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we were meant for love, we were meant for this

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When she gets back to New York, when the plane touches down on the tarmac and people get ready to exit the cabin - Rachel thinks, briefly, of the possibility of another world. Another life - one where Eleanor took her defeat with greater grace than Rachel would’ve thought possible. One where Nick would have followed her on the plane and begged her to stay. One where she would have gotten to kiss him again, and chosen him above herself. 

This isn’t that world. 

And when she leaves, she doesn’t look back. 

 

 

She thinks it’s lucky they never went ahead with their plan of moving in together - they always joked about it, even discussed it semi-seriously in the haze of near-sleep one night, but it never happened. In hindsight, Rachel wonders if part of that came from Nick always knowing, deep down, that this life of his in New York couldn’t last. It should hurt more than it does, but as it is, she and Kerry just get in a cab and go back to the apartment they share. 

When they close the door behind them, Rachel doesn’t bother with unpacking, or washing up, or getting changed. She just heads for her room and curls up in bed, eyes closed, and tries not to think. She can hear her mother’s footsteps bringing her closer, her voice from the open door. “Rachel.” 

“I’m fine,” she says, because she’s trying so, so hard to be. “I just need to sleep.” 

There’s a long silence, and Rachel knows that, no matter what, her mother is her mother. She will always want to come close and bundle her up into a smothering hug and make all her problems magically go away. But she knows better than that, and moments later, she can hear the door closing. “I’ll be right here if you need anything.” 

What do I need? Rachel wonders, as she lets herself succumb to blissful, dreamless sleep. Where do I go from here?

 

 

She’s got another month off from the job and nothing at all to occupy her. Kerry tries to keep her distracted, but she’s got to work and Rachel refuses to allow her own problems to mess up her mother’s routine any further. She’s an adult. She can handle a messy breakup on her own just fine. 

New York seems determined to prove her wrong on that point. Everywhere she goes, everything she does, anything she sets her eyes on - it reminds her of Nick. The city feels quieter and emptier without him by her side, and it feels like she’s wading through marsh, the fog thick and blinding, choking her. Just a week ago, everything was different, everything was good, and now - 

The hard part is that it’s not just about Nick. It feels like her whole world has been changed by her visit to Singapore, in ways she can’t even articulate. She feels like she’s lost something greater than just a boyfriend, but she just doesn’t know what. It aches raw and hollow beneath her ribcage, rattling in her chest every time she tries to draw breath. 

I wish, she thinks, I miss, I want - 

She never manages to finish her sentences. 

 

 

A week after Rachel returns from Singapore, she’s seated at her desk trying (and mostly failing) to run through her lesson plans for the next semester, and out of nowhere, her phone lights up with an alert for an incoming call. Dread floods her immediately - she can’t deal with a call from Nick, not now, and maybe not within the next year or so. If she even sees his name on her screen she thinks she might burst out crying and she really, really does not have the emotional capacity for that. 

But the name on the screen isn’t his. It doesn’t even start with the letter N, and when Rachel glances over the dread is quickly replaced by pure surprise. 

Astrid?

Rachel grabs for her phone, quickly hitting the answer button. “Hello?”

“Rachel.” Astrid’s voice is achingly familiar, smooth and giving nothing away - or is Rachel imagining it? Can she hear the grief and anger and pain in it, the way she can sometimes hear that in her own? “Hey. I’m sorry for calling out of the blue.” 

“No, it’s fine.” A second after the words leave her mouth Rachel almost kicks herself - really? Seriously intelligent response, Rachel. “It’s good to hear from you. What’s up?”

Over the line, Astrid laughs, and she sounds tired and hoarse. “Can I get a favour from you, Rachel? Please? I know it’s a huge imposition, but you were the only person I could think of who lives in New York and who I trust.” 

Rachel’s surprise starts bleeding into curiosity and worry. “Of course, Astrid. What can I do?”

She hears Astrid take a breath, and Rachel finds that she’s holding her own. “Could you bring some food and medication over to my apartment right now?” 

Wait.

What?

“Wait,” Rachel says, not sure if she’s hearing things. “Astrid. Are you in New York?”

 

 

As it turns out, Astrid is very much in New York. Specifically, she’s in a gorgeous penthouse apartment near Central Park, which she and Cassian just moved into twelve hours ago. It’s surreal and amazing and all and Rachel would be far more incredulous if not for the fact that Astrid and Cassian are both nursing similarly high-grade fevers and she’s rushing over to the address with soup, aspirin and Kerry, who’d insisted on coming after hearing a child was sick. 

By the time they get to Astrid’s apartment, Rachel is bordering on frantic after spending the cab ride with her mind going a mile a minute. Why is Astrid in New York? Does it have to do with Michael? How sick is she? How sick is Cassian? And of all people, why did she call Rachel? 

It doesn’t help, when they get to Astrid’s front door and she lets them in, that she looks pale and exhausted and can barely speak for coughing. “Rachel. Thank you so much. I’m sorry for the trouble.” 

