Chapter 1Bright colors waved from every booth and ride. The fragrance of cotton candy, caramel apples, and hot buttered popcorn permeated the air. Children weaved in and out between the legs of strangers as their mothers yelled at them from what seemed like miles behind them to "Slow down!" and "Say 'excuse me!'" This was the first day of the fair, and it was already packed. The booth for the Adams County Youth Society, which sold handmade belts to fund their yearly activities and sold books entitled The Truth of the Freemasons: What They Refuse to Tell You. The Baptist Church was selling their own version of a spiritual diet cookbook, while the fire department from Jonestown was selling embossed boxes of matches.The entire fairground was alive with colors and noises. Children giggled on the merry-go-round while screams of fright-filled-delight came from the Ferris Wheel. Cheers rose up from the alley of carnival games. Everyone in Adams County was at the vibrant fairgrounds in Stevensville. It was a sight to behold.The women of the Adams County Knitting Circle booth were busy setting their wares out for all to sample. There was Alice Jackson's Peach Cobbler that would make a person want to slap their mama. Next to it was Mary Longster's Banana Crumb Cake that made a person wish Mary was their mama. Lizzy Singleton's cloth napkins with the fancy embroidery were arranged around the other ladies' displays. Wilma Nedding brought her cowboy bandanas. But the most popular item found in this booth happened to be the homemade preserves. Each brought woman a different type of preserve- blueberry, apple, cherry, peach, apricot, among some of the more popular ones. There was a total of fifteen entries for the preserve contest from various women who lived in the area around Stevensville, but only those from Stevensville comprised the Adams County Knitting Circle.Each one of the women worked all year long preparing for this event. They met twice a week to work on their various knitting projects, though none of the items knitted ever made it to the fair booth. The first year of the fair was the only time they had actually sold knitted items. Instead, the projects were usually completed right before the holidays to be used as gifts. Things simply weren't done by the July fifteenth deadline for presentation at the fair. Then, on New Year's Day, they began all over. Once again, they wouldn't have enough done by the fifteenth of July. It was a cycle that had been repeated for twenty-four years.As usual, the women were late organizing their wares for people to see, taste, and buy. It was all because Patricia Gregory, the wife of the local school superintendent, had overslept again; she was notorious for that. She was also the keeper of the key to the fairground booth, an honor she had held for the past ten years. Once, the group had tried to give the key to Alice, but Patricia threatened to have her grandchildren suspended from school. That particular knitting circle meeting did not end on a good note, but all was well at their next meeting when Patricia was confirmed as the holder of the booth key."Aren't you gals done yet?" Sally Scout's voice drifted through the crowd. It was heard long before her short body made its way to the edge of the crowd heading toward the midway. Sally, a small woman heavy with weight that comes from being sixty and spending most of the time sitting down while talking on the phone or watching the neighbors, was the source for all information in town. No one ever dared to call her a gossip, though. Her preference was to be known as a reputable source of information, not as someone who spread rumors. Her hair was pulled back into a tight grey bun that was always askew on her head. Never, in all the thirty years that she had worn it in that style had it ever been centered. Her bright green eyes continually darted everywhere, so absolutely nothing escaped her notice. Just minutes earlier she had spotted fifteen-year-old Naomi Jackson holding eighteen-year-old Bobby Ashley's hand. Boy, she couldn't wait to find a willing ear on that one. She hadn't decided whether or not she should tell Lizzy. She might have her sheriff husband arrest him for touching a minor.The women in the booth glanced up with irritation. Sally never showed up to help with the set-up or the cleanup of any event. She always dropped her stuff off at someone else's house the night before, usually leaving it on the porch for them to find the next morning. Then, she spent hours before the event wandering around gathering up "information." It never failed for her to question why everything was not done on time."Where are my gooseberry preserves?" She began poking around the jars of preserves, ruining the orderly set-up which Wilma had arranged. Eventually, Wilma ended the irritating search; she smacked Sally's hands away and quickly set them all back in order."If you had been here helping, we wouldn't be so behind now." Wilma was not usually so testy but listening to Sally admonish them all had proved to be too much."Well, I never!" Sally huffed as she pulled her hands back in shock. "What is wrong with you this morning, Mrs. Nedding? Did Mr. Nedding wake up grumpy?" She held herself tall, vainly attempting to be eye level with Wilma's five-foot six-inch frame. Watching a four-foot eleven-inch woman stretching herself next to the display of preserves caught more than a few eyes.Wilma snorted and didn't answer. She was trying to calm down. Alice stepped up to make peace. "Now, now, ladies. We are all friends here. Sally, if you want your preserves out in a timely fashion, kindly come back here and lay them out the way you want. Wilma, why don't you get the drinks organized in case someone wants coffee or milk with their food?"Sally respected Alice too much to waste another moment arguing. There would be time to gather information later. Now, determined to win this year's contest, she would make sure her preserves shined. It had been eight years since that blue ribbon had been hers.Alice smiled and nodded her head approvingly. An immaculate woman, she always desired peace. If a problem could not be solved in a few minutes, she spent days fretting. As the wife of the First National Bank President, she always felt that she held a position of honor and responsibility toward the community. Her husband guarded the town's money, and she guarded the townswomen's connection to their feminine side. Her always-perfect, short black hair was set at the salon each week. During these weekly visits to the beauty shop, her nails were also immaculately manicured. Never a wrinkle could be discovered marring the beauty of any piece of clothing she owned. Each article she wore matched and was of the highest quality material. Her makeup looked as though it had been applied by a professional. Alice's strongest desire was to be the woman that all the women in town looked up to, just as the world looked up to Jackie Kennedy. Secretly, she called herself Jackie.The day progressed with Sally, Alice, and Wilma working the stand until the fair shut down. Tomorrow would be Mary, Lizzy, and Patricia's turn. They each took full days so they could enjoy the fair the rest of the time and prepare to receive that blue ribbon.As the day came to an end, Sally disappeared just as the cleanup was to begin. She wanted to get out among the people as quick as she could since she had been denied that opportunity the whole day. Wilma and Alice sighed and continued cleaning. It didn't take them long before they were ready to lock up, but they had to wait on Patricia who had the key.Surprisingly, she wasn't too late. They locked up and headed home. There were three more days to go before the day for the big judging.
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