DISCLAIMER: I don't own Degrassi or anything else.
This is another kind of sad one. I hope you like it.
I was at my locker getting my lunch and my books for my afternoon classes when Adam appeared next to me. "Where's your other half? I didn't see him this morning; is he sick?"
I shook my head. "I think he's skipping. The last time he was out sick he texted me in the morning and begged me to skip school and take care of him."
Adam laughed. "Did you?"
"No, but I went over after school and brought him glasses of orange juice while he played Xbox and whined about how bad he was feeling. He's like a five year old when he's sick."
"Do you know what's up with him? He's been kind of a dick for the past week."
I gave Adam a dirty look for his language choice, but I had to say he was right. Eli and I hadn't had one conversation that didn't involve him snapping at me over nothing, and if he was acting the same way to Adam, it must have been worse than I thought. "It's April 21st."
"So?" It took Adam a second to realize it was the second anniversary of Julia's death. "Right. But didn't she die on the 22nd?"
"She left in the middle of the night so they probably started fighting on the 21st."
We started walking to the cafeteria. "Ah. Has he talked to you about it all?"
"He hasn't even mentioned her name. He's just been really tense and irritable. I don't know what he's doing today and I don't know if there's anything I can do to help him. I'm assuming he probably doesn't really want to be around me today."
Adam placed his hand on my shoulder. "Clare, you know that's not true."
"I know he cares about me and wants to be with me, but I know he still has issues about moving on. And I know he doesn't like talking about her with me." I had been helping him with his room for two months, and he'd often stare off into space lost in his memories or vehemently refuse to get rid of something but he'd never explain to me why he felt that way.
"He does with me occasionally." I glanced at Adam in surprise. I knew Eli and Adam were close but it bothered me that he wasn't able to open up to me the same way. "But he talks about you way more. Seriously. The guy never shuts up about you."
"I'm not worried about our relationship, Adam. I'm just worried about him."
"You should text him. Just let him know you're there if he needs you."
"That's a good idea."
I took out my phone and spent a few minutes composing my message.
Thinking about you today. I'll give you some space if that's what you want, but if you need me, I'm here. I just hope you're doing okay.
I kept my phone out on the lunch table for the rest of the period, but I didn't hear back from him.
Adam was out on a date with Fiona and I texted Alli earlier but didn't hear back. She was sort of seeing the brother of a friend from her new school, so I figured she was probably out with him. I had settled down in the living room in front of the computer to spend a dull Friday night reading Fortnight fanfics and worrying about Eli who never responded to my text.
Fortunately I was downstairs and not up in my room reading a book because I never would have heard the knock on the door. It was so tentative that I thought I was hearing things until I got up and checked the window and saw Eli's hearse outside. We have a doorbell, so it was almost as if he didn't really want me to answer.
I opened the door and he stood there silently. He looked like a shell of the confident, even cocky, boy he usually was. He had dark circles under his eyes and his hands were shaking.
"Hey," I said softly, leaning against the doorjamb. I wasn't sure what he wanted from me.
"Do you think you could come over for a little bit?" Eli's voice was hoarse and if I wasn't six inches away from him, I might not have heard him.
"Of course, I just need to…" I gestured behind myself. Eli didn't cross the threshold as I grabbed my light jacket and purse. "Dad!" I called up the stairs. "I'm going to the Dot with Eli."
He stuck his head out of his room and Eli turned away. "Be home by 11." The one nice thing about divorced parents was that whenever my Dad was home, he always let me stay out an hour later than the curfew my Mom imposed.
Eli was already sitting in the driver's seat when I locked the front door and ran down the steps. I had to knock on the window to get him to reach over and unlock the door. It was a far cry from the very chivalrous Eli who always opened the door for me.
We drove for a few minutes in silence, and I felt like I needed to break the ice. I was about to say something when he said, "I don't want to go to the Dot. I can't be around people today."
"Oh, I know. I just told my Dad that. It's easier." If I had said I was going to Eli's house, he would have had lots of questions about whether his parents would be home, and what we were doing, and why didn't we plan this before nine o'clock Friday night. Besides my church youth group, the Dot was pretty much the only acceptable non-school destination in my parents' eyes.
