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DiegaRivero: Do you believe in God?

SmithCorona: No

DiegaRivero: That must be nice

SmithCorona: Not really

DiegaRivero: No?

SmithCorona: It’s lonely

 

Aster puts her phone face-down on her bed and stares up at her ceiling, her room dimly lit by the lamp on her bedside table. She recalls a couple of hours ago when she’d asked Paul if he believed in God, recalls him enthusiastically answering in the affirmative. Then , she recalls the day she had with Ellie, remembers Ellie telling her she doesn’t believe in God and remembers Ellie calling it lonely. 

 

SmithCorona answered exactly as Ellie had.

 

As Aster starts connecting the dots, the sudden personality change the football player has between his texts/letters and his real-life persona begins making sense. He was so different over text because it wasn’t him over text.  

 

It was Ellie.

 

And Ellie…

 

Aster closes her eyes tightly and runs her hands over her face in frustration.

 

SmithCorona isn’t Paul.

 

SmithCorona is Ellie .

 

-

 

“I have bad news,” Ellie says as she and Paul walk along the sides of the train track.

 

“Hit me,” Paul replies.

 

“We’ve--I mean, you’ve been ghosted.”

 

Paul’s face falls, eyes widening as he pauses. “What do you mean I’ve been ghosted? Aster kissed me the other night! She made the move!”

 

“Yes, well, she hasn’t responded at all since then,” Ellie holds her phone out for Paul to see. 

 

“Oh… shit ,” Paul curses as he reads the conversation. He returns the phone. “Ellie… Ellie, I told her I believed in God the night she kissed me.”

 

“Oh shit …” Ellie repeats, her stomach twisting for more than Paul realizes. Not only did Ellie give an opposite answer than Paul, she gave the same exact answer she’d given Aster earlier that day. “And then the same night I--”

 

“--You said I didn’t .”

 

They stand there in silence for a couple of seconds before Ellie shakes her head.

 

“No, I can come up with something,” Ellie starts racking up ideas in her head. How could she have been so careless? “I’ll just… I’ll--”

 

Paul stares at her desperately, his puppy-like eyes still wide with fear. Ellie unlocks her phone once more and starts typing. Paul hurriedly looks over Ellie’s shoulder to see what she’s saying.

 

“Hi Aster, I know the other night I gave conflicting answers…” Ellie reads out loud as she’s typing, only to trail off and shake her head. “No. No, that sounds too…”

 

She tries again.

 

“I wanted to impress you by saying I believed in God…”

 

Paul winces, “Ellie. I go to church…”

 

“I know you go to church,” she hisses in a reply. 

 

Holy shit! He goes to church ! How could I have said he didn’t believe in God?!

 

“I… There are people who go to church who don’t believe in God,” Ellie reasons. She turns to Paul, “Right?”

 

“I-I guess,” Paul shrugs.

 

“Then I’ll say that. Problem solved.”

 

“But I do believe in God…”

 

“Now you don’t.”

 

-

 

SmithCorona: I said I believed in God to you the night you kissed me because I wanted to impress you

SmithCorona: I’m sorry for lying to you

 

Aster frowns as she reads the text during lunch, unsure how to respond or if she even wants to respond. The excuse makes sense, considering Aster’s father is the pastor, but Aster knows it’s just that-- an excuse.

 

She knows Ellie’s smart enough to come up with that lie. After all, the two of them have been lying to her for all this time. It fills her stomach with dread just to think about how she’s been played. The Paul that kissed her and the Paul that she kissed… And then the butterflies she’d get just from texting and writing to Ellie…

 

Aster stands from her lunch table and the four blondes she’d been sitting with ask her where she’s going. She musters out a weak, “Bathroom.”

 

When she gets to the nearest bathroom, she pauses when she sees Ellie Chu at the sink. Their eyes meet in the mirror and Aster’s throat feels like it’s closing up. 

 

Ellie Chu is not good at hiding her emotions. Guilt is written all over her face.

 

“Aster, hey--”

 

Aster shakes her head, “ Don’t .”

