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Izzy needed ice cream.
Well, she didn’t need ice cream, at least, not for the usual reasons. She had no recent significant other to break up with and there were no guilty pleasure viewings of Gossip Girl or Rebelde in the near future. Her tastebuds had simply gotten together and decided that they would ingest no substance but Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy that evening, and who was Izzy to argue? Alec also may have texted asking for a few extra minutes of “empty apartment time”. As adorable as her brother and his boyfriend were, and as staunchly as Izzy would always defend them to her parents… no. Just, no. So, birds, a stone, proverbs and so forth. Key Foods it was.
Izzy grabbed her basket at the entrance and whipped her way through the produce section at the front of the store. She’d meant to only get ice cream, really, she did, but the avocados were on sale three for two bucks and, really, who would she be to say no to the two-for-two deal on boxes of just-ripe-enough strawberries? As she rustled and bustled her way all the way to the other side of the store to reach the frozen foods section, picking up various sale items along the way, she drowned out the store’s tinny top-40 music with her own, much-less-tinny headphones. She found the Ben & Jerry’s - on sale, thank God, 2 for $7 deal, meet Chocolate Therapy and Phish Food FroYo - and finally shoe-squeaked and head bounced her way over to the cashier.
She stood in line, four people back, with the metal of the basket digging into her forearms and her fingers tap-tapping to the heavy bass ringing in her ears. The girl in front of her had long, red hair that shimmered somewhat gold in the fluorescent lights. She half watched it as they move forward, as they both placed their items on the conveyor belt, the chipped, plastic stick separating a bag of yuca from haphazard piles of Chiobani yogurt the type to have never seen better days.
As the pretty girl in front of her finished up - the chat with the cashier meaning that Izzy finally got to see her profile, her turned-up nose and unfairly long eyelashes - Izzy took off her headphones, because she wasn’t a monster, and happily paid for her items with little more interaction than “how’s it going, mami?” and good-natured complaining about the weather.
Izzy put her wallet back in her purse and was reaching for her bag when a piece of paper was thrust unceremoniously into her open palm by the man who had been standing, unnoticed, behind her on line. The paper was clean, but its left-side edges were jagged. Izzy’s eyes automatically read the words on it, handwritten in sparkling silver ink.
I like your headphone cord.
Phone #: 347-555-3907
Now, Izzy prided herself in - what Alec called in his better moments - not taking shit from anyone. Maybe it was borne from her years of scientific ambitions as a pretty teenage girl, or, perhaps, the result of her rebellion against her parents being too-long delayed.
But frankly? This note was so weird she had no idea what to do about it.
She rushed out the door, only to run into - or, really, be run into by - the girl who had been in front of her in the checkout line.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry I—“ the girl said, as papers big and small floated to the ground around them. The girl had been carrying her bags and a very large portfolio, and must’ve stayed behind and run into Izzy because of the sheer weight of it all.
Part of Izzy felt disappointed that this was on accident, but she crouched and helped the girl pick up the papers from the gum-and-dirt-and-what-ew- gross-covered sidewalk.
“I just have this really big art project coming up and I just came here to pick up some food before heading over to the Met and I just - oh, I’m rambling, I—“
“It’s okay,” Izzy said, resisting the flaring urge to place a reassuring hand on the girl’s arm. The— shit, very pretty girl’s arm. The same girl she’d been checking out in the checkout line with the tats and the—
“Uh… so that was weird earlier, huh?” the girl said, trying to, oh no, make small talk while they finished gathering up the drawings that Izzy was trying not to stare at. Let’s-fuck-right-now flirting she could do, brushing off, cold aloofness, too, but neither felt right in this situation, crouched on the city sidewalk next to a fucking Nuts4Nuts cart. With this girl.
“Yeah,” Izzy flashed a smile, “can’t say I’ve ever gotten that one before.”
“And some days you really think you’ve seen everything, right?”
“I’m Clary, by the way.”
“Izzy,” said Izzy, her hand just saving a smaller piece of paper from a puddle, and yes, wow, that was a naked guy drawn on the page.
“Oh my God,” Clary squeaked, snatching the paper out of Izzy’s hand. Her eyes were wide and her mouth was slightly open as she looked between the paper and Izzy, clearly trying to think of what to say.
“Life drawing,” she eventually breathed. “I’m an art student at NYU. That’s a nude drawing for class.”
“Uh-huh, I’m sure it is,” Izzy teased, recovering herself a bit.
