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Best Nightmare

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“Squahamish! Squahamish!”  


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? 


-Not really…


-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.

Chapter Text

Ugh! This is hell , thinks Aster as she tries on yet another outfit. When she was dating Trig, it was never this hard to find something to wear. Not that she’s dating Ellie. She throws her back onto her bed, and her palms crash on her face. “ Aaaah! she shouts in frustration”.


There’s a knock on the door. 


Mi Amor, are you okay? Can I come in?  


It’s her mum, by the sound of it she’s worried. An overwhelming sense of guilt overcomes Aster. Her mum already has enough on her plate, she doesn’t want to add her own problems to the lot. 


-Yeah, yeah, come in!


-I just wanted to make sure you were the one who made the reservation under the name ‘Aster’.


-Oh yeah, that’s me! Sorry, I forgot to tell you.


-No worries. So? What is it for? A date?


-No! No… It’s not like that… It’s just a friend.


-A friend, huh? Come on Mija, you can tell me.


For a second, she thinks she could tell her mum. She thinks that she’ll get it. She won’t be upset, she’s my mum . But there’s the church. The shame she put onto her family’s name. She knows that refusing Trig’s proposal was the best thing she could do. That day she saw what her life could’ve been; a trap. A never-ending nightmare filled with resentment, silence, and shattered dreams. Thank fucking god for Ellie , she thinks, without her, it would’ve been an endless stream of misery and a destroyed youth . If she told her mum that she’d destroyed their reputation just to be with a girl, she would be killing her. 


-Really, she’s just a friend. 


-Oh, you should’ve told me it was a girl, I would’ve never suggested such a thing. No wonder you got so embarrassed! Anyway, I’ll be downstairs if you need anything.”


Maybe telling her mother isn’t the best thing to do. 


In the end, Aster opts for the black floral dress she wore at the hot springs and tops it off with her trademark jean jacket. After all, if she wants to meet Ellie halfway, she’s gonna need something to cover her arms; the nights are pretty cold in old familiar Squahamish (even in summer). 



After knocking on the door of the station, Aster is met by a middle-aged man who, from the looks of it, is Ellie’s father. In his voice, she can hear the echoes of mandarin, and she wonders what this man has had to face to get where he is today. There is a quiet strength in his presence. And although he seems a little protective of his daughter, it seems he only has her best interests at heart. 




-Hi, erm, I’m Aster Flores. I’m here for Ellie, we’re supposed to go out. 


-Ellie! he shouts to the attention of his daughter , Someone’s here for you! Young lady, pretty!


-Dad, stop! You’re embarrassing.


-Very ungrateful this one… he says, turning to Aster and punctuating his sentence with a wink.


The flower girl lets out a small laugh at the man’s antics, it seems there is a twinkle of joy and pride in his eyes.  Ellie comes down the ladder, carrying a duffle bag on one of her shoulders. Aster thinks she looks stunning in her simple white T-shirt and olive coloured bomber jacket. She’s beaming. Edwin’s Chu shares a knowing glance with his daughter, before adding: “Remember; stay away from boys.” Ellie heads out and her father closes the door behind her.


Your dad’s cool.


-I guess. He’s starting to lean on a more playful side, Paul is a bad influence. 


-I wish my dad was more like yours. I mean, he is not horrible, he tries his best, but sometimes he is a bit too controlling.


Aster is met with silence. Ellie stops for a second, a look of sympathy in her eyes. 


-Don’t look at me like that, it’s okay, I’m okay. I got out of the whole ‘Trig’ situation and managed to persuade him to let me go to art school, so things are a little better than what they used to be. He tries, you know, he tries really hard… There’s just this pressure, this need to make everything great, everything worth it. It’s kind of like your painting analogy; he’s ready to sacrifice a good life for the chance at a great one. With his job, his reputation and his religion it’s worked, but he’s sacrificed his relationship with us; his family. 


-Woah. I’m sorry, I- I don’t know what to say. 


-Don’t say anything then, you don’t have to speak, being with you is enough .” 


Aster’s fingers reach for Ellie’s, linking them together. They walk in silence, the light of the evening sun shining on them, hand in hand. That is until they get near Tequila Sal y Limon and the flower girl lets go of the other’s hand awkwardly.


Wait, what are we doing here? I thought we were going to your house. 


-Change of plans, I booked us a table here, dinner’s on me.


Ellie is stunned. Is this a date? No, no, it’s just a dinner between two friends, a reunion of sorts, to catch up. 


Being back on that street with the same girl feels to Aster like a dream come true. How many times has she thought about this moment in the past year, and they’re finally back. 