 

Ellie keeps trying, turning the sink off, “Paul told me--”

 

Aster doesn’t even let her finish her sentence before she’s turned on her heels and heading out the bathroom. She hears the sound of footsteps behind her, hurrying to catch up with her, but continues to stare straight ahead.

 

“Aster,” Ellie calls out. “Aster, wait--”

 

“I’m not talking about this here,” Aster says monotonously.

 

“Then where ?” Ellie stops following and Aster pauses, too. “Where can we talk about it?”

 

When Aster doesn’t reply, Ellie speaks again.

 

“The station. Can you meet me at the station after school?”

 

The bell rings, signalling the end of lunch. The halls begin to get crowded and noisy, and Ellie watches as Aster walks away from her.

 

Shit…

 

-

 

“So does that mean she’s going to meet up with you?” Paul jogs to keep up with Ellie’s pedaling.

 

“I don’t know,” Ellie answers quietly.

 

“What do you mean you don’t know?” Paul frowns. “She didn’t reply?”

 

“She walked away.”

 

“I guess she didn’t believe--”

 

“She knows.”

 

“What?”

 

Paul stops jogging. Ellie stops pedaling, her right foot coming down onto the asphalt to keep her balanced.

 

“If she’s mad at me, too… she knows that I’ve been helping you.”

 

“But how could that even be possible? There wasn’t--”

 

“I hung out with her the same day she asked you if you believed in God. I gave her the same answer I made you give her over text,” Ellie admits. She turns to Paul. “I’m really, really sorry. I messed up. I messed up really bad.”

 

“Oh…” Paul says. “Is… is it fixable? I mean, do you think I still have a chance?”

 

“I don’t know, Paul,” Ellie sighs. “If she shows up today, I’m going to try my hardest to give you another chance. I screwed up so it’s on me to fix it.”

 

“Should I be there, too?” Paul asks.

 

“No,” Ellie says. She remembers seeing the hurt in Aster’s eyes earlier that day in the bathroom, sending a sharp pain straight to her heart. “No... I think… I think that’d make it worse. Just let me talk to her.”

 

“Okay,” Paul nods. “I trust you.”

 

Ellie takes a deep breath before starting to pedal once more.

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

Ellie’s sitting in the train booth when she sees Aster’s familiar car pull onto the side of the road. She gets up just as Aster exits her car and watches with an uneasy feeling in her gut as the girl walks towards her. Ellie walks out of the booth as Aster leans her back against the front of it, arms locked across her chest.

 

“Thanks for coming,” Ellie says awkwardly as she stands in front of Aster. 

 

She’s never seen Aster look so angry before. Earlier in the bathroom she’d seemed sad, but not angry .

 

“I, uhh… I really wanted to talk to you.”

 

Aster rolls her eyes and shakes her head, letting out a scoff of disbelief. 

 

“Who am I talking to right now?” Aster asks with knitted eyebrows. “You or Paul?”

 

Okay , Ellie thinks, she definitely knows.

 

Me ,” she answers. “Aster, I’m sorry for not letting you know, but it was only supposed to be one letter.”

 

“Apologies with ‘but’s aren’t apologies,” Aster says as she stares off to the side. She examines the chipping paint on the old train station as Ellie takes a moment to think of a reply.

 

… 

 

“He really likes you…” Ellie whispers. “When he came to me with the letter, he wanted me to revise it so you’d like him back. At first I didn’t want to--I told him it was wrong and it wouldn’t feel authentic if I wrote it for him, but…”

 

Aster turns to stare at Ellie.

 

“But what?” Aster asks as coldly as she can muster. 

 

(Her voice is shaky, so it doesn’t quite work out the way she’d wanted it to.)

 

“But I wrote the letter for him anyway. And then you replied. And it… it was fun .”

 

“It was fun to play around with my feelings?” Aster asks, offended. She gets more riled up. “It was fun to--”

 

No . No, that’s not what I meant. I’m sorry, I meant...” Ellie cuts her off. “I meant-- talking to you was fun. Writing letters to you. Texting you. It was something to look forward to. I’m sorry. I-- We didn’t mean to hurt you.”

