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.

"Clary?"

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.