"Ally? Ally!" She snapped back into focus when Ronny yelled her name in the phone.
"Oh, sorry Ronny," Ally answered automatically.
"So, what do you think? Are you up for doing the album with Austin?"
Ally paused, uncertain. It was an overwhelming piece of information to try and take in. "Can I get back to you Ronny? I need to think about it a bit."
"Sure, Ally, no worries. Just so you know we'd pay for you to relocate to Miami for however long it took to write the album. And I think this might be a really really great thing for your career, but it's obviously a big decision so whatever you decide is fine."
"Thanks Ronny," she said before she hung up. She promptly sat down on the floor of her apartment in a daze, unsure where to begin. She knew that her creative process with Austin was special and they would probably make an incredible album together. And it would be fun to be in Miami for a few months. But… was she ready to deal with Austin in person? She certainly wasn't over him, but if they were going to be in the same place for months maybe that was just the chance she had wanted to see if their connection was real enough to try long distance? If he even still felt the same way… But it didn't change the fact that neither of them had plans to relocate long-term and not having an endgame plan seemed terrifying. All of her thoughts were punctuated with question marks. No matter what she chose, she knew that it would have a significant impact on her relationship with Austin.
There was only one person who could help answer any of those questions. She picked up her phone again and called him, anxiety rising inside her at the thought that he might not pick up, or that he would.
Austin picked up on the fourth ring. "Ally? Are you okay?" he voice a little groggy.
Ally glanced at the clock and face palmed. "Oh no, Austin, did I wake you up? It's only 9 pm here, I totally forgot about time zones." She couldn't help the blush creeping into her cheeks at the sound of his raspy voice, and she thought about the time they had fallen asleep together on the couch.
"It's fine, don't worry. What's up?" Austin asked, sounding a little more awake.
"So, my manager just called me..."
"Oh, so you know. I was wondering if they'd asked you yet..." he trailed off, sounding a little embarrassed.
"How long have you known? Why didn't you ask me yourself?" she asked, realizing she hadn't even wondered whether he was aware of what their managers were up to.
"They wouldn't let me, my manager said I had to let Ronny talk to you about it, something about keeping it above board legally or whatever, I don't know. But I've been waiting for you to bring it up."
"It's a lot to consider," Ally sighed.
"Would you think twice about it if it were anyone else?" Austin asked quietly.
"Well, yes probably? Because I don't know of anyone else I work with so well. But at the same time, there's absolutely nobody who would be so emotionally complicated to work with. So, the pros AND cons feel magnified beyond any other possible situation."
Austin laughed a little, then said, "Classic Ally, already making mental pro and con lists."
She laughed, too, realizing just how type A she was being about all this.
There was a silence between them for a moment, before Austin said, "Look, I can… we can try and make this less emotionally complicated. It was never complicated to work together musically and the rest we can play by ear or whatever. If you came here I wouldn't, you know, expect anything. Like for you to necessarily change your mind. I'd still be hoping, but I'd be hoping even if you didn't come to Miami. But I think we can work together professionally no matter what. Obviously this would be a much bigger break for my career than yours but also… we could make such good music. My label loved our first song, and I think we both did, too."
Ally sighed again. "You make it sound so easy Austin, but I never wanted to have feelings for you in the first place. I don't know if it's really a thing logic can control..."
"You? Not governed by logic 1000% of the time?" Austin teased her, and she laughed.
"Well, you do make some compelling points," she finally answered. He really had made her feel better, because if he could walk into this situation with no expectations from her then she was free to make a decision about their relationship with her eyes wide open and really think the consequences through, unlike last time. She wasn't comfortable with the imbalance it suggested, to leave her with all the power to decide the fate of their relationship, but that seemed inevitable to her, given their feelings and beliefs.
Austin held his breath on the other end of the phone. He was desperately hoping she would say yes to coming to Miami, even though he did mean it when he said he would walk in to it with no expectations. No matter what happened, he would just be happy to have her in his life more fully again. Getting to spend time with her was a positive in his book, regardless of where their relationship stood.
Finally she whispered into the phone, "Okay."
"Okay?" he asked, letting out his breath.
"Yes, okay, I'll see you in Miami before long." She could practically hear his grin through the phone.
"See you soon," Austin whispered back, managing to keep from screaming it, before they hung up.
The next few days were a whirlwind for Ally. She spent all day on the phone with her label, arranging for the apartment she would stay in and booking her flights. Any time she wasn't on the phone she was packing. Before a week had gone by, she was on the flight to Miami.
