Page 47 of Hot Mess

“Miss Good And Wholesome on her video channel likes wildly inappropriate jokes?”

“Sure. I’m hanging out with you, aren’t I?”

His tongue flicked out and wet his lips, and he rolled his lower lip between his teeth, staring at me.

“If you’re trying to look unamused, you should tell your eyes. You have a dreadful poker face,” I told him, standing up straight. “Remind me to play you sometime.”

He dropped his chin to his chest, and his shoulders shook with silent laughter. “Dear God, what am I doing here?”

“Ah, you found God. You’ll need him for those teenage years.” I grinned again. “I’m hungry.”

“Whiplash,” he muttered. “Same. Do you want to order something?”

“Ooh, dinner three times in a week.” I wiggled my eyebrows. “For someone who doesn’t date, that’s a lot of dinners.”

“Are we dating? I don’t believe it was discussed.”

“We are not, I was just making an observation. Also, I was going to cook. How do you feel about chicken?”

Theo slid onto one of the stools and pulled off his shirt. “Your observation would be correct. But the fact we’ve kissed twice puts us into murky water, don’t you think? As for the chicken, perfectly fine dead, but not a massive fan of them alive.”

I pulled chicken out of the fridge. “It certainly clouds it, but I don’t know that either of us one: know each other well enough to say we’re dating or two: are ready to do such a thing right now. Good to know on the chicken, but why don’t you like them alive? They’re cute. In a weird way.”

This two-part conversation was oddly amusing. And the whole dating thing? Totally less awkward when you were also discussing live chickens.

One day, when I wrote my autobiography, this would be the conversation I’d write where I would note that this was the moment I realized that Theodore Dalton was under my skin, and quite possibly fast-tracking his way into my heart.

“I think post your points are valid concerning dating. I think we know enough to discuss whether we would like to quietly pursue something without the knowledge of Ari, and by pursue, I mean see what happens naturally.” He flipped the cap from his water bottle. “I got chased by a chicken when I was on a school trip when I was seven. Thing chased me for five minutes before the farmer stopped it, and ever since then, I haven’t really cared for them.”

I sliced open the chicken breasts and threw them into a bowl to season with salt, pepper, and garlic. “Naturally is certainly something I would be open to discussing,” I said, like I was discussing a change in my hair color or something. I almost giggled at the formality of the conversation, but I was having too much fun. “How realistic do you think it is to keep it from your daughter? And with the knowledge that I might yet go back to New York? And I completely understand your trepidation regarding the chickens. They can be scary little fuckers.”

“Well, as of this moment, you’ve admitted that your plans to return home are up in the air right now. You’re here for another month, right?”

Okay, we’d dropped the chickens.

I washed my hands in the sink and nodded, looking over my shoulder. “It’s kind of like a vacation, and I haven’t had one of those in two years. Besides, if I’m going to create some new content, it’s not like I have to be in New York to do that.”

“That’s what I’m counting on.”

“What is?”

“The fact that you don’t have to be in New York.” He met my eyes as I dried my hands with a towel. “Maybe, in the next month, you might find more than one reason not to go back.”

I paused, hands wrapped in the towel, and smiled ever so slightly, almost shyly.

He had no idea how right he was. Every day, I found another reason to stay.

I’d been here ten days.

It was terrifying to connect with a place and the people who lived there so quickly.

“How do you feel about zucchini?” I pulled out one out of the fridge and held it up.

He raised an eyebrow. “That’s a courgette.”

“No, it’s a zucchini.”

“I call it a courgette.”

“Poor zucchini. What did it ever do to you, Theodore?”

He sighed. “In the UK, that’s a courgette.”

I looked at the zucchini. “Why don’t you call it a zucchini?”

“Because it’s a courgette.”

I opened my mouth to respond to that, but I had nothing. “Well, do you like it? Whatever it’s called?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” I put it back in the fridge. “Do you like cheese?”

“What kind of bloody question is that?”

“Some people don’t like cheese. Maybe you don’t eat it. Vegans don’t.”

“Elle, if I’m eating chicken, I’m not a vegan.”

Excellent point.

“Oh, whatever. Shut up.”

He grinned, and my stomach fluttered like a hoard of butterflies had just been released into it.

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