Halfling Part 4
“I wonder where Uncle Rand went,” Caden said, glancing backwards at the crowd in the hall.
“He’s probably around the buffet table,” Dahlia said with a giggle. Caden smirked and looked out at the port, enjoying the sight of the sea gently rolling beneath the night sky. Dahlia wrapped her arms around one of his and rested her head on his shoulder.
“What are you going to do?” she asked.
“Hm?” Caden blinked and glanced down at the woman. “What do you mean?”
She huffed and gave him an amused smile. “You idiot,” she said affectionately. “We’re graduates. Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about what you’re going to do out in the real world.”
“Oh…” Caden looked back out at the sea. “Well, like I mentioned to Jaxon, I’ll probably work for my uncle, in all honesty.”
Dahlia raised an eyebrow. “With your magic? How will that work?”
Caden could only shrug, his mind drawing up scenarios of him doing tricks for his uncle’s business partners. “What about you?” he asked in return.
She hummed before responding, “I’m looking into mercenary guilds. I hear most of them would love to have a Fire in their ranks.”
“That’s so dangerous,” Caden said. “Living from job to job, putting your life constantly at risk just for money—”
“It’s no more dangerous than joining the Guardians,” Dahlia said. “Besides, guilds protect each other. It’d be like an extended family. And just think of the adventure…!”
“I hope you’re not thinking it’d be like one of those fiction books you always read,” Caden said.
Her blue eyes narrowed. “Are you calling me disillusioned?” she asked. “I know I don’t live in a fantasy world, Mr. Turner. And I’ve passed the tests, haven’t I? I can take care of myself—”
“Am I interrupting anything, lovebirds?” Jaxon appeared in between the two, swinging an arm over each of their shoulders, a silly grin on his face. “Honestly, when I asked both of you your post-graduation plans, I expected to hear about wedding bells.”
Dahlia giggled, but Caden flushed and avoided his friends’ gazes. Jaxon quickly turned to the young lady and said, “I think your family is looking for you, Dahlia.”
“Thank you, Jaxon. I’ll see you boys inside.” She disentangled herself from the two and waved a few fingers in their direction as she went back inside the hall.
“When did you stop crushing on her?” Jaxon asked abruptly as soon as Dahlia was out of earshot. Caden’s eyes widened as he stared at his friend, and Jaxon added, “Man, I saw your face when I mentioned a wedding. Sorry about that.”
Caden gave him a crooked smile. “S’okay,” he said. “In all honesty, it really was just a crush in our first couple of years here together. I stopped liking her as more than a friend when we really started buckling down and studying for this last semester.”
“Okay, fine, when I started buckling down,” Caden said with a chuckle. Jaxon grinned.
“I wish you told me,” the blond said, leaning against the balcony. “I was so close to perfecting my best man speech and everything.”
“You still have quite a few years to perfect it, don’t worry,” Caden said. “I think I realized that I only liked Dahlia as a friend when I wasn’t jealous to find out that she went to the Snow Dance with that Earth Apprentice in Third Year… What was his name? Did he even graduate with us?”
“I think it was Evan or something,” Jaxon said with a shrug. “You were so mad when he first asked her out at the beginning of First Year.” He started chuckling, and Caden found it contagious.
“It was silly, really,” Caden said. “Hopefully she’ll find a good guy one day.”
Jaxon glanced at him, the mirth surrounding him almost disappearing. “I think she believes that you are that good guy.”
Caden shook his head. “I’ve never given her any indication like that these past couple of years,” he said.
“But she’s a woman,” Jaxon said. “You started pursuing her. When you backed off, she thought you were playing hard to get. She started paying more attention to you after realizing that dating other guys wasn’t getting you to budge.” Jaxon nudged Caden. “You made it so you call the shots in this relationship. She’s putty in your hands.”
“This coming from the guy who barely dated,” Caden said, shaking his head while trying to process Jaxon’s theory. “How do you figure all that?”
“I’m the guy with three sisters, remember?” Jaxon smirked. Caden rolled his eyes, and the two friends gazed out at the sea, enjoying the comfortable silence. After a few moments, though, Jaxon spoke up again. “I wonder what it’s like in the other countries.”
“Are you planning on visiting any of them?”
Jaxon shrugged. “I’m not sure,” he said slowly. “I’m morbidly curious as to how the beasts live, if I’m honest… But I think I’d have the courage to join the Guardians before trying to visit Falson. Knowing my luck, I’d accidentally break the most sacred law they have, and be killed for dinner.”
“What about Geist?” Caden asked.
Jaxon gazed out at the sea. “Maybe,” he murmured. “It’s just… I’ve been here in Akyna all my life. I’m slated to start working for my dad in a few days, and I don’t know if he’ll allow me enough time off to go to travel.”
“He’s your father,” Caden said pointedly.
“And my boss,” Jaxon shot back. “He can’t show favoritism to any of his employees. It wouldn’t be fair.”
“I’m thinking I’m going to ask my uncle if I can work in his business,” Caden said. “He goes on business trips once in a while to Geist. Maybe if I end up going with him, I can bring you along. We can tell your dad it’s to get more construction ideas or something.”
Jaxon smiled. “That’s a good idea, thanks.”
Silence enveloped the pair once again, this one not as comfortable as Caden realized that they wouldn’t be able to have late night conversations with one another again. Back when the two were First Years they talked about joining a mercenary guild and becoming a famous, legendary duo for thwarting groups of rogues with their powers. Second Year came the plan to at least find a job together, even if they weren’t interested in being fantasy heroes anymore. Third Year they just wanted to pass the tests to become Fourth Years, which gave way to just wishing to survive the trials to graduate. They were best friends, both Air Mages, and just recently realized that they would not be able to have each other for support in their first steps into adulthood.
“We’ll keep in touch, right?” Jaxon suddenly asked.
“Of course,” Caden responded right away. “We’re Air Mages, we’re supposed to have a certain connection with most birds, right? We’ll train some to send messages to each other.”
Jaxon chuckled. “What kind of bird? A dove for you, Mr. Goody-Two-Shoes?”
“And a crazy parrot for you,” Caden said, “one named Mr. Jingles.”
Jaxon snorted before falling into laughter, and Caden joined in. It wasn’t long before Uncle Rand located the two, and decided that it was getting late enough for them to return home. Half of the graduates had already left with their families with the rest making preparation to leave. Dahlia found them and gave each young man a hug before disappearing herself, and Jaxon clapped Caden on the back like he always did whenever the two would see each other later as his own family collected him.
“Are you okay?” Uncle Rand asked kindly as their carriage began to pull them away from the Academy.
Caden watched the buildings of the school recede in the distance and nodded, smiling. “Uncle Rand,” he said, “what do I have to do to join your business…?”