My Little Pony Monthly Issue 92 (November 1, 2004)


My Little Pony Monthly
A publication of Nematode (Electronic) Publishing
Established June 1997
This Newsletter is Safe for All Ages

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Issue 92
November 2004
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Contest!

Buttons' unicorn magic is moving objects with her mind (or telekinesis, in technical terms). Here are our winners!


Lil' Whiskers ([email protected])
Sadira ([email protected])

Honorable Mention

PikaCheck ([email protected])

And our prize winner is Sadira! You have won the Masquerade lip color! Please e-mail me your address and I'll send it off to you right away!



We're getting into the holiday season again, and that means yummy treats! So Gingerbread is here offering her favorite gingerbread-scented lip balm as November's prize. For a chance to win this (or, for you Big Brothers out there, we have Wild Country talcum powder) prize, answer the following question correctly:



Snow'el, Mistletoe, and what other pony make up the Target exclusive Winter Series II?


Tell me the answer by e-mailing [email protected] mailto:[email protected] entering through the form at



http://mlpmonthly.tripod.com/Contact.htm


THE RULES! *ANYONE* can enter. That means anyone as in anyone. Even if you've already participated in the past, you can enter; in fact, I encourage you to do so. You don't even have to be a subscriber of MLP Monthly in order to enter. But if you're not a subscriber, you're probably not even reading this. ^.~

However, now that we've introduced *real* prizes, we will be putting a limit on how many times you can be entered in the drawing for that. If you've already been selected to win one of our prizes in the past, you can't be entered again- BUT, you can still participate and get your name in the newsletter! So just because you've won something in the past doesn't mean you can't have any fun at all with our contests anymore. And, of course, if eventually all contest participants are ones that have won a prize, it's fair game for everybody again!

On the contest form at http://mlpmonthly.tripod.com/Contact.htm, you will be able to select your gender so we'll be able to determine which prize you get. Or, if you'd prefer to be opted out of the prize drawing, you can select that on the form as well.

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Survey!


Are the Pony Friends unique creatures, or entire species to go along with the little ponies? Here's what you thought.



Lil' Whiskers ([email protected]) says...
You know, I've never thought about it. My first thought is 'no.' But when I sit down and think about it, why not? Ponies can't be the only special creatures out there. There were sentient flowers and crabs after all.

Mystique ([email protected]) says...
I think that there are entire races of these little animals that befriend the ponies, but only a select few get to actually come to live with the ponies. They just wouldn't be as special if they could all come to Ponyland all at once, just like the few humans who know of the ponies and their home.

PikaCheck ([email protected]) says...
When I was little, I had always thought of them as just unique creatures that simply showed up out of nowhere one day. If I think on it now, I think it would be nice to imagine that they were part of their own species of Friends. It would be so cool to see multi_colored Zebras and Giraffes!

Now, please share with us your thoughts on the following question!

Is Hasbro coming out with too many new ponies? Do you buy all the ponies they release or are you selective because of the great variety?

Go to the following URL to give your opinion:
http://mlpmonthly.tripod.com/Contact.htm
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Better to Have Loved and Lost
by Clever Clover ([email protected])
"Amnesia!"

"Uh-huh," Belle Star nodded. "That's right, Morning Glory; Clever Clover has amnesia."

"He can't remember anything?" Minoko asked.

"Uh, he remembers how to talk, and how to walk, but he doesn't remember anything about his life. He doesn't even remember who he is."

"So when is he coming home?" asked Morning Glory.

"Well, the doctor wanted me to tell you about the amnesia so you'd be prepared. I guess, since I've told you, he can come home any time. But we'll have to help him get settled in for the next few weeks."

"When will he get his memory back?"

Belle Star shook her head. "The doctor doesn't know. He says it could come back at any time... or never at all."

"Oh, my..."

* * *
The three fillies went to the hospital to meet Clever Clover and escort him home. Belle Star led the way to Clever Clover's room. Minoko rushed ahead of the others and threw her forelegs around the amnesiatic prince.

"Oh! My love! I'm so glad to see you again!"

Clever Clover seemed both confused and amused at the same time. "You must be... Mi...Minoko? Belle Star told me all about you."

Morning Glory grabbed Minoko's ear and pulled her off of Clever Clover. "You should be ashamed of yourself! Carrying on like that with an engaged pony."

Minoko crossed her arms. "You're just saying that because I beat you to him."

"I am not! But in any case, this is a hospital, and you should be on your best behavior."

"Didn't Belle Star say that we should behave like ourselves to help bring his memory back?"

"That's right!" confirmed Belle Star. "We shouldn't treat him any differently that usual."

"Well, in that case, I'd say that we're off to a great start," mumbled Morning Glory.

Belle Star grabbed Clever Clover's foreleg. "Come on, let's get you home."

Clever Clover nodded. "Yeah, I could use a change of scenery. And I look forward to seeing what kind of life I had."

After checking with the admissions desk to make sure everything was in order, the foursome made their way to Clever Clover's home on the outskirts of Friendship Gardens.

"Boy, I sure live out in the boonies," said Clever Clover.

"Yes," replied Belle Star.

"It's nice and private, though," added Minoko.

They reached the house and Clever Clover was shown around. "So, what do you think?" asked Belle Star.

Clever Clover shrugged. "Ah, I guess it's all right. I mean, I didn't really know what to expect. It'll take a while to used to."

Belle Star glanced at the clock. "Oh! Your favorite show is starting!" She rushed into the living room and turned on the TV. "Do you want to watch?"

Clever Clover followed Belle Star and stood regarding the TV screen. "A cartoon?"

Belle Star nodded. "Uh huh!"

"Is there anywhere in town to go and dance?" Clever Clover asked.

"What!" the three fillies replied in unison.

"You never liked to dance before!" Minoko said.

"I've spent three weeks in a hospital bed. Now that I'm out, I need to do something physical."

Belle Star thought for a moment. "Well, there is that new club downtown. But when we walked past it before, you complained about how loud the music was."

"Well, I'd like to give it another chance."

"I think it sounds like fun!" declared Minoko.

Clever Clover took Minoko by the hoof. "Well then, shall we go?"

Belle Star jumped up and down. "Let's all go!"

"If you like," Clever Clover replied.

"Well, it's not the type of place I'd normally hang out," said Morning Glory. "But if the rest of you are going, I might as well tag along."

* * *
Later, at the club, The Shod Hoof, Clever Clover and Minoko danced while Belle Star and Morning Glory watched from a table off the dance floor.

"If I had known that Minoko was going to monopolize Clever Clover's time, I wouldn't have come," said Morning Glory.

"Oh, I'm sure he'll dance with each of us. The club doesn't close until two o' clock, and it's only ten-thirty. But if you're bored, maybe you could dance with someone else. Those two stallions over at that other table keep looking over here; maybe one of them would dance with you."

"I don't think so."

"Oh! Come on!" Belle Star grabbed Morning Glory by the foreleg and dragged her over to the other table.

"Hey, what's up, ladies?" asked one of the stallions with a grin.

Belle Star pushed Morning Glory forward. "My friend wants to dance!"

Morning Glory cringed. "Not really..."

One of the stallions stood up. "What about you? You're not going to leave my friend without a partner, are you?"

Belle Star blushed. "Oh, well, I'm waiting for my fiancee! I'm sure he'll be finished soon."

The other stallion rose. "But that wouldn't be fair to us, leaving one high and dry."

Belle Star backed away. "Ah..."

"Maybe we should just go back to our table," Morning Glory suggested.

One of the stallions stomped his hoof. "Oh no! Once you've made the offer, you've got to see it through."

"I didn't make any offer!" Morning Glory shouted.

"I'm sorry..." Belle Star whimpered.

"Hey!" Clever Clover grabbed one of the stallions by the shoulder. "The ladies don't seem to be interested in your company!" With that, the purple prince slugged the stallion.

The other stallion took a swing at Clever Clover, only to be blocked by Minoko. She grabbed his foreleg and threw him onto a table, which collapsed under the impact.

"Oh my!" Belle Star and Morning Glory gasped in unison.

The club's bouncer, a big, burly pony, walked up to the scene of the commotion. "I think maybe you should be leaving."

Minoko manifested her energy horn and leveled it at the bouncer's face, but Clever Clover restrained her. "Don't waste your time with this hooligan. Let's get out of here."

Clever Clover and his friends made their way out of the club under the nervous gaze of the other patrons. Once they were outside, Clever Clover let our a hearty laugh. "Boy, that was the most fun I've had since... ah... well, as long as I can remember."

Minoko nodded. "Yeah, it was a hoot!"

"You didn't have to hurt them," whined Belle Star.

Clever Clover shrugged. "Oh, they'll be fine."

"I hope so!" said Morning Glory. "You are a prince and a regent! As a public figure, image is important, and this sort of thing is not good for your image."

Clever Clover sighed. "If this is the way you acted before I lost my memory, maybe I lost it on purpose."

"That was rude!" said Belle Star.

"I'm going home!" Morning Glory stomped off.

"Oh! Don't be mad!" Belle Star called after her.

Morning Glory paused. "I think we all need a good night's sleep."

Belle Star nodded. "Oh, well, goodnight then."

"Yeah, whatever," mumbled Clever Clover, without breaking his pace. "See ya when we see ya."

Minoko followed Clever Clover while Belle Star stood watching her friends go in different directions. She looked back and forth between them for a moment before trotting after Clever Clover and Minoko. When they reached Clever Clover's house, Minoko yawned and excused herself, retiring to her bedroom.

"So, are you planning to sleep over or what?" Clever Clover asked Belle Star once they were alone.

"I... just wanted to make sure you were all right. You haven't been acting like yourself."

"Myself? I don't even know who that is. Maybe my memory will come back, maybe it won't, but if it doesn't, all I can do is live my life. And if my new life doesn't live up to your expectations, maybe we should call off this whole engagement thing."

Tears welled up in Belle Star's eyes. "Call it off? But..."

"Now, don't go crying. If my memory comes back, we can pick up right where we left off; and even if it doesn't, maybe you'll learn to like the new me. But until then, I'll have to ask for the ring back." Clever Clover held out his hoof.

Belle Star couldn't believe what she was hearing. It was as if her whole world was coming apart. Her mind was lost in an abyss of loneliness.

"Well!?" Clever Clover demanded. Belle Star, as if in a daze, slid the ring from her hoof and held it up for a moment before dropping it into Clever Clover's outstretched hoof. She turned and walked out the front door and burst into tears.

She cried all the way back to her apartment. By the time she climbed the stairs, she had run out of tears and was sobbing loudly. As she fumbled with the lock to her door, Coral, her next-door neighbor, poked her head out her door.

"Hey, Belle Star, what's the problem?"

Belle Star burst into tears again. "Clever Clover... he... he..."

Coral put her forelegs around her teary neighbor. "What is it? What did Clever Clover do?"

"He dumped me!"

"Oh my! And I had such a strong premonition about you two."

"He lost his memory and now he doesn't remember loving me and he isn't even the same pony but I still love him! Why did this have to happen to us!?"

"There, there, Belle Star. Come into my apartment and I'll make you some herbal tea to help you relax."

"Thank you, Coral," Belle Star sobbed.

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Dreamscape I
by Clever Clover ([email protected]


Clever Clover sat up and looked around. He was surrounded by blackness. It wasn't necessarily dark, as he could he see his hooves quite clearly. He was sitting on a cold, hard surface, but it was as black as everything else.

