DISCLAIMER: I don't own Degrassi or anything else.
Twitter: themusiksnob / Tumblr: musiksnob
This is the last chapter of Sentimental Heart. Please forgive this epically long author note, as I have a lot of people I'd like to thank.
The fic is dedicated of course to Sarenka222 who was not only the sole reason I decided to write it, but has also been my editor on many of these chapters. It has been wonderful working on this with you and I'm sure we will do this again.
I'd also like to dedicate this final chapter to the best Degrassi fanfiction writer ever and a good friend Floorplanhobo. She is finishing up her final Degrassi fic right now, and I can't even begin to thank her for all the inspiration and support she has given me.
Two other friends I'd like to mention are LiteraryLolita and AlbatrossTam14. They both helped me with my two other long fics (True Love Waits and I Thought I Saw Your Face Today) and without having those under my belt, particularly ITISYFT, I would never have been able to write this one.
As for the rest of you, there are too many people to mention by name, but trust me, I love every one of you. Thanks to everyone who has read this fic, who has left me a review, who has pestered me on Twitter or Tumblr over when I'll be updating next. It really has been hard to write Eclare right now with the show providing very little inspiration and it's only because of your support that I am able to continue. I'm not really sure what I'll be writing next. I've got two oneshots in mind: one that needs to be written before next weeks' eps, and a possible prequel to Regrets. After that I'm not sure. But I'm not giving up, so please don't worry if my updates are fewer in number and frequency.
Also, if you're wondering where the sex is in this chapter, I would direct you to the epilogue of I Thought I Saw Your Face Today.
My first day back at school was pretty much the same as last year – except this time I wasn't the new kid. The only two Grade 12 classes I was in were French and Advanced English with Clare. I was psyched that as boring as retaking Physics and Pre-Calc was going to be, both Clare and Adam were in my classes. I had taken a study hall instead of an elective last year since creative writing was only offered during one period and I couldn't work my schedule around it, so Clare and I were together in that as well. But our gym and history classes were reversed, so I'd be forced to suffer through another year with Mr. Perino alone.
I was feeling more comfortable than expected. The curtailment of the uniform policy meant that it wasn't glaringly obvious that I was in Grade 11 again, and though I'd gotten a few odd looks from my new classmates, my black clothing and metal accessories didn't exactly make them want to get close enough to ask too many questions.
Even so, I couldn't wait for this first day to be over. I was on my way to my last period history class when I turned the corner and almost bumped into Fitz.
"Sorry," he said, before looking at me and realizing who I was. He gave me a curt nod and kept walking without saying anything else or causing a scene.
This was the first time I had seen him since the dance when I had punched the crap out of him for kissing Clare. The day had been going so well that I'd completely forgotten that he was still here, that he was still a threat to me. I could feel my breathing increase and I grabbed onto the wall, praying to whatever make-believe deity would listen to keep me from having a panic attack.
The nurse's office was just down the hall, and if I could make it there, she could give me a pill and then I'd be okay. I took three steps toward it before the pain in my chest hit me full blast. I grabbed onto the lockers again, gasping for air, and this time people noticed me.
"You okay, buddy?" Owen asked as he exchanged looks with Bianca.
I wanted that pill; I wanted to be out of the hallway and away from all the people looking at me – I wanted this pain to go away.
"Nurse," I croaked, and he grabbed me under my arm and practically dragged me down the hall, Bianca supporting me on the other side.
They sat me in a chair inside the door, and I grabbed onto my chest. "Thanks," I managed to get out, trying to send them the message to leave.
Owen patted my shoulder. "We gotta go. They don't write late passes for bad kids. Hope it's not a heart attack," he joked, and I would have laughed if I didn't feel like he was right.
The nurse came in from one of the exam rooms and shook her head. "The first day? I knew you were going to be a problem. I'm not your mommy and I'm not going to give you a pill just because you've got a craving."
