Hamid has only been in town for a few months when Mayor Gussett stops by his house, with a letter in hand. It’s a brisk morning out, a bit of chill still left in the air from winter as it clings on. The trees are only just beginning to bud, and the few bits of snow left on the ground are slowly melting away.
“Hamid, my boy!” he calls, waving at Hamid as he sits out on his porch. Hamid waves back, smiling.
“Morning, Mayor Gussett! Would you like some lemonade, sir?” Hamid asks, holding out a cup. Mayor Gussett takes it but doesn’t drink, waggling a finger at him.
“Now, there’ll be none of that! It’s just Mayor Gussett, alright?”
“Er, of course,” Hamid says. Mayor Gussett nods approvingly and takes a swig of the lemonade.
“Delicious, simply scrummy, well done, lad!” he exclaims, clapping his hands together. “Now, on to business?”
“Of course, go ahead,” Hamid says, gesturing for Mayor Gussett to speak.
“Now, you haven’t been in town long, so you probably don’t know. The annual Egg Festival is tomorrow, down in the main square. Consider this your official invitation! And I won’t take no for an answer. Absolutely not.”
Hamid blinks at him. “Egg… festival?”
Mayor Gussett nods emphatically. “Just that, just that. The entire town will be there. We’ll throw a big feast for everyone, there will be different vendors around, and we’ll close up the festivities with a town-wide egg hunt. Winner gets a special prize,” he says, giving Hamid a wink. He finishes the glass of lemonade and sets it down on the table, smacking his lips. “Well, I’m off! Busy life, this, make sure to say no if anyone ever coerces you into government service, lad.”
“Er, alright? See you tomorrow, then?” Hamid calls after him as Mayor Gussett walks down the porch stairs and along the path, hand raised in a weak half-wave. Mayor Gussett beams as he half-turns around to wave back.
Well. He supposes he has plans for tomorrow, then.
The center of town is all dressed up for the festival, with inflatable bunnies and colored eggs donning the streets.
Azu and Grizzop have decorated the front of their clinic with pink and yellow bunting, and the other storefronts have followed suit, alternating between different pastels to make the entire street incredibly colorful.
Hamid loves it. It reminds him of going to festivals back in Cairo, with his sisters, but there’s not as many smells of spices floating through the air, tempting him to each and every tent. And it’s still a bit cold for his tastes, but he doesn’t mind. Aziza had sent him a coat after he’d gotten settled, a beautiful black peacoat with silver trim. It’s perfect for the weather, and for wandering around the square.
“Alright, Hamid?” Sasha says from behind him, and Hamid jumps, swearing. A few parents tugging their children along give him dirty looks, and continue marching. He gives a weak, apologetic smile to their backs and turns around to see Sasha watching him with a hint of a smirk on her face.
“Sasha, you nearly gave me a heart attack,” Hamid says, clutching at his chest. “I wasn’t expecting you to be there!”
Sasha laughs under her breath and tilts her head, motioning for Hamid to follow her down the street. He does, easily, turning to look at all the different displays as they go.
“Participating in the egg hunt?” Sasha asks, nudging him with her elbow. Hamid shakes his head.
“Not really my style, no,” he says, and Sasha nods. “The kids can have fun with this one.”
They continue walking; the decorations get no less sparse as they make their way through the square, but go from pink and yellow to purple and blue to green and yellow and orange and red. Hamid loves it.
“Did you ever do the egg hunt, Sasha?” Hamid asks after they’ve been walking for a moment, slipping his hands into his pockets.
“When I was a kid, yeah. Won a couple, too,” she says, and there’s a hint of pride in her voice when she talks about it. “Good at climbing. Can get up where others can’t.”
“How many did Brock win?” Hamid asks, smiling, and Sasha laughs.
“Less than me, mate. Less than me. Here,” she says, bumping her shoulder into Hamid’s to turn down a side road with food vendors, “you’ve got to try this quiche, it’s amazing.”
