Diwa & Kaffi 28

Author’s Note: More often than not, you’re not looking for someone else’s permission to do something you need to do. You’re looking for your own.

*

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

Elise-Nooviya always welcomed Anna-Nassi to the tenant meetings with a warm hug and a cheerful smile, something she still hadn’t gotten used to despite working with her daily for weeks now. She’d been happily welcomed into the committee and accepted as an important member, even despite her low rank and lack of experience. Every Saturday they held an informal roundtable to review any recent or outstanding issues. These weekend gatherings were not mandatory like the month-end meetings were, but Anna-Nassi made it a point to be present for as many as she could, to show her dedication. And Elise-Nooviya had certainly noticed; she looked forward to Annie’s arrival and participation and would always walk her back to her apartment afterwards.

Anna-Nassi felt at home among the other elders, much to her surprise. For years she’d been stuck in that weird limbo between passive student and active adult, and she’d expected the transformation to be long and irritating, but now that she was considered a true adult, with all the adult responsibilities that came with it, she found she fit right in with many of the tenants. She was in fact one of the quieter tenants on this estate! They enjoyed her off-kilter sense of humor and her ability to connect so easily with almost anyone. They especially enjoyed her almost limitless energy!

Her job on the committee, as was normal for new members, was to take the minutes. She had a fast and clear hand and could transcribe her notes quickly. It was mindless but easy work for her, and because of that, she’d quickly learned how to listen to the different tenants. Each had their own comments and concerns, some more important than others, and each had their own way of going about it. She prided herself on being a good and patient listener and picked up on what needed prioritization, and what was just talk for the sake of talking.

What she was not good at, which surprised everyone including herself, was the ability to voice her own concerns and news at the meetings. When it was her turn at the podium, her nerves would always get the best of her and she would speak too loud and too fast. And because her thoughts were rarely linear, she would have to write her script down first, or else no one would be able to follow. This wouldn’t happen if Cole were by her side! Eiyah, how did her amma learn how to get past this?

But at the end of the day, she never felt mortified. The committee didn’t hate her. They might need to get used to her, sure, and some of them might need to coach her on her public speaking, but she never felt unwelcome.

“How is your orchard project coming along, Annie?” Elise-Nooviya asked after that day’s meeting. They were taking a meandering stroll across the central green, stopping to watch the younglings on the playground.

“Slow, but it’s moving in the right direction,” Anna-Nassi said, giving her a small grin. “We had someone come in and do some massive pruning on Thursday, so it looks a bit barren and awkward right now. The good news is that nearly all the trees are still in good health and we only had to get rid of three of them! Let’s see, what else? Oh! A few tenants have volunteered to help clean up on the weekends! And Tassh is keeping an eye on the apples. I don’t know where he finds the time between his construction job and gardening and babysitting Koie, but he finds it.”

“That’s wonderful news!” Elise-Nooviya sang. “I’m glad you’re tackling this project, pahyé. The committee trusts you with it.”

Anna-Nassi couldn’t help but shiver and ripple her wings just a little bit. She was not yet used to such compliments! “I hope I don’t let them down,” she said quietly.

“You’re doing just fine,” she hummed softly, calming her nerves. She led her further down the path, taking her arm. “And how is Cole, might I ask? I’ve rarely seen him these past few weeks.”

Anna-Nassi’s mood darkened slightly, her shoulders dropping. If only she knew how he was this moment! She hadn’t even seen him this morning! “He’s decided to work at the co-op farm with his parents this summer,” she grumbled. “He spends his time there most days. I only see him on the weekends now.”

Elise-Nooviya hummed once more, low and consoling. “You miss him, Annie…I understand your connection with him. You have an interesting bond with him. It’s not like the one we see between Diwa and Kaffi, but it’s just as strong. This situation will only make it stronger.”

“I know…” she sniffed, ruffling her wings in frustration. Now was not the time to start tearing up! “I just get so lonely without him sometimes.”

“Eiyah!” Elise-Nooviya skittered around and faced her directly, stopping her short. She took Anna-Nassi’s hands and held them tight and close to her heart. “Annie, dearest. You always have us. If not the committee or even the other tenants, you have me. Never forget that.”

Anna-Nassi shivered with emotion and bowed her head, hiding the bright and deep blue strip across her nose. “Ai…maianni-naahsah, mani,” she giggled, fighting back tears with her wide smile. “It means so much to hear that.”

Elise-Nooviya moved in just close enough for her to whisper in her ear. “Go visit him, yeah?” she said with a hint of playfulness. “There’s no one holding you back. Someone else can take the minutes in your absence, Annie. We won’t mind at all.”

Anna-Nassi held her hands tight. “Thank you, elder,” she said. “I will.”

*

Cole felt Anna-Nassi’s signature from at least a half a mile away, which had to be a new record. Granted, she was one of only three people riding the shuttle bus and it wasn’t all that hard to single her out given her level of excitement, but the distance was still impressive. Soon the shuttle would turn into the long driveway in a few minutes and ride the long loop to the main buildings, as it always did, right near shift change. By the time the bus came to a stop at the main visitor’s entrance, he was already there to meet her.

“Eiyah!” she cheered, bursting through the bus doors, skittering down the sidewalk and swinging him off his feet and into a tight hug. “Cole! I’ve missed you so much! How are you?”

