DISCLAIMER: I don't own Degrassi or anything else.
Twitter: themusiksnob / Tumblr: musiksnob
I mentioned this in the author note of the last chapter of Into Your Arms, but I'll repeat it here for anyone who isn't reading that (and why aren't you? It's pretty good. It might technically be AU but it's very true to the characters and believable if you're not an AU fan.)
I'd really like to thank you for your overwhelming support. So many people took to time to write a review of that story or send me a tweet or a Tumblr message, and it truly made me feel happy and ready to continue in this sometimes difficult world of Degrassi fanfiction. I really wanted to send you author review responses and tell how how much I appreciated it directly but my free time is limited nowadays and I think most of you would prefer that I spend it writing.
My only request is that you don't disappear on me. A few people mentioned that they don't review often because they feel like they just say the same thing over and over. You don't have to tell me I'm amazing. Pick out a line you particularly liked or a detail. Reviews that say, "I cracked up when Eli was going to whip it out right there on the patio," or "You did a good job of keeping Jake in character" are more helpful than you could ever know. I'd rather have a one sentence review like that, than a three paragraph essay on why I'm awesome (although those of course are always welcome).
This story is now complete. Next I'll be writing my approximately 21 chapter future fic, which is terrifying to me. I hope that you all give that one a shot even though it's going to include a pretty large Degrassi fanfiction cliché in it. But I will definitely put my own spin on it, and if you like my other long fics, you will probably like this one as well.
I was glad that Cece and Bullfrog had gone to bed before I arrived home. As much as I was excited to tell them the good news about Clare, I kind of wanted to have one night where I kept that feeling all to myself. Plus, if they had taken one look at the goofy grin on my face they would have assumed that I'd decided to experiment with psychotropic drugs for the first time at the party – which at one point in my life probably would have delighted them but post-bipolar diagnosis would definitely result in grounding.
It was bad enough that I had walked home with an uncharacteristic spring in my step, but I couldn't help it. Clare and I were together again. I chuckled as I remembered how in my darkest hour she had decreed that we would never get back together. But now, by her own decision, she had decided that I was the guy she had fallen in love with again – or at least, an older, wiser, in control version of that guy.
I took a moment to plan out my text to her. I didn't want to be too pathetic but I didn't want her to get the impression that tonight didn't mean as much to me as it did to her. I'm home safe. I can't wait to see you in school tomorrow.
Only seconds after I had hit send, my phone rang. I smiled as I heard the ringtone, the chorus of "Oh Oh I Love Her So" by the Ramones, which I had never bothered to change after our breakup. I pushed away the thought that I hadn't had to change it because this was the first time Clare had called me in over eight months, and decided to focus on where we were now.
"Hey," I said softly, closing the door to my room behind me. "Did you miss me that much in the last twenty minutes?"
Clare giggled. "I did actually," she said, and I grinned. "I wasn't ready for this night to be over."
"Stupid curfews," I grumbled.
"Stupid school tomorrow," she agreed. "But at least I'll get to see you there."
"We should have lunch together."
I could practically feel her smile through the phone. "Our first date," she said with laughter in her voice.
"Our re-first date," I corrected. "Though maybe we should save that for something a little more exciting than lunch in the caf."
"Maybe tomorrow night?"
"I'm free," I said casually, trying to cover my excitement at Clare's eagerness to spend time together right away. She had told me she was all in, and I accepted it because I wanted to believe it badly. But everything she said was just more evidence that she really did want this as much as I did. "What do you want to do?"
"Surprise me," she said, and I couldn't help but laugh. She definitely trusted me if she was willing to let me surprise her. Of course, I had absolutely no ideas, and the whole not having a license thing didn't exactly make that any easier.
"Sure thing," I said. I threw my jacket over the back of my desk chair and lay down against my skull pillow. Clare didn't respond and I wasn't sure what to say either. The silence was awkward but it wasn't like we didn't have anything to say to each other.
"So…" she said, right as I was about to say something similar. We exchanged nervous laughs. "I feel like we've missed so much. I don't even know where to begin," she admitted.
"We could try that question game again," I suggested. "Where we can ask each other anything."
"That might work as a conversation starter," she responded amenably.
I laughed. "And this time you won't be able to spill soup all over me through the phone." As awkward as it was to walk around with damp, cauliflower-smelling pants for the rest of the day, the sight of Clare kneeling in front of me, wiping down my leg, getting extremely close to my cock was pretty awesome – and that was before I had any idea that she could still have feelings for me.
