Dirty Girl (The Hot Mess Series), Volume 1 by Chelsea M. Cameron

  Table of Contents











  “Could this day get any worse?” I asked myself as I tried to blot the coffee I’d spilled all down my most-professional pair of pants. They were grey, the coffee (iced, thankfully) was brown and there was no getting around it. I rushed to the Starbucks bathroom and had to wait for someone else before I hurried in and tried to blot the worst of it away. My phone beeped, signaling I needed to get back to the office ASAP, so I gave up after only a few swipes.

  “Fucking hell,” I said under my breath, as I tossed the rest of my coffee in the trash and bustled outside to head back to the office. I had my performance review and I could not be late for it. Right now I’d have to settle for being on time, but drenched in coffee.

  I hustled myself up the stairs and took a second to catch my breath before I headed down the hall to knock on my boss’s door. I’d been working here for a few years, since right after I dropped out of college. Sure, banking wasn’t my dream, but it paid the bills. I’d managed to claw my way up to managing our online banking app and it wasn’t awful. So maybe it made me dream of gouging my eyes out with a letter-opener (or sometimes stabbing my coworkers with it) but a paycheck was a paycheck, and living in Boston wasn’t cheap.

  “Come in,” Sandra, my boss, said. I shuffled into her office and sat down as fast as I could so she wouldn’t see the coffee stains.

  Sandra was one of those polished and prickly women that completely intimidated me. Just... every hair on her head was perfect. Her brown skin was always glowing, and she never had a wrinkle in her perfect skirts. She carried a designer bag. She went to brunch. She got her eyebrows microbladed. Her life was glossy and clean and beautiful. I was a hot fucking mess.

  Sandra’s brown eyes narrowed a little before she took a breath.

  “So, Blakely, you’ve been with us for three-and-a-half years now, correct?” I nodded and swallowed. I couldn’t read Sandra’s face at all, but my stomach twisted a little, like it had been grabbed by a large fist. Probably just anxiety.

  I hoped.

  “Your work with us has been good, and we’re happy to have you as part of the team.” She paused. That was not a good pause. “However, we’re reorganizing some departments and I’m so sorry to say that we’re going to be eliminating your position. The company is going to be outsourcing a lot of that kind of work elsewhere. I’m so sorry.” I didn’t hear the rest of what she said after that.

  Fired. Let go. Eliminated. It was all the same. I was losing my fucking job. I sat there covered in sticky coffee and tried not to cry. Somehow, I managed to get up, shake Sandra’s hand, and then go back to my desk. I looked around my tiny office and realized that I needed to get the fuck out of there. At least before I stabbed anyone, or had a massive fucking meltdown in front of my now-former coworkers.

  I grabbed my shit and texted my best friend, Lizzie, to meet me at our favorite little hole-in-the-wall restaurant for a drink. I needed one ASAP. And something with a lot of fried cheese on top of it. And chocolate. Someone needed to get me some fucking chocolate.

  I shut down my computer and didn’t even bother to say goodnight or goodbye to anyone else. I just left and headed to the closest T station. I was still completely numb about what happened. Maybe I had imagined it? But then I looked down at my coffee-crusted pants and realized, nope, I lost my damn job.

  My parents were going to have so much fun with this one. I could picture them shaking their heads and making tutting noises when I told them. They’d go on about my “wasted potential” and pester me, once again, to go back to school. To become a lawyer. Or a physical therapist. Or any number of “respectable” jobs they could brag to their friends about.

  I got off at my stop and headed to the restaurant. Lizzie was already there, because she was chronically early. It was a wonder how we’d become, and stayed, friends, but the second she saw my face, she got off the bar stool she’d been camped out on and gave me a hug.

  “What happened?” she asked as she brushed my hair back and then pushed a pomegranate mojito toward me.

  “I got fired,” I said and picked up the drink to take a huge gulp.

