Page 11 of Hot Mess

“Thank you.” Theo turned to the door once more and opened it.

“I didn’t know, you know,” I said, turning my attention to the large doors that overlooked the beach. “About the tape. I had no idea it existed until the world found out. But don’t worry. I’ll only be here a week, less if I can help it, and I’ll do everything I can to avoid your daughter.”

I had no idea if he looked back at me, but the longest moment passed until the sound of the front door opening and closing echoed through the empty house.

He knew.

Which meant so many other people in this town probably knew, too.

There was no escaping the hell my ex was putting me through, no matter how hard I tried or how far I ran.

Maybe a remote Amazonian tribe was willing to take me in. I probably wouldn’t last long in the jungle, but at least they could eat me when I died.

I sighed, looked at the eggs in the jug, and headed to take a shower.

I wasn’t so hungry anymore.

***

By the time I was done with my shower, my need for food eclipsed my desire to cook. I abandoned my egg mix down the sink, put the bacon back in the fridge, and pulled my wet hair into a braid that hung over one shoulder before I grabbed all my things and headed for my car.

Even though going out was the last thing I really wanted to do right now, I got into my car and used a passing space in the dirt road outside the beach house to turn around. The diner was only mere minutes from here, and I felt like a familiar face was what I needed right now.

I drove past Theo’s house and turned onto the road that was even worse than the one I’d just been on. If I made it out of Creek Keys without getting new tires on my car, it would be a damn miracle.

Finally, after far too long, I made it off the rocky, stony road and onto the regular road that would lead me straight to the diner.

Thank God.

I was ten seconds away from a puncture.

Minutes later, I pulled into the parking lot outside the diner and parked up. It was busier than yesterday, but not overtly so. I guess I was too early for the lunch rush and too late for the breakfast one.

Charity beamed the second she saw me. “Well, look who it is! Back for more food?”

My stomach rumbled, answering for me. I guess I was hungry after all. “Sounds like it.” I laughed quietly. “I just needed to get out of the house and didn’t know where else to go.”

Her mouth formed a little ‘oh’ of understanding. “Come take a seat up at the bar. Most of these people are just here havin’ themselves a coffee before they go to the beach, so don’t you worry.”

I followed her through the lively diner to the bar. She was right—almost nobody had food in front of them, except for a few little kids still making their way through pancakes.

I slid onto the stool at the corner of the bar and set my purse at my feet, accepting the menu Charity slid my way.

“Coffee, darlin’?”

“Yes, please.”

She turned to make it, and as it spluttered to life, she said over her shoulder, “So. What did Theo do now?”

I blinked at her. “Why would what he does bother me?”

“Well, you’re rentin’ his house, his daughter loves you, and he can be a bit of a prickly little shit if you ask me.”

I didn’t ask, but I did appreciate it all the same. It was nice to know it wasn’t just me.

I shrugged one shoulder, trying to brush it off. “It’s nothing, really. I’m having a rough time and I guess it just got to me a little more.”

“Right. On account of the issues you’re dealin’ with.”

“You know?”

She pulled the coffee mug from beneath the machine and put it down in front of me. Slowly, she raised one thickly drawn brown eyebrow at me. “Of course I know. You think I don’t have grandkids?”

“Actually, I thought you were in your forties.”

“Well ain’t you sweet.” She patted my arm. “My granddaughter is about the same age as Arielle and loves your videos. When she came to stay here two months ago, she wanted me to curl her hair exactly like you did in some tutorial. Her mama couldn’t get it right, bless her soul, but neither could I. Hooooey, let me tell you, those preteen tantrums are no joke.”

My lips twitched. “I’ll teach you.”

“And I sure appreciate that.” She winked. “So yes, darlin’, I know who you are and why you’re hidin’ here. Not that I think you need to hide. If you released it, good on you. If you didn’t, tell me where the jerk who did lives and I’ll sort him out for you.”

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