Ronan sometimes felt as if he and Adam were teetering on the edge of a precipice. Adam about to fall, Ronan trying to keep him balanced.
He could see it in Adam sometimes. The look on his face when he would slowly trudge up the few feet from his car to the Barns' porch after work. The tension coiled in his shoulders when he woke up in the middle of the night from a nightmare. Ronan could hear it sometimes, too, especially in the way he said Ronan's name.
Sometimes Adam would say Ronan with a quiet and dejected tone, which sounded a lot like a desperate plea for silence, and that's what Ronan would give him. Some would think this difficult for Ronan, but Ronan knew where the line was with Adam, and when silence meant silence.
Other times, Ronan would be a little more high pitched, a little more desperate, but in the type of desperation that begs for release and surrender, and that's what Ronan would give him as he laid on top of him, pushing himself deeper.
Every once in a while, though, there was the confused and desperate Ronan that would come after an episode of dissociative amnesia. It didn't happen often, but if Adam became too stressed and too overwhelmed and too tired without any kind of release, these episodes would occur, and they scared them both. Adam's baseline was tired, he didn't know how to not work, how to relax, how to not overthink everything.
So, Ronan immediately became alert when his phone lit up with Adam's roommates' phone number at 4:27 AM as Ronan was about to head out with his coffee to feed the cows.
"Hey, man, I'm sorry to bothe--"
"Spit it out," Ronan snapped, but there was an edge of worry to his tone.
"We can't find Adam," he said. "We're starting to get worried, so we thought maybe he would've told you where he was going, his car is gone."
Just like that, Ronan was seeing dark spots floating in his vision.
"Tell me what he happened," Ronan said sharply.
Several hours before, Adam got a phone call that had caused an unbearable and palpable silence to fall in the boys' shared room. It was super heavy , he had said. Shut up and tell me, Ronan snapped back. Adam had been sitting cross-legged on his bed surrounded by textbooks and notes, and then suddenly staring down at the phone in his hands before suddenly throwing it against the wall without a word. He had gotten up, hastily slid on his white high tops, a black zip-up sweatshirt of Ronan’s that swallowed him up, and left without a word.
Ronan didn't know what to do. He was eight fucking hours away. He didn't know if he should drive up there to search for him around and near campus, or if he should wait here. Adam would only be about an hour away by now if he had come here. He decided to stay at the Barns and then leave if Adam didn’t show up after a while. Ronan sat down on the porch steps and waited. Adam never came, and Ronan was angry with himself because he had wasted so much time.
Ronan flew into the closest lot near Adam’s dorm building, and braked suddenly, causing the BMW to suddenly lurch. He plucked a $10 guest parking ticket from a nearby car with its windows down and began walking towards Adam’s building. Ronan was tired, and worried, and he could feel the effects of the energy drinks he chugged begin to fade. He shot a dagger-like glare at a couple of girls who began to giggle flirtatiously near him.
By this time it was 8:30 in the morning, and Ronan was pounding on Adam’s and Tom’s door. Tom finally opened the door to “Is he here?”
Ronan was too worried and too tired to put much venom in his voice, and he looked over Tom’s shoulder to find a couple of other students in a study circle, all gaping at him. He must have looked intimidating in his black jeans, black tank, and leather jacket, with his tattoo peeking above the collar.
“Are you some kind of loan shark or something,” one of them deadpanned, and if under different circumstances, Ronan would have laughed. Instead, he looked the boy up and down in his perfectly pressed khakis and a teal polo shirt, and for a brief moment, he wanted to cry over the resemblance between this boy and Gansey. Ronan looked back to Tom.
“This is Ronan, Adam’s boyfriend,” Tom answered, and everyone’s expressions turned from concerned and intimidated to shocked and curious.
Ronan spotted Adam’s phone across the room from where he stood in the doorway and pushed past Tom to pick it up. He flipped open the screen and opened his recent calls. Mom.
“ Fuck .”
Ronan felt like he had stopped at every single coffee shop’s window in the city of Cambridge when he would see short, light brown, wavy hair out of the corner of his eye. Ronan had checked every new and used bookstore within a 10-mile radius, every coffee shop, cafe, park, all with no sign of Adam. Suddenly, a thought came to Ronan that caused him to stop in his tracks along the sidewalk, which made several passersby run into him angrily.
“I love this library,” Adam had told him as they stood in front of it holding hands and peering up at the massive building. As Adam did so, Ronan looked at him with adoration in his eyes and kissed his cheek --
Ronan turned around and took a sharp left, ignoring the irritated stares and comments of everyone sharing the sidewalk, and made his way to the library, or at least he thought he was, he couldn’t quite remember. Ronan wasn’t sure how he was going to find Adam Parrish in the largest academic library in the world (Adam had informed him over the summer), but he’d be damned if he didn’t succeed.
