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the long way around

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Alcohol was the best idea. Ellie had lost track of how many glasses of punch she’d downed, but it was enough to make her limbs feel weightless. Which was a good place to be. Her brain was often very loud, which left her limbs feeling really heavy. Especially her shoulders. Maybe she should get that looked at. 

“What are you looking at?” Paul laughed as he looked at her slumped in her chair. “Seriously. Stop looking at me.” 

“You look like a kid.” Paul grinned as he crouched down by her side. “Maybe we should have paced ourselves, hmm?” Good old Paul had pulled through once again when he pulled out a flask of rum from his jacket pocket when they realised the punch was indeed, not spiked. So maybe Ellie had been leaning hard into the liquid courage. So sue her. It wasn’t like anyone was really interested in her anyway. 

People kept coming up to talk to Paul, who refused to leave her side, the stupidly loyal boy. Aster had been tugged away a while ago by a group of the popular girls, and Ellie had lost sight of her amongst all the lowkey fans of Paul Munsky. The conversations kept circling around bragging about the cool lives they’d set up for themselves in Squahamish, the day trips they took to the big city every month, the bars around the area that they kept trying to get Paul to join them at. Some of them had gotten married already, and one had excused themselves to take a call from their babysitter because kids that young are so fussy when they don’t have their parents around . It wasn’t even that late, Ellie thought bitterly. The kid would be fine, even without a mom. A parent, she meant. Not a mom specifically.

Geez, maybe Paul was right. 

“I’m gonna go pee,” she mumbled as she heaved herself out of her seat for the first time since arriving. Paul wordlessly asked if he should come along, and Ellie shook her head. She could handle going to the bathroom by herself just fine, thank you very much. She was a strong, independent woman. 

Her father’s voice was soothing in her ear as she stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. He could tell immediately that something was off.

“You’ve been drinking.” The disapproval ticked her off and Ellie wondered why she had felt the need to call him. “You promised you’d stopped.” 

“I promised I’d watch myself.” Ellie reached up to smudge the edge of her lipstick. “Don’t worry about me, pa.” 

“Where’s Paul? Pass the phone to him please.”

No , pa. Why do you want to talk to him? I’m right here. Talk to me .” Her English sounded harsh and tired under the shitty lighting, and Ellie suddenly wished she were sitting down instead. 

There was a beat of silence in which Ellie considered apologising, but her father speaks before she can. “I’m listening, Ellie.” Ellie felt a sting in her eyes. “What do you want to say?” 

“Do you miss ma?” It was nowhere near what she really wanted to ask. Nowhere near the precise words she needed to calm the storm raging in her chest. “Like, do you think about her still?” 

When he speaks, it is measured and heavy and beautiful all at once. Her father had always been so eloquent in Mandarin, almost poetic in the way he understood the language and its syntax. “Everyday, Ellie Chu. I think of her every day.” 

“Tell me about her.” They didn’t do this, not even after her father got better and she moved out of Squahamish. It was one of the many topics that they had never been able to broach, even on their best days. 

“She was beautiful.” And all over again, she could hear her father fall in love with her mother. “You look like her. It’s in your smile, and the way you are so restless when you’re sad. Or scared. Or nervous. She had the prettiest voice.” She could hear his smile from over the phone. “She was always singing. Washing the dishes, doing the laundry, even in the bathroom. Always singing. She liked the classics. Anything and everything. Dionne Ip. Theresa Teng.” He chuckled, and she imagined the sound sliding down her throat, warming her up like the rum had. “She used to sing you to sleep. You were always an energetic baby. Never wanted to go down for a nap. But she would hold you, and sing to you. And you would sleep.”

“I don’t remember that.” Her tongue felt clumsy, and she slid down the wall for support as she sat against the dirty tiles. “I can’t remember what her voice sounds like.” 

“It has been a while.” He sounded sad. “We didn’t take many videos back then. Your mother always wanted to be behind the camera, not in front of it. She said she wanted to frame the important things in life.” Ellie closed her eyes, the many pictures and videos of her growing up, her father young and happy. “Your mother was one of the most generous people I had ever met.” 

“But how can you still miss her?” Ellie felt a little like she was grasping. “Even though she isn’t here anymore?” How can you still bear it , was what she wanted to ask. Longing after someone who you could never have? 

