“Tennis: the most perfect combination of athleticism, artistry, power, style, and wit. A beautiful game, but one so remorselessly travestied by the passage of time.”
— Martin Amis
“Good shot, bad luck, and hell are the five basic words to be used in a game of tennis, though these, of course, can be slightly amplified.”
“I’m sorry, but we don’t have any cotton candy.” The cashier at the concession stand choked out the words with a shaky voice and visibly gulped, Adam’s apple bobbing in his skinny throat. He seemed like the timid kind of young man who didn’t interact well with people in general, especially an angry would-be customer holding up the line at a packed homecoming game.
“What?” spat his aggressor, a tall and wiry boy wearing an electric blue ski cap. “This is a concession stand, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” conceded the unfortunate cashier.
“And concession stands are supposed to, I don’t know, cater to the gastronomical desires of the people, are they not?”
“I-I would say that’s an accurate estimation…”
Clary Fray, waiting in line about four customers deep, was strangely fascinated by the boy in the ski cap. It wasn’t every day that you saw someone freaking out publically due to a lack of overpriced spun sugar, after all.
“Well then,” the boy said menacingly, lowering his voice to the point that Clary had to strain to hear it. Everyone else around seemed to be doing the same: by now, all the people within a ten-foot radius were watching with vapid attention to see what would happen next. “I think that you should get me my damn cotton candy.”
The cashier looked like he would rather be anywhere else. “We don’t have any cotton candy, sir. Can I interest you in some pixie sticks?”
Simon, Clary’s best friend, rolled his dark eyes and whispered to her, “Who invited Mr. Entitlement? I’m hungry and he’s cutting into my popcorn-eating time.”
Clary sent him a half-joking glare. “Hush, you.”
At that exact moment, the boy in the ski cap fiercely brought his fist down on the counter, shouting, “Fuck pixie sticks! I want cotton candy, damn it!”
“We don’t have any cotton candy!” the cashier repeated wearily. “If you really want some, a vendor will be making his rounds during the—”
The boy snarled back, “I don’t have time for that shit. I’m here now, so you can put your nerdy ass to work and make me some cotton candy if you know what’s good for you.”
“I’m afraid that I can’t do that, and you’re holding up the line. So—”
Clary was curiously awaiting the angry boy’s inevitable retort, but Simon just had to choose that moment to say something. “Seriously,” he remarked with a disapproving head shake. “Cotton candy isn’t that big of a deal. Popcorn and nachos, on the other hand…”
“Simon,” Clary groaned in exasperation. “You made me miss what he said.”
Simon grinned innocuously. “I believe 'screamed' is the proper way to describe it. And besides, Clary, you know it isn't polite to eavesdrop,” he finished with a scholarly nod.
Clary was about to point out that it didn't constitute eavesdropping if the whole town could hear, but was distracted by another outburst from the weirdo in the blue ski cap.
“You know what?” he boomed, his voice now at a particularly thunderous level. “FUCK YOU!” He then turned to accost everyone around him, pointing wildly and bright green eyes flashing. “FUCK YOU ALL! I don't even support the Wombats! They suck… ASS!”
The small crowd that had gathered around him 'ooh'ed at his assessment. One guy in particular who stood directly behind him, clad in head-to-toe St. Xavier's University yellow and indigo, puffed up to his full height and said threateningly, “That's going too far, fuck-ass.”
“Well, at least I don't suck like the Wombats! Or you!” exclaimed the boy passionately. “You all suck! All of you!”
Clary rolled her eyes as he dramatically flounced off. Several people even clapped at the departure, including Simon.
But there had been something about the impassioned guy, something unique and mildly hilarious. Clary was tempted to include a character like him in the manga she was writing, and filed the idea in her mind for future reference. If she ever had writer's block or needed comic relief, some loon raving about cotton candy would be funny to write/draw.
The line lurched forward, so she and Simon stepped closer to the counter to keep up with the plebeians. The cashier was already looking relieved, and his fellow workers who had been watching the spectacle unfold were now patting him on the back and congratulating him for his excellent handling of the situation.
