Chapter 7: Baby Noddins

Take Your Daughter to Work

It was the beginning of another day of operations at the vet clinic. Tabby was at the front desk, going over schedule changes with Sugarberry. “So since Moonglow cancelled, we have a whole hour here to–” She paused, tapping her hoof on the counter. She didn’t really have any plans; she was just posturing in case Thomas was listening. It was a relief when the door chime sounded, ending the exchange. Both mares looked up expectantly.

A diminutive lavender filly strolled in, a backpack strapped around her midsection.

“Hi!” said the foal, approaching the desk.

Tabby drew herself up; she had never been at ease around baby ponies. In that respect, she may have been more like her mother than she cared to admit. Youths were wild and unpredictable, and beyond understanding as far as Tabby was concerned.

“Why, hello there,” Sugarberry said, smiling. “What can we do for you today?”

“I’m here for Take Your Daughter to Work Day!” the filly stated, smiling broadly.

“Oh!” said Sugarberry, looking confused. “Is that today?”

Tabby attempted to process this statement. “Well, neither of us has a brat,” she thought out loud, frowning. “Which leaves…” she trailed off. Just how much did they know about Thomas’ personal life?

A door opened, and Thomas entered. “Tabby, I need you to–” he started, but cut himself off when their glances met. Perhaps there was some distaste from her line of thinking apparent in her face, as he looked at her quizzically and asked, “What did I do?”

The filly giggled. “It’s a symbolic relationship, of course,” she piped-up. “I’m Baby Noddins. I sent you an e-mail,” she said, addressing the pink unicorn.

“E-mail? Me? What?” Tabby spluttered, at a loss.

“Yes!” the filly affirmed. “Last month I wrote–” She pulled out a phone; really, she was too young for that! Tabby thought–and held the screen up. “See here – ‘I will take no reply to indicate your acquiescence.’ ”

“Wait… you’re that blogger that’s been harassing me,” Tabby said, realization dawning. Not that it made this exchange any more comfortable. “I’ve just been ignoring all your messages and hoped you’d go away.”

“Yes, you are hard to get a hold of!” Baby Noddins chattered. “That’s why I had to take preemptive action.”

“I don’t understand why you’re stalking me,” Tabby said.

“I’ve been following your career since you tranquilized that water panther,” Baby Noddins shared with alacrity. “It was running amok in the streets and everyone was like ‘OMG, panic, get rid of it’ but you were like ‘shut up, I got this.’ I wrote a post about it on my blog, and I’ve been following your career ever since.“

“Oh… great,” said Tabby. She hadn’t thought that her line of work would lead to her having a fan base.

“I want to be just like you!” Baby Noddins continued emphatically.

“Aww,” crooned Sugarberry, evidently won over. Thomas looked amused by his assistant’s discomfiture.

“Shouldn’t you be at school?” Tabby snapped, acutely uncomfortable at the attention.

“This is my day’s assignment. I have a permission slip.” She dug into her backpack and slapped a paper down on the desk.

Tabby grimaced and stepped back, so Sugarberry picked it up and studied it. “Baby Noddins, sixth grade, Dream Valley Middle School, permission for Take Your Daughter to Work Day activities,” she read. “Well, she does have the credentials,” she chided Tabby.

“It’s not happening,” Tabby said resolutely, turning her back on the small assembly and flipping through a file drawer with no particular aim in mind other than to look occupied. “I don’t have time for this sort of thing. And my boss will never approve–”

“I think it’s a great idea, Tabby,” Thomas broke in, a wicked grin on his face. Drat him! “You’re inspiring the next generation of mares to take up a career in science. Ponies love that sort of thing, and it’ll be great PR for the clinic,” he pointed out. “Baby Noddins is welcome to spend the day.”

“She won’t have the stomach for it,” Tabby complained, glaring at him.

“Oh, I have a very strong stomach,” Baby Noddins assured her.

“Well, then, it’s settled,” Thomas said cheerfully.

“This is a terrible idea,” Tabby said, shaking her head.

Loss

“What am I supposed to do with you?” Tabby sighed, entering the exam room with Baby Noddins close at her heels.

“Just what you usually do–I’ll be observing,” Baby Noddins explained. “And,” she amended, “maybe you can answer a few questions for me, as time permits.”

Tabby rolled her eyes, rummaging through the supply cabinet.

