DISCLAIMER: I don't own Degrassi or the Magnetic Fields. Well I do own some of their CDs. And you should too.
This story is dedicated to ZephyrHearts who requested a sweet Christmas fic where Eli gives Clare a present. Hope you like it.
Also, I had to play with the Degrassi timeline a bit (but since Degrassi always plays with their own timeline in odd ways I don't feel so bad). I didn't want to wait until Christmas 2011 to set this, so for the sake of this fic, Clare and Eli met in September, Vegas Night was mid-October, the hoarding reveal was the beginning of November, and now it's Christmas.
For updates or the oddest conversations you'll ever have, I'm on Twitter: themusiksnob. I have also made a tumblr where I'll post tips for writing good fics: musiksnob.
"Clare Bear, wake up," my dad called as he opened the door to my room. I could smell pancakes wafting up from the kitchen and my heart leapt when I realized it was Christmas Day.
But when I opened my eyes, I remembered. This wasn't how Christmas was supposed to be at all.
"Get up, get up, get up," Dad sing-songed. He shook my feet through the heavy comforter. "I can't believe I had to wake you up on Christmas morning. You're usually the one waking me and…waking me up."
"I was up late last night. Just give me a minute." I was Skyping with Eli from my parents' computer and despite my protestations that I needed to get to bed, he sweet-talked me into staying up and talking to him. I stretched my arms over my head and tried to sit up.
"Don't be too long; the pancakes will get cold," Dad said as he closed the door behind him.
My family usually spent most of Christmas Eve in church. My mom and I would sing in the choir at the 4:00 service, and then we'd all come home and eat dinner together, then sit together as a family in the pew for the 8:00 service. Afterward, we'd stay for a Christmas Carol sing-along until close to midnight, when we'd go home and go to bed to wake up early for presents and pancakes in the morning.
This year wasn't the same. I went to the 4:00 service but I sat by myself and watched my mom sing with the choir, since I had given that up earlier this year. She had a lovely solo, but it didn't fill the emptiness I felt without Darcy and Dad there. Darcy had flown home from Kenya last year, but she said she couldn't get off work long enough to come this year. I had a feeling she just didn't want to face the reality of our parents' divorce.
After that, Mom and I had a practically silent dinner, and then she dropped me back at church. I sat with Dad this time, but we didn't stay for the sing-along. He brought me back to the condo, which I hadn't been to before.
I stayed in Mom's room, which felt really weird. She lived here half the time, but she didn't really do anything to the room to make it feel like home. Her clothes were in the closet and there was a picture of me and Darcy on the nightstand but otherwise, it felt like a hotel room. For the first time, I felt a twinge of regret at my parents' living arrangements. I knew it was temporary, until I went off to college, but they were making a big sacrifice, putting their lives on hold to keep me in the house and happy.
I rolled out of bed and looked in the mirror. I decided to just keep my pajamas on, since I was really hungry, and it was Christmas morning anyway. Usually we opened our presents before breakfast, but I guess with just Dad and me there was no point in opening our two presents each on an empty stomach.
Breakfast with Dad. Dinner with Mom and Grandma. It wasn't exactly the huge get-togethers of the past with cousins and family friends and Uncle Jack wearing a Santa suit and piles of presents. But neither side of the family felt comfortable coming this year, and I had to say I didn't blame them.
I joined Dad at the small kitchen table. There was a massive pile of pancakes on a platter, way too much for the two of us to eat, and I grabbed three off the top and placed them on my plate. There was a third place setting at the table that was making me really uncomfortable.
Did Dad forget Mom wasn't here?
Does he have a new girlfriend that I don't know about?
I tried to cover my gasp but my father glanced at me, pausing as he spread butter over his pancake. "Everything okay, Clare?"
"Yeah, everything's fine," I choked out. "I just forgot to email Eli this article I read yesterday and I need to make sure I send it later."
Dad raised his eyebrows. "Must be a very interesting article." He glanced at his watch.
Is he waiting for something? Is he going to have to go into work on Christmas? My dad and I got along really well, but it was hard to ignore the impact his increasingly workaholic lifestyle had on our family. I bet it's someone from work, his new girlfriend. I can't believe he's going to introduce me to her on Christmas of all days.
The doorbell rang and I jumped. Seriously? On Christmas?
