Dumpster Diving, Chapter Twenty-Nine: Back from the Dead
The week rushed by faster than I anticipated. By the time it was Friday I had hardly realized it had gone and passed. Isabelle was on my back the entire week, ensuring me that I was fulfilling my part of the responsibilities for the girls' team. All I had left was one weekend of sanity before Hell Week began. Halloween was fast approaching, and with that, the fear of heartbreak loomed. One way or another I would find out if my friendships and relationship was real. Until then, I was doomed to play along.
In last minute preparation for some of the Hell Week activities, I was on Jace duty, as well as "dweebs" according to Isabelle, which meant I had to find out personal details about them to give us an upper edge to win Game Show Night on Tuesday. The "dweebs" I was assigned were Zachariah and Will, two of the new additions to our table. They were surprisingly cool guys, maybe the most normal of the group. They were low-key, hardly noticeable in a crowd full of meatheads like Jonathon and Sebastian.
Simon had taken a liking to hanging out with them because they weren't as judgmental as the other part of the group. Jordan would occasionally show up too, but he didn't particularly care for most of Simon's new friends. I had noticed that Simon and Jordan were drifting apart as friends, but I said nothing because it wasn't my place to talk, especially considering I sort of chose to be a part of this group. Well, it was mostly due to Jace's master plan. I'm not sure if I would have been friends or sought approval from everyone if it hadn't hinged on my college reputation.
As my mind flitted to Jace, I also looked in his direction out of new habit. He was already staring at me and I caught his eye. We were in the middle of class and I had evidently been daydreaming too hard to notice his intense staring.
I turned to face him and he wiggled his eyebrows at me. It got on my nerves most of the time, but the other half of the time it melted my soul. Today it was mostly irritation that festered in my heart, and none of it was actually his fault. There were outside factors this time affecting my mood, namely all the attention my relationship had gotten since the day Isabelle assigned duties for Hell Week preparation. Aline was determined to make it as difficult as possible for me to be around Jace alone, which had grown on my nerves. Not to mention, Jace and I had a weird chemistry setting in, as I realized he was becoming more open to me. Was it all a trap? Was it real? Would any of this actually work? I had so many questions.
After Jace had professed that he was falling in love with me, I couldn't contain my emotions as well. They spilled out as if I had reached the tipping point of a giant bucket of water that turned out to be sludge instead, and it all came out in a gooey mess.
I felt half-disgusted with myself, the more I realized Jace might have been telling the truth. I was letting someone in that maybe I should have kept at arms-length, and yet most of what I was feeling felt almost right. Simon would be so ashamed of me for letting Jace penetrate my walls, so I remained steadfast, trying to not let it to get to me. It was for Simon… I think.
Regardless, I couldn't love someone back who hurt me as much as he had. Could I? The past was something I couldn't change, but that didn't mean I couldn't forgive it. Jace had sent me home crying for years, and that wasn't something that could change overnight… and yet it had.
I frowned to myself. How had I let things get so complicated?
Jace gave me a weird look, but I looked away to avoid any line of questioning. It was best to focus on the task at hand. I could focus on my feelings some other time, when my social reputation wasn't on the line.
After school I was tasked with learning about Jace and his life. Isabelle couldn't ask him or it would be too obvious, so she had stuck me with it. It was for Game Show Night, but I couldn't let on that it was. The rules of the game stated that it was illegal to outwardly ask questions about the other team members. I didn't think Jace would care though, considering he knew that his sister was at my throat about all the preparations and she was a very competitive person.
After class let out, Jace took my hand and led me through campus to the fountain. I focused on the touch of his hand and pretended I wasn't feeling a bunch of things swarming in my stomach. It was like a zoo in there, the butterflies transforming into a stampede of animals that made me outright sick with excitement at his touch.
We sat on the bench and Jace took both of my hands in his and kissed them. "What's wrong?" he asked after a minute.
I still couldn't focus. My mind was trained on the way he caressed my hands, his fingers calloused, the sensation so alluring. "Huh?" I asked numbly, still staring at our hands together.
"You know what I asked," he said. I looked up at his face and there was something masked. I couldn't read it, and maybe that was because he didn't want me to. He was very collected when he needed to be, and he knew exactly how much to show.
