A/N: Hello! Getting closer to the end now, can't wait to reveal who the real Stalker is!
Review, review, review? :)
KILL ME, NOT
"Somewhere a Clock is Ticking"
Clare breathed in and out, putting one foot down in front of the other, pressing harder each time. Her pulse thudded in her eardrums, keeping pace when her breathing. Her arms moved up and down, willing her to move faster, if not for progress, then at least for something that mattered. Her shoulder length hair was tied into a messy bun and she couldn't care less if her hair looked greasy. Most girls would get on a treadmill and feel self conscious, but not Clare and not tonight. The sweat was like proof, that she was doing something productive, and that was a feeling she hadn't received in a while.
The treadmill beneath her shook with every step she took and was a peak in her running where she wasn't breathing heavily at all. She was just at ease, which was something she hadn't been used to in a while. She pressed a button on the treadmill and slowed down with it until it eventually stopped. She stepped off of the treadmill and unplugged her earphones from her ears. The gym was empty, only a receptionist in the corner, that was half in and out of sleep as he lounged back into his chair and watched a streamed movie on the computer in front of them. Clare was almost sure he had ordered pizza.
She walked into the gym lockers, grabbing her bag and patting her skin with her damp towel. It was almost reaching midnight. Logically, she shouldn't even be out this late, considering what was going on, but this was Clare Edwards and she was sick of getting knocked back down. Let them try, a horrible thought entered her mind. Let them try and get her. Maybe then she'll finally find out who's behind this whole thing. Running and exercise was the only thing that kept Clare sane these days. Running, and pounding foot after foot against something was a way of releasing pent up frustration and anger.
She exhausted herself until she had no more energy to over analyse and be paranoid. Clare signed out of the gym, waved goodbye to the night manager Woodie and headed outside, where the cold air nipped her skin. She could walk back to her mother's, the gym was only ten minutes away, or she could get a night bus, or she could even call Jake to come pick her up. Clare pulled out her phone, breathing with relief when she saw that she had no new messages. That should kill her inside actually, to not have any of her friends contact her, but if she had no new messages at all, then there'd be no chances of the real mastermind contacting her either.
It had been a whole week since Clare had last seen her friends. That horrible night where she'd accused Fiona of being the Dare Overlord (which she was) and the real mastermind behind everything (which was wasn't). Also, Sav owning a gun had come as a shock, but she couldn't help but feel a sense of guilt over that one. Maybe everyone blamed her too.
She didn't want to erase all her times with Eli for anything, and she knew it, in the bottom of her heart. He was like an integral part of her being, not like a want, more like a need. Not telling him – or Julia – about the picture being planted in her locker was something he was having a hard time dealing with. Clare fought the urge to snap at all of them. It was her who had been getting the anonymous messages, and creepy dolls, and eerie phone calls for months on end, just her, and she hadn't managed to blame anyone, well, apart from Fiona.
Of course, Clare knew at most of what had transpired was in fact, her fault. She had been closed off. She'd started the year wanting a fresh start, wanting to trust her friends, wanting to let Eli back in, but when push came to shove, she couldn't let them in. She took them along with her – only some – but never really let them all the way in. Even Connor didn't really know any of the situation. It was like she had been twisted into this... thing, and it wasn't Clare Edwards. Not the girl she used to be. She was still going to therapy with Nina Henderson, and Helen wasn't forcing Clare to open up or go back to Church.
Helen was just finally happy to be back in Clare's life, and everything going on lately had just given Clare a whole new perspective. Why was she so insistent on pushing her family away from her? She needed them more than ever, considering her friends had abandoned her, but she knew deep down, she probably deserved it. She also probably hadn't helped herself by continuing to live in that apartment, especially after finding out about Eli's dare, or Imogen's death. If she had left after that, she might be in a different place than she is now.
Clare was holding her phone, ready to dial Jake's number when a rustle in a nearby bush made her freeze. She looked around. She was alone. Or was she? Clare had only just started her self defence classes, she really doubted her ability to defend herself properly. Maybe scratching and bitch slapping someone in movies was an acceptable way of self defence, but this was the real world and the only thing Clare had going for her was her legs. Running away was becoming a bit of a habit for her and she was getting sick of it. She didn't want to run this time. She wanted to fight.
"Is anybody there?" Clare called out, "I'm armed, by the way. I've got a phone and... a pair of hands and I'm extremely pissed off."
"We'll be sure to take that into account," a male voice said and Eli, Adam and Alli appeared from behind the bushes.
Clare let out a breath of relief. She patted her chest and sighed again as her three friends walked over to her. "Stalking me now?" she asked softly. Eli looked like he hadn't slept in years, Alli had a nervous expression and Adam was just standing there.
"You hadn't come back to the apartment in a week," Eli replied, shrugging slightly, "I got worried. We got worried."
