Okay, this was sooner than I'd planned on posting but I saw a comment on YouTube about how somebody wished we could see what happened after Ezra walked in and so, well, this was born. It took me a few hours to write so I hope you enjoy! Sorry for typos.
The halls of Hollis were empty as I made my way to my office. I'd stupidly left my lesson planner there and needed to get some work done today as Hardy was planning on having a "get-over-your-illegal-girlfriend" night over the weekend.
I knew it wouldn't work. No amount of alcohol could break me free from the numb feeling that had surrounded me like a blanket since Aria spoke the words "It's over, Ezra, I can't do this anymore". The only feeling other than hurt and numbness that I'd felt since then was during our brief interaction that morning. Looking into her eyes again had made me feel more alive than I'd felt for weeks.
And anyway, Aria's quick decision to end our relationship was too suspicious, there had to be more to it than she was telling me. She'd never been overly cautious about her parents before – so why now? No, there was no way I could even think about getting over her until I knew her reasoning behind the break up.
I could still hear her broken cry on the phone to me from the night her life went to hell – again.
"I made a terrible mistake and I need you!"
How could she make her one call to me and then dump me out-of-the-blue a few days later? There had to me more to it and I wasn't going to give up until she told me what it was.
These thoughts circled my head, much as they had for the past month, as I made my way to my office. However, when I turned onto my corridor, I stopped. I could hear voices coming from my open room. Who was in there?
"… I can show this to your father, too…"
Was that Jackie?
I hurried closer to the door, trying to distinguish a second voice. Was she reprimanding a student?
Peeking in, my eyes fell on her. It was Aria. My heart clenched at the sight of her back in my office, where she belongs. But what was Jackie saying to her?
"This is your game," she sneered, taunting Aria almost threateningly with a folded note, "You chose the rules."
Rules? Something clicked in my brain; something that made too much sense despite how much I hoped it was untrue. Was Jackie blackmailing Aria with something? That – she wouldn't do that! Would she? She wasn't that type of person – was she? I prayed that his was just one giant misunderstanding on my part.
Only one way to find out.
I stepped into the room, slamming the door shut behind me as I looked from one woman to the other – nobody was leaving until I got to the bottom of this.
The two women turned towards me; Jackie looking like a deer caught in the headlights and Aria like she wished she could be anywhere but where she was. She looked so tiny and helpless.
"What's going on here?" I demanded, repeating the words of Noel Kahn from when he'd caught Aria yelling at me in my classroom.
"Aria and I were just talking about his book you leant her," Jackie said quickly, lying through her teeth. She added a little laugh at the end, a tell-tale sign that she was lying. When we were dating I could always read her like a book.
"Cut the crap, Jackie," I said, fiercely, turning to a paler-than-usual Aria, "Aria, tell me Jackie isn't the reason behind all of this."
Aria looked torn and I sighed, knowing I'd hit the nail on the head.
"Your girlfriend tried to blackmail me, Z," Jackie burst out, "She's not the girl you think she is." Something in Jackie's voice made me believe that she was telling the truth. I looked at Aria and saw something that I wish I hadn't in her eyes – guilt.
"Is that true, Aria?" I breathed, not wanting to believe it.
"I had to," she said quietly, not looking at me in the eye, "I'm not proud of it. It was – I mean I had to – I'm sorry." She bowed her head in shame and I couldn't stop myself from walking over to her and cupping her cheek. She was so tired, I could tell by her eyes. She was only sixteen and she'd been though so much, more than most people go through in a lifetime. How could I be mad at her? I love her and I'd forgive her anything.
"I know you are," I whispered to her, kissing her forehead softly. Her arms wrapped around my waist and I pulled her closer, letting her rest her head on my chest. This is what I'd been missing – craving – for the last month.
When I pulled away, Jackie was gone.
"Aria, you need to tell me what's going on. How does Jackie know about us? Why did you blackmail her?
Aria nodded, moving towards the couch and sitting down, beginning her story.
"It started back at the college fair, after I told you about Jason." I flinched, the infidelity still being a tender subject. "When you left, she told me that I needed to grow up. I think she already knew about us then, I guess she saw us arguing or maybe together on campus. Then I heard her in here, talking to you about how 'you're a total catch' and that she still loves you, and I – I freaked out a little. I got a hold of her paper and it turns out it was all plagiarised. I told her to leave Hollis." She looked down, playing nervously with her hands.
