After the Storm

Chapter 1: A New Low

And now for something completely different,* I offer you a little something EClare. Despite all of the reports to the contrary, I still have faith in them as a couple. However, before any EClare reunion can occur, a few things need to happen. Eli needs to focus on getting better and learn how to manage his illness. Eli and Clare need to have an honest conversation about their relationship and about all of the truly traumatizing crap Eli has put Clare through. Clare needs to develop the maturity to handle a partner with so much mental and emotional baggage (not an easy feat, by any means, especially for a girl in high school). And they both need to resolve not to make any stupid promises about never leaving each other. Maybe if all of these things happen; the writers take pity on us; and we all clap our hands together and chant, "We do believe in EClare. We do believe in EClare," EClare will indeed happen again.**

One thing I should make clear though, to save critics the time of reading, is that this fiction will in NO WAY be about Clare getting "what is coming to her." If you haven't read my other fiction, "In Defense of Clare," you may be unaware of my position surrounding the current persecution of Ms. Edwards. To put it bluntly, it literally turns my stomach to read the massive amounts of Clare hate surging through the Degrassi Universe. From what I've read, it seems that people cannot wait for Clare to be cheated on; to break down completely; to lose all of her friends; to be soundly and publically humiliated; in other words, to "get what she deserves." Clare Bashing has become a fun, new pastime in which all the "cool kids" are participating. In fact, if I didn't find it so horrifying, I could really savor the mouth-watering deliciousness of what I like to refer to as the anti-Clare hypocrisy. Call me crazy and take away the keys to my hearse, but it seems to me that quite a few anti-Clare fans are exhibiting the very behaviors that they dogmatically accuse Clare of embodying. Calling out Clare for being judgmental, immature, whiny, melodramatic, and mean - all the while gleefully bashing Clare and wishing her nothing but humiliation and misery (and sometimes even harm) simply because she is dating Jake and was snarky to Alli? Hmmmm …? Could someone please pass the hypocrisy? Oh, and is there another slice of that delectable double standard left? Really, it just seems so "junior high bullying in the girls' bathroom."

So, gentle readers, in my story, Clare Edwards will not spiral into a deep depression and prostrate herself before Eli, begging his forgiveness for her many "sins" against him. Oh no, in my story, Clare Edwards will be the hero. Obviously, she will be a flawed hero (all interesting heroes are- and, really, we are talking about Clare here), but she will be the hero, nonetheless. So, read at your own risk.

This story is set somewhere in the current 2011-2012 school year. Jake and Clare have broken up, after he rejected her offer to sleep with him (What a bitch! Coming on to her boyfriend, for God's sake! I hope someone slaps some sense into her- or just slaps her!). Eli and Clare have not had much contact since the awkward truck ride home in Nowhere to Run. And Eli is still struggling with managing his illness- a struggle that will more than likely plague him all of his life, since mental illness cannot be cured in the course of one 30 minute episode. Wouldn't it be great if it could?

A big shout out to the band Mumford and Sons and their song "After the Storm" for the title of this story and to Middle Class Rut, whose song "A New Low" inspired this chapter title. Give them both a listen. You won't regret it.

I do not own Degrassi or any of the characters associated with it.

* Gratuitous Monty Python (which I also do not own) reference : )

** Even more gratuitous Peter Pan (which I don't own either) reference ; )

It was starting to rain. Icy rivulets dripped down Eli Goldsworthy's face, as he flipped the collar of his leather jacket up in a futile attempt to keep dry. For the millionth time that day, he wished for his hearse. But Morty was now a twisted piece of metal in some salvage yard, a tangible reminder of Eli's persistent psychosis and dramatic mental breakdown. As much as he hated it, Eli was now dependent on his parents for rides, like some pathetic middle schooler.

The wind picked up, cutting like glass through Eli's exposed skin and propelling the freezing drops of water into his face where they exploded like shrapnel. "God damn it," Eli thought to himself, brushing his soggy bangs out of his eyes. This so wasn't his idea. Given the choice, there was no way he would ever be wandering the streets of downtown Toronto in a godforsaken rain storm. No, this was all his mother's idea.

