As Ally walks down the hallway to her locker, she tries harder than ever not to be seen. Usually, she really doesn't have to try at all; she's always been quiet and fairly average—pretty enough but no supermodel, nice but no Mother Teresa, and honestly she's never really had any desire to stand out, so she's never tried. The one thing she is above average at is school: she has a 4.6 GPA and has taken every AP class Marino High has offered.

Although with the price she pays for her grades, she's not sure it'll all be worth it come graduation.

But regardless of her above-average performance in school, she still considers herself to be average overall, and most of her peers probably don't even know her name.

That is, they didn't, until that party the other night…

She can feel people's eyes on her when she stops at her locker, and she wishes she could just crawl inside it and hide. It's almost like these people blame her for all of this. Her!

There's no reason for any of them to be angry with her. She didn't do anything. And, really, if any of them are jealous, like she suspects they might be, that isn't her fault either. If they have their own issues they need to work out, it's not her job to feel guilty about it.

Still, she isn't a fan of all the attention.

Luckily, her best friend comes to her rescue. One glare from Trish de la Rosa, and everybody starts minding their own business again. Apparently, a rumor started that Trish is an actual witch after some idiot made fun of her and his pants caught on fire. Ally wouldn't be surprised if her best friend was a witch, but it's probably a little more likely that the kid was standing a little too close to the bonfire they were at when it happened, and nobody else saw Trish casually set a twig on fire and then hold it to the kid's pants. But semantics.

"Hey, you okay?" Trish asks her.

Ally shrugs and gathers her books. "I don't know. Austin hasn't spoken to me since the party. I've texted and called him like a million times."

"That's Austin for ya," Trish tries.

It's true: Austin Moon isn't the most talkative person in the world. He may be the star of the football team and run with the inner circle of their grade, but he's even more reserved than Ally. Still, people seem to be drawn to him. He's got that mysterious, nonchalant way about him that makes everyone attracted to boys swoon and everyone attracted to girls seethe a little bit. It's probably why the guys on the football team hang out with him—where he goes, girls are sure to follow.

But the thing about Austin: he never ignores Ally. Not since he sat next to her in art class when he moved here freshman year and she had given him her number and talked his ear off trying to be friendly to the new kid. He hardly said a word to her the first month, but then out of the blue he was out of school for a week and she got a text from him that weekend asking if he missed anything important while he was gone. He hadn't—it was freshman year art—but she asked him if everything was okay and they ended up texting nonstop that entire weekend.

He still didn't talk to her much when he came back to school, but he never told her to shut up when she was talking, and he always replied to her texts. And then, when she had asked if he wanted to hang out over winter break, he had surprised her with a yes.

And from then until now, their senior year, he has always responded to her texts, always answered—or at least returned—her calls, always hung out with her when she asked. Around the summer between sophomore and junior year, he even started inviting her to hang out.

And then there was the incident. The day that solidified their friendship more than any other moment before then combined.

It was junior year, and things were getting hard. Ally's life of school coming easily was finally catching up to her as the workload for all her AP classes started building up. The work seemed endless, to the point where she was only getting four or five hours of sleep a night andspending all of her weekends doing work and trying to catch up on sleep. The endless cycle of work became a hole she couldn't crawl out of at the bottom of a sea that was drowning her. Not to mention the anxiety all of it caused her. Her teachers were merciless and seemingly bent on making her perfect grades less-than-perfect, and for the first time she was introduced to the possibility that she might not be as smart as she thought she was.

And when being smart and getting perfect grades are what you've grown up to shape your entire identity around, having those things questioned would likely send anyone into a crisis.

It was one of the harder days, when nothing seemed to be going right. She only got three hours of sleep, due to a fun mixture of her staying up late finishing homework and her cute little case of stress-induced insomnia rearing its ugly head. Then, she slept through her alarm and was late to school—barely—but when she rushed into her first-hour class, her teacher decided to make an example out of her to everybody and made her walk all the way across campus to get a late pass before he would allow her back in the classroom. In second hour, she fell asleep in class (AP Chemistry and three hours of sleep do not mix well), so her teacher yelled at her. In between second and third hour, her AP U.S. History teacher put grades in for their most recent essay—one that had caused her so much anxiety she missed the entire day of school studying for it before going in for just that class—and she had gotten a 'D'. Hours and hours of prep work and studying, and she had gotten the worst grade in her entire high school career.

