Dumpster Diving, Chapter 24

Dumpster Diving, Chapter Twenty-Four: Not Breakable

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.


Dumpster Diving, Chapter 23

Dumpster Diving: Chapter Twenty-Three: Birthday Princess

The day was doomed from the moment the clock struck midnight. I resentfully glared at my clock radio as midnight passed and Friday turned into Saturday. The worst part about the clock striking midnight for Saturday was not because tonight Isabelle had pre-planned a girls night, and it wasn’t because my parents were coming up to take me out to dinner – it was because today was my birthday, and everybody seemed to remember that. The attention on myself today would be more honed in than usual.

Once I sneered at the clock for a few minutes, I crawled into bed and prepared myself to sleep until I would undoubtedly be roused by early-morning birthday celebrations. I loathed the thought. I didn’t want anything special for my birthday, other than to be left alone for the day, but of course my wishes never came true.

I let my eyes close, as I began to fall asleep.

My phone began buzzing off the hook seconds later, successfully causing panic to swim through my body at the unexpected noise. I groaned and gripped my phone, seeing messages upon messages coming in, wishing me a happy birthday.

There was just about one from everyone: Jocelyn and Luke, Alec, Magnus, Maia, Jordan, even Sebastian and Jonathan – though I scrunched my nose in disgust when I read their messages. Isabelle had even taken the time to send a text, though she was feet away from me in her room. The only people missing were Simon and Jace.

I frowned at my phone. For the next few minutes before I fell asleep, all I could think about was the two missing messages that I had expected most out of any – two out of the three men in my life didn’t send a happy birthday.

Morning broke, and as expected there was loud pounding at my door that broke me from my silent slumber. I groaned, and sat up to throw on clothes. The pounding never ceased. “I’m coming!” I shouted, scurrying around quickly to dress so the maddening pounding would cease.

As the door swung open, I was plundered with an excessive chorus of “Happy Birthday!” from a room full of people: Magnus, Alec, Sebastian, Jonathan, and Isabelle. Again, both Simon and Jace were missing. I frowned again.

Isabelle stepped forward and handed me a colorful gift bag with a card sticking out. “It’s from all of us. Hint! It’s the dress you’re wearing today!” She eyed my outfit. “Looks like you needed a peppier birthday getup anyway.”

I rolled my eyes, trying to ignore her odd way of trying to be nice. “Thanks,” I said quietly.

Magnus proceeded to step forward, with something sparkly in his hands. “Here’s your tiara, princess. Don it with pride.” He placed what I assumed was a tiara on my head. It just felt heavy and itchy, but I didn’t dare touch it in front of everyone – the more I cooperated, the sooner they would be gone.

I sighed, as Alec stepped forward with a sash. “Let me guess. It says Birthday Princess?” I asked. Alec nodded and I groaned. This had to be all of Isabelle’s doing.

Thankfully, Sebastian and Jonathan didn’t hand me anything – they were just here for the surprise awakening, apparently. I wondered why they even bothered at all. Today their presence seemed pointless, because they hardly interacted with me much anyway, at least in the positive sense.

After some small talk about birthday planning – all Isabelle’s doing – they all left the room but Isabelle. She smirked at me, a hint of something that spelled mischief. I was immediately worried.

“What now?” I asked, assuming the worst.

She just shrugged and skipped away toward her room, turning only to say “Read the cards!”

“Cards?” I asked, confused. But it was too late – she had skipped into her room and shut the door.

I groaned again and trudged into my room, the pink gift bag in hand. I removed my tiara and sash and lazily dug into the gift bag to pull out a short black dress with sequins and lace. I knew I would never get away with wearing anything but what I was given, so I sucked in a breath and changed, even adding my tiara and sash – though resentfully.

I dumped the remaining contents of the gift bag onto my bed, digging through the tissue paper until I spotted two labeled cards. I wasn’t sure how I had missed that there were two cards.

One said “Open at 11AM” and the other said “Open at 5PM”. I looked at the clock, which read 10AM.

After the hour passed slowly, as I stared at the ambiguous cards on my bed, I finally was able to open the first envelope.

Inside, a note that was cut out of magazine letters fell into my lap. It looked like a ransom note. It read: “Clary, if you ever wish to see your precious Nook again, you must meet me at the fountain, 12 o clock on the dot. Bring no one and tell no one, or you will never see your Nook again!”

I couldn’t help but smile at the note, wondering who it was from. It seemed like something Simon would do – so I immediately perked up, knowing that he had in fact wanted to see me today, despite our rough relationship lately. He hadn’t talked to me since he called the day he found out about Jace and I.

Another hour went by, but this time all I could think about was Simon, and how much I wished our relationship hadn’t been affected by the inevitable course that college seemed to be heading in. Everything at The Institute was driving us apart, and I feared that soon he may no longer be an everyday thing in my life.

I finally gathered my energy and went on my way to meet the writer of my ransom note, as it neared noon. The walk across campus received many sideways glances from those who happened to be around on a Saturday. I decided that I was able to look at them weird too for being on campus when there weren’t any classes going on.

When I reached the fountain the note referred to, I saw a streak of blonde hair, and my heart instantly raced at the revelation that it was Jace rather than Simon, though I wasn’t sure if it was because I was just excited to see Jace or if I was sort of startled to find that it wasn’t Simon. I felt both emotions of sadness and happiness, mixed into one package.

Jace was facing the opposite direction, settled down on a blanket. I saw a pile of food and a collection of daisies he must have picked from a garden on campus. He must have heard me coming, because he turned around when I came closer, a grin plastered on his face. I immediately pushed away the lingering sadness I felt about Simon not being here, and smiled back at him to prove that I was going to tough it out today.

“It’s the Birthday Princess,” Jace sneered, well aware of how irritated I was with the whole princess getup I was wearing, despite how hard I was trying to show my cooperation. He was lucky I cooperated at all with his sadistic sister, who only wants to set me up for failure at this point – or at least that was what I was convinced her motive was. She seemed fine lately, but you could never tell with her, since she had hid it so well the first time.

“I wasn’t expecting this,” I admitted, though I knew I would never fess up to who I wished was here with me. Jace ushered me to sit down next to him, and he started to set out some of the food he made. There were finger sandwiches and fresh fruit, chips and veggies – it was impressive. I picked up a carrot and dipped it into the vegetable dip. “What’s with this?” I asked, as I crunched down on the carrot.

“Your day was pre-planned out by Isabelle and everyone had to go through her to make any plans with you,” Jace explained, as my eyebrows began to knit together in frustration the more he spoke. “So I either got you for lunch or not at all,” he added.

I shrugged. “I don’t see what the big deal is.”

Jace nodded in agreement, which made me feel better. At least he understood where I was coming from – otherwise I would just look like a spoiled brat who wanted her way. Somehow though, Jace could see through my hard exterior to read my very thoughts: he knew this was not my day and I would feel better off ignoring it.

“Take it with a grain of salt,” Jace said simply, as he bit into a finger sandwich. “At least Isabelle is coming around. She only does this annoying plan-your-day thing for people she likes-” He paused, almost as if to retract his statement or backtrack. “Well, I suppose it could be for people she hates, because the plan-your-day festivities usually end up irritating whoever she does it for. But that would mean she hates Alec and I, which undoubtedly she doesn’t. In a strange way, she does it because she cares.”

I rolled my eyes. “It’s part of the show. That’s what she wants you to think.”

Jace shook his head. “She thinks I’m in it with her though, Clary. Why would she do the plan-your-day festivities that she does with Alec and I if she hated you, when we both know it means she cares?”

I decided I wasn’t in the mood to talk about the anarchy of Isabelle, so I dropped the subject. Jace didn’t seem to mind, because he didn’t bring it up at all during our time at the fountain.

It was kind of relaxing actually, spending lunch just sitting and talking with Jace. We were completely alone on campus because most college students avoided coming back to campus on days that classes weren’t held on. Everyone was off making plans for their Saturday night parties and whatnot. It was quite the relief to not have to worry about any of that. All I had to do was just sit and enjoy my lunch with Jace.

We talked about nothing in particular – just random topics that entered our minds. Never once did Jace bring up the plan or the mysterious biological father issues we both had or his little brother or Simon or anything else that was plaguing our college lives. For a change, I actually felt like a normal person.

I knew I shouldn’t have let it sink in too much, because the lunch ended quickly with a startling squeal coming from behind – Isabelle.

“Jace!” she shouted, behind me, successfully causing my body to leap up in surprise a couple of inches. “Why on Earth are you sitting on the ground? You’ll crush Clary’s dress!” I felt her hand at my elbow, pulling me upward. I stared straight into the face of the dragon – I mean, Isabelle. “Clary, why aren’t you wearing any makeup!? This is your birthday! I must fix this!”

Without a moment’s hesitation, Isabelle began dragging me from my relaxing picnic with Jace. I was aware this was probably the last of him that I’d see today, but it still felt surreal being dragged away from him and knowing that I had actually felt safe around him. Except now, I was being brought back to Isabelle’s torture chamber she calls a room, where she would apply pounds of makeup, telling me that I needed it because I needed to be pretty, and I wouldn’t feel safe at all. I didn’t even have the energy to be offended by how she was treating me, because I knew Isabelle’s way of being nice was so abnormal that it wasn’t worth getting worked up about.

Though, hours later, I about had it with Isabelle by the time she was almost done with me and I looked like a tortured model with stage makeup on. Though I knew my whole day was planned, my patience was wearing, and I considered opting out from all of this.

I’m stronger than this, and I knew it. Getting pushed around by a person who hardly liked me was not my favorite pastime. I was only doing it because Jace asked me to – I wondered if he even cared about me, because he was asking so much of me. Someone who really cared about me would never put me through all this torture.

Simon was right, I realized in awe, right as Isabelle was applying my winged eyeliner.

I jerked my face away from her, as Isabelle’s liquid eyeliner streaked my face in all the wrong places. She shrieked in surprise as I rose from the seat, feeling heat rising to my cheeks. I wasn’t nearly tall enough to intimidate her, but suddenly I felt 7 feet tall, as I said to Isabelle:


She stared at me in oblivion. Her jaw line tightened, and I could see her eyes flashing dangerously. Still, she said nothing as I marched out of her room, slamming her door shut.

I entered my room, slammed my door shut, and plopped onto my bed. The clock read 4PM. I wanted to cover my face in a pillow – uncaring that it would smear all my makeup Isabelle had just spent the last few hours applying – and scream. However, something caught my eye.

The 5PM envelope.

I opened it with haste, uncaring that I was opening it an hour early. Inside the envelope, in Simon’s handwriting, was an apology note, scrawled out in lazy – possibly worried – handwriting.

Tears trickled from my eyes, as I remembered all that Simon and I had been through, and all that I felt that I was losing. I was neck deep in a pool of quicksand and I had refused Simon’s hand to pull me out. Every bone in my body ached, with sore tingling sensations, for the chance to hug Simon and apologize.

Uncaring that my day was planned, uncaring that I opened the envelope too early, and most of all uncaring that I was screwing over Jace’s master plan – I called Simon, crying.

He picked up, with the understanding that I had read his note, and promised to come to my room early to pick me up before my dinner date with my parents. My second birthday surprise came early when Simon showed up at my door in dress pants and a graphic t-shirt reading “no photos please” hidden under a suit jacket. He was holding a bouquet of red roses and a box of band-aids.

He grinned at me. “You called me early so I didn’t have time to wrap your present.” He handed me the band-aids. “Here, I thought maybe you’d need some of these.” They had star wars characters on them.

Tears escaped my eyes. I lunged forward to hug Simon, and he responded back quickly with a comforting hug and a caressing touch at the small of my back.

At least now, in Simon’s arms, I felt safe again. After this, I realized I didn’t care anymore what happened the rest of tonight, as long as Simon was with me. I felt giddy as a kid looking into his eyes, as he smiled his dorky smile back at me that I had missed so dearly.

Dumpster Diving, Chapter 22

Dumpster Diving, Chapter Twenty-One: Kissing a Football Player

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.

Dumpster Diving, Chapter 21

Dumpster Diving, Chapter Twenty-One: Guard but Act Unguarded

“So Clary, how did Jace bribe you into going on a date with him?” Alec asked casually on Monday morning, across the lunch table. I was sitting in my new ‘usual’ spot, as everyone had decided that they liked how we were: Alec and Magnus, next to Jace and me, next to Isabelle and Simon, next to Sebastian and Jonathan.

I stared at Alec, uncomprehending his question. “Date? What the hell are you talking about?” I felt unafraid to speak my mind or swear now in front of everyone, because maybe it would scare some sense into them; that I am not to be messed with. Not anymore. Week four, I was a whole new woman compared to my first week at college.

“You know what I’m talking about,” Alec said, between stuffing his mouth full of pizza. Oh the joys of pizza day. “Last Friday, when Jace took you to Taki’s for-”

“Mango smoothies and smoochies!” Isabelle finished for Alec, interrupting. Her voice was shrill and teasing, though I couldn’t decipher if it had any malicious edge or if she was just being herself.

My eyes widened as I realized last Friday – when Jace and I became official – had actually been a date and I had never once thought about it; it had just felt so natural. Though it shouldn’t seem like that big of a deal in the long run, it sort of bothered me that everyone already knew about the date and I hadn’t been the one to tell.

Next to me, Simon’s body stiffened. I hadn’t quite told him yet that Jace and I were officially a couple, and I had spent the weekend trying to decide how to tell him. I blushed and looked down at my food, refusing to look at Simon or Jace, who was undoubtedly smirking if I were to guess.

I peeked up with my hair as a cover and Jace was staring at me silently, studying me, the perplexed expression on his face alarming. Was he worried I was embarrassed? I wasn’t; I just didn’t know how I’d tell something like this to Simon, and Jace had gone and told his siblings without warning me about it.

Jace said nothing as he pulled out his phone and began texting someone. I wanted to smack him across the table for ignoring me like this. How did he think I felt about everyone knowing? Clearly he didn’t care all that much.

“Please almighty God tell me that Isabelle and Alec somehow both heard the story wrong,” Simon pleaded, his eyes never making contact with me. He was glaring at Jace, who refused to make eye contact with anyone besides his phone.

My phone buzzed in my pocket and I connected the dots. Discreetly avoiding Simon’s suspicions, I checked my phone, a text from Jace sitting in my inbox: I told Isabelle and Alec in confidence. I was trying to jump start the plan.

I glowered at the words Jace had sent me, angry at him because now that I had to walk on eggshells around Simon. I replied hastily: Thanks for the warning. Simon is pissed.

Jace replied quickly, under the table. I watched him curiously. No one seemed to notice, they were all discussing theories about what had happened, due to the quiet tension across the table for Jace and I.

My phone buzzed and a text from Jace read: I didn’t know they would say anything in front of the whole table.

Again, I glared at my phone, wishing I could glare at him. He wouldn’t make eye contact, though. I angrily typed back: Sure, I totally believe you. Your intentions have always been SO pure. I was pretty positive my sarcasm was obvious in the text, though you could never know for sure with just words on a cell phone screen.

Have a little faith¸was all Jace texted in response.

I rolled my eyes, sending the last text I intended to send. Simon was staring at my phone, attempting to read some of the conversation. Might be easier if you ever gave me a reason to have faith in you, I had written.

I pushed my phone in my pocket noticeably so that Jace would know I was done texting about it. He needed to man up a bit if he wanted me to actually digest anything he was saying. Otherwise I would just assume he didn’t mean it.

“Clary, I didn’t actually think that stupid double date would have worked, otherwise I wouldn’t have agreed,” Simon said to me, earning a protesting shriek from Isabelle. “No offense, Izzy.”

Isabelle shrugged. “It’s not all that bad, Simon. You and Jace can learn to get along. For me?” She batted her eyelashes.

Simon looked from Isabelle back to me, unsure. For Clary he said in his expression, and I understood.

