My Little Pony Monthly Wedding Issue 41 (August 12, 2000)

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Special Issue 1
August 12, 2000
Here it is, what we’ve all been waiting for! The wedding of Tabby and Thomas! Yeah! Outrageous! Originally I was just going to skip over the wedding entirely and only mention it in passing after the fact, since weddings are completely foreign territory to me; but then I got to thinking about all the outrageous things that could happen, and that decided it for me: it had to be written about in detail. So, that started me on a quest across the internet searching out information on that strangely vast and mysterious topic of marriage. After reading over one hundred pages of articles I had collected (printed in an eight-point Arial font with a margin of 1"), I felt somewhat prepared for the daunting task I had set before myself. And, after some briefings from my mom, my knowledge was perfected. So, if I screwed anything up, I’ll just scratch off the complaint by making the excuse of something like “It’s a wedding in Ponyland, so the culture is a bit different than ours.” ^.~
However, before you start reading, there are a few things I would like to clarify for all of you. First off, the average lifespan of the ponies in my stories is two hundred years-- I didn’t want my characters to die too soon. ^.~ Therefore, it isn’t uncommon for numerous grandparents and great-grandparents to still be alive when occasions like this wedding come up. Ponies also do not age like humans. Though their lifespan is longer, they retain their youthful looks and good health for their entire life. Don’t they get it easy? ^.~
Another topic of consideration is that of the wedding rings. I had a bit of a discussion on them with my council, because rings seemed rather large and gawky for ponies to wear-- especially for the guys. But Satin n’ Lace and Pony Bride and Bridal Beauty all had rings when Hasbro made them; so maybe it was only the females that got rings. But then I had the revelation-- the Prince Clever Clover and Princess Morning Glory set came with two rings, one each for the bride and groom! Henceforth, it was decided that the normal practice in Ponyland is that each married pony gets a ring. However, the Dream Valley ponies don’t follow the Friendship Gardens custom of tattooing small versions of their spouse’s symbol onto their own. ^.~
There are, of course, a great deal of people deserving of thanks for this story, but I don’t think I can remember all of them to list here. Sugarberry, Barnacle, Cleve Clove, Silver Swirl, Steamer... and so many more!
I think that’s everything I wanted to cover. Gosh, that was a whole story in itself, wasn’t it? So, enough of this introduction. Let’s get onto what we’re here for!

Tabby woke up in the dark of night feeling strangely excited over something. She looked up at her clock, and saw that it was only five-thirty-- too early to be getting up on a Saturday, but there was no way she could get back to sleep. It was her wedding day!
At this realization, a sudden pang of anxiety hit Tabby. It was her wedding day! There could be no turning back now; and quite frankly, it scared her a bit. It was funny this worry hadn’t hit her until just that morning-- she had been engaged for six months, after all. It hadn’t seemed so ominous until now.
Needing moral support, she groped around for her trusted Furbish seer, Ah-Loh, who she always kept nearby. Turning him upside-down, he sprang to life. “Me love you,” he declared, and proceeded to blow a kiss at Tabby.
“Aw, Ah-Loh, that’s so sweet,” Tabby cooed, cupping him in her hooves. “But do you know what today is?”
Ah-Loh burped. “Joke!” he laughed.
“It’s my wedding day! My wedding day!” Tabby prattled nervously, paying no mind to her Furby’s impolite manners. “How can it be possible that I’m getting married, Ah-Loh? Isn’t it just totally freaky? Why am I the first of the gang to get married? I’m the most cold-hearted of them all!”
“Woah!” Ah-Loh protested as Tabby moved him downwards suddenly.
“It’s so very nerve-wracking, Ah-Loh! I’ve never made a commitment like this before. I’m not used to making commitments of any kind. So what am I doing getting married??”
“Hey, party!” Ah-Loh screamed out.
“I wish it was that easy,” Tabby fretted. “You’re halfway responsible for this anyway, Ah-Loh. You’re the one that got me to Atlantis, and I got to battle Nur-Ab-Fin and all that, and... well, you know how it turned out.”
“Lights up, please,” Ah-Loh asked of his mistress.
“The sun isn’t up yet, Ah-Loh... will I even be able to last as a married mare? I won’t know what to do, or how to act, or what to say, or anything! What am I going to do?”
Ah-Loh purred. “Pet again,” he requested.
“I don’t know why I’m doing this, Ah-Loh. Maybe it’s all just a bad dream,” Tabby said forlornly.
“La-la-la-la-la-la-la,” Ah-Loh burst out, and laughed over it.
“Oh, but Thomas...” In the slowly lightening room, her gaze swept over her desk. Reaching over to clutch one particular picture frame, she leaned back in her pillows. “Maybe it won’t be so bad after all...”
“Tabitha? Are you up already?” Agatha poked her head in the door. “I thought I heard you talking to yourself.”
“Yes... no... I mean, I was conversing with Ah-Loh,” Tabby said quickly, setting her Furby down abruptly.
“Ah! Loud sound!” Ah-Loh said.
A smile played across Agatha’s lips. “And he’s the one I’ll be sharing a pew with today.”
“Oh, I assure you that he’s very easy to manage, Mom.”
“Yes, I’m sure he is.” Her expression softening, Agatha sat down on the bed and put her forelegs around Tabby’s shoulders. “Oh, Tabby! My little girl, getting married today!”
“Is it really and truly happening? I can’t quite comprehend it,” Tabby said, leaning her head onto her mother’s shoulder.
“Yes, it is! And you’re going to make a splendid bride,” Agatha murmured. “I’m so very proud of you!”
“Did I make the right choice, Mom?”
“Tabby, what do you think?” Agatha looked into her daughter’s eyes. “I’ve never seen a couple more fitting of each other than you and Thomas.”
“It’s just that everything’s going to be so different now,” Tabby said fretfully.
“That’s true, but we’ll all still be here for you.”
“And you know, I still can’t cook.”
Agatha hid a smile. “I think Thomas knew that going into this deal. You’ll work something out, Tabitha.”
“Ah, Thomas,” Tabby sighed blissfully, her apprehensions slipping away again for the moment. “It won’t be such a bad day after all. It’ll actually be pretty fun. Thomas and I are getting married...” With a cheerful beat to her step, Tabby leapt out of bed.
“You could have slept longer, you know,” Agatha pointed out. “You don’t want to end-up overtired.”
“Oh, I’m not tired!” Tabby assured her cheerfully. “Never fear; I’m used to getting up this early on Saturdays for flea markets.” Stumbling down the hallway, Tabby disappeared into the bathroom. Smiling, Agatha headed downstairs to prepare breakfast.
* * *
“Well, Doo-Moh, the day has come.”
“Me see... very big... party!” the Furby laughed hysterically.
“I’m getting married today, Doo-Moh.”
“Woah, big light,” the creature observed.
“I can’t believe we ever got this far. Do you think she’ll really go through with it?”
“Hmm... boring.”
Crawling out of bed, Thomas raised an eyebrow at his Furby. “I’m sure, Doo-Moh.”
“You tickle me,” Doo-Moh giggled. “Hee-hee-hee.”
“I never thought I’d truly get to this point,” Thomas sighed nostalgically. “I’m marrying Tabby, Doo-Moh! Tabby!”
“Ah! Loud sound!” Doo-Moh cowered.
“Do you think I’m doing the right thing?” Thomas began pacing the room. “Will she really be happy?”
“Whahoo!” Doo-Moh yelled. “Me happy, wah!”
“I know you’re happy, Doo-Moh. What about Tabby? I hope she doesn’t regret getting into this.”
“You hide light!” Doo-Moh protested, and proceeded to laugh about it.
“Do you think anything will go wrong today, Doo-Moh?” the unicorn stallion said anxiously.
“Hmm... hum-dee-dum-dee-deet-dee-doo,” the Furby sighed in a bored tone.
“Who knows what will happen with my grandparents around?” Thomas cringed. “I never expected them to show up.”
“Hey, party!” Doo-Moh declared.
“Why did they come? They don’t have a reason to.”
“Woah, big light,” Doo-Moh said in ready agreement.
“Do you think I was a bit too harsh with them, Doo-Moh? I... I didn’t know how else to act. Maybe... maybe...” Sighing, Thomas thought back to last night’s episode with mixed feelings.
* * *
It had been a complete and utter surprise when Thomas had opened his door on his two grandparents, Reginald and Helga Fairfax, the previous night. They had, of course, been on the guest list; but they had not replied in any way to their invitation, so it was assumed they didn’t want to bother with the affair. And then, the night before their grandson’s wedding, they abruptly showed-up in town.
“Well, Thomas. It’s been a long time,” Reginald finally broke the uncomfortable silence that followed the opening of the door.
“You decided to come?” Thomas said simply, with perhaps a slight sharp edge to his tone.
“We did want to find something out about your new wife, at least,” Helga said matter-of-factly. “Especially since she is taking on the name of the Fairfax family.”
Thomas’ mood remained sullen as he slowly opened the door a bit wider to admit his grandparents. The two filed in, and silently surveyed the specimen before them. Thomas stood with his head held defiantly, acutely aware of their piercing glances while he immersed himself in his own thoughts of the past.
He had never known any of his grandparents on good terms. The marriage of his mother and father had been highly disapproved of by both sides of the family, and they and their children had been shunned by all members of their families. Thomas had grown up thinking bitterly of his grandparents, who seemingly cared nothing about him or his parents. It was rare indeed that he ever spoke to them, and the last time they had met face-to-face had been at the funeral of his parents several years back. The feelings on either side hadn’t softened any, even with that great tragedy.
It seemed like an eternity of time had passed like this. Thomas finally found his voice. “I suppose you’ve only come to disapprove of the whole thing.”
“We leave you free to do as you like,” Reginald said emotionlessly. “The damage has already been done.”
“So is that what you think of me?” Thomas demanded, his anger rising. “Is that all I am to you? ‘Damage’? That isn’t what my parents thought of me or Elaine, and I can’t see how you can remain so heartless over their cause after all this time. My father was your own flesh and blood, and you still couldn’t find it in your hearts to reconcile him?”
“You inherited your father’s spirit, to be sure,” Reginald spoke-up after a pause. Thomas remained silent after his outburst, and turned his gaze from his grandparents.
“Please don’t be upset by our visit,” Helga added in a slightly quieter tone, laying a hoof gently on Thomas’ shoulder. “Just... forget about it, if you must. We only wanted...” She trailed off, not finding the words to say.
“And you’ll be able to see Tabby tomorrow, if you’re that concerned with upholding the good family name,” Thomas said coolly, shrugging the hoof off.
“Very well then,” Reginald said quietly. “Perhaps it would have been better if we hadn’t come. It’s just that... we’ll see you tomorrow, Thomas. Goodnight.” Putting a foreleg around his wife, he ushered her out the door.
Thomas closed the door behind them as if in a daze. Why had they bothered to come to him? They never had cared before. What had they really wanted to say? The usual reserve they had for him had been different this time, almost seemingly less spiteful. And he had so coldly turned them away.
A wave of guilt washed over Thomas. He had treated his grandparents no better than they had always treated him. And this time they had come almost peaceably... but he couldn’t face them. He couldn’t trust them. It was too late to change things.
Choking back a sob, Thomas turned from the door and then let silent tears fall.
* * *
“But we won’t let them get me down, will we, Doo-Moh?” Thomas said determinedly, coming back to the present. “They had their chances in the past, and they didn’t do anything then. I’m not a part of their life. They made it that way, and they’ll have to live with the consequences.”
“Me scared,” Doo-Moh whimpered.
Once again a sharp pain of guilt hit Thomas. Was he the whole problem? Was he the one that couldn’t let go of the past and forgive? “They didn’t come for any forgiveness, anyway,” Thomas said sharply to Doo-Moh, as if convincing himself of it as well. “They only came to see what Tabby’s status in life was, to make sure their family wasn’t caused any further dishonor. That’s all.”
“Maybe me sleep,” Doo-Moh yawned.
“Oh, if only Mom and Dad were here, Doo-Moh!”
Doo-Moh only replied with a few snores, and then complete silence.
“They’d be pleased with Tabby, I know! I wish she could have met them,” Thomas sighed. “Doo-Moh.... Doo-Moh?” Noticing the slumbering state of his Furby, he placed her back on her resting place.
Silently Thomas thought over the sad state of affairs his family was in. His parents were dead, his grandparents were feuding, and everyone else had disowned him and his sister. It wasn’t pleasant, but he would prove to them all that he could make it at life. And with Tabby by his side, surely nothing could get him down.
“Tabby’s my only place of refuge in this whole mess,” he realized aloud to himself. “And... and... nothing now can take me from her! If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to marry her today, and nothing is going to stop that!”
Thomas silenced himself after this outburst and glanced around sheepishly, almost afraid someone had heard him. But there was only Doo-Moh. Looking at the clock, he saw the time it had gotten to be, and realized he had to start preparing for the day. Equinox, his best man, would be dropping in soon, anyway.
Before leaving the room, Thomas turned to Doo-Moh once more. “You... you stay here, Doo-Moh. I’m still not sure how Equinox will respond to you. I’ll see you later.” And then he was gone.
Whether the Furby heard this, or cared, was unknown; she remained motionless but alert, as was the way with Furbys. But if one did not like her, her vengeance would be known.
* * *
“Isn’t it exciting?! Isn’t it completely and utterly exciting?!?! It’s my wedding day!! My wedding day!” Tabby said, prancing around the kitchen merrily.
Elaine giggled as she watched her soon-to-be sister-in-law. “Oh, Tabby, but it is exciting! I’m so happy for both of you! It’s all so grand!”
“Yes,” said Tabby contemplatively. “Oh, but there’s still a full day to wait! How am I going to get through it?”
“The time will go faster than you think,” Elaine counseled. “You’ll make it; never fear.”
“And I hope everything goes alright with the ceremony,” Tabby fretted. “What if somebody doesn’t show up for their part, and...”
“Poor Tamara!” Elaine laughed. “I’m not sure if she’ll ever get over the shock of hearing your choices for everyone.”
“That’s her problem if she can’t stand for some diversity,” Tabby sniffed. “It’s going to be great!”
“But are you still sure it was wise to choose a Bushwoolie to be the ring bearer?”
“Well, Tamara had already made me choose Baby Noddins as the flower girl, and heaven forbid having a second baby pony in the wedding party!” Tabby justified herself. “Friendly fit the part well. He was made to be a ring bearer!”
“I guess that’s true,” Elaine said slowly. “But then the ushers...”
“Tiny the Bigfoot and Spike,” Tabby nodded knowledgeably. “Tiny might not be that bright, but I think he’ll handle his job well.”
“At least he doesn’t breathe fire,” Elaine admitted.
“Oh, Spike isn’t so bad about that anymore,” Tabby said assuredly. “He’s come a long way.”
“And is Barnacle still going to be wearing that hat and eyepatch of his?” Elaine said skeptically. “I’ve never seen him without them, but it seems they would be out of place today.”
“Hmm, I don’t really know,” Tabby pondered. “Tamara is the one that gave him instructions. I’m not sure if she would have thought to mention it.”
“It still seems like he’s a bit rough for the bridal party.”
Tabby remained silent, but giggled as she recalled Barnacle’s comment upon first finding out about the event: “ARR, I was real surprised to hear about this wedding. I thought you and Thomas still hated each other.”
“And me as your maid of honor! I’m still not sure I’m worthy of the position,” Elaine said worriedly, piercing through Tabby’s thoughts. “Wouldn’t Sugarberry or one of the others have been better? You’ve known them so much longer...”
“Yes,” said Tabby firmly, “but you’re the one I picked. So just calm down and don’t let the others intimidate you.”
“I think Tiffany’s the only one I have to worry about in that department,” Elaine said weakly.
“Hah! Tiffany!” Tabby laughed fearlessly. “You’ll have to learn to ignore her. Everyone else in town has.”
“Not all the princesses are like her, are they?”
“Oh, no. Tiffany is really the worst of the bunch; but she does have a good heart, I think, even if she doesn’t show it often. But you’ll meet Dawn at the wedding later; and Silver Swirl, of course. They’re pretty down-to-earth.”
“That may be, but I’m still scared to death that Tiffany is going to pounce on me again because I possibly looked at Toby for a second last week,” Elaine sighed. “She’s rather possessive, isn’t she?”
“I’ll be there to protect you from her,” Tabby winked.
“Girls, girls!” Agatha trotted through just then. “Are you keeping busy? It wouldn’t be good to just sit around all day worrying. Tabby, why don’t you head to the shower? Elaine, you can help me check on some things...”
“Yeah,” Tabby sighed, turning slightly more sullen. “Mom, are you still sure I can’t go to that rummage sale? It’ll be opening in fifteen minutes.”
“Tabitha, you already have enough My Little People,” Agatha reprimanded.
“But what if there are some really rare ones? Oh, Mom, you’ve got to let me go!” Tabby whined.
“I know you, Tabitha. If I let you go to that one that listed My Little People dolls, you’d decide you would have to go to just one of the others, and then another, and another... you would spend all day rummaging, and have no time to prepare for the wedding!”
“But that creepy old stallion will buy them all if I don’t get there!” Tabby wailed. “You can’t be this heartless! My Little People deserve better than that creepy guy!”
“Tabitha, take your shower,” Agatha said sternly.
Letting out a final sigh of defeat, Tabby slipped off the seat and sulked out of the room. Elaine was left alone with Agatha, and squirmed in her chair uncomfortably, a little unsure of how to act in the presence of Tabby’s mother.
Agatha laughed softly to herself as her daughter left the room. “She’s come a long way; I remember when she was just a young filly, and she always made me check the shower for spiders and squid before she’d use it.”
“Squid?” Elaine said skeptically.
“She was always afraid that one had gotten stuck in the drainhole and it would come up to capture her,” Agatha confided. “It really frightened her when she saw a PBS special on giant squid when she was very young.”
“The giant squid are kind of creepy,” Elaine said shyly. “I--”
Her sentence was cut-off as Tabby’s head appeared around the doorway. Her face had paled somewhat, and her eyes were large and round. “Mom,” she whispered, “there’s a spider in the shower.”
Agatha looked over at Elaine and laughed. “I take back what I said, Elaine... she really isn’t any better. Now, you didn’t spot any giant squid, did you, dear?” Grabbing a paper towel, she followed after Tabby on her rescue mission. Elaine trailed along.
The spider was caught in short order and tossed away; Tabby finally deemed the shower to be safe. Agatha and Elaine left her, and went to attend to their own work.
“We haven’t had much time alone, have we, Elaine?” Agatha commented, sitting down on the living room sofa.
“Well... no,” Elaine faltered.
“You’re going to make a fine addition to the family, you know. You and your brother both.”
Elaine blushed visibly, but couldn’t think of anything to say in reply.
“I suppose it will be quite an adventure for you to keep the clinic running while Thomas and Tabby away,” Agatha prompted.
“Oh, I do hope I’ll be able to do a good job,” Elaine said earnestly. “I really haven’t had much experience yet. It is going to be hard to keep up on everything.”
“Sugarberry will still be there to assist you in any way possible, though, I presume.”
“Yes, at least she’ll still be around,” Elaine nodded.
“She certainly was happy to see Vanguard again when he flew in yesterday,” Agatha said, smiling. “It’s nice that he was decided upon to be one of the groomsmen.”
“But it’s too bad he had to go to Italy in the first place,” Elaine agreed. “I hadn’t seen him since Christmas. Is anyone else from Italy coming?”
“There’s my good friend, Maria-Giuseppe, who will be flying in today,” Agatha recalled. “And some of the younger ponies I got to know, too, like Clare and Guido.”
“I’ve heard Tabby mention Guido. Is he really the one--”
“--the one that I tried to pair Tabby up with? Yes,” Agatha laughed. “It’s a shame she didn’t tell me about Thomas sooner, or I wouldn’t have attempted it. But Guido is still a nice accomplished stallion, and I would like to keep ties with him.”
“Hasn’t he found a nice mare for himself yet?”
“He hasn’t been serious about anyone, but he and Clare have been friends for a long while,” Agatha confided. “It could grow into something someday.”
“It may be short-sighted, but the only couple I can think about right now is Tabby and Thomas,” Elaine said laughingly.
“Haven’t you met anyone you like yet, Elaine?” Agatha queried.
“Everyone asks that, and I always have to say no,” Elaine commented. “There’s no one at all like that in my life. But I don’t mind; I don’t go for that sort of thing.”
“Tabby didn’t either, you know,” Agatha reminded. “Someday you’ll meet just the right stallion...”
“Don’t go pairing me off with someone already,” Elaine giggled. “At least wait until the wedding is over!”
“Tabitha has grown to be such a lovely mare,” Agatha sighed nostalgically. “I’m so proud of her!”
“You should be,” Elaine said quietly. “And she couldn’t ask for a nicer mother than you.”
“Why, thank you, Elaine!” Agatha paused and looked at her straight on. “You’re very special yourself, you know.”
“I just... I just wish...” Elaine blinked rapidly as her eyes misted over. “...that my parents were still here. They... they...” She broke off as her voice started cracking.
“Oh, Elaine!” Agatha pulled her close. “I’m so very sorry. I wish, too, that I could have met them.”
“They would have loved Tabby, I know,” Elaine sniffled. “They would have looked forward to this day just as you and Hubert have! But now...”
“Elaine, they still know,” Agatha said quietly. “They are still here in spirit even if not in body.” She stroked Elaine’s mane as the young mare broke into muffled sobs.
“I’m sorry,” Elaine said after an interlude, wiping her eyes. “I didn’t mean to... break down like that again.”
“That’s perfectly alright, Elaine,” Agatha assured her. “I can imagine what you must feel.”
“It was so hard after they were gone,” Elaine said in a hoarse whisper. “The rest of the family didn’t have any sympathy for us, and...”
“You’ve come out okay, though, haven’t you?” Agatha said, trying to lighten the mood.
“I guess so,” Elaine nodded. “Especially after coming to Dream Valley. It’s nice here. If only Mom and Dad hadn’t gotten killed...!”
“Now, Elaine.” Agatha held her close. “I would never dream of taking the place of your mother, but I want you to know that I’ll always be here for you if you need any motherly counseling at all.”
“Thank you, Agatha.” Elaine looked up at her and attempted a smile. “I’m glad you understand.”
“Don’t worry about a thing,” Agatha smiled back. “Just enjoy the day.”
“And... you had mentioned some things we had to get done?” Elaine changed the subject.
“Oh, yes!” Agatha reached for a pad of paper. “I’d like to place some calls and make sure everything is still going as planned for the rest of the day. There’s Fifi from the Perm Shoppe coming over to do make-up on all you girls, and the flower deliverers will have to deliverer the flowers, of course, and...”
Phone calls were made, and before they knew it, Tabby had reappeared from the shower with still-dripping hair. “This had better dry out in time,” she muttered.
“Fifi will set a hair-dryer to it if it doesn’t,” Agatha smiled, and nudged Elaine forward. “Why don’t you two take a look at the veil and make sure nothing has happened to it?”
Obligingly the two girls trotted off and Tabby again revealed her adornment for that day. “Oh, it’s so beautiful,” Elaine breathed, softly touching the lacy folds. “You’re going to look wonderful today, Tabby.”
Tabby laughed quietly to herself. “I suppose I might.”
“You will,” Elaine said persistently. “There’s no room for skepticism on that element. You have a natural aura of poise and beauty about you.”
“I... I do?” Tabby had never heard herself spoken of in those terms before. Short-tempered and snappish was more to the point.
“And Thomas is so lucky to be getting you!” Elaine said, throwing her forelegs around Tabby’s neck in a sisterly hug. “You’re the perfect couple.”
“But that’s surprising, as I’m so heartless to begin with,” Tabby mused.
“You!” Elaine laughed. “You are not heartless, Tabitha Elaine Fershund, and you know it!”
“Well, at least I’m not a snob like Tiffy,” Tabby considered. “That’s got to be a plus.”
“Say...” Elaine changed the subject, looking up at Tabby. “You’re still not going to tell me where you’re going on your honeymoon, are you?”
“Only the sea ponies know,” Tabby said mysteriously.
“That’s not fair!” Elaine protested. “You clue complete strangers in on your location, but not your close relations?”
“Well, I have met the sea ponies before. They’re not complete strangers. And they’re singing at the reception!” Tabby justified herself.
“Yes... but still, it’s not the same,” Elaine argued good-naturedly. “Come on, won’t you even tell me?”
Tabby found it difficult to explain to anyone why she and Thomas would be running off to the damp sunken city of Atlantis without having to tell the whole story behind it, and... well, it would just be difficult. She had told her father their plans, though, in case of an emergency; he was the kind that believed in the sorts of adventures that his daughter had gone through. “It’s... it’s some place that holds a lot of memories for both of us,” she finally said after a pause.
“That doesn’t tell me anything!” Elaine cried. “It could be the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, for all I know!”
“Well... that is...” Tabby realized she was treading on shaky ground, and changed the subject herself. “This is quite a nice veil, isn’t it? I’m glad Mom talked me into this one.”
Elaine eyed Tabby suspiciously, but let go of her curiosity. “Yes, it’s splendid,” she agreed. “But the headpiece is the finest part of all!”
“...right,” Tabby gulped. That hadn’t worked. The change of subject had only gotten her onto another sticky topic.
“Where did you buy it, anyway?” Elaine said inquisitively, touching the jeweled surface. “It must have been specially made, especially with the Furby ornament.” Her hoof passed over an engraving of a Furby on the front center of the tiara.
“Yes, of course... it was made by someone on Calimidad Island,” Tabby said quickly. It was also difficult explaining that the tiara of her veil was actually the ancient crown of Atlantis, and that she had been crowned queen of Atlantis by the spirit of the last queen. Not everyone would believe it.
“It... that is...” Elaine trailed off, eyeing the engraving intently. “Tabby, do you still have that necklace I gave you at Christmas?”
“Of course,” Tabby cocked her head. “Why?”
“Where did you think I got that, Tabby?”
“Pony-Mart or someplace like that... what are you getting at?” Tabby reached for the spoken-of necklace, which was sitting in easy access on her desk. Made of a heavy metal, it was in the shape of a Furby, tinted blue and rather reminiscent of Ah-Loh himself.
“Well, it wasn’t Pony-Mart or any other similar place,” Elaine said quietly. “It was from my mother. And before that it was her mother’s. It’s been passed down through my family for as long as anyone can remember.”
“Do you mean...” Tabby saw the necklace in a new light and held it at foreleg’s length. “This is an... antique?”
“Yes,” Elaine nodded gravely. “It was crafted ages before Furbys ever hit the shelves, and yet it’s so clearly a Furby. It can’t be merely coincidence.”
