I know, I'm terrible at updating! And I get so many reviews asking me to update...I'm really touched that you are all still reading my story! When I started this, there had literally been about 4 or 5 episodes of PLL ever, and now we're well into Season 4. Craziness. So to the long-time readers, thanks for staying, and to the new readers, thanks for reading!
"So...here we are," Ezra said, as he parked his car two doors down from the Montgomery residence. "Well, almost. It's that house just up there. I don't park outside, just in case."
"In case Aria's father comes home early and finds you playing daddy to his grandchild?" Hardy grinned.
"Something like that. Well, not entirely, obviously, because it's not my car he'd be catching, but me. Still, it feels safer not to have my car seen outside their house every day."
"Every day, huh?" Hardy said, one eyebrow raised quizzically, as he and Ezra got out of the car.
"Well...as many days as Ella will go for it," Ezra amended. "It's only a couple of hours each day that I get to see my baby girl, after all. Ella can learn to deal with that."
"Just don't get too pushy about it, okay? I haven't met the woman yet, of course, but judging from what you've told me she could change her mind about letting you play happy families at the drop of a hat. So just be careful."
"Oh, trust me, I am," Ezra assured his friend. "I can't even kiss Aria on the cheek if Ella's around! I'm doing everything by the book for as long as I need to."
"And yet, here you are, turning up on the doorstep with a total stranger, without clearing it with her first," Hardy teased.
"Yeah, well. I didn't think she'd mind my best friend meeting my baby..." Ezra replied. By this time they had arrived at the Montgomery's front door, and he rang the bell.
"I seem to recall you saying something about "she can suck it up"..." Hardy grinned.
"I did not say that!" Ezra protested. "Well, not exactly – anyway, never mind that now. Ella's coming, so sssh."
It wasn't Ella, however, whom Ezra had seen through the opaque glass pane in the door, but Aria, who squealed and threw herself into Ezra's arms, kissing him passionately. Ezra kissed back for just a few seconds, before her pushed her away gently.
"Aria, we can't kiss on the doorstep in front of the whole street, never mind your mother! Where is she, anyway?"
"On the back porch, on the phone with my grandmother. It'll be a while," Aria grinned, looking pleased with herself. "Come on in."
"You remember Hardy, right?" Ezra asked as they entered the house.
"Of course. Hey," Aria said with a breezy little wave, which didn't quite cover up her nervousness at seeing Ezra's best friend again. The last time they'd met, he'd practically talked Ezra out of their relationship, and she guessed that, as a protective best friend, he would have been none too pleased to discover that not only had Ezra ignored his advice, but had got his student pregnant into the bargain.
"Hey, Aria. It's nice to see you again," Hardy said, a little stiffly. It wasn't that he meant to be unfriendly (in fact he was quite willing to be friendly with Aria for Ezra's sake, now that he'd had time to mull over the whole situation), but he was nervous, too. This wasn't just Ezra's girlfriend; this was a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl who had just given birth to her teacher's baby, and he had no idea how he should act.
Aria's face fell, and Ezra saw it immediately and glared at Hardy. Guiltily, he tried again.
"So...congratulations. I only found out last night, but Ezra chewed my ear off for literally half the night, telling me about you and Lily, which means I can say in all honesty that he never shuts up about the two of you." He smiled at Aria, and she smiled back, discernibly relieved.
"We're the lucky ones," she replied, intertwining her fingers with Ezra's as he stood next to her. "I can't imagine what we'd do without him. Would you like to meet her?"
"The spawn of Ezra Fitz? Why yes, I can hardly wait," Hardy grinned.
"She's just in here in the living room, in her basket," Aria said, leading the way. "I thought we'd wait for you down here."
Lily's basket was on the big coffee table, and as the trio leaned over to look, she stared back up at them with her big dark eyes.
"I'm glad she's awake for you," Aria said, unable to keep the pride out of her voice. "Ezra, why don't you take her and say hello, and then Hardy can hold her."
"I've never even seen a baby this tiny," Hardy said, staring in wonder at the tiny dark-haired being as Ezra carefully lifted her out of her basket, and rested her head on his arm.
"She came early," Aria explained. "She's fine, thank goodness, but just smaller than she would have been if I'd carried her full-term."
"And, of course, Aria's built like a tiny pixie herself," Ezra grinned.
Aria shot him a withering look. "She takes after you, though. Otherwise I wouldn't have been walking around for the past few months looking like I had a beachball stuffed down my top. I'd have been one of those tiny, svelte pregnant girls who don't even start showing till the week before they give birth."
"Whatever, you looked beautiful, and I wouldn't have had it any other way," Ezra said lovingly, leaning over carefully to kiss her. Hardy looked away, feeling awkward.
"Oh, right! You want to hold Lily, don't you?" Ezra said, realising that they were making Hardy uncomfortable, and changing the subject.
"Well, yes...if you're sure I won't break her," Hardy replied. "I've never held a newborn before."
Ezra grinned. "Neither had I, until last Saturday. It's not as scary as it appears. Look, just hold your arms out and I'll put her in them. Then just make sure her head is supported."
"Okaaay." Hardy did as he was told, and found himself holding the tiny four-day-old baby, who gazed up at him unblinkingly.
