She returned to her hometown for the same reasons anyone else does: to care for a parent, to start over, to remind herself of where she came from, to get back to her roots. Her mother insisted that she was fine, that by the time Ally moved into her new house by the docks her father would be fully recovered and able to care for her mother. She was right, of course, but that call she got from her dad at the hospital explaining the car crash and her mom's broken neck left her shaken to her core. She realized that she hadn't been home in years—her parents were always the ones coming out to visit her in big, bright Los Angeles, because Ally was always too busy recording albums or writing music or planning tours to take time off in a sleepy beach town down the coast.
They all moved to L.A. when Ally was fifteen, after a music producer discovered a video of her singing an original song on the Internet. The next five years were a whirlwind of albums and publicity and growing, growing, growing, until Ally was twenty years old and a multi-millionaire. But her parents were never the types for a Los Angeles lifestyle, so she surprised them with their old house for their anniversary. They moved back home, and Ally was on her own.
Ally had never missed her home before. She missed friends, sure, and when her parents moved back she missed them like crazy. But never the life she had there. Growing up, she had been content in the background, reading books on the quiet little beach at the edge of town or watching the boats out on the bay. But as soon as she found out what she was missing—the glitz, the glamor, the spotlight—she never looked back.
But after that call from her dad, when he told her about the car crash and his broken arm and her mom's broken spine, she ached for home more than she thought possible. The glitz and glamor became frustrating, ugly, fake; the spotlight suddenly blinding, overwhelming, suffocating. Her big house was too big, too empty, too perfect. She's still grateful for all of it, of course, but she was just consumed with a need to return to a safe place, where she could leave her house without worrying about paparazzi and where people don't constantly expect something from her. A place where everybody already knows all your business (which is, admittedly, very annoying), but that means they aren't always bothering you asking about it.
So, she packed a couple suitcases and drove down the coast with her best friend in the passenger seat, trying her best to describe the small town she came from. Trish grew up in L.A., meaning that she was already afraid of small towns.
"That's where murders happen," she said when Ally told her she was moving home for a while.
"Only in the movies."
"Horror movies are, like, ninety percent of my resumé," Trish reminded her.
"We get it, you won an Oscar," Ally had said with a roll of her eyes before Trish could get there.
But Trish is loyal to the end, so despite her insistence that this was a horror movie in the making and her claustrophobia at just the explanation of small-town life, she was determined to help Ally move and settle in before running back to the safety L.A.
Ally told her stories from when she was growing up, about her childhood best friend Austin Moon and how they used to ride their bikes to the candy store his family owned every day after school; how when they were ten he gave her a Ring Pop and swore that when they grew up he was gonna marry her.
"Honestly, I think we might've really gotten married if I hadn't left," she had said when she finished the story. "We never even dated in middle or high school, but we always talked about it like it was inevitable."
"That's terrifying," Trish had said. "If I ever get married, he will never learn what I was like as a kid. Some things are meant to be forgotten by the world."
After Trish had gone home and Ally spent a few days with her parents, they insisted she go do something, anything, that didn't involve them. Apparently her constant fussing over her mom was stressing them both out.
That's how she finds herself working at the little bookshop-slash-café on the corner of a little intersection in the middle of the town's main drag. Sunrise Books was her first job at fourteen, and she worked there up until the day before she left for L.A. It had been the perfect job: she loved books, was getting into coffee, and the store sits right next to a cute little boutique, with another one on the other side across the street. And Austin directly across from Sunrise Books at Moonlight Candy.
She smiles fondly at the candy store across the street as she opens for the day. The owner of Sunrise Books is a sweet woman who had three kids in the ten years Ally has been away and desperately needs a vacation. When Ally tried to ask about working there, Bridget was saying yes before she could even finish the question.
Business is pretty slow, which isn't unusual, and she finds herself writing little songs in her head as she reminisces about all the good times she had in this town growing up. She doesn't realize she's staring through the windows of both the book store and the candy store at the boy working there until he catches her and immediately looks away with a scowl.
She frowns; that's not much of a candy-store attitude. Mike and Mimi Moon, the owners of the store, were always big on the feel of the store when she was growing up. "Always smile," Austin would complain in mock impressions of their voices when he worked there. "You can't frown with candy in your mouth."
But he would then proceed to stuff saltwater taffy in his mouth until his cheeks puffed out like a chipmunk and prove that you actually can, in fact, frown with candy in your mouth. Then Ally would collapse in a fit of giggles and he would try (and fail) to chew and swallow all the taffy without looking like an idiot.
