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: Thank you all so, so much for your continued support. It really means a lot to me! Here's the final chapter of Safe Ride. I have posted the prequel, Bury the Hatchet, so if you haven't already, please check it out! Please read, review and enjoy and thank you for sticking in for the long haul with me through this!
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"I'll be everything and more when you call my name..."
The verdict came as guilty. It was a relief to see the man who had haunted Clare for so long finally get what he had coming to him, but I couldn't say I was surprised by the outcome. Clare had her doubts throughout the trial, but I was certain that justice would be diligently doled out.
I had taken a seat at the back of the courtroom, to be there for Clare, but to distance myself as well. I had been afraid that if she had seen me, she would have stumbled, and I wanted nothing to distract her while she was on the witness stand. She had kept herself miraculously composed during questioning and I marveled at how strong she still was, despite everything she had endured. Asher hadn't stood a chance at coming out of that trial a free man, not with the conviction Clare held in her unwavering voice, or the pictures of her bruised body which stood as solid, unforgiving proof. Asher would be behind bars for a long time, not long enough in my opinion, but still, a long time.
I had slipped out of the courtroom early, to get my current spot at the side door, the one Clare would be using to avoid the press. As a journalist, that kind of spotlight was the last thing she needed. I stood there with my back leaning against the aging bricks, my hands shoved in my pockets to avoid the cold, and I waited.
When the door came flying open to reveal a suited man showing Clare the way out, I had expected to see a smile donning her face. I had expected to see relief etched all over her features, or at the very least, a little sliver of happiness. What I was met with I had been totally unprepared for. Clare was crying messily, her face pink, her nose runny and her eyes red-rimmed. All of the composure Clare had possessed in the courtroom had deteriorated, and instead, all I saw was vulnerability. Her shoulders were hunched, as if she wanted her body to close in on itself, and she painted a perfect portrait of misery.
"Clare?" I questioned, my eyes shining with confusion. I wanted to celebrate the news that Asher would be going to jail, but it looked like celebrations would not be occurring.
"I can't," she whispered, her eyes refusing to meet mine.
"Eli. I just... can't," she placed a hand up, a sob erupting from her body, and she walked away.
"Isn't this... isn't this what you wanted?" I asked, my legs running in order to catch up to her. I didn't understand what had made her so upset. Sure, it was a hard day for her, but she had been victorious.
"Yes," she whispered in a low tone, a sniffle stifling the single syllable.
"Talk to me," I pleaded, my hand reaching for hers, desperate to get inside of Clare's head. I couldn't help her if she wouldn't let me and after all of this, I wasn't about to let go so easily.
"I..." I watched her hesitate, as if for a moment she was considering the idea of spilling her thoughts to me. But the next instant she was shaking her head, a mess of curls bouncing from side to side. "I have to get back to the hotel. My... My mom's meeting me there in a few hours."
"Let me walk you there," I instantly suggested, because even though Asher was off of the streets, there were plenty of other bad people out there and I wouldn't let any of them threaten Clare again.
"No, Eli. I would really prefer to walk alone."
Her gaze met mine for the first time and I saw the solid determination in her eyes. I knew that no matter what I said, Clare would not allow me to accompany her on her trip back to her hotel room. Maybe she needed that time alone to come to peace with everything that had happened, but I couldn't help but think of her statement as a slap in the face. I had been the one who had held her all night crying, the one to give her strength throughout the entire trial. I had been the one who had housed her, made lawyer appointments with her and cared for her for the past month. Yet as soon as the tribulation was over, I was the first person she chose to turn her back on.
I tried to keep my anger in check as I offered Clare a curt nod, attempting to radiate understanding rather than fury.
"At least let me pay for a cab, then."
Clare's gaze dropped to the ground and she gave a shy nod of consent as I hailed a taxi cab and handed over a few bills that would more than cover the fare for the short ride to the Roosevelt Hotel.
"Thank you," she whispered to me, before entering the cab and shutting the door. She hadn't even bothered to look me in the eyes. I felt that familiar sinking feeling, my mind telling me that I would probably never see her again. The very thought of her absence brought a film of tears to my eyes as I watched the taxi weave through the streets of New York City, before it was completely and despairingly out of my view.
Three days had passed and I had heard nothing from Clare. I wasn't really expecting to, but I had a ray of hope that she would come back, at least to say goodbye. I didn't know how long she was planning on staying in the city, but if she was leaving again, I wanted her to at least acknowledge it. I continued my life as usual, picking up stray journalistic projects which consumed most of my time. I spent an evening with Fiona, sharing a pizza and forced laughter, in a vain attempt to find normalcy once again. I spent the nights writing and the days sleeping. It was easier that way. It was easier to forget about Clare at night, when the darkness consumed me and I was left with the blaring screen of my laptop and my overactive imagination.
