Author’s Note: Sometimes when all your friends are experiencing their own life changes, you might feel a little left behind. Do you struggle to catch up? Do you wish you had the same goals and desires? Or are you unsure of what you yourself want?
Cole had no reason to complain, really. Everyone was far too busy now to take much notice of him as he trudged his way from one class to the another, day after day. They were all focused on finishing their semester projects, daily homework, and studying for final exams. He was doing the same, of course, so he didn’t bother to pay all that much attention to his classmates anyway. Despite distraction, disability, and anxiety, he felt lucky that he was able to be such a good student with impressive grades.
His three best friends were more distracted and busier than he’d ever seen them, so he understood that he might be super high on their list of immediate priorities. Kaffi had been spending the late afternoons with his paddir, learning how to move and fly with a saddle strapped to his back. His body was already starting to show a change, just weeks after he’d started; his wing muscles were becoming stronger, his chest growing broader. He’d known other tintrite at their school who’d done so at a younger age, and Cole was certain that they were viewing Kaffi as a bit of a late bloomer, but Kaffi ignored all that. He kept himself completely focused on his training and preparing for his maiden flight with Diwa.
When Diwa wasn’t busy watching and studying Kaffi’s training sessions – sometimes to the point of obsession – he spent his time with Anna-Nassi. Cole wasn’t quite sure what they were doing, as the energies drifting off them afterwards were strange and unreadable. She was trying to cure Diwa of his nervousness of heights, but it seemed like more than that. They were forming a bond of trust that he hadn’t expected. Between Diwa and Kaffi, sure. That was the end goal, what was needed for when they bonded. And Cole had his own bond with Annie that he treasured daily. But he didn’t know what to make of this special connection between Annie and Diwa. It just seemed so unexpected of them.
It made him feel even more left out than before.
Later that morning, Ms. Powers flagged him down as he was heading towards the library for his free period. Like Annie, he’d been avoiding her office more out of a lack of preparation than fear, but lately he’d grown tired of that charade. Who was he trying to kid here? He already knew what he wanted to do; he just wasn’t sure how to express it with the other three. And he’d grown tired of not sharing that with anyone. He had no reason to say no this time, so he willingly let himself be brought into her office.
“Good morning, Cole,” she said in her quiet, calm voice. She’d pulled herself back as much as possible so her energies wouldn’t intrude or distract him. She’d muted most of her emotions other than the concern and care that went into her everyday job. She didn’t have to go out of her way like that, but he appreciated the gesture. “These final weeks are going well for you?”
“Fine as can be,” he smiled. And they were. Academically he felt no stress at all. It was a matter of just getting it all over with. Finish the projects, do the homework, take the exams, and try to make it through the sensory overloads of commencement and school-end celebrations. Taking it as it comes. “Just counting down the days at this point, Ms. Powers. Doing what needs doing until it’s done.”
“Good, good. Have you made any further considerations regarding your post-school career?” she asked, because that was of course her job to do so. But there was a hint of empathy there as well…she understood that he had a much harder uphill battle than most in life. Again, she didn’t have to go out of her way like that, but he’d appreciated it anyway.
“Some,” he said, shifting in his seat and leaning forward. He wanted to be as active in this conversation as he could. “I’ve been thinking more about the farm co-op with our estate, like we’ve talked about before. My parents will be working there full-time starting in a few weeks, and I’ve been thinking about working there for the summer. That way it will be fully functional and ready for our tenants by harvest.”
Ms. Powers frowned slightly in thought, but she nodded at him, and made a few notes on her tablet. Not concern, but unexpected interest. “Is this something that you’d like to do long term, or is it temporary?”
He felt a wave of irritation – his own – but he held it close. “I’m not sure at this point,” he said. “I’m keeping options open right now.” And because he sensed another frown coming from her, he added, “It depends on whether the co-op is a good fit for me, or if I’d like to return to the estate and help there instead.”
She nodded again, taking more notes. “I’ve spoken to your friend Anna-Nassi recently. She tells me that you and a few of your friends have big plans for the estate.”
Cole smiled briefly. So many people were saying that lately! “I wouldn’t call them big,” he said. “Just long-term future plans. Some of us would like to stay on after our parents retire. The four of us have been talking about it for a while now.”
“Okay,” she said, and slowly placed her tablet down. “You sound like you’re still questioning your role in all of this.”
He flinched without meaning to, but it was too late to hide it. “You might say that, Ms. Powers,” he said. “I’m not entirely sure where I fit in.”
She sat there for a moment thinking it all over. He bowed his head and looked away, fidgeting with his hands. The words were out there in the open now. He was relieved that they were, but the irritation of unresolved issues still nagged at him. He steeled himself for the usual pithy and frankly unhelpful suggestions that he’d come to expect from everyone else.
Her response, however, was unexpected. “I think working at the co-op during the summer might be the perfect thing for you, Cole,” she said kindly. “I know you’ve been looking forward to its evolving connection with your estate, and you want to be a part of it. This is your strength, Cole: you might not want to be the leader, but you’re definitely someone who likes working behind the scenes and observing how everything works, and it’s one of your best strengths. I’d say, go ahead and work at the co-op for the summer, see how it fits you, then see how it fits in with your life at the estate. Sometimes you need to distance yourself from everything temporarily, that way you can look at it with a clearer mind.”
She wasn’t wrong, on multiple levels. That was his exact thinking over the last few weeks anyway. He’d been looking forward to working at the co-op ever since early spring, and now that it was only a short time away, he found himself drawn to the place even more. The only thing holding him back was himself. A wave of relief rushed through him, hearing this from someone else he trusted, and he smiled at her. “Thank you, Ms. Powers,” he said. “I think I might just do that.”
Finally having a solid plan made him feel less stressed, but also left him more frustrated.
He sat alone in the far corner of the library, mapping out what he was going to do for the summer. He didn’t worry about explaining his plan to Diwa and Kaffi as they already expected him to spend time there…it was Anna-Nassi he was worried about. She’d happily accept whatever choice he’d make and back that up by respecting it fully, but he was afraid that it would still hurt her somehow. He wouldn’t make a concrete decision until he talked to her first.
But that was just part of the frustration he felt; this was a position that was expected of him by his family and a considerable portion of the tenant’s committee. Between his struggles with the Steiner-Hedraac and his indecision with his Future Calling, he feared they would try to push him into this field of expertise whether he wanted it or not. That was the thing: he did want to work at the co-op. He enjoyed being there with his parents, working with the other farmers and warehouse workers. There was a distinct pride he felt in helping with the harvesting, knowing he was providing food and grain for numerous families and shops in the area. But like Diwa and Kaffi, he wanted to do this all on his own, without their influence. But what did he want to do?
Perhaps Ms. Powers was right; maybe he did need to distance himself from the estate, at least for a little while.