"Am I dreaming?" the purple pony mumbled.

And then, without warning, a pony stepped out of the blackness. It was a large, noble-looking stallion. Clever Clover thought the stranger looked familiar, but he couldn't place him.

The first pony was joined by a second, this one a filly. "Greetings, my son," she said.

Suddenly, Clever Clover remembered the strange stallion from a painting in the Hall of Kings at Malachite Castle, the painting of his father.

"F...father? Mother?"

The strange ponies nodded.

"We are very proud of you," said his father. "You have grown into quite the pony."

"But... how is this possible? You're both..."

"Dead?" his mother finished the sentence. "But isn't this just a dream?"

"Yeah, I guess so. But I kind of wish it were real. I never had a chance to get to know you."

"But we have been able to get to know you quite well," said his father. "You have lifted the curse lain upon our people by Jack O Lantern, you have begun the reunification of the clans, and you have displayed great character."

His mother shook her head. "But we fear you are lost."

"Lost? What do you mean?"

"You must find yourself..." Clever Clover's parents disappeared into the blackness.

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Banderol's Birthday
by Sugarberry


This story is even more rambling and disjointed than usual and downright boring. I apologize. I just could not get the characters to act out the parts I had planned for them; they went their own way, not to be forced into my preconceived plan for them.


"What should I fix for supper?" Vanguard asked Sugarberry as she loaded her backpack for a day at Clare's Creations gathering data for the book Fairfax-Monk Publishing had contracted her to write.

"You and Banderol can decide that," Sugarberry responded. "This show is going to run late, and I can't miss a thing." The strawberry-patterned mare hugged her son and kissed his cheek as he worked on his breakfast. As she hoisted the satchel onto her shoulder, she gave Vanguard a quick kiss, too. "Tomorrow, we can have the whole day together."

"That's a promise?"

Sugarberry granted him a priceless smile. "A promise," she said, leaning into his embrace for a long moment. "I love you."

"And I, you," Vanguard assured her.

"Luv ya, Mommy," Banderol giggled, throwing his mother a kiss.

"You two are making it very difficult to leave, but I gotta get out of here." With a last longing look at her two fellas, Sugarberry left the Vulcanopolis townhouse while Vanguard watched until she was out of sight. Their schedules seemed always at odds, and Vanguard missed their time as family.

However, the perfect November Saturday beckoned to be enjoyed, and father and son were soon on their way to a nearby park with the neighbors, Iveta and Giles and their two boys, for a rollicking time on the swings, the teeter-totters, and the merry-go-round. When the youngsters had expended all their energy and the adults their patience, the ponies progressed to Pizzaria Sicily as Vanguard's treat.

Over hot, cheesy pizza, the adults conversed while the foals messily consumed the pizza and drank- or more specifically, spilled- their sodas.

"Sugarberry must be having the time of her life at the convention center," Iveta sighed wistfully, having sopped up the latest spill. Right now, the chance to be among sophisticated adults seemed more appealing than watching over three boisterous foals. "She was telling me that today's show is a big step for Clare's Creations."

"Clare's getting her hoof into home fashions," Vanguard concurred. "And if Sugarberry's response to the designs is any indication, Clare has another winner."

"Isn't she afraid of spreading her interests to thin?" queried Giles.

"Clare blossoms when faced with a challenge. She's wired for this project. I just wish Sugarberry wasn't so involved in all the hype right now."

"She was complaining of not seeing as much of you as she'd like, too," Iveta commiserated. "You have plans for tomorrow, though, don't you?"

The very thought of the next day brought a bright smile to Vanguard's face. "We're going to spend the day in the country. Enrica and Giorgio, Sr. suggested we make use of their house and grounds to get away from things. Enrica agrees with me that Sugarberry is pushing herself too hard."

"You'll all enjoy the day off," Iveta confirmed. "With the foal coming, things'll get even busier."

"At least Sugarberry will be finished with her research soon and can settle down to putting the information all together."

"I hear she'll have a special photographer at her disposal all next week," Giles grinned, knowing full well that Vanguard was jealous of any and all stallions who came close to Sugarberry.

"Starting Monday morning, Sugarberry will be working with him. Nello's been documenting everything, but Macarius insists that someone of his own choosing has to do the final shoot."

"Sounds like Macarius is a micro-manager," Giles sympathized. "He should let Sugarberry make her own decisions. She's the one over here gathering the facts."

"I couldn't agree more," Vanguard scowled.

In a ploy to get the conversation back onto a less explosive topic, Iveta diverted the stallions' thoughts. "It's a good thing Sugarberry'll have all the loose ends tied-up before Banderol's birthday party. Jacopo and Trent are counting down the days to that celebration."

Banderol would be two years old on the fifteenth while Calla's second birthday was the following day. Calla's birth having occurred in Dream Valley while Clare and Giorgio were visiting there, she and Banderol had bonded as newborns. The two foals enjoyed a special connection that this sojourn in Vulcanopolis was strengthening. Banderol and Calla seemed to understand one another in a way that amazed even their parents, showing an affinity of temperament and tolerance that made them perfect companions.

"It's going to be quite a celebration, what with all the Guardini family involved." The big day was scheduled for the Sunday ahead of the actual birth-dates and would be held in grand style. Vanguard shook his head at the extent of the preparations that Clare and Enrica had set in motion for the two birthdays, the only advantage as he could see it being that Sugarberry was spared the added task of party planning.

Far better in the country blue stallion's way of thinking was the private excursion into the country planned with his wife and son the next day.

* * *
The hustle and bustle of the home fashions introduction to representatives of Ponyland's most prestigious stores as well as the top home furnishings magazines and several newspapers created a kaleidoscope of sound, color, and textures that was exciting and invigorating, but Sugarberry soon found herself with a headache and an aching back that cast a pall over her initial enjoyment of the occasion. She had registered enough information to satisfy even Macarius, so she sought refuge in a relatively subdued back room where a coffee maker dripped a strong, dark brew and now-stale donuts lay neglected in an open cardboard box.

Sugarberry drew a foam cup of the coffee, grabbed a donut and a napkin, and sank down into a hard, uneven chair by a drab, grey table at the edge of the room. Taking a sip from the cup, she found the coffee cold and bitter. She closed her eyes and rested her head on her hooves, trying to stop the vivid patterns and brilliant hues of Clare's linens, bedding, towels, pillows, and related accessories from over-loading her senses.

As she sat in the quiet room, Sugarberry's throbbing head gradually eased and her mind cleared to allow peaceful thoughts of her family to sooth her nerves. She was living a daydream of the next day's languor with Vanguard and Banderol when the clearing of a throat caused her to come back to the present; her eyes popped open and her head lifted to find standing before her a very proper and handsome stallion.

"I'm sorry to disturb you," the unknown pony said, "but as we'll be working together, I thought it best to make the introduction. I'm Snapshot, and you can be no one but Sugarberry." The stallion's gaze swept from the strawberry symbol on the mare's white forehead to the to the riotous display of strawberries on her sides.

"Snapshot. It's good to meet you." Sugarberry extended her hoof, stifling a yawn, then grinned. "I'm afraid you haven't found me at my best, but it's been a rough day."

"And it's not over yet." The stallion's eyes flicked to the heavy backpack that rested on the table.

Taking a moment to assess the stallion, Sugarberry noted that he appeared to be younger than herself, fixing his age at approximately twenty-five. His hair was the same sea-foam green of Vanguard's, the mane a shade darker than his body color, with eyes of deep cinnamon. He had a confident attitude that rather intimidated the gentle mare and a stubborn set to his jaw that bespoke a determination to get things done without thought to the ultimate cost. Sugarberry envisioned a difficult week ahead.

"I didn't expect you until Monday."

"Macarius wanted today's expo well-covered."

"Nello and I have been on top of things."

The stallion waved a hoof through the air. "No need of Nello's involvement; you'll find my shots to be much more dramatic. The resident photographer tends to miss the heart of the matter due to routine. It takes fresh vision to uncover true potential."

"The reverse could be true; with Nello's familiarity of Clare's techniques, he can anticipate the truly exceptional shot," Sugarberry defended her friend.

"Well, let's get out on the floor and we'll see," Snapshot said, shoving Sugarberry's backpack toward her. "I'm only sorry I didn't arrive sooner, but Macarius caught me finishing up an assignment that needed my personal attention which put me on a late flight."

"Not late enough!" Sugarberry muttered under her breath as she got to her hooves and flung the backpack over her shoulder.

"What was that?" Snapshot asked sharply.

"I just commented that the latte wasn't hot enough," was the mare's controlled response.

* * *
It was a beleaguered Sugarberry who finally arrived home that evening, accompanied by Giorgio who would not hear of her walking alone or of calling Vanguard away when Banderol was already tucked in bed. The stallion was worried, never having seen Sugarberry quite this upset... well, at least not since coming to Vulcanopolis for her research on the fashion industry.

What bothered Giorgio most was that Sugarberry had spoken barely a word on the walk. Her only response to his comments had been a noncommital hmm here and there. Her mind was obviously dealing with some turmoil within, and he had a good idea of what- or more specifically, whom- was the cause of her trouble.

"Sugarberry, you'd be better off discussing what's bothering you," he finally said. It was several moments before Sugarberry responded, but her words verified his suspicion.

"Did you not meet Snapshot?"

"Briefly." It was Giorgio's turn to give abrupt answers in hopes of drawing out Sugarberry's feelings.

"He's a conceited, uncaring despot."

"From a distance, he seemed congenial enough."

"Bah!" Sugarberry snorted. "He thinks he's Ponyland's greatest photographer and he won't accept anyone else's ideas; everything has to be done his way and in his time frame!"

"Such as?"

"Such as which shots he'll approve for my book- and none of them will be Nello's if Snapshot does have final approval. And another thing, he expects me to sit down with him tomorrow to discuss my progress on the book. He's not Macarius!"

"What'd you tell him?"

"That I'd be out of town tomorrow; and as it's Sunday, I wouldn't work anyway. He said he was on a tight schedule that necessitated our meeting before he begins his scheduled shoot at Clare's on Monday."

"How did the two of you resolve your differences?"

"I walked away." Sugarberry cast a guilty glance toward Giorgio. "You don't have to say it... I acted the coward."

But Giorgio only grinned. "If you and Van and Bandy get away from here yet tonight, there's very little chance that Snapshot will find you tomorrow."

"Dare I actually go against his wishes?"

"You said yourself that he isn't Macarius; call your publisher tonight and verify that this upstart is overstepping his authority with you. Let Macarius set his bounds."

Sugarberry looked at Giorgio with admiration. "Why didn't I think of that?"

The two ponies had reached the town house by this time; and Vanguard, waiting impatiently for his wife's return, had heard their voices. Coming to the door, he opened it to find Sugarberry hugging the dark green stallion. He fought against the jealousy that often gripped him in moments like this and succeeded in saying lightly, "Come now; we'll have none of that."

Sugarberry was at his side in an instant. "Vanguard, we've got to leave for the country tonight, as soon as possible." She looked down the street nervously. "First, though, I've got to make a call to Macarius." She disappeared into the house like a flash.

Vanguard stared after her for a moment, then looked wonderingly at Giorgio, who answered the unspoken question.

In a very short time, three ponies- two adults and one sleeping foal- left the house like fugitives fleeing into the night.

