To all the other Crellie's out there in the light of WIFLTBAG. It was written directly after WIFLTBAG aired, so the direction of it has gone a bit AU. But I like this way better.
And I have the sense to recognize that I don't know how to let you go Sarah McLachlan
The first day was spent in tears, locked in her room. Marco was the only person allowed across the threshold into the darkened cave she'd turned her room into. He brought food, tea and comfort. Ellie didn't throw his arms off of her body, nor did she respond. Instead she remained lifeless under the blankets, not sure if the warm hand on her back made everything better or worse.
She only ever moved while he was in the room to grab his wrist when he turned on her bedside lamp. The cocoon of covers she had bundled herself into slipped away leaving her head exposed. The lamp was starting to warm up, with his hand still on the switch under the shade and her hand over his. Ellie would have spoken but she seemed to be fresh out of words.
Instead she pleaded with him using her eyes to just leave her alone in her darkness, with the shades drawn tight against the world outside.
In retrospect she must have looked awful, as Marco looked like his own heart was breaking as he clicked off the light and the room returned to its previous dusky state. More tears had leaked out of her eyes as he'd pressed a kiss to her forehead and whispered "I love you El," before leaving her alone.
She didn't eat any of the food or drink any of the tea. Ellie didn't move unless she absolutely had to. Rather she relived the past few days in her head like a movie reel stuck on repeat.
Had she really been so blind, so foolish, to put that much faith and trust in an addict again?
Her mother was an addict of another variety and she knew the score all too well. She didn't see—didn't want to see, the path Craig was taking. It was far easier to see Manny's flaws than to look for the ones in Craig other than the ones she knew like the back of her own hand. Most of his cracks were plain for her to see but this…
And she'd bought that he wanted the help and that he loved her…until he begged her to let him keep on using because she loved him.
His words at the airport reverberate in her mind along with her refusal to let him finish. If she'd let him have his say she might have bought herself a ticket and gone with him. Had she listened to more than two words of it, she would have crumbled.
Her mother's addiction had nearly killed her—in every way possible—and Craig knew that. Craig knew so much of it better than anyone, only Marco and Sean really ever coming close to getting it. He knew how it had broken her and he'd gone and done the same thing. He'd done the exact same damn thing. Ellie could find no way to see past it or forgive at the moment.
She wasn't going to break like that again. Ellie Nash had found herself, or liked to believe she had. She couldn't let him destroy her. He could do it too. If anyone could shatter Ellie, it was Craig and she wasn't going to put herself out there for that. Not when in his current state it was almost certain he would. There were no guarantees and too often with addicts who were in a massive sense of denial, not every wake up call really stuck.
It was a truth she was far too familiar with and a risk she wasn't willing to take right now.
So she wrapped herself up in the comforting darkness instead and blocks out the world and the what ifs, and the image of a tall, dark, handsome, broken man asking her to stay.
A few days later, she's made up with Jesse and it's almost as if it never happened, almost. The only person who has really tried to broach the subject of Craig is Marco, and she refused to respond. At the moment, she'd like to pretend Craig never existed. He does though and he's haunting everything it seems. Jesse gave her a piece to make up for the Taking Back Sunday and Craig stuff she blew and she's trying to be grateful and make it really count.
No one knows about the three times she's pulled out her cutting kit, just to look at the materials inside, make sure they're all still there.
At two AM, while she continues to pour over her latest article in her quest for perfection the sound of her phone buzzing against the wood of her bedside table. The papers flutter out of her hand as she grabs it, terrified something awful has happened to someone.
The number across the highlighted screen is unfamiliar—save the area code. It's the same one that popped up when Joey called her concerning everything with Craig. The call is from Calgary but it's not Joey's number.
Ellie holds onto the phone, staring at the number in the eerie blue glow it gives off, feeling the vibrations of the phone go through her arms. She can't answer it.
She won't answer it.
It goes dead in her hands and she curses herself and voicemail in spite of herself. She hangs on, waiting for it to sound, signifying a message—but it doesn't. Against her better judgment she throws the phone open and dials her own voice mail, just incase.
There isn't one.
She stares blankly at the phone a few moments more before closing it resolutely. "This is what you wanted," she whispers aloud, knowing it's a lie.
It's not what she wants, but it's what she needs. What she wants is for Craig to be clean. She wants him to mean it when he says he loves her. She wants to forget the drug addict he's become and love Jesse who seems to genuinely care about her and not have too many issues. She wants to have her Craig back, her Craig.
Placing it back on the table, she picks up her article again with a sigh. She has commitments to honor and redemption to find and it isn't in a phone call with Craig. The red pen is poised to strike another edit, when the sound of plastic vibrating on wood echoes through the room again.
Ellie only hesitates for a moment, before continuing on editing the paper. Every time the phone sounds she can feel her heart cracking, just a little, but she stays resolute—eyes on the paper.
When the tear splashes down on the top sheet, leaving a perfect splatter mark it seems like a sign. The little holes ripping in her attempt to rebuild when Craig won't let go. Odd how she wishes he would and wants him to hang on all at once.
The words are blurry due to the tears in her eyes. Ellie flings it aside carelessly as the phone stops again. Tears fall silently as she waits for the voice mail that he doesn't leave.
Wrestling her article into perfection is beyond her now so instead she curls into her bed, pulling the covers up to her chin as she flicks off the light. Tears leak out from under her eyelids as she vises them shut and turns her back on the phone.
It would be a lie to say she was glad it didn't ring again.
The calls continue. It would be normal to turn the thing off; she's sure. Yet every time her finger hovers over the power button she simply closes the phone instead. Ellie tells herself if anything happened to any of the people she loved and she missed the call she would be devastated and furious with herself. Despite that truth, it's really because she likes having this connection to Craig. It's nice having something regular and dependable that she can share with Craig.
