P’rao flicked his tail and stamped one, clawed foot into the dust. Overhead, a gaggle of long-necked shoppers blotted out the sun, honking to one another as they passed each table and barely missing a collision with one of the vendors perched over his wares. The idiots were too excited to watch where they flew—like most of the birds flocking through the festival.
“Meech!” He twisted his green neck round and eyed his friend over one wing. “Hurry up with that one. It’s getting late.”
“There will probably be six more messages when we get back.” Meech tucked the coins they’d earned delivering this one into his interior vest pocket. “Everyone’s got someone they want to natter at today.”
“Right.” P’rao ground his bill together, scraping top against bottom until he saw Meech cringe. “But maybe the next one will be closer.”
“Uff.” Meech shook his black head and fluffed his breast feathers. “Not the chick again.”
P’rao snapped his beak with a clack and flashed his friend a glare before launching from the festival grounds. His wings snagged an updraft, and he beat them hard enough to send a flurry of dust directly into Meech’s face. Of course it was the chick again. They’d been delivering messages all over the enormous grounds, and he hadn’t managed to squeeze in a break or even a chance to get close enough to catch her eye again.
Tr’lia. He scanned the ground below and got his bearings before angling back toward the perch where they’d set up shop. He wore her feathers across his breast, a slash of yellow, green and red that reminded him exactly how brightly she shone.
“P’rao!” Meech drifted up beside him, dust still staining his normally-perfect black plumage. “I don’t get what’s the matter with you, but I hope you get over it soon.”
“I’ll pay you back, Meech.” They’d already made back what he’d spent on the sash, but half of that belonged to Meech anyway. Still, the festival didn’t officially start till tomorrow. He’d be able to pay for the sash three times over and still have money for them to play with. “Let it go.”
“It’s not like you, getting nutsy over a hen. Not like you haven’t seen a pretty colored chest before.”
P’rao spotted their perch. It stood alone, without a table, and Meech had draped a sign from the center that proclaimed their messenger service. The idea had been brilliant, and P’rao wished he could claim it, but this time, Meech got the credit. Who would have guessed the festival patrons and vendors would swarm them with messages even before the event got rolling? They had three customers waiting already, lined up at the base of the pole and fluffing their impatience.
“It’s not like you got time for nesting,” Meech kept at it. “Unless you plan to give up milking and start growing ‘shrooms.”
“Not.” He snapped and dove for their stand.
“Well a girl like that’s not gonna want anything to do with the likes of us.”
P’rao grabbed the cross beam and leaned back against his momentum. He mantled his wings and felt Meech impact beside him. Three bright faces turned up to note their arrival. Customers. Maybe one of the deliveries would be close to her.
“You can’t be sure of that, Meech.” He fluffed and shook off the dust. “Maybe she’s different.”
“Right.” Meech didn’t sound convinced. He dropped toward the ground, laughing. “And maybe I’ll take a break and go lay an egg.”
P’rao sighed. He looked out over the perches and watched the shadows of shoppers darken and lighten the world as they passed. The sash hugged his chest, and he ran a wingtip over the silken feathers. Maybe she was different.