It turns out love, is more complicated than just falling into it.
A sequel to "It's About Time."
"It's starting to get cold at night. I don't like it."
Clare is running her fingers idly over Eli's chest. They are huddled under a small blanket in their favourite spot, keeping warm with tender kisses.
"Well Ace, it is September. It's gonna get cold sometime."
She sighs into his chest; she is dreading the start of the semester, because this beginning is an end for them. It is the end of their perfect summer together. Real life is beckoning from beyond the skyline.
"I know that Goldsworthy." She smirks up at him, "doesn't change how I feel about it though."
It is strange to think; a few months ago there was no Eli. He wasn't there to hold her hand in the dark when her parents' arguing became too unbearable. She hadn't been there to joke with him while entrenched in his ritualistic car tunings. There had been no late night ice cream runs or poolside kisses.
She hadn't really considered how alone she had been before him.
"Please, don't pretend you're not excited by the prospect of another school year." He winks at her affectionately, "you love all the new pens and notebooks and cardigans."
She can't put up much of a fight. It seems that he knows her a bit better than she'd like, but it still makes her smile, her sweet boyfriend.
"Well, I am looking forward to school. But, I'll miss this." She places a chaste kiss on his jawline, enjoying his scent. It's a mixture of engine oil, and his woody soap and it's so distinctly him.
She hears him hum in agreement, and he buries his face in her hair. Relaxed, she takes a moment to observe their surroundings. This night is almost as beautiful as their first together. The cool breeze washes the water against the rocks, their faces lit by the traffic pouring in from the city.
"What about you? You looking forward to all the drama at Degrassi?"
She feels nervous at the thought of introducing him to her world. So far they've been able to hide from their respective pasts in the front seat of his hearse. But the moment they step into that school, their relationship will become open to public scrutiny. She'll, regrettably, have to share him.
"Whatever." She rolls her eyes at his answer; sometimes he can be too glib. "As long as I'm with you, I'm good."
He nuzzles his face into her neck, weakening her resolve with a handful of tender kisses.
"You're so full of it."
They laugh together heartily, and he squeezes her body just a bit more tightly. His fingers are creeping under her blouse and rubbing teasingly over her stomach. She feels her heart do a number of flip-flops at his touch, before she reaches to slow his wandering hands.
"Watch it Romeo. We're still in public."
He manages to hide his disappointment when she gives him a stern look. He really doesn't want to pressure her, but he just can't help himself. He's been dreaming about her skin almost every night since the beginning, imaging the feel of her underneath him, moaning.
"Anything for you, Juliet." He places a kiss on her temple and she shakes her head at him. He could have sworn he wasn't this pathetic before her. He's become such a sap with her in his arms.
He's a mushy, gooey, romantic boyfriend and he can't remember a time in recent history that he's been this happy.
"I hate to say this", she untangles herself from his arms and stretches, "but it's getting late."
Ugh. This is his least favourite time of their day. When they make the too-short trip back to their quiet cul-de-sac; him watching her retreat into the house she dreads so much. Seven solid hours without her, utter hell.
"Can't we just sleep in the hearse tonight?" He thrusts his bottom lip out dramatically, pouting. "Think of how nice it would be. Watching the sun come up. Waking up next to each other."
He doesn't think he can spend enough time with her. He would be next to her every single moment of the day if it weren't so utterly pitiful. He needs to get some more hobbies.
"You have no idea how much I want that. Really." She holds out a hand to pull him to his feet. "But if I'm not there when my parents wake up they'll call the National Guard."
He chuckles as he collects their things from the ground, discarded take-out containers littering the rocks.
"But do we have to go now? I can set an alarm or something?" He's starting to sound as desperate as he feels.
She is laughing at him from a few paces ahead and he watches the way her hips sway in her dress. She's always wearing something bright and cheery, yellows and pinks, flowers and polka dots. It's actually pretty amusing to watch them together. They're night and day, rain and sunshine.
