"Sweetheart, I know it's tough, but you can do this." He couldn't believe he'd called her sweetheart. He never used endearments, even with his sisters.
She rested her head against his chest for a minute then straightened. "You're right. Everyone is counting on this."
She led the way to the circle. People were already beginning to gather, placing food on one of the tables and setting out folding chairs. Jason brought out his and Lissa's contributions to the potluck spread, then joined her.
As soon as Brenda Stanley set food on the table, she crossed to Lissa's side and gave her a huge hug. "I'm so glad you did this. Honoring Jo. She was a special lady. We all missed it last year, but I understand. It was too close to losing her."
Lissa nodded. "I had to do it this year. I don't remember ever being this grateful for a thunderstorm."
Brenda rested her hand on Lissa's arm for a moment. "You heard from Janelle lately?"
Lissa shook her head. "We weren't really close. I think she and Taylor were friends. She might know."
Brenda nodded. "I'll ask her."
David Johnson tucked his arm in Brenda's and greeted Jason. "I hear you're own your own."
"Yep. Wanted to try working without office politics."
"Give me a call next week. I have an idea for building a couple of camps for spec on some land I own in the Hiram area. I'd like to talk with you about some designs."
Jason allowed himself a huge grin, the only way he could keep from doing a fist pump. "That sounds great. I'll be sure to get in touch."
As David and Brenda walked away, Lissa squeezed his hand. "Congratulations. That's really cool."
Before he could agree, Jack Thompson and Karrie Brady came over. Karrie gave Lissa a big hug. "I'm so glad you did this. I know how tough it is to lose a grandmother. It gets better, but there's always a hole left."
"Thanks. I know how important Lou was to you."
"She was my lifesaver."
As they walked away, Karrie slipped her hand into Jack's.
Lissa smiled. "Looks like they're a bit more than friends."
"Sure does." He looked around. "It's getting pretty dark. Time to light the fire?"
"Yes." She strolled to the fire ring and clapped her hands. "It's time to begin." She waited until everyone had gathered around. "As you know, we're here to celebrate Midsummer. But also it's a chance to cast away regrets. If you have a slip of paper that you've written your biggest regret of the past year on, toss it in the circle."
Pieces of paper, some folded, some crumpled, landed on the piled wood.
Lissa lit a long match and took a deep breath as she prepared to recite the words Nanna Jo had always used. She lit the kindling on the south side of the circle. "We gather tonight to celebrate the longest day and shortest night." She moved clockwise around the circle, stopped on the west side and touched the match to paper. "We release our biggest regret this year past." Moving to the next quarter of the circle, she lit the north side. "We especially celebrate lovers and those in love." Moving to the east side, she touched a final piece of paper and tossed in the match. "May Midsummer's Eve be an enchanting one for you, and may your dreams dance in the sliver dust the fairies sprinkle about."
Lissa retrieved the box holding the herbs and handed it around. Each person pulled out sprigs, tossed them on the fire and added a few words of their own.
Brad Jennings held up a hand and raised his voice. "Now that we've welcomed Midsummer, I have an announcement."
Everyone stopped chatting and looked at him.
He slid his arm around Taylor Winslow's waist while his daughter, Faith, took her hand. "Taylor has made me the happiest guy in the world and agreed to --."
The crowd erupted in cheers.
" -- marry me." A huge grin split his face as he finished.
Faith clapped her hands together and jumped up and down.
The women gathered around Taylor, admiring the ring, while the guys slapped Brad's back and congratulated him.
* * *
Lissa heaved a deep sigh of contentment. The Campfire Circle folks had returned to their cabins and lights glowed softly from the windows. Only Lissa and Jason remained by the fire ring.
Jason grabbed her hand, sat, and pulled her into his lap.
He lowered his head and kissed her softly. Her skin heated. Had the fire flared up? No. His kiss. She melted into him and sighed softly. His tender yet hungry kiss warmed her more than any bonfire. She skimmed her hands over his shoulders, around his neck and up until his hair tickled her fingertips.
A screen door slapped closed and Lissa remembered where they were. When Jason lifted his mouth, she knew that was only the first of many kisses.
She shifted and leaned forward to stir the coals one last time with the fire-stick Nanna Jo had always used, and sparks flew up. Lissa smiled. "I should never have doubted Nanna Jo's spirit would be with us."
(especially useful those years when you can't even give 'em away).
2 cups chopped zucchini (about 3 medium)
1 cup chopped onion (1 medium)
1/2 cup chopped sweet green pepper (1 small)
1/2 cup chopped sweet red pepper (1 small)
2 tablespoons salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons celery seed
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 cup cider vinegar
(If you want a bit more zest, add horseradish or hot peppers to taste)
In a large bowl, combine zucchini, onion, and peppers. Sprinkle with salt and cover with cold water. Let stand for 2 hours. Drain, rinse and dry thoroughly, either patting or wringing out liquid.
In a large saucepan, combine remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Add vegetables and let simmer for 10 minutes.
Pack the hot relish into sterilized, hot jars (leave ¼ inch at the top) and screw on lids
Process 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner.
Makes about 4 half-pints.