Spencer stood silently in front of the closed door, looking through the small window at her friend who continued staring blankly at the wall in front of her. She turned back towards the nurse who had led her there, "How long has she been like this?" she asked in a hushed whisper.
"Since she got here this morning. She won't talk to anybody, all she did was write down these names," the nurse responded, handing Spencer a small slip of paper. "We tried to reach both of them but you're the only one who answered. We were hoping you could give us her name," she added.
Spencer slowly opened the paper, hanging her head as she read the names sloppily written over the page.
Spencer crumpled up the slip into her fist and brought it to her forehead, "Aria. Her name is Aria Montgomery."
"Are you sure?" Spencer asked, pacing back and forth as she ran a hand through her hair.
Hanna, who was sitting on her bed, exhaled sharply, "Spencer I know what I saw. It was him," Hanna dropped her eyes and picked at her nails, "It was Ezra."
"Did he say anything?"
"Shit. Hanna, are you sure?" she asked again, hoping for a different answer.
"Yes I'm not fucking blind, Spencer! He was right in front of me. I-I'm sorry but, Ezra Fitz is A."
"No… No it's not possible," Spencer's voice was shaky as she tried desperately to reason with herself, "He loves her too much, I know he does I've seen it. He-He risked his life for her, he protected her, he was there for her I-" she mumbled on as Hanna followed Spencer's movement with her eyes.
"We have to tell her," Hanna said quietly.
Spencer looked up at her, her eyes wide with fear, "No, we can't. Aria… This will destroy her."
"She can make it through this. She's strong, Spencer."
"She's too strong."
Spencer closed the door behind her as she stepped into the plain room. Aria sat up the tiniest bit straighter, recognizing the presence of her friend, but still her eyes stared on, never leaving their spot on the wall. Spencer approached Aria, her steps getting slower as they neared the bed, and she sat cautiously by her friend's side. Aria sat with her legs crossed and her arms folded in her lap. Her hair, though flatter and less composed than when Spencer saw her last, loosely held the familiar thick, dark curls that fell just below her shoulders. Her skin was paler than usual and her eyes not quite as bright due to the darkened circles beneath them but for the most part, Aria looked normal. Something that seemed to make the sight before Spencer all the more worrisome. She did not belong here. This was not crazy Aria, someone frail who appeared as a stranger to Spencer and only happened to share a name with her close friend, no… This was Aria, just Aria. The girl who she spoke to every day and the girl she called her best friend. This was a girl who looked as if she was supposed to be walking through school that day instead of sitting on a metal bed, dressed in a plain white gown that swallowed her petite frame, staring at the blank wall ahead of her.
Spencer soon grew tired of waiting for Aria to return from inside her own head, realizing that she wasn't going to be starting the conversation any time soon, "Hey Aria, it's me," Spencer said, slowly reaching for her hand, "It's Spencer."
Aria's hand tensed as it came in contact with Spencer's, her eyes falling from the wall to look at where Spencer's hand lay on top of hers, bringing her back into reality. She slowly relaxed, her gaze now fixed on their hands as she brought her other hand over, gently squeezing Spencer's, "E-E-Ez-" she stumbled over the word, her lips trembling as she tried to speak.
"Shh, shh," Spencer's free hand rested on Aria's back as she tried to comfort her, "No, it's just me, Aria."
Aria's body began to shiver as she looked up at Spencer, her eyes were cold but not vacant like they had been when Spencer first entered, "Wh-Where's E-Ezra?" she asked, still shaking.
Spencer broke away from Aria's stare and looked down, "He's gone, Aria. We don't know where he is."
Aria pressed her face into Spencer's shoulder causing Spencer to nearly fall backwards, surprised by her friends sudden change in behavior as she remembered watching her sit completely emotionless not five minutes before. Without hesitation Spencer wrapped her arms around Aria's delicate body as she watched Aria fall apart in her embrace.
"T-Tell him I'm sorry. Tell him to come home," she whimpered, her breath catching on every word. Confusion took over Spencer as she listened to Aria's limp cries. Did Aria not remember? Spencer thought, Would she have to tell her the horrible news again?