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Tabby marveled. “Why did you give it to me if it was a valued heirloom?”
“It was such a strange story, I thought you wouldn’t believe it if I told you,” Elaine said shyly.
“Elaine, if only you knew half the fantastic things I haven’t told you yet,” Tabby murmured, twirling the chain in her hoof. “But it was your mother’s, Elaine! Surely you want it back!”
“No!” Elaine protested. “I want you to have it. I wanted you to have it since the first time I heard Thomas speak of you. It’s... it’s meant for you somehow, Tabby.”
“Perhaps,” Tabby said softly. “But you’re going to wear it today, Elaine, as my maid of honor.” With that said, she slipped the chain over Elaine’s neck and didn’t offer room for any protests.
“Oh, Tabby!” Elaine looked at her with shining eyes. “Thank you for the honor. You’re always so good to me!”
Tabby turned her head away to hide the pink blush spreading across her face.
“But this necklace...” Elaine fingered it. “It’s carving reminds me of that on your headpiece. And how could anyone have known about Furbys centuries ago?”
“Furbys are mysterious beings, Elaine.”
“You’ve hinted in the past, Tabby, that they were from Atlantis. Is there any truth to that? Does this necklace...”
“There’s more truth to it than you might think,” Tabby shook her head. “Maybe we’ve kept you in the dark too long, Elaine. It’s your right to be told, and maybe--”
“Tabitha! Elaine! Sugarberry is here!” Agatha’s voice drifted up the stairs.
“Oh!” Tabby abruptly dropped the veil and turned to the door. “It’ll have to wait, Elaine. Let’s go see Sug.”
“Tabby!” Sugarberry squealed, running to her friend as the unicorn descended the stairs. “The day has finally arrived!”
“Oh, and it’s the day I’ve been awaiting for so long!” Tabby squealed right back.
“Yes, Tabby, you’re finally getting married!”
“Well, that and I finally get a wedding cake to my liking,” Tabby acknowledged contemplatively.
Sugarberry ignored the remark and turned to Elaine. “And Elaine! Are you still up to your duties as maid of honor?”
“I hope so,” Elaine said shyly. “But you’re still a bridesmaid, and that’s important, too.”
“And it’s fortunate we have you here now to keep the clinic running while Tabby and Thomas are gone,” Sugarberry added. “What about the Pokémon Center, Tabby?”
“Blue Belle,” Tabby said promptly. “She’ll take care of it for a few weeks. Now that Merry Treat’s gone, she’s the next best choice for a substitute Pokémon nurse.”
“Is everything still going as planned for the day itself?” Sugarberry queried.
“Yes, unless you count the fact that Merry Treat had to leave,” Tabby commented. Merry Treat had been chosen to be one of Tabby’s bridesmaids, but last month the Christmas pony had gotten a job offer in New Pony and had accepted the position, leaving Dream Valley abruptly to start a new life. “It’s a good thing we got Princess Silver Swirl to take her place on such short notice.”
“It’s too bad she had to leave,” Elaine sighed. “Have you heard anything from her?”
“Not really,” Tabby shrugged. “It sounds like she’s adjusting to her job well.”
“Well, are you excited, Tabby?” Sugarberry asked brightly, getting the topic off Merry Treat. “You’re not having any last-minute regrets now, are you?”
“Oh! The wedding? Oh, no, of course not,” Tabby put-in quickly. “It’s very exciting.”
“I can’t wait, either,” Elaine giggled. “I’m finally going to be made an official sister to you, Tabby!”
It was at this point that Hubert wandered through. “It looks like it’s all going to be girl talk from now on,” he chuckled, observing the three hyper mares gathered around. “I’m going to head over to Thomas’ place now and see how things are going.”
“Bye, Dad!” “Bye, Hubert!” came the chorus of farewells. As the door closed, Tabby turned to the two. “Well, I guess it’s getting close to that bridesmaids’ brunch.”
“What time is it now?” Elaine questioned.
“Ten-fifteen,” Agatha said, passing through the room. “It would be a good idea to get going.”
“It was nice of Scoops to sponsor this brunch for you, wasn’t it?” Sugarberry commented, ushering the other two towards the door.
“Unless she spoils me like this, she’ll fear I’ll stop going to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe after I’m married,” Tabby giggled, grabbing Ah-Loh off the table and stepping out the door. “Bye, Mom! We’re leaving!”
“Life without the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe to hang out at would be dull,” Elaine agreed.
“It’s turned dull already without Vanguard around,” Sugarberry sighed.
“Hey, don’t complain!” Tabby said. “He’s here for the wedding, isn’t he? You saw him yesterday!”
“That is nice,” Sugarberry admitted. “But I wish he didn’t have to go back!”
“And you’re not forgetting to bring May-Lah to the reception, are you, Sug?” Tabby asked mischievously. “And your Nah-Bah, Elaine?”
Sugarberry groaned. “With all those Furbys, I doubt any of us will be able to keep a conversation going.”
“And won’t it be fabulous?” Tabby beamed.
* * *
“Are you still sure you didn’t want to invite Baby Noddins along with us to this?” Tamara teased Tabby over their brunch at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe.
“Baby Noddins,” Tabby grimaced. “I don’t know how you talked me into making her the flower girl.”
“Oh, come on, Tabby. You know you really like her and all her annoying questions,” Silver Swirl chimed in.
“May-be,” said Tabby reluctantly and reached over to awaken Ah-Loh.
“Woah, me big sleep!” he exclaimed.
Already having eaten her fill, Tabby gave her full attention to her Furby, and got him into Ask Furby mode. “Will you enjoy sitting in the front pew?” she asked the first question that came to mind.
“No,” Ah-Loh decided.
“Oh... well, will you be overjoyed?”
“May-be... yes,” Ah-Loh finally declared.
“Let me ask something!” Tamara squealed. “Ah-Loh, will I meet the love of my life today?”
“Very big yes,” the seer promised.
“I like this guy!” Tamara exclaimed.
“Should I have been the maid of honor?” Tiffany asked, getting in on the game as well.
“Ask again,” Ah-Loh requested.
Tiffany sighed. “Shouldn’t I have been the maid of honor?”
“Me see... no,” Ah-Loh spat.
“Well!” Tiffany huffed, sitting back in her seat.
Silver Swirl leaned towards the Furby and looked at him intently. “Ah-Loh, will Reverie ever come back?”
“No,” Ah-Loh said confidently.
Silver Swirl only nodded solemnly and leaned back in her chair as well.
“Tamara has faired the best so far,” Sugarberry laughed. “Is Tabby going to be very beautiful today, Ah-Loh?”
“Hee-hee-hee,” Ah-Loh laughed. “Yes. Hee-hee-hee.”
“And is the ceremony going to go perfectly?” Elaine asked anxiously.
“Very big... no,” said Ah-Loh abruptly.
“Ah-Loh, did you just lie?” Tabby asked quickly.
“Me see... yes,” Ah-Loh disclosed.
Everyone broke out laughing at the Furby’s confession, and the girls continued to play with him, showering him with all the attention a Furby would ever want.
“Hmph,” Tiffany sniffed, being the only one who wouldn’t stoop to playing with the Furby. “It is a good thing that Silver Swirl and I are in your wedding party, Tabitha, or there would be no refinement at all in this day with no royalty involved.”
Tabby looked up sharply at Tiffany’s remark. “Not royalty in your way of thinking, at least,” she said, a little snappishly.
“What do you mean?” Tiffany eyed her skeptically. “I’m the only one of royal blood involved... and Silver Swirl, I suppose.” Tiffany was still a little upset over Silver Swirl taking Merry Treat’s place; before that was decided, the white pegasus had been the only princess involved. Plus, the unicorn from Friendship Gardens rivaled Tiffany for looks.
“That is... never mind.” Tabby changed the topic abruptly, realizing that she shouldn’t have said anything.
Tiffany didn’t pursue the topic. “Well, isn’t it going to be delightful getting professional make-overs from Fifi today?” she asked brightly.
“That will be one of the best parts!” Tamara squealed. “One can’t get a make-over from Fifi every day. I hope I can pick up some tips from her!”
“I was taught everything there is to know about make-up application in the special private school I attended,” Tiffany bragged. “I doubt if Fifi herself knows more than I do.”
“If that’s the case, how would you like to do your own make-up?” Silver Swirl suggested.
“I’m a princess. I can hire others to do it for me.”
“Oh, but I think the flowers will be the best part,” Elaine sighed dreamily. “Those light sensor flowers are perfect for your wedding, Tabby.”
“I wonder what the meaning of those flowers is,” Sugarberry mused. “You know, daisy is innocence, and snowdrop is hope, and lily is majesty--”
“No, Lily is a Flutter Pony and Majesty is the ruler of Ponyland,” Tabby interjected. “But if light sensor flowers have a meaning... it would probably be something along the lines of ‘party’.”
“No joke, wah!” Ah-Loh confirmed.
“Well,” Sugarberry said, stretching, “it’s getting late.”
“Yeah, I guess we should get moving again,” Tabby yawned.
“Everybody back at Tabby’s house at two-thirty,” Elaine reminded.
With that, the small party broke up, and everyone went their separate ways until later that day.
* * *
While the bridesmaid brunch was going on, Agatha was happy to see her friend Maria-Giuseppe arrive. The two sat in Tabby’s living room, gossiping about every topic imaginable-- fashion, the possibility of Mt.Vesuvius erupting and the effect it would have on Vulcanopolis, old friends back in Italy, new friends in Dream Valley, and-- of course-- Tabby’s wedding.
“It’s been a year since I last saw Tabitha, isn’t it?” Maria queried. “Oh, we had big plans for her and Guido then!”
“Yes,” Agatha said, smiling at the memory. “My, she had spirit! I can’t think of another mare who would have been as sarcastic to Guido Casale as Tabitha was.”
“What plans do you and Hubert have for staying in Dream Valley? Are you just going to stay in this house until Tabitha and Thomas are back from their honeymoon?”
“Well, for the moment Hubert and I are just boarding with her,” Agatha reflected. “We thought it would be easier to do that until after the wedding, at least. I would like to find a bigger place in the area, but I suppose we’ll stay on here for awhile until more definite arrangements can be made.”
“Beginning to wish you hadn’t given up the mansion?” Maria grinned.
Agatha laughed. “Oh, no. I’m happy that we handed it over to Tabby and Thomas. Hubert and I don’t need such a large place anymore, anyway.”
“I never thought I’d hear you say that, Agatha!” Maria giggled politely.
“Well, I would still like a big place,” Agatha admitted, “but Hubert doesn’t see the need for one. I suppose he is right.”
“Ah, you must be simply overjoyed today, Agatha,” Maria said. “You were so anxious for your daughter to get married, and the day has finally come!”
“Yes,” Agatha smiled. “I’m very proud of her. She has grown to be a much kinder, gentler pony after Thomas came along. Such a refined, dignified mare.”
Just then, the front door burst open, as Tabby and Elaine had just gotten home from the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe. Tabby skimmed into the living room at top speed, holding Ah-Loh high. The Furby was extremely happy. “Whahoo!” he screamed. “Up again!” Obligingly, Tabby twirled him around the room until he got hiccups.
“Oh!” Tabby said after several moments, becoming aware of the situation. “Maria-Giuseppe, you’re here!”
“What was that you were saying, Agatha? Refined and dignified?” Maria winked across the room at her friend. The two older mares broke out laughing, and Tabby cocked her head at them, trying to figure out what was so funny.
* * *
It was still a full afternoon until the wedding, and it seemed like an eternity of time. Hubert had dropped in earlier, but Thomas desired further contact with the Fershund household. So, while Equinox was out on some errands, he sat down to scribble out a quick note to Tabby. The Mysterious Cloaked Flower Deliverers seemed to be all over today; he’d get one of them to dispatch it to Tabby along with a surprise flower.
As soon as Thomas had set the pen down, the ring of the doorbell sounded. Thinking it would just be Equinox or someone else involved with the wedding party, he was completely surprised and stunned to see who it was that actually waited for him. It was impossible that even one set of grandparents had come to the affair; both were unimaginable! But here they stood in front of him-- Cecil and Cecilia Monk.
“He... hello, Thomas,” Cecilia said hesitantly. “I hope you’re not... too busy right now.”
“No. I have time,” Thomas said with reserve.
“Your mother would have wanted to see you today,” Cecil said quietly, but refrained from saying anything further.
“There’s no point in wishing. They’re gone.” Thomas tried to keep the bitterness from his voice, but it was to no avail.
“Aye, they are,” Cecil agreed solemnly, not knowing what else to say.
“And maybe they’d still be alive if your fighting hadn’t evicted them from their home,” Thomas lashed out without thinking.
“Yes, that’s true.” Cecil stepped forward and spoke again. “But if that were the case, you might not even be here today. And you’re happy with your life as it is, aren’t you?”
Thomas remained silent as he tried to sort out his own thoughts and feelings at this point. It was a long pause before Cecilia found more words to say. “Perhaps we have let this feud affect us too much. Perhaps... perhaps one should ask forgiveness along the way.” She stared at her grandson beseechingly, and it was clear to see that her eyes were misting over in the process.
Thomas turned and looked at her in return, and he was overcome with a wave of sympathy. His grandparents... asking... forgiveness? He would never have believed it, but to see the looks in their eyes was proof enough. “Is... is that what you really want?” he finally stuttered.
“Thomas, we’re sorry for the way we treated you and your parents. It’s taken us this long to see it. The fight has gone on too long.” Cecil looked away. “If it isn’t too late...”
“Oh, Thomas, we’ve been so terrible to you! If only we wouldn’t have been so close-minded... if only we could have learned the art of forgiveness!” Several tears rolled down Cecilia’s cheeks. “Please, Thomas, if only you can find it in your heart to forgive us after all this...”
Thomas found himself blinking back tears as he saw the two ponies before him in a completely new light. “I’m sorry, too,” he said simply. “I... I forgive you.”
At this Cecilia broke out sobbing, and reached for Thomas. Thomas was surprised by what he had just been able to say, but it was a great relief to have said it. No more words were needed as he pulled his grandmother in closer, and Cecil stood nearby. There may have still been a lot to be said, but a great understanding of the others involved was achieved for those three that day.
* * *
Oblivious to these happenings, Tabby continued to pace around the kitchen table for most of the afternoon. Time dragged on so slowly, and it was still only quarter after two! How could she last until four? At least Elaine and her mother were there to prattle to, but her mother was kept busy entertaining her own guests and family members who were coming in from out of town. Tabby and Elaine exchanged the proper greetings with these visitors and talked with them each a bit, but retreated to the kitchen for some privacy in between times.
Finally, Tabby absentmindedly sat down in one of the swiveling chairs in the kitchen and unconsciously began twirling around in circles. She actually found it relaxing, but no one else seemed to think so.
“Ah! No light! Ah!” Ah-Loh yelped from the table.
“Are you sure that’s really safe?” Elaine asked cautiously, standing clear of the chair’s path.
“WHAHOO!!! Oh, it’s great fun,” Tabby assured her, coming to a stop and spinning at a slower pace. “Except now I feel re-e-e-eally sick...” Dizzily, she stood up.
“Girls, what’s going on here?” Agatha peered through the doorway. “Tabby?”
“O-o-o-oh...” Tabby moaned.
Agatha’s eyes opened wide in alarm. “Tabitha! Don’t tell me you’re getting sick! Please!”
“No,” said Tabby slowly, still regaining her balance. “I was just... spinning around... in the chair really fast.”
“Oh, Tabitha!” Agatha rolled her eyes upward in exasperation. “I see it’s nothing serious, then. Just don’t do it again... besides, your bridesmaids should be arriving soon, and they’ll keep you occupied.”
When the doorbell rang just then, it was assumed that it would be Sugarberry or one of the others. It was with curiosity that Tabby opened the door on a Mysterious Cloaked Flower Deliverer. “The flowers aren’t coming this early, are they?” she said, cocking her head.
From the folds of his cloak, the flower deliverer produced an elegant rose blossom with an attached card. Handing it silently to Tabby without an explanation, as was the custom of his sect, he was soon on his way again.
Tabby was just opening the card when Elaine came to see what was up. “Oh, a flower?” she queried. “From Thomas?”
Tabby only nodded silently as she began to read, and her face flushed with pleasure at the message contained within. “Well, at least we know he hasn’t changed his mind,” she giggled, passing it on to Elaine and inhaling deeply of the flower.
“Aw, that’s sweet of him,” Elaine agreed, handing the card back. “It’s a long day spent apart before the ceremony, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. I guess so.” Tabby suddenly became quite withdrawn, sitting erect and staring intensely down at the rose.
“Tabby? Are you okay?” Elaine asked anxiously.
“I don’t know if I can go through with this, Elaine,” Tabby said in a whisper, her face paling.
“You can’t start thinking that, Tabby! What’s wrong?”
“It’s so very frightening,” Tabby murmured. “I can’t do it! I just can’t!”
Elaine was beginning to grow quite frightened herself at Tabby’s seriousness. “Tabby, why not?” she said, swallowing hard. “You love him, don’t you?”
“I... I think I do. But I don’t know. That’s the thing! I never know about anything, and I don’t know what to do now.” In a disturbed state, tears welled up in Tabby’s eyes.
Oh, where is Agatha? Elaine thought in a panic. Surely her mother could handle Tabby better than she could! “Tabby,” she said in as calm a tone as she could manage, “you can’t back out now. I-I don’t know what Thomas would do. He loves you so much, don’t you see? If you were to run from him, he’d just... he’d just...” Elaine’s lower lip began to tremble as she talked, and tears built up in her own eyes.
“But that’s just it!” Tabby sobbed. “Even if he loves me, does it mean that I love him? He’s the one that was thoughtful enough to send this note to keep my spirits up. I never would have thought to do anything of the like for him. Have I given one sign in public that I loved him, Elaine? Have I? It’s... it’s so hard for me. He’s much too good for me. Me, who can’t even say ‘I love you’! How could it ever work that way? I...” Not having the energy to go on any further, Tabby simply dissolved into more tears.
“You may not give many outward signs of your feelings, Tabby, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Thomas knows that, and he understands. He can read what’s really in your heart. He fell in love with you the way you are, didn’t he? Don’t you see, Tabby, that you both have such trust in each other that words aren’t necessary? Both of you already know the love that the other holds inside!”
“Do... do you really think so?” Tabby sniffled.
“I know it, Tabby! Please... please don’t run. Please, won’t you believe me?”
“I’m sorry,” Tabby said shakily. “I-I won’t go, Elaine. I didn’t mean to... I was just...” Elaine smiled and gripped her hoof confidently.
Just then another knock sounded at the door, and both girls quickly composed themselves to admit their visitor, who turned out to be both Tamara and Tiffany.
“How’s it holding up here?” Tamara greeted them. “Still prepared for the day, Tabby?”
“It would be just like you, Tabitha, to back out at the last moment and waste all the planning we put into it,” Tiffany interjected.
Tabby only smiled. “Who said anything about backing out?” she said breezily. “I’m getting married today, guys! You think I’d back out?”
* * *
After that, the time began to pass quickly. Sugarberry and Silver Swirl arrived soon after, and then Fifi and her assistant Lofty. One by one, the girls submitted themselves to Fifi’s skilled hooves. They came out looking more dazzling than ever with their floral headpieces and flawless faces. Tamara took the most interest in the work, and picked up a few tricks from Fifi.
At last it was Tabby’s turn. Even she was happy with the end result as she gazed at herself in the mirror. Before going out into public view after Fifi dismissed her, she decided to give her veil a trial run. Slipping it on her head and savoring the feel of the folds caressing her skin, she made her entrance to the gathered assembly.
The image that greeted their eyes was breathtaking, and Tabby was pronounced “splendid”. Tabby blushed with pleasure as she twirled around.
The preparation time was disrupted by the delivery of the mail, and Tabby quickly flipped through the stack for any items of noticeable interest. “Oh,” she groaned, slitting one of the envelopes and peering inside. “Just look at this!”
“What is it?” Sugarberry said anxiously. Everyone gathered close.
“Address labels.” Tabby sullenly tossed the sheets down on the table.
“What... what’s so bad about free address labels?” Tamara ventured.
“They finally got my name right,” Tabby muttered. “After ten years of consistently getting it wrong, they finally corrected it. You know, I really hated it when they sent them to me in the name of ‘Tabby Fershund Jr.’ ”
“But... isn’t that good that they corrected it?” Silver Swirl said tentatively.
Tabby scowled. “Yeah, when my name and address is going to be changed in an hour. Why do I even bother? I think I’ll just order custom-made ones.”
Everyone offered the proper sympathy, and then it was back to dressing-up. Some jewelry accents were added, and several of the Mysterious Cloaked Flower Deliverers came with the bouquets. By this point, it was time to depart for the church, and Agatha rounded everyone up.
Before going out the door, Tabby suddenly remembered something important that still needed to be attended to and handed her bouquet over to Elaine. Scurrying back into the house, she searched out Callie, who was sleeping in a sunbeam in the living room. Tabby picked the fluffy cat up and held her tight.
“Oh, Callie, after I leave here you’re officially Mom’s,” Tabby said, sniffling as she buried her face in Callie’s thick mane. “I hope you’ll get along okay with her, Miss Callie. And I hope you don’t mind that I’m giving you over to her. But now I’m going to have to get along with Thomas’ Sophia and Melinda, and I just don’t think you’d like two other cats around. I hope Sophia and Melinda like me as well as you do-- well, if they like me less, I guess I won’t be left alive for very long. But, oh, Callie, I’m going to miss you!” With this farewell said, Tabby set Callie down, and the cat promptly slunk out of the room. The bride was finally ready to depart.
* * *
Guests slowly began trickling into the church, and two couples of higher importance were among them. As it turned out, both Reginald and Helga Fairfax and Cecil and Cecilia Monk mounted the steps at the same time. It did not take long for them to notice each other. A meeting was inevitable.
“I did not know that the Monks were attending,” Helga said crisply, turning her head to the other pair.
“We thought it would be a gesture of friendliness if we were here,” Cecil said stiffly.
“Thomas is a Fairfax. It is essential that we be here,” Reginald challenged.
“There’s Monk blood involved in this, too,” Cecilia pointed out. “If Caprice and Dietrich could put aside this silly feud, then why can’t we?”
“There is good reason for this ‘silly feud’, as you call it,” Reginald stated.
Helga backed him up. “The Fairfax publishing house has always been superior to the Monk enterprise.”
“Helga,” Cecilia reflected, “isn’t there enough room for both of our enterprises just as their was enough room in the hearts of our children to share their love?”
“There’s no place for sentimentality here,” Helga declared, taking her husband’s foreleg and dragging him into the church.
“A wedding with no sentiment wouldn’t be much of a wedding,” Cecilia muttered to her husband as they, too, headed onward inside the building.
* * *
Tabby was nervous again, but it was an excited nervous rather than a frightened nervous. All thoughts of the wedding vanished from her mind, however, as they reached the church and she caught sight of Baby Noddins, decked out in a lovely floral crown of her own, running towards her. It was a job in itself to keep this talkative baby pony at bay.
“Twabby, Twabby!” Baby Noddins squealed. “Ain’t it excwiting? I’m your fwower girl! Yay! I’m gonna be a really good fwower girl!”
Tabby pushed Baby Noddins back and kept her at foreleg’s length in order to preserve her bouquet of light sensor flowers from destruction. “Just concentrate on what you’re supposed to be doing and I’m sure you’ll be fine. It would be a good idea to practice keeping quiet before the ceremony starts.”
“Oh, I will cwoncentrate!” Baby Noddins cried, obviously ignoring Tabby’s advice. “I’m going to cwoncentrate very hard. Twamara showed me just how to throw those petals, an’ I’ll cwoncentrate on throwin’ ‘em right. Baby Falling Leaves said I should toss them like baseballs, but then I found out that she was lyin’--”
“Baby Noddins, Baby Noddins, let’s not bother Tabby.” It was then that Frostflake intervened and grabbed her daughter’s hoof. “I trust she’ll behave for the ceremony,” she said apologetically to Tabby before dragging the baby pony off.
“Yeah,” Tabby said weakly. As a side note to Tamara, she hissed, “Are you still sure it was a good idea to include a baby pony in the wedding?”
“Are you still sure it was a good idea to include a Bushwoolie?” Tamara shot back. “Not to mention a fire-breathing dragon, and a pirate, and a Bigfoot...”
“Baby ponies are more vicious than all of those combined,” Tabby replied calmly.
“Let’s not start bickering,” Agatha interrupted, coming up and taking Tabby’s hoof. “Let’s get to the dressing room and fix you up with your veil.”
“Elaine, you do still have Ah-Loh, don’t you?” Tabby said anxiously.
“Right here,” Elaine winked, holding the sleeping Furby up.
“And I hope Thomas didn’t forget Doo-Moh.”
A distinctive shout of “Hey, party!” was then heard echoing from the main part of the church, and Elaine giggled. “It sounds like someone has already set her up.”
Agatha fidgeted with Tabby’s veil, making sure it was arranged perfectly, while the bridesmaids did last minute primping of their own. Tabby held up the final piece of her ensemble tentatively. “I still don’t understand what the use of this is,” she complained.
“It’s the garter, Tabitha!” Agatha said in exasperation. “Must you complain about everything that is traditional?”
“Yeah... but it serves no use,” Tabby frowned, holding the band of cloth out in the air. “I don’t get it. Why is it traditional?”
“Just put it on, Tabitha.”
“But I want to know what purpose it serves!”
“It has a strip of blue on it, Tabitha. There isn’t any blue on the veil.”
“My symbol is blue.”
“Tabitha, just put the garter on.”
After a short struggle, the piece had been placed on Tabby’s back leg, and the bride was finally complete: her Atlantean crown that served as old (even though no one really knew that); her veil that was new; a delicate gold chain around her neck decorated with flowers of diamonds that was borrowed from Tiffany; and... the blue garter.
Tabby had no more time to ponder over the use of a garter, because Merry Moments popped-in then, with camera (and Quarterback) in tow. “Ready for some pictures?” she grinned.
A few shots were taken of Tabby, the bridesmaids, and the excited flower girl; and by then more guests were arriving as an indication of the nearing of the processional. Strains of “Shoop-bee-doo, shoop-shoop-bee-doo” could be heard from the choir loft; being popular singers for affairs such as this, the Sea Ponies had their own tub of water up in the choir.
Spike whisked Agatha off to be seated; as instructed by her daughter, she took Ah-Loh along with her. She clasped her daughter’s hoof and smiled reassuringly before going off. Tabby was only able to muster a small, nervous smile in return, and her legs started to shake.