* * *
Sugarberry sat up abruptly from a deep slumber, a feeling of dread engulfing her. Unfamiliar surroundings added to her fear. Sleep-shrouded images, shadowy in the breaking dawn, loomed large around her. She scooted backwards on the bed and made contact with an ornately carved headboard; her gaze dropped to a sleeping form beside her, and her mind cleared.

She and Vanguard were guests at Giorgio, Sr., and Enrica's country house several miles from Vulcanopolis.

The dream that had haunted her psyche caused her to shudder and draw the blanket up more closely around her. She, along with Vanguard and Banderol, had been escaping an irate Pharaoh- in the equine form of Snapshot- across the Red Sea.

The evening Mass they had attended at the local parish church on their exodus to the country had obviously inspired Bible-related impressions to influence her unconscious thoughts.

Snapshot was in hot pursuit and had nearly closed the distance between them when, suddenly and dramatically, a giant sea monster came out of the walls of water that had parted for them and swallowed Snapshot in one satisfying gulp. The water beast, with Macarius' voice, had winked at Sugarberry and grunted, "Tasty little morsel," and had disappeared into the churning deep, a high, piercing scream of terror following in its wake.

That scream of distress was what had rent Sugarberry's sleep.

Now, fully cognizant, she heard it again.

Cutting into Vanguard's peaceful dreams, the grating sound caused him to roll over and open his eyes... to peer upward into Sugarberry's wide, alarmed ones. Reaching out a foreleg to draw her down to him, he chuckled.

"I think we've just had our first introduction to Giorgio's new pets."

"Pets?" questioned Sugarberry, snuggling into the warmth and protection of her husband.

"Donato was telling me about them while you and Prisca got Banderol settled last night," Vanguard went on to explain. "Giorgio, Sr., got it into his head that the villa needed some resident animal life, so he recently invested in a peacock and a peahen. Donato says they've taken over control of the place and are adamant to make their feelings known with their screeching. That, I assume, is what we heard."

"Such beautiful birds can sound like banshees?"

"Obviously." Another shriek rent the air.

"Speaking of banshees," Sugarberry shivered, "I had a nightmare about Snapshot."

Vanguard covered the mare's mouth with his hoof. "Not a word about work," he warned. "That was our agreement for this respite."

"Well, he did get what he deserved," Sugarberry managed to say before being quieted with a kiss that did not end until a gentle rap sounded on their bedroom door and Prisca's voice carried through.

"It is the breakfast hour, as you requested to be awakened."

With one last quick kiss, Vanguard rolled over and sat up. "Thanks, Prisca. We'll be down shortly," he called out in the direction of the door.

"No hurry," said the housekeeper. "Banderol and I still have some finishing touches to add to the table."

Sugarberry stretched as she sat at the edge of the bed. "This is heavenly... our son is being cared for; and breakfast will be waiting, fresh and warm. She sniffed the air. "I can smell the coffee." That bit of sensory stimulation got the mare out of bed and on her hooves as nothing else could.

* * *
As soothing and relaxed as the day spent at Giorgio, Sr., and Enrica's country home had been, the following week proved to be more hectic than ever. Snapshot had been properly warned by Macarius to respect Sugarberry's privacy and to respect her input. It was a properly subdued stallion who met with the mare on Monday morning at Clare's Creations, but a certain snap in his eyes forewarned the observant onlooker that he was not a happy camper.

Caught up in the details of her work, the excitement of the coming weekend's birthday party, and the anticipation of the birth of her second foal, Sugarberry was only too ready to accept Snapshot's softened demeanor. Giorgio, however, noted with some concern the stallion's too-condescending manner and took it upon himself to keep an eye open for any further confrontation between Sugarberry and Snapshot. His work for the city in which he was involved on his sabbatical from Leonardo University was proceeding well; and as Clare's new venture into domestic fashions had expanded her workload, he made himself available to help out wherever he could. This allowed him to check often on Sugarberry to insure that she was not bullied or intimidated by the photographer hired by Macarius.

For Sugarberry, this association with Giorgio was a refreshing extension of the friendship that had developed between them years earlier when Giorgio had been temporarily teaching at Pony Pride; their initial contact had been somewhat hampered by circumstances then swirling around them, but they had gotten over the rough spots, cementing a mutual trust and admiration that only increased over time.

Resenting Macarius' siding with Sugarberry on points of protocol, Snapshot put on an outward show of cooperation, even allowing Nello to advise him during photo sessions in which they were both involved. Inwardly, however, he seethed over being bound by unwanted regulations that stifled his creativity.

Apart from Clare's Creations, Vanguard, his attention and focus centered on his responsibilities at Leonardo University which involved managing the mathematics department as well as teaching, saw none of the glamour or the excitement that buoyed Sugarberry as she hurried to tie-up loose ends in regard to her pending book which centered on Clare's booming fashion empire.

Snapshot's input was important in that his photos would enhance Sugarberry's words, but Vanguard was not pleased to see him pushing Sugarberry to the limit; for even though Snapshot had seemingly become more malleable, he had not backed down from long days which kept Sugarberry at Clare's Creations for many more hours than Vanguard approved. His only source of consolation was the fact that when Snapshot left town, Sugarberry would be free to work at home on getting her manuscript in final form which even the foal's birth would not hinder.

Late one afternoon as Vanguard was making ready to leave his office, he was approached by one of the mathematics faculty members. Lyssa, always ready to seek Vanguard's advice, breezed into his office with her peach mane plastered against her head and water drops dripping from the ends. In her hooves was a roll of paper towels.

"I was at the administration building when it started raining; and, of course, my umbrella was here." She proceeded to dry the worst of the moisture from her hair as she continued to ramble. "I hear that New Pony had six inches of snow dumped on it, which seems preferable to me as snow doesn't saturate a pony." She paused only long enough to tear off more sheets of the toweling. "If you don't have an umbrella, I'd recommend waiting out this downpour."

"I'm anxious to get home to my wife and my son."

"I hear he has a birthday coming up."

"Banderol will be two on Monday."

"From what I know of foals- which, admittedly, isn't much- two-year-olds can be a hoof-full.

"They're very energetic and inquisitive," Vanguard replied, a smile testifying to the benefits that accompanied the experience. "Admittedly, there's a lot to learn for all of us."

"I almost envy you your family," Lyssa said, "but I don't think I'm the mothering type."

Vanguard made no comment. It was difficult to imagine the indomitable Lyssa as a nurturing parent. The rain against the window beat out a staccato pattern as Vanguard's thoughts turned to his wife. Sugarberry was an excellent mother; two years of raising Banderol had proven that. And now, in the near future, they would have another foal to guide, teach, and love. It was a daunting responsibility, but one they both anticipated with joy.

The ringing of the telephone called Vanguard back to the present. "Excuse me," he said to Lyssa as he picked up the receiver. "Hello." He grinned as Sugarberry's voice greeted him in return, but his pleasure was short-lived when he found out the reason for the call.

"Snapshot suggested that this rainy evening would be a good time to get together with Nello over some of the shots that are still needed. We'll be working here at the studio until late, so you and Banderol will be alone for supper again."

The mare's voice sounded so wistful that Vanguard could not be angry. "We'll get along, although we'll both miss you terribly. Call me when you're through, and I'll have Iveta look after Banderol while I come to walk you home."

"There's no need for you to do that. Giorgio is going over some accounts with Elena, so he'll accompany me when I leave."

Vanguard ran a hoof through his mane. "A little rain isn't going to hurt me."

"But it's entirely unnecessary. I've gotta run. I'll see you later."

Vanguard could hear Snapshot's voice in the background as the line went dead. He mumbled a few choice words concerning that stallion as he dropped the receiver back in place.

Lyssa, watching the play of emotions crossing Vanguard's unguarded face, asked solicitously, "Is there a problem?"

"Sugarberry will be coming home late in this rotten weather." Vanguard got up and stalked to the window. In all honesty, it was not the weather that bothered him at all. It was the fact that he and Sugarberry rarely saw one another anymore. Sugarberry saw more of Snapshot, Giorgio, and Nello than she did of her own husband and son. That irked Vanguard more than he wished to admit.

"Your wife has a lot to accomplish before the baby comes," Lyssa soothed, then assumed a thoughtful expression. "I know how the time can pass faster before you see her. There's a unique caffe I've found tucked away on a quiet little street very near here. It's somehow survived the modernization of Vulcanopolis and has the most savory foods I've ever eaten... not to mention a delectable soup that will warm a pony from the inside out." The mare grinned ruefully as she patted at her still damp mane and shivered noticeably. "I could go for some of that soup right now."

Vanguard had no desire to spend the evening with Lyssa, but the melancholy weather and the thought of the town house devoid of Sugarberry's presence made him think twice. Banderol would be happily playing with Iveta's sons and would not notice if his dad arrived an hour later than usual. It would be rather pleasant to enjoy some adult conversation away from the university. Sugarberry would certainly enjoy her walk through the rain with Giorgio, for the two of them seemed to discuss everything.

Flashing Lyssa a warm smile, Vanguard capitulated. "A good meal at a quiet restaurant sounds like just the thing. I'll give Iveta a call that I'll be late picking up Banderol."

"Let me run get my umbrella," the mare said, jumping to her hooves before Vanguard could change his mind. "And it's big enough for two," she trilled as she left the office.

Vanguard groaned. What had he gotten himself into?

* * *
"This place is very... quaint," Vanguard murmured as he and Lyssa seated themselves at a small, round table in a quiet corner. Well, actually, the entire place was rather quiet with only one other customer across the way, a grizzled mare with dark, deep-set eyes who watched them closely. She was sipping a beverage from a steaming mug which reminded Vanguard how chilly the cold autumn rain had made him and he shivered.

"It's so... gothic," Lyssa determined. "It has character."

With that, Vanguard had to agree. The decor, if that's what one could call it, was medieval. A smokey fireplace burned a pungent fuel that filled the air with an earthy, musky fragrance which reminded one of a dark and brooding forest floor. The aroma of mint and anise, fennel and thyme, mixed with the dusky atmosphere, spilled from drying clumps of the herbs hanging from the exposed rafters close overhead. Other than the subtle glow of the fire, the only other lighting was provided by candles on each of the five tables in the room and several heavy wooden wall sconces carved in the shape of gargoyles which hung on either side of the entryway across the room.

The tables, too, were of ornately carved wood seen briefly where the legs extended from under draping, blood-red table covers. Rustic bowls of nuts and dried fruits decorated the table-tops along with the beeswax candles that shed a quavery light over the twining pattern of leaves and insects that decorated the wooden holders. On the rough-hewn wall closest to Vanguard and Lyssa's table were hung the skins of animals- rabbit and squirrel and... rat- and over the open hearth steamed a black cauldron of... what?

The eatery seemed to be devoid of staff, Vanguard noted uneasily. What kind of place had Lyssa brought him to?

With a grunt and an eerie sound of creaking bones, the old crone got to her hooves and shuffled through an opening in the back of the oddly-decorated restaurant, a worn and faded green shawl wrapping her boney figure like moss on a weathered rock.

"She's the owner of the place," Lyssa whispered, then added in a normal voice. "There are no menus, for her choices are rather limited. The lack of variety is made up for by the exquisite flavors she can produce using herbs."

