Summary: Lying to herself isn’t as easy as she hoped.
Word Count: 2,400
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Rain streaks down the window. The wind howls, a high-pitched shriek.
Alison’s murderer has been arrested; Aria hasn’t gotten a text message or email from A in the last two weeks. Everyone’s leaving tomorrow. Spencer’s off to Harvard on her quest to become the smartest person in the entire universe, Emily has a swimming scholarship that’s paying for the next four years, Hanna got into the local community college in hopes of majoring in fashion merchandising in a year or two, and Aria, well, she’s taking a year off to travel around Europe. The real way. Staying in hostels and learning how to kiss from French boys and eating foods she can’t even pronounce.
(Iceland so didn’t count.)
She should be more excited than she is. But she’ll miss this, Rosewood and Mike and her parents. She’ll miss them: Spencer and Emily and Hanna. She’s still missing Ali.
Spencer leaves first with some lame excuse about double checking the boxes she packed weeks ago, even though it’s pretty obvious she just wants to see Alex. Emily’s excuse of needing to Skype her father holds more weight and Aria hugs her tight, smiling into her shoulder.
Hanna rolls a peanut between her thumb and forefinger, biting her lip and looking out the window. Her eyes are foggy and her hair is flat and she looks a lot like how Aria feels. Sighing, Hanna pops the peanut into her mouth.
There’s a faint murmur from everyone at the tables around them. "I didn’t bring an umbrella," Aria says loudly, trying to cut the silence that threatens to take over at any moment. It’s getting late and the bell above the door rings like clockwork as hordes of people leave.
"It’s going to ruin your hair." Hanna stares out the window.
"The rain’s really poetic, huh?" Aria attempts a smile and Hanna rolls her eyes.
Popping a handful of peanuts into her mouth, Hanna stands up abruptly, wrapping her Armani scarf around her neck and buttoning up her coat. "We should go before it gets any worse."
When they walk out Hanna’s nails run over Aria’s wrist and Aria can’t tell if she’s crying or if it’s just rain splashing on her face. "What do we do now?" she asks, her voice cracking as they pass Alison’s bench, the memorial fixed.
“Wish we had a car?” Hanna laughs lowly, threading her arm through Aria’s, her boots clinking against the pavement. "It’s okay to move on."
"I just feel so…empty."
"Me too," Hanna whispers, and Aria can only make out her silhouette in the night.
The truth is Aria wants. She wants to feel loved by someone who won’t break her heart. She wants her parents to get back together even though the divorce has been official for a year. She wants Alison back. She wants the purpose that finding Alison’s murderer gave her, the connection A provided their group with.
Sometimes she wishes it wasn’t over. That mysteries weren't solved and nothing was the way it should be. Disarray and fear and pain. Aria thinks it has to be better than feeling nothing.
The truth is never pretty.
Europe isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Hostels house some really creepy people. Men and Women who have lingering eyes and dirt under their fingernails try to start conversations with her. A quarter of them don’t speak English at all and another quarter’s English is so broken Aria just smiles and nods and tries to figure out how she can escape. She can hardly sleep at all, and when she finally does collapse, eyes heavy, heart slowing and muscles aching, she dreams of summer’s long ago: blonde wisps hitting her face, warm fingers squeezing her own, blunt observations with intent to help, not harm.
She wakes up with hair stuck to her forehead, more exhausted than when she fell asleep.
She gets to kiss a boy or two, but each time she does it’s too rough or they taste like smoke or something. It’s just not right, not what Aria expected. They all remind her of Ezra, of something skimming beneath the surface. Of trying to convince herself it’s right when it’s not, that it fits—into her life, in her heart, in the moment—but it doesn’t.
That dirty feeling she used to like she hates. It makes her skin feel itchy and tears prick at her eyes. She always texts Hanna when that happens. Hanna has always been understanding, a good listener when she isn’t distracted by shoes or handbags. But that’s not the reason Aria goes to her. There is no reason, not really.
It helps her miss Hanna less. Except when it doesn’t.
She doesn’t learn French or Spanish or Portuguese or German or anything. Aria can’t really communicate with anyone and ordering food makes her head pound like she just hit it with a hammer. The food never makes up for how she wants to cry because the waitress thinks she’s a complete imbecile.
