Dumpster Diving, Chapter Twenty: 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.