I wrote this in response to a suggestion by a reviewer on my last story. They described it as a one-shot but it turns out it was a very long (for me) one-shot. Maybe I should have broken it into chapters, but here it is all at once anyway. Hope you all like it! Warning - one curse word. It just didn't feel appropriate not to curse in that moment.

The Engagement

"Ally Ally Ally Ally Ally Ally" Austin said as he barged into Ally's apartment. Ally laughed at him, since he rarely made an entrance any other way. She gestured for him to have a seat on the couch and then went to the fridge to get him his usual soda, which she always kept around for occasions just like this one.

"Okay, what is it this time? A new pancake restaurant opening up ten hours from here again?" she asked, remembering the last time he had shown up out of nowhere, demanding that she spend twenty hours in a car with him to taste what he claimed were going to be the world's best blueberry pancakes. She had eventually given in, only to find the place closed when they got there so they had to wait another eight hours in the car before she got to eat what was a perfectly fine but utterly unexciting pancake. But it was fine, it always was. It didn't matter what crazy or stupid thing they were doing, hanging out with Austin was always fun. That's why they were best friends and wrote great songs together.

"Nooo. I need help. And I've had a lot of coffee to try and jump start my brain and it definitely hasn't worked yet." Austin was refusing to sit down, the caffeine making him pace constantly around her living room.

"Okayyy what do you need help with?" she asked, now genuinely curious.

"Wellllll…" Austin paused and looked at her expectantly, hopefully, thoughtfully, and then he said, "I'm going to propose."

Ally's breath caught for a moment but then she internally facepalmed. She realized he was going to propose to Cassidy. The moment's hesitation before she realized who he meant never even crossed her face, so she simply ran up to Austin and gave him an enormous hug, squealing with joy for him. "AUSTIN THAT'S HUGE!"

Ally loved Cassidy. Since Cassidy and Austin had started going out at the end of college, she and Ally had also been really close. They often hung out without him and, if they were being honest, laughed at his antics behind his back. Their weekly girls night out at a local bar had become an important part of Ally's weeks because she could vent to Cassidy, whose emotional intelligence was noticeably higher than Austin's, about anything and she would instantly understand. It had also been great because she knew Austin's relationship had only brought her closer to him, rather than splitting them apart, since Cassidy didn't have a jealous bone in her body. All in all, Ally thought she couldn't imagine a better person for Austin to date. And, now, to marry.

Austin grinned and hugged her back. He finally sat down on the couch and said, staring off, "I know. It's huge. And I'm really excited about it. We've been dating for four years, it'll be good for us to take the next step. But Ally, oh god, you know how bad I am at this stuff. I can be cute and all, but planning a proposal? I need some serious girl advice here."

"Of course!" Ally clapped her hands excitedly. She had helped Austin plan every big romantic moment in his life since she helped him craft a great promposal in high school. Nothing ever changed between them, it seemed.

She pulled out her journal and started taking notes, "First things first, ring shopping. We need to find a way to figure out what Cassidy likes and then go shopping. Do you have a budget?" Without even waiting for an answer she plunged ahead, saying, "And then there's the proposal itself. It's gotta be special but not too crazy, something memorable and unique to the two of you. There's only so much help I can give you there but we can definitely brainstorm."

Austin grinned at her. "See, this is why I came to you Ally. Organized and list-making as ever."

Together they agreed to prioritize the ring-shopping since everything hinged on the timing of that. They agreed that Ally would try and subtly pull some information out of Cassidy about what she liked best when they had their weekly happy hour on Thursday. Austin had his doubts about how subtle Ally was capable of being but she was his only option (Dez would have been a catastrophe and, besides, he didn't know Cassidy as well as Ally did). Ally then spent an hour explaining to him all the different things that mattered in a ring: stone cut, band color, type of stone, etc. At the end, Austin jokingly asked, "Is there going to be a pop quiz on this? My brain feels like it's exploding from all this information."

"Well, it's something a lot of girls pick up over time, you know? We're trained to start thinking about our ideal wedding when we're, like, twelve, so we have a lot of time. You've just absorbed it in the space of an hour!"

