DISCLAIMER: I don't own Degrassi or anything else. If I did, there would be Eclare sex. Yes there would.
Hi everyone! Thank you so much for all of your kind words about this fic. I haven't been this nervous about a fic in ages. It's nice to see people asking for updates because they really want to know what is happening next, but just keep in mind, real life is crazy for me. I don't half-ass chapters just to get something up, and it takes at minimum a few days to write something really worth reading. But it means the world to me that you are reading and reviewing and generally enjoying this fic either because of or in spite of the topic.
Thanks to Cortney and Halle for helping with the tone of this chapter.
"I ain't no damsel in distress and I don't need to be rescued." Not a Pretty Girl, Ani DiFranco
It took over 24 hours, but soon my phone was ringing non-stop as Eli must have realized I had called him. I didn't answer, but I did listen to the first of his many voicemails.
Clare, it's Eli. I know you must be mad but I can explain. Please call me back.
I knew it was childish to dodge his calls, but the betrayal was too raw, and I knew if I spoke with Eli now I wouldn't be able to handle it. I gave myself a deadline of one week, to cool down. I couldn't avoid him forever.
On Monday, I left work on time, barely able to keep my eyes open. I had run into Christine in the elevator lobby on my way home, and she was unable to contain her surprise that I was leaving so early again, and asked if I had started seeing someone. Rather than tell her that the only thing I wanted to see was my bed, I alluded to the fact that there was someone new in my life; it wasn't exactly a lie. She looked pleased at the news, and I wondered if she'd have the same reaction if she knew I was referring to a baby that I hadn't planned to have, with the last person on earth I wanted to have it with.
I made it home in record time, but my dreams of a peaceful hour of rest were quickly dashed. Eli sat slumped in front of my apartment door, looking about as bad as I felt.
I guessed it was time to get this over with.
"Hi," I said cautiously, as he jumped up to get out of the way so I could open my door.
"Hey," he said, clearly surprised that I hadn't led off by screaming at him.
"What are you doing here?" I asked, my voice filled with unexpected sadness.
"One of your neighbors let me in. I need to explain," he said, and I just nodded, resigned. I had things to explain too.
We walked in and sat on the bed, even more awkwardly than we had the first time. "Clare," Eli began, but I cut him off.
"Don't lie to me," I said, clenching my jaw. "You were showering in her apartment at 11 a.m. on a Saturday. She's your girlfriend."
Eli closed his eyes and nodded. "She's my girlfriend," he confirmed. I expected to feel angry but apparently I had already gotten over that in the past few days. I had more important things to focus on than Eli. "But…"
I held up my hand. "You don't have to explain. I should have known. Once a cheater, always a cheater."
His face fell and he took a deep breath before responding. "I know this looks bad, but I didn't cheat. We're not serious or exclusive."
I glared at him, picturing the parade of women I had briefly imagined him with during our last conversation, and it was that image that finally brought back the rage I had suppressed. "Oh great…so I'm just another notch in the bedpost for you? Or do you get another notch if you've already fucked the girl? I don't know the rules for manwhores."
He scoffed. "Yeah, I'm such a manwhore. Four women in twelve years – I'm practically a fucking saint. This was the first time since I started seeing her that I hooked up with someone else."
I raised an eyebrow at his admission. Four women? It was almost hard to believe that I'd slept with the same number of people he had, considering I'd previously worn a purity ring and that he didn't have the same moral restrictions on sex that I'd once clung to. "Then how exactly aren't you exclusive?"
He gave me a pointed look. "Great," I said angrily. "She fucks around on you? I'm so glad I had sex with you without a condom. I guess I'll have to add an STD test to my next doctor's visit."
He rolled his eyes at me. "Grow up, Clare. We're adults; we're not exclusive. She can fuck whomever she wants." Eli's temper was starting to flare. "And if you're so damn concerned about STDs, maybe you shouldn't be having sex without a condom. Lauren uses them every time and I get tested, so I'm sure your precious ass will be fine."
His comment sucker punched me. Not only were we in this situation because we hadn't bothered to use a condom, but I had learned the hard way that casual relationships weren't always the best idea, when a routine pap smear had led to a phone call from the clinic, diagnosing me with gonorrhea. I had known Michael and I weren't exclusive, and I had been fine with it. After three years of dating Jonathan, I wasn't looking for anything serious, and Michael fit the bill. We'd go out for dinner and drinks after work occasionally, and sometimes we skipped straight to the sex, but our whole relationship felt like it was on my terms, that I didn't have to call him when I didn't want to or meet his parents or talk about the future. But the STD test was a wake-up call that though I'd managed to keep my heart out of this relationship, there still were things at risk, and I'd ended our arrangement after informing him of his need to obtain antibiotics.