Ronan searched every visible square inch of the library that he was aware of and knew that Adam found comfort in. He stopped at a building map near one of the bathrooms and scoffed at the fact that the library was big enough to warrant a map. He noticed that two different basement levels housed private study rooms, and so that’s where Ronan headed.
After an hour and fourteen minutes of searching the library, he found a study room a couple of aisles down that said occupied but with the lights off. Ronan tried to peer through the small vertical textured window, but it was too opaque. He opened the door then and called Adam’s name so that he didn’t startle whoever was in there. Ronan looked around the relatively small and lavish room with its whiteboards and plush chairs, and over on the other side was Adam asleep on a dark brown suede sofa with his hood pulled up and over his eyes. Ronan walked over and knelt next to the couch.
“Adam,” he said softly. Ronan was growing even more concerned because Adam was normally a light sleeper, but at the same time, his face looked so at peace that he hated to wake him.
“Adam,” he said a little louder and placed his hand on Adam’s head to pull back the hood. Adam finally opened his eyes then, and Ronan watched as Adam’s eyes re-focused and realized it was Ronan, and Adam immediately teared up. Ronan carded his fingers through Adam’s hair for a minute as Adam stared at Ronan, confused as to whether or not he was really there. In the years that Ronan has known Adam, he had only seen him cry a small handful of times, and it was when he was so overwhelmed that that seemed to be the last coping mechanism that his brain could offer.
Ronan motioned for him to sit up, and he sat down for Adam to lay his head in his lap. Ronan ran his fingers through his hair, something that always relaxed Adam and put him to sleep, and they said nothing.
“My mom called,” Adam suddenly said as Ronan held Adam tightly up against his chest in Adam’s bed. This was the first Adam had spoken since Ronan had found him two hours prior. From behind Adam, he could see that he still had his eyes closed.
“What’d she want?”
“My dad is in the hospital,” Adam said bluntly. Ronan froze and then snorted.
“Huh. Thought it was too expensive.” Adam could hear the sarcasm in Ronan’s voice and could almost see the accompanying eye-roll.
“He was with some friend of his, he was driving drunk, she said it’s pretty bad.”
“And why would she think that you would care,” and Ronan still seemed defensive and overly protective. Adam stiffened and shrugged. Ronan narrowed his eyes at that and sat up on his elbow to look down at Adam properly.
“Why would she think that, Adam?” He sounded suspicious, and Adam couldn’t bear to look up at him. He was afraid that Ronan would be disappointed in him or angry, and that was the most unbearable thing Adam could think of.
“I’ve talked to her a few times,” Adam said, and as he did so, he pressed his arm down to keep Ronan’s arm wrapped around his waist, scared that Ronan would be angry and pull away. Part of his brain told him that he wasn’t thinking clearly, that he was becoming too self-conscious, doubting the love that he currently felt like he didn’t deserve.
“Why?” Adam gave a half-hearted shrug and said nothing.
“Adam, look at me,” Ronan said as he rolled him over. "I'm not going to be angry, I just want to know what's going on with you. We already have to spend so much time apart, and it kills me that I can't always be here when you need me." Damn Ronan and how easy it is to see right through Adam.
"I miss her sometimes," Adam whispered, and Ronan's brows drew together but due to confusion and not anger.
"I know you don't understand, after everything my dad did, and how she never stood up to him or for me, but she was abused, too, just in a different way."
Adam's breath hitched at abuse, it was always so hard for Adam to say the word when he and Ronan talked about these things, but it had started to become a little easier.
"Sometimes when you or Matthew talk about your mom and your childhood, I fantasize about it. My mom was kind of like that when I was little, sometimes. She wasn't always neglectful. My dad has always been like that for as long as I can remember, since before I started school, but I think she just gave up after a while. She couldn't afford to leave, so she just kind of… checked out. Sometimes I would see her hiding in the kitchen when dad and I would fight when I was older, and I could see the regret on her face, but if he came home drunk and I wasn't there, he would do things to her instead, so we stopped talking. She'd stay passed out in bed all the time to cope, and I'd work all the time."
Adam was looking over Ronan's shoulder now as he spoke, lost in memory, and Ronan stayed hovered above him, watched his face with concern, and tried to wordlessly support Adam with his weight distributed over his body like Adam always liked.
"Anyway," Adam began again matter-of-factly, his way of compartmentalizing, "after I moved in with you, she stopped by one day while I was at Boyd's. She came in and Boyd got to her first, she had been crying, and he came and got me. She was high or something, or maybe she finally lost it, who knows, she was talking about poisoning his dinner or something, I could hardly follow anything she was saying, but she kept saying I'm sorry, I'm sorry over and over again," Adam cleared his throat and finally looked at Ronan.
