The music was blasting and Allison was cracking up at the combination of Michael in a tux and Michael failing horribly at dancing to some rap song that he inevitably knew all the words to.
"Shut up, Schmitty, you're not much worse," he practically yelled at her over the music, somehow smoothly wrapping an arm around her waist and pulling her closer. He leaned over and whispered loudly in her ear. "But at least you look gorgeous doing it."
Michael leaned in and kissed her, and she turned as red as her sparkly prom dress. He rested his forehead on hers, and they stood for a moment together, ignoring all the music and dancing around them. Until a loud "JEAAAAAAH MIKE!" interrupted them as Ryan ran over, doing some crazy dance and elbowing Allison in the process.
Allison woke with a jolt, and it turned out Ryan had actually elbowed her in real life. She was squished between Michael and Ryan in the back of an Explorer on the way to an out-of-town meet, and of course Ryan would choose to dance in such a small space. Allison gave him a shove, then looked over to her left, where Michael was peacefully sleeping on her shoulder. She sighed, partly because Ryan hadn't woken him up, and partly because she'd been woken up from such a good dream.
She tilted her head to rest on top of his. It wasn't anything particularly intimate, they did this all the time on car trips. They'd been back and forth to so many meets together in the past five years, she'd pretty much lost track of them all, and they always sat like this (because only on a swim team would she, at six feet, be the shortest in a group of three), and they used each other as pillows all the time.
Allison's problem, though, was that she wanted it to be intimate. She wanted to be able to just reach over and slide her hand against Michael's and have his long fingers curl into hers. She wanted to be able to lean over and plant a little kiss on the top of his head. To lean into his chest and fall asleep with his arms around her.
They'd kissed once. Just once. She was thirteen and Michael was fourteen and they were laying on their stomachs in her hotel room in Pittsburgh for some meet. They had been watching some dumb movie they didn't recognize on cable, and Michael had just kinda leaned over and kissed her. It was sloppy, definitely her first kiss and probably his as well, but it had only lasted a few seconds before Michael was pulling back and apologizing and running out of the room with some lame excuse about having to ask Bob about something.
Three years later, they still haven't mentioned it. Sometimes there are awkward pauses when Allison thinks it's gonna come up (like the times Ryan makes fun of him for being a prude, and Michael yells "fuck you, I've kissed plenty of girls" even though Allison knows he hasn't, knows because they tell each other everything, that it's just her and that girl he met on that cruise he went on with his family last summer) but he always manages to avoid bringing it up, and she figures maybe it's better that way.
Except it's never better, because she's in love with her best friend and he has no idea.
But she didn't have time to dwell on that this weekend, because they were at a huge regional meet swimming against the best swimmers on the east coast. Allison was in three individual events and a couple relays, and she was able to qualify for semis in all of them. And that would have been great, but she was rooming with Elizabeth, who had only qualified in their relay on Sunday, so she was more in the mood to gossip than to try to get some sleep for the meet.
"It's a shame Ricky and Rebecca are together," Elizabeth said with a sigh. "I mean, good on her for locking that down, but he's so hot."
"Mmm," Allison mumbled, more interested in the text Michael had sent her than whatever Elizabeth was going on about.
"I don't know about dating one of the guys on the team, though. I mean, we're practically dating them anyways, with as much time as we spend with them at practice and meets and stuff. And we already get to see them practically naked all the time." She paused thoughtfully and popped back a couple more pieces of candy. "I guess if I had to choose someone, though, I'd date Conor. Ryan's cuter, but he's kinda a manwhore. And a bit dumb. Plus, Conor is taller. What about you, Schmitty?"
ryan keeps trying 2 order porn. sos. Allison laughed and replied bob will kill him.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "Helloooooooo? Earth to Allison?" she said, throwing a couple of pieces of candy at her across the room. "Stop texting stupid Michael and answer me!"
"Who on the team would you date?"
Allison froze. She definitely knew the answer to that, but she needed to play it cool. Elizabeth may have been a good friend, but she was also a huge gossip. "I don't know, I guess I've never really thought about it..." She paused for effect. "I guess maybe Michael? He's nice."
Elizabeth pumped her fist triumphantly. "I KNEW IT!!!!!!" she yelled. "Please please please tell me you two are secretly dating or something. Rebecca and I have been betting on when you'll finally come to your senses and get together. She thinks prom, but I told three months was too far away."
