“I’m bored,” Clary says, dropping down onto the bench next to him and handing him a coffee because she’s his very favorite person in the world. “Jace is working, Alec’s off stalking that Magnus guy, and Izzy’s—” She cuts herself off, staring ahead guiltily.
“You can say her name,” Simon says. “We’re good. I mean, sure, she turned me down and broke up with me in the space of, like, five minutes, but she’s Izzy so it was done with love. Also she’s your best friend that’s not me and you adore her so I’d never make a big deal out of it even if we weren’t meeting up to marathon Star Trek later.”
“That’s why you’re my favourite,” Clary says, resting her head on his shoulder. The sun’s decided to show up even though it’s still March, and Simon had bagged his favourite bench on campus right before the hoards could beat him to it. Everything’s mostly settled down after the weird Institute Anniversary glitch; Jace is still sulking about, occasionally mumbling about demons, but he doesn’t seem too upset that Clary broke up with him even if he still shoots her weird looks sometimes, and no one’s entirely sure how Magnus Bane appeared in their lives but Alec’s refused to let anyone ask too many questions and spends most of his time with a determined glint in his eye that scares Simon a little.
Also Izzy’s pretty sure she likes girls.
It’s taken some adjusting but Simon thinks they’re all okay, or getting there anyway.
“I should get to class,” Clary says eventually, and Simon lets her go with a pout. “See you later?”
“Obviously,” he says, and realizes he’s probably already late for his own lecture. Economics lost any of the minimal shine it once had when the band began making actual money, but he sticks with it for his mom’s sake. “Later.”
A group of guys he knows from house gigs appear as Clary leaves, frisbee in hand, and Simon’s at least ten minutes late already so when they ask him to join he figures what the hell. Economics will still be there tomorrow, but today the weather’s nice, he’s got plans with friends, and thinking about being stuck in a lecture hall makes him feel claustrophobic.
His life choices possibly aren’t the best, but whatever.
Izzy’s her usual sweet, enthusiastic self, and they make it through two movies before Clary turns up, punching Simon’s arm and hugging Izzy close. Izzy’s smile notches up a few degrees, and Simon thinks ‘oh’ and wonders how exactly he missed that development.
It’s pretty clear he’s been dismissed, so he calls his goodbyes from the hall and takes his leave. It’s several blocks to the nearest subway station, and he digs his headphones out of his bag and tries not to think too hard about his ex-girlfriend’s crush on his ex-crush.
It makes a lot of sense, but it also makes his head spin so he’s gonna mark that one down in the no-go zone.
He’s so busy not thinking that he walks straight into someone, muttering apologies even though the New Yorker in him rebels.
“Sorry, sorry,” he says, tugging the buds out of his ears. “My fault.”
“No kidding,” the other person says, and Simon has to blink a couple of times to make sense of the uniform.
“Isn’t it a little late to be at school?” Simon asks before he can stop himself, and the boy — who’s probably only a year younger than Simon, but he’s wearing a uniform so… — rolls his eyes and doesn’t look inclined to answer. Which is totally fair, because Simon’s just a random and, oh god, it’s like no one ever taught him about stranger danger. “Right. Sorry again. Bye.”
“Recital,” the boy says, as Simon scuffles past, and Simon’s eyes widen in surprise.
“What instrument?” he asks, and geez, he really needs to let this kid get on with his life already, what is wrong with him?
The boy raises a perfectly sculpted eyebrow. “Piano.”
“Cool,” Simon says. “Also I’m really leaving now. Sorry for being a creep. I swear I’m usually at least fifty percent less weird than this.”
“Somehow, I doubt that,” the boy says, and yeah.
Simon walks away before he digs himself in deeper.
“I’m in love,” Alec says, complete with soap-opera sigh and far off gaze.
“That’s nice,” Simon says.
