Ally wakes up with her face pressed up against a smooth wall of muscle, and it's still new enough that she's surprised. Only for a second, and then she can't help smiling, pressing her lips softly against Colin's shoulder and sighing happily.
Holy crap, her breath smells like something freaking died in her mouth. That's no good.
Moving carefully, so, so carefully, trying not to wake the sleeping man next to her, she shifts to climb out of bed. Almost there, so far so good, she's got one foot out of bed and...
"That's cheating, y'know" he says, voice thick with sleep.
"Going to brush your teeth before I'm even awake."
"Oh, I wasn't... how the heck did you know what I...?"
He lifts an eyebrow to say ‘Ally, come on.’ She's feeling a little defensive now.
"Okay, fine. But how is that cheating? Trust me, man, you don't want any part of this right now." Gesturing at her mouth.
He tugs her back across the bed, until she's half sprawled over his legs. "Au contraire," he says, accent deliberately bad, "I want every part of this all the time." That’s cheesy as heck, but she melts a little anyway. "It is cheating because it gives you an advantage. See, right now your breath is terrible. Like, spoiled milk is jealous." She punches his arm, laughing in shocked offense, and he wrestles her hand down, keeps pulling until she's held tight against his chest.
"But mine's just as bad.” To prove his point, he opens his mouth wide and huffs out a breath right over her nose. Ally goes cross-eyed for a second. That is seriously heinous.
"Wow,” she laughs, shaking her head. “This is so sexy I can't even believe it."
"But that's why this works," he says, leaning in to kiss her. She turns her head away at first, just a little, a token protest to the grossness of morning breath. But then his lips are on hers, and his tongue is... and... what were they talking about?
"See? They cancel each other out. But if you had gone and brushed your teeth, well... then you'd be all minty fresh and I would feel too self-conscious, so then I'd have to go brush and before you know it we're both awake and out of bed. Maybe even getting dressed. So you see how I can't let that happen."
She curls closer, sliding her leg over until she's straddling his thighs. Somebody's awake, and suddenly getting out of bed does seem like a terrible idea. "Is personal hygiene really such a bad thing?" she teases.
"In general, no," he replies, stroking his thumbs over her hipbones. "In this specific case, yes. It's terrible. Equal opportunity grossness is the way to go."
She hums contentedly as he kisses her neck, from her shoulder all the way up to that place behind her ear that makes her squirm. "I think I get your point."
He pulls her in tighter, flips their positions so she's on her back, legs around his waist and hell-o... "Not yet you don't."
The morning breath is the first of many little things that Ally always thought were common sense, but Colin calls “bad habits reinforced by years of douchebags.” It turns out that guys don’t really care if you don’t shave your legs every day, or if your hair isn’t perfect first thing in the morning. They don’t care if you accidentally belch in front of them, though they might turn it into a contest. Having sex on your period is 1. not impossible, 2. not nearly as gross as you might imagine, and 3. really freaking awesome. But guys also don’t care if you don’t feel like having sex. Seriously. Guys don’t care what your number is, and don’t understand why anyone would.
Well, maybe guys do, but Colin doesn’t, and that’s all that matters.
She gets a gallery space in the fall, thanks to Colin’s networking. Okay, so it’s not so much a real gallery as it is a weird little annex built onto the side of a bar, but it’s her art. On display. For people to look at. Maybe even buy.
It’s way cool.
Colin is playing the bar next door, just him and his guitar, and he still takes up almost all of the small stage. It would be funny if he didn’t look so comfortable, singing his songs and laughing in between, flirting with the women at the tables up front.
The extremely attractive, occasionally handsy women up front. Ally leans against the back wall, one foot in her space, the other in the bar, and just watches. She’s not worried. Why would she be worried? That’s silly. There’s just a little voice in her head that she can’t shut up is all, and why shouldn’t she watch her boyfriend play? Supporting the arts, that’s her. Totally legitimate.
She’s thinking way too much.
But then he looks up, and his eyes catch hers, and she forgets about the handsy women. Forgets about her gallery; about the rest of the bar around them. And he smiles at her, and as far as Ally is concerned, there’s nothing else in the whole world.
They fight, of course they do, about stupid stuff like leaving towels on the bathroom floor and whose turn it is get dinner and how apologizing via Twitter is not acceptable, especially when Ally still doesn’t have one and this is the second broken coffeemaker in a year, Colin, what the actual hell. But they aren’t fight fights, and the fallout never lasts longer than a couple hours at most.
Ally is kind of paranoid for a long time, waiting for the big one; for that one terrible thing that they won’t be able to get past. There’s always something. Well, there’s always been something.
But as the months go by and nothing happens, she starts to let it go, relaxing into the thought that maybe this is what it’s always like when you’ve found it. Maybe this is what love is like when it’s forever.
The paranoia comes back in a sickening rush one night, over lo mein. One minute they’re watching El Castor Malo put a suplex on El Grapadura, and the next Colin is on his feet, pacing like he can’t decide whether he wants to sit back down or walk out the door.
“You know I spend almost every single day with you?” he asks, but it’s not really a question. “And if we're not together, then I'm texting you, or you're calling me! I don't even remember what sleeping alone feels like anymore!”
“Okay...” Ally says, holding her hands up like she's approaching a wild animal. “That sounds like... Colin, if you want some space, then…”
“I don't!” He’s yelling now, and she has no idea why. “I don't want it!”
“Okay...” she repeats, more confused than ever. “That's a good thing, right?”
“No, it's not a... I mean, yes! It is, but... Fuck!” He slams his hands against the countertop, making the pots clank together and coffeepot number three rattle threateningly on its base.
