“Like when you go to McDonald’s and the fries aren’t always as crispy as they should be.”
“Kind of like that. We complain about soggy chips, right?”
“They’re fries, Dad.”
“Whatever. Elle has to keep up an image because that’s what people expect.”
“And that’s why you were mean to her.”
“Yes,” I said ruefully. “That’s why I was mean to her. I didn’t know how different she was to what she put online, and I didn’t want you to meet her and be upset if she wasn’t nice.”
“But she is nice. She’s my favorite person.”
“She sure is, sweetheart. She’s a lot of very good things in one slightly clumsy package.”
She played with the apple stalk until it broke loose. “I heard Aunt Blaire talking to Uncle Alex.”
“She said she didn’t think you were telling Elle that you like her a lot because of me.”
I walked around the island and spun her on the seat, crouching down to her level. “Arielle, every single decision I make is made with you in mind. You are the number one person in my life, and I will never make a decision that affects you without fully thinking through every single consequence, okay?”
She nodded. “But I don’t mind, Dad. I like Elle, too. And if you want to kiss her, you should. Even if I think it’s yucky.”
I smiled, cupping her cheek. “Well, that’s good to know, sweetheart. Thank you. But it is a little more complicated than that since she doesn’t live here.”
“She could move.”
“Again, it’s complicated, okay?”
She sighed, but finally accepted what I was saying. “Okay. Can I go and see her today?”
I hesitated. I didn’t really want her to go over there, but on the other hand, I really needed an hour.
“Text her and ask her,” Ari said. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
At that, I grimaced. “I can’t text her.”
“I don’t have her number.”
I laughed, standing up. “Because I keep forgetting to ask for it. Oh, hey, Aunt Elsie left this box on the deck for you this morning. Do you know what it is?” I put the medium sized box on the island for her.
“No. I haven’t seen it. Can we open it?” She moved so she was on her knees, and I sliced the tape with a knife.
I pulled the box open and looked inside, then smiled.
Damn it, Aunt Elsie. The box had a few packets of seeds—tomatoes, peas, peppers, strawberries—and two big trays with propagator lids to get them started.
There was her apology for yesterday. I didn’t think the woman had ever said the word ‘sorry’ in her life, but she gave great gifts.
“Dad, it’s seeds!” Ari gasped. “And pots! Look, tomato seeds! I told her when she was here I didn’t have any seeds. Can we do it? Can I ask Elle if she wants to help?”
There was no getting out of it now.
“Sure. Go run over there and ask if she wants to help you. She might be busy,” I warned her. “So she might say no.”
“I know, Dad.” She grabbed the packets of seeds and ran to the doors, leaving just as suddenly as she’d appeared not too long ago.
I sagged onto the island counter with a heavy sigh.
I much preferred my life when the only women I had to worry about were Aunt Elsie, Maude, and Agnes.
Worrying about Elle and all the confusion that came with her presence in my life, and in Arielle’s, was going to end one of two ways.
Or a fucking nightmare.
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN – ELLE
I looked up at the sound of incessant knocking at my patio doors. I was not at all surprised to see Ari there, her hair still in braids. The black outfit was a little different that the bright ones I’d seen her in so far, but it was slightly overcast today in comparison to all the other days.
I held up a finger to indicate she had to wait for a minute and quickly rounded off my email to my publicist. After hitting send, I shut down the laptop and went to let Ari in.
“Hey, you. What’s up?”
She grinned. “Look what Aunt Elsie left me! Seeds! And pots! I already have some soil.”
Right. Theo had mentioned something about that before.
“Wow, they’re cool,” I said, taking the packets. “Tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, and peas. What a fun mix.”
“Uh-huh, uh-huh.” She took them back. “I really want to plant them but Dad said he has to work so I asked if I could ask you if you weren’t busy and he said yes,” she said in one big breath.
That was quite the run-on sentence.
“Sure. I just finished sending some emails. I have a little time.”
“Yay yay yay yay!” She jumped up and down on the deck, making it creak. “Okay! I’ll be right back!”
She darted away, down the steps and onto the beach before I could even blink.