Adam’s first clue was the empty bed. When his alarm sounded, waking him from his light sleep, he rolled to the side out of habit to wrap his arms around Ronan and lay his head on his chest, but instead of a warm, solid body, he was met with empty space.
Which was weird. It was a Saturday. He would have known where Ronan was if it had been a Sunday – he’d already be getting ready for church. But any other day, after Ronan finished tending to his crops and animals for the morning, he usually came back to bed to lie with Adam a little longer. Adam checked the time; it was half past seven – Ronan should have been back.
Adam tried not to panic too quickly. There were plenty of places Ronan could have been: perhaps he was still working around the Barns, maybe he’d had to make an unplanned visit to Lindenmere, or he could have just forgotten to come back to bed.
But Ronan’s morning chores ran like clockwork, he would have told Adam or left a note if he was going somewhere, and it was not in Ronan Lynch’s nature to forget things.
Quickly, Adam threw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and hurried downstairs. He didn’t see any sign on Ronan, but he did hear hushed voices that seemed to be coming from the living room. He quietly edged closer, trying to pick out what was being said.
There were two people talking but neither of them were Ronan. They were Lynches, though, so it was a step in the right direction, and also Adam’s second clue. One voice, the louder and thoroughly excited one, belonged to Matthew, and the quieter and more stressed one was Declan’s.
Adam pressed his hearing ear to the closed door but the other two were whispering and he couldn’t understand a word. So he pushed the door open and walked in.
Their conversation stopped immediately. Declan – well-practised in lies and hiding – was smiling genially and in a way that would have been totally unsuspicious had Adam not just heard him having a whispered row with his little brother. Matthew, on the other hand, looked like a deer caught in headlights, his eyes blown wide open in conspicuous surprise.
“Adam,” Declan greeted. “Good morning. Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, thank you,” Adam said warily, looking between the two brothers. “Where is Ronan? He wasn’t in bed when I woke up.”
“He’s trying to sort out the–” Matthew began, but Declan loudly spoke over him and gave him a kick to the shin that Adam thought was probably supposed to be subtle but absolutely was not.
“He’s running some errands. Said something about going to a farmer’s market out of town. He asked us to let you know.”
Adam nodded as if it made perfect sense. The fact was, it was a lazy excuse. Whenever Ronan needed to go to the farmer’s market or run any sort of errands, he asked Adam to come with him, no matter what. Many a time, Adam had been at work, pouring over a case file to try and find some sort of plausible argument to keep his client in the clear when his work phone would ring and it would be Ronan on the other end, asking him if he wanted to go to the grocery store.
“Alright,” Adam said. “What are you guys doing here?”
“Well,” Declan said, “since Ronan is away, we were wondering if you’d like to spend the day with us. Give you something to do while he’d gone.”
“We’re going to the Potomac,” Matthew supplied excitedly, beaming from ear to ear.
“I do have some work I should be getting on with,” Adam told them.
Declan waved a dismissive hand. “Surely it can wait? We wouldn’t want you to get lonely here.”
Declan’s pushing was clue number three and made Adam completely certain that something was going on. For one thing, whenever Ronan was planning something that Adam, for whatever reason, couldn’t know about, he would send in someone else to distract Adam – usually it was Gansey or Blue, but they were in Puerto Rico with Henry at the moment, so Adam supposed Declan and Matthew were Ronan’s backup option.
For another thing, Declan knew for a fact that Adam did not and would not ‘get lonely’. It wasn’t a thing that Adam Parrish did. Declan was clearly grasping at straws to get Adam away from the Barns for the day.
Adam shrugged. He wasn’t going to ruin whatever Ronan’s big surprise was. “Alright. Let me just go and make myself presentable.”
He left the Lynch brothers in the living room and heard their whispered conversation immediately start back up again. Upstairs, he brushed his teeth and washed his face, then found a pair of not-too-worn-out sneakers and pulled them on. He met Declan and Matthew at the bottom of the stairs and Declan led them out to his car. Minutes later, they were pulling onto the highway.
