I do claim that I don't own Degrassi. I bet that just blows your minds.

Anyway, welcome readers, to the first half of Umbrella- Part 1. I'm so jazzed to write it, so I hope you're just as excited to read!

I'm picking up exactly where I left off in my last story, so Eli just walked away from Clare in the hall; everyone with me? Okay, good. Enjoy! =D

I quickly pushed through the throng of students toward my history class using every last ounce of my willpower not to look back at Clare. Her words continued to slice though me, leaving me shaking with anger and pain. She thought I was screwing her up; she was using me to piss off her parents. Never in a million years would I have thought Clare was able to be that deceptive, and I was still reeling from everything that had happened in the past day. I wished, so bad that it literally hurt, for all of this to be a huge mistake; a jumbled misunderstanding.

But it wasn't.

I slid into my desk, and placed my head in my hands- trying to block out the world around me. I heard the teacher start their lesson, but I didn't even pretend to pay attention today. Just two nights ago Clare and I had been locked in a haze of first date bliss and now we were…what? Not together anymore? Just thinking about not being with her was more painful than Clare's actual actions had been. So, fine, breaking up with Clare was not a viable option right now, which meant that we would have to find a way to work this out.

However, even though I did want to fix this with Clare, I couldn't stand to face her just yet. I wasn't calm enough and I would only say things I would regret; make the situation worse. So I spent the rest of History dreading English.

My dread was unnecessary, though. When I walked into the classroom at the very last minute Clare's desk was vacant. Crippling disappointment shot through me before my rational mind caught up with the implications of Clare's absence. 'It's good that Clare's not in class,' I reminded myself. 'This is what I wanted.' Still, I wondered where she was, slightly worried.

"Hey," I whispered to Adam as Ms. Dawes began to teach, "Do you know what happened to Clare?"

"I guess she was sporting some seriously inappropriate threads, so they sent her home to change," Adam informed me, eyeing me intensely. "Are you okay man?"

I tried to stop myself from wincing under Adam's scrutiny, but I cracked. "I will be," I answered honestly, "There's just some trouble in paradise." I cringed at the understatement, thinking again about the damage Clare's 'alter-ego' had caused.

"I will require more detail than that, good sir," Adam raised his eyebrows at me, "at lunch." Without waiting for me to respond he turned his attention to the front of the room. I sighed, not really wanting to give out a whole lot more information. I had just lived it, so I wasn't too keen on reliving it so soon. Except, I guess it didn't make a difference since I couldn't take my mind off of the subject for more than five minutes.

The rest of my morning classes past by in the same fashion as the first two- I focused on Clare and not on class. It was amazing I still managed to get good marks since I had met Clare.

Then, finally, lunch time reared its ugly head. As soon as I walked into the cafeteria I saw Adam watching the door from our usual table, awaiting my arrival. I rolled my eyes before slowly walking over to join him. "Hey," I started cautiously, slipping into my seat. I glanced quickly at Clare's empty chair and exhaled gruffly.

"Yeah, it's weird for me not having Clare here, as well," Adam commented slyly, taking notice of my fixation, "She does…did?...have a perfect attendance record."

"I know," I said, more sharply than I intended. Adam's eyes narrowed at me. "Sorry, I didn't mean for that to sound so bitter," I apologized softly.

"Understandable. Let's talk about that," Adam said pointedly.

"Why?" I unsuccessfully tried to keep the whine out of my voice.

"Because I know and care about both you and Clare, so I have your best interest at mind. I can give you advice; help you sort things out. I can tell from the look on your face that this is ripping you to sheds. What the hell happened, Eli?"

