3. A Splash of White

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It had been two weeks since the Grace girls had arrived in town. Elle had barely made any friends besides the neighbours, and worse yet, she'd hardly thought about what she wanted to do there. She gawked at the array of flyers on the community notice board, some infringing over others with their pre-cut flaps of contact numbers. Many sought roommates. Others sought second-hand books or cheap whitegoods.

"I can help you, Mummy?" Maya tugged eagerly at Elle's sleeve.

"Not sure how. Find mummy a job and then we'll talk." She peered at the board as several teens slithered past them on that hot day with ice cream melting down faster than they could lick. "There's nothing on here," she grumbled, fishing out a note from her bag. "What you say we get ourselves a treat?"

Maya giggled. "Not with that."

Elle glanced at the paper in hand, a worn out pamphlet of some kind that had deteriorated into several pieces in her bag. "I'm sorry." She took Maya's hand and walked into the café. "This definitely calls for ice cream."

Elle sipped her coffee as Maya dug into her banana split as they sat in the darkest, corner booth. It wasn't long before Connie, co-owner of the café walked over and handed over a bundled up newspaper. "You look like you could do with some entertainment."

"Wouldn't be hiring anytime soon, would you?"

"A city girl in a country café?" Elle cracked a smile. "Ever worked in a diner before?"

"I waitressed for a bit out of high school."

"Mummy takes really pretty photos," Maya scoped a huge dollop of ice cream into her mouth.

"Now there's an idea!" Connie turned to Elle with glee.

"I was an events photographer a long time ago before Maya was born." Elle shrugged, pushing back Maya's hair from her face. "It's not nice to interrupt, honey."

"Never mind her," Connie said, shaking her head. "Gregory has a shop for rent across the street if you need. I can get you in touch with him. He wouldn't have a problem renting the place to you." Connie leaned in closer and lowered her voice. "We could honestly do with a professional studio of our own."

Elle hesitated. "Studio's a big deal."

"If I can do anything other than a waitress, I would do it," Connie blurted, "but yeah, I could use some help catering a wedding next week." Elle drank the last of her coffee and nodded. "I can't pay you much, just the minimum."

"Done."

Connie nodded, picking up the coffee cup as she did. "Well then, I'll see you Friday afternoon at 2."

Walking home, Elle couldn't help wonder what if. She had had a studio in Sydney before everything crumpled and she moved back home in a mess. Why couldn't she go back to doing what she had always loved?

"You going to take photos again, Mummy?" Maya startled her.

"We'll see, hun."

"Daddy says you are bestest."

"Yes, well, Daddy's not here anymore," Elle hadn't meant to snap.

"I want him to be! I want Daddy back!" Maya shouted, teary-eyed, and sprinted into the house.

Elle stepped through the threshold, feeling every bit horrible. She wasn't the only one who was missing Blake. "Maya, honey. Are you okay?" she poked her head into the room and found Maya cuddling, Teddy, the tan teddy bear Blake had given her on her second birthday, just months before his death.

"I miss Daddy."

"So do I, but Daddy never liked seeing you sad, did he?" Elle sat down on the bed and scooped Maya into her arms. Maya shook her head. "Then wipe those tears." She kissed the top of her head and reached over the nightstand and grabbed the book they'd been reading the night before. "You remember where we got up to last night?"

Maya buried her face into Elle's stomach with a shake of her head, her little hands clinging to Elle's sides. "Shhh. It's going to be okay. I promise," she rocked back and forth slowly.

Elle couldn't tell how long she'd been sitting. Maya had fallen asleep a while back as the day slipped into the night slowly. She laid Maya's head down gently on the pillow and put a blanket over her. Elle stared at her daughter, a striking likeness of Blake. It was a struggle to be without him as it was without the constant glimpses of his gentle eyes in her daughter's.

Alone on the couch in a dark room, with the television twittering away, Elle leafed through various photo albums. Blake had always encouraged her photography. Over a couple of years, her business as a wedding photographer had picked up like crazy forcing her to schedule everyone. What a waste it seemed now. All those years of taking her family for granted, taking Blake for granted. Now that she had all this time on her hands, the one person she'd kill to be with was gone.

She reached for another album and laid it on her lap, her fingers trembled over the splash of satin white cover. She knew this album well and her breath caught in her throat. She flipped to the first photo and marvelled at the happy newlyweds staring distractedly at the camera with brilliant smiles.

Every photo seemed to dance before her eyes as she recalled the laughter of merry voices, the clink of wine-filled glasses. To think it was only eight years ago. Elle blinked dry the tears and flipped to the next photo and the next. Her eyes searching for a face in the crowd.

Blake's soft laughter sounded in her ears as fresh as it had been that day. "What say we send everyone home so it's just you and I today?"

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she smiled. "Yes, I'd like that." She flipped another page and Blake found her again, his ever-present smile gleaming at her. So absorbed in them was she, that the vibrating phone at her feet went unnoticed for quite some time. The third call was when she reluctantly she answered it.

"Elle!" Came an excited scream that forced her to pull the phone away from her ears.

"Hey, Chloe."

"Hey, yourself. What took you so long? I've been trying to get a hold of you for twenty minutes. I'm lost and need you to give me directions. Stat!"

"What are you up to?"

"Essentially, my GPS sucks and now I'm stuck in a strange town and nowhere to go and the signal has decided to drop on me."

"What are you doing in a strange town then?"

"Well, I was planning to surprise you and my little girl, but sod it; I need your address again. Or do you want me to turn back around and go home?" Chloe said.

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