Dumpster Diving, Chapter Ten: Poisonous
Despite the progress I felt like Jace and I were making since last week, I was still tense knowing that at any moment he would just change his mind and hate me again. All Wednesday I avoided him, sitting in random empty seats in my morning classes so that he couldn’t sit next to me. With this avoidance, I had a lot more time to myself to finally feel the anger for letting myself get wrapped up in Jace’s drama.
What was it about him that made it so that he wouldn’t leave me alone? I was starting to realize that I deserved a lot more privacy than I was given. Even though I would never get that being in college with people living in such close quarters, I felt like Jace specifically went out of his way to bother me. It was overkill.
Now that I finally was being left alone in class, I loved the space that avoiding Jace had given me. I used the entire lecture of Professor Morgenstern’s class to ponder my life and everything I had reacted wrong to this week.
I thought about when Jace and Sebastian ganged up on me and threatened to dump me in a dumpster. I thought about how I should have stood up to them instead of letting Simon get caught up in it, which had directly led to Simon exploding on Jace with physical violence, not once but twice. It had also caused Simon’s character to alter, as he threw himself in a dumpster in an attempt to get me to believe him that Jace was bad news.
Too, I reminded myself that I had run away too easily in many situations, like on the first day when I drove all the way home to Jocelyn and Luke. They had been able to provide me with extra encouragement like Simon had, but their words apparently were wasted. It didn’t stop me from running away when Isabelle first started to warm up to me or after Jace pulled out my hair. I was a coward, despite all the people I had supporting me – in a way I felt like I had let them down.
There was no running away now, I decided. I wouldn’t let myself. I had to start standing up for myself or else no one would ever take me seriously. Once they had all seen how capable I was at unleashing my anger, they backed off and appreciated it, but then I had regressed and shown weakness again and that was almost like an open invitation for events such as the incident with Simon and Jace that resulted in my hair being pulled out. It was my own fault, and that was the worst part.
If I hadn’t backed down, if I had learned to be stronger like Luke and Simon had always taught me, maybe I wouldn’t be in this predicament. Here I was, avoiding Jace like trying to avoid the Sun, but it was impossible. The only thing I could do would be to put on my sunblock – or in real terms, my angry face. That was the only thing I could do.
I felt a sharp poke in my back halfway through the class as I turned around and realized Jace was throwing pencils at me. All day went by like that, Jace throwing things at my back, trying to get my attention. I wasn’t interested, possibly because of the fact that I hadn’t confronted him about many things that I should have and I was unsure what I would say if I did confront him about them.
Something else made me want to continue avoiding Jace and his childish pencil-throwing. I was unnervingly scared of the progress Jace and I were making lately, if that’s what you would call it. We shouldn’t have made any progress at all – that was what was so alarming about it. I had already given him too many chances. It suddenly felt so right ignoring him, as hard as he had tried to get my attention during classes.
On my way to my last class of the day, I tried to slip out and sneak to my next class without him noticing, deciding that I would confront him later. I didn’t want to deal with him just yet – I felt content ignoring the situation.
He tracked me down somehow, in the usual way that he surprised me by showing up out of nowhere with the worst possible timing.
“Did you really think me a fool?” his cool voice asked. Stopping in my tracks, I turned around to face Jace. I crossed my arms across my chest – I was cornered, again. Well, there were open sidewalks all around me, but just the fact that Jace had stopped me to talk made me feel cornered as if I couldn’t escape.
“I’m just tired of drama,” I said reluctantly. “I’m going to go now-”
Disinterested in his games, I attempted to walk away, toward class, but his arm gripped my elbow. Annoyed, I turned and shot daggers into him. He had most definitely cornered me.
“What. Do. You. Want?” I growled, darkly. I had rarely heard my own voice contain so much irritation in each word. That was a good thing, I reminded myself.
