Chapter 15: Agatha

Tabby fumbled with the key in the lock of her door, only to realize that it was already unlocked. She frowned. Had she left it that way this morning? The house was probably filling up with burglars by now. How irritating.

With a sigh, Tabby entered, tossing her keys and purse on the credenza. She gasped and froze upon realizing there was a pale blue unicorn pacing in her living room.

“Hello, dear,” said the mare, turning and fixing Tabby with a piercing gaze.

“Mom!” Tabby exclaimed, coming out of her fright. “What are you doing here?”

“I haven’t heard from you in ages, and I thought a visit was in order to ensure your well-being,” said the poised and impeccably-styled Agatha Fershund, looking her daughter over appraisingly.

“You don’t have a key,” Tabby blurted out. “How did you get inside?”

“I paid the locksmith to open the door for me, of course,” Agatha said. “I am your mother, after all.”

“That doesn’t mean you can just break into my house!” Tabby sighed. “And you can’t just throw money at every problem to make it go away.”

“You’re not a parent, Tabitha. You wouldn’t understand,” Agatha chided, strolling over to a glass display cabinet on one side of the room. “I see what you’re trying to do, dear, with these Oriental accents,” she said, frowning thoughtfully. “But this entire display of devil dogs is a bit overkill.”

“Those are my guardian lions, shi; or foo dogs, in common parlance,” Tabby said indignantly. “I don’t call them devil dogs.”

“A nice choice of accent piece–very trendy–but one set will suffice,” Agatha stated, turning back to her daughter. “You’re not a museum.”

“It’s a collection!” Tabby wailed.

“Of course, dear,” Agatha said, patting Tabby’s hoof condescendingly and leading her to the settee. “Tell me, what are your employment prospects these days?” she asked, settling in for a coze. “What happened to that sabbatical you were on, roaming the forest and caring for fairies and gnomes and woodland creatures?”

“Uh… I think you’re referring to my job assisting Tiny in his practice,” Tabby said, eyeing her mother warily, “but anyway, I have a new job.”

“Oh?” Agatha’s eyebrows raised inquiringly. “Well, out with it. No need to keep me in suspense.”

“I’m an assistant at the new vet clinic in town,” Tabby said, bracing herself for the inevitable critique.

“Well, it’s good that you’re not traipsing around the countryside now,” Agatha conceded, nodding her approval. “All that sun isn’t good for your complexion, not to mention all the bumps and scrapes and bruises you inevitably come home with from the wilds.”

“Yes, well, I haven’t gotten away from animal scratches,” Tabby pointed out, rubbing at one new addition on her foreleg from an ornery ferret.

“No, I suppose not. But you’re looking relatively… nice,” Agatha conceded, reluctantly, it seemed.

“Thanks…” Tabby said with a frown. Her mother would refer to her as pretty upon occasion, but the high praise always went to Tabby’s twin, Tamara. Since they were identical, it didn’t seem fair. But Tamara had that intangible quality of charm and an aesthetic for appearance that her twin lacked. Tabby had long ago become accustomed to being marginalized in her family, and cultivated her own interests, for the further distancing of her relatives.

“I don’t understand why you didn’t just become a doctor yourself,” Agatha continued, taking a sip from her water glass that she had apparently helped herself to from the kitchen before Tabby arrived. “If you’re set on this medical bent, you know. You’d be in control of your own destiny rather than being someone’s assistant.”

Yes, sure enough, here were the complaints. “Sure, after a million years of school,” Tabby scoffed. “I don’t have time for that.”

“Well, then, you will never have your own business like me or your sister,” Agatha admonished. “I just want you to consider your options. Is this really what you want, a subservient existence?”

“I have my online shop,” Tabby stubbornly insisted.

“Ah, your upcycled collectibles sold to eccentric collectors, yes, I suppose it is a start,” Agatha said doubtfully. “But you have to think BIG! Imagine what you could do with a staff working under you!” She looked at Tabby beseechingly.

“That’s not really my style.” Tabby crossed her forelegs and frowned.

