Friday night of my fourth week, Taki’s was loud and I felt too distracted with other conversations around me to listen to the one happening at my table. I looked around for Simon, praying I would spot him, since a lot of students seemed to end up at Taki’s in the evening – the food was way better than the dining hall’s food. It became the group’s daily dinner spot, as it was for many students, but it had been days since Simon stopped joining us, ever since he and I fought about my relationship with Jace. I located Maia and Jordan’s table at the other side of the room, but Simon wasn’t with them.
I wished Simon wasn’t so mad at me for spending all my time with Jace’s crowd. I wished he could understand that I was roped into it not because I wanted to, but because I had to. I wish he wouldn’t chastise me for dating Jace, when he had wanted to get close to Isabelle anyway. It would be easier if he wouldn’t push me away so quickly without letting me explain.
Something hit my face and I looked up, gasping. “What the hell?” I asked, looking for the culprit. Across the table sat Jace, who was shaking his head indicating it wasn’t him.
I stared at Jace a second too long. His eyes were especially gold today and his hair sat perfectly, pushed to one side of his head as if he were a hair model. I wondered how he had been so blessed with beautiful hair, while I was constantly fighting off frizzy red locks. No one liked red hair anyway.
Finally I met eyes with Sebastian, who was next to Jace. He was slyly winking at me. He must have been the attacker. I gripped a dinner roll, which had been what hit me out of my reverie, and threw it at Sebastian’s face. He flinched but caught it in his hand, scooping it up to take a bite. I sneered at him.
Under the table I felt Jace kicking my feet. We met eyes and I could read his expression; he wanted me to behave.
Sighing, I wiped the scowl off my face and faked a smile. “What, Sebastian?” I asked, using the small amount of energy I had stored up to remain patient.
Sebastian laughed, as if laughing off my irritation like it didn’t bother him. “I asked you how you ladies have been doing in preparation for the big game.” Sebastian’s dark eyes looked black, despite Taki’s being well-lit. There was always something off about him. Today, the way he looked at me felt like he was eating me up – it felt wrong.
I shuddered and averted my gaze, choosing to look toward Jace again. He always seemed to look up right when I looked to his face. We would catch eyes for a while and just stare, and it never felt weird or forced. I tried to shrug off the feelings it gave me in the pit of my stomach. Jace either made me feel sick with nausea or it was butterflies – I wanted to believe it was the former; however, I knew I couldn’t escape the butterflies.
“It’s going fine,” I said through gritted teeth.
Next to me, Isabelle was bouncing in her seat. Excitement was evident in her eyes as I turned my head to look in her direction. She was grinning at me, as if we were the best of friends. It was strange that we could sort of get along when she finally started to give me a chance; though whether the chance was fake or not, I couldn’t tell. Either way, she seemed fine getting along with me as of lately, especially ever since Jace and I became official.
“I showed Clary my workout routine today! We’ll be ready in no time!” She flipped her hair over her shoulder, regaining her composure.
Isabelle was the kind of girl who, once she really opened up, would surprise you with how crazy she was. Outsiders never seemed to be aware of how perky she could be, once she trusted someone enough to show them. Then again, I remembered that it was possible that all my information was mixed up and Isabelle was just playing me again – I just hoped this time that my intuition was reality.
“Yeah,” I confirmed, the excitement lacking in my voice compared to Isabelle’s. “Oh we definitely hit the gym this morning.” I looked back at Jace to gauge his reaction. He seemed impressed. He took a sip of his coffee, his eyes grazing the restaurant. “Except now,” I continued. “It feels like it’s hitting me back.”
Suddenly coffee spewed across the table and everyone stared wide-eyed at Jace, who was laughing harder than I had ever seen him laugh before.
Kaelie walked by the table, noticing the happenstance, her eyes dark and angry. She stomped off, returning with a rag to wipe up Jace’s spit. He couldn’t seem to contain himself at this point, as he burst into a heavier fit of laughter.
When Jace was finally able to calm his laughter, he just stared at me, smirking. “You surprise me sometimes, Red.” When Jace said his new nickname for me, I felt my body shiver. I hated to admit that I kind of liked the nickname.
