CHAPTER 42

A couple of weeks later, on a quiet Saturday afternoon, Ezra was having coffee at Rear Window Brew. Aria had a summer class to catch up on some of the work she'd missed at the end of the previous semester, and although they were never really able to get together on weekends anyway, Ezra had fallen into the habit of leaving his plans open when Aria was free, just in case she could manage to see him. But on this day, since she was busy, he had made lunch plans with Hardy, and then afterwards, not feeling like going home, he'd stopped off at Rear Window for a coffee and a quiet read.

Ezra was completely engrossed in his book when a familiar sound cut right through the low hum of the surroundings, and he looked up immediately, his heart doing a familiar leap. He knew that sound. It was the sound his daughter made when she wasn't happy. He swivelled round on the sofa, and saw Byron at the counter, holding a crying Lily, and clearly trying to pacify her while waiting to place his order, and not doing a very good job of it.

Ezra didn't think. Before he realised what he was doing, he was over at Byron's side. "Hey, Byron. Do you need a hand there?"

Byron looked up in surprise, which turned to relief as he recognised Ezra. "Oh, hi, Ezra. Just spending some quality time with my granddaughter – although I'm not sure she's finding it all that great quality," he said ruefully, as Lily let out an ear-piercing shriek. "That's babies for you, huh?"

Ezra couldn't bear to see Lily so upset, even though he knew that she sometimes just got this way for no reason, and it wasn't Byron's fault. "Here, let me take her. I've been told I'm good with babies," he said, holding out his hands confidently.

"Are you sure? She can be a bit of a handful," Byron said doubtfully.

"Maybe she just needs a change of scenery. I'm sitting right over there in the corner – why don't I take her, and you come and join me once you've placed your order?" Ezra said, calmly, though inwardly he was screaming, GIVE ME MY BABY NOW!

"Well, okay," said Byron, lifting Lily up under her arms and handing her over to the man he didn't know was her father. Ezra took her carefully but with well-practised hands, and Lily looked up at him and stopped crying at once.

"Well, isn't that always the way," Byron grinned. "You weren't kidding, you really do have a way with babies – or this young lady, at least! You don't have any of your own, do you?"

"Oh – um – no," Ezra replied, hating having to lie while his precious daughter was looking up at him with blue eyes that were just like his own. "Look – let me go sit down with her, and you come and join me once you've placed your order, okay?"

"Sure thing. Thanks, Ezra," Byron replied gratefully before turning to the barista, and Ezra went back to his seat.

"Hey, beautiful girl. Your Daddy's an idiot, yes he is," he cooed under his breath at Lily, who chuckled. "Grandpa can't know I'm your Daddy, okay? So stop looking at me like you know me, because if he finds out, the world will explode, yes it will, you funny girl!" He blew a raspberry on Lily's tummy through her yellow vest, and she chuckled loudly and grabbed a fistful of his hair.

"Hey, we don't pull people's hair, Lily," Byron remonstrated teasingly as he arrived and took the chair opposite Ezra's. "Ezra isn't going to want to hold you any more if you pull out all his hair, is he? And then you'll have to come back to boring old me."

"It's okay. She just likes grabbing hair," Ezra replied, nonetheless pealing Lily's fingers off his curls one by one. Then, realising what he'd just said, he added, "Most babies do."

"Yeah. Actually, when Aria was a baby Ella couldn't go near her without tying her hair back first, because Aria would just grab it within a second and not let go, and sometimes she pulled so hard it made Ella cry." He laughed. "I guess Lily takes after her!"

"I guess so," Ezra replied carefully. "She does look a lot like Aria, doesn't she?"

"You think so? I think so too, but of course I'm biased. She doesn't have Aria's eyes, though – unless they change, they might still, I guess. But of course, we don't know –" he stopped and shook his head.

Even though Ezra knew what Byron had been about to say (We don't know what the father's eyes look like), he couldn't help asking, "What?" In a twisted way, he wanted to hear Byron talk about Lily's father.

