Chapter 12

It's Already Over And Done When You're Young

Aria slugged into the kitchen, rubbing her eyes as she scowled from the bright sunlight glaring across the walkway from the sitting room, as well as windows in the kitchen. She walked over to the coffee percolator and grabbed the pot off the heating base. She retrieved a clean mug from the counter and filled it before placing the pot back on the base and bringing the mug to her lips.

"So you're as much of a slave to coffee as my brother?"

Aria turned around and leaned against the counter. Elijah was seated at the table with several textbooks laid out in front of him. He also had an empty bowl nearby and a glass half-filled with orange juice.

"And you're a slave to your work as much as he is," Aria observed.

Elijah shrugged. "Ezra got almost all A's his first year in college. I'm determined to not get anything less than that."

Aria laughed. "Still competing, eh?" Elijah shrugged again, smiling cheekily at her. "Keeps things interesting. Oh, and it gives him something to fight for."

Aria nodded, setting her coffee cup on the counter. She added cream and sugar to it, and then grabbed a spoon to mix it in. "You love him a lot."

Elijah chuckled. "He's my brother. He's been my best friend since I was born. Of course I love him. I've always tried to be better than him, but it's only because I wanted him to be proud. You know our parents divorced when I was nine, and my dad has been a detective for years. He was gone so much that the only real male figure I had around was Z– er, EJ, as my parents usually call him."

"So knowing that guy hurt him, it didn't change how you see him?" Aria asked.

Elijah's features hardened as he stared down at the pen he was turning in his fingers. "I never saw him differently in a bad way. If anything, it made him a hell of a lot stronger in my eyes than he ever had been in the past. I always saw him as soft when we were growing up, you know? I mean he was the one who did swimming, and track, and cross-country, but he was never a jock. If anything, he was a nerd. He worked hard and passed all his classes, and he was nice to everyone, even to the point where he would let people walk on him."

"Like Jackie," Aria murmured.

"Exactly!" Elijah said. "He always let her do what she wanted in their relationship, and he still loved her. I hated her so much for what she said to him last year when everything happened. How she told him that she didn't believe him. Ever since all of that stuff happened last year, I've become so much more aware of the ways that people continue to find ways to victimize the victims. I'm honestly sick t the things people will do to hurt someone because they don't believe that they're pretty enough, or, just the opposite — that they're too good looking to be raped."

"Have we really come so far as to live in a society where victims are bullied and blamed?" Aria murmured. She shook her head a moment later and waved her hand at Elijah, picking up her coffee mug. "Don't answer that. I already know the answer."

"Sickening," Elijah said, "isn't it? How we live in a world now where people will blame the ones who are already suffering, rather than the people who are responsible for that suffering. How these days, its always the victims fault, instead of the perpetrator." He paused, dropping his pen onto his notebook. He took a drink from his glass of juice and ran a hand through his hair. "You know, I used to subscribe to the theory that if something happened to a person like that, then it was probably at least a little their fault. And then I was sitting on the floor, watching blood run over my fingers because my brother tried to kill himself, and he was talking about things I didn't understand, and all I wanted to do was kill that guy. I really hope to god that if he is back in town now, that he gets what's coming to him. I can't think of anyone more deserving."

-
Tell me, did you fall for a shooting star
One with a permanent scar
-

The morning slipped away slowly, with Aria and Elijah parked at the table with their textbooks. Ezra sat a few chairs away from both of them with a stack of papers to grade. By the time noon greeted them, Aria's head was throbbing from reading her textbooks and notes over and over. She flipped her books shut and shoved them aside.

"I'm bored. Is there anything else to do besides study?"

Ezra chuckled, flipping one of the papers he was reading shut. "It's Saturday. Coffee and cartoons?"

Aria perked up. "Can we go get the good stuff?"

Ezra looked up at the adults where they were gathered near the counter, talking about the events that were going to come up in the next few days. Byron would be gone Sunday and Monday to Florida for an end-of-the-year conference. Ella, Ezra, and Aria would all be very busy with finals. Thursday and Friday would be spent grading finals and packing up boxes at Hollis and Rosewood Day. Elijah would be back in town late Friday evening.

And somewhere in the midst of it all, a man was likely to come creeping from the shadows, with his sights set on Ezra. Nothing mattered more to Ethan than making sure that the stress-filled week to come passed without a single hitch.

"Straight to the coffee shop and back," Ethan ordered them before turning back to Byron, Anne, and Ella. The four of them were trying to pull together some kind of schedule that would ensure as little conflict as possible.

