As Ally sits on the floor of her best friend's bedroom, opening the letter she wrote herself on the first day of freshman year to be opened on her first day of senior year, she tries not to set herself up for disappointment. She knows she probably wrote something short and silly about wanting to be valedictorian (which she most definitely will be) or how she hopes she's had her first kiss by now (which she most definitely has), but she still finds herself hoping for something slightly inspiring to help her get through the year.
"Sweet, I gave myself ten bucks!" Trish cheers, waving around the ten-dollar bill from her envelope.
Ally laughs a little. "What did you write?"
"Oh, the paper's blank," Trish says, turning the paper around to show her.
"I'd expect nothing less from freshman Trish," Ally says.
"What about yours?" Trish asks.
Ally looks down and starts reading her letter out loud. "'Dear Senior Ally, you made it! I bet you're valedictorian and you have the best boyfriend in the whole world.'"
"Well…you got one of those things right," Trish says. "Probably. I guess you won't technically know if you're valedictorian until the end of the year."
"Yeah, yeah." She looks back down at the letter. "'I bet you have so many amazing memories from high school so far and you're gonna make a million more this year! You are smart and amazing and I am very, very proud of you. Love, Freshman Ally.' Aw, I was so sweet."
"Yawn," Trish says. She looks over at Ally's letter and frowns. "Wait, there's a P.S."
"Oh, we don't need to read that—" Ally tries.
"'P.S. You probably won't remember this, but Austin just said he wrote in his letter that I definitely won't be valedictorian, so I need you to steal his letter from him right now and see if he was lying. And also smack him,'" Trish reads.
Ally clenches her jaw and doesn't take her eyes off the letter, despite the feeling of Trish's stare burning a hole in her head.
"I'm sorry, Ally," Trish says. Then she sits back on her heels. "I forgot you guys used to be friends."
"Yeah, well, I try to forget it, pretty much every day," Ally replies, crumpling up the letter and tossing it in Trish's recycling bin.
"Ally—" Trish starts.
"It's fine, Trish," Ally says, standing up and giving Trish a small smile that they both know is fake. "Everyone loses friends in high school."
Trish scrambles to her feet too. "But not everyone's best friend in the world turns into their mortal enemy by sophomore year."
Ally shrugs. "It was two years ago. I'm okay now."
"Right. That's why you shut down every time someone even says his name in conversation."
Ally rolls her eyes. "I don't shut down. I just don't like saying bad things about people, and I have nothing good to say about him, so I choose to not say anything at all."
"Ally, it's okay if you're still hurt. He was your best friend for, what, ten years? And then suddenly he turned on you! Anyone would still be upset about that."
"Well, thank you, but I'm not still upset about it. And you know why?"
Trish sighs and crosses her arms. "Why?"
"Because losing him made me get closer to you," Ally says, grabbing Trish's shoulders. "And you are the best friend in the entire world."
Trish tries and fails to fight a smile. "You're too nice to me."
Ally smiles and hugs her tightly. Trish hugs her back. "I'm only nice to you because you're nice to me. Most of the time."
"And besides," Trish says when they pull away, "Austin's a loser now. He thinks he's so cool with his whole mysterious outcast vibe and wearing all black and hardly talking to anyone except Dez Wade—which, what the fuck—but you and I know the truth about him."
Ally chuckles a little and raises an eyebrow. "And what's that?"
"He isn't mysterious at all."
"I guess. But you know, people change."
"You're right, they do. And who even wants to be friends with someone like him now? All he does is brood. It's like, why even go to parties if you're just gonna stand in the corner and creep everyone out?"
Ally laughs again. "You're the best, you know that?"
Trish grins. "I do. And I'm glad you do, too."
She mostly goes to parties because Trish wants her to, and because people always beg her to go. Usually she doesn't drink all that much, and she ends up spending most of the time being dragged around by Drunk Trish, who loves talking to absolutely everyone. Unlike Sober Trish, who hates most people.
But as soon as she sees Austin Moon in his token black hoodie and dark jeans leaning against the wall at this year's Halloween party, she does two shots with Trish right off the bat.
"He's here," Ally says in between coughs, gesturing with her head to where he is. Trish looks over and then quickly looks back at Ally, eyes wide.
"Do you wanna leave?" Trish asks.
Ally shakes her head, pouring herself a cup of something and taking a long sip, trying to drink away the mortification she feels at being here, in his field of view, dressed as a sexy librarian. "No," Ally says, shaking her head again to emphasize it. "We have to stay. It's senior year, and I am not gonna spend it hiding from the only person in the whole school who hates me. I am wonderful, and most people like me. So who cares what one person thinks?"
