Ginseng and Sassafras Tea: Chapter Thirteen
written by Sugarberry

The hot, humid weather kept ponies frequenting Hood’s Place all day. The early evening crowd was keeping the shop lively with spirited conversation. Many of the fillys and stallions were Drumstick’s age, and they were excited about their college and career plans as summer was winding down. Gathering at Hood’s Place, however, gave them a chance to escape the responsibilities of growing up for just a little bit longer.

Drumstick, done with his shift but still chumming with his friends, tormented Hood mercilessly over his lack of a suitable replacement once Drumstick was off to school. Hood, in turn, bantered over the drudgery of college studies. “It isn’t all parties and pretty faces!” he reminded them.

“Not from what I hear,” enlightened Drumstick. “Derby University is supposed to have the highest filly to stallion ratio of any institution of higher learning in Ponyland!”

“The school just advertises that to lure unsuspecting stallions like yourself to its campus,” theorized Hood. “Once there, you’re stuck.”

“Where did you go to college, Hood?” asked Brawny, one of Drumstick’s companions who was soon to be on his way to Grapeglow College.

“Grayton,” Hood responded proudly.

“That must have been back in the good old days,” snickered Drumstick.

“Graduated eight years ago, to be exact,” came a voice from behind Hood-- a pleasant, female voice that Hood recognized immediately.

Turning, Hood politely wished Dreamy a good evening, and he nodded to the attractive Flame who stood at her side. Returning his gaze to Dreamy’s green eyes, he chided, “Checking up on me, Free Lance?”

“I was curious to see what you’d done with your life after high school,” Dreamy admitted. To the watching ponies in Drumstick’s crowd, she disclosed, “It was none too exciting.” A ripple of laughter followed her remark.

“What? You didn’t uncover any deep, dark secrets about Hood?” wondered Brawny. “I’m disappointed!”

Dreamy looked at the young stallions with the dazzling smile she could resurrect at will. “Actually, his life before Woodlawn was downright boring.”

Feeling as if he had been the brunt of enough snide remarks for one evening, Hood put his hoof to Dreamy’s elbow and firmly guided her and Flame to an empty table far removed from Drumstick and gang.

Dreamy seated herself, but Flame smiled pleasantly at Hood as he held her chair for her. “Thank you, Hood.” She looked at him with her deep violet eyes, and Hood felt strangely bewitched. Shaking off the sensation as Dreamy’s voice cut through the spell, Hood faced his antagonist.

“I’m surprised, Hood, that you didn’t storm into my office after today’s edition hit the stands.”

Knowing she was referring to her latest blast of Checker and Woodlawn’s police department, Hood simply informed her, “Reading the paper is not a top priority with me.”

“Too many other irons in the fire?” Dreamy shot back, a subtle reference to what Dreamy imagined as Hood’s not too solid marital commitment.

Hood held her steady gaze without responding to her barb. He told the mares he would send a waitress to their table. Returning to the counter, he found Patchwork Petal busy, so he commandeered Rosy Bells for the job.

“Watch out for that orange-maned one,” Hood warned. “She puts on a good show, but she has a stinger that she’s not afraid to use.” Hood thought back to Buttercup’s comparison of Dreamy to a wasp. As his dad always told him, wasps are no problem... until they sit down.

Rosy Bells grinned at Hood and hurried off with a pitcher of water. Hood, for his part, escaped to his office.

When Rosy Bells arrived at the table, Flame was just confiding to Dreamy, “I could really fall for that stallion.”

“It’s best to stay away from that one,” answered Dreamy. “He’s already married and has a foal to support.”

Rosy Bells, unaware of the ongoing contention between Hood and Dreamy, laughed heartily. “You’ve got yourself a bad source for that information,” she revealed. “Hood’s as single as they come. Not that the mares in Woodlawn haven’t been trying...” she winked at Flame knowingly.

“But I saw him shopping with a mare and a foal,” argued Dreamy. “Very family-like.”

Giggling, Rosy Bells asked, “Was she a young yellow mare with purple mane?”

