Hello lovely people! Oh goodness you guys rock my socks and float my boat and all that jazz with your response to this story! I simply cannot believe how sweet you all are with your kind words you all leave me. Thank you so much once again for being such darlings! I have a lot more to say, but I will leave that for the author's note at the end. There is A LOT I have to say to you all! :) Until then, please enjoy the final chapter of Love is Protection!
"Hold my earrings, Clare. I have a perverted ass to fight with."
I roll my eyes as Alli reaches for her dangling blue earrings. "Alli, stop. That won't solve anything. Although it would be pretty funny to see you try and fight Asher. He's at least a foot taller than you."
She glares at me despite my humorous reply. "Well, we can't just let him get away with this. We can talk to Dave's dad and get the police –"
"We are not getting the police involved." I cut her off. "The last thing I need is everyone knowing what happened. I honestly just want to move on." I glance down at my lap. "Put it all behind me," I whisper.
I hear Alli sigh before reaching over to grasp my hand in hers. "You know what you did was pretty brave. I don't think I could have been in the same room with the man who…you know."
"It wasn't easy. I was so uncomfortable. And I was terrified when he followed me out," I say in a low voice.
"He shouldn't have done that. It was uncalled for."
I look up and meet her eyes from her position next to me on the bench as we sit in Jake and Katie's garden. "I keep thinking what would have happened if Eli didn't…if Eli was just one minute late. What was he planning on doing?"
"You can't think like that. You'll drive yourself crazy."
"I think I already have," I laugh under my breath. She looks at me with genuinely sympathetic eyes and I am overcome with gratitude for the girl sitting next to me. "I can't thank you enough for being here. I'm pretty sure I would've gone off the deep end if I hadn't told you." I pause a small smile creeping itself onto my face. "And I think I owe you another thank you for talking to Eli."
Her eyes widen. "He told you?"
I nod my head. "I'm glad you did. If he hadn't come back and talked to me that day, I doubt I would've told him."
She squeezes my hand. "Well, I'm just glad I could help. You've helped me through more problems than I can count. I guess we can call it even?"
I laugh as I nod my head. "Hopefully we won't need to comfort each other for a while."
She joins in my laughter.
As my chuckling subsides, I hesitate on bringing up another topic with her.
Eli left school early. He didn't exactly tell me where he would be, but I can take a guess. And I want to be there, but he explicitly told me not to worry. That it's something he wants to do on his own. But it just feels so wrong being so far away from him while he struggles through another session with his psychiatrist. He's gone above and beyond for me these past few days. I just feel so inadequate with what little I've done for him recently.
"Eli's at a session with his psychiatrist right now. And when I asked if I could go with him, he was really adamant on going alone. I just feel weird knowing where he is and that I'm not there supporting him. He hasn't left my side since the Asher thing. I feel bad that I can't return the favor."
"Why wouldn't he let you go?"
I shrug my shoulders. "I don't know, but he seemed pretty intent on me not going."
Alli shifts her gaze from me to a cluster of flowers a few feet away. "Why didn't you tell Eli about Asher?" she asks me in a low voice.
I furrow my eyebrows as I look at her with a confused expression. Where did that come from? I let out a long breath before being honest with her and myself. "I'd like to believe it was because I didn't want to add even more weight on his shoulders, and that has something to do with it. But honestly, and I feel absolutely horrible for saying this, I think a lot of it was my fear of being a trigger for his issues." I whisper the last part so softly, I doubt Alli heard it.
"I have a feeling Eli knows that," she responds gently. "So maybe he just doesn't want you to see him as someone with an illness. Plus, he's a guy. He wants to appear all manly and tough," she laughs.
"Eli doesn't have to prove anything to me. I know how strong he is."
"Then why didn't you tell him?" she asks again in a matter-of-fact tone.
My eyes glisten as I realize she's right. I can try to defend my actions and defend my thoughts, but in the end, we both know the truth. "He feels like I see his illness as a weakness," I whisper. "Because I felt like I couldn't tell him about Asher."
Alli nods her head slowly. "So maybe he's doing whatever he can to distance that part of his life from you."
"He shouldn't have to do that," I respond.
Alli gives my hand another squeeze. "I'm not the one you have to tell that to."
I ponder over her response. She's right. The last thing I want is Eli to feel uncomfortable, to feel like he has to hide parts of his life from me. Lord knows that's not fair at all.