She keeps watching the candy store throughout the day, even as she makes coffee for customers and organizes the bookshelves. Whenever kids go in the store, the boy is all smiles. But whenever he's alone, the smile drops and he always busies himself with something at the back of the store, where his back is turned to her.
Okay, maybe she's just creeping him out with her staring.
Still, there's a pang in her heart when she thinks about this imposter who probably doesn't even like candy ruining the sanctity of her childhood happy place. He probably doesn't even have a heart; what kind of person can be unhappy in that red-and-white striped apron and hat and cherry-red bowtie?
She remembers Austin immediately smiling whenever he put it on, no matter how tired he was or how bad a day he had. Something about the old-fashioned uniform, or maybe just the fact that it symbolized candy, pushed away all the negative energy (which, to be fair, he never had much of in the first place). He would always put on his bowtie crooked just so Ally would have to fix it, and then he would grin down at her and announce that one day, they'd rule the Moonlight Candy Empire together.
Another group of kids enters and leaves the candy store, and she watches another fake smile disappear from the boy's face. There are no customers at the bookstore, so she grits her teeth, flips the sign to Closed, and marches across the street.
She takes a deep, calming breath before entering the store and approaching the counter with as polite a smile as she can muster. The boy working there is turned around, organizing a display on the wall behind the counter. She clears her throat, but he doesn't acknowledge her.
"Um, hi," she tries. Still nothing, although he does freeze at the sound of her voice. "I work at the bookstore across the street, and I just noticed…I mean, even from all the way over there I could see that you're miserable. I guess I'm just curious…didn't your bosses tell you you can't frown with candy in your mouth?"
At that, the boy whips around, his hands slamming down on the counter as he scowls at her. One look in his eyes, and her heart threatens to beat out of her chest. She swallows and takes a step back as her brain tries to catch up with her heart.
She would know those eyes anywhere: golden brown with a gaze like honey, thick and slow, that'll stick to you and linger long after he's gone and you've tried to wash it off.
"Austin?" she asks, but her voice comes out high and breathy.
He clenches his jaw. "You gonna buy anything?"
"It—It's me, Ally," she tries, taking a tentative step towards him.
"Ally Dawson, three-time Grammy winner at twenty-five. I know who you are. You gonna buy anything, Ally?"
Her heart drops into her stomach. His face and his tone are so not the Austin Moon she remembers, and she scrambles for something else to say. "I didn't realize you were the one working here. I'm sorry—"
He snorts and rolls his eyes, pushing off the counter and walking to the back of the store. He starts rearranging a display without another word to her. She takes the hint and hurries out, sprinting across the street to the bookstore just as tears start rolling down her cheeks.
She tries to forget about the not-so-happy reunion with her childhood best friend. It almost works, too. She spends all her time either working at the bookstore or helping out around her parents' house, despite her father's insistence that he's got it all covered.
But then Austin walks into Sunrise Books a week after the incident, conveniently when the store is empty. He marches right over to her and leans his elbows on the counter, dropping a bag of taffy between them before crossing his arms.
"Um, hello," she says, silently hoping her eyes don't look like saucers.
He nods at the taffy. "An apology," he says, although his emotionless expression and cold tone don't really support the statement. "I was an ass."
She swallows. "Thanks."
He watches her for a second, then looks down. "When I found out you were back, a lot of old…shit I never dealt with came back. And then when you came into the store and I heard your voice and you were talking to me like I was a stranger, it all culminated, I guess." He takes a deep breath and looks back up at her. "I'm sorry," he says. Then he stands up straight and shoves his hands in the pockets of his jeans under his striped Moonlight Candy apron. "How…um, how's your mom doing?"
"She's okay." Her voice still sounds breathy and uncertain, shaking like the rest of her as she tries to process everything he just said. It doesn't surprise her that he knows about the accident, though—that's just how small towns work. Everyone knows everyone else's business. "My dad's taking good care of her."
Austin nods. "I think my mom brought them a casserole or something a week or two ago. She ended up staying over there for, like, three hours," he says, laughing uncertainly and widening his eyes a little for emphasis.
When Ally doesn't laugh too, he clears his throat and looks down again.
"I never got a good look at your face," she says. "I just saw that you looked angry and miserable. That's why I didn't know it was you."
Austin purses his lips. "Guess I just thought you'd see a blonde guy working at Moonlight Candy and put it together."