 

“Well, you did,” Aster mumbles, surprised that she’d even admit that.

 

“I know. I’m sorry,” Ellie apologizes again. “Paul has been trying really hard, though. He’s been reading the books we’ve been talking about and studying the films and I--I even saw him Google who Picasso was the other day!”

 

“Why are you even still trying, Ellie?” Aster asks quietly, almost heartbreakingly so.

 

Ellie deflates. “What do you mean?”

 

“Paul isn’t the guy I thought he was when I started dating him,” Aster replies. “I only really gave him a chance because of his-- your --letters. That means that I don’t even like him . I like--”

 

She stops talking before she can finish her sentence. Ellie gulps nervously because she thinks she knows what Aster was going to say.

 

Neither of them want to say it out loud.

 

 

“I don’t even like him.”

 

“But...” Ellie frowns. “He’s really sweet. And he tries his hardest. He might not be the best in the writing department, but he’s learning. He likes you enough to read the books you mention, even if he has to look up the words in them every two minutes on the internet. He’s hardworking and he’s protective and--”

 

“Was it even really you who wrote the letters?” Aster asks, ignoring Ellie’s ramble about Paul completely.

 

“What?”

 

“Were you pretending to be someone else, too?”

 

“No…” Ellie rejects the idea. “That’s… No. I wrote to you the way I would write to you myself. As Ellie.”

 

“So, when you told me you were a good guy and I deserved a good guy…?”

 

“Paul,” Ellie answers. “I meant Paul--That time, I was speaking as Paul.”

 

Aster seems almost disappointed with the answer, though she’d known what Ellie was going to say. Ellie’s mind reels at this. 

 

“You should just give him a chance,” Ellie says.

 

“Why should I?”

 

“Because he really, really likes you.”

 

“I gave him a chance,” Aster replies. “I can barely hold a conversation with him.”

 

“He’s trying .” Ellie urges, starting to get frustrated. “And if you give him another chance, I’ll back off completely. I’ll give you his number so you can talk with him personally. The letters will stop.”

 

“I don’t like him, Ellie.”

 

“You barely even know him--”

 

“Yeah, because I’ve spent all my time getting to know you !” Aster snaps. She pushes off of the booth and uncrosses her arms as she takes a step closer to Ellie. “You still don’t get it. The only reason I held his hand, the only reason I kissed him, the only reason I continued going on dates with him was because I thought he was you . And--And learning that he isn’t who I thought he was… learning that it wasn’t him I stayed up late talking to, it wasn’t him that gave me the sweetest love letters… it makes me sick .”

 

Aster’s eyes begin watering as Ellie stares helplessly at the girl she loves.

 

“I’m done with him,” Aster says with a sense of finality in her tone. “And I’m done with you.”

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

When Ellie sits on her front steps with Paul that night, she tries her hardest to hold back tears as she recalls the conversation to her friend.

 

“We really hurt her, Paul…” Ellie whispers.

 

“Yeah…” Paul replies quietly. “My chances are ruined.”

 

Ellie stares at Paul in disbelief. “Paul, didn’t you hear me? We hurt her. A lot.”

 

Hearing the emphasis in Ellie’s tone makes Paul retract like a hurt puppy. He looks down at his feet.

 

“I know. Sorry,” he says. “She only liked me because of you. I guess that’s what I paid for, but…”

 

Ellie stares at her friend whose eyes are unusually solemn for his character.

 

“I’m sorry for messing everything up,” Ellie closes her eyes. “If I’d just been a little more careful--”

 

“Hey, no,” Paul places a hand on Ellie’s shoulder. “I dragged you into this mess. It’s my fault. You were right from the beginning… Having you write my letters wasn’t authority--”

 

Authentic .”

 

“--yeah, that.” Paul waves it off. “My point is: it’s not your fault, so don’t take the blame like it is.”

 

“Okay,” Ellie nods. She leans her head on Paul’s shoulder. “Thanks, Paul.”

 

“No problem.”

 

After a bit of silence, Paul speaks up.

 

“Do you want another taco sausage?”

