A/N: So here we are, 30 chapters later, at the close of this part of this series. I'm writing this just as I finished typing the last line at 5 AM on May 11th (which is like 3 weeks later than I wanted to be finished, but who's counting?). This story was started a little over a year ago, and there were times when it had faded from being at the centre of my heart because I started other projects. Still, I love it very much, and writing every chapter has been such a joy for me. This story was so much more than I ever planned for it to be when I started 40 Days And Counting back in 2011.
To be totally honest, that story started when I wanted to do something with the idea of Lights' song, and wouldn't you know, the acoustic version of that album just came out on April 30th, so it only seems right that I should reach the end of this so soon after.
I don't know when the next story (named Forget You after Cady Groves new song) will be up. I'll most definitely be starting it right away, but I would like to finish off at least one project before I get to posting it, just so I have a little more room to move. That said, enjoy. And for those of you who re-read 40 Days like it's the bible: Now you've got another story to re-read!
Keep On Dreaming Even If It Breaks Your Heart
Aria yawned as she looked around the bedroom she had somehow been moved into the night before. The last thing she recalled was watching a movie with Mike on the couch in Ella's sitting room. She knew she must've fallen asleep at some point, but she had no recollection of moving off the couch or being moved.
The scent of coffee drifting under the doorway turned her attention, and she moved off the bed and moved towards the direction of the scent.
She walked out of the bedroom and down the short hallway into the kitchen. Her eyes were barely open, but she found her way to the espresso maker and picked up the cup sitting under it before walking over to the table and sitting down. She took several sips of the hot liquid in her hands and let it warm her for a minute before she began to open her eyes more fully.
Aria rubbed hand over her eyes and then rose from her seat and walked over to the fridge. She opened it and retrieved the cream cheese before closing it and walking back over to the table. She grabbed the bag sitting in the middle and opened it, retrieving a bagel from inside of it. She grabbed the bagel slicer from where it had been sitting next to the bag and pulled the slicer out. She dropped the bagel inside of it and then placed the slicer back between the two pieces of plastic that normally held it in place, pushing down until her bagel was cleanly cut through. She removed the slicer once more and then set it aside to remove the bagel.
Afterwards, she placed the slices on the table and then removed the cap from the cream cheese. It was pink from strawberry flavoring. She dipped a knife into it and then spread it across one slice before scooping more cream cheese out of the tub and spreading it across the second piece.
After returning the cream cheese to the fridge and emptying the bagel slicer of crumbs, she returned to her spot on the table. As she was chewing her second bite out the top half of her bagel, the door opened across the room, and Ella stepped inside, carrying a box.
"Hi," Aria muttered with a mouthful of chewed bread.
Ella looked up at her as she settled the box on the floor. "Hi. I see you poached my coffee."
Aria smirked at her, picking up the cup and taking a drink out of it. "Mmm," she moaned, pressing the issue.
Ella chuckled, pushing the door shut and crossing the room to the kitchen. She picked up the other half of Aria's bagel and took a bite out of it.
"I ran into Ezra at the school," she said when she'd swallowed. "He seems to think you'll be all packed up and ready to go tonight."
Aria nodded, taking another drink of the coffee. "He told me last night."
"Do you have any plans to come back to Rosewood after…?" Ella asked. Aria got the sense that adding 'after you leave' felt too final.
She shrugged. "Not this week, but I'm sure sometime soon. You should come to New York too."
Ella nodded. "I'm sure I'll be up there a few times this summer. Do you have any plans for today?"
Aria nodded, gulping down a third sip of coffee. "Em and I are gonna go take some flowers by Alison, and then we're gonna have lunch with Spencer and Hanna. I'm supposed to go by Hollis after that and see what's going on tonight."
Ella nodded again. She stood there for a moment, and Aria could feel the tension that was quickly becoming an awkward moment. There was obviously something her mother wanted to say, but whatever it was, the words weren't actually coming.
Aria sat there for a moment longer, and then got up, taking her coffee and what was left of her bagel with her. As she approached the sink, Ella finally spoke.
