It was the fact that never in a billion years did Elliot Cruz think that The Astra Torres would even notice him, let alone have feelings for him, that gave Elliot that distinct swoop in his stomach whenever he lets his mind wander over towards that special girl from his past.
Even now, years after their kiss, Elliot still feels something for her. Even now that he has someone else in his life who he calls as his girlfriend. Astra will always be his ultimate crush. Or maybe that's just how it goes with first loves? Just this feeling of 'too much'. Too much emotions. Anxiety, giddiness, anticipation...it all still feels special years after.
It's a long and winded story, if he really gets into it. But to make the long story short, he had this huge crush on the school hearthrob, the IT girl of their small town in Bozeman, Montana. He and practically all the population of that damned school, not exaggerating. It was just a fact that everyone noticed and admired the girl. She had the perfect looks and the brains to go along with it. Spanish features with her dark hair that contrasts her porcelain skin. She has this mysterious vibe, you get the notion that she's always contemplating something deep. She's kind of a nerd actually and that's what attracted Elliot to her right off the bat. She was always carrying and reading different kinds of books around school. More importantly, the girl was always kind to everyone and is clearly an intellectual with a mind that is so different from all the other townfolk who are trapped in a rural mentality.
Elliot has always been keen to notice all the small things. For years, he silently observed her. The fact that she stands up for the kids her friends bully, even if it might mean that she might get in trouble with her popular group. She always finds a way to do the right thing. Her beauty is not just skin deep, her actions reflect her values and again, let's not even go back to Elliot waxing poetic over her beautiful mind. The way she speaks in class? The way she expresses her intelligence? She's practically a literary and art genius in Elliot's opinion.
That's why everyone is in awe of Astra - you've barely scratched the surface and you already see that she has the qualities of a perfect girl. But it seems that nobody really bothers to, they're content in seeing what they want from her. She's beautiful, objectively gorgeous and when she smiles? She has this glow on her face.
It's what his best friend Patrick told Elliot that time he giddily told him that he wants to court her and confess his undying love without even as much as befriending the girl first or at least uttering a few sentences directly to her face.
Patrick is the typical jock with not a lot going on in the head but has a lot of love in his heart. He's basically a teddy bear and Elliot loves the dude so much that he didn't have the heart to tell him every time he fanboys about Astra that he didn't really have a chance with the girl because they're on a different level intellectually, they're not even on the same playing field. And also, Elliot didn't have it in him to confess that he too likes the object of his best friend's affection. Why would he? It doesn't matter anyway because Patrick actually had more chance than him. If Patrick is a jock, Elliot is a certified nerd. If Patrick and Astra are on different playing fields, Elliot and Astra are on different continents.
Elliot is not even being self deprecating, it's just the truth and he has accepted his role as the school's nerd. He actually has side hustles because of that status. He gets additional cash by writing his peers' papers for them.
And this was how things began to unravel. How fate connected Patrick, Elliot and Astra. Through his writing side hustle, Patrick commissioned Elliot to write love letters for Astra in his place which then turned into a whole mess of Astra figuring out that it was Elliot writing the letters to her instead of Patrick. (It was pretty obvious when there were verbal sparring about literature that poor simpleton Patrick was honestly not able to follow in real life but was winning in letter correspondences.)
It was a whole debacle that left them all raw and devastated especially on Patrick's part, betrayed and hurt on Astra's and exposed so many buried feelings for them both. Acceptance of the gravity of his attraction towards the girl was the little bow on top of that situation. He understood what he did, he fooled the girl and said girl might have genuine feelings developing. It was too much and given that it was their last year in school and they were about to part ways for college, he knew he had to let go. They had to grow literally apart from each other and take the path on their own respective futures even if it pained him. He left their hometown after giving Astra a kiss and saying that they'll see each other again after a couple of years.
That happened in their last year of high school. It was four years ago. He was about to graduate from university now.
He's dated a few other people in university. He even tried to reciprocate this one really attractive girl's feelings. Come on, she was intellectually stimulating, good looking and actually really very nice. Just sad that try as he might, Elliot can't muster up all the feelings he once had. No matter how 'perfect' this girl could be. She's no Astra. It's just really Astra. Always Astra-- The story of Elliot's life.
You see, after that one girl, Elliot tried to switch it up to casual relationships just to see what's out there. Seems like Stanford University, California is really a place for nerds like him since the girls were everywhere. Chicks dig smart people. This is a fact. And Elliot is one smart kid. It took guts and brains to get accepted to Stanford from Bozeman especially with his financial status as a son of a single parent Asian immigrant struggling to make ends meet.