"I'm not exactly sure why you're angry at me. Open relationship or not, you're the one who slept with me without telling me the truth."
Eli's jaw dropped. "I didn't have the opportunity to tell you anything. One minute you were crying and the next you were sitting on my cock. And you might recall the two weeks of phone calls and texts that you never bothered to respond to."
"Yeah, I'm so glad I missed that call. 'Hi Clare, it was nice fucking you, but I'll be banging Lauren tonight, so don't get any ideas that this might have meant something to me.'"
"You're crazy," he said, getting up and pacing across the small room. "I told you I wanted to see you again. You're the one who didn't want anything to do with me."
"You're right," I challenged. "I didn't."
The anger dropped out of his body and was replaced with something I couldn't quite place. He sat down again but didn't turn to face me. He pressed his hands against his eyes.
The silence was more unsettling than the argument. "I don't see why you're upset. You already have a girlfriend."
He glanced at me sadly. "I was going to break up with her."
I raised an eyebrow. "But you didn't."
He looked away. "She was out of town. By the time she got back, I'd already given up hope that you'd call me."
"So you might as well just continue your totally awesome open relationship then?" I said sarcastically.
"This was a mistake," he said softly.
"Trust me. You have no idea."
There was something in my voice that made Eli look up at me curiously. "Clare?"
I tried to hold his gaze but I couldn't, closing my eyes.
"You're what?" he gasped, staring at me with wide eyes.
"I'm pregnant," I repeated.
He didn't speak for a minute, gaping at me as if he was trying to assess if I were telling the truth, if this was just a joke to punish him for having a girlfriend. But the look on my face told him without a doubt that this was true.
"Wow. Shit," he said, running his fingers through his hair and grabbing on as if for dear life. "It's mine, obviously? I mean you said you hadn't…" He paused and shook his head. "I'm sorry. I don't know what I'm saying."
"It's a shock," I confirmed. "And I just thought you had a right to know. I don't expect you to be involved or anything."
"Clare?" His tone broke my heart. "I'm not…I would never do that." I could see his hands tightening but it wasn't with anger. It took him a minute to continue. "If you're having a baby, I'm going to be there for you."
At this moment, I felt more shocked that Eli wasn't freaking out and angry with me. He was clearly floored by the news, but I expected his temper to flare and he seemed to be keeping himself under control. "Okay," I said, not really knowing what else to say. His offer was kind and I was sure his intentions were heartfelt, but hearing the words didn't make me feel much more convinced that he would act on them, given our history.
"How long have you known? When did you find out?"
I looked down at my hands. "I took a home test on Wednesday. And then my doctor confirmed on Saturday."
He looked away. "And that's when you called me…and got Lauren."
"You must have been pissed," he said, glancing at me.
"I was at the time. I'm not anymore." He gave me a disbelieving look so I explained, "I've had a relationship like that. Where you're together, but it's not really serious. So I can understand how you weren't really cheating." I couldn't help but tack on a spiteful, "This time."
Eli flinched. "I'm surprised you were in a relationship like that."
I shrugged. "I could say the same for you."
He nodded but didn't respond, staring off into space as if he were thinking hard about this. His face didn't betray his feelings and for Eli, having that level of control over his emotions was quite an accomplishment.
"You're taking this remarkably well," I commented. "I had a massive freak out on the bathroom floor myself."
Eli glanced over at me. "It hasn't fully hit me yet. But I'm not going to get mad or upset about it. I mean, it's certainly not ideal, but…we can get through this." His note of confidence momentarily lifted my spirits. "Man, they tell you in health class that the pill's not 100% effective, but you don't really believe that until it happens to you."
I sucked in a deep breath and Eli looked at me. It was now or never time on the honesty front, and I knew what I had to do. "I…um… I wasn't on the pill," I admitted quickly.
"What?" he asked, his voice decidedly less even as he stared at me.
"I wasn't on the pill," I repeated, my voice trailing off at the end of my statement.
Eli stood up and took a few steps away from me. "Are you fucking kidding me?"
I could feel the tears filling up my eyes and I willed them away, not wanting to break down in front of Eli yet again. "I'm sorry."