  “No fucking way,” Lizzie said, flipping her bubblegum pink curls over her shoulder. She worked in IT and looked like she just popped out of a vintage boutique. Today she was rocking bright red lipstick and a flirty dress with steampunk clocks printed on it. We weren’t the same size, otherwise I might have stolen it. Her curves were much more generous than mine.

  “Yes, fucking way.” I put my head in my hands and almost thought of banging my skull on the sticky bar top. Lizzie snapped her fingers.

  “Yeah, we’re going to need two more of these,” she said, pointing to our drinks. I looked over at her and I could feel the tears pricking the corners of my eyes.

  “Oh, honey,” Lizzie said, wrapping her arm around my shoulder. “You want some poutine?”

  “Fuck yes.”

  TWO HOURS LATER I WAS definitely buzzed, definitely caring less about being fired, and definitely full of cheese and gravy and fries.

  “So what are you going to do now?” Lizzie asked. I could tell she was seconds away from pulling out her phone and making me a plan of action on a spreadsheet. She thrived on organization. My life seemed to always be in chaos. I kept waiting for my adult skills to kick in and to get my shit together, but I was twenty-two and it hadn’t happened.

  “I have no fucking clue. I just... I wasn’t planning on this, L. I mean, I wasn’t planning on much, but I planned to have a job until I figured my shit out.” I sipped the glass of water that Lizzie had also pushed toward me. Waking up with a hangover tomorrow would just be the cherry on top of this shit sundae.

  “Hey, it’s okay. You’re still in shock. This is gonna take some time. And I’m here for you. Whatever you need. If you need resume help, or figuring out your next step. Okay?” She really was the best friend.

  “Thanks, L.” I gave her a hug and sighed. “Too bad I’m single, because now would be a great time for someone to break up with me.”

  “Or, maybe, you might get a fabulous new job and then find a fabulous girl or enby to date and fall in love and everything will be amazing.” Lizzie somehow combined being a hardcore planner with being an incurable optimist. Strange combination, but she pulled it off, looking fabulous all the while.

  “One can only hope,” I said, crossing my fingers and holding them up. It was getting late and I was completely exhausted. All I wanted to do was go home, feed my bunny, take a bath, and curl up in bed with a historical romance.

  “Listen, I’m going to head home,” I said, trying to wave the bartender over to settle my tab.

  “Don’t you even dare try to pay, Blake,” she said, smacking my hand away. I knew better than to fight with Lizzie. She could totally kick my ass with one hand tied behind her back.

  “Fine, fine,” I said, putting my card away. Lizzie gave me a contented smile as she handed over her card. The bartender obviously looked her up and down and she raised one perfectly-sculpted eyebrow. He grinned back and went to swipe her card.

  “Hmmm, what do you think?” she asked. “About him?”

  “The bartender? I mean, I guess he’s okay. If you like that waxed-mustache, hipster kind of vibe. But dudes aren’t my thing.” Lizzie tapped her chin, pondering. I was used to her getting attention when we went out. Her body always attracted attention, as did her freckles, her wardrobe, and her hair. Plus, she had an infectious
personality that could make anyone smile. I was lucky to have her as a friend.

  “Eh, I’ve been with guys too much lately. I think I need a break. Maybe we can both find girlfriends or partners of other genders?”

  “As long as I don’t start dating someone, bring them around and then they fall in love with you. Which has happened before.” I narrowed my eyes and she laughed.

  “I’m sorry! I can’t help it if people want to get with this.” She dragged her hands along her body and a few people in the bar definitely noticed.

  “Stop it, people are staring,” I said, but I was laughing. She just blew the room a kiss. I loved being around her “give no fucks, take no shit” attitude and someday, somehow, it was going to rub off on me. Hadn’t happened yet.

  “Come on, honey, let’s get out of here.” She signed her slip and slid it to the bartender with a wink, but then hopped off the bar stool and sauntered out. She sure knew how to make an exit.

  I stumbled behind her, still reeking of old coffee. Story of my life.


  “So, Bonbon, what am I gonna do?” Bonbon just wiggled his little bunny nose and looked up at me. I gave him another carrot and he happily chomped away at it as I put him back in his enclosure for the day. When I came home from work, I let him go wild in the living room, but during the day he stayed in a corner that I had caged off.

