Ginseng and Sassafras Tea: Chapter Five
written by Sugarberry

Hood tossed and turned throughout the night, tortured by dreams fueled from the events of the day. Dream after dream slid across his subconsciousness, waking him abruptly, then leading him off on an even more bizarre scenario.

In one dream, Drumstick became the perpetrator of crime, even though he dressed suspiciously like Batman. That was followed by another in which Sparky tried to hold all of Woodlawn under arrest for working together to steal each others' produce. Some dreams had odd-looking creatures from other planets, always taking something away but never really bothering anyone. His mind even cast William as the villain in a particularly disjointed dream sequence which caused Hood to awaken in a cold sweat, only to pass out again to endure more mental torture.

Morning light was pouring in his bedroom window by the time Hood sat up and wiped the drowsiness from his eyes. He swung his legs out of bed and resisted the urge to just collapse under the covers again. As tired as he was after his weird dreams, he didn't want to face any more of them. Besides, he argued with himself, he had to go grocery shopping today. He was already out of milk and eggs, and he needed a head of lettuce.

Unlike most of the inhabitants of Woodlawn who raised their fruits and vegetables in lovingly tended garden plots, Hood, from his many years living in Grayton-- one of the largest cities in Ponyland-- had grown accustomed to the less hooves-on method of garnering the fruits of the land: He shopped the produce department at the local grocery store. Why get your hooves dirty when Mazy Daze Market carried everything a pony could need or desire in the culinary line?

Hood washed up and, foregoing breakfast due to the emptiness of his kitchen cupboards, headed straight to the market just three blocks from his brick home on Shady Lane. This was one thing that endeared Woodlawn to him-- the fact that he was within easy walking distance of all the important places in town. He took time to literally smell the roses as he strolled down the maple-lined streets; flower beds competed with one another for the brightest array of colors. It was a far cry from the hectic streets of Grayton, a city as dingy and drab as its name suggested. Hood grimaced as he remembered that he once thought his life there had been fulfilling and exciting. Looking back, he could see only drudgery and routine.

He breathed deeply of the fresh, clean air of Woodlawn, and waved to friends and neighbors that were out and about.

"Hood, wait up!" rang out a shrill voice behind him. Hood turned to see Buttercup with her newborn foal, Sweety, in her forelegs. "Are you headed for Mazy Daze?"

"Could be," said Hood noncommittally. He suspected that Buttercup timed her shopping trips to his passing, and had been hoodwinked into packing many a bag of groceries home for her.

"Oh, please, help me!" she pleaded, flashing her great, round eyes at him. "I'm going to need help with the baby and all."

Hood's resolve disappeared. Who could ignore a mother in distress, especially one with those beautiful eyes?

The foal in Buttercup's forelegs was a perfect cross between her parents-- Homestead's green body and Buttercup's purple mane and tail... and her mother's big eyes, too. Sweety smiled at him and cooed when Hood made the expected remark about how cute she was.

"You will help me home, won't you, Hood?" Buttercup pressed him. "I'm not buying too much, just diapers and formula."

"I'll have to open the shop at eleven o'clock, so I'll help if you don't take too long."

"No problem," she declared as she lifted Sweety to her shoulder where the foal could better see her surroundings. The movement produced a very loud burp.

Buttercup giggled and patted Sweety lovingly. Hood felt a tiny twinge of jealousy. He'd missed his nieces and nephews in their newborn stage, and looked forward to Moonglow's new arrival. He could play the protective uncle from day one.

Arriving at the grocery store, Hood and Buttercup went their separate ways. Hood headed for the dairy department to pick up the eggs and milk. He stopped short when he turned the corner past the breakfast cereal.

Standing next to the dairy case was a vision from his early years, and he hesitated as he considered retreating, or facing Dreamy bravely. He waited a second too long, as the peach-colored pony looked up from her cart. She, too, saw a bittersweet flashback.

"Hood. It's really you." Dreamy spoke with reserve.

