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Gal Pals – Chapter 4 – Character Flaw

Here’s the link to read Chapter 3, Take a Shot For Love

ICYMI, here’s the story summary:

Five years ago, Ophelia left her small town like a thief in the night, abandoning her two best friends without a single word of explanation. She swore she would never come back.

After she finds her fiance cheating on her, she has no choice but to go home and hope Natalie and Gideon, her two best friends, forgive her. But when she arrives, she finds everything has changed. Natalie and Gideon are getting married, and for some reason, she feels like she has to stop them.

Natalie Lindqvist only wants two things in life: to finally fall in love, and to inherit her mother’s bard. But her mom Frank, after a lifetime of loneliness, insists Natalie needs to get married before she can take over the bar. Giving up on love, Natalie decides to do whatever she can to get at least half a chance at happiness.

Gideon has finally resigned himself to the fact that Ophelia will forever be the one that got away. But when she comes back home, he doesn’t know how to feel. How can he get married to Natalie when he stills has feelings for Ophelia? And can he ever forgive her for leaving him behind?

Three best friends. Three enormous secrets. Three lives that are about to change forever. 

Call it a character flaw: I don’t like who I am and I suspect few other people like me, either. Every so often, I reinvent myself. I try to find that Ophelia people will like for once.

In high school, I tried to break into the popular crowd with various personas. I changed my clothes, makeup, and even a primary personality trait or two. The two small thrift store owners in the town knew me very well from all my forays into their shop.

I was Grunge Ophelia – sarcastic, smudged, in all black. I tried Preppy Ophelia, with skirts and thigh-highs and school spirit. None of it worked.

In college, Party Ophelia took over. I drank, smoked, danced and slept my way through my freshman and sophomore years. My year abroad in Germany let me try out Innocent Ophelia, who was eager to be cultural and try new things. And of course when I met Henry, I became whoever I thought was his Dream Ophelia. Fearless, fun, outgoing, headstrong.

Here’s the thing about personas: eventually, you get tired of pretending. You let someone in to see the real you. And inevitably, they’re disappointed.

Natalie and Gideon watched this parade of Ophelias with bemusement and acceptance. I couldn’t explain it to them. Natalie had always been wanted no matter what she did or what she wore. Gideon was so confident in himself that he’d never even thought of changing, whether he was popular or not. They didn’t understand.

“You’re fine the way you are, Eff,” Gideon said to me when we were eighteen and off to the end-of-summer party Abbey was throwing. I was in the middle of my edgy phase, so I was looping cuffs on my ears and wearing frayed denim cutoffs over tights. “What was wrong with what you were wearing earlier?

“Yeah, but it’s fun to change sometimes, isn’t it?” I said, pulling a top over my head and making sure it lay flat against my stomach.

Natalie, lying on his bed and inspecting her flawless painted nails, was more direct. “Ophelia, if you ever tried just being yourself instead of whoever you think is cool right now, you might have more friends than just the two of us.”

It was a fair point. Gideon had a loose circle of friends from the various extracurriculars he did, like Debate and Leadership groups. Natalie was on so many sports teams that Gideon and I were kept hopping throughout the year to go to all her games, meets, and matches. I only had them.

I just looked at myself in the mirror and pulled a few strands out of my messy bun, the better to make it perfectly messed. “Maybe one day.”

– – – –

In the present day, I woke up sobbing. Someone was holding me, rocking back and forth, hands tangled in the stream of hair down my back.

“Shh, it’s OK, darling, you’re alright,” someone said in the dark.

I took a deep, heaving gasp and opened my eyes all the way. I was in Natalie’s four-poster bed. We’d passed out there after stumbling home at three in the morning, Gideon stationed on the couch downstairs. I’d thought for sure they’d want to sleep together, but Gideon had said I needed the bed more than him.

It was so disorienting to wake up somewhere different. I’d woken up in the apartment I’d shared with Henry for so long.

Gradually, I became aware that it was Natalie holding me. She leaned over to switch the lamp on. I pushed the hair out of my face and looked into her eyes in the dim light.

“Are you OK?” she asked softly.

I tried to answer but as soon as my mouth opened to speak, all that came out was another sob, wracking my body. Natalie held me tightly.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked, tucking another strand of hair behind my ear.

I shook my head, not trusting myself to speak.

She nodded and just held me for a while. I watched as the room got imperceptibly lighter as the sun came in, streaming through the gauze of the four-poster, trying hard not to think about anything at all. My head was filled with a loud droning noise. 

Gradually, I became aware that Natalie had been keeping up a non-stop stream of monologing.

“….so then, of course, I said we had to have the lavender color in the bathroom, can you imagine fuchsia! But Gideon was one hundred percent convinced it needed to be yellow. What an idiot. And I won’t even get started on the breakfast nook, we’ve been fighting about it for weeks now.”

She stopped to take a breath and looked back at me, noticing I was a little more with it now. “And that concludes this episode of Nat and Gid’s Home Improvement,” she said, looking at me to see if I’d crack a smile. When I didn’t react, she sighed. “What happened, Eff? Why won’t you tell me what happened?”

Wounded pride, really. But if a best friend couldn’t hear me without judgment, then who would?

“It was a dream about – Henry,” I said hesitantly. “I – we were together. We’d gone dancing.”