"Last time I saw you, you were six inches shorter and couldn't go twelve seconds without smiling."
He nods, kicking at invisible dirt and keeping his eyes trained on the ground. "Ten years," he says bitterly.
"I missed you," she manages.
He immediately starts shaking his head. "Don't." He meets her eyes. "Don't say you fucking missed me."
She frowns. "I did miss you."
"Then why didn't you call?!" He raises his voice a little, pulling his hands out of his pockets and clenching his fists at his sides.
At first, she doesn't understand. When she left, she did call. They both did. They talked every day her first few months in L.A. But then she got busy, and every day turned into once a week, and then that turned into quick texts whenever she had time. And then…oh.
She forgot his birthday.
She had been in the middle of recording her first album, after six months in L.A. She was exhausted and excited and so busy, she completely blanked on his sixteenth birthday. She didn't even send a single text.
Of course, when she realized it the next day, she called him three times with no answer. Then she had texted him, apologizing profusely and telling him how much he meant to her and promising to make it up to him.
When the label on her text turned from 'Delivered' to 'Read' and she never got a response, she took the hint. And then cried for a month straight.
"Austin, I am so sorry," she says. "I wanted to make it up to you, but…you never answered me."
"Didn't wanna bother you," he bites out. "You were busy living your dream."
"You know you never bothered me," she tells him. "You are not an innocent victim. You made it clear that you didn't want to talk to me. I was the one trying not to bother you."
"You forgot. You were so busy off in L.A. with your music and your fans and your fancy new record deal and your fancy new clothes and your fancy new life that you forgot."
She clenches her jaw. "It was ten years ago! And you can't be mad at me for taking the opportunity to have a real singing career. You know I always wanted to be a singer; you said you supported me and you were happy for me. I'm not gonna apologize for living my dream. It's not my fault you never aimed higher than managing your parents' candy store."
He places his hands on the counter, leaning towards her, his honey gaze turning to stone. Somehow, he manages to look serious despite his work uniform. "I did have a dream. But not all of us get opportunities to actually live our dreams like you did."
"That's not my fault either."
His nose twitches, and he looks like he's about to say something. But then he decides against it and storms out of the bookstore, muttering "Enjoy the candy," before slamming the door behind him.
She holds it together until she closes up the store, then immediately goes to her parents' house and cries to her mom for the rest of the night.
A few days later, she watches Austin pace past the open door to the bookstore in the late afternoon, head down, one hand constantly running through his hair or scratching his neck. He's just in a t-shirt and jeans—no Moonlight Candy uniform—which means he either happened to be here because his mom needed him while she's working the store (unlikely), or he came here just for her.
If Trish were here, she would've already yelled at him to fuck off, but Ally is unfortunately on her own. She almost wishes this was one of Trish's horror movie murder towns—there'd probably be less tears.
She takes a deep breath, squeezing her eyes shut for a moment before looking at where Austin is passing the door again.
"Maybe you should deal with your shit before you come back in here," she says, loud enough for him to hear her.
He stops in front of the doorway and looks at her, almost like he thought she wouldn't notice him pacing in front of the store for the past ten minutes. Then he sighs and walks in despite her suggestion and drops another bag of candy on the counter.
"I'm sorry," he says, shoving his hands in his pockets and looking down. "Again. I know I'm not an innocent victim, and I know it's not fair of me to be mad at you for going to L.A. when you had the opportunity to live your dream." He glances up at her. "Especially when it was ten years ago."
She swallows. "Thanks." She hesitates, debating whether to say more, then gestures to the café menu hanging above her head instead. "You, uh, want a coffee or something? On the house. My peace offering for forgetting your birthday."
He smiles a little, and even that tiny fraction of the grin that she swore could outshine the sun growing up is enough to warm her up.
"Sure," he says. "Something sweet. Surprise me."
She nods and starts making him her favorite drink off the menu, trying not to shiver in the silence. Maybe she should've said more. She's not sure she's fully accepted his apology, but he's also never been the kind of person to apologize if he didn't mean it and intend to make a change. Recent events notwithstanding.
She also understands him a little more than she'd like. Seeing him again after ten years brought back some of her own shit that she never dealt with, and she said some things she regrets now the last time she saw him.
"I'm sorry, too," she says when she hands him his drink. "For what I said about not aiming higher than the candy store. Even if you didn't have a dream besides that, it's still great. Moonlight Candy's a staple of the town."
