Late Bloomer by Mazey Eddings (Excerpt)


Chapter 1 OPAL

I feel, to put it delicately, like a dickhead.

And said dickhead feeling is becoming far too familiar. Comfortable, even. Like rewearing the same pair of sweatpants for six days straight without washing them because if I don’t leave my couch during that time, do they actually get dirty? (Yes, I know they do. Yes, I am mentally ill, thanks for asking.)

But life seems dead set on plopping me into situations that bring out my dickheadedness. I regularly and melodramatically flick through my memories in search of one specific moment I can point to as the start of the chaos.

Maybe it was the time I was trampled by a herd of alpacas at a farm when I was four, my sisters watching in silent horror as those giant furry caterpillars with legs created a lifetime fear of long necks.

Or perhaps it was at age ten when I saw The Mummy (1999) for the first time at a sleepover and had felt … felt a lot for both Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. I’d felt so much, in fact, that that same night I’d tried to kiss my best friend at the time. She had screamed and locked herself in the bathroom, then told everyone at school on Monday that I was a giant lesbo. Surprisingly, we didn’t hang much after that.

A more obvious moment would be the time I drunkenly—albeit hopelessly romantically—got my first boyfriend’s name, Sam, tattooed on my hip. Sam then dumped me two days later (on my birthday), and I sobbed while returning to the tattoo parlor—sisters Olivia and Ophelia holding my hands—and had the inky, cursive Sam changed to Sandwich ♥.

But, as I stand on the street corner outside my place of employment, Sprinkle, dressed in an inflatable ice-cream cone suit waving a sign that says TRY MY FRESH WAFFLE, I’m wondering if chaos is less a consequence of actions that sends a life careening off any discernible path and more a curse afforded to the unlucky at birth. And I am very, very unlucky.

Or just a dickhead.

As yet another pickup truck speeds by while blaring the horn, the driver leaning out his window to pick the exceptionally low-hanging fruit of a waffle joke (Urban Dictionary edition), my phone buzzes in my pocket. Poisonous butterflies erupt in my stomach, lodging into a dangerous clump of hope in my throat.

The last thing I should want is a text from my shitty ex, Miles. But knowing I shouldn’t want that and stopping my stupid little heart from earnestly cracking with how badly I want to hear from him are two entirely separate things.

I sigh, awkwardly stooping to lean the sign against the base of my cone body. Pulling my arms into the suit, I wipe the sweat from the back of my neck and push strands of orange-creamsicle-colored hair off my forehead before fishing my cell out of my pocket.

My heart sinks as I realize it’s the group chat with my sisters, confirming our weekly dinner plans.


Pizza or curry tonight?


The answer is ALWAYS curry

I blow out a raspberry through my lips, then force my mouth into a smile, texting back my order. Pocketing my phone, I waddle to the entrance of Sprinkle, the scent of ice cream and waffle cones smacking me even through the suit.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy Thursday night dinners with my two favorite people, but the tradition had sprung up from being miserably dumped by Miles and the excessive wallowing I’d done afterward. While eating curry and binge-watching The Real Housewives certainly does some heavy lifting to fill the gaping hole in my life since he broke up with me, the recurring dinners are still a reminder of how much time has passed since we split up.

And how the chances of getting back together are slimmer and slimmer.

It doesn’t help that I’m stuck in a nasty cycle of feeling depressed and alone, getting a text from Miles to “hang out” on a random weeknight, going over to his crappy apartment with his mattress on the floor and two drool-stained pillows (without a pillowcase in sight), giving him a blow job or some other form of lackluster sex, then leaving immediately after (read: getting kicked out because he has an early morning—I’ve never known the man to wake up before eleven), only for painful radio silence from him for the next week. The routine leaves me feeling even more miserable than before. Shocking.

Anytime I get mopey and weak—more often than I’d care to admit—and blubber to my sisters how badly I want to get back with him, they ask the super-fun question of what I even liked about the man to begin with.

It’s embarrassing how quickly it shuts me up. But, honestly, I don’t have an answer. How do I explain that he was physically there (except for all the times he wasn’t) and his smile was cute (but he stopped smiling at me sometime around the second week of us dating) and I’d sort of rather die than be alone (even if I felt lonelier than I’d ever been while in a relationship with him).

I squeeze behind the shop’s counter, then through the kitchen, trying not to run into any appliances as I navigate my way to the break room. The suit makes a shwloooping sound as the swirl at the top gets cut off by the doorframe, then pops back up as I force myself through. My friend Laney turns from where she’s hunched near the tiny window in the corner.

“Hey,” Laney says, taking a final drag on her joint and blowing the smoke through the open window.

“Hi,” I say as cheerily as possible despite my less-than-sparkling mood. People don’t like me if I’m not peppy and happy. “Power me down?” I ask, turning and waving toward my butt.

Laney’s footsteps clomp across the small space, and she flicks off the battery pack near the base of my cone, then unties the drawstrings.

I sigh in relief as I shimmy out of the nylon monstrosity. Despite it only being the start of April, the humidity in Charlotte, North Carolina, is smothering the city with a vengeance.

“Got something for you.” Laney tosses a folded envelope to me, and I fumble, then drop it.

“What’s this for?” I ask, stooping to pick it up.

“Belated birthday present,” Laney says with a bored smile.

“Aw, thanks.” I grin at her as I take a seat at the rickety card table we use to eat. My birthday was five weeks ago and Laney (and everyone else who wasn’t my sisters or parents) had forgotten … which wasn’t a big deal at all and didn’t hurt my feelings one bit.

“Course.” Laney perches herself back in her spot by the window and lights another joint. “So, I have a tiny favor to ask,” she says as I slide my finger under the envelope’s seal.

Laney always has a tiny favor to ask.

