DISCLAIMER: I don't own Degrassi or anything else.

Twitter: themusiksnob / Tumblr: musiksnob

Well, hello everyone! I've had this fic outlined forever, but I've sort of been terrified of writing it. It's gone through a ton of changes and my life is a bit crazy as I'm due to have a baby sometime in the next week or so. But right now this is set to have about 11 chapters, and while I would expect there may be long waits between chapters, I am committed to finishing it.

Just wanted to let you know that I posted a oneshot recently called Not So Awkward, in case you missed it. I'm also very, very close to reaching an amazing goal of mine, so if you haven't read the fic Sentimental Heart and you like this or you've liked my other fics, I strongly encourage you to give that a shot. I seemed to gain a lot of new readers (or possibly just new reviewers since so many people have given up on fic writing) when I wrote Reasons to Love You so I hope that you stick around for this.

This fic is AU and takes place when Eli is in Grade 12, and Clare is in Grade 11. They did not date previously. It fits into the currently Degrassi timeline right after Cake's break up, but a lot of things in Degrassi history will be different in this, obviously, since Eli and Clare do not have a history together.

Hope you enjoy it! Please review and let me know what you think.

Chapter 1


I should have known that Mr. Betancamp was going to give me detention for failing to hand in yet another homework assignment. Bullfrog had driven me to school this morning in order chew me out for getting a phone call home from school about my lack of effort. But I didn't expect that Mr. Betancamp would make me stay for the entire detention period instead of letting me leave after ten minutes of finishing up my half-completed Earth Science lab.

Normally the detention wouldn't have bugged me but of course, today was the first time I was meeting up with my new English partner, Clare Edwards. We were supposed to meet up at the Dot nearly a half hour ago and even though I was kind of annoyed to have to work with a partner, I didn't want to start off by pissing her off. As soon as the late bell rang, I took off for the Dot, wishing I at least had my bike with me.

Two days ago, Ms. Dawes had handed back our latest essays. Unlike last year, mine had come back with a large, red "B" at the top – no effusive praise or even criticism could be found, except for one or two proofreading notes for typographical errors I had missed. I knew I hadn't put much effort into this one, so I couldn't complain about the grade, but it was just yet another example of how things had gone wrong since the play.

Last year I had been Ms. Dawes's favorite student in Grade 11 Advanced English – not because I was a kiss ass or anything, but because she loved my writing and enjoyed arguing with me in class discussions. She was the person who convinced me to take her drama class and put me in charge of writing the play. I guess she hadn't realized just how messed up I was outside of class. The anniversary of Julia's death coincided with a school dance and the combination of the weighty memories and the frivolity of the atmosphere combined with my not-yet-diagnosed bipolar disorder sent me on a manic episode where I ended up crashing my hearse. And while the doctors tinkered with meds to try to make me stable, I spent the next two months of school writing and rewriting a script to help me finally cope with Julia's death – barely coming up with a final draft two days before production began.

Even through all of that, Ms. Dawes had supported me, but when I had a very public meltdown on stage and set my script on fire, my parents finally pulled me out of school and found a psychiatrist to help me. When I returned a few days later, I learned that Principal Simpson had pulled her off Drama Club duties as a result of my actions and that if she hadn't been teaching long enough to earn her permanent status she possibly could have been fired. Now Ms. Dawes walked on eggshells around me, just like the rest of my teachers – who had only recently started to challenge my Get-Out-Of-Schoolwork-Bipolar Card.

So I was very surprised to hear Ms. Dawes bring up my name as Clare Edwards argued about the fact that she had received her first C on the assignment and assign Clare and me as English partners. "Your writing has become more and more impersonal as time has gone on…and we all know Eli has no problems writing emotions. As writing partners, you'll help him focus and he'll help you bring some life into your writing."

Ms. Dawes had stepped back to the front of the room, beaming as Clare and I glared at her from opposite sides of the room. "Just think, we could have a very special partnership on our hands…like Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes."

And to my surprise, Clare retorted, "Sylvia Plath killed herself."