"We'll see," Vanguard stated, absently taking a nut-meat from the bowl and eating it. The oddly bitter taste surprised him; and he brushed a fine, powdery substance from his hooves onto a coarse, black napkin, leaving a trail of sparkling white crystals behind. Finding the flavor unsettling, Vanguard tried a shriveled, dried apple slice and noted once again the bitter aftertaste. He could not, however, stop himself from eating more and more of the mix from the bowl, which included unidentifiable red berries, dark raisins, and white shards of coconut, all of which had a sprinkling of the fine, white powder coating them. Lyssa, too, partook of a fair amount of the mixture, although she was more deliberate and meditative in her munching, a bemused expression on her olive face.

By the time the old mare reentered the room with a battered tray holding two hot bowls of soup and some bread, both Vanguard and Lyssa appeared to be in a mellow mood. The hag smiled down on them as she placed a steaming bowl in front of each of the ponies and plopped the basket of freshly-baked rolls onto the table-top. Vanguard only vaguely noted the proprietor's toothless, gummy grin which seemed to hold more menace than hospitality. The stallion's attention seemed to be more and more geared toward Lyssa than to the food he was eating.

Why, Vanguard wondered in some secret part of his brain, had he never really noticed just how lovely this mare was? Her olive complection was burnished by the candlelight and her peach-colored mane, drying now in the warmth of the room, curled about her face in tiny ringlets that begged to be touched and...

Vanguard suddenly sat up straight, his relaxed attitude disappearing in a moment. Where was his vagrant mind taking him? Feeling guilty as sin, he cleared his throat and made a noncommital comment. "The soup is... good."

"Very good," Lyssa purred. "I told you this was a superb spot to eat."

"Yes," Vanguard managed to agree, finding himself drowning in the limpid gaze Lyssa was radiating. He cleared his throat again. "However, I find that I'm not particularly hungry... now." A lone sweat drop trickled down the left side of his face. "Maybe... we should leave."

"And spoil our night together, Vanguard?" pouted Lyssa, her steady gaze faltering momentarily before riveting the stallion once more with aquamarine eyes that begged for his company. "Here comes Gipsy now with more food." Lyssa's hoof reached out to envelope Vanguard's. "We can't walk out now and hurt her feelings."

Casting a dark glance at the crone who did resemble his mental picture of a gypsy, Vanguard doubted that the ancient pony had any feelings to hurt; but once his eyes made contact with Lyssa's once more, he was sunk. "Of course we'll stay to finish our meal, Lyssa." He patted the hoof that still rested on his, then pulled back as the Gipsy served them cuts of meat smothered in a creamy mushroom sauce with a leafy green salad made up of a variety of foreign plant parts on the side. She followed this with mugs of piping hot cider garnished with more herbs of unknown origin; then with a sly wink at Lyssa, she shuffled out of the room again.

The meal passed like a dream for Vanguard, sometimes seeing Lyssa across from him in striking clarity; and at other times seeing her as if she was shrouded with a gauzy softness that made her seem almost ethereal and very enticing. By the time he had finished his mug of cider, however, he was feeling oddly sleepy and could think of nothing but getting home to Sugarberry and Banderol.

"Lyssa, we should be going."

The mare shook herself as if coming out of a trance. "Go?" she murmured, then smiled. "Yes, it's time to go... home."

The ponies got to their hooves and walked across the uneven plank floor to the door where they were met by Gipsy. Vanguard gave the elder a startled glance, not having realized she was even in the room; he was mortified to recall that neither he nor Lyssa had paid for the repast.

Lyssa, however, met Gipsy's appearance with composure and offered her what appeared to be a bag of coins. "It was a delightful meal, Gipsy."

The old crone accepted the payment, slipping the pouch into the folds of her garment, then bringing forth two smaller packages as if by magic. She bestowed one on Lyssa and one on Vanguard, and Vanguard knew immediately by the feel of it that it was more of the powder-coated treats that had sat on the table. He said thank you, but had every intention of discarding them at the first opportunity. Lyssa, however, hugged hers to her as if it was a treasure. Then, Vanguard and Lyssa stepped out into the still rainy night, protected by the umbrella's canopy.

Behind them, a sound that could only be called a cackle sounded in the dark and dreary night.

* * *
"I'm glad we had this evening to get to know one another better, Van," Lyssa said, unlocking her apartment door while Vanguard protected her from the rain with the umbrella. "You enjoyed it too, didn't you?" She turned to him, her face only inches from his, the drumming of the raindrops providing a mind-numbing aura that clouded an already fuzzy mind. Vanguard shook his head to clear the mental cobwebs that seemed to rob him of his thought processes.

"You didn't enjoy it?" the mare pouted, putting a hoof to Vanguard's cheek, her eyes a study in disappointment, her mouth turned sulkily downward.

"No... yes... I mean..." Vanguard reached up with his free hoof to brush her touch away from him. "I'm not sure..." Why could he not say what he meant? It was as if her nearness was interfering with his senses.

"Vanguard, kiss me."

The softly spoken words were filled with a provocative power that ensnared the stallion, and he bent his head to obey the summons. In doing so, however, the umbrella over them shifted, allowing a torrent of cold rain to cascade down over him, causing him to rear away from the mare. The distance between them seemed to clear his mind as much as the impact of the biting rain, and Vanguard was quick to make the most of his advantage.

"Take your umbrella, Lyssa. I'll make my way home without it." He turned to leave.

"But, Van... I thought..."

Vanguard turned back to face the mare across the now pouring rain. "You thought wrong. I haven't been thinking too clearly myself. I'm sorry for that, but nothing more. Good night." His voice was as cold as the night, and Lyssa shivered as she found herself alone in the rain.

* * *
Arriving home to find that Sugarberry had not yet returned, Vanguard made his way to the town house next to his and knocked on the door. Giles answered the knock and grinned broadly to see his neighbor soaked and dripping.

"Come in, Van, before you develop gills."

"I don't want to turn your carpet into a marsh; just wrap Banderol in a blanket and I'll scoot him home; I've already got the door unlocked."

"Come in, Van," echoed Iveta from behind her husband. "You'll catch your death of cold."

Vanguard stepped into the doorway but would go no further. "Release my son to me and I promise to go home and get dried off."

"Leave the little tyke here for the night," Giles offered. "He's already asleep with Jacopo, and we'll only succeed in waking up both of them... and Trent, too."

Vanguard glanced from Giles to Iveta. "You're sure it's no trouble?"

"When has Banderol ever been trouble? We all consider him one of the family."

"Well, if you're sure..."

Giles laughed. "Just get home and get the house warmed up for Sugarberry. She'll need all your loving attention after walking through this squall."

Vanguard grinned back at his friend. "That I can provide."

* * *
The coffee was waiting, a fluffy towel tumbled in the drier, and Vanguard stared silently out the window, straining to catch the first sign of Sugarberry's return. His guilt at so nearly succumbing to Lyssa's charms ate at his conscience and filled him with a disgust of himself. He had never before come so close to such an indiscretion, and he hated himself for his weakness. He felt an overwhelming desire to bare his soul to Sugarberry, but dreaded the look of disappointment that he knew would cloud her trusting face.

When she and Giorgio finally came in sight, Vanguard retrieved the warm towel and opened wide the door, allowing the two ponies quick entrance, but Giorgio assisted Sugarberry through the door and said goodnight, anxious to get to his own home and family. Vanguard shrouded Sugarberry in the comforting warmth of the towel and led her to a comfortable love seat in the sitting room. After seeing her settled, he brought cups of coffee for both of them and Sugarberry accepted hers readily, wrapping her hooves around the soothing warmth of the ceramic. Once Vanguard had seated himself beside her, she gratefully rested her head against his shoulder and sighed.

"It's been a long day."

"Again." Vanguard added, kissing the top of her head. "How many pictures does Snapshot need, anyway?"

"He's a perfectionist," stated Sugarberry, taking a sip of coffee. She looked at her husband. "Is Banderol okay?"

"He's fine; he's still with Iveta, tucked in with Jacopo. Iveta and Giles thought it would be better to let the boys sleep than to chance waking all three of them up."

"Hmm." Sugarberry snuggled closer to Vanguard, then raised her head. "Your hair is wet!"

"It is raining."

"And your umbrella sat in the closet all day, I suppose."

"It wasn't raining when I left the house."

"Yes, but it was threatening!"

"I didn't melt, now, did I?"

"No, you didn't," agreed the mare, snuggling up against his solid warmth once more.

* * *
"You said you could make any stallion have eyes for only me!" Lyssa fumed as she paced across the plank floor of the caffe, gloomily lighted now by only one candle.

"That ya wanted to hear," the old crone cackled. "What me said was a stallion with the right... inclination... would find ya... irresistible. Me warned that one of strong moral fiber would be difficult to sway."

"But you claimed that your elixirs and... and... things... were guaranteed!"

"Me potions worked; that there stallion was strong enough to fight 'em off, that's all."

"I want my jangles back!"

"These jangles?" the crone asked, holding out a hoof full of golden coins.

Lyssa made a grab for the money, but came up empty. The crone and the coins had disappeared.

* * *
"It's time you went to bed."

Vanguard and Sugarberry had spent a comfortable half hour sharing small talk while they got warm and dry, but now Vanguard got to his hooves and extended a hoof to help his wife up. Her due date fast approaching, Sugarberry was finding it difficult to move as gracefully as was usual; and she welcomed her husband's solicitude.

As they moved through the kitchen, however, Sugarberry noticed an unusual packet lying on the counter. "What's this?" she queried, picking it up.

Vanguard tried to sound casual. "Lyssa and I went out to eat after I got your call. It's some kind of... trail mix... a specialty of the restaurant." He tried to take it away from Sugarberry, remembering with some trepidation the roller-coaster ride of emotions that the food at the caffe had inspired. But Sugarberry was curious.

"Oh, let me see!" She opened the package to reveal the lightly powdered fruits and nuts. "This looks good!" She immediately reached out for a sample and popped it into her mouth before Vanguard could stop her. She chewed and swallowed. "I didn't realize how hungry I was." Picking up the packet, she walked to the table and sat down. "A glass of milk would be nice."

"What do you think of them?" Vanguard asked, going to the refrigerator to do her bidding. Had he imagined the effect of the food? Maybe he had picked up some two-hour flu bug that had confused his mental state.

"Very good, like scavenging fresh fruits from the forest on a sunny afternoon." She licked the white powder off her hooves before taking a drink of the milk. "Here, have some."

Vanguard backed away, holding up his hoof in refusal . "No. I've had plenty, thank you."

"Where was this place?" Sugarberry asked, sampling more of nature's harvest. "You'll have to take me there sometime."

"Lyssa knew about it; I'm not sure I could find it again," Vanguard hedged.

"Do you and Lyssa eat out often?"

"This was the first time... and the last."

Sugarberry eyed him thoughtfully. "Is there something I should know?"

"Suffice it to say that I got the impression that Lyssa expected more than a professional discussion after dinner."

"Hmm." Sugarberry downed one last tidbit, licked her lips, then sent a look that fired Vanguard's very soul. She stood up from the table and reached out to draw him closer to her. "Kiss me," she breathed.

This was an invitation Vanguard could not refuse.

* * *
Before he fell asleep that night, Vanguard made a trip to the kitchen to retrieve the leftover bits and pieces still remaining in the crone's packet and carried them to the second-story balcony and dumped them over the edge into the blackness of the night.

A trail of sparkling reflections seemed to trail down through the gloom between the raindrops, and Vanguard watched until they disappeared. "I'd say they were bewitched... if I believed in that sort of thing," he mumbled. Rubbing his hooves together as if to rid himself of any leftover contamination, he was glad to be rid of any reminder of his time with Lyssa and the crone. As he went back inside and closed the door, he thought he heard again that unholy cackle; but he only shook his head and went to bed.

