“I have to get away, Clary,” Jocelyn said, the corners of her mouth trembling. “I need the peace, the quiet, to paint. And money is tight right now—”
“So sell some more of Dad’s stocks,” Clary said angrily. “That’s what you usually do, isn’t it?”
Jocelyn recoiled. “That’s hardly fair.”
“Look, go if you want to go. I don’t care. I’ll stay here without you. I can work; I can get a job at Starbucks or something. Simon said they’re always hiring. I’m old enough to take care of myself—”
“No!” The sharpness in Jocelyn’s voice made Clary jump. “I’ll pay you back for the art classes, Clary. But you are coming with us. It isn’t optional. You’re too young to stay here on your own. Something could happen.”
“Like what? What could happen?” Clary demanded.
There was a crash. She turned in surprise to find that Luke had knocked over one of the framed pictures leaning against the wall. Looking distinctly upset, he set it back. When he straightened, his mouth was set in a grim line. “I’m leaving.”
Jocelyn bit her lip. “Wait.” She hurried after him into the entryway, catching up just as he seized the doorknob. Twisting around on the sofa, Clary could just overhear her mother’s urgent whisper. “…Bane,” Jocelyn was saying. “I’ve been calling him and calling him for the past three weeks. His voice mail says he’s in Tanzania. What am I supposed to do?”
“Jocelyn.” Luke shook his head. “You can’t keep going to him forever.”
“Isn’t Jonathan,” Luke hissed. “You’ve never been the same since it happened, but Clary isn’t Jonathan.”
What does my father have to do with this? Clary thought, bewildered.
“I can’t just keep her at home, not let her go out. She won’t put up with it.”
“Of course she won’t!” Luke sounded really angry. “She’s not a pet, she’s a teenager. Almost an adult.”
“If we were out of the city …”
“Talk to her, Jocelyn.” Luke’s voice was firm. “I mean it.” He reached for the doorknob.
The door flew open. Jocelyn gave a little scream.
“Jesus!” Luke exclaimed.
“Actually, it’s just me,” said Simon. “Although I’ve been told the resemblance is startling.” He waved at Clary from the doorway. “You ready?”
Jocelyn took her hand away from her mouth. “Simon, were you eavesdropping?”
Simon blinked. “No, I just got here.” He looked from Jocelyn’s pale face to Luke’s grim one. “Is something wrong? Should I go?”
“Don’t bother,” Luke said. “I think we’re done here.” He pushed past Simon, thudding down the stairs at a rapid pace. Downstairs, the front door slammed shut.
Simon hovered in the doorway, looking uncertain. “I can come back later,” he said. “Really. It wouldn’t be a problem.”
“That might—” Jocelyn began, but Clary was already on her feet.
“Forget it, Simon. We’re leaving,” she said, grabbing her messenger bag from a hook near the door. She slung it over her shoulder, glaring at her mother. “See you later, Mom.”
Jocelyn bit her lip. “Clary, don’t you think we should talk about this?”
“We’ll have plenty of time to talk while we’re on ‘vacation,’” Clary said venomously, and had the satisfaction of seeing her mother flinch. “Don’t wait up,” she added, and, grabbing Simon’s arm, she half-dragged him out the front door.
He dug his heels in, looking apologetically over his shoulder at Clary’s mother, who stood small and forlorn in the entryway, her hands knitted tightly together. “Bye, Mrs. Fray!” he called. “Have a nice evening!”
“Oh, shut up, Simon,” Clary snapped, and slammed the door behind them, cutting off her mother’s reply.
“Jesus, woman, don’t rip my arm off,” Simon protested as Clary hauled him downstairs after her, her green Skechers slapping against the wooden stairs with every angry step. She glanced up, half-expecting to see her mother glaring down from the landing, but the apartment door stayed shut.
“Sorry,” Clary muttered, letting go of his wrist. She paused at the foot of the stairs, her messenger bag banging against her hip.