“I will always miss her.” She imagined her father was in bed, the blankets pulled up to his chest to keep warm. His eyes staring out the window at all the plants cluttering the balcony. Looking out at the city outside his window, the lights painting shadows on his wizened face. Ellie hated that he looked old. “It doesn’t hurt as much anymore, but there will always be a part of me that misses her. You never forget your first love. Your heart, your soul - everything makes way for every person you have ever loved.” He chuckled without mirth. “You should tell her.” 

“Maybe.” Ellie stood, feeling warm all over. “It’s been so long.” 

“Tell her. For yourself, if not for her.” Her father sighs. “I would have told her so many things, had I known.” 

“What would you have said?” 

“Hmm?” Ellie imagined her father dropping his gaze to look at the framed picture he kept on his bedside. Of her ma holding her as a baby, her pa smiling at them both. She imagines the smile on his face. The simple shrug he sometimes gave when words eluded him. “Maybe that I wish I could have been a part of her journey for a while longer.” He yawned. “Your mother always knew what I meant to say. She was very smart. Just like you.” 

“Thank you, pa.” I love you. “Get some sleep.” I worry about you. “I’m sorry I called you so late.” I wish we could be this honest with each other always. 

“I’ll see you when you get back.” I love you too. “Don’t forget to eat.” Take care of yourself. “Call me before you leave town.” I’ll be waiting.  

Ellie murmured a goodbye and hung up. Rubbing the back of her neck, she looked into her reflection and wasn’t startled when she saw Aster leaning against the wall behind her. 

“How fast do you think I could get a restraining order for you? Reckon they’ll get back to me within two to three working days?” 

“You sound different when you speak Mandarin.” Aster smiled as she stepped up to the sinks next to her. “Gentler.” 

“That wasn’t what you were saying when I cussed you out last night.” That startled a laugh out of the artist, and Ellie beamed in triumph. Flicking the last of the water on her hands at Aster, Ellie tucked her hands into her trouser pockets and gestured towards the door. “Wanna get out of here?” 

“Please. I’ve had to deal with Veronica hanging off Trig’s arm all night and acting like it’s the Ritz-Carlton.” Aster rolled her eyes so hard Ellie wondered if they were going to fall out of her head. “Been there, done that. Trig always puts on too much cologne. Used to make my allergies go crazy.” 

“You’re allergic?” Ellie held the door open as Aster slid out into the school hallway. “I didn’t know that.” 

“Pollen. Spring wreaks havoc on my sinuses.” Aster walked backwards so she could keep her eyes on Ellie. “And I guess, I’m also allergic to Trig. Sounds scientific enough.” 

Ellie shook her head in amusement, her limbs still that pleasantly numb feeling. “We should go get Paul.” Something in Aster’s eyes shutter at that, but Ellie attributes it to her drunken state when  the artist simply beams. “You think he’s sober enough to drive us to Sparky’s?” 

“I’m thinking, no.” Aster peeked into the sports hall. “Besides, he sent me to find you because he said he was going to play a quick scrimmage with the other football guys. I figured that means us girls are on our own for the rest of the night.” 

Her statement was proven by the text Ellie realised Paul had sent her while she was in the bathroom. “He’s getting a ride home with some of the guys.” She declined to mention that Paul had added have fun with aster you stud. don’t think too much! just feeeeeeeeelllllllll followed by a bunch of hearts and eggplants. 

Texting back that eggplants were not appropriate for the situation, Ellie nearly walks into Aster when she realises she wasn’t looking where she was going. “Whoops. Sorry.” 

“It’s okay.” Aster’s hands were warm on Ellie’s arms, even through the cloth of her rolled up sleeves. They stood in front of the glass cabinet displaying the school’s trophies and awards, pictures of smiling teenagers lit up by small lights. Ellie turned her head to look at them, not really expecting to see her name or face anywhere. 

“What award would you have wanted to get?” She found herself asking. “Like, in another life.” 

“What do you mean?” Aster’s brows were knitted together in confusion. It was cute. 

“I think you’d make a cute cheerleader.” Ellie felt her lips turn up at the image. “Really digging into the popular girls trope.” 

“Hardly. My dad would have flipped at the length of the skirt.” 

“You could have pretended you were doing it to change the system from the inside out. Turned them to godliness and modesty or something.” 

“Uh-huh. And who would you be in this scenario? A jock?” 

“A music nerd.” 

“You already were a music nerd.” 