CeCe had dropped him off downtown earlier and had run off to do errands, encouraging Eli to get out and "have fun," her voice maniacally cheerful in the face of his sullen demeanor. But, as much as Eli cursed his current situation, he didn't really blame his mom. He had been moping around the house for the last few weeks, tense and agitated. Try as he might, lately he just couldn't seem to settle. He was antsy- wound up tighter than a virgin on her wedding night.

His stomach twisted painfully. It was a familiar feeling – this feeling of anxiety, sitting coiled and ready to spring in his gut. He had talked to his doctor about it at his last therapy session, and she had changed his medication, switching him to a brand that, according to her, was very popular with people his age who suffered from bipolar disorder. He tried to joke with her and say that, as a proud member of the counter culture, he didn't follow the popular trends. However, she just gave him a pity smile and signed the prescription. Yep, he thought with a sigh, he was definitely losing his touch – not to mention his appetite, his sex drive, his ability to focus, and, of course, any sanity he had left after the car crash.

Through the deluge of rain, Eli spotted a book store, its glowing windows flashing the seductive promise of warmth and shelter. Previously a voracious reader, it had been months since Eli had actually read a book. He just couldn't still his restless mind enough to sit for extended periods of time, let alone comprehend anything with a more complex plot structure than a comic book. It was difficult enough just trying to keep up with school. His grades had gone to shit this semester. At least, his parents weren't giving him grief about them. They were just grateful that he wasn't crashing cars or setting his work on fire in front of an audience. However, Eli knew that, deep down, they were worried, as they watched the possibility of a college scholarship go down the toilet. Hell, at this rate, he would be lucky if he managed to graduate on time.

The bell on the door of the book store jangled harshly, as Eli pushed past it. Immediately, he was met with a wall of warmth. However, instead of soothing his numb body, the change in temperature was strangely suffocating. Eli felt the air closing in on him, smothering him with its thick, viscous heat.

The lady behind the counter smiled at him, but all Eli could do was shoot her a painful, twisted grimace in return, as he made his way to a section in the back of the store, away from any curious eyes.

The damp, humid air oppressed him with its heft, skyrocketing his heart rate. Nervously, Eli put his hand on his chest, willing his heart to slow its frantic pace. He could feel his skin flushing; the warmth creeping up his torso and neck and spilling over his face, infusing his pale skin with its red stain. He shrugged off his jacket and leaned his forehead against the bookcase, deeply breathing in the warm, stale air.

After what seemed like an eternity, but, Eli knew, was only a minute or two, he cautiously opened his eyes. His fuzzy gaze focused on a picture of a table laden with food – glistening roasts, voluptuous baked goods, steaming pots of soup. In his quest for isolation, Eli had somehow ended up in the cookbook section – an ironic location given that he couldn't remember the last time he had eaten.

His stomach heaved violently, and Eli swallowed the bile furiously collecting in the back of his throat. Food was just another one of his former passions that had been dulled and spoiled by his medication.

"Young man," an older man with grizzled hair and a kind face addressed Eli. "Are you OK? You look like you are about to be ill."

"I'm fine," Eli croaked hoarsely, shaking his head and pulling his lips back in what he hoped was a semblance of a smile. "I just have a little cold; makes me lightheaded," he lied, praying that the man would leave it at that.

The man gave him a curious look but nodded once and shuffled off to the section on religious studies.

Eli breathed out a sigh of relief and forced himself to pick up a book. As much as it pained him, he knew that he better start blending in with the "normal" patrons of the book store, if he wanted to avoid observation. He had over an hour until CeCe was due to meet him.

The book was a cookbook on Italian cuisine. Page after page was covered with pictures of thick tomato sauces and curling, doughy pastas. Italian food used to be Eli's very favorite kind of food before the breakdown, but looking at the glossily enticing pictures, he started to violently shake. His stomach roiled, bitter digestive juices sloshing back and forth in the tight, empty organ. Gagging, Eli felt his saliva turn thin and salty, flooding his mouth and threatening to spill down his chin. Tears sprang in his eyes, as his vision blurred.