Clary’s brownstone, like most in Park Slope, had once been the single residence of a wealthy family. Shades of its former grandeur were still evident in the curving staircase, the chipped marble entryway floor, and the wide single-paned skylight overhead. Now the house was split into separate apartments, and Clary and her mother shared the three-floor building with a downstairs tenant, an elderly woman who ran a psychic’s shop out of her apartment. She hardly ever came out of it, though customer visits were infrequent. A gold plaque fixed to the door proclaimed her to be MADAME DOROTHEA, SEERESS AND PROPHETESS.
The thick sweet scent of incense spilled from the half-open door into the foyer. Clary could hear a low murmur of voices.
“Nice to see she’s doing a booming business,” Simon said. “It’s hard to get steady prophet work these days.”
“Do you have to be sarcastic about everything?” Clary snapped.
Simon blinked, clearly taken aback. “I thought you liked it when I was witty and ironic.”
Clary was about to reply when the door to Madame Dorothea’s swung fully open and a man stepped out. He was tall, with maple-syrup-colored skin, gold-green eyes like a cat’s, and tangled black hair. He grinned at her blindingly, showing sharp white teeth.
A wave of dizziness came over her, the strong sensation that she was going to faint.
Simon glanced at her uneasily. “Are you all right? You look like you’re going to pass out.”
She blinked at him. “What? No, I’m fine.”
He didn’t seem to want to let it drop. “You look like you just saw a ghost.”
She shook her head. The memory of having seen something teased her, but when she tried to concentrate, it slid away like water. “Nothing. I thought I saw Dorothea’s cat, but I guess it was just a trick of the light.” Simon stared at her. “I haven’t eaten anything since yesterday,” she added defensively. “I guess I’m a little out of it.”
He slid a comforting arm around her shoulders. “Come on, I’ll buy you some food.”
“I just can’t believe she’s being like this,” Clary said for the fourth time, chasing a stray bit of guacamole around her plate with the tip of a nacho. They were at a neighborhood Mexican joint, a hole in the wall called Nacho Mama. “Like grounding me every other week wasn’t bad enough. Now I’m going to be exiled for the rest of the summer.”
“Well, you know, your mom gets like this sometimes,” Simon said. “Like when she breathes in or out.” He grinned at her around his veggie burrito.
“Oh, sure, act like it’s funny,” she said. “You’re not the one getting dragged off to the middle of nowhere for God knows how long—”
“Clary.” Simon interrupted her tirade. “I’m not the one you’re mad at. Besides, it isn’t going to be permanent.”
“How do you know that?”
“Well, because I know your mom,” Simon said, after a pause. “I mean, you and I have been friends for what, ten years now? I know she gets like this sometimes. She’ll think better of it.”
Clary picked a hot pepper off her plate and nibbled the edge meditatively. “Do you, though?” she said. “Know her, I mean? I sometimes wonder if anyone does.”
Simon blinked at her. “You lost me there.”
Clary sucked in air to cool her burning mouth. “I mean, she never talks about herself. I don’t know anything about her early life, or her family, or much about how she met my dad. She doesn’t even have wedding photos. It’s like her life started when she had me. That’s what she always says when I ask her about it.”
“Aw.” Simon made a face at her. “That’s sweet.”
“No, it isn’t. It’s weird. It’s weird that I don’t know anything about my grandparents. I mean, I know my dad’s parents weren’t very nice to her, but could they have been that bad? What kind of people don’t want to even meet their granddaughter?”
“Maybe she hates them. Maybe they were abusive or something,” Simon suggested. “She does have those scars.”
Clary stared at him. “She has what?”
He swallowed a mouthful of burrito. “Those little thin scars. All over her back and her arms. I have seen your mother in a bathing suit, you know.”
“I never noticed any scars,” Clary said decidedly. “I think you’re imagining things.”
He stared at her, and seemed about to say something when her cell phone, buried in her messenger bag, began an insistent blaring. Clary fished it out, gazed at the numbers blinking on the screen, and scowled. “It’s my mom.”
“I could tell from the look on your face. You going to talk to her?”