“No, I was a regular, all-rounded nerd. There’s a difference.” Ellie pressed her finger against the glass, pointing at the photo of the music society. “I would have joined a club then.” 

“You mean you would have a place besides the library to hang out?” Aster wrapped an arm around Ellie’s shoulders. They took a moment to look at the bright, grinning faces of their teenage years. It was weird to think that those same people were standing less than twenty feet away, and neither had any real urge to find out how they had grown. It was better this way, Ellie rationalised. To not let themselves be disappointed by the truth of things, and to remember these people the way they used to be - when the world seemed endless and their youth embraced them fully without fear. 

“I wish,” Aster spoke softly, her gaze tracing an image of the football team, herself stood under the arm of Trig. “I wish that we had been friends in high school.” 

“I’m glad we weren’t.” Ellie ducked her head when Aster turned to look. “I wasn’t…. Well, I would have made it very hard.”

“I doubt that.” There was wistfulness in her voice, and when Ellie chanced a glance through her eyelashes, she saw Aster looking at her with that same piercing gaze. She opened her mouth as if to say something more, but eventually just shook her head sadly. Ellie’s chest squeezed as she dared to lean into Aster’s warmth. 

“I’m glad you’re here.” There was always a best part , she remembers her father tell her. Maybe this was it.

Aster held her close for a moment longer before pulling away. Tangling their hands together, she began to tug them towards the exit. “Let’s get takeout on the way home.” 

Ellie tried not to linger on the fact that Aster had just called Paul’s place home . “Yeah.” Aster smiled at her from over her shoulder. “Home.” 

She tried to shake off the voice of her father telling her to just say it. She wasn’t feeling that brave yet. 

She just hoped she was at some point.

- - - - - 

Ellie had spent so much of her teenage years studying Aster from afar. Sounded creepy. But it was true. Studied the way she smiled, laughed. The things that got her excited, the things that made her frown. 

Maybe study was the wrong word. Beyond all the research her and Paul did in their senior year, of course. Even before that, Ellie had always noticed Aster Flores. 

It starts freshman year, when Ellie finally shares a class with the girl. Ellie is used to literature being the most boring class, not because she didn’t like it. But because she wasn’t challenged in it. The teacher almost never called on her, having heard of her reputation from her middle school teachers. Ellie Chu will derail all your lesson plans , they probably whispered in the staff lounges. She’s too smart for the other kids to keep up with. Don’t do it unless you absolutely have to. 

Whatever the case, Ellie only had to read the book to pass the class. So she often spent the actual class itself doodling over music sheets or reading other books. There was rarely any merit in listening to the in-class discussions - most of the other students never read the books or had any good opinions to share. 

Until Aster Flores. Ellie found herself fascinated by her thoughts on Animal Farm, Red Sky in the Morning, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime . For the first time in a long time, Ellie was engaged, and she often found herself speaking up to counter or add on to Aster’s ideas. The other girl would often glance back when Ellie did so, a little smile on her lips as if she was impressed or frustrated, depending on Ellie’s response. Ellie never met her gaze then, though. It was simply an intellectual challenge, she told herself. Becoming friends with the enemy was a surefire way of letting your guard down. 

And so she repeated that to herself until the end of the school year, and by then it was too late to do anything beyond stare at her in the school halls when she passed by. They didn’t share any more classes for the rest of high school, and honestly, Ellie didn’t think their lives would have ever intersected again if not for Paul. 

Damn Paul. 

It was because of him Ellie found herself sharing the couch with Aster Flores, boxes of takeout from the diner spread out on the coffee table in front of them. They were both in their pyjamas at this point, music playing softly out of Paul’s bluetooth speaker that they had commandeered. 

“I can’t believe you think Lorde is overrated.” Aster rested her head against Ellie’s shoulder as she thumbed through Ellie’s music library. “It just makes sense, based on your choice of songs.” 

“I’m not saying she’s overrated. I’m just saying if I wanted to feel all… I don’t know, heavy , I’d make myself sit through an episode of the Kardashians.” 

“Oh come on, don’t tell me you’ve turned into one of those Seattle folks.” Aster laughed loudly. “Fuck, the idea of you being a hipster is so not you.”

“Oh yeah?” Ellie used her beer bottle to push her glasses back up her nose. “I think if you have to try to be one, you automatically fail at being one. So in that sense, I’d argue I’m the best hipster.” Aster mimed gagging as she selected a song. Ellie nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah, this is a good one.” 