It also didn't hurt that Elliot actually learned to appreciate his body more. Hence, he constantly worked out now. If before his exercise consisted of riding the long roads of Bozeman, Montana on his bike to school everyday, now it was more on body building and endurance workouts. Those jumpropes are no joke. He has also learned to see his good qualities. This includes accepting that he has some things going on for him.
Years of exercise toned his baby face, for one. He still had this Asian signature youthful look but his face is more defined - sharper jaw and he finally had enough cash to go to a barber now instead of just getting away with chopping his own dark hair in a cramped bathroom.
His decision to wear more contacts is a plus, people can now see his big brown soulful eyes. Oh and also his physique. Girls love toned guys with a little bit of muscle who actually can keep up a conversation. They appreciate guys not just drooling over them. They like the best of both worlds, they like hot nerds and Elliot is definitely one of them.
He also learned to shed his layers of baggy shirts and jeans he used to wear and that black is his color. Slick and simple, always pragmatic. He found out that taking a risk and suddenly kissing your high school crush and said girl kissing you back boosts one's self confidence a ton. Cause after all, who does that? Deny it as much as he can, but Elliot has serious game.
He realized this in his first year of college. At first he thought that girls were just so nice and attentive at Stanford. Really friendly. They paid attention to him, especially his words. He is a fan of smartass girls who can put you in your place with just a few words. Intellect is really doing it for him. Enrolling in the Liberal Arts Program had its perks. His writing skills is being put to good use. A lot of his classmates actually really challenged his mind. (But no, not like Astra. Astra will always be on another level.)
It was nice though. Being surrounded by all those people who get you. Being free to be yourself. Even if that means exploring the parts of you that you didn't even know existed in the first place. Sometimes Elliot wonders if the side of him that was always rebellious and stubborn was just hiding underneath all the responsibilities he carried during high school. And being Asian in a town like Bozeman, with its rural type of living and close-mindedness of some, it was really very isolating. Add to that working so many jobs just to help his father. He knew that he always thought he was an outsider who didn't have to follow the rules set by society. He knew that being a smartass would get him somewhere someday, but in college, he flourished. He thrived in the freedom of being his own person without consequences for once. Yes, he's still the responsible Elliot from before but he found out that you can be responsible and still have fun.
He found friends who are more like him. Friends who are not embarrassed to labeled as nerds or have weird hobbies. Just people with the eye on their goal, working hard to accomplish them. Here in California, people celebrated your individuality. They expected you to work hard and not just settle for a dreary manual labor job, get married and have kids. Not just to follow the simplest path one can have in a rural town but actually pursue your goals. He realized that tons of people are more open in college. It's like he was finally home and part of a tribe.
Of course being among his peers gave him the opportunity to explore. To test out the waters. Not to replace Astra per se (Can Astra even be replaced?), but to give freedom to a part of Elliot that he has always repressed. And boy, did Elliot explore. Not to say that he wasn't his awkward nerdy self anymore but in college, people found it cute and endearing. He was appreciated more. He was so much more than the Asian guy who did everyone's papers.
Elliot had girlfriends. One after another actually. Patrick has always said that he has more game than his jock best friend does. What with all the girls after him. He said it's kinda funny how clueless Elliot is with how people are flirting with him. Elliot has always been unassuming. Better to be in denial than to assume right? So his parameter of a girl making a move on him is literally a girl saying it or kissing him. Forget about Elliot making the first move. (That was a one time deal with Astra. Never again. It's just Astra who brought that out in him.)
Elliot has always been the type to make sure that someone likes him before he shows his feelings and reciprocates. Maybe it's his insecurity of growing up as a skinny Asian kid always hustling in his home town. He didn't consider himself attractive or just hadn't really thought about his love life at all seeing as he was juggling his family's finances and work. (Well not until Astra, that is). So he waits, tries to figure out in his head if someone is a good match for him, then reciprocates if he thinks so.
Problem is, there were a lot of attractive girls in his school grabbing his attention but no, never anyone quite like Astra. Some were smart and beautiful, but never quite had Astra's passion or wit. She was just one of a kind.
Even now, with Elliot sitting across her current girlfriend Charlie in a cafe in campus, he can't help but stare at a weird painting mounted on a wall. He wonders what Astra would think about it. He can't quite shake the feeling of wanting to send a picture of it to the girl. Recalling the times when the two had conversations about Astra's favorite paintings and her own passion over this genre of art.
It's Charlie who distracts him from his train of thought.
"Hey babe, you gonna finish those fries? I'm starving over here." She says while stealing a few from his plate. Elliot watches Charlie as she casually munches on it.
"Where do you put all the food Charlie? You just finished two donuts. There isn't an ounce of body fat in you. And that's coming from me." Elliot asks, endeared by the girl.
"What? I like food. Bite me." She says around her mouthful of Elliot's fries. Charlie then proceeds to chug her lukewarm cup of coffee.