I tried to emanate a look of thanks to Simon. He caught the drift and nodded, but I was sure to get hell about this later and I knew that.

Sebastian and Alec were talking over Isabelle and Jace, making up some story about how Jace must have swept me off my feet last night, saying that it would be the only way I’d forgive him after all that time. My cheeks flushed as they created an elaborate, over-the-top story that was far from the truth to explain my change in heart.

Simon seemed red-hot as he listened, stuffing pizza in his face aggressively. I felt sorry now for not telling him before lunch, but I hadn’t expected the events of today’s lunch to go over as they did – especially with Jace pushing my buttons. Boyfriends aren’t supposed to do that. And that was what he was now, wasn’t he?

Maybe I was wrong to believe he could change.

As I held myself too tightly within the grasp of my own thoughts, chatter in the table continued around me as if I didn’t exist anymore.

Simon sat facing Isabelle, his body turned away from myself and Jace. Isabelle played the role of the neutral party, attempting to bring peace to the table by attempting to include everyone in the conversation. Alec rolled his eyes a lot as Magnus tried to make sarcastic jokes in order to ease the tension of the table. Meanwhile, I noticed that Jonathan and Sebastian were both smirking as if they had been the ones to plant the seed. But unfortunately, I couldn’t even let me anger settle on them because they weren’t the ones that planted the seed – it was Jace.

Jace told Alec and Isabelle about our date, and they spilled the news to the rest of the table, which means that now everyone knows we’re an item. Well, we wouldn’t be for long at this rate if that was how Jace wanted to treat things. Here I had thought that maybe for a second this was something personal that we could keep to ourselves.

Right, but I forgot that this was all a stupid plan, something that was meant to trick everyone else into believing that nothing was out of the ordinary. Jace was supposed to convince his friends that he was still himself, but also that they should like me. Meanwhile, Simon was hung out to dry, completely out of the plan; Simon could only watch in confusion as the events moved forward. I wished I could tell him.

I felt a little conflicted, knowing that on one hand I had actually been excited this whole weekend to be titled Jace’s girlfriend, yet in the same respect it was all a show – something to show the outside world. But I didn’t want it to be like that. If Jace and I were going to be anything, I wanted it to be personal.

Suddenly I was self-conscious about being the center of this plan, when it meant that my relationship with Jace – even if it was real – would be on display for everyone to see. Maybe it would work – maybe they would all start to like me – but that still meant that the basis of my relationship with Jace began as something false, and everyone would have seen that.

I decided that maybe now was the time to take Simon seriously. I needed to guard my heart a little, but I couldn’t do completely close it or I’d lose Jace’s cooperation and he would likely turn the plan around, in the end only hurting myself more.

I wouldn’t shut him out but I wouldn’t let him in; that was my new game plan.

I felt little pieces clicking together in my head as if I were putting together a mental puzzle. Had I finally solved the problem? Was it really as easy as to guard but act unguarded?

My phone buzzed in my pocket, bringing myself to reality. It was a phone call from Luke. I excused myself from the lunch table carelessly, grabbing my things and escaping the lunch room.

On the other end of the phone, Luke spoke to me in a caring, sympathetic way he always did. His voice kept my sanity in-tact as I excused myself to walk across campus, tucking myself in a nook to hide from the world.

“So what’s this I hear about a boyfriend?” Luke asked, a little while after our small talk had ended. He was usually more direct about issues, rather saying something along the lines of ‘Jace asked you to be his girlfriend, what’s that about?’

However, this was uncharted territory for the both of us – I had never had a boyfriend before, and Luke didn’t know how to react to it. It was hard enough explaining it to my mom, when I called her this weekend to break the news. All she could say was ‘and that was the boy that slept in the same house as you? I’m not sure how I feel about this, Clary.’

Because I was unsure how to go about the situation, I shrugged my shoulders. Suddenly, I remembered Luke was on the phone rather than in person. I sighed. “It’s really nothing, Luke. Jocelyn likely overreacted. It’s not like we’re getting married – it’s just dating.”

Luke laughed on the other end of the line, his voice hoarse. He had likely just awoken from rest, as he had been still recovering from his accident, likely sprawled across the couch back at home. I was just glad that he was out of the hospital.

“Don’t always assume that Jocelyn reported the worst,” Luke said, with a slight chuckle. “She was leery at first, but remember – that boy took care of you two girls. For that he seems like a respectable young man.”

I squinted my eyes and looked up into the sky, wondering how it was possible for my mother and Luke to think that Jace was a respectable gentleman of any sort. Was this reality?

“So you didn’t call to lecture me about it?” I questioned, somewhat hesitantly. I half-expected the whole ‘be careful’ speech, as Jocelyn would have given me if she knew how to deal with the boyfriend part of parenting a daughter.

Luke laughed again. “Absolutely not, Clary. You’re in college, and you’re making your own decisions. I would only remind you that you need to go with your gut on things like this. He’s hurt you before, Clary. Be smart and don’t let him do it again.” He laughed. “We all know how much of a sass-back you can be – use it to your advantage in this one.”

I gasped, out of surprise. “Luke!” I shrieked.

He chuckled again. “Take care, Clary. Have a good week of school!” After that we said our goodbyes and hung up the phone. I was glad our relationship was simplistic because that always made the goodbyes easier.

I shook my head, in light of the strange phone call I had gotten from Luke. It wouldn’t be the first strange thing that had happened at college, but I was sure that it definitely would never be the last. There were many strange things to come, and though I was unprepared for them, at least I knew I had the support of Jocelyn and Luke. Now, all I needed was Simon’s support.

After about twenty minutes of complete silence, without my mind so much as flirting with the topic of Jace, I was finally forced to face reality once again. I saw out of the corner of my eye a tall silhouette – perfectly sculpted, golden hair, eyes as radiant as the sun – approaching me with speed.

I frowned in Jace’s direction, not nearly as excited to see him as he was, the smile in his eyes evident. He reached my bench and met my eyes, stopping for one second to just look at me. Then he started walking the other way, leading the way, knowing that I’ll follow. I stood up and trailed without word.

After a while he stopped, and we were in front of the fountain I sometimes came to when I wanted to draw. Jace sat on a bench, patting the spot next to him for me to join him. I sighed.

“What was the point of this relocation?” I asked, irritation spewing out like venom.

Jace retracted as if the venomous words had soaked into his skin and caused him to flinch a little. He hardly flinched any other time, but today seemed slightly different. It was our first day being unveiled as a couple and we were already struggling – I guess it goes to show that fairytale relationships were nothing more than a myth.

“For now, I know sorry is just a word, but for what it’s worth I am very sorry for hurting you today,” Jace said, avoiding my initial question.

I didn’t mind that he got straight to the point; I hated the small talk as much as he did. We both seemed to be very direct people, at least. Though, for argument’s sake it might not have been the best quality for both of us to have – winning a fight would be nearly impossible with him.

“You pushed my buttons earlier. You didn’t even warn me that you told them. That is what we normal people like to call being considerate.” My words, as harsh as brittle bones breaking under the pressure of a thousand pounds, hissed. I hadn’t anticipated that my anger with Jace had been as great as it was – maybe this guarding part of my plan had been too extreme.

Jace narrowed his eyes, clearly taking offense to my severe words. Evidently I had pushed his button as well, when I questioned Jace’s respectability. “You think I’ve not been considerate? I waited a whole week without response to hear how you felt about me, and I did everything I could to woo you.”

I rolled my eyes. “None of that matters if you can’t fulfill a simple boyfriend duty a mere three days after we’ve became official.”

Jace shook his head, aggravation leaking into his usually perfectly-composed expression. I understood now that his pet peeve must have been anyone questioning his abilities; he was too cocky to let anyone say anything to this extent.

“Oh I’m sorry I wasn’t completing every wish you had in the exact manner that you would like me to. I’m only human, Clary.” He attempted to maintain his composure by pulling himself up straight, pushing his shoulders back in a position of power. “I’m sorry you find it so wrong that I told my family we were dating. Can’t a man get excited to unveil his new girlfriend to the people who mean the most to him?” He whipped his head around, unable to look at me as if I repulsed him.

His words had caught me off guard, surprisingly me with the intensity from the way he spoke. However, I wasn’t going to let him gain any ground in this argument, knowing that he was the type of person who I had to work hard to win against. “Maybe not, Jace! Now when they think this is all some sort of ruse!” My voice had risen about five times in volume, and passersby just stared in disbelief as they passed the fountain. I didn’t care. “Of course they already knew that we were getting together, because it was the stupid plan that Isabelle created!”

“By the Angel, Clary!” Jace swung back around to look at me, his hands clasping hold of mine, squeezing tight. “This is real,” he said with emphasis, as he clutched my hands in his. “They’re not stupid, they know that there’s no way I could be acting about this-”

I cut him off with frustration. “How do you even know that? How can you tell for sure? Suddenly you can read Isabelle’s mind and you know with one hundred percent certainty that she sees this is real?” I tugged on my hands, releasing them from his grip.

He just stared at me, his hands remaining outstretched to me. His body was still turned toward me on the bench, showing no signs of backing down. “Clary, I would have been way more aggressive about this if I really wasn’t in this with you. I wouldn’t have tried to be romantic as I asked you to be my girlfriend. I wouldn’t have spent so much time courting you. I wouldn’t have protected you from them, when Isabelle wanted to jump start the plan, but I asked her to let me handle this.”

I looked at him strangely. “What do you mean she wanted to jump start the plan?” My voice had suddenly lost the animosity within it, and now all I was left with was the pain.

Jace sighed, realizing he had gotten through to me. He finally spoke with more gentleness in his voice. “Isabelle spent the last week begging me to work my magic already, but I waited because you asked me to.”

I pursed my lips, unable to form coherent thoughts. “Thanks.”

“Clary,” Jace breathed. He gripped my hands again, and I let him. “If I wasn’t in this with you, I would have already seduced and screwed you a week ago and have called it a day, since that was all that the plan entitled – that I get you to sleep with me and fall for me and then we’d break your heart on Halloween. But have you heard me ask once for sex?”

I shook my head. Now, I couldn’t form words at all.

“Exactly, Clary. I’m not going to. That’s the biggest part of Isabelle’s plan – for me to sleep with you, to get you vulnerable to me, so that they could finish the job later. But Clary, I’m not going to. I care about you, more than I care about anything else.”

“You’re a guy,” I mumbled. “Isn’t sex all that ever crosses your mind?”

He shook his head. I realized we were nearing the end of the argument. “No, Clary. I don’t need sex when I feel this way about you. All I need is you and I’m happy.”

I nodded my head, finally giving in to Jace, forgiving him for everything. His words had been so sincere that I found it nearly impossible to not forgive him.

I leaned inward to hug him, but stopped short when the loud vibration of my phone in my pocket caused me to jump up, bumping my forehead into Jace’s on accident. He pulled away rubbing his forehead and I screeched.

“You okay?” he asked, still rubbing his forehead.

“Yeah, sorry. No one really calls me to just talk, so it must be urgent.” I opened the phone, as Jace signaled that he would wait patiently to continue our conversation. He sat quietly, rubbing his palm on his forehead.

“Clary?” Simon’s voice boomed through the phone.

“Simon, what’s wrong?” I asked, confused why he was the one calling – he didn’t look like he wanted much to do with me earlier when he found out about Jace and I. This whole week, Simon had been distant, almost as if he suspected this would be the case – that I would finally give in to Jace.

“What?” Simon asked on the other line, his voice mock-hurt. “I can’t call my best friend unless I have something important to say to her?”

I looked a Jace, eyeing him, wondering if having a phone conversation with Simon while we were trying to figure out our complex relationship was a good idea. I sighed. “Simon, it’s just that I’m with Jace right now and-”

He cut me off. “Seriously Clary? I know I said I can’t control what you do – and if it makes a hypocrite for saying this then oh well… Jace is just bad news, Clary.”

I rolled my eyes. I didn’t have time for this. “Let’s not have this conversation right now-” Once again he cut me off.

“Clary, just listen to me. Just listen,” Simon said, before pausing. I watched Jace, who must have heard some of what Simon was saying, mumbling “just listen” in that high pitched nagging voice you give people when you don’t like them.

I groaned. “Okay, Simon. I’m all ears.”

If I could see Simon now, I would guess he was doing some sort of victory dance, since I hardly ever agreed to just settle as quickly as I did just now. “You used to take each day as it came,” Simon said. “And you always looked both ways before crossing the road. Then Jace did some male-version of a siren seduction song, and now you’re planning dates and jumping headfirst into flaming pits of knives surrounded by lava!” By the end of Simon’s speech, his voice had risen so high that I was almost positive that Jace had heard every word Simon said.

“It’s not what you think-” I tried to say, but seemed unable to get any words out without interruption.

“I get it, Clary. He’s the reason you live. His love lifts you high into the sky, into cloud nine. I get it.” He sounded hurt on the other line of the phone, as if this was some sort of goodbye that he was saying to me, and he was ever-so regretfully.

“It’s not like I’m marrying the guy,” I said to Simon, as I stared straight into Jace’s golden eyes. The distraction they gave me from the explanation I needed to give Simon was almost too much for me to focus. “I’m just experimenting, okay? I know what I’m doing.”

Simon hadn’t cut me off that time, but I could tell with the hurried way that he spoke that he would have if he knew I was going to say what I did. “No, you know what you’re doing? You’re getting yourself into trouble and you damn well know that you are!” Simon huffed.

I guffawed. “He’s been nothing but good to you lately, and you’ve seen how he’s treated me. Maybe he can change, Simon. I’m not just going to pre-emptively break up with him because you think he’s bad news.” I watched as my words seemed to treat Jace like a king. He tilted his head back and smirked at me, a move that made me melt on the inside.

“I’m sure he loves the inflation of his ego right now,” Simon said sarcastically, in response. “It’s got to be filling up the planet Earth though, so you might want to be careful and budget your oxygen intake.” After a second of silence after Simon’s last words, I heard a click.

I pulled the phone away from my face, staring blankly at the screen without taking a word of it in. The events of today had my head spinning, going by in a blur. I could try to sort everything out, but I would likely fail every time.

Jace sat on the other end of the bench, staring at me, patiently waiting as I realized he had been for a while. I tried to smile at him, but for some reason the edges of my lips wouldn’t readily turn up.

He just nodded at me, before pulling my body into a soft embrace, his lips close to my ear. He kissed my ear, a weird sort of affectionate kiss, like when dads kiss their daughters on the nose, and for some reason I felt at peace in his arms.

Despite Simon’s warnings and the up-and-down way I felt about Jace today, I still ended up in his arms. I remembered back to Luke’s words earlier, when he told me to go with my gut. I ended up in Jace’s arms at the end of the day, so I figured that was clue enough that this was meant to be something.

Dumpster Diving, Chapter 20

Dumpster Diving, Chapter Twenty: Ball and Chain

Friday evening, everything had quieted down and I was starting to get a better grip on the situation that had formed in the past three weeks. I determined that I wasn’t going to let things I couldn’t control take over every aspect of my life, like school.

I had started to fall behind in homework as my social standing began to rocket throughout the week. People I had never met before were starting to talk to me on campus, though some were – as usual – rude. Those people included Aline Penhallow or any other ex of Jace’s. The list was apparently longer than I knew of, because an angry ex came up to me more than once to warn me that Jace was theirs for the taking. I had to hold back from rolling my eyes every time.

Aside from being scolded by any of Jace’s exes, I was beginning to feel more comfortable in my skin I decided. Tonight was the first time I’d been alone in a while to really let everything sink in – every other day this week being full of drama-infested lunches with the table of hell, Simon’s avoidances of my company and Jace sticking to me like glue. Since everything had gotten so busy, I still hadn’t had much time to debate about how I wanted to treat the Jace thing, as it had been about a week since he and I first kissed.

I knew he wanted some sort of answer soon, but I hadn’t felt at liberty to discuss any of it yet, mostly because I’d been avoiding discussing it with myself in the safety of my own thoughts. At least now I was able to do just that, now that I was finally alone – for the first time in the three weeks of college.