“That guy was a severe basket case,” Simon said to Clary as they stood in line.
She quirked a sly grin, knowing that she was about to get a reaction out of him. “It could have been worse. At least he's not a severe closet case like you.”
Simon playfully dug his elbow into her ribs as she shook with laughter. “I'll pretend that I didn't hear that, Fray.”
“Love you too, Simon,” Clary giggled, patting his back.
The football game was packed with college students, creating a seemingly endless sea of indigo and yellow. It was occasionally punctuated with the opposing team's brown and orange, but was, for the most part, filled with Wombats fans.
The boy with the blue ski cap pushed his way through the rabid young adults, growing increasingly disgusted as he went. First the concession stand didn't have any cotton candy, which was all he had wanted from life today, and now he had to fight his way through a bunch of privileged, brainless football fans with inflated senses of school pride.
School pride had its place, of course, and the average person would probably say that a homecoming game was a safe outlet for it, but he was far too infuriated with all the ingrates and that damned concession stand to be thinking rationally.
It wasn't that he had anything against St. Xavier's University at large—after all, he was planning to apply there and hopefully be a student in the following school year. Being raised in the small town of St. Xavier, New York kind of did that to you. You were expected either to (a) move out as soon as you could and stay away forever, or (b) attend SXU, get married, and produce the future generation to make up for any of the population that left. He wasn't entirely sure that he wanted to go down that life path, but his parents expected him to, so whatever. Maybe he could still get out later, like after college.
Today, though, he wasn't so sure if he wanted to go to SXU after all. They didn't even have cotton candy at the concession stand! How many other things would they be lacking in?
And all these ingrates… did he really want them as classmates when they insulted him, even applauded when he stormed off?
All he had wanted was some cotton candy. The fluffy stuff had always been special to him, a delectable treat that had captivated his attention. During childhood, he ate so much of it so often that his parents had decided that he had a serious problem. They'd stuck him in counseling, and put down a lifelong ban on cotton candy. It made him too excitable, too hyper, too sugar-high, so they decided that, naturally, the only reasonable reaction would be to forbid him from ever having it again.
If it was meant to discourage him, it didn't work. In the ten or so years since his personal Prohibition began, his obsession had developed further. Now, cotton candy wasn't only delicious, but it also became the object of a nearly occult devotion.
Whenever he had gone to sporting events with his parents, it had been torturous. Seeing all those morons just shoving it down their oral cavities like it was common sugar… They didn't show it the proper adoration. He would savor it—if only he could have some!—but his parents were resilient. “No cotton candy,” they'd say. “We're not letting you have it ever again, and that's final.”
But today, he was finally old enough to go to a football game on his own, without the careful supervision of his usually hovering parents. It was the perfect plan, and he would finally get some cotton candy. But no. They didn't have any. Damn them, and damn their mothers.
Eventually, he realized that, in his angered storming away from the concession stand, he had left the overcrowded football stadium behind and was now approaching the neighboring tennis courts. Dazed, he continued onward, drawn on by an unseen force.
He passed by cars and a deserted bicycle rack, some bleachers, a tent or three that had been obviously used for tailgating. Every now and then he'd kick an empty can of beer out of his path, but as he drew nearer and nearer to the tennis courts, they became more infrequent. Now he could see the pavement change to a sidewalk, and upon picking his head up and looking forward for the first time in his trek, he noticed that he wasn't alone, surprisingly. Ten or so yards ahead was a young woman also walking towards the courts, wearing a short white dress and with a tennis bag slung carelessly over one shoulder. He watched her walk, and could tell instinctively that she would be gorgeous. No one strutted like that unless they had a pretty inflated sense of self, but from what he could see of her athletic and curvy body, she deserved the right to an ego problem.
Part of him wanted to turn away, since she was probably just like the other idiots in the stadium. But the majority of his mind was telling him that he needed a pick-me-up, and maybe she could provide that for him. What did he have to lose?
