I decided to expand my story. This chapter is written from Ezra's perspective.
As I walked into my classroom, my eyes flitted over Aria. Even after two years together, she still made my stomach do a little flip by her mere presence. This of course made what I was about to do even more difficult. I loved her. There was no doubt about that, but I also had to think about the future and therein lay the problem. I knew I could never have a real future with Aria. Yes, in CA, we'd certainly have greater freedom. We would be able to go out, hold hands on the street, kiss in public and no one would think twice, but what about her family or my family or our friends? To these people, who knew us best and who mattered the most, it would be apparent that there was something fishy about our relationship. They would realize that I'd met Aria when she was my underage student and they would find it an awfully strange coincidence that both Aria and I had decided to move to CA after her graduation. I couldn't stand the idea of people judging me or besmirching my relationship with Aria. I would not let that happen, so on the day of Aria's graduation, despite the way she still made me feel, I broke up with her. I told myself it was for the best, we both deserved to be happy. Plus, after two years of constantly being afraid of getting caught, we both deserved to find happiness in an uncomplicated relationship.
After the deed was done, it took all my self-control to not run after her. Instead, I just sat slumped behind my desk with my head in my hands as I tried to remember why I had done this. After nearly thirty minutes, I felt that I'd regained enough control of my body to pack up my classroom.
I found the exercise of removing my Shakespeare posters and all the students' work from the walls strangely cathartic. For some reason seeing the walls become barer and barer helped me forget that I had just closed a chapter in my personal life and forced me to focus on the fact that I was closing out a chapter in my professional life.
The calm that slowly settled over me did not last long, for just as I finished rolling up the final poster and taping shut the final box, I got a rude reminder of what I had just done to Aria.
Hanna came rushing into my classroom with a fiery look in her eyes and before I could even acknowledge her presence, she began, "Mr. Fitz, you were always one of my favorite teachers. I'm not big into writing or reading, but you made it enjoyable; however, I will never look back favorably on you," as she continued, her volume increased exponentially with each word, "I will never praise you or think of you fondly. No, without a doubt, what you have done today has made it impossible for me to ever look at you the same. You have broken something beyond repair and if I ever think of you again, I will only think of the pain you've caused." With her face red from all the shouting, she walked toward me and without warning slapped me soundly on the right cheek as she shouted, even louder than I thought humanly possible, "YOU ARE THE BIGGEST JACKASS I'VE EVER ENCOUNTERED EVEN BIGGER THAN THE FREAK WHO RAN ME DOWN WITH HIS CAR! YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED."
What could I say to that? What had Hanna said that wasn't true? Instead of arguing, I said simply, "I know."
She looked back at me for a second, as if shocked that I had agreed with her, and then she left as quickly as she'd come in.
The next few years passed smoothly. Although I still felt guilty over what I had done, I continued to rationalize that I'd made the only decision possible. I was ensuring that both Aria and I would have a change at a future even if that future would never be together.
A year after I left Rosewood, one of my colleagues set me up on a blind date with Jennifer. She was incredible. She was truly everything I was looking for—she was smart, well traveled and she shared my passion for writing. Our relationship was easy and light. Plus, we were able to do all the things I'd always longed to do with Aria and there was rarely a night that we stayed in.
After eight months, I popped the question and by the end of the year we were married. It was a simple affair. We just went down to City Hall and got married in front a small crowd of friends and family. Everyone was overjoyed for us especially Hardy who was relieved I had found an appropriate partner.
Our lives settled into a comfortable routine and I achieved some minor literary success after a series of my short stories had been published. After a while, Jennifer started dropping hints about having a baby. I was not really prepared for this next stage of my life, but I acquiesced to her request and a year later she was pregnant.
