Diwa & Kaffi 21

Author’s Note: It’s not just about making the decision to achieve your goals…it’s also about keeping them alive in your heart, and letting them blossom into greater things.

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

Tassh stopped digging in the soil and looked up, wiping his brow with a sleeve and studying him with interest. “There’s something different about you today, Diwa,” he said. “You seem to be so much more kriishii today.”

Diwa grinned unashamedly at him and continued to pinch away the dead leaves and shoots as he found them in one of the raised beds. He’d been expecting this since they met up on the green that afternoon to tend to Tassh’s allotment. “Just a lot of positive things going on at the moment,” he said, and left it at that.

“Ah yes, enjoying life for what it’s giving you,” Tassh said, winking and pointing his trowel in his direction. He understood and didn’t need to ask any questions. “Embrace it, annh. It will set you off in so many different directions, but your spirit will always know the right way to go.”

“Hmm. I’ll keep that in mind, Tassh,” he said. “How is your family, by the way? I haven’t seen Moffer in a while. I usually see him coming home from work at night.”

Tassh face screwed up into a mean grimace and made a noise that sounded partly like a grunt of frustration and a whine of annoyance. “He’s been recruited for a temporary project in the city,” he said, stabbing at the earth a little harder than usual. “He’s been staying with our family the last few weeks, so he doesn’t have to travel so far. It’s good pay and it’s only for another month, but it’s put a bit of a strain on Kantah and Koie and I’m exhausted. I’ve been doing all I can for both of them.”

Diwa slowed to a halt, turning towards him. “That’s got to be tough. If you need any help at the house, by all means let me know. I can ask around and get you some part time help.”

“I appreciate that,” he said, his broad shoulders dropping with relief. “I will let Kantah know when I see her later today.”

“No worries, it’s what this estate is about. We’re glad to assist any way we can.”

Tassh snorted and pushed himself up to his knees, his fists pushing into his sides. “You are definitely a dreamer, Diwa,” he said, giving him a wily grin. “You and your friends. Mind you, I’m not complaining. It’s refreshing, is what it is. Sometimes such optimism is hard to come by.”

“I always try to be optimistic, but I try to be realistic as well,” he said, pausing to take in Tassh’s comment. He thought of the many times he’d been led to second-guess himself for being too excited about his ideas. He thought of Kaffi sitting next to him on the light rail, worried about their plans. “It’s too easy to set my hopes too high sometimes,” he added.

“Heh. You sound like Samuel.”

“I should!” he laughed. “He’s thrown those exact words at me multiple times over the last few years!”

“Ha! My annoh has given me that same advice as well.”

“Well…” He stood up, wiping sweat from his brow and brushing dirt off his clothes. He looked around the estate grounds; it was a quiet afternoon with not too many tenants milling about, though it was never completely quiet. He could hear the echoes of the younger kids at the playground just beyond the hedges. He could hear a few tenants laughing and talking while they walked one of the outer footpaths on the green. He could hear someone in one of the bungalows behind them practicing scales on a woodwind instrument. All was well, and Diwa felt at peace. He turned back to Tassh, flashing a smile at him. “I guess I just have faith in this estate, yeah? If I’ve learned anything from Pop so far, it’s that everyone has different levels of acceptance. Some of our tenants are more than willing to jump in and give a hand to anyone that needs help. Some are extremely social, want to be a part of whatever’s going on. And some are solitary, would rather keep to ourselves and not make waves.”

Tassh stood as well and brushed himself off. “And what about you?” he asked, tipping his horns in his direction.

“Me? That’s a good question.” He looked away in thought, taking Tassh’s question to heart. “I suppose I’m a bit like Samuel and Graymar mashed up. I make it a point to connect with a lot of people for that exact reason. To learn what levels our tenants work at. Get to know who needs help, who’d rather be left alone, and who goes either way and just enjoys the company.”

Tassh shook his trowel at him again, giving him a wide grin. “Yes, but who are you, youngling Diwa? What kind of tenant are you? An outsider? A busybody? A watcher like your father, or part of the community like your mother?”

Diwa opened his mouth to answer, but to his surprise couldn’t come up with a good response. “I bit of everything…I suppose,” he said.

“This is how you are seen by others, Diwa,” Tassh said, nodding at him. “Something to think about, yeah? Come – Let’s take a break. Our allotment will be waiting for us when we return.”

*

Kaffi swooped down onto the railing outside Diwa’s apartment building and nailed the landing on the first attempt. This surprised him greatly, considering he would usually duff it and slide off to the balcony floor, or he’d overbalance and need to kick back off and hover so he could try it again. He hadn’t been thinking about his technique this time, trusting himself and letting it come naturally. He smiled happily as he hopped down to the balcony floor and knocked on the apartment door. Perhaps he was getting more out of his training than he’d expected!

Maricel answered, a big grin already on her face. “Hey there, Kaffi!” she said. “Come on in. Diwa’s busy helping Pop in the back office right now, but I can get him if you want?”

“No, that’s fine,” he said, dismissing the offer with a quick wave. “I’m in the middle of doing rounds so I can only stay for a few moments. I just wanted to give him a message anyway. Can you tell him to come over after dinner tonight?”

She nodded, but she also crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow at him. He knew that look well, and he steeled himself for the inquisition. Nothing ever got past Maricel, not when he and Diwa were involved. “Anong ginagawa mo, Kaffi?” she said. “He came home yesterday with a big stupid grin on his face, you know. He wouldn’t elaborate, but he was insufferable for the rest of the night!”

Kaffi fluttered his wings and tipped his head innocently. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said.

“Of course you don’t,” she giggled. “I know that look.”

“You do?”

“Yes! You two decided to bond!”

He chittered his fangs together and snorted in amusement. “That is your own opinion, my dear Mari,” he said. “And I am currently in no position to confirm or deny.”

“You are such a bad liar!” she relented with a laugh, and wrapped her arms around his neck, giving him a squeeze. “Can’t say I didn’t see it coming. Still…ang sayá-sayá ko! Welcome to the family!”

Kaffi’s wings rippled with joy and he draped his arms around her small frame. “Salamat, Mari,” he hummed. “Please…keep it under wraps for now? I don’t want any news to break without Diwa’s okay.”

“You got it,” she said, and planted a kiss on his snout. “You treat him good, Kaff. Or you’ll be hearing it from me!”

He returned to his nestroom later that afternoon, feeling nervous and twitchy. He sat on his pallet bed, looking at the large package he and his paddir had brought back from his uncle’s, sliding his long fingers along the corners. He felt nervous and excited at the same time; the contents of this package were going to assist in one of the biggest advances in his flight training and he couldn’t wait to begin.

He didn’t want to open it just yet, though the temptation was incredibly high, and Graymar had understood his wishes to keep it closed when they brought it home via light rail. He wanted to share it with Diwa first, signifying the start of their long career together. Dee had been sitting in that spot just yesterday, professing that he too wanted to bond, and each time Kaffi thought of that moment he felt another happy chill coursing through him, making his wings flutter.

He wondered if his paddir knew of their bonding plans. He must have figured it out by now, as nothing ever got past him. His manae probably knew as well. Iliah must have known before anyone else; that had to have been one of the reasons why she’d given him that armband.

As long as his family continued to welcome Diwa with open wings…!

His manae soon called him to dinner, even though he was too nervous to eat. He nibbled away at another of Iliah’s delicious dishes, far too distracted. Iliah understood and left him alone. Shahney eyed him once or twice, more out of curiosity than concern. Graymar had said nothing, but he’d already shared his words with him privately earlier in the day. He’d had a long talk with him during the trip back from his uncle’s; one that he hadn’t expected but had treasured. He’d told Kaffi how proud he was of his progress, how pleased he was by his dedication and drive.

But he’d grown silent again by dinnertime, distracted and grumpy and keeping his distance from everyone. It obviously wasn’t anything Kaffi had done or said, so he didn’t feel guilty…but he was still concerned. He’d been tempted to get him to open up, but shied away after Iliah tried and failed, and Shahney had waved the two of them off. He let it go for now. In his heart, he knew that his paddir was indeed proud of him.

*

Diwa arrived a little after seven. He’d brought a few textbooks for a study session, but he had a feeling he wouldn’t be using them right away, considering Kaffi’s bristling excitement. Kaffi let him in and led him towards his nestroom, and his wings would not stop twitching. He hopped onto his pallet bed with much more of a spring in his step than usual, hastily reached over the other side, and placed a large cardboard box in between them. “Come,” he said, flashing a wide smile at him. “Sit. I have something I want to show you.”

Diwa raised his eyebrows, amused. Kaffi could be quite animated on a good day, but he was rarely this close to spilling over with barely contained glee! “Okay,” he said, climbing onto the bed. “What’s in the box?”

Kaffi tapped the top with one of his talons. “Open it and see!” he said.

“You haven’t opened it yourself yet?” he said.

“It’s for both of us,” he said, bobbing his snout. “I want to see what you think of it. I saw it earlier, but I want you to see it now.”

Diwa wasn’t quite used to this side of Kaffi before. Not that he minded, but it would take getting used to. He slipped the interlocked box flaps open and began to push aside the packing pellets that hid the mystery item. His fingers brushed against something hard and round, and took a hold of it try to pull it through the packing material.

His eyes went wide in surprise as he began to uncover what was underneath. No wonder he was so excited! “Whoa! Is that…?”

Sitting in the middle of the box was a ride’s saddle, wrapped up in a light clear plastic. Small and compact, and much lighter than he’d expected.

Diwa couldn’t help but laugh. “It is..!”

“Go on, take it out!” Kaffi said, grinning madly.

Diwa lifted it out of the box and studied it closely. It was a lighter, lower-end style of saddle that was made both of leather and ultra-strong polymers, a perfect starter version for those just starting out in flight. The seat was slightly padded for ride comfort, and the underside was lined with a soft microfiber for flight comfort. The foot wells were hinged for easy storage but locked into place once unfolded. There were also a few small unexplained hooks and eyeholes around the sides that he wasn’t sure about. He’d seen such saddles before, but he’d never seen one up close. He hadn’t expected it to be so light! It was slightly worn and discolored, but it had been cleaned and repaired very recently, and had been kept in good shape.

He placed it on the bed between them. “This was your uncle’s?”

“My cousin’s,” Kaffi said, tapping his fangs together. “He took good care of it after he got a replacement and gave it back to his paddir. And now it’s ours until we buy our own.”

“Yours, you mean?”

He waved a talon between them. “I wear it, you use it,” he said happily. “Ergo, it’s ours.”

“Ours…” Diwa smiled as he let that word sink in. “Hmm. I like the sound of that.”

“So do I, Dee.”

He placed it back in the box, but he couldn’t keep his eyes off it. “Seriously, I love it! Are you going to start training with it soon?”

Kaffi bobbed his head quickly. “Paddir will show me how to wear it and use it this weekend. I’ll need to get used to it first before I start flying anywhere with it.” He reached out and touched Diwa’s hand, patting it twice. “You’ll just have to wait a bit more. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” he said. “Annie still needs to train me, so we have time.”

Kaffi beamed at him, squeezing his hand. “You like it? It’s nothing exciting, but I wanted to share it with you.”

Diwa hummed in response, squeezing back. “It’s great. I’m glad you did.”

*

“Hey, Kaff?”

Kaffi lifted his snout from his reading and glanced at him. “Hmm?”

Diwa pushed his textbook aside and leaned back on the bed. He’d been too distracted to study tonight, even before he’d come over here. He hated to ruin the positive mood they’d shared just a short time ago, but this irritation had been nagging at the back of his mind all day.

“Is there something going on with Graymar?”

Kaffi slowed his movements and held his wings still. “Not that I know of. Why?”

“Well…Pop was in a mood again today. He didn’t seem angry, just upset at something. He won’t tell me what. I thought it might just be his usual thing, but…he was just so happy when they came back from Panooria the other day.”

Kaffi hummed, quiet and extremely low; concerned. “You know how paddir is, Dee. He’s grouchy on any given day. No less than usual lately.” He finally let his wings twitch just a little bit. “He was fine earlier today when we went to pick up the saddle…but he was quiet by the time we got home. I wonder…”

Diwa watched Kaffi flutter his wings again, this time stretching them out to almost full span before pulling them back against his body again. “Flight?” he ventured.

