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He’s asleep.

Well, half asleep.

He knows that’s not wise, he does, and he’s so time poor too. But Adam has a textbook open under the counter and his head pillowed on his arm where it rests against the till and he’s asleep. The first semester of his sophomore year of college began today.

It’s just hard to stay awake when he’s tired all the time and no one has come in to the café for an hour. Adam takes this shift with Noah because it’s the quietest time, the last three hours before close at 12am. It usually means he can get work done in between sweeping the floors, serving customers, and generally managing Noah’s Noah-ness.

Where is Noah?

Doesn’t matter really. Adam’s asleep.

“Jesus Mary, do they let not you drink the coffee?”

“Jesus Mary makes no sense,” is out of Adam’s mouth before his eyes are even all the way open.

There’s a guy standing there. He looks like violence itself. Sharp jaw, even sharper mouth, vicious eyebrows and eyes made of vengeful waters. Cruelly, unfairly handsome.

An asshole then.

The asshole stares at him for a moment and scoffs, hands shoved deep into the pockets of his ripped jeans. His mouth forms a shape of total disinterest.

“Like I give a fuck Sleeping Beauty.”

Adam sighs and rights himself, head cocked in what he hopes is equal disinterest.

“Do you give a fuck about placing an order?”

The asshole’s face stills as he stares at Adam again. Adam has no idea why he said that.

Then the guy smiles.

His whole body leans forward with it, and it’s really almost nothing like a smile. It’s a warning probably. A shark smelling blood in the water.

“Okay fine,” he says, voice almost a growl. What an asshole. “Coffee.”

Adam’s eyes roll so hard he feels momentarily sick. He really doesn’t have time for this. They close in half an hour according to his till clock and he’d really rather spend that time pretending not to be falling asleep again.

He tries to bite his annoyance back as he asks “What kind?”

“Surprise me shithead,” the asshole says, something in his voice that should probably scare Adam and would scare almost anyone else. But Adam just doesn’t have time.

“Fine.”

He turns around to the filter coffee machine still on behind him (should have been off an hour ago, looks like a late close for him tonight), and empties the spout into the biggest to-go cup they have. He slaps on a lid and drops it in front of the asshole.

“Here you go, shithead.

The guy laughs at him then, a sharp sound.

“Are the staff always so shitty here?” he asks, tilting his chin at Adam in a gesture of comfortable dickheadness.

“Are you?”

The guy laughs again, rocks back on his heels. There are tears all over his jeans. Expensive ones. He has the sharpest jaw line Adam has ever seen.

“Maybe. Names Ronan by the way.”

If that’s an invitation to tell him his name, Adam’s not going to be taking it.

“Your total is $2.50,” he says, abruptly tired again.

Ronan.

The money is slapped down on the counter in stupid bits of change and Adam wants to go back to sleep so badly.

“All yours Parrish,” Ronan says, leaning over a little close over the counter as he says it, pale hand grabbing his coffee cup and eyes boring holes into Adam’s.

And then just as suddenly as he appeared, he’s gone.

Wait –

Adam looks down at the name tag on his black apron.

Adam Parrish.

Fuck.

 

---

 

Adam started working at The Night Owl during the summer after his first year, when the bookstore he’d been working at had closed down. It’s not a bad gig, named so because it’s open late and owned by some richy rich who doesn’t realise he’s paying them too much. 

He met Noah there and that’s not a bad outcome either.

But he’s always so tired.

His key turns in his tiny apartment’s lock and his phone goes off as the crappy Wi-Fi welcomes him home. He moved in at the end of the first school year, and it’s kind of a mess really. It’s cramped, and a nightmare in the summer and a wasteland in the winter he bets. But he has three blankets from various places and a sofa, potted plants all over his windowsill and a coffee table covered in library books and second-hand coffee stains.

He makes himself some instant noodles and throws himself on the sofa in front of that coffee table.

 

[Tears for College Fears]

 

Fletcher_sketch: @everyone, rumour mill says it’ll be a refresher quiz in intro tmrrw!

Rumour_mill: no i didn’t

Katy_kats_keane: omg you dork how’s long it’s stuck like that till you can change your name back

Rumour_mill: lol nice typo

Fletcher_sketch: focus!!!! @Adam_Parrrish, thoughts on quiz?

Adam_Parrish: i think i heard something about it yeah

Fletcher_sketch: fuck!!!!! send us notes?!

Adam_Parrish: duh, i got you don’t worry!

 

Focus Adam. Focus.

He’s so tired.

It’s not fair of him. But when his friends asked if he wanted to move in with them for their second year he’d said no. That he wanted to try living on his own, see if he could hack it. They’d pouted and laughed and let it go eventually. Didn’t really ask any further questions. Didn’t seem to think there was anything left to ask after he’d said yeah, I’m sure.

Adam Parrish is a liar.

He knows full well he can ‘hack it’. He already did. He just. He’s a liar. And he didn’t want to have to lie when he was at home. He didn’t want to have to be anything to anyone. He wanted to exist to himself. A little oasis powered by rent his full ride scholarship could cover. Besides, it’s hard to turn cards with them around, it's far easier to be Adam when he's existing on his own. Except he exists on his own most of the time these days.

He knows how to blend in so well he can blend himself back out again. Disappear and reappear from his friends lives at will. They don’t seem to notice too much when he’s not around as long as he is around just long enough just enough of the time. A coffee break here, a movie night there, some abysmal food truck.

It’s this careful balancing act. If I hang out with them today, then I can focus on my assignment for the next two weeks before I have to do it again. If I laugh and contribute something at just the right time, I can disappear back into my own head for the next ten minutes until I head to my next class.

 

[Noah]

 

Noah: thanks for staying late with me !! he didn’t come back did he ?

Adam: No thank god

Adam:  He was an asshole

Noah: I wanted him to meet him ! I could have scared him off for you

Adam: We both know that’s a lie

 

And Adam can take care of himself anyway.

Ronan.

The staff at The Night Owl is never actually that shitty.

God Adam is too tired for this.