He nodded and gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. He pulled into his driveway. The house looked dark. "Have you been here alone all day?" I asked, as we exited the car and entered his house.
He shook his head. "My mom took the day off from work. But Bullfrog had this event thing for the radio station which was pretty much required if he'd like to keep his job. Mom was going to stay with me, but I could tell she was drained from being around me today so I forced her to go with him. She agreed to go as long as I invited you over."
Oh. So he didn't really want to be around me. "Eli, if you don't want me here…"
He put his hand on my shoulder, touching me for the first time since we said goodbye after school yesterday. "I don't want to be alone."
He looked so sad that it almost broke my heart. I placed my hand on his. "You've got me."
He let me touch him for only a few seconds before he pulled his arm away, wringing his hands in front of him. We stood awkwardly in his foyer. I didn't know what to suggest. I wasn't sure if his room that was still half full of memories would be too much for him or if I suggested going to the TV room he would think I was trivializing his issues. I shifted my weight from foot to foot, hoping he would say something.
But when he didn't, I realized I had to take charge. I took off my jacket and hung it on the coat rack. "I'm thirsty. Would you like a drink?"
He didn't respond but he followed me to the kitchen as I pulled two glasses out of the cabinet as if I lived here. I opened the fridge and noticed that it was mostly empty. I was trying to figure out why there was so much extra space when I realized that Bullfrog and CeCe usually kept a large case of beer in the fridge and there wasn't one currently. I grabbed two cans of Coke nonchalantly and tried to pretend I didn't notice.
I held one out to Eli and as he took it and poured it into his glass, I looked around. His parents weren't drunks or anything, but they were social drinkers, especially when you compared them to my teetotalling parents. When I had dinner with them, they'd often crack open a bottle of wine and offer me and Eli a glass. But the counter top was empty of wine bottles.
I glanced at Eli as I poured my soda, just barely managing to keep from spilling it over the top of the glass and all over the counter. He didn't spend the day drinking by himself, did he? I leaned closer to him but I didn't smell anything weird. He hadn't said very much so I couldn't tell if he was slurring his words. The one time Eli had three glasses of wine with dinner he was very boisterous and cheery, so he probably wouldn't be this sullen.
But he just drove me here and he was fine, so I was being stupid about this. I knew I was just trying to find answers, because he wasn't giving me any.
Fortunately, Eli didn't notice my discomfort. He turned around and walked upstairs, so I grabbed my drink and followed him. He lay down on his bed propped up against a pillow, and grabbed his TV remote.
I sat down next to him, much farther away than usual. He channel surfed aimlessly. His parents had a DVR in the TV room, so usually we'd watch one of his favorite shows, but I guess he just wanted something mindless.
While he scrolled through the channel guide, I tried to look around his room without being obvious. We had made a lot of progress in the past two months; he had thrown out a lot of what I considered to be obvious junk, and the piles had shrunken considerably.
I could see some evidence that he was regressing though. His desk was littered with Coke cans that I knew were a sign of something more than simple laziness, and much to my chagrin, I could see a popcorn tub balanced precariously on a pile of books. He must have saved that from the movie he went to with Adam last weekend, because getting rid of those was one of my first successes with him in February, so I knew it wasn't an old one.
He stopped on an old rerun of The Office. One of the characters made a joke and I laughed and Eli looked at me like I was crazy. I bit my lip and forced myself to not really pay attention.
He was sitting so rigidly that it looked uncomfortable. I almost offered to give him a back rub but I didn't want him to think I was coming on to him.
When the episode was over, I could feel his eyes on me, but I was afraid to meet his gaze. I felt so unprepared for this. I wasn't great at comforting people under normal situations and usually it was just Alli, upset over a boy. I could understand being upset over a boy; I'd been there. I didn't understand losing someone you loved.
Eli reached over and laced his fingers in mine and I looked up at him in surprise. He squeezed my hand and I smiled a little. It almost felt like he was trying to comfort me.
I took this as a cue that maybe he was ready to talk. "What did you do with your mom today?"