 

“Paul, no .”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With college application deadlines nearing and graduation coming up soon after that, Aster busies herself as much as she humanly can. The only time she sees Ellie is in choir practice or the random chance she makes eye contact with her during church. Paul isn’t as easy to avoid, considering his locker is right across Aster’s, but he has enough common sense not to try talking to her.

 

The both of them looked like kicked puppies whenever Aster’s around and she only has half-the-heart to feel bad for one of them.

 

Ellie.

 

They hadn’t spoken at all since they’d met at the train station, and that was nearly a month ago. Aster still hasn’t broken the habit of checking her phone during the night for the off chance that SmithCorona would pop up on her screen. Her heart still skips a beat whenever she opens her locker in case there’s another letter dropped off.

 

There never is another text or another letter, but Aster still holds out hope for some reason.

 

Except, when she sees Ellie try to walk up to her one day after church, she shuts down, practically runs away from Ellie. 

 

She stops going to church.

 

She runs because she thinks it’ll hurt less in the end when Ellie inevitably walks out of her life.

 

 

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

 

 

“Paul,” Ellie calls out one day on their way home from school. She has her bike, but she’s opting to walk alongside it instead of riding it.

 

“What’s up?” Paul asks as he kicks a pebble across the road.

 

“Would you be mad at me if I talked to Aster?”

 

Paul frowns and quirks an eyebrow. “Why would I be mad at you for that?”

 

“Well…” Ellie trails off. “If Aster only liked you because she thought I was you then… maybe that means she likes me…?”

 

Paul laughs at that. “You’re kidding? The pastor’s daughter being gay?”

 

“It’s possible,” Ellie mumbles.

 

“Nah,” Paul shakes her head. “She knows she’d burn in hell for that.”

 

“Is that what you really think?” Ellie asks, wanting the ground to swallow her whole.

 

“Of course,” Paul shrugs. ”It’s not natural.”

 

Ellie blinks away the tears that form in her eyes the entire rest of the way home. Paul tries to make conversation but Ellie gives short responses, mostly in hums. 

 

When Paul invites her back to his place for dinner, she declines and hurries into her own home. She barely greets her dad as she walks past the kitchen and hurries up to her room.

 

Ellie sits at her desk and pulls out a blank piece of paper.

 

She only has one thought as she starts writing.

 

I don’t believe in hell.

 

-

 

Dear Aster,

 

I know you probably want nothing to do with me, but frankly, I’ve missed you. I understand that no amount of words can ever make up for the pain and betrayal I’ve caused you. I’ll say sorry however many times you’d like me to (without any ‘but’s). The only time I see you is in choir class, and I can feel the cold shoulder from across the room. I deserve it, don’t get me wrong, I just hope I can try and melt some of it off through some more letters. 

 

I haven’t seen you at church for a while. I hope everything is okay, I understand things must be super busy with deadlines coming up. I can’t believe we’re graduating soon. Do you have any plans on graduation day? My dad and I are probably just gonna celebrate by watching movies at home.

 

It’s okay if you don’t want to write back yet. We don’t have many days left of school, but you know where the train station is and you know my Ghostmessenger ID. Talk to me whenever you feel like it, okay?

 

From,

Ellie

 

-

 

Aster lets out a short chuckle at how many times Ellie underlined her name and circled it. Just when she’d started giving up hope, the letter fell out of her locker once she opened it and filled her stomach with a thousand butterflies-- just like it used to .

 

She bites her lower lip as she slips the letter into her backpack and heads to class, debating on whether or not to give an immediate reply to Ellie or to wait it out.

 

She knows she’s still hurt because of Ellie, but she also knows that she’s hurting because of the lack of Ellie. Aster thinks that Ellie being the first to extend the olive branch is a good sign.

 

As soon as Aster sits down in math class, she writes a reply.

 

-

 

Dear Ellie ,

 

You’re only half-right about me wanting nothing to do with you. I’m still hurt and I’m not going to forgive you very easy, but you’re on the right path. 

 

I’ve been working on my art portfolio so I can apply to art school. There’s no promise that I’d get in, but I want to try at least. Where have you applied to? And no, I don’t have plans on graduation day. My family might buy me some flowers and call it a day.

