Authors' Note: I don't remember the exact chain of events from the promo, but bear with me if I get some details a bit off in this chapter.
Clare was sitting at the lunch tables with Jenna and Ali. Becky was off trying to raise more donations, and Jenna was thankful to be able to eat with Clare and Ali for a change, especially since it was Clare's birthday.
"Has Eli done anything yet for you?" Ali asked, "I bet he's got something special up his sleeve."
"Not yet," Clare blushed, quietly picking at her cucumber sandwich, "Tonight I think we are going out to eat together. He's been so busy with his stuff, and I've been busy too. It'll be nice to have a moment alone."
Jenna eyed Ali before saying, "So, Clare, doing anything special after school today?"
"No, not really," Clare admitted, taking a bite of her sandwich. Even though the incidents with Asher and Dallas happened almost a week ago, Clare still couldn't shake the sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach.
"Want to come over?" Jenna asked.
"Yes!" Ali's face lit up, "Jenna and I can help you with your hair and makeup for your date tonight."
"I don't know guys," Clare blushed, "I don't want there to be this huge fuss."
"You deserve fuss," Ali said, adamantly, "And a fuss you're going to get! Come over after school today, and we can…"
Clare looked up to see Eli standing over the table with a look of confusion and anger on his face. Clare instantly knew what was wrong. Eli was so busy with the play, that he hadn't really noticed that she hadn't gone to the office during lunch like she had done while working for Asher. He assumed she was always at work. Now she would have to come up with another lie…
"We need to talk."
"The worst words ever in the history of conversation," Jenna winced; but when Eli shot her a disapproving glance, she was quick to hush up.
"Now," Eli glared at Clare.
Clare grabbed her bag and followed Eli, "What's up?" She asked, nerves swimming in her stomach.
"I thought I would surprise my girlfriend at work for her birthday. I was going to bring her lunch from her favorite restaurant. Imagine my surprise when I got there and ran into Asher."
"Oh no," Clare felt sick.
"Oh yes," Eli swung the doors open and stormed down the foyer, "He told me some interesting things today, Clare. Now, I'm not going to completely lose my cool until I get some answers from you first. I know there must be some sort of misunderstanding because I know my girlfriend would never get herself fired from her job on account of inappropriate actions."
"Is that what he told you?" Clare adjusted her bag on her shoulder, "Inappropriate actions?"
"Asher told me that your crush on him had gone on for far too long, and that your actions towards him were making him uncomfortable."
"That's what he told you?" Clare still couldn't wrap her head around all of this.
"Yes, Clare. That is what he told me. Now, I'm going to give you five seconds to start explaining yourself before I tear into you. Now shoot."
"Eli, you don't understand. You have no idea what happened!"
"Time's up. How could you have been so immature?" Eli's voice was rising, "How could you jeopardize this? This is your career that we're talking about here. Asher has a lot of say, Clare. He could make or break you. What were you thinking? I get admiring someone. I really do. But you crossed a line here…"
"Please stop," Clare blushed, brushing past him and heading off down the hallway. She needed to get away from him and be alone. If she could just get to the girl's bathroom, she could finally release the tears she had been holding in for far too long.
"Don't tell me to stop when you're the one that screwed up! I am not going to let this go, Clare. You are such a great writer, and you have so much potential. You let some school-girl crush get in the way of being professional and furthering your career. I love you; but that was really stupid of you, Clare."
"Shut up!" Clare turned around and snapped at him, "Just shut up, Eli!"
"Don't tell me to shut up, Clare! You risked your dreams because you couldn't contain your crush on the man? What did you do to him that made him so uncomfortable? I can't believe you would do this, Clare. This is your dream!"
Clare had had enough. Again, she turned and faced him, spinning on her heel, "Go to hell!"
She stormed down the hallway, trying desperately to make it to the bathroom before the tears fell. Eli couldn't believe that Clare Edwards – his Clare Edwards – had just said that to him. It would have been better if she had just slapped him.
"Don't you walk away on me like this," Eli shouted at her. The students remaining in the hallway stared at them, drinking in the drama.
"You don't even know what you're talking about, Eli! Don't you start yelling at me for something you have no clue about! Do you know what Asher did to me? Do you?"
"What do you mean?" Something dangerous crossed Eli's face.
Clare sighed and took off back down the hallway. When she got to the girls' washroom, she shoved the door open and sunk down to the ground underneath the blow-dryers.
Eli had no trepidation towards following her inside. When he saw her crumpled on the tile, he fell down to his knees in front of her, worry shadowing his face.
"Clare Edwards, you tell me what the hell is going on right now."
"Asher…Asher…" Clare had no idea how to say the words she had been struggling with for weeks, "Remember that night I worked late? Asher and I were the only ones left in the office. He…he and I were talking and…he…he kissed me."