"How could you be so stupid?" he roared.
I couldn't hold back the tears any longer. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I hadn't had sex for a long time so I went off it, and I wasn't exactly expecting this to happen."
"This is fucking wonderful," he said, more to himself than me. He started pacing the floor and I could feel my own anger rise in response to his. "You should have used a fucking condom."
"You didn't seem to mind at the time," I complained.
He stopped pacing. "Because I thought you were on the pill," he explained using a slow, condescending voice. "You were smarter than that when we were in high school. You're an adult now. I can't believe this." He shuddered a little. "And you were in an open relationship too…Maybe I'm the one who needs to go for the STD test."
"Fuck you, Eli." I couldn't believe his nerve. "You were there too. It's not all my fault."
"Yeah because you gave me so much notice. One minute my dick is in your mouth and the next you're riding me, and somehow in those 30 seconds I was supposed to get my sex fogged brain to ask about protection when I knew you were on the pill when you were seventeen and had no reason to suspect that had changed."
I tried to deflate the situation. "I know it was stupid. I knew if I suggested we go down to the pharmacy to buy condoms that you would leave, and I just…"
"Decided to let yourself get knocked up instead? Because that's obviously a great way to get a guy to stick around."
"Like I'd expect you to stick around, pregnant or not. Or did you forget how you dumped me?"
He frowned. "You've only brought it up about ten times in the two occasions I've seen you in the past eight years."
"This is all your fault," I accused.
"And how is that exactly?" he asked dryly.
"If you hadn't shown up and taken advantage of me, this never would have happened."
"Taken advantage of you? Taken advantage of you?!" I hadn't seen Eli this enraged since we broke up and he crashed his hearse, and for a moment I felt honestly terrified despite the fact that he had never, ever hurt my physically. "You kissed me. You fucked me. And now I'm going to be a father because you forgot how babies are made and I'm stuck with the kid because Jesus doesn't condone abortions."
I gasped at Eli's words and his face fell, as if he knew he had crossed a line. "I'm sorry," he said softly. He took a seat on the bed, putting some distance between us, and covered his face with his hands. "I shouldn't have said that. I don't mean it."
His apology sounded genuine, but I was too hurt and shocked to respond. We sat in silence for a few minutes before Eli moved closer to me and put his hand on mine. "I'm sorry," he repeated. "I'm angry about the situation but I shouldn't take that out on you. And especially not your beliefs. That wasn't right."
"I'm sorry, too. For putting you in this situation in the first place." I sighed, letting him know the information I had wanted to keep to myself. "And for the record, I really considered having an abortion. But I just can't."
His hand curled around mine and squeezed my fingers, and I couldn't push him away. "I understand. It's your decision and the fact that you thought about it is enough for me. But I would never ask that of you unless it's what you wanted." He let out a little uncomfortable laugh. "So we're having a baby."
"Yeah…" I couldn't say anything else.
He let go of my hand and brought his together, awkwardly twiddling his thumbs. "I'll break up with Lauren," he said. "I was going to anyway, and now…"
"You don't need to do that."
"It's the right thing to do," he insisted.
I looked away. I didn't want to argue with him anymore and I really didn't want to think about Lauren.
Eli cleared his throat. "I guess we should talk about getting married."
I stared at him, befuddled for a few moments before bursting into laughter.
"What?" he asked, obviously a little hurt.
I shook my head. "I am not going to marry you."
He scowled. "And that's what's so funny?"
"No…I…" I fought to control the hysterics with some difficulty and catch my breath. "I just didn't think it was possible for a proposal to be less romantic than my last one, but here we are."
"You were engaged?" he asked softly. I could tell there was weight to this question and that although we'd both been able to brush off each others' casual relationships, neither of us really wanted to know about the people who had mattered. I didn't want to consider the fact that he might have loved someone else as much as he'd loved me.
I shook my head. "I said no."
Jonathan and I had been together for three years and were in our last year of university when he gave me the good news that he had scored an interview with the Vancouver Sun and was headed home to his parents' house for spring break. He had asked me to join him but I decided to remain in Toronto, looking forward to some quiet time amidst a stressful semester. He had returned with the good news that he had been offered an entry level copy editing position and I had been very pleased for him.
But the fact that his position was located across the country had meant we had to make some decisions about our relationship that I just wasn't ready to make. He asked me to join him out there, hoping to use his connections to secure a position for me as well. I didn't have any immediate job prospects in Toronto but I'd spent my whole life here and wasn't sure I was ready to move. And in truth, I wasn't sure if spending the rest of my life with Jonathan was really what I wanted either. I'd asked him to give me time but after a month when I hadn't told him what my plans were, he'd given me an ultimatum.