“Shit, Astrid,” Rachel replies on sheer instinct, raising her palm to rest it on Astrid’s forehead. “You’re burning up. You need to lie down.”

Astrid shakes her head. “I’m fine. It’s Cassian - I need you to help Cassian - “ 

“I can handle Cassian,” Kerry cuts in, stepping in from behind Rachel. “Where is he?” 

Astrid just manages to point the way to his room, and Rachel notes with alarm how she sways on her feet, just the slightest. Everything else gets shoved aside in favour of grabbing her hand and keeping her steady. “My mom will make sure Cassian’s okay. You need to lie down, Astrid. I brought aspirin, and food if you can keep it down. And I need you to drink.” 

Rachel’s pretty sure Astrid only listens because she’s so sick she doesn’t have the strength to argue. She takes the medication Rachel gives her and manages to get some food and water down while Rachel goes to get a wet washcloth for her forehead. She’s smiling when Rachel returns to the living room. “Thank you.”

“It was nothing,” Rachel says softly, and she means it. She remembers being on Samsara Island just two weeks ago with a gutted fish on her bed, and she remembers who stood by her side and helped her bury it in the sand. This is just paying her debts, and she’s not about to let Astrid forget that. 

Astrid’s small, tired smile doesn’t fade, and she squeezes Rachel’s hand where it’s held in her own. “Thank your mom for me too.” 

Rachel smiles back. “You can do that yourself when you’re well. Just rest now, okay?”

Astrid murmurs softly in agreement, eyes closing as she drifts off. She doesn’t ask Rachel to stay, but Rachel does anyway - keeps watch over her and makes sure she’s all right. 

 

 

It takes three days for Astrid’s fever to break. Rachel spends those three days shuttling from her apartment to Astrid’s and back, and it’s the most single-minded focus she’s felt since she returned from Singapore. It actually feels good - far better than being consumed by thoughts of Nick, of what she lost and left behind. And it feels amazing when Astrid’s back to normal, shaking off the illness entirely, playing with Cassian at the breakfast table while Rachel serves up waffles for all of them. Astrid gives her a genuine smile when she slides a plate towards Cassian. “Thank you so much, Rachel. We owe you one.”

“You absolutely do not,” Rachel fires back. “Consider us quits after Samsara Island.” 

Astrid’s smile drops, and Rachel suddenly remembers that oh, wait, Astrid isn’t… actually supposed to be here, per se. Astrid lives in Singapore with her Singaporean husband and Singaporean family and Rachel has been so caught up the past three days with nursing her back to health that she forgot to wonder why Astrid’s here at all. Shit. “I’m sorry,” she follows up, as quickly as she can. “I didn’t mean to bring up - “ 

“It’s fine,” Astrid says, quiet and resigned. “I trust you. You deserve to know why I’m here.” She turns away for a moment, leans in and murmurs to Cassian, who grins back, grabbing his plate and darting off to the living room to eat and watch cartoons. Astrid watches him get comfortable before she looks back at Rachel. “Michael and I are getting a divorce, and I wanted to get away.” 

“From him?” 

“From everything. Everyone, back home.” Astrid doesn’t meet her eyes. “Not everybody understands. And after what they did, that week - not just to me, but to Nick, and to you… I’m done. Rachel, I’m done with that life. I just had to leave.” 

It hits Rachel, a punch to the gut, bruised and sweet - how much that reminds her of Nick. Leaving, head held high, turning his back - 

But he went home -

He left -

But Astrid’s jaw is set, eyes blazing, steady and sure. Rachel can see the slight tremble of her fist against the tabletop, and the burgeoning tears in her eyes - she’s alone in New York, still lost, still scared, still hurting, but she’s here, and ready to take on anything that gets in her way. She is here for Cassian, and for herself. 

Rachel determinedly pushes aside every other thought she has and puts Astrid’s plate of waffles in front of her. “You know, I have three weeks left before I go back to work, and I thought I saw a lot of boxes waiting to be unpacked.” 

The smile returns to Astrid’s face, small but real. “I don’t want you to spend your time helping us unpack, Rachel.” 

“Your concern is duly noted,” Rachel replies. “Now eat and we can start once we’re done.” 

 

 

Unpacking takes far less time than Rachel expects. Two days later she finds herself sitting on the couch in the living room with a glass of wine and cheese and crackers on the coffee table, and Astrid scrolling through Netflix to pick a good movie. Cassian’s asleep in his bedroom, and it’s just the two of them in the quiet evening, luxuriating on the couch as the opening credits start rolling. They sit side by side, shoulders brushing, Astrid laughing at the amusing moments and Rachel pointing out inaccuracies in the casino scene. It’s comfortable. It’s good.

When she leaves, later that night, Astrid gives her a hug and tells her to come over any time, and Rachel heads home feeling happier than she’s been since she came home. 

 

 

Astrid says come over any time and means it, and it’s just five days later that Rachel knocks on her door because she chanced upon an article talking about how Nick’s taken over his father as head of the family business and she burst out into hysterical crying in the middle of the kitchen. 

