Waking up with the sunrise, John could make out the various decorations of the bedroom. Along the western wall, several photos, including one of a young woman with a man much older , were hung. Even in the dim light, John could tell that this photograph depicted a young Lissie and her father. As the light that filtered through the window grew brighter, John confirmed his suspicions. The flaxen hair and the clear blue eyes were undeniably Lissie's. He looked at the man next to her.
"Lissie's father?" thought John.
"The man next to me is my father." said a voice.
Looking towards the source of this voice, John saw Lissie leaning against the doorway. She kept speaking.
"This was after he left France. By the time it was taken, I had grown up considerably. My mom kind of forced me into being the woman of the house while he was gone. Even with my father back, I couldn't revert to the little girl I had been before he left. See that cane in his hand?"
"He came back to the States with much more than just a guitar. I don't want to bore you with the details, but…"
Lissie choked up. John moved to comfort her, but the girl avoided his touch.
"I'm fine." She shifted her expression into one more staid. The tears welling up in her eyes did little to help this. Once she was able to calm herself, she spoke again.
"The chili cook-off is today. You should go ahead without me. It'll take me a while to get my stuff to the contest."
"Why don't I help you carry it?"
Lissie smiled and thanked John for his offer.
Walking side by side to the contest, Lissie's talk troubled John. He knew that she was trying to keep something hidden from him, but did not press her information. The two rarely talked on the way to the contest. The great number of heavy pots and pans weighed him down and Lissie only looked at John to make sure he was keeping up.
"Sure you don't need me to carry something?" Lissie asked.
Turning a street corner, John was able to see a large paved area. A great number of people were setting up tables on this area. Among these people, John recognized Bill and Martha Hodge, Matthew, and Mark Douglas. The latter two wore ribbons that proclaimed their positions as judges. As Lissie walked by these men, she greeted them and made small talk. John, standing some distance away, was able see the pair laugh at one of Lissie's statements. The girl beckoned John over to a spot near where Martha had set up her equipment.
"Hi, Mrs. Hodge." Lissie said.
"Hello, Ms. Grant." replied Martha. "Are you ready for your streak to end?"
Lissie grinned and said, "Don't worry, Martha, you'll get to win next year."
The two turned away from each other and continued to prepare for cook-off. Bill pulled John aside and spoke to him.
"John, I found out that David was able to fix his winch faster than he thought. He should be able to get your truck here by tomorrow morning. Getting it repaired is another matter. That will still take a few weeks."
"Thanks for doing this, Bill."
"Thank Dave. He's the one with the tow truck."
Bill started to walk away before John called his name. The man turned around.
"Bill, you've given me a place to sleep, food, and clothing. There has to be something I can do in return."
Bill walked to John and put his hand on John's shoulder.
"Just take care of Lissie. She's like a daughter to Martha and I."
"I assure you, Bill; I won't let anything happen to her."
Bill gave John an uneasy smile and walked back to the contest. John soon followed suit and saw that all the entrants were busy cooking their chili. Walking through the rows of tables, John was able to see each cook carefully measuring the amount of each ingredient and ensuring that their pots were at an optimal temperature. Several hours later, the judges at the edge of this area announced that cooking time was almost over. From his position, John spotted Lissie making last minute alterations to the ingredients in her concoction. Martha stood near her, doing the same.
After only a few minutes, the judges announced an end to the cooking time and began to walk through the rows of tables. Tasting each person's chili, they made short notes on small jotters. As the judges gathered near the stands of Martha and Lissie, they began to make small talk with the two cooks. One judge, whom John had not seen before today, exclaimed her love of Lissie's chili. The other two judges appeared please by her cooking, but were much more subtle. Martha appeared nervous with each judge's praise of Lissie's dish.
The judges returned to their table shortly after testing Lissie Grant's chili. The three judges soon tabulated their scores. Standing in front of the growing mass people, one of the judges announced the winners.
"For third place," Matthew began, "We have Scott Wilson."
John went up to the stage and accepted the small ribbon for his position.
"In second place, we have Martha Hodge."
Martha, somewhat happy with the position she received, feigned pleasure and accepted her award. Immediately after Martha was given her award, numerous faces turned to look in Lissie's direction. The girl blushed and pointed them towards the judges.
"In first place…"
Matthew paused. He looked at the sheet of paper in his hands and studied it carefully. The results seemed unsurprising as Matthew sighed and opened his mouth to speak.
Beaming, Lissie went up to the judges' table. Matthew shook her hand and handed her a blue ribbon. The entire crowd clapped for her, while some members hollered. Once Lissie had rejoined the mass of people, Matthew began to speak.
"Now that the judging is over, feel free to ask the entrants for some of their chili."
The only cooks that rushed back to their areas were Martha and Lissie. The other ten or so entrants shuffled towards the same areas as the rest of the crowd. Lissie and Martha began to dish out chili and smiles to each person lined up. The pair, who became much more amiable towards each other with the end of the contest, made small talk. Both appeared cheerful and laughed frequently.
John, who had previously stood away from the crowd, walked to the end of the line for Lissie's chili rather than the one that formed in front of Martha's pot. Both lines were almost equal in length. As soon as John came face to face with Martha, she spoke softly to him.
"I need to speak to you after I'm done here."
John replied, "I'll wait for you."
Lissie poured him a bowl and handed it to him. He walked away from the table and began to eat him. The spices nearly overwhelmed his tongue and his eyes began to water. After some minutes he finished the meal and looked over at Lissie. She was nearly finished serving the line that extended in front of her. As she poured the last bowl, she looked over towards John. They met eyes and both walked towards a more isolated corner of the area.
"John," Lissie began, "I'm sorry about how I acted before I left. It's just, that picture, it brings up a lot of memories."
John placed his hand on her shoulder and comforted her.
"It's okay, Lissie. I went through the same thing."
Lissie wiped the tears from her eyes and spoke.
"John, I need to talk to you someplace much more private than this."
She looked towards the crowd of people that had clustered around Martha's stand.
"Just let me get my pots."