sugarberry asked, "And what are your names?"

Shyly, the oldest of the group responded, "Angela."

Appropriate, thought Sugarberry as she noted the pure white hair and the delicate wings of the young pegasus.

The youngest pair of twins responded next. "Me Winkie. He Blinkie."

Sugarberry patted them on the head. "You two look exactly alike. How will I tell you apart?"

"Me cuter!" replied Blinkie.

Last of all was the second set of twins--Jiggly and Wiggly. Jiggly was a prim and proper pink female pony while Wiggly was a rough and tough blue male pony. Jiggly climbed into the windowseat next to Sugarberry, and Wiggly jumped onto the bed next to the cat while informing Sugarberry that the cat's name was Skunky, "cause he be black and white, like a skunk."

"But he no smell like a skunk," added Jiggly.

How old is Skunky?" asked Sugarberry.

"Same as Winkie and Blinkie, " informed Wiggly. "We found him the same day they were born."

"So you got two brothers and a cat all at once," commented Sugarberry.

Creampuff in the meantime had changed Winkie and Blinkie's diapers and put them down on the bed for a nap, while convincing Wiggly to play quietly elsewhere. He joined his sister on the windowseat. "Tell us a story." He looked expectantly at Sugarberry.

So Sugarberry shared the tale of Tabby's adventure with Clever Clover to find Atlantis. Angela sat at her feet while Jiggly and Wiggly snuggled close on the windowseat. The day remained dark and dreary as the rain continued to fall outside the windows. By the time the story was finished, the dinner bell was ringing; and the foals, except for Winkie and Blinkie who were sleeping soundly, were more than ready to get a good meal.

Creampuff suggested that Sugarberry and the three young ones should go down to eat while she stayed with the sleeping twins. "Just remember to bring food back for us when you are done!"

Sugarberry descended the staircase with her three charges, and was met at the foot of the stairs by Vanguard.

"How are you doing after this exceptional day?" he asked in concern.

"Ravenously hungry as always," Sugarberry confessed. "What about you? Have you been out in the rain all day?"

"I helped Buck and Trendy see to the chores around here. They've got other folks' animals to take care of out in the barn as well as a house full of Little Ponies to accommodate."

Vanguard led Sugarberry and the foals to a table spread with food prepared by Lilac and neighbors who had showed up to help feed the temporarily homeless inhabitants of the valley. Birdsong had become a sanctuary for many.

Serving up buffet style, they soon had their plates loaded, and Lilac sent one of her helpers up to Sugarberry's room with a tray for Creampuff and the sleeping babies. Vanguard found a relatively quiet corner for them to eat. "Not quite the vacation you planned, I'll bet," he grinned at Sugarberry.

"No, not exactly," she grinned back. "I was expecting peace and solitude and being waited on like royalty." She grimaced as Wiggly spilled his glass of milk into Jiggly's plate of food. Jiggly started crying as her mashed potatoes disintegrated and her biscuit turned mushy. Sugarberry comforted her while Vanguard went to get a fresh plate of food. Wiggly called his sister a sissy and begged for ice cream. When Vanguard returned, Sugarberry went off in search of Lilac. "The foals want ice cream. Is there any available?"

"Just go to the big freezer at the back of the kitchen," instructed Lilac. "You'll find cones in the cupboard over the freezer and the scoop should be hanging off a hook over the counter."

Sugarberry fixed three ice cream cones while envisioning Tabby and Chocolate Chip enjoying a treat of the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe in the company of friends. What would Tabby say if she knew I was vacationing with five baby ponies? wondered Sugarberry suddenly. The thought made her giggle.

Vanguard walked Sugarberry and her charges back to their room. Upon opening the door, they were met by shrill squeals from Winkie and Blinkie; they had been waiting for their unsuspecting brother and sisters, and ambushed them by throwing pillows at them. Vanguard quickly excused himself, and left the noisy melee. Sugarberry looked after him wistfully, but steeled herself to enter the boisterous room full of flying pillows and screaming children.

"Settle down, please," commanded Creampuff authoritatively. "And put all the pillows back where you found them."