“Hmm. Maybe. He won’t admit to anything, but he has been favoring his right wing lately. If it’s bothering him, it could be affecting his flight.” He hummed again, quick and tight. Concern. “I hope he’s getting it looked at.”

“I’m sure he is,” Diwa said, frowning. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

“No, Dee,” he said quickly, his wings fluttering again. “I’m glad you did. I should be more worried about him. I’ll bring it up with my manae.” He rested a hand on his shoulder, brushing a thumb against his skin. “Thank you for telling me. You were concerned about Samuel’s mood. This means they’re aware of an issue. I won’t push him if your paddir is already doing so.”

“I suppose you’re right…” he said, placing his hand over Kaffi’s. “I just want to do the right thing, Kaff. They both needed that positive connection. I just want them to keep it.”

“So do I, Dee,” he said, giving him a soft smile. “So do I.”

*

Glossary:
kriishii (kree-shee) — (aanoupii) in good spirits, emanating a positive outlook
“Anong ginagawa mo, Kaffi?” — (Tagalog) “What are you up to, Kaffi?”
“…ang sayá-sayá ko!” — (Tagalog) “I’m extremely happy!”
“Salamat, Mari…” — (Tagalog) “Thank you, Mari…”


Diwa & Kaffi 20

Author’s Note: Everything in this novel has been leading up to this one moment: where their shared future truly begins.

*

CHAPTER TWENTY

Diwa laid at the end of Kaffi’s pallet bed and stared up at the ceiling. They’d both been so busy during the day that they’d almost run out of time to do their schoolwork. He’d been thinking about him off and on throughout the day, wondering where he was and what he might be up to, if he’d enjoyed his trip with Iliah. He’d wanted to ask him about the conversation he’d had with Graymar across the way, as it had started out a little on the tentative side but unexpectedly swerved into an animated exchange of chatter and rippling wings soon after. After their group meeting, however, Kaffi had suggested Diwa come over to his place to study after dinner, and Diwa happily agreed. They’d been wanting to spend more time with each other outside of their estate plans anyway, and this was perfect.

Even if Kaffi wasn’t paying attention to him.

He hunched over his worktable, his eyes glued to the large monitor in front of him as he typed away at the keyboard. He’d been working on one of his term papers for most of the evening, intensely focused and working hard. Diwa watched him, impressed by his dedication. Kaffi might be addicted to flying, but he was also an extremely dedicated student. His grades were often higher than Diwa’s, not that he minded. Kaffi could easily be anything he wanted to be, given time and inclination. Sometimes he wondered if Kaffi truly wanted to stick around the estate with him, but he’d never voiced that concern, knowing how ridiculous it sounded in reality. Kaffi had shown him his conviction so many times over in the last few years, and it never wavered.

Diwa would tell him everything about his basophobia tonight.

Kaffi abruptly stopped typing, rubbed at an eye with the palm of his hand, and leaned closer, reading the text and humming quietly. That was something new; during their vidchats Kaffi always remained silent when he was revising his work. Except that one time, when he thought Diwa had left the room already. It wasn’t just a meandering tune, though, but a full song that he’d heard Kaffi sing before. He said nothing but listened, enjoying the music and silently tapping the beat against his leg as he pretended to read his textbook.

After a few more minutes of work and melodic humming, Kaffi exhaled and uncurled out of his hunch, stretching his arms and wings. “Ai,” he grunted. “I am almost done with this thing,” he said, tipping his head in Diwa’s direction. “I’m sorry I’ve been such a boring host. This one’s taking forever to finish.”

“Doesn’t bother me any,” Diwa said, and pushed himself up. “It’s not as if we’re always yapping at each other when we’re on vidchat.”

“I know, but you’re here, and I’m ignoring you.”

“You need to get that paper done. All I had was some math homework and light reading. Besides, I don’t mind. I like hanging out here. And your room is so much bigger than mine.”

Kaffi snorted and lifted his wings to half-spread. “It kind of has to be.”

Diwa tucked his legs under and looked around the room. “It’s been a while, anyway. Between school and internship, we rarely have time to just hang out. I see you’ve got new shelving up.”

Kaffi glanced up at the wall above his worktable, nodding. “Paddir and I put them up a few weeks ago. The old ones were starting to sag. They were leftovers from Iliah, and I needed more room for my things anyway.”

“Hmm. What’s that?”

Kaffi tipped his head to the side. “Hmm?”

“Above your monitor,” Diwa said, pointing the large folded-up cloth sitting on the highest shelf, well out of his reach. “Looks like a sheet of some kind.”

Kaffi perked up immediately, clicking his fangs in delight, and reached up for it. “Oh! Thanks for reminding me! I’ve been meaning to show this to you when you next came over!” He slid it off the shelf, took two corners and shook it open. It unfurled before him, revealing a large blanket tapestry. It was a simple pattern, going from a dark blue with white dots scattered at the top, fading to white near the bottom; a starfield and a horizon at night. It was bordered by a chevron pattern, alternating light and dark blue.

Kaffi’s snout appeared comically over the top of it with just a little bit of blue showing on the ridge. He flashed such a wide grin his whiskers were twitching. “What do you think? Do you like it?”

“That’s…” Diwa’s brows shot up. “That’s a saddle blanket, isn’t it?” He pushed off the bed and walked up to it, taking up the other corners and running his fingers across it. It was a soft and durable cotton. smooth and strong in his hands. It wasn’t a printed pattern, either…this was hand crafted stitching. It was so new the creases from the folds were still visible. This wasn’t a hand-me-down, this was a brand new, high-end blanket! “Ay, Kaffi! This is lovely! Where did you get it?”

“Paddir bought it for me during their last trip to Panooria,” he said, barely holding back his pride. His wings wouldn’t stop twitching. “My first saddle blanket, Dee. Isn’t it great?”

Diwa smiled in response but he couldn’t quite hide the unexpected shiver he felt. “Ito ang tamang gawin, hindi ba…?” he said after a moment. “It’s wonderful.”

Kaffi tipped his head at him, his wings slowing up. “What?”

“Hmm?”

“You’re holding back, Dee. Is there something wrong?”

“No, no…” he waved at him quickly. “It’s nothing for you to worry about. Here, let me help you fold it up.”

“Hmm,” Kaffi said, and together they wrapped it back up. Kaffi placed it back onto the shelf, eyeing him the entire time. “You’re sure?”

Diwa moved to his side and patted him on the shoulder. “Definitely,” he said. “No worries. When do you think you’ll be ready to use it?”

Kaffi’s wings rippled at the question. “End of summer, looks like,” he said, tapping his fangs together in happiness. “Paddir will be stepping up the flight training. That’s what we were talking about on the roof today. Thing is, he hasn’t given me any details or a schedule yet, so I can’t give you a date.”

“No hurry,” Diwa said, and returned to the pallet bed. “We have all the time we need. I’ve got to do my own studying for it, you know. Being that we have exactly zero experience with flying together.”

“That is true,” he grinned. “No details there either, I assume?”

“Just that Anna-Nassi is involved somehow,” he said tentatively, smirking. “I’m not sure if I should be relieved or terrified. Or both.”

“Hmm.” Kaffi climbed onto the pallet and sat next to him. “I trust her, though. And I know you do too.”

“Hmm,” Diwa said. “I do.”

*

Kaffi sat on all fours on his bed, his paws crossed in front of him, watching Diwa, listening to him talk. He laid across the end and stared at the ceiling, just like he always did, telling him about Anna-Nassi’s unexpected visit at his apartment to help with Samuel. He didn’t seem particularly annoyed or highly bothered by it, but his voice betrayed him. He must be jealous. Kaffi could relate, considering that Graymar still spent more time with Samuel than he did with his own family sometimes. Diwa was indeed hiding something, from earlier. Kaffi wouldn’t push, though. He’d share it soon enough. He always did.

Now if he could only shake his own misgivings…

It was time. He could not wait any longer.

“Dee?” he said during a lull in the conversation. “Can I ask you a question?”

Diwa shifted and glanced at him. “Hmm? Sure.”

Kaffi dipped his head down, looking at his paws, mustering up his courage. Eiyah…now or never. “I’m…” He grumbled and ruffled his wings. Come on, Kaffi, you can do this. “I know I’ve been called a reckless flier, Dee. By my paddir, no less. I know I’m not the most graceful flier here in the estate.”

Diwa smiled and gave him a reassuring tap on the arm. “That’s okay, I’m nowhere near the most graceful human. You’ve seen me trip over my shadow on multiple occasions.”

“This is true.” Kaffi grinned warmly at him, appreciating the levity. “I suppose I’m worried. Worried that I won’t measure up to the flier you expect me to be. Or that I’ll do something dumb and lose your trust. I…I want to earn your trust, Dee. We’ve been friends forever and you trust me on that level, but this is so much more important, yeah? Like the saddle blanket. I wanted to show it to you earlier – practically as soon as paddir gave it to me – but I felt…I don’t know. Worried that you’d feel I was getting ahead of myself? I know it sounds silly, but…”

Diwa rolled over onto his side, propping himself up on an elbow. He expected a smile or a kind laugh, but instead he was unreadable. “Kaff, you worry too much,” he said quietly, without any emotion. He looked down at his hand, fingers tapping on the bed, and took a very slow uneven breath. “Look…I worry too, Kaff,” he said, his voice all too quiet. “I worry that I’m not going to be the best ride. I’ve never flown before. I hardly know anything about flight. I…” he stalled, diverting his eyes. “I want to tell you this, Kaff. I have to.”

“Dee.” He unclenched one of his paws and laid it on Diwa’s flat hand, holding it tight. His skin was warm. Too warm. But he didn’t flinch or pull it away. “Dee,” he said again, his voice low and calm. “Please, I want you to trust me. You can tell me.”

“Hmm,” he said. His face and eyes were reddening, but he didn’t hide it. Instead he pushed himself up into a sitting position, facing him. And he’d taken hold of his paw with both hands, his small fingers wrapped around his larger ones. Briefly rubbed at his eyes, took his hand once more. Held it tighter with more conviction.

“I have…I have mild basophobia. A fear of falling,” he said finally, his shoulders visibly drooping. “It’s not incapacitating. It’s something I’ve had since I was a kid. You’ve seen me on your roof, Kaff. I can go up there and hang out with you for as long as I like. I can even go to the edge and lean up against that same railing Graymar is always at, for a short time. But I get a feeling of vertigo if I’m there for too long.” He lifted his sad eyes and looked deep into his. “I was afraid to tell you since it could be a problem for us. I don’t want this to ruin our plans, Kaff. I can’t let it. I don’t want to give up because of this.”

“Ah…” Kaffi said, his heart fluttering. Dee…my fiiri…!

He let out a long calming hum, refusing to look away. He’d caught Diwa’s gaze at that moment and he couldn’t tear away from it. Diwa needed his strength, and he would gladly give it to him. He would accept this challenge. He would help him. They would fly. Diwa would be his ride. Kaffi would be his flight. They would do this together. “We can work with this,” he said.

Diwa blinked at him. “We…we can?”

He squeezed Diwa’s hand and leaned in close. “Of course we can,” he said softly, tapping his snout against Diwa’s forehead and letting it sit there for a moment. “You and I are ride and flight. We’ll figure this out. We will make this work.”

Diwa let out a shaky laugh and looked away, his eyes moist. “Hindi yata ako nababagay rito…” he mumbled. “Thank you, Kaff.”

“Anytime,” he said, and squeezed his hand again.

“You…you said you had a question?”

Kaffi’s wings fluttered once more and he chittered nervously. This was what he’d originally been leading up to, before Diwa told him his secrets. “Oh. Yeah. Um.” He looked down at their joined hands, allowing himself a furtive grin. Yes, this is what he wanted. “Dee. I know Annie always teases us about it. So does Iliah. But now that they’ve planted it in my head, I’ve had a hard time not thinking about it. They’re right, Dee. I think we are bonded. And.”

His voice started to tremble. “And I think you believe the same. I think we should just stop pretending. You know. Make it happen. On that level.”

Diwa snorted.

Kaffi looked up, catching his eyes again, the response completely unexpected. He felt Diwa’s hands squeeze his so tight, refusing to let go. He had the brightest smile on his face. The tears were coming once more, though they were happy tears. Ecstatic tears.

“Kaff, I…” he said, his own voice caught in his throat.

