Chapter 20: The Elevator

Vanguard was perturbed as Tabby once again invited herself to join his tête-à-tête with Strawberry at the SSSS. It wasn’t like the two weren’t at work together all day as it was. In the break between the end of the work day and dessert, there were apparently innumerous things that came to Tabby’s mind that must be shared with her BFF.

“So I’m not sure if I really need any more hostas, but the fall planting specials are on, and I’m sure I could squeeze them in somewhere,” Tabby chattered, flipping through a catalog.

“I wonder if I should add some more lilies,” Strawberry considered. “Those new double ones are gorgeous.”

“There’s that empty space out the back door that could be filled in,” Vanguard offered the first thing that came to mind.

“Preposterous!” Tabby interjected, looking horrified. “It’s too shady for lilies there.”

Whatever he said was always a misstep with her! Vanguard was much aggrieved. “My mom always planted coral bells in the shady spots,” he commented.

Tabby narrowed her eyes, likely reluctant to admit he had some knowledge on this matter. “That might work,” she said coolly.

It was too bad there wasn’t someone else in Tabby’s life to relieve some of the demand on Strawberry’s attention, Vanguard reflected. There was supposed to be that doctor fellow from the hospital, but he wasn’t around nearly enough to make a difference. Tabby was more frequently with Thomas; and maybe, if he made a declaration, would be more successful in distracting her. The two unicorns were an obvious match, apparent to everyone but themselves.

But, Vanguard did actually have business to discuss with the pink unicorn today. He cleared his throat. “Tabby, I’ve been meaning to tell you, something has come across my desk that I need your help with.”

Tabby shifted her attention from Strawberry. “What?” she asked shortly.

“Your father’s memorial scholarship,” Vanguard said succinctly. “You have to select this year’s recipient from the applications.”

“That’s a history department thing,” Tabby said dismissively, taking a fry from Strawberry’s plate. “Why are you involved?” She eyed him suspiciously.

“Your mom talked to the dean,” Vanguard explained, keeping a calm demeanor but getting irritated at her confrontational attitude, “and specifically requested that we work together on this.”

“Oh, she must have liked you,” Tabby said, infusing the statement with derision. “What do I care what snot-nosed brat deserves a hundred bucks?”

“It’s significantly more than that,” Vanguard observed–it was more like five thousand, a generous allotment for a freshman scholarship, but that was small change for Tabby’s family. “But why don’t you stop by my office tomorrow after work, and we can get it out of the way?”

Tabby sighed as if it were a great inconvenience. “Fine, whatever.”

* * *

The following day, Tabby met Vanguard in the university atrium as they had agreed. It was a spacious glass-lined space with potted shrubbery at intervals, and tables and couches for studying or socializing. Indeed, there was quite a bit of socializing going on even at this late hour, with a rather boisterous group set up in the middle, talking and laughing. Tabby gingerly sat on the edge of a settee, looking back and forth for Vanguard.

“Hey,” she acknowledged as he came toward her.

“Hello,” he said. “I have the applications–” Raucous laughter rang out, and he was forced to pause. “Anyway, and the checklist of criteria–” One of the students did something that resulted in a loud cheer rising up from their table. “But you’re probably familiar with that–”

“Excuse me, professor, can I ask you about this problem from yesterday’s quiz?” a perky student asked, appearing at Vanguard’s side.

“I’m in the middle of a meeting,” Vanguard said, firmly but not unkindly, “but–”

“Oh, it’ll be quick, I promise!” The student whipped out a textbook from her backpack. “In Chapter 5, it says…”

These fresh-faced young things! Tabby thought, exasperated at the delay. Surely she had never been that annoying!

“Well,” Vanguard said after the student had been sent on her way, “maybe we should just take this to my office.”

Tabby shrugged. “Lead the way.” But Vanguard strode over to the elevator doors against one wall. “Seriously, it’s a two-level building and we’re taking the elevator?” Tabby asked, aghast.