"Yeah, and you've been avoiding me and Adam in school," Alli added, "We asked your Homeroom teacher, you've been in, you've just stayed out of our way."
"How did you even find me?" Clare suddenly frowned.
"Well, we saw your tweet about going to the gym and we just stopped by," Adam said slowly, almost unsure.
Clare titled her head, "You just knew which gym it was?"
"No," Alli suddenly smiled brightly, "We must have stopped by ten gyms before coming to this one. We didn't know you were a gym buff."
"I'm not," Clare swallowed, "Jake just thought it would be a healthy way for me to release my... issues."
"I figured you were staying with Jake," Eli said, a little too possessively.
"I'm staying with my mom, actually," Clare replied. "This week has been good for me. I'm not at that apartment, obsessing over things. I feel safe. And besides, considering how we left things... I just assumed you wouldn't want to see me."
"I did absolutely not fall out with you," Alli said firmly, "No way, Clare. I just... I didn't know what to say without offending you, so I left, but I was planning on talking to you the very next day and then when I drop by, nobody's seen you, and you aren't anywhere I've been looking in school."
"I never not want to be your friend, Clare," Adam added, "It's just... You let me down. I needed to talk to someone and you let me down. I felt I couldn't come to you because all you do is talk about the Dare Overlord, or the stalker or the mastermind, or whatever you're calling them. And if you're not obsessing about that, then you're accusing somebody or pushing people away or making plans that don't involve us, your real best friends."
"I'm so sorry," Clare shook her head, "I really, really am. I'm so sorry. I should have been there for you. I should have done more, I know that. I'm sorry I didn't tell you about the picture, Eli. I hope Julia doesn't hate me, and I hope that one day, you'll be able to understand that I am who I am because of everything that's happened. Being changed every single time something bad happens is not healthy, and I'm trying to stop. I'm trying to get better, to get back to a place where I knew who I was."
"We can help, Clare," Eli replied, "We're all going through the same thing. Even Fiona, despite her flimsy attitude, this is affecting her the same as you. She's just dealing with it differently, we all are."
"I love you all so much," Clare looked at them sadly, "I look at you all and I know that someday we're going to go back to how we used to be," she glanced at Eli and saw a flicker of emotion in his eyes, "But it's not today and it's not right now."
"Clare?" Alli asked.
"I don't know who's behind this, so I pinpoint blame on someone, so I can stop worrying," Clare licked her lips, "But I keep getting it wrong every time. I don't blame you guys for anything, but living in that apartment, and being around you all just reminds me of what happened, to me, to Imogen to all of us, and spending so much time obsessing over it is not working out for me. I need to distance myself, from that apartment, from the situation, from everything."
"You're moving out?" Eli asked, alarmed.
"I think so," Clare nodded, "I'll pay for my part for the upcoming month of course, and I'll let you know about any definite changes way before then, but until something changes, until I change, I have to stay away. Do you understand?"
"No," Eli said honestly. Alli and Adam looked away, sad.
There was a whirring noise in the background and Clare craned her neck past Eli to see Jake's car pulling into the gym car park behind them. "There's my ride," she said, hoping that Jake wouldn't find it necessary to get out of his car, but sighing and grimacing when she saw his long legs step out.
"Your mom got worried," Jake said as he walked over to them, "She sent me to get you."
"I was just about to call you," Clare waved her phone about, "She needs to calm down."
"She's worried," Jake added, shrugging. He looked at Eli, Alli and Adam and forced a smile, "Hi."
"Hi," Alli batted her eyelids while Adam sighed and Eli rolled his eyes.
"If there's an emergency," Clare began, "Call me, okay?" she brushed past Jake and headed for his car.
"See you guys," Jake couldn't help but wear his smirk a little as he followed after Clare.
"I hate that guy," Eli said as he watched Jake's car drive off.
"Me too," Adam agreed.
Alli was grinning, "I thought he was gorgeous."
Fiona glanced at Eli across the counter with a cup of coffee in her hand and said incredulously, "Absolutely not."
Julia was sitting next to Eli, browsing through a textbook. Sav was scrubbing the kitchen counter behind them.
"Why not?" Eli cried, "It's a good idea!"
"It's a terrible idea," Fiona shot back, "Absolutely not."
"You can't call a decision for everyone," Eli folded his arms, "Sav, do you agree with me or not?"
"What?" Sav said, distracted. He turned around to give them his full attention and waited for the question.
"Should we have a party tonight or not?" Eli asked.
"Yes," Sav nodded and went back to cleaning.
"That's not fair, Clare's not here to vote against you two," Fiona sat back and sulked.
"Yeah and who's fault is that?" Eli couldn't help but jibe back.