It's sick and wrong and she should pick up and tell him not to call again. But she can't do that because it would break this connection to him and she's not ready to be the one to do that. He'll give up eventually. Then it will be done once and for all.
Ellie's glad she and Jesse still haven't gotten to sleeping together because she knows she couldn't explain the phone calls. How do you explain that you haven't told the man you love more than your boyfriend that he needs to stop calling because you're done with him?
The second one ends for the night, and like clockwork, Ellie wraps herself in her blankets and shuts her beside light off, ready to sleep.
She's half asleep when the sound of vibrating and the hazy blue glow of her phone pull her awake. Without thinking this time, because he's never called a third time, Ellie's hand shoots out and answers the phone, adrenaline pumping. Legs swing over the side of the bed as she sits up, ready to run if she needs to.
"Hello," she gasps, a hand pressed to her racing heart.
Silence greets her on the other end.
The rush dies as she realizes that for once he's called a third time. Still shaking, she lays down with the phone still cradled to her ear. The promise she made has been broken now, albeit unintentionally, so she might as well hear him out. What's the harm in not shutting the phone?
[iEverything[/i, her mind whispers, but she refuses to listen.
The silence continues marred only by the sound of breathing on the other end. For a moment she can swear she hears him whisper "I…" but it's soft and fades quickly. It's likely she's just imagining things.
Breathing seems to be the response, but she knows it too well. She should close it and go to sleep and break all contact. But, just as she's always known, the second she left the door open again, there'd be little getting it shut. The reason she shut him down at the airport and broken both of their hearts was so that he couldn't shatter her. Now he'd managed to sneak right back in.
If she's going to let him destroy her though, he might as well do it nicely.
So she lays in bed, with the phone against her ear, listening to the sound of Craig breathing. She falls asleep to it's rhythm, which is only a little jagged. If she lets the rest of the world fade away, she can imagine she feels it in time, on her neck, long thin arms banded around her waist.
She dreams of him and the life they could have one day. The way he whispers "I love you' in her dream makes her wake aching for him. Instead she finds her phone laying on the pillow beside her completely dead.
Marco and Jesse both question the absence of her cell phone tomorrow when she fails to answer either of their calls to get together. The lie slips easily from her lips that she simply forgot to plug it in. It's nearly true as it is.
The phone calls continue and it becomes a little game. After midnight every night, Craig rings once, twice, and Ellie picks up the third time once she's safely under her covers. It allows her to pretend it's all harmless, even if it isn't. It might ruin everything, really. Things are different, she's different, but she has everyone convinced it's all left over from the last time they saw Craig.
She hasn't even told Marco she waits up every night for the call. He'd be upset and disappointed, she thinks. Marco who worked so hard to see her get out of bed and go to classes again after Craig left. Marco who had always been on her side and always will be. Drugs are so different from cheating that she's pretty sure he won't be totally on board with her late night conversations with Craig. He'd tell her they were unhealthy and that he's worried about her.
So she fights the urge to tell him every time he asks her what's wrong or if she's slept. How do you explain things that you can't really rationalize to yourself? How do you justify something you wish you didn't do?
The burden alone rides on her back through the first few wordless connections.
The first thing he says to her over the phone is "Rehab sucks."
His voice is raw and deep, rather than that smooth, sultry voice that she's so used to. He sounds exhausted and broken, but it's definitely an attempt at one of their usual joking patterns.
Ellie wants to laugh but cries instead. She's sure it does. She's terrified that rehab will suck to the point he'll come out wanting to do drugs again. It makes her want to shut the phone on him. Her life is shadowed by the fear that one day her mother will slip off of the wagon and will kill herself or someone else with her alcohol problem. Now the shadow of Craig's addiction has joined her mothers in the list of things that keep her awake at night.
But like the first night, she can't close it. Instead she cries and pretends he's right next to her rather than miles away on the other end of the phone.
If he was there…but he's not.
The next night he tells her, "My name is Craig Manning, I'm a bipolar drug addict and I never meant to hurt you."
"Liar," she hisses back at him before slamming the phone shut.
He meant to date Manny knowing how she felt and possibly feeling the same way back. He meant to ask her to let him do the drugs if she loved him, knowing her stance. Even Craig wasn't so dense to believe that it wasn't going to hurt her. Maybe he didn't intend to hurt her, and didn't like hurting her, but he knew what he was doing was going to hurt her. Craig never would have told her that the drugs were Manny's in the first place if he hadn't known he was going to hurt her.
So even if he didn't mean to hurt her he knew he was…the drugs were more important. So what was the difference?
She's crying again, and it's not surprising. It's hard to remember the times Craig didn't make her cry. Those days before it all went wrong. Manny, fame and the drugs. College and Jesse.
Sometimes she wonders if it's simply easier to blame it on everything but Craig and herself. Did she do enough? Could it have all been prevented? If he had never been with Manny? If she had agreed to go with him to Vancouver? Would she be lying in bed crying over a boy who wasn't really hers as she laid her phone back on the bedside table? Or would she be laying elsewhere, broken beyond repair upon finding out his betrayal?
In the darkness of her room she lets herself believe if she'd gone maybe everything would have been different. In the light of day she knows she couldn't have changed any of it. She would have held him back and he would have resented her and it would have been all wrong. But it's nice to pretend.
The first few nights following that are mostly met with silence. It's a little awkward and odd considering she hung up on him the last time they talked, but they keep the ritual up. Eventually talking resumes though, as she's not sure Craig really knows how to be silent for too long. Sometimes the conversations are just one sentence from Craig. A memory from before it all went to crap, a wish for the future. Occasionally she'll respond in kind, or just agree with him or say nothing at all.
They always end with the two of them listening to each other breathe before one breaks and says goodnight.
It's a month in to the odd ritual when he starts in with, "I meant it El. I do love you. I have for a long time."
