Author’s Note: New character! Anna-Nassi is one of my favorite characters I’ve ever created, and the fourth member of our main gang. Her style of talking can be a little repetitive and all over the place (like me sometimes), but that’s part of her charm. She’s a big sweetie.
Anna-Nassi had alternately been called the most annoying, the friendliest, the most (and equally least) attentive, the loudest, the cuddliest, and the weirdest mandossi in the school over the past few years, and she wore every one of those badges with pride. She was super tall, taller than most of the mandossi girls here, and her gliding wings were freakishly strong and enormous. She could be super careful and still manage to flail and break something nearby. Her narrow beakish face was extremely expressive and she could never pass up flashing a wide and pleasing smile at all her friends. Her eyes were wide and bright and her vision completely perfect and she never let anyone forget that. Her attention span may be a bit lacking now and again, but she could hear a whisper from across the room. She was always noisy, sometimes ingratiating, and completely unable to sit still for any length of time, but all that was part of her charm! She felt she lived up to her parents’ legacies of being the most active and vocal participants on their tenancy committee. She simply loved connecting and bonding with everyone she met.
Still, there were moments when she wished she could be the quiet one.
That was why she hung out with Cole.
Cole was a hedraac of the finest order in her eyes. A psychic vampire that fed on the inherent energies of all living beings. And he was such a sweetheart about it too! He always asked before feeding, and he stung with such precision and gentleness that she rarely sensed it. And that was saying a lot as a mandossi! Her kind were the most sensitive to the energies of life here on this planet, so much so that they often mirrored whatever levels surrounded them. If she were part of a rambunctious crowd of overexcitable teenagers, she would be the loudest one in the room. If she watched a melodramatic romance film with her friends, she’d be the one crying her eyes out until there was nothing left.
Cole balanced all that. He always provided her with a calm center she couldn’t always find on her own. And she always loved him for it.
Still stressed out from the recent math test she’d taken earlier that morning, Annie was thrilled to be able to get outside for lunch and get some food in her. She carried a large bento box in her arms and used her wings to burst through the roof access doors and into the sunlight, ready to dig in. Like most mandossi, she also had a voracious appetite, sometimes to an embarrassing degree. She could pack it away, but her body would burn those calories off just hours later.
But ah, glorious day! She felt the cool spring breeze in her mane and the warmth of the sun on her skin and she smiled, baring those fangs of hers. She was tempted to stretch out her wings as well, yet she held back, at least until after she had eaten. They were annoying on the best of days, and the biggest pain to groom afterwards if anything got caught in the folds. Still…it was a lovely day, and she didn’t want to fret about the small things. Forget about that math test, Annie girl…you know you aced it. Just focus on eating and being with your friends right now.
She found Kaffi and Diwa sitting over in the shade near the landing platform at the center of the roof. It had been their favorite hangout since their first days at this school, where she could relax and just be herself without a care. It was also where she felt the calmest, being so near her best friends. She called out to them and they both waved back, sending tiny ripples of happiness her way. But where was Cole…? Late, maybe?
She dropped down on her hinds across from them, setting her concern and worry in the back of her mind for now. “Hey guys!” she sang. “Ai, it’s good to be outside today, neh?”
“Hey Annie,” Diwa said, offering a quick but muted smile, which she didn’t expect. He seemed uncharacteristically quiet today, guarding his emotions and energies much closer than usual. “Where’s our fourth?”
Anna-Nassi opened her bento box and pulled out a comically large wrap overstuffed with far too many meats, cheeses, and condiments. “That is a good question,” she said, and chomped down. It felt good to get something in her stomach again! She swallowed quickly and glanced towards the entrance. “He’s been avoiding everyone today. I hope he’s okay.”
Kaffi hummed. He too sat on his hinds; it seemed he only sat that way when he was with friends. Otherwise he was always at a strange but incredibly balanced almost-sitting position. “I think his Steiner-Hedraac has been kicking in again,” he said. “He’s been going through a lot of stress recently. I saw him just before last period, he was probably heading towards the solitary room for a little bit to calm down.” He took a bite out of the bread stick he’d been holding and gnawed on it for a few moments, lost in thought. “I think lia Powers might have cornered him this morning.”