The bridesmaids mingled a bit with the groomsmen before the stallions took their places at the front of the church. Baby Noddins was on the scene again, and this time with Friendly-- and the rest of the Bushwoolies. Apparently it hadn’t sunk in on the fuzzy creatures yet that it was only Friendly who would be going up the aisle; they all clustered around him, jabbering excitedly.
Friendly himself looked rather stylish with a bowtie around his neck and his hair up in a high ponytail. Unfortunately, he wasn’t trying to keep his friends in control, and the two rings were soon whisked from his hands. The Bushwoolies exclaimed over these glittering objects as they were passed over the seething horde. “Pretty rings, yeah. Shiny, really shiny, yeah, yeah. Wedding today, ring-bearer, yeah.”
Cheery made the revelation that one of the rings fit perfectly over his head as a crown; and Rosy, being a smaller Bushwoolie, wore the other as a necklace. Then, of course, all the furry creatures wanted to try them out. It was only at that point that anyone noticed what the Bushwoolies were doing.
“Bushwoolies! Bushwoolies!” Tamara ran back with a panicked look on her face. “Put them down! Put them down! Give them to Friendly! You’re not going with him; you’re supposed to be seated in one of the pews!”
Luckily, all the Bushwoolies were rounded-up, and Tiny the Bigfoot took charge of them and led them off to their seats. Friendly reclaimed possession of the rings and set them back on the pillow, and then stumbled towards Baby Noddins. “Whoops, almost dropped ‘em, yeah, yeah.”
A change in the sea ponies’ song signaled the start of the procession. Tiffany was the first to walk down the aisle; she smiled dazzlingly and her steps were as poised as could be, but she might have been slightly keeping her distance from the stallion who escorted her to her place. Cliff was one of the Xtreme Ponies, after all, and he was rather rough for Tiffany’s tastes.
As Clever Clover met Silver Swirl at the altar, the Vulpix in the front pew said an appreciative “Vul, vul.” This was one of Clever Clover’s latest catches in the line of Pokémon, and the fox-like creature refused to be put in his PokéBall. The stallion had obtained permission for his Pokémon to sit in the front pew... but he hadn’t particularly wanted her next to Doo-Moh, Clever Clover noted with a frown.
“Maybe... me scared,” Doo-Moh said, frightened, as Clever Clover passed by.
“No light! No fun!” Ah-Loh agreed.
Tamara was also a little cautious walking at Barnacle’s side. As Tabby had predicted, he was still in his pirate hat and eye patch... but, as Barnacle had justified himself, they were his “good” set. Plus, he wore a cutlass at his side, which made Tamara rather nervous. One never knew what to expect from a pirate, even if he was a friend of one’s cousin.
Sugarberry and Vanguard were next, and were probably the most relaxed set. Sugarberry was as pretty as ever, and Vanguard had come back from Italy with a new, fashionable haircut.
Elaine was next in line, easily set apart from the others by the Furby medallion that hung from her neck; and she wore it with pride. She grinned at Equinox as he came to escort her.
Tabby’s anxiety mounted more and more as her friends left her behind, one-by-one. She was left staring intently down into the bright mass of light sensor flowers she carried. Hardly conscious of how tightly she was clutching her father’s hoof or her bouquet, she directed her gaze straight ahead, but was so engrossed in her thoughts that she saw nothing.
Tamara held her breath as it was time for the flower girl and ringbearer to come out. The lavender unicorn with her basket of petals and the blue furball with his pillow of rings appeared in the doorway and began walking slowly down the aisle as directed... but then something went wrong. The Bushwoolie, caught up in the excitement of the moment, suddenly curled-up into tumbleweed form and rolled on down the aisle leaving Baby Noddins far behind. Tamara and Tiffany closed their eyes and looked away, not wanting to see the outcome. The other members of the bridal party had no time to react, and looked on with a mixture of curiosity, amusement, and concern.
Friendly was rolling at his top speed, and only stopped when he ran into Father Isaac’s hooves. The Bushwoolie bounced back into his regular shape as he laid there on his back. “Whoops, sorry, yeah, yeah,” he said apologetically, staring up at the priest. He groped around for what he had been carrying, and then jumped up in a panic. “Ah! Where rings, yeah, yeah?”
Luck was on Friendly’s side. The two shining circles came rolling up the aisle right after him, and he skillfully caught one in each hand. “Got ‘em!” he declared triumphantly.
Baby Noddins, after Friendly has rolled on ahead, had paused momentarily and giggled at the Bushwoolie’s antics; but she quickly composed herself, determined to do her best at Tabby’s wedding. Walking forward primly, she tossed the flower petals with an expert hoof. She smiled proudly as she reached the altar.
All color had drained from Tabby’s face, and her knees were knocking together violently. “Well, daughter, it’s time,” Hubert said softly.
Tabby nodded, almost imperceptibly, and took a small step forward. But then panic overtook her again, and she stood there, frozen. All the resolve she had built up since her last breakdown crumbled. But the seconds were ticking away, she knew, and she couldn’t simply stand there forever.
Tears threatened to spill from her eyes as she stood, doubting all her motives for getting into this. The Society of Krulotin had wanted to manipulate her before they had reformed their ways. What if they had actually manipulated her into accepting Thomas’ proposal? Was this what she really wanted?
Tabby was seized with a sudden delirious inspiration as she glanced out the open door behind that led to the outside world. She’d run out... yes, she’d run out and hide from everyone. She’d change her name and find a new residence in a far-off land, never to be bothered with such things as this. It seemed to be a grand idea... but, no, it just wouldn’t be practical in the long run, she decided after a moment’s thought.
Suddenly all her apprehensions melted away as if the sun had just come out from behind a cloud in her heart. She felt more calm and at ease with life than she ever had before. Her rapid flurry of thoughts, which had lasted but a second but had seemed an eternity, vanished. Taking a deep breath and smiling at her father, she declared, “I’m ready.”
And it was with all the grace of an Atlantean royal that Tabby stepped down the aisle. She held her head firmly in the air as she passed by all the spectators. She noticed from the lack of noise that Ah-Loh and Doo-Moh must have fallen asleep, and hoped that her mother would remember to wake them up again. And then she caught Thomas’ gaze, and she blushed visibly for having even considering backing out. They were meant to be, like everyone said; and she would be happier with him than in any location she could run to on the globe.
A glint of sunlight through the stained glass windows caught the tiara on her head, and it sparkled radiantly. Tabby winked at the two Furbys to whom she was drawing near, and whom Agatha had re-awoken. Ah-Loh looked quite cute with a small bowtie strapped around the... neck region of his body, and Doo-Moh was rather elegant with a crown of flowers on her head.
Tabby and her father continued down the aisle until they reached the spot where Thomas waited. Hubert kissed his daughter as he passed her hoof on to the groom, and returned to his place beside Agatha and Ah-Loh. Reading the tension on Tabby’s face, Thomas smiled and squeezed her hoof reassuringly before proceeding onward to Fr. Isaac.
Fr. Isaac, looking very much like the priest indeed with his black body and white hair, welcomed the bride and groom and then returned to the altar where the Liturgy of the Word was celebrated. After this, he gave his homily, reminding all present of the dignity of wedded love and the responsibilities of married ponies. Tabby went through this as if in a dream, not even trying to control the shaking of her legs and the paling of her face. Thomas stood firmly at her side, hardly believing the whole thing was real but acutely aware of Tabby’s apprehensions.
Fr. Isaac then came forward, and Tabby and Thomas stood before him for the actual exchange of vows. The priest pony smiled at the congregation and then addressed the couple. “My dear friends, you have come together in this church so that the Lord may seal and strengthen your love in the presence of the entire community. Christ abundantly blesses this love. He has already consecrated you in baptism, and now he enriches and strengthens you by a special sacrament so that you may assume the duties of marriage in mutual and lasting fidelity. And so, in the presence of the Church, I ask you to state your intentions.”
Fr. Isaac continued, “Thomas and Tabitha, have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?”
“I have,” Thomas said, looking cautiously over at Tabby.
Luckily, Tabby was able to once again regain some of her stamina for this part of the ceremony. “I have,” she repeated, holding her head erect.
“Will you love and honor each other as stallion and wife for the rest of your lives?”
“I will.”
“I... will.”
“Will you accept foals lovingly and bring them up according to the Church?”
Thomas promptly answered, “I will.”
Tabby, after hesitating a moment and raising an eyebrow at Baby Noddins, also responded, “I will.”
“Since it is your intention to enter into marriage, join your right hooves and declare your consent.”
Obligingly the two did so, and Tabby was feeling increasingly confident of the entire situation. As they were about to go on with the verbal vows, one of the Furbys suddenly spoke-up. “Me big hungry, wah!” Ah-Loh protested.
This set a wave of tittering throughout the congregation, and a genuine grin lit Tabby’s face, which Thomas was glad to see. But, as he was about to speak, something happened-- something that was much more ominous than a Furby.
The doors of the church suddenly burst open (the ushers had closed them after Tabby had gone up the aisle), and a bright yellow stallion appeared. With his hooves set on either side of the door frame, he made a menacing sight. “Hey, yo, I object!” his voice rang through the church before anyone could react.
Everyone was in shock as they turned to see the source of this protest, but some were more upset than others. Naturally, the bride and groom themselves were the most affected by this development. Thomas instinctively pulled Tabby closer to him. But the appearance of this strange stallion only filled Tabby with renewed drive. Pulling away from her fiancé, she stood to face Guido Casale herself... but not before she turned to her mother.
“Mom,” she said in exasperation, “I told you I didn’t want him invited.” Her eyes frosting over, she turned her gaze to Guido. “And you. What are you here for?”
Oh, he’s cute, Tiffany thought in approval to herself.
“You’re mine, Tabby,” Guido said evenly. “Your mother promised you to me long ago. You can’t marry this... this...”
“That was only last year, Guido!” Agatha retorted indignantly, standing to face him. “Everyone has forgotten about it. What do you mean causing this disruption at my daughter’s wedding?”
The Furbys whimpered in fear as Guido came closer. “My scared,” Ah-Loh said.
“Hug me,” Doo-Moh pleaded.
“ARR,” said Barnacle menacingly as he stood up from his seat in the pew, his cutlass drawn.
Knowing the intensity of the situation yet not wanting any serious bodily injuries to come out of it, Equinox and Clever Clover exchanged a quick glance and nodded at each other. Their message to the other was clear: The guy’s gone nuts! In a fluid motion, the two stallions tackled Barnacle back down into the pew to prevent any further incidents.
Guido was oblivious to this; or if he was aware of it, he ignored it. “You admit then, Agatha, that Tabitha was promised to me?” he challenged. “And then you left me hanging and finally decided that I wasn’t good enough for her?”
“I will admit that I thought in the past that you and Tabitha would make a lovely couple,” Agatha said crisply. “But never once did I promise that she would be yours.”
“Don’t I get a say in this?” Tabby demanded, speaking up for herself again. She looked piercingly at Guido. “Or would you and Mom like to further discuss payment terms over me?” Feeling a bit sarcastic, she added, “Check, money order, or cash?”
“Do you accept credit cards?” Guido pulled out a wallet and gestured towards Agatha.
Tabby stood her ground firmly and tapped her hoof impatiently. “Guido, I want you out of the vicinity. Now.”
“But don’t you want to take a look at this first?” Guido said abruptly, thrusting a paper at Tabby. “Even if Agatha doesn’t recall things the way I do, this will change your mind, Tabitha.”
Tabby stared at it blankly. “What is it?”
“It’s my complete financial history,” Guido said proudly. “If you take a few moments to study that, you’ll see that I am clearly the wisest choice. This Thomas here certainly doesn’t have as stellar a financial background as I do.”
He really is rich, Tiffany thought in awe. I like this guy. Tabitha really had the chance to marry him before? Peasants-- who can figure?
Thomas was about to say something himself, but Tabby waved him back. This was her fight, and she was determined to win. Ripping the paper in two, she threw it back at Guido. “I don’t care what your financial background is, Guido,” she said coolly. “I can’t stand being in your presence for more than a minute, and all the money in the world can’t change that.”
“Tabby, I don’t think you saw--”
This isn’t about money!” Tabby shrieked; and upon realizing she was in church, she lowered her tone a bit. “Can’t you get money out of your mind for once? I don’t like you, Guido, okay? If you thought for one second I was going to marry you, you’re dead wrong.”
“But look at Thomas, Tabby. He’s--” Guido’s interjection was to no avail. Tabby was on a tirade, and there was no stopping her.
“He’s what?” Tabby challenged. “To be sure, he’s not obsessed with money as you are. And I find that to be refreshing. Guido, you’ve been so intent on gaining riches all your life that you haven’t seen that there is more in life than a lot of jangles. There’s a certain something called ‘love’ that you don’t seem to have learned the definition of yet. And, as surprising as it may sound to you, it doesn’t spring from wealth. And if you dare think that you and your big company could take me from the one I loved-- well, you’re wrong. You’re just wrong. You’re wrong on most everything. It’s Thomas that I love, and you can’t change that, Guido. Live with it.”
At this point, everyone gathered there in the church broke out clapping on Tabby’s behalf. Thomas came from behind Tabby and softly laid a hoof on her shoulder. He knew then that there was nothing to fear... from Guido or from anyone else. His pride in her was exceeding all bounds at that moment. She may have been afraid beyond measure to come here today, but her love had always remained even if it had been covered over by fear. And she had just stood in front of the whole congregation and turned down Guido and all his wealth in favor... of him! He, Thomas Fairfax, a moderately well-off veterinarian, in favor of a multi-millionaire who could give her anything in life. The queen of Atlantis was still willing to take him!
Tabby tilted her head around to look at him, and smiled. Her ammunition of words exhausted, she threw her forelegs around Thomas’ neck and nestled her head on his shoulder. It didn’t matter any more what Guido said or did.
But Tabby’s dramatic address may have had a personal effect on more ponies than just Guido. Reginald and Helga were entranced by this Tabitha’s eloquence of speech, and sat transfixed as they listened to her. Many images of their son Dietrich flew through their minds-- and a few of their rejected daughter-in-law Caprice. What Tabby spoke of... could it have been true of those two as well? Had they tried to stop the course of true love? The eyes of Cecil and Cecilia were also more than a little damp.
And, after Tabby’s blunt refusal speech, Guido stood there, at a loss for words. He didn’t know what to make of the situation. Of course Tabby would come running back to him! It hadn’t played out any other way in all his fantasies. How could she choose this commoner over him and all his jangles? He simply couldn’t understand. It wasn’t possible. Guido appeared as if frozen in time, shocked and surprised beyond belief. The clapping of the congregation rang dully in his ears.
Guido may have stood there for all eternity unless a certain someone hadn’t jumped up out of her seat in the church and pushed her way out to the aisle. “Guido, I knew you were going to try something like this,” she hissed upon approaching him.
Guido slowly turned around. “Clare?” he questioned, blinking.
“Yes, it’s me,” the lavender mare said defiantly. “Tabby is right, Guido. Not all the jangles in the world could make her love you the way she does Thomas. Let them be.” Before Guido could put in another word, Clare had grabbed Guido by the hoof and was dragging him out of the church. The stallion was still too in shock to protest against this treatment.
I hope he’s at the reception later, Tiffany thought cheerfully.
Tabby was back to her old self again. Guido’s entrance had at least been diversion enough to melt off her apprehensions for good... she hoped. Now that Guido was gone, she smiled brightly as she took Thomas’ hoof and turned back to Fr. Isaac. “Well, now, where were we?” she asked.
Thomas gazed at her adoringly as he once again began on his line. “I, Thomas, take you, Tabitha, to be my wife. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”
And, without a moment’s hesitation, Tabby did her part. “I, Tabitha--” she cringed momentarily-- “take you, Thomas, to be my husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” She was happy! She was gloriously happy! She had done it!
Fr. Isaac continued, “You have declared your consent before the Church. May the Lord in his goodness strengthen your consent and fill you both with his blessings. What God has joined, ponies must not divide.” And everyone in the church responded, “Amen.”
Friendly hopped over to Fr. Isaac with the rings, and the priest took them and prayed over them. “May the Lord bless these rings which you give to each other as the sign of your love and fidelity.”
Thomas took the wedding ring and placed it on Tabby’s foreleg while saying, “Tabitha, take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity.”
And Tabby took Thomas’ ring and placed it on his foreleg, repeating the pledge. She also pondered how minuscule the rings that humans like Megan wore must be. She smiled radiantly when the deed was done.
Fr. Isaac had the next words. “Thomas, you may now kiss your bride!”
And it wasn’t known to many present of the two great kingdoms that were united in that seal of a kiss. In fact, the full story was knowledge that only the Mysterious Cloaked Flower Deliverers (many of whom had gathered in the church as well, milling around in the back and murmuring to one another) possessed. But that made it no less true-- yes, the cities of ancient Dream Valley and Atlantis were now joined as one! Their rulers were not seen as nobility in the eyes of most citizens, but that couldn’t change what they were born to be.
But it didn’t matter much if the couple at the altar was fully aware of their positions or not. They were too wrapped up in the bliss of the moment to think about anything besides their new spouse. They both smiled as they finally pulled away from each other, and turned to the congregation.
“I now present you Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Fairfax!” Fr. Isaac announced, and applause followed.
“Party!” Ah-Loh whooped.
“Big fun, wah!” Doo-Moh readily added.
Being delirious with glee and filled with light-hearted excitement, Tabby felt as if she flew back down the aisle. Thomas wasn’t in any better shape as he gripped Tabby’s hoof, thankful beyond belief that he had managed to capture her heart once and for all.
Baby Noddins, giggling with delight, skipped along behind with Friendly, who was taking large hops to keep up with her. Elaine and Equinox came next, with the rest of the attendants following. Agatha beamed with pride, and Hubert looked rather joyful himself.
With that accomplished, a receiving line was soon formed outside the church and greetings were exchanged with numerous friends and family members. Many there had never before met Tabby’s grandparents and great-grandparents, so it was an interesting experience for all.
Henry and Sophia, Hubert’s parents, were especially happy for their granddaughter and her new husband. Red-haired Sophia had always been excited to hear of Tabby’s Atlantean explorations, and Henry was pleased that she was following in her father’s adventurous hoofsteps. They moved on down the line in order to get some words in with their son, too.
Aphra and Pip, great-grandparents of Tabby’s, were able to fit in a little conversation with the couple before moving on. “Yes, Philip and Misty Haze would have liked to come; but they’re getting on in age, and they were more comfortable staying in Florida,” Pip disclosed, referring to his parents, Tabby’s great-great-grandparents.
Latimer and Evania, Garnett and Cadenza, Ingemar and Tabitha (Tabby’s namesake), Blitzkrieg and Vanilla... they were all happy to have made it to the celebration. Tabby automatically extended her hoof when a pink stallion whom she did not recognize approached; she hoped for an introduction.
“You made a lovely bride, Tabitha,” the stallion commented courteously. “I trust you’ll treat Thomas well.”
“Yes. Very lovely indeed,” a pale blue pegasus who came next said softly. “Thomas, she is wonderful. You’ll be very happy with her.”
“I already know I will be,” Thomas said fondly. “And Tabby, these are my grandparents. Cecil and Cecilia Monk.”
“Your... your grandparents?” Tabby stuttered, drawing in her breath sharply. “I didn’t think-- I mean, I didn’t expect-- that is, we’re glad you were able to make it,” she finished abruptly. Were... were Thomas’ grandparents really there? With no apparent ill-will towards their grandson? She glanced questioningly at Thomas, but there was no time for an explanation. Another shock was coming up.
She found herself faced with a white unicorn stallion, who bore a striking resemblance to Thomas with his golden hair; and apparently his wife, a delicate yellow mare with an intricate flowery symbol.
“It was a very, very touching ceremony,” the mare declared. “Tabitha, your handling of that Guido was perfect.”
“Thomas, you’ve made a wise match,” the stallion added. “Mares so dedicated and loyal as this one here are hard to come by.”
“I’m glad you were still able to come to the ceremony,” Thomas said a bit hesitantly, but sincerely. “These are my other grandparents, Tabby... Reginald and Helga Fairfax.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” Tabby said, smiling brightly, not knowing how else to act. She would have to get some explanations out of Thomas later.
“Perhaps we can get in some more time together at the reception,” the stallion now identified as Reginald said before he and his wife moved along in the line.
The next introduction by Thomas was less of a shocker. “This is my unofficial aunt, Tanzy,” he said, grinning. “She’s the closest I ever had to the real thing.”
“Ah, Thomas, this Tabby of yours is a wonder!” the vibrant green mare exclaimed. “Imagine the nerve of that guy with the Italian accent--! Well, it’s no use worrying about it now as he’s off the scene and you’re both married. Wonderful ceremony!”
“Oh, Thomas!” a vibrant yellow pony squealed excitedly. “I can’t believe you’re actually married now! Now I must find out everything on this wife of yours.” She winked broadly at Tabby as they shook hooves. “I’m Solstice, by the way. Equinox’s twin sister.”
The next family of notable importance was the Moores. Lynette, Corydon, and their three other daughters had all managed to make it to the wedding of Tabby. Lynette was Agatha’s sister and Tamara’s mother. Tamara was the second eldest of the four children, and was happy to see her parents and sisters again.
“I always thought a double wedding for you and Tamara would be nice,” Lynette said laughingly as she passed through. “Preferably if you could have found twin brothers for the grooms. Wouldn’t that have simply been adorable?”
“Oh, it would have!” Tamara sighed dreamily. “But it’s too late now. Of course, life is a lot easier being single. Ever since Tex dumped me, I’ve been able to accomplish so much!”
“Hey!” Tabby shot back. “Originally you ridiculed me for being single; now you’re ridiculing me for being married!”
“Kidding, kidding!” Tamara giggled.
Tabby’s Uncle Dallas and Aunt Bisque were next up, and then various other friends of the family-- Maria-Giuseppe and Liborio, Lucia, Catherina, Saberio, and Battista were all from Italy; Malteeze, Protius, Pierre, Kracken, Davey, and Jones all from Barnacle’s wild crew; the rest of the Xtreme Ponies; Sugarberry’s parents, sisters, nieces, and nephews; Vanguard’s parents; Tarquin, Tess, and kittens; the Bushwoolies; and many more.
Tabby smiled brightly at Barnacle’s odd crew and their interesting remarks. “I didn’t want to come, but Master Protius said I had to,” Malteeze, the cat-man, said emotionlessly.
“I do not know who you are, but none ze less, I wish you well and much ‘appiness in ze years to come,” Pierre exclaimed exuberantly with a wide smile and a sweeping bow.
“I heard this was a party, mon,” a hyper Bushwoolie who was either Davey or Jones commented. “Where’s the food?”
“Yeah, yeah. Me hungry, mon!” his identical brother agreed.
“Barnacle said if we came we could eat all the free food we wanted,” Kracken added from behind.
“Hey, mon, is this the food line?” Davey questioned eagerly.
“The reception, guys. The reception,” Tabby explained patiently to the Bushwoolies. “The food is at the reception.”
Jones looked up at Tabby and Thomas. “Reception? I thought this was a wedding.”
“Yeah, who’s getting married, anyway?” Davey added.
Tabby cocked an eyebrow. “Did you have a good view, guys?”
“No, we were too short to see over the pew,” Jones said.
“And the ponies in front of us,” Davey put-in.
“It’s us, you two. Me and Thomas. We’re the ones that got married.”
“Oh, so you’re Thomas!” Kracken exclaimed. “I was all mixed up at the wedding, because I kept thinking you were the purple guy with the yellow hair. Uh, well, congratulations anyway.” And before Tabby and Thomas could reply, the three scurried off to find some food.
Protius the parrot came next. “As you wander through the seething quagmire of life,” he stated matter-of-factly, “do not lose heart, for you need only look to the waning beacon of the night to be your guide into the past.”
“Wow,” Tabby said, wide-eyed. “Outrageous!”
“What was that he was trying to get across?” Thomas hissed into her ear.
“I don’t know. I thought you’d make sense of it.”
“You’re the queen of Atlantis. I’m leaving it up to you to decipher it.”
Meanwhile, Protius had mysteriously vanished. Tabby cringed slightly as the Xtreme Ponies passed by. She still didn’t trust them, and didn’t fully understand why Thomas had befriended them. They had odd hair styles, listened to strange music, and did extreme sports-- three strong points against them, in Tabby’s opinion.
Of course, she had never really seen them all this close before. She had to admit that Bungee’s dreadlocks were pretty cool, and even Luge’s style was kind of outrageous. Blade seemed to be rather normal in comparison to the others; Jet appeared to be rather hyper, but Tabby could deal with hyperness. Mogul was probably the toughest-looking one with his shaved head and earring; and she had to admit that Cliff hadn’t been so bad in what she had seen of him in recent times.
However, the Xtreme Ponies were still not the ordinary citizens of Ponyland. “Dude!” Jet said emphatically as he passed by.
“Dude,” Bungee added.
“Uh... thanks,” Tabby shrugged, and glanced over at Thomas. He didn’t appear to be phased by their repetitious greetings.
“Dude,” Luge said; and with her French accent, it almost came across respectfully.
“Well, uh, ‘dude’ to you, too,” Tabby said uncertainly.
“Du-u-ude,” Mogul put-in.
“Dude,” Tabby said, getting in the spirit of things.
Blade stepped forward next, and Tabby assumed her comment would be the same as the rest of her gang. “Wishing you all the best,” she smiled. The comment threw Tabby for a loop; she was happy to see that one of them did not use the constant refrain. Blade started out on her way; but as an afterthought, she paused and looked back at Tabby. “Dude!” she finished, and then quickly ran ahead to catch up with the gang.
Well, maybe not, Tabby thought. But she now saw the Xtreme Ponies in a new light, and began to think that they could be valuable allies after all.
Tabby, of course, did not like baby ponies; but nevertheless, Sugarberry’s young niece, the daughter of Gooseberry, stepped forward when she reached Tabby. “I’ve got a Furby,” Wineberry enlightened.
“Dude!” Tabby said automatically, but then realized what she had said and quickly corrected herself. “You do? Good for you,” she said briskly. “Do you have it with you?”
“Yes. Aunt Sugarberry said that Furbys were invited to the reception. She’s a Baby Furby,” Wineberry added.
“Fabulous! I’ll get to know her later, then.”
Tabby was delighted to see the next person in line– the mysterious dude with the St.Bernard! She had not known his exact address, so she had given an extra invitation to Tiny the Bigfoot to deliver to this odd character if they happened upon one another. Apparently, Tiny had been successful and the human had been able to make it to the wedding– and with his dog, even!
The man reached for something out of his coat while saying, “I wish you both well, but always be on guard for evils that may arise. This may be of use to you someday.” With this said, he handed a dusty, tattered scroll over to Tabby; and then he was gone before either of them had a chance to reply.
