Chapter 1: Today
Thorin finished his bottle of Fuller’s, then brought it down hard on the bar. “Sure.” His head was throbbing from the blaring music of the dance floor behind him. Of course, the alcohol wasn’t exactly helping.
“What’s wrong?” Bofur asked, cracking open another bottle and placing it front of Thorin, who immediately downed about a third of it.
Thorin asked Bofur, seriously, “Why do I bother?”
Bofur didn’t pretend to be ignorant. “Because everyone deserves happiness.”
Thorin laughed. “Deserves.” He drank another large swig. “And what does it mean when someone gets nothing.”
Bofur leaned on the bar. “It means someone hasn’t found the right guy.”
Thorin shook his head. “Maybe there is no one.”
“Not everyone gets a One, you know.”
“I thought that once, too,” Bofur said quietly. “But then … life taught me otherwise.”
Thorin gave Bofur a cocked eyebrow. “Really? Are you two official now?”
Bofur laughed and shrugged. “Maybe not … traditionally. You know Nori likes to be free.”
“So do you.”
“Exactly! Neither of us wants to be tired down. The house and the picket fence and the rose garden out back … that’s not for us. But then that is what makes us ... 'Us' ... before for 'each other.' You need to find the guy that is perfect for you.”
Thorin had to agree; he wanted nothing more than to find the guy perfect for him. But for him, he wanted a traditional relationship. He wanted the house, and the fence, and the rose garden; he wanted it all! To him, that was perfection. He wanted to bring flowers home and have his partner happy to see him. He wanted to talk about their day and share even the mundane, ordinary things; work, life, chores. To him, that was what love was all about; what was the purpose of life if it wasn’t shared?
So, where was the guy that wanted those things as well?
Thorin had grown up with the stories and tales, which only fueled his dreams. The great Mahal created souls and then split them in two, placing each half into a different being, so that everyone had a true soulmate, a ‘better-half’, their One, so that when they found each other, they would know what true completeness meant. Thorin’s grandfather, Thror, had spoken of being struck, like lightning out of a blue sky, when he met Thorin’s grandmother, Hrera. Thorin’s mother, Fris, had described how the world seemed to still the moment she and Thorin’s father, Thrain, had looked into each other’s eyes. Thorin’s brother, Frerin, just a year younger, believed the tales so truly that he didn’t even bother looking, so convinced was he that he would find his other half. Even Thorin’s sister, his little sister, Dis, had found her One, Vili, at the tender age of twenty and now, four years later, she had two little boys and was as much in love with her husband as he was with her; which was very much.
So why the hell was Thorin twenty-eight and still alone?!
Because there isn’t anyone for you, said the traitorous voice of doubt in his head. You are destined to be incomplete, to be without. You are not worthy of what the others around you have been blessed with.
Thorin hated that voice, but he couldn’t argue with it either.
Enough was enough.
“I’m off,” Thorin said, emptying his Fuller’s and standing up. It was getting late and the only thing worse than going home alone was going home alone and closing the club. He threw a couple of quid on the bar for Bofur. “See ya, Bo.”
“See ya, Thor.”
Thorin sulked out and made his way to his car.
Maybe I should just move away.
The music was too loud and the second he walked into the club his head felt like it would split. But Bilbo Baggins reminded himself that he was only stopping by, grabbing a quick one, and say hello to his friend, before heading over to see his mother.
“OI!” Bilbo shouted over the din. “WHO DOES ONE HAVE TO BLOW TO GET A DRINK AROUND HERE?!”
Bofur turned around, a smug look on his face and ready expletive on his lips, only for his mood to instantly lift when he saw who called to him. “BILBO!”
Bilbo laughed. “Hey, you!”
Bofur came around the end of the bar and gave Bilbo a big, warm, bear hug. They each planted a kiss on the other’s cheek. “What are you doing here?!”
“I just popped in on my way to my parents,” Bilbo said.
Bofur’s smile faltered. “I heard about your dad. I’m so sorry.”
Bilbo smiled softly. “Thanks. But … it wasn’t like we didn’t know this day would come.”
“Maybe. It’s still hard when it does.”
Bilbo nodded. His father, Bungo, had put up a noble fight. Lord knows, no one fought better. Yet, when all was said and done, no one could not cheat death, one could only decide how to cross the finish line; painfully and ugly, or with grace and dignity. Bungo crossed over quietly, with his wife and son at his side. It was beautiful, even in its sadness.
“What can I get you?” Bofur asked, going back behind the bar.
“Just a quick one,” Bilbo replied, taking a seat. He turned his head and saw an empty bottle of Fuller’s at the other end of the bar. Yeah. That’s a good idea. “A Fuller’s would do.”
“You got it.” Bofur opened a cold bottle and set down in front of Bilbo. But when Bilbo tried to pay, Bofur waved him off. “It’s on the house.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Bilbo said, trying again to pay for his drink.
“I’m not and I said, no.”
Bilbo sighed and took a drink, but slipped his money in the tip jar when Bofur wasn’t looking.
“So …” Bofur said, coming back to Bilbo after getting drinks for a few others are the bar. “What’re your plans?”
Bilbo sighed. “I’d planned on staying at least through the end of the week. If Mum’s doing okay, I’ll probably leave on Monday.”
“Back to London.”
Bilbo nodded. “It’s great there, Bofur. You’d love it.”
“Nah. My brother and his family are here and besides … London is too tempting a place for Nori!”
They both laughed at that.
“Are you happy?” Bilbo asked.
Bilbo rolled his eyes. “Don’t start.”
“I just asked a question.”
“And I know why you are asking.”
Bofur leaned on the bar. “You could move back you know.”
“I know.” Bilbo set his bottle down and stood up. “I think it’s time to go.”
“Oh, now …” Bofur looked guilty. “I didn’t mean to upset —”
“You didn’t,” Bilbo insisted. “It’s just late and I wanted to see a friendly face.” Bilbo had been at the lawyers all afternoon and then dinner with his extended family all evening. “I’m just tried.”
