It started as a graduation trip. Their senior year, they hadn't gotten to properly celebrate their anniversary—which inconveniently falls right in the middle of April—with prom and studying for finals and grad parties every weekend. And Austin, the big romantic, decided that they really needed to commemorate the fact that their relationship actually lasted this time. For a whole year (and counting)!
So, in June, Austin had surprised her with a week in a suite at a beachside resort in Hawaii. And no matter how many times she asked, he simply refused to tell her how the hell he could afford it. Even though he was extremely successful, even back then, and he never told her how much money he was actually making, she still couldn't quite believe he had enough for all of that.
It had been pretty much the best week of her life. So much, in fact, that she found herself constantly going back to it in her memories when things started getting difficult with Austin her freshman year of college. It wasn't that he was doing anything wrong, but without high school to worry about he could put all his energy into his career, while she had to put all her energy into her studies. Add to that the fifteen hundred miles (give or take) between them, and it was a rough adjustment to say the least.
But then, that summer, he stepped it up. They spent a week at a Hawaiian beach house—sorry, beach mansion—and it was like everything she had been holding onto for the past year coming back to her. That week was a dream—and one of the last solid good memories she made with him before things took a turn for the worst. Before she went back to school for sophomore year, they decided to take a short break. Which turned into a long break. Which turned into her spending the entire semester either losing herself in her studies or crying to Trish over the phone or getting dragged out on girls' nights with her roommate.
It seemed like spring semester would be more of the same, but then, around March or April, her phone lit up with the face of a certain blonde superstar mid-laugh with whipped cream on his nose (it was always her favorite picture of him). And when she answered the phone, he had a proposal.
He was an idiot, he said, and reserved the beach house again. And when she was too surprised to say anything, he explained that you have to reserve these things like six months in advance, and back in December he still kind of assumed that they'd be back together by the time June rolled around, and he knew how much she loved it there, and oh god please don't be mad.
And then, when she reminded him she didn't have anything to be mad about, he remembered that he hadn't even proposed his proposal. So he proceeded to suggest that maybe, just maybe, the two of them could take the trip anyway, and take a week for themselves to pretend that the break (which was now very much starting to look more like a breakup) never happened.
And she had missed him so much, she agreed.
Even though she expected it to be a complete disaster, the thought of the trip got her through the rest of the school year. And then they had actually gone on the trip, and somehow they managed to do it: they created their own little reality in that beach house where everything was still perfect, and she had some shiny new memories to get her through another year of not being with him.
So it became a tradition. They didn't talk all year, and as far as everyone else knew they didn't talk ever, but every March or April, she'd get a single text from him—usually just the dates of the trip—and she'd respond with a simple yes, and then the second week of June they would meet at the beach house.
It would probably make more sense if they just met at the airport in Miami, since she was always home for the summer, but to keep the sanctity of their "cheat week," and to avoid anyone recognizing them together, they didn't see each other until they got to the house.
So the summer after she graduates, she finds herself tapping her fingers against her leg anxiously as she rolls her luggage through the massive gate separating the house's front yard from the street. The cab that dropped her off drives a way, and she takes a deep breath to try to tone down her excitement as she looks up at the familiar home: bright white walls, a cobblestone driveway with a path breaking off the side of it and winding through grass and tropical foliage to the front door. And she can picture the other side of that door like the back of her hand: the foyer, with a bathroom on the right and a staircase to the left, and the living room straight ahead with the massive TV and entirely glass wall that slides open to the back yard, where the beautiful pool awaits, and the beach just beyond.
She takes a deep breath and walks through the unlocked door, inhaling the scent of the house and the sea breeze. Her footsteps echo on the marble floor as she hauls her luggage up the stairs and into the huge bedroom on the second floor. She unpacks, taking the alone time to try to calm her pounding heart. She wonders what he looks like now that another year has gone by. Probably not that different—hopefully with slightly shorter hair than he had last year. Maybe he's tanner, or he worked out more, or he got cosmetic surgery and he looks nothing like the Austin she knows.
Oh god, she's spiraling.
She finishes unpacking and sits on the bed, closing her eyes and taking two deep breaths, a smile forming on her face. She's here.
She walks out on the balcony attached to the bedroom and leans on the glass railing, looking out at the view of the private beach behind the house. It's all white sand and blue water and it's all she's been thinking about for the past year.