“It is,” Clary retorted, and wow, the girl had some fire in her under all those nerves. “I don’t just go around drawing pictures of naked men.”
“Well, what about naked women?” Izzy asked, and the girl turned scarlet. Izzy had to cover up her laugh with a cough, which only earned her what she assumed was an attempt at a glare, but it failed quite a bit when paired with a blushing and ink-stained face.
“Nude drawings are essential to learning how to draw people,” the girl said, finally recovered. “What do you do, then? It’s clearly not art.”
Izzy ignored the bite in the girl’s voice.
“I’m a med student,” she said, and meant to. “I’m planning to be a forensic scientist,” she continued, and didn’t mean to at all.
“Oh. So, you know a lot about anatomy?” Clary asked, in a way that could have been a line if she hadn’t sound so utterly, unfortunately, innocently, delighted by it. “It’s just, I know you don’t know me, but I took an anatomy course so I could, as my mom always says, go an extra mile. But I’m really terrible at it, and…”
“I’ll help, don’t worry,” Izzy said, and what, what were these words coming out of her mouth?
“Oh, great, uh…” Clary stood up, papers finally gathered, and bags in hand. “I have to get to class, like, ten minutes ago. Could you just give me your number? Thank you so, so much for your help.”
“De nada,” Izzy replied, and waited for Clary to get out her phone.
“Oh! It’s in my purse. Sorry, hands,” Clary said, waggling her ink-stained fingers and showing off the black stains on the handles of her plastic bags.
“I got it,” Izzy said, and she slipped her hand into the purse situated against Clary’s hip.
“Um…” Clary said, but Izzy didn’t look up at her, too busy typing in her number into the swipe-up calculator. Her number, not her brother’s. She’d done that at one of her less-than-sober moments. It did not end well.
She finished her number and looked over it once, again, a third time to make sure that everything really was in order, before dropping the phone back in the purse.
“Yeah, thanks, um…” Clary trailed off, looking up a little at Izzy, and that was a new sensation given the company Izzy kept. It was… nice.
“No problem.” Izzy could feel the smile tugging at the corners of her mouth as she said it. She watched Clary’s fingertips as Clary tucked some errant strands of hair behind her ear.
They stood there, in silence, and Izzy could almost hear the car horns and the high schoolers walking down the street and the radio blasting from a car around the corner quiet down, too, in respect for Izzy’s world changing, just a little.
“Don’t you have class?” Izzy asked. This needed to end. She needed to get ahold of herself, dammit, and stop the part of her that twinged in guilt when the smile faltered on Clary’s face.
“Oh yeah, I— bye, thanks!” Clary said, and she turned around, gone across the street and down the stairs to catch the downtown 6 back to school.
So what if Izzy stood there for a few seconds more. She needed to adjust her bag and purse without staining them. That took time.
Certainly, that was it.
When Izzy walked in the door to her apartment ten minutes later, she found Magnus sitting at the table, wearing a satin robe, drinking tea, and staring intently at his iPad propped up in front of him.
“Hey, Magnus,” she greeted, voice a little breathy from lugging two fairly full grocery bags up several flights of stairs. And anxiety. But she ignored that.
“Ah, Isabel, I see you’ve barely survived your little romp to the grocery store,” he greeted in return. Izzy rolled her eyes and glomped over to the counter, where she began unloading her bags.
“What, no witty rejoinder?” he asked. “No comment about me and your brother having a romp of our own? My darling, what’s wrong?”
Magnus closed the cover of his iPad dramatically, but the look on his face was sincere as he got up from the table and made his way over to her in the kitchen part of their common space.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Izzy said, and even she could hear the lie. She turned away from Magnus and to put the strawberries in the fridge.
“Izzy,” Magnus said quietly, gently, as if to make sure he couldn’t be heard by anyone else in the apartment. “If—“
Izzy’s phone buzzed, and Magnus - good, old, nosy Magnus - grabbed it from beside the grocery bags before Izzy even had the chance to get her arm out of the fruit drawer. She whipped around and tried to take it from him, anyway, but Magnus used his unfortunate height advantage to keep the phone well out of reach while he read the small series of texts coming through, aloud. Izzy could’ve fought him, but she didn’t, for reasons she’d choose to examine later.
“Clary,” Magnus tried the name out on his tongue, “finally has signal again. She’d love to meet up again soon. Do you have anywhere in mind?” Magnus finally looked into Izzy’s eyes and held out his hand to give her back her phone. “Is this girl why you’re so off?”
