DISCLAIMER: I don't own Degrassi or anything else.

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Here we are again. This is the beginning of "Stay," my new story, which will definitely be my longest yet. It takes place a few years in the future, when Clare is 26 years old.

I feel that I must warn you in advance that this fic will contain the world's biggest Degrassi fanfiction cliché. I am hoping that since you have possibly read my other 46 stories (or at least the good ones), that you will trust me to do a good job with it and continue reading. We've got a few chapters before we get there, but it'll be pretty clear once it happens.

Also, I appreciate your continued support, and hope that you will stick with me through this fic and let me know what you think of it. We've got approximately 20 chapters to go after this one, and I am really going to need you. I promised myself I would never abandon a fic, and I have always kept that promise, so if you're with me, I think this might turn out to be one of my best stories. I really enjoy writing future Clare.

This is the shortest chapter I've written in a long time but this is one of the longer author notes so I'll just mention that while I won't be titling the chapters with songs, I'll post an epigraph at the beginning of each chapter with a quote from one of my favorite female musicians. Hope you enjoy them!

Chapter 1

"And I thought I'd live forever but now I'm not so sure." – Stay by Lisa Loeb

"Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill; God's truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever." The choir sang A Mighty Fortress is Our God with a thunderous finish, drowning out the meek warbles of the congregation. My mother reached for yet another tissue, dabbing at her swollen eyes. Glen held her hand tightly in his, as she slumped against his shoulder.

It was unusual for the choir to sing at a funeral service, but since Mom had been a member for the past twenty years, the others had decided to don their robes and support her, especially considering the circumstances. Our church, like many others, had seen a lot of funerals over the past few years, as our aging congregation suffered the ravages of cancer, dementia and general old age. This was the first service for a person under the age of 60 that I could remember in ages.

I hated to come to services to find out that poor Mrs. Chestwick had succumbed to a stroke or that Mr. Johnson, the man who had led the acolytes – including me when I was a preteen – for nearly 40 years, had a heart attack. It made me sad to look through the church at the increasingly empty pews. The younger members of our congregation – the people who'd attended Sunday School and Youth Group with me for years – had mostly either moved away or had stopped attending except for Christmas and Easter.

I had to admit that though I still made an effort to attend, there were plenty of Sundays where I had so much work to catch up on that it was easy to skip. I'd forced myself to commit to attending once a month, but much to my mother's chagrin, sometimes even that didn't happen. Glen and Jake had become quite lapsed in their churchgoing after Jake's Mom had left them, and even marriage to my mother couldn't get them here for anything other than holidays and weddings and funerals. I thought of all the weeks my mother sat alone in her pew, and it made me feel even worse to realize that wasn't going to change.

The most religious person in the family had always been Darcy. And now, Darcy was gone.

Although frankly, Darcy had been gone for a very long time. This just made it all the more final.

Pastor Daniels stepped up to the pulpit to give the eulogy. My mother had asked me if I would want to deliver the eulogy for my sister, seeing as I was the writer of the family. But I had declined, claiming that I would be too upset to speak at the funeral. She had given me a sympathetic hug and told me that she felt the same way, and that she would ask Manny Santos – an old friend of Darcy's. I had seen Manny sitting in the back of the church in a stunning black dress and dark sunglasses, but she too had elected not to participate. Her rationale was that she was an actress, not a writer, and she would not be able to do Darcy justice – plus with the success of her new movie she would just be a distraction.

I was fairly certain than Manny's reasons were just excuses to avoid stating the truth – that Darcy had left for Kenya 12 years ago, and she had never come back. Manny knew her as a high school student, and I knew her from when I was a little girl. But neither of us knew her now and how could you write a eulogy for someone you didn't even know?

It was clear that Pastor Daniels didn't quite have the answer to that question either, though he'd certainly had more experience in faking his way through it. "It is always a somber event to preside over a funeral, but when the deceased is merely thirty years old, it is especially difficult." He cleared his throat. "Darcy Grace Edwards was a treasured member of this congregation. I did not have the privilege of baptizing her myself, but Pastor Bauer performed that sacrament here in this church nearly thirty years ago to this day, and I was Darcy's instructor as she made her first communion and affirmed her faith through the ritual of confirmation. I have known Darcy to be a generous, thoughtful woman, who dedicated her life to the church and its teachings."

