A/N: Here is the final chapter of this story. I want to thank everyone who's read, reviewed, sent me a message on tumblr…all of it. It means a lot. I think I can speak for most, if not all, Eclare fans when I say that WOW THAT LAST SCENE IN THE FINALE WAS BEAUTIFUL. It's nice to have them in a good place. I have another story up my sleeve, but I'd like to write some oneshots first. I hope you'll read them!
Twitter/Tumblr (and I fangirl too much on these things): literarylolita
Disclaimer: I do not own Degrassi, but I DO own a fabulous hat just like Tristan's in the musical ;-)
"And I traded brick for straw in the house I built around my heart, so when you came it wouldn't be so tough. No 'huff and puff' could dismantle us."-Bayside, "Landing Feet First"
"Woohoo!" I'm clapping wildly with Clare by my side doing the same as Dave and Tristan take their curtain call. It's opening night of Romeo and Jules; thanks to Adam, the musical continued production. My suspension (and arrest) pretty much ruined me being able to direct the play; Adam took over, and I insisted his name be listed next to "Director" in the program and only claimed a producer's credit for myself.
"Your vision was beautiful," Clare says in my ear. I pause my clapping and glance down at her; the look of adoration on her face melts my heart.
"I didn't finish it, though." I put my arm around her and we walk toward the wings of the stage. "Adam pulled this off. I don't know what he pulled out of his ass to do so, but he really stepped up."
"It was your idea, though," Clare reminds me. "Well, the Jules part of it. And you laid the groundwork. This wouldn't have happened without you." She squeezes my side; I'm pleased that she still seems to enjoy my touch. Whenever I think of what happened to her, I have to do the breathing exercises my therapist taught me in order to calm my rage and/or run about five miles.
I don't know if I'll ever be over it, and it didn't even happen to me.
"This wouldn't have been possible without you, either," I remind her. "Your article made a huge difference."
It's true. The public outcry for Romeo and Jules to go on as originally planned was far more vocal and adamant than that of the people against it. LGBT advocates from all over the city donated money to the drama department, so much that the protests of parents and a goddamn hockey team didn't matter. One generous benefactor wrote an extremely large check; his son committed suicide due to bullies at school bashing him for being gay. The man personally wrote me a letter to express his gratitude; I still haven't responded, because for once, words are failing me. The drama department now has a budget that will easily last them for years. Simpson seems extremely pleased, even if the Ice Hounds and some parents are pissed at him.
"I suppose I helped a little," Clare giggles. Adam runs up to us.
"Hey guys!" His cheeks are flushed and his smile wide. "I can't believe we pulled it off. I can't believe the show went on!"
I step away from Clare to hug Adam. "Thank you for saving this, man." I clap his back, pull away, and look at him seriously. "You have no idea what it means to me."
"We all made it possible," Adam reasons. "I just finished what you started." He smiles at Clare. "And what you promoted."
"We should team up more often," Clare suggests with a raised eyebrow and excited smile on her face. "We could take over the world!"
Adam and I both burst into laughter. "Eli, I'm so glad you got her to watch all those comic book movies. She's one of us!"
"Yep. That's my girl." I put my arm around Clare's shoulders again, and she leans into me.
"Guys! That was Ah-MAH-zing!" Tristan bounds over to our little trio. "We're all going out for pizza to celebrate! Want to come?"
"I'm in!" Adam says excitedly before looking at us pointedly.
I glance at Clare, and can tell from her face she's not particularly up for a large crowd of people tonight. Her counseling sessions with Ms. Sauve are going well, but word of what happened to her has somehow spread throughout the school; I'm guessing Dallas didn't keep his mouth shut. Many versions of the story are running the rumor mill, but I think most people know and believe the truth. Clare's parents know now and are urging her to press charges. I'll never forget the moment after her argument about it with them. She called me, bawling. I went to her house immediately and held her all night; she was so upset that Helen didn't even bother kicking me out.
"Next time," I promise. Adam shrugs and quickly hugs Clare before he and Tristan walk away, the latter of the two boys blowing us a kiss as he does so.
