Forest Brook: Chapter 8

Author’s note: Yes, I am aware that I have deep-seated issues with the college system and I can’t go two scenes without bringing up someone’s education level. This is not a justification, but an observation.

The following month, after the elopement:

“Caprice, what is this hundred dollar charge from Burke’s?” Dietrich asked, brow furrowed as he went through a stack of receipts to balance the checkbook.

“What?” Caprice asked, coming out of the kitchen with a cloud of smoke hovering behind her. “Burke’s? Oh, just a few things for my toilette.”

Dietrich frowned at the receipt. “Twenty for hair conditioner? Thirty for moisturizing cream?”

“Yes, that’s what they cost,” Caprice said, eyes wide and innocent.

“Perhaps, in the future,” Dietrich said, weighing his words carefully, “you could try the drugstore brands.”

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t think it would be a problem,” Caprice said, eyes welling up with tears.

“Darling, it’s okay, we’re learning,” Dietrich hurriedly assured her.

“You’re not mad?” Caprice said, sniffling as he embraced her.

“No. But,” he added, “maybe you could take me on your next shopping trip, so we can make sure we’re on the same page.”

“I’d love to go shopping with you,” she said, looking up, all smiles again.

And so, with time and experience, Caprice learned to differentiate between needs and wants, and to appreciate budget brands, and the couple’s financial routine settled.

Bored and wanting to avoid the temptations of the stores, Caprice one day found herself at a nearby animal shelter where she signed up on the spot to volunteer. And at Dietrich’s urging, Caprice also requested information from New Pony University, and began working on her application.

* * *

“Wait here,” Tassels, the harried-looking shelter manager, told Caprice on her first day. “You can put on these gloves and… oh, I have to go get this rabbit situation under control. When Snowdrop gets here, you’ll shadow her.”

“Okay,” said Caprice, feeling awkward and in the way in the hall with all the activity around her and nothing to do. She stayed close to the wall, keeping an eye out for what she imagined a pony named Snowdrop would look like.

A stallion appeared in the doorway across from where she was standing. “You!” he barked, rather harshly.

“Me?” Caprice squeaked, not certain at first that he was talking to her.

“Yes, you!” he snapped, struggling with a big beast of a dog, Caprice noted as she walked over. “Hold down the hind legs.”

Caprice sprung into action then, responding quickly to subsequent directions in the ensuing operation, for this was one of the staff veterinarians.

The doctor sought her out later, approaching her with an abashed look. “I’m sorry, I was a bit short earlier… I’m Graham.”

“I’m Caprice. Sorry, I must have been a veritable bump on a log… it’s my first day,” she confessed with a sweet smile.

“But it’s my first day,” Graham responded with an answering grin.

“Oh, we’re first day buddies. We’ll have to watch out for each other,” Caprice bubbled over, completely free of artifice, an offering of pure friendship.

And that was the moment Graham fell in love with Caprice Fairfax… only a moment before noticing the wedding band on her gloved foreleg.

* * *

One day, on her way home, Caprice stopped to assist an older mare who was struggling up the steps of the apartment building, and struck up a conversation.

“Most ponies would walk right by a decrepit old mare like me,” the powder blue mare said conversationally. “I’m Patricia. You’re new here, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I got married and moved here last month,” Caprice responded. “Maybe you know my husband, Dietrich Fairfax?” And how proud she was of those words!

“Ah, that reporter fellow,” Patricia said knowingly. “My, you are a fresh-faced young thing, aren’t you?” She looked at Caprice piercingly, but the young bride didn’t take offense. “Well, I reckon he’ll look after you,” she concluded.

“Oh, yes, he’s taking very good care of me,” Caprice agreed.

“To be young and in love…” The mare sighed with a tinge of wistfulness. “Well, I get my dose of romance from those novels in the checkout lanes. Where are you from, dear?”

“I grew up in Forest Brook,” stated Caprice.

“Oh… that’s on the north side, isn’t it?” Patricia asked, frowning in concentration.

“No, out west, in the Black Mountains,” Caprice explained.

“Oh, I see. That explains the accent,” said Patricia, nodding.

“Accent?” Caprice said, taken aback. She had never thought of being in possession of anything but the “normal” accent, having had extensive elocution lessons.

“It’s lovely, don’t get me wrong,” said Patricia quickly. “But there is a definite lilt.”

“I never thought about it,” Caprice said, feeling very countrified and some shame at standing out. “You may have heard of my family’s company, Monk Publishing,” she put forward, aiming to redeem herself and give herself from éclat.

“Publishing?” Patricia’s attention was caught. “You don’t work with Maisie Matthews, do you?”

“No, but we do have Lorna Skylark; she’s our most popular romance author,” said Caprice, easily slipping into discussion of her family’s business, though she was not sure if she would ever be acknowledged by them again.

“Lorna Skylark, eh? She’s a bit more historical than my tastes run,” Patricia considered. “Tells a good story, though.”

“We also represent Rose Meadowbrook and Teresa Bruyere,” Caprice continued.

