Author’s Note: As you may have noticed, Diwa is not an English name; in fact, it’s Filipino. He comes from a mixed family, where his mother is Filipina and his father is white. Thus there will be the occasional Tagalog phrase that pops up here and there throughout the rest of the novel, along with a few non-human languages. I’ll do my best to provide a glossary at the end of the chapter. Special thanks to Armie Tabios and Mike Batista for double-checking my use of Tagalog!
“You think they were talking about us?”
Diwa stretched out at the end of Kaffi’s pallet bed, staring at the high ceiling. He flexed his still-stinging hands; he still couldn’t believe he caught that ball. But that was the least of his worries right now…he’d seen his father and Graymar up on the balcony during their game. They perched up there almost every day on the regular, but today they’d kept their eyes on them the entire time. Like they were being judged, and not just because of his running through the garden or that reckless throw so close to the tenants.
Kaffi huffed and twitched his snout. He sat on his hinds at the other end of the bed, his head tilted, distracted by the sky outside his window. “Of course they were talking about us!” he said and tapped his talons together. He turned to him, flashing a quick fang or two. Clearly he was not as worried or self-conscious about their fathers keeping such a close eye on them. “When they’re not talking about the old days, they’re usually complaining about something we did.”
Diwa wasn’t convinced. “They’ve been watching us a lot lately. I mean, a lot more than they usually do. Have you noticed?”
Kaffi sniffed, dipping his snout at him. “I have. We are of age, Dee. They’re going to start prodding us about inheritance and internship soon.”
“Soon?” he grinned, raising a brow at him. “You mean Gray hasn’t said anything yet? Pop’s been all passive-aggressive on me for months now. He’s trying to talk me into being more active at the tenancy meetings and estate projects, but he won’t come right out and ask.”
“Hmm. You know paddir…”
Diwa turned and propped himself up on an elbow. Kaffi had to have noticed what this was all about by now! “You want it, don’t you? Taking Graymar’s position after he retires?”
“Eiyah, if he retires, more like,” he said, dismissing him with a wave of his claws. “My paddir never lets anything go, especially his position.” He looked down at Diwa, cocking his head slightly, dark eyes studying him as the idea started to take root. “You’re still serious about this, aren’t you? You still want Samuel to give you the job? I mean, yeah, we’ve talked about it for years. I know I still want it. Don’t tell me you’re having second thoughts…?”
Diwa blushed, quickly waving off that suggestion. “No! No, it’s more like…” He stuttered to a halt, looking away in embarrassment. “Never mind. It’s dumb.”
Kaffi waved a taloned hand back at him. “What if it is?”
Ai, he wasn’t going to let this go, was he? He was just like Graymar when he did that. Diwa dropped back down on the bed with a frustrated grunt. “Pop’s position has been handed down through five generations of my family, Kaff. It’s always been an inheritance. Sure, they were all legitimate, voted through by the tenancy committee and made official by the Tenancy Board in Panooria. No major complaints, no repeals, nothing. Meanwhile, I’m at the point where I’ve started making rounds through the estate to get to know the tenants, so they can get to know me. Same thing Pop did, same thing lolo Daniel did.”
Kaffi hummed, slow and questioning; concerned. He dropped down to all fours and hunched near him. “I hear a ‘but’ somewhere in there.”
Diwa glanced at him, comforted by his closeness. “It doesn’t seem right to me somehow, Kaff. It would be handing the position to me, whether I was ready or not. I want—I need to work for it.”
“Who says you’re not? You just said so yourself. You’re doing the rounds—”
He waved his hand in the air again. “I don’t mean that.”
“What do you mean, then?”
Ai, this was such a dumb thing to get so upset and obsessed over! “I know the tenants like me. But they like me because they like Pop. And they like you because they like Graymar. I’m just…”
Kaffi hummed, soft and high; sympathetic. “You think they’ll expect us to run the estate the exact same way,” he said. “As if we were Samuel and Graymar ourselves.”
“Told you it was stupid.”
“Hmm. I don’t think so,” he said, softly tapping a talon on Diwa’s arm. “I think you have a strong case. You want to prove yourself as a capable future landlord and not just an inheritor. And I agree! I love my paddir, but I am most definitely not the same as him. I’d rather let them know the real Kaffi before I take the position.”
Diwa glanced at him in surprise. “You agree with me?”
“Of course I do.”
“You don’t think I’m overreacting?”
Kaffi snorted. “You? Overreact?”
He hit Kaffi’s arm with a soft backhand. “Very funny.”
