The humidity hung heavy in the air as Adam Parrish clocked in on what appeared to be another monotonous day spent at work.
He began a job at the Henrietta Community Pool by mistake. An offhand comment made during his regular shift at the auto repair shop about needing to stay busy during the summer led to his boss mentioning how his sister-in-law oversaw the pool and how the pool could always use desk attendants.
Adam received the job a day later after an informal phone conversation was had between himself and the sister-in-law in the parking lot of the repair shop. As Adam handed the borrowed phone back to his boss, he shrugged and said “I guess I start tomorrow.”
There was no training, no handbook to follow, no background check conducted, just some paperwork to sign. She even ignored the fact that he was, for another month, a minor who needed the paperwork completed by a parent or guardian. Adam would work in the mornings four days a week and bike to the repair shop for his regular shift in the evenings. On his first day, the sister-in-law (Janet, as Adam came to know her) handed Adam a red shirt with white block letters that spelled “HCP” on the front and “STAFF” on the back. He slipped the shirt on over his traditional white t-shirt and took a seat at the desk.
For twenty hours a week Adam had to be sweet tea and southern hospitality, saying: “thank you, ma’am” or “hope y’all had fun today” to each passing guest that came in or out of the outdated and overcrowded community pool.
The mosquitoes bit, women twice his age talked about pinching his cheeks, and the warm Virginia sun left him both fatigued and irate by the time he clocked out and biked to his second job.
He quickly came to hate it, hated the fakeness of it, hated how classmates would walk past and Adam would have no choice but to smile and thank them for visiting. There was a power dynamic that perpetually placed Adam at the bottom.
But quitting wasn’t who he was.
To be Adam Parrish was to be many things, but it was never to be a quitter. He would never ask for help nor admit defeat. He was ambitious and proud and undeniably alone. Always alone.
So he sat alone, now two weeks into the job, handing wristbands to children who passed their swim tests. There he sat, meticulously watching a spider cross his desk just to pass the time.
“Hello!” The spider scurried off to the far corner of the desk and Adam’s concentration was broken by a boy with golden curls and a persistent smile. The name on the computer screen flashed Matthew Lynch as the boy scanned his membership card. Another name, another face insignificant to Adam.
“Enjoy the pool,” Adam said with a fakeness that made his skin itch.
The boy, a name already forgotten, bounded away and Adam’s eyes fell back on the spider. Or, perhaps it was a different spider. The spiders of the Henrietta Community Pool, much like the residents of Henrietta itself, all took the same form and it became a challenge to tell them apart. Fair-skinned families with laughter lines and calloused hands made up 98.1% of Henrietta’s demographic and made up 100% of the people that passed through the pool’s gate.
A blue collar town that Adam himself blended perfectly into.
Adam followed the spider to the edge of the desk where, as before, approaching footsteps scared it away. As Adam brought his head up, a boy that looked nothing like Henrietta sped past, saying “I’m with the kid.” before Adam could stop him and ask for proof of membership.
Four hours and thirty-two minutes until Adam Parrish could clock out. Less than twenty-four hours until he would clock back in and do it over again.
Ronan Lynch hated everything about the Henrietta Community Pool, hated the sights and the sounds and the smells that came with upwards of 100 bodies splashing around in lukewarm water as the Henrietta sun beat down on them.
It should have been Declan to take Matthew to the pool, Declan who insistently purchased the memberships. Yet Ronan was the one to emerge from the car some minutes after Matthew bounded through the gates and out of Ronan’s sight while Declan fucked off to Washington.
Ronan felt eyes on him, families giving him inconsiderate looks as he slammed his car door and approached the gate fully clad in black. He had no intention of swimming or doing anything other than sitting under a tree with his head down, glaring at any child or parent or grandparent who might come near him.
Through body language alone he declared “Fuck You” to everyone enjoying the summer sun at the pool.
He watched a mother pull her two daughters aside to let him pass as though he were some sort of textbook villain coming to spread terror to the mild-mannered people of Henrietta. He hated the town and the people inside it and how everyone feigned happiness in hope that it would make them feel something other than dissatisfaction and disappointment with the miserable lives they lived.
Ronan wore his unhappiness on his face every day.
That unhappiness allowed him to pay no attention to the desk attendant, assuming whoever it was to be a carbon copy of everything Ronan despised about Henrietta. He said “I’m with the kid,” before finding a tree to sit under far away from the seemingly happy parents and their seemingly happy children.
It should have been Declan to take Matthew to the pool.
The community pool reminded Ronan of everything he lost. He had no parents, no family beyond his brothers to swim around the water with or compete to see who could make the biggest splash on the diving board. His father lay buried in a plot of land owned by the Lynch family and his mother lay buried under blankets at the local hospital, comatose since the death of her husband.
Ronan lived with his only friend, Matthew lived at school, and Declan lived like a bureaucrat in a townhouse in Washington, the three brothers only coming together once a week to say their prayers at St. Agnes before returning to their disconnected lives. In the almost complete year since the death of their father and the hospitalization of their mother, the once close Lynch brothers grew apart.