Allison sighed and grabbed her pillow to put over her head, definitely not in the mood to talk about this now. But Elizabeth just flopped down next to her and stole her pillows. "Come on, Al. Spill!"
"I don't know." She picked up her phone and started absently flicking through old messages. "I mean, he's my best friend. We're together literally every day. We text constantly. Sometimes, at 2am if he can't sleep, he'll throw stuff at my window to wake me up so I have to suffer with him. But we're just friends, that's it. I mean, we kissed once, but that was three years ago. And we haven't talked about it since. I'm basically another one of his sisters, so..." She paused on a picture Michael had sent her from his last vacation, wish u were here! written underneath it. "It's just not gonna work out, Liz."
"Don't say that!" Elizabeth rubbed Allison's back sympathetically. "No offense, but he's kinda a goofy looking guy. Sweet, and a great bod, but he's no Ryan when it comes to girls. You've totally got a shot! You just have to tell him how you feel. What have you got to lose? He might feel the same way!"
She sighed. Elizabeth was right, of course. Michael wasn't necessarily a chick magnet, and he had initiated that one kiss. Maybe there was something.
"I'll tell him after we get back home," she decided. "He's got too many big races this weekend to have to worry about me on top of all that."
As it turns out, she didn't get that chance.
Because during the finals on Sunday, Michael won the 200 IM with his time just three hundreths of a second from the world record, and by the time they showed up at school Monday morning, Michael was a superstar.
She'd wanted to tell him, in the few minutes they had alone together in the car on the way. But Michael just kept going on and on about all the Facebook messages he'd gotten since Ryan had made that post about him.
"I got like...fifty friend requests. Like, you can't even imagine. Jillian Cooper told me we should eat lunch together today. She's a freaking cheerleader, Schmitty!"
"Yep," Allison replied, staring out the window with disinterest. She knew exactly who Jillian Cooper was. Everyone in the whole school did. Tiny blonde captain of the cheerleading squad, senior class president, honor student, and one of the most popular girls in school. One of those girls who would have never paid Michael a second thought if he hadn't gotten close to a world record. "Didn't Ryan hook up with her once though?" She wasn't necessarily sure about that, but Ryan had hooked up with a good number of girls, and anything that would possibly divert Michael's interest in Jillian was good enough.
Michael just shrugged as he turned into the parking lot. "Who cares? She's hot!"
"She's like a foot shorter than you."
"You'll look ridiculous."
"There's only so many tall girls, though!" Michael grinned as he pulled into his assigned space. "And they're not cheerleaders!"
And that was the end of that, because Ryan was waiting in his car next to them with a high five and a "Jeaaaah, Mr. Popular!!!!!!!"
Unfortunately, Jillian was good on her word, and when Allison walked into the cafeteria for lunch, there she was, sitting at the table the swim team usually sat at, in the chair next to Michael that she usually sat in, with three or four other cheerleaders in tow.
Michael still seemed pleased to see her, which was something. "Pull up a chair, Schmitty!"
Elizabeth gave her a sad, knowing smile as Allison slid into the chair next to her.
"You're on the team too, right? Abigail? Michael's been telling me all about you." Jillian smiled her perfectly white smile, and Allison just nodded. No use in correcting her, she'd have forgotten about her again in five minutes. She could only hope that this all blew over soon.
But it didn't. Jillian was waiting by Michael's car at the end of the day, inviting him to her birthday party at the end of the month. "You're invited too, Amy!" she squealed. Allison just rolled her eyes as she got into the car, waiting for Michael to finish awkwardly waving at Jillian so they could get on to practice. He just grinned at Allison as they drove away, completely unaware of her annoyance.
By the end of the week, they were Facebook official, walking through the school holding hands like they owned the place. Like she hadn't only just realized who Michael was less than a week ago.
It wasn't just that Michael had a girlfriend. He was happy, and that was great, right? But Allison and Michael had always had this routine, just the two of them, but now all of a sudden Jillian was part of it. If they didn't have afternoon practice, Michael drove her home, and she had to listen to her giggle and watch Michael kiss her goodbye from the backseat that she had been relegated to. If they did have practice, Allison had to practically pry him off of her in the parking lot so that they wouldn't be late and have to face Bob yelling at them. It had happened once, and even Michael was a little bit scared, so generally the threat worked. But then she had to listen to him going on and on about all the great things Jill said that day. How Jill had helped him study for his biology test and he thinks he did great now. How Jill told the funniest joke between classes. How Jill had the softest hands. Jill Jill Jill.