And just like Eli allowed me to pollute our happiness with telling him about my harassment even though it wasn't easy on either of us, I have to allow him to be the strong one even if I feel whatever we are going through may be tough on him. I have to stop treating him like a person with bipolar disorder and I have to start treating him like my boyfriend. My rock. My confidant.
"I think I have somewhere I need to be right now," I speak up after a few minutes.
Alli smiles at me. "I think you do."
I wrap my arms around her in a tight hug. "I love you, Alli."
"I love you too," she responds as we both pull away. "Call me later?"
I nod my head before grabbing my bag and walking towards the front doors of the school.
There are two things I need to do today.
The first is I have to show Eli that he doesn't have to be ashamed of his illness. That we will fight through our troubles together. Neither of us should have to struggle alone.
The second is I have to allow Eli to be exactly who he doesn't feel like he can be: my safe place to land. And I know exactly how I need to do that. I feel a shiver run down my spine at the thought of what I have planned. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up in fear even now. I take a few deep breaths to calm my accelerating emotions. This can all wait until later.
About twenty or so minutes later I find myself walking through the automatic sliding doors of the hospital. I make my way over to the receptionist at the front desk.
"Excuse me," I ask her politely. "I'm looking for the psychiatric department."
She glances up at me from behind her eyeglasses. "Most of the offices are on the tenth floor, ma'am." She responds with a welcoming smile.
I reciprocate her expression. "Thank you."
I walk over to the elevators and push the appropriate button causing the number "10" to light up.
The elevator makes one stop on the 5th floor as a lady, probably about my mom's age, walks in and picks her designated level.
As the elevator picks up again in speed, I feel my heart mirror the motion. Will Eli be happy to see me? Or will he be mad that I intruded? I bite my lip in hesitation as the doors slide open and I walk onto the 10th floor.
I realize I have absolutely no idea where I am or where I need to go. I begin to take a few smalls steps down the empty hallway. Every so often there is a door with a doctor's name on it. I'm assuming each psychiatrist has their own office where they old these therapy sessions. I continue walking and glancing at each name, hoping one will ring a bell when all of a sudden, a few doors down from where I am, I see Eli's figure begin to walk out of the room. I quicken my pace, drawn towards him by that same force that has both scared me and mesmerized me from the moment he ran over my glasses.
A woman walks out the office with him. She's wearing a pretty navy blue suit and as she turns around to lock the door behind them, Eli finally looks towards my way.
His eyes widen as he remains glued to his spot. I attempt to convey my reasoning to him silently, hoping he understands.
What are you doing here?
I want to be here.
"So, I'll be seeing you next week at the same time then?" The psychiatrist asks him just as she turns towards me as well.
I walk the remaining few steps forward until I am close enough to reach over and grab Eli's hand in mine. "Hi, I'm Clare by the way." I tell her.
She immediately smiles. "So this is Clare. It's nice to finally meet you. I've heard a lot about you," she reaches out her hand and I eagerly take it.
"Good things I hope?" I ask her lightheartedly.
"Nothing but the best. He's crazy about you," she laughs.
I feel the heat rise up in my cheeks. "Maybe I should start coming to sessions as well. I'm pretty crazy about him too." I respond softly while squeezing his hand. His silence throughout this whole exchange is unnerving.
She chuckles. "If you would excuse me, I have another patient to attend to. It was nice meeting you, Clare and I'll see you soon, Eli."
He nods his head confirming her statement and we both watch her walk down the hallway towards the elevators.
I turn my gaze back to Eli. "How was it?" I ask him softly.
"I thought I told you not to follow me here," he responds as he finally looks up to meet my gaze.
I take a deep breath, preparing myself for my monologue to come. "I know, but it just didn't feel right being somewhere else when you were here. It didn't feel right knowing you might be struggling and knowing I'm not doing anything to help. I guess I know how you felt when I wouldn't tell you about Asher. But Eli, if you don't want me to come because you see your diagnosis as a weakness, then I'm here to tell you you're wrong. What you see as a hindrance, I see as another obstacle you've overcome. I don't know many people who could go through everything you have and still have enough strength to carry others like you've carried me." I reach up and lightly cup my hand on his cheek. "I made a mistake not telling you. Just add it to all the other things I've done wrong," I laugh under my breath as I feel my eyes burn with moisture. "But I want you to know, I don't see you as someone with a disorder. I see you as someone I can trust with my problems. I see you as the one person I know I can count on. Being bipolar doesn't change that."