“Well …” Bofur didn’t look much happier. “At least promise to stop back in, or come see me before you leave.”
They gave each other a hug and Bilbo told Bofur to give Nori his best. As he headed out to his car, Bilbo realized that he now had one less thing to keep him there, only his mother left really.
It certainly wasn’t like he had anyone special in his life.
No matter how much his heart might have ached for it.
Chapter 2: Three Days Later
Thorin and Bilbo both have conversations with their mothers.
“Is something wrong, love?” Fris asked, handing Thorin a plate to dry.
Thorin shook his head, bringing him back to the present; his thoughts had drifted. He was helping his mother wash-up after Sunday dinner; it was their tradition that the whole family, even grandparents, came together at his parent’s house to break bread. Dis had just left with Vili and their two boys, four year old Fili and three year-old Kili, Frerin stated that he had a date and bolted, his grandfathers and dad were sitting in the back garden talking about politics and the state of the world in general, which explained why his grandmothers were in the parlour chatting alone. Naturally, he was the only one left to help his mother.
“No,” Thorin said with a shrug, quickly wiping the plate dry and putting right in the cupboard.
“You were a million miles away.”
“Just … you know … thinking.”
Fris nodded, handing another clean, wet plate to Thorin. “What were you thinking about?”
Thorin shrugged again. “You know … stuff.”
“Stuff?” Fris chuckled. “Care to be more specific?”
Fris nodded but said nothing. She didn’t ask anything or make any comment but Thorin knew the tactic; his mum would let unasked questions hang in the air, making the silence unsettling and the room seem to shrink until the other person couldn’t take it anymore.
And, as usual, it worked.
“I just …” Thorin said finally. “I was chatting with Uncle Dain yesterday and … he and I were talking …”
“As one does when one chats with another.”
“He’s got an opening at his firm and … well, I can do it and he said I could have it and … I mean, it’s a great opportunity, I can start a real career, make connections, build real clientele, make a name for myself, and there are tons of things to see and do in London and … you know …”
“The circle of people to meet is much wider.”
Fris stopped and gave her son a soft, knowing look. “Running away won’t solve your problems.”
Thorin hung his head. “I’m not running from any problem!”
Thorin looked at his mother earnestly and gave in; there was no point in lying or beating around the bush. “I’m tired of being alone.”
Fris nodded; she did understand. Both knew that she hated the idea of losing her first born, but they were equally aware that she would support him in his choices. She always had. “When were you thinking of going?”
“Well … there isn’t anything pressing to keep me here … per se. So … I was thinking of going up this coming weekend and starting next Monday.”
“Oh.” Fris was surprised but she kept herself controlled as usual. “That soon?”
“Unless … I mean … if you want me to stay a bit longer, I could …”
“I want you to be happy, Thorin.” She pulled him into a tight hug. “That’s all that matters to me. And at least it gives us enough time to have a going away party for you.”
Thorin rolled his eyes, but he smiled. “I don’t need a party.”
“Of course you don’t,” Fris said, giving Thorin a kiss on the cheek. “But you’re getting one none-the-less.”
Thorin nodded. He’d actually hoped for a party.
“So … Friday night?”
Evening had settled in and the fire burned low in the front parlour hearth. Bilbo and his mother, Belladonna, sat quietly, drinking herbal tea – Rose for Belladonna and Chamomile with orange for Bilbo, while a plate of Belladonna’s famous Lemon-Ginger biscuits sat on the table between their chairs. Belladonna had put on soft, classic music and it added to the ambience that the fire created – lit for just such a purpose as opposed to warmth. This Sunday night ritual had been a tradition for as long as Bilbo could remember and probably before he was even born. It was a lovely way to end the weekend.
Bilbo had been enjoying the quiet when his mother’s question had brought him back to the present. “Friday night … for what?”
“Your going away party.”
“Oh, Mum … you don’t have to do that.”
“I don’t have to do anything. I want to. And it’s only going to be a few friends and family.” At Bilbo’s panicked look, Bella added quickly, “Not the whole family, mind, just a few of your closest cousins … Drogo, Prim, Esmeralda, Saradoc … Otho and Lobelia …”
Bilbo grimaced. “Must you.”
Bella rolled her eyes. “You two buried the hatchet years ago. What’s your problem with Lobelia?”
Bilbo sighed. “Nothing, really.” It was true, they both took the mickey out of each other, but it was all in good fun now. However … “She’ll just spend the whole time trying to convince me that London is nothing less than a modern Sodom and Gamorrah, and wouldn’t it be lovely for everyone if I moved home and settled down.”
“Well, she just cares about you.”
Bilbo couldn’t necessarily disagree with that, but he would definitely say Lobelia loved nothing more than being in the middle of everyone’s life and making each day her version of an episode from The EastEnders! Honestly.
“And I …” Bella said sitting back and taking another sip of tea. “I did invite a few friends from my Bridge Club.”
“You did?” Bilbo was a little intrigued.
“Just a few you know … Gemma Goodchild … Myrtle Fairweather .”
Bilbo nodded. “That was nice.”
“Okay.” Bilbo hadn’t seen her ages, but that was fine.
What? God, if he thought Rose was a blast from his past, he couldn’t even recall the last time he saw Petunia, let alone actually spoke to the woman.
“And, um … Sherman and Derbert.”
Bilbo nearly choked on his tea. “Sherman Waterfield and Derbert Proudfoot?!”
“I’m sure they’d love to see you.”
Bilbo didn’t doubt that! Both Sherman and Derbert used to chase after Bilbo like hounds on a tasty scent! Bilbo couldn’t deny that one of the small reasons he moved to London was to get away from boys like Sherman and Derbert! “I can’t believe you invited them.”
“They’re both very nice.”
Bilbo rolled his eyes. “And both are dull as drying paint! Sherman is so dense, he couldn’t tell you the time even if his watch spoke to him! And Derbert only has a little more intelligence than a sea sponge!”
