It was my birthday, and without even noticing it had happened, I had become a diva.
Simon sat next to me on my bed as I had rehashed my disastrous birthday to him, realizing I had practically thrown a full-blown tantrum at Isabelle’s when she was doing my makeup. I frowned a little when I gauged his reaction.
“I’m turning into Isabelle,” I said, before he could comment on my story. “I went all control freak and pulled a diva move.”
Simon laughed and pulled a band-aid out of the box, opening it and sticking it to my forehead. “For your ego,” he said, still laughing.
I laughed, too. “Did you at least give me Han Solo?”
“Better,” he said. “In theme of your new desire for control as the new Isabelle in training, you now don the Anakin Skywalker.”
“You think I’m the new Darth Vader!?” I exclaimed in surprise.
“You know,” Simon started, his tone becoming serious. “Isabelle isn’t all that bad. Anakin was good once, too. You just need to get to know her.”
I frowned. He was still brain-washed by her, I assumed. Sometimes I wondered how someone like Simon could date someone like Isabelle. I was probably missing the whole point of his talk.
“Yeah, Simon, the same could be said to her. She never attempted to get to know me either to know that I was more than just Dumpster Girl.”
Simon nodded. “People are changing at college, it’s freaky right?”
I sighed. I guess I didn’t have time to be petty. I should try to at least enjoy the day. I could be fierce like the red in my hair, but I could still play along. After all, next I was scheduled to go to dinner with Jocelyn, Luke and Simon, the people I cared about most. I knew that they cared about me most, too.
Simon whisked me off to the drop-off at the front of the residence hall, where a beaten up truck idled. I recognized Jocelyn and Luke and practically tripped over my own feet as I ran – anything but gracefully – in their direction. Behind me, Simon chuckled, catching up with me in front of the truck, as Jocelyn put the car in park and got out to hug me, Luke limping up to me after. I embraced them both, suddenly thankful that Isabelle made sure I got my family time.
I was finally in the presence of people I had known and trusted for the majority of my life, and I didn’t have to feel so alone anymore. I didn’t have to feel like I was against the odds with Jocelyn, Luke and Simon, because they accepted me in spite of my stupid nicknames.
Suddenly, the day was becoming lighter and everything was naturally falling into place. Despite how happy I felt, I knew the light of day was trickling by too quickly, so I attempted to cherish the moments I had with my family as much as possible before it was over. We all sat around a table at a restaurant, laughing and smiling. This was where I was meant to be, today. It instantly lifted my mood from the depths of hell towards heaven, my mood suddenly floating without gravity in the air.
Simon sat across from me, eyeing me, laughing at Luke’s jokes, but yet he was somehow distant, as if he wasn’t being genuine with his laughter. It gave me a sense of sadness – I knew that Simon was distant just because I knew him so well, but it was like I didn’t know what he was distant about anymore.
I looked at him, really trying to look into Simon’s emotions like I used to be able to do. We knew each other like I knew my own hand, and I knew he felt the same – or at least he used to. But as Simon had said earlier, college really was changing people. It stung to know that it was changing our friendship the way it had – Simon was the last person I thought I would lose. He meant more to me than I had ever dreamed possible, especially because of how we met.
Simon and I met back in third grade, when we were both outcast in the school play as being the little piggies. Jace was the Big Bad Wolf and Isabelle was Little Red Riding Hood, and I remember bonding with Simon as some of the other kids in the play – led by the Bad Wolf and Little Red – made pig noises at us in amusement. Now, we were freshmen in college and we were basically in cahoots with the very people who bonded us with their teasing. It seemed a little ironic, now that I thought about it.
Throughout dinner, my mind wandered a lot. Jocelyn and Luke weren’t exactly helping with that either, because they were the ones bringing up a lot of my memories with Simon, raving about how old I had become and how I was all grown up now. I just blushed a lot and tried to wave away their stories with a laugh, as Simon also did.
Halfway through the dinner when our food came, I got noticed Simon’s hands under the table. Texting Isabelle, I assumed. A few beats later and I felt my own phone vibrating. It was Isabelle.
I read it and pursed my lips, guilt seeping into my mood, bringing it back down to ground zero. I shot a reply back quickly and returned my attention to my family, only to be brought back to a new text message, this time from Simon.
I looked up at Simon and frowned again, guilty. Isabelle was his girlfriend and he was on her side. He knew how I had treated her earlier and I felt like I had to respect Simon’s wishes to open my heart and my mind up to Isabelle.