His eyes shake as they bear into mine. I force his head down to my level and rest our foreheads against each other. I feel his gentle breaths fan my face.
After a few moments, he speaks up. "Thank you," he replies in a deep voice overcome with emotion.
I simply squeeze his hand in response.
"I love you," I tell him in a soft whisper.
"I'll never get tired of hearing that."
"Good, because I don't plan to stop," I tell him in a serious tone.
I pull back from him and look up to meet his eyes. "Are your parents home?" I ask him.
He looks at me quizzically. "No…" he drags out the syllable. "Why?"
"I need you to do something for me." I look down at the ground and blush as I ask him my request.
"Are you sure?" he asks me.
I nod my head. "I need to do this eventually and I trust you."
After a few moments of silence, he speaks up. "Okay, let's go."
We walk hand in hand towards the elevators in silence.
As soon as fresh air blows against my face, I smile to myself. I can do this.
"You never answered my question," I tell Eli as I turn my body towards him.
"Oh," he responds as he realizes what I'm referring to. "Nothing I couldn't handle."
"Be honest, Eli."
I hear him sigh. "I don't know what you want to hear. It's never going to be easy Clare, but I don't want to complain."
"I'm not asking you to complain. I just want you to tell me if you're okay."
He stops walking as he turns towards me. "Can I be honest?"
I nod my head.
"Seeing you afterwards made it a whole lot easier."
"Then consider me outside that door before and after every session."
He slowly shakes his head. "You don't have to do that."
"I want to," I respond sympathetically to him.
My response seems to satisfy him as he continues on down the street towards his house. When we arrive, he leads me up the stairs towards his room after I kindly reject his offer for some food. I highly doubt I can stomach anything with all the flutterings making their way around my stomach. I seriously feel like throwing up.
"Are you okay?"
I look over at Eli. I nod my head in silence as I walk towards his desk and rest my bag next to his laptop. He drops his backpack at the side of his bed before walking over to me slowly. "We don't have to do this if you're not ready."
I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths, hoping to calm my raging insides. "Just please go slow," I tell him softly before opening my eyes and blushing under his gaze.
"The second you feel uncomfortable or want me to stop, tell me."
"Okay," I whisper as I try and prepare my body for what is to come.
All I want is for Eli to be able to kiss me without it feeling like Asher. All I want is to be physically comfortable around my own boyfriend. And this is the second thing I have to do today. I have to allow Eli to be my safe place to land. I have to trust him with my body.
Obviously I'm not breaking my vow to abstinence. All I'm referring to is kissing Eli. That's it. I just want us to kiss and cuddle without the presence of Asher overcoming my body.
I feel Eli's hands grasp both of mine. We both pause as I await my body's response. So far so good.
Eli takes my silence as allowance to continue. He pulls me closer to him and ever so slowly lets go of my hands and grasps my waist softly. I can feel my mind beginning to wander away. No. We're not going to that stupid office. I choose to stay here in Eli's room.
As he pulls me towards his chest, I force myself to welcome his embrace. Granted, every fiber of my being is screeching on my insides, yelling at me to fight back against the hands holding me. But I ignore my body's response and focus on my mind instead. "In case it wasn't obvious, I love you too."
I allow Eli's words from the night I told him about Asher and the attack to echo in my mind.
I feel Eli pull away and I look up at him. "Is this okay?"
"Yes," I whisper.
He gives me a moment before reaching towards my face and grasping it gently in both of his hands. I bite my lip in an attempt to fight back the emotions threatening to surface.
He senses my discomfort and just as he begins to slide his hands away, I grip them in place. "Keep going. I'm okay."
He stares into my eyes for a few seconds looking for assurance to what I said. I'm assuming he found it since he softly brings his lips to brush mine.
And just like that night, I can feel parts of me cry out against the touch. But there are also parts of me that feel the tingling of my lips as he gives me a quick peck.
I lift my arms up to rest on either side of his neck and pull him closer to me, not allowing him a chance to pull away.
He continues to move his lips against mine and I eagerly reciprocate his movements. The more my body sends signals to every cell to run out of here as quick as I can, the more forcefully I attach my lips to Eli's.