"Look, I know this year had been crazy, and at times it's been downright horrible, but I hope in the past few months-"
Aria shook her head as she turned around. "Mom, it really doesn't matter anymore. It's now how it used to be."
"You need to know-"
Aria sighed. "I know, mom. I know you're sorry, and I know you love me. I know that it's different here than it is with dad." She granted a small smile. "I've known all of that for a while."
Ella inhaled a deep breath and then exhaled slowly, nodding slowly. "I just don't want you to leave Rosewood thinking you don't have something to come home to. You'll always have someone."
Aria tilted her coffee cup back and gulped down the last of it left in the cup before placing it in the sink. She walked back over to Ella and wrapped her arms around her, careful not to get any cream cheese on Ella's blouse.
"I know," Aria said softly. "I've always known that."
If I can find my way home, will you take hold of me
Aria brushed her hands down over the back of her skirt as she moved to sit down. She'd just come from The Brew to let Emily know that she was ready when the other girl was done working. Aria herself had put in her notice at her job just before finals and had received her final check the day before. She'd put most of it in the bank, except for enough to put gas in her car and to pay for anything she might want for the next few days.
She looked down at the hem of her skirt, and folded it back to its original spot. It was a dark chocolate brown shade with moderately thick material. She'd paired it with a cap-sleeved pink t-shirt that had brown polka-dots and a picture of a dinosaur on the front.
She turned her coffee in her hands as she watched the kids on the other side of the playground. There were still a few more days left to the school year, but most of the kids on the playground were of pre-school age and younger.
"Well if it isn't Aria Montgomery."
Aria looked up and smiled as Loretta walked towards her. "Hey."
Loretta walked over to the bench, though she didn't sit down. She glanced down at the cup in Aria's hands. "You know, when I let you go, I didn't intend for it to mean that you shouldn't ever come back, or start drinking coffee from the competition."
Aria chuckled, smiling up at Loretta. "I know; I didn't mean to stay away as much as I did. As far as the competition, my mom is kind of dating the owner, so…y'know…"
"Showing a united front," Loretta said as she sat down on the other side of the bench. She nodded. "I can see that. You still over at the mall?"
Aria shook her head, crossing one leg over the other. "I'm moving into a new apartment in New York City next week, so I put my notice in a few weeks ago. I'm taking the summer, and then I'm gonna do an internship at a publishing company. I mean, assuming they take my interview."
Loretta chuckled. "I'm sure that won't be a problem. They'd be stupid not to have you."
Aria blushed. "Thanks."
Loretta nodded. A moment later, she looked up beside Aria. "Hey, Emily. I haven't seen you in a while either."
"Sorry," Emily replied quickly. She looked down at Aria as she looked up at her. "I'm done for the day."
"Is the competitions coffee really that good?" Loretta asked, though she chuckled, showing her lack of anger.
Emily shrugged as Aria stood. "It's the same brand, so it's pretty good; those guys that only sell to independent companies – that's what he sells. He just hired me." She looked over at Aria. "Did you get to the florist yet?"
Aria nodded. "They're in the car." She turned back to Loretta and gestured towards her car. "We should go."
Loretta nodded, waving towards the two girls. "It was nice seeing you. Aria, you should stop in for some coffee before you leave."
Aria smiled. "I'll do that. Bye."
Aria and Emily walked back towards her car, and then separated when they reached Aria's. Emily walked over to her own car, parked a few feet away.
"I'll meet you there?" Aria called out to her.
Emily nodded. "I'm gonna run over to the florist next to the cemetery first, but I'll see you."
Aria nodded back at her and then got into her car. She pulled on her seat belt and then started her car, punching the button for the radio a moment later. She turned it up loudly and rolled down her windows to let some air in.
"I got a lot to say to you; yeah I got a lot to say…"
Aria bumped her hip up against Spencer's as the two girls danced around, singing in Alison's bedroom.
"Training to be future co-eds, girls?" Alison said with a laugh as she flounced over to her bed.
Aria stuck her tongue out at Alison, picking up the cup on the nightstand. It was a mix of rum and coke. She took a sip of it.
"Well that's definitely a yes for Aria," Spencer laughed as she walked over to the bed and sat down next to Alison.
