happy howlidays!

The Terrace 
She could have stayed home in her pajammas with a blanket and a mug of hot cocoa, and whatever selection of Christmas shows and cartoons were on offer. For many reasons that certainly had its appeal. Instead and on a whim, Kenzie decided to attend the event at The Terrace. She had even picked up a sweater for the occasion.

A thrift store find, it was a blue long-sleeved pull-over that featured a simple silhouette scene of white pixelated graphics - that of a wolf with its snout tipped back to the moon and a sky full of stars. There was a border of similarly minimalistic snowflakes across the top and bottom, and white bitmap lettering which read:


Hardly a work of art, the sweater was in the realm of traditionally ugly. It was in neither her usual palette or style, but it had made her smile, and for the sake of three bucks she added it to her wardrobe. Perhaps it would make someone else smile too.

In her hand as she strolled through the door was a plastic grocery bag of decorations for the trees. Hand-made and hand-picked and of a natural theme. Long red stems among them jutted prominently from the bag. One ornament in particular had been crafted for the owner, whom she hadn't seen in months.

Kenzie's eyes scanned immediately for Asha, but the cute decor was quick to capture her attention. Her fingers alighted across the soft cotton snow as she meandered, her gaze absorbing the details of the glitter on the tables, the mistletoe that hung from the lights, the confectioneries and puzzles. It was all warm and welcoming; a lot of thought and effort had gone in to providing such a festive atmosphere.

She grinned, and giggled softly to herself; glad already she hadn't chosen to stay home.

This was nice.

Asha was here! She'd just been out in the back, running drink orders and double-checking that no one had knocked over a tree or anything ridiculous. All was clear!

Asha wore... well. This. No one else was required to dress up, but as bar owner, she felt she had to look the part. And also she'd just always wanted a reason to wear this kind of thing.

She stepped back in to find someone newly entered and with a bag of stuff? And so she went to them, grabbing a gift bag for her. "Hey there!" she smiled, not knowing that she knew this person because she had made terrible decisions! "Welcome to our little holiday spectacular! Can I get you to a seat?"

"Hey, Asha!"

Kenzie grinned. Despite the formal greeting, she did not pick up on the fact that her acquaintance did not recognize her.

"Geez, you look cute!" She laughed, merry and jolly and all that. "I brought you something." Tongue poking from the corner of her mouth, Kenzie rooted around in her bag until her fingers drifted across the object she sought. She pulled it out, and held it toward the other woman. There standing on her palm, folded from red and white striped 'candy-cane' paper, was an origami jaguar.

Like most of Kenzie's creations, it was not wanting for details. The paws bore folds that resembled toes topped with small pointy claws. There was prominent creases for the brow and snout that lent depth and character to the animal's face. Its jaws were open, and its overall shape was appropriate stocky and strong.

"Oh, and yes, I would love a seat. You did an awesome job with all of this!"

Oh, she knew her name.

Oh. She'd gotten her something.

Oh. Fuck. She blinked, lost on what exactly to do here other than feel really bad that she had no fucking clue who this was. Smelled definitely not like cat or rat or bear or hyena, which were the things she was most familiar with.

Blinking at the gift, she saw a tiger in her palm. Or, she assumed it was a tiger, because it was cat and stripes, even if it was not specifically tiger stripes. So she assumed that maybe this lady for... some reason... just didn't know that she wasn't a tiger!

"Ahh! Well thank you so much!" she smiled and took it, genuinely flattered. "You made this? Or..."

Also she looked around its body for like, a name. She wasn't trying to pull one over on her but like.

This was awkward :')

"Yeah, I did!" Kenzie grinned, genuinely warm that Asha seemed to like it, and well, she was proud of her art too. "I do lot of origami. I mostly fold a zoo's worth of different animals. I thought you might like a festive jag for one of your trees."

She lifted her bag and gave it a little shake. "I brought a few other things too." Not all animals - Kenzie had folded a reindeer but there was also a snowflake, a Santa, and a star. Unlike the jaguar, these were garnished with a bit of cotton string for hanging. The jaguar she thought could sit on a branch or elsewhere, somewhere private, if Asha was wary at all about having the likeness of her animal in the public eye.

"How've you been?"

Jag. Okay. So she did know what she was. But... stripes... Asha decided not to question it. She smiled at the idea of more of these things, or whatever this lady had thought to bring. "Well I love it! And yeah, I've been okay. Actually, would you maybe like to grab a drink and come to the trees with me with all these? We can start putting some of them up," she smiled.

And chat before it got too busy outside, because...


"I'd love to!"

Kenzie could scarcely remember the last time she trimmed a tree but she did remember that said tree included some of what she had in her bag now. Not the origami but the items she scavenged from nature.

"Do you host this sort of thing every year?"

She wondered too if there was a New Years event on the horizon.