"Why, Dreamy, it's been a long time!" Hood stuttered. He wished now that Moonglow hadn't told him about Dreamy's crush on him; it would have made this reunion less embarrassing. "What are you doing in Woodlawn?"

"I just moved here to take a job at the newspaper office," Dreamy explained. "I didn't know you lived her," she added, sounding as if she had known, she would have accepted a position a million miles away.

"Neither did I," blundered Hood. "I mean, I didn't know you'd moved here."

"Strange, isn't it?" Dreamy mused. "All the towns in Ponyland, and we both end up here." Suddenly, she smiled.

It struck Hood that the scatterbrained annoyance that he remembered from high school had grown up to become a very pretty pony. She wore her orange mane and tail in a cascade of curls; her voice was soft and soothing.

"You've changed!" he said abruptly, his eyes revealing that he approved.

"Yes. I'm older!" she quipped as she continued to add items to her shopping basket.

"That's not all bad."

Dreamy stopped and looked at Hood as if for the first time. "You've changed, too, Hood."

He grinned. "We have a lot of catching up to do. How about dinner some evening? Would tomorrow night be okay for you?"

Dreamy looked rather amused by this sudden rush of words. She couldn't resist a gentle jab. "How I yearned to hear that invitation back in high school." She breathed an exaggerated sigh.

"It's not too late for me to make it up to you," Hood grinned. "There are a couple of excellent supper clubs in Woodlawn. How about I set up a reservation, and give you a call?"

"I might enjoy that, Hood, even if you were mean and rude to me back in the old days."

Hood feigned surprise. "Not I, surely!"

"Against my better judgement, I'll give you my number." She tore a corner off her shopping list and began jotting her telephone number down when Buttercup's voice came echoing from the far end of the aisle.

"Hood! Hood, come hold the baby while I pay for the groceries!"

Hood turned in exasperation to where Buttercup stood holding Sweety, and waved a hoof in her direction in the hopes of quieting her down; then he turned back to Dreamy.

"This isn't what it looks..." His voice trailed off as Dreamy, sparks shooting from her eyes, crumpled the piece of paper with her number on it.

"Some things never change," she spat out as she turned and marched away from Hood and disappeared into the canned goods aisle.

By this time, Buttercup stood by his side. "Here!" she said as she placed Sweety in his forelegs.

Hood unconsciously accepted the foal, torn between following after Dreamy, or giving Buttercup a piece of his mind.

A gurgly little giggle served to sooth the savage beast. Sweety was waving her forelegs back and forth in an effort to touch his face. "Well, little one, you can't be blamed for your mother's ineptness." He smiled as her little hooves brushed his cheek. And he set off down the aisle to catch up to Buttercup.

As Buttercup paid for her groceries, Hood realized that he hadn't had a chance to do his own shopping. But after seeing the bags of groceries Buttercup had waiting, he knew he wouldn't have been able to handle hers and his both.

"Just diapers and formula?" he quizzed her.

"Oh, I picked up a few other things while I was here," Buttercup grinned as she reclaimed Sweety.

Hood grimaced as Mazy Daze lifted the grocery bags into his forelegs. It felt like Buttercup had purchased the heaviest items in the store.

"You'd make a great pack-horse," Mazy Daze teased.

"Thanks a lot," was all Hood could think to say.

Once he had dropped off Buttercup's groceries, he hurried back to the market, hoping to find Dreamy still at her shopping. But a quick check of the aisles turned up no trace of her. Hood sullenly picked up the groceries he needed and proceeded to the checkout counter.

"You seem unusually quiet, Hood," Mazy Daze said. "What's on your mind?"

"Got a couple of hours?" Hood frowned.

"Ahh! You and me and a chocolate shake between us!" she purred, winking coquettishly. Then getting serious, she continued, "It's the thievery going on, isn't it? It's gotten everyone a little edgy."

That brought Hood back to reality. His run-ins with Buttercup and Dreamy had pushed Woodlawn's problems to the back of his mind.

"What do you make of it, Mazy?"

"For all I know, it could be aliens."

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