The group began to talk in side conversations; Isabelle, Sebastian and Jonathan were talking about the weeklong events and their predictions on the ultimate winner, while Magnus and Alec were discussing Halloween costume ideas. Jace and I remained quiet, until I felt my phone vibrate.
I hadn’t noticed Jace texting, but it was from him. It read: Want me to show you how to throw a football tonight?
I smiled at my phone, grateful that Jace had been helping me for the past few days in preparation for the game. It was only about three weeks away until Halloween Spirit Week in the residence halls began their Boys vs. Girls weeklong competition.
Even though Jace was a male and would be playing against me, he was still there every step of the way in my learning process, teaching me the game of football and how it worked, as well as what to do in certain situations. We hadn’t gotten to the part of how to actually throw a football yet, we had so far just watched football on the TV while Jace taught me the general game.
Truthfully I felt nervous about actually learning to throw a football, because I could imagine Jace guiding me like the guys did in the movies, where they stood behind the girl and their bodies touched, as the guy positioned the girl to learn whatever it was he was teaching. It always seemed to end in a passionate kiss, which made me nervous.
Ever since Jace and I have been official only a week, we hadn’t been intimate at all – Jace stuck by his ideals and promised to never ask anything of me that I didn’t want to do. I had tested him all week by keeping the physical contact minimal – little hand-holding or kissing of any sort – to see if he would step up his game. I was almost gauging whether or not he was still involved in the plan, as embarrassed as I felt to admit it to myself. By now it should have been evident that he was on my side, but I could never be too sure.
I felt my body violently shake, as the panicking thought of kissing Jace left my mind as quickly as it entered. I typed a response to Jace: Idk, maybe we should do our English papers 2nite. Our roomies Jonathan & Isabelle r going 2 catch on if they both notice we r missing & happen 2 mention it.
I shut my phone and stared up at Jace, waiting to see how he would respond when he saw the text. He frowned at his phone in his lap, looking up to me with sad, pleading eyes. He mouthed something when he was sure no one else was looking: “You are the enemy of fun.”
I groaned quietly to myself and opened my phone, typing something else: Fine! Just quit with the puppy dog eyes or I’ll kick you!
He grinned when he read my second text and replied:You have quite the raging anger issues for a little redhead!
Smiling, I kicked him hard under the table. I saw him withhold a yelp of surprise, as he glanced at the group of friends on both sides of us, trying to decide if anyone noticed. No one did.
Laughing to myself, I sent one last text: Tonight. Pick me up at 8. Isabelle will be too busy watching Project Runway to notice me leave.
He replied one final time, his words seeming to ring through my head as I read them:
It’s a date.
Right on the dot, I felt a vibrating sensation in my pocket at 8:00 PM. I looked at my phone and it was Jace, confirming he was waiting outside in the hallway for me. I quietly grabbed my gym bag and tiptoed to the door, careful to open and close it without making much noise.
Jace waited for me in the hallway, holding his gym bag. He was dressed in athletic shorts and a loose shirt with its arms cut off and its arm holes cut down the sides of his shirt. When he stood with his side facing me, I could see his defined abs through the shirt.
He looked me up and down, noticing my gym outfit too. My outfit consisted of tight black capris-length yoga pants and a green sports bra. I wasn’t the most attractive girl around, but I knew my midriff was slightly toned and showing it off made me feel slightly more confident. The past few times we met for football preparations, we were all in front of a TV or computer, going over the aspect of the game of football; this was the first time he’d see me trying anything athletic so I was hoping my outfit made a good first impression.
Jace nodded at me and began to walk. I followed, falling into step. Thankfully he walked slower when I was with him, knowing my long legs couldn’t reach as far. We took the stairs in silence and then began our long trek to the athletic center on campus, which was open until midnight. We would have plenty of time.
“I like the color of your sports bra. Green is my favorite,” he said thoughtfully, part way through the walk to the athletic center. I was surprised to find that Jace commenting on my sports bra was in no way sexually teasing or stigmatizing; he was genuinely trying to converse with me.
“I picked the green one at the store because it matches my eyes,” I said, shrugging my shoulders. As a redhead I usually just picked green things because they complimented my hair in ways other colors sometimes couldn’t.
He was quiet for a while, as if searching for words, and then he said “I know.”
Blushing, I stared at the ground as I walked. I was stupid to think that in all the glares and staring contests we’d had, he’d not noticed my eyes. Of course he would have. It was just like I had noticed his golden tawny eyes!