At least he was the same as always in the pool, which was great. The Olympics were this summer, and Michael actually had a chance to make them if he kept his times up. She knew making the Olympics was really the only thing he had ever really wanted, and it would have been a shame if he'd thrown it all away for some girl who couldn't even be bothered to learn her name.
She showed up at Jillian's birthday party only because Elizabeth practically forced her. "It'll be good for you!" she had begged, even though Allison knew she really just needed a ride. But it didn't do her any good at all, because after fifteen minutes of wandering around she walked in on Michael sticking his tongue down a shirtless Jillian's throat in the bathroom.
"Damn, get it Mike!" Of course Ryan had followed her, trying to get her to have a drink with him, and now that he'd so loudly announced his presence she'd never be able to just leave quietly and pretend this never happened.
"Oh, Annie, you made it!" Jillian slurred, one hand on Michael's waist and one hand wrapped around a beer. "Mikey said you wouldn't want to come, but I said that was crazy, who wouldn't want to come to a party?"
"Yep, I'm having a fucking blast, Michael just doesn't know me at all, apparently." She glanced at Michael to gauge his reaction, but he was just fist-bumping Ryan like he was the world's greatest or something. "You know what, Ryan? I will have that drink now."
The rest of the night was a blur. She remembered dancing with Elizabeth and Ryan, and possibly throwing up, and definitely crying, and she woke up the next morning in a bed that wasn't hers in clothes that weren't hers. And Ryan was laying next to her and grinning.
Fuck. "I think I'm gonna throw up now."
Ryan just laughed. "You can try if you want, I'm pretty sure you did enough last night though to be good for a while."
Allison groaned and pulled her pillow on top of her head. Why was it so bright? And where even was she? And... "We didn't..."
Ryan laughed again. "Definitely not. Mike would have murdered me. And speaking of your dearest Michael..."
Oh god. "I made a fool out of myself, didn't I?"
"Jeah, definitely. But don't worry, Liz and I got you out of there before you told Michael you wanted to have his babies or something like that. You told us plenty though. I mean, I kinda always thought you guys secretly had a thing for each other, but I didn't know you were like, in love with him."
Allison rolled over, slowly beginning to piece together parts of the night. "I didn't say anything to Michael, though?"
"Nah, you're clear there. Not that he would have really known, he was kinda...busy. With Jillian." There was a hint of disgust in Ryan's voice as he said her name.
"So you don't like her either?
"No fucking way, dude. She turned me down sophomore year. Me!!!! But now she's all over Michael?" He shook his head. "No offense to you or anything, but she isn't interested in him for his looks. If she wanted him for his body, she'd have gotten with me. Nah, she's just using him because he's sorta famous now."
"Yeah..." Allison sighed. "How long do you think it's gonna go on, though?"
Ryan shrugged. "No idea. She's got her claws in him now. He was talking about prom last night, how Jillian helped him order a tux to match her dress."
Allison blinked hard, not believing what she had heard. "But...we were supposed to go to prom together. He promised me. Ages ago. We were supposed to go to prom together." She felt the tears welling up in her eyes and willed herself not to cry.
"I'm sure he was just...waiting for the right time to tell you? Don't cry...please?" Ryan reached over and patted her head in what she assumed was supposed to be sympathy, and despite herself, Allison smiled a bit. She'd never been particularly close to Ryan, they were just Michael's two best friends, and they'd never really hung out just the two of them. It wasn't actually half-bad, other than the splitting headache that she suspected had a lot more to do than the alcohol than Ryan.
"Come on," he said, patting her head again. "Let's get you decent and home."
Michael was waiting on his porch when Ryan dropped her off. Fantastic, she thought, I probably did say something stupid to him last night.
He looked almost as hung-over as Allison felt. "I...um..." he started, shifting from foot to foot. "We can still talk about stuff, right?"
She nodded, unsure of exactly where this was going.
"So...can we? I mean. Talk about stuff. Now. If you're up to it?"
Allison nodded again. "Yeah, sure. Come on in, my mom probably thinks I'm dead. Which I actually might be."
Michael laughed. "You and me both. Thank god we don't have practice today."
"Bob would have murdered us, without a doubt."
"So...you wanted to talk?" Allison asked, shutting the door to her room.
