“Beautiful day for some thinking, huh?” He smiled.
“Yeah,” Astra nodded happily. “My dad actually came to visit, so I’m really content.”
“I’m glad,” Thad said. He leaned over the bridge and looked out into the park. “That’s good news.”
“Something is bothering you,” Astra said quietly.
“What gives you that idea?” He turned to look at her, wearing that same fake smile.
“You’re not as cheerful as you usually are, so I know something is bothering you. You were happy the other day when you told me about the cooking show, but this time, your smile is fake.”
Thad nodded. “You caught me. I’ve just been thinking a lot about something.”
“About what?” Astra asked. Her hands were folded behind her back, one foot behind the other, engrossed in the words of the man in front of her.
“Adult stuff,” He said carefully. “I don’t want to worry you with it.”
“Friends worry when someone they care about is upset. I’ll worry not knowing whats wrong, because maybe I can help you. Oh, and FYI I am an adult.”
Thad leaned over and ruffled her hair. “You’re so cute, aren’t you? I guess you are an adult, but you’re so sweet and innocent I forget sometimes.”
“Well, don’t forget. I’m not a child, I’m eighteen. I know I’m a little more to take in than others, but it doesn’t make me a baby.” Astra pouted.
“You’re right, but hey. You know, I’ve noticed that you stopped stuttering when you’re around me, that’s something, right?”
“Friends are people I’m comfortable around.” Astra nodded. There were times when she was nervous around Thad, but now, she was pretty comfortable. They texted almost every day and he went above and beyond to help her. She knew she could trust him, and if she wasn’t thinking about anything more than the topic at hand, she wouldn’t get nervous. “But, you’re changing the subject.”
Thad shrugged. “What do you want me to say?”
“I don’t know.” She frowned. “That you’ll be happy soon?”
“I don’t know if I will be,” Thad said quietly. “I’m having impure thoughts.”
“Impure?” Her eyes widened. “Ok, very adult situation. Uhm, uh tell me about it, maybe I can help?”
Thad took a step towards her. “There’s this girl who drives me wild, but I’ll never be able to be with her.”
Astra thought to the girl he had posed with in the magazine. Someone he couldn’t be with, because of work? “How is that impure, that’s not impure-” Suddenly her eyes widened. “Oh, okay. I mean, when you think of her, impure…ok!” She covered her mouth to suppress the squeak. She thought back to her dad’s words. They were on two different levels. She wouldn’t be caught dead even thinking about sex! The thought terrified her.
“Don’t get freaked out. It isn’t like that.” She looked up at him. He was close enough to touch. He reached out for her waist and slowly pulled her closer to him. “I’d never think impure thoughts about you. You’re too sweet. I’d never do that.”
Astra’s breath caught in her throat. “M-e?” It probably came out as a squeak. He was so close to her that she could feel his breath on her neck. Her heart was beating so fast. What was Thad saying right now? She thought she knew, but that wouldn’t be possible, right!?
“Yes you,” He breathed. “Don’t be so sweet all the time. It makes it really easy for a guy like me to take advantage of you. I’m trying so hard to be a good guy.”
Thad had pulled away from her. “Astra, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t even be putting you in a situation like that.”
“Wh-at if I wan-t to be- put in a situ-ation like that?” She stammered.
Thad clenched his fists together. “Absolutely not. You’re eighteen years old. You’re about to live your dream on television. You don’t need someone like me.”
“I like yo-u a lot,” She said quickly.
Thad turned around and began to slowly walk away from Astra. “I like you too, Astra. You’re beautiful and intelligent. You have a big world ahead of you. Take advantage of it.”
“Wh-ere are you going!” She cried.
Thad hated himself for making her feel the way he did. He had tried so hard to ignore the thump as Astra slid down to the floor. He tried to ignore the strain in her voice. But, Astra was stronger now. She had come a long way. She wasn’t the same girl he had met that first day in the modeling agency. Day after day he spent talking with her, he had the urge to finally tell her how he felt, and he meant to terminate their friendship at a later date. But, she caught him. He didn’t want it to end like this, but it would be selfish of him to ask the girl he cared about to give up everything to be with him. She was basically a child, it wouldn’t be right for her to face the backlash, and he was sure she would regret it later on. He felt ancient compared to her. Thad had given her an opportunity for a great life, and made sure Astra was happy with the idea of Sim Star Chef before he ended it all. “I’m sorry Astra, I think we should end things. It hurts me to watch you. I want something from you that you should never be able to give me. But, I’ll still be cheering you on for Sim Star Chef. I give you my word. And, for the record, I’ve had an amazing experience watching you grow, Astra.” As he began to walk away, he whispered, “I love you.”