“I’m almost afraid to ask, but…” Agatha sighed. “What happened to that doctor you were seeing? Terry or Trilby or…”

“I think you mean Toby, and he’s fine,” Tabby said guardedly.

“And the status of the relationship?” Agatha gave her a piercing look.

“We’re… going out,” Tabby reluctantly bit out.

“Are you, now!” Agatha actually smiled for once. “May wonders never cease. It’s so important to have a complementary partner in life, my dear.”

“Yes, and you succeeded so well in that yourself.” Tabby glanced at her mother sharply.

“I just want you to be happy, Tabitha,” said Agatha calmly, ignoring the dig, “and I’ve always been afraid that your contrary nature wouldn’t allow you to seize happiness when you find it.”

“Well, I doubt that my version of happiness will ever correspond with yours,” Tabby observed.

“You are capable of so much more!” Agatha stomped her hoof forcefully on the floor. “I can’t just sit here and let you live in squalor like this! There is a hobo shack in front of your house, for heaven’s sake!”

“What are you talking about?” Tabby snapped.

“That construction of branches of leaves! I’m sure it’s filling up with miscreants,” Agatha said, looking very perplexed.

“It’s hugelkultur,” said Tabby with a sigh. “It’s part of the garden!”

Agatha took a deep breath. “We’re getting off topic,” she said, collecting herself. “The vet clinic, tell me about it. Who is the doctor? Some slapdash graduate from Northport, no doubt,” she said disparagingly.

“Actually, he’s from New Pony,” Tabby said. Perhaps her mother would be impressed by the high caliber of education compared to Northport, but… probably not.

“Oh, really?” Agatha asked, intrigued. “We’ve done a number of events for the university’s veterinary department. Maybe I know him. What’s his name?”

“Thomas Fairfax,” said Tabby casually.

There was a sharp intake of breath from Agatha, and the glass she was holding dropped from her hoof, hitting the floor and spilling. “Oh, dear, how clumsy of me.” She glanced around as if seeking a servant, but realized there were none. Rolling her eyes, Tabby went to retrieve a towel.

“Tabitha, darling,” Agatha continued as Tabby wiped-up the spill, “you need to give notice right away. It isn’t a good post for you.”

Tabby scowled. “Nothing is ever good enough for you, is it?”

“You don’t want to be around Dr. Fairfax, trust me.” Agatha looked at her daughter meaningfully. “He’s Wexford’s protege, a notorious mare-izer, not the sort you want to associate with.”

Tabby exhaled impatiently. “No need to worry–he doesn’t think of me like that.”

“Yes, well, you’ve always been very obtuse in interpersonal communication,” Agatha said with a sigh. “Still, perhaps you’re not really his style. You are a bit helter-skelter.”

“I’m not quitting my job,” Tabby maintained.

“Your Dr. Fairfax also got our dear Gwen in a spot of trouble with Wexford,” Agatha continued, frowning.

“Oh, you still have Gwen at your beck and call?” Tabby inquired of her mother’s long-suffering personal assistant.

“Gwen is fulfilling her duties admirably, as always,” Agatha stated.

“Well, I don’t see what Thomas could have done that was that bad,” Tabby said.

“Not on its own, I suppose,” Agatha admitted. “There is more to it–more than I can go into now–but really, you must look elsewhere for employment.”

“Absolutely not!” Tabby said indignantly.

“Well–” Agatha glanced down at her watch. “Perhaps we can table the topic for now. I made a dinner reservation for us at seven. Can Toby accommodate?”

“I’ll check,” sighed Tabby, standing. She was not looking forward to the two of them meeting–her mother would be sure to embarrass her.

“Well, go on then, get washed up,” Agatha dismissed her daughter. “I believe some of the animal scent has attached itself to you.”

Tabby rolled her eyes and stalked out of the room. 

She returned some time later, freshly washed. Her mother was in the middle of a phone call. “…they will just have to accept the navy blue drapes; now, I have to go.” Hanging up, Agatha looked at Tabby and didn’t miss a beat. “Well, you can’t go like that; you’re not even wearing any makeup,” she protested, eyeing her daughter appraisingly. “A nice up-do for your mane, a necklace, and maybe earrings if you can pull it off. Come along, dear.”