"Why don't you get that?" Dad suggested.
Are you kidding me? He wants me to answer the door for his new slutty girlfriend who's coming to ruin not only my family but my favorite holiday? "It's not for me. No one who cares about me would know to find me here."
Dad gave me a confused look. "Okay, I'll get the door, then."
I could hear him talking to the person in hushed whispers. "Clare," Dad stuck his head through the doorway to the kitchen. "Look who I found."
Eli walked in with the hugest smile on his face.
"What are you doing here?" I jumped out of my seat and wrapped my arms around him.
"I'll give you a minute to talk," Dad said as he left the room.
"I knew you were having trouble dealing with having two separate Christmases this year, so I talked to your parents and they agreed that it might be a little bit easier for you if I were with you, especially since Darcy couldn't make it back this year."
"But it's Christmas…you should be with your family."
He gave me a confused look. "Uh…they're Jewish." I furrowed my eyebrows and Eli laughed. "Seriously, the name Goldsworthy wasn't a tip off?"
"But I was at your house during Hanukkah and you didn't have a menorah or anything."
"Hanukkah's really not that big of a deal. It's mostly something parents do for little kids. Once I informed my parents I was not having a bar mitzvah, we sort of gave up on the whole thing."
"But then why would you want to celebrate Christmas with me?" I asked. I couldn't believe Eli had never told me this. It didn't matter to me obviously; if I had accepted him in spite of the fact that he was an atheist, I certainly didn't have a problem with his parents being somewhat lapsed in their Jewish faith either.
"Well, if I'm going to pick a holiday to celebrate secularly, I'm going to pick the one with the pretty girl and twinkly lights," he joked, tickling my side a little.
"You realize this means you're going to hang out with my parents…all day. Including my grandmother, who's pretty cool normally but isn't exactly thrilled with my parents' divorce."
"You know, Clare, you take an awful long time to get ready when I come to pick you up. I have had several conversations with your parents. If today goes well, they might even like me."
"Don't get your hopes up," I teased. I pulled him back into my arms and gave him a quick kiss.
He grinned. "Nice PJs."
I blushed. The condo was in an old building and they had radiator heating which made the rooms really hot, so I was just wearing a blue tank top over my large pajama pants that were covered in cows and clouds. "Oh my God, I'm not wearing a bra," I shrieked, crossing my arms over my chest.
He leaned closer to my ear. "Oh, I noticed." My face burned as his fingers crept up my side.
Unfortunately, Dad picked that exact moment to walk back into the kitchen. Eli removed his hand from my body like it was on fire, but Dad didn't seem to notice. "Sit down, Eli; have some pancakes."
I guessed there was a reason Dad had made so many pancakes because Eli took half the stack for himself and slathered them in maple syrup. "I'm sorry I was late, Mr. Edwards," Eli said. "It was so cold last night, I couldn't get Morty started this morning. I had to wait for my mom to get back from the convenience store so I could borrow her car."
"That's okay, Eli. We're just glad you could make it."
I beamed at my father. I couldn't believe that he was finally going to accept Eli. After that disastrous dinner where I screwed everything up, I was convinced my parents would never give Eli another chance.
We made small talk while we finished eating and it was awkward but not as bad as I expected. Dad asked about Eli's finals and Eli asked how a case they had apparently discussed a few weeks ago turned out. I was so pleased that I barely talked. I excused myself so I could take a quick shower and change into some real clothes. Eli squeezed my knee under the table when I mentioned showering, and I blushed but fortunately my dad didn't notice.
When I came back a few minutes later, freshly showered and wearing a green Christmas sweater over a pair of dark jeans, Eli and my dad were in the living room. Eli was flipping through a box of my dad's old records.
"This is so classic," Eli said, pulling out Abbey Road. "I've got the CD, but I'd love to have this on vinyl."
"Have you ever gone to Rotate This?" Dad asked. "They've got tons of old vinyl. I've picked up a few things there over the years, but most of these I inherited from my older brother when he moved out of my parents' house."
"I love that place," Eli said. "My dad and I go there sometimes. He's always digging through the archive room at the radio station when he's offshift and then he tries to track down the best records for his own collection."