"That's a valid argument," I said, slightly disappointed that he had a good point. He gestured for me to continue. "Last night," I began, "at dinner Clare wasn't herself at all. She told her parents that I was an atheist, mocked my home life, harassed Morty, and informed her parents that we skipped school. Needless to say, they weren't too thrilled with me after that. I was pretty mortified, not to mention mystified, by Clare's actions. They had made no sense at all. It was like she wanted her parents to hate me." I took a deep breath, flinching as I remembered just how horribly it had been sitting at that dinner table. "Then, this morning," I continued hesitantly, "she came to me, dressed completely unlike herself, and acted like there was nothing wrong at all. I think she tried to seduce me, I yelled at her, and that finally broke through to her old self. She told me she was scared that her parents were going to get divorced, and that she had acted strangely at dinner because if they were both mad at her, her parents had something in common. When I told her that it didn't matter; that they had made their decision already Clare basically told me that I was screwing her up. So I walked away. I told her I didn't want to play that game."

I usually felt relief after I had spilled my guts to Adam, but my recount of the whole situation had left me exhausted. I dropped my head onto the table in defeat. I had no clue what I was going to do about this mess.

"Well…," Adam started, "shit."

I lifted my head off the table to glare at him. "So helpful," my sarcasm was strong, dripping from both words.

"Sorry, man, I guess I just thought this was going to be an easy fix. But no wonder you look like hell. This is big." Like I didn't already know that; I let my head drop back down to the table with a satisfying thunk. "I guess you guys should both just have some space, and then talk about it later. None of that really sounds like Clare, so I'm sure she'll come to her senses. And, remember, if her parents really are going to get divorced you have to cut her a little slack. That's tough for anyone to go through, and it can really make you do irrational things. It's not all Clare's fault."

I sighed knowing Adam was right. I picked my head back of the table to look at him in wonder. "How is it that you always know exactly what to say to me?"

"Dude, we're best friends, I just know you well. Nothing to it." I graced him with a genuine smile. Adam was great, and I continuously lost sight of how lucky I was to have him as a friend. He smiled back at me, and just for a moment I forgot all about the problematic turn my relationship with Clare had taken.

XXX

When school finally ended I drove back home, but the serene feeling I had at lunch had long-since vanished. I simply could not sit still, pacing back and forth. I was glad that, for a reason unknown to me, my parents were not home. It gave me the freedom to act like a caged animal without having to deal with stares of questioning concern.

After an hour or so of the pacing and general restlessness I decided to hop into Morty and go to the park. However, there was a knock on my door, and I had to alter my plans.

"Who the hell could that be?" I asked the air around me, walking slowly to the door. I pulled it open to reveal…. "Clare?"

She had changed out of the obscene clothing she had on earlier- now clad in pastel striped pajama bottoms and an oversized purple hoodie. All the makeup that she had caked on for school had been washed away. She was also sobbing uncontrollably. For that moment I forgot all about my rage at her and reacted immediately in a concerned manner. I grabbed her hand, pulling her inside the house and gently shut the door behind her. Then I wrapped my arms around her shoulders, holding her against my chest. She relaxed against me, but continued to sob.

After a few minutes passed by I decided it was time to speak up. "Clare, what happened?" I whispered to her softly.

"I…don't…think I can…talk about…it…right now," she choked out, sniffling uncontrollably.

"Does it have to do with your parents?" I asked her, already suspecting her answer. She simply nodded against my chest, another sob breaking free. She was going to hyperventilate if I didn't calm her down soon. I slowly released her, and she whimper softly obviously not wanting me to let go. "I have to get you a glass of water," I reassured her, leading her to the couch. She obediently sat down on it, and brought her knees up to her chest. I paused a second to really look at her- her hair was sticking out in several different directions, the curls matted and knotty; her blue eyes were swollen and dark, the red circles around them only intensifying the color; her tiny nose was red and rubbed raw; her cheeks were bright pink, and stained with her tears. And yet, she was so beautiful because she looked just like my Clare. I found no traces of the evil, reckless Clare that had possessed her for the past two days, and for that I was thankful.

"What?" she asked, suddenly growing self-conscience. Her voice was thick with the tears that still ran silently down her face.

I just shook my head at her and reached out to smooth down a curl that was sticking straight out. Her face turned a deeper shade of pink, and I ran to the kitchen to fill a glass with some water. On my way back to Clare I grabbed a box of tissues as well. I handed her the glass of water first. "Drink," I commanded, and she did so hesitantly. When she was done with the glass I grabbed it from her hands, replacing it with the tissue box.