"Yeah!" Trish says. "Atta girl!" Then something behind Ally catches her eye. "Ooh, beer pong!" Trish grabs her wrist and drags her to the table, and she's grateful for the distraction.
Trish is quite possibly the greatest best friend ever. She keeps Ally drunk enough to stay numb to the pain and embarrassment and distracted enough that Ally forgets Austin is even there half the time. It's really only when they have to cross through the living room—which is pretty frequently, since they continuously move from the bathroom to the kitchen to the backyard and back again—that Ally becomes painfully aware of how ridiculous he must think she is.
But even when they're in that room, Trish starts singing loudly or switching between Spanish and English cursing so fast it could give Ally whiplash, all because Trish knows it makes her laugh.
"Trish, I really don't deserve you," Ally says as Trish uses the bathroom. "I mean, really, you're probably the greatest person in the entire universe. And since the universe is expanding, that gets more important every day!"
"Ally, you're the greatest person in the entire universe. And I love your costume."
Ally looks down at her tight pencil skirt and white button up (unbuttoned far enough to fit the sexy librarian vibe, of course), and pushes her glasses up her nose a little when she looks back up at Trish. "I love your costume," she says. "You're, like, the sexiest sexy nurse in the universe."
"I love you, Ally," Trish says, washing her hands and then hugging Ally tightly.
"I love you, too." When they pull away, Ally finishes the drink she's holding and sets the cup on the bathroom counter.
"We should go get snacks," Trish says.
"I'm not really hungry."
Trish picks up Ally's cup. "Okay, then you go wait outside, I'll eat some snacks, and then I'll get us both more drinks."
Ally nods. "That's a good plan. You're so good at planning things."
"Thanks. Let's go!"
Trish grabs her hand and together they walk out of the bathroom, down the hall, and back through the living room. Out of the corner of Ally's eye, she sees Austin still silently brooding in the corner like a creepy creepster. The creep.
When they get to the kitchen, Ally hugs Trish goodbye and then walks out into the yard alone, sitting on the swinging bench on the porch and watching all the other people outside talking and laughing together. She sighs and leans back against the bench, closing her eyes.
Now that she's alone, all she can think about is how sad she felt when Austin ditched her. She cried for weeks about it. She even missed a couple days of school. He was her best friend, and then all of a sudden he started ignoring her texts and calls. And when she would try to talk to him at school, he would either ignore her, glare at her, or tell her to go away, but, like, meaner than that. And he never told her what she did wrong.
It gets darker behind her eyelids as someone stands in front of her, blocking the porch light from her face. But she finds that her eyelids now weigh two hundred pounds, so she keeps them closed and hopes that whoever it is isn't planning on murdering her.
"How many drinks have you had?"
At the painfully familiar voice, she slowly opens her eyes. Sure enough, Austin Moon is looking down at her, black hood over his head and hands shoved in his pockets. She just stares at him, half because she's shocked he's talking to her, half because her heart feels like the two hundred pound weight moved on top of it after she evicted it from her eyelids, and half because she doesn't have the energy to say anything.
That might be too many halves.
He blinks, then repeats his question. "How many drinks have you had?"
Her eyes fall closed again and she makes a strange moaning noise, which sounds more like 'Uhhhnnnn,' than 'I don't know.' She feels the bench swing backwards as he sits down next to her, and if she wasn't so exhausted all of a sudden, she'd probably be more upset about it.
"Is Trish here?" he asks.
She manages to nod.
"Where is she?"
"Drinks," Ally says with a yawn.
"I feel like maybe you've had enough."
Ally shakes her head in response.
"And I feel like maybe I should just take you home to be safe."
She shakes her head again.
"Really? You can't keep your eyes open."
She forces her eyes open and turns her head to glare at him. He raises an eyebrow and uses an index finger to pull her glasses down her nose until he's meeting her eyes over the rim.
"Ally. Let me take you home."
"Why?" she asks with a tiny burst of energy, pushing her glasses back up and sitting up a little. "So you can tell everyone I had sex with you?"
"No," he says, and his patient tone and clear eyes make her angry. Angry enough to actually keep her eyes open. "So none of these sleazy assholes get any ideas." When she doesn't say anything, he sighs. "C'mon, I'm taking you home."
He wraps an arm around her waist and stands up, pulling her with him. She leans into his side, but only to keep her balance. Then he gently takes her phone out of her hand. With all her energy gone again, she doesn't even ask him why as he tells Siri to call Trish and then holds the phone to his ear. She yawns again and closes her eyes, resting her cheek on his shoulder.