“Dee, I’m sorry if I—”

Diwa squeezed his hand again, pulling it towards him.

“Kaff!” he said again, giggling. “Ay…higit kang mas malakas kaysa sa’kin…”

“I…?”

“Of course I believe we’re already bonded, you big dork!” He threw his arms around Kaffi’s neck, pulling him into a tight hug, laughing and crying onto his shoulder. “I’m so glad you asked. I’ve been wanting to ask you for months now.”

Kaffi startled and twitched his wings, but he did not pull away. Months…? Eiyah, so his instincts and heart were telling the truth! Oh, this was the best day of his life! They truly were bonded now, leaving nothing unsaid between them. This was the start of their long life together, as ride and flight…and as bonded friends. Always together. He draped his own arms around Diwa, fully embracing him. He let out a long, sonorous hum of pleasure, and let his own happy tears come.

“I’m glad too,” he whispered, leaning his snout against Diwa’s shoulder.

*

Glossary:
“Ito ang tamang gawin, hindi ba…?” — (Tagalog) “This is the real thing, isn’t it…?” This, just like Kaffi’s armband, has more than just one meaning.
fiiri (fee-ree) — (tintrite) best friend, bonded friend
“Ay…higit kang mas malakas kaysa sa’kin…” — (Tagalog) “Ay…you’re so much stronger than I am…”

Diwa & Kaffi 19

Author’s Note: Sometimes the biggest changes in your life take place with the smallest of steps.

*

CHAPTER NINETEEN

Graymar and Kaffi stood together at the edge of the roof of Building C as part of their afternoon watch. Kaffi could see Annie and Diwa across the way, having an quiet but intense conversation. Diwa seemed worried, and Annie was doing her best to calm him in her own animated ways. He briefly wished he was over there with them, but knew he couldn’t, not right now. Duty called.

His paddir, on the other hand, seemed highly distracted and irritable today, far more than usual, but as far as Kaffi knew it had nothing to do with any argument with Samuel this time. His ears twitched constantly, and he couldn’t seem to focus on any sounds for too long, and that alone was annoying him. He huffed and scratched at his snout, trying to clear his head. Kaffi said nothing, worried that he’d set him off somehow.

Eventually Graymar’s eyes landed briefly on Kaffi’s arm, and he gestured at it. Not dismissively, but not with any sense of pride, either. “I see you’re wearing an armband,” he grumbled.

“Iliah—” he started.

“She told me,” he said curtly.

Kaffi ruffled his wings and glanced at his paddir with concern. He’d been in such a positive mood a few hours ago when he and Iliah had left. “Is there something wrong?”

Graymar’s snout turned slightly dark, his mouth a tight line. “No…” he said and let out a slow sigh. “Nothing you need to worry about.”

Kaffi knew better than to try to get a clearer answer out of him. He wasn’t angry, or at least not angry at him. Graymar would explain his irritation sooner or later, so he let it go for now.

“Paddir…” he started, changing the subject. “Can we start the flight training soon?”

“Patience!” Graymar said, a little more brusquely than he’d meant to, and immediately felt embarrassed by the outburst. “Ai…” he exhaled, squeezing his eyes shut and grumbling. There was a minute ripple of his wings that he could not quite hide. A moment later, the mood passed and he turned to him once more, touching him on the arm and squeezing it once. “I apologize, pahyoh,” he said quietly, all traces of annoyance now gone. “This is not about you. I’ve just had a lot of personal things on my mind lately, some I am loath to face right now.” He gave him a slow smile, showing just a few fangs. “I know you are eager. I want you up in the air just as badly as you want it. But there are still many things you need to practice. I have watched you over the last month and you have been doing well, but you are still too loose.”

Kaffi bristled and ruffled his wings again, holding back a whine of irritation. “Paddir, I need more experience, I agree. But I can only learn so much doing laps and exercises and carrying packages in my satchels. I’ll be used to that in a few weeks at most. What I need to do is take the next step, paddir. I need to know what it feels like to have a ride with me. Or close to the real thing. How did you practice that before you started flying with Samuel?”

Graymar leaned slightly forward, scratching his snout once more, distracting himself with anything that might be happening on the central green. He hummed low and long; he was irritated, but also maybe a little amused. Embarrassed? “How Samuel and I began flying together is a completely different process,” he said after a moment. “And not one I recommend.”

Kaffi hid a smile. The two of you had no idea what you were doing, he thought. Instead he dipped his snout and faced him directly “How can we make this work, paddir?”

Graymar hummed again, meeting his eyes. His irritation had disappeared for the time being, replaced by a calm appreciation. “I know a way. It will be slow, but it is how many of our relatives learned over the years. I will contact my ahpadé and ask if we can borrow a few things. We will need to go on a short light rail trip.”

Kaffi caught his breath and struggled to keep his wings from rippling with excitement. “Really?” he chirped. “What does it entail?”

His paddir merely grinned at him, humming contentedly. “You shall see.”

*

This might have been just another weekly meeting of future landlords and co-conspirators, but Kaffi was looking forward to it this time out. It had been an unbelievably busy day, and between all that flying and monitoring and errand-running, he couldn’t wait to check in with Diwa again. They’d crossed paths multiple times today, but never for more than a few moments, and he’d grown to miss him since their brief chat this morning. And he really wanted to show off that new armband!

So when they all sat down together at one of the picnic tables on the center green, he sidled up next to Diwa an gave him a happy nudge, glad to be beside him again. “Heya, Dee,” he said. “Long time no see.”

“Well, this is new,” Diwa said, prodding at his arm, already giving it a close study. “You got this today?”

Kaffi smiled proudly, rubbing his talons against the beads. He loved soft clicking sound it made when he did that! He didn’t mind Diwa’s attention either, come to think of it… “Iliah gave it to me during our trip to the city this afternoon. I thought I’d keep it on, get used to wearing it.”

Anna-Nassi had seen it too, and she was practically radiating with excitement, her wings twitching and flittering. “So lovely!” she squeaked. “Diwa, isn’t it? Oh, I can’t believe you’re wearing one of those already!”

“It’s probably past time,” Kaffi smiled. “I’ve always been fascinated by them. My cousins that are around my age are already wearing them. Diwa, what do you think?”

“Interesting pattern,” he said, running a finger over the shapes. “I like how the closer you get to it, the more patterns you see in the beads.”

Kaffi smiled at him, hiding an unexpected shiver of glee. “I’ll explain the symbolism with you sometime.”

“Why not now?” Anna-Nassi asked.

“Later,” he said, giving her a quick wave. “It’s time we started our meeting. I think the fertilizer stink has escaped Diwa’s pores by this point.”

“Hey!”

He playfully prodded Diwa in the arm and quickly changed the subject. “Annie, you said you were looking into having someone come in to look at the apple orchard. Were you able to get anywhere with the committee on that?”

She ruffled her wings and gave an excited nod. “Ooh, yes! It’s looking great! They’ve already discussed the budget for it and they’re meeting tomorrow to put it to a final vote, but my amma is certain that it will pass. They’ve left it to me to research available horticulturalists that might be able to come in and see how healthy our trees are. I’ve got a list from Cole’s parents as well as from Elise-Nooviya, so I’ll go over those in a day or so and see who’s open and what they charge. Once that’s done, we can start in on cleanup. I’m going to ask the tenants for a few volunteers, but I should be able to get enough people, especially if I can get some of the school kids to pitch in. It’s a bit late in the season for some of the varieties we have, but we might be able to save the others. I’ll start phase two upkeep once we have it active again.”

Kaffi nodded, impressed by her level of detail. “That’s great, Annie! Excellent work!”

“Maianni-naahsah, Kaffi,” she nodded, flashing her wide smile at him. “I aim to please.”

“Yes, that’s fantastic!” Diwa added as he scribbled out the meeting notes. “If most of the trees are still healthy, then we should be just fine.” He turned to Cole next, flipping over to another notebook page as he did. “Cole, any word on what might be going on with the co-op farm?”

Cole tapped his fingers against the table in a slow beat, pausing in thought. “There’s not much to report right now. My parents won’t be heading over there for a few more weeks, so I don’t have much information to give. I am, however, researching their hiring practices. I’d like to know how their field workers get paid, available health coverage, and how they would hire those here at the estate. I’d like to be prepared for any questions our tenants might have. It’s quite a complex process that I’m still trying to wrap my head around.”

“Good, good,” Kaffi said. “And you, Diwa?”

Diwa blinked, tapping his pen against the pad for a moment. “Well, uh…Samuel’s back room actually has a bit of a floor to it now,” he said with a lopsided smile.

Anna-Nassi snorted at him. “That’s it?”

“That’s it,” he said. “I wish I had more to provide, but I was gardening with Tassh all morning, talking with you afterwards, then assisting at the community center this afternoon. I mean, unless you’d like to know all the different ways you can serve inashikraw squash and the sordid details of kleeat manure.”

“Oh, come on!” she giggled. “You’ve been busy this week, you’ve got to have something!”

“Really, that’s all I have,” he shrugged with a grin. “But spending all that time with Tassh was kind of fun, to be honest. He’s quite talkative once you get to know him. He might know a lot about construction considering that’s his day job, but he knows even more about gardening. It’s been his passion since he was little. The only reason he’s not in farming is because of his family. He makes the most money out of the three of them and it goes into their rent and their savings.”

Cole tapped his fingers on the table again. “Diwa, do you think he would be interested in working at the co-op full time?”

Diwa pondered the idea for a moment. “He might,” he said, his eyes lighting up. “You know, that’s a great idea. Once we’ve got the hiring straightened out, I’ll float the idea his way, see if he’s interested.”

“We could use as many hires as we can. I think he’d be great for the first wave.”

“I believe he would,” he smiled.

Diwa & Kaffi 18

Author’s Note: Diwa’s mild basophobia, which I’d hinted at previously, is actually based on my own. I’m not afraid of heights but get a weak feeling of nervousness and vertigo if I’m too close to the edge of high-up open places, giving me a slight fear of falling. A few years back I learned from my eye doctor that my version might be due to prism issues (my eyes are fine, just that they don’t always align when focusing on a narrow point). More to the point, the issue slightly messes with my sense of heights: my brain is well aware of the altitude, but my eyes think it’s not that far at all, and that disconnect is disorienting. Diwa’s description of the issue below — including the comment about City Hall (in my case, the one in downtown Springfield MA when I was six) — comes directly from my own experiences and resolutions to conquer it.

*

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Diwa toweled his hair dry as he stepped into his bedroom. The long and scalding shower had thankfully removed the stink of the fertilizer he’d been elbow deep in all morning…he’d gotten an earful from Maricel as soon as he’d come back, threatening to lock him out of the house if he didn’t get rid of the smell immediately. But he was clean once more, and no one in the house was complaining. He put on fresh clothes, threw the dirty ones in the washing machine and started it, and headed down the hallway.

It was still early in the afternoon, so it came as a bit of a surprise that he could hear his father down the hall. Samuel had told him just this morning that they’d be working on the back office tomorrow. Maybe he’d finally caught the cleaning bug and wanted to keep it going? Diwa shrugged off a momentary feeling of being left out. The sooner they got this room under control the better, with or without him.

The door was open when he approached it, and there was soft music playing. When did he buy a radio for this room…? “Pop?” he called out. “You in here?”

“Hey, Diwa,” he responded from near the back window. Samuel popped his head up from a waist-high line of file boxes and recycling bins that stretched across the room. “Come on in!”

“Ai!” he heard from the same area, followed by a rustle of wings and a scuffle of feet. Anna-Nassi popped up from behind the wall and gave him a toothy smile. She brushed her hands and vaulted over the boxes. “Diwa!” she sang. “I ran into Samuel earlier today while you were still in the garden and thought I’d help him do some moving. I hope you don’t mind?”

“Uh, s-sure,” he said, surprised by her presence. “Sorry, I didn’t know you were here.”

“She’s been a big help today,” Samuel said, climbing over the wall of boxes. “Now that we have more room, I thought it would make more sense to do a bit of arranging as we go to make the sorting process go by quicker. Thanks again, Annie!”

She smiled and waved to Samuel as she headed towards the door. “Anytime, mani,” she said. She turned to Diwa, her expression changed to a worried concern, and prodded him on the arm. “Eiyah,” she said, leveling her eyes. “Come on, you. We need to talk.”