I had been thinking of that response for the past two days, ever since Clare dragged herself over to my desk after class that day and set up the meeting for today to exchange our short story drafts. I didn't think a girl like Clare Edwards would have even heard of Sylvia Plath – let alone known her biography. I wondered if a girl who was all flowered dresses and headbands could sit at home reading a book as bleak as The Bell Jar and feel a connection to it like I had. I didn't really know Clare outside of class, but at the beginning of last year, it seemed like she really was Susie Sunshine. She'd smile as she raised intelligent but vaguely non-threatening opinions on the books we read and she always had a positive critique for everyone's oral reports.

I had noticed that something changed for her last year, right around when the uniforms came in. I doubted that it was the khaki that dimmed her spirit, but I had no real connection to her to find out what was going on. She was cute; there was no denying that – but as much as I found her attractive and smart, I knew there would never be something between us – friendship or otherwise. The one time I tried to approach her out of class, wanting to argue a point about Romeo and Juliet, she was manning a table for Jesus Club – some charity fundraiser or something – and suddenly the fundamental differences between us seemed too big to bother getting to knew her.

I guessed Ms. Dawes hadn't bothered to take any of that into consideration when she assigned us as partners.

I made it to the Dot in record time and sniffed my pits to make sure I didn't reek. Clare was sitting at the counter sipping a coffee in a disposable cup, looking visibly annoyed.

"Hey," I said, smiling apologetically at her as I took a seat at the next stool. "Sorry I'm late. I got detention in my last class and I couldn't find you to let you know I'd be late."

Her stony expression remained unchanged. "Next time, try harder. If I'd have known you'd be this late, I wouldn't have waited. I have a long walk home, you know."

Yikes. This was going to be fun. "Sorry," I repeated. "I'd offer you a ride, but I'm not exactly driving myself these days."

She didn't respond and I felt even worse. The waiter came over and I ordered a coffee. I glanced around, wondering if there was a friendly face in here who could break up the tension. The only people I knew were Fiona and Imogen, and while Fiona alone would be a very welcome sight, Imogen and I hadn't really spoken since the play. I noticed Jake Martin sitting at a table with two grade eleven girls that I was pretty sure Clare was friends with and I wondered why she hadn't waited with them. I'd thought I'd heard rumors that Clare and Jake were dating, but I'd also heard their parents were married so I really had no idea what to think.

"You could have sat with your friends while you waited," I said, and that was clearly the wrong response.

She sighed audibly. "They aren't exactly my friends."

Before I could ask what she meant, the waiter brought me my coffee. "Could we take this somewhere else?" she asked.

"Sure," I said confused.

I pulled out money to pay for my drink. I was about to offer to buy hers as a peace offering, but before I could say anything, she grabbed hers and jumped off the seat. "I already paid for mine."

I dropped a few bills on the counter and followed her out the door. She walked halfway down the block, moving faster than I would have expecting before taking a seat on a bench. She dug through her backpack as I joined her and thrust her short story into her hands.

"Can we just get this over with?" she asked, and at this point, I couldn't help but agree. I gave her my story and we both sat down to read.

Clare's story was a slice of life story about a housewife who cleans the house while waiting for her husband to return home from work. You could tell from reading it that she had a lot of writing talent with quite a few interesting turns of phrase. But there was an emptiness to it that I had a feeling was intentional that just wasn't working for me. I was trying to pinpoint exactly what the problem was as I continued reading.

Clare finished reading first and I was tempted to skim to the end just to find out what she thought about my story, but I stuck with it and finished going through her story.

"Okay," she said as I looked up. "This is pretty good. You've got a few run-ons and grammatical errors and I noticed a few typos. I can take this home and redline the errors and bring it back to you tomorrow."

"Okay," I said, a little confused. "Is that it?" She nodded. "No focus problems? Not too emotional or too many tangents or anything?"

"It seems find to me," she said.

It was a little bit of a relief. Once I found out Clare would be reading the story I did put more effort into it than my recent assignments and I had gotten into a nice writing swing last night as I rewrote the ending. But I guess writing a lot of mediocre things had gotten me discouraged because I almost didn't believe her. I kind of felt like she half-assed the critique just to get out of here.

