A call was made, and plans cemented. Agatha and Dietrich met at the assembly hall.
“Hello, Agatha,” Dietrich said automatically, going over to the blue unicorn.
“Hello, Dietrich,” Agatha replied smoothly, offering him her hoof, and they strolled over to the refreshment table. An old-fashioned waltz (perhaps popular in their grandparents’ time) was playing, and a few couples half-heartedly twirled around on the parquet dance floor.
“This is a miserable affair,” Agatha sighed, tapping her hoof distractedly.
“Indeed,” Dietrich quickly agreed, downing a punch glass of watery lemonade.
“Those sad, dusty potted plants need to go; the draperies haven’t been replaced in twenty years; the wallpaper is peeling; and the flooring is cracked,” Agatha noted, gesturing all around. “The architectural design has excellent classic lines that could really pop with the right decoration, but they don’t play it up as they should.” She shook her head.
Dietrich hadn’t really noticed the details that stood out as glaringly obvious to her; he just knew that it was dull. “Do you care to dance?” he offered, extending his hoof.
Agatha came out of her reverie, presumably redecorating in her head. “Oh–certainly,” she agreed, and they joined the dance.
“My parents would like us to get to know each other better,” Dietrich remarked after a period of silence between the couple.
“Oh, you flatter me,” Agatha said with an arch look. “But what do you want?”
“I think you’re a lovely mare, but we get along too amiably to suit,” Dietrich said bluntly.
“I think you have hit the nail on the head,” Agatha said with a merry laugh. They smiled at each other, relieved at being in mutual agreement.
During the final notes of the musical number, Dietrich caught sight of someone across the room on the stage, and his heart skipped a beat. It was a mare, seated and playing some stringed instrument. Their gazes locked for one brief moment; she smiled coquettishly and then looked away.
It was her, the filly with the oversized feline, but grown into a lovely young mare, with creamy beige complexion and gently curling lavender hair.
“Who is that?” Dietrich demanded of Agatha, not taking his eyes from the mare on stage.
Agatha followed his gaze. “You mean Caprice?” she asked, bemused. “Don’t you know your own mortal enemies?”
“What?” Dietrich was taken aback.
“She’s Cecil Monk’s daughter,” Agatha clarified, watching him curiously.
This delicate piece of perfection, written off by his father as being one of those reviled business rivals? Dietrich was indignant. It was absurd. Anyone could plainly see that she was an angel.
“Would you like an introduction?” Agatha prodded.
“No, that’s not necessary,” said Dietrich. “We’ve met.” He strode off with single minded determination in her direction.
* * *
“Yes, Storen, of course I’d love to dance with you,” Caprice said woodenly to the tan stallion hovering at her side, her words belied by a slight downturn of her mouth. She packed up her instrument into its case.
“I’m afraid this dance is spoken for,” said a brilliant aqua stallion who was suddenly at her side.
“Excuse me, you are–?” Caprice asked, haughtily lifting her eyebrows. He did cut a fine figure, she admitted to herself, with rich brown hair that matched his eyes; but her parents had warned her that most stallions were worthless bounders who were only after her fortune.
“Dietrich,” he supplied, taking her hoof. “You’re not required to perform all night, are you?”
“No, I just volunteered for this number.” She pursed her lips, searching her mind. He was familiar, but she couldn’t quite place him.
“The lady clearly doesn’t want to dance,” squeaked her companion, Storen, looking pale and afraid.
Caprice held up her hoof, forstaling his objections. “Storen,” she said sharply, “stay out of this.” She took a step closer to Dietrich. “I will dance with you, Dietrich,” she stated simply. “Storen, you may take my zither to the coat check desk.” She pushed the instrument case toward him and went to Dietrich’s side.
“Caprice! What are you doing?!” Storen was aghast, staring gape-mouthed after her.
“Storen, don’t be difficult!” Caprice snapped, stomping her hoof delicately. “I will dance with you later!”
“But I promised your father…” Storen was reluctant to move, eyeing Dietrich with derision. Dietrich stared steadily back.
“Go!” Caprice said firmly, waving him off.
“You’re making a mistake!” Storen left, with a final despairing shake of his head.
Dietrich smiled as he led her into the dance. “Do you remember me?” he asked, holding her closer than customary for the movements of the dance.
“You do look familiar,” Caprice admitted. “I’m sure I’ve met you at one of my father’s corporate events.”
“Not likely,” he said enigmatically.
“Church, then,” she determined.
