Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction. None of the characters, places, or other names associated with this fic are mine.
Chapter One: Under Pressure
He had never had cause to think of it before, but now that he did, it was striking to Eli how different the pain was following the death of a relationship from the pain following the death of someone you were in a relationship with.
Julia never really left his mind, and every day he found himself missing something about her – the evil glare she'd give him when he was too forward, the way her lips always tasted like coconut, how her towels always had stains of black hair dye on them. All the little things you'd never miss about someone while they were there were the things he longed for so much he often found it hard to sleep.
It was different now, with Clare. He might miss Julia every day, but all he had of her were memories. When it got to be too sad, he could lock her away. He could be busy and not think of her. But not with Clare. She was still there, still walking around, which meant her pain could sneak up on him. He'd be doing what he could to not remember the look of fear in her eyes when she came to the hospital, to not think about the horrible words that had been said, and then there she'd be, walking down the hall with Alli or writing in a notebook at her desk, and it'd all come crashing to the forefront of his mind.
He knew the pain of losing Julia was a permanent one, because he'd never be able to get anything they had back. And sure, maybe he'd never win Clare back, but at some point they'd talk, at some point they'd heal their wounds and he could at least think of her as someone he could make smile again. So Julia's pain was worse because it was more permanent, but in those days at the beginning of the semester, Clare's pain was more real and inescapable.
He did what he could, though, not to let this fact come to Clare's attention. The last thing he wanted after his desperate ploy with Morty was for her to have any more reasons to pity him. He spent more time with Adam, making sure to never walk down the hallway alone, so that on those awkward trips past her locker when she'd glance at him with eyes full of empty apologies, he could keep his head inclined toward Adam and pretend not to notice. But of course he noticed. It might be part of the reason she thought him so crazy, but he noticed everything about Clare, even then. She could have parted her hair a centimeter the other direction and he would have seen.
"Dude. Eli. Stop!" Eli looked up from his tray, raising his eyebrows at Adam, who was glaring at him from across the lunch table.
"Stop…what?" He asked after a long moment when Adam said nothing more.
"Stop thinking about her!"
"Easier said than done, my friend."
Adam rolled his eyes. "I think I've been more than patient. I mean, I've done my best not to comment on the fact that once she dumps you, you have all the time in the world to be my best friend again when I hardly saw you when you were dating. I've been good, because I know you're all heartbroken and everything…but throw me a bone, here."
"Exactly what sort of bone are we talking about?"
"I don't know. Can't we just do something fun? Something very not-mopey and not-Claire, something where I don't have to sit here and watch you look so miserable all the time?"
Adam bit his lip. Clearly, he already had a plan in mind before he ever mentioned it to Eli, but didn't seem as sure that Eli would play along. "Well…you know that senior, Hillary?"
"Well, there's this senior named Hillary –"
"I gathered that."
"—anyway, she's having this party tonight, her parents are out of town."
Eli swallowed. "I wasn't aware that we were the high school party-going type, Adam."
"We're not," Adam sighed, instantly looking defeated. "I just figured…"
"—that maybe I needed to try something new? That clearly whatever I was doing before wasn't entirely working for me, or I wouldn't be in this position, so what have I got to lose?"
Adam's eyes narrowed. "I…guess."
Eli smirked. He knew that all probably had very little to do with Adam's desire to go. Adam was a great friend, and far more understanding of Eli's heartbreak that most guys would be, but his desire to go to Hillary's party was for himself, not Eli. Eli took solace in being alone and brooding, but Adam longed to be part of social groups. It wasn't easy for him to find social situations where he'd feel comfortable and accepted, but he wanted to get out there and try. It was the least Eli owed him to have his back on it. "So what time's this party start, my friend?"
Balancing her tray on top of her math binder and history book, Anya moved out of the lunch line and joined Chantay and Holly J, who were standing just a foot or so to the side, having already gotten their lunches. Together, they set off toward their usual table, and as always, Chantay was the first to start chattering.
"So you'll never guess what's happening tonight," she burst out, her eyes glowing with the latest gossip. "Hillary Thomas is having a monster party. It's going to be awesome! Anyone who is anyone at this school will be there."
"So that means nobody important's going, right?" Holly J said with a smirk as they took their seats. She looked to Anya for a laugh, but after glancing at Chantay's pursed lips, Anya just looked down and concentrated on opening her juice.
"Holly J, you don't understand. This is our last semester of high school. If ever there was a time to go attend crazy parties and go all out, this is it. It's our last chance."
Holly J raised an eyebrow. "Or, if ever there was a time to buckle down and study and get in all the extracurriculars we can, this is it."
Chantay let out a huff. "Seriously, Holly J, what extracurricular are you going to do on a Friday night?"
Holly J didn't respond, so Chantay turned to Anya for support. "Come on, Anya, doesn't it sound fun? After that crazy test we just had in Armstrong's, I think we could all use a crazy fun night."
Anya looked down at her tray again. She could use this 'crazy fun' night Chantay was envisioning for far more reasons than Armstrong's complicated math exam. But Chantay wasn't the kind of friend she could explain all that too. Actually, none of her friends were, and wasn't that part of the problem?
"I think you're right," Anya found herself saying, at the exact moment that Holly J said, "I don't think it's such a great idea."
