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i'm still trying everything, to get you looking at me

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i want you to know

i'm a mirrorball

i'll show you every version of yourself tonight

 

Aster stopped texting Ellie a few weeks back and she had to admit it, it had to be one of the smartest decisions she had ever made. Ellie still hadn’t texted her back ever since she found the notebook, and the excuses she continued to make up for her seemed to keep falling short. Mel had tried to convince her to throw the notebook in the trash and Jess wanted to burn it, but Aster refused. It held some value still in her heart. The poems were beautiful and raw and even if it hurt Aster to see how Ellie had changed throughout their senior year, she figured she gave it to her for some reason.

So, maybe Aster was still a little hung up on Ellie and maybe she refused to look for anyone else despite Jess saying she was the closest she had ever been to reconsidering her sexuality. She snorted and combatted it with a weak shoulder punch and a shy “shut up”.

And while Aster wasn’t exactly seeking people out, they somehow gravitated towards her. Perhaps it was the way her father had trained her to be always smiling or how her entire wardrobe consisted of pretty dresses and blouses. A guy in her ceramics was purposely using the bench next to hers and helping her when her pots kept collapsing and his hands lingered a little bit longer on top of hers as he tried to help her grasp the technique. He would exclusively call her beautiful or baby instead of her name and it took everything in her not to slap him in the face. Instead, she decided to grin and bear it. Or how a woman with an eyebrow piercing stared at her with a smirk in her art history and grinned when she watched Aster tap her nails on the desk. She’d wink at her when they made eye contact and she’d feel her face heat up and the woman would chuckle and refocus back onto the lecture.

Her painting class seemed to be the only time she could relax. Plugging her earphones in and blasting a playlist and painting whatever emotion she had been feeling that week. Never usually the one for abstract art but she found it to be oddly therapeutic to ignore realism and use colours in thick and bold strokes.

Her mind was always cast back to her conversation with Ellie and in the early stages of playing around with colour on canvas her bold strokes messed up a lot of good paintings and she could hear Ellie in her head talking to her about great paintings and her own personal thoughts on pointillism or Dali’s surrealism. She could hear Ellie talking about how the directions of her strokes make her feel and she finds the painting she started with harsh reds and blacks and oranges was being overrun by yellows and blues, each stroke more dainty over top of the thick background.

And perhaps it was nowhere near where she had imagined it would go, but she kind of liked it. It was the first one that truly portrayed the confusion and chaos of her mind. So, when the professor came over to her easel to look at what she had been painting she’s not all too surprised when all he said is “interesting” in a genuine tone and pushes his glasses up his nose. It’s the most he’d ever commented on Aster’s art before and she made eye contact with Jess from across the studio. To her delight, Jess shared a lot of classes with her except for ceramics where she instead did photography. She shot her a thumbs up and Aster nodded back gleefully.

 

i'll get you out on the floor

shimmering beautiful

and when I break it's in a million pieces

She decided to take the painting back to her dorm room, she had a few clay models dotted about her desk that were just too funny looking not to keep. But this would be the first piece she was pretty proud of. Jess waited for her outside the studio and they walked back to Aster’s dorm together talking about how the same creep in her ceramics is also trying it on with Jess in photography.

“He just thinks he can come up to me, touch my camera which is more expensive than my life and then decides to explain how to take a picture as if I don’t understand how a camera works in a fucking class on photography!” Aster snorts.

“I thought he was just being helpful and then he kept touching my arms and he was trying to do that scene from Ghost and I just froze.”

Jess followed Aster up the stairs and then into her room where Mel was laid face down on the floor.

“Leave me here, it’s all I deserve,” she spoke muffled slightly by how her face was pressed into the gross carpeted floors that Aster was certain had never been cleaned properly once. Jess nudged Mel lightly with the toe of her boot and watched her flop her arm dramatically at the touch.

“Drama nerds, all the same. Overdramatic,” Jess flopped herself down onto Aster’s bed, “Why do your blankets smell so nice?” She grabbed one and pulled it up to her face breathing in deeply.

Aster shrugged and then leant the painting up against the wall, trying to decide if she would put the effort in, in finding some command hooks to hang it up or not.

“Why are you on the floor, Mel?” Aster decides to finally bite.

She watched as the woman rolled over onto her front and sighed, “I totally bombed the audition for that play. It was so embarrassing; I don’t want to leave the floor until I rot.”