When she landed, she took a cab to her apartment. Inside, she found a bouquet of flowers with a card that said, "Welcome back to Miami, partner" and it was initialed A.M. She leaned back against the counter and found she couldn't stop smiling.
The apartment was beautiful, it even had a little balcony overlooking the ocean and the label had made sure to include a baby grand piano for her to work on. Ally knew the apartment wasn't far from the studio where the labels had reserved time for her and Austin to work, so she would be able to walk and didn't need to worry about a car.
After she unpacked she picked up her phone and texted Austin a picture of the view from the balcony.
"You're heeeeeeeere!" came the quick reply, making her laugh.
"I am! Love the apartment already," she answered.
"Hang out tomorrow? I'm guessing you're dead from the travel," he texted.
She smiled at his considerateness, but then was hit with a wave of anxiety about seeing him for the first time. What would be a neutral location? Should they start in the studio, or was that too impersonal? Ally knew Austin would laugh at how much she was overthinking things. "How about you show me your favorite coffee spot in Miami? At like 11 am maybe?" she texted back. Coffee was neutral, right?
He texted her back with a thumbs up and they agreed he would pick her up since she didn't have a car.
To Ally's surprise she slept well that night, perhaps because of the long day of travel. She woke up the next day with plenty of time to make herself a good breakfast (the label had stocked the refrigerator, too) and get her outfit and makeup together. She went for a cute red sundress with little white polka dots, flat sandals, and her favorite pair of sunglasses. Only a couple minutes after she finished, she got a text from Austin saying he was downstairs.
She found him waiting at the curb outside her building, leaning against his little old sedan. It was clearly out of style, but also well maintained and clean. He gave her a huge grin when he saw her and wrapped her in a bear hug.
"Hi! I'm so glad you're here," he told her warmly, his hands still on her shoulders.
"I'm glad I'm here, too!" They got in the car and Ally asked, "So where are we going?"
"Well, it's your first day back in Miami in a while, I figured you needed something on the beach. Even if you do have beaches in LA, you know the Florida beaches are better," he teased her.
In a few minutes they parked next to a beach bar and cafe that was decorated festively with plenty of colorful umbrellas and brightly painted Adirondack chairs close to the water. They ordered two iced coffees and managed to snag a pair of chairs facing the ocean.
"Okay, yes, I have to admit this is pretty great," Ally acknowledged.
They sat in a comfortable silence for a couple minutes before Austin asked, "So, how was it being back in L.A. for, like, two minutes before leaving again?"
Ally shrugged. "Same old, same old. Good to see my friends again, even if it was just for a little bit. They're used to me running off on tours and things all the time so they're used to just picking up our friendship where we left off, no matter how long the break."
"That's so amazing to have friends like that. Other than my best friend, Dez I really struggle."
"Well, I think it helps that I've known most of them for years so there's a lot of established stuff to build on. Making new friends as an adult hasn't been super successful for me," she admitted.
"Making adult friends is so hard," Austin practically whined.
"How about you, how has it been being back in Miami?" she asked.
"Warm," he said jokingly. "But really it's been nice. It's home, you know? My parents are here and I love being comfortable with all the old familiar places."
Ally nodded in understanding. They talked for another two hours until Ally's stomach grumbled. Austin led her to his favorite food truck, which was just around the corner, and they ate their pancakes on the beach. It was so easy, as always, and Ally relaxed significantly, glad they hadn't just jumped into the studio without reestablishing the connection. She didn't feel any pressure from Austin for anything more than friendship and she appreciated it so much that it allowed her to be open and trusting again.
That night, after they had gone their separate ways and agreed to meet at the studio the next morning, she texted him that day's conversation starter, unwilling to break the habit.
As they had both predicted, their time in the studio the next day went by quickly and easily. Austin had brought a melody with him and Ally worked on the lyrics as he fleshed out the instrumental components. By the end of the day, they had a rough version of "The Way That You Do" that they were both pleased with.
The work went on like that for two weeks. They spent a little bit of time together outside the studio, occasionally grabbing dinner after a long day or hanging out at the beach for part of the afternoon on the weekend, but mostly they worked on the music which was an all-absorbing project now that they were both past their writer's block and it was coming so easily to them.
Ally couldn't help notice Austin teasing her and flirting with her, but he was gentle about it and never pushed any boundaries so it didn't feel like pressure. It kept he tension alive, but didn't make it unbearable. She also noticed more of his quirks but still hadn't found anything about him to dislike. The man had no red flags.
One day they were so engaged in the song they were working on and trying to nail the track for the recording that they ordered pizza to the studio so they wouldn't have to leave. Even as they ate, they kept rehashing the song and trying to identify what added instruments would help flesh out the sound they were aiming for.