“Oh my gosh, Mom…” Tabby felt like a petulant foal, indignant but powerless to resist her mother’s ministrations to her toilette.

It was a very elegant, put-together mare who emerged from her chamber some time later.

“There now, isn’t that better?” Agatha beamed, walking a circle around her daughter to survey the whole effect. “I really shouldn’t have allowed you to rusticate for so long, but you have always been so unmanageable, wanting to do things your own way.” She shook her head.

“I have my own life, you know,” Tabby said sulkily. “I’m managing fine.”

“Yes, dear, and we’ll talk more about that over dinner.” Agatha patted her hoof.

* * *

The two mares exited Tabby’s house and started walking to the Estate Manor where Agatha had made reservations. Agatha seemed perturbed by something and kept turning her head. “Tabitha,” she said quietly, “there is some kind of beast stalking us in the bushes. What do you know about this?”

“Oh, that’s Othello. He’s my guard hodag,” Tabby explained.

“While I do like the protection aspect,” Agatha said, pursing her lips, “I’m sure there are more fashionable options. Bergstutz are very popular back in Vulcanopolis. All the debutantes have one.”

“I think I’m good with my hodag. I’m a bit past the debutante stage, anyway,” Tabby said dryly.

“How time flies,” Agatha sighed. “It seems like just yesterday you were a little filly.”

“Mrs. Fershund, Ms. Fershund,” the maitre d’ intoned deeply as the two mares entered the establishment. “We have your special table reserved.”

“Thank you, Alfredo.” Agatha accepted this solicitude as a matter of course. “How sweet of you to remember my preferences… there will be one more joining us, so I am told,” she added, raising her eyebrows at Tabby.

“Yes, he does exist,” Tabby said, bristling. “He’ll be here when his staff meeting gets out.”

“Very well. I had many a business meeting here when I was based at the cottage,” Agatha remarked to Tabby as they took their seats in the booth. “Have you been out there lately, Tabitha? You know you’re welcome to avail yourself of it as a weekend getaway, or just live there full-time. It doesn’t bother me. I don’t understand why you had your heart set on a house in town.”

“Your place isn’t really my style,” Tabby said.

“Is the house staff unhelpful?” Agatha frowned.

“No, it’s not that,” Tabby said hastily, “but I like my own place. It’s cozy.”

“The cottage will be yours one day, you know,” Agatha said casually.

“Tamara can have it,” Tabby dismissed the idea. “She’s more into that sort of thing.”

“Your sister prefers her metropolitan lifestyle; and, besides, has already spoken for the mountain chalet as her inheritance. The country cottage is distinctly your purview,” Agatha stated.

“Mom!” Tabby rolled her eyes. “Your country cottage has a million bedrooms, ballroom, tennis court, swimming pool, miles of gardens, fake abbey ruins…”

“Ah, the garden follies,” Agatha said with a distant smile. “Your father was always fond of those.”

“Too bad you ran him off,” Tabby said with a dark look.

“I didn’t run him off,” Agatha said firmly. “We had a disagreement, as all couples do, yes; but it was just happenstance that he was lost on his next expedition.” She shifted in her seat uneasily. “And how is dear Strawberry?” she queried. “Still writing those stories of hers?”

“Yes, she has a new novel coming out at the end of the year, but she’s also the receptionist at the vet clinic,” Tabby explained.

“Lovely, you girls were always so close growing up.” Agatha smiled. “Tell me, is she seeing anyone?”

“She’s dating a professor at Pony Pride. Vanguard,” Tabby said briefly.

“Wonderful, she was always so shy and retiring, I feared that would be a challenge for her,” Agatha remarked. “You are on the opposite end of the spectrum, far too outspoken to attract that sort of attention, though I was promised a special guest tonight,” she added pointedly.

“He’ll be here.”

* * *

Toby strode across the dining room after consulting with the host at the podium. He was only slightly anxious at the prospect of meeting the mother of the mare he was courting–what could she possibly object to? No one would turn their nose up at a doctor from a well-connected family, after all.