"Pick it up Goldsworthy. Sometime before the sun comes up!" There is laughter in her voice as she hollers over to him, her arms swinging animatedly.
Crap. He's definitely in love with her.
Two days later
"So, you're in love with him, right?"
Her, Katie and Alli are all painting their toenails on her bedroom floor. Her friends are so predictable; Alli holding a glittering bright pink, while Katie vigorously shakes a container filled with a deep sea green.
It's odd, she hadn't put too much thought into love before now. Sure, she likes being with him more than anyone else. And she could talk to him for hours. And she can't imagine kissing anyone like she kisses him. And, yes, she often lets her mind wander to what it would be like to see him without any clothes. But love? The word almost takes her breath away. Love is big.
"I...I'm", she thinks of how to articulate her feelings to the girls, "I think. Maybe. Yeah, maybe I do."
She mulls over the two colors she's holding in her hand. Does she want a shiny purple or a fall-like red?
Wow, did she actually just admit to loving Eli, but can't decide which color she wants to paint her toenails? Who is she?
"Well, well." Katie's voice drawls slowly as she sweeps the wand over her baby toe. "Our practical, logical Clare has gone and fallen in love with the neighbourhood bad boy. It's like Sarah Dessen is writing your life."
She can't keep the laugh from bubbling out of her lips. Holy crap. She's in love. She's in love with the moody, mysterious boy from down the street.
"Oh, stop. I'm still boring old me. I just have a lot less free time." She smiles and winks when Katie's jaw falls open "Calm down, I'm kidding."
When Clare looks up from her gleaming first coat she sees Alli looking at her meaningfully.
"Does he know about K.C. and Jenna?"
Clare manages to keep her wince from escaping at Alli's question. She had mentioned her other boyfriend to Eli, but she had chosen to omit the more sordid details, like the cheating and the whole former-best friend thing.
"Yes Alli." She sighs, "he knows I've had another boyfriend."
But the look on her friend's face seems intent on continuing the conversation. "So you 've told him that when the two of you met you had a broken heart? And that broken heart was caused by the guy who, when you last saw him, was trying to get back?"
She's a bit stuck here. She had wanted to tell him everything about that. It was her intention from the beginning, but K.C. seemed like such a distant issue, they hadn't spoken in months.
"I don't see what the problem is," she choses each of her words very carefully, "K.C. is in the past and Eli, well, he's my future."
Alli's face breaks into a smile at Clare's deep blush, the girls snickering in unison,
"Aww, that's so sweet."
She turns her head away from her friends and looks out of the bedroom window to the house down the street, his hearse parked in the driveway. He is her future, she's sure of it.
"That'll be $13.49."
Eli forces a grin for the customer standing opposite him. Sure, working in the music store helps to pad his record collection, but all this pop music is makes his stomach curdle. For the love of god, he can't take another remix. It's bad enough his girlfriend is on dangling the musical fence.
Only 2 hours, 38 minutes, and negligible seconds left until he picks her up and they spend their last school-free, summer night together. And he's nervous.
Although he's been the one constantly assuring Clare that nothing will change now that school's in, he can't help but be apprehensive. He's never really been very good at the whole school thing. Making friends and joining clubs are certainly not his forte.
"Yo, Eli." He is torn from his thoughts when he hears his coworker yell to him.
"What's up?" Eli questions.
When he looks over to Jake, he can see that the boy is smiling widely. "I just got my hands on a bootlegged NOFX. Interested?"
To anyone else Jake would seem like the perfect young man, tall, athletic, and charming; Eli's exact opposite. But Eli knows better, he knows all about Jake's sordid love for punk.
"Are you kidding?" He is grinning like an idiot, but Jake is the only person he knows who shares his passion for music. "Hand it over. Immediately."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Don't get grabby Goldsworthy. This is a rare find."
Eli is rolling his eyes at his friend when the bell above the store's door chimes, but he's too distracted by the record to pay attention.
"Oh, hey K.C."