"You should marry me," he'd said, brandishing a small, tasteful diamond ring. "Move to Vancouver and be my wife." When I'd responded that I wasn't sure, he informed me that he wasn't interested in a long distance relationship, so if I planned to remain in Toronto, our relationship would be over.
I never put the ring on. And when I told him a month later that I'd been offered a job by the Globe and Mail, our celebratory dinner was our last. He bid me goodbye with a kiss on the cheek and a "Good luck, Clare," and it made me wonder if the past three years had really meant anything – to him or to me.
"I'm not proposing, Clare. I just think it's something we should talk about. We are having a kid together. It's a logical conversation."
I rolled my eyes. "Plenty of people have kids together out of wedlock. The only person I know who cares about that sort of thing is my mother, and she's just going to have to deal with this."
"Have you told her yet?"
I shook my head. "I was barely ready to have this conversation."
He nodded, most likely thinking about bringing up this newfound development with his own parents. "Clare, I just want you to know. I'm with you on this. I'm not going to abandon you."
I looked at him sadly. "I want to believe that…but after last time, I'm not sure I can."
He looked hurt, but like he understood. "I'm going to do whatever I can to make you trust me again. And I'm going to start by ending things with Lauren. Tonight."
"You don't have to do that," I reiterated. "Whatever happens…it has nothing to do with us. You can be involved in the baby's life…but you're not going to be involved with me."
Eli gave me a cool look. "If that's what you want."
He stood up and started walking over toward the door, but turned around before he reached it as if he had just thought of something to say. "We don't have to decide everything today. We've got 9 months ahead of us."
"34 weeks," I corrected. "They go by weeks. It's 40 total."
He narrowed his eyes. "But we only…"
"They start with the date of your last period, not the date of conception. Trust me. It's yours." I was so irritated by his accusation that I added, "You might want to read up on pregnancy. So you know how this works," which was completely unfair since I didn't feel like I knew anything either.
He sighed. "All I'm saying is that I'm willing to wait. We can take these 34 weeks and get to know each other again. And we don't have to get married, but if you can learn to trust me and forgive me, maybe we could start over. I know you need time," he added hastily when he saw I was about to protest. "I'm just asking you not to rule this out."
I shook my head. "You've only slept with four women," I said as if that were a logical explanation.
He looked completely confused. "What does that have to do with anything?"
I counted on my fingers. "Julia. Me. Lauren. And her." I wiggled my pinky at him. "I've always tried to convince myself that the girl you cheated on me with was a one night stand, that you were drunk and made a mistake, and that you dumped me because you felt so guilty. But clearly she wasn't. It was a relationship. A relationship that you chose over me."
I expected Eli to look guilty but I couldn't pinpoint the emotion that was on his face. "Clare…I didn't…"
"No," I cut him off. "I don't want to know." He opened his mouth to continue, but I stopped him again. "If we're going to have a baby together, you have to promise me that you won't bring up our past. Not how we dated, and definitely not what happened after we broke up."
I felt the tears sliding down my cheek once more. "This is so unfair; this is so unfair," I muttered, more to myself than Eli. "I wanted this, you know. I spent my high school years dreaming of being with you. Marriage and kids and the perfect house with a walk-in closet and built-in bookshelves. A seat in the front row of all your plays and a loving husband by my side. All I wanted was to spend the rest of my life with you."
His face softened as I let out a choked sob and Eli stepped toward me. I held up my hand to keep him away. "We could still have that, Clare. We have our whole lives ahead of us."
"We can't have that."
"Why?" he asked desperately.
"Because you broke me," I said plainly. "You broke me, and I don't want that life anymore."
He looked appropriately chastened and at a loss for words. I could see that he wanted to protest, that he hoped he'd be able to change my mind. So I told him exactly how I felt, not holding anything back.
"Eli, I'm taking a risk here, because I know deep down inside that if you wanted to, you could be a good father for this baby." There was a dull pang of regret in my heart, but I had to follow my head for once. "But you won't be anything more than that to me. No matter what."
"Whatever you want," he said, his voice dull. "Can you do me a favor though?"
"Answer your phone when I call you this time."
I stood up and opened the door for him. "Why don't you just let me call you?"
He shook his head in annoyance and walked out.