Restless Summer

Cherry Hill 

 It seemed that no matter where you went across the country, some truths seeped into the map and stained the greater world. It turned out craft fairs catered to a cluster of usual suspects: homely older ladies with passions for soap making, people building businesses on artisanal, small batch jars of preservatives and seasonings. Not to mention that someone always had to be making wind chimes out of driftwood and bits of melted down glass.

 The Cherry Hill Craft Market was a bi-yearly grab bag, a mix of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly where the creative was concerned. The October show catered more towards the Christmas crowd, but she made a point to block time in her schedule for the summer display. Last year it had ended in her handing out a handful of business cards, a couple of vendors for the gift shop and allotted local talent within the gallery.

 This year so far, it seemed to be a lot of hats and scarves knitted from the wool of alpaca's, a handful of ornate and yet bizarrely painted nesting dolls, and ... whatever this was. She hesitated halfway in the shade of one of the tents and turned it in her hands.Ah, it was a bracelet made from ... a fork. How inspired.


Lee usually came to these things during the colder months in search of scented pine cones. Unfortunately, such seasonal-scented goods were hard to come by in early July, but he was bored.

Thus, a visit to the Cherry Hill Craft Market seemed due.

While the event didn't hold a candle to year-round markets like the one in Red Rock, at least in Lee's opinion, it was close enough to home that going there appealed to his reclusive, lethargic nature. Not to mention how satisfying it was to park his muddied Silverado in a lot full of rich-people cars.

Now, Lee wasn't ignorant of the powers that be. This was someone else's back yard, and he vowed to himself not to cause trouble. Besides, it wasn't like Belle Vista's cats were wolves.

Animal politics aside, the man was intrigued as he browsed the markets' wares. If nothing else, there was plenty of weird shit to add to Lee's collection of weird shit littering his house, such as some downright frightening sets of nesting dolls. Whoever decorated their mantles with those things, Lee didn't want to run into in a dark alley—that's for damn sure.

But then.

But then.

Lee discovered a denim fedora. It spoke to him the moment he saw it. Smiling to the vendor who rattled on about their homemade goods, he tried it on and was pleased with how perfectly it fit. "How much?" Lee asked, searching the hat for a price tag.

Then the vendor told him the price.


It was a well-made hat, but Lee was cheap.

In all honesty ever since visiting Jade Gardens, she was making it her goal to visit new places often. She was familiar with the area briefly by driving through it so when the ads came out talking about the market it was a definite destination. Perhaps they’d have something she might like? Even if not, it was the experience.

Going through the tents now that she was here, offered a lot of wares she was delighted to see, but nothing really catching her eye. One guy, she walked by, was picking up a fedora and she internally cringed at the use of denim in such a way. Whatever made him happy though. That artist’s sense of fashion design didn’t appeal to her and so she decided to keep going. Hearing his comment of how much it was though and just how put out that made him, seemed about right. Yeah buddy, 90$ was a bit high for such a hat.

Eyes roving, she came to a stop at a tent featuring some absurd uses of various kitchen wares. Some were rather neat and others just odd. Turning over a rather weird use of a metal hair brush to be converted to what she assumed was an art piece, or was it the other way around, her eyes caught on a cuff being held. Looking at the woman holding it, she got an air of put together. The fork didn’t seem to be her type of fashion though.

”I think this might work with your outfit better,” she suggested, holding out a more dainty use of a silver teaspoon acting as a charm for a necklace. ”Uhh, it’s less...”. She made a face, eyebrows going up, fully wanting to say ugly and odd, but not with the shopkeeper nearby.

 When it rained, it had a tendency to pour. On days such as this she usually was happy to excuse the sense of the unfamiliar mucking about in Belle Vista. The weather was favorable, there were events, it was a bear to boot. But up close enough that she was fairly certain it was the rugged sore thumb a tent over, she started to wonder. He didn't seem new to the party, didn't seem ... surely one of Levka's. Tapping her fingers against the tines of the fork bangle, she was quiet as she considered her approach.

 And then, a voice - distracting her from her plan of attack as she looked the woman over and finally broke a smile at the suggestion. Slowly, carefully, she set the bracelet down and reached over, considered the spoon and laughed. And while her own opinions held precedence, she was pretty sure there would be some commentary from a certain King if she showed up to their next get together wearing a spoon.

 "To be frank, I don't think I'm a wearable utensil person." She glanced up, scoffed at the hat and it's suggested price before her eyes settled back on the woman beside her. "Think someone should warn him?" About what was set out to be a tragic error in fashion, namely.

Ninety dollars.

It quickly became a question of how badly Lee wanted this hat.