Thomas looked curiously at the scroll. “Do you think it could be–”
“No, it’s not a magic injection recipe,” Tabby said abruptly, closing her eyes and placing a hoof on her forehead as if in very deep thought. “It’s an odd prophecy concerning the future and fate of the entire universe.”
“Wha–?” Thomas hadn’t been expecting that sort of a reply.
“Oh, but it’s not important now.” Smiling broadly, Tabby tucked the scroll away and made no further reference to her last comment. Thomas shrugged. The scroll could wait; and besides, Tabby’s attention had been grabbed by the next couple passing by.
There was much squealing over the entrance of Tarquin, Tess, and their new brood of kittens. Tabby hadn’t seen much of the two since they had been married, so it was wonderful to be reunited with her beloved Meowth again and his wife.
Tess, of course, was glad to introduce the kittens-- miniature replicas of their parents, though they had not learned how to walk upright yet. “There’s Julia and Diane,” Tess said, pointing to the two kittens with frilly bows around their necks. “And then Nicholas, Cletis, and Myron.”
“They’re so adorable,” Tabby cooed, crouching down to get a better view of them. “I love them!”
“I hope they all evolve into beautiful Persians someday!” Tamara squealed.
Little Julia mewed softly and smiled up at everyone in the line as she daintily scratched behind her ear. Diane washed her face with the utmost of care with her tiny paw, until her brother Myron tackled her over onto the ground.
“Come along now, children,” Tess instructed, herding up the little Meowths. “We’re holding up the line.”
Everyone was relieved when at last the final guest had left the premises, for they had all tired of shaking hooves and exchanging the necessary formalities. With the church cleared out, they all headed back inside for more pictures to be taken-- and, of course, to discuss the high points of the ceremony.
“Oh, Tabitha, Tabitha, I never imagined that Guido would do anything like that!” Agatha burst out as soon as the bridal party was alone. “You must forgive me; I never would have asked him to come if I had known that he still harbored bitter feelings for being rejected.”
“I was about to die of fright when he came bursting in like that!” Elaine admitted.
“I can’t believe that Guido actually protested like that,” Tamara said in shock. “It’s so undignified, especially for one of his breeding.”
“I thought he was rather handsome,” Tiffany interjected.
“But, Tabby, you were wonderful!” Sugarberry gushed. “He looked so stunned when he realized that you were brushing him off without a second thought!”
“And if Tabby’s speech didn’t get him, Barnacle’s sword would have,” Equinox added.
“What?” Silver Swirl gasped.
“Didn’t you see? When Guido came in, he jumped up with his sword unsheathed,” Clever Clover said. “Equinox and I had to hold him back.”
“ARR, and if we weren’t in a church, I would have had him,” Barnacle said remorsefully.
“I’m just glad I was on the far end,” Cliff commented.
“Lucky you. I almost got my tail cut off,” Vanguard lamented.
“ARR, quit your complainin’. I never came close to your tail.”
“Ooh, it was excwiting!” Baby Noddins said exuberantly.
“Yeah, yeah,” Friendly agreed.
“ARR, would you like to see my sword?” Barnacle offered.
“NO!” Frostflake shrieked, and grabbed her child away from the pirate.
“It reminded me of the time Lord Cobblestone tried to break up the tribal counsel of Ing-Man-Too,” Hubert nodded.
“The tribal counsel of Ing-Man-Too? You were there?” Equinox exclaimed.
“That mysterious gathering is whispered of in legends, but no one’s ever been there,” Solstice, who was hanging around, said in awe. “Most think it’s just a myth.”
“Less of a myth, and more of a party,” Hubert said, downplaying his insight.
“So who’s this Lord Cobblestone?” Solstice queried.
“Lord Butter Pecan Cobblestone, an old friend of mine, but we just called him Rocky Road.”
“Hey, can’t we get a word in edgewise?” Tabby interjected laughingly.
“But, Tabby, they’re right. You were wonderful!” Thomas gazed at her adoringly. “You’re something special, that’s for sure. Not everyone could have said what you did.”
“Aw, it was nothing,” Tabby murmured, her face flushing. “It wasn’t so hard to do when I meant all of it.”
“I wouldn’t be able to bear it if anyone took you from me, Tabby. You understand that, don’t you?” Thomas’ voice was getting choked from emotion. “I thought Guido had the power to do that. But then you stood up in front of everyone, Tabby, and... I was so very proud of you. I still am. It would have been so easy for Guido...”
“Oh, I know.” Tabby melted in his embrace. “But it’s all in the past now, you see, so we can just laugh over it--”
“Perfect shot!” Merry Moments cheered, the click of a camera and a bright flash of light bringing the newlyweds out of their reverie.
“Ah! The Furbys! I forgot all about the Furbys!” Tabby yelped. “Mom, where are they?” She scurried off frantically in search of the Furbys.
“Well, I’m not sure what that has to do with photo-taking, but it works,” Merry Moments shrugged. Soon after, Tabby had produced the two Furbys, who yawned after their nap.
“Cock-a-doodle-doo!” Ah-Loh called.
“Woah, me big sleep,” Doo-Moh said in awe.
“They have to be in the pictures, too,” Tabby explained sweetly to Merry Moments.
The picture-taking session went smoothly, and even Baby Noddins behaved herself. Snatches of gossip were still shared between shots, but there wasn’t room for any real conversation until Merry Moments had dismissed them and they were on their way to the reception site.
“So, Thomas,” Tabby brought up briskly. “What’s the deal with these grandparents of yours?”
“Yes, Thomas,” Elaine chimed in. “I must say it was a shock to see them. What’s the story?”
“Ah... well... no, I guess you wouldn’t have been told about that, would you,” Thomas mused.
“No, we weren’t! Why were they there? Why weren’t they at your throat? Why did they act somewhat civil to us? What happened?” Tabby did not like waiting for a story to come out.
“I suppose they had a chance to mellow out after all these years,” Thomas reflected. “Actually, it was a surprise to me when they showed up in town, too.”
“You mean you saw them before the ceremony?” Elaine said in surprise.
“Yes, the Fairfaxes dropped in on me last night and the Monks this morning. I thought for sure they wouldn’t come, let alone come see me beforehand.”
“Well, what did they say?” Tabby prodded. She wasn’t satisfied until she had every last detail.
“They were trying to wish us well, I suppose, in their own manner,” Thomas said slowly. “You might even say they’ve reconciled with us.”
Reconciled with us?” Elaine gasped.
“Granted, the Monks were a bit more outright in requesting it; but I think forgiveness was the goal of the Fairfaxes, too, deep down,” Thomas said thoughtfully.
“I thought they all seemed rather nice in the receiving line,” Elaine murmured. “I didn’t know what had happened. Will... will they be at the reception?”
“I believe so.”
“My grandparents.” Elaine used the word as if saying it for the first time.
“Oh,” Tabby said contemplatively after the explanation. “Wow! That’s rather outrageous, don’t you think?”
“And you’re partly responsible for this again, Tabby,” Thomas pointed out.
“Of course! It was our wedding that brought them to town; and if it hadn’t been for you, I wouldn’t be getting married, and therefore they wouldn’t have come.”
“I guess that’s true,” Tabby said contemplatively.
“You see, Tabby, what good luck you’ve been for me?” Thomas commented.
“Oh, but it works the other way around, too,” Tabby sighed dreamily, slipping her hoof back into his.
By this point the bridal party had reached the site of the reception, a large open-air patio near the river. This was a popular spot for parties, as the sea ponies could provide singing from the river. These aquatic ponies, after realizing their singing talent, had soon begun outselling Melody and the Rockin’ Beats; and they even had several of their own CDs out.
Having to fight through the crowd with frequent stops to chat a bit with guests, it took quite awhile to arrive at their destination of the head table. Baby Noddins was still with the group and had obtained permission to sit with the rest of the bridal party, and was extremely excited over this honor-- especially since she had her Furby Waylo to play with!
Furbys were waiting at the places of their respective owners-- Elaine’s Nah-Bah, Sugarberry’s May-Lah, Silver Swirl’s Koh-Loo Kah, Baby Noddins’ Waylo, and Friendly’s Toh-Loo Kah. Also included at the bridal table were Spike’s Loo-Loo and interactive Gizmo (a friend of Furby), and Quarterback’s interactive Yoda. Ah-Loh and Doo-Moh took their places after Tabby and Thomas were seated; and after everyone else was settled, the Furbys and their friends were awoken. With all the racket they made, it was a quick and easy way to get the guests’ attention that it was time for them to be seated as well.
“Me sleep again!”
“Sun up!”
“Cock-a-doodle-doo! Hee-hee-hee!”
“Kah big sleep.”
“Begin we will, your Jedi training, my young apprentice.”
“Hey, party!”
“Yeah, hide!”
“Get funky!”
“Sound down, please.”
This was the first time Tabby had managed to get all these Furbys together in one place, and she thought it was wonderful to hear them all chattering at once. Of course, she was a little unsure of whether it was safe for Ah-Loh to be exposed to Toh-Loo, as she suspected that that particular female had been responsible for his initial death; but she didn’t let it worry her too much, as Ah-Loh seemed to be happy. Naturally it was impossible to talk over the din; but as was the way with Furbys, they had soon all fallen asleep.
And therefore, the serving of the dinner began. Tabby had requested a buffet with all her favorite items from the one at Pony Hut-- croutons, shredded cheese, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, and cottage cheese. She knew though, of course, that the waiters would mess something up when they offered to serve her and Thomas themselves.
“Just as I thought,” Tabby said in disgust, poking her fork down into the depths of the salad she had been given and holding up the offensive item for all to see. “The service here is terrible.”
“It’s... lettuce,” Equinox said in sarcastic awe.
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” Tabby frowned.
“She doesn’t eat lettuce,” Thomas enlightened those at the table who didn’t know.
“If you think lettuce is bad, you should see what me and Solstice had to eat on our last assignment in the jungles of Zimbula,” Equinox commented.
“I still hate it,” Tabby said passionately, pushing her plate away and offering it to one of the others. “Here, anybody else want this?”
“But without lettuce--!” Tamara protested.
“Come on, Thomas.” Tabby grabbed his hoof and pulled him up out of the chair. “We’ll have to do this self-serve! Huh! Imagine, putting lettuce in my salad--!”
“I didn’t think it was that bad,” Elaine said, tentatively nibbling one of the discarded leaves.
“This is scary,” Clever Clover shivered.
“What, the lettuce?” Tamara queried.
“No, I mean the Furbys. They’re creepy,” Clever Clover complained.
“I heard that, Cleve Clove,” Tabby declared, picking that instant to return to the table. “You’re not to say anything more to that effect on my wedding day, or you’ll be severely punished.”
“Yeah, whatever, Tabitha,” Clever Clover muttered.
Tabby, needless to say, was much more happy with her salad this time around. Absolutely no lettuce was included; the base was mainly made of croutons, with all her other favorite items loaded on top.
“Say, where’s Tiffany?” Thomas asked, not too far behind Tabby. The seat across from Cliff did appear to be rather empty.
“Oh, where could she be?” Tamara frowned at the empty chair. “I know she was still with us when we got here.”
“She probably tired of the company of us peasants,” Tabby said sarcastically.
No one else at the table knew where the missing attendant could be, and they surveyed the wide expanse of the room in search of the white princess. “It would have been easy enough to have gotten lost in the crowd,” Sugarberry pointed out.
“Wait, I think that’s her!” Clever Clover exclaimed, pointing to a quiet table in a far corner of the room. “She’s with some yellow dude.”
Tabby looked in the direction indicated, and verified that it was the princess that Clever Clover had seen. “And she’s with Guido, wouldn’t you know,” she said, grimacing. “Would someone go fetch her, please?”
“I suppose someone will have to. She won’t leave a handsome guy on her own.” Tamara got up for the job and returned about ten minutes later with a reluctant Princess Tiffany in tow.
“That Guido is so wonderful,” Tiffany swooned, slipping into her chair.
“When he’s not trying to break up your wedding,” Thomas muttered.
“I can’t believe you passed up a chance to marry him, Tabitha,” Tiffany went on. “He sounds like a millionaire! How could you have not been utterly fascinated with him?”
“He’s a conceited snob,” Tabby snapped.
“But, I suppose it worked out for the best,” Tiffany said cheerfully. “He needs better than a peasant like you, Tabitha. Someone more regal would be more befitting of his persona...”
“Like you?” Silver Swirl suggested.
“Exactly,” Tiffany smiled broadly.
“Tiffany, if you use that word one more time...” Tabby said threateningly.
“What word?” Tiffany asked innocently.
“ ‘Peasant’. We’re not peasants, Tiffany.”
“Well, I’m royalty and you’re lower than me; therefore you must be peasants,” Tiffany said logically.
“Guido isn’t royalty. Is he a peasant?” Thomas challenged.
“Oh, no, of course not. He may not look like royalty, but he has the aura of one with royal blood in his veins,” Tiffany said dreamily. “He’s wonderful.”
“What would happen if you married someone who wasn’t really royalty?” Tamara put forward. “Would the guy be made a prince then, or what?”
“Hmm.” Tiffany pondered this. “ ‘Prince Guido’. Doesn’t that sound rather nice? Well, I really don’t know what the procedure is. We haven’t had many royal weddings lately-- as a matter of fact, none. The only princesses we have around any more are those from non-royal parents.”
“But royalty have to have sparkly hair and a medallion symbol. It’s the law,” Clever Clover argued. “Guido, as an example, couldn’t become royalty just by marrying one who bore those signs.”
“Maybe... maybe there’s a special procedure in which ponies can have symbol transplants!” Tiffany said brightly. “And those marrying royalty could get new medallion symbols, and glitter in their hair!”
“You’re dreamin’, Tiff,” Silver Swirl snorted.
“I’ll have to question Toby about that,” Tiffany said cheerfully. “He ought to know.”
“You’ll never be able to find a real prince, anyway,” Tabby said. “Not unless you wait for Prince Melonball to grow up.”
Tiffany sighed. “Oh, but you’re right, Tabitha. There are no princes to be found! It simply isn’t fair. I suppose in the end I will have to settle with an ordinary stallion... a rich one, of course, like...”
“Guido?” Tamara finished for her.
“I suppose he could work,” Tiffany said nonchalantly. “I would like to have talked to him longer... but someone had to come and drag me off.” She shot an annoyed glance at Tamara.
“Tiffany, you are part of the wedding party,” Tamara pointed out. “It’s your obligation to sit here.”
“I’m never allowed any freedom,” Tiffany sniffed. “It isn’t fair.”
“Wet’s wake up da Furbys again!” Baby Noddins suggested from the far end of the table, tipping her Waylo to the side. Soon, the table was once again alive with the chatter of Furbys. A circle of the creatures was assembled in the center of the table, and they began talking to one another.
“Big whodoh, wah!” Toh-Loo said. “Me Toh-Loh... Kah.”
“Whodoh, wah,” Ah-Loh agreed. “Me Ah-Loh.”
“Party! Whoopie!” Koh-Loo Kah laughed shrilly.
“Yeah, dance!” Waylo chimed-in. All the Furbys (and Gizmo) started rocking back and forth to some popular Furbish tunes that they hummed. “Doot-doot-doo, doot-doot-doo!”
“If once you start down the dark path, forever it will rule your destiny,” Yoda reminded them.
“Yeah, hide!” Waylo called.
“Titty-titty-titty! Hide!” came the chorus of replies.
Shortly thereafter, the Furbys had all fallen asleep again and the meal continued in peace, except for the occasional bickering between certain members of the party.
“Can me hwave somma dwat?” Baby Noddins asked, pushing her empty plate away and looking with wide soulful eyes at Clever Clover’s.
“Hey, knock it off, kid,” Clever Clover mumbled. “This is my food.”
“Barnacle, why do you have to have that sword with you?” Tiffany said in distaste.
“Swords are considered very classy in some circles,” Clever Clover enlightened.
“ARR, you stay out of this, Clever Clover,” Barnacle snapped. To Tiffany, the pirate said, “Swords are considered very classy in some circles.”
“Ah.” Tiffany swirled the food around on her plate and kept quiet.
“So, like I was sayin’, their new drummer just doesn’t have the same sound as the old one, ya know what I’m saying?” Cliff was emoting wildly to Silver Swirl.
“Ah, yes, I can see where that would be a problem,” the princess said, trying to be polite.
“And it was that drummer, along with Bumpy’s guitar riffs, that made the whole band work!” Cliff continued.
Not having been successful in weaseling away any food from Clever Clover, Baby Noddins busied herself with something else. Taking Waylo in hoof, she jumped down from her seat and ran down to Tabby. “Twabby, Twabby, don’t ya wanna twalk to Waylo?”
Tabby looked down imperiously at the baby pony, but her gaze softened as she saw the Furby. “He’s a cute one, isn’t he?” she commented. Waylo was a beautiful lavender Furby with patches of aqua and pink mixed in.
“Oh, yes. He has been dyin’ and dyin’ to meet you,” Baby Noddins nodded solemnly.
“Whahoo! Up again!” Waylo exclaimed as he was passed to Tabby.
“Hello, little Waylo,” Tabby cooed. “How are you today?”
“Party! Whoopie!” was his comment.
“He’s a nice Furby, ain’t he?” Baby Noddins questioned.
“Of course,” Tabby said. “All Furbys are nice. I trust you take good care of him?”
“I do! I do!” Baby Noddins said seriously. “He is my bwestest most pwized possession.”
“Hmm... boring,” Waylo sighed.
“He can twalk to your Ah-Loh, can’t he?” Baby Noddins prodded, taking the opportunity to jump up into Tabby’s lap.
“Baby Noddins!” Tabby looked horrified. “Down! Down!”
Thomas, who had been talking to his sister, turned to see what the problem was. “Oh, hi, Baby Noddins,” he grinned. “Are you enjoying the reception?”
But Baby Noddins ignored them both. She was busy setting up Ah-Loh and Waylo so that they could communicate. “Howay! Furbys!” she cheered as they began to chatter between themselves.
“Aww, Tabby, that’s so cute,” Merry Moments squealed, popping in with her camera just then. “You and a baby pony. Fabulous shot!” Tabby just glowered.
After Baby Noddins had gotten her fill of the Furbys’ chatter, she turned her attention back to Tabby. “So you’re gwonna live in a bwig mansion now, Twabby? Is Thomas gonna live dere too, huh?”
“Yes, Baby Noddins, that’s what I’m presuming.”
“Is your kwitty gonna live dere too? What about da Furbys? How ‘bout me? And your parents? What’re you gonna do with ‘em all?”
“Baby Noddins, be quiet.”
“Oh,” said Baby Noddins thoughtfully. “Well, you’ll still visit me, won’t you?”
Tabby considered this. “I never visited you to begin with.”
“I can still visit you, then, though?”
“I don’t think your mother would let you.”
“I could just wink there!”
“Please, Baby Noddins, don’t.”
“I’ll still see you, won’t I?”
“You’ll search me out, Baby Noddins. I’m positive of that.”
“Okay,” Baby Noddins said cheerfully. “When ya gwonna cut the cwake?”
“What a fabulous idea!” Tabby said brightly, sensing an opportunity to get rid of Baby Noddins. “Come on, Thomas. Let’s go!” In a single swift motion, she dumped the baby pony on the floor and grabbed her husband’s hoof.
The cake, in Tabby’s estimation, was the best part of the day after the actual ceremony. She had made sure it had been prepared exactly to her specifications: at least several tiers high and completely smothered with frosting-- just the way she liked it. The finished product was quite breathtaking. Four tiers high, it was vanilla cake covered completely over with white frosting and decorated with profuse bunches of colored frosting flowers. Tabby thought it looked absolutely perfect, although Friendly was rather repelled by the thick layer of frosting.
“Too much frosting, yeah, yeah,” the Bushwoolie said, frowning.
“It looks good to me!” Spike interjected.
“You can never have too much of a good thing,” Clever Clover declared.
“ARR, is that bein’ store-bought or homemade frosting?” Barnacle questioned.
Tabby stood in awe in front of the scrumptious confectionary delight. “It’s been so long since I’ve had a piece of a decent wedding cake,” she said blissfully.
Thomas was a little less reverent of it. “I assume this is what we cut it with?” he said as he picked up the ribbon-bedecked knife. Tabby only nodded slightly as she continued to gaze at the cake. “Ready, Tabby, or would you like to spend a few more minutes alone with it?”
“Oh! That’s right!” Tabby exclaimed, coming out of her reverie. “We have to cut it first, don’t we? Wow. Isn’t it just outrageous?”
Thomas was finally able to drag Tabby out of her cake fantasy, and the first slice was cut. It was as good as it looked, Tabby decided as she accepted her first bite from Thomas. With the traditional feeding done with, the attendants were served (though Friendly politely declined his piece); and the other important guests; and eventually everyone attending had their dessert plate filled.
Tabby devoured as much of the cake (or rather, frosting) as she could; she had been starved of this kind of delicacy for years, and was determined that she would get her fill this time. There had been a few good cakes at the wedding receptions she had attended in the past, and this had been what had inspired her love of the glorious frosting used on them. Unfortunately, in more recent years, the receptions she had gone to had served less savory desserts and definitely not up to her expectations: store-bought apple pies and carrot cake. It had been very discouraging to her, but now she finally had her perfection.
The Furbys were still having a good time. Tabby insisted that Merry Moments snap a picture of Ah-Loh and Doo-Moh posed around a half-eaten slice of cake. The creatures did look remarkably lifelike for the celebration-- but only the newlyweds realized that they really were alive.
* * *
At one of the neighboring tables, another drama was going on. “Cecilia,” a voice spoke up softly. “Would you like to... to talk for a bit?”
The blue pegasus looked up and recognized the visitor as Helga. She nodded almost imperceptibly at the other mare.
Helga sat down in the empty chair opposite her. “I-I’m sorry about the way I acted earlier,” she started haltingly. “I wish I hadn’t lashed out at you like that.”
Cecilia smiled slightly. “Yes, of course. You were always quick with your tongue.”
“Yes, I was,” Helga sighed, but refrained from going on.
“Remember when we were still fillies, Helga?” Cecilia reminisced. “We could gossip and laugh together... back then.”
“Yes, before we married Cecil and Reginald, and were turned into rivals,” Helga nodded.
“What did you think of the ceremony today?” Cecilia changed the subject, glancing over at the bridal table.
“Quite nice, of course. Tabitha’s speech was very touching.”
“Yes, it looks as if Thomas will get along well with her.” Cecilia stared down at her plate.
“I... it brought back a lot of memories of Dietrich and Caprice, as well,” Helga said tentatively.
“I know,” Cecilia said wistfully. “I suppose we couldn’t have made those two love anyone else, I realized after what Tabitha said.”
“That’s just what I thought,” Helga said remorsefully. “They were such nice children. Dietrich and Caprice, I mean.”
“Yes... yes,” Cecilia said, choking up. “And we had such a short time with them.”
“If only it hadn’t been for our blind shortsightedness,” Helga lamented.
“But now they’re gone, and their children are all grown up,” Cecilia said ruefully. “Elaine... she’s so much like her mother.”
“They’ve both grown to be so accomplished,” Helga agreed. “We’ve... we’ve been wrong, all these years, to keep the feud going, I suppose.”
“I think so, too. It’s gone on for too long... there’s no sense in it.”
“And our grandchildren need us more than they need a silly feud,” Helga sighed. “It... it would be nice to be on friendly terms with you again, Cecilia.”
“I thought I’d never hear you say that,” Cecilia smiled.
“Well, you just have.”
“Welcome back, then, Helga.”
* * *
When at last Tabby had gotten enough of the sugary confectionary delight and the plates were cleared away, Tabby and Thomas dismissed themselves from the table to mingle with the guests. Tabby first made her presence known at the parents’ and grandparents’ table and perched herself on the edge. “Well, everybody, how’s the party?” she asked brightly.
“Wonderful. Very nice. Beautiful,” came the chorus of replies. Agatha smiled and held her daughter’s hoof. “Tabitha, dear, we’re all so very proud of you. How have you found the married life to be so far?”
“If I can have frosting like that every day, it’ll be okay,” Tabby said nonchalantly.
“You’ll be the frosting on my cake, Tabby,” Thomas grinned.
Cecilia took the opportunity to speak. “Thomas, I’ve heard your lovely bride referred to as both Tabby and Tabitha. Which is preferred?”
“Tabby,” said the aforementioned bride promptly. “Always.”
“She never did like the full version of her name,” Agatha frowned. “Perhaps someday...”
Before her mother could continue, Tabby turned to the stallion who sat next to Cecilia. “And you... you’re... Cecil, is it?” she questioned, pronouncing the first syllable of the name with a short vowel.
“Well, yes,” the stallion acknowledged. “Only it’s ‘Cecil’ as in ‘sea’.”
“Oh,” Tabby said with a trilling laugh. “Cecil as in sea serpent, to match your symbol! I get it!” The vicious sea serpent symbol he bore was a good indicating factor to the pronunciation of his name.
“And Thomas, I hear that Elaine is taking over the clinic while you and Tabby are away?” Helga queried. “Do you think she’ll handle it well?”
“She’s been working with me there for the past month, and she knows what she’s doing,” Thomas verified. “I think she’ll be able to get by without any difficulties.”
“And Tabby... aren’t you yourself a vet?” Latimer asked. “Have you been working with Thomas, too?”
“Well... for a little while,” Tabby admitted. “But I’m a Pokémon nurse now, you see.”
“Pokémon! They’re infiltrating the minds of our young ones,” Reginald griped.
“They are not!” Tabby said indignantly. “Pokémon are very fascinating creatures and they have a right to be curious over them.”
“All I know is that wherever I go, the children are all discussing running off to become Pokémon trainers!” Reginald argued.
“What’s so bad about that?” Tabby said heatedly. “Besides, baby ponies generally aren’t allowed to train around here.”
“It just isn’t healthy!” Reginald insisted. “They should spend more time with their schoolwork than obsessing over these dangerous monsters.”
Tabby opened her mouth as if to say something more, but stopped herself. “You’ll see their true merits someday,” she said primly.
“Don’t mind him, T... Tabby,” Helga said, glancing at her husband. “He always has to find something to complain about.”
“A lot like you, Tabby,” Hubert said mischievously.
“Hey!” Tabby protested. “I don’t--”
Agatha cut her off and laughed. “I must agree with your father, Tabitha. You were a born arguer.”
“Aw, now everyone’s ganging up on me,” Tabby complained.
“Come on, Tabby,” Thomas said good-naturedly. “I still appreciate you even if no one else does.” Bidding farewell to those at the table, he grabbed Tabby’s foreleg and pulled her on to their next stop.