 

I wasn’t going to reply so soon, but I realized avoiding you would only hurt me more. 

 

By the way: I’ve missed you, too. 

 

From,

Aster

 

-

 

When Ellie finds the letter tucked into the back basket of her bike, she nearly shits herself then and there. She opens it with shaky hands and scans the letter as fast as she can, heart thumping against her chest. Once she’s read it over, she reads it again. And then again. And then--

 

“Hey, Ellie,” Paul comes up out of the blue.

 

Ellie looks up and quickly folds the letter, stuffing it into its envelope.

 

“You alright?” Paul questions. “You’ve been avoiding me. I didn’t see you this morning to give you a ride and you haven’t responded to any of my texts... What are you holding? Wait--is that a letter from Aster?”

 

“It’s none of your business,” Ellie mutters, getting on her bike and riding away.

 

Paul runs to keep up, “You actually sent her another letter?”

 

Ellie’s silent as she continues pedaling. After hearing Paul’s real thoughts about gay people, she feels like their connection is ruined. No matter how sweet he’d been to her prior, no matter how protective he’d been… it’s ruined.

 

“Wait--Ellie, wait --!” Paul sprints in front of Ellie’s bike and stops it by the handles.

 

Ellie gasps and nearly topples off her bike. “Paul, what the hell?!”

 

Paul, out of breath, stares at Ellie. “You like her, don’t you?”

 

“It depends,” Ellie frowns, eyes stern. “Are you gonna tell me I’m going to burn in hell, too?”

 

“No,” Paul’s face falls. “I thought about what you said yesterday… about how maybe she likes you . I was too… I was too mean with my words. It was stupid of me to say that, Ellie.”

 

“Then why say it?” Ellie questions.

 

“I was angry,” Paul replies. “And upset and--I didn’t want to think of Aster liking anybody else. Except she has been liking somebody else this entire time and-- you’re right --she likes you. And if you like her too, then that's fine--not that you need my permission, or something, but I... Look, I’m sorry for saying gay people aren’t normal. And for saying they’d burn in hell.”

 

Ellie narrows her eyes. She stares at Paul, contemplating her next works.

 

...

 

“Do you actually mean that apology?” she asks.

 

“Yes,” comes the instant response. “One hundred percent, yes.”

 

“And you’re not mad at me for talking to Aster…? As in, talking talking to Aster.”

 

“No,” and then, Paul smiles. “I’ve gotta say: you work fast .”

 

“Oh, shut up ,” Ellie rolls her eyes and blushes as Paul continues to tease her.

 

“No, but seriously,” Paul’s playfulness dies down. “If anybody deserves to be with Aster, it’s you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a week of sending letters, Aster starts smiling at Ellie in choir. A couple of days after that, they start texting again.

 

It’s just like when Ellie had been pretending to be Paul, except she gets to really be herself this time. It’s freeing, and she feels herself falling deeper and deeper in love with Aster than ever before. 

 

They haven’t spoken in real life yet, what with all of the last-minute high school work their teachers are giving them and graduation rehearsals, but Ellie gets a text late one night as she sits in the train booth.

 

DiegaRivero: It’s pouring outside!

SmithCorona: Yeah, I know

SmithCorona: I’m kind of surprised the train booth hasn't broken with how hard it’s raining

DiegaRivero: Wait… you’re at the station?

SmithCorona: Yup

DiegaRivero: Why are you there so early? Isn’t the next train at close to midnight? It’s only nine.

SmithCorona: Aw you remember the schedule

DiegaRivero: Ellie.

SmithCorona: It’s relaxing being in the booth. I like reading.

DiegaRivero: You read for three hours straight?

SmithCorona: No.. Sometimes I just sit…

DiegaRivero: Sounds riveting

SmithCorona: It is! Thank you very much!

DiegaRivero: Well… would you like some company?

SmithCorona: HUH?? Wouldn’t your dad kill you?

DiegaRivero: I can sneak out

SmithCorona: ….

DiegaRivero: School’s practically over for us already. I don’t think he’d mind

SmithCorona: I’m not condoning your rebellious phase!