Before either of them realized they were the only ones left in the building at the recording studio, sitting on the piano bench together, playing melody and harmony. His fingers kept brushing against hers as they played, and every time a jolt of electricity coursed through her. His physical proximity kept her heart beating a little faster than it would normally, and she thought somehow he managed to look even cuter than usual when he focused on playing his part correctly.
Finally, she glanced at the clock above the piano and saw it was almost two in the morning. Without thinking about it, she leaned her head on Austin's shoulder and sighed. His arm instinctively went around her shoulders to hold her up a little.
"Tired Ally?" Austin asked gently, his voice quite close to her ear.
"We've been here for close to 15 hours, aren't you tired?" she mumbled slightly, enjoying the feeling of his hand on her shoulder, stroking her upper arm in a soothing way. She was tired, but the sexual tension between her and Austin was building as he continued to stroke her arm and eventually her hair.
Austin must have realized that things were becoming more charged than they had in the past two weeks because he leaned her upright and stood up from the bench.
She gave him a fake pout, sad at the lost contact, and also stood up. Somehow that night, after the long day, and the weeks of being constantly around him, she was too exhausted to keep up the act anymore. Her feelings were back in full force, and based on the look in his eyes she suspected his were, too. She took a step towards him, and he didn't back away. One more step and she was right in front of him.
"Austin, I…" she trailed off, looking up at him. His hand drifted back into her hair, not quite of his own volition, and he brushed her hair back from her face. At that touch she caved into her desire, and pulled his head down to hers. She kissed him passionately, full of everything they had been repressing for more than a month since their last kiss. The feel of his lips was instantly familiar, in a way she hadn't expected since they had only kissed a few times. He responded instantly, hands wrapping around her waist and pulling her against him tightly. She responded with equal intensity and before she knew it Austin had spun her around and pushed her up against the studio door. The kissed like that for a minute before Austin pulled away.
Ally saw a look of fear in his eyes, and responded to it instantly, saying, "Don't think you pushed me into this, that's not what happened. I just find you really attractive, in every way, and couldn't keep my hands off you. I anyone's to blame, well, it's me."
Austin smiled at her comment about how attractive she found him, and then he pulled her to him and hugged her tightly. Ally knew he was trying to convey how important she was to him, and she could feel it.
"Look, if you want to pretend this didn't happen that's fine but it's way too late to analyze this right now, so let's talk tomorrow?" he asked.
Ally nodded and then, because it was so late, Austin walked her back to her apartment building. He reached out and held her hand for the last block.
Austin was right, it was too late to process anything, so Ally just went to bed.
The next day, Ally was filled with an enormous mixture of emotions, but she also knew what she wanted, finally. She met Austin outside the studio, but he said, "Not here, let's go sit on the beach?"
Ally nodded and followed him to a path to the beach. They sat on the sand and, because it was the morning on a week day the beach wasn't too crowded. They silently watched the waves for a few minutes before Ally finally spoke.
"I'm not sorry about last night."
Austin quickly turned his head to look at her, but then looked away again. "I'm not sure what that means," he responded honestly.
"You've been so patient with me and generous enough to put no pressure on me, and I appreciate that so much. It's just even more proof that you are the person I thought you were. And… I like this, I like how we are together and the music we make and how easy things are. Even though we're not in a cabin in the middle of nowhere in the snow, this, us, the thing between us is the same. It wasn't something we imagined because of the romantic setting. It's just… real. And we still don't have a solution to the fact that we live across the country from each other with no end in sight but I know now that my life would be better with us together than it would be without us together, no matter where we are. So, that's what I want, if you're still interested that is."
Austin had started smiling about halfway through her speech, but he waited patiently for her to finish before nodding and then leaning in and kissing her. They stayed like that on the beach together in a perfect bubble of happiness for the rest of the day.
The rest of the album was written quickly and it was, as their managers had predicted, good for both their careers. They toured together for the album and got to spend almost a year together that way, and every passing day made their relationship even stronger. When it came time to go back to their individual careers, Ally couldn't stand to leave Austin so she gave her label an ultimatum and they agreed to let her be based out of Miami instead of Los Angeles. They never even had to do long distance.
So this is the last chapter! It didn't really feel like I could break it up so I just made it one long chapter. Hope you enjoyed it, I think this is my favorite story I've written so far and I'm definitely still working on my fiction writing style. I think I'll probably take a break for a few weeks and plan out whatever I'm going to write next, but I won't be gone for long. I've got a couple other, older stories up you can check out in the mean time, if you're interested.