"Oh I'm just having fun," Aria said dismissively. "Where's Em?"
"On her way," Alison replied. "And then we can go."
"Go where?" Aria and Spencer asked.
"College party," Alison said, as if it should have been obvious. "Where else, sillies?"
Aria turned her car off as she reached the cemetery. She unbuckled her seat belt and pushed her car door open, holding her car keys on a loop around her finger. She pushed her door closed behind herself and then walked to the end of her car. She opened the backseat driver door and opened it. She picked up the flowers she'd gotten earlier and then closed the door and hit the lock button on her key fob.
She turned around and walked across the grass until she reached the dirt path into the cemetery. She walked up a dozen rows and then turned and pass down a few gravestones before turning. She stepped around a tree, and three gravestones over, she knelt down. An empty vase rested next to the gravestone.
Aria picked it up and walked over a few feet to a fountain. She filled the vase halfway and then placed the flowers in it before walking back over to the grave and settling the flowers on the ground next to the gravestone.
She knelt down, being careful not to sit on her skirt. "Hey Ali. I know it's been a while since I came by, but finals and graduation just happened, and Ezra and I got engaged…" She sighed as her voice trailed off. She bit down on the inside of her bottom lip. "You know, Ezra's sister Adriana's been going nuts with coming up with my wedding plans, and I love her for it. But there's this part of me that keeps wondering what you'd be planning if you were here." She laughed softly. "I'm sure you'd be so into all of this."
She inhaled a deep breath, trying to calm the nerves knotting inside of her. "Look, you'll probably hate me for this, and you should, but I'm not gonna come around very much anymore. Ezra and I are moving to New York, and I know that Labor Day is…" She paused, shaking her head at herself. "Anyway, it's my anniversary with him. And I've got to focus on the good now."
She leaned forward and pressed her lips to the marble stone quickly before pushing herself up and dusting the dirt and grass off her knees. "I'm sorry."
She turned and walked back to the aisle, breathing several deep breaths before she looked around. She spotted Emily a few rows down, almost on the other side of the cemetery.
She walked through the trail and then passed through the rows until she reached Emily. As she did, she could hear sniffling.
"Awe, Em," she murmured softly as she slipped an arm around her.
Emily turned towards her and Aria hugged her tightly.
"Shh," she murmured softly, rubbing her hands up and down Emily's back. "It's okay."
Emily shook her head, pulling away. She wiped the tears off her face. "No, it's not. It's been a year."
"That doesn't change anything," Aria argued. "Losing people hurts, no matter how much they hurt us while they were alive. I think Alison taught us all that."
Emily let out a soft laugh, nodding. "Yeah, I guess she did." She breathed in deeply and then sighed. "I just…I don't understand why Maya did what she did."
Aria rubbed her hand up and down Emily's back again before slipping her arm completely around the taller girl and pulling her closer. "You might not ever. Sometimes I still don't understand the things Alison did."
"Me either," Emily muttered softly.
A quiet beat passed, and then Emily wiped her face before pulling her phone out of her pocket and checking the time.
"I have to go meet Paige," she announced, if not a bit suddenly. "When am I gonna see you again?"
Aria shrugged. "Are you free Saturday?"
"As far as I know," Emily replied. "Why?"
"Adriana's decided to throw this cookout slash pool party thing for Ezra's birthday. I'll e-mail you with the details. But I figured it'd be a good way to put a fresh perspective on everything, considering how much it's all changing."
Emily nodded. "That sounds good." She looked down at her phone once more. "I'll see what I can do, but send me the details anyway. I'm sure if I'm busy I can move plans around."
"Well bring Paige with you if you want," Aria told her. "I'm sure no one will mind."
Emily nodded again. She hugged Aria quickly and then walked away, heading back towards her car.
Aria stood in front of Maya's grave a few moments longer, staring down at it for a moment. It broke her heart to know that Maya's death still affected Emily, but she knew that at the core of it all, there was very little that she could do to help. Emily had to come to closure with it all in her own time.
