THE BEAUTY OF A THOUSAND STARS
The air was beginning to show the first warm promise of summer: The sun shone, hot and bright, down on the corner of Carroll Street and Sixth Avenue, and the trees that lined the brownstoned block were thick with green leaves.
Clary had stripped off her light jacket on the way out of the subway, and stood in her jeans and tank top across from the entrance to St. Xavier’s, watching as the doors opened and the students streamed out onto the pavement.
Isabelle and Magnus lounged against the tree opposite her, Magnus in a velvet jacket and jeans and Isabelle in a short silver party dress that showed her Marks. Clary supposed her own Marks were pretty visible too: all up and down her arms, at her belly where the tank top rode up, on the back of her neck. Some permanent, some temporary. All of them marking her out as different—not just different from the students milling around the school’s entrance, exchanging their good-byes for the day, making plans to walk to the park or to meet up later at Java Jones, but different from the self she had once been. The self who had been one of them.
An older woman with a poodle and a pillbox hat was whistling her way down the street in the sunshine. The poodle waddled over to the tree where Isabelle and Magnus were leaning; the old woman paused, whistling. Isabelle, Clary, and Magnus were completely invisible to her.
Magnus gave the poodle a ferocious glare, and it backed off with a whimper, half-dragging its owner down the street. Magnus looked after them. “Invisibility glamours do have their drawbacks,” he remarked.
Isabelle quirked a smile, which disappeared almost immediately. Her voice when she spoke was tight with repressed feeling. “There he is.”
Clary’s head snapped up. The school doors had opened again, and three boys had stepped out onto the front stairs. She recognized them even from across the street. Kirk, Eric, and Simon. Nothing had changed about Eric or Kirk; she felt the Farsighted rune on her arm spark as her eyes skipped over them. She stared at Simon, drinking in every detail.
It had been December when she’d seen him last, pale and dirty and bloody in the demon realm. Now he was aging, getting older, no longer frozen in time. His hair had gotten longer. It fell over his forehead, down the back of his neck. He had color in his cheeks. He stood with one foot up on the bottom step of the stairs, his body thin and angular as always, maybe a little more filled out than she had remembered him. He wore a faded blue shirt he’d had for years. He pushed up the frames of his square-rimmed glasses as he gestured animatedly with his other hand, in which he held a wad of rolled-up papers.
Without taking her eyes off him, Clary fumbled her stele out of her pocket and drew on her arm, canceling out her glamour runes. She heard Magnus mutter something about being more careful. If anyone had been looking, they would have seen her suddenly pop into existence in between the trees. Nobody seemed to be, though, and Clary stuffed the stele back into her pocket. Her hand was shaking.
“Good luck,” Isabelle said without asking her what she was doing. Clary supposed it was obvious. Isabelle was still leaning back against the tree; she looked drawn and tense, her back very straight. Magnus was busy twirling a blue topaz ring on his left hand; he just winked at Clary as she stepped off the curb.
Isabelle would never go talk to Simon, Clary thought, starting across the street. She would never risk the blank look, the lack of recognition. She would never endure the evidence that she had been forgotten. Clary wondered if she wasn’t some kind of masochist, to throw herself into the path of it herself.
Kirk had wandered off, but Eric saw her before Simon did; she tensed for a moment, but it was clear his memory of her had been wiped away too. He gave her a confused, appreciative look, clearly wondering if she was heading toward him. She shook her head and pointed her chin at Simon; Eric raised an eyebrow and gave Simon a Later, man clap on the shoulder before making himself scarce.
Simon turned to look at Clary, and she felt it like a punch to the stomach. He was smiling, brown hair blowing across his face. He used his free hand to push it back.
“Hi,” she said, coming to a stop in front of him. “Simon.”
Dark brown eyes shadowed by confusion, he stared at her. “Do I—Do we know each other?”
She swallowed back the sudden bitter tang in her mouth. “We used to be friends,” she said, and then clarified: “It was a long time ago. Kindergarten.”
Simon raised a doubtful eyebrow. “I must have been a really charming six-year-old, if you still remember me.”
“I do remember you,” she said. “I remember your mom, Elaine, and your sister, Rebecca, too. Rebecca used to let us play with her Hungry Hungry Hippos game, but you ate all the marbles.”
Simon had gone a little pale under his slight tan. “How do you—that did happen, but I was alone,” he said, his voice shading past bewilderment into something else.
“No, you weren’t.” She searched his eyes, willing him to remember, remember something. “I’m telling you, we were friends.”
“I’m just . . . I guess I don’t . . . remember,” he said slowly, though there were shadows, a darkness in his already dark eyes, that made her wonder.
“My mom’s getting married,” she said. “Tonight. I’m on my way there, actually.”
He rubbed at his temple with his free hand. “And you need a date to the wedding?”
“No. I have one.” She couldn’t tell if he looked disappointed or just more confused, as if the only logical reason he could imagine for her to be talking to him had disappeared. She could feel her cheeks burning. Somehow embarrassing herself like this was harder than facing down a gaggle of Husa demons in Glick Park. (She ought to know; she’d done it the night before.) “I just—you and my mom used to be close. I thought you should know. It’s an important day, and if things were right, then you would have been there.”
“I . . .” Simon swallowed. “I’m sorry?”
“It’s not your fault,” she said. “It never was your fault. Not any of it.” She leaned up on her tiptoes, the back of her eyelids burning, and kissed him quickly on the cheek. “Be happy,” she said, and turned away. She could see the blurred figures of Isabelle and Magnus, waiting for her across the street.
She turned. Simon had hurried after her. He was holding something out. A flyer he’d pulled from the rolled stack he was carrying. “My band . . . ,” he said, half-apologetically. “You should come to a show, maybe. Sometime.”
She took the flyer with a silent nod, and dashed back across the street. She could feel him staring after her, but she couldn’t bear to turn around and see the look on his face: half confusion and half pity.
Isabelle detached herself from the tree as Clary hurtled toward them. Clary slowed down just enough to retrieve her stele and slash the glamour rune back onto her arm; it hurt, but she welcomed the sting. “You were right,” she said to Magnus. “That was pointless.”
“I didn’t say it was pointless.” He spread his hands wide. “I said he wouldn’t remember you. I said you should do it only if you were okay with that.”
“I’ll never be okay with it,” Clary snapped, and then took a deep, hard breath. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m sorry. It’s not your fault, Magnus. And, Izzy—that can’t have been fun for you, either. Thank you for coming with me.”
Magnus shrugged. “No need to apologize, biscuit.”
Isabelle’s dark eyes scanned Clary quickly; she reached out a hand. “What’s that?”
“Band flyer,” Clary said, and shoved it toward Isabelle. Izzy took it with an arched eyebrow. “I can’t look at it. I used to help him Xerox those and pass them out—” She winced. “Never mind. Maybe I’ll be glad we came, later.” She gave a wobbly smile, shrugging her jacket back on. “I’m heading out. I’ll see you guys at the farmhouse.”
Isabelle watched Clary go, a small figure making its way up the street, unnoticed by other pedestrians. Then she glanced down at the flyer in her hand.