Alec ignores him, staring into space until Jace shoves a coffee in front of him, and apparently even love isn’t enough to put him off his caffeine. “Hello to you, too,” he says at Jace’s receding back, and yeah, apparently that’s another one of those weird glitches. Jace is mad at Alec for liking Magnus or something, and they all know it’s not the gay thing, so everyone’s putting it down to whatever trauma Jace is going through.
Simon’s pretty sure Alec could just stop chasing Magnus and Jace would be cool again, but Alec on a mission is a terrifying, immovable force, in the nicest possible way. Kind of.
“You’re okay?” Alec asks eventually, tone carefully neutral, and Simon’s ridiculously touched.
“I’m good,” he says, and it’s almost true.
“Izzy’s—” Alec starts, looking awkward.
“Into Clary,” Simon says, because they might as well stop going in circles and because Isabelle tells Alec everything.
“Yeah,” Alec says. “I’m actually relieved you know. Have you talked about it?”
“No,” Simon says. “I don’t want her to feel weird, and we broke up, it’s not like it’s my business.”
“Huh,” Alec says, “I think I like you more now.”
Simon grins and adds more sugar to his latte. “Well, at least being dumped has a silver lining.”
“Damn straight,” Alec says, saluting him with a wooden stirrer. “It’s about time everyone realized it’s my opinion that matters.”
“Say that in front of Izzy,” Simon says. “I dare you.”
Alec pulls a face, and taps his phone impatiently against the tabletop. “How long after you give someone your number do they normally use it? I mean, I’m usually the one getting the numbers.”
“Well,” Simon asks, “how long do you wait?”
Guilt flashes over Alec’s face. “It depends how hot they are?”
Simon laughs. “In that case, you’re bound to get a call any minute.”
Alec throws Simon a wink, then lights up when his phone begins to buzz, wandering away.
“I don’t trust that Bane guy,” Jace says, and Simon jumps.
“Fuck,” he says. “Do we need to get you a bell?”
Jace rolls his eyes, and Simon wonders when he stopped, like, communing with unicorns and dancing through rainbows or whatever. Probably when Clary broke up with him for accusing her of secretly being Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
“Come on,” Simon says. “Close up so we can go eat our weight in Indian food.”
Jace frowns but does as he’s told, and Simon thinks they should probably have a bud to bud chat sooner rather than later.
“Cheer up,” he says, slinging an arm over Jace’s shoulder. “At least we’re both single losers.”
“You are an awful human being,” Jace says, but Simon’s pretty sure he means it with love.
Simon’s waiting for Clary to get out of her Saturday art class when he runs into the boy again.
The clouds overhead are darkening suspiciously, so he ducks into the nearest cafe before the hoards of tourists realize
rain’s coming, digs a couple of dollars out of his jacket pocket, orders a mocha, then swiftly does a double-take.
“You,” he says, before he can stop himself. The boy’s sporting a black apron and a name tag that reads Raphael, and Simon probably wouldn’t have recognized him out of his uniform if he hadn’t have been wearing the same unimpressed expression.
“Me,” the boy — Raphael — says, grabbing a cup and writing Simon’s order on the side. Simon’s half hoping he’ll ask for his name, but it’s not busy enough to be necessary so he just stands awkwardly next to the counter whilst Raphael works.
“How’d the recital go?” he asks when the silence starts making him itch.
Raphael raises an eyebrow — and, wow, that’s a signature move if Simon ever saw one. “Okay,” he says, after a pause. “Not my best but good enough.”
“Good enough for what?” Simon asks, because apparently he’s that creepy over-invested guy. He hates himself a little.
Raphael ignores him for a moment, the coffee machine loud between them. “Scholarships,” he says eventually, passing Simon’s drink across the counter. “I want to go to a music conservatory next year, and my mom’s already paying through the teeth for me to go to a high school with a decent music programme, I’m not going to ask her to help out with college, too.”
“No,” Simon says, “of course.”