  He was a good companion, but he never really gave me good advice.

  “Thanks, bud,” I said, stroking his floppy ears. I’d gotten him in a fit of anxiety a few years ago when I’d decided I needed a pet. None at the shelter seemed to be right and then I turned and locked eyes with Bonbon and saw his black wiggly nose and gigantic ears and that was it. Love at first hop.

  Sighing, I headed to my bathroom to light a few candles and pour some salts into my bathtub. I was lucky to have found a place where I could live alone, but who knew if I was going to be able to afford this place now?

  Shit. With a groan, I shed my clothes and got into the tub as it filled.

  Even the scent of lavender that filled the room couldn’t calm my racing thoughts. I tried singing, imagining calming beaches, and then deep breathing, but none of that shit worked. Irritated, I got out of the tub and dried off, flopping into bed without bothering to get dressed. What was the point?

  Sure, I was getting severance, but it wasn’t much. It wasn’t like I’d worked there for thirty years or something. I was replaceable. Thanks, capitalism, you nasty fucker.

  I picked up my e-reader, which had been charging on my nightstand. I needed a lush historical romance to get lost in. They were nearly all tragically not queer, but I loved them anyway. Letting myself get swept up in the world of dukes and runaway horses and corsets was the first time I’d really relaxed all day. I wasn’t buzzing from the alcohol anymore, but I was doing... better. Maybe. I was probably going to end up waking up in a cold, panicked sweat at three in the morning. I just rolled myself in my blankets like a depressed burrito and tried to shut everything out.

  I HAD FORGOTTEN TO turn off my alarm the next morning, so I was up at my normal work time. Only... I wasn’t going to work. I didn’t have a job anymore. I finally broke down and let myself sob. Since I didn’t want to cry in my bed alone and naked, I wrapped myself in a blanket and went to find Bonbon. He was munching on his pellets so I grabbed some baby carrots from the fridge to give him a treat before I picked him up and settled him into my lap. He munched happily and I rubbed his ears as I cried.

  I still had to tell my parents that I’d lost my job. And figure out what the fuck I was gonna do to get another one. Knowing Lizzie, she was already making a list of potential places and jobs for me, because that was what she did. I wish I could be more like her. I’d tried. Many times, without any success.

  After wallowing for a while with Bonbon, I finally got my ass off the couch and into the shower. I seriously didn’t give a fuck, but showering was the first step of trying to give a fuck.

  “Get your shit together,” I told myself in the mirror as I brushed my teeth. And then I stubbed my toe and there was blood.

  “Fucking fuck!” I screamed. At that perfect moment, my doorbell rang. No way was I answering it with my toe gushing all over my tile floor. I ignored it, but then it rang again. Seriously?

  Grabbing a robe, I wrapped it around myself and limped to the door with my toe bleeding all the way.

  I looked through the peephole. It was a UPS dude. I didn’t think I had a package coming, but sometimes I ordered things and then forgot about them. I hoped this was a time where I’d ordered something really fabulous.

  “Yeah?” I said, opening the door. To his credit, the UPS guy barely blinked at my attire. I tucked my bleeding toe behind my other leg.

  “Are you Leah Masterson?”

  “No,” I said. I had never heard of that person.

  “Oh,” he said, looking down at the package. “Is this not 75 Elm?” I almost burst out laughing. He was SO far off. Like, not even close.

  “It’s not, I just smashed the shit out of my toe and I got fired yesterday so you’re gonna have to deal with this one on your own, bye now,” I said, and shut the door in his face.

  Rude, maybe, but I had other things going on. I heard the guy muttering to himself as I examined my toe. It had stopped bleeding, but I’d left little red drops through most of my apartment. Great.

  A FEW HOURS LATER, I had actually eaten something, put clothes on, and bandaged my toe. I was trying to get up the courage and energy to turn my laptop on and start searching for jobs. That was literally the last thing I wanted to do. My other job had barely been paying the bills and I didn’t have much saved. I didn’t really have a whole lot of skills and I didn’t have a degree. I had nothing.

