Author’s Note: Knowing how to handle unexpected life changes can be hard, but it doesn’t always have to be overwhelming.
The long, hot summer was finally winding down and the estate was buzzing with excitement, which meant it was time for the season’s end celebrations. Every member of the tenant’s committee skittered across the green all day long: having meetings in the community center, catching up and completing long-term projects, working out the next quarter’s budget report, reaping the first major apple harvest from the estate’s orchard, gardeners preparing their latest crops, and crafters weaving colorful streamers and setting them up all over the grounds.
And the biggest buzz of all: the official election for Graymar and Samuel’s replacements would take place this coming Saturday. Diwa and Kaffi were utterly exhausted and stressed out from all the work they’d done already: the filling out of official forms, the canvassing, the talking with the tenants. They’d ensured they were visible and available at all the various tenancy meetings, along with Anna-Nassi and Cole. And there were a lot of them going on at the moment. All this, on top of their daily errands, occasional visits to the co-op farm, and more. It was tiring, unrelenting work, but they dedicated every minute of the day to it.
Soon enough the week was nearly over, and with all their election work complete for the time being, the foursome gathered on the roof of Palm to celebrate and relax. Diwa did his best not to ruin the mood, but he could not shake this heavy anxiety; everyone, including Kaffi, had tried to convince him it was an easy win, but he refused to believe it until the election was officially called. Celebrating this early seemed a bit too presumptuous, at least right now. There was still time left for things to go in a completely different direction. Despite that, however, he refused to be overly pessimistic or cynical about it. If the other three were having fun, he certainly wasn’t going to rain on their parade.
“Eiyah,” Anna-Nassi said, holding up a large bottle of wine. She’d already had one or two glasses already, and was starting to waver. Her wings were wobbling and twitching and every now and again one of them would slap up against Cole if he sat too close. “Anyone for a refill?”
“You need to pace yourself,” Kaffi said with a grin, but he didn’t dismiss her offer, holding out his fluted glass.
“Fah. I’m fine,” she giggled. “Trust me, a truly drunk mandossi would be piercing your eardrums.” She refilled Kaffi’s glass, as well as Diwa’s and Cole’s, miraculously without spilling a single drop. “We get…loud.”
Diwa’s eyebrows shot up in amusement. Mandossi culture let younglings drink alcohol at a younger age than humans, and Annie was a perfect example of how it affected them when they overindulged; she was much looser and less self-conscious about her thoughts and emotions, but still well in check of her cognitive abilities. This made her much more confident but also sillier. Which, to be honest, wasn’t all that bad. “Louder than you usually are? I don’t believe it.”
Kaffi raised his glass to the other three. “To a long-lasting bond of friendship,” he said. They clinked glasses in response. “The four of us here, right now, have done so much in such a short amount of time. It’s hard to believe we’ve gotten this far.” He turned to Diwa and tapped a talon against his arm. “This was all Diwa’s idea. I am so proud of him!”
Diwa laughed, waving away the attention. “Salamat, Kaffi…it may have been my idea, but the three of you helped make it a reality. I can’t thank you enough for staying by me.”
“It’s a pleasure,” Kaffi said, tapping his back with his tail.
“Hurrah!” Anna-Nassi cheered at ear piercing volume. “To my friends!”
“Inside voice, dear,” he giggled.
“Oops!” she giggled at him. “Sorry!”
Cole prodded her on the arm. “Never you mind, Annie. Be as loud as you want.”
“Eiyah,” Kaffi sniffed good-naturedly. “You two are terrible.”
Anna-Nassi flashed a ridiculous smile stuck her tongue out at him, which brought another wave of laughter. Finally calming down, she turned back to Diwa and pointed her glass towards him. “Oh! That reminds me. Dee – your amma, she’s okay with the food prep situation for the celebration party, neh? I know we still have loads of time, but I don’t want anything to slide by until the last moment.”
Dari had been just as excited and unstoppable as the rest of the estate over the last few days. She’d certainly appreciate Annie’s help, though. “She’s fine for now,” he said. “She’s managed to get a number of tenants from each building to pitch in. I’ll tell her to contact you, though.”
Anna-Nassi nodded, wobbled again, and hiccupped. She let out an embarrassed giggle and ruffled her wings. “Ai, maybe I should pace myself, heh.” She ruffled them once more and leaned back against the knuckles. “So has anyone heard who will be on the voting commission this time?”
Kaffi waved a quick talon in her direction. “I don’t know, and I don’t want to know.”
“Oh, you’re no fun!” She turned to Diwa. “What about you?”
“Same,” he said. “Although they’ve already decided that Graymar and Samuel will be the ones to announce the outcome during the celebration feast.”
“Eiyah, that’s forever!” she whined, waving her hands in the air. “I can’t wait that long!”