She left Samuel’s office and headed straight for Diwa’s bedroom. He blinked and stared at her for a moment before following. She’d been here countless times before, mainly for school study sessions or just hanging out, but it was a rarity for her to walk through his house as if she too lived here. There was a quickness in her steps as well; he double-timed it to catch up. “What do we need to talk about?” he asked as they entered his room. He cleaned and straightened his bed covers the best he could and offered her a seat. She hopped on, sitting on her hinds and leaning back on the knuckles of her wings.

“You and Kaffi, of course,” she said, flashing her fangs again in a forced smile. “The reason I was here wasn’t just to help your father. He’d pulled me aside because he had a few concerns about your potential flights with Kaffi.”

Diwa’s heart skipped a beat. His father knew…? Oh, this was not good, not good at all! “Concerns? What kind of concerns? And why isn’t he talking with me directly?”

“Oh, he is, or will be. I just wanted to talk to you as well.” She reached out and laid a gentle hand on his. “You see…he confirmed something that’s been bothering me for a while. He knows about your…what is it, basophobia? Is that the right word?”

“Ai…” he groaned and buried his face in his palm, more annoyed than embarrassed. This was supposed to be a secret! And now Pop was telling everyone within earshot that he couldn’t handle a simple thing like tintrite flight! He did not want Kaffi to hear of this. Not like this, anyway. Eiyah…he’d have to act sooner than he’d like. “Nakakaloka ‘to…it’s not…it’s…” He stuttered to a stop, shaking his head. “It’s stupid, Annie. I’m not mad at you for asking. One of you would have figured it out sooner or later. It’s minor. It’s not a fear. It’s just nervousness. I can handle it. What did he tell you?”

Anna-Nassi hummed and squeezed his hand. “It’s okay, Dee. He didn’t tell me anything embarrassing. He’s just concerned. He wants you to fly. I want you to fly! And of course Kaffi has been waiting forever to fly with you, so that’s where I come in.”

He raised an eyebrow at her. “Umm…?”

She giggled and chittered her fangs quickly, fluttering her wings at him. “Not me, silly! I might be big and have wings, but I’m not built for that sort of thing.” And just like that, all lightness and cheer vanished, replaced by a deep scowl and a finger, waving at him. “But! I need to coach you. Right now the two of you are a disaster waiting to happen, and it’s up to me and Cole to minimize the damage! You both need training toot sweet! I want you to be the best pilot, Diwa!” The scowl wilted just a bit. “Umm…co-pilot? Driver? Rider? What’s the best term here?”

“Ride,” he said between pursed lips, holding back his amusement.

“Ride, then!” she said happily, jumping right back on track, ticking off each point with her fingers. “So! Cole is working out a new schedule at the community center so you two lovey-doveys have more time together. Samuel already gave me the go-ahead for that, and your mother only requests that you join her for a few hours baking on the weekends. Maricel agreed only if you don’t slack off your daily chores at home, and I concur. No laziness there, Diwa! Meanwhile, Kaffi will still be flight training for most of the summer with Graymar and he’ll be doing some tenancy committee work with Shahney as well – oh, and that leaves Iliah, who will be joining Dee and Dari in the kitchen – which leaves me a few months to get you ready. Whew! So! My main plan, then, is when you two finally start flying, it will be like you’ve been flying for years. Neh?”

He stared at her for a few moments, equally shocked and impressed by the level of detail in her outline. He saw the determination and excitement in her eyes…ai, how could he possibly say no to Annie? “What will this entail?”

“Well, we will see when we get to it,” she said, and patted his hand one last time. “All I ask is that you trust me.”

“You know I do,” he said.

“Ut!” She quickly held up her hand. “This is different! I will push you. I will push you hard. I will do stupid things to make you learn! I will make you mad and annoyed! I will make you do things that will make you question my sanity!”

“More so than usual?”

“More so than usual! But this is to help you, Dee. Because I believe in the two of you.”

He couldn’t help but smile at her. She may be a handful, but she was unfalteringly loyal. “Oh, stop it with that!”

“But I do!” she said, giggling again. She prodded him once and then pulled him into a hug. “You’re my ahpé, Dee. I know you can do this. I want you to do this.”

“Okay, okay…!” he said, squirming in her arms. “You win!”

“Come on, let’s go to the roof and talk some more.”

*

“You say this fear is mild and not acute?” she asked. They stood side by side on the roof of Palm, leaning up against the outer railing, past the roof patio. Standing next to the edge like this was second nature to her, so she found it hard imagining how Diwa felt. Then again, she was the one with gliding wings if she fell…Diwa was a human with no flight appendages at all. She watched him as they talked, and on the surface everything was normal. He didn’t give any hits that he might be nervous right now.

That is, until he pushed off the railing and started pacing a short distance from the edge, only a few minutes after they’d come up here. He’d done this in the past, too…so now she wondered how long he’d been hiding it, fighting it, for the sake of others. He distracted himself temporarily by glancing at the roof of Building C across the way, where Graymar and Kaffi stood side by side, looking out over the green. Annie felt the minute change in mood; for a moment, the nervousness disappeared as soon as he locked his eyes on them. He saw them as safe, as visual anchors.

That could be the perfect answer Annie was looking for!

“That’s right,” he said eventually, his hands jammed the pockets of his jacket. “I don’t get too dizzy or freeze up with fear or anything. I just…” He scratched the back of his head, looking away but not frowning. He was uncomfortable, but he was willing to share with her. “I just get nervous. Like a very weak sense of vertigo, or I feel like my sense of balance goes a bit off.” He sighed with worry and turned back to her. “Annie, do we—”

“Yes!” she said, waving both her arms and wings at him. “Dee, this is your future we’re talking about. Now, next question: you’ve been on rollercoasters, yeah? I’ve seen you ride the one at Wesley Park. That’s a crazy ride, even I rarely go on it, but I’ve seen you on that one every time we visit. Multiple times! Those heights don’t bother you, do they?”

“Just the first climb and drop,” he said, amused by the question. “But that bothers everyone.”

“The jostling? The twists and sharp turns?”

“I’m fine. No less than anyone else. I love those, actually.”

“Hmm.” She tapped a finger against her chin. “Do you know where this fear comes from?”

He nodded, slowing his pace again and came closer again, though stopping a few feet from the railing. “I think I do,” he said. “I had a prism issue with my eyes as a kid, and still do to some extent. My eyes don’t always have pinpoint focus, even though my vision is otherwise normal. But as a kid, when I went to bed at night and closed my eyes, sometimes they’d cross. Don’t ask me why, they just did. The eye strain would make me dizzy, and that would give me nightmares. They were usually about falling from a height, like a tower or something. It never bothered me during the day until this one time when my Pop brought us to the city once when I was maybe six, and brought us up to City Hall tower to check out the view. My brain equated the height with the nightmares and scared the hell out of me.”

He exhaled and faced her, his focus strong. “I know where it’s from, Annie. This is why I see it as a lingering anxiety rather than a paralyzing fear. It still kicks in when I’m in open high places, regardless of how safe I actually am. I’ve felt it on Mount Laimora once or twice on a clear day, even, and that has such calm slopes! When I got older, I figured out that it’s a combination of not being able to accurately judge visual distances and sensing the pull of gravity to keep myself stable. Doctors call it a deficiency in postural control. I’ve never been able to completely shake it.”

Anna-Nassi tilted her head and slowly raised her brow. “That’s…huh.”

“I know,” he said, blushing. “It’s dumb and I hate it. It’s why I push through and deal with it.” He walked up to the railing again and leaned up against it. He even peeked over the side and gave the ground below a quick glance. “See? I’m not freezing up. I’m not terrified. Nervous, yes. But that’s it.”

“No, no,” she said quickly, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Not dumb at all. This is good! It’s really good, Dee! You face your fears and learn to understand them instead of running away from them. That is your strength! It also makes my job easier.”

“Your job?” he said, turning to her. “I thought your job was to cure me, or at least get my mind straight so I won’t freak out when I’m flying with Kaffi.”

“That’s what I’m talking about, Dee,” she said, giving him a wide grin. “I don’t know if I can cure you, but I can certainly help you find a way to make you strong. And you already know I wouldn’t throw you off this roof, that would just be mean.”

Diwa snorted. “Yes, it would!”

“What I see here, Dee, is this: You’re leaning up against this railing, slightly nervous but otherwise fine. And I think it’s because you’re familiar with these surroundings, these angles of the estate, and you trust them. What we need to do, then, is find you some high points where you can enjoy the view the way we mandossi and tintrite do.”

“Annie, I doubt you have access to every single tower in the community…” he laughed.

“No, but I do have access to certain ones thanks to my near-infinite number of relatives living around here! I think I know a way to help you get used to this.”

Diwa exhaled and looked out over the estate. A slow smile crept across his face. “Okay. I’m game,” he said. Then, after a moment, he turned back to her. “Why are you doing this, Annie? Why go so far out of your way to help me?”

The question surprised her, and she felt herself blushing, and her wings fluttered just a bit. “Me? I already told you. I love you and Kaffi, you know. I want the two of you to make it work, yeah?” She hummed and turned away. “I’m jealous of the two of you sometimes. But never in a bad way, though.”

“Jealous?” he said.

She nodded and fluttered her wings again. “I would love a connection like the two of you have.”

“You’ll find it soon enough,” he said, giving her a playful nudge. “I’m sure of it.”

She grinned and punched him lightly on the arm. “Yeah, sure. Loudmouth mandossi like me?”

“Especially a loudmouth mandossi like you,” he said, took her hand, and squeezed it.

*

Glossary:
“Nakakaloka ‘to…” — (Tagalog) “This is stupid…”

Diwa & Kaffi 17

Author’s Note: Kaffi’s relationship with his older sister is a close one not out of familial duty but because of who they are; they’re both very social and enjoy taking care of others. They both also have a keen interest in tintrite culture, with Iliah’s love for culinary arts and his for craftwork. For both, it’s not just about the end results but also the process.

*

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

“Kaffi! Just the ahpadé I’ve been looking for!” Iliah sang as he entered their apartment. She sidled up next to him, smiling sweetly and fluttering her wings quickly. “You don’t have anything to do today, do you?”

“Iliah, hi,” he said, tilting his snout at her. “I’ve got plans later around six, why?”

“Great! That’s perfect. I’d like you to fly with me to the city. I have an errand to take care of, and I’d like you to tag along.”

“Eiyah, there it is!”  He snorted in amusement, fluttering his own wings in response. “You want me to carry something, don’t you?”

“Don’t be silly,” she giggled, tapping her snout on his. “I just want you to come along! An ahmané can fly with her ahpadé now and again, can’t she? I miss hanging out with you. We haven’t flown duet in ages!”

It was true, they hadn’t. When Kaffi was younger, he and Iliah would fly to various places around the bay. Sometimes they would fly to a nearby complex to visit friends, other times it would be to the meadows to the northwest in Griffin Park where they could really have fun and stretch their wings. He’d learned so much from Iliah over the years, and he enjoyed every single moment of it. He tapped her snout in return and hummed as he turned to head to his nestroom. “I’d love to, Iliah. Let me get ready.”

He grabbed his satchel harness and put it on; he always brought it along on long flights just in case he wanted to pick something up. As he fixed the buckles, his eyes landed on the folded blanket sitting high on a shelf above his desk. He smiled and hummed, long and lyrical…one of these days, when they were finally ready, he and Diwa would fly together. Hopefully soon.

They took off a few minutes later, launching from their roof and swinging north towards the city center. He lagged behind momentarily to hover above the community garden and let Diwa know he’d be back later that afternoon. Diwa gave him a thumbs-up and turned back to his garden work. He watched him for a few moments longer, humming quietly to himself. Diwa had connected with Tassh almost immediately, and the two of them were already talking and laughing and trading life stories. It was fascinating to watch, observing how different they approached that process of personal connection. It came to Diwa naturally. With one more circle, he turned north once again, by which point Iliah was already far ahead, leaving him to fly double-time to catch up.

“Hey!” he said, gasping as he finally settled into a glide next to her. “You could have waited!”

“You caught up with me, didn’t you?” she countered, flashing a grin at him.

“Yeah, but—”

“I knew you’d do that,” she said, tilting her head in his direction. “You’re so dedicated to him.”

He blushed and had no way to hide it. “So?”

“So it’s commendable,” she said. “You two are so bonded.”