Then she looks down into the back yard, and there he is. He didn't get cosmetic surgery (obviously), and he looks just as she remembers him: bright, messy blonde hair and tan skin that almost glows as he lays on a raft in the pool, soaking up the sun. He's got one arm behind his head and the other in the water, with sunglasses on and his favorite orange swim trunks. He must have his eyes closed, because he should be able to see her from where he is, but he doesn't make any indication that he knows she's here.
She grins and ducks back inside, quickly throwing on the first swimsuit she grabs. Then she checks herself in the mirror, takes one more deep breath, and rushes downstairs, nearly tripping as she goes.
Before he can realize what's going on, she jumps in the pool next to him. He screams and falls off the raft. She comes up for air, but a split second later a pair of arms wraps around her waist and yanks her underwater again. They both come up laughing.
"You gave me a heart attack!" he complains with a grin, splashing her.
"You shouldn't have gotten in the pool without me!" she scolds him in between giggles. She splashes water back at him for good measure.
"I'm sorry," he says, wrapping his arms around her and not looking sorry at all. She pushes his sunglasses up on top of his head to finally look into his sparkling eyes and drapes her arms around his neck.
"I bet you're real sorry now," she tells him.
"Yeah, I'm lucky I'm not dead."
She giggles, and then he giggles, and then they just stare at each other for a couple seconds too long. But by now, this is just what they do on the first day: they have to drink in each other's presence, pull themselves out of their own heads and settle into their little alternate reality where this beach house resides.
Then he kisses her, and she kisses him back, and she files this moment away in her memories. He tastes just how she remembers him: like maple syrup and coffee. And he feels like home.
She has a million questions she wants to ask him—like how was his tour last year and what has he been up to and is it true that he's doing a collaboration with Boynado—but that goes against the rules of cheat week. For this to work, they truly have to be in their own private little world, which means no talking about their lives outside this world. Because that would mean acknowledging that they haven't spoken in a year, and that would open the door to a million difficult conversations that have no place in their perfect oasis.
Austin's smile fades a little, and she immediately gets worried. The smile almost never leaves his face when they're here—he even wears a tiny smile when he sleeps. She starts spiraling before she can stop herself.
"Ally, I have some bad news," he says. Despite her current state of panic, goosebumps rise on her arms when he says her name—the first time she's heard it in his voice in a year.
She swallows. "What…what is it?"
"I went to the store, and they were out of pickles."
Her mouth falls open, and then she clenches her jaw and smacks his chest. "Austin, I thought you had actual bad news! You made me freak out over nothing!"
He laughs and turns slightly away from her to shield himself from another smack. "Should've thought of that before you scared me half to death!"
She narrows her eyes and smacks him again for good measure, and then they get into a splash war. Suddenly they're seventeen again, giggling and flirting like middle schoolers in the pool at the resort on their first trip.
She must splash water in his mouth, because he starts coughing in between his laugher, and then he waves his hands in the air before placing one hand on his chest.
"Truce, truce!" he giggles before erupting in another fit of coughs.
She smiles and raises her hands to show she's stopping, and then she pulls his sunglasses off his head while he's coughing. She puts them on her face, and he's only able to spare her a glance before falling into one more bout of coughs.
"You good?" she asks him.
He nods, rubbing a hand over his chest and clearing his throat. "You are quite the water warrior, Ally Dawson," he says, his voice a little hoarse.
"Why, thank you," she says with a curtsey. Then she has to push the sunglasses back up her nose because they are way too big for her.
"Those look good on you," he says with a smile. "I'm assuming you're claiming them as your victory prize?"
She taps her chin in thought. "Hmm. The sunglasses, and I get first shower."
"You realize this house has, like, at least four showers."
"Yes, but you and I both know that only one of them is the shower." Perfect water pressure, so much heat you could boil your skin if you wanted to, shower heads attached to the walls of the shower so water hits you from every direction like a massage. It's glorious.
"Okay, counterproposal: we both get first shower in the shower. Same time. Together." He laces his fingers together for emphasis and has a mischievous glint in his eyes, and the cute, devilish grin on his face almost wins her over.
She crosses her arms and raises an eyebrow, although she's not sure he can see it behind the sunglasses. He sighs, drops his arms, and looks down like an ashamed child.