Thus, he followed her. Not necessarily in a creepy way (well, not completely, anyway), but simply to see where she was going and what she was doing, and if she had a boyfriend. The concurrent swings of her hips and long black ponytail acted as a hypnotist's watch: he was entirely under her spell, and he hadn't even seen her face. All he knew was that he had to follow her to the tennis court, and take it from there. Maybe this day would work out after all, despite the lack of cotton candy.
“Hey, can you pass me the popcorn?” Simon asked.
The stadium was crowded with students, whooping and hollering whenever anything happened in the Wombats' favor and cursing vehemently when it was the opposite. So far, the game was going just as unexceptionally as most sporting events. The Wombats hadn't scored any touchdowns yet, but neither had the opposing team, so it was all good. They had possession, in either case.
“Yeah, sure,” Clary said distractedly, picking up the tub of popcorn from the concrete floor stained brown from spilled soft drinks of the past. Balancing her sketchbook and pencil under her arm for an instant, she passed Simon what he had requested.
“Thanks,” he said back. As Simon took a handful of buttery popcorn and stuffed it into his mouth, Clary put her sketchbook on her knees again and went back to attacking the page with her pencil. Specifically, her drawing was of what she saw on the field: a bunch of football players, crouched down and ready to fight. “That's turning out pretty well,” Simon told her, glancing at her sketchbook.
Clary snapped to action and cradled it protectively against her chest. “You know the rules. No peeking.”
Simon rolled his eyes and then adjusted his glasses. “Fine.”
Just then, a shout went up from the crowd around them. Clary's eyes snapped to the field, and she immediately saw a Wombat tearing his way to the end line. She got a bit excited—could this be the first touchdown of the game?—but was promptly disappointed. The football player somehow managed to trip on thin air, and the ball flew out of his hands.
“God damn it,” Simon groaned exasperatedly. “How many times has that happened today?”
“I lost track at seven,” Clary said, returning to her sketchbook indifferently. It was hard work, focusing on drawing with everyone booing around her, and the surrounding mayhem was unquestionably rubbing off on her sketch. Within seconds, it became all about heavy rough lines, dark and irritated. Just like Clary was quickly becoming, coincidentally.
“Well, I, for one, think that the Wombats are doing an exceptionally mediocre job today. Wouldn't you agree?”
Clary's only response was a snort, since she was putting the finishing touches on her sketch. By now, her hand was practically dancing across the pencil-darkened page, adding strokes here and there. She still wasn’t completely happy with how it looked, but it was good enough for a sketch, anyway. Clary became unaware that a few minutes were passing as she drew, completely tuning out the surrounding mayhem…
That is, until she was sharply jarred to reality. A loud cheer came up from all sides of the stadium as everyone jumped to their feet, and before she could react, a large stream of Pepsi flooded onto her lap and sketchbook.
“Damn it!” Clary jumped to her feet, trying simultaneously to escape the fizzy brown puddle and clean herself off. She noticed that the man sitting behind her was frantically apologizing to her—he must have spilled his drink while jumping up—but she didn’t acknowledge him. Her sketchbook was soaked in Pepsi, as was her shirt, and there would be no salvaging her drawing. It was ruined.
Waves of emotions crashed over her: irritation, dismay, frustration, and shock, to name a few. She found herself struggling to stay calm, angry tears springing to her eyes. The guy in the next row was still apologizing and everyone around looked concerned, which was making it worse.
“Clary?” Simon worried, dabbing at her dripping clothes with a napkin. “Are you okay?”
Clary pushed down the swell of emotions as much as she could and found her voice, trying to make it sound even. “I’m going to freshen up in the bathroom. I’ll text you later.”
Simon looked sad, his eyebrows crinkling sympathetically. “Okay… Do you need any help?”
“No, I’m fine.” If she said it enough, maybe it would come true.
The guy behind her, face obscured with stripes of indigo paint, was still saying, “I’m really sorry. There was a touchdown and I didn’t even remember that my Pepsi—”
“I’m fine,” Clary enunciated coldly. “Catch you later, Simon.”