“I was able to trace your biographical details pretty well since college,” Baby Noddins continued. Tabby was silent. “So what I’d really like to hear more about is your foalhood.” She looked at Tabby expectantly.

Tabby gave her a pained look. “Fine. What do you want to know?” If the young pony got enough information early on, maybe she would cut out early. “Be specific,” she amended. “I’m not giving you my life story.”

“What first inspired your interest in medicine?” Baby Noddins watched her every move like a hawk.

“My father,” Tabby begrudgingly disclosed, wiping down the exam table with disinfectant.

“Was he a doctor?” Baby Noddins asked, pen poised over her notebook.

“Not the medical kind… he was a hippologist.” Tabby relaxed a little, memories of another time washing over her. “He always brought me… souvenirs of places he visited.”

“What, like little spoons or snow globes or–”

“Embalmed Yeti hands,” Tabby explained.

“Oh. Even better!” Baby Noddins said, scribbling frantically.

“Yes,” Tabby said, softening. “I took them apart and reassembled them.”

“How did that work out?” the filly asked.

“Not very well,” Tabby admitted, “but I suppose it developed an interest in anatomy…” she mused, her mind drifting to the past.

# # #

Baby Tabby lay on her back, staring up at the pink canopy of her bed. Her sister, Baby Tamara, was sound asleep on the other side of the room, but Baby Tabby couldn’t sleep on account of the raised voices that carried from the living room through an air vent in the twins’ room. Her parents weren’t aware of that feature in the house.

“Only until I get this new office up and running–then things will settle down!” her mother was saying, exasperation evident in her voice.

Office and business were all her mother talked about. Baby Tabby wasn’t clear on what they consisted of, but she would have liked a mother who paid some of that attention to her.

“That’s what you say, but there’s always one more thing on the horizon,” her father argued. Some further dialogue was muffled.

“Don’t talk to me about never being home!” her mother cried out, voice rising again. “I am home, more than you think, but then you’re the one that’s away!”

It was true that Baby Tabby didn’t see her father as much as she would like, but at least he was actively interested in her life–her attempts at gardening, her kittens, even her handkerchief collection.

“Our work takes us in opposite directions,” her father said ruefully.

“That’s why it’s so important to plan time together,” her mother said, calming for the moment.

As if that would happen! Baby Tabby scowled.

“Your time together is only to forward your business goals,” her father retorted. “Meeting clients–wining and dining–putting on a show.”

“Well, I don’t see why we can’t multitask!”

“You’re driven, and you know I love that about you, but you have to know when to take a break!”

“You’re the one gone for months at a time!” her mother snapped. “You only just returned and now you’re running off again. I, at least, am here at regular intervals!”

“You can’t study a culture over a weekend,” her father reasoned.

Baby Tabby wondered if, one day, she would be allowed to go along on an expedition.

“Well, it sounds like you want me to give up my career!”

“I never said that!”

Baby Tabby knew she was never getting to sleep if they kept going on this track. She slipped out of bed and trotted down the hall, down the stairs, and toward the arched doorway to the living room.

Her mother noticed her first. “See, now you’ve gone and woken the girls!” she fussed.

Baby Tabby frowned. It was just like her mother to throw the blame on him. “It’s just me,” she said quietly. “Papa, are you going away again?” She pinned him with her gaze.

“Yes, munchkin, but it won’t be for long,” he said, softening his voice from its earlier agitated state. He crouched down next to her. “I’ll bring you back a Yeti hand for your collection; how does that sound?

“Okay!” Baby Tabby brightened. “But come back soon, okay?”

“Now, let’s get you back to bed,” he said, swinging her up in his forelegs and carrying her out of the room. She noted that he hadn’t responded to her entreaty.

After being tucked back in, and appreciating the new quiet that settled over the house, Baby Tabby still couldn’t fall asleep, a sense of unease tickling at her mind. What if he didn’t come back? What if, tired of fighting with her mother, he decided to stay away? They were heavy thoughts for one so young.

As it turned out, her premonition had proven correct, and her father never had returned–whether dead, unable, or willfully staying away, no one really knew; though everyone was willing to speculate. Tabby held out hope, but as the years stretched out, her youthful optimism had begun to fade…

Anger

Tabby snapped back to the present. “Let’s see if the 8:00 appointment is here,” she said abruptly, grabbing a file folder from the holder on the wall; and Baby Noddins witnessed her first examination of a turtle.

