Forest Brook: Chapter 9

Life went on as usual, until one day Dietrich was walking home after a long day at the office, and through the window of a diner caught sight of his wife… with that stallion. Blood rushed to his head and he barged in, heading straight to the window table. “I’m sorry,” he said, scowling. “Am I interrupting?

“Oh. Dietrich!” exclaimed Caprice, turning her gaze to him. “No, not at all. A bunch of us came over here to celebrate Tassles’ birthday.”

“Oh, I see… that’s very convenient. And you are the only two left?” Dietrich inquired, deceptively calm.

“Well… yes,” said Caprice, as if just realizing that herself.

“I should be getting on my way,” said Graham, looking uncomfortably between them. “Nice seeing you again, Dietrich.”

“Yes, you do that,” said Dietrich with a stony glance.

“Dietrich, that was rude!” Caprice hissed, rounding on him after Graham was out of earshot. “He’s my friend.”

“A very good friend, by the looks of it,” Dietrich muttered, settling back into a chair and crossing his forelegs.

“Oh, you’re impossible,” said Caprice, eyes flashing. “I won’t talk to you as long as you’re like this.” She turned away, sulking.

“How long has Graham worked at the shelter?” Dietrich asked, attempting a conversational tone.

“We started the same day,” Caprice said, then realized what he was actually getting at. “Oh, Dietrich, you don’t seriously suspect…” She trailed off, her face falling in dismay.

“When I find my wife so enamored of another stallion… can I help where my thoughts inevitably go?” Dietrich snapped irritably.

“Don’t do this,” Caprice begged, reaching across the table to him. “I love you. I have not and will not betray you.”

There was a flicker of understanding in Dietrich’s eyes. “Stop spending time with him,” he stated.

Caprice sighed heavily. “We work together!”

“You don’t have to,” Dietrich pointed out. “I want you to stop volunteering at the shelter.”

“I won’t do that!” Caprice said, her eyes flashing.

Their gazes locked, neither inclined to back down.

“Well, don’t socialize with him,” Dietrich muttered. “I don’t trust his intentions.”

“You don’t even know him!” Caprice huffed.

“Caprice, promise me. Please.”

“I will do it for you,” she agreed at length.

* * *

Graham was musing over the mare working in the next room over, who was still frequently in his thoughts, even though he knew she shouldn’t be… but she was perfection. Tender compassion, steadfast loyalty, and unquestionably unavailable. This was madness!

Caprice had told him, after the run-in at the diner, that Dietrich had the foolish notion that there was more than friendship between them; and though Graham had done nothing wrong, out of respect for her husband, she had decided to keep her distance. “I wish things were different,” she had said sadly. Oh, how Graham wished that, too! Was even her friendship too much to ask?

Suddenly, a cry pierced his thoughts, uttered by the very mare who had occupied them. Heart nearly stopping, Graham dropped the chart he was working on and ran.

“Caprice!” he exclaimed, dropping to his knees at her side on the cat impound floor. “What happened?” he demanded, looking at Tassles, who was already present.

“Her water broke,” said Tassles succinctly. “Should we take her to the exam room?”

“There’s no time,” Graham said, shaking his head as he saw that the situation was developing fast.

“Graham, is everything okay?” Caprice asked, voice faint as Tassles propped up her head on some pillows.

“Everything is fine, sweetheart,” Graham said, the endearment slipping out without conscious thought. “But I’m going to need you to push.”

“Oh-h-h,” Caprice groaned in pain as she strained.

“Caprice, you need to focus, for the foal, all right?” Graham said.

“Yes…” said Caprice, taking a deep breath.

“Good, good…” Graham encouraged her. “I can see baby’s head. A unicorn. Keep going, Caprice. Push, a little harder this time.”

“I can’t!” she shouted.

“Yes, you can!”

And before anyone knew, Graham was clipping the cord and handing the colt over to a radiant Caprice.

Paramedics were arriving on the scene by then, and after exchanging a few notes on the delivery, Graham pensively melted into the background.

* * *

Patricia was waiting on the Fairfaxes’ doorstep. “It’s about time you showed up!” she said, shaking her head reproachfully. “The baby came!”

“Wh-what?” Dietrich gasped, feeling his heart drop.

“Yes, they’re at the hospital, Meadow View!” she enlightened her neighbor.

“Is she–they–okay?” Dietrich demanded.

“Don’t know the details. But she sounded pleased as punch over the phone,” Patricia said. “She said the foal is waiting to meet his father.”

Arriving at the hospital, Dietrich hastily gathered directions to his wife, and strode into the room where she was reclined in bed with a bundle clutched in her hooves.