Apparently the Henrietta Community Pool was Declan’s attempt to bring the three back together.
Under the tree Ronan kept his head down and picked at the bracelets on his wrist, doing his best to ignore any and all pool-goers with holy water in their oversized bags, ready to condemn Ronan to Hell. He looked up only when he noticed Matthew standing before him, water dripping from his curls onto the tops of Ronan’s shoes.
“Did you bring the money for the snack bar?”
“I gave it to you.”
Matthew scratched the back of his head, all his boyishness coming out as he recollected where he placed the money Ronan had given him that morning with strict instructions not to lose it. “Right… I think it’s still in the car.”
The way Matthew looked at Ronan signaled to the older brother that the younger Lynch desired him to retrieve the money from the car. As Ronan stood himself up, Matthew gleamed and ran off to rejoin a group of boys that looked about his age, yelling his thanks as Ronan began back toward the entrance.
Had it been anyone else, Ronan would have said to piss off. But it was Matthew with his eternal happiness and dream-like smile, Matthew who made Ronan believe that maybe (just maybe) there was some sort of good in the world.
He ignored the desk attendant again on his way out, giving a backhanded wave and saying “I’ll be back” at the same time the attendant offered well wishes. If Ronan saw Matthew as the last chance for good in the world, he saw himself as coming straight from Hell.
The money was left on the passenger seat, visible to anyone who passed by. Ronan grabbed the few bills and slammed the door with enough force that the man emerging from the car beside his glared.
When Ronan approached the gate, the desk attendant addressed him. Just as Ronan turned his head toward the attendant, he tripped over nothing more than his own feet.
He wasn’t sure if he had said it aloud or in his head but Ronan could feel his face growing warmer from more than the sun’s rays. The first thing Ronan noticed about the desk attendant was his hands, worn and calloused and tanned from hours spent in the sun. He held a scanner and said, “I need to see your card.”
“Your membership card. I’m not supposed to let you in without it.”
A line was forming as Ronan dug in his pocket where he knew his membership card did not reside. “I, uh, don't have it.” He tripped over his feet and his words for a boy with nice hands and a nicer smile. Ronan felt sick.
“I need your name then, to verify your membership.”
Ronan thought the second part sounded like an afterthought, wishful thinking telling him the anonymous attendant desired to know his name.
His skin continued to burn.
“Lynch.” Ronan said and when prompted for a first name mumbled out, “Rom - fuck - Ronan.”
Maybe it was the heat or the fact that he hadn’t eaten anything today (or the way the attendant said “Sorry?”) that made Ronan’s head grow lighter and lighter. He steadied himself on the edge of the desk, avoided further eye contact, and said: “Ronan. Ronan Lynch.”
“Enjoy your swim, Ronan.”
With that, Ronan stormed off to where Matthew stood wrapped in a towel and eating a snow cone he must have charmed someone into buying for him.
“We’re leaving. Now .”
“You’re no fun.”
Ronan didn’t offer Matthew a chance for further protest, he pushed past children lining up to use the diving board and received a curse or two from the nearby parents in his fury. He was past the gate where the attendant sat before the two could exchange further words and Ronan could further condemn himself to an eternal life in Hell.
Ronan Lynch hated everything about the Henrietta Community Pool, specifically the unnamed desk attendant who caused him to trip over his feet and stumble his words.
He vowed to come back tomorrow.
When 3:00 in the afternoon came and Adam Parrish clocked out, Ronan Lynch was hardly a thought in his mind. He got on his bike and continued on with his day, trading heat and hospitality for gears and grease. His stomach gnawed with hunger and the few cups of water he had during his time at the pool did little to hydrate him.
On the road from the pool to the auto repair shop there was a convenience store with prices cheap enough that it became a frequent spot for Adam to grab food as he biked from one job to the other. As he approached, he checked his pocket to make sure he put a few dollars away for his first real meal of the day.
The lady at the front counter smiled at him as he placed a sandwich and a bag of off-brand potato chips on the counter. The price came to $4.76.
Adam pulled out four crumpled bills and, realizing he didn’t have enough to cover the total cost, kindly asked to take away the chips.
The cashier knew better than to ask questions. She charged Adam $4.00 even and he walked away feeling ashamed and upset with his inability to readily pay for basic needs.
He leaned against his bike as he ate, ignoring the staleness of the bread and the sogginess of the lettuce. Food was food and he learned long ago to eat what was placed in front of him. Besides, nothing would be waiting on the dinner table when he returned home.
His time at the repair shop passed by quickly. Adam spent his time alone with the cars; he didn’t have to put on a facade or pretend that seeing classmates enjoying their time off of school didn’t create an unspeakable envy.
Adam Parrish kept busy with work because the alternative hurt worse than a head-to-toe sunburn from hours at the pool or banging an elbow against the side of a car being repaired. Adam Parrish was reminded of the alternative every night when he returned home.
When the time read 8 o’clock Adam got back on his bike and began the ride home, grateful the sun was just beginning to set over Henrietta. The road home was sparsely lit and Adam had long since misplaced the flashlight he used to teeter on the handlebars when it became too hard to otherwise see.
