Trying Out Life

Author's note:This chapter is set immediately after the rehearsal implied in the new Degrassi mini, Man in the Mirror. Disclaimer is the same as always and reviews are encouraged but not required. I'm thinking about making this a long one, as I've written a chapter story that could incorporate into this one, which I've decided to add to what I'd already posted. What do you think?

Chapter Two: DTR

Ellie finished putting away her things and said goodbye to Jimmy and Craig before she walked out the door. The two boys watched her leave, and Jimmy turned to his own instrument, placed it in the case and reached for his phone to call his father. Craig was watching him carefully, but the two hadn't spoken yet. Finally, Craig broke the silence.

"Jimmy?" he asked, getting his friend's attention.

"Yeah, what?" was the reply.

"What was going on when I came in earlier?"

"Nothing. Ellie dropped her cymbal. We both reached to pick it up. That's it," Jimmy said without looking at him.

"I don't think that was it, Jim." Craig sighed before saying anything else, but he continued, "You like her."

"Well, of course I like her. She's our friend, part of the band."

"God, Jimmy. You know that's not what I mean. Is she the reason you and Hazel broke up?" Craig asked, almost accusingly.

Jimmy didn't answer but continued toying with the latch on the guitar case. Craig came around and sat on an amp in front of him so that they were pretty much eye to eye. He sat there, just looking at Jimmy until his friend was ready to talk.

"Hazel broke up with me. She got upset when I didn't tell her about the tryout and going to the museum with Ellie. I told her I'd try to explain how I was feeling to her, but Ellie and I just connected. I couldn't make it all work, and Hazel was pretty clear that she wasn't sharing me or anything else."

Craig nodded and scratched his head a little. "Ok, so then I'm right. You have feelings for Ellie."

"Yeah," Jimmy finally admitted, "But I don't know what I should do."

"Well, what really happened today? We'll start there." Craig decided.

"Um, she said she was a stupid klutz and I told her she was perfect. Then you came in," Jimmy told him.

"Well, El and I are pretty close. I could feel her out for you if you want," offered Craig.

"Thanks, but no thanks, man. You guys have way too much history. I don't think that's a good idea."

"Maybe you're right. Do you think she's ready for something more than friendship with you?"

"You mean as opposed to with you?" Jimmy shot back.

"That's not what I mean, Jimmy. I meant the stuff with Cameron. She's been a little off since he left." Craig tried to smooth over Jimmy's apparent anger, but the look in his friend's eyes showed him that he hadn't done so.

"That was a bad time for a lot of people, Craig. She isn't the only one who's been a little off." Jimmy said, his head down.

"I know," Craig whispered.

"I still forget, you know. In the morning, when I wake up there are a few seconds when I think everything's still the same. And every morning I have to remind myself that it isn't and that it won't ever be." Jimmy looked up at Craig. "I don't know if I'm ready to bring her into that. She has her own stuff. Why would she want to deal with mine, too?"

Craig just shook his head, "We all have stuff, Jimmy. You, me, Marco, Ellie, Manny, Emma, Spin, Alex, Paige, Cameron, practically everyone we know. I don't know how she feels about you, but the two of you have a connection. I think that she of all people would understand the stuff that you can't bring yourself to say out loud. She knows how it feels. Maybe that's why I need her in my life."

"But you hurt her, Craig. You flirt around and make her think that something might happen and then you end up hooking with Manny and parading her around in front of Ellie."

"I know I didn't treat her right over that, Jim. But just think how good you come out looking by being there for her," Craig said with a small smile.

Jimmy smiled, too. "Don't try to give your asshole behavior a positive spin. It doesn't work like that, Craig."

"Just give it some time. You and Hazel just broke up. Apparently it's ok to be single a few days. So I've been told."

Jimmy laughed out loud at this. Craig joined him for a minute before he stood. He finished putting away his guitar and asked Jimmy if he wanted a ride home. Jimmy decided that he did and the two friends headed to Craig's car. The stereo kicked on when Craig started the ignition. When Jimmy commented on the band playing, Craig dug around in the center console for a flyer. He explained that the band playing on the car's stereo was going to be part of a music expo the next weekend at a club downtown. Jimmy seemed interested and Craig suggested that he ask Ellie to go. He mentioned the phrase "double date" and Jimmy bristled slightly. Craig laughed but told Jimmy to think about it as he pulled up in front of the Brooks house. Jimmy thanked Craig for the ride and got out of the car. Craig asked him again to think about asking Ellie out. Jimmy shook his head at his friend and waved goodbye as Craig drove away.

