According to Joyce, Valentine’s Day is a day to show the people you love how much you love them, and that one of the ways to show them is with cards or flowers. So, after seeing the soft, deep-red roses in all the stores around Hawkins, Eleven decides that all the people she loves should get the same. After school on Valentine’s Day, she bikes straight to the florist’s and buys twelve roses. The next half hour is spent sitting on her bed tying carefully-crafted red paper hearts with messages written in white pencil (“To __ Happy Valentine’s Day Love, El”) to the stems with pink ribbon. She gives the first one to Joyce, sitting at the table smoking a cigarette while paying bills and looking more than a little stressed, trying to finish before Hopper picks her up for their date. She gathers El into her arms and tenderly strokes her curls before pulling away, wiping a few tears away from her eyes. The next one is given to Jonathan, in his room getting ready for his date with Nancy, the Clash blaring so loudly that knocking on the door does nothing and El has to tap him on the arm to get his attention. He gives her an awkward hug and touched smile and sets the rose in a place of honor on his nightstand so he can see it when he wakes up. Next is Will, across the hallway in his room, drawing before Jonathan drives he and El over to Mike’s for a sleepover (since none of the kids ever have plans for Valentine’s Day). He gives her the biggest and sweetest smile and throws his arms around her before running to get a glass of water for the flower. They make two stops before Mike’s: first, Steve’s house, where his reaction to getting a ROSE from El is a surprised laugh and an “Aww thanks, kid!” before ruffling her curly hair and waving to Will and Jonathan waiting in the car. Second, the station, where El and Will run into Hopper’s office and around his desk to attack him with a hug. He takes El’s rose with a husky thank-you and kiss to her temple before getting up from his desk to grab an empty vase from the top of the file cabinet which he then fills with water and rose, setting it carefully on his desk next to the framed family pictures and last-minute work he’s finishing up before his date with Joyce. Finally, they arrive at Mike’s house and Jonathan walks them to the door, holding his own bouquet of red roses behind his back. Karen answers and accepts El’s rose with a touched smile, placing a hand over her heart, then pulling El to her so she can plant a kiss on top of her head. Holly gets a Valentine note tied around a lollipop, and even Ted gets a rose (that is still next to the La-Z-Boy two weeks later in a tiny vase). Nancy comes down the stairs, putting on one last earring, and lets out a small “Oh!” when El hands her her rose. El gets another hug and a kiss on the cheek, leaving a faint lipstick stain that Nancy gently wipes away. As Nancy runs to put her thirteen roses in some water, Mike bounds out of the basement (unbeknownst to El and Will, having practically sprinted up the stairs when he heard the front door open) and takes them back down to the basement where Lucas and Dustin and Max are waiting impatiently at the now-much-larger D&D table. Before following Will down, El hands Mike his rose and his face quickly colors to match the crimson petals. He mumbles a shy thank-you and furtively glances down into the basement where he hopes the cheers greeting Will’s arrival are enough to distract them from the quick kiss he places on El’s rosy cheek. He is wrong and the cheers become loud “AWWW"s, and El’s smile is the only thing keeping him from shouting a "Shut up!” down the stairs. Lucas, Dustin, and Max each get one of the last three roses and envelop El in a group hug that quickly encompasses Mike and Will too. They spend the rest of the evening finishing the campaign and stay up into the wee hours eating candy from the Valentines they gave each other earlier that day at school, Lucas all the while asking Mike if he’s the one who writes the sappy messages on all the conversation hearts. Once everyone else is asleep, Mike pulls out another larger valentine for El, a crooked heart cut out of pink construction paper with lace glued around the edges and a long message written on the reverse side. El proclaims it very pretty and thanks Mike with a gentle hug, sliding the heart under her pillow so it won’t get lost or swiped by Max or Lucas the next morning to (good-naturedly) tease Mike over. The last thing she sees as she falls asleep is the four roses lying on the D&D table in front of the owners’ respective places, conversation hearts and pink, red, and white candy wrappers scattered around them. She smiles and falls asleep, surrounded by six of the twelve people she loves most in the world.
Little Holly Wheeler never quite forgot the Thing reaching to her from the wall in Mrs. Byers house. The Thing that lit up those pretty lights. She didn’t see the whole thing—her mom must’ve scared it away when she came in, she thinks—but her imagination filled in the blanks. Holly never quite forgot the girl on the staircase holding her big brother’s hand, either. The girl with the soft eyes and no hair who she never saw again but stuck in her memory. Holly draws that Thing every day for several days afterward and then every other week or so after that. Each one a little different from the last, trying to imagine what it looked like and what it liked to do. All of them unified in their scribbles of Christmas lights around the border and lanky, spider-like arms and fingers on the Thing. Setting her worn and broken crayons aside, one day, Holly excitedly ran over to her mom and showed her the drawing she had just finished. “Oh, Holly, that’s pretty scary! Have you been seeing monsters under your bed? Has Mike been showing you his comic books?” her mom asked suspiciously, a little frightened herself. Holly shook her head innocently, saying in a childishly stern voice, “Not scary. Friendly.” The Thing had only wanted to play with her, right? That’s why it reached out through the wall. Her mother brushed it off easily and let her scurry back off to coloring… Sometimes she drew that girl, too, the one in the blue and gray pajamas. She gave the girl colorful dresses and wide smiles. And sometimes she noticed her big brother acting……different. Sad. He wouldn’t wanna color or read stories or play tag in the backyard. He stayed in his room those times and wouldn’t bring his friends over. So, on one of these times, Holly set out to make him happy in the best way she knew how: drawing a picture. She took more time in her scribbles this time, and, though it might not look like much to you or me, she recognized them to be the Friendly Thing holding hands with the girl, this time wearing a soft pink dress and a crown fit for a princess. She peeked into Mike’s room to find him, as usual, sitting on his bed. Without words, she walked in and gingerly climbed up on to the bed next to him, setting the drawing in his lap and smiling up at him. Mike’s gasped quickly and, upon instinct, went to snap at her for coming into his room…but he didn’t. Because, in reality, the girl in the picture still was not home, was not happy. This was the closest thing he could get to seeing that. Tears ran down his cheeks silently, and Holly hugged his side
Mike notices that whenever he and El go to the diner for cheeseburgers and french fries, she always saves the crispiest fries for last, crunching them with delight. For a long time, Mike saves the crispy fries on his own plate for El, claiming that he doesn’t actually like them all that much—it’s a lie; they’re his favourite.