And so, clutching her sodden sketchbook and maintaining as much dignity as she could, Clary pushed her way through the row of seated people and headed for the bathrooms.
“Isabelle! It’s about time you got here.”
The boy in the blue ski cap watched the lovely black-haired girl walk onto one of the many tennis courts, where she joined two young men who were similarly clad in white. The one who spoke, a blond, was keeping a bright yellow-green ball in the air with idle taps from his racket, while the other, dark-haired guy was sitting impatiently in the stands.
“Well, I got here as fast as I could.” The girl—Isabelle—spoke in a low, alluring voice and stopped walking. As she put her bag down and got out a racket, the boy with the ski cap finally got a better look at her. She was just as gorgeous as he had expected, so much that it made his stomach clench. “Now come on. Stop messing around.”
The blond suddenly caught the tennis ball had been keeping aloft with his free hand, grinning broadly. He hadn’t even looked to see if he’d catch it! So much control and confidence, probably garnered from years of experience… And on top of that, he knew Isabelle in some way. The eavesdropping boy found that he hated this stranger with the dimpled smile and pretty blond curls.
And yet, he found himself being drawn closer. Now all that stood between him and the others was a fence, but it didn’t even occur to him that they might see him. He only had eyes for Isabelle and her long, toned legs…
The dark-haired one stood up from his place in the stands and joined the others on the court. “Why did you even want to come here, Iz? Are you sick of our court, or what?”
“We need variety!” Isabelle said. “And we also need to get used to playing on different courts. Do I have to remind you about the upcoming Mortal Cup, Alec?”
All of a sudden, the blond guy locked eyes with the eavesdropping boy. Clinging to the fence, the boy’s own eyes went wide as they sized each other up.
“It appears that we have an audience,” the blond said lowly, jerking his chin in the direction of where the boy was standing. Alec and Isabelle turned to look.
The boy nervously adjusted his ski cap.
The women’s bathroom had the cloying, chemically floral smell of air freshener. It was giving Clary a headache as she worked soap into her stained shirt and held it under the faucet.
Her new sketch was currently in a garbage can, soiled and wet. Thankfully, most of her sketchbook had been spared, but she lost at least four other pages that were also currently in the trash. And now the edges of all her pages had a wrinkly, brown cast to them, which was irritating.
Catching her harried-looking reflection in the mirror, Clary closed her bright green eyes briefly and took a deep breath before letting it out slowly. Yes, the day had taken an unfortunate turn, but that didn’t warrant getting all agitated.
Clary’s emotions usually ran away with her when such things happened (or all the time, really), and it often felt like she was struggling to keep up with them. She could usually stabilize herself and mellow out, but it almost always involved removing herself from the situation.
Opening her eyes again, she went over to the automatic hand-dryer and stood half-under it, so her shirt could dry out. The soap had removed most of the discoloration, which was a plus. As the seconds ticked on, Clary found herself feeling better. She didn’t really want to go back to the game but was sure that Simon would understand.
After her shirt was dry again, Clary sent him a quick text message: I’m going to find a quiet place to draw. See u after the game? Then she took off with her slightly damp sketchbook under her arm, wandering away from the noise of the football field.
Eventually, she found herself drawing
closer to the long line of tennis courts.
“Are you seriously challenging me to a game?” The blond looked positively bewildered, resting his tennis racket back on a shoulder.
The boy in the ski cap was now standing opposite the small group, crossing his arms defiantly. Confidence, probably spurred on by thoughts of impressing Isabelle, was coloring his words. “What does it look like I’m doing, you ponce?” It didn’t even matter that he’d never seriously played tennis before; he was absolutely sure that he could beat this pretentious guy and prove his worth to Isabelle.
Alec said, “Just ignore him, Jace. This kid doesn’t know what he’s saying.”
