Our weekend in Austin ended all too soon. It felt like we'd just gotten there as we packed up the car that Sunday morning to head back to Dallas. It was one of the first times I'd left Austin without a raging hangover.
"Can we take a detour on our way out?" I asked. "You guys need to see the rest of Austin."
South Congress was beautiful in its own way, as was downtown, but my favorite parts of Austin were a few miles away from downtown: the hills, the lakes, the country roads dipping and peaking along the cliffs. The sun was shining, and we were in no hurry to get back.
"Let's do it," Joey said. Cayden and I jumped in Joyce's car with her and Joey, while Rae and Chaz followed behind in Rae's car.
My old college roommate, Ann, lived off Bee Caves on the northwest side of Austin, and every time I drove to her house I got lost in the beauty of it all. I'd forget to pay attention to the speed limit and I'd cruise along the bend with my windows down and my music up. I'd pass sweaty bodies on their bikes, huffing and puffing as they pushed their way up the steep hills. I'd look away because their exhaustion interfered with the carefree spirit I felt on the road.
The drive to Bee Caves was a half an hour out of our way and would add an extra hour to our three and a half hour drive home, but I promised it would be worth it. Ann had to work that morning, but I wanted her to meet Cayden so I decided to make a pit stop at the mall where she worked.
"You're right," Cayden said as he peered over my shoulder and out the window. "This part of Austin looks completely different."
"Just wait until we get to the top of this hill. As the road curves you can see all of these beautiful, huge houses all along the cliff. It looks like they're built right into the rocks. And then you look down and it's all lake. It's beautiful."
"You weren't kidding," Joey said as we crept closer to the top of the hill. "That house is massive!"
We were all quiet for a moment as we stared at the million-dollar homes surrounded by nothing but sky and trees. Some of them were Spanish-style, with orange walls and clay roofs. Others looked more Mediterranean, as their white stucco stood out against the blue sky.
Cayden leaned in to kiss me and caught me off guard. I'd turned to point out a house to him and ended up running into his lips with my nose. We laughed at the awkwardness of it.
"Don't leave tomorrow," I whispered against his ear. "Let's just stay right here. We can move to this cliff. I'll build a house out of cardboard and we'll wear our Toms until our toes bust through the tops."
He squeezed my hand and shook his head. His face changed while he looked out the window. What I'd said had gotten to him. He'd just realized it was our last day together. There was no way around the fact that he was getting on a plane back to London in less than 24 hours.
After 30 minutes of country road, we pulled into the parking lot of the outdoor mall Ann worked at.
"We'll just run in and say hi, then we'll be right out," I said to Joyce and Joey. They stayed in the car with the dog while Cayden and I ran inside to find Ann. She had no idea we were coming.
"There she is," I said, spotting her near a rack where she was hanging earrings. Cayden followed me as we snuck up behind her. I tapped her on the shoulder and she turned abruptly.
"Can I help--" she started to say. Then a look of familiarity and confusion washed over her face in a matter of seconds.
"Surprise!" I said, pulling her in for a hug.
"What are you doing here?" She asked when she pulled away. Then her eyes went right to the tall man behind me.
"Let me guess," she said. "This is Cayden."
Cayden reached out to shake her hand. Ann had met every guy I'd been with in college, and now she was meeting the last one I'd ever date. We'd spent many nights staying up late talking about our future husbands while drinking margaritas. Never once had I imagined I'd end up with someone like Cayden. Someone who could put up with my sarcastic remarks. Someone who could make me believe in love and fairytales. Someone who could inspire me to write.
"Yes," I said. "This is Cayden. The one you've heard so much about."