The quiche is delicious, and Grizzop comes up for a moment to talk with them both, and then he’s off, onto the next thing with as much efficacy as he always has. Before long, it’s actually time for the egg hunt, and Sasha ducks out as Hamid finds a seat next to Azu at one of the long dining tables set up on the side. Mayor Gussett, Sasha, and Brock are all standing up near a podium, while an entire mess of little kids line up on the starting line, armed with baskets for the eggs they find. Once everyone is settled, Mayor Gussett claps his hands into the microphone to get everyone’s attention.
“Is everyone ready?” he says, and smiles as a cheer rises up from the crowd. The kids all start clapping themselves, and then quiet down once more when he raises a hand.
“On your mark,” Mayor Gussett calls, glint in his eye.
“Get set,” Sasha follows, arms crossed over her chest as she surveys the line of kids standing in front of them.
“Go!” Brock yells, pumping his arm up into the air as he lays on the airhorn, and everyone starts to run, yelling and screaming in excitement.
Hamid laughs, and leans a bit closer to Azu, who settles in happily enough next to him. “They love this, don't they?”
“They do,” Azu hums, content. “It’s always good to see all of them happy.”
It is. Sasha in particular is smiling wider than Hamid has ever seen her smile, not counting the times she’s with Azu, and he’s glad to see her this excited about the egg hunt.
“Hey, Azu? Do you mind if I ask when you and Sasha got together?” Hamid asks, turning and crossing his legs as he looks up at Azu. She doesn’t take her eyes off Sasha, standing up at the podium with the rest of her family.
“Two years and six months ago, actually,” Azu says, and leans forward as she rests her elbows on her knees. “It was a few days after the town fair. We’d gone together since Grizzop was out of town visiting some old friends, and I was still a little new here. Didn’t know many people, you know?”
Hamid nods; he can relate.
“We had a wonderful time, and the entire time we were there I couldn’t stop thinking about asking her out. She grabbed my hand to pull me along and I couldn’t stop blushing. So I asked her out two days later, and she said yes, and we’ve been together ever since.”
“That’s so sweet,” Hamid murmurs, smiling over at Sasha as well. She finally turns and catches them watching her, and quirks her eyebrow up at the both of them before shrugging and turning back to Mayor Gussett. Azu and Hamid break down into peals of laughter, Hamid ducking behind her back in case Sasha looks over again. The laughter fades, eventually, and Hamid sits back, watching people walk by as the kids participating in the egg hunt move farther away from them.
“Azu?” Hamid asks, eventually. “Do you ever regret moving here? You know. Small towns, and all that.”
Azu considers it for a moment, and then shakes her head. “I did at first, but I’m from a small village. Moving here wasn’t that much of a change.” She smiles, softly. “If I hadn’t moved, I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet everyone here.” Her eyes move back to Sasha, and Hamid can recognize love when he sees it.
“You’ll see for yourself, Hamid, but Dunnock is… well, magical.”
Hamid nods, and looks over to where Sasha is, where Zolf and someone who has to be his brother are talking, where Grizzop and Veeseek are eating, and smiles. “Yeah. You’re right.”
The spring passes quickly; the leaves on the trees are starting to turn green again, and Hamid and Zolf had planted some flowers outside the shop to help give it a nicer look as the weather has gotten warmer.
This time, it’s Sasha who comes over, knocking quietly on Hamid’s door while he’s eating breakfast.
“Dad wanted me to pass these out. Annual Flower Dance is tomorrow. You should come.” Hamid reaches out and takes the flyer from Sasha, scanning it quickly.
“Can I get a notice more than a day in advance?” Hamid asks, raising an eyebrow over at Sasha. She shrugs and takes a step backward toward the door.
“Just the way things work around here, mate,” she says. And, well, fine, whatever, it’s not like he has plans that are going to be messed up, especially not if nearly the entire town is in attendance. He’ll just have to rummage through the closet and hope he can find something to wear. “You’ll get used to it soon enough.”
“Well, thank you for telling me, I suppose. Would you like to stay for breakfast?” he asks, and Sasha perks up. “I’m making chocolate chip pancakes.”
