My Little Pony Monthly Issue 56 (November 1, 2001)

My Little Pony Monthly
Established June 1997
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Issue 56
November 2001

Index of this issue–

1. Mr. Moochick and Megan’s Wish (by Sparkle-pony)

2. Belle Star (by Clever Clover)

3. Pony Name Jumble (by Applejack)

4. Letters (by Sugarberry)

5. Fairweather Pony Chapter One (by Christine)

6. Two Roads Diverged (by Sugarberry)

7. The Date (by Clever Clover)

8. Three’s a Crowd (by Sugarberry)

9. Girl’s Day Out (by Sugarberry and Tabby)


Mr. Moochick and Megan’s Wish
by Sparkle-pony (

Ahh, the ever-so-happy land of Pony Valley, what a beautiful, happy place. Bushwoolies rolling about, Spike jumping around, the Ponies out frolicking in the meadows– what more could a pony want, or for that matter, what more could anyone want in the Land of Ponies?

“Hey, who’s dat in the trees?” said Hugster the Bushwoolie.

“Who dat, who dat?” said Friendly.

Then all the Bushwoolies chimed in repeating, “Who’s dat, who’s dat?” over and over as they always do. Then, all five of the Bushwoolies rolled over to the trees to take a better look. “Oooooh, it’s Megan. Hooray, it’s Megan!” they all said, chiming in together as one. “Hi, Megan... hi, Megan!” All of them jumped around Megan, laughing.

“Oh, hi, guys,” Megan said in a quiet voice.

The Bushwoolies looked at each other and wondered what was the matter with Megan; usually she was happy and as cheerful as Cheerful the Bushwoolie. “Hey, what’s the matter, Megan; are you feeling blue today? Want us to go and find the ponies to play with you?” asked a bouncing Bushwoolie.

“No, oh NO, don’t do that!” said Megan in a loud voice, and off she ran, crying.

The Bushwoolies knew something was wrong; they went in search of the ponies for help. “Hey, look up in the sky!” said Wishful.

“The sky– the sky!” they all said together as they looked up. “WOW, it is Firefly; maybe she can help Megan!” they hollered. The Bushwoolies started jumping and shouting, “Firefly– Firefly, come down, come down!”

Firefly looked down and started laughing; what a funny sight to see! She thought to herself, Hmm, it looks like they want me to come down. Aloud, Firefly said, “Well, I better fly down and see what they want.” Quickly she landed in front of the Bushwoolies, who all started talking and bouncing at once. “Wait, wait!” shouted Firefly. “I cannot understand what you are saying; is Megan alright?”

Friendly stepped forward and told her of their meeting with Megan, and how they now wondered why Megan did not want to see the ponies. Firefly was very perplexed; she knew that all the ponies loved Megan with all their hearts and that not one of them would ever hurt her– well, at least not intentionally, she thought. Firefly told the Bushwoolies that she would go find Wind Whistler, and together they would go and talk to Megan.

Firefly soon found Wind Whistler flying above the lake and playing with the Sea Ponies. “Hey, Wind Whistler!” hollered Firefly. “Come on! We need to go talk to Megan.” But no sooner were the words out of Firefly’s mouth when she was drenched with water. “What was that for?” cried Firefly laughingly; it felt rather good after the long flight she had in looking for Wind Whistler.

“Shoo-shoo-shoo-shoo-shooppiddy doo,” laughed the Sea Ponies as they tried again to get Firefly, but missed.

Meanwhile, Wind Whistler was flying towards Firefly and asking about Megan. “What is up with Megan?” Wind Whistler asked.

“I don’t know,” said Firefly, “but the Bushwoolies said she is very unhappy and that she might be avoiding the ponies.”

Wind Whistler stopped in mid-air. “WHAT! What do you mean, she might be avoiding us ponies? Something must be terribly wrong. Let’s hurry and find her,” she said.

Hours later, the poor tired ponies were ready to give up when they spotted a bit of blue moving through the trees. YES, it was Megan. Swiftly, they flew down and stopped in front of Megan– they could see that she had been crying.

But then, BAM, out of nowhere came Lickety Split and knocked poor Megan right off of her feet– luckily she landed in a soft garden of flowers. Right behind Lickety Split came Moon Dancer running as fast as she could, nearly knocking everyone else off their hooves.

“LICKETY SPLIT, MOON DANCER, be careful! Look what you have done to Megan, and you almost crushed my wings!” shouted Wind Whistler.

“What is the meaning of all the rushing and running so fast?” asked Firefly.

Lickety Split was almost in tears. “I am so sorry Megan; are you alright?” she asked.

“Gee, Megan” said Moon Dancer, “please forgive us; we were just playing tag.”

At that moment, five other ponies came racing into the forest. Suddenly Megan started crying, and all the ponies looked at each other and felt bad, wondering if Megan was okay. “Megan,” said Wind Whistler, “please tell us what is wrong.”

Megan sniffed, wiped her eyes, and said, “I came to the valley this morning and wanted to play; but I saw everyone running so fast that I felt I would get in the way.” Megan continued talking, “Every time we play I get left behind; and I know you don’t mean to run so far ahead, but I get left out ‘cause I run too slow,” and she started crying again.

The ponies thought and then suggested she talk to Mr. Moochick, thinking maybe he could cast a spell and make her run faster. Megan thought it was useless to ask, but she didn’t want to hurt the ponies’ feelings so she climbed onto Wind Whistler’s back and went to find Mr. Moochick.

“Mr. Moochick?... Mr. Moochick?... where are you?” shouted Megan and Wind Whistler.

“Look, over there,” Wind Whistler said. There, far below, sat Mr. Moochick on a large mushroom, scribbling something in his magic book of spells. Slowly drifting downwards, Megan and Wind Whistler landed behind Mr. Moochick. Mr. Moochick was mumbling to himself, as always, and writing; soon he felt that he was being watched and poof, he disappeared.

“Oh, NO!” shouted Megan and Wind Whistler together. “Where did he go?”

“Mr. Moochick, Mr. Moochick! It is me, Megan; come back...” Megan called.

Poof, back he was. “Well, well, Megan and Wind Whistler! What are you doing here sneaking up on me?” Mr. Moochick stated.

Megan and Wind Whistler told him of the problem and the thought of the ponies that maybe he could do something for Megan. Mr. Moochick sat down on a big buttercup flower, smoked his pipe, and thought. “Eureka!” he shouted. He asked Megan if she had the Rainbow of Light with her.

“Of course,” said Megan as she pulled it from around her neck. Mr. Moochick told her to hold it tight and make her wish. Swooooooooosh... “OH, MY!” exclaimed Megan. “Mr. Moochick, oh, Mr. Moochick! It is WONDERFUL! Look at me; look at me!” shouted Megan. “I cannot believe this, goodness!!” Megan began running; she could run like the wind. She jumped; WOW, she jumped over the tallest rock ever! “Oh, Mr. Moochick, thank you,” said Megan. “I cannot wait until I can go and play with the ponies; wait until they see the NEW me. Uh, Mr. Moochick,” said Megan, “how long will this new transformation last?”

Mr. Moochick slipped two bright pink braids into Megan’s hair and told her that every time she wanted to be transformed she needed to put the braids into her hair and just wish to be transformed and it would happen.

Megan and Wind Whistler thanked Mr. Moochick and Megan gave him a big hug (and a large blueberry muffin). What!!! Did you think Mr. Moochick gave out magic for nothing? Shame on you– haha.

Well, of course Megan took the pink braids out of her hair, and she climbed onto Wind Whistler’s back; and off they flew to Pony Valley. Megan could not wait to show the other ponies how fast she could run. Wait until they see her...

What, would you like to see her, too? Well, by all means, PLEASE do; hurry before she runs off again. If you want to see Megan in her TRANSFORMED body, e-mail me ( and I will send her picture to you. You will not believe her wonderful, beautiful transformation!!



Belle Star
by Clever Clover (

Clever Clover crouched in a one meter square hole in the ground. It was almost ninety centimeters deep and was becoming difficult to excavate in such cramped quarters. He carefully scraped the floor of the excavation with a sharpened trowel, seeking any signs of prehistoric activity hidden in the soil. He paused as his trowel grated against something solid. The point of the trowel probed into the soil to determine the size of the unseen object. Just as the purple pony was about to remove the covering soil to reveal what lay beneath, something fell on top of him. The trowel plunged into the soil gouging out a jagged hole in the once perfectly smooth floor of the unit.

“Eh, watch where you’re throwin’- Ah, who are you?” Clever Clover realized that it was not some inanimate object that had fallen on him, but another pony.

The other pony, who Clever Clover didn’t recognize, sat on his back rubbing a lump on her forehead. “I’m sorry; I guess I didn’t notice the hole there. Are you okay?”

“I think so; maybe if you get off my back I’d be sure.”

“Oh, right.” The strange pony lightly hopped out of the hole but managed to knock over a bucket which landed on Clever Clover’s head.

Clever Clover climbed from the hole, now rubbing the lump on his own forehead. “You’re new here, aren’t you?” The purple pony finally got a good look at the stranger who had fallen on him. Her coat was tan with golden mane and tail and pale blue eyes. The symbol on her rump was a five-pointed star surrounded by a halo of silver rays.

“Yeah, I just started this morning. I’m having some trouble getting the hang of things. The boss told me to find someone called Cleaver Clover to show me the ropes. By the way, my name is Belle Star.”

“Uh, I’m Clever Clover. It’s nice to meet you, Belle Star.”

Belle Star bowed. “Oh, I am honored to meet you Mr. Clever Clover.”

“Well, lets get to work. I had just found something when you fell on me. Let’s see what we’ve got.” Clever Clover carefully climbed back into the hole and meticulously picked through the loose soil with his trowel. He gently recovered two fragments of prehistoric ceramic. After examining the fragments, he looked up at Belle Star who looked back with wide, innocent eyes. Clever Clover sighed. “These fragments have a fresh break, and they’re rim-sherds too.”

Belle Star giggled. “‘Sherds’ sounds silly.”

“Uh-huh, it would have been nice if we could have found one sherd instead of two.”

“Oh well, maybe next time.”

Clever Clover sighed again. “Hand me a bag for the sherds and then grab the clipboard and take down some measurements.”


The state of the excavation recorded, the duo of ponies prepared to continue digging.

“Do you want to dig or screen the next level?” Clever Clover asked the rookie archaeologist.

“Ah, um, I don’t know.”

“I’ll dig. The screening has been pretty easy. It will be a good way to get a feel for the site. Are you familiar with the type of artifacts you’ll be looking for?”

“Uh, old ones?”

“Yes, specifically lithic tools and debitage, ceramics like those sherds we found earlier, and bones. The bones and ceramics are fragile, so try to be careful.”

“Right-bone? That’s kind of creepy.”

“Yeah, well the prehistoric people who lived here were carnivores, at least for a while. Maybe we’ll find some clue as to why they gave it up.”

“Maybe their food got mad and went away.”

“Sure; now can we get back to work?”

“Yes, sir.” Belle Star threw Clever Clover a salute and picked up the screen, a wooden box with a wire mesh bottom. The box was mounted on a pair of legs that moved freely so that the box could be shaken, causing small particles of soil to fall through but not larger artifacts. Clever Clover used a short-handled shovel to skim soil from the floor of the excavation into Belle Star’s waiting screen. It wasn’t long before she found her first artifact. “Ooh, a pretty arrow head!”

Clever Clover looked up at the delicate, translucent, amber-colored stone point. “Eh, that is a good one.”

“Too bad I can’t keep it; it would make a great necklace.”

“I could make you one if you’d like. I don’t have that particular material, but I do have others that are just as pretty.”

“Oh, that is very thoughtful of you.”

“It’s no problem. I like knapping.”

Belle Star yawned. “I could go for a nap myself.”

“Not ‘nap’, ‘knap’ with a ‘k’. It means-” Clever Clover yawned wide. “Great, now you’ve got me doing it.”

“Sorry, I’ll try to-” Again Belle Star yawned.

“Let’s just-YAWN-get back to work before we both fall asleep.”


* * *
The day concluded with no major mishaps, much to Clever Clover’s relief. Belle Star ended up breaking a number of artifacts; but in recording, she excelled.

“Well, you didn’t do too bad for your first day, Belle Star.”

“Thank you, Clever Clover.”

Spade, the supervisor of the site, approached the two ponies as they finished packing away their tools for the night. “Well you two, your point was the first diagnostic artifact from the site; and you know what that means.”

Belle Star looked confused. “Uh, no, I’m afraid not.”

“It means the boss has to buy us drinks tonight,” Clever Clover explained.

“That’s right. You’re staying at the Friendship Inn, right Belle Star?”

“That’s right, Mr. boss sir.”

“Well, they’ve got a good soda bar; let’s meet there in say... two hours?”

Clever Clover nodded. “Works for me.”

“‘Kay,” Belle Star chimed in.

* * *
When Clever Clover walked into the bar, he found that Spade and Jack, the greasy cart mechanic and part-time archaeologist, were already there. Jack raised his glass. “Hey, Clev’, how’s our star digger? No pun intended.”

“I’m fine. Has Belle Star shown up yet?”

Jack shook his head. “Not yet.”

Spade gestured for the bartender. “What’ll you have Clev’?”

“Root beer.”

The bartender poured a frosty mug of Clever Clover’s chosen drink.

Just then Belle Star entered. “Hi everybody! Sorry I’m late; I fell asleep in the bathtub.”

“What are you drinking?” asked the bartender.

“Oh, I’ll have a ginger ale.” Belle Star took her drink, held it up to her face, and giggled. “I like the way the bubbles tickle my nose.”

By the time the rest of the archaeologists arrived, Belle Star had already fallen asleep leaning on the bar. Jack waved his hoof in front of her face to see if she was really asleep. “She looks so peaceful. Does anyone know where I can get some face-paint?”

“Jack, don’t torment her. It’s her first day on the job; we don’t want to upset her.”

“Don’t worry, Clev’; I’d keep it tasteful. Remember that custom paint-job I did on my cart?”

“Yeah, I also remember that every citizen in Friendship Garden-- and some from Dream Valley-- signed a petition banning your cart from the streets.”

“Humph, a great artist is never appreciated in his own time.”

“Maybe we should take her to her room.”

“Clev’, you’re such a party pooper.”

Clever Clover shook Belle Star gently. “Eh, Belle, wake up.” She didn’t even stir. Clever Clover tried again, louder this time. “Wake up, Belle.”

“Boy, is she a sound sleeper. Eh, Clev’, remember that time you fell asleep at morning break and we buried you up to the neck in backdirt?”

“Shut up, Jack. Help me carry her. Spade, could you find someone to unlock her room?”

The bartender spoke up. “I’ve got the keys. Follow me.”

After depositing Belle Star safely in her room, Clever Clover and Jack returned to the bar to find that the conversation had turned to stories of embarrassing childhood memories. Clever Clover yawned. “I should be getting home. Morning is going to come awfully quick.”

“Yeah, see you tomorrow.”

Spade gestured to Clever Clover from his table across the room. The purple pony took a seat across from his boss. “What’s up.”

“What do you think of Belle Star?” Spade asked.

“She’s a competent archaeologist and a good worker once you get used to her- peculiarities.”

“And you’ve managed to get used to her ‘peculiarities’ already?”

“Not quite.”

“Close enough; I’m makin’ her your partner for the remainder of the project.”

Clever Clover sighed. “Okay, you’re the boss.”


Pony Name Jumble
by Applejack (

1. sdwitlenhWir

2. eckppAlja

3. iimcM

4. ttBonsu

5. moLepondr

6. nreadgGierb







ANSWERS: 1. Windwhistler, 2. Applejack, 3. Mimic, 4. Buttons, 5. Lemondrop, 6. Gingerbread


by Sugarberry (

Thrilled to have her grandmother’s estate settled and to find herself the legal owner of the house in which she had grown up under her grandmother’s care, Fern also found herself with the responsibility of her great-aunt Maisie; and in so doing, she was compelled to remain in the ancestral home-- which never had a telephone connection to the outside world-- to handle further business proceedings and to watch out for Maisie, who was dependent on Fern. True to her word, Fern, from her newly inherited property in Bushley, kept Toby informed of happenings through a series of letters while she handled the necessary transition of life for Maisie.

November 1, 2001

To My Dearest Toby,

Aunt Maisie and I have been busy just learning about each other and becoming very good friends; she is so unlike Granny, yet every now and then I catch a mannerism or a way of saying something that is just like having Granny back again.

Living in the house in which I grew up has been therapeutic for me; I have been able to lay to rest some of the things that have eaten at me since I lost Mom and Dad; there is something very restorative about this place now that I have been away and have seen what exists on the outside.

I talked to a pony at the phone company, and she remembers Granny; it seems that several times, the phone company had approached Granny about installing the needed equipment; but she was always adamant that no phone personnel would ever be allowed on her property. There is even a legal document on file that prevents the company from “harassing Maud Feather” at any time in the future. Dynasty says that it is no longer binding, but I’d feel like a traitor to Granny if I rescinded her instructions. Please understand!

Something really exciting happened-- several ponies with whom I had gone to school came to visit when they heard that I was back; they were awfully nice. Flower Drift invited me to her home for dinner next week; it seems that a group of them want to do something charitable for Christmas, and they are organizing a dance to support the homeless. When they heard that I had helped with Dream Valley’s charity ball-- learning as I did from the greatest organizer around, Snuzzle-- they asked if I would help them out. I told them I wouldn’t be staying here very long, but they said that I could at least get them off to a good start.

This is so exciting, Toby. When I was in school, I never had time for the other ponies because Granny was my whole life. Now I’m finding out how wonderful and friendly my classmates are.

Thank you for clearing the way for me with Lemon Treats; I’m glad she found someone else to take my place for the time being. Have you heard anything about Garnet? I still am dumbfounded to know that she had been living a double identity; I will feel better about it when I learn that she is safe and happy wherever she has decided to settle. Give my love to Snuzzle. I’ve written to Chocolate Chip asking her to water the plant in my apartment occasionally until I’m back home.

I told my friends about you, Toby, and showed them your picture; they were very impressed. I am missing you so much; I can’t wait to get back to Dream Valley. It won’t be too long now!

All my love,


Toby was happy to receive the letter; he read it several times, lingering over the salutation and the closing. He picked up a pen and began writing immediately.