His tone is clear and direct, completely unclouded and as if he's been thinking about it all day and this is the only way to handle the situation and her.
She snaps the phone shut and puts it down quickly. He's sober this time, she knows, and not jonesing for a fix. There is a difference in his tone and she kicks herself for not recognizing it the first time he came back. The cadence and the rhythm were off, not drastically but just enough that she should have picked up on something being off. She knows the difference now, can recognize him when he's in his addiction same as she can when he's in a bipolar cycle.
He's not in one of those either
It's just Craig, as she fell in love with him, as she likes to remember him. And he's laying the one thing she's wanted from him for so long at her feet. .
And it terrifies her.
This time it rings again, almost instantly. She watches it with fear and loathing-for herself or Craig she's not quite sure-before snatching it up on the last ring before it goes to voice mail. Speechless, Ellie says nothing. The silence stretches out between them, far beyond uncomfortable.
"Damn it Ellie," he finally explodes into the phone, and she can see his face, covered in frustration and pain as clearly as if he was sitting across from her. "I love you."
His voice softens on it and she can't call him a liar this time. She's not sure if she should be giddy, as she was the last time, or sad, or just tired. Her stomach has knotted itself into a tight ball and she wishes she knew how to close the phone on him. But it's far too late for that, she already signed this fate when she started taking the calls. "What do you want Craig?" she asks, knowing the answer.
"Say it," he urges. It's a challenge, a promise and a commitment all at once he's laying here at her feet and asking her to return. "Say it back."
"I know you do," he insists, not allowing her to continue, not that she knew how she was going to. The insistence is strong, cocky and she wants to reach through the phone and smack him. And then follow it up with a kiss. But there's a hint of uncertainty underneath that reminds her that he's just as vulnerable as she is.
It's such a leap, and one that she doesn't know how to take without him standing in front of her, definitely clean.
"I'm not flying to Calgary in the morning," she tells him, not sure if it's a joke or an actual pronouncement at this point.
"That's not what I asked."
Tears gather in her eyes and she's so tired of crying herself out over him. There's nothing she can do to stop it, it seems. Giving him up would be the obvious answer but she can't make herself do that. He's waiting on the other end of the line for a response as tears start to fall down her face. She could lie or deny it, but it wouldn't help either of them.
"I love you Craig," she tells him softly, "you know I do."
She swipes at the tears that are still falling down her face. "You're a jerk."
"You love me anyways." And isn't that the tragedy of it? She knows him far too well. His flaws are great and easy to name, she's watched girls fall apart at his feet and seen him self destruct more times than she'd like to remember. She loves him anyways, or maybe because he's as broken as she is. "Don't cry, El, please."
"It's all your fault," she accuses. For loving him, for her crying, for the fact that she can't let go and the reason why she can't trust him yet.
"I know. I'm going to make it better. I promise El,, I'm going to make it better this time."
It's the first time she and Marco have had a meal alone together since Craig. To say she's been avoiding being alone with Marco is something of an understatement. It's amazing how you can live in the same house as someone without spending any time alone with them. Dylan living there helps, as does hiding in the office of the paper, and transferring to the library when being alone with Jesse got a little too hard.
Nothing was the same. Her relationship with Jesse was strained; she and Marco hadn't really talked since she'd refused to talk about Craig. Even now he wasn't really talking to her. They were just sort of eating in tandem while neither was brave enough to breach the chasam she'd shoved between them. He kept looking at her though, in that hopeful way that always made her break and give in to whatever it was he wanted from her.
The distance was mostly her fault, she knew. Which meant it was up to her to make the first move.
She can do it, but Ellie doesn't want to be looking at him while she does. Rather than look at him, she watches her fork stab a few pieces of the baked ziti that Marco's mom sent over. It's delicious and she knows it, but she's not going to taste it. "So," she starts slowly, twirling the fork on her plate. "I've been talking to Craig."
The tinkling of Marco's fork hitting his plate causes her to look up at him. He's gaping at her, eyes wide, and Ellie feels as small as she knew she was going to when she came clean. "What? El?"
He's lost and confused—and she doesn't blame him. She's been shutting him out on the Craig phone call issue for far too long. Guilt continues to rage within her as she pushes the food around her plate. "For over a month now."
"El! You didn't…" The hurt in his eyes makes her want to sink into the floor. "You could have told me."
She looks away, unable to face him right now. "The first phone call that actually counted as a conversation occurred last night. Before that it was mostly Craig talking to me, or us just sitting there on the phone."
"For a month? When? I haven't seen you on the phone."
"He calls around two am."
She can hear the freak out that's followed by a speech in her head as if he's already let it all come out. She's not in the mood to hear it right now. It's nothing she hasn't told herself before. "Marco, don't."
He doesn't push the subject through talking, but instead comes around and wraps his arms around her. For the first time in far too long she lets herself sink into Marco's embrace. The tears start to come and she wonders how there are still tears left to cry, but they seem to be there all the same.
"He loves me," she whispers aloud for the first time.
Marco says nothing but Ellie feels his arms tighten around her. She lets herself sink into the comfort of her best friend. "I love him back. We're so screwed Marco."
He says nothing, but simply holds her. Somewhere along the line she slides out of the chair and they're both on the floor. Dylan finds them there, still curled together an hour later and says nothing. Ellie's insanely grateful that Dylan puts up with so much from Marco and Paige's friends and seems to be relatively un-phased by it all. He says nothing but simply moves past them into the house.
Ellie untangles herself from Marco feeling ridiculously foolish. She's not a little girl anymore and the two of them lying on the floor seems a bit weird.
Marco's off the floor first, brushing at his designer jeans that she's sure he can't really afford. Then a hand reaches out to her and she takes it.