“I haven’t heard these guys in forever.” A tipsy Aster was touchy, Ellie realised. Ellie had known this for a while, but she was - as always - unprepared for anything Aster Flores. “They were the soundtrack to my teenage years.” 

“I can totally see you listening to them in your spot.” Ellie hadn’t thought of that first afternoon in ages. The memory made her feel warm inside. 

Aster gasped. “We should totally go!” 

“What, now?” 

“No, silly. Tomorrow!” Aster was animated now, reaching out for Ellie’s hands and giggling. “Before we leave.” 

“My train leaves in the morning.” Aster pouts. “I’m serious. I was planning on staying up till I have to leave. I’m all packed and everything.” 

“I’ll drive.” Aster had Ellie’s hands trapped between both of hers, clutching them to her chest as she looked up at Ellie through her eyelashes. “Please? We can head back to Seattle as soon as we visit. It’ll be more fun driving back that way. And you can keep me from falling asleep on the road.” 

“I don’t know…” The weekend was coming to an end, and with it, this illusion that they had been sharing all week. This illusion that they were friends. 

(No, not friends. Something more than friends.) 

(Because friends didn’t sit this close, or reached out for each other constantly, or stole a kiss in front of Yakult vending machines.) 

Ellie heard her father’s voice in her head again. She knew she should just say it. Rip the Band-Aid off. Aster would probably not remember it tomorrow anyway. Or Ellie could pretend not to. It would be easy. And Ellie could jump on the morning train way before Aster had even woken up. 

But then she remembers Aster telling her she couldn’t make do with a paper version of Ellie anymore. And Ellie felt shame heat her insides. 

“Aster.” Ellie shifted away, pulling her hands free. She stared at her drink, because suddenly the feel of Aster’s stare on her was too much. “I’m in love with you.” 

Silence. Ellie couldn’t bring herself to look at her. “I always have been. My pa says that we make space for the people we love, even long after they’re gone. You’re that. Not like a one that got away kind of girl. You’re just… the girl. I’ve had other partners, other relationships. But being with you is… easy. Always has been. You get me. You’ve seen me at my worst. I’m selfish and cowardly and don’t know how to live for myself. But I want to be better. I’m trying.” Ellie smiled wryly. “I don’t want to just be a piece of paper for you. I want to be with you.” 

She looked up finally when the silence got too much. Aster was staring at her, frozen. “Aster?” Fear made her sober. And with it, the rushing clarity that she’d fucked up. Fuck, fuck, fuck - 

“Oh thank god.” Aster surged forward, grabbing Ellie’s face in her hands and pulling it close. “It’s been way more than a couple of years.” 

Ellie has kissed Aster before. Multiple times even. But not like this. Not like Aster wanted to devour her, keep her this close, her hand grasping desperately at Ellie’s neck. Not like Aster wanted to savour this, the kiss turning gentle, questioning and searching. Ellie sighed into her lips, and felt like she was coming home. 

Damn Paul Munsky and feelings

- - - - - 

Paul was awake and waiting for her on the steps of his family home, his hands clutching two mugs of coffee. “You are a monster,” was all he said as Ellie jogged up to him, sweat beading her brow. “How are you even alive?” 

“Good morning.” The truth was that Ellie hadn’t gone to sleep yet. Aster had kept her up the rest of the night, and had grumbled something along similar lines as Paul when Ellie slid out of bed to go for her run. “One of those better be for me.” 

“Mom got a new roast.” It was bitter and energizing, and Ellie sipped at it contentedly as she leaned against the wall of the Munsky home. Paul looked up at her as she stared out at the tracks, and smiled. “I’ll let her know it’s a hit.” 

“Anything your mom touches is magic.” Ellie cradled the mug between her hands to warm them in the early chill. “Tell her I’ll send along some of those dumplings she likes when I get back to the city.” 

One of the best things about Paul was his comfort in silence. He always maintained he wasn’t good with words, but Ellie had always appreciated his ability to listen most. He was content to let Ellie linger in her thoughts, always patient when she went off on tangents that no one cared about. And best still, he tried. Paul Munsky was no brainiac, but he tried for his best friend. 

“Did you have fun at the reunion last night?” Ellie found herself asking after a long moment of just listening to the dawn birdsong. “We lost you after a bit.” 