Mike’s charade lasts until, one day, several years later, he and El take Holly for lunch while watching her for the afternoon. Holly hates fries that aren’t soft so she quickly shoves them onto her brother’s plate because “these are the kind you like, Mikey.”
Blushing furiously, Mike takes a quick glance at El, sitting across the table with her eyebrows knitted together and an amused smirk on her face. Of course Mike Wheeler would spend four years lying about his food preferences just to make her happy. Of course. For a moment, she rummages around on her plate, looking for the crispiest fry. When she finds it, she throws it directly at Mike’s head, causing them both to burst out laughing.
Imagine Mike and Nancy tickling one another on the floor, laughing their asses off, cheeks flushed, unable to breathe; this is the first time they’ve felt a real joy since November.
Then Holly comes in. “Save me!” Mike calls, and plays dead.
Holly only laughs and jumps into the pile. “I could literally be dead, right now, and she wouldn’t care,” Mike says. He proceeds to blow a raspberry into his little sister’s stomach. She shrieks with laughter, and Nancy wraps them both into a hug.
When Mike and El decide to volunteer as counselors at Mike and Nancy’s old camp over the summer, it isn’t long before they are adopted by every single one of the campers, each intent on learning everything they can about their beloved new counselors. Like how you never take all the waffles at breakfast because they’re El’s favorite, or how they both really like the number eleven. Some of the kids try to find out why by asking El and Mike when their birthdays are, even how old El is (“Maybe she’s eleven years old!”). Others theorize over s’mores how maybe it’s a secret password for a super secret club, or the number of dragons she’s slain (because she’s a superhero and superheroes slay dragons), or maybe even the number of paces from a certain spot to Bigfoot’s cave (because they’re very close friends). But the questions El and Mike get asked most often are about their wedding and who their kids are (any brown or black haired or curly haired or brown eyed kid in camp is suspect). To say Mike and El are bewildered is an understatement, until they remember the games of tag where kids would hide behind the supervising El because as they said, Mike always came over to talk to her and they could tag him when he did, or until they remember the drawings of them together, or until they remember how one of the campers organized a wedding a year before back home, who is also named Holly Wheeler and has the ear of most of her fellow campers. Then it all starts to make a little more sense (if only just a little). Fast forward several years when Mike and El Wheeler pay their old stomping grounds a visit, giving their kids a chance to look around the place where they spent most of their teenage summers. Some of their old campers are counselors now and when they first see them come into camp, all they can say, with huge smiles, is “I KNEW you guys were married!”
nancy and mike are chilling in nancy’s room. its raining lightly mike is hanging upside down off nancy’s bed as he makes faces at holly, who is sitting on the ground and laughing. nancy hums while she studies at her desk. Buddy Holly plays loudly, drowning out the sound of their parents argument (they’ve been going at it all day).
Holly wanders down to the basement one day during the boys d&d campaign and is mesmerized by her brother’s story telling ability. That night she asks Karen if Mike can be the one to read her a bedtime story instead.
From that night forward, Mike is the only person who is able to put Holly to sleep.
Do you have any Mike and Holly headcanons? Your headcanons are the best btw
First of all, thank you so much—I appreciate the ask & your kindness! Hope you enjoy these! 💜
Holly is a big fan of brushing Mike’s hair and will comb it down over his eyes and ears only to then pull it back and tie it in a little bun on the top of his head. Nancy has to teach Mike to make pigtails and braid hair, because for a few weeks at the beginning of kindergarten, Holly refuses to let anyone touch her hair except for Mike.
Mike was super excited when he found out he was going to have a little sister and would often talk to Karen’s stomach while she was pregnant. When they brought Holly home from the hospital, Mike was slightly put out to find out that the baby would mostly just sleep and cry for the first little while, but he loved holding Holly and helping rock her to sleep regardless.
Mike reads to Holly every night and often replaces the names of storybook heroines with her name, which always excites her. Holly loves the way Mike does the voices in the stories, a unique one for each character.
By the time she’s seven, Holly develops a love of comic books and if Mike is ever looking for an old issue that he can’t find, he knows to go look in Holly’s room. She has a habit of taking piles at a time from the basement and forgetting to return them.
The year Holly decides to go trick-or-treating as Wonder Woman, she’s insistent that Mike dress up as Superman to accompany her. The rest of the gang, once they’re done teasing him, agree to dress up as the rest of the Justice League. Lucas and Dustin argue over who gets to the Batman.
Holly grows up dancing ballet and Mike is at all her recitals—along with El—and they always bring her a big bouquet of flowers.