He touches his forehead to hers, his warm hands tight on her arms. "I love you Ellie," he insists as if it will take away every bit of hurt. It almost does, almost. "Don't ever forget that."
"How could I?" she asks, managing a grin. "I'm going to go to bed."
There's a voicemail on her phone from Jesse, something about a bar and a music group and wouldn't she like to come. It's from an hour ago and he's planning on leaving now and she's just not in the mood to go out. She'll explain everything to him tomorrow—down to what she feels for Craig and what he feels for her and how it's not fair to keep the relationship going like this.
There's a chance the relationship has never been quite fair to Jesse and she knows she has to end it. She'll do it tomorrow she tells herself, as she lays in bed, with her phone on the bedside table. Ellie turns the ringer up to loud just so even if she drifts off she'll wake up when Craig calls.
She set out to tell him the next day. The thought of it made her sick as she climed the stairs of Jesse's apartment building. He had been good to her. He was cocky and a bit of an asshole at times, but he was sweet with her and he had reason to be cocky—Jesse was so talented as both a writer and an editor, which had made it all the easier to like him. She didn't want to hurt him, never had. Ellie knew that she'd hurt him when Craig had come to town.
There was no time to really consider what to do. The time between Ellie believing they even had a shot together and Craig breaking her heart could be measured in seconds. So she'd kept Jesse as if
She felt bad until the trashy looking girl, with roots as dark as Ashley's hair in her platinum blond frizz, wearing Jesse's shirt opens the door. The way the other girl looks at her, like she's dirt who has interrupted a perfectly fine sleep after a romp in bed, and with Jesse's rumpled appearance behind her, it's easy to figure out that that's exactly what happened.
"Can I help you?" the woman asks, boredly.
Ellie's not paying attention to the slut in the doorway but to Jesse behind her. His blue eyes lock onto her as he struggles to put on a shirt. Her jaw clenches and she turns to look at the woman who stands before her. "No, you can't."
There was nothing Ellie could think to say to him, so rather than try she turned on her heel to leave. She strode down the familiar hallway with the cracks running along the walls and the faint odor of pot seeping through. She only makes it halfway down before a large hand clamps over her arm and hauls her to a stop.
"I cannot believe you hooked up with some random bar skank!"
"What the hell do you care?" he shouts back.
Ellie's eyes widened with hurt and anger. She yanks her arm back and glares at him. "I don't know. Here I thought we were in a relationship."
"We haven't been in a damn relationship since your beloved drugged out rocker came to town and blasted everything out of the water."
"I didn't sleep with him."
"I don't know what you did with him physically," he hisses at her. She wants to hit him for the insinuation that she would have done anything…even if she did kiss him. A kiss is by far different than taking someone back to your bed. "But mentally and emotionally, you certainly weren't with me the whole time he was here."
He's got that part of it pegged and it makes her even madder. "That's so not the same"
"No, it's not. You would have jumped at any chance you had, drunk or not."
"Oh please, I'm still with you." Even if she wasn't really. But technically they were, and she hadn't broken that commitment. "He asked me to be with him and I said no."
"When Eleanor?" he asks, in a tone that makes her feel as much like a child as her full first name. She had forgotten how small he could make her feel and how much she hated him for it. "Before or after he tried to convince you that if you really cared you'd let him be a drug addict?"
There's acid in his tone and it makes her as ashamed as she was when she realized that Craig had been lying to her. His hands vise onto her arms and his fingers dig in uncomfortably. Ellie wants to squirm away but finds herself being shaken for a quick moment instead.
"Look me dead in the eyes and tell me that you love me and you don't wish I were him." The looking bit is easy, but she doesn't open her mouth. What is there to say? "You can't can you?"
There is no answer for that. Lies won't fly with Jesse this time and the truth is far too painful to utter.
"That's what I thought," he spits at her. His hands let go if burned and Ellie's own hands move to rub over the sensitive areas where he put his hands on her.
"Do you want me to feel sorry for you now? This is no better than what Craig did. You broke a promise to me, or lied to me in the first place and if you think that doesn't hurt you're sadly mistaken. Even if I had loved you—"
"But you never did, did you?" he asks her coldly.
"No." Odd how she's calm now. It's no longer painful to admit it, just a little sad and disappointing. "I just wanted to. I don't anymore."
"Go. Enjoy your life picking up after an addict."
She turns on her heal again, not sorry to follow this instruction. Her head held high she walks through the broken down college apartments like she's better than this, better than Jesse. Only for a brief moment does she wonder if she'll live to regret not being able to let go of Craig and love Jessie.
They're having a party before Paige troops back off to Banting as her break is done. Party is a bit of a glorified term as it happens to be Marco, Dylan, Jimmy, Ashley, Spinner, Ellie and Alex. It's a good time none the less. It's kind of fun watching Paige flirt with Spinner and Alex at the same time, and frankly Ellie is impressed. She tries to ignore the feeling that she's the odd one out in this room full of lovers and the odd triangle that Spinner, Paige and Alex seem to make.
She wants Craig there, to bring the gang to some sort of completeness and to even it out for her sake. He's still in Calgary and the gang hasn't quite forgiven Craig for the drugs. Shocked, appalled and devastated—but no one's really at a place of forgiveness. Not even Marco, but she suspects that has more to do with her than anything Craig's actually done.
The sound of her phone ringing jolts her out of the story Spinner's been telling. "Elle, that's you," Marco points out from where he's leaning against Dylan.
"I know," she says, already standing as she digs the phone out of her pocket. The ring tone makes it clear who it is, and when she glances down at the display, the name Craig reads out at her. He's never once called her before midnight since he left. Stepping out of the storytelling circle she holds the phone to her ear and whispers, "What's wrong?"
She keeps her back to the crowd and stares at the floor as the conversation wheels on behind her. She doesn't hear Marco however, and she's sure he's watching her.
