Author’s Note: Achieving your goals doesn’t necessarily mean achieving perfection. It simply means reaching for something you desire.
“Do you ever wish you could fly?” Cole asked as they walked through the orchard. He’d been taking quite a few private walks with Anna-Nassi lately, especially now that they were able to spend so much more time together. When they weren’t working at the co-op or being roped into another project by Elise-Nooviya or Diwa and Kaffi, they spent most of their down time with relaxing activities that kept them both balanced and calm. While he enjoyed this peaceful downtime, he couldn’t help but still feel slightly out of place. Like he still hadn’t completely found his place just yet. Maybe he had and it just hadn’t sunk in yet? It was a slight tension that he could not completely shake.
Surprised by his question, Anna-Nassi flapped her own wings and playfully slapped him on the backside with one in response. “What are you talking about? I can fly!” she teased. “Not far, but I can fly if I need to. I’m more of a glider fanatic anyway. Why do you ask?”
“I’m just curious,” he said, grinning at her. “You were so excited about Diwa and Kaffi the other night.”
Anna-Nassi tapped him again with her wing, this time a double-tap on his lower back. She’d started doing that a while back as a sort of private joke to emulate the way Diwa tapped Kaffi’s shoulders whenever they flew, but it had become a pleasant and reassuring habit soon all on its own. “That’s different. I was…” she started, only to stutter to a stop to find the right words to say. She let out a slow hum, tapping the side her nose with her fingers as she thought. “I suppose I might be a little jealous? I was proud of them! They’re like my big brothers, yeah? They’ve been inching towards that exact moment for years. I was so happy they’d finally gotten there.”
Cole nodded slowly. “I see,” he muttered.
She frowned, sensing his irritation. “Cole?”
“No, it’s nothing,” he said, quickly waving off her concern. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m jealous too. Of you, for being so happy for them. Of them because they’re already doing what they love. And I feel like such a daash-paiya for feeling that way.”
“I understand,” she said quietly. She turned away, glancing at the freshly pruned apple trees; already they were looking healthier. She let herself smile a bit, proud that she’d been the one to turn the orchard around. And he was proud of her too, for being so dedicated to the project. Ai, maybe he was taking all this too seriously? He’d been so close to Annie these days and her closeness had done wonders to his physical and mental health, but he hadn’t allowed himself to appreciate that, not to any considerable degree. And neither had she, now that he noticed it.
“I told you about Leah-Roosiy and Kim-Shaloor, neh?” she said, turning back to him. “My older nestlings? They’re quite a few years older than I am, and they’ve both moved to the city. I was the ‘surprise nestling’, you know. And I always felt so lost when they were around. So much taller, more mature than I could ever be. They had a drive that I’ve always lacked. They were so far ahead of me in everything that I could never catch up. Leah works in finance, and Kim is a programmer, already in and out of college before I even hit my last school years. They’re both high members of their own estates’ tenant committees. Already establishing themselves before I even had any idea what I wanted to do. And of course there’s the high status of my amma and padda.”
Cole took her hands, sensing…well, not exactly failure, but something close to it. A worry that she’d never be as successful, no matter how hard she tried. “Their lives are different, Annie. I know you understand that…”
“Oh, Cole…” she sniffed. Her wings fluttered in deep love and appreciation and she pulled him into a soft and full embrace with both her arms and wings. She leaned forward and tapped her forehead against his, letting out a small hum of contentment. “I do understand that now, kae. But all this time, I’ve been trying as hard as hell to be a part of their flock and failing every single time.”
Cole hummed in sympathy and wrapped his own arms around her. “Come on, you haven’t failed,” he said quietly.
“No, I have,” she said, and suddenly held him at arm’s length, giving him a wide smile despite her tears. “And now I understand why! I was trying to be the rest of my family, when it was so clear that I wasn’t! I’m not destined for that. Neh? This is exactly what Diwa was talking about! He didn’t want to be Samuel. He wanted to be who he was. And Kaffi believed this as well. He didn’t want to be Graymar.”
“I think. I understand. Annie,” he said, feeling a shared ripple of happiness between them. “My family. I try to. Measure myself up. To them.” Ah, there were the stuttering words again. He didn’t care this time. “That’s not. Who I am.”
“Good. And that’s why I’m so proud of my ahpé-friends, Cole. And that’s why I’m so proud of you! You’ve become who you need to be. Diwa is not Samuel. Kaffi is not Graymar. I am not my amma. You are not your parents.”
“I’m. Just Cole.”
“That you are,” she said, embracing him again. She nuzzled up against the top of his head, laughing quietly. “And that’s just how I like it! You are who you are, kae. If working with the co-op is the Future Calling you desire, I will not stop you. You don’t need to prove anything to me, you know that. And I’ll love you just the same.”
He laughed and playfully pushed her away. “Ai, you’re filling me up!” he said. “Any more of that and I’ll have to take a nap!”
She chirped in amusement. “And that’s a problem? We’ve got nothing else to do today! Let’s find a quiet corner in the orchard and relax, yeah? We’ve earned it!” She took him by the hand and led him up the main path towards the northern edge. He did not complain.
They found that quiet corner moments later, a small grassy knoll in the far northeastern corner of the orchard, facing the rest of the estate. She dropped herself down to the ground, lying on her back with her head resting on her balled-up vest, her wings relaxed and spread out on either side of her. Cole sidled up to her, nervous but not afraid. Smiling, she offered a hand. He took it, playing with her long, narrow fingers. They said little, and eventually Cole moved closer, burrowing himself up next to her, sharing her warm, calm energies. He felt safe and centered. She wrapped an arm around him, holding him close.