After two minutes, she exhaled a sigh and then turned on her heel and walked back to the dirt path before making her way out of the cemetery. She walked back to the street and then made her way over to her car before getting in and starting it. She pulled her seatbelt on and buckled herself in before checking her mirrors and then pulling out onto the road. Her radio played loudly once more, blasting a song about partying and having a summer fling.
"Girl, you make my speakers go boom, boom…"
"Who knew Ezra Fitz listened to country music?" Aria teased as she pushed his shoulder. He rolled his eyes, glancing over at her with a suggestive smirk. His logic for music talking about summer time was beyond her, considering there was snow on the ground, and Christmas was just days away.
He made a turn and pulled into an abandoned alley – the same one that had been privy to their kiss after he'd picked her up in the rain a few months earlier – and put the car in neutral.
Aria raised an eyebrow at him, giving him a sultry look from the other side of the car where she was leaning against her door. He leaned over so far that she could feel his breath on her neck.
"Maybe I'm a little drunk on you," he whispered huskily.
Aria's brow furrowed as she pulled her car over to the side of the road, being careful of the rushing traffic around her. She looked behind her and in front of her across the intersection before she opened her door and got out and walked over to the street corner.
"Dre, what're you doing here?" She asked as she walked up to the smaller girl.
Adriana looked up at her, shrugging. She was standing alone near the corner in a green summer dress with her arms crossed as though she were frustrated with something.
"We were just finishing up with getting everything packed up," Adriana said. "And I couldn't help but think about all of this…" She looked up at Aria.
Aria nodded, looking back at the road. She could see the black spots where rubber had burned in the middle of the intersection, and the fresh paint on the stop light where it had been repainted. It had been a year – long enough for everyone else to forget about the accident that almost killed three people – but not nearly enough to erase the memories of being in that car with Ezra that day.
"It's been on my mind today too," Aria admitted softly. "I keep thinking about if that guy had been going just a little faster, or I'd been in the driver's seat…I run through that day over and over in my head all the time."
Adriana shook her head, sniffling softly. "It terrifies me to think about it all. I don't know what I would've done if you or Ezra had died in that accident."
"But we didn't," Aria reminded her. "We're both still here, and so are you."
Adriana nodded, looking back at Aria again. "I know." She breathed in deeply. "It's because of that, that I made a decision today. I've been thinking about it a lot in the last few months, but I'm sure now."
Aria's brow furrowed. "What's that?"
"I'm going to switch majors," Adriana announced. "Fortunately most of my credits carry over, which is good."
"So what're you going to do?" Aria asked.
"I'm going to become a doctor," Adriana announced. "And if all goes right and I don't fail miserably at it – I want to be a trauma surgeon."
Aria raised her eyebrows. "Wow. Are you sure you can handle all the blood and gore?"
Adriana laughed, nodding. "I'm sure. I've talked to my mom about it a bit, and she thinks it's a good idea if it's what I want. Hardy too."
Aria smiled, giving Adriana a sideways hug. "Then I support you too. And I know Ezra will as well."
The best buzz I'm ever gonna find
Hey I'm a little drunk on you, and high on summer time
4 Days Later
Aria kicked her flip-flops off as she walked out onto the cement next to the pool. Even though the Fitz family summer home was practically on the beach, it still came with its own pool and Jacuzzi. That fact alone still made her cringe when she thought too much about it.
She sunk down into one of the beach chair, pulling her feet up onto the towel she'd laid out when she first came out, trying to keep off of the heated plastic. It was only 1 PM and it was already going on eight degrees.
"When are you friends getting here?" Adriana asked as she looked over the magazine in her hands at Aria through shaded sunglasses.
"Hanna left Rosewood as soon as she woke up, so she'll be here soon. Emily is going to be here later because she's got commitments this afternoon. Spencer should be coming around sometime soon, though." Aria explained.
Adriana nodded before turning her attention back to her magazine. She let the heavier half flop out of her hand for a moment as she picked up the margarita she'd made for herself a bit ago. From what Aria understood, it was Adriana's first time actually drinking as a legal adult. But as she watched the older girl from her spot, she could easily see how the high life suited her; from her black and white bikini to the two-hundred-and-fifty dollar sunglasses resting on her face, there was a simplistic aura around her about it all.
