Disclaimer: I don't own anything. I don't own the the characters, the plot, or Degrassi. If I had a mind as creative as that then I wouldn't be wasting my time writing fanfiction. :)

Author's Notes: This is just going to be a relatively short three-shot that I wrote due to my extreme and unfortunate bout of writer's block. It got my creative juices flowing again, which I am grateful for. I wrote it from Eli's point-of-view and first person is something I rarely use when I write, so feedback would be very much appreciated. I should be posting the rest of it (it's already written) within the next few days. Please enjoy and leave me a quick comment/review. :)


SAFE RIDE

PART I

"No one is harder on me than myself, or so it seems, and some say that you are my curse, my own worst enemy. I think they're wrong…"

She broke up with me, again. I was stupid for believing that trying once again would lead to some kind of an epiphany. We hadn't worked once. What had made me believe so adamantly that we would work if we were given a second chance? Once again I was left broken hearted and this time truly alone, in our, now my, pricey condo in New York City. I had followed Clare to the Big Apple four years ago, when her only real desire was to attend NYU for broadcast journalism. I had always supported her dreams, so I had done the obvious.

Unfortunately, it was Clare's dreams which ultimately led to the dysfunction of our relationship and the untimely end to our romance. She had received the perfect job, one she could not pass up. Clare was asked by a global news station to become a part of their travel journalism team. When Clare had broken the news to me, I had been thrilled for her, congratulating her profusely until she explained that this meant she would be traipsing around the seven continents for four months at a time. I hadn't been particularly fond of the idea, but I was still willing to give a long distance relationship a go. Clare had refused, and sternly told me she thought we'd be better off as friends rather than lovers. She wanted to see the world and she had to take on this expedition single-handedly, with no strings attached.

I, Eli Goldsworthy, had obviously been just a mere pesky string to Clare Edwards, so I had to let her leave me.

It had been eight months now since Clare had moved out. It had been six months since I had talked to her. I didn't know her whereabouts, her permanent location, her telephone number, or anything about the girl I had formally been absolutely head over heels in love with. The pain still stung, but the rawness had numbed and I was able to pick myself up and make a living. I became a freelance journalist, taking on more projects than I admittedly should have, filling the void of Clare with monstrous projects which I've taken great pride in.

Yes, it had been twenty-four weeks since I had heard any word from Clare Edwards. That is, until my phone started buzzing at one in the morning, waking me up from a peaceful slumber.

"'Ello?"

"Uh…"

"Who's this?" Concern had started to sweep into my voice, my mind wandering briefly to Cece and Bullfrog. I hoped that everything was okay on their end.

"Um…"

My concern turned quickly to agitation as my patience began to wear thin. Who would call at such an absurd time and not even have the decency to answer the most basic question?

"I think you have the wrong number," I finally spat angrily as an empty silence filled the speakers. My index finger hovered over the 'End Call' button.

"N-no. Is this Eli?"

The voice sounded familiar but different. I was convinced my overly exhausted mind was playing cruel tricks on me. There was no way the voice belonged to who I thought it did. Clare Edwards was gone, probably to Africa or Saudi Arabia, someplace exotic and far away. She would have absolutely no reason to be contacting me, especially at one in the morning.

"It is. And this would be…?"

"It's… It's Clare."

I let out a puff of air, one of my hands reaching up to scrub over my unshaven, tired face.

"Clare," I repeated, the very name sounding odd rolling off of my dry tongue.

"Are you still living in the City?"

The City. Even as an outsider, Clare still spoke pretentiously in regards to New York. I found a smirk growing on my face, amused at her use of the fond nickname.

"I am."

I heard a strange sound in the background, horns honking, cars whizzing and a lot of voices. Where, oh where, is little Edwards?

"But I'm sure you didn't call me at such an ungodly hour to ask about my current living arrangements," I prompted, not necessarily wanting the conversation to end, but sending her a verbal nudge to get to the point behind the spontaneous phone call.

"No, of course not," she spoke carefully, trying to make sure her words sounded steady. To my ears, she sounded so unlike herself, so different. Time could do that to people, though, I knew. Time changed everyone and everything.

"This…oh God Eli, this is so embarrassing." The words flew out of Clare's mouth so fast that I wasn't quite sure I had heard her correctly. They slurred together, mixing up, syllables connecting upon syllables until the whole sentence was just mashed together.

"What is?" I tried to keep patience in my voice. I was always patient with Clare, even when she didn't deserve it.

"I… I had a little bit too much to drink…"

A-ha! So that was what this was. A drunken late night call to an ex-lover, a call she would certainly regret come morning.