“Not right now,” Clary said, feeling the familiar bite of guilt in her stomach as the phone stopped ringing and voice mail picked up. “I don’t want to fight with her.”
“You can always stay at my house,” Simon said. “For as long as you want.”
“Well, we’ll see if she calms down first.” Clary punched the voice mail button on her phone. Her mother’s voice sounded tense, but she was clearly trying for lightness. “Baby, I’m sorry if I sprang the vacation plan on you. Come on home and we’ll talk.” Clary hung the phone up before the message ended, feeling even guiltier and still angry at the same time. “She wants to talk about it.”
“Do you want to talk to her?”
“I don’t know.” Clary rubbed the back of her hand across her eyes. “Are you still going to the poetry reading?”
“I promised I would.”
Clary stood up, pushing her chair back. “Then I’ll go with you. I’ll call her when it’s over.” The strap of her messenger bag slid down her arm. Simon pushed it back up absently, his fingers lingering at the bare skin of her shoulder.
The air outside was spongy with moisture, the humidity frizzing Clary’s hair and sticking Simon’s blue T-shirt to his back. “So, what’s up with the band?” she asked. “Anything new? There was a lot of yelling in the background when I talked to you earlier.”
Simon’s face lit up. “Things are great,” he said. “Matt says he knows someone who could get us a gig at the Scrap Bar. We’re talking about names again too.”
“Oh, yeah?” Clary hid a smile. Simon’s band never actually produced any music. Mostly they sat around in Simon’s living room, fighting about potential names and band logos. She sometimes wondered if any of them could actually play an instrument. “What’s on the table?”
“We’re choosing between Sea Vegetable Conspiracy and Rock Solid Panda.”
Clary shook her head. “Those are both terrible.”
“Eric suggested Lawn Chair Crisis.”
“Maybe Eric should stick to gaming.”
“But then we’d have to find a new drummer.”
“Oh, is that what Eric does? I thought he just mooched money off you and went around telling girls at school that he was in a band in order to impress them.”
“Not at all,” Simon said breezily. “Eric has turned over a new leaf. He has a girlfriend. They’ve been going out for three months.”
“Practically married,” Clary said, stepping around a couple pushing a toddler in a stroller: a little girl with yellow plastic clips in her hair who was clutching a pixie doll with gold-streaked sapphire wings. Out of the corner of her eye Clary thought she saw the wings flutter. She turned her head hastily.
“Which means,” Simon continued, “that I am the last member of the band not to have a girlfriend. Which, you know, is the whole point of being in a band. To get girls.”
“I thought it was all about the music.” A man with a cane cut across her path, heading for Berkeley Street. She glanced away, afraid that if she looked at anyone for too long they would sprout wings, extra arms, or long forked tongues like snakes. “Who cares if you have a girlfriend, anyway?”
“I care,” Simon said gloomily. “Pretty soon the only people left without a girlfriend will be me and Wendell the school janitor. And he smells like Windex.”
“At least you know he’s still available.”
Simon glared. “Not funny, Fray.”
“There’s always Sheila ‘The Thong’ Barbarino,” Clary suggested. Clary had sat behind her in math class in ninth grade. Every time Sheila had dropped her pencil—which had been often—Clary had been treated to the sight of Sheila’s underwear riding up above the waistband of her super-low-rise jeans.
“That is who Eric’s been dating for the past three months,” Simon said. “His advice, meanwhile, was that I ought to just decide which girl in school had the most rockin’ bod and ask her out on the first day of classes.”
“Eric is a sexist pig,” Clary said, suddenly not wanting to know which girl in school Simon thought had the most rockin’ bod. “Maybe you should call the band the Sexist Pigs.”
“It has a ring to it.” Simon seemed unfazed. Clary made a face at him, her messenger bag vibrating as her phone blared. She fished it out of the zip pocket. “Is it your mom again?” he asked.
Clary nodded. She could see her mother in her mind’s eye, small and alone in the doorway of their apartment. Guilt unfurled in her chest.