Aria sat on her spot for a few more moments, contemplating what to do. Ezra and Hardy had gone out to pick up supplies for the party later in the day, and Valerie had jumped at the chance to get out of the house. Aria suspected that she missed being around her friends in the city, even though she was at least ten times cheerier than she had been the first time Aria had met her.
The evening would prove to be interesting though, as Adriana had informed her that well over a dozen of Ezra's friends from college and high school had already RSVP'd for the party. When she thought about it, she knew she shouldn't have been terribly surprised. Ezra had lived an entire 22 years of life before he'd met her, and was likely to have at least that many friends because of it. When it all boiled down to it, there were still things she didn't know about him. People from his life that she didn't know.
Aria moved off her chair a moment later, deciding to focus on something else. She removed her shorts and the tank top she was wearing, revealing a white one-piece bikini with cut-outs on the sides and a lace fabric connecting the top to the bottom. She tossed her clothes up onto the lawn chair and then walked over the deep end of the pool. She crossed around to the far side so that she wouldn't get Adriana wet, and then stepped off the ledge and dropped into the water. Although initially chilling, after a few seconds it became comforting with the sun beating down.
When she surfaced, she looked around, confused that Adriana was no longer in her chair. A moment later, something grabbed at the back of her hips. She squealed and jumped away, quickly turning in her place. Adriana surfaced a moment later with a sly grin on her face.
"How'd you get back there?!" Aria squealed, rubbing a hand against the back of her hips in an attempt to get rid of the creepy-crawly feeling.
"I ran around the pool after you jumped in and just pushed myself in," Adriana giggled. "You made that so easy."
Aria rolled her eyes at the older girl, though she smiled anyway.
They both tread in the deeper end of the pool for a few minutes making small talk before the sound of a car door shutting perked up their attention. A few moments later, the sound of shoes clapping against the pavement grew louder before the person they heard finally came around the side of the house.
"Okay seriously a cop pulled me over three blocks away for not being a local."
Aria and Adriana both laughed as they waded over to the shallow end and got out of the pool.
"They do that a lot," Adriana said as she grabbed her drink from where she left it next to her chair.
Spencer removed her sunglasses and rested them on top of her head before walking over to one of the open lounging chairs. "He had the audacity to ask me why I was dressed like I was going to a frat party."
Adriana furrowed her brow as she sank down onto her chair. She picked up her phone to check the time before reaching into the bag she'd brought out with her and grabbing a bottle of sun block.
"Was he like five-seven? Dark brown hair? Extremely hot?"
Spencer rolled her eyes. "His attitude kind-of disgusted me."
Adriana giggled. "He'll be here later. Throw all his shit back in his face."
"If I don't throw a drink in his face first," Spencer muttered. "He'll be off duty, right?"
Adriana nodded. "I'd just make sure that you're quick getting away. He's thrown me in the pool a few times for getting back at him."
Spencer wiggled her eyebrows. "I ran cross country the last two years. He'll be lucky to catch me."
The afternoon passed in a more relaxed manner as the fell closer to the horizon and it began to cool down a bit. Adriana and Hardy moved the between the kitchen and back yard, grilling and cooking for most of the early afternoon.
By the time the sun had started to set, the back yard was filled with a number of people, and Hanna and Emily had brought Caleb and Paige with them. There were also a number of people that Aria knew were Adriana's friends since they had attended the wedding, but she didn't know very many of them.
"Hey, where's Toby?"
Aria turned her attention from the group of girls standing by Adriana next to the grill, back to her friends. Spencer was seated next to her on the side of the pool while Hanna and Emily were both in the pool. Paige and Caleb were a few feet away, talking.
Aria looked up at Spencer, furrowing her brow. "Yeah, where is Toby? You haven't mentioned him much lately."
Spencer shrugged, though she was frowning slightly. "We'd been arguing a lot lately with the subject of moving coming up again and again. We decided to take some time off and figure out where we stand."