“Oh!” Patricia’s eyes lit-up. “I love Rose Meadowbrook. I don’t suppose you could wrangle an autograph?”

“Oh… I’m not sure,” Caprice hedged. “My parents didn’t approve of my marriage, and I’m on the outs with them.”

“Well, that’s a shame.” Patricia clucked her tongue. “Well, this is my stop,” she announced at door 105. “Stop in any time. We’ll sit down to tea,” she invited, patting Caprice’s hoof before parting ways.

“Dietrich, do I have an accent?” Caprice asked her husband over dinner that evening.

“Yes,” Dietrich said without hesitation, helping himself to some mushy cauliflower.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Caprice asked, pouting.

“It’s not that noticeable,” Dietrich insisted. “There are just… certain words.” His lips curled in a smile.

“You’ve been laughing at me!” she chastised him, irate.

“Never, dearest,” Dietrich assured her. “It’s truly charming. I had nearly forgotten how ponies talk back in Forest Brook.”

“You have to teach me to speak normally!” Caprice declared.

“Why? It’s not hurting anyone.” Dietrich shrugged it off.

* * *

Another month passed. Dietrich and Caprice sat down to another slightly scorched meal.

Caprice shifted the food around on her plate with her fork, but didn’t take any bites. “There is a foal on the way,” she blurted out suddenly without preface.

“Caprice!” Dietrich exclaimed, a grin spreading across his face. “I knew you had something to tell me; you haven’t been yourself this past week.”

“Oh… I didn’t want to pester you,” Caprice said vaguely.

“Why didn’t you just tell me? You don’t have to hide anything from me,” Dietrich said, a bit perturbed.

“I was afraid you’d be disappointed,” Caprice said in a small voice.

“Why would I be disappointed?” Dietrich asked, looking taken aback.

“I know you worry about finances,” she said, fretfully mashing a potato. “A foal will be another mouth to feed, and more expenses.”

“Darling, you mustn’t worry about a thing,” Dietrich hurriedly assured her.

“Still…” Caprice paused. “I’m going to drop college for now, and get a job instead.”

“I don’t want you to give up on your dreams,” Dietrich protested. “There are finances to think about, but we can manage. If need be, I can get a second job…”

“Absolutely not!” Caprice said firmly. “You work too hard for me as it is. Let me do this for us.” She came around the table and kissed him.

“You shouldn’t work, not in your condition,” Dietrich insisted, holding her hoof. “Let me take care of you.”

“I’m not a porcelain doll,” she said with a piquant look. “Don’t coddle me.”

“Of course I’m going to coddle you,” he said indignantly. “And more,” he added with a smouldering look.

“Dietrich!” Caprice gasped as he stood and scooped her up in his forelegs.

Forgetting the leftovers sitting out, and heedless of the cats hovering about the table, he carried her off.

* * *

Caprice got her way, and shortly thereafter got an evening job as a cashier at a neighborhood grocery store. The minimum wage service job was a far cry from the society life she had been raised for, but she rose to the occasion. In addition, she had quickly made herself an indispensable member of the shelter team that could be relied on to pick up any shifts that needed filling.

One weekend, Agatha and Hubert were in town, and the two couples met for dinner.

“Misty Hollow?” Caprice queried, upon hearing of the Fershunds’ move. “What made you decide on living there?”

“Some old entailed family land,” Hubert explained. “I always meant to spend more time there.”

“And with the offer from the university, everything just came together,” Agatha agreed.

“You know, the founders of Forest Brook came from the Misty Hollow region,” Hubert continued. “Rumor has it the Krulotin intended to establish a new empire of Atlantis in a more central location on the continent, though it never quite took off the way they intended.”

“Perhaps the less said about those people, the better,” said Dietrich crisply.

“You’ve continued in your resolve to not use magic?” Agatha asked, glancing between the two.

“Yes, and it suits us very well,” Caprice spoke-up. “Agatha, how is your business?”

“We’re very busy,” Agatha stated. “I just signed a contract with the Ponyland Veterinary Association.”

“Good for you!” trilled Caprice.

“And what have you two been up to?” Hubert asked.

“The paper is working Dietrich to the bone, piling all these extra assignments on him. I think they’re taking advantage,” said Caprice, frowning.

“I’m on my way to a promotion,” Dietrich reminded her.

“And you, Caprice, are you adapting to the big city life?” Agatha inquired.

Caprice, quite frankly, felt like the most unglamorous in the bunch. “Yes, it’s all very exciting,” she said evasively.

“Do you have a job?” asked Agatha directly.

Caprice was dwarfed by the table of older degree-holding career ponies–and her with a measly high school diploma and no marketable job skills. “I’m a cashier at Foster’s,” she said, reddening and then staring down at her plate.

Perhaps sensing her embarrassment, Dietrich stepped in to change the topic. “Darling, shall we share our news?” he said with a significant look.

“Oh?” Hubert and Agatha looked at them.

“We’re expecting,” Caprice revealed, brightening.

Congratulations ensued. “You two will be excellent parents,” Agatha assured them. 

“Just think, someday our foals will play together!” Caprice enthused.

