There was mutton and sausage on the table, all skilfully roasted on the grill in the backyard.
There was bread sliced at the right thickness to dip in the sauce to not be too much of a mouthful when bitten, and there were pickled greens that Bilbo had personally cultivated in his spare time in the back garden.
He could pride himself as a successful host that night.
His friends were chatting amiably at his table, the beer was still fresh no matter the suffocating warmness of the August night, and Bilbo was satisfied. Extremely satisfied.
Gandalf was late but he was reliably so. His old friend would show up towards the end of dinner with the fireworks to celebrate the evening. Everyone else had been on time or close enough to.
Bombur was helping him with the last details of the meal while the rest of his guests loitered around his homey kitchen. He could hear Ori, the blossoming little scholar, talking with Thranduil while Bifur was listening intently. Dori, Nori and Bofur were all catching up on everyone’s news. Bilbo thought it was a shame they didn’t see each other as often any more, everyone so caught up in their own lives; it took an elaborate enough excuse, like a midsummer’s party, to get them all together again, so that was what Bilbo put together.
Just as Bilbo was straightening one last spoon of the dining arrangements and preparing to call his friends to the table, the doorbell rang. He frowned; that wasn’t right.
Everyone stopped their actions. It was too early for it to be Gandalf. He had a long record to be on the right time on his watch but fashionably late on everyone else's.
And that ring was right in time for the dinner that was about to start. Not Gandalf then.
Who else? The other invited guests were all already there.
Bilbo searched around the faces in his living room to see if anyone was wiser than him on the subject. He received back many startled expressions.
Ori was very intent at picking a tread in his cotton scarf though. Bilbo raised an eyebrow at him.
With a suffering huff, Bilbo moved to the door; it would be terribly rude not to at least check who was there and politely send them on their way.
He opened his front door and had a moment to look at the two young men on his porch before they threw streamers in his face and yelled, “Happy Birthday!”
All eyes drifted to Ori as Bilbo left to answer the door; if he was fidgeting nervously like that he must know something about who was at the door.
“I think it might be Fili and Kili.” was blurted out by the distressed teenager just as an enthusiastic cry of happy birthday came from the doorway.
Dori frowned in the direction of the front of the house. “Those are Dis’s boys aren’t they?”
“They were trying to invite me to go looking for shooting stars tonight – even though there are no meteor showers forecasted – and I told them I was already going to be at Mr. Bilbo’s party. And I think Mr. Bilbo even asked if I was excited for it the other day when we were all at his library.” Ori let out in one breath.
“Sounds like them to try crashing the party,” Bofur was laughing, “but don’t they know Bilbo’s birthday isn’t ‘til September?”
"But it's not my birthday!" Bilbo was dumbfounded at the sight of the two youngsters at his door. They frequented his library; not as much as Ori but they came by sometimes. Actually Bilbo suspected Ori was the sole reason the two popped up to study there with him. They were Dis's sons, even though Bilbo was not 100% sure of their last name. Durians or something. Why would they even have a fruit name? And they were already tipsy if the beer bottles in their hands could be taken as a sign.
"Has your birthday been cancelled Mr Boggins?" Kili, the taller one, said looking heartbroken.
That was the confirmation Bilbo didn't need.
The brothers tromped into his house.
They were speaking back and forth, each only saying a part of the sentence, until Bilbo was dizzy from just listening. The pair talked right over his attempts to say anything and strolled farther in without even taking off their shoes, to Bilbo’s utter despair.
He started closing the door so he could follow the interlopers when another voice called, “Hey! Don’t go closing the door on me.”
Bilbo watched a man with such vividly red hair he could only be Gimli’s father pull the door open again and gulped; he could see a few other cars pulling up to his drive. Bilbo was rattled when the man gave his hand an enthusiastic shake.
“We can’t be staying by the door all night; let’s head in to the party. Don’t worry about the other’s they’ll find their way in alright.”
And then Bilbo was being dragged further into his house with little more than a whimpered ‘goodness gracious’.
Behind Bilbo followed a man with a visible hearing aid. If Gimli tales were to be taken for true, that must have been his uncle Oin.
Pressed between the two men, Bilbo found himself once more in his living room. His protest about closing the door went unheard off.
Probably it was covered by the banging of that same door, as more people entered his home.
He wished they'd be more careful with it. How would his house survive with such abrupt guests? A glance at the floor showed they were even still wearing their shoes. They were going to ruin the carpets and floors! Bilbo could feel an incipient headache.
When finally the door slammed closed for the last time, there were 17 heads in total under his roof (plus 1 more to come fashionably late). 9 more than whom Bilbo had invited at his Midsummer party.
When a drink was put into his hands, he didn't stop to question it and just drank.