“Love to, mate,” Sasha says, and Hamid pours her a glass of water while she sits down in the chair. They’re both quiet as the pancakes cook; it’s a comfortable silence that Hamid will sometimes fill with a few stories, and Sasha nods along, comfortable. The pancakes are delicious, just the perfect amount of chocolate, and Sasha seems to enjoy them as well.
The clock on the wall rings out, and Hamid realizes that it’s gone nine in the morning. Sasha glances at her own watch, as well, and swears under her breath.
“Gotta get back to open the shop,” she says, by way of explanation, and brings her plate over to the sink, sticking it in the dishwasher. “Cheers for the food.”
“Anytime, Sasha,” he says, and walks her over to the door.
“See you tomorrow, Hamid,” Sasha calls as she leaves, off to open the antique shop, and Hamid unlocks the door to his own shop.
Right. Back to work. And tomorrow, whatever this Flower Dance is.
The directions Hamid has to where the flower dance is being held are rather straightforward, but Hamid’s still a tad worried he’s going to get lost. Apparently, there’s a small unused field near the woods that are just south of Hamid’s house, on the other side of the gorge. Thankfully, there’s a path worn into the ground that he’s following, and eventually he sees the bright pink bridge in the distance. He’s running late, he knows, but it’s fine. The sun is getting higher in the sky, and the dance is scheduled to kick off at noon.
He checks his watch. An hour or so to go, then, so he picks up the pace a bit. He makes it to the bridge in good time and steps across, and it’s like the entire world has transformed.
The trees are covered in colorful bunting, pinks and blues and greens streaming from the trees, peppered with white flowers. The center of the field has been cordoned off into a square, lined with the same white flowers and a number of roses.
There are a few food and goods vendors set up along the pathway, but Hamid breezes past them as they hawk their wares. He spies Sasha and Zolf chatting out of the corner of his eye and makes a beeline over to them, waving once they notice him coming.
“All right, Hamid?” Zolf asks, and Sasha gives him a grin.
“Morning!” Hamid says, brightly. “This looks amazing.”
“Supposed to signify rebirth, yeah? Happy Spring, and all that,” Sasha says, and pulls one of the flowers off of the trees to hand to him. He takes it, grateful. It’s a white rose, and it smells amazing.
“Thank you,” Hamid says, and tucks the stem of the rose into the pocket of his shirt. “Is this straight?”
Zolf snorts. “Not even a little.” He reaches over and adjusts the rose, face scrunching up in concentration as he moves it around. “There. All set.”
“Thank you, Zolf,” Hamid says. “So-“
“Right,” Grizzop cuts him off, coming over and leaning both of his elbows on Hamid’s shoulders as he peers over his head. “Sasha, they’re starting to line up. Best grab Azu.”
Sasha nods, and with a quick, “Thanks, Grizzop,” ducks off into the crowd, melting into it seamlessly as she disappears.
“Morning, Grizzop,” Hamid says, looking up at him with a smile. Grizzop pats him on the head.
“Wotcher.” He steps back and sits down next to the two of them. “So, Hamid, fancy finding someone to dance with?”
“Is this you asking?” Hamid says with a wink, and Grizzop lets out a short bark of laughter.
“Not in the slightest. The whole romance thing isn’t really my bag,” Grizzop leans back in the chair with his hands clasped behind his head, and stare over at the couples starting to line up on the dance floor.
Zolf kicks up a conversation with him about getting more medical supplies for Feryn’s store and Hamid zones out a bit, watching people walk by as the conversation becomes a comforting hum in the background. He grabs a glass of champagne off of the tray of one of the servers walking by and drinks; it’s delicious, perfectly light and bubbly.
He’s not sure how much time passes while Zolf and Grizzop chat, but he’s two champagne glasses in when Grizzop stands and claps Hamid on the shoulder.
“Right, I’m off,” Grizzop says. “Someone always hurts their ankle and I always need to fix ‘em up.” He salutes to them both and slips off the chair, weaving his way through the crowd.
The music starts, and Hamid is entranced by the couples spinning around the dance floor. Zolf leans in and asks him a question which he doesn’t completely hear, but Hamid nods anyway, and turns back to the dancers. They move so seamlessly together, back and forth across the dance floor, and Hamid finds his head bobbing along to the music.