“I was thinking –you really helped me a lot with my English paper last night. I turned it in to Valentine outside of class and he told me that I did well on it. I wanted to know if you’d be my partner for the English project he was telling us about in class today,” he said, with the sarcasm and teasing void from his voice. “Isabelle and Alec already picked each other,” he added, when I said nothing. “Well, Isabelle practically pounced to steal Alec since he is usually my partner, but that’s beside the point.”
I hadn’t remembered Mr. Morgenstern talking about a project, but then again I had felt so red hot with anger this morning as I had reminded myself of my countless mistakes. I was just beginning to realize how much of an annoyance Jace’s petty problems were on my life and I had finally felt my anger, however displaced that it was. Unfortunately, with that anger I felt in class I had also been too distracted with avoiding Jace at all consequences lately that it was affecting my ability to focus on anything academically. If this was just the first two weeks of school, imagining the rest of the school year made me want to drop out.
“Fine, partner,” I seethed, ensuring that he was aware of how much I despised agreeing to working with him. “Are you going to leave me alone now?”
To be honest, it seemed strange that I was hanging around Jace Wayland, the most popular and powerful guy from my hometown of Alicante. Here in Idris, he seemed different – still a conceited jerk, but obviously without a life if he was busy following me around all day. Or maybe he had seen something in me, when I had been there to help him. Doubtful, but it could be possible. I tried not to hope for it, reminding myself of the past times I had hoped for a change in him and had been mistaken.
“Leave you alone? We have the same classes,” he noted, again without sarcasm. That time I had expected him to be annoyed or have a double-edged meaning behind his words, but they just felt indifferent. “Let’s get to Psychology. I hear Pangborn is being spiteful today. Sebastian had him this morning and apparently there’s a quiz today.”
“Lovely,” I mused.
It seemed like everything today revolved around Jace and how I had to feel about that. It was exactly what he liked and everything I didn’t.
I glowered as we walked in silence toward our third Wednesday class together. His long legs reached much further than mine, so he had to slow down a few times for me to keep up. It wouldn’t have bothered me at all if he just kept his own pace and we made it to class separately, but he insisted on falling into step with me when he could.
Being only the height of 5’4 compared to his 6’0 stature had its downsides. I was sure it was the reason he picked me as his high school play toy to begin with – either that or my fiery red hair and my obvious temper. With hope, I realized that Jace had no idea the wrath I could ensue if I actually stopped holding all of it back; the slap and the tears were only fragments of the emotions I truly felt welling up inside of me, waiting to be set free. That was a demon for another day.
“You haven’t made any ginger jokes today,” I noted, mostly to myself, as we walked. Looking to my side, I saw Jace nod with slight amusement on his face. “I’m not asking you to, but I’ve just noticed,” I added awkwardly. Small talk with him felt uncomfortable and forced. It was almost easier to just banter with him – that felt more natural.
“I decided it was cruel to tease you for your red hair, when you undoubtedly envy my golden locks. I look like an angel, and you…well, your hair must have just caught on fire once or twice.”
Though his words held enough of a sting in them, his facial expression and the tone he used to speak didn’t match up. He was teasing and sarcastic as always, but I caught for one second a look in his eyes that was unresponsive. Either he was trying to lighten up to prevent me from just walking away or he was trying to break high school habits.
Something seemed dangerously wrong about all this interaction. As Simon might say, my spidey senses are tingling.
All through psychology, I kept peering over curiously at Jace from my notes, using my hair as a cover. He was mildly focused on the lesson, preparing for the quiz he heard about. Meanwhile, I had forgotten all about it and felt flushed when the professor passed out the quizzes to the lecture hall and I painfully remember staring at Jace instead of paying attention. The quiz was five questions and I would lose all five points. A great addition to my already-wonderful second week, I thought sarcastically.
Jace’s voice caught me off guard. It was hushed in a whisper, and I realized it was the answer to the first question. Startled, I scribbled the answer on my paper and stared at the second question on my sheet. My pencil hovered as I racked my brain, wondering who the heck Freud was and why he was important. Jace’s voice surprised me again, providing that answer too.
