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Is This Reality?

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Simon can’t shake the feeling that he’s making a terrible decision.

Around the corner, there’s the sound of chatter, laughter, and the clinking of drinks. He really should have joined them by now, but he can’t seem to psych himself up to turning that corner. He knows exactly who’s there, and he’s not sure he’s ready.

It took him a month to patch up his heart after Maia turned him away. He hasn’t seen her since she proposed to Lily.

It’s not that he’s still in love with her, because he’s not - he dug himself out of that hole a while ago. He’s just not prepared for the holy awkwardness that’s bound to happen when he turns that corner.

How can he possibly face her, after that month of hell? Simon closes his eyes, and the buried memories flood his mind: the heartbreak playlists on Spotify; the two hundred and ten tiles on his bedroom ceiling that he stared at for hours, the months that dragged on without any motivation. It was a relief when he woke up one morning with the need to pour all his emotions into music. That was the same day he got the call that led him to this moment.

A boisterous laugh breaks Simon’s train of thoughts, and his stomach sinks. That’s undeniably Maia’s laugh. He swallows hard.

Perhaps it’s for the best that he sees her again, if only for closure.

Before he can psych himself out, he takes a couple deep breaths and walks around the corner.

As if the universe is taunting him, Maia is the first one to notice him. “Simon!” she exclaims with a smile that seems just a bit too tense.

And wow. She looks absolutely stunning, and there’s a rush of emotions coursing through Simon’s veins, but he pushes it all down and forces himself to smile so that his expression doesn’t betray him. “Hi.” He pulls out the only empty chair and sits down, glancing around the table.

To his left is Magnus Bane, supermodel and Bachelor of the twenty-sixth season. He smiles at Simon, but his green catlike eyes, the rare birth defect to which he owes his international success, glimmer with concern. Simon turns away from his gaze - he’s always liked Magnus, but his seemingly magical ability to read minds is sometimes too much to handle.

Beside Magnus is his husband, Alec Lightwood. Simon isn’t as well acquainted with Alec as he is with Magnus, but as someone with an internet connection and a television, he knows the basics: Olympic archer with a silver and a gold medal, LGBTQ+ rights activist, and winner of the twenty-sixth season of The Bachelor. What he knows about him on a personal level isn’t much more than the average person, just that he’s a lot less amicable than he appears.

Across from Magnus and Alec are Lydia Branwell and her fiancé, John Monteverde. Simon remembers that season of The Bachelorette and how unexpected it all was (of course, they probably upped the drama in editing, but still). Lydia is the only child and former heir of an extremely wealthy business owner, and the expectation was that she’d choose a strategic partnership. Her choice to marry for love caused a huge scandal, and rumors that her mother cut her off from the family business are still floating around. However, despite all that, Lydia seems so truly happy to be sitting next to John that it makes Simon’s heart ache.

There are two more people sitting at the table: Lily Chen and Maia Roberts. The two people that Simon dreaded seeing again.

Despite all the emotions bubbling up inside him, Simon gives Lily a chaste smile and nods his chin towards her in greeting. They were very close during Maia’s season, and though their parting was less than ideal, Simon couldn’t possibly have any hard feelings.

An uncomfortable silence falls over the table, everyone looking around to see who will speak first. Finally, Magnus clears his throat.

“So we’re supposed to give you advice.”

Simon nods. He knows that much about how this is supposed to work.

“I’ll start us off, seeing as everyone else is too busy looking between Simon and Maia and waiting for one of them to spontaneously combust.” Six pairs of eyes shift to Magnus at his accusation and Simon feels a blush creeping up his neck, but Magnus simply continues as if he didn’t just point out the elephant in the room. “The most important thing to know is what it’s like to be on the other side.”

“Been there, done that,” Simon says quickly. His voice shakes nervously, so naturally he keeps talking. “It was a pretty unforgettable experience, so I think I’m good.” He glances around the table, avoiding eye contact with everyone.

“That’s not all,” Magnus says. “Yes, your personal experience is incredibly useful, but it’s easy to get caught up in being the Bachelor and all the emotions that go along with that. You need to keep the feelings of the others in mind.”

Simon nods. “Okay. Got it.”

“Adding on to that,” Alec interjects, “you should be honest with them about your feelings. Competitions like this can create a bit of a power imbalance that’s never healthy for any relationship, so being honest puts your own heart at stake and makes them feel less like they’re at your mercy.”

Simon nods again, slightly more hesitantly this time. “Put my heart on the line. Got it.”

