Aria had never understood why it was Hanna. Why she, out of all of them, had been the one to shut down after Spencer's death. Why it was her, the girl who was never without a joke, or a way to cheer someone up, even if it was somehow crass and unintentional. She may have gotten sullen at times, or snarky, but she was never…empty. Aria was married to an English professor, and she still couldn't think of another word to describe what Hanna had become in the months that came to follow the brunette's sudden death. Her words, when she spoke, were hollow, a kind of tone that could only come from being truly hollow inside, from having nothing.
It was puzzling. And worrisome. And it left Aria with a bad taste in her mouth. Hanna had always been the most resilient out of the four of them – always able to crack a joke, or laugh, or at least smile like she used to. Now there was nothing. Hanna was literally nothing. And that scared Aria. As much as Spencer's sudden demise was a tragedy, as much of a literal ache it caused in her chest to think of the girl who had once been her best friend, Hanna's reduced state of being was almost worse. Seeing someone whom she had once considered unbreakable…well, break, was perhaps one of the most disturbing things Aria had ever witnessed – and that was truly saying something.
She hadn't seen much of Hanna since the funeral, and even then, it wasn't really seeing her. The few times Emily had managed to coax her out of her apartment, she was in sweats with just a swipe of lipgloss, her hair pushed up under a cap or a hood. She would pick at her food, drink about half of her coffee, or just refuse it all together, and answer in one word until Emily felt like she'd done her good friend duty for the day and took her home.
Aria could never figure it out. The two of them were always at odds, and even when they weren't, they weren't exactly a pair – the girls were complete opposites. Hanna and Spencer just didn't fit…they didn't make sense. Hanna in all of her ignorant innocence and humor, and Spencer in all of her seriousness and severity. Out of the four of them, they were the two least likely to pair off on their own…it was the way it always had been. And now, as far as she knew, the only time Hanna left her house regularly was to sit at Spencer's grave, breaking the tradition that had persisted throughout all of their high school years.
It wasn't that she didn't think Hanna would be upset over the loss of Spencer – it was sudden, and heartwrenching, and some days, Aria couldn't even get out of bed because of it, crushed by the void that had so quickly and unexpectedly entered her life. It was the severity of it…the way that her grief had seemingly become her entire life, rather than just a painful aspect of it.
She sighed, tracing along the curve of the headstone. She had never been the detective in the group…Spencer had been. And now she was gone, stolen from them in an instant. "I bet you'd be able to figure this out." Aria whispered, spreading her fingers atop of the cold, grey stone. "You were the best at it…Hanna's probably told you everything by now, though…too bad you can't talk back." A lump rose in Aria's throat, and her voice broke. "I wish you were here to fix her, Spence…I can't lose another friend, and every time I see her, she's further and further away…"
She heard tires crunching against salt and ice a ways away and looked over to see none other than Hanna's car pulling into the driveway. "Showtime." Aria shifted the hood of her coat over her head, her eyes covered by large sunglasses as she stepped back a row, and over a few stones – able to hear her, but inconspicuous nonetheless. "Sorry, Spencer." She whispered under her breath, feeling apologetic for listening in, pervasive and…wrong, really but she couldn't help it. She needed to understand. Perhaps it was part of her own grief process…to try and figure out every aspect of Spencer's death, and its aftermath, to take something so senseless and somehow make it make sense.
By the time Aria came back to reality, Hanna was already at the grave, and Aria was struck by how much she had changed in the few short months since the car crash that had ended Spencer's life. (It seemed so strange that something as mundane and everyday as a car crash could end the life of someone as dynamic and driven as Spencer, but that was how it had happened.) Hanna was pale, and not the kind of pale that she got from using a shade lighter of make-up. There were dark circles under her eyes, her hair fell limply past her shoulders – she hadn't had a haircut since that awful night, and it was starting to show. She was wrapped in what Aria could only assume was one of Spencer's old sweaters, shaking from either the cold, or from something else…sleeplessness, emotion, a drug high, who knew with Hanna anymore?