From under the balcony, a lone ground squirrel darted out from his dry shelter, his nose twitching. Some windfall had come his way; he could smell it. The striped rodent finally located the delectable substance, ate some on the spot, and greedily filled his cheeks with the rest. Suddenly filled with a strong desire for his snug domicile and his mate, he scampered away.

* * *
"Oh, my!" exclaimed Sugarberry, walking into Enrica and Giorgio's villa early Sunday afternoon for the long anticipated birthday party for Banderol and Calla. The living room had been decorated to the hilt with potted plants and trees with large plush animals playing amidst them as if in a wild haven, each creature sporting four balloons, the lavender ones representing Calla's two years and the seafoam green ones, Banderol's.

Banderol squirmed out of his father's forelegs as soon as he spotted Calla coming to meet them in the company of her mother. The two foals rushed off to make "friends" with the cute and furry decorations while Clare welcomed Vanguard and Sugarberry to her mother-in-law's home.

"You told me you were going to no trouble for this party," Sugarberry accused the orchid mare.

"I didn't," Clare defended with a laugh. "It was all Enrica's doings." The mare planted a kiss on Vanguard's cheek and smiled at him. "Are you ready for an afternoon spent with a herd of active foals?"

"Ask me when it's over."

"Sugarberry! Van!" Giorgio came into the room with a huge grin on his face. "Glad to see Snapshot didn't decide to commandeer you for the day, Sugarberry." He kissed the mare and held out a hoof to Vanguard. "I see our birthday brats are having fun already."

The four adults watched as the petite little Calla, her lavender curls framing her yellow face, followed Banderol up on the back of a fat, grey elephant where they pretended to ride the animal across some imaginary plain.

"Where are your parents?" Sugarberry asked of Giorgio. "I have to thank them for such a spectacular setting for this party."

"No thanks needed," said Giorgio, Sr., as he came up behind the mare with Enrica at his side. "Having the chance to entertain our family and friends on behalf of two delightful foals is our pleasure. Right, Enrica?" He turned to his wife with a winning smile.

"We've had such fun just with the decorating," declared Enrica. "And I see that both our guests of honor are here now."

The little colt that was the image of his father in country blue and seafoam green with a dash of red in his mane from his mother suddenly realized that he and Calla were being left out of the group of grown-ups, and grabbing Calla's hoof, he slid off the elephant's back, pulling the small filly down with him. The two ran up to the adults hoof-in-hoof.

"Come pway wif us!" they demanded, grabbing their fathers' hooves to pull them more deeply into the room.

From there, the day took off as guests began to arrive. Giorgio's sister, Hydrangea, and her husband, Pacificus, and children, Dante and Antonio; Mooncurl, Nello, and Sunsprite; Iveta, Giles, Jacopo, and Trent; Agatha and Hubert, Tabby's parents who were currently in Vulcanopolis; and even Tiffany and Guido; and a number of other friends and relatives from the area. The house rang with the laughter of foals and the conversation of the adults.

* * *
Snapshot roamed his hotel room. Macarius had promised him free rein with this project, and then had reneged, putting him at the beck and call of that... that female... and the unimaginative Nello. He had no intention of sharing the photographic credit of the book with anyone, let alone with someone who had spent his entire career in Vulcanopolis.

"Why, I've documented history in the making," grumbled the unhappy stallion as he went to stare out the eighth-story window, not really seeing the view of the city beyond. "I'll not be relegated to collaborating on the mundane, especially with a mare who can't prioritize," he scoffed, thinking of the hours wasted on this project because Sugarberry insisted on spending time with her family. He could have moved on to the E.S.L.'s extreme sports' competition being held in sunny Babango if he had his way. Except for some frivolous birthday party- for bratty foals, mind you!- he would have been out of here!

Stalking to the telephone, made his decision. Snapshot dialed the airport, asking about any seats for outgoing flights, and booked himself onto the next plane leaving for the warm climate of the ocean paradise. After that detail was taken care of, he threw his things together and packed his luggage, taking time before he left to ascertain the address of the Guardini's posh villa in the ritzy section of town.

* * *
Emma, the Guardini's maid, had no qualms about admitting the distinguished, attractive stallion into the house and showing him to a quiet sitting room off the main entrance away from the party activities. It was not unusual for these business types to request a word with Giorgio, Sr., who was the administrator of Vulcanopolis, or his wife, Enrica, who was involved with a number of charitable causes.

Of course, the maid contemplated, Sunday was not the typical day for such business calls. However, the stallion's looks did favor Vanguard, what with that same seafoam green hair; and he had asked for Sugarberry, so he might have some connection to the Dream Valley guests. Emma used her best judgement, determining that it was judicious not to turn away someone who might be related. And his manner had been all that was correct, Emma smiled, remembering how those cinnamon eyes had held her own, making her feel somehow special.

Emma was in luck, finding Sugarberry accompanying Banderol back to the festivities after a trip to the bathroom; after explaining the unexpected visitor's presence in the house, Emma was relegated by Sugarberry to escort Banderol back to his peers while she herself set off to face Snapshot.

* * *
The cinnamon eyes that Sugarberry faced were steely rather than suave by the time the mare reached Snapshot. "Good afternoon," she greeted him. "You've decided to join our celebration after all."

"This isn't a social call," Snapshot frowned. "I've decided that I can't delay my departure any longer. By the time of our scheduled meeting tomorrow morning, I'll be on the white sand beaches of Babango."

"But we haven't finalized the layout yet," Sugarberry frowned in return. "Nello has some..."

Snapshot brushed her words aside with a wave of his foreleg. "I've been walked on long enough with this project. I have more than enough photos of my own to complement the book, and that's what I'll turn in to Macarius. My work... not some tedious mediocrity... will make this book a success." He looked scathingly at Sugarberry, his unhappiness over the past week running away with him. "And I'm not only talking about Nello here... the same goes for your writing. Why Macarius chose a writer of romance to work on this project is beyond me. The book will be a poor excuse for what should have been a masterwork... all because a woman was involved."

His cutting remark hung heavily in the air between the two ponies. Before Sugarberry could regain her composure after the unexpected attack, another voice cut the silence.

"You've an inflated opinion of yourself, Snapshot," Giorgio's cold voice drawled as he stepped forward.

"Not at all," the stallion haughtily replied. "I'm the best. What will save this project are my pictures. No one need read the text." He sent a belittling glance at Sugarberry before going on. "Macarius will agree with me, once he's seen my plans for the book."

"You have no authority over the book's contents," Sugarberry rallied.

"You think not?" Snapshot sneered. "Any publisher wants to see a profit; and it's my artistic talent that will sell this book, not some sentimental... drivel... by a second-rate writer."

Tears welled up in Sugarberry's blue eyes, but she blinked them back. "Macarius didn't ask for an encyclopedia entry; he wanted a book that would get to the heart of the fashion industry, if such a thing exists. And it does, at Clare's Creations. Clare is a businesspony with grand ideas and a compassionate nature. If that combination gives the book an optimistic slant, it's only the truth. I think the readers will appreciate such idealism from someone as successful as Clare."

"No one will bother to read the book, Sugarberry. They'll pick it up because of my photos."

Giorgio had heard enough. "Snapshot, you were invited into this house in good faith by Emma; but I will not allow you to stand there and insult someone whom I consider a member of my family." He put his foreleg protectively around Sugarberry. "You know where the door is. I suggest you use that knowledge wisely."

There was no denying Giorgio's ultimatum. Snapshot glared at the stallion and scorned the mare, but he left quickly and quietly. Neither Sugarberry nor Giorgio moved until they heard Emma close the door behind the unwelcome guest at which point Giorgio turned to hug the mare. "You'll ignore him, won't you? His words mean nothing."

The downcast mare had no reply.

* * *
On the point of entering the room in search of his wife, Vanguard heard Giorgio's words and stopped as one who had been slapped unexpectedly. Just who was Giorgio counseling Sugarberry to ignore? Vanguard was so intent on the words that it was only after a few moments that he realized that his wife was willingly caught in an embrace with Giorgio. What was going on here?

Vanguard had no time to break in on the interlude as Sugarberry lifted her head and saw him. "We really must get back to the party," she said to neither of them in particular. She smiled, but dully, with none of her usual sparkle, at her husband. "The foals should be about ready to blow out their candles."

"Sugarberry, we should..." Giorgio began but was silenced.

Giorgio's serious demeanor was startling, thought Vanguard, who was accustomed to receiving a fair amount of twitting when he walked in on one of Sugarberry and Giorgio's tete-a-tete's.

"We should be celebrating with our families," Sugarberry stated. She left Giorgio and walked past her husband with nary a glance. Both stallions looked after her, however, one silently upbraiding Snapshot for his audacity, the other mentally questioning Sugarberry over her detachment.

* * *
The birthday party had been an overwhelming success. Banderol and Calla had held up until the cake was nothing but a sweet memory; but now, as the guests began to depart, the two were nodding sleepily in their mother's forelegs.

No one had been aware of Sugarberry's mental turmoil after returning from her meeting with Snapshot except Vanguard and Giorgio. Not wanting to spoil the party atmosphere with her own misgivings over Snapshot's degrading comments, Sugarberry had not mentioned Snapshot's visit to anyone. Giorgio, knowing how the gentle-hearted mare must be feeling to hear such an unfeeling critique of her writing talent, could see the melancholy that tinged everything she said and did. Vanguard, suspecting that Giorgio had overstepped his bounds, was very conscious of Sugarberry's depressed mood and waited impatiently for a chance to discuss things with her. That opportunity did not arrive, however, until all the proper goodnights had been said, thanks given to the Guardini's for hosting such a delightful celebration, and the now sleeping Banderol delivered home to his bed.

Sugarberry stood looking down on the slumbering colt for some time before kissing his soft cheek and whispering a last goodnight, something sad and wistful in her demeanor that chilled Vanguard's heart. He followed her from the foal's bedroom, determined to get to the bottom of whatever had passed between her and Giorgio; but Sugarberry spared him making a scene by turning to him with tear-wetted eyes and whispering, "Hold me."

* * *
It was several cups of coffee later that Vanguard had the full story of Snapshot's visit to the Guardini's house and of Giorgio's defense of Sugarberry. Vanguard did not admit to his jealous response to the scene he had witnessed- How many times had he promised Sugarberry that he would not let his grudging nature interfere in her friendship with Giorgio? Rather, he spent his fury upon Snapshot for causing Sugarberry to question her own ability to produce a manuscript that Macarius could proudly publish.

"Well," the mare finally sighed, "at least I won't have to worry about meeting with Snapshot in the morning. He's long gone by now." She got up from the kitchen table where they had been sitting and rinsed the coffee cups at the sink.

Vanguard jumped at the chance to change the subject now that his anger was spent. "Banderol will be happy to know that you can spend the entire day with him. I only wish I didn't have to teach tomorrow, so that I could be with you, too." He led his wife to the stairway that curved upward and turned out the main floor lights.

"I wish that, too," Sugarberry said. "Even if we celebrated today, tomorrow's his real birth date; and we'll have to make it special for him."

"In a couple of weeks, we'll have another little foal who'll claim our time and attention."