“Darling! Why didn’t you call me at work?” Dietrich complained, chagrined.

“Well, it all happened so fast! I don’t think anyone really had the time, until you had already left your desk and I had to leave word with Patricia,” Caprice chattered excitedly. “Look at him–so much like his daddy!” And he was a perfect blend of the two, with Caprice’s ivory coloration and Dietrich’s sepia brown hair.

“And you’re still happy with the name you picked?” he asked her, taking in the profound implications of becoming a father.

“Oh, yes, he’s the perfect little Thomas,” said Caprice, beaming.

“Mr. Underhoof would be proud.”

“I’m sure he is,” Caprice agreed.

“Tell me everything that happened,” Dietrich requested.

“Well, I was going about my business grooming the cats when my water broke–it’s a blur, really,” Caprice said, shaking her head. “I tried to walk, but the contractions were so hard–I must have gone down on the floor. There was a bit of a crowd forming by that point, I think. Tassels was there and the next thing I knew, Graham was handing me–”

“Graham was there?” Dietrich interrupted, trying to bury his irritation.

“Yes, he delivered Thomas!” Caprice revealed.

“But he’s a veterinarian,” said Dietrich, stupefied.

“Oh, Thomas didn’t very much care; he was ready to come out,” said Caprice, gazing down at her sleeping son complacently. “Most of the action was over by the time paramedics came and transported us here.”

It felt so unfair that that stallion had been the first to see his son, and Dietrich hadn’t even been there! But it was no one’s fault, so he bit his tongue against any further barbed comments. His son… and even Dietrich had to admit there was no mistaking it, the resemblance being so striking.

He kissed his wife tenderly. “I’m sorry I ever doubted you.”

“Maybe in future you can trust me,” Caprice said with an arch look.

“Always,” Dietrich promised.

* * *

Caprice, though thrilled with the responsibilities of motherhood, was nonetheless determined to return to her pre-baby activities, seeing it as incumbent on her for the support of her family.

But, then, what to do about foal care?

“Well, I’ll look after him, of course,” Patricia said when Caprice laid the dilemma out to her over a cup of tea.

“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of imposing,” Caprice said hastily. “I never intended–”

“No trouble at all. I can read my novels with a baby just as well as without,” Patricia said, brooking no arguments.

Caprice was not sure of the truthfulness of that statement, having experienced a significant lack of time for hobbies since the birth, but did not disabuse her neighbor of the notion.

Patricia consented to accept a stipend at Caprice’s insistence. Perhaps Patricia was not as agile as one would want in a babysitter, but she was available at a far lower rate than daycare ran; and as the baby did not have extensive mobility–yet–the Fairfaxes gratefully accepted Patricia’s offer.

* * *

Not long after Caprice returned to the shelter from maternity leave, Graham came to a decision. In part, this was because strictures had been relaxed, and she returned to work with cheery regard for everyone, including Graham. There was nothing inappropriate, not even bordering on it, but Graham did not trust his own emotions.

“Caprice, I’m leaving,” Graham said quietly, entering the cat impound and coming up behind her. “I’ve accepted an offer in Pinepetal.”

“Oh, I will miss you!” Caprice said, turning around and facing him with a tremulous smile. “When are you leaving?”

“This is it. I’m heading out now.”

“Oh!” she exclaimed, looking surprised. “Stay in touch–let me know your address.”

“I think it’s better if we not remain in contact,” Graham said, looking downwards.

“Oh… oh,” said Caprice, with a fair amount of sadness and dawning realization. “So… this is goodbye?”

“Yes,” Graham said with conviction, daring to look her in the eye. “You’re a very special mare, Caprice. I’ll never forget you.”

And then he kissed her.

“I have to go,” he said brusquely.

And he strode away, leaving a wide-eyed Caprice staring after.

* * *

That evening, Caprice was working on dinner preparations, Thomas was in the playpen throwing toys on the floor, and Dietrich was at the table with the evening news.

Caprice cleared her throat in preparation to speak. “I talked to Graham today,” she stated.

“Oh?” Dietrich put down the paper and looked at her inquiringly.

“He’s leaving town,” Caprice disclosed.

“Well, there’s a world of opportunities out there,” Dietrich noted nonchalantly, going back to the paper.

Caprice thought very carefully before making the following announcement: “He kissed me.”

“The bounder!” Dietrich said, shooting to his hooves. “I’ll -”

“He’s going away; let it be,” Caprice pleaded. “Let him have this one small thing.”