She usually ends up at the grocery store, counting out euros to pay for her bread and bottled water. She tells Emily and Spencer she’s dining like a king. Hanna promises not to say anything to contrary.
Sometimes, Aria thinks everything would be better if Hanna was here with her. That’s a truth she doesn’t dare tell anyone.
When she gets back to Rosewood,--2 months early, everyone keeps reminding her--Aria cuddles up in her bed and sleeps for more than a day, the sheets twisting around her ankles because it’s so hot--dry and humid--already, even in June. She feels the kind of homesick she never thought she could feel.
Hanna wakes her up, sitting down on her feet and bouncing around, holding a cup of coffee that splashes around precariously, almost spilling onto the sheets. "You come back early and don’t even tell me?"
"Hi." Aria tries to sit up, snaking her feet out from under Hanna and rubbing her eyes.
"Here." Hanna thrusts the coffee into Aria’s hand and grins wickedly. "Did you bring me anything?"
Blinking a few times, Aria brings the cup to her lips and grimaces. "What the hell did you do to this?"
"I mean, you were in the fashion capital of the world and—"
"I barely had enough money to eat, Hanna," Aria reminds her, watching Hanna’s lips press into a thin line, her eyes drooping as she tries not to look disappointed. "But—"
"I knew it!" Hanna’s eyes light up, a crisp cerulean. A moment later she’s hugging Aria breathless and Aria knows that there’s some sugar-filled coffee dripping down her tank top, but she ignores it, inhaling Hanna’s new perfume, feeling Hanna’s curls brush softly against her cheek.
And she realizes that she wasn’t really homesick after all. She was missing something else entirely.
"Where is it?" Hanna breathes out, standing up, hands on her hips as she looks around the room, tapping her foot impatiently against the hardwood. There’s a faint flush in her cheeks as she looks back at Aria. “Sorry, I’d love you even if you didn’t get me anything.”
"There’s, uh, there’s nothing for Spencer and Emily, so…" Aria tells herself it’s because they’re difficult to shop for. She tells herself the first edition philosophy book and the butterfly necklace she looked at were too expensive.
Lying to herself isn’t as easy as she hoped.
Hanna just nods, sitting next to her on the bed and slinging an arm over Aria’s shoulder, her fingers trailing over the skin, leaving patches of heat. "It can be our secret," Hanna says, grinning widely.
"Yeah," Aria whispers absentmindedly.
Hanna’s forgotten all the darkness that can be hidden in a secret, all the ways they distort reality and all the pain they bring to someone, to anyone, to everyone.
Aria hopes this time her secrets don't hurt anyone, only hurt herself.
When Hanna graduates from college four years later--"one extra year is no big deal," Hanna assures. "It’s all the rage now anyway"--Spencer’s too busy finishing her graduate degree and Emily is stuck at work. Hanna’s mom is stuck out of town trying to find a flight back.
Aria goes. She turns in her creative writing final two days early, sure there’s still a typo or two, a paragraph that sounds awkward, but she goes.
Hanna rolls her eyes when she spots Aria sandwiched between a grandma who keeps asking what’s happening and a toddler who’s playing with Tonka trucks. When she gets her diploma holder and shakes the hand of the college's president, Hanna smiles brightly, pink lips stretched as far as possible, blue eyes swimming with tears and pride. Aria can’t help it, she cups her hands around her mouth and cheers obnoxiously.
After the ceremony Hanna walks over, glances at the ground and whispers, "You didn’t have to come."
"I wanted to." Aria inches the diploma out of Hanna’s hand and stares at it. "Congratulations."
"Thank you." Hanna lets out a long sigh, like it’s just now hitting her that she’s actually finished.
They end up sitting at the bar, Hanna’s knee knocking against Aria’s every couple of minutes, making Aria’s entire body jolt. Whenever Hanna gets really excited about what she’s saying, she’ll reach out and squeeze Aria’s shoulder and all Aria can do is try to concentrate.
(She pushes back that idea that maybe this is how Emily felt about Ali. It’s too weird to contemplate. The scab too recent to itch.)
"Did I ever tell you," Hanna slurs, her head tiling to the right. "That Lucas kissed me once."
"What?" Aria says loudly, glancing around to make sure nobody is staring at them.
"Yep." Hanna picks up a napkin and begins ripping it apart, little white specks floating through the air and onto the counter. "I didn’t...He’s Lucas so I felt bad but...he was Lucas, you know?"