After you, Milady, she says bowing down, all to Ellie’s amusement.


-You’re an idiot, you know?


-Oh, I know.


They walk inside the restaurant and are welcomed by Aster’s mum. 


“There you are! Mija, no me dijiste que era la del incidente en la iglesia... Her mum comments.


-Why? Does it matter? There's bitterness in her tone.” 


Her mum throws her a dark look. She knows exactly what it means, she’s seen it so many times before; she’s disappointed in her. But then again, what’s new? She feels slightly bad for her attitude towards her mother, but being with Ellie is all she’s wanted for the past year and she’s not letting anything get in her way now that they’re here. 


When they get to the table they each take their seat. It’s lovely, but Aster quickly notices that unlike the other tables for two, on theirs, the candles and flowers are missing. She knows her mom did this. She knows that after the church there were rumours that had to be quieted. Her dad had lashed out on her every night; a raging fire burning everything around him. Her mum made it her duty to do everything in her power, in order to make those ‘hideous stories about her little girl’ stop. Even a year after, her parents still had to go around their way to ‘clarify things’.


I’ll bring you the menus, in the meantime is there anything you wanna drink? 


-I’ll have a ginger ale, please. What about you El?


-Oh, erm, water will be fine, thank you, Mrs Flores , she replies shyly.”


Once her mother comes back with their drinks, some tortilla chips and guacamole, the two girls start skimming through the menu. And after a few minutes, both of them have decided what to eat. After that, there’s a bit of silence, which is quickly replaced by small talk. Both of the girls try to fill the blanks when it comes to the other’s year. Ellie gives Aster the story of her first days on campus. How she got so confused that she took the wrong classes for a week, before realising her mistake and trying to explain to the teacher why she missed their classes for a week. Then it’s the flower girl’s turn to explain how she spent half a day covered in red ink without even noticing it, which earned her the nickname ‘Carrie’. Both of them laugh together, happy to be getting to know each other; officially this time. 


But, before long Aster’s mum is back. She doesn’t pay any attention to Ellie, focusing solely on her daughter, when she says: “I’m sorry Mija, but you have to leave. We need the table for actual customers.


- Wait, but we’re customers! I told you I’d pay for everything.


- Don’t argue with me Mija, I don’t want them waiting any longer. 


- This is ridiculous! I booked this table early, if they didn’t book a table then that’s on them!”


The whole restaurant is now looking at them. Ellie notices a couple near the entrance of the restaurant, visibly embarrassed. Probably the ones who asked for the table, but by the look of absolute horror on their faces, they weren’t expecting to get it this way. Did Mrs Flores have ulterior motives as to why she was kicking them out? Knowing this, she feels bad when she grabs Aster’s hand and instead of standing up for them with the other girl, she agrees with her mum. All she wants is to get away from the attention and to take Aster with her.


You girls can go home, there should be some food, and you’ll be 'tranquilas'.


Aster looks like she’s about to retort something in their defence, but Ellie doesn't let her and steps in.


Come on, let’s go. It’s okay, we can still hang out at your place, let them get the table.  


- Thank you…


Mrs Flores seems to be searching for her name.




- Thank you Ellie. See Mija, your friend is more sensible than you. Her mum must be really proud of her. 


-My mum’s dead.


- Oh.


There is an awkward silence, everyone seems stunned which allows the tiny girl to make a move. Aster’s hand still in hers she starts heading towards the entrance of the restaurant, finally leaving all of the tension behind her. She’s not sure what to think anymore. What a fiasco . She doesn’t know if it's the absurdity of the situation or Mrs Flores’s reaction, but Ellie breaks into uncontrollable laughter. 


Why in the name of God are you laughing?

- I- I’m sorry, it’s just- Your mum’s face when I told her about my mum.


- That’s dark Ellie Chu, even for you.

And just like that, the atmosphere is light again. Aster challenges Ellie; the first one to her house wins. Both of them run in the fresh air of the evening. It’s like they’re the only ones on earth. The pink and yellow clouds burn through the sky, and all their problems melt away. 


Once they get there Aster opens the door and asks: “ Is anyone home? ”. To which she only gets silence. With her mum at the restaurant, her father god knows where and her sister at a friends house, it seems to the flower girl that this is an average summer night. She grabs Ellie’s jacket and her duffle bag and leads her to her room.


As they enter the room, both of their stomachs growl.


Since we couldn’t get dinner, I should probably get us something from the kitchen. Make yourself comfortable, it shouldn’t take long, says Aster as she leaves the room.”