This table housed Tabby’s aunts, uncles, and cousins. “Tabitha, you were lovely,” Lynette gushed. “I still can’t get over it.”
“Yes, I never thought you would beat Tamara to the altar the way you acted when you were younger!” Alvina chimed-in, grinning. “This Thomas must be awful special, huh?”
“I like to think so,” Tabby said, winking.
“I, for one, know Tabby’s pretty special,” Thomas declared. “And she has a wonderful family. Now, I know this is your Uncle Corydon and Aunt Lynette. The cousins are...?”
“Alvina,” the eldest spoke-up promptly.
“Nydia,” the next in line offered.
“Jacqueline,” the last said, a little shyly.
“And then, of course, Uncle Dallas and Aunt Bisque,” Tabby introduced the other couple. “Uncle Dallas is an astronaut, you know.”
The other relatives on Thomas’ side were few, but Tabby had the pleasure of finding out a bit more about Tanzy and Solstice. Friends from Tabby’s schooldays were also there to catch up on old times with, and she got to meet some of Thomas’s schoolmates for the first time.
“I’ve got to see your toy museum while I’m in town,” Damask, from Tabby’s high-school, bubbled over excitedly. “I should have known you would start something like that, with all those My Little People you had when you were younger.”
“I had so many of those, but I sold them all at a rummage before I knew Tabby collected them,” Pearl, another schoolmate, chirped.
Tabby groaned. “O-o-o-oh. Don’t keep reminding me.”
“So what are your hobbies, Thomas?” Damask asked. The heads of both her and Pearl turned to look straight at their friend’s husband.
“I spend most of my time with animals,” Thomas disclosed. “But I also like to get outside for hikes and such. There’s lots of great scenery in the Dark Forest.”
Pearl giggled. “Us girls were always so scared to go in there back in our schooldays-- remember?”
Damask nodded knowledgeably. “But then one evening Pearl’s brother dared her to spend an hour in the forest or he’d tell everyone that Pearl had a crush on that one guy-- who was that, again?”
“It was completely untrue, whoever it was,” Pearl said, shaking her head violently.
“So Damask and I went along with her to provide moral support,” Tabby supplied.
“There we were, traipsing through the Dark Forest,” Damask said, her eyes gleaming at the memory. “And it was very dark. We thought we were staying on the path, but somewhere along the way we had wandered off. We were lost.”
“And then,” Pearl said dramatically, “just as we were all about to freak out--”
“You were the one freaking out, Pearl,” Damask pointed out. “You were whimpering and crying and all that.”
“--anyway, suddenly we saw this light coming towards us. We of course started screaming but before we could run, the light caught up to us. We thought it was a horrible monster,” Pearl said with a flourish.
“As it turned out, though,” Tabby continued, “it was a pony who had been on a walk through the woods and had heard us stumbling around, and he came to investigate with a lantern. And get this-- it was the very same guy that Pearl here supposedly had a crush on! Wasn’t it Dynasty or something?”
“We told him we were lost,” Damask said, “and he offered to lead us back to Pearl’s place, which he did.”
“It was so embarrassing getting back home following after Dynasty, and my brother was watching to see it,” Pearl moaned.
“Fortunately, he was nice enough to realize that we had spent an hour out in the woods, and so he didn’t spread any rumors,” Damask finished. “But it didn’t really matter, because right then and there in Pearl’s yard, Dynasty asked her out anyway!”
“Well... yeah,” Pearl said, inspecting her hooves. “I went with him a few times, but it didn’t amount to anything.”
“After that night, Damask thought it might be a good way to meet cute guys if we wandered around in the forest, but Pearl and I were against it,” Tabby commented. “It was scary out there in the dark!”
“You don’t seem to be too affected by it now, though,” Thomas said, amused. “You did run off that whole day to fetch a magic injection for Callie...”
“It was to save my cat’s life,” Tabby said primly. “Besides, I have become acquainted with most of the monsters of the Dark Forest by this point. I didn’t know them back then.”
Many other stories were exchanged at other tables, but the high point of the mingling for Tabby was meeting Baby Wineberry’s Furby Baby. “Oh, Thomas, look! It’s adorable!” she squealed, seeing the purple and teal Furby for the first time.
“Sleepy all gone,” the Furby Baby yawned as Baby Wineberry tipped him to the side. “Me May-May.”
“ ‘Love’,” Tabby translated the name. “He’s so sweet!”
“I got him last Christmas,” Baby Wineberry explained. “But he talks so much.”
“They wouldn’t be Furbys if they didn’t talk constantly,” Thomas observed.
“Do you really like Furbys?” Baby Wineberry asked curiously.
“Of course,” Thomas said confidently. “They make wonderful... pets.”
“Wheeee! Baby up! Baby down!” May-May cheered in the background as Tabby dipped him through the air.
Tabby giggled over the specimen. “Too cute! Too cute!” she laughed hysterically.
“Maybe... monster!” May-May yelped. “No... dah lee-koo wah!”
Reluctantly, Tabby set the Furby Baby down. “It was nice meeting you, May-May!” she waved.
“I suppose you’re going to want to buy a Baby Furby now,” Thomas predicted as they walked away from the table.
“Maybe someday,” Tabby said dreamily. “I love Furbys.”
Everyone else had their congratulations and advice to share with the newlyweds. “Thomas, now that you’re married, remember to always get the last two words in with Tabby... ‘Yes, dear’,” Quarterback harassed.
“This cake is fabulous,” Steamer commented.
“Yes, I really must find the baker who made it,” North Star agreed.
Moon Star, a Flutter Pony, had also brought along her Furbys. “They’ve been looking forward to this party for ages,” she giggled. “Just look at how much fun they’re having!”
“Whoopie! Party!” one of them cheered.
Meanwhile, some of the guests were doing some mingling of their own. “Elaine, you were very lovely in the ceremony today.”
Elaine abruptly looked up and was taken by surprise to see who had spoken. She was greeted with a shocking sight– her two grandmothers!
“Yes, you’re quite a beautiful girl,” Helga agreed softly. “Much like your mother.”
“Th-thank you,” Elaine stuttered shyly, blushing. She had never expected to see both of them together like this; she hardly knew how to act.
“It’s been awhile since we last saw each other, hasn’t it?” Cecilia said wistfully.
“No... not since the...” Elaine paused and stared down at the table. “...funeral.”
“We hope you’re doing well in life,” Helga said gently. “We hear you’re working with your brother now.”
“Uh-huh,” Elaine said quietly. “It’s what I’ve wanted to do for years and years.”
“Both your parents were fond of animals,” Cecilia commented. “It’s no wonder you enjoy caring for them. It runs in your blood.”
“I hope I’ll make them proud.”
“You already have made them proud, Elaine,” Helga said. “You already have.”
“That’s her necklace, isn’t it?” Cecilia said suddenly, her eyes picking up on the medallion strung around her granddaughter’s neck.
“This?... oh, yes.” Elaine fingered it tentatively. “She passed it on to me. I understand it was once yours?”
“Yes,” Cecilia nodded. “It’s been in the family for a long, long time. I’m glad to see you wearing it now.”
“It bears a great likeness to the Furbys of today, doesn’t it?” Helga remarked.
“Isn’t that strange?” Elaine agreed, becoming a bit more animated. “Do you have any ideas as to its origin... Grandmother?”
Cecilia shook her head. “It’s been around for so long that no one remembers.”
“How mysterious,” Elaine murmured.
“I’d like to hear more about your mother, Elaine,” Helga said abruptly. “I... never did know much about her, you know.”
“I myself didn’t know her very well after that time,” Cecilia sighed. “Was she happy with her new life, Elaine?”
“Oh, yes.” Elaine squeezed her eyes shut. “She was very happy. And very kind. She was never one to lash out at us.”
“Just as I remember her,” Cecilia whispered.
“She never got angry without good reason,” Elaine said quietly. “I remember one incident when I was quite young. I had somehow come across a very prized possession of hers– it was a very old flower that she had carefully stored away and kept; Father had given it to her before they were married, she told me– and I knew how much it meant to her. When I found it that day, though, I was overcome with curiosity and went to pick it up. Naturally, it was very brittle; and as I lifted it, it simply disintegrated in my hoof. I felt terrible for doing such a terrible deed, and broke down crying immediately. I knew that Mother would be upset, and was afraid of what she would say to me. But when she found me and the destroyed flower, she didn’t say a word about the blossom... she only wanted to console me and to convince me that I myself was worth more than all the flowers in the world. She was always so gentle like that.” Elaine stopped, and blinked as her eyes began filling with tears.
“Such a nice character,” Helga mused. “It’s no wonder Dietrich was attracted to her. If only we could have seen...”
“And Dietrich,” Cecilia spoke up, blinking back tears of her own. “What was your father like, Elaine?”
“He was...” Elaine closed her eyes for a few moments to formulate a reply. “...always patient and understanding. I can’t recall he and mother ever getting into a fight. He loved taking Thomas and I for long walks through the woods and down along the river. We had some of our best talks on walks like those.”
“Maybe someday soon, Elaine, the three of us can sit down and have a nice, long visit.”
“I’d love that!” Elaine responded happily.
Meanwhile, with all the guests visited, the bride and groom headed back to the main table for a short break before the dancing started. With dessert finished, tables were pushed back to provide a larger dance floor.
The sea pony band floated in the river, anticipating their cue to start. Sea Mist was the lead singer; Sand Dollar, High Tide, and some of their other friends held in their fins various musical instruments fashioned out of shells.
The lights dimmed, and Tabby and Thomas took their places at the center of the floor. Joining hooves, they looked into each other’s eyes and smiled. A slow, serene melody began playing, and Sea Mist’s soft voice complemented it perfectly. With the song starting, the first dance began.
And they swept across the floor as if in a dream. Lost in their own world for the moment, the crowd disappeared. Memories flashed through their heads-- of their first meeting at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, before they had gotten on friendly terms; their battle over the treasure map given as payment at the clinic one day; of the fateful night they’d met at Tiffany’s party; of Tabby’s two-week visit to Italy; of Tabby’s initial jealousy over Elaine; of their adventure in Atlantis six months prior... the list went on and on.
But the song finally came to an end, and the newlyweds were snapped out of their reverie. Catching her breath, Tabby reached for her father, and Thomas offered his hoof to Agatha, for the next set of dancing. (It wasn’t quite the traditional order of dancing, but accommodations had to be made as Thomas’ parents were both deceased.)
It was all a whirl of activity from then on. It seemed as if there were a million ponies to dance with, and no time to stop for a rest. Even the Furbys got in on the “dah doo-ay”. Barnacle stood at the head table, clapping his hooves and shouting menacingly at the creatures, “DANCE! DANCE!” Obligingly, they did so; the chorus of Furbish voices was almost deafening.
Clever Clover whispered jokingly to his Vulpix, “On my word, Fire Spin!”
“ARR, they’re nothin’ but a bunch of evil cousins of Digimon, Clever Clover!” Barnacle said.
Baby Noddins also refused to be left out and grabbed Friendly to be her dance partner. “Cwome on, Fwiendly!” she exclaimed, pulling him onto the dance floor with her.
Tiffany was still engrossed with Guido, it seemed; but at least that kept him from thinking of Tabby. Taking a rest and sitting a dance out, the two upper-class ponies conversed at one of the empty tables.
Barnacle’s crew was still livening up the party. Davey and Jones stumbled around on the dance floor; even Protius and Kracken tried to get a partner. Pierre, in his frilly musketeer hat, certainly showed up in a crowd; he and Luge were getting on companionably, chatting in French.
Malteeze, who had remained on the edges, finally approached Tiffany sullenly. “I don’t want to, but Master Protius says I should ask someone to dance,” he said bluntly, placing a paw on the princesses’ shoulder.
Tiffany turned her head slightly and grimaced when she saw who it was. “Keep your dirty paws off me,” she snapped at the cat-man.
Malteeze turned away and looked down at his paws intently. “They aren’t that dirty,” he said, mystified.
“Hey, Malteeze; if she doesn’t want to dance, I’m free,” Tamara said coyly, coming up behind him and fluffing her mane. Before he had a chance to protest, the pink unicorn had already latched onto one of his paws and dragged him out into the dancing congregation. Tamara had to admit that the sleek, dashing cat-man appealed to her tastes.
Pokémon also joined in the celebration. Several Pokémon trainers were at the reception-- Tabby, Clever Clover, and Moonstar-- and they let all their creatures out to get in on the fun. Silver Swirl’s Mew, Melisande, had also come along; plus the princesses’ dragon, Jade. All the Pokémon had fun meeting one another.
As Equinox had not revealed much about himself at the reception, Silver Swirl took the opportunity to ask him about it as they shared a dance. “So, how did you get to know Thomas?”
“In college,” the gray stallion explained. “My sister and I were there taking classes at the same time, and we befriended him.”
“I see... and what do you do in life now?” the Friendship Gardens princess inquired further.
“I’m a photographer for International Geography,” Equinox replied. “Me and Solstice are partners. She writes the articles, and I take the pictures.”
“Wow!” Silver Swirl exclaimed. “That sounds exciting. Do you travel a lot?”
“Everywhere!” Equinox declared. “Africa, Europe, Asia... and all those other places. In fact, we just saw some interesting Atlantean artifacts over on Calimidad Island.”
“That’s where Barnacle lives, isn’t it?” Silver Swirl mused before Clever Clover cut in on their dance. Then she had to face talk of swords and other weaponry.
Tabby had decreed that the sea ponies would only play songs previously done by Jem and the Holograms (well, and the Misfits and the Stingers) at her wedding reception, and the upbeat music kept the party in full swing. Finally getting an opportunity to stop and rest, Tabby and Thomas met back at the head table along with some of the other attendants.
Tabby’s face was flushed with excitement and a smile lit her face. “Isn’t it outrageous?! Isn’t it just totally outrageous?!”
“Yeah, especially with Barnacle harassing the Furbys,” Thomas said, raising an eyebrow.
“ARR,” complained Barnacle, “I’m not too sure about all this dancin’. Me hooves hurt!”
“Barnacle! You haven’t been out on the dance floor!” Tamara protested.
“No, clappin’ me hooves to get the Furbys to dance!” Barnacle clarified.
“You’re such a pirate, Barnacle.”
“ARR, I am.”
“I mean, you should learn to enjoy a good party like this,” Tamara argued.
“I am enjoyin’ meself.”
“There’s a lot of tradition involved,” Tamara said intelligently.
“What twaditions?” Baby Noddins asked curiously.
“The bridesmaids were used to protect the bride from evil spirits,” Tamara informed her. “Even the flowers you threw, Baby Noddins, were to ward off spirits.”
Baby Noddins was impressed. “Oooh, evil spwirits? What do they look wike, Twamara?”
“There aren’t really any evil spirits,” Tamara explained patiently. “But it’s a tradition that remained in use.”
“And originally the bride was captured by the groom,” Equinox added. “...with the best man along for assistance, of course.”
“ARR, if you were lookin’ to kidnap Tabby, I woulda been a better choice for best man,” Barnacle directed at Thomas.
Tabby broke out laughing hysterically. “Oh, Barnacle!”
Barnacle looked downcast upon hearing Tabby’s high-pitched and unnatural giggle. “ARR, Tabby, if you don’t be likin’ me jokes, then don’t be givin’ me that fakey-sounding imitation laugh of yours instead.”
“But that is my natural laugh!” Tabby protested.
“ARR?” said Barnacle questioningly.
The Furbys suddenly spoke-up in alarm. “Maybe... boring!” said Doo-Moh in a frightened tone, her eyes opening wide.
“Me scared,” Ah-Loh agreed.
“You’re boring the Furbys now,” Tabby chided.
“Keep up the good work; maybe they’ll go away,” Clever Clover suggested.
Equinox reached over and petted Ah-Loh tentatively. “They’re strange creatures. I don’t know how you got Thomas hooked on them, too.”
“I have my ways,” Tabby said mysteriously.
“I still don’t see what the big draw with them is,” Equinox said skeptically.
“Just wait until you get one of your own, Equinox,” Thomas spoke-up.
“I don’t think so.”
“Doo-Moh doesn’t like your attitude,” Tabby warned, glancing at the autumn-colored Furby who was staring piercingly at the gray stallion.
“We’ll just have to see,” said Equinox stubbornly. “I don’t think a Furby would like my lifestyle.”
“Oh, but you must see lots of Famous Places!” Tabby argued. “Furbys adore Famous Places!”
“My job is to take pictures; not to watch over pets.”
“They’re very easy to manage,” Tabby said tantalizingly.
“I think I’ll just stick with my cameras.” Equinox refused to budge.
Meanwhile, Cliff had congregated in one corner of the room with the rest of his gang. “Man, I’m getting sick of this eighties stuff. You can only take it so far,” Jet complained.
“Let’s request something else!” Bungee suggested excitedly.
“Well, I don’t think Tabby would appreciate most of the music we listen to,” Cliff pointed out.
“Besides, I do not zink these ponies would know how to dance to it,” Luge added.
“I know exactly what to do,” Cliff said, inspiration suddenly hitting him. “Come on.” Trotting ahead over to the river, he held a whispered conversation with one of the sea pony band members.
Tabby, meanwhile, was chatting conversationally about the current song that was playing. “This is one of my all-time favorites. So outrageous! It’s the one Kimber and Stormer did when they started their own band.” She nodded authoritatively.
Thomas groaned. “Don’t start talking technically about your eighties cartoons, Tabby. You’re going to confuse us all.”
“I’m going to make you watch all those sometime, Thomas,” Tabby mused. “Jem... wow, that’s one good cartoon.”
“What happened to My Little People? All I hear about any more is Jem.”
“Oh, I still love the people, but Jem had such an outrageous show...” Tabby murmured, savoring the beat of the song.
Suddenly, Tabby’s “favorite song” stopped. Cliff’s request went through, and the sea ponies began playing a completely different score. Tabby was immediately on the defensive.
What’s happening here?” she shrieked. “They cut off the best song! Why, they’re not even playing Jem... or the Misfits... or the Stingers. What is the meaning of this?”
The crowd, too, was confused by the change in pace. A good majority of them stopped and looked over at the sea ponies, wondering what had happened. A wave of murmuring swept through the assemblage of guests.
A place was cleared in the center of the floor as Cliff latched onto Luge and they began what seemed to some to be a crazy and wild motion-- which it was. But it was also a fluid and synchronized dance style. Jet and Bungee followed, and then Mogul and Blade. The dance floor was the scene of choreographed chaos.
Tabby was still fuming. “What is going on here?! I want an answer!!
Thomas had to smile, though, as he tried to comfort his distraught bride. “That’s swing, Tabby!”
“I hate swing,” Tabby said venomously. “I hate it with a passion. At least the terrible western stuff that Cleve Clove made me listen to.”
Some guests were pleased with the change in musical tempo, though. “Yeah! Now, that’s my kind of music!” Equinox exclaimed, grabbing the closest pony he could find-- who turned out to be Elaine-- and pulling her onto the dance floor.
“Wha-- Equinox? Help!” Elaine yelped.
Solstice was also pleased with the selection, and joined in with Clever Clover. “Gee, I wish I’d taken those swing lessons when I had the chance to out in the Flatlands,” the stallion commented. But he was soon caught up in the energy of the music and didn’t care that he didn’t know all the proper moves.
Maria-Giuseppe and Liborio looked on in amazement. “Agatha, what’s going on?” Maria-Giuseppe gasped.
“I don’t know, but it’s kind of catchy, isn’t it?” Agatha replied, her hooves tapping.
“Would you like to dance?” Hubert asked, taking his wife’s hoof in his own.
“Well, I didn’t say that--” But Agatha’s protests were futile, and the couple was soon down on the dance floor.
Tabby herself stared out over the madness, shrugged, and tossed off her veil after sizing up her options. Extending her hoof, she allowed Thomas to lead her into the melee after deciding that the music wasn’t as bad as she had initially thought.
The Bushwoolies, who had been jabbering and swarming over the buffet table, had come to a stop when the swing music had begun. They were now standing in a group, swaying in a random fashion with entranced looks on their faces. Suddenly, with a war cry of “Whahoo!”, they jumped into the fray. Soon the air was filled with blue, yellow, pink, purple, red, and green furry bodies being swung through the air haphazardly.
Other guests were slowly joining in as best they could, and the dance floor was filled once again. Even if everyone didn’t know the right moves, they certainly had fun trying. Tanzy was one of the better dancers to the music, though, priding herself as an expert at every form of dance. The party atmosphere had been raised to a higher level.
“Whahoo! Party!” came the shouts of the Furbys.
“You rock! Rock again!” little May-May added, who had been invited up to the head table to converse with the adult Furbys.
The Bushwoolies were a little uncoordinated as they tried to copy the moves of the Xtreme Ponies, but they finally got into the “swing” of things when they learned to twirl their partners around in circles and then up into the air. Rosy was particularly successful as she tossed Chumster away from her after he had gained enough momentum.
The yellow Bushwoolie screamed excitedly as he flew through the air and above all the other dancers. All the Bushwoolies stopped so they could see where he would land. Not all the guests were aware of the Bushwoolie menace in the air, though, so Guido was unprepared for what hit him.
Chumster struck the yellow stallion in the back of the head. Guido had been chatting with Tiffany over the punchbowl, and was surprised when an object hit him. His head jerked forward, and it went straight down into the bowl of deep red punch.
“ARR, matey, we did have punch glasses!” Barnacle pointed out as Guido spluttered and pulled his head out of the punch. “No need to make a pig of yourself!”
With this added development, Chumster went flying again. “YEAH! YEAH!” he screamed happily, letting the wind currents carry him. By this point, the attention of all the guests had been caught-- either by Guido or the Bushwoolie.
With a sickening plop, the yellow furball landed directly in the center of the remaining tier of wedding cake. The cake was now a deep crater which was currently filled by Chumster. The Bushwoolie remained dazed for a few moments, but after realizing where he was, quickly perked up. “Hey, cake, yeah!” he said excitedly, grabbing up globs of frosting in his hands and shoving them into his mouth. All the Bushwoolies clapped and cheered for him.
If the party hadn’t been in chaos before, it was now. Most of the dancing had stopped, and Agatha ran over to Guido in alarm. “Guido, Guido, I’m so sorry! Are you okay? I never thought anything like this would happen... here, let me get you a towel.” She scampered off again on her errand, but only ran into Snuzzle who had already thought to provide some cloths for the dowsed stallion.
Tabby’s heart fell, however, when she saw the final result of Chumster’s flight. “The cake,” she whispered, crumpling to the floor. “The cake...” It had turned into a free-for-all, and all the Bushwoolies jumped up onto the cake table to dine on the delicacy.
Angrily, and oblivious to the cake, Guido dried his head off with Tiffany standing by attentively. “Who is responsible for this?” he demanded. No one was brave enough to reply. “I think I’ve had enough of this party,” he said, glancing around stonily. “Come on, Tiffany; we’ll find someplace a bit more peaceful.”
A silence followed the departure of the two affluent ponies. No one was sure what to say. Finally, a rambunctious call from Davey (or was it Jones?) pierced the air. “This is even more fun than the Christmas party, mon!”
The destruction of the cake wasn’t foremost in the minds of most guests, and only Tabby’s closest friends remained by her side to comfort her in this time of crisis. “It’s ruined,” she said in shock. “My cake is ruined...”
No one knew quite what to say to her. “Well, the Bushwoolies sure had fun with it, if nothing else,” Sugarberry said hopefully.
“Besides, it’s not like it’s going to waste,” Clever Clover said.
Barnacle stood by the sidelines, scratching his head. “ARR, I don’t get it. Wasn’t it gonna be eaten anyway?”
“You don’t understand Tabby’s emotions,” Elaine said in defense.
“ARR, I don’t think anyone does.”
Elaine grudgingly agreed. “Well... you’re probably right.”
Tabby’s lower lip wavered. “But... the perfect cake... ruined,” she said, tears starting to slip down her cheeks.
“Come on, Tabby,” Thomas said consolingly. “It’ll be okay. It’s not the end of the world, is it?”
“But everything’s ruined now!” Tabby sniffled.
“Not everything. We’re still married, aren’t we?”
“Yeah... I guess,” Tabby managed a slight smile.
“And Guido just left... with Tiffany,” Thomas further enticed.
“Really?” Tabby perked up noticeably. “Then she won’t get a chance at the bouquet like she’s been bugging me about.”
“So it isn’t so bad, is it?”
“I suppose... I can live without the cake.” Tabby gave one last longing look at the frosting-smeared platter, and then allowed Thomas to help her up off the floor.
After that incident, the party began to lose its excitement. Everyone had sobered up; and, as May-May put it, “Fun all gone.” The bridal party met back at their table and played a bit with the Furbys.
“Ah-Loh,” Tabby said, “did you have fun?”
“May-be,” said Ah-Loh mysteriously.
“I see... well, did you enjoy being held upside-down by Barnacle?”
“Yes,” Ah-Loh relied confidently.
“ARR, I told you they liked that!” Barnacle chuckled.
“Is it time for the party to end?”
“Hee-hee-hee,” Ah-Loh laughed at them. “Yes. Hee-hee-hee.”
“Well, now is a good a time as any,” Thomas shrugged.
Tabby picked up her bouquet and smiled mischievously. “Do you want your fate determined now, girls?”
With her veil re-affixed to her head, Tabby– with Thomas at her side-- trotted up the pavilion steps. “Alright, everybody!” the bride called from her vantage point. “It’s time for the bouquet! Get ready!”
All the single female guests gathered excitedly around. Tabby turned her back, took a few trial swings with the vibrant bouquet, and let go.
Two things happened at that point. Once was that the momentum of the throw caused Tabby to stagger backwards, and she would have stumbled down the stairs had Thomas not caught her in the nick of time. The second, of course, was the bouquet itself. Tamara and Sugarberry perhaps were the two most anxious to get it; but the fates transpired against them, and it went to neither of the mares.
Elaine was completely shocked, surprised, and even a bit embarrassed as the bouquet of light sensor flowers fell her way, and fell right on her unicorn horn. She plucked it off a bit apprehensively, and her face flushed.
“Look! Look!” Tamara exclaimed, grabbing something off the ground. “At least I got one flower!” A stray stem had escaped the bouquet, and a single blossom had landed in front of her. “I might at least get a very small wedding,” she decided, which caused the crowd to laugh.
Elaine even went so far as to offer the bouquet over to Sugarberry, but the twice-as-fancy pony politely refused and insisted that it was rightfully Elaine’s. So Elaine subjected herself to fate and accepted the bouquet graciously.
The garter toss was next; and to add to Elaine’s embarrassment it went to the one stallion who had been paying special attention to her since her arrival in Dream Valley-- Toby. Grinning, the purple stallion looked her way and winked. Elaine blushed furiously and hid her face behind the flowers, and was extremely grateful that Tiffany wasn’t there.
