They haven't been partners for very long, but Ally knows something's up as soon as he walks in the practice room for their songwriting session. The fact that he wasn't already hanging out downstairs in the store is reason enough to worry her, but he's still acting strange beyond that. He hardly even looks at her as he sits next to her on the piano bench.
Things have been a little…tense between them. Granted, it could just be that this partnership is still new and they're still working things out, but this is a different kind of tension. Ever since he read her book last week and thought she had a crush on him, things have been weird.
Luckily, Ally started being purposely vague in her book pretty much as soon as she and Austin became partners. His heart is in the right place, but she knew that at some point he'd get a hold of her book and wouldn't be able to stop himself from reading it—she's pretty sure she is his only impulse control. Also luckily, Dallas from the cellphone accessory cart has enough in common with Austin that she was pretty easily able to pass off her diary entry as being about him instead.
But the truth—one that she still regrets even admitting to herself—is that she was a goner for Austin Moon the moment she met him.
Okay, that's not entirely true. It was more like the moment they wrote their first song together, but he immediately became "the cute boy who played drums with corndogs" when they met, and after he apologized for the whole "Double Take" debacle, she couldn't make herself not like him. Then they wrote "Break Down the Walls" and he was so sweet and unnecessarily flirty, not to mention that moment their hands touched at the piano and she felt like an electric shock was shooting up her arm.
Then there was The Helen Show where, despite the disastrous outcome, he had tried to share his spotlight with her with the purest intentions. When he winked at her before the show—that was when she knew she was in trouble. And when her heart skipped a beat when he said they were a "perfect match" with that smile and those eyes…there was no escaping it.
It was practically torture when he told her he'd always be an Ally Dawson fan. The way his eyes sparkled as he looked at her, the way she felt more seen in that moment than she ever had before in her life and instead of feeling scared like she usually did, a thrill ran up her spine—her heart stopped beating altogether.
So when Dez said Austin knew Ally had a crush on him, she almost panicked. But then she remembered her little contingency plan and saved everything. Still, it was hard not to sound too heartbroken when she couldn't stop herself from asking him why he freaked out so much thinking she liked him. His answer had been sweet, and he seemed genuine, but it still made her heart feel a whole lot heavier. But then, during his performance, it was like he was singing directly to her—a song that wasn't supposed to be a love song but kinda totally was—and the weight on her heart disappeared.
Since that performance, though, things have been weird. And she doesn't know how to ask him about it, or if she's just overthinking things, but she knows they aren't normal and it hurts feeling like they've taken two steps back in their friendship.
A few notes from the piano bring her out of her thoughts, and she glances over at Austin. He doesn't seem to notice.
"Is everything okay?" she asks him. "You seem…quiet."
"Everything's great," he says, shooting her a quick smile that doesn't reach his eyes. "Just trying to think of some inspiration for this song. I got nothing. Well, unless you count the song I wrote at breakfast this morning, but it's ten seconds and about pancakes."
She smiles a little. "I'm sure it was a great song."
He glances over at her again. "Are you okay?"
He shrugs, watching his fingers as he plinks out a few random notes on the piano. "Things feel weird. I don't know."
Maybe he's more perceptive than she gives him credit for.
She nods. "Things do feel weird. But I'm not sure how to fix it."
"It's because of your stupid book," he mutters, and she frowns. But then he adds, "I never should've read it."
"No, you shouldn't have. But why do you say that?"
"Because now it made things weird."
She swallows, trying to keep her face calm and her voice even. "You know I was writing about Dallas. Not you."
He nods, standing up and walking over to the fridge. She watches him as he opens it and looks inside, but his eyes are far away.
"I didn't mean to make you think I thought it would be so horrible if you liked me," he says quietly.
Her heart pounds. "I know," she says. "You explained, remember? It would jeopardize our friendship. I'd feel the same way if you liked me." Liar.