November 4, 2001

My Darling Fern,

It sounds like you are having a fruitful stay in Bushley. I’m happy for you and glad that you have ponies your own age to associate with, and I know you will be a great help to them in organizing the dance. And I can live without hearing your voice if you continue to send me your personal letters.

Lemon Treats sends her love; she says to tell you that Sunbonnet is doing a good job for her, but that she misses your organized accounts at the end of the day; and, therefore, she urges you to return home as soon as possible.

Needless to say, I miss you, too. I hope Aunt Maisie can get along without you soon-- I’m finding that I can’t! Snuzzle has determined that I should have a picture of you on my desk. Maybe you would allow this friend of yours, Flower Drift, to take a photo and send it my way. Then I can impress everyone who comes into my office.

Enjoy your days in Bushley, but don’t forget that I’m waiting here in Dream Valley.

My love to you,


* * *
November 9, 2001

My Dearest Toby,

I learned an interesting piece of information from Aunt Maisie; she tells me that Granny went to school in Dream Valley back in the days when Pony Pride was a teacher’s college. I can’t believe that Granny never told me that she had gone to college, and to think it was in the city where I ended up and found you! The campus will remind me of Granny now once I’m back. I can imagine her going around to her classes and putting the instructors in their place if they taught something that she disagreed with!

Aunt Maisie and I were in to see Dynasty yesterday, and we signed more papers; that in itself is a never-ending job. Dynasty is taking care of everything for us very capably of which we are both grateful, yet it all takes such a long time; and he has other cases to work on as well. Perry has been in touch with him to see how things are going; so if you want any official information, he could probably explain things better than I can. I’m just glad that Dynasty is such a conscientious lawyer.

Flower Drift tells me she would love to take a picture of me for you; but as her husband broke her camera recently and refuses to buy her a new one until Christmas when he can wrap it and put it under the tree, she can’t oblige. Now is that fortunate for me or what? But I promise to be home as soon as possible, and that will be better than any picture could be!

The plans for the dance are coming into shape; there seems to be so much to do in such a small space of time, but I am enjoying every minute of it!

Oh, Toby, I do miss you so much! Any day now, I hope to find that Aunt Maisie has become comfortable enough with things to take the responsibility of caring for the house and related necessities herself. Until then, our letters will have to suffice.

Love and Hugs,


This letter, too, pleased Toby. Fern was missing him as much as he was missing her.

November 14, 2001

Precious Heart,

If time flies when you are having fun, then my life has reached the pits. The days seem to drag by without you here to bring some light to my world. But I won’t complain as long as I know that you are fulfilling an indispensable need in Bushley. However, I am sending a camera to you under separate cover; I will expect results.

Perry did call me himself to let me know that things are moving along as well as can be expected-- which means slowly. He has complete confidence in Dynasty’s handling of the matter, however, so you and Aunt Maisie have nothing to worry about.

The fact that your grandmother attended school here in Dream Valley is interesting. I checked with Snuzzle who knows everything about the history of this town. She says there really weren’t many teacher’s colleges available back in the time when your grandmother was a young mare, so the odds of her ending up here were fairly certain. That doesn’t take away the sentimental feelings for you, but it does explain the mystery of why she chose Dream Valley.

We have been busy at the hospital with the first flu patients which is unusual for this early in the season; the vaccine from New Pony is delayed, and now it looks like it will arrive too late to do a large number of ponies any good. Sugarberry was one of the first to get it, and now the rest of the household has it; they will be fine, so don’t worry about them. Chocolate Chip actually had a rather mild case of it herself.

Please take care of yourself and Aunt Maisie until I can look out for you myself.

All my love,


* * *
November 17, 2001

Dear Toby,

Aunt Maisie is frazzled to think of my coming back to Dream Valley and leaving her with so many details to still be ironed out over the will and other household functions. I realize that I must stay with her until she feels more in control of things. She has been so protected all her life that she has no idea how to cope now that she is alone. Please understand that I can’t just walk out on her until she is feeling more confident.

The dance planning committee was pleased to hear that I will be around longer than I originally thought. They have been holding frequent meetings and have now officially named me a co-chair along with Raven. We’ve got lots to do, but I’m having a blast! Sonato and Daydream are on the committee, too, along with Flower Drift. The meetings are always wild; Raven has such a sense of humor! He told me that he had a crush on me when we were in high school, but I never stuck around after hours long enough for him to let me know; what a kidder!

Dynasty took me out to dinner Saturday night to go over some more of the details of the will. The restaurant here is not as elegant as the Estate Manor, but they have dancing! It was a lovely evening, even if most of it was spent discussing Granny’s will; I still find that depressing.

How are things in Dream Valley? I’m sorry that we can’t share our first Thanksgiving together, but I understand that you have your responsibilities to the hospital just as I have mine to Aunt Maisie; but even though we are not together, you can be sure that I am thanking God for your precious friendship.



Toby was not as happy over this letter as the previous ones from Fern; who was this Raven, and why did Dynasty have to include dinner and dancing in his business affairs with Fern? The stallion did not like what he was imagining-- that Fern was becoming too entwined with the goings on of Bushley; yet he had no hold on her to ask her to come back to Dream Valley. He could only hope that her feelings for him had not changed.

November 21, 2001

My Precious Fern,

Yes, I understand your decision to stay with your great-aunt. In a way, I’m glad you are staying as we have been having a larger than normal number of cases of the flu; usually we don’t see this many patients until January or February. It has been taking its toll on everyone: the young and the elderly and those in-between; many of them have required hospitalization. If you can avoid getting exposed to it, all the better. That may mean curtailing your involvement with the committee you are on; try to keep Aunt Maisie and yourself away from crowds.

It sounds like Dynasty is keeping on the job; does he know when all this will be finalized? The sooner, the better, if it will mean that some of the problems for Aunt Maisie will be resolved then; and she will be comfortable with you coming home.

Tabby and Thomas invited me to their Thanksgiving feast; where are you spending the day? My parents are planning to have everyone in the family with them in New Pony for Christmas; so expect to get a card from Mom one of these days inviting you for the holidays. I look forward to spending Christmas with you; it makes our current separation bearable.



* * *
November 26, 2001

Dear Toby,

More problems have come up in connection with Granny’s will; I will have to remain with Aunt Maisie until all this complicated legal mumbo jumbo is straightened out. Aunt Maisie just goes into a tizzy when Dynasty stops by; if I wasn’t here, I’m afraid she would let it drive her crazy. I’ve found it is better to stop at his office on a regular basis so that he doesn’t have to come out to the house.

The plans for the dance are coming along superbly! Everything is falling into place, but we’ve put a lot of work into it, so it should be. We’ve been doing most of the planning at Flower Drift’s house in town; but don’t worry, Raven walks me home if it’s after dark when we finish. There was ice on the ground the other evening, and I could have had a nasty spill; but Raven caught me before anything got broken.

I wish it would snow; Granny’s house and grounds always look so pretty nestled under a blanket of white. I mentioned to Raven how Granny used to take me sledding on the hill behind the house, so now he wants to get a group together after the first snowfall and have a sledding party. He’s always coming up with something to mandate having a party. I must admit that I’ve been having so much fun that the time is just whizzing by!

I forgot to tell you in my last letter that Flower Drift invited me and Aunt Maisie to town for Thanksgiving; we had a wonderful dinner with her and her family; there were others there, too, of course; Raven and I did dishes-- you really get to know someone when you spend that much time slaving over the kitchen sink with them!

I’ve heard from your mother and I’ve sent a note to tell her that I look forward to spending the holidays with you and your family in New Pony, assuming I’m out of Bushley by then!

Maybe I will have to find someone to stay with Aunt Maisie eventually as a sort of companion; she doesn’t seem like she will ever be able to be on her own. I can understand why Troubadour did what he did to ensure that she would have a roof over her head when he was gone; she is flightier than any pony I’ve ever seen. Granny was always in control of everything; how can two sisters be so different?

How are things at the hospital? I hope that the flu bug will settle down so the sick ponies can all be home for Christmas.



Needless to say, Toby was not a happy stallion. Of course Dynasty would be only to willing to have Fern dropping in at his office on a regular basis; who wouldn’t? And this Raven; what was he up to? And Fern is “assuming” she will be back; what happened to “any day now”? Maybe he should mention to her that he and Elaine had a lovely time on Thanksgiving at Tabby and Thomas’ mansion.

But, no, he would not say one word that might cost him her affection; and, anyway, Elaine was cordial only because she knew that he was safely committed to the blue-eyed mare who had come into his life last summer.

December 1, 200l

Dear Fern,

You missed the Bushwoolies decorating the hospital for Christmas; that’s always an experience-- good or bad, I still haven’t figured out. I avoided their activity as much as possible and let Snuzzle handle them; even at that, one could hear their boisterous endeavors from one end of the hospital to the other. Honestly, though, it was a relief having their cheery voices around to counteract the depressing spell of illness that has Dream Valley in its grasp.

Another bright spot was having supper with Sugarberry and Vanguard last evening; Chocolate Chip was there, too, along with Wishbone; Wigwam has the flu; he escaped it when the others had it several weeks ago, but it caught up to him now.

Mom called to tell me she got your note; and I’m to impress upon you that your being with us this Christmas is very necessary as she wants everyone back in New Pony to meet you. Your dance planners should be able to get along without you by now; and once you are back, Dynasty can call you if he needs to-- Dream Valley has telephones, remember???



* * *
December 5, 200l


Just got your letter, and I don’t have much time. Someone took down all the posters advertising our charity dance, so Raven and I have spent the last two days getting another run printed and distributed. Can you imagine why someone would be so mean in connection with a charity project like this?

Gotta run! Raven’s at the door... more posters!


No term of endearment in the salutation, no expression of love in the closing-- Toby could only think one thing: He saw this as a diminishing of Fern’s feelings for him, the close of another chapter relegating him to a solitary life. But not a word of recrimination did he send; his love for the blue-eyed mare lived on even if not reciprocated.

December 8, 2001

Dear Fern,

We are having a torrent of flu patients at the hospital; I knew the shortage of flue vaccine would lead to problems. I don’t like to hear that you have been working so hard and putting yourself in jeopardy; this flu is serious; and following on your collapse last summer, it could be dangerous for you. Please take care of yourself, Fern, and write soon to tell me you are coming home.

With love,


* * *
December 12, 2001

Toby, my Toby!

I put my hoof down with Aunt Maisie and told her that I simply must get back to Dream Valley by Christmas. She cried and I felt terrible, but then I had a terrific inspiration! Two things led me to come to the conclusion that I have arrived at: Number one is that Aunt Maisie can’t stay alone; number two is that Raven and Flower Drift are looking for a larger house in which to raise their expanding family.

The solution: I have decided to rent Granny’s house to Raven and Flower Drift and bring Aunt Maisie to Dream Valley with me! I’ll look for a larger apartment once I’m back. Aunt Maisie is delighted with the idea, too. She never really had any deep feelings about Granny’s house, so it won’t be a problem with her to pack up again and move to a new place.

Needless to say, I can’t wait to see you again! It has been forever since I have felt completely happy; you mean the world to me, Toby. Thank you for your patience in my need to help Aunt Maisie through her trying times these past two months. I’ll spend the rest of my life making it up to you! I love you, Toby, and look forward to seeing you very soon.

I’m sorry to hear that there is so much illness there, but I know that your patients are in good hooves.

All my love,


This last letter, unfortunately, was lost by the Ponyland Postal Service before it ever reached Dream Valley.


Fairweather Pony
Chapter One
by Christine (

Once upon a time, in a place far away, there lived a group of colorful little ponies, unicorns, and pegasi. This place was called Ponyland; and in this part of Ponyland, called Friendship Forest, this little group of ponies lived.

One of the little ponies was called Calzephyr. She had been born the previous spring. Her sister, Spring Song, had been born the year before. This spring, her mother, Blossom, had foaled another little filly who looked exactly like her mother. It was tough to be Calzephyr. There was no one else her age in the forest. She lacked the deer-like grace of Spring Song. Her purple mane and tail were straight while both her sisters’ flopped around in large curls. In choir she always had to stand in the back so that no one could hear her off-key singing. It seemed that everyone else was prettier or friendlier or just more talented than Calzephyr ever could be.

Perhaps if I was a different color, she thought one day while she considered her reflection in a pond. Calzephyr was a smoky purple, unlike the bright lilac of her sisters. Even her mother was an attractive lavender. If only I had a more useful magic, too. No one cares that you can make a breeze unless it’s hot or if they want to fly a kite.

Gay voices broke her self-imposed solitude. It was Spring Song, leading a line of the four baby ponies, Moondancer, Cuddles, Lucky, and Ribbs. They sang and laughed, and as they trotted up the hill, butterflies and flowers floated over their heads. That was Spring Song’s talent. She could conjure up flowers and butterflies at whim, not to mention having a voice that made songbirds envious.

Calzephyr ran up the hill to join them. Just as she got close, all the butterflies flew away. She sighed. Even butterflies ran away from her. Cuddles started to cry as they disappeared. “I’m sorry,” Calzephyr apologized.

Spring Song rolled her violet eyes. “You’re always sorry,” she sniffed. She licked Cuddles’ tears away. “Don’t worry, Cuddles; there are always more butterflies!”

Calzephyr frowned. She was tired of her big sister always putting her down. She closed her eyes and thought of a big breeze. In a sudden swoosh, all of Spring Song’s floating flowers were sent whipping up into the air and far away.

Now Moondancer started to cry. Lucky and Ribbs were aghast. “You’re horrible,” said Ribbs, stamping his hoof.

“No kidding!” Lucky echoed.

A little smirk tugged at the corners of Calzephyr’s mouth. “Sorry,” she said, without meaning it.

Spring Song was ready to rip into her middle sibling when Magic Star trotted up. “That’s not how we use our magic powers, Calzephyr,” the older pony admonished her.

“Hmmm,” was all Calzephyr said. She knew her mother was going to find out about this.

The star on Magic Star’s rump glowed. A shower of flowers fell lightly on all of them. Tears were replaced with squeals of joy. No one noticed Calzephyr leave except Magic Star. She trailed after the filly and finally, after a distance, called her to stop.

Calzephyr did so reluctantly and slowly turned around. “Cal, what on earth is your problem these days? You walk around sulking and blow things away all the time. It’s really annoying a lot of ponies.”

Calzephyr shrugged. “I don’t know. No one likes me,” she moped.

“Well, there’s probably a reason.” Magic Star said tersely. “You haven’t given any pony a reason to.” The yellow pony switched her green tail. “You know, when you were born, there was much joy... your mother was so proud. But ever since your powers came into full, you just changed...”

A tear rolled down Calzephyr’s cheek. “My powers are useless here. They benefit no one. We already have one windy pony here, anyway.”

Magic Star sighed. She really felt pity for the filly. “If only you could be more like your sister,” she wondered aloud absently.

“Arrrrrrrrgh!” Calzephyr whinnied with anger. “I am so tired of everyone saying how wonderful Spring Song is!” She bucked and snorted angrily and took off for the woods.

“Oh, why did I have to say that!” Magic Star said sharply to herself. “No wonder she thinks that no one likes her.”

Calzephyr galloped through the forest. Branches struck her, but she did not care. Burrs collected in her tail, but she did not notice. Finally, when she could run no more, she sat down on her haunches and cried. She knew she could find her way home, but she didn’t want to go back. On the other hand, she didn’t know where else to go.

Finally she got tired of crying and became angry again. “I hate Spring Song! I hate everything!” She kicked a tree with her hind legs. Twice. On the third kick, something fell out of the tree!

“Ah!” Calzephyr cried with surprised. Was she always destined to bring misery to everyone?

The pile of fur stood up and chittered angrily. It was a raccoon! Oh, no, this is worse; they sleep during the day! she thought.

The raccoon was ash grey and had blue stripes and mask. He jumped up and down and shook his tiny fists at her.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

The wild animal hissed and moved menacingly towards the frightened pony.

~~ Find out what happens next month! ~~

Two Roads Diverged
by Sugarberry (

The red mare slipped through the moonlit night, grateful that when the time came to flee, there was a guiding light in the sky to show her the path. Her focus was simply to put as many miles between herself and Dream Valley as she possibly could so that no one could find her.

She had reconnoitered just such a course even before settling in the town; that was one thing her parents had instilled in her-- to always have an escape route ready at a moment’s notice. At this particular moment, however, it was small consolation to be prepared; she was walking away from the happiest two months that she had ever experienced.

Garnet stopped for a time to get her bearings; ahead of her, a tall pine reached into the starry heavens, signaling to her that a side path was imminent. Moving cautiously so as not to miss the turnoff, the mare became aware of voices coming in her direction along the main path; she silently melted into the underbrush along the road, ignoring the scratches from the now nearly barren branches and waited breathlessly.

A family of catlike creatures passed by on the path; Garnet didn’t recognize them as Pokemon, but there were in fact Meowth. Two were leading the way and were followed by five smaller versions of themselves. “It’s been so long since we’ve been to see Tabby; I hope she isn’t offended,” the leading female fretted.

“Nah, she’ll understand,” her mate assured her. “She’s been pretty busy herself, what with getting married and all...”

“And word travels so slow out here, we didn’t hear about their new daughter until just recently,” the female continued. “I do wish this visit had been sooner in coming.”

“Tess, stop worrying! Besides, we have a very nice present to give Faline.”

“Me, you mean?” one of the younger Meowths purred. “Oh, this is going to be fun! I can’t wait to have a real trainer.” The conversation gradually faded away as the family moved on further down the path.

The danger of discovery now past, Garnet moved out onto the path once more and sought out the turn that would take her south; she walked for miles before she reached a sharp bend; abandoning the walkway, the mare pushed through the slender red branches of the dogwood and came to a spreading meadow, brown and dry under the cold night, and headed for the sagging outline of an old, deserted barn that clung tenaciously to its purpose of sheltering animals and fodder.

The decaying structure was currently housing no more than field mice and a snowy white owl and the remains of an alfalfa crop from years ago; but, to Garnet, it was a welcome haven. She knew from her earlier inspection that she would find a snug, if not dusty, loft of hay at the top of the rickety ladder that leaned precariously against the warped, gray boards. Gingerly picking her way up the treads, she set her backpack down for a pillow and threw her shawl over her body for a blanket. Ignoring the creaks and rustling of the building and its resident creatures, the pony fell asleep.

