Clare could feel her heart racing as the question rang through her ears.
"Do you think we could ever pick up where we left off?" she heard the question again, though there was no movement about Eli's lips. Clare was panicked. She didn't know what to say.
"What do you mean?" was all she could muster up.
Eli swallowed the gulp that was forming in his throat. He hadn't thought before he asked that question, and by the look on Clare's face, he instantly regretted it.
"Like, as friends," he chickened out. Eli let out a small huff, as if his feelings had been let out only to be bottled up again. He wanted, more than anything in the world, to be with Clare. He just wanted to be around her. He missed everything about her. She was the hero. The girl who took his shattered and messed up life and turned it into something good.
When he was with her, he wasn't the guy who killed his ex girlfriend. He was just Eli. A better version of himself that he had never dreamed possible.
Disappointment. That was one word to describe how Clare was feeling when Eli had retracted his original statement.
"Friends?" she repeated Eli's words. The thought of being friends with him seemed simple. It reminded her to a time in the past. Before all of the drama, the break up, Vegas Night-before the feud with Fitz even started. It was just her and Eli, simply being themselves. There was no need to put on any kind of facade. They just accepted who each other were and grew to love each other because of who they were. They were so different, but they melded together into a kind of harmony. Clare just wanted that back. A simpler time. After a short pause, she finally nodded. "Friends."
Clare, not knowing exactly what to do, extended her arm towards Eli. After a short glance and a raise of the eyebrow, he took her hand in his and shook it. There was no denying that there was a spark coursing through the veins of these two teenagers. And as soon as their eyes met, they knew, though neither wanted to be the first to say anything.
Eli peered into Clare's blue eyes and it was like looking into his past. Nostalgia hit him like a ton of bricks and the same happened with Clare. The two stood there. Still. Staring into each other's souls. Waiting.
Clare was the first to snap out of this trance-like state. "Friends sounds like a good plan."
"Does it?" Eli let slip out of his head.
"Doesn't it? Isn't that what you want?" Clare asked, quickly picking up on his hesitation.
"Of course it does," he said quickly, not wanting her to know his true feelings. Yet part of him hoped that she would catch on. Clare was a clever girl and if anybody could pick up on it, it would be her. "I want you in my life, more than anything."
Clare let out a breath, as if in awe of his words. "I feel the same way." Slowly a smile spread across Clare's lips. It was faint, but it was there. The first bit of happiness she felt in a long time, and she wasn't surprised that Eli was the cause.
There was silence and Clare began to walk, Eli watching her then walking quickly to catch up.
"Thanks for coming with me tonight," Clare said, trying her best to hide a smile. Her cheeks were red, but luckily she could blame it on the cold.
"Any time you need me, I'm there," he said, smiling over at her. "Question: why did you need me? I mean, it's not that I mind it; I'm happy to be here, but why? I figured I'd be the last person on your list of friends to call."
"It's not that you're my last friend on the list to call, but you might easily be my last friend. I've...messed up."
"Haven't we all," Eli said, taking a stab at his own self. Clare laughed.
"And all of the friends I did have left were sort of taken tonight."
"So, I'm a last resort?" Eli said teasingly, as if offended that she would do this. Deep down he was a little insulted, but the mere fact that she called him at all after all that has happened was good enough to make up for it all.
"Well, if you say it like that it doesn't sound very nice. Honestly, I'm glad that it was you who came with me. I've had a lot of fun."
"Hey, night's not over!" Eli said, and instantly his mind went to their first date together. Those were almost Clare's exact words that night. Clare looked over at Eli and he could tell that she was having the same thought.
"Well, then what are we going to do next?" Clare asked, her eyes scanning the place for something they haven't done yet.
"How about a ride on that," Eli pointed to a fast moving ride, and instantly Clare felt her stomach drop from just looking at it.
"If you want me to throw up, then you've chosen right." Eli chuckled.
