Page 40 of Hot Mess

“I am not enamored.”

“No, but you’re spending more time with her than anyone other than Blaire. Not that she counts, mind you, but the point still stands. But just think about how much time you’re spending with her. She doesn’t live anywhere near here, and I don’t want to see you or Arielle get hurt.” She looked pointedly at me. “I’m not trying to be a pain, but just take a breath.”

“Aunt Elsie, we’re friends. That’s all. She has nobody here and she’s having a rough time. I’m little more than a shoulder to cry on.”

“Child, don’t treat me like I’m yesterday’s pig shit. I saw how you hugged her. I saw how you looked at her. I’m not saying you’re in love with her, but you’re sure as hell attracted to her.”

I clenched my jaw. “Of course, I’m attracted to her. But that doesn’t mean anything.” Unless you get drunk and kiss them.

Thank God she didn’t know about that.

She held up both her hands in defeat.

“Aunt Elsie, I appreciate you looking out for us. I always do. But I would never intentionally do anything that I thought would hurt Ari. I’m not even concerned about myself.”

“And that’s why you haven’t dated.”

“Exactly. It’s easier to stay as we are now.”

“But you’re not. Huh, maybe you should date this girl.”

I rubbed my temples. “You’ve just spent ten minutes telling me why I shouldn’t be attracted to her, now you’re telling me to date her?”

She tilted her head to the side. “I don’t know. I like her. Is she moving here?”

“I think this conversation has been a whole lot of pointless.”

“I guess it rather has, hasn’t it?” She raised her eyebrows and headed in the direction of the door. “Anyway, thank you for the beach next week.”

“Yeah, what do you want it—”

Aunt Elsie slammed the door behind her, leaving me staring after her.

I sighed and sat down on the sofa, burying my face in my hands. I should have known she’d gone off on that tangent for a reason, and it had little to nothing to do with Elle.

It had everything to do with not telling me why she wanted the beach.

I blew out a long breath and scrubbed my hands across my face. Unfortunately, she’d had a point.

I didn’t date because of Ari. Not only was my time limited like I’d told Elle, but bringing someone into Arielle’s life only for them to potentially leave was a big factor.

And it wasn’t like there was anyone to have her while I actually carved out a relationship.

I couldn’t do that with her always around, not without her getting attached.

Which is what I now feared was happening with Elle. Emotionally, she was already attached to her on a level because she watched her videos. What I didn’t need was her getting literally attached to her, only for Elle to leave to go back to New York.

Selfishly, I didn’t want me to get attached.

If she lived close by, maybe it would be different. But our lives were built in separate places, and it wasn’t like she could up and leave New York, where her family was. She could no more do that than I could.

Was it foolish to continue spending time with her? Was it foolish to allow Arielle to get closer to her, knowing she’ll leave? To allow myself to?

Maybe the knowledge that she was leaving mattered. I didn’t expect her to stay here for very long, but I also knew that there was no way I could avoid her for the time she was here.

The problem was that the more time I spent with her, the more I liked her. The more I liked spending that time with her.

And that hit hard.

Because there wasn’t really anyone I liked spending time with.

But Elle…

I sighed.

Elle was funny. She was bright. Her laugh lit up an entire room without her even knowing she was doing it, and that was a terrifying prospect to me.

She was right. I hadn’t even wanted to like her days ago. I’d been determined to hate her, to keep her away, but there were people you just couldn’t do that with.

I hated that Elle was that person for me.

And I didn’t really know what to do about it all.

***

“How long is she staying?” Blaire tapped the ash off her cigarette into the ash tray on the step next to her. We were sitting on the back deck watching the girls play on the beach.

“I don’t know. She doesn’t know either. I haven’t seen her in two days. She hasn’t even been outside.”

She slid her dark eyes my way. “That’s kind of creepy.”

“It’s not like I’ve been sitting here with binoculars. The house is right there. It’s not like you can miss it.”

“Sure you can miss it. Just don’t look.”

“Blaire.”

She laughed, flipping her braids over her shoulder. She dragged on the cigarette then stubbed it out. “And you didn’t call her? Or text her? Or, you know. Go over there?”

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