"I'm not a big rock person myself, but their jazz collection is amazing. And Helen's really into classical…" Dad cut off and I frowned. It was the first time I'd heard him mention Mom since they had separated. "Anyway, should we open presents?"
I looked under the tree and like I suspected there were only about four packages. "Oh, Eli, I didn't know you were going to be here so I have your present at home."
He sat down on the couch with me and put his arm around my shoulders. "We can exchange gifts later."
Dad placed two presents on my lap and handed Eli and me each an envelope. "Sorry it's not too exciting this year. It's much harder now that you're older." I was sure the fact that Mom usually handled the Christmas shopping might have also had something to do with it.
Eli moved to open his envelope but I placed my hand on his arm. "Youngest goes first."
He laughed. "I bet you like that rule."
Dad chuckled. "She liked it a lot more before her older cousins started having babies."
I shot him a look. "I was first for twelve years. Now I'm fourth and it's only going to get worse."
Eli poked me. "Get going then."
I opened up the larger package to reveal a kind of ugly sweater. "Oh thanks Dad," I said, trying to keep my tone even.
"The gift receipt is in there if you don't like it."
"Oh, no it's great, thanks." But I probably would end up returning it anyway.
The other box was CD shaped and I knew whatever it was, it wasn't going to be good. "Mariah Carey's new Christmas album…oh that's great, Dad."
He grinned. "I remembered how you and Darcy used to dance around the house to that one song while you decorated the tree."
Eli couldn't contain his laughter and I slapped him lightly on the arm. "I was young," I explained.
"Well, I think the last gift will be more to your liking," Dad said. I opened up the envelope to reveal a sappy Christmas card with a long handwritten note inside. And a very large check.
"Put that in your savings account. Start saving up for a car or for college or for something big. I didn't know what to get you." He laughed as my eyes bulged. My parents had never skimped on Christmas for us, but even so, this was unexpected. I hoped my dad wasn't trying to make up for the divorce with large checks, but he seemed sincere, so I jumped up and gave him a hug.
"Read the note later, okay, Clare Bear."
I sat down next to Eli and poked him. "Now it's your turn."
His card contained a $50 bill, and a much shorter note. "Take my princess out for a nice dinner," Eli read. "Thanks, Mr. Edwards."
I reached under the tree. In addition to the two packages I had left there for Dad there was one I hadn't noticed.
I handed Dad the pile and he opened the top package. "Wow, Bird on 52nd Street. I don't have this one." He flipped over the record, and looked at the track listing. "Thanks, Eli."
"You're welcome. I asked Bullfrog which one he'd recommend and he suggested that one since you'd probably have most of his studio recordings. This one is a little weird because even though it's remastered it still has a lot of sound flaws but the songs are amazing, he said."
"I didn't know your dad was such a jazz fan," Dad remarked. "We'll have to have them over for dinner one night."
I squeezed Eli's hand as Dad opened up the sweater and tie I had given him. They weren't very exciting presents, but that was pretty much what I always gave him.
Eli glanced at his watch. "Mr. Edwards, can I check something on your computer really fast?" Without waiting for an answer, he jumped up and grabbed the laptop from the end table. He turned the computer away from me so I couldn't see what he was doing.
He typed for a short while and then pulled my headphones out of the jack. A familiar voice came blaring out of the speakers. "So you're Eli? Clare was right when she said how cute you were."
"Darcy!" I grabbed the laptop from Eli. "How are you?"
"I'm good. Merry Christmas, baby sister."
A tear leaked out of my eye. "Merry Christmas, Darcy. How were you able to get on Skype? I thought you were off for the holiday."
"Well a certain boyfriend of yours sent me an email and suggested that I spend my Christmas night trekking all the way back to the office so I could talk to my baby sister. I just finished up with Mom; are you with Dad now?"
"Hey, Darce," Dad called from across the room.
"Is it safe for you to be there now?" Darcy typically lived out in remote villages and was only able to work in the main headquarters for a few weeks to be there.
"Yeah, Michael drove me."
"Who's Michael?" I asked.
"I will send you an email and tell you all about that. Anyway, I just wanted to see your face and let you know I love you."
"I love you too, Darce. Let me give you Dad."
I handed Dad the laptop and he took it into the kitchen. I turned to Eli. "You did this all for me?"