 

And, truth be told, Ellie feels incredibly giddy when she sees Aster’s car park on the side of the road. She watches as the engine is shut off and then laughs when she sees Aster haul ass to get to the train booth. The booth barely fits the both of them, but they squeeze in regardless so Aster’s not stuck in the rain.

 

“Why didn’t we just wait in your car?” Ellie laughs as Aster huffs and lowers her jean jacket she’d been using as a makeshift umbrella.

 

“Oh, I didn’t think of that,” Aster replies as she scans the little table where a book is open and placed face-down. “Do you want to run to my car, then?”

 

No ,” Ellie answers a bit too quickly. She clears her throat when she sees the smile of amusement on Aster’s lips. “I mean--no. You’re already here, so...”

 

“Okay,” Aster says, sending them into silence. They’re standing on opposite sides of the booth as the droplets clinging to Aster’s clothes drip onto the wooden floor almost rhythmically.

 

“You--” Ellie speaks up.

 

“I--” Aster starts at the same time.

 

They both go silent before breaking out into giggles.

 

“You first,” Aster says.

 

“I was just going to say you didn’t have to drive all the way out here to keep me company,” Ellie says. “I would’ve been fine with your texts, too.”

 

Aster’s eyes light up playfully as she reaches for the door handle. “Oh, do you want me to leave? Because I can--”

 

No ,” Ellie rolls her eyes, reaching for Aster’s hand and pulling it away from the door. The contact shocks both of them and they sit in silence, both just staring at their connected hands. Ellie then clears her throat and lets go. “W-What were you going to say?”

 

“Oh, uhm…” Aster struggles to remember. “I… Oh --right, I was going to say I think I have rocks in my shoe.”

 

“Rocks in your…” Ellie repeats, trailing off. “Sit, take your shoe off!”

 

She gestures to the small stool and watches as Aster does as she’s told. After dumping whatever pebbles she had in her shoe, Aster looks up at Ellie with raised eyebrows.

 

“Two more hours,” she says in a light tone. “You sure you don’t want to wait in my car?”

 

“Do you have something against my booth?” Ellie retorts in playful defense.

 

“Well, no… but there’s only one chair in here.”

 

“I can stand,” Ellie hums. “You’ve been standing for hours at work, haven’t you?”

 

“Yeah,” Aster’s playful smile softens. She didn’t think Ellie would’ve remembered. Slowly, Aster reaches up and takes Ellie’s right hand into both of hers. She grins up at Ellie, who seems to have malfunctioned by her actions. “It’s crazy how we’re already graduating in less than a month, huh?”

 

“Uhm…. yeah,” Ellie struggles to speak. Aster’s hands are really soft. “And this week’s our last week of school.”

 

“It’s going by really fast…” Aster states.

 

Ellie’s fingers curl around Aster’s palm, humming. “A little bit too fast, I’d say.”

 

“Aren’t you excited for college?”

 

“Mmm, yeah, but…” Ellie shrugs, fiddling with Aster’s fingers with her other hand.

 

“But…?”

 

“I’d be so far from here.”

 

“Isn’t that the point?” Aster laughs. “To get away from Squahamish?

 

“Yeah but that also means away from my dad… and from Paul… and… and from you …”

 

Aster feels her heart warm up, the feeling spreading all over her body. Her smile widens and she squeezes Ellie’s hands, standing up.

 

“You would come back for breaks, no? Besides, it’s college . You’re supposed to get out there and see new things, meet new people.”

 

“That doesn’t mean I’m not going to miss you,” Ellie slightly pouts as she says this.

 

Aster pouts, too, but hers is more playful. She leans up to kiss Ellie’s cheek and then reaches behind her and takes the book. She places it in Ellie’s hand and sits back down.

 

“Read to me?”

 

Ellie, frozen by the cheek-kiss, snaps out of it when Aster gently kicks her ankle.

 

“Huh? Right-- right . Reading.”

 

-

 

Ellie almost feels relieved when she hears the roar of the train despite the pouring rain. Aster’s been staring at her with the kindest eyes the entire time she’s been reading, and Ellie thinks her face has been stained red permanently with how hard she’d been blushing.

