It Happened at the Fair A Novel Online - Deeanne Gist

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This year I celebrated thirty years of marriage with the love of my life, Greg Gist. As a young man, it was his fantasy to have a woman who would one day stay at home, raise his children, cook his meals, and be his helpmate. Well, I’ve definitely stayed at home, helped raise the kids, and even managed to cook a few meals. It’s the helpmate part that I seem to struggle with the most.

You see, I have ideas. Lots of ideas. And over the years, I’ve tried to turn those ideas into realities. I’ve done chain letters, Amway, 900 numbers (remember those?), started an antiques business, produced and manufactured parenting products, dabbled in journalism, and ended up settling into this profession of novel writing—all from the comforts of home.

I’d always seen Greg as being, well, tolerant of my many escapades. Until now. As I reflect on our thirty years together, I realize he has been way more than tolerant—he’s been downright supportive. He has done more than his share of carting kids to and fro, of hiring a housekeeper to free up my time, of blessing me with a lovely and comfortable home—as well as my current office, with floor-to-ceiling windows in front of me and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves behind me—of paying for all the aforementioned ideas (all of which have cost him not a little bit of money), of sharing his frequent-flyer miles, of bringing me flowers “just because,” of putting up with my eighty-hour work weeks when I’m on deadline, of giving up football games to sit through very, very long award ceremonies, and of taking charge of the household while I gallivant around the country to conferences and events.

So to you, my beloved, wonderful, handsome man, I say thank you. Thank you for being an incredible father, an amazing provider, a wonderfully romantic partner, and a staunch supporter of all my wild ideas. I love you so, so much. Happy anniversary, my sweet.

CHAPTER

1

Cullen’s eyes swelled to mere slits, his roughened cheeks itched, and a sharp line separated the raw skin on his neck from the skin protected by his shirt. It had happened every planting season for his entire twenty-seven years and it would happen for the next.

He yanked off his gloves, shirt, and undershirt, worked the pump, then stuck his whole head beneath the water. The icy stream stung and soothed all at the same time. He dared not dither, though. Those cotton seeds rode on the breeze and any exposed skin would begin to itch within a day’s time.

Rearing up, he combed his fingers through his hair. Water drizzled down his back, mingling with the sweat collecting between his shoulder blades. The hinges on the back-door screen squeaked. His stepmother clomped out, her plump body listing with the weight of the pail she toted.

“You ready to throw that out, Alice?”

She nodded, dirty water sloshing over the sides of the bucket. “I’ve got it. You get on inside. You know better than to be out here without a shirt on.”

“A few more minutes won’t hurt.” Taking it from her, he retraced his steps, tossed the pail’s contents, and pumped fresh water into it.

She stood at the door, her back holding the screen open. Her auburn bun sagged, as streaked with muted white as a song sparrow’s wing. “Come on,” she said. “Ya look a fright.”

Pulling off a boot, he glanced inside. His father already sat at the head of their hand-hewn table, shaking out his napkin. Three plates balanced across its slightly slanted surface. The table had been Cullen’s first attempt at making a real piece of furniture. He’d presented it to his mother on his eleventh Christmas, prouder than any rooster in the henhouse.

By the time he realized her other table was not only level but also nicer, she’d already passed away. She never let on, though—just stroked it as if it were made of mahogany and asked Dad if he didn’t think it was the grandest table he’d ever seen. Dad would give Cullen a wink and agree that it surely was. To this day, Cullen didn’t know what had happened to their good table.

“Ya gonna stand out there all day or cm in so we can eat?” Dad tucked a napkin into the collarless neckline beneath his bushy black beard.

“Coming.” Dropping his boots outside, he stepped in, plucked an undershirt from the wall peg, and pulled it over his head. At least his arms and chest still held a healthy glow. Two strips of