Angela immediately obeyed her mother, but Jiggly and Wiggly, along with Winkie and Blinkie, undid her efforts as swiftly as she could straighten the pillows. Creampuff finally sequestered each of them in a separate corner of the room for a ten-minute time-out.

Sugarberry joined Creampuff where she stood looking out the window at the rain still steadily dropping down.

"Have you been able to contact your husband?" she asked Creampuff.

"I got a message through to him, so at least he knows we are safe here at Birdsong. But he won't be home until tomorrow... weather permitting."

Sugarberry patted her hoof comfortingly. "He will be here before you know it!"

Just then there was a loud crash from across the room. Wiggly had attempted to take Sugarberry's binoculars down from the dresser, but had lost his grip and the binoculars had thudded to the floor. "Oops," Wiggly grunted. "Me sorry." The binoculars had hit the floor in such a way as to knock-off one of the eye-pieces. Wiggly picked up the broken piece and held it to his eye to gaze through it.

"Wiggly!" his mother groaned. "You were supposed to be sitting quietly. Why did you touch Sugarberry's binoculars?"

"Because they looked like fun."

"That's not a good reason to misbehave, Wiggly. You'll have to apologize to Sugarberry and save your allowances until you can replace what you broke."

As that sunk in, Wiggly's face assumed a woeful expression. "That'd take years!"

"And a good lesson for you, too!" his mother reprimanded.

Sugarberry went to Wiggly and retrieved the binoculars and the broken piece. Looking it over, she comforted the unhappy little pony. "I think I can get this fixed," she informed him soothingly.

"Really?" A grin brightened his face again. "That would be swell." All his worries melted away in an instant.

But Creampuff got the last word in the matter. "No bedtime snack for you tonight, young stallion!"

A knock at the door sent all five foals scurrying to be the first to open it. Jiggly beat her twin by a heartbeat, and swung the door wide to reveal Buck with an armful of games, coloring books, and puzzles to keep the ponies busy. And hopefully out of mischief, thought Sugarberry.

Angela, Jiggly, and Wiggly settled down to a game of Trouble while Winkie and Blinkie opened up the coloring book to a page with dinosaurs, and set about making the barren picture a work of art. Sugarberry had to smile at their serious concentration over choosing a crayon and trying to stay inside the lines. Skunky had joined the children on the floor, and was contentedly batting crayons left and right.

This was the quietest time Sugarberry had experienced on this hectic day, and she realized how tired she felt. It would feel good to crawl into bed tonight.

Creampuff seemed to read her mind. "The kids and I will sleep on the floor, of course; Lilac had blankets sent up earlier. They will make a fine bed."

Sugarberry's vision of peaceful slumber evaporated as she found herself saying, "Oh, no, Creampuff; you and the two littlest ones could easily fit in the bed. I'll sleep on the floor with the other three."

"But, Sugarberry, this is your vacation!"

"Yes it is, so I get to make the decision. You get the bed."

Smiling gratefully, Creampuff announced that she was going downstairs to get milk and cookies for everyone except Wiggly. "Start cleaning up your games and crayons, everypony."

Angela was doing an excellent job supervising pick-up, so Sugarberry decided it would be a good time to write in her journal. Going to the bedside stand where she had set it, she found nothing. But looking down, she caught sight of it sticking out from under the bed ruffle. Picking it up, she sat on the edge of the bed and opened it to yesterday's entry. Flipping the page, she gasped. The pages bad been filled with a babyish scrawl of crayola markings; Sugarberry flipped through the entire journal, and hardly a page had been spared. Sugarberry peered intently at Winkie and Blinkie who were competing with Skunky to retrieve all the loose crayons. She could hear Tabby's voice as clearly as if the pink unicorn was sitting beside her-- "I've always told you baby ponies are nasty!"

"Does anyone know who is responsible for this?" Sugarberry asked severely as she held up the messy pages for all to see.

"Me write story," admitted Blinkie. "Tell about rain. Water everywhere. Sugarberry save us." Blinkie came to Sugarberry and crawled into her lap. Flipping to some pages with squiggly lines and zig-zags, he added, "This say ‘I wuv you,' Sugarberry!"