“So how are we going to go about it, then?”
A good question, and one he’d been asking himself for over a month now. “I’m not sure yet,” he said eventually. “I’ll continue with the rounds, do whatever needs doing. I’ll have to get with Pop soon to register the internship to make it official…”
After a moment he smirked and caught his eye once more. “You said ‘we’.”
“Took you long enough,” Kaffi said, snorting and prodding him once more. “Look, Diwa. Whatever you choose to do about this, it’ll affect me as well. We’ve both wanted this since for years, and we’ve always planned to do it as a team. We both need to prove ourselves, yes? You tell me how we should approach it, and we’ll do it together.”
Diwa face burned. That had been the plan all along, but… “Kaff…?”
But Kaffi would have none of it. He pushed himself back up onto his hinds, his wings twitching slightly. “It makes sense that we do so in tandem. We still have some issues to sort through, but we can get through them, side by side as always.”
Diwa gave him a nervous laugh. “We’re best friends, Kaff. We’re not bonded.”
Kaffi laughed as well, though Diwa caught the twitch of wings again. Kaffi usually hid his own embarrassment quite well, but his wings were always the giveaway. “No, we’re not,” he conceded, catching his eye again, as if to provide an unspoken not yet, anyway in there somewhere. He ruffled his wings once more before settling them and dropped back down to all fours. “But I’ll stand by your decision regardless,” he added lightly.
Diwa looked away, focusing on the ceiling again. He felt an unexpected wave of relief, and he wasn’t sure if it was because he’d shared his concerns with his best friend and possible future co-landlord, or that Kaffi had so willingly decided to stick by his side all this time. They both had a hard path ahead of them as potential inheritors and having a close ally would make things so much easier. He smiled and felt stupid for it, but he didn’t care. Somehow, his future looked a lot clearer.
Right beside him, Kaffi hummed and smiled in response.
Diwa left Building C and began the walk back across the central green to Palm. The sun had already started to set behind the community center building off to his right, and the streetlights were starting to flicker on with a quiet electric hum. This was a slow time of day for the estate; most of the younger kids had already gone home to start their schoolwork and have dinner with their families, and Diwa was just about to do so himself. A few other tenants were walking across the green, some on their way home from work and others returning from errands. He recognized most of them and waved hello as he passed by, but he didn’t stay or linger to talk. An older, exhausted aanoupii trudged up the driveway in dirty overalls and carrying a toolbox, absently brushing dust from his bovine-like horns, heading to one of the eastern bungalows. A young tintrite from Building E flying in lazy practice circles above the trees. The chatty elderly mandossi ladies from Building B sat at one of the picnic tables, twittering and giggling as they shared the latest gossip. The new young human tenant couple, heading over to Building A, nervous in their still unfamiliar surroundings.
Behind him on the roof of Building C, Kaffi’s paddir had roosted at the edge. Graymar would always be up there in his favorite spot around this time, as part of his rounds. Diwa imagined he could feel the tintrite’s eyes on him, watching him cross the central green. Some evenings he’d look up and wave, and sometimes Graymar would wave back. Tonight however, he kept his eyes on his own building, the shorter and squatter Palm. His family’s apartment was dead center, on the fifth floor and right next to the middle open stairwell. Sometimes he’d see his father there, but tonight he must be inside, fiddling around in his office.
Off in the distance, he heard the chime of the local church bells, signaling that it was six o’clock. It was almost time for dinner.
Diwa’s bedroom was tiny and compact compared to Kaffi’s cavernous nestroom, but for him it was just the right size. His bed, his desk, a few other amenities, maybe a couple of posters and a radio, that’s all he needed. He spent far more time over at Kaffi’s place anyway, but when he was here at home and needed time alone, spartan was definitely the way to go. Unlike his father, he tried not to distract himself too often, as it always felt like wasting time. He liked to be connected, either with his family, with his friends or the other tenants. This bedroom was the one place in this estate that was truly his own, and he treasured that, though he would happily share it with his friends whenever they came over.
He still had a little bit of time before dinner was ready, so he turned on his computer and called up his homework for the evening. It was spring semester, which meant that many of his teachers had begun assigning term papers and final projects. Diwa always made sure that he got these done ahead of time, even despite his occasional frustration in maintaining interest in them. There was the added stress of Future Calling – he hated the corny name, but it was part of the curriculum – in which he had to complete a final conversation with the school’s guidance counselor, giving a final report of impending internship, employment, or calling once he graduated.