But Byron didn't want to. "No...never mind," he said. He looked at Ezra, as if trying to decide something, and Ezra looked down at Lily, not wanting to meet Byron's eyes – especially not with his own which looked just like Lily's.

"Ezra, can I ask you something?" Byron asked suddenly, in a rush.

Shiiiiiiit. "Um, yeah?" Ezra said as calmly as he could manage with his heart rate suddenly having tripled.

"Is it going to be okay for Aria – at school, I mean?" Byron said.

Thank god, he doesn't suspect anything. "You mean – because she has Lily now? I hope so," Ezra replied. "I mean, aside from when the other kids first found out, I haven't seen or heard anything – nothing she couldn't handle, anyway. And she says most people have been surprisingly okay about it – I mean, I asked her to tell me if she had any problems," he explained hurriedly.

"Yeah, she told us the same thing. But honestly, I wasn't sure if she was just saying that so we wouldn't worry," Byron said.

"Or like she didn't want you to feel like you had to do something, or fight her battles for her, when she's trying to be mature and raise a baby," Ezra mused, without thinking.

Byron frowned. "That's a very good point. You think that's what's happening?"

"Oh, no – I was just speculating how she would feel," Ezra said quickly. "I honestly don't think there's any real problems at school – or will be, once she's back with Lily in the nursery. In fact, it'll probably be better, now that her pregnancy isn't a constant reminder to everyone – out of sight, out of mind, and all that."

"Yeah. Well, I hope it's all fine. But you'll keep an eye out, won't you? I mean, I know she only has English class with you, but she's also doing all that extra credit stuff with you, right? So you'll see her more than some of the other teachers."

I am THE biggest shit in the world, Ezra thought miserably. This nice man is asking me to keep an eye on his daughter's well-being, and he has no idea that the fact that he has to worry about her well-being at all is MY fault.

Aloud, he just said, "Yes, of course." It was all he could manage. Fortunately, at that moment Lily decided she'd been ignored long enough, and started wailing again, and Byron was distracted from the conversation.

"SShh shh, baby girl, don't cry," Ezra said soothingly. "It's all going to be all right."

When he looked back on this moment, Ezra could never explain how his brain deserted him at such an important time. He wasn't even thinking. His baby was crying, and immediately the song that always made her stop came to his lips.

"If you said goodbye to me tonight

There would still be music left to write;

What else could I do?

I'm so inspired by you;

That hasn't happened for the longest time"

Aria had discovered really early on that this was Lily's favourite song – or, at least, that it generally made her stop crying if you sang it to her. She figured it was because she'd gone through a Billy Joel phase near the end of her pregnancy, and had played that particular song a lot. So it was second nature to her and to Ezra to sing that song to calm Lily down. Except that right now, Byron was sitting opposite Ezra, staring at him in complete surprise and confusion – which Ezra realised as he finished the verse and looked up.

"How – how did you know that song? I mean, that Aria always sings it to Lily?" Byron demanded, frowning.

"Oh – I heard her sing it. She told me it was Lily's favourite song," Ezra said, hoping he didn't look as guilty as he felt.

"But Aria's been on vacation since the baby was born. When did you see her?" Byron asked. At least he sounded more confused than accusatory, much to Ezra's relief.

"Oh, I came by your house once or twice to bring Aria some of her extra credit stories I was grading. And to talk to her about continuing with that next semester, if she has time, with the baby and all," he gabbled.

"Oh,okay," Byron said, seemingly satisfied with this explanation. "Yeah, I'm hoping she can still get into a good school next year. She really wants to major in English and creative writing – maybe go into journalism or publishing or something like that. I have to admit, when I found out she was – expecting, I was kind of worried about how that would affect her future plans. But if you can keep her on track for her senior year, I'll feel a lot better about it."

"I'll do my best," Ezra promised, meaning it but still feeling like a complete and utter shit.

"I'm glad she has someone looking out for her," Byron added.

