Author’s Note: Those final moments before a major revelation can always be nerve-wracking, but I chose not to have our two best friends fall prey to that kind of stress, because that was not the kind of character they were. On a more personal note, this was a moment in this project, one of many, where I realized that maybe this story isn’t just about Diwa and Kaffi, but about myself. It was a moment where I realized that I too could trust myself and not be so emotionally reactive to every situation.
The two weeks following their trip to Panooria passed all too quickly. Kaffi almost hadn’t noticed the passage of time as he’d been too preoccupied with spending so much of it with his paddir, while Diwa kept busy helping his own family prepare for the harvest celebration. He felt guilty for deserting Diwa like that, but he’d told him not to worry. Being with Graymar was more important right now. He appreciated Diwa’s understanding, and that he took the time to stop by their nest every single day to check in anyway.
Graymar could not stand being fussed over of course, but he’d chosen not to complain, welcoming it all with an amused grumble and a flicker of his wing tips. He was starting to lose more mobility of his wings and his gait had slowed up, but he refused to let that stop him from his daily activities. He continued his rounds on the roof of Building C, spent a few hours on the roof of Palm with Samuel, and still made the occasional appearance at the community center to see how the celebration preparations were coming along. He stuck close to home for the most part, and he’d gone out of his way to reestablish the bond with his family, making up for lost time. Shahney stayed close, nuzzling him, and making him laugh. She’d said it was like they were newly bonded again, bringing back the fond memories of their courtship. Iliah took time off from her internship and her studies to take care of the nest so their parents could spend as much time together as they wished.
Kaffi would still tear up from time to time when his fears and emotions got the better of him, but after a few days he’d realized it wasn’t exactly set off by sorrow alone. It was also a profound love and respect for his paddir. He spent the afternoons talking with him on the roof, learning about his history and the adventures he’d had with Samuel – who came over as often as Diwa had, and stayed for just as long, if not longer. There were laughter and tears aplenty, and a deep love all around the nest. Kaffi no longer saw his paddir as just a habitually grumpy tintrite with an impressive wingspan, but as a dedicated tintrite and a landlord and a friend who loved many and was loved by even more.
Nearing the end of the two weeks, Kaffi and his family emerged from their apartment to find that, much to their surprise, the entire estate had chosen to take part in the harvest festival preparations. While Diwa’s mother had put herself in charge of the celebratory dinner, many other families had busied themselves with putting up decorations, running errands and doing chores, and anything else that Dari requested. Kaffi found out later that that had been the work of the tenant’s committee and headed up by none other than Anna-Nassi herself, with Cole as her direct assistant and Elise-Nooviya mentoring her along the way. Everyone wanted this to be the biggest community celebration the estate had ever seen, all dedicated to Graymar.
For Kaffi, this was even more gratifying than the impending election results. To feel this connected to his community was a wonderful thing indeed.
Even Diwa hadn’t expected such an outpouring of community, and it moved him deeply. Kaffi watched him tear up as they stood side by side at the edge of the roof of Building C, watching the families walking towards the community center. The whole of the estate was buzzing with energy and excitement…there were so many voices rising from below that he could barely make out any specific conversations! This sound was far different than any normal day here…but it was a good sound. A powerful sound, a heart-lifting sound.
The dinner itself would start in two hours, and a few hours after that they would officially announce the election results. By tonight, Diwa and Kaffi would know their fate.
“You know…” Diwa said, leaning against the railing. He glanced over at him, completely deadpan. “I should be too nervous to eat right now, but I am absolutely starving.”
Kaffi barked out a laugh and gave him a nudge. “You too, yeah?” he said.
“You know that Samuel’s had the election results sitting on his desk for the last seven days, yeah?” he said, pointing his thumb across the green towards Palm and finally allowing himself a furtive grin. “In plain view for anyone to see. Gareth sent a courier with their response to Pop last week. It’s been sitting in the inbox collecting dust ever since. I think he was trying to test me, see if I’d peek. It didn’t help that he was always in the office every time I had to go in there.”
Kaffi blinked at him and tilted his head in mock surprise. “And you didn’t tell me earlier so I could distract him for you? Come on, Dee, you’re losing your edge!”
“Maybe so,” he said. “I swear he was just teasing me at that point.”
“Well. We’ll know in a few hours.”
“Hmm. You think we did the right thing?”
“Yeah,” he said, and to prove his point, twitched his wings. “We did.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Because we’re doing what called to us, Dee,” he said, squeezing his shoulder. “We’ve talked about it ever since we were younglings. We always joked about it, made our crazy plans for it. But when you suggested we take it seriously, that made it the right thing. We knew we wanted it. We just had to make it happen.”
Diwa exhaled and leaned up against the railing once more, no longer giving into the fear of this height he still felt here on this roof, and thought about his father’s words: it’s one thing to say and another to do. How true that was.
“We did the right thing, Dee,” Kaffi said, and nuzzled the top of his head with his snout.