* * *
The rush of owl’s wings woke Garnet at the first crack of dawn as the nocturnal bird came home from his hunting. Still groggy from her sleep, Garnet stretched lazily, not remembering where she was until the scratchy grasses beneath her forced her to face the fact that she was no longer snug between smooth sheets in her apartment in Dream Valley. That realization dampened the mare’s mood, and she closed her eyes in an attempt to shut out her future.

This was one of the few times in Garnet’s life that she had felt this depressed over the circumstances she found herself in. She had always been able to take any problem and work it to her advantage; there was a certain thrill in making the best of a bad situation, and she flourished in facing each new obstacle that challenged her. But this time it was different.

In Dream Valley, Garnet had found an unconditional acceptance that she had learned to accommodate, then to appreciate, and finally to value. She had found herself becoming more open to the friendship that was offered to her, and she had amazed herself at the ease in which she was eventually able to reciprocate those feelings to others. Wigwam and Butch had trusted her explicitly at the casino; Chocolate Chip and Fern had included her in all their plans; and Wishbone-- well, Wishbone had somehow caught her fancy; she would like to have gotten to know the stallion better. Events, however, had mandated her hasty departure from the one place where she had truly felt at home.

Groaning over her thoughts, Garnet managed to sit up and survey her surroundings in the early gray morning light that was filtering through the cracks in the roof and angling through the gaping square window high in the angle of the wall. The owl was nearly invisible as it sat on one of the rafters over her head; its large, round eyes stared at her, but it did not feel threatened by the presence of the pony. A lone mouse scampered across the flooring as it headed for its home in the hay. Otherwise, the old barn was quiet and very private.

As the mare drooped her head, finding it difficult to get moving, her green mane fell across her face; she ran a hoof through the silky tresses that at birth had been as red as her crimson body and suddenly found an incentive to propel her upright; she grabbed her backpack and shawl and went out into the windless morning.

A white frost had settled on the land in the coldest of the early morning hours; a weak sun was just beginning to turn that frost into sparkling gems of color. Garnet got her bearings and walked across the meadow toward a line of trees that signaled the passage of a river. Her hoofs left dark tracks across the frosty landscape.

Garnet was able to hear the flow of water before she actually saw the stream that went its unhurried way to the south. Once she passed through the sheltering trees, she came to the edge of the bank and looked down upon the dark, languid liquid. A shiver passed through her body as she thought of bathing in that wintry water, but her mind was set; she followed the bank of the river until the land beneath her hooves had dropped to a level equal to the water’s edge. Tossing her backpack and shawl to the ground, she progressed beneath the trees gathering enough dry wood with which to build a fire.

The heat of the flames brought some comfort to Garnet; and, for a space of time, her resolve faltered; but she combated the desire to stay warm and dry and forced herself to take out of her traveling satchel a bar of soap with which she entered the water. The first cold step was enough to bring back her natural fight, and she continued until the water was deep around her; she then proceeded to lather her mane and tail with the soap until the green color that she had applied before entering Dream Valley began to run in sickly dark rivulets away from her down the river.

When she was satisfied that her own red hair was again highlighting her equally red coat, she began to concentrate on washing the wreath design off her flanks, revealing the pattern of a gemstone... a garnet. When that was done, she rinsed herself thoroughly and came out of the water a different pony.

The strengthening sunbeams hit the pony from over the tops of the trees causing her newly cleaned hair to shine. Garnet took a moment to look at her reflection in the water and smiled. It felt good to shed the deception that she had been carrying since the end of summer. That was the only positive thing that had come of her unplanned departure: She could be herself again.

Shivering deeply, Garnet hurried to the fire and allowed it to dry her; she used her brush to smooth the ruby locks in place and was so fully absorbed with that task that she did not notice the approach of two small ponies from downriver. “Good morning!”

Garnet was so startled at the unexpected sound of the sing-song voice that she dropped her brush; it bounced into the flames and almost immediately began to melt.

The two foals watched in amusement as the red mare tried desperately to retrieve the only hairbrush she owned. It was a losing battle, and Garnet finally owned up to her defeat and watched the purple plastic shrivel up into a black, crumpled mass of waste. Only then did she look closely at her visitors.

The larger of the two youngsters, the spokespony, was a deep indigo blue with yellow locks that curled in random abandon around her face; the second was a rough and tumble colt, younger but equally self-assured. The two stared open-faced at the mare as she returned their gaze.

“What are you doing here?” the gray colt asked, tossing his slate grey mane with authority, a spattering of freckles marking his face.

What are you doing here? The question echoed through Garnet’s mind as she stared at the foal before her, who looked so much like her brother, Sable. Her mind flew back to the days when she had been a foal and had admired the sibling that was several years older than she was; she idolized him, and he found her attention an annoyance. She had followed him like a puppy over the years, craving for his attention, until one day when she had gone to his room in search of him, he had found her there; and his voice had thundered, “What are you doing here?”

The anger that accompanied the question had frightened Garnet, and she had run from the room and hid until her mother found her and explained that Sable was in trouble because his teacher had caught him cheating on a test; and as young as she was, Garnet had understood that the problem in her mother’s eyes was in his getting caught, not in his cheating. What are you doing here?

Impatient for an answer, the older of the two foals asked her own question. “What’s your name?”

Breaking through the memories of her own childhood, the red mare answered without thinking. “Garnet.”

“Garnet,” the little filly repeated. “That’s a pretty name. Mine is Tasha.”

“I’m Freckles.”

Garnet could not help but smile at the open, trusting nature of these two bright-eyed meadow nymphs. “It is nice to meet you.”

“Children! Where are you?” a voice called from further down the river, and Freckles responded with a return call. Soon, a colorful mare appeared around the bend of the stream, her bright yellow body a bright beacon in the landscape; her rainbow hair was braided; and in her forelegs, she carried a very young foal.

“You were supposed to wait by the cottonwood,” she said breathlessly as she came near the trio standing by the still burning fire and frowned at the foals; but her eyes belied her anger.

“We couldn’t wait,” Freckles said. “We saw someone.” He and his sister turned their eyes to Garnet, and the newly arrived mare did, too.

“Hi,” she said. “I’m sorry about that brusque greeting, but I was worried about my children. They have an insatiable curiosity about visitors to our neck of the woods.” She beamed with pride at the two before returning her approving gaze to Garnet. “My name is Rainbow Star, and this is Palette.” She held forth the tiny colt who, like his mother, had rainbow hair; his body, what was visible from beneath the blue blanket, was a pale, creamy yellow.

Before Garnet could respond herself, Tasha introduced the red mare to her mother. “This is Garnet.”

“We always enjoy meeting someone out here,” Rainbow Star smiled. “It is kind of isolated living so far from town. I hope the children haven’t been bothering you.”

“No. Not at all. I was just about to douse this fire and move on.”

“I can help,” volunteered Freckles as he went for scoops of pebbles and sand to smother the flames.

“Me, too.” Tasha joined in heartily.

“So you live near here,” Garnet asked of Rainbow Star.

“Just over that hill. The kids wanted to walk out in the frost; they said it looked like a fairyland.”

“It was a pretty morning.”

Rainbow Star eyed Garnet curiously. “Do you mind my asking what you are doing out here all by yourself?”

“Other than trespassing?” smiled Garnet. “I was traveling and got caught in the middle of nowhere when darkness fell; I happened to see that old barn across the meadow and sheltered there.” A little discrepancy did not bother Garnet.

“You spent the night in that wreck?” Rainbow Star giggled. “Did you meet the tenant owl?”

“He was willing to share.”

Rainbow Star realized something. “Did you have any breakfast?”

“No, but I don’t often eat breakfast.”

“Mommy says breakfast is important,” asserted Freckles. “Mommy, can I have some more breakfast?”

“Garnet, why don’t you come home with us; these guys are all going to be starved by then, and I can fix you something, too.”

“That would be too much trouble,” replied Garnet, but Freckles had already made his own decision on the matter. He picked up her backpack and shawl and began trekking back down the river.

“I’ll show you our house,” he stated decisively. Rainbow Star laughed, and Garnet could do little more than follow the small guide.

* * *
The house was a meandering style that blended in with its surroundings so that until one became conscious of it, it appeared to be only more of the brown trees and bushes that spread up the hillside that backed the structure. A stone chimney reared up along one side with wisps of smoke rising lazily. A split-rail fence hemmed in a patch of lawn while garden plots spilled over the area that spread beyond the house. A drab barn sat further along the hillside, a flock of goats and some stray chickens resting within their confine.

Freckles and Tasha raced for home when they grew nearer to its welcoming tow, and several fat and contented felines raised themselves lethargically from the warm sunbeams that soaked into a stone patio outside the front door. Garnet was reminded of a fairytale setting and half expected a gnome to trip across the dried up grass on his way to the wood stack.

“We started out with four rooms, and my husband has added one more when each of the foals was born,” explained Rainbow Star of the eclectic construction. “It’s rugged, but comfortable.”

“It’s charming!” Garnet approved. “It’s perfect for the location.”

Freckles waited impatiently by the open door, allowing no time for Garnet to further explore the outside. The cats wound their way inside the house between the legs of the ponies and took their places expectantly near the kitchen table. Rainbow Star laid the baby in his cradle, and Tasha set out plates and utensils on the wooden trestle table that dominated the center of the room.

“You sit down,” Freckles ordered the visitor while indicating a sturdy chair at one end; he climbed up onto one of the benches that skirted either side. “What do you want to eat?”

Rainbow Star came across the room and patted her son on his head. “Our menu this morning consists of scrambled eggs and biscuits,” she said apologetically, “and applesauce.”

“Lots of applesauce,” Tasha concurred, rolling her eyes.

“It was a good year for apples,” Freckles related.

Garnet grinned. “It sounds great. And what can I do to help?”

Soon the kitchen was bustling with the activities of meal preparation and the banter of the two siblings who busied themselves between running errands and playing with the cats. One of these, a long-haired gray beast, took a concentrated interest in Garnet and followed her hoofsteps like a shadow; another, white as new-fallen snow, frisked back and forth across the floor chasing a catnip ball. Garnet found that silence and order were not virtues of this household and wondered how the baby could sleep.

The food, casually prepared, was delicious. Garnet found that she was very hungry indeed, and the foals teased her about her appetite. The red mare laughed along with them and found herself feeling right at home among these unexpected friends. The farthest thing from her mind was where she would go from here when the meal was finished; she simply enjoyed the companionship of Rainbow Star and her children while the opportunity was before her.

Garnet learned that Pepper-- husband and father-- was away, working to make some extra money to tide the family over the winter; he had left as soon as the crops had been harvested and would not return until Christmas. Rainbow Star made and sold natural crafts; when she had enough projects finished to make it worthwhile, she carted them to the nearest bazaar and set up shop until her wares were gone. She took Garnet on a tour of the basement storeroom that was lined with shelving groaning under its load of canned vegetables and fruits, jams and jellies, soups and stews.

One of the rooms of the main house was devoted to Rainbow Star’s craft; beams across the ceiling were covered in flower bouquets drying for future use in her projects. Pine cones, milk weed pods, grape vines, gourds... the variety was endless in the materials hanging or piled around the edges of the space. Seasonal ribbons and bows cluttered the rack over the workbench; finished wreaths and arrangements stood waiting near the door. The colors, smells, and textures besieged Garnet’s senses, and it was a relief to finally leave the atmosphere of holiday extravagance and return to the ordinary kitchen.

“I’ve got a huge order to get done for a fair in Dream Valley,” Rainbow Star admitted when the two mares were standing over the sink with the dirty dishes. “I just can’t get the time to accomplish much with Palette; he’s fussy so much of the time. Freckles and Tasha were never like that, at least not very often.”

“He’s been good from what I’ve seen of him.”

“He’s being on his best behavior. Trust me, that little sweetheart can run me ragged in the course of a normal day. Tasha and Freckles try to help, but Palette expects me to be there for him.” Rainbow Star smiled. “I’m sorry; I shouldn’t be complaining. Did you think the applesauce was sweet enough?”

It was only when the dishes were done and there was no more reason to infringe on the hospitality of this family of nature that Garnet realized that she did not want to move on. With all her heart, she craved stability like this; she was tired of the constant change of address, the never-ending watching over her shoulder, the sizing up of everyone she met. Seeing Rainbow Star surrounded by her little ones made it all very simple; but there was a long road ahead of Garnet before she could find these things for herself.

The red mare forced herself to move toward the backpack where Freckles had dropped it inside the doorway. She was reaching to pick it up when the baby started to cry, and Rainbow Star went to tend to his needs. Freckles came to Garnet and put his hoof on her foreleg as if sensing her disheartened spirit. Not a word had been said about her plans, but he seemed to know that her future was nebulous. “Where are you going to go?”

“It’s a big world out there; I’ll find someplace,” she said softly. She smiled at the colt who seemed to regret her leaving. “I’ll be fine.” She slung the backpack over her shoulder and moved toward the door.

“Garnet!” Rainbow Star called, the foal now in her forelegs. “I was wondering... well, I just had an idea... but... no, never mind.”

“What did you want to ask me?”

“It was only wishful thinking on my part. I thought maybe you could stay with us for awhile and help with things around here if you didn’t have any commitments anywhere else; but I’m sure you have a job and a family of your own, so I shouldn’t even ask such a thing of you; it’s just that sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to do.” The mare looked down at her little foal. “But we’ll make it; we always do.”

Letting the torrent of words sink in, Garnet took her time in replying. “Rainbow Star, I’d love to stay here, at least until... until I sort some things out in my mind.”

Rainbow Star’s face glowed. “You’re serious?”

“Yes. Well, that is, as long as Palette takes to me; I never had any younger brothers or sisters, so I haven’t had much experience with foals.”

“Well, let’s find out.” She handed the foal to Garnet. “I’ll go warm his bottle, and we’ll give this a trial run.”

As it turned out, little Palette was very satisfied with this new pony in his world; and he responded with his most winning ways. Rainbow Star set to work in her workroom while Garnet cared for the baby and helped Freckles and Tasha with their books. So far from the nearest school, both children studied at home under the guidance of their mother. Garnet found herself enveloped in questions as the children discussed their lessons with her; they found her a gold mine of new stories and a new perspective.

It was evening and the house was snug against the darkness outside before Freckles realized a problem. “Where are you going to sleep, Garnet?”

Rainbow Star had already worked that out. “Tasha will share my room, and Garnet can have Tasha’s room all to herself.”

That answer seemed to satisfy the colt; he came up to Garnet and said, “If you ever get scared of the dark, just call and I’ll be there.”

* * *
The new day dawned warmer than the previous one, but the sky was overcast and the morning light was slow in permeating the room where Garnet slept. She had rested comfortably in her new bed; having a purpose in her life for the days ahead had lifted a burden from her shoulders, and she had succumbed to a deep, inner tiredness that took hours to erase.

When she finally became semi-conscious, she knew she was not alone. The cobwebs in her mind were quickly scattered as she sat upright in bed to find Tasha and Freckles peering at her.

“It’s still red,” Freckles said to his big sister.

“Yes, it is,” Tasha agreed.

“What are you talking about?” asked Garnet.

“Your hair.”

“It’s red.”

“Of course, it’s red,” Garnet replied, slightly exasperated.

“Yesterday morning, it was green,” Freckles puzzled, “until you washed it.”

“We thought maybe it turned green overnight,” stated Tasha. “But it didn’t.”

Rainbow Star had heard voices, and she came into the room. “Children, why are you bothering Garnet before she’s even out of bed?”

“We thought her hair would be green,” Freckles yawned; and losing interest in his investigation, left the room.

“Green?” asked a puzzled mother. She looked to Tasha for an answer, but the foal only shrugged her shoulders and followed her brother.

Rainbow Star’s gaze settled on Garnet. “We’ll talk later.”

* * *
“ I had to change my appearance enough that no one would recognize me, but someone did anyway.” Garnet was rocking Palette while Rainbow Star was assembling a winter bouquet. The green hair mystery had led to a complete admission of Garnet’s life history; and it had been a restorative experience for the red mare, but she was unsure of the reaction of her hostess. “I’ll understand if you want me to be on my way after hearing my story.”

“Nonsense. You’re not getting out of your offer to help that easily.”

Garnet smiled. “You aren’t afraid I’ll walk off with your beautiful wares?”

“I trust you, Garnet. Tasha and Freckles accepted you right away; they are good judges of character. Last spring, a stallion came down the river and stopped to talk to Pepper; the kids were helping their dad out in the fields, but they both came back to the house to tell me that they didn’t like that pony; and Pepper came in later saying that the stallion had wanted him to look the other way while he did some illegal trapping. The foals sense things like that.” She looked at the sleeping Palette in Garnet’s forelegs. “That one hasn’t been this content since day one.”

“Me neither,” Garnet grinned. The little foal was a picture of satisfaction as he slept, his head resting comfortably against Garnet, one of his minuscule hooves clinging to a strand of her hair. It was obvious that he trusted her, too.

“You said you had some decisions to make; I pray that they will be the right ones for you when you see your way clear to make them.”

Garnet made no immediate reply. She kissed the sleeping foal softly. “How does anyone know which ones are the right ones?”

* * *
The days soon settled into a routine for Garnet as she cared for Palette, supervised Tasha and Freckles at their studies, and offered her assistance in doing household chores, leaving time for Rainbow Star time to work her creative wonders with her crafts.

Small orders for her projects from neighbors were delivered upon completion, so Garnet would be in charge of the house and foals while Rainbow Star was away, although Freckles assumed a protective role over his siblings and Garnet. The red mare often found herself comparing the dependable little colt with her own brothers just as she had compared them to Wishbone. Her oldest brother had ignored her existence which made him easier to live with than Sable, who openly rejected her childish admiration.

Things had been different for Garnet’s new friend in Dream Valley; Chocolate Chip was the oldest sibling in her family, and she and Wishbone had been close throughout their growing-up years. Garnet had listened with compassion to the brown mare’s story of loneliness, but the fact of the matter was that Chocolate Chip at least had a brother who was there for her even when her own parents showed no interest. Garnet had no such crutch to lean on.

“Why are you sad?” Freckles had once asked her as she sat rocking Palette.

“I’m not sad,” Garnet had responded with a smile.

“Yes, you are,” the colt had countered. “I can tell.”

Garnet had ruffled his mane and was slow to reply. Why was she sad? The time she spent with the foals and their mother had been for her a respite and a joy; yet she knew the colt was right; underlying her current contentment ran a churning and muddied river that threatened to engulf her. When she left here, and she surely must, the whirlpool would pull her down into its murky depths once more; she would be drawn into the deceit and furtiveness that had become second nature to her.