Spencer quickly cut her friends off, shaking her head. "It's okay. I was sad, but I was sadder from all the fighting than I am now, because at least it's quiet. And we still talk and all that…We just don't know where to go next. We'll see what happens." She glanced up a moment later and grinned. "In the meantime, I see a cop who wants to be covered in ice water."
Aria raised her eyebrows at Spencer, but Spencer quickly shushed her as she pulled her feet out of the water and grabbed her towel from behind her to dry her legs and feet. She grabbed her empty cup from behind her a moment later and stood before walking around the pool to the back deck behind the house. She dipped her cup into an open cooler and filled it with water and melting ice before glancing at Aria.
Aria held a finger up for her to wait a moment and then spotted Ezra talking to Hardy. He glanced up at her a moment later, and she pointed to Evan. Ezra looked over his shoulder and spotted Spencer across the deck.
Hanna and Emily hopped up onto the side of the pool on either side of Aria to watch the action about to take place. A moment later, Adriana and several of her friends got into the pool and waded over to where Aria was seated with her friends.
"What's going on?" One of the girls asked. Aria knew her name was Katie. She had strawberry blond hair and big blue eyes, and also had apparently had a mad crush on Ezra a few years back.
"Spencer's getting revenge on Evan for earlier," Aria murmured softly.
"Oh I can't miss this," Adriana said as she pushed herself up onto the side of the pool next to Hanna.
Ezra walked over to Aria's lounging chair and picked up her drink, taking a sip out of it. A moment later, he walked a few feet back and waved Evan over. The other man walked away from one of their mutual friends and walked over to Ezra. The two began to talk, and he and Aria both glanced up at Spencer.
Spencer walked back off the deck onto the cement by the pool, being very stealth and normal to not attract any unwarranted detection. When she was within earshot of Ezra and Evan – a mere three feet away – she tilted her head to the side, gesturing for Ezra to step back.
"Rosewood was a slower pace I wanted at the time," he continued on as he glanced behind him and stepped over towards the grill like he was going to set his drink down. When he was a safe distance away, Spencer pulled her arm gently back so she didn't lose any water, and then threw it forward, splashing ice cold water across Evan's neck and back. His shoulders tightened and a smirk formed on Ezra's face as he began to chuckle.
Evan turned on his heel, staring at Spencer with surprised and slightly miffed expression.
"Payback is a bitch," she said blithe tone. A grin tugged across her face, and just as Evan dove towards her to grab her, she quickly jumped back before turning on her heel and running towards the paved sidewalk that wrapped around the house. He was quickly on her heel though, chasing her around the house.
Giggles and screams were all that was heard for a few moments while everyone waited for them to come back around. A bit later, Evan came back around the back of the house, apparently expecting Spencer to come through the house to the back. When he spotted her running back out the front door, he ran across the deck and hopped over it, grabbing the hose from where it was resting on the ground and pulled it back over the side of the deck, hopping back over it.
Spencer appeared the doorway a few moments later with a grin on her face, only to be quickly sprayed by ice water herself. The smile on her face fell into and growl as she grit her teeth together, turning to face Evan. A moment later though, she was struggling to hold herself together and keep from laughing.
Evan's mirth was too much for him to keep much of a handle on the situation and Spencer quickly snatched the handle of the hose from his hands before squeezing it and giving him a full-body wet down in a straight line from his neck to between his legs.
"Oops. Looks like someone had an accident," Spencer commented before tossing the hose onto the ground. She ran off the deck a moment later and jumped into the water, sending a spray of water over her friends as she cannon-balled. At that point, most of the back yard was laughing at the two of them, but it did nothing to stop Evan as he tore his shirt of his head and kicked his shoes off in one quick swoop before jumping in the water a few seconds behind her. He caught up to her as she reached the edge of the pool and backed her up against it.
Spencer and Evan grinned at each other as they stared each other down.
"Don't think you've won," he told her while clearly trying to keep from laughing.
"Oh, I'm sure you just need a breather." She replied snidely.
Evan furrowed his brow at her. "Really?" He quickly squeezed her side and Spencer squealed with laughter.
Aria stood from her spot and walked over towards Ezra, slipping an arm around him. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and leaned down to kiss her.
"Happy birthday," she said softly, smiling up at him.
