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Many Happy Returns  by Grey Wonderer

Chapter 7††††††††††††††††††††††††† "Apples"†††

Somehow, Pippin managed to endure the gift-giving portion of his party. Pearl and Frodo stood on either side of him and helped him distribute the gifts. Once the apples started showing up, it was all Pippin could do to keep from running back to the safety of his room. The first one took him by surprise, but as more followed, he began to realize that the joke was on him.

As Pippin leaned forward to hand his older cousin, Alford Took his gift, he noticed that there was an apple laying on the table with the gifts. He glanced at it, smiled at Alford and handed his cousin the gift. He continued on with the next gift and soon there were several apples on the table. Pippin tried to ignore them, but their number kept growing.

"Frodo," Pippin whispered, as he leaned down to get another gift. "Those apples, do you see them?"

"Ignore them, Pip," Frodo whispered back. "I think itís someoneís idea of a joke."

Pippin swallowed, blushed, and retrieved Estella Bolgerís gift from the pile. He reached it out to her and tried to think of something to say. "Uhm, here."

"Why thank you, Pippin," Estella smirked. She noticed Pippin glancing nervously at the apples and continued. "How is Merry?"

This distracted Pippin a bit and he looked†over at her. Since she and Merry had begun to see one another, Estella had found†herself†in contention for Merryís time with Pippin. Neither she nor Pippin†was sure how they felt about this. Estella knew that Pippin and Merry shared an unbreakable bond and that the two of them were devoted to one another. At times, she found herself wondering how she might fit into this relationship. Pippin liked Estella, but he sometimes felt that he was losing Merry to her. As silly as this seemed, even to him, Pippin worried that she might come between him and Merry.†"He seems much better today," Pippin managed. "You should go and see him. Iím sure heíd like that."

Estella smiled. "I might just do that sometime tomorrow."

Pippin looked again at the apples and noticed that there were now more of them. They were beginning to pile up quite high on the table. As the gifts, dwindled, the apples increased. Pippin was becoming more flustered by the minute and while this did amuse Estella, she felt a bit sorry for Pippin. After all, what had happened earlier had been an accident and not one of the young Tookís pranks. Maybe this was going too far.

It had seemed only fitting when Alford had suggested it. Several of the lads had raided the Tookís pantry and had passed out apples to most of the party guests. Everyone was supposed to put an apple on Pippinís gift table as they came forward to collect their gifts. Estella had thought it sounded like a good joke on Pippin until sheíd seen his reaction. Pippin was embarrassed to death.

Pippin caught sight of several of his cousins eating apples and waving at him from across the room at this point and he moaned. "Thereís only one way out you know," Frodo advised, softly as Estella stepped back from the table to open her gift.

"Whatís that?" Pippin asked, pretending to hunt for the next guestís gift as he conferred with Frodo.

"Pick one up and eat it," Frodo said.

Pippin looked horrified. "Youíre joking, arenít you?"

"No, they have to see that you donít mind it, or youíll be covered over in apples for weeks to come, Pip," Frodo said, handing Pippin a gift. "Pick one up, smile over at that lot in the far corner, and then take a bite of the apple."

"I-I donít think I can," Pippin whispered. "I think Iíll just ignore them." He then raised up and saw that his next guest, Lilac Chubb, was actually eating an apple as she awaited her gift.

"These are quite good," Lilac smiled, sweetly. "Itís a shame you had such trouble with them before." Obviously she was still not in a forgiving mood over Pippinís remark about her teeth. She took another bite, savored it, and gave Pippin another smile. "You should practice your apple bobbing before next year, Peregrin."

Anger was beginning to replace the embarrassment and Pippin was about to say something that he would regret, when all at once, Lilac started to look a bit red in the face. She had a peculiar sort of pinched look to her now and a panic filled her eyes. As Pippin swallowed the nasty words that were about to come out of his mouth, Lilac began to struggle for air. She was now waving her arms and trying to cough but having no success.

"Sheís choking!" Pearl shouted and started toward her brother and Lilac, but Pippin moved faster.

