Page 20 of Hot Mess

The utility, however, was ready to go… bar the white paint that needed to go on the walls.

I opened my mouth to tell her not to worry, but she looked at me with a mixture of hope and a plea in her eyes, like she really needed something to do right now.

I exhaled slowly and nodded. “Sure. If you really want to, the utility does need painting.”

“I don’t mind. I said when you agreed to rent me the house that I would help where I could.”

“Can I help?” Ari bounced on the balls of her feet. “Please, Dad? Please?”

I shook my head. “No. You have gymnastics this afternoon.”

“But, Daaaad—”

“No. Miss Sheldon will be upset if you don’t go. You missed last week’s class. You begged me to go to the summer classes and I paid it all, so the summer classes are what you’ll do.”

She huffed out a big sigh and turned, stomping off back into the house, muttering something about unfair her life was and how mean I was.

You know, normal nine-year-old grumblings.

I knew she’d get to that class and love every second. Besides, the kid wanted to be a dancer when she grew up. While I knew that would probably change a thousand times between now and her tenth birthday next year, the two classes complimented each other right now.

Also, I needed to work, and her summer dance and gymnastics classes gave me the time I needed.

It wasn’t like I had anyone here to help me.

“Ignore her,” I said to Elle. “I’ll stop by and give you a hand when she’s in her class. She’s there for two hours and then she’s spending the day with a friend, so I have some spare time.”

“Oh, you don’t have to. I’m weird. I enjoy it.”

“No, it’s fine. It’s something I need to do anyway. I’ll come over when I’m done checking in with the guests in the other houses.”

Her throat bobbed, and she jerked her head in the smallest nod. “Okay. Sure. Fine.”

“All right, then. I’ll see you later.”

“Yeah.” She tucked another bit of hair behind her ear, smiled hesitantly, and turned in the direction of the house. “See you later.”

I watched her go until she disappeared up the back deck and into the house, leaving me alone on my own deck… to deal with a grumpy nine-year-old.


I pulled up behind Elle’s tiny little car and put my truck in park. I heard the music the second I stepped out, and I shuddered at the volume. A quick check of the beach showed that nobody was nearby, thankfully.

There was every chance I’d get a complaint. Some of the people who stayed in the houses brought their elderly relatives with them, and they did like a good moan.

I knocked on the door even though I knew it would be useless. There was no way she could hear me over the sound of her music, so I tried the handle and fist-pumped when the door clicked open.

There was a God.

He didn’t really listen to me most of the time, but that was what I got for asking for an easy ride with a daughter.

It was all on me, really.

I pulled the door shut behind me and stopped. The song clicked over to Sucker by The Jonas Brothers, and with it, came Elle’s singing.

It was the worst singing I’d heard in a long time, but that didn’t stop me having to fight a smile—and a laugh. I also hated that I knew that song, but that was what I got for letting Ari control the music.

I walked through the clean living room toward the utility room. The door was open, and once again, I stopped.

The room was no bigger than ten feet wide, but there was Elle, dancing in the middle of it. The countertops were covered with clear dust sheets, and on one sat a speaker with her phone right next to it. The speaker was the source of the booming music, and I covered my mouth with my hand as I watched her.

She jumped into the middle of the room, dipped her brush into the paint tin, and shook her hips to the beat of the music. The beat carried her to the wall where she moved her entire body in time to it. Her shoulders bobbed up and down one at a time, her hips jerked side to side, and she stopped occasionally to use the paintbrush as a microphone.

It was hilarious.

She had no idea I was here.

I folded my arms across my chest and leaned against the door frame. She was completely and utterly oblivious to my presence, something that didn’t change as the song changed to one by Little Mix.

I really had to stop letting my nine-year-old control Spotify.

Elle was covered in paint. I wasn’t surprised given that she was dancing more than she was painting, but she had it everywhere other than on the walls.

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