"How about somethin' a little easier on the bank?" Sadly, the vendor informed Lee that they didn't haggle on prices. To this, the grizzly-man was less than enthused. Still, he wanted the hat something fierce, and Lee didn't even wear hats that often.

Amidst his discussion with the vendor, the beast in him caught wind of another nearby, one with a strikingly powerful presence on the metaphysical side of things. It naturally made Lee a touch uneasy since it most certainly wasn't his King he was feeling. Luckily, standing head and shoulders above most people made a cursory glance at his surroundings easier than it otherwise would be.

There were enough people out and about that picking out the cat among them was easier said than done.

Before Lee could find what he was looking for, the vendor asked insistently that he either pay or put the hat back. With something of a grumble, Lee withdrew his wallet and put down a crisp hundred dollar bill. Of course, he waited for his change and receipt before offering the vendor a nod.

"Pleasure doing business." It was clearly a formality spoken from a less than honest place.

Still, Lee had gotten his hat in the end and felt better for it.

The woman looked at the trinket and laughed. Natalie smiled good naturally at the comment, glad she’d run into someone with a sense of humor and what seemed a similar opinion to the wares. It was a very niche piece of what she guess was jewelry in the long run. ”Yeah, I don’t think I could pull it off either.”

Her eyes followed to the guy mentioned and her face cringed at the reminder someone was buying a navy fedora. ”Oh my god, he really is buying it,” she breathed out in surprise.

Money and what she assumed a bad haggling time later and the guy was actually beginning to walk away with the hat. ”Did he really just pay that much for that navy… fedora?” Someone should absolutely warn him, but if it meant that much to him, she didn’t really feel butting in was the best. The purchase had been made, he seemed happy and a bit irritated, and keeping a straight face for her was an absolute no go. Her incredulous statement wasn't as quiet as she had been trying to play off either.

 There was a moment of internalized horror when the man handed over what was obviously a hundred dollar bill and happily took the fedora in turn. A genuine transaction in which that hat was appraised at a three figure sum, and the consumer agreed. She glanced sideways to the woman beside her, as if to confirm that they were looking at the same thing. Pleased to see that they were more or less on the same page, she ghosted a hand close the the woman's shoulder, a gentle and wordless pardon as she stepped around her and decided to lead on this one.

 "I would expect something a bit closer to a Stetson, a little more park ranger." An easy North Glenn jab if he was paying close enough attention, yet manageable enough to be tossed out in public and with the mystery woman beside her probably paying attention. She glanced back - tried to catch the girl's eye and motioned vaguely, a general offer to follow if she was so inclined - but regardless she committed one way or the other, closed some of the distance and pushed up her sunglasses.

See, Lee held what most would consider an unorthodox opinion about this transaction.

Whether the denim fedora was worth ninety dollars was debatable. However, the look on people's faces when they saw a giant wearing a denim fedora was worth every red cent of what he had just paid.

Lee Joyce knew no shame.

He was about to resume his search for the feline in their midst when she presented herself to him, casually dressed with a nice pair of shades. Sniffing as though his allergies were bothering him, the man wore a lopsided smile upon recognizing the musk he sometimes caught wind of in the Glenn. Although unmistakably feline in nature, the scent wasn't native to the grizzly's world. Moreover, the woman carried a metaphysical presence the likes of which Lee seldom encountered beyond Levka's company.

Her greeting remark warranted a chuckle, gravelly as it was, and Lee took off his hat and held it over his chest in a gallant fashion. "Stetson's a fine hat, but we can't all be rangers." The woman was just enough on-the-nose with her jab that Lee found it rather entertaining.

Closing the distance with a few long strides, the man flashed a smile. "Lee Joyce, pleased to make your acquaintance."

Was he leaning on the cowboy act? Of course he was.

The woman moved past her to take the lead on how to approach such a situation. To be honest, she would've just wanted to not confront someone just going about their life. This person had other ideas though and she marveled how the hat subject was approached. The suggestion even made sense and would've been a world better fashion sense wise. He would've looked smart in one.

Thankfully, Lee seemed to have a sense of humor and seemed amused with the comment. Introducing himself, she could tell pretty quickly he wasn't one to get defensive over a fashion. That had her stepping forward, taking Yana's invitation to walk over and join in the conversation. Sure, she'd bite and meet new people. They seemed like quite a duo she'd run into.

"Then, I think a navy stetson would be in your taste," she said to play off the talk.