"Hey, Trish, it's Austin Moon. I found Ally practically passed out in the backyard at the Halloween party and I'm taking her home. So, uh, yeah. Just wanted to let you know. I'm pretty sure you have my number, but if you don't someone at the party does. Probably. Anyway, Ally's fine, I'm just gonna make sure she gets home okay. Okay, bye." He hangs up and puts her phone in his back pocket.
"Trish is gonna kill you," Ally says as she opens her eyes and blinks a few times when Austin leads her back into the house.
"I left her a message telling her what's going on from your phone. I think she'll understand."
"She hates you. She won't be okay with you taking me home."
"Well, Ally, I don't really care."
"I don't know why I'm going home with you."
"You're not going home with me. I'm taking you back to your house."
They walk out the front door and down the winding path through the grass in the front yard.
"Still," she says. "I don't even know if you're really taking me home."
"Yes, you do," he mutters. Then she trips and almost falls down the steps leading to the street.
"Careful," he scolds, tightening his grip around her waist to catch her.
"Why are you doing this?" she asks him.
"Because you're super drunk."
He helps her into the passenger seat of his car and buckles her seatbelt before getting in the driver's side and driving away from the party. She leans back against the seat and blinks slowly, turning her head to look out the window.
"What'd I do to you?" she asks.
He must not understand her slurred words. "What?" he says.
She huffs in frustration and looks over at him. "What did I ever do to you?" she asks again.
He doesn't say anything for a while. Then, when they stop at a light, all he says is, "What do you mean?"
"You hate me."
"I don't hate you."
"Yeah you do. You said so. You said, 'I don't wanna be friends with you anymore.'"
"That's not the same as hating you."
"You act like you hate me."
He sighs. "I don't hate you. And that was two years ago."
"Well." She looks out the window again when the light turns green.
"Fine," he says. "Fine. When we got to high school, you were so smart and so nice, you became, like, the golden girl."
"I'm not old enough to be on Golden Girls."
"Not the—whatever. I mean that everybody loved you. You were—are—like, the most popular girl in school."
"And I'm dating the quarterback," she says with a roll of her eyes that makes her dizzy. And it wasn't even worth it, because she's looking out the window and he's watching the road so he didn't see it. Stupid.
"And I was jealous, okay?" he says, ignoring her comment. "I was jealous that everyone loved you and they were just kinda indifferent about me. And then you would always tease me about dumb stuff that didn't matter, but it started getting to me, and I couldn't take it anymore. I couldn't take being friends with you anymore."
"We always teased each other. If you said you didn't like me teasing you, I would've stopped."
"I was embarrassed," he says, a little quieter. "And I didn't want anything to do with you, because I was still jealous. And then after we stopped being friends you were still you and nobody even talked to me anymore, so then I guess I resented you for that."
"That wasn't my fault."
"What you did really sucked. It was a dick move and it sucked. You suck."
She crosses her arms. "You were my best friend in the whole world, and you dropped me for a stupid reason."
They're silent for the rest of the drive to her house. Then he guides her inside, sits her on her bed, and gently pulls the glasses off her face. He places the glasses and her phone on her nightstand.
"I'm sorry," he tells her.
"Go to hell."
He presses his lips into a tight line, nods, and then leaves without another word.
After fighting a killer hangover and having a frustrating conversation with Trish about leaving the party without her—even though it was pretty much against her will—Ally spends the rest of the next morning pacing in her room. Then she exhales in frustration and mutters obscenities to herself as she trudges to her car and drives to Austin's house. Before she gets out, she throws caution to the wind and takes double the recommended dose of Advil to try to cure her pounding headache and protect herself from a potential future headache from the conversation she's about to have.
For the first time in over a year, she wishes she hadn't deleted Austin's number from her phone as she walks up to his front door. But she's here now, and this shouldn't take long, and he can't be that much of an asshole in the short amount of time she plans to spend here.
She knocks and holds her breath while the faint voice of his mom calls out for someone to get the door. Then the door swings open and he's there, one hand shoved in the pocket of his black hoodie, looking utterly unamused.
But when he sees her, he glances back inside and then steps towards her, shutting the door behind him and then shoving his other hand in his pocket.
"I just…wanted to say thank you. For getting me home last night," she says, trying to steady her breathing and failing miserably.
"No problem," he tells her, and it's the first time in two years she hasn't heard any animosity in his voice during a conversation that she initiated.
"And I'm sorry," she adds.
He raises an eyebrow. "Why are you sorry?"
"You helped me and made sure I got home safe and I told you to go to hell," she says.
He shrugs. "Don't worry about it."