She tried to keep it together, but about ten minutes into third hour, she knew it wasn't going to happen. So she asked to go to the nurse and brought all her things to the bathroom instead, where she sat on the floor and broke down.

Luckily, she was in the least-used bathroom in the school, so no one was in there to bother her. But the bad news was that the reason this bathroom was so rarely used was that it was around back of the school, where a few forgotten outdoor lunch tables were tucked away and where the kids who ditched class liked to hide.

And that was why, about five minutes into her breakdown, she heard a faint knock on the door.

"Hello?" came a boy's voice from the other side. "Is someone in there?"

"No," she said, only realizing her stupid mistake after she said it. She cleared her throat. "Everything's fine," she said shakily, in a fragile voice that said everything was most certainly not fine.

"Ally?" the voice asked, and then the door opened just slightly and Austin poked his head into the bathroom, his dark eyebrows pulled together with concern. As soon as he saw her, he rushed over to her and kneeled at her side. "What happened?"

She wasn't sure why—she still isn't sure, even now—but she told him everything. She told him about her terrible day, about how she didn't ever get enough sleep, about how she felt like she could never catch a breath under the weight of all her schoolwork, about how her world and everything she knew was crumbling around her as her entire identity was stripped away one un-perfect grade after another.

And somewhere during her rant, he ended up sitting against the wall, one leg bent and the other stretched out in front of him, and she ended up in his lap, her back against his bent leg and her legs bent over his outstretched one. By the time she was finished, he was holding her in his arms, and she was sobbing into his chest.

The position was awkward, and the bathroom floor was probably a petri dish of diseases, but he didn't seem to think twice about any of it as he rubbed her arms and her back and combed his fingers through her hair and said words she didn't process in that quiet, soothing voice of his. He didn't even look at her funny when she lifted her head, tears still streaming down her cheeks, and started struggling to breathe. When that part of her panic attack hit her—the part that always scared her and made it even worse—the only indication he gave that he didn't know what he was doing was a split second of wide eyes. But then he almost immediately regained his composure and reminded her to take deep breaths, counting through the inhales and exhales as she did them and never taking his hands off her.

Then, when the panic attack had almost subsided—well past the beginning of fourth hour—he still didn't make any move to leave. He just held her when she fell against his chest again, emotionally and physically exhausted, and resumed combing his fingers through her hair. It wasn't until she sat back up, after who knows how long, and took one more deep breath, that he helped her stand up and then offered to drive her home .

He went even further when she mentioned that her dad would have to call the school when he got home from work later. Austin walked her inside, hands shoved in his pockets as he trailed just slightly behind her, and then suggested that getting some sleep might make her feel better. She only later found out that after she was asleep, he called her dad on her phone to explain what happened and then came back to her house later because her dad had asked him if he would help drive Ally's car home from school.

When her dad had brought dinner into her room that night and she started to tell him what happened, he told her that her friend had already filled him in. Then he told her about how Austin helped get her car, finishing the story with an approving nod.

"That Austin boy seems like a good friend. Why haven't I met him before?"

Ally shrugged, sitting up and yawning before taking a bite of the food her dad brought her. "We don't really hang out at each other's houses."

"Well, I like him," her dad said with another nod. "I'm happy to know there's more than one person at that school watching out for my little girl."

And Ally realized he was right: Austin Moon really was watching out for her.

Ever since that day, Austin's been as much a best friend to her as Trish is. Maybe even more so—she's pretty sure she's the closest friend he has. But despite that, he doesn't really interact with her much at school. He doesn't sit with her at lunch, only really gives her a slight nod when they pass each other in the halls, and even goes so far as to prevent his other friends from talking to her, the few times she's been in their sights.

Granted, she has a sneaking suspicion that the last one is in her best interest. She can't imagine that the football players and cheerleaders would have anything nice to say to her. But still, it does bother her a little that he doesn't seem to want to acknowledge their friendship in the presence of his friends. Or anyone else in the school, for that matter.