“Once it’s tallied on our end, they’ll write up the report, Pop and Graymar will put their seals on it, and someone will fly it to the Tenancy Commission in Panooria. Pop is hinting that it’ll be Kaffi and I, as a final test of our honesty.”
Cole smiled at them. He’d been quiet all week, still healing from his last bad reaction, but he refused to let that keep him from remaining active. He held himself with an impressive calm that Diwa had never seen before, even with a slightly tipsy and extremely noisy Anna-Nassi at his side. “That’s quite a devious decision,” he said. “I’m impressed. Daniel and Akkree did the same for them if I’m not mistaken.”
“It’s sort of become a family tradition at this point,” he said with a shrug. “I kind of expected it, really. Even more devious is that we’ll both have the signet rings on us during the ride. Part of gaining entrance to the Commission offices, but also part of the seal that’ll hold the documents closed.”
Cole winced. “Ouch.”
Diwa waved his concern off. “We have no plans to cheat, of course.”
“I’m holding you to that,” Anna-Nassi frowned at them, swishing a clawed finger between them but never quite getting a bullseye. “Either of you cheat and you’ll hear it from me!”
Kaffi nodded with a calming smile, squeezing her wavering hand. “Eiyah, we have no plans to do that at all, Annie. You have our word.”
The voting process itself was quick and painless that Saturday, compared to everything else that had come before it. A large drop box and several booths were set up in the lobby of the community center and monitored by various members of the committee, and when the doors opened there was already a long line of tenants outside waiting to cast their ballots. Diwa and Kaffi put in the first votes as a symbolic gesture, then made themselves scarce for the rest of the day. Diwa felt it would have been in poor taste to hang around the main green within view of the community center, even if it was to help Tassh with his gardening, so he and Kaffi took another flight into the city, with Iliah tagging along and a plan to visit Diwa’s brother Aldrine. They hadn’t seen each other since the holidays, and their emails were often few and far between, and he felt it was time for that to change as well. They hadn’t been the closest of siblings, not like he was with Maricel, and he wanted to get to know him again, especially now that his own life was changing considerably. Ali was a few years older and had become the businessman of the family, choosing to go into banking instead of the family trade, and he’d definitely taken on their father’s quiet unassuming demeanor. Samuel had honored his decision, as Diwa had already started voicing interest around the same time. Ali had no problem with this and was quite happy to let his nakababatang kapatid take over that dream.
They all met at the outside restaurant on the wharf pier, enjoying an extended lunch. They’d ordered several plates of appetizers and other small dishes, and spent over an hour getting caught up with the latest family news and reconnecting as friends and siblings. Iliah knew Ali well, the both of them having spent time together in school and again when they both lived in the city, so this was a happy reunion for them as well.
“I just can’t get over how much you’ve grown!” Aldrine said to Diwa with the biggest smile on his face, prodding him excitedly in the arm. He was a mirror image of Samuel now, tall and lanky, a slightly receding hairline, and looking a bit unsure of how to hold himself, though he shared their mother’s infectious positivity. He couldn’t stop chatting! “Really, it’s great to see you again, Dee. You’ve grown so quickly in the last year. When I came home last, you were thinner than me and looked so lost.”
“Ai, ano bang pinag-uusapan ninyo?” Diwa laughed, prodding him back. “You had such a damn chip on your shoulder then! Mari was afraid to get close to you until you calmed down!”
“Anó? No I didn’t! Ano balíw ka ba?” he said in mock surprise, but he’d started laughing as well. “Ah, maybe you’re right. I’d just finished a major project from hell at work, with just one day to spare before deadline. I might have been a bit…irritable.”
“Hoy! Don’t push it, kapatid!” He pulled him into a close hug, tussling his hair. “Seriously, though. It is great to see you again, Diwa. Pop and Ina have been keeping me updated on your progress at the estate. They’re quite proud of you two, you know. You’ve come a hell of a long way in a short amount of time.” He nodded in Iliah’s direction. “You’ve been keeping me updated as well! It’s so good to hear from you again, Iliah. I’ve missed you, and it’s been ages. You’re doing well with your studies?”
“I’ll be wrapping up my internship soon,” she said, bobbing her snout and tapping his hand with a talon. “I’ll be sticking around the estate for a little longer, help your amma at the community center for a while. I’ll take my final classes early next year.”
“Good to hear. And what about you, Kaffi?”
“I am doing well, Ali,” he said with a wide grin. “Since our paddir are retiring, Dee and I have been busy almost every day. There are so many things going on I’m constantly forgetting what day it is, but I can’t complain. We’re picking up all we can from them while we can.”