"Yeah, I suppose... So, if you've been planning this since you were twelve, what's your ideal ring?" he asked.

Ally blushed. She'd never talked about this with anyone other than Trish. "Um, well," she said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, "I do think I'd like a diamond but probably an unusual cut, like a baguette cut but not just a single center stone. I'd want a ring with several stones of different sizes next to each other. And on a gold band."

"Hey, I know what that means now!" Austin exclaimed excitedly, and Ally laughed.

They agreed that Ally would call him after she talked with Cassidy on Thursday and Austin gave her a big thank-you hug as he left.

Ally had a couple days to scheme about how she would get the information out of Cassidy without making her suspicious. She also had time to think about what life would be like when Austin and Cassidy were married. Certainly it would mean Austin would be a little more absent from her life. Especially if kids ever came into the picture… Ally wasn't sure she could picture Austin having kids with Cassidy. And when she pictured what their wedding would be like, it seemed like she could only picture her own ideal wedding. But she told herself it was only natural because she wanted Austin to have a perfect wedding, and she had always thought about a perfect wedding in terms of what she wanted Although, she also reasoned, she did know Austin, and she knew they had pretty similar taste in weddings. God knows after all the weddings of their mutual friends they had been to, she should know what he thought was tacky and what was classy and romantic.

When Thursday rolled around Ally was, for once, nervous to hang out with Cassidy. But when they sat down at the bar and ordered their drinks, Ally almost forgot about her underlying mission. They started venting about their weeks and almost an hour passed before Ally got around to raising the subject.

"Okay so I need your help with something," Ally said.

"Sure, what's up Als?" Cassidy asked.

"Okay so my high school friend, you haven't met him, but he wants to propose to his girlfriend and he doesn't know what to do for the ring because, you know, he's a guy and he's hopeless. I've only met her a couple times and not for very long but she always reminds me so much of you. She's got the cute punk vibes but she's laid back and not super girly, ya know? Basically, not a lot like me. He asked what he should look for in a ring and I said I'd ask you since I figure you may have similar tastes since your aesthetic is so similar. Do you have thoughts?"

Cassidy raised one eyebrow at Ally, mildly suspicious, but she was already a drink in and the suspicion slipped from her mind as she started actually thinking about the question.

"Well, I wouldn't want anything too boring and classic, like I don't want some big center stone that weighs ten pounds. Diamonds are cool and all but I don't really care that much about the stone. I think something pretty simple, in silver, with maybe multiple bands that interweave? Kind of like an infinity sign. I've seen a couple like that and think they're cute, although if I'm being honest it's not a thing I've thought a ton about."

Her last comment surprised Ally, especially since if Austin was planning on proposing she had assumed Cassidy was on the same page and had been thinking about the proposal, too.

Finally she responded, "Okay, so basically nothing too tacky or big, but also not so plain it's basically invisible. Maybe multiple bands, not necessarily a big center stone? I think that makes sense for her, too."

The topic of rings quickly brought up the topic of the next wedding they were all supposed to go to in a couple months and whether the wedding was going to be absolutely outrageous (it would be, without a question). Before Ally knew it, it was 11 pm and she had to head home in order to be in the studio on time the next day. She and Cassidy paid the check and then hugged before going their separate ways.

In the cab ride back to her apartment, she called Austin.

He picked up on the first ring. "Hey Ally! Girls night over?" he asked. Austin was well aware of Ally and Cassidy's weekly tradition.

"Yep! And we talked, I definitely have some ideas on rings. She wants silver, so that's important, but she also doesn't want a big center stone. She mentioned multiple bands that interweave, so that's a thing to look out for, and she doesn't care if it's not a diamond."

"Okay, so is that enough information for us to go on?" he asked nervously.

"Yeah, I think we can definitely get her something she'll like. Do you want to come over sometime this weekend and we can do some online shopping before we go in person anyplace?"

"That sounds good, maybe Saturday afternoon? Cassidy and I have brunch in the morning with her parents but she's going to a birthday party in the afternoon and she won't notice I'm gone."

"Sounds good, night Austin!" she said before hanging up.