He looked down at the bedspread. "We went to the cemetery this morning, and then we came back and ate lunch and played every depressing song we've ever heard."
"That sounds nice." He didn't offer any more information. "What did you do last year?"
I could see something in his face shut off, as if he had been willing to talk but I had asked the wrong question. He didn't respond and turned back to the TV, pulling his hand from mine, and I could tell things were worse when they were a few minutes ago, which I didn't think was possible.
I sat through another episode, biting back my laughter and trying to work up my nerve to hug him or talk to him about English class, but I just felt so powerless. I thought about texting Adam and asking him for backup, but I didn't want Eli to think I wasn't giving him my full attention.
It was 10:30 and if I wanted to make my curfew, we were going to have to start moving. "It's getting late," I said, stretching my arms over my head. "I should probably get going."
Eli looked at me as if he realized I was there for the first time and his eyes widened in shock. "You can't leave. I can't be alone," he said in panic.
My dad was going to kill me if I was late for curfew, but maybe I could call him and beg for an extension. "What time are your parents coming home?"
"Not until late." He was gasping for breath, sounding moments away from a full blown panic attack. I rubbed my hand in circles on his back, willing him to calm down.
"You could come over my house. I'm sure my dad will understand. We can sit down in the living room and watch TV until they get home. He doesn't want me out late, but if I'm home, you can be with me."
"I can't drive right now." His hands were shaking worse than before. Shoot. If I were going to walk home, I'd have to leave this second or I'd definitely be late. I had missed my curfew about three times in the past two months and my parents both agreed that if I was late again, I'd be grounded for a month.
"Eli, I've got to go now."
He threw himself at me, wrapping his arms around my waist and resting his head in my lap. "Please don't leave me. Julia left me and I never saw her again. I can't lose you, Clare. I can't go through this ever again. I don't know what I'd do without you." His cries were hysterical and I knew it didn't matter if I were grounded for the rest of my life. I couldn't leave him alone tonight.
"Okay baby," I said, running my fingers over his back. "I just need to call my dad." He was crying too loudly for me to call from his room. "I'll be right outside your door, I swear."
I unwrapped him from my torso and he curled up on his side in fetal position on his bed, his frantic weeping wracking his body. I slipped into the hallway and shut the door as I tried to calm myself down.
"Hey, Dad. I'm sorry to call so late, but we just ran into Alli at the Dot and we haven't seen each other in so long and she asked if I could sleepover. I know it's late notice, but I really miss her and Eli said he'd drop us off at her house so you don't have to worry about getting me." He grumpily agreed; I must have woken him up. "Thanks Dad. I'll see you tomorrow; probably around lunchtime. I have my cell if you need me."
I texted Alli. If my dad calls, I'm sleeping over your house. Major Eli emergency. I'm okay. I'll explain tomorrow.
He was in exactly the same position as he was when I left him though I felt his tears subside when I reentered the room and curled up behind him, pulling him into a soft embrace. I left a few kisses on the back of his neck and down the top of his spine, wishing I could ease some of the tension out of his body.
I moved back an inch and slid my hand under his t-shirt, rubbing slow circles on his back. His breathing slowed and his sobs softened almost to murmurs.
"Eli," I whispered. "What can I do?"
I didn't mean that sexually, and fortunately my boyfriend wasn't a horny jerk (at least not at the moment) because the second that left my mouth I was completely embarrassed at how dirty that sounded.
He rolled over onto his back and smiled at me between his tear streaked cheeks. "You're so beautiful, Clare," he said, stroking my jawline. "Just you being here with me makes me feel better."
I didn't want to push him, but this seemed like progress to me, so I lightly grazed my lips against his in the chastest kiss we had ever exchanged.
"Well you, my usually dashing darling, look terrible," I teased. "Maybe we should get some sleep."
He shook his head as a pained expression settled on his face. "When I close my eyes, I see her." That explains the bags under his eyes. I wonder how long it's been since he had a good night's sleep.
"Do you think that when you close your eyes and see her you could squeeze my hand and try to think of me? Just for tonight," I rushed to add. I didn't want him to think I was trying to replace her.
"I don't know," he mumbled.