He nodded, biting his lip like he always did when he was nervous. "I mean...you're probably not the best person to talk to about this. Since...you know...we..." He kinda gestured between them.
Wow, he's finally bringing it up, she thought. After all this time. "Michael, that was...years ago. It was nothing, right?" She forced herself to smile.
He smiled back. "Yeah, nothing. Good. That's good. So...Jill and I."
Allison's smile faded a little. "Yes. That is a thing that is happening."
"Yeah. It really is, and like...it's happening fast, but it's good, right?"
She avoided his eyes when she replied. "Yep."
"Yeah. But um. Last night we, uh..." Michael paused, taking a deep breath. "God, I can't believe I'm even saying this, but...we slept together."
If it hadn't been for the throbbing in her head, Allison probably would have heard her heart break at that moment. "Oh," she replied softly.
"Yeah." He paused, trying to gauge her reaction maybe, but she was staring pointedly at her feet. "It just sorta...happened, I guess. Like, it was a good thing I had that condom Ryan gave me as a joke because -"
"Speaking of," Allison interjected, not in any mood to hear how that sentence ended. "Why aren't you telling him all of this?"
Michael shrugged. "He'd want all the details, and I don't really remember them all? It was kinda a crazy night, you know, I'd been drinking..."
"Yeah, and you know what? I was drinking too, and now I have a headache and want to sleep, so will you please leave?" She turned away from him so he wouldn't see the tears starting to well up in her eyes. First he was ditching her for prom, and now this...it was just too much all at once.
His hand was on her shoulder, but she shook it off and flopped face down on her bed. "Just leave, okay?"
"Yeah...okay. I guess I'll just see you tomorrow, then."
Allison burst into tears the moment she heard the door click shut.
The ride to school the next morning was even more awkward, because for some reason Michael decided to bring up prom as they drove past the big sign for it in the parking lot.
"So...I'm going to prom with Jillian."
Allison gazed out the window as Michael parked. "Obviously."
"I mean...like I know we always said we were gonna go together, but-"
"She's your girlfriend, it's fine." She paused, an idea forming in her head. "Plus, I already have a date," she said as she grabbed her backpack.
She grinned, shutting the door. "Ryan." She walked off, leaving Michael standing by his car with his mouth open in shock.
Allison cornered Ryan at his locker before homeroom. "So I may have made a huge, tiny mistake."
He grinned at her. "You told Mike you were hopelessly in love with him even though he's got a girlfriend?"
She glared at him. "Not really, no. I...may have told him that we're going to prom together."
"You and him?"
"No, me and you."
Ryan laughed and shook his head. "No no no no. Nope. Sorry, Schmitty. I took care of you while you were hammered, I listened to your little rambling confessions of love, but prom? No way."
"Pleeeeeease?" She smiled at him, the same smile she always used to get Michael to drive through Dairy Queen on the way back from practice.
He put his hands on her shoulders. "Listen, Allison. Prom is like...my night to be wild, and free, and single, and make out with all the girls that get dumped. Ball till u fall. That was gonna be my personal prom motto!"
Allison sighed. "Fine. I don't know, I guess I just thought it would maybe make Michael a little bit jealous, seeing his best friends at prom together having a great time, while he's stuck with Jillian. Who neither of us really like."
Ryan shook his head again. "Damn, Schmitty, that is some bullshit teenage girl logic right there. You're probably right, nobody knows Michael better than you, but it's total bullshit." He rolled his eyes and sighed. "Fine, we can go to prom together. But you owe me MAJORLY."
"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" She grinned and kissed him on the cheek.
"That's a start!" he shouted at her as they headed off to separate homerooms.
Elizabeth cornered her before practice later that day.
"I heard you're going to prom with Ryan," she mentioned casually.
"So did something happen after he took me home Saturday that I need to be worried about?"
She laughed. "No, we're just going as friends. I swear. I mean, yeah, stuff happened- not like romantic stuff, God," she added after seeing the look on Elizabeth's face. "But like, he took care of me and let me kinda rant about the whole Jillian thing. And since he doesn't really like her either, we're just going together to sorta spite Michael. And prove that he would have had more fun with me."
"Of course he would," Elizabeth agreed. "So are we all gonna go together then? Because...guess what? Conor just asked me to prom! I found a note tied around my goggles with ribbon. How cute is that?"