In the back of the car, Matthew was chanting, “Po-To-Mac!” and clapping his hands with each syllable. Declan surreptitiously turned the car radio volume up to drown him out.
The journey to the Potomac was quiet except for Matthew and the radio. Adam watched them pass rolling fields and busy towns, wondering what was going on back at home. The last time Ronan had tried something like this had been Adam’s birthday, six months ago – Gansey had taken Adam to mini-golf, then to the planetarium, then to a fancy restaurant, spending far too long at each establishment for them to just be hanging out with no ulterior motives.
When they’d arrived back at the Barns, Adam had pretended to be surprised when everyone jumped up and shouted, “Happy Birthday!” but Ronan had seen right through it and promised his next surprise would be better.
Well, his actual words had been, “Fuck you for being so fucking perceptive, Parrish. I swear to Jesus, next time you’re gonna be so fucking clueless that it might genuinely surprise you to death.” Then he’d added an extra, “Fuck you,” for good measure.
They arrived at the Potomac much faster than Adam had expected. Matthew hopped out of the car and practically ran towards the river, forgetting to shut his car door in his haste. Declan shut it for him and he and Adam followed the Matthew towards the Potomac.
Ronan had told Adam how Matthew got when he was near the Potomac, but he had never actually seen it. It was an odd sight; Matthew, who ordinarily was excitement personified, was sat at the viewpoint, his legs crossed underneath him, staring transfixed at the water. There was no trace of his usual restless, relentless energy, or his bubbly joy. He looked as calm as Adam had ever seen him, entranced by the Potomac. With the soft winter light catching his gold curls and as he sat in his meditative pose, he looked even more angelic than usual.
Adam looked to Declan, who was scowling at his phone (which probably meant Ronan had texted him (and if Ronan was using his phone then the surprise had to be a big one)).
“He really does this every time?” Adam asked, nodding towards Matthew, who didn’t seem to hear him.
Declan nodded. “Without fail. It’s the strangest thing.”
A few beats of silence passed between them, broken only by the sound of the river, the whistling of the wind, and the chatter of other visitors.
“What’s Ronan planning?” Adam asked eventually.
Declan raised an eyebrow. “What makes you think he’s planning something?”
“Everything that’s happened since I woke up this morning,” Adam countered.
Declan hummed noncommittally and didn’t reply for a while, so Adam thought he was letting the subject drop. It made sense – Declan wouldn’t want to ruin whatever Ronan was setting up by telling Adam exactly what it was, and truth be told, Adam didn’t want that either.
But a few minutes later, Declan said, “I’m glad he’s got you.”
Adam blinked in surprise and looked to the older man. Declan was gazing out across the river, stubbornly not looking back. Adam knew by now that sentimentality was not Declan’s strong suit, but he clearly wanted to say something now. So Adam stayed silent and waited for him to continue.
“If Ronan didn’t have you after our father died, I don’t know how different things would be. I don’t want to even imagine how things would be. You have a way of grounding him. He’s so much more like himself and different from himself when he’s around you. I just hope you know how much you’ve changed him. For the better.”
Adam had no idea what to say. He knew he was good for Ronan, just as Ronan was good for him. But he’d always thought of the ways they improved each other as something private and secret between the two of them, something nobody else saw or was bothered by. Then here was Declan, telling Adam he saw all of it, almost thanking him for being with Ronan. It was a lot to take in.
“He’s changed me too,” Adam said. “I’m glad we have each other.”
At that, Declan looked at him appraisingly. Then he grunted an agreement, a very Ronan-like thing to do, a mark of how much they’d repaired their shattered relationship in the past few years.
“Yes,” Declan said. “So am I.”
They stayed at the Potomac a while longer, Matthew still watching the river, Adam and Declan trading idle conversation. Eventually, the January chill got a bit too much and they filed back into the car. Declan turned the heat up and checked his phone before he started driving.
“Matthew,” he called to the backseat, “is there anything we need to pick up at the grocery store?”
Adam took that to mean ‘Ronan’s surprise isn’t ready yet so we need to stall a little while longer, help me out here’.