Sugarberry gazed in wonder at the little foal and a tear slid from her eye and down her cheek. She hugged the little guy to her and was soon engulfed in hugs from all the gang, with the entire lot of them toppling over on the bed amid giggles and kisses. When Creampuff returned with Lilac's generous snack, they were still untangling one another from the happy heap.

"It looks like you all got along well together," Creampuff commented as she set the tray of cookies and milk on the tea table.

Smiling broadly, Sugarberry confirmed their comeraderie. "You've got a beautiful family, Creampuff. You and Jingle must be very proud!"

"Indeed we are," Creampuff responded. "Even if they can be a hoof-full at times."

Angela helped her mother portion out the Craisin cookies and fresh, wholesome milk. Even Skunky got a little saucer of milk, and a dish of cat-food. Winkie and Blinkie got sleepy as they ate, so Creampuff tucked them into bed for the night. Sugarberry placed blankets on the floor in the turret section of the room to make a snug nest for herself, Jiggly, Wiggly, and Angela. Jiggly decided a tent would be neater, and proceeded to drape the blankets over furniture to accomplish her task, much to the enjoyment of Wiggly, who agreed that a tent was much more fun. After several collapsed "tents", Sugarberry helped the twins anchor the blankets securely under and over the chair to make a cozy cover which did indeed make a welcome sanctuary for another night filled with the sounds of the falling rain pattering steadily against the window.

Crawling into their improvised tent, Wiggly and Jiggly could be heart giggling and talking as they exchanged bedtime stories. Sugarberry had just settled onto the window seat with some sheets of notebook paper to record her memories of the day. The twins' chatter provided a pleasant backdrop to her thoughts when suddenly Wiggly's voice called in alarm, "Jiggly, a snake!"

At those words, Sugarberry instantly swung her legs up on the cushions in dreadful fear of any slithering serpent, her eyes glued to the eruption of activity from the tent as Jiggly screamed and fought her way from under the blankets causing the shelter to collapse around her.

Creampuff rushed to rescue a crying Jiggly while a long, low, lean form slithered under the blankets, like a mole tunneling under the surface of the lawn and burst forth into view amidst a peal of laughter from Wiggly, who was still a hidden blob under the covers. For the unwelcome guest wasn't a snake at all-- only Skunky, who had wormed his way into the coziest spot in the room.

Wiggly, still laughing wildly, finally appeared while Creampuff tried to comfort Jiggly; and Sugarberry tried to quiet her thumping heart.

"You sissy, Jiggly!" Wiggly gasped in delight. "It was only Skunky's tail, and you thought it was a snake!"

Frowning austerely, Creampuff rebuked her jovial son while the hint of a smile played across her features. "Wiggly, you set Jiggly up. You know her fear of snakes would cause her to react in panic. Now you apologize to your sister. And to Sugarberry, too," she added as she noticed her roommate's distress.

Wiggly tried to look serious as he made his apology, but the sparkle in his eyes gave away his utter enjoyment of the situation, and pride in a job well done. While Creampuff dried Jiggly's tears, Sugarberry gingerly swung her hooves to the floor and assisted Wiggly in reconstructing the tent. She tentatively picked up each blanket and cautiously scrutinized every wrinkle, still on edge over the snake scare.

Jiggly, however, could not be induced to return to the "snakepit", as she worriedly called it, and joined Winkie and Blinkie in the bed. Amazingly, the two tired baby ponies had slept through the entire incident. Skunky cautiously emerged from under the bed where he had sought refuge when life had gotten out of hand; now, as things returned to normal, he reappeared and sat watching Sugarberry and Wiggly rebuilding the castle with a critical eye. As soon as they were finished and Wiggly settled down-- still smirking over his sisters' "heebie-jeebies" as he referred to her panic-- Skunky crept back under concealment and curled up in sublime creature comfort. Peace and quiet finally reigned.

Angela, always the serious one, hovered near Creampuff as her bedtime now drew near. As her mom was tucking her into the makeshift bed on the floor, Angela confessed her fear. "Will it ever stop raining, Mommy?"

Creampuff hugged her sensitive daughter close to her heart and asked, "Remember the story of Noah?"

"Yes," responded Angela. "That's why I'm frightened."