Aria shot up out of her chair with a large smile and packed up her books into her school bag and then charged down the hall to the bedroom. She dropped the bag just inside the door and then grabbed her duffel from the floor. She dug through it and then pulled out a pair of white shorts and a white matching white t-shirt with patterned yellow flowers covering it. She quickly slipped out of her pajama pants and ribbed green tank top into the cool summer clothes before grabbing her wedge flip flops from the floor and slipping her feet into them.

By the time she returned to the kitchen, Ezra had slipped on her usual black Converse high-tops. He was dressed simply in a loose black t-shirt with some sort of dragon design and khaki shorts. He was checking his wallet as he crossed the room. He stuffed it into his pocket and then offered his hand to her.

"There and back. I mean it," Ethan repeated.

Ezra chuckled as he took Aria's hand in his, and they headed for the front door. They headed out of the house. Within seconds of pulling the front door shut, they both let out heavy sighs of relief. Any chance of escape, regardless of how short, was better than being forced to spend every waking moment confined in the same space as five other people, though for the weekend, it was now six.

"If I ever get the bright idea of having a large family ten years from now, remind me of this week," Aria laughed as she let Ezra pull her towards the car. He looked over his shoulder back at her and laughed as well.

"I promise to do just that." He let go of her hand as he reached the driver's door and pulled his keys from where they were clipped on a belt loop. He shoved the car key into the lock and then turned it before opening the door as Aria rounded the car. He hit the lock switch as she reached for the door handle, and a few moments later, they were both seated with their shoulder belts locked into place.

As he often did when they were in the car together, Ezra let his hand linger on her thigh while Aria stared out the window. Conversation didn't take place, but it often didn't when they were together in his car. More often than not, when he thought of their times spent in his car, they were spent exchanging heated kisses. Two stuck very clearly in his mind.

The first had been when he finally resolved that he couldn't stay away from her, regardless of how hard he tried. He'd seen her standing in the rain outside a cafe with a cup of coffee, and a thousand different thoughts had run through his head. Some were ridiculously sinful, while others were very simple. What if she got sick from walking home in the rain? Would she catch a cold? Or the flu? And if she did, how long would it be before he saw her again in class.

And it had been that simple for him to stop and open his door for her, because he knew he couldn't stand spending more than sixteen hours before he saw her again. It was hard enough going through the weekends without her. He couldn't manage days without her, even if it was only to stare at her from a distance in his classroom.

The second was just as equally heated as the first — when he had begged her to forgive him after he had tried to end their relationship because he'd seen her with Noel. It had been a pathetic move, but he had truly meant it when he said that all he wanted was for her to be happy. Granted, he also didn't want to hurt her with his own problems, either.

He remembered how he had felt when he had seen her kissing Noel in the cafeteria that morning. The sense of betrayal running through him was coursing through his veins as hard as the fear of actually losing her, as well as the fact that if he did indeed try to change things, that eventually he would have to tell her about what had happened to him. There had been so many things that he knew would have to change that day. It had made the decisions he had to make and remake that day very tough.

"What're you thinking about," Aria asked.

"October fifteenth," Ezra murmured as he shifted the gearshift as they drove.

Aria looked at him, perplexed. "The day Hanna got hit by Mona? Why?"

Ezra chuckled, squeezing her leg lightly. "A lot more happened that day than just Hanna getting run down by Mona."

Aria nodded slowly. "I know. But what about it?"

Ezra shifted the car into park as they pulled up outside the café. He looked over at Aria. "I was remembering how I had no clue what I was going to do. When I came back from New York and saw that you might be with Noel, I didn't want to hurt you if you were truly happy with someone your own age, but it wasn't just because I wanted you to be happy. I knew that if I made the choice to stay with you and continue to try and make our relationship work, that eventually I was going to have to tell you about what had happened in the dorms. A large part of me didn't know if I could do that."

"You know I never would've insisted you tell me something you didn't want to," Aria murmured.

Ezra nodded. "I know. But I didn't want to tell you just as badly as I didn't want to tell my mom or Eli when I went home last April."

Aria leaned across the seat and cupped her hand around the back of his head, bringing him towards her. She pressed her lips to his. Ezra smiled against her lips and cupped her face with his left hand while his right rested on her hip as his tongue pushed their lips apart. Moments like these seemed to be far and few between lately.

After several minutes, they broke apart and settled back into their seats, taking a few moments to catch their breath. Aria pulled down her rearview mirror and checked her hair and her lipstick before turning to look at Ezra.

"This car has some good juju."

Ezra chuckled as he pushed his door open. Aria did the same and they both got out.