Matthew thought for a moment, then listed an entire grocery shopping list of seemingly random items. Once they were nearing Henrietta again, Declan pulled the car into a carpark and the three of them entered the shop. Matthew insisted on pushing the trolley, but he immediately almost crashed it into a display after hopping on the back and trying to ride it down an aisle.
While Declan gently told Matthew off (even though Matthew was too old to be told off by now), Adam couldn’t help but remember his and Ronan’s teenage years. He remembered one evening when he’d sat in a shopping cart and Ronan had pushed him around the carpark, both of them howling with laughter. Ronan had, inevitably, crashed the trolley. As they had lain of the ground together, breathless and giddy, Adam remembered it being one of the first times he’d considered kissing Ronan.
Suddenly, he wanted to call Ronan. He wanted to hear his voice. Though it had been less than a day since he had seen him, it felt like years. Absently, he pulled his phone from his back pocket and opened up Ronan’s contact.
Before he could press the call button, his phone had been snatched from his hand.
“Hey!” Adam said, affronted. Matthew was holding his phone with a complicated expression on his face. “Give me back my phone.”
Matthew looked from the phone to Adam and back again. “No,” he said. “You don’t need it.”
“Yes, I do. It’s mine.”
“Well, I’m… I’m holding it hostage! If you want it back you have to–”
“Matthew,” Declan interrupted. He had disappeared down another aisle and was now returning with his arms laden with far too many packets of spaghetti. “Give Adam back his phone.”
Matthew brandished the screen in Declan’s face. “But he was trying to call Ronan.”
Declan raised an eyebrow at Adam, who shrugged.
“Alright,” Declan said, dropping the spaghetti in the cart. “Matthew, give Adam back his phone. Adam, do not call Ronan.”
Grudgingly, Adam tucked his phone back in his pocket. Matthew had already seemingly forgotten the entire incident because once again he tried to ride the trolley down the aisle, and this time he actually did crash into a stack of Barbie dolls, sending the boxes tumbling down around himself and the trolley.
The three of them were then promptly kicked out of the shop.
Back in the car, Adam decided that if he wasn’t allowed to talk to his boyfriend, he’d talk to his friends instead. He opened up a group chat which contained just him, Blue and Gansey. It was called ‘The ‘Ronan Lynch and Henry Cheng Are Assholes’ Society’. It had been created when Ronan and Henry had somehow started a prank war but tended to target not each other, but their other friends. Blue made the group chat after Henry had put paint in her shower gel and she had looked like a Smurf for three days.
Adam sent a message saying, ‘Do you guys know if Ronan is planning something for today?’
Immediately, he got a response from Blue which read, ‘nooooo… ;)’ and meant she definitely did know something.
Gansey’s reply came a few minutes later and said, ‘I wasn’t aware! Do let us know if he does anything though, Adam. Smiley face.’ He had written ‘smiley face’ because Richard Campbell Gansey III sucked at technology.
Adam stowed his phone away when he realised they were going through the security system of the Barns. He hated it, had always hated it, and had asked Ronan to change it on one occasion. But he knew if was effective, so it stayed. He was almost used to it by now.
Once they were through the security system, Declan parked the car and Adam climbed out. Declan and Matthew stayed inside.
“Am I allowed to go and find Ronan now?” Adam asked. Declan nodded, suddenly seeming nervous. “Okay. I had a really nice day, thanks.”
“Yes,” Declan said, voice tight. Adam thought it was strange but didn’t comment on it. “Yes, maybe we’ll do it again another time.”
“See you soon, Adam,” Matthew said as he wound his window down. He held his hand out for a high five and Adam gave it to him.
Adam gave them a wave and started back towards the Barns, his home, but Declan called out, “Adam!”
Adam turned around to face him. Declan just said, “Remember what I said earlier. Please.”
And then he drove away.
Shoving his hands into his pockets, Adam walked to the Barns. Though it was only late afternoon by now, the sky was already dark and the air was getting colder by the second.
