DISCLAIMER: I don't own Degrassi or anything else.
Well I suppose I should preface this chapter with the fact that I am not a lawyer and I'm also not Canadian (as I'm sure you can tell – though I have gotten better about certain words but I always find mistakes when I go back). I'm hoping this is fairly reasonable, but I cannot guarantee its legal veracity.
I hope you enjoy! Please feel free to review and let me know you're still out there. I've never written a fic this long and though I know I have a few enthusiastic Tumblr anons, I hope I still have the rest of you with me.
"All I really want is some peace man, a place to find a common ground." All I Really Want by Alanis Morissette
I spent the rest of the afternoon suffering from a complete lack of focus and at five, I realized I had an article I absolutely had to finish before I walked out the door that night. It was nearly six before I had emailed it off to Jared, and with no time to spare, I typed the address that Eli had texted to me into my phone to check the directions using GPS. I hadn't recognized the street name and I hoped it wasn't too far away otherwise I wouldn't have a prayer of making it there by six thirty and I didn't want to be late.
When it came up on the map, I couldn't help but laugh. He lived about six blocks away from Degrassi. As I started up my car, glad I had driven to work that day, I thought about the fact that if Eli continued to live at his condo, it was possible that our child could attend the same school we had. I thought of all the things that had happened while I was there, and while Darcy was there.
I vowed to move to a better school district within the next four years.
I managed to find a parking space just across from Eli's building. It was definitely an older building, though you could see that the condo owners put a lot of care into maintaining it, unlike my apartment's landlords. He buzzed me in and I took the elevator to the third floor, not wanting to arrive huffing and puffing.
I don't know if I was expecting Eli to be hostile but he opened the door and gave me a polite smile. "Hey," he said.
"Hi," I said, returning the gesture. He reached out to take my coat and disappeared into a room with it for a moment. The whole situation felt a lot more formal than the occasions in which Eli had come to my own apartment. I wasn't sure if that meant I was a terrible host or if our relationship had turned businesslike out of necessity.
"Did you want to sit?" he asked when he returned, gesturing to the couch. He hadn't been lying about his place; the room was spotless upon a first glance – though upon closer inspection I could see a line of dust in front of the books lined up on gorgeous built-in bookshelves, and a pile of magazines on the floor. A few game controllers tumbled out of the TV stand. The couches themselves looked warm and comfortable – probably not high end, but certainly a few steps above Ikea. The room was decorated much better than any bachelor pad I had ever seen, and I wondered if Lauren had helped Eli turn this place into a home.
Eli's condo had an open floorplan so there was no wall between the kitchen and living room though his dining room table created a divider of sorts. I noticed that Eli had his laptop set out and I gestured to the table, not wanting to do an awkward "where should we sit?" dance between living room couches. "How about there? Then you can type up notes or whatever."
He smirked. "Take the minutes?"
"You're the one who wanted a formal negotiation," I reminded him.
He shrugged. "We had to do this at some point."
Eli poured us each a glass of water and then sat down at his computer. I took a seat across the table from him and pulled out a steno pad and a pen. "Low tech," he commented.
"I prefer to take notes by hand." I usually pulled out my tape recorder to make sure I didn't misquote or misremember a conversation when I did interviews, but I had a feeling that would not go over well here. I didn't want Eli to think I didn't trust him and that I was trying to get evidence against him. He seemed to be taking this seriously without being aggressive and I didn't want to change the tenor of this conversation.
Eli nodded and got right down to business. "The lawyer gave me a list of topics we should probably cover…and the first is obviously custody."
"Okay well…" I took a deep breath. "I was thinking that the baby would live with me." Eli's face immediately fell and I clarified, "But I obviously want some sort of shared custody arrangement."
"Actually, custody has more to do with the major decision-making than who the child lives with," Eli said, sounding a bit patronizing.
"Well I'm sorry I haven't had an opportunity to study up on the legal terms regarding custody arrangements considering you sprung this on me earlier this afternoon," I said, unable to keep the bitterness out of my voice.