He falls asleep on the sofa, relatively safe in the knowledge that he probably won’t have to see him again anytime soon.

 


 

Adam Parrish is only known for his uncanniness.

He has a way of just knowing something. What someone was thinking, what they would do next, what they should do. When something was coming. It was something he had carefully cultivated. It had kept him as safe as it could all this time.

He didn’t much care for being wrong.

There’s a tall black clad jackass standing in front of his till. There’s a shit eating grin on his face that’s half unpleasant half bizarrely appealing. He’s waving $5 around.

“Do you serve coffee here?” he asks.

Adam closes his eyes for a second, then plasters on his best Customer Service Smile.

“No.”

Ronan slaps the $5 on the counter anyway.

“Then what’s that behind you, smartass?”

“A stack of coffee cups.”

“Mhm. So I ask again. Do you serve coffee?”

“Those are decorative sir.”

Ronan shakes his head at him, something a little feral curling up in his lips.

“Seems pretty wasteful to me,” he says.

“Tell that to the owner,” Adam replies.

Ronan gives a fake little gasp, hand to his chest. “You mean to tell me you don’t own this place? But you seemed so self-assured and pleasant.”

He really wants to throw that stack of coffee cups at him.

“What do you want?” he asks, exasperated.

Ronan smirks at him.

“Isn’t that the million-dollar question?”

Adam looks pointedly down at the counter.

“$5 question actually.”

Ronan scowls at him and kicks at the counter with a thick black boot.

“M’kay, well I don’t really care for pedantry Parrish.”

Adam huffs a laugh at him.

“Big word for a guy for who can’t count.”

Ronan laughs before he can help it, and he scowls extra hard at Adam to make up for it. He pushes away from the counter, goes to stare at the two pastries left in the display case. Some kind of strawberry tart and chocolate twist thing that was there when Adam got here.

“These look foul,” he says, pointy eyebrows furrowed in disdain.

Adam shrugs his shoulders at him.

“Strawberry ain’t bad.”

Fuck. He knows his accent slipped out a little because he felt that little swoop of anxiety in his stomach and because Ronan clearly noticed. He stands sharply to attention where he’s standing by the display case, crosses his arms, and stares at Adam.

And Adam has no fucking clue what he’s thinking.

It goes on like that for several long moments and Adam doesn’t really know what else to do but stare back. Ronan is really, so. Handsome. And so shitty.

Then finally Ronan breaks the weird stare-off they’re in by saying, “Nah, looks kinda lame.”

Adam throws himself off the counter and sludges over to the coffee machines. Unfortunately for him, Ronan resettles by the till.

“You don’t smile much huh Parrish?”

Adam doesn’t mean to, but he frowns.

“I smile plenty.”

“Sure you do,” Ronan says as if he knows anything about Adam at all.

Adam tries to focus on his hands mixing steamed milk and chocolate together. He’d had such a long day today. He’d been trying so hard to get this one essay finished, only to realise he was late for work and his apron wasn’t even washed and it felt so obvious.

Adam finally places a small take-away cup of hot chocolate in front of Ronan.

“Your total is $3.00,” he says, trying to keep his attention from catching on anything about Ronan.

Ronan just slides the $5 bill closer, says “Keep the change smartass” and waltzes out.

Honestly, there should be nothing special about Ronan. And there’s not, not exactly. It’s just that he’s such an asshole and something about the way he talks. Kinda sticks in Adam’s head. That bad attitude. That perceptive way he’d looked at Adam.

He’s only met him twice and that’s probably enough.

“Was that him?”

Adam jumps nearly out of his skin. He hadn’t heard Noah coming from his left side.

Noah smiles at Adam, soft and sheepish. Adam nods back at him and gives Noah a playful shove when he pouts at Adam.

“He seems kind of cool actually,” Noah says, staring wistfully at the door.

Adam scoffs because absolutely not.

“No, he’s not.”

Noah just shakes his head in that strange way of his. He moves like he talks like he texts, which is to say a little off kilter and spaced out in odd places.

There’s something about Noah Czerny. Adam has a few ideas.

Adam pulls off his apron and like that, they get to work taking down the bar and clearing everything away.

He won’t be here tomorrow anyway. He doesn’t have work or academics or friend group maintenance, just one full day to sleep.

To rest.

 

---

 

[Noah]

 

Noah: you’ll never guess who came in tonight

Noah: he IS cool !

 


 

“So I thought, huh, okay, what about the ball pit?”

“You did not take them to the ball pit. For a first date?”

“Of course I did! And we made out too, for like 20 minutes right there in the pit.”

“You freak!”

Making out in a ball pit seems like a very good way to catch something. Those things can’t be clean. Don’t kids play there?

“That’s wild man,” he says, and his friends laugh.

He means it much more sarcastically than he says it.

They start talking about something else then and then something else and then something else, something about families and how nice it was to spend the summer at some sun-soaked coast.

In Adam’s head he is running numbers.

They’re heading towards the god awful food truck for a bastardised fusion taco experiment that he knows is going to cost more than it’s worth. So, if he assumes the worst that it’s $10, then that’s $30, which would be how much of this month’s miscellaneous expenses?

He’s picturing his manila envelope of cash with it’s scribbled ’Misc. spend’ label. He has a full ride scholarship sure, but it doesn’t cover everything and Adam doesn’t want to waste what he doesn’t have to. He’s certainly not going to count this as food.

“Oh, um, I think I’ll get the Taco Wednesday Special, Katy you?”

“I’ll get the Tuna Steak Casserole Crunch please!”

Good lord.

Adam scans the menu and finds everything far too confusing and yes, overpriced.

Eventually he settles on the Taco Crunchy Crunch because it seems the least offensive. Two pairs of eyes are staring at him beseechingly.

“I didn’t bring my wallet,” says Jimmy.

“Nah, don’t worry I got you,” Adam says, like it’s no big thing. It shouldn’t be. It wouldn’t be to them.