The sun was pleasantly hot against her back—it was a familiar sort of warmth that could only be associated with a summer morning; like an old friend, Nancy had embraced it wholly.
“Mikey, I want dandelions, too!”
Mike rolled his eyes at Nancy, who was perched a little to his right, legs stretched out over the Star Wars blanket they’d brought with them. The picnic had been Nancy’s idea—the braids, on the other hand, were Holly’s.
For several weeks following El’s disappearance Mike can’t bring himself to hold Holly’s hand the way he usually does when he takes her for a walk around the block or brings her up to her room for a bedtime story. He can only think of how empty his hand feels now that El isn’t there to hold it.
The sparkly purple notebook was almost always kept in a safe spot, tucked away under El’s mattress and taken out at the end of each day so that she could record, in increasingly neat and loopy handwriting, the events that had occurred since morning. In a pink or green gel pen, gifts from Nancy, El ensured that every happy detail of her life was pressed onto the page with love, preserved in writing. She had so many terrible memories and although better ones were quickly accumulating and El refused to risk forgetting a single good day.
The pages of her diary were filled with amusing anecdotes about her friends: Max trying to teach Lucas and Dustin to do cartwheels, Steve and Nancy taking her and Max to watch planes take off from the airport, going to the park with Lucas to play baseball, learning how to play hopscotch with Holly and Mike.
There were stories about her new family as well: Jim really, honestly trying to make snickerdoodles but forgetting the sugar, Jonathan teaching her how to make pancakes, folding and painting paper airplanes with Will, dancing in the living room hand-in-hand with Joyce.
But most the pages were inked with detailed memories of Mike: the way his freckled cheeks turned bright red whenever she pressed her lips to them, the way he traced pictures on the back of her shirt while they watched movies in the Wheeler’s basement, his familiar and comfortable smell (bubblegum, lavender fabric softener, and—ever so faintly—chocolate chip cookies), and his height—perfect for the piggyback rides she was consistently offered.
It was a rainy Sunday morning when Mike, with his freckled cheeks and familiar smell, appeared on the Hoppers’ doorstep, soaked to the bone but with a beaming smile on his face. He would insist, for the remainder of his life, that no rainy day was so gloomy as to dampen spending time with El.
On that day, Jim—leaving his adopted daughter in charge of the bacon bubbling on the stove—retrieved Mike a dry pair of pants and a sweater—several sizes too big, despite being from his younger, fitter days. Ushered into El’s bedroom to change, the door closed behind him, Mike caught sight of the small purple book that had been carefully placed on El’s night table. She had, unknown to him, left it out the night before. Mike contemplated the book for a long moment before picking it up and gently opening its front cover.
That evening El returned to her room, eager to commit her day of movies and board games with Mike and Jim to the familiar lined pages of her journal. She slid a hand deftly under her mattress, fingers groping for an item that wasn’t there. With some confusion, El glanced around her room, her eyes finally falling on the book, placed atop her pillow. She remembered, all at once, that she had not left it there herself.
Eyes wide, El carefully opened the book to the very last page she had written on. Immediately, on the opposite page, her gaze was drawn to Mike’s messy and unmistakable scrawl. As El read his words, her heart fluttered, a smile growing on her lips.
Hi El! I didn’t read anything, but I wanted to tell you again that I love you. You’re so perfect. From Mike.
Hi everyone! So sorry my posts are all over the place. My baby cousin is in the hospital and she has to have surgery this week. Please keep her in your prayers. Well…onto chapter three. PLEASE LEAVE ME A COMMENT ABOUT THE CHAPTER AFTER YOU’VE READ IT! 😘
Chapter Three: In A Past Life
It took Aria a few minutes to gather her surroundings as she lifted her head off her pillow. The clock on the side table read Sunday morning and she could smell the aroma of coffee brewing in the kitchen across the room. Beside the couch, Aria could see Luc sleeping soundly the blankets pushed off of him. Bending down she pulled the blankets back over his tiny form before walking into the kitchen fixing her long hair.
Walking into the kitchen she saw her mom putting a few pancakes on a tall stack.
“Good morning.” She greeted with a smile. Aria yawned before smiling and pulled the stool out from under the island. “I made your favorite,” She placed a plate in front of Aria. “Blueberry pancakes with vegan bacon and fresh brewed coffee.” Turning to the pot she poured Aria a steaming cup and placed it next to her. “It still is your favorite, right?” Ella paused, realizing her tastes may have changed.
“Yes.” Aria clarified quickly, taking a bite of her bacon. “Thank you.” Aria mumbled, realizing her bad manners she chewed swallowed then continued. “But you didn’t have to do all of this, really.”
“No, it was no problem.” Ella shrugged, smiling. “You need some meat on those bones your too skinny.” Aria gave a nervous laugh before shifting in her seat.
“Well this looks really good.” Aria picked up her fork and cut into her pancake. She had just taken a bite as a small cry came from the other room.
“Momma…” Aria turned around and Ella glanced in Luca’s direction. He was sitting up on the blankets with his dark curls sticking up.
“Luc, I’m here.” Aria jumped down from her stool and rushed to him, picking him up he calmed in her arms but still clung to her.
“Is he okay?” Ella asked, concerned as the two re-entered the kitchen.
“Yeah, it’s just going to take some getting used to. Being here, that is.” She sighed, plopping back down on the stool with Luca on her lap. “Do you want a pancake?” She asked the red face boy, smoothening down his hair.
“Pancake, momma!” Luca smiled, taking the round floppy pancake off of Aria’s plate and taking a bite. Aria gave a small laugh before kissing the top of his head.