"Aria…" Spencer began carefully, "Do you remember what happened last night?"
"I f-forgive him. I need him. Tell him I forgive him..." Aria choked out faintly then suddenly began to shake her head, "b-but I can't... I-I can't, I can't, I CAN'T!" she cried, the sound muffled by Spencer's shoulder, "I'm sorry, please, tell him I'm sorry… I-I can't, I'm sorry Ezra, I-" she whispered urgently, frantically sucking up air between her sobs.
Spencer fought to keep away the tears rapidly welling up in her eyes, "It's not your fault Aria. It's not your fault," she whispered, desperately trying to calm her.
"I love him, I-He loves me, he loved me…"
"He does love you Aria."
"No, no, no…" Aria repeated the word into Spencer's shirt over and over again as Spencer spoke.
"There's an explanation for this, I know there is-"
"EZRA! PLEASE!" Aria screamed loudly as she balled her fists into Spencer's shirt. The sound pierced through Spencer's ears and tears began to fall from Spencer's eyes.
Aria's sobs filled the room in a way that took Spencer's breath away, "NO! EZRA, NO!" she screamed again. With each of Aria's cries Spencer felt a dagger being pushed farther and farther into her heart. The earth-shattering screams carried on and sent horrific chills down Spencer's body.
"Aria, shhh…" Spencer grew frantic as she tried calming her again but to no success.
The door flew open and the nurse from earlier came rushing in along with two others. They quickly grabbed Aria, prying her hands away from Spencer's shirt and laying her on her back, attempting to hold her down as she screamed and thrashed her limbs about.
"Perhaps you should go now," the nurse said calmly, still trying to get a hold of Aria's kicking legs.
Spencer nodded as she stared in horror at the flailing girl before her. She backed out of the room, unable to take her eyes from Aria or do anything to help her. All she could do was helplessly watch as her best friend crumbled into a million tiny pieces. This was broken Aria. Something she had never seen before, and had hoped she would never have to. This was the girl who was destined to shatter.
"If we don't tell her now, she'll find out some other way," Hanna said.
"Not if we can talk to Ezra first," Spencer argued.
"I've been trying him all day, Spence! It's no use! He's gone!" Hanna exclaimed, throwing her hands up in frustration.
"No, there has to be something else we can do."
Hanna shook her head, "She deserves to know. She can handle this."
"If this breaks her we may never get her back!" Spencer warned.
"I'm not saying she'll be fine overnight, but she will get past this. She always does."
"Exactly what?" Hanna questioned.
"She's already been through so much and she's handled every single thing better than any of us would've thought. Eventually something's bound to break her. It's only a matter of time before it does, and this… This is going to be it," Spencer paused and sat down next to Hanna, "Think about it, Han. Everything Ezra hadn't told Aria about; Jackie, his family's money, his mother, Maggie, Malcolm… Every time Aria forgave him, every time she gave him a chance to tell her the truth, and every time he held something back. Aria thought Malcolm would be the end of it, we all did. This is going to ruin her, Hanna. It will tear her heart apart until there's nothing left."
Spencer sat outside in the hall, taking small sips of coffee as she grew more and more impatient. She grimaced with each sip, revolted by the taste of the coffee from the vending machine beside her but continued to drink it anyways, relieved to find something that could distract her from what was going on in the room across from her. She looked up as the door to Aria's room opened, the nurse stepping out and joining Spencer on the bench, "Do you mind?" she asked as she sat down.
Spencer shook her head and looked down into her cup before she brought it up to her lips and finished it off, pursing her lips as she swallowed.
The nurse laughed quietly, "Stuff from there's crap," she gestured her head towards the machine next to them, "I can get you some real coffee from the cafeteria if you'd like," she offered.
"No, no it's fine," Spencer declined politely, tossing her cup into the trashcan beside her.
"Your friend in there's got a lot of fight in her," the nurse commented.
Spencer smiled weakly, "How is she?"
"They gave her a small sedative, nothing too intense. They're putting her to bed, she seems like she needs some rest," the nurse smiled reassuringly, "I think she'll be just fine."