He barked out a frustrated laugh. “Why does everyone say that?”

“Because it’s true?”

He let out a gruff mumble that sounded a little too much like his paddir’s annoyance and gave his wings an extra hard flap.

Iliah hummed as well, this time as consolation. “Eiyah. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about, Kaffi. I might find it adorable, but I am also impressed. I was never that dedicated at your age.”

“Except for your cooking.”

“Indeed,” she grinned. “Except for my cooking.”

“Where are we going, anyway?”

“To a few warehouse shops in the Wharf District,” she said. “I have some items on order that are ready to be picked up. We can have lunch and do a bit of shopping afterwards if you like.”

Kaffi let out a long hum of interest. He hadn’t visited the Wharf District since it had been redesigned and renovated a year and a half ago, and it was now a popular destination for both locals and tourists alike. Several piers and warehouses had been razed and rebuilt to accommodate new shops and restaurants with offices on the upper floors, many with roof landing pads for tintrite visitors. A wide pedestrian concourse stretched its length, with plenty of seating and scenic vistas, shopping and information kiosks, and even a few playgrounds for the younglings. The central warehouse shops were a favorite for the creative crowd, providing outlet stores for all kinds of crafts and tools of the trade. Kaffi found himself wondering if there was an outlet for rider saddles there…his father had a small collection of them already, but he’d love to own one that he’d bought himself.

“I’d like that,” he said.

“Thought you would.” She punctuated her comment by stretching out her wings to full extension and glided under him then back over again. Kaffi beamed and responded with the same path, looping under and over her. It was a trick they’d learned when Kaffi was still a young flier, and it was still one of his favorites. He loved the drop and lift and playing with the air currents between them.

“Tell me about your plan with Diwa,” she said.

He sniffed and did a minute dip-and-lift next to her. “It’s less of a plan and more of a see-what-happens at this point, to be honest,” he said.

“You don’t have any plans to change anything at the estate, you mean?”

“Eiyah. Only what needs changing, Iliah. Why change what is working perfectly fine?”

“Hmm. That’s a good answer. As long as you focus on what the tenants want and what they need, that’s really what matters most. And as long as they know you’re there, available for them. Like paddir does. And what about Diwa?”

“What about him?”

“Heh. So touchy. When will you be flying with him?”

“Once we’re both trained and ready,” he said after a moment.

“Which I’m sure will be quite soon, knowing the two of you.”

*

Kaffi had seen the skyline of the city center countless times over the years from a distance. His favorite view was from the campsites at the high meadows in Griffin Park, where on a clear day he could see it spreading out along the edge of the wide bay, cleaved neatly down the middle by the mouth of the Siisha River. He’d only seen it up close during the few times he was here.

They approached the Wharf District from the water. Iliah took them low where the air was less turbulent at this point in the day and led them towards a wide pier that served as a landing strip. Kaffi could already hear the bustle of the crowds ahead, full of chatter, laughter, and more. A hint of uplifting music floated nearby from unseen speakers, lightening the mood and creating a welcoming atmosphere. A few cries of upset and impatient younglings and perhaps a few arguments here and there, but these were all the sounds of a public area meant to be enjoyed and experienced fully. Kaffi loved it here already, and he hadn’t even set foot in a single store yet!

Their first visit was to a kitchenware shop in one of the larger warehouses further up the wharf. Iliah barely contained her excitement and skittered double-time down the central concourse. As they entered, Kaffi finally understood why she’d acted so; the place was enormous, filled with all kinds of things that a budding culinary artist could ever want! Her pace suddenly slowed to a crawl as she sauntered down every aisle, stopping frequently to fawn over the pans and the knives and the blenders and everything else. Iliah pointed out a few items that she’d been thinking of buying for Shahney for her upcoming birthday in a few months, and Kaffi nodded excitedly, knowing that whatever Iliah eventually chose, their manae would love it and use it in the community center kitchen along with all her other favorite pans and cooking utensils.

Iliah spent a considerably long time fawning over a large glass cabinet displaying an extensive array of high-quality knives that were specifically made by and for tintrite hands. In particular was an expensive twelve-piece set that included steak, chef and paring knives, scissors, and more, and even came with a hardwood block for storage. She pointed to each one out to Kaffi, explaining how each was used and how to properly take care of it. Eventually she tore herself away and approached the nearby customer service desk where her order was waiting. The mandossi at the desk smiled, checked off her order and handed her a small but fancy wooden box with a sliding cover. She thanked her and immediately put it in her own satchel and closed it up tight.

“I’ve finally picked up the santoku knife!” she sang, hanging on his arm. “That’ll really help when I make those thin beef strips we like. It’s taking forever to get the whole set, but I’m buying them one at a time as I need them. Come, let’s find something to eat.”

After a long and enjoyable lunch at a bayside vending truck, they stood at the edge of the pier, taking in the view. It was a blessedly clear day today so they could see the entire bay stretching out before them. To their left was the peninsula, its low mountains reaching out into the ocean. Mount Laimora was far to their left, its quiet and blessed caldera open to the skies. To their right, the coast gently curved to the south then southeast creating a wide bay, currently dotted with several sailboats. Far off to the south they could see the towers of various apartment complexes sticking up over the trees and other buildings.

“Ours is the tallest cluster to the left of those office towers,” Iliah said, pointing them out. “You can see Building C popping out from behind those hickories that line the rear parking lot.”

Kaffi smiled and thought of Diwa. There he was, miles away, getting his hands and knees dirty with the aanoupii in the community garden. An unexpected wave of contentment washed over him, and he realized it was that he was looking at his home. At the place he belonged.

“Come on,” she said, tapping him on the shoulder. “I want to buy you something.”

“Hmm?”

“You’ll see,” she smiled, and started towards one of the other warehouses. He pushed off and followed, curious about what she had in mind.

What he hadn’t expected was a textile shop. And not just a general all-purpose, multi-species store, of which there were several here, but one catering specifically to tintrite. The walls were lined with high shelving, all filled with rolled bolts of cloth of vivid and amazing colors and patterns. Kaffi’s eyes grew wide as he craned his neck to take it all in! His heart raced as he started looking around further, shifting up and down the several aisles: saddle care kits, knitting needles and skeins of yarn, sewing machines and threads, paints and pencils and art canvases of all sizes, kits for colored arm bands, beaded strings for manes, leatherwork tools…he’d never seen a textile store so complete! Eiyah, he wanted to stay in here for hours!

Iliah led him over to a work table where a small group of tintrite were crafting armbands made of thick organic thread and beads of various sizes. Iliah waved to them and told him to wait while she went to talk to the owner. He hardly noticed her stepping away; he’d been fascinated by armband craftwork for years, a fact she knew well, and this was the first time he’d seen it in action outside of craft fairs. They were professional crafters, their hands moving with amazing speed and agility, completing a pattern in minutes. They were so good at it they weren’t even paying attention to what their hands were doing, focusing on their ongoing conversations instead. He was sorely tempted to join them, but he had little to no practice. He’d be far too slow for these experts.

“Welcome, youngling!” one of the older crafters said. “Care to join us?”

Kaffi gave him a furtive, nervous smile. “O-oh, I’d love to, but…maybe in the future?”

“Come anytime!” he smiled, gesturing at the armband he was working on. “That was your ahmané, yes? Iliah? She comes in here quite often.”

“Thank you,” he said quietly, surprised by the offer. “Perhaps I will.”

“Ai!” Iliah called, returning to his side. “Here you go!” She handed him a freshly made armband.

Kaffi’s wings rippled in surprise. “…Iliah?”

“Go on, take it!” she smiled. “I had this made just for you.”

He held it in his shaking hands, stunned by her gesture. A tintrite armband…! This was not just a simple gift from an older sibling…this was a highly symbolic gesture, an offering of a talisman for good luck and unbreakable bonds. Armbands were an integral part of tintrite culture and held deep personal and emotional meaning to its wearers. Not every tintrite wore them every day – their paddir had worn them in the past but had stopped for years until picking it up again quite recently – but every tintrite knew how important they were in their lives. For someone of Kaffi’s age to wear an armband was to claim that he knew and understood what his calling was, who it might be shared with, and his level of dedication towards it.

And Iliah had just given him his first one.

“I-Iliah…” he started again, his voice catching.

She knew. She had to have known, ages ago.

It was a simple tri-color band with twin yellow strips bordering an alternating pattern of black and orange squares, but it was absolutely lovely and a perfect size for his upper arm. He almost didn’t want to put it on right away; he wanted to treasure this first by taking in its shapes and colors. And to have it gifted to him by Iliah…this was her personal wish for his future. This meant so much more than just a sibling showing her love. It meant she had complete trust and hope in his plans with Diwa.

“…maianni-naahsah, Iliah,” he whispered, tearing up. “Why…?”

She moved closer and leaned up against him, her own talons brushing across the beads and making soft clicking noises. “I wanted to give this to you now as a reminder,” she said. “You’ve been doing so much around the complex over the last month, especially with Diwa. This is to help you in your plans to inherit the position from paddir. Plus, these beads are symbolic, both in color, pattern and shape.”

She extended one finger and tapped her talon along one of the yellow strips of thicker beads. “All armbands have these border strips to hold the pattern in place, signifying stability. All young tintrite wear yellow. To some, it signifies immaturity or that their fate is still in question. To others, it merely signifies clarity of intent, despite not being bound to it.”

Kaffi hummed, brushing a talon over it as well.

Iliah moved her talon to the middle part of the band, touching the small uniform orange beads. “See how tight these are pulled together? This too has a double meaning. I’m going to say for now that this also ties in with clarity of intent – this can mean that your intent is with someone else, and you have decided to follow through with it.”

“And the other meaning?”

She smiled and waved the question away. She moved her finger to the black beads; these were of different sizes but were still in a pattern. “Again, double meaning,” she said. “Again, clarity of intent. This symbolizes that you’ve chosen this intent without outside influence. Lastly, the alternating squares are always uniform, especially when the band is tied on. Signifying balance and stability throughout.”

All at once, Kaffi understood. He gasped again, brushing a trembling hand over it. She understood his true intentions after all, and she had given him this to set him on his way. She not only accepted his thoughts and dreams of remaining with Diwa…she welcomed them with her heart.

He touched his snout over Iliah’s and hummed, long and low; humbled. “I will treasure this, ahmané. Thank you.”

“This is for you,” she said, humming herself. “Make me proud. Oh, and one last thing – these are to be tied on your own, without help – symbolizing that you are doing this of your own volition.”

He studied the ends of the untied band and noticed that there were end strings as well as small metal loops; with a bit of practice, he should be able to put this on quickly and easily. “Does it matter which arm?” he asked.

“No, but most wear them on their right arms.”

“And you…?”

She smiled briefly. “I don’t always wear mine, but yes, I have a few and I wear them on my right arm. I only wear them during important events. You may have seen manae wearing a few now and again.”

He nodded quickly. “I have. I was just thinking of buying a kit here today, come to think of it. I’d like to learn how to make them myself.”

Iliah smiled and tipped her snout at him, rippling her wings slightly. “You always surprise me, Kaffi! These take patience and dedication. Which I’m sure you have in abundance. Here – I will buy you one of those as well.”

“Iliah…!” he stuttered.

“No, this is my gift to you. For your future.”

He nuzzled his sister once more. “You are too kind to me.”

While she took a kit from the shelf and brought it to the main desk to pay for it, Kaffi gazed at his gifted armband. This was indeed a special occasion, a special item that he would treat with care. And for a moment, he thought of Diwa. He’d seen other tintrite on the estate wearing these bands. He didn’t know of any others at his school that wore them, but then again, he wasn’t one to notice such things for others his age. He’d seen many of the teachers wearing them. Diwa might find it interesting, but would he understand its meaning?

“Clarity of intent…” he said to himself.

He held it in his left hand, studying it a little more. Yes, this would be an easy decision. He wrapped it around his upper right arm and fiddled with the strings and the hooks until he understood how it all interconnected. It wasn’t too complex; it was a matter of sliding the strings through the hoops and then doing a tiny knot to hold it in place, something he could do quickly with practice. When he had it fully tied, the ends of the pattern slid together to form a seamless band.

Iliah came back just as he finished. He lifted his right arm slightly in her direction. “Does it look right?”