When she got home she realized her stomach felt funny. Almost like anxiety, but there was no reason for her to be anxious. She blamed it on the alcohol and went to bed.

The next day went by quickly, and she slept in until 11 am on Saturday. She woke up to her cell phone pinging with a text message from Austin, saying he'd be over in 45 minutes. She pulled herself from bed and into the shower, then got dressed in a cute top and jeans. When Austin arrived she was just finishing up her breakfast of toaster waffles.

"Hey Mr. Romance," she jokingly greeted him while leaning in for a hug.

"I mean… I think you're the romance expert here, that's why I had to come to you for help! But sure, whatever you say," he replied, rolling his eyes.

She pulled out her laptop and they sat on her couch together, with Austin looking over her shoulder. Ally simply googled "silver engagement rings no center stone" and pulled up the images page.

She could see Austin's eyes bug out in her peripheral vision. "Dear god, I forgot how many options there would be." He sighed and then continued, "Alright, let's dig in..."

Half an hour later they were ten pages into the search results with seven options pulled up in other tabs. Austin had shifted so his arm was lying along the top of the couch behind Ally so he could more comfortably get a good view of her screen. Ally felt like he was kind of breathing down her neck but she didn't mind, she was very used to Austin's lack of personal space boundaries.

"Okay, do you feel like you have enough of an idea of what we're looking for that we can go out looking in stores?" Ally asked. Austin nodded, so they headed out.

They went into a lot of mainstream jewelry stores in a mall first. All were very disappointing. "There's nothing...edgy here," Austin complained. The store clerks kept trying to get them to look at the most expensive rings but Austin and Ally just shrugged and left. In the last one in the mall, Austin pointed to one and said, "Ally, that's your ring. Like spot on."

She looked and he was entirely correct. She was slightly surprised he had remembered her description so perfectly from almost a week ago. They both stared at it for a minute, before Ally sighed loudly and said, "Come on, that's a subject for another time."

Before they left the mall they stopped at the food court and got drinks. Then they walked out into the bright sunlight and strolled through downtown, looking for more boutique jewelry stores. Ally suggested a thrift store she knew nearby that had a lot of jewelry. They walked into the grungy but cool space together and she pulled him over to the part of the store that had jewelry behind glass, instead of just out on display.

It seemed like this store would be just as unsuccessful as the last six, but then they both saw one, and audibly gasped together. It was silver with many interlacing bands meant to look like thorny branches and it had small black diamonds scattered throughout the bands. It practically screamed Cassidy's name. They called the man behind the counter over and within fifteen minutes they walked out of the store with the ring in Austin's pocket.

Austin stopped outside the store and leaned back against the wall, a distant look in his eyes. "Wow, crap. This is REAL. Like I have the ring now. It just hit me… how big this is." He ran a hand through his hair slowly.

For a minute it looked like doubt crossed his face but it vanished just as quickly and Ally assumed she imagined it. She just grinned back at him.

"So, I guess, according to your perfect list we have to plan the proposal now..." he said slowly, blinking and coming back to his surroundings.

"Yeah, but you've had a long day of ring shopping. Why don't you think about it some this week, and then we can brainstorm again sometime soon?" Ally proposed.

Austin let out a sigh of relief. "Yeah I absolutely do not feel up to it today. Cassidy has a gig out of town with her band next Friday and into Saturday, so that'll be perfect. Let's meet up for dinner? I'll pick you up and we'll go to our usual place?"

Ally nodded, smiling. Any time they needed to do some serious brainstorming, they went to the diner that was halfway between their apartments and ate nothing but french fries and milkshakes. It wasn't exactly "dinner" but they both pretended it counted.

Before they parted ways, she gave him a big hug. They headed in separate directions and Ally was left with her thoughts once she put her headphones in and started strolling down the street in the late afternoon sunlight. Sometimes she really listened to her music, but today was one of those days where the familiar songs were just soothing enough to be a white noise machine and let her thoughts go where they needed to go. She realized, as she often did on walks like this, that something had been off, something she wasn't processing consciously yet. Her mind thought about Austin, and his behavior since he'd told her he was going to propose to Cassidy. He'd seemed mostly normal. Maybe that was the problem? Shouldn't he be giddy, or super nervous? Instead he seemed maybe a little, well, tense. Like when he had leaned against the wall outside the store. And when he'd explained to her why he was proposing he had made it sound so… unromantic. That it was just because he and Cassidy had been dating for so long, almost like it was the inevitable conclusion of any not-terrible relationship.

