Astra wondered why Thad had invited her to the studio today. She had no other plans, and waiting for Alistair to come back was driving her nuts. So, she welcomed the distraction. “Hey, how are you feeling? Did you hear from your grandfather yet?”
Astra shook her head and frowned. “Not yet, but…I’m sure everything is fine.” She was positive that things were not fine. Alistair had been gone for days. He should have been back by now.
“Yeah.” Thad nodded. “I’m sure you’re right.” He couldn’t help but frown in front of the crestfallen girl. He had really wanted to see her smile again. She was just starting to warm up to him. “Well, I have some good news! Thats why I called you out here.”
“Really?” Astra tilted her head like a curious puppy and Thad’s smile returned.
“Yup. I think it’s an amazing opportunity. But, I know that you hate all of the attention and spotlight, so all you have to do is turn it down if you don’t want to do it. Alright?”
Astra nodded slowly. “What is it?”
“Sim Star Chef. It’s a cooking competition,” Thad replied.
“The Sim Star Chef?” Astra’s eyes widened. “Kyle Lawrence and Faye Ferrari were on it years ago! I though it was cancelled and called off the air?”
“Was cancelled. Now there’s a new host and a new set of judges. The show is being filmed here. Gabrielle told me about it, and we both thought you’d be a perfect fit. So, we entered you and they’d love to have someone of your skill here. You can say no if you want.” Astra didn’t answer, so Thad continued explaining. “Basically, the first round is filmed at the studio. You’ll cook and they judges will let you know if you make it to the second round. After that, you face off in head to head battles and if you pass that, you make the top fifteen which then head to the real competition.”
“That sounds terrifying,” Astra admitted.
“You don’t have to so anything you’re not comfortable with,” Thad said
Astra shook her head. “No, I want to! I feel like vomitting just thinking about it, and I will make myself look like an idiot on television and start stuttering, but this is my dream.”
“Thats my girl.” Thad ruffled her hair. “You have a couple of weeks to perfect your dish that you’ll be auditioning with. But, I think you can make it to the end.”
Astra gulped. She felt her heart swell at his compliments. “Thank you.”
Astra began experimenting in the kitchen right away. People from all around the world would be competing. She’d need to bring her A game, especially since her personality wouldn’t win this thing for her. “Dinner is usually not for a few hours, what’s up?” Cadence asked.
“I’m going to be on TV,” Astra said calmly. “Sim Star Chef.”
“I heard about that show, but….you!? I’m not saying you don’t deserve to be on it, it’s just shocking!”
“I know.” Astra nodded her head. “If I don’t think about the television or the judging part, I’m fine.”
“Astra,” Cadence began. “That’s the whole show.”
“I can’t give up before I even start.” Astra was focused solely on the dish in front of her. “Besides, Thad said he believed in me. That makes things a little less scary.”
Cadence smiled at her cousin. “Wow, he’s got a good influence on you, huh?”
Astra placed down the egg that she was holding in her hand and turned to face Cadence.
“Cadence, he entered me in this show, and I’m not mad. Its weird. This show is everything that I hate. Flashing lights, an audience, all eyes on me. Some of the biggest chefs in the world tearing apart my cooking, yet I’m just really really happy.”
“This is your dream, you should be,” Cadence replied.
Astra shook her head. “It’s not only that. It’s Thad. He makes me…happy. He’s the first person not related to me to actually go out of his way to make me comfortable. He went above and beyond for me. I’m thankful, and I won’t let him down.”
Cadence hugged her cousin from behind. “It’s about time. You’re finally going to admit it to yourself now, that he’s more than just some guy you keep running in to.”
“It’s not like that.” Astra felt her gut twist. She would never admit that she had feelings for an older man. Especially not Thad, when he was so admant about being too old for her.
“You’re starting to become comfortable in your own skin. This journey is going to be hard, but I’m proud of you for taking these steps.”
“It’s because I have you guys,” Astra admitted.
“Yeah.” Astra nodded. “And Thad.”
“Oh man, Astra, I wish I would have met you sooner!” Autumn exclaimed through bites of food. “I didn’t think you could turn waffles gourmet, but you did.”
“If you eat too much, you’ll get sick,” Cadence warned her.
“It’ll be worth it,” Autumn answered happily. “You’ll win that show with food like this.”
“I don’t know.” Astra frowned. “What if the judges think it’s ordinary?”
“Chocolate acai waffles with pomegranate jam and maple syrup?” Cadence asked. “That’s not ordinary!”
“It’s delicious,” Autumn said. “So good. But, if you want to test out another batch, I’d be happy to help.”
“What is this, a taste testing party? You couldn’t wait until I got home to do this?” Alistair joked. “I am starving.”
Astra stood up and handed Alistair a plate of waffles. “Taste them, and be brutally honest.” Then she turned her attention to the man next to him. “Dad!”
Declan caught his daughter in his arms and hugged her tightly. “Princess, I missed you.” He kissed the top of her head. “How have you been?”
“Good!” Astra answered excitedly.
“She’s going to be on television Uncle Declan,” Cadence answered.
“Television?” Declan asked in shock. “What?”
“I’m going to be on SIm Star Chef,” Astra answered shyly.
Alistair furrowed his brow. “Huh? YOU? How?”
Declan pinched Alistair’s ear. “What do you mean how? My daughter is incredible, of course she’s going to be on television. It’s about damn time.”
“I didn’t mean it like that.” Alistair made a face at the older man. “I’m shocked that she said yes. She hated attention.”
“Yeah, I do.” Astra nodded. “But this is cooking. It’s different. And, Thad, Gabrielle, Cadence and Autumn all believe in me. I think I can do it.”
