She hoped he was happy. She really did. Happy with his little son. Happy with his perfect Maggie. It’s for the best, really, she tried to convince herself. He can’t grow up without a father, after all. Maggie deserves better, too. Maybe now they can all be happy.
But Aria wasn’t. She’d sacrificed her own happiness for them. For one little boy. That hadn’t hurt. What hurt was when Ezra decided that he couldn’t keep up their relationship anymore. That it wouldn’t be good for his son to see his father with anyone else but Maggie.
“I’m okay,” she insisted. She insisted that every morning when she looked in the mirror. At the dinner table when her dad asked her to explain her silence. During school when her friends would express their concern.
She wasn’t. Okay, that is. But no one pushed her; she’d talk about it when she was ready. But there was one person she always managed to crumble around.
He began frequenting the Rear Window Café when he discovered that Aria liked to spend her after-school hours there, catching up on homework. He’d casually catch her eye and she’d look away quickly, trying to hide a blush. He had that way of looking at her… she couldn’t describe it. But it was all too soon.
Jason could tell that by Aria’s expression, of course, but he sat down next to her everyday anyway. He picked up a pencil and a sheet of paper and began solving math problems for her and answering science questions. They didn’t speak, not until he had helped her finish, at least. He’d buy her another coffee.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. You just seem… different.”
He hesitated. “Hurt. That kind of different.”
Aria shook her head. “I don’t want to talk about that.”
But one day, she did talk about it. Jason offered to driver her home, as it was raining hard that day in Rosewood. She accepted.
For a while they’d sat in silence, listening to the rhythmic pulsing of the windshield wipers and the pounding of the raindrops. Finally, in defeat, Aria broke the silence and poured her heart out. She explained about Ezra, Maggie, why he’d left her.
Mascara dripped down her cheeks but she still felt calm. Resigned to it, somehow. “I just feel… raw.”
She sighed. Did she feel betrayed? Deep down, yes. She did. “I guess so.”
Jason put the car in park in her driveway. He tensed his hands on the steering wheel, deciding what to say. “That’s a brave thing you did. Letting him go like that.”
Aria wiped her stained face with the sleeve of her sweater. “You think?”
He turned to her. “Yeah. I do.” He hesitated for a moment. “I guess you don’t want me to tell you that you deserve better.”
“No, probably not,” she laughed.
His voice dropped. “But you do.”
Before Aria realized what was happening, his hand was on the back of her neck, his thumb tilting her chin up to his. Their lips brushed, tentatively at first, then more deeply. Kissing him was different from kissing Ezra. She felt like Jason didn't expect as much from her, he just wanted to be there for her. His lips were warm and tasted of coffee. She put a hand on his chest, feeling his heart pumping hard, as if trying to break free of his chest. Her lips moved with his. His other hand encircled her waist.
She felt... safe. This was where she wanted to be. Right here, with Jason, for as long as she was breathing.
He pulled away for a moment and they both struggled for air. He pressed his forehead against hers, feeling he was drowning in her melted-chocolate eyes. He'd wanted to do this forever. He wanted more than anything to be with Aria. He belonged here. With her.
Aria's lips parted, as if she were about to kiss him again, but she closed her eyes. "I... I need time, Jason."
He inhaled deeply. "Okay."
She whispered, "Wait for me."