The idea of having a Future Calling chat hadn’t bothered him originally. He’d known it was coming because of his older brother Aldrine having gone through it some years ago, and he already knew he was in line for Samuel’s job. But over the past few months, the idea of having to go through this song and dance for other people’s benefit had started to grate on him. Was he making this report for his own peace of mind, or for everyone else’s? His conversation with Kaffi hadn’t been mere teenage irritation. He didn’t want to go through with the report if it was just a waste of time. And he certainly didn’t want to work from a script everyone else expected him to read.
He brought up a vidchat window and signed in. Kaffi was already online, his head taking up most of the window. His eyes were focused on his own homework and he was typing up a storm. For a tintrite with long and taloned fingers, he was an amazingly fast at it. “Hey you,” he chirped.
“Hey,” Diwa said, opening one of his own documents, a report for his literature class. “What are you working on?”
Kaffi’s eyes popped up to his camera, and they briefly locked eyes. “Lia Weiss’s history paper. You?”
“Mr. Marcus’s book report,” he groaned. “If I can manage to write a few hundred more words to pad it out, I think I might have something worth handing in. Journey of the Bloodstone is such a boring book, I don’t even know why it gets assigned.”
“It’s a parable about unjust living conditions,” Kaffi said with a grin, raising a brow at him. “Or did the Sledgehammer of Obvious Symbolism miss your head again?”
“Very droll, Kaff. Seriously, it’s just so outdated. I mean, I get the message. It’s one of those ‘demands for social justice’ sort of things, and I’m all for that. But the prose is just so outdated, not to mention very problematic in certain places, that it’s lost its bite. We’d be better off reading something more recent from Candleman or Laura-Dhenashhi instead. Same exact message, just more relevant to this century. And just a tad less xenophobic.”
“Did you put that in your paper?”
“Well, no, but—”
“Why not? That’s a very valid point, and I feel the same way about that book. I’m sure the others in the class would agree. I don’t know what Alio Marcus would say, but I doubt he would dock you a grade for being sincere about its issues that have crept up over time.”
“Hmm. You have a point.”
“Don’t I always?”
“Hoy, Diwa!” he heard from the hallway. “Dumating kana pala!”
“That’s ina,” he smiled. “I’m heading to dinner. I’ll be back in a few.”
“I’ll be here. Tell her I said hello.”
Diwa stood up, stretched, and started to head towards the dining room, feeling a bit distracted. He glanced at the screen, out of camera shot, and watched his friend typing away, humming a light tune. Kaffi certainly had been full of positive ideas today. They’d had this kind of conversation plenty of times in the past, but lately it felt as if his friend was…?
Nah, couldn’t be.
He shook that idea out of his head and joined his family at the table.
Kaffi headed to dinner at the same time as Diwa. It had been Iliah’s turn to make dinner this time, and his ahmané had created a feast of meats, cheeses and greens displayed on a wide tray on the kotatsu, along with tall, fluted glasses of water and fruit juice. It was a simple dinner, but Iliah had made it look quite fancy. Long strips of finely cut grilled beef were spread out on a serving board next to cubes of cheddar, swiss and goat’s milk cheeses, slices of cucumber, with individual bowls of spinach and rocket leaves nearby. Kaffi had always been impressed by her culinary creativity, learned from her years at the city university and various food service internships. Kaffi had even come to the table earlier than usual, hoping to get a good look at the layout before it vanished. Graymar was the last to enter the dining room, muttering an apology for his delay. He hummed low and slow as he approached the table, highly impressed by Iliah’s presentation. She flashed him a wide grin and chirped at the family to dig in. Shahney, Kaffi’s manae, continued to praise even after they’d finished and settled in for the evening.
Kaffi watched his paddir exit the apartment again soon after everyone had finished eating. Graymar had uttered few words during dinner, ruffled his wings, and mumbled a few more before returning to the roof. Sometimes Kaffi wished he’d say something, anything, for a change…but he was set in his ways, just like other elder tintrite males. He wasn’t angry at him for barely speaking to his own family in the evenings, because Graymar took his position very seriously. He was up there again, doing his final scan before turning in. He did this every single night without fail, regardless of weather. He’d come down in an hour or so, join Shahney in their nestroom for some reading, and they’d all turn in around ten.
“Hey, little ahpadhé,” Iliah sang, shaking him out of his thoughts. She’d sidled up to him under the now cleaned kotatsu, nudging at his shoulder with the pad of her palm. “Something on your mind?”