The little bubble Astra was in just a few moments ago had popped. Did that really just happen? It happened so quick. She didn’t even know what to think. But, she couldn’t stop the sinking feeling in her heart. Thad hadn’t wanted it to end like this, she knew. What she didn’t know, was that Thad had feelings for her. Which, reaffirmed her feelings for him. The same ones she didn’t want to admit, but hadn’t really been fighting. She was this close to being with Thad Givens, the most perfect man in the universe and just as quickly as he had grabbed her, he had left her. She was angry at herself for bringing up his fake smile, maybe he wouldn’t have reacted the way he did. Then, the tears began to fall as Thad’s figure began to fade. She wouldn’t see him again ever again? What did she do? Her mind was in a haze and all she could do was sob as she tried to reason what had just happened to her. He was trying to protect her, she knew, but she was an adult and she could make her own decision. Her family would be upset, but if she had decided to have a relationship with Thad, he could have checked with her to see what she wanted instead of trying to shield her from it. Now, he wouldn’t ever talk to her again, and her desire to do Sim Star Chef was gone.
“Astra?” Her dad’s frantic voice broke her from her cynical thoughts. Seeing him, she tried to straighten up and smile, but she was doing a terrible job. “That slimy bastard! I knew something was up with that freaking romance novel looking guy! I didn’t like the way he walked off.” Declan turned around, ready to charge. “I will kill that bastard.”
“Daddy! No!” She wiped the tears from the corners of her eyes.
“What did he do to you?”
“He didn’t do anything but reject me, so please calm down! He said that same thing you and Alistair did. He’s too old for me. But, this time, he told me that he cared about me.” That part hurt the most. Not that she had been in love with him and he couldn’t reciprocate. But, that he did and didn’t want to.
Declan kneeled down by his daughter and hugged her tightly. “I’ll kill the son of a bitch that made you cry.”
“I just love you, alright?” He frowned, rubbing her back.
“I’m okay, really.” Astra felt like she had repeated that same mantra for the fiftieth time. Her dad had pulled her aside and the two of them had some food from the food truck and talked about everything until Astra had been smiling and back to the girl that Declan had raised.
“I’m going to say this and your dad and cousin are going to kill me, but I’d feel so bad if I let you go on with out knowing this,” Declan said.
“What is it daddy?” She asked.
“If you like someone I will NOT stop you. If the guy treats you right, I will welcome him into the family. I’ll be hesitant about it, and everyone will fight you on it, but if thats who you trulyy love, I will not stop you.”
Astra frowned. “You’re giving me mixed signals.”
“I don’t like anyone who makes my daughter cry. But, I also don’t know the whole story.” He shrugged. “I can’t tell you that how you feel is wrong. But, on the other hand, I think that you should listen to the people around you. Cadence and Alistair know this guy. If they tell you he’s bad for you, maybe you should listen. I didn’t have that luxury growing up.”
“There was someone before dad?” Astra asked.
“A bad man,” Declan said. “And there was no one to tell me not to hang around him.”
“I appreciate it,” Astra said. “I just don’t want to think about it.”
“I can respect that.”
Back at home, Astra had tried so hard to forget about what had happened earlier. She was taking it better than one would expect from the normally anxious girl. But, it was because she felt like she had to keep it together for her father. More than anything, she hated when people worried about her. There was so much going on already back in Moonlight Falls, that she’d feel terrible making it all about her. Finally out of his sight, Astra slumped down on the living room floor and sighed. She wanted to cry, but felt like there were no more tears left. Thad’s rejection had been so sudden, like he was fighting himself on it. She had watched people from the sidelines her entire life. While she couldn’t tell what they were thinking, she knew when they were hesitant. Even if they tried to hide it. That was because it was something she often found herself doing, so she understood. She wanted to talk to him, have a full conversation. If he cared about her, and she cared about him, what was the problem? Her dad? Alistair? Society?
“Baby.” Astra smiled sadly at her dad.
“Sorry,” She mumbled.
“For what?” He frowned.
“You came here to visit me, and all I’ve been doing is sulking,” Astra murmured. “I want to be more lively and happy, but it isn’t easy.”
“We all love you the way you are,” Declan said.
Astra sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. “How is Charlotte doing with the whole saving the family thing?”
“She’s fighting herself on her feelings,” Declan answered.
“Like Thad, huh?” She mumbled to herself. “Why fight yourself if that’s how you feel?” She frowned because she had been trying to fight herself on hers by putting herself down.
“The man that Charlotte is interested in is a human, and you know how she is with the almight vampire thing. But I know that she cares, because I was the same way with your dad. I argued with him every chance I got. We hated each other at first.”
“How did that change?” Astra asked softly.
“One day, he needed someone and I was there for him. I felt like a kindred spirit, we had some things in common so I helped him, and it turned out to be more than what I thought. I’m happy that I was strong enough to allow myself to see a different perspective. Sometimes you think you’ll never need a person and soon you’re spending your whole life worrying about when they’ll get home at night, or if they’re overworking themselves.”
“You and dad really have been through a lot.” Astra hugged her lef tightly.
“Yeah,” Declan nodded. “We have. Enough to know that sometimes it’s worth it to keep fighting.” He pinched Astra’s cheek. “Now, munchkin. Go to bed.”
“It’s only like 10pm, and this is my house!” Astra cried.
“You’re getting bags under your eyes, look!” He teased her. “Take a rest.”
“You’re leaving now, aren’t you?” She frowned.
Declan nodded. “I’ll be back, don’t worry.”
Astra nodded. “I wrote a letter to Millie, can you give it to her?”
He nodded and kissed her forehead. “I love you dear.”
“I love you too, dad.”