"Nothing," he lies easily, but she knows it for what it is. "I just wanted to talk to you."
She can feel eyes burning a hole into her back and she hunches herself a little more as if shielding them both against their friends. "Craig," she whispers again. "Don't lie to me."
The silence stretches between them as the conversation on the other side of the room drops low. She knows that her behavior is suspicious and only going to give them more questions, but there are some things she'd rather not share. She takes one last look at the group murmuring behind her before stepping outside into the cold Toronto air to continue the conversation.
Silence falls again as the wind whips by and Ellie wonders if he's thought better of calling her before the witching hour hits. When she's about to hang up and return to the warmth of the house she hears, "I just wanted you to know I didn't do it." A moment passes before what the word [iit[/ cements in her brain and her heart pauses as his admission that he was near it, had a chance. "I had a chance but I didn't."
If it weren't insane, she would fly out of the house and get on the first plane to Calgary to go be there with him. She wants to be there to hold his hand and to keep him from going near any place that contains drugs ever again. But it is insane and she can't save Craig from the world or himself, only Craig can do that and that's probably the thing that makes her the most nervous.
He didn't do it, though, she repeats to herself internally. He didn't do it.
And that makes all the difference.
"I just…I just needed to talk to you," he tells her and she understands what she means. There were times when she wanted to cut when she knew she had to call someone. All too often, that voice tended to be Craig.
"I made a promise to you."
"Yeah, you did."
"So I thought you should know, that I wanted to but I didn't." She hears another voice calling him in the background. "I've gotta go, Angie wants me to play Monopoly with her. The girl is vicious; did I ever tell you that?"
He sounds so much like the old Craig, her Craig that she feels the stupid tears again. "I think you did," she tells him.
"So, I've gotta go," he repeats, making her smile, "but I'll call you later."
"Yeah," she says, almost feeling like this is normal, rather than the rather sick thing it started out as. "I'll talk to you then."
"I…I love you."
"I love you too."
And for the first time, her heart doesn't break a little from saying it out loud.
The phone shuts with a snap and Ellie continues to stare at it for a moment. She walks into the house, still staring at it. It's only when she looks up that she realizes that the room has gone silent. The room at large is watching her, or in other instances pretending not to watch her. Her head remains high as she maneuvers her way back to the seat as if their staring wasn't out of the ordinary.
"Is everything okay?" Marco asks from his position under Dylan's arm. She shoots him a 'don't do this to me look, before settling down.
"Yup, everything's good."
They're all still staring at her though, as she pulls her legs up underneath her on the couch. No one believes her, mostly because they all know she's hiding something. What she really wants to do is shoot Marco for asking in the first place because he's the only one who knows, and she's not ready to share with everyone. "Everything is fine, Marco," she insists again.
"Nothing is wrong with your mom, is it?" Ashley asks pointedly. Ellie turns to look at her other supposed best friend and can tell that Ashley doesn't believe for a second the call had anything to do with the esteemed alcoholic Mrs. Nash.
She wonders just what everyone else knows or suspects. She's tempted to shout at Marco for possibly confirming but that won't do anyone any good.
Ellie meets Ashley's questioning stare wit her own. "That was Craig actually," she says, as if it was never anything that should be questioned and with a force that it shouldn't. Silence falls over the room and no one looks at all comfortable. "He's good," she says finally, angry with them all. "Thanks for asking."
"I didn't know you were talking to Craig," Jimmy says softly, finally breaking the silence.
Nothing has been the same since the end of last year, but there's definitely a tone of disappointment, accusation and care in it that has her bristling in all the wrong ways. "I didn't know it was a crime," she snaps back at him.
She unfolds her legs from underneath her body and stands, now annoyed with everyone in the room. She doesn't want to be cornered in here with a bunch of people who think this is a bad idea. She certainly doesn't want to have to hear it from all of her supposed friends that trusting in Craig again is a mistake. It's easy to think that and in her moments of doubt she does too. She's learning not to doubt in people so quickly and what's the problem with that.
She's halfway out of the room when she hears Alex pipe up, "It's just dangerous."
She turns, eyes narrowed on one of her older friends. "Don't talk to me about dangerous, Alex." Out of the corner of her eye she can see Ashley uncrossing her legs and shifting. Ellie knows she's getting ready to speak, "And I certainly don't want to hear anything from you. You loved him once, if I remember correctly."
"And if I remember correctly," Ash points out, standing from her seat on the couch, taller than Ellie in her heels, "someone once told me not to come crying to them when he Craiged out on me again."
"You walked out on him."
"I had every right—"
"Oh please!" Ellie cuts her off.
"Okay, woah, back to our little corners." Paige moves herself in between the two of them and places her hands on Ellie's shoulders. The amount of restraint it takes from hitting Paige is incredible. "Hun, this isn't a right/wrong thing, or a hating on Craig thing, this is a 'your sanity' thing. You've never been particularly stable."
At his cry, Paige shoots a withering glare Marco's way. "Oh for Gods Sake, Marco, it's why you're all freaked." She turns back to Ellie, "They're all just too soft to tell you to your face."
"You're not," Ellie says acidly. "You're a nasty bitch."
Paige removes her hands with an air of being unable to help the helpless, and moves back to her seat. "I'm not nasty, hun, I'm right and if that makes me a bitch, that's fine."
Ellie finds herself standing in a room full of her supposed friends where she lives and feels so incredibly trapped. "I cannot believe you, any of you. This is Craig. He's our friend, or at the very least he's mine." With one last sweep of anger at the room, she storms out.
She knew they'd be hesitant about dealing with Craig again, but she hadn't expected the focused concern for her sanity as Paige had described it. She hadn't started cutting. So her dependence on her rubber bands had increased after his visit and she had pulled out the kit again, just to look at it, but it wasn't anything she hadn't done before. Ellie Nash was a cutter and just because the scars had faded didn't mean that she had stopped fantasizing about it.