My phone began to buzz, as the peace and quiet of my Friday night instantly faded. It seemed like I couldn’t get any space around here – people were constantly in my business. Isabelle was back to her annoying friendly ways and she would bother me while I was in my room; maybe it wouldn’t bother me so much if I knew whether or not she was faking the friendship again. Though, I was almost 100% sure that she was being fake again.

I flipped my phone open, assuming it was a text. I was wrong when I heard Jace’s voice through the speaker in my phone.


I put the phone to my face. As aggravated as I was that I hadn’t gained peace for the night, I didn’t mind a phone call every once and a while.

“What is it?” I asked into the phone, hastily pushing my procrastinated school work aside on my desk. I placed my elbows on the desk, resting my head in my hands, in a sense relieved that I could avoid my homework a while longer. It was English, and I wasn’t even ready to think about what my English homework entailed. I got an eerie feeling every time I so much as thought about Morgenstern and whatever reason he had for somehow stealing my father’s ring when I hadn’t noticed. I decided not to linger long on the topic.

“Would you like to go for a walk with me?” Jace asked. His voice on the phone sounded slightly different – maybe more gentle or serene than it usually was, lacking that usual spark of his sarcastic tongue.

I thought about his question, but decided I really did need to do my homework. I had been putting it off for the past week, busying myself with the tedious task of fitting into Jace’s crowd and attempting to beg Simon to be okay with my relationship with Jace. Though Simon had decided he couldn’t control my decision to be with one of the populars – especially since he was with Isabelle who was from the same walk of life – he still didn’t like that I was “blindly falling into the arms of a demon”, as he liked to put it. It was clear he still had hard feelings, but it was hard for me to understand how he couldn’t even try to be happy for me.

“I don’t know, Jace-” I tried to object.

“We could get smoothies to go at Taki’s,” he suggested, hope filling his voice.

I groaned, deciding he deserved my cooperation. After all, he had been so dutiful about following my directions in keeping his heart open to me this week. It was the least I could have done, especially after he went to see Luke with me last weekend. In a way, I sort of owed him; I wanted to cower at the thought.

“Sure, just let me get dressed.” I sighed, looking down at my superman pajamas and tank top. Simon got them for me for Christmas last year and insisted the superman symbol stood for superwoman when I donned it.

“I’m in my pajamas, don’t feel pressured to put jeans on,” he said suddenly.

I stared at my phone. Jace was in his pajamas? On campus? It seemed weird, but freeing at the same time. “Okay, pajamas it is,” I agreed, too quickly.

“I hope your pajamas are more than just undergarments, because that’d be slightly inappropriate on campus. Not that I don’t want to see you in them, it’s just-” He was rambling.

“I get it,” I assured him. “Meet you at the Raziel / Azazel crosswalk in a few?”

He agreed. “See you soon.”

I hung up the phone and stood to look in the mirror. For a moment I contemplated putting on a more attractive set of pajamas, but decided it was unlike me to dress up for anything, even if I was just putting on classier pajamas; Superwoman would have to do.

I quickly ran a brush through my hair and snatched my room key, sneaking into the main room quietly to not wake Isabelle. It was late at night.

Usually I expected the worst possible situation: like Jace showing up whenever I never wanted him to or Simon seeing through what I didn’t want him to see. Thankfully for once Isabelle didn’t seem to have heard me leaving, even as the outside door clicked close a little too loud.

I sighed relief as I walked down the hallway, down the many flights of stairs. A distance away I could see Jace standing in the crosswalk, his arms crossed over his chest as he waited; he was wearing Superman pajama pants and a white t-shirt. I blushed when I realized we were both wearing the same type of pajama pants.

He saw me coming and burst out laughing, his smile stretching further than I had ever seen it. “Oh god, don’t tell me you’re Superman too, because I was pretty sure that I was!” he said, through his laughter.

I rolled my eyes. “Of course you would assume you are the true Superman. But while you are off being conceited and snarky all the time, I am the Superwoman who saves the world.” I smiled proudly.

He nodded his head in approval. “Ready?” He offered his arm. I finally got close enough to wrap my arm around his arm, the way people did to escort their date at formal events. It felt comfortable though.

We started walking, in the direction of Taki’s to get smoothies. Hardly anyone was out on campus on Friday night, except for us, which gave us plenty of alone time. I wondered if that was his plan all along, to drag me out late at night when everyone was either partying somewhere or sleeping.

The crisp, cool breeze of an autumn night washed over me, cleansing the air around us as Jace and I walked. It was relaxing and perfect. He had most definitely planned it to be like this.

“I feel dumb wearing pajamas,” I said to Jace, as I eyed someone walking by in the direction of the dorms, clearly staring at us as if we were crazy.

Jace just shrugged, nonchalant. “You look fine. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t pay much attention to what you wear. Just how it looks on you.”

I looked at him, maintaining a calm expression but melting inside. That line might have been the only one that had ever gotten through to me.

Jace must have noticed my blushing, despite my efforts to hide it. “I can tell I’m making you uncomfortable,” he noted thoughtfully.

I sighed. “This is all still weird for me.”

“I’m not moving all that fast,” he admitted.

“I wasn’t aware we were moving at all,” I remarked thoughtfully. Had he thought we were?

He stopped in his tracks, turning to look at me. I stopped too, staring up into his eyes, my green ones connecting with his golden ones. “Clary, if you’re going to be stubborn, then I’m going to be stubborn too. You set rules for me last weekend, and I would like to set some for you.”

I crossed my arms over my chest, defensively. “The only rules I set were no kissing until I could decide what to do and then I asked if you would open your heart.”

He tilted his head downward to look at me better. “And then you said you would open yours if I opened mine, and you haven’t done nearly enough to prove that to me this week.”

I stared at him in a sort of shock. I had thought I was being plenty open with him – I had already shown him around my room, he had been around my family during an emergency, and now I was sitting with him at lunch every day. What more did he want? This was already too fast a pace for me to handle. He had to understand that I was trying to forget years of torture and you don’t just forget all of that in a moment’s notice.

“I have opened up,” I determined. “It’s just a lot harder for me based on what you’ve done to me over the years. Dead rats in my locker, ‘kick me’ signs on my back, and then throwing my ring in the dumpster. It kind of adds up to be a lot.”

His expression darkened and his jaw dropped ever so slightly. To him, it wasn’t showing much, but it was enough for me to understand he was stunned. “What ring?”

“When you made me get in the dumpster for my things? I would have left them all in there if it wasn’t for my father’s ring.” I wasn’t wearing it now because ever since Jace had found it in Morgenstern’s office drawer, I was uncomfortable with the idea of wearing something he touched. Just the creepy idea that Morgenstern stole that from me, after admitting he knew my father, had my mind reeling. But I didn’t want to think about that.

He frowned. “I threw away your father’s ring? As in your father that left you?”

I nodded my head. “Yes.”

“I apologize, Clary,” he said, pulling me into a hug. Any other time I would have swatted him away, but I realized he didn’t say he was sorry very much. Whenever I said sorry, he reminded me it was just a word; so I had a feeling he didn’t take apologizing lightly. I accepted the hug.

After a moment of his embrace, I pulled back first. “Jace I get that you’re a different person now than before, but do you understand why I have to be realistic here? Chances aren’t in my favor – for all I know tomorrow you could be the same jerk I hated back in high school.”

He nodded, understanding. “It’s nice to dream, though.”

“It is. But I have to be realistic, too. You’ve been nothing but nice and sweet lately, and that’s great. But…” I trailed off, unsure if I wanted to continue.

He touched my hand, urging me to go on. “Clary, open up…” he whispered.

I exhaled. “I don’t want to be let down. The feelings I have for you, I just crush them. On purpose. I’m scared.” I hadn’t meant to tell him straight out that I was afraid, but it had slipped.

“I don’t want you to be scared,” he said, looking down. His eyes stayed down, unable to meet mine. I frowned when I realized I had hurt his feelings a little when I admitted I was afraid of him.

I knew I would kick myself for it later, but I couldn’t help myself. I touched his face, cupping his cheek with my hand. His eyes finally flickered up, the gold dancing, anticipating my next moves.

I wasn’t sure what had caused me to do it, but I kissed him.

I kissed him hard, longingly on the lips, feeling the tension in his body relax at the impact. His arms wrapped around me, tugging me in toward his body, the touch gentle but his hands desperate to hold me closer. I felt him relaxing into me, as if we became one entity, the kiss tender and soft.

He pulled back to look at me after a moment, his eyes twinkling again the way I liked it. The way they sparkled in the dead of the night with their golden aura made my knees shake.

“You caught me off guard,” he whispered into my hair, as I rested my head on his shoulder, burying my face in another hug. “Not many people can do that.”

“I think I caught myself off guard too,” I mumbled into his chest. It rose and fell with slight laughter.

After that, the walk to Taki’s was open and comfortable, as if the kiss had exposed a part of me I hadn’t realized existed. I saw lightness in Jace’s eyes, an excitement and happiness for the night and its presents. It felt genuine, the way we soaked in each other’s company and enjoyed it. I found myself laughing, smiling a lot more than I had in a while.

We reached Taki’s and ordered our mango smoothies, a favorite we both shared. At this point it was small talk, though I didn’t mind it. The pressure of other issues seemed to fade away.

“Want to sit for a while?” Jace asked. I nodded and he chose a booth tucked in the corner.

It was so late that hardly anyone else was out, but Taki’s was always open. It felt like the room was intimately ours. I tried to remind myself there were bartenders and workers here, so it wasn’t like I could throw myself across the table and kiss Jace again like I had on our walk. I kind of wanted to, though.

“So what are you doing for Halloween next month besides the big party?” Jace asked out of nowhere.

I shrugged. “I’m not sure. I usually don’t go out. Simon and I rent scary movies and watch them, which results in a lot of terrified screaming on my part.” I laughed.

Jace rolled his eyes at Simon’s name. “Maybe you and I could do that sometime. I think scary movie marathons might fall under the boyfriend category.”

“Is that what you are?” I asked, nearly frightened by his use of the word. A label?

“Is that what you want me to be?” he asked in response to my question. It seemed hardly fair to answer a question with a question, but that was just his way with words I supposed.

“I don’t know, doesn’t boyfriend someday translate into husband? I can’t picture you aging, I think I need a husband who ages normally.”

I was trying to joke to avoid the subject, since I didn’t quite know if I did want the labels. In a way, I sort of did want the label, but it wasn’t as if I wanted to admit that to him. I finally understood why he used such a roundabout way of talking with sarcastic comments all the time – it provided a way to avoid answering things directly.

He grinned. “Of course I’d age normally. I’d just rather die young for fear that aging would affect my dashing good looks.” He sounded serious, but I knew he wasn’t. Or hoped he wasn’t. For all I knew, he was the kind of guy who was a thrill-seeker, jumping off cliffs and throwing himself into dangerous situations without imagining its consequences. It reminded me of the way he was so carefree the other day when we were snooping in Morgenstern’s office, as if he wasn’t afraid of being caught. He must be an adrenaline junkie, I decided.

I laughed. “You can’t be serious.”

“Oh I’m not serious. Your attempt at avoiding my question merely sparked an opportunity I couldn’t resist. My looks are dashing, are they not?” Jace wiggled his eyebrows suggestively, earning a roll of the eyes from me.

“Like an angel,” I said sarcastically, rolling my eyes. He grinned.

“You know, labels aren’t that bad,” he said thoughtfully.

His eyes burned into my soul like wildfire. I could feel my insides heating to dangerous temperatures. I couldn’t avoid it now; he already knew I was trying to avoid all of this.

“You strike me as someone who doesn’t like to be tied down,” I said, still searching for better ways to avoid the topic. I came up short.

“If you’re asking if I would be one of those guys that calls you the old ball and chain in old age, I promise to never think of you like that.” He smirked.

His way with words was too good, I decided. I would never win this battle; I would have to give in; I had no choice in the matter. “You sure know how to wait for the perfect moment to spring these things on me,” I said.

He smirked, in slight amusement. “I like to take a moment and make it perfect. I get too impatient to wait for the perfect timing.”

I rolled my eyes, imagining him practicing all these lines in the mirror before he called me tonight. It seemed like something he would have done. How else could he come off so cool and collected all the time? It shouldn’t have been humanely possible.

“So in all seriousness – will you, Clary Fray, do me the honor of being my girlfriend?” His voice was soft and gentle as he asked, his expression tamed but excited and yet nervous at the same time. Everything about the way he had asked – his hair falling into his eyes, his smirk tugging at his lips, the vulnerable twinkle in his golden eyes that I found myself melting in – was genuine.

There was no way I could say no to him at this point. Everything about the situation seemed perfectly planned and in that respect I would be a jerk for rejecting him. As wrong as the idea of being Jace’s girlfriend was, it was so right. From here on, things could only change for the positive, right? I hoped so.

I looked into his gorgeous golden eyes, the ones that could ask me to do something and I would gladly obey in a trance. He smiled crookedly, his smirk tugging at his lips, teasing me. I smiled and nodded, saying “Yes.”

Across the table, Jace smiled. He had gone out of his way to ask this, and he had succeeded. He looked as if he felt a major victory and I couldn’t help but giggle at how excited he seemed for my answer to be yes.

Without question, he had surprised me tonight. I decided to surprise him back.

Standing up, I marched myself over to Jace’s side of the booth, plopping down and throwing my arms around him. He wrapped his arms around my body again, as they were earlier when we kissed under the moonlight.

I admitted defeat, initiating a kiss that Jace happily agreed to. His lips met mine in the middle of our embrace, everything about the kiss perfect and tender.

The rest of the night after that, I didn’t remember much about. I was too focused on the happy way that I was feeling – the relaxation of all my muscles in my body and the calming sensation of the air surrounding us.

Jace and I walked slowly through campus, talking and laughing all night, holding hands again as we had before, but this time as a couple. He dropped me off at my room, hovering at the doorway, looking at me through love-struck eyes – or what I imagined love-struck eyes would look like.

He tucked a strand of hair behind my ear and leaned in to kiss me in the hallway. This time excited to feel his lips again, I stood on my toes and kissed him back, with a short, tender kiss, our arms wrapped around each other in a newly-comfortable embrace.

He smiled brightly at me, as he held me in a hug, just outside my doorway. “I find it funny that life is perfectly survivable until you find yourself holding someone you love. Now it seems hard to imagine a life with you, Clary.”

His words rang in my ears, reminding me of the memory I had of Jace back when we slept in the same bed. I could have sworn he had said the same thing then. Now, those words couldn’t have felt more perfect.

“Here’s to being the old ball and chain,” I said, giggling.

“If beauty were time, you’d be eternity,” he said.

I blushed, though aware it was a standard pick up line. Just the way he spoke made his words believable.

Feeling cheeky, I decided to implement a line of my own. Gathering all the confidence I could within myself, I sucked in a deep breath, preparing myself.

Open up. He wants you to open up.

“I was wondering if you had an extra heart,” I said, pausing. He was unaware of the line I was about to pull on him.

“An extra heart?” he repeated, curiosity settling in his expression.

“Yes… mine seems to have been stolen,” I said, blushing as I did. I never used pickup lines, but I had heard this one somewhere.

The grin on his face when I finished my line couldn’t have been outshined by anything. Not a star, or the moon or the Milky Way galaxy. His bright smile didn’t fade as he touched my cheek, caressing. “You’re more than I can handle, you know?”

I nodded my head, touching his hand at my face. “Just be prepared, Jace Wayland. You’ve met your match – now you’ll constantly be competing for the title of prettiest in this relationship.” I winked at him, feeling confidence building in myself as he stared with desire into my eyes. I knew he appreciated the banter, just as I realized that I did.

“Just because you’re my girlfriend, that doesn’t mean I’ll go easy on you,” he chided playfully, poking my nose.