It's enough to make her wonder, despite the incident and her rationality telling her otherwise, if he even considers her a friend.

"Ally? You still with me?" Trish asks.

Ally nods, shutting her locker. "Yeah," she says. "I dunno, it kinda feels like he's avoiding me."

"Well, even if he is avoiding you, can you blame him?" Trish asks. "You should've seen your face the other night. You looked like someone just told you you were the ghost the entire time."

"Everyone else seems just as shocked," she says, gesturing to a group of whispering girls who all stop to shoot Ally a glare as she and Trish pass them. "And very angry on top of it. If anything, he should be avoiding his other friends. They'll probably burn him at the stake or something."

Trish rolls her eyes. "I doubt he cares about what they think of him."

"Was my reaction really that bad?" Ally asks.

Trish shrugs. "I mean, bad might not be the right word. You just looked so surprised, and then you didn't say anything, which is never a good sign after something like that."

"Well, can you blame me?"

Trish puts her hands up defensively. "I'm just trying to explain what you aren't understanding, Ally. Can you blame him for maybe avoiding you a little, after the one person whose opinion he actually cares about reacted like that?"

"I was just in shock," Ally sighs. "I mean, what was I supposed to say?"

"You know exactly what you were supposed to say," Trish says.

"My mind went completely blank the moment he said it, Trish. I don't even think I could've remembered my own name, much less a secret I had already been trying to push out of my mind."

"And that's totally valid," Trish assures her as they sit down in their first class of the day. "But to him, your mind-blank might've looked like something else. Especially because you still looked pretty angry on top of it."

Ally groans and leans forward on her desk, burying her face in her arms. "I'm such an idiot," she complains, her voice coming out muffled.

"I'm sure Austin'll come around," Trish promises. "Just give him some time."

Ally sits up again, her face hot from being smashed into her arms. Trish reaches over and pats down Ally's hair where it got messed up. "We haven't gone this long without at least texting in years," she says.

"Babe, it's been three days."

"He probably hates me."

"That's not true."

"No," Ally says. "He probably does. I mean, we got in that huge fight, and then I didn't even say anything when…" She groans again and leans her head on Trish's shoulder. "I ruined everything."

"You did not ruin everything," Trish tells her. "If anything, Austin probably thinks he ruined everything. He probably just needs to work up a little courage before he can face you again. It'll be okay."

Before Ally can say anything, the bell rings, and she welcomes the distraction for the next few hours.

But by lunch time, she still hasn't seen Austin, and her thoughts are spiraling again. She doesn't say a word as she stares down at her untouched sandwich, until Trish snaps in her face.

"Ally, come on," Trish says when she looks up at her. "This isn't the end of the world. Try seeing the bright side! You've practically been in love with him for nearly a year!"

"None of that matters if he won't fucking talk to me," Ally mutters, staring at her phone and willing it to light up with a call or a text or something from Austin. "I wish we'd never gone to that stupid party."

It was the last football game of the season, and they had won. For the first time in a decade, their football team had actually beat Seaside High. It was a close game, but Austin Moon himself had crossed into the endzone to score the winning touchdown just a split second before time ran out. The entire student section had rushed the field, and the football team had hoisted Austin onto their shoulders as everyone cheered and chanted his name.

After the game, Elliot, one of the team's captains, had a party at his house, and for some reason Ally finally gave in when Trish begged her to go. This was a huge victory, and she wanted to be there to support Austin if nothing else.

"So, your boy won the game for the school!" Trish had squealed as they drove to Elliot's house from the game. "Everyone's gonna be celebrating him at this party, you know."

"I know," Ally said.

"So maybe you should celebrate a little, too," Trish continued. "And tell him you like him."

Ally rolled her eyes. "And have him laugh in my face? No, thank you." She crossed her arms and leaned back against the seat. "Sometimes, I'm not sure he even likes talking to me. There's no way I'm making it worse by telling him I like him."

"What if you wait till he's super drunk?" Trish suggested. "Then it can be like a practice! Wait till he's drunk enough that he won't remember, and see how he reacts before you do it for reals."

"No, Trish," Ally said. "I don't know what gave you the idea that I should tell him how I feel, but it's never gonna happen. I don't wanna ruin what small part of him tolerates me."