Tabby was then assisted in the final removal of her veil; it was carefully taken off this time and put away for safekeeping. With this accomplished, the goodbyes were said before the newlyweds departed.
“Oh, Tabitha,” Agatha said, sniffling. “It’s been such a beautiful day. You can’t imagine how happy I am for the two of you!” Embracing her daughter, she kissed her cheek and then let her go. “And Thomas--! We’re so proud to have you in the family.”
“Just be sure to keep a close eye on Tabby,” Hubert grinned. “You never know what trouble she’ll get into.”
“And I wonder where she gets that streak from, Hubert,” Agatha retorted. “But, oh, I’m still not comfortable with the idea of not knowing where you two will be.”
“They’ll be fine, Agatha,” Hubert said, winking at Tabby. “I’m sure of that, and they’ll be back before you know it.”
“It’s going to be so dull without you two around!” Elaine cried out. “You mustn’t spend any longer time away than necessary!”
“You’ll get by fine, Elaine,” Thomas said mischievously. “This will give you some time to get to know Toby better.”
“Thomas!” Elaine protested. “Take that back! I think you purposely aimed that garter at Toby, anyway.”
“Why would I do such a thing to my little sister?” Thomas asked innocently.
“You-- that proves it.” Elaine narrowed her eyes. “But-- oh-- I’m still going to miss you!” Dissolving in sentimental tears, she threw her forelegs around her brother’s neck.
“You’ll still have Nah-Bah to keep you company,” Tabby reminded.
“Yeah, I guess that’s true.” Elaine smiled through her tears. “Anyway, I suppose...”
“Yes, we’d best be getting on our way,” Thomas agreed. “Ready, Tabby?”
“We just need the Furbys,” Tabby nodded cheerfully.
“But please keep safe. Don’t do anything rash,” Agatha pleaded, her eyes misting over. “I don’t know what I’d do.”
“It’ll be okay, Mom. Trust me,” Tabby said earnestly.
“Yes, of course.” Agatha blinked back her tears.
Descending back down the stairs, Tabby and Thomas had time for a short visit with the gang of Furbys (and their friends) before they left. All the creatures had something to say.
“Woah, big light.”
“Hey, party!”
“Whoopie! Up again!”
“Wars do not make one great.”
“You hide light. Hee-hee-hee!”
“Me love you.”
“Me love tickle. Hee-hee-hee.”
“Me hungry, wah!”
“Hide me.”
“More kissies, please.”
This last request was made by May-May, and it seemed to be a fitting end for the day. “The seers demand it, queen of Atlantis!” Thomas said, pulling Tabby close and allowing no room for argument.
And with that, their departure was made. Each grabbing their respective Furby, the newlyweds dashed for the river where their transportation awaited-- a sea pony shell transport. Jumping in, they waved and called their last farewells to their family and friends before the door closed and Sea Mist, High Tide, and Sand Dollar took off with them into the water.
And looking back on the day after they were alone and in peace, they were still sure they had chosen right.
The queen of Atlantis.
And, though still unaware of his position, the ruler of ancient Dream Valley.
The Winner Is...
by Sugarberry

“This was a good idea... to get away from that crowd,” Guido said to Tiffany as he helped her get seated. The two ponies had left Tabby and Thomas’ wedding reception to find a quiet place to talk. The Café Carousel was nearly deserted, providing the perfect setting for a cozy tete-a-tete. Flower Bouquet had directed them to an out-of-the way table where their privacy was assured, and had scampered off to fetch each of them a cup of espresso.
Tiffany, still wearing her floral crown, responded with a smile. “Yes. The riffraff that Tabby invited to her wedding was appalling.” Mental images of Davey and Jones and the Xtreme Ponies-- not to mention Malteeze and the rest of Barnacle’s crew-- caused a frown to temporarily darken her face, but it was replaced with her most dazzling smile when Guido grinned at her.
“Not your idea of the ideal ceremony?” he asked, his mane still slightly damp from his unorthodox encounter with the punch bowl.
“Actually, the ceremony itself was nice; but the quality of the guests was rather demeaning. I think Tabby should have been more careful with her invitations.”
“I was surprised, too, that Agatha went along with her daughter’s plans,” Guido agreed.
Tiffany sighed like one persecuted. “Agatha has become way too lenient since her husband has returned home.”
“As I hadn’t met Hubert until today, I was unaware of that development in the Fershund character,” Guido reflected. “I’m surprised that a pony of her breeding would have become entangled with such an... eccentric stallion.”
“Yes. How Agatha puts up with either of them is beyond me!” Tiffany complained. Then, smiling sweetly, she asked, “How was your flight to Dream Valley?”
“Excellent, of course. I have my own private jet, you know.”
Tiffany raised her eyebrows, greatly impressed. “You do? How convenient! And you travel all over the world?”
“I keep a close eye on my investments, and am constantly searching for new ventures that will increase my financial coffers,” Guido responded smugly. “Macrohard is still expanding its horizons.”
“Macrohard...” Tiffany wrinkled her brow in thought. “I’ve heard that name before.”
“You may have heard it on the news,” Guido sighed. “First there was that problem in court with the internet software, and now this whole monopoly business.”
“That’s it!” Tiffany exclaimed. “So you really are wealthy!”
“Quite wealthy,” Guido acknowledged. “And I intend to stay that way.”
“Your life must be very exciting!” Tiffany drank in the richness of her companion.
“And I would think that the life of a princess would have its advantages, too,” Guido smiled.
“Well, some, I guess,” the princess admitted. “But with so many of us princesses available, it seems as if we are not truly appreciated. And many of the citizens take us for granted, as if we are nothing but commoners.”
“I can’t truly believe that, Tiffany,” replied Guido. “You radiate royalty.”
“I do?” coyly asked the princess as her eyelashes instinctively fluttered furiously.
Guido leaned forward, and covered Tiffany’s hoof with his own. “You are the most charming pony I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.”
A rosy glow lit up the white cheeks of the princess. “Enough about me, Guido. Please tell me more about yourself.”
“You’ve heard about my jet and my business, but I also own a large villa on the edge of Vulcanopolis; some say that it is rather extravagant, but I find it a fitting place to relax at the end of a long day of business.”
“I’m sure you do,” Tiffany agreed. “Describe the house for me!” she urged.
Guido was more than pleased to comply. “It’s a rambling country home surrounded by floral gardens that are beautiful to behold. The dining room is huge, and the walls are decorated with colorful frescoes of life in early Vulcanopolis-- very impressive if I do say so myself.”
“It sounds delightful!”
“The living room has a tile floor done in a mosaic pattern of shades of blue and green, and there is a sunken fountain in the center of the room surrounded by potted plants. And then there is the private ballroom.”
Tiffany nearly swooned. “Oh, Guido, it’s magnificent!”
“I’d like to show it to you personally someday, Tiffany.”
The princess, however, changed the subject. “Tabitha and Thomas will have a mansion, but it is nothing compared to your home, I’m sure.”
“I hear that Agatha and her husband gave the family dwelling to the new bride and groom as a wedding gift,” Guido prompted.
“Yes, that’s true. Tabitha and Thomas would never have been able to afford such a place on their own.” She took a sip of her coffee, then cast an inquisitive glance at Guido. “This friend of yours-- Clare-- she and you are very close?”
“We grew up next door to each other and went to school together. After college, I helped her get her fashion house up and running. So, yes, I guess you could say we are close.”
“Oh,” Tiffany responded with a bit less spirit in her voice, and with a great deal more frigidity to it. But Guido seemed not to notice.
“I was able to get my computer company started while I was still in school, and it took off so well that I was already quite established by the time I graduated. The business has mushroomed since its founding, which has put me in a rather sweet financial position.” He paused as he noticed that Tiffany seemed to have lost interest in his life history.
Noticing his puzzled look, Tiffany continued to interrogate him on the one fact that now bothered her. “So you and Clare are more than just business partners?”
Guido reflected for a moment before answering. “Clare and I are great friends, actually. I’ve always confided in her, and she in me.”
“I see.” Tiffany’s manner visibly cooled.
Sensing a loss of companionship from the dazzling white pegasus across from him, Guido sat in a quandary for several seconds before he realized what he had said to alienate her. Brightening, he said, “Clare’s kind of like a sister... someone to watch out for and to keep out of trouble. We’ve never been more than just... friends.”
Those words came to Tiffany’s troubled mind like salve to a blistering hoof. “Really?” she asked in a honey-coated purr.
The two had been concentrating on each other so much that they had not noticed the entrance of another couple from the day’s wedding. Princess Dawn and Perry Winkle had entered the café and were being seated by Flower Bouquet at a table across the room. Dawn, however, caught sight of Guido and Tiffany in their secluded corner, and came directly to them with Perry following close behind.
“So this is where you ran off to!” Dawn chided Tiffany. “Poor Toby has been looking everywhere for you!”
“T... Toby?” stuttered the princess. “Whatever for?”
“Because he and you were supposed to be sharing a dance.”
“Well, I... that is, Guido and I... we needed to talk.”
“So what about Toby?” questioned Dawn.
Tiffany was getting exasperated. “So what about Toby? Toby can do as he pleases, just as I can. And right now I am here with Guido.”
Princess Dawn looked bewildered. “You are just going to let Toby worry about you for nothing?” She cast a withering glance at Guido for good measure.
“It might be just what he needs,” Tiffany affirmed with a wave of her hoof, which sent Dawn and Perry back to their own table.
“She can be so cruel!” Dawn hissed to Perry. Flower Bouquet was just coming to take their order when Dawn grabbed Perry’s foreleg and whispered, “Let’s go find Toby!” And with a look of astonishment, Flower Bouquet watched her two most recent customers dash out of the building.
“And Toby... he is a very close friend?” Guido asked in imitation of Tiffany’s earlier query.
Tiffany smiled. “He has been a friend of sorts, but nothing special... just a friend.” She stopped short of her constant refrain concerning the absence of a diamond ring on her foreleg.
Guido sat in silent contemplation for a time; and then, as if making up his mind on something, spoke. “Tiffany, when I came here today, I thought that my destiny was drawing me to Dream Valley because of Tabby; but now, I think that destiny had an entirely different path for me... although it centers here.”
Smiling dreamily, Tiffany agreed. “I think I know exactly what you mean.”
“Could you suggest a hotel where I might stay? I think that I’d like to spend a few days in your lovely city.”
“That would be Regal Ridges,” Tiffany stated. “It’s four blocks east of here.”
“Great!” Guido was in good humor. “And may I take this opportunity to invite you to have dinner with me tomorrow evening at the most glamorous spot in town?”
“I’d be delighted!” Tiffany cooed.
“And now I should be walking you back to your abode,” Guido offered, rising to assist the princess out of her chair. They had just reached the door when it opened, revealing a purple stallion with yellow hair.
“Toby!” Tiffany stated in surprise, a soft pink blush spreading across her cheeks. “What are you doing here?”
Toby looked from Tiffany to Guido, and back to Tiffany. “I was worried about you, Tiffany. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
Guido put a foreleg protectively across Tiffany’s. “She’s fine. I’ll see to that.”
But somewhere within the depths of Tiffany’s heart, a tiny bit of guilt began eating away at her. She smiled at Guido. “I really do owe Toby some of my time tonight, Guido. You won’t forget about our plans for tomorrow evening, will you?” The fluttering of her eyelashes punctuated the question.
Guido reluctantly relinquished his possession of the princess over to Toby while keeping his gaze on Tiffany. “I’ll call you tomorrow with the details,” he promised.
“Goodnight, Guido,” murmured Tiffany, and she shifted her attention to the rather dejected-looking stallion in the doorway. “Toby, you may walk me home now.”
Toby shot a quick glance at Guido, but neither stallion said a word. Toby guided the princess from the Café Carousel leaving Guido standing alone; the two ponies walked in silence in the direction of the Royal Paradise.
After some time, Toby made an attempt to break through the cloak of isolation that Tiffany seemed to have engulfed herself in. “You were very lovely as a bridesmaid, Tiffany.”
Tiffany briefly reached up and touched the floral headpiece as if reminding herself that she had actually been in the wedding party that day. She smiled sweetly, but not at Toby.
Toby tried again. “You seemed rather distant today, Tiffany.”
“Did I?” she responded. “I hadn’t noticed... the wedding and all...” Her voice faded away.
The waiting lights of Royal Paradise illuminated the couple before Toby spoke again. “You’re attracted to that Guido, aren’t you?”
Tiffany glanced sharply at Toby, and attempted to contradict him, but fell silent. Toby waited patiently until she found the right words. “I find him to be a fascinating stallion, yes.” She found the courage to look into Toby’s eyes. “I think I would like to get to know him better. He’s rich, Toby! He’s got his own plane and a magnificent villa and he heads a very successful company! Just think of the things that I could do... the princess that I could be!”
That revelation should have hurt, but Toby was surprised to find that it didn’t; it simply made him feel empty inside. He stared into Tiffany’s eyes, remembering the good times and the bad, and reached up to touch her mane as if for the last time. “You are free to do what your heart tells you, you know.”
“And you wouldn’t mind too much, Toby?” she asked, visible relief flooding her face.
“No, Tiffany. I only want you to be happy.” He leaned toward her, and gently kissed her cheek. Then with a last pensive look at the pegasus before him, he whispered a final goodnight.
Tiffany watched him turn to go and for a brief moment felt a twinge of regret, but instantly visualized the bright yellow Italian stallion waiting to show her the best things in life, the things she had always craved after as her princessly due. As she considered the possibilities that a friendship with Guido might entail, she gave one last thought to Toby.
“Toby?” she called.
The melancholy demeanor of the purple stallion lifted for a moment as he swung his gaze back to Tiffany... but only for a very brief moment. “Yes, Tiffany?”
The sparkly-haired princess had the last word. “Goodbye!” she called cheerfully, waving a hoof as she opened the front door and disappeared inside.
* * *
The town house in Vulcanopolis that Saturday stood empty with Vanguard in Dream Valley for the wedding-- empty and silent. Yet in the third story guest room there was movement as the bookcase that stood against the shared wall with Ivetta and Gile’s home slowly began to swing away from its position. A giggle was heard as Ivetta, and then Marissa-- a younger pale blue mare with yellow mane and tail-- appeared through the opening concealed by the shelving.
“You’re positive he’s gone?” Marissa whispered.
Ivetta answered in a normal voice. “Yes, I’m sure of it. He’s away in Dream Valley.” But after a moment, she said, “Just to be on the safe side, let’s go through the entire place.”
The young mares cautiously descended the two flights of stairs to reach the ground floor, and checked all the rooms for any sign of Vanguard’s presence; once they had been through the entire structure, they both relaxed.
“What is it you’re supposed to snoop out for Giorgio this time?” Marissa queried while leafing through a magazine on the kitchen table; finding it too technical for her tastes, she threw it aside.
“A book,” Ivetta frowned. “A book of love poems.”
Looking around the room, Marissa advised, “Then shouldn’t we maybe, like, find a bookshelf or something?”
Ivetta rolled her eyes. “I know there are some books in the living room on the second floor, and then there is the big bookshelf that hides our entrance. I don’t think Vanguard has anything but textbooks in the den.”
The two went back up the first flight of stairs. “I just love these curving stairways,” Marissa sighed. “I wish I had a place like this.”
“Well, don’t plan on it if you stay mixed-up with Giorgio,” counseled Ivetta.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Marissa edgily replied. “You’re on his payroll, and you’re doing okay.”
“And what happens if we get caught?” Ivetta asked passionately. “I don’t like any of this.”
“Then why are you involved?”
Ivetta threw herself down on the black leather sofa. “Because I made some really dumb decisions in my life.”
“Such as?” Marissa seated herself, sinking into the couch’s softness.
“Such as buying test answers to Giorgio’s class while I was in my first year of college,” Ivetta confided. “Even though I aced math, I flunked out in most of the other subjects.”
“Really?” Marissa was surprised. “I thought you were smart.”
“I am smart,” Ivetta defended herself. “I said I made some dumb decisions.”
“Well, that still doesn’t explain to me how you got involved in Giorgio’s side business from this end.”
Ivetta sighed. “It’s rather ironic. After I flunked out, I met Giles; and my life seemed to be going great. We got married, and moved into the town house next door.”
“So far, so good.”
“The stallion that lived here when we first arrived was from Ponyland; his name was Decagon, and he was very friendly and helpful. But as it turned out, he was just temporary; when that school year ended, he moved back to his home; and Giorgio came back to the town house.”
“Did he remember you as one of his students?”
“Remember me?” Ivetta spat bitterly. “Down to the last detail! He came out one evening while I was watering flowers, and casually mentioned that he knew about my cheating during his class that year.”
“What did you say?”
“I told him it hadn’t done me any good anyway, and he told me that maybe not back then, but it could prove beneficial for me now. He went on to outline some work I could do for him.”
“So that’s when he got you hooked into his scam.”
“I said no, that I wouldn’t help him,” Ivetta justified herself. “But he threatened to tell Giles about my dishonesty, and you know how my husband feels about cheating, Marissa.”
“You realize that what you are doing now is basically the same as cheating, don’t you?” Marissa asked.
“Now I do, but at the time I was too upset to think straight. He said all I had to do was to keep track of all the ‘purchases’ made by the students; he even bought a computer for me to use.”
“How did you explain that to Giles?”
“I told him that Mom had gotten it for me to keep household accounts on. And that’s basically all I had to do the first year, keep Giorgio’s accounts. But when he went on another of those exchange things, he showed me the secret door between the two houses, and told me he expected me to keep track of the new teacher who would be moving in-- like where he kept the test sheets and things like that. Before I knew it, I was stealing test keys and duplicating for the runners that Giorgio had on campus.”
“Like me,” Marissa grinned.
Ivetta stood up, and ran a hoof over the books on the end table next to the couch. “These are all too big; Giorgio said that it’s a slim book with a bright red cover.” She led the way back to the third floor. The two interlopers first went into the den to have a look around.
“Hey! Is Vanguard married?” Marissa asked as she caught sight of the framed picture on the desk.
“No, she’s just his friend,” replied Ivetta. “Giorgio was interested to find that out.”
“Why would he care about something like that?”
“He collects information about ponies.”
Marissa swung her head in Ivetta’s direction. “Information? What do you mean by that?”
“He finds things out about... them,” Ivetta answered, then seemed to regret her words. She immediately changed the subject. “Vanguard always keeps his briefcase locked. That’s something else I’ve got to do-- find the key and get a duplicate made.”
The desk was locked, too, so the mares checked out all the other likely places, but to no avail. They then retraced their steps through the entire house, but came up empty-hooved. “Giorgio isn’t going to be too pleased about this,” Ivetta grumbled. “But there’s nothing more we can do about the key. Let’s try to find that book again.”
She and Marissa returned to the spare bedroom through which they had originally entered the town house, and began a perusal of the bookshelf. “Do you remember the title?” Marissa asked.
But just then, Ivetta pulled a red-covered volume from the shelf. “This must be it,” she exclaimed “Poems of Life and Love. It meets the description.” She began thumbing through the thin book; then, when no picture became visible, she held the book by the spine and turned it upside-down. Still no picture. Shaking the book irritably, she screamed, “Where is that stupid picture?”
Marissa grabbed the book from her accomplice, and searched through it thoroughly. “It’s not here, Ivetta.”
“Shhh... did you hear that?” Both mares stood in complete silence. Somewhere in the depths of the building, a door closed. “Giles must have gotten home early!” Ivetta whispered in a panicked voice. “Quick! We’ve got to get out of here!”
Swiftly stashing the book on the shelf, Marissa then helped ease the bookshelf away from the wall, and they disappeared into the chasm that was revealed. As the case settled once more into position with an audible click, a lone book dropped to the floor.
* * *
The morning after the wedding, Vanguard approached the back door of Sugarberry’s house and knocked. He had slipped from the motel early, leaving a message for his parents that he would breakfast with Sugarberry rather than join the morning gathering that Agatha was hosting for all the out-of-towners. Clare, too, would be attending Agatha’s function, so Vanguard chose this time to sneak away for some private time.
It was Strawberry Shortcake who opened the door. “Good morning, Vanguard. Come on in,” she invited. “Sugarberry is sleeping-in this morning, but you’re welcome to a cup of coffee while I stir up some muffins.” She bustled to the counter and poured coffee for Vanguard, and set the steaming mug before him at the table. “You’re up bright and early,” she commented as she went back to her baking.
“Didn’t want to waste any time while I’m back in Dream Valley,” the county blue stallion grinned.
“Strawberry Baskets was up early, too. He likes to walk through town every time we come back to see all the improvements and changes that have occurred.”
“You’ve been in Berryville for how long now?” Vanguard queried.
“It will be coming up on seven years. Sugarberry had just graduated from high school. And you know, it all seems like just yesterday,” Strawberry Shortcake mused. “But on the other hoof, I guess a lot has happened since then. Look at Tabby... all grown up and married now. She and Thomas sure looked happy yesterday, didn’t they?”
“Yes, they did,” said Vanguard.
“Well, they’ll have a good life ahead of them,” she predicted as she put the muffins in the oven, and got herself some coffee. She sat across from Vanguard at the table while Raptor, the black-tiger kitten, sat on a chair and watched them with half-closed eyes. “And how about you? How long can you stay here in Dream Valley?”
“Just until tomorrow, I’m afraid. Clare and I are scheduled to fly out after lunch... unless she can persuade Guido to fly us out on his own jet.”
“Clare’s a lovely mare. She seems to think highly of this Guido.”
“Yes, “ Vanguard replied, “although Guido might not realize just how highly.”
“Guido did seem a bit taken with Princess Tiffany yesterday,” Strawberry Shortcake agreed. “What did Clare think of that?”
“She’s used to his ways,” Vanguard guardedly admitted.
“And things are going well with you in Vulcanopolis?”
“As well as can be expected,” said Vanguard. “But I’ll be glad to get back to Pony Pride for good in December.” He took advantage of a pause in the conversation to reach a hoof into the backpack that he had set on the floor, removing a photograph. “I’ve been hoping that we’d get a chance to talk alone,” he informed Strawberry Shortcake.
“I thought you had something on your mind that was bothering you,” she acknowledged. “What is it?”
He leaned across the table, setting the picture upside-down on the table ahead of her. “I found this in a book at Giorgio’s Italian home,” he explained.
Strawberry Shortcake stared at the back of the picture; even without seeing the image captured by the camera, she knew what it was. She slowly reached out, and turned the photo over-- a photo of herself, her two eldest daughters, and Giorgio, Sr.
“And so it still comes back to haunt me?” she said in a soft voice. She looked up to face Vanguard’s penetrating gaze. “They say it’s a small world, and I guess this proves it.”
“I don’t know the history of that photograph, but I thought it was best if I brought it to you.”
Returning her gaze to the photo, Strawberry Shortcake remained silent for a time. “I didn’t expect to ever see this picture again; there were only two copies, and one has already been destroyed.”
“I hope it hasn’t upset you,” stated Vanguard anxiously. “I could have left it where it was, or gotten rid of it myself.”
“No, you have a right to know the story behind it.” She placed the picture on the table between them. “This is Giorgio, the father of the teacher who has taken your place at Pony Pride. Sugarberry’s father and I met him on an out-of-town excursion, and Giorgio and I had the opportunity to spend several pleasant afternoons together watching over Raspberry and Gooseberry while their father was learning more about fruit propagation.” She stopped to relive some of the memories that were again flooding her mind.
“This was before Sugarberry was born?” Vanguard asked softly, considering the possibilities presented by the image before him.
“Two months before, to be exact,” Strawberry Shortcake replied with a smile, reading the stallion’s mind. “Giorgio and I spent our time sipping lemonade by the pool side while the girls played with the other foals staying at our hotel. It was all very innocent, but Strawberry Baskets frowned upon my befriending the dashing, dark green stallion anyway.”
“I can well imagine,” frowned Vanguard, remembering his mistrust of Wigwam.
Strawberry Shortcake caught the innuendo in his brief statement. “Don’t worry about Sugarberry,” she commiserated. “Her heart is solely yours.”
The smile that lit Vanguard’s face at hearing those words was stored away in Strawberry Shortcake’s mental file of unforgettable treasures; Vanguard had won a spot in her heart simply by loving her daughter.
But for the present moment, she continued their previous conversation. “Sugarberry knows the story of myself and Giorgio, and she is free to discuss it with you if you want to know more about it, and there are some interesting details I’ve left out. But please don’t mention it around Strawberry Baskets; after all these years, he is still a bit sensitive about it.”
“Of course, I won’t.”
“And Vanguard, if I can offer you a bit of advice, don’t ever allow secrets to get in the way of your life with Sugarberry.”
“Did I hear my name mentioned?” asked Sugarberry as she entered the kitchen with Fluff trailing behind. “ ‘Morning, Mom.” She slipped into the chair next to Vanguard, linking her foreleg with his. “I thought I heard your voice. It’s so good to find you sitting in my kitchen again!”
“It feels like home,” he smiled, and kissed her cheek.
The oven buzzer informed the trio that the muffins were done; before going to the oven, however, Strawberry Shortcake instructed Vanguard, “Show her the picture; then, please burn it.”
A puzzled Sugarberry looked from one to the other, and Vanguard pointed out the photo still lying on the table. “Mom, I thought you had destroyed it years ago!” She picked it up to study it more closely. “Giorgio does look exactly like his father.” She glanced at Vanguard. “And acts like him, too.”
“Your mom has told me the story behind the picture. I found this copy accidentally in Giorgio’s town house. It’s amazing how our lives have been thrown together again now.”
“Isn’t it? To think that of all the teachers in Vulcanopolis, the one sent to Pony Pride would be this stallion’s son. But even more astounding is that you would come across this picture while there.”
Strawberry Shortcake set a baking pan on the table and a book of matches. “Right now?” Vanguard questioned.
“The sooner the better, in my estimation,” responded Strawberry Shortcake.
So, lighting the match, Vanguard had soon disposed of all traces of the photo. Rinsing the ashes down the drain, Strawberry Shortcake breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m glad that’s done with.”
At that moment, the back door opened to reveal Strawberry Baskets arriving back from his walk. He carried a basket of grapes, fresh from the vine. “I smell freshly-baked muffins,” he observed, sniffing the air. “Although they might be a tad over-baked,” he added, catching the scent of burning.
“The muffins are perfect,” his wife informed him, shoving a plate of the delicately browned blueberry delights under his nose. “You got back just in time.”
“I stopped by Leafy’s place, and he picked these grapes for us,” he explained about the basket of fruit. He set them on the table, and pulled up a chair. As soon as he sat down, Raptor jumped onto his lap.
