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i can see us, lost in the memory

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salt air

and the rust on your door

I never needed anything more

 

Ghost messenger stared at her, unopened since that day before the whole church ordeal. Before her entire life, as she had known it, had been morphed and shaped into something, she wasn’t quite sure what, however. Something that excited her and scared her for all the same reasons. And made the rumble of nerves in her stomach louder and louder every time she thought of Ellie Chu and her distant and rocky disposition that would otherwise deter someone only intrigued her more.

Yet now when she drove past the train station, she only thought of lies and deceit and pain. When she had walked past her in the last month of senior year, she could see the pain on her face and could feel the sadness from her eyes. She guessed it was good that Ellie was sorry and felt bad.

So, Aster bit the bullet and pulled up outside Ellie’s house a few days into summer. She saw Ellie sitting in her booth, staring and not doing much of anything. And Aster stared at the ghost messenger app.

The pixelated ghost mocking her as she hovered her thumb over it.

She took a deep breath in and pressed the icon. It loaded up and she saw SmithCorona. Blood rushed instantly to her face as she read the last few messages they had sent each other. Aster had been so sure and so confident and now here she was, boyfriendless for the first time in three years and sat outside a girls’ house that she had a strong intrigue for.

It was thrilling.

She looked back up at Ellie and almost considered getting out and talking to her in person. She unclicked her seatbelt and climbed out. Aster watched the way Ellie’s shoulders rose and fell with each breath and how she pushed her glasses up after they had slipped down her nose.

Aster leant up against the side of her car and pulled her phone out again. She clicked onto the app.

 

DiegaRivero

Hey

 

It was simple enough. Enough for Ellie to acknowledge that Aster was trying but not enough that Ellie had to reply. It was fine. Just one word between the two for the first time in forever.

Aster chuckled when she watched Ellie almost fling her phone across the booth at her message, she could’ve sworn she could make out a deep blush on her face, but she was too far away to know for sure.

She watched Ellie type and waited for the message to come through.

SmithCorona

Hi

DiegaRivero

Come out your booth

SmithCorona

Why?

DiegaRivero

Just do it

 

Aster beamed widely at Ellie and waved casually as she walked across to where she was leant against her car. It was the first time she had properly seen Ellie frown confusedly at her for a while. She had surprisingly missed it.

Without giving Ellie any time to think she opened the car door, “Get in the car,” she spoke with a grin and sparkly eyes. Ellie looked unsure and Aster was about to tell her to forget it before she quickly climbed in.

She buckled her seatbelt and sat up staring straight ahead. Aster laughed in response at the rigid movements before walking over to the other side calmly. She caught Ellie’s eyes as she buckled her seatbelt and winked as she pulled the car into gear and pulled out off of the gravel.

They had been driving in relative silence for a few minutes before Ellie realised that she wasn’t too sure exactly where they were going. Aster cocked an eyebrow at the question and tapped her nose secretively. “You’ll find out.”

If she was honest, she hadn’t been too sure where she was going to take Ellie. She had considered the spring but decided against it because she wasn’t too sure that was somewhere you took the girl that had broken up your engagement in the middle of church.

After five minutes Aster parked the car by the side of a field. “Come on,” was all that she needed to say before Ellie was scrambling out to follow her. They walked side by side and Aster could feel her face heating up at how their hands kept brushing.  

Ellie cleared her throat and reached out to stop Aster, “I-uh- I want to apologise for everything that we-,” she shook her head, looking at the ground, “I did. It was wrong and no matter how I try to make sense of why I did what I did, I can’t. I played with your feelings and it was wrong. I apologise deeply.”

Their eyes finally met, and Aster smiled if a little bit weakly “I know. It’s okay. Well, no. It’s not. But I accept your apology.”

Ellie nodded sombrely and watched Aster glance around before plopping herself down onto the ground.

“Is this another one of your secret places?” She asked as she sat down next to her. Aster watched as she left a larger gap between them both than Aster would’ve thought necessary.

“I guess so. I used to come out here to paint, I have about ten paintings of the sunset and those trees.” Aster motioned over towards where the woods started and Ellie's eyes followed her movements.