And then there was her own role in the process. Should he need this much help picking out the things that would make Cassidy happiest? Maybe the ring made sense (what boy knew anything about rings?), but she worried about the fact that he felt he was lost on the proposal without her. Did she, in fact, somehow know Cassidy better than he did? Was she going to be called in to plan every birthday and anniversary for the rest of their relationship?

She sighed. She was probably just overthinking things. Austin was afraid of messing things up and that's why he wanted her help, because she was his best friend, nothing else.

The thoughts nagged her for the next week, and Ally stayed anxious that somehow this wasn't the right move for Austin and Cassidy. She thought about confronting him about it when they talked the next weekend, but she didn't want him to think she was crazy or somehow trying to come between him and Cassidy.

And then it was Friday night. She didn't know how the week had passed so quickly but she found herself, somehow, dreading Austin coming over. Her stomach fluttered with anxiety when she heard the knock on the door, so she took a deep breath before opening it.

"Ready for some top notch party planning? I brought all the essentials," Austin said, smiling and holding up a bottle of white wine and a jar of pickles.

The nerves left her instantly. It was Austin, after all. She was never nervous around him.

"Oh thank god, the pickle stash was running low, how did you know?" she teased him.

"It's your apartment, the pickle stash is always running low," he teased back, walking past her into the apartment.

"But I thought we were going to the diner," Ally pointed out, confused.

"Too public, ya know? I realized that even the medium-level celebrities that we are might attract some attention if they were overheard discussing engagement plans. Better safe than sorry, wouldn't want this in the tabloids before I got a chance to propose."

"Fair point," Ally replied.

Ally got out the wine glasses, and Austin poured them each a glass, which they took to the couch. They sat on opposite ends of Ally's couch, their feet next to each other's in the middle. It felt so much like any other night they hung out that it took a moment before she remembered why he was there.

"Okay, so what have you come up with so far," she asked.

"So we're just launching right in then? Alright… well. My first thought was maybe proposing from stage while singing a song to her?"

Ally stared blankly at him for a moment. That was one of the ways she had always fantasized about being proposed to…

She coughed slightly and said, "Very romantic, sure. Other ideas?"

"There's always proposing in a fancy restaurant..."

Ally gulped again, because it was another daydream of hers.

"Or maybe at a picnic in the park, if we're thinking low-key?" Austin paused, then asked, "What do you think, any merit?"

Ally merely said "Hmmm..." to buy herself some time to figure out how to answer. Austin had named some of the ways she had most often fantasized about as her own proposal. What did that mean? And, honestly, none of those ideas would work well for Cassidy. Cassidy was not a super romantic person, she didn't like cheesy rom-coms and all those ideas were straight out of the movies.

"Well, I think it's a start, but don't you think those are all a little public for Cassidy? And maybe a bit cutesy? You know I'm a girl who loves cheesy things, but Cassidy isn't. You have to make it more personal to her."

Austin sighed, "Okay, okay, you're totally right."

"Try thinking about some significant things in your relationship. Songs, food, flowers, locations?"

"Well, if it's going to be private it should be at my apartment. It's where we spend the most time and it's the place where I first told her I loved her."

"Okay, that's a good start. What are things you love to do together?"

"We always go to the same restaurant for our anniversaries and birthdays. I could call them and see if I could pick up food from there to bring over to my place for a dinner."

"Yes, that's more like it Austin! What else?"

"Okay, and then… since music is so important to both of us maybe I should use the idea of playing a song to her but play one that's personal to us… this is dumb but we met to the song 'Everytime We Touch' and I could do a stripped down, acoustic version of that before proposing?"

Ally rolled her eyes and laughed but said, "Yeah, that's cute and Cassidy will find it funny, I like it."