"Well I have a few things for you," I said, figuring that if I was honest with her, she might feel comfortable doing the same for me. "Overall, it's really strong. You're definitely a good writer. But I felt like the main character was a bit…empty. I mean, there's no real plot here, which is fine, but then you have to make up for it with interesting characters, and she feels a bit robotic."

"She's a housewife," Clare said plainly. "That's sort of the point. She has this life where she cooks and cleans and does everything her husband expects, and that's her whole world."

"Yeah, but she must have some sort of feelings about that. Either she's resentful or proud or regretful or something. She's just going through the motions here but we don't know why."

Clare's voice broke a little as she responded. "But there are clues. Like the teakettle going off at the same time each day and how she lays out the clothes for him."

"And those are very well-written symbols, but you can't couch everything in metaphor. The characters have to stand on their own. Right now it feels a bit cliché. It's a nice story but it could be a lot stronger if it had a stronger point of view. Maybe if you wrote about something you have personal experience with it'd be easier to get inside the character's head."

Clare snorted. "Write what you know? What's more cliché than that?"

Great. Nothing I said to this girl was going to make her happy. I had thought as a writer she would appreciate actual criticism but clearly she wasn't open to my opinions.

"I just think you've got a good start, but the story needs something more."

She was practically pouting. "Well, I disagree. Not every story needs to have explosions like the end of Fight Club."

Fight Club? Could it be possible that she was familiar with my favorite author? Nah, she probably just was forced to watch the movie with her boyfriend. "The book? Or the movie?"

Her face softened a little. "Well, I was referring to the movie, but I have read the book."

"Really?" I couldn't believe a good guy like her had read such a dark, disturbing novel on purpose.

She shrugged. "I had a lot of free time this summer and I found Survivor at a used bookstore. I brought it home, devoured it in one night and then read almost all the rest of his books."

"Even Snuff?" I asked, smirking at her.

She blushed. "I skipped that one."

"I wouldn't have pegged you for a Palahniuk fan," I admitted.

"I wouldn't have either," she said. "But something about the way he writes really speaks to me." She looked pensive and took a moment before continuing. "I actually prefer the explosion scene in the movie to what happens in the book. It hit a little too close to home," she said softly.

What did she mean by that? Was she talking about having a mental break or contemplating suicide or having a crisis of faith? Over the course of this conversation I was realizing there was a lot more to this girl than a pretty smile.

Clare seemed uncomfortable and changed the subject. "I think I'm going to bring this home and give it another look," she said, taking her essay out of my hand. "I'll try to keep your ideas in mind."

"Here," I said, taking it back and writing my email address on the top. "If you need a second opinion, email me the next draft."

"Good idea," she said. She ripped off the bottom of the last page and wrote her email address and phone number down. "In case you get another detention," she explained.

Clare stiffened and I saw her looking over my shoulder so I glanced in that direction. Jake Martin was walking toward us. "I'm headed home if you want a ride," he offered, fixing the strap of his backback.

Clare frowned. "That's okay. We're going to be a while."

Jake looked unhappy. "Fine," he said, walking away without a goodbye. I watched him get into a red pickup truck halfway down the block.

Clare was looking down at her hands and wouldn't meet my eyes. She shoved both stories into her backpack and zipped it up. "We're going to be a while?" I asked, figuring we were almost done.

"I didn't want to drive home with him," she said.

Hadn't she complained about her long walk home just an hour ago? I knew it was none of my business but I wanted to know exactly which rumors were true.

"So is he your ex? Or your stepbrother?"

Clare glared at me. "Both," she said sharply.

Wow. I wasn't expecting that. "How does that work exactly?"

She sighed. "We dated, and then our parents decided to get married, and then we broke up."

"That must be really tough," I said, trying to be nice.

"Yeah…it is," she said briskly. She stood up, grabbing her backpack. "Thanks for the writing advice. I should get going."

"Right, me too," I said, mirroring her. "I've got a long walk home too."

She gave me a brief, sad smile and walked away without another word.