Ari grinned and held it out to her. “Here you go. You can borrow my spare one.”
“You are so lovely. Thank you. It’s perfect.” She dutifully took the bucket and spade. “Shall we go? Where’s the best spot for sandcastles?”
“It’s the sand! Not too wet, not too dry. C’mon!” She snatched up Elle’s hand and all but dragged the poor woman down the deck.
“Ari! Let her walk!” I called, closing the door behind me.
“It’s fine!” Elle yelled back with laughter in her voice. “It’s fine!”
It was not fine.
Elle, in keeping with everything I learned about her last night, tripped on the dry sand after a particularly insistent tug by Ari and landed on her knees.
At least it was sand. Not even Elle could hurt herself on sand.
“Good spot!” Ari plopped herself on the ground next to Elle. “Perfect sand!”
Elle looked at me and shrugged. I laughed from where I was, still several feet away from them. It wasn’t exactly the walk I’d envisioned, but Ari was happy, and I knew she was worried that Elle was sad.
She might not fully understand what Elle was going through, but she had the most sensitive little soul. She was still young enough to be ignorant of the cruelties of the world, and even though one of those had been shown to her today, she’d responded in the way everyone should respond.
Not with anger—not like me.
But with a good heart and kindness.
“What are you building?” I asked, sitting down between them.
“A sandcastle. Duh.” Ari rolled her eyes.
“Oi. Attitude,” I warned her.
All right. She mostly had a good heart. With a bit of attitude thrown in there.
It could be worse. She could be all attitude with a bit of a good heart, I suppose.
“I don’t think I’m very good at sandcastles,” Elle said, filling her bucket full of the damp sand. “They always break when I tip the bucket over.”
“You have to pat it own.” Ari leaned over to Elle’s full bucket and hit it with her spade. “Like that, you see?”
“Ohh, of course. Let me try.” Elle copied what Ari did. “Now flip it?”
“Yes! Quickly so it doesn’t fall out!”
“Okay, okay, okay.” Elle put down her pink plastic spade and, sticking her tongue out of the corner of her mouth, flipped her bucket. “Now what?”
“Tap it again.”
She dutifully did as she was told.
“Now pull it up! Carefully!”
Elle did just that, revealing a perfectly formed sandcastle.
“Yay!” Ari squealed and clapped her hands. She sent her spade flying right into Elle’s sandcastle and squished it. “Uh-oh.”
“Yep. Seems about right,” Elle said. “Don’t worry. Let’s do it again!”
The relief that covered Ari’s face sent warmth running through my heart. I fully agreed with the whole ‘never meet your idol’ ideology, but seeing my daughter meet hers was magical.
Also, the fact that Elle cared enough to give her the time of day and make her feel special only endeared her to me a little more.
I sat back and watched them play together. Elle genuinely cared, answering all Ari’s questions and talking to her about things I barely knew about. I couldn’t tell the difference between the ponies in My Little Pony and I didn’t really care about the monsters of Monster High.
Elle, however, knew. She knew. She cared. She laughed when Ari told her about the movie she just watched on Netflix. She asked questions about the book she was reading. She listened when Ari went on about how badly she wanted a puppy and how mean I was for not buying her one. She worked with her when she couldn’t get her moat deep enough around her castle, and she never once took a moment to so much as roll her eyes or act annoyed.
I rubbed my hand down my face and smiled when they both went down to the shoreline, Ari armed with a bucket for the seashells she needed to decorate her castle. They laughed together, and the sound of Elle’s laughter mingling with my daughter’s knotted my stomach.
I barely knew this woman. I’d only known her a matter of days and for half of those, I’d actively disliked her.
Now, I was finding that she was swiftly becoming someone I could see myself spending a lot of time with.
And, after last night’s ill-advised kiss, that was an awful lot of time in my mind.
It was crazy after such little time.
Maybe I was still drunk. That was the only logic I could come up with.
I glanced at my watch. It was getting close to dinner and judging by the way Ari was hanging on Elle’s every word, she wasn’t going to let her go anytime soon.
I jumped up and headed in their direction. “Who wants pizza?”
“Me! I want pizza!” Ari screamed, making Elle wince. “With potato wedges? And cookie dough?”
“Anything else you’d like, your highness?”
“Yes. A lemonade!”