"Anything for you, Clare." I kissed him and our kiss got a little bit heated before my dad walked back in, clearing his throat. I blushed and Eli tightened his arm around me, as if he weren't embarrassed that my dad saw us kissing.
"I hate to say this, Clare, but your mom's going to be upset if I keep you any longer."
We said goodbye and bundled ourselves up before heading out to Eli's mom's car. My dad's condo was all the way across the city and with a light layer of snow dusting the ground it was taking a while to get back. When we were a few minutes from my mother's house, Eli pulled over into a spot near the Dot. "I think they're closed. Don't worry. My mom will have a pot of coffee brewing."
He left the car running. "I just wanted to give you your present. And not in front of your parents."
I could feel my cheeks flush in spite of the cold. "Did you get me something…inappropriate?"
Eli raised his eyebrows. "God, Clare, if you only knew the things I want to do to you when you say stuff like that…"
He caught my gaze and the intensity in his eyes made me a little uncomfortable…or a little turned on.
I looked away and took a deep breath. This was not the time to be having dirty thoughts about my boyfriend. "So what did you get me then?"
He handed me a small box, a little larger than a CD case and deeper. I unwrapped the slightly mangled paper – he had clearly wrapped it himself – and raised the lid. There was a bracelet that mirrored his guitar pick necklace, with the same metal links and a slightly small pick. "I know how much you like it when we have matching jewelry," he joked.
I wasn't that big into guitars. I mean, I didn't play or anything. But I loved that necklace on him. When we'd snuggle together watching a movie, I'd always reach up and run my fingers along it. It was a really sweet gesture. "Thanks, baby, I love it."
"There's more," he said, pointing at the box. I lifted a piece of tissue paper and saw there was an unmarked CD.
I gave him a curious look but he didn't reveal anything. "Can I?" I gestured to the CD player in his car. He cringed a little but nodded.
The song that played sounded like it wasn't recorded professionally, but my breath hitched as I heard the mellow chords of an acoustic guitar followed by a beautiful tenor voice.
The book of love is long and boring
No one can lift the damn thing
It's full of charts and facts and figures
And instructions for dancing but
I...I love it when you read to me and
You...You can read me anything
"Is this you?" I asked Eli. He nodded without meeting my eyes.
The book of love has music in it
In fact that's where music comes from
Some of it is just transcendental
Some of it is just really dumb but
I...I love it when you sing to me and
You...You can sing me anything
The book of love is long and boring
And written very long ago
It's full of flowers and heart-shaped boxes
And things we're all too young to know but
I...I love it when you give me things and
You...You ought to give me something.
I grabbed onto his hand. "Eli, that's the most beautiful song I've ever heard."
He looked pleased but admitted. "I didn't write it or anything. It's by the Magnetic Fields."
"I didn't know you could sing…or play guitar."
"I'm a little out of practice. I haven't played since…you know. I actually just unearthed my guitar from underneath a pile of newspapers three weeks ago."
"You're really talented." I unclipped my seat belt and threw my arms around him.
He seemed to relax a little and I wasn't sure why he was so worried. "Did you think I wasn't going to like this?" I whispered.
"Yeah…I mean, I'm not that good and it's kind of cheesy to sing your girlfriend a song for Christmas. Plus I was afraid it was a little much. The last line of the song is really 'You ought to give me wedding rings' and I changed it because I didn't want to freak you out."
"Well, I thought it was beautiful."
"Not as beautiful as you." His voice was gravely in my ear and I shuddered. He must have noticed because the next thing I knew, his lips were on mine and we were kissing with a passion I'd never experienced before. Minutes later I had climbed over the center console and was straddling his lap, wedged between him and the steering wheel. His hands were everywhere and I knew I'd have to straighten my clothes and my hair before we entered Mom's house because she would think what we did was much worse than what actually was happening.
With a slight groan, he tore his lips from mine. "Your mom is going to worry if we don't get there soon."
I rested my forehead against his. "I know. I just don't want to stop."
"Welcome to my world," Eli grinned.
I moved to climb back over to my seat, but Eli tightened his arms around my waist. "Clare," he whispered, his voice laced with emotion. "I love you."
He had never said that to me before and I hadn't realized just how much I was dying to hear it. "I love you, too."
He grinned and he kissed me again and I realized that thanks to Eli, this was going to be one Christmas I'd never forget.