8 Years Later
Dietrich Fairfax stood on the patio, staring out over the neatly manicured lawn at his friend’s house. It wasn’t as expansive as the yard at his parents’, but it was respectable. Things at his own home were uncomfortable, to say the least; and he was staying here with Robbie until things blew over. Maybe Dietrich would never go back to his parents at all, but just go straight to New Pony, never looking back.
Dietrich knew he was fortunate to have the hospitality of Robbie’s family to fall back on. He had been relying on this sanctuary more and more as high school graduation approached. It was tighter quarters than he was accustomed to, but it had a warmth that was lacking in his own home. Tensions between Dietrich and his parents only kept increasing with the passage of time. Dietrich had told them time and again that he would be going on to college in New Pony, but his father kept talking like Forest Brook University was a foregone conclusion. Finding that his father was withholding college acceptance letters from Dietrich had been the final straw, and was the particular reason he was staying with Robbie’s family at the moment.
Dietrich now held the acceptance letter from New Pony University in his hoof, and resolved that he would not be persuaded from this course.
Reginald Fairfax would never entertain the notion that his son would do anything but follow in his hoofsteps, managing operations at Fairfax Publishing Co. Dietrich was expected to go to Forest Brook University, major in business, and ultimately step into a supervisory position at the company.
Dietrich was tired of this town, with its old prejudices, its sleepy main street that was effectively shut down by 9pm, and an unassuming newspaper whose coverage of the county fair was the height of its journalistic merit. He wanted to be where life was really happening, in a city that never sleeps, with interesting stories, new perspectives, and a culture that went beyond this town his ancestors had built up.
Dietrich’s mother only told him to mind his father. Never outwardly affectionate, Helga Fairfax had a firm resolve to support her husband in all things. She had been brought here to Forest Brook from across the ocean as a hoof-picked young bride for Reginald, and she never let her only child forget that personal choice didn’t matter. It was better to submit to the will of your superiors and accept your lot in life, rather than waste time fighting. “You will only end up back where they want you,” she would say enigmatically.
Dietrich’s attention was distracted from these musings by a flash of pale color against the brilliant green grass in the neighboring yard. It was a little slip of a filly. What was she doing? He squinted. The couple that lived there had no foals. And this one was… trying to crawl in under the deck?
He watched for a few minutes, trying to figure her out. She had a very determined look about her as she resolutely pulled and bent the mesh lining the deck foundation. What mischief was the little imp up to?
Finally, Dietrich decided it was time to take action. He thought he was up to the challenge of taking on this housebreaker on his own. He walked down the patio steps and strolled in her direction.
Walking across the property line, he approached her, but so engrossed in her work was she that she didn’t seem to notice him.
“Hello,” he hailed her.
She whirled around, a pretty beige filly with lavender hair; a bit too pale to be striking, though she did have brilliant blue eyes. “SHHH!” she hissed angrily, putting a hoof against her mouth. She wasn’t more than ten, he thought, though he was a poor judge of age.
“Do you need assistance?” Dietrich asked, keeping a distance of a few feet in case she turned on him.
“No…. no,” she said, giving an ineffectual but spirited tug at the mesh panel. “I just about have this.”
“Is there a reason I shouldn’t call the police to report a thieving street urchin?” he said, trying to be stern, but unable to hold back a smile at the unlikely thief.
“A thief?” She turned and looked up at him, indignant. “Nothing of the sort!”
“Well, you do appear to be attempting to gain access to something that isn’t yours,” Dietrich pointed out.
“Of course he belongs to me! He’s my cat!” the filly said, drawing herself up. “He got away from me and ran under here and he won’t come out!”
Dietrich frowned. He had never been fond of cats; their smug smirks and sharp eyes made him uneasy. “He’ll come out eventually, won’t he?” he asked hesitantly.
“I’m not going to leave him here!” She stomped her little hoof on the ground. “He could run out into oncoming traffic or–or–” Her eyes welled-up with tears at the thought of untold horrors.
Dietrich considered this fear. There was little cart traffic in this residential area, and most ponies walked. It seemed like a slim chance of something untoward happening. However, she didn’t seem to be going anywhere. “Well,” he said carefully, weighing his options, “at least let me get you some proper tools.”
“If you want.” She shrugged as if it didn’t much matter to her one way or the other, and went back to her work.
Dietrich checked that the fasteners on the mesh were a standard screw size, and went to retrieve a screwdriver from Robbie’s family’s garden shed. He made it back to the filly in short order.
“Allow me,” he said grandly, nudging her aside and loosening the screws until he could pull the panel down.
“Thomas! Thomas!” the slim filly shrieked, scurrying through the narrow opening before Dietrich could stop her, all but disappearing into the darkness. “You’re being very naughty!” Scuffling noises could be heard, but then she backed out, eyes wet with tears. “He’s settled down in a hole I can’t reach!” Her face was smudged with dirt, cobwebs were caught on her unicorn horn, and her mane was a flyaway mess.