“I know exactly what I’m saying, and I’m not a kid. Asshole,” spat the blue-capped boy, before directing his attention back to ‘Jace’. “Now, unless you’re even more of a cowardly cake-boy than I assume you are—”
“Excuse me, what?” Jace interrupted, thrown.
The boy ignored him. “—then you’ll accept my challenge to one game of tennis. Someone needs to put arrogant asses like you in their place.” Then he glanced at Isabelle, hoping that she would be impressed. Instead, she just looked confused. Obviously, she was only pretending to be confused for Jace’s benefit and really was impressed…
Jace looked long and hard at him for a few moments, bright blue eyes glinting in the afternoon sun. Oh, how the boy loathed him… “You know what? Fine. I’ll play you. Alec, lend him your racket.”
Alec was visibly surprised. “Jace, seriously?”
“Just do it,” said Isabelle, who had been very quiet during the argument. “It’s only one game, Alec.” So she wanted to see him beat Jace, did she? Well, he would do his best.
“Fine.” The very tall, dark-haired guy passed his racket to the boy, disgust evident on his face. “If you break my racket…”
The boy ignored that but nonetheless accepted the oddly-shaped instrument, swinging it around to get a feel for it. He turned to Jace. “Well, are we going to play, or are you too scared, Blondie?”
Jace heaved a big sigh and stretched like a lion. “Whatever. Let’s just get this over with.”
It was a nice day, especially for October, and the seemingly endless line of tennis courts was bathed in golden afternoon light. Some trees stood at regular intervals along the sidewalk, their leaves having turned warm shades of yellow and orange. Clary breathed in the crisp air appreciatively. She definitely wasn’t regretting leaving the stadium behind, with all the loud people and ruckus.
Clary drew increasingly nearer to the tennis courts, feeling compelled to do so. She couldn’t tell why, but that didn’t stop her from continuing onward.
As she approached the dark fence surrounding the courts, Clary realized that there was some sort of game going on, which intrigued her. And the bleachers between the fence and tennis courts looked like a good place to sit and draw…
Hesitantly and yet still drawn forward, Clary went through the black fence’s gate and took a seat in the stands. She opened her sketchbook to a fresh, dry page, and got ready to draw. As if in a daze, Clary raised her head to look at the nearest court…
Immediately, her eyes were drawn to one of the players. He was wearing a white polo shirt with matching shorts and shoes, all of which showed off his tanned, athletic body to good advantage. As he jumped and ran and swung his tennis racket around, Clary couldn’t tear her eyes from him and his strong muscles. Every movement he made, every time his blond, curly hair bounced, and every powerful swing of his arm made her more entranced by this player on the court. What she could see of his face was also essentially perfect—angular cheekbones, square jaw, straight nose—even as it twisted in concentration. He was undoubtedly the most beautiful man she had ever seen in her life.
Clary found herself unexpectedly short of breath, but nonetheless began drawing. She needed to commit an image of this young man to paper, especially considering that she might never see him again. And her hand was actually cooperating for once, capturing exactly what she wanted it to—well, except for the tennis racket, but it wasn’t her main focus, anyway.
It came as quite a shock when she noticed that the guy’s opponent was the boy who was so adamant about cotton candy from the concession line earlier. And here he was, electric blue ski cap and all!
Clary didn’t know much about tennis, but it looked like the blond was decisively winning. There was confidence and practiced capability in the way he moved, so it wasn’t surprising. The boy with the ski cap, meanwhile, was floundering. It almost seemed cruel for him to be up against such an opponent.
She once again found herself getting lost in the motion of the game, the volleys and grunts setting a steady rhythm in her head. Clary could even feel her heartbeat start to sync with it; her hand, meanwhile, was still autonomously flitting across the page of her sketchbook, committing it all to paper. The game was like a dance or ritual, and it called to Clary in an almost mystical way, compelling her to draw.
At one point, as one of the blue-capped boy’s serves actually managed to make it over the net, Clary’s eyes met those of the blond tennis player for an instant. Some kind of shared understanding passed between them in that moment. The world stopped, each drawing in a breath and helplessly staring at each other. Even across the twenty-five feet or so separating them, they both felt an undeniable flash of attraction, like a darkened room being lit for the first time.