Once I returned from refilling her glass I placed it on the coffee table, and sat down next to Clare on the couch.

"Thank you," the emotion was very raw in Clare's voice. Then she started to speak so quietly that I had to strain to hear her, "I don't know why you're being so nice to me. I've treated you like crap for the past day. I'm not even sure why I came here…I guess my legs knew where they wanted to go before my head had time to catch up."

"Did you walk here?" I asked her incredulously. She nodded. "I bet that was a sight to see," I joked, "sobbing girl dressed in bright purple wanders aimlessly around the neighborhood. Parents, watch out for your children's safety." I did my best impression of a reporter, letting my voice drop a few octaves so it was deep and velvety.

"This is not a time for jokes," Clare chastised me, but it had worked. I got her to smile a small, weak smile.

"What is it a time for, then?" I asked her seriously, meeting her gaze.

"Apologies," Clare whispered, abashed. I raised my eyebrows waiting for her to continue. "I am so sorry, Eli. I know that apologizing won't fix the way I have treated you. You didn't deserve it. And I know it's no excuse, but my parents have just made me so irrational lately. I wasn't thinking straight, and because of that I've hurt the one person that means more to me than anyone in the world. Eli, I am so, so sorry. Please, could you ever forgive me, even though I don't deserve it at all?" She let the words rush out of her mouth so quickly; like a dam breaking loose. I had a hard time keeping up. And when she reached the end of her apology she burst into tears all over again.

"Hey, Clare," I let worry seep into my tone. She looked like she was about to go into hysterics. "Settle down," I requested, pulling her into my lap, and wrapping my arms around her waist. She settled her head on my shoulder, gasping. I could tell she was desperately trying to slow her tears. With great effort I was able to reach Clare's water glass without jostling her too much. I handed it to her, and this time I didn't even have to tell her to drink. She gulped it down quickly, and then sighed.

"Does this mean I'm forgiven," she murmured brokenly, hopefully.

"I was angry at you Clare- unbelievably so. But, lucky for you, I have a hard time retaining any anger that I may harbor toward you." She relaxed, pleased by my answer, and turned her head to place a soft, tentative kiss on my neck. "I do have one question, though," my eyebrows came together as I remembered the fight we had earlier that day.

"Ask me anything," Clare said, happy to oblige my request.

"Do you really think I'm screwing you up?" I let my hurt color the words. After all, out of everything Clare had said and done in the past 24 hours that had bothered me the most. How could we continue to have a relationship if Clare thought I was messing up her life?

Clare chuckled darkly. "Of course not. I should have known my words could easily be misinterpreted. I wasn't thinking straight, and I said things I shouldn't have. On the contrary, you are the best thing in my life right now."

My heart swelled at her words. "And you, in mine," I told her honestly. I felt her sigh happily, and nothing else needed to be said. The moment was perfect. We sat there together for a while, and eventually, Clare drifted off the sleep- her breathing growing steady and deep. I tightened my grip around her waist, pulling her closer to me. "I love you, Clare Edwards," I whispered into her hair, but she didn't make any movement- stuck in the world of dreams.

XXX

When the clock struck seven, I shook Clare out of her slumber. She sat up dazed and confused, not sure where she was. "I need to take you home, Clare," I told her, and she simply nodded and stood, stretching.

"How long was I out?" She asked, her voice coated in sleep.

"I let you sleep for an hour and a half," I admitted. "You just looked so serene I could barely stand to wake you. But your parents will probably start to worry if I don't get you home soon."

A dark mask fell over Clare's face. "My parents…," she winced to herself. I was ragingly curious to ask her what had happened, but I didn't want to pry. She had been through enough this afternoon- I could see it clearly written on her face.

"Morty's waiting out front," I told her gently. She still had a sour expression on her face, and she seemed to be rooted to her spot in my living room. "Come on," I chuckled, walking toward her and grabbing her hand. She put up a slight resistance before letting me tug her out the front door.