Spencer wasn't so sure, but refrained from saying so, "Do you know how they found her?"
The nurse nodded, "She was outside one of the apartment buildings in town. The police found her at about four this morning laying down in one of the parking spots on the street. When they picked her up she wouldn't tell them anything about who she was, she just kept saying she was waiting for someone," she explained.
"Ezra," Spencer said.
"Ezra Fitz. That's who she was waiting for," Spencer added.
"The name from the sheet of paper?"
"Where's Aria?" Emily asked as she walked into Hanna's room. Spencer stood up and walked towards the window, glancing out to see if Aria had come yet.
"She's on her way. We should all be here to tell her," Hanna replied.
"You mean she doesn't know?"
"We couldn't exactly tell her over the phone, Emily," Spencer answered.
"You told me over the phone…" Emily said.
Hanna rolled her eyes, "It's a little different with her."
"Right… Sorry," Emily apologized and replaced Spencer's spot next to Hanna on the bed.
The three girls all sat in silence as they waited, none of them looking forward to what was about to happen. Hanna may not have been worried about what would happen to Aria but Spencer certainly was. She knew that this was going to be the last straw. It wouldn't be such a bad thing if the last straw meant ending things with Ezra for good, but Spencer knew better than to assume such a thing. The last straw for Aria meant something much worse. It meant going to war with herself, fighting against everything she had ever wanted and had ever hoped for. It meant shredding through every last inch of her mind and heart searching for an answer that may never be found; Why?
"She's here," Spencer stated, causing all of them to inhale deeply.
"Okay, I'm here. What's so urgent you couldn't just tell me over the phone?" Aria asked as she marched through the door.
"Aria…" Hanna began.
Aria immediately sensed that something was wrong as she glanced around the room, each of her friends refusing to meet her eyes, "What's going on guys?"
Spencer looked as if she was about to cry, "Aria, I'm sorry."
Aria took a step towards Spencer, "Sorry for what? Hanna, Emily?" she looked desperately at them hoping to find answers to their strange behavior.
"I don't know how to tell you this…" Emily opened her mouth to continue but she couldn't.
"Tell me what?" Aria asked, getting frustrated with her friends lack of communication.
Hanna came to Emily's rescue, "It's about Ezra, he-"
"Ezra? What happened? Is he okay?" Aria cut in, worried that something may have happened to the one person she could never live without.
"He's fine, Ezra's fine…" Spencer replied quietly.
Aria redirected her attention towards Spencer, "Then what about him?"
"Aria…" Spencer said, "Aria, he's-"
"What?! He's what?!" Aria exclaimed, raising her voice.
"He's A!" Spencer practically screamed, cupping a hand over her mouth as she watched Aria stumble backwards, clenching her hand to her stomach as all the color drained from her face.
"No…" Aria mumbled under her breath, "No... You're lying to me!" she screamed at them, unable to believe that they could pull such a prank on her. Not after everything she had done to get him back, not after he said Malcolm was the last surprise she'd ever hear.
Hanna stood up and began to walk towards her but Aria waved her hand, causing Hanna to stop, "It's true… I-I saw him this afternoon, Aria. I tried to stop him, I did but… He ran away from me."
Aria braced herself against the doorframe as the tears began to rush from her eyes, "No, he-he can't be…" she whispered to herself, her hand still holding her stomach. She felt sick, rotten even.
Spencer, Hanna, and Emily all looked to each other for help. None of them were sure of how to comfort their friend currently breaking in front of them, "Aria I-" Spencer tried to reach out for her but she jerked away, backing further out of the room.
"I need to- I need to go, I-" Aria looked around frantically as she continued to mumble to herself and back farther away down the hall.
"Aria, just relax for a little-" Hanna whispered, trying to coax her back to them.
"No I-I have to go," she said, taking off down the stairs.
Spencer went after her, soon followed by Hanna and Emily but by the time they reached the front door Aria was already running down the street, "Fuck!" Spencer screamed, slamming the door.
"Shouldn't we go after her?" Emily asked.