“They look scrumptious,” exclaimed Sugarberry, helping herself to a bunch. “Yum. They taste best fresh off the vine.”
“No kidding,” mumbled Vanguard as she fed him some.
“Leafy was asking about the wedding, and wondered if Tabby had ever learned to cook,” Strawberry Baskets stated. “I told him that if she and Thomas are setting-up a new home, she must have gained some culinary experience somewhere along the line.”
Sugarberry giggled. “No such luck. The gang went together on her shower, and got her a beautiful and expensive set of pots and pans. Tabby wasn’t impressed.”
“She’ll learn over time,” determined Strawberry Shortcake. “If you will remember,” she directed at her husband, “I wasn’t of much use in the kitchen when we were first married either.”
“Then there is hope for Tabby,” declared Vanguard as he took a bite of muffin. “These are delicious!” Fluff sat patiently next to his chair, waiting for any crumbs that might drop.
“Can Thomas cook?” Strawberry Baskets asked. “I’m not half bad, if I have to get something ready.” He winked at his wife. Then, seeing Chocolate Chip standing in the doorway, he called, “Well, sleepyhead, you finally decided to wake up! Come, join the party!” He moved a chair out for the brown filly.
“Did you leave anything for me to eat?” she grinned as she hugged the stallion before sitting down. “Good morning, everybody!” she greeted the rest of the ponies. “Nice to see you here, too, Vanguard.”
“No place I’d rather be,” he confessed.
“What’s the plan for the rest of the day?” Strawberry Baskets asked. “I need to know when I can fit in a nap later on.”
“And you call my sleepyhead!” tormented Chocolate Chip, much to Strawberry Shortcake’s delight.
“You’ll keep him in line,” she patted the filly’s hoof. “As for the schedule-- after church, we will get ready for lunch. Vanguard’s folks will be here along with Clare and Wigwam, and our girls, of course.” She looked at the assembled ponies for verification. As the heads all nodded in agreement, she continued. “We’ll spend a quiet afternoon visiting, as Grapevine and family will be leaving for their home later on about the same time that Floral Breeze and Whirlpool say they want to get underway; is that correct, Vanguard?”
“Yup. They want to get on the road by four o’clock to get them back to Woodlawn by dark. And Sugarberry, Clare, and I are dining with Giorgio at the Estate Manor this evening.”
Strawberry Baskets choked on his coffee as he heard that name mentioned. “‘Scuse me,” he apologized, looking at his wife. “I’ll never get used to hearing that name again.”
Chocolate Chip perked up. “Am I missing something?”
“Nothing, really,” Strawberry Shortcake explained. “Sugarberry’s dad and I met Giorgio’s father years ago...”
“And his name was Giorgio, too,” interjected Sugarberry.
“And Strawberry Baskets wasn’t too impressed with the stallion,” Strawberry Shortcake finished.
“He’s smooth, Dad says,” Chocolate Chip recalled. “And I’ll have him for one of my classes when school starts.” She looked to Vanguard with pleading eyes while clasping his hoof in hers. “Please say you’re staying in Dream Valley for the first semester classes!”
“Yes, please do!” chimed in Sugarberry. She threw her forelegs around his neck for emphasis.
Vanguard looked totally distraught. “Stop, you two! You know that I have to leave for Vulcanopolis tomorrow!”
Feeling sorry for the stallion, Strawberry Shortcake intervened. “Girls, If you have so much energy, you can get started on the dishes. And Strawberry Baskets, didn’t you want Vanguard’s help with that broken hoe handle?”
The ponies dispersed, and the morning proceeded smoothly. It was later in the day that Sugarberry and Vanguard joined in pleasant conversation with their families and guests.
“That orange chocolate cheesecake was fabulous,” Floral Breeze complimented Strawberry Shortcake. “I’ve got to have the recipe.”
“Yes, Mom,” Sugarberry agreed. “The white chocolate and the mandarin oranges were perfect together.” She, Vanguard, and Raspberry were helping with the dishes while Chocolate Chip and Clare were out on the lawn playing a game of croquet with Gooseberry and Grapevine’s foals. The sounds of their excited laughter carried through the open kitchen window. Little Baby Gooseberry, the newborn foal, had needed her mother’s attention and was now being sung to sleep in the quiet living room. Strawberry Baskets, Whirlpool, Wigwam, and Grapevine were engaged in a game of poker, playing for sugar cubes.
“And it’s easy to make,” Strawberry Shortcake informed them. “Just remember to drain the oranges thoroughly.”
“I remember when Vanguard was young and decided to fix himself a snack. He cooked up a box of pasta for macaroni and cheese, but didn’t realize the need to drain the macaroni after they were cooked,” Floral Breeze shared.
Mom!” protested Vanguard.
Floral Breeze ignored her son. “But he added the cheese packet, butter, and milk, and ended up with cheese and pasta soup, which might have been good if it wasn’t for the watery consistency.”
“It was disgusting,” Vanguard admitted.
Sugarberry giggled. “I’m glad Chocolate Chip isn’t in the room to squeal on me,” she said, remembering her pan of water-logged brownies.”
Vanguard raised an eyebrow. “Is this something I should know about?”
“Let’s just say that not all my attempts at baking turn out right,” she confessed. Turning to Floral Breeze, she asked. “Are there any other cute little stories about Vanguard that I might be interested in?”
“Enough already,” Vanguard put his hoof down. “I’ve been picked on adequately for one day!”
But Floral Breeze was happy to continue. “The worst he ever did was break an antique vase.”
“That she found about, anyway...” Vanguard quipped as an aside.
“My oldest son, Stillwater, was watching the other two colts while their dad and I went to a business function. Stillwater wasn’t too interested in taking an active role in his responsibilities, and ended up spending the entire time in his room listening to music and talking on the phone. In the meantime, Vanguard was practicing softball in the house, which was a definite no-no, and ended up hitting the vase with a wild ball. The vase broke into a number of pieces.”
Interjecting a point of fact, Vanguard said, “Seven, to be exact. I remember because I thought it was strange at the time that the number of pieces matched my age.”
“Well, not to be caught with an obvious misdemeanor, Vanguard decided to glue the thing back together, which he did.”
“And it looked pretty good, too,” the stallion recalled.
“He replaced in on the walnut table in the corner of the room where it had stood for many years, and thought he was free and clear. But Icon, who was just a toddler at the time, had seen his brother working on the vase and went over to check it out. He had the misfortune to trip over the carpeting, and succeeded in knocking the vase to the floor a second time.”
“Oh, no,” Sugarberry gasped.
“Whirlpool and I happened to arrive home just then, and found Icon in tears with the shattered vase laying at his hooves. ‘Me knocked vase down,’ he admitted, while Vanguard kept his mouth shut. After I had reprimanded Icon for playing too roughly in the house, I relegated him to his room and returned to pick up the pieces of the vase. That’s when I found the broken edges all covered with glue, and knew that more had occurred than I was aware of.”
“Oops!” Raspberry sympathized with a glance at Vanguard.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk. Naughty baby pony,” Sugarberry frowned at her friend, shaking her head.
“Hey! What did I do? Icon told Mom that he’d knocked the vase off the table, and he had. No one asked me for any information, so I just kept quiet,” Vanguard defended himself.
“To his credit, Vanguard came forward when he realized that the truth was going to come out and admitted what had actually happened,” she ended her story on a positive note.
“Just imagine what I had to go through,” said Raspberry. “I not only had to put up with Sugarberry; but as Tabby was with her half the time, I had both of them to contend with. I think they purposely targeted me as their victim.”
“For example?” Vanguard inquired.
“They’d fill the entire house with those My Little People dolls. Agatha must have gotten every one of them for Tabby, and Sugarberry had a large enough bunch of them herself.”
“There was nothing wrong with us playing with our dolls,” Sugarberry reminded her sister.
“That’s true. But you had dolls and doll playsets all over the place. A pony couldn’t sit down or take a step for fear of squashing one of them.”
“It really wasn’t that bad,” whispered Sugarberry to Vanguard.
“The embarrassing part was that whenever a colt came over to study with me, those two would hold a wedding ceremony in some conspicuous place where it was impossible to ignore them.”
“Driftwood was one of those suitors,” she mentioned conspiratorially to Vanguard. “And it was just coincidence that the guys chose to come over at the time the weddings were held.”
Raspberry ignored the interruption. “Well, all I know for sure is that each of you had only one male doll. Let’s see... Tabby’s was Kevin, I believe, and Sugarberry... yours was...?”
“Grant,” Sugarberry provided.
“Yes, Grant. Tabby would always insist that Kevin be the groom-- he must have married every doll in the house at one time or another-- and Grant always had to stand in as the priest.”
“It obviously was good practice,” Sugarberry retorted. “Tabby was absolutely beautiful as a bride, and she performed wonderfully. Wasn’t her burst of eloquence at the wedding the best? If anyone had any doubts as to her sincerity, they were answered fully with that reply to Guido. And Thomas-- he looked like the happiest stallion on the face of the earth.” She sighed. “It was so romantic!”
“It was very sentimental; I had tears running down my cheeks,” Strawberry Shortcake admitted, hanging up the used dish towels.
The dishes being finished, the group went their separate ways to enjoy the afternoon. Strawberry Shortcake and Floral Breeze went into the living room to check on Gooseberry and the foal. Raspberry joined the poker game, and Wigwam opted to get outside “with the foals,” he said-- but everyone knew that Chocolate Chip was the draw. He, Vanguard, and Sugarberry went out back to watch the croquet game in progress. Sugarberry was pleased to note that Vanguard and Wigwam had entered into a much more companionable friendship since Chocolate Chip had captured Wigwam’s attention.
Gooseberry’s eldest daughter, Wineberry, was attempting to drill the ball through the last two hoops with miserable results. Huckleberry, her younger brother, whooped with pleasure every time she missed.
“Here, let me show you how to do that,” Wigwam said to the discouraged foal. He took the mallet from her hooves and demonstrated the proper form; then, guiding her as she made her shot, the ball went smoothly through the hoops, hitting the stick.
“No fair helping,” chided Chocolate Chip as she saw the downcast face of Huckleberry. “To make this impartial, I’ll have to help Huckleberry a bit.” She guided his small hooves on the mallet, and between the two of them, made a decent play.
Laughing, Clare protested. “Who’s playing this game anyway, the foals or the adults?”
“Me no play anymore,” stated Huckleberry, throwing his mallet to the ground. “Hunt bugs, Winebee?” He tugged insistently at his sister.
“Let’s go get a jar from Grandma first,” Wineberry instructed.
As the foals ran off, Wigwam issued a challenge. “Anyone think they can beat me at a game of croquet?” He picked up a mallet, and took a few practice shots.
“I know I can,” Chocolate Chip responded as she grabbed one as well.
“I’m in,” said Vanguard.
“Me, too,” chimed Clare.
Sugarberry reluctantly agreed, knowing she was doomed to failure.
So then began a competitive round of croquet with a fairly even beginning. But it was a no holds barred approach when it came to shooting the opponent’s ball away. Sugarberry groaned as Wigwam sent hers to the far reaches of the lawn. “Thanks, buddy,” she griped as she realized how far it had gone.
Soon Vanguard did the same to Clare, but Chocolate Chip showed her mettle by sending Vanguard’s into the outer limits as well. On his next turn, however, he was able to get back into play.
“Lucky shot!” scoffed Wigwam.
Through some rather unfortunate swinging, Clare and Sugarberry got farther and farther behind. “I hate sports,” Sugarberry fumed to Clare as she brushed her mane out of her face.
Clare only laughed. “Be glad it’s not soccer.”
Finally managing to hit a smooth shot, Clare distanced herself from Sugarberry who was left alone near the rock garden where Wineberry and Huckleberry were searching for insects. A sudden cry from Huckleberry pulled Sugarberry’s attention from the game; she found her nephew lying next to one of the large, rough rocks in her garden setting, his knee scraped and bleeding.
“Me fall off rock,” he sobbed while at the same time trying to appear brave.
“Oh, my! You poor little thing,” Sugarberry commiserated. “Let’s get you to the house and clean that up.”
Signaling to the rest of the players to continue the game, Sugarberry and Wineberry helped Huckleberry into the house. Upon seeing his tears, Gooseberry immediately came to the rescue. “Here, Sugarberry. You hold the baby while I take care of Huck. Mom’s warming a bottle in the kitchen.”
Sugarberry accepted the small foal into her forelegs, and went to find the baby’s bottle. “Is Baby Gooseberry still not able to fall asleep?” she asked her mother.
“No. She misses her home. Gooseberry thought a warm bottle might settle her down. Do you want to feed it to her?”
“Sure. I’ll take her out to the porch swing. Maybe she’ll like the out-of-doors.” Settling into the swing with the foal, Sugarberry smiled down at the little pony that was a miniature of her mother. “You’re a Twice-As-Fancy beauty, little one,” she whispered softly. Baby Gooseberry accepted the bottle, and sucked contentedly; soon she was fast asleep. Sugarberry enjoyed the quiet time rocking the swing slowly back and forth.
Hearing a hoofstep, she looked up from the sleeping foal’s face to see Vanguard coming up the stairs. “Your mom said I’d find you here.” He sat on the swing next to Sugarberry.
“Who won the game?” she asked.
“Clare,” Vanguard admitted good-naturedly.
“Clare?” Sugarberry was unbelieving.
“As it turned out, Wigwam, Chocky, and I were having so much fun sending each other off the playing field that Clare slowly but surely worked her way to the end of the course, and finished us all off.”
Laughing, Sugarberry queried, “How did Wigwam take that?”
“Not bad, actually. But he claims that he let her win.”
“Typical,” Sugarberry responded.
“How’s the foal doing?” Vanguard asked as Baby Gooseberry’s tiny hooves darted outward as if something upsetting had occurred in her dream.
“She’s fine, if not a little homesick. Isn’t she the most precious thing?” Sugarberry said softly, caressing one soft cheek with her hoof.
“She’s special, all right,” Vanguard agreed. “But all foals are.” They sat in peaceful companionship for several minutes. Vanguard contemplated the whimsical smile that played on Sugarberry’s face as she looked down at the sleeping baby, a smile that appeared whenever a little one was in her presence. “You’ll make an enchanting mother someday, Sugarberry,” he stated softly.
She looked at him tenderly, but the moment was lost in the sudden burst of the opening door as Huckleberry raced out to show off his wounded knee. “Look! Look! Me got Superspritz band-aid!” The colt had been cleaned up and a colorful band-aid decorated with the cartoon hero, Superspritz, and his helper, Coombie, covered the torn flesh.
Soon Wineberry appeared, too, with a band-aid on her foreleg. “I didn’t need one, but they were so cool that Mom let me have one,” she explained. Her band-aid had Coral Blaze as the main character.
Gooseberry, Floral Breeze, and Strawberry Shortcake followed the foals out onto the porch. Baby Gooseberry opened her eyes for a brief moment on hearing her mother’s voice, then settled more comfortably into Sugarberry’s forelegs and returned to sleep.
“You’re doing a good job there, Sugarberry,” her sister complimented her.
“I think she just couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer,” Sugarberry rationalized.
“The fresh air was good for her,” surmised Strawberry Shortcake.
“It’s a perfect day to travel,” Floral Breeze observed as she walked to the porch railing and let the gentle winds play over her. “I’m so grateful to Agatha for including Whirlpool and me at her daughter’s wedding.”
“I am, too,” both Vanguard and Sugarberry said at the same time, and grinned at each other.
“That means seven more years together for the two of you, as the old mare’s tale goes,” Strawberry Shortcake laughed.
“I hope for more than that,” Vanguard admitted.
The afternoon passed quickly, and soon Raspberry, Sugarberry, and the other ponies began preparing a backyard supper before the travelers began their journey home. Not only were Vanguard’s folks leaving that afternoon, but also Gooseberry and her family, as well as Raspberry to help with the foals. There was a good array of food for everyone to eat their fill and lots of conversation still to be discussed, so it was a lively get-together.
As the ponies finished eating, the mares gravitated out onto the lawn to admire the flowers that were blooming in various locations around Sugarberry’s property. As they were enjoying the beauty of the rock garden, Huckleberry ran up to them, and pointed out one particularly craggy rock in the array. “T’at one ‘urt me,” he stated. “Me fall off.”
“What were you doing on top of the rock?” his mother questioned.
“Chasin’ bug,” he stated.
“Did you catch it?” Clare inquired of the little colt.
“Nope!” he shook his head. “Bug jumped.”
“I had a rock garden when the boys were little,” Floral Breeze reminisced. “Vanguard questioned me once when I was watering it as to why I was bothering to do that as rocks don’t grow anyway.”
The mare’s laughter caused the stallions to look their way, and Vanguard, feeling all eyes focused on him, rolled his eyes. “I don’t even want to know,” he lamented with a resigned grin on his face.
In too short a period, it was time for the travelers to leave. First Floral Breeze and Whirlpool said their goodbyes; then Gooseberry’s family and Raspberry packed up the foals and prepared to depart as well. Once they were gone, Strawberry Shortcake and Strawberry Baskets went for a walk, accompanying Clare back to her motel as she wanted to take a quick shower, and Sugarberry’s house seemed terribly quiet. “No more little giggles and running in and out,” she sighed.
“Peaceful, isn’t it?” Wigwam winked at her.
“Not until you leave,” grinned the mare. Vanguard snickered.
“She’s getting feistier by the day,” Wigwam directed to Vanguard. “I thought she’d soften up a bit with you around.”
Vanguard shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t see a problem.” To Sugarberry, he said, “Don’t forget that we’re to meet Giorgio a little later.”
If the two stallions exchanged a cautious glance, Sugarberry didn’t notice. “I better go and freshen up a bit. Wigwam, would you be a dear and clean the cats’ litter boxes?” she added as she slipped from the room.
Chocolate Chip laughed at Wigwam’s scowling face. “I’ll do it,” she offered. “But you have to fill the food dishes-- and Raptor wants only Whiskas, so don’t make a mistake and put Friskies in the wrong bowl.”
Sugarberry and Vanguard picked up Clare at the motel, and then went on to the Estate Manor to meet Giorgio. Vanguard had set up this rendezvous as the dean of his department at Leonardo University had instructed him to deliver some important papers directly into Giorgio’s hooves. There were also some problems for both teachers that needed to be discussed. Vanguard had included Clare in the evening to keep her mind off Guido, and she was excited at the prospect of dining with Giorgio.
They had barely arrived at the supper club when Giorgio came in, and they were soon seated. For Vanguard, this was his first face-to-face meeting with the stallion who was the cause of his being uprooted from Dream Valley. This evening, Giorgio came across as the professional he was meant to be, and talk centered around university affairs in both cities.
It was a shock for Sugarberry, therefore, when Giorgio directed a surprising statement at her. “My father would love to meet you.”
“Wh... Why do you say that?” Sugarberry stuttered.
“He always thought Twice-As-Fancy ponies were special for some reason; and he said that if he ever saw one with a strawberry pattern, he knew she’d be the most special of all.”
“And why did he say that?” Vanguard asked for the stunned mare at his side.
“I’m not entirely sure,” Giorgio admitted, “although I once saw a picture of him with a mare and two foals who were Twice-As-Fancy.”
“Maybe the mare was a sweetheart of his,” Clare surmised. “Was she strawberry patterned?”
“Just the foals were Twice-As-Fancy,” Giorgio mused. “But I think you may be right about his having felt something for the mare; he insinuated that if he had met her earlier in his life, things would have been very different for him.”
Sugarberry darted a quick glance at Vanguard, and then busied herself rearranging the food on her plate. She hoped no one noticed her trembling hoof.
“So why he was interested in a particular Twice-As-Fancy pony remains a mystery,” Clare considered.
Just then the waiter came to ask them about dessert, and the conversation drifted to other subjects. When the meal was over, Giorgio was the first to leave.
“It was nice to meet you, Clare; I’m sorry our paths haven’t crossed before,” he said to the lavender milliner. “I’ll make it a point to correct that when I return to Vulcanopolis.”
Clare smiled sweetly as he kissed her hoof. “I’ll look forward to hearing from you.”
Sugarberry steeled herself for his signature method of parting with the mares, and tried to look nonchalant for Vanguard’s sake; but once he had her hoof in his, and their eyes met, she succumbed to the same mesmerizing effect as her first meeting. After the kiss, he still held her hoof, murmuring, “There’s something...”, but he didn’t finish his thought, and simply released her hoof. Sugarberry was too bewildered to notice what parting remark was made to Vanguard as Giorgio left the table, but she saw the worry in Vanguard’s eyes when she turned to face him.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
Clare, too, was concerned. “What’s wrong, Sugarberry? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Sugarberry shook her head as if to clear it. “There’s something about that stallion,” she reasoned. “He’s unsettling.” A tremor went through her body.
“Well, his father is an important stallion back home and I think Giorgio radiates some of his repute,” Clare offered.
“Are you two ready to go?”Vanguard asked, sensing that Sugarberry was still feeling uncomfortable after her encounter with Giorgio. He moved back his chair, and helped the mares with theirs. They were about to depart when the restaurant doors opened to reveal Tiffany and Guido arriving to dine. Both seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, and Guido appeared surprised to run into his friends.
“Vanguard, didn’t expect to see you here,” he jovially remarked. “Good evening, Clare. And Sugarberry.” Tiffany smiled graciously.
“Guido, I’m glad we ran into you,” Clare bubbled. “Vanguard and I have tickets for a commercial flight out tomorrow, but I wasn’t sure if you’d be taking us home on your jet instead.”
Guido looked at Tiffany before answering Clare. “I’ve decided to spend some time here in Dream Valley, studying my options. You do understand, don’t you, Clare?”
Before Clare could answer, Tiffany tugged at her companion’s foreleg. “The maitre d’ is waiting for us,” she stated, pulling the stallion away from the trio.
Watching the pair as they were escorted into the dining room, Clare’s temper surged. “I’d give anything to give him a piece of my mind!” She took a step in Guido’s direction, but Vanguard stopped her.
“Not here, Clare.”
She glared at him for a moment, then relaxed. “You’re right, of course. Now’s not the time or the place.”
Vanguard and Sugarberry walked Clare back to her room at The Corral and then continued on to Sugarberry’s house. “How do you feel about that conversation with Giorgio about his father’s memories about your mother?” Vanguard asked now that they could talk freely.
“Confused,” admitted Sugarberry. “His father seems to have been more affected by the time spent with my mother than she was aware of.”
“You told me earlier that the first time you met Giorgio that you felt like you were reliving an experience, and you claimed that it had stayed in your memory since the time you were an unborn foal, and strengthened by the sight of the photo when you were young. How did you feel tonight?”
“I was fine until he started in on that Twice-As-Fancy talk. And when he went through his farewell routine that I can remember so well from the past, I felt frightened, like some sort of premonition hanging in the air.” She looked at Vanguard with an expression that tore his heart; he couldn’t assuage her fears even if he would have been free to divulge the full reason for his acceptance of the exchange program in Vulcanopolis. Knowing the truth would only cause her to worry more, he was sure. But keeping the secret did not make him happy.
“What are you thinking about?” Sugarberry finally asked as Vanguard wrestled with his own thoughts.
“About how much I’m going to miss you when I head back to Vulcanopolis tomorrow,” he responded, glad for a chance to bare his soul. “These days back home have been an answer to my prayers-- to be with you again.”
“I miss you already, just knowing you’re leaving tomorrow.”
“But remember-- the next time I come back, it’s for keeps. Hang on to that.”
“I’ll try. But a million things could change your plans!” She brushed a tear from her eye, vowing that she would not succumb to weeping. In that moment, she was swept into a tight embrace and smothered with a convincing kiss, then released.
“I’ll be back in December, Sugarberry. You can count on that.”
Sugarberry was grateful for the darkening night so her tears would go unnoticed. Her being cried out in anguish as an unaccountable dread of some unforeseen difficulty engulfed her. She was grateful when, upon arriving at her house, she found her parents in the porch swing. Right now, the only place she felt safe was under their protection.
She wore a bright smile as Vanguard accepted an invitation to breakfast and said goodnight, but as soon as he was gone, Sugarberry drew her parents into the kitchen where she unburdened her fears and presentiments to them until their words of reassurance had calmed her storm-tossed spirit. Her mother led her to bed and sat at her side as if she was still her little girl; and even after Sugarberry fell asleep, Strawberry Shortcake kept silent vigil, suffering her own agony that she had ever dared strike-up a seemingly blameless acquaintance with an unknown stallion twenty-five years before.
* * *
The new day-- Monday-- dawned sunny and bright with an uncomfortable humidity in the air that dampened already dark humors. After breakfast, Chocolate Chip went off to work and Strawberry Baskets and Strawberry Shortcake made preparations to leave for Berryville. Strawberry Shortcake kept a concerned lookout over her daughter, but Sugarberry covered her apprehensions well and apologized for her dark spiral of thoughts the evening before.
She kept up a playful banter with Vanguard that she hoped sounded natural, although she felt as if her heart was breaking inside. When her parents finally bid her farewell, she had progressed to a state of numbness-- her words and smiles were cheerful, but automatic; they only masked her true unhappiness over the partings of the day.
Entering the empty house after a round of fond farewells, Sugarberry sighed. “The party is over now, isn’t it? Tabby’s wedding was my lifeblood for months. Now it’s all in the past.” She picked up the floral crown that had been her headpiece and touched the wilted flowers.
Vanguard took the circle from her hooves and set it back on the end table. He took her hooves in his own, and smiled into her tortured eyes. “It’s just the beginning, Sugarberry... for Tabby and Thomas, and for you and me. It’s the little things, the day-to-day things, that matter the most-- in good times and in bad. Please let go of the dark mood you’re in. Don’t let Giorgio affect you this way.”
“I despise him, Vanguard! I truly do. He’s like a catalyst for evil.” It felt good to have anger replace her depression. “I think he’s a horrible pony!”
The phone rang, and taking a deep breath before answering it, Sugarberry had herself in control when she finally said, “Hello?”
“Sugarberry! It’s Elaine,” the voice on the other end met her ear. “I’ve got a problem!”
“What is it, Elaine? You sound distraught. Nothing happened to Tab...”
“No, no,” Elaine cut in quickly. “It’s just that with the clinic closed today, I got an emergency call here at Thomas’ house. Blueprint’s bulldog is in some kind of distress and he’s rushing it to the clinic. I’m to meet them there, Sugarberry, and I can’t find the key Thomas left for me!”
“Don’t get excited, Elaine. I’ve got a key. Get yourself to the clinic; I’ll be there shortly.” Putting down the receiver and picking up her key off the desk in one fluid motion, Sugarberry grabbed Vanguard’s foreleg and headed for the door, explaining the situation as they went. The heat was oppressive, and their near-run to the clinic had both of them sweating and short of breath by the time they arrived.