“No, I believe our families go to different parishes.”
Caprice narrowed her eyes thoughtfully. “Well, by the smug look on your face, it would appear that you do know, if you wouldn’t mind sharing.”
“There was an incident under a deck over on Park Street,” Dietrich said with a grin. “Your cat, Thomas–”
“Of course!” A broad smile spread across her face. “That was you!” She was silent a moment, letting that sink in. “Fancy meeting you again! You were such a dashing young stallion, all those years ago, and so kind to assist!” She beamed.
The stallion winced. “Not so long ago as all that, surely,” he protested.
“It seems like many years from my reckoning,” she said with a mischievous look.
“How is Tom?” Dietrich asked.
Caprice felt her eyes welling up with tears. “Thomas is… gone.” The memory of her favorite feline companion’s passing was still painful.
“I’m sorry,” he said, looking stricken. “I’ve stirred up painful memories.”
“We were together when he went, and that’s what matters,” she said, regaining her composure. “He lived a good life.” She smiled bravely through her unshed tears.
“And how have you been?” Dietrich asked softly. “Getting up to much mischief these days?”
She laughed melodically. “I haven’t had much time for anything but studying for finals–but thankfully high school is behind me now.”
“What are your plans from here?” Dietrich inquired.
“Why, take my place in society as a hostess–as my mother has prepared me for all my life,” she stated matter-of-factly.
“And is that what you want?” Dietrich looked at her, and she felt like he could see straight through to her soul.
Caprice bit her lip. “I don’t know,” she admitted, feeling a bit light-headed at what she was about to reveal, her most secret wish. “I’ve always wanted…”
“Yes?” he gently prodded.
“I’ve always wanted to be a veterinarian,” Caprice said in a rush. “Mother always said I was too fragile, that I wouldn’t be able to stand the sight of blood, but…”
“You can do anything you dream of,” Dietrich said, smiling indulgently.
“I’m not sure. Maybe she’s right.” She sighed. “My parents, well… they expect me to marry and settle down.”
“A career doesn’t preclude that,” Dietrich pointed out.
She cast her eyes downward, uncertain of the warmth spreading in her heart. She decided to change the subject. “Have you been in town all this time and we’ve never met?”
“I live in New Pony these days,” Dietrich explained. “Just here on a visit.”
“Oh, New Pony–the museums, libraries, parks, architecture!” Caprice sighed longingly. “I’d love to go there one day.”
“There’s no reason you can’t,” Dietrich said simply.
“Oh, Mother and Father say it’s much too dangerous,” Caprice sighed.
“You just need a dependable guide.” And he pulled her just a smidge closer.
“And you, sir, would be just the thing, of course?” Caprice said with an arch look.
“Of course,” he agreed.
“And what do you do for a living?” she asked, trying to reign-in her racing heart.
“I’m a reporter for the New Pony Times.”
“You’re easy to talk to,” Caprice told him.
“You think so?” Dietrich looked at her quizzically.
“I could tell you anything,” she said softly.
The dance ended. It felt so comfortable in his embrace, and she was loath to leave his side.
“I’d like to show you something,” she said shyly.
“Oh?” Dietrich raised his eyebrows inquiringly.
“If you don’t mind a short walk. Come with me.” Giggling, she tugged him along with her.
* * *
“Hubert! What are you doing, hiding behind this pillar?” Agatha chided, approaching the coral stallion seated on a bench, obscured by the pillar on one side and a potted plant with wide sweeping leaves on the other.
“Oh, you know,” said Hubert, sighing as he closed the book on his lap, an ancient-looking dusty tome. “Waiting for Caprice to have a dance open.”
Agatha sighed in frustration. Caprice was a skittish little filly, too nervous and immature to complement Hubert, whose quiet dedication and fanciful nature had endeared himself to Agatha since they had been in grade school together. Though he didn’t have an emotional attachment to the filly, he was obedient to his family’s wishes that he court and eventually marry the Monk heiress.
Hubert had no head for courtship rituals, but Agatha was at a point in her life that she wanted to settle down. It was her summer project to bring him up to scratch and commit to marriage.
“Well, you missed your chance; she’s high-tailed it out of here,” Agatha pointed out.
“Really?” Hubert’s face brightened. He scooted over on the bench and gestured for her to join him.
“You didn’t really want to dance with her,” Agatha stated.
“No, but my mom said I had to,” he said, running a hoof distractedly through his mane.
“You’re twenty-five; you don’t have to do what your parents say!” Agatha admonished. “It’s your life.”