“Sherman is a very hard-worker, he’s a foreman at the mill … and Derbert is going to take over the family business.”
Bilbo couldn’t believe it!
“And they are both single.”
Bilbo groaned. Between Lobelia and Sherman and Derbert … God kill him now! “Mother why are you doing this to me?”
“I just thought it would be nice—”
“My life is nice as it is!”
“But if you were to settle down—”
“I don’t want to settle!”
“I’m just scared for you.”
Bilbo stilled and looked at his mother, who had gone silent. Bella looked very tired and, indeed, worried and scared.
“Your father is gone,” Bella said quietly, staring at the flames. “And while I’m not ill, I can’t help feeling that a time may come—”
“—when you are left alone.” She gave Bilbo a soft, sad smile. “I am filled with fear that you will be completely alone without someone to care for you. That you will be cast adrift and … and I’d love to see you settled and happy and … loved … before my time comes.”
Bilbo was up and sat on the arm of his mother’s chair, pulling her into a warm hug. “You don’t have to worry about me.”
“I will always worry about you.”
Bella pulled back to Bilbo in the eye. “Are you, though?”
Bilbo sighed. “If and when I settle down, it will be with someone who is right for me, not someone I simply settled for. But until then … yes, I’m fine. I’m happy and content and … I don’t need a man to complete me.”
Bella hugged her beloved son again, each letting the love they felt for each other be expressed rather than said.
“Of course,” Bilbo said finally. “You won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.”
“You don’t know that, Bilbo.”
“Sure I do! You’re too stubborn and ornery to die!”
Bilbo giggled and Bella huffed, swatting her boy away. “Go sit back down!” They sat in silent for several long minutes more, once again enjoying the quiet, before Bella said, “So … I will tell Rose and Petunia that you’d … prefer a smaller party and not to bring their boys.”
“No,” Bilbo said quickly. “Don’t do that. It will be fine.”
He could handle Sherman Waterfield and Derbert Proudfoot for one evening. He would just treat the whole thing as a game! It’d be fun. And besides, it will remind him why he should be in London even more so.
Lord knows, something was pulling him to hurry back to London.
Chapter 3: One Week Later
Thorin was a bit tired, and still a little hung over from his going away party the night before, as he caught the ten o’clock morning train to London from Dale City Central Station. Still, he was awake enough to be excited for the adventure ahead and clear-minded enough to start reading the packet of material Dain had emailed him; Thorin wanted to be as familiar with the company, and the personnel, as he could before starting.
He sat in seats facing the same direction as the train; sitting in seats facing back made him slightly ill. There were people coming on and moving all around him, taking seats, chatting, but he ignored them. He didn’t even notice when someone sat in the seat directly behind him and bumped him; his mind registered someone saying something to him, but his mind dismissed it in the next second, so Thorin made no reply. With a turn of the page, the whole incident was forgotten.
When the train finally arrived at London, he grabbed his bags and headed out. He had a life to start living.
Bilbo quickly made his way through Dale City Central Station. He was to catch the ten o’clock morning train to London and he was late. Well, he felt he was late. He preferred to get on, get settled, get comfortable, take out whatever book he was reading at the moment, and be relaxed before the train even started out of the station.
The crowd was a little maddening; clearly he was not the only person rushing off to London. He pushed his way through the carriage, and found a seat facing the opposite way the train was to go; he hated sitting facing the same direction, it made him slightly ill. He flopped into his seat, bumping the guy seating behind him.
“Sorry,” Bilbo called out to the guy.
There was no response; either the guy didn’t hear him, in which case Bilbo wasn’t going to made a big deal out of it, or the man hadn’t even noticed, which Bilbo totally wasn’t going to worry about.
He had just settled in for the ride when the train started.
It was a peaceful, quiet, totally uneventful trip. He didn’t even speak to a single person. When the train pulled into Vicitoria and stopped, Bilbo was up quickly and grabbed his things; it was time to get back to his life.
Chapter 4: Three Months Later
It's funny who you run into at a restaurant ... and who you don't.
Thorin kind of froze, turning around slowly to face his Uncle, who was standing the doorway of Thorin’s small office. “I, um … I was just—”
“Leaving early?” Dain deadpanned and looked at his watch. “At four to be exact.”
Thorin swallowed. He hadn’t asked to leave early; he hadn’t thought anyone would mind, to be honest. Hell, he worked late most of the time. Nor did he think anyone would even miss him. But no, he hadn’t asked. “Dwalin is, um … in town, and um … I … thought—”
“You’d met up for drinks.”
Thorin licked his lips; yeah, that was exactly what he thought. They stared at each other in silence, neither moving, for about thirty seconds until Dain burst in to laughter.
“You should see your face!” Dain almost had to grip the door frame to keep from falling over. “You need to lighten up!”
Thorin rolled his eyes. “Did you stop by just to take the piss?”
“No,” Dain said, smiling. “That was just an added bonus!”
“Thanks,” Thorin said dryly as he put his suit jacket on. It was kind of funny though.
“I knew Dwalin was in town,” Dain said, “and I figured you’d be meeting up with him. I came by to ask you to tell him to call Sahara. She has emailed him and texted and received no response.” Dain sighed. “And you know how she gets.”
Dain’s wife, Sahara, was one of those loving aunts that thought every boy was starved and needed to be fed and clucked over. Dain and his son continuously had to push food away; Dain had still gained a good bit of weight about the middle regardless. Funny thing was Sahara herself was tall and slender no matter what she ate.
“I’ll tell him,” Thorin said, smiling, remembering when he first moved to London and how much Sahara had worried that Thorin was nothing but skin and bones.
“Have fun,” Dain said as he left but threw over his shoulder, “And you might want to think about taking a few more afternoons off, by the way. You work too much!”
Thorin liked work, so what was the problem?
Of course, his total denial that there was a problem was exactly what the problem was.
“You don’t really mind do you?”