"Oh my God, she's beautiful!" he exclaimed."Damn, Ezra, I can't believe she's yours. This baby is your kid. It's nuts."
"That's pretty much been both of our reactions for the past four days," Ezra admitted. "We can't believe we created something so perfect."
"She must take after her mother, then," Hardy teased.
"I'd hit you, but you're holding my baby," Ezra assured him cheerfully.
"Of course, why do you think I took her in the first place?" Hardy retorted. "She's like a tiny bullet proof vest. I can say anything and you can't touch me! Ha!"
"You can't hold her forever, so just wait," Ezra warned, teasingly.
"Hello? What's going on in here?" The trio heard Ella's voice as she walked unheard into the room. Ezra and Aria, who had been standing close together, holding hands, jumped apart guiltily, and Hardy, still holding Lily, smiled awkwardly at Aria's mother.
"Hello, and you are?" she enquired, not unfriendly, but not exactly welcoming either.
"Oh – Ella, this is my best friend Hardy, whom I've known since college," Ezra explained quickly. "I brought him over to meet Lily."
"Oh, well, it's nice to meet you, Hardy," Ella said. "I'd shake your hand, but I'd rather you kept them both holding my granddaughter."
"Yes, indeed," Hardy murmured uncertainly.
"Aria, have you offered Hardy and Ezra something to drink?" Ella enquired.
"No, not yet. They literally just got here a couple of minutes ago."
"Ah. Well, in that case – coffee, tea, lemonade, you two?"
"Um, lemonade, please," Ezra said, hating how awkward this always was.
"Same for me," Hardy said quickly.
"Great. Aria, why don't you come and help me? You two," she nodded at Ezra and Hardy, "make yourselves comfortable."
As Ella and an eye-rolling Aria left the room, Hardy grimaced at Ezra. "Yikes," was all he said.
"Tell me about it," Ezra said gloomily. "The sad thing is, she's actually really nice – you know, when you haven't got her teenage daughter pregnant. Before she found out about that, she was always really friendly to me. Not like MY mother, who is basically just a bitch to everyone."
"Oh, I remember," Hardy said fervently. "She doesn't know, does she? About Aria and Lily, I mean."
"That is a long story." And Ezra began to explain about "Elizabeth" and the baby that his mother thought had been given up for adoption.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, once they were out of earshot of the men in the living room, Ella casually remarked, "So, he's bringing friends over now, is he? I thought no one else knew about you two."
"No one did, until Ezra told Hardy last night," Aria replied, trying to keep the frustration out of her voice.
"And can we expect a slew of further friends and family to turn up here every day, after he tells them, too?"
"Oh, come on, Mom! It's not like that," Aria said, exasperated. "Think of it from his point of view – he hasn't been able to tell a single person in the world that he has a baby – or even that he has a girlfriend, come to that-"
"And whose fault is that?" Ella asked, coldly.
"Ours – yes, both of ours, of course – but that doesn't make it any easier on him. If anything, it makes it harder! So he told his best friend, the one person who could understand and support him through this. I mean, from the start I had Hanna and Emily and Spencer to rely on, and then after everyone found out I was pregnant they were all – mostly – really supportive and kind of excited for me. But Ezra didn't have anyone; no one could even know he was with me, let alone that he was going to be a father! Literally the only person he could share anything with was me! No one from his life knew anything, and I didn't realise how much it was hurting him. So when he asked, I said he could tell Hardy. How can you have a problem with that?"
Ella sighed. "Because I'm still angry that there is anything to tell, okay? You can't expect me just to get over that. Right now I'm really not sympathetic to Ezra and his problems, frankly. The fact that I'm allowing him to come into my house and see his child is me being plenty sympathetic, I think! And the more people he tells, the more chance this whole thing has of getting out, and I won't let that happen."
"Mom, calm down. He's not going to tell anyone else, okay? Just let him have this one," Aria pleaded. "He needs it."
Ella stared at her daughter for a few moments. "Fine. But you need to impress on him – Hardy, I mean - that he needs to be incredibly discreet about this, and never say a word to anyone. Not even in a third party, "my friend has a baby" kind of way."
"He won't, Mom. Ezra's his friend, and the one who stands to lose everything if this gets out. Hardy wouldn't do that to him."
"He'd better not," Ella said, darkly. "Now here – you take the jug and I'll bring the tray with the glasses."
Aria sighed, but said nothing more as she took the jug from her mother, and followed her back into the living room. Hardy had handed Lily back to Ezra, who was cooing at his daughter and giving her little Eskimo kisses.
"She thinks you're crazy, but I think you're cute," Aria grinned, as she saw this display.
"Pff. She thinks I'm fantastic," Ezra retorted. "Just look at her face; she loves it."
Lily chose that moment to scrunch up her face and wail, and Aria burst out laughing. Ezra, looking back at Aria to pull a face at her, saw Ella laughing too, until she realised he'd seen her, and immediately straightened her face. Ezra sighed and looked away as he gently rocked Lily to soothe her. He had to remember it had literally only been four days since Ella had found out about him and Aria, and he couldn't in all fairness expect her to come around so soon. But it would be so much easier, and so much happier, if she just would!