"I'm also sorry that you felt ignored back then," she continues, prepared to say just about anything to keep this conversation with him alive.
But he shakes his head, which feels like a bad sign. "Don't do that," he says. "Don't make this into something it isn't."
"I'm not," she says quickly. "I just…never knew why we stopped being friends, and now I do." She crosses her arms. "And if it makes you feel any better, I stand by what I said. About it being a stupid reason to stop being my friend and the whole thing sucking and being a dick move."
"Stop just saying 'I know' to everything!"
He raises his eyebrows when she yells at him, but she doesn't care what he thinks of her anymore. So before he can say anything back—if he was even going to say anything back—she turns around and marches right back to her car.
She cries to Trish about her conversation with Austin that night, and she's ready to put it all behind her after that. Now that she knows why he dropped her, maybe she has enough closure to finally truly be able to move on from all this.
But then Monday rolls around, and she gets paired up with him for the next month and a half for their end-of-semester Spanish project. Damn random assignments and damn their Spanish teacher and damn Austin Moon.
She approaches him after class, her jaw set and her arms crossed. "I should give you my number," she mutters, avoiding his eyes. "So we can meet up to do the project."
"I have your number," he says. "You have mine, too."
"I, um…might have deleted it."
He raises an eyebrow, but all he says is, "Then I'll just text you. We can get this over with and go back to our lives."
As it turns out, "getting it over with" isn't as easy as they thought it would be. They have to give a detailed presentation on a tradition in Spanish culture. And of course, they ended up getting assigned a detailed, nine-day holiday, Las Posadas. So as part of their presentation, they have to make tamales and traditional Mexican Ponche to bring to the class, along with a trifold poster board and memorized speeches in Spanish. Oh, and also a seven-pointed star-shaped piñata, which their teacher told them to make instead of buy, because clearly she relishes in their suffering.
Ally hopes all the other groups are being forced to do as much work as she and Austin are.
About a month into the whole endeavor, they've fallen into a fairly functional routine. They meet up a couple times a week, do the work they need to do, and only talk about the project. It works. It may break her heart and crush her soul into a million pieces thinking about how this would've been a dream come true when they were best friends freshman year, but it works.
Well, until it stops working.
"Why didn't you ever tell me why you didn't wanna be friends anymore?" she asks him, looking over her laptop at where he's sitting across from her at her kitchen table.
Almost as if he was just waiting for her to speak up about their conversation from a month ago, he sighs and closes his laptop without missing a beat. "I told you. I knew it was stupid and I was embarrassed."
"So you didn't even think about how I would feel, watching my best friend leave me and not knowing why? That's so selfish."
He runs a hand down his face. "Do we have to do this now? Can't we just get this project done and move on like we said we would?"
"I was really hurt, Austin."
"It was two years ago. Why can't you let it go?"
"Because you just told me why you did it a month ago, and I still don't understand. I was crying for months. I thought I was a terrible person because that was the only reason I could think of for my best friend in the whole world of ten years to just drop me with no explanation why."
He sighs again and stands up from the table, walking over to where he left a few shopping bags full of supplies for their poster and piñata on the counter when he got to her house. He starts looking through the bags, his back facing her, and she suddenly hates him. She hates him for leaving her sophomore year. She hates him for not telling her why. She hates him for being jealous and immature and refusing to talk to her about his problems so they could work them out instead of losing their friendship entirely. And she hates him for hiding from her now and still refusing to talk about it.
"This isn't going anywhere productive," he says quietly, still rummaging through the bags.
"I don't care," she says, standing up from her chair and moving around the table so it's no longer between them with fists clenched at her sides. "If you had just talked to me—"
He pulls something out of one of the bags and turns back around to face her, leaning against the counter and looking down at the package of colored construction paper he grabbed. "I didn't want to talk to you," he says quietly, cutting her off. He starts flipping through the construction paper over and over again. "I told you, I was embarrassed. And I knew telling you to stop teasing me over dumb stuff wouldn't help anything."
"I would've stopped if I had known."
"But you would've felt guilty about it for the rest of our lives. And it wouldn't make you any less perfect or me any less…me."
"Well, you ended up telling me anyway. So are you happy about the way you went about it?"
"I get it. What I did sucked and it was a dick move and I suck." He pauses his paper-flipping to glance up at her. "But there's nothing I can do to make it better now, and honestly if I could go back in time I wouldn't change anything."
"So that's it then?" she asks, feeling heat rise to her face and congregate in her brain. "Ten years of friendship meant nothing and you would still end it all in a heartbeat?"