He shuts the fridge so hard the contents inside rattle. She flinches, and his face looks so un-Austin. His jaw is clenched, and his dimples are nowhere to be found. He isn't looking at her, but even from this angle she can see that his eyes are storming. Then he sighs and slides onto the bench next to her again.
"It's my fault," he says quietly. "I've been acting weird. I'm sorry."
He has, but she doesn't want to make things worse by agreeing with him. "What makes you say that?" she asks.
"Because I have."
Great answer. "It's okay," she tells him. "We're still figuring things out in our partnership, getting to know each other…that kind of thing is always weird."
He nods distractedly. "Maybe we should try writing this song. Everything feels better when we're writing songs together."
She's not really even sure what that means, but her heart melts anyway.
She has no idea what time it is when they finish the song. After about a half hour of playing random notes and trying to think of something to write about, she had said something silly and he had looked at her with those dimples and eyes like pools of gold, holding onto her with his gaze as if she was the only thing in the room he could see; her chest and lungs filled up with the gold in his eyes and the song inspiration hit her like a train. They haven't stopped writing since, but the sun set a long time ago and Austin has started rubbing his eyes every few minutes and blinking slower and slower.
"I think that's the fastest we've ever written a song before," he says with a cute yawn.
She smiles a little. "Guess the inspiration fairy struck pretty hard."
He perks up. "Inspiration fairy?"
"Not a real fairy," she clarifies, and he deflates a little.
"Oh. Well, the song is still really good, Ally. You're the best songwriter ever."
Her heart feels like it's full of helium, and she smiles up at him. "Thanks, Austin. Couldn't have done it without you, though."
He smiles too, teeth and dimples on full display as he looks over at her. Whatever weirdness there was earlier seems gone, and she knows she should be happy and relieved, but another strange feeling has replaced it. It isn't weirdness, but something is hanging in the air between them and around them, almost tangible but not thick or heavy. In the dim lighting of the practice room, she pretends she can see it: tiny sparkling white specks floating all around them, twinkling like stars in their own little solar system.
He's giving her that look again, the one that makes her feel like she's alone on a big stage in a single spotlight, blown up on big screens in the background that could emphasize all her flaws and unable to run off the stage or hide. Her heart pounds, but not because of the stage fright she knows she should be experiencing. Because the way he's looking at her, she can't even remember why she has stage fright in the first place; if being on stage feels the same as Austin looking at her, then she should get up in front of thousands of people with a warm feeling spreading out from her chest and a colony of butterflies tickling her stomach and a giddy sort of giggle caught in her throat, dying before it can escape but leaving her breathless anyway.
"What?" he asks quietly, his eyebrows knitting together but the smile still on his face.
She realizes she needs to say something, but her breath hitches. That look in his eyes has sent her floating weightless through space, passing between all the little stars in the whatever-it-is feeling in the air. But there's no oxygen in space, and she can't seem to get enough air.
Finally she manages to look away, staring down at the piano and trying not to be too obvious about trying to catch her breath. She needs to get a hold of herself; she can't be his partner if she gets all googly-eyed every time he looks at her.
She must take too long to answer, because Austin clears his throat and stands up. "I should probably go," he says. "It's late."
She swallows and nods, standing up to walk out with him. "Yeah," she says, her voice cracking a little. She coughs, but she doesn't miss his little smile out of her peripheral.
"So," she continues, "do, um, do you think things are good now?"
His smile fades and they stop in the center of the practice room. He looks to the side, then at the floor. Not at her anymore. "I—I don't know."
The weightless feeling evaporates and she feels like she's falling. The butterflies in her stomach turn to stone, and all the little stars around them blink out like they were never there.
"Well…I don't know how this is gonna work if we don't fix whatever this is," she says.
He takes a breath like he wants to say something, then stops. He meets her eyes, and with a start she realizes the way he looks at her hasn't changed. She feels the rest of the room around them melt away again and the little stars twinkle back to life.