They end up on the couch again, with a movie playing that neither of them pay attention to. Rachel just keeps her eyes on the floor, trying to keep her voice even. “I don’t even know why I cried like an idiot. I chose to turn his proposal down, I chose to leave, I chose all that, and it still hurts, and I still get so angry, sometimes.” 

Astrid sighs, resting a gentle hand on her arm. “Rachel, there’s nothing wrong with missing Nick.”

“I don’t,” Rachel says. Astrid gives her a meaningful look, and she sighs, leaning back and staring up at the ceiling. “Okay, I do. But that’s not the point, you know? It’s not just about him, it’s not - I’m not a complete mess just because of a boy.” Rachel hates that thought - hates the idea that one person, one boyfriend, could turn her into a stupid sobbing wreck just because he ended up choosing his family over her. 

Astrid is quiet, waiting for Rachel to turn and meet her gaze before setting her wineglass down, expression serious. “Rachel, I’m here in New York, halfway across the world from my home, because the man I thought I loved cheated on me. Today I sat in my room crying for a solid hour before I got up, changed, left the house and went to pick Cassian from his art class. And all I could think about for that hour was Michael. Does that make me weak?”

“Of course not,” Rachel says immediately, feeling anger rise up and push aside her misery. “You’re not weak, Astrid, you’re one of the strongest people I know, and the bravest.” Astrid gives her a small smile, and Rachel smiles back, unable to help herself. “All right, I get the point. But it’s not the same.” 

“It’s not,” Astrid agrees. “But everything you feel is still valid.” 

The comfortable, peaceful silence settles over the room again. Rachel shuffles a little closer so she can lean on Astrid’s shoulder, and turns her gaze to the television screen. “Let’s just watch this movie and not think about stupid guys who do stupid things.” 

“I’m pretty sure that’s the exact plot of this movie,” Astrid grins, and a laugh swells in Rachel’s chest, beautiful, blooming, unbidden. 

 

 

She’s not sure when the movie nights start becoming more common, and then routine. Rachel goes back to work and the new semester brings enough of its usual trials and tribulations that she’s kept way too busy to even think about Nick, but every week still finds her in Astrid’s apartment at least once, sipping wine while enjoying a good movie or laughing over a bad one. She gets to know Cassian better, reading with him sometimes while Astrid makes dinner for all of them. Sometimes they don’t even watch a movie - they just end up playing house or trucks or cops and robbers with Cassian. On one particularly good night they bake cookies together and Astrid, of all people, tosses a handful of flour right in Rachel’s face. Rachel yelps and retaliates with the sugar she has on hand, and Astrid declares war, which ends up with a very messy kitchen and loudly laughing Cassian and delicious cookies and it’s amazing. 

Those are good nights.

Sometimes - they aren’t so great. Sometimes Rachel goes over and Astrid opens the door looking ragged, eyes red and voice throaty, and she ends up sobbing into Rachel’s shirt for the better part of the night. Sometimes they’ll be watching the movie they’ve chosen for the night, and something about a scene will hit too close to home, and Rachel will suddenly find herself with tears dripping down her face and Astrid pulling her close while she starts crying very audibly. There’s a day one of the spoiled brats in her intro class says something nasty to one of his classmates and for a moment he sounds so terribly like Amanda, that day at Araminta’s bachelorette party, that she seizes up and can’t breathe for a good minute. She cuts that class short and goes to her desk and lets Astrid know she’s coming over. 

It’s getting easier. For all she cries, those times that she gets rudely reminded of why she came back alone and what she lost to Singapore - Rachel can recognise it’s getting easier. She smiles more often, means it when she laughs, and when people ask how she’s doing, she says fine and it’s the truth. It’s because she’s distracted, and because time and distance work miracles, but it’s also because she’s not alone. She’s got Kerry - and she’s got Astrid, and Cassian, and she never would have thought that would be enough, but it is. 

 

 

She stays in touch with Peik Lin, who’s gotten busier doing some sort of fashion-related collaboration with Oliver. They Skype on Peik Lin’s birthday a couple months later, and Rachel gets to say hi to PT and Peik Lin’s little sisters and her dogs and see the massive feast Auntie Neena’s cooked up for her birthday dinner. Some things don’t change. 

“Hey, look, I thought you might want to know,” Peik Lin says when they’re about to ring off, trying for casual but not really succeeding. “Nick’s doing great.”

Rachel prepares for her heart to clench when Peik Lin says his name, and surprises herself when it doesn’t hurt as much as she thinks it used to. She even manages to keep her face completely straight as Peik Lin bites her lip and glances away just the slightest. “Oliver says there’s been a bit of tension with the Youngs. I mean, Nick’s been handling the business great, but he’s… more distant. And he’s flat-out refused to pursue anybody romantically, no matter how anyone tries to convince him or who they push his way.”

“Huh,” Rachel says noncommitally. “Bet Amanda’s pretty mad about that.”