He shakes his head, still way too calm and collected when she feels like her head and chest are going to explode. She digs her nails into her palms. "I don't want to fight with you, Ally."
"Well, I do."
He exhales and looks back down at the stupid construction paper. "No, you don't."
"Yes, I do," she says. "You said you didn't want to be friends anymore, and I never fought you on it because I was shocked and embarrassed and afraid of looking like an idiot, so we never had the conversation and the fight we should've had. But now, I don't care. You broke my heart, Austin, and I'm mad about it! So put down that fucking construction paper and fight with me!"
He looks up at her again, his face expressionless as she breathes heavily and awaits the shitstorm he'll probably fire back at her in response now that she's asking for it. Then, he sets his jaw and starts walking over to her, dropping the construction paper to the floor, completely forgotten. She swallows and steps back, bracing her hands on the edge of the table behind her. But instead of getting in her face and yelling at her, he grabs her cheeks and kisses her.
Her eyes snap shut and her eyebrows scrunch together as her brain catches up to what's happening and she warily kisses him back.
Then he pulls away, his hands still on her cheeks, and they both stand there, staring at each other, their chests rising and falling heavily as the air seems to thicken and electrify around them. He swallows and takes a step back, shoving his hands in the pockets of his dark jeans. He looks to the side, but she can still see the bright red blush creeping across his cheeks.
"Do you understand now?" he asks quietly.
"No!" She grips the table behind her tighter to try to stop her hands from shaking.
"Fucking valedictorian, my ass," he says under his breath, so quietly she can barely hear it.
He ignores her, sighing and running both hands down his face, and then back up and through his hair, before finally looking at her. But now his hair is sticking up at odd angles and it's kinda distracting.
"Fuck, okay, look. When you got all popular or whatever, I was jealous because everyone giving you attention meant that they were taking your attention away from me, and by sophomore year I couldn't handle it anymore. And I didn't talk to you about it because it's stupid and childish and I didn't want you to, you know, know. And then when I said I didn't wanna be friends anymore, I didn't tell you why because I knew you'd try to fix it and then I'd just give in and I'd be back where I started."
She blinks at him. "That is very stupid and very childish."
He rolls his eyes. "I know."
"And I am absolutely the valedictorian."
He shoves his hands in his hoodie pocket and turns his head to avoid her eyes again, his cheeks still pink. "I'm sorry," he mutters. "For all of it."
"You should've told me."
"Clearly I should've done a lot of things."
"Would you really go back and do it again?"
He glances at her and then looks at the ground, kicking at dirt that isn't there. "No," he says quietly.
"If you had just talked to me—"
"You would've made fun of me."
"Yes, I would have, because it was incredibly stupid of you to be jealous and think that they were taking my attention away from you."
"That's why I didn't talk to you."
"What I meanis that I would've thought you were an idiot for thinking that I would give any of them the same treatment and attention I gave you. You were my best friend, Austin. You were the one I actually had meaningful conversations with. If you had talked to me, I would've teased you for about a minute and then I would've actually fixed it in about another minute and we would've been better than ever after that," she says, crossing her arms.
He sighs and shrugs, walking back by the counter to pick up the construction paper and put it back in the shopping bag. She had forgotten he kissed her. He kissed her. How did she forget about that?!
He arms fall to her sides as her brain slows down to start processing it. "You just kissed me," she says, watching him walk back over to her.
He raises an eyebrow, glances at the clock on the wall, and then looks at her again. "That was like five minutes ago."
"A lot is happening!" she says defensively.
He watches her wordlessly, his head tilting slightly to the right.
She meets his eyes. "You just kissed me."
He blinks. "Yeah."
She knits her eyebrows together and frowns. "You didn't talk to me for two years, and then you just kissed me?!"
"I talked to you on Halloween."
"That—doesn't—count!" she exclaims, smacking his chest with each word. He lets her, wincing a little each time.
"I'm sorry!" he says. "I just…didn't know how to make you understand."
Another realization dawns on her, and she looks up at him, eyes wide. "Have you liked me this whole time?!"
He winces again, this time at the shrill tone her voice takes on when she's this bewildered. Then he shrugs. "I dunno. Not the whole time. Sixth, seventh grade."
"I meant high school."
"Oh. Then yeah."
She smacks his chest another five times. "You idiot! Why didn't you tell me?!"
"Hey—ow!" he says, turning away from her a little and holding up his arms to block her. Then he grabs her wrists, and she glares up at him. "I didn't tell you because nobody tells people their feelings unless they have no fear or they're pretty sure the other person likes them back."