Kaffi ruffled his wings and let out a tiny hum. “Thinking about the future, ahmané,” he said.
She laughed quietly. “So formal! It must be important.”
“It is,” he said, and felt the bridge of his snout beginning to heat up. He could never hide his emotions from Iliah. They’d always been close siblings, even with the five-year difference in age. He knew he could trust her with his most personal thoughts and emotions, and would treat him as an adult. “When you wanted to go to culinary school,” he said too quickly, then stopped. Ai, why was he so nervous? He shook his wings and let them settle again. He started again, slower this time. “What drove you to your decision?”
Iliah flashed a pleased fang at him and cocked her head. She had their manae’s inquisitive dark blue eyes that made her easy to approach, and her silky black mane, though she’d let hers grow long so it would flop over to one side. Just like Shahney, she looked so confident! “So many things!” she sang. “So many people! Manae taught us both how to cook when we were younglings, but I found I really enjoyed it. I loved the creation of the dish, everything that goes into it. The balance of the flavors, the scents, even the presentation. And the pleasure! The happiness I see in others’ eyes when they genuinely enjoy my creation is the best part! I started working with Diwa’s mother whenever there was a banquet at the community center. I also picked up a few techniques from our neighbors. By the time Lydia hunted me down, I knew exactly what my report was going to say.”
Kaffi sniffed in amusement at the mention of their school’s guidance counselor. Lydia Powers made sure all her kids graduated with a completed Future Calling goal and would not leave any student alone until she got an answer out of each one of them. “Yes…lia Powers has been prodding us lately, now that you mention it.”
She tipped her snout at him. “Is that what’s on your mind?” she asked. “She means well, you know. She’ll hound you, but she really does care.”
“It’s part of it…” Kaffi said, fidgeting with his hands in an attempt to keep his wings calm. “Diwa and I had an interesting talk earlier today. About future plans. You know, about inheritance.”
Iliah hummed and nodded sagely. “The two of you have been talking about that since middle school.”
Kaffi let his wings twitch slightly and gave her a tiny smile. “Diwa’s taking it more seriously. We’ve been talking about it more, you know, following through with it. And I’m…well, I want to be there with him to make it happen.”
“The two of you are of internship age. Is that it?”
It was a lot more than that, but he didn’t feel ready to admit that aloud just yet. “I think so. At least most of it, anyway. I’m excited about it, but not anxious,” he said. “Maybe a little nervous. Is this truly what we want?”
Iliah bobbed her snout, her whiskers twitching slightly. She let out a slow ascending hum of empathy. “I understand now. And I know you, Kaffi. You’re impulsive, just like paddir is, but you’ll always go with what’s truly in your heart.” She leaned up against him, humming and prodding her snout lightly against his. “Trust yourself, ahpadhé. Go with what you feel is truest to you. That’s exactly what I did.”
Kaffi felt a weight lifted from his wings and ruffled them slightly before settling them again. Ai, that was exactly what he needed to hear. He leaned his snout against hers and hummed in response. “Thank you.”
Kaffi tapped his monitor back to life and noticed the vidchat window was still blank. Diwa hadn’t yet returned, which was unlike him. He wondered if they’d just missed each other, or if he was still with his family. He felt a bit silly and self-conscious worrying about this, but it wouldn’t go away. They’d had evening sessions before where they barely shared two words and then went their separate ways, but tonight it felt different. It felt unfinished. He kept the vidchat window open while he continued with his homework.
When Diwa did finally reappear a half hour later he felt relieved, but to his surprise he also felt an unexpected wave of excitement. He’d felt this before, plenty of times, whenever they returned to their vidchats, or even when they crossed paths at school. It was a simple joyful connection between them, just it always had been.
So why did he feel different about it now? Was it because of their conversation earlier today? He and Diwa had always been extremely close, but that one moment when he’d completely bared his emotions to him, it felt like something had changed. It was a deeper connection. He’d joked about it then, about being bonded, but now that he thought about it, perhaps he hadn’t been joking much about it at all.
Their conversation the rest of the evening was light and jovial and nothing of importance, just like most nights. He enjoyed every moment of it, just like he always did.
Only tonight, it felt a little more important to him.
He chose not to say anything about it just yet however. All he wanted to do is keep this the way it was for now. That would make him happy.
“Diwa. Hoy! Diwa! Nandiyan ka ba sa loob?”