All three of them shivered. Lydia Powers, the school’s resident guidance counselor, had been chasing everyone in their graduating class for the last few weeks to complete their Future Calling report. Everyone needed to have a plan – not necessarily a detailed one, but at least a solid one to use as a starting point. Anna-Nassi had gone to great lengths to avoid ria Powers as much as she could.
“I worry about him.” She glanced at the doorway again, fretting with her wrap. She could probably sense Cole at this point, but she dared not make that move right now. Not with all the other students around that could sense exactly what she was up to.
“I’m sure he’s okay…” Diwa offered.
She turned back to him, then to Kaffi, concerned by their uncharacteristic silence. What was going on with those two, anyway? The normally talkative and funny Diwa was far from chatty today, and even Kaffi was quiet and skittish. They’d been acting all kinds of weird all morning. They’d hardly shared any words during study hall. They’d catch each other’s glances now and again, but never said anything. They were keeping a secret and doing a ridiculously poor job of it.
“Are you two bonding or something?” she asked without preamble.
“What?” Diwa yelped, his face turning a splotchy red. “No! I mean…”
Kaffi giggled at him, shaking his snout, which had just gone a tiny shade darker. “Nothing like that yet, Annie,” he said. He tapped Diwa softly on the shoulder with the back of his paw, giving him a warm smile. “Calm down, Dee. Eiyah, you’re so easily flustered.”
That certainly got their attention! Now she was curious. She narrowed her eyes and grinned her too-wide grin at them, prodding them once more. “Come on, spill!” she said. “What are you up to? You’ve been conspiring all morning and it’s weirding everyone out!”
“I’ll…tell you later,” Diwa mumbled. He glanced around at the other students on the roof patio, partially hiding his face with his elbow as he scratched the back of his head. His human traits of embarrassment were so adorable! She’d clearly touched a nerve. Something was indeed brewing between them.
She let it go for now and joined in checking out the other students while she ate her lunch and waited for Cole. A few younger mandossi were nearer the landing pad, chittering away. They held themselves primly, sitting up straight, eating delicately, nibbling away at their prepared rolls, their wings never touching the ground. Completely unlike her. The big tintrite boys made a racket with their rough-housing and talk of someone’s awesome flying during the last game. Kaffi found them irritating and refused to give them the time of day. Human students rarely came up to the roof, preferring to hang out on the grounds out front or in the cafeteria. A few of them were at the far end of the roof, leaning up against the railing and completely ignoring everyone else, including Diwa.
She knew what they all thought of her and her friends, really; it was in the furtive glances and the irritable energies they gave off. Most of the kids at this school came from the more congested suburbs closer to the city, while she and these two boys lived further out on the periphery, along with Cole. They thought she and her friends were embarrassingly provincial.
But she and her friends were proud of being who they were and didn’t give a niilie’s backside about what any might think of them. She loved her friends because of that.
Still, it irritated occasionally.
As if on cue, Cole came walking out of the double doors and into the sunlight, scanning the roof patio for his friends, and Anna-Nassi felt a surge of happiness course through her veins when he spotted her. Eiyah, finally! There he is!
Cole felt her burst of joy from all the way across the patio and smiled broadly. He waved and made his way over, a goofy lopsided smile on his face. Tall, scrawny, pale, and the only hedraac who ever bothered coming up here at all, Cole looked so much healthier than he had earlier this morning, which made her even happier.
“Eiyah, Cole!” she chirped. “Where have you been?”
Cole took a seat next to her, motioning to her arm. “Can I…?”
She nodded and patted his knee. “You know you don’t need to ask.”
“Thanks.” he exhaled and turned to the others to join in the conversation. Seconds later she felt a small shift of energy in her bicep, a tiny pinprick of a psychic connection established between Cole and herself. It felt a little bit like a flutter in her heart, followed by what could only be described as the sensation of water, gently flowing down her arm. Cole was feeding ever so gently, just like he always did. His nerves were still jittery, but she could already feel him calming down now that they’d made that bond.