“I can’t stay here forever,” Garnet had admitted to Freckles. “I get sad when I think about leaving.”

“Then don’t go.”

Those words had echoed through Garnet’s mind over the days that had since passed, and now as she watched Freckles scampering up the hillside amidst the naked trees and rustling leaves, she once more turned her thoughts inward. What was stopping her from getting on with her life? She was used to going it alone; she had certainly faced worse predicaments than her abrupt abandonment of Dream Valley. All she had to do was set out down the road.

But what kind of life would she have? Garnet kicked at the brown and yellow leaves at her hooves. It would be more of the same: establishing a base, getting a job, finding a mark, making a hit, and moving on once more. The mare groaned. Picking up a stick off the ground, she angrily broke it into bits and scattered the pieces around her.

Freckles materialized out of a thicket carrying some acorns, eyeing her critically. “Whatcha mad about?”

“About life,” she snapped, pounding her hoof into the tree trunk next to her which only succeeded in causing a sharp pain to shoot through her foreleg. “Ouch!” She cradled the hoof gingerly.

“Are you okay?” asked a worried Freckles. “Let me see.” The colt looked over her throbbing appendage and made his determination. “You should soak it in cold water; the river isn’t far from here.”

Garnet let her diminutive knight lead her to the water’s edge and obediently stuck her now puffy hoof into the icy flow. Freckles engaged himself in skipping small, flat stones over the surface of the water. Garnet watched his determined expression with amusement; everything he did, he did with utter concentration and unfeigned delight. Life was a joy every step of the way. How could she capture that innocence again?

“Is it better yet?” Freckles queried.

Pulling the hoof from the water, Garnet found that the swelling had indeed gone down some; she smiled at the colt. “Much better.”

“Then we’d better get home, or Tasha will be missing us.”

* * *
There was one unhappy result of Rainbow Star’s delivering local orders: She ended up with the flu, and it was a relentless one. The first days found her unable to get out of bed; Garnet and the foals nursed her with care, but she was still not back to health when first Tasha, then Freckles, and finally Palette came down with it, too. To add to their misery, Pepper had called to tell them that he was wiped out as well; but on learning that his family was suffering, he informed Garnet that he would come home to help out. Garnet convinced him that it would not be wise for him to travel in his weakened condition, and that she could handle the invalids herself.

Palette was so miserable with the flu that Garnet found most of her time taken up with comforting him; it was a day and night job as the little colt could get no rest. Fortunately for him, Garnet did not come down with the flu herself. “I’ve been exposed to every flu bug out there,” she joked with Rainbow Star when the yellow mare was finally able to spend part of each day on her hooves again.

The day that Palette could finally keep his milk down and fall into a restful slumber was a victory for Garnet; even with him sleeping, however, she hovered over him in anticipation of any need until she finally had to succumb to the call of sleep for herself. Freckles and Tasha, who were over their illness by now, tiptoed through the house, checking on their brother and Garnet at regular intervals and speaking in muted whispers even though the two ponies in their beds would not have stirred from their deep sleep short of a thunder crash.

The flu having run its course allowed the ponies to begin looking forward to the coming holiday.

* * *
Thanksgiving was nearly upon them when Rainbow Star received a call from Pepper that threw the household into a melancholy state once more; the stallion, who had planned on being back with his family by the holiday, had been asked to stay on at his job for another week or two; and Pepper, who had lost several days while sick knew how much the extra jangles would help and had consented. The foals were heart-broken, and Rainbow Star was despondent. Garnet did her best to cheer them up.

“Your sister and her family are coming for Thanksgiving, and you’ll be going back to Dream Valley with them to set up shop at the craft fair at the mall. The time will fly by; Pepper will be back before you know it!”

Rainbow Star shook her head. “We’ve always been together for the holidays; I can’t imagine him not being here.”

“He’ll be here soon enough, and you will have Christmas to look forward to then.” Garnet looked at the foals who stood dejectedly in front of the window as if by simply wishing their father home, he would appear on the path to the house. “Freckles. Tasha. You’ll have more time to work on your dad’s Christmas present.”

Having had that suggestion planted in their minds, both foals turned to Garnet with shining eyes. Tasha was working on a counted cross-stitch project that would go into a frame that Freckles was designing. “We can finish it before Dad gets home,” Freckles grinned.

“And then hide it really good,” smiled Tasha.

As the two foals left the room to settle down to some serious work, Garnet turned to Rainbow Star. “Now let’s see you smile.”

But the mare could not so easily be appeased. “Pepper has always said that if we moved into town, our lives would be a lot easier; yet none of us want to give up this place. But now it seems to me that if we could be together in town, it would be better than being apart here. Do you understand?”

“I think I do. But I also know it will be hard enough for me to walk away from here.”

“Have you decided what you are going to do yet?”

Garnet shook her head. “I don’t have a clue.”

“Then we both have some serious thinking to do, don’t we?” Rainbow Star sighed deeply.

“Why don’t you go for a walk,” suggested Garnet. “It will help you to put things in perspective.”

“Palette will be waking up soon.”

“I’m perfectly capable of taking care of Palette.” She escorted the mare to the door. “And don’t come back until you can smile again.”

* * *
The house was filled with activity the day before Thanksgiving as Rainbow Star baked and Garnet cleaned with the help of Freckles and Tasha; even Palette seemed to realize that something special was in the air, and he watched the activity contentedly.

The following day would see the arrival of Rainbow Star’s sister, Spring Tidings, and her husband, Shortbread, along with their two children, Pink Tart and Blue Wonder; and preparations were under way to have the house spotless along with enough food to feed a multitude. As the family would be spending Thursday night at the homestead, additional bedding had to be cleaned and organized. There was plenty to do for all concerned.

The afternoon was going fast for the mares, but the children had long since reached their limit of household chores; both were restless for something fun to do, so Rainbow Star set them to work in her craft room to construct a Thanksgiving turkey pair to use as a table centerpiece. Both foals were given pine cones, twigs, and various other components with which to design their work of art-- along with a plentiful supply of glue-- before their mother returned to her kitchen duties.

Garnet continued dusting, vacuuming, and washing windows until the place was glistening; only then did she hunt out the foals who had been quietly at work on their own. As she stepped into the room, she saw a wonderful representation of a proud male turkey sitting on the work table, its dried twig tail spread high. Freckles was cleaning glue off his hooves, and Tasha was standing by the table with a rather pathetic looking pile of pine cones in front of her; her attempt had obviously not gone well.

The foal’s gaze went from her failure to Freckles’s masterpiece, and she quickly reached out her hooves and picked up the turkey. At that moment, Freckles turned toward her, and seeing her holding his still wet project, called out angrily, “Put that down!”

The sound of his voice frightened his sister; and she jumped, causing some of the tail pieces to drop to the floor. As she hastily attempted to set the turkey back on the table, the head, too, dropped off. The young filly looked at the ruined turkey in dismay.

“Now see what you’ve done?” Freckles yelled, coming toward his sister with his eyes blazing. “You shouldn’t have touched it, you dumb girl!” This uncharacteristic anger directed at her by her brother caused Tasha to run to her mother who had come in to see what was causing the commotion; the foal buried her face against the mare’s protective body.

For Garnet, time had slipped back again to the day Sable had discovered her in his room; she had been looking for him, but had found instead a miniature snow globe resting on his desk. The glass globe encased a tiny wolf pack, and the desire to make the white crystals shower down upon the creatures was too much for the young Garnet. She had reached out and gently lifted the globe up and shook it, causing a blizzard around the wolves; she had stared intently at the lilliputian world as it was caught in a sudden snowstorm.

So absorbed was she in the globe that the entrance of Sable was entirely unnoticed... unnoticed until the voice rolled into her consciousness. “What are you doing here? Put that down!”

The trembling red foal had jerked at the enraged current of emotion, and the reaction had sent the snow globe flying; it hit the floor with a sickening crash that sent water and artificial snow in every direction. “Now see what you’ve done?” Sable had come to her and roughly pushed her toward the door. “You are never to touch my things; do you hear? Never come near my room again!” He had slammed the door shut as Garnet stumbled out. “Dumb girl!” had been his final outburst.

All the feelings of betrayal and sadness washed over Garnet as she looked at Freckles; she saw not the foal but her own brother, and tears welled up in her eyes as she relived the utter emptiness that had settled over her after hearing her brother’s wrath directed at her.

For Freckles, the sight of his teacher, care giver, and friend crying was more than the colt could stand. He rushed to her and begged, “Please don’t cry, Garnet. I’m sorry I got so mad. Please don’t cry!”

The words of apology tore at her heart; she had never heard any penitent word from Sable, and the event had stood between them like a visible stone wall ever since. It was as if Sable had disowned her. But not so with Freckles. “Garnet, please?”

Garnet hugged him to her. “I won’t cry any more,” she promised as the tears continued to course down her face, “but please go to your sister and tell her, too, that you are sorry.”

Freckles did as he was asked and then offered his help in making Tasha’s attempt more presentable. Rainbow Star and Garnet left the two of them working companionably side by side. “Do you want to talk?” Rainbow Star asked of the red mare.

“Your family is so special; I wish I had grown up here with you.”

“And your family wasn’t special?”

Garnet grimaced. “Not in a good way; it didn’t allow for a lot of bonding.”

“Yet you turned out to be quite special, Garnet; you are a very kind and caring pony-- look how the foals love you. Maybe it’s time that you realized your own ability to turn your life around and work for the things you seem to crave.”

“Maybe it is not that easy, Rainbow Star.”

“Whoever said it would be easy?” the mare responded with a smile. “But it might be worth the effort.” She patted Garnet’s hoof comfortingly. “And not to change the subject, but there is something I wanted to ask you before tomorrow when the company will make private talk impossible.”

“What’s that?”

“While I’m in Dream Valley, is there anything I can do for you?”

Garnet opened her mouth to say something, then shook her head. “No.”

“Who did you care about there? I can ask some discreet questions to find out what’s going on in their lives now.”

“You will have too much to do without playing detective for me.”

“I’ll be at the mall, and didn’t you say that one of your friends worked there? I could at least look in on her; I wouldn’t have to admit to knowing you, just ask some general questions about life in Dream Valley.”

“Well, Chocolate Chip works at a place called Bushwoolie Bargain Books; she’s a one of a kind pony; you couldn’t miss her. And Fern is at the mall, too, at a place called Lemon Treat’s Boutique; she’s all green and blue and very gracious.”

“Is that all?”

“I don’t imagine that you would be going to the casino.”

“My sister and her husband just might go there occasionally.”

Garnet laughed. “Okay then; check up on Wigwam and Butch; Wigwam owns it and Butch manages the place.”

“Okay. Butch and Wigwam and...?”

“And...” Garnet began spiritedly; but, after a pause, she ended weakly. “That’s all.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“There’s...” Garnet’s sentence was cut off as Tasha and Freckles ran into the room hoof in hoof.

“Come see the turkeys!” Tasha chirped.

“They look good!” added Freckles.

As the mares followed them, Garnet whispered to herself. There’s one more, but what’s the use? What does it matter? She knew that even if she could change the course of her life, Petal would stand in her way.

* * *
Thanksgiving came and went in a swirl of activity that began early with the arrival of the ponies from Dream Valley; Garnet was self-conscious at meeting them, fearing that they would somehow or other have learned of her true identity; but no one seemed to notice anything familiar about the red mare.

The news from Dream Valley centered on the flu that had hit that community as well; Spring Tidings had a mild experience with it, but Shortbread and the foals had been very ill; and the flu had reached epidemic proportions in most of Ponyland. Garnet quietly said a prayer that her friends were faring well.

The Thanksgiving meal was an extravaganza of good food with plenty of conversation thrown in; an afternoon hike with the foals, including Pink Tart and Blue Wonder, helped to wear off some of the extra calories. An appropriately sized spruce tree was located and marked so that Pepper would have an easy time in cutting the family’s Christmas tree once he was back home. The cousins ran in wild abandon and noisily chattered as they enjoyed each others company in the rustic setting of the woodlands and meadows, brown and lifeless except for the intermittent evergreen.

The day ended with a gathering around the fireplace and piles of popcorn before everyone found a niche to spend the night; the arrival of the morning brought more intense bustle and commotion as breakfast was served and everyone except Garnet packed their backpacks for the trip back to Dream Valley.

Rainbow Star had accumulated a fair amount of articles to sell at the Dream Valley Mall, “Many more than if Garnet had not been here,” she admitted. She and the children were going to accompany her sister and family to the city where they would spend the next few days. The extra hooves were put to good use in carting all the crafts as well as those essentials needed for the nights away from home.

Freckles and Tasha begged Garnet to come with them; but she held firm, knowing that she would be putting herself in a precarious position to come back into a town where the police chief was already aware of her background. Wigwam had orchestrated her escape once, but he might not be able to contrive those results again. She hugged the foals and kissed Palette fondly, admonishing him not to forget her.

Everything having been readied, the crew was finally prepared to start off. Pulling Garnet off to the side, Rainbow Star admonished her to keep an eye open for the Ponyland Parcel Service deliverer as Pepper had arranged to have some of the foals’ Christmas gifts shipped rather than handling them all himself. “You’ll need to sign for them, Garnet, and stash them under my bed.” She hugged the mare one last time, and ran to meet up with the rest of the group who had begun to meander off down the path.

Garnet stood and waved until the ponies had passed around the curvature of the hill; then she returned to the house to clean the kitchen and straighten up the rest of the house. When that was done, she dropped onto the couch; only then did she realize the intense quiet and loneliness of the place without the foals’ laughter and Rainbow Star’s lilting voice. The cats, too, sensed their abandonment and came to cuddle close to the red mare.

Grabbing a volume from the bountiful bookshelf, Garnet made herself comfortable and lost herself in a fantasy world that was far removed from her own problems. She had four days to concentrate undisturbed on her future; for the moment, she would escape that task.

* * *
Monday dawned clear and crisp following a weekend of cold rain; and after a light lunch, Garnet was ready to get back outside. Her daily schedule included feeding the chickens that roosted in the barn, and she always took care of that chore at the break of day along with milking the goats. She had refused to take part in that activity when she had first arrived; but Freckles had shown her how gentle the creatures were, and she had lost most of her fear; yet both he and Tasha had laughed hysterically at her trepidation the first time she had attempted the milking on her own. They would never let her live that experience down.

Now she was out for the sheer joy of being free. She had come to relish the solitude once the initial isolation of being the only pony for miles around had worn off. The days spent alone had passed quickly for Garnet. She breathed deeply of the fresh wintry air and began a walk toward the river where the sunlight seemed stronger as it reflected off the deep blue water.

As she followed the course of the waterway, Garnet took time to evaluate her present position once more; as often as she decided what her next step would be-- which amounted to where she could safely go to perpetrate yet another shady venture-- her thoughts would turn to her months in Dream Valley. She had enjoyed her work at the casino and she had come to cherish the friendships of the ponies who had touched her life there. Never before had she felt so fulfilled in what she was doing as when she was reporting to Wigwam and Butch about the affairs of the gaming house; never before had she felt so cared about as when she was in the company of Chocolate Chip and Fern. Her achievements there had brought her more happiness than she had ever experienced before; and, always at the fringe of her thoughts, hung the vision of a rose-red stallion.

This is where her resolve weakened. More than anything else, she wanted to go back to Dream Valley and take up where her life had left off; yet that was out of the question, which left her with only the original choice of continuing the life that her parents had prepared her for. Unless... there was one possibility that had been churning in her mind since she had come to stay with Rainbow Star. What if she were to turn herself in to the police in Binksville where she had heisted the jewelry? She still had the jewelry; she did well enough for herself in the jobs that she had picked up since then to maintain a comfortable style of living. If she returned the stolen goods, would the charges be dropped against her? Or would Chief Bastian and Sundial be unwilling to look with forgiveness on such an effort on her part? Garnet could not be sure. And in not knowing, she could not bring herself to opt for that choice.

Garnet’s wanderings had led her away from the river and up the gradual incline of the hill where she meandered through the tall trees that stood barren, her hooves rustling through the deep accumulation of the fallen leaves of the past season. When she reached the top of the hill, she looked down over the valley through the tangle of branches that surrounded her.

Habitually, Garnet made note of landmarks and paths that were visible from this high spot, and she soon noted a far-away movement on the path that swung along the bottom of the hill and wound its way eventually to the homestead of Rainbow Star and Pepper. Standing perfectly still in her protective cover, Garnet watched intently as the dark dot came ever closer and gradually conformed itself into the shape of a pony and a cart.

Partially blanketed in the shadows of the trees that abutted the path, the pony remained a mystery to Garnet; but once he was clear and in the full sunshine, the mare gasped-- for she recognized who this interloper was. “Why him, of all the pony deliverers in Ponyland?” she muttered under her breath. Watching only long enough to verify her discovery, Garnet turned and blended into the silent woodland with long-practiced stealth.

* * *
The cinnamon-colored stallion with the delivery cart breathed a sign of relief when he finally saw the house he was looking for; it had been a long trip from town and he had wondered several times if he had missed a turn. He had only signed on with the local Ponyland Parcel Service several weeks back after transferring from Millville, and this was new territory for him.

Grateful for the sunny day, the stallion whistled merrily now that he knew he was on the right track. He hated to think of the snowy days that would invariably be upon the land soon; that was the only thing that he disliked about his job; the snow made travel difficult at best. He remembered an especially heavy snow early in the year that had slowed him down, and in thinking of that blustery day, he also remembered the filly that had preceded him on the path-- the red mare that had played him for a fool. Rusty grimaced at the thought; he had been duped because he had allowed himself to be dazzled by a pretty face.

Coming nearer to the rambling house, Rusty parked his cart at the gate and picked up the largest package of the three to be delivered into the care of Rainbow Star; the name evoked an idealized vision of yet another pretty face, and Rusty continued his whistling as he went up the walk and knocked on the front door. As he waited, the stallion looked across the well-kept lawn; even at this dreary time of year, he knew that the setting would be lovely when the life of spring returned to the land.

After a reasonable amount of time, Rusty once more turned to the door and began to knock a second time. He was in the middle of rapping his hoof against the wooden portal when the door began ever so slightly to move. Dropping his hoof, Rusty waited for his first glimpse of Rainbow Star; simply from the name, he knew she would have a colorful rainbow mane; but what over-all color? Did the “Star” indicate yellow, perhaps?