"No shower sex," he says, just like she's made him say every time he's tried to suggest it in the past. With her clumsiness, at least one of them would definitely end up hurt if they tried. Especially in the shower, with the smooth marble floor that's more slippery than most and water shooting at them from every direction—yeah, they'd end up in the hospital for sure.
"That's cool, you can go first," he says, perking up again and smiling. "You won it fair and square. Plus, I have a surprise for you that I need to set up."
They get out of the pool and dry off, and she goes up to shower while he sets up whatever surprise he has for her. She turns on the shower to let it heat up before digging her shower supplies out of her toiletry bag.
She peels off her swimsuit and steps into the steaming shower, immediately shivering and sighing when the hot water hits her cold skin. She lets her thoughts wander for a little while as she warms up, but all she keeps coming back to is whether these cheat weeks are still a good idea.
On the one hand, thinking about this trip is sometimes the only thing that can get her through the year. On the bad days, when she misses Austin so much she wants to drop out of school and hop on a plane to wherever he is, she comes back to the memories from these trips. She reminds herself that she can forget about all of her problems and spend a week in a perfect paradise with Austin if she can just make it through the rest of the year on her own.
On the other hand, this isn't sustainable. What happens when one of them starts dating someone else? Of course, she can't imagine dating anyone else anytime soon, but they broke up nearly three years ago, and she gets the feeling that she would've found a way to move on by now if it weren't for their annual trip. Could the very reason they go on this trip—to step out of the reality in which they're no longer speaking and pretend that everything is okay for a week just to keep themselves sane for the rest of the year—be holding them stuck in the past and unable to move on?
She takes a deep breath and shakes the negative thoughts out of her mind.
When she finishes her shower, and walks out of the bathroom—thankfully already dressed in leggings and a tank top—she barely has time to register Austin bounding into the bedroom before he runs past her and locks himself in the bathroom.
"What the hell?" she calls, knocking on the door. "Austin, my hairbrush is in there!"
He cracks the door open a little and hands her the brush. "Sorry, Ally. Sun's gonna set soon!" And with that, he shuts the door again. The shower turns on about five seconds later.
She sighs and looks in the mirror hanging over the vanity outside the bathroom. But then she watches as a tiny smile forms on her lips. Austin was always a sucker for a pretty sunset. Back when they were high school sweethearts planning for a future they had no right to assume they would spend together, he told her that someday he was gonna propose to her somewhere beautiful at sunset. She had joked that maybe that wasn't a good idea; he would think their backdrop was prettier than the girl he was proposing to, but he had promised that even the most beautiful sunset in the world would be a distant second to her, every time.
The memory makes her heart flutter and her tiny smile turn sad, and she sighs and starts brushing her hair. Things were so simple back then, and they both had their whole lives figured out. Date through college—her at Harvard and Austin somewhere with a name he always mumbled (which she later realized was because he never planned on going to college but didn't want to disappoint her)—grow their careers both individually and as partners, get married after graduation, have an adorable kid or two with flawless skin, incredible bone structure, and musical talent the likes of which had never been seen before on planet Earth, and then live happily ever after.
It was going to be…perfect.
And then it all went to shit.
But, really, they should've seen it coming. At least, she should've seen it coming. You can't plan your whole life out in high school and expect it all to go perfectly. And you especially can't expect to marry your high school sweetheart. Austin has always been the dreamer, so even if she knew then what she knows now, he probably wouldn't have listened to her anyway, but she should've known better.
Just then, the bathroom door opens, and Austin walks out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist and using his hands to try to bat away the steam still clinging to him. She finds herself staring at him in the mirror, until he snaps her out of it.
"Ally, if you brush your hair any harder, it's gonna fall out."
She didn't even realize she was still brushing it.
"Right," she says, setting the brush down. "Thank you."
"Mmhm." He walks farther into the bedroom and gets dressed, and when he comes into view of the mirror again he's wearing gray sweatpants and a white t-shirt. He walks up behind her and wraps his arms around her waist, resting his chin on her head.
She sighs and meets his eyes in the mirror. He frowns—his second frown today, which is very unlike him, especially during cheat week—and turns her around, holding her at arms' length.
"What's on your mind?" he asks her, searching her eyes as if they might hold the answer.
She inhales and plasters and mostly-real smile on her face. "Nothing that has any place here. Aren't we on a time crunch?"
His eyes widen, as if he's just remembering, and then he grins. "Oh yeah!"
