“Why do you have to live so far out in the middle of nowhere?” Rainbow asked from the passenger seat.
“Someone has to,” I said. “Besides, don’t you live in the clouds?”
“A cloud city,” she corrected.
“My hometown has a stoplight. That has to count for something.” I shrugged. “You won’t have to see much of the town anyway. There are about ten people coming to dinner.”
Rainbow still seemed skeptical about meeting my family, but said nothing as we drove on. My mom called and asked me to stop and get a can of cream of mushroom soup for making gravy. As it happened, we were passing through a city that had a large grocery store.
I pulled into the parking lot. It was crammed with other last-minute Thanksgiving shoppers. Inside the building, I spotted a sign next to the door that announced: The butcher is in! I carefully steered Rainbow away from the fresh meat department. I figured she could handle the sight of dead animals on display. Watching them being hacked up with knives, maybe not so much.
We ended up in the processed meat section, which was almost as bad. It was the same aisle as the soup. Rainbow examined a blue and yellow can on the shelf. “What’s Spam? I thought that was a computer thing.”
“Um…” I thought it over for a moment. “I’m not really sure what it is. My best guess is pig paste.”
Her eyes went wide. “Who eats that?”
I shrugged. “Not me. Anyway, I’ve got the soup. Let’s go.”
Rainbow looked around as we approached the checkout. We had to stand in line, but at least it was shorter at the ten-items-or-less counter. She remarked, “The store has all the food you could want in one place, which I like, but the checkout doesn’t seem very efficient.”
“Well, it’s peak time,” I pointed out. “Besides, efficiency kind of goes out the window when you get large crowds involved doesn’t it?”
She agreed with that, and we moved forward in line. A few minutes later, I had paid and we were back in the car and continuing on.
The house where my parents live sits in town right next to the only stoplight. Several cars were parked haphazardly on our lawn, but the same thing could be seen at other houses on the block. Luckily there wasn’t enough traffic on the street to cause a jam.
A spot in the driveway had thoughtfully been left open, and I pulled in. Rainbow and I got out of the car and went up to the front door. Things started going bad immediately after going inside.
Bowser, our dog, heard the door open and came running. Being a Great Dane, he was just about as big as Rainbow. The pony had been distracted by her first experience with a human house, and the first indication that she got of a giant dog bearing down on her was an earsplitting bark.
Her instinctive reaction to being startled was to fly as high as possible, which due to the ceiling was about eight feet. Her head crashed against it. I grabbed Bowser so he wouldn’t try to jump at her, thinking it was some kind of game.
When the rest of the family got there, we had a dazed pegasus moaning in pain, a giant dog trying desperately to drag me across the kitchen to lick her, and an unusual looking bump in the plaster on the ceiling. I may have been the only one who noticed the damage, and kept it to myself.
It was not the greatest way to make Rainbow’s first impression on my folks. I briefly explained what happened. Meanwhile, everyone crowded into the room. Grandmother, parents, two uncles, an aunt, three cousins.
“I’m fine, okay?” said Rainbow.
Bowser was taken away and shut in the garage by my dad. I gave him a grateful smile. Mom was trying to figure out if Rainbow was as unhurt as she claimed. Three year old Cousin Damon began to cry.
Thanksgiving dinn—uh, disaster—was in full swing and we hadn’t even started eating yet.
Once dad got back from the garage, Rainbow had refused an ice pack, and my Aunt Charlotte had taken her crying son out of the room, I finally got to introduce the pony. “Everyone, this is Rainbow Dash. If you haven’t heard, she’s my roommate at college.”
“What do you study?” asked my Uncle Herbert.
“Aeronautical Engineering,” the pegasus replied.
“What’s that?” asked my preteen cousin Emmy.
“Airplanes,” answered Uncle Herb, her father.
My mom popped her head out of the kitchen. “Denise, I’m just about to start setting the table. Could you help me, please?”
I headed in that direction, leaving Rainbow alone with my family. I prayed that I wasn’t making a mistake.
It didn’t take very long to set the plates and silverware out, even spread over a couple of tables because of all the guests. The food took a little longer. Stuffing and salad and rolls and vegetables and casserole and dessert. The crowning piece was a huge lump of tofu that had been molded into the shape of a turkey. I had heard of such things before, but never seen one. We always had real turkey in the past.
“I checked to make sure everything was kosher for ponies,” said mom. “I think things are ready now. Go ask everyone to come in.”
I herded all the guests into the dining room. Grandma announced, “I’ll say grace.”
Us people dutifully bowed our heads while the prayer was given. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Rainbow looking really awkward. It would have been worse if Grandma had asked us all to hold hands.
Luckily, we were quickly cleared to begin eating. I pulled out a chair for myself and helped Rainbow with hers. She sat down and her gaze fell on the “turkey”. Her eyes narrowed. “What in the world is that?”
“Tofu,” I told her.
“Oh, okay. Soy.” Rainbow nodded. She used the claws on her dexterity enhancers to drag a napkin over on top of her silverware. The pegasus didn’t have much use for utensils.
My cousin Jack passed me the bowl of mashed potatoes. He was wearing a sweatshirt with the name of his college on it. That was all right, so was I. After taking a scoop of potatoes, I passed the bowl on. Rainbow pondered the problem of the serving spoon for a moment before unsteadily grabbing it between her hooves, managing to plop a helping onto her plate.
My dad appeared with a carving knife and a fork. “Who wants ‘turkey’?”
Across the table, my Uncle Johnny made a rather unpleasant face. “Why didn’t you get a real bird?”