Eli averts his gaze from the unlabeled CD case long enough to give the stranger Jake greets a once over. He is tall, like Jake, and wearing beat up sneakers and basketball shorts. Eli sighs inwardly, another jock.
"Martin. What's up? I wanted to see if you want to catch a ride to practice together tomorrow?" Jake quickly nods his head in the affirmative, but Eli swears he sees a flicker of anger in his friend's eyes.
"Great bro, see you then."
Jake waits until the door swings shut after K.C. before letting out an angry huff.
Eli is surprised by the outburst. Jake is usually so kind and courteous to everyone, and he wonders what it is about this guy that has him acting so out of character.
Jake's brows furrow, and confusion overtakes his face. "What do you mean? That's K.C. Guthrie."
Now it's his turn to be confused. "Should that mean something to me?"
Eli watches Jake's face fall and his friend's cheeks flush.
"Uh…oh, man." He stutters and lifts a hand to absentmindedly scratch the back of his head. "I just assumed you knew."
"Knew what Martin? Spit it out." Eli really hates being out of loop.
"K.C. used to date Clare. He uh, well, he cheated on her last spring," Eli feels his gut lurch, but keeps his eyes trained on Jake's face. "With her friend Jenna. It was like the scandal of the semester."
Eli's not exactly sure what to say next. Truthfully, he's embarrassed. He just stood there like an idiot while that asshole talked to Jake, that asshole who cheated on Clare, his girlfriend.
His beautiful, intelligent girlfriend, who just so happened to overlook some important details about her ex-boyfriend.
Clare is sitting on the curb in front of her house, tapping her foot anxiously against the concrete, checking her watch every few seconds. Eli is late.
Eli is never late.
She had tried to phone him when his shift at the store had ended, but he hadn't answered. She had originally assumed his phone was dead; he wasn't very vigilant about ensuring that the battery was charged. But now, almost forty minutes after their arranged meeting time, she was getting a bit concerned.
She looked down once more at her watch. Maybe he had to work a bit later today. Or maybe his car had stalled. Perhaps he had told her the wrong time? As she lists the various explanations in her mind she hears the familiar buzz of a car engine from down the street.
Sure enough, when she looks up there is Morty, puttering to a stop right in front of her flip-flops.
When she opens the car door and plops down onto her seat she looks at him questioningly
His voice is short and cold, and Clare can tell that something is not quite right. Attempting normalcy, she grins at him widely, "Did you get lost or something?"
Before the words are out of her mouth, she knows she's said something wrong and Eli lifts an eyebrow at her before turning to focus his gaze out the front window.
Never a fan of mystery Clare wiggles closer to him and places a gentle hand over his.
"Eli, what's wrong? Are you okay?"
Worried, she watches him release a heavy sigh and turn to face her. His eyes look sad, but she can't help but be briefly distracted at how alarmingly green they are.
His voice is weak when he speaks. "I met K.C. today."
She hears herself wince and allows her hand to drop limply into her lap. She was hoping she would be able to coordinate this particular discussion herself. Allow for the correct choreography; explain that he didn't hurt her anymore.
"Oh. I see."
A flash of irritation crosses his features and when she doesn't elaborate after a moment, his eyes fall toward his lap.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
She knows the answer to his question. She's known the answer since they talked about their previous relationships weeks ago.
"Honestly?" He raises his head to meet her eyes. "I didn't think it matter. He doesn't matter."
She watches him carefully and sees a calm pass over his features. She smiles when he reaches over and links their fingers, bringing her palm to his lips and pressing a gentle kiss on her finger tips.
"I'm sorry for being late. I…" He stumbles momentarily over his explanation. "I needed to give Jake a hand with the new shipment."
She tries to keep the frown from appearing on her face, because she knows he is lying. He's not very good at hiding his emotions, especially from her.
"It's fine. Just call next time, 'kay?" Clare smiles at him widely, but it feels forced.
The next day
"So, you didn't ask him what happened?"