"If you can't tell me what's wrong, I…I don't know what to do, Austin," she manages.
He swallows. "It's my fault things are weird."
"You said that."
"I…I didn't really tell you the whole truth."
Her heartbeat speeds up, but she has no idea what emotion is causing it. "Oh."
"I'm not good at talking about my feelings," he says quickly. "Feelings are more your thing, you know? That's why you're the songwriter."
She doesn't know why, but when he mentions his feelings, it's like a thousand little sparklers go off in her chest. She searches his eyes, but nothing in them has changed—he's still looking at her and seeing her for all that she is (or, at least, that's how it feels).
"So when I read your book and thought you liked me, I guess I reacted the way I thought I should. Or maybe I really didn't want you to like me. I don't know." His face looks pained from all the thinking he's doing. "But…but then, when you said it was about Dallas, I—" His breath catches, and he stops. She stops breathing altogether. Her face heats up, and she just knows he can see how red she is.
But something about him changes. His shoulders relax, and his smile and dimples return. His eyes soften, like he's wrapping her in a hug with just a look. He searches her eyes.
"I realized I wished it was me," he says. And then, like it's only just sinking in what he's just admitted, his eyes go wide and his smile disappears. His cheeks turn a sweet shade of pink.
Meanwhile, her face is on fire, and it's probably the color of a firetruck to go with the theme. She can feel her heartbeat in her ears, and she's pretty sure her legs are shaking. But more than anything else, all those good feelings she gets when he gives her that look come back more forcefully than ever. Instead of sparklers in her chest, there are fireworks. And the little stars around them turn into shining suns.
She's pretty sure she smiles, but she's wide-eyed and just as shocked by his admission as he is. She opens her mouth to try to say something, but nothing comes out.
"Ally?" he asks, his voice a little higher than usual. "You okay?" She shakes her head. He swallows, hesitating for a second. "In the good way or the bad way?"
The still-sweet look in his eyes and the fact that he's making sure she's okay are just so very Austin that she manages to snap out of it. To answer his question, she throws her arms around his neck and squeezes as tight as she can, the giddy little giggle that's been stuck in her throat since she met him finally escaping.
He giggles a little too, although there's still a hint of uncertainty behind it as he hugs her back. "I'm hoping this means the good way?" he asks. She nods and squeezes him tighter, never wanting to let go. "Ally," he laughs, even as he tightens his grip around her waist, "you're choking me."
She blushes and loosens her grip, leaning back to look at him. "Sorry," she says. He's grinning down at her, his cheeks still pink and his eyes still sparkling. "I just…" She wishes she could stop smiling because she's about to admit she lied to him, but from the way her heart threatens to beat out of her chest, she doesn't think she's going to stop smiling for a long time.
"That entry in my book," she finally says. "The one about Dallas?" His grin falters. "It was actually about you."
His smile at that confession lights up the room. But then, almost immediately, he knits his eyebrows and frowns. "Then why'd you say it was about Dallas?"
She opens her mouth to defend herself, but suddenly the grin is back and he's shaking his head, tightening his arms around her. "No, you know what? I don't care."
Now her smile falters. "This is gonna sound pathetic, but…I've never had a boy I like, like me back before. What happens now?"
"Pathetic for those dumb boys, maybe," Austin says. "You're the coolest girl in the world." Her stomach does a backflip. "But as for what happens now…it's still really late, so we should both probably go home."
Her smile fades a little more—she really doesn't want this moment to end. It feels like a dream, and if they leave this room, she's worried she's gonna wake up. Or worse, that it isn't a dream, but that Austin will wake up tomorrow and realize he never did like her after all.
"But maybe we could go on a date tomorrow night?" he asks.
She tries to silence the anxious thoughts that immediately spring up in the back of her mind as she smiles again and nods. His grin widens
"I'm nervous," she blurts before she can stop herself.