When he gave me all the answers and I had finished writing them, we got up one after another and handed the quizzes in, leaving the hall but keeping our distance to prevent the professor from noting odd behavior. The professor didn’t seem to notice.
I stepped outside of the lecture hall, ten paces behind Jace, and looked around for him; he seemed to have disappeared. I shouldn’t have been frustrated with this because it would provide an escape, but something inside of me felt slightly disappointed.
“Over here,” Jace’s voice said, a short distance down the hall. He was seated on the bench, rummaging through his backpack. “I’m just looking for my room key. Mind if we make a stop at my dorm room before we go get lunch?”
My eyes scanned his face for some sort of joke or catch, but there was none. I watched as he fished out his room key. He re-zipped his backpack and threw it over his shoulder.
“Ready?” he asked, calmly, as if we were the best of friends.
I nodded numbly, confused but curious. One second he was gone and the next he was inviting me to his room. I hadn’t thought about why I accepted so hastily until after Jace started leading me through the halls.
I shrugged it off. There wasn’t much I could lose going with him – my reputation was already at the lowest of the lows, so the idea of whatever trap I figured he was setting me up for didn’t seem to faze me. I had the ability now that provided me with ammo to fire back at him, if all else failed. This could be a sort of test run of getting back into the swing of things with my feisty side. I needed to bring back the bad ass in me – I wasn’t sure how, but I needed to.
I obediently followed Jace as he led me through campus toward his dorm, which was of course the same one Simon lived in. Praying to myself I never saw Simon, we entered the building and climbed the stairs silently, toward Jace’s room. I remembered thinking the same thing the last time I was here, last night, when I helped Jace write his English paper. I most definitely should not have been here for a second time to see Jace rather than Simon; I was a terrible best friend.
Half-expecting to run into Simon at the dorm, I kept my head down, following behind Jace by watching his feet, as if I were doing the walk of shame. He guided me through to the second floor and unlocked his door halfway down the hall, throwing his backpack on the couch as he sprinted for his bathroom. It seemed like a trend for him to just disappear and leave me to explore his room.
I stepped inside his individual room and threw myself at his bed, burying my face in his pillow and grunting in frustration. I wondered if he was planning on dragging me around all day, idly. What would Simon think of what I was doing? What was I doing anyway? Just this morning I had given myself a pep talk to stand up for myself and here I was submitting myself to possible sabotage.
A million thoughts were going through my head at once and I felt conflicted.
Finally, Jace reappeared and pulled me off his bed by my backpack strap. Surprisingly I hung in the air a few inches off the ground. He laughed, but let go, gently returning my feet to the ground. I had flashbacks of the last time he lifted me in the air and promptly dropped me on my tailbone. I frowned.
“Did you want to leave your backpack here while we eat?” he asked, with slight enthusiasm. He must have just been hungry.
When I forgot to answer, he manually removed my backpack, deciding for me that I’d have to return to his room with him after he took me to lunch – something he also decided. I wondered what he was thinking through this all. Was this an evil plot to usher me around kindly when we were alone, only to crush my spirits? Or did he genuinely want someone’s company and I just happened to be there, along for the ride, just as I had happened to be there when I walked in on him secretly visiting his father?
I supposed I should have used my stubborn nature to my advantage and refused all invitations, but until I saw the angle of his Wednesday torment, I was apparently going to go along with it out of pure curiosity. It would be my own fault if anything happened because of it; I guess I would have to accept that.
We left his dorm room to go to the campus dining hall, which all the dorms shared. Walking down the tight hallway, I suddenly felt conscious of how close Jace and I were walking, our arms nearly bumping as we walked down the hall like old friends. I consciously brought my arms closer to my body as I walked, trying to avoid touching him, even though the urge was there deep down.
“I’m feeling soup and salad,” I announced, unsure if Jace was listening, when we entered the cafeteria.