As the aperture widened, Rusty finally got a look at the mare, and she was not what he expected. He was so surprised that he took a step backward.

The pony who had opened the door to him was an old, seasoned mare with sunken, hollow cheeks and wrinkles galore. Her visage was a pasty white, and she had covered her cold body with a heavy black shawl that blanketed everything except her face. Her eyelids drooped, and she was barely able to stand; she gripped the door frame with all the strength she had.

Regaining his composure, Rusty greeted the old pony cheerfully; he knew that for some of these elderly citizens, their only window on the world was the mail and parcel deliverers; and he made it a point to brighten their day. “This is a beautiful place you’ve got, ma’am. I’ve got some packages for you today. Where would you like me to set them?”

With a cautious glance at the package, the feeble mare slowly opened the door wider and pointed shakily to a spot in front of the couch.

“There are three of them all together; I’ll get the rest of them in the house in a jiffy.” Setting the first down, he commented on the decor. “Wow! That’s some fireplace; bet it feels good on those cold, windy days of winter.”

The second package came in with the remark that clouds were beginning to form in the west which most likely signaled a change in weather; he would not be surprised to see the temperatures drop soon. By the time he had the third package on the floor, he remembered the needed signature. Another trip to the cart brought him back with a clipboard in hoof.

“Ma’am, I’ll need your signature.” He held out the clipboard, but the mare only stared at it dumbly. Rusty tried again. “The packages were insured, Ma’am, and I need proof that they were delivered to the proper address.” He tapped his hoof on the appropriate line, and the mare seemed to realize the need to respond; but she tilted her head and tapped her hidden ear with a cloak covered hoof. “Oh, a little short on hearing,” Rusty muttered. Louder this time, he nearly yelled, “Your signature! I need your signature on the line!”

His message finally sinking in, the mare lifted one shaky hoof, revealing only enough to grasp the pro-offered pen and signing her name in the trembling, faint writing of one who has lived a long and hard life. Whether it said “Rainbow Star” or “Misty Morning”, Rusty could not say with any certitude; the scratching could be anything. When he took the pen back from her, the mare dropped her hoof to the floor as if the effort had nearly exhausted her.

“Well, thanks, ma’am!” Rusty stated at the top of his lungs. “I hope you have a lovely day!”

For just the briefest of moments, the mare lifted her listless eyes to look directly at Rusty, and the stallion was dazzled by the sparkle in the violet orbs that met his own. Whoever she was, this mare must have been a beauty in her day. Rusty tipped his hat to her and retreated to his cart and began the return journey back to town.

He had not gotten far when he turned to look back at the lonely house; the door had closed out the world again. But the stallion had an unexplained sense of deja vu. There was something... something that he could not quite put his hoof on.

* * *
As soon as the door was secure, Garnet flung off the shawl and threw herself on the couch; she did not know whether to laugh or cry, but the sense of relief that filled her caused the laughter to win out. The cats sat on the floor in front of her, their ears twitching to the sounds of merry mirth. Only when the laughter prompted tears to spill over her hurriedly applied makeup did the mare get up and take care of the business of washing off the pasty substance that had changed her appearance long enough to fool Rusty once again.

When she was cleaned up and back to her old self and had hidden the packages under the bed as Rainbow Star had requested, Garnet felt a tinge of regret. Should she have compromised her identity by flashing that one open glance at the stallion? Looking back, she wished she had not done it; but at the time, it had served her self-esteem well. Garnet shrugged her shoulders; what was done, was done.

It was only later that the incident began to haunt her mercilessly for she realized how quickly she had resorted to her clandestine habits. All of her day-dreams about turning her life around lay shattered before her; how could she live an upright life if she lowered herself to the covert tendencies that had been ingrained in her since she was a foal? Now, looking back at the afternoon’s episode with Rusty, she could only feel mortification for having taken the easy way out. She was contemplating packing her backpack and beating a hasty retreat when she realized that action would also be a cop-out.

All negative thoughts disappeared, however, when she heard Freckles’ voice coming from the lane. Looking at the clock, she saw that the day was winding down, and Rainbow Star had said that she and the foals would be home before dark. Garnet looked in a mirror to make sure that all traces of her subterfuge were washed away and only then went to meet her surrogate family.

The foals were tired from their event-filled days spent in Dream Valley followed by the long walk home, but Freckles and Tasha excitedly gave her small gifts that they had purchased while in the city. Freckles had gotten her a new brush to replace the one ruined in the fire on her first day with them, and Tasha gave her a matching mirror.

Rainbow Star was pleased with the results of her sales and was bubbling over with facts and figures for Garnet when Palette squirmed in his mother’s grasp, reaching tiny hooves in the red mare’s direction. That simple motion touched the mare’s heart; she scooped the foal into her forelegs and hugged him close while a tear trickled silently down her face.

“You two go unpack your satchels and get washed up for supper,” Rainbow Star ordered Tasha and Freckles; when they were out of the room, she led Garnet to the rocking chair and she herself pulled up a footstool to sit in front of her. Only then did she question her.

“What happened, Garnet. You look like something is wrong.”

“Everything is wrong,” the red mare admitted. She went on to tell Rainbow Star about her adventure with the package deliverer and was shocked when Rainbow Star found it funny.

“I wish I could have been here for that,” the mare choked amidst her laughter. “I suppose you wouldn’t dress up in your disguise for us?”

“It isn’t funny!” Garnet said. “I hid behind a mask so that I wouldn’t have to face the reality. I can’t go on living like this.”

Realizing that Garnet was serious, Rainbow Star assumed a motherly stance. “You did what you had to do, Garnet. It wouldn’t have been wise to reveal your identity to someone who could harm you before you’ve made the decision you know you have to make.”

Garnet looked at her closely. “What do you mean?”

“You can’t go on hiding, and you can’t go on conning ponies. You have to set your past record straight and get on with the life you want in Dream Valley.”

“It’s just that simple?” Garnet smirked.

“I told you before, it may not be easy; but it is necessary. Garnet, you’ve got too much goodness about you to throw it away just to prove that you can beat your parents at their own game. Use your intelligence in a positive way; choose your own path.”

“So you think that’s what I’ve been doing, proving to my parents that I can be as good as Sable?”

“Oh, Garnet, I don’t know! I just know that the pony who has helped me for the last month is not the same pony who would rob a museum.”

Garnet turned her face away. “I’ve been happy here... fulfilled. I envy you your home and your family.” Returning her gaze to Rainbow Star, she stated simply, “I’m not sure I’m strong enough to do what I have to do.”

Patting her hoof reassuringly, Rainbow Star smiled. “You can do anything you want to, if you want it badly enough.”

Tasha returned to the room lugging with her a box that contained her My Little People dolls. “I got a new dolly!” She ran to a package sitting on the couch and pulled out the latest addition to her collection. “Isn’t she pretty, Garnet?” The young filly held the doll up to Garnet and waited for an answer.

“She’s beautiful,” the mare agreed.

Taking the doll to the box, she proceeded to introduce her to the previous acquisitions, and Rainbow Star related an incident involved with purchasing that particular figure. “I took Tasha and Freckles shopping at Pony-Mart and told them they could each get one thing. Freckles picked out a transformable robot while Tasha stared at the dolls, trying to decide which one she wanted. She finally decided; but Freckles, who was getting bored by this time, had noticed that on the top of the shelf were more dolls. He pointed that out to Tasha, and she decided that the one in a blue dress was prettier. I had to hunt up an employee to get a ladder and climb up to fetch that particular doll; and after he came down with it and handed it to Tasha, she stuck her nose up and said she didn’t want that one after all; she liked her first choice best.”

Garnet laughed. “It’s a filly’s right to change her mind, after all.”

“I was so embarrassed, though.” She giggled. “The young stallion had been so kind; and he didn’t even bat an eye when Tasha rejected his help. He was cute, too, with his golden hair.” Rainbow Star got up to peer over Tasha’s shoulder at the dolls.

“Chocolate Chip’s brother works at Pony-Mart, and he has golden hair,” Garnet said tentatively, feeling a blush rise across her cheeks.

“He had a wishbone symbol,” Rainbow Star said, looking back at Garnet curiously and wondering about the tremor in her voice.

“That’s Wishbone, all right.” Garnet got up quickly and busied herself straightening the pile of mail that sat on the side table.

“I saw Chocolate Chip, too. Spring Tidings watched my display for me while I went around to all the stores.”

“Did she talk you into buying a book?”

“Actually, yes. Freckles is becoming interested in the Native Pony culture, and she recommended a book of Native Pony tales.”

“Figures,” Garnet grinned.

“Yes, it was only later that I noticed that the author was Wigwam. Spring Tidings and Shortcake took me to the casino Saturday night; we had a blast.”

“So everything was okay with my friends? What about Fern?”

“From what I saw, Chocolate Chip and Wigwam were doing just fine; but when I stopped at Lemon Treats’ Boutique, I didn’t see anyone who matched your description of Fern.”

“Maybe she had a class.”

“I actually talked to the clerk who was there; I told her I had been in several weeks earlier and had talked to a different employee about a hat I was interested in. She said that was probably Fern, but she was out of town; and she didn’t know when she would be back.”

Garnet frowned. “Out of town? I wonder where she went... I bet Toby isn’t too happy about it!”

“I didn’t want to sound too nosey, so I didn’t pursue the subject. But several other mares who had come and overheard our conversation began gossiping about Fern and this Dr. Toby. They were saying that Toby has never had an easy time of it with affairs of the heart; and they wouldn’t be surprised if Fern never came back.”

“Fern loved Toby, and he loved her,” refuted Garnet.

“I’m just relaying what they said. I don’t know any other circumstances.”

“Nothing would become between those two,” Garnet reiterated. “She and Toby were too happy together.”

“Well, you know what gossip is like; don’t let it bother you. Fern and Toby know what they’re doing.” She hesitated a moment before continuing. “The flu is really bad there; they said the hospital is full to overflowing, especially with the younger foals. They said Toby is really loaded down with all the work because some of the doctors have fared no better with the flu than their patients; they are short-hooved all the way around.” She dug through her travel bag. “I brought you a newspaper.”

Garnet accepted the copy of the Ponyland Gazette which screamed the headline: Chief of Staff Questions Vaccine Shortage. The red mare went on to read that the current crisis was due to a short supply of the flu vaccine that usually was available for ponies young and old. A shortage had occurred the previous year as well, but a doctor at Dream Valley General Hospital, Dr. Toby, had stated that he had been assured by the manufacturer that there would be no delay this year; but no vaccine was available when immunization time rolled around.

“We have been hit with this flu earlier than normal, and the ponies never had a chance to receive their vaccinations,” Dr. Toby was quoted as saying. “This chain of events is causing an unnecessary amount of suffering for untold numbers of the citizens of Ponyland.”

Garnet could imagine the dedicated stallion’s eyes flashing his displeasure, and she sighed in compassion. How she wished she was there to help!

* * *
It was late Friday afternoon when Garnet and Freckles came home from a walk along the river; the days were getting colder, but the colt could not be bottled up in the house for an entire day without going stir crazy. Tasha had no desire to go out, so Garnet would settle her with a pile of books; and she and Freckles would set off either up the hill or along the river or across the meadow.

Freckles never tired of exploring the world around him; he found everything in nature to be exciting. He would examine and identify rocks, animal tracks, and bird feathers. Anything out of the ordinary would get toted home for further study. Science was a natural for this colt.

On this particular day, Freckles had picked a seed pod from a dry and frazzled plant that he could not identify. When he and Garnet had just reached the gate, the colt suddenly took off at a gallop for the front door. “Dad’s home!” he cheered. Garnet followed at her own pace; she could see no reason for the colt to have assumed that his father had already arrived; but once the door was open, Freckles was proven correct. A blithe and boisterous reunion was taking place; apparently the stallion had not been home for too many minutes.

Garnet stood on the sidelines as the green stallion with yellow hair that sported a bright red streak that rivaled Garnet’s own scarlet locks tried to include each family member in a happy hug. The arrival of Freckles only increased the jovial atmosphere to a higher pitch, and Garnet could not help but grin over the happiness before her.

It was some time before the reunion had settled down enough that the stallion finally became aware of Garnet’s presence in the room. His gaze rested on her, and he smiled. “So you are the mare that goes with the voice on the phone.” He crossed the room with the foals at his heals and the baby in his forelegs. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Garnet.” He offered his hoof, and Palette took the opportunity to reach out to her as well.

“I’m happy to meet you, too,” Garnet smiled as she accepted Palette into her forelegs. “Freckles and Tasha have been anxious for you to get home.”

“No more than me,” Pepper said as he swung Tasha up through the air and tousled Freckles’ mane. “I want to thank you for helping my wife out with this wild crew.”

“I should be thanking you and Rainbow Star; I’ve received more than I gave.”

Rainbow Star disagreed. “She’s been a guardian angel for us, Pepper. Freckles and Tasha are doing a super job in school under her tutelage, and Palette-- as you can see-- is learning that Mom’s not the only one he can count on; and she has become a great cook, too!”

“Speaking of that,” Pepper grinned, “it’s been way too long since I’ve had a good home-cooked meal.”

“Supper!” Rainbow Star squealed. “I had just put the soup pot on the stove when Tasha saw you coming.” She raced out of the room to the kitchen.

“Oh, it’s good to be home again!” Pepper winked at Garnet before following his wife.

Garnet smiled. She hugged Palette to her and joined the parade.

* * *
“I’ve made up my mind,” Garnet told Rainbow Star the next day. “Now that Pepper is back home, I’m going to get on with my life.”

Rainbow Star could not help but look downcast. Not only had Garnet been a big help around the house, but Rainbow Star had enjoyed her company and had come to think of her as one of the family; she had known that one day the red mare would have to strike out to find her destiny, but she still was not prepared for the announcement. “So soon?” she asked.

“I’ve been here long enough. You have your family complete again; now it’s my turn to see what I can do to rectify some of the things in my past.”

“I know,” Rainbow Star lamented, “but I hate to see you go.” She hugged Garnet to her as if she was one of the foals. “We are all going to miss you.”

“Think how lonesome I’m going to be,” Garnet tried to smile. “I’ve gotten used to living with constant companionship and unconditional love.”

* * *
It was a sunny Monday morning when Garnet gathered her things and bid sad farewells to Rainbow Star and her family. Instinctively knowing what was ahead, Palette clung to the red mare with his tiny hooves as if he would never let go; Freckles’ long face and Tasha’s tear-stained one watched in silent misery. Rainbow Star tried to maintain a pleasant disposition, but her heart was not in it; even Pepper was downcast.

“You’ll come see us again, won’t you?” Freckles asked, searching her face.

“When I can,” Garnet said with a wry smile, knowing that the future was not entirely in her hooves.

“Are you sure that you don’t want me to come with you?” Pepper asked. The stallion knew Garnet’s history and her current purpose.

“I can handle this by myself, but thanks for the offer.” She pried Palette’s hooves from her hair and handed him to his father. “Good-bye, little one,” she sighed as she kissed the foal’s forehead.

“Let us know as soon as you can where your path takes you,” Rainbow Star urged. “We won’t be able to rest until we know you are safe and well.”

“I’ll do my best.” Garnet looked over the faces that she had come to love and knew that she had to cut the ties swiftly. “Good-bye, everyone.” Tasha broke out in tears and ran to her bedroom; Freckles whispered a gloomy farewell, and Palette added his own vocal unhappiness.

With a last glance at Rainbow Star and Pepper, she turned and began her journey.

* * *
“You saw her a week ago, and you are now just calling in that information?” Bastian bellowed into the telephone receiver. What he heard from the other party did not calm him in the least. “By your hesitation, you have given her plenty of time to disappear again! Give me the address and let’s hope that she’s still there!”

Jotting down the information that was given to him, Bastian ended the call by banging the receiver down in its cradle. “Todd, get some one in here pronto!” The police chief of Binksville got up from his desk chair and began pacing the room, muttering to himself. “Not a word on this mare until now, and it comes when her trail is already cold! Why does everyone try to protect that girl? Sundial, Buck, Wigwam, Tawny, Rusty... what is it with this one?” The chief was impatient. “Todd! Where are you!”

An intimidated young deputy came to the doorway. “Umm, Chief, there’s someone here you ought to see.”

“Not now! We’ve got other things to do.” Bastian went to his computer and pounded on the keys, bringing up the necessary file. “This Garnet has been sighted over near Dream Valley; you and I are going over there today and see if we can’t finally put a stop to this mare.”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, Chief. She’s here.”

“That no account delivery pony saw her and waited... what did you say?” Bastian lifted his head and stared at his deputy as if the stallion had suddenly gone mad.

“Garnet. She’s waiting outside. She wants to talk with you.”

For once, Bastian was at a loss for words, but his speechlessness did not last long. “She wants to talk to me? Send her in.”

Todd disappeared for a few moments, then returned, directing Garnet to the chief. The deputy cast a lingering and appreciative glance at the mare, then left the office, closing the door behind him.

The two ponies stared at each other, sizing up one another, until Bastian remembered his manners and offered Garnet a chair. The mare sat down with a smile at the chief, setting her backpack on the floor next to her. “There are some things I would like to talk to you about, Chief Bastian.”

Leaning against his desk, Bastian smirked. “I was just on my way out to hunt you up; we had a tip as to where you were holed up.”

“I don’t think Pepper and Rainbow Star would like to hear their home referred to as a hole; they are very respectable ponies.” She met Bastian’s gaze. “I imagine that Rusty felt obligated to let you know what he saw.”

“A little too late,” observed Bastian, moving around to sit in his desk chair. “Were you staying there ever since you slipped away from Chief Tawny in Dream Valley?”

“Chief Tawny never told me he was looking for me,” Garnet truthfully stated, “although I had my suspicions that you might have let him know that you were interested in my whereabouts.”

“Since last February,” Bastian steely remarked.

“You would be pleased, I’m sure, to know that I’ve been doing quite well with a string of jobs honestly obtained and diligently worked. I was hoping that you would take that in to consideration.”

Bastian found the voice of the young mare to be mesmerizing and also found himself noting that her eyes were a distinctive violet color, and that they caught the light in a scintillating fashion. He shook his head to bring himself back to the present moment. “I’d like to know your actions on the day of the museum robbery.”