"Should I do the whole fill the apartment with roses and candles thing?" he asked tentatively. "Or is that too cheesy?"

"Um, well you could fill it with pictures of the two of you from over the years?"

Austin's eyes lit up. "Yes, that feels much better, more personalized like you said."

And Ally's gut clenched a little, knowing this plan was very cute and romantic and Cassidy would love it. She took a breath and then approached the question that had been bothering her the whole week. "Are you excited about this Austin?"

He looked at her, surprised by the question. He thought about it for a moment before answering, "I'm not sure excited is the first adjective I'd use? Like, I think I am underneath everything else. But I'm nervous mostly, I think. I don't want to somehow screw this up and have Cassidy hate me for forever. And a little overwhelmed by the thought of it being real, I guess."

Ally frowned slightly, since Austin had primarily described negative emotions, rather than the positive ones she would have expected from somebody about to propose to the love of his life.

"Have you and Cassidy actually talked about getting married?" she asked next.

It was Austin's turn to frown. "I mean… not explicitly. But it's been years right? I feel like we don't fight, we have a great relationship… do couples normally talk about it in advance?"

Ally shrugged. "Depends on the couple, ya know? I know people who knew exactly when they were being proposed to and helped pick out the ring. For others it was spontaneous or totally a surprise, like what you're doing. I don't think there's necessarily a right or wrong way to do it, I was just curious."

Austin nodded thoughtfully and they lapsed into silence for a minute. Ally finally broke it, saying, "Well, now that the proposal's planned… when are you going to do it?"

"Since it's just a night in at my apartment, it doesn't have to be timed around anything… I guess next weekend? I'll ask her over for dinner Saturday night. Can you help me set up everything?" he asked, a pleading look in his eyes.

Ally kept her surging anxiety from showing on her face and said, "Of course Austin, you know I'd do anything for you!"

He grinned and leaned over to give her a hug. It lingered for a while, as most of their hugs did, but this time Ally consciously acknowledged how nice it was to feel his warm body pressed against hers and his breath on her neck. Reluctantly she leaned back. "Sooooo… we still have the rest of the night… American Idol marathon?"

Austin grinned and gave her a thumbs up before pouring them a second glass of wine. They always watched American Idol together but they hadn't had a chance lately so they had built up a backlog of episodes to watch. Together, they watched and made fun of the weak contestants, and booed the judges who were too critical of anyone. Before either of them really noticed, it was midnight and they had finished the bottle of wine.

"You want to crash here?" Ally asked. It wasn't unusual for Austin to spend the night at her place on the couch. Cassidy really couldn't have cared less, she trusted the two of them entirely.

Austin agreed and she grabbed him a blanket and one of the pillows from her bed. She brushed her teeth while he changed into pajamas, and then they hugged before heading to sleep.

The next morning, Ally woke up before Austin. She rubbed her eyes and yawned as she walked into the kitchen and saw him still sound asleep on the couch. His face looked so peaceful, and she remembered part of what had been bothering her since Austin brought up this proposal was the fact that he seemed slightly tense all the time now. She couldn't bring herself to wake him now that he finally looked less stressed. His face was so gorgeous, after all, when he was happy.

She quietly started making coffee and mashing an avocado for avocado toast. A few minutes later, despite all her efforts to move silently, Austin rolled over and groaned slightly. His head popped up over the end of the couch to peer at what she was doing in the kitchen. She laughed at his bed head and he pouted jokingly at her.

"Morning Mr. Sexy Rockstar," she said, using her joking nickname for him.

"Morning Ms. Popstar Extraordinaire," he laughed right back. "What's for breakfast?"

Just like they had many times in the past, they split breakfast and chatted before Austin finally stood up and said, "Hey, I better get going. Chores to do, people to see, you know, the usual. Thanks for all your help last night, though. You know this, but you're my best friend. I couldn't do it without you." He gave her a hug and then was gone.