Lydia cuts into the conversation, leaning forward to give Simon her full attention. “Enough about the boys and girls vying for your heart.”

“And one enby,” Simon corrects.

“And one enby,” she says. “Anyway, we’re here to talk about you. How are you feeling about everything, Simon?”

“I’m feeling fine,” he says without giving the question thought. A second later, though, he remedies his answer. “Maybe a little nervous.”

“That’s perfectly normal, Simon,” Lydia says, her voice soothing. She’s a very compelling speaker, with fluid motions and a steady tone that makes it impossible to look away. Simon finds himself absorbing everything she says and momentarily forgetting all his worries. “You’re putting your heart on the line again, after doing so in the past has led to a broken heart. It’s admirable that you’re still trying to find love after all that.”

Unable to respond to such a heavy statement with an appropriate action, Simon just shrugs.

“But I’m here to give you advice, not a pep talk,” Lydia continues. “There’s definitely one thing that stands out the most about my time as the Bachelorette, and this is going to sound quite cliché, but you should listen to your heart. When it comes to love, logic doesn’t apply. Your heart knows better than your head, so it shouldn’t be ignored.”

Simon nods his head and smiles gratefully at her. “Thanks, Lydia.” She smiles back at him and reaches over to squeeze his hand.

“Also, don’t forget to have fun,” John adds in, grinning. “You’re going all around the world, so let yourself enjoy it!”

“John,” Lydia says, resting her hand on her fiancé’s arm. “We’re trying to be serious.”

“I am being serious!” he says defensively. “We don’t want him to be moping around while he’s in Paris or some fancy place like that. It’s good advice.”

Lydia sighs exasperatedly, but her expression is too affectionate for her to appear truly serious.

“Do you know where you’re going?” Lily asks, resting her elbows on the table.

Simon raises his eyebrows at her. “You know full well that I can’t disclose any information I haven’t been given permission to share. But yes, I do know where we’re going and it’s going to be awesome. They actually took a couple of cities off my bucket list.”

“So you’re definitely going to Sydney, Australia.”

“I can neither confirm nor deny any guess you make.” Simon says.

Something in his voice seems to only confirm Lily’s guess, because she leans against the back of her chair with a satisfied smirk.

“Does anyone else have something to add?” Lydia asks, the corners of her eyes pinched with annoyance as she tries to bring the conversation back to its primary goal.

Simon hesitantly raises his hand like he’s in school. “Um, I have a question.”

Lydia nods, her expression softening again. “Yes, of course. Go ahead, Simon.”

With six pairs of eyes on him, he starts to regret speaking up in the first place. “Well, I was wondering when I’ll know who I should choose.”

“I knew right away,” Magnus says, looking at Alec. “As soon as Alexander walked in, I thought to myself, ‘This is the one.’” Alec smiles warmly at Magnus and squeezes his hand. “I felt drawn to him from the very first second. No one else could compare.”

Lydia nods along to Magnus’s words. “My experience was quite similar to that. The only thing that haunted me the whole time was the choice between duty and love - and, well, I think my position on that is quite clear.”

“You’re so soft, darling,” John says, his hand held to his heart dramatically. However, despite his joking demeanor, he appears touched.

“Don’t go spreading that around. I have a reputation to maintain,” Lydia says threateningly. A faint pink tinge covers her face.

“You don’t have to know right away, Simon,” Maia says abruptly, her intense eyes focused on a stain on the tablecloth in front of her. “It’s okay to still be wondering with only a few days left.”

The entire table is silent. No one seems to have been expecting Maia to speak at all.

Finally, Simon forces himself to say the words that have been spinning around his brain. “When did you know?” Strangely, it’s the most confident he’s sounded all day.

“A week before the end,” she says. She raises her gaze to meet his. “I didn’t mean for it to seem like I was playing you. I really wasn’t sure.”

Simon finds himself nodding. “It’s okay. You chose the person who would make you happiest. My feelings were irrelevant to your decision, and chances are that if you’re destined to be with Lily, then I’m also better suited to someone else.”

Maia looks at him for a few seconds, then cracks a smile. “Jesus, I almost forgot that you believe in all that destiny nonsense.”

He can’t help but laugh a little at that as all the tension drains from the room. “I almost forgot that you don’t.”

He and Maia maintain eye contact for a moment, and a feeling of relief washes over Simon. This is the closure he needed to fully move on into a new chapter in his life, this resolution of whatever he and Maia had that didn’t work out and can now be completely left in his past.

And sitting here, with the chatter around him slowly rising in volume, he lets himself relax and think that maybe everything will work out wonderfully for him.