Author's Note: Final chapter. Very hard to write. I have grown attached to this story, but it was tough to end it the way I wanted. I really cannot write endings. Listening to the Princess & The Frog soundtrack helped get me through this, though. And putting "Son of a Preacher Man" & "Wild Wild West" by the Escape Club on repeat. Seriously.
Dedicated to the Snob, without whom this fic would not exist in the first place =) Mucho love for you!
Anyway…here you go! Enjoy! (?)
I don't own Degrassi. Nor do I own any of the songs used in this chapter, although I did make up a lot of the band names (like Honest Kitchen, but in all honesty, give it a few years and I'm sure we'll be hearing them on Sirius Alt Nation's Most Downloaded). And Alex Guthrie belongs to Musik Snob, so don't use her without Snob's permission.
"Try that," Eli said.
Clare took Jenna's guitar from him and awkwardly settled it on her lap. No matter how many times she tried to re-position it, it still felt cumbersome and uncomfortable, and she couldn't seem to make her body mold into the instrument's curves the same way that Eli and Jenna could.
Eli took her fingers and shaped them around the guitar strings like putty. "Now remember," he told her, "keep your fingers on this fret"- he moved her fingers up the fret board- "and strike this string, and then move your fingers down to this string."
Clare nodded, but when she looked down at her own fingers, she couldn't seem to make them strike the same notes like Eli and Jenna did. Both of them had long, thin, graceful fingers, while hers were shorter and stockier. She struck the chord, and winced at the discordant buzz it made.
"You need to lift your hands more, Clare-Bear," Jenna pointed out. "Really curl your wrist around the fret board."
"It should hurt your wrist more," Eli added.
She smirked at him. "I'm not the masochistic one."
Jenna took the guitar from her. "Here," she demonstrated. "Try lifting your wrist like this." She picked the same chord, and this time, there was a crisp, clear strike of precision.
K.C. grinned at Clare. "Don't feel bad," he told her. "When she first taught me how to play, I had to ice my wrist, it hurt so much."
She nodded. "It is definitely a lot harder than it looks."
Jenna caught her eyes over the guitar, and both girls smiled at one another knowingly.
"That's what he said," the simultaneously intoned.
K.C. looked dumbfounded. Eli laughed.
"Déjà vu," Alli giggled, taking the guitar from Jenna. "let me try."
Settling the guitar across her lap, she began to strum absentmindedly, the same chord that Clare and Jenna had strummed, then strung a few more notes onto the end.
She glanced up at Clare. "Recognize that?" she asked, playing it again.
Clare closed her eyes, listening to the notes. " 'House of the Rising Sun'," she recognized.
"I didn't know you played guitar," K.C. said to Alli.
"I don't, really," she replied. "I just play a few chords."
She paused a moment. "After Sav died," she said, clearing her throat the tiniest bit, "I took his guitar and put it in my room. It was, like, the closest thing I had to remembering him, you know? I mean, his guitar was his other arm, basically. So I kept it with me. And after awhile, I just started picking it up, and picking at it."
They nodded, looking everywhere but directly at her. After Alli's moment in the kitchen earlier that day, they seemed to have finally settled on some tenuous peace, reaching a level of ease that seemed to dissipate the dark cloud that had hung over all of them like a fog for the first part of the weekend.
It wasn't as if any of them were forgetting the whole reason behind the cloud, though. It was more like they had finally aired out everything there was to air out, and with everything exposed the way it was, they were finally able to put the worst of the angst and sadness behind them, and take that much more of a step towards moving on.
Alli still behaved almost like a sick patient version of herself- reserving her energy and natural exuberance instead of flinging it around like she normally did- but the tense quiet to her that Clare had been sensing all weekend long seemed to finally have lifted. She sat cross-legged on the ground with Jenna's guitar in her lap, running her fingers over the fret board as she inexpertly strummed out a few clumsy chords, before giggling to herself at her efforts and handing the guitar back to Jenna.
Eli gestured for her to hand the guitar to him. "May I?"
Jenna nodded. Giving Clare a sweet, apologetic look, she rolled her eyes and pretended to huff off from her position on his lap, joining Alli on the ground.
Eli took a moment to play a bit of a newborn tune, his face still and meditative as his fingers skipped melodies across the hollow belly of the guitar, before striking a more prominent chord and playing a tune that Clare half-recognized from a CD he had.