“Yes,” affirmed Dreamy. “And the foal was green.”

“That’s Hood’s neighbor,” Rosy Bells explained. “Hood helps her out when she needs it. But Buttercup is definitely Homestead’s spouse, not Hood’s.”

“Fair game, then,” reflected Flame with a renewed glimmer in her eyes.

Dreamy remained silent, digesting this information. Her first response, to be read on her face, was one of anger as she blamed Hood for not correcting her misconception. But she refrained from speaking until after she and Flame had placed their order, and Rosy Bells had gone away.

“That worm!” she hissed to no one in particular.

Flame looked at her curiously. “What’s going on between you two?” she asked. “Is there anything I should know before I make a move on him?”

Throwing back her silky orange curls, Dreamy rambled. “He should have corrected my error in assuming they were married. How dare he lead me on that way? Of course, maybe I never did give him a chance, yet...” and here her face flushed, “that hussy certainly went to great lengths to strengthen the deception when I was at their-- her-- house that night!”

Sitting across from her friend, Flame watched the play of emotions slide across Dreamy’s face as she went from anger to compassion and back to anger again. “What are you talking about?” she asked in wide-eyed wonder.

“If he thinks he can make a fool out of me...” Dreamy was cut short as Rosy Bells brought their orders to the table.

“Here you go, girls! Enjoy!”

“Thanks!” acknowledged Flame as the nut covered hot fudge sundae was set before her. As Rosy Bells moved on to the next table, Flame prodded, “Did he lie to you?”

“Yes, he did,” growled Dreamy, but she quickly modified her statement. “Not in so many words, but by his actions.”

Flame thought his over while tasting her sundae. “Oh! This is heavenly!” She closed her eyes to enjoy the taste sensation. Then, getting back to the conversation in progress, she asked of Dreamy, “Is it possible you just misread what you saw?”

“I’m a reporter, Flame. It’s my job to see things accurately!”

“So where’d you go wrong?” Flame softly questioned.

With a perturbed look, Dreamy sat in thought. “Maybe I did sort of get things messed up a bit,” she admitted. “But no one bothered to straighten me out!” Fire again flashed in her eyes.

“Listening isn’t one of your virtues... unless you’re fishing for a story,” Flame reminded her.

At that, Dreamy jabbed her spoon into the ice cream of her banana split and began eating. The two mares shared little conversation after that, and Flame, when finished, excused herself and left the shop.

Sulking over the current state of affairs, Dreamy ordered a cup of coffee; she sat idly stirring it after Rosy Bells served it. “Anything else I can do for you?” the perceptive waitress asked, but Dreamy waved her on.

One by one, the other customers left Hood’s Place; Patchwork Petal and Rosy Bells had the place ready for closing, but Dreamy still sat, peering into the depths of the coffee mug.

“You go on home,” Rosy Bells advised Patchwork Petal. “I’ll hang around for awhile.” When the filly had exited the shop, Rosy Bells went to Dreamy. “It’s closing time, miss.”

Dreamy looked up in surprise, just now noticing that the place was deserted. “Is Hood still here?” she breathed.

Rosy Bells hesitated before answering. Would the boss be angry with her for butting in? Yet both Hood and Dreamy seemed unhappy with the way things were going, so Rosy Bells answered in the affirmative. “Yes. He’s in his office. Shall I go get him?”

“Please,” Dreamy responded with a slight smile.

Rosy Bells trotted down the hall to Hood’s office and rapped gently on the closed door.

“Come in,” Hood called wearily. But he flashed her a affable glance when she peaked in. “Closing time, Rosy Bells!” He threw his pen on the desk and stood up.

“That it is, Hood, but there’s one patron who refuses to leave without talking to you.”

Hood’s eyebrows rose questioningly. “Someone refuses to leave?” He groaned. “Let me guess... orange curls and green eyes?”

Rosy Bells only grinned, and held the door as Hood passed through.

“You’re excused for the night, Rosy. I can handle it from here.”

“Goodnight, Hood,” Rosy Bells said as she slipped out the back door. “I’m sure you can handle it very well.

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