We reached the athletic center and Jace led me inside, toward the indoor football field. He pulled a football out of his bag and set it down at the side of the field. I set my bag down with his.
It was completely empty except for us, which didn’t help my heart rate, as it sped to dangerous speeds.
He jogged out to the middle of the field. I kept my leisurely pace, eventually coming up to him. He waited for me, hands on his hips. “I’m going to need to see a little more motivation, Red.”
I sighed. “Yes, coach.”
He rolled his eyes but made no sarcastic comments. I wondered how much effort it had taken him to not say anything back – Jace, who always had to have the last word.
He backed away from me, football in hand. “I’m going to throw it at you. Catch it.”
I nodded, understanding. It was easier said than done, though. Jace cocked the football into position in his hands and threw it in my direction. The ball came at me and I tried to catch it, but it bounced off my forehead and hit the ground.
To my surprise, Jace didn’t laugh. He jogged over, picked it up, and prepared to throw again. “Hand-eye coordination, Red. Focus, I know you can catch it.” He threw it again, and I felt it make contact with my hand for a second before it slipped out of my grasp and fell to the ground.
Jace smiled at me. “Maybe now you might give me credit for being on the football team,” he remarked. I picked the ball up and stared at it, wondering how he did it. “Toss it,” he directed. “Just any way you think will best get the ball from you to me.”
I held the football like I remembered the football players doing, when I watched them on the TV in one of Jace’s crash courses of the game. I tried throwing it, but the motion failed and it bounced off at the ground, flying back in my direction; I jumped out of the way just in time.
“Try to throw it in the air, not at the ground,” Jace noted. He could have made more jokes about it, but refrained.
I picked the ball up again, staring at it in my hands. My small, uncoordinated hands could barely grip the football like Jace could. I frowned at it. “This is hard.”
Jace jogged over to my side, his eyes grazing my expression. “It takes practice. You can’t always be perfect like I am.” He winked, but laughed, trying to lighten the mood.
“Why are you helping me, Jace?” I asked, surprising even myself. “We’re on opposing teams.”
He looked at me long and hard before he decided on what to say. “It seemed only fair,” he said. I didn’t believe him though, and he recognized that. He corrected himself, “I thought it would be nice to share some of my perfection with the less fortunate.” I glared at him, shooting daggers. He took a step back. “Woah, easy.”
“No more games,” I gritted.
He sighed. “Maybe I wanted to help you because I wanted something out of it, too.” He paused, unsatisfied with his clean answer. “You’re cute, it helps your case.” His typical Jace charm radiated as he smirked at me, with dazzling eyes trained directly at me.
“Why would that change now? I’ve always looked the same.” I broke eye contact, staring at the football in my hands. It felt as wrong to hold that football as it felt standing in an empty practice arena with Jace – I was still getting used to how to react around him sometimes, and being alone with him wasn’t one of my strongest areas.
“You’re not half bad, Clary.” His voice was soft when he said my name. “You know, for a short and short-tempered redhead.” He smirked, trying to downplay the first statement. Something about his teasing made me believe that he felt slightly embarrassed admitting things like this to me.
“Wow,” I breathed. “Jace Wayland really does know how to give a compliment.”
He pushed my shoulder back playfully and snatched the football from my hands. He jogged further away and tossed it at me. I caught it without thinking and he applauded me, in the middle of the empty arena.
“I give credit where credit is due,” he said, something sweet in his voice. He jogged back to me, standing behind me. “Alright, Red. I’m going to position you into a stance that will help you throw better.”
I felt his hands at both sides of my waist, as he straightened my body. Then his hands were at my knees, knocking at them to signify that I needed to move them in or out. He pushed down on me, adjusting the bend in my knees. Then, his hand covered mine, on the football.
“There,” he said, his breath in my ear. I finally understood the movies and why it always ended in kissing. My nerves were in knots in my stomach, the butterflies invading.
His hand, still covering mine, tightened its grip on the football. He moved my hand back and forth, showing me how to throw it and how far to outstretch my hand. I felt his other hand at my waist, straightening me when I accidently moved from the stance he had positioned me in.