"But you must remember the rainbow," reminded Creampuff. "It is a sign of God's promise. The rain will end, and the sunshine will smile down on us again."

Thinking this over, Angela finally broke into a bright smile. "Yes. Soon we will have sunshine again." The plunking raindrops did not subdue her newfound confidence as she snuggled into her blankets and closed her eyes, immediately drifting into a deep and rainbow-filled sleep.

Sugarberry, too, crawled into her substitute bed as Creampuff rinsed diapers and saw to all the details of life that mothers accomplish in a busy day.

"Goodnight, Creampuff," she whispered across the room. "Sleep tight... literally!" she added, referring to the bed with three ponies already sound asleep.

"Thanks to you and Buck and Vanguard, we are warm and dry. Yes, I'll sleep just fine," murmured Creampuff. "And with any luck, Jingle will be home tomorrow." She smiled pensively.

"Remember the rainbow," Sugarberry quoted as she gratefully settled under the covers and closed her eyes to a dream world filled with water and snakes and birdsong... and rainbows.

* * *

Nothing broke through Sugarberry's slumber until morning dawned. She laid quietly, listening to little tapping sounds reminiscent of rain drops; as she became fully conscious, she realized the sounds came from the children who were already up and playing a board game, moving their markers in a steady beat. Sugarberry's ears strained to hear the rain; but, surprisingly, there was no dropping from the windows. She stood up and peered out on a soggy landscape; the sky was gray and overcast, but no new moisture was falling.

"Good morning, Sugarberry!" the five foals chorused as they joined her at the window.

"That rain stopped!" Angela beamed. "And Daddy's coming home today!"

Creampuff entered the room. "I checked on breakfast, and Audrey and Lilac have outdone themselves to celebrate the end of the deluge!"

The children squealed in excitement. "Is everyone washed-up and ready to eat?" she asked. Five little hooves shot-up in acknowledgment. "Okay, off we go!"

"I'll be down soon," Sugarberry grinned. "I was the sleepyhead in the bunch."

As the door closed, Sugarberry proceeded with her morning routine; she became fully alert only after her shower. Finishing in the bathroom, she surveyed the bedroom with a critical eye. Life as a family was messier than life alone, she concluded. Blankets lay in tumbled disarray, game pieces cluttered the table, crayons and puzzle pieces littered the floor, the bed was unmade, and pillows appeared to be everywhere. "Obviously, I slept through this pillow fight," she grimaced. Her elegant Victorian asylum had been reduced to a nursery, and she felt a wave of resentment sweep over her. But the memory of Blinkie's voice saying, "Me wuv you, Sugarberry" melted her displeasure; she hurried to join her friends downstairs.

Being the last to arrive, Sugarberry slid into the empty chair between Popcorn and Angela. Lilac scurried from the kitchen with a plate of scrambled eggs, sausage, and hashbrowns which she placed in front of Sugarberry. "Wiggly tells us you had a little problem with snakes last night! This wet weather does tend to bring them out."

Blushing furiously, Sugarberry admitted her phobia. "The only thing worse than snakes are worms." After a pause, she added, "Or maybe spiders." She grinned sheepishly. "But there is this one tarantula I know that is really cute."

Merry Moments shuddered. "Spiders are the worst! And mice paralyze me with fear."

"Cats! Cat make me feel creepy, like they can read my mind," admitted Popcorn.

"Oh, no," intervened Angela. "Care are wonderful. You will have to meet Skunky. Everyone loves Skunky."

Now it was Popcorn's turn to shudder. "Do you mean to tell me that there is a cat in this house?"

Audrey showed no mercy. "And a good thing, too. Maybe it will force you to face your fear!"

Sympathizing with Popcorn over an uncontrollable phobia, Sugarberry changed the subject. "If the rain has stopped, how long will it take for things to get back to normal?"

"The water will recede quickly enough," explained Lilac, "but it will take longer to dry out the soil... and to clean up the homes." She patted Creampuff compassionately. "The neighbors will pitch in to help," she said encouragingly as Creampuff's face fell at the realization of how much work it would take to get the house livable again.

Merry Moments tried to bring the group back to a cheerful note. "With the rain ended, we can go out exploring today. Who's with me?"