It was strangely comfortable between the two considering the circumstances.

“You’re going to Grinnell then?” Aster nudged Ellie’s elbow lightly, a smile wide on her face.

Ellie smiled back, a light pink dusting her cheeks. She shrugged, “Yeah, I guess so.”

Aster had to suppress a laugh, “Stop being so humble! Brag a little, you got into your dream school. ‘He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.’”

Ellie looked at her pointedly, “Who said that?”

Grinning, “Muhammad Ali.”

They laughed and Ellie leant lightly into Aster. A quiet settling between them again, this time charged with something different that Aster couldn’t quite place.

Aster bit her lip and spoke once more, “I’ve missed you.”

Ellie turned to stare at her, and it was the first time in a while that she had truly felt seen. That Ellie got her and was starting to understand who she was under her fake popularity and overbearing Deacon of a father. And that the person she had been speaking to for those months was, in fact, Ellie and she knew little secrets or insecurities she had.

And here Ellie was, smiling up at her, looking at her like she was the only thing that mattered in the world. Aster was drinking it up scared of missing out if she fell out of the moment.

“I’ve missed you too.”

whispers of

“are you sure?”

“never have I ever before”

 

And then Aster’s lips were on Ellie’s and they were soft and careful and trying. They were searching and finding. An explosion of ‘oh! That’s what that’s supposed to feel like’. And Aster never wanted to stop. Until Ellie’s hands were on her shoulders and pushing her back.

“I’m sorry, I should’ve asked,” Aster said.

An out of breath and flushed Ellie stared at her, “It’s fine. But, are you sure you want to do this?”

A nod.

Suddenly Ellie’s lips were back on Aster’s. Her hands tangling in the soft curls around the back of her neck. Aster’s hands settled carefully on Ellie’s hips, pulling her closer from the awkward sitting position they were in. Ellie crawled closer and Aster finally understood why Trig wanted to make out whenever they were alone.  

It was the buzzing in her stomach and the white noise in her brain shutting off any higher functions and all she could comprehend was Ellie. And how she was practically in her lap and how her nails were softly scraping at the base of her neck and how she wanted this just as much as she did.

When the broke apart Ellie adjusted her glasses and sat back cross-legged in front of Aster, watching her stare dopily back.

They stayed like that for a few minutes before they fell back into conversation. Talking about college and Aster’s art and Paul.

“I’m proud of him. That day at the church was surprisingly big for him. He’s sending tons of letters around about his sausages.”

Ellie smiled in the distance thinking about Paul and how much he was trying and maybe Aster could try as much as Paul. Maybe she would be better if she did.

“You’re letting him write the letters?” she stifled a laugh, “Mr I-love-Nazi’s.”

Aster watched Ellie laugh heartily, “I heard that. He has gotten better, though he does text entirely in emojis and I don’t really understand what he’s saying.”

Aster cocked her head, Ellie heard that? What did that mean? Ellie stared at her like a deer in headlights.

“I sat outside the diner on your dates. The first one I could hear everything because Paul had called my phone. That’s how I texted you without Paul knowing that second time.” Ellie stared at the floor.

Aster had to admit, that was quite smart. “Weird, but smart.”

 

but I can see us

lost in the memory

august slipped away into a moment in time

'cause it was never mine

 

Aster watched Ellie climb onto the train, they had shared a goodbye earlier that morning. A few stolen kisses and a broken conversation about trying to keep in touch when they go to college even though they would only be a state apart.

And she was alone again.

Sure, she was leaving for college to in just a few days, but she didn’t have anyone who truly got her as Ellie seemed to. How her silence was knowing and understanding or how she never pressured Aster into being anything except herself or how she loved watching her paint and trying to understand each stroke.

And she wanted nothing but to live those moments again.

Ellie distracting her while she was trying to finish her last piece for her applications and then smearing green paint across her face which turned into a huge tussle over the paintbrush leaving them both covered in green.

They were laughing and Ellie ended up on top, pinning Aster’s hands above her head and the paintbrush dangled loosely from her fingers.

“You win,” she said, sticking her tongue out and Ellie leaned in.