Aster and Jess looked at each other and then watched back as Mel rolled back onto her front and groaned loudly. Jess laughed out, and Aster just barely suppressed her own laughter, “I’ll call Wes and we’ll get ice cream?”

Jess nodded and Mel rolled over onto her back and mouthed a thank you.

 

hush

when no one is around, my dear

you'll find me on my tallest tiptoes

spinning in my highest heels, love

shining just for you

 

Aster’s been having the same recurring dream for the past few days. It’s prom night in Squahamish and she pulls up outside Ellie’s house in her little yellow car and is smoothing down the plain red wrap-around dress that caused her father to tut at her under his breath as she left the house. She has heels on and the sound of them crunching on the gravel makes her weary, but she knocks on the front door, nevertheless.

And Ellie emerges in an outfit not too dissimilar from what she wore for the showcase, but a matching red tie is tied neatly around her collar and her hair is down. Aster almost forgets to breathe and swallows a lump in her throat. Mr Chu is stood proudly next to Ellie and smiling at them both, he says something in Mandarin that Aster vaguely recognises as ‘have fun’ and he waves them off. She walks towards her car, their arms interlaced, and she opens the door for Ellie which causes them both to laugh and she climbs in.

It’s so perfect and wonderful and fun. And it feels all too real and what she wished her reality had been.

Aster walks in proudly with Ellie at her side and they spot Paul and they wave him over from his football friends and they dance to as many songs as they can stomach before one of them needs to sit down or stop to clutch their sides from laughing too hard. And a slow song comes on. Paul somehow knows to leave and sits at a table not too far from the dancefloor and watches proudly.

But Aster isn’t paying attention to him or anyone else swaying around them. She’s watching how Ellie shyly extends her hand out to Aster and teases out a “may I have this dance?” and Ellie’s pulling her close and they’re practically chest to chest, her hands laced around Ellie’s neck securely. Hands are on her hips and slowly snake around to rest on her lower back and it’s warm and nice, for a lack of a better word.

Her head rests on Ellie’s shoulder and she lets her gently sway them to whatever new Ed Sheeran song is playing. Ellie’s shifting herself to kiss Aster on the forehead and it’s gentle and caring and sweet. Aster feels loved. Then Paul is suddenly wrapping himself around them as well, and she would hate it if Paul wasn’t just so, Paul. Aster feels one of Ellie’s hands move from her back and they start to sway with him as well.

It feels like everything that prom should’ve been, except it wasn’t. And she wakes up sad and missing Ellie and Paul but for distinctly different reasons. She almost texts either of them but stops herself.

hush

i know they said the end is near

but I'm still on my tallest tiptoes

spinning in my highest heels, love

shining just for you

 

Her classes eventually even out and she thinks she’s handling this whole college thing rather well and somehow Mel convinced her to join the drama club and help to create the set. Aster’s trying to create the perfect wood grain when Mel strolled up to her swishing a dress that she hadn’t seen before in her life.

“Do you like it?”

Aster blinked a few times and gestured for a twirl as she pulled the paintbrush out from between her teeth, Mel nodded enthusiastically and twirled, “That is incredible, how come you got a dress?”

Leaning over to Aster, she bends down and whispers in her ear, “I got the part.”

She backs away and nods excitedly watching Aster’s face change, “Oh my god! I’m so happy for you!”

“Hey, that’s blasphemous!” Mel nudges Aster gently causing them both to laugh, Aster’s maybe is a little hollow but treats it as a joke, nonetheless.

“We’ll have to go out on Friday to celebrate,” Aster dipped her paintbrush back into the brown paint and swirled it about absentmindedly as she tuned out Mel rambling about something she had overheard in the costume department.

Perhaps Aster hadn’t gone to church since she came to Normal, but that was fine, right? She was dealing with a lot and she didn’t need to go to church to solidify her faith. Did she? She could hear her dad shout about sin and the implications of letting ‘the devil into her heart’. Sure, he might’ve just been talking about her wearing red lipstick, but she felt like this might be a little worse than that.  

If this was what questioning her faith felt like, it sucked.

She pulled in a deep breath and sorted a smile back onto her face and nodded along excitedly with Mel.

Her mind was stuck on a loop of her dad’s voice,

“If you’re moving away for college you’re still going to church, I won’t have you turn into one those heathens,” Aster could remember his scowl, very clearly talking about Ellie and her father, the only people that didn’t attend church for religious reasons.

She nodded in agreement because she feared what he would say if she didn’t, he paced impatiently in front of her.