Aria hears the affection lacing Hanna’s voice along with a hint of regret and curiosity. "I Know."
"I wonder if that’s how it was with Sean. He always told me it wasn’t like that, but I think it was."
"Hanna, no." Aria grabs her wrist and Hanna moves her arm, lacing their fingers. Aria shakes her head when Hanna swings their arms back and forth, watching the motion blur through unblinking eyes. "I’m sure it wasn’t like that."
"Do you think it was for Alison? With Emily?"
Aria swallows; her throat feels dry and hoarse. She takes a sip of her margarita and squeezes Hanna’s hand, trying to feel grounded, like Hanna just didn’t read a part of her mind that even Aria doesn’t understand. "I don’t know."
"I don’t think it’s always like that though," Hanna murmurs, flexing her fingers, her eyes finding Aria’s.
There’s a palpable shift in the air that makes Aria squirm in her seat, even as she grips Hanna’s hand tighter, feeling the blonde’s fingernails dig softly into her skin. She’s having a difficult time with air reaching her lungs, her heart skipping beats. There’s an innocence echoing in Hanna’s eyes and Aria wonders if she’s really as worldly as she likes to think.
Aria clears her throat, drops Hanna’s hand and wipes her own on her dress. She ignores the disappointment mixing itself with Hanna’s airy laugh; it's jarring and too much.
She feels a little better knowing she isn’t the only one still burying lies. But it still makes her want to grab a shovel and dig them up, get all the information before taking another step and jumping in.
Uncertainty and the truth never went hand-in-hand before.
On the anniversary of Ali’s death Hanna comes over with a tub of ice cream, mascara smudged around her eyes like she was crying earlier. They settle on the couch, Hanna pressed into Aria’s side, seeing who can get the biggest scoop of ice cream without bending their metal spoons.
"Are you disappointed that we’re still in Rosewood?" Hanna asks, wiping at the corner of her mouth.
Aria thinks about it, watching headlights flash through the room, thinking about how the last time that happened it was the police telling her everything had been solved, even though it didn’t feel like it had. "Yes and no," she finally decides, glancing back at Hanna.
"I wouldn’t want to leave knowing you’re still here." Hanna shivers as she licks some ice cream off her spoon before tossing it into the almost empty carton.
"Me either." Aria leans forward and puts the carton on the coffee table. When she squishes back into the couch, Hannah leans her head on Aria’s shoulder. She smells like lilacs and vanilla; Aria has to keep herself from reaching over and running her fingers through Hanna’s hair. "So..."
"We should like, move to New York or something."
"Together?" Aria asks, trying to keep her voice steady.
"Yeah." Hanna picks her head up and leans forward, her breath hot against Aria’s cheek.
Aria clenches the arm of the couch, her whole body tensing up. "Okay," she chokes out, turning her head slowly to look at Hanna. Hanna’s eyes are glittering and wide, her lips plump and pink as Aria glances at them. "Um, Hanna..."
Hanna runs her hand over Aria’s cheek and smiles hesitantly. "There’s one more thing."
"Mmhm," Aria manages to get out before Hanna kisses her. Her lips are soft and they slide over Aria’s mouth easily. She tastes like lipgloss and sprinkles and Aria reaches out, cupping Hanna’s cheek. It’s different and good and Hanna’s nails scrape over the nape of her neck, eliciting a breathy "Oh."
Hanna leans her forehead against Aria’s. Aria’s eyes flutter closed. "How did you know?"
"I didn’t," Hanna murmurs, her voice low and sincere as she hooks a piece of Aria’s hair behind her ear, her finger tracing the curve.
"I don’t know what I—"
"Aria," Hanna interrupts, laughing, her fingers trailing down Aria’s arm as she intertwines their fingers, squeezing lightly in a language all their own; a language no one else has ever figured out. "You don’t always have to have all the answers."
When Aria kisses her again, it makes her stomach unfurl and her mind stop. She’s not thinking about the past and there’s nothing haunting her in the shadows, no risk of this being ruined.
The truth is out and it’s blinding. It’s happy and velvety and imperfect. When Hanna straddles her, Aria breathes out and Hanna breathes in.
Rhythm and small, smooth hands and thunder clapping outside and ice cream melting.
Aria moves on.