Once I feel comfortable with these kisses, I decide to take a leap of faith. I hop up and wrap my legs around his waist. I feel him stiffen against me before he brings his hands to rest on the backs of my thighs.
After a few moments, he pulls away much to my reluctance. Our heavy breathing intermixes between our close faces. I watch him deeply swallow before speaking. "How are you feeling?"
"It's not easy," I tell him honestly. "But I don't want to give in. I don't want to stop. He can't take this from me. I won't let him."
I allow Eli to be in control of the situation and await his lips. The moment they return to mine, I immediately tense. Eli's lips are much less gentle this time. They seem overcome with his own emotions as they hungrily touch mine. I gasp slightly when he risks allowing our tongues to come in contact.
This was too quick.
I wasn't prepared for that.
And my surroundings transform as it isn't Eli's tongue exploring my mouth. It is Asher's probing around, unwanted.
I pull away. "Stop! Please, stop!" I sob out as I taste the salty moisture running down my face.
"Shit, Clare. I'm sorry. I didn't…," Eli frantically replies before setting me down on the ground gently and backing away from me.
I turn around and rest my palms on the surface of his desk and attempt to steady myself. Deep breaths, Clare. It's okay. It's only Eli. I keep repeating this to myself until my body finally accepts it and my heart rate begins to slow down.
It must have been a few minutes before I hear Eli's voice from behind me. "Please tell me you're okay." I can sense the worry in his voice.
I close my eyes and take one last breath before turning back towards him. "I'm fine. I just needed a moment. I'm sorry," I whisper.
"Don't apologize. I'm the one who should be sorry. Clare, I didn't mean to –"
"No," I cut him off. "You did everything right. I'm the one who's acting weird." I laugh under my breath.
"You have every right to be."
I begin to walk towards him. "Can we pick up where we left off?" I ask him gently.
His eyes widen in surprise. "Are you sure? You're not hurt or anything?"
I shake my head. "Keep going."
He lets out a sigh before pulling me closer to him and slowly and gently capturing my lips in his. I let him control the kiss as I begin to walk backwards towards his bed. When the back of my legs come in contact with the edge of the bed, I pull away and slowly lean back until coming into contact his mattress.
I keep my eyes closed as I feel the heat rise up in my cheeks. I decide to wait for Eli to continue his advances.
My body waits in anticipation, but not out of fear. I feel a small smile makes its way onto my face as I come into contact with the familiar emotions that used to overwhelm me when Eli would kiss me. These feelings of joy, of pleasure. Not of fear or panic.
I feel the mattress dip as Eli joins me on the bed. I sigh in relief when I feel his lips brush my neck. As he continues his attentions to my neck, I lift my hands up and grasp parts of his shirt in my fist.
He immediately stops and I feel him pull away. I open my eyes in confusion.
"W-why'd you stop?"
"Clare, you have a death grip on my shirt right now."
I bite my lip in embarrassment. "N-no. It, um, it felt good." I look up at him shyly as I unfist my hands and rest my palms on his chest.
Eli swallows before resting his hands on either side of my head and kissing my forehead gently. "I think we have succeeded then," he whispers.
I beam at him and for a moment we just stare at each other with goofy grins on both our faces.
My smile falters as I realize there is still one more thing to be done. He angles his head in question. "What is it?"
I take in a deep breath before speaking up. "There is one more thing. Asher, h-he touched me too." I bite my lip so hard I wouldn't be surprised if a stream of blood began to emerge from my soft flesh. I watch as Eli brings a hand to my chin and tugs down to free my lip from my teeth's grasp.
"Where?" He asks me in a hoarse voice.
It is then that I let out a sob. Eli immediately sits up and pulls me up with him. I hide my face in his neck as I straddle his lap. "It's not fair," I tell him. "It's not fair that the first time we do this, it's because of him."
I feel Eli's hand rub the small of my back. His other hand comes up to graze the top of my head. He places a gentle kiss to that same spot as I continue to let out my emotions.
After a little while of Eli holding me, I take a few deep breaths in an attempt to slow my current rapid breathing.
I pull slightly away from him and I feel his gaze on me.
"I'm sorry," I whisper. "I keep losing it. I don't know what's wrong with me."
"Hey, stop apologizing. We don't have to do this today."