“Okay...” third time's the charm. “Why don't we sit down, far away from the breakable and sharp things in the kitchen, and talk about it?” Despite her outward calm, Ally can feel that awful twistiness in her stomach that usually means something bad is about to happen. Something really bad.
She's gotten pretty good at ignoring that feeling over the years. And a year and a half is pretty good, right? Longest relationship yet! Never mind that this will be her last, and that losing him will hurt like nothing she's ever felt and she feels like throwing up just thinking about it. No, not going there. She laces her fingers through his and squeezes his hand reassuringly. Hopefully it’s reassuring, and not just terrified. “Colin, tell me what's wrong.”
“What's wrong? What's wrong, she says.” He laughs at that, but it’s kind of a sick sound. “Nothing, Ally. Nothing is wrong.”
“Then why are you freaking out?”
“I'm not freaking out!” Then, after a moment. “Okay, I'm freaking out! But... this is weird, right? I mean, I'm young, I'm a successful musician - don't say anything - I should be out there living it up!”
Oh, and there it is. Ally almost literally feels her heart break in two. “If you really feel...” she starts, weakly, but he doesn't even pause in his ranting.
“I should be, but instead all I want to do is come home and curl up with you on the couch and watch Mexican wrestling, or bad kung fu movies! Or watch you sculpt and maybe wrap my arms around your waist and just stand there, breathing you in! Or even just see you smile at me! That's enough! Like that, but... oh shit, Ally, don't...” He wilts a little at the look on her face, looking just as sad and confused as she feels right now.
She’s smiling, but it’s a little watery. “So you want to be around me all the time, and I want that, too, so...” Oh, this hurts to say. “But you want to break up?”
His eyes go wide. “No I don't want to break up! Jesus Christ!”
“Then what do you want, Colin?” She snaps, dropping his hand so she can flail her own. “Because I'm getting some hardcore emotional whiplash over here and I'm so freaking confused!”
“I want you to marry me!” he yells, and they both freeze.
For a long moment they stand there in the kitchen, staring at each other, in the vaguely terrified silence.
“You want me to...”
Colin buries his face in his hands. “Fuck that was NOT how that was supposed to go.”
“Colin, I…” She reaches out for him again, but he ducks away, heading for the door.
“Not right now, Ally, I just… I just need a minute, okay?”
The door doesn’t slam when he leaves, but it echoes loudly anyway. Ally turns her back to the cabinets, slides down until she’s sitting on the floor. “What the hell…” she says out loud, trying to figure it out.
She sits there for a long time, and never quite manages.
He’s gone for more than a minute, not answering his phone, not answering his door (and when was the last time he went back to his apartment, anyway? Ally can’t honestly remember. It should probably freak her out that they’ve been essentially living together for… a while now, but it doesn’t.). No texts. Total silence.
Ally makes it two whole days before she calls Daisy. Nobody admires her restraint.
“Oh my god, he asked you to marry him?” is Daisy’s first question. She sounds excited, but Ally can’t tell if it’s ‘I’m excited for you because this is good news’ or ‘I’m excited because this is good drama and I don’t get out much now that I have a kid.’
“There was no asking involved,” Ally clarifies, but Daisy brushes it off.
“He wants to marry you, though. Guys are bad with words.”
Ally huffs out a laugh. “Ain’t that the truth.”
Daisy reaches out and touches Ally’s knee, a show of support. “What do you want, Ally?”
“What do you mean? I want him to come back. I want him to answer his freakin’ phone!”
“Do you want to marry him?”
She hadn’t really thought about it, not recently, not in realistic terms. He’s twenty, the last one on her list, and even beyond that… she wants to talk to him, to feel him next to her again so badly that it’s almost a physical ache. She wants to wake up next to him every morning, with her messy hair and bad breath, and she wants to kiss him all the time. All day every day. She wants to make him laugh, make him smile, make him proud of her. She wants to watch him play his gigs and flirt with those other women and she wants to know that he’s all hers. That he’s coming home to her.
“Yeah,” Ally says, like she’s just discovering the word. “Yes, I do.”
Daisy grins like she has all the answers. “Then stop thinking so much, Ally,” she says, sage advice. “He’ll come around.”
Ally goes back to her apartment feeling better… ish, and when she opens the door Colin is standing in her living room. His head is ducked and his shoulders are pulled in, and his whole body is screaming ‘I fucked up and I’m sorry.’
She should still be mad, she wants to still be mad, but mostly she’s just relieved. He sees it on her face, maybe, or maybe he’s just relieved, too, because he’s across the room in two seconds; putting a hand on her face like he can’t help touching her but doesn’t know how much he’s allowed.
“Well, that sucked,” Ally says, and Colin laughs softly.
“Yeah, it did.”
Ally is trying really hard to be stern, but she can’t keep the smile off her face. “You gonna apologize for freaking me the hell out and disappearing?”
He moves in closer, more assured now, and when he puts his arms around her she just goes with it, leaning into the hug. “I already did,” he says. “If you had Twitter you would know that.”
Ally smacks him on the chest. “Colin…”
He chuckles right in her ear. “Relax, Ally. I’m kidding.”
Ally presses her face against his neck (god, he always smells so good), and holds on for a long time.
“I’m sorry,” he says into her hair. “I’m sorry I flipped out on you. I didn’t mean any of that.”
“Not any of it?” she asks, pulling back just enough to look him in the eyes. She might be holding her breath just a little bit.
“All right,” he says, generously. “Maybe a few things.”
"Jerk," Ally teases, rising up on tiptoes to kiss him. "I love you."
He smiles against her lips. "Me too. I love you, too."
Two years after the night they jumped in the harbor, Colin gets down on one knee. This time, he asks.
Ally doesn’t have to think at all before she answers.