"Stop being so calm about this!" she exclaims, yanking her wrists out of his grip and clenching her fists at her sides. "We could've solved everything! We could've actually gone through high school together, Austin!"
Her throat tightens, and she isn't sure whether the tears in her eyes are anger at Austin for leaving her—and for such a silly reason, no less—or mourning the high school experience they could've had. But regardless of what the reason is, she hates it.
She sniffles and wipes her eyes on her shirt sleeve before looking off to the side, hoping he doesn't see the way her lip is quivering. "We could've been happy this whole time," she says quietly.
He sighs and steps towards her, pulling her into his arms before she can object. She sniffles again and gives in to him, burying her face in his chest and wrapping her arms around his waist.
"You ruined everything," she says, her voice muffled by his shirt.
He tightens his grip around her and rests his chin on her head. "I know. I'm so sorry, Ally," he says quietly.
She finally shoves him away so she can look at him with pleading eyes. "You didn't think I liked you back?" she asks, barely above a whisper.
He cups her cheeks and brushes away her tears with his thumbs, shaking his head. "I still never should've left."
"No, you shouldn't have." She sniffles again and leans into his touch, closing her eyes. "You're an idiot," she says, a little louder now.
When she opens her eyes again, he has a small smile on his face. She realizes it's the first time she's seen him smile in two years, and she also realizes how much she missed it.
"Can we just be done with this?" she asks him. "The not talking and the pretending we don't know each other and all the other shit we've been doing for the past two years, can we just be done with all of it?"
He nods, his smile growing just a little as he brushes his thumbs over her cheekbones. "Never again." He searches her eyes. "I missed you."
"Me, too. I'm still mad at you."
"Do you still wanna fight?"
She nods, holding one of his wrists. "Not about this. This'll just take some time. But other things? We have to talk to each other, Austin. Even if it means fighting. Promise me."
He leans his forehead against hers. "I promise."
He kisses her again, but she moves her hands to his chest and pushes him away gently. When she meets his eyes, he looks more than a little disappointed.
"Let's just get our friendship back first," she says. "That's the most important thing."
He nods. "Okay. I'm sorry."
"But Austin, I know you're quiet around people you don't know well. So if you aren't engaging in the conversation, you can't get mad when other people are."
He rolls his eyes. "I know. That stuff doesn't matter anymore."
She nods. "Okay." Then, after an awkward beat of silence, she adds, "Don't take this the wrong way, but I don't know what to do now."
"Well, I actually have plans with Dez soon, so I have to go. But I will see you tomorrow, and hopefully we'll both feel less weird."
She laughs a little. "Hopefully." As she watches him pack his laptop and notebook into his backpack another question comes to her mind. "Have you really been resenting me this whole time?"
He swings his backpack over one shoulder and looks at her again before shaking his head. "No. I don't know. All I know is that the entire thing was stupid and I should've just talked to you."
She nods, and he starts walking out, but then he stops and turns to look at her again.
"I also wanna thank you," he says. "For being honest with me and for not giving up on me."
"Oh, I definitely tried to," she admits. "You shouldn't be thanking me. I would've given up on you if I could."
Instead of being hurt like she worried he would be as soon as the words left her mouth, he laughs. A real, genuine, whole-hearted laugh that brightens every color she can see and reminds her of just how much she missed him.
"Well, regardless, I'm glad you didn't. And again, I appreciate the honesty."
She smiles, and when he leaves she wonders if they'll ever get their Spanish project done now.
It takes approximately two days for them to reconnect completely, and by the end of the week they're quite possibly even closer than ever. She realizes it after they bicker over where to get dinner on Friday (they end up ordering a pizza) and then end up eating ice cream and watching a movie on the couch in his basement.
Nothing about that is new. They bickered constantly over everything from about sixth grade up until they stopped being friends—which she now realizes, considering the timeline, may have been his attempt at flirting—and they would eat ice cream and watch movies in his basement pretty much once a week. But back then, being young and awkward despite being best friends, they would sit on opposite ends of the couch because God forbid someone walk in on them and think it was a date.
The difference now, and the reason they're literally closer than ever, is that they touch each other pretty much whenever the situation permits. Usually it's just standing close enough for their arms to touch when they're next to each other or grabbing an arm or a wrist or him resting a hand on her back, but it's still a lot more than they used to do. She isn't sure why or how they got to this point (although she suspects it probably has something to do with the fact that they both know the only reason they aren't more than friends is because she said not yet), but she doesn't mind it.
As they eat their ice cream, they sit with their shoulders pressed together as if they're sharing one tiny chair instead of a massive couch. But when they finish eating and set their bowls on the coffee table, he has his arm draped over her shoulders before they've even leaned all the way back against the couch.
