Page 5 of Hot Mess

“Don’t worry about him,” Charity whispered, leaning forward conspiratorially. “He’ll come around.”

I smiled weakly. “It really is only for a few days.”

“We’ll see,” were her parting words.

What the hell did that mean?

***

I took a right turn onto a road that wasn’t quite a road but wasn’t quite a dirt path. It was like if a teenage diet path—it wasn’t sure which one it wanted to be yet.

Theo’s truck was ten feet in front of me, and I winced as my car bumped over a large stone. My car was not cut out for roads like this, and the last thing I needed was a flat tire.

I didn’t think Theo would be too impressed if he had to give me a tow. He already wasn’t too impressed with how he had been strong armed into renting his beach house to me, and I didn’t want to piss him off any more.

I made the same turn he did into a gravel strip. Two houses came into view, and a glance into my rearview mirror showed three others about half a mile down the road. A strip of grass was just to my right, stretching in front of the houses that also bordered the beach. Golden sand mixed with the turquoise water as it crept up the beach.

Theo pulled in front of the house that didn’t have a pile of wood in front of it. I parked behind him and got out, only just avoiding hitting Arielle with my car door.

“Ari!” Theo yelled, shutting the door. “Slow down!”

She bared her teeth at me. “Sorry.”

“Coming?” Theo asked me, beckoning me with a nod of his head.

I locked my car and followed him toward the other house. Aside from the large pile of wood and others miscellaneous items outside, I never would have guessed it was being renovated. The outside looked perfect—white brick and light blue woodwork with deep blue tiles on the roof.

He glanced back at me as he pulled out a key. “I know what you’re thinking. It’s not this put together on the inside.”

Arielle popped up beside me. “Nuh-uh. But I like it anyway!”

Ignoring her, Theo pushed the door open and stepped inside. Arielle followed, and I ducked inside the dark blue door frame to the slightly dusty but bright house.

It was open plan downstairs, with a half-installed kitchen that stretched into the main area, then opening onto sliding patio doors that overlooked the beach. One half of the room was filled with various building items—big packs of laminated flooring, tins of paint and unopened packets of paintbrushes, boxes of tiles…

“Ari! Stop running in here. It’s not safe.”

That was reassuring.

The more I looked around, the more I could see what he meant. It wasn’t safe for a hyper little girl, but for an adult, it wasn’t too bad.

It was literally just renovations.

“There’s nothing structurally wrong,” Theo said, walking into the main living area where a sofa was covered under a dust sheet. “It was just time for a renovation, and with the season being so long, I needed it all done at once. Unfortunately, there are a few contractors who didn’t agree with me, and here we are.”

“They’re arseholes,” Arielle said brightly, drawing a heart on the dusty sliding doors with her finger.

Theo rubbed his temple. “I have got to stop taking work calls with her around,” he muttered. “Ari, get off the doors. Anyway,” he said, turning his attention to me. “The kitchen is getting finished this week and hopefully the bath will be done, too. Otherwise, it just needs cleaning and all those supplies are in the utility room.”

“I don’t mind,” I said, looking at him. “How much do I owe you?”

Ari did a cartwheel across the dirty floor and almost toppled into a stack of flooring packets.

Theo winced. “Ari has a dance class in the morning. I’ll come by when I’ve dropped her off.”

“Offt!” Ari rubbed her butt from the floor.

“That works.” I edged back.

Theo slowly nodded. “Ari, take my key and let yourself in at home. I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Aw, but, Dad—”

“But, Dad nothing. I can’t hear myself think while you’re over there pretending to be a fairy elephant.” He held out his keys. “Go now, please.”

She huffed and stomped across the room, then snatched the key out of his hand. He reached out and gave her a quick clip to the back of the head, one she squealed at before she ran off.

“Anyway,” he said, turning around again. “Like I said, needs a clean, but everything works. Except the bath—don’t run that fucking thing unless you want to pay to repair a hole in the ceiling.”

“I’ll pass.”

“Good choice. There’s not great service on the beach, but there is a WiFi code. It’s in my office, so if you can manage without it, I’ll bring it over with me tomorrow. If not, feel free to come over in about half an hour and I’ll get it for you.”

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