They looked at each other. "Why isn't it a good idea?" Anya asked.
Holly J glanced pointedly at the empty chair on her other side. "Fiona," she said carefully, stressing each syllable, a look on her face as if she couldn't understand why Anya didn't already known the answer.
Anya sighed. Of course. Fiona. It seemed to be Holly J's only motivation these days – not upsetting Fiona, doing whatever Fiona would think was best. And an alcohol-filled high school party was certainly not something Fiona could be a part of.
Chantay pouted. "But Holly J –"
"But nothing. I can't believe you guys would be so insensitive. She has a disease, a serious addiction – I don't think we're being very good friends if we go out partying like that."
Deep inside, Anya knew Holly J was being a good friend. If she was Holly J, she would be saying the exact same thing. It was the kind of thing good friends did – if your friend has to miss out on something, like the typical high schooler's experience of a party, then you miss out on it with them. Anya knew it wasn't easy on Holly J, all the things she did for Fiona. Boy, did she know. She heard about it every day – the late night conversation Holly J had with Fiona to keep her from drinking, the trips to see her in the middle of the night because she couldn't be alone – every experience Holly J had, Anya heard about. Nevermind what was going on in Anya's life, nevermind how little ability she had to shoulder anyone else's stress at that moment. Holly J supported Fiona, and, willing or not, Anya supported Holly J. She just wished this chain of support didn't seem to end with her, that she had someone to lean on too. But that wasn't Anya. She didn't lean on people, they leaned on her.
Anya looked from Holly J's contemptuous glare to Chantay's pouting expression, and finally said, "It's not fair, you're right. But it isn't fair to us to miss out on everything for Fiona, who isn't even here right now. She doesn't need to know we're going. Fiona's in AA, not us. If you don't want to go, Holly J, then don't. But Chantay wants to, and…so do I."
Chantay's face lit up at the news that she was going to have company, while Holly J's mouth fell open. "Anya…"
But Anya was already standing, stacking her things up. "No, Holly J, it's fine." She forced her face into a smile. "I'm not trying to be rude at all. It's just…Armstrong's test was really stressful, and I had a long night studying for it last night. I'd just like to blow some steam off tonight. And…look. Fiona deserves some special time too, so what if tomorrow you and I go shopping with her and then out to lunch? Good, clean fun, the kind she needs to have?"
Holly J looked at her for a long moment, as if trying to decide whether she should still be mad at her decision to go to the party. Finally, she smiled. "That sounds great. I'll text her tonight about it and let you know where we can meet in the morning."
"That sounds perfect," Anya said, breaking into a bigger smile. "Now, if you ladies will excuse me, I'm going to go study for my French exam later, so…I will catch you later about the party, okay, Chantay?" She barely waited for Chantay's acknowledgement before turning and heading for the door, tossing her uneaten lunch in the trash as she went.
She hurried to her locker, hardly paying attention to whoever she passed in the hall, her vision becoming blurry with tears as she went. Her fingers spun her lock blindly, as she muttered to herself, voice filled with frustration and bitterness. "Oh yes, Holly J, everything's just fine, thank you for asking. Since you've asked about my mother even once in the last month, I'm sure you already know that there's a pretty good chance she's relapsing and we have to wait till next week to get the test results back, so it's a tense hell hole at my house right now and I'd do anything not to be there. You're such a good, understanding friend. Thank you so much for letting me lean on you and letting me tell you my problems, and not burdening me with your various relationship problems and a minute-by-minute Fiona Coyne saga. You're just the best."
Finally managing to get the combination right, Anya slammed her locker open, the metallic clang of the door hitting the locker next to hers masking the choked sob that escaped her lips before she could stop herself. Taking a deep breath, Anya composed her and dropped her books into the bottom of her locker and shut it quickly. She shook her head, clearing her eyes of tears and positioning a pleasant smile on her face again. Now was not the time. She would turn, walk down the hall to the bathroom, lock herself in a stall and, as long as no one else was there, she'd let herself cry for a few minutes. That was all she'd allow herself – just a few minutes. She wouldn't let her fear for her mother control her, not yet, not when there was still hope that there was nothing to be afraid for.
She could do this, even if no one else bothered to notice. She could do this all on her own.
As she turned to head toward the bathroom, she noticed two boys a little further down the hall at a locker on the opposite wall. The first, Adam Torres, flashed her a brief smile and looked away quickly, messing with the books in his locker nervously. Anya smiled back cheerily, as she always did, and turned the same smile on the boy standing next to Adam. Something…something Goldsworthy, Anya wasn't entirely sure of his first name, but knew that he sat at the back of her French class. He didn't smile back, but Anya felt his eyes on her as she continued past them to the bathroom. She tried not to blush. Obviously they had seen her throw her locker open, and had no doubt heard her ranting to herself, though they were too far away to have heard what she was really saying.
Oh well, she found herself thinking. With the number of fights, outbursts, and breakdowns she'd witnessed and heard about happening in the halls at Degrassi, her little locker slamming incident was nothing. So what if two boys she never talked to saw her? She was almost glad they had. It wasn't her job to be happy for everyone all the time, was it?
Next time, in Chapter 2: Kiss, Kiss – Anya runs from her fears, Eli gets bitter about women, and the two share a moment.