"Calla told me she hopes it's a girl," Sugarberry smiled, the first true smile Vanguard had seen since her confrontation with Snapshot. "She and Sunsprite were feeling outnumbered, what with the majority of the foals being colts."

"A little girl just like her mother," Vanguard mused, his eyes tender. "I could live with that."

* * *
Kissing his sleeping wife softly and tucking Banderol into the blankets next to her, Vanguard made ready to leave for Leonardo University. He had succeeded in not awakening her when he arose that morning, but Banderol had heard some small noise and had come looking for him, trailing his beloved Kitty-Kitty with him.

"Happy birthday, son,"Vanguard had said, scooping the foal into his forelegs and snuggling him close.

"Me, two?" the foal queried.

"Yup. Today, November 15, your officially two years old."

"An' Calla?"

"She was born the morning after you were."

"Mommy bake cake?"

"Do you think she should? You ate a lot of cake yesterday."

"Me want 'nother cake. Mommy said."

"If Mommy said she'll bake you a birthday cake today, she will; but you'll have to be a good little boy so she can get it done."

"Me good, Daddy!" The foal looked affronted.

Vanguard grinned. "I know you are... most of the time. Mommy's going to be tired today, so you'll have to be extra good."

The foal rested his head on Vanguard's shoulder. "Me tired, too."

"How about having a glass of milk; then you can crawl back into bed with Mommy."

"Choc-et milk?"

"I guess I can manage that. You sit here," Vanguard settled the foal in a chair, "and I'll be right with you."

"Daddy?"

"What?"

"Cookie, too?"

Vanguard looked toward the cookie jar. "Enough for you and me both, trooper."

* * *
It was mid-morning before Sugarberry had the energy to open her eyes, and she found herself staring into Banderol's adorable face. He sat in the middle of the bed, Kitty-Kitty clutched to him, and stared at her.

"Me, two," he stated solemnly.

Sugarberry's face broke into a grin. "By golly, you are! Happy birthday, Banderol!" She held out her forelegs, and the foal scuttled into them for a bear hug. "I love you, little one."

The foal pulled back, a concentrated frown on his face. "Daddy say, 'Tell Mommy... I love her'." He grinned, proud to have remembered the message.

"Daddy's gone? What time is it?" Looking at the clock, Sugarberry groaned. "I better get moving; there's a lot to do."

"Me help, Mommy," Banderol said, sliding off the bed. "Bake cake."

Sugarberry sat up and put a hoof to her head. "Let Mommy rest a minute." Sugarberry found that her head was pounding from the motion and closed her eyes, waiting for the pain to lessen. Sitting there, the confrontation with Snapshot came back in vivid detail. Try as she might, she could not forget his demeaning words. Worse than that, she wondered if they were true. Was she the wrong pony to write this book?

Snapshot certainly thought so. And what of Macarius? Surely Snapshot had notified him of his plans by now. Maybe Macarius would take her off the project so that Snapshot could have his way with the book, turning it into a glossy photo album instead of a documented study of the fashion industry. If that was the case, all her hard work of the last months was wasted.

The headache grew more intense.

"Mommy?"

Sugarberry opened her eyes

"Mommy okay?"

Sugarberry ran her hoof over the foal's mane. "How could I not be okay on your birthday? You and I will wash up and then head down to the kitchen. Do you still want a marble cake?"

Shaking his head in the affirmative, Banderol tugged at his mother's hoof. "Come, Mommy, 'urry!"

* * *
Leaning against the kitchen counter, Sugarberry forced herself to concentrate. Her mind was weighing the pros and cons of contacting Macarius immediately. She hated to interrupt Banderol's special day with business dealings, but she was anxious to find out just what her publisher planned to do. She would worry incessantly until she was either exonerated... or dismissed. Already, she was feeling the strain of uncertainty.

The ringing of the telephone shot a tremor of apprehension down her spine, and she answered cautiously.

"Is everything okay?" Vanguard's voice asked.

"Oh, Vanguard," the mare sighed in relief. "Yes, everything's fine... I was just worried that I'd hear Macarius telling me that Snapshot was right."

"Sugarberry! I thought we straightened this out last night. Snapshot is an overbearing clod."

"But he has a reputation for excellence. Surely Macarius will respect his opinion."

"If it will make you feel better, call Macarius and hear for yourself that he still has complete confidence in you."

"I'm afraid to."

Vanguard sighed. "You're worrying over nothing. What are you and Banderol up to?"

"Bandy was going to help make his cake, but he disappeared."

"Tsk, tsk. I specifically told him to take good care of you."

"He's been a perfect angel. I didn't wake up until nine-thirty."

"Good. You needed the sleep. You feelin' okay?"

"I'll feel better after I talk to Macarius."

"Call him, Sugarberry."

"I'll... think about it."

Hanging up the receiver, Sugarberry turned to the sound of tiny hooves crossing the polished wooden floor and saw her son packing a metal tin. "What you doing, sweetie? I thought you were going to help bake the cake."

"Me am, Mommy," the foal said, holding up the tin. "Me got maw-bles."

Stifling her laughter, Sugarberry accepted the foal's offering as seriously as possible. Setting the tin on the table, she sat down and pulled Banderol onto her lap. Opening the latched lid of the container, she patiently explained that a marble cake did not really contain marbles; it was called a marble cake because the chocolate batter was swirled with the vanilla batter to make a pretty design, just like that found on some of the marbles in the tin.

The foal listened in rapt attention, touching some of the colorful spheres, then turned his face up to his mother's. "No eat maw-bles?"

"Bandy, don't even think it!" She closed the case and securely latched it. "You can play with the marbles when you're older; but never try to eat them! Now, would you like to stir the batter?"

* * *
The cake was in the oven when the phone rang again. Banderol, at the table with his My Little People coloring books and crayons, paid no attention as Sugarberry picked up. "Hello?"

"Macarius here, Sugarberry. How are things going with you?"

"No small talk, please. Have you spoken with Snapshot?"

"Yes, I have."

"Do you agree with him?"

"Well, you've got to admit that the guy is a great photographer; his latest pictures are dynamite. And that's the reason I'm calling..." Voices in the background became muffled as Macarius covered the receiver, then he was back on the line. "I've gotta run. One of our authors needs my attention; I'll get back to you." The line went dead.

"Macarius!" Sugarberry wailed in desperation. How could he leave her in suspense over his decision regarding her part in the book? She needed to know one way or the other. Was she to continue with her writing or abandon it in lieu of Snapshot's grand scheme? She rubbed her head as it began aching again.

"Look, Mommy. Me color S'mantha." Banderol held up a picture of a big-eyed girl completely covered with blue crayon.

"You like blue, don't you?" Sugarberry sat down next to her son and rested her head on her hoof.

Banderol looked down at his country blue body. "Me blue, Mommy. Daddy, too."

"A beautiful, beautiful blue." Sugarberry tweaked the foal's nose. "Will you let me color a picture with you?"

"This one, Mommy." He turned the pages to a flowery scene with two My Little People chasing after butterflies, then pushed the crayon box toward his mother while retaining the blue crayon in his own hoof.

"You color the sky," Sugarberry gently prodded, "and I'll do the flowers."

Buckling down to their task, mother and son transformed the picture into a combination of neatly tinctured petals and leaves and butterfly wings... and a riot of blue sky in bold strokes and two girls colored in blue from their flowing tresses to their bare toes.

By the time they finished, the cake, too, was baked; and a knock on the door soon admitted Iveta with her two foals. They stayed for a simple lunch; and the colts played well into the afternoon while Sugarberry and Iveta discussed all things relating to foals, husbands, homes, and mutual friends. Several interruptions occurred as ponies called to wish Banderol a happy birthday.

Yesterday's party, other than Snapshot's appearance, was relived and laughed over until Trent, the youngest of the three foals, fell asleep. Banderol and Jacopo then found their way to their mothers' sides, their own eyes drooping sleepily.

As they prepared to leave, Iveta observed, "You look tired yourself, Sugarberry. You and Bandy will have to take a nap together."

"Yeah, that sounds like a good idea."

* * *
Settling into the rocking chair in the second floor living room of the three story town house, Sugarberry read to Banderol until the birthday boy drifted off to sleep. Then she let her thoughts turn inward, to dwell on the problem she had been able to avoid while Iveta was there to keep her mind occupied of other things.

Macarius had not called back, and Sugarberry could only imagine the worst. What could he have been going to say except that he was turning the entire project over to Snapshot? Macarius had been protective of this book every since he had first discussed it with her. No doubt, he would be more open to another stallion's interpretation of how best to present the story of the fashion industry; advice from a male counterpart would carry more weight than that of a- how had Snapshot phrased it?- second-rate writer.

Looking down into the sleeping face of her son, Sugarberry let her worries take wing. What did it matter, she asked herself, if she lost this assignment? She had other, better, things to occupy her time... namely, Banderol and the yet unborn foal that was soon to face the world. Gazing at the trustful innocence of her little angel, she realized just how much she had missed because of her long hours. When had he grown so big? Why, a newborn would seem like fragile spun glass in comparison to this sturdy colt.

Sugarberry snuggled her son and kissed his forehead, then settled the both of them more comfortably in the rocker. She felt drained and achy, she realized, resting her head against the back of the chair. She closed her eyes. Maybe Macarius was doing her a favor by replacing her with Snapshot. It would be nice to be home with Vanguard more often.

* * *
Arriving home to a silent house, Vanguard made his way to the upper floors and found Sugarberry and Banderol asleep in the rocking chair. Banderol heard his dad's hoofsteps, however, and opened his eyes; he slipped off Sugarberry's lap and ran to greet him. "Me bake cake."

I saw it on the table. It looks good enough to eat."

"Me eat lots!" Banderol declared.

The conversation woke Sugarberry who smiled lazily. "You're home. It must be time to start supper."

"Mac-roni and 'eese." Banderol had been allowed to choose his favorite dish for his birthday supper. Now he tugged at his mother. "We eat, Mommy."

"I'm coming," Sugarberry said, extending a hoof in her husband's direction. He helped her up, but she winced.

"What's wrong?" Vanguard asked in concern.

"Just a stitch in my side," the mare grimaced. "Bandy and I've been sleeping for hours. I don't know why I'm so tired."

"It's a good thing we planned a quiet evening here at home."

Following Banderol back to the kitchen, Sugarberry started supper while Vanguard helped frost the cake. Banderol added the two blue candles. Then he got out the birthday cards that had arrived in the mail to show to his father.

"Macarius called today," Sugarberry informed her husband.

"And...?"

"And he got called away on some emergency after telling me that he thought Snapshot had done an excellent job."

"And you're doing an excellent job, too." Vanguard eyed his wife closely. He had noticed several times during the meal that she had checked the clock as if expecting something or as if... timing something. "Sugarberry," he said suddenly, "you're not having contractions... are you?"

"I'm not sure." But a shadow crossed her face as another pain hinted at an imminent birth.

"How far apart are they?"

The phone rang, and Sugarberry, ignoring Vanguard's concern, answered it. It was Macarius. "Sugarberry, I'm sorry about the interruption earlier."

"No problem," Sugarberry lied. "We're celebrating Banderol's birthday."

"Hey! Wish the little guy a happy one for me."

"I'll do that. Macarius, about the book..."

"Just keep up the good work. With Snapshot out of your way, you'll be able to finalize your direction. I'll make the decisions on which of Snapshot's photos go into the book and which of Nello's. I'll forward my choices to you and then wait for your input before we finalize. Any questions?"