"Ally, you know you're, like, his best friend. You're the only person he willingly talks to and actually wants to hang out with. I doubt he would wanna give that up either. But if you never tell him, you'll never forgive yourself."

"That's not true, so I don't care."

Trish had rolled her eyes, but she dropped the argument.

When they got to the party, Trish dragged Ally straight to the cooler with the drinks. Ally declined, mostly because she knew Trish would need a designated driver, and Trish thankfully didn't give her any grief about it. They mingled for a while, Trish enthusiastically congratulating every member of the football team she saw—even before the alcohol hit her—and Ally just trying her best not to be seen.

She's never been a big fan of crowds, which is why parties have never really been her thing. Usually she can handle a couple parties a year, but never for very long, and never without Trish by her side. But every time Trish has a few drinks, she seems to forget that Ally isn't as good at talking to people as she is, and she usually ends up leaving Ally alone intermittently to mingle. This party was no different, so Ally, used to this by now, made her way through the living room to wait near the front door for Trish to remember her and agree to leave.

But before she could get very far, she saw two shocks of blonde hair in the corner. One she recognized by the cheer bow, imprinted with Tilly in gold cursive. The other one was pressed against the wall by the cheerleader, but even though all she could see were his hair and his hands on Tilly's ass, she knew it was Austin. And as much as she tried to force herself to forget her feelings for him, the pain of those feelings came rushing at her like a train.

She was so distracted by the pain of what she was seeing that she ran straight into Elliot, who ended up spilling his drink all over the two of them because of it.

"Hey, watch it, dumbass!" he shouted at her, and she stepped back in surprise, eyes wide and heart rate speeding up. "Who the fuck do you think you are?!" he asked her, stepping into her personal space. His breath smelled like too much alcohol, and he was glaring at her like she was some disgusting vermin he intended to eradicate. "I swear to fucking god—"

Before he could finish, he was pulled away from her by the back of his shirt. "Don't be an asshole, Elliot," Austin told him. "What—" He stopped when he saw Ally, and his eyes went wide as saucers. His arm went slack, and Elliot, now free from Austin's grip, marched out of the room. "Ally, you shouldn't be here."

Ally crossed her arms and clenched her jaw, despite her increasingly pounding heart. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means, you're not supposed to be here," he said.

She tried to ignore how much harder it was getting for her to breathe and silently begged her body not to send her into a panic attack right now. "Why? Because you're worried I'll talk to you in front of your friends and embarrass you?"

He set his jaw. "No, I just…this isn't really your scene."

"So? Maybe I wanted a chance to congratulate my friend on his big win. Or maybe I just felt like a change of scenery."

"Why are you here? Are you with someone?"

"Why does it matter?!" she exclaimed, her heart feeling like it weighed a thousand pounds as the pain and anxiety formed an ugly combination in her chest. "Are you really that embarrassed to be friends with me?!"

"I'm not embarrassed to be f—"

"I wouldn't have even bothered you if you hadn't come over here!" she told him. "I figured you were too busy sucking face with your least favorite cheerleader." She cast a glance in Tilly's direction, and Tilly responded with a glare of her own. Logically, Ally knew that Tilly didn't do anything wrong here, but she also knew that Tilly was definitely behind the Instagram account dedicated to hating on Trish last year, so her spite got the best of her.

Austin at least had the decency to turn a little red. "Ally, I didn't know—"

"I didn't know you could be such a dick," she said. "Much less that you were hooking up with the entire cheer team without telling me."

Now he took an angry step towards her, clenching his fists at his sides. "I didn't know you had to know every fucking detail about my life!"

"You don't get to be mad!" she yelled, pushing his chest so he had to take a step back. "You've been lying to me this whole time! You act all high-and-mighty and like you can't stand all these people, when in reality you're just like them!" Right then, all her emotions caught up to her and the tears finally escaped her eyes. Her throat hurt from yelling at him and trying to keep her tears at bay, and her heart hurt from the emotional pain he was causing her, and she felt like she might throw up because of that relentless panic attack. She wanted out out out, but Austin was blocking her only path to the door "I bet you're embarrassed to be seen with me, and I bet the whole reason you don't even acknowledge me when your friends are around is because you're too busy laughing at me behind my back!"