The onslaught of emotion washed over him like a tidal wave, and he let himself drown in it. “H-hey, Annie! I’ve missed you too!” he laughed, already intoxicated by her positive energy. It lifted him up so high that he couldn’t get enough of it! He didn’t realize how much he’d needed it, how much he’d missed it, until now! He’d been leaving the estate so early in the morning and coming back at strange hours that he rarely had a chance to meet up with her, let alone leave a message with her family, even on the weekends. Ah, goodness, how he’d missed this!

When she at last put him back down on the ground he gave her another long, soft hug in return, letting some of the excess energy bleed back into her. “It really is good to see you,” he said, his head and heart happily buzzing. “What brings you here?”

“Why, you, of course!” she said, giving him her widest smile. “Well – officially, I’m also doing a recon mission for the committee to give them an update on how the co-op’s coming along. Oh! And to let you know that I talked to Tassh yesterday and not only has he chosen to work on the upkeep of the orchard, but he’s willing to apply for a position here if there are any openings. And I almost forgot! I ran into Kaffi just before I left the estate and he said that Graymar will be fast-tracking his flight training. And Diwa, well, he’s being Diwa. Ai! I’m sorry, I’m talking too much! Tell me what you’re up to!”

He really did miss Anna-Nassi’s relentless positivity! Even when it was masked by other emotions, her energy always calmed him. “The co-op is doing just fine,” he said. “We’re still finding our place here, but our first wave of workers and field managers are learning quickly. I don’t have anything pressing to do today, I can give you a tour if you like?”

“I’d love that,” she said, and took his arm. “How are your parents? I know they’ve been staying nearby for the summer until everything is running smoothly. The committee says hello to them, of course.”

He led her through the front doors of the main building and towards the visitor’s center. This area wasn’t nearly as busy and noisy as the rest of the building, which gave him a few more minutes to achieve his needed mental and emotional balance. “They’re doing well,” he said. “They’re currently in one of our corn lots further in, and then heading straight over to the pumpkin field on the other side, so I’m afraid we might not see them today. I’ll tell them you stopped by.”

Anna-Nassi hummed contentedly; he noticed she even held her wings a little looser. There was a lot more room here, of course. Less of a chance for her to accidentally hit someone or something, which she was prone to do at times. He led her into the main visitor’s hall and showed her the large three-dimensional table diorama of the entire farm; each field had an inlaid digital screen that featured what was growing where in real time via remote cameras, what sections lay fallow, and what was coming into season, all intertwined with a short loop of cheerful workers and an overhead shot of the co-op complex. She was suitably impressed by the information and attention to detail, and casually commented that she might spend some time working here as well if she could swing it.

Cole remained quiet and calm when she said that, but inside he was already buzzing with excitement again. If he could spend more time with Annie…!

He took her through some of the back offices, introduced her to some of the management, and led her out into the smaller fields nearby. The strawberries were currently in season, and that stopped her short. She stood there, tall and silent with her eyes closed and a wide smile on her face as she inhaled the wonderfully sweet scent of the berries. It was one of her favorite scents in the entire world! She couldn’t resist getting her hands dirty picking a few. She was surprisingly delicate in her picking process, but in no time she gathered two full baskets, even while sneaking in a few nibbles on the way. Cole watched her and took in a little bit more of her energy. She looked so blissfully happy, and he wanted her to cherish it.

Later that afternoon they had a small box lunch courtesy of the farm on the wide grassy lawn outside the main building, sitting under the lone tree. He’d offered her a larger portion, but she demurred, much to his surprise. They talked about mundane things, events going on at the estate, their families. It was calming and enjoyable. And it only underlined how much he missed being a part of it all. How much he missed her.

“How are Diwa and Kaffi coming along?” he asked.

She flashed another grin, a small band of light blue appearing across the bridge of her nose. “They’re doing just fine,” she sang with more drama than necessary. They must have been showing further signs of closeness in their bond, much to her delight. “Kaffi should be ready to fly with a ride by the end of the month. I believe I’ve managed to get Diwa to trust his instincts more. The fear is still there, but he’s able to fight past it. They’re practically inseparable now! Aaand…I may have talked Samuel and Graymar into being out on patrol whenever those two are out there, just in case? Eiyah, those two boys have been so twitchy about it! I know they both want it just as badly as I want them to have it, but it’s getting to the point that one of us needs to give them a good hard nudge to go further. It’s just a matter of when they decide to fly for the first time.”

“And you want to be there,” he said flatly.

“Of course I want to be there!” she chirped, her wings fluttering wildly. “Are you kidding? After all my hard work getting and keeping those two goobers together?” She giggled and leaned back on the knuckles of her wings, one habit she hadn’t bothered to shed. “I’d love to see it, though. Kaffi is such a beautiful flier, and I really think Diwa will be a natural.”

Cole nodded. “I’d like to be there too,” he said. He flashed a quick smile and touched her arm. “My run here at the farm will be done in a few weeks, Annie. You’ll have me for the rest of the summer.”

Anna-Nassi chirped again and clapped her hands together. “Eiyah!” she sang. “This will be such a great season!”

*

Glossary:
“…maianni-naahsah, mani.” (mandossi/tintrite) — “Thank you so much, elder.” A phrase borrowed from tintrite language, it is always used reverently.