“Eiyah!” she beamed. “I didn’t expect you to put it on so quickly. Let me see.” She leaned in and studied his knotwork and how he’d placed it on his arm. He’d intentionally placed it higher than normal, above the bulkiest part of his muscles. “You did just fine,” she said. “That should stay on until you take it back off.”

He hummed and smiled with pleasure.

*

Glossary:
ahpadé (tintrite) — brother
maianni-naahsah (tintrite) — ‘thank you so much’, always used with deep emotion

Diwa & Kaffi 16

Author’s Note: Have you ever had one of those days that starts off quietly enough but ends changing your life forever? These next five chapters take place in the course of one of those days for our two best friends. Things learned, things admitted, things accepted without fear. And life continues on.

*

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Tassh waved excitedly for Diwa to come over from his stroll across the central green. The aanoupii was standing in the middle of a freshly tilled patch of the community garden, surrounded by various tools and bags of fertilizer, ready to fill this blank canvas. His allotment was small, but he’d already broken it down into individual sectors and added narrow raised beds up against the mesh fence, each already labeled and dated. He was beaming and humming quietly to himself as if he’d been placed in the most heavenly place on earth.

“Good morning, young Diwa!” he said, showing off his large teeth in a wide smile.

“Good morning, Tassh!” he said, leaning up against the fence post. “I see that Samuel gave you a good patch to work with, and you found the leftover frames I told you about. This section was left bare for a few seasons, so you should have a lot of good luck here. What are you growing?”

He pointed down at his feet with his trowel. “Right here, I am about to grow inashikraw squash,” he said proudly. “It is an aanoupii specialty, and I have not had it in years! This is the perfect time of year to grow it.”

Diwa cocked his head, unfamiliar with the name. “Don’t think I’ve heard of it.”

Tassh’s stubby ears twitched excitedly, and he even let out a quick squeak of a laugh. “Oh! You’ll be in for a treat, my young friend! It’s quite sweet for some, but I love it. Once they’re ready for harvesting, they have a thick rind so you can store them away or keep them on a table for a long time and they’ll never go bad. And you can serve it with pretty much anything. I like making soups out of it myself. Best thing to serve come winter. Here, come and help.”

He looked down at his clothes and figured he would be fine in getting these dirty. He didn’t have much to do right now, it being a quiet weekend, and he wouldn’t be working with Samuel on the office cleanup until tomorrow. “Sure,” he said, and entered through the gate, rolling up his sleeves. “What do you need me to do?”

He pointed across the way with his trowel at a bag leaning up against one of the raised beds. “Fertilized soil. Inashikraw squash grows anywhere, but this helps. I need at least three trays, one for the raised beds and the other two just here at the end of the rows. And mind where you step, I just planted fresh seedlings. Though I hear you know these walking boards quite well already.”

“Word gets around,” Diwa smirked. He opened one of the soil bags – and quickly closed it again as the smell overwhelmed his senses and made him gag and tear up. “Gyaaawwh…! Eiyah, Tassh, what the heck is in this?”

Tassh snorted a laugh. “Pure kleeat manure! And a few other organics added in as well. Good nutrients for sturdy plants. Unlike the weak soil that you humans usually like to use. You don’t go far enough!”

Diwa winced, glancing worriedly at the bag. He didn’t want to be rude to Tassh and not help, but gods, did this stuff stink! He would definitely need a long, hot shower after this. Probably at least three of them to get rid of the stench! He steeled himself and tried once more, gingerly opening it back up but keeping his head as far away as he could, hooking his shirt collar over his nose, and started scooping it into one of the trays. “Human olfactory senses are a little different than yours, Tassh,” he coughed. “Just saying.”

Tassh bared his teeth, greatly amused. “I’ll grant you that.” He pointed at a bare spot at the end of one of the rows. “Right here is fine. I’ll spread it out as need be. It won’t be as condensed once I’m done with it, so it won’t smell as bad.”

Diwa spent most of the morning assisting Tassh with the gardening, and to his surprise he found it quite enjoyable and relaxing, even despite the stench. The aanoupii was quite forthcoming with the ins and outs of his planting style, giving as much detail as possible to ensure he caught it all. Diwa did the best he could to remember it, though he’d already explained that his best method of learning was through experience. Tassh seemed to genuinely appreciate that, which meant dedication in his eyes. Diwa wasn’t going to be a pro at gardening by any stretch, but that wasn’t his aim to begin with. He liked learning different things from the other tenants, whether it was a craft or an errand or anything in between. It didn’t matter if the tenans were highly active or mostly sedentary, he just wanted to be a part of their lives. Tassh had taken this to heart early on and was more than happy to let Diwa join in, especially where gardening was involved. This was going to turn out fine.

“Phew!” he heard from above, an hour or so into their garden work. “Eiyah, I can smell that from up here!”

Diwa glanced up; Kaffi was coasting high above them in a lazy figure eight pattern. “Hey Kaff,” he said.

“Dare I ask what you’ve been rolling in?”

Diwa laughed and grabbed a fistful of soil. “Want to come down and find out?”

Kaffi chittered in amusement and dipped his head at him. “Nah, I’ll pass. Are we still up for our group meet tonight?”

“Of course! I’ll text you when I’m ready, after I eat and shower.”

“Please!” Kaffi said. “You’re not going to get that stink on me.”

“I’m tempted!”

“Strong words!” Kaffi said, flapping his wings and swirling around in a quick loop. “Tonight, then!” He swung away and flew towards Building C.

Tassh watched the two of them teasing each other and smiled as he returned to work. “Kaffi is quite an excellent flier, Diwa,” he said. “I watch him when I’m out here on the green sometimes. He’s a good kid. A bit reckless and quite unlike Graymar, but he seems dedicated.”

Diwa watched Kaffi land on the roof. He had a peculiar way of doing it; unlike Graymar, who would usually just decelerate and drop down to land, Kaffi would come close to his landing spot, swoop up, then drop down. An odd but poetic affectation that he’d never seen with other tintrite.

“He is,” Diwa said, watching Tassh for a moment before getting back to digging once more. The aanoupii seemed to have taken a liking to Kaffi early on, which made him happy. “We haven’t flown yet, but we’re planning on it soon. Once we’re both properly trained. I’m looking forward to it.”

“I watch him do laps sometimes,” Tassh said, swirling his trowel back and forth in the air. “He’s born for it. He’ll take good care of you.”

Diwa blushed, though he wasn’t quite sure why. “He’s…he’s a smart flier, sure,” he said, his voice a bit small. “He does take some reckless chances, but he’s never dangerous about it.”

“Graymar is the same with Samuel, I’ve seen,” he said. “Are the two of you bonded?”

He spluttered again, his entire face hot. “N-no. Not yet anyway.” Not yet? Why did I just say that?

The look in Tassh’s eyes meant he completely understood Diwa’s mortification, and thankfully chose not to tease him further. “The two of you will bond well together,” he said instead, giving him a wide smile. “By the looks of things.”

Diwa & Kaffi: Songs from the Apartment Complex

The story continues next Monday when friends have an incredibly busy and ultimately life-changing day over the next couple of chapters! (Sorry for the delay, but the story will flow so much better without a pesky weekend in the way, heh.)

In the meantime, here’s the mixtape that I created at the start of writing this novel back in the spring of 2018. It features a lot of songs from that era with a few oddities mixed in. I tried to pick out music that would fit each major character, with a few songs that would fit as ‘soundtrack’ music for the Studio Ghibli-produced movie of this story that lives rent-free in my head. Hope you enjoy it!

  1. The Sound of Arrows, ‘(Opening Titles)’
  2. The Sound of Arrows, ‘Stay Free’
  3. U2, ‘Get Out of Your Own Way’
  4. Ra Ra Riot, ‘Water’
  5. Beck, ‘Dreams’
  6. Elbow, ‘Firebrand & Angel’
  7. Gang of Youths, ‘What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out?’
  8. The Naked and Famous, ‘A Still Heart’
  9. U2, ’13 (There Is a Light)’
  10. Embrace, ‘Love Is a Basic Need’
  11. The Sound of Arrows, ‘Don’t Worry’
  12. Shame, ‘Friction’
  13. Elbow, ‘One Day Like This’
  14. GoGo Penguin, ‘Strid’
  15. Eels, ‘There I Said It’
  16. U2, ‘You’re the Best Thing About Me’
  17. The Sound of Arrows, ‘Beautiful Life’
  18. Love Tractor, ‘We All Loved Each Other So Much’

Diwa & Kaffi 15

Author’s note: If anyone ships the two mains in this novel, it’s our Annie, and she’s going to milk it as long as she can. Meanwhile, as we’ve seen earlier, she’s often very emotional and sometimes lets that get the best of her. And once again, she depends on her close friendship with Cole to rein that in. In this chapter however, she finally realizes that maybe she needs something other than that co-dependence to find inner balance and calm.

*

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Cole felt Anna-Nassi’s burst of joy and excitement from two floors down, and the pulse was strong enough it shifted him off-balance. He tripped and skidded up against the wall, apologizing as he went, hoping he wouldn’t hurt anyone. The human he’d bumped into had grunted and glared at him in response, but instead of confronting him, he picked up his fallen books and walked away. He’d see Cole was just another weird kid and forget about this incident in an hour or so. This was just another annoying side-effect of having Steiner-Hedraac Syndrome: whenever there was a strong and unexpected shift in life energies, occasionally it could take his body a few extra seconds to compensate and take it in, especially if he hadn’t been expecting it. He never blamed anyone when it happened, it was just something he had to deal with. He would never blame Annie for her own emotional reactions, nor would he ever ask her to hold back for his sake.

He rested there for a few moments, gathering his bearings and calming himself down, but he couldn’t keep from smiling and laughing quietly. Anna-Nassi had just heard the news.

He knew what her words were going to be come lunchtime: Why didn’t you tell me they were bonding for real? Why didn’t you tell me Diwa had asked Kaffi to be his ride? Ai, you need to keep me in the loop!

It was true, he knew something was up last night. He’d sensed the significant changes in Graymar and Samuel’s moods and actions when they’d returned from their trip, a renewed and strengthened bond between them, and their sons had definitely sensed it as well, in their own ways. They weren’t as clairsentient as he was, of course, but it was hard to miss all the other clues. They’d been profoundly inspired. Things were changing.

Diwa and Kaffi would reach this same point eventually, it was just a matter of time.

He felt a growing wave of irritation off to his left and scanned the hallway. He knew this sensation all too well – impatience and frustration, aimed at whoever happened to be in their way. He also knew this signature; Allen, a hedraac one year younger than him but already carrying the psychic load of an adult. They’d crossed paths in the past, and it had not ended well. Allen did not completely understand, nor care, that Cole had Steiner-Hedraac Syndrome. Allen felt that reining himself in and not letting his ego bleed out so profusely was unfair to him. Why should he have to hinder who he was for some reject?

Cole hitched his satchel closer to his shoulder and took off in the opposite direction. Better to avoid him than create more chaos.

He made his way past a group of students gathered around a bulletin board, all of them buzzing with excitement and curiosity, checking out the list of students who were graduating at the end of the semester, along with their chosen professions or places of further education, a formal announcement of their Future Calling. This was a list that grew and changed by the day, as students updated their status with college acceptances or internships. His had remained blank for most of the year, but pretty much everyone had already assumed he wouldn’t amount to much anyway, considering his disability.

He’d gotten used to that a long time ago. It no longer frustrated him. Besides, he already knew what he was going to do. He’d fill in that blank space soon enough, when he was ready for it.

He found solace in the library. Thankfully this was his free period, and it was just before lunch, so he’d be in much better spirits by the time he met up with his friends. He found a seat in a secluded corner, away from most everyone else, and took out his tablet for his reading homework. Focusing on words always helped him in this situation; it wouldn’t completely shut out all the psychic noise, but it would at least push it into the background. He knew others who had this syndrome much worse than he did and considered himself lucky that he could still adjust his lifestyle when and where possible without being completely disconnected.

In the meantime, Anna-Nassi’s excitement hadn’t lessened one bit, and he found that both amusing and comforting. He could always rely on her positive energy to keep his own in check, and borrowed ever so slightly until he was once again calm and centered. He’d have to tell her that the range of their connection was getting further and stronger. She’d like to hear that.