I took one look at his face and immediately regretted what I had said. "I'm sorry," I said sincerely. "We do need to figure this out and I'm glad we're talking about it…I just don't even know where to begin."
"Me either," he said honestly.
"Well, I think decision making should be done jointly. As for living arrangements, what's the standard? Every other weekend and one night a week?"
Eli shook his head. "That's not enough, Clare. With shared custody, each parent is supposed to spend at least 40 percent of their time with the child, and I'd really like to get as close to 50/50 as possible."
I was a little surprised at how certain Eli was that he wanted to spend time with this baby. Everything he had told me prior to this had consistently told me he was going to do whatever was necessary to be a parent to his child, but I had managed to convince myself he wasn't interested during our long period of silence. "How do you suggest we do that?"
"I've had some ideas, but everything I come up with usually has a problem with it," Eli said.
"Well at first I thought maybe you could move in here." My eyebrows shot up and I was about to protest when he put up his hands in surrender and clarified, "Not like that. But I figured I could clear out my extra room and move my desk out of the office and into my bedroom. The baby needs a nursery regardless and I thought you could live in the spare room."
"I don't think that's a good idea," I said and he nodded.
"Yeah if we can't even manage to have a good relationship over the phone I don't think living together is an option."
"Well we should work on that, but I agree...living together won't work."
He hesitated as if he didn't want to bring up his next idea. "I was also thinking…maybe we could do something along the lines of what your parents did."
I felt my heart thudding as I remembered how devastating my parents' divorce was to me and just how much that arrangement hadn't worked out. "What do you mean?"
"We could trade off weeks," he clarified. "One week you could stay with her here, and I'll crash at your apartment. And then we'll switch."
I shook my head, feeling the tears pricking at the corners of my eyes. "No, we can't…"
"Why not?" Eli looked really concerned. "The reason it didn't work for your parents is that your dad stopped showing up. I'm not going to do that."
"And my mother got remarried," I reminded him. "What happens then? When you meet someone new and have to bring her to my shitty apartment every other week?" I shook my head. "We can alternate weeks if you want, but I can't live here, with or without you."
"That's something else we should talk about…dating. It's not good for the baby to be around a bunch of people who aren't actually going to stick around," Eli said.
I snorted. "Well, I doubt that's going to be much of a problem on my end." Eli raised an eyebrow. "Two years of celibacy, remember? I'm sure being a single mother isn't exactly going to lead to a revolving door of men."
"We should put something in the agreement. If you're dating someone and you want to introduce him or her to the kid, you have to let the other person know in advance."
"Fine," I said. "And there should be a minimum amount of time before that can happen…six months?" I suggested. I didn't want to hear about every new woman that Eli met if I could help it.
"Works for me," he said, typing notes into his laptop. "But we should get back to the living situation issue."
"Every other week is fine for me," I said.
"When is your lease up?" he asked.
"July 30th," I said.
"You realize you can't raise a child in that apartment," he said and I couldn't help but feel a little defensive.
"Yes, I realize that. But the first two months you usually have the baby in your room anyway. I'll move to a new apartment before the lease is up, but I'll be fine until that happens. What else do we need to figure out?"
Fortunately, Eli let the living situation go. "Well there are some complicating factors. For instance, are you planning on breastfeeding?"
I had read so many baby books and websites that talked about breastfeeding as if it was the single most important thing a mother could do for her child, but I had to admit, it wasn't the most appealing thing to me. I had signed up for a class at the hospital, hoping that an enthusiastic instructor could give me the motivation because reading about cracked nipples, mastitis, and latching problems hadn't exactly given me much confidence. "I'm going to try," I said.
"For how long?"
I shrugged. "However long I can do it for I guess. They recommend six months minimum, though a year is ideal."
"It's going to be kind of hard to breastfeed if the baby is at my place," he said. "I'm not really equipped for that."