The bell over the door jingles, a flood of tourists finding shelter from the rain that’s finally started, and Simon regrettably moves away from the counter, throwing Raphael an awkward wave as his phone starts to buzz in his pocket letting him know that Clary’s out of class.
“I’m Simon, by the way,” he says before he can chicken out, and he’s not sure Raphael’s even heard him but there’s a crush of bodies pushing him in the direction of the door and he doesn’t have time to repeat himself before he’s outside, hair plastered to his forehead in seconds and feeling like a complete idiot.
When Simon can’t make it to Java Jace he normally just grabs his caffeine fix from the campus coffee shop, which is a sane and normal thing to do, unlike walking too many blocks out his way to the cafe where Raphael works even though it’s overpriced and Raphael’s only ever actually on shift, like, a quarter of the time he shows up.
Pretty much all the baristas have his order down now, though, and there’s a lot to be said for good service.
“Here,” Raphael says one lunchtime, darting around the room with practised ease, and slides a panini across the table. “You can’t live on chocolate muffins, don’t be stupid.”
Simon blinks up at him from his class notes and then down at the plate.
“Thanks?” he says, and Raphael shrugs and keeps working.
The panini’s full of roasted eggplant and thick, fresh pesto, and Simon’s pretty sure it’s never been on the cafe’s menu but he’s starving and it smells like heaven, so he wolfs it down and smiles when he realizes the special of the day is a meatball sub and he’s never actually told Raphael he’s a vegetarian.
It makes him feel like a little less of a creep to know he’s not the only one paying attention.
Which is literally the only excuse he has for picking up the leaflet that’s blown off of the counter and pocketing it with a quick, guilty glance.
It’s possible he needs an intervention.
“What are we doing here?” Jace asks, eyeing the programme. “Wait, this isn’t even your old high school, is it?”
“It’s called culture, Jonathan,” Simon says, and tries to look natural as a girl in the row in front turns to glare, swiftly changing her mind when she sees Jace and tossing her hair over her shoulder in a move Simon’s always been drastically impressed by.
“Right,” Jace says, “sure. Culture. Okay.”
The lights go down before Simon has to answer, and he sits as still as he can through the Principle’s welcome speech and the first three performances; a cornet jazz piece, a morbidly slow number by a boy on the cello, and an impressive Spanish style guitar solo that has Simon’s fingers itching to try and replicate the sound. Jace has stopped turning his programme into origami and is possibly asleep, and Simon hopes the girl in front turns around again so she can see him drooling.
“Raphael Santiago, piano,” the announcer says, and Simon jerks so suddenly that Jace almost falls out of his chair.
“Wha—” he says, and Simon hushes him, punching his thigh for added measure.
Raphael’s taken his stool, shoulders straight, and there’s a breath before he starts playing, a classical piece that Simon doesn’t recognize. He hasn’t listened to anything written before the nineteen-forties since he’d improved passed basic guitar, but whatever this is it twists and turns and dances through the room, and Simon’s captivated. Raphael’s fingers are darting across the keys and for all his expression is fixed in concentration, the bow of his lips and his half-shut eyelids are all Simon needs to know he’s lost in the music, unaware of everything but the notes he’s demanding and shaping and setting free.
“He’s good,” Jace whispers, and Simon nods because he is. Theoretically he’d guessed he must be — average people didn’t usually get the chance to even apply for scholarships — but knowing it and hearing it are two different things, and Simon can’t stop looking at Raphael’s expression, and geez.
At the interval they grab Cokes from the plastic table with a professionally made ‘Student Government’ sign stuck to the front, dropping their change into the collection box that claims they’re raising money for a Senior Class trip to Aspen. Jace shoots him a wide-eyed ‘rich kids, man’ look and Simon wonders if his own high school is still doing their annual Coney Island trip this year or if they’ve managed to up the budget enough to go to Six Flags.
A door from backstage opens and Simon immediately searches for somewhere to hide that’s not under the stupid Student Government table; he’s considering using Jace and his overly large shoulders as a human shield when Raphael walks out and spots him, eyes widening in surprise before he schools his face into his usual look of casual indifference.