“Yeah.” Paul grinned into his coffee. “It was fun to catch up with everyone. It’s weird how easy it is to lose touch with people. Even the ones who’re like, a street away.” 

“It’s a choice, isn’t it?” Ellie shrugged as she swirled her drink in the mug. “ You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.

Paul snorted. “Winnie the Pooh? Really?” 

Ellie grinned. “No one knows friendship better than the expert himself.” Ellie pushed off the wall and finished off the rest of her drink. “Thanks for the coffee. And company.” 

“I’m going to miss you, Ellie Chu.” Paul stood as well, his arms opened wide. “Give me a hug before you go.” 

“You always say that. Wussy.” Ellie hugged him tight, breathing in the faint traces of sweat and the scent of her teenage years. “Come visit Aster and I in the city.” 

Paul waggled his eyebrows with his shit-eating grin. “You and Aster, huh?” 

Ellie rolled her eyes and slapped his shoulder. The sound of his laughter followed her all the way home, warming her from the inside out. 

- - - - - 

Aster was still in bed when Ellie slipped back in, breakfast in her hands. She placed the takeout on the kitchen counter, wondering if she should wake the artist or let her sleep in. Ultimately she decided on the latter, setting herself to quietly cleaning up their mess from the night before. Aster would appreciate it, Ellie thought to herself, as she pulled her hair into a messy bun. She would be driving later anyway, and while it wasn’t a particularly long drive Ellie was sure any extra sleep would be nice. 

Her phone pinged with a notification as she was stuffing the last of the trash in the bins outside. It was her alarm for her train arriving at the station. Ellie smiled at it and dismissed the notification as she headed back inside.

“You showered?” Aster mumbled when Ellie finally slipped back into bed. “‘smell nice.” Ellie stifled a chuckle at the yawn. “‘time is it?” 

“A little before noon, sleepyhead.” Ellie propped herself up on her arm as she used her other to tuck a lock of hair out of Aster’s face. “You always sleep in this late?”

“You mean wake up at a normal hour?” Ellie pulled her eyes away from the extra skin that showed as Aster stretched lazily. The artist laughed at her blush. “You’ve seen more than this, you know.” 

“Still.” Ellie reached out and pulled the sheet gently over her exposed chest. “I’m not like, a perv or anything.” 

“Ells,” Aster caught her hand as she was pulling away. Ellie wasn’t sure if she liked the playful gleam in her eyes. It hadn’t bode well for her every other time she’d seen it. “It’s fine. I want you to look.” Ellie’s fingers twitched in response. This was new, Ellie noted. This itch to touch

“Aster,” Ellie called softly, willing herself to not lose her nerve. “Can I kiss you?” 

Aster rolled her eyes. “You don’t have to ask every time, nerd,” she whispered as she pulled Ellie closer. It was a gentle thing, full of comfort and familiar even after only a day after their first time. As they pulled away for air, Aster kept her hand on the back of Ellie’s neck, her eyes closed in happiness. “Mm. This is more like it.” 

Ellie wasn’t sure if she was meant to hear that. “Hmm?” 

“This. This was what I wanted that day.” She didn’t need to specify which. “I woke up fully expecting cuddles.” 

“I’m sorry.” Ellie punctuated that with a nuzzle along Aster’s jaw, delighting in the shiver it elicited. “I was scared.” 

Aster hummed in understanding. “And now?” She tugged gently on the nape of her neck to get Ellie to look up at her. In the sunlight tumbling in through the windows, Aster was a study in contours and curves, reminding Ellie of ornate golden frames and expressionist paintings. 

“Still scared,” Ellie admitted, because she knew Aster would carry her secrets for her. “But I don’t want it to hold me back anymore.” She tucked her face in Aster’s neck, breathing her in. She was still sleep-warm and soft, and Ellie dared to believe that she could live in that spot forever. “If that’s okay with you?” 

“Good.” Aster pressed a kiss to her forehead, wrapping her limbs around Ellie as if to trap her there. Ellie giggled when Aster airily announced she was still keeping the mushy card Ellie sent her all those years ago. There was no way Aster was going to let Ellie live it down. 

And Ellie found that she could be okay with that. 

- - - - - 

When they pulled out of Squahamish for good some hours later, the sun hung low on the horizon. Damp from the hot spring, their windows rolled down to let the late summer air in, Ellie reached out to rest her hand on Aster’s thigh. 