The terror came back as I realized that not only was Fitz here but the nurse – the person who was supposed to be on my side – wasn't going to help me. I gasped for air, putting my head between my legs to keep myself from passing out. "Please," I begged.
She walked over to me with her stethoscope and listened to my racing heartbeat. She frowned and realized that maybe I wasn't faking this. "Fine," she said. "I'll get you a pill. But don't even think about making a habit of this."
As I waited, I thought of all the panic attacks I'd had in the past few month, how Clare had been there or Adam or Cece or Bullfrog, hugging me and encouraging me.
I'd never felt more alone than in this moment. I felt tears stream down my face as I tried to focus on something positive, like Clare's smile.
The nurse came back with one pill and a cup of water, and I took it quickly, making sure to sip the water because I didn't need to give her any more reasons think I was just trying to use. She watched me carefully then turned on her heel. "I need to lock the bottle back up. I'll give you five minutes before I send you back to class."
She shut the door to her office, and I just sat there, shaking in disbelief. Not even when I was in rehab was I treated like this. The sadness and fear were making it impossible to calm down and I knew I really needed another pill, but I couldn't give her the pleasure of proving her right. I tried to get my head back in order but I still felt tense.
I had closed my eyes, trying to focus on anything but the uncomfortable nurse's office when I heared the main door fly open. I didn't open my eyes until I heard Clare's voice. "Are you okay?" she said, rushing toward me. Her face was a picture of concern as she knelt down in front of me, taking my hands in hers. "Bianca found me in the locker room." She was wearing her gym shirt over her jeans and it was obvious she'd run here the second she heard.
A tear rolled down my face. "I'm glad you're here."
"Of course, Eli. What happened?"
I hated to tell her, but I'd promised myself I'd never lie to her again. "I saw Fitz."
Her eyes widened, but the look of shame on my face must have told her just how innocent our encounter was. "Oh Eli," she said softly.
"I had to take a pill," I admitted. I had been doing so well without them the past few weeks since everything else in my life had been so good.
"That's okay, Eli," she reminded me. "Sometimes you need them. Today was one of those days. Hopefully tomorrow won't be." I let out a sigh of relief; I was expecting Clare to be disappointed in me, but she was being so supportive.
She pressed her hand against my chest. "Your heart's still racing. Why isn't it helping?"
I blinked out a few remaining tears, though I was starting to feel better with Clare touching me. "The nurse didn't believe me. She gave me a hard time. I'm just…I'll be okay."
Clare stood up, a look of anger on her face. "She what?"
At Clare's outburst, the nurse came bursting out of her office. "What is the meaning of this? You can't be in here."
I had never seen Clare stand up to an authority figure and I couldn't believe her when she said, "Clearly I need to be, since you're treating my boyfriend like a drug addict."
The nurse looked furious. "How dare you speak to me like that? Mr. Goldsworthy…"
"Eli," Clare interrupted, "has an anxiety disorder that causes severe panic attacks that need to be managed with medication. I am sure you don't give diabetic students a hard time when they need to take insulin."
"Given his history of non-compliant behavior, I had reason to believe…"
"Eli hasn't taken a pill improperly in months, and in fact, he struggles with whether to take them even in moments when he truly needs them. And when you treat him like a drug addict, it just makes it even harder on him." She gestured at me. "He would have been back in class already if you didn't give him a hard time and exacerbate his symptoms. He's trying to do things the right way, and you're making this harder on him."
The nurse looked like she was ready to kill both of us. "Ms. Edwards, I believe you're due back in class. You can tell me how to do my job when you've graduated from nursing school." But she looked rattled in a way that I knew what Clare had said had gotten through. She scribbled me a hall pass. "You can walk him back to class."
She slammed the door to her office so loud that a painting on the wall rattled. Clare tugged on my hand and I stood. I wasn't 100% back to normal but I felt a lot better. When we got out in the hallway, Clare covered her face with her hands. "I can't believe I just yelled at the nurse."