“I understand it’s their choice on whether they want to attend church, but in my family, we will not be entertaining these ideals,” he had paused and Aster still couldn’t work out what he was going to say that he stopped himself from saying, “I just want what’s best for you, Mija.”

She nodded and trained a smile to her face.

Aster felt her hand move to twiddle with the cross she still wore around her neck, mainly a reminder of her Abuela still in Puerto Rico. Yet the cross couldn’t help but remind her of her father and all the things he said it stood for. Sometimes she wished she was more like Ellie, unafraid to be who she was, bold and brave, free.

Religion sometimes felt like a shackle around her wrist that was pulling her back every time she ‘stepped out of line’ and even though Ellie had said the absence of God was lonely, Aster could bet that was she was feeling felt much lonelier than she could ever imagine that would feel like. The restrictions her father laid on her in the guise of religion was wearing her down and tiring her out. It was hard to distinguish what were actually the words of God and her own fathers twisted interpretation.

i want you to know

i'm a mirrorball

i can change everything about me to fit in

Aster looked up from the textbook on her desk and ran her hands through her hair, she sighed out a shaky breath and groaned. Her art history professor had decided to surprise them with a pop quiz but refused to tell them when it would be, and she was so close to dropping out of college.

A knock on the door interrupted her and she groaned out in response to the knock hoping that whoever it was would take the hint and just leave. However, she heard the door creak open and she dropped her head onto the desk, hoping it wasn’t that girl from the room across the hall asking to look through her closet again to give her style tips.

“Hey chica,” Wes spoke slowly; Aster turned her head to the door to see him standing there with a paper bag in between his hands, he shook it for extra show, “I brought snacks?”

Wes sat down on the floor and leant up against her bedframe, patting the space next to him.

“You do know they still haven’t properly cleaned up the floor from that time Jess dropped the milkshake?” Aster said while sitting down next to him and opening the bag.

“Don’t be a party pooper, this is our coming of age movie moment! The cool best friend is giving the main character a deep chat while she’s going through some shit and it’s gonna be strangely motivating and then you’re gonna achieve whatever it is that you want to.”

Aster cocked an eyebrow, “You’ve thought this through.”

Wes nodded and Aster spoke once more, “I also liked that you added that you were cool.”

He reached into his jacket’s pocket and pulled out a small bottle of vodka, “This is for if I can’t get you to talk about whatever’s bothering you.”

She laughed and pulled out a packet of Oreos from the bag, she offered him one.

“I think I’m struggling with the whole religion thing.” She said ten minutes later, leaning her head against his shoulder, for someone so muscular he was like a massive teddy bear and incredibly good to lean against. He nodded at her, waiting for her to continue.

“I just- I don’t know where I sit with it all. I believe in God still, but I haven’t felt as close to him as I did before. I haven’t gone to church in so long and it just feels wrong to start going now.”

“Why?”

Aster found her hand encased in Wes’ and he was smiling adoringly at her.

“I don’t know,” she sighed, and Wes pulled her in for a hug.

“If you ever want to go back to church, we do have that one on campus and it accepts everyone. They have a pretty good youth group that meets every Tuesday night, they have good cupcakes.”

Aster stared at him in bewilderment, “I grew up here, I used to go with my family when my brother came here and when he came out as trans my mom flipped and we went to the youth group together. She’s chill with him now, thank God. I still go every once in a while, kind of legends my brother and I are. We told a group of Karen’s to fuck off once.”

She chuckled and leant closer into him, “Thank you.”

“Of course, we’ve got you. All of us, even if Jess seems like she only has two brain cells and one of them is constantly used to be thinking about Bradley Cooper, and Mel is dramatic, but she loves you. I would give myself a fault, but there are none, sorry.” He shrugged and loosened his grip on Aster.

“What about how you’ve got your eye on that guy you play baseball with, didn’t you hit him with the ball? Did you even apologise?” Wes’ eyes shot open and Aster laughed harder than she was before.

She liked this, this easiness. It reminded her a lot of the time she’d spent with Ellie in her car and wherever she would let her drive her. It was jokey and playful but with an undertone of some unspoken sadness that they both understood. Some togetherness brought from being the only people of colour in their tiny town in the middle of nowhere.

And perhaps that’s what she liked about Wes, he asked hard questions but never expected her to give him answers. Maybe this was her sign from God that she didn’t need him as much as she thought and really only needed her friends to help her. Maybe this was her miracle.

 

you are not like the regulars

the masquerade revellers

drunk as they watch my shattered edges glisten