Oh, that was an interesting question. It put a nice little maximum time frame on how long she'd known this woman.

"We've only been open since this past February, actually. Less than a year. But I only started doing events since Thanksgiving. Planning to make it a regular thing whenever I can, though."

They walked out, and Asha took a small inhale, grateful most people were still boozing up inside. Approaching the furthest tree from the entrance, she held her hand out for any ornament, or maybe the bag if that was what she wanted to give her.

"I wanted to tell you... I... don't remember you. And I'm really sorry about it, before I get into why. Just. Thought I would say that first."

"That's awesome. I'm sure I'll be back."

She had thought about going to the Thanksgiving event for much the same reason she was here now, but she was too freshly torn up and could not bring herself to step foot outside her door. She had needed time to lick her wounds. To staunch the worst of the bleeding and find her feet again before she could press onward.

Into the woman's extended hand she passed the first ornament - a white star. Her own hand picked up a blue origami bird that was sitting in a small bird's nest; a real one. Small enough to fit in one hand and long since abandoned, the nest of weaved grasses, of small twigs and of bits of bark and moss, had been built in the fork of an alder branch.

Before she could step up to the tree to find a place for it, she was stalled by what Asha said. Kenzie's expression dipped into a partial frown. It was easy to forget a name and a face especially when you don't know someone well, though surely between their two encounters that was at least somewhat unlikely. That Asha indicated there was some reason for her forgetfulness concerned her.

"Oh. Okay, well, my name is Kenzie," she said with a soft smile as she stepped forward and sat the nest among the branches, adjusting the bird to be sitting just right. "I met you and your friend Kai here back in the spring. I was new in town. The two of you helped me get into contact with your neighbors in Cedar Creek and got me started in the right direction. I was kind of lost and heading for trouble otherwise. I was grateful for the help."

She glanced to Asha, wondering if that rang a bell at all.

She saw the frown. Asha looked from her and toyed with the ornament in her hand, surficially taken by the charming craft of the paper folds. Some distraction before the inevitable why and what happened? that she would have to get into.

Or. Well. No, apparently. Because instead she got an introduction. And like, a really full introduction.

While refreshing, it was also just slightly puzzling, that very like... comprehensive response. Not that she had any room to complain. Something something gift horses. Or gift... dogs? Coyote, maybe, with Kai being mentioned? No, Cedar Creek. Wolves.

At the pause, she looked up again, unsure what to say in response. The first impulse was to, bizarrely, comment that Past!Asha had been very kind to do all that. But she wasn't here to compliment shades of herself. So instead, "Thank you. Most people don't... dive fully into it, like that. It's nice to have a complete story."

Or it felt complete, anyway. "So... Cedar Creek makes you a... wolf?"

It was with a smile and a nod that she said 'you're welcome'.

From her bag she retrieved a large fir cone. It wasn't decorated at all. It was as raw as it was when she plucked it from the forest floor other than a loop of white string that had been hot glued to the top. There had been times in her youth when Kenzie had tried to liven up cones with glitter or frosted snow but after a while she came to appreciate - and prefer - their intrinsic charm. The bracts on fir cones in particular were cute, reminding her of a bird's foot.

"Mmhmm. That's right." She was indeed a wolf. No longer a girl set upon by a parasitic beast. More and more she felt that the wolf was part of her soul.

"I have to say," Kenzie began as she hung the cone from a limb mid-way up the tree. "Most people don't apologize for forgetting you and follow that up with 'before I get into why', so I assumed something must have happened." Like an accident. Curious as she was, it didn't feel right to pry for the details from an acquaintance. Let alone one that had scolded her once for asking what animal she was.

"We did meet one other time after the first. I was actually looking for something for you to give to you as a thank-you when I met you on the street, and we ended up chit-chatting a bit and doing some grocery shopping."

There. That was the complete story.

"So, you didn't forget a lot, at least!" Her tongue poked out of her toothy grin.

Wolf indeed. Asha was quiet while she spoke, listening before there was enough of a gap where she assumed she was meant to answer. She hated being interrupted, and hated to interrupt.

A slight smile that they'd only had two meetings. She hadn't recalled reading any texts with a Kenzie, so. Well.

Anyway, nice of her to show up now and be so nice about all this. "Silver linings," she commented at the end. "Yeah, it was a... well. I guess you probably know that I used to be in charge around here. I kinda made a major fuck-up and then things fell apart. And then I guess I... Kind of couldn't deal. So I went to someone to erase my brain, but it just ended up leading to more shot. It was all just... a really stupid idea. Don't ever make that decision."

"...You can do that? Someone... Someone can erase your memories?"

The inquiries were murmured almost in disbelief as Kenzie's eyes fell toward the ground and her gaze swept far away through it. She might have questioned the possibility more but in a day of werewolves and vampires and so much more which could scarcely be explained, hardly anything seemed too farfetched.