I pulled up to her house shortly after, all the lights were off in the front room. Clare didn't make a move to get out; she just sat in Morty staring at her house almost like it was intimidating. "Clare, it's not going to eat you. You have school tomorrow; you're going to have to get out," I said, laughing. She turned on me and narrowed her eyes unimpressively. I smirked at her. "If you don't get into your house soon I will be forced to use my phone to take a picture of how adorably discombobulated you are right now."

She gasped. "You wouldn't!"

"Try me," I challenged.

She looked me squarely in the eye before deciding if I was serious or not. When she had determined that I was dead serious, she slumped her shoulders in defeat. "Fine, I'll go. See you tomorrow in school."

She started to climb out, but I grabbed her arm. "Aren't you forgetting something?" I waggled my eyebrows at her.

She looked around the hearse, confused. "No?" she questioned.

"My goodnight kiss," I reminded her.

"Oh, right! How silly of me," she let a small smile curl up the edge of her lips. "Goodnight, Elijah." Then, ever so softly, she pressed her silky pink lips against mine. She tasted salty because of all the tears she had cried, but I didn't mind. I parted my lips, and trapped her full bottom one in between my own, sucking on it gently. She giggled, and slowly pulled away, allowing me to savor every last moment.

"See you tomorrow," I whispered against her lips before pulling away entirely, and shifting Morty into Drive. Clare slipped out of the car, and cautiously walked into her home. I sighed before driving away. 'You'll be the death of me yet, Clare-bear,' I thought to myself. I had never known anyone else to be so irresistible.

XXX

The next morning, I slowly got dressed in my uniform as I thought about last night. I was glad that everything was back in its right place again. My universe was once again in order, and Clare and I were still going strong. I couldn't picture the events of last night going any better than they had.

When I arrived at school I slowly walked to my locker, excited to see Clare. Just as I was rounding the corner, though, I saw Clare conversing with the leader of Jesus Club in the hall adjacent to our lockers. He was fawning over her, practically drooling as he started down at her with a small amount of concern in his eyes. I rolled my eyes at his lack of subtly. I wonder if he knew Clare and I were together…maybe I would have to inform him.

Before I could further the train of thought, Clare started toward the lockers not noticing me. I smoothly slid up next to her, matching her stride. "Gotta love Jesus Club," I said sarcastically. I certainly did not.

"Six months ago I would have said the same thing," Clare said, sounding tired. I was shocked to hear those words come out of her mouth. I thought Clare was unwaveringly faithful.

"And now?" I questioned her, not trying to hide the surprise I felt at her declaration.

"The world is a little less back and white," I saw the pain flash on her face as she stopped at her locker before she composed herself, her tone business-like. "My mom and dad are selling the house and separating." No wonder she had been an emotional wreak last night. They had made the divorce official, and, on top of that, were taking Clare out of her comfort zone- her house. I eyed her with concern; I would help her get through this. "Why do I have to suffer because they fell out of love?" she asked softly, the agony in her voice subdued, but still very evident.

My mind flashed to all the kids I had known growing up that had to suffer through divorce. It was always a sticky situation, but, I remembered gratefully, not all of the cases had ended so tragically for the child.

"Maybe you won't have to," I started, my eyes lighting up with hope. Clare glanced at me curiously. "There was this kid I knew growing up- his parents got divorced and moved to separate apartments, but…," I paused for dramatic effect, "he stayed in the house. His parents went back and forth." I let that sink in, smiling triumphantly as Clare warmed to the idea.

"So, he had one bedroom; one set of stuff?" She asked excitedly.

I shrugged my shoulders and nodded in affirmation. "Do you think your parents will go for it?"

A smile spread across her face, lighting it up. "They are feeling pretty guilty for putting me through this," she mused. "Thanks. I can always count on you."

"That's me…your rock," I said, only slightly sarcastic. Although it was a silly Bible reference, I still took comfort in the fact that it was true. Clare counted on me to make her feel better, and I was glad that I had yet to fail her.

She chuckled at my joke, staring into my eyes. I could feel her gratitude in her gaze, and I smiled at her. "Oh!" She exclaimed, her eyes lighting up, "I brought something you might like." She fished in her pocket and pulled out an old watch, handing it to me.