Hubert looked at her wonderingly. “I’m not like you, Agatha. I can’t…” He shook his head. “Where did she go?” He peeked out around the pillar cautiously as if he feared Caprice was still lurking about in wait.
“She seems to have had some business to take care of with Dietrich Fairfax,” said Agatha dryly.
“Dietrich!” Hubert said, recoiling in horror. “But he’s your suitor.”
“Not really,” Agatha said, taking Hubert’s hoof. “You’re the only one around here who listens to your parents.”
“You’re all mad,” Hubert said with a disbelieving look. “This is exactly the disregard for authority that caused the downfall of Skuspiosla!”
“I’m sure Caprice is a charming filly,” Agtha murmured, inching closer, “but she’s not for you.”
“Dashed if I can think of a thing to say to her,” Hubert admitted. “You’re easy to talk to,” he added with a wistful look.
“Dance with me,” she ordered, standing and hauling him to his hooves.
“I’m not very good,” he protested, his brow creased in consternation; but he allowed himself to be led to the dance floor.
“I haven’t been seeing you much,” Agatha observed. “Always off on an expedition, it seems.”
“Yes, I’m dividing my graduate work between Vulcanopolis and Thoyce.”
“I was afraid you might never come back,” Agatha said softly.
“Oh, there’s a whole world to explore,” Hubert said, visage brightening. “But, in the meantime, Forest Brook is a nice place to stop over.”
“So you’ll be off again on some adventure,” stated Agatha.
“There’s a research opportunity in Misty Hollow that I’m considering,” he admitted.
“Misty Hollow… I don’t know it,” Agatha said.
“It’s not much on the global scale. It’s in the western part of the country, has its roots in an Atlantean outpost,” Hubert explained.
“I’m sure you’ll have an enjoyable time,” said Agatha coyly.
“How’s your business?” Hubert asked.
“I’ve doubled my staff in the past year,” Agatha said proudly.
“There’s really that much demand for party planners?” Hubert said, looking surprised.
“Event organizers,” she corrected. “And yes. The average pony doesn’t know the first thing about decorating and food and traffic flow. There’s so much to make a muddle of. And that’s why they call me.”
“You are a very managing sort,” Hubert said.
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” she said, swatting him lightly.
“You’re going to stay on in New Pony, aren’t you?” Hubert said, frowning.
“I haven’t settled on a long-term residence,” Agatha admitted. “Costs are high in New Pony. I’ve been thinking of starting a branch office somewhere a bit smaller and quieter.”
“I’m sure you’ll find the perfect place. I don’t know when we’ll ever see each other, though,” Hubert said, looking perplexed.
The couple strolled back to the bench. Agatha faced him.
“It’s a bit of a crush tonight, don’t you think?” Hubert asked, wiping at perspiration on his brow.
Agatha didn’t think that the four couples dancing constituted much of a crush, but she turned a dazzling smile on him. “Quite,” she agreed.
“Gosh, Agatha,” he gulped, “you’re so good at these social things. I never know what to do or say to anyone… except you.”
“You don’t have to say anything,” she whispered, taking his hoof in hers. “Just kiss me.”
“Agatha, really!” he protested, eyes wide.
“Don’t you find me kissable?” Agatha demanded.
“Well, the whole concept seems a bit silly, not to mention unsanitary,” Hubert said, shifting uncomfortably. “The natives of Musneoca have a much more reasonable tradition–”
“Have you ever even kissed a girl?” Agatha asked.
“No. Never,” Hubert said, shaking his head adamantly. “Wouldn’t know how to go about it.”
“Oh, I have to be the one to do everything, don’t I!” And so saying, she leaned in and kissed him.
“Oh, I see,” said Hubert breathlessly as Agatha pulled back. “I may… I may just revise my opinion of kissing. An academic interest, you understand,” he clarified.
“Indeed,” said Agatha with a smoldering look.
“Ah–well–” Hubert searched for the words. “Agatha, I don’t know if you’d be interested, but I have a new documentary on tape–latest installment of Mysteries of Atlantis–and I wondered if you’d like to watch it with me? Tonight?” he said in a rush.
“I’d love to,” she said coyly. “We can watch it at my apartment.”
“Great!” he said with alacrity. “I’ll just go home and fetch it. I’ll meet you there by, say, 9?”
“Sure,” she replied with a bemused smile. “I’ll be waiting for you.” This was a bold move for Hubert.
“Great–see you later–bye!” He rushed off.