Disclaimer: I do not own Degrassi. This fic was inspired by and based on the wonderful nonDegrassi fic "Brilliant Smiles and Barely Scraping By," written by fullcolapse at LiveJournal. I do not own the "Somewhere Across Forever" lyrics that Eli quotes in this chapter (Also, I do not like the "blue eyes" nickname for Clare, but oh well, it's in the lyrics). Or the canon line in his letter.
Author's note: This is the last chapter for this fic. Believe me, I will miss writing it so much. But I also found that this ending was the most realistic of all the drafts I had, so I certainly hope that you like it. Thank you so much for all your support during this writing process, and this chapter is dedicated to all of you. No song lyrics because… you'll see. ;)
Transition time between last chapter and this one: Your choice. I didn't want to elaborate in time issues, so whatever feels enough for you (weeks, months) is good enough.
"I... I can't..."
"Eli, open your eyes and breathe."
Eli obeyed and gasped for breath, his head hurting due to the temporary lack of oxygen. He looked around the room and saw that he was still sitting in the same chair, that Donovan wasn't around... that he was safe.
"You're still here," said Dr Barrow, her friendly smile giving Eli temporary comfort.
"Yeah," grinned Eli, taking in his surroundings.
"You are allowed to breathe, you must remember that," smiled Dr Barrow as she took some notes. "Your mother told me you've been doing that a lot, holding your breath. He's not around to hurt you anymore, Eli."
Eli thought of Donovan, who had had several strokes after the incident and was now lying on a bed, a vegetable, his brain not functioning anymore. Nobody visited the man because everybody hated him, and although Donovan had made his life miserable, Eli felt sorry for him.
He knew that he shouldn't, but he still did.
He didn't hate Donovan; his therapist helped him get rid of the feelings of anger and bitterness, told him that it wasn't healthy to hate someone that much. He felt that he had been going to therapy for years, and he felt tired, emotionally drained.
Eli also felt sorry for Matt, who was in jail for shooting Donovan, and he thought that life just wasn't fair. Eli visited Matt after being released from the hospital, and his former coworker said he regretted nothing. That the only thing he was sorry about was not shooting Donovan before. That he was sorry about his silence. But Eli forgave him, after all, he knew what it was like to carry guilt around.
The therapist knew everything about that visit, and Eli had cried while talking about it. It was out of his system, but it still hurt. Everything hurt.
And something else was bothering him in the back of his mind.
"How's school?" asked Dr Barrow, twirling her finger around a long strand of her brown hair. She was approaching the subject that Eli always wanted to keep quiet about, the only subject that he was still hesitant to touch.
"I... you know. Still avoiding people," said Eli, staring at his hands. He had talked to Adam a lot, and sometimes Alli, but never Clare. Alli eventually got frustrated with him and barely talked to him anymore, but Adam understood. Adam would listen to him and every now and then make suggestions that Eli would ignore. But at least he could count on Adam as a friend.
"Haven't talked to Clare yet, huh," stated Dr. Barrow. "Eli, you haven't talked to her in weeks, maybe it's time…"
"No. It makes no sense now," sighed Eli. It hurt to see Clare every day and not talk to her; he sat far away from her during English class, glancing at her and catching Clare looking back at him. Clare's eyes were full of sadness and she would always end up looking away, and Eli hated himself.
"Because I pushed her away... I lost her already," said Eli sadly.
"How do you know? How do you know you've lost her if you haven't talked to her?" insisted Dr Barrow.
"I can't talk to her," said Eli in a whisper.
He was tired of answering questions, and he glanced at his watch, wanting time to go by faster. He knew that he needed to speak, that he couldn't continue to keep secrets, and he breathed deeply.
"Because I'm afraid," he said simply. "I'm afraid that we'll talk, that I will want to kiss her, and that I'll end up hurting her."
"Physically, you mean."
"Eli," said Dr Barrow calmly. "Just because you were abused, it doesn't mean you will abuse someone too. We always have a choice, and from what I've seen from you, you are not the kind of guy who hurts people. You're not."
"It's not only that," blurted Eli miserably. "What if I don't like her kisses anymore?"