"Not just mine," Fiona glared at him, then it vanished as soon as it crossed her face, "Look, it was mostly my fault but everybody joined in just like I did so it's not all my fault. I'll talk to Clare when she comes back, okay? I'll smooth things over, god knows there can't be in fighting considering there's someone out there who wants us dead."
"We don't know that for definite," Sav added, "All we know is—"
"Clare is being stalked, and I am too, and Imogen was murdered, after trying to kill Clare and accidentally getting me," Eli interrupted him, "So it's safe to say that murderous motives are a big probable."
"I swear I'll never get used to hearing you talk like this," Julia admitted suddenly, "I mean, it's just so weird, it's like we're in a horribly written episode of CSI or something. This isn't normal, people don't just talk about murderous motives like it's a normal way to live. I think we should take everything we know and go to the police. They're still trying to find Imogen's murderer."
"Maybe we should go to the police," Fiona shrugged, "I mean, trying to find things out on our own isn't getting us anywhere, you saw what Clare's like now. Maybe it's time to call in the big guns."
"The big guns?" Eli tried to keep a straight face.
"They'll take a note of everything down and then they'll tell us to keep a look out," Sav added, "Or they'll try and comfort you with some made up rubbish about how we should call them if we feel worried and then that's it. That's all they can offer. I mean, it would be great if we had our very own Sherlock Holmes but we're fresh out of English men wearing tweed hats."
"Tweed's all the rage in England," Julia added knowingly, "They just love tweed, it's the old Professor look."
Fiona sighed dramatically, "So, no party, no tweed, and no way of feeling safe in my own apartment. Fantastic."
"Why do you want a party to begin with?" Eli grabbed a nearby pancake, "The last time we had a party Jenna and Bianca snuck into my room and ruined everything. Why do you want to risk something bad happening again?"
"I count on something bad happening again," Fiona said coyly.
"What do you mean?" Sav asked.
"I've been thinking," Fiona stood up, "I think we should have another party. Invite absolutely everyone and then get them to put all their bags and jackets and belongings in my room and then while everyone's off partying, we search their things and try to piece something together. You said so yourself, Eli, we're all being stalked, so it only makes sense that the stalker would attend. Right?"
"It's a long shot," Julia said lightly.
"Well it's the only shot we've got," Fiona folded her arms. "I mean, aren't you sick of this? We've lost Clare and we're always one step behind everything. Enough is enough."
"You're becoming what Clare became," Eli said coldly, and everyone stopped what they were doing to stare at him.
Fiona hissed, "What did you say?"
"Stop... obsessing," Eli said slowly, "It gripped Clare and it turned her into something that she wasn't, so stop, obsessing. We had one, we don't need another."
"I'm going," Fiona grabbed her jacket, "Got classes all day."
"Adam left a message for you while you were in the shower," Julia said quickly, "Sorry I forgot until now. He said he needs you tonight, to go to a meeting with him, I don't know what meeting it is—"
"It'll be an AA meeting," Fiona interrupted her, "Or an addict's meeting, same thing, depending on where you go," she gave Eli a loaded look and then walked out of the apartment, slamming the door behind her.
"I don't remember Adam calling earlier," Eli frowned at Julia.
"He didn't," Julia bit her lip, "I made it up."
"Why?" Sav rounded on her.
"So Fiona would stop going on about the party," Eli said before Julia even opened her mouth to reply. "That's helpful."
"That's devious," Sav added. "And a lie—"
"Helpful," Eli corrected him, sending him a look. He turned to Julia, "Thank you."
"I was just trying to help," Julia explained, "You're right. A party is not what anyone needs right now. Having a party in this apartment would be like inviting starving lions to the all you can eat buffet. Anyone could walk in here. Anyone."
"I better call Adam," Eli pulled out his phone, "Make sure he knows to go along with it," he walked off into the lounge, leaving Julia and Sav in the kitchen.
"I'm sorry if I offended you," Julia told him quietly, "I'm just tired of feeling helpless. The stalker's photographed me now, and I don't know why."
Sav looked at her from his position and replied, "You really don't know? I find that hard to believe."
"I don't know what you mean," Julia frowned.
Sav licked his lips, "Come on, Julia. You're a bright girl. Why in the world would anyone plant a picture of Clare's ex boyfriend and his ex together, in her locker? You really can't work that one out?"
"Eli and I are just friends," Julia flushed pink.
"Maybe now," Sav nodded back, "But Clare seeing the guy she loves with another girl will kill her inside, and whoever planted that picture in her locker knew that. Maybe you and Eli will still be friends, now, in a year's time, maybe two year's time, but maybe one day Eli will turn around and see you as girlfriend material, and that's why you're included in this now. To be blunt, you're just somebody's pawn."
Julia looked down.
"Now I've offended you," Sav shook his head, "I'm sorry, I'm not usually like this, I never got much sleep last night. It's just... I think deep down, everyone knows that Clare and Eli will get back together and some people view you as..."