"Adorable," she said, smiling. "I don't know if Michael will go with us or not though. Jillian's probably had prom plans made for months. But the four of us plus Ricky and Rebecca?"
"Hell yeah!" Elizabeth said, high fiving Allison. "We're gonna have an awesome time, Michael or no Michael."
As it turned out, Michael had actually planned on going to prom with them.
"I told her I promised you guys ages ago, since we had that meet last year and none of us could go," he told Allison when she brought it up on the way home from practice. "I mean...I guess it's the least I could do, considering I never really told you that you wouldn't be my date."
"Thanks," she replied softly.
"Plus, you guys are way more fun than her friends."
That made Allison smile. "Yeah, we really are."
When prom night finally rolled around, Allison was surprisingly relaxed. She'd been spending more time with Ryan and Conor and Elizabeth and had convinced herself that tonight wouldn't be a disaster, even with Jillian there. Plus, she had a killer dress. It was a little red number, with just a bit of glitter to be fun and short enough to show off her long legs. Even Ryan had whistled and let out a low "daaamn, girl" when he picked her up.
But it was Michael's reaction she was really waiting to see, and it was even better than she could have expected. He didn't take his eyes off her for a second as Ryan walked her over to the group, and she grinned when he saw him mouth wow. There was even, she thought, a hint of jealousy in his eyes when Ryan slid his arm around her waist.
Even Jillian was impressed. "Oh my god, Alyssa, you look amazing!"she gushed, and Allison just smiled back because yep, she sure did. She'd straightened out her tight curls and her hair fell halfway down her back.
"Jeah she does," Ryan agreed, leaning over and planting a friendly kiss on her cheek, and there was definitely jealousy in Michael's eyes that time. The night was a success already, and they hadn't even left yet!
The eight of them piled into the limo, and somehow Allison ended up next to Michael. Ryan had his hand on Allison's knee, rubbing little circles with his thumb, and it was nice. Even nicer when she realized Michael's eyes were drawn to it and that he was tensing up.
He leaned towards her ear. "Are you two..." he whispered, trailing off, and Allison knew exactly what she meant. She always did. She shook her head and he nodded. "Good," he murmured, more to himself than to her.
On the other side of Michael, Jillian was rolling her eyes at some awful joke Ricky had told and pulling a flask out of her purse. "Thank god I brought this," Allison heard her mutter.
"They're my friends," Michael whispered to Jillian loudly. "Be cool."
She took a long sip from the flask. "Last I checked, I was the only cool person in the limo."
Michael elbowed her and Allison smiled to herself.
By the time they made it to prom, Allison was already having a blast. Ryan was cracking dumb jokes left and right, Elizabeth was shamelessly flirting with Conor, Rebecca and Ricky were off in their own little love bubble as always, and it was just a great group of people. She'd actually almost forgotten about Jillian entirely until she exclaimed "thank God" when the driver opened the door. Michael smiled apologetically but she didn't even care.
Allison danced for what seemed like ages. She danced with Ryan, with Elizabeth, with Conor, with people she didn't even know. At one point, Elizabeth and Conor went off and Elizabeth came bouncing back ten minutes later to report to Allison very excitedly that they had made out, and the two girls squealed enthusiastically as opposed to Conor and Ryan who just sorta fistbumped in congratulations.
It was turning out to be a great night, so when Ryan kinda gestured off to some girl storming off from her date like he wanted to go "comfort" her, she just waved him on. "I'm fine, go have some fun," she said with a laugh, because really, she and Ryan were just here as friends, and if he was sticking his tongue down someone's throat, at least it wasn't hers.
Michael must have been watching them, because he made a beeline for Allison as soon as Ryan ran off. "Where'd your date go?"
Allison rolled her eyes. "He's not my date. Technically, yeah, sure, but we're just friends." She sighed. "Look, if you're not convinced, I'm 90% sure he's making out with some girl I don't even know right now, and I'm perfectly okay with it. If someone I actually had feelings for was making out with someone else...I mean, that would suck."
They stood in silence for a moment. "Where's Jillian?" she asked casually, though she didn't really care.
Michael shrugged. "Off with her friends. They're...interesting. I don't think they like me."
"That's crazy, who wouldn't like you?"
Michael chuckled. "I don't know. So, I think I owe you a dance or two, and since neither of our dates are here..."
Allison grinned and took his hand to lead him out on the dance floor, just as a slow song came on. It was "You Belong With Me," and she laughed to herself at the irony as they started dancing
"Damn, this is so much easier than dancing with Jillian. She's so short I was practically bending over."