"Thank you, baby," he replied. He glanced over his shoulder and chuckled. "I don't think I've seen Evan pursue someone that much in years."
Aria giggled, looking back over at the two in the pool. "I think Spencer's having fun." She inhaled a deep breath and looked around them. "If this is any sign to what this summer is going to be like, I can't wait."
"I was thinking more along the lines of the rest of our lives," Ezra said softly.
"Really, do you two have to talk like a romance novel right behind me," Hardy asked as he turned to face them.
"You about finished there?" Ezra asked, changing the subject.
Hardy moved a few steaks onto a plate and set them on the side of the grill before turning the knobs under it and pulling the lid down. "That was the last of them."
Ezra glanced back at Aria and she just smiled back at him.
"Good," he said. He glanced down at the brace on Hardy's knee. "Why don't we find out how that brace takes water?"
Before Hardy could say anything else, Ezra and Aria had each grabbed and arm and started tugging Hardy towards the water, even as he tried to plant his feet.
"Oh c'mon fighting won't help you," Aria told him as she continued to tug.
"Seriously, you guys, I'm sorry," Hardy said.
Ezra glanced over Hardy's shoulder and laughed at his sister walking up behind him. "Sorry's not gonna cut this one."
A few moments later, Valerie gave a generous shove behind him, and Aria and Ezra released their grips on his arms as he stumbled forward. He seemed to be catching his footing just a few inches from the edge, so Ezra gave another generous shove and watched as he toppled into the water, falling chest-first.
"Ohhhh," Valerie said with a cringe on her face. "That sounded like it hurt."
"He'll survive," Adriana laughed as she walked across the pool, brushing Hardy's matted hair off his forehead as he wiped the water from his eyes.
"Don't expect that you'll just get away with that," Hardy said to the three still standing on the deck as he turned around.
"You'll have to catch us first, Gimpy," Aria teased.
Hardy scowled at her. "I thought we were in this together. Solidarity and all of that."
Aria shrugged, looking up at Ezra with a smirk. "Sometimes I have to take his side. You know, I wouldn't want to appear biased."
Hardy rolled his eyes at her, though his attention was quickly pulled away by Adriana. Aria and Ezra both laughed at them, simply because of how easily Hardy's own words could be put right back onto him.
The evening continued on in a happy manner, and by the time the sun had set, drinks were flowing generously. Adriana and her friends had set up a makeshift bar on the back deck, with the requirement that anyone who drank was in charge taking care of their drink and anyone caught with any kind of drugs would be kicked out. The only person who opted not to drink was Valerie, though she ended up leaving not long after dinner to spend the night at a friend's place a few streets over. Aria, Hanna, Spencer, and Emily had their own drinks, but were smart about the alcohol consumption.
Ezra sunk down into the water next to Aria, exhaling a soft sigh as the warm water splashed up against his shoulders. It was just beginning to get cool enough that the hot tub felt like a worthy choice. He took a sip of his drink and then settled it behind Aria.
"Did you have a good day?" She asked as she moved her cup in gentle circles as she held it around the rim.
Ezra nodded. He glanced at her cup, seeing the margarita that Adriana had made for her. "You know, it occurs to me that we've never drank before together."
Aria shrugged. "Alison used to steal it all the time from her dad or Spencer's dad's liquor cabinets."
"Have you drank at all since her death?" Ezra asked.
"Here and there," Aria replied softly. "All those parties in Reykjavik. And I mean there were a few parties when we started dating, but after I left my parents, I just didn't want to get into any trouble I couldn't fix. So, I really haven't been near alcohol since last summer."
Ezra nodded, staring at her curiously for a moment. "Dare I ask if you get frisky when you're drunk?" He teased.
Aria laughed, shaking her head. "No, but I'm apparently flirty. So, y'know, small talk." She leaned in closer to him. "And maybe you will actually get drunk on me a few times this summer."
Ezra groaned, but just as quickly as she had teased him, she shoved her drink into his hands and stood, walking out of the hot tub. Before he could ask her where she was going, she ran over to the pool and cannon-balled into it, sending a shock through her body from the sudden change in temperature.