"He what?" Eli's voice roared.
"He kissed me," Clare blushed, unable to meet his gaze, "I grabbed my things and ran out. I was so scared…and I never wanted to see him again. But I had responsibilities…and people – you – were counting on me. So I went back to work the next day. He apologized for the kiss, and said that it was out of line. He told me he was struggling with his divorce, and he seemed so genuine…"
"Clare, what happened?" Eli's voice was soft, but commanding.
"He asked me to go with him to work on a story, and I did. He gave me a ride, and when we were in his car, he locked me inside and tried to come on to me. I was so scared. He got angry at me for denying him, and he left me there. I had to catch the bus home."
"Clare…oh God. God!" Eli stood from the floor and slammed his fist into the wall. His fist shattered the drywall, leaving a gaping hole.
"Your hand!" Clare gasped, seeing the bloody knuckles of Eli's still-clenched fist.
"It's fine," Eli growled, "That bastard is a dead-man. We can get him fired, Clare. There are laws…"
"I tried to talk to his boss. I didn't just let this happen, Eli. But his boss told me that my infatuation with him had gotten too far, and she didn't believe me. She had me escorted out of the office by security guards. I was so scared…I didn't know what to do, Eli. I didn't know who to go to."
"Um…how about your boyfriend?" Eli glared at her, and Clare began to sob.
"How could I?" She asked between heaving sobs, "How could I go to you when you are so happy? You've been doing so well. I was scared of taking that away from you!"
Eli's heart broke, "Clare," he knelt down across from her and pulled her into his arms, "Don't ever hide your pain from me because you are afraid of hurting me or causing me to lose it. Don't ever do that. I am your boyfriend, Clare. I am supposed to be here to take away your pain. Not force you to hide your pain. God, Clare…I am so sorry!"
Clare nodded and he began to kiss her – starting with her forehead, her cheeks, her nose, her neck – all over her face, "I am so sorry, Clare. I am so, so sorry!"
"That's not all," Clare gulped, and Eli paused mid-tear wipe.
"What do you mean that's not all?" Eli asked apprehensively, "What else happened, Clare?"
"Last weekend…Asher texted me. He told me that he needed me to do something for him. He told me that if I didn't, he would destroy me. He told me that he would tell you I came on to him, and that he would tell Simpson and Mrs. O that I was the one that sexually harassed him. I felt backed into a corner. I didn't know what else to do…"
"Clare, what did he have you do?" Eli asked firmly, cradling her face in his hands, "Tell me."
"He had me…he told me to take pictures of myself…and send them to him."
"Pictures of yourse…what do you mean pictures of…oh my God. Clare, no. Please, no."
"I'm sorry, Eli," Clare felt so ashamed, as she cried in his arms, "I am so sorry. I didn't know what to do!"
"You come to me, that's what you do."
"I was so scared you'd lose it."
Eli sucked in a deep breath, "I'm working real hard on not losing it right now," Eli admitted, "But if I lost it, it would only hurt you even more and I can't do that. I am so sorry, Clare. We can go to Simpson. We can get this sorted out."
"I am so scared."
"I know, love, but we will get through this together, alright? I'm all in, remember? We will face this together. You're not alone, Clare. Not as long as you have me," Eli promised.
"Thank you, Eli," Clare smiled as he kissed her again.
"We will deal with this on Monday. This is your birthday weekend. Let's just enjoy that and forget about Asher and the newspaper, and all this other stress. This weekend, it's all about you. I have some very special things planned for you."
"I don't want a fuss," Clare objected.
"You deserve a fuss," Eli kissed her forehead.
"Everyone's been saying that," Clare sighed.
"Eli, I really don't want to do anything big," Clare protested, "Please. I am very tired and I just want to do something small and intimate – maybe go to Miss Steaks or something. Just the two of us."
Eli smirked, "Nope. We can do that small and intimate stuff tomorrow or something. Tonight, it's all about you. Tonight, I've planned something big."
"I know I haven't been around much, with the play and everything taking up all of my time. But, I am Clare Edward's boyfriend, before I am the director of Romeo and Jules, alright? This is your birthday, and it's all about you tonight. So…I took the liberty of inviting some of our friends over for a party held in your honor!"
"You did what?" Clare's eyes turned to saucers, and Eli was taken aback.
"I thought you'd be happy…"
Clare instantly felt bad for her reaction, "Eli, it's wonderful. Thank you so much for thinking of me; it's just…I am so exhausted from everything. I just was hoping for something small. But you know what, this is going to be perfect."
"Are you sure?" Eli asked, leading her to the front door, "We can bolt. We can get out of here and go have that nice dinner just the two of us, if you want."