He thought again about what he’d sensed between Diwa and Kaffi last night. Even from the back side of Building D, their nervous joy was hard to miss. Kaffi’s was more muted, as tintrite emotions often were, but he also sensed the blissful release of a deep-seated and long-awaited euphoria. This was a tintrite making an important and deeply personal connection. It could be the start of a bonding, or it could just be a higher level of friendship, so he chose not to assume either one. With Diwa, however…

Diwa was an interesting case. Some days Cole could read him like a book just like he could most other humans, but other days he couldn’t quite figure out what his motives might be or what he was truly feeling. Humans were often like that; they were quite haphazard and contradictory with their emotions, endearingly so. They felt everything out, testing each emotion and reaction until they resonated with those that rang truest to them. There was something there, hiding well beneath Diwa’s own happiness, that felt like a blind spot. It may be concern, but it might also be fear. He was purposely avoiding this one thing in his mind that could ruin their entire plan.

Diwa and Kaffi’s relationship was so nuanced that, when they were together, Cole often found himself unexpectedly at peace. They complemented each other on multiple levels. Very much like how he felt when he was near Anna-Nassi. He decided there and then that he too wanted these two best friends to become some something so much more. They deserved it. It was up to Annie and himself to help them bring their grand plans to fruition.

He felt another quick surge of happiness from Anna-Nassi again, and this time he laughed quietly to himself.

*

As soon as Anna-Nassi saw Cole coming through the roof patio doors she dialed it back, as she didn’t want to overwhelm him. She’d already exerted most of her energy on Diwa and Kaffi earlier this morning, anyway. They were already sitting across from her in their usual spots, all too quiet for their own good but stealing furtive glances and smiles at each other when they thought she wasn’t looking. They were totally bonded for sure.

“Two floors,” Cole said, sitting down next to her. He carried a small bag with him this time, which made her happy…when he was calm, he could eat food rather than taking from someone’s energy. It meant that his Steiner-Hedraac was not flaring up. “I was on my way to the library when you found out what was going on with those two.”

“Really?” she giggled. “I must be losing my touch. People have told me they could sense me from outside on a good day.”

Cole smiled. “Give it time.”

“Still, you’d think they’d have told me sooner.”

“They were waiting for the best moment, is all. You have to be patient with them.”

“Hmm. You could be right.”

Diwa cleared his throat. “We’re sitting right here, you two.”

Anna-Nassi gasped and opened her eyes wide in response, leaning back on the knuckles of her wing and flashing her manic grin at them. “Eiyah, so you are! Come on, boys. We’re all here, all in one place, so spill! What’s the big plan, now that you two are betrothed?”

“Ai!” he blushed. “Hindi ka nakakatawa!”

“Let her have her fun, Dee,” Kaffi said, giving him a nudge. He nodded in Anna-Nassi’s direction and snorted. “Besides, it’s going to be a while before you and I will be flying together. Training and all that.”

“Ooh, that’s right,” she said. “You haven’t flown with anyone, have you?”

Diwa shook his head with a sigh. “I sense a joke setup.”

“No, I’m serious. I’ve never seen Kaffi with a saddle. I mean, I’m not built for riding flight, but I can imagine how irritating it could be.”

“It’s not as bad as it seems,” Kaffi said.

Diwa blinked and turned to him. “Really…?”

Kaffi, realizing he might have accidentally revealed something extremely personal that he hadn’t shared with anyone before, ducked his snout down and scratched the top of it with a talon. “A while back I thought I’d try it. Borrowed paddir’s saddle and blanket.”

Diwa blinked at him again. “And…?”

Despite his embarrassment, he laughed quietly and gave his wings a quick flutter. “It felt right,” he said. “It was a bit large, considering I’m much smaller than Graymar, but the…” He waved his hands in front of him, in search of the right word. “Once it’s on, it feels like it’s part of you.”

Diwa’s gaze softened, surprised by this revelation. “Interesting,” he said.

Anna-Nassi gazed at them with her big shiny eyes. “You’re so cute when you two flirt like that.”

“Oh, stop it,” Diwa laughed.

“Seriously, that’s totally awesome, Kaff! When are you going to get your own?”

He nodded. “Eventually. Paddir and I will work that out when the time comes.”

There was a furtive smile behind that, she could tell. He was still holding something back. She decided not to push this time.

Cole poked her on the arm to get her attention. She turned, expecting him to ask if he could feed again, but instead he just smiled and nodded. She cocked her head at him, wondering what the gesture was about. He wasn’t feeding, didn’t want to feed, she could sense that much. He was ever so slightly irritated, but no more than normal on any other given day. That wasn’t it. This was something different. Something about Kaffi and Diwa. Or her?

Oh, she could be so blessed dense sometimes…! He was suggesting that she make herself useful to those two lovebirds!

“You’re doing fine, Cole?” she asked quietly, barely holding back a smile.

“Just fine,” he said, nodding. “Thanks for asking.”

She pushed herself up and leaned forward, digging into her bento lunch. She pulled out a box filled with onigiri, each one containing a different filling. One of her favorite lunches. “So,” she said, after biting into one of them. “Diwa. I hear that Samuel’s going to need an offsite storage facility soon. Has he looked yet?”

“Not yet,” he said, digging into his own lunch. “Why?”

“My padda knows someone who has an opening at their facility,” she said. “It’s small, probably a five by ten at most, but probably enough to store documents.”

“I’ll let him know,” he said. “Thanks.”

She popped the rest of the onigiri into her mouth and swallowed it quickly. “How is the internship going?”

Unexpectedly, she felt a wave of fond contemplation from him. “It’s going well so far. Slow. Not all that glamorous, I’m afraid, but I’m definitely learning things.”

“Hmm.” She picked out another onigiri and was about to bite into it when a thought occurred to her. “You need to get out more,” she said.

“I’m sorry…?”

She grinned again. “Let me help with whatever you and Samuel have going. I mean, not now. You two have your sorting to do, and I know that’ll take a while. But once you’re ready to do the heavy-duty cleaning and moving and all that refiling, give me a call. I want to help. I can talk with my amma about using one of the offices in the community center, we can have a big sorting party with drinks and snacks and everything, then bring it back.”

He smiled at her, nodding quickly. “I’m sure he’d appreciate that. I’ll let him know. Thanks.”

“Doing my part,” she said, flashing her too-wide grin at them again, then tucked into her lunch.

*

Anna-Nassi strolled along the central green walkway, her wings at rest but her hands itching to have something to do. She shoved them into the pockets of her vest just to keep them calm. This was the downside to being a mandossi without having a hedraac like Cole nearby to keep her balanced…she grew impatient and distracted far too easily without him around.

And yet, she always felt guilty about using him like that. She depended on Cole for friendship, not for energy depletion! It wasn’t fair to either of them. She would resolve, then, to find other ways to calm her mind, whether he was around or not. Taking a long walk through the garden areas of the estate grounds was her amma’s idea, and given its relative quiet, it worked to some degree. These moments of solitude made her less impulsive and more introspective. And when there weren’t that many tenants around, she didn’t feel as self-conscious when she spoke with them. That new aanoupii gardener, Tassh, was so laid back and amicable that she found herself looking forward to their mundane talks about horticulture. Sometimes she would see Cole out here, or Diwa. She would also see Kaffi above, flying around as always. It made her smile to know that even when her friends were busy, she’d still see them somewhere around the estate.

She needed to find her own role in their plan.

“Hi!”

She twitched at the unexpected voice and looked down. A young mandossi youngling, maybe no older than three or four years, their own wings still growing and sticking out at odd angles, was looking up at her with dark blue eyes and a big toothy smile. Oh goodness, her heart just about melted at the sight! She dropped down to a crouch to face her new friend.

“Hello yourself, little one!” she sang, smiling back at her. “My name is Anna-Nassi, what’s yours?”

“Jemma-Isalli,” the little girl said. “Are you one of amma’s friends?”

Anna-Nassi had no idea who this girl’s mother was, but she’d better get this youngling back to them right away! “Not yet, Jemma-Isalli. I’m sure I’ll get to know her soon enough. It’s very nice to meet you, though! Are you here at the playground with your family?”

“My amma and ahpé are here,” she said, and took Anna-Nassi’s hand. “Come and meet them!”

She laughed, as if she had any choice in the matter! It was probably for the best that she return the girl back to her family before they notice her missing. She let the girl lead her across the green towards the edge of the playground.

“There you are!” she heard ahead. A tall and youthful mandossi elder had caught sight of them and was quickly moving in their direction. Her wings were twitching ever so slightly in exasperation. Unaware of her mother’s worry, Jemma-Isalli let go of Anna-Nassi’s hand and gleefully ran towards her into the elder’s arms.

Anna-Nassi stopped short in surprise, having suddenly recognized the elder, and stifled the urge to turn and run away in the opposite direction. This was no regular tenant she’d just run into…this was Elise-Nooviya, one of the most important tenants currently running on the estate committee! Eiyah, this was not what she expected! Where was Cole when she needed him the most?

Calm yourself, she thought, repeating the words multiple times while she got her wings under control. She’s a tenant, same as you, Annie. Calm yourself!

She exhaled, put on her best smile, and walked towards the elder.

“Mani-yandoora,” she said quietly, stopping a respectable distance, bowing her head, and holding her hands at her belly. Just as her amma had taught her ages ago. She gestured towards Jemma-Isalli. “I found this little one wandering away, so I herded her back.”

The elder relaxed visibly and sent the girl off to play with her older brother, who was currently busy on one of the large play mats, building small towers with his connector blocks. “I thank you,” she said with relief, twitching her wings once before letting them settle. “She can certainly be a handful sometimes.” The elder paused, apparently studying her. She waved her lower arms slowly in her direction, trying to make a mental connection.

Say nothing yet, she thought, and waited for the elder to speak.

“You are Anna-Nassi, yes? The daughter of Dana-Leima in Building D?”

She smiled and nodded. “I am, elder.”

The elder reached out a flat hand in greeting and she did the same. Their fingertips touched briefly, the initial personal connection now made. “I am Elise-Nooviya,” she said, bowing her head slightly. She pronounced her mandossi name slightly different from amma’s attempt at it. Noo-VEE-yah. Three syllables, accent on the second and not on the first. She kept that in mind. “I work with your amma on the estate committee sometimes,” she continued. “She says many good things about you, Anna-Nassi. It is a pleasure to finally meet you in person.”

“The same, elder,” she said, remembering her place and the proper etiquette. “My amma always speaks well of you.”

“You’ve grown much,” she said, and briefly touched Anna-Nassi’s lower arms, as an elder would to a youngling as a sign of welcome acquaintance. “And into a lovely mature mandossi. I hear that you will be interning with us on the committee soon.”

Eiyah, out of the nest and into the wild…! “Y-yes,” she said, blushing with no way to hide it. “I will be coming to the next committee meeting in a few weeks to fill out the forms and make my joining official. For now I am walking the estate and making myself available to anyone who needs assistance or wants company.”

“A fine decision,” Elise-Nooviya said, and leaned in to touch Anna-Nassi’s forehead with her own. “I wish you luck, Anna-Nassi.”

She nearly fainted from being given the highest praise from such a respected elder! She held her composure the best she could. Wait until the others heard about this! “Thank you, elder,” she said, and nodded towards the two younglings on the play mat. “And I will make sure little Jemma-Isalli stays within sight next time!”

Elise-Nooviya laughed. “Indeed!”

She said her goodbyes and strolled away from the playground, warmed by the conversation. She couldn’t believe her luck! To get such praise, so early on! She had to calm herself to keep from laughing out loud, at least until she was on her own again. Perhaps she’d been thinking too hard about this. She had nothing to prove here. She had no reason to show off. People already knew her here, either by presence or by her family. Talking with the tenants was enough.

Perhaps that’s all she really needed to learn.

*

Cole tapped the screen of his phone one last time and set it to mute. If his family needed to get a hold of him, they could leave a text. They knew where he was. They could easily sense him from here. For now, he chose to disconnect. The less distraction the better.

Bringing up the idea of joining the estate committee with them was hard enough. His mother he could handle…she was on the committee already, and she was more than willing to help him get to know more of its members. She would get overprotective and worry about his disability and literally time how long he lasted with other people, but he was used to that. It was the rest of the extended family that drove him crazy at times like this. They’d been relentless since he’d told them about Diwa and Kaffi’s plans. “We’re so proud of you!” they said. “Another proud hedraac to the team!” they said. “You’ll be following in your parents’ footsteps!” they said. “He’s grown up so much!” they said. They meant well too, but could they at least speak to him as an adult and not a fledgling fresh out of the nest? He was doing something that was important to him, and they were treating him like his fangs had just grown in for the first time. It was embarrassing and irritating.

