warning: coarse language. i recommend reading this chapter in my blog, not reader, for the best quality.
The evening is sweet, whispering of cinnamon and apples and falling leaves. It is that soft, dreamy hour, where the sunlight is caught halfway between the lustrous day and sleepy night. Today, I am visiting a Sunday farmer’s market with Luc and Lilith. The market is in a quiet country town, just a half hour drive from Bridgeport — it is hard to think of the smoking city and gritty harbours when I’m standing here, amongst the rolling hills and gentle pastures and leafy trees.
Lilith scatters herself through the market — much like the leaves skipping over the pavement — gathering warm loaves of bread and freshly picked vegetables. The smart click of her heels and the nip of her black coat stand out sharply, against the lazy ebb and flow of the crowd, but she looks right at home as she muses over apples and late-season strawberries. I am happy to just wander along in her wake. Luc matches my steps, his hand squeezing mine whenever I point out something in excitement. Pumpkins, delicately painted with gold and amber leaves; tiny glass jars of honey, bow-tied with ribbons; cranberries and pomegranates, burnished in the dusky light; and sprigs of fragrant herbs — bouquet garnis, as Lilith notes.
As Lilith darts along the maple leaf path, Luc and I take our time. There isn’t just farm produce, but little things like homemade dog treats and knitted scarves. One stall catches my eye — the cutest little animal plushes, hand-crafted with felt, I think. “Aren’t these adorable?” I lean down to look at them, and while my boyfriend doesn’t answer, I see him smile. I pick out a dog with a red scarf, and Luc fishes out his wallet. “I’m paying you later,” I tell him. “Nope.” The corner of his mouth lifts as he tucks the wallet back into his pocket. There is no point arguing with him. As we resume wandering, I cradle the tiny dog in my palm. “I’m going to name her Pumpkin.” At my declaration, Luc raises an eyebrow, amused. “You’re naming it?” “Is that weird?” I say defensively. He shakes his head, although the twitch of his lips says otherwise. “You’re so damn innocent.” “I am not.” I poke him in the ribs, indignantly. Luc just smiles and briefly presses his lips against my forehead.
There is a warm breeze drifting through the market, bringing the earthy scent of farmland and ancient trees, and the bittersweet taste of memories. A quiet ache has been yearning in my chest since we arrived in the countryside. I forgot how much I miss nature — not the deep, unforgiving dark of Bridgeport’s ocean or pine forests, but the gentle, sunlit woodlands and golden coves of Sunset Valley. One day I will return. I perk up when I catch the fragrance of coffee beans on the wind. There is french press and drip coffee, from artisan roasters, the likes of which are wildly expensive back in the city. I order a caramel macchiato, and Luc what he always does — black, like his soul, as he once joked.
The coffee burning in my hand, I pull Luc away from the bustle of the market, searching for somewhere to rest. Swaying between two coppery trees, there is a row of glass jars, glowing softly like fireflies over a bench. I carefully place Pumpkin on the wood and the coffee cup beside to cool. I jump up and balance on the edge myself, and when I wobble, Luc steadies me. “Ooh, I’m taller than you now.” I tease in delight, which my boyfriend rolls his eyes to in good-natured reply. “Have fun up there while you still can.” He tugs at me playfully and I grab him with a laugh. His shoulders are relaxed under my hands, and he tips his head back, the dying sunlight catching the gold in his irises. The past couple weeks, we have become more and more comfortable with each other. And I say we because now, I am beginning to wonder if Luc’s sharp edge was due to him being nervous. The thought is a little strange, but the more I mull over the first week of us dating, the more tense and awkward his demeanor is in my memories. I can never predict his behaviour, for it is fickle as the fall rains, but I like this lull. There is something lovely in his calm, in the still after a storm.
I hop down from the bench, and Luc folds his arms around me easily. We stay there for a quiet moment, just drinking in the sun. I blink when a leaf flutters onto my nose, and I lift my chin up to gaze at the cottonwood above; the rustling of leaves and dappling of sunlight is soothing, and I sigh happily. “My house is surrounded by trees,” I remember. “In Sunset Valley, I mean. And I used to wander around the woodlands in summer.” “That sounds really nice,” Luc smiles. “Mm, I could sing without being interrupted. Oh, and there was this chickadee that followed me.” I brighten up at the memory. Luc tucks a loose strand of hair behind my ear, a thoughtful expression on his face. “Do you miss home?” The question halts me. “Well… I miss my family, but my home is here.” I reach up on my tiptoes so he can kiss me, warm and gentle. The loose knit of his sweater bunches up when I curl my hands against his chest, feeling hard muscle under soft wool. He tastes like the sunlight, fire mellow underneath my fingertips, and I melt into him with a sigh. I can never tire of this. Especially when Luc’s way of kissing me has changed, like the seasons — deeper and slower, savouring each kiss, each moment, nothing more. Like he is no longer searching for something. He is happy, I think, just being here.