He nods, taking a sip of his coffee before adding, "And an empire. But don't worry about it. This is really good." He raises his cup a little.
She smiles proudly. "I know, right? It's my favorite."
"But just so you know, I did have dreams. Just not career-related. I like working at the candy store, to be honest."
"I don't think you ever told me about those dreams," she says.
He takes another sip. "I did. Sort of," he says into his cup. But before she can ask about that cryptic statement, he changes the subject. "But I wanna know about your life in the big city."
She looks at the clock on the wall. "I'm actually about to close for the day." She swallows, glancing up at him. "Do you maybe wanna walk me home? Catch up?"
He nods, and she releases a breath she didn't realize she was holding. Her stomach flutters as she performs her closing routine and then leads him outside.
"Are you living with your parents?" he asks as she locks the doors.
She shakes her head, and they start walking. She opens the bag of candy he gave her and starts eating some. "I have a place by the docks. What about you?"
"Unfortunately, small town real estate is hard to come by, especially when you're in California with a budget like mine."
"So you are living with your parents."
He nods, and she feels him glance over at her. "Why?"
She looks at him. "You asked me, so I asked you. No judgment, really."
He narrows his eyes at her, but he must believe her because he takes another sip of his coffee instead of arguing. "Alright, so tell me about your life. How many L.A. parties have you been to? What was it like winning three Grammys? How crazy are your fans? Are all famous people in the Illuminati?"
She laughs a little at his rapid-fire questioning. He's always been full of energy, but on caffeine it goes to another level. She's glad some things haven't changed.
"Okay, well, I haven't been to all that many big parties, but the ones I have been to just feel like you're in a club but with more rooms and a pool. I almost passed out winning my first Grammy, but my third one, for 'Album of the Year,' was such a shock that I literally don't remember it." She laughs a little, and so does he. "My fans aren't too crazy, although I have had some weird experiences, like one time a guy somehow got into my backyard while I was out there to show me the tattoo of my face he got on his ass."
Austin snorts and starts coughing, evidently choking on his coffee. "Oh my God, like…he just broke in and dropped his pants right there?"
Ally nods, giggling a little at Austin's reaction. "Yeah. I had to call the cops because he wouldn't leave. But no, for the most part my fans, like, respect my privacy and stuff. Like here, I've had some kids come into the store for pictures, but since the town is so small, that's not a big deal. Really, it's the paparazzi that are crazy. They'll follow me everywhere, try to instigate arguments, stuff like that. Also, no, famous people are not in the Illuminati. At least, I'm not."
"If you were in the Illuminati, though, would you tell me?"
She shrugs. "Probably not. But what about you? What've you been up to?"
"Well, I got my business degree at the community college, and I've been working at the candy store. Pretty boring. Now, back to you. You write your own songs, right?"
She laughs a little and raises an eyebrow. "Yeah, why?"
"They're all really good and really you—"
"You listened to my music?"
Now he raises an eyebrow. "We may have…grown apart"—a mild way of putting it—"but we were still best friends growing up, and I was still happy for you and proud of you. Plus, your music is everywhere."
"You're welcome. But I wanna know, how many songs were about me?"
She looks over at him incredulously, and he's wearing that shit-eating grin that used to annoy her more than anything else he did. She rolls her eyes, despite the frustrating little pirouette her heart does.
"None of them."
He narrows his eyes at her, undeterred. "Liar."
She crosses her arms. "I don't know! Maybe a few on my first album."
If he doesn't wipe that grin off his face, she's gonna smack it off. "Come on. How many?"
She shoves another piece of candy in her mouth to delay her answer, but that just makes him grin wider.
"I honestly don't know," she says. "Really. I don't write most of my songs with someone specific in mind; I just kinda have an idea or a feeling and roll with it."
"Bullshit," he sings, finishing off his coffee and tossing his empty cup in a trash can as they turn onto the boardwalk by the docks.
She rolls her eyes. "If I had to say…I don't know, maybe five or six?"
He looks at her. "Five or six?!" Then he starts giggling. She should've lied. "I thought one or two, maybe three. Well, now you have to tell me which ones!"
"Okay, whatever. I wrote them ten years ago. 'Me and You' was definitely one of them—"
"I knew it!"
"'Parachute,' 'When We Grow Up'—"
"Knew that one from the title."
"'Sweet,' 'Sunshine,' and 'Give Us A Try.'"
