There were, Simon Lewis thought, so many ways to destroy a letter. You could shred it into confetti. You could light it on fire. You could feed it to a dog—or a Hydra demon. You could, with the help of your friendly neighborhood warlock, Portal it to Hawaii and drop it into the mouth of a volcano. And given all the letter-destroying options available, Simon thought, maybe the fact that Isabelle Lightwood had returned his letter intact was of significance. Maybe it was actually a good sign.
Or at least a not-entirely-terrible sign.
That, at least, was what Simon had been telling himself for the last few months.
But even he had to admit that when the letter in question was a sort-of-maybe love letter, a letter that included heartfelt, humiliating phrases like “you’re amazing” and “I know I am that guy you loved”—and when said letter was returned unopened, “RETURN TO SENDER” scrawled across it in red lipstick—“not-entirely-terrible” might be overly optimistic.
At least she had referred to him as “sender.” Simon was pretty sure that Isabelle had devised some other choice names for him, none quite so friendly. A demon had sucked out all of his memories, but his observational faculties were intact—and he’d observed that Isabelle Lightwood wasn’t the kind of girl who liked to be rejected. Simon, in defiance of all laws of nature and common sense, had rejected her twice.
He’d tried to explain himself in the letter, apologize for pushing her away. He’d confessed how much he wanted to fight his way back to the person he once was. Her Simon. Or at least, a Simon worthy of her.
Izzy—I don’t know why you would wait for me, but if you do, I promise to make myself worth that wait, he’d written. Or I’ll try. I can promise I am going to try.
* * *
One month to the day after he sent it, the letter came back unread.
As the dorm room door creaked open, Simon hastily shoved the letter back into his desk drawer, careful to avoid the cobwebs and pockets of mold that coated every piece of furniture no matter how diligently he cleaned. He didn’t move hastily enough.
“Not the letter again?” Simon’s roommate at the Academy, George Lovelace, groaned. He flung himself down on his bed, sweeping an arm melodramatically across his forehead. “Oh, Isabelle, my darling, if I stare at this letter long enough, maybe I’ll telepathically woo you back to my weeping bosom.”
“I don’t have a bosom,” Simon said, with as much dignity as he could muster. “And I’m pretty sure if I did, it wouldn’t be weeping.”
“Heaving, then? That’s what bosoms do, isn’t it?”
“I haven’t spent much time around them,” Simon admitted. Not much that he could remember, at least. There had been that aborted attempt at groping Sophie Hillyer back in the ninth grade, but her mother busted him before he could even find the clasp on her bra, much less master it. There had, presumably, been Isabelle. But Simon tried very hard these days not to think about that. The clasp on Isabelle’s bra; his hands on Isabelle’s body; the taste of—
Simon shook his head violently, almost hard enough to clear it. “Can we stop talking about bosoms? Like, forever?”
“Didn’t mean to interrupt your very important moping-about-Izzy time.”
“I’m not moping,” Simon lied.
“Excellent.” George grinned triumphantly, and Simon realized he’d fallen into some kind of trap. “So then you’ll come out to the training field with me, help break in the new daggers. We’re sparring, mundies versus elites—losers have to eat extra helpings of soup for a week.”
“Oh yeah, Shadowhunters really know how to party.” His heart wasn’t in the sarcasm. The truth was, his fellow students did know how to party, even if their idea of fun usually involved pointy weapons. With exams behind them and only one more week before the end-of-year party and summer vacation, Shadowhunter Academy felt more like camp than school. Simon couldn’t believe he’d been here the whole school year; he couldn’t believe he’d survived the year. He’d learned Latin, runic writing, and a smattering of Chthonian; he’d fought tiny demons in the woods, endured a full moon night with a newborn werewolf, ridden (and nearly been trampled by) a horse, eaten his weight in soup, and in all that time, he’d been neither expelled nor exsanguinated. He’d even bulked up enough to trade in his ladies’-size gear for a men’s size, albeit the smallest one available. Against all odds, the Academy had come to feel like home. A slimy, moldy, dungeonlike home without working toilets, maybe, but home nonetheless. He and George had even named the rats that lived behind their walls. Every night, they left Jon Cartwright Jr., III, and IV a piece of stale bread to nibble, in hopes they’d prefer the crumbs to human feet.
This last week was a time for celebration, late-night carousing, and petty wagering over dagger fights. But Simon couldn’t quite find the will for fun. Maybe it was the looming shadow of summer vacation—the prospect of going home to a place that didn’t feel much like home anymore.
Or maybe it was, as it always was, Isabelle.
“Definitely you’ll have much more fun here, sulking,” George said as he changed into his gear. “Silly of me to suggest otherwise.”
Simon sighed. “You wouldn’t understand.”
George had a movie-star face, a Scottish accent, a sun-kissed tan, and the kind of muscles that made girls—even the Shadowhunter Academy girls, who, until they met Simon had apparently never encountered a human male without a six-pack—giggle and swoon. Girl trouble, particularly the brand involving humiliation and rejection, was beyond his comprehension.