He tilts his head. "About going on a date?"
"Well, yes, because I've never even been on a date before, but I'm more nervous that somehow you'll realize you don't actually like me."
"Are you kidding?" he asks with a smile, pulling her close again. "You're awesome. I'm the luckiest guy in the world."
Her heart flutters, and somehow she believes him. She smiles a little. "Okay," she says quietly.
"And don't be nervous about the date," he tells her. "It'll be totally chill. And besides, we hang out all the time! A date is the same thing as hanging out, just…closer."
She clasps her hands around his neck, wishing she didn't blush so easily. "I like closer."
He raises an eyebrow, his smile turning cheeky. "How close?" he asks. Then he leans down until their foreheads touch. "This close?" he asks.
She smiles and nods, and his smile grows. He leans forward and bumps his nose against hers.
"What about this close?" he asks, a little quieter. His breath tickles her lips, eliciting a giddy, nervous giggle. She nods again, watching as he closes his eyes with a content-looking smile on his face. She closes her eyes too.
Then he kisses her, and her brain stops working. Her head spins. She's pretty sure she kisses him back, but her legs feel like jelly and it's like her body can't tell whether it's conducting an electric current or completely numb. He's still smiling against her lips, though, so she's pretty sure she's doing it right.
The kiss is too short, but when he pulls away, they both have to catch their breath.
"That close?" he whispers.
She giggles breathlessly, that weightless feeling spreading to her brain. If this is a fraction of what being high feels like, she can understand the appeal.
"That close works," she manages shakily with another little giggle.
"Good to know."
He kisses her again, and it leaves her so dizzy that when he pulls away she's pretty sure her eyes cross. But if he notices, he doesn't say anything.
"We, um…we should probably…"
He raises his eyebrows, giggling a little. "Yeah?"
She shakes her head to clear her thoughts and whacks his chest, which only makes him giggle more. "Go home," she finishes.
He heaves a deep sigh. "I guess. I wish we didn't have to, though. Tomorrow is too far away."
She laughs. "It's only a few hours."
"Yeah," he whines, taking both her hands and intertwining their fingers, "but we like each other, so it's gonna feel like forever."
She's about to melt into a puddle on the floor. She forces herself to stay focused.
"We can hang out tomorrow before our date too," she says. Her heart pounds at the word date. She's going on a date with Austin Moon!
He smiles a little and lets her lead him out of the practice room, still holding one of her hands. "Yeah, okay," he says. "But I'm still texting you when I get home."
She giggles. "If we start texting when we get home, I'll never go to sleep."
He groans in annoyance as they leave Sonic Boom and start walking through the dark mall. "Allyyy," he complains.
"Austinnn," she mocks him.
He sighs and lets go of her hand to drape his arm over her shoulders instead. She presses into his side, her stomach erupting in butterflies. She could definitely get used to this.
"Fine," he says. "You're right."
They stop when they get to their respective cars, parked next to each other in the lot. She hears his keys jingle as he pulls them out of his pocket with his free hand, but he doesn't make any move to let go of her.
She smiles up at him. "So, are things good now?"
He looks at her, smiling too. "Things are better than good."
She stands on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek, and before she can fully pull away he presses his lips to hers one last time. Then, still not wanting to leave him just yet, she wraps her arms around his waist and snuggles against his chest. He hugs her back, practically engulfing her with how much taller he is.
They stand there, hugging and swaying in the parking lot, for an embarrassing amount of time. But then they pull away for reals this time, and she forces herself to back away from him and get into her car. He does the same.
On the drive home, she can still feel his lips on hers, his arms around her, that look in his eyes melting her on the spot. It all hits her that tonight actually happened, that Austin actually likes her, that they're going on an honest-to-God date tomorrow. She can't wipe the smile off her face, even when she crawls into bed when she gets home.
She dreams of blinding smiles and floating stars and sparkling pools of gold.
god i miss baby auslly