Page 54 of Hot Mess

Shaking my head, I went back inside and grabbed my phone.

ME: Your daughter needs to come with a warning bell.

The response was swift.

THEO: Ah, finally, the elusive phone number.

ME: I got bored waiting for you to ask.

THEO: I kept getting distracted.

ME: By what?

THEO: By you.

ME: Worst. Line. Ever.

THEO: Worth a shot.

THEO: Are you sure you don’t mind? I’m pretty sure it’s too late for them to fruit, but at least the strawberries will come back next year. And it keeps her out of trouble.

ME: Arielle? In trouble? Surely not.

THEO: You would be surprised. If you’re busy, tell her no. Don’t let her guilt you.

ME: Oh, like you do, you mean?

THEO: Yeah, but I signed up for that. You kind of stumbled upon it.

ME: It’s fine. I promise.

THEO: Ok. She’s loading up her little cart now and she’ll bring it to your front door with everything you need.

ME: Any rules for babysitting?

THEO: What, like no sugar? I’m sure you’ll listen if I tell you.

ME: So let her eat a pint of ice cream while we plant. Got it, thanks!

THEO: ELLE

THEO: NO

THEO: NO ICE CREAM

THEO: OR SHE’S SLEEPING THERE TONIGHT

ME: Will you come with her if she does? ;)

I snorted and put my phone down to open the front door. Ari was there with a huge grin on her face and a little pink plastic cart behind her.

“Your dad did not make you tug that compost over here, did he?”

“It’s only a small bag. It’s not very heavy.”

“Here. Let me get it.” I ushered her inside and pulled the little cart inside. “Let’s take this to the back and we’ll do it there so compost doesn’t go everywhere, okay?”

“Yep!” She skipped through the house, leaving me to carry her beloved seeds and pots out.

I took the cart all the way through the house and set it on the deck. “You get everything out and I’ll get some water, okay?”

“Uh-huh.”

I stopped for my phone on my way into the kitchen and opened Theo’s text.

THEO: Depends. Do you snore? I’d hate to murder you before you’ve had a chance to find out that I am actually exceptionally charming.

ME: I just snorted so hard I think I sent snot into my brain.

THEO: I take it back, you’re the charming one.

ME: I have tried to tell you that.

ME: Your child is yelling at me. Gotta go.

I grabbed two bottles from the fridge and glanced again at my phone when it flashed the new message signal.

THEO: I know. I can hear her.

Laughing, I left it inside and went out to Ari.

“I can’t lift the soil.” She looked up at me forlornly.

“I got it.” I handed her the bottles and picked it up, then gave the cart a gentle push with my foot so I could put the soil down in that space. “Do you have a trowel?”

“What’s that?”

That was a no. “A tiny spade to break the soil.”

She shook her head.

“Don’t worry, we can use a spoon.” I went back inside and grabbed a spoon and some scissors, and I also grabbed the old-looking Sharpie pen from the cutlery drawer so we could label the pots.

Back on the deck, I used the scissors to cut open the soil, then got to work breaking up the compacted compost with a dessert spoon.

It was not my finest hour, and it took absolutely forever. Luckily for me, I had a talkative child to keep me amused.

“Elle, can I ask you a question?”

“Of course you can, honey. What do you want to know?”

“Do you like my dad?”

I paused in my stabbing and blinked at her. “He’s a pretty great guy, yeah.”

Slowly, she nodded.

“Why? Is this because you saw us in the kitchen last night?”

Ari sighed. “I heard Aunt Blaire tell Uncle Alex that she thinks the reason you won’t tell Dad you like him is because of me.”

Now, I really stopped. “What do you mean?”

“Because you’re worried about me.”

“Okay, Ari, listen to me.” I reached over and took her hands in mine. “I like your dad very much. He’s a wonderful person, but my life is not that simple right now. I really, really don’t know if I’m staying in Creek Keys or not, and I would hate to make a promise I couldn’t keep.”

“I know you don’t live here. But I really like having you here.”

“And I really like being here, but I have a lot of things to work out.”

“I wouldn’t mind if you kissed my dad. It’s yucky, but it’s okay.”

I smiled. “Okay.”

“And if you wanted to stay and get married so you have to stay forever, that’s okay.”

“How about we just stick with the tomatoes for now?”

She sighed. “I suppose. But what if you’re not here to see them grow?”

“Then I will give you my personal email address that is super duper secret and you can send me pictures every week. I promise.”

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