At the Bar
On Saturday, Thomas met Tiffany at the restaurant bar at the appointed time. The Estate Manor, Thomas noted as he took in his surroundings, boasted dark, heavy wood furniture, wrought iron fixtures, rich burgundy carpet, and dim lights. It could have done with a little more brightness; but it had its own character, Thomas supposed.
“Dr. Fairfax, how lovely to see you again,” Tiffany said, brightening as she saw him. “Do sit.” She gestured at the stool next to her. “It’s dreadfully stuffy, isn’t it?” she said knowingly, noting his gaze darting about the room. “It could do with a remodel.”
“It’s charming,” Thomas assured her.
As the bartender took Thomas’ drink order, a familiar voice carried from the entryway: “–but prototype pictures show that Elise was originally intended to be part of the Summer Sweet collection in 1986, but was replaced with Josephine, although her purse design was used for the 1988 Fab Fashions…” It was Tabby, of course, giving painfully precise information on My Little People history to her date… which was Toby, of course.
Tabby made her way over, Toby in tow. “Tiffany, you have your quarry well in hoof, I see,” she said with a devilish grin, coming up at Tiffany’s side.
“The rabble they let in here is appalling,” Tiffany said, turning and raising her eyebrows. “I’m joking, Tabitha!” she added, rolling her eyes. “No need to glare daggers. Dr. Collins, how do you do,” she added, inclining her head politely at Tabby’s date. Toby replied in kind.
“I didn’t know you two would be here,” Thomas said, perplexed. Watching Tabby on a date with his erstwhile school rival was not high on his list of entertainments.
“You don’t sign off on my social calendar,” Tabby sniffed.
“Ooh, the band is about to begin playing,” Tiffany noted, turning to her date. There was a small stage where musicians were tuning up instruments. “Do you dance, Dr. Fairfax?”
“A little,” Thomas admitted.
“I seem to recall a trophy you displayed prominently,” Toby spoke-up, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “For a waltz competition, I believe?”
“Oh?” Tiffany’s eyebrows shot up inquiringly and she looked at Thomas intently. “Do tell!”
It was not a talent Thomas had cultivated in recent years. “It was a long time ago,” he said quickly. “My mom signed me up for dance lessons, and I participated once in a junior dance competition. That’s all.”
Tabby smirked while Tiffany gazed at Thomas with admiration, and he had not intended to encourage the business mare’s interest.
“Were you in the All Ponyland Dance League?” Tiffany asked, leaning in closer. “East or Northeast division?”
“East. Tanzen Academy,” Thomas said briefly.
“Oooh, that’s quite a good school. Very elite.” Tiffany was clearly impressed. “Where did you place in the competition?”
“Uh… second place in the waltz category,” Thomas reluctantly revealed.
“Really! That is quite an accomplishment!” Tiffany regarded him with deep respect.
“Did you compete, Tiffany?” Thomas asked, hoping to steer the conversation from himself.
“I was in try-outs my senior year,” Tiffany said, “but due to unforeseen circumstances, I didn’t make it past the preliminary round.”
“She means she wasn’t very good,” Tabby interrupted.
“I came down with measles.” Tiffany gave the pink unicorn an imperious look before gesturing for the maitre d’, who came over with alacrity. “We will be joining the dance,” she stated. “Have hors d’oeuvre brought to our table when the number is done. You know my preferences.”
“Of course, Ms. Ainsworth,” he said with a bow.
Dinner with Tiffany
“There are those who say that Dream Valley is too small to bother with,” Tiffany said as they glided around the dance floor, “but I grew up here, and I find that the country atmosphere is just what I need to rejuvenate between business meetings.”
“You have a widespread customer base?” Thomas inquired politely.
“Oh, yes, from Whitebridge to Golden City to New Pony,” Tiffany stated proudly.
“Do you employ others, or is it just you?”
“I have five employees. I like to keep it small, to maintain personal client relationships,” Tiffany said smoothly. “How are you finding your staff? Tabby, Sugarberry, and I go way back,” she added, “so you can trust me to be discreet with any revelations you might share.”
Thomas wasn’t sure about her reasoning, but responded vaguely with, “Sugarberry is efficiency personified, and Tabby… well, Tabby…” He frowned as Tabby and Toby in a cozy booth came into his line of vision. “There is never a dull moment with her around,” he finished, diverting his gaze from the distraction.