Hamid knocks back the rest of his (third? fourth?) glass of champagne and sets it down on the table gently. Zolf has disappeared somewhere, and Hamid knows Zolf told him where he was going, but he can’t remember for the life of him, so instead he lets his eyes roam through the crowd of dancers, finally finding his friends.
Sasha has a rare soft grin on her face as she dances with Azu, their foreheads pressed together. Hamid watches them, for a while, resting his chin on his hands and smiling.
His friends are happy. He’s happy.
Zolf appears in his field of vision holding another glass of champagne and Hamid makes grabby hands at him until Zolf hands it over. Now he’s really happy.
“Thank you,” he says, taking a long sip. It’s more like a gulp, really, but thinking about it like that would be undignified, and Hamid is never undignified.
Hamid may, however, be drunk. The entire field is spinning just enough to not be uncomfortable, and his face is slightly warm. If he closes his eyes it just gets worse, so he keeps them open and fixed on anything that doesn’t make him feel like he’s going to throw up everywhere. Because, obviously, that would be uncivilized.
“Why aren’t you dancing?” Hamid asks, tilting his head as he looks over at Zolf. He takes another sip of his champagne while Zolf hums. It’s delicious, honestly, and the buzz that is steadily drumming through Hamid’s head, putting a slightly fuzzy filter on things, is more than welcome.
“Well, not really one for dancing, me,” he says, leaning back in his chair. “Plus, this is… more for couples, or very good friends.”
Hamid gasps, and one of his hands slams down on the table. “Zolf! We’re good friends!”
Zolf laughs, and waves his hands for Hamid to calm down. “Hamid, Hamid, it’s fine, it’s - yes, we are, but -“
“Why don’t you want to dance with me?” Hamid whinges, clumsy tongue stumbling over the words.
“Hamid, you’re drunk,” Zolf says, giving him a soft smile. “Don’t think you could dance your way out of a paper bag at this point.”
Hamid glares at him balefully, but there’s no heat behind it, and he’s not sober enough to keep the glare up so it dissolved into a smile. “I’ll have you know, sir, that I am a fantastic dancer!”
“Mhm,” Zolf says, nodding.
“I am,” Hamid says doggedly. “Me and my sister Aziza, you don’t know her, but she’ll come visit soon, I’ll make her tell you how good I am at dancing, we both learned, when we were kids, and -“
“Okay, Hamid, okay,” Zolf says, cutting him off, but he’s sill smiling. “I’ll make you a promise, alright? Next year, if you don’t have anyone to dance with and aren’t going to trip over your own feet, I’ll dance with you. Yeah?”
Hamid nods happily, and if he leans over to give Zolf a hug and ends up staying there with his head resting against Zolf’s shoulder, no one has to know that it makes his heart beat that much quicker.
Every other weekend, Hamid and Azu head down to the beach together and lay out on the sand. It’s become something of a tradition, or as much as something can be a tradition when it’s only happened about four or five times. It’s just her and Hamid, now, basking in the sun. Sasha will be stopping by later, closing the shop early. Zolf is out of town for the weekend with Feryn, something about visiting family, and Veeseek is helping Grizzop run the clinic in Azu’s absence.
It’s a gorgeous day out, as well. Only a few clouds in the sky, and a gentle cool breeze off of the ocean that brushes along Hamid’s skin. Perfect summer weather.
“Are you coming to the luau tomorrow?” Azu asks, rolling over onto her stomach as she peeks over her arms at Hamid.
Hamid turns onto his side, propping his head up. “Luau? What?”
“The luau tomorrow? Didn’t you - oh. I forgot this is your first year here,” Azu says. “Tomorrow, the entire town will come down to the beach for a huge cookout. There will be music and food and the soup, which is the best part of it. Oh, and the governor comes out as well. Has to check in on the town, see how it’s doing, all that.”
“That sounds fun,” Hamid says. “What’s so amazing about the soup? Is there a competition for best one, or…?”
“No, there’s just one soup.”
“Who makes it? They must be an incredible cook,” Hamid says, and lets his head fall as he lays down on his back, eyes slipping shut as he flips his sunglasses down over his head.