"Shit, shit, oh, God – please, no," Eli whispered, dropping the offending book and scrabbling desperately in his pocket for his phone. He needed to call CeCe and tell her to come now, before he lost it completely. But, try as he might, he couldn't make his hands work. His heart began to beat out of his chest, as he frantically clawed at the pocket of his jacket. Before he could even process it, his vision narrowed to a pin prick of clarity, as the oppressive blackness threatened to swallow him whole.

With a strangled cry of panic, Eli fell to the floor, hugging his knees to his chest in desperation, trying to urgently anchor himself against the onslaught of fear. He thrashed around blindly, attempting to keep the blackness at bay.

Vaguely, he felt movement around him, as the patrons of the book store, summoned by his cries of anguish, gathered around him. But then the dull, rushing sound of water filled his ears, and he gave in to the blackness- drowning in its dense, inky heat.

"Sir, Sir!" one of the employees of the store called, crouching down and putting a hand on Eli's shoulder in an attempt to get his attention.

Eli lashed out at the touch, swinging his arm wildly, and the employee retreated back to a safe distance.

"Should we call an ambulance?" a concerned woman asked. "Or the police?"

"No! No! No!" Eli moaned his voice abnormally high in terror. "Please, please, stop. Please, please, please …"

….

Clare was browsing in the young adult section of the bookstore, looking at the newly released hardback books, when she heard the commotion. She had been at the bookstore since it had opened earlier that morning and really should have been home long ago. However, she couldn't stomach the idea of going back to her house. Ever since Jake had rejected her after she had pitifully thrown herself at him, things at home had been tense – and that was putting it politely. Try as she might, Clare couldn't stand to be in the same room as Jake. Every time he spoke to her, Clare winced, remembering his attempt to "let her down" gently. Every time he smiled his stupid smile, Clare's stomach revolted, remembering when he had smiled at her like that. She had given him her heart, and he had stomped all over it. And now she had to live with him – see him every day – be constantly reminded of his rejection. But then, she chided herself, she should have known better. When she and Jake had decided to continue their relationship after becoming step-siblings, Clare knew, in the back of her mind, that things would not turn out well. And her fears had come true in the worst possible way. Was it any wonder then that she spent her weekends at the library or at the park or, today, at the book store?

A desperate cry jolted her from her perusal of the latest book by Sarah Dessen. Startled, Clare looked up. People were running to the food and wine section of the store, congregating around, what Clare could just make out, a prostrate figure on the floor. Was someone having a seizure? - A heart attack? Not wanting to join the crowd of rubberneckers but also not wanting to seem unconcerned, Clare hesitatingly made her way to the very edge of the throng of spectators.

"Is everything OK?" she asked a middle aged woman who was clutching the latest self-help book.

"I think that boy is on some drug," the woman replied snidely. "I'm about ready to call the police."

Peeking over the shoulders of the patrons in front of her, Clare's breath caught in her throat when she saw the crumpled figure.

Eli was rolling around on the cold, wooden floor, clutching his head in his hands and muttering desperate pleas. Instantly Clare was transported back in time to the months when she and Eli had been a couple. During her tenure as Eli's girlfriend, she had witnessed a few of Eli's panic attacks – one in the halls of Degrassi when she had unknowingly set Eli off by cleaning his locker; one in his room, as she was trying to encourage him to throw out some of the accumulated detritus that lined his walls and covered his floor; and one in Morty after a particularly heated argument over Clare's willingness to forgive Fitz, the resident bully and Eli's number one adversary. But never had she seen an attack that was as violent as the one through which Eli was currently suffering.