I took it from her, examining it. "Vintage," I noted, "Cool." Truth was, it wouldn't have mattered what Clare gave me- I would have adored it anyhow. I turned to open my locker so I could get out my books and head to class, but as soon as I opened the door a whole bunch of crap came flooding out. I glanced at Clare worriedly as all my papers, and other random mementos, hit the ground. When had I let my school locker get as bad as my room? I hoped that Clare wouldn't realize something was wrong.

Clare looked flabbergasted that I had fit all that stuff in there in the first place, her mouth slipping into a shocked 'o' before she regained her composure. "Maybe Jesus Club can take on your locker as a humanitarian disaster," Clare joked. I laughed nervously to cover up the fact that the situation wasn't funny…at all. It never would be. Just then the warning bell rang, saving me from furthering any conversation about all the junk in my locker. Clare warmly squeezed my shoulder before walking off. "Okay, bye," She sang out, disappearing into the mob of students.

I hurriedly shoved everything back in before running off to History. I slipped quietly into my seat, just a few minutes late. The teacher ignored the fact that I had arrived past the bell, and continued with the lesson. I realized I still had Clare's watch in my hand, and I slipped it on. I was cold and hard, but it fit perfectly. I smiled at it, taking notice of the fact that it didn't actually work. It didn't matter; I still liked it.

When I got to English Adam was talking to Clare, a skeptical look on his face. "Hey guys," I greeted them, plopping down into my seat.

"I missed you," Clare said warmly, a joking air about her.

"When were you going to tell me you gave me a busted watch?" I accused her, joking as well.

"Hey now, that watch holds sentimental value. It doesn't need to work. My, um, father taught me how to tell time on it before it broke," she admitted the last part softly, a blush rising in her cheeks. I grabbed her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

"You two seem to be getting along well," Adam commented, confused.

"Oh, right," I said, preparing to bring him up to speed, "Clare and I talked everything out last night. It's all good." He nodded, raising his eyebrows expectantly, noting that there was obviously something weren't telling him. I, however, couldn't be the one to fill him in on Clare's parent's drama. She would have to do that.

"I'll talk to you later," she assured him, resigned.

"Sounds like a plan. I'm glad you two are good again," He told us sincerely.

"Me too," I said, smiling at Clare. She gifted me with a smile of her own, and then class started, so the three of us turned our attention to Ms. Dawes.

XXX

When I got home my parents were waiting for me in the kitchen. "Hey, Eli, could you come here?" My mom called to me.

I slipped into the kitchen, looking at their smiling faces. "Okay…creepy," I narrowed my eyes at them, "what gives."

My dad laughed his giant rumble. "We're going out for a late lunch-early dinner. Care to join us?"

It wasn't very often that we had any kind of meal together, so I figured it couldn't hurt. It wasn't like I had any homework to do anyway. "Yeah, sure, why not," I shrugged at them.

"Good," My mom declared proudly, "because we were going to make you come no matter what." She chuckled.

I raised my eyebrows at them. "So why even ask?"

"We like to give you the illusion that you have free-will," my dad answered. I thought he was kidding, but there was no way to be sure. My mom laughed, but I just shook my head at them.

"Where are we going?" I asked, only slightly curious.

"I was thinking we could go to Little Miss Steaks," My mom smiled at me. "And you could invite that girl you've been spending all your time with." She winked.

"No way in hell," was my immediate response.

Luckily neither of them took offence. They just shrugged it off. "Were going to have to meet her eventually," My dad smirked at me, his tone sounding ominous.

"We'll see," I challenged, returning the smirk. With that, we loaded into my dad's van, and headed to dinner. We had just ordered when my phone started to vibrate. "Excuse me," I said to my parents, before heading into the bathroom. "What's up, Clare?" I asked, answering my phone.

"Where are you?" She asked me, and I could hear the wind whistling into the speaker of her phone. She was obviously outside.

"Little Miss Steaks," I answered without hesitation, "I'm having dinner with my folks. Why?"