“What are you doing here?” he says, making a bee-line straight for Simon.
“Um,” Simon says.
“That’s not an answer,” Raphael points out, though he at least looks amused.
“Maybe I just wanted to listen to some music,” Simon says. “I’m a big fan of the cornet.”
Jace is looking between them, befuddled, eventually remembering his manners and reaching out a hand. “Hi,” he says, “I’m Jace Wayland. You were awesome up there, definitely the best act.”
“To be fair,” Simon says, “he slept through the rest.”
Jace elbows him in the ribs as he shakes Raphael’s hand.
“Raphael Santiago,” Raphael says, eyes narrowing in thought. “If you’re Simon’s boyfriend you should keep a better eye on him.”
“Oh God,” Jace says. “Please never suggest something like that ever again.” He shakes his head as if to rid himself of the very idea, and Simon’s a bit offended. “Wait, a better eye? What’s he done?”
“Nothing,” Simon says. “Obviously. I’m the epitome of a well-behaved young man.”
“You’re a stalker,” Raphael says, and there’s the smirk. “You probably need professional help. I’m personally afraid for my well-being.”
Simon rolls his eyes. “I’ll show you afraid for your well-being,” he says, throwing the tab from his Coke can at his head. Raphael ducks and looks at Simon like he’s an idiot, though Simon doesn’t miss the way the corners of his mouth are twitching.
“Stalking?” Jace says, and oh shit. “Simon. Si. Please tell me you’re not actually stalking an underage schoolboy. I can seriously not handle any more of my friends going crazy right now.”
Raphael raises an eyebrow. “I’m eighteen.”
“Oh thank God,” Simon says, and then freezes. Jace stares at him in horror and Raphael looks like he’s considering getting Simon committed. “So. I’m gonna…go. Now. Bye,” he says, voice several octaves too high. He grabs Jace’s arm and pulls him towards the door and down the front steps, heading for the subway and trying to ignore the blush that’s spread down his cheeks and neck and is probably just going to burn him up until he’s nothing but ash.
“We’re never talking about this again,” he says once they’re on the platform, and Jace presses his lips into a thin line and looks at Simon like he’s not sure whether to laugh or cry. Probably both.
“I miss when things were normal,” he says with a sigh.
“Okay,” Simon says, and thinks about Raphael’s fingers on piano keys.
Alec’s the last one to arrive to lunch the next day, glowing and sporting a hickey the size of Hawaii on his collarbone. He eyes Jace nervously until Jace scrunches up his nose and grabs him some ice from the truck, and Simon thinks maybe Jace meant it about the normality thing.
“The date went well then, huh?” Simon says.
“Duh,” Alec says, and rests his head on Izzy’s shoulder as she pats his hair. “I’m so tired though, work this morning’s been a bitch.”
“I know,” Izzy says. “This new release date is stressing everyone out. Like, there’s only so much I can do at a time, you know? I’m not a superhero.”
“You’re kind of a superhero,” Clary says, smiling at her over her coffee cup, and Izzy bites her bottom lip and looks so happy that Simon wants to give them both the world just to stay that way. “I was up until, like, two studying. Midterms are kicking my ass,” Clary continues. She kicks Simon’s shin. “I called you around ten to see if you wanted to grab a caffeine fix but you didn’t pick up, what were you up to?”
“Nothing,” he says. “I mean, I was hanging out with Jace. You know. The usual.”
“Yeah,” Jace says, “if by ‘hanging out’ you mean dragging me into your creepy new pastime.”
“Oh God,” Simon says.
“What?” Alec says. “You didn’t get back into death metal, did you? That was not a good look for you.”
“I wish,” Jace says, because he is a traitorous traitor who betrays. “Simon’s stalking a high schooler.”
“What!?” Clary says. “Simon! Please tell me she’s not one of your little groupies.”
