DISCLAIMER: I don't own Degrassi or anything else.

This story is dedicated to Sarenka222 who gave me the idea for it. Thanks for all the encouragement and I will miss our late night Twitter talks while you're on the other side of the world.

If anyone else would like to be my twitter friend, follow me at: TheMusikSnob.

This story alternates in perspective between Clare and Eli. I think it's pretty clear who's narrating so I didn't label the POVs, but I thought I'd just warn you in advance, since I don't typically write in this style.

"Is your dad going to stay down here the whole time?" Eli whispered in my ear. We were sitting on the living room couch, working on the play we were writing for English class together. My dad was on the computer, pretending to do some work but I could see the reflection of his solitaire game in the window.

"He doesn't go to bed until 11, and he'll probably make you leave before then."

"Man, even your mom will go up to her room when I'm here."

I shot Eli an apologetic look. I wanted to get some work done on the play but it would be nice if we could cuddle while we did it. I noticed my dad watching us and inched away from Eli.

"So should we go for the full five act structure or should we just do one or two and simplify it?" I asked Eli.

"I think two will be enough. The story is pretty straightforward, and we're only supposed to have enough material for a 20 minute performance."

I peered over my notes. "Maybe one would work best. I think we could cut this down to three major scenes. The meeting, the betrayal and the resolution."

"That could work," he said, leaned closer to me. I turned my head so that he couldn't reach my lips. He rolled his eyes.

He scribbled a note on the corner of his notebook and tapped on it to get my attention. Next time, we work at my house.

I had been spending a lot of time at Eli's, working on cleaning his room, but he rarely came to my house. I knew my parents were a lot more annoying than his, but they were never going to trust us together if I was always leaving with him and spending too much time at his house.

My father's cell phone rang out loudly, and we looked over at him. He peered at the caller ID and answered. "Jerry? They want to settle? That's great…When…?" He looked up at us. "This isn't…No, okay, that's fine. I'll be there in half an hour."

"Clare, I need to go back to the office. I'm probably going to be pretty late," he said as he pulled his jacket on. "So it's time for Eli to head home."

"Dad! It's 7:30, and he just got here a little while ago. Besides, we have a lot of work to do tonight."

"My parents are home," Eli said. "We could go over there."

"Eli, no. Dad, we're doing homework on the couch and that's what we're going to continue to do when you're not here. You need to trust me."

Dad didn't look happy. "I don't have time to fight with you about this. Eli, you need to leave by 10 at the latest."

"I will, sir."

Dad came over and kissed me on my cheek. "I'll see you tomorrow, Clare Bear."

We watched as his car headlights flashed against the window as he pulled out of the driveway.

"Well, that was unexpected," I said. Eli grinned and moved his laptop off of my lap.

"But very welcome." He pushed me back lightly with both of us his hands on my shoulders and moved so that he was lying on top of me.

"But what about the play?" I asked, batting my eyelashes at him.

"I have wanted to kiss you for so long," he said.

"Then why are you still talking?"

He brought his lips down to mine.

Finally. I thought her Dad would never leave us alone. It was bad enough that I had to see Clare at school and not kiss her there, thanks to the Degrassi PDA ban. Sitting next to her on the couch and not being able to touch her was just torture.

Had our last real kiss really been at our picnic at the abandoned church? That was close to a month ago. We were too busy and exhausted and distracted with worry about Adam at the secret party that we didn't even have one dance let alone anything more. And we'd been spending a lot of our time outside of school working on my room, which usually left me depressed or frustrated or both – not exactly a turn on. There had been plenty of hello and goodbye kisses, but those were pecks really, nothing to get excited about.

But this kiss was turning out to be something mind-blowing. Clare always kissed me tentatively, as if she wasn't sure she should be doing it at all, and I had made it my mission to bring her out of her shell. The longer we kissed the more confident she got, sucking my bottom lip into her mouth and occasionally pulling it between her teeth.

I smoothed my hand over her hip and cupped her ass as best I could with her lying underneath me. I was a little surprised that she didn't push my hand away.

The first time we hooked up outside of school was on our first date, and when I took her to Morty's front seat to continue our contraband kissing, I made the mistake of trying to grope her breast through her dress.

Clare had pulled back, eyes flashing and red faced, and I had immediately apologized. I knew she was pretty innocent, but she had mentioned having a boyfriend the year before so I thought she must have gotten past the just kissing stage. I just figured she didn't want to go that far on a first date.