“Like you wouldn’t believe. Ah Ma’s not exactly happy, but after what happened I think she’s just relieved that Nick didn’t jump ship and abandon the family altogether.”

Rachel feels a slight lump in her throat, but swallows it down, refusing to allow her emotions to get the better of her. “And Eleanor?” 

Peik Lin shrugs. “She’s… quiet. I mean… Nick’s changed, Rachel. Just because he stayed in Singapore after all doesn’t mean he stayed the Nick she knew. He was her life, you know, in so many ways, and now he’s not, not really, and I think it’s hard on her.” 

Rachel stays silent - there’s really nothing she can say in the face of that. Peik Lin’s nothing if not observant, and pushes on. “Well, on a different note… Oliver says Auntie Felicity is doing worse, if anything. You know.”

Astrid, Rachel thinks. “Right.” 

“She’s doing okay?” Peik Lin asks. “Some of the circle do worry about her. I mean, you wouldn’t believe it, the way some of them talk, but - some people do. Oliver. He sends his regards to both of you. And Nick, of course. Colin, and Araminta.” 

Rage flares in Rachel’s chest, roaring, putting an edge in her tone. “I don’t fucking get it, Peik Lin. She didn’t do anything wrong, Michael did. Why the hell are they angry - they have no right to be angry at her.” 

“Because she left, Rachel,” Peik Lin says. “Because she left.” 

“Nick left too,” Rachel spits, almost choking on it. 

Peik Lin looks so uncharacteristically sad, it makes Rachel want to cry, or scream - something, anything. “He came back.” 

“Well, Astrid’s not going to,” Rachel says, and thinks good. 

 

 

“Oliver sends his regards,” Rachel says, the next time she goes over. Astrid’s lips tighten minutely, a flash of pain crossing her face, before her expression eases to careful neutrality again. “You talked to him?”

“Peik Lin. They’re doing some clothing line together.”

Astrid manages a smile at this. “That sounds like them.” 

“Right? I can’t wait to see what they come up with.” Rachel chuckles, leaning back into the couch and sighing. “I miss them.” 

“Me too,” Astrid says quietly. “Only some of them, but - all the time. I wish Cassian could grow up knowing some of his aunts and uncles. His great-grandmother, too.” She exhales slowly, evenly. “Did Peik Lin say anything else?”

Rachel decides to leave out the bits about Auntie Felicity and whatnot, because she doesn’t want to hurt Astrid and also because just thinking about that makes her furious again. “Well, apparently Nick’s driving Amanda crazy because he’s refusing to date anybody no matter how they try.” She says it lightly, waiting for Astrid to chuckle in response, but she doesn’t. “Hey, come on, I thought that was pretty funny.”

“Amanda being irritated by Nick? I suppose it is, a little.” Astrid smiles briefly, but her expression quickly turns sombre again. “Rachel, I think Nick’s still in love with you.” 

Astrid says it, and she means it, like she means everything else she says, and suddenly -

There are so many ways Rachel could answer, so many ways she does want to. The suddenness of it makes her want to laugh, out of sheer surprise, and she maybe wants to make a dry, caustic comment about how awful and stupid that is after everything that happened, or lighten the mood and make Astrid laugh by saying of course he is, look at me, I’m a catch, or just deny it, or - 

But the first thing, the very first thing that hits her, is - I’m not. 

Nick might still be in love with her, might still want her and pine for her and miss her, but she - doesn’t, she’s not. She’s not in love with him, not anymore. Once, not that long ago, she thought he was the one, and now he’s just Nick Young, her ex-boyfriend, someone she cared about, someone she loved - loved, past tense.

And the crazy thing is that she has no idea when that happened, because it wasn’t that long ago, either, that she was blubbering like a complete idiot in her kitchen at the mere sight of his name in a news article. There was a point in time, after she came back to New York, when he could have appeared at her front door and Kerry could have led him to Rachel’s room and she would still have said yes. She doesn’t know when that changed, but here she is.

“Rachel?” She hears, and suddenly realises Astrid is saying her name again and again, looking concerned. “Hey, Rachel, what did I say?”

“Sorry, I just spaced out for a second,” Rachel replies. There’s a note of wonder in her voice that she just can’t hide. She feels suddenly, gloriously free, like something’s been taken off her shoulders. “No, I don’t think Nick’s still in love with me. I actually think it might be a simple act of rebellion.” 

“Really,” Astrid says doubtfully, and Rachel grins at her. “I really think so.” And she does, or she thinks she does, but it doesn’t even matter any more, because she doesn’t love him back, not that way, and maybe, Rachel thinks, she’s finally starting to heal.

 

 

New York seems more beautiful, more radiant, after that evening. She never realised how much weight she was carrying with her until she let it go. It feels like her body and heart and mind belong to her alone again, after so long, and the world is brighter for it. She was fine, before, but she thinks she might be moving to being able to call herself happy, now, and have it be true. 