She giggled. "Don't remind me….You can go first."
"Alright," I said, trying to come up with a good ice breaker. It wasn't in my nature to take things like this too seriously, so I led off with a joke. "What are you wearing?"
"Pajamas," she said, with laughter in her voice. "What are you wearing?"
"Same thing I was wearing at the party."
She sounded surprised. "Oh, I can let you go if you want to get changed."
"I can take my clothes off while we're on the phone," I said, not really thinking of how that sounded until it came out of my mouth. I heard her breathing change a little and decided to push it one step further. "We could get on Skype if you want to watch."
"In your dreams, Eli." But even as she rejected me I could tell she wasn't as horrified at my suggestion as she would have been the first time we dated.
"It's your turn," I said, trying to keep the game going.
"I just asked you what you were wearing."
"That doesn't count. You repeated my question."
"Fine," she groaned. She took a few seconds before responding. "You know, I have this personal essay I wrote for English, and I was thinking of trying to get it published on this blog that posts real life teen stories. They're pretty legit and it would be a nice credit to add to my portfolio. It's a good start but it needs some polishing, and I guess I was wondering if you could take a look at it and give me some suggestions?"
She could ask me anything in the world, and she was asking me to edit one of her essays? I couldn't help but laugh. "We just made out for two hours and you're still trying to keep things professional between us?"
She laughed briefly but her answer was completely serious. "The professional is personal for us, Eli. I can't tell you how many times I was working on an article or a poem and wanted to send it to you and see what you thought or what suggestions you would make to make it better."
"I felt the same way," I admitted. I knew that Love Roulette was a challenge for a lot of reasons; the uncontrolled manic state I was in through most of it being the most prominent, and the heartbreak I was trying to deal with at the same time didn't make it any easier. But Clare had been my muse since we'd become friends. She had been both an inspiration and a practical advisor, and writing without her never felt completely right.
"So you'll help?"
"Of course. What's the essay about?" I asked, figuring that could count as my next question.
"Ummm…well…uh…" she hesitated and my curiosity only grew. "It's kind of a long story."
"We've got all night," I reminded her, wanting to hear what she had to say, especially since she sounded very reluctant to get into it.
"Well…this is going to sound kind of crazy…but…" She sighed loudly, and I almost wanted to tell her she could just send me the essay and put her out of her misery but I had a feeling this was going to be quite a story and I wouldn't want to wait for that. "After the Martins moved in, and then Jake and I broke up, I was feeling kind of lost. Alli and I weren't speaking. My mom spent every waking moment with Glen. Jake moved on faster than I did…I didn't feel comfortable in my own home anymore. I didn't want to see Jake and Glen is really nice but he's not exactly the most considerate housemate, and I felt like my mom was just in newlywed-land and didn't really even notice me anymore."
"That sounds tough," I said, trying to sound sympathetic despite the pang in my heart. I was glad she and Jake had found a way to act like stepsiblings after they'd broken up, but hearing about it reminded me that she really had cared about him. I'd liked Imogen a lot but it never went beyond that for me and it hurt that Clare had such deep feelings for another guy.
"It was," she confirmed. "I was feeling really depressed and unwanted and I thought maybe if I moved in with my dad it would help. But I asked him and he basically told me there was no room for me in his condo with Irene and her kids." She laughed wryly. "And judging by the fact that I haven't seen him since, he was basically telling me there was no room for me in his new life."
"I'm sorry," I said sincerely. I knew how torn up Clare had been about her parents' divorce and that she had always been closer with her father than her mother. I couldn't believe he could be such a jackass and abandon his daughter like that.
"So…after feeling like I had no one in my life who even wanted me around, I got the brilliant idea to run away from home."
"What?" I gasped. I couldn't believe that Clare of all people would do something like that.
"I met this woman at her bookshop and she told me that she and her boyfriend sometimes take in troubled teens. At first I thought it was crazy but after my dad…I just needed somewhere to go. I figured it would be one night, two tops, and then I'd somehow get through to my mother that I was unhappy and she'd finally listen to me."
"But she didn't?"
"No." I heard Clare sniffle through the phone, and I wished I was with her so I could put my arm around her and kiss her temple, letting her know I was there for her. "She tried, but…she just couldn't see that I needed her to be there for me. She was being really self-centered." She snorted. "Just about as much as I was really."