"And I seemed to have lost my purse… I really don't remember what I did with it. I was walking one minute and the next…" Clare continued, her voice trailing off in confusion.

"I'm sure it'll turn up," I replied, because I really didn't know what else to say.

"I don't have any money for a cab," The realization of her own statement dawned on her and I could hear the pout in her voice. The thought of her full lips tugging downward in a frown almost broke my heart all over again. What could I do? I was probably thousands of mile away from where she was. I could be of no use to her.

"Uh, I was wondering if you would, maybe, pick me up."

Was she that inebriated? I cleared my throat, pausing, trying to buy time which I knew was precious when it came to speaking with her.

"Where are you?" I finally asked the question that had been on my mind since I answered the call.

"Between Broadway and Fifth. At Roxy's, our old place!" Clare's voice lifted happily, a giggle erupting and bubbling out of her mouth.

"You-You're in New York?" I was stunned.

"Yes. Please, Eli, pick me up?"

So I said yes, because I knew, no matter what, I would always be wrapped around Clare Edwards' little finger. If she needed me, I would be there, even if we weren't together any more.

"Stay put," I gently scolded, knowing how adventurous she tended to become when alcohol poisoned her system.

"I will," she reassured messily, hanging up her end after a few obvious tries.

XXXXX

I had trouble finding her. I was sure that I could pick out the girl I had grown so accustomed to from anywhere. I was wrong. I thought I would just be able to pick her up easily, but I had no such luck. I had to actually park my car and finding a parking spot at such a late night hour was virtually impossible. I did it, though, for Clare.

When I found her she wasn't where she had said she would be and I felt anger bubble up inside of me. I was doing her a favor. The very least she could do, after calling me out of the blue after months of silence, was abide by my easy-to-follow instructions. My fists clenched uncontrollably as I stormed over towards her huddled figure. She wasn't alone. Another female was beside her, the other woman's hand resting on Clare's shoulder. The pair of them were situated on a bench, a few blocks away from our old hangout spot, the place Clare promised she would be. If this was some sick, twisted joke, some horrid jab of fate, I would be positively furious and for once, perhaps unforgiving.

The closer I got, the more the rage swarmed inside of me. Here she was, socializing, while I was busting my scrawny ass trying to answer her desperate S.O.S.

"Honey, are you sure you don't want me to call someone for you?"

I heard the slightly older, wiser, distinctly sober voice of Clare's companion as I got closer, my brisk walk slowing as my curiosity got the better of me. I knew it was rude to eavesdrop, but somehow I couldn't help myself.

"No, I-I c-called someone," Clare sniffled and wiped her nose with the back of her hand in one swift motion. "He'll be here… H-he w-will."

The stutter, the sniffle, the tightness in her voice all made me realize that Clare had been crying. My gaze shifted downwards, my grudge with Clare disappearing, replacing itself with guilt. I shouldn't have cared as much as I did. Logically, I knew that. Emotionally, my heartstrings went to war every time Clare Edwards showed the tiniest bit of upset. For a girl as beautiful and talented as she was, Clare deserved nothing but the absolute best. I had believed that since our very first meeting, in the parking lot of Degrassi.

"I know you said that an hour ago, sweetie, but still no one's here. Listen, how about I take you home? I get off my shift in twenty minutes anyways."

Clare shook her head. "He'll be here."

The woman looked doubtful but began to rub her hand against Clare's shoulder as Clare's cries increased in intensity.

"No woman should have to deal with that kind of behavior. I'm so sorry it happened to you, especially when I was on the clock."

My senses tingled at the words, trying to decipher the meaning behind them. What kind of behavior was this lady referring to, exactly? Clare looked shaken up and the person who caused her that kind of pain would pay, I swore my life on it.

I took a few more steps, allowing my presence to be known. As the older woman, who I finally recognized as one of Roxy's bartenders, gazed in my direction, Clare turned her head, her red-rimmed eyes meeting mine.

I gasped the minute I saw her face. Her cheeks were rosy red, not in a pleasant flushed way, but in a manner which led me to believe that she had been upset for quite some time. On the phone she hadn't sounded distressed in the least bit. If I had known, I would have gotten here sooner. Or had my late impending arrival led to the events which had made Clare so distraught? On her right cheek was the distinct outline of a hand. The imprint of five digits and a beefy palm contrasted with the rest of Clare's face, even with her pink cheeks.

"What—?"

"Eli," Clare stood up, her crying ceasing at the sight of me, as if I was her savior, her hero, which made my stomach pool with self-hatred.

