It was the warm summer evening to another beautiful day in South Socapa and I could not have been in any worse of a mood. I had just closed out the chat log of my latest tutoring session and was, once again, not a cent richer for my time. I kicked back in my chair and contemplated for the umpteenth time just dropping the idiot from my schedule. And then sighed for the umpteenth time as I begrudgingly decided against it. He wasn’t a bad kid, just stupid unreliable. When he did pay it was great, but in the last few months, his payments had all been either late, short, or non-existent. And the biggest problem of all: if I quit on him, I didn’t have any other students.
I slunk out of my bedroom and into the kitchen, searching for something to feed my feelings. Aside from a jug of water and an egg carton full of broken shells, however, the fridge was, of course, empty. I let out an anguished groan of defeat and sunk to my knees. Across the breakfast bar in the living room, my roommate Skylar was sprawled out on the couch, dinking away on his phone. Beyond him, an old man with a defibrillator was on the tv, getting his arms bitten off by another guy’s tummy-mouth in Jazz Carpenter’s The Thing. Somehow, the ensuing screams seemed appropriate to my current state of being.
“Hey, Jaime,” Skylar said.
“What?” I grumped from the floor. He sat up and propped his elbows on the back of the couch, a curtain of dark fringe falling into his eyes as he looked down at me quizzically.
“Sooooo, Devon’s back in town. Her band landed a gig at the Rialto. She’s got comp tickets for us if we want to come out for it.”
“No thanks,” I said, eyes rolling to the ceiling.
“They’re not the only band playing, you know. They’re just the opener.”
“Yeah, that’s cool and all, but I’ve had enough.” I stood up and grabbed my keys from the counter. “It’s hard to pretend to like someone when they keep making your friends unhappy.”
“I’m not unhappy,” he said, almost more to himself than to me.
“Not now, you’re not,” I scoffed. “But seriously though, why do you keep going back to her? You do realize you’re just a booty call, right?”
“It’s… complicated,” he said.
“Complicated,” I echoed with a deadpan stare.
He sighed and flopped back down. “You wouldn’t understand.”
My eyebrows shot up. “Because I’m andi?”
“No, I mean, that’s—” he stammered and sat up quickly. He was backpedaling and he knew it. “Look I didn’t mean it like that, okay?”
“Yeah, you did.” I probably said it with a touch more venom than I meant to, but Skylar was the last person I wanted to hear that shit from. And it was shocking too. He, more than anyone else, knew how I felt about my situation. But obviously, not even my best friend in the entire world could think of me as anything more adult than an innocent little lamb.
I let the door slam on my way out. Skylar may have said something more before I left, but I was no longer listening. I was tired of it. Tired of being sheltered and patronized and treated like a child. Not to mention a broke, hungry, frustrated child.
I stalked out of the apartment with no particular destination in mind, and ended up at the convenience store on the corner. I just needed a coffee or a hot pocket or something. The glass coolers at the back offered both, and as I grabbed the goods, the adjacent alcohol case caught my eye. I’d had sips off my parents’ drinks before, but never actually had one for myself. Not for a lack of trying that is, but rather, andies don’t get invited to those kinds of parties. Just another example of how my situation makes people uncomfortable. I stared at the cans for a second, seething, and then thought to myself, you know what, fuck it, I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna buy a fucking a beer. It’s within my right.
I pulled out some colorful IPA I’d seen Skylar drink before and marched it up to the register with a burrito and a can of iced coffee. The cashier, a guy who looked like he was barely of age to even be selling alcohol, hit me with a skeptical look as I put the items on the counter. He rang up the burrito and the coffee and put them in a bag, then pushed the IPA off to the side.
“Hey excuse me, I brought that up here to buy it,” I said.
He sighed. “Yeah, I’m not in the mood for jokes.”
“Neither am I.” I whipped out my ID and shoved it into his face. “I’m twenty-one.”
The cashier, who’s bright yellow name-tag read ‘Hi, I’m Shelby!’, scoffed but took the card anyway. His eyes flicked from the card to me and back again. “Real funny, kid. Get out.”
I snatched my ID back from him before he could pocket it. “It’s real!” I shouted. I was so angry I was shaking at this point. I slapped some cash down onto the counter, grabbed the bag, and walked out, sans IPA.
I started back to the apartment, but could already feel the tears of frustration welling up inside of me. I didn’t want to go back there just yet, not while I was still mad at Skylar. I had to cool down first or else I just knew I was going to snap at him.
The sun was still clinging to the horizon, and overhead the last of rays of the day kept the sky bright and clear. I dropped my bag onto a picnic table at the edge of a playground and sat myself down. It wasn’t the most peaceful place to chill since there were about five or six rowdy kids crawling over the plastic jungle gym nearby, but it was better than the awkward conversation I’d have to face by going home.
The burrito was tepid at best, though the coffee made up for it, and I munched at the soggy bean sack with a stark determination not to think about Skylar or Shelby or my place in the world. Much good that did me though, as I picked through the bundle of advertisements at the bottom of the bag my purchase had come in. There were three card-stock fliers along with my receipt, and one of them was white and orange with a picture of a sleepy looking cartoon egg on it. The egg creature held a daisy in its hands and had a speech bubble over its head, which read:
‘Tired of waiting? Ready to start your new life NOW? BLOOM TODAY at SunnySide Clinic!’
“Pfft, I doubt it.” I wrinkled my nose and flipped the card over.
‘Are you a late bloomer? Take control of your life by participating in our state of the art research program, at no cost to you! Interested? Call or visit today!’
The last bite of burrito was a hard swallow, and I sat staring at the flier for a silent moment, digging my heel into the dirt. No cost. Take control. Shoot, this shit was practically made for me.
There was a shriek as one of the kids fell off the jungle gym and landed with a thud onto the sand pit below. Parents and kids alike rushed over to check on them, and even at a distance, I could see how concerned they all were. Could see how neatly each one of them fit into their little family units. I thought about my own parents then, and wondered just when things had become so sour between us. When was the last time I’d even called them? I couldn’t remember. Easter maybe? Probably. But at some point in my adolescence, things had changed. Or rather, stagnated, I guess. And that awkwardness had only grown in the years since. All because the world had bloomed around me, but I had stayed the same.
The bottom of the card listed an address that was relatively nearby. And beneath that were the business hours, which ran from 7am to 7pm. I glanced at my phone. It was already well after six, but if I put some pep in my step, I’d be there before seven. I chugged the last of my canned coffee and beat feet. Not like I had anything better to do.