Wiping her hands on a dishtowel Ella reached for Luca.
“I can take him for you while you eat?” She offered.
“Oh no, its fine.” Aria waved her mom off, picking up her fork. “I’ve had practice multitasking with Luca here.” Aria squeezed him gently.
The front door opened, leaving Ella without a chance to say something as Mike swung open the door.
“I got the paper!” He shouted, closing the door. Turning, he spotted Aria with Luca still seated on her lap, and he was frozen in place as their eyes met.
Aria slowly chewed the food in her mouth, swallowing it before getting up from her stool. Mike moved too, as the siblings met halfway and enveloped each other in a hug. They had always been close and the past few years hadn’t changed that. Pulling away, Mike smiled and Aria had tears in her eyes.
“I missed you.” She tried hard to keep the tears in.
“Me too.” Mike agreed, looking from Aria down to Luc, trying not to stare.
“Oh um… Mike this is Luca, but I call him Luc. Luc, this is your Uncle Mike.” She introduced. Usually Luca would bury his head into Aria’s shoulder, but surprisingly he took a liking to Mike.
“Luc, hi.” Mike bent down to be eye level with the little boy. “I’m so happy to meet you. Thanks for bringing your mommy home.” He smiled, glancing up at Aria who blushed.
Boy, did she miss her brother.
Not wanting to ruin the moment, but figuring Mike was hungry, Ella called him to the table.
“Mike, why don’t you take a seat and eat before it gets cold?” She suggested, as Mike took the second stool and pulled it out from under the island.
“Good, I’m hungry.” He placed the paper on the granite counter top; not even realizing what was on the cover. Aria’s eyes went wide with confusion and Ella noticed.
“I’m so sorry Aria.” Ella stated, but Aria didn’t say a word, didn’t even look up at her mom. “I was going to tell you when-” Ella spoke, her mouth hanging open as Aria swallowed her tears and tore her eyes away from the paper.
“Ali…she’s missing?” Aria whispered confused. She looked up at her mom for answers, but Ella just sighed. “What are they talking about?” She reiterated, tilting her head so she could see her mom’s face, which was bent down.
Still not getting any answers, Aria picked up the paper and began to skim the article for details. Watching her daughter read into the lies of the town, Ella snatched the paper from her grasp.
“She just disappeared; these stories are all just speculation.” Ella crumpled up the paper and tossed it into the trash. She didn’t want her daughter hurt with questions she didn’t have answers to.
From what Aria had read before the paper was taken from her there had been something about a sleepover with her friends, or something like that.
“It said something about my friends, Mom. What happened after I left?” Aria pressed again, but Ella remained silent.
“After you left everyone thought you were involved.” Mike said, in-between bites of pancake.
Aria’s head swung towards her younger brother as he spoke. Ella’s steely look immediately made him clam-up and Aria still hadn’t gotten anymore closer to the truth; she was even more confused now.
“What he means is that when Ali left town everyone thought she was with you, but your Father set them straight.” Ella clarified, but it didn’t answer everything, she figured she would just have to find out more on her own later.
“So umm…” Aria looked down at her food, swallowing the nervous lump that was forming in her throat. “Where, exactly have I been all this time?” Aria examined. Ella was caught off guard by the sudden question and took a minute to think of what to say. “I mean, I had to have been somewhere. Was I at grandmas or living at a boarding school?” Aria questioned further.
Ella wasn’t proud of this, but she had convinced herself a long time ago that it was best to make something up. She never wanted to believe that what truly happened to her daughter had been the truth and she forced herself to put on a smile with the words she had said so many times before.
That everything was fine and that she hadn’t truly run away.
“We said that you received a scholarship to a school back in Iceland and that you wanted to study abroad for a few years.” Ella explained, adding more coffee to her daughter’s mug.
“Well, at least I have a story to go off of…” Ella winced at her daughter’s sarcastic tone. “All I have to do is include a baby into the equation.” At this no one said a word.
Realizing it might have been a little too soon for jokes, Aria cleared her throat and spoke up again.
“It’s fine,” she shrugged. “Let’s just start over fresh. It’s all in the past.” Aria sighed, pushing her plate away. “I’m going to take Luc out for a walk, get some fresh air. Maybe stop by Wright’s Playground.” She hopped off her stool, adjusting Luc on her hip.
“Do you really think that’s a good idea?” Ella pondered. “I mean, taking him out so soon after getting out of the hospital?” She further questioned.
Aria didn’t want to think her mom was trying to keep her hidden, but the question popped into her head anyways. The genuine look of concern on her mom’s face on the other hand led her to believe she was worried. “I think it will be okay.” Aria rubbed Luca’s back. “Dr. Truman did say that if he was feeling better we could, and Janette mentioned for him to get back on a schedule. He loves the swings and we went to the park every Sunday.” Aria detailed.
“Okay.” Ella nodded, bringing her coffee mug to her lips. “Well, Mike and I can watch him for you while you take a shower and get dressed.” She offered, tilting her cup towards Mike.
Apprehensive at the thought of leaving him with Mike and their mom she immediately shook the emotions from her mind, this was family.
“Oh, okay. You really don’t mind?” Aria turned to Mike.
“No, this will give me the chance to spend time with the little guy.” Mike reached for Luc. With a little resistance Luc went to Mike. “Hey there little Luc.” Mike smiled at Luc who wasn’t quite sure, but at least he wasn’t crying, Aria thought.