Her mind was running down many, many forked paths. "Er -" Kenzie screwed her eyes shut and gave her head a shake. "But you know who you are right and... you know some... things?" She blinked, struggling to grasp the concept while her thoughts swirled with bad ideas.

"It was only some memories you lost?"

What was that glazed look on her face? She was sort of a stranger to Asha right now, but still. She hoped, five seconds after being told "don't ever do it," that Kenzie wasn't actually considering it.

"Depends how you word it. But yeah. A vampire can wipe shit away that you don't think you can live with. But if you go down that route, and it has anything to do with people here, you might as well just leave town forever. Or else it's just going to come back to bite you anyway."

'Depends on how you word it.' Kenzie struggled to comprehend what that might mean, and to understand the role the vampire played in it. She had only the thinnest notion of a vampire's ability to mess with your head. That one could erase your past or parts of it made her feel like a snake was working up her spine.

The tip of her tongue ran across her lips in thought. Between Kenzie and her there was little consequence but how must this have affected the people that Asha had more substantial relationships with? For better or for worse, experienced shaped a person. Had losing some memories affected Asha's demeanor at all? What if the things you were forgetting didn't have anything to do with the people of Cordova?

Kenzie sighed and pulled out four stems of red twig dogwood. Such a smooth and glistening red would add a shock of natural color to the dark foliage. "I'm not sure what to say," she admitted after the silence stretched a little too long. "I'm kind of in awe that there's people out there who even have that power. I can't imagine how hard it must be to go through that even if you are free from some of the worse memories." She slid a stem in to the branches so all that remained for show was the top third and its myriad forks.

"Sure is a lot I'd love to forget but."

She shook her head, and offered a stem toward Asha with a small smile.

She took it and found she just... didn't have a lot to say in response. It was possibly a greater mistake than the prowl shit and the coyote shit to begin with. She had said, don't do it.

"Yeah, well. Nothing to be in awe about. It's a stupid, selfish decision. And it's a risk that the vampire won't just... command you to kill yourself instead, or whatever."

Terrible, terrible. "These decorations are nice. So you're in the pack?"

For all she was tempted by the prospect of forgetting her past traumas and perhaps even a certain betrayal and face, having your memories wiped was another form of running away and she was done with that. Kenzie had come to see it that her misfortunes hadn't made her who she had become but rather had opened her eyes to who she had been all along: a resilient and strong woman who could sing and make beautiful animals from a simple square of paper; who could find ways to hold on to hope and optimism even in the face of so many reasons not to; who was learning to love herself as much as she was capable of loving another. She need not be ashamed. She need not hang her head any more.

She was a survivor. Not a victim.

"Someone did once tell me to stay away from them," she remarked as she assessed the tree for a location that said 'put a stem here'.

She grinned over her shoulder as Asha complimented her decorations. "I am indeed thanks to you and Kai." The stem found a home lower down than the first and just around the side from it. "You're the one who gave me Alina's number."

Not a moment too soon.

Alina. Right. The... wolf King. "Nice. Haven't crossed paths with her since all the bullshit. But that's good, that it worked out for you."

Kai, either. Kai being the coyote she'd attempted to... exclude from her very short-lived ban. How fucking embarrassing all this was.

This interaction had the potential to drag Asha down. It was there, in the tension of her brow. But.

Stop. Breathe. Think about... Nika. Nika who was there to cheer and support her and loved her in a very whirlwind sort of jaguar way. And Abraham, who'd been trying with her, and who she was finding a progressively better stride with. Comfort. Love. Progression.

And this, too. The Terrace. Once they were out of Crestview, she'd be unstoppable.

Unfortunately, this all left her unable to deduce a topic to follow up with with this very nice stranger, but she figured they had this tree to work on just fine.

Also, after largely spending most of her time with cats, it was just a bit strange to be around a dog.

"Mmhmm." Kenzie smiled and bobbed her head.

Once the third stem found a place among the branches, Kenzie set the bag down beside her foot. There were several more fir cones in the bottom and the rest of the origami ornaments were sitting on top. She chose the snowflake to hang next.

"Help yourself!" Her foot tapped the bag.

Asha nodded, having been taking ornaments if at a slower pace. But she moved a little more, offering a smile.

"Thank you for coming out. Means a lot," she said, honest if a little lost on where to take the conversation next.

"You're welcome."

Her smile was tender as she wondered if what she was sensing was a sort of lonesome sadness deep within her companion.

"I didn't have anywhere else to go," she shared quietly. "So I'm thankful there was this event to come to. It's better than sitting at home." Better to hang ornaments and chit chat than fall to brooding.

How did you have an entire group to call your own but have nowhere to go. Were the wolves just majorly disconnected or something?

"Well. We welcome all," she nodded, deciding to keep her more critical thoughts to herself.

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