I had been waiting for her to give me some kind of indication that she wanted to do more ever since, but even though it was more than two months later, my hands had been stuck in neutral territories. Which made kissing Clare simultaneously the most amazing and frustrating experience I had ever encountered.

I sucked in a deep breath when Clare's lips left mine and trailed down my jawline. She stopped right where it met the soft crook of my neck and stroked my skin with her tongue. She had never done anything like this before and I whimpered as her mouth made the journey down my neck, stopping to suck hard enough that there was no way she hadn't left a mark, and then biting down lightly.

I took Clare's newfound boldness as a sign that she was ready to take things a little bit farther, and I recaptured her lips, kissing her deeply as I moved my hand back up over her hip. I loved Clare's curvy figure and wished I could feel her skin as I made the slow journey up her side. I kept the kiss forceful, but my fingers were tentative and I brought them up and rested them on the side of her breast as my thumb grazed her fabric covered nipple.

"Eli!" she screeched, pushing up on my chest with such force that I fell off of her and onto the floor with a thud. I rubbed my bruised hip and looked up at her. What did I do that was so wrong?

Before Eli came over, I had been reading some of my old Fortnight fanfics to try to get some ideas for our play. When I put them back online after deleting them, I had changed the name of the main character to Hollis in place of Declan. Some of my stories were on my mind as Eli kissed me and I thought about how last year kissing both Declan and Wesley ended up being an epic disaster.

But Eli was my boyfriend and if I wanted to kiss his neck, I could. He seemed to enjoy it, letting out a breathy moan. When his lips found mine again, his kisses were fast and firm and it felt so good I was starting to think about doing things that I knew I shouldn't. So when Eli reached up and touched my breast, I panicked and pushed him off me. I didn't mean to dump him on the floor, but that's what happened and he shot me an annoyed look as I sat up and held my hand out to pull him back up on the couch.

"A simple 'no' would have sufficed," he grumbled, sitting down next to me but putting some space between us.

"Well, I'm sorry that I didn't want to be manhandled," I said defensively.

He looked at me in disbelief. "What did you think I was trying to do?"

I bit my lip. I wasn't sure how to answer his question. "You know I've got a purity ring. We've talked about it."

"I'm not trying to take your virginity. I just want to touch you, and while I respect you, and I'll stop whenever you ask, I'm just not sure I understand why you freak out when I try to put my hands on you."

Where was this coming from? Eli had always been really understanding about my beliefs. He was the one who stopped me when I threw myself at him when I was upset about my parents' divorce, and when I found out he wasn't a virgin, he said even though it wasn't his favorite thing about me that I wanted to wait until marriage, he respected my wishes.

"I made a vow…" I began, but Eli cut me off.

"You made a vow when you were what? 12 years old?"

"I was 10," I snapped. "And I thought that you respected my beliefs, but apparently I was wrong."

"Clare, I do respect you," he said, his voice sounding slightly calmer. "But I just don't understand how a promise you made when you were too young to even understand what it meant has so much of an effect on you…I can understand why you're not ready to have sex, and even why you'd want to wait for marriage, but…" He broke off.

"But what?"

He sighed. "You're just going to get mad."

I glared at him. "Like I'm so happy right now."

He took a minute before he spoke. "It's just that…I'm fine with waiting for you to be ready to have sex. It could be next week or next month or next year or your 20th birthday or even our wedding day if it comes down to it. But I didn't think that being with you would mean that we wouldn't do anything else."

I burst into tears. "So you're saying you don't want to be with me if I don't do stuff with you?"

I wasn't sure how our sexy make-out session had devolved into a screaming match but I was so frustrated I couldn't keep the anger out of my voice. Unfortunately, Clare took every word I said the wrong way. I wasn't sure how to explain to her what I was feeling.

I put my hand on her arm. "Clare, of course I want to be with you. I just don't understand what the big deal is."

She wrenched her arm away from me. "Of course, you don't understand. You don't even believe in God and you had sex when you were a freshman in high school. Maybe you were too young to understand what a big deal that was."

I had gotten into plenty of fights before, but I had never ever placed my hands on a girl in a violent way. But Clare crossed a line and I had to get up and walk across the room to make sure I didn't do something stupid that I'd never forgive myself for.