The same doesn’t hold true for Astrid, and Rachel knows it. She can see it in the way Astrid moves, the way she talks, especially around Cassian. She’s still suffering, and it’s not surprising - it’s not like Rachel, who went to a sunny island for a week and left a boy behind. Astrid gave up her family and her status and her home for her freedom, for her son, and that’s not a wound easily repaired. Rachel wishes she could make it easier, because someone like Astrid deserves so much better. She’s been working so hard to make sure Cassian stays innocent and carefree and it hurts Rachel to see. 

“She’s lucky, you know,” Kerry says, when Rachel confides in her. “At least she’s not alone.”

“I know, but Cassian’s still her son, after all. She’s responsible for him, and she would give up her life for him. She did give up her life for him, in a way, and - Mom, don’t you think she deserves more than that?”

Kerry laughs softly, eyes shining with pride. “Yes, baobei. I do. But I didn’t mean Cassian. I meant you.” She touches Rachel’s cheek, smiling. “Astrid isn’t alone because she has you there, supporting her, encouraging her, and being her friend. I think if you ask her, she will say the same.”

“I’m the lucky one,” Rachel says. She can feel a smile tug at the corners of her mouth when she thinks about the past few months - all those evenings spent with Astrid and Cassian, talking and laughing and playing and keeping each other company. Now that she really thinks about it, Rachel’s not sure how she would’ve survived coming back to New York without them, without burdening her mother with all her pain and anger. She was lucky - she really was.

She’s caught up in that train of thought, and just notices Kerry’s brief, enigmatic smile before she turns away. As befits a daughter, she instantly breaks out of it and accosts her mother. “Hey, I saw that! What was that? You’re smiling about something, I know that smile.”

“No, I’m not,” Kerry blatantly lies, still grinning away as she heads to the kitchen to brew herself some tea. Rachel narrows her eyes, following, already beginning to laugh. “Don’t lie to me, I’m your only child, I’ve known you my whole life. I know you’re hiding something.” 

Kerry laughs out loud, pulling Rachel in to kiss her temple. “Don’t worry about it, sweetheart. When you know, you’ll know.”

“What kind of answer is that?! Mom! Don’t ignore me - hey!” 

 

 

Rachel spends New Year’s at Astrid’s, after Kerry turns in at 10PM ignoring Rachel’s protests that she’s being boring and they should at least stay up for the countdown. Kerry tells her that Rachel’s young bones might be able to handle sleeping at two in the morning but she certainly can’t. 

“Every Chinese New Year you play mahjong at Auntie Ying’s place until the sun rises,” Rachel says in total disbelief. “You did the countdown with me and Nick last year!” 

“Yes, I was trying to be polite to your lovely ex-boyfriend,” Kerry says patiently. “And I can win money from mahjong when I beat Auntie Ying to the dust. Will viewing the Times Square countdown on our television give me money? I don’t think so.”

Which is how Rachel ends up at Astrid’s, which is now beginning to feel like a second home. Cassian sits between them on the couch, bouncing excitedly as the countdown begins. The clock hits midnight and the ball drops and from outside the apartment they hear people cheering and yelling. Rachel can’t stop smiling - it’s so cliche, heralding the new year, but it feels amazing. A new year signifies new beginnings, and she can certainly get on board with that. 

“Mommy, how about the New Year’s kiss?” Cassian says eagerly. Astrid laughs, pulling him into her lap and kissing his forehead. “There you go, baby. For luck.” 

Cassian giggles happily as she hugs him tight, waving an arm out to Rachel. “Now Rachel!” 

Fierce, bright joy spreads through Rachel, her chest warm and tight. She can’t help it - Cassian being so welcoming, treating her like family too, even though she isn’t… she’s grown to love this little boy, after all the time they’ve spent together. She blinks away happy tears, leaning in to smack a loud, exaggerated kiss on his cheek. “All right, that’s me done too.”

“No, Rachel,” Cassian laughs. “You need to have a lucky New Year’s kiss too, like Daddy always got. Mommy gives the best lucky kisses!” 

The tension in the room goes from zero to about a hundred thousand. Rachel sees Astrid go still where she sits at the very mention of Michael, her expression shutting down. With an unpleasant jolt Rachel realises this must be Astrid’s first New Year’s without Michael in - years. Maybe her first New Year’s away from home in a long time, too. She knows Cassian didn’t mean any harm in what he said, and it’s so painfully guileless, but the way the light in Astrid’s eyes flickers hurts. Rachel moves without even thinking, coming closer. “Good thinking, Cassian. I definitely need some good luck, smart boy.”

Astrid turns to her, slowly, and Rachel just looks back, trying to convey everything she can’t say in front of Cassian with her expression. Some measure of warmth returns to Astrid’s face, and the tension in her muscles relaxes, just the slightest. Quickly she leans across and brushes her lips against Rachel’s cheek, just a touch, before pulling back. “There we go,” she says, so softly Rachel can barely hear her. “Good luck for the year ahead.” 