Jimmy started up the walk to the house. It would be a few hours until his parents made it home from work, so he dropped his things inside and headed out back, across the pool deck, to the basketball court. He got a ball from out of the shed and started shooting. He'd spent so much time out here over the past few years that he knew almost every inch of the concrete surface, even though it had been a year since he'd walked on it, or anywhere. He felt himself falling into self-pity. It happened now and then and less frequently in the past month or so, but it was happening now. Before he knew it he was sobbing uncontrollably. He threw the ball against the wall of the pool house and watched through tears as it rolled onto the cover of the pool, well out of his reach, even with the use of the rescue hook. This only made things worse. He pushed himself back toward the house and into his room. All over the walls and on the shelves, memories of his old life were everywhere. He couldn't stand it anymore, so he started toward the living room. He was sitting in the dark feeling very sorry for himself when the doorbell rang. It surprised him a little, but figuring it was just a UPS delivery of something for his mom, he opened the door. Standing in front of him was Ellie Nash.

"Jimmy! God, are you ok?" she asked, seeing his face and the dark room.

"Oh, yeah. Just a little down, that's all," he said as he pulled back from the doorway. "Do you want to come in?"

"Sure," she smiled as she came in and he turned on the light. She took a seat on the couch across from where he stopped in the living room. "I picked up your notebook today after class. I noticed when I went to start my homework. I thought you might need it and was hoping you had mine."

"Oh, yeah, my bag is in my room. I'll get it for you."

"Thanks," she smiled as she waited for him to get it. A minute or so later, he came back with her notebook on his lap. It was identical to the one she was holding.

"I can see what happened," he said as he forced the corners of his mouth upward.

"Yeah, they're exactly alike," she smiled back at him. "Are you sure that you're ok? You looked really upset when you answered the door, like you'd been crying, Jimmy. Is there anything I can do?" she asked becoming much more serious.

"No. I really am fine, you just caught me in a moment. They don't happen very often, but they just take it all out of me."

Ellie nodded. "I know about those. Jimmy, if you ever need someone to talk to, I mean, I don't have answers, but I can listen."

Jimmy looked touched. "I appreciate that, Ellie. It's like everything is fine and then something happens and I can't even breathe. All that I can think about is everything that I've lost and I don't know how to make it stop happening."

"Have you ever talked to anyone, I mean about the shooting and the things that you've gone through since then," she asked kindly.

"At the rehab center I talked with a counselor, but not since I've been home."

"That was a pretty big transition, leaving the hospital and coming right back into everything."

"Yeah. But I've been home for almost a year. Shouldn't I be getting used to it by now?"

"Well, you've had a lot going on with you lately, the anniversary of the shooting for one," she reasoned.

He nodded slowly but didn't look at her. She saw that his eyes were tightly closed. "I see it happening, but even in my dream I can't get away. I wake up as he shoots me."

Since he wasn't looking, he didn't see her get up and come across the room toward him. She placed her hand on his face and lifted it. He opened his eyes. "I'm so sorry, Jimmy."

"So am I." He smiled sadly. "God, El. I don't mean to bring you down, too."

She wiped a remaining tear from his face and he brought his hand to meet hers and held it. "It's ok. It's going to be ok. So many people care about you and want you to be happy. We're here for you, and if we can't help you, we want to help you find someone who can. I don't know if my group is exactly right for you, but there are a few other ones that meet on different days of the week. If you want me to help you find one for you, I'd be happy to ask around."

Jimmy finally smiled a real smile. "That means so much, Ellie. I'm not sure what I want to do, but when I decide I'll let you know."

"Sounds good. Listen, Jimmy, I should be going, but I hate to leave you here alone."

"Then don't." Jimmy could barely believe that he had said it. "You couldn't have had time to eat dinner yet. Stay. My parents won't be home for a while, and I was going to order in anyway. How about Chinese?"

Ellie smiled back at him. "I'd have to call my mom." Jimmy handed her a phone and it was settled. After she hung up, he handed her a take-out menu from his favorite place. She picked a couple of items and he made a few selections and called in the order. While they waited they worked on their trig homework together. Ellie was having a bit of trouble with some of the concepts, but Jimmy had recently proven to be a math whiz. He carefully explained the problem set to her and watched as she worked them out correctly. "You're great at this, Jimmy! Sometimes I think I'm catching on, and then it just flies out of my head. What's your secret?"

Jimmy shrugged. "I'm not sure. It all came together for me one day. I was talking to Coach Armstrong after class a few days ago and he gave me some brochures about architecture. He said that it combines art and math, particularly geometry, trig and calculus. I'd never really thought about it before, but it's a really cool idea."

Ellie looked over at him and sensing the excitement in his face she was a little relieved. "Jimmy, that's a great idea. It definitely would be something that plays to your strengths."

"I don't know much about it yet, but I'm totally going to look into it."

"It seems so weird to be talking about what we're going to be when we grow up and University and all. I can remember my first days at Degrassi. It's hard to believe that it's going to be over so soon."

"It seems like I've been there forever. Well, I guess I kind of have. Grade 7 was a lifetime ago," Jimmy reflected.