And just like that, time sped up again. The ball hit by the cotton candy lover turned out to be a lob, arcing neatly over the blond’s head and landing just past the back line of the court.
“Out,” the blond suddenly yelled in a low, alluring voice that left Clary even more breathless than she was already. “It landed outside the line.”
The boy with the ski cap didn’t seem to take it well, emitting an unpleasant and disgruntled yelp. “It was clearly in. What, can you not accept defeat? Arrogant ass.”
“You’re the one who can’t accept defeat,” retorted the blond indignantly.
That caused a pale, black-haired young man who Clary hadn’t noticed before to intervene. “Easy there. Now, I didn’t see it clearly, but there’s no reason to get so worked up. Why don’t you just redo the serve?”
“Because it was in!” insisted the kid, wildly brandishing his tennis racket.
A girl also stepped forward, to stand next to the dark-haired one who looked like he could be her brother. “I don’t know… Maybe it was on the line? Jace, what do you think?”
The blond guy, Jace, shrugged. Clary decided that his name suited him, in the inexplicable way that names often do. “I think it was out.”
“It was in!” The boy in the electric blue ski cap now looked like he might snap his racket, since he was stomping around and gnashing his teeth. Clary wondered if he had anger issues, which seemed probable, considering his outbursts. “Fuck you, you pompous fop!”
That might be the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in my life, Clary thought with a smile. She glanced at Jace to see how he was taking it, and found him barely stifling laughter.
The others didn’t seem to think it was as funny. “Just redo the serve,” said the dark-haired guy, sounding irritated. “Seriously, it’s not that big of a deal.”
“It was in!”
Clary didn’t even think about speaking, but she did anyway. “I saw it. The ball landed just outside the line,” she declared in a surprisingly loud and confident voice. Immediately, her shyness set in and she regretted butting in.
What made it worse was that everyone on the court was now looking at her, the black-haired ones not exactly in a friendly way. Jace, on the other hand, looked positively delighted. Clary tried to shrink down into her seat to no avail.
“What?” sputtered the kid.
Jace’s adorably dimpled smile was triumphant as he said, “You heard her. And, as that was your second fault on this serve, it appears that I’ve just won the game.”
The young woman of the group explained to him, “Well, those are the rules. You and Jace agreed to one game, and that point made Jace win.”
He seemed to relax a bit when she spoke, but was still far from pleased. “Peh,” he scoffed. “Fine, Blondie. Next time you won’t be so lucky! I was off my game, and… this is a racket I’m unfamiliar with! My racket at home has better weight distribution.”
“Just give me my fucking racket back,” the dark-haired one said exasperatedly. “You’re going to give me a heart attack, carelessly swinging it around like that.”
“Whatever. You can have this piece of shit back, I don’t care.” The kid handed it over with a look of poorly restrained resentment. “You all can go fuck yourselves.” And with that, just as he did earlier at the concession stand, he stormed off.
After a moment of contemplating how strange the afternoon had been, Clary went back to her sketch and tried to finish it. It really was turning out to be one of her best, thanks in large part to the gorgeous rendering of Jace…
Out of the blue, the Jace in question smiled up at her and said loudly, “Hey! Thanks for the call.”
“Oh, it’s no problem,” Clary said back in a slightly quavering voice. Abruptly self-conscious, she tucked an errant red curl behind her ear and sat up straighter.
Jace was still smiling at her. “Why don’t you come down here? We don’t bite… Well, I don’t. I can’t really speak for these two.”
“O-okay.” She gathered up her sketchbook and pencil, and then made her way onto the court. Jace and the others were taller than she had expected, seemingly dwarfing her—or maybe that was just her nerves blowing things out of proportion.
“So, were you watching the game?” Jace asked her. Clary realized that he was just as beautiful up close as he was from far away, with his blue eyes and golden hair held back by a white sweatband. And there was a healthy flush to his cheeks, which was surprisingly cute.