“Hello, Mrs. Fersund,” Toby said, smoothly inserting himself into the conversation as he took the seat next to Tabby. “I’m Toby. Dr. Toby Collins.”

“Hello, dear… Collins, you say?” Agatha said, giving him an appraising look. “Any relation to the Woodhurst Collinses?”

“My grandparents, Hugo and Berniece, are from Woodhurst,” Toby admitted, impressed at her knowledge.

“Ah,” said Agatha knowingly. “You’re Andrew and Ribbons n’ Lace’s boy, aren’t you? I know them by reputation–they have a hoof in most of the nonprofits I work with–but I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of meeting them.”

“Yes, Mother is very dedicated to her charitable causes,” Toby said with a fond smile.

“You’re the… eldest in your family?” Agatha guessed.

“I’m the middle foal,” Toby explained. “I have an older brother, Tribute, who is a physician in Grayton; and Tendril is my younger sister.”

“She doesn’t do anything in particular,” Tabby interjected.

“She’s working on her master’s degree in sociology,” Toby corrected.

“How nice,” said Agatha with polite interest. “Well, Toby, what plans do you have for the future? Do you have aspirations beyond Misty Hollow General Hospital?”

“Right now it seems Misty Hollow has everything I want,” Toby said with a significant look at Tabby.

“Very nicely said,” Agatha said, beaming “I can see that you’ve been very good for Tabitha… a stabilizing influence, if you will. Perhaps there will be some developments in the future.”

“I hope so,” Toby said with a significant look at Tabby. She ducked her head, unwilling to meet his gaze. Toby wasn’t concerned–though she was a strong-willed mare, she was also adorably shy when confronted with hints of their future together, which he found endearing. “All in due time,” he said softly, taking Tabby’s hoof but not pursuing the topic.

Agatha looked on approvingly.

* * *

“And I don’t know what happened, but my hoof caught on the table leg and it overturned, and all those cupcakes flew everywhere!” Becca giggled. “I don’t know why these things always happen to me!” 

Thomas smiled politely. It was clear to the rest of the town that these things happened to Becca because she was a hopeless klutz; but to her, the reason was a mystery.

Tonight, at the SSSS, Becca had flagged down Thomas to verify information for the clinic’s entry in the Chamber of Commerce business directory. Thomas had been chatting with Strawberry and Vanguard, and Becca had been invited to join the group.

Out of the corner of his eye, Thomas noted a group entering the area, which stopped in front of their table. It was Toby, along with an almost unidentifiable Tabby with her hair done up and cosmetic paint on her face. With them was a blue unicorn who bore an uncanny resemblance to…

“Strawberry, my dear!” The blue unicorn stepped forward and singled out the mare, embracing her. “How are you?”

“Mrs. Fershund?” Strawberry asked, startled. “Tabby didn’t mention you were visiting!”

“No, I wasn’t aware of it myself,” Tabby said as chairs were rearranged and space made for all.

“I almost didn’t recognize you,” Thomas said, eyeing her curiously as she slid into the seat next to him.

“Well, she hates you,” Tabby hissed under her breath, “so have fun with that.”

“Me? I haven’t even met her,” Thomas protested.

“I told you, she’s crazy,” Tabby said with a shrug.

“And you must be Vanguard?” Agatha looked inquiringly at the country blue stallion with seafoam green hair. “I’m Agatha, Tabitha’s mother,” she continued without waiting for an answer. “Where are you from, dear?… Woodlawn?… Binks University?… Lovely part of the country,” she chattered effortlessly. “Becca, hello, nice to see you,” she said, moving on, before finally acknowledging Thomas. “And Dr. Fairfax.”

“Hello,” Thomas responded, uneasy. “It’s nice to–”

“You probably don’t remember me,” Agatha cut him off, “but you may recognize me by my professional name, Agatha Westcliff.”

“Agatha Westcliff? Of Westcliff Enterprises?” Thomas asked incredulously. That was the agency that handled events at New Pony University. “You’re Tabby’s mom?”

“Quite,” said Agatha crisply with a cool incline of her head.