Somewhere in my heart, I was glad that he wouldn’t; I liked a challenge.

Jace Wayland, you really have met your match.

Dumpster Diving, Chapter 19

Dumpster Diving, Chapter Nineteen: Morgenstern’s Ring

“Miss Fray, may I please have a word with you?” Professor Morgenstern’s voice boomed Wednesday morning, over the cluttering noise of chairs pushing back and backpacks zipping. Class had just ended and the entire classroom of students were eager to escape the room, some with lingering stares as they wondered what our English professor wanted to ask me.

My eyes flickered to Jace, who shrugged his shoulders as if he had no idea what his biological father had to say to me.

“Alone, Miss Fray,” the professor added, as he eyed his biological son with a certain level of carefulness. He must have somehow noticed my interactions with Jace, assuming we were dating. So was this going to be one of those awkward talks about dating? I wanted to scream that we weren’t even together!

Jace, Isabelle, Alec, and the ever-intimidating Sebastian filed out of the room slowly, our normal routine of walking together having been interrupted by Professor Morgenstern’s mysterious concerned look.

I walked to the front of the room, clutching my books to my chest, my backpack hanging haphazardly open on my shoulder. Morgenstern nodded his head at me, waiting for all the students to leave the room before he spoke.

“I wanted to speak with you about your recent academic performance,” he said, his eyes darting in my direction to gauge my response.

“I, uh..” I trailed off, unsure of what to say. I thought at college professors didn’t hassle you like in high school – you were just on your own to judge your own learning. Somehow, this seemed abnormal to me that I was being confronted. “Things just got busy,” I mumbled, because it was none of his business.

He nodded, his hands appearing at his chest to straighten his tie. He adjusted his suit and leaned against his desk in the front of the room. “Miss Fray, your potential far exceeds this classroom of students. I worry that my son has had some effect on your learning-”

“It’s not Jace,” I said in a rush, effectively cutting him off. He stared at me with dismay, slightly irritated that I cut him off so disrespectfully.

Morgenstern made a noise, resembling a “hmmm”, though from him it was more throaty, and slightly more intimidating. Was it like a requirement for professors to be so unapproachable?

“Your last essay was turned in a day late, and its quality was unlike your other pieces,” he said, after a moment of silent thought, the direction of the conversation turning sour.

I shrugged, picking through my mind for the words so that my actual stressors didn’t sound like an excuse to a professor. “It’s been sort of stressful back at home, my stepdad was in an accident last week and his recovery has been difficult for my mom. And, well…for me, too.”

He nodded in response, his thoughtful eyes searching my face for fallacies. He realized I wasn’t making up some excuse like a lot of college students did when their work was subpar. “Yes, well family emergencies are understandable.”

“Thank you,” was all I could think of saying in response.

“Our next essay is a narrative piece. Why don’t you consider writing about your family dynamics or dysfunction?” Morgenstern suggested.

I stared at him strangely, unsure of why he was picking my topic for me. “There’s not much dysfunction,” I corrected him.

“You said you had a stepdad, Miss Fray. Perhaps you have been curious about your biological father?” he questioned, his tone strangely over-caring.

“I’m not like Jace,” I said quickly, heat rising in my cheeks. “I don’t want to know about him if he left me.” I felt guilty for sort of lying to a professor’s face, but he really had no business questioning me about my personal life. If that was all he wanted to talk about, I didn’t want to talk.

“Ah, but I see you wearing that ring around your necklace every day,” Morgenstern said, as he pointedly stared at the long chain with my biological father’s ring strung around my neck.

I grasped the ring in my hand, slipping my finger in and out of the ring out of habit, a sense of comfort arising from the motion. Granted, I never knew my biological father – and sometimes I never wanted to know him – but his ring remained around my neck, reminding me that in his place I had Luke. I wasn’t ever sure if I wore the ring because I wanted to know him.

As Morgenstern stood silently watching me, I traced the tiny imprint of a star on the ring. “How did you know it was my father’s ring?” I asked, avoiding why the ring had importance. I was more curious why Morgenstern was getting so nosey.

He sighed, long and deep. “I knew your father, Clarissa.”

My jaw popped open slightly, the words Morgenstern spoke having a shocking effect on my body, every nerve firing off and every muscle tightening in response.

“Well did he tell you who?” Jace asked, his eyebrows furrowing across his forehead, an undeniable look of confusion as to how his biological father could have known my biological father. This was far beyond my comprehension for the day – I wasn’t ready to admit to myself that Jace and I may have connections potentially dating back to before we were born. I shuddered at the thought.

Looking at Jace, I saw in his expression the same thoughts and feelings that I was experiencing. He was as dumbstruck as I was. “He said he was sworn to secrecy,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I mean who tells someone that they know their father, but, oh! Can’t tell you!” I guffawed. “He must have been lying.”

Jace shrugged, looking around the hallway. “I don’t know Clary, Valentine doesn’t just go around saying things he doesn’t mean.”

Jace’s sure response that his father wasn’t lying earned a long sigh on my part. I felt frustrated, unable to do anything about it, but somehow desperately wanting to know. “So what do I do? Ask Jocelyn and Luke? Because that sure won’t bring up bad memories,” I said sarcastically, spitting the words out.

“I guess we’ll need to do some digging,” Jace suggested. “Valentine won’t tell me outright, but maybe if I can snoop around his place just off campus – look at old pictures and stuff – maybe I’ll find information on someone who has your last name.”

I sighed again, harder. “The only problem is that I have my mom’s last name, not my dad’s. I don’t even know his last name. She never told me.” I shook my head. “I never needed to know, either. Luke was there, and that was all that mattered.”

Something glinted in Jace’s eyes, a curiosity I recognized in myself sometimes. He had searched high and low for Morgenstern himself, always wondering what it would be like to have his biological father in his life. He might have understood why I would want to know mine, despite the fact that I refused to acknowledge how I wanted to know. He somehow saw through me.

“Clary, you might not care about your biological father as much as I did when I was searching for Morgenstern, but I will help you find this out. It will help bring closure.” Jace took my hand in his, as he glanced around to make sure no one was watching. “And maybe this will be enough to show you that I’ve been true to my word all week. I hope this earns an answer soon enough?”

With hesitance, I stared into Jace’s eyes, falling into the depths of a green ocean of color. I nodded. “Maybe.”

Thursday morning, I sighed as I kicked a rock on the sidewalk. I had escaped my room just barely before the barrage of people came to walk as a group to class. Today, the walk to class seemed longer, maybe knowing that Morgenstern was waiting across campus with a snide look on his face and a mysterious secret tucked into his cuffed sleeves.

A part of me regretted my walk alone, despite the peace and serenity it had given me for the first time in a while. There was a nagging sensation that told me that I wanted to see Jace and his perfect smile. This part of me set confusion in my brows, because as it was I had been confused about what he was to me, yet at the same time he had been nothing but kind to me lately.

In secrecy, as I slowed my steps, I realized I was also sort of scared to meet eyes with Jace. This small inkling of doubt inside of me hinted that maybe I wasn’t ready to talk to Jace this morning, in case he had a sudden change in heart – maybe reverting back to his jerk-self or suddenly deciding he just wanted to be friends. I shook my head, wishing away the thought as soon as it had crossed my mine. Somehow, the thought of being just friends with Jace didn’t sound nearly as frightening as being his girlfriend sounded.

Was teen love supposed to be this complicated? I wondered. As I sighed, I passed a large group of students I recognized. Tipping my chin to the ground was the only thing I could think of that might prevent their attention from landing on me. None of them so much as looked. Maybe, college was finally becoming realistic.

But then how come everything with Jace was just so unrealistic and strange? Teenage love was never supposed to be complicated, was it? And if it was, wasn’t the point of it to just have fun? It wasn’t like I was about to get into a committed relationship with Jace that would last forever – as it was I could hardly stand the guy sometimes.

It was just too bad that I couldn’t turn my heart off. That would make everything much easier, I decided.

As I approached Morgenstern’s classroom early, I had to muster a lot of confidence before I even considered turning the doorknob. Reaching for the handle, I felt my heart begin to beat much faster.

“Clary?” a familiar voice from behind echoed, my hand jerking away from the door at the sound. I spun around to see none other than Jace Wayland, the bane of my morning. I’d say existence, but I wasn’t sure if he was even so much as that anymore.

“Oh, Jace,” I breathed. “Hi.” An awkward silence rested upon our shoulders. I sized Jace up, noticing he was wearing a sweatshirt that said “Institute Football” across the front. I realized I had never really seen Jace in anything but a nice shirt.

“What are you doing here so early?” he asked me, eyeing the door. “I thought I told you that I’d take care of it?”

I shrugged. “Impatience, maybe?” I had no real answer, so this one would have to suffice.

“I am somehow not surprised.” He laughed slightly. “Come on, you’re here early, you might  as well join me for an office snoop.” Jace began to walk down the hall, past the lecture classroom toward his father’s office. I followed behind him slowly, almost unwillingly, until we reached the office.

“Empty,” I breathed. “Why am I not surprised with your Jace Wayland luck that it’s empty?”

He laughed, turning his body to look at me for a moment, before shaking his head and grabbing the doorknob. “It’s the charm. Irresistible, albeit very useful.”

Jace slipped into the office, which was also surprisingly – or unsurprisingly, remembering Jace’s luck – unlocked. I slipped in behind him and watched as Jace ruffled through some of the files on the desk. In the corner, I noted Morgenstern’s briefcase. “Jace,” I whispered, eyeing the briefcase harder. “He’s probably here, we’re going to get caught.”

He stopped what he was doing to look up at me. “If you’re going to be so afraid to snoop, then why don’t you just leave?” he suggested.

I shook my head. “I’m not afraid, just realistic.”

He rolled his eyes. “Right, my mistake.” With another almost inaudible laugh, Jace began to look again. This time I helped, scanning my eyes over pages, lifting folders, opening drawers.

“What were we looking for again?” I asked. My eyes landed on a falcon feather neatly tucked into his office supply drawer. “All I’m finding is weird things like a falcon feather, swatches of silk, and an old chalice. Either this guy is a creepy collector, or there’s something really strange going on.”

Jace shrugged. “I’ve never gone through his things before. He always expected me to have a sort of blind trust in him, but for some reason I always had. Maybe it was my intense want to find him, or maybe the memories I created in my head to accompany his image that kept me quiet. I just never thought to ask him any questions.” He looked at me solemnly, though his composure stood tall and straight. “I’m fairly positive that he’s hiding something – from one of us at least.”

Though he sounded strong, I could hear in his voice a slight sense of hesitation. His tone betrayed how uneasy he felt, going through his father’s things. Instantly, I felt guilty for dragging Jace into my mess.

Then, I sensed danger, as if I knew someone was coming. Tiny sounds of footsteps echoed outside the room, and I realized the danger was real. What would it look like if Morgenstern caught us snooping in his office? What would that mean for Jace?

I panicked. “Jace!” I tugged at his shoulder. “We need to get out of here!”

Jace tilted his head, waiting – listening, and his eyes widened when he confirmed my suspicions. We needed to escape. “Come on,” he whispered, leading the way out, ducking into the next office over, dragging me behind him. He shut the office next to Morgenstern’s, as we peaked out the tiny office window just in time to catch sight of a black suit disappearing into the office next to us – Morgenstern’s office.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

Jace looked at me, his eyebrows knitting into a look of concern. “Clary, I found something in his drawer.”

I looked at him curiously, my eyes landing on an object in his hands. My eyes almost couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Instinctively, I reached toward my neck, trying to feel for the ring I wore every day on my necklace. It was gone.

Jace was holding it – because he had taken it from Morgenstern’s office desk.

“All I’m saying is it looks kind of suspicious when you both sneak off separately and we catch you both together, hiding in a corner.” Magnus flippantly shrugged his shoulders as he spoke, a careless whisp of sarcasm evident in his tone, as if he enjoyed using his words to his advantage. It almost reminded me of Jace.

Isabelle’s nose wrinkled, as if completely disgusted by the idea. I wondered if she still held her grudge against me, her public show of disgust surely out of the ordinary – usually she seemed better at hiding it. Unless, I was just making all of this up because I was paranoid and Isabelle was actually just being playful.

“Anything you tell us about your little fling in the corner of the English building is TMI for me,” Isabelle said, giggling. She stuck her tongue out.

“Mature,” Simon said, unmoved by the group’s jokes. “All of you, real mature. They weren’t doing anything, Clary isn’t like that.”

I stared at Simon, unsure what his motivation behind his comments were. Was he trying to convince the group or himself? I kept quiet in response.

The group unharmoniously erupted into chatter amongst pairs, but I felt lost within the chatter, my eyes flickering around the lunch room. Once again, the table of doom was dragging me down with it.

My eyes averted from Jace, landing on Simon, curiously staring at him to decipher his actions. He didn’t seem to be holding much of a grudge today, but yet his comment had left me with a sense of doubt.

“Simon,” I said, trying to catch his attention. His eyes flickered toward me and paused, eyeing my expression.

“Yeah, Clary?” he asked. He reached up to touch his hair without much thought, as if it was something he did because he had a nervous energy about him. I hadn’t noticed how much Simon had changed since we came to college – this being one of the things. He usually didn’t have nerves when he looked my way; we were always  those friends that created a sense of comfort for the other.

I frowned. “We hardly hang out anymore. What do you say to a movie night, just the two of us? Tonight?”

Simon frowned in return. “Sorry, Clary. Isabelle and I have movie plans at the theatre. Another time though, okay?”

I nodded my head, a sort of sadness enveloping my mood now. “That’s okay.” I looked away from Simon, toward Jace. “Jace and I will just make plans, then.”

As if I had taken a steak knife and jabbed it into Simon’s arm, he jerked back, frowning – almost pained. “Yeah,” he mumbled. “Another time then.” He looked away. “Have fun tonight.”

Simon and I didn’t meet eyes again after that. I looked toward Jace for guidance, noticing that he was smirking. He must have been excited knowing that we suddenly had plans. I shook my head, signifying to him that I didn’t actually want to see him. He frowned, too.

I felt backed into a corner, the boundaries of my relationships clearly being drawn out in front of me, and I didn’t like it. Simon and I were growing apart, while Jace and I were inevitably growing together. I wasn’t ready for the amount of change that I was experiencing, but it didn’t seem avoidable.

I felt my heart silently cracking, reaching its breaking point. As much as I was conflicted about my growing closeness to Jace, my distance from Simon felt heartbreaking. I wasn’t sure what I would do from this point forward, but I knew that I needed to make a big decision about the direction of my relationships.

If I would ever be ready for this, I didn’t know.

Dumpster Diving, Chapter 18

Dumpster Diving, Chapter Eighteen: Disastrously Beautiful

It was lunch time Monday morning on my third week of school. Today at lunch the group consisted of myself, Jace, Simon, Isabelle, Alec, Magnus, Sebastian and Jonathan. I was apprehensive about many things as the chatter around me rattled on unceremoniously.

The first of my worries was Simon. He looked as uncomfortable as a man visiting a Victoria’s Secret store that feels embarrassed about how the pictures or clothes make him feel. He sat next to me, across from Isabelle, who was visibly flirting with him. I could tell he liked the attention, but he – like me – was apprehensive to believe people could change so quickly. Or at least I hoped that’s why he had such a strange expression on his face.

There was also the matter of Simon’s hatred toward Jace, who sat across from me and next to Isabelle. Jace would sometimes smirk at Simon, setting him off. Under the table I would touch Simon’s knee to cool him off. The idea of Jace and me spending a weekend together had evidently hurt Simon’s feelings; otherwise he might not have bothered with his aggression toward Jace today.

I couldn’t help but think back to when Simon had lied to me about Jace throwing him in a dumpster so that I would feel disgusted and stay away from Jace. However, I had done the exact opposite and told Jace off, later discovering Simon had been the one telling a lie. Since then I have been able to express myself more openly – and I should really thank Simon for that, but under the circumstances it felt wrong to reward Simon for his lie. I still hadn’t told him I knew about it, but I should have.

