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A Long Overdue Invitation

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"Why are you cleaning?” Ori asked. “You cleaned the house yesterday.”

“Just to make sure it really is clean,” Dori replied. It was true, he had cleaned the house the previous day, but he felt better making sure there was no corner he had forgotten. The house was not big, nor was it especially new, so he liked to know it was at least clean.

Dori began polishing the good cutlery his mother had left him. He scrubbed at it until it gleamed and then some, making sure there was not a single spot on it. They didn’t use it often but today, Dori wanted to make sure everything was perfect. He would get out the good plates later, when Ori was in bed.

Ori continued doing his writing exercises and Dori felt a rush pride for his youngest brother. He had done all the school work Dori demanded of him and he was still determined to keep practicing. Dori decided the dough had rested long enough and began making the small pies everybody always told him were the most delicious of all the dishes he baked and cooked.

After a while he noticed Ori was watching him. “Are you tired of working?” Dori asked.

Ori shook his head. “Why are you making so many pies? We’ll never manage all of those tonight. Is something special happening?”

“I figured we could eat any that are left over tomorrow.”

Ori went back to his writing exercises, occasionally glancing at Dori.

Dori pushed the tray with the pies into the oven. His hands were shaking slightly and he felt light-headed when he thought about his favourite customer at the restaurant. What had be been thinking anyway? Dori should have stayed with his principles and not drank any wine while working but the evening had already been late and that crinkly-eyed smile....

Dori quickly cleaned the kitchen counter until it was absolutely pristine. He was always less nervous when he was working and cleaning was even better at calming him down than most tasks. Dori checked the ceiling for spider webs even though no spider had dared to set foot in his house in years.

A glance out of the window was not as satisfying.

“There’s that awful chicken again!” He complained. “It’s sure to muck up the yard. If it would at least lay an egg here every now and then, I might even tolerate it, but it doesn’t. Please, Ori, send that bird off and make sure the yard looks alright.”

Ori went outside, picked the hen up and gently carried it out through the gate. Dori shook his head. He was almost certain Ori had been feeding the chicken again.

After a few minutes, Ori came in with a slightly guilty grin, furthering Dori’s suspicions.

“I took it back to the neighbours.”

“Good. Don’t forget to wash your hands,” Dori reminded him, but Ori was already on his way to the sink.

Dori took out the pies and set out a plate for Ori.

“Aren’t you going to eat?” Ori asked.

“I’ll eat later. I’m not hungry yet,” Dori replied. He only hoped his nerves would settle down, or else he would also have difficulties eating later.

His hands were idle again and began fluttering about. This was not good. Dori went over to the cupboard where he kept his supplies, all neatly labelled in their shelves. He looked over the wine bottles, wondering which to choose. Perhaps he should stay away from wine altogether; after all, sharing a few glasses of wine and an hour of conversation had been what had made him foolish enough to invite his favourite customer to dinner at his house in the first place.

He should leave the choice of wine for later, Dori decided. He realised Ori was watching him closely.

“You’re expecting a guest, aren’t you?” Ori asked.

Dori hadn’t been planning to tell Ori. As long as Ori had been really young, Dori had turned down any opportunities for companionship in order focus entirely on Ori’s upbringing and to avoid any more instability in his life. Ori was old enough now to not need all of Dori’s attention anymore, but Dori still saw no need to make Ori wonder about things that probably wouldn’t last, especially since this was this was the first time he had invited anyone to dinner since before Ori’s birth.

Still, Dori wouldn’t lie to Ori.

“I am,” he replied, feeling his face heat up.

“Who is it?” Ori asked, watching Dori with interest and probably drawing more conclusions than Dori wanted him to.

“You don’t know him,” Dori replied. “He’s a guest from the restaurant.”

“When is he arriving?” Ori asked, finishing the last bit of his pie.

“After your bedtime. I didn’t want to bother you.”

Ori shrugged. “I don’t mind. But I do want to meet him some time. I always thought you were craft-wed.”

“I... no. I was just too busy. But let’s discuss this some other time. It’s time for bed.”

“May I read for a bit before I turn off the light?”

“Alright. But not too long.”

As Ori got ready for bed, Dori quickly did his dishes, wiped the table and put the best table cloth onto the table. He was just setting out the good plates and cutlery when Ori came to say goodnight.

“Good night, Dori. Make sure he’s nice to you, or he’ll have me to reckon with,” Ori said, hugging Dori.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure he will be perfectly nice,” Dori replied, smiling at Ori.

When Ori had gone to bed, Dori quickly washed and put on some of his good clothes. Then there was nothing more to do but wait. Dori looked around and readjusted the position of the cutlery.

There were some of Ori’s toys still lying on the bench. He put them back on their shelf. He supposed others might have hidden them away, afraid to scare off their suitor, but Ori belonged to his life and he wouldn’t deny him. Best to have his responsibilities on the table at once.

Dori paced around the kitchen, stopping to slightly reposition the cutlery again.

There was a knock. Dori’s heart raced as he hurried to open the door.

“Good evening,” Balin said, bowing low. His white beard was brushed to perfection and he was wearing a fine red coat.

“It is indeed,” Dori replied, bowing as well. “Do come inside.”

Dori felt he was blushing to the tips of his toes as he helped Balin from his coat and ushered him over to the table.

“That smells delicious,” Balin said with a warm smile. “I brought a wine.”

“Thank you, that’s lovely,” Dori said. He took the bottle and opened it. His hand shook as he lifted the bottle to pour the wine. Suddenly, there was a warm hand on his.

“Careful,” Balin said. “There’s no need to be so nervous.”

Balin smiled that crinkly-eyed smile at him and Dori felt his nervousness slip away. He smiled back at Balin, suddenly filled with a sense of certainty. The evening would be absolutely perfect.