Who's our favorite red-head? Yup, enter stage left: Clary.
Jace was now seventeen and business was booming. Maryse and Robert Lightwood were visiting Robert's parents out in the country side so it was the two boys providing for the three of them; Jace, Alec, and Isabelle who spent her days trapped in the all-girl school Maryse sent her to. The hope was Isabelle would marry well and make a dignified upper-class lady. She was definitely pretty enough to look the part.
Every day since that day, two years ago, Charlie had met the brothers in the same spot and helped them sell papers. They made enough money that Charlie, who Jace found out was actually the same age as he was, had filled out the tiniest bit. He was now taller than Jace and his face no longer held the haunted look of near starvation but his cheeks were still smooth from any sort of growth there. Jace and Alec made a joke of the skinny boy's lack of facial hair or a deep voice. Charlie just grinned and said it was because he was a child at heart.
Isabelle had met Charlie once and since then had demanded that Jace and Alec bring him to the apartment at least once a week for dinner. She also patched up Alec's old trousers (since Jace's were too short) and Jace's old shirts (since Alec's were too loose) to give to Charlie. He accepted their charity with stammering thanks and deep blushes, embarrassed.
"Extra, extra! Read all about it!" Jace hollered. He was down to his last paper and then the three boys would head back to the apartment where Isabelle was making diner. Jace tried not to cringe at the thought. She was a decent cook, but nothing special. Though Charlie wasn't too bad at it himself and would sometimes offer to help.
"By the angels," Charlie sighed from where he was sitting on a door stoop, cheek on his hand, looking irritated. "Can't you sell one goddamn newspaper, Jace?"
"Give it to me," Alec demanded, snatching it from his hand and chasing down a woman who had passed by in a hurry.
"Hurry up!" Charlie called. "I'm hungry!"
"You're always hungry," Jace pointed out, flopping down on the stoop next to the other boy. Charlie scowled and pulled his hat down closer around his ears. That was one funny thing about the boy, he never, in the two years Jace had known him, took off his hat. Not even when he went inside. Alec had stopped him from ever asking about it, pointing out that maybe he had dandruff and was embarrassed by it.
"Today I am particularly famished," Charlie declared, stretching his lanky form and getting slowly to his feet. "Can anyone out here sell a measly newspaper?"
Alec had returned from his chase looking defeated. "No one's interested. They've all already got one."
Charlie took the paper from him and stood on tiptoe to survey the crowd, using Alec's shoulder to steady himself. Jace noted that Charlie was almost as tall as Alec.
"Look!" he cried, pointing across the street. "See there? That little red head? I bet I can get her to buy!"
Jace eyed the girl he indicated skeptically. "She's just a girl, she won't be interested."
Charlie grinned. "I'll wager dessert that she will."
The blonde boy studied the girl again; she had an almost aristocratic air to her. "Fine." The two shook on it and Charlie crossed the street with a swinging grace, approaching the girl with ease.
"'Scuse me, miss," he said silkily, forcing his voice lower so he would seem his age. "I was wondering if you'd be interested in buying our last paper. You see, my sister's got supper ready and she gets awfully upset when I'm late so I was wondering if you could spare me some trouble."
The girl's green eyes stared up at him curiously. "I've seen you before," she stated, ignoring his previous statement.
Charlie bowed, one hand on his hat. "Of course, m'lady. I'm here every day."
"Who are those two boys with you?" she asked with that same inquisitive stare, making Charlie feel like he wasn't a foot taller than her, even though he was.
"You don't look related," she pointed out.
He grinned brilliantly and waved merrily at Jace and Alec. "We're not."
"But you said-"
"Who said family is related?"
The girl pondered that for a moment before reaching to draw a coin from her purse for the paper. Charlie made the exchange with a bow. "Merci, mademoiselle."
She laughed. "Are you always this polite?"
Charlie grinned brightly. "Only to pretty girls."
The girl laughed and shook her head.
"Have a nice day, miss," Charlie called, already halfway across the street. The girl heard him yell to his brothers, "I told you!"
Had they been betting on if she bought the paper? Judging from their expressions, they were.
"Clary?" her mother's voice asked from behind her as she finally stepped out of the store.
She turned to her mother, rolling up the newspaper as subtly as she could. "Yes, Mama?"
