Well, this is it guys. The end! I hope you've enjoyed reading 'Old Flame' as much as I've enjoyed writing it. Seriously, I am so proud of this story and am more greatful for all of your feeback than I can possibly say! So, please, for the final time: read and enjoy!
"Happiness is a firework sitting on my headboard,
Happiness was never mine to hold,
Careful child, light the fuse and get away,
Because happiness throws a shower of sparks."
Ezra was on his way. Diana, my new favourite person, had rung him and arranged the whole thing. I was really going to see him. He was really going to see me. We were really going to see each other. All we had to do was make sure that my parents saw neither of us. (And herein lays the problem).
It was nearing 11.15pm and I needed to think of a way to escape my parents. It looked like Mike was my only option.
I spotted him sulking by the door and made my way over, grabbing two flutes of champagne off a waitress as they passed me by.
"Hey, little brother," I said with a smile, handing him a glass and taking a sip of my own.
"Okay, what do you want?" He asked, rolling his eyes as he accepted the flute. I opened my mouth, shocked. "You only ever call me 'little brother' when you want something or when you're drunk." He noted the empty flute and tutted, "Oh, God, you're not drunk, are you?"
"No, I'm not drunk, but I do need something, you're right," I admitted to him, "And, Mike, if you agree to help you have to promise not to say anything to anyone."
"I don't know, Aria, I mean... it's not going to tear the family apart again is it?" He looked genuinely scared and I felt awful. I'd never really given much thought to how Mike felt about everything that had happened.
His parents had split and gotten back together only to send his only sister away for having an illegal affair with her English teacher and it seemed like nobody had stopped to ask Mike how he was doing, all too preoccupied with their own problems.
And I couldn't even promise him that this wouldn't make everything worse.
"Mike, I'm so sorry that I haven't been the greatest sister to you over the last year or so and I'm even sorrier that I can't promise you that this isn't going to change things, but I need you to do this for me."
"What is it?" He asked with trepidation evident in his voice.
I looked around, making sure that my parents and Jackie weren't within ear-shot before whispering, "Ezra's coming."
"And, what do you want me to do about it? I thought you two were over."
"Mike, after they sent me away I tried to get over him, I really did. But... when I started senior year it turned out that he was my English teacher again and we got back together. I broke it off with him because of Jackie but now he's coming here and I need to see him. I don't expect you to understand but letting him go was the worst thing I've ever done in my life." My eyes were full of tears but I held Mike's gaze steadily, letting him see my desperation.
"Even worse than starting a relationship with him in the first place?" He asked, but his voice was teasing.
"So, you'll help me?" I breathed, daring to hope.
"Will you get Hanna to go to prom with me?"
I laughed, "No promises."
"Meh, it's better than nothing. Just... can I ask you one thing?"
"Sure, Mike, shoot," I said, glancing at the big clock above the bar and noting that it was now 11.31pm. He'd be here any minute.
"He didn't... force you to be with him, did he?" My eyes widened, is that what he thought?
"Oh, God, Mike, no! We met before Junior year in a bar and I didn't tell him my age!" Mike nodded and relaxed somewhat.
"Good, I just, uh, you know..."
"I care about you is all. I wish you would have told me," he said the words softly, his eyes were slightly pink as if he was trying to hold back tears.
My heart broke a little, I had no idea how much my actions had hurt him, my little brother, the one I was supposed to protect.
I opened and shut my mouth a few times, at a loss of what to say.
"So, what do you need me to do?" He asked, downing his champagne and wiping his mouth with his sleeve.
Mike's job was simple, distract the parents while I found Ezra and fixed things between us.
"You owe me," Mike muttered as we waited behind a plant for our parents to come near.
"Yeah, yeah, date with Hanna and/or Spencer, I get it," I whispered, "Just make sure this is believable."
"Aria, please. I spend half of my time pretending to be sober, how hard can it be to do the opposite?"
I shook my head in disbelief, "No comment." A second later, our parents appeared. "Go, go, go, go, go!" I ushered Mike out from behind the plant and watched as he swaggered forward. I couldn't believe that this was the same little brother who I'd shared a room with in Iceland and who used to give me nuggies and wet-willies. At some moment in time, he'd grown up and I'd missed it. The thought alone made me want to cry.
I was such an emotional wreck tonight.