 

“That’s the train! I gotta--” Ellie puts the book down and grabs the two lights, hurrying out into the rain.

 

When Aster gets up and follows Ellie out into the rain, Ellie widens her eyes.

 

“You’re gonna get sick!” she says. “Go back inside!”

 

Aster shakes her head and leans back against the booth.

 

It takes a minute for the train to pass by fully. Once it does, Ellie hurries towards Aster.

 

“Come on--” Ellie takes Aster’s hand and tugs her towards the booth again.

 

“Ellie,” Aster says over the rain, staying put and pulling Ellie towards her.

 

Ellie topples into Aster, gasping as Aster steadies her with a hand on her hip and another on the side of her neck.

 

“You’re…” Ellie gulps nervously at the lack of distance between them. “You’re going to get sick.”

 

“Ellie,” Aster says, quieter this time. The hand on her nape pulls her closer. “I don’t care if I get sick.”

 

And when their lips meet, Ellie feels the outline of Aster’s smile against her own lips. The rain is cold but their kiss is amazingly warm, and Ellie clings onto the side of Aster’s jean jacket with the hand she’s not using to hold the lights. Aster's hands may be soft but they don't compare to her lips, and the way she cups Ellie's jaw--

 

They jump apart when the sky lights up with lightning and they squeal when thunder booms.

 

Into the small booth they go, and Ellie hangs the lights back up as Aster stands and watches. They both feel euphoric after sharing their first kiss together. It's hard for them to say anything, but Ellie tries.

 

“Thanks for keeping me company tonight,” she smiles shyly. Ellie gestures outside vaguely. “Do you think you’d be okay driving back in this weather?”

 

“I’ll drive extra slow,” Aster smiles, moving closer to Ellie. She leans up and places a short kiss to her lips. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”

 

“Yeah,” Ellie says dreamily. “Text me when you get home.”

 

“Will do,” Aster mock-salutes before reaching for the door.

 

Except Ellie doesn't want her to leave just yet. She pulls Aster back and kisses her once more, deeper this time, lasting for longer than a quick second. She pulls away with a smile on her lips and avoids Aster’s eyes.

 

“Drive safe.”

 

Aster, taken aback by the action, gives an impressed smile. 

 

“I’ll text you when I’m home.”

 

-

 

“She is a pretty girl.”

 

Ellie feels her blood run cold when she hears her dad speak, coming face-to-face with him as she enters the house. She closes the door and takes her shoes off, the clothes on her body heavy with rain.

 

“Ba, I didn’t know you were awake.”

 

Ellie speaks cautiously, wondering if her father had seen anything more than he’s letting on.

 

“Is she your girlfriend?”

 

Although the question isn’t asked with any negativity, Ellie still feels as if she’s let him down. She feels the giddiness from earlier dissipate completely, her stomach churning uncomfortably. 

 

“Ba…” she says quietly. “Why do you ask?”

 

“Friends do not kiss,” he answers before speaking again as he sees his daughter's eyes fill with tears. “It’s okay, Ellie. I’m not mad.”

 

“You’re not?” Ellie’s fear is replaced with shock. 

 

“I have no reason to be mad,” he switches from English to Mandarin. “Hating on love… that’s no good. You’re my daughter. As long as the person you love treats you well, I don’t care who they are.”

 

Ellie, speechless, decides to just rush forward and hug her father as tightly as she can, squeezing her eyes shut.

 

Her father returns the hug, patting her on the back.

 

“Go change your clothes. You’re going to get sick.”

 

“I don’t care,” Ellie shakes her head. She holds onto her father for as long as she can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aster cheers when Ellie walks across the stage and Ellie does the same when Aster walks. When the ceremony’s over and everyone’s done taking pictures with each other, Ellie finds Aster and hurries over.

 

“Hey,” she greets.

 

“Hi,” Aster smiles. “We graduated.”

 

“We did,” Ellie replies. “Uhm, are you busy after this?”