“No,” Bilbo said. “I just … I wonder if I’m the best person to go.”
Rivendell Publishing, the company Bilbo worked for, had interviewed a talented young man to be one of the new in-house cover artists. His work was amazing and beautiful, plus he’d come highly recommended by an older friend of Elrond Rivendell. But oddly, Bilbo’s boss wanted Bilbo to go meet the young man for the final face-to-face interview.
“You’ll be fine,” Sahara cooed. “It’s really just a formality at this point.”
Bilbo was confused. “Well … if you’ve already decided, why not just offer the kid the job over the phone and be done with it?”
“It’s more than that,” Sahara insisted. “Elrond and I need to meet with Boxlight’s management team in less than an hour.” Boxlight Books was a small, independent publishing company that Rivendell Publishing had recently acquired. There had been much debate whether Boxlight would be absorbed into Rivendell or whether it would function under the old name and only be overseen by Rivendell. Given that Boxlight Books tended towards edgy, out-of-box writers, gritty crime novels, and esoteric sci-fi anthologies, much different than the serious non-fiction histories, world-leader biographies, and Nobel-Prize winning scientific tomes, the general consensus was leaning towards the latter. “You are the only person we trust to truly size-up this young man in our place.”
“I am? Why?”
“Even the most talented person can be a poor fit. You have such a knack for details and overlooked points, character and behavior … all those tiny details … that others miss. That’s what makes you such a great editor!”
Bilbo sighed. It sounded to him like they didn’t want to go and Sahara was just buttering him up. However, he knew for a fact that this meeting with Boxlight had been planned for weeks and, of course, the president and vice-president of Rivendell needed to be there.
“Fine,” Bilbo said giving in. “I’ll go.”
“Good!” Sahara said as she made to leave, stopping at his door and turning back. “By the way, he’s meeting you in half an hour at Momo, so you need to leave now.”
“Bye,” she said with a chuckle and a smile before walking off.
He was such a sucker.
Thorin grabbed a taxi and headed over to Mayfair. Dwalin had suggested Momo, a Mayfair staple, which offered the best of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. Thorin loved the food, but Dwalin had mentioned that it was the downstairs bar that really drew his attention.
Pulling up to the restaurant, Thorin could see that there was already a wait going on with people outside in small groups. He paid the driver, hopped out, straightened his tie, buttoned his jacket and headed in. At the same time that Thorin reached for the door, a young, ginger-haired guy – practically a kid – also reached for the handle.
“Sorry,” the kid said, sounding nervous.
“No problem,” Thorin said, giving the kid a wink. He opened the door wide. “After you.”
The kid smiled and walked in, carrying a huge black portfolio of some kind. As the guy moved to one side, Thorin walked up to the young lady running the front.
“Welcome to Momo,” the woman said with a brilliant smile.
“Hello,” Thorin said, returning her smile. “I’m meeting someone in the bar?”
The woman nodded and pointed the way, although Thorin had been there more than a few times. He headed downstairs and, sure enough, Dwalin was there, lounging in a corner, his arms on the back of the bolsters, like a Pasha, a large Guinness on the low table in front of him. Immediately, as soon as Dwalin spotted him, Dwalin was up and pulling Thorin into a bear hug. Thorin ordered his own drink and for the next hour or so they chatted about family, Thorin’s work, Dwalin’s plans for after his discharge which was only a few months away now, and London. Dwalin was very interested in London.
“And you really like it here?” Dwalin asked, finishing his third Guinness and not even remotely affected by it.
Thorin nodded. “I do. I’ve really settled into life here. It’s hectic and crazy and loud and I love it.”
“But no one special.” Dwalin said quietly.
Thorin shook his head. “I’ve not had the time, to be honest.”
“Really. Not even one person?”
Thorin shrugged. “A couple of one night stands here or there but none worth remembering.”
“So not your One then?”
“I don’t need a One to be happy.”
Dwalin didn’t even bother to make a quip, just gave Thorin pointed look and raised eyebrow.
“You don’t believe me.”
“I just wonder what happened to mister happily-ever-after.”
Thorin sighed and took a deeper slug of his Scotch. “People grow up.”
“Grow up? Or give up?”
Thorin huffed. “I’ve grown … matured and … I want different things now.”
“I’m not buying it.” Dwalin sat forward, closing some distance between them, suddenly very serious. “You’re hiding. From life, from the world, from your family, and even worse, from yourself.”
Thorin wanted to protest but he found that he could not.
Thorin downed the rest of his drink and sat back. Dwalin had basically held up a mirror in front of Thorin and there was no more denying it. “I thought … if I worked and … worked … I’d build a life where … where I didn’t need someone else to make me whole and I could live with that.”
“That’s not living. That’s existing.”
“Not much difference.”
“Yeah there is. One is empty, the other is fulfilling.”
“But which one is which?”
Dwalin rolled his eyes. “Don’t try and be clever to avoid the subject.”
Thorin laughed. They both did and the mood lightened. A little.
“Don’t give up,” Dwalin said, sitting back. “You never know … your One could right around the corner.”
Bilbo wove through the crowd outside the door of the restaurant, straightening his bowtie and adjusting his saddlebag to a more comfortable position. As he walked in, he stepped around a couple blocking his way and greeted the hostess.
“Welcome to Momo,” the young lady said.
“Hello,” Bilbo said, returning the woman’s smile. “I’m here to meet an Orlando Ryson?”
Bilbo turned and saw a slim, Ginger-haired man with a shaggy bowl cut and chinstrap beard, dusty-lavender colored hoodie, black pants and old combat boots, carrying a large portfolio under one arm. The freckles across the guy’s face made the guy look like a teen rather than a mid-twenties artist.
“How do you do.” Bilbo held out his hand which the man immediate took.
“I’m well. Are you … Mister Riven?”
Bilbo laughed. “No. Elrond had last minute meeting he couldn’t get out of. I’m Bilbo Baggins, one of the senior editors.”