"No, this is going to be perfect," Clare smiled a broken smile at Eli as he swung the front door open. On the other side, balloons and streamers and everyone Clare was an acquaintance with at Degrassi filled the living room. Clare was taken back, surprised at the size of the party.
"You put all of this together?" Clare turned to Eli, "Wow! This is…this is something."
"Happy birthday!" Adam ran over to Clare and gave her a huge hug, "Eighteen! That's almost twenty! How does it feel to be an old woman?"
Clare laughed, "Oh, it's not so bad. I was not expecting this! This is crazy!'
"Yeah, Eli and I invited everyone we thought would make this party as awesome as it could be. Oh, and the hockey team," Adam winced, "Don't hate me."
"The hockey team?" Clare glared at him, "Adam, they're all a bunch of jerks."
"I thought we should invite Dallas," Eli shrugged, "He's Adam's billet brother, and I thought it would be fine. Surely they aren't all jerks. Just give them a chance, Clare. You're good at seeing the good in everyone. Besides, Adam says Dallas is kind of cool."
"He's alright," Adam shrugged.
"He's a jerk," Clare objected, "I don't want them here at my party."
"Clare, chill," Eli smiled down at her, "It's going to be alright. Don't worry. Why don't you just kick back and enjoy your party, huh?"
Clare nodded, and he kissed her on the forehead. He was right; this was her party, and she should enjoy it – rather the hockey team would be there or not. Clare felt her stomach twist into knots as she thought about what had taken place with Mike Dallas about a week ago. She hadn't had any contact with him, but she still felt overwhelming hatred whenever she'd see him pass by in the hallway.
She couldn't believe she had let herself fall victim to Dallas' advances. He was drunk, and he was using her. It made her sick just to even think about it, and now he would be there at her party with the rest of his hockey goons. Clare felt herself grow nauseous.
"Clare!" Ali ran over to her and hugged her, "Happy, happy, happy birthday! Can you believe Eli put all this together? I am quite impressed! He's definitely a keeper, Clare! Don't lose him this time."
"I'll try not to," Clare thought back to their talk in the restroom – and Dallas' kiss, "Is this why you and Jenna wanted to do my hair and makeup?" Clare asked.
"Guilty as charged," Jenna shrugged, a huge smile on her face, "So what do you think?"
"I love it," Clare looked around at her party, "This is something. I can't believe you all helped with this."
"Oh look who's here," Ali nodded to the girl standing behind a table pouring punch for everyone, "And she's on punch duty."
"Yikes," Jenna winced, "I'm going to go keep her company. Catch you two later."
"Gotta love Becky Baker," Ali rolled her eyes.
"Hug?" Clare asked, holding out her arms; Ali looked at her for a moment before hugging her, "What's up?" Ali whispered in her ear.
"I need to talk to you about something. Something bad."
"I can't tell you here. But it's bad, Ali."
"Asher?" Ali whispered, "Is it about Asher?"
The door swung open and the hockey team barged in, with Dallas in the lead. Clare groaned and wished she could just melt into a puddle on the floor. Dallas saw her right away.
"Red," he called over to her, "Happy birthday!"
"Dallas," Clare nodded towards him, "Thank you."
"Of course. I wouldn't miss this party for anything! Especially not after that moment you and I shared."
"Moment?" Eli walked over to Clare and put his arm around her, "What moment?"
"I guess there's a lot your girlfriend doesn't tell ya?" Dallas chuckled, glancing towards the hockey players, "Like about how she and I made out last week?"
Eli let his arm drop from Clare and he glared at Dallas, "What are you talking about?"
"She came over to my place last Sunday. She was all bent out of shape because apparently she had taken naked pictures of herself to send to her boss. She was all crying and embarrassed…"
Clare felt like she was dying. The party instantly got quiet, and you could practically cut the tension between Dallas and Eli with a knife. Eli just stood there, his hands clenched into fists.
"And she wanted someone to talk to. Adam was gone, and it was just me. We shared a few beers…"
"I had a few sips of one," Clare protested, "And we didn't make out!"
"What are you talking about?" Eli asked, and Adam jumped up standing next to Clare and Eli.
"Dallas, you've got some explaining to do."
"Shut up, tranny. This doesn't concern you!"
"Hey!" Eli put his hand on Dallas' shoulder, "You don't need to start throwing words like that around. Shit happens, bud. Just tell me what happened. I'm giving you the chance to be to be honest and upfront with me."
"Fine," Dallas turned and chuckled to the hockey team, "Your little bitch slut came on to me…"
He didn't get a chance to get another word out – Eli's fist had shattered his nose.
Dallas reeled backwards, holding his face. His nose was squirting blood into his palms, but he glanced up and turned to Eli, "You're dead."
The next crushing sound of bone against bone came from Dallas' fist colliding against Eli's jaw.
It's no use.
This is life; and this is love.