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.