"What makes you say that?" He asked as he hit the lock button on his key fob and rounded the car, taking her hand into his once more.

Aria giggled as he pulled the door open to the café. "We've had many good moments in that car. In fact, I'm pretty sure we haven't yet had a dull moment in it."

Ezra raised his eyebrows at her as they stepped in line behind several eager college students who were clearly cramming in last-minute study time before finals started in forty or so hours. "Not even the argument we had?" Aria shrugged. "It was passionate, wasn't it?" Ezra chuckled and nodded. "Yeah, I guess so."

They waited several minutes in line, and Aria looked around the coffee shop, taking in the view of other people as they studied or worked. After a moment, she spotted a row of books and released Ezra's hand to go over to them. Her fingers brushed over the titles, and she couldn't help but smile as she spotted Free Fall. She looked around herself and then opened the book to the page with her favourite quote, and folded down the bottom corner before tucking the book back in the shelf.

"English nerd?"

Aria nearly jumped as she looked up. The man standing in front of her couldn't have been more than twenty-one. He had spiky sunlight yellow blond hair and baby blue eyes, and chiseled features much like Ezra's. His voice was low and gravely.

"I guess," she murmured. She felt like his eyes were prying at her, which got under her skin. "I'm here with my boyfriend."

The man in front of her nodded, looking around the café. Aria's finger drifted upwards and she pointed to Ezra as he ordered their latte's.

"He an English nerd too?" The guy asked. "Certainly looks bookish."

Aria couldn't help but laugh at the comment. The fact that someone who didn't now Ezra at all saw him as bookish was hilarious, especially when you saw what his apartment looked like.

"I-" "Aria?"

She looked over at Ezra and raised a finger to him to wait a moment before turning back to the guy she'd been talking to.

"Aria," he said as she looked back up at him. "Like an opera song?"

Aria nodded.

"What's the guy's name? Oratorio? Cantata?" Aria raised an eyebrow at him and crossed her arms. "Ezra. What's your name? Sonet?"

He laughed and shook his head, extending a hand to her finally. "No. My name is Jeff. It's nice to meet you, Aria."

Aria shook his hand quickly and then turned and looked back at Ezra. He was picking up their lattes from the counter. "I gotta go. It was nice meeting you."

She crossed the café and took her latte from Ezra before he took her hand in his and walked out of the café.

"Who was the guy?" He asked as they walked out. "Someone you know from school?" Aria shook her head, turning to look back inside the building. It took her a moment to spot him, but she saw him seated at a table in the furthest corner. He was flipping through a textbook, but he was also surrounded by notebooks and other textbooks. Yet another college student cramming for finals.

"I saw Free Fall on the shelf and folded the page with the quote on it. He was teasing me. Oh and he called you bookish," she chuckled.

Ezra looked down at her. "Are we really that transparent when it comes to books?"

Aria giggled. "Apparently."

-
I remember when you came with me that night
You said forever, that you would never let me go
-

Ezra took a sip from his beer as he settled on the deck in the back yard. He and Aria had spent most of the afternoon curled up in the sitting room watching cartoons and old movies, just like they so often did on the weekends. They ate leftover pizza for lunch and then Ethan prepared lasagna for the seven of them.

It was close enough to midnight though, and Aria was curled up in his room talking with Ella while Byron and Ethan had been talking in the kitchen over coffee. His mother was already fast asleep in her room. Knowing she was, brought back a flood of memories from the night he'd tried to kill himself.

"Ezra?"

He looked over his shoulder. Ethan was standing a few feet away, holding a coffee mug in one hand and a sweatshirt in the other. He offered the sweatshirt to his son.

Ezra settled his beer bottle on the stoop next himself and took the sweatshirt from Ethan. He pulled the sleeves on, one at a time, and then zipped it up. He grabbed the beer bottle by its neck and turned his attention back to the empty yard.

Ethan walked around Ezra and then sat down a few inches away from him, holding his coffee cup tightly between his fingers. He watched Ezra for a few moments as he took another swig from his beer.

"You being careful about your alcohol intake?" He asked.

"Yep," Ezra said curtly. "I don't guzzle alcohol, and I rarely keep it in the house."

Ethan nodded, turning back to look out at the scenery before them. One of the perks of living in Rosewood was the amount of stars one could see at night. Even though it was close to Philadelphia, it was far enough away that a person could see more than ten or twenty stars in the sky. And though Rosewood had a population of nearly eight thousand, the city shut down by ten PM, leaving the town lit only by the moon and stars, and the occasional streetlight.