He grins again. "Oh my God, you had the biggest crush on me. Six songs?!"
"You're the one who said you were gonna marry me one day."
"We were ten."
"Whatever. There weren't any songs about you on any of the other four albums, so you can have this victory. And besides, this is me." She stops in front of her house with its big glass doors and cute little yard out front.
"I appreciate it," he says, stopping too and sobering from his being-song-inspiration high. "This was really nice."
She nods, forcing herself not to get emotional as she looks up at him. "I really did miss you. A lot."
"I missed you, too."
She hesitates, then lunges forward and wraps her arms around his neck before she can psych herself out. He immediately hugs her back, his arms tight around her waist, and she'd be content to stay here forever. He's always been the best hugger in the world; she spent many nights alone in L.A. over the past ten years wishing he'd just appear next to her and wrap his arms around her and never let go.
She buries her face in his neck, hoping he doesn't feel the tears escaping her eyes, but as soon as it happens he pulls away a little and frowns at her. The honey in his eyes comes at her full force, sweeter than any look should be and slowing down her brain.
"What's wrong?" he asks her, his hands resting on her back. His eyebrows knit together.
She shakes her head, laughing a little and wiping her face. "Nothing is wrong," she says. "In fact…things are more right than they have been in a while."
Now he smiles a little, hopefully understanding her meaning, and brushes away one last stray tear with his thumb. "I wholeheartedly agree."
They start seeing a lot more of each other. Mostly, if they're working at the same time they'll visit each other at their respective stores and talk over coffee and candy until one of them (usually her) begrudgingly has to get back to work.
But one day, about a week after they made up, Austin isn't working at the candy store, but Ally still gets a visitor.
"Is that Ally Dawson?" a woman's voice says, and Ally turns around from where she was organizing a bookshelf.
The woman is dressed in the Moonlight Candy uniform, only with a dress under the apron instead of jeans. Her bouncy blonde hair is streaked with gray, but her eyes are full of life and her smile brightens the room.
"Mimi!" Ally says with a grin, walking over and hugging her. She always saw Mimi Moon as a second mom growing up, and Mimi always said Ally was the daughter she never had. That evidently hasn't changed.
Mimi pulls away to look at her, grasping her hands. "Oh, look at how beautiful you are! I mean, you were always beautiful, but you've just grown up so much!"
"Well, you haven't aged at all." Ally squeezes Mimi's hands.
"Oh, if only that were true," Mimi laughs. "I meant to come by sooner, but something always seems to come up. How's your mom doing?"
"She's hanging in there," Ally says. "She and my dad won't let me help take care of her all that much, unfortunately, but I usually see them once a day."
Mimi smiles. "You Dawsons are as stubborn as they come. I always say, even if you didn't get discovered by that music producer, you would've made yourself a career in music by sheer force of will. And speaking of your music, you are so talented, sweetheart! Every one of your songs, I'm just in awe that it's the same little Ally Dawson who used to make Austin perform musicals with her in our living room!"
Now Ally laughs. "Thanks, Mimi. How have you guys been doing?"
Mimi lets go of Ally's hands, only to wave one of her own dismissively. "Oh, it's the same old, same old for us. But, you know, I was talking to Mike last night, and when I saw you today I just had to come over." Mimi sighs in a way that totally doesn't make Ally start to panic a little. "You know, after you left, we were all so thrilled for you, of course, Austin especially, but he also…changed. He was never really the same after you were gone. He seemed to have less energy, and he was so quiet, like everything about him was muted. For ten years, he was like that."
Ally opens her mouth to apologize, but Mimi shakes her head with a smile.
"Oh, sweetie, it's not your fault. That's not why I'm telling you this. I just…I know how much he missed you, even after you grew apart. But then, the other night, he said you two made up, and his smile…" Mimi sighs and takes Ally's hands again, squeezing them tightly with watery eyes. "He looked like himself again, for the first time in ten years. It wasn't your fault that he was so affected when you left. But whatever you said or did the other night…you brought my baby back. I wanted to thank you."
Ally sniffles and pulls Mimi in for a tight hug, mostly so Mimi doesn't see the tears that escape her eyes. But she has a feeling that Mimi knows they're there.
After a long hug, Ally and Mimi chat and catch up a little more while Ally makes Mimi a coffee, and then Mimi has to get back to the candy store. But everything she said about Austin sticks with Ally for the rest of the day.