I felt kind of dumb for not considering that. "They have pumps," I said. "I may just have to drop some off for you." I thought about Devin and having to thaw the milk in the cup and laughed at the thought of putting Eli in that situation. "Unless it's going really well, I might stop when I go back to work. Between sharing custody and being away from the baby for the morning and afternoon, it'll probably be hard to keep it up."
"When do you think you're going back?"
I looked down. "I haven't figured that out yet."
"Well, what are you leaning toward?"
I sighed. "Honestly…I'd like to go back as soon as possible." I knew that I had access to some of the most generous family leave benefits in the world as a Canadian citizen but I loved my job too much to stay away from it for long.
I expected Eli to give me a hard time but he just nodded. "So you're thinking what? Six weeks? Two months?"
I thought about the stories that Angela had told me about her babies and how they never slept. Sleeping wasn't something I was good at to begin with and I didn't have a screaming baby to take care of yet. "Maybe three months," I said, hoping that gave me enough time to get the baby on a good sleep schedule.
"So, the end of August most likely?"
"I guess so." Eli looked a little disappointed. "Is that a problem?"
"I was thinking of taking paternity leave the last month of school since the baby is due at the end of May. And then over the summer I could watch the baby during the day. I decided I'm not going to do a play this summer so I'll have a lot of time on my hands to spend time with it."
For some reason, the thought of Eli giving up his beloved plays when I was barely willing to take a few months off from work made me sad. "You could still do a play," I said softly. "You could watch her during the day, and I'll take her at night for your practices. Maybe I could get some work done – part-time or work from home. The paper doesn't want to lose me so they'll be flexible."
Eli stared at me, and then a slow smile spread across his face. "Her?"
I nodded, smiling back at him. "It's a girl." I realized I had a print out of the ultrasound that the obnoxious tech had printed out so I could give an extra copy to Daddy and I pulled it out of my bag and passed it to him across the table.
"Wow." His face screwed up into an expression that looked like he was holding back tears. "I think she looks like you," he said although I didn't think it was possible to tell that from the picture at all.
Watching him get so emotional over a picture really made me feel awful that he hadn't been there to experience it in person. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you about the ultrasounds. That was wrong of me," I said as sincerely as possible.
"I'm sorry I went so long without calling you," Eli said, glancing up from the photo just long enough that I could see he meant it. "I was afraid you were still mad at me, and I thought if I gave you space, you'd contact me when you were ready."
"I thought you had given up," I said, my voice barely above a whisper.
His was stronger. "Never," he vowed.
The tension was too thick for me to handle. I decided to change the subject. "What are we going to do about day care?"
"I haven't looked into it," he said. "I know Cece said she wouldn't mind taking care of the baby. She's been looking for an excuse to retire."
"She would do a great job," I said, trying to be tactful. "But it might be nice for the baby to be in more of a social situation." As much as I loved Cece, some of her and Bullfrog's parenting decisions were quite baffling and I wasn't sure I wanted my child to grow up with as much freedom as Eli had.
"So we'll find a center to be determined later," he typed, and I was glad he hadn't argued the point.
"Those places aren't open on weekends though… I usually go in for a few hours on Saturday afternoons because Sunday is the big Book Review edition."
"So I'll take her on Saturdays," Eli said.
"Every Saturday?" I asked skeptically.
"The only Saturdays I can't do it are the weekends of the plays. Cece could take her then, or maybe Helen? We rehearse in the morning sometimes, but you said you only need the afternoon."
"So if it's your week, you drop her off with me in the morning, go to play practice, and then pick her up so that I can go to work?" I asked doubtfully.
Eli's expression mirrored mine. "That is awfully complicated."
"And Tuesday nights I usually end up working really late," I said. "So that's another complication. Day cares usually close at 6 or 6:30."
"I usually have rehearsals Tuesday nights…but I can switch them to Mondays," Eli said. "Monday, Wednesday, Thursday works."
"So who is watching the baby when you have rehearsals?"
"You are?" he said, though it sounded more like a question.