“I’m sure you’re right; she always has been a sore trial,” Tiffany agreed.
“She mentioned that you went to school together?” Thomas prodded. If he was shamelessly exploiting this opportunity to learn more about Tabby, he didn’t let it bother him too much. After all, Tiffany had forced him into this.
“Tabitha attended summer sessions at Whitesun Academy as a filly,” Tiffany clarified, “and spent her high school years there. As much as she cared to attend, that is. She never really figured out how to apply herself to anything… except for terrorizing me.” Her lips curved down in disapproval.
Thomas looked at her inquiringly. “Why the animosity?” he asked, hoping that Tiffany’s side of the story would illuminate the reasons for the feud where Tabby had clammed-up.
“She gave me one look and pigeon-holed me as a spoiled rich snob,” Tiffany complained. “So tell me, who is the snob? She looked down on me for my hobbies. Well, opera and high fashion are just as credible as hers, playing with dolls!” she scoffed.
“There are difficult times in our formative years figuring out self-identity,” Thomas said, sounding wiser than he felt. “Was Sugarberry in your class, too?” The receptionist didn’t strike him as the private school type. But then, neither did Tabby.
“Sugarberry’s family’s business caters desserts at my mother’s social events,” Tiffany explained. “She and Tabby often tagged along to play with me. They were inseparable then as they are now.”
The dance ended, and the couple took their seats and placed their orders. Tiffany was a skilled conversationalist, and Thomas appreciated her breadth of knowledge on local happenings, but he kept getting distracted by the pink unicorn across the room…
Tiffany followed his gaze at one point and smiled knowingly. “You like her,” she stated.
“Wh-what?” Thomas stammered, snapping his attention back.
“Your assistant. You fancy her,” Tiffany clarified. “No, don’t deny it; I’m very astute in this area–in all areas, really,” she added as an aside. “But matchmaking is my speciality.”
“Even if–and I’m not saying you’re right,” Thomas said hastily, embarrassed that he had been so obvious, “she already seems to have someone.”
“Tabitha doesn’t care for Toby, not like that.” Tiffany waved a hoof in dismissal. “She seems devoted to him for some reason, but she’s not in love.”
“You can’t possibly know that,” Thomas said incredulously.
“I’m afraid you don’t know much about mares in love, Doctor,” Tiffany said, surreptitiously watching the other couple. “Look at the way she leans away from the table; her eyes are darting around, and she’s looking at everything but him; she’s constantly sipping at her water glass to avoid conversation.”
“Even so, you haven’t taken into account how she feels about me.” This to-the-point conversation had taken Thomas by surprise, but he wasn’t sure he could really trust this new acquaintance.
“Well, there are some things you’ll have to figure out for yourself,” Tiffany said sweetly. She pushed aside her plate and reached into an attache case at her side. “Now, I did, in fact, bring you here to discuss business, not just analyze your love life,” she smoothly transitioned. “I’d like you to consider supporter benefits in the diamond tier…”
Tiffany and Thomas were still engrossed in conversation when Tabby and Toby took their leave of the Estate Manor. They looked natural together, Tabby mused with some pangs of regret. Thomas could hold his own with Tiffany’s ilk, where the empty compliments and polite nothings would always trip Tabby up.
Not that Toby was lacking in social graces, and he still put up with her…
They talked about interesting cases at work, Tabby’s upcoming garden plans, and staffing challenges at the hospital. They carefully avoided the unvoiced question heavy in the air–where do we go from here?
At Tabby’s doorstep, there was a significant pause. Tabby stood facing him but glanced downward, considering the next move.
Toby was the one within reach, with nothing objectionable to his character. And Thomas (because her thoughts always circled back to him) had just chided her the other day for pushing ponies away. What was she missing by skirting around relationships?
“Tabby, I…” Toby started.
Before he could continue, she leaned forward and kissed him. It was impulsive, inexpert, done more to convince herself that this was right, than her being emotionally invested in the action.
But Toby looked well-pleased with himself as she drew back.
“We’re going to be very happy,” he murmured. “I’ll make sure of it.”
If there was a tiny voice in the back of her mind saying this was a lie, Tabby ignored it, and let him kiss her again.