 "Of course. too many cooks in the kitchen ..." Too many leaders in the pine. "Perhaps an assistant ranger, then." Finding that it would have been an outright lie to say that she wasn't having a grand old time with this for now. Finding the human's continued presence to be more like a puzzle that needed solving and less of a hindrance. There was nothing to say they couldn't communicate, some on more levels than others.

 The name sealed the deal, instant recognition as she recalled the whole debacle of his injury in vivid detail. She supposed then that this was a precipice of sorts - a leap of faith. Allegedly, they weren't hiding anymore ... so ... "Yana Novik." She glanced back to the other woman - made sure it was clear that the introduction was not meant for one alone. Still - "I believe we might share a friend or two up north." Which easily could have been Canada she supposed, but - really who thought on that grand of a scale?

 Quiet for a beat, some things too low hanging and sweet to avoid as the teaspoon lady expanded on a more appropriate suggestion. "Perhaps cobalt, hm?"

The prospect of being dubbed "assistant ranger" was more fitting than the feline probably realized.

"Something like that," he said, returning the hat to his head.

Then the second lady came forward, casually dressed with pretty brown hair. If not for her unmistakably human scent, Lee might have suspected her to be another cat. Regardless, the brunette was quick to hop into the banter, offering what the man took as a compliment. "I'll buy the first one I see."

A denim stetson didn't sound half-bad, especially compared to a denim fedora.

"Miss Novik." A name like that checked out with the unfamiliar accent she had. It almost sounded like Levka's, but not. Then, as if she had read Lee's mind, the feline mentioned their mutual friends residing to the north. "Small world, ain't it?"

Lee smiled. He'd definitely have to ask Levka about her later.

When Yana mentioned cobalt blue, the grizzly-man refrained from rolling his eyes. He had a sneaking suspicion that he hadn't stumbled among just any cat. "Very handsome color, if I do say myself—denim's first cousin." Lee could wordplay with the best of them.

"So, are you two looking for something a little... avant-garde?" If ever there were a time for five-dollar words, this was it.

She looked up at Yana as she introduced herself. It was a nice name, something she wasn't used to hearing called out. It fit the woman very well. It also definitely looked like these two were at least mutual friends or acquaintances of some sort. Funny how that happened.

Lee took her advice as not a dig and she smiled in response. She already had a good feeling about him, but realizing he'd probably taken it at face value amused her. "My name's Natalie Wright, nice to meet you both," she said, realizing her opportunity to introduce herself.

Yana added an addition to her suggestion from earlier, and she had to agree, cobalt would be even better. But then again, this was a man who liked to wear denim as a hat.... and ok seemed he liked it too. His sense of fashion was going to have to be figured out later it would seem.

Lee's question on what they were look for had Natalie quirking an eyebrow. Wasn't everything here fitting that pretty closely?
"What exactly do you have in mind?"

 The term avant-garde coming from a man in a denim fedora earned the tiniest hairline hint of a smirk, a look that she masked by raising her hand and clearing her throat behind it. No need to be rude. "Nice to meet you." Refocusing on her less supernaturally charged acquaintance before taking the time to really dig into the nature of what had brought her to Cherry Hill for the day.

 "Actually," Might as well - it wasn't like it was hidden knowledge. "I own a gallery not too far from here - just seeing about the possibility to network, but I am curious to see what you might deem innovative." Honestly trying to not be mean - honest.

Yana Novik and Natalie Wright were two completely different flavors of names. "Pleasure," Lee said once the brunette introduced herself, smiling all the while.

So well-spoken, so charming, so handsome—the attention was going to Lee's head.

He was about to answer Natalie's question when Yana beat him to it. Stopping himself to avoid interrupting the feline, Lee raised a brow when she mentioned owning a local gallery. As far as Lee was concerned, a cat as powerful as her didn't just own a place, no more than Levka just owned the lodge.

The grizzly-man was willing to bet that he stood in the presence of a Queen.

He imagined her with more of a tan for some reason or another.

"Fancy," he said in regards to the gallery bit, "I'm no artist, but there seems to be two kinds of innovative going on here."

Lee had started this with the denim fedora, so he felt an obligation to see this through. "Good innovative, and... that innovative." After a moment of scoping out neighboring stalls, he nodded at one where the vendor was peddling all manner of downright ugly scarves. Garish colors and asymmetrical patterns dominated the vendor's woolen wares, none of which appealing to Lee.

"There's something you won't find hanging next to my front door."

Lee seemed like he was about to respond to her introduction as Yana had, but the woman had pushed through. There was an air of superiority radiating from her, maybe a bit of abrasiveness? It was a bit off-putting, but Natalie rolled with it and listened. So Yana owned a gallery? Most definitely she'd have to remember that and check it out sometime considering. The conversation was rolling full-steam ahead before she could say anything in response to such a thing. No follow up questions it seemed, but maybe a business card later if Natalie remembered to ask.