“A kiss from you is no small matter!” said Dietrich, perturbed. “How many other broken-hearted stallions must I allow to kiss you?”

“I’m not saying it was the right thing to do; but it’s over, and let’s leave it at that,” Caprice urged. And after Dietrich remained silent, she added: “I didn’t have to tell you, but I did, because I don’t want there to be any secrets between us.”

“Never again,” said Dietrich after a long pause.

“No, never,” Caprice said, burying her face in his shoulder.

Then the baby started wailing, and Caprice leapt into action.

* * *

“Here’s a Christmas card from Hubert and Agatha,” Caprice noted that holiday season, hooves full between the stack of mail and the baby pulling at her mane.

“Oh, how are they doing?” Dietrich asked from the other side of the table.

“They had twins!” Caprice said, face lighting up. “Lovely little fillies, identical! So adorable.” She stared at the enclosed photo dreamily.

“Is that so? They have their hooves full now… unless they are paying to have that work done for them,” Dietrich added a bit cynically. “Agatha would never get her hooves dirty.”

“I’m sure they are doing everything in the foals’ best interests,” Caprice said with a stern look. “Here’s a picture of them…” She hoofed the picture across to him.

“With the nanny,” Dietrich noted.

“Ah… if I had little girls like that, I don’t think I could bear to set them down!” Caprice said, stifling a wistful sigh.

“No I suppose not… Well, is Patricia still on for watching this one tonight?” Dietrich asked, gesturing at Thomas.

“Oh, not tonight; he’s teething, and I really can’t leave him,” Caprice protested.

“But we had plans…” Dietrich’s brow furrowed.

“I know, and I am sorry, but this is out of my control,” Caprice said matter-of-factly.

“You’re coddling him. You need to let him cry sometimes,” Dietrich protested as she bounced the colt on her leg.

“It’s called attachment parenting–listening for and responding to needs,” Caprice said in a superior tone.

“Well, he has to learn to stand on his own four hooves,” Dietrich maintained.

“And he will,” Caprice assured him. “It’s a process. Don’t worry.”

Dietrich sank into quiet contemplation. He loved her, as much as he always had, and maybe that’s what made this so hard–having to share her attention. Life wasn’t quite how he had imagined it would be. They had had so little time together before the baby came along, before parenting responsibilities overshadowed everything else. He missed his wife.

* * *

One day, Caprice’s supervisor called her into the office. Caprice wasn’t sure what it could mean.

“Caprice, you’ve been volunteering with us for three years,” Tassels began, looking very serious from across the desk.

“Has it been that long?” Caprice asked disbelievingly, sitting lightly on her chair.

Tassels cleared her throat. “We’re looking for a volunteer coordinator.”

Caprice, not immediately seeing the connection, nodded. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll find someone wonderful. You’re so good at staffing decisions,” she said earnestly. In some ponies this would be considered brown-nosing, but in Caprice’s case it was her authentic nature.

“We’d like to offer you the position,” Tassels continued. “It’s Monday through Friday, eight to four.”

“I would love to, I really would, but the time commitment–I just don’t think I could give it my full attention with the job at Foster’s, too,” Caprice said, shaking her head apologetically.

“It is a paid position,” Tassels clarified. “You would have a salary of two thousand a month.”

It was a modest sum, but a far cry better than her current paychecks from Foster’s, and would have a favorable impact on the family’s finances.

“Surely there’s someone better qualified,” Caprice protested, still feeling a bit incredulous of the offer.

“You know this shelter inside and out. You’re our top pick,” Tassels assured her.

“Then… then…” There was no possible reason to hesitate. “I would love to. Yes!”

When Dietrich heard of his wife’s promotion, he was thrilled beyond measure and insisted on a celebration. Patricia was amenable to keeping Thomas into the evening, and the couple went out to dinner.

“But I have to ask, have you thought any more about school?” Dietrich prodded after a lull in conversation.

“I don’t feel that it’s the right time, not now,” she confessed. “And the loans we would need to take on! How could we budget for more payments?”

“I don’t want to prevent you from doing what you want,” Dietrich said, frowning. “What about becoming a veterinarian?”

“Oh… you know… I was never that into the idea,” Caprice waved his concern away. “You’re not preventing me from anything. I’m doing exactly what I want.”

“Okay then,” Dietrich said after looking at her long and hard. “If you change your mind, you’ll tell me, won’t you? We would find a way.”

“Of course, darling,” Caprice said with an adoring look.

* * *

Caprice flourished in her new position; and Dietrich made his own advancements, working his way up the ladder at the newspaper from senior reporter to bureau chief to section editor.