"How long were you there?"
"A couple of nights," Clare said carefully. "They were really nice and there were two other kids my age there, and they made us all have dinner together and talk about what we were feeling. It was so ridiculous looking back on it; it was practically a cult, but I was so angry and hurt that I couldn't even see that."
"What made you go back home then?"
Clare paused. "Well I was escorted out of the house by the police – zip tied hands and all."
"What the fuck?" I asked, unable to contain myself.
"Summer and Cash were marijuana dealers – and the house I was living in was a grow-up." My jaw fell open in shock and I couldn't respond. How the hell had Clare gotten herself involved in something like this? "I didn't get arrested," she clarified. "The police had been watching the house for a while; they knew Jake and I weren't really involved….He had followed me there and tried to convince me to come home," she explained before I could ask how Jake was involved in this.
"Did you know? Before the police showed up, I mean."
I could hear her swallow. "Yeah, I umm…they showed me the room and I was shocked. They seemed like such nice down-to-earth people." Her voice lowered. "In exchange for us staying there, they made us help them." Before I could interject, she explained. "I wasn't out on the corner selling or anything, but I helped them cut the leaves up and divide them into baggies."
"Holy fucking shit," I teased. "My girlfriend, the drug dealer."
"I wasn't!" she insisted. "It was once, and I knew it was stupid. I was just scared at that point. If I left immediately, they might have thought I was going to report them and I was afraid they'd come after me."
I shook my head. "I can't even believe you went through this."
She laughed. "I was there, and I can barely believe it."
"Are things better at home now?" I asked softly.
"There are," she confirmed. "After I got home, I talked to Mom, and she started to make an effort. And after nearly getting arrested together, Jake and I were able to put the past behind us. And Glen occasionally remembers to buy more milk when he finishes it, so overall, we're doing a lot better."
"I'm surprised your mother didn't ground you until she dies."
Clare laughed. "We managed to keep it from her. The cops miraculously let us go. She thinks I spent those nights at my dad's and she'll never call him to confirm."
"Just make sure she doesn't google your name if you get this essay published."
Clare gasped. "I didn't think of that!"
"Just tell her it's satire. It'll be fine."
"Good idea," she said.
"It's your turn."
She thought for a moment. "What are you thinking about for our re-first date?"
"I hear there's a writing convention out in Kingston. We can hitchhike there," I deadpanned.
I laughed. "I knew you weren't going to be okay with a surprise."
"I am okay with a surprise. It just doesn't have to be anything big or fancy you know. No pressure. We could just go to a movie if you want."
"Maybe," I said. "But I'll try to come up with something better."
I got up to check computer times on my laptop when I noticed a post it note with Bullfrog's chicken scratch on it. "Got these from Pete at the station. Maybe you could invite Clare." I had told Bullfrog about what had happened between me and Clare over the break and to my surprise he encouraged me to get back together with her if that was what I wanted, although he also urged me to be careful. I unfolded the sheets of paper the note was sitting on and found two tickets to the very sold out Arcade Fire show. I gasped, realizing that this would be the perfect date.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"Do you think your parents will let you stay out late tomorrow? Even if it's a school night."
"Probably," she said. "I don't really have a curfew anymore."
"Well Jake doesn't. So I convinced my mother it wasn't fair that he didn't and that I did."
"Wow. I can't believe your mom went for that."
"You'd be surprised," Clare said. "She's really loosened up. Glen is good for her."
"Well that's good," I said. "We'll probably be out until midnight."
"Do I get a hint?" she asked, a smile in her voice.
"Nope," I said.
"What if I promised to give you a really good kiss when I see you tomorrow?"
I grinned. "You'll do that anyway."
She laughed. "Probably."
"I'll tell you at school tomorrow. So it'll be a surprise for a little bit longer."
"Okay," she acquiesced. "Your turn."
I tried to come up with a question that would earn me an interesting answer and found that I had surprises on the mind. "What is something you're thinking about that would surprise me?"
I wasn't expecting her to sputter out an "Eli!" that told me she had an answer that really would surprise me.
"You have to answer," I said. "It's the rule."
I could feel her hesitating. "Before…I was thinking that…" She sighed. "I was thinking that one thing I regretted about the first time we dated was that we…" She cut off again.
"Yes?" I asked impatiently.