“I’m not off,” Izzy snapped. She snatched her phone back out of Magnus’s clutches and skimmed over the texts herself.
“Oh, so you’re just turning into a dwarf and have called dibs on Grumpy instead of Doc?”
“Don’t worry, I left Nosy for you,” Izzy retorted.
“Alec gets Bashful,” Magnus added, “and Nosy’s not on theme. You really are off. Should’ve just gone with Dopey. Are you asking her out?”
“I’m not asking her out,” Izzy said, “I’m setting up a time to study. Together. One-on-one.”
“So, a study date. Are you anxious about asking her out?
“Not asking her out. We’re getting coffee. What’s the place Jace took us to last week?”
“On his coffee tour of the world? Don’t remember the name, but it was on 20th and Avenue A. And this sounds like a coffee date..”
Izzy finished typing in the cross section and pressed the handy send button.
“There, see? Done.” Izzy said, showing Magnus the sent text. “Not a coffee date. Study date— time. Session. Study session.”
“So, not a date?” Magnus asked.
“Not likely,” Izzy said, voice quiet.
“Okay,” Magnus said, putting his serious face on again. “So, tell me about this non-date of yours, anyway. What’s she like?”
“Ooh, sounds cute,” Magnus said, when she finished telling him about the drawings and the stutters and the way Clary’s jeans were charcoal-stained and frayed along the bottom hems.
“Who sounds cute?” Alec asked from the other room, before moseying in, dressed in his usual t-shirt and jeans for class. Well-fitting, at least, thanks to Magnus, and possibly despite Izzy’s years of trying.
“The girl Izzy just asked out on a coffee date,” Magnus chimed before Izzy had a chance to completely open her mouth.
“The girl Izzy just agreed to go to coffee with in order to help her on schoolwork,” Izzy clarified.
“Ah, yes, of course,” Magnus said, sarcasm dripping off every syllable, “that’s exactly what I meant. Alexander, I apologize for having so clearly misspoken.”
“Magnus, I’m not trying to hide the date from Alec,” Izzy said, and turned to look at her brother, “from you. I just don’t know if it is a date.”
“You don’t know?” Alec asked, half-confused, half-deadpan.
“Yes, Siri, I don’t know,” Izzy snapped.
“Magnus,” Alec said, and there it was. Alec and Magnus looked at each other like it was as automatic and simple as twisting a doorknob or turning the page of a book. They did it without thinking, just one motion in the grander scheme of things that was essential to doing, well, anything.
They must’ve said something, in that motion, because Magnus left to his and Alec’s bedroom with nothing but a small smile to them both, and Alec led Izzy out of the kitchen area and over to the couch.
“Hey,” Alec said, and there he was, squatted down beside her, his hand placed gently just above the crook of her elbow, looking up at her with wide eyes. He’d taken that pose in tough situations ever since they were kids, and it still made Izzy feel like the little girl who dropped her ice cream, only to have her big brother give her his own when she cried.
“What’s going on with you?” he asked, the words light in the air.
“Didn’t you hear? Not much. I’m just going on a kind-of-sort-of date.” She tried to be light and airy and make the lie fly, but it fell spectacularly.
“But you want it to be a date. Just a date.” The truth of it made Izzy slump a little into her brother, his strong arm holding her up.
“I don’t think I’m very good at this part, big brother.”
“A Lightwood, who might struggle with relationships? Whatever shall we do.”
“Don’t be an asshole.”
“You’re really nervous about this one.”
Joking done. Izzy nodded.
“Do you have a plan for what you’re going to do? How you’re going to let her know you want it to be a date?” Alec asked. Izzy shook her head. “These things are a lot easier when someone is blunt about it. Trust me.”
“These things?” Izzy asked. “You mean dates. How does Magnus put up with you?”
“He just does,” Alec said, with a shrug and a smile that didn’t reach his distance-gazing eyes, and shit. This was the look, the one that Izzy grew up seeing whenever their parents talked politics or religion or their visions for Alec’s future.
“Look, I—“ she started.
“I know,” he said, and looked into her eyes. The smile was real that time. “Go on your date. Tell her you want it to be a date. Then you can come home and tell me all about it.”
“All? You mean Magnus for that part, right?”
Alec didn’t rise to the bait that time, the sarcastic comment wringed out of Izzy until it dropped, again, like she was soaking in cruel jokes and affection and a little bit of fear. He hugged her, just hugged her, and kept going until Izzy could curl up in the warmth of the brother she knew would always, always be there.