And several years down the line, another foal was born, a little filly named Elaine. It was a difficult delivery, and though both mother and baby came out of it, Caprice was told that enough damage had been wrought to her system that there would be no more foals in her future. Swallowing any disappointment she might have felt, she did all that she could for the well-being of her family of four.

“Oh, here’s the card from Agatha and Hubert,” said Caprice when another Christmas season came around. “We should try to see them again sometime. It’s been ages.” She opened the envelope and put the enclosure down after some time reading, ashen-faced.

“What is it?” Dietrich asked, concerned.

“Hubert went missing on an expedition earlier this year,” Caprice said slowly. “Poor Agatha, and the girls without their father! I must invite her for a visit next time she’s in town.”

And several months later, Caprice did manage to meet Agatha for dinner at a swanky restaurant for a rushed catch-up. “Here are pictures of Thomas and Elaine,” Caprice said, sliding the photos across the table.

“Oh, how lovely,” said Agatha, giving the pictures a peremptory look. She seemed preoccupied.

“How are Tabitha and Tamara?” Caprice asked.

“They’re growing up,” said Agatha, a surprised note in her voice. “I felt like there would be more time as babies.”

“You must make the most of every moment,” Caprice urged.

“It’s challenging when I’m pulled in so many directions,” said Agatha distractedly. “I mean, they’re cared for, naturally,” she amended hurriedly.

“There is no replacement for a mother,” Caprice said, sighing as she thought about her own mother from whom she had heard nary a word since the night she left with Dietrich eight years ago.

“But we do well enough in our own way,” Agatha said enigmatically. “Tamara is a perfect little lady, and Tabitha is… Tabitha is…” She grasped for words. “Very curious.”

“I’d love to meet them,” Caprice hinted. “We should have a play-date.”

“Yes, of course, that would be delightful,” said Agatha politely. And later on: “Have you been back to Forest Brook?”

“We haven’t been invited,” said Caprice sadly. Every year she sent Christmas cards to her and Dietrich’s parents with pictures of the foals, but never was word received in return.

Agatha shook her head. “I’m sorry… for what it’s worth.”

“Given a chance to do it over again, I would go with Dietrich, always,” Caprice said with a smile. “There have been no findings in Hubert’s disappearance?” she asked cautiously.

“No, and I’m afraid I must resign myself to the fact that he is gone. He made his decisions.” Agatha sighed deeply and did not seem inclined to continue the topic.

Caprice impulsively squeezed Agatha’s hoof. “I wish only the best for you, Agatha.”

The blue unicorn was distracted as a mare with orange hair approached the table. They had a quick exchange of words, and then Agatha turned back to Caprice. “I’m sorry, Caprice, but there’s a situation that demands my intervention, and I have to cut this short.” 

“Agatha, if you ever need anything…” Caprice trailed off.

“It has been lovely catching up,” said Agatha, gathering up her purse. “Take care–goodbye.”

Caprice sat alone at the table, feeling like she had lost something irretrievable.

* * *

The years marched on. Thomas was a precocious first grader and Elaine was a very busy toddler.

“There hasn’t been a card from Agatha this year,” Caprice said, frowning at where the year’s collection of cards had been placed on the mantle. “She must be very busy.”

“Seems like every day there is another Westcliff Events extravaganza in the news,” Dietrich noted. “She’s done well for herself.”

“But at what cost?” Caprice fretted. “I wish I could have done more.”

“You’re not responsible for the welfare of Agatha’s family,” Dietrich said chidingly.

“I know. I just wish… I’m afraid that the girls…” She sighed and trailed off. In her heart, ever since their dual wedding, she had always felt that Agatha’s family was intrinsically interwoven with her own.

“I’m sure they’ll make their way in the world. We all do,” Dietrich said prosaically.

“Well, I’ll just write her a note so she knows we’re thinking of her,” Caprice said with conviction, opening the desk drawer.

Elaine was tottering about the room while Thomas was engrossed in building amino acids with his molecular chemistry building set over by the fireplace. “Mom,” he whined, “Elaine took the fluorine molecule, and it’s the only one in the kit!”

“Could you use something else in its place?” Caprice asked rather distantly, struggling to finish her thought on paper.

“No!” the colt said, horrified. “She needs to give it back!”

“Elaine, honey, give it back to your brother,” Caprice said with a sigh, setting the partial note down.

Elaine popped something into her mouth and ran off, giggling.

Frowning, Caprice pushed her desk chair back and went to intervene. The note would have to wait.

 

This is the end of the prequel, but the story continues in the “The Heiress and the Veterinarian” on Kindle Vella and Patreon.

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