Garnet dropped her gaze to the satchel at her hooves and lifted the backpack up to the desk top. “The jewelry from the museum is all here, except for the piece you found in Buck’s backpack. I also included the exact amount that Sundial reported to be missing from the gift shop’s cash register while I was working there.” There was no apology, no actual expression of guilt, only the basic fact: The stolen items were now returned.

Bastian opened the case and discovered exactly what Garnet had said would be there; he checked the computer for an itemized list and ascertained that nothing was missing. He looked up at the mare when he was positive that everything was accounted for. He found her watching him intently. “I’ll have to have Sundial check these items for authenticity. But first, I’d like to hear more of your story. Why did you take the jewelry in the first place if you didn’t have a use for it?”

Garnet’s resolve faltered. Never admit your guilt, her parents had always drilled into her. She mentally chided herself: If you want a chance to go back to Dream Valley and work with Wigwam and Butch and have friends that will stand by you, then be honest with Bastian and hope that he will understand. She lifted her head. “Old habits die hard.”


She stared at her hooves for a time, then raised her eyes to meet Bastian’s. “You know my parents well enough; they were more than willing to pass on all their secrets to their offspring.”

“Blackcap and Sassy...” Bastian mused. “I haven’t heard any news about them for quite some time.

“Nor have I,” admitted Garnet. “Maybe that’s why... why I’m strong enough to admit that I don’t want to be part of that way of life anymore.”

Bastian sat quietly, digesting her words. He leaned back in his chair before asking, “So that’s why you’re returning these things?” His hoof brushed over the jewelry that sat before him.

“I made some friends while I was in Dream Valley, and I would like the chance to go back there without my past exploits to worry about. Wigwam said that my job at the casino will be waiting for me; I want that stability.” Her eyes pleaded for understanding.

Mulling over her statement, Bastian was slow in responding. “Be that as it may, you have some things to answer for here. First of all, I’ll need Sundial’s professional input.” He reached for the phone and dialed the museum’s number. After a brief conversation, he hung up and reported his findings to Garnet. “Sundial’s out of town for the day; he will be back late tonight; we can talk to him first thing in the morning.” He walked to the office door to call Todd.

Bastian caught a shudder run through Garnet as she realized that she now faced a night in jail just as Buck had when she had played out her plan back in February. She was no longer proud of that accomplishment; she wished that it had never occurred. Of all things, the thought of being behind bars was her worst nightmare. What had it been for Buck?

Todd came into the room awaiting his orders which Bastian delivered concisely: “Take her to Martha for the night.” He returned to his desk and picked up the phone receiver and began to dial; he nodded his head in Garnet’s direction in dismissal.

Getting slowly to her hooves, Garnet turned her gaze to Todd; the deputy gestured for her to follow him. This was it; Garnet sighed and trailed behind the cerulean stallion.

* * *
“Martha!” said Bastian into the receiver. “We’re going to have an overnight guest; Todd’s bringing her to you right now.” He listened to his wife’s response with a smile on his face. “Hey, even if I’d have called first, you’d have said yes anyway; I just saved myself some time.” He chuckled as he ended the call. “I just hope Tawny never hears of this.”

* * *
Todd led Garnet through the police station, past the seldom used cells, and out the back door. Garnet was too depressed to give it much thought until she noticed that they were following a path that led to the house directly behind the station-- a trim white bungalow with neat curtains visible through the windows. As she was beginning to question the proceedings, Garnet saw the back door open and a white mare come out to the porch as if waiting for Todd and her to arrive; Garnet cast a quick glance at Todd who was grinning. The deputy tipped his hat to the white mare and began to express Bastian’s wishes, but the mare stopped him.

“My husband has already called, Todd,” she said irritably, yet her eyes were warm and welcoming. “You can tell him your errand has been accomplished.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Todd tipped his hat once again, and with one last glance at the red mare, returned to his duties.

“Welcome to holding cell number two,” the mare smiled as she held the door for Garnet. “My name is Martha; I don’t remember that Bastian told me yours.”

“I’m Garnet.” The red mare looked slightly baffled.

“This is a small town, Garnet. That allows for a certain amount of common sense when it comes to interpreting the law. Bastian obviously thinks that you are not a dangerous criminal.” Her gaze swept the visitor, and it was clear that she did not think so, either. “Would you like some coffee?”

* * *
The following morning when Bastian came down for breakfast, he found Garnet and Martha already deep in conversation. “... yet when Tasha fell and skinned her foreleg, Freckles was the first one to her to make sure she was okay.”

“Our foals were the same way-- bickering constantly but never happy to be apart.” She looked up to see her husband and went to him for a good morning kiss.

“Looks like you two have been up half the night,” he commented, seeing the table laden with more than the usual spread.

“Garnet told me about the coffeecake that Rainbow Star made; and when I told her how much you liked things like that, she insisted that you try it.”

“It smells good,” Bastian admitted, eyeing the confection with an hungry look.

The previous evening had been one of sharing data, but in a much more friendly atmosphere than the police chief’s office; Martha had fixed a hearty supper over which questions could be asked and answered at leisure. Both Bastian and Martha had been convinced of the red mare’s sincerity; and they hoped for a similarly absolving attitude from the museum curator, Sundial, in turn.

The dawning of the new day had caused butterflies in Garnet, but the chief was upbeat enough for them both. After the morning repast was finished, he kissed his wife goodbye and winked at Garnet. “I’ll let you know how things go as soon as possible.” Then he was gone out the door.

“Don’t worry about a thing,” Martha assured her as she started to clear the table. “Bastian knows what he’s doing.”

Responding with a weak smile, Garnet only hoped that Martha was right.

* * *
“So you are positive that these are the very same pieces of jewelry that were taken from this museum back in February?” Bastian asked of Sundial one more time. Todd waited patiently by the door, his mind already made up in Garnet’s defense.

“Positive. This collection was one of a kind; you can see the work that went into the design of each piece.” He picked up an ornate pin for Bastian to examine, but the chief only waved it away.

“They aren’t forgeries, are they?” he growled. He trusted Garnet, yet he knew that she would have found duplicity easy only a few months back.

Sundial, however, was offended by Bastian’s question. “You think that I would be unable to tell the authenticity of a gold chain? Just hold it and you can tell it is the real thing; look at the luster and feel the weight...”

“All right! All right! I’ll take your word for it! Now I need to now how you want to proceed with this; are there any questions you want to ask of her?”

“The mare? Garnet?” Sundial gave the matter some thought. “She’s made restitution; I don’t see the point in going any farther with this.”

“You’re sure about that?” Bastian asked with a raise of his eyebrows. He had listened to this stallion rant about the loss of his precious jewelry often enough to have expected him to want a certain revenge for all Garnet had put him through.

“Quite sure. I’m just glad it’s all over with.”

“Well, then, I’ll tell the mare she’s free to go.”

Hardly acknowledging that statement, Sundial was already lost to his returned museum pieces. “Good, good,” he remarked absently, waving his hoof through the air as if pushing a nuisance fly away.

Bastian left the curator’s office with Todd on his heals. “Am I missing something? Didn’t he say time and again that he would carry justice to its limit in this case?” the chief asked of his deputy.

Todd grinned. “That was when his macho image had been tarnished by Garnet’s toying with him. He’s become interested in that new history teacher at the college; he has other things on his mind for now.”

“Oh,” Bastian snorted. “I guess that’s all for the best.”

* * *
True to his word, Bastian lost no time in taking care of the legal technicalities before personally walking home to tell Garnet that Sundial was satisfied in having the museum’s display pieces back, and that she was free to go. The red mare was ecstatic over the news; a heavy burden had been lifted from her, and she was now free to go her own way without fear of recrimination. She hugged Martha and hesitated only a moment before giving one to Bastian, too.

“I can go? I can really just leave?” she breathed, her eyes sparkling.

“Was our hospitality so horrible?” the chief asked with a wink at his wife.

“Oh, no! You were very kind, and I appreciate everything you’ve done to help me; it’s just that I’m anxious to start over.” She looked from the chief to his wife. “I can’t thank you enough for your kindness and generosity.”

“Where are you going to go from here, Garnet?” asked Martha with motherly concern.

“I have a job waiting for me back in Dream Valley and friends, too. I think I can find my niche there.”

“I’ll let Tawny know you’re coming,” Bastian remarked, but seeing Garnet frown at the thought of his mistrust of her, he added quickly, “It’s just so that he can make sure you find a place to stay and get settled in.”

“I understand,” Garnet smiled. “There is one stop I need to make; I want to let Pepper and his family know how things turned out and where they can find me.”

“You’ve got a long trek ahead of you,” Martha worried. “I don’t like the idea of you traveling that far all by yourself.”

“I’ll be fine,” assured Garnet. “And, Chief Bastian, would it be too much trouble for you to call Birdsong and tell Buck that everything has been taken care of? I’d like him to know.”

“And tell him where he can find you if he wants to?”

“No. That’s not necessary. I’m sure he has other... things... on his mind now. I just want him to know that I cleared my name.”

“I’ll take care of it.”

“Then I think I’m ready to leave.”

Martha clucked and shook her head. “Not until you’ve had some lunch first.”

“Oh, Martha, I’m anxious to get on my way; please understand!”

“Only if you promise me to call when you get to Dream Valley.”

“I will!” With another hug for each of the ponies, she grabbed her backpack and started for her new life.

Bastian and Martha watched the red mare until she was out of sight. Bastian commented, “There goes a mare who knows what she’s after.”

Martha sighed. “I just hope she’s not too late.”


The Date
by Clever Clover (

“Hey Clever Clover, have you found a date for the royal wedding yet?”

“No, Morning Glory, not yet.”

“Well, I am available that day.”

“Why am I not surprised. It seems like everyone suddenly has an opening for Christmas Eve on their calendar. Of course, it won’t be just one day. It’ll probably take three days to get there and three back again, and they are expecting me to arrive the day before and who knows how long they’ll expect me to stay.”

“It doesn’t sound like that bad a vacation.”

“And it will be cold. I’ll be staying in a big, old, stone castle... without any modern amenities.”

“You know, for an optimist, you’re being very negative about this.”

“I’m sorry. I just don’t look forward to making this decision. Just about every single mare in town has asked me if I need a date for the wedding, and I don’t know who to choose. And the invitation didn’t even mention a date. I don’t know what they will be expecting at the castle.”

“I’m sure they wouldn’t mind. And you haven’t spent that much time at the castle; you’d enjoy having at least one close friend to talk to while you’re there.”

“I guess. But I doubt we’d have much time to talk. Even though I’m not heir to the throne, I am a prince; and Raven thinks I’ve got some duty to fulfill, and he’ll keep me busy with lectures and lessons on the history of the Isle Ponies and the role of the prince.”

“Well, it seems like you’ve got enough on your mind right now. I’ll leave you to think it over. See you later.”

“Yeah, later.”

It was not long ago that Clever Clover had not even known that he was a prince; now it seemed everyone knew. Of course, that was his own fault for confiding in his friend, Tabby. But how did everyone find out about the wedding? The only person he had told was his new archaeology partner, Belle Star. She was not even a local and didn’t know anyone outside of the archaeology crew she spent most of her time with since she arrived in Friendship Garden a week ago. He had hoped she could have kept the secret; he had to confide with someone. However, the word had gotten out; there was no time to dwell on it now, as he was going to be late for work after being delayed by Morning Glory.

Clever Clover’s boss, Spade, was clearly upset by the purple pony’s tardiness. “Nice of you to join us Clev’. Now get a move on and see if you can keep your partner from making a bigger mess of your unit.”

“Aye cap’n.”

“Just get to work!”

When he got to the unit he and Belle Star had been digging, the purple prince saw that one of the walls of the unit had collapsed into the pit. Belle Star looked up from cleaning the loose dirt from the cave-in out of the unit and greeted him in her usual cheerful manner. “Good morning! How are you doing Mr. Clever Clover?”

“I’m fine, Belle Star. How’r you?”

“Very good, thanks.”

“So what’s up with Spade? He seems grumpier than usual.”

“Uh-hu. He is not happy today. Jack had some suggestions about the cause, but I don’t remember exactly-”

“I can imagine what Jack would say. I don’t have the time to worry about the boss’ problems right now.”

“Still nervous about the wedding?”

“Yeah. I don’t even know the couple that are getting married.”

“Why don’t you just tell them that you can’t make it?”

“I’d feel bad lying to them. Besides, Enchantment, Foxglove, and even Raven are kind of friends. I don’t want to let them down.”

“Hm, you do have a problem.”

“Thanks for stating the obvious. By the way, you are the only one I actually told about the wedding, but you’re the only one who hasn’t asked to go with me. Why not?”

Belle Star blushed. “Oh, you’re a prince going away to a big fancy castle, and I’m just plain old me.”

“You’re not plain; you’re a very nice, very pretty, pony.”

Suddenly Jack appeared from behind a pile of dirt. “Clev’ and Belle Star sittin’ in a tree!” Just as quickly, a clod of dirt hit the greasy pony right between the eyes. Clever Clover was blushing deep red. “Ah, I hit a nerve, eh?”

“Do you have business here, Jack, or are you just being a nuisance?”

“Mostly just being a nuisance, but I was going back to the lab to get some more forms and was wondering if you needed anything?”

“No, we’re fine.”

“Well then, I’ll just leave you two to whatever you were up to.” Jack dashed off as another clod of dirt just missed him.

“There are days I could do without that guy.”

“I think he’s silly.”

“That’s what I like about you, Belle; you’re immune to jerks like Jack.”

“Did you mean what you said before Jack showed up?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Thank you.”

“Uh, sure.”

As the archaeologist ponies sat to eat lunch, Clever Clover was uncomfortably aware of whispering and sniggering among the others, no doubt as the result of Jack’s teasing. Belle Star did not seem to notice at all. Suddenly Clever Clover felt a tap on his shoulder. “Hu?”

“Clever Clover, uh, hi.”

“Oh, Bright Bramley, its you. What brings you out to the dig today?”

“I’m just fascinated by what you do here. The history... the thrill of discovery... it’s so exciting.”


“Well, I was wondering if you could give me a tour of the site and explain what you’ve discovered so far?”

Clever Clover sighed. “Is there any particular reason you asked me? I mean, Spade’s in charge and knows more of the details than I do.”

“You’ve always seemed like such a nice guy-”

“Does this have anything to do with that invitation I got?”

“Oh, why would you say that?”

“Before I got the invitation, you had a crush on Jack, didn’t you?” Clever Clover said this more to shift the crew’s attention away from himself and Belle Star than to discourage Bright Bramley’s pursuits. Jack acted shocked, even though it was well known that Bright Bramley had once said that he was cute.

Spade stood up. “Eh, Clev’, just give her a tour and let the rest of us to get back to work. C’mon guys, lunch is over.”

As the gathering broke up, Belle Star looked confused. “Uh, Mr. Clever Clover, since we’re partners do you want me to help you with the tour, or should I go back to the unit?”

“Oh, whatever you want.”

Belle Star ended up accompanying Clever Clover and Bright Bramley on the tour and asked more questions than the guest. Clever Clover was glad to see the end of the day. After Bright Bramley had left and the site was closed down, the purple pony trudged off toward home. Belle Star called out after him. “Mr. Clever Clover, are you going to be at the pizza parlor tonight?”

“Not tonight. I need to be alone for a while.”

“Oh, are you sure? Maybe the two of us could go somewhere else together.”

“Thanks for the offer, but I’m just not in the mood for company. Sorry.” He knew Belle Star was only being friendly; but since word of the invitation had gotten out, he had gotten his fill of friendly.

* * *
Clever Clover made it home without much bother; however, he did run into Dainty Dove. She began rambling on about how romantic it would be to attend a royal wedding, but she soon lost her train of thought and wandered off. When he got home he was greeted by his Vulpix, a five-tailed, fire-breathing fox Pokemon.

“Eh, Pixie, how was your day?”


“Well my day was no picnic. But now it’s over.”


“Sure, I’ll get your food right away; but I’ll have to wash up before I can play.”


As Clever Clover filled his Pokemon’s bowl, the telephone rang. “I wonder who that could be. “Allo allo. Clever Clover speaking.”

“Hey CC, it’s Berry Bright.”

“Oh, Hi Berry. What’s up?”

“I’m just callin’ to see how you’re doing. I guess all this hubbub about the wedding has got you pretty stressed out.”

“Yeah, I’m not used to this kind of attention. I can’t wait to get it over with.”

“Well, maybe if you just made up your mind and picked someone, the rest would leave you alone.”

“Uh, hey, that just might work! But is still leaves me with the problem of picking someone.”

“Hm, you could just choose someone at random and find an excuse to back out later.”

“That would be rude.”

“Yeah. You could tell everyone that you’re going with me. I’d understand if you backed out.”

“Thanks for the offer but-I’ll have to think on it for a while.”

“I understand; well, talk to you later.”

“Yeah, good bye.”

After washing up and fixing a light supper, Clever Clover sat in his living room tossing a tennis ball for Pixie to fetch.

“What do you think, Pixie?”


“Today Morning Glory, Bright Bramley, Dainty Dove, and Berry Bright all asked to be my date. Ivy is always reminding me how big an impression I’d make being seen with someone as glamourous as her, and Silver Rain just assumes that I’ll choose her. I have to select someone so the others will leave me alone, but I just can’t”

“Vu-ul pix.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I’ve made up my mind; I know who it’s going to be.

Author’s note: Clever Clover may know who he is taking to the wedding, but I don’t. Who do you think the lucky pony will be? E-mail me with your vote!


Three’s a Crowd
by Sugarberry (

It was early in November, and Wishbone and Petal were walking across the campus of Pony Pride after classes on a Friday afternoon when a voice rang out behind them. “Petal! Petal, wait up!”

Both ponies stopped and turned to see who was hailing the filly; Wishbone saw no one he recognized, but Petal’s face broke into a smile of pleased recognition. “Caravel? Is that really you?” And she was swept into an exuberant hug on the part of a young, oatmeal-colored stallion with teal blue hair.

Following the initial welcome, the stallion clasped Petal’s hooves and stood staring at her and she at him. “My little confidante all grown up,” he finally said, shaking his head. “What a coincidence to find you here.”

“What are you doing here, Caravel?” Petal asked with twinkling eyes.

“I’ve been working this past semester for Dad back in Stableton, but I’ve been accepted for second semester at Pony Pride.”