"You were talking about getting changed…and I was thinking that I've never gotten to see you with your shirt off…" she sped through the end of the sentence as fast as she could but I caught it. "You know…while we were kissing," she whispered the last word.
"And you'd…like that?" I asked, my voice cracking a little at the thought of Clare thinking about fooling around with me, and taking things even the tiniest bit farther.
She took a second to respond, and I wondered if she was nodding or shaking her head and I was just unable to see. "I'd like that," she whispered.
"We could do that…the next time we're alone," I suggested gently. It was amazing to me that we were actually talking about this openly. This was probably the closest that Clare and I would ever get to phone sex and I didn't want to end this conversation. "Maybe on our re-first date." I'd totally be willing to leave the Arcade Fire show before the encore if it meant Clare and I could make out without some clothes on.
Clare let out a very unexpected giggle. "Shouldn't we at least go out first before we start taking each other's clothes off?"
My mouth went dry. "Each other's clothes? Does that mean you might be interested in letting me take your shirt off? Because I would be very interested in that…I mean, someday," I added, backing off since I really didn't want to scare her.
"I don't know," she said nervously, and I felt awful for pushing her. I had been so careful with her the first time we dated that sometimes I wondered if I was the one who was holding us back from taking things further. We'd never done more than some light, above the clothes groping, and only once – during the most intense makeout of my life – had we ever let things escalate to some very clothed dry humping which left both of us more frustrated than anything else. "I want to…it's just scary."
My heart fluttered at the idea that she wanted to. "How is it scary?" I asked gently.
"You seeing me like that. I'm not exactly skinny like Imogen…or other girls," she added. I didn't miss her non-specific reference to Julia.
"You're perfect," I said. "You don't need to be skinny. I love that you've got curves."
"That's not exactly comforting," she said.
It broke my heart that she couldn't see how gorgeous she was. "Clare, when I look at you and I manage to rip my eyes from your beautiful face, all I can see are your graceful arms, and your slender waist and your pale, soft skin. I love that you've got hips and a sexy ass and your breasts are just…indescribable. Whenever I'm with you, all I can think about is how much I want to take off all your clothes and see you and touch your skin, touch you everywhere." I realized I had probably taken my compliment a little too far, but I couldn't help myself.
I could picture Clare lying on her bed, cheeks ablaze. "I…um…wow," she said, dumbstruck by what I had told her. "You really think about that?"
"All the time," I whispered. "You're so beautiful."
"Maybe soon," she said in the same soft tone. "You could touch me, I mean. I don't know if I'm brave enough to take my clothes off."
The thought of sliding my hands underneath Clare's shirt and up her stomach was almost too much and I didn't want to end the call so that I could take care of things, so I changed the subject. "I wish I was with you right now," I said softly.
"I said soon, Eli. Not now," she teased.
"Not for that – although that would be amazing," I admitted. "I just wish I was lying down in your bed, holding you in my arms."
"That sounds perfect," she said.
We were quiet for a minute and I wondered if she was picturing that image like I was. It was really late and I knew we should sleep but I didn't want to end this night. "It's your turn to ask me a question," I said.
Clare was silent long enough that I wondered if she had fallen asleep. "Before, on my porch…when we were saying goodnight..." She hesitated again and I had no idea where she was going with this.
"There was something I was thinking of saying," she said slowly, and I knew exactly what she was referring to. "But I wasn't sure if it was too soon." We'd always said 'I love you' when we said goodbye but when you broke up for eight months it was hard to know the rules for when that was appropriate.
"I was thinking that too," I said. "And I wondered the same thing."
"I don't know the answer," she admitted.
"Neither do I." I was pretty sure it was too late at night for conversations this important and I tried to summarize how I was feeling. "I guess the important thing is that we both are thinking it…and we can start saying it whenever we feel comfortable."
"Okay," she said. Her tone was positive but it was immediately followed by a huge yawn and then silence.
As glad as I was that she had brought that up, I realized she hadn't exactly fulfilled her part of the game. "That wasn't a question, you know," I pointed out.
"Mmmhmm," she said, in a tone so sleepy I knew she was just barely awake. Her breaths quieted and she didn't say anything more and it was clear she had fallen asleep.
"Goodnight, Clare," I said softly. "I love you," I said so faintly that even if she had been awake, she probably wouldn't have heard it.
She didn't respond, lost in dreamland. I left the phone on, just in case she woke up, and closed my eyes, knowing that tonight I'd end up dreaming of Clare.