That was the unavoidable truth. He was afraid that if Clare touched him in the slightest way he would hate it, that he would feel disgusted by it, and he didn't want to have that memory of the girl he loved. Dr Barrow set down her notepad and took off her glasses, a curious look on her face. "Are you afraid that Donovan affected your capacity for human touch? I mean, in a romantic kind of way? Because I know that you let your parents hug you now. That is a huge development, Eli."
Eli nodded, a knot in his throat. He felt like holding his breath again but stopped himself from doing so. He needed to stop hurting himself to deal with the pain he needed to let go of.
"I think that it would be a good idea if you discussed this with her," the therapist said thoughtfully. "You can't alienate yourself from people you love, Eli. Especially when they love you back."
Eli looked at the doctor and their eyes met, the warmth of the therapist's chocolate-brown eyes making him feel somewhat safe. It was okay to talk; it was okay to admit defeat and fears.
"But what if she doesn't love me anymore?" said Eli, practically whining.
"I'm sure she does," said Dr Barrow, looking at the clock on the wall. "But you need to let her know that you want her in your life. She can't just assume you do."
Eli was silent as he listened to the sounds the clock was making, and his heart kept telling him that it was time to talk to Clare again. But that didn't make the fear go away.
He doubted that it would ever go away.
"Eli… I have a suggestion," said Dr Barrow, and Eli listened.
"You need to get over it, Clare."
Clare sighed sadly and tapped the table with her pencil as Alli stared concernedly at her, their homework forgotten.
"I miss him," muttered Clare, missing everything about Eli. She missed the way his fingers slid between hers, as if they were made to fit perfectly. She missed the way he would kiss the back of her hand whenever he was happy or deep in thought, the way he used to read to her. She missed his smile, which she rarely saw, but his smile always seemed reserved for her.
It hurt, but Eli needed space after his horrific ordeal. She understood that… But her heart didn't.
"I know you do, but…" Alli stopped talking, noticing the tears in Clare's eyes. Clare wiped them away, clearing her throat as she tried to focus on her math homework, her thoughts still of Eli.
"I need to solve this problem," said Clare, staring blankly at her algebra notes.
"Yes, you do," said Alli serenely, and Clare knew that her best friend wasn't talking about homework. Clare chose to ignore the comment and grabbed her calculator, tears blurring her eyesight. The tears fell on her notebook and she felt frustrated as she pushed everything away.
"Clare-" started Alli, but Clare shook her head.
"You don't understand," said Clare sourly. "He broke up with me the moment he was hurting the most. When Eli's dad told me that Eli needed some time apart…. It hurt so much. Eli didn't even want to talk to me in person… he just wanted me out. I wasn't going to leave him but…"
The doorbell rang and Clare buried her face in her hands as Alli stood up. "I'll get it, okay," said Alli softly. Clare nodded, wanting to scream as soon as Alli left the kitchen. Clare's dad had been trying to cheer her up, but nothing was successful enough.
Eli grabbed her hand and kissed it, his nose pressed against it.
"Stop worrying," said Eli, his raven hair covering most of his forehead. "I'm coming back."
Clare loved torturing herself with those words, because Eli never came back. But then again, neither did Clare. It was if a part of both of them had died that day, as if Donovan had ripped away the small amount of happiness that belonged to them.
That man had destroyed everything, but he was paying for it. Clare was glad that Donovan wasn't dead; he deserved everything that he was going through. She was surprised by those bitter feelings, but she couldn't help it.
"Um, Clare?" called Alli from the living room. "You need to come here."
Clare stood up slowly, feeling utterly destroyed as she walked, and the moment she walked into the living room everything changed. Eli was standing there, holding his journal in his hands and looking absolutely terrified.
Clare wasn't sure how to feel. Eli had avoided her for weeks, sitting far away from her, sparing her just a few glances. She knew why he was being distant, yes, but it didn't help ease the pain. She was hurt; hurt that Eli had decided to hide behind his walls once again.
"I'm going to leave," said Alli hurriedly, walking out of the room at once. Eli and Clare just stared at each other, the silence between them feeling heavy as Alli walked out of the kitchen and gave Clare a quick kiss on the cheek before leaving.