"In the way?" Julia finished for him, "I'm not trying to get in the way. Eli was my best friend before he was my boyfriend and then my ex. We were friends before any of that, and I'm still his friend. I know he loves Clare and I know Clare loves him. I've got no intention of coming between that."
"Well, great," Sav nodded, "That's good, because I know Eli losing another friend right now would be devastating."
"That's Adam all clued up," Eli said as he walked back into the kitchen, "I've got classes as well. Julia, feel free to hang about here if you want. Sav, have you got classes today?"
"Nope, but I do have my job," Sav said, "Which I'm not due for until tonight. Got switched places, I'm now a security man. Night shift. Yay for me."
Eli nodded and headed for the door, "Okay, got my phone. Later!"
"That's odd," Sav muttered.
"What is?" Julia looked at him.
Sav waited a moment and then said, "Eli doesn't have classes today."
Eli sauntered down the Church aisle, heading straight for the row of Confessionals at the end of the large religious space. He stopped at the one with a red bow tie hanging on the front and glanced around before slipping inside.
"Bless me Father for I have sinned," he said.
The window separating his booth from the joint one slid backwards and Clare revealed herself. "Well my child," she said, "Do tell."
Eli couldn't help but hide the smirk on his face, "Everyone's buying it then?"
Clare nodded, "Everyone thinks I am at odds with my friends. That little fight we had last week convinced everyone and my crying at my mother's door was the cherry on top. Nobody knows the truth."
"What is the truth exactly?" Eli asked, "Because even I'm starting to get confused myself."
"I don't know," Clare whispered, looking down, "But whoever's behind this has ears and eyes on us at all times. We have to make it look like we aren't talking. I honestly don't know if I believe Fiona, I really don't, but even if it's not her, then it's someone else we know, who knows us. We need to lay low, be careful, keep our eyes open. Maybe whoever it is will think they've won and slip up, make a mistake."
"Jake is behaving himself?" Eli asked after a moment.
"More than necessary," Clare answered, "He's being gentlemanly. He doesn't know anything."
"I miss you," Eli breathed. He reached his hand across the open window and touched Clare's face. Clare moved closer towards the window and sighed. Eli said, "How much longer will we have to be apart?"
"I don't know," Clare touched his hand on her cheek and watched his eyes flutter. "Soon. When this is all over. I realised how much I missed my mother, though. She needs me. She's missed me."
"I'm so glad you decided to trust me again, to let me in," Eli brought their faces together, their lips inches apart.
"How could I not?" Clare pressed their foreheads together. "After all we've been through, I couldn't do it without you."
One Week Ago
Eli finished wiping down the kitchen counter before he said to Clare, "Night," he walked past her and down the hallway to his room. Clare watched him go, wishing she had made him stay, wishing she had told him who was really behind everything, wishing she had the guts to do something.
Instead, Clare took a moment. She opened the living room blinds, sat down in her comfy chair and just savoured the peaceful moment as the moonlight trickled down into her seemingly fractured life. She knew she would have to act soon, do something with the information she'd learned, but she was content on just looking around, trying to soak up what was left, before all hell broke loose.
"Clare," Eli's voice startled her.
She spun around, wary. "I have to tell you something, Eli."
"What is it?" Eli crossed the distance between them, "Are you finally going to let me in this time?"
"Yes," Clare embraced him suddenly, "Yes, I am. I'll tell you everything, and I need you to do something for me."
"Anything," he whispered.
"Kiss me," Clare's fingers ran through his hair.
Eli smashed his lips into hers, moving and pulling and taking all in one moment. Clare kissed back harder, pulling on his hair and desperately pushing them both closer together. She needed him.
"I'm sick of pushing you away," Clare admitted after their heated moment, "I've kept things back from you and I'm sorry. I need you to trust me now."
"I do," Eli swore fiercely, "Absolutely and completely."
"You still think we shouldn't tell anyone?" Eli asked her, their lips brushing each other's softly.
"No," Clare shook her head, "I can't trust anyone but you right now."
"I have to admit, your choice of meeting place is a little... kinky," he glanced around their joint Confessional box.
"Everyone thinks I've given up my faith," Clare whispered back, "A Church is certainly the last place they'd find me. And you, but that's for other reasons altogether."
"Do go on," Eli muttered. He claimed her lips fiercely and pushed his body against the wooden panel separating them.
"This feels really quite wrong," Clare said thickly against his lips. "We're in a Confessional, in a Church, and we could be caught at any moment."
"That makes it all the hotter," Eli smirked.
"Kiss me quick," Clare gripped his head and pulled him closer. "Because somewhere a clock is ticking." They ground closer to each other and Eli wanted to savour this moment forever. He and Clare were back together. Everything would soon be as it was.
At least, that's what he thought.