Which was why he was out here in the orchard. He knew this ground more than most tenants, as he’d been coming out here to distance himself from his family and others on the estate to find peace since he was a youngling, when his Steiner-Hedraac had first manifested itself. The disability was not so much debilitating as it was just extremely annoying at the worst of times. His psychic sensing wasn’t stuck in the ‘on’ position – thank the gods and goddesses – but sometimes he couldn’t turn it off without help. And now that he was getting older, more symptoms would start manifesting themselves: unexpected and ravenous hunger, inability to stop feeding once he started, unstable mood swings. He’d already started seeing doctors about this, taking the medicines, and adjusting his lifestyle and his diet and everything else. He hated how much this illness interfered with his life, and how it might affect his future. It was no wonder the other students hadn’t expected him to have any Future Calling.

How wrong they were! He was committed, refusing to let any of this slow him down. He would prove to everyone that he could still be a strong member of this community. How would he be able to help Diwa, Kaffi and Anna-Nassi with this wonderful plan for the estate?

He was so wrapped up in his worries and irritations that he almost hadn’t sensed Anna-Nassi at the other end of the orchard, just as distracted by her own unorganized thoughts. She studied the overgrown apple trees, neglected for far too long. It was still early enough in the season that the fruit was still small and unripe, not yet ready for picking. She gently touched one of them with her long fingers, looking its surface, wondering how healthy it might be. Wondering why this part of the orchard had been left to grow wild, how much of it might be salvageable.  She thought about her own role in the estate plan as well. Wondering if she could ever manage it, if she could ever measure up to—

She stopped and turned in his direction.

Cole swore under his breath and disconnected immediately. He’d been tapping into her energy ever so slightly, listening to her thought waves without thinking or asking. She’d given him permission to do so a long time ago, but he still felt he was intruding. She didn’t seem to mind, as her aura suddenly brightened at his presence. She flashed her wide goofy smile, fluttered her wings, and waved at him, and all of it sent a jolt of positive energy his way, sating his hunger. She trusted him that completely.

“Hey there,” he said, walking over. “Sorry to interrupt.”

She shook her head and waved off his apology. “I know it was you. You’re the only one here, and I know your signature anywhere.” She smiled again and took his hand. “Come on, let’s walk a bit.”

He nodded and fell beside her. “You look a little…”

“Distracted,” she said. “I suppose so. I guess I’m just wondering if I’m cut out for this, neh? This…” She waved her arms, and her wings, at the estate grounds. “This is our home, Cole. But it’s Diwa’s dream. And Kaffi’s.”

“You’re not sure if it’s yours,” he ventured.

She hummed in response. “I mean, I think it’s mine, neh? Those two have such an amazing level of dedication, and I’m afraid I don’t think I can ever come close to matching it. They’re going to be the future landlords. I don’t doubt that at all. I just don’t…” She trailed off again, looking away. “What are our roles in this, Cole? I mean, I just had a lovely interaction with one of the most senior members of the tenancy committee, and I’m sure I left a positive impression, and her little nestlings are such darlings…” She rubbed at her temple and chittered her fangs. “Eiyah, Cole. I don’t know what to think right now! I was so excited about that moment and I wanted to tell you about it, and then I got flustered, then I started worrying and freaking out! What am I doing? Is this what I really want? Or am I just…you know, being a daash-paiya about my life choices again?”

Cole touched the knuckle of one of her wings and tapped it gently. It startled her, but her heart leapt at the same time. “Stop that, Annie,” he said. “You are no daash-paiya. You’re smarter and kinder than you give yourself credit for. And I’ve been thinking the same thing.”

She nodded and followed him back to towards the far end of the orchard. They walked in silence for a time, occasionally checking on the fruit still on the trees. Now that he noticed it, it bothered him as well that his parents were so eager to get the offsite farm arrangement going that they weren’t paying attention to what was literally going on in their back yard.

“We need to hire a specialist,” he said. “I’m not sure what level this orchard is at, but I know it definitely needs more work to get it back up and running at its peak.”

She hummed in agreement. “I could always bring it up at the next tenancy meeting.”

“No,” he said suddenly, looking down the length of the field. “No. I’ll do it. This will be my assignment.”

“Already making yourself busy,” she laughed lightly. “I like that in a hedraac.”

“I’m sure you do,” he grinned, and looked away.

“Seriously, though. Let me have this one. You already have the co-op farm work with your family. I’d like to take this one on myself.”

“Are you sure?”

She prodded him on the arm. “Yes! This will be worth it. I want to prove to myself that I can do this, Cole.”

“Okay,” he hummed. “It’s all yours then. Meanwhile. I’ve been thinking. About what you said. About the plan. How we fit in.” Ai, there he was, stuttering sentences again. One of his least favorite affectations when he felt nervous. He scratched at his chin to hide his blush. She was looking away as well, stuffing her hands into her vest pockets. She let her wings stretch a bit; with each extension the folds of skin between the joints made a quiet ruffling sound. She was not a flier, but she was still quite active with her wings when she was distracted.

“I think we need. To find our own path, Annie,” he said. “Separate from Diwa. And Kaffi.”

Her wings slackened a little bit. “We can’t just…”

He waved his hands quickly, realizing she’d misunderstood. “No, I mean that our fates. They’re separate. From theirs to some degree. Entwined, yes. We were woven into their fates. When we became friends with them. Years ago. Maybe we’re even linked. On a higher level now. But their fate isn’t completely ours. Related, but not the same. We have to find our own.”

Anna-Nassi thought about it for a moment, her wings still sagging. “I suppose you’re right.”

Cole reached out and tapped one of them again. It was a very personal touch for a mandossi, and rarely done, even within species. But she had let him do this early on and had never stopped him as it cheered her up. She responded with a soft hum and a reciprocal touch on his shoulder.

“We’ll figure this out,” she said.

“We will,” he said.

“You’re cute when you get flustered,” she smirked. Cole burst out laughing.

*

Glossary:
“Hindi ka nakakatawa!” — (Tagalog) “That’s not funny!”
amma — (mandossi) – mother
ahpé — (mandossi) – brother
Mani-yandoora — (mandossi) “Hello, elder.” Often used to show high respect to one’s elders.
daash-paiya — (mandossi) literally, ‘immature egg’. Often used self-deprecatingly as if to say ‘I’m an idiot’.

Diwa & Kaffi 14

Author’s Note: How do you write an extremely important scene where one main character dearly wants to ask the other to make their shared long-term life goals official? By shipping it, of course. 🙂

*

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Diwa started the vidchat app with nervous amusement, feeling stupid and silly at the same time. He couldn’t wait to share what he’d learned from his father…yet he also hoped that Kaffi hadn’t logged on yet, giving him extra time to gather his senses so he wouldn’t make a fool of himself. He brought up his homework on the second screen, yet another term paper due in a few days, but he found himself unable to focus on it.

Instead he opened a browser and started looking up things about tintrite flight.

The thought of flying with Kaffi both excited and terrified him. He’d been up in air transports before, of course…the family trip up north to Carrondon Province a few years back had been one of his favorite vacations ever, and he’d begged his father for the window seat so he could look out and survey the land below. He hadn’t feared the height, considering they were in an enclosed transport, and he was enraptured by what he saw, his forehead leaning up against the plexiglass, watching the ever-changing terrain move beneath him. He loved the idea of being up in the air, feeling the wind in his face and looking at the world from a rare point of view. And yet…

…and yet, he felt a chill at the same time. It was a stupid fear, and he hated it. Mild basophobia. A fear of falling. The feeling of vertigo wasn’t even that strong, just a bit more pronounced than it might be in other people, but it made his life miserable at the most annoying times. Even if he was standing on a steady platform like a tower or a high roof, with no possible way of falling, he still felt that dizziness, the tightness in his shoulders and a pit in his stomach, almost as if his body drew itself towards the ground below. Thankfully, it only affected him when extremely high up. The fifth-floor balcony outside his apartment gave him the slightest of jitters if he leaned over the railing for too long. The roof of the school did not bother him, as their meeting spot was at its center. The roof of Building C made him a bit nervous if he stayed for more than a few minutes.

He’d never told Kaffi about it. He would understand, but…

He didn’t want something so stupid keeping them from flying.

The vidchat app bleeped once and opened up, and Kaffi’s snout came into view. “Little too close to the camera there, Kaff,” he said with a chuckle.

Kaffi harrumphed in response, his breath fogging up the lens for a second, and he leaned back onto his hinds. “Good to see you too,” he retorted. “I was readjusting it. The clamp is wearing out, so I need to order a new one. Remind me to do that tonight before we log off.” He snuffed again, this time flashing a smile at him. “What’s going on across the green?”

Diwa leaned back, scratching the back of his head. “Interesting day. Pop came back and immediately started cleaning up the back office. I don’t know what your paddir said to him, but it definitely did the trick.”

“Hmmm,” Kaffi said, bobbing his snout quickly. “I was about to say the same to you. Paddir has been in a strange mood as well. I haven’t heard him talk this much in months!”

Diwa thought about telling him what Samuel had said about bonding, but he held back for now. For some reason it just felt too early. “He and I decided a few times a week, we’ll go through a section of that back room until it’s all done. He’s digitizing a lot of it and shredding what we don’t need, and probably in the next week or so we’ll find an offsite storage facility nearby. We’re aiming for it to be clean and ready to go by summer’s end.”

“Maybe paddir will finally fit in there?”

“Maybe so,” he said, and looked away. He scratched his jaw, hoping he wasn’t blushing right now. As much as he wanted to keep talking about their fathers, it was only delaying the inevitable. He cleared his throat and turned back. Kaffi was looking at him, snout pointed slightly down, irises a little wider than usual. “Hey, um. Before we get going with anything, I was wondering. Just…had something on my mind to bring up.”

“Yeah?” Kaffi raised his brow and dipped his snout a little further.

His hands were trembling and was glad they were under the desk and out of camera shot. Eiyah, this shouldn’t be so hard! He took a quick breath and cleared his throat, hoping that he didn’t sound nearly as nervous as he felt right now. “Since we pretty much started our internships, even if it’s part time. I was thinking. Eventually we’ll be doing all the errands our paddir currently do, yeah? Document runs to Panooria, visits to the city, shopping, visits to the co-op farm? Sooner or later we’re going to be doing this thing, right?”

“Mmmm,” Kaffi said. It wasn’t a hum, or a grunt. Somewhere in between. An agreement, sprinkled with a bit of expectation.

Diwa exhaled, steeling himself for what he was about to say next. Yes, this was the right decision. No doubts. No time like the present.

“I, um. I was going to say, did you want to, you know, be my ride? As well? Make it official?”

Kaffi stared at him. Blinked twice. His wings fluttered and shivered rapidly. His irises grew wide enough his eyes were nearly all black.

Diwa held his breath and bit his lip. Had he just blown it? Had he said something wrong?

“…Kaff?” he ventured.

Kaffi suddenly let out such a loud bark of laughter it shook the camera loose again. Quickly he reached forward and readjusted the clamp again, but now Diwa could clearly see the look of sheer happiness on his face! His smile was so wide he could see every single fang! “Issthnamii!” he sang. “Diwa, my fiiri! Of course! You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for you, hoping you’d ask! Eiyah…” He scratched at his own jaw, the bridge of his snout a vivid dark green, and he couldn’t stop giggling. “Of course I will be your ride, Diwa my friend!” he said. “It may be time before we actually train together, but believe me, you shall be my first, just as I’d hoped. This makes me so happy, Diwa! I am so glad that you’ve asked me!”

Diwa was now laughing himself, happy that he’d taken that next step, but even happier that Kaffi’s reaction had been so positive. “Thanks, Kaff. Ai, I can’t believe it took me that long to ask you.”

“You are extremely lucky I am patient, then,” Kaffi bowed, having calmed down enough, though his smile remained. Diwa was utterly relieved, and he had a good feeling that Kaffi must have been relieved as well. The ice was broken. He felt a tiny pang of guilt, realizing that he still hadn’t told Kaffi about his fear, but he would tell him eventually, before it was too late. He would understand.