Elliot examines his girlfriend. With this cafe lights and aroma of coffee wafting in his nose, Elliot is so contented just watching her stuff her face.
Charlotte Adams, or better known as Charlie, has this Audrey Hepburn-Grace Kelly-Diana Agron look. She's blonde, with hazel eyes, red lips and classic bone structure (like Astra's. Guess Elliot has a type.) But more than that, she challenges Elliot. She keeps up with him and sometimes even leaves him dumbfounded with the ease of how she carries herself. Charlie is confident. She's free spirited but grounded. Humble and just so damn pure sometimes, Elliot doesn't know how he got so lucky to have stumbled upon her. Almost half the time they spend together, they just laugh and amuse each other. And yeah, the other half of that time they spend exploring each others' bodies. It's college, blame their hormones.
Charlie is Stanford's Astra Torres. The It girl of their university. Everybody loves Charlie because of her outgoing personality. She has learned to be comfortable with herself through experiences. She's a quick thinker and eternal optimist. But no, she's not all sunshine and rainbows. She still shocks Elliot from time to time with her curse words and penchant for smoking. But overall, she has a good heart. Charlie is a sweetheart and seems like the complete package. Smart, beautiful and a good person.
"What? What's up with the staring babe? What's going on in that pretty little head of yours?" Charlie eyes up Elliot.
"Uh nothing. It's just, I really like you Charlie. You know that right? We've been together for almost a year now and just, wow.. you're great." Elliot surprises Charlie by his words.
Charlie isn't used to Elliot saying things like this. When they first got together, she knew that Elliot had a couple of not so serious girlfriends before and she can feel that Elliot is somehow holding back for some reason. She guessed that he had commitment issues or insecurities he had to get through but she was willing to wait. After all, Elliot is worth it.
For Charlie, Elliot is one of those special kinds of person that you rarely meet in your life. He's really something else and that's why she chose him. She knew that people gravitated towards Elliot because of his mind and she wanted more. She wanted so much more from Elliot. His time, attention, devotion, admiration and commitment. She chased after Elliot until he can no longer deny that he likes her too. Well, chase is such an aggressive word. It's more of annoyed him so much he couldn't ignore her anymore. They actually started with a frenemies type of relationship since they were both at the top of classes. They would often be the debate captain of the opposing team and would usually spar in class over differing opinions. Although Elliot didn't know that Charlie was just annoying him to get his attention. And like all rom coms, it took a few problems before Elliot got his s**t together and admitted to himself that he too liked the annoying blonde. And he wasn't actually annoyed by her, more on frustrated. Frustrated with how she's just so goddamn perfect, (it reminds him of a certain someone), he wonders how he came across another Astra Torres unrequited situationship again and how this can ruin him once more.
Because yeah, leaving Astra with that 'see you in a couple of years' kiss and that open ended thing kind of ruined him for everybody else post Astra. He kept on comparing everyone to her. And no one else is at par, well until now. Until Charlie. She seems like she can get Elliot to fall, just very differently from how he fell for Astra but nonetheless soul crushing as well. So Elliot tried to prolong the inevitable by remaining in denial with his growing feelings for Charlie until that one day when Charlie got fed up with it all and slapped some sense into him. And well, Elliot's just human, she's a great girl.
So here they are now, a year later and Elliot is still smitten by Charlie.
"I know I'm awesome Mister Cruz, that's why you allow me to eat your fries. Am I right?" Charlie says with a cheeky smile. She went back to munching on their food. Occassionally stealing his and determined to sip from his cup even though she has her own.
"Oh shut up, you lovable chipmunk." He said while pinching her puffed up cheeks. She's just too cute sometimes. Her energy is so calm but also refreshing. There's just something about Charlie that's soothing. He can't get enough of her. There are times when he would just look at her and just be so attracted to her overall personality. She is really a good catch. What was he even thinking of when he stared at that painting a while ago? He should be perfectly contented with his adorable girlfriend and not let his thoughts run back to a girl from his past. It's not fair to Charlie and it's also not fair for his growing feelings for the girl. He wants to nurture that and protect her at all costs. With this in mind, he decided to move his scheduled study session and spend the day with his girlfriend, watching her favorite serial killer murderer type of shows she loves so much and just enjoy their time together.
"Just eat so we can go. Come on, I have plans for us." Elliot smirked while saying this. Pushing all his food and remaining coffee towards his girl. He had plans for Charlie, alright. A last minute thing, but he was feeling guilty for thinking about Astra and that painting on the wall so he wanted to make up for it. He's going to try his best to make Charlie and only Charlie the center of all his thoughts, one hundred percent just his girl.
With his hand on the small of her back, he guided Charlie back to his dorm room across campus. But Elliot's plans just went out the window when he was pressed to the door and kissed senseless.