“Certain guests have an aversion to that.” My dad sliced off a piece of tofu.
Uncle Johnny waved his hand. “She doesn’t have to eat it.”
“You can talk to me, you know,” muttered Rainbow, more calmly than I expected. “I’m sitting right here.”
“Emmy is going through a vegetarian phase right now,” said Aunt Charlotte, breaking in.
“Vegetarian phase?” asked Uncle Johnny, forgetting the pony for a moment. “You either are or you aren’t.”
Rainbow and I were both served a piece of tofu. The rest of the turkey-shape began to ooze into a shapeless blob. Dad grimaced. “Sorry, I’ve never tried to cook this stuff before.”
“It’s fine,” I assured him. It was a good thing I hadn’t actually tried it before I told him that. It was only after he moved down the table that I took a bite, and I don’t think I could have kept a straight face through that taste.
“How does this compare to real turkey?” asked Rainbow. She seemed to like the tofu. My Grandma was giving her a disapproving look for eating off the plate rather than using utensils.
“It’s not like turkey at all,” I said. “And whoever invented this should be ashamed of themselves for trying to deceive me.”
Rainbow chuckled and grabbed a roll as the basket came around. Uncle Herb looked across the table at her and asked, “What are you going to do with your degree, Rainbow?”
“I want to be a fighter pilot,” she said.
Uncle Johnny was taking a sip of water and coughed. “How are you supposed to do that?”
“I’m getting US citizenship and then I’m joining the Navy,” the pony told him.
“Joining the military is a tall order,” Uncle Johnny told her. “You can’t just get in and expect to be a pilot. There’s more service and commitment than just flying.”
“I’m committed,” said Rainbow. “I know what I’m getting into, and I’m ready to serve. Have you ever done anything like that?”
“Twenty years in the army,” I blurted out, interrupting my uncle’s response. It looked like he was about to say the same thing, but much louder.
Instead, Uncle Johnny said, “At least our country is worth fighting for. Equestria’s leadership—”
“Oh my God!” I shouted as I knocked over my glass of water. I jumped up and grabbed a handful of napkins to mop up the spill. The dialogue broken off, the man and the pony both went back to their food. Neither looked pleased, but we had avoided a shouting match at Thanksgiving Dinner.
I sighed and poked at the piece of tofu on my plate with a fork. What if I wasn’t able to keep a lid on things? If things got ugly for real, who would I side with? My family, or my friend?
“So what’s the most unusual thing that strikes you about Earth?” my aunt asked Rainbow.
“Everything’s so different, yet so similar,” the pegasus replied. “People are physically different than ponies, but the mix of personalities is about the same. College seems huge, but classwork and books are familiar. Large grocery stores don’t really exist in Equestria, but a lot of the same things are available to eat. Well, not Spam, of course.”
My dad thought for a moment. “I think we might have some of that in the cupboard.”
Uncle Johnny got up from his seat. “I love Spam. Go get it.”
“The football game is about to start,” interjected Uncle Herb. My other uncle wavered for a bit, but with prodding from my dad, the three men went to watch TV instead.
I breathed a sigh of relief again. My mom came in with a tray. “Who wants pie?”
A while later, I was out on the front porch with Rainbow. The eating was pretty much done. The men were watching football, and the women were socializing. I was having a cigarette and Rainbow was doing her best to stay upwind.
We watched the stoplight change. The small town traffic was different than at college; fewer foreign cars and more diesel pickup trucks.
It was chilly, but my sweatshirt kept me warm. Rainbow had told me that pegasi had good temperature resistance because they often flew at altitudes where it got cold. It was good that we were both equipped to stay on the porch for a while longer. Neither of us wanted to go back inside.
Shortly after dinner, Cousin Damon had asked for a pony ride. His mother and I agreed that it was probably not a good idea. Rainbow, however, had quickly consented when it looked like the kid was about to throw a tantrum. We got him set on the pony’s shoulders ahead of her wings. Rainbow stood still and let him have his fun. Then Damon started digging his heels into her sides and Aunt Charlotte swooped in to pull him off. That caused a tantrum anyway.
“I don’t think I’ll be bruised,” said Rainbow.
“Good to hear.” I blew out some smoke. The wind shifted and carried it in Rainbow’s direction.
She pushed it back in my face with one of her wings. “You should really quit.”
I looked at the last two inches of the cigarette and reluctantly flicked it on the sidewalk. “I’ve tried.”
“You need more motivation,” Rainbow told me. “I’m going to stick by you and make sure you work on it.”
“You don’t have to do that,” I said.
She shrugged. “Well, you didn’t have to rescue me from your crazy family.”
“I kind of did. I mean, it was in my best interests to keep you all from coming to blows.” I smiled. “It could have ruined my dinner.”
“Oh, underlying purposes?” Rainbow laughed. “Don’t think I’m making you quit out of the goodness of my heart. I think it smells terrible.”
Laughing, I said, “Good to know you’ve got my back.”
“Sure,” she nodded. “Speaking of that, did you ever hook up with that nice Canadian boy?”
“Ah, no. It’s still a little too soon,” I said.
Rainbow shrugged. “At least tell me if Nathan ever got things cleaned up from what we did on Halloween?”
“I don’t know. We aren’t Facebook friends anymore.” I thought for a moment. “I did see some pictures in one of his public albums, though. He probably suspects us, but didn’t have any proof.”
“Well, it’s Thanksgiving. I guess I give thanks for that,” said Rainbow.
I smiled. “It’s the little things that count.”
Author note: Spam is freaking delicious. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.