"Me! Me! Me! Me! Me!" called out the five foals, already suffering from boredom.

"Me, too," added Sugarberry eagerly.

"Count me in!" Vanguard rounded out the venture.

Anxious now to finish breakfast, the children gulped their food; Sugarberry finished off her orange juice and sorrowfully turned down a cup of hot coffee. It wasn't meant to be, she thought philosophically.

Out in the open air, Sugarberry's spirits were revived. The sky was cloudy and the air was still; the ground was spongy. But there was no rain falling on them, which was a big improvement over yesterday. The foals went running and jumping and squealing in every direction.

Merry Moments laughed. "Oh, to be a foal again!"

"Maybe. Maybe not," countered Vanguard. "There are some fairly rocky years involved in growing up."

"You got a point there," agreed Sugarberry.

"Let's visit the barn," suggested Angela shyly. "I like animals."

So they all moved off in the direction of the white barn. Vanguard enlightened the rest of the crew. "Buck told me his dad wanted a typical red barn; but Lilac thought it would clash with the colors of the house, so he had to go with white."

"It would look good in any color," said Sugarberry as she studied the shingled Dutch gambrel roof; two windowed dormers on each side gave the structure a comfortable appearance. "Something in the depths of my being feels at home around a barn," she said in retrospect.

Jiggly and Wiggly ran through the barn door, only to collide with a young stallion who was in the process of carting hay bales to the black and white cows pastured behind the barn. "Whoa!" he cheerily called to the twins. "You two okay?" He reached down and pulled both youngsters to their feet. Merry Moments helped brush hay out of the twins' manes and tails.

Always to the point, Wiggly asked bluntly of the stallion, "Who are you?"

"My name's Trample," the stallion responded.

"What are you doing here?" Wiggly persisted.

Trample grinned. "Well, Birdsong is my home. I help my parents with the work around here." He tousled Wiggly's mane, and reached out to take Jiggly's hoof. "Come with me and I'll show you the critters."

In a pen in the corner were several calves; Buck and yet another stallion were feeding them with large-sized baby bottles. Winkie and Blinkie laughed in delight.

"You all have met Buck, I've heard. He's my brother. But I'm cuter!" He winked at Blinkie knowingly. "That ebony stallion is also my brother; his name is Licorice. But I'm sure you don't care about that; you want to see these calves, don't you?"

Sugarberry made a mental note to enlighten Chocolate Chip about this self-assured stallion who suffered no regrets about his non-pastel colored coat.

Lifting first Winkie and then Blinkie over the side of the pen, he had Licorice give them the bottle to feed the hungry calf. Between the two of them, they managed to hold the bottle high enough for the calf to suckle. She finished it off, and when no more milk was left, proceeded to lick the faces of the two enraptured foals.

"That tickles!" squealed Blinkie. Winkie collapsed in a fit of giggles.

Buck then let Jiggly, Wiggly, and Angela have a hand at bottle-feeding the other calves. In the meantime Winkie had literally stumbled across a mother barn cat nursing her tiny kittens. He plopped down into the hay next to them, and watched wide-eyed as the mother licked each kitten clean. Everyone gathered around to admire the family of felines; the cat purred proudly as the kittens fell asleep against her warm body.

Blinkie had wandered off towards the dark back corner of the barn; heads turned as they head his voice ask, "Skunky, you not ‘sposed to be out of house."

Sugarberry was just beginning to say that she was sure Skunky had been asleep on the bed when she left the room when Vanguard quickly but quietly intercepted Blinkie as he headed to his pet, and hoisted him up and away from the black and white cat.

"That's no cat!" he explained to his bewildered companions. "That's a real skunk!"

As the animal moved out into the daylight, everyone gasped. It was a skunk, his pointy nose smelling the air, and his bushy tail waving like a banner in the breeze.

"No one move," commanded Buck in a calm voice. "Just let him pass."

Sugarberry was amazed at the sight they beheld. "I don't think it's a ‘him'," she whispered.

Following behind the skunk like train cars behind the engine came five baby skunks, each mimicking its mother's walk and posture in miniature. The parade passed the spellbound ponies and continued out the door. No one said a word for a time, caught up in the magic of the moment. Finally, Angela voiced the consensus of all involved: "Skunks are beautiful!"