He stepped back, eyeing my stance, and then came close again, adjusting me. He did this a few times when he told me to stand normal and get back into stance – always fixing me with a close proximity to my body that made my heart race.
When he positioned me the last time from behind, he walked around to my front side and eyed the stance. “Your stance looks good. We just need to work on actually throwing it correctly, to get the ball to spin.”
I relaxed from the stance and held the ball in both hands, looking up at Jace as I always did, due to my height. He seemed so beautiful, in the light of the arena. His hair was shiny and his eyes were gleaming. I suddenly felt a sexual frustration when I looked at him, something I never expected to feel.
“Can we take a break?” I asked, my words coming out breathy. Jace nodded and led me over to a bench. We sat next to each other, facing forward in silence.
Jace’s hand was suddenly on my knee. “Correct me if I’m being an idiot, but…” He trailed off. I curiously looked over at him, through my hair which acted as a mask. “Do you think that you and I could ever really get past our differences?” he asked, quietly.
“We’ve made plenty of progress,” I said, my eyes darting back to his hand on my knee. I realized that his hand wouldn’t have been there if we hadn’t made any progress – I would have hit it away.
When I finally looked back toward Jace’s face, I noticed his expression was solemn. He pursed his lips, his eyes darting around my face, flecks of a tinged sadness embedded into the gold of his eyes. “It’s taken me almost five years to see past my own nonsensical torture to realize that I was corrupting your sense of self-confidence. I worry that I waited too long to begin re-building myself that I’m never going to earn your trust. We may have made progress, Clary, but you can’t tell me right now that you trust me.”
I nodded my head, sullen and slow, in agreement. He was right – I couldn’t trust him. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t want to trust him. “Trust takes time in relationships anyway,” I said, trying to stay positive. If Jace wasn’t going to be positive, then I had to somehow pick up the slack. “Maybe it will take longer than normal, but I don’t think it’s impossible for me to ever trust you.”
He shook his head. “That’s the problem. Even if you did ever find that you could trust me, it would be the biggest mistake you’ve ever made. You shouldn’t let yourself trust someone who spent the last 4 years of high school and the first few weeks of college using your humiliation as grounds for humor.”
I shrugged. “It’s over now, isn’t that all that matters? Maybe you don’t have confidence in yourself, but I’m starting to.” I turned my body more in his direction, to emphasize my point. “If I wasn’t in this with you, Jace, I would have never made it a point to actually hang out with you when we weren’t obligatorily putting on a show in front of people. And yet I’m here with you, talking.”
Though he seemed hesitant to agree, he – like me when he gave a similar speech the other day – just nodded in agreement. “I see that, Clary. But what I’m saying is you should be careful.”
I burst out laughing. Neither Jocelyn nor Luke had told me to be careful; Simon did, but only because he seemed jealous sort of; but Jace telling me to be careful of my new boyfriend, when it was him that was my boyfriend? It was the funniest thing I had heard in a long time.
I was laughing so hard after a few seconds that I accidently fell off of the bench, and began rolling on the floor laughing. My eyes were squinted, as I felt tears from my laughter escaping. I was laughing so hard I was crying!
Through my squinted eyes, I saw Jace standing above me, trying to contain his laughter as he watched me thrashing around on the ground, trying to stop laughing. Finally, I took in a few deep breaths and contained my breathing so that I could calm down.
Jace outstretched a hand and he hoisted me up off the ground. I wiped the tears that had streamed from my eyes with the back of my free hand.
“Well then,” Jace said, breaking the silence. “Evidently you find irony that the brunt of all evils is telling you to be careful?”
“You’re hardly evil,” I sneered. “In fact, I want you to just shut up about all your self-loathing for one moment to realize that I fell for you too, which obviously means you have some good qualities in you.” I noticed Jace open his mouth to try to speak, but I put a finger to his lips, as he did once before to me. “Don’t even try to argue, this is my time to speak.” Jace nodded, a smirk stretching across his face. He had probably never been told to shut up before, but he obliged. “Jace Wayland, I like you. Maybe it’s insane, but maybe it’s right. So just shut up and…and…” I trailed off, before regaining my confidence. “And kiss me!”
Without a moment’s hesitation, Jace’s lips pressed to my own, crashing down with intensity.
I’ll cross off kissing a football player in an empty sports arena off my bucket list.