“It’s the most direct route,” Vanguard said, and his smile was starting to look forced, “and takes less time than going to the other end of the building for the stairs.”

Fuming, Tabby entered the elevator, and Vanguard filed in behind her. He pressed the button on the console, the doors closed, and the assent began.

Suddenly, the box lurched and then… nothing.

“Hmm,” said Vanguard, frowning down at the console. “That’s not good.”

“Gahhhh!” said Tabby eloquently, pushing him out of the way, and frantically mashing buttons.

“Don’t do that!” Vanguard admonished. “Just stay calm. Maybe it’s a momentary glitch.” He pressed the buttons himself, and then forced the doors open a crack, seeing that they were, indeed, between floors. “We’re stuck,” he stated, reaching for his cell phone. “But don’t worry! I’ll just call the university maintenance department.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Tabby whined, panic rising. “We’re stuck between floors on a two-level building! There’s got to be a way out!”

“They’re sending a technician,” Vanguard said a minute later, “but he’s in Neighberry, so it’s going to be a bit.”

“I can’t believe this is happening!” Tabby fumed.

“Well, we’re here and we have the applications, so we might as well get some work done,” Vanguard said prosaically.

“I guess,” Tabby said, gingerly lowering herself to a seated position.

“I picked out these front-runners,” said Vanguard, pulling out one paperclipped stack, “but I have the other applicants, too. This one has the highest GPA.” He pointed at the top one.

“They’ll have no trouble getting any number of scholarships,” Tabby grumbled, skimming the sheet. “It wouldn’t mean anything.”

“Well, this one has 200 accumulated hours of community service,” Vanguard suggested, going on to the next.

“Showing off,” Tabby scoffed, and the rest were summarily dismissed. “We’re not here to find the highest scores, but the best character,” she insisted, getting into the project and feeling some interest in the outcome. “Let me see those.” She grabbed the stack of rejects and perused more pages. “What about this one?” she finally asked, holding one up.

“B-average, C in history,” Vanguard noted. “Nothing spectacular. What caught your attention?”

“Because of this report they did on Skuspiosla,” Tabby pointed out. “That was one of my dad’s favorites after Atlantis.”

“Ultimately, it’s your choice,” Vanguard conceded. “I’m only here to offer advice.”

“Don’t patronize me,” Tabby said with a dark look.

Vanguard looked at her through narrowed eyes and Tabby thought she might have finally pushed him to the edge, but he maintained silence as he arranged papers back in his satchel.

“Let’s be candid,” he said at length. “I know you have a problem with me.”

“I don’t ‘have a problem’ with you!” Tabby protested, but knew she was lying. “I’m annoyed at being stuck in an elevator, that’s all.”

“I see the dirty looks you send my direction,” Vanguard insisted, “whether we are in an elevator or not. You don’t like me spending time with Strawberry. You’re jealous.”

“Look,” Tabby said, rounding on him, “she’s been my best friend since we were five, and I was used to doing things with her. And now it’s all Vanguard this and Vanguard that and, and…”

“Funny, because all I seem to hear about is Tabby this and Tabby that,” Vanguard said with a wry grin. “I would never want to come between the two of you; but the fact is, you have to learn to live with me.”

“You’re not married,” Tabby pointed out. “Anything can happen.”

“I care deeply for Strawberry and I have no intention of going anywhere, unless she says so,” Vanguard said.

“If you do anything to hurt her, I will destroy you,” she said harshly.

“I don’t plan to,” he replied.

Tabby crossed her forelegs and leaned back against the wall, sinking into silence. They sat there for some time, awkwardly avoiding eye contact.

“I grew up in Woodlawn,” Vanguard’s voice finally broke the silence. “My parents still live there. My mom is a post office clerk. Dad is retired from the widget factory. I’m the middle foal with two brothers.”