Ellie started to say something in reply, but the doorbell rang. Jimmy answered and paid the delivery man. He directed Ellie to the kitchen where he showed her where the plates and utensils were as he got them drinks. Then, they returned to the living room where they spread out the dinner choices on the coffee table. Jimmy switched on the stereo as they started to eat. The band that had been playing in Craig's car was on the CD. Ellie mentioned that she really liked the sound. Jimmy waited about a second to ask her to go with him to the concert. When she agreed, he felt his heart leap in his chest. She had agreed so quickly that he felt he needed to clarify the situation.

"Ellie," he started, then faltered. "I mean as a date."

"I thought you did. I hoped you did."

"Yeah?" he asked skeptically.

"I kinda got that vibe this afternoon."

"I didn't used to be such a dork with girls, did I?"

Ellie laughed out loud. "I don't know, Jimmy. I was a little preoccupied with my own life. Sorry."

"Well, in that case, I wasn't. My awkwardness with women is a recent development."

"I won't tell anyone. Your reputation is totally safe."

"I'm glad to hear it."

"I should go. It's getting late, and I don't want to miss the bus," Ellie finally admitted.

"I'll go with you to the stop. It's getting dark," Jimmy offered.

"You don't have to do that. It's only a few blocks," she told him.

"I want to. Anything would be better than sitting in here alone."

Jimmy closed up the house and accompanied Ellie down the street to the bus stop. She sat on the bench and he waited with her for the correct bus. She hugged him before she boarded.

"Thanks for dinner," she called back over her shoulder. He waved and she was gone.

He covered the blocks back to his house slowly, even though it was a little chilly. It had been a long time since he'd started a new relationship. Even after the shooting, Hazel had been right there. It was only in the past two or three months that he'd felt enough confidence in himself to make some major changes. Unfortunately, by adding Ellie to his life as one of those changes, he'd pushed Hazel even further away than they'd already grown. She dumped paint on him when he painted Ellie's face on the mural and then she'd ended the relationship. He'd known that it was inevitable the day of the missed basketball tryout when she'd asked him to talk to her and he realized that they didn't have anything more to talk about. He had just sat back and let the events unfold. Now, as he approached his house, he was really starting to feel tired and hoped that someone would be home.

He came up upon a dark house yet again. However, he was feeling a lot better than he had been when came home from the first time tonight. When he came in he put away the rest of their dinner and gathered up his completed homework and headed into his bedroom. Jimmy undressed and got into the shower before falling into bed with a DVD. He was almost asleep when he heard his parents come in the door. They were both partners in a prestigious law firm in Toronto and regularly worked at least 60 hours per week. He was obviously used to getting along by himself. There had been a few weeks after he'd come home from the hospital where they'd feigned concern, but as soon as he showed that he wasn't going to die or burn down the house, they'd gone right back to normal. Ironically, this was the only thing in his life that was "normal." He thought about pretending to be asleep when his mom came in to see that he was home, but he sat up a little in his bed when she opened the door.

"Hey baby. It's barely nine. Is everything ok?" Vanessa Brooks asked her son.

"Just tired. That's all. How was work?"

She came over and sat on the bed beside him. "Dad and I are both working on pretty complicated cases right now. Tons of technical stuff and mountains of deposition testimony to go through in the next two weeks. Fortunately, things are going well so far, but you never know."

"Don't you have people to do that type of grunt work?" Jimmy asked her.

"Yeah, but we're both representing major clients. It's an unwritten rule that a partner always oversees everything on these types of cases. Did you get some dinner?"

Jimmy nodded. "There's some cashew chicken in the fridge if you're hungry."

"We ordered in, too, but I'll tell Dad. He wanted a shower, but he said he needed to discuss something with you."

"Can you tell him I'm asleep? Please."

"Jimmy, he's trying."

"I know, but I really can't deal with him tonight, ok?"

"Rough day?"

"Just weird."

"You need to talk about it?"

"No, Mom. I'm fine."

"Then why is the basketball in the middle of the pool?"

Jimmy looked away from his mom. "It just got away from me."

"The basketball or more?" Mrs. Brooks asked, looking into her son's eyes.

"I had a bad afternoon, but it was just for a minute and then Ellie brought over my notebook. We picked up the wrong ones after class. She stayed for dinner, and it was fine."

"Jimmy, I'm worried about you."

"I'm fine. I'm tired, and I don't want to talk anymore tonight. Tell Dad that we can discuss whatever at breakfast."

"Ok. I'll take care of it. Goodnight, baby. See you in the morning." She reached over and kissed him. She left his room and Jimmy heard her intercept his dad outside the door. He loved her for it. He knew that his dad was trying to understand him better, but he couldn't deal with it tonight. Jimmy picked up the remote and clicked off the tv. Then, finally after a very long day, he fell asleep.