Natalie’s mouth tightened. “Are you – do you miss him very much? God, what a stupid question. Sorry. Of course you do. I just – what can I do to make it better?”

“I don’t, though,” I said, trying to smile a little. “I miss who I was when we were together.”

Natalie nodded. I lay back down on the bed and she curled up next to me.

“I think I can only tell the story once, so I’ll wait for Gideon if that’s OK, Nat,” I said to the canopy. As though summoned, there was a knock at the door.

“I heard voices,” Gideon said as he let himself in. “I guessed y’all were up. About time.”

Gideon, the unholy man, looked like he’d gone for a run. He’d never had the decency to give into hangovers and persisted on wholesome healthiness before, during, and after any drinking binges. Sweat was dripping down his forehead and he was panting slightly.

“I’m gonna get a shower. Coffee’s on the pot. Copper Coin for breakfast?” he said, shaking his sweaty head in our direction.

“Ew, Gideon,” Natalie said, laughing at him and scrambling to get out of range. “Yeah, that sounds good. Eff?”

“Yeah, don’t think I can manage grease right now. Pastry might go down easier,” I croaked, my throat still hoarse from crying. Gideon raised an eyebrow, but I saw Natalie shake her head at him out of the corner of my eye. What must it be like, to be able to talk like that, without words? I’d probably never know.

Gideon departed without further ado. We heard the shower turn on, and a few bars of the latest Ariana Grande song pipe out in a falsetto. I grinned. Gideon was still the same in some ways.

“Does Gideon know how hot he is?” I asked, trying to steer us back to safer conversational waters.

Natalie laughed, but her mouth tightened a bit. “Yeah, he is. He’s very proud of it. You remember how he was when he–“

“When he got hot all of a sudden when we were sixteen and he kissed Rachael? Yep, I remember,” I said, smiling at the memory. Gideon had been chubby as a kid, and honestly, he wasn’t a Greek god or anything now. But when he turned sixteen, something happened to make him go from tasty muffin to absolutely delicious cinnamon roll.

Natalie and I, at the time, had discussed the change with all the analysis of scientists: was it his hair, slightly longer and allowed to curl? Was it his shoulders, broadened out? Was it pheromones? Neither of us could decide and in the end, we decided to let it lie. Gideon was hot.

“He hasn’t changed,” Natalie said. I guessed it must be hard to be engaged to someone so obviously magnetic, but then Natalie had her own special allure, too. Perhaps it was for the best they had decided to neutralize each other, saving innocent passers-by from their devastating attraction.

We trooped downstairs, me in a borrowed T-shirt of Natalie’s. I hadn’t had time to pack much beyond a change of underwear when I’d left. Natalie, generously, had opened her closet to me, even though I knew it was futile: she was four inches shorter than me and wore exclusively dresses and skirts, which would be ridiculously short on me. I had to pay a visit to one of the thrift shops at some point soon.

As promised, the coffee was brewing. Gideon arrived, wet from his shower, and picked me up in an enormous bear hug, wrapped just in his towel.

“Gideon!” I yelled, squirming. “Put me down.”

He squeezed a little tighter. “It’s just good to see you, Eff. Nat and I thought the next time we’d hear from you would be your obituary. Don’t go like that again.”

He smelled nice, and it felt unbelievably good to be hugged. I relaxed into the embrace once he put my feet back on the ground.

Natalie poured the coffee into three thermoses and cracked an imaginary whip. “Go get dressed, Gideon. Ophelia, you’re gonna have to wear something other than that. Or at least put pants on. Let’s go.”

It had always been like that – Natalie acting the mother bear, Gideon providing the emotional support, and me, the errant child, always needing to be rescued. It worked, though.

I managed to find a long skirt of Natalie’s that didn’t look too ludicrous on me and tucked her old T-shirt into it, and we headed out. Natalie and I clutched our thermoses of coffee, while Gideon whistled cheerily. He was shameless.

“You wanna tell us? About – why you’re so upset?” Natalie asked me. “She woke up crying,” she added in an aside to Gideon, who nodded thoughtfully at me.

I was feeling a little more stable now. In the bright sunlight, feeling the promise of heat beginning to rise from the asphalt, I felt like I could handle the story.

I took a deep breath as we reached Copper Coin and sat down at one of the outdoor tables. Georgia weather in May was delightful – balmy in the morning, baking in the day. Perfect for an outdoor breakfast.

It might be early, but we knew Hannah would have opened already. Right on cue, she poked her head out and gasped to see me. “Effie! You’re here! Just visiting, or here to stay?” She didn’t wait for an answer, but came over to give me an enormous hug.

“Not sure yet,” I said from within her firm embrace. “We’ll have to see.”

“Well, it’s good to see you again no matter how short the time! You left these two looking like there was a hole in them, you know.” Her happy tone had turned stern.

“I know,” I said, “and I’m sorry.”

Hannah was never one to spend long on admonishments. “The usual?”

Natalie nodded without waiting for confirmation from us.

“Be right out,” Hannah said, and whisked away in a puff of bread-scented air. Hannah was the owner of the Copper Coin and had been for as long as we’d been coming there.

Gideon and Natalie sat at one end of the round table and looked expectantly at me, sitting at the other.

“Right,” I said, “Guess it’s time.”

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, LGBTQ+, Romance, Sexy Stories, Young Adult (YA)

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