He nodded. Around us, the loud echo of the dining hall made it impossible to speak coherently and actually have Jace hear me. I followed him as he led me toward Soup and Salad, silently.
“Are you getting soup and salad too?” I asked, my voice loud as I tried to talk over the background noise.
I thought about my question and wanted to hit my head up against a wall. He was on the football team – why would a football player want soup and salad? It seemed like it wasn’t a manly meal, but once again Jace just nodded in response.
I stared at the back of his head through narrowed eyes, willing myself to prod his brain with the answers to all my questions about his behavior, but came up blank. His intentions today were as clear as the oil spill courtesy of BP.
When we got to the food station, Jace picked Hearty Potato soup with a Caesar salad and I picked up Vegetarian Vegetable and a Caesar salad as well. He chose a booth that only sat two people. I looked around, confused, wondering why we were eating alone.
After we dropped our food at our table, he waved me to follow him again – as if he thought I was incompetent to find the drinks station, despite the fact that I came here every day with Simon. I poured myself lemonade, watching Jace carefully as he chose iced tea.
When we sat back down, I decided I was tired of my questions forming in my head that remained unanswered.
“Okay, what the hell are you doing?” I asked, not hiding any agitation.
He was already crunching on his salad when I asked. His golden eyes met mine and I realized with a startle that he looked gentle.
I continued, trying to maintain my confidence from earlier, but I felt it slowly fading. “I don’t understand why you were throwing things at me all morning and then once you caught me you’ve been leading me around, expecting me to follow. Did someone put you up to this?”
He stared at me quizzically, as if I spoke Martian.
“You’re supposed to hate me,” I clarified. “You hated me just fine last week. So why are you suddenly getting along with me? With the quiz answers and inviting me to your room…” I paused. “And are we on a date?”
The last word made me choke, as I contemplated the context of the situation. There was no way I was on a date with Jace Wayland. His buddies were about to jump out at any moment and dump ice over my head.
But they never showed up.
“Today is the first chance I was able to spend time with you alone when we weren’t being forced to,” he said, shrugging. “It was a test, I guess.”
Not following, I waited until he continued, but he seemed content stopping there. Annoyed, I poked angrily at my salad. He watched with lightness in his eyes, looking impossibly gorgeous.
After I realized what I had just thought, I wanted to slap myself. You cannot find him attractive. He has only been nice for like 5 minutes. It’s all an act and it will be over soon. No matter how many times I said this over and over to myself, I still thought he looked attractive across the table from me. Stupid Clary.
“Okay,” I said, uneasily. “And why do you need to test me alone? We’ve been alone other times, when we talked about your family and stuff and I helped you with your paper. What’s so different about today?”
He shrugged his shoulders indifferently. “I just thought I’d try a different approach today. Doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance?” His voice again remained nonchalant and indifferent.
Was that really what he was doing?
Scoffing, I stared down at the cucumber I stabbed, my voice sounding alien to even myself as I spoke. “You could have at least considered that maybe I didn’t want to give you one. And maybe I didn’t ask for you to either.” I was beginning to sound stubborn, I realized with conflicted happiness on the matter. Did it make sense that in a way I was happy that I was becoming angry? Nothing seemed to make sense anymore, I thought.
In a sense it relieved me to realize I still had a backbone, no matter how small and fragile it was. Stubbornness was something I was effectively able to weaponize now, as needed. Apparently I chose now to need it. Once again, I was displacing my stubborn energy – I should have used it before when he dragged me to his room or invited me to lunch. But now? The timing was off. What was wrong with me?
Watching me carefully, Jace’s eyes flickered around my face as I was pondering. Was he trying to read me? I realized with shock that he was probably catching every emotion I felt as I sat deeply in thought across from him.
“Stop that!” I shrieked, slightly too loud. A table nearby glared at me, laughing among themselves at my expense. I heard Jace laughing, too, but his laugh was different. “And stop laughing. God, this is high school all over again.”