Alli and Clare are walking toward the entrance of the school. Somewhere during their trip she had let it slip that Eli met K.C., and now Alli refused to let it go without getting all of the details.
"Well, sort of." Clare hoists her purse a bit higher on her shoulder as she speaks, "He told me K.C. came to the record store and that Jake told him about us."
Their last summer night together had been effectively ruined. Sure, they still sat next to each other on the rocks, but there was decidedly less talking, and certainly no heated kisses. The silence between them was uncomfortable. Their ritual had been strained and awkward for the first time.
"He didn't say anything else?" Alli continues her questioning as Katie approaches. "Did he seem upset?"
The three girls are climbing Degrassi's front stairs as Clare continues her explanation. "I didn't know what to say. We've never really fought before. But, it was weird. We weren't fighting per se."
Katie loops her arm over Clare's shoulder affectionately. Of her two friends Alli is quick to question, Katie to support unwaveringly.
"Well, there is a first time for everything. You should really talk to him. Ask him exactly what happened, and why he's so upset."
The friends pass over the threshold of their homeroom class and take their respective seats. Clare sighs aloud, so much for an easy first day.
Eli is lost.
Degrassi is so big and modern, and unlike all of his previous schools. It certainly doesn't help that he barely slept the night before. He knows he shouldn't have been so frustrated with Clare for not telling him about K.C., but he can't help it. He loves her, and he wants to protect her. He wants her to be able to tell him about the good and the bad.
He turns a corner and is met with a busy hallway. The lunch hour is pandemonium with this many students, like an overcrowded anthill.
He stops when he sees her leaning against a locker, books in hand.
They hadn't spoken since their brief goodbye the night before, 14 painfully long hours ago. She looks as startlingly beautiful, as always.
He is walking towards her, ready to explain his beahviour and beg for forgiveness, when Eli sees him approach her. From his place in the hall he can just make out their conversation.
"Clare." She frowns briefly when she sees the other boy, a smirk stretching across Eli's face.
"Hello K.C." Eli watches him put a hand on her shoulder and flinches. "How was your summer?"
He is clenching his fists tightly as he watches the scene unfold in front of him. That jerk, who had the nerve to cheat on Clare, is actually touching her.
"I think you know the answer to that question." The boy's voice drops and he leans closer to her "I missed you. I still miss you."
Wait, Eli thought he was dating her friend. What is this guy going on about?
"What about Jenna?" Clare's voice is small when she speaks and Eli wonders angrily why she cares? She is with him now.
"I told you before. It was a mistake." Eli can't really believe what he's hearing. K.C. is making a play for his girlfriend, and she's not turning him away.
The anti-social and damaged part of him wants to sneak away, to run back to his room and never leave. But his pride takes over and he approaches the pair quickly, hooking an arm possessively around Clare's waist before speaking.
"Hi, I'm Eli."
Both Clare and K.C. are surprised by his sudden appearance and the other boy takes an apprehensive step backward. Eli smirks; there are some perks to wearing combat boots.
"Who are you?" Clare's head is moving frantically between the two boys, and Eli wishes he knew exactly what was going on in his girlfriend's head.
"I'm Clare's boyfriend."
Eli watches a myriad of emotions play out over the boy's face.
"Boyfriend?" He looks irritated, which makes Eli's smirk become even more pronounced.
"Yeah", Clare is smiling up at him as she leans further into his embrace, "we starting dating this summer. Eli, this is my ex K.C."
"Oh yeah, you're Jake's friend from the record store." K.C. stutters out, backing further even away. "I should get going though. Nice to, uh, meet you. See you later, Clare."
When K.C. disappears from sight Eli lets his arm fall away from Clare and puts some space in between them. She looks disappointed at the loss of contact, but he can't be touching her right now, he's too angry.
"How's your first day going?" She smiles at him shyly and he almost forgets how mad he is.
"Actually", he grits out, "I'm gonna be late for class. I'll see you later."