“Nice to meet you. And everyone calls me Ori.”
“Then you must do likewise and call me Bilbo.”
A waiter came and led them to a table off to one side.
“Are you hungry?” Bilbo said, looking over the menu.
“I am. And everything looks so good!”
“Mister Baggins …”
“I think I’ll have the lamb. Maybe a glass of wine too.” Bilbo bent the menu down and looked at Ori. “Wine?”
“Ah … sure.”
“Great!” Bilbo motioned to the waiter. “May we have two glasses of wine? Pinot Noir for me, and …” He gave Ori a questioning look.”
“Sure. Sounds … good.”
“Make that two.”
The waiter nodded and after some back and forth, with Ori just nodding, Bilbo ordered the Chef’s Selection Menu for them both; Crispy Gambas and Lamb Tagine for Bilbo, while Ori had the Cheese Briouats and Vegetable Tagine. And of course, Bilbo also ordered Houmous with Moroccan Bread for them to share.
“Now, Ori …” Bilbo said, as the waiter left to get their wine and place their orders. “Tell me—”
“Mister Baggins,” Ori rushed out. “I want you to know that I’m very excited about this offer and I am very eager to start working with your team!”
“I’m sure, but—”
“I have my portfolio with me!” Ori reached for this large, black case and opened, pulling out artwork. “I can assure I’m qualified and—”
Bilbo couldn’t get a word in edgewise at that point. Ori continued on in an almost unbroken breath, covering his background, his hopes, his plans, his schooling, what types of art he could do, presenting piece after piece after piece to prove that he could do all that he could do. Bilbo just sat there and let the young man rattle on. It was amusing really, because Bilbo already knew that Ori had the job and, frankly, just a few of his art pieces would be enough to prove his talent, but really, Ori’s enthusiasm was not only refreshing but welcomed and Bilbo had decided; he liked this guy right off and knew he would be a great member of the team.
And he hoped maybe a friend.
“So, really, I—”
Bilbo sharp but amused tone stopped Ori and he realized he’d been rattling on. “I’m so … so sorry.”
“Don’t be.” Bilbo smiled. “You have the job!”
Ori lit up like Christmas. “I do?!”
Bilbo nodded. “They just wanted me to come and meet you in person.”
“Oh, my god!” Ori was beside himself. “I … I got the job!”
They both laughed and, picking up their wine glasses, toasted Ori’s success. By the time the starters were served, they were sharing their childhoods with each other, tales of their mothers, the things they had in common – which were plenty – and when main course arrived, both would have confessed, if asked, that it felt as if they had known each other for years rather than long minutes!
“Are you looking forward to living in London?” Bilbo asked between bites.
“Oh yes!” Ori said. “Edinburgh was nice but too damn cold for me!”
“Do you have family here?”
Ori shook his head. “I have two brothers. My oldest lives near Mum in Liverpool and our middle brother lives out near Dale City.”
“Really?” Bilbo was surprised. “I’m from a small village nearby Dale City! Hobbiton!”
“Honest?” Ori laughed. “What a small world!”
“So …” Ori took a sip of water and then another bite of his Vegetable Tagine. “How do you like London? How’s the nightlife?”
“It’s London! They nightlife is great. But … I don’t get out much.”
“Oh.” Ori seemed surprised. “You don’t go out at all?”
“Now and then, but … I really hate going out alone.”
“No one special in your life?”
Bilbo shook his head. “Who has the time and honestly, I rarely do the one-night stand thing.”
Ori shrugged. “I’d loved to find someone.”
Bilbo smiled. “I’m sure you won’t have trouble there.”
“Maybe. But … if you have been here for … how long? Three years? And you haven’t found someone …”
“Don’t go by me. I just …” Bilbo sighed. He felt comfortable with Ori and he yearned to be open. “I don’t want to settle. I don’t someone who’s just … good-enough, or … maybe, might be, sort of a success … I want the right man. Not a perfect man, but … the man that’s perfect for me.” Bilbo shook his head. “Does that sound like I’m asking too much?”
“No. I just think you might want to put yourself out there, or else … well, as the saying goes; you have to kiss some frogs before you find your prince.”
“I don’t need a prince.”
“Maybe.” Ori gave Bilbo a wink. “But I bet you wouldn’t kick one out of your bed if you found one there!”
Bilbo laughed. “Probably not!"
Chapter 5: Six Months Later
Date night ...
Thorin walked up the stairs of the loft building. He didn’t know why he was nervous; he’d been on countless dates before so why this one would be different he couldn’t figure out. Sure, it was someone that his aunt worked with. Someone she thought was just ‘wonderful’ and ‘so perfect’ for him. And maybe because it was a personal friend that it mattered; surely if he screwed up Sahara would be oh so unhappy.
Or maybe it was more than that.
Thorin had to admit, his pretending that he didn’t need a relationship, or even want one, wasn’t working. Maybe, just maybe, it was less about letting his aunt down and more about letting himself down. Should he lower it expectations? Should he give up the dream of the house with the garden, the Sunday evenings alone, and the idea that maybe, someday, there would be family?
Maybe I should just go on the damn date and see where it goes before jumping to the children part.
He took a deep breath, rolled his neck and shoulders, straightened his jacket and tie, and released his breath in a slow, calming way. He was as ready as he was going to be.
He raised his hand and knocked.
Bilbo had no idea what was wrong with him!
Why does nothing looking good tonight?!
He was nuts. That was it. It had to be. It was only a date. That simple; two guys sitting down, having dinner, chatting each other up, getting to know each other, maybe even more eventually if the chemistry was right! Did it matter what he wore in the end?
Of course it did! What the hell was wrong with him?! Who knows where this could lead? Maybe in six months time he would in with that special someone, or maybe they would move in with him. Maybe there would a wedding someday. Maybe even ... a family? Bilbo rolled his eyes at himself. One step at a time, Baggins! Why not meet the man first before picking out rings!