After a week had passed, I was sure that Clare was gone. Perhaps she had gone back home to Toronto to be with her family, or maybe she regained enough strength to re-enter the travel journalism field she had been so largely successful in. Wherever Clare was, I was certain it was no longer in New York and I was certain her mind was no longer occupied on me.
It was midnight when the irritating sound of my alarm clock woke me up. I had slept a solid twelve hours, yet I still needed some sort of aid in awakening myself. This bothered me. Was I falling into some sort of depression? Or was it just my changing sleep schedule and the pile of work I buried myself under getting the best of me?
I stretched myself across my bed and reached for my most treasured electronic item, opening my laptop and immediately checking my email. The screen was taking longer to load than usual and I found myself growing impatient. Patience was not something I had a lot of these days. My fingers drummed heavily on the keyboard in aggravation, believing that this delay, however short, would surely put me behind in my work for the day.
When the email finally loaded, the first email that caught my eye was from an unfamiliar web address. I clicked it cautiously, always paranoid about catching computer-destroying viruses, but too curious not to open it. On the screen was an email from Clare's boss. I could feel my heart pounding the more I read, worry seeping from my pores.
I was listed as Clare's emergency contact, the email said. Clare was supposed to have resumed work five days ago, but she hadn't showed up. They were concerned about Clare's whereabouts and about Clare's health, asking if I knew anything, to please give them a phone call. I felt a sharp pain in my chest, panic, I realized, setting in.
Without a rational thought coursing through my brain, I picked up my jacket and left my apartment. My subconscious knew where I had to go and I was well assured that it would get me there.
I knocked on the hotel door in front of me, number 1140, just as reception had said. My suspicions were correct, Clare Edwards was still a registered guest of the Roosevelt Hotel and had no checkout date in the near future.
I knew it was late and I knew I was taking a huge risk, but I had to make sure she was okay.
I saw the door open a bit, before familiar eyes were peeking at me through the slit. I heard the faint click of a lock turn before Clare was revealed to me, a complete disheveled mess.
"Eli..." Her hoarse voice croaked and I wondered just how long it had been since Clare had exercised her vocal chords. "What are you doing here?" Her tone wasn't accusatory or mad, but rather... relieved.
"I got an email from your work. They're worried about you, you haven't shown up in nearly a week."
Clare didn't say anything but opened the door wide, allowing me to enter. The room was neat, the only thing used was the bed. I reached to turn the light on, but Clare protested.
I clicked the switch anyways.
She looked terrible. Dark circles had formed under her eyes and she had lost weight, I was sure of it. Even if it had only been a week since I had last seen her, the change was dramatic.
"Oh Clare," I whispered, my heart aching for her. I heard her start to cry as she buried her face in her hands. "Come on," I ushered gently, reaching an arm out to guide her to the sitting area in the corner of the room. "Come on," I repeated just as softly, settling her down in an armchair.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out a bag, a bag I had picked up from a convenience store on the way. Inside was food, a Pop Tart, a banana, a cereal bar, the average convenience store classics. It wasn't much, but I knew Clare needed some sort of nourishment.
I unpeeled the banana and brought it to her mouth. She took it from me and began eating it without instruction. I hated that it came down to this, but I didn't know what else to do.
She ate slowly and when she was done, she gave me a strange look, one I hadn't seen from her in a long, long time.
"Don't leave, Eli."
"I'm not going anywhere," I reassured, intent on sleeping on the floor to watch over her, to see with my own two eyes that she was and would be alright.
"No, I mean..." Clare stuttered, clearing her throat nervously. "Don't leave me. I... I need you. I..."
"Clare, you're under stress, you're not thinking properly."
"No! I... I love you, Eli. I'm so sorry."
"You have nothing to apologize for, okay?" I spoke, unwilling to believe her words. She always pulled me back in just to push me away again. I was done with the games.
"I can't... I can't be without you."
I swallowed hard, and looked away, silence enveloping us for a long time before I spoke. "Do you really mean that?"
I nodded my head and gestured towards the bed. "I think you should get some sleep, Clare. We can figure everything else out tomorrow."
I watched her get up from the chair and lay down, pulling the blankets snugly around her body. "You'll be here?"
"I'll be here. Get some rest."
"Okay," she offered the tiniest of smiles, but it was enough to warm me with hope.
I woke up this morning, groggy and tired, my body aching from the long night we had.
I reached over to kiss Clare's cheek and to tuck a curl behind her ear.
I always marveled at how beautiful my wife of two years was.
I would never not love Clare Edwards-Goldsworthy.
She was my everything.
Reviews from wonderful readers like you would be greatly appreciated! Love you guys and thanks for reading! :)
Reminder: Bury the Hatchet, the prequel to this, was published yesterday. I will be updating it as soon as it gets ten reviews, so go check it out. ;)