Half the glass gone and Bilbo was sighing, in search of a chair to sit down, commiserating his ruined plans. It wasn't that he lacked the food to feed everyone, even the unexpected guests. Bilbo was famous for spending more time in his kitchen cooking than at the table actually eating - though he could swallow a lot of food himself if he had to be honest - so there was plenty of it; but even his over preparedness would be stretched by almost double the expected guests.
At this rate, Bilbo was going to need another drink after this one if he kept downing them like this.
It was a good thing that Fili and Kili had thought the party was for Bilbo’s birthday. Dis had brought a nice bottle of wine as a gift that Bilbo would probably later regret not taking more time to savour. Fancy wines like that weren’t really Nori’s thing but he could admit it was quite nice.
Seeing that the smaller man was starting to get a touch overwhelmed by the unexpected guests, Nori and Bofur had taken Bilbo and the wine to another room while Dori started directing everyone down to the beach. They were lucky that no one else was using the big fire pit there that night. They could trust that Dori would get everyone settled with everything they needed, even if all the guests had to pitch in and make a couple of trips for food, drink, firewood and blankets.
The bottle of wine was finished between the three of them, though mostly between Bilbo and Nori, while the two friends reassured their host that his house would be fine and everything was taken care of and the party wasn’t ruined. When he was sufficiently placated, the trio began to make their own way to the beach. All three of them were laughing when they got there; Bofur had been exaggerating his movements as they picked their way through the big rocks at the edge of the beach and quacking in imitation of a duck. Bilbo had only managed to look disapproving for a moment before he dissolved into giggles with them.
Once there, the first thing Bilbo noticed was that one of his good tablecloths was stretched out over a particularly big rock that was serving as an impromptu picnic table, somebody mistaking it for a beach cover evidently. To keep all their efforts of calming Bilbo down from going to waste, Nori and Bofur helped Bilbo free the cloth and Nori volunteered to take it back up to the house.
Even if there was a bit of nice wine in his veins Nori could feel its effect only on the tip of his tongue, where the flavour rested in harmony with his taste buds. Nori’s feet were steady walking back to the house with Bilbo’s precious doily thing, too frilly in Nori’s opinion to cover a table. Prickly little old Bilbo… So prickly in fact, that one of his many house rules was that shoes were to be left at the door.
Carelessly throwing the tablecloth over his shoulder, Nori bent down to take off his own. It was the right thing to do even if nobody was there to tell on him. Or so Nori thought.
When he rose again, loafers in hand and cloth still haphazardly perched on his shoulder, Nori was greeted by the most magnificent sight that the house could offer.
Dwalin - even if Nori wasn’t supposed to remember a high school rival’s name - was standing there, three bottles of beer wedged between the meaty fingers of one hand and more covers hanging from the other arm. Muscular tattooed arm.
Nori had a moment of bewilderment before regaining enough presence to blurt out one of those silly things that someone says in front of an… enemy-turned-crush?
“Bilbo doesn’t want people wearing shoes in his house!”
The words to turn it into a joke stuck in Nori’s throat when Dwalin turned his focus towards him. The big man’s eyes flicked down to his feet and Nori couldn’t quite stop his toes from curling self-consciously.
“I didn’t know. Sorry.” Dwalin looked back to Nori’s face before turning to put the beers back on the counter and reaching down to take off his own shoes. Nori watched for a moment before looking away, he didn’t want to be caught staring, and watched the condensation drip down the bottles instead.
“Bilbo says he doesn’t like the dirt track into the carpets but the windows he leaves open must be just as bad,” stringing words together was much easier when Dwalin wasn’t looking at him. Had it been like that when they were in high school?
Dwalin had picked up his shoes now and was standing up again, “I didn’t know that you knew him so well.”
“It sort of happened, you know.. You live, move on, meet people,” Nori moved his free hand in the air to better show the flowing of life while the other waved around his shoes, unbalancing Bilbo’s cloth that started sliding from his shoulder. A quick motion saved it from falling onto the floor, but if Nori was hoping to make a good first - not first - impression he was sure he had just lost his chance thrashing around like a monkey.
So much for years passing and erasing the bad memories. Nori sighed. “And those people are fussy sods who can’t stand a dirty spot on their doilies.”
Said doily ended up getting the brunt of the explanation, squeezed and twisted in Nori's hands as he mimed wringing someone’s neck. Then Nori suddenly remembered Dwalin's presence right in front of him. He was watching him and maybe violence against innocent table clothes was not the best way to impress your long time crush.
Gingerly Nori put it down on the table, smoothing out the wrinkles with such an innocent face like he hadn't just assaulted the cloth. Those few steps had brought him even closer to Dwalin and Nori could feel it in the thrumming of the blood in his veins, rising up at the risk to make his cheek turn red. He couldn't let that happen. Not in front of Dwalin!
“We should go back to the party! Need a hand with the beers?” as quick as a lightning, Nori took two of the beers with the hand not occupied by the loafers and turned around to head to the back door.
The sound of footsteps that were not his own followed him outside.