"Why, Aria?" I asked, taking a seat beside her. "I thought we were passed all of the Jackie stuff? If you heard us talking you would have heard me tell her that I was dating somebody. Don't you know that you were just playing with fire?"
Aria laughed bitterly, "That's what she said, too."
"Jackie came to my house the day me and the girls were taken in," she explained, "And she told me that she'd out our relationship if I told anybody about her paper and our conversation. My ultimatum was to leave you or she'd expose you. She said that she's willing to do anything to keep you, Ezra, even if it hurt you."
"So you hurt me first." The words passed from between my lips before I could stop them. Aria flinched and looked away.
"I did what I had to do to protect you," she said firmly.
I stood up and began pacing, the newfound information making my head spin. How could I have wanted to marry such a bitch? You think you know somebody…
To think I almost lost the love of my life because of her, an evil, conniving ex!
"From what?" I asked, not really expecting an answer. What exactly did she think she was protecting me from? We knew her parents would find out eventually, whether we told them ourselves or not. And we knew that everybody in Rosewood would believe what he or she wanted without any evidence no matter what we did, so what had her so terrified for me?
Did she not understand that we were in this together? I thought by now that she'd know that all I need is her hand in mine, and her smile to guide me.
"She said she'd destroy you," Aria said, clearly still believing that she was protecting me, "She'd go to my dad and he'd have you fired!"
I sighed, "Well, at least I know why you broke up with me."
Were we back together now? Did she really want to break up with me or was it only because of Jackie? Where did I stand now?
I hoped that she'd say she wants me back, or give me some sign that we weren't over, that we weren't going to throw everything we'd gone through away because of one particularly high hurdle.
"You know, before Jackie I don't think I understood how…" Aria trailed off, making me turn and look at her, "How dangerous it was, what we were doing."
I didn't like where this was going. I don't care how dangerous it is, she is worth fighting for. No doubt about it.
"Did you stop because of Jackie, or because you were afraid?" I asked, part of me afraid of what her answer would be.
Aria stood up, taking a quick few steps over to me, "I was afraid for you. I didn't want to see you get hurt." I felt her small hands take mine and felt hopeful that we were back on the right track, the one that lead to the greatest relationship I'd ever been in, one that I'd almost lost because of a scary parent and a psycho ex.
"I should have told your mother the truth about us at the police station," I said, almost kicking myself for my cowardice.
Aria shrugged, "You tried."
I smiled at her, " I should have tried harder. But I saw that look in her eye-" I pictured Ella's hard, furious look and shivered slightly, "-that steely 'I know what you've done' look and I… folded." I looked down, ashamed of myself for not fighting for her, for us, for everything that was good about my life in Rosewood.
"I know that look," Aria agreed, making me look up at her soft eyes. I still wasn't sure where this left us. Was she still scared? I looked away, worried about what she might say next. My stomach plummeted when she removed her hands from mine.
Then I felt her touch my cheek, an intimate gesture that Aria was very fond of. I gasped as she caressed me gently. However, looking into her glowing brown orbs and I saw that she was still doubtful.
"I have to go," she said, softly, removing her hand from my cheek and touching my own hands lightly before reaching for her bag on the coffee table. I couldn't let her leave while still doubting us, who knows what decisions she'll make while she's gone?
"Aria," I called, halting her exit and stepping towards her, standing close, "I'm not going to let Jackie destroy anybody or anything."
"She means what she said," Aria argued.
Aria was right; Jackie probably would go to Byron and spill the beans. We just had to make sure that we got there first.
"Do you still trust me?" I asked, hoping that she'd understand why we had to do this.
She smiled, "Yeah, I do."
"Then there's something you and I have to do this afternoon."
She looked at me with wide eyes but I knew that she was thinking the same thing.
After today, nothing was going to be the same.
Please review! I need good luck for my mocks in a few weeks! Also, for anybody who read 'Old Flame' (and for those of you who and for those of you who should go read it now), I may (and by 'may', I mean do) have a sequel on the way! :)
Happy New Year!