Diwa smiled and let out a quiet laugh. “Yeah,” he said. “We did the right thing.”
Diwa did not expect the turnout to be so loud. He’d participated in every harvest celebration at this estate for as long as he could remember, and it had always been an exciting affair with food, fun, and friendship. He remembered being a small boy, following ina and Aldrine to the community center when the sun was low in the sky, sampling far too many delicacies laid out on large platters and eating more than his share of sugary desserts afterwards, and briefly talking with tenants before he escaped and tore through the central green once more with Kaffi in tow. Some of those tenants had eventually moved on but many of them were still here, years later, and they were now the ones going out of their way to say hello to the two of them.
Past celebrations were always a noisy affair and often lasted the entire week with multiple events and dinners. Tonight, however, the community center was packed to the rafters for a special occasion indeed. Everyone was here, not just for the food and the entertainment, but for the long-awaited news about the election. He walked through the room with Kaffi by his side, waving to everyone and occasionally stopping to chat. The tenants were all smiles and happiness when they saw them coming by.
“Heya! Diwa! Kaffi!” Tassh waved excitedly in their direction when he spotted them coming his way. He wore a fancy floor length and dusk-colored aanoupii robe made of fine silk, with a multicolored shirt and loose dark pants underneath. Moffer and Kantah stood by his side, wearing similar formal dress. Even little Koie was there in a miniature robe, swaddled in Kantah’s arms.
“It’s good to see the two of you,” Kantah said, nodding deeply towards them. “Since I work the second shift, I don’t always get to see you on the green. Both of you have done such a great job this summer!”
Kaffi dropped his snout in a bow in return. “Thank you, Kantah,” he said, and waved a finger in the baby’s direction. “This is Koie? Eiyah, she’s grown since I last saw her!”
She beamed with pride and delight and let Kaffi hold the little aanoupii. He took the youngling happily and held her close, making cooing noises and letting her grab at his whiskers. She thanked him repeatedly for how much they’d done for her family over the summer, especially with the adults’ schedules being so often in flux. Kaffi let her know he’d pass the appreciation on to Anna-Nassi and Cole as well.
Tassh leaned in towards Diwa, nudging him with amusement. “I have it on good account that you’re going to win the election,” he muttered, patting him on the arm. “My garden friends are always talking about the two of you!”
“We’ll know soon enough,” Diwa said, grinning nervously. “I’m trying not to think about it until it’s official.”
“Your family has been so helpful since we’ve moved in,” he said, and looked around the crowded room. “And I feel so at home around all my neighbors. I’m glad we moved here.”
“We’re glad to have you, Tassh. Oh! I meant to congratulate you for getting the position at the co-op farm! Cole has told me that he’s put you in charge of field management?”
“One of the many managers,” he said, blushing slightly, and flashed his enormous grin once more. “But it’s a good job and pays well. We’re doing good work there already. We donated some of our harvest to tonight’s dinner.”
“Nice!” Diwa said. Suddenly he felt the soft nudge of Kaffi’s tail against his back. He’d already given Koie back to Kantah and was gesturing further down the hallway. Diwa gave him a quick nod and turned back to Tassh. “We have to go, but it was great to see you and the family,” he said, glancing at Tassh’s brother and sister-in-law. “We’ll talk later?”
Tassh waved them on. “Of course! And come join me in the garden again when you have a chance!”
By the time they made it to their seats for the dinner part of the evening, Diwa and Kaffi were already exhausted from talking with so many people. They sat at a long table near the front dais, where Samuel, Dari, Graymar and Shahney sat at the main table as guests of honor. Diwa and Kaffi didn’t mind not sitting up there a second time, preferring the semi-anonymity of the main floor. Anna-Nassi and Cole sat to their left, enjoying the meal and the party. Diwa watched them for a few moments, still pleased and impressed by how deeply the two of them complemented each other. Annie was on her best behavior (although her volume slipped every now and again, to everyone’s amusement), and Cole remained calm and balanced.
Their siblings sat together to their right, Iliah sitting in between Aldrine and Maricel. They were having a grand time together, laughing and joking and hugging, and it warmed Diwa’s heart to watch them. The three shared their own kind of bond, one of close extended family, which had only grown stronger and closer over the summer. It would continue to grow long after Graymar left this plane.
The dinner lasted two hours, complete with multiple courses and diversions and entertainments by those from the tenant’s committee. There were several short humorous speeches, a few musical numbers from the younger kids, and even a video presentation of their success both in the orchard and at the co-op. And for the surprise final performance, Graymar and Samuel received a hilarious roasting from Iliah and Aldrine. Everyone was laughing and cheering by the end.
And then it was time. The room grew quiet, and conversations ended as Samuel and Graymar stood up from their places at the head tables and made their way towards center stage. Diwa’s heart leapt with both fear and excitement. He and Kaffi glanced at each other and smiled nervously.
Kaffi said nothing, but he laid his hand over Diwa’s, squeezing it lightly.