She looks confused, but now is certainly not the time to explain his feelings. Instead he presses a hard kiss to her forehead and trudges down the hall, his boots clapping forcefully against the tiles.
Clare hates not understanding what is going on with him. One moment he's got his arm around her, smiling widely at her, and the next he's stomping away mad. She knew he was upset about her not mentioning K.C. but now she has no idea how he is feeling.
No more skirting the issue, she's got to talk to him.
When the school bell rang earlier signaling the end of the school day, she decided she would go see him at work, confront him where he couldn't escape her questions.
She is almost at the store when she feels a hand grab at hers from behind.
She turns to see K.C. beaming at her brightly, somewhat out of breath. "You're walking pretty fast there Edwards. Is there a race I don't know about?"
Four months ago she would've smiled at him, giggled even. She used to think his sense of humor was so adorable. Now he is just something in the way of her talking to Eli.
"What do you want?" She can tell her voice is more aggravated than intended because he raises an eyebrow at her tone.
"I wanted to talk to you. You know, when your boyfriend wasn't around." He drops his hand from hers and his face falls slightly. "I can't believe you're dating someone now."
She lifts a hand to rake through her messy curls. "Eli, his name is Eli."
K.C. rolls his eyes before he speaks. "Whatever. I don't care about his name. I care about you. I care about us."
She can't help but scoff aloud. He didn't seem to care too much about her a few months ago when she caught him pressed against a locker kissing one of her friends.
"There isn't an us." She sighs again. "I'm late K.C."
She makes a move to walk away but he grabs ahold of her hand again. "Wait. Why are you doing this?"
She whirls on him angrily, "Doing what K.C.?"
He is taken aback by her irritation, but continues speaking anyway. "Walking away from me. Dating that loser."
Clare has had enough of this. "He is not a loser. He's my boyfriend!" She shakes her head emphatically. "We're not together anymore K.C. You cheated, with my friend, I might add. And then I moved on. I found someone else." She raises her voice defiantly, "someone better."
He looks visibly hurt at her words, but she isn't sorry. And when he doesn't speak, she continues her explanation.
"We were never that good together anyway K.C. We certainly never loved each other."
He opens his mouth to protest but it falls shut almost instantly.
"I'm not saying it to be mean. Really. I'm happy with Eli." She smiles lovingly when she thinks of him, aching to press her lips against his. "I love him."
She realizes that this is the second time she's said how she feels about Eli out loud, but still has yet to tell him. She needs to talk to him now.
"I've really got to go K.C."
Defeated, he nods his head at her. "Bye."
She turns her back to him and sprints away, running at full force toward the record store. When she reaches the entrance to the shop, she is out of breath. Regardless, she swings the door open forcefully and smiles when she sees him look up at her.
He can't hide his smile when she barges through the door. She's sweating and disheveled, and just as stunning as ever.
He chuckles at their lack of eloquence. Two months of endless talking, laughing and kissing, and now they're awkward.
Determined, she strides over to him and presses their mouths together, and he sighs into her lips. He's really very glad that there are no customers at the moment. He's even gladder when she deepens the kiss, sliding her tongue across his urgently.
He responds eagerly, wrapping his arms around her waist, digging his fingers into her hips. He can't believe how much he's missed kissing her after only a few hours.
It's almost as if he'd been trapped under water without her, and now he can finally catch his breath.
He hears a voice laughing from behind them and reluctantly tears their lips apart. They both turn to see Jake looking at them quizzically, a stack of CDs precariously balanced in his hands.
A deep blush colors Clare's cheeks as she speaks, "We should take this outside."
Eli can hear his friend's laugh intensify as Clare drags him out of the door. He grins when Jake calls after them loudly, "have fun you two!"
When they get outside Clare lets go of his hand and smiles at him shyly.
"I think we need to talk." He shuts his eyes and nods, dreading the thought of confessing his insecurities.
"Ace, I'm…" He begins, but she interrupts.