Aria finally managed to move her legs towards the stairs, turning back to Luca who was now smiling. It felt strange to not have to be so close to him, they had been glued together since the moment he was born.
Aria slowly sat on her childhood bed, the place where she spent countless sleepovers with her friends and opened up new worlds by reading every night. The comforter was soft; the pillows smelt clean, even the mattress felt the same, and of course her feet still couldn’t reach the hardwood floor.
Everything felt the same, but deep down the pictures on her dresser and the book Ezra had bought her was from another life. She didn’t belong in here, the room was meant for another Aria. One who hadn’t spent the past few years living in an out of shelters and flats where kids did things she knew would never escape her memory. This wasn’t her room anymore.
A knock sounded at the door as Aria’s head rose to meet the door slowly being cracked open. “Are you decent?” Ella asked, making sure before opening it wider.
“Yeah. Yes.” Aria jumped off the bed. “Is Luc okay?” Aria questioned, as she went to her closet door and shrugged on a navy blue sweater over her cream long sleeve shirt.
“Luc’s fine. Mike loves his new role as uncle.” Ella smiled, leaning against the doorframe.
“That’s great.” Aria returned the smile. “Now if I could only find some clothes that could actually fit me.” Aria raised her arms, noticing the significant amount of material dangling around her midsection. “I’m swimming in everything I left here…” Aria gave a small chuckle.
“I told you, your too skinny.” Ella walked across her daughter’s bedroom; happy Aria was finally in here with her. Ella sifted through the hangers until she found a cream colored belt and handed it to her daughter. “I think it would be a good idea to setup a doctor’s appointment for you and Luc.” Ella suggested.
“I’m fine, but I think Luc should go very soon.” Aria kept her eyes lowered as she wrapped the belt around her waist and buckled it into place. Ella watched Aria tentatively, knowing there was something going on, but figured she was reading too much into things.
“Mommy…” Aria heard her son’s laughter as he spotted her across the hallway where Mike was tickling his tummy.
“That’s my cue.” Aria gave a small smile, before looking at her mom who returned the smile.
No matter how much Ella tried to deny it, she still felt like something strange was going on with Aria. She only wanted to protect her and Rosewood was a town where secrets were always discovered.
“Aria,” Ella called to her. Aria’s brown hair flipped over shoulder as she turned to her mom. “Just remember this is Rosewood and-”
“Yes, and I’ve lived here for most of my life.” Aria tried convincing her mom. She wasn’t a little girl anymore.
“Rumors spread quickly.” Ella stated, moving closer to Aria, putting a hand on her shoulder.
“I know…” Aria agreed. “But I’m strong, believe me when you’ve lived on the streets with a baby you get use to the stares and whispers.” Aria rolled her eyes.
Ella’s hand fell from Aria’s shoulder and Aria could see the emotions running across her mother’s face.
“I’m sorry…” Aria stepped back into the room. “I promise, I will be careful about with what I tell people.” Aria gave her mom a hug.
“I just want to make sure this town doesn’t make you want to leave again.” Ella’s voice broke, her eyes closing as she hugged Aria tightly.
“I’m staying right here.” Aria reassured her mom. “But I do want to take Luc out to the playground for the day. I promise, I will be home later.” Aria pulled away.
“Okay.” Ella wiped her eyes. “Have fun.” She sniffled, as she broke down and smiled.
The air was rather crisp and cold, but there was no need for a hat and gloves just yet, only a winter coat. Pushing Luca’s stroller down the sidewalks, not many people where outside and the ones that were didn’t seem to recognize her. The playground was now in sight and although there were no kids, the area appeared to be well kept which made Aria happy that she could bring Luca here.
As a young girl, Aria remembered coming here and playing tag with her friends and having contests with Mike on who could swing the highest on the swings. This was the place where she learned to ride her bike and scrapped her knees, only to get an ice cream from her dad when she started to scream that she was going to die.
Stopping the stroller next to the swings, Aria bent down next to Luca and saw his excitement as he kicked his legs.
“You ready to go on the swings?” Aria asked, and smiled as she unbuckled him from his seat. With raised arms he reached for her to place him in the seat.
Once Luca was securely in the swing, Aria stood behind him, and gave a gentle push. The swing creaked loudly, but the only sound Aria could hear was his laughter.
“Do you like that Luc? Do you wanna go higher?” She gave another push.
“Are you touching the clouds? Reach… Reach high.” Aria said, and Luca fearlessly raised his arms.
“Good job!” Aria expressed. She loved these moments with Luca when it was just the two of them and she could forget her problems.
Strolling through the heart of Rosewood, Aria noticed the new and old shops that had popped up since she left. Like the fact that the library got a new sign and there was a new coffee shop a few stores down called The Brew.
“Right there,” Aria pointed out to Luca. “Is Lucky Leon’s where they have the best chocolate chip cupcakes and over there is the-” Aria stopped. “Library.” She whispered.
Aria’s heart started to pound in her chest and the smile on her face was evidence as to how much she missed the tall dark haired guy walking out of the library. Ezra’s nose was buried in the book in front of him, unaware of the young mother and child across the street staring.
Aria’s attention was brought back to reality by Luca’s rocking in the stroller, bored at not moving. Looking down she realized this wasn’t the time nor the place she wanted to run into Ezra.
Acting quickly, Aria made a beeline towards The Brew and ducked down just in time to see Ezra walk by without noticing her. Walking to his car, Aria closed her eyes remembering that rainy day when he had given her a ride. The butterflies were still fluttering in her stomach as she opened her eyes, hearing the radio in the background.