"Just try. If it doesn't work, we can do something else."
He nodded but didn't move. I placed my hand on his stomach. "I'll grab you some pajamas."
"I usually just wear boxers."
His husky voice sent a chill down my spine and my face felt like it was on fire. "Oh. Okay. Sure. That's fine," I babbled nervously. Suddenly I realized that I wasn't exactly prepared for a sleepover either. Since I didn't have any plans when I got home from school, I had changed out of my uniform and into an old t-shirt and jeans. The t-shirt was just barely oversized so I guessed I could sleep in that.
I turned away from him to give him some privacy and unhooked my bra. I pulled it out from underneath my t-shirt and unbuttoned my pants. My shaking fingers pulled the zipper down and I stepped out of my jeans.
I turned around, blushing even more deeply when I realized he hadn't moved a muscle but was staring at my legs with a small smile on his face.
"What?" I asked in embarrassment as I sat back down, curling my legs underneath me to shield them from his gaze.
"I was just thinking how unfair it is that the one time you take off your clothes and get into my bed, I'm too depressed to enjoy it."
"Eli!" I slapped him lightly on his arm and his brief grin was worth it. But in an instant, the pain had crept back into his green eyes. I looked at his skinny jeans and button down shirt. "Don't you want to get undressed?"
"I'm fine," he mumbled, not meeting my eyes.
"It's going to be hard enough to sleep. You should be comfortable."
He ignored me and his complete passivity was starting to annoy me. I knew he was upset but he lacked all of the fire and personality that had drawn me to him. I would rather deal with him when he was screaming or crying than comatose. But I didn't want to leave him in his uncomfortable clothes, so I knelt over him and began to unbutton his shirt.
I had slipped my hands under his shirt when we were making out, but I hadn't seen him without a shirt on, and I had certainly never taken a guy's shirt off before. When I finished with the buttons, I spread the two sides of the fabric but he didn't sit up to remove it.
Of course, he was going to make me do this the hard way. I moved my hands to the button of his jeans, and glanced at him. There was a hint of a smirk on his face that told me he was now doing this on purpose and enjoying it. I undid the button and zipper, blushing as I realized exactly where I was touching. I tugged on his jeans, and he finally got out of his haze and held onto his boxers by the waistband so that I didn't remove them as well by mistake. I shot him a grateful look as I removed his jeans and he leaned up to take the shirt off.
I checked out his mostly naked body, trying not to be too obvious. He was skinny, but sexy all at the same time, and part of me wished we were getting to this point under different circumstances. I realized he was hard and I looked away. I had felt it against me when we were making out before, and once or twice I could see it through his pants, afterwards, when I had asked him to stop before we went too far. But through his boxer shorts it was obvious and it made me think about things that I really shouldn't have been thinking about, especially tonight.
"Sorry," Eli croaked, pulling me out of my thoughts. "The sight of Clare Edwards taking my pants off is just too much of a turn on."
I briefly wondered if I could take his mind off his sadness but kissing him but I didn't ever want that to be something he'd end up regretting so I controlled myself.
I hopped off the bed and started to pull down the covers. He got up as well and turned on the lamp next to his bed so I wouldn't trip over his messy floor when I flicked off the light switch next to his door. He waited until I was snuggled under the covers to turn off the lamp.
I lay flat on my back, not wanting to turn toward him or away from him. His bed was certainly big enough for two people but it was only a double bed so we were fairly close to each other, even though we weren't touching. The only people I had ever shared a bed with were Darcy and Alli so this felt really different. I wished this wasn't the first time I was spending the night with him.
Eli reached for my hand. I wondered if that meant he was taking my advice, but I couldn't see his face when I glanced at him. We lay silently together. I felt like I was never going to be able to fall asleep.
I was surprised when Eli spoke.
"You asked me before, what I did last year." Eli went silent, and I wasn't sure if he wanted me to apologize or if he wanted to answer me. I squeezed his hand not wanting to interrupt him.
"I tried to kill myself."
I gasped, unable to speak.
"I bought a bunch of pills from this guy at my old school and I took them all and drank half a bottle of whiskey, and I would have died if my mom hadn't come into my room to check up on me at just the right time."