"Hey, moommmmm," he slurred, "Whaddup Daddio?" My parents looked stricken as their son swayed on the spot. He staggered to the left as if the room had suddenly tilted itself and started laughing madly.
"Ha! Ha! You guys' face is so funny! What? Never seen Mikey drunk before?" He rolled the 'r' in 'drunk' and I had to cover my mouth to stop myself from barking out a laugh.
I glanced to the left of the scene just in time to see him walk through the doors. Ezra Fitz, dressed in a dark blue shirt tucked into black slacks. He was incredible.
It's funny how apt the whole "absence makes the heart grow fonder" thing is. Every time I see him it's like learning to breathe again. Like that feeling you get when you break the surface of the water after thinking that the world above is out of reach, like the struggle and pain had all been worth it to resurface and breathe again.
Diana greeted him by the door and ushered him out into the courtyard. I could see the confusion on his face and smiled.
All of a sudden, however, I was nervous. What if he didn't want to get back with me? What if he'd moved on? Maybe he wouldn't want to date somebody who lived in a different state.
No. Diana said that he'd been miserable. He still loved me just like I still loved him. It was time to right a wrong that should never have been wrong in the first place.
"Aria, what are you doing behind a plant?" My mother's voice broke me out of my reverie.
My eyes widened and I grabbed her arms, turning her around so that her back was to where a very confused Ezra was standing outside.
"I was just looking for an earring," I invented, pointing at my ear.
My mother looked unconvinced, "You're wearing both your earrings."
"Yeah, I found it." She pursed her lips, a sign that she didn't believe me in the slightest. "What's up with Mike?" I asked, changing the subject. The boy in question was still creating a scene by singing "Raise Your Glass" obnoxiously loud.
"Your brother," she said, distastefully, "Appears to have helped himself to the free champagne. Can you wait here? We're going to bring him up to a room, there's no way we're driving back to Rosewood with him like this."
There's the distraction I'd been hoping for.
"Yeah, Mom, that's fine," I said back, trying to contain the grin that was threatening to erupt onto my face.
"I THINK I'M GOING TO HURL!" Mike yelled. My mom's eyes widened and she gave me a swift kiss on the forehead muttering, "Happy New Year, Baby," before helping my father escort Mike out of the room.
As soon as the coast was clear, I practically ran to the doors. My journey, was halted as Jackie stepped in my path.
"You think you're so clever, don't you?" She said, folding her arms with a smirk and nodding towards the doors that my family had just exited through, "But I see right through your plan, you little whore. You're not good enough for him."
Her words stung but I forced myself to keep a straight face.
"You're just jealous, Jackie," I replied, "Jealous of what Ezra and I have, and what you'll never have with him."
She laughed coldly, "What you and Ezra have is a disgusting, vile felony. He'll get bored of you eventually and realise that you're just a pathetic, immature, slutty child, willing to sleep with her teacher just to have something to do."
"What Ezra and I have is love." My voice was weak as I argued with her. Nobody had ever spoken to me like that. Not Alison, not A, nobody.
"Please. You're nothing but a slut. I bet your parents would be so proud to know what you've been doing behind their backs, wouldn't they?"
"You can't do that, he'd get sent to jail!" I begged her to see reason, "Is that what you want, for him to never teach or be happy again? You're more selfish than I thought."
"Why you little-" I flinched backwards as she raised a hand, getting ready to slap me, when out of nowhere a hand grabbed her wrist and held her at bay.
"You lay one hand on this girl and I'll make you wish you were never born." I looked up to see my saviour, Diana, with a hard look on her face.
Jackie's angry looked mutated into fury as she wrenched her arm from Diana's grip.
"How can you be okay with this? Don't you care what your precious son has been doing with this little child?" There were angry tears in Jackie's eyes and I couldn't help but feel a little bad for her. Love makes you do crazy things.
"What he's done is fall in love with her, that's not a crime," Diana said calmly.
"Yes, it is! She's still in High School!"
"It's an unfortunate twist, I'll give you that," Diana agreed with a smile, "But I don't think you'd be fighting so hard to have them apart, Jackie, if you didn't see that they are completely in love. In fact, I don't think you care that she's seventeen, you just care that he's not pining after you anymore."
Jackie looked stumped, her mouth opening and closing a few times as she tried to comprehend Diana's words.