"Alright, alright," he said apologetically. "If you want something settling...then...we could always just get on the ferris wheel."
Clare's heart stopped. The ferris wheel. Ferris wheels were usually a romantic thing. She wondered if that was what Eli had intended. Not looking at him, she kept her eyes on the big wheel, not wanting to admit that's what she wanted as well. "Are you sure?"
Eli nodded, "Sure..." He didn't dare look at Clare either. "If you want to, that is."
After a few moments of thought, Clare couldn't see any harm in trying it out. Part of her was scared of what would happen and the other part hoped something would.
The two were seated and soon enough the wheel slowly moved. Clare and Eli both took a hold of the bar in front of them and their hands touched. Both intentionally kept them there, pretending not to notice. Both checking to see who would retreat first. When neither did, they both turned to look at each other, but the only thing they exchanged were smiles, before pulling back at the same time. Eli crossed his arms to keep himself warm and Clare folded her hands in her lap.
"So, you've heard all about my life already. What's going on with yours?" Clare asked.
"Well, before, Bullfrog seemed like he was always mad at me. And now I realized that he had every right. It was the only way he could think of to get me to listen. And I feel so horrible for not listening to him..."
Throughout the night, Clare was careful not to make Eli talk about his mental state, but now he was freely talking about it. Clare was mostly expecting small talk about school or books that he had been reading, but this was much more. He trusted her with this kind of information.
"And I'm seeing my therapist more frequently, and it's really helping. I've finally coped with taking medication. I was kind of in denial about it before, but now I know better. When I feel myself slipping, I take one before it gets too far and I guess I feel better."
"But..you're still you, right? They aren't artificial feelings or something?" Clare was trying her best to understand what he was going through, but she knew that she would never completely understand unless she was him.
"No, it's still me. Just...calmer. It settles me down, you could say and makes me aware of myself. I don't know how to explain it, and the doctor said it's different for everybody, so it's not exactly something I can research. I don't know...sometimes I just feel...I pity myself. I feel horrible about myself because I'm like this. I miss when I was normal."
"You shouldn't," Clare replied. "You're different from everybody else. So what? You have the courage and bravery to go through life this way. It's not a handicap, and you'll always pity yourself if you think of it that way."
Eli sat there admiring her expressions. "I missed that." His voice was soft and low. Almost calming.
"Missed what?" she asked, calmer now.
"The way you always know what to say."
Clare's cheeks grew warm, which felt nice against the cold breeze of the winter's night. "Thanks," she uttered. It was all she could say. "I guess I just don't like seeing you pity yourself. There's nothing to pity."
The ferris wheel moved even slower now, letting the people below get off while Eli and Clare sat at the top. The wind blew harshly where they were sitting, and Eli instantly moved closer to Clare to keep her warm. Clare looked at him.
"Sorry, habit.." he said, about to move away, but Clare pulled on his arm.
"No, it's alright. It... helps." Eli smiled warmly at her, feeling a sense of accomplishment inside, though he wouldn't allow her to see this.
"Here, take my hat," Eli said, taking his hat off of his head and placing it carefully on Clare's.
"Thanks," she smiled.
The ride soon ended and Clare excitedly pointed at the cotton candy stand. "I love cotton candy," she said, tugging on Eli's arm like a little kid and dragging him in line. When they got to the front, Eli quickly pulled out his wallet before Clare could and paid it off for her.
"You didn't have to do that," Clare said, shoving her money in her back pocket bitterly, as if she had just lost a race.
"I know. I wanted to. It was the least I could do. I'm having a really good time tonight." Clare smiled in response and ripping a piece of cotton candy off and putting it in her mouth.
"The park will now be closing in the next 10 minutes. Our fireworks show will begin in 5," the announcer said, but the last sentence was unclear to everybody listening.
"We should probably just go now and beat the rush," Clare said, walking in the direction of the exit.