Total: $25.89

Adam hands over three $10 bills and doesn’t think about how much he doesn’t want to eat this. But it’s okay, this is money he made last night, freshly withdrawn in preparation for this very incident.

He’d done a tarot reading last night for another Etsy customer. They send him their questions, he reads the cards, sends them a full email of their reading and if they want one a voice note.

 

Magician_Tarot:

1 question: $10

2 questions: $20

3 questions: $32

 

The truck guy hands Adam his taco and says, “Here’s your change kid.”

Kid. Sometimes he likes that and sometimes he really really doesn’t.

“Thank you, sir,” he says, and they’re off.

“Aw Adam, you’re so polite!” Katy says, and knocks her shoulder against his. He laughs off the tension that springs up and down his body and god this taco is actually quite offensive.

They start talking about their Intro class from this morning, the only one they share, except that they’re second years and it’s not actually Intro. It’s a sophomore level Psychology class he doesn’t enjoy much. They just call it Intro because they think it’s funny. Adam doesn’t really get it.

“I’m just saying, if Freud wasn’t such a misogynist he’d have some good points!” Jimmy exclaims, which is actually a very Intro to Psych thing to say. But Adam doesn’t say that.

“Wasn’t he into shrooms?”

Cocaine actually.

“Nah, he was just into mommy stuff.”

“Too true Katy.”

If Adam gets home in the next 30 minutes he can take a nap. He’d love to take a nap.

“Hey Adam, let’s go scout the mall!”

Fuck.

 

---

 

Adam is asleep again. Almost deadly so. The left side of his face is pressed against the till, his Classics worksheet laid out on the counter before him where it really shouldn’t be.

He still has his highlighter in his hand.

“The name of this place is starting to look real ironic.”

Adam jolts awake and his highlighter goes flying.

Ronan ducks out of the way of the errant highlighter cap that somehow fell in the opposite direction, and turns his head to watch it hit the floor.

Adam wants to die a little bit.

There’s a moment of prolonged silence.

Adam’s seen Ronan a fair few times by this point. Every time he comes in Adam’s refused to serve him any coffee, but he keeps coming in anyway. He’s given Ronan hot chocolates, out-all-day croissants, and green tea that Ronan didn’t even bother taking so Adam drank it instead. And every time, he gives Adam that bad attitude and anywhere between small petty change and a $50 bill that he will then ask Adam to re-count the change for at least twice. Always leaves a tip though.

Noah thinks he’s amazing.

“You know Parrish, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you working when I come in here,” Ronan says, still eyeing the highlighter cap on the floor.

Adam sighs and moves to walk out to the front of the counter, the customer side.

“Not my fault you always come in right before close.”

Ronan huffs and how does he look taller on this side of the counter.

“Please, like that’s any excuse.”

Adam drops to grab the highlighter cap, feels Ronan’s stare and its abrupt end when he stands back up.

Ronan has his hands shoved in the pockets of his leather jacket, and Adam bizarrely wonders if his buzzed head gets cold in the autumn chill. They’re nearing late September now. Then he becomes very aware that they’re just staring at each other.

Ronan clears his throat and gestures at Adam’s notes on the counter.

“The fuck is this then?”

Adam moves closer to show him and that’s how he learns that Ronan smells vaguely like moss which is irrelevant.

He pulls his notes closer instead of letting himself dwell on it.

“I’m supposed to be analysing this Latin text.”

“Ditching work for school? Disappointed,” Ronan chides, clucking his tongue at Adam like a jackass.

“Do you not go to college?” Adam asks, partly because he’s annoyed and partly because standing this close to Ronan he’s suddenly aware of how little he knows about him.

Ronan cocks his head at Adam.

“Maybe.”

Adam lets his disdain show openly on his face which only serves to make Ronan smirk.

Ronan fiddles with a sheet of paper on the counter, and shrugs.

“I go to college for Agriculture,” Ronan says and what the fuck.

Agriculture?

Ronan glares furiously at him.

“Do you want help with this or not asshole?” he snaps, refusing to look directly at Adam.

Hold on.

“I didn’t realise you were offering,” he says, and he can hear this like, teasing lilt to his own voice.

Ronan just makes a face down at Adam’s notes and says “Well these are shit and I’m amazing at Latin so. Take it or fucking leave it.”

Adam can’t help himself.

“Do the cows speak Latin?”

“Oh fuck you.”

He’s blushing. Adam can see it. This little flush to the tops of his pale ears.

And Adam laughs.

Ronan snaps his head up to look at him, and something in his shoulders seems to change before he grabs Adam’s Latin work and storms off to a table.

“Come on fuckface we’re fixing this.”

And that’s how Noah finds them 20 minutes later, hunched over a table making sense of old Latin text and squabbling.  

“Parrish for fucks sake, that’s not how sentence structure works.”

“I know how it works.”

“You clearly don’t. Jesus, look.”

There’s a soft knock on the table, and Adam looks at his smudgy co-worker.

“Hi Ronan!” Noah says, always happy to see him.

Ronan grins back at him like a shark.

“Sup freak.”

Adam scowls.

“Don’t call him that.”

But Noah just laughs, one of his genuinely happy sounds.

Adam doesn’t always get Noah.

“Hate to interrupt but um, we’re about to close actually?”

Oh shit. Adam looks over at the clock on the wall, and for some fucking reason turns to Ronan and says –

“But I never made you anything.”

Ronan’s face seems to sort of, stall for a second. Just staring at Adam with those turbulent eyes of his.

“Well fuck Parrish, get to it,” he says eventually.

Adam rolls his eyes as a form of recovery and storms off to the machines. He’s starting to feel bad about the close.

“Sorry Noah, I didn’t realise the time,” he says when he and Ronan move to join him at the counter.

“It’s fine I don’t really care about it,” Noah says, shrugging his shoulders and going back to whatever he was doing before this out back. Presumably taking down the bar.

Adam has one milk jug left and one machine still on, so he gets to making something.

Ronan stares after Noah with a smirk.

“So no one here gives a shit about their job? Knew I liked it here.”

Adam smiles a little despite himself.