"Do you hate me?"

Ethan looked up at Ezra, surprised by the question. It was so simple – just four little words –, but it carried so much weight. He knew that Ezra's real question was why he'd said the things he had last year. And no answer he ever gave his son was going to be good enough to make up for saying something so cruel.

"No," he said honestly. He stared down at the grass as Ezra settled his beer down again and draped his arms over his knees. "I never once hated you. I never thought ill of you. I always wanted the best for you and Eli. And I believed that you two both had the capability to do anything you set your mind to."

"You told me to try harder to kill myself, dad." Ezra turned his head look at Ethan. "Days after getting out of the hospital!"

Ethan pressed his lips together and shook his head. "It was wrong, EJ. Nothing else I'm ever going to be able to say is going to be able to fix the wound that those words created for you. I was in a very dark place, and to be honest with you, I think I was furious that you were as far down as I was, if not farther, but you weren't letting your fears stop you from just being finished with it all. it's a terrible thing to be jealous of, and today I'd sooner smack you in the back of the head and tell you there's nothing you can't get through, but at that time…"

"I don't know that I can ever forgive you for saying that," Ezra said honestly.

Ethan nodded again. "I wouldn't expect you to. What I said to you was cold, and cruel. It was selfish, and if I was in your position, I don't think I could either." Ezra stared hard down at the ground as several tears ran down his face. For the first time in a long time, however, they weren't because of everything his attacker had done to him or because of Aria. "I don't want to spend the rest of my life hating you because you said something that wasn't fair," he said.

"Then don't," Ethan said. "Your mother would be the first person to tell you that if you don't want to feel something, then don't feel it. I promise you that if you'll give me the chance to prove it to you, I'll show you that I'm not the same person I was for these past few years, EJ. And I promise you things will get better."

"I don't even know how to begin to start over," Ezra murmured. "I mean, here I've spent the last twelve months trying to pull myself together and everyone's telling me that I've only just been pushing my problems to the side instead of actually facing them?"

"We understand that you were put through something severely traumatic," Ethan replied softly. "But there's a difference between saying you're dealing with something, and actually doing it. Someone who is healing and dealing with what they've been through doesn't carry it with them everywhere like you do. Regardless of what you'd prefer at the moment, this trauma is with you, Ezra. You carry it around with you and on you constantly. And I'm not saying that its something people can see because its there, but it is there."

"Good to know," Ezra said sarcastically. He picked up his beer and took a long drink from it before Ethan grabbed it from his hands. Ezra scowled at him, and became even more frustrated when Ethan sent the bottle sailing across the yard.

"Don't drown your pain in alcohol, or any other unhealthy choices." He pointed his finger towards the door behind them. "You've got a girl in there who loves you for who you are, and doesn't see you any differently than the day she met you; who wants you to open up to her. Coming from a man who drove plenty of people away out of fear of what they would do if they knew the truth…You don't want to lose her because you're too afraid to be open and honest." "I don't-" Ethan cut him off, shaking his head at Ezra. "She's probably the greatest thing you're ever going to find, Ezra, and she's entirely open to you right now. I know you keep telling her to not hide how she's feeling and be open about it, but if the one person advocating the strongest for her is doing the exact opposite of what he's preaching, she's going to start getting mixed messages."

"So what do you suggest I do?" Ezra replied.

"I already told you. Be honest with her. Tell her the truth and don't bury how you're feeling. Everything will happen in its own time."

-
I've got my sights set on you
And I'm ready to aim
-

Aria closed her textbook as Ezra pulled the blankets back and slipped underneath them. She looked up at him and smiled, letting her text book drop a few inches as she moved it over the side of the bed to place on the floor. She crossed her arms loosely over her stomach.

Ezra kissed her forehead as he pulled his arms free from his sweatshirt and tossed it to the floor. He furrowed his brow and brushed his thumb over the spot on the side of her head he had just kissed. Aria tilted her head up to him, perplexed.

"What're you doing?"

Ezra shook his head, pecking her on the lips. "No scar."

"Huh?"

Ezra chuckled, shifting the blankets around a bit. "When you got hurt, you had that cut on your head. It's finally healed up completely."

Aria nodded slowly. She couldn't resist the urge to reach up and touch the spot on the side of her head that he was talking about. It was just on the curve of her skull, above her eyebrow. She'd been covered cuts and bruises that night, and most of them hadn't even scarred, except for a thin cut that had run from halfway down her arm to just above her elbow. Now it was nothing more than thin, pink scar, but for Aria, it was a physical reminder that all her suffering wasn't for naught. To her, it was a reminder that she had come out on the other side, and was still fighting.