What did it matter if she was happy most of the time? The moments of darkness would always creep up on her. It was the same for Craig with both his bipolar disorder and his drug addiction. Even if you had something under control didn't mean that you had it beaten.
Footsteps sound on the hardwood floor. They're heavy and sound like a man's boots and she really doesn't want to talk to any one but whoever it is couldn't be worse than one of the girls. Legs covered in worn blue jeans stretch out beside her and she doesn't look up to see whose sat down. It's Spinner, she knows but maybe, just maybe if she ignores him, he'll just get up and go.
He doesn't and it shouldn't surprise her. Spinner's always been a little odd like that
Spin doesn't look at her, but stays reclined on the stairs, staring straight ahead. "They'll come around El. It takes them awhile." She looks at him and he turns and gives her a half smile. "Hey if they forgave me, they can forgive anything, right?"
Which is true, but she doesn't want to let go of her anger on Craig's behalf. It's irrational as she didn't want to forgive him, wouldn't have let him in if it hadn't been for the phone calls. She's ages ahead of the rest of them.
But it's Craig. They know that, they know him. Or at the very least they're supposed to. But then she was the first person to keep talking to Spinner, so she supposes it's par for the course for her.
"You matter to them, you know?" he continues, "Well-us. Even Paige. That's just her way of showing it."
"So I've noticed," Ellie says dryly.
They sit for a few minutes as Spinner finishes the beer in his hand in relative silence.
"Next time you hear from Craig, tell him to give me a call sometime. If I'd known where to reach him..."
Ellie smiles up at him gratefully. He's never been someone she'd put on that list of friends but he's a far better man than most people give him credit for. "I will. Thanks Spin."
"No problem," he insists, standing. "I'll see you later." He taps her shoulder with his beer hand before moving on and back towards everyone else and the party that she may have just wrecked. Ellie knows that she should go back, and she will eventually.
The months go on. The paper office has been tense since her break up with Jesse. Rumors have flown around the other staffers about various cheating and did anyone really expect Jesse's latest fling to last? Ellie puts in every effort to block them out while still getting her work done. All communication between Ellie and her editor is cold, and usually via writing as neither of them really wish to speak face to face.
The situation between Ellie in her friends is better but still strained. There has been some bending on either side but the ambush still has her worn thin. The boys have come around pretty well, Paige is elusive and Alex still spends her time with Jay and Sean so Ellie really feels like she doesn't get a right to bitch too much.
Things with Ash haven't been exactly the same. A part of her knows why she did it. In a way , hadn'tshe done the same thing when she walked from him in the airport? But she did it due to something he chose to do rather than something he couldn't help and she didn't promise to stand by him and bail when it got too hard.
Marco doesn't say much on the subject but she can tell he's worried. Most of the time it's easy. They work on homework or she works tirelessly on another essay while Marco looks at the social service work he can get into for the summer. He's looking at doing more AIDS work, this time in Toronto but Ellie knows he wants to go back to Africa sooner or later.
He's out of the house now, and she's glad because there's an envelope waiting for her that she doesn't want to explain just yet. Her hands run over the thick paper of the large envelope. She'll have to open it eventually and see if it says what she thinks it does.
The phone buzzes next to her and she snatches it up, thankful for the distraction. The name on the front makes her smile. "Have you picked your next rock and roll cliché to follow?" she asks, rather than saying hello.
"I have actually," Craig's voice returns through the phone. "I thought I'd let you know I'm going to New York."
The next teasing phrase about him running through the gamut of clichés stops dead on her lips at that pronouncement. A chill runs through her as realization hits her. "Craig."
Of course he's going to New York. It has a fabulous music industry; he's got more money than anyone could ever possibly need. The fact that there are so many drugs floating around shouldn't freak her out as much as it does. He could get drugs anywhere.
"I'm good El," he insists, reading her mind. "It's not an awful idea. There are support groups in New York, there's NA. I'm going to keep up with it."
"Good," she says, hoping with all of her heart that it's true. "I'm glad to hear it."
He's only silent for a moment before he starts again. "I'll be stopping by Toronto on my way through."
That's not the end. He has that excited tone in his voice which is Craig for 'I have a big surprise' and can't wait to share it with you. Ellie isn't looking to get too excited about whatever it is. "Mmmhmm," she murmurs, lifting her water.
Just as expected "I have an extra ticket, Ellie. I'm hoping you'll come with me."
She pauses for a second and lowers the glass back to the table. She's trying to keep her hands from shaking but she can't seem to make them stop. She was right, she wasn't quite sure she wanted to hear what he had to say. "Excuse me?"
"Come with me."
It sounds so simple and easy to go to New York with him. But it isn't. There's so much more to where she lives and what she does than just picking up and going with him. She wonders if he's thought it through. "Craig."
"You can write in New York," he insists, not waiting for the pronouncement that it's crazy or wrong or that she can't. "I know you're not really happy in Toronto. It's in your voice every time you talk about what's going on there."
Enough. She was happy enough, but when was the last time she was really happy?
Further back than she wanted to admit. She'd been happy after he'd gone the first time, but she had missed him acutely. When he came back and they found out about the drugs it sent things into a bit of a tailspin. Nothing was easy or comfortable and the paper she'd enjoyed writing for was just a place she was stuck these days.
"Yeah," he says, letting her leave it with a half truth, "but if you came to New York you would be ten times happier."
It's as if he's sitting right in front of her. Ellie can envision the way he's slouched in his chair, smirking at her. That very proud, 'I'm right, you're wrong and you know it so just give in already' look of arrogance that he tends to get.
She slouches in her own chair, pretending he really is there. "Explain this to me. How would I be ten times happier?"
