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‘We’re so sorry for your loss, Candice.” Mrs. Carmichael says, holding a tissue up to her eye.
“Thank you,” I reply. What else was I supposed to say? Death and grieving are a strange part of life that no one knows how to respond to. Since no behavior is particularly appropriate, I decide to just be quiet.
“What a tragedy. Your parents would be so proud of how you’re handling it.” Mr. Dunbar says, putting a hand on my shoulder.
“Thank you,” I say again as if I were echoing the same phrase again and again. In truth, I want to scream and wail, drop to the floor and have a fit like a 2-year-old child, but on the outside, I remain composed. The truth is that I feel numb.
The funeral is well-attended because my parents were loved in their small community of Sun Valley, Arizona. I remember a number of faces from growing up here, but I haven’t been back in a while. My move to Seattle seemed like a good choice at the time. I found employment as a caregiver, something that I always wanted to do. The cool, rainy climate was a great antidote for all the heat strokes I suffered from while growing up.
I had only been in Seattle for 5 years before this tragedy struck – more specifically, the drunk driver who struck my parent’s car when they were coming home from the movies at night. Being a caregiver taught me a lot about death and dying, but I’m wondering if I’ll ever be able to care for a sick person again, let alone be able to care for myself.
“You look so beautiful, Candice. All grown up.” Jacky Clausen says with a sad smile on her face. “I remember when you were only this high.” She adds, indicating about three feet with her hand.
“Thank you,” I say again.
In truth, I know that people have always found me pretty, but in an unassuming way. Now that I’m 25, I feel like I’m just starting to be comfortable in my own skin. After going through numerous phases of hair-dying and eyebrow-plucking, I’m finally just starting to let myself be. I have straight brown hair, and I prefer to keep it shoulder length. I’m told my green eyes change colors with the seasons, morphing from emerald to a leafy green depending on the light outside. Basically, I know that people like my face, but I think its kind of boring.
“A little bird has told me that you might be moving back to us,” Jacky adds. “You’re always welcome to the flower shop.” Jacky Clausen owns a flower shop right in the middle of town, and it is a marvel that she stays in business, considering how challenging it is to keep flowers alive out in the middle of the desert.
“I think I’m going to look after the house for a while,” I say. In reality, my parent’s little house will get eaten up by the desert in no time if no one is there to care for it, and since the house officially belongs to me now, it seems like a good idea to stay there, and maybe start over.
For however much I’m an excellent caregiver, I have to admit I’m not good at caring for myself. I deteriorated in Seattle, mostly from late nights, lack of sleep, poor choices, and a little bit of self-destructive behavior. I’m beginning to wonder if it is my way of compensating for seeing death and sadness all day.
I’m relieved when the funeral is done. The services have been beautiful, and so many people have lovely things to say about my parents, but I feel exhausted, and can’t repeat ‘Thank you’ one more time.
The house is silent after the reception. Friends left me with so many trays and containers of food that I am sure that I won’t have to go grocery shopping for a month, or more. I find the silence eerie at first, but then I am comforted by it. I walk down the halls, looking at old pictures on the walls. There is a great shot of my parents on their honeymoon, beaming at one another. A picture of me playing in a sprinkler when I was 7. I can remember that day vividly because the sunburn that I got made my skin blister and peel. I never learned about sunscreen until I was at least 15.
I try to occupy myself, by reading books and watching movies. I go for walks in the desert in the evening when it is cool. My parents’ little house is surrounded by a lot of land, and the nearest house is at least a five-minute walk away. I try redecorating and getting rid of old things that have piled up over the years. I even pick up an old knitting project, and that’s when I realize I have too much time on my hands.
Walking down Main Street, I peer into the shops. Although the town is pretty quiet, Main Street is where all the action happens, and it is where people meet and socialize. Across the street, I see the Southwest Diner, a place where I used to love eating pancakes when growing up. Feeling a little hungry, I cross the street to see if there might be a seat at the counter.
I look through the window and see that the diner is completely packed, which is no surprise for a Sunday morning, but then my eye catches a piece of paper in the window.
‘Now Hiring – Friendly Waitress’
The timing is perfect. I need a job and mostly crave some distraction. I step into the diner and am greeted by the hostess.
“May I help you?” She asks.
“Yes, is that job still available?” I say.
“Wait, are you Candice Salt?” The girl asks.
As it turns out, the we had gone to high school together. I had never been great friends with Iris Smith, but it is nice seeing someone that I know from the past. Needless to say, I land the job that very day, and in no time, I am waiting tables like a pro.
Working at the diner turns out to be the best thing imaginable for me. It keeps me busy, and I am free to take as many shifts as I want. When I’m having a hard time dealing with the silence at home, I simply call-in to the diner and see if they need an extra hand.
They serve traditional diner fare, but the quality is actually really good. Winston, the big, barreling cook behind the counter had been at it since I was a child, and he is good at what he does. The omelets are never over-cooked or runny, the pancakes are always fluffy, the burgers always cooked to the customer’s tastes, and the fries are perfectly crispy. I find that for the first time in a while, I’m almost happy.
“Looks like the circus has come to town,” Iris says late one afternoon, peering out the window at the cavalcade coming down Main Street.
“What the hell?” Winston says while wiping his hands on his apron. Sure enough, a parade of wagons and trucks is coming down the street, with various banners, streamers, and colorful lights. It does look like a traveling circus, and instantly I feel myself smiling.
“I used to love the circus as a kid. But it never came to Sun Valley. We had to go to Tucson.” I remember. In truth, our town is too small and funky for any kind of Carnival to come through it. Some even believe that our town is prone to the ‘desert spirits’, creatures that are said to create the weird phenomenon that only happen amid a sea of sand and cactus. I can remember weird lights in the sky at night, dust storms that were mysterious and terrifying, as well as funny creatures that seemed unreal and alien-like. But as a kid growing up in the desert, those things were more exciting than they were scary. The kids of Tucson never had that much fun, I thought.
There is an empty lot on the far end of town, and that’s where it seems that the trucks and vans are going. The lot is really only ever used for Fourth of July barbecues and small concerts put on by the nearby high school..
“Okay, we have one more hour to go. Look alive.” Winston says, moving the girls away from the window. The Diner closes every day promptly at 5pm. It isn’t like the people of Sun Valley to go out much for dinner, so there is never any sense in keeping the diner open.
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Ashley Hunt gained her Philosophy degree in Denver, Colorado at The University of Colorado. She made Denver her permanent home when she married her college sweetheart. Married six years the couple has a five-year-old daughter and a yellow Labrador named Oodles. Living in the shadow of Gray’s Peak proves to be inspirational to Ashley as she sits at her desk in her home office where she writes her Romance stories and can merely look out the window to renew her creativity. She strives to make stories with beautiful scenery and intriguing plots. Heroes with great strengths, physical and mental, she pairs with strong heroines who test their limits. In the end, finding deep, passionate love. The way she thinks every relationship should be.
Sun Valley: an isolated village in the middle of the desert Candice: a young woman, quite curvy and beautiful who came back to be presented to her parent’s death. She decides to stay there and start a new life. A new and quite peaceful life without problems. Some plans are not meant to be followed... A carnival arrived at the town but it is not what it seems... The name of it? ‘The Carnival of Cursed Souls’ Luke: a ridiculously handsome wrestler who has got something hidden. Both of them are interested in each another but nothing is as simple as they thought. What does Luke hide? Who is in reality? Did Candice found her other half or she is missing something?