It was as if the darkness gave him permission to tell me his secret, but it didn't help me at all. I felt lost, like I needed to see his face to know for sure that he was alive next to me. I gripped his hand tighter, trying to keep from launching myself into his arms, wishing I could feel the comfort of his skin against mine.
I could have lost him. I could have never known him. I knew the pain I was feeling was only a fraction of what he felt after losing Julia but it was the worst I had ever experienced.
"Are you…okay now?" I asked, my voice nasal due to the tears.
He took a second before he responded. "The difference between this year and last year is that I don't want to die. But I couldn't be alone tonight, because sometimes it hurts so bad that I forget that."
"I don't want you to die," I whispered.
"You're the reason I want to live."
I moved onto my side facing him, wishing that I could see him. He kept his hand in mine and I wasn't sure if he was going to try to sleep or not.
"I'm sorry to drop that bomb on you," he said after a solid minute of quiet. "I've wanted to tell you. It's just hard to talk about."
I didn't want to push him but I had some questions that I needed to have answered. "What happened after?"
"They called an ambulance and I had my stomach pumped."
"That was the only time?"
"Did you get counseling or anything?"
"My parents made me see a psychiatrist for a few months. They had me on antidepressants for a while. I didn't like the way they made me felt so I stopped taking them after I was past the suicidal phase. I haven't had an incident since."
"I'm surprised your psychiatrist didn't address the hoarding."
"I never told him. I wasn't quite as bad then so I didn't realize how much of a problem it was. I kept a lot of stuff but I wasn't keeping the garbage or freaking out if I lost something. It got worse the longer she was gone because I felt like I was forgetting her."
I felt like I was taking an Eli 101 class. We had been dating for four months and there was still so much I didn't know about him.
"Eli…will you tell me about Julia?"
He moved onto his side to face me, although I still couldn't see his face. "What do you want to know?"
"Whatever you want to tell me."
He took a deep breath. "I don't know what to say."
I had always been a little bit curious about their relationship so I guessed this was a good time to find things out. "How did you meet?"
"She was in my sixth grade class, and our teacher sat us next to each other because we were the smartest kids and we always finished out work early, so she gave us extra projects to work on together. We were best friends until she asked me to go to our 8th grade cotillion with her. When I saw her at the dance in this black dress, I finally realized how beautiful she was and we danced to the world's crappiest love ballad and I kissed her and we were together from that moment on."
I laughed. "I can't picture you at a dance."
"Well, you'll get the chance in a few months. You don't expect me to attend my junior prom alone, do you?"
I grinned. "Somehow I didn't really expect you to attend your junior prom."
"I may not be a joiner, but I will take any occasion to dress up and dance with a beautiful girl."
His voice sounded lighter, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to drag him back into the serious territory, but I was so curious. "What was she like?"
"She was…if I had to use one word, I'd say serious. She never cracked a joke or hardly ever smiled. The only time she ever loosened up was at a show. The band would come out on stage and her face would light up and she'd dance around and sing at the top of her lungs. Her life revolved around music, not me. She let me in between shows and songs. I used to spend my whole day teasing her to try to get her to smile at me. When we were alone together, I used to sing to her to make sure her attention was on me."
I didn't know Eli could sing. When we were in the car together, we usually turned the radio off since we didn't really have the same taste in music. I hoped that wasn't something he only associated with her because I'd really like to hear it.
"She was really stubborn," he continued. "She didn't really get along with a lot of people because she had such a hot temper that she made me look cool and rational in comparison. She made a lot of snap judgments and never really changed her mind. We fought constantly, and we broke up and got back together at least three different times."
"But she would give her brownie to me at lunch if I was having a bad day and she organized a party when the school librarian retired, and she never did any of her homework but somehow always managed to get better grades than I did. She wrote beautiful songs that she was too shy to play in public but she'd sing them for me. She was passionate and she was sexy and…" He cut himself off as if he just remembered that he was talking to his new girlfriend about his old one.
"Anyway, it feels good to talk about her. Keeping all the memories inside hasn't really been working out for me," he admitted.