I sighed, knowing well that I couldn't bullshit with him. "Where do I begin?" I asked, defeated. The question of what's wrong felt more complicated than calculus. "Well, I'm worried about Simon and what he will think when he finds out about the plan after Hell Week is up. I think Isabelle secretly stands outside my door with a kitchen knife, waiting to kill me and cut off my hair as a trophy. Sebastian keeps hitting on me which is not at all normal for him considering he used to say just as many Dumpster Girl jokes as you did," I glared at Jace for a second before continuing. He frowned. "Then there's Jonathan and Morgenstern mingling which makes me worried because, well, first of all.. Morgenstern is a creep." I pursed my lips, remembering Jace wanted to have a good relationship with his dad. "No offense," I added hastily. I didn't let him say anything in response before finishing my thought, "This week I found out that Luke has arthritis in his knee and he will have a permanent limp. Uhhh, what else? Oh! You said you love me and I honestly don't know how I feel about that, and frankly I've been avoiding the conversation, but I kind of think we need to talk about it now..?" I glanced behind Jace's shoulder, pausing when I realized I saw a figure approaching. "And now Aline is literally walking in this direction, so that's great timing."
Jace had no chance to comment on my ramblings when Aline plopped herself down on the bench next to him, pressing into his side. He scooted closer to me, trying to distance himself from her. She looked hurt, but didn't miss a beat. "Hey Jace!" She smiled, toothy and fake. Her eyes met mine in a second thought. "Clary, Isabelle told me to add Jordan to your list of dweebs to research. I think he's in the library, if you want to go do that and I can take over on Jace!" She grinned at her attempt.
"No," was all Jace said, flatly. I had to get used to him speaking for me. When it came to exes, it seemed like he had a strict policy on handling it himself. I tried not to think too hard on their past and instead focused on the fact that he was still holding my hand.
Aline seemed to notice our hands, because she began to pout. She adjusted her shirt, lowering the top to reveal more cleavage. "Your loss," she sang, off key. Then she stood up, sauntering away towards the residence hall.
I glowered in her general direction, until Jace took my face in his hands and forced my attention to him. "I'm sorry you're so stressed, but I promise this will all be over soon."
I nodded and he released my face. Secretly I wished he'd have taken me and kissed me, but I knew he was trying to be serious for me. "How do you know any of this will work, anyway?" I asked, still numb.
He seemed thoughtful, looking off into the distance towards the fountain. "You said it yourself, that Sebastian was hitting on you. That's a step up from the way he treated you. So that's one person's improvement." He paused. "And for the record, I regret that I treated you the way I used to."
"I know," I said with confidence. That was one thing I did trust about Jace, that he regretted bullying me. The only matter now that I didn't feel completely confident in was whether his romantic feelings were real or not. In fact, the whole thing could have been a façade just like the rest of their plan to fake friendship with me, but I pretended like it wasn't a possibility. Who would go so low as to say they love someone for a joke?
"What are you thinking about?" Jace asked, reaching for my face again.
I momentarily considered adding more of what was bothering me, but decided it was best to not reveal how paranoid I was about the upcoming events. "I don't know," I lied.
He knew. "Clary, just look at me," he asked. I did. I looked at him, taking him in. "I mean it when I say I am with you. I promise I am an ally, not your enemy."
"Then why do I feel so alone?" I asked, surprising myself that I had said it out loud instead of in my own head. Jace was doing this thing lately where he somehow got me to speak when I didn't want to. I chalked it up to living in the moment, not liking to admit that somewhere deep down I might have been falling for Jace too. If it was falling into the trap, I didn't know, but I was definitely falling. Here I was, placing my trust in him, hoping it wasn't a mistake, hoping he really was on my side.
He didn't respond. He just wrapped his arms around me, embracing me in his arms. It felt like I belonged there.
I didn't move, and he didn't release. We just sat there, him holding me, until interruption. It might have been upwards of 15 minutes just silently hugging before Simon approached. We had plans to meet up for lunch off campus and this was our meeting spot.
"Wayland," Simon greeted, breaking the reverie we were in.
Releasing me, Jace looked up into the eyes of Simon who was standing over us. "Lewis," he acknowledged. "Take care of my lady."
"I'll take care of my best friend," Simon retorted. "You take care of your hair or something."
I scrunched my nose in confusion. "Um what?"
"Dyed blonde wannabe," Simon huffed. "Looks like it needs a touch up."
"Oh would you just cooperate," I demanded, standing up to mark my serious tone. I was too short to make anyone intimidated here. "Bye Jace," I said, waving. He nodded, still eyeing Simon.
I was whisked away before hearing a response from Jace, or maybe he hadn't responded, and Simon was already rambling about his most recent World of Warcraft arena. I tried to keep up, but most of it was things I didn't understand, something about his healer being OOM, whatever that meant.
We made it to Simon's car and Taylor Swift was blasting through the speakers. I covered my ears from the initial shock of the too-loud song. "You're such a Swiftie, nerd," I laughed at him.
He turned the volume down, still grinning at me. "She really made another comeback, ya know? First she was lost, then she found herself, metaphorically died, and now she's back from the dead. I mean it's truly remarkable that the girl can reinvent herself so much!"
