Time passes by in slow, honey-dipped days, and Aster enjoys every moment of it. Whether it’s the sweet cinnamon kinds that make her crave Ellie’s lips, or the hard crisp apple ones that lead to slamming doors and raised voices, all that matters is that they are together.
If you had asked Aster years ago, when she stood on that street in Squahamish and watched Ellie walk away, she would have never predicted a future like this. One where she’s free to live her life, and Ellie chooses continually to stay by her side. It’s something that Marissa threw away, something that Aster had originally shied away from, but now she has Ellie Chu, and they are infinitely happy.
So now she takes the hard times and the good ones, sets forward to live a life entirely of her own making, and chooses to fall in love even more with Ellie.
“So when’s the wedding?” Paul asks her two years after she moving to Los Angeles. He’s visiting for a week to put together the final touches on the LA branch of Munsky’s Sausage and decided to pick her up after work for a quick jaunt around the city before Ellie get off.
They’re lounging in the bed of his pick-up truck when he finally asks the question that’s been haunting her for months now. She thinks of the little black box hidden behind the microwaveable rice bags in the kitchen because she knows Ellie would never touch it, still too insulted that Aster would’ve even thought of buying such a heathenistic thing.
Aster simply shakes her head, laughing, and tries to brush it off. She doesn’t want Paul to mention anything to Ellie before she’s even had a chance to plan. “You’re getting ahead of yourself, Munsky.”
“Come on.” He reaches over and nudges her, a warm smile stretching across his face. “You guys are inseparable.”
“We are.” It’s true, Aster knows it. Everyone does. It’s why she bought the ring originally six months ago.
“Then what’s the problem?” Paul draws his knee to his chest, wraps an arm around it, and levels her with a quizzical stare. “You’re honestly gonna sit there and tell me that there’s no wedding bells in the near future for my two best girls?”
Aster shrugs. “Baby steps, I guess?”
“Well that seems like a waste.”
“Paul, come on!” She wants to laugh it off, but he isn’t giving her an inch.
“I thought you guys were happy together.”
She hums in agreement. “We are.”
“Two years is a long time.”
There’s a beat of silence, and then he leans forward, warm breath tickling the shell of her ear. “Can I see the ring?” he asks finally, and she can hear the smile in his voice.
Shoulders shaking, Aster falls back against the backboard of the truck bed, her laugh echoing through the grassy knoll. Here she is, sitting next to her best friend discussing her plans to propose to her girlfriend. It’s not a life she’d ever imagined when Trig originally proposed all those years ago, but it’s one she wouldn’t trade for anything.
“Okay, okay, fine,” Aster finally gives. She props up on her elbows and levels Paul with a heavy gaze, eyes still sparkling. “I’ll show you, but in exchange, you have to help me figure this out. The proposal has to be perfect.”
“Oh, Aster,” Paul says. “Don’t you know by now that meddling with people’s lives is something I excel at?”
Aster is all-to-familiar with the blue cotton sheets of Ellie’s bedroom, the ones that gleam like a sunlit sky at daybreak, that match perfectly against Ellie’s warm skin. Aster’s favorite view is Ellie stretched out across them on a morning after, all soft skin and worn edges, so perfect and happy. The memory makes Aster’s heart clench something fierce because oh she loves her.
“I should start charging you rent,” Ellie tells her one morning after Aster wakes up, all sleepy eyes and pillow imprints on cheeks. She’s ensconced in the doorway that leads to the living room, coffee mugs held tight in both hands.
“Or we can just move in together,” Aster mumbles, already reaching for the coffee with a soft thank you under her breath. Ellie blinks hard as Aster smiles smugly. “Save us both some rent.”
Ellie’s lease is up at the end of the month anyway, and she’s anything but subtle.
“I’ll start bringing things over after lunch?” Ellie suggests. There’s a pen tucked behind her ear as she settles next to Aster on the bed, notebook in hand. It looks like she’s been up for a while, jotting down ideas for songs and stories, inspiration striking in that space between dreams and wakefulness.
Aster blinks. “It’s that easy to get a yes out of you?”
Ellie narrows her eyes in a mock glare over the rim of her coffee. “You think too much, you know that?”
Aster can’t answer that immediately, too busy thinking. It must be bad if Ellie, the Queen of In Her Head, noticed. She lays back against the headboard, staring at the coffee mug clasped between her hands, and feels the warm weight of Ellie pressed against her side.
“So what is on your mind?” Ellie asks.
She snorts. “I’m not stupid, Aster.”
There’s a long pause, and when Ellie goes to prod her girlfriend further, Aster blurts out: “Marry me, Ellie Chu.”
Ellie’s mouth drops open in surprise. “Excuse me?!”
Her face burns something fierce, and she can feel the heat from her chest to the tips of her ears. Aster chooses the coward’s way out and sets her coffee on the night table, rolls over in bed, and proceeds to try to suffocate herself between Ellie’s pillows.
“You really suck at asking me things, you know that?” Ellie accuses her from above. “It’s a yes, but still.”
Aster groans into the fabric.
The wedding is a frankly extraordinary affair held in the church back in Squahamish for Aster’s parents.
Flowers and ribbon galore, veils and trains and sparkles—whatever their wedding planner tried to throw at them—but Aster really doesn’t care. She spends more time on color coordinating everything and trying to get Ellie to agree to wear a wedding dress. Ellie looks like she’d rather drown than wear one, but Aster manages to stuff her fiancée into a simple white gown just so she can have the satisfaction of taking it off that night.
(That reasoning is the only thing that convinces Ellie.)
Paul is their maid of honor. No one bats an eye.
He stands on the dance floor at the reception hall, a glass of champagne in one hand as he clutches a microphone in the other. With that sauve Munsky-mile smile, he starts his speech with, “I don’t know if any of you know this, but I’m actually the reason these two got together.”
And so it comes out: of one girl who paints and the other who writes, of how they learn to create a masterpiece through words and colors, of one love letter back in high school and an apartment key in Los Angeles, of how discovering yourself takes time and getting over the fear of being yourself takes longer.
It’s how two girls, both afraid to love, learned to trust their hearts. It’s how making bold strokes make the most striking pictures and how a parallelogram always comes back around.
It’s the story of Ellie Chu and Aster Flores and how they fell in love.
It’s a love story, and it’s theirs.
(Neither would have it any other way.)
Their honeymoon is set for Venice, but Ellie takes Aster back to the hot springs for their wedding night.
They spend a few hours embraced together in its waters, naked skin pressed together, and frantic heartbeats filling the silence punctuated by long-drawn moans and soft sighs.
It’s like their first time all over again.
Ten years after their first kiss, and five years after their second, Aster sits on the edge of her and Ellie’s bed as her wife holds an opened envelope between her hands.
“New York, huh?” she says with a smile.
“New York,” Ellie confirms.
“Well then, we better start packing,” Aster tells her. “It’s a good job offer.”
“You’d go with me?”
“Ellie Chu,” Aster tells her with the utmost certainty. “Don’t you know by now that I’d follow you anywhere?”
Ellie’s smile is bold and brilliant, like the most perfect sunrise, and in it, Aster finds peace.