“Believe it or not he’s the shift supervisor,” Adam says.

Ronan laughs like a small explosion of sound.

“Oh I believe it Sleeping Beauty.”

Adam looks at him and scowls which as usual just seems to please Ronan more. He sticks a lid on a medium to-go cup and slides it over to Ronan over the bars pick up point.

“On the house,” he says, “for the help.”

Ronan grabs the cup with a mean grin and says, “Is it actually coffee this time?”

“Fuck no.”

Ronan laughs again and Adam watches his face change like it always does when he laughs without meaning too.

Adam clears his throat.

“I have to lock up now,” he says, untying his apron and grabbing the keys from the hook by the clock-in machine on his way to the door. Ronan doesn’t argue, just trails out the door when Adam holds it open for him.

Standing just outside the doorway, Ronan tips his cup at him and says, “See you ‘round Parrish.”

Adam doesn’t really know what to do so he just says, “See you around”, and watches Ronan nod and walk away before Adam locks the door behind him.

On his way to wherever he’s going, Ronan passes by the windows and Adam gets to see him take a sip of his free drink.

He immediately spits it out.

Through the glass he can hear him exclaim –

White hot chocolate?!”

Adam just flicks the little switch to the neon sign so it reads ‘Closed’.

Ronan scowls furiously at him and gives him the finger. Adam smirks to himself and spins neatly away.

It isn’t until later, when he’s already home that he sees it. A scrawl in the top corner of his notes. A number.

 

Your latin still sucks

                                                                                                                - Ronan Lynch

 

---

 

[Ronan Lynch]

 

Adam: I heard my Latin sucks

Ronan: it fucking does

 


 

Adam is lying on his bedroom floor surrounded by tarot cards. Staring at the Knight of Cups.

He keeps pulling him lately.

He’s four tarot reading orders in on a Friday night.

Sometimes, when he’s getting lost in his cards Adam doesn’t think about anything for hours. Just pulls his cards, takes his notes, records his voice, and moves on to the next. On and on like that. He stops being Adam Parrish and starts being more The Magician. This mystical version of himself, faceless, just a conduit. It’s the most and least like himself he ever feels. It’s the most comforting thing he can do some nights.

 

[Noah]

 

Noah: adam parrish are you free ?

Adam: Yeah, why?

Noah: i’m so sorry but can you come in ?

Adam: There’s only an hour left till close, is it that bad?

Noah: yes

 

Adam takes a deep breath and lies there for a moment longer. Then he sits up and gathers his cards. For whatever reason he finds himself knocking on the pile three times and laying out three more cards.

The Seven of Wands. The Eight of Cups. The Devil.

He grabs his apron and goes.

 

---

 

There’s a crowd at The Night Owl.

One table, to be exact.

There is never a full table on a Friday night. They’re a hidden away little place that only really sees traffic in the daytime and it’s a Friday night in the city.

They look rich.

They’re all dressed in expensively inexpensive looking clothes, watches gleaming on their wrists, hair locked in place and a way of looking up at you like they’re looking down at you. There’s about five of them.

Adam’s thinking about The Devil. The obvious part.

One of them, when Adam walks in, is just staring over the table at Noah.

Adam walks briskly over to the counter, throws his bag in the back and ties his apron as fast as he can.

There is no one who can recognise a body caught in the freeze response better than Adam.

He knows why he’s here.

Adam keeps his steps slow and loud enough that Noah will hear them, pitches his voice low.

“Noah?”

Noah’s head whips over to look at him all the same and Adam hates this. He hates that look on Noah’s face so much.

“Adam? You’re here?”

He nods slowly back at Noah, trying to keep his eyes on Adam.

“Yeah. I came as fast as I could.”

A hand slaps down on the counter and they both flinch.

That guy is standing there. Looming, really. He’s so fucking creepy. Smarmy. Dark hair. Spoilt face. Under the counter, where the guy can’t see, Adam takes Noah’s hand.

“We’re closing now,” he says, keeping his voice as accent-less and firm as he can. It’s not true, there’s still 45 minutes left.

The creepy stranger just smirks in a way that turns Adam’s stomach and adjusts his Rolex like that’s supposed to intimidate Adam.

“I’m sure you can find the time to make me another drink.”

Adam refuses to let him.

He squeezes Noah’s hand.

“I think not actually,” Adam replies. He looks this man in the eye in that way he doesn’t usually let himself look at other people. That unnerving stare he knows he has. “I’m going to have to ask you and your friends to leave. Now.”

This man is an asshole and a coward. He barely lasts a minute before he’s buckling.

“Fine. Fine. We’ll go.”

He walks slowly backwards, glancing over at Noah whose eyes have gone completely vacant. His hand in Adam’s trembles ever so slightly.

The second they’re gone Adam lets go to lock the door. Noah has always been kind of small. Adam thinks he’s starting to understand why.

“But we still have 40 minutes,” Noah says, creeping out from behind the counter wringing his hands. Adam shakes his head and pulls him over to a different table, sitting him down and kneeling in front of him.

“You alright?” He asks, letting a peak of his accent out because he knows it puts old ladies at ease and maybe it’ll help.

Noah nods but he still won’t look up at Adam. He rubs his hand over Noah’s knee for a second, trying to pull him back a bit. Eventually, Noah’s soft voice speaks and he wishes it hadn’t.

“He – we used to be friends.”

No. No.

“Noah, friends aren’t scared of each other like that. Someone like that is no one’s friend.”

Noah hiccups a little.

“Thank you for coming Adam.”

Adam tries to keep his voice steady for him.

“Of course. I am your friend.”

Now Noah finally looks up at him, his pale eyes wide and his mouth a sad little downturn.

“Really?”

Adam nods vigorously.

“Yes, yes I am Noah.”

Because yeah. He is.