Licorice went on to explain that a sudden fright would have caused the mother skunk to spray a horrid-smelling liquid and that's why it was important for everyone to stay quiet so she didn't feel threatened.

"You foals did a great job at staying calm," congratulated Trample. "Now, let's see the rest of the animals."

The remainder of the morning sped swiftly by as the ponies became acquainted with all the resident fauna of the farm. The little ponies had accumulated a layer of mud on their bodies as the puddles had proved irresistible. By the time they had gotten cleaned-up, it was lunchtime.

The talk around the table was lively. Winkie and Blinkie told about the skunk; Jiggly and Wiggly's highlight had been feeding the calf; Angela had become captivated with a newborn lamb, all soft and fleecy; Creampuff had heard from Jingle, and he was definitely getting home today-- the foals were excited to hear that good news.

Many hooves made light work of the dirty dishes and kitchen work while the baby ponies napped and the older foals sat quietly reading. From the kitchen window, Sugarberry could at least do some birding-- pigeons who lived in the barn were splashing in puddles that littered the grounds like temporary ponds. Goldfinches hung from the feeder suspended from a lattice covered in morning glories. A wren could be heard singing her cheerful song. Sugarberry felt content. Her stay at Birdsong would end tomorrow, but she had made many new friends.

By the time the last dish had been dried and put away, Angela, Wiggly, and Jiggly appeared in the kitchen. "Can we go outside again, Mother?"

As Creampuff had volunteered to bake rhubarb pies for supper, and Merry Moments and Vanguard were helping Popcorn and Audrey move ponies back to their homes, Sugarberry was left to accompany the children.

"Let's walk to the gazebo and see how many different kinds of birds we can identify," she suggested.

The sky was still dreary. "Where is the sunshine?' Angela complained. "I'm tired of cloudy skies."

"Maybe it will rain and rain again until our house washes away," suggested Wiggly.

Angela and Jiggly moved close to Sugarberry, sobered by the thought of more rain. Sugarberry searched the ocean of gray and black clouds overhead, hoping to find some hint of relief in a patch of blue sky, but nothing optimistic presented itself in the expanse visible between the leafy branches of the trees.

Fortunately some bright flashes of blue took the foals' minds off their worries. Indigo buntings darted over their heads, signaling the blue sky they were so anxious to see. As they walked further, they saw catbirds, bluejays, and cardinals going about their busy days. By the time they'd reached the gazebo, they had accumulated an impressive list of birds.

Wiggly slipped off his backpack containing apple juice and peanut butter cookies and the three little ponies went off to climb trees, smell the flowers, and find the hidden joys of nature. Sugarberry sat on a wooden bench in the gazebo, and soaked up the music of the birds singing, accented now and then by the voices of the foals. It was a perfect moment. "If only the sun would shine," mused Sugarberry. She closed her eyes and let the sounds lull her into a dozy state of mind.

Sugarberry lounged in this semi-conscious state for some time, always aware of the sounds around her yet totally relaxed, when a new sound joined the medley. A staccato plunk came slowly at first, and only added to the beauty of the music. But the plunking gradually picked up its pace, and Sugarberry opened her eyes, realizing that the birds had stopped their part in the song. The plunking was hard and heavy now as the children charged out of the cover of the trees and came screaming and running to the gazebo amidst the onslaught of the hailstones that battered down from the dark clouds. They huddled together under the gazebo watching this new expression of nature's repertoire.

"It's too hot for ice. What makes these lumps of ice, Sugarberry?" questioned Angela.

"The air is colder up in the clouds, so the rain freezes and accumulates into these little iceballs. They can get much bigger than this." Wiggly and Jiggly scampered out of the shelter to collect the short-lived marble-sized novelties.

It wasn't long before the hailstones converted over to rain, and a brisk shower covered the saturated area again. But it was brief, and to the amazement of the ponies, it was followed by a breaking of the clouds; and a glorious rainbow arched above the treetops. While Wiggly and Jiggly squealed in delight, Angela clapped her hooves together. "The rain is over; the rain is over," she prayerfully intoned.