"She never mentions the word addiction," he began, "in certain company. And she tells you she's an orphan, after you meet her family…"
Alli rested her head her knees, closing her eyes. Clare saw K.C.'s eyes light up in recognition, and was surprised when she saw him muttering the lyrics under his breath along with Eli.
When he had finished the song and everyone politely clapped, K.C. said, "Dude, where did you learn the Black Crowes?"
"My mom's a big fan," he replied. "She used to keep this album in her car and play it all the time."
"No way," K.C. said. "My mom loves them, too. Weird."
Alli leaned closer to Clare. "Looks like the boys are actually bonding," she whispered with a smile. "You ever thought you'd see the day?"
Clare grinned back. "Weirder stuff has happened," she pointed out, her eyes on Jenna.
Beside her, Adam scrambled off the ground.
"So as much as I love our little kumbaya circle we've got," he announced, "I'm starving. Anyone else wanna start dinner?"
While K.C. and Jenna began washing and chopping the veggies for the salad, Alli put a pot of boiling water on the stove, and Clare began setting the table. Meanwhile, Adam pulled out his iPod and settled it on Alli's dock, scrolling through his library.
Eli began bobbing his head as "Little Lion Man" began to spill into the kitchen.
K.C. craned his neck and laughed.
"How is it that you and I went so long without comparing music taste?" he said. "I didn't know you liked anything that wasn't, like, hardcore-emo- death-metal-whatever. Or is that just for shock value only?"
"Combined with the hearse, it's a mighty effective people repellant," Eli joked back. "Naw, I like a lot of stuff most people don't know about. My dad's a disc jockey and my mom's dad is a record collector, so I have pretty weird taste."
"No way. What station does your dad work for?"
"Solid Rock 98. You know Bullfrog? That's him."
K.C's eyes widened. "No way? THAT'S your dad? Weird. I listen to that station every day. He's hilarious."
Eli smiled. "He'll appreciate the compliment."
"Dude, I really wanna look through your iTunes library right now. See how much we have in common."
"I'll go get it. It's upstairs."
Both boys turned and headed up the stairs, leaving a trail of astonishment in their wake.
"Can you believe that?" Alli asked. "I think we might have a bromance going on."
Jenna snickered. Clare laughed, then caught Adam's eye. His expression was blank, but he had a hurt look in his eyes that she saw sometimes when he hung out with her and Eli. She knew being the third wheel was a sensitive topic for Adam, and while they had more or less worked things out between the three of them so he wouldn't feel left out when they spent time together, they could never really predict when he would get into a weird mood about it. He was a touchy thing with him, and his moods tended to go up and down about it without warning.
A moment later, when they clattered back down the stairs, iPods in hand.
"This is so weird," K.C. was muttering. "I can't believe you like The Punknecks. I thought nobody knew who they were."
"I saw them at a festival a while back," Eli said with a shrug. "They're pretty cool."
"Was that the same festival Pageant Fury played at?" K.C. asked. "Cause if so, I think I might have been there. The one at the fairgrounds last summer?"
"Yeah, my dad's radio station was one of the sponsors."
"Oh, that one," Adam cut in loudly. "I remember that one. You and I went there and both spent the entire time drooling over that one singer with the blue and silver hair. She was hot."
Eli nodded, still flipping through K.C.'s iPod.
Clare watched Adam's face fall and tighten, his eyes flashing.
"Excuse me?" she said, clearing her throat and staring pointedly at Eli. "'Drooling'?"
"I remember her," K.C. replied. "The Honor Kitchen. That band was awesome. I bought their album."
Alli snorted. "Honor Kitchen? Really? Why not just call them Justice Mudroom? Honestly, where do people come up with these names? Like, who decides to name their band Honor Kitchen?"
Clare rolled her eyes. "I think we officially reached the point of no return with the Butthole Surfers," she said.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Adam's lips twitch into a smile.
"This is coming from a girl who loves a band called Camera Obscura," Eli taunted.
"Oh, come on," Jenna piped up. "That's not nearly as bad."
"You're one to talk music," K.C. laughed. "If it wasn't for me, Alex would be a Bieber fangirl."
Eli gasped in mock-horror.
"It's true," K.C. said. "She won't let me turn off the TV when Justin Bieber comes on. She points at the TV and gets all excited. I'm working on training that out of her."
"He dances around his kitchen to 'King of the Rodeo' with her," Jenna replied drily. "It's really funny. I ought to post a video on Facerange. And he'll sing her to sleep with Bruce Springsteen."