 


 

It scares Adam how alone he can feel in a crowded space. He’s sat at the bowling alley with his friends, and he’s physically there. He’s standing up and throwing the ball, cheering, sitting and talking and he is absolutely absent. When he picks up the bowling ball it’s like he's watching someone else’s hands, someone else’s arms. His voice comes out sounding like someone else’s, his smile feels like someone else’s. All of a sudden, he’s standing at the mouth of the aisle after a strike, his friends clapping behind him, trying desperately not to cry.

He curls up in his bed that night like a child would. Dreams of dead grass and empty bottles and a TV playing static over and over.

 


 

 [Ronan Lynch]

 

Adam: Do you know what this translates to?

Adam: [image attached]

Ronan: it means you suck

Adam: Wow so clever

Adam: Tell me.

Ronan: god fine no need to break out the punctuation

 


 

“Can a good Catholic boy please get a cup of coffee?”

Adam snorts.

“If a good Catholic boy walks in, sure.”

Ronan slumps over the counter, arms so long his hands hang over the other side. He has to contort his tall body to do it and Adam really is just trying to work. Ronan still smells like moss.

It’s October 1st today and Noah is flitting around them putting up fake cobwebs and putting stickers of pumpkins on the windows.

Ronan stares him down.

“Haha wiseass. I am a good Catholic boy.”

Adam smirks back at him.

“Catholic I could believe, but good? Please.”

Ronan huffs at him and narrows his eyes at Adam.

“Do I detect a hint of scepticism in your tone Parrish?”

Adam stops stacking the cups for the morning shift to look at him. 

“Maybe. Are you actually religious?”

Ronan straightens in a way that looks defensive and sneers at Adam.

“Yeah, is that an issue?”

Adam shakes his head no and says, “No, you just don’t seem the type.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Adam leans back against the counter behind him and his stack of cups and crosses his arms.

“God fearing. You don’t seem like you fear much.”

Ronan gives him a sharply pleased look.

“You’re damn right Parrish,” he crows.

Adam tries to mute the smile creeping over his face. It doesn’t exactly work.

Noah takes that moment to fall off a chair, landing in a heap of cobweb and boy on the floor and sending both himself and Ronan into demented laughter.

“Fuck Noah, you’re going to break your face off your face,” Ronan laughs, peeling himself off the counter to go throw cobwebs over Noah’s prone body.

“Help me up!”

Ronan lets out a sharp ha, so Noah grabs his ankle and tries to tug him down to the floor with him.

Adam goes back to his essay notes and pretends not to be watching Ronan attempt to kick Noah’s hand off his ankle.

Something about this is starting to feel almost kind of nice.

 


 

[Ronan Lynch]

 

Ronan: shithead are you working

Adam: Be more specific

Ronan: at the cafe

Ronan: tonight

Adam: Yeah

Ronan: fuck

 

---

 

“Hello there Mr Parrish, Ronan has told us so much about you!”

There’s a tan hand being thrust over the counter. It’s owner is dressed in a stunningly unfortunate polo shirt and a rather dashing pair of glasses, and his hair is this quaff of brown. He’s All American Handsome and next to him Ronan is positively fuming. They truly are such a bizarre pair. One of them a honey warm handsome that could be printed on money, the other this heart attack of a beautiful person.

Adam needs to focus.

Ronan whacks the guy in the arm and says, “Dick.”

The newcomer just laughs.

“Now you know that’s not my name Ronan.”

Adam takes his hand and gets a very firm reassuring shake in response. The newcomer beams at him.

“My name is Gansey, absolute pleasure to meet you. May I call you Adam?”

His voice drips in old money. Adam feels very aware of his dingy black apron.

“Well, it’s on my name tag so…”

Ronan is still scowling at Gansey but Gansey laughs gamely at Adam’s response and puts his hands in his slacks pockets.

“Fantastic. I just wanted to pop by and see the place that’s captured our Ronan’s attention.”

Adam smiles at Gansey as Ronan seethes beside him.

“Well, it’s quite a humble one really.”

Noah pops his head out of the back room then, seemingly just to say, “No it’s not! A rich man owns it.”

Adam waves his hand in his general direction and introduces him. Gansey gives another charming smile and gestures hello at Noah.

“Lovely to meet you, Noah!”

Adam looks at Gansey, looks at Ronan, looks at Gansey, looks at Ronan. This math isn’t adding up. Gansey is clearly not his full name, he’s also clearly rich as hell, and he shows no care at all for Ronan’s foul attitude. So, Gansey’s some kind of very rich person on very good terms with Ronan.

Our Ronan.

Adam can’t help but ask, “May I ask what Gansey is short for?”

Gansey gives him another sunlit smile.

“Of course. It’s my last name actually.”

“His name’s Dick Campbell Dick Gansey III,” Ronan pipes up, his face a storm cloud. Adam and Gansey both turn the same unimpressed look at him. 

“Richard, actually. Tell me Adam, what do you know about Welsh kings?”

Ronan rolls his eyes with his whole body, exclaims “For fucks sake Gansey.”

It takes him a second before he decides yes, yes he does know something about that.

“Wasn’t there something about a sleeping king?”

Gansey’s whole face lights up and Adam realises that he had yet to see Gansey’s true smile until now. It transforms him almost, from this well-mannered put together thing into some kind of out of time scholar, and suddenly he’s pulling a teeming journal from his satchel bag.

Yes, Adam. Yes indeed there was.”

 

---

 

[Ronan Lynch]

 

Ronan: delete his number

Adam: No

Ronan: yes

Ronan: and stop being so nice to him it freaks me out

Adam: I’m always nice

{incoming call:}

 

“Like fuck you are.”

“Maybe not to you.”

“Why the fuck not, I’m a delight.”

“You’re a problem.”

“Ha, good luck solving me then.”

 

{call ended}

 


 

Adam is lying on the grass of the quad staring too close at the sun.

He’s thinking about Ronan Lynch.

He’d fallen asleep last night thinking about that strange 10 second phone call and how different Ronan’s voice had sounded over the phone. It was deeper, somehow. A little bit distorted. He had kind of liked it.

Around him his friends are comparing their nail polish. He doesn’t remember the last time he spoke.

Good luck solving me then.

Our Ronan.