“It doesn’t appear like that to me. If it was, I’d be the one leading the pack of snickering college students.” He smiled with dignity about his leadership qualities. It irked me.
“You seemed perfectly fine tormenting me with other people around to watch,” I protested. “It just seems strange to me that the second everyone leaves us alone, you just become a different person-”
“Clary, can’t you just consider the possibility that I don’t necessarily want to be who everyone wants me to be anymore?” Jace snapped back, with haste and irritation. He relaxed his jaw slightly and cast his eyes downward. “Sorry to snap at you, but I’m tired of…” He trailed off, lost in thought. “Maybe I’m just tired,” he mumbled, as if to himself.
Numbly, I pushed my salad around. I considered taking a bite, but suddenly felt like I wasn’t hungry anymore. The idea that somewhere deep inside of this person seated in front of me was an actual human being rather than a maniacal jerk startled me. He was claiming things that I had no proof to believe him on, because for all I knew everyone was in on it and the conversation was being recorded for public humiliation on YouTube.
But with the seriousness of his tone, I could tell that this was the first time he was speaking some of these words. And the strangest part of it all was that he decided to speak them to me, the girl he picked on aggressively for four years. Here I was adding another thing to the list of things that only I know about him. It made me feel sick and queasy – that should not even be a list.
“I just think it’s kind of bizarre that you chose now to decide to change yourself,” I commented with honesty. “You’ve kind of got a lot of ground to make up if you plan to right yourself in any way for all that you’ve done.”
He avoided eye contact as I spoke. It was sad, but he was the one I felt bad for – he was asking me, the girl he bullied, for a second chance when I was barely ready to give one to him. The reason I had stayed with him as long as I had today felt unknown, but it didn’t feel like it was because I thought I owed him a second chance. Maybe I had always wanted him to feel like he owed me one.
“I suppose I was wrong to just spring it on you. You know, asking for your forgiveness and a second chance and all,” he said thoughtfully, taking another bite of his salad and speaking with his mouth full. “It’s bothered me all night after you left and all morning during class…things are falling into place for you and me.”
I stared at him, dumbfounded, my jaw agape. “What do you mean things are falling into place for us?” I nearly choked on the words as they came out of my mouth, the taste bitter and surprising. These were words I never wanted to speak again, if I could help it.
“Don’t you think it’s sort of fate that we have all five classes together? That Isabelle, my sister, is your roommate? That you walked in on my reunion with my father and you haven’t told a soul about it? Clary, this has to be a sign that you’re here to help me change.”
Dumbfounded, I stared at him, trying to decipher his face. Was he an evil replicant or a twin nobody knew about? Could I really be staring into the golden eyes of the real Jace Wayland?
And had he used my real name, not once but twice now?
My head started pounding and I felt immediately dizzy. I rubbed my temples in agitation, unsure what to think about the situation. This was what I had mentally prepared myself for earlier, and here I was feeling queasy and troubled about the mere thought of something as unexpected as this. That was a lot of pressure to find out that the person you practically despised not only expects you to keep a secret for him, but also asks for your forgiveness and a second chance, expecting you to be the person who will change him. How the hell would I do that, when just recently he was nearing the point of no-return in the “second chances category”?
Nausea bubbled up inside me, as I started to feel more and more uncomfortable with my current situation. Suddenly my legs were moving under me and I was sprinting away from the table, towards the bathroom, ready to lose my stomach contents in the toilet. The anxious energy I had felt all day about running away from my problems was catching up with me, especially now that I was hearing Jace’s revelations about the fact that I was apparently his savior. My name and the word ‘savior’ do not belong in the same sentence as ‘Jace Wayland’.
I guessed the true test would be to see if Jace could wait for my stomach to empty and not only that but not joke about it. After I felt less nauseated and able to return to my table, I slowly made my way back, expecting an empty table, but found Jace waiting. He was done eating, and when his eyes caught mine I saw a look of concern.