I rolled my eyes, but smiled at the same time. If anything was stable in my life anymore, it was Simon, and I always appreciated the nameless moments laughing with him. It was refreshing to me that he retained his nerdy guilty pleasures coming into college. He hadn't let anyone get to him, hadn't changed for anyone, not even Isabelle.
"How was your date last night with Isabelle?" I asked him, remembering he had planned to give her a necklace. I had helped him pick it out and we were both worried she wouldn't like it. "Did we do okay?"
"Oh she loved it," he said quickly, multitasking with driving to Seelie, the sushi place we had lunch plans for. "She said she knew you picked it out though." He laughed. "It's obvious I know nothing about jewelry. She said thanks for helping me!"
I tried to feel okay with this, but I still felt like it was fishy. "Yeah," I said, dropping it. Isabelle and I were constantly on the rocks. She was always worrying me that out of nowhere she'd go dark on me just like she did the night I found out she didn't like me. Never underestimate a catty girl, I reminded myself.
"Don't be so worried, Clary," Simon suddenly said. I wasn't sure what he was referring to. Did he know about their plan somehow?
He looked over at me from the driver's seat. "Isabelle won't hurt me." He looked back at the road, swerved a bit, then nervously laughed. "Oops, barely missed a squirrel."
I tried to think about Isabelle and Simon and how serious they were getting. Maybe she was faking it with me, and that was fine, but it would break my heart if she was doing the same to Simon. "What does Jordan think of her now that she's over there some nights?" I asked. I was spared a few nights a week of Isabelle ever since she had started sleeping over with Simon, but that didn't mean she didn't still show up unannounced to Jace's room when I was spending alone time with him. Sometimes I wondered how that girl was all places at once.
"She's growing on him," Simon said, clearly not interested in saying more. I knew Jordan was skeptical of Isabelle. Maia had probably told him about the catty things she said about her, and I knew that Maia and Jordan had the type of relationship where they told each other everything.
"That's good," I offered. Truthfully the small talk was a little too much for me, but I needed to keep up with appearances. Simon couldn't know how conflicted I was about Jace, and he especially couldn't know what Jace had told me earlier in the week.
Of course, it seemed like anytime I thought about Jace, Simon could sense it. He looked over briefly at me, for a shorter time, before looking back to the road. "You seem lovestruck," he noted. "Jace is getting to you, isn't he?"
"What do you mean?" I asked, unsure. Simon rarely asked about Jace, possibly because he was so disgusted about him. I recalled how he had lied about Jace throwing him in a dumpster, which had jump-started the whole relationship.
"Well, you're always together, don't think I don't know that. My ears are Isabelle's ears. That girl can talk." He laughed briefly, and I joined. It was true that Isabelle knew just about everything. He continued, "But I thought I warned you to be careful of him?"
I shrugged. "I am being careful."
Was I, though? Just thinking about Jace had my stomach in knots, recalling how he said he was falling in love with me. I had told myself I'd guard myself a little, even though Jace asked me not to be, but I was clearly failing in that department anyway.
"If you say so," Simon said, dropping the subject.
We rode the rest of the way to Seelie quietly, the Taylor Swift song the only sound. When we arrived, Simon chose a seat in the back of the restaurant. We ordered and while waiting for our food to arrive, I noticed that Morgenstern was sitting in the corner. He was facing us but he wasn't alone – he had a male figure sitting with him but they had a hoodie up over their head.
"Don't look now," I whispered. "But Morgenstern is behind you to the left."
Simon waited a moment before covertly checking behind him. He pretended to be twisting his back for a stretch. When he straightened to me, his mouth made an 'o' and he whispered back. "That's the English professor who creepily stole your ring and knows your biological father?"
I nodded. "Yeah." I had to leave out the fact that he was Jace's biological father since no one could know about that. "Who is he with?" I wondered.
"Beats me," Simon shrugged. "Maybe it's Jonathan again?"
"Yeah after that secret meeting, who knows," I agreed. "I need to tell Jace." I pulled out my phone and swiftly composed a message to Jace. A response was sitting in my inbox shortly after.
Jonathan isn't in the room, so it could be him, Jace responded. I looked up at Simon before responding, noticing the look of annoyance on his face.
"Sorry," I apologized quickly, "I just need more answers, ya know?"
Simon nodded but didn't say anything else as I responded to Jace: Should I investigate? I got another response almost immediately after sending. No, I don't want you to get caught. Leave it to me. Seconds later another text came in from him: Not to worry you but Aline just showed up to my room.
I sighed and put away my phone. "Trouble in paradise?" Simon inquired, though I knew he didn't actually want an answer.
"Nope," I lied.