But those last words stuck with her. He couldn't do it without her? And if Ally were being honest, she was just as reliant on him. She didn't know what it was about that breakfast but somehow the sight of him waking up in her apartment, sitting across her breakfast table, giving her the sexy smile that had brought so many screaming teen girls to his concerts, it all forced her to confront something she hadn't since high school: her chemistry with Austin. They had always been ridiculously mature teens, putting their careers above all else. And they had both acted as if those adolescent feelings had disappeared. She had really believed it. But maybe it was because he already played most of the role of a boyfriend in her life. They watched shows together, went out together, had special places, and went on road trips. Why would she need a boyfriend when she got so much attention and affection from her gorgeous best friend? She'd never needed to push it because she already had most of what she could ever want, and Cassidy posed no challenge to that.

Or at least she hadn't until now. In Ally's gut she knew that Austin and Cassidy getting married would change their relationship. She'd be losing her not-boyfriend and be getting a more distant best friend. Was she willing to let that slide without even trying to get all of what she wanted instead?

And it wasn't like Austin seemed thrilled about the idea of getting married… or Cassidy for that matter. How much of this marriage would be convenience and laziness? Didn't they both deserve better?

Ally spent the next week mulling over these thoughts. It was practically all-consuming, she was barely able to focus on anything else. The revelation that maybe it should be her and Austin together instead of Austin and Cassidy caused the analytical part of Ally's brain to go crazy. She combed through every memory since high school, including all the memories of the three of them hanging out together. She had to be honest with herself, Austin did seem to put her first. Maybe it was because both Ally and Cassidy were not demanding or attention-seeking, their needs had never really been in conflict, or at least not for long, and Austin had always been able to give them both what they needed. What did it say about Cassidy's relationship with Austin, though, that Cassidy was fine playing second fiddle for her own boyfriend. Nothing good, Ally was certain. But other than that certainty, she could resolve very little else it seemed. She couldn't guess what was in Austin's mind, and she suspected it was very likely that he, too, had left their relationship un-analyzed.

By Saturday she had reached peak anxiety. She had no idea what to do, but she knew she had to be at Austin's apartment in a few hours. She couldn't bring herself to eat or do anything so she just stared at the clock, waiting for it to be time to leave.

And then, like magic, it was time for her to go to Austin's. When she got there, she stood for a full minute outside his door before finally knocking. When he answered the door, her breath caught. She hadn't seen Austin since her realization of her feelings for him, and now it seemed impossible to her that she could have ever ignored it. He was standing there in a chambray button-up shirt and dark jeans, his usual pick necklace around his neck and leather cuff on his wrist. And he was smiling at her, that radiant, mind-bogglingly perfect smile of his.

"Hey!" he said, dragging her into the apartment before she had a chance to say anything.

He immediately handed her a bunch of photos and said, "We have to cut these out and put them in frames. I've got to get a bottle of wine in the fridge and set up the furniture and then I'll be back to help you okay? Oh, also, I've gotta play the song for you, see if it seems right to you."

Ally nodded silently, going straight to the work before her and cutting the pictures. She noticed that almost half of them included her. She had about a third of them in the cheap, matching frames Austin had purchased before he came back with his guitar.

"Okay, okay, ready?" he asked nervously.

She nodded mutely and he launched into the song. "I still hear your voice when you sleep next to me/ I still feel your touch in my dreams/Forgive me my weakness, but I don't know why/Without you it's hard to survive/ 'Cause every time we touch, I get this feeling/ And every time we kiss I swear I could fly/Can't you feel my heart beat fast, I want this to last/Need you by my side..."

He continued but Ally couldn't keep listening. She hadn't realized just how romantic the song was and to hear him playing it for her was too much to bear. The words seemed to express just what she was feeling towards him, in fact. It brought her back to the time they had practiced his plan for asking somebody else to prom.

He strummed the last chords and asked, "So? Is it okay?"

She sighed, a tear slipping down her cheek. "It's more than okay Austin."

"Ally, what's wrong? Why are you crying?"

She wouldn't look at him, but she said, "Have you ever considered another option?"

"Another option? What do you mean?"


His jaw dropped and he just stared at her as he processed her words. She finally looked up and met his eyes as his expression shifted from confusion, to anger, to sadness, to more confusion. She had to look away before she saw anything else.