They celebrated the moment by devouring cookies and juice amidst a virtual outburst of birdsong as the feathered creatures also rejoiced in the sunshine now enveloping them.

By the time the lighthearted crew returned to Birdsong, the sky was one brilliant canopy of blue. Birdsong itself was alive with activity: Winkie and Blinkie were swinging on the swingset; most of the adults were having ice tea under the maple tree in the front lawn; Buck, Licorice, Trample, and Merry Moments were engaged in some softball practice, and Creampuff sat on the front porch with a golden stallion Sugarberry had never yet seen.

Wiggly, Jiggly, and Angela broke out calling, "Daddy! Daddy!" and rushed to the porch where the golden stallion met them on the front steps and caught all three foals in a wide embrace. Winkie and Blinkie left the swings to get caught up in this second reunion with their father and the rest of his offspring.

Vanguard met Sugarberry with a glass of ice tea. "It's not coffee," he grinned, "but it's the only drink available."

Sugarberry politely accepted the cold glass although she detested the stuff. "It turned out to be a beautiful day," she stated the obvious. "And it appears that Jingle got back." Their gaze returned to the porch scene as the restored family shared tales of the past few days spent apart.

"Heart-warming picture straight out of a story book, isn't it?" asked Vanguard.

"Yes," agreed Sugarberry, quickly wiping a sentimental tear from the corner of her eye as Lilac approached.

"Excuse me, Van, but I've got to talk to Sugarberry a moment. She led Sugarberry to a private spot by the rose bed. "The tea roses survived the rain nicely," she commented as she bent to pull some weeds that had made the most of the rainy days. Sugarberry leaned over to pull a weed, too, and took advantage of the opportunity to dump her ice tea at the base of the rose bush. "Tea roses should like tea," she muttered to herself.

Lilac seemed to be finding it difficult to say whatever it was she had to say, so the two pulled weeds for a minute or two before Lilac cleared her throat and began-- "Your stay with us will be ending tomorrow, Sugarberry."

"And I'll miss Birdsong, even if things didn't work out as I planned," reflected Sugarberry.

"With Jingle back, he and the family will be anxious to get home."

Sugarberry's mind jumped ahead as she thought, I'll have the privacy of my tower room all to myself on my last night here, when Lilac's words cut through.

"...several weeks to clean up the house decently, so if you wouldn't mind moving into Merry Moment's room for tonight, Creampuff can keep her family together in your room."

Sugarberry looked down at the delicate roses and reached to caress one of the blooms, only to be scratched by a thorn. She pulled her hoof back quickly. "No problem," she smiled weakly at Lilac while she rubbed the scratch on her foreleg.

Merry Moments was coming across the lawn, so Sugarberry intercepted her. "Mighty mean fast ball you throw," Sugarberry tried using some of the lingo Quarterback used when talking about softball.

Merry Moments giggled. "I don't do too badly. At least I impressed Buck enough that he invited me to a game tonight."

"Speaking of tonight," Sugarberry frowned, "did Lilac speak to you about the room change?"

"Yes, she did. The ponies who had been with me were able to go home. Do you want to move your things in now?"

"Sure. Whatever."

Sugarberry went up to her room; Creampuff had cleaned and straightened the disarray of the morning, so it looked cool and inviting. She headed to the windowseat and sunk onto the soft pillows and rested her head against the windowpane. A breeze softly caressed her face, and a lone robin serenaded her from the branches of the willow tree. She drank in the views from the window and stored away memories to feed on in the future. Then, with a resolute shake of her head, she got up and began packing her suitcase. Before long, she stood at the door for one final look, and walked down the hall to Merry Moments' room.

"Come on it!" Merry Moments called.

Sugarberry set her suitcase on a chair just as the bell rang for the evening meal, so she and Merry Moments hurried down to eat.

Jingle's homecoming leant a festive atmosphere to the tenants of Birdsong, and the meal and clean-up lasted late into the evening. Merry Moments had gone off to the ball game with Buck and his brothers, Trendy took Popcorn and Vanguard to see his arrowhead collection, and Sugarberry took advantage of the distraction to retire to her room. She recorded her activities and thoughts of the day, and realized that she was homesick for Dream Valley and all her friends back home. She wondered if Fluff was missing her as much as she missed him. Looking at the clock, she realized that Tabby and Chocolate Chip and Tiffany were probably at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe this very minute. Well, by tomorrow evening, she'd be with them again. She'd be home. At the present, she just felt like a misplaced pony. Crawling into bed, she looked forward to her departure in the morning.