“We all do,” Azu says, and he hears her shift next to him. Hamid opens his eyes and blinks, sure he misheard.
“Sorry, what?” he asks, and flips his sunglasses up to look, confusedly, over at Azu. “You all do?”
“Everyone from the town contributes something to the soup,” Azu explains. “The governor stops by, tastes it, and then we all share if it’s good.”
“Have there ever been… bad years?” Hamid asks, a little apprehensive. He can’t imagine any sort of - eugh - communal stew ever tasting good, unless the entire town had communicated beforehand to make sure everyone brought something complementary.
Azu shrugs. “A few, according to Sasha. But it hasn’t happened recently.”
Hamid settles back down, still a little weirded out by the entire concept. Azu seems to have faith in it, so Hamid is willing to give it a go. He wonders a bit where the tradition started… seems rather odd, the governor coming to rate an entire town based on how well all the residents do on cooking a specific food.
Still, a summer party on the beach - Hamid’s excited, even if the story behind it is a little strange. He’ll have to put an outfit together; can’t look anything less than his best, especially if the governor will be making an appearance.
And maybe he… just won’t taste the soup.
The entire beach - or at least a decent expanse of it - is covered in palm fronds, making a nice if slightly unstable floor. There’s a giant cooking pot sitting in the middle of everything, and a few townies that Hamid knows by face if not by name are perched over it, stirring slightly. Everything looks like the epitome of a summer barbeque; there are tiki torches lining the pathway and burning away, even though it’s the middle of the day. There are people passing out flowers to all the attendees, so Hamid tucks the small hibiscus behind his ear and heads on, glancing around to see if he can spot Azu above the crowd, or Zolf or Sasha, if he’s lucky.
And he is; he spots the back of Sasha’s head and ducks through the crowd, heading toward where she’s standing. Zolf and Azu are with her, unsurprisingly, and Hamid is tempted to sneak up behind them and scare them, but Sasha spots him before he can.
“All right, Hamid?” she calls with a wave, and Zolf and Azu turn as well, both smiling when they see him walking up.
“Hamid,” Zolf greets, clapping him on the shoulder.
“Hello, Hamid,” Azu follows, leaning in to give him a hug; he reciprocates, squeezing a bit, and then lets go, rocking back on his heels.
“I’m glad I found you. I’m afraid I don’t recognize many people here,” he confesses, glancing around once more. He can’t spot Grizzop or Veeseek, and he’s pretty sure that he sees a few regulars from the shop wave to him, but no names are coming to mind.
“You’ll start to learn everyone soon, I reckon,” Sasha says. “I’ve been here since I were a kid, and there’s still some people I don’t know. Don’t worry about it, Hamid.”
“Sasha’s right,” Azu says. “Plus, you’re always welcome to spend time with us, Hamid.”
“Thanks, Azu,” he says, grinning up at her. “So, what’s with this whole soup deal? Azu explained to me, but I still can’t quite wrap my head around it.”
Zolf motions for Sasha to go ahead, holding out a hand, and she shrugs. “Sure. It’s been a tradition for as long as I can remember. Something about sharing the whole bounty of the town, or some rot. Makes a decent soup, though.”
“Okay, but what about when it doesn’t? Do you all just… toss it into the ocean, or something?”
This time Zolf speaks up. “Usually we’ll just divy it up around the farmers and feed it to the cattle. That way it doesn’t go to waste.”
“Couldn’t they just, I don’t know, plan out a nice soup? Why does everyone have to contribute? And, actually on that note, it’s summer, why are we making a soup, it’s already hot outside,” Hamid points out, gesturing toward the large fire under the pot. “Wouldn’t this be better suited for the fall or the winter? Not early July?”
Zolf and Sasha shrug in tandem, looking at him a bit nonplussed.
“Just the way it’s always been done,” Zolf says, and Sasha makes a noise of assent. Hamid frowns but doesn’t push the issue, because he’s not so uncouth as to continue criticizing a tradition that, for all he knows, has some sort of cultural or historical significance, even though he greatly doubts it.