"One. There are far better universities in New York that I know you can get into. Two. The writing community there is insane. Three. The music community there is off the charts. And Finally, there's me. I'll be there."
"Oh well, that makes it perfect," she quips sarcastically.
It's their usual banter, but if she were honest she'd admit that it does. She has a feeling he knows it. His voice is practically chanting at her in her head to give in. It would be easy, so easy, just to say yes, let him sweep into town and take her away to New York with him. But their problems wouldn't end that easily and anything that was too easy was dangerous.
"Craig," she says with a sigh, tucking a piece of long red hair behind her ear, "My family is here, my friends are here."
At 19 it's a pretty lame excuse to be making, and they both know it. She can see him rolling his eyes at her through the phone. "Everyone's making their own way Ellie. You're not going to loose Marco and I heard Jimmy and Ash were moving to New York anyways. So, ha, our friends will be there." He sounds like a triumphant child who has just won his plea for what he wants for his birthday. "Come to New York."
"You don't have to say yes now. I'll be there in two weeks and you can tell me then. I've gotta go."
And then he's gone. She pulls the phone away from her ear and stares at it for a moment, wondering if she just hallucinated the previous call.
Ellie shuts her phone and lays it back down on the table, deciding there are some things you really couldn't hallucinate. She shifts the packet laying on the table again. The insignia for NYU is all over it. It's the thick letter. She applied just to see if she could do it. Thinking of the ticket Craig already has for her, she rips it open.
An hour later she's still sitting there when Marco comes in. It's grown darker and she hasn't turned on a light. "I hate finding you sitting there like this."
"I wanted to see if I could do it."
"Do what?" She silently hands him the letter from NYU. She bites her lip and snaps her rubber band once, twice, three times before he looks up, beaming. "Elle, this is amazing. I mean, this is really incredible. You didn't tell me you were thinking of going to New York next year."
The fact that she hasn't told him a lot of things this year strains the silence between them. She takes it back and puts it down on the table before getting up and moving to the kitchen. She starts maneuvering herself around there, getting prepared to cook. For all of Dylan's snide remarks, she's gotten better at cooking, really and it helps her to distress.
"I just wanted to see if I could," she insists, trying to convince them both that's all it is, really. Ellie reaches her hand inside "It's unrealistic really. How would I ever pay for it all?"
"Ellie, I know you had your reasons for not applying to New York senior year," he says calmly, taking one of the bowls out of her hand and sneaking the recipe away from her. The name Craig hovers between them. "But are you honestly telling me that you don't want this?"
"I don't know. Craig's going to New York."
She says it with her head in the fridge, like an ostrich hiding its head in the sand. When she pokes it back out, eggs in hand, Marco's staring at her with a measuring glance. "Is that why you applied?"
"No. No!" she exclaims a second time as it's clear he doesn't believe her. "He just called today. He has an extra ticket. He wants me to go with him."
"He…" Now Ellie's forced to look at him as he trails off. "Ellie," he sighs, "I love Craig, but—"
She slants her eyes at him. "What?"
Despite her aggressiveness, Marco keeps looking at her like she's the one breaking his heart. "New York can't be the healthiest environment for him right now."
It's hard to be mad when that was her first thought when Craig told her. New York had to be a bad idea. She'd wanted to scream it at him, tell him to stay in Calgary with Joey. But when presented as a problem by Marco, it's so much easier to defend it. "There is no healthy environment for him Marco. He's an addict with a bank account far larger than yours or mine. The world is his playground."
And it was. There were days that it was hard to tell if Craig Manning was born under a blessed star or a cursed one.
"So what? You go with him and baby sit him?"
Hadn't he just been asking her if this was what she wanted all along? But now that she's brought Craig into it, it seems like she'd been anticipating this move all along.
"No." Ashley had left her behind to 'baby sit' Craig, and that hadn't been what Ellie had done. He didn't need a baby sitter. He needed friends. She chops viciously at the pepper on the cutting board in front of her. "I don't even know if I want to go Marco. It's just a possibility."
"Just…think about it El, long and hard, what it would mean to go with him."
She looks up from her paused cutting, eyes narrowed. "You say that like I think you won't."
"You love him, Ellie," Marco says softly, as if that's all the reason he needs to be worried about her.
"That doesn't make me stupid."
But she was afraid it would. Love made people stupid. Made them support addicts in ways they shouldn't have to and agree to be someone's fake girlfriend in hopes that one day they'd really love you and believe a boy when he told you it was forever. Ellie Nash was a fool for love, as Manny Santos had so kindly pointed out in the middle of her dinner party. Chances were likely that she'd be just as foolish this time around with Craig.
Was it a risk she was really willing to take?
Ellie paces in the waiting area they agreed to meet in when his flight came in. They've talked a handful of times and have avoided the question he asked her when he told her about the plan to go to New York. They've covered the arrival in Toronto, and his spending a few days there before the plane leaves. She crosses her arms and uncrosses them again, wishing he would show up already. His plane has landed; she can read that on the screen of arrivals.
She recognizes the voice and spins instantly. Without thinking she leaps at him and he catches her with a laugh. Long arms band around her as she allows herself to be held by him again as he settles her feet back on the ground. He smells like Craig and feels like she remembered. "God I've missed you," he says in her ear. Her own thoughts echoed back to her out of his mouth.
She pulls away and he's grinning down at her and something inside her seems to settle while something else is still spinning. He looks wonderful, tall and think as always but the hollow look isn't hiding in his eyes and his skin tone is far healthier "It's so good to see you again," she says honestly, "the real you."
"Yeah," He pulls away to stretch his arms wide. "Clean, sober and 100 percent Craig. Look, I even have my guitar."
She grins as he shows her the case that he's carting on his back. "Home is where the guitar is, right?" she asks, remembering the ill fated interview months ago. It seems like a lifetime ago and yesterday all at once sometimes.