"It's time we get going now. Your father will be getting anxious if we're late," her mother reminded her.
Clary turned once more to where the three boys still stood, her eyes resting on the slightly shorter one with the golden hair. He looked annoyed with the one who had sold her the newspaper and Clary agreed with his annoyance. She had been hoping that the blonde one would be the one to finally approach her. She'd never had the nerve to go up to him. Not that she'd ever be allowed. Her mother was always with her and her governess always taught her to stay clear of the dirty street urchins who survived by hustling papers in the afternoons. God only knows what they did with the rest of their days, she was told. But she would like to know.
"Come, Clary," her mother called, a few feet down the sidewalk.
"Are the new books in?" Clary asked, falling into step beside her.
Jocelyn's mouth turned into a smile. "Yes, and your father already has a copy of one waiting for you at home."
Clary tried to focus on the gift waiting for her but her thoughts kept drifting back to the three boys and the one with the golden hair.
Isabelle was waiting the moment the door swung open, wooden spoon poised threateningly. "Do you exist solely for the purpose of tormenting me?" she demanded before they could even remove their coats.
"Nice to see you too, Izzy," Charlie said with a full grin.
"Yes, Izzy," Jace assured her, patting her on the head on his way to the basin full of lukewarm water to wash up. Charlie and Alec followed him closely.
She rolled her eyes and brushed back a lock of black hair that had escaped its pin. "Dinner's ready if you still care to eat it."
Charlie was the first into cramped kitchen, eyes searching wildly for any sign of food. Isabelle had to chase him away from the stove. "Sit!" she ordered.
Meekly, Charlie took his usual spot at the table with Alec next to him and Jace across from him. Jace couldn't help but laugh when he saw Charlie lick his lips as Isabelle dished a large helping of the hash onto his plate. Seeing Charlie eat his fill was always somewhat satisfying to the siblings. The poor boy lived his life half starved. But he was fiercely independent and proud. He refused to stay with them and refused to show them where he lived. They did what they could.
"That poor girl looked terribly disappointed when I talked to her," Charlie announced between bites. He could eat both quickly and politely. That was one of the things Isabelle liked about the boy, he had manners. More than her brothers had, at least.
"She was probably hoping for someone more handsome to talk to," Jace pointed out.
Charlie grinned. "Of course she was. She asked me about you two."
Jace returned his grin. "At last he admits that he is not as handsome as I."
"Actually, I was referring more to Alec."
Alec blushed furiously. He did whatever he could to downplay his dark good looks.
Isabelle sensed an argument coming and went to head it off. "You're all equally attractive."
She was right. Alec was classically handsome but tried to hide it while Jace flaunted his looks boldly. Most of Charlie's looks rested in his young delicacy. His features were almost downright girlish.
Jace gasped in outrage. "Of course not! We all know Charlie's as ugly as a-"
"Jonathan Christopher," Isabelle said warningly, brandishing the knife she was using to cut the bread. "I will have no crude language at my table."
"Yeah, Jace," Charlie shot at him, snatching a thick slice of the rich bread and taking a bite without bothering with the butter. The boy closed his eyes in utter bliss at the taste. "I swear, Izzy, someday this bread will nearly be good!"
She aimed a kick at his ankle under the table. "Watch your tongue, Charles Taylor!"
"Have you received anything at school from mother or father?" Alec asked, changing the subject.
Isabelle nodded, drawing pictures with her fork. "They'll be back Sunday."
Charlie paled. "Remind me to disappear."
"Oh come on, they like you," Alec assured him.
"Yes," Jace agreed. "See, the last mangy mutt that started hanging around they turned into the dog catcher. At least you're still here."
Charlie raised his glass to Jace. "You have yourself a point there."
"I always do," Jace said smugly.
In a fancier home, another family sat enjoying their supper.
"Clarissa," the governess said sternly, "it's bad form to read at the table."
Clary looked up at the three adults around the table in surprise. She had entirely forgotten that they were there. Her step-father, Luke, had had the book The Phantom of the Opera waiting for her when she and her mother had arrived home and she was entirely enthralled.
"It's all right, Imogen," Luke said calmly, smiling at his adopted daughter as she returned to pouring over her book. "There's nothing wrong with reading good literature."