Eli stood in his place, thinking to himself. This was it and he knew it. If he was ever going to be with Clare again, he needed to know. No more games, no more being scared.
"Clare!" he called after her, placing his hand on her shoulder to get her attention.
"Am I walking too fast for you?" Clare asked teasingly.
"No," Eli said, giving her a chuckle. "I just.." Eli trailed off, unsure of how to end his sentence.
Clare eyed him oddly, stopping in the middle of her tracks. "Is something wrong?" She turned her body to face him.
"No, I just.. I need to know." Eli's nervousness was clear to anybody within a 20 foot radius.
"Know what?" Clare asked, her heart now pounding in her chest at the anticipation. It was uncontrollable.
"Do you think we could ever pick up where we left off?" Eli repeated the same question that he asked earlier that night.
"I thought we already talked about this. We're going to try the friend thing?" Clare shook her head, not understanding.
"No," he said, "I was being stupid earlier. I didn't mean as...just friends.."
"Eli-" Clare was about to speak, but Eli cut her off.
"I will probably never stop loving you, Clare. It's pretty much been built in my system at this point. And I've tried to move on, but nobody has been able to understand like you do. Over two years ago I lost the person I cared the most about and there was nothing I could do about it. But now that person is you and this time there is something I can do about it. So I need to know...is there any way..?"
Eli looked deeply into Clare's eyes to find any kind of reaction from her. He needed something. An answer. "And if the answer if no, then we can continue to be friends. I can deal with that. I need you in my life no matter what. I just need to know. And it doesn't have to be now. It could be any time in the future. Years in advance. I just...I need to know if there's any ounce of feelings for me in you." Eli didn't know what else he could say to get her to understand where he was coming from, but he just about said it all. Now all he needed was an answer.
Clare was completely in awe of it all. She was caught off guard by his question, but listened to every last word he said. He still had feelings for her and there was no denying that there was a spark, but was she ready to put herself with him again? Even in the future. Clare looked to her future, figuratively speaking. She tried to imagine her life with Eli, but she wasn't sure what to expect.
There was fear in Eli's face and Clare simply stood there staring into his eyes. Trying to see anything between the two of them.
"I'm trying to imagine my life with you and there are so many things that could happen in the future... I'm..it makes me scared..." Eli's face dropped, but he said nothing, waiting for her to finish speaking. "But, I'm trying to imagine my life without you and..it's dark. I don't want to think about it." Eli's eyes quickly found hers. "Eli, I don't think I can get back together with you in a couple of years because if we are going to get back together, it needs to happen right now."
Eli felt himself move closer to Clare. His hands moved to her hips and he fiercely pulled her in close. Their foreheads touched, but not their lips. Not yet. Eli moved his hand up to hold her face. Clare could feel his warm breath against her lips. Eli's thumb stroked her cheek lightly while his other fingers brushed the hair out of her face. They stayed like this for a while, Eli standing there, eyes closed, trying to muster up an amount of words that expressed how he felt. He could only come up with four.
"I love you Clare." The words sent shivers down Clare's spine. Those were the words she had been hoping for all night. There was just something about Eli that always kept her coming back. Not that she minded it.
"I love you too, Eli," she said before pushing her lips against his eagerly. Clare threw her arms around Eli's neck, deeping the kiss just a bit. Their eyes fell closed and they focused only on the feeling of each other. Just then the fireworks set off above their heads. The pretty little specks of light exploded and fell behind them. The sparks they had felt when they touched hands weren't just sparks anymore, they were full blown fireworks. Their lips moved in sync with each other's, and had a kind of rhythm that nobody but them knew of. It was a night like no other.
The two stayed like for this as long as they were both willing to go. Almost a year of being apart from each other needed to be made up.
Finally, Eli pulled away. "So we should probably get going then?" Eli asked, ready to head for the exit again.
"Or you could take another ride around the ferris wheel with your girlfriend?"
"Twist my rubber arm, girlfriend."