"No, no... She just needs time to think," Spencer replied, knowing exactly where her best friend was headed and that it was best for her to be there alone.
Aria's eyesight grew blurry from her tears but she didn't stop running. Her heart pounded furiously against her chest as she slowed when she came to the right building. Perhaps she would have noticed the car that was missing from it's normal spot had she been completely aware of her surroundings, but she didn't, her mind elsewhere as she stormed through the front door and made her way to the staircase. Aria had never felt smaller as she stood before apartment 3B. She was barely keeping herself composed, or somewhat composed, as she brought her hand up into a fist. She hesitated before bringing her knuckle in contact with the wood, progressively knocking louder as she felt her blood boil with feelings of anger and betrayal. Aria was quickly losing her sanity with each knock. Eventually she found herself banging both fists against the door, repeating cries of his name along with the word 'please'. They were the type of cries that would send shivers through anyone stuck watching the once stable Aria Montgomery pounding helplessly at her lovers door.
Her sobs soon became whimpers as she leaned her forehead against the door in defeat. Her eyes fell to the doormat and she wasted no time tearing it from its place on the floor, retrieving the key that lived below it and unlocking the entrance to what used to be her second home. She burst inside, fully prepared to face her one and only but as she scanned the one room apartment she soon realized the place was empty. There was no sign of Ezra anywhere and she felt her knees grow weak. Aria collapsed against the wall, struggling to breath as she felt her entire world come violently crashing down. The walls began to close in around her, much like her throat as she gasped for air. Her eyes danced around the room, everything she saw soon becoming a horrid memory of what she once had. The bed, which held sentimental value for obvious reasons; the camera he had bought her with what she now surely believed was money that certainly did not come from selling an old car; the bags they used to take their first picture together; the tie she gave him for their first real date; the list was endless and with each new reminder of her relationship Aria slipped deeper into the dark chaos of her shattered heart.
Her legs grew strong enough to stand and she pulled herself up, barreling back through the building and outside, gulping the fresh air into her lungs which she also felt were collapsing in on themselves. She walked to the empty space on the street where his car normally resided, curling up inside it as she continued to cry, waiting endlessly for her soulmate to return.
"If you don't mind me asking, what happened?" the nurse asked hesitantly.
Spencer shrugged, "Bruised heart."
"I've seen plenty of broken hearts, never ones like this," she nodded her head towards the room in front of them.
"No, not broken," Spencer corrected, "Bruised."
The nurse tilted her head to the side, "I'm sorry, I don't understand..."
Spencer wasn't sure why she was confiding in a stranger but for some reason it offered her comfort. Someone needed to see just how strong Aria was, someone other than Spencer herself, "A broken heart is easy. Its like your favorite sweater. When it suddenly falls apart to the point of no recovery, you're sad. You mourn the loss of something so close to you but you move on. When something breaks, there's nothing you can do but throw it away. But when it's just barely holding on, that's when it gets difficult. You know that every time you wear it you're only shortening its lifespan. You can hear the fabric ripping each time you pull it over your head and you see it unravel more and more each day. Eventually there comes a point where after holding on for so long you can't even see how damaged it's become. What would normally be trash to you now looks like something worth saving. 'What's another rip when you only have two?' soon turns into 'What's another rip when you already have twelve?' It's like having something that's already shattered, but still believing that you can prevent it from breaking. You can't fix something that isn't broken, all you can do is just try to keep it together. That's a bruised heart. For the lucky ones, their hearts simply break. They can't stand living every day with the feeling that total destruction could be around every corner, instead they just suffer their loss and move on," Spencer explained.
"What was she holding on to?"