The next thing clouding my mind was Isabelle. Across the table from Simon, she would send quick, sharp looks in my direction every so often. I wondered what for, until I saw how she was flirting with Simon. Her uneasy glances in my direction – I assumed – were because she was stepping into the territory I had usually claimed. Simon and I were as close as normal married couples were, meanwhile he and Isabelle were like night and day – two completely different people. Isabelle’s leery glances made me wonder if she had actual feelings for Simon and was asking permission. Either that, or she was playing Simon and wanted to judge how it affected me, since I had known about her evil plan. Regardless, something about Isabelle was off and I couldn’t exactly tell what.

Next to Isabelle sat Sebastian, who looked like he felt alienated from the group. He usually sat next to Jace, but today he didn’t because I wanted Magnus to sit beside me, and with Magnus came Alec. The two were like peas in a pod. With Alec taking the space next to Jace, Sebastian was stuck across the end of the table next to Isabelle, who was a talking machine. It seemed impossible for anyone to talk over her, so I understood why Jonathan and Sebastian might have felt alienated. However, the manner in which Sebastian seemed to be handling being cut off from the group was what made me nervous. He seemed to have angry tendencies in the form of sharp glares through darkened eyes, mostly directed at Isabelle, but sometimes directed at Jace. Or even me. I wasn’t sure what I ever did wrong to Sebastian – he mostly was a Jace clone and did everything that Jace did, so maybe he felt left out when he started to realize that Jace and I had something going on. Either that or he was just a hateful person.

Across from Sebastian and next to Simon was Jonathan, a quiet and thoughtful guy with the lightest blonde hair I had ever seen. Something about the air around him seemed off. Whenever I was around him I got shivers that reminded me of a winter breeze, a startling frosty cold in the middle of the summer. I couldn’t quite pin-point where Jonathan’s cold energy came from or why he was so quiet and observing. There was something about him that was wrong. I was determined to figure it out, eventually.

On my other side sat Magnus, cheerful and chatty with Alec and Jace. He was a flamboyant, glitzy person that always seemed to have words to rival Jace’s quips. It amazed me with how much confidence and wisdom he contained. It felt great to be so comfortable of him, however I warned myself to be careful around anyone in this group, for fear that their friendship could be my eventual demise.

Then across from Magnus sat Alec, and boy did he look awkward and uncertain. His mere association with Magnus sometimes seemed to irk him, as if he thought someone was judging him about it. I certainly wasn’t. I felt bad for him, that he felt so uncomfortable in his own skin. He was a generally angry person it seemed, as he was unable to control his emotions or express them correctly.

I knew Alec still sort of hated me, but that was Jace’s doing and I hoped it could be undone. At least with Magnus liking me, I had a chance of Alec actually warming up to me. It still seemed like a long-shot, but I had hopes.

I left Jace for last to ponder, because he was the person I was the least sure about. With Jace, things as natural as conversation were once a big to-do, but since his general change over the weekend, it had become much easier to converse with him as if we did it every day. Most of the time when we talked, it still contained a lot of jokes and teasing but it was much more toned down. At this point, I felt more aware that the jokes were a deflection device Jace enacted to keep himself closed off. I sensed that using his words to his advantage provided him with comfort in himself.

When I had told Jace he needed to stay open, he listened. He only occasionally threw up his wall of defense in the form of self-confident words or conceited actions. I felt a sense of relief when I would see him interacting with people today, because every time he noticed he was putting his wall up again, he lowered it so that I could see.

I would try to send reassuring smiles or gestures to him in response, to let him know that I was seeing the changes. Half the time, I wasn’t sure if he even noticed, since we kept our distance today. I knew it was for my own sake that he kept his distance. I guessed he did notice my reassurance because sometimes I’d catch him smiling at me out of nowhere. It was weird to know that beyond the normal teasing and tormenting, he was absolutely willing to work on himself.

I remembered back when he took me to lunch alone for the first time, before Isabelle caught us napping in bed together and changed. He had told me that day that he thought I was the person who could change him. I hadn’t really realized that I actually had changed him until I saw how toned-down and aware of himself that he was today. He really was telling the truth when he told me he lied in front of Isabelle.

The main concern I had left was that I just wished Jace would man up and call off the plan instead of believing his own plan would fix things. That worried me the most out of everything. The idea that he still kept his plan in action, and whoever was in on it still believe that I was being tricked into a relationship with Jace. But wouldn’t they be able to notice how much he’s changing because of it and realize it wasn’t a show?

That isn’t to say that he wasn’t just a really good actor and I was the one being fooled. I desperately hoped that wasn’t the case.

Every worry I ever had about Jace always seemed to be wiped away clean when he smiled at me, rather than using his infamous evil smirk. He sometimes flashed that too, but only when the mood was playful. It felt like he was really trying to go along with what I asked of him, in order to prove it to not only himself but to me. I believed it.

The problem was if I was right to believe him or not. Both Luke and Simon had warned me in the past that Jace was bad news. I thought back to the way that Luke put aside all his anger to thank Jace for taking care of me – Luke must have seen some good in him, otherwise he would have chewed him out for it. I knew that he would have, even in a hospital bed.

But Jace had done nearly nothing wrong over the weekend except be there for me, and for that I had to be grateful. It was almost like I owed him now and that was why I felt obligated to give him a chance. Not only that, but it felt like giving him a chance was the smartest things to do. Doors were opening that I had never seen open before, and opportunities were piling up beside me. I just had to choose which one I would take.

Maybe, if we could pull off Jace’s crazy plan and get his friends to love me like he wants them to, it would all work out and I could finally be at peace with my social standing. I still wondered why he had wanted to do that for me in the first place. Did that mean that he’s had feelings for me for a while? It seemed plausible now, but if I had thought about it at the time of the Isabelle incident, I would have never thought Jace would have actual feelings for me, let alone feelings at all. Feelings had to be why he created his plan in the first place, wasn’t it?

The more I thought about Jace, the less I knew what I would do about my feelings for him. My feelings were raw and I felt insecure about them, but noticing the way Jace reacted toward me lately had started to make my emotions feel at ease. Maybe I really could trust him. I couldn’t be sure, I just had to go along with it and see where things take me.

The lunch table was roaring with laughter and conversation on both sides of me. Jonathan and Sebastian were talking about some new girls they met, Isabelle and Simon were blatantly flirting, and Magnus was talking with Alec and Jace about his plans for Halloween – something about how they should get Alec to sparkle more. Alec was obviously reluctant.

I joined in their conversation, the last thing I heard from it being Magnus speaking to Alec, “You and I could go as a pair, what do you think?”

I chimed in. “You two could make an awesome Mario and Luigi!”

Alec grimaced. “Don’t give him any suggestions, Clary.”

I giggled as Magnus seemed to perk up when I entered the conversation from my solitary confinement in my thoughts. “I like this girl, she has spunk! I understand what you see in her, Jace.”

I blushed as I met eyes with Jace, who smirked at me. “Would you be interested in a pair costume, Clary?” Jace asked.

Before I could respond, Isabelle interrupted, breaking off her conversation with Simon to join our conversation, which she was evidently eavesdropping on. “But Clary, I already have an idea for your costume! And it’s supposed to be a surprise! Jace would guess your costume if I made him the matching costume!”

Jace rolled his eyes. “Why does it have to be a surprise?”

Magnus budded in. “It’s more romantic, live a little Jace Wayland!”

Everyone started ganging up on Jace, agreeing with Isabelle that it would be cute if Jace didn’t know what my costume was until he saw it Halloween night. I blushed wildly, my cheeks flushed with red. Everyone seemed so quick to push us together.

Well, everyone except for Simon, Sebastian and Jonathan. The three of them stared at Jace with disgust. I didn’t know how to react to this, so I pretended I didn’t notice it. It was one thing for Simon to look at Jace in disgust for being my date to the Halloween party, but why were Sebastian and Jonathan suddenly on team Simon?

A lot of things weren’t really adding up in my brain anymore, and I worried that all the stress from recent events had been the cause. It didn’t really help that at the most complicated time in my life, I could barely think straight.

I nodded my head in agreement, to avoid any conflict with Isabelle. The last thing I needed was to upset the queen bee. “I guess you’re my stylist,” I said to Isabelle.

She looked at me with eyes unreadable. I attempted to decipher the look, but it was gone in a flash and then she was smiling. I tried to shake some sense into myself, hoping I could catch the look again from Isabelle, but whatever it was she had hidden well.

I felt a kick from beneath the table, breaking me from my intense concentration. I looked down to identify the culprit, only to come to the conclusion that it had to have been Jace. With half the group’s eyes suddenly on me, I pretended as if nothing had happened, my eyes meeting Jace’s, and a false smile making its way onto my face.

His expression changed when I looked to him, something of concern. I felt the few pairs of eyes that were on me flickering to Jace. Under the pressure of the eyes, he didn’t break. He smirked at everyone, sort of curtly. “I suppose I can’t argue with the women,” Jace said.

Isabelle giggled and reached over the table to touch my hand. I had to concentrate really hard on my sanity, to avoid flinching under Isabelle’s cold touch. I could never get out of my mind the expression she had on her face the day I learned that she was out to get me.

“Well don’t you learn fast, blondie,” Magnus commented, with a shrug, at the same time Isabelle removed her hand from mine. I sighed relief. Magnus chuckled, “Good thing your ginger isn’t as high maintenance as your sister, or else you might be in a predicament.”

Jace shrugged as if the comment didn’t affect him – though it was quite clear Magnus was hinting that we were already together, which we most definitely weren’t. I felt Simon tensing next to me, his mouth opening to protest. “I’m not sure where you got the idea that Clary was Jace’s ginger,” Simon objected. “She would never like some dyed-blonde wannabe.”

A harsh snicker at the other end of the table erupted, as all eyes landed on the culprit – Sebastian. His eyes were dark, a malicious energy wavering within them. I had never actually been afraid of him before, but in this moment when his eyes flickered to mine for just a millisecond, I felt fear.

“Jace gets what Jace wants,” Sebastian cooed, in almost a melodic way, his voice cool, controlled and concise. It made me nervous.

Simon grunted in irritation, and suddenly his hand was dragging my body upward. “Come on, Clary. These people aren’t our friends.” And just like that, Simon was dragging me away from the lunch table. My legs underneath me were unable to sink into the ground far enough to stop him from pulling me away, so I just let him.

I watched Jace as Simon dragged me away, an annoyance in his expression as if he hadn’t anticipated having to fight so hard for me. Maybe he realized none of this was worth it and he needed to just give up, but I wasn’t sure – I shouldn’t have let my overactive mind question it. All I knew was that Simon wasn’t – and probably never would – take any of this well.

When Simon had finally pulled me outside the cafeteria, I realized I hadn’t even finished eating. “Simon!” I shrieked, finally pushing his hands off my shoulders, which he had used as leverage to drag me outside.

“Clary, you’ve got to be crazy if you think those people can warm up to you just like that!” he shouted in response, the concern in his voice more powerful than the anger.

I rolled my eyes. “You don’t seem to care about that when you’re snuggling up to Isabelle. She’s part of them too, you don’t think it’s insane that she’d change that quickly too?”

I realized with haste that it sounded as if I were jealous of Isabelle, rather than worried that Simon was being played. He had no idea that Isabelle was a closet bitch, nor had I ever planned on telling him; I was just hoping that I could keep him away from her long enough.

It looked like I might have to hurt his feelings in order to spare him pain in the long run. I frowned. “Simon, there’s something you need to know-”

He shrugged. “I’m sorry, Clary. I was being a hypocrite. We should both be careful.” He pulled me into a hug. “But you don’t have to be jealous about Isabelle, we’re not serious, okay?”

My eyes bugged out, as I pulled abruptly from the hug with Simon. “Wait up one second, what do you mean you’re not serious? You’re not even dating her!”

As thirty seconds of silence passed, I realized my worst fears had become reality. Simon and Isabelle were dating. Five words I thought I would say just before the apocalypse broke out. Cue the flesh-eating zombie attack, right?

How was this all happening? I breathed in, trying to calm myself.

Simon’s eyes flickered away from mine. “It’s complicated, Clary. You of all people know that it’s complicated. We’re both in uncharted territory. But isn’t the fear of the unknown kind of exhilarating?”

Simon seemed to be like a complete different person as he spoke. Simon – the real Simon that I knew and loved – would have never fallen so quickly into a trap like this person standing in front of me did. He would have been leery and kept his distance. Somehow, Isabelle had sort of crawled under his skin and set camp. She was a parasitic leech, feeding off the life that was Simon.

My heart plummeted. I wondered if this was exactly how Simon felt when he realized Jace and I were dangerously nearing relationship-status. I felt instantly guilty, as I realized I was a hypocrite too, for worrying about Simon all this time and never realizing it was the same thing happening to myself.

I wondered if Simon also was so hypnotized by Isabelle – like I was with Jace – that he was willing to look past all her obvious flaws. How had we both gotten into such sticky messes? Wasn’t college supposed to be about finding yourself, not losing yourself?

I nodded at Simon, deciding I couldn’t tell him anything. He had made his choice, just like I had made mine. We were both utterly screwed, but neither of us could stop it. The only thing we could do from here was move forward with this Jace plan – though Simon would be unknowingly playing his part in the plan by keeping Isabelle in line – and then from there we would see who was showing their true colors.

How on Earth we had gotten into this situation was beyond me, but sometimes I wished I could go back to high school, back to the times I was being bullied; back when it was simpler. I would let Jace dump trash over my head at the high school lockers a hundred times before I would want to be stuck in the situation that I currently was.

Simon ran his hands through my hair and ruffled it up, throwing it all over the place. Then, he said a short goodbye and he was gone, off to go to class. It was almost as if, as he walked away from me now, it was like he was walking away from me as my support system. We might have been in the same situation, but we were alone in it.

I frowned.

From behind me, I felt a hand touching my shoulder, dragging me back to reality. It was a rough, calloused hand. I associated the nasty shiver down my spine at the touch to be that of only one person – Sebastian. I had a terrible feeling about him today.

I turned, but Sebastian wasn’t alone – Jonathan was with him.

I hadn’t ever talked alone with both of them before, and I didn’t ever want to be again. I got bad feelings from each of them – with Sebastian it was a scary sort of feeling, and with Jonathan something was just sort of off and I didn’t know how to describe it.

“I’d advise you to be careful,” Jonathan said, his voice low.

I peered behind them to see Isabelle, Alec, Magnus, to be walking toward us, though a distance away. Jonathan and Sebastian must have broken from the group first to get me alone.

I pursed my lips, trying my best to maintain a calm exterior, knowing I had no escape. They had cornered me. “With what?” I asked, slightly annoyed.

“You’re blind to who the true enemy is, Clary,” Sebastian answered this time. It was like somehow they had the same thoughts, the same chilling tendencies. Yet somehow, when it was Sebastian talked I felt fearful. With Jonathan it was mostly confusion, an eerie sense that somehow I was supposed to remember something about him.

“Funny, coming from you, the most obvious enemy,” I sneered.

With relief, Jace – who I hadn’t seen before – came up behind Sebastian and Jonathan. He stopped between them, gripping their shoulders with force, as he looked from one friend to the other. “What’s going on here?” Jace’s voice was protective and stern.

“Just talking to Clary,” Jonathan remarked, somehow innocently. I got the sense that he had been the one to speak because if Sebastian had spoken it would have been suspicious. Or, maybe it was just me who got all these feelings; I couldn’t be sure.

“Well, don’t corner my ginger, next time,” Jace said. “Run along, go torment someone else, but Clary is off limits.”

Sebastian growled and Jonathan nodded. They pushed past me, walking in the same direction as Simon. I turned to watch them go, hoping they would turn off somewhere. With relief, they didn’t go in nearly the same direction as I had seen Simon walking off to.