Imogen's harsh grey eyes flashed. Obviously she found something terribly wrong with the situation. "Luke, you and Jocelyn are paying me to raise a young lady. Not an unruly wretch."
"Now," Jocelyn reprimanded softly. "I would hardly call Clary an unruly wretch."
"Well what sort of girl comes home with a paper she bought off of some newsie down in the Loop?" Imogen demanded harshly.
Clary's eyes flashed up at the mention of "newsie". Was she going to get in trouble for speaking with the tall boy?
"It was his last paper," Clary said in explanation. "He said his sister was getting anxious. She was waiting for them," she explained at their blank looks.
"His last paper!" Imogen scoffed, nostrils flaring. "A likely story! I bet he told you he was starving too and needed a few cents for food?"
Clary reviewed the conversation with the boy. "No, actually. He was quite calm about the whole thing, and very polite. I would have felt rude not buying it."
The governess sighed. "That's how they want you to feel. It's how they survive. Filth like them."
"Imogen," Jocelyn cut across with a small shake of her head. The governess fell into a haughty silence.
Clary fancied she was a lot like Madame Giry in her book, always dignified, even if she was being admonished.
"Papa?" Clary asked, turning to the gentle eyes of her adoptive father. "Do you think perhaps tomorrow I could help you with the bookstore?"
Luke looked mildly surprised, but pleased none the less. Clary's parents believed in girls looking out for themselves and Luke had every intention of leaving Clary in charge of his many stores. "Tomorrow I'll be at the State Street store. It will be busy."
"Why will you be there?" she asked curiously. State Street was where she always saw the three boys with their newspapers.
"The clerk asked for the day off and I said I would fill in. Extra help will be nice."
Clary noted how tired he looked. Her mother also looked tired, as though she hadn't slept well.
"Mama, are you ill?" Clary asked.
Jocelyn waved away her concern. "Aunt Amatis is coming to visit. I'm just a little worried is all."
"Don't let Amatis worry you," Luke advised. "She will be glad simply to be here."
"But we have to finish getting prepared for the masque," Jocelyn pointed out.
Clary dropped her spoon with a clatter. "Masque?"
Imogen sniffed. "I've been telling you for weeks, girl, but you hardly listen to two words I say."
"Because you're always scolding me," Clary mumbled into her book. No one heard her and they ate in silence for a few moments.
"Sit up straight, girl, elbows off the table."
Clary sighed and decided to retire to her room for the night to escape Imogen and be alone with her thoughts.
"Hello, Church," Charlie said, stifling a yawn, as the Lightwood's cat crawled onto his lap and promptly fell asleep.
"Cute," Isabelle commented over her school book. The four of them had moved to the sitting room and were gathered around the fire.
"I always found it odd that Church liked you," Jace commented. "But I guess it makes sense. He prefers girls, you know."
Charlie scratched under the cat's head. "No. I believe you have it all wrong. Church prefers people with a charming personality. Hence the reason he avoids you like the plague."
Jace chuckled. "No, I'm certain it's a feminine personality."
"Jace, shut up," Alec muttered with his eyes closed.
Apparently the other boy's relaxed attitude reminded Charlie of the hour and he hurriedly took his leave, leaving the siblings in a comfortable silence. When Church finally meowed placidly, Isabelle closed her book sharply.
"I got a job," she announced to her brothers.
"Good," said Jace.
"But school," Alec argued. "Mother-"
Isabelle looked annoyed as she glared at Alec. "Mother said she wants me to make something of myself and that is what I intend to do." She reopened her book and turned the page loftily.
"This is all great and wonderful, Izzy. But what is this job of yours?" Jace asked curiously. "You've failed to mention that part."
"I work as a clerk at Garroway's Books on State Street after school."
"And was there a particular reason you couldn't discuss this in front of Charlie?" Alec asked, still overly protective and cautious for his sister.
"Because," Isabelle began as though it were the most obvious thing in the world, "we'll have more money around here so you can slip him more of the newspaper sales."
"And Charlie would never allow that to happen," Jace sighed heavily. He stared blankly into the fire, watching the flames dance. How could something that destructive look so merry? "You two, get some sleep. Tomorrow's only Wednesday after all."