When she told me we were going to be parents, I was overjoyed. The next morning, however, while we were still in bed, Jennifer sleeping soundly beside me, I started imagining our future child. I thought about what he or she would look like, I wondered what color his or her eyes would be and how he or she would smile. I imagined a little boy with dark hair, hazel eyes and the cutest little smile imaginable. I saw my son playing on a play structure and running toward me gleefully as I bent down to greet him, but at the last minute, he ran past me shouting, "MOMMY!" at the top of his lungs. I turned around expecting to see my son snuggled in Jennifer's arms, but instead, he was in Aria's. She looked at me and smiled, her dark hair shone in the sun and her hazel eyes glowed with warmth and love.
At that moment, Jennifer rolled over beside me and I snapped out of my daydream, but every night for a few weeks after that, I'd have a similar dream. Sometimes the child would be a boy, other times a girl. Sometimes we were at the park but other times my dream family was at the zoo or the beach or the pool. The only two constants in these dreams were the fact that the child always had the same dark hair and dazzling eyes and Aria was always there glowing as she embraced the child. Her child. My child.
The dreams finally stopped when Jennifer was about four months pregnant. I still felt a deep guilt for dreaming about my other family and for feeling warm and tingly as I woke up from this alternate reality I created. To compensate, I tried to be the best husband I could be. I even started joining Jennifer on her weekly shopping trips to the farmers' market.
One morning as we were moseying among the stands and picking out the produce we would need for the next week, I heard someone calling to me from across the market.
Ella Montgomery shouted, "Ezra! Ezra! It's been so long. It's so good to see you."
Looking around I spotted Aria and experienced a mild panic attack. I tried to appear calm as I responded simply, "Hello, Ella." I tried to keep my gaze on Ella and not stare at Aria who had yet to acknowledge my presence.
"Ezra, good to see you man," Byron exclaimed, "How's teaching going? Are you still writing?"
I opened my mouth to answer but before I could, I heard Jennifer's voice from behind me. A wave of nausea coursed through me. This would not end well.
Trying to keep my voice level, I began, "Oh. I'd like you all to meet Jennifer. Jenny, this is Byron, Ella and Aria. Aria was one of my students in Rosewood." I snuck a glance at Aria who was now looking directly at Jennifer appraising her.
For a moment, I thought no one would ask about who Jennifer was, but Ella quickly busted this hope, as she said, "So, how do you two know each other?"
I looked directly at Aria. My breath started coming more quickly. I couldn't bring myself to answer the question. Jennifer, on the other hand, could not sense my uneasiness and happily explained that she was my wife.
I barely even noticed Ella or Byron's congratulations as I continued to stare intently at Aria as I began to fiddle with my wedding ring. Aria had grown very pale and she wouldn't look at me. Instead, all of her focus was on my hand. My trance was quickly broken as I heard Jennifer add, "and we're expecting." I turned to look at Jennifer and I saw her start to lovingly caress her protruding belly, but then I heard a loud smack. I looked to find Aria completely prostrate on the pavement.
Before even thinking about it, I leaned down and started trying to rouse her, "Aria. Aria. Are you OK? Aria wake up!" It became a mantra and I kept repeating it and repeating it.
After a few moments, as Aria began to stir slightly, Bryon turned to me and said simply, "Ezra, we can take it from here. Aria's fainted before. We know what to do, but thanks for your help."
Byron lifted Aria into his arms and he and Ella began walking off toward the parking lot. Ella stroked Aria's hair as they walked.
As I stood up, Jennifer turned to me, gave me a quick kiss and remarked, "Wow Ezra. You'll make such a wonderful father. I had no idea you were so paternal." I gave her a weak smile and we continued shopping.
A few years later, I received a card in the mail inviting me to Aria's wedding. A flood of emotions took over me. On the one hand, I was extremely upset to hear that she was set to marry, and on the other, I was overjoyed that she had invited me. It was the first indication that she had forgiven me.
I didn't want to push my luck so on the day of the wedding, I set out for Napa and left Jennifer at home with our son. It was Aria's day and even though she was in love and had evidently forgiven me, she didn't need to see my wife.
I sat in the second to last row at the ceremony and tried my best to remain calm as I reminded myself that I loved my wife. As I heard Aria utter "I do", I couldn't help but wonder if she would have ever said those simple two syllables to me had I not broken up with her.
