She was back.
She hadn’t been gone for long, only a few months, and now she was back for the summer. Somehow she was both excited to be back and frightened to actually be back . Sure, college had been hard at first and she missed her dad, and Paul (even if she’d never admit the latter one); but she’d gotten used to the workload, the people, the places. She’d spent a great year in Grinnell. But there was one thing she couldn’t get out of her mind; one person. Ellie had missed Aster. Of course, it wasn’t in the traditional ‘missing your loved ones’ way. It was more of a longing; she longed to be back in the hot springs with her flower girl. And here she was, hoping Aster would show up, that she’d be waiting for her. The truth was, since the kiss, the girls had not seen each other again. It’s not like Ellie didn’t want to talk to the flower girl, she just didn’t know what to say after everything that had happened.
So there she was. Ellie. The “Chinese girl” of Squahamish; waiting on that platform for the girl who held her heart, the girl with the empty promise.
“ Hey, Ellie! I’m here! ”
Ellie hides her face in her palms, amused by her best friend’s antics. What a moron . A wide grin plastered across his face, Paul starts walking towards her. Suddenly, the tiny girl is swallowed in her giant best friend’s tight hug.
“ Help, I’m getting attacked by a bear.
- Oh shut up! It’s good to see you Chu. Come on I made some Taco sausage! Said Paul excitedly.”
After lunch, Paul and Ellie retreated to their old spot. The abandoned train car stood there, as faithful as always. She had missed this.
As she enters the metal box, a wave of memories floods the tiny girl’s brain. She has not been in here since… Aster. Drowning in her thoughts, she doesn’t notice that her best friend is now in the middle of an epic speech . Something about tacos and his truck.
“ So I told him he could keep his shitty cabbage-smelling stand. Turns out my truck makes for a pretty good taco stand! he says proudly, before turning to a puzzled Ellie. He frowns. Hey dude, are you okay?
-You seem… Lost. Distant. Are you okay?
-Oh, right, yes, yes!
-Remember? We said no more lies.
He is her best friend after all, what is she so afraid of? Those words. But Paul didn’t mean what he said that day, he was just… misinformed. After a long pause, the petite girl turns to her unusually quiet friend.
-Right. Erm… I was thinking about Aster.
-Wait, didn’t you guys stay in touch?
-Shit, but I thought you kissed her!
-Well, I did.
-So? What happened after?
-Life, I guess. We texted for a bit, but it felt weird, and then we lost touch. ”
For a moment everything is quiet again. The silence is loud and heavy, she thinks she might have disappointed him. After all, she is the one who ruined his chances with the same girl, and here she is, rambling on about Aster. Her Aster . But then he breaks the silence and Ellie feels like someone just pushed her off a cliff.
“ You know, she’s back in town. ”
That first week is spent avoiding every location in Squahamish in which she could find Aster, this leaves Ellie a few places in which she can roam freely. Most of her days are spent reading, writing or talking to Paul in the old train wagon. With this whole plan, she’s pretty sure she can spend the summer far from Aster. It can’t be that hard; she tries to convince herself. sure Squahamish is small but she’s smart she can figure out a way around her ghost.
That is until her father asks her to run errands for him. Sure she could try to tell him why she doesn’t want to go. Why she has to stay inside. Why she can’t go where she can be. Except she can’t. So she grabs her coat, a bag, some change and she leaves the house. If she breaks the rules just this one time nothing bad can happen. Right?
Squahamish being the small town it is, there is only one small grocery store, probably built in the 80s, the store looks fairly ‘vintage’. If vintage stood for decrepit, with flaked washed paint. The cashier is a scrawny teenager looking for some pocket money. Ellie liked to imagine what this teenager would do with this money. Was it for a round-the-world trip? To bail his mom from prison? To buy a PlayStation? Truth was, living in a small town as an only child with no friends wasn’t super exciting, and young Ellie liked to come up with stories about the population of Squahamish to keep herself entertained. Realising she’d gotten distracted again, the tiny girl decides to focus on her dad’s grocery list.
When the bell rings signalling a new customer, the Chinese girl doesn’t think much of it. Until she hears that voice. No. No this can’t be. What even are the odds of this? So she hides behind the shelf. If she stays out of the other’s sight maybe she won’t notice her, maybe she’ll get to pay for her stuff and leave. It’s like she’s in a spy movie, except that the target is a tube of toothpaste and the enemy is the girl she sees whenever she closes her eyes.
But when she looks up from her shelf, Aster is nowhere to be found. She probably just wanted to buy some mints and now she’s gone . Ellie relaxes. Takes a deep breath. Close call . A voice comes from behind her shoulder, and she swears everything just froze into place.
“ Ellie! I didn’t know you were back, it’s so good to see you.
Here she is. Her worst nightmare; the girl of her dreams. Aster. It’s really her, in flesh and blood, standing right in front of her, as beautiful as ever. Was she ever not beautiful?
- A-Aster! It’s good to see you too.
-Ellie Chu… Did I catch you off guard? whispers the other girl, with a devilish smirk.”
A thousand fires light up inside Ellie’s chest and she’s sure she’s going to melt, right then and there. And that’s how a beaming Aster helps a now starstruck Ellie to gather the items left on her list. Once they’re on the parking lot Ellie finally regains consciousness, just in time for the flower girl to offer her a ride to the station. Of course, the tiny girl accepts with a simple nod and gets in the car.
“So, how long has it been? Ellie manages to mutter in the safety of the car.
-Erm… A year? Aster replies, even though she’s not entirely sure what the other girl means by that.
-No, I mean… How long has it been since you came back?
She blushes. Now it’s Ellie’s turn to be curious, what was she referring to earlier? Could she be? No… No .
-It’s been a little over a week. How about you?
-A little under a week.“
Both of them let out a small laugh and silence slowly takes over the rest of the car ride. Ellie leans against the window frame, aimlessly staring at the ever-changing landscape. Aster can’t help but toss a few glances her way. It’s as if they’re back then. She thinks about the hot springs, the song, their song. And then she thinks of the kiss. She wishes the tiny girl’s lips were pressed against hers again. But the sight of the station reminds her that now isn’t then . Sure when you look at it on paper, a year doesn’t seem like much, it’s just three hundred and sixty-five days. Thing is, to Aster those three hundred and sixty-five days felt like years. What even are they? Friends? Definitely not. Then what?
“ Thanks for taking me home. It was… nice.
-My pleasure. “
My pleasure? Really? What the hell dude! Keep it together.
At the sight of the Chinese girl’s back, the flower girl can’t help herself and shouts: “ Ellie! Wait!”. The other one turns around, intrigued. “Would you- would you wanna... come over later?” Aster stumbles on her words, she thinks she’s lost it. There’s no way Ellie’s gonna accept that. She seems different, (other than the new, bolder wardrobe) who knows what happened over the course of the last year. A year isn’t nothing . Still, she can’t help it, whenever she’s with the other girl she loses control of herself.
Ellie’s reply is short and simple, but to Aster, it sounds like the most beautiful thing she’s ever heard.
“I’d love to.”