Autumn took that opportunity to shake Declan’s hand. “I’m Brody’s daughter.”
“Alistair’s cousin’s daughter.” Declan nodded and smiled. “Thank you for putting up with this brat.” He rustled Astra’s hair and she let out a small laugh. “Is everything okay with your family?”
Autumn nodded. “Yeah, everything is perfect. We’re just not sure about grandpa’s brother, err, well Apollo.”
Astra nodded quickly. “Yes! How is grandpa? He’s fine, right? Everything is okay?”
Declan nodded. “Kind of.”
“Kind of?” Cadence asked.
“He had…a seizure.” Declan didn’t know what to call it in front of Autumn so he mentioned the first thing he could think of. “But Adeline is watching him. She, your dad and Ethan will not let anything happen to him.”
“Oh no!” Astra cried. “What happened?”
“It’s really complicated,” Declan let out a sigh. “But, it won’t happen again. If it does, I’ll personally be the messenger, alright?”
Astra frowned. “I wish I could see him again. And everyone else…”
“This will be over soon,” Declan said. “I promise things will be okay.”
“Why don’t you guys go out?” Alistair asked. “I’m sure you guys have a lot to catch up on.”
Declan nodded. “Thats a good idea. Baby doll, where do you want to go?”
“Oh! I know just the place.” She linked her arm with his. “Let’s go!”
“So what really happened to grandpa?” Declan looked at his daughter and smiled sadly.
“Of course it is. You were trying to hide something from Autumn, but I’m your daughter. This involves me, so don’t try to hide it. Is grandpa alright?”
Declan nodded. “He’s fine, but he didn’t have a seizure. I don’t know what I’d call it. There’s someone messing with the timeline, but that isn’t anything new.” Declan straightened his hat. “Please don’t worry about it. It’s under control.”
“Why won’t you tell me anymore?” Astra frowned.
“It’s dangerous, and the gurdians want you out of that supernatural world, for whatever reason. I want you to be happy and live a normal life. I want you to become a celebrity chef, meet the man of your dreams and have beautiful children.”
“Don’t Daddy me. I want whats best for you. I will protect you with my last dying breath. I’m sorry I haven’t been here more for you.”
“I actually didn’t mind too much. Not that I don’t love having you here, but slowly I’m becoming more confident because I’m doing things on my own. It’s scary, but I know I can do it.” Astra blew on her marshmallow before taking a bite out of it.
“I”m glad, Sweetheart. But there’s one thing.” He reached into his jacket pokcet and handed her a letter. “It’s from Millie. I’m positive it’s about this older man Alistair keeps telling everyone about.”
Astra’s eyes widened in shock. “What!?”
“How old is older?” Declan asked.
Astra looked down. “Ten,” She murmured.
“TEN!?” He reached for her hand. “I’m trying to be as understanding as possible. Me of all people shouldn’t be telling you who you can and can’t love. I know better than anyone what our hearts tell us…” He sighed, looking for the right words. He thought back to Altiere. “But I also know that it’s easy for your heart to be fooled.”
“Its not even anything serious. I just think about him a lot, it’s not romantic, and it won’t be, okay?” She would never dream of lying to her dad. “He says he’s too old for me.”
Declan let out a sigh of relief. “Good.”
“What? I don’t want a 28 year old dating my 18 year old daughter. You’re both on completely different levels! You’re a child, and he’s an adult. You have different things to worry about.”
“He got me the television opportunity,” Astra said slowly. “I will not stop being friends with him.”
“I won’t force you to. I’m trusting Alistair to put a stop to anything he finds harmful to you. I just want you to be careful. This is just a crush, and you’ll get over it.”
“Is that what aunt Sienna told you when you fell in love with dad?” Astra wondered aloud. “That you’d get over it?”
“Thats completely different,” Declan said.
“It’s not.” Astra shook her head. “I’m not saying I’m in love with the man, but I am saying you can’t judge a book by the cover.”
“I’m just trying to protect you,” Declan said. “Because I love you.”
“I love you too Daddy, and I appreciate it.” She leaned up and kissed his cheek. “And I’m really glad that you came to see me personally.”
They had decided to walk through the park after that. Astra was sincerely happy that she was seeing her father again. She had felt like she was falling apart, and keeping it together in front of everyone was difficult. She just wanted to pour her heart out, but she didn’t want to worry anyone. She was excited for the opportunity to be on television, but she was also incredibly nervous. What if she was so self conscious that she forgot an ingredient? Or, she did something stupid and the whole world made a meme of it? Her heart beat sped up just thinking about it. But, Thad’s words were encouraging. He believed that she could not only overcome her fear, but actually win the whole thing. She liked the idea of him cheering her on, so she was willing to give it a shot. Astra looked into the vast city she found herself in. Her dad was off buying them some food, so Astra had a moment to herself.
“Astra!” That voice belonged to the man she had been thinking of excessantly since she saw him posing with that model. She didn’t know if she liked him, but it was strange that she had never thought of any other person as much or as fervently as she had about Thad.
She smiled and gave him a short wave. It was funny how he was always around her, but she didn’t really mind much. Thad was sociable and he made his way around town quite often. She loved how well versed he was in situations that she wasn’t. Whenever he was out with her, he’d politely point out things she didn’t know, and in social situations, he’d carefully guide her in the right direction without making her feel like a child. He was perfect in that way. before she knew it, he had jogged up to her and was standing on the bridge along with her.
[This chapter was really long so I just cut it into two. The next one will be out shortly. In case I haven’t mentioned this a billion times, Thad Givens was made by Nutmegsims!]