The front door closed after Alli, but the silence was still there. Eli opened his mouth several times to speak, but no sound came out. Clare just waited, feeling tired and overwhelmed, feeling older than fifteen.
"I'm sorry," whispered Eli.
"About what?" asked Clare, noticing the guilt in Eli's voice.
"For handling things the way I did," he said, clutching his journal.
"I… I understand," said Clare, her voice breaking.
"I want you to come with me," said Eli, staring intently at his journal. "If you want to. I need to do something and I want you to be with me. You have all the right to say no, I will understand."
"I'll go," nodded Clare, not sure of what she was agreeing to.
It was rather peaceful out there; the cold wind made Clare shiver as she waited for Eli to come back from the hearse. The ground made crunching noises underneath her feet, and she enjoyed the sound of the nearby river.
Everything was too peaceful. A contrast from the emotions tormenting her.
The drive had been completely silent, with Eli just looking over at her a couple times but not saying a word. She wondered if everything between them was damaged beyond repair, and the mere thought made her want to cry.
"I'm back," said Eli, his voice sounding hoarse. He still had his journal with him but he was also carrying what it looked like a medium-sized metallic trashcan.
"I have had many secrets through the years," started Eli, placing the trashcan down. "I've kept them all inside… and here."
Eli pointed at the journal and Clare nodded, waiting.
"I want you to know everything about me," continued Eli. "I want to show you every little thing that is a part of me. I pushed you away after… after the attack because… I was afraid. Afraid that you wouldn't love me anymore because of what happened to me. Afraid that you would consider me damaged after what Donovan did to me."
"I would never do that," said Clare despairingly. "I wanted to help you."
"I know you did," admitted Eli. "But I had to help myself first. I should have told you that I wanted some time apart instead of telling my dad to do it for me. I know that I broke up with you, but looking back, I shouldn't have. I should have just… handled things differently."
"You should have!" cried Clare, feeling all the resentment leaving her body. "Eli, you mean everything to me, and the fact that you didn't trust me enough to stay by your side hurt me! It hurt me so much!"
"I never intended… I never wanted to hurt you," said Eli. "I don't want to hurt you… ever."
"I know… I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
"I'm glad you did, Clare."
Clare felt the tears rolling down her cheeks but she couldn't move. Eli seemed intent in continuing to talk, so she remained silent.
"I can't forget," gasped Eli. "I won't be able to ever forget what he did to me. I can't do that. But I can learn how to deal with it, without letting it hurt people around me or myself. I'm trying, Clare, I'm trying so hard to get better… and you're one of the reasons why."
Eli drew breath and opened his journal, his hands shaking. "I know I told you most of the details of my abuse that night, the night you confronted me about Donovan. I don't think I was completely sincere, so bear with me. When you spend a long time hiding information from people, you tend to conceal a lot. I put together all of the secrets I wrote through the years and tried to write an understandable letter of sorts. But I couldn't because all I could think about was you, so I wrote something for you instead. I want you to listen to it, and tell me what you think of it… and tell me if you think you can forgive me for being so distant."
Clare felt her heart wrench but she continued to nod, not able to speak at all.
Eli cleared his throat and started to read.
"Secret #1, it all started the first time I had a fight with Julia, two months before she died. I guess I should rephrase that. It all ended that night.
That was the first secret I ever wrote down in this journal. I have a total of 427 secrets written down, every single sentence a piece of my soul, a shard of glass in my heart.
Secrets and lies became a part of me, but you changed that. I remember the first time I saw you, in Miss Dawes' class. You glanced at me and smiled, and that smile pretty much changed my life. Because the moment you left to create havoc on Jenna's locker, the room became cold and I wanted to get out of there.
I often wonder what would have happened if you hadn't looked at me that day. If your smile hadn't given me hope. I don't want to think about that possibility anymore, because the thought of not having you in my life is terrifying.
And then the day after the locker incident you came over to my table and you… you had me. Your eyes had me, your smile had me… I'm certain that I fell in love with you that day. Just like that, I felt alive again.
But I had this secret, this disgusting secret. You figured out something was wrong with me soon enough, though. Of course you did, you're the smartest girl I've ever met. Whenever Donovan abused me, my mind would shut down and I would only think of you. Just thinking of you was like shooting up some sort of drug, you numbed my pain, but you made me feel happy too.