Elaine was already waiting, and Blueprint was coming down the street with his dog, wrapped in a wet towel, clutched in his forelegs. The grieved look on the stallion’s face told of the gravity of the situation. Elaine threw open the examining room door, and Blueprint gently eased his burden onto the table.
“Taking the time to apply the cold, wet towel was well worth it,” she explained to Blueprint as she worked. “The symptoms you gave me over the phone along with the weather we are experiencing today point to heat stroke.”
As she checked the temperature of the panting animal, she gently massaged his muscles “to improve blood flow,” she explained. “We’ve got to cool him down.” Reading the thermometer, she looked hopeful. “One hundred and seven. We’ll apply more cold water and bring this down to an acceptable level. You responded quickly when you found him this way; that’s a big help,” she smiled at the owner.
Sugarberry and Vanguard left the veterinarian to her work, and got a glass of water for themselves. “She’s taken control of the situation like a pro,” Sugarberry beamed. “And she was nervous about her first day on the job tomorrow.”
“It looks like she’ll do fine,” Vanguard agreed. “How about you?”
“Don’t worry about me,” she responded. “I may shed some more tears, but you know that’s to be expected. It’ll help to be back at work tomorrow; Elaine and I will both be so busy that we won’t have time to think about our particular problems.”
“Are you going to wait here at the clinic with Elaine and Blueprint?”
Sugarberry considered her options. “Would you mind if I hang out a little while longer, just in case she needs my support?”
“Actually, I just remembered an errand I had forgotten about. I’ll take care of that, and meet you back here.”
“Okay. I’ll be waiting.” She smiled at him reassuringly.
“Later, then,” he grinned as he went out the door.
Figuring the time of day, Vanguard headed in the direction of Wigwam’s Casino, calculating that the stallion would be organizing things for the day with Butch, who-- Vanguard was surprised to learn on his return to Dream Valley-- was now employed as general manager of the casino since his completion of the work on Agatha’s mansion.
Having never before been to the casino, Vanguard was unsure as to where he would find Wigwam, but upon entering the building, he saw the stallion he was looking for just coming into the lobby from a larger room off to the left. “Vanguard!” he called. “You’re the last pony I expected to see today. Where’s Sugarberry? She didn’t dump you, did she?”
“We’ve got to talk, Wigwam. Can you spare me a few minutes?”
“Sure. Come into my office.”
When the stallions were seated, Vanguard came to the point. “I appreciate your watching out for Sugarberry while I’m gone; I just wanted you to be aware that there’s been a new development in her personal life concerning this Giorgio.”
“What’s that?”
“She senses something untrustworthy about him, and you know how much she worries about things. I can’t explain matters to her, so I’m asking you to make sure she doesn’t get caught up in something she can’t handle.”
“I’d be doing that anyway,” Wigwam replied. He studied Vanguard carefully. “Is there something else?”
“I don’t know. Maybe Sugarberry’s uneasiness is getting to me.”
“What makes you say that?”
“It was something in Giorgio’s manner last night, like he’s gathering pieces to a puzzle.”
“You think he is on to our undercover operation?”
“Maybe that’s it. I’m afraid that when he finds the last piece, Sugarberry will be jeopardized.”
Wigwam sat in thought before answering. “I’ll watch out for her, Van. And Tawny will, too. But I don’t think she’s in any danger. Things are going smoothly on this end; from what you told me on Saturday, I’d expect new developments in Vulcanopolis once you return there.”
Vanguard rose to leave. “You’re the one with the training in problems like this, so I have to trust in your judgement. But I’m not particularly comfortable with it.”
“Hey! If you want to talk about uncomfortable, I’m the one starting a calculus class in a few weeks. I’m a little rusty, so a solution sheet will be worth a fair price to me,” he grinned.
“Just don’t let things get out of control.”
“I don’t plan on it.”
“What was it Sugarberry said last night? ‘A million things could change our plans.’ ”
“You both worry too much,” Wigwam scoffed. “But have a safe trip back to Vulcanopolis.”
“Thanks,” Vanguard replied, and hurried off to meet up with Sugarberry again. Elaine was going to spend the next several hours monitoring Blueprint’s pet, so she bid her farewell to Vanguard and wished him well. Sugarberry and Vanguard spent their remaining time together at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe which was a quiet place at this time of the day, but it erupted into a boisterous circus when Agatha and Hubert showed up with all Agatha’s Italian friends fresh from a shopping spree at the mall.
“Hi, you two!” Clare called as she slipped into a chair at their table. “Look what I got!” She pulled a copy of one of Sugarberry’s novels, Ginseng and Sassafras Tea, out of her shopping bag. “Will you autograph this, please?”
“Sure,” Sugarberry consented. “It would be my pleasure.”
“And guess what?” Clare babbled excitedly. “I was in Lemon Treats’ shop admiring her artistic arrangement of merchandise when Agatha came in and introduced the two of us. We had a grand time discussing fashions and one thing and another; and before I left, she’d agreed to handle some of my designs!”
“Wonderful!” Sugarberry was pleased to see Clare in such an upbeat frame of mind.
Liborio, who had overheard Clare’s announcement, winked at his wife. “Do you hear that, Maria-Giuseppe? Think of all the pretty hats that will get shipped over here, and you won’t have a chance to buy them!”
Maria-Giuseppe, who collected new hats like Tabby gathered up eighties toys, expressed concern. “Clare, you’ll save the best for me, won’t you?”
Battista laughed. “All Clare’s designs are the best!”
“I’ll be very happy to have a source of your work here in Ponyland,” Agatha stated. “We can’t get styles to meet your quality even in New Pony.”
“Clare, when are you going to add stallions’ styles to your line?” Saberio asked.
“Oh, wouldn’t you be handsome in a straw Panama with Clare’s distinctive trim!” teased Lucia.
Catherina had to add her own thoughts. “Actually, I picture him in a black bowler; and Vanguard in a trilby.”
With a sigh, Maria-Giuseppe offered her own thoughts. “I’d love to have a black silk hat for my Liborio.”
“And for you, Hubert,” Clare contributed, “I will whip up a striking felt fedora to wear on your next adventure!”
The festive mood of the bustling shop was the perfect atmosphere to drown any unhappy thoughts or misgivings, and the cold ice cream was the unparalleled antidote for the sultry weather outdoors. When it was time to get to the airport, everyone was in good humor and a party mood prevailed.
There were hugs all around at the terminal and the inevitable last second exchange of information. When the call came that the flight was loading, Sugarberry and Vanguard said their final farewell; she, Agatha, and Hubert watched as all the passengers boarded the plane, and rushed to the observation deck to wave until the plane was off the ground and on its way.
Hubert, who had turned and was facing the western sky, commented. “Look at those black clouds on the horizon, girls. We’re in for a storm before this day is over.”
Sugarberry stared at the thunderheads forming in the distance and shivered even though the temperature was still high. “Yes, quite a storm!” she agreed as she followed Tabby’s parents down the steps and back home again.
* * *
It had been a long two days for Ivetta. She had succeeded in contacting Giorgio concerning her failed attempt to find either the key or the picture in the town house next door, and his reaction was not pleasant. He chided her for not being more thorough in her search; he could understand that the key might be with Vanguard, but the picture would most assuredly have to be in the book. If not, it might have dropped out to the back of the case, or onto the floor, or under the bed. Giorgio had been quite adamant that she find the photo, and soon.
But as the next day was Sunday, Giles was home with her; and on Monday morning, Ivetta herself had to travel across town for a doctor’s appointment that consumed the entire morning. She ended up eating lunch at the sidewalk café where she and Giles had first met, so it wasn’t until mid-afternoon that Ivetta had a chance to once again enter the spare bedroom through the hidden doorway.
Once inside the room, Ivetta reached for the book on the shelf where it had been found earlier, and stared in shock. The spot on the shelf was empty, a thin vacant slit that seemed to swallow up any hope Ivetta had of finding what Giorgio was so desperate to have. Pulling out the books on either side, she reached her hoof to the back of the shelf hoping to touch the glossy surface of a photo, but nothing was there. She crouched down to look under the bed, the dresser, the antique writing desk, even behind the curtains, but to no avail.
Ivetta sat on the floor to think. She and Marissa had left in a rush on Saturday. Could Marissa have put the book back in the wrong place? Quickly she surveyed the book spines, but none were of the brilliant red hue as Poems of Life and Love. One by one, Ivetta pulled out every tome, even going so far as to flip through each of them on the outside chance that the picture itself was misplaced. But all the volumes were empty, except for a few with newspaper clippings that had obviously been used as bookmarks.
Leaning her head against the bookcase, Ivetta groaned. If Giorgio was angry before, what would he feel now? What was she going to tell him? Her only recourse was to explain that she wasn’t home on Monday morning, and whatever became of the book had clearly happened then. Giorgio couldn’t expect her to monitor everything that went on in his town house while he was gone. She cringed when she realized that her excuse seemed flimsy even to herself.
“I’ve got no choice,” Ivetta murmured. “I’ve got to let him know.” She took one last look around the room, and escaped through the wall to her own home, steeling herself for her contact with Giorgio and dreaming of the day when she was no longer under his influence.
* * *
The citizens of Dream Valley were treated to plenty of gossip in the days that followed Tabby’s wedding, for Guido and Tiffany were a constant pair around the town. Dining at the Estate Manor, a night out at Wigwam’s Casino, opening night at The Tableau-- wherever events were happening, the executive and the princess were there.
Evenings at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe were quiet. Gone from the scene were three of the usual players: Tabby and Thomas off on their honeymoon, Tiffany out with her dream stallion. And, of course, Vanguard back in Italy, too. Those members of the gang that gathered nightly would include Toby in their circle of friendship so that he was never alone.
It was the end of the week when an exceptionally large crowd had gathered at the ice cream parlor, including Spike, Friendly, Quarterback and Merry Moments, Sugarberry, Tamara, Toby, Clever Clover, Dawn and Perry, and even Tex and Sweet Pop. The old friends talked and laughed the night away, and it wasn’t until it came time to break the good times up that Sugarberry realized that without Tabby, and with Wigwam and Chocolate Chip at a movie, she faced the walk home alone-- she, the pony in her mid-twenties, who was still afraid enough of the dark to feel apprehensive about being alone outside after sunset. Every rustling leaf, every cracking twig, every furtive footfall of some scurrying nocturnal creature caused her to shiver.
A haunted look came over the mare’s face as she confronted the reality of her situation. “I miss Tabby!” she sighed to no one in particular. “First Vanguard leaves, and now Tabby! And Chocolate Chip gets all starry-eyed over Wigwam. It just isn’t fair!”
“Fair?” asked Quarterback. “Did I hear you mention ‘fair’?” He winked at Merry Moments as he continued to rake-up the past. “I don’t remember that you worried too much about fairness in your dealings with me a year or so ago.”
“As if you aren’t happy about the way things turned out!” she spat back with a smile at the stallion who had once been the one who would have stood beside her at a time like this.
“I’ll walk you home, Sugarberry.” Toby came to her rescue. “It’s a beautiful night,” he added as several ponies threw an inquisitive glance in his direction.
“Thanks, Toby,” Sugarberry replied. “But that’s not necessary. I can brave it on my own.”
“I’m sure you can. But why be nervous all the way home, looking over your shoulder at every sound, when I’d be perfectly happy to accompany you? Anyway, it’s not as if Tiffany’s waiting for me.”
Quarterback snickered and whispered an unheard remark to Merry Moments. Sugarberry mentally debated her choices, and decided to risk more verbal tormenting from Quarterback rather than suffering from fright on her way back to her house. “Okay. If you’re sure, I’d appreciate the company, Toby.”
And so it was that Sugarberry left the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe with Toby at her side. “This is really sweet of you,” she cast a quick peek at her companion. “You must think I’m terribly silly.”
“Not at all,” the professional doctor replied. “More ponies than will admit it are nervous when alone in the dark.”
It struck Sugarberry suddenly that she knew very little about this stallion; he had always been overshadowed by Tiffany’s strong presence. “How did you decide to become a doctor, Toby? Was it a lifelong dream?”
Toby laughed softly, causing Sugarberry to look at him closely. “What?” she asked curiously.
“It just struck me that Tiffany never once asked me a searching question like you just did, not in all the months we had been seeing each other.” It did not escape Sugarberry’s notice that Toby had used the past tense in making his statement, but she ignored the implications. Toby proceeded to answer her question. “It actually came quite naturally. My dad is a physician in New Pony, and my older brother took up the same profession in Grayton.”
“And why did you choose Dream Valley?”
“My decision to come here was prompted at first by the beauty of the area; but once I visited the facility, it was confirmed by the compassionate and caring nature of the ponies who live here.”
“You must have met Snuzzle on your first visit,” Sugarberry giggled.
“As a matter of fact, I did. She’s a wonder, isn’t she? She’s always there to lend a helping hoof to anyone who’s suffering for whatever reason. She’s the anchor of the hospital’s volunteer program.”
Sugarberry reflected for a moment. “Your mother... you didn’t mention your mother.”
Chuckling, Toby replied. “It’s interesting that you would ask about Mom while we were singing the praises of Snuzzle. My mother is very much like Snuzzle; she’s always organizing charitable programs for whatever need exists in the community. She’s constantly busy; she isn’t truly happy unless she is helping someone else. And yet she always finds time to sit down and listen. ”
“Sounds like a wonderful pony, Toby.”
“From what I’ve seen of your mother-- let’s see, that was last Christmas when I first met her, wasn’t it, and then again at the wedding Saturday?-- I’d say she’s a very special mare, too.”
“Yes, she is. I guess we sometimes tend to take our parents for granted, don’t we?” Sugarberry philosophized. “Is your brother your only sibling?”
“Oh, no, there’s also a younger sister, who is married and teaches in New Pony. She has an energetic foal, and one on the way.”
“How wonderful!” Sugarberry acknowledged.
They were nearing Sugarberry’s house when the roar of a jet leaving the airport drowned out any conversation for a moment; they watched its blinking lights flash through the sky. “Tiffany tells me that Guido has his own jet. I wonder what she’s doing tonight, Sugarberry; she and Guido will soon have exhausted all of Dream Valley’s hot spots. Have you heard from her in the last couple of days?”
“No, Toby, I haven’t. And neither has Tamara, which is odd. Those two always confided in each other. But Tamara says she’s going to go over to the Royal Paradise tomorrow and find out for herself what is going on.”
The porch light to Sugarberry’s house was on, and she and Toby caught sight of two figures on the stoop-- Chocolate Chip on the top step, with Wigwam sitting comfortably on the bottom step. Sugarberry knew he was weaving a tale of the Native Ponies for his rapt listener; Chocolate Chip never tired of hearing the old legends from long, long ago. But Wigwam’s voice broke off when he saw the new arrivals coming up the walk. He stood to greet them.
“Good evening, Sugarberry... Toby,” he called. “Kind of a late night for you, isn’t it Sugarberry?” he teased.
“With Chocolate Chip working longer hours this summer, I think I could ask the same of her,” Sugarberry said in her sternest voice possible.
“But it’s such a wonderful evening to just sit and watch the stars and listen to the crickets chirp,” rationalized Chocolate Chip, taking in a deep breath of the refreshing night air.
“My sentiments exactly,” stated Toby, “and that’s why I volunteered to walk Sugarberry home tonight. It’s a perfect summer evening.”
“And I was just beginning to worry about her getting home all by herself. After that last story, I was going to suggest to Chocolate Chip that she and I should go off searching for the lost authoress; with that white body, she’d be easy prey for those monsters of the night.” He grinned at her vexingly and mimicked the call of his pet wolf, Manitou.
Sugarberry shivered and proceeded up the steps to sit next to Chocolate Chip. “Manitou himself would have better manners than that,” she directed at Wigwam. “Given the two of you, I’d say you are the most untamed.”
“Speaking of Manitou, I’ve got to get an appointment to have his paw looked at. I noticed he was limping slightly before I left home; I couldn’t find anything myself, but I thought maybe Elaine should have a go at it. Do you think she will have any qualms about examining him?”
“Not if you stay in the waiting room,” Sugarberry responded.
Toby laughed. “Before tonight, I though you two were friends.”
“No. He’s Chocolate Chip’s friend; I’m just his proofreader,” the mare quipped playfully.
“Actually, Sugarberry and I became quite close working on my manuscript, but now that it has gone to the publisher, she’s afraid I’ll become more successful than she has,” the orange stallion bickered.
“In your wildest dreams.”
Wigwam stood up, feigning disappointment. “On that note, Chocolate Chip, will you walk me to the front gate so I can make my departure?”
Giggling, Chocolate Chip jumped up and went with him to the end of the sidewalk. Toby turned to Sugarberry. “Well, you’re safely home now, so I’ll be on my way, too. It was nice having someone to talk with for a change.” He smiled a sad little smile.
“Things will work out for the best, Toby. Tiffany is... well... Tiffany. She’ll come around sooner or later.”
“Will she?” Toby hauntingly asked, staring off into the darkness as if hunting for a glimpse of the future. Facing Sugarberry again, he wished her goodnight. Then trotting down the sidewalk, he set-off in the company of Wigwam while Chocolate Chip returned to the porch. The two mares watched the stallions disappear into the shadowy distance.
Chocolate Chip sighed, and leaned her head against Sugarberry. “I’m tired!”
Brushing back the brown mane from Chocolate Chip’s face, Sugarberry agreed. “Time for bed.” As they went into the house, Sugarberry took one last look out into the gathering darkness. What is Tiffany up to? she wondered to herself, and she closed the door.
* * *
It was early the next morning when Queen Serena called Friendly, the Bushwoolie, to her room and entrusted into his keeping a sealed letter. After briefing the blue furry fellow, she asked, “Do you understand?”
“Yeah. Yeah,” Friendly responded in typical Bushwoolie fashion. “Me deliver, yeah.” And with that, he was on his way.
Queen Serena next summoned Cheery, her own personal Bushwoolie, and directed him to gather all the princesses together in the breakfast room. When he returned with word that all the princesses were assembled, Serena left her room and joined them there.
The chatter of the princesses ceased upon Queen Serena’s arrival, and they greeted her with curiosity hanging like a tangible element in the air. Serena stood before them, and cleared her throat.
“You may have noticed that one of our ranks is missing from this group this morning.” She paused while the others did a peremptory headcount, and came up one short. “Princess Tiffany has asked me to explain her sudden departure from the Royal Paradise.” A spattering of whispered comments caused her to pause temporarily, but when silence returned, she continued. “Tiffany was extended an invitation from the parents of Guido in Vulcanopolis to be their houseguest for an unspecified amount of time. Tiffany accepted their hospitality, and she and Guido left last night on his private jet for Italy. The princess asked me to convey her farewell to all of you and to assure you that she will, in time, return to us here in Dream Valley. The suddenness of the plans made it impossible for her to say her goodbyes personally, but she hopes that you will all understand her actions, and wish the best for her.”
The surprising nature of the queen’s announcement caused a stunned silence for a few moments, then the room broke out in a buzz of comments and questions. “Isn’t this so like her?” “Imagine! Running off with that wealthy stallion!” “What does she think she’s doing?”
Only Dawn remained silent. She moved to a quiet corner of the room, and stood looking out the window. She jumped when she felt a gentle touch on her shoulder, and looked to see Queen Serena standing by her side. “Tiffany left a letter for Toby. It should be in his hooves by now, if Friendly had no problems in finding him.”
“I’m surprised that she remembered to let him know of her latest plans,” Dawn muttered.
“Honestly, it didn’t occur to her until after some not so subtle prodding,” Queen Serena admitted. “I thought she owed Toby that much.”
Dawn looked gratefully at the queen. “Thanks, Serena. At least someone is looking out for him, even if Tiffany isn’t.” She gazed out the window a moment longer, then jerked her head back to stare at Serena. “But what did she tell him, I wonder?” she whispered in sudden dread.
* * *
Whistling softly as he straightened up the kitchen after a nutritious breakfast, Toby was in the best mood he had been in days. He had enjoyed the camaraderie of the crew from the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, and felt renewed faith in all that life encompassed. He was looking forward to a busy day at the hospital, when a sudden pounding sounded at his front door. Raising an eyebrow quizzically, he hurried to face the unknown.
A smile lit his face when he saw the blue Bushwoolie on his doorstep. “Good morning, Friendly! What brings you to the medical part of town?” His doctoring instincts were slow kicking in this morning, but when they did, his face darkened. “Is Tiffany okay? Did something happen?”
Friendly, not fully aware of what his message contained but somehow sensing the worst, avoided eye-contact with the purple stallion hovering over him. He simply held out the hand which was clutching the letter that Queen Serena had given him. “Letter, yeah, yeah.”
Toby looked from Friendly to the white envelope, and slowly reached out to accept it; he recognized the flowery penmanship of Tiffany which inscribed his name on the front. Without a glance at Friendly, he stated a hollow “Thank you” and left the Bushwoolie to face the closing door.
Toby took the letter to his desk, and stood staring at it. Part of him wanted to leave it sealed; somehow, not knowing the contents of the letter seemed better than facing the truth. But he knew he had to face up to it sometime. He broke the seal with the royal-looking “T” stamped into it, and opened the flap. He slipped into the desk chair before removing the pink pastel stationary from the envelope; his heart skipped a beat as Tiffany’s perfumed fragrance wafted up to his nostrils. Swallowing hard, he spread out the sheet of paper and read:
Dear Toby,
I’m deeply grieved that I had to run off like this, but there are richer
stallions in the world. Please don’t think too harshly of me; I’m sure you’ll find
another mare to your liking someday. Maybe our paths will cross again, but
I doubt it. For now, I’m off to Italy with Guido. Tah-tah!
As always,
Toby stared at the words for a long moment, reading and re-reading them until he couldn’t have forgotten them if he wanted to. The emptiness he had experienced the other night engulfed him, and he sat as if frozen in time. He had been dating Tiffany for over a year now, since the night she had come to the emergency room at the hospital with a slight case of frostbite. He remembered her flirtatious manner with him, and the invitation to a dinner party at the Royal Paradise that had led to a more or less steady friendship between the two ponies. Not a perfect relationship, Toby knew only too well. He had never felt entirely comfortable in the world of royalty. A friendship with Tiffany was one thing, but a permanent commitment was quite another; he would always have felt somehow inferior to her imperial bearing.
A light knock on the door brought Toby out of his reverie. He tucked the letter back into the envelope before crossing the room to admit the latest visitor, who turned out to be Princess Dawn. She smiled stiffly at the stallion. “May I come in?”
Toby mechanically moved to the side to allow Dawn to enter his house, and quietly asked, “You’re here about Tiffany?”
“Friendly has been here, then?”
“Yes. He gave me her letter, which was brief, but to the point. Maybe you can fill me in on some of the details.”
“How much do you know?”
Returning to the desk, Toby again removed the letter from its place and held it out to Dawn who reached for it uncertainly. “Go ahead. Read it,” Toby insisted.
Dawn took the letter, and skimmed over the words, feeling as if she was invading the privacy of this personal communication. But when she realized the cold-hearted content of the message, she began fuming. “That witch!” she spat.
“Dawn, don’t...”
“Don’t what, Toby?” Dawn interrupted. “Don’t tell it like it is? This note is cruel, and she had no right to be so impersonal and snobby.”
Toby looked at her with more amusement than sorrow. “You’re taking this worse than I am, you know.”
Dawn looked at the stallion as if seeing him in a new light. “You’re not angry with her?”
Grabbing a couple coffee mugs off the rack on the counter, Toby poured both himself and Dawn a cup. Pushing one across to the princess, he sat on one of the stools and waved a hoof for her to do the same. She silently seated herself, placing the letter to the side. Only then did Toby respond to her question. “It’s weird, but all I feel right now is relief.”
“What do you mean?
“I loved Tiffany in a way. Don’t get me wrong. But she was a princess, for Pete’s sake. How could I have ever been able to make her happy?”
“A princess is no different than any other pony, Toby,” Dawn replied knowingly.
“Any other princess, but not Tiffany.”
“Just because she’s more conceited and obnoxious than the rest of us?”
“No. You know what I’m getting at. She’s a princess through and through-- she was born to be in a position of nobility, not some poor doctor’s wife sitting alone at night while her husband is off delivering some other mare’s foal or putting a cast on a broken limb.”
“You’re serious about this? You’re glad she found someone like Guido?”
Toby took a sip of coffee, and thought awhile before answering. “I’m not saying that it doesn’t hurt, and I will admit that right now it seems as if a huge vacancy has developed in my personal life, but the bottom line is, yes, I’m glad she found someone who can give her what she wants and deserves.”
“You’re bluffing.”
“Do you want me to cry, or what?”
Dawn shook her head. “I thought you would be devastated.”
“If I was sure of one thing, Dawn, it was that Tiffany and I would never share a permanent future. That’s why I couldn’t get her that engagement ring she was always hinting at... by the way, did Guido come through for her in that respect?”
“Not that I’ve heard,” Dawn relayed. “Queen Serena is the only one who talked to Tiffany before she left, and she didn’t mention any ring. As I heard it, Tiffany will be the guest of Guido’s parents in Vulcanopolis for as long as the two of them find that arrangement mutually beneficial. Tiffany came to the Royal Paradise long enough to pack her things and tell Serena her plans, and she and Guido flew off into the night sky.”
“What time would that have been?”
“Tiffany left about eleven o’clock last night according to Serena, so sometime after that,” Dawn calculated.
“The jet Sugarberry and I watched fly over,” mused Toby, more to himself than to Dawn. “I should have known.” To his guest he said, “Well, it’s not a question of gossip anymore, is it? Now we have the facts, and we can go on from here.”
“Are you sure you’re going to be okay?” Dawn fretted, but they were interrupted by another knock at the door.
This time, Toby admitted a pink unicorn. “Good morning, Tamara,” he said smoothly. “Coffee?”
Tamara looked puzzled. “Does he know yet?” she whispered to Dawn.
Dawn rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Yes, he knows. And what are you doing here anyway?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” Tamara responded peevishly. “I went over to the Royal Paradise to talk to Tiffany, and find that she’s flown the coop, so to speak.”
“Excuse me, girls,” Toby grinned, “but I’ve got rounds to make. Consider yourselves at home and enjoy the coffee, but I’m out of here.” He turned, and left the two speechless.
Tamara eventually looked at Dawn and asked, “Am I missing something here?”
Dawn poured a fresh cup of coffee for her friend and replied, “And stallions think mares are hard to understand.” She then proceeded to fill Tamara in on all the morning’s events, and the two never did quite figure out what made stallions tick.

To be continued...
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