"I can't believe the school year is over after all this time. It feels like it's been going on forever." Aria said.

Ezra chuckled. "Certainly feels like I've been out of college for longer than that."

Aria curled up against him as they both laid down on the bed, pulling the blankets up tighter. Ezra pushed the blankets in under her side and wrapped his arm over her, though the bulk of his cast dug slightly into her side.

"Did you ever think we'd end up here?" She asked after a few minutes.

Ezra looked down at her. "I guess you'd have to ask me at different points this past year, and somehow all the answers end in disaster." Aria looked up at him and raised an eyebrow. "How so?"

Ezra chuckled, rolling his eyes as if the answer should've been obvious all on its own. "Because none of those theories involve me telling anyone about my life last year. In fact, most of them involved me being absolutely positive your father was going to riddle me with bullets." Aria giggled and shook her head. "My dad doesn't even own a gun. Spencer's dad, on the other hand…"

"How did your mother even get it in her head that I was dating Spencer? Didn't she know about Spencer dating Toby?" He asked.

Aria shrugged, shaking her head. "I don't know. I guess between the dance-a-thon and then seeing Spencer in your car, she somehow two and two together in the wrong way."

Ezra nodded, and then looked down across the room as if he was thinking of something. He looked back up at Aria and smiled.

"What?" She asked.

Ezra shrugged. "I was just remembering the dance-a-thon. I almost told you everything that night, when we were in the parking lot."

Aria rested her chin on his shoulder, tightening her grip on him where her hand rested on his ribs. "Why didn't you?" Ezra lifted his hand up to hers and laced his fingers with hers, looking down at their joined hands. "I chickened out. When I was going to kiss you, and then we heard other students, I panicked. It was another reason I never could've been with Simone, regardless of what you thought. She was too polished and pristine. She never would've had the capacity to understand things the way you would have."

Aria pulled her fingers free from his grasp and moved her hand up to his face. She rested them on the side of his face and smiled at him before both of their heads titled towards one another. Aria's fingers moved into his hair as her lips parted, granting his tongue access to her mouth. They parted a moment later and she pouted slightly.

"What?" Ezra chuckled.

Aria shook her head, moving her hand back down to hold his. "I just miss this. I miss your kisses."

Ezra nodded, narrowing his eyes at her as he moved is other arm across her body. "You know what I miss?"

"What?"

Aria quickly got her answer and let out shrill squeal as his fingers dug into her sides. She twisted and squirmed for freedom, laughing loud enough to be heard across the house, and Ezra couldn't help but laugh along with her.

-
I didn't meet you in the park
I never kissed you in the dark
-

Byron settled the paper he'd been reading through on the nightstand as Ella sat down on the bed next to him. She pulled the towel she had her hair wrapped in off her head and tossed it to the floor.

"Do you think we're making the right decision, being here? I understand needing to keep Aria and Ezra safe, but is it really such a good idea to let them sleep together?"

Ella stared at Byron for a long moment. "Do you really think they would do those things?" "I'm not sure," Byron said. "That's why I asked. I want Aria to be happy just as much as you do, but they're sleeping in the same bed."

"And that's all they're doing," Ella reminded him. She opened her mouth to say something else, but was cut off by the loud squeal of laughter from the next room. She raised her eyebrows at Byron. "When's the last time we heard that? Can you even think of the last time Aria was that happy?"

Byron shook his head. "I'm honestly not sure. But I'm also worried about those two spending too much time together. What if it affects them detrimentally, Ella? I'm not sure we're going to be albe to pull them apart-" "We wont let that happen, Byron. Between us and Ezra's parents, I'm sure those behaviors won't go unnoticed. As it is, summer vacation starts this week, and we agreed to start seeing a family therapist this week as well." She paused for a moment, moving beneath the blankets. "Look, I'm fully understanding and sympathetic to your worries about those two, and I share them. But at the moment, Ezra is the one person who can seem to keep Aria happy, and if he can continue to do so without their relationship becoming codependent, then I've got nothing against it continuing this way. It's comforting to know my daughter screams less in her sleep when he's around."

Byron nodded, though there was a small twinge of jealousy at Ella's final comment. It wasn't one of hatred, but that of a father knowing that his daughter was no longer a little girl. It seemed more and more these days that he was being forced to face the reality that Aria was in fact going to be an adult very soon.

"Seems like it was just yesterday that she was running in to jump into bed with us because of a thunderstorm, doesn't it?" He asked softly.

Ella nodded, smiling at him. "Sure does."