“It’s been a crazy morning,” he continued, his excitement causing a hitch in his words. “Not only did Miss Powers corner me. I also received word. From my mother. They’ve finalized the legal paperwork. For the co-op satellite farm today. We can start using our acres. In a few months.”
Diwa’s eyes widened. “That’s fantastic! My dad will be thrilled to hear that. Tell your parents I said congratulations!”
Kaffi bounced on his hinds and let his wings flutter, also excited by Cole’s news. “Eiyah, this great to hear! My manae has been backing your family’s bid for that project since last year, and my paddir has been shuttling the paperwork to and from the farm all this time. I’m sure he’ll be glad that’s over with.” He calmed himself down a bit, scratching nervously his snout. “Any idea of who will be running the hiring committee?”
Anna-Nassi giggled, nearly spitting out her sandwich. She leaned back on the knuckles of her wings and narrowed her eyes at him again. “Ai! I do not see you working on a farm, Kaffi. Not with those delicate talons and sensitive nose of yours.”
Cole raised his eyebrows, showing off his lovely dark eyes. He suddenly seemed much calmer now, having borrowed some of her energy to balance himself out. “You’re interested in running a hire, then?”
Kaffi gave Diwa a quick glance before he responded. “Perhaps,” he said.
Anna-Nassi could wait no longer, glaring between the two boys. “Come on, you two,” she said, crossing her arms. “There’s something going on that you’re not telling us.”
“Oh, they’re bonding, alright,” Cole said, and took a sip from his water bottle. “No doubt about it at all.”
“I think you’re right,” she snorted in amusement, glancing at him.
“Hoy!” Diwa said a little too loudly, his face a dark red once more. He cleared his throat and hid his face again. “Anó bang problema mo? Neh…”
She held a hand to her mouth, biting back a laugh. He was so cute when he got flustered! “So what is it then, Dee?”
Diwa groaned and looked to Kaffi, but the tintrite kept his mouth shut tight, tilting his head ever so slightly at him. Seeing he wasn’t going to get any help, he dropped his shoulders and turned back to her. His face was still red, but his emotions had suddenly changed from embarrassment to…determination? That was unexpected. “Fine. Are you busy after school?”
Anna-Nassi was intrigued enough that she pushed off her wing knuckles and fluttered them. “Ooh, secretive! Do tell!”
‘Yes, Annie, it’s a secret,” Kaffi said flatly. “You might be involved.”
That stopped her almost immediately, her shoulders hiking up and her wings ruffling again in response. Even Diwa stopped short by the unexpected words. “Why, what did I do?” she asked.
“It’s what you can do,” he said, and briefly glanced at Diwa once more, this time his mouth tightening into a smile. “You too, Cole. The four of us. If you’re interested. Dee?”
Diwa had regained his composure and leaned in as well. “Are you still interested in having a significant role at the estate?” he asked.
It took a moment for the question to sink in, and when it did, she gasped in gleeful surprise. He was talking about inheritance – the long-simmering, much-delayed conversation between the four of them! “You’re serious?” she said, doing her best to remain calm. “Please tell me you’re serious!”
“I am,” he said. “It’s about time, too. Kaffi and I talked about it last night, and we both want to start putting our plans in motion. We’re still working out what we want to do, but we’d love the two of you to be a part of it.”
“I’d be honored,” Cole said, nodding. He shuffled away slightly, tapping Anna-Nassi on the shoulder. “I’m fine now,” he whispered to her. “Thanks.”
She was so excited and surprised by Diwa’s words that she didn’t even feel Cole’s psychic disconnect this time. Eiyah, this was amazing news! “You two have no idea what you’re doing but count me in!” she chirped.
Diwa and Kaffi glanced at each other once more, their big smiles mirroring each other. Even Diwa was back to his bouncy, fidgety self again. “After school, let’s meet on the green, okay?” he said. “Let’s make this happen.”
And for the first time in what felt like forever, Anna-Nassi felt an intense wave of emotion from all three of them at the same time. Especially Diwa and Kaffi. This was more important to them that it was to her and Cole, but she couldn’t help but share in the celebration. She whooped and laughed and didn’t care at all that everyone was staring at her right now. Nothing could bring her down!