“Aria?” A familiar voice resonated against the music echoing about. Spinning around in the direction the voice had come from; she spotted a lengthy dark haired girl with olive skin behind the counter.
“Emily… hi.” She greeted, maneuvering Luca’s stroller towards the counter. From what Aria could tell, she still looked just as athletic as ever; down to the Rosewood swim t-shirt and jeans.
“I almost didn’t recognize you. It’s been so long.” Emily gave her a warm smile.
“It has… how are you?” Aria tilted her head.
“Great. How was Iceland?” Emily questioned. Aria hadn’t even thought that her friends wouldn’t know the truth and as she opened her mouth she pondered what to say.
“It was- it was interesting.” Aria lied, gripping the handle of the stroller tighter.
“Cool…” Emily hoped they could catch up later. “You know I tried calling you, but your parent’s said you couldn’t be reached.” Emily gave Aria a puzzling look.
“Yeah, I was umm…” Aria tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Really busy, reception was terrible.” She gave a laugh under her breath. Understanding, Emily nodded.
“And who is this? You’re babysitting?” Emily peeked inside, seeing Luc’s curly hair and chubby cheeks.
“He’s my-” Aria paused. Remembering what her mom had said about Rosewood being a small town.
“His name is Luca.” Aria clamped her mouth shut.
She hated the thought of lying to her friend, and even worse, lying in front of Luca. At least it wasn’t a straight up lie, she hadn’t actually confirmed or denied that he was her son; she just said his name.
“Hi Luca.” Emily waved, and as usual his shy personality made him turn away.
“Luc, Can you say hi back?” Aria asked.
“Hi.” He responded, with his head still turned away.
Emily gave a small laugh; looking back up at Aria she tilted her head as she intently looked at her friend.
“You’re a natural with him. You’re so much more mature then the last time I saw you, obviously we’ve all changed.” Emily pondered the reality of the difference.
“A lot has changed,” Aria sighed. “I heard about Ali.” Aria whispered, frowning.
“You did?” Emily’s voice too became quite. Aria nodded, remembering how the five of them had always been so close.
“Yeah, it was in the paper.” Aria added.
A loud laugh caught Aria’s ears immediately and she knew who it was, but the person sitting across from them, Aria never would have guessed.
“Speaking of change, when did that happen?” Aria pointed in the direction Spencer and Toby were in.
“A few weeks after Ali went missing.” Emily folded her hands over her chest, a smile forming over her face seeing her friend with the ponytail and head arched back with a smile on her face laughing again at something Toby had said.
“I never would have thought that Spencer and Toby would be a couple…” Aria peeled her eyes from the pair, and turned back to Emily with wide eyes.
“They really are great together. Spencer deserves to be happy after you left and then Ali. I mean, we’ve all changed. Spencer started hanging out with Toby, and Hanna became best friends with Mona-”
“Wait, Mona Vandarwell?” Aria recalled, the short pigtailed girl she ran from with Ali as her guide.
“We all just drifted apart…” Emily shrugged.
“We did… Didn’t we…” Aria lowered her head, glancing down at Luc.
Aria saw the shadow of someone behind her and Emily stood straighter as she fell back into business mode.
“Would you like the house special?” She asked Aria, who picked her head up and eyed the reaction, realizing she was standing at the counter.
“Oh… yes please. And a small lemonade for Luc.” Emily punched her order into the register as Aria dug through her pockets for what little cash she had on her. Thankfully it was enough and she paid, biting her lip wondering how she would earn her money now that everything was changing.
“Here you go…” Emily smiled, handing her a small Styrofoam cup with a straw for Luc and another taller cup with a plastic lid for Aria.
“Thanks… See you Monday.” Aria replied, turning the stroller towards the exit.
“Okay, bye.” Emily waved, she was happy something was finally back to normal in this town.
The air had gotten a bit chillier as Aria walked up the driveway with her coffee cup in the holder. She could see her breath and Luc’s nose was turning red from the cold. Seeing the car parked in the driveway, she was thankful because for one, she didn’t have a house key and number two she wouldn’t know where to look for one. The last thing she needed was a neighbor calling the cops saying she broke in.
She was about to ring the doorbell when she noticed the door was cracked open, just enough to where she could see it without it being visible to the whole neighborhood. Walking in, she pushed Luc’s stroller into the hallway, feeling the warmth from the furnace.
“Aria, is that you?” Ella’s voice called from the living room.
“Hi.” Aria turned towards her mother’s voice. Unzipping her coat, she saw her mom folding the laundry on the couch.
“How was the park?” Ella smiled, picking up a dishtowel and folding it like a hot dog bun.
“It was a lot of fun.” Aria shrugged her coat off, and then bent down to help Luc out of his stroller before helping him with his coat. “Luc loved the swings.” She added, removing his shoes and placing them by the front door.
“That’s great.” Ella glanced at Luca who walked over to the basket of colorful clothes, trying to figure out what it was.
“Yeah, I saw Emily at The Brew…” Aria nodded, taking her coffee and Luc’s cup to the garbage in the kitchen. Back tracking towards the stroller, Aria folded the plastic and metal, wheeling it towards the wall next to the fireplace. “Did you know that Spencer and Toby Cavanagh are a couple?” Aria raised her eyes, still shocked as she turned around to face her mom.
“Yes,” Ella laughed, at her daughter’s surprised features. “It was a big shock to the whole town.” Ella detailed further, picking up a pair of Mike’s socks and folding them. “I see you’ve already found the kid hangout.”, meaning The Brew. Ella tossed the socks into Mike’s pile.