He opened the front door and stepped inside, calling Ronan’s name, but there was no answer. He headed through the kitchen and out the back door.
He saw Ronan immediately, lit elegantly by his dream fireflies. He was crouched down beside one of Niall Lynch’s dream cows, stroking its side gently. He looked expectant, ready. And, oddly, he was wearing a suit.
Adam thought about his day. Waking up without Ronan and worrying about where he was. Spending the day without him and missing him the entire time. Talking to Declan about him, remembering everything Declan had said. The realisation hit him like a bus – Adam knew what the surprise was.
He walked towards Ronan.
Ronan hadn’t seen him yet. He stood up and glared at the cow – glaring always worked for Ronan when nothing else did. When Adam reached his side, he slipped his arms around his waist and buried his face in his neck. Ronan reacted immediately, pulling Adam closer and kissing the top of his head.
“I missed you,” Adam said quietly.
“I missed you too,” Ronan told him. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there this morning.”
“It’s okay. You were busy.”
Ronan nodded, pressed a kiss to Adam’s forehead. Then Adam felt him smile against his skin.
“Adam,” Ronan said. Not Parrish, so Adam knew that this whole thing really was as important as he had thought. “Look.”
Adam extricated himself from Ronan slightly so that he could look where his boyfriend was pointing. He was astounded, his mouth open in shock, as Niall Lynch’s dream cow twitched its ears, yawned, and finally stood up. It let out a doleful moo and then began to eat the grass.
“You did it,” Adam breathed incredulously. “You woke it up. Holy shit, Ronan, how did you wake it up?”
Ronan was laughing ecstatically. The look on his face could only be described as pure joy – Adam didn’t think he’d ever seen him smiling so wide, so genuine. He wouldn’t have been surprised if Ronan had picked him up and spun him around like they were in a cheesy romcom.
“Does it fucking matter how I did it? The point is I fucking figured it out! They’re awake, Adam, all of them.”
And one by one, the other cows around the field began to stir. They stood up, wiry tails beating the air, eyes blinking blearily. Adam watched in astonishment as they began to mill about in the field. Dream creatures awake when their dreamer was dead.
Ronan leaned close and whispered in Adam’s good ear, “This is the best part. Trust me.”
Adam would trust him with anything.
Five of the cows were walking towards them purposefully. They might have been threatening if they were moving any faster, but they didn’t seem to be in much of a rush. As they slowly joined the first cow, Adam and Ronan, Adam noticed that the six cows around them all had tags around their necks, unlike the other cows in the field.
He looked to Ronan, who just nudged him towards the cows. The six of them were lined up in an orderly line, but Adam was too preoccupied to wonder how Ronan had pulled that off.
From left to right, the tags read: ADAM, PARRISH, WILL, YOU, MARRY, ME?
He couldn’t help it. He started to laugh. Or maybe he was crying. Perhaps it was both. He turned around to Ronan, who was down on one knee with a ring in his hand, a cocky smirk on his face as if he knew exactly the outcome before it had happened. And of course he did.
“Adam,” Ronan said, the smirk not disappearing, “I love you. I love you more than anything in this life and the next. Would you do me the honour of being my fucking husband?”
Adam laughed again. “Yes,” he said. “Of course.”
Ronan leapt up, put the ring on Adam’s finger, and crushed him in a violent yet sweet embrace. Adam held him too, his tears staining Ronan’s suit jacket, his laughs delivered to Ronan’s shoulder. He could feel Ronan’s tears dripping down his own neck, and he held him tighter.
“Only you,” Adam said when they finally disentangled about ten minutes later, “would propose with a horde of cows and the words ‘my fucking husband’.”
Ronan rolled his eyes. “It’s not a ‘horde of cows’, it’s a herd of cattle. I might revoke my offer if you can’t get the basics of farming down.”
“You would never.”
Ronan grinned. It was that sharp grin Adam had first fallen in love with.
“Yeah,” Ronan agreed. “I wouldn’t. You’re not getting away from me that easily, Parrish.”
Adam hugged his fiancé – his fiancé! – gently this time. “Tamquam.”