His eyes fought to stay open, his body ached, and the thought of doing it all again tomorrow did little to improve his mood. He allowed himself one selfish thought, wishing he could have been born to different parents or born into a life that didn’t require a seventeen year-old to work more hours in a day than his parents worked combined.
One more year. He told himself, thinking about college and moving away and never giving Henrietta a second glance. Applications opened in two months and while he excelled in school, the belief that he would never be good enough for a Harvard or a Yale dominated his thoughts. Self-doubt overwhelmed his sense of ambition.
He became lost in his own head, paying attention to his obsessive thoughts and not the road that lay before him. He didn’t see the headlights of an approaching car, didn’t hear the tires screeching as the driver braked to avoid a head-on collision with Adam and his bike. Adam himself stopped, bringing his bike to a halt and his mind to the present.
The entire exchange lasted only briefly.
The driver sped off, Adam catching only a glimpse of his face before he was gone down the one-lane road. He looked familiar, though it was not until he walked his bike up to his family’s home that Adam realized the boy from the pool, Ronan Lynch, had been the one to nearly hit him.
The scene replayed itself as he slept that night.
Ronan Lynch swore as he braked his car, prepared to yell a myriad of obscenities at the boy biking in the middle of the road. He was prepared to do so until he saw the biker’s face.
The desk attendant.
God, Ronan believed, was enacting revenge. He was made to suffer and the unnamed attendant quickly became the cause of his suffering. After he dropped Matthew off, the entire afternoon had been spent in his room with his headphones on, music loud enough that his thoughts became replaced by EDM.
When the music no longer provided the distraction he desired, Ronan went for a drive, bringing him to the moment where he nearly killed the attendant.
Fate, if that’s what you could call it, had its way with Ronan Lynch today.
Instead of swearing at or checking to see if the boy was okay, Ronan sped off toward his home at Monmouth Manufacturing. He called himself a coward.
He pulled into the Monmouth parking lot, though remained in his car with the windows up and the bass from his music rattling the car. Ronan Lynch did not “do” feelings, and certainly did not “do” feelings for a boy whose name he didn’t know and whose life he had placed in jeopardy.
Love at first sight didn’t exist because Ronan did not believe in love or the ability for himself to more than tolerate another individual. He lost that ability the day he came home to find his father’s corpse lying mangled in the driveway, remnants of a fresh rain shower mixing with lost blood. He lost that ability when Declan signed his mother off to the hospital and banned Ronan from the family property.
He saw himself a monster, turning further and further away from the person he used to be.
He believed he was too far gone to ever go back.
When he left his car and walked through the never locked entrance to Monmouth Manufacturing, the only other occupant of the spacious building was sitting on the floor with a lamp at his side, scrawling feverishly into an overstuffed notebook.
Richard Gansey slept just as much as Ronan, though where the latter turned to alcohol and street racing to cope with his problems, the former read books about Welsh Kings and made miniature models of the places his trust fund allowed him to travel.
“Ronan! We have a new roommate.” Gansey said, stopping Ronan before he could slither off to his room where he would lie awake for hours, not thinking about the desk attendant (or his hands).
Gansey chuckled in a way that only Gansey could, patronizing without intending to be, “His name is Noah and he’s an Aglionby alum and the three of us are going out for pizza tomorrow.”
“So we’re picking up strays now?” He knew the question was hypocritical because Gansey had, quite literally, picked Ronan up after the death of his father and moved him into Monmouth.
Still, he was territorial.
Ronan never heard the footsteps approaching until a quiet, though unfamiliar voice said “It’s only temporary.”
Looking at Noah was like looking at a ghost. His nearly translucent skin and light blond hair coupled with his haggard facial features made him appear otherworldly. His timidness told Ronan he was escaping something or some one. He would fit in perfectly with Gansey’s Island of Misfit Toys.
“God, Gansey, where did you find him?”
“The Aglionby Alumni Facebook Group.”
Ronan knew better than to question why Gansey, who had not yet graduated, joined the alumni network. He knew better than to question what it was that made Gansey choose to offer the space up to another visitor, no matter how temporary, without Ronan’s approval.
“I’m going to bed.” He said, leaving the space that suddenly felt too crowded with three bodies instead of two.
In his room with the door closed, Ronan found an open bottle of liquor. The burning of his throat as he drank from the bottle felt therapeutic. The day had been too much; he felt ashamed and embarrassed and disposable all at once.
Ashamed because the desk attendant, with his hands and his voice and his smile, made Ronan feel something he tried so hard to suppress.
Embarrassed because his own recklessness nearly cost someone their life.
Disposable because Noah appeared to be the perfect housemate and Ronan was not.
He finished the bottle and tossed it aside, spreading himself across his unmade bed and watching as the world around him spun.
When he dreamt that night, he dreamt of a world where his father had lived and his mother could speak and he could kiss a boy if he wanted to. A world where he could be the hero, not the monster.
In the morning he would find that dreams were just that; fantasies and glimpses of the unobtainable.