At the reception, I quickly sought out Aria. As I walked towards her, I couldn't help but note how amazing she looked. I tapped her on the shoulder and she turned to look at me. The look on her face was not what I'd expected.
Even though she was glaring at me, I began, "Aria, you look beautiful as always."
"Thank you, Mr. Fitz. Why are you here?" Hearing her say Mr. Fitz stung.
Hoping for clarification, I continued, "What do you mean? You invited me."
"My mother must have invited you," she said simply. My heart dropped. She really hadn't forgiven me.
I needed to get away from her before my emotions betrayed me. I simply nodded and continued, "I just wanted to wish you a happy marriage and say congratulations."
With that, I left.
The next few years were thankfully Aria free, but then I learned she was having a baby. She was having that hazel eyed, dark haired child that I dreamed about. She would get to live out my daydream, and the only difference would be that she would be looking lovingly at Jeremy rather than me.
I told Jennifer that Aria was pregnant, but Jennifer barely remembered meeting Aria (I never told Jennifer that Aria was more than just another student). Even so, she demanded that we send a baby gift. The next day, when I arrived home from work, there was a beautifully wrapped present filled with onesies and binkies and a blank card with a sticky note attached that read, "fill out the card from both of us and write down Aria's address so I can send the gift." I did as I was asked and the gift was sent.
A few days later, I received an email from Ella (she had clearly sent the email to her entire contact list) with a brief birth announcement and a picture of an exhausted looking Aria smiling exuberantly at the camera while holding her brand new infant and lying in her hospital bed. The worst part of the photo was that Jeremy was kissing Aria on the cheek and had one arm around Aria's shoulders while the other cradled the baby's head. They looked like the perfect family.
The next few years were far from pleasant. Jennifer and I began fighting constantly. I wish I could blame her for this, but it was mostly my doing. I just couldn't shake the fact that this wasn't the life I should be living, so I stopped putting in as much effort at home and I started to resent my wife.
The only good thing left in my life was my son, for despite looking nothing like the child I'd dreamt about, he was the center of my world. I decided to stay in my marriage for his sake. Jennifer and I went to marriage counseling and I tried to find a way to fix the marriage that I had broken, but it was too late.
We officially separated and I moved across town. I occupied myself completely with constant activity and took to reading more than I ever had in the past. Reading became my escape. I could venture into someone else's life and not think about what a joke mine had become.
One day, while reading in the park by my apartment, I was shocked back to the real world by a familiar voice.
When I looked up, Aria was right in front of me, and she was saying, "Ezra, hi. How are you doing?"
I was completely surprised to see her, and I felt more than a little disappointed when I noticed that she had yet another addition to her family in a sling across her chest. I cleared my throat, stating simply, "Oh. I'm fine. Thank you. How are you doing?"
"I'm well. We're" as she motioned to the rest of her family a few hundred feet away, "just having a little picnic. How's Jennifer? Do you two live in this neighborhood?"
I sighed as I felt a wave of sadness and anger at my own failing fall over me. "No. Jennifer and I are getting a divorce. I live in an apartment just a few blocks from here."
"Oh, Ezra. I'm so sorry. I really thought you guys made a wonderful couple." She sat down next to me and rubbed my arm in a very soothing manner. I couldn't suppress a small smile as I realized she had actually called me Ezra. She had finally forgiven me.
She gave my arm a little squeeze and stood up to leave. Before she did, she said, "Well, I better get back to my family. It was nice to see you. Please, don't look so blue, Ezra. I have faith that it will all work out for you in the end."
My eyes followed her as she walked across the park. I watched as her husband greeted her with a kiss on the cheek and checked to make sure she was OK. Aria just nodded and smiled, not the smile of a vindictive woman who had just found out her life was better than mine, but the smile of a woman who was genuinely happy and content.
I had left her all those years ago because I was afraid of what other people would think of me. I was a coward, and now, I was the one paying the price.
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