I couldn't peel my eyes off of her face. I knew the expression on my features must have been one of pure horror, with my eyes widened madly, my mouth opened in disgust. I couldn't shake off the feeling I got when I reminded myself that someone did this to Clare, innocent, caring sweet-tempered Clare. I wanted to throw up.

"Who-?"

Again I was cut off, this time by Clare's pleading look, her eyes meaningfully imploring mine. If I hadn't known her so well I would have continued my line of questioning. I knew she didn't need that from me, or even want it, at least not yet. Her eyes moved away from mine, flickering over to the other woman a bit shyly.

"Thank you for everything," she said sincerely and I wanted to show my appreciation too, for taking care of Clare in my absence, but it wouldn't have been right. It wasn't my place, not anymore.

The woman offered a sad smile and stood up, beginning to walk down the street, most likely to go back to her shift.

"I couldn't find parking, that's why I was late."

That was my version of an apology and it was the best Edwards was going to get out of me. I couldn't bring myself to tell her I was sorry for not getting their sooner, because saying I was sorry would be an acceptance of fault. Saying I was sorry would make it real. Saying I was sorry would mean that I was the cause for whatever happened to Clare tonight and I couldn't deal with that kind of blame.

"It's okay. I remember the parking here," Clare said, her breathing slightly ragged. It was then that I remembered she had been intoxicated when she called me. The girl on the phone and the girl in front of me seemed worlds apart. The former girl had been happy, bubbly and carefree. This girl was damaged. I had damaged her.

I walked with my hands stuffed inside of my pockets, trying to keep myself warm in the cool March air. I allowed Clare to set the pace, knowing my legs were much longer than hers. She stumbled once, when we were at a street crossing, the heel of her shoe catching on the edge of the dented curb.

"Oh!" Clare cried out as her ankle twisted slightly, my arm catching her by some miracle, steadying her before she crashed to the cement.

At my touch her glassy eyes came up to reach mine, her bottom lip quivering slightly. "I'm sorry," she offered, like she had anything to apologize for.

"Don't be," I responded gruffly, more harshly than I meant, I realized, as large tears fell down her cheeks.

I placed one of my hands onto her back, both to steady her and offer her comfort. She wobbled a bit more and I began to take notice of the alcohol's effects on her body.

The rest of the walk remained silent, but it wasn't uncomfortable. There was so much for us to say to one another but it wasn't the time or the place for any deep discussion. We both weren't in the right frame of mind. Despite the cold, my palms were getting sweaty, unease unhinging my mental state. I had been doing so well without her again, my medication stabilizing my moods and balancing me like they were supposed to. Just a few minutes in Clare Edwards' presence had my paranoia, my more intense side, acting up again. My hands began to shake slightly with anxiety. My body needed the magic pill that would make these feelings go away. Someone else was hurting and once again it was because of me. I hurt everyone, and the worst part was I knew it.

Clare must have noticed my tremors because the next thing I knew her hand had enveloped my free one, the one that wasn't propped against the small of her back. She squeezed it, intertwined our fingers, and I knew she understood. After all, she had been the one to help me through some of the worst of it. Bipolar disorder was a forever thing and Clare had told me she accepted that, but I knew she didn't. Yet here she was, obviously in her own state of distress, concerned over me.

I pulled my hand out of her grasp, shoving it back into my pocket, childishly hiding it. I watched as her cheeks burned darker, if that were even possible, but I kept silent. I turned a corner and hit the unlock button on my keys, nodding for Clare to get in the car. She wordlessly obeyed my silent request and got in, buckling herself into the seat.

It was then that I noticed that she had bruises lining her wrists. Deep red lines turning into harsh violet shapes stuck out alarmingly against her pale skin and I wondered how I could have possibly missed it earlier. I stopped my unsteady hand, leaving the key in the ignition, once again staring. I hated myself. I hated myself for allowing this to happen to Clare, for not being there when she asked me to be, when she had so obviously needed a friend in all of her drunken vulnerability.

As she noticed my hesitation, Clare tore her gaze from out her window to me, and nibbled on her lip once she realized where my eyes laid. I set my jaw in anger, my temples pulsating menacingly. Whoever hurt Clare, I would kill. All I saw was red, blinding red. I took my hand and gently traced one of the contusions, watching Clare grimace at the slight pressure my touch applied. My eyes narrowed and I pulled my hand away, gripping the steering wheel with everything I had.

She just watched me, watched the turmoil of emotions pulling me under. I heard her swallow nervously and I knew she was trying to assess my mood. I was the last person she needed to deal with tonight. Why had she called me? I felt her hand touch my arm briefly and heard her clear her throat.

"Just drive, Eli," she instructed, leaving no room for argument.

So I drove.


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