"Want me to walk you home?" I ask my girlfriend. She nods and we exit the school.
I'm not prepared for what happens next, and based on the events of my life, I should have learnt by now to not be surprised about anything, ever.
"Clare! Eli!" Becky walks up the steps of the school to meet us. I didn't see her in the crowd of the play and am surprised she showed up at all.
"What do you want?" I hiss.
"Eli," Clare says softly, squeezing my side.
"I want to apologize." Becky looks at the ground.
This cannot be real; a girl as self-righteous as Becky doesn't apologize for anything.
"For what?" Clare asks softly.
Becky looks up and fixes her gaze on Clare. "For what happened at your birthday party. For what Luke did, I mean." She looks down. "It was wrong of him, and I'm so sorry for everything else that happened to you."
I feel Clare stiffen underneath me, but she manages to speak without a waver in her voice. "I appreciate that, Becky. You aren't responsible for your brother's actions, though, only your own."
Becky gives Clare a soft grin and nods at me before turning around and walking away.
"That was different," I note, surprisingly with no malice in my voice.
"She's not an evil person, Eli," Clare states as we walk down the street. "You know, her beliefs probably aren't even her own. She's likely been incredibly sheltered." Clare grins up at me. "Sound like anyone else you know?"
"Yeah, but you're different," I argue. "You're not a judgmental bitch."
"I wasn't always that different from Becky Baker, Eli." Clare sighs. "When I came to Degrassi, I morphed into my own person, became someone other than the girl my parents molded me to be. Give her time; she might surprise you."
I can't imagine Clare as anything other than a loving, compassionate, fair person, but I nod my head anyway. It's relatively warm for March in Toronto, so when I see what I'll always think of as Clare's and my special bench, I sit down, gently pulling her with me.
"You okay?" Clare asks. She wiggles out of my embrace and takes my hands.
"I have to tell you something." I search her eyes and frown at the confusion I find in them. What I have to say to Clare will without a doubt disappoint her. I've put off telling her because she's had far too much disappointment in her life, especially from me.
"What is it?" Clare's expression of kindness gives me the push to just spit it out.
"I'm not graduating," I say softly.
"What? How?" Clare lets go of my hands and rubs her neck. "WHY?"
I laugh. "Clare, I don't know if you've noticed, but I've missed a LOT of school."
"I know you were suspended, but-"
"I was also suspended last year, remember?" I gently take her hands in mine again. "And after my mental break, I missed three weeks of school."
"But still, your marks are great!" She frowns. "Eli, it doesn't make any sense!"
"It's not my marks. It's my attendance. I haven't been to high school enough days to graduate." I look away. "When Julia died," I nearly choke on my words. Even after all this time, it's painful to think of my first love's demise. "After…I didn't go back to school. I did some assignments from home, but just barely passed Grade Ten."
"Eli, you never told me that." Clare's gentle voice brings me to look at her again.
"I don't like to dwell on those days, Edwards." I pull her into my arms. "Are you mad?"
Clare laughs and leans her head onto my chest. "No. What AM I going to do with you, though?" She teases.
"You tell me," I joke.
She tightens her arms around my torso. "I can't believe everything we've been through, both together and apart."
I don't respond right away; the memories of the past year and a half are washing over me at a rapid pace. My mind settles on the image of the first time Clare and I sat on this bench; the first time I saw that there was something special hiding beneath her pretty eyes. "We've come a long way."
"At least I won't have to miss you next year," Clare notes.
"Way to look on the bright side," I laugh.
"We'll get through it. The bright sides, the bad sides…" Clare's voice trails off, and I know she's thinking of Asher and the journey she must take.
"Together," I say.
She looks up at me, eyes swimming with love and trust. "Always and forever."
I smirk and lean in to kiss her softly; she deepens it for the briefest of moments before pulling away. Clare's smile reassures me that everything will be all right, even if there won't always be "twinkly lights".
However, when she snuggles deeply into my arms and strokes my sides, I can't help but notice how illuminated the lamp posts are on Queen street tonight.
Something tells me that our future is just as bright.