She can't imagine a muted version of Austin. Okay, sure, he looked miserable in the candy store when she confronted him, but in their arguments after that she had seen the same life in his eyes, just sparking with anger instead of his usual excitement for everything. Could her presence—or lack thereof—in his life really make that much of a difference to his entire personality?
She watches him closely the next time she sees him—when he knocks on her door later that night with a pizza and a picnic blanket and they sit on the little stretch of sand next to the dock in front of her house. She's pretty sure he's too focused on watching the boats and the water and eating his pizza to notice her staring, but he catches her off guard.
"You know, if you take a picture, it'll last longer." He turns to look at her with an easy smile and pizza sauce on the corner of his mouth.
She smiles a little before staring out at the water. "Your mom came in today."
"She told me." He reaches for a napkin, and she sees him wipe the sauce off his mouth in her peripheral. "She was going on and on about how grown up you are and what a beautiful young woman you've become."
Her heart flutters. "Thanks."
"I'm just telling you what she said."
She looks over at him and frowns. "You disagree?"
He leans back on one hand, grinning over at her. "I didn't say that. Although 'grown up' is a bit of an overstatement. You're, what, five-two? Five-four?"
She rolls her eyes. "I was taller than you, once."
"And the beautiful part?"
He laughs. "Like I'm gonna inflate your L.A. ego. But you were voted Pop Beat's 'Hottest Girl of the Year' for the past five years."
She smiles. "Hot isn't the same as beautiful."
The honey in his eyes when he looks at her threatens to melt her into a puddle. "But you can be both. And you are both."
She swallows and looks away from him, hoping he can't tell how red her cheeks probably are in the fading sunlight. From the way he nudges her with his shoulder, she's pretty sure he caught it.
Suddenly he starts giggling. She looks over at him again and raises her eyebrows as he leans back on both hands now, throwing his head back and laughing. She can't help but smile at the sound despite her confusion.
"You know what this reminds me of?" he asks.
Almost instantly, she's pulled back into a memory she hasn't thought about in years.
It was the beginning of sophomore year, and Cassidy Pearson was having her fifteenth birthday party on the beach with a big inflatable projector screen playing movies and a bunch of picnic blankets on the sand. Everyone was excited because there was a popcorn bar and a smore's bar and candy and ice cream and…well, basically every other snack that goes great with movies and/or the beach.
Austin and Ally had picked a blanket in the very back, so nobody saw them gradually scoot closer and closer together during the movie, until eventually they stopped paying attention entirely. And nobody seemed to notice them back there, just snuggling and giggling and whispering in the darkness.
But after the first movie ended, everyone wanted to hang out and play music instead, so they moved the picnic blankets and queued up a playlist on YouTube to project onto the screen. Since Austin and Ally were in the back, they were just outside the scope of the big light they turned on after the movie, and they didn't need to worry about moving their blanket.
So when the movie ended, they reluctantly sat up, but he had kept his arm around her as they quietly made fun of the other kids' dance moves and pretended not to hear each other's pounding heartbeats.
She remembers the exact moment when, at almost the exact same time, their giggles died down and they looked at each other. His hair had looked like it was glowing despite them being outside the range of the light. His gaze seemed to stick to her more than usual, warming her from head to toe and turning her mind to molasses. He had moved his hand from around her shoulders to her cheek, and he had started leaning in with that tiny smile on his face that always made her worry he could read her thoughts about him.
And then, right when they were finally about to kiss—her first kiss, mind you—his phone rang. He had cursed and searched her face, as if begging her to tell him not to answer it, but she just couldn't do it. As soon as the words left her mouth, he had deflated, glanced down at her lips one more time, and then pressed a quick kiss to her cheek before answering his phone. It ended up being his mom telling him she was there to pick them up, so they said goodbye to their friends and left the party.
They never spoke about it after that, and a week later she had gotten the call from the music producer that changed her life.
"Ally?" Austin says, and she looks over at him. "You still with me?"
"Yeah." She clears her throat. "You asked if I knew what this reminds you of. Cassidy Pearson's fifteenth birthday, right?"
He grins and nods, laughing a little as he looks out at the water again. "What a night, man."
She smiles and watches a little boat pass in front of them, leaning back on her hands too. Maybe if she acts as relaxed as him, she'll feel that relaxed.
"I swear, I don't think I slept at all that night," she says.
"Oh, me neither. God, I'd been waiting years to do that, and then of course my mom called." He giggles again, shaking his head, but her heart keeps pounding. Years?