Cassian claps his hands in delight, and they both turn their attention back to him, narrowing all their focus on him so they don’t need to think about anything else. “What are your New Year’s resolutions, Cassian?” Astrid asks with a deliberate cheerfulness Rachel’s sure Cassian can’t hear. But she does, and it makes her feel - she’s not even sure. There’s a sour taste in her mouth, a buzzing in her ears, discomfiting. She tries to focus on the night ahead. It’s a new year. A new beginning. Everything else can come later.

 

 

A month later, Kerry invites Astrid and Cassian over for Chinese New Year. “It’s only polite. You spent New Year’s at their place, and now we should host them too.” She picks up a box of yusheng and puts it in Rachel’s basket. “Maybe I can teach Cassian how to play mahjong.”

“Mom, you can’t teach someone else’s kid how to gamble.”

“Excuse me, mahjong isn’t just gambling,” Kerry says, sounding genuinely offended. “It teaches you important life skills, like the kind you used to drop the mic on Eleanor Young.”

Rachel makes a face. “Who in the world taught you how to use slang like ‘drop the mic’?”

Kerry deftly sidesteps the question, picking up a massive tin of pineapple tarts and adding it to Rachel’s nearly-overfull basket. “You make sure Astrid is available for 初一, please.” 

Rachel does. Aside from her mother’s dubious goal to teach an impressionable young boy how to gamble, the idea of having Chinese New Year dinner with Astrid and Cassian is… nice. She’s always been going over to Astrid’s apartment - it would be a nice change of pace to have them in her home turf. 

“Are you sure we won’t be intruding?” Astrid asks, when Rachel extends the invitation. Rachel snorts. “If you don’t come for dinner with us I’m going to end up in Auntie Ying’s living room losing my hard-earned money over mahjong. Please come.” 

“I don’t know, I think it would be fun taking your money over mahjong,” Astrid grins, then laughs when Rachel glares at her. “Cassian and I will be there.”

“Great,” Rachel says, wondering why something in her stomach flutters when Astrid says that. She pushes it aside and focuses on dissecting the cult horror flick they watched last night.

 

 

初一 arrives and Astrid and Cassian turn up at their door, Astrid decked in something that would look more fitting on a red carpet than in their modest little flat. It takes Rachel’s breath away. “You look amazing.” 

“Thank you,” Astrid says. “So do you.”

Considering Rachel didn’t even get a new dress, much to Kerry’s despair, and just threw on the most decent-looking thing in her wardrobe, this is an outright lie. Rachel decides not to call Astrid out on it - mostly because she actually seems like she means it - and just brings them both in. “Mom, Astrid and Cassian are here!”

Kerry appears out of the kitchen, beaming at her guests. “You two are early.” 

“Hi, Mrs Chu. Your house looks lovely. Thank you for inviting us over for Chinese New Year.”

“Hi Auntie! Do you have any pineapple tarts? I love pineapple tarts, they’re the best part of Chinese New Year,” Cassian says, with all the blunt innocence only a kid can manage. Astrid taps his shoulder gently. “Cassian, that’s not very polite.” 

“Sorry,” Cassian says, although he doesn’t sound terribly contrite, especially when Kerry opens up the pineapple tarts and hands the tin to him. “There you go, sweetheart. Don’t eat too many, dinner’s almost ready.” 

Dinner, Rachel is certain, is definitely not what Astrid would be used to back home, what with the Michelin-star chefs the Young family has on hand. Kerry’s food is just some simple, good old home-cooked dishes, and for a second Rachel feels a spasm of fear. Astrid’s so far away from Singapore now, the way Nick was, that Rachel completely forgot they come from two different worlds. Her blood is the same as Nick’s, as Eleanor’s, as Auntie Felicity’s and Oliver’s and Nick’s cousins - what if, despite everything, she’s still a Young at heart?

And then Kerry brings out the food, and Astrid puts chicken and bok choy on Cassian’s plate and takes second helpings of everything, and her smile is bright and lights up the whole room, and Rachel relaxes, feeling a little stupid. What the hell was she thinking? This is Astrid - sitting in their small apartment, tucking into Kerry’s food with gusto, laughing as Kerry tells embarrassing stories about Rachel’s childhood. She doesn’t know why she was even worried.

 

 

After the louhei, when Astrid’s at the table trying to convince Cassian to eat the radish and carrot alongside the salmon and crackers, Kerry pulls Rachel aside in the kitchen to help wash the dishes. They’re scrubbing in the sink, and Kerry gestures outside to their guests. “When are you going to tell her?” 

“Tell her what?” Rachel asks, slightly distracted. “Mom, what did you even use this pan for? Why can’t I get the stains off?” 

“It was from this afternoon. I thought I told you to help me soak it. See what happens when you don’t listen.” Kerry takes the pan from her hands and turns Rachel to face her. “Rachel. When are you going to tell Astrid that you’re in love with her?” 

Everything screeches to an abrupt halt. Rachel’s glad her mother took the pan and put it in the sink because if she’d still been holding it she’s pretty sure she would have dropped it right on her foot. “Wait, what?” 