I narrowed my eyes suspiciously. There was no way someone could change as quickly as he had – one day after the father-son incident – because previous to that he was tormenting me as usual. There was no way that this guy seated in front of me was the same person.
Uneasily I sat down and stared at the food I left untouched and felt woozy again. This was all happening too fast, all the concepts I couldn’t handle – that Jace was actually opening up to me like this.
“If you can hold it in, we can walk to my dorm and you could nap the sick feeling away,” Jace said, noting my expression. “I’d even make you pasta or something bland in the community kitchen once you feel better.”
His offer seemed genuine. Despite the fact that I felt troubled about everything in the situation, I agreed, nodding my head quickly and with urgency – I needed to get back to a bathroom again, quickly. That was the only reason I accepted, I told myself.
We rushed back to his apartment and he handed me an empty trash basket to lean over. He flipped on the TV hanging on the wall above his dresser, which I hadn’t noticed before. He instructed me to lay back into his bed to rest, but the request felt awkward and uncomfortable this time. We were getting too close for comfort.
“Clary Fray,” he said sternly, when I objected to using his bed.
“So you do know my name?” I asked. It was the first thing I’d said since our talk at the dining hall before I had rushed out to throw up my nervous feelings.
He frowned and winked. “I know more about you than you think, Clarissa Adele Fray.”
“Ouch, full name this time.” I half-smiled, still slightly weirded out with the situation and with the fact that he somehow knew my middle name, which I expended immense amounts of effort covering up over the years. He must have snatched a teacher’s seating chart in high school and read it, probably intending to use it as torture one day, though he never had.
“I will tuck you into that bed so tight that you will have to consciously breathe, if you don’t make yourself comfortable this instant,” he growled, in a voice I had never heard before.
I obeyed and ducked under the comforter of his bed. The sheets had yellow ducklings on them.
I started to laugh but he cut me off, “And do not laugh at my duck sheets, I’ve been stuck with them since Max died. If everyone would stop laughing at me about them, that would be great,” he mumbled.
“What do you have against ducks?” I asked politely, trying to avoid the awkward conversation bordering on the topic of his brother’s murder.
He shuddered, as if a winter breeze swept over the room. I didn’t feel anything, just the warmth of his comforter and duck sheets. With that, he dropped the subject, closing the door and hitting the light switch, the room suddenly darkening except for the light of the TV.
“Mind if I crawl in?” he asked.
I nodded in the darkness, hoping he could see. If there was one thing that I was going to object to, it definitely wasn’t going to be that; the proximity of his body against mine actually seemed like it would be comforting through it all. Better it be physical proximity than emotional – I wasn’t sure I was ready to forgive and forget the terrible memories he gave me – the hair pulling, the dumpster dumping, the tears and the pain. An attractive – though, maniacal jerk – lying in the same bed with me didn’t seem like such a bad thing, though. Could that ever be a bad thing?
He crawled under the blankets behind me and draped an arm across my stomach, which rumbled slightly since I hadn’t finished my lunch. He moved his hand away, instead letting it cup the side of my curves. It felt strange, letting him touch me like that, when the only other person who got that close to me was Simon.
With the lights off and the warmth of Jace behind me, it was easy to drift in and out of consciousness, despite the flashing of the TV. I figured it was more for his benefit – otherwise something other than football might have been on the TV.
After a while – I wasn’t sure how long – I awoke with a startle, my stomach feeling void of the sick feeling earlier, as Jace had said it would disappear if I napped. The door to Jace’s room slammed open and the light flicked on.
Isabelle’s nosy head poked into the room and she gasped. I was slowly regaining consciousness when I realized what she was seeing.
Sitting up too fast, I felt a head rush and nearly banged my head into Jace’s, as he jolted upright to meet Isabelle’s eyes, which were dark with resentment. Who knew that a girl so small and fragile looking could be so direct and poisonous.
- Dumpster Diving, Chapter 09 (merissafaye.wordpress.com)