Chapter 5: Dr. & Mrs. Collins

“Toby, darling!” exclaimed Ribbons n’ Lace upon seeing her son enter the restaurant. She stood up from her bench in the entry area, and presented her cheek for a kiss.

“It’s great to see you both,” Toby said with the requisite salute, while his father ambled over to the reunion.

“Do you have a special someone joining us, Toby, dear?” Ribbons n’ Lace continued with an arch look.

“My ‘special someone’ is out of town on business,” Toby admitted, “but she is looking forward to meeting you tomorrow.”

“Oh, lovely,” Ribbons n’ Lace beamed. “I am looking forward to catching up. We’ve heard so little from you.” She waggled her hoof at him reproachfully.

“This mare we’ll be meeting… what’s her name?” Toby’s father, Dr. Andrew Collins, asked as the party was led to their table.

“Athena, Athena Ainsworth,” Toby supplied.

“Ainsworth… Ainsworth,” Ribbons n’ Lace repeated. “Where have I heard that?”

“The tourism pamphlet from the visitor’s bureau,” Andrew prompted. “The mayor, I believe.”

“Yes, Mayor Ainsworth is Athena’s mother,” Toby explained as the party was seated at a table.

“We look forward to meeting her,” Andrew said, nodding approvingly.

“What does she do, dear?” Ribbons n’ Lace asked.

“She works in the fundraising sector,” Toby disclosed.

“Oh, delightful! I’m sure we’ll have a lot to talk about,” Ribbons n’ Lace enthused. She herself was involved in many philanthropic ventures back in New Pony.

“Dear, did you tell him about the funding you secured for the United Medical Campaign?” Andrew queried.

After some chit-chat, Ribbons n’ Lace changed the course of conversation with: “Toby, have you seen Thomas recently?”

Toby’s napkin dropped from his hoof. “We see each other occasionally,” he said guardedly.

“When he told us where he was setting up his practice, you could have knocked me over with a feather when he said Misty Hollow!” Ribbons n’ Lace prattled.

“I didn’t know you were in touch,” Toby said stiffly.

Ribbons n’ Lace nodded in the affirmative. “Oh, yes, we still exchange Christmas cards. It’s so nice to have someone you know nearby.”

“I’ve lived here six years, Mom. I have friends,” Toby pointed out with a wry smile.

“Of course you do, dear,” she said in the patronizing tone of a mother.

“Leave him alone, darling,” said Andrew, chuckling. “I’m sure he doesn’t need you meddling in his social life.”

“Oh, I know you doctors,” said Ribbons n’ Lace with a withering glance at her husband. “You’re all the same, caught up in your work. So, a gentle reminder to socialize is never remiss.” She turned back to her son. “We’d like to invite Thomas to dinner while we’re here.”

“Oh… um… it would be short notice,” Toby said vaguely, hardly wishing to go into details on what had recently gone on between him and the veterinarian. “I’m sure he’s otherwise… engaged.”

“You can help me with his direction; I’m afraid he didn’t send details,” Ribbons n’ Lace fussed, apparently not finding that a reasonable excuse to back down from her plan.

Andrew, perhaps seeing something in his son’s face, attempted to turn the conversation. “Are we still on for a hospital tour tomorrow?”

“I’m sure there’s a blog, or a tweet, or whatever you kids have these days,” Ribbons n’ Lace went on, “but you know how I am at that sort of thing. I did find this phone number–”

“Mom!” said Toby, uncharacteristically sharp when speaking to his parent.

Ribbons n’ Lace looked at him expectantly.

“The thing is,” said Toby, softening his tone, “well… Thomas is the reason Tabby broke up with me.”

“Oh… oh!” said Ribbons n’ Lace, imbuing the syllables with great understanding, and no more was said on the topic.

* * *

The following day, Saturday, Toby gave his parents a tour of his workplace; and for lunch they met Athena at Cafe Carousel. Andrew and Ribbons n’ Lace both appeared impressed by the elegant mare in possession of so much social grace.

“Athena, tell us about yourself. Toby says you’re in fundraising?” Ribbons n’ Lace asked when they were settled in.

“Yes, I opened my own office after graduating from Swarthmare,” Athena affirmed, name-dropping a prestigious university.

“Oh, how fascinating,” Ribbons n’ Lace said. “I am on the boards of Helping Hooves and United Medical Campaign, you know. What is your business name?” Athena reached into her purse and handed the mare a card. “Oh, lovely, I’ll certainly be in touch,” Toby’s mother promised.

Athena beamed. “We’d be happy to help you with any of your fundraising endeavors,” she assured the mare. “And I don’t know if you’ve made plans for tomorrow, but my parents would be pleased to have you as their guests at the country club for brunch.”

“That’s so kind of them,” Ribbons n’ Lace said. “Yes, we would be delighted, wouldn’t we, Andrew?”

“That’s fine, dear,” said Andrew.

“You have delightful parents,” Athena confided to Toby when they had a moment alone.

“They found you enchanting,” he assured her, “as do I.” He kissed her.

* * *

At Royal Acres Country Club, Athena’s parents George and Amelia were magnanimous hosts. After an elegant repast, George and Andrew were soon engrossed in a game of golf, settling into the easy camaraderie of those accustomed to living a life of ease.

“Your accent, Roseland?” Andrew guessed.

“Yes, the land of my birth. Not much would have convinced me to leave, but Amelia is a convincing argument,” George stated with an admiring look at his wife, who was chatting over tea with Ribbons n’ Lace.

“Mother just thought a foreign title would give her popularity a boost here at home,” Athena said aside to Toby, overhearing the exchange. “She doesn’t care about him. Not like your parents do for each other.”

“Does Athena have any siblings?” Ribbons n’ Lace queried, smiling at her son and his companion.

“Yes, my eldest, Adonis,” Amelia disclosed. “It’s a shame you can’t meet him, but he’s on a high-profile photo shoot in the Purple Mountains.”

“Oh, he’s a photographer?” Ribbons n’ Lace asked politely.

“A model,” said Amelia with great pride. “Built on very fine, very classic lines. Even as a colt, I recognized that he was something special. He was the winner of Mestruna’s Cutest Baby contest in 1986, you know.”

“How marvelous,” Ribbons n’ Lace said. “You must be very proud of both your children.”

“Indeed,” said Amelia with a cool incline of her head.

Athena and Toby went for a stroll through the exquisitely manicured garden off to one side of the golf course.

“I don’t know what I would have done without you, these past months,” Toby said softly.

“Oh, nonsense, I didn’t do anything,” she downplayed the praise.

“Athena, I… well, you know that for the longest time I wouldn’t let myself believe I could be happy with anyone other than… her,” he said haltingly. “But,” his tone brightened, “you have shown me otherwise.” He gazed at her admiringly.

“You have so much to offer the right mare,” Athena said coyly. “You belong with someone who appreciates you. I’ve adored you from afar… you have the most striking coloration, you know… I only wanted you to notice me.”

He kissed her like he meant it.

“We should get back,” he said at length.

* * *

“I know you entertained hopes of making a match with Tabby,” Ribbons n’ Lace confided to her son in a moment alone. “But Athena is such a lovely girl. Things do work out for the best.”

“Yes, they do,” said Toby, smiling at the white pegasus across the room. Athena clearly admired him. If he kept telling himself he was happy with her, maybe he would come to believe it himself.