"I'll be there in a little bit," Clare sounded determined, "I needed to get out of the house." And with that, the call disconnected before I could tell her not to come. I brought my palm up to meet my forehead. I was not looking forward to her meeting my parents. They were all kinds of inappropriate, and while that had been fine with Julia, it would probably make Clare uncomfortable. I didn't want Clare to be put through that on top of everything else she was dealing with, but there was really no way I could stop her from coming either.

I walked back to the table, hearing the sounds of my parents laughing from across the restaurant. I slipped into my seat, noticing that the food had arrived in my absence.

"Where'd you go?" My mom asked curiously.

"To the bathroom," I sighed, "Clare's on her way over. Could you guys try to be polite? You might be a bit of a culture shock to her," I bite the words off with heavy sarcasm.

My mom was too excited to notice my bitterness, though. "Oh! We finally get to meet her. This is so great!"

"Yeah, great," I mumbled. "So," I said more loudly, looking for a distraction, "what were you talking about while I was gone?"

"We were reminiscing about old concerts," my dad declared happily. He turned back to my mom, "Remember Eli's first concert?" He asked her. She shook her head, chuckling. He turned back to me. "You cried so hard we nearly had to leave, you little brat!"

"Yeah," I commented sarcastically, "because most six month olds love Metallica concerts."

"But when the music started, your tantrums started to look like head banging," he exclaimed.

"All the metal-heads around you started imitating you," my mom added proudly, her and my dad both nodding their heads. I rolled my eyes. "It was your first mosh-pit, baby."

I smiled. It wasn't like I remembered the concert specifically, but I was happy t have the kind of ridiculous parents that brought babies to concerts. I had a pretty interesting upbringing. I just wasn't sure how Clare would feel about the whole thing…

As if on cue, Clare rounded the corner, and stopped right behind my chair. "Hey," she greeted me quietly. She looked distressed, and she hadn't bothered to change out of her school uniform. She stared at me for a second before noticing my parents. "I'm Clare, but the way," she waved at them.

"This is Clare!" My dad stood up from his seat, extending his hand to Clare. She shook it, looking down at me. I tried to keep the distaste off my face, but I was really worried that my parents were about to make a fool out of themselves. "Welcome! I'm the bullfrog," he continued, making a noise that was supposed to be an imitation of a bullfrog. I rolled my eyes at him, and he winked at me. I groaned to myself in frustration. "This is CeCe," my dad introduced my mother.

"Oh, we've heard all about you! Please," She grabbed both of Clare's hands, pulling her down into the fourth seat. Clare's smile was full of elation- like there was nowhere on Earth she would rather be right now. She also looked a little overwhelmed, but that was to be expected. I relaxed just slightly.

"I hope you don't mind me interrupting your family dinner," Clare sounded legitimately worried that she was ruining a family affair of some sort. I smirked- that was just so…Clare.

"No!" CeCe and Bullfrog assured her in unison.

"We were just telling the story of how Eli wreaked Lollapalooza," My mom told Clare, smiling at me. I smirked back at her, my nose crinkling in the process. "So," my mom continued, "what brings you to the Steak house?"

I shot a warning glance in her direction. There was no need for her to interrogate Clare. Clare answered the question anyway. "Well, I, just, I, um, couldn't handle being around my parents," Clare stuttered. I looked at her, concern filling my eyes. I wondered what had happed. Clare glanced back at me from under her eyelashes, embarrassed.

"Hey, none of our business," Bullfrog declared, and I totally agreed. Unfortunately, he continued, "If you need a place to crash, our house is your house anytime." Sure it sounded like a generous offer, but it was actually kind of obscene. I knew what my father was hinting at, but Clare was too innocent to catch on.

"Wow, thank you," Clare smiled at him, pleased, "it's nice to know there's a guest room with my name on it."

"No guest room," my dad informed her bluntly.

Clare's eyebrows shot up quickly. "Excuse me?"

"Dad," I warned him.

"We've been trying to get a girl into Eli's room for a while now," my dad informed her. He knew damn well why no one was going into my room, girl or otherwise, until I got over my problem. Clare shifted uncomfortably next to me. An overwhelming sense of déjà vu washed over me. So far dinners with parents was the weakest link in Clare's and my relationship.