I shake my head. "I want to do this. Please."
I hear him sigh before grasping my chin in his hand and forcing me to look at him. "Clare, this is killing me. It just feels wrong hurting you like this."
I shake my head. "You're helping me. Please, Eli. I need this."
His green eyes pierce my blue ones for a few more seconds before he lets out a breath. "Okay, but we go on your terms now." He brings one hand under mine so that my palm rests on the top of it. "Show me," he tells me.
I nod in understanding before leaning back once again and bringing Eli with me. He hovers above me as I close my eyes and take a few moments to prepare myself.
I open my eyes. "Yes?"
"I love you."
I force his head down with my free hand and place a gentle kiss on his lips. "I love you more."
He shakes his head. "That's not possible."
I smile softly before returning my attention back to our joined hands. I allow our hands to roam around my midsection where only a week ago, Asher's hands tightly held on to my body.
I close my eyes again and slowly bring our hands up my body.
I feel Eli give a quick kiss to my forehead before resting our foreheads against each other.
Just as our hands graze the lower part of my breast, I freeze in tension.
"It's okay, Clare." I hear Eli speak up. "It's just me."
I let his words sink into every pore in my skin before allowing our hands to continue their movement.
I almost wince in pain when I allow Eli's hand to fully cup my flesh as Asher's had for a brief moment. But unlike the incident with Asher, I do not force Eli away. Instead, I raise my hand off his and let his hand's touch linger.
I bring both my hands to rest on Eli's shoulders as we both remain frozen and I grow accustomed to his touch.
I open my eyes after I notice my body beginning to relax. "I'm okay," I tell him with a surprised tone.
He smiles at me lovingly before giving me a quick kiss. "I'm so damn proud of you, Edwards."
And at that moment I realize that it doesn't matter what ends up happening at The Toronto Daily. Whether or not Asher is fired is the absolute last thing on my mind at the moment. Right now, my thoughts echo one thing. And that is the boy in front of my gaze.
I realize that no matter what path the Lord puts me on, this boy will be walking right alongside me.
And that makes even the darkest path seem bright.
I sit up and wrap my arms tightly around his neck and laugh in joy.
I pull away only slightly. "Kiss me," I tell him.
He looks at me curiously but nevertheless tenderly touches our lips together. And my body's response fills me with joy.
I'm the one to pull away with a grin on my face. "That felt good."
He laughs. "Well, I would hope so."
I grasp his face in my hands and reward him with another quick kiss.
"Thank you," I whisper against his lips.
And we spend the next few moments just gazing at each other as I rub my thumb across his cheek.
I've always been able to read Eli's eyes, but this is the clearest message they've ever sent me.
I love you.
I smile. "I love you too," I say out loud.
I know I got the message right because instead of looking at me with confusion, Eli simply touches our lips together again.
We both relish in our own private bliss.
And there you have it folks! This ends Love is Protection. Again, I just want to say thank you to all you reviewers! From the ones who have reviewed since the first few chapters (and believe me I totally know who you all are and I thank you guys!) to those of you who happened to stumble upon this story now as it ends (you are all dear to me as well!). I seriously cannot express my gratitude enough to all of you. This story has helped me gain more confidence as a writer and it has allowed me to take risks with my writing. I would not have been able to produce such a story that I am genuinely proud of had it not been for your kind motivation. I genuinely appreciate it!
On another note, I have a story that has been weaving its way into my thoughts for a while now. I have made the decision to write it. It will be my first Eli and Clare story that does not follow the plot of the show. I am both excited and a little nervous! A very brief summary is that it will be about a young soldier, Elijah Goldsworthy who returns from battle after him and his friend Dave are shot in action. When he returns, he meets the gentle and patient Clare Edwards, best friend to Dave's new fiance, Alli. As a recently hired journalist, Clare is beginning a new article centered on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and learns a lot from the two newly returned men. But she finds herself drawn to the soldier with the green eyes that seem robbed of life and without thinking twice, she joins him on his struggle to revive from the effects of war. And that may not have been the best summary, but you guys can kind of get the main idea. My goal is to keep the characters much like the Eli and Clare we know and love, but with slight twists to allow this story to work. Look for Love is Revival coming soon! :)
Thank you again you beautiful readers! I love you all more than words can describe! You are all the best! I hope to hear from you all very soon! :)