Only to grab the brush and adjust herself so she could dip it in some more paint and drew a massive line from the top of Aster’s head to the bottom of her neck.

 

and I can see us twisted in bedsheets

august sipped away

like a bottle of wine

'cause you were never mine

 

And now Aster was the one going off to college in her little yellow car thinking about how Ellie said she loved the yellow and it was probably her favourite colour. Or how Ellie would scroll through Aster’s phone looking for a specific song to play through the AUX cord and be listening with her eyes closed trying to find the best part. And Aster would know exactly when it had happened because she would open her eyes and stare happily at her, nodding a little for her approval that, that was, in fact, her best part as well.

It was a change from the serious Ellie she had grown accustomed to during high school, but she wouldn’t change it for the world.

Maybe she was wearing that too big striped shirt she stole from Ellie that first time at the Spring and maybe she could still distinctly smell Ellie on it and refused to take it off to remind herself of the girl that had changed her.

Somehow Ellie had plagued her mind and was all that she could think about. And how the world was cruel for reminding her of "All that barely repressed longing". Or how the world liked to play some of Ellie's favourite songs and not expect to get a little sad as she made the thirty-two-hour drive over to Normal, Illinois. She stopped in Montana and while scrolling through her phone as she sat in the grimey motel she had found when she could barely keep her eyes open anymore, everything she could find online about it was beautiful. Half tempted to text Ellie about how she would love it and how they should come during a break if they drove back to Squahamish together. 

She shook her head and plugged her phone in to charge before going to sleep. 

Aster stopped once more in Iowa and couldn't stop thinking about how she could easily turn around and turn up at Grinnell and find Ellie's dorm room. But Ellie wasn't even returning her texts anymore and if she did they were emotionless and nothing more than a few words. And Aster had never been so sure that she had been ghosted. She cried herself to sleep that night.

your back

beneath the sun

wishing I could write my name on it

will you call when you're back at school?

i remember thinking i had you

 

Aster had texted her again, hoping for a little more than “Hey” and “I’m fine” in response. But it could just be the stress of moving and leaving her father and Paul in Squahamish. She could wait. She had her own things to deal with.

Unpacking was a bit less stressful than she had imagined, her roommate had already unpacked all of her things and had left. So, it made it easier for her to fill in the gaps She glanced at some of the things her roommate had placed around their small room and saw a few photos and knick-knacks littered about. She looked at one photo a little longer than the others, a black woman kissing a white woman, beaming at the camera, on the cheek. Clearly sentimental from the way they were placed along the back of her desk. It was nice, it made Aster wish she had more in Squahamish waiting and missing her except her sister and her Mom. She pulled a picture out of her family and thumbed over the edge of the frame, sighing, before placing it on her bed.

Aster was partway done putting her clothes away when a book fell from inside a cardigan it was wrapped up in. It was one of those cheap spiral notebooks you could buy everywhere. She hadn’t remembered putting it there and then looked at the cardigan once more and instantly recognised it as one that Ellie was drawn to whenever she wore it. It was worn and cosy, but very well-loved. She drew her attention back to the notebook and opened it.

The neat scribblings inside reminded her of the letters they sent each other months ago and she sat down on the edge of her bed flicking through some of the pages. Poems and short stories, grocery and to-do lists, little notes to herself and a few small drawings. There was one near the back that looked like a pretty good rendition of the one they had spray-painted on the side of that building. Aster let out a breathy laugh at the thought of Ellie hiding this in her suitcase. She had been there when she was packing a few days before she left for Grinnell. And she had a cheeky grin on her face the whole time, this must’ve been why.

The notebook was completely full, nearly every page had every line filled with some form of word or drawing or scribble. Aster brought her thumb over the way Ellie had written her name in a note on the last page.

 

Dear Aster Flores,

A notebook from the start of this year compiling the entire journey of senior year. I hope I’m not presumptuous in thinking you would want to read some things I have written for and about you. I also think there is the recipe for Paul’s taco sausage in here that he wanted me to include for you as he did make it for you. I’ll see you soon.