“Don’t play dumb with me, Rachel,” Kerry says, narrowing her eyes. “I raised you, you know that doesn’t work on me.”

Rachel can’t do anything but gape at her mother for a solid minute - is she serious? Is she for real? “Mom, I - I’m not in love with Astrid.” Kerry’s gaze grows sterner. “Mom, I’m serious! Astrid is my friend, that’s all. We’re not involved.”

“I know you’re not involved. That’s why I’m telling you to let her know how you feel. For God’s sake, you were dating her cousin - she’s not going to make the first move, she’s got more sense and class than that. The ball is in your court.”

Okay, Rachel thinks either she or her mother is losing it right now. What is even happening? She’s not in love with Astrid - where in the world did she get this idea? “What has even given you the idea that I’m in love with Astrid or vice versa?”

Kerry stares at her in disbelief. “Rachel,” she says, very slowly, like she thinks Rachel has lost her mind. “Just the way you look at her is enough. A blind man could see it.” 

The confusion and bewilderment Rachel feels is beginning to give way to unexplainable anger, and she doesn’t know why. It feels like an attack, almost, the way Kerry is talking. It doesn’t make sense. With some difficulty she keeps her voice even. “Mom, you’re imagining things, okay? Astrid and I are just friends. And please, please don’t talk about this with her when we go back out there. Don’t make things weird, I’m begging you.” 

Silence. Kerry just looks at her, her eyes growing sad. “You really don’t see it, do you.”

“There’s nothing to see,” Rachel says shortly, and exits the kitchen.

 

 

There isn’t. She’s not in love with Astrid. They’re friends.

They are.

Only -

Only she can’t stop thinking about it for the rest of the night, no matter how hard she tries to distract herself. It lingers, dark and heavy, in the back of her mind, and strips the night of the joy it should hold. The anger festers - why the hell did her mother have to bring this up and basically ruin the night? Now she can’t stop thinking, and wondering, and - she doesn’t even know. It sucks.

She insists on sending Astrid and Cassian home, after - mostly to just… not have to face Kerry for a bit. She’s quiet in the cab, and Astrid obviously notices, trying to draw her into conversation, but her answers remain terse. She just can’t stop going over what Kerry said, and part of her is also wondering why it’s freaking her out so much. What is wrong with her?

The cab comes to a stop outside Astrid’s apartment building, and she gets off with a dozing Cassian in her arms. “Thank you for tonight, Rachel. I really enjoyed it. Please help me thank your mother again.”

Rachel forces a smile. “Yeah, of course. I’m glad Cassian had a good time.”

Astrid frowns slightly. “Hey. Is something wrong? You’ve been… off, since after dinner.”

Standing outside the cab, she’s silhouetted in moonlight, in that gorgeous dress, her hair down. It suddenly crashes down on Rachel just how beautiful Astrid is, how just looking at her makes Rachel feel. They’ve spent so many evenings seated together on Astrid’s couch, getting closer, really becoming friends, and Rachel has been falling in love, so slowly, so quietly, she never even realised - not until now. 

Shit.

Shit.

It’s too much. It’s too much, and it’s so late, and she can’t do this - she can’t, not now, she just can’t. Rachel ducks back inside the cab, heart pounding. “I’m okay,” she just manages to rasp out. “I have to go. Good night, Astrid.” 

The confused hurt in Astrid’s eyes is unbearable, but if Rachel stands there one second longer she knows she is definitely going to do something incredibly stupid, and she can’t. She just sits there, frozen, until Astrid finally nods. “Okay. I’ll see you soon.” 

“Yeah,” Rachel says. “Okay.”

 

 

The last time she fell in love with a Young, she broke her fucking heart. 

The last time she fell in love with a Young, she ended up nearly crying in a mahjong hall in Singapore before holding her head up and taking a plane back home where she belonged.

Rachel buries her face in her pillow and tries not to cry, again. Suddenly she’s back, months ago, curling up in her bed after getting off a long, long flight and missing a boy so much she couldn’t breathe, not knowing what she needed, what she wanted, not knowing what to do. 

Kerry lets herself in, sits on the bed and rubs Rachel’s back gently while Rachel shakes, starting to sob. She’s full-blown crying when Kerry finally pulls her in and holds her tight, murmuring soothingly that it’s going to be okay.

“What do I do, Mom?” Rachel says, hiccuping from her tears. “What do I do now?”

Kerry sighs, stroking her hair. “She loves you, Rachel,” she says softly. “I was right about your feelings, and I promise you, I am right about hers. She is hoping, and waiting. Just tell her.” 

“I’m scared,” Rachel whispers. 

“I know, baobei. I know.”

 

 

I’m not leaving because I’m scared, or because I think I’m not enough.

Everything she said to Eleanor, then, was the truth. Rachel can think back and be sure of that - sitting across from Eleanor in Singapore, mahjong tiles in her hands, she wasn’t afraid. She wasn’t afraid to lose Nick, because she’d already let him go.