The walls of the room are your average girly pink walls. Except, it’s faded, and in a few sections you can see the plaster behind the paint. On top of that, most of the walls are covered in paintings, sketches and photos. It feels to Ellie as though Aster is trying to hide the walls away. An unwanted colour? Her parents’ choice?


 A series of paintings on one of the walls catch the tiny Asian’s attention. On the first one is outlined a letter, which says: “ Dear other half, where are you? ”. She recognises the second one, it’s the painting Aster gave Paul when she got back from Sacramento. The third one shows a tiny character reaching for his reflection through the water. And finally, the last one represents two silhouettes made of cut out paper bits, looking at each other from each side of the canvas. She’s not exactly sure why, but all of these scenes feel oddly familiar to the small brunette.


That’s when Aster waltzes back in the room, with a few sandwiches on a plate. 


" Here, try this.


Ellie looks at the sandwich, puzzled.


- Peanut Butter and Jelly? Really?


Now it’s Aster's turn to judge the other girl.


- Peanut Butter and Jelly is the best food combo! It's sour, sugary, savoury… It's everything you need in a sandwich. Perfect match.


 And with this, the flower girl takes a big bite out of her sandwich. Ellie can't help but laugh at the other girl's passionate speech. I mean it’s just food anyway, what does it matter? 


-Okay, Gordon, whatever you say…


-Oh shut up, you like Paul's taco sausage!


-Low blow dude. Plus it's actually really good!


Both girls keep laughing at the other's antics, and once the sandwiches are finished both of them lie down on the wooden floor of Aster's bedroom.






-What did you think of the sandwich?


-You were right, they're a pretty good match, admitted Ellie.


The next words are Aster's. They’re uttered so quietly that the other girl barely hears them. But the heat spreading through the tiny Asian's cheeks stands as proof that she has, in fact, heard what the other said.


" Perfect. Just like us. "

Chapter Text

Silence had taken over, Aster wasn’t sure how much time had passed, all she knew was that she didn’t care. For once she didn’t feel like she had to put on a face, pretend like she was something else. For once she could be herself; whatever that meant. All in all, she wasn’t sure who she wanted to be, what she was supposed to do, but in this lull, it was okay to be a ‘work in progress’. 


Hey, erm, I was wondering… Ellie broke the silent haze, how did it all end with Trig? I mean if it ended. Not that it’s my place to ask since I was the one to interrupt your-


-Don’t worry it’s fine. It’s over, Aster responds calmly, slowly getting up from the floor, in order to sit on the window frame.




-I guess your intervention did put a stop to a few things… After the church, my parents tried to get the wedding back on; god it sounds so weird, I was supposed to be someone’s wife… Anyhow, I guess one public humiliation was enough for Mr Carson since he called off the wedding for good. As much as he tried to act like a ‘man’ I think Trig was scared shitless too. Understandably. We’re too young to get married.


-Now would be a good time for a cigarette.


-Wait… You smoke? Really?


-OH NO! No, I just thought if we were in a movie, now would be one of those scenes in which the two characters end up confessing their secrets to one another while sharing a cigarette. 


-I like how your mind works Ellie Chu, Aster mutters, lost in thoughts. You know, she continues, he wasn’t all bad.




-Trig. Once you get to know him he isn’t as bad as he plays out. He’s a pretty insecure guy actually.


Ellie isn’t sure what to think of this. After all, he was the guy who thought all of the town had a crush on him; even the shy, Asian, gay kid (not that he would know that last part since she was very much ‘in the closet’ throughout the whole of high school). On top of that he was at the top of high school’s food chain. 


-Wait are you still talking about THE Trig Carson? She joked, rolling her eyes exaggeratedly.


Aster did not laugh. She did not even look at her, instead she stayed focused on the street lights turning on outside, like thousands of fireflies dancing around the pavements of Squahamish. Suddenly the silence became tense, almost suffocating. It was a part of the flower girl that the tiny brunette had never seen before. A mix of pain, sorrow, helplessness and guilt showing on her face all at once. Ellie wished she could help. Hug her, show her support, do something, whatever she could to relieve the other girl from some of that pain, some of that sorrow, some of that helplessness and some of that guilt. But the truth was, she knew, deep down, that there was nothing she could do except be here for the girl. 