I tried to piece this together. "Monday after work, I pick her up from day care. Drop her off Tuesday before work…"
"And then I pick her up. Drop her at daycare Wednesday morning," Eli finished.
"I have her Wednesday and Thursday," I said.
"And I'll have her Friday and Saturday," he said. "I only have to have Saturday rehearsals about two weeks before each play. I'm sure I can work something out for that."
"So you have her three nights and I have her three nights. Who gets her on Sundays? That's the only day I won't have work."
"We alternate weeks?" Eli suggested.
The whole arrangement was making my head spin but I was pretty sure there wasn't going to be another way. "Fine. We'll try this and if it doesn't work, we'll figure something else out. What else are we supposed to put in this agreement?"
"Child support," Eli said, scrolling through the document.
I shook my head. "I don't think that'll be an issue. We'll each have equal time with her. If there's a major expense we can split it, and if that's a problem, I can handle it."
"Clare, did you win the lottery and neglect to mention it to me?" Eli joked.
I rolled my eyes. "No. I make a good salary and I keep my expenses low. Why do you think I've kept that shitty apartment for so long?"
"Note to self: Make Clare pay me child support," Eli said as he feigned typing.
"Next topic," I said trying to move things along.
"Holidays," Eli said.
"Well I get Christmas."
"Every year?" Eli whined.
"You're a Jewish atheist!"
"And shouldn't this baby be introduced to our important cultural tradition of going to the movies and eating Chinese food?"
"No!" I said and Eli cracked up.
"I'm kidding, Clare. You can have Christmas and Easter and whatever other holidays involve bunnies or Jesus."
"We can alternate Thanksgivings," I suggested. "Do you want odd years or evens?"
"I've always been rather odd," Eli said, eliciting another eyeroll.
"What about her birthdays?" I said, my voice wobbling a little bit. This was the first time I had really considered how much I'd be losing out on because Eli and I weren't together.
Eli noticed the change in tone. "Why don't we do them together?" he suggested. "I'm sure we can spend one night a year together without causing irreparable damage to our daughter."
I smiled. "I know you and I can, but it's hard enough to get Helen and Randall to be civil to one another without throwing Cece and Bullfrog into the mix."
He laughed. "I think they can all manage for one night. Just don't be surprised if Helen and Cece gang up on us and try to convince us to have another."
I refused to dignify that with a response. "Okay. Is there anything else we need to cover?"
He skimmed the document on his computer. "Communication. Can we agree to weekly emails letting each other know about problems or developments? We can call if it's urgent but the emails should be the minimum." I nodded and he looked back at the screen. "There's a lot of stuff about clothing and activities. Some of it isn't going to apply for a couple of years until she starts getting involved in things. A lot of this is supposed to be really detailed since most divorces are so acrimonious."
"I think we should be okay then. Maybe we'll have to add in a few things as she gets older, but at least we don't hate each other." I paused for a second before realizing that may not be as much of a fact as I thought. "Right?"
He laughed. "Right. Is there anything else you want to include?"
"I want to baptize her. Is that okay with you?"
"Sure. As long as if she asks me what I believe I don't have to lie to her."
"That's fair," I said. "As long as you tell her that's what you believe and not that it's the truth."
"Got it. Anything else?"
I tried to think about Jake and Meghan and the kinds of problems the two of them faced with baby Devin. "No drugs," I emphasized. "Not around the baby, ever."
Eli couldn't suppress his laugh. "Not a problem. The last time I got high I was with your stepbrother, so I don't think that's really an issue. Unless there's something you're not telling me…?"
"Please, Eli. And contrary to what you might think based on the day we went out to lunch, I don't really drink much either."
He smirked. "Those were extenuating circumstances. Much like the whiskey I drank the day I you told me."
I felt a rumbling in my stomach that I knew wasn't the baby and a moment later, it happened again, accompanied by an audible growl. "Is everything okay?" Eli asked.
"Yeah, I'm just getting hungry. I can grab something on the way home."