“Perhaps something to lure him out,” Dietrich suggested.
“I can’t leave to go to the store for fish!” She looked incredulous.
Remembering the salmon he had seen in the fridge that was destined for supper, Dietrich sighed. He wasn’t fond of fish, either. ”Wait here,” he instructed. He trudged once again back to his friend’s house and returned with a plate of fish, which he offered to the impatient filly.
“Perfect!” she enthused, snatching it without a word of thanks.
The two ponies kept a silent, pensive vigil for several minutes, waiting to see if it would be an effective bait. A creature cautiously emerged, intent on the fish. It was a great rotund beast of a cat in a gray tabby pattern. As soon as he was out from under the patio, the filly leapt upon him, pinning him to the ground.
“Thomas!” she cried. “I was so worried!” She stood up with the feline clutched in her forelegs.
The cat, for his part, only looked disappointed to have been separated from his meal.
“Hello, Tom,” Dietrich said blandly, nonetheless impressed by the cat’s size, especially matched with such a petite filly.
“Ah-hem!” the filly said, glaring. “He is a dignified gentlecat and he goes by Thomas. Thomas C. Underhoof, Esquire.”
Dietrich shook his head. “He needs to go on a diet, by the look of it.”
“And what do you know about it?” she challenged. “He’s fine the way he is.”
“I bow to your superior knowledge,” Dietrich conceded.
“Well–thank you,” she finally thought to say, almost as an afterthought. “But I do need to get back to my friend’s house now. Bye!” And she darted across the lawn, hauling the cat along.
Dietrich smiled in a bemused fashion as he replaced the mesh and tightened the screws.
“Excuse me, young stallion.” At the sound of the new voice, Dietrich looked up to see an angry mare wielding a baseball bat hovering over him on the deck. “Is there any reason I shouldn’t be calling the police on you?”
Dietrich sighed, holding up his hooves in surrender.
* * *
Things were patched up with the neighbor, who was fortunately in possession of a sense of humor, after a concise explanation of events. Dietrich was even sent away with a plate of cookies.
“Must be one of Tanzy’s friends,” Robbie theorized when he had been apprised of the situation. “Those scamps are always running amok in the neighborhood.”
“Not like we ever did,” Dietrich said.
“No, of course not,” Robbie agreed, grinning.
* * *
It had been a diverting experience, but Dietrich didn’t expect he would ever see the filly again, not in any meaningful way. He didn’t even know her name.
He still didn’t think much of cats, but while moving into his New Pony apartment, he had come across a stray in the adjacent alley, and something in its expression… Dietrich hadn’t been able to walk by, and the gray tabby came to live with him.
And Dietrich discovered, to his surprise, that the creature was a quiet, reasonable companion that was greatly appreciated over long nights spent crouched over the typewriter.
And similarly, when a friend’s significant other was found to be allergic and the cat needed to be rehomed, Dietrich offered to take it. And when the runt of a litter from a neighbor’s cat couldn’t be found a home for, Dietrich stepped in.
And at the strangest times, memories of that filly would flash into mind, giving him inspiration–if she had spirit enough to save that tank of a cat, then he could get through the tough assignment, tight deadline, angry boss, or whatever challenge he was up against.
It was some eight years later that Dietrich returned to Forest Brook, in another attempt to smooth things over with his parents. He had been back a hoofful of times since starting college, none with any hope of reconciliation. The visits had been more on purpose to visit friends rather than family.
Dietrich was on his way to the journalistic career he wanted, currently holding a junior staff position at a prestigious news outlet. He thought Reginald would be pleased now that he had a degree and a solid job, but his father was as unobliging as ever.
After a dustup had led to Reginald exiting the room, his mother took up the job of badgering him about his future prospects. “How is Agatha?” Helga asked.
“She’s fine,” Dietrich snapped. Agatha Westcliff was the girl his parents had been after him his whole life to court, second only to their expectation of him to take charge of the family business. It was some archaic family agreement. Dietrich and Agatha both thought that their parents were being a bit medieval in their planning of an arranged marriage. The two met occasionally and talked from time to time, but neither was particularly interested in an attachment, romantic or otherwise. Agatha divided her time between Forest Brook and New Pony, focusing on building her own business, planning parties or something like that.
“It’s about time you settle down with a wife, you know, regardless of the career path you take,” Helga hinted. “There’s a dance at the assembly hall tonight; why don’t you take Agatha? She’s in town for the summer. This would be a good opportunity to spend some time together.”
Dietrich suppressed a groan. He didn’t want to go to a party at the assembly hall–the local symbol of youthful social life, which was famous in equal measures for staid dancing, weak lemonade, stuffy music, and insipid debutantes.
Still, it was an excuse to leave the house without storming out in a fit of rage, which would inevitably happen. “Fine,” Dietrich said stiffly, making his escape.
Maybe he would go back to New Pony earlier than planned, he mused. He didn’t seem to be accomplishing anything here.