Spencer let out a long sigh before she continued, "Ezra. He was her boyfriend, no, her soulmate. It started out small. First there was a crazy ex-fiancee from college. Then it was Aria's parents and other, um, outside forces. He lost his job because of it and her family practically fell apart. After that it was lies about hidden money, family secrets, a horrible mother, and well... then there was Maggie. The girl he got pregnant in high school. His mom paid her to get out of his life and "take care" of the kid, but turns out she had it. A little boy. Once the kid became a part of Ezra's life it was hell for Aria," she bit her lip trying to keep from raising her voice, "Just how strong do you have to be to stick around when your boyfriend has a damn child and you're still in school? She was always so calm about everything, even the freaking kid, but inside... It was tearing away at her piece by piece, we could all see it. Eventually the boy was kidnapped -long story- and she finally ended things with him. Then it turns out that he wasn't really Ezra's son and Aria practically leaped back into his arms, forgiving him for everything. I can't understand how she does it. Aria Montgomery is the strongest person I've ever known."
"She's strong because she held onto her relationship through all that?" the nurse asked, wondering why the hell someone would put themselves through that. No matter who it was for.
Spencer laughed sadly, "Unimaginable emotional pain for just the smallest amount of good? Maybe that's not healthy but that's sure as hell strength. I can see it now, though. She's finally starting to break. She wants to forgive him so much that she is literally losing her mind, but she just can't. What he's done... It's unforgivable, I- I'm not sure how I can explain it- how to make someone understand," Spencer paused trying to think of the right words, "Imagine the love of your life, the entire reason that you breathe, reaching into your chest and slowly ripping your heart out while you stare into his eyes, that are filled with nothing but absolute passion and love as he tells you how much he loves you. His words so raw and sincere that there is no doubt he's telling the truth."
"You're saying he loves her? After what he's done?" the nurse asked, still unsure as to what exactly it is that he did. All she knew is that it was bad. Bad enough to drive what sounded like the most patient (and to her, unreasonable) person in the world to insanity.
"I've never seen two people more perfect for each other. It's as if the world was made for them to find one another. He loves her more than he's ever loved anything in his life, I don't doubt that. It's complicated. I don't think he ever intended to hurt her. He never thought for a second he would be haunted by his past secrets, and what he's gotten into now, he wanted it all to end before she ever found out. They were both damaged when they met. Aria went to him to help fill in the cracks but Ezra, Ezra wanted to fix himself on his own. He wanted to escape the past, then he wanted to bury his secrets and never let them see the sun."
"It sounds like you've forgiven him."
"Oh no, not at all," Spencer shook her head violently, "The next time I see that son of a bitch I swear, I'll kill him for what he's done. Not just to her, to all of us. I see the way he looks at her, though. He's betrayed her in a way no one will ever be able to understand but he would die for her. I don't know why he's done what he's done but that much is true. He would sacrifice himself in a heartbeat if it meant keeping that girl safe."
"I still don't understand," the nurse confessed. She didn't know how anyone willing to die for someone could hurt them in such a horrible way. It didn't make any sense to her, "It sounds like they love each other more than anything but I just don't understand why or how."
"I don't think anyone ever will," Spencer whispered.
Spencer searched the apartment for any sign of Aria. Eventually Spencer had to accept that she was not going to find her hiding behind the toaster and gave up, still desperate to find out where her best friend had gone. Before leaving she picked up the shattered picture frame that was lying face down on the floor. As she turned it over she realized it was a photo Aria had taken with the camera Ezra bought her. He was kissing her cheek and she was smiling, looking the happiest she'd ever been. Her smile was so bright that Spencer was almost sure she could hear the faint sound of laughter in the distance. Spencer set the photo down on the counter and let out a deep sigh before she closed the door to apartment 3B, praying that Aria was somewhere safe. Her prayers were soon to be answered as she felt her phone buzzing in her pocket. She reached back to answer the call, bringing the phone up to her ear as she saw something that caught her eye. She must have looked past it when she first arrived since the door had been open, but now she could see clearly that Aria had left a small note taped to Ezra's door.
"Hello? Miss Spencer Hastings?" the voice on the other side of the telephone asked.
"Yes, yes that's me," Spencer answered, bending down to see what Aria had written.
"I'm a nurse at Radley Sanitarium. I think we have your friend here with us. She won't tell us her name."
"I'll be right there," Spencer managed to coax out as hung up the phone. She brushed over the words with her fingertips, reading her friend's sloppy and barely legible message.
I love you just as much as I always have