“Might want to go drop your share in, mate,” Sasha says, shading her eyes as she glances up at the sky. “It’s almost time for the tasting.”
Hamid nods and heads over to the soup pot, stepping up on a stool so that he can reach over the edge. The soup surprisingly smells pretty good, with a lovely rich aroma that Hamid absolutely had not been expecting. He drops in some honey - he only feels slightly guilty using something Zolf had brought him, considering that he doesn’t want to be the one who ruins the entire dish, and steps backward, heading back toward his friends.
It doesn’t take long before there’s a bell being rung, and Mayor Gussett is announcing the governor. He’s a short, portly man with a monocle and a stark-black suitcoat, and as he gazes out over the crowd, his eye has a slight twitch to it. Hamid frowns.
“I still think this is very weird,” Hamid whispers to Zolf, who stifles his laughter as the governor steps up to the giant pot in the center of town. He keeps his face carefully blank as he spoons some into a small bowl, and blows on it as the steam filters across the top.
Hamid can nearly feel the entire town holding its breath as the governor eyes the spoonful of soup in his hand critically. The tension is thick enough to cut with a knife as he finally tries the soup, and Hamid finds himself caught up in the tension as they all wait for the verdict.
“This is…” he says, turning to face the crowd, still completely stonewalling, and then a beat passes and his face breaks out into a wide smile. “Delicious.”
A cheer rises up from the crowd at the announcement, and a few of the people who had been stirring earlier scramble to their feet and start frantically grabbing bowls from the nearest table, while everyone makes a loose line leading up to the pot in the center. Hamid finds himself in between Zolf and Sasha, with Azu bringing up the rear. He’s sure Grizzop and Veeseek are around here somewhere, probably shoveling food into their mouths before they take off somewhere else.
A bowl is pushed into Hamid’s hands by Sasha, accompanied with a wink, and he decides to just go with it. It’s still really weird, to Hamid, still strange, but… well, the soup is delicious, and with how large the pot is, he doesn’t think anyone is going to fault him for going up for seconds and maybe even thirds.
There’s a flyer slid under Hamid’s door when he wakes up and steps into the kitchen. He picks it up off of the floor; it’s a deep blue color, with waves and jellyfish all over the back.
Dance of the Moonlight Jellies! the flyer proclaims. Tomorrow evening only!
Hamid sets the flyer down on the table and grabs a bowl of cereal. Another dance, then. And another last-minute reminder. Sasha wasn’t right, or at least she wasn’t right yet: he completely wasn’t used to it. He needed a few days to plan for these things. Time to pick an outfit, to schedule the arrival with his friends, and a whole host of other things. He sighs. He’ll just have to figure out what to wear tonight, then. Maybe he can call Azu over and ask for her opinion.
He shoots off a text to Zolf, asking if he’s coming over today, and gets a response saying that he’s at Feryn’s shop and to come over. Hamid finishes the last of his breakfast and obliges, setting off at a smart pace down the path. Some of the townies wave at Hamid out of their windows as they drive by, and Hamid waves back with a smile. It’s a short enough walk, although it would be faster with a car and, really, Hamid ought to be figuring that part out by now, but he’s fine to share rides with Zolf when the man is free. He makes it to Feryn’s shop in good time, and straightens his coat out before heading in.
“Hello?” Hamid calls, pushing the front door open. Zolf’s sitting on a stool in the corner, tongue just poking out from between his lips as he focuses on sharpening a wicked-looking silver sword. He glances up as the bell above the door rings and gives Hamid a smile, before bending his head back over the sword.
“All right, Hamid?” Feryn calls from behind the counter. He’s leaning forward, arranging some of the papers, and his sleeves are rolled up to his elbows, showcasing the numerous tattoos on his forearms.
“Recovering from the adventuring incident?” Feryn asks, winking, and Hamid winces. He’s really tried not to think about it at all for the past week, especially not whatever that weird… heat and fire was, at the end there, and is steadfastly ignoring the fact that he might maybe have some sort of magic powers. Never mind that nothing else has happened since, at all, and Hamid’s been doing a fantastic job pretending it never happened. So he continues doing so.