Jace’s hand touched my shoulder. Suddenly there were more voices behind me; Isabelle, Alec and Magnus.

“Ready to go to the library?” Isabelle asked, with perk in her voice.

Jace nodded. We all walked in silence toward the library, Isabelle walking in front with Alec and Magnus, while Jace stayed behind to walk in step with me. He had to slow his pace so that I could keep up with him.

In my peripheral vision, I peered at Jace, curious why he had defended me from Sebastian and Jonathan, when they weren’t even doing any tormenting. Then, I remembered that sometimes I wasn’t able to hide my expressions as easily – maybe Jace had noticed how fearful I was, being cornered by the two people on campus I feel the most questioningly about.

Regardless, Jace had come in at a time that I was thankful to have him. As surprised as I was to admit it, I might have owed him one because of it.

I felt Jace’s hand bump mine as we walked, and my head whipped in his direction. He was staring straight ahead at Isabelle, Magnus and Alec walking, their eyes all trained ahead as if we weren’t even behind him. His hand was outstretched toward me, as if offering.

I was unsure why, but I grabbed his hand, finding some comfort in remembering the way his touch made me feel – the smooth, gentle touch of Jace’s hand giving me goose bumps.

When we reached the library and Isabelle turned her head behind to look at Jace and I, he unclasped our hands and threw Isabelle an inconspicuous smirk. She shrugged and kept moving forward.

I smiled relief. It might not have been the biggest gesture, but Jace releasing my hand to prevent onlookers from noticing felt like him protecting me. I hadn’t been quite sure yet about moving forward with him, whether it was for the plan or if it was real. It felt real now, as I saw that he was willing to wait as patiently as he could for my answer.

Problem was, I didn’t have an answer yet – it was almost as if I was choosing between a beautiful disaster of a plan or the disastrously beautiful Jace Wayland.

Dumpster Diving, Chapter 17

Dumpster Diving, Chapter Seventeen: No Dumpsters Involved

Jace and I arrived back at campus, silently deciding we needed to split up when we got to Azazel Hall. Simon had called three more times on the drive back. I ignored all his messages until we got to campus, when I told him I’d meet him at his room to explain. Jace told me Isabelle was equally as worried and angry, waiting back in my dorm room for him to clarify why he ran off without warning. Evidently Simon and Isabelle had both somehow realized Jace and I had disappeared at the same time, thus their reason for concern. We both were likely in for some scolding.

Jace kissed me on the cheek when we reached the cross path between Azazel and Raziel Hall.

“Good luck with Simon,” he said.

I nodded. “And good luck with Isabelle.”

We parted ways. I looked back at him once I reached Azazel’s entrance, and he was doing the same across the distance at Raziel. I blushed and ducked inside the building.

On the third floor, Simon was pacing the hallway outside his dorm room. His shirt today said: runs with scissors. When he caught sight of me, he bolted for me and threw his arms around me in a worried hug.

I had expected an all-out angry Simon to greet me, but realized he was more concerned than angry by the way he was hugging me, his arms gripping my waist tightly in a protective embrace. It was different than the way Jace hugged me – Simon was gentle in a friendly, best friend protecting kind of way. With Jace it was different, in a way I wasn’t sure how to explain, though that pretty much summed up my relationship with Jace anyway – literally unexplainable.

“You have no idea how many dumpsters I have been searching through!” Simon shouted in my ear.

I laughed. “I’m fine, Simon. No dumpsters involved.”

He pulled back to look at me, trying to read my face.

What was I going to say to him about the impulsive trip to see Luke? Would I mention Jace? We hadn’t decided on a common story, so I wondered what Jace might say to Isabelle – would he say he went with me or just lie?

“Clary, when Isabelle texted me saying Jace was missing, I put two and two together. You guys disappeared at the same time! Tell me what happened. Did he kidnap you?” Simon’s words seemed to smear together in a rush, as if he had no coherently organized thoughts in his brain.

“I got a call from Jocelyn when Jace and I were-…” I broke off, realizing I shouldn’t mention the kissing part. Or the part where I realized I might be falling for Jace. “…when we were hanging out after Taki’s. You and Isabelle went off so we just…” I trailed off, realizing that rambling made it sound like I was hiding something. “Well anyway, Jocelyn told me Luke was in the hospital from a car accident-”

“Oh god,” Simon breathed, pulling me back into his body for another hug. It felt appropriately comforting and supportive. After all, he was my best friend and that was what he was here for, he always reminded me. “So I take it you went home to see Luke?” he asked. I nodded. “Why did Jace go home with you?”

I shrugged. “I was pretty emotionally distraught. He offered to drive me and obviously he was stranded, so he just stuck around at the hospital with me.”

It wasn’t a lie. I felt glad that I didn’t have to hide that much from him. I just had to be careful mentioning the sleeping together or kissing aspects of the story. Or the part where he told me he wanted me to be his to hold and cherish. That part still sent shockwaves through my veins almost simultaneously with swarms of butterflies beginning to attack my stomach lining.

“I guess I understand that, but why didn’t you answer your phone?” Simon stared at me expectantly. “If Noah can write Allie 365 letters, you can answer my texts or calls.”

He did seem a little angry that I hadn’t told him anything about the trip or what happened or how I was doing about it. Usually he would be the first person I’d go to for something like this; especially since Luke was the only other person I went to for emotionally distressing things. With Luke in the hospital, it should have been Simon. But it was Jace.

“I never thought about it,” I admitted. This was the truth. “I’m sorry, Simon.”

He shrugged. “You’re here now. Want to come in and hang out for a bit?”

I frowned. “I was gone all weekend and have a lot of reading to do for classes. I really wish I could.”

I didn’t expect him to be okay with my answer, but he shrugged anyway, frowning at my response. “You’ll tell me if anything is wrong, right?” he asked, his voice concerned. He could see right through my act, I reminded myself.

“Sure thing,” I said, trying to convince not only Simon, but myself.

Monday morning of my third week of school, everything was different. My life seemed to have consisted of so many lies that I couldn’t keep track of them all. I wondered how hard it would be for me to walk around with Jace’s clique, pretending I believed that they like me, knowing they didn’t. I also wondered how I would keep Jace a secret from Simon, since he had recently lied in order to get me to hate Jace.

Most of all, I was worried about Jace and myself keeping up appearances for his friends, who all believe they were in on an evil plan to break my heart. The fact of the matter was that Jace and I wouldn’t always be pretending, which was why it felt much more complicated. Or would we be pretending? I still wasn’t sure – it was too early in the week to decide whether Jace’s actions this weekend would hold truth.

Sunday night I had been unable to decide how I felt about the situation, hoping that observing Jace’s behavior on Monday would tell me whether or not I’d want to get involved.

The thing was, regardless of if I wanted to be with Jace or not, we had to pretend to be. That was the key in the plan to getting everyone else to like me – because maybe once they saw that Jace cared about me, they could care about me too. Except they’d all think Jace was pretending; we had to convince them that it was real. But wait, isn’t it real? Or is the wool being pulled over my eyes rather than his friends’ eyes?

This was going to be impossible.

Monday morning I found myself dressed and my backpack packed, waiting in the living area for everyone to show up. This morning Magnus, Alec and Simon were all planning to show up with Jace – though Simon was here for Isabelle and myself. Still, it would be a full house.

I wasn’t sure how many people I could fool at the same time. It was almost as if I had to fool myself, too, into believing this was all some charade. The complexity of the feelings I felt growing between Jace and myself was in part a result of how our relationship began. But once it had, things really had seemed real enough.

I had to remind myself that I needed to be careful. Even though I had promised I would open my heart if Jace opened his, I was still unable to decipher if his feelings were real until he proved it. They seemed real enough, but then again Isabelle had fooled me once before with her sweet act.

So many thoughts were twirling in my mind, starting to mush together like unorganized thoughts. I wasn’t sure if I could handle this all, especially knowing there were more important things going on outside of the drama at The Institute. Luke was still in the hospital, but my mom was sending me updates every few hours, which I was grateful for. I felt guiltier the more I thought about my childlike plan that Jace and I were enacting, compared to the situation with Luke.

Jace showed up first. Today he wore a dark blue v-neck tee that emphasized his arm muscles. We were alone because Isabelle was still applying hair and makeup – and I hadn’t bothered talking to her alone since the incident.

“You look nice,” Jace said, hovering in the doorway. I looked down at myself, my nose scrunching in disgust. I was wearing a black scoop-neck tee with skinny jeans.

“No I don’t. This shirt is as black as my soul.” I wrinkled my nose again. “You need to start practicing some new lines because I think you’re beginning to lose your charm.”

He scoffed, as if it weren’t a possibility he could ever lose his charm. “What are you talking about? My mere presence is a pickup. I have an ethereal quality about myself, don’t you agree?”

“Oh, absolutely angelic,” I said sarcastically, rolling my eyes.

“I am pleased you agree. I thrive on your adoration.” He smirked that pretty little smile of his.

“Fascinating,” I muttered. “You can come in, you know.”

He nodded and stepped inside, dropping his backpack. Something about this interaction seemed different – as if it were a completely new experience, like a first date or a first time talking. But it wasn’t, we had done this many times before in the past two weeks. It just felt different because now there was a possible romantic attraction we both were consumed with, no matter how hard I found it to believe. It didn’t seem plausible that I could fall for Jace after all he had done. Maybe I was in denial.

Jace plopped down onto the couch next to me, to wait for the rest of the group to show up so we could all talk before class. It seemed like a new tradition forming, and surprisingly I was happy to be a part of it, regardless of its circumstances; my social life could use the lift.

Before Jace could say anything else, Simon entered the room, wearing another cheeky t-shirt saying: I’m silently correcting your grammar. However, I would bet money that if it were just him and Jace in the room, Simon might use verbal grammar correction, which would undoubtedly piss off Jace.

Sighing, I hoped there would be no more trouble.

I stood to greet Simon, hugging him and placing myself in-between them again. I carefully reminded myself that I couldn’t do much if anything had happened, except maybe lose another chunk of my hair, courtesy of Jace.

Simon kissed my cheek and we released from the hug, my cheeks burning from the contact of his lips. He didn’t usually kiss me like that. I understood it was more to show Jace that he was closer to me – so maybe Simon did put two and two together about Jace and me. I frowned.

“Baboon,” Jace greeted, his tone flat. It was clear he didn’t like Simon much either.

“Imbecile,” Simon greeted in response. “I have something to talk to you about,” he said, pointedly. I stared at him quizzically, wondering what he would have to tell Jace.

Jace didn’t seem alarmed. “Are you cheating on me?” he asked, his sarcastic smooth lines coming to him as easy as ever.

This was the version of Jace that could have easily flipped a switch to change. It was the version of him that was cocky and knew that he was; except he had enjoyed being that person so much that it was the main reason he continued to be an ass.

“Get over yourself,” Simon said through gritted teeth.

I sighed, touching Simon’s shoulder and giving Jace a dark stare. “Guys, please not today…”

“We’ll have this conversation later then,” Simon suggested, his tone darkening as his anger flared up. His hatred for Jace was understandable, but somewhat out of control.

“Anything you wish to say to me can be said in front of Clary,” Jace defended, though his voice showed that he was clearly bored.

“Fine,” Simon glared. “I’m just worried that your little fling – whatever it was – is going to hurt Clary, and I don’t like it.”

“Who said you had to like it?” Jace asked, his smirk teasing. It felt malicious, but in a way I felt unaffected by it, as if I stood on the other side of a fence watching the argument.

This was different than before. I saw Jace differently, saw that he had altering sides and this was just the reputation he had grown up displaying. He had a different side, I had to remind myself. If I looked a little deeper, I could swear I saw it – could swear I saw that twinkle in his eyes when he looked at me, reminding me that he did care at some point for me and potentially still did.

“I don’t trust you,” Simon said, deadpanning. “The only relationship you know is a three-day weekend.”

“Funny. Clary and I are already quite past that point. Your methods of scaring me aren’t working.”

Jace wiggled his eyebrows up and down, taunting Simon. In some sense it was mean, but I could also sense the playfulness of it. He only spoke these words knowing how they got to people – he never said his words all that harshly, it was just in the eyes of the beholder that took his words that way. He was actually pretty laid-back and charming about the way he spoke, I realized with awe. With sudden realization, I wondered if I was I just overreacting to him all these years.

“I’d just like to remind you of your fling with Aline Penhallow last year,” Simon said, his voice lighter.

Jace seemed to remember. He stared thoughtfully at Simon, as if wondering why Simon was even trying to go against him. “I don’t feel the need to argue with you about this. This is between Clarissa and I; it does not involve you.”

I tuned their words out as my eyes flickered back and forth as they continued to banter off each other. I wondered when Alec and Magnus would show up, or if Isabelle would come out of her room yet. It was beginning to make me nervous, the more and more they argued.

I heard Simon say at one point that Jace showed he cared “first with the flowers, then the candy, then the ravenous demon hordes” and I wondered why he was making Jace out to be a bad guy, when he hadn’t actually known what Jace could be like if he changed.

At least I knew what Jace could be like, and I felt more at ease knowing so. Even watching him transform back into his playful quipping self, I reminded myself that I wasn’t actually worried – Jace would keep himself open, I was sure of it.

Isabelle came running out of the bathroom when Simon and Jace’s voices began to rise. “What is going on out here?” she asked, clearly annoyed. She had her curling iron in hand, her hair half curled. She saw Simon and a smile that appeared to be natural crossed her face.

Then she saw me. She maintained the smile, somehow.

I looked to Jace, unable to believe my eyes. There was no way Isabelle could like me again, not after the cold way she had spoken when she walked in on Jace and I after our nap. Jace’s expression held hope, as if he could believe Isabelle would be able to change. For now, I couldn’t think too deeply about it.

Magnus and Alec burst through the door, causing the tension in the room to puncture and release. Simon shook Magnus’ hand, introducing himself and Magnus remarked on how wonderfully decorated the room was.

I scoffed and looked pointedly at Isabelle, who stared at me thoughtfully.

Everything seemed to rush by in a blur after that. Friendly conversation began and everything felt natural. Somehow, with the presence of Magnus, Alec and Isabelle now in the room, it was easier for Simon and Jace to get along.

After class time appeared to be nearing, we all left the room and started walking in a pack. Isabelle and Simon in the front, Magnus and Alec close behind, and Jace and I in the back.

Jace was mostly quiet so I listened to Magnus and Alec talking. They were roommates, I recalled. They seemed to get along really well, despite Magnus’ love for color and glitz and Alec’s clear distaste for anything that shimmers. I laughed.

Suddenly Magnus fell into step next to me, and Alec flanked behind Jace.

“I sense a blooming love connection here,” Magnus noted, his eyes darting between Jace and I. “Rumor has it you two ran away together for a romantic weekend. Quite the change of events, I must add!”

Alec scoffed next to Jace. “You were the one that taught us to hate her, Jace. I don’t quite understand your angle. I know Clary’s not that bad, but you changed your opinion pretty quickly. Why?”

I stared at Alec, surprise evident on my face. Either he was a really good actor or he wasn’t involved in the plot to terrorize me, especially since he mentioned that I wasn’t that bad – whatever that meant. Regardless, that might have meant Magnus wasn’t involved either, which made me feel a thousand times better. I liked Magnus, he was fun.

I looked to Jace, hoping he could confirm or deny my suspicions. I guess I should have asked who else was in on it when he has first told me about it, but it hadn’t crossed my mind until now.

“Clary was in a dark place,” Jace said, easily. “The least I could do was drive her home for her family emergency.”

I nodded gratefully when he chose to not disclose the information about Luke. It made me believe that he was keeping his heart open to me, because it seemed like an expression of his feelings for me. If he was able to keep a secret for me, maybe there was hope.

“How sweet!” Magnus mused. “Almost disgustingly sweet, if you ask me. But sweet none the less!”

Alec groaned. “Can’t you tone it down a bit, Magnus?”