She snickered, leaning in to rest her head on Michael's shoulder and singing along to the song under her breath as they swayed. "She wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts, she's cheer captain and I'm on the bleachers."
"Schmitty..." Michael started, and she looked up at him hopefully. "I can't believe you know the words to this song."
Her face fell. "Well, yeah. Of course I do. Apparently you don't know me as well as you thought."
Michael shook his head. "Oh, I think I do. You wear your hair in a ponytail when it rains because it gets frizzy. You like tons of syrup on your pancakes because you say the sugar wakes you up in the morning. Sometimes you pick at your fingernails when you think no one's watching. You laugh at almost anything, which is great because your laugh is amazing."
She sighed, and the music was just perfect, so she looked him right in the eyes and said, "So why can't you see that you belong with me?"
He stopped and looked at her, and the look he gave her was almost sad. "You never said..."
She smiled back just as sadly. "It's always been you, Michael. Always."
"I -" he started, but of course Jillian picked that moment to reappear.
"Come on, Mikey, dance with me," she slurred a bit, tugging on Michael's arm. "Why are you dancing with her, she's not your girlfriend, I am. Dance with me."
Michael's eyes still had that sad look in them when he let go of Allison's hand, and she didn't really know quite what to make of it. "I'll talk to you later?" and she just nodded before she practically ran off to find either Ryan or Elizabeth.
She found Ryan first, in the handicapped stall of the girls bathroom making out with a tall brunette Allison thought she recognized from the soccer team. But when he saw Allison trying to hold back tears, he just pushed her off of him. "Scram," he told her. "I've got more important things to deal with."
Allison sat down against the wall and Ryan sat next to her, slipping his arm around her shoulders. "What happened?" he asked.
She just shook her head. "I just...fucking hate Taylor Swift."
The limo ride back from prom was fairly tense. Allison positioned herself as far away as possible from Michael and tried not to look at Jillian's head slumped over on his shoulder, but it was difficult to look anywhere else. Ricky and Rebecca were snuggling and Conor and Elizabeth were making out again so she just tried to focus on her grip on Ryan's hand. The one time she made eye contact with Michael, he was studying her with that same sad expression in his eyes that she couldn't really read and she looked away quickly.
They finally arrived back where they'd all met up what seemed to Allison like a year ago. When they got out, Michael pulled Ryan aside, and Allison eyed them curiously as she hugged Elizabeth and Rebecca goodbye.
"No fucking way, dude, she is not gonna go for that," she heard Ryan say. "She's pretty mad at you, from what I gathered."
"Which is why I need to talk to her," Michael replied.
Ryan shrugged. "Whatever, you can ask her, I don't care. Jillian might not like that either, though."
"Like what?" Jillian piped up upon hearing her name.
Michael glanced in Allison's direction. "If it's okay with everyone, I was gonna bring Allison home and have Ryan bring you home. It'd just be more convenient that way."
Jillian looked confused. "But how are we gonna have sex?"
Allison's heart dropped, but Michael shook his head. "Not tonight, Jill."
"It's fine with me," Allison said softly, because at least Michael wouldn't be sleeping with Jillian, and that made a probably awkward car ride worth it.
Ryan looked at with her with concern, but she just gave him a small smile and mouthed "it's fine" so he shrugged. "If it's ok with Schmitty, it's ok with me. And three to one means you're outvoted, so looks like you're going with me, Cooper."
She looked over at Michael and pouted, but to Allison's relief he stood strong. "No, Jill, we're all tired, it's late...let's just go home." She pouted again but went willingly with Michael when he walked her over towards Ryan's car.
Ryan smiled at Allison. "You know, up until you crashed my make-out sesh with Hope, I actually had a really great time tonight."
She tried to ignore Michael kissing Jillian goodbye in the background and smiled back. "Yeah, same. And sorry about that."
He laughed. "Nah, you're more important anyways." He walked over and pulled Allison into a tight hug, leaning over to kiss her on the cheek as they pulled apart. "And if he's a dick to you, let me know. Because I'll kick his ass."
"Thanks, Ryan," she replied, smiling, because she knew he really would.
They drove home in silence. Good, Allison thought, maybe he'll just let it go and we can pretend it never happened. But when she got out to walk across the yard to her own house, Michael followed her and she sighed and turned to face him.