Beside the wall and next to the end table sat three blue bags with some boutique’s name written in cursive printing.
“What is all of this stuff?” Aria bent down to examine one of the bags further. Holding the handle, Aria peeked inside and saw new toddler clothes.
“Well I ran some errands today and I stopped by the mall to pick up some new clothes for Luc.” Ella motioned towards the little boy who sat playing with a sock on his arm that was bigger than him.
“You didn’t have to buy him new clothes, I have money and-”
“And it’s a gift, Aria.” Ella cut her off. Aria closed her mouth and swallowed her pride, as she looked at the bag again.
“Thank you.” Aria acknowledged.
“You’re welcome.” Ella tilted her head towards her. “Besides, if he’s going to go to daycare he’s going to need some new clothes.” Ella added, looking at Luca who had a huge smile on his face, even though he didn’t know what they were talking about.
“Daycare?” Aria’s head shot up.
“Well yes, where else would he be going while you are in school?” Ella chuckled.
“I just- He’s never been away from me for a long period of time.” Aria looked down at her bitten nails, afraid she would start to cry.
Ella could hear the worry in her daughter’s voice and placed the article of the clothing in her hands on her lap as she looked directly at her daughter, who still had her head down.
“It’s only a block away from Rosewood High and it looks really nice. It’s been around a few years and he will have fun. I talked to the owner at the baby boutique at the mall. ” Ella hoped this would change Aria’s mind.
Seeing how she didn’t have a choice, Aria sucked in a deep breath and nodded.
“Okay…” She agreed.
“Speaking of school, I called them and they said we can pick up your schedule in the office tomorrow morning, but they want an update on your medical records since you were gone for so long. I will set up an appointment for you and Luca at the doctors for sometime later this week.” Ella saw Aria roll her eyes at the mention of the doctors, but she pretended like she didn’t see it.
“Can’t you just tell them that they lost my records in Iceland or something?” Aria waved, like she was pulling the words out of thin air.
“Even if we did that they would still want you to update them at the clinic here…” Ella explained.
“Fine…” Aria huffed.
“If it makes you feel any better I bought you some new clothes…” Ella pointed to the bags on the stairs.
“Mom, you don’t have to keep doing everything for me. I’m not-” Aria’s voice rose, and as Ella looked up at her, Aria bit her tongue. “Thank you, I appreciate it.” Aria made a fist behind her back, as she tried to control her anger. It felt weird to have people doing things for her.
Turning around stiffly, Aria picked up the bags and walked up the stairs. Pushing the door to her bedroom open, she caught sight of her reflection in the mirror directly in front her and she swallowed down her anger. She heard Luca’s laughter ring through her ears from downstairs and she gave a weak smile. Her mom meant well, and maybe Luca would have fun at this new daycare, then everything would be okay in the end.
The dim light cascading through the hallway across from his room was something he hadn’t seen in years as Mike rested his head upon his pillow. Tiny whispers were heard through the cracked doorway and he liked the sound. Everything finally seemed right at home.
Byron might be gone, but having Aria home was the best thing that had happened in a long time. Despite the crazy circumstances he loved Luc. It still seemed strange to see Aria with a baby, after all he still saw her as his sister who was always thought to be the youngest seeing as how short she was growing up.
Climbing out of bed, he ventured into the hallway, careful not to wake Ella whose bedroom was just down the hall as he softly knocked on the door.
“Aria?” He whispered, peeking his head inside. “You’re still up?” He asked.
“Yeah…” Aria tilted her head, seeing a smile on Mike’s face. She motioned him inside and as he did he closed the bedroom door. “I think that Sausage King got to me…” Aria gave a weak smile, rubbing her stomach. “I’m not use to so much grease on one plate.” She laughed.
Mike gave a small laugh as he watched Luca sitting on Aria’s bed, playing with a book.
“You will have to lay off that for a bit.” Mike said, sitting on the edge of Aria’s bed. The side lamp by her bed allowed for just the right amount of light as he glanced at all of the small items that littered her bedspread. “What is all of this?” He motioned towards the stuff.
“This was everything I carried with me over the past few years. This was our life basically…” Aria sighed, looking at the contents, which was once stuffed in her orange bag.
“Can you tell me about it?” Mike felt awkward asking such a question, but he had to know.
Aria looked down at her crisscrossed legs and swallowed.
“I’m sorry, that wasn’t right of me to ask…” He paused.
“No…it’s okay.” Aria shook her head. Aria licked her lips as she thought carefully about what she wanted to reveal. Something’s she’d rather leave unspoken, but for some of the items scattered upon her bed, she was willing to speak about them. “Well this was Luc’s baby bracelet; I got it at the hospital when he was born.” Aria held up the tiny blue band.
“His wrist was really this small?” Mike gaped. Aria chuckled and nodded.
“I was so afraid to hold him at first he was so tiny, but I loved him so much and to think he was all mine…” Mike saw the sparkle in Aria’s eyes, something he hadn’t seen in awhile.
“What about the book?” Mike held up the worn copy of To Kill A Mockingbird, the pages almost falling apart.
“I got that at a bus station in Philly. It’s been through every snow storm and rain we’ve had.” Aria laughed again.
Mike set down the book as his eyes caught sight of the three pictures with bent and water damaged edges. One was of three pictures he didn’t recognize, but then the other two he did. Five girls, two blondes and three brunette’s laying on their stomachs in the tall grass, smiles on their faces as they stared down the lens. The other a family photo from their trip to Iceland, the time before their world changed.