Looking at broken boy, Clare's first instinct was to run. It had taken all of her strength to walk away from Eli after he had crashed his car in a desperate attempt to prevent her from leaving him. And since their intensely traumatic break-up, Clare had been forced to stand by and stoically watch Eli purposely go off his medication, write and produce a play about their doomed romance, and try to sabotage her relationship with Jake by attempting to plant prescription pills in Jake's locker. As much as she wanted to deny it, as much as she tried to remember the good times at the start of their relationship, Clare had finally been forced to acknowledge that she and Eli were simply not good for each other. In fact, when it came down to it, they were a toxic combination. What had started out as something beautiful had morphed into something destructive for the both of them. Thus, the last thing Clare needed at this low point of her life was to get tangled up in Eli again.

Tears filled her eyes, as she slowly turned towards the store's exit. She would call Eli's mother from outside of the store. She was pretty sure she still had her number in her contacts. CeCe would know what to do. CeCe could rescue Eli, and Clare could go on her way – back to her own problems.

"Oh, God, please, please…I can't do this… please…" Eli begged, his voice ragged with despair.

Clare didn't know if it was his tortured tone or his invocation of a God he didn't believe in that changed her mind. But she turned around quickly and determinedly pushed through the crowd.

Up close, Eli looked even more shattered. He was writhing on the floor, teeth chattering, as violent tremors shook his body. His eyes were unfocused and streaming with tears. Clare approached him cautiously.

"Miss, don't go near him," the book store employee warned. "He's not in his right mind. He could seriously hurt you."

"It's OK," Clare replied, her voice shaking. She steadied it carefully. "I know him; I can handle this."

Throwing her purse to the side, she dropped to the floor and scooted forward to Eli.

"Eli!" she called firmly, putting her hand softly on his back.

"No!" Eli shrieked, flailing his arms and hitting Clare in the face. "Don't touch me! Get away from me!"

Clare rubbed her cheek where Eli had struck her. Taking a deep breath, she steeled herself resolutely. "Eli," she tried again, "it's me. It's Clare. I'm here, Eli. You are going to be OK." Ignoring the curious throng who were clamoring against each other trying to obtain a better view, Clare tried again to reach out to Eli. This time she grabbed his arms to prevent him from lashing out. He struggled desperately, trying to free himself from her grasp, but she held on grimly.

"Eli!" she called again, struggling with his violent writhing. "Eli, calm down. It's Clare. It's me. It's OK, Eli. I'm here. You're not alone. I'm not going to let anything happen to you." Somehow she managed to pin his arms at his side and engulf him in a tight embrace. He fought against her viciously, clawing at her sides in a frantic attempt to break free. But she only held on tighter and started slowly rocking him back and forth. "That's right, Eli. I've got you. You're safe, Eli. I'm with you," she soothed. But the shattered boy continued his frantic struggle. Quickly, realizing that her pleas for him to calm down weren't working, Clare switched tactics and started talking conversationally instead.

"What do you think of Ms. Dawes assigning us Frankenstein this year in English, Eli?" she began, her voice soothing but loud enough to be heard over Eli's anguished cries. "I have to admit, I wasn't all that excited to read it initially. I kept thinking it was going to be like those old, campy, horror movies with the guy with the square head and the bolt in his neck. But, surprisingly, I love it. The whole idea of man trying to be Godlike and creating a human without the help of a woman is fascinating."

Ignoring the assembled spectators, Clare continued to talk about the book, analyzing its latent feminist themes and delving into its parallels to Milton's Paradise Lost and to the story of creation in Genesis. Little by little, as she quietly droned on, she felt Eli's frame start to sag against her- the tension of his muscles uncoiling a bit, as his body began to slacken. His head was buried in her neck; the shoulder of her shirt wet with his tears. She could feel his heartbeat still frantically pounding, but his tortured cries had stopped. He was now focused completely on breathing – inhaling and exhaling shallowly, forcing air into his burning lungs. His hands had stopped clawing at her and were now tightly wound around her waist in a viselike grip. Clare was pretty sure she would have bruises. She could already feel the angry scratches on her waist and hips from Eli's desperate struggle.