Told us so much about you.

Last night he’d pulled The Tower from his deck five times.

Adam Parrish is physically present on this grass, on this quad, at this campus, but he’s always a little absent. He’s always tired. He’s been falling asleep all over the place. The night before last he’d fallen asleep on the till again and it wasn’t until Ronan had thrown a pen at him that he’d woken up. He’d fallen asleep leaning on his right ear. Ronan had called his name several times he’d said. “Thought you were fucking dead Parrish”, he’d said.

Maybe he is a little.

His friends are fighting over something stupid now, and it’s so loud, and none of them have ever woken him up and there’s this dull ringing sensation in his left ear for some fucking reason and then he has this absolutely insane thought.

I wish Ronan was here.

Because he’d say something shitty and it would drag Adam back to his body and Adam wouldn’t have to think too hard about the words coming out of his own mouth. And he’s still thinking about his phone voice.

This is potentially very bad.

 


 

[Ronan Lynch]

 

Adam: I don’t think you know what you’re talking about

Ronan: yes i do i’m literally a farmer i know what i’m saying

Adam: No you don’t because a) you’re not an actual farmer yet and b) chickens can’t fly that high

Ronan: yes they can you fucko

 


 

Things were already changing, but they change for real when the text lands in his phone.

 

[Gansey]

 

Gansey: Parrish! A friend of mine is throwing a Halloween party that promises to be excellent. Thoughts?

 

Gansey does this a lot, ever since he met him. He sends him something strange, or something interesting, asks him for his thoughts. It’s only been two weeks since he met him, but Gansey just has this way it seems, of picking you up and taking you with him.

Except Adam doesn’t really do parties.

Adam is too. Adam. He doesn’t know anyone going except Gansey and he barely knows him. He won’t drink either. He’s picturing a hundred lesser Gansey’s in a room all drunk and infinitely worse.

Noah is sweeping the floor around him and it’s starting to feel like his whole life is campus and this damn café. And his apartment. He really wishes he was there right now.

When Adam was younger, he used to watch the TV in his neighbour’s trailer while his parents were gone. She’d feed him stale cookies and he’d watch people falling in love, making best friends for life, going to college and having the time of their lives.

When his dad found out about it he’d told his neighbour to fuck off and she hadn’t invited him over again.

But little Adam still thought fondly of those adventurous TV people, picturing himself in their place. Going to a fabulous school and a beautiful college, making the best friends in the world and finally feeling loved.

But by the time he got to high school no one was interested in making friends with the boy who wore long sleeves in summer and flinched at loud noises. And his dreams of college looked much more practical by then.

Now here he is, in his second year doing pre-law with a bunch of random credits he doesn’t care for because some kid he lived with in freshman year had led him into a friend group. He really has no interest in that fantastical vision of college life. He just wants to get through to the finish line and become a Real Person. The trouble is that he’s starting to feel a little scared that he’ll always be waiting for the next ‘better’ phase.

He’s snapped from his thoughts by the sound of the door crashing open.

Ronan is here.

He’s harried and stressed around the eyes, and he wastes no time in storming up to Adam.

“Gansey invited you to Cheng’s party.”

Adam nods mutely. At least now he knows half the name of Gansey’s mysterious friend.

“And you’re going right?”

Ronan is looking at him intensely and Adam isn’t sure what the right answer is. So he just shakes his head.

“Parrish. You have to. Please.”

It’s the ‘please’ that finally breaks Adam and he huffs.

“I think that’s the first time you’ve ever said please,” Adam says, still not sure what the right answer is to any of this.

Ronan rolls his eyes at him. Why do they do so much of that?

“Parrish don’t be a dick. Why won’t you come?” Ronan has started picking at the rough edge of the plastic tip jar.

“I think the better question is why are you going?”

“I don’t want to, that’s the problem. Gansey’s making me and if I’m being forced to go so are you.”

Ronan’s dark eyes are staring at him unflinchingly. He doesn’t even know if they’re friends. Maybe that’s why he says it. To find out.

“Fine. But I’m bringing Noah.”

Ronan smiles at him like a loaded gun.

 


 

Sometimes, Adam lies awake at night staring at the ceiling. He’s done it for years.

He wishes he could say that he was having vivid daydreams, escapist fantasies, fancies of imagination, or deep meaningful thoughts.

But he’s not.

He’s just feeling time move on without him. Counting the hours of sleep he’s missing. Staring staring staring at the blank splotchy ceiling above him. Distantly, he’ll be aware of his own fatigue. That, and something in his chest that feels heavy like a bag of weights.

He’ll just be lying there. Staring. Awake and asleep at the same time.

 


 

“Parrish?”

He’s distantly aware of his name being called.

“Parrish.”

It sounds like Ronan.

Adam just smooshes his face deeper into the pillow of his arms on the table. He was up all night last night working on a paper he wasn’t even happy with. He’s now spent the past two hours alternating between stock counting and fixing it, papers of all different kinds arranged on the table and textbooks open.

“Adam, it’s me. Noah.”

“He’s fucking tired, man, shit.”

“Mm. He gets like this sometimes.”

Noah don’t tell him that.

“Like what?”

“Tired. Like, more than his body.”

“The fuck does that mean?”

Noah stop.

“I mean, he’s trying so hard all the time and I think it makes him sleepy.”

“Has he at least eaten?”

“No.”

“Shit.”

In the back of his head Adam is registering the sounds of books being quietly closed, and Ronan’s voice pitching lower.

“I got this, just go back to your close or whatever.”

And then he’s out for real.

When he wakes up there’s a blueberry muffin on the table and all his notes have been stacked away. There’s a black scarf bunched under his head that smells like moss and gasoline.

 


 

[Ronan]

 

Adam: I’m not keeping it.

Ronan: the baby?

Adam: Don’t be a shit you know what I mean.

Ronan: i certainly don’t

{outgoing call:}

“I dislike you immensely.”

“Fine by me fuckface, keep it.”

“It’s expensive.”