But even though my fists weren't going to get me in trouble, I wasn't able to control my mouth. "Fuck you, Clare."

Her eyes widened and filled with tears as I continued, "You think I was too young to have sex or to understand what a big deal sex is? What should we have waited for? The love of my life didn't get to live long enough to see her 15th birthday and I wouldn't trade those memories for anything."

I was expecting Clare to slap me or yell at me or do something but she just stared at me from the couch with tears streaming down her face. She stood after a minute and smoothed her skirt calmly. "You can see yourself out." She whirled around and ran up the stairs. Through the cutout in the wall, I could see her anguished face.


I could hear Clare slam her bedroom door so hard that it felt like the walls shook for a second. I sat down on the couch and rested my face in my hands.

I knew Clare and I were really different before we started dating. Back before I even admitted to myself that I had feelings for her, Adam had given me the heads up about the purity ring when he heard Alli and Drew talking about it during lunch. Obviously I wanted to have sex with her, at least eventually, but I decided that I liked her enough that it didn't matter to me if I had to go home and take care of it myself after every date. I just wanted her.

I knew Clare was upset and thought I was attacking her and that's why she lashed out about my past, but clearly this was still an issue for her. I had to make her see that sex was important to me, that it was something that I was very serious about, and something that I wanted to share with her, not because I was a horny asshole but because I cared about her. And if that didn't happen, I wouldn't care for her any less.

I waited for about ten minutes, staring at the LCD clock on the cable box. I wanted to give her some time.

I was lying on my bed, still crying, but trying to calm down when I heard Eli knock lightly on my bedroom door. "Clare," he called. "Please can we talk?"

I didn't say anything but he opened the door anyway. He sat down next to me on the bed and placed his hand on my stomach. "Oh, Clare," he whispered. "I'm so sorry."

"You shouldn't have said that."

"I know. You just hit me in exactly the wrong spot and I reacted without thinking. I'm really sorry."

He looked terrified that I wouldn't forgive him. I was upset about him cursing at me, but I was more worried about the fact that we didn't understand each other. I had my doubts that we could make this work from the beginning but we'd managed without a hitch so far. It seemed like this was coming to an end.

I put my hand on his and his eyes lit up. "So can we talk about this?" he asked.

I nodded. I didn't know where he wanted to start.

"Can I tell you about Julia?"

I nodded again, not trusting my voice. I sat up and moved so that I was facing him. Our knees touched and it felt comforting.

"You know, we haven't talked about this since that time at the steakhouse, but I wanted to apologize for that being the way you found out. I wanted to tell you, but I was afraid to bring it up."

I looked down at my bedspread. "You shouldn't be afraid to tell me things."

"I know. It's just I know this is a big area of difference between us. But I need you to know that sex is a big deal to me." I cringed a little as he said the word out loud and he gave a short laugh. "Not that I need to have it or anything. But it's not like something I would ever do casually. I mean, I've only kissed two girls in my entire life; I'm certainly not going to run out and have sex with just anyone."

Wow, I was only the second girl he kissed. I guessed that made sense, since he was pretty messed up after Julia's death and they must have been pretty young when they started dating. "So how did it happen then?"

"Well, we started dating at the very end of grade eight." I raised my eyebrows and Eli laughed. "Clare, just let me finish before you start being concerned."

"I'm sorry."

He squeezed my hand. "We spent every day together that summer. We went bike riding together and we'd go to the mall and I think we saw every single movie that came out. We'd been friends before we started dating but it felt different. Neither of us had a lot of friends before that and we didn't do a very good job of hanging on to them once we had each other so for a long time it was just her and me."

"Her dad remarried in September and when her stepmother moved in, it was like Julia didn't exist. Her father stopped paying attention to her and her stepmother was constantly berating her, telling her she was lazy and stupid and ugly. It really took its toll on her."

"Was her mom in the picture at all?"

Eli shook his head. "Her mom died when she was four."

"Oh, Eli, that sounds so awful."

"It was. She hated being home, so she started spending more and more time at my house. Bullfrog and Cece loved her. And it just made her stepmother madder and madder. On Christmas, she wanted to come over and her stepmother told her she was ruining the holiday and she slapped Julia across the face. I found out a few weeks later that hadn't been the first time."

Eli looked so sad that I pulled him into a hug. I pressed a kiss into his neck. "I know it's hard to remember this. But I want to know what she meant to you."