Pausing in her extemporaneous book talk, she looked up, noticing that the crowd had thinned significantly. Just a few concerned spectators remained, but Clare tried not to focus on them. She glanced at her purse, just out of reach, cursing herself silently for forgetting to take out her phone.

She noticed Eli's jacket lying in a crumpled heap where he had dropped it on the floor. If she could just get ahold of his phone…

Taking a deep breath, Clare tentatively loosened her tight hold on Eli. She felt him stiffen in response. "It's OK, Eli," she comforted. "I'm not going to let you go. I'm just going to get your phone and call CeCe." She cautiously removed her right arm from Eli's body.

Immediately, he grasped her tighter, burrowing into her shoulder and knocking her back against the wooden bookshelf. Her head hit the wood with a dull thud.

"Shh. It's OK," she soothed, closing her eyes and biting her lip in pain. "CeCe will help, Eli. She will know what to do. I just need to call her." She continued to talk quietly to Eli, as her right hand fumbled in the pocket of Eli's jacket. Finally, she felt the cool slickness of his phone. Bringing the device up to eye level, she one-handedly scrolled through Eli's contacts until she found CeCe.

"Please be there. Please be there, " Clare mumbled, grasping Eli tightly as the phone rang.

"Eli," CeCe's familiar voice came on the line. "Honey, are you already through? I'm right in the middle of grocery shopping. Can you hang on for another twenty minutes?"

"CeCe," Clare's voice rasped, "it's Clare."

"Clare?" CeCe's voice questioned in disbelief. "What are you doing with Eli's …"

"CeCe," Clare broke in anxiously, "I'm at Braden's Book Store on 15th Street. Eli is having some kind of panic attack. It's pretty bad – the worst I've seen from him. Can you come?" She fought to keep her voice level and soft, not wanting to set off Eli even more.

"Oh shit," CeCe breathed, her voice rising in panic. "Clare, sweetie, is he OK? He hasn't hurt himself has he?"

"No," Clare replied, her voice cracking, "I've managed to calm him down a bit, but I think he needs to see a doctor or take his medicine or something. Can you come and pick him up?"

"I'm leaving right now, Clare," CeCe cried, breathing hard. "Just hold on a little longer, Baby. I'll be right there."

"Can you call me when you are outside of the store?" Clare pleaded, desperation coloring her voice despite her efforts. "I don't think we can wait for you to find a parking space."

"Of course," CeCe replied. Clare heard a car door open and then slam shut. "Clare, I'll be right there. Just stay with him, OK?"

"I'm not going anywhere," Clare assured the frantic woman. She heard the squeal of tires before the line went dead.

Ending the call, Clare grasped the phone tightly and lowered her head onto Eli's bowed one. She closed her eyes and said a silent prayer that CeCe would arrive soon and that Eli would be OK.

"Miss," the manager of the bookstore called nervously from a safe distance, jarring Clare from her reverie. "Is everything OK? Should I call the authorities?"

"No," Clare stated weakly. "He's just having a panic attack. I called his mother. She will be here soon."

The manager nodded worriedly and retreated, herding the remaining spectators away from the intertwined couple.

Clare turned her attention back to Eli, rocking him gently and tightening her grasp. "Your mom is coming, Eli. Everything is going to be OK. Just hang on a little bit longer. Can you do that for me?"

He clutched her tightly, pressing his body into hers almost viciously. From their close proximity, Clare noticed that his shaking had increased slightly and that his breathing was a bit more labored. Her mind grasped anxiously for a new topic of conversation, but due to stress or exhaustion or both, she kept drawing a blank. Should she pray? The words of the Rosary came to her mind – Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Reciting the Rosary had always calmed Clare, even in her darkest moments. However, she knew that Eli was a dyed in the wool atheist. Perhaps the prayer would stress him out even more.

Suddenly, she had an idea. Clearing her throat hoarsely, she started to softly sing. Eyes closed against the film of tears threatening to fall, she whispered gently into Eli's ear, "I see your pattern, and I can match it - Just trace the lines of your paisley jacket."