“Nah, it’s not. It’s a scarf and I don’t even like it.”

“I’ll give it back next time I see you.”

“Parrish just keep the fucking scarf –“

“No.”

Fine, meet me at the park by The Night Owl.”

“What, now?”

“Yes now. Is your bedtime 6 o’clock or something?”

“No, obviously not.”

“Cool then I’ll see you there. Bring the hostage.”

 

{call ended}

 

---

 

Ronan Fucking Lynch is sprawled across a bench wearing his beaten leather jacket and his usual asshole face.

This is the first time he’s ever seen him outside the context of the coffee shop and somehow it makes absolutely everything feel different. Ronan looks expensive and untouchable and Adam is just wearing a threadbare green jumper and an old jacket. He’s sitting under a lamp, and behind him the sun is setting and he’s the most ethereal looking piece of shit Adam has ever seen.

Ronan has been coming into The Night Owl for almost two months and Adam is now, finally, openly realising that he’s a real person.

And he’s aiming this shit eating grin at Adam.

“Parrish!

Adam doesn’t know to find his footing with real people.

He walks over to him all the same, settles himself next to Ronan and shoves the scarf at him.

“Take it.”

Ronan is staring at him, he can feel it. There’s this stretch of silence where Adam is looking out at the park and ignoring Ronan and Ronan is still staring at him. He doesn’t know what to do with the worlds shittiest customer turned texter turned real life person, sitting right next to him at sunset on a Tuesday.

Then he pokes Adam in the cheek.

Adam whirls to look at him, with an exasperated “What the hell Lynch?”

His features look so much softer somehow at this time of evening. Then Ronan makes a face at him like a gremlin and Adam looks to the sky briefly for guidance. Things start to feel a little more normal.

“What do you want?” he asks.

Ronan chews at the leather bands around his wrist, leg bouncing up and down. Adam’s almost tempted to push it back down himself.

“You hungry Parrish?”

Adam shrugs and says “Sure,” and Ronan is throwing himself off the bench to stand in front of him. He’s lit now by the darker patch of sky. His hands are shoved in his jacket pockets, his dark brows furrowed, his mouth a sharp line. He looks like he came out of the dark sky itself. If Adam didn’t know any better he’d be scared of him.

But Adam does know better.

He kicks dirt at Ronan and raises his brow at him. Ronan sticks his tongue out at him.

“Real mature Lynch.”

“Shut up, we’re leaving.”

And with that, Ronan storms off and Adam has to hurry to follow.

Ronan takes them out of the park and down the street, taking random alleys and roads every time Adam asks where they’re going.

“Are you lost?” Adam teases, letting his good mood spill onto his face.

Ronan gives one of his sharp huffs of pride and says, “Of course not Parrish I always know where I’m going.”

“Sure you do.”

But Ronan does know, and suddenly they’re sitting at a run-down pizza joint somewhere off the beaten path and Ronan is grinning at him.

“Told ya I knew where I was going.”

He looks so bizarrely pleased with himself, and even if Adam doesn’t get why, he’s not willing to take it away from him either.

So he just smiles at him and lets him order for them both and before long there’s one giant steaming cheese pizza on the table, garlic knots, and two glasses of coke.

“Feast Parrish. Feast,” Ronan says, sweeping his hands over the food in front of them like a benevolent god and Adam laughs just a tiny bit and helps himself to a garlic knot.

Fuck that’s good.”

Ronan grins at him again.

“Just wait till you try the pizza.”

 

---

 

Ronan’s leg is lying close to Adam’s under the table, and he’s throwing bits of straw wrapper at him. They’ve long since finished their food but neither of them have made to move either.

“So, you’re studying Agriculture at the college because you grew up on a farm?”

Ronan throws another bit of paper at him.

“Yep. You’re looking at a country boy Adam Parrish.”

“But you’re also…very rich?”

“Yes. In scarves and money I guess.”

Adam takes this in for a moment.

“So you’re a rich Catholic farmer with a bad attitude?”

Ronan leans back in his seat.

“I street race too.”

Adam has to laugh because who the fuck is this man.

“Okay naysayer, you’re always busy with something. What are you studying?”

“Pre-law.”

Now Ronan laughs, and laughs and laughs and Adam is so confused but he doesn’t really mind it.

“What?” he asks.

Ronan just shakes his head.

“Nothing. Nothing. Just. You’re a lawyer.”

“Well no, not yet.”

Ronan still laughs at him anyway.

 

---

 

They’ve been out for hours now.

Adam has learned that Ronan goes to Mass every Sunday morning with his brothers, that his older brother Declan is The Worst and that his younger brother Matthew is The Literal Best.

Ronan has learned that Adam used to live above a church, and that he worked as a mechanic if he ever needs his car looked at.

Ronan bullies him into walking on a railing like a tightrope with him, where he tells Adam about how he met Gansey when they were in private school and that he’s always been 90 years old. Adam says, “And you’ve always been 9?” and Ronan tries to shove him off the railing until they both fall off.

Adam rubs his battered elbow and tells him about how when he first met Noah he thought he was a ghost, because he was so pale and never made any noise when he walked.

It’s dark out now, and cold. He looks at his phone, starting to die now. Shit. It’s time to go home.

They’ve been walking quietly for a while now, and they wind up back near The Night Owl and Adam’s neighbourhood.

“Hey, Ronan?”

Ronan looks over at him. “Gotta go?”

Adam nods and Ronan nods and they come to a slow stop. They just kind of stare at each other for a second, and then suddenly Ronan’s stepping closer.

Adam can feel his heart in his throat, and Ronan’s whole face looks so different when he’s not trying to be anything and Adam let him split the bill.

Ronan’s hands come up to his own neck, unwrapping his soft black scarf. He looks at Adam for a second too long, like he’s not sure, and then he wraps the scarf around Adam’s neck.  His hand brushes against Adam’s skin for just a moment.

“Here. I already got a new one.”

And then he’s gone.

This is definitely bad.

 


 

“Oh my god, Ad’s, what happened to your cheek?”

God he hates that nickname.