He grabs her hand and drags her down the stairs and out into the back yard. Then they go through the gate, forgoing shoes, and she tries her best to keep up with him as he runs down the beach to his little setup.
He stops abruptly in front of it, and she nearly runs into him.
"Surprise!" he exclaims, gesturing with his free arm.
In front of them is a red picnic blanket in the sand, surrounded by flickering candles. Sitting on the blanket are two takeout containers sporting the logo of their favorite local sushi place here, as well as a bottle of wine and two glasses.
She smiles and looks up at him, giggling a little. "Thank you," she says.
He pouts. "You don't seem surprised. Just because I do this every year, doesn't mean it's not a surprise."
She smiles a little more. "I'm very surprised," she says. "I promise."
He narrows his eyes at her, but then his stomach rumbles, and she starts giggling again.
"Fine," he says, "I believe you. Only because I'm starving."
They sit down on the blanket, and he fills their glasses, and then he looks at her with those sparkling eyes as if somehow she's a better view than the sun setting over the ocean right in front of them.
He holds up his glass. "To us, to cheat week, and to probably the best idea I've ever had."
She smiles and taps her glass against his before taking a sip. "You know," she says, looking up to see him already shoving a sushi roll in his mouth. He freezes, mouth open, still gripping the sushi roll with his chopsticks inside his mouth. She snorts and continues. "You know, you have precious few good ideas to begin with."
"Mot frew," he says, chewing on his sushi roll. He swallows and tries again. "Not true. I had the idea that we should be music partners, and that counts for, like, a million good ideas."
She chews thoughtfully on her own sushi. "Okay, I'll give that to you," she says after swallowing. "You do have good ideas."
He grins victoriously, looking like a chipmunk on a sugar high with sushi shoved in his cheeks. She can't help but giggle at his antics. There was probably a time, like the entire duration of their relationship, where she would've found his inability to eat properly obnoxious and immature, but it's just so incredibly him that now that she spends fifty-one weeks out of the year without him, she's endeared by every little thing he does and holds onto them in her memories like a precious collection.
When they're done eating, he wraps an arm around her and pulls her into his side as they watch the setting sun paint the sky like fire. She looks up at him, marveling at how his skin and golden hair seem to glow, and that plus the warmth he constantly radiates convinces her that Austin Moon is a sun unto himself. It's really no wonder people are so drawn to him—he's the center of his very own solar system.
She leans her head on his shoulder, wishing she could be Mercury again, orbiting closer to him than anybody. But unfortunately, even Mercury can only withstand so much before the sun burns it up, so now she's become nothing more than a comet passing through.
She's so deep in her space metaphors that when he speaks, she doesn't hear him the first time. He has to shrug her head off his shoulder to even get her attention.
"Hmm?" she asks, looking up at him again. The sunset and colors in the sky make his eyes look gold.
He smiles a little. "I was asking if you wanna play 'What Are You Thinking.'"
'What Are You Thinking' is a little game they made up during their first cheat week. The official rules of cheat week are that they can't talk about anything outside of cheat week in order to maintain it as a distinctly separate reality. ("Like fight club," Austin had said. "This is not Fight Club," Ally had told him, but she knew it was totally Fight Club.) But 'What Are You Thinking' allows them to sort of 'cheat' cheat week. They each get to say one thing on their minds relating to something outside of cheat week, without going into an actual conversation about it. They don't do it often, because the whole reason they're here is to forget the everything outside of cheat week, but they'll each usually initiate it once or twice every year.
"Sure," she says.
He smiles a little and wraps an arm around her again. "Okay. What are you thinking?"
She knows what he's doing: he's nervous about whatever his answer is going to be and doesn't want to have to look at her for it. He's always been a little strange like that—he'll initiate the game and then get all shy about whatever it is he wants to say, so the only way he can share with her is if he can't see her face when he does it. She takes a minute to come up with her own answer as her mind reels wondering about his.
She takes a deep breath, leaning into his side and staring out at where the sun is starting to disappear below the horizon. "I'm afraid that doing this every year is preventing us from moving on when we probably really need to."
His breath catches a little at her confession, but as per the rules of the game he isn't allowed to comment. His arm around her tightens just slightly, and with his free hand he takes one of her hands. She can feel him looking down as he plays with her fingers.