He pulled back but he placed his hand on my cheek and gave me the sweetest smile. I couldn't believe that 20 minutes ago we had been screaming at each other. I was starting to feel like if we just sat down and really listened to each other, we could get through anything.

"Well, after that, I talked to my parents and they agreed that Julia could move in. She had spent a bunch of random nights with us when things were really bad, so it wasn't that strange that they would say yes. So she moved in right after Christmas, and things were really great between us even if they were bad for her otherwise."

He moved around on the bed so that he was reclining against the headboard and opened up his arms. I curled up next to him and leaned back as he wrapped his arms around me.

"I want to tell you about this, but if it makes you uncomfortable, and you want me to stop, just let me know."

I squeezed his hand. I was kind of glad we had switched positions because it would be easier to hear him talk about this without having to look at him, but with his arms around me, I felt really comfortable. Even though he was talking about his ex, his embrace made me feel like he really wanted to be with me now.

"We had been together for six months at that point, and things had…progressed physically over that time. It had been one thing when she was crashing at our house because she was upset, but now that she was there all the time, I pretty much only thought about having sex with her."

I rolled my eyes. I sometimes forgot that Eli was a typical teenage boy, since he was usually so sweet with me.

"On New Years' Eve, and my parents let us have a glass of champagne and after we kissed at midnight she dragged me back up to me room and told me she wanted to have sex with me."

"So you didn't, like, plan it?"

He laughed. "Nope. I was completely floored. The only reason it even happened that night was because my parents are insane and had bought me a giant box of condoms the first day that I ever brought her home with me."

"What was it like?" I whispered. I could feel his eyes on me but I didn't want to look up to meet them.

"Are you sure you want to hear that? I mean, from me?"

I picked at the chipping polish on my thumbnail. "I don't really have anyone else I can ask. Alli's first and only experience was awful and it's not like I can talk to Jenna about it."

He was quiet for a second. "Well, the first time was really awkward. Neither of us had any clue what we were doing. It took forever to find the right angle, and then it only lasted like two minutes. But it was really emotional; afterward we were really cuddly and pathetic. And over time we got better at it and then it was more physically satisfying, at least for her." I glanced up at him and he smirked. "It was always pretty good for me."

"Did you do it a lot?" I couldn't believe I was asking him about this, but I was so curious. I pictured him and me doing it and my face turned bright red.

"Kind of." I shot him another look. "What? She was living with me; we just had lots of opportunities. I'm not an animal or anything."

He leaned down and gave me a kiss on my cheek. "Is there anything else you'd like to know?"

There was so much I wanted to know. "Did you ever have a pregnancy scare or anything?"

His silence bothered me so I turned around to look at him. "One time," he finally said. "She was like three days late and was in a full blown panic about it. My mom said it was normal and nothing to worry about, but we were both pretty freaked. She was going to buy a test but then she didn't have to."

"Why were you afraid to tell me that?"

"I wasn't afraid. It was just a few days before she died. It's hard for me to think about it."

But it seemed to me that wasn't it. "What would you have done? If she were pregnant."

He focused on a point across the room from me and didn't say anything, but his pregnant pause said enough. "Oh," I said softly.

"She would have made the decision. But I would have supported it."

I closed my eyes. And there we were again – the differences that always came between us. "I could never…"

"I know, Clare."

"I'm not like, unreasonable about it. I don't think it should be illegal or anything. It's just something I couldn't do."

He gave me a look I couldn't quite place. "Well, if I were with you and we were in that situation, I wouldn't expect that from you. I would support you in whatever decision you thought was best, whether it was adoption or raising the baby ourselves."

An image flashed in my mind of a much older Eli standing next to me at the hospital while I held our baby. "I can't believe we're talking about this."

"Well, that's a conversation you need to have before you start having sex with someone."

I blushed. "I'm not…"

Eli grabbed my left hand. "Why don't you tell me about your ring?"

Clare seemed relieved when I changed the subject, and so was I. Talking about Julia was the most draining thing for me to do, especially when I was trying to keep my sorrow in check to show Clare that I really was happy with her. She always impressed me with how understanding she was about my past, very rarely letting her jealousy over how serious Julia and I were show. I hoped she wasn't keeping it all inside, but it seemed like we had gotten through this part of the talk okay, even when abortion was mentioned which I thought would ruin everything.