When Baby Noddins and Tabby were alone again, the filly resumed her line of questioning. “Your mom, she’s an event planner, isn’t she?” she forged ahead. “What impact did she have on your formation?”

“Nothing beneficial,” Tabby said, scowling. Baby Noddins kept pace with her as she led the way to the back of the clinic. “Anyway,” she said, changing the subject, “now we’re going to check this fecal sample for parasites.”

“Cool!” Baby Noddins said enthusiastically.

But thinking of her mother inevitably led to further visions of the past, and her mother’s inability to understand her daughter…

# # #

Tabby stormed into the kitchen where her mother was fixing a cup of tea. “Mom, what happened to my experimental garden?” she said, trembling with barely-contained rage.

“Your what, dear?” Her mother, Agatha, turned to look at her, and consternation spread across her face. “Oh, my, your hair is a mess,” she fussed, setting down her cup and pushing some wayward strands of red hair into place. “You must learn some decorum, Tabitha! You’re fifteen, and I think it’s time to put your hoydenish ways behind you.”

“Don’t change the subject!” Tabby wailed. “I told you all about the violets I was inducing mutations in! They’ve been replaced with sod!”

“Oh, I did send the grounds crew out to remove weeds from the lawn,” Agatha recalled, returning to her tea. “I suppose they may have seen fit to remove your little experiment.”

“It was mine! They were unique!” Tabby cried out, stomping her hoof.

“Tabitha, they were just weeds,” her mother chided, looking at her critically. “If you want to experiment, I’ll get you something more tasteful, like orchids, and you can grow them in the greenhouse.”

“I hate orchids! They’re stupid!” Tabby shouted. “Of course you don’t understand! You never do!” 

“Tabitha, I really can’t deal with these theatrics right now,” Agatha said, frowning at the clock. “I do need to get to the office and confer with Gwen on matters of some importance.” She tossed the undrunk tea into the sink drain. “Go find Richards, and see where they put the lawn refuse, if it means that much to you.”

Tears streaming down her face, Tabby turned on her heel and ran.

Humiliation

“Tabby? Tabby!” Baby Noddins prodded. “What did you find?”

“Well, I dug through the compost pile and… oh,” Tabby said, recollecting herself and focusing on the microscope slide. “Er, yes. We definitely have some Toxascaris leonina activity going on here.”

“Can I look?” Baby Noddins asked eagerly.

“Sure,” Tabby said, shrugging and moving aside at the counter. Baby Noddins was made of sterner stuff than she had originally anticipated.

And, as the day went on, Tabby begrudgingly agreed that it wasn’t so bad having a tagalong, because it was someone she could task with the really menial things, like cleaning litter boxes and sweeping the floor.

When they were taking a break in the afternoon, Baby Noddins continued: “Tex said you have an identical twin who hasn’t been back to Dream Valley in years.”

“Why were you talking about my family with Tex?” Tabby asked, frowning.

“I was interviewing him, of course,” Baby Noddins said. “It’s how I get all my information.”

“Oh… of course,” Tabby sighed.

“Anyway, the twin…” Baby Noddins held her pen poised over her notebook.

“Yes, yes, Tamara,” Tabby said impatiently. “She lives in Preubia and I’m quite happy with her being far away from me.”

“Why’s that?” Baby Noddins asked curiously.

“She’s a prima donna, always has to be the center of attention,” Tabby burst out, scowling. “She was always nagging at me to be more like her…”

# # #

“Tabby, I want you to look good for the picture today,” Tamara said, eyeing her sister critically, in a manner learned from their mother. Tabby was sprawled on a couch with a book, and pretended not to hear. Tamara sighed. “A little more class than usual,” she continued fearlessly.

“Tamara,” said Tabby sternly, looking at her from over the top of the book, “I am not some wild pony raised by wolves like you make me out to be.”

“I just want us to make a good showing,” Tamara said, her voice carrying a bit of a whine. “It’s a scholarship in honor of our father, after all.”

“Yes, and he’d want me to be myself!” Tabby snapped, setting her book down.

The Hubert W. Fershund Scholarship was being awarded to a worthy recipient at the local university, and Tabby and Tamara were presenting it. Naturally, Tamara wanted to ruin the event for her twin by turning her into something she was not.

But Tamara got her way; she always did. Tabby found herself thoroughly disguised by the foundation, blush, mascara, and eyeshadow that her sister applied. Now she looked just like Tamara. They were identical, of course, but Tabby liked having a style unique enough that they could be differentiated. Tamara found her twin’s carefree style intolerable, however.