“Yes, thank you. Suppose we should have stayed in the upper levels,” he says, laughing. “Morning, Zolf.”
Zolf waves at him, methodically working on cleaning the sword in front of him, inspecting it before he puts it off to the side and picks another one up.
“Now, come on, Zolf, use your words,” Feryn teases, resting his head on his hands as he smiles over at Zolf. Zolf picks his head up for a moment and gives Feryn a baleful look.
“Hey, Hamid,” he says, and it’s sickeningly sweet. “That good enough?”
Feryn nods happily, and Hamid covers his stifled laughter with a cough. Zolf rolls his eyes, and Feryn glances over at Hamid, giving him a wink.
“So what brings you in today?” Feryn asks.
“I got this flyer from the mayor, something about a… dance tomorrow? I didn’t realize the town did more than one, to be honest,” Hamid says, hopping up onto one of the stools near the counter, resting his hands in his lap.
“Oh, it’s not a real dance. At least not a human dance,” Feryn says, which is less than helpful, so Hamid just quirks an eyebrow at him.
“Sorry?” he says, glancing between Feryn and Zolf. “Not a human dance?”
“There are these bioluminescent jellyfish that migrate close to us for the fall,” Feryn explains. “Every year, there’s one night when they’re close enough for us to see. Gorgeous sight, bunch’a little jellies just glowing in the water.”
“It’s pretty,” Zolf says, shrugging, and Feryn makes a noise of assent.
“Been going since we were kids. Had to keep Zolf from jumping in the ocean with them. Not a fun job.”
Zolf makes a distractedly offended noise, still working on sharpening the sword, but doesn’t offer any argument to the contrary. Hamid laughs. He can imagine little baby Zolf, tufts of curly hair blowing around, leaning excitedly over the edge of the dock and Feryn doing his best to keep him from diving in.
“Are you both going tomorrow?” Hamid asks.
“Always do.” Feryn tosses a rag in Zolf’s direction. Zolf catches it and throws it back at Feryn. “Oi, hotshot, you headed to the dance tomorrow?”
“You already - god, Feryn,” Zolf mutters, and then he turns toward Hamid. “If you’d like, we can go together, since it’s your first time. Plus, you need a ride, yeah?” Zolf says, balancing the sword on his thighs as he glances over at Hamid.
“Yes, actually, if you don’t mind?” Hamid says.
Zolf shrugs. “Not at all. It’ll be fun.”
“Yeah, you never forget your first dance,” Feryn says, sighing wistfully from the counter, and Hamid laughs as Zolf rolls his eyes.
“I’ll swing round yours,” Zolf says. “Tomorrow night, about seven?”
“Yeah, sure!” he says. “Perfect.”
His phone beeps and Hamid glances down - Aziza is calling, so Hamid shoots her off a quick text that he’ll call her back in a moment, and waves to Zolf and Feryn.
“See you, tomorrow, Zolf! Bye, Feryn!” he calls over his shoulder, and they both give him a wave. There’s a clattering of metal as the door swings shut behind him; there’s a distinct thud of something hitting the wall, and though he can’t make out what’s being said he can definitely hear Zolf’s muffled voice and Feryn laughing hysterically.
The next night, Zolf stops by Hamid’s house to pick him up before the sun sets, as agreed, and Hamid slips into the front seat of the truck as they drive down to the beach. They chat about the upcoming season; there are a few logistical things to figure out before summer well and truly dies. New produce to sell, when tourists will be coming in, and anything else they needed to button down.
Zolf pulls into the sandy lot and parks the truck; they both step out and take the stairs down to the beach. Hamid pulls off his shoes the moment he hits sand, curling his toes as the sand’s absorbed warmth from the sunny day seeps into his feet.
The sun is barely a sliver on the horizon, now, and in a few moments it will be completely gone. It casts a dark shadow over the entire beach, although lanterns are set up along the path to guide the attendees to the docks. There’s a sizable crowd there as well, and Hamid scans the people as they pass by, craning his neck and standing up on tiptoes as he tries in vain to peer above the crowd.