Rachel isn’t sure if she could ever let Astrid go, and she doesn’t know if she would be able to handle losing her. Especially not to her own mistakes. 

She loves you, Rachel. I promise you.

Rachel trusts her mother. She really does. 

She’s just not sure if she can trust herself.

 

 

It takes a full week before she can summon up the courage to go over to Astrid’s place again for another movie night. They settle back into their familiar positions on the couch, load up a movie, and watch it. It’s like any other night before, and it feels just the same - comfortable, right, and good.

This is where she belongs. This is where she’s meant to be.

It hits like a lightning bolt, thirty minutes into the movie’s runtime - that realisation, that truth, and suddenly Rachel is sure. Surer than she’s ever been in her life, maybe. Suddenly she’s not scared any more. She knows where she is, and she knows where she should be - and this is both. Here is both.

She just has to be brave, one more time.

Without really thinking about it, Rachel turns to Astrid, ignoring the screen. “Astrid."

"Hm?" Astrid glances over at her, familiar small smile on her face. Rachel feels the certainty sink and settle - yes. That's the face she wants to wake up next to forever, for as long as they both live. It's so easy, then, to say. "Astrid, I love you.” 

Astrid freezes. Rachel sees her dig her nails into her thigh, jaw starting to tremble, and it’s with evident effort that she replies, deliberately light and casual. “I love you too, Rachel. You’re my best friend. I don’t think I would have been able to survive this move to New York without you.”

Her voice shakes. Her eyes are almost wild, frenzied with this warring mix of hope and despair, and Rachel realises that she was waiting, like Kerry said. Waiting, hoping that Rachel would feel the same - but also just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for Rachel to disappoint her like Michael did, like her family did, waiting to lose the person she loves all over again. 

She’s not letting that happen. Not again. Rachel grabs Astrid’s hands, holding them tight, and really looks her straight in the eye. “Astrid. You’re not my best friend, okay? You’re not just my best friend. I love you. I’m in love with you.” 

In the next moment, Rachel is almost a hundred percent sure that Astrid is going to burst out crying. She really would not begrudge her that - she’s pretty certain she’s this close to that point, too. Only… she goes the complete opposite and just takes one short, soft breath and sighs. “Fuck.”

Rachel stares at her. “What?”

And Astrid laughs, this bubbling, bordering on hysterical sound, contagious enough that Rachel is laughing and also crying a bit as she holds on to Astrid’s hands. “Astrid, what? What is it?”

“I can’t believe,” she says, breathless. “I can’t - I never thought you would say that. I never thought you could - do you mean it? Rachel, tell me you mean it.” The desperation is in her eyes again, the hunger, the disbelief. Rachel feels herself soften, her heart expanding to fill her chest, and she leans in to kiss her - a messy kiss, not the best first kiss she’s ever had with anyone, but it’s charged with emotion and it’s real and it’s perfect. 

“I mean it,” she whispers, after they finally pull apart. “I mean it. I love you.” 

“Thank God,” Astrid says, smiling so wide, the tear-tracks staining her cheeks. Astrid pulls Rachel in for another searing kiss, and the movie goes gloriously unfinished.

 

 

“Parcel came for us today,” Astrid says, when Rachel walks through the door. “All the way from Singapore.”

“Really? From who?” Rachel hangs up her coat, heading over to the dining table. “FROM GAY #1 & GAY #2. Oh. Peik Lin.” 

“And Oliver. But considering the language, yes, I assume Peik Lin wrote the label.” Astrid comes over, wrapping an arm around Rachel’s waist. “I thought I’d wait for you to come home before seeing what they sent.”

“Good call. I would never have forgiven you otherwise.” Rachel deftly rips the box apart, peering inside. “Looks like… clothes. Probably from their new line.” She lifts three soft packages out of the box, setting them on the table.

“There’s another note,” Astrid says, picking it up from where it’s pinned to one of the packages. 

 

TO ASTRID & RACHEL (AND CASSIAN!),

For the wedding, whenever that might be. 

With love,

PEIK LIN & OLIVER (and Nick + Colin + Araminta) 

 

Rachel’s laughing before she finishes reading the note. “Oh my God, they are incorrigible. I don’t believe it. How did they find out? It’s only been a month since we got together.” 

“I would not put anything past Araminta or Oliver,” Astrid says dryly, but she’s grinning too, taking apart the packages and folding out the dresses and a small tux perfectly suited for a ring bearer. “Oh. Those are beautiful.”

They marvel at the outfits, and Rachel rests her head on Astrid’s shoulder, feeling warm bliss and sheer contentment flood her from head to toe. “Well… they’ll be good for our wedding. Whenever that might be.” 

“Not too long, I think,” Astrid murmurs, and Rachel didn’t think her heart could grow any larger, but here they are. “Yeah? You think so? Most people would say it’s a little fast, you know.” 

In response, Astrid pulls her in until they’re facing each other, kisses her, soft and sweet. “I know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.” 

And Rachel kisses back, breathing it all in, lingering in the moment. “Yeah. Me too, Astrid. Me too.”