Did he really know that? For all I knew, Darcy had given up her missionary and charitable work and spent her days running after wildebeasts in the Masai Mara or moved to Mombasa to work as a prostitute to support her heroin addiction. I couldn't even remember the last time I had spoken to my sister on the phone – certainly not since university – and the crackling connection meant we spent more time asking if we could be heard than catching up.

"In fact, it is no surprise to me that Darcy's untimely death was the result of her selfless nature. While working with impoverished, terminally ill patients in a village outside of Kisumu, she caught Yellow Fever. Rather than returning to the city to seek treatment she continued her mission, ministering to the indigenous population, despite her failing health."

I snorted out loud at that statement. Jake grabbed my arm, digging his dull fingernails into my skin to get me to control myself. But it was ridiculous. Darcy wasn't being selfless. She was being stupid, and Pastor Daniels had clearly ignored this fact in his quest to portray her as a Christian martyr. Yellow fever was transmissible by mosquitoes, not humans, and there was a vaccine that would have protected Darcy, had she remembered that her initial vaccine was only good for ten years.

So it wasn't Darcy's selflessness that killed her. It was her complete and utter inability to return home to Canada even once in the past twelve years. Not to update her vaccines or seek proper treatment once she was infected. Not for twelve different Christmases, or my high school or university graduations, or Mom and Glen's wedding, or even my grandmother's funeral. That was the final straw for me, and at that point, I'd ceased trying to contact her via email or Skype.

It wasn't like I'd gotten much of a response before that.

I tried to pay attention as Pastor read a laundry list of Darcy's accolades and achievements: she'd brought 126 wells to different rural villages around Kenya and had founded a Christian church in a community that was predominantly Muslim, in addition to the food, clothing, books and medicinal donations she had procured over the years. I found myself recounting Darcy's other achievements:

High School Dropout. False accuser of perfectly nice media immersion teacher. Lousy sister.

I knew that listening to the speech would only made me more annoyed, so I tried to discreetly look around. Jake had let go of my arm and was holding hands with his wife, Meghan, on his right. They both looked exhausted, and I wondered if attending this funeral and leaving their baby Devin with Meghan's mother was a bit of a relief to them. They also looked rather bored, which I supposed wasn't a surprise. Jake hadn't seen his other stepsister since he was eight years old, and Meghan had obviously never met Darcy.

It was hard to grieve for someone you didn't know at all.

It was harder to grieve for someone you once knew who had left you.

My Dad was across the aisle from us, and his sorrow looked genuine. He had never been a crier, but his eyes looked hollow, haunted. Irene sat next to him, looking even more bored than Jake and Meghan, and I could see that her oldest daughter Cassie was holding a hymnal open on her lap so that she could send text messages during the service.

I couldn't look behind me without it being obvious that I wasn't paying attention but I had noted that when we processed up the aisle, the church had seemed fairly empty. There was a smattering of old friends, neighbors and my parents' coworkers, aunts and uncles and cousins, a handful of fellow parishioners.

I remembered the last memorial service I had attended for a young person, when Owen Milligan had been killed by a drunk driver on his way home from prom. I hadn't known him well – he was a friend of a friend of a friend at best – but Eli had grown to like his younger brother Tristan through working with him on the school play and had asked me to attend with him, joking that otherwise lightning would strike him as soon as he walked into the church if I wasn't with him. The place was standing room only, and that was in a large Catholic cathedral that could fit three copies of my church inside of it easily.

I frowned, not sure if I was more upset remembering the death of a much beloved hockey player from my school, the fact that Darcy had so few people left who remembered her, or just…Eli. My phone buzzed in my purse next to me, and I was tempted to see if someone from work needed me so I could sneak out, but my mother shot me her patented death glare, so I folded my hands in my lap and forced myself to focus on Pastor Daniels once again.

"Despite the many wonderful things Darcy accomplished during her life on earth, there is always a tragedy of a life cut short: the things she missed out on. Marriage and motherhood, in particular."

With that, I burst into hysterical laughter. Marriage and motherhood? Darcy had spent twelve years running away from her family. Her ultimate goal wasn't to become a wife and mother. It was to run away from her past. It was to put herself above all others – no matter how noble her occupation as professional saint made her seem.

It was probably the only thing I still admired about my sister.