"IT'S BECAUSE I'M FUCKING IN LOVE WITH YOU!" he yelled at the top of his lungs, and her heart stopped beating in her chest. Or maybe it was beating so fast by then that she couldn't even feel it.

Everyone's eyes were on them—she could feel it—but she and Austin just stood staring at each other in the middle of the living room, breathing heavily, jaws set, and fists clenched at their sides. But as his words sunk in, her eyes went wide and she felt all the blood rush out of her face.

Before she even had time to realize she needed to say something, Austin was gone.

"He'll talk to you when he's ready," Trish tells her.

Ally sighs. "I'm worried he'll never be ready."

"He told you he loves you. He's probably in just as much pain as you are."

She glares at her phone, as if somehow it might get through to Austin. "If he was, he would've talked to me by now."

"Think about it, Ally. He doesn't know you feel the same way. For all he knows, he just ruined your whole friendship because he got lost in the heat of the moment."

"I seriously doubt he thinks that."

"Just…try to be patient," Trish says. "I'm sure he'll get back to you soon. And then you can actually be together! Doesn't that thought make you happy?"

"Right now I'm just frustrated that he's ignoring me."

Trish sighs. "Look, this changes everything. You know Austin isn't a feelings guy. He probably needs to come to terms with the fact that you know now before he can be ready to talk about it."

"Or he just hates me."

Trish rolls her eyes. "Yeah, okay, I'm not doing this with you. Think what you want, I guess."

It's not that Ally wants to go down this line of thinking, but she can't help it. There's no way in hell Austin could ever want to be with her. He may have confessed that he loves her, but she just knows something she did afterwards ruined her chances of ever actually being with him.

But then, when she gets home from school and parks in her driveway, she sees the man himself in her front yard. He's kicking around a soccer ball that her cousins left here ages ago, with his hands shoved in his pockets and his eyebrows scrunched together in concentration. She's not even sure he realizes she just pulled up.

She gets out of her car and locks it, and he only looks up when she shuts the door. He swallows, the soccer ball forgotten at his feet.

"Hi…" he says.

"Didn't realize you were talking to me now," Ally says, adjusting her backpack on her shoulder and then walking inside. She hears Austin's footsteps as he follows silently behind her.

She walks up the stairs to her room and drops her backpack on the floor before finally turning to look at him, arms crossed. He shrinks a little under her stare as he shuts her bedroom door behind them.

When he doesn't say anything, she raises an eyebrow expectantly. "Well? You've been ignoring me all weekend. Aren't you going to say anything?"

He runs a hand through his hair, and she only just now notices the dark circles under his eyes. She swallows, lifting her chin a little and watching him.

"I haven't been ignoring you…" When he sees the look on her face, he clears his throat and tries again. "I was afraid…After that fight, and—you know, everything—I knew how mad you'd be, and…I dunno, I was just scared of your reaction, I guess, so I avoided it."

"Didn't you read any of my texts?"

He purses his lips and shakes his head, his cheeks tinting pink. "I told you, I was scared."

"Of what? Of me?"

"I was scared you would say that you didn't wanna be friends anymore."

"Austin, I didn't even know you liked being friends with me."


"I thought you were embarrassed of me. And then, when you weren't answering me, I thought you hated me."

"How could you possibly think that?"

"You avoid me like the plague when you're with your other friends."

"They're not my friends."

"At the party, you got mad at me just for being there."

He shakes his head. "Ally, you've got it all wrong." He swallows and takes a small, tentative step towards her. "The truth…The truth is that I am embarrassed, but not of you. I never wanted them to target you, because I'm sure you know how ruthless they can be. And I never wanted you to see that those are the kinds of people I associate with. And then, at the party…" He blushes again and avoids her eyes, looking to the side and then down at the floor. Then he squeezes his eyes shut for a second before looking back up at her.

