"Hi Mom," Jace breathed as he reached out to take her hand. She did not move, save for her eyes darting back and forth beneath her eyelids. "Mom, I need help," Jace's voice broke, but no tears fell. He shivered a little in the coldness of the room and reach to tuck the blanket tighter around her shoulders. He fell back into the chair, pressing against the hard plastic and crossing his arms.

"There's this girl." Jace shook his head and cleared his throat. "Actually, there was this girl." He sighed. "She left. And she was right to, I guess."

Jace's eyes flicked from his mother's face to the small window at the other side of the room. The sun was set, and they were far enough outside the city that he could see the stars starting to peek out against the dusky sky. There was silence for a few moments; the only noise came from quiet hum of the machines that she was hooked up to and Jace's uneven breath. The smell of the place took his breath and made him feel sick.

"I'm such a coward, Mom." He said finally. "I just don't know what to do. I want her. I really want her. I want her every morning and every night and I want to cook dinner for her even though I can't cook for shit," he jumped, realizing that he was in his mother's presence, but remembering that she couldn't hear him anyway, so it made no difference. Yet he whispered an apology before continuing, sitting still as a rock and keeping his eyes firmly glued on a little star that seemed so close to the window he could touch it. "I want to cook for her and pick her up from work and then make love to her and play baseball with Mattie and go to work and come home and kiss her," Jace stopped and took a shaky breath, leaning forward again to take his mother's hand. "And I really, really want my mom to wake up and tell me what I should do."

He lifted her limp hand to his lips and pressed a soft kiss against her knuckles, sniffing and cradling her palm against his cheek. He was filled with a sudden ache for her; it had been ten years since she had lived with Jace and his father, eleven since she had gotten sick. The beginning was hard; she was gone most of the time, and when she was home, Jace's time with her was limited. After she had been placed in medical care, Jace had seen her even less. That is, until he had gotten his driver's license. After that, he made the trip to the medical center every night. At first, it had been fine. Though his mother was far from alright, she could still sit up and talk. As her health worsened, Jace's trips became fewer and fewer. When she slipped into a coma, he stopped coming altogether. Three months later, he was filled with guilt and resumed his visits. He would make the trip nightly after he finished his classes. Three months later, he was discouraged and once again stopped coming.

She couldn't tell the difference, so what did it matter?

This was his first visit since he'd met Clary. Some of the nurses looked at Jace with pity as he came in. The older ones remembered him as a bright and smiling boy, bouncing golden curls and chattering talk, usually covered in smudges of dirt from playing outside. Others saw him as a bitter rich boy who visited his mother out of obligation. Some saw him for what he really was: broken and hurt and lashing out at the world for all of its unfairness.

"Mom, I need you, please wake up." Jace whispered quietly, reverently. He had prayed and hoped. He had bartered and begged, but there was nothing. The only response his mother offered was the rise and fall of her chest, stimulated by the machines.

Jace gave a shaky sigh in return and sat back in his chair, arms folded and ankles crossed. He closed his eyes. "I'm so tired." He reached up to rub his eyes and pinch the bridge of his nose. "I'm tired of playing basketball and going to classes. I'm tired of you being sick and I'm tired of Dad always riding my ass about everything. I haven't even seen him in over two months and I can still feel his disappointment. I'm tired of being away from Clary and it's only been," he paused and glanced at his watch, "thirteen hours since I saw her. And now I can't see her anymore anyway.

"Mom, I think I love her." Jace took another shaky breath, admitting to himself for the first time that he might feel something more for Clary. He had said it earlier this morning, but he had been desperate and blurted it out with no real explanation. "I don't know. It's too late now." He grunted as he shifted around, trying in vain to get comfortable in the painfully uncomfortable seat. He gave up and settled back, crossing his arms again and scowling. "I blame you and Father. You never gave me an example of what love looks like. Hell, you barely even spoke" He sighed, guilt striking his heart. "I don't mean that," he muttered. "Sorry." He looked back at her peaked and pale face.

"I don't think you would like me very much, Mom. I'm mean." His words were simple. He was being truthful, though it physically hurt him to say the next few words. "I think I'm more like Dad than I am like you." He bit his lip and looked down. "That really sucks to say out loud and acknowledge. I just don't know how to fix it." Jace leaned forward and rested his elbows on the edge of her bed, pretending for a moment that the movement it caused was actually his mother reacting to his words, not just an effect of him jostling the bed. He rested his chin on his hands and looked down at her. "It's my fault that Clary left. I yelled at her for asking about you. I've never told anyone about you. Not even Alec, technically. He just guessed that you were holed up somewhere far away. He doesn't know that you're sick. He just thinks that you're a deadbeat. I don't care though. It's better this way. This way he's not forcing himself down our throats. But Clary," his words broke off. "Clary's different. I actually wanted to tell her the truth, I just couldn't. I don't know why I couldn't. I'm so messed up." Jace reached out to play with her fingers, picking at the simple gold wedding band on her third finger.