"A few days before we left to come here, she called me and wanted to know what my plans were and our relationship, graduation, asked if they were able to repair my ear, like she was suddenly interested in the last 18 years of my life. She asked if we could talk every week when my dad was out."
Ronan transferred his weight to his other arm and slid his hand up Adam's side under his shirt to share his warmth with Adam. Ronan has learned that there are so many small affectionate things that Adam loved and craved that he had always taken for granted, and he wanted to give Adam the world.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I was nervous that you'd be mad."
"Is it what you want?"
Adam thought for a moment, "I don't know. Maybe." Adam began to blink rapidly a few times, trying his best to hold back tears. "I don't want to want it."
Ronan leaned his face down and kissed Adam's forehead and then his cheek and the other one, and then the tip of his nose. Adam closed his eyes and gave a little huff of relieved laughter.
With his eyes closed, Adam added, "I'm not sure how much longer I can keep it together," Adam admitted. Ronan tilted his head to look closer at Adam, immediately alarmed, and Adam reopened his eyes. Adam was the strongest, most stubborn person he's ever met in his life. He held down three jobs while going to a private school that he paid for by himself, where he excelled in everything he did, all while living with the home life that he was born into. He just about killed himself daily for what he aimed for. He always respected Adam more than anyone or anything in the world even when he didn't act like it, and to hear this coming from Adam shook everything to his core.
Admitting that was about the hardest thing Adam has ever had to do, aside from finally leaving the trailer. A painful lump formed in his throat as the words played over and over in his head, and he began to squirm under Ronan’s scrutiny.
“What’s going on? This isn’t just about your mom,” Ronan pulled back completely now and sat cross-legged, concerned beyond comprehension. Something was wrong. He watched as Adam’s chest heaved, bordering on a panic attack, and Ronan grabbed his hand to help him sit up. Ronan stayed quiet as he waited for Adam to talk. You couldn’t rush Adam Parrish. He had to do everything on his own.
Adam teared up again, and everything about this whole situation was so alarming and uncharacteristic that Ronan’s mind was reeling.
“I, um…” Adam looked up to the ceiling and swallowed hard, “I’ve been really depressed, and I don’t know how to fix it. I mean, I’ve been depressed before at the trailer, but I was working towards something, and that kept me level headed, but this is… different,” Adam ran a hand across the back of his neck distractedly, and he carded his fingers through his hair and pulled firmly. “I can’t even get out of bed, and I miss you, I miss home. I wake up and open my eyes, and I feel like crying, all the time, and it’s becoming so hard to fake it.”
Ronan felt so sad, but he understood. He knew depression and sadness and loneliness better than anyone and had experienced the self-destructive and self-loathing behaviors that went along with it, and he hated that Adam was feeling those same types of things that Ronan had always experienced chronically.
“Come home with me for a while. We can work through it. I can have Declan call the Dean and work something out.” Adam shook his head.
“No, it’s the middle of the semester, I can’t afford to miss assignments and exams,” Adam rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“Nothing is wrong with you, Adam. You work yourself to death every day while also studying at an Ivy League school, and then your mother contacts you after everything you lived through, and it’s building up.” Adam nodded slightly.
“But Adam, I’m worried. You have to be careful, you know how things get when it gets too bad.” The dissociative amnesia has only happened a handful of times over the last couple of years, but that is exactly where this is leading. “Come on, come home with me, just for a few days. Declan can take care of it all so that you don’t miss anything or get behind.”
Adam looked at him then and didn’t argue, which must have meant that the depression really was that bad. Ronan reached forward and cupped Adam’s face in his hands and gently kissed his lips.
“Everything will be alright, we’ll work through it,” Ronan said quietly against Adam’s good ear after pulling him into a hug. “I love you, and I’ll support you no matter what even if I hate the idea. I want you to tell me things and to be there for you, that’s what I’m here for,” In the back of his mind, Ronan realized just how in love with this boy he was, and how he never fails to turn Ronan into a pile of mush with only a look.
“Oh, I thought you were here just to look pretty and for good sex,” Adam deadpanned, and Ronan could feel Adam’s cheeks rise in a grin against his shoulder.
“Good sex? Just good ?” Ronan feigned offense, “How fucking dare you,” Ronan growled against Adam’s neck as he pushed him back onto the bed with a hard kiss and teeth and urgent fumbling for belt buckles, and with Ronan’s warm, strong hands pressing into his hip bones, keeping him grounded and here and now, Adam thought that with some time, maybe he would be okay with someone by his side again.