“I have to go,” Alec said after a time.
“Class?” Izzy asked. Alec nodded. “Krav or—“
“Theory 2, then Krav,” Alec said, standing up and hoisting his workout bag over his shoulder, heavy with textbooks and equipment and a fresh change of clothes. She put a hand on his arm to stop him before he took a step.
“Thank you, big brother,” she said softly.
“See you later, Iz.” He said. He leaned down to kiss her on the forehead, then headed towards the door.
“There goes my man, student and teacher all in one.” Magnus appeared in their bedroom doorway, newly-clothed, fingers shining with a new, teal nail polish.
“Love you,” he called out as the door began to close. The door stopped, and Alec stuck his head between the door and the frame, where there was just enough room. He had a small smile on his face, the one Izzy only ever saw directed at the man sitting next to her on the couch.
“Love you, too,” Alec said, and he was gone.
Izzy looked around nervously. Confidently nervous. That's a thing, right?
And there she was. She was standing on her tip-toes, leaned slightly over the coffee table covered in sketchpads and textbooks, waving frantically. As if Izzy could have missed her her, with her long, red hair spilling out of her blue knit hat, the black-frame glasses perched somewhat haphazardly on her nose, and God, the way her eyes lit up when their eyes met, the smile at being recognized. Then down, with a snug graphic tee and a drappy sweater, dark-wash jeans that—
Izzy noticed a moment before Clary did that the coffee on the table had spilled with Clary’s frantic motions. Clary turned a deeper red than her hair, and Izzy couldn't hear it, but she was quite certain the girl was cursing while trying to frantically clean it up with a pile of shitty cafe napkins, the brown kind that you need five of in order to wipe your own face.
Normal Izzy would stride over to the table, confident that the spill was due to her own personal brand of Izzy charm and sexuality, and simply stand and watch as the mess was cleaned up. But Izzy was still shiny and pink from the burn of her brother’s compassion, so she walked over to the counter to ask for a roll of paper towels - the good stuff - and threw in her coffee order, too. She couldn’t go looking too soft, now.
She walked over to Clary’s table, towels in hand, and started to help clean up the mess.
"Hi," she said. Clary beamed back.
And so it continued. There was idle chitchat that Izzy found herself somehow drawn into, gossip about professors and coworkers, angst over the overly cold winter that would surely come their way after the absurdly hot summer that had just, finally, passed. Izzy learned tidbits about Clary’s life, carefully noted them and tucked them away in a shiny new filing cabinet, labels gold-starred for importance.
Clary was still an undergrad, in her last year at NYU as a double-major in studio art and business, because she was serious about making her dreams of being a successful freelance artist a reality.
Clary’s best friend was named Simon and did not take kindly to Simon Says jokes, although Clary giggled when Izzy told one.
Clary played with the end of her hair when she was nervous, and threw her hands around when she was excited.
She was doing both, right now, telling a story about “Simon’s religion professor was the craziest, though. He was taking this class, I forget what it was, some sort of introduction to Christianity class Simon took to ‘broaden his horizons’,” she said sing-song, with implied, affectionate air-quotes. “The guy was 50-something, obsessed with baseball statistics that he could recite as easily as Bible quotes, and had, like, ten cats.”
“That last part sounds like Magnus’s dream.”
“Who’s Magnus?” Clary asked, settling back a little in her chair and letting go of her curls. Izzy wanted to reach out and pull her back, forward and excited.
“My brother’s boyfriend,” she said, instead. “He has two cats, and I’m sure he’d hit ten if my brother would ever let him."
"Sounds like my kind of people," Clary said, leaning forward again, big eyes wide open and watching and there, like she's so interested in what Izzy has to say even though they haven't even talked about anatomy once, the textbooks forgotten and unopened at the side of the table.
And Izzy decides, then and there, that maybe, just maybe, she isn't alone in wanting the studying to be a pretense, after all.
“When I asked you out for coffee, I wanted it to be a coffee date.”
“I, uh…” Clary said, faltered, trailed off, blushed and looked away and oh God, Izzy had just made a giant mistake. Fuck her brother, honesty was for chumps. She needed to find a way to laugh it off.
“I did, too.”
Izzy’s heart rose and nearly burst, fireworks went off in her chest and their sparks formed what she was sure was a brilliant smile, and for once, one that she actually meant.
And if Clary left the cafe already five minutes late for class, lips smudged with a bright red that clashes a bit with her hair, well… Izzy wasn't sorry at all, and would be happy to do it again on their second date.