“What’s up?” I pull out the ripped piece of notebook paper from the envelope. It reads happy birthday in pencil.

“I know I’m the absolute worst to ask so last-minute but, like, I’m scheduled for a double today but it turns out the band playing at McNally’s tonight canceled and they asked us to play and it’s like, one of those things you don’t want to say no to because you never know when there might be someone important in the audience, you know what I mean?” Laney says, taking a drag, then fixing her features into a puppy-dog look. “So, would you cover my shift?”

My shoulders curl, a heavy blanket of exhaustion wrapping around me as I stare at the two creased scratch-off lottery tickets that Laney had stuffed into the envelope.

Laney is the lead singer in a band with Miles. It never really feels all that great to cover a shift for her to go hang out with my ex. I’d never admit it—mainly because I prefer to avoid conflict by bottling my feelings up so tightly I’m at risk of exploding like a Coke stuffed with Mentos—but it kind of eats me to pieces that Laney still hangs out with him. Especially since they only know each other through me.

And while I’m probably being paranoid, I have this awful, nagging sense that Laney and Miles aren’t just platonic bandmates either. It’s the oh-so-subtle potential clues of finding Laney’s thong in Miles’s car or her lipstick in his bathroom while he and I had been dating.

But those things weren’t hard proof, and Laney and Miles had laughed hysterically any time I had broached the subject.

“You’d be helping me sooooo much,” she says, giving me her most saccharine smile.

“Okay,” I say, forcing a smile back. “I could use the extra money anyway.” I wish that were the main motivation, but my dominant personality trait is pleasing others. I have about as much backbone as a cooked spaghetti noodle.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Laney squeals, putting down her joint to give me a hug. “You’re the best friend ever.”

This, at least, is true. I barrel through life like an overeager St. Bernard ready to rescue literally anyone by doing anything. Four a.m. ride to the airport? I’ll bring you coffee. Help moving? I won’t bat an eye if you take a three-hour break to scroll on your phone while I do the heavy lifting. Left your wallet at home by accident? Of course I’ll grab the check, and seriously, it’s fine, don’t worry about Venmoing me back. It’s all good.

Unfortunately, most of the people in my life have no shortage of things they need help with.

It could be worse. At least tonight I’ll be behind the counter scooping ice cream instead of standing on the corner in the extremely large and mildly degrading costume. When the previous cone maestro had quit, my boss had asked me to step in. Just for the afternoon. The afternoon had turned into three months of me in that suit.

“Are you gonna see if you won anything?” Laney asks, tapping her chipped nail on the scratch-offs.

“Oh. Yeah. Thanks for these, by the way,” I say, reaching in my locker and rummaging around for a coin. “So, uh, thoughtful.”

“Oh my God, don’t even mention it,” Laney says in a tone that makes the tickets seem much more extravagant than they are.

I take a seat and start scratching.

“I have this super-hot look for tonight,” Laney says. She’s a pro at unprompted monologuing. “It’s this mesh crop top that I’m going to pair with my checkered skirt.”

“Cute,” I say, scratching away the last corner of the first ticket and pushing it aside. No matches.

“I know! I showed it to Miles last night, and that boy’s jaw was on the floor.”

What a totally innocuous and not at all inappropriate thing for Laney to say about my ex!

“That’s great.” I keep my eyes fixed on the two adjacent squares filled with flowers and $500,000 I just uncovered on the other scratch-off.

“Mm-hmm. We’ve actually been throwing around the idea of touring a little bit this summer. Hit Durham. Asheville. Knoxville. Maybe even go for bigger cities like Atlanta.”

“Oh wow,” I say, my heart cracking a little. Miles and I had talked about doing a road trip this summer.

But I’m not going to think about that. Nope. Not going to let that hurt linger.

Not thinking about it would be a hell of a lot easier if I had anything else to preoccupy my brain with. But without some shiny stimulus, my thoughts stick on the hurt like an insect to fly paper, glued to the torture until it gives up in exhaustion, rotting away.

I stare at the freshly scratched square with a frowning rain cloud.

“I just think it could be so good for our sound for us to travel together. Explore the world more, you know?”

“Yeah, for sure,” I reply, blinking against the odd pressure building behind my nose and eyes as I scratch off another square. Probably allergies and not at all a tragically broken heart.

“And, like, maybe you could house-sit for me while I’m gone? Like water my plants and feed my fish and stuff? It would let you get out of your parents’ place for a bit.”

I open my mouth to give Laney my auto-response that I’ll help however she needs when my attention snags on the cleared card in front of me. I squeeze my eyes shut for a moment, then open them, my heavy heart suddenly beating a little faster. A little wilder.

This can’t be right.

Laney is still talking, but it’s an incoherent buzz with all the blood rushing in my ears. With shaking hands, I lift the piece of cardstock, almost pressing my nose to it as I scan the tiny print over and over again.

“Opal, did you hear what I said?” Laney asks, waving her hand in front of my face.

I blink at her, so rapidly little silver stars swim across my vision.

“I can’t cover your shift tonight,” I say, jolting up to stand.

“What?” Laney snaps. “Why?”

“Because I just won the fucking lottery.”

Chapter 2 OPAL

“I won the fucking lottery!” I screech, busting through Olivia’s door like the Kool-Aid Man on uppers.

Both Ophelia and Olivia scream. But in the terrified, home-invasion type of way and not the holy-shit-this-is-such-exciting-life-changing-news way I was hoping for.

“I think I’m having a heart attack,” Ophelia says, clutching her chest.

“You and me both,” Olivia responds, taking a generous gulp of wine.

“I’m sorry, but did you not hear me?” I say, shutting the door with my foot and bouncing into the apartment. “I. Won. The. Lottery.”

My sisters slow-blink at me.

Copyright © 2024 by Madison Eddings

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