The song of the robin was Sugarberry's wake-up call; she woke slowly, but once it hit her that today was the day, she opened her eyes and jumped out of bed to a glorious sunshiny day. Merry Moments was still asleep, so Sugarberry had access to the shower, and leisurely prepared for her journey home. She was scheduled to leave right after breakfast; Buck would accompany her to the airport.

The snapping of the suitcase latches awakened Merry Moments and she was soon out of bed and ready for breakfast, too. Sugarberry set her suitcase by the door, and she and Merry Moments descended the stairs together to breakfast. A jumble of voices from the breakfast room told the girls that everyone was up early this fine morning.

A buffet of delectable dishes assured Sugarberry that she wouldn't leave Birdsong hungry. After feasting on pancakes and hot coffee, she nibbled from a frosted dish heaped with strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, bananas, and cantaloupe.

Lilac made a point of thanking Sugarberry and her other guests for their cooperation in helping with the flood conditions, and offered them a discount on their next stay at Birdsong. Sugarberry assured Lilac that her time had been delightful and that she would look forward to a visit next year.

Creampuff and family gave Sugarberry their heartfelt thanks and the foals presented Sugarberry with a thornless rose from Lilac's garden. Vanguard had at some point disappeared, but Sugarberry was able to bid farewell to Popcorn, Audrey, and Merry Moments. She then left for the foyer to meet Buck. To her surprise, Vanguard stood in the foyer as if waiting for her. Two suitcases stood on the floor, and one of them Sugarberry recognized as her own. Vanguard answered her questioning gaze.

"My stay ends this morning, too," he explained. "I convinced Buck to let me escort you to the airport."

Sugarberry smiled. "I missed you back there. I'd hoped to get to say goodbye."

"We'll talk about that," Vanguard said as he grabbed the suitcases. Sugarberry held the door, and the two set off from Birdsong.

Trendy and his sons had done a good job repairing the washed-out areas of the path, so Vanguard and Sugarberry had a comfortable walk ahead of them. They shared a love of the feathered creatures in the tress around them, and compared notes on the birds they had seen personally. When they reached the picnic area where Buck and Sugarberry had lunched that first morning, Vanguard suggested that they sit and rest a bit.

"I could carry my own suitcase," Sugarberry offered.

"We've got time," Vanguard countered. "Besides, I want to talk to you." He directed Sugarberry to a shady bench under the trees. When they were seated, he continued.

"The reason I came to Birdsong was to make a decision in my life. I'd interviewed for a new position with another college, and was offered the job. But I was unsure of what I wanted to do."

"Where would the new job take you?" Sugarberry inquired curiously.

"Pony Pride University in Dream Valley."

Sugarberry gasped. "You interviewed for a job in Dream Valley?"

"Yes," verified Vanguard. "I visited the campus two weeks ago. They need a new head of the mathematics department there."

"And what did you think of Dream Valley?"

"Pony Pride is a good school," Vanguard admitted. "I just wasn't sure if I wanted to make the move. So I came here to get some clear thinking done. And when you arrived from Dream Valley, I made up my mind. I'm taking the job."

Sugarberry studied Vanguard closely. "What did I have to do with your decision?"

"Well, it seemed fate somehow. I needed to make a decision on Dream Valley, and a personable pony shows up from that very place."

Sugarberry felt her cheeks turn as red as the strawberry on her forehead.

"I'd like to get to know you better, Sugarberry."

Nothing had prepared her for this moment, so Sugarberry remained silent. But her radiant smile told Vanguard all he needed to know. He stood up, and pulled Sugarberry to her feet. "We'll get you to the airport now, and I'll be in Dream Valley in a couple of weeks."

Vanguard picked up the suitcases, but Sugarberry took hers away from him. He hesitated a moment, but grinned as he saw her point. They continued down the path, but this time hoof in hoof.

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