"Well, when I was 10, my pastor left my church, and my parents didn't really like the replacement they found, so they started shopping around to find a new place to go. They went to the one I attend now and they really liked the service, so we started going there every week. They enrolled Darcy and me in Sunday school and we started staying after for youth group meetings."

"The thing we didn't realize was that the youth group kids were really intense. You joke about Jesus Club at school, but Friendship Club is pretty open-minded compared to these kids. To be a full fledged youth group member you had to take a vow of abstinence in front of the whole church at Sunday service. Neither Darcy or I felt that strongly about it, so we talked about quitting since the kids weren't that friendly to us, but some of the kids got their parents to talk to our parents."

Clare peered into my eyes. I guess she wanted to make sure I wasn't judging her. Even though I'm not religious, I don't have a problem with people who are, as long as they don't force their opinions on other people.

She continued, "We went to a Christian private school, but Darcy really wanted to go to Degrassi for high school since they had Power Squad and a lot more classes to choose from, and my parents knew I was probably going to go there for the gifted program in a few years. And the kids' parents kept pushing that good Christian girls got corrupted in high school and they had to put us on the right path. So eventually our parents convinced us that we should take the pledge and get more involved in youth group."

Interesting. So this whole thing didn't really even start with Clare's parents. "So that's it? Some mean kids convinced you to take a vow and now you won't have sex until marriage? Do you even believe in it? Did you even know what it meant when you took it?"

That came out a little harsher than I intended, but fortunately, Clare didn't get upset. "I didn't really know what it meant. I was the most naïve kid on the planet. Even when I got to high school, I still didn't really know very much. I had to have Conner help me break the filter on the internet so that I could know for sure what sex actually meant."

She leaned back and rested her head against my chest. "So that's how I got my abstinence ring."

"Yeah, but that's not the end of the story," I said.

"Excuse me?"

"You've explained how this piece of jewelry ended up on your finger, but you haven't explained exactly when you started believing in it. And I'm still very unclear on how you've equated sex with anything beyond kissing."

"Eli," Clare said with a pained expression on her face.

"I told you everything, Clare. I wanted you to know where I'm coming from. But I need some help here, because I still don't understand you. And if you want me to respect your beliefs without being really frustrated, I need to know."

She let out a huge sigh. "I've never told anyone about this. Not even Alli."

I gave her a curious look. What could have happened to her that was so awful she felt like she had to keep it a secret?

"It has to do with K.C.," she said quietly.

"That football player who hangs around with Adam's brother?"

"Yeah. He's my ex."

"Oh," I said. I wasn't sure how this was the first time I was I finding this out; she had alluded to having a boyfriend last year but had never mentioned his name. I had never actually talked to the guy, but I wasn't the biggest fan of Drew, and I couldn't figure out why Clare would have dated him.

"I guess it also has to do with Alli."

"Did they…?"

Clare shook her head. "Just let me finish. If you keep interrupting, I'm never going to get through this, and it's hard enough as it is."

I kept my mouth shut.

"So, Alli had this boyfriend, Johnny DeMarco. And he was a senior, and he was a nice guy when he wanted to be, but he was so embarrassed about dating a freshman that he used to ignore her in school. He wouldn't let her sit with him at lunch or get to know his friends. And you know Alli, once she wants something, she doesn't give up on it. So one day, we went to the Ravine to hang out with him."

"You went to the Ravine?" I'd heard enough stories about what went on there to know that was a place that Clare should never be.

She rolled her eyes. "I was talking about Animal Farm, not getting high and having sex in a van."

I smiled. "That sounds about right."

"But Alli didn't want to leave and she wanted to prove something to Johnny, that she wasn't just a niner geek. So she slept with him. And like I said before, it was awful for her. She wasn't ready and she just did it for him and she really regretted it. But they talked it over and he said he was fine with waiting for it to happen again so they stayed together."

"What does this have to do with you and K.C.?" I asked. Clare didn't have sex with him, did she? I could feel my fists clench up at that though of that.

She put her hand on my wrist. "Patience, baby. So anyway, they kept dating for a few months, but his behavior never changed. He never wanted to double with me and K.C. after we got together, and he snuck around with her but never wanted to make their relationship public. To keep him interested, she started sexting him."

"Wow." Sometimes I wondered how Clare and Alli ever managed to stay friends. They were total opposites and Alli was kind of annoying, anyway.