Simon groans and buries his face in his arms and isn’t surprised when Jace keeps talking.
He really needs new friends.
“Oh no,” Jace says. “In this case Simon’s the groupie. To be fair, Raphael’s very talented but—”
“I hate you,” Simon says into the table. “I hate you so much.”
“Raphael?” Izzy asks.
“Raphael Santiago, the high school boy Simon’s apparently been stalking for a while now.”
“Okay,” Simon says, sitting up and pointing at Jace. “He’s eighteen. You heard him say so yourself.”
Jace is clearly biting the inside of his cheek in an attempt not to laugh, and everyone else is staring between them with wide-eyed surprise, only snapping out of it when the alarm on Izzy’s phone goes off, a reminder that she and Alec have ten minutes to get back to work and Clary has to get the bus to class.
“We are talking about this later,” Clary says, grabbing her bag, and Simon nods, already dreading it.
“I knew there was a reason I was friends with you people,” Alec says, patting Simon on the shoulder with a laugh as he walks by and swinging an arm around Izzy who looks confused but entertained.
“You are the worst person I’ve ever met,” Simon tells Jace when they’ve left, and Jace gives up trying not to laugh, leaning against the side of his truck and gasping for air. Simon throws napkins at him until he ducks inside and starts the coffee machine back up, and. Well.
He wants to be mad, but if it means Jace is Jace again, he’ll let it go.
What’s a little public humiliation between friends anyway?
“So,” Raphael says, the next time Simon’s in search of a caffeine fix, exhausted from a full day of lectures he’d forced himself to attend. “What did you think?”
“Huh?” he says, reaching for a stirrer and pressing a yawn into the sleeve of his hoodie.
Raphael sighs and adds an extra shot to Simon’s coffee. Simon might be in love. “Your friend thought I was awesome,” he says, “but how about you?”
“I always think you’re awesome,” Simon says, gulping down his latte happily and not even caring when it burns. Some risks are worth it, and also he still has to make it through two hours of band practise because Maureen is a beautiful slave driver.
Raphael makes a pleased little hum and Simon looks up in time to see him ducking his head, cheeks stained pink.
“You were incredible,” Simon says, and blames the rasp in his voice on his scolded tongue. “Have you received any scholarship offers yet?”
Raphael smiles, and Simon’s startled by the rarity and brightness of it. “Yes,” he says. “Two. My teacher thinks I’ll definitely get at least another, but the one I really wanted is here in New York so I’m going to accept.”
“That’s amazing,” Simon says. “Congratulations!”
Raphael’s smile fades into something more professional as a new customer arrives, and Simon slides into a seat at the table closest to the counter and reads through a string of texts from Alec about Magnus’ abs because Alec is a dick. Eventually Raphael sits down opposite him, untying his apron.
“What do you study?” he asks, nodding at the books practically bursting from Simon’s bag.
“Accounting,” Simon says.
Raphael quirks an eyebrow, and wow, Simon’s got to start practising that move in front of his mirror. “Huh,” he says.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Simon says.
“Nothing,” Raphael says, “it’s just unexpected. I would have guessed Creative Writing or Graphic Art or—”
“I’m in a band,” Simon blurts out, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck. “I mean. Yeah. I’m in a band. Accounting’s mostly for my mom. I don’t mind; I could have taken a music course but I just like playing so.”
There’s an intensity to Raphael’s gaze that makes Simon feel awkward and fidgety. “What do you play?” Raphael asks, leaning closer and Simon imitates the movement without thinking about it.
“Guitar,” he says, “and I sing.”
“Are you any good?” Raphael says, that look still in his eyes, and Simon’s tongue trips over itself until he gives up and shrugs.
“Why don’t you come find out sometime?”
The corners of Raphael’s eyes scrunch up when he smiles and Simon files that away with the other little things he’s learning about him from across counters and tables and auditoriums.