-When I was alone with him we had fun; not that kind of fun don’t worry, she chuckled at her own joke, but her heart wasn’t in it. When we were just the two of us there were no more expectations, no need to impress anyone. You see, Trig was never dumb. I know it seemed like it because at school he’d act as the likable dumb rich kid to please the crowds. At home it was the opposite, he tried to act smart, bring home the best grades possible, impress his father and be the perfect son for his mother. I know that. I guess that’s why we got along. We didn’t like each other the way we were supposed to, but I know that if I had gone along with the whole wedding thing he would’ve been good; because he understood the pressure. Sometimes it’d get to him and he broke, in times like this he’d come to me and I would do likewise the other way around. That’s how things were up until Paul, well until you is more like it.


Aster turns around to face her and gets down from the window frame. She walks around the room like it’s unfamiliar, not safe, but then she smiles and all the dread disappears like it never was. Ellie wants to tell her that she doesn’t have to hide anything with her, but she’s still too stunned from what the other said seconds earlier. Now the flower girl acts like it’s nothing, so much so that the tiny brunette doubts it even happened. Aster grabs her laptop and sits herself on her king size bed.


You know what we should do?


-No? Ellie asks, slightly scared of what the answer could be, not quite sure what to expect anymore


-We should watch a movie, it’d be fun! Actually scrap that, there’s a show I love and I think you could like it; to be honest I don’t know how anyone could not love it. It’s a fucking masterpiece.”


And with that, although not fully, the lightness returns. Ellie sits herself down on the bed, next to Aster, and both girls happily immerse themselves in the story.



After four episodes, both of the girls have to stop for a snack break. Outside the last of daylight has dissipated, replaced by the thick and dark, star packed, night sky. No one has come home yet, which means that they probably won’t be there for another three to four hours at least. Enough time to finish the first season, Aster thinks. And for some reason she’s particularly excited to show Ellie episode nine (not that it has anything to do with the gay couple finally getting together…). 


I can’t believe she did that! Dolls and her were flirting and she just goes and sleeps with Doc! I mean not that I don’t ship it, they’d be cute together.


The flower girl laughs, pleased that the tiny girl enjoyed the first four episodes.


-Ah… Wynonna’s whole dilemma!


More laughter accompanies this. They playfully banter while preparing some popcorn, and sandwiches. Aster makes some lemonade as Ellie presses her for spoilers with her best puppy eyes (which she refuses to give into). Once they’re done they retreat back to Aster’s room and move on to the next episode.




Aster slowly and carefully turns off her laptop, sets it aside and puts the blanket over Ellie. Now all she needs to do is set up a mattress for herself and get some sleep. She’s about to get up when she feels a soft grip on her wrist, followed by a quiet groan.


No… stay… please…


-You sure?


-Hmph. Yes…”


Aster lies back down on her bed, soft fingers still holding her wrist. She looks up, at the ceiling in a daze. Her gaze meets the constellations depicted on her ceiling. When she was four she had asked her parents if they could “ take off the ceiling ” (her exact words), her mum tried to explain nicely that they couldn’t do that, but tiny Aster would have none of that. That’s when her father came in the room, told her to calm down, to wait for him and be good to her mum. He told her he’d be back in an hour top with a surprise. 


Remember Aster, only nice little girls get presents.


She nodded silently, now ready to compromise and behave. And her father did not lie, exactly an hour after, he came back with a big shopping bag in one hand, and a bucket of navy blue paint in the other. In the bag were paintbrushes, a paint roller, some glow in the dark paint, some glue and some glow in the dark plastic stars of various sizes. He then proceeded to paint the ceiling in navy blue, adding a painted Milky Way and a big round painted moon. After that he followed Aster’s instructions, gluing the plastic stars into her favourite constellations. 


Fifteen years later, it was still her favourite part of the room.

You awake? questioned a tiny - evidently still sleepy

 - voice. 


-Yes. Very much so.


-Are you okay?”


Truth be it, she wasn’t sure what the answer to that question was. Not that it was an excruciatingly hard one. Lately, she’d be lying if she said things didn’t feel ‘off’, yet she wasn’t unhappy. She was something else.


-I don't know , she said truthfully.


Ellie seemed to get the message, not pushing for more.


-Ellie , Aster broke the silence again, shifting on her side, do you still mean it?


She felt the rush of adrenaline in her veins and the banging of her heart in her temple.


-Mean what? asked the tiny brunette, shifting as well, in order to face the flower girl.


- What you said last year, she breathed out, shifting closer.


-Y-yes , responded a slightly taken aback Ellie.


In that moment, whatever ping-pong match they were playing, she won.


-Good .”


She was about to close the distance between their lips, she was gonna taste the bliss she’d had on the tip of her tongue a year ago. It was happening, and it was happening now.


Their lips had barely grazed when Aster’s mum opened the door, but it was enough.