Magnus grinned. “You merely envy my ability to express myself. I swear, if you added just a little bit of color to your life instead of wearing black all the time, you might actually cheer up!”

I laughed. “You seem to know what you’re talking about. Your wardrobe is nothing but fabulous.” I wasn’t one to talk about fashion – that was Isabelle – but I decided I liked Magnus. He didn’t seem out to hurt me like everyone else was. And maybe with Magnus’ positive influence, Alec was also lightening up. Maybe this could actually work.

Magnus smiled warmly at me. “See, Clary gets it. Alec, if you let me pick out an outfit for you, I could make your eyes pop like the gorgeous baby blue that they are!”

Clearly embarrassed, Alec blushed and ignored Magnus, speeding up his pace to catch up with Isabelle and Simon. I didn’t think he liked Simon much, but he seemed much more comfortable away from Magnus all of a sudden. I wondered why – they were roommates and seemed to have an undeniably easy way of speaking to each other. Their banter almost reminded me of how easy it sometimes felt to play along with Jace, at least as of lately when his quips weren’t as malicious.

After Alec left, Magnus frowned. “I don’t know what I did wrong.”

I shrugged. “Boys will be boys.” Jace swatted at my arm and I giggled.

“Haven’t you been told to not hit a lady?” Magnus warned. Yes, I definitely liked Magnus. I would enjoy having someone to actually talk to, in the tension of the constantly dramatic situation I was always the center of.

Jace laughed. “I was hitting on her, not hitting her,” he corrected, jokingly.

Magnus seemed to find it funny because he chuckled with a hearty laugh I wasn’t aware could come from such a petite, sparkly guy. “Quite the pickup, I see. Get a room, will you?”

He winked at me and then caught up with Alec, who was talking with Isabelle and Simon.

I blushed, looking at Jace suspiciously. He didn’t seem any different today, but then again he wasn’t harmfully teasing me much. In fact, I didn’t think he had at all since he came in. His words were playful towards me, never harming.

The rest of the day I waited for the catch. I waited for Jace to revert to his usual ways, but he didn’t. He was gentlemanly, with his occasional playful quips and tricks that made me blush. I also noticed that whenever I blushed and it was noticeable, he would smile a little.

Everyone seemed to catch on, leaving just me in the dust to pick up the pieces – to decide if I really wanted to hit the gas or the breaks.

Whenever Jace smiled, all I wanted to do was hit the gas and speed into his arms.

Dumpster Diving, Chapter 16

Dumpster Diving, Chapter Sixteen, Full of Life

Friday turned into Saturday, as it all passed by in a blur, most of the time resulting in on-and-off sleeping at Luke’s bedside. Jace sat wide awake next to me and every time I awoke from a short ten-minute nap, I’d ask if he slept at all and he’d always respond ‘no’.

Eventually, Jocelyn kicked Jace and me out of Luke’s room, telling me that I had to go home and take a real nap. As tired as I was, sleep wasn’t the first thing on my mind.

To please my mother, Jace agreed to drive me home, assuring Jocelyn he would sleep on the couch before she could even try to enforce the ‘no boys in my room except for Simon’ rule.

Dismayed, I reluctantly dragged my feet as Jace led me outside and to my car, which he drove again. When we were on the road, he offered me his hand, which I accepted.

Jace was quiet again, focusing on driving. He hadn’t gotten much sleep either and I was guilty that my eyes were starting to shut in the passenger seat while he drove. I forced myself to stay awake, however.

When Jace pulled down my street, I noticed Luke’s car was absent from the driveway. It must have been pretty damaged from collision. The thought deterred me from giving in to my tiredness, keeping me awake, wondering about how Luke was doing.

Jace parked my car where Luke usually parked. I didn’t say anything about it, though.

Half-asleep and overwhelmed with all the emotions I was feeling from my sleepless Friday night, I had evidently started to lose my consciousness in the car, when I was shaken awake by the gentle movement of Jace sweeping me up in his arms to carry me for the third time. This time I didn’t flinch.

I heard the car door shut and Jace struggling with finding the house key on my key ring. When he found it, he struggled to get the door open.

“Hand me the keys,” I said, barely loud enough to be heard. He handed me the keys and I fumbled with the door as he held me, my head bobbing and my eyes falling shut. I unlocked and opened the door and he stepped inside, kicking his shoes off and padding into the living room with his socks on.

“Where is your room?” he asked, gently rubbing my back to make sure I was awake.

“Last room on the left,” I mumbled, my eyes falling shut as hard as I struggled against the drowsy feeling.

I listened closely to Jace’s footsteps as they took me through my house, until he turned and I was positive I was in my room. He paused at the doorway.

I opened my eyes to see the familiar walls of my room, paintings and drawings taped to the wall in uneven intervals, my desk messy with notebooks and supplies. My bookshelf looked like it was ransacked, likely by Luke. A knot formed in my stomach and I closed my eyes.

Jace took me to my bed, gently setting me down on my back on top of my comforter. I felt the relief of pressure leaving my feet, hearing the thump of my shoes hitting the ground. Suddenly the warmth of a fleece blanket was being tucked around my body, and then his hands were gone.

When I opened my eyes again, Jace was leaving.

“Come back!” I cried out to him, causing him to pause in the doorway.

“Clary, your mother doesn’t want me in here-” he started to say.

I didn’t care. “Please,” I begged. Though I felt very unaware of my surroundings from the drowsy feeling of my eyelids drooping down, I could see the hesitation in Jace.

He sighed. “Clary, I-”

I sat up quickly, feeling the blood rushing too quickly from my head. A pounding headache greeted me as soon as I was sitting up, my hands instinctively cradling my forehead. I saw a slight frown on Jace’s face.

Then, in a blur, Jace was next to me, crawling under the comforter. He lifted it for me to crawl under and I obliged. I pulled the top blanket over so it covered Jace too, providing extra warmth. I laid back down, my body curling into Jace’s. I looked into his eyes, as we both laid on our sides facing each other, in which I saw a flash of contentedness in his expression.

“Thank you,” I mumbled.

He just smirked back at me, unable to contain one of his signature quips. “Now that you’ve coerced me into bed, what are you going to do?” He winked, but it wasn’t in a way that meant to be hurtful – it was playful.

I tried to laugh, but it came out as more of a huff. “I’m going to snuggle you until you can’t breathe,” I joked, as I brought my body closer to his, feeling the warm radiation of heat between us.

His arm wrapped around my body, pulling the weight of my body against his. I could feel his chest rising and falling, hear his rhythmic breathing and the thumping beat of his heart in his chest. His arm, cradling me, rested perfectly against my body. I wrapped my arm around him in response.

“Okay now don’t move,” I said. “Ever.” I didn’t think about what events happened that got us here. I didn’t think about our past or my worries about Luke or anything. I just closed my eyes tightly and took in the moment I was spending with Jace.

As he laughed, I felt his body shaking slightly. It caused a smile to appear on my face. I buried my face in his chest, already losing my ability to stay awake any longer.

The last thing I remember before falling into sleep was Jace’s cool voice saying “Never, it is.”

The problem with falling asleep Saturday around lunch, having had no sleep Friday night, meant that I woke up in the early hours of Sunday, around 2:00 or 3:00 AM I decided, based on the darkness I noted outside.

I stretched my arms, yawning, as I sat up in my bed, trying to recall the events of the day before. Something was missing.

Jace wasn’t sleeping next to me, as he had been comfortably for the past few hours. Frantic, my eyes searched my dark room, until they landed on a dark form seated on the floor by my window, the blinds pulled open and the night greeting the room. I could see Jace’s reflection slightly, his eyes searching the night for any dangers.

When I stirred, he turned his head to look at me.

“Why hello, sleeping beauty,” he said, standing and approaching the bed. He sat on the edge, apprehensively reaching out to touch my face. “You seemed to be having pleasant dreams last night.”

Idly I wondered if I had thrashed at all in my sleep or said anything. When I used to sleep between my mom and Luke in their bed when I was young and afraid of the dark, they would both tell me the next morning I kicked and groaned a lot in my sleep, sometimes saying things.

“Did I say anything?” I asked, suddenly worried about what I had said in my sleep.

“No,” he paused. “I slept rather restlessly last night and when I awoke a few times I spoke to you. Whenever I did, you mumbled or moaned a few times and smiled in your sleep, but that was about it. It might have been creepy to see someone smiling in their sleep, if it wasn’t so cute on you.” He inched forward and poked me on the nose. “Do you remember any of your dreams?”

I thought about it, trying to remember, but I nothing came off the top of my head. “Not really. They say you retain knowledge in your sleep if someone whispers in your ear. You’d think I’d remember something about that.” I shrugged it off as if it were nothing, but in the safety of my mind I thought harder and two sentences came to mind.

Life is perfectly survivable until you find yourself holding someone you love. Now it seems hard to imagine a life with you, Clary.

I wondered if I was making it up or just adding my name to it, subconsciously hoping it was Jace that whispered those words to me, secretly admitting he loves me. It seemed like a far stretch.

I felt unwilling to admit that these sentences came to mind, so I pretended uninterested in the topic, changing it. “Did Jocelyn catch us?” I asked. Jocelyn catching Jace in my bed seemed like a great distraction to make him forget he had asked about any dreams or memories of last night.

“She hasn’t come home yet,” he said with a shrug. “Did you want to head over to the hospital to see how she is doing?”

I nodded. “Yeah, after a shower. Do you have my bag?”

He stood and retrieved the bag I had packed for home. My drawers and closet was empty at home, everything remaining up at college. It was lucky he had thought to bring us each a change of clothes.

“Do you want to shower first?” I asked, selecting the outfit Jace had packed for me. It was a silk blouse with skin-tight skinny jeans.

“I’ll wait,” he said.

I had been sure he was going to say something about joining me for a shower, but he never did. His mood was much more serious and slightly more vulnerable, which meant he hadn’t closed himself off to me yet.

Nodding, I got out of bed and entered the bathroom, closing the door behind me. I stripped down and stepped into a warm spray of water that soothed my skin, as if instantly dissolving any knots or tangles in my body that happened from the stress of my life lately.

Halfway through my shower as I was shaving my legs, I heard a knock at the bathroom door. Assuming it was Jocelyn coming home, I answered “Come in!”

I poked my head around the dark shower curtain, suddenly glad it wasn’t see-through, when I saw Jace open the bathroom door. He was shielding his eyes for my sake.

“I’m decent,” I said. He unshielded his eyes and looked at my face, poking out from behind the shower curtain. “What is it?” This time I absolutely positive he would say something about how I was naked just behind the shower curtain.

“Your mother called your phone, which was ringing in your room, so I answered it. She said Luke is awake.”

“Oh my god,” I shrieked, nearly jumping out of the shower. Then I remembered I was indecent. “Hand me a towel,” I said, pointing at the towel rack across the bathroom.

He shook his head. “She wants you to take your time and eat before you come. I told her I’d make you something. How do you like your eggs?”

I don’t even like eggs, I thought. “Scrambled,” I said, feeling disconnect from my brain and my body. Luke was awake, that was all that mattered.

“Don’t rush your shower, take your time,” he assured me. “I’ll have your eggs ready by the time you’re out.” He walked out and the door clicked shut behind him.

I attempted to resume my shower as if he hadn’t told me Luke was awake, but I felt my nerves bundling in my stomach. I was so anxious to see if he was okay that I completely skipped shaving my calves. Oh well, it wasn’t like anyone would notice. Hurrying, I put conditioner in my hair and finished my shower in record time.

By the time I re-dressed and emerged from the bathroom, I could smell the aroma of breakfast foods in the kitchen. Jace was just dumping the scrambled eggs from the frying pan onto a plate when I stepped into the kitchen.

“Eggs are done, just waiting on the hash browns,” he said.

I nodded and sat at a bar stool at the kitchen bar, watching Jace as he prepared food for us both. He served the potatoes and took the toast out of the toaster, sliding it onto a plate. He handed me my plate and sat next to me. His eggs were also scrambled.

“Thanks,” I said, and forced the eggs down. It wasn’t the taste that bothered me as much as it was the smell.

I hurried to finish, anxious to get to see Luke when he was awake. I successfully forgot that I had to wait for Jace to finish eating and take a shower. I groaned, seeing he still had half a plate left by the time I was done.

“I don’t eat fast under pressure,” he teased. “Maybe if we had showered together, we could have been there sooner, too.” He winked playfully.

There it was. That was what I was expecting earlier. “I was kind of wondering how long it’d take you to say that,” I said, laughing.

He laughed too and finished his food. “I’ll be quick,” he said as he entered the bathroom and showered.

I went to my room and brushed out my hair, blow drying it until it was only slightly damp. Aside from that, I didn’t care how I looked.

Jace emerged when I finished my hair, wrapped in only a towel around his waist. He entered my room and saw me blushing beet red.

“My apologies,” he said. I knew he didn’t mean it. He was a guy, of course they always joked about this kind of thing.

I wasn’t angry at him for the jokes; they weren’t harmful to me in any way. It seems like Jace couldn’t completely leave his jokes behind, even when he opened up. Surprisingly, I didn’t mind a few quips here and there.

I left the room for him to dress and dry his hair. He met me in the living room when he was finished, car keys in hand. “Ready,” he announced.

I bolted for the door, refreshed and ready to see Luke. Jace laughed, joining me. We walked outside and he once again took the driver’s side.

The drive to the hospital was quiet, aside from the radio, which was tuned to a mainstream-type station. I listened blankly to the radio, as they announced the British singer Cher Lloyd’s song Want U Back.

I bopped my head to the beat, mildly wondering if Simon would agree with the lyrics. I remembered how jealous he was when there was a chance I’d take Jace’s side, and he had thrown himself in a dumpster because of it.

I listened to the song’s lyrics:

Remember all the things that you and I did first?
And now you’re doing them with her?
Remember all the things that you and I did first?
You got me, got me like this!
And now you’re taking her to every restaurant,
And everywhere we went, come on!
And now you’re taking her to every restaurant,
You got me, got me like this!

I tried to forget how the words might have applied to my life, instead thinking about Simon and his music taste. He typically had strong opinions on music and their lyrics. He had been on and off in a band with his gamer friends Eric, Matt and Kirk. Their band name changed from week to week. They hadn’t practiced together since college started, and I wondered if it would happen anytime soon.

By the time the song was over, we were at the hospital. I nearly threw myself out the door once Jace had parked. He was walking slowly behind me, so I grabbed his hand and pulled him forward, forcing him to pick up his pace. He laughed at my urgency.

Annoyed to drag Jace all the way to Luke’s room, my impatience began to wear on my mood. We finally reached Luke’s room and I threw the door open, releasing Jace’s hand once inside to approach Luke’s bed.

Jocelyn was smiling at Luke, sitting in the chair next to the bed, her hand gripping Luke’s with a desperation I understood. She had been worried sick about her companion – I couldn’t imagine what that felt like.

When my eyes met Luke’s, I gasped. He looked so full of life now, compared to when he had been unconscious the last time I saw him. The bruising on his face was still prominent, but he was healing. He grinned at my arrival, beckoning me to him.

I approached him and touched his free hand, standing on the other side of the bed from Jocelyn.

“So great to see you again so soon, Clary.” His voice was rough around the edges, but still contained his charming Luke-like quality.

I wanted to hug him but refrained in fear it might hurt him. “We were all so worried!” I shrieked, the emotion from the past few days returning to my voice with harsh force.

He looked past me, where I remembered Jace was standing. I waved Jace to my side and he appeared next to me, uncertainty in his expression.

“Jocelyn told me you’ve been quite the gentleman, young man,” Luke said, as a greeting.

Jace just nodded. “Clary was too distressed to drive.”

“You also drove Jocelyn home?” Luke asked apprehensively.

He nodded again, this time saying nothing.

“Well thank you for taking care of my girls,” Luke said.