He looked at himself in the mirror, wearing the twelfth outfit in the last … oh, twelve minutes … and sighing; is this really the best he could do?!
There was a firm knock on the door. Shit. It really didn’t matter what he wore at this point.
“JUST A MINUTE!” Bilbo shouted. He caught himself in the mirror again. “Wish me luck,” he said to his reflection as he headed for the front door.
Bilbo took a calming breath, in through the nose and out through the mouth, and smiled. Yeah, smiling was good.
Here goes nothing, he thought as he opened the door.
THE NEXT MORNING
Thorin shuffled out of his room and into the kitchen, his eyes barely open as he reached for the coffee pot and pour himself a cup of fuel.
“You were back early last night,” Dwalin said from the kitchen table where Thorin hadn’t seen him.
Thorin gulped down half the cup before replying, “Yeah.”
“Didn’t go so well?”
Thorin took another gulp and rolled his eyes. “You could say that.”
Bilbo tied his robe around him, a home-made gift from his mother, and made his way to the kitchen. He filled the kettle, turned it on, got out a mug from the cupboard, pulled the tea tin next to the mug, and then took out a couple of hard-boiled eggs from the fridge along with bread for toasting. He wasn’t that hungry.
As he pressed down the button on the toaster, his phone rang.
“You’re up early,” Bilbo said as he saw the call was from Ori.
“So are you,” Ori teased. “Can I guess that last night didn’t go so well?”
“It was … all right.”
“Oh, God! ‘All right’ does not sound all that … all right.”
Bilbo sighed. “It was … fine.”
“Fine?! That sounds even worse!”
“What the hell does that mean?!” Dwalin asked, pulling a face at Thorin.
“I mean it was … okay.”
“Jesus. Now I’m depressed! Was the guy a jerk?”
“No. He was … okay. It was more that ...”
“He was a prat.”
“We ... were Incompatible.”
“I thought Aunt Sahara said he was ‘perfect.’”
“I’m sure he is. For someone else.”
“Was he … you know … hard on the eyes?”
Bilbo sighed. “I wouldn’t say that … just … not my type.”
“So he was Fugly.”
Bilbo rolled his eyes. “He most certainly was not!”
“Well he must have been hideous if you didn’t even jump in the sack.”
“I don’t do that kind of thing on the first date!”
“Why not?! I mean … what’s the point of dating I’d your not going get off?! Well, unless the guy looks like Quasimodo.”
“Oh, my goodness!”
Ori just laughed.
“You are terrible!”
“Christ, Dwalin! What do you take me for?!”
“Well, how else are you going to know if you’re compatible unless you hit the sheets with the guy?”
Thorin sighed, saying dryly, “I don’t know … how about conversing and getting to know someone?”
“Talk’s cheap. That’s for pussies.”
“So ... am I safe to assume you aren’t going to see him again?”
“You are safe.”
“I guess it was like a hand-made Christian Lacroix gown.”
“What do mean?”
Bilbo nodded, even though Ori couldn’t see him. “You guess correctly.”
“Well … if it’s any consolation, my date went south too.”
Bilbo was so confused. “But I thought he was ‘perfect,’”
“Sure. For someone else.”
“What was the problem?”
“So …” Thorin sat down; he was done talking about it. “How was your evening?”
Dwalin shrugged. “About the same as yours.”
Dwalin shook his head. “No. Just a bit … too normal for me.”
Thorin laughed. “And God forbid you should date someone normal!”
“I like someone with a bit of … you know.”
Dwalin smiled and gave Thorin a wink. “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.”
“No thanks. Leather is a fashion statement for me, not a lifestyle.”
“Who’s talking lifestyle?! I’m just talking some light bondage.”
Thorin gave Dwalin a level look. “And we’re done now.”
“He was nice guy. A little too-buttoned up for my taste, but …” Dwalin suddenly sat up. “Hey, you want me to introduce you to him?!”
“No!” Thorin said. “No more blind dates!” Thorin stood and walked off; he needed to shower.
“Yeah, but …” Dwalin shrugged and gave up, thinking, He wasn’t my type, but I betcha he’d go for Thorin.
“Absolutely not!” Bilbo wasn’t even going to entertain the idea.
“Yeah, but … you might get along better with him than I did!”
“No more blind dates!” Bilbo sighed. “When Mister Right comes along, it will happen organically.”
“Okay. Suit yourself.”
“So … are we still on for lunch?”
“Good. As long as we don’t talk about terrible dates anymore!”
Ori laughed. “You got it!”
Sahara sat at the table, picking at her breakfast. She was so disappointed.
“Eat, love,” Dain said around a mouth full of waffle.
“I just …” Sahara sighed, pushing her eggs around on her plate. “I had such high hopes.”
“I told you not to meddle.”
“I want them to be happy!”
“This is not an area where you can hold their hands! They’re grown men.”
Sahara sighed again. “I know that. But I was so sure …”
“Chemistry is a tricky thing.”
“But Ori and Thorin seemed so right for one another. Opposites attract and all!”
“Not always.” Dain said pointedly. “Sometimes it’s more a case of ... Birds of a Feather … know what I mean?”
Birds of a Feather! Sahara brightened. “Wait a minute!”
Dain hung his head. “Oh, no.”
“If you’re right … maybe I had it all backwards!”
“No!” Dain said, setting his knife and fork down.
“No, no, no! As Paul sang ... LET IT BE!”
Sahara sat back in her chair, defeated; her appetite was quite gone. Maybe it is a case of Birds of a Feather, she mused. Maybe I should have set Thorin up with Bilbo, and Dwalin with Ori, rather than the other way around. No, Dain was right, no more meddling. Oh well. Live and learn.
Chapter 6: One Year Later
“I want to thank you all for coming!” Dain said, standing at the head of the table.
Everyone laughed; it wasn’t like anyone was going to refuse dinner in a large private dining room at one of the swankiest restaurants in London. Especially when Dain when he told them to be somewhere.