She starts to worry that he's not going to answer, that she just ruined the whole trip, but then he exhales. "I was gonna do it here," he says quietly. "When we came and stayed at this house for the first time, I knew that first night that the summer after you graduated I was gonna propose to you on this beach." His cheek moves against her hair as he looks up for a second and then back down at their hands, where he seems to have taken a particular interest in her ring finger. "At right around this time of day, actually," he adds with a sad little chuckle.
She swallows. That would've been this year.
Naturally, she can't respond, but she intertwines their fingers and squeezes his hand. Hopefully that's enough for him to know it would've been perfect.
He kisses her hair, which probably means he understood the message, and then lets go of her hand and stands up. She watches him with a frown, but he shoots her a small but genuine smile.
"Stay here," he tells her. "You didn't think I forgot the most important part of your surprise, did you?"
Now she smiles a little and watches his retreating form as he heads back to the house. Then she turns to watch the sun disappear. The sky starts turning purple.
Alone with her own thoughts, she can't help but imagine what it would've been like if, instead of cheat week, they were here for him to propose. If they had stuck it out and given themselves the future they had planned.
She holds her left hand out in front of her, imagining an alternate universe in which Austin just proposed to her not five minutes ago and she now has a diamond ring on her finger. Then again, surely in that universe she would have her own problems—like freaking out wondering if they're too young to be getting engaged. But she'd much rather have problems like that than problems like the one she admitted to Austin.
Luckily, before she can get too in her head, Austin returns with a container of Fruity Mint Swirl ice cream, two spoons, and his usual sunshine-y grin. She smiles softly as he sits back down next to her.
"Choose your weapon," he announces, holding the two identical spoons out in front of her. She giggles and grabs one, and then he opens the ice cream container and hands it to her.
"Thank you," she says, scooping out a big bite of ice cream and sighing in pure bliss as soon as it lands on her tongue. She passes the container to him. She feels his eyes on her as he takes a spoonful of ice cream, so she looks at him. "What?" she asks, her mouth still full of the fruity, minty goodness.
He raises an eyebrow. "You never make that face with me."
"You aren't Fruity Mint Swirl," she says with a shrug, taking the container back from him for another bite.
"You're right, Ally. I'm not ice cream. I'm a man. A human man."
"A human man who apparently can't satisfy me like Fruity Mint Swirl can."
"Gimme that," he grumbles, stealing the container back and taking another bite. "I'm gonna prove you wrong," he promises, his lips already turning greenish-blue from the ice cream.
She grins. "I dare you."
He totally proves her wrong.
They spend the next week in the sun, either lounging by the pool, playing (or, in Ally's case, losing) soccer and volleyball on the beach, or swimming in the ocean. They also make use of the baby grand piano in the living room, where they write about a million songs. The songs they write on these trips don't really serve a purpose—they're songs just for them. But Ally cherishes them. She rips out the pages of her book they're written on every year and stores them in a hidden shoebox deep in her closet. And whenever she's missing him a little too much, she comes back to their songs.
They also make out—like, a lot—but she can't let herself dwell on their physical relationship too much or she'll get too in her head. Although it's hard not to dwell on their physical relationship when they do shit like skinny dip in the ocean at midnight and come this close to doing it there until Ally felt a slimy something brush against her ankle and she freaked out.
Before she knows it, it's the last night of the trip.
Luckily, before she can start thinking too hard, Austin walks into the living room from the kitchen with the juice pouch he went to grab.
"Pizza'll be here in twenty," he says around the tiny straw, chewing on it absently. He stops in the entryway and looks at her, raising an eyebrow. "You okay?"
She nods, smiling at him. "Never better."
From the look he gives her, he clearly doesn't believe her, but he decides not to press her. He leans against the wall, taking a few sips of his juice before going back to just chewing on the straw as he scrolls through something on his phone with his eyebrows scrunched together.
"Are you okay?" she asks him, leaning back against the couch and kicking her feet up on the table, crossing her arms.
"Mmm," he says absently. Then suddenly he grins. "Aha! There it is!"
He taps his phone a few more times, and then music starts playing over the Bluetooth speakers in the living room. He squeezes his juice pouch to finish the last of it and tosses it through the entryway into the trash can in the kitchen. Then he walks over to Ally and pushes the coffee table right out from under her, and her feet drop to the ground. He doesn't stop until the coffee table is against the wall.