Ezra laughed, getting out of the hot tub a moment later. He grabbed his drink and walked over to the pool. He settled the drinks onto the side of the pool and then sat down before hopping into the water before grabbing their drinks a moment later. Aria waded over to him and grinned as she took her drink back.
"Needed a quick cool down?" He teased.
"Absolutely," Aria said breathily as she leaned against the edge of the pool next to him. She glanced over at her friends and chuckled. Emily and Paige seemed to be having fun, as they were sitting on the edge of the pool a few feet over laughing and sharing a drink. Hanna and Caleb were directly across from she and Ezra, practically tearing each other's clothes off. Spencer and Evan were somewhere between them, and Evan had his arm around her, chatting her up as she continued to sip from her drink. Aria could tell just by watching her that her frustrated attitude from that afternoon was gone and she was genuinely interested in him.
She turned towards Ezra and grinned at him as he smiled down at her.
"What's going through your head now?" He asked.
Aria winked at him, leaning up against him to whisper in his ear. "Got any water balloons?"
Ezra chuckled, turning his head towards hers to whisper back at her. "A pool and hot tub aren't enough water?"
Aria shrugged, leaning back to look at him. "Where's your sense of adventure?"
Ezra stared at her for a moment and then looked down at his drink. "At the bottom of this cup."
Aria giggled. She tapped hers up against his and then lifted hers to her lips and gulped down several large sips. "Then drink it and let's do this."
Ezra laughed, watching as Aria walked over to the shallow end and then exited the pool before heading for the pool. He tossed his drink back and gulped down what was left in it before following her into the house. When he got inside, she was digging through drawers, in search of the balloons. Ezra chuckled and walked over to one of the cupboards. He opened it and grabbed two bags filled with water balloons, and handed them to her.
They tore the bags open and Aria began to fill them with water at the tap as Ezra grabbed a large, colored mixing bowl to hide them in.
"What're you intending on doing with these?" He asked as Aria tied off a balloon and dropped it into the bowl.
"Keeping a handful for myself and throwing the rest in the pool, Aria said. "And then getting Adriana for pushing me in the pool before."
Ezra laughed, shaking his head at her.
They stood there and continued to fill balloon after balloon for several minutes before Aria walked over to the counter and grabbed a beach bag sitting on the counter. She filled it with water balloons and then she and Ezra walked back out to the deck. She slipped her bag behind the grill out of sight and held a balloon behind her as she walked up to Adriana Fortunately, she was seated next the edge, making herself an easy target.
Aria walked up to her and then called her name. When she looked up, Aria launched the water balloon at her. It smashed against her chest and splashed, stretched thin by the amount of water in it.
"Oh no, you did not just do that!" Adriana squealed.
"Oh yes I did," Aria said. She reached back behind her to grab from the bowl of balloons Ezra was holding, but as she did, a balloon splashed against her chest. She gaped at Ezra as he grinned at her. He tossed the balloons into the pool a moment later and tossed the bowl aside, holding a water balloon in his hand.
"Come and get me," he teased.
Aria grabbed back for her bag and snatched a handful of balloons before tearing off after him. She chased him around the pool, only to miss and hit Spencer, who quickly retaliated, and ended up hitting Hardy. In a matter of seconds, all of their friends were out of the water and chasing each other. And when no one could find water balloons to soak each other with anymore, they went for water inside cups, chasing each other across the property, inside the house, and back into the pool.
Twenty minutes later, Aria went down screaming as Ezra tackled her into the deep end of the pool, both of them crashing into it hard. She continued to scream and laugh as they came to the surface a few seconds later, and giggled as she looked up at him.
"Was that worth all the balloons?" He asked with a look of mirth on his face.
Aria nodded, struggling to catch her breath. "Except next time, we should fill them with tequila."
Ezra grabbed her hips and pulled her to him, kissing her. Aria wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back for a few moments before they parted, still trying to catch their breaths.
"My birthday so tops yours," he said with a laugh.
"My year tops yours," she told him. "I couldn't be happier in this moment if I tried."
Ezra just smiled back at her, brushing his thumb against her cheek before he leaned in and kissed her once more.