"Eli look. I know you're mad that I didn't mention K.C. and Jenna, but I was being honest last night. I don't care about him anymore." She pauses only briefly to take a breath.
"I should've said something, I know. But I thought it didn't matter; anything we had is long over. It's the past."
When she finishes her explanation she looks relieved, as if a weight has been pulled from her shoulders.
"I know Ace. I believe you, really." He lifts his hand to hold hers. "I guess I just got scared."
She moves closer to him and wraps her arms around his waist, hugging him fiercely. He hums with contentment, loving the feeling of being this close to her. But he knows that he still has to explain his actions. Pulling back slightly, he lifts a hand to gently tuck a stray curl behind her ear.
"I'm not really good with trusting people, never have been. But that doesn't mean I want you to keep things from me. I want you to be able to tell me everything. I want you to want to tell me everything.
He watches her eyes dart back and forth, considering his words thoughtfully.
"I do want to tell you everything Eli. I guess I was just too scared to. What happened with K.C. was," she pauses "humiliating."
He hates to see her in pain, so he brings her body forward and squeezes her tightly. Her smell invades his nostrils and he breathes in the delicate lilac shampoo.
Urging her to continue, he presses his lips to her fore head.
"I felt pathetic, used." Her voice hitches in her throat and he beings to rub soothing circles on her back.
"But, when we met, it was incredible." He smiles at the memory. Incredible is certainly the right word for their relationship.
"It was so much more than I ever felt for K.C. I couldn't believe I was capable of feeling so much. I was so happy. I am so happy." She takes another deep breath before continuing, "I guess I didn't want you to see what he saw and leave me too."
He can feel her delicate tears soak through his shirt and at that moment he is ready to kill this K.C. idiot. He'll find him and run him down with Morty. Or strangle him with his bare hands. Or push him in front of a bus. Anything.
He gently leans away from her warm body and cups her face in both of his hands.
"Baby", he starts, testing the nickname and smirking at how intimate it sounds. "I'm not going to leave you. I promise."
She giggles at his words, and he thinks the sound of her laugh must be what heaven is like.
"Baby?" She nuzzles her face deeply into his chest, "I thought my name was Ace?"
Eli laughs and lifts her chin up with his fingers, bringing their lips together in a gentle kiss. He thinks he could be like this with her forever. Laughing and kissing and being in love.
He feels a drop of rain hit his head and they both look to the sky. Before either of them is aware the sky opens and rain begins to fall.
"I think we should get inside. You know, before we get sick or I get fired for slacking off."
He laces her fingers with his and drags her inside, both of them grinning like fools.
"First the cold weather, and now the rain. We're never going to be able to go back to our spot. We'll be doomed to the suburbs forever!" Clare is waving her hands theatrically.
She is curled intimately into Eli's side. They're trapped in his room, spending their night cuddled on his bed, watching the rain fall. They've kicked off their shoes, and are now rubbing their socked feet together intimately under the blanket.
"Don't you think that's a tad bit dramatic Ace?"
She nods into the crook of his neck, feeling safe in his arms as the wind howls outside. She's glad they've sorted things out, she can't imagine being without him.
"Clare." She is startled momentarily by his voice; he never addresses her by her given name. "There is something I need to tell you."
She lifts her head cautiously from his chest, furrowing her brows. The nauseated look on his face concerns her. She could've sworn that everything was fine with them a moment ago. Did she do something wrong?
"I'm, ah, I'm" He pauses for a moment and closes his eyes shut. "I love you."
Without thought she leaps into his arms, knocking him further down onto the bed. She is laughing and pressing kisses all over his face, trying to cover him completely.
"I love you. I love you. I love you." She knows she must sound completely insane, but it can't be helped.
He loves her.
"Ha! I guess I had nothing to be nervous about then?" The sound of his voice makes her sit up again, and stare into his eyes meaningfully.
"Did I mention that I love you?"
A/N: Thank you for all of your kind words and thoughtful reviews. I've been having a lot of fun writing and sharing it with all of you.