 

“No,” Aster holds up the bouquet of flowers in her arms. “Family got me flowers and called it a day.”

 

“Would you like to spend the day with me?” Ellie suggests. “Oh, and my dad.”

 

“Really?” Aster asks with wide eyes. “I don’t want to intrude.”

 

“You wouldn’t be. Besides, I’ve been wanting to let you meet him. He’s been asking to meet you, actually.”

 

“Only if it’s okay…” Aster trails off. “I’d have to double-check with my dad.”

 

“Of course it’s okay! Okay, you go ask your dad. Just swing by if you can, yeah?” Ellie smiles.

 

“Yeah,” Aster nods. Just before Ellie turns to walk away, she calls out. “Wait, Ellie--”

 

“Hm?”

 

“Does your dad know that we’re... dating?”

 

“Yes,” Ellie smiles. “He knows.”

 

“He does--?”

 

Ellie !” Paul’s voice rings out loudly. He jogs over to the two of them before realizing Ellie was in the middle of a conversation. “My mom said--Oh, hi, Aster.”

 

“Hey,” Aster replies.

 

He turns awkwardly to Ellie. “Uhm… Ellie, my mom said I could come over around eight, if that’s not too late for movie-night.”

 

“Oh… I thought you were busy,” Ellie’s eyes flicker over to Aster, worry etched on her face. She’s not sure if Aster would be comfortable with Paul there.

 

“So, should I bring anything? Chips? Soda?” Aster asks, reading Ellie’s emotions like an open-book.

 

The tension in Ellie’s demeanor deflates. She smiles. “No. Just bring yourself, I can handle the rest.”

 

Paul seems to sense the change in atmosphere, too, because he grins. “I’ll bring the sausages, of course.”

 

“Of course,” Aster laughs.

 

-

 

It’s not as awkward as Ellie thought it might’ve been. Paul and her father sit in the two arm chairs they have in the living room while she and Aster sit on the ground with a blanket underneath them. The little comments they make during the movies make the small crowd of four chuckle and giggle, filling Ellie up with happiness. 

 

Once her dad retires to his bedroom, some of the comfortableness retires with him.

 

There’s a slight tension in the room now that her dad’s not there as a buffer. 

 

Surprisingly, it’s Paul who speaks up first.

 

“I’m happy for you two, you know?”

 

Both Ellie and Aster turn around to look at Paul, who continues talking. He awkwardly rubs his hands together and flickers his eyes between the two girls, unsure who to maintain eye contact with.

 

“I’m not upset anymore over anything,” he says. “It’s just nice seeing Ellie happy.”

 

Aster smiles. “Thanks, Paul. You’re a good guy.”

 

He nods. “I know.”

 

The reply makes the three of them chuckle, and the tension’s gone once more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it’s time for Ellie to hop on the train to college, both her girlfriend and her best friend come to say goodbye. Paul hugs her as tightly as he can, nearly popping her lungs as he does so, and Aster kisses her as softly as she can, nearly ripping her heart out.

 

“I’m going to come home the first chance I get,” Ellie promises them.

 

“We know,” Aster smiles. “Hurry, before your train goes.”

 

Ellie doesn’t like that Aster’s already tearing up.

 

“You better text us,” Paul grunts.

 

Oh my God. He’s going to cry, too!

 

“No tears. Stop crying,” Ellie points to the two of them. “I’ll be back before you know it.”

 

Aster nods weakly, wiping away the tear that had escaped.

 

Before the two of them can see her cry, Ellie hurries to get on her train. She sits by the window and watches as Aster and Paul wave goodbye. The train hisses as it starts to move again, and she finally thinks it’s time to let the waterworks flow.

 

Except, she spots Paul running after the train. She barely manages to hear Aster laugh, too.

 

And so, she cries. She cries because she’s never felt so loved and accepted all her life. She knows that, despite the distance, the love and acceptance isn’t going to go anywhere. 

 

-

 

Aster catches up to Paul, who’s bent over with his hands on his knees, panting for air.

 

“Was running after the train like that worth it?” Aster pats his back.

 

Paul straightens out his posture, nodding and smiling at Aster. “For sure.”