"Oh no," he said swiftly, jumping up. "I can make you something. I'm sorry; I should have realized that I asked you to meet me at dinnertime. I grabbed a cheeseburger on the way back here, but I'm sure I have something for you."
"That's okay," I protested, but he was already rifling through his kitchen cabinets.
"Is spaghetti okay?" he asked, pulling out the box of pasta and a jar of sauce before I could say no. "It's no trouble, really."
"Thanks," I said. I really was starving and spaghetti sounded pretty good.
This actually wouldn't be the first time Eli had cooked spaghetti for me. On our three month anniversary, the first time we had dated, Eli had been so proud to cook a candlelight dinner for me and even though the food had been plain and simple, it had been a special night.
It was the first time we'd ever said "I love you" to each other.
To my surprise, after he set a pot of water on the stove to boil, he pulled an onion and a handful of mushrooms out of the refrigerator and started to chop them. He glanced over and saw my confused look. "I was going to make myself an omelette tonight so I had these handy. I figure the veggies are good for the baby."
"When did you learn how to cook?" I asked.
He shrugged. "University mostly. And then years of practice helped. I'm not very good, but I can make myself dinner without burning the house down."
"NYU has cooking classes?" I asked skeptically.
"I took summer classes there, the summer before fourth year." He hesitated for a second. "My girlfriend at the time convinced me to save money on a meal plan and cook dinner with her."
His NYU girlfriend…the girl he may or may not have cheated on me with. "You lived with her?" I asked, trying to keep my voice casual.
Eli shook his head. "Nah, some of the dorms had kitchens in the suites. It was a lifesaver really. My Grundy scholarship covered my tuition but room and board was insane there. I can't even imagine how high my student loan payment would be if I hadn't gotten it."
"Your what scholarship?" This was news to me.
Eli stirred the veggies on the stove before pouring the sauce on top. "Grundy Scholarship," he said, as if that clarified things. "The Theatre Awards guy? He died the year I went to NYU, and his kids decided to found a scholarship in his honor. He must have been loaded because they ended up paying three years of NYU for me."
"You didn't come back for the Grundy Awards…and I don't recall them announcing it." That was something I would have remembered.
Eli turned away and I was glad he hadn't asked why I'd attended, though I would certainly lie and tell him I covered it for the Degrassi Daily. "He died a month after the ceremony. They sent me an application since Fantastic Journey did so well at the awards that year."
That I remembered. Dave and Tristan had alternated accepting the awards on Degrassi and Eli's behalf. "Well I guess that all worked out then."
"Yes it did," he said, sticking a spoon into the sauce and making a face. "It needs something…" He grabbed a spice jar from the rack in front of him and shook a generous helping over the pot before tasting again and eliciting an even more putrid expression. "Shit, I hope I can fix that."
"I guess your cooking lessons weren't very successful," I said.
Eli laughed. "Not really," he said, though he looked happier with the result after adding more sauce to the pot. "I can only do the basics. Kasey married a professional chef last year, so clearly my cooking skills weren't up to her standards."
"You keep in touch with your ex?" I knew Eli wanted to stay friends with Lauren and if he was friends with this Kasey girl too, that meant I was the only one with whom he had cut off all contact.
"Facerange in touch," he said, as the timer went off and he dumped the pot into a colander in the sink. "I didn't get an invite to the wedding or anything."
"That would've been awkward." Jonathan hadn't invited me to his wedding either, though I suspected he might have if his fiancée hadn't been a little too jealous of the fact that he and I had dated for such a long time. It had taken place in Vancouver where they both lived, but even if it had taken place in my own backyard I definitely would not have attended.
"Eh, not really…we only dated for like five or six months, and it wasn't really a big deal. That was years ago."