The ceremony went off without a hitch–except for the fly that took to buzzing around Tamara. She had to keep swatting at it, at one point slapping herself in the face. Tabby just smirked at Tamara’s irritation.

The following day at school, Tabby was walking down the hall, and noticed more stares and hoof pointing and laughter than usual. She was already singled out due to being an heiress of some repute–she tried to forget that, but her classmates had latched on to the idea, calling her Lady Tabitha and making mocking curtsies directed at her.

Tabby shook her head. “What’s gotten into them? They’re all morons,” she said under her breath.

Her mother was threatening to send her to some private academy, like Tamara, but Tabby didn’t think she’d enjoy the other end of the spectrum any more. At least she knew her enemies here.

“Hey Tabby, nice picture in the paper,” Tex chortled with a quick punch to her shoulder as he passed her in the hall.

Tabby glared after him but said nothing. What was the use?

She was sure that the words were not genuine. At least now she had a reason for today’s undue attention; it must have to do with an account of yesterday’s ceremony published in the paper.

She took her seat next to Sugarberry in homeroom. “What is the deal with everyone today?” she asked, her voice low.

“Oh, Tabby, it’s nothing,” Sugarberry assured her, “but I heard–the photo from yesterday–” She sighed. “Well–it’s a little less-than-flattering.”

“I wish we had some digital hoof-held communication device that could bring the news up instantaneously,” Tabby complained, “but it’s the nineties, and we have to scrounge up a paper copy.”

“Uh, right,” Sugarberry said with some confusion.

Eventually, Tabby wrangled the clipping in question from a classmate, Dusty Rose. Well, everything looked fine on her side of the photo, Tabby mused; though for whatever reason, the photo that had been chosen was one with Tamara scowling as she hit herself in the side of the head. It was an awkward moment caught in perpetuity.

“Well, Tamara looks silly,” Tabby admitted, studying it. “But I’m…” Her face clouded over as she read the caption. “They mixed up our names!” she seethed. “Tamara’s the one smashing her own head, not me!”

“Sure, sure,” sneered Dusty Rose, reclaiming her property. “I mean, if I had an identical twin, I would say that, too.”

“But we don’t all have the luxury of a built-in scapegoat,” added Willow, Dusty Rose’s BFF.

Tabby almost wouldn’t put it past her sister to have orchestrated the whole thing. “Well, have your laughs; I certainly don’t care,” she said, forelegs crossed, settling back in her desk chair.

“Whatever you say, Lady Tabitha,” giggled Dusty Rose.

Final Thoughts

“But are you really identical?” Baby Noddins wanted to know. “Like, really, really identical?”

“Well, Mom said my eyes were more purple,” Tabby admitted.

“Hmm,” said Baby Noddins, mulling this over.

“You know, it is past school hours,” Tabby pointed out. “You can leave any time. Just sayin’.”

“Not just yet!” Baby Noddins exclaimed. Lowering her voice, she asked, “What is the status of your relationship with Dr. Collins?”

“Oh my gosh, what do you know about that…” Tabby sighed, rolling her eyes heavenward. Talking about that part of her life was certainly not included in this bargain. “We’re friends.”

“But you were dating, weren’t you?” Baby Noddins pressed on. “That’s what my mom said.”

“Oh, I suppose maybe, years ago,” Tabby said vaguely.

“Well, what do you think of Dr. Fairfax?” Baby Noddins asked with a saucy grin.

“No, no, don’t go there,” Tabby said, putting her hooves up in front of her. “I’m not having that conversation with you.”

“So you do have a thing for him!” Baby Noddins crowed. “Are you trying to assuage your own insecurities caused by the loss of your father, by cultivating mentoring relationships with stallions of higher education?”

Tabby stared, slack-jawed. “Don’t try to psycho-analyze me,” she choked out at length. She honestly wasn’t sure if she wanted to laugh or cry. And she was not about to consider if there was any truth in what the filly theorized.

“Well, Baby Noddins, did you collect enough information for your report?” Thomas asked, walking by.

Tabby jumped. Had he heard any of that nonsense?

“It’ll do,” said Baby Noddins, looking surreptitiously between the two. “But Dr. Fairfax, if you wouldn’t mind answering a couple of questions–”

“You’re done here,” Tabby interjected quickly, ushering the filly down the hall. “I’m going to need a week of vacation to recover from this,” she sighed to herself.

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