Diwa stood at the kitchen sink with his younger sister Maricel, cleaning the last of the dishes and pots, but his mind was already elsewhere. Mari was prodding him in the temple with a finger. She might have inherited their mother’s diminutive stature and her strikingly dark hair, which she’d pulled back into a tight ponytail, but she’d also taken on her no-nonsense level of patience. She was the most active of the entire family, even more so than Diwa, and couldn’t stand it when her older brothers dawdled and lost themselves in thought. And she rarely ever held anything back. It was as frustrating as it was endearing.
“Sorry, Mari,” he said, finally taking the plate she’d been holding in front of his face for the last few seconds. He dried it and stacked it with the others on the counter to be put away when they were done.
“Ano ba…?” she huffed and rolled her eyes, scrubbing away at the next plate. “If this is what being an adult is like, I’ll stay a kid.”
“No, it’s just me,” he said, waving away her concern. “Just got a lot of things on my mind lately.”
“You sound like Papa,” she sniffed.
“I do not!” he shot back, his face heating up. “I’m graduating at the end of this school year and I have to make a decision about what I’ll do next.”
“You’re going to inherit, duh,” she teased. “You’ve been talking my ears off about it for years. Or have you decided to do something else?”
He faltered, looking away. “I’m…yeah, I’m going to inherit,” he said weakly, taking the next plate from her. “Kaffi and I just had a talk about it earlier today, is all. I’ve been thinking about how I want it to unfold. You know, instead of just having it handed to us.”
“I could do it too, you know,” she snorted. “I might be a few years younger than you, but I’m just as smart.”
“And as irritable as Graymar,” he said with a grin, elbowing her.
“Hoy!” they heard from the next room. “Quiet down, you two! Finish the dishes and get started on your homework!”
“Okay, ina,” they said in cherubic unison, glancing at each other and laughing quietly.
They finished the cleaning and Diwa put all the dishes away while Mari leaned up against the sink, waiting for him. “You take this so seriously, Diwa,” she said. “I mean, I’m impressed and all, but I worry about you. You shut yourself up like Pop sometimes.”
He hummed, delaying his response. It was true, he did hold himself back like his father, more often than he’d like to admit. It irritated him that he’d picked up that trait. Samuel wasn’t distant or cold at all, he would just have moments where he’d get quiet and retreat to his musty and crowded back office for an hour or so to distract himself. Diwa would go and visit him now and again, just to make sure he didn’t completely shut everyone away, and his father seemed to truly appreciate that, but there was indeed something there that weighed heavy on his mind, and no one in this family knew what it was.
Diwa did not want to fall into that same trap.
“Kaffi and I were talking about our inheritance earlier. I…may have brought up the idea of approaching it in a different way,” he ventured.
She gave him an uneasy glare. “How different?”
“I don’t know yet,” he said, and delayed again as he put the last of the dishes away. “We’d start the internship, but we’d also open the position up to anyone else who might be interested.”
Mari crossed her arms and huffed at him. “Ai, nababaliw kana ba, Diwa? You’re willing to lose the family inheritance?”
“Of course not. I believe we can still win it. But on our terms. Me and Kaffi’s.”
That response didn’t seem to calm her any. “Right…” she said slowly. “You two are weird, you know that?”
Diwa smiled at her. “Love you too, ate.”
“Seriously, Dee. That’s taking a big chance. You really want to go that route?”
“And how are you going to do it?”
He hummed and looked away. “I don’t know…a full election? We’re still working it out.”
Mari groaned in response and squeezed his shoulder. “Just…don’t do anything stupid, okay? Talk to Pop or Mama first if you need to.”
“I will. Thanks again.”
She smiled and gave him a hard punch on the arm. “Or talk to me first if you’re too afraid. Don’t be an idiot!”
“Ow. I won’t. Promise.”
Diwa returned to his room a little later than usual and was surprised to see Kaffi on the other end of the vidchat window. It wasn’t often that they had late night conversations, especially if they’d already been hanging out all day long. It was all about mundane things anyway – school, family, their friends, the evolution of their catch game. Kaffi was uncharacteristically laid back and serious now. Any other time he was ready with a joke or a laugh, hiding behind his humor and his obsession with flying. In a way, it was nice seeing his mature, quieter side; it made Diwa feel even more confident that they could make this inheritance thing work. Now all they needed to do was make a plan that made sense.
tintrite is pronounced tin-treet
Lia – mister (tintrite)
dumating kana pala – come to dinner (Tagalog)
ahpadhé (ah-pah-day) – brother (tintrite)
nandiyan ka ba sa loob? – Are you in there? (Tagalog)
ano ba…? – this is ridiculous (Tagalog)