Despite the hidden disgust for Jace that Luke had, he seemed to smile warmly at him, thankful that Jace took care of me. I knew Luke hated the way Jace had once treated me – and he could tell right away that this was the boy who hurt me through all the years. He said nothing about it though, as if he noticed something different between Jace and I like my mother had when we first entered the room.

I felt embarrassed that they saw me with him like this, in the stages of Jace and myself trying to figure out what we really were, especially since all my parents knew about him was that he constantly sent me home from school in tears during high school. If only they knew about the events at college, they might hate him. I wondered why I didn’t, and then remembered it was too complicated a topic to begin untangling.

For reasons I couldn’t disclose – possibly because I wasn’t sure of my reasoning – I didn’t tell them anything about Jace’s initial torture at college. There was hope within me, deep down, praying that the changes I was seeing in Jace would withstand when we had to return to campus. For now, all I could do was blindly put my trust in him.

I could tell Luke noticed the blind trust I was putting into Jace, as concern etched on his face. I touched his hand, silently assuring him that I would take care of myself. After that, he didn’t seem to look at Jace again with any uncertainty – it was like he pushed that from his mind, for my sake.

We all spoke with Luke for a while, Jace mostly watching by my side. After a half hour, a nurse came in and decided Luke needed his rest, as she ushered Jocelyn, Jace and I out of the room.

Jocelyn turned to me and enveloped me in a hug. “You should get back to campus, sweetie.”

I nodded, silently agreeing. We hugged goodbye. It was still different hugging her, but with the circumstances I didn’t care.

After our goodbyes, Jace and I returned to the car. I looked back at the hospital apprehensively, unsure if I wanted to leave. The nurse wouldn’t let us see Luke anyway, but it felt wrong leaving him after he just woke up. Unfortunately, school resumed tomorrow, so I knew I couldn’t stay.

Jace changed the radio in the car to a metal station. Some band called A Day To Remember was playing and I wondered if Simon’s band had ever come up with a cool name like that. I decided they never had – their names ranged from Untamed Contradiction to Walking Entropy to Sophisticated Daylight.

“What are you thinking about?” Jace asked after a while.

I hadn’t really been thinking of much. I’d hear a lyric on the radio and think of Simon or Jocelyn or Luke. It was really nothing of substance. What I should have been thinking about was what might happen when Jace and I returned and had to explain to everyone why we both disappeared. My phone had about six missed calls and ten unread text messages from Simon. I could only imagine how many messages and voicemails Jace had when he disappeared. Maybe people thought we killed each other.

I had nothing to answer his question with so I settled on asking him one. “What do you think will happen when we get back?”

“We go back to hating each other,” he said nonchalantly.

I stared at him, my eyes bugging out. “What do you mean we-”

“Kidding,” he hushed me. “Too soon?” His eyes met mine. I wanted to punch him.

“Don’t do that ever again,” I scolded, my eyes narrowing.

His eyes flickered back to the road. “It was right there, I couldn’t resist myself.”

I rolled my eyes. “Resist next time.”

He nodded. “Ma’am yes ma’am.”

I glared at him harder. “You’re not going to just flip the switch again and throw me in another dumpster are you?”

Jace met my eyes, every sarcastic and teasing aspect of him fading into brooding seriousness. The way he looked into my eyes was almost enough to make me forget where I was, as well as any insecurity I had about having any kind of relationship with him.

His voice was as serious as his expression. “When we get back, I’m going to let you figure out your feelings for me. And from there, we’ll see.” His eyes went back to the road. I didn’t mind obviously, because focusing on driving should always be more important than ‘the talk’.

Pursing my lips, I wondered why he hadn’t said he needed to figure things out for himself either. Did he already know how he felt? “Jace?” I asked

“Hm?” he asked, his eyes flicking to me.

I paused, unsure if I wanted to ask. The question burned in my mind, tempting me. I just wasn’t sure what kind of answer I was expecting, or if I even wanted an answer. Things were already complicated as it was.

“Do you already know what you feel for me?” I finally asked, blurting, almost wishing I hadn’t.

He looked pondering for a moment, before his expression settled and he took my hand. Squeezing it, he said “Yes, and because of how I feel, when we get back I will do everything in my power to fix all the damage I’ve done, before Isabelle can enact her plan.”

His answered seemed to dodge the question. I wanted to know how he felt, regardless of my inability of knowing how I’d react to his answer. If he felt positive things about me, I wouldn’t know if it’d be the path I want to take. But at the same time, if he didn’t feel something for me, I’d probably hurt a lot more knowing. It seemed like a double-edged sword.

I still had to know.

“How do you feel?”

He sighed, his expression hesitant. Finally, he calmly said “If I had it my way I’d want you as mine to hold and cherish, and I’d spend the rest of my time trying to make up for all the pain I’ve put you through.” He sighed. “I’m sorry, Clary. I do hope you’ll forgive me one day.”

Dumpster Diving, Chapter 15

Dumpster Diving, Chapter Fifteen: Prove It

The rhythmic beating of Luke’s heart monitor made sleep an impossible feat. I had taken Jocelyn’s place in the chair next to Luke’s hospital bed, promising her I would watch over him so that she could go back to the house and sleep in her bed. She seemed to have been reluctant to have gone, but I insisted that she needed to take a break from crying – she had been here all day, only calling me when Luke had made it out of surgery on his knee.

Jocelyn was startled but relieved when Jace offered to drive her home around 11:00 PM on Friday night, insisting that she couldn’t drive in her current state. He returned around 11:30 PM, telling me that he borrowed my old bike so that he wouldn’t strand Jocelyn at home; she needed to be able to come back to see Luke again. I knew it was a disheartening idea for her to be away while he was here in a hospital bed.

I was resting in the chair next to Luke’s bed, holding his hand and whispering things to him when Jace returned. He held a brown paper bag in his hands.

“Jocelyn insisted on making us food,” he said, tossing the bag to me. I caught it and peered inside, seeing two of everything – fruit, sandwiches and snacks.

I nodded my head in thanks. Jace pursed his lips, striding over to my chair, where he kneeled next to me and touched my forearm. I didn’t tear my eyes off Luke, despite feeling Jace’s touch and desperately wishing to act on it.

“You should have let me take you home too,” Jace said, after I had refused to look at him. “It’s probably not healthy for you to sleep here, just as you told your mother it wasn’t.”

“She had been here all morning and I haven’t. It’s different.” My voice snapped back at him in a haste that I immediately regretted.

He sighed next to me, moving his hand up and down my arm, the touch calming. “Clary, you can’t make exceptions for yourself.”

“I can and I will,” I muttered back, finally turning my head to see him. “You don’t really know much about me, do you? Luke is so much like a real father to me. My biological father left when I was too young to remember, so Luke stepped in. That was back then he was just my mother’s best friend, but he had always wanted to be more. It wasn’t until he asked me for her hand in marriage that he finally realized how much I loved him as if he were my real father. And since then, he’s done everything in his power to protect me.”

Jace frowned, the marks next to his mouth etched in sadness. “I understand your grief, Clary. I lost my real father, too. And just like you, I grew up to love Robert Lightwood as a father figure.”

His words rang true and I realized he understood this situation more than I could have imagined. The way his eyes shone in the dimly-lit hospital room, I could almost see flecks of sadness in his eyes, not only because he saw how Luke being hurt affected me, but because he was also thinking about how Robert being hurt would affect him. I remembered him saying that was why he hadn’t told them about Valentine.

Sighing, I released Luke’s hand and turned in my chair to face Jace, who was still kneeling next to me. He offered both hands and I accepted them both, as he cradled my hands, intertwining our fingers.

“I still don’t know what you are to me, but thank you for being here,” I said, my words holding truth in them. “I didn’t realize how close to home this actually hits for you.”

He shrugged his shoulders, his eyes calmly collecting information from my face to process how he needed to interact with me. I was slightly more open, he must have noted. “My own problems aren’t as important right now. I just want to be here for you,” he said. He must have known I was soaking his words in more, by the way he said them and the tenderness he used.

I squeezed his hands. “Thank you.”

He nodded and kissed my hands, one after another, then dropped them. “I’m going to go hunt down another chair. If you insist on sleeping here, I will too.”

He started to stand up, but I caught his shirt in my hand. “You can go to your house to sleep you know, you don’t have to stay with me…” Even though I was telling him he could leave, I didn’t want him to. I wanted his company, as strange as it was to think.

It was amazing how quickly and under what circumstances things could change under. In a heartbeat he had weaseled his way into my heart, and now he was setting up camp in my soul as if he belonged there. Just a few days ago he had hurt me, and yet now he had more meaning and more importance  – more than I ever thought I could let someone in, especially someone like him.

He looked down at me, his eyes warm and thoughtful. He touched my hand, where I held onto his shirt, holding him there from walking away. “I said I would catch you, Clary. I made a promise and I intend to keep it.” With a smile, he stepped out of my grasp and left the room, in search of a chair so he could join me.

As soon as he had left I was back to sobbing over Luke’s body, praying and hoping he would wake up – or maybe praying I would wake up to find this was all a bad dream. Even if that meant what happened with Jace didn’t happen, I supposed it would have been better than seeing Luke like this. At the same time I selfishly decided that in light of the situation, I wouldn’t have taken my actions back in Jace’s room. I just wished Luke didn’t have to be here hurting for Jace and myself to finally be getting along.

Maybe as soon as it was all over, Jace would walk out on me anyway, I realized. The uncertainty of his presence reminded me of all the bad he was packaged with. As great as things were now with him, maybe Luke being hurt would give me the opportunity to see if the Jace I traveled here with was the real Jace.

“I’m so sorry, Luke,” I cried out, my voice coming out louder than it should have. I hoped no nurses or attendants would have heard me. Embarrassed, I rested my arms on his hospital bed, careful not to bump him, and threw my head onto my hands, crying into the sheets.

After a few minutes, the tears hadn’t stopped. They just kept replenishing, as if the waters in my tear ducts were connected to an ocean, funneling out in floods of tears I couldn’t control. The tears somewhat felt displaced – once I had felt the tragedy of Luke’s state, everything else that had ever made me hurt was coming out too, the tears little reminders of the pain I had experienced in my life and how much pain I was in now, sitting in a hospital room, unsure if Luke would be okay.

I began to shout obscenities as I felt more and more angry at myself for letting his happen. Wasn’t there something I could have done – something anyone could have done?

A light pressure appeared on my back as I wailed into my hands. Strong arms wrapped around my body, the touch slightly reassuring, but at the same time causing the emotions I was expressing to intensify.

“Shhh, Clary,” Jace cooed, his voice soft and soothing.

I allowed myself to sit up, understanding that by the look in Jace’s eyes he saw that my face was trashed from the floods of tears that had escaped me. I frowned, my cheeks feeling puffy from the pressure that felt constantly built up behind my eyes.

“Why won’t he wake up?” I rhetorically asked in a cry, as I threw myself at Jace, my arms falling around his neck, pulling him closer to me.

He had been only kneeling behind me and hadn’t expected me up jump at him like I did, so he toppled over backward, pulling me with him onto the ground. His back hit the tile with a thump and I held myself up over him, embarrassed but unable to show it properly.

My mouth opened and my words came out in a half-wail, half-shout. “Jace I’m so sorry, I-”

“Shhh,” he said, a hand removing itself from my waist, placing his finger at my lips. I remembered the first time he did that, I had jumped back in surprise. Now it didn’t seem to bother me, it just felt normal, as if we did this kind of thing every day.

I stared down at him, recalling how it felt to straddle his body in his room, before my lips had crashed over his. The distant memory brought forth feelings and emotions that caused my tears to abruptly stop.

“You’re doing great,” he said, his lips forming a smile. “Just try to relax. You don’t have to cry anymore.”

His words, though prodding into my soul, once again reminded me why I was here. I felt the pressure starting to return to my cheeks. “I can’t help the tears,” I admitted, sheepishly.

He pulled my body toward his in a hug, his breath hitting my ear. “What can I do to change that?” he asked in a whisper, his words sending a shiver up and down my spine, something I was sure he felt.

I frowned. “Only another equally strong emotion,” I said. Anger, sadness, happiness, fear, or contempt; and maybe even passion.

Jace used his strength to stand, pulling me along with him. I stumbled forward, embracing him in a hug. When I released, I saw that he was smirking, something that immediately made me nervous.

“What is it?” I asked, my voice soft though edgy.

He sighed, his smirk fading. “I don’t think I can make you happy yet. All I’ve ever done is hurt you. And then I just realized that you usually get really angry at me when I hurt you…” he trailed off.

I realized what he was hinting at. “No,” I said, my voice harsh and unbending. “If you purposely revert to your jerk-like self to get me to feel anger rather than sadness, I will never forgive you. Ever.” I pulled back from the hug, however still standing close to him.

The way he frowned and then furrowed his eyebrows made me think he was actually contemplating doing it. If he was that desperate to help me feel a different emotion, he should have changed sooner – maybe then he could have made me happy. But anger? No. I would never forgive him.

“I don’t know what else to do,” he said, frowning harder.

“You do what a normal person does when they care for someone,” I said, pausing to look at Luke. I wondered what he’d think of my complicated relationship with Jace. Turning back to look at Jace, I pressed my lips in a straight line. “Normal people don’t hurt their friends in order to get them feel something other than sadness.”

“I never said I was normal,” he admitted, his voice sharp. “But I do care for you.”

Crossing my arms across my chest, I looked Jace up and down, trying to decide if I believed him. This was not the place I wanted to be having second thoughts or doubts about the fact that I thought I liked him now.

“Prove it,” I demanded, my voice not faltering.

He frowned again, clearly unsettled by displaying his hurt. “Clary, it’s really hard to sit here and see you cry like you are. I don’t handle tears well because I was taught not to cry myself.”

“All you have to do is be here for me, that’s all it takes for you to prove you care.”

I wasn’t sure if he had the ability to turn off the jokes and the sarcasm for so long. He seemed unable to fully commit to the gentleness I realized I loved seeing in him. His vulnerability was showing – and maybe that was what drew me in, especially with the kiss. It was the vulnerable way he looked in the passionate heat of the moment.

He seemed reluctant to remain vulnerable with me, unable to process that it was what kept me drawn in to him. If he closed off his vulnerability, he risked me losing interest. It would just leave both our hearts broken into tiny fragments that might take months to recover from.

As if he understood my line of thought, he nodded. “You’re kind of asking a lot,” he said, his arm raising as he ruffled some of his hair at the back of his head.

I reached up and pushed some of the hair that had fallen in his face to the side, tucking it behind his ear. He looked at me delicately.

“If you can just open your heart up to me, just be here for me when I need you to be, and show me that you really are gentle, I will be open with you, too,” I said, my words shocking even myself. I never anticipated that I would have to open up to someone like Jace.

I never had wanted to open up to Jace. His words had usually stabbed deep into my chest, finding a way to affect me. I had tried my hardest over the years to put up a protective barrier to close myself off to his ways, but it was the hardest thing I had ever done.

In order to peel back that protective layer I spent years building, I had to be completely sure he would be doing the same for me. If he couldn’t open his heart up to me, then I couldn’t.

He nodded his head in understanding, his hand reaching for mine, grasping it in a supportive way. “I’ll try,” was all he could say. It had to be hard for him, but he had to understand it was hard for me too.

“Then I will too,” I agreed. “But the second you close yourself off to me, any chance we have at anything between us… it’ll be gone.”

He pursed his lips, my words seeming to seep into his skin and sting him, like his words used to do for me. This was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life – and it had gone against every spec of logic in my body.

What I felt for Jace was an intense need; he had defied all logic and implanted his soul into my heart, which beat with desire for this – for the chance that my feelings for Jace were true.

If I were wrong about him, I would be in for the greatest amount of pain I had ever felt before. Everything built up from the years would likely be too much for me to handle. To take the chance and jump on this leap of faith seemed idiotic, but necessary.

In a way, I hated the way I felt for Jace Wayland, like I should have hated him. Except I didn’t.