Not that it was work, per se; it was more a gathering of the managers and upper executives at Redwater Financial. Plus Thorin. When asked to attend, Thorin was a little curious as to why; he was a junior manager at this point, but hardly an executive. However, he was Dain’s nephew and there was nothing wrong with a little nepotism.
Plus Dain was picking up the tab, so, free dinner!
It was halfway through said dinner that Dain and stood to say his piece.
“As you all know,” Dain continued. “Harold is retiring at the end of the year.” Dain raised his glass and gestured to an older man at the other end of the table. Everyone turned to the man and clapped, Harold smiling in return. “He is, without a doubt, the sharpest man I know and a natural leader.” Again, everyone clapped. “But more than that … he’s been, my friend.” Dain gave Harold a smile that was returned by the older man.
Harold Holdsworth has been with Dain from the very beginning. They became fast friends at Uni, even though Dain was only an incoming, but brilliant, freshman with more practical experience than most teachers, and Harold the doctorate student from a poor background and with no settled future. When Dain graduated, he invited Harold to come work with him at Dain’s father’s small investment firm. Once there, the pair worked hard and turned the tiny, family-owned business into a powerhouse. Through recessions and booms, they stuck together.
“He leaves us with shoes that can never be filled,” Dain said. “But he has earned his rest and I’m sure you will all join me in wishing him well and happy days ahead.” Dain raised his glass again and this time, everyone stood and raised their glasses as well. “To Harold. You will be missed.” Everyone repeated the sentiment and drank to Harold’s good health. Dain came around and presented Harold with gold, custom Rolex as only a small token of their friendship.
There was general conversation and laughter. Wait staff brought out coffee and tea, as well as a large cake. It was as they were halfway through their dessert that Dain tapped his glass again.
“Now, as I have said,” Dain said, giving Harold a pointed look, which was returned. “Harold leaves with big shoes to fill. And yet, we must fill them.” Dain sighed and turned to Thorin’s supervisor, sitting next to Thorin. “I’m sure you all can agree that the best person for that job is George Mason.” The table erupted in clapping and George smiled, giving Dain a nod. “George has been with the company for many years, and Harold and I both agreed that it was only natural he take Harold’s position.”
Everyone clapped again and some voiced their agreement.
“Thank you,” George said. “I’m honored and humbled for this chance …” he looked at Dain sincerely. “I won’t let you down.”
“Better not,” Dain deadpanned before the room erupted in laughter, including Dain.
“But what of my position?” George asked innocently.
“What indeed,” Dain said, failing to hide his smirk. “What do you say, Thorin? Care to give it a go?”
Thorin’s mouth dropped to the floor. Had he heard right? Was it a joke? Had his Uncle truly just offered him a promotion and huge leap up the company ladder? “I, um … well … I …”
Those around the table snickered and someone said loudly, teasingly, “Look at that! Apparently one can be struck dumb!”
Through the renewed laughter, George leaned towards Thorin and said seriously, “We all think you will be brilliant.”
“But …” Thorin was still trying to take in what happened. “Surely one of the more experienced managers would—”
“Fail,” Harold said evenly. “Just because they have been here longer, does not mean they are executive material.”
“You know things intuitively,” George added. “You aren’t restricted by a small, narrow point of view. You can see the bigger picture and you think outside the box. Just want Dain needs in the job.”
“The bottom line is,” Dain said being serious for a rare moment. “We have all talked about this …” he gestured to the rest of the table. “And we have all agreed, you are the only one we feel could not only handle the responsibility but be the kind of leader we need.”
Now it was Thorin’s turn to feel humble.
“So what do you say, Thorin?” Someone asked.
“This is your time,” Someone else added.
“Seize the moment,” Another said.
“Don’t disappoint your uncle, kid,” someone threw out, making people chuckle.
“Exactly!” Dain quipped, his jovial tone returning. “Think of what a pain in the arse it will be if I have to start interviewing people!”
Thorin took a breath and slowly breathed out. Why not? “Yes. I’ll do it.” He was thrilled. “Thank you!”
There was more laughing and congratulating. More back slapping and cheers. Thorin was just over the moon! What could he say? He was amazed and thrilled! He was truly honored and proud!
“Now that you are moving up,” Dain said, chatting with Thorin privately. “You might want to think about settling down.”
Thorin sighed. “Easier said than done.”
“Maybe. But you know … your aunt knows a few young, available men that—”
“Oh, Lord, no!”
Dain laughed, clearly enjoying Thorin’s look of panic.
“Not after last time.”
“Granted. And I understand. But that was only one … she knows others.”
“Thank you, but no.”
“Well … I’d still love to see you settled and living a full and happy life … with a family!”
Thorin chuckled and shook his head. “How about I find a guy first and … take it from there?”
Dain shrugged. “Sure. Now you want to be all … conventional!”
Thorin laughed. However the idea of having a partner, a husband even, and maybe children, a real family, it was a lovely thought. He could not deny that. Nor could he deny the call of nature. “Right now, what I need is the loo!”
He excused himself and headed out into the main restaurant, asking a young waitress where the lavatories where. Once pointed in the right direction, he made for the bathrooms when the sound of someone softly crying caught his ear.
It was a man and the sound pulled at Thorin. Almost instinctively, he was urged to go and find and comfort the man. It didn’t matter that the person was a stranger; he’s mind said don’t go, but his body was already walking towards the sound.
Thorin spotted the guy, his back to Thorin, sitting in a booth in a corner. Although the man was facing the other way, Thorin could see that the man was not alone; an older woman sat with him and was almost cradling the man to her. She looked up and locked eyes with Thorin. For a moment, Thorin felt exposed and intrusive, like he’d been caught doing something wrong. But the lady smiled a soft smile and without words made Thorin feel that she understood why he was there and, in a way, it made him feel like she was thanking him.
But he still didn’t need to be there.
Leave. Leave now. Thorin came back to himself and turned away. The man would be fine, he had someone comforting him. He didn’t need Thorin, even though something unnamed inside him disagreed.