“Okay,” Raphael says.
Simon smiles back.
Magnus Bane isn’t what Simon had expected when Alec had first announced, “So I met a guy,” and proceeded to be sappy instead of his usual dictionary definition of ‘too much information’.
For one thing, he doesn’t look like the stereotypical psychics Simon’s used to walking by in the city, all brightly colored drapes and fake accents. He looks more like a model who accidentally became a secretary or something, and Simon finds himself staring at his paisley shirt a lot and trying to picture the apparent text-worthy abs beneath before he catches himself and shakes it off.
For another, Simon sees him looking at Clary as though she reminds him of someone he’d once fallen a little bit in love with, and Simon gets it — Clary’s Clary and there are probably bouts of strangers on the street that fall in love with her as she walks by every day — but he’s also sure there’s a story there he’d love to hear.
He makes Alec smile though, gentle and honest and real, and Simon’s never really seen Alec like this, so calm and comfortable in his own skin. If Simon’s ready to give Magnus all the awards for that then Isabelle and Clary are ready to worship him, and even Jace doesn’t look as angry as Simon’s been expecting.
“We should all hang out sometime,” Clary says.
Alec makes a sound of protest but he’s smiling, proud and happy. Izzy’s eyes are welling up, and Simon jumps in before she can start telling Alec and Magnus how adorable they are. Again. “The band’s playing a show Friday,” he says. “It’s just some all-ages club thing but we could grab kebabs after and make a night of it?”
Magnus’ lips narrow and Simon thinks he maybe wants to tell them that his Friday’s are usually spent reading a good book with a cup of tea and bed by ten, but he nods and seems to mean it when he says, “That sounds like fun.”
Alec’s looking at him like he hung the stars, and Simon’s a bit worried he’s going to start climbing Magnus like a tree right here at the table, which would probably be good for Jace’s business but Simon’s emotional romantic crisis is already charging full speed ahead and he really doesn’t need that image helping it along. Not if he ever wants to look Alec in the eye again anyway.
“Friday it is,” Clary says, squeezing Simon’s arm as Jace disappears to get them all more drinks and Alec starts whispering in Magnus’ ear.
Izzy leans closer to Clary to ask her what she plans on wearing, and Clary closes the space further still, gravitating into Izzy’s orbit; Simon wants to ask Clary what’s going on there — if Izzy’s feelings are more requited than not — but it’s none of his business, and it doesn’t hurt anymore but he’s still the ex-boyfriend and best friend privileges don’t trump that even on a good day.
A group of high schoolers grab the table next to them, talking over one another as they vent about their day, and Simon wonders if Raphael’s out of class yet or if his weird, fancy school makes them stay late to, like, teach them about the stock market or which country’s best to open an off-shore account for tax evasion purposes. He can picture Raphael sitting at the back of the room rolling his eyes every time someone mentions Martha’s Vineyard or the Hamptons, fingers playing imaginary keys on the edge of his desk and pages of sheet music and work schedules spilling over the top of his satchel.
When his thoughts drift to Raphael’s tie he starts talking loudly to Jace about the new Mass Effect game and doesn’t shut up until his mind clears of anything to do with uniforms and classrooms and—
He is definitely going to hell.
Maureen makes them practice every spare moment for the rest of the week, and Simon’s fingers are aching by the time the show comes around, but his voice is on fire and the room’s sweeping forwards into them before they’ve finished the first chorus of their first song so it’s all worth it.
Clary and Izzy are dancing in front of the stage, radiant as they fling their heads back laughing, holding hands even as they jump and spin and twirl. Alec’s arms are around Magnus’ shoulders, grinning as he convinces him to do more than step from side to side, and bumping fists with Jace as he darts between them and asks a pretty blonde to dance, and, God, Simon loves these nerds.