"Once he was receiving sexy pictures on a regular basis, he started acting more boyfriendy. But soon after, they had another fight about how much of their relationship other people should know about and they broke up. And while she was having lunch with me and K.C., she started ranting about their relationship and how he treated her so badly and how she was such an idiot for having sex with him."

I was starting to see where this was going. "And he started pressuring you for sex?"

"Sort of. I think what happened is Alli didn't mention that it was one time and horrible and K.C. must have assumed they had been sleeping together for months. And I guess he was jealous or felt competitive, because he had never even brought it up with me before."

An alarming thought entered my mind. "He didn't…?"

"No!" Clare said. "He's a jerk, but he's not a rapist. We just weren't on the same page about things."

I left out a sigh of relief and tried to relax, but this whole conversation was really unsettling. I couldn't figure out how the Clare who dated K.C. was the same girl I was dating.

"You have to understand that we didn't get to see each other that much outside of school. You know my parents, and even though I didn't tell them we were dating, they were still strict about him coming over alone to do homework. And his group home was also had a lot of rules about when he could go out. I was only allowed in his room there if the door was open, though he snuck me in a few times. So it wasn't like we had a lot of opportunity to do stuff."

Group home? Wow, Clare really knew how to pick boyfriends. I still couldn't believe she wanted to be with me, but I guess she had a thing for boys who were just a little bit bad.

She cleared her throat nervously. "Before that point, we kind of had an unspoken agreement that as long as you stayed above the clothes, you could put your hands wherever you wanted."

I raised my eyebrows. Was my sweet, innocent Clare telling me she would put her hands on him through his pants? The thought made me want to both throw up and find K.C. and punch him in the face, since I was so revolted and jealous at the same time.

"But after he found about Alli, he changed. I guess because I didn't call her a slut or something for sleeping with Johnny, he must have thought I'd be interested in doing more, so he got a little more aggressive. I didn't want to disappoint him and I liked the way it felt, so I let him feel me under my shirt as long as he didn't try to take it off."

Clare's face had turned bright red at this point. I gave her a quick kiss on her temple and then her neck. "You don't have to be embarrassed."

"I just can't believe I'm telling you this."

"Clare." I held her face in my hands and forced her to look into my eyes. "You can tell me anything. I'm not going to think any differently about you. If anything, my opinion can only improve, since I'm going to understand you better."

"Okay," she said in a small, tentative voice. "But I don't think I can tell you this next part if you're looking at me."

She did sleep with him. Oh my God, she slept with him, and she's been hiding it from me. My stomach churned. No, this was Clare. She wouldn't do that, but if she did, I needed to step up and be understanding like she was for me.

I lay down against her pillow and she followed my lead. We both stared at the ceiling as she spoke. "The last time we were really together was our four month anniversary. He had gotten permission to stay out a little late, and my parents had tickets to a play so they weren't going to be home. I cooked him dinner and he brought ice cream with him and afterwards, we went up to my room."

She took a deep breath. "It was really intense and when he put his hand up my skirt, I didn't stop him. I had never tried to…you know…by myself and Alli had told me it was great when Johnny did that to her, so I was really curious. And I don't know if it was because he had no idea what he was doing or if it was because I was so nervous, but it didn't feel good at all. I let him do it for a few minutes, but I finally asked him to stop because it was so uncomfortable."

I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye and saw a tear leaking down her cheek, toward her ear. I grabbed her hand. "I thought we would stop but then he unzipped his pants and he pulled out his… The second I saw it I knew that we had gone too far and that I wasn't ready and I asked him to stop and get dressed and I could tell he was really annoyed. I don't know if it was because he thought I owed it to him since he had done that to me or what but he left a few minutes later, really angry."

I had to swallow my sigh of relief that she didn't sleep with him, because Clare looked totally miserable. I rolled over onto my side and kissed her tear-streaked cheek, as I pulled her closer to me. "I wrote him this really long email," she said, "explaining that I really cared about him and that I wasn't ready and that I wanted to go back to what we had been doing. He never responded. A week later, he was flirting with Jenna right in my face and we broke up the very next day."

"He's an asshole, Clare. He doesn't deserve you."