Love from your favourite heathen (I hope),

Ellie Chu

 

It was sweet and mysterious and a little sad and everything that Aster had grown to love about Ellie over their weeks together. She pulled her phone out and typed a quick message to Paul, thanking him for the recipe and that she couldn’t wait to try it when she had the time.

Classic Paul sent back a sausage, praise hands and sparkles. She took that as that he was pleased she messaged.

Next, she switched onto the last text thread with Ellie.

 

Aster

I found your notebook, it was sweet of you

 

She watched the three dots appear and then disappear about three times before she threw her phone onto her bed and climbed back to her feet to finish putting her clothes away.

Aster was about done when her roommate walked back in. A bouncy and enthusiastic woman with tight black curls that bounced with her.

“You must be Aster!” The woman smiled at her and thrust out a hand covered in rings. Aster grasped it carefully and shook it.

“Yeah, Melanie?”

The woman nodded and threw herself onto Aster’s bed, “Just Mel is good though,” she picked up the photo that Aster had discarded earlier, “this your family? Damn, Jesus.” She pointed a finger to the huge painting of Jesus that was in the background of the photograph.

Aster laughed remembering when they first had it put up and seeing Jesus’ face staring at her whenever she ate in the dining room. “Yeah, my dad’s a Deacon so we’re big on the Jesus thing.”

Mel nodded along with her and looked back at the photo, “Who’s this?”

Trig.

She had forgotten he was in pretty much all of their family photos, “Trig,” ex-boyfriend? “My ex.”

“Nice,” she paused and watched as Aster stared at the photo for a few seconds, “I’m gonna go get some food with some friends in ten if you wanna come?”

Aster must’ve looked unsure because Mel was now standing up and helping pull the last of the books out of her case and placing them on the shelf, “You don’t have to, but it would be nice if you did.”

 

but I can see us

lost in the memory

august slipped away into a moment in time

'cause it was never mine

 

“Who are you waiting for a text from?” A short British woman, Jess, if Aster recalled correctly asked. She was blonde and if Aster would ever describe someone as cute, it would be her. Jess cocked an eyebrow at the lack of an answer and poked Aster’s arm gently.

“Oh, sorry. Uh- just someone from home.”

Jess stared at her with piercing blue eyes and looked over to Mel who just shrugged. “Your ex?”

“Oh god no, we haven’t spoken since he proposed to me at church.” She laughed out, it sounded maniacal and wicked, a tad too forced.

Everyone looked around at each other before settling their eyes on Aster, concern settling between them. She checked her phone once more and saw no notification from Ellie. She deflated and downed the rest of her fifth beer. “I think we should do shots,” was all that she could manage to strangle out.

Wes, an Asian man with a shaven head pulled Aster back down carefully, “I’m cutting you off, babe. Sorry, not sorry.”

She pouted and leant against his shoulder, “She promised we’d talk when we went off to college. I’ve been texting her, but she doesn’t text back.”

Aster cradled her empty glass to her chest and Wes pulled her into a hug. “Maybe she just needs some time, it takes a lot to adjust to a whole new environment.”

She nodded sadly at him and Jess handed her a glass of water, “I think we should get you home soon. First days and alcohol never go well in my opinion.”

Mel nodded and clambered out of her seat and helped Wes in pulling Aster out of the booth as well. “Who is this girl anyway?” Mel asked as she threw her arm around Aster’s waist securely as they walked back to their dorm room with Wes and Jess trailing slightly behind them.

“A friend, but her hair is soft, and I like her a lot,” Aster spoke slowly and then looked up at Mel, eyes wide.

“Chill out, I don’t care that you’re into girls or whatever. I am too.” Wes laughed at this.

“Why am I always the straight one?” Jess tutted jokingly.

“Cause y’all are lame as fuck.” Wes replied, flicking her in the forehead.

“I thought I was straight.” A tear slipped down Aster’s face and they were outside their building.

Aster watched as Wes whispered something to Mel and then he bent down and kissed her on the head, “You’ll sort it out, I promise.”

Jess blew her a kiss and walked off with Wes to their apartment just on the outskirts of campus.

 

and I can see us twisted in bedsheets

august sipped away

like a bottle of wine

'cause you were never mine