"What're you doing?" she asks him, giggling a little as he pushes the couch—with her still on it—to the edge of the room. He does the same thing with the big arm chair, and then he puts his hands on his hips to survey his work.
"Making a dance floor," he says like it's the most obvious thing in the world.
"Oh. Right. Duh."
He grins at her and does his signature pin-drop dance move, holding out his hand to her when he stands back up. She smiles a little and takes it, and he pulls her off the couch and into the big empty space he created in the middle of the living room.
"I'm not gonna do my dumb dance, so don't even ask," she tells him, poking his chest.
He laughs and turns up the music before grabbing both her hands again. "I wasn't gonna!" he yells over the music, his eyes sparkling.
He starts jumping to the beat of the music, and she laughs a little and jumps with him. Then he twirls her and starts singing along to the song as loud as he can, and this time she laughs wholeheartedly and joins in. He's always known just how to make her feel better, no matter what's got her down.
They jump and dance to a few more songs, and then a slower song comes on. He places one hand on her lower back and holds her hand with the other. She rests her free hand on his shoulder and smiles up at him. He twirls her and then pulls her closer to him, resting both hands on her back now. She wraps her arms around his neck as they sway to the music, and her smile fades.
"Hey," he says softly, pressing a kiss to her forehead before searching her eyes. "Where'd you go?"
She sighs, really not wanting to talk about this right now. She'd much rather enjoy their last night and then break her terrible news tomorrow.
"Just…thinking, I guess," she says. "Like always."
He smiles sweetly. "Cheat week is supposed to be about not thinking."
"Trust me, I'm trying."
His smile fades a little as his eyes keep boring into hers. She begins to wonder for about the millionth time since she's known him if he can read her mind.
"What are you thinking?" he asks her.
"Are we playing the game or are you just asking?"
"Whichever one will get you to be honest with me."
She sighs, looking down for a second before meeting his eyes again. "Later, okay? I don't want you freaking out about this, but…I also just wanna enjoy our last night here."
He nods, giving her another small smile. "Okay, yeah. Later." His smile widens a little and he leans towards her just slightly. "And luckily, unlike you, I am very good at not thinking," he says with a wink.
She giggles a little, and his smile turns into a grin.
After they eat their pizza and finish off their second container of Fruity Mint Swirl of the week, they bring blankets out to the beach and lay down on the sand to look at the stars. She's afraid he's going to bring up their conversation from earlier, but he seems to understand that she really does plan on telling him, just on her own time.
She snuggles into Austin's side, resting her head on his arm where it's bent behind his head. He rests his other hand on his stomach, and then moves the arm she's laying on so that her head is on his shoulder and his arm is around her.
"This was a really good week," he finally says.
She nods against him. "It was."
He must have an inkling about the thing she's not telling him, because he breaks just about every rule of cheat week by saying, "You know, I've played through getting back together with you about a million times in my head over the past four years. I guess I always thought that when you finished college, we'd be able to just go back to the way things were before everything got difficult. I mean, that's pretty much what we do every year when we come here." He sighs. "But ever since I met you, I've constantly had a little Ally Dawson in the back of my mind explaining things to me the way the real you would. And every time I've imagined us getting back together, the Ally in my mind has told me that it wouldn't be that easy."
"She's you. She's always right."
Ally smiles a little, turning towards Austin and draping an arm over his stomach. "That must get annoying."
He rests his hand on her arm. "Nah," he says, and she can hear the smile in his voice. He takes a deep breath. "No matter what, I'm always gonna love you, Ally. You're always gonna have a special place in my heart." He takes her hand and moves it to his chest, where she can feel his heartbeat. "Up and slightly to the left," he explains. "The same spot you've had since the moment I met you."
"You're such a sap," she says, hoping he can't hear her voice quivering.
"You love it," he teases back. "Anyway, the reason I'm telling you all this is because no matter what you do or say, you're always gonna be my first love, and I'll never stop caring about you. So whatever you're so worried about telling me…I know it's been weighing down on you all week, and I just needed you to know that it's impossible for you to lose your place in my heart. I wouldn't be who I am today without you."
She sniffles, blinking to try to stop any tears from escaping her eyes. She tries (and fails) not to think about what she's going to do without even this to look forward to every year.
"Now, all that being said," he continues, "if you're gonna tell me what I think you're gonna tell me, I'm still gonna fight you on it."