Simon sings until his lungs burn, and when the set’s over he grabs two bottles of water from the bar and downs them as the others find him, pulling him into hugs and slaps on the back — and the ass, which was totally Jace and not Clary as he loudly announces to everyone — and Simon laughs and promises to dance once he’s caught his breath. Alec buys them all a round of shots from the bar, and then another, and after a couple of drinks even Magnus loosens up enough to let Alec pull him back onto the dance floor. Clary and Jace follow them, and Simon doesn’t miss Clary’s hand on his arm or the nostalgic gleam in Jace’s eye, and when he looks away Izzy’s biting her lip and watching them too.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” Simon says, and Izzy gives him a weak smile.
“I know,” she says, “but, he was her first love. I mean— wait. You know?”
She looks startled and a little scared, and Simon swings an arm around her shoulder and tugs her against his side. Her hair still smells like oranges and her glasses press awkwardly against his collarbone when she sighs, twisting her fingers in his t-shirt with a pout.
“Of course I know,” he says. “You’re my favorite people. I’d have to be blind not to notice.”
“Well,” Izzy says. “You do have a super high prescription…”
Simon digs his fingers into the spot beneath her ribs where she’s most ticklish. “Watch it, Lightwood.”
“Oh my gosh,” Izzy says, laughing, “stop it! I swear, Lewis, I will kick your ass, I take classes!”
Simon goes to tickle her again, using all the totally important insider info he’d collected during their time together to hit the spot under her right arm that makes her shiver, but his elbow accidentally knocks into someone else and he stops, spinning around with apologies already on his tongue.
“I’m so—” he starts, and comes up short. “Raphael, hi!”
Raphael’s hair is damp and curling around his ears, and the henley shirt he’s wearing is clinging to his arms as he balances three bottles of water and doesn’t meet Simon’s eye.
“Hi,” he says, and Simon’s suddenly aware of how close he’s holding Izzy, the two of them flushed from exertion and laughter and looking exactly as they would have done only months ago on their way back to Simon’s place.
“Uh, who are you here with?” Simon asks, nodding at the water and putting a couple of inches between him and Izzy who’s looking at Raphael with growing recognition.
“Some friends,” Raphael says. “Elliott and Lily. We didn’t have anything else to do, so…” He shrugs.
“Hi,” Izzy says, catching up with the conversation. “I’m Isabelle! It’s nice to meet you.”
Raphael blinks at her. “I should get back,” he says, raising the bottles and stepping around Simon, pausing when they’re almost level, and God, Simon can smell his cologne, because of course Raphael’s the kind of high school kid to wear cologne and not cheap drug store body spray. “You are, you know,” he says, whilst Simon’s trying to remember how to breathe. “Good, I mean.”
“Thanks,” he says when his voice catches up with the rest of him, but Raphael’s already several people deep in the crowd.
“So that’s the mysterious Raphael, huh?” Izzy says, standing on tip-toes to try and get another look at him. “Pretty big coincidence to see him here.”
“Yeah,” Simon says, then wonders if there’s a wall nearby he can bash his head against. “No. Shit, I invited him.” Izzy looks startled, and he cuts her off before she can start asking the obvious questions. “I mean, not specifically here, but I told him he should come and see the band play sometime. And he did. Except here I am with you, all…”
“Simon!” Izzy says, smacking his arm. “Holy smokes, you’re an idiot! Boys, I swear. I’m so glad I’m done with the lot of you.”
“What’s Simon done now?” Clary asks, wrapping her arms around Izzy’s waist and hooking her chin over her shoulder. Izzy tenses up and then melts into it, and Simon’s pleased to see that Jace and Clary look happy and relaxed but not like they have any intention of ripping each other’s clothes off.
“I’m guessing it’s the next part of the stalker saga,” Jace says. “I just saw your prep school boy jet out of here.”
“I’m an awful person,” Simon says.
“Raphael came to see Simon play,” Izzy says, “and Simon didn’t think to correct him when he thought that we were…you know…”
“Wow,” Jace says. “Remember when you had social skills?”