"But I thought Snapshot..."

"Snapshot can throw his weight around all he wants, but this is our book, Sugarberry. Not his."

Sugarberry was more relieved to hear Macarius say that than she would have expected after her morning musings over home and family. She truly did want to finish this project, she realized anew, and make it something of which to be proud.

"Thanks, Macarius."

As Sugarberry ended the call, she looked at Vanguard. "Macarius wasn't swayed by Snapshot's interference at all."

"That's all well and good. But what about the contractions?"

Sugarberry grinned. "Close enough. I think this foal's birth day is destined to be on Bandy's birthday."

Another pain engulfed the mare, and Vanguard momentarily froze. The foal was not due for ten more days, the stallion tried to rationalize, but the look on his wife's face was undeniable; he went into motion to get her safely to the hospital.

The time was now.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Firefly's Mistake
by Sadira ([email protected])


DISCLAIMER: I DO NOT own any of the ponies, except for Baby Rainbow Star and Melody. The rest belong to Hasbro. Nor do I own any of the songs in this story. The other characters I own are Megan Julia Hartson, Julie Corina Hartson, and Molly Shaianne Hartson, along with their Aunt Abby and their doctor, Dr .Arielle Larson. Enjoy!!!!



It was a beautiful day in Ponyland. Firefly and Medley were soaring above the clouds, talking and having fun. They had their two best friends on their backs, Megan and Julie, and the two girls were also having a good time.

"Can we do the double inside out loop, Firefly, please? "Megan asked as she hung onto Firefly's mane.

"Sure thing, my sweet girl!" Firefly said as she flew higher and higher into the sky, making Medley more and more nervous. The green pegasus had Julie on her back and her sweet little hummingbird was enjoying spending time with her pretty Medley.

As the two pegasi continued to spend time with their friends, a cry from the nursery brought Medley to a standstill in the clouds.

"Medley, come quick!!" Fizzy called from her spot on the ground. "Something's wrong with Melody!"

Medley sped for the ground so fast, Julie had to lean forward to keep herself from falling off her back. "What's the matter, Fizzy?" Medley asked.

"Melody's crying and she has a fever. I think her stomach hurts, too. She wouldn't take her bottle for me." Fizzy sounded really worried. She had been watching Melody for Medley while the green pegasus spent time with her sweet little hummingbird.

Medley nodded and followed Fizzy into the nursery. Melody was crying up a storm and her face looked really flushed. "Aw, shh, shh, hush now, my sweet baby girl, it's okay. Mommy's here now. Shh. It's okay. It's all right. Aw, come here, my darling Melody." Medley took Melody out of her crib and Megan helped take her temperature. Firefly nuzzled her niece gently and sang her "Return to Pooh Corner" once she was tucked back in bed.

Julie frowned as she patted Melody's mane gently and gave her a kiss. She hoped she would feel better soon. "Does this mean you're going to spend all day in the nursery?" Julie asked, trying not to sound like she was disappointed.

Medley nodded and nuzzled Julie gently. "I'm afraid so, my sweet little hummingbird. But you can help me take care of Melody if you want."

Julie shook her head. She wanted to go flying and she really wanted to go flying with her pretty Medley. She knew that Melody needed her Mama and Julie wasn't jealous or anything; she just wanted to go for a flight.

Just then Megan heard Baby Rainbow Star wail, "Mama!"

"There's my precious one. I'll be right back," Megan said, smiling gently. She patted Julie's shoulder and Firefly's mane before leaving to see what was wrong with her adopted pony daughter.

After Megan left the nursery, Firefly turned to Julie and asked, "Since Med has to take care of Melody, and Megan is taking care of Baby Rainbow Star, do you want to go for a flight with me, Jules?"

Julie thought for a minute and then nodded. "Okay." She jumped on Firefly's back and the pink pegasus took to the air. They flew around Ponyland for a little while and just talked about stuff. Julie liked spending time with Firefly and she knew Firefly felt the same way about her. It wasn't the same as spending time with Medley, but Julie could take a flight with Firefly every now and again without feeling too upset that she wasn't with Medley.

As Firefly was about to do her double inside out loop at Julie's request, they both heard thunder in the distance. "Uh_oh," Firefly said. "Let's get back to the Estate. It looks like it's going to storm."

Julie nodded and buried her face in Firefly's neck. She didn't like thunderstorms at all.

"Aw, it's okay, Jules. You're safe with me. I'll get us back to the Estate in no time." With that, Firefly took off, unaware that the rain was about to come down on them, and hard. As Firefly flew back to the Estate, the rain started to come down in buckets. "Ugh!!" Firefly and Julie said in unison.

"I'm sorry, Jules!" Firefly shouted over the wind. "I didn't think it would be this bad. We'll be warm soon. I promise!"

As Firefly made a sharp turn towards the Estate, Julie felt herself slipping from Firefly's back! "Firefly! Firefly, help!! I'm slipping!!" Julie cried, tears of fear coursing down her cheeks. "Fi_irefly!!!" she cried out as she slipped from the pink pegasus' back.

"Julie!" Firefly exclaimed in alarm. She rushed to her friend's rescue, but she was too late. Julie hit the ground and there was a nasty crunching sound as her left wrist hit first. Firefly nuzzled Julie gently as she tried to inspect her injury. Julie was holding her left wrist in a vice- like grip and she didn't want Firefly to touch it. Julie was bruised and muddy, and all she wanted right now was Medley.

"Come on, Jules, let's get you back home."

"No!" Julie cried suddenly, backing away from Firefly which only caused her to trip over a rock and fall on her bottom. "I want Medley! I want my pretty Medley!"

Firefly sighed and tried to take charge. She wouldn't have any problems if it had been either Megan or Fluey who had fallen; but then again, Megan wouldn't be refusing Firefly's help and neither would her kiddo.

"Jules, I'm sorry," Firefly tried. "I really am. I didn't mean for you to fall off my back. I promise I'll go slower this time. Now come on, honey, we need to get you back to the Estate. It's only a few miles away."

Again, Julie shook her head and shrank back from Firefly's attempts to comfort and help her. "I want my pretty Medley!" Julie wailed. "I want Medley!"

Firefly heaved a sigh as she did the only thing she could think of. She did her double inside out loop and got Julie onto her back again. Julie hung on as best she could and cried all the way back to the Estate.

When Firefly and Julie reached the Estate and went inside, Julie jumped off Firefly's back mid soar and landed cat-like on her hands and knees. She then ran to the nursery and launched herself at Medley. Julie was hysterical by now and she had wrapped her arms around Medley's neck just as Megan and Firefly came into the room.

"Julie? Julie, honey, what's the matter with my sweet little hummingbird, hmmm?" Medley nuzzled Julie gently and started to stroke her hair with her front left hoof. Julie just continued to cry and buried her face in Medley's mane.

Megan sighed as she came over and patted Julie's shoulder. She didn't dare try and take her from Medley, at least not yet. She knew that would only cause Julie to become more upset.

"What happened?" Medley asked, directing her question at Firefly and Megan, seeing as Julie couldn't answer her.

Before Firefly could answer, Julie spoke up. Her voice was still very tearful. Her answer came out in a wail. "Firefly let me fall! I fell off her back and hurt my wrist! It hurts really bad!" She then let out a wail like a fire engine as Megan tried to check her injury out. Julie let Megan examine her, but when Megan got to the middle of her arm, she let out a cry that broke Megan and Medley's heart along with Firefly's.

"It's going to be okay, my sweet little hummingbird," Medley said. "I promise. I'm sure Firefly didn't mean for that to happen."

Firefly nodded and tried to nuzzle Julie, but the little girl pushed her away.

"Julie!" Megan scolded. "Firefly's just trying to help you feel better. She said she was sorry."

"I don't care!" Julie wailed. She turned around long enough to glare at Firefly and then said, "I'm never taking flights with Firefly again!" With that, Julie buried her face in Medley's mane again and continued to cry.

Firefly frowned as she stood to the side and watched Megan get Julie ready to go see Dr. Larson. She felt terrible. She hadn't meant for this to happen at all. All Firefly wanted to do was take a nice flight with her Jules. She didn't mean for her to get hurt. Firefly only hoped and prayed that Julie would forgive her soon. It was breaking Firefly's heart to see Julie so upset and scared. She had come such a long way and Firefly wasn't about to let Julie throw her courage out the window just because of a little accident.

"We need to take you down to Dr. Larson, sweetie," Megan told a still-crying Julie. "Come on, little one." Megan picked her younger sister up and climbed on Firefly's back. The minute Julie realized that Firefly was going to take them, she started to cry harder and squirm to be let down.

"I want Medley! I want my pretty Medley!! I want Medley!!" Julie begged tearfully. "I want my pretty Medley!" As Julie let out a sob, she threw up all over Megan and herself.

Megan sighed and dismounted from Firefly as she took Julie to the bathroom to clean them both up. She could tell this was going to be a long day.

After Megan had gotten Julie and herself cleaned up, she climbed on Firefly's back, much to Julie's dismay; and Firefly took them over the Rainbow to see Dr. Larson.

Dr. Larson saw them right away and cleaned Julie up. She examined her wrist and concluded that it was sprained. She wrapped it in a bandage and then told Megan that she could take Julie home. Megan thanked Dr. Larson and then left with a still crying Julie in her arms.

When they returned to the Estate, Megan put Julie to bed and sang to her. "Megan, my wrist hurts!!" Julie wailed.

"Shh, shh, hush now, little one. It's okay. It's going to be okay. Shh, shh, hush... You can find a Rainbow anywhere, even in a cloudy sky. If you keep your outlook upward bound, you'll find Rainbows by and by. The world is bright with color, when sunlight is in your heart, once you start feeling joy deep within, your eyes will open with a start. You'll be seeing Rainbows everywhere, happens every place you go. You'll be hearing music in the air and the world will take on a golden glow. So if skies are grey, why should you care? You can find a Rainbow anywhere!" As Megan stopped singing, she looked down and saw that Julie was sound asleep. She bent down and gave Julie a kiss and patted her shoulder.

After Megan was sure that Julie was going to be okay, she left to see how Firefly was doing. She had a feeling that her best friend was in need of some cheering up of her own. Megan found Firefly playing with Baby Sunflyer. "Hey," Megan said, patting Firefly's mane gently. "Julie's fast asleep. I just got done singing to her."

"That's good, "Firefly said sincerely, although there was a note of guilt in her voice.

"Firefly, you have nothing to feel guilty about," Megan said, catching on right away. "Honestly. You don't. It was an accident. Julie will forgive you soon. I promise."

Firefly nodded and sighed.

Megan frowned and then started to sing, hoping that would help Firefly feel better. "There's always another Rainbow, search until you find it. Don't look at the cloud, look behind it, there's a Rainbow there somewhere. There's always a ray of sunshine, though it all seems tragic. You may turn around and like magic, there's an answer to your prayer!! Now you feel forlorn, but hope can be reborn. Try and lose that frown, look up," Megan placed her hand underneath Firefly's chin and made her look skyward, "not down and you'll find another Rainbow, I can guarantee it. Even though you think you've reached the Rainbow's end! There's always another Rainbow, always another Rainbow, 'round the bend!" Megan smiled gently down at her best friend and Firefly cracked a small smile of her own. "Feel better?" the girl asked.

Firefly nodded. "A little bit," she admitted. "Thanks, my sweet girl. I just hope that Julie is going to forgive me."