“I had no idea,” Thomas said, looking curiously at Tabby, who just looked uncomfortable. “I worked with Gwen a number of times over the years for the trainee committee and–”

“Yes, well, you got Gwen on the wrong side of Wexford at the banquet last year,” Agatha interjected. “Unjustly, I should add. I almost had to cancel my contract with the university over it.”

“Oh my gosh, Mom, enough with the drama,” Tabby snapped. “It can’t have been that bad.”

“There was a misunderstanding over the dessert menu,” Agatha said with a sniff. “Dr. Fairfax failed to pass on a critical message, and as a result there was some… confusion at the event.”

“What? Dessert?” Now Tabby was eyeing Thomas critically. “What did you do?”

“That fool Wexford tried to substitute Preuben chocolate cake for lemon creme cake,” Agatha answered for Thomas. “Gwen, in due diligence, discovered the error and corrected it.”

“Preuben chocolate? Really?” Tabby looked at Thomas incredulously.

“It wasn’t my idea,” Thomas protested. The thought crossed his mind that Wexford and Tabby shared a similar fascination with dessert, and that they might get on a little too well if their paths ever crossed. He made a mental note to never let that happen.

“Well, I was just surprised to find that Caprice had raised such a clod,” continued Agatha.

“Caprice? You knew my mom?” Thomas asked curiously, ignoring the insult. It seemed that Tabby’s mom held one surprise after another.

“Yes, we grew up in the same town,” Agatha said calmly. “Caprice was younger than me and we didn’t cross paths much until… well, she was well-known in the environs.”

“Mom never talked much about her foalhood,” Thomas said slowly.

“No, I suppose she wanted to forget that, what with all that unpleasantness regarding your grandparents and all. Stubborn fools, the lot of them,” Agatha said, shaking her head. “But I’m not surprised at the name she chose for you.”

“A foalhood friend, wasn’t it?” Thomas supplied.

“Yes, something like that,” Agatha said. “There was an oversized feline she was always packing around–Tom Underhoof, she called it–fat and lazy as sin. She was inconsolable when the creature passed away, and had an obituary published on the front page of the paper–a very maudlin affair, as I recall.”

“She never mentioned that,” Thomas admitted. “But… it sounds like her.”

“I was sorry to hear about the cruise incident, the poor souls,” she added, her visage softening. She sighed. “Well–perhaps if you are away from Wexford’s influence, you can make a decent stallion of yourself after all.” Looking at Becca, she said to him sotto voce, “I would set my sights a little higher, though. That one is a trainwreck.”

“We’re not–” Thomas started to say.

“Just stay away from my girl,” Agatha interjected sharply. “You don’t know your own mind.” Her phone rang just then, and she turned away to answer it. When she returned her attention to her companions at hoof, it was with apologies. “I’m afraid a board meeting has been rescheduled, and I have to take the next flight to Lewiston,” she stated. “I must get to the airport straightaway.”

“Just like old times,” said Tabby dryly, and the party hastily said their goodbyes as Tabby and Toby left to accompany Agatha.

* * *

“At least we had this time together.” Agatha embraced her daughter at the airport and kissed her on both cheeks. “Don’t run off and get married without giving some advance notice,” she said with a stern look at Toby. 

Mom!” Tabby exclaimed, reddening. Toby only grinned and held her hoof.

“Tabitha, you have no head for event planning and would make a muddle of it,” Agatha continued. “You’ll need a mother’s guidance.”

“We’ll be sure to include you… whenever that happens,” Toby assured her.

“Goodbye, dears. We’ll get together again soon,” Agatha assured the couple.

“Your mother is delightful,” Toby remarked as Agatha went up the escalator to the security gate.

“Don’t give any credence to what she says,” Tabby pleaded. “I certainly never have.”

“I don’t know; I thought she made some interesting points,” Toby said, drawing her closer.

Tabby laughed uncomfortably.

* * *

“As if it’s a coincidence that Thomas Fairfax ended up here, of all places,” Agatha murmured to herself as she settled into her first class seat. “You can be sure that they’re behind it. Those days were supposed to be behind us, but…” She shook her head. “Tabby hates being maneuvered, so they may find that they have finally met their match.”