He came around the table, and proceeded to lean Lilac over the edge of the table and began swatting her on the back. A crowd had gathered and Pippin could hear Nell calling for someone to fetch a healer. Lilacís face was now a bright purple and her eyes were as wide as saucers, but still, no air was coming in. In desperation, Pippin put his arms around her ribs and squeezed tightly, trying to force her to cough. Lilac responded to this by opening her mouth and propelling a rather large chunk of apple from her throat directly into Diamond Tookís face. Pippin released Lilac as she inhaled and then began to cough. As she began to sink to the floor, Pearl caught her about the waist and began to pat her back gently. "There, there, itís going to be alright now. You were very lucky. If Iíd have been Pippin, I might have been tempted to allow you to choke on it," Pearl said, sweetly.

Frodo smirked at this and then noticed that Pippin was staring at Diamond who was, with the aid of some other ladís handkerchief, removing the apple from her face. Before either of them could move, Merryís mother wrapped an arm around Pippinís waist and smiled. "That was quick thinking on your part, Pippin, dearest. That lass could have choked to death if you hadnít acted when you did."

Several other hobbits came forward to commend Pippin at that point and succeeded in blocking his view of Diamond completely.

______________________________________

"What time is it?" Merry yawned. He must have fallen asleep again.

"Oh, itís just after nine, Merry," Fredegar said, stretching a bit himself. "I think both of us took a little nap."

"Seems my story-telling put us to sleep," Merry said, trying to make himself comfortable against the pillows. He was always dozing off since his accident. The healers kept saying this was good for him, but he found it very annoying. "I donít suppose that you noticed when Sam left did you?"

"Oh, he said he was going to see about getting us all a bit of a snack," Fredegar said. "I do remember that much. I must have fallen asleep just after he left us."

"Wonder how Pipís doing?" Merry said, still trying to make himself comfortable and failing. Fredegar got up and began to adjust Merryís pillows for him. He took hold of Merry and gently helped him to sit up a bit more.

"Is that better, Merry?" Fredegar asked.

"I suppose," Merry grumbled. "It would be even better if I could get up for a bit."

"Oh, no you donít," Fredegar objected. "You know what the healers have said. Besides, I am not getting in trouble because I let you get up."

Merry sighed, wearily. "If only I had my sword about now."

Fredegar smiled. "Iíd sooner let you try to run me through than to deal with your mum on this."

"I was hoping Frodo would come back soon and let us know how the gift-giving went," Merry said, ignoring Fredegarís jest. He wasnít feeling particularly amused just now.

"Well, there were a great many guests and so I suspect that it will take a while for Pip to give everything out," Fredegar reasoned. "I would guess that Frodo wonít leave until Pippin is through with that chore."

"I suppose youíre right," Merry said. He was feeling a bit left out of things just now in spite of Fredegarís company.

"I wonder what Pippin got me," Fredegar said, thoughtfully as he returned to his chair.

Merry grinned. "You can never tell, Freddy. Could be anything."

"I hope itís something to eat," Fredegar grinned. "Sam seems to have abandoned us."

"Maybe he is checking on Frodo and Pip," Merry said. He was remembering another of Pippinís birthdayís just now. "When Pippin gives out his presents it tends to draw attention for one reason or another."

"What could possible keep us from getting a snack?" Fredegar asked. "This canít be a repeat of the tale you told earlier about Pippin mixing up those name tags."

"No, Pip wouldnít do that to his gifts," Merry said. "He puts a great deal of thought in the gifts that he gives. He always wants to get each friend or relation the perfect present."

Just then, Saradoc entered carrying a huge tray of food. "Sam handed me this and asked me to play delivery hobbit. He wanted to go and check on Frodo."

Merry smiled. "I am surprised that he waited this long. Thank you for bringing this, Doc. Freddy was beginning to grow faint."

"That I was," Fredegar admitted. "Iím most grateful that youíve arrived it time."

"I was just on my way to see how the gifting was going when I ran into Sam," Saradoc said. "I suspect that I will enjoy a visit with my favorite son and my favorite Bolger more than I would the gifting anyway."

Merry laughed. "Iím your only son."

"That makes it no less true," Saradoc smiled, and he sat the tray on Merryís bed within reach of all of them. He then made himself comfortable in the chair. The three of them began to eat happily.





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