"Well, I appreciate the support," I whispered.
"For you, anytime," she said, standing on her tiptoes to give me a quick kiss. "I don't want you to go through this again. If you want, I can hang onto your pills for you. You've been doing so well that I don't think I'd need to worry about you taking advantage of my kindness."
I shrugged. "I think you got through to the nurse. We'll see how it goes. Hopefully it won't be an issue very often."
We were just about up to Mr. Perino's door. "Do you want to get coffee at the Dot after school? Celebrate making it through the first day?"
I was definitely not up for that. "I think I'm just going home. Maybe take a nap. I didn't sleep well last night."
She looked concerned. "Okay, another time then. Call me later."
By the time I walked into class, the period was almost half over, and in spite of the note from the nurse, Mr. Perino had to be a jackass and say, "Ah, Mr. Goldsworthy. Tardy on the first day. Let's try not to have to repeat Grade 11 for a third time." I was in such a shit mood between him and the nurse that I tuned him out for the rest of the class.
When the bell rang, I made a beeline for my locker. I grabbed my books quickly, since I really didn't want to see Adam or Clare, and walked over to the school buses. This was my first bus experience, since Cece had dropped me off this morning so she could bring my pills to the nurse. It took me a while to find the right one, and I took a seat in the back, glaring at anyone who looked like they were thinking of sitting next to me.
The bus dropped me off only half a block from my house, but mine was the last stop. So what was usually a five minute drive or a twenty minute walk turned into a 40 minute bus ride of torture. By the time I got home, I was pissed. Pissed at the nurse, pissed at Perino, pissed off that I had two more years off high school suffering ahead of me. Pissed at myself for crashing Morty and ruining everything.
I sat down on my bed with my head in my hands and tried to focus. But I felt like all the progress I had made had come crashing down on me the second I went back to Degrassi. Just the sight of Fitz sent me spiraling down. I thought I had built up some resistance, that I was getting stronger. But I was wrong. I was just as weak as before the accident.
I was shaking and I knew that if I couldn't get myself out of this, I'd be facing yet another panic attack, but I just couldn't stop. I thought of Clare, and her look of concern. I didn't want her to be concerned about me. I wanted to her to look at me like she wanted to fuck me or like I was the only guy on earth she loved. I couldn't stand the pitying way Owen and Bianca looked at me when they dragged me to the nurse's office; I'd been in a few classes with them last year and they barely did any of their work but they still moved on to Grade 12 and I didn't.
Fuck. I was sweating and my hands were shaking and I needed another fucking pill but Cece was at work and Bullfrog was out doing whatever the fuck he was doing. I stood up, pacing back and forth as best I could in my room, pissed off that my room was still full of so much crap because I was too fucking psycho to throw anything out. I picked up a paperback book and threw it across the room. It smacked into my lamp, which toppled over but fortunately didn't break.
I needed a pill and I needed a pill now. I thought back to my conversation with Bullfrog, how he said the combination wasn't too hard and if he were me, he would have gotten in there already. I went into their room and opened up Cece's closet door. The safe was on the shelf above her clothes and there was a stepstool conveniently located under it. It had a keypad and I typed in a random number and discovered the code must have four digits.
I tried everything. My birthday, Cece's and Bullfrog's. Our house number. I tried 1111, 2222, and so on, and nothing worked. But then I remembered a number with a lot of significance for Bullfrog and Cece: the year that Bad Religion and the Replacements formed. When The Clash released London calling. My parents' favorite Smashing Pumpkins song.
The lock clicked open. The only thing inside was a bottle of my pills. I grabbed it, not bothering to close the safe and walked back to my room.
Just having the bottle in my hand was already making me feel better. It was about half-full. I wasn't sure when I had gotten a refill, but it was possible Cece gave some of these to the school nurse. I wondered if they'd notice if I sneaked a few out to have on hand. Just in case.