"Can we just not?"
"Schmitty..." He reached for her arm but she pulled away. "I just wanted to say...you look absolutely beautiful."
Allison glanced back up at him, then shrugged half-heartedly. "Doesn't really matter, though, does it?"
Michael reached for her hand again, but this time she didn't pull away. "Allison," he paused, biting at his lower lip. "I'm sorry, okay? If I had known-"
"Then what?" she interrupted. "You still would have gone out with Jillian when she asked. We both know it."
He slid his fingers through hers and squeezed lightly. "Not if we were already together," Michael said, and that sad expression was back on his face, but instead of trying to read it, Allison just leaned forward and kissed him.
It was nothing like the kiss they'd shared all those years ago. It was so much more, and Allison tried to pour everything she felt into it, because maybe, just maybe, it would change his mind, and to her it felt so perfect that it wasn't crazy to think it just might do that.
Michael pulled back breathless a minute later, sliding his other hand against Allison's neck, and she just gazed at him, trying to will him to say something, but he just shook his head slightly.
"If that meant nothing to you, that's fine," she whispered. "But I know it did. I know you. I've loved you as long as I can remember. That has to count for something."
"I just... I can't do that to Jillian."
"That's fine," she replied, letting go of Michael's hand. "You just have to decide whose heart is more important to you."
"Schmitty," he called out after her, but she was already gone.
A month passed. Ryan started picking Allison up from school in the mornings and driving her to practice in the afternoons. She poured herself into swimming and studying for AP tests with Elizabeth and Conor. She missed out on Olympic trials by three tenths of a second, but she thought she did well on her tests, which her mom was more proud of than she was. Ryan and Michael graduated and qualified for trials.
Then one night, she watched from her window as Jillian and Michael fought before Jillian stormed out. A text from Ryan the next morning told her they'd broken up, but she honestly didn't even care anymore. Michael was going to qualify for the Olympics, then he was going off to Michigan for college. He'd be halfway across the country surrounded by college girls, why would he need her?
A week later, Michael knocked on her bedroom door. They hadn't talked much since prom- they'd talked some at practice and she hugged him after graduation, but it just wasn't the same between them anymore.
"Make it quick," she said when she saw him standing there. "I'm going to the movies with Elizabeth."
He took a deep breath as he sat next to her on her bed. "Look, Allison," he began, chewing on his lip again. "I've been trying to figure out what to say to you all week. I guess you saw that Jillian and I broke up?"
She nodded. "Sorry about that."
He shrugged. "Not your fault. She was being weird about me going off to college. But whatever. I don't want to talk about that now. I just...have some things I guess I need to say to you before trials.
"I know I was kinda a dick to you. Ryan told me that several times, and I got why you didn't really want to talk to me, but I guess...I don't know, I thought you'd just be able to, like...stop feeling whatever you felt for me and just move on. Like I did when Jillian started talking to me."
He paused and Allison looked at him curiously. "What do you mean?"
"I just...I've always been a little bit in love with you. Like, since we were kids or whatever. I don't know. At some point for me it clicked that we should just be, you know? So I guess that's why I kissed you that one time. I was just...trying to figure it all out, I guess. But then you didn't say anything, and you always had something to say and I was so scared that you didn't that I just didn't say anything either.
"So I just tried to forget, you know? I tried to treat you like you were one of my sisters, even though I knew deep down I felt more. And then the thing with Jillian happened, and I just figured it'd be a short thing, not like...an actual dating thing. So I didn't even think about prom when it started, I figured it wouldn't even be a problem. But Jill was actually cool once you got to know her. Except for the name thing, I kept telling her every time you were Allison, but she never listened, I guess. Maybe she was just jealous, I don't know.
But if I could take it all back, I would. I swear. I would have taken you to prom, and you would have been as beautiful as you were that night, and I was going to kiss you under the stars and tell you I loved you and it was gonna be cheesy and romantic and gross but it would have been worth it for you. And then nothing happened like that, and seeing you walk away that night...it hurt, Schmitty, it really did. I missed you."
A tear slid down Allison's cheek, and Michael reached up to brush it away. "I love you, Allison. I've always loved you, and I want to be with you. For as long as possible. And I know me being in Michigan will suck, but I'll try to make it work." He paused, rubbing along her cheek with his thumb. "So, that's how I feel. How do you feel?"
She answered him with a kiss.