“Maybe if Agatha was ever home, we would have news in that quarter,” Hubert sniped.

“Hubert!” Agatha scowled.

“Who’s up for dessert?” Caprice, sensing troubled waters, graciously turned the conversation.

* * *

As the foal’s due date approached, Dietrich tried to convince his wife to take things easy. “I think you should limit your volunteer hours,” he stated, frowning as she scurried around the apartment getting ready for her shift at the shelter.

“Nonsense, the animals help me relax; it’s not even work, really,” Caprice assured him, checking the mirror and adjusting a hair ribbon.

“You need to take time to rest,” Dietrich insisted.

“I have lots of energy,” Caprice said, kissing him goodbye.

That afternoon, Dietrich met her at the shelter when she was coming off her shift, and found her walking out of the building at the side of another stallion.

“Oh, Dietrich, you didn’t have to come down here for me!” Caprice said, starting in surprise at the sight of her husband. 

“It’s no problem,” said Dietrich with reserve.

“Oh… this is Graham, one of the veterinarians,” Caprice said, minding the formalities. “Graham, this is my husband, Dietrich.”

The stallions shook hooves and exchanged niceties while eyeing each other warily.

“Good work today, Caprice,” Graham said, shuffling his hooves. “Remember to keep your pythons out of the kitchen.”

“Right,” Caprice laughed.

“I didn’t catch the joke,” said Dietrich, a bit sullenly as they turned away.

“Oh–there was just a ball python that was surrendered to the shelter,” Caprice recalled. ”Turned out it had swallowed kitchen tongs! Graham had to open the stomach. Fun times…” Her eyes danced with merriment, but then she noticed Dietrich’s stormy expression. “Well, maybe you had to have been there,” she finished, composing herself.

“Apparently,” said Dietrich dryly.

The couple lapsed into silence as they made their way down the street.

“You’re not jealous of Graham, are you?” Caprice finally broke the silence.

“I barely know him,” Dietrich said irritably. “How could I be jealous?”

“I know you’re bothered,” Caprice said with a sidelong glance.

“It occurs to me,” Dietrich said at length, “that with you working the night shift at the store, he might have more of your time than I do.”

“Oh, don’t be like that!” Caprice said, looking at him reproachfully as they approached the apartment door. “You know you’re the only one for me,” she added in a softer tone.

“I need you to remind me,” he murmured, reaching out and pulling her against him.

“Oh, I’ll remind you,” Caprice said silkily as they tripped over the threshold and shut the door.

* * *

Graham got back to his efficiency apartment and flung himself down on the futon. There was a message from his mom on the answering machine. He’d have to respond, but in just that moment, he didn’t have the energy. The phone rang again. She was getting anxious; he’d have to answer.

“Hi, honey! How are you doing?” came his mother’s cheery voice.

“Oh, hey, Mom,” Graham said, forcing more enthusiasm than he felt. “I’m good.”

“How’s work?” she prodded.

“Yeah, work’s good,” he stated briefly.

Perhaps embarrassed at what he perceived to be a poor return on the investment of his higher education, Graham was reluctant to go into details of his life.

His mother, a nurse, had worked two jobs most of Graham’s formative years, a willing sacrifice she had made to support them and pay future college costs. She had had dreams of med school herself, but it had proven to be cost prohibitive. Not wanting her only child to be limited by this, she scrimped and saved. And when Graham showed an early aptitude for animal care, bringing home injured birds and frogs and raccoons and the like, veterinary medicine seemed like a logical choice; and as far back as he could remember, this had been his dream.

Now he had a mountain of student debt (even after his mother’s contributions) and a job that barely covered the bills. Sure, he was still in the early stages of his career, but making a comfortable living would have been a welcome reprieve from the grueling school years. Being able to live past the bare minimum was a long way off.

The bright spot in his life was Caprice. He lived for her sunny smiles and melodious laughter. She never snapped, no matter the provocation. She could charm any beast into submission.

“Any memorable patients?” his mother prompted.

“We had a ball python today,” Graham said absently. “Swallowed a pair of kitchen tongs.”

“Oh my! Is he okay?”

“Yes, he’s fine. I just had to open him up.”

“Do you have a good crew helping you?”

“Caprice was there; she’s great,” Graham admitted.

“Caprice?” his mother echoed.

“Ah, one of the shelter volunteers,” he said hurriedly.

“You’re sweet on her,” she said knowingly with a mother’s intuition.

“No, don’t get any ideas,” Graham said warningly. “She’s married. She’s a good worker, that’s all.”

“Well, I wish you would find someone,” she said wistfully. “It’s not good to be alone all the time. You can take my word for it.” She was thinking of Graham’s father, he knew, deceased since Graham was three.

“Doesn’t it seem like it would be easier not to care about someone?” Graham said, feeling petulant in a fit of self-pity.

“Your father and I may not have had many years together,” she stated patiently, “but you can’t deny my life is richer for it.”

“Yes, I know.” Graham sighed. “It’s just, I don’t have the time for a relationship, even if… I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.”

“You don’t understand parenting,” she said with a merry laugh.