The man seemed enthused in return as he began to look around for something he considered innovative. Honestly, there was so many weird wares here it wasn't going to take long. Sure enough, the one he nodded at had her really squinting to see the charm. She was going to say something in line with that, but Lee's comment made sense as she realized it was a possible dig at Yana's work. Oh, dear. There was insulting a hat choice and then one's livelihood and work.

Natalie just fixed her eyes back on Lee and then back to Yana, wondering how bad her response would be. This seemed a bit too personal between the two of them and she fidgeted a bit, not wanting to join in or how to. Perhaps, she should leave them to peruse the weird wares if this kept up.

 The problem, or at least the hang-up with the gallery, was that it required that she shelf her own personal opinions. A line of work that meant, occasionally, biting the bullet and investing her time and space into works of 'art' that, perhaps, she found hideous. So while they left a lot to be desired, the scarves in question made her squint behind the cover of her sunglasses - kept her poker faced otherwise. "Well ..."

 There was ultimately no better way to determine these things than to poll your audience, so she turned - surveyed one seemingly well-natured Natalie Wright. "Would you buy one of those?" Maybe it was a trend, maybe she had managed to miss a memo somewhere.

For better or worse, Lee was all personal opinions and no regard for the thin-skinned. While he hadn't intended to dig at Yana's profession, it frankly wasn't his nature to fret over how others might misinterpret him. Fortunately, the feline seemed patient as she appraised the offending scarves with an unreadable expression.

Lee was convinced that she agreed with him; those scarves were just too ugly.

Part of him pitied whoever invested the time in making them.

Rather diplomatically, however, Yana deferred to Natalie's opinion. With raised brows, Lee looked to the brunette as well.

All of a sudden attention was on her from both parties. She looked at the scarves again, one hand rubbing her other arm. Those were so bad.

Natalie looked at Yana. "Uhh... no. They aren't...," she struggled for the right way to describe just how awful they were in her opinion. She'd also rather not say something too offensive that the shop owner may hear. Her gaze flicked to Lee and then back to Yana. Putting her on the spot like this was not what she had expected this conversation to go to, especially over something as personal as style and perhaps it being used to one up each other? "Those patterns are just a bit too much."

 "Wonderful, then I'm not just being a picky bitch - they're awful." Good to know, some litmus test for taste on their ends - everyone passing with varying degree's of success. Lee of course, having to have points docked for the monstrosity that sat on top of his head. "I'm starting to think perhaps this is a dud on my end." Unavoidable as it was, the knowledge that one commonly turned over a whole lot of rocks when looking for gold.

 "Well, ..." She adjusted the strap of her bag, shifted her weight from one leg to the other and considered the line of tents and booths ahead. "It was nice meeting you both, feel free to stop by sometime if you're in the area again." Moving easily to produce two cards from their designated home in the front most pocket of her bag.

Natalie and Yana's respective responses were enough to make Lee chuckle.

"Glad to see we're all in agreement," he said, glancing from one woman to the other with a smile on his face. When the feline expressed her concern that this had proven to be a lost cause, Lee tilted his head before looking around. He couldn't exactly blame her; nothing he had seen so far really looked like the sort of things you would in an art gallery.

Not that Lee would know, having never been to an art gallery before.

Sure enough, Yana prepared to bid them adieu, producing two business cards for them both. Taking one with a nod, Lee narrowed his eyes and read the information printed on it. "Work Release." If the name was supposed to mean something, then it went right over Lee's head. "Well, there's a first time for everything."

He pocketed the card with one last look toward the feline, a smile on his face. With one last nod to the departing woman, Lee spared a look toward Natalie, half-expecting her to follow Yana's lead.

"Reckon this where we part ways?"

Yana's blatant way of framing it had her holding in a bit of a giggle. That was one way to put it and exactly how she felt about them too. Lee adding to it had her now really trying to hold it, but she did her best, taking a few breaths.

Natalie was more or less in control of herself when the woman produced a business card for them both, to which she gratefully took. "Thanks, I'll be sure to." She honestly would. Art Galleries were always a fun thing to explore and view. At least she would know that Yana wouldn't have something like those dreadful patterns in there and that was a good start. Lee said the name softly as she'd read it as well, before tucking her own card into her pocket to be saved for later.

At Lee's questioning as Yana went to leave, she agreed. There were more booths to look through today. "Seems so, it was nice meeting you both," she smiled before waving and turning before heading off to continue looking through the markets.

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