  Nothing. I had jack shit nothing.

  “Fuck this,” I said, grabbing my bag. I wasn’t going to stay in my apartment with my bunny and feel fucking sorry for myself. No. I wasn’t gonna wallow. I was going to go out and treat myself to lunch and go shopping. I needed to blow some cash I didn’t have on some things I didn’t really need.

  This was one of those times I wished I had a car so I could just bail and head out of the city, but walking was good too. I put my headphones on and hit shuffle on my angry queer playlist. I didn’t have a job, but I had good music.

  BY THE TIME I MADE it to my favorite shopping area, I was sweating and starving, so I went to one of the fanciest places that I usually avoided and got myself lobster macaroni with a molten chocolate cake for dessert. I didn’t even look at the bill and put it on my credit card before strolling up the street. There were lots of clothing shops, places that sold fancy kitchenware, and shoe stores. I didn’t see anything that grabbed me until I saw a new place. A bookstore. A trendy hipster bookstore. Huh. I could go for that.

  I went in and a bell dinged above the door as it opened. How cute. The place was cram-jammed with books, floor to ceiling. They were stacked on every surface. They teetered in wobbly piles and stacks among mismatched furniture that looked like it had come from someone’s attic. I loved it instantly. A gurgling sound alerted me to the fact that there was a coffee shop in the back. Just what I needed.

  Suddenly getting fired didn’t seem so bad. I went to the back to get an Irish cream cappuccino before I browsed the books. The barista had wild multi-hued hair and a septum piercing. Cute. I tried not to blush too much as I pretended to be a human who was capable of basic functions.

  I grabbed my drink and headed to the romance section, which was strangely well stocked. How delightful. Glancing down, I noticed a pile of erotica books on a table. Score.

  I reached for one and somehow ended up swiping every single book off the table and onto the floor. I managed NOT to spill my cappuccino. Alas, as the books were falling, I yelled “fuck!” in the quiet shop and felt about ten pairs of eyes glaring at me in response.

  “Fuck,” I said more softly as I bent to pick the books up.

  “Everything okay?” a voice
said. I looked up from my crouched position into a pair of stunning hazel eyes. Oh, wow. I couldn’t speak for a second as I stared into them.

  “Uh, yeah?” I said, but it sounded like a question. The stranger with the hazel eyes and light brown skin leaned down to help, dark purple hair falling over her shoulder. She helped me pick up the books and when we stood up, I saw that she was only a few inches taller than I was. She had a white t-shirt and black jeans on, but looked so polished, I felt like a slob in comparison. Her eyebrows were also perfect. What was it about perfect eyebrows? They were too good for this world.

  “Blake,” she said. “Blakely Fox.” Okay, that was weird. How did this gorgeous human know my name?

  “You don’t remember me, do you?” she said, turning her head a to the side and smiling just a little. Fuck, she was stunning. If we had met, I was sure I would remember. I needed to speak. To make words happen.

  “No, I’m sorry,” I said, sounding a little breathless.

  “My hair was a little different then.” As soon as she said it, things started clicking in my brain.

  “Holy shit,” I said. “Quinn. Quinn Riley.”

  “Yeah, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

  Yeah, it had. The last time I’d seen Quinn Riley, she had been making out with my boyfriend (who I didn’t know wasn’t my boyfriend anymore) at Ashley Lowe’s pool party right after graduation. I had fantasized, more than once, about throwing her in the pool. I’d fantasized about throwing him in with her. It wouldn’t have had quite the desired effect because they’d been wearing swimsuits at the time.

  But seeing her and hearing her name had flipped a switch inside my brain and even though it had been several years, my blood started to boil.

  I blinked at her and felt rage tint my vision. I wanted to throw my cappuccino in her face. I wanted to pull her hair out. I wanted to scream at her all the things I’d wanted to scream at her when I’d seen them together.

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