She forces a little laugh. "Probably for the best, though, since I left for L.A. so soon after."
"Yeah," he sighs. "Probably for the best."
"You know," she says, desperate to change the subject before her heart betrays her, "you never told me about those dreams of yours."
He sobers a little. "I said I sort of told you about them."
"Which was very cryptic."
He looks over at her, his position far more relaxed than his face. He swallows and almost immediately looks away again. "Well, it doesn't really matter much now."
"For old time's sake, then," she says.
He sighs, tilting his head back to look up at the sky. "Ally…"
"If it didn't have anything to do with a career, then what was it?" she asks. The more he hesitates, the more violent her heartbeat becomes. If anything, she needs him to tell her so she can calm down.
He closes his eyes. "It was…stupid. I was a kid."
"More stupid than dreaming of being a famous popstar?"
"Quite possibly, yes."
"C'mon," she says, nudging him with her shoulder. "Like you said, you were a kid. I thought I knew everything about you back then. My L.A. ego is wounded thinking I was wrong."
He laughs a little and glances over at her again. "It's just not really all that big a deal. My big dream was to grow up and marry you."
Her heart stops. "We used to talk about it like it was a given. And then, I left, and we stopped talking…"
"I guess it kinda explains my overreaction. But again, I was fifteen, and I really was happy for you—still am, obviously. And it was ten years ago, so obviously I'm way past it now."
"Well, thanks for finally telling me," she tries. She's starting to see what Mimi may have meant when she said he was muted. He looks like he's starting to close in on himself, and she has no idea how to stop it.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I just ruined our perfectly nice picnic with some decade-old teen angst. But in my defense, you did ask."
She manages to laugh a little. "You didn't ruin anything. If I hadn't gotten that call…I think it would've had a pretty good chance of playing out. You know, if you ever worked up the guts to kiss me again."
Now he laughs, brightening up again. "Yeah, right. And what about you? You could've made a move any time you wanted."
The fist around her heart releases, and she shoots him a genuine smile. "Are you kidding? You never would've let me hear the end of it!"
"I think I would've been a little too busy focusing on other things to tease you."
"Please. You would've made time."
"Sure, yeah, I'd make sure I had time to make fun of you instead of the million other things we could've been doing if you made a move."
She narrows her eyes at him, holding her breath. "Maybe we should test the theory."
His eyes snap to hers. "What?"
She leans forward and kisses him before she has time to overthink it. He immediately turns his body towards her and moves a hand into her hair. She sighs and closes her eyes, resting a hand on the back of his neck as she feels his lips curve into a smile against hers and he deepens the kiss.
When he grabs her face with both hands, she immediately feels fifteen again and she can't help but smile. She can almost hear the music playing at Cassidy Pearson's birthday party, as if she could open her eyes and be transported into a different timeline where she told Austin not to answer his stupid phone and just kiss her already.
But they're not fifteen. The weight of all the years they spent apart hits her like a shot to the heart, and she pulls away from him. When she opens her eyes and meets his, he looks a little dazed, but his eyes are twinkling like a million tiny stars are swirling in his honey-colored irises. She has to close her eyes again.
"I'm sorry," she whispers. "I just…"
He presses another gentle kiss to her lips and leans his forehead against hers. "Don't apologize," he says quietly. "I lied when I said I was over it."
She swallows. "Things are complicated now."
"They don't have to be. Don't worry about anything right now. Just…say this is real and kiss me again." He brushes his lips against hers, and she shivers. "We can figure everything else out later."
She nods, her nose bumping against his. Then she remembers, again, that they're not fifteen anymore, and that she has a house about twelve steps away from them.
"Inside," she breathes. "We have…a lot of time to make up for."
He pulls away from her grinning. "Race ya!"
He's gone in a flash of blonde hair, leaving her and the picnic blanket forgotten on the sand. She giggles and gets up to follow him, when he pokes his head back through her now-open front door. He's practically glowing.
"You are terrible at racing."
"Someone has to clean up," she says, walking past him and dropping the picnic blanket by the door.
She hears the door shut behind her, and then suddenly she's pinned with her back against it and Austin's hands on her waist. She tilts her head back against the door to look up at him. His eyes are dancing, but the look he's giving her stops her brain and her heart and makes her knees weak.
"Like you said," he whispers, "we have a lot of time to make up for. And I intend to make up every last second showing you how much I missed you."
When he kisses her again, she's pretty sure they're both glowing.