"Maybe we're making up for lost time," she thinks aloud.
"What?" he looks down at her, but she just leans into his side and rests her head against his shoulder.
"The reason why we reconnected so fast and do stuff like this now." She shifts a little closer to him to make her point.
"Maybe," he muses, resting his cheek on her head. He's silent for a few moments, and she figures he's distracted by the fight scene going on in the movie. Sure enough, as soon as the movie calms down, he speaks again. "But it's also probably definitely because I have a big ass crush on you and don't feel like pretending I don't."
Her heart flutters. "That could also be part of it." She closes her eyes and smiles softly, ignoring the movie now. "I'm proud of you for saying your feelings."
"Thanks. Thought I'd try that talking to you thing and that honesty thing at the same time. Left kind of a weird aftertaste, but I don't dislike it." She feels his jaw move against her head as he considers whatever aftertaste he's talking about.
She laughs a little. "I'm glad."
"What about you?"
"What about me?"
"Do you have any feelings you wanna talk about?"
She thinks about it, snuggling closer to him. Then, just to piss him off, she says, "Tired. That's how I'm feeling."
"Not what I was expecting, but I appreciate you telling me nonetheless."
She lifts her head to look at him with scrunched eyebrows. "'Nonetheless?' Who are you?"
"Hey, I'm smarter than I look. My vocabulary is very…voluptuous."
She snorts. "You definitely aren't using that word right."
He frowns. "Whatever. Context."
She giggles again, and the way his eyes soften and his frown turns into a sweet little smile makes her dizzy. She stops giggling and clears her throat, returning her attention to the movie.
"Whoa, what just happened?" he asks, removing his arm from around her shoulders. She misses it.
"Nothing happened," she says.
"You seem upset all of a sudden."
He grabs the remote off the coffee table and pauses the movie, gently grabbing her arm to get her to look at him. "C'mon, Ally. We have to talk to each other, remember?"
"It's nothing. Definitely not your fault."
"Okay, but you went from laughing to cold in like a millisecond. Will you please just tell me what you're thinking?"
She sighs, turning to face him more and pulling one leg onto the couch. "I want us to be friends for a while."
"I like where we're at, but it's only been a week, and I wanna make sure we're solid."
"I totally get that," he says. "I thought that's what we were doing."
He knits his eyebrows. "Okay…then what's the problem?"
"You…" She holds her hands in front of her, as if she'll be able to grab the words out of thin air. When she can't seem to find them, she groans and falls backwards onto the length of the couch, admittedly quite dramatically, and glares at the ceiling like it's the reason the right words won't come to her.
"I…?" he prompts.
She grabs a pillow and hugs it to her stomach. "You're making it really difficult."
"I'm…sorry. What am I doing wrong?"
"That's extremely unhelpful."
She exhales and sits up to look at him again, setting the pillow back behind her. "Usually it's fine, but then sometimes you just give me these looks and…" She makes a strangling motion at him.
"I give you looks."
"But it's not your fault," she says, dropping her hands and meeting his eyes. "I'm not making any sense, am I?"
He gives her an apologetic smile. "Not really."
She groans in frustration and leans forward until her forehead rests on his shoulder. "I just don't wanna rush into some sort of relationship before we even have our friendship back."
"I know, Ally," he says gently. "That part, I understand. It's the part that's upsetting you where you lose me."
She sits up again, and he smiles a little. Though she can't for the life of her figure out why. "As much as I don't wanna rush into a relationship with you, I also really wanna rush into a relationship with you."
His smile brightens, and she has to look away. She fiddles her hands in her lap and stares down at them. "And usually the rational side of my mind wins out, but when you look at me all dopey like that, it's hard to think rationally."
When she looks up at him again, he's still smiling, but he seems lost in thought. "I don't really know how to control that," he says after a few seconds, meeting her eyes and looking genuinely apologetic. "I'm sorry, Ally. I'll try, though."
She shakes her head. "It's not your fault. That's what I'm trying to tell you."
"So, what do you wanna do?" he asks.
She sighs, looking at him helplessly. "You," she complains, only about three-quarters serious.
His eyebrows shoot up and he laughs, and she's pretty sure she sees his cheeks turning pink in the glow of the TV. But then she starts laughing too, and she starts feeling a little better.
"Oh my God, Ally," he says in between giggles, shaking his head before running a hand down his face.
"I know!" she whines.
He covers his face with his hands, still giggling. "You can't just say things like that to your friends," he says, his voice muffled by his palms.
"I'm sorry! Especially because I want us to be friends!"