Oh god, please stop, Ezra found himself begging silently. I've done things to your daughter that you'd probably slit my throat for right here if you knew. I've had sex with her in your house. In my classroom at school, for fuck's sakes. Never mind the countless times at my apartment. Including the one where we made this baby that I'm holding right now. But she was so perfect, and I wanted her so badly...and I loved her – no, LOVE her so much – but I can never tell you any of this, because all you'll see is a twenty-five-year-old man who had sex with a minor who was supposed to be under his protection.

"Of course, I'll look out for her," Ezra replied, awkwardly. "Look, I have to go now – I, um, have to be somewhere – so I guess I'll see you around?"

"Sure thing, Ezra. Thanks for being so good with Lily, by the way. Maybe we should hire you as a babysitter!" Byron laughed, and Ezra joined in dutifully, and then handed Lily back to her grandfather, reluctant to leave her, but dying to get out of there. He fairly ran out of the coffee shop, and kept his head down, walking fast, all the way back to his apartment.

A few minutes later Ella arrived at Rear Window, and made her way over to join Byron and Lily where they were still sitting. "Hey, you two! I'm sorry that took so long – did you manage to amuse yourselves while you waited?"

"Oh, yeah – in fact, I ran into Aria's English teacher, Ezra Fitz, and we spoke for a bit. He was surprisingly good with Lily."

Ella stiffened, but didn't look at her husband as she rummaged in her purse. "How do you mean, surprisingly?"

"Well, for a young guy in his early twenties, with no kids, to be that confident with a little baby is quite surprising, I'd say."

"Maybe he has friends with kids. Or younger siblings," Ella said, trying to sound dismissive. Dammit, Ezra, what the hell were you doing talking to Byron and playing with Lily? You should know better than that!

"So what was he doing here, then?" Ella asked, holding out her arms to take Lily from Byron.

"Ezra? I don't know, just having coffee. He was here when I got here, and Lily was shrieking the place down, so he came over and offered to hold her. She calmed down immediately. He even knew to sing her "For the Longest Time" – apparently he came over to the house and heard Aria singing it to her?"

I am going to KILL you, Ezra Fitz, Ella thought angrily. Out loud she merely said, "Oh yes, I remember that. Good memory he's got. Anyway, could you get me a skinny latte? I'd go, but I have a baby." She grinned at her husband over Lily's head.

"Of course you do." Byron stood up. "In fact, Ella – and don't ever tell Aria I said this – but it's kind of fun to have a baby around the house again, isn't it?"

"Yep. We're both smitten," Ella replied, smiling down at the baby on her lap, who was all giggles and chuckles for the moment. Then, as Byron walked away, she took out her phone and sent a brief text message to Ezra.

Byron told me what happened. You need to be more careful. If you can't control yourself I have NO problem ending this entire arrangement.

She threw the phone back in her purse without waiting for a reply, as she saw Byron returning.

"Hey, I just had a thought," he said. "There's an opening in the English department at Hollis coming up – what if I recommended Ezra Fitz for the position?"

"What? Why?" Ella said, completely thrown by this.

"Well, because he seems like a nice guy, and a good teacher, and it'd pay more than he's getting at Rosewood Day, that's for damn sure! Why? You think I shouldn't?"

" No, it's not that – it's just – well, I have no idea, actually," Ella said, confused. Certainly it would be better if Ezra was no longer Aria's teacher. But she didn't exactly want him in close proximity with Byron, either, and have them becoming friends or something, god forbid. At least now that she was going to be teaching at the school she could keep a close eye on both Ezra and Aria. But if Ezra were somewhere else then she couldn't keep track of what he was doing so easily. And besides, he was Lily's father no matter what, so it wasn't like they could move him along and have Aria forget about him. And Aria would be furious if Ezra left the school.

"It's just – he just started at the school; is he really going to want to move so soon?"

"True. And Aria's doing really well under him," Byron mused, and Ella choked a little on her coffee.

"I guess I can just ask. If he's not interested, he can just say so, but if he is, it'd be a great opportunity for him, right?"

"I guess so," Ella conceded, and then changed the subject firmly away from Ezra Fitz. She didn't want to think about him any more that day!