I felt bad that he felt like he couldn't do that before. "You don't have to be afraid to talk about her to me. She was a big part of your life, Eli. I understand how much you cared about her."
He hesitated for a second. "It's just that stuff you said awhile ago…about taking her place in my bed…I thought you'd be hurt or jealous if you knew more about my relationship with her. I didn't want you to feel like I was comparing the two of you. I mean, I loved her…and I'm with you now…but it's totally different for me."
"Oh, Eli," I felt the tears coming back and wished that for once I could just calm down and talk rationally with him. "I was feeling insecure, but not about her – about myself. I was just afraid you wouldn't want to be with me if I didn't sleep with you. But we've talked about it and I'm over that." I squeezed his hand. "You can talk to me about anything. About Julia or about your past or your feelings or anything. There isn't anything I don't want to hear."
Eli leaned closer to me and brushed a curl off my forehead. "Clare, I know I haven't said it in so many words...and I don't want to do it now because I don't want to associate that feeling with this moment...but you know how I feel about you, right?"
My heart warmed and I was so moved by his words. I had wondered how he felt, and I was glad I now knew, but the fact that he didn't say it because he wanted to make that moment special just made me love him even more.
"I know, Eli," I whispered. I stopped being preoccupied with what he wanted and followed my heart, throwing myself into his arms.
My hands wrapped around his waist. I had forgotten he was shirtless and I couldn't believe how warm his skin was against my hands. One of my legs had ended up between his and I could feel him against me even though we hadn't even kissed yet.
I decided to remedy that and brought one hand up to cup his face. His cheek was still damp from all the tears. I didn't want to scare him off so I gave him another kiss, as chaste as before. Then one more kiss. Then one more.
He must have decided that kissing me was the right thing to do, because he deepened the next kiss, penetrating my lips with his tongue and causing me to let out a huge moan. His hand moved down to the back of my thigh, resting on my leg for a few seconds before sliding up underneath my shirt, over my butt and circling my waist.
Usually when Eli attempted to touch me underneath my shirt I immediately freaked out and asked him to stop. But their was something between us tonight – either the darkness or the secrets we shared or the pain we were releasing – that made his hands feel like a promise, rather than something to be feared.
I expected him to try for more, to move his hands over my breasts, to pull my shirt over my head so he could feel me against him. My body was arching into his, practically begging him to touch me even as my mind hesitated. But he kept stroking back, cradling me to him as he kissed me tenderly.
After a few minutes of incredibly hot kisses, he pulled back and removed him hands from my shirt. "Clare, this is amazing."
"Mmmm," I murmured, trailing kisses down his neck.
"I want to…" He broke off before finishing his thought.
"What do you want to do?" I breathed, next to this ear.
He pushed me away ever so slightly. "I want to do everything that you want to do, everything that you're ready for. But not tonight. I want you to spend a night in my bed and I want the whole night to be about you."
I blushed. "I'm not ready to…"
He placed his finger over my lips. "I know. I only want what you want. Nothing more, nothing less. And I'd like it to be soon. The sleepover, I mean, not…you know."
I kissed him on his cheek. "Well, right now, I want you to try to sleep."
He groaned. "Well, next time you sleep over, I want to keep you awake."
"It's a deal." I squeezed his hand and lay back down next to him.
It took a long time, probably close to two hours. Eli alternated between squeezing my hand, sobbing, squirming under the covers, snuggling against me, moving away, and kicking the covers off, but eventually his hand went slack against mine and his breathing evened out.
I stayed up a while longer, making sure he stayed asleep. I heard some noises downstairs when his parents returned and Cece opened his bedroom door to check on him. The room flooded with light from the hallway and I looked at Eli to make sure he wouldn't wake up. She smiled in relief when she saw him sleeping next to me, and she came over to the bed and placed a kiss on his forehead. I was a little surprised when she walked around and repeated the gesture with me.
She whispered, "Thank you," and went back into the hallway, closing the door behind her and leaving us in the dark.
Eli rolled over in his sleep and I held my breath but he didn't wake up. He wrapped his arm around my waist and I drifted off to sleep next to the man I loved.