Shit, what if they counted the pills? My parents used to trust me, but they thought I was a drug addict too, just like the nurse. I stared at the bottle. There was a lot at stake here. It was more than one pill, one time.
Fuck. I didn't want to take it, but the more I thought about it, the more anxious I got and the more I needed it. I started pacing again, not even paying attention to the stuff on my floor as I held onto the bottle for dear life. But my hands started shaking and I dropped the bottle. It fell onto something metal with a large clang, and I dropped to my knees in horror. By some miracle, though, the bottle wasn't cracked and the top was child proofed so it hadn't come flying off.
I moved a magazine out of the way to figure out what the bottle had hit when it fell and discovered my old locked box that I used to keep my pills in. I had been using it to store the letters that I wrote to myself.
I almost laughed off the coincidence, but I figured that this was exactly the situation I had written the letters to prevent, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I got the key that was pinned to the stuffed bear in my closet and opened up the box. I grabbed the letter from the top and settled back onto my bed.
This is pretty fucking stupid, writing letters to yourself. But the shrinks said I had to write something and gothic fiction stories don't count and I'm not really a dear diary kind of guy, so here you go. I'm supposed to be telling you all of the reasons you're not supposed to abuse your pills, as if you don't know them. You crashed Morty. You could have died. You fucked up the best thing that ever happened to you.
But I guess it's a good thing that I waited until the very last moment to write this before Dr. Martin would have put me on lockdown for being non-compliant with therapy. Because Clare walked in here today. And even after fucking things up worse than anything you've ever done in your life, she still wants to be part of your life. And I hope by the time you read this letter, you've gotten her back, but something tells me if you had her, you wouldn't need this. Because you'd know that even a moment with Clare Edwards is worth more than having a panic attack go away a minute sooner. It's worth more than a fuzzy feeling that blocks out reality. It's worth everything. You won't have happiness without Clare in your life, and you can't have Clare unless you get your shit together.
I know I'm supposed to tell you that you should be doing this for you. And that's true. But I know you don't care about yourself nearly as much as you care about Clare. So whatever you're about to do that made you read this letter. Don't do it.
PS. If you fuck this up, she's never going to have sex with you.
I couldn't help but laugh at the postscript. But I reread the letter three times, looking between it and the bottle of pills. It was hard to take past Eli's advice. Sure I'd been in rehab for three weeks before I wrote it, but I was still pretty fucked up at the time. And as much as it was hard to admit it, I had come a long way since then. Even though I hated my illness, I had accepted that anxiety was part of my life, and tried to learn better ways to deal with it. I had learned how to be honest, even when it was hard or I was afraid of hurting the people I loved.
But then I kept thinking: I was in a much better place and I still wanted that pill. The bottle was still clenched in my fist. If this was how it was going to feel, what was the point in getting better? I didn't want to spend the rest of my life suffering panic attack after panic attack at the slightest trigger. The pills made the pain go away.
I kept coming back to the line And I hope by the time you read this letter, you've gotten her back, but something tells me if you had her, you wouldn't need this. I shouldn't need this. I had Clare, but I was still sitting here, pills in hand, ready to fuck this all up. Why wasn't what I had with her enough?
The more I thought about it, I realized it wasn't just about Clare. It wasn't because I did have Clare back and that she meant the world to me. It was because I had become the kind of person that Clare could love again, someone she could trust. And going back on that, taking pills and lying about it…I'd lose not only Clare or Adam or my parents. I'd lose myself.
I tucked the letter into the envelope and stuck it at the bottom of the locked box. I hid the box away and then the key. I grabbed the bottle of pills and my cell phone and walked out of my room.
"Hey, Clare," I said, as I put the bottle back into the safe and locked it up. "I changed my mind about coffee. Do you still want to go?" I smiled at her answer. "Meet you at the Dot in 20?"
"Perfect," I responded. "See you there…I love you, too."