If we ever meet again, I seriously might spontaneously combust if you don't agree to give me another chance.
Mission success turned into mission impossible within a matter of days. It was as if she'd dropped off the planet following her visit to his apartment. There were no text messages, no phone calls, no emails. And he checked—compulsively—so compulsively that a student asked if his blackberry was his new religion. Yet still, there was nothing.
But after taking the first desperate action, Ezra was determined to let her make the next move. The ball, or rather his heart, was in her court. If Aria chose to take the shot, he hoped it was in the right direction. If she didn't, or if she missed, Ezra was quite certain he'd combust from the tragedy of it all. It wasn't just an affirmation of feelings he was waiting on, it was his future.
So he waited and waited and waited. He wrote and wrote and wrote—to take his mind off her, he rationalized—of course it didn't really help that he was writing about her. He did give up drinking though—trading his scotch for an even more ridiculous amount of caffeine.
Then, one unsuspecting, unassuming Wednesday afternoon, she came to him. He was still in his classroom at the college, shuffling through various half-ass attempts at an analysis of Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls. The click of the door as it opened didn't startle him—students had been coming in and out all day—and he sighed before giving the same speech he'd been repeating since eight in the morning.
"You'll have to come back. My office hours are from…"
"Five-thirty to seven, I know. But my dad's leaving at five, and he's my ride home." She smiled softly as he lifted his head to look at her, first a grin then a frown curving on his lips.
"You didn't call me."
She bit her lip and paused in front of his desk, one finger trailing lightly along the grain of the wood. "I know, and I'm sorry. It's just…"
"Just what, Aria? This isn't a game." Beneath his desk, his hands clenched into fists and he fought to keep control of his temper.
"You think I don't know that? I panicked, alright? I panicked after I left your apartment because I'm not sure if I can handle it all again."
Ezra furrowed his brow and slid his chair back. "Handle what?"
"The sneaking around, and the lying to my parents, having to count to fifty, having to worry about Jackie. I just don't think I can."
He nodded in understanding. He felt the same. "So you don't. We don't. We go forward—openly. No secrets. No hiding."
Aria walked around the desk, moving perch on the edge of his desk. "Really? You'd do that?"
He smiled. "I'd do anything for you. But you have give too Aria, this isn't a one person relationship."
She nodded and took his hand slowly. "I know that."
They looked at each other uncertainly for a moment, before Ezra spoke. "So are you really just here because you're waiting for your dad?"
Aria shook her head. "No." She ran a hand through her hair and crossed one leg over the other. Ezra gulped—clearly she'd come to play games. "I came to ask you on a date."
He arched an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"Yeah," she giggled and tugged his chair closer with one foot. "I was thinking me and you and coffee at eight? You know that little café two blocks from your apartment?"
"Sounds perfect." He leaned forward and kissed her teasingly. If she wanted to play so could he. "But you're buying."
She giggled and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Deal." Her lips met his briefly and then she was gone, her heels clicking lightly against the linoleum floor of the classroom. She turned just before shutting the door behind her, a little smile on her lips. "Don't stand me up."
He didn't. At 7:45 Ezra was already seated at a small table near the door, right foot tapping nervously and left hand clutching his cell phone. The fifteen minutes until the clock marked eight were the longest of his life, and at 8:01 when she breezed in the door, smiling and shaking rain droplets from her wet jacket, he let out a sigh he hadn't realized he'd been holding. She'd actually come.
For all his playful mannerisms earlier in the evening, he'd honestly been terrified that she'd be the one doing the standing up—not the other way around.
"It's pouring out there!" Aria laughed and slid into the seat next to him. "Have you been waiting long?"
He shook his head. "Nope, just got here." So that wasn't entirely the truth, but he figured if he told her he'd been waiting for almost twenty minutes she'd think him some kind of fool. Ezra grinned and brushed a wet curl from her forehead. "You look beautiful."
She blushed and glanced away. "Umm—thanks."
A brief frown crossed his features. It wasn't like her to be shy, and her demeanor now was a far cry from the bold, demanding girl who'd breezed into his office that afternoon. "Is something wrong, Aria?"
"No." She jumped up abruptly and grabbed her wallet from her purse. "What do you want? I think I'm just getting a smoothie, you know it's kind of late for coffee…maybe this wasn't the best idea."
Her words were rapid and jumbled, the statements making little sense.
"Whoa, slow down." He reached for her hand. "I'll have whatever you're having." A small smile curved on his lips. "And tonight was a great idea. I've missed you."
Aria visibly relaxed and nodded slowly. "Two strawberry-mango smoothies it is." She leaned down and kissed his cheek softly. "Thank you."
His brow furrowed. "For what?"
She exhaled slowly. "For being your incredible self."
"Ah." He released her hand. "You're welcome then."
Five minutes later she returned with the two drinks and a few napkins. "They're staring at us."
Ezra scanned the coffee shop. No one looked familiar, and no one seemed particularly interested in the two of them. "Who?"
"Those two girls working the cash register." She inclined her head in their direction before sitting down beside him again.
"So, they go to Rosewood."
"Friends of yours?"
Aria licked a bit of mango from her straw. "No, just acquaintances."
"Then why does it matter what they think?" He took a long sip of his smoothie before settling an arm across the back of her chair, his fingers pausing to toy gently with the curls laying on her shoulder.
"It matters because all of the school will know we've been out together by first period." She looked away from him and groaned quietly. "This was a terrible idea."
"Hey," he tipped her gaze back towards his with two fingers beneath her chin, "Aria we're not doing anything wrong. We wanted this remember?"
"Wanted—as in the past tense. Maybe I don't want this now."
He fought the urge to roll his eyes. "Yes, you do. If you want, we can go, but I don't think running away is going to solve anything. So the town talks for a few days? Then what? It's Rosewood, Aria. There'll be some new scandal before week's end."
She giggled. "Yeah, you're right." Her free hand found his, their fingers locking together naturally. "I'm glad we're fixing things, Ezra."
He grinned and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Me too, Aria. Me too."