“Gotta focus on driving here,” Aster teased as she shivered under the innocent touch. “Don’t be a road hazard.” 

“I bet you’re the grandma that drives according to the speed limit. I’m not worried.” Aster’s phone was plugged into the speakers, some rock playlist playing softly in the background. “Did you enjoy being back in Squahamish?” 

Aster was quiet for a moment, the lyrics of the current song washing over them. “Parts of it.” Aster smiled wryly. “I mean, dad was an ass. But mom was the best surprise.” Ellie once again admired the way the light bounced off Aster’s grandma’s ring. It really was an elegant piece - and therefore suited Aster perfectly. “And it was nice to see Paul again. I’ve missed him.” 

“Just Paul?” Ellie wasn’t really sure how to bring up the question she truly wanted to ask. If she’d gone to her father for advice, he’d have told her to just say it plainly. No beating around the bush. If she’d gone to Paul, he would have no doubt told her to do some big romantic gesture. Ellie could do neither of those things, reserved as she was. It felt embarrassing to be the first to admit it, after the weird would-they-won’t-they dance her and Aster had kept up over the years. It felt a little too vulnerable in the daylight. 

Aster laughed. “Why, Ellie Chu, are you fishing ?” 

“I am not .” Her hot cheeks told Aster otherwise. “Do you really think I’d stoop that low?” Absently, she began to run her nails over the denim at Aster’s knee. 

Aster took a hand off the steering wheel with an eye roll as the song rolled over to the next. “I missed you too, you nerd.” She squeezed the hand on her thigh. “I just wasn’t sure if we were really going to have that conversation now.” 

“Do you - I mean - is this not a good time?” Ellie felt like a teenager all over again, wanting to hide behind her hair. “Because I just want you to know that I have no expectations for you. I mean, I don’t - mmph!” 

It was a quick peck, because Aster was driving, but it was enough to stop her uncharacteristic rambling. “Well, I have expectations. I don’t just sleep with someone twice if I didn’t have feelings for them.” She smiled slyly into the rearview mirror. Ellie felt like she’d been slapped. 

“Me?” The sputtering was not attractive. “You? Have feelings for me?” 

“Yeah.” Aster grinned bashfully. “If that’s okay.” 

“Are you sure?” Ellie blinked. She had waited for Aster for so long, had convinced herself that it would never happen, that it was all in her head - she had to hear it.

That startled a laugh out of Aster. “It has been more than a couple of years. So yeah, I’m sure. Doubly so after last night.” She paused to merge into another lane before chancing a glance at Ellie. “I was going to wait till I dropped you off to ask you to be my girlfriend. But as always, you keep me on my toes Ellie Chu.” 

Despite herself, Ellie felt her eyes begin to sting. “That’s so lame,” she sniffled to herself, turning her face to hide her tears. “I didn’t peg you for a cliche, Aster Flores.” 

“Why knock the classics.” Aster squeezed her hand again. “Besides, you saying you don’t want me to press you up against my car and kiss the snot out of you?” 

The image made Ellie’s heart jump. “That… is agreeable.” 

“Cool.” Aster tapped the back of her fingers. “So that’s a yes? To the girlfriend thing?” 

“It’s a… maybe.” Ellie inhaled as she faced Aster again. “I don’t want to mess things up with you. We’re different people now, and yeah, last night was great. Amazing. Best thing ever.” Ellie bit her lip, hoping Aster would understand. “But I want to take it slow. Get to know you, for real this time.” 

“As Ellie Chu?” Aster raised an eyebrow. “A concept.” The sun was beginning to set, colouring the sky in deep purples and pinks. Ellie could stare at her forever. Aster’s lips twitched as if she could hear Ellie’s thoughts. “But I can get behind that.” She glanced at Ellie, for just a moment, her gaze smoldering and doing all sorts of good things to Ellie’s insides. “You chased after me, all those years ago. Now it’s my turn.” 

Ellie couldn’t hold herself back from pressing a kiss to Aster’s cheek. As she pulled back, she saw the blush climb up the artist’s neck. She thought of more sneaky kisses and mornings waking up to Aster’s sleepy smile and constant texts on GhostMessenger like they had so long ago. Ellie still wasn’t sure what love meant, but maybe she and Aster could figure it out together. 

“Bring it, Flores.”