"Don't worry," Megan said, climbing on Firefly's back while patting her mane. "Jules will forgive you soon. You just need to give her some time." With that, Megan started to sing one more song she thought would do the trick. "In no time at all, we'll have things back in shape, everything will be the way it was. Birds will start to sing again, bees will start to buzz. In no time at all, you'll be shouting out with glee, at the change you thought could never be. Though the task is far from small, and it seems like a mighty long haul. With a little faith and trust, we can fashion dreams from dust!! In just no time at all!" Megan smiled as Firefly smiled sincerely. "Aw, now that's better," she said. "Come on. Let's take a flight. The rain's cleared up." Megan gestured out of the window at a now cloudless sky.

Firefly nodded and smiled. She was feeling a lot better. Now the only thing left was for Julie to forgive her. She knew Megan spoke the truth and she had no doubt that her sweet girl was right.

When Megan and Firefly got back from their flight, Abby told Megan that Julie was crying for her. She had a nightmare and she wanted Megan to sing her back to sleep.

"Maybe she should eat something," Megan suggested. "I'll ask Paradise to make her some soup."

Abby nodded. "That's fine, but I don't think Julie is ready to get up. She's really in bad shape."

Megan nodded and went to check on her little one. She found Julie lying in bed, crying pretty hard. She was in tears and shaking a little. "Aw, Jules, shh, shh, hush now, little one. It's okay. Megan's here now. I'm here, honey. Come here." Megan picked Julie up and her sister immediately relaxed in her embrace. "Aw, there ya go. You're okay now. You're all right. Shh, shh, hush now. You're safe and sound with me, sweetie. Safe and sound with Megan. You're safe and sound with Megan where you belong. It's okay. It's all right. Shh, shh. . . ." Megan sang her rainbow song again as she continued to rock Julie back and forth and stroke her hair gently.

Just then, Abby came in with the soup. She set it by the bed and put a hand on Julie's shoulder. Unfortunately, it was the shoulder that had the bandage on it. Julie let out a wail and moved closer to Megan.

"Aw, shh, shh, it's okay, Julie. It's all right. Abby didn't mean to hurt you, sweetie. Here, do you want to try and eat some soup for Megan?"

"Sing our song, please?" Julie asked tearfully.

"How about this. Why don't you try and eat some soup and then I'll sing it for you again, okay?"

Julie nodded, but Megan could tell her heart wasn't in it. After about six bites, Julie collapsed in Megan's arms in tears of tiredness and pain. She didn't want any more of the soup and she was looking a little flushed, too flushed for Megan's liking. Megan got the thermometer and took Julie's temperature. It was a little high, but not high enough to take Julie back to Dr. Larson, at least not right away.

Megan got Julie some of Princess Tiffany's juice and held it for her while she drank it. "Aw, that's my little one. All right. Come here, honey." Megan took Julie into her lap and started to rub her right shoulder and stroke her hair gently. She then started to sing "You Can Find a Rainbow Anywhere" until she was sure Julie was asleep. After Julie's steady breathing could be heard, Megan tucked her little sister into bed and gave her a kiss. "Sweet dreams, little one. Megan will see you when you wake up. I love you." After Megan made sure that Julie had her Jasmine doll, she left the room to check on Baby Rainbow Star and Molly.

When Megan entered the nursery, she found her "daughters" playing a game with Ember and Baby Cotton Candy. "Mama!" Baby Rainbow Star said happily. She jumped up from her spot and ran to give her mother a nuzzle. She nuzzled Megan's waist and held her front hooves up to her. "Mama hold, please?" she asked.

"Aw, sure I will," Megan picked her daughter up and gave her a hug. She then kissed her cheek and took her into the playroom to have some cuddle time in the glider. As Megan rocked her precious one back and forth and started to stroke her mane, she sighed.

"Mama okay?" Baby Rainbow Star asked in concern.

Megan shook her head. "Not really. Your Auntie Julie isn't feeling too well and she's mad at Auntie Firefly."

"Why Auntie Julie mad at Auntie Firefly?" Baby Rainbow Star asked.

Megan shrugged. "Well, Auntie Julie got hurt while she and Auntie Firefly were taking a flight and now Julie's scared to take flights with her anymore."

"Auntie Firefly not hurt Auntie Julie on purpose," Baby Rainbow Star said.

"That's what everyone keeps telling Julie, but Julie needs to forgive Firefly on her own. She will in time."

"Can you sing our song, please, Mama?" Baby Rainbow Star asked.

"Sure I will," Megan said, smiling a sincere smile as she started to sing. After Baby Rainbow Star was asleep, Megan put her daughter in bed and made sure she was okay. Then she went to check on Julie. To her relief, her little one was still fast asleep. Megan kissed her cheek and then went to get ready for bed herself.

* * *
That night, Firefly woke up to a loud scream. She jumped out of bed and ran to where the scream had come from and found herself in Julie's room. Julie was sitting up against the headboard and her knees were pulled up to her chest. She was crying pretty hard. Firefly didn't dare touch her for fear that Julie would push her away. She did, however, come near the bed and let Julie know that she was there and that it was only a dream. "Julie, come on, honey. It's okay. It's all over now. It was just a bad dream, sweetie. You're okay now. Everything's all right. That's my Jules." Firefly was surprised when Julie wrapped her arms around her neck and burst into tears, crying into her mane. Firefly soothed the little girl as best she could. "Shh, shh, hush now, sweetie. It's okay, Jules. It's all right. That's my Jules. You're okay, honey. It's all right now, Julie. It's okay . . ."

Once Julie had calmed down, she said something that Firefly wasn't expecting this soon. "I'm sorry!" she cried. "I'm sorry I was mean to you. I was scared when I fell off your back, but I didn't mean to be mean. I still want to take flights and rides with you. I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"

"Shh, shh, hush now, Jules. It's okay, sweetie. I forgive you. It's all right. I know you didn't mean it. Shh. . . . let's get you tucked back into bed. Do you want me to sing to you?"

Julie nodded and let Firefly tuck her back in. After Julie was tucked in, Firefly sat beside the little girl and started to stroke her hair. She then started singing a song she had heard off of one of Molly's CDs. It was actually a favorite song of hers.

"They say it started very small, as most dreams do. A twinkle in an eye, the thrill of something new. Then the dream began to grow and come alive. Touching every one of us, lighting up the skies. Now the dreamer was the lucky one, he knew deep in his heart, that all of us are children, believers from the start. Of fairy tales and fantasies of a hundred magic years. Full of pixie dust and princesses, our favorite mouse-keteers. We share a magic day, we share enchanted nights. It's a never ending story, that together we help write, it's been a part of me, it's been a part of you. A part of growing up together, sharing a dream come true. We share a dream come true. And with each generation we know, treasure the memories and together watch them grow. We share a magic day, we share enchanted nights. It's a never ending story that together we all. . . ." Firefly continued to sing until Julie was fast asleep. After that, Firefly planted a loving kiss on the little girl's cheek and whispered, "I think I just found our special song." With that, Firefly left the room to go back to sleep. On her way, she decided to check on Megan. When Firefly entered Megan's room, she found her sweet girl awake. She was rocking Kassy to sleep. The little girl had had a nightmare.

When Megan saw Firefly, she smiled. "What are you doing up? Making your rounds?"

Firefly giggled and nodded as she nuzzled Megan gently. "You can say that. My kiddo and Baby Sunflyer are all asleep and Julie is back to sleep, too."

"I thought I heard her scream a little while ago. I wasn't sure. I was going to get up and check on her, but then I heard you help her, so I didn't bother. Did she let you help?"

Firefly nodded and grinned. "Yup. My Jules even said she was sorry. We're friends again."

Megan smiled and gave Firefly's mane a pat. "That's wonderful! See? I told you everything would work out in time."

Firefly nodded. "I even found a special song for her from me."

Megan nodded and grinned. "You did? What was it?"

"We Share a Dream Come True," Firefly replied. "I heard it on one of my precious peanut's CDs."

Megan nodded. "I like that song a lot, too. It's really sweet."

Firefly smiled as she nuzzled Megan one more time before heading back to her own room. "I'll see you in the morning, okay, my sweet girl? I love you, honey."

"I love you, too. Sweet dreams, Firefly." Megan then smiled down at her youngest daughter as she started to sing her back to sleep.

* * *
About four days later, Julie got her bandage removed and she was able to go flying and riding again. She was so happy and she knew exactly who she wanted to celebrate with. She ran throughout the Estate calling her name. "Firefly! Firefly!!! FIREFLY!!"

"I'm in the kitchen, Jules!" Firefly called back.

Julie ran into the kitchen and threw her arms around Firefly's neck while patting her mane gently.

"Jules? Are you okay, sweetie?"

"Yes! Yes!! YES!!! Look!! Notice anything different?" Julie broke away from Firefly and showed her her left wrist.

Firefly grinned. "You got the bandage off! That's great!! I don't suppose you want to go for a flight, do you?"

Julie grinned and nodded. She knew Medley was putting Melody down for a nap. "You betcha!" Julie said happily. She jumped on Firefly's back and the pink pegasus took to the air.

"Wow!" Firefly said. "When you forgive someone, you really forgive them!"

Julie giggled and nodded as she patted Firefly's mane again. "Yup. I'm not scared anymore. I'm really sorry about what I said."

"Aw, it's okay, " Firefly said. "I'm glad you're not mad anymore."

Julie shook her head and giggled. Then she asked, "Firefly, can we do the double inside out loop, please? Pretty please with a sugar and strawberries and whipped cream on top?"

"You don't even have to ask, Jules!" Firefly said. With that, Firefly rose higher into the air and performed her famous trick. She was glad that her Jules had forgiven her and she was also glad that Julie hadn't let her courage slip away because of what had happened.

* * *
Later that night, Medley came into Julie's room to say good_night to her. She had just finished putting Jet and Melody to bed. She nuzzled Julie gently and stroked her hair. "Sweet dreams, my sweet little hummingbird. I'm really proud of you."

"Thanks," Julie said, blushing a little.

Medley giggled as she gave Julie a good night kiss and Julie gave her a hug in return. "Sweet dreams, okay, sweetie?" Medley asked as Julie broke away and Medley tucked her in.

Julie nodded. "Can you get Megan for me, please, my pretty Medley?"

Medley nodded. "I sure will." She nuzzled Julie one more time before leaving to get Megan.

About five minutes later, Megan came into the room. She sat down on Julie's bed and took her little sister into her arms. She gave her a hug and kiss and then started to sing her to sleep. "I'm very proud of you, little one," Megan said. "You really faced your fears."

Julie smiled as she closed her eyes. "Thanks," she said. "I'm proud of myself, too. Can you sing our song, please?"

Megan smiled and nodded. "Sure thing, little one." With that, Megan started to stroke Julie's hair and started to sing to her. "You can find a Rainbow anywhere, even in a cloudy sky..." After Julie's steady breathing could be heard, Megan tucked Julie back in bed and gave her a kiss. "Sweet dreams, little one. I'm very proud of you. Megan loves you so much. I'll see you in the morning."

Megan then went to tuck Baby Rainbow Star and Molly in for the night. She was very proud of Julie. She knew how much courage it had taken for Julie to go for a flight with Firefly after her accident, but she knew that Julie could do anything if she really tried. After all, if you looked hard enough, you could find a Rainbow anywhere, and Megan was sure the same went for someone's courage.



THE END
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