Going Down the Road
Summary: Ashley has a surprise for Craig the eve of her going to London, changing their relationship and how it plays out for the better.
Episode 1 of 'Should, Woulda, Coulda: Degrassi Done Right'
I was strumming my guitar in a fit of melancholy when I heard the knock at the door. I had only taken my medication an hour beforehand, and was doing everything in my power to keep myself from sinking into a fit of depression before it kicked in. My current situation, however, made it very tempting to jump headfirst into that abyss.
Ashley, my girlfriend and sort of fiancé was leaving that night for London, England for a summer-long internship at BBC. I knew that I wouldn't be able to stand being apart from her for a whole summer, no matter how tumultuous and tenuous our relationship had become. I had lost her once before, nearly a year and a half earlier, and I refused to lose her again. I just didn't know how to stop her from leaving, especially when our relationship was so off-kilter.
Ever since I had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Ashley had treated me like a porcelain doll. To her, I was still mentally unstable and unpredictable, which meant that she acted more like my caregiver than my girlfriend. We had talked about this before, and she had promised to treat me as a boyfriend, not a mental case, and she had improved - but not enough to restore the physical intimacy we had so briefly gained in our relationship.
That sounds so stodgy and polite. To put it simply, I was horny and willing, but she wasn't. Cold showers had become as routine as my medication.
And to top it all off, I had been unable to convince my stepfather Joey to let me follow Ashley to England this summer. He expressed concerns about my newly diagnosed mental condition, and I had blown up at him, accusing the poor man of labeling me a risk to the country, a la Jack the ripper or mad cow disease.
So I was exceedingly horny, resentful and sad when I put down my guitar to go answer the door.
My guitar was still in my hand and it was only sheer luck that I didn't drop it when I saw Ashley standing at the door, her eyes filled with tears. The makeup around her eyes was slightly smeared, giving her a smoky, sultry look even when she was upset.
"I'm not going," she declared as she stepped into the garage. I placed my guitar on the side table and closed the door behind her as she turned to face me.
"What?" I was sure that I hadn't heard her correctly. It sounded too good to be true, like my brain was inserting words into her mouth to make the pain go away.
She wrung her hands, shifting in her feet as she stared at the grind in front of me. Her clothes were fussed and her hair was messy, as if she had run all the way here from her house.
"I'm not going to England," she mumbled. "I can't."
"What? Ashley, why? You've always wanted to go, ever since you were a little girl."
I couldn't fathom this sudden about face. Though it was exactly what I wanted to hear, I still wanted her to be happy. If she wanted to go, if that made her happy and allowed her to find the Ashley I had fallen in love with, then I would support her, no matter my pain or the cost to me. I just wanted her to be happy, to be Ashley.
"I know, I know. But, Craig - I thought you didn't want me to go."
"Please don't give up your dreams for me, Ash. You've been taking care of me for months, now, and I know you need a break."
She shook her head, struggling for words. Finally, she looked me in the eye, her face set and her voice strong for the first time in a long time.
"No, no - that's not it at all. I don't need time away from you, I don't need to go to England. I don't want to take care of you, I want to be with you. I've been smothering myself with this motherly concern when that isn't what you need, and I can't do it anymore. I just want to be with you."
I went to open my mouth and she shook her head.
"Craig, let me talk, please. I haven't been honest with you for a long time, afraid of your reactions and afraid of getting close to you again. I don't know what you're being bipolar means for us, or for our future. But I can't hide behind therapy pamphlets and support group flyers anymore. I can't continue to be afraid around you, I can't treat you like you're mentally made of glass."
The tears in her eyes returned, and her voice faltered. I teared up myself, and instinctively reached for her. Instead of stiffening, like she had been for months, she melted into me, her head resting in my shoulder and her breath on my neck. I immediately relaxed and felt the tension leave her.
"My dreams aren't all about England anymore. What would going there do for me? I don't want to be a journalist, I don't want to be a writer, I don't want to spend an entire summer doing something that isn't my future, away from you. I want to be a musician, I want to be a songwriter. And, most importantly, I want to do it with you."
I held her at arms length. "What exactly are you saying, Ash?"
"I love you. I want to sound the rest of my life with you, creating music and singing together. Going to England wouldn't allow me to do that- it would keep me away from you and that, I realized, is the last thing I want. So I'm not leaving."
"You're serious? You're not leaving Toronto, you're not going to England? You're going to be here, for the entire summer, with me?"
She smiled. "Yes."
I let out a shout of joy and picked her up, spinning her around once before setting her on her feet. I leaned in and met her lips with mine, and felt a thrill when I felt her kiss back. My hands pressed into the small of her back, clutching her to me with the force of pent up emotions and rising lust. She let out a soft moan and I nearly lost it.
"Ashley," I breathed, pulling away from her.
Her eyes never leaving my face, she backed towards the couch and sat down on it, patting the cushion next to her.
I leapt over to her, wrapping my arms around her. She lay back on the couch and I lay with her, facing each other. She kissed me and I smiled through the kiss, happier than I had been in a long time. She wasn't leaving, she was acting like my girlfriend - for the first time since I had been diagnosed, I felt like the Craig I had always thought myself to be, the Craig who wasn't bipolar, just a crazy kid.
I rested my forehead against hers. "Thank you," I whispered.
"This is exactly what I needed. To feel like myself again, I needed you to be here, to show me that Ashley the girlfriend still existed. I needed you to tell me everything that you did, and to know that I hadn't ruined our relationship because of my disorder."
"Oh, no! No, Craig, you never ruined it. It was never you. It was always me and my doubt. I nearly ruined our relationship just by the way I treated you, and would have destroyed it by going to England."
I closed my eyes and kissed her cheeks. "Thank you so much for staying here, with me."
"I'll make it to England eventually. But you'll be with me."
"We'll have a concert there."
She laughed. "Exactly. You, me, and our music in England together. The thought is intoxicating."
"Not as much as you are right now." I kissed her neck and felt her shiver against me, and delighted in her gasp of pleasure. I nipped at her neck and she moaned. "God, I have missed this so much. I've missed you so much."
"And I've missed you," she breathed, her hands sliding under my t-shirt and her nails grazing my back.
I kissed her hard and long, silencing her then.
There would be no more talking. I didn't want to hear any more regrets; all I wanted to do was enjoy being with her. I was reveling in being a happy and intimate couple again.
And, really, we had an entire summer – no, an entire lifetime – to talk.