Aldrine nodded quietly; he was aware of Graymar’s situation, but had chosen not to bring it up or dwell on it. “Ina called me a few weeks ago when they announced it. Surprised the heck out of me, but I’m glad they’re doing it. They deserve the break. And she called me the other day as well, when Pop and Graymar went on their flight.” He paused and dropped his head towards the table…his face went from a pondering to a scowl and back again. “I’m a bit conflicted about what they did,” he continued in a much softer voice, “but I won’t hold it against them. I understand the reason. And I’m glad they chose to include both of you.”
“As am I,” Kaffi said.
Iliah leaned in and tapped Aldrine again. “The harvest celebration is coming in a few weeks, Ali. We’d like you to be there.”
Aldrine tapped her arm in return. “Of course,” he said. “When is it?”
“Two weeks from now. I’ll send you an invite,” she said, and gestured her snout in Diwa and Kaffi’s direction. “Today is the election for Samuel and Graymar’s replacement, and they’ll be revealing the winner then. These two are the front runners. I know they’ll win, but they won’t believe me.”
“I’m sure they will,” he said, and raised an amused eyebrow in Diwa’s direction. “I see Pop’s really stretching it out like he said he would.”
“It’s tradition,” Kaffi said with a grin. “I don’t mind.”
“You don’t mind,” Diwa said, playfully leaning up against him. “I’m a giant ball of stress.”
Aldrine let out a heartfelt laugh, taking his brother’s hand and squeezing it tight. “Mananalo ka, sigurado ako! From what I hear, everyone at the estate loves you two.”
Diwa smiled warmly. “Salamat, Ali,” he said. “Kaffi and I will be taking our first flight up to Panooria to drop off the paperwork in a few days. It’s not the election that’s driving me crazy, it’s the waiting.”
They spent the rest of the afternoon strolling the Wharf District and visiting shops, and ended the day having coffee at a street café. They continued talking the entire time, catching each other up on news of family and work, reminiscing over memories of growing up at the estate, and reconnecting as brothers. Diwa enjoyed it immensely, realizing that he’d missed Aldrine more than he’d expected…they’d never been the closest of siblings due to the age difference and his leaving the estate just out of school, but this reunion had sparked something between them that had been missing for a long time. A brotherly bond that he’d almost forgotten about. Aldrine had noticed it too, and together they made plans to keep in closer contact. Diwa and Kaffi would stop by whenever they were in the city, and Aldrine would return for as many family get-togethers and estate celebrations as he could.
When it was time for them to return home at the end of the afternoon, Aldrine walked them to the landing pier. He was typically quiet and introspective as always, but Diwa sensed a newly awakened respect and hopefulness that had been missing in his life. Ali didn’t say anything, but he didn’t have to. At the edge of the tarmac he pulled Diwa into a long, fierce hug. “Mahal kita, Diwa. You do me proud, kid,” he said into his ear. “I know you’ll do great. It really was great to see you again.”
Diwa warmed to his words and returned the embrace. “Mahal din kita, Ali. Don’t be a stranger in the future, yeah?” he said with a smile, prodding him lightly on the shoulder. “Come down and visit. We’d love to see you more. And ping me on vidchat, I’ve always got it on.”
Ali turned to Kaffi next and surprised him with a tight embrace. “Ai, Kaffi! So great to see you again as well! I’m thrilled the two of you bonded!” he said to him. “You take good care of my little brother, yeah? He’s the only one I’ve got.”
Kaffi hummed happily and tapped his snout against Aldrine’s forehead. “I will, ahpadé,” he said. “I promise.”
Lastly, he turned to Iliah last and pulled her close. This was an embrace of longtime friends who hadn’t seen each other in far too long. “I’m glad you came, Iliah,” he said softly, and gave her a kiss on the snout. “I miss our café meetups too much! And please, stop by any time you’re in the neighborhood, okay? I’d love to see you again.”
She chittered her fangs together joyfully, nuzzling her snout into his hair and messing it up. “Of course, Ali! Once I’m back at school, I’ll let you know!”
Diwa was still smiling by the time they were back up in the air and headed for home; this visit had certainly calmed his nerves and lifted his spirits more than he’d expected. Aldrine hadn’t always been the most open person, but this reunion seemed to have sparked something that had been simmering deep down for quite some time. Reconnecting with his brother had stirred something in himself as well; the bond of extended family, including Iliah and Kaffi. That alone made him feel that he’d already achieved everything he’d ever wanted.
nakababatang kapatid (Tagalog) — little brother
“…ano bang pinag-uusapan ninyo?” (Tagalog) — “What are you talking about?”
“Anó? No I didn’t! Ano balíw ka ba?” (Tagalog) — “What? No I didn’t! What’s wrong with you?”
“Mananalo ka, sigurado ako!” (Tagalog) — “You’ll win, I’m sure!”