“Jocelyn…Luke…” I said, when our dinner had finished. Everyone’s eyes were on me. “I know you guys traveled a ways to come say happy birthday and I feel so sorry to bail…”
Jocelyn smiled and nodded, her hand touching mine in a new motherly attitude that she was suddenly adopting. “Honey, if your friends want to hang out, we won’t hover after dinner.”
Luke agreed. “We just appreciate even spending this little bit of time with you.”
After all was said and done, I stared at Simon and saw him nodding in approval. This would earn me some Simon points back, I supposed. Jace would likely be happy with me, too.
The only problem was, I didn’t know how I felt about it. Isabelle wanted to drink and go clubbing tonight, and underage drinking was really the last thing I wanted to do.
Jocelyn and Luke dropped Simon and I back off at the dorms and waved goodbye. We made our way back to my living room to sit down and talk. I noticed Isabelle’s door was closed and frowned.
“I know you want me to like Isabelle,” I said, after a few moments of content silence. “I don’t really want to, but there’s so much relying on me liking her.”
Simon looked into my eyes, his comforting expression softening my mood a little. “Clary, I know it’s hard, but I don’t understand why you think you owe these people anything.”
“I thought you wanted me to like her?” I asked, confused. I felt like Simon was contradicting himself in saying he both wants me to like Isabelle, but yet he doesn’t want me to give in to the people who I owe nothing to.
I think Simon was as confused as I was. We both grew up together, trembling in fear of the people that bullied us, and here we both were dating the people who did us in all those years ago. In one sense, I could see why Simon had an open mind and an open heart to Isabelle, because I had felt the same way with Jace, but it was like both of us struggled with each other’s relationship choices. Simon didn’t like Jace just as much as I didn’t like Isabelle.
“I just want what’s best for you. I want you to give Isabelle a chance, but only when it’s right for you. And I’ll…” he trailed off, his face cringing. “I’ll try to do the same for Jace. If I have it in me to forgive him, I don’t know, but I have to try if you’re going to do the same for me with Isabelle.”
My head was spinning from everything that was going on. I felt confused and conflicted. My relationship with Simon had never been this complicated before, but then again neither of us had dated anyone before – it was probably just the protective energy we had about each other that made this such a failure.
“I’m not ready myself to give Isabelle a chance,” I admitted, “But that’s not my decision to make.”
“Then whose decision is it, Clary?” Simon asked, concern evident. “I’m not going to make you like her, so it’s clearly not my decision.”
Flustered that I couldn’t tell Simon about Jace’s plan, I just avoided his question, redirecting the conversation. Isabelle was waiting for me in her room whenever Simon and I finished our conversation, and as much as I didn’t want to go, I felt like I had to.
“Simon, I can’t really tell you why, but I have to do this.”
He nodded, attempting to give me the benefit of the doubt. “You don’t have to tell me why, Clary. But if someone is controlling you, don’t hesitate to bring me into things. I’m not breakable.” He put his arms around me in an embrace and I snuggled into his arms. “You know I’d do anything for you,” he added, whispering into my ear.
“I love you, Simon.”
“I love you too, Clary, more than you’ll ever know,” he replied. I could finally hear the smile in his voice that I loved so much. Happy Simon was my favorite version of Simon.
He left after that, with an encouraging kiss on the cheek and one more hug. It was just what I needed to suck it up and get this night of clubbing over with.
Upon hearing Simon’s exit, Isabelle’s room swung open and she stood there, clad in a skin-tight body-con dress and heels, her hair slicked back in a pony-tail, her long hair laid over her shoulder. I struggled to look at her, but I managed. The expression on her face was as intense as the height of her heels, a staggering 5 inches.
She stepped toward me, her eyes pleading for forgiveness. I nodded and she hugged me. I would do this for Simon and Jace, two of the three men in my life.
I was about to go to a club with Isabelle, and the night had barely begun.
Three shots of tequila, a long island iced tea and a Bud Light later, I woke up in a dim hospital room with an IV in my arm. Next to me, Jace sat, his eyebrows furrowed together in fear, until he finally noticed me awake.
Without a second a hesitation, he was hugging me in an embrace so tight and comforting that I would have thought it was Simon hugging me if I hadn’t already known it was Jace. I cried into his shoulder, wishing I could remember the past 24 hours of my life.
My heart began to race as I clung tightly to Jace, unable to do anything else but cry streams of tears as I tried to remember something – anything.