“We looked happy then… It was all a lie, but I think you and I got along at least.” Mike raised the photo of his ‘happy’ family.
“I’m sorry I never told you about what Dad did until we got back. He made me promised and it was stupid of me to keep it.” Aria bit her lip.
“No, he never should have told you to keep the secret.” Mike’s voice grew angry and resentful.
“At least it’s over and everyone has moved on…” Aria hoped to clear the air. “At least we have each other…” She smiled. Mike glanced up at her and returned the smile.
“Now I know who these girls are, but what about this photo?” Mike questioned. Aria’s eyes grew heavy at the picture. The guy and girl in the photo were from life on the street, the people who looked out for her, but that was a dark place.
“Just two friends I met. They had a camera and we were goofing off.” Aria waved it off. Mike could sense the emotional reaction and tucked it behind the photo of the girls, letting her know she didn’t have to talk about it further.
“You have a bag of cheese puffs too?” Mike examined the plastic bag, confused. Luca’s tiny hands reached for the bag and he took one from the opening before setting it in his lap.
“Janette, the nurse at the free clinic in Philly gave me a bag for Luc. They are his favorite.” Aria chuckled, kissing the top of Luc’s head.
“Mine too…” Mike spoke to Luca, leaning into him.
Silence fell over the siblings as Luca munched on the cheese snack. The wind outside was howling against the house and the tree beside Aria’s bedroom window hit the side, making tapping noises. Aria watched Mike as he sat there, she could tell there was something else on his mind. He may have grown up, gotten even taller, and more mature of his age, but she still saw her little brother.
“Mike, what is it? What’s wrong?” Aria pondered.
“You always did know me the best…” Mike rolled his eyes. “It’s just…” He sighed. “If I had known I would have been there for you.” He finally looked at her.
Aria saw the remorse and pain his eyes, he cared for her so much.
“It’s okay…” Aria shook her head. She didn’t want him to feel like this. It wasn’t his fault she chose to leave, she thought. He shouldn’t feel guilty about anything, Aria told herself. “Mom and dad thought that having Luc was a mistake, but-” Aria glanced down at the little boy, tears glistening her eyes. “But I wouldn’t trade a single moment with him. He is a gift and yes, things were tough, but we had each other.” Aria’s voice broke.
Mike tried his best to hide his emotions, seeing how he wanted to be seen as tough, but this was just too much and he let his emotions flood forward. His eyes too filled with tears as he recalled the night he came home and everything had changed.
“I didn’t even know anything.” Mike swallowed his tears. “One minute, I’m at lacrosse practice and the next I’m sitting at the dinner table with mom and dad, and they told me that you were on a plane to Iceland.” Mike detailed. Mike buried his head in his hands, trying to calm himself. Aria’s hand immediately flew to his shoulder as she tried to settle him.
“It’s okay…” Aria soothed.
“No… It’s not.” Mike spoke up. He lifted his head, looking her in the eyes. “I was angry at you, Aria. You didn’t even say goodbye and I felt betrayed. Our family was falling apart and you just left me here to pick up the pieces.” Mike’s voice grew louder.
Aria swallowed, her throat constricting as she turned away. She had never thought about what it must have been like for him. She never thought about the consequences of leaving him behind. She had just wanted to get away from Rosewood as quickly as possible.
“I-I am so-sorry…” Aria choked out, ashamed of what she had done.
Hearing Aria apologize made Mike feel horrible for what he had just admitted. Deep down, under all of the anger and confusion was love.
“No… I never should have thought that about you. Overtime I realized something was wrong, but I just didn’t say anything.” Mike proclaimed.
“You didn’t know. Mom and Dad hid the truth so well…” Aria laced her words with a bit of sarcasm.
“I know, but I should have asked more. If I would have known-”
“What if’s will always be there…” Aria cut him off. “But at least we have now and for Luc that’s all that matters.” Aria explained, smiling at the thought.
“I’m always here for you and Luc.” Mike leaned over and gave Aria a hug, wrapping his arms tightly around her.
“Thank you…” Aria rubbed his back.
Pulling away the two smiled and once again silence filled the room. After a few minutes Luca yawned and Aria knew it was time for him to go to bed.
“I think that means our chat is over.” Mike yawned.
“I should get him to bed, I start school tomorrow.” Aria stated, the nerves evident in her voice.
”You will be fine.“ Mike encouraged. Aria looked up at her brother as he stood from her bed and walked towards the door. "Good night.” Mike said, gripping the door paneling.
“Good night…” Aria tilted her head like she had done earlier.
As Aria gathered all of the small items on her bed and placed them back in her orange backpack, she heard the door to Mike’s bedroom creak shut. Luca yawned two more times before she picked him up and turned off the side lamp. As she exited her room and carried Luca down the stairs she recalled the talk she had just shared with her brother, and hoped for many more to come.
Placing Luca down onto the makeshift bed, she made sure he was situated before crawling under the blanket on the couch and closing her eyes. The old hoodie she wore to bed was the same one she’s been wearing for the past few years and as odd as it sounded, the smell and feel of the material helped her feel at ease as she drifted off to sleep.
Another chapter completed! What did you think??? LET ME KNOW IN A MESSAGE OR A COMMENT!!!! 😘 Also, I am trying to build up a fandom that is not popular here on Tumblr, the Love Comes Softly Series (books by Janette Oke and movies found on the Hallmark Channel) if you know of the fandom PLEASE message me so we can chat AND send me requests, I want to start writing one-shots around the fandom.