Tabby looked at him with wide, alarmed eyes. Had the situation actually driven him to insanity? “What are you talking about?” she gasped. This was certainly too much information!

“Well, since we’re stuck here together, we may as well get to know one another,” Vanguard noted.

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Tabby insisted.

“It’s either this or sitting in silence, stewing.”

“I’ll take my chances,” said Tabby, and remained stubbornly silent.

Vanguard regarded her closely. “My older brother, Stillwater, is an architect,” he continued, “and married to Morning Dew. My younger brother, Icon, is a computer programmer and started his own business with two of his friends. Our cousin Chiffon teaches second grade… hey,” he said, getting her attention, “I can go on like this all day, or you can contribute.”

Tabby glared, and finally came to a decision. “I grew up here on the outside of town in a ridiculous overblown mansion that is an old family property,” she reluctantly revealed. “I have a twin sister, Tamara, but I’ve always been closer to Strawberry. I met her in kindergarten on our first day when I dealt with some bullies teasing her about her freckles.”

“She had freckles?” Vanguard interjected, smiling.

“Yeah, back then,” Tabby said, feeling uncomfortable at the dreamy look on his face, presumably distracted by thoughts of his beloved. She rushed to bring things back down to earth. “Tamara lives abroad. She does something with blogs of vlogs or whatever, because ponies like the whole spoiled socialite lifestyle she has pinned down to a science.” The conversation was getting heated.


“Your brothers, they, uh, live in this Woodlawn place?” Tabby asked hesitantly.

“Yes. I’m the farthest afield from home.”

“You planning on moving back there?” Tabby asked directly.

“That doesn’t seem to be where my future lies,” Vanguard confessed.

“Hmm,” said Tabby, scrutinizing him carefully. Her expression softened. “Well, you know, I actually went to school here. I was majoring in English, but then I transferred to the tech college…”

* * *

Some time later, the elevator returned to the ground floor and opened its doors, thanks to the ministrations of a surly repair pony. Tabby and Vanguard emerged.

“Wait, so he’s the one that filled the professor’s office with balloons?” Tabby asked, frowning in concentration over the college remembrances they had gotten embroiled in.

“No, that was Discus,” Vanguard clarified. “This is Rubicon. You know, the guy that was always putting the plastic wrap on doors.”

“Oh, right. And stealing elevator light bulbs,” Tabby said knowingly.

“Yeah,” Vanguard agreed, finally taking note of the repair pony. “Hey, thanks for coming out here.”

“Evenin’,” the repairpony grunted and ambled off.

“Well,” Tabby said, looking at Vanguard appraisingly.

“Well, what?” Vanguard asked quizzically.

“Maybe we can deal with each other a bit more civility,” she admitted.

“I would be on board with that,” Vanguard said as they walked out of the building. “But, if I could make one request?”

“What is it?”

“That you stop crashing our dates at the SSSS.”

Tabby stood, gaping. “Gathering at the SSSS is a sacred institution!”

“I mean, wait until after we’ve moved on to dessert,” Vanguard quickly clarified. “Give us a chance to finish the main course.”

Tabby made a moue of distaste, but conceded, “I can work on it.”

“I’d appreciate that,” Vanguard said, holding the door for her as they stepped outside and both headed the same direction down the sidewalk. “So… where are you going now?”

“To the SS–not to the SSSS!” she quickly corrected herself.

“Very good,” said Vanguard approvingly.

“Hmph!” said Tabby, flouncing as she turned to go the other way. “Well, I’ll be there later at ice cream time.”

“Naturally,” said Vanguard, adding with a mischievous grin, “Maybe Thomas will be there, too.”

“I don’t see why you think I care,” she said pertly. “I’ve been at work with him all day, anyway. Why would I want to see more of him?” Still, she felt a flutter of anticipation.

“The lady doth protest too much,” said Vanguard, chuckling as he ambled off.

Tabby shrugged to herself and made her way home, where Othello was expecting a steak for dinner.