“You don’t have a plan at all, do you?”
Diwa and Kaffi sat close together on one of the low benches in the rear of the crowded light rail train, while Anna-Nassi and Cole squeezed into seats a few rows up. Annie was keeping a constant eye on Cole’s health today, even though he’d claimed he’d felt much better after lunch, which kept her senses busy for the most part. Which was fine with Diwa, because right now Kaffi was being a little too blunt and it he was finding it hard not to snap back in irritation. He’d been quiet during the last few hours of school, but by the time they got on the light rail, he’d started fretting and grumbling, worried that they were maybe getting a bit too excited over their grand plan. Or more precisely, the lack thereof. Diwa had to hold himself in check, as he didn’t want the other two to soak in Kaffi’s unexpected pessimism or his annoyance.
“It’s early days, Kaff,” he said as evenly as he could. “Remember, I can’t do this by myself, you know. I mean, I appreciate everyone being all in, especially you, but this isn’t going to be all on me. That’s not how we want it to run. I need all the help I can get.”
Kaffi looked down at his talons, tapping them together, drawing his mouth into a tight line. Eventually he let out a low, tiny hum; apologetic. “You’re right, Diwa,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry, I’m just nervous.”
Diwa hummed right back and stroked his shoulder, leaning in slightly. It was clear Kaffi did understand, and he’d just forgotten that unlike most humans, tintrite didn’t always hold back when something truly bothered them. “Don’t be sorry,” he said quietly. “I’ll admit I’m just as nervous as you are. I have no idea if this will even work. But we won’t know if we don’t try.”
Kaffi gently tapped a claw on his arm. He hummed again, this time soft and short; repentant. “I’m still sorry, Dee. I shouldn’t jump to conclusions like that.”
“Eiyah!” Anna-Nassi suddenly chirped from halfway up the car, flailing one of her arms to get their attention. “You two lovebirds done whispering, or are you going to let us join you?”
Kaffi scratched the ridge of his snout and let out a short laugh, relieved by the sudden shift in mood. “Issthnamii…” he sighed, glancing his way and flashing an amused fang. “She’s completely sold on us bonding, isn’t she? Kind of hard to argue when she gets on a tear.”
“She’s certainly a handful sometimes,” Diwa nodded, returning the smile. “But we love her anyway.”
“Yes, we do,” he said, and flagged them over. Anna-Nassi and Cole cheered in response and noisily moved to the back of the train, all four of them squeezing onto the low bench.
“It’s about time!” she chirped, playfully indignant and leaning heavily on Diwa’s shoulder. “I don’t trust you two when you get all quiet. Play it out for us, Dee. What are you planning?”
Diwa glanced once more at Kaffi, questioning. Was he ready to do this, or did he want to wait just a little longer? But Kaffi tapped him on the arm once more, lingering just a little longer than usual, followed by a hum and a slow nod. That was all he had to do. Kaffi did indeed understand that he might not have a full plan or know exactly what he was doing, but he trusted him to lead the way. This was the moment he’d briefly shared with Kaffi last night, and now it was about to be out in the open.
This time he was about to take the first steps to make it a reality.
He laid it out in detail during the rest of the ride home. The inheritance process would still take place, and both he and Kaffi would go through all the internships and training and committee meetings and paperwork it would take for them to get the position. Diwa’s minor wrinkle in the expected plan was that he would keep the position open for anyone else at the estate. Admittedly, he thought it was minor, but Kaffi had already voiced his reservations, and Anna-Nassi and Cole were now doing the same. They felt it was too risky, concerned that someone could come in, an outsider or someone with no experience or understanding of the position, and take over what was already a perfectly fine system and make too many unwarranted changes. Diwa argued that he trusted their fellow tenants to make the right decision and the tenancy committee to open the possible race only to those living on the estate, especially if the four of them made it their mission to establish that trust in the first place.