"I think that you would have liked Clary. She's sweet. But man, is she ever fiery. She's got quite the temper. She's got a son too. He's five- no wait, he's six now. He just had a birthday not too long ago. He's a cool little kid. He likes baseball a lot. It's actually really crazy; I know his dad. I play with his dad. Sebastian. He raped Clary when she was fifteen." Even now, Jace felt anger stirring in his chest. "The son of a bitch raped her and left her with a kid." He realized that he was squeezing his mother's hand too tightly when he felt the cool metal of the ring pressing painfully into his palm. "She's a great mom. Just like you were. Are." Jace corrected himself. "And I love her. I know now that I do. I love her and it's too late because I was a dick and I screwed up one too many times and I lost her. She's probably going to find some great guy who knows how to treat her and she'll marry him and then they'll have, like, twenty kids and a huge house and a really happy life and I'll just be here, by myself, talking to my comatose mother and drinking myself into a stupor even an alcoholic would envy."

Jace sat up and cleared his throat. "Some kid you gave birth to, huh, Mom?" He chuckled once and reached for her hand again.

Just then a knock at the door sounded and the nurse who had been sitting at the desk when he walked in poked her head through the door. "Jace, sweetheart, it's almost eleven o'clock. Visiting hours were over an hour ago." He recognized her from his many trips; she had been working at the medical center for as long as he could remember. He nodded and stood, leaning over to kiss his mother's forehead and gently squeeze her hand.

"I'll see you soon, Mom. Love you," He whispered against the cool skin of her temple.

He stepped around his chair and moved toward the door, nodding as the nurse waddled out of his way and held the door open for him. "Has there," he cleared his throat, "Has there been any kind of change? At all?" He whispered the last two words hopefully, his voice low and tight.

She looked at him in pity. "No, son. I'm afraid there hasn't been."

Jace nodded once and cast his eyes downward as he walked out of the medical center and to his car.

Clary closed the door as Jace walked out, his shoulders slumped. She braced her back against the door, listening to Jace's footsteps echo down the hall, fading into silence as he walked away. She slid down, fatigue and misery sinking into her as the tears welled behind her eyes. She took deep breaths, trying to calm herself and hold it together. It didn't work. Big, fat tears crashed down over her cheeks as wracking sobs burst from her body. She wrapped her arms around herself and buried her face in the crook of her elbows, knowing that she had made the right decision, but regretting it nonetheless.

She loved Jace beyond what her words could express, but he didn't feel the same. As good as it may feel in the moment, as perfect as it was to pretend, she couldn't live in the world anymore. A world of delusion and make-believe happiness was not the place for a twenty-one year old mother who could barely make rent every month. She had a son and he took precedence. Everything she did had to be for his benefit and playing house with Jace was no way to provide for her son.

Though her tears had not yet stopped, she stood and locked the door before making her way to her bed, collapsing on the lumpy mattress and shoving her face into the pile of pillows she had amassed from thrift stores and cheap street sales. She tugged the blankets over her head, letting the warmth wash over her face. Her eyes grew heavy and she sniffed, trying to erase the evidence of her sobs. Her mind drifted and she was soon asleep.

She woke a few hours later with a clearer head. She was thankful that she had the day off, even though she wasn't spending it as she had originally planned. She still had about three hours before she had to pick Mattie up at his after-school program, so she rallied herself, standing up and undressing to get in the shower. The scalding water helped clear her head as she stood there and let the water pour over her. Her arms were crossed protectively over her chest while she closed her eyes and breathed in the humid air that the water threw off. Her mind, for the first time in a while, was empty. She didn't think of anything – not Jace, not the bills that were due next week, not the fact that she had to be to work early tomorrow, not that she had places to be and things to do.

She simply took in the heat from the shower and the pleasantness of it. The relaxation. The calm.

Sighing, she worked the cheap shampoo through her hair, combing the curls with her fingers as she rinsed the suds away, carefully avoiding her eyes. Happiness couldn't last forever. She shut off the water and stepped out, tightly wrapping a towel around her, trying to conserve as much heat as possible as she braced herself against the chill. Dorothea hadn't turned on the furnace yet, and in the rapidly cooling October air, Clary had been dressing herself and her son in flannels and sweatshirts earlier than usual this year.

Refreshed after her nap, Clary had more of her usual bounce. She tried to refuse to think of Jace as she gathered her clothes – a pair of well-worn jeans, a faded Clash t-shirt, and an oversized, paint-splattered flannel – but as she reached into the drawers of her dresser, the first shirt she pulled out was Jace's. She let the towel drop and stood in her bedroom, naked and shivering, as she stared at the black thermal. Her eyes fell closed as she thought back to where it came from. Jace had given it to her a few days ago to sleep in; he was always hot, and he had peeled it off to go to bed, tossing it to her, laughing and saying, "What can I say, Fray? I run hot. Besides, my clothes look better on you anyway."

Clary opened her eyes and brought the shirt to her face, rubbing it against her cheek and breathing in Jace's scent. She hit a brick wall of memories before angrily throwing it to the side. She scoffed and shook her head as she picked up the clothes she had just gathered, yanking them on her body and wrestling her wet hair until a messy bun sat squarely atop her head. From there she whirled around her apartment, a furious tornado of activity as she grabbed anything and everything that Jace had left there. She hurled it onto her bed, promising herself that she would get boxes at the grocery store when she went for supplies.