Five or six months? She clearly wasn't the girl from first year, but that didn't make sense. I couldn't imagine Eli dating a girl for that length of time and not sleeping with her. Unless Kasey had wanted to wait for some reason; Eli had always been respectful of that. Or maybe he hadn't actually slept with the girl he cheated on me with. Maybe he just kissed her or fooled around with her but it didn't get that far. I was still trying to process this information when Eli set a plate of food in front of me and took a seat across from me with his own plate.
"You know, I'm really sorry about the lawyer thing," he said sincerely. I paused the fork mid-air, gaping at him unintentionally as he continued, "I should have known that if we just sat down and talked things out we'd be able to work things out on our own."
"It's okay. We've never really been that good at the communication thing and at least it got us here."
He laughed. "That's pretty much the cause of every problem we've ever had, isn't it?"
I smiled wryly. "That and the whole unprotected sex thing."
Eli grinned. "Yeah, that too." He shifted in his seat. "It wasn't even my idea."
"What?" I wasn't really sure where he was going with this. I knew that sleeping together had completely been my idea.
"The lawyer thing…I only did it because we hadn't talked for so long and Cece convinced me that I had to protect my rights to the child."
I raised my eyebrows. Laidback Cece told Eli to get a lawyer? "I really can't picture that."
"She really wants a grandchild," Eli said in a joking tone.
The thoughts running through my mind were decidedly less jovial. "Eli, I just…I want you to know that if anything happened…between us…or with you…if something went wrong…I wouldn't keep the baby from Cece and Bullfrog. I want them to be in her life." Eli's parents were unconventional to say this least, but they were wonderful to him and had done a great job of raising Eli. I had no doubt they would do the same for our child.
Eli looked confused. "What do you mean…? Do you think I'm going to get killed off or something?"
"No just…" I sighed. I knew we needed to talk about this, but I knew how much he hated to talk about this. "Sometimes with the bipolar…it puts you in a bad place. And I hope it doesn't happen, but what if things do get bad? You seem like you're doing amazingly well right now, but after seven years without seeing you, it's hard for me to trust that's not going away."
Eli put down his fork and looked at me. I was worried for a second that might have pushed the civil conversation over the line, but his response was very even tempered. "I've thought about that," he said. "And I've talked with my parents. If the baby is with me and I have even the slightest inkling that I'm not in a good place, I will call them and one of them will either stay with us or if it's really bad, take the baby home with them. If I can't get a hold of one of them, I'll call you. I swear I'd never do anything to hurt that baby, Clare…you have to believe me."
"I do believe you," I said softly. Eli's disorder had caused me pain, but it was never direct. He'd never become violent or abusive emotionally. And I had no doubt that he would work even harder to make sure the baby never saw that darker side of him.
"I'm in a good place right now," he said. "The meds are working. I'm still seeing my therapist."
"When was the last time you weren't in a good place?"
He considered my question for a few seconds before responding. "It's been a few years to be honest. When I first started teaching, it was really stressful. I was writing curriculum and trying to do my homework for my education masters and things got rough for a while. Once I got my feet under me, I did a lot better."
In some ways his words were reassuring, but I still had some concerns. "Having a baby can be stressful."
"So are directing plays and writing and dealing with 150 precocious high school brats every day. I'll get through it."
I nodded, hoping that he was right.
We went back to eating and the silence was making me uncomfortable. "I thought you had a hamburger on the way home," I commented, watching him put away large forkfuls of the pasta.
"I'm always hungry," he laughed.
I shook my head. "Only you could eat that much and not weigh 500 pounds. We should all be so lucky." I put my hand on my stomach. "I feel like a cow with all this pregnancy weight. My doctor told me I had to watch what I eat."
"Your doctor is crazy," he said. "You were beautiful to begin with but pregnancy really suits you. You look perfect."
I was about to protest, but Eli shook his head. "Take the compliment, Clare."
"Thank you," I said softly. I was about to change the subject to a less uncomfortable topic when I felt a soft kick from inside my stomach. "Oh," I said in surprise. "The baby kicked."
Eli smiled softly. "Is she kicking because she's happy…or upset?"