I knew I wasn't the first person to inappropriately laugh at a funeral, but with the looks I was getting – even from Pastor Dan – you would have thought I was. Jake's renewed grip on my arm would certainly leave a bruise tomorrow. "Stop it," he hissed. "I know you're upset but you're making this harder on Helen."

I bit my lip as hard as I could, but my shoulders still heaved in silent laughter. Pastor Dan regained his composure and finished his eulogy with a reminder that Darcy would have eternal life, thanks be to God. He began the litany and the churchgoers in the audience filled in the responses.

Despite this, I still felt all eyes on me, as I gasped for air, willing myself to calm down. These were the same pitying looks I had received yesterday at the funeral home, when aunts and family friends from across Ontario wondered if I had brought a "special friend" to comfort me. I hadn't realized that a date was required for my sister's funeral, and had to bite back the urge to tell them that yes, I was 26 and happily single, and that the only special friend I needed required two double A batteries. The pitying looks were at least understandable, but there were plenty of people giving me glares of disappointment – the judgment that had never quite gone away since I'd stopped wearing my purity ring at the beginning of university, nearly a year and a half after I had actually lost my virginity.

Actually yesterday I had been grateful for the distraction. It was easy to explain to your mother's coworker that the baby you were awkwardly holding was your stepbrother's (certainly not yours), and that he and his wife had gone to the washroom to change because the precious angel had managed to puke all over both of them within minutes of finishing his bottle.

It was hard to look at the young girl lying in the coffin. She was still tall and thin and tan. But she looked older now, different, and it was impossible to know if that was because it was how she looked now or how she looked because she was dead.

The service continued with readings and hymns and prayers. Thankfully, communion wasn't typically part of a Lutheran funeral service; I didn't want this to drag on any longer than necessary, and I was seriously questioning my ability to sip from the common cup without taking it from Pastor and downing the wine. I grew more anxious as the service went on, wanting to get out of here, and feeling terrible as my mother's sobs only grew louder. The choir sang Beautiful Savior, which was my favourite hymn, and I knew that it would be forever tainted by its inclusion in this moment.

Finally, the Pastor gave the benediction, and told us to "depart in peace." The organist banged out the triumphant opening to "Lift High the Cross," and Jake slipped past me to take his spot as one of the pallbearers, along with Irene's son Mike, and Darcy's old boyfriend Spinner Mason – who had volunteered as soon as he'd arrived, taking the spot of the most fragile of the church elders, who took up the rest of the spaces. I shuffled down the aisle following the casket and my mother and father, who kept their distance from each other, even in times of mutual grief.

Meghan slid into step next to me and reached for my arm, and though I truly did like Jake's sweet wife, I pulled away, wanting to stand on my own two feet. I did my best to give thankful smiles to the people we passed, dabbing at my eyes to pretend that I had done my own share of crying over my sister's death.

By the time I reached the last pew, my hands were tense and my breathing was ragged and I knew that I couldn't keep up the charade of grief any longer. I was about ready to scream that this whole service had been fake, that Darcy wasn't deserving of our attention even in death. I glanced at the back of my parents' heads, their hair looking grayer than it had a few weeks prior, and I kept my composure only to prevent myself from making this even harder on them than this already was.

A hand reached out and pulled me out of the procession and into the aisle that stretched across the back of the sanctuary. I looked at the hand that had grabbed my arm before I saw the man's face, but that was all I needed to identify him.

"Eli," I gasped.

He was wearing a dark suit. He looked exactly the same as he had eight years ago, the night before he had left for university, the last time I had seen him in person. The only difference was that the skull ring was gone; his hands were bare. But I could see a familiar chain peaking out over the loosened dress shirt and tie, and I knew if I reached out and touched his throat I would find a silver guitar pick lurking beneath.

"You look like you need to get out of here."

I couldn't speak. I nodded and allowed him to lead me out of the side door, avoiding my family and the gapes of the onlookers who had not yet processed out of the church.

He led me to a car, a black Mustang that seemed like something Eli would drive. My car was here in the parking lot; my mother had asked me to join them in the limo but I had made the excuse that I might have to stop in at work after the cemetery, and had driven myself. But I knew that if I got into my car, I would never see him again and as much as I hated to see him now, I was so curious about what he was doing here that I couldn't bear to leave without finding out.

"Where to?" he asked.

I shrugged. "Anywhere I can get a drink."

He chuckled. "Sure thing."

It was 11:30 in the morning.