She sighs and sits up, and he follows her, watching her as she works up the nerve to say what she needs to say. But he waits patiently, and now she's positive that he knows exactly what she's about to say.
"This has to be our last cheat week."
He blinks, clearly unsurprised. "No, it doesn't."
"Austin, it's unhealthy."
"We're still young. We don't have to worry about making good decisions until we're at least twenty-five."
"Doing this every year is preventing us from moving on, which we both need to do if we ever want to be happy."
"I don't wanna move on," he says. "I love you, Ally. Nothing is going to change that."
"But the way you love me can change. I'm always gonna love you, too, but we shouldn't still be in love with each other after four years. You do see that, don't you?"
He crosses his arms like a petulant child, turning his head to look at the dark ocean in front of them. "I mean, yeah…but the fact that we are has to mean something, doesn't it? And you live at home now!" He meets her eyes again. "Maybe the you in my head could be wrong."
"Austin, all we're doing with these cheat weeks is delaying the inevitable. But no matter what, we're both gonna have to go through the pain of us being truly over eventually."
"Unless we never are truly over."
She sighs again. "Austin please," she begs him. "I know it's gonna be hard, and I know it's gonna be painful, and I know you tend to run away from bad feelings, but at some point we have to grow up and realize that we're not high school sweethearts anymore, and we can't keep pretending that we are." She swallows at the way he sets his jaw and looks away from her again. "Look," she says, "I know you're scared, and I'm scared too. But hiding from our breakup isn't gonna make it go away. I know you know that."
He turns so he's facing the ocean and hugs his knees to his chest. "Cheat week made it so I wouldn't have to lose you again," he says quietly. "I'm sick of losing you."
"Well…this will be the last time you ever have to lose me," she says, and her voice breaks.
He doesn't say anything for a while, but she sees a tear rolling down his cheek. She feels her own tears escaping her eyes despite her best efforts.
"This is why I didn't wanna tell you till morning," she says with a sad chuckle, wiping her face.
Austin shrugs. "Why's it matter? I knew it was coming when you wouldn't talk about it earlier."
"Because now we're gonna spend our last night sad and angry."
"I'm not angry," he says, still staring ahead at the water. "Are you angry?"
"No," she says, scrunching her eyebrows together. "I just thought—"
He sighs and looks over at her. "I'm not angry, Ally," he says again. "I'm a little grumpy, I guess, because I hate it when I know you're right about things I really don't want you to be right about, but that isn't your fault. Mostly I'm just sad. And scared."
She chews on her lower lip. "I mean…technically it is still cheat week. Even if it's our last one. And I know how good you are at not thinking."
He watches her, and she isn't sure if the look on his face is because his mind is working really hard or because it isn't working at all.
She stands up and holds out her hand. "One more night," she says, although it sounds more like a question. "We don't…Nothing has to be real until tomorrow."
He takes a deep breath and nods, taking her hand and standing up. Together they gather the blankets and head back inside.
The next day is quite possibly the worst day of her life. Last night honestly turned out pretty great; Austin has many talents, and apparently his ability to not think is closer to the top than she originally thought. And as for her own wandering thoughts, she was a little…preoccupied.
But today was all tears and "one more's" and goodbyes. Luckily she manages to sleep on the flight home, escaping this shitty reality for just a little longer before it hits her full force.
Unfortunately, Trish calls her pretty much right when she walks through the door of her house and insists that they meet up at the Music Factory tomorrow—granted, Ally hasn't seen her since she got home at the beginning of May because Trish has been so busy with all her clients (Boynado is still apparently a piece of work, even though you'd think four years would mellow them out a little). So Ally only has tonight to have her initial breakdown before she actually has to function again. Hopefully, Trish will still be busy and won't be able to stay long so Ally can just go home and break down again.
But when the time comes, Ally has to compose herself and pretend like she's doing great. As far as Trish knows, she and Austin haven't spoken in four years, so she should be past all of that by now. Still, being composed on the outside doesn't mean her heart isn't in a million pieces as she hugs Trish when she gets to the Music Factory.
"I have great news!" Trish squeals.
Ally plasters on a smile. "What?" she asks.
Trish giggles and clears her throat, grinning and making her signature presentation gesture with her hands. "Guess who booked you on The Helen Show?"
and the rest is history.