"It's called being a good daddy," he argued. "Damn it, my baby will NOT be a Belieber."
Clare smirked. "Cute."
"Hey," Alli pointed out, "all things considered, she probably thinks she's watching Daddy on TV."
Everyone roared with laughter at that comment, including Adam, who let out a particularly loud guffaw as K.C. flushed and gave Alli a look.
You're the cutest thing that I ever did see
I really love your peaches
Want to shake your tree
Lovey dovey, lovey dovey, lovey dovey all the time
Ooh wee baby, I sure show you a good time
The music blared from the loudspeakers of Alli's iPod dock. Clare and Jenna sang along, Clare in a reserved alto and Jenna with her typical bubbly gusto. K.C. snaked his arms around her waist and tickled her ear with his lips, making her shriek and giggle as she squirmed away from him, and he tugged her into his arms to twirl her on the kitchen floor in her bare feet.
Cause I'm a picker
I'm a grinner
I'm a lover
And I'm a sinner
I play in the midnight sun
Beside her, Adam was stirring the pasta, bobbing his head and mumbling the words in a low voice under his breath, not trusting his voice to stay level if he kicked it up a notch. As comfortable he was around everybody in the room and as much as they all accepted his transsexuality, there were some insecurities that friendship couldn't just melt away. But he stirred the pasta keeping time to the beat and sang along nonetheless. It was the kind of thing he just couldn't NOT bounce along to.
I'm a joker
I'm a smoker
I'm a midnight toker
I sure don't want to hurt no one
Even Eli, with a "what the hell" little half-smile toying with the corners of his lips, sang along and drummed his fingers in rhythm as he grabbed everyone drinks, keeping one eye on the sauce as it simmered in the pan on the stovetop. He didn't go around advertising that he enjoyed this song, but hey- they couldn't exactly blackmail him.
People keep talking about me baby
They say I'm doin you wrong
Well don't you worry, don't worry, no don't worry mama
Cause I'm right here at home
And all the while, Alli chopped the loaf of Italian bread, listening to the music. She watched K.C. dip Jenna; Eli dab some sauce on the end of Clare's nose with the spoon before she grinned and stood on tiptoe, tilting her head up for a kiss; Adam air-guitaring and singing into the slotted stirring spoon. She paused a moment to take in the scene.
These people. Her friends. Another family to her, in a way. They had been there for her when her own hadn't, been a shoulder to lean on when they weren't, and were there to talk to when she couldn't imagine ever doing the same with her actual parents. However close or distant their connections were, they had seen her through the hardest times in her life.
She watched each of these people surrounding her, remembering where they were and where they had been once upon a time, and tried to connect the people they had been to the ones twirling on the floor before her. Hard as she tried, it was hard to make the images come full circle: of her, Clare, and K.C. as niners, long-haired and chubby and awkward; Jenna, sunny and slightly treacherous; Adam, guarded and fierce; Eli, both shrouded and vibrant, a paradox all at once.
So much had happened since then. Everything that had happened to their lives since that had affected each of them in ways they would never understand, and each moment that had passed them- no matter if it had been noticed or not- had created a new pattern in their design. Since the moment that they had all been introduced to each other's lives and their individual fabrics beginning to intertwine and map out new peaks and valleys of a different pattern. They had all been changed in ways both infinitesimal and irreversible.
Her brother had died, and this moment- Adam straining the spaghetti, K.C. sipping his beer, Jenna dancing barefoot, Clare leaning on Eli's chest as she tasted the pasta sauce- had come at the price of his life. This was the fabric that had been created in his absence, their lives weaving and intersecting to come to this time in place right now.
Across the kitchen, Clare motioned for her.
"Come try this pasta sauce," she urged. "It's not too spicy, is it?"
And with a wistful smile on her face, Alli joined her friends and left her brother in her memories-if only for this moment.
The shadow in her life had, however briefly, been lifted.
In the kitchen of Clare's grandmother's lake house, deep in the flourishing Canadian woods, just thawing from a cold, harsh winter, each of the young people danced to a rhythm that came from deep inside of them. They might have each been doing alternating melodies- some vibrant, some shy, some a little off-kitler but made up for in sheer stage presence and power- but it each one was individually its own, and each one was clearly heard throughout the silence of the black forest pines.
As a whole, the harmonizing that vibrated thorugh bodies, vibrant as a tuning fork, may not have been perfect, but it was a harmony, nonetheless.