Authors: Sharon Sala
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Copyright © 2014 by Sharon Sala
Cover and internal design © 2016 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover designed by Dawn Adams/Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover art by Tom Hallman
Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.
P. O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410
Fax: (630) 961-2168
Originally published in 2014 by Sourcebooks Landmark as
The Curl Up and Dye
Some people’s lives are all about who they used to be instead of what they became. They stay so wrapped up in youthful successes that they fail to recognize the opportunities for growth.
It almost always takes a life-altering experience to shake them out of their past into living in the now. Some of those rides are quite bumpy. Some of the ruts they are in are too deep and they give up and quit, too afraid to step out of their own shadows.
This book is for the ones who make it through and come out with a new appreciation for being an adult.
Welcome to the present. It’s a great place to be.
LilyAnn Bronte already knew how fast life could change. Her past was a road map to prove it. But on this particular Friday in the first week of November, she experienced one of those déjà vu moments as the Good Lord hit Rewind on the story that was her life.
She was sweeping the front sidewalk of Phillips’ Pharmacy, where she worked, when she heard the low, sexy rumble of a hot-rod engine. The skin crawled on the back of her neck as a shiny black pickup truck went rumbling down Main Street.
Before she could see the driver, sunlight hit the windshield, reflecting directly into her eyes. At the same time she went blind, she heard him rack the pipes on the muffler, just like Randy Joe used to do when he picked her up for their Saturday night dates. But that was a long time ago, before he went away to war in Afghanistan and got himself killed.
She had no idea who was driving this truck, and when she looked again, it was turning the corner at the far end of the street and then it was out of sight.
For LilyAnn, seeing that truck and hearing the pipes rattle felt like a sign. Was it the universe telling her she was living in the past? Because if it was, she already knew that. Or was it Randy Joe sending her a message, and if it was, what was he trying to say?
As she resumed sweeping, a car drove up and parked in front of Dalton’s Fitness Center next door. It was Rachel Goodhope, who ran the local bed-and-breakfast in Blessings. She got out wearing her workout clothes and waved at Lily as she ran inside.
Lily eyed the woman’s big boobs and toned body and began sweeping in earnest. Rachel looked good for a woman in her late forties, and everyone knew she liked to stay fit. She was on her third husband, and there was talk he might be getting the boot before long. No one could actually put their finger on what the problem was with Rachel and her marriages. Some said it had to do with her choice of men, while others hinted that Rachel would be a hard woman to please. Still, she obviously saw the need to stay fit in case she was ever in the market for husband number four.
Lily was of the opinion that any woman with a backbone and the nerve to speak her mind should be difficult to please. Her great-great-grandma, Delia Bronte, had put a musket ball through a Yankee captain’s hat during the War of Northern Aggression because he had not taken it off his head when he forced his way into her house. Lily liked to think she had a little bit of that in her, as well.
Just thinking about that Yankee intruder and her great-great-grandma’s gumption made her push the broom a little harder across the sidewalk. But seeing that truck had set her to thinking about the past, and before she knew it, she was knee-deep in memories long since gone.
* * *
LilyAnn had been a constant source of pride for her parents through all her growing-up years. When she reached high school, she lost her braces and grew boobs, hitting her stride with a bang. She became an honor student, a cheerleader, and was voted prettiest and friendliest every year by her class. When she was chosen head cheerleader her senior year, Randy Joe Bentonfield, the star quarterback, also chose her for his steady girl. She was over the moon, and her parents rejoiced in the moments in which she excelled.
As the year progressed, she marked another milestone by being named homecoming queen, then another when the announcement was made that she would be the valedictorian of her high school graduating class—two more notches in a high school career on a fast track to success.
But it wasn’t until she won the title of the Peachy-Keen Queen that her parents broke out in full braggadocio. Lily felt as if her life could not get any better. But as the old saying goes, once you’ve reached the top, the only place to go is downhill.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, two planes flew into the World Trade Center in New York City and another one into the Pentagon. When the fourth one was taken down by the plane’s passengers, crashing into a cornfield killing all on board, the world suddenly stopped turning on LilyAnn’s axis. It was no longer about her.
National outrage followed the shock as young men and women from all over the country began enlisting in the army, including a lot of the young men in Blessings.
Randy Joe was one of the first to sign up. She cried herself silly, after which they made love. Randy Joe was so full of himself about being a man going away to war that he gave her a promise ring before he went away to boot camp. He came back long enough to have his picture taken in his uniform and then he shipped out, returning a month later in a flag-draped casket.
People said it had been a good thing he’d had that picture taken beforehand because he’d come back to Blessings in pieces, no longer fit for viewing.
His death devastated Lily, but at the same time, it thrust her back into the spotlight. Now she had a new status—the almost fiancée of Blessings’ first war casualty. She dropped out of college that year and wore black, which went really well with her long blond hair. She visited his grave site every day for a year, and people said what a faithful young woman she was, grieving for her lost love in such a fashion.
When a new semester of college rolled around, she didn’t go back. She was still paying visits to the cemetery, although as time between visits lengthened to weekly, then monthly, people still commented that LilyAnn was such a sweet thing to remember her dearly departed in such faithful ways. And because she’d lost her way and didn’t know how to move past her first love or the success of her prior milestones, she took the mantle of bereavement to a whole new level.
One year turned into two and then three, and going to college was something other people did as everything became a blur. Her daddy had a heart attack and died, which turned her mama into a widow, and Lily barely remembered her dreams for the future and had forgotten how to get there.
The worst were the times when she could no longer bring Randy Joe’s face to mind. At that point, the guilt would set her to eating a whole pint of chocolate-chip ice cream, just because it was his favorite treat. It didn’t revive her memory or renew her desire to move on, but it did pack on the pounds.
The years came and went without notice until Lily was eleven years lost. Now she only visited his grave when she thought about it and had unwittingly masked her emotions with a bulwark of extra weight.
She had no status in Blessings beyond being one of two clerks at Phillips’ Pharmacy and the daughter of Grace Bronte, the widow who married a man twelve years her junior whom she met on an online dating site and proved all her critics wrong by living happily ever after in Miami, Florida.
Between the loss of Randy Joe and the abdication of her only living parent, LilyAnn had lost her way. She was stuck in a rut: too afraid to step out for fear of getting too close to someone and getting left behind all over again.
* * *
At least, that’s how Lily
felt, until today when the sun got in her eyes and she’d heard the rattle of those pipes. She felt off-center, like she was trying to balance on one leg, and became convinced that truck was an omen of great change.
As soon as she finished sweeping, she went inside and began her day. Today was Friday, which meant she would get her hair done during her lunch hour. But she had to wait for Mitchell Avery, the other pharmacy clerk, and couldn’t leave until he arrived.
When Mitchell finally clocked in less than five minutes under the wire, she grabbed her jacket, turned the key to the cash register over to Mitchell, and headed out the door.
The sun was directly overhead, and the morning breeze had quickened to a stiff wind. She shivered, wishing she had worn a heavier jacket. She caught a glimpse of herself in the plate glass windows of Dalton’s Fitness Center and then quickly looked away. It was always a shock to see what she looked like now. She didn’t feel like a big girl, but she was one. She quickened her step, suddenly anxious to get off the street, out of sight and judgment.
When she reached The Curl Up and Dye, she was relieved. This was a safe place, a place where people came to get pretty. If only there was a place where people could go to get their lives back, she’d be the first standing in line.