“I still can’t believe they’re gone.”
Mirabella Brandybuck made slow sweeping circles on Bilbo’s back; that was the way to calm him since he was a small boy. “I know. It’s hard for me as well.”
Bilbo huffed out a sigh. “Of course it is! Here I am going on and on, while you … I mean …” Bilbo felt guilty, Primula was Mira’s daughter and yet Mira was comforting Bilbo when it should have been the other way around. “I’m sorry.”
Mira quickly gathered her nephew to her. “You have nothing to be sorry for! We all miss them and we must all be there for each other.”
At that moment, Mira noticed a young man nearby, watching them, and she smiled sadly at him. The young man’s face was etched with concern and, at least to Mira, he looked as if he wanted to offer comfort or assistance. But after he returned Mira’s smile with a small smile of his own, he turned and walked away, leaving them in peace. How sweet of him, Mira thought. That’s the kind of man Bilbo needs in his life.
Bilbo sat back, drawing a deep, calming breath and releasing it slowly. “How is, um … how is Frodo doing?”
“As well as one can expect when a young child loses his whole world.”
“He understands they are not coming back …”
“… but he asks every day to go to their graves.”
“Oh my, god.”
“We take him as often as we can. We feel that his going helps him to remember them, but …”
When Mira stopped, Bilbo was fearful of what was next. “But what? What’s wrong?”
“Well … we believe that he would do better, had he a home. A real home.”
Bilbo was very confused. “But he is home.”
“No. He’s with family, Bilbo. That isn’t necessarily home.”
“I don’t understand.”
Mira gathered her thoughts, but Bilbo had a funny feeling they were getting close to a point that his aunt had on her mind. “Imagine if you will … that your whole world is nothing but you, your parents, and your home.”
Bilbo released a little chuckle. “Don’t need to imagine that.” Bilbo was an only child. He’d lived in a big house with his parents and that was exactly his whole world.
“Now imagine you lost all that.”
“Well …” He had lost his father and it did change things.
“Imagine losing them as a little boy.”
Frankly, Bilbo could not imagine that. No hiking trips with his father? No family picnics with both his parents? No helping his mother on Sunday afternoons, baking muffins and bread? No story-telling in front of the fire, told by both his parents as they lovely correct each other? Those were all unthinkable to him.
“Frodo is used to not having to share a parent or a home.”
“You mean he was spoiled?”
“More that he is not used to being lost in a crowd.”
Bilbo was still confused. “What are you saying?”
Mira drew a deep breath and gave Bilbo a level look. “Frodo needs a home … of his own.”
Bilbo was so confused. He was already living on the huge estate of his grandparents along with several Brandybuck families; three of Primula’s brothers, Rorimac, Saradas, and Dinodas, and the both of Primula’s sisters, Amaranth and Asphodel. In fact, only her third oldest brother, Dodinas – or Dodi as he was called – lived off the estate; he had married a fourth Took cousin and lived in Tookland.
However, in the next moment, Bilbo understood his aunt’s look and the clear, unvoiced suggestion she was making.
“You can’t be serious!”
“You’d be a wonderful parent.”
Bilbo laughed; it was ridiculous. “Where do you get that from?!”
“From Prim and Drogo.” As if she knew Bilbo would not believe her, she removed from her purse folded copies of Prim’s and Drogo’s wills and opening them on the table. “You can see here …” she pointed to a clause at the end of each. “They both state clearly that in the event that both have passed on before Frodo’s an adult, he should be left in your charge.”
Bilbo was stunned. Shocked really. In the six weeks since their deaths, not once had he been told of this clause or their wishes. “Why am I just hearing about this now?!”
“A few thought it too much to burden you with.”
“I’d never call Frodo a burden!”
“True, but you do have your own life. And many others thought it best that Frodo stay with family and other children.”
Bilbo couldn’t argue that, it was a good point.
“A couple did think it a poor idea, but they were shouted down.”
“Let me guess … Lobelia.”
“Actually, she was the one that shouted them down.”
Bilbo could not be more surprised.
“However, the majority have since concluded that Primula and Drogo were correct. Frodo is not faring well; lost in a sea of people … regardless if those people love and adore him … he is without an anchor.”
“And you think I could be that anchor?” Bilbo was starting to get the idea of what his aunt truly meant. But he still had misgivings. “Do you honestly think it would be best for him to be alone? With only me? You think I should take him?”
“Let me be clear,” Mira said seriously, putting away the wills. “I’m not telling you to do anything. This has to be your choice and yours alone. No one will think less of you if you decide not to.”
“I’m sure Frodo will think me horrible if I reject him.”
“We haven’t told him. We didn’t want to get his hopes up before we had your decision.”
“Maybe we should ask him.”
“I don’t have to.”
“Why not?!” Bilbo felt that Frodo should have some say in the matter.
Mira shook her head. “When I told him I was going to visit you, he asked to come along. I told him not this time but maybe we could come back soon to see you. He was not only visibly crestfallen—”
“Awww, that’s so sweet.”
“But when he turned away, he said very low … I’m sure he hadn’t meant me to hear … ‘I wish I could stay with Uncle Bilbo.’”
Bilbo suddenly had a huge lump in his throat and he felt like he might cry again. But his aunt soon rushed to make a caveat of sorts.
“Bilbo ... you must carefully think it over. You mustn’t make a hasty or rash dec—”
“I’ll do it.”
They sat there, the silence stretching, both a little surprised at Bilbo’s declaration. Mira was clearly taken aback by Bilbo’s quick response. But Bilbo was not.
“You should take your time,” Mira urged. “You don’t have to decide right now.”
“Why not?” With each breath, Bilbo felt calmer and more peaceful. This was meant to be.
“But … you must!” Mira suddenly remembered the young man that came up behind them. “What if you meet a man and want to start a life with him?”
Bilbo smiled brightly. “Then he’d better like children.”