Ellie lies on her bed as she watches the afterglow of the day shimmers through the window. She closes her eyes as she stews in the comfort of being alone. She goes to pick up her copy of Remains of the Day lying face down beside her when her phone vibrates. It's Paul. Ellie looks at the text message and frowns, mildly confused.
Ellie makes her way down the ladder of the attic and sticks her head out of the window. Paul is standing at the station. He waves his arms in his air with a big grin on his face.
"There's gonna be a party at Michael's tonight we should go!" Paul yells cheerfully.
Ellie baulks at him, pulling her head back from the window. She leans against the kitchen sink. That's the party Aster is going to be going. Attending the party sounds like a terrible idea. Who knows what happens at those parties. Ellie leans out of the window again, forming an excuse on the tip of her tongue.
"Paul I don't think-"
"Ellie! Go change! It's gonna be fun! I promise," Paul exclaims earnestly "I'll wait for you." Paul stands by the train station booth absently-mindedly playing with his fingers. Ellie looks at him, unwilling to say no to him.
Fifteen minutes later, Ellie finds herself in the front seat of Paul's truck parked outside of Michael's house.
"Come on!" Paul encourages her as they both enter the house. Ellie walks in nervously.
"Paul Munsky and Ellie Chu are in the house!" Someone hollers. Nearby several students raise their red solo cups in greeting. Paul beams at people left and right as Ellie tags along timidly behind him. Ellie listens in on some conversations after Paul introduces her as his friends. They chat about teachers and classmates.
After some time, Ellie finds herself standing by the fruit punch. She still could see Paul chatting with the other jocks of the football team, something about upcoming matches. Ellie ladles herself to a cup of punch and drifts to a corner of the room, content to observe the ongoing party.
"Fancy seeing you here, Ellie." Aster walks up to her startling Ellie as she promptly drops her cup of punch on herself. A puddle of red sticky punch trails down the front of her shirt. Ellie turns red with embarrassment as an alarmed Aster grabs napkins off the nearby table and reaches out to mop up the punch off Ellie shirt. Ellie shies away from Aster's hands, taking the napkin from her and tries to clean herself up. The napkin does little to help the stain. Thank goodness it's just the first layer of the several layers of shirts she is wearing. She'll take it off in the bathroom.
"I'm sorry, are you alright? I didn't mean to scare you. You look like you've seen a ghost." Aster looks at her concern.
"Yeah," Ellie huffs "I'm fine".
"I don't think I've ever seen you at a party before," Aster thinks aloud her head tilts slightly to the side.
"I don't, Paul dragged me here" Ellie replies.
"Here against your own will? That makes us both," Aster leans against the wall next to her and surveys the crowd. Trig is drinking a can from the bottom while everyone around him cheers him on. "I'm not a fan of crowds."
Ellie gives out a non-committal sound and looks at Aster fidgeting with the hem of her shirt with fingertips. "Sometimes, crowds are the loneliest place to be." Aster nods her head.
"I'm going to get some fresh air, wanna come?" Aster asks using her leg to push herself off the wall. They exchange glances.
They both walk out to the front porch and Ellie sees Paul's truck.
The red strain of Ellie's shirt bothers her "I think I should remove this shirt. Let me put it in Paul's truck." Ellie says as she leaves Aster on the porch. She walks around to the other side of Paul's truck before peeling off a layer and dropping it in the front seat before joining Aster company again.
"When did you start hanging out with Paul?" Aster asks curiously.
"He needed help in English, so I tutored him for a bit. After that, we just started hanging out." Ellie looks out at the night sky and smiles fondly at the thought of Paul and her unlikely friendship. The moon is bright tonight.
"It's nice seeing you here," Aster says looking across the street where a cat sits by a trashcan licking it's paw "I really am sorry about practice I didn't mean for Tri to drag me out during practice like that, he kinda just gets wrapped up in his own world and I just tag along," Aster explains.
"It's alright, the girl at the peak of mount popularity has appearances to keep," Ellie says with an understanding tone "don't you get tired?"
"All the time," Aster sigh "it's exhausting".
"I really like our music sessions, you know, it's peaceful, nice."
Ellie feels her head reeling from that statement Aster likes hanging out with me
One of Tri's friends pops his head out of the doorway.
"Hey Aster! Trig's looking for you." He informs her.
Aster gives Ellie a small smile "Gotta go." before she turns away and disappears into the party.
Ellie walks back into the house. "Ellie Chu!" Abigail from math class greets her "Some of us are playing beer pong and we need another player, come join" Abigail tugs Ellie's arm to the beer pong table. Paul appears by her side, a cup of water in his hand.
"You doing alright?" he asks.
"Yeah, it's been okay", Ellie replies.
"If you want to go, let me know whenever."
"Hey Paul, do you wanna play too?" Abigail asks.
"Nah I'm fine gotta drive later." he raises his cup.
Abigail nods and nudges Ellie's shoulder, bringing her attention back to the group of teenagers playing beer pong.
Ellie plays with her math classmates against Trig and his friends. Ellie feels herself burns as she watches Trig being affectionate with Aster, holding her hand, wrapping an arm around her waist. Trig bounces a ping pong ball into her team's cup. Ellie swallows the drink, wincing as the alcohol slips down her throat like fire. Ellie bounces one back into Trig's team.
Ellie and her team won the first rounds, Trig's team won the second, as Abigail and Trig banter over playing a third round. Ellie notices how Aster said something into Trig's ear, Trig nods and kisses her cheek.
Someone pours another drink into Ellie's hand. She's about to drink it when a hand pulls the cup away from her. Paul looks at her with concern on his face.
"I want you to know. I am not lightweight. I can handle my drinks" Ellie says is she slurring in speech? her head feels woozy
"I know you aren't, but I think that's enough for tonight" Paul answers, placing the cup down and gently guiding her out the door.
Ellie hurls in the bushes near Paul's truck.
Paul moves Ellie's drink stain shirt to the dashboard of the truck and buckles Ellie in the front seat of his truck and gets behind the wheel. Ellie looks up and sees Trig and Aster walking down the street, away from the party, side by side.
"It's not fair," Ellie mumbles, Paul looks at her in concern and confusion on his face.
"Him" Ellie vaguely gestures at Trig as Paul starts up the truck driving in the opposite directions, away from Trig and Aster.
"What about Trig"
"He gets to be her boyfriend".
Puzzle at the direction of the conversation. Paul makes an assumption, looking at Ellie head resting against his truck window.
"Ellie," he asks, confusion laced in his question, "do you like Trig?"
He knew the question made no sense, Ellie didn't seem to care for Trig the way other girls do... perhaps she did but just didn't show it.
Ellie dry heaves at that question, Paul reaches out to gently stroke her back "Woah easy now, please don't throw up in my truck."
"She has the prettiest eye," Ellie mutters "the kindest heart," she yanks the drink stain shirt to her lap, "do you know she has five different voices, I hear them when she sings" she struggles to fight her drooping eyes, the excitement of the night catching up to her.
Paul stops at a red light and looks perplexes at Ellie. Ellie meets his eye for a second before leaning her head back against the window.
"Her" she whispers.
"You like Aster?" Paul's asks surprise. The traffic light turns green as he starts to drive again, he manages a glance at Ellie, the girl asleep against the truck window.
Aster's a girl, Ellie is also a girl. Ellie like Aster?
Bewildered by this revelation, Paul drives them back to his place, a thousand questions forming in his head.