You've always had faith in me somehow, and there are no words to tell you how much I love you for that. You never ran away from me, not even when you had the chance to. Any other girl would have said that 'This is too heavy, I can't deal with this. I can't stay.' Any other girl would have broken up with me the moment she saw the bruises, the moment she saw that I was completely fucked up.
But not you. You stayed. I hurt you and made you cry with my own ordeal but you stayed.
I'm sorry I pushed you away that night. I'm sorry that I was a coward and decided to shut down instead of opening up to you. But it hurt too much, Clare. I still wake up every night and I can feel him, although I know that he can't hurt me anymore. I still look around my room and wait for him to show up to finish me off. It's messed up, I know. I'm not cured yet… I don't know if I'll ever be. You are too young to deal with my issues, you have your whole life ahead of you, and I feel like I'm just an unnecessary burden.
But I'm trying to fix that, I am. And I want to ask you if you could give me another chance. I can't promise pure happiness, I can't promise that I won't have nightmares, or shout and fight, or scream and push you away. I can't promise you that I won't stop trying to hurt myself. I can't promise you that because I don't know my own future.
But I can promise you that I will fight to get better, that I will fight for you. Because you're the only thing that makes me feel like I can get better. I have no secrets for you anymore, and I hope that you can accept me this way. I love you, Clare Edwards. I love you so much."
Eli ripped off the page from the journal where he had written his letter, not daring to look at Clare. He pocketed it and threw the rest of the journal in the trashcan, feeling relieved. He looked up and saw that Clare was walking over to him, her cheeks wet with tears, and she flung her arms around his neck.
A million emotions exploded inside of Eli's mind, but none of them were fear. He wrapped his arms tightly around Clare, their bodies pressed together, almost fused to each other. He searched for Clare's lips and he kissed her carefully, and it didn't hurt.
It didn't hurt to kiss her at all.
The kiss wasn't full of passion or intense, but it was full of meaning. Eli was just pressing his lips against Clare's and felt that he didn't need anything else. Eli finally pulled away and kissed Clare on the cheek, his lips tasting her tears, and he sighed.
"Eli, I love you too, and I want to be with you… I want to help you get better," mumbled Clare, and Eli held her closer as he moved his lips to Clare's ear.
"Blue eyes, not going to leave here without you," sang Eli softly as they both swayed slowly in the spot, their arms around each other. " Blew my chances, chances, chances… Let's go, when I finally find the words… I'll be coming back to you."
Clare was running her fingers through Eli's hair, her motions soft and gentle. "If I decide to rule the world I'm still coming back for you..." whispered Eli, his voice shaking with emotion.
Clare kissed him again, her lips full of trust, and he smiled against them.
"I need to do something," he said, and he let go of Clare to reach for something inside the trashcan. He pulled out a lighter and a small container, and he felt his heart aching.
"Are you going to burn it?" asked Clare curiously, placing a hand on his arm.
"Yeah," said Eli, pouring the lighter fluid in the can all over his old journal. "My therapist said it would be symbolic and kind of liberating. We'll see if she was right." He threw the lighter in the can and stepped away as the flames started getting higher, burning away all of his secrets.
Clare's hand was in his and they watched the journal burn, both of them not saying a word.
"Where do we go from here?" asked Clare after a few minutes. Her question was a valid one, and she sounded a little bit scared, but Eli understood. Clare had given him another chance, she had taken a step into the unknown, but he didn't have the right answer for her. Not yet.
"I honestly don't know," admitted Eli. "But I have you. Right?"
"Of course," smiled Clare. "We'll take things slow, one day at a time. Is that okay?"
Eli's eyes focused on the fire, how it was burning everything away, and he felt somewhat clean. He could still feel Donovan's abuse, he could still feel how his body ached at times, but he was a pragmatic guy; he knew that it would take a while for those memories to fade away. But he had his parents, he had his friends, he had Clare. Maybe recovery wasn't such an impossible dream. He sure hoped so.
"One day at a time, yeah," said Eli softly. "One day at a time."