Once they’d all gotten over that – and jumped off the light rail for the walk back to the estate, with a brief stop at the local convenience store for snacks – Diwa expanded on his idea. If he and Kaffi were going to be co-landlords when the time came, the last thing he wanted was to have the entirety of the estate resting on their shoulders. He genuinely wanted this to be a community project. He understood reality often worked otherwise, but they’d face that when the time came. Running an apartment complex was more than just processing rent payments, renovating and fixing homes when and where necessary, and making tenants feel comfortable and secure. It was about seeing this estate as a micro-community and not just a home. And it took more than just two co-landlords to do that; that much he’d already learned from Graymar and Samuel, from lolo Daniel and Akkree, and from their mothers Shahney and Dari, and from so many others here. He would need a team to make this work.
That’s where Anna-Nassi and Cole would come in.
They continued their conversation at one of the picnic tables on the center green. Diwa had already pulled out his tablet and had started sketching out ideas. “Annie,” he said. “You’re already following your mother as part of the tenant’s committee. Would you be willing to establish further connections with other members to streamline the communication between the different groups and their projects? Maybe stagger the deadlines? I know that’s consistently a problem since Pop likes to grouse about it all the time. Panooria does love its paperwork, but it’s a pain. Getting everything at the end of the month just creates a bottleneck. We need a quicker turnaround when we receive requests and concerns from the tenants.”
Anna-Nassi stared at him, utterly surprised at his words, but also intrigued and inspired by them. “I can do that,” she said, nodding quickly. Her wings were twitching now, the phalanges tapping away at the bench. “You mentioned the co-op earlier. I’ll ask my amma about the schedule for the hiring committee as well.”
“Good. Cole, would you be willing to immerse yourself with the co-op as well? Getting involved with it would be a great starter project for all of us.”
“That was my plan,” he smiled, giving him two thumbs up. “I will talk with my parents. And gather more information. There’s still a lot of coordination to do. But I believe they’re at the point. Where they’re no longer waiting. For paperwork and permits to go through. I’ll be working there with them. A few days a week this summer.”
“Excellent,” Diwa said, beaming. “Kaff? Anything to add?”
Diwa had been talking for so long that Kaffi was surprised by the sudden shift in attention, and for a moment he couldn’t think of anything to say. He tilted his head at Diwa, laughing nervously. “You, eh, put me on the spot there, Diwa…”
“Yup,” Anna-Nassi said, elbowing Cole. “Totally bonded.”
“Hush,” Cole whispered with a smirk. “Go ahead, Kaffi.”
Kaffi nodded. “Hmm. Well, I think you already have some great ideas. For a start at any rate.”
Diwa raised his eyebrows at him, but with a smile. “For a start?”
The bridge of his snout turned a dark bluish green. “Eiyah! Let me begin again,” he stuttered. “What I meant to say, I think these are really great kick-off ideas. The first of many. First moves to establish our presence.” He let out a nervous hum, tapping his talons on the table. “I’d like to think some more on what my – on what our roles would be, Dee.”
“Less thinking, more doing!” Anna-Nassi barked, madly waving her hands at them. “You two need to stop avoiding the obvious and start working with your padda!”
Diwa bristled, but she had a point. He’d been talking about it long enough. “Tomorrow,” he said.
She furrowed her brow and crossed her arms at them. “Why not tonight?”
“Eiyah! No excuses!” she said, flashing one of her manic too-wide grins at him. “I’ve given you two your assignments! I’m expecting the both of you to report to me tomorrow morning confirming that you’ve started! Neh? No laziness from either of you!”
Kaffi dipped his snout downward in surprise and leaned in Diwa’s direction. “She’s worse than Miss Powers today, isn’t she?” he muttered.
“No choice then,” he said, mirroring his reaction. “Tonight it is.”
mandossi – (man-doss-ee) semi-avian biped with large gliding wings, beakish face and large fangs
lia – (lee-ah) mandossi word for feminine title, as in Mrs, Miss or Ms
eiyah – (ay-yah) mandossi all-purpose word of any kind of exclamation, from ‘yay!’ to ‘yikes!’
anó bang problema mo? – (Tagalog) What is wrong with you?
issthnamii – (eesth-nah-mee) (tintrite) general phrase of frustration or tired amusement, literally ‘give me patience’