She almost forgot that he had asked her a question. “Um, yeah. I don’t know much about tennis, but you seemed like you know what you’re doing.” That came out horribly, she thought.
“Well, I’d hope so. You pretty much have to, if you want to be a pro.” He added after a brief pause, “Which I do. The three of us are competing in the Mortal Cup next summer.”
“Wow,” Clary said, mildly awed. No wonder he was so good. “That’s really incredible.”
The tall, pale guy cut in, “We might not actually be going. We’d need a fourth player for our team, as Jace knows but chooses to ignore.”
Clary watched Jace roll his eyes. “We’ll be able to find someone, Alec. Relax.” Then he turned back to her. “And forgive my lack of manners! I’m Jace.” He gestured toward the dark-haired pair, who were still looking rather unfriendly. “And these are Alec and Isabelle.”
“I’m Clary. Nice to meet you all.” Clary was sure that she was blushing furiously; she was feeling so awkward. A few seconds passed where no one said anything, Jace smiling pleasantly and Alec and Isabelle not. New topic… “Uh, can I see your racket for a minute?” she asked Jace.
“What, this?” he said, holding it out for emphasis. Clary nodded. “Why?”
“I’m an artist, and I love, um, sketching bodies in motion, so I was kind of drawing you guys while I was sitting up there. Except I couldn’t draw your racket correctly. I think if I saw it up close, I’d be able to do it, though.”
Jace had his head tilted to one side, surveying Clary through slitted eyes. “You were drawing us?”
“Yeah… kind of.” Now her embarrassment was off the charts. Why, oh why had she brought it up? She could have just looked up pictures of tennis rackets on the internet when she got home!
“Hmm.” He paused for a moment, a smile spreading across his face. “Sure… I’ll let you see my racket. That is, if I get to see your drawing.”
“Jace,” Alec said in a warning tone. The gold-haired young man waved him off, still looking at Clary imploringly.
“It’s—it’s not finished,” she stammered.
“That’s fine. Here, let’s trade. My racket for your sketchbook.”
Against her better judgment, Clary decided, “Okay.” Reluctantly, she handed over her sketchbook, and Jace’s tennis racket was put in her hand. It was warm from being used so recently, but her right hand nevertheless closed around it in a natural grip. It felt right, holding it, and she swung it around a couple times to get a better feel for the instrument. She paid special attention to the curve of it, the delicate web of crisscrossing strings, how effortlessly it cut through the air with a satisfying swish.
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed that Jace was alternating between glancing at Clary and her sketch. “This is a great drawing,” he said when their eyes met.
“Oh… Thanks,” she choked out, blushing.
He seemed to be considering something as they traded back their possessions. “Tell me, Clary. Have you ever played tennis before?”
“No. My mom would never let me. Why?”
Just then, Clary’s phone started ringing in her pocket, so she answered it, shooting Jace and the others an apologetic look.
“The game’s over.” It was Simon, sounding rather petulant. So the Wombats must have lost… “Are you ready to go?”
“Yeah. I guess I’ll meet you in the parking lot. See you soon!”
Clary hung up and put her cell phone back, before looking once again at Jace. “Well, it was really nice meeting you all, but I have to go now. Good luck with tennis and the, um, Mortal Cup.” She tried to finish in a confident smile, and it only faltered slightly.
“Thank you! It was nice meeting you too, Clary,” said Jace. Alec and Isabelle just looked bored.
With a disjointed wave, Clary left the tennis courts behind and made her way to the parking lot, the afternoon’s events replaying in her mind: the football game, having Pepsi spilled on her, Jace… Did she make a mistake, leaving him behind without even getting his cell phone number?
On the drive to her mother’s apartment with Simon, Clary couldn’t think about anything besides tennis and Jace, and got the distinct feeling that it had been a mistake to just leave him behind. Just my luck, she thought with an audible sigh. Tilting her head back against the car seat, Clary closed her eyes and wished with every ounce of her being that they would see each other again.