She almost missed Hanna begin to talk, her voice weak, falling away into the cold, thin air without much of an echo. Aria took a few steps forward, turning her head, just barely managing to catch onto Hanna's whispered words. "…not fair. I tried really hard for you Spencer…I did. I went to work…sometimes. When I could drag myself out of bed, but God, it's just too hard when I'm not waking up with you."
What? Aria blinked, sure she'd heard her wrong. There was no way…
"I miss you…I miss you so much." Hanna whispered. As far as Aria could tell, her voice was shaking as badly as her body. "It's just not fair. Me having to live without you, it's not…I don't know how to do it. You've been in my life since the sixth grade. That's like…fifteen years. And they expect me to live without you after you've been there over half of my life. Isn't that just the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard?"
As she listened, it became more and more apparent to Aria. Every little thing she'd ever witnessed, or pushed away because it didn't matter, or it didn't make sense. How Spencer always texted Hanna first in a crisis. How Hanna memorized Spencer's coffee order every time it changed. The fair exchange of style tips for homework help – though Hanna rarely did her homework and Spencer kept wearing ties, and unfortunately patterned shirts. The spite, and the snark, and the arguing – almost constant, but it never got mean, just tense. Playful, almost. And then one instance, while they were in college…
Blonde hair mixed with dark hair, spread across a pillow on a thin dorm room mattress that sank with the weight of the two bodies. It was the only thing visible from where Aria was standing, poised to enter her friend's dorm room for a surprise visit, only to realize that Spencer wasn't alone.
"Hanna!" Spencer's voice was a breath giggle, something Aria wasn't used to hearing from her serious friend. "Stop it, it's not true." She added, softer.
"Of course it's true." Her voice was also unmistakable. "Are you blind, Spencer? Because that's the only way you wouldn't be able to see it…."
"You're lying to me, you just want something…" Aria had leaned in a little closer to listen. She couldn't see anymore, but there was some shifting on the creaking bed. "There's no way someone…well, someone like you could ever…"
"Hush, Spencer." Hanna replied. "That's not going to get you anywhere, you know, don't waste your shot…."
"Well, if a Hastings has a shot – " Aria cut Spencer off by knocking suddenly, and that was the end of it.
Aria had never allowed herself to think about it. It wasn't her place. What A had done to them had given her an enormous amount of respect for privacy, and that was not a moment for her speculation, her scrutiny, even f it was confusing, and contradictory in its own existence.
But it had always been like that, Aria realized. Every moment that didn't fit into the relationship she'd constructed in her head, the ideas she had about Spencer and Hanna, she'd filed them away to be thought about later, or not at all. After having endured such a senseless, violent ordeal, she didn't like it when things didn't fit together. When they didn't make sense. And, even though it had sometimes cut her off from the big picture, Aria hadn't minded.
At least, not until now.
Hanna was on her knees now, in the ice and the hard packed dirt and the dead grass, and Aria felt tears well up in her eyes at the sight because this was Hanna. Kneeling in the detritus of the forest and not giving a damn because she was so distraught.
"You were mine!" Hanna was gasping out, now full on crying. "You were mine, and I was yours, and no one knew! No one knew, and now you're gone, and I have nothing. I feel like I'm going crazy, Spencer…" Hanna's unmanicured fingers dragged a trail along the face of the tombstone. "No one knows. What if it's all in my head? What if what we had wasn't real, and I'm just losing it?" She rested her forehead against the polished grey stone. "If you were here, you'd tell me I wasn't crazy. You'd kiss me, and spout off some ridiculous Shakespeare quote that I don't get, but makes me feel better anyway. Spencer…god, Spencer, I love you…this isn't fair."
Aria turned, and walked away, tears streaming down her face, unable to take any more of it. It wasn't her moment. She wasn't meant to hear it. It was for Hanna to say and Spencer to hear, and that was that, even if one half of that equation was six feet under. That didn't stop her from watching from her car, though, struggling to breathe as the tears rolled their way down her cheeks.
This was the big picture she had missed. And even though it was the smallest big picture that had ever been, it was beautiful. And Aria hated herself for not seeing it sooner.