Before She Wakes - Sharon Lynn Fisher

1

The Garden Rules

PORTLAND, OREGON—A FEW YEARS FROM NOW

Earthly Delights

“Your life would be richer if you weren’t so afraid.”

I stared at the tarot reader. She was easily five years younger than me. Probably more. Was she reciting from a script? It was a fact of life that people were afraid of the things they wanted most, but they usually didn’t figure that out until they had a few decades behind them. At that point they chalked it up to self-preservation—it was comfy being crabby and rigid.

Or maybe that was just me.

“It’s like you’ve been editing your entire life. Going along day to day, judging moment to moment, never really present, or knowing what it is you really want.”

“Are you for real?” Yep, I said it out loud.

She gave me a smug smile. I scowled at her teal Ganesh tattoo, smirking at me from under his trunk. Cheeky elephant bastard.

Who gets mad at Ganesh? And why am I the one acting like a child?

“Thanks,” I murmured ungraciously, rising from the table.

As I turned to exit the tent, she chirped, “Enjoy the festival,” with annoying emphasis on the word “enjoy.”

The nerve of her, in her hippie-ass, yoga-toned, champa-scented, pantheistic superiority.

How dare she be right.

By the time I reached the food carts my hands had unclenched, but I’d lost my appetite. Which was a damn shame, because you could find stuff on the menu at the Garden of Earthly Delights Fair that you could find nowhere else. Chocolate-covered everything, from figs to bacon to grasshoppers. Champagne-flavored gelato. Passion-fruit cupcakes. The aroma of roasting meat dominated everything—bison, boar, venison, pheasant, and some so exotic I hadn’t a clue. I loitered around the beer garden, easily half the size of a soccer field, but too much noise. Too many sweaty bodies. Ditto for the wine flight tent.

But I needed something.

I closed my eyes and listened to the strains of live music drifting over the throngs. Portland orchestral pop from the bandstand to the north, mingling inharmoniously with a Renaissance air from more immediately south. High above them, in circus announcer tones, I heard the sweetmeats barker and felt a Pavlovian rush.

At last year’s fair I’d bought a baker’s-dozen bag of the recreational narcotics. Like truffles, they came in every shape, color, and flavor. One token each, or thirteen for ten. I’d made that bag last a whole year. My job at the university didn’t pay me enough to take vacations, but sweetmeats I could afford.

I’d never eaten one in public, but maybe today would be different.

Grinding my heel into the grassy hillside, I headed for the adults-only section of the fair. I flashed my ID at the security guard and strode past booths crammed full of sexual implements that ranged from intriguing to terrifying. There were tents for the procurement of cannabis and all the accompanying paraphernalia. Tattoo and piercing artists. One tent I passed had a table just inside the entrance where a customer was having work done right there in real time, only a clear plastic curtain between her and the passersby. An odd little cry erupted and I paused to gawk. A woman wearing something that looked like the top half of a Wonder Woman costume lay there spread-eagle, a rubber-gloved man focused intently between her bare legs. She winked at me and slung a leg over the man’s shoulder as he was rising.

I was not the most in-touch person with my body. I’d signed up for yoga several times because everyone said it helped you relax, but I’d never made it to more than three classes. There was no mystery about what was going on in my body now, though. As I continued toward my destination, I couldn’t exorcise images of the woman’s spread-open legs. The little hitch in her cry that hinted the cause was something more interesting than pain. The curve of the piercing-man’s biceps, and the way he’d settled back between her thighs when she threw her leg over him. Had he touched her after I’d passed? Even pressed his lips to the tissue he’d just damaged at her request?

“Sweetmeats?”

Apparently my body had resumed its progress toward our destination, sans pilot. I studied the man before me. He wore clown makeup, but none of the other accoutrements. He had spiky black hair, a chiseled bare chest that displayed a snake tattoo, and hot-red (same color as the nose) leather pants.

“Er.”

He smiled a bizarre clown smile. The effect with the spiky hair was unsettling. “Eve will be happy to help you.”