I kept my hand there waiting for it to happen again, but I didn't feel anything more. "I don't know." I smiled back at him. "I guess we'll have to ask her."
"Is there anything else you want to put in the agreement?" Eli asked, his voice soft and tender, and I wondered if he was trying to keep us talking so I wouldn't leave.
"I can't think of anything," I said. It was the truth, but part of me also wondered how he'd react.
"Okay," he said evenly. "Then I'll send these notes to the lawyer and he'll put in all the legalese garbage and he'll send us a copy to sign. And if you have any changes or anything that's fine."
"Sure." I shifted a little in my seat. Like usual, my bladder felt like it was about to burst. "Can you point me in the direction of the washroom?"
"Down the hall," he said absently, clearly involved in the email he was sending.
I walked past an open door that revealed Eli's office. But there were three other doors in the hallway and all of them were closed. I didn't want to be nosy but I was curious, so rather than going back and asking Eli for clarification, I cracked open the furthest door.
I stared gobsmacked at the small room that was nearly filled floor to ceiling with stuff. If anything, it was worse than Eli's room had been at his parents' house back when we first started dating. It was clear that Eli kept the rest of his condo neat by cramming every last item into this room. Old paperbacks and CDs were strewn across the tops of boxes filled with God knew what. There was a large stack of newspapers right inside the door and I was relieved to see they were issues of the Toronto Star. Eli had known a lot about my career considering how long it had been since we'd broken up and if it had been a stack of my own paper, I would have found that rather creepy.
I tried to close the door quietly, but as I turned around, I saw Eli behind me, looking completely deflated. "None of the doors were open," I explained.
"That one's the washroom," he said pointing to the door across the hall and leaving me where I was standing.
I knew we had to talk about this, but I also really had to pee. Inside the washroom, I noticed that the adjoining door to Eli's bedroom was open, and I closed it quickly, not wanting him to think I was completely spying on his place. His room was painted a dark gray, and although there were a few posters decorating it, they were all displayed in formal frames. It felt very much like Eli – well…the adult version of Eli that I was coming to know.
After I used the facility and washed my hands, I tiptoed back out. Eli was sitting on the couch, using the remote to change the channels on the TV. My coat was lying on the couch next to him and I knew he was going to try to get me out of here as quickly as possible to avoid talking about this.
"I have some grading to do," he said.
I gingerly took a seat on an armchair that was close enough to him that I could reach out and touch him. "Eli," I said gently.
He shook his head. "Don't."
"It's nothing to be ashamed about. Look at my apartment. I don't have a hoarding compulsion and my place is full of stuff I don't need." I tried to lighten the conversation. "At least you can contain your mess to one room."
"I was doing so much better for a long time," he said, unable to meet my eyes. "You remember."
I did remember. We had made a lot of progress working on his room together – progress that I was a bit surprised had continued after we had broken up. Eli had admitted to me later that sometimes in his manic states he would get such an adrenaline rush that he'd be able to throw things out without the usual intense struggle he went through, so I guess that explained it.
I recalled our earlier conversation. "You asked me to move in to your spare room before…were you really planning on cleaning that out so I could live her?"
He nodded, blinking a little and I could tell he was holding back a few tears.
"You're a good man, Eli Goldsworthy," I said, leaning down and pressing a platonic kiss on his cheek. I tucked my jacket over my arm and grabbed my work bag. "I'll keep you posted on any baby related developments."
"Would you like me to walk you out?" he asked. I could tell he was just being polite and that he was still shaken up.
"I'm right across the street, so I'm okay. Thanks for the spaghetti. Oof," I said, grabbing my belly where the baby's foot had just connected. "That was a hard kick." I smiled. "Maybe she was trying to say goodbye to Daddy."
Eli grinned. "19 weeks left. Then she can say it for real."
"You realize that newborns can't talk, right?" I joked.
"Goodnight, Clare," Eli said, although I could tell he was starting to feel a little lighter.
"Goodnight, Eli," I said, chuckling as I walked out the door.