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Yes, that's me in the photo, LilyRose Sheffield, Merchant of the Year, age thirty-five, owner of Bountiful Baskets, being led out of my shop in handcuffs, with the Gift Baskets For Every Occasion sign clearly visible on the storefront in the background. Now everyone in town will know where not to shop.
And that's Dinky LopakOfficer Dinky Lopakformer paperboy and high school football star, currently defender of the peace, his beefy hand clutching my upper arm in a deathgrip suitable for the FBI's Most Wanted. Dinky's expression is grim.
Local Shopowner Arrested For Assault, the headline in tomorrow's Fern Hollow Reporter will read.
I won't see it until I get out of jail. No matter, I can already imagine it: LilyRose Sheffield, enemy of the people. She'll fix you a nice gift basket, sure, but be careful or she might turn around and bop you with it.
The photographer snaps one more shot and hurries off. As Dinky maneuvers me into the back seat of the cruiser, he leans close and whispers, "you're lucky I cuffed your hands in front instead of in back. A lot more comfortable." His cinnamon aftershave hits me like a double shot of room deodorizer. "For old times" sake," he says.
"There were no old times." Beyond serving as our paperboy when he was twelve and I was sixteen, Dinky and I had no relationship, unless you count the day at dawn when I caught him peering at my underwear-clad body through my bedroom window, a feat he accomplished by scaling a rose trellis and clinging to a downspout. He disappeared hastily when our eyes met, and escaped uninjured. That night I lobbed a rock into his bedroom window, shattering itwith a satisfying crash. I had always had a pretty good arm. He never bothered me again.
By the time Dinky achieved the size and heft that catapulted him to high school football stardom, I was grown. Now he's a married man with three children under five, ogling me exactly the way he did at twelve. "I always knew you'd do something wacko someday," he saysa comment I find unworthy of Fern Hollow's finest. He shuts my door with a thump and slips into the front seat next to his partner.
It takes me about thirty seconds to realize that the rear seat of a police car is essentially a traveling cage, complete with doors that can't be unlocked from the inside and a barrier of what looks like reinforced chicken wire to protect the officers in the front from the perpetrator behind them. It also occurs to me that my hands are cuffed in such a way that if I wanted to scratch my back, I couldn't. My wrists chafe from the metal. Panic rises in my throat. How did it come to this?
I choke down my terror as we head down the street. At least they haven't turned on the sirens. In the interest of maintaining control, I push my mind back to the day twelve years ago when all this startedthe pivotal event I thought would save me.
I close my eyes and force myself to breathe deeply. I have to start at the beginning.
Okay. The beginning. The day Jeremy Taylor and I broke up. An event that still makes me so mad I can almost forget my handcuffs.
I was twenty-three. Practically a baby. In love. I had picked up Jeremy from work because his car was in the shop, and the first thing he did was turn the radio to that loud rock station he liked, where the music was so thick it always made me see an oatmealy gray mush in front of my eyes.
"didn't you ever hear the rule saying the driver gets to decide what to listen to?, I asked, trying to sound flirty instead of irritated.
"Oh, honey," he crooned, running a finger over the side of my face with a lightness that was more tease than touch. Goose bumps shivered all up and down my arms, and I forgot the radio entirely. I couldn't help it. Call it hormones, immaturity, stuI hear that high, whining sound, everything in front of me turned such a bright orange that the road was barely visible. "Shut that off!" I yelled. "I can hardly once, and it's out there forever, honey. You can't unsay it. Can't control it. All it can do is hurt you."
Believe me, I knew. But under the pressure of Jeremy's less-than-loving gaze, it also occurred to me that after four months of serious dating, and especially after the discussion we'd almost-but-not-quite had about where our relationship was going, the man had a right to some information. "I've got something to show you," I told him. "Something I want to show you right now. It's at Mama's."
Jeremy groaned. Ignoring him, I made a U-turn and headed for Cardinal Circle.
The house where I grew up and where Mama still lives is a big, rambling, old-fashioned place with a swing on the front porch and a backyard that in those days was full of Daddy's flower beds. Inside, there's no central air, just window air conditioners in some of the rooms and ceiling fans in the rest. I knocked once and then yoo-hooed for Mama as I led Jeremy through the open front screen and down the hall to the kitchen, where Mama was making herself a salad for dinner. Daddy was gone until the end of the week, an independent trucker who owned his own rig and hauled the loads himself.
Mama stopped slicing tomatoes and looked up with a quizzical expression, focusing first on me and then on Jeremy and back again. "Well," she said. "What brings you two here? Let me get you some nice, cold tea."
I held up my hand to stop her. "Mama, I've decided to show Jeremy those magazine articles." I adopted my best professional tone, which in those days was anything but convincing.
If Mama had her doubts, she didn't voice them. She raised her eyebrows, set down the slicing knife, and without a word went out to get her file of clippings about synesthesia.
Synesthesia. I hated that it sounded like a disease. It isn't a sickness. Synesthesia means having two or more senses linkedyour vision linked with your hearing, say, so that every time you hear the Emergency Broadcast System tone, you see the world through an overlay of orange. Some of the articles said synesthesia affected one percent of the population, most of them women. Some said one person in every two thousand. In any case, not very many. No wonder people didn't know about it. I told myself not to blame Jeremy just yet for saying I was half-crazy. he'd change his mind once he finished reading the articles Mama set out on the dining room table. he'd apologize in his most penitent tone, all dimples and remorse.
I had been eleven or twelve before Mama found that first write-up about synesthesia in one of her women's magazines. Until then Mama and Daddy and I were as ignorant as everyone else in not even knowing it had a name. What we did know was that I saw glass columns when I tasted mint, and golden spheres whenever old Mrs. Leona Richie sang the Star Spangled Banner at a ball game or public meeting. Those things had been happening for so long that none of us thought it was unusual, but even so, it was nice to find out I wasn't the only one.
Much as we liked synesthesia's having a name, Daddy hated as much as I did that it sounded so ominous. "Sinas what? Sin-ess thee zee-ah?, He would act as if he couldn't pronounce it at all, then snap his fingers and say. "Oh, now I know what you're saying. Sinus. you're talking about LilyRose's sinus problems."