"Dad," I warned him again, adding more menace to my voice this time.

"He even has a double bed in there," my mom added, not helping the situation. Clare looked at me questioningly.

"Mom," I practically yelled, finally getting their attention, "Could you give me and Clare a moment alone?" I suggested, not so discreetly.

My mom and dad, thankfully, started to gather their meals. "Young love," my mom whispered to Dad before they got up, leaving Clare and me alone. Finally. The short silence that settled around us was refreshing.

I spoke up after I was sure my parents were out of earshot. "Sorry about CeCe and Bullfrog," I apologized worriedly. Clare didn't seem upset, though, just shocked.

"Well," she started. I could tell she was choosing her words carefully, "They sure are interesting. Were your parents serious about me staying in your room?" she asked incredulous.

"Well, um, they just assume that since we've been dating…," I grew uncomfortable under Clare's disbelieving stare, knowing she wouldn't approve of what I was about to say. Bust she cut me off before I could finish.

"That we have sex?" her voice shot through an octave as she grew even more astounded. "Why would they think that?"

Clare's direct question put me in an ugly situation. I knew that once she met my parents I would have to explain a few things, but I had never dreamed that they would bring up the sex card the first time they met Clare. And now I was going to have to tell Clare that I was not a virgin. I cringed.

"It's just that, um, well," I stumbled over my words, "Julia…," Clare cut me off again.

"You're old girlfriend," she finished my sentence rigidly. I could tell she didn't like it when I brought Julia up.

"Yeah," I nodded, growing more anxious and uncomfortable by the second. "She, um, she, uh, she had a lot of problems with her stepmom," I finally spit the words out, "so, she stayed with us." I delivered the news, my eyes locked directly with Clare's. At first, she was hesitant to accept it.

"Like…with you, with you," Clare stated for clarity, her face falling.

"I didn't even know you existed yet," I defended myself, trying to make it evident that I preferred Clare over Julia. But I saw the pain and disappointment flash in her eyes before she settled on a determined look.

"You know I'm not having sex until I get married?" She checked.

"I got the memo," I told her sarcastically. It's not like Clare tried to hide the fact that she was religious.

She seemed surprised by my cynical reaction. "Does it bother you?" she asked. It seemed like the idea had never occurred to her before.

I wasn't going to lie to Clare, so I told her, "Yeah, it's not my favorite thing, but it's what's gotta be." Of course I would love to be close to Clare in that way, but only if and when she was ready. Clare had to know that I was a guy, and it wasn't like the thought had never crossed my mind. She was a beautiful girl, and I was in love with her. Was it so wrong to think about how sexy she was?

"We're really different, aren't we…," Clare realized, and the thought seemed to worry her.

"Opposites attracted," I countered fiercely.

"And get married, and have kids, and get divorced," Clare said, gathering steam and working herself up.

"Clare, we're not your parents," I reminded her, but her eyes were already hunted by the thoughts running around her head. I did not like the look in her eyes one bit.

She met my stare for a brief moment before grabbing for her bag. "Call you later," you murmured to me before running out the door.

Well, that had not gone over well. I hoped Clare would keep her promise and call me; we had a lot we had to talk about. It seemed like all this bad stuff just kept coming at Clare and me; like our relationship was doomed.

I shook the thoughts out of my head, banishing them from ever coming to the forefront of my mind again.

Clare and I were perfect for each other and we would work things out just like we always did.

Whoa! This is my longest chapter yet! I hope you enjoyed reading it. Did it seem too sappy for you guys in any parts? Let me know.

I'm really counting on your guy's feedback for this particular story. I'm slightly worried/ intimidated about writing these segments. I've been living in Eli's head for so long that sometimes I get lost there (I know, I'm weird), so I think I CAN write them well, I just want them to be just right. So, any thoughts/encouragement/criticisms are greatly appreciated. Insecurity rears its ugly head at the most inopportune moments, eh?

I'll update soon, promise. I love you guys! =)