She had no idea that Jace had so much stuff that had migrated to her place.

Clary read somewhere that there were seven stages of a breakup. She thought hard, trying to recall what the article said. She remembered that shock led to something, led to something else, led to depression, led to anger. She was past shock and depression. Now she was angry.

She was beyond angry – she was furious. She was pissed that Jace had led her on for so long, and she was pissed that she had let herself be led on. She reasoned that acceptance was the last stage and that she would get there eventually. Probably. Until then, however, she would rip apart her room to rid every last trace of him. A hoodie here, a t-shirt there. A pair of basketball shorts she had commandeered to sleep in the other night, leaving him to sleep in only his boxers, an arrangement that they both preferred.

Or rather, used to prefer.

She spent another half an hour scouring the tiny apartment for any sign of Jace. Confident that she had dug out everything that belonged to him, she left it in a heap on her bed, spun on her heel, grabbed her wallet and was out the door. It was about a fifteen minute walk to the grocery store that she preferred, and she set out, enjoying the cool, crisp air that filled her lungs, pressing against her heart and pushing out the pain, even if just for a few minutes. For the time being, she could pretend that everything was normal and right.

Does this qualify as the denial stage? She wondered to herself as she pulled the door open and stepped inside the bigger-than-a-bodega-yet-smaller-than-a-real-store market and grabbed a cart. She moved quickly through the aisles, grabbing the essentials like bread, milk, cheese, lunchmeat, crackers, and juice. She paused at the liquor aisle. Knowing that night would come and that this positive attitude would disappear, she reached for the cheapest bottle of vodka she could find, a very un-Clary-like action. She didn't like beer, and wine reminded her of her first real date with Jace. Besides that, the people in the movies always chose either tequila or vodka because it did the trick, and it did it fast. Cost was the deciding factor, plus the vodka was on a lower shelf, so she could actually reach it without climbing.

She made her way to the front of the store to check out, gathering the three large, brown, paper bags in her arms and strode through the door. She peeked behind her and dashed around to the rear entrance where the broken down boxes were kept until recycling day. Setting the bags down and tossing her flannel over them to hide them from the unlikely passerby, Clary hoisted herself into the green dumpster and waded through the mess of cardboard, randomly grabbing two or three that seemed to be in decent condition and tossing them over the side. She followed suit, unfolding the largest to lay the others inside of it, and then layer her groceries on top. She felt and looked clumsy, but it was the easiest way to carry everything at once. She lifted it and walked off.

The walk home took her a little longer than usual, and sweat beaded on her forehead. She fumbled with her keys in the lock before struggling up the stairs to her room. Setting everything down on the table, she collapsed, panting, in the chair. She unpacked the groceries and then packed Jace's belongings and left them by the door. Glancing at the clock, she gathered her wallet and flannel and left to go pick up her son.

Several hours later, after Clary had prepared supper for the two of them and they were cuddling on the couch, Matthew noticed the box of Jace's things by the door. He motioned to it, asking, "Mommy, what is that? Why is Jace's stuff in a box? Where is Jace?"

Clary sighed and pulled him closer to kiss his forehead. "Jace is gone, Buddy,"

He pulled away from her, craning his neck to look up at Clary. "Gone where? Is he coming back?"

Clary bit her lip and looked at him sadly, trying her hardest not to let the tears fall. "No, Baby, he isn't coming back."

"Ever?" Matthew asked incredulously.

"I don't think so." Clary answered quietly, brushing a tiny blonde curl out of his face.

"Why? Why did you send him away?" Matthew was close to panicking now, looking at his mother's face with a scared expression.

"No, Honey, I didn't send him away, I just-"

"Mommy, where is Jace? I want him back." He started to cry, curling up against Clary's shoulder. She pulled away so that she could look him in the eye.

"Jace is gone, Mattie. He isn't going to come back. He's out living his life right now. He's going to go play basketball and do his own thing. You and me are just going to keep living here, doing our thing and having fun and eating grilled cheese sandwiches, okay? We're all going to be just fine."

"But I want Jace back," he was calmer, but his voice still broke and shook, making Clary's heart break and tears well.

"I know, Baby. I do too, but sometimes, people just don't get to see each other anymore. And that's what happened now." She kissed his forehead again, desperately wishing that Jace had been more mature, had been honest, had done anything but this so that this little boy wouldn't be so broken. "It'll get better, I promise." She pulled away from him and wiped his tears away with her thumbs, gently pinching his cheeks. "Now go brush your teeth and get ready for bed. You have school in the morning."

Mattie's face was still tearstained and upset, but he did as he was told and shuffled off to the bathroom to brush his teeth and comb his hair. She chased him off to bed when he was done and closed his door. She heard him toss and turn for a few moments, but the little boy was soon still and sleeping.

Clary just turned and reached for the vodka bottle she had hidden on the top shelf of the freezer.

Another chapter down. Reviews please? That would make my day… and my finals week. *wink wink*

Any ideas about upcoming events? Only I know for sure, but I do love hearing what you guys think is going on.

Love you all!