“You’re coming to school here?” Petal trilled. “That’s great!” Wishbone, standing forgotten off to the side, was not so sure.

“I had a tour of the campus and talked to several of the instructors; that’s how I found out you were here.”

“What do you mean?” asked Petal as Wishbone leaned against a nearby tree watching this unexpected reunion.

Well, I needed some help on picking out a math course...”

“... so Vanguard told you I was here!”

“Yes,” grinned Caravel. “He remembered me from when I lived next door to you back in Woodlawn.”

“I hope he didn’t remember the time we got lost while chasing lightning bug, and half the town was called out to look for us.”

“He was kind enough not to mention it if he did.” Caravel looked at Petal closely. “We did have fun together, didn’t we?”

Petal’s pink cheeks deepened to cherry. “Yes, I guess we did.” Only then did she remember Wishbone. “Wishbone, come here!” she motioned. “Wishbone, this is Caravel, a neighbor of mine until we were about six years old. Caravel, Wishbone is a dear friend here at Pony Pride.” The two stallions exchanged a hoofshake with a mutually critical eye. “We’ll have to go over to the student center and talk,” Petal suggested.

“Nice idea, but I’m due at Pony-Mart; but you two go on ahead,” Wishbone said with a cynical glance at Petal. “See ya.” He left the two reunited friends, and Petal and Caravel barely noticed.

* * *
“So where has life taken you since your family left Woodlawn?” Petal asked Caravel as they sat down at a table with mugs of hot chocolate.

“We went to Pine Ridge as planned, but Dad wasn’t happy there; so when I was in fourth grade, we moved to Stableton. We’re still there,” he grinned.

“I know our moms exchanged Christmas cards for a few years, but then they stopped.”

“Things were rough for awhile in Pine Ridge; Dad’s job didn’t pay well, and Mom was working two part-time jobs.” The stallion stopped just to enjoy the vision sitting before him. “Velvet Rose and Gossamer will never believe me when I tell them I ran into you!”

“How are your sisters?”

“Velvet Rose got married last year; she’s teaching at the Pine Ridge Elementary School. Gossamer is in graduate school in New Pony.”

“Do they still pick on you?” she asked teasingly. Caravel was five years behind Velvet Rose and eight behind Gossamer. His sisters had see-sawed between babying him and mortifying him.

“Things kind of evened-out once I got into high school,” Caravel admitted. “What about your family?”

“Ruffles is married with three foals of her own; Gallop and Stormy are both married, too, and they each have a little colt; Biscuit is in his senior year at Binks University; and Mom and Dad are still busy with the furniture store.

“Dad started his own construction firm; that’s where I’ve been working.”

“What are you going to major in here at Pony Pride?”

“I’d like to get into computer programing. How about you?”


“Maybe we can study together. Remember how we’d come home after kindergarten class and practice our letters?”

Petal giggled. “We were so proud of our h’s until Biscuit told us none to kindly that they were all backwards.”

“And remember how my s’s always seemed to be falling over?

“And I couldn’t figure out how to make a q no matter how hard you tried to teach me?”

“I missed you horribly when we left Woodlawn.”

“I missed you, too,” Petal smiled. “My best friend was gone.”

“Maybe we can pick up where we left off.”

“I know how to make q’s now.”

“Okay then; we can move on to other things.”

“You’ll have to get to know Wishbone; he’s a great guy.”

Caravel raised an eyebrow. “Is he more than just a classmate?”

A blush settled across Petal’s cheeks once more. “Yeah. We met at Vanguard’s wedding last summer, and we’ve been really good friends ever since. It was because of him I came to Pony Pride rather than following my siblings to Binks.”

“I see.” Caravel’s face showed his disappointment momentarily, but then lit up. “There’s no harm in going to a movie with an old buddy, is there?”

Petal’s face brightened, too. “No harm at all.”

* * *
Wishbone dragged himself out of bed to answer the brazen telephone. Who would call so early on a Saturday morning. “Hello?”

“Wishbone, it’s me... Petal. I didn’t get you out of bed, did I?”

“What do you think?” croaked Wishbone.

“Oh, I’m sorry about that, but I’m on my way to work and I need to get your opinion on something.”

“I’m listening.” Why was Petal so cheerful anyway?

“Well, Caravel and I thought that maybe tomorrow we could...”

“He’s still in town?”

“No, silly. He went home last night, but Pine Ridge isn’t that far away. He plans to get here at lunchtime.”

“And do what?”

“I thought the three of us could go to that play over at The Tableau.”

“Sounds like fun, Petal, but Sesame came down with the flu yesterday; so I have to take his shift tomorrow afternoon.”

“Oh. That’s too bad.”

Somehow, Wishbone though, Petal’s words did not ring true. For a second, he contemplated a sarcastic remark, then thought better of it. “You and Caravel have a good time at the play.”

“Thanks, Wishbone. I’ll see you Monday in class.”

Petal sounded happy, too happy, Wishbone decided as he tried unsuccessfully to go back to sleep. Finally facing that impossibility, he got up and showered and went upstairs to the kitchen to see who else was around. He found all the other occupants of the house at the kitchen table.

“Three rings, brother-boy,” chided Chocolate Chip. “You let the phone go three rings before you answered.”

“Did you ever stop to think that you could answer the phone yourself?” snapped Wishbone as he dropped into a vacant chair.

“There’s never been a need since you met Petal,” Chocolate Chip defended herself.

“She does have a point there,” Vanguard noted.

Wishbone scowled. “It’s too early for everyone to gang up on me.”

“Trouble in paradise?” queried Sugarberry.

“If you must know, yes; Petal ran into some guy she used to know, and he’s all she can think about.”

“Just since yesterday?” Van asked. “I’m assuming this is Caravel.”

“Yeah, Caravel. That’s his name.”

“Who is this Caravel?” Chocolate Chip asked.

“He and his family lived in Woodlawn, right next door to Uncle Eddy and Aunt Iris,” Vanguard offered. “Caravel and Petal were the same age, and they grew-up together, although Caravel’s family left when they were both quite young.”

“What’s he doing in Dream Valley?”

“He’s going to start classes in January; he came to talk to some professors and ended up in my office. I recognized him right away, but he was foggy on remembering me; he just has some general recollection of my brothers and me.”

“He only has eyes for Petal,” scoffed Wishbone.

“Now, now,” Chocolate Chip patted her brother’s foreleg. “I doubt Petal will dump you just like that.”

“I’m not so sure,” Wishbone admitted. “She seems to like him a lot.”

“I remember one time when the lightning bugs were really thick on a hot summer night and a lot of the kids were out with jars trying to catch them. Petal and Caravel were a team, of course, and they ended up farther away from the rest of the foals and lost their way. Their parents organized a search party, and ponies were searching everywhere. Petal and Caravel’s only concern was that they had dropped their jar of bugs, and it had rolled into the river. Caravel tried to get it out and fell in himself-- luckily, some of the search party showed up just then.”

“That could have had a tragic ending,” groaned Sugarberry.

“Iris let the two of them know in no uncertain terms that they were never to do such a fool-hearty thing like that again.”

“Foals will be foals,” observed Chocolate Chip.

“No doubt,” affirmed Sugarberry, casting a worried glance at the brooding Wishbone.

* * *
“Hi, Wishbone.” A sparkling-eyed Petal slid into the desk next to the rose-red stallion. “How did work go?” She glanced at him and smiled, but Wishbone sensed a certain reticence on her part.

“Okay.” He gave her a sideways glance and found her fidgeting with her notebook, a silly grin lighting her face. She caught his scrutiny and lowered her eyes, hiding behind her mane.

Interesting, thought Wishbone. She’s got it bad for that stallion.

* * *
“How about bowling Friday night?” Wishbone asked Petal later in the week.

“Sure,” she smiled at him, then continued. “Caravel is coming on Saturday; do you think we could take him to the toy museum?” When Wishbone remained silent, she went on. “I want the two of you to get to know one another; you’re both very important to me.”

“Sure,” Wishbone capitulated, and he was able to grin at Petal. “Come on; I’ll walk you to your next class.”

* * *
Bowling had been fun; Wishbone and Petal had joined with some of their college friends and, after leaving the bowling alley, they had all hung out at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe. No one looking on would have known that anything-- or anyone-- stood between Wishbone and Petal; for, indeed, their friendship was a lasting one.

Saturday, however, brought a change in Wishbone. “He’s really tense,” whispered Sugarberry to Vanguard as they waited for the arrival of Petal and Caravel. When Sugarberry had caught wind of Caravel’s visit, she had offered to make lunch for everyone-- as much out of curiosity to see this stallion from Petal’s past as from hospitality.

When the doorbell rang, Wishbone was the one to admit the two. “Hi, Petal. Hi, Caravel. Nice to see you again.”

“Yeah. Sure,” Caravel responded, his hoof linked with Petal’s.

Petal pulled him across the room to where Sugarberry and Vanguard waited. “You know Vanguard; and this is his wife, Sugarberry.”

“Thanks for inviting me to lunch.”

“Our pleasure,” Sugarberry assured him. “I’ve been hearing how you and Petal were little tykes together; it must have been quite a surprise to find her here in Dream Valley.”

“Yeah. Vanguard knew who I was right away, which was a bolt out of the blue to begin with; but once he told me Petal was on campus, too, I was speechless.” He looked at the filly with undisguised admiration while Wishbone succumbed to a coughing fit as if he had just choked on something.

“You all make yourselves comfortable while I finish up some details with lunch,” Sugarberry suggested.

“I’ll help, Sugarberry,” Wishbone stated, following the mare into the kitchen. He got a pitcher of milk out of the refrigerator and set it on the table while Sugarberry checked the oven.

“Everything looks ready, Wishbone. Can you put the rolls in the basket and put out some butter?”

“So what do you think of Caravel?” Wishbone asked as he loaded the basket, snitching a biscuit as he did so.

“He looks like a nice young stallion; what do you think of him?”

“I think he...” The statement remained unfinished as Petal, Caravel, and Vanguard trooped into room.

“The rolls smelled too good,” Vanguard admitted, eyeing the one in Wishbone’s hoof.

“They smell just like the ones Mom makes,” Petal agreed. “It was always a comfort to walk in the house after school and know Mom had baked some bread.”

“She would always give us milk and cookies while we watched Saturday morning cartoons,” added Caravel. “Remember Teddy Ruxpin?”

“He was the greatest!” Petal cooed. “I still have all his tapes.”

“Don’t let Tabby hear you say that,” Vanguard grinned.

“She already knows and is very pleased that Petal took good care of them,” his wife responded promptly. To Caravel, she said, “Tabby used to be my next door neighbor; she’s also co-owner of the toy museum you will be visiting. We were chums from the beginning.”

“Like Petal and me,” Caravel stated, helping the filly with her chair. He sat next to her, leaving Wishbone an end spot.

“Where’s Chocolate Chip?” asked Petal. “I told Caravel he’d get to meet her today.”

“She had to work. Several of the Bushwoolies have the flu, so she’s working longer hours,” Sugarberry explained. “But she should be back later.

“We can catch her after our trip to the museum,” Petal decided.

* * *
Later as Vanguard and Sugarberry watched the ponies go off together down the sidewalk, Sugarberry asked, “Well, what do you think?”

“I think Petal likes both of them.”

“But which one better?”

“Petal’s probably asking herself that question as well, my love. And as you turned down Petal’s offer for the three of them to do dishes, how about I wash and you dry?”

“You are such a sweetheart!”

* * *
“Oh, man, did I want some of these things when I was little!” grinned Caravel as he eyed the display of Transformers. Hey! There’s the one I had. Remember, Petal, the blue robot that used to come to all the fashion shows your dolls put on?”

Giggling, Petal obviously remembered. “I believe your robot was once called upon to model a hat, too.”

Wishbone shook his head. “Weird.”

“Aw! ‘Fess up,” coaxed Petal. “You and Chocolate Chip probably had some strange play incidents yourselves.”

They were interrupted by a couple of fillies from Pony Pride-- Patience and Libby. “Hi-ya, Wishbone,” they both purred.

“Hi,” Wishbone greeted and proceeded to introduce the two to Caravel.

“We like to come here to see what toys we missed while we were growing up,” Patience explained. “If I had known they made so many of these My Little People dolls, I would have begged my parents to buy them all.”

“Hey, Wishbone! Come see the neat display of Littlest Pet Shop; I bet even little colts liked those things.” Libby grabbed his foreleg and laughingly pulled him away, followed by Patience. Caravel and Petal were left by themselves, and it was only later in the gift shop that the ponies met up once more.

“So what did you think of Tabby and Spike’s museum?” Wishbone asked of Caravel.

“Great! It was fascinating, actually.”

“How did Tabby and Spike come up with all this stuff?” wondered Petal.

“They shopped a lot, I guess.”

“Well, I’m glad someone put together a collection like this,” said Patience. “I could mull over this stuff all day.”

“We were going over to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe when we finished here,” Libby announced. “Want to go with us?” Her gaze took in the three-some and rested on Wishbone.

“What do you think?” Wishbone left the decision up to Petal.

“Let’s go!”

* * *
It was the middle of the week before Petal and Wishbone had a chance to talk with any privacy, and Petal had a suggestion. “Could we go over to the Café Carousel and have lunch together? I’ll buy.”

“What’s the occasion?”

“We haven’t had much time alone together these past few weeks.”

“Since Caravel came to town, you mean.”

“Please come with me.”

“Yeah. Sure.”

The walk to the restaurant was quiet; but once the two were seated and waiting for their orders, Petal broke the silence. “Wishbone, we’ve got to talk.”

“I figured that out already.”

“You know that Caravel and I were best friends once; and now I’d like to get re-acquainted with him; he wants that, too.”

“So you want me out of the picture?”

“Wishbone, I’ve liked you from the moment we met at the wedding last summer.”

“But not as much as Caravel?”

Petal could not soften what she had to say. “I think I’m in love with him.”

“Just like that?”

“It’s not as sudden as it seems, you know. We really were close as foals; it wasn’t our decision to separate back then.”

Wishbone stared at the filly. He had found her beautiful; but more than that, he had found her a devoted friend; he did not want to lose that, but he could not deny her to follow her own path, either. “You can be so sure of your feelings?”

“As sure as I can be.”

“Then I won’t stand in your way.”

“We will still be friends, Wishbone; I don’t want to lose you completely.”

“You’re just saying that because you need my help with math.”

“Well, that’s part of it,” she grinned, patting his hoof.

They were interrupted as their food was delivered; once alone again, Wishbone picked up his glass of milk. “To you and Caravel,” he toasted.

“Thanks, Wishbone.”

* * *
Sugarberry was sitting in the window seat of the turret off the living room when Wishbone got home; she had gotten the flu and had been miserable for several days, so the young stallion was surprised to see her out of her room. “Feeling better?” he asked, sitting beside her.

“Better is a relative term,” the mare grimaced. “Vanguard called and said he thinks he has it now, so I can’t be sick any longer.”

“Have you had anything to eat?”

“Not since some toast this morning.”

“Let me fix you some chicken soup; that’s what Mom always swore by.”

“That just might go good. Help me up; and I can sit in the kitchen and supervise, in case you need help in opening the can.”

“You doubt my ability to warm up soup?”


Wishbone rolled his eyes. “My parents run a restaurant; I did pick up some skills from them.” He helped Sugarberry up and soon had her seated at the table while he proved his expertise at fixing a can of soup. When the comforting broth was set before her, Wishbone slipped into a chair across the table. “Can I talk to you about something?”


“Petal dumped me today.”

“You seem to be taking it well.”

“You act as though you already knew about it.”

“Petal talked to Vanguard before she talked to you.”

“My life is public domain.”

“Not entirely, but word does get around.”

“So what else did Vanguard have to say?”

“Only that his best advice for Petal was that she be honest with you about her feelings.”

“She followed his advice.”

“You saw what was happening; surely you expected something of the sort.”

“Yeah, I guess I did, but it still is a shock to hear the truth.” He grinned. “I should be getting used to it.”

“How is Snowdrift doing these days? I haven’t seen her since you two broke up. And by the way, the soup is excellent.”

“After Chip, she was seeing Ed; now it’s Troy. Thanks.”

“You and Petal were very close; I hope you can still be friends.”

“I think we will be; we can’t very well ignore each other.”

“There’s something you’re not telling me.”

Wishbone took a deep breath. “I guess maybe I found that I don’t feel as bad about losing Petal as I though I would. My pride was hurt more than my heart.”

“That takes a lot of maturity to admit.”

“Sugarberry, did your muscles ache when you were getting the flu?”

“Yes, they did. Why do you ask?”

“Van’s not the only one coming down with it.”


Girl’s Day Out
by Sugarberry and Tabby ( and

It was the day after Thanksgiving. Tabby and Sugarberry had taken advantage of the holiday atmosphere to leave their spouses behind and embark on a shopping expedition of their own; this found the two mares at Hayton where existed the largest shopping center in the land: The Mall of Ponyland.

Bedazzled by the sheer number of shops, Sugarberry stood inside the extravaganza open-mouthed. Beside her, Tabby, with Faline in her forelegs, took stock of their position. “There’s a map, Sug; let’s check it out!”

Soon, the mares and foal had verified their location and found the direction in which they needed to go to get to the book store Sugarberry was searching for. “It should be down the aisle to our right,” Sugarberry noted, “unless it’s on the second level.”

“Oh. Okay,” said Tabby. “But look at that display of sparkly things,” she gasped in delight, changing her direction to make a beeline for the kiosk. Sugarberry had no recourse except to follow.

“Interesting,” said Sugarberry, surveying the merchandise with a critical eye.

“What was the name of that book store that Chocolate Chip told us about?” Tabby suddenly asked, remembering that the purpose for this trip was to find gifts for the two mates involved: Thomas and Vanguard.


“Do you remember seeing it on the map?”

“Number 39.”

“Oh! Look! A toy store!” Tabby went directly to the brightly stocked business, with Sugarberry following behind.

“Faline doesn’t need any more toys,” the strawberry-patterned mare remarked to her friend.

“I didn’t say anything about Faline,” Tabby winked. “I was talking about me. Besides, Spike also told me to look for the latest Star Wars, and...” Tabby prattled on while Faline stared in wonder at the sights and sounds around her.

Soon all three of the girls were looking over the dolls, and Tabby squealed in delight. “The short-packed Katerina doll! I haven’t seen it in Dream Valley yet at all!” She grabbed the My Little People doll and literally danced in the aisle, causing her little daughter to giggle in delight.