"It's also where the heart is, home," he tacks on incase she didn't get it. He hitches the duffle over his shoulder up a little more. "I just make up things about guitars to sound like a real musician in my interviews."
"You've always been a real musician Craig."
"I've been a crappy person."
She shakes her head at him. Craig may have made some crappy decisions but he's always been a good person at heart. "You've been lost," she clarifies.
"More times than I like to count." The depressive comment slips by as he smiles at her. "So what's new? What's up with you? Taking the university paper world by storm?"
She talked to him three days ago, so she simply glares at him. "Don't mock. Things have been uncomfortable since Jesse and I broke up. Okay so uncomfortable is an understatement," she admits at his pointed look, making him laugh. "We've been trying to work around it' but it's really not a good situation."
A weighted silence falls between them as the walk through the bustling people rushing around them. Craig's hands dip into his pockets as Ellie's nervously twist around one another. She sneaks a glance at him to find him
"So, have you thought about what I asked?"
He's looking at her as if everything is hanging in the balance and she's not quite ready to have all of that weight put on her just yet. Not without knowing more. "What is this Craig?" she asks plainly, curious for his answer. "Moving to New York. What is it really?"
Because the answer mattered, more than she could explain. The right answer could change everything.
"It's a chance El," he tells her, impassioned, "it's our chance for everything. Take it with me."
His hand is tight on hers and "Craig."
"I can't promise you perfect. I'm going to fuck up again Ellie," and they both know he's right, even if they both wish he weren't. "Because I'm human, but I'll be better. I've been working at it since the last time I left."
"I know you have."
"So come." Both of her hands are in his and he gives them a shake. "Come."
She pulls her hands out of his and turns to start walking out of the airport. Craig's face falls in that tragic way of his and it's all she can do not to smile as they walk in silence towards the exit. Without looking at him she says, "I got into NYU's journalism program," as casually as she would mention that it was a warm and sunny spring day outside.
"I applied for transfer earlier this year," she continued just as nonchalantly, enjoying the way his jaw had dropped a little too much, "just to see if it was possible. It is."
Two hands with impossibly long fingers clamp down on her shoulders as he forces her to stop. "El."
He's still gaping at her as if she's some sort of alien creature he's never seen before. "I'm not going to New York just for you, okay?" she says pointedly.
The gape morphs into a grin in a flash and warmth spreads through Ellie at the sight of it. "Seriously?"
"Is this the face of a joker?" she asks, pointing at her own face.
"El!" He picks her up in a gigantic hug and spins her around and it's only a little awkward and stunning as he sets her back down. His forehead rests against hers, as if he's never been so relieved. "God…Ellie."
"I told you," she says, pulling back a little, not wanting him to get the wrong idea about any of this, "it's not for you."
"It's for you." His hands run over her arms and she represses the shiver that runs up her spine. "I get it, I mean totally, but…" he trails off and his hands stop. "I get to be there and everything right?"
"In New York City?" she teases with a smirk. "Yeah, it's a free world."
"Ellie!" he wines, and she smiles at him good naturedly. His face softens though, causing her smile to shift as well. "You know what I mean. I…" his hand comes up to cup the side of her face, "I love you Ellie, I have for a long time now. "
Her mind flashes back to the last time he touched her face in this airport, and how she pulled away. This time she lays her hand over his to hold it there. "I love you too."
"So…yes." Ellie allows the grin to break out fresh. "Yes."
"Yes?" he repeats, questioningly.
"I think I just said that twice."
He takes her face in his hands and presses his lips to hers again. They're warm and soft and it's just as good as she remembered. This is better really, because he's sober and she can trust it. Her arms wrap around his neck, allowing her fingers to tangle in the soft curls that just touch his neck. When he breaks away she remembers that they're in an airport and she can feel the color rising in her cheeks. How many people saw them making out like that.
Craig notices too, and shoots a hand to "Alright, let's go!"
Ellie laughs, but keeps her feet grounded. Craig is stronger than she remembered, and is dragging her behind him a little. She digs in harder as she asks, "Where?"
That pulls him up short and Ellie stumbles into him. He catches her, grinning foolishly, and doesn't let go. "We could always just…" his head does it's familiar shake as he continues thinking. "Crash in Joey's old garage," he suggests finally.
"It's someone else's garage now," she points out.
The light on his face dims a little, and Ellie feels bad from reminding him that his old home isn't his home anymore. "It seems a little surreal," he admits.
"We can go by the Dot and see everyone," Ellie suggests. Things may not be perfect, but she's sure if they all just hang out together, some of it will all work out on its own. Looking at Craig now, he's clearly better than he was the last time she saw him. "They'll all be glad to see you."
Craig's arms tighten around her waist as he grins down at her. "I'd rather go back to your place and make out," he whispers, before kissing her.
Once again the world around them seems to dim a little. She lets out a little sigh as he breaks away. He's grinning at her like a mad man. "That doesn't surprise me." Lips press against her neck. "Craig," she insists, pushing away from him. She takes his hand again and starts towards the exit.
"How about a little making out and then The Dot?" he wheedles.
She turns a pointed look back at him as they step out into the warm Toronto spring day. "Or The Dot and then some making out," she says not willing to let him win. Even if his idea does sound better at this point.
His arms wrap around her from behind and she doesn't make him let go. "I think it's up for some debate in the cab," he insists before waiting for one to pull up. He reaches an arm out to signal their need for one before shoving her in, a hand over her mouth, telling the cab driver her address.
Ellie laughs at the cab driver's questioning look and just nods her agreement, giving Craig a playful elbow in the stomach. He feigns hurt and they both laugh as the cab pulls away from the curb. Ellie leans back against them as the cab starts to move and lets herself just soak up the moment. She has the one thing she convinced herself she shouldn't want anymore because she'd never have it.