"I think you should go," he said quietly.

Ally gasped. She hadn't planned this out, but never in her wildest dreams would she have expected him to kick her out. Although, what else could he do? He was about to propose to Cassidy and she had suggested he break up with her. "Okay," she mumbled before grabbing her bag and running out the door without looking back.

She walked all the way back to her apartment. She needed to keep moving, needed to process what had just happened, and needed to listen to some music to calm herself down. "FUCK," she yelled a block from Austin's apartment, causing several people to stare at her in shock. Another block and she felt another tear slipping down her cheek. The block after that and the fear set in. What if she had just ended her friendship with Austin? After all these years? She wasn't sure she could handle that idea, but if he did propose to Cassidy, she wasn't sure how else she could see things going now that she had realized how she felt about him. He wouldn't just never speak to her again, she was sure of that. They'd at least have a conversation. But until then she was alone, more alone that she remembered feeling in a very long time.

When she did get home she curled up in her bed and all the tears that she had been holding in for the whole walk rolled down her cheeks. It felt like she stayed there for a whole week, the days and nights interchangeable. She only got up when she needed food. She answered occasional texts, but didn't speak out loud to anybody. And every day she sent a text to Austin: "I'm sorry." She didn't get an answer.

In fact it was the following Saturday when she finally took a deep breath and forced herself out of bed for a longer period of time. She immediately gravitated toward her piano, which served a therapeutic role in her life. The first thing she played was the song that had been stuck in her head for a week: "Everytime we Touch." Then she played "You Can Come to Me." Then she kept going until she had played through her entire repertoire of sad songs.

She was sitting at the piano, staring at the keys and waiting for another song to come to her, when she heard a loud knock on her door.

Her heart sped up, but then slowed down. It wouldn't be Austin, she knew.

But against all odds, when she opened the door it was him standing on the other side, a calm, unreadable expression on his face.

She stood there staring at him until he asked, "Can I come in?"

Wordlessly she stepped aside, afraid to speak for fear that he'd disappear or run out the door.

He turned and faced her as she closed the door. "So."

"So," she said back.

A moment passed and then he said, "I didn't propose."

She let out a breath she didn't even know she'd been holding, and hope filled her eyes.

"I asked you to leave because I needed to think. I gotta say, Ally, your timing really sucks. You had the whole two weeks before that to bring this up. Or, hell, the last five years?" Her face fell, and she bit her lip, waiting for him to go on. "But when Cassidy came over, I didn't propose. I asked her if she was happy in our relationship. And if she thought we were on track to get married. She told me no." Ally raised her eyebrows, but she was only mildly surprised after the conversation she had with Cassidy in the bar. "She told me that she'd realized we were just coasting in our relationship. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good, and her own apathy about trying to make it better made her feel like it probably wasn't the right thing for either of us. I couldn't have put it as well as she did, but she articulated pretty well our situation, I guess."

"I'm so sorry Austin," Ally said weakly.

Austin raised an eyebrow and said bluntly, "No, you're not."

She sighed again, saying, "Okay, yes, you're right, I'm not really sorry. But if I really thought you were excited about marrying Cassidy or that you guys were perfect for each other, I would have kept my mouth shut. It's why I kept my mouth shut as long as I did, the three of us seemed to work out a rhythm that worked for us… It wasn't until last week that I realized that was because you act about as much like you're in a relationship with me as with Cassidy."

"I honestly don't know how we got this so screwed up Ally. I was shocked when you suggested us being a thing, but, now, it's like how was it ever not us? What have we been doing these past years?"

Ally took a step closer to him, and then another before saying, "Building the foundation for the most important relationship of both of our lives?" She looked up at him as he took a step towards her and closed the gap between them. His arm went around her waist, and he said, "Yeah, something like that," before bending down and kissing her. Kissing her with the built up feelings of almost a decade of friendship and all the emotions of having missed each other for the past week. Ally kissed him back without hesitation, wrapping her arms around his neck and melting against him.

She later learned that only a few days later he returned the ring he had bought for Cassidy and bought her the perfect ring that they had seen together, knowing he'd need it someday.