“What about the Ben doll?” Sugarberry questioned. “Do they have him?” She hunted through the rows of boxes. Coming back to reality, Tabby joined in the hunt; yet it was Faline who reached out a hoof and knocked the Ben doll to the floor.

“It’s him!” Sugarberry squealed almost as exuberantly as Tabby had. “Isn’t he so cute?”

Tabby rolled her eyes. “Sure, Sugarberry.”

The mares continued their way throughout the store, finding a plush white kitten for Faline. Even Sugarberry thought that the foal could never have too many soft and cuddly animal friends; but she also realized they had gotten off track. “We have something for ourselves but nothing for our husbands,” she mentioned to Tabby.

“Oh, right. But I still have no idea what to get Thomas. What do you think he would like?”

“How about a book on the history of Dream Valley; he seems to be really hung up on that-- like you and Atlantis.”

“No. He’s already got books. I want something... special. And interesting.”

“Get him a bamboo shoot; they’re hot this year.”

“Hmm...” Tabby considered this. “Maybe, but it would freeze before we got home. Besides, it’s not... interesting enough.”

“Well, you should see something here before we’re through,” sighed Sugarberry, staring down the row of shops. The girls continued on their way until they hit an interesting looking outlet.

“It’s got guy stuff,” Tabby remarked, peering down the rows of electrical gadgets and fishing gear, cart supplies and repair kits. “How boring.” Faline yawned as well.

“Oh, my. This stuff is boring,” Sugarberry agreed after browsing through the first aisle. “Let’s get out of here.” The ponies continued their quest from store to store, finding nothing promising; the mall was crowded with shoppers, and even walking was difficult.

“I’m thirsty,” complained Tabby as the hour neared lunchtime. “Where can we get something to drink?”

“And eat; I’m starving.”

The mares finally located a food court and were fortunate enough to find a table at which to sit. Faline, who had fallen asleep with all the walking, opened her eyes and let her mom know that she, too, was hungry. A bottle of milk was quickly supplied for the foal who settled down in contented pleasure. Tabby and Sugarberry fell upon their food as if they had not eaten in days.

All too soon, the shoppers had finished their lunch and set out once more on their expedition; Faline was satisfied to watch the bright lights and motion around her as she moved along in her mother’s or Sugarberry’s forelegs, while the mares kept a sharp watch for anything of interest.

“Oh, Tabby, look at the winter hats and mufflers in the window; don’t they look warm and snug?”

“Whatever.” The unicorn followed Sugarberry without excitement.

“Feel how soft they are! And look at all the colors!”

“They’re too bright.”

Sugarberry wrinkled her brow. “I think you’re right.” She did not notice the sigh of relief that Tabby took; the unicorn was one of the few ponies who knew that Vanguard had commissioned Clare to design a special ensemble for his wife as a Christmas gift.

“Let’s go.” Tabby turned and was on her way out, but Sugarberry could not tear herself away from the display.

“The white one would do,” she stated, holding the softly knit fabric to her cheek.

“You’re too white already,” Tabby pointed out, knowing full well that Vanguard had specifically requested a white set with tiny strawberries woven into the design.

Sugarberry placed the soft, warm scarf back on the display and started to walk away, but it seemed to call to her. She went back and picked up both the hat and the muffler.

“You’re making a bad decision,” warned Tabby. “You just bought a new set last year, didn’t you?”

“Yes, but...”

“Put it back, Sug. I have to find something for Thomas, remember?”

“But, Tabby...”

“Come on.” Tabby grabbed Sugarberry’s foreleg and dragged her out of the store. “We’ll run out of time if we spend all day looking at dumb old scarves.”

Sugarberry scowled and pouted. “I don’t see that looking at my stuff took any longer than looking at your sparkly things.”

“Because Thomas doesn’t already have a sparkly thing for me for Christmas like Va... I mean, not really because sparkly things are cooler than scarves and all that... ” she trailed off miserably.

“Are you saying that Vanguard has already gotten me a muffler and hat set?”

“I didn’t say that!”

“You insinuated it.”

“I was babbling; let’s just get moving so I can find Thomas something cool.”

Sugarberry had no recourse except to follow Tabby and Faline; her thoughts were busy trying to recall Tabby’s exact words; did she really know what Vanguard had gotten her for Christmas or was she just bluffing? With Tabby, it was sometimes hard to tell.

“There’s the book store!” Sugarberry visibly brightened. “Now, once I find the book, I’ll have had a successful day.”

“Don’t rub it in; I still haven’t seen anything for Thomas.”

“I still think you should have gotten him that bronze dragon door knocker; it would have gone well with your front door.”

“Since when has Thomas been into bronze dragon door knockers?”

“Here, you take Faline while I check on the book I want.” Sugarberry transferred the tiny pink bundle to Tabby and disappeared in the direction of the counter. Tabby began perusing a My Little People price guide that happened to be prominently featured on a display stand.

“Yes, we do still have a copy of that book left,” the pony at the counter informed Sugarberry. “I’ll show you where you can find it.” Sugarberry followed the employee toward the center of the store and watched with a frown as the pony searched the shelves. “It was right here this morning...”

“Do you think someone else bought it?” questioned Sugarberry worriedly. The book in question was a large leather bound volume on the history of mathematics.

“I don’t remember seeing it come through, but we have been awfully busy.” She continued to search among the books while Sugarberry fretted; and looking at a pony just passing her by, she caught sight of the book she wanted for Vanguard... in the pony’s hooves.

“That’s mine!” she stated without thinking. “I... I... mean I was going to buy that book,” she stuttered as the stallion holding the book looked at her as if she was insane.

As the stallion stared at Sugarberry, however, recognition slowly eased the look of displeasure on his face. “You’re her!”

“W... who?” Sugarberry stammered as the salespony looked on in amusement.

Lifting a second book from beneath the tome that Sugarberry wanted, the stallion held a smaller book that Sugarberry instantly recognized, as it was a copy of her latest novel, Silent Are the Bells. “You wrote this book; see, here’s your picture on the dust jacket.” He turned it so it mirrored Sugarberry. “Will you autograph it for me?”

“I’d love to,” Sugarberry smiled, temporarily forgetting what she was after. “Is this for yourself or a gift?”

“It’s a gift for my fiancee; we’re getting married next spring. I read the book from the library and knew Tina would like it.”

“And your name...?”


As Sugarberry finished recording a note to the young couple, she again eyed the heavy leather volume still in Cadet’s grasp. She gave him the signed book back and asked, “What are your plans for The History of Mathematics?”

“Oh, this? Are you interested in it? You can have it. I was just getting it as a gift for my uncle because it looks like something he’d like on his shelf, but any other leather bound will do as well. Here.”

“Are you sure?” Sugarberry asked, but she took the book quickly. “I did so want to give this to my husband.”

“No problem. Besides, it was worth it to get your autograph.”

“Thanks, Cadet. Give me your address, and I’ll send you a complimentary copy of my next book.”

By the time Sugarberry had taken care of her purchase (several of the clerks wanted signed copies of her book as well), Tabby was getting impatient. “It took you long enough,” she snapped, tapping her hoof menacingly. But Faline reached out her forelegs to Sugarberry, accompanied with a “Ga-ga” and a smile.

“Thanks for waiting, Tabby,” Sugarberry said as she settled Faline comfortably in her forelegs, her purchase safely stashed in her backpack. “Where to next?”

“Let’s try a gift shop.” The pink unicorn made a dash across the center court.

Sugarberry with Faline followed as best as she could through the tangled mass of ponies in the crowded space; she was becoming concerned because Tabby had already disappeared into the store and was out of sight. If we get separated, we’ll never find one another! the mare groaned, hugging Faline more tightly to her. Just then, she bumped into another mare going in the opposite direction; and as the two looked at one another to apologize, their faces broke out in huge grins.



“What are you doing here?”

“Shopping... what else?”

“And this must be Tabby and Thomas’ little darling. Hi, sweetie.”

“Isn’t she the prettiest little thing you’ve ever seen?” Sugarberry smiled down at the precious pink unicorn.

“She’s a beauty, all right,” Chiffon agreed. “Where’s her mother?”

Sugarberry winced. “She disappeared into that shop over there; I hope we catch her before she takes off looking for us. Can you come with us?”

“Sure. I’m with a group of teachers from Woodlawn; we’re to meet at the coffee shop in...” she glanced at her watch, “two hours. Am I to assume that this shopping trip is a girls day out?”

“We’re searching for gifts for our husbands; actually I’ve already found what I wanted for Vanguard, but Tabby is still looking for something for Thomas.”

“You look happy enough; I guess marriage to my cousin agrees with you.”

“Definitely. We’ve even been through our first sickness together. Have you had the flu yet?”

“Not personally, but many of the students have been out sick.”

“It doesn’t seem to have slowed down the shoppers.”

“Yeah. I think it is even worse this year than usual.”

“Are you looking for anything special?” queried Sugarberry as they slowly worked their way through the crowd.

“I know what I like when I see it,” Chiffon grinned. “So far I’m empty-hooved.”

They had finally made it to the shop where Sugarberry had last seen Tabby; and it was with a sigh of relief that Sugarberry saw her friend just coming from the rear of the store. “Did you find anything?”

“No. Not a thing. Hi, Chiffon.”

“Hi, Tabby. Sugarberry tells me you are having a hard time shopping for your husband.”

“You’d think a place this big would have something special, wouldn’t you,” the unicorn complained.

“We’ve still got lots of the mall to cover yet,” Sugarberry reasoned. “You’ll find something.”

“Can I tag along?” asked Chiffon.

“That would be great!” Sugarberry grinned. “For starters, why don’t you carry Faline; she gets heavy after awhile.” The transfer having satisfactorily been made, the mares went off together.

They had not gone far when they came across a photographer’s studio where ponies could have their images portrayed in the costumes of a different era. “Ooh,” squealed Chiffon, “I’ve seen these places before, and they always looked like so much fun!”

“What is it?” Tabby asked.

Chiffon made her way into the shop with Tabby and Sugarberry trailing behind; they were greeted by the photographer, and he immediately went into his sales pitch. “Good day, ladies. Interested in having your picture taken? We’ve got lots of choices in time-periods.”

“What? Is this a time machine or something?” queried Tabby.

The photographer looked at her suspiciously. “You’ve never been to one of our shops before? You have the choice to attire yourself in any of a wide variety of fashions that were popular at different times in history.”

“Oh, I get it,” said Tabby. “We get to dress up and have our picture taken like it is an old antique or something?”

“Let’s do it!” said Sugarberry excitedly.

“What era?” asked Chiffon.

The girls began browsing through a book of costume and backdrop options, but it took awhile for all three to decide on which to use. “I want the Victorian,” Sugarberry stated.

“I think a Western would be fun,” Chiffon replied.

“Like Tex? No thanks!” Tabby said. “Hmm... how about ancient Greece?”

“But the Victorian is so romantic, Tabby!” Sugarberry argued.

“But check out some of the gowns they have in the Greek section. Don’t they rock?”

“I want a cowboy hat!” Chiffon added.

“Well, we can’t all be something different,” Tabby complained. “That would clash so badly.”

“Well, we have to pick something nobody wants, then,” Sugarberry suggested.

“No way,” Chiffon stated.

“We could take three different pictures,” Tabby said. “How much do they cost, anyway?”

The salespony cut in, “We’re having a special today! Two sittings, and get one free!”

“Hey, perfect!” said Tabby brightly. “Okay, girls, let’s do it.”

“Which one first?” asked Chiffon.

“Let’s get the Western out of the way,” Tabby replied. “How little do your hat sizes go?” she asked, recalling Faline.

In the dressing room, the girls wreaked havoc as they picked out their costume pieces. In the end, Chiffon settled on a traditional cowboy hat and bandana, whereas Sugarberry was attracted to the Native Pony headdress and beaded shawl. Faline ended up with a baby pony-sized cowboy hat and a bolo tie; her mother finally decided on a dance hall girl ensemble, unimpressed by her other options.

“If only Thomas could see you now!” laughed Sugarberry.

“Wait till he sees the photo!” Chiffon giggled.

The first sitting went well, and next they went with Sugarberry’s Victorian setting. They each chose a matching pastel organdy hat and shawl, but each set in a different color: Sugarberry was lavender; Chiffon was yellow; Tabby was blue; and even little Faline was decked out in white. Of course, they all chose purses, parasols, and pearls to go along with their outfits.

“It’s all too frilly,” complained Tabby.

“Stop complaining and smile,” advised Sugarberry.

For the Grecian scene, Tabby chose a shimmering purple chiton with glittering gold Greek key edging. Faline went with a similar design, but in blue. Sugarberry picked out a magenta cape trimmed with golden tassels, and a beaded headdress accented with gold laurel leaves. Chiffon wore a white pleated peplos with gold embellishments.

“That was fun,” Chiffon stated.

When the sittings were over, the four left the shop with their prints; they felt very fulfilled and were very quiet over some personal daydreams: Tabby was reigning over her subjects in Grecian elegance, a scepter in hoof; Chiffon was racing across the open prairie, her mane flying in the breeze; Sugarberry was enveloped in ruffles and lace, dancing across a ballroom; and Faline was... fast asleep already.

No one said a word until they came to an art shop with paintings that rivaled reality. “Isn’t this beautiful?” Sugarberry asked, honing in on a pair of cardinals on an evergreen branch on a snowy day.

Chiffon was entranced with a circle of foals dancing in a flowered meadow. “Look at the innocence on their faces!”

Moving to a wild and stormy ocean scene, Tabby shivered. “I’ll bet there are giant squid in there!”

“Maybe you could get Thomas a picture for his office,” Sugarberry suggested to the unicorn. “Here’s a good one.” She stopped in front of a cat curled up asleep on a cushion.

“No, no, no,” Tabby said firmly.

“Why not?” asked Chiffon. “It’s all happy and healthy looking.”

“It’s just not what I want.”

Sugarberry shrugged her shoulders. “Whatever you say, Tabby.”

The afternoon wore on with Chiffon making the only purchase since the photo shop. She found a tea pot for her mother who collected such things. Now it was time for her to meet up with her group, so Tabby, Sugarberry, and Faline accompanied her to the coffee shop.

Several of the troupe from Woodlawn had arrived already and at Chiffon’s insistence, the Dream Valley ponies joined them for a cup of hot chocolate while waiting for the stragglers. “This was just great that I ran into you two,” Chiffon noted. “Faline is an absolute angel.” She was holding the sleeping foal.

“She is, isn’t she?” Tabby agreed.

“You’re parents must be delighted with her.”

“That’s an understatement,” Sugarberry smiled. “With Tabby being an only child and Faline being the first grandchild, she’s got it made. But look, she’s not spoiled at all.” The foal nestled closer to Chiffon and smiled in her sleep over her own dream.

“What am I going to get Thomas?” asked Tabby suddenly. “There’s got to be something!”

“Get him some snowshoes,” suggested Robin, one of Chiffon’s bunch.

“I don’t know...”

“Get two sets, one for you and one for him. You’ll love it!” Robin assured her.

“You might, Tabby!” urged Sugarberry. “Vanguard went snowshoeing with Wigwam last year, remember? I’ll babysit Faline while you and Thomas trek out over the hills and vales.”

“I’ll bet that Native Pony shop you have in Dream Valley would carry one of those cradleboards so that Faline could go right along with her parents,” proposed Chiffon.

“You’re right!” Sugarberry agreed. “And if she doesn’t have one in stock, she’d know where to get her hooves on one!”

Tabby looked horrified. “Imagine! No, that would be completely wrong!”

* * *
“I hate it when a fun day has to come to an end,” Tabby sighed as Sugarberry waved one last farewell to the departing Chiffon.

“That’s for sure; it’s hard to just say goodbye and walk away when there is so much to talk about.”

“You’ll probably see her when you and Vanguard go to Woodlawn for Christmas.”

“There won’t be enough time to see everyone,” fretted the mare. “We’ll only be with Vanguard’s parents overnight before setting off for Mom and Dad’s to spend Christmas Eve and Day with them.”

“It’ll be quite an adventure spending the holidays with Thomas’ family,” Tabby chattered. “It ought to be interesting, don’t you think?”

“That will be a new experience even for Thomas and Elaine, won’t it?”

“Yes, now that the whole feud thing was called off. It doesn’t seem like a feud lasting for so many centuries could be entirely cleared up so quickly, though, does it?” Tabby considered. “Sugarberry! I still didn’t find anything for Thomas!”

“Well, we’ve covered the whole mall now,” Sugarberry pointed out.

“I didn’t think it would be this hard! How will I ever find anything if we’ve been to the largest mall in the world?”

“Just the country,” Sugarberry reminded her.

“Well, whatever. The point is that obviously there’s nothing to give him!” Tabby said forcefully.

“I think you’re being too picky,” Sugarberry stated. “But there’s still time before Christmas. You’ll see something before then.”

“But what if I can’t find anything? What’ll I do then?”

“Well,” Sugarberry sighed, “it’s getting late. We ought to be heading out if we’re to get home at a reasonable time.”

“Do you think I’ll find something, Sugarberry?” Tabby persisted.

“Yes, Tabby, of course you’ll find something.”

“Okay.” This opinion turned back her anxiety for the moment, and the mares, along with Faline, continued on to the exit.

“It was a nice day, wasn’t it?” sighed Sugarberry as they went on the path toward Dream Valley and home; for this stretch of the journey, she had Faline snuggled against her.

“You can say that,” Tabby observed. “You got what you wanted.”

“When you get right down to it, Tabby, Thomas has everything he wants, too: you and Baby Faline. The gift you give him isn’t going to change that.”

“You’re going to get sentimental, aren’t you?”

“I can’t help it; I miss Vanguard already; this is the longest we’ve been apart since we were married.”

“Yeah. It will be good to get home again. How far do we have to go yet, do you think?”

“Farther than my hooves are ready for.”

“I can carry Faline again.”

“No. She’s fine. You and Thomas are so fortunate to have this darling little girl.”

“Any developments in that area for you and Vanguard?” Tabby asked, shooting an inquisitive glance in her friend’s direction.

“When that time comes, you’ll be the first to know.” Both mares fell silent as they mulled over their dreams and their blessings.

Tabby finally surfaced back to the present, literally and figuratively. “Sugarberry! I still need a present for Thomas! What am I going...”


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