“Not really,” Simon says. “Okay, but what do I do?”
Clary smiles, that familiar slow smirk that can only mean a healthy dose of public humiliation and blackmail she can file away forever. “I think you know exactly what to do, Loyd Dobler.”
“I don’t have a boombox,” Simon says. “No one has a boombox, they’re not even back in fashion yet.”
“Sure,” Clary says, “but you have a guitar…”
Public humiliation and blackmail.
He goes anyway.
It’s only when he’s almost out the door that he realizes, despite Jace’s comments about his extracurricular activities, he doesn’t actually know where Raphael lives. Fate’s on his side though — or, well, Raphael storming out without telling his friends — because the girl he was here with, Lily, works opposite shifts to Raphael at the cafe and Simon’s totally in her good books after they talked Lin Manuel Miranda shows for, like, an hour one Sunday.
Also he’s pretty sure she’s high because she gives up Raphael’s address in about five seconds flat.
The subway seems to take forever, and the only songs he can suddenly remember how to play are from Natasha Bedingfield’s discography and whilst he’d literally pay money to watch Raphael’s face as he sings Pocketful of Sunshine at him, this really isn’t the time.
When he finally gets there he was to walk up and down Raphael’s street three times to find the right house and then it takes him another five minutes of risking arrest for loitering before he can build up enough courage to start playing one of his own songs, fingers stuttering over the strings.
He’s finished the first verse when the door swings open.
“What the hell are you doing?” Raphael says, staring at him in horror and still wearing that stupid, too-tight henley. The curtains twitch as several curious eyes try and peak out, and Raphael’s mother appears behind his shoulder.
It’s possible Simon didn’t entirely think this through.
“Um,” he says.
“Raphael,” Ms. Santiago says, “a handsome young man is serenading you. Be polite.”
“Yes, Mama,” Raphael says automatically, though he’s still looking at Simon like he’s crazy.
Simon’s not sure what he’s supposed to do now, but Raphael’s mom’s watching him expectantly so he keeps playing, and this is seriously the most horrifying thing he’s ever done, he’s going to kill Clary and bury her in the graveyard next to the Institute, he swears. He silently thanks Maureen for making him practise under all kinds of circumstances, including those middle school kids throwing Cheetos at them that one time, and he makes it through the end of the song with at least a tiny bit of his pride still intact.
Ms. Santiago applauds until the stifled giggles inside the house lead her away to send her other kids to bed, but Simon can’t take his eyes off of Raphael. He’s blushing — not just a vague pink hue but the kind of flush that starts at your cheeks and keeps heading south — and his eyes are bright under the streetlamps, fixed on Simon the same way they were when he’d mentioned the guitar that first time, and the same way he’d like to imagine they were when Simon was onstage earlier, so caught up in the performance and his friends and the usual succession of Friday nights that he hadn’t noticed Raphael coming out to see him play and everything that meant.
He’s such an idiot.
“Go out with me?” Simon says, swallowing down the swell of emotions that hit him like a six-wheeler each time Raphael looks at him like that. “Please?”
Raphael licks his lips, and holy hell, that’s not distracting at all. “Okay,” he says. Then: “You know you could have just asked in the first place and skipped all of this, right?”
Simon laughs a little desperately. “Sure, but what kind of story’s that? I mean, this way we have a fun ‘how me met’ anecdote for all those fancy music school galas and stuff. Should I buy a suit? I should buy a suit, right? I don’t want to show you up, though I do rock a good ironic tuxedo t-shirt—”
“If I kiss you will you shut up?” Raphael asks, and Simon shrugs and stares at his lips.
“Probably?” he says, and thinks about uniforms and coffee and the expression of Raphael’s face when he plays the piano, free and focused and lost to everything but his fingers on keys and the notes in the air.
“Well,” Raphael says, stepping forward, “let’s find out.”
“Yeah,” Simon says, and doesn’t stop smiling even as Raphael closes the space between them.