He lifts his head and looks at her, still smiling with his eyebrows raised in disbelief. "Well, I still appreciate your honesty. And I'll try my best not to look at you funny."
"This is stupid, right? I'm being stupid."
"You're not being stupid," he tells her. "You're being cautious and smart."
"Thank you," she says halfheartedly. "Say more."
He laughs a little. "We didn't talk for two years, and people change a lot during high school. You're making sure we still work as friends before we try something more. And you're also making sure it's real and not just that we missed each other as friends."
"You're right," she says with a nod. "Thanks for validating me."
"Anytime, my dear, anytime," he says, resting his arm on the back of the couch behind her and turning to face the TV again.
Her heart flutters again. "You can't call me that."
"My bad." He grabs the remote and unpauses the movie, and she sighs and leans her head on his shoulder again.
"I mean it," she says.
He simply rests his cheek on top of her head again, but she can still feel his smile.
They end up getting an 'A' on their Spanish project—apparently, it's actually easier to finish a detailed and difficult project when you and your partner aren't mortal enemies.
Winter break comes and goes, and Ally hangs out with Austin, Trish, and Austin's best friend (besides her now, of course) in a group practically every day. Turns out, the four of them have a lot of fun together.
Although, to be fair, it's mostly just Austin and Ally shamelessly flirting while Trish and Dez argue, but still. Ally thoroughly enjoys herself.
And things do get easier with Austin. Their friendship is stronger and easier now that they talk about their feelings like Mature Adults, and Austin seems a lot more secure than he was freshman year. He talks more, too, and not just when they're with Trish and Dez.
When school starts up again and they spend even more time together, Austin is friendly to pretty much everyone who talks to Ally when he's around. She gets some weird looks when Austin Broody Mystery Moon doesn't seem to leave her side and actually smiles when he's around her, but she brushes them off. Especially because this is his real personality and it's not her fault if none of her peers remember that he was just like this (albeit a little shyer) freshman year.
But it doesn't click for her until they're having another movie night instead of going to the party Trish and Dez are at right now. She was never big on parties, but she's still a little taken aback when she realizes that she would choose a night in with Austin over any other social gathering with any other person every time.
She lifts her head off his shoulder, and he turns to look at her with his eyebrows scrunched together.
"Everything okay?" he asks her.
She smiles a little and nods, and then she leans up and kisses him.
He freezes for a second, but then he wraps an arm around her waist and pulls her onto his lap, moving his other hand into her hair.
He pulls away a little quickly, all things considered, and stares up at her, more confused than she's ever seen him. Granted, she can't see his face very well, since she's blocking the TV, which is the only light in the room. But still.
"You just kissed me," he says, disentangling his hand from her hair and wrapping that arm around her waist too. Then he pauses and tilts his head. "I get why you said it like that the first time."
She laughs a little and wraps her arms around his neck. "I just kissed you."
"Did I look at you funny?" he asks her.
She laughs more and shakes her head. "Things are good, Austin. And I realized, when we both wanted to watch a movie alone together instead of go to that party, that we are, in fact, an old married couple."
Now he laughs. "I mean, you and I aren't really party people to begin with."
"The point," she says with a roll of her eyes, "is that I think it's time I gave you a taste of your own medicine."
He raises an eyebrow, laughter still in his eyes and a smile on his face. "What?"
"I don't want to be friends with you anymore," she says.
"Finally," he says, rolling his eyes dramatically and leaning his head back against the couch.
He grins. "Don't get me wrong, you're my best friend in the world and you always will be, but being just friends is exhausting."
"This is not going how I thought it would go."
She narrows her eyes at him, but then he gives her that dopey smile she loves and she can see the happiness and relief in his eyes, and she can't keep up the face for long. She starts leaning in to kiss him again.
"You know," he says quietly, right before their lips connect, so she stops, their noses touching. "You've never even told me you like me." She knows he's teasing her, milking this moment for all it's worth, but she doesn't particularly care.
"I like you," she tells him. "Better?"
"Mmhm." He finally kisses her, but only for a couple seconds before he pulls away again and looks up at her.
She tries not to look impatient or disappointed, but she must be failing miserably because he immediately starts laughing at her. She rolls her eyes and moves off his lap, the mood ruined.
"I'm sorry," he says in between giggles. He stands up and grabs her hands so she stands up with him, and then he pulls her hands behind him so her arm are wrapped around his waist. "I had to laugh at you just a little. You understand."
She would be mad, but he wraps his arms around her and gives her one of those looks and she melts a little. "Yeah, whatever," she says as grumpily as she can.
All he does is smile and kiss her again.