Evangeline Jaa arrives at seven, much to the family’s excitement. It is interesting to observe all of them flocking to her — to see Lilith embrace the older woman, Gabriel with a rare, real smile, Raphael be respectful for once, and Michel bounce up to say hi. Even Luc perks up, and I stick close to him, a little nervous. I am the newcomer here. Evangeline has a tough aura, with cropped hair and scarred face, but she greets everyone with affection, and is just as friendly to me. “Hi, I’m Cherry.” I smile and offer my hand. “Nice to meet you, Cherry,” Evangeline says warmly, giving me a good firm handshake. “So you’re the girl Luc’s fallen for, huh?” She puts a hand on hip, and I glance up at my boyfriend in surprise. His cheeks are pink, just like mine. Is he blushing? He is saved from answering, however, when Evangeline turns her attention back to me. “He’s been acting so differently at work lately. Very obvious he’d been bitten by the love bug.” She nods, and Lilith chips into the teasing, a wicked grin dancing across her lips. “My dear baby cousin even asked us for relationship advice.” “Really?” I squeak. “For fuck’s sake,” Luc groans, passing a hand over his eyes. “I told you two not to mention that.” They simply laugh at him, and when I smile up at Luc, he is unable to meet my curious gaze. Oh, he is definitely blushing.
Evangeline settles at the table with ease, striking up a conversation with Gabriel immediately. I focus on the latter as he talks to the older woman. I have never seen him so… relaxed. Or heard him talk for so long, the words spilling over, smooth and free. Listening to him, I realise how calming his voice is. Straight after the thought flits across my mind, I shake my head, hurriedly focusing back on Evangeline. From what I gather, she has known the Torres since they were young, for maybe eight years — I get the feeling of a mother bear amongst her cubs. Evangeline must be my mother’s age, perhaps older, but she exudes youthful strength that belies her wrinkles and silvering hair. I remember that she is Gabriel and Luc’s boss, and I write a mental note to take a lesson from her sometime. She must be one hell of a fighter.
Luc is quiet through most of the dinner. He is tracing patterns on my knee, random but repetitive. “Luc?” I whisper. “Hm?” He looks up at me, distracted. “Did you really ask them for advice?” I nudge him gently with my shoulder, and he smiles, abashed. “Yeah. I don’t want to mess this up.” The last words are just a murmur. I lean over to kiss his cheek, wondering why he sounds ashamed of making an effort. It’s a little odd that Luc needs advice, for he is far more experienced at dating than I am, but I like that he’s trying. When I turn back to dinner, I feel warm flutters of happiness in my chest. I must have a stupid grin on my face, because I notice Michel smiling at me from across the table, mouthing cute at me. Shut up, I mouth back.
Right next to him, Raphael is discussing a potential tattoo with Evangeline. He has not made a single sarcastic remark throughout the dinner, to my great surprise. “You can swing by the shop on Monday,” He offers, twirling his forkful of pasta. “Will do,” Evangeline replies. “Lilith, have you gotten one yet?” “She’s still too scared,” Raphael smirks, and the girl in question slaps his arm. “I am not scared! I just have not decided on the design yet.” She sips on her drink, dignified. Raphael reaches up and taps her forehead. “I told you, just put my name here. So everyone knows who your cool best friend is.” “Are you two still not together?” Evangeline says sternly, and the table goes quiet. Lilith chokes on her lemonade. “No…” She splutters, and Raphael pats her back briefly. “Let’s eat dessert, shall we?” Lilith says hurriedly, dashing off to the kitchen. I tip my head, confused. There is something I am missing here. I exchange a quick glance with Luc, which tells me he is just as clueless. The subject is dropped when Lilith brings back dessert, however. A beautiful apple pie with golden, flaky pastry, and a strawberry tart, glistening red. Still warm, freshly baked with the farmer’s market fruit. It’s delicious, like everything Lilith cooks — and conversation is sparked again, easy as wildfire, continuing deep into the night.
Hello, friends! Quick note, I am going to cut out my end-of-chapter ramblings or just keep them short, sweet, and neutral. This is because my (overly long) notes are always biased and I think that may influence what you write in your comments 🙂 So, mid-semester break is here and I’m exhausted 😣 Hence the uneventful chapter + being super behind on commenting, but I will try to slowly catch up in the next few weeks. I wanted to chuck this chapter out there first, though, because I was really excited about it! Cheriel isn’t even taking the backseat anymore, guys. It’s getting kicked out of the car. Anyway, let’s finish up with a bonus snaps gallery — I might do this for future chapters, too, since I always end up showing maybe half of what I worked on. I actually reshot the whole market scene four times just to catch that perfect lighting… 😭 Golden hour sunlight is my fave in real life, so thanks ReShade, for letting me replicate that in game! PS: my amazing friend Jade has joined WordPress and is posting her first chapter soon. She is incredibly talented at writing and decorating — she’s my idol, seriously — and I know her story is going to be epic. I recommend checking her out!