Diana patted Jackie sympathetically on the back before turning back to me.
"You go get him, Aria."
I nodded and grinned, my heart beating wildly.
"Come on, dear." I heard Diana say to Jackie, "Let's go get you a drink."
I made my way to the glass doors leading to the courtyard. I could see Ezra, he had his back turned to me, talking on his mobile to somebody. Quietly, so as not to alert him to my presence, I opened to doors and stepped out. Immediately, I wished I had taken a jacket with me – it was freezing!
"Yeah, no, I'm leaving soon... Yeah, Mom just pushed me into the courtyard without explaining why... Something about a suprise... I've been here for nearly twenty minutes...I know... Okay, Noah, see you soon...Yeah, you, too...Bye." He flipped his phone closed, sighing as he slipped it into his pocket. He looked up at the night sky and sighed.
I took a step closer to him and winced as my heels clacked against the stone ground. There was no denying my presence now.
He span around to face me and for a moment we both just stared at each other. I watched as his eyes roamed my body, as if he was trying to make out if I was real or not.
"Hello," I said, softly.
"Aria..." he breathed, taking a small step closer to me.
I ran forward suddenly and collided with his body. His arms encircled me immediately and he lifted me up, one hand going to my lower back and the other to the back of my head.
I buried my face in his neck, letting his warmth envelop me. He squeezed me tighter, so tight that it was just on the edge of painful.
"Ezra," I laughed, "I can't breathe."
He set me down immediately and rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly, a blush rising up his neck and flushing his cheeks.
"Sorry," he apologised, flashing me his boyish grin. "What are you doing in New York?"
"Jackie invited my family to the party," I told him, causing his eyes to widen. "I know," I said, knowing what he was thinking.,"But your mom sorted her out. She's amazing, Ezra."
He chuckled, "She is that."
We smiled at each other and it was silent once more.
We bother laughed softly as we spoke over each other. I remembered what had happened last time I let him speak first and knew I had to make sure that didn't happen again.
"Can I go first?" I asked. He nodded and remained silent.
I took a deep breath and launched into what was probably my most important rant ever.
"Ezra, I'm sorry, so sorry. I should have trusted you and I didn't. I was just stupid and jealous and let myself be blinded by that. You're the most amazing person I've ever met and I can't believe that I let myself lose you over something like this. And I totally understand if you never want to see me again, I deserve that. But I just hope you're hearing me when I say that I never meant for any of this to happen. Sure, we're not the most conventional couple but there isn't a day goes by that I don't-"
I was cut off by the press of his lips on mine. His hands framed my face and as soon as I got my bearings, I wrapped my arms around his neck.
He pulled back a moment later and leant his forehead against mine.
"Can I talk now?" He whispered, huskily. It took a lot of effort to just nod and not kiss him again.
"You're intolerable," he said, making me pull back and look at him incredulously. He grabbed my hands and led me to a bench, forcing me to sit down opposite him while never once relinquishing his grip on me. "You talk too much and never listen. You overreact to everything and your moods change so often that it makes my head spin. You pick apart everything I say and seem to enjoy arguing about anything and everything. I never know where I stand with you and I don't think I've ever met such an infuriating person in my life." I tried to pull my hands back, unable to listen to any more of what he had to say, but he held my hands firmly, not letting me sit up. Instead, I looked pointedly away. "And I love you for every one of these reasons plus more."
My head shot back around to face him and when I saw the sincerity in his eyes, my own filled with tears once more. For the first time this night, I allowed them to spill over and fall down my cheeks. He let go of my hands and carefully, as if I was made of glass, wiped the tears away.
When he was done, he rested one hand on the side of my neck and with the other hooked a finger under my chin, lifting it so that our lips were only inches apart.
We could hear the crowd inside, beginning to count down to a new year.
"TEN, NINE, EIGHT..."
"Aria..." he whispered, "Never, ever leave me again."
"Never, ever," I vowed with a whisper, leaning forward to close the gap between us.
And as our lips met, fireworks, both real and metaphorical, erupted around us, showering the world in sparks. This was a new year, a new beginning, and whatever came our way, we'd face it together for this is where we belonged, this was happiness.
I'm really picky about endings so I'd appreciate some feedback on this one!
I may possibly pop back into this story over the year but I'm going to be super busy with my Leaving Cert so no promises!
Thanks again for everything,