“Oh, I think I see Sasha!” Hamid says, but in the next moment she’s gone, falling back into the shadow and out of his sight. “Never mind…”
Zolf laughs. “That’s Sasha for you. Plus, I think she wants some alone time with Azu.” He pulls Hamid back with a warm hand on his arm and gestures to a darker part of the beach with his head. “Here, I know exactly where to go for the best view. Follow me.”
Hamid goes willingly; he trusts Zolf to know what he’s doing, even if he does cast a rather concerned look back to the crowd of people on the main docks. They trudge along the sand until getting to a small bridge, and Hamid crosses after Zolf, stepping down onto the sand. They walk through tide pools and small palm trees, before stepping up onto a dock, wood weathered beneath their feet.
“I didn’t even know this was here,” Hamid says. There’s a small lantern sitting at the edge of the dock, and he and Zolf stand there for a moment, looking at the dark expanse of ocean stretching out in front of them.
“Most people don’t,” Zolf says. “Me and Feryn found it a few years ago, and will sometimes come over here to fish, or for stuff like this. Much less crowded.”
Hamid leans on the railing in front of them and Zolf follows suit. Their elbows brush on the pier, and Hamid can feel his cheeks start to warm. There’s a chill wind blowing over the waves, and Hamid shivers. Fall is definitely on the way.
“Cold?” Zolf murmurs, and Hamid shakes his head.
“Only a bit,” he says. “I didn’t realize the breeze off the ocean would be this cold. Although I suppose it is the end of the summer, so I should have guessed.”
There’s a rustling sound next to him, and then he feels warm fabric drape over his shoulders, and startles slightly, glancing down. He gives Zolf a quizzical look, raising an eyebrow.
“Won’t you be cold?” he asks, but Zolf just shrugs and shakes his head.
“I don’t feel it as much. You get used to the chill when you work outside as much as I do,” Zolf explains, going back to resting against the pier as he looks out over the ocean. The light casts most of his face in shadow, but Hamid thinks he can see a spot of pink high on Zolf’s cheeks. He wants to bring it up, because if Zolf is lying about being cold, Hamid doesn’t want to be the cause. But Zolf’s jaw is set, and Hamid knows from experience how stubborn he can be when trying to talk him out of something, so he lets it go.
“... Thank you, Zolf,” Hamid says, quiet, and reaches up to pull the coat tighter around his shoulders.
“Everyone ready?” Mayor Gussett calls, voice crackling through the temporary loudspeakers they’d set up, and everyone sitting on the docks cheers. Hamid reaches out to hold onto Zolf’s shoulder for balance as he leans over the edge, excitement filling his chest, and swears he can feel Zolf lean into the touch. “Here we go!”
He pushes the small boat with the lantern on it into the sea, and the lights around the docks are extinguished. Darkness sweeps over them, the only pinpricks of light the small lanterns outside of the fishing store on the banks and the multitude of stars in the sky. Hamid can barely see the lanterns from the dock he and Zolf are standing on, but maybe it’s better that way.
It’s quiet, for a moment, and Hamid feels his heartbeat skip a beat and pick up as Zolf shifts slightly closer to him. And then, in the distance, lights, moving toward them. There are only a few, bobbing along, but they’re slowly joined by others, and in a moment or two they’re all congregating by the docks. Some break apart from the main group and float toward where Hamid and Zolf are, lighting the air around them with a muted white, dappling across the wood as the water ebbs and shifts.
“Oh,” Hamid murmurs, tempted to reach his hand down into the water as the jellyfish float closer, soft lights dancing in the ocean. Zolf had been right; it’s a truly magical sight, a wonder to behold.
There’s another jellyfish near them, now, and it’s glowing a faint green, unlike all the others glowing white. It’s larger, too, letting itself be carried along by the current of the waves.
Hamid turns to look at Zolf, mouth half open to point it out; the glow from the jellyfish is lighting up the planes of his face, there’s a soft smile tugging at his lips as he looks out over the water, and his hair is blowing slightly in the breeze coming off the ocean. There’s something in his eyes, a pure unrestrained glee, and Hamid finds he can’t look away.
It’s - he’s beautiful.