She looked at me. "I wasn't in love with him or anything but he was my first boyfriend and my first kiss and I was devastated. When we broke up he said it was because we were fighting all the time, but we weren't. That was the first time, and then at the carwash when he was flirting with Jenna. And it hurt so much that I decided I wasn't going to do that again. I wasn't going to let myself get physical with a guy only to have him break my heart. If I'm going to have sex with someone it's going to be with someone I'm going to spend the rest of my life with. As for the rest of it…I just don't ever want to feel like that again."

"We're not that different in that respect," I said, running my finger over her stomach lightly.

"What do you mean?"

"I know you'll think I'm crazy because we were so young, but I loved Julia and part of me really thought we'd be together forever. And that's a large part of the reason that I slept with her, even though we were pretty young. And obviously that's not how things worked out, and who knows what would have happened to us if she hadn't died, but that's how I felt about her."

Clare turned over on her side and put her hand on my hip. "Do you think you could ever feel like that about me?" she whispered.

Her sweet blue eyes met mind and I hoped it wasn't too soon to tell her the truth. "Part of me already does."

A pleased smile appeared on her face. "We haven't been together for very long, but I already feel like I trust you more than I ever trusted K.C. It scares me a little. I'm afraid of getting hurt again."

"I would never hurt you the way that he did. I can't promise everything is going to be perfect, but I'm not going to leave you for another girl. You're the only girl I want in my life." Her face softened but I knew it wasn't quite enough to convince her. "And if and when you feel comfortable getting more physical with me, I promise it will be all about you. I just want to make you feel good; that's all I need. And I'll wait, no questions asked, for any of it."

Clare flexed her fingers against my hip and my eyes fluttered closed for a second. "It feels so good when you kiss me. I'm just scared I'm going to do something I regret."

"Can I remind you that I'm the guy who turned away my beautiful girlfriend when she showed up on my doorstep and asked to spend the night? I'm not going to push you. I have a lot of willpower."

"You only said no because you didn't want me to see your room."

"Is that what you think? Clare, I was an asshole about it because I didn't want you to see my room. But my room could have been immaculate and I wouldn't have slept with you that night. I would have brought you inside and spent more time talking to you about why I felt that way. But I would never have taken advantage of you like that."

She looked relieved. "I probably wouldn't have gone through with it anyway."

I smiled. "Probably not. So are we okay now?"

She didn't answer but her lips met mine and all was right in the world.

It felt like the night had come full-circle. I was back in Eli's arms and something about our conversation had made our kisses even more intense. I don't know if I just stopped holding myself back, setting aside my fears about rejection, or if I realized that I trusted him not to cross any boundaries for his own interest.

His hands were tracing leisurely circles all over my back, and my body arched into his, trying to get as close to him as possible. I tangled my legs in his, pulled him slightly on top of me, as I moved my thigh against him.

He groaned and buried his face in my neck. "Clare," he moaned. "I don't want to push you but I really want to…" I interrupted him by moving his hand directly onto my breast. He didn't squeeze it like K.C. always did; he cupped it gently and then traced its outline with two fingers, dragging them down my waist. I liked that he didn't take my permission as the final destination, as his hands glided from my hips to my back and over my stomach in addition to caressing my breasts. His lips trailed down my neck, straying slightly past the border of my scoop neck top, and I really wished I could remove it.

Just because I trusted Eli didn't mean I had to do everything tonight, though. We had only been together for a few months, and I wanted to leave some things for us to look forward to.

But Eli had been so sweet. I really believed that he wanted to make things special for me, unlike K.C., who was only out for himself. I wanted to do something for him that would show him just how much I wanted to be with him.

I had seen the look on Eli's face when I had alluded to touching K.C. when we were together, his green eyes full of envy. My hand trailed down his body, making the journey from where it had rested against his chest down to where I could feel his hardness through his jeans.

He grabbed my wrist. "Clare, you don't have to…" he said in a strangled voice.

"Well my rule is we can touch anywhere we want to as long as it's over our clothes," I said, using a sexier voice than I even knew I possessed, as I put my hand back on him. "So unless this breaks one of your rules…"

His tongue was back in my mouth before I could finish my sentence and I moaned. His hands were everywhere and he thrust his hips against me so fast I thought I was going to explode. "Some day, Clare Edwards," he said, ripping his lips from mine. "I am going to make you mine."

My light-headed brain wanted to respond that he didn't have to wait, but I had just enough sense left to tell him the truth. "I can't wait."

As we kissed again, I realized that we were both wrong. We hadn't made the ultimate physical commitment but it didn't matter. He already had me.