When he continues, his voice is earnest, like he's almost begging her to understand. "You have to choose your battles with them, you know? And Tilly just wouldn't leave me alone, and, I mean, that shit's meaningless, right? We were drunk at a party, and no one would even care enough to notice. And, I don't know, maybe a part of me just wanted to be distracted for a while. But you weren't supposed to be there." He swallows. "You weren't supposed to know any of it even happened, but then you saw everything, and—"

"Why's it matter?" she asks him, trying to ignore the pang in her heart as she relives that moment. "I don't know why I was so surprised, anyway. You were just making out with a cheerleader at a party. It doesn't get more classically high school than that."

"Because now you'll never believe me when I say that's not who I am. Who I am with you—that's the real me."

"Everybody else apparently thinks that the real you was whoever you were at the party."

"I don't care who they think I am."

She drops her arms and takes a deep breath, bracing herself for the big question that's been eating away at her all weekend. She meets his eyes. "Is it true?" she asks him.

He swallows. "Is what true?"

"That all of this is because you love me."

He hesitates, but then he nods, searching her eyes. Her heart pounds.

"Then why kiss Tilly? And why try to push me away?"

He shrugs, shoving his hands in his pockets again. "I don't know," he says quietly. "Tilly was mostly just to get her to leave me alone. And you…" He looks down and kicks at the carpet before looking back up at her again. "I guess pushing you away was easier than trying to explain everything. If I pushed you away…or, I guess, avoided your texts and calls, then I wouldn't have to face the risk of a worst-case scenario." He takes a deep breath. "I'm really, really sorry, Ally. I never should've even been hanging out with them in the first place because they turn me into someone I'm not. And I never should've kissed Tilly, either."

She swallows. "I mean…You can do whatever you want. It's not like we're dating."

He watches her. "No, I guess we're not." He hesitates for a second, apparently looking for something in her eyes, but then he gives up and continues. "I'm sorry for pushing you away, whenever I've been around them all these years and especially at the party. And I'm sorry for avoiding you all weekend, and for the whole fight, and for putting you in a weird position by screaming my feelings in your face in front of half the school."

"I'm sorry, too," she says. "For getting so mad at you without listening to you first, and for putting you in a weird position by being so stubborn that you had to scream your feelings in my face in front of half the school just to shut me up." She smiles a little, and her heart flutters when he smiles too.

Austin dips his head a little as his cheeks tint pink again, and then he glances up at her before looking at the floor again. She forgot how shy he can be sometimes, and she wishes he would just show her his beautiful smile again. She misses it.

"And Austin?" she adds, remembering her conversation with Trish at lunch today.

He lifts his head to look at her, his eyebrows raised in question. He still has that tiny smile on his face, just enough that she can see a tiny dimple on his right cheek. She can't help but smile again, too.

"I…I love you, too."

He swallows, his eyes getting a little wider. "You—you do? Even after…all of that?"

She nods, giggling a little at his surprise, as if he doesn't have hundreds of people at the school who would give anything to date him.

"Oh my god, Ally," he breathes as he closes the distance between them. He wraps his arms around her waist and kisses her like he's been waiting for this moment his entire life.

A million fireworks go off in her chest as she sighs and lets her eyes flutter closed. She drapes her arms around his neck, her smile growing against his lips. His arms tighten around her when she runs her fingers through his hair—even softer than she imagined it would be—and he leans into her so much that she takes a few steps back to keep her balance. Her legs hit her bed behind her and she falls backwards onto it with a yelp, pulling him with her.

They both start laughing, and she realizes with a start that she's not sure she's ever heard Austin laugh before. It's low and musical, just like his voice, and when she opens her eyes she's met with cute dimples and sparkling eyes as he hovers over her, bracing himself on his forearms. He takes one of her hands and intertwines their fingers, pinning it next to her head when he puts his weight back on his arm.

"I think I could get used to this," she says, moving her other hand into his hair again. Just because she can now.

"Mmm," he hums quietly as he dips his head towards her. "Me, too."

yeah i'm not sure what this is but i wanted to finish it before i leave and probably don't write for like two weeks lmao. but what i DO know after writing this is that tenses are simply a construct.

also! if you wanna see more of my writing, i'm working on an original story on ao3 if you wanna check it out! you can find it by going to ao3 and searching ausllydawmoon (same as on here), or you totally don't have to lmao

anyway thanks for reading!