There’s a little scrape on his cheek from his fall off the railing. When he’d gotten home last night he’d put a little butterfly band aid on it, watered his plants, and poked at the bruise on his elbow all night.

He’s never gotten hurt because he had fun before.

“Oh nothing, just a little scrape.”

Katy clucks at him and tells him that he really ought to be more careful.

“We can’t have our little Adam getting hurt!”

He doesn’t think he likes being called little.

Adam let’s himself sink into the background, focusing on the little red ‘92%’ on the corner of his pop quiz and thinks about how to get that remaining 8%. He almost doesn’t hear his phone go off, but he does feel it against his leg where it rests in his pocket.

 

[Gansey]

 

Gansey: Adam! I was wondering if you were free? I’m at the library doing a little remedial reading and I thought you’d find it interesting. I have an extra yogurt cup as incentive.

 

“Adam, you coming?”

He looks up at his friends, and realises he doesn’t know the question.

“Actually, I can’t. I have to meet someone.”

Fletcher raises a confused eyebrow.

“Who?”

Adam smiles.

“A friend.”

When he eventually finds Gansey in the library, he finds a charming grin and that extra yogurt cup. And Gansey’s right, he does find it interesting. They sit there for the next hour, pouring over history books together and exchanging theories on the gaps they find, and it’s the best Adam’s felt on this campus in a long time.

Every now and then he feels his smile stretch his butterfly band aid.

 


 

[Ronan]

{call time: 12 minutes 7 seconds}

 

“Are you going to tell me why you snapped at Gansey over the pizza bill?”

“No.”

“…”

“…”

“Do you remember how I said I street race?”

“Yeah.”

“I stole Gansey’s car and crashed it once.”

“Jesus Ronan. He loves that car.”

“I know. I got it fixed, it was fine. But, I don’t know. It was ages ago now. And he forgave me.”

“I didn’t get my license until I was 18.”

“Ever driven a really really really fast car?

“Obviously not.”

“I’ll take you for a spin in mine some time.”

“Sounds reckless.”

“Why aren’t you sleeping Parrish?”

“Why aren’t you?”

“Wanna race shopping carts in the back of the 7-Eleven?”

“Sure.”

 


 

It’s not even officially Halloween until next week, but here Adam is. Two spots of fake blood on his neck, a new scab on his elbow, and Noah dressed as the world’s least ghost-like ghost.

On Greek Row.

No one told him this was a frat party.

Noah won’t knock so Adam does, and the door is almost immediately thrown open by a frat brother with the highest hair he’s ever seen dressed as Madonna circa Like a Prayer.

“I hate to say it, and I hope I don’t sound ridiculous, but I don’t know who this man is,” Madonna says, making himself laugh.

Kill me.

“I’m Adam Parrish, this is Noah Czerny. Gansey invited us?”

“Gansey boy! He mentioned you!” Madonna exclaims. There’s k-pop blaring in the house behind him, and he throws his arms up into the air, sending a splash of beer spilling out of the bottle in his hand.

“Adam Parrish and Noah Czerny! I’m Henry Cheng! Welcome to the Southeast Asian Capital of Greek Row!”

And with that, it begins.

They’re pulled in different directions and Adam finds himself lost in a sea of faceless costumed people. The noise hurts, and it’s hard to hear with all this stimulus and he doesn’t know where Noah went or where Gansey is or where Ronan is and isn’t this his fault anyway?

He spends some time being roped into some barely audible discussion about the genesis of the great sport of ping pong, until he peels off to find a quiet place. Except there are none. There’s someone dressed as sexy Captain Hook doing handstands for the room.

And then he sees him.

Ronan Lynch.

He looks exactly the same as he always does. Dressed in rips and tears and black, deadly. The only port in this storm of strangers. He finds himself thinking about his voice at night. It looks like he’s saying Adam’s name but he can’t hear him so he yells, “I can’t hear you!”, and Ronan is almost there.

Adam finds himself pushing forward and they meet in the middle, Ronan’s hand grabbing onto his sleeve and tugging. Adam feels himself back in his own body again. Ronan tilts his head as if to say this way, and Adam lets himself be led across the room, down the hall and a set of steps, into a basement.  

There’s more k-pop playing here, but it’s quieter. There’s an array of ugly soft looking sofa’s, a freezer of diet lemonade and beer, and Ronan tugs him forward still to the group on the floor.

Noah and Gansey are there, surrounded by a handful of strangers and Henry Cheng, and a startingly pretty girl dressed in neon orange and a pair of jeans stitched together from two different pairs in shape and colour. She’s wearing a name tag that says ‘Pumpkin’ and Gansey is dressed as some kind of Greek god.

Noah beams up at him and points at Henry.

“His dad owns our café!”

What.

“What?”

Ronan is still holding onto Adam’s sleeve. It’s so weird seeing him here for some reason, in a frat house of all places. He looks exactly the same as always. But he doesn’t.

Still smells like fucking moss and gasoline.

“Parrish,” he says, throws his arm out as a wide gesture of take a seat.

And it’s amazing.

Ronan and Adam settle on the sofa where he can sit above everyone. He’s introduced to Blue Sargent and she’s just fantastic. She’s tunnelling candy into her mouth as a gesture of rebellion against the system that tells her she has to be sexy at Halloween, and Gansey is just staring at her in blatant adoration. Noah keeps smiling.

Henry is trying to convince them to watch Chesapeake Shores and Ronan is sitting next to him where he can hear every derisive comment he makes.

At some point Blue points at him and says he looks familiar.

“Where did you go to high school?”

Adam takes a sip of his lemonade and hopes to God this isn’t a mistake because he doesn’t want to lie.

“Henrietta, Virginia.”

Blue and Gansey throw their hands in the air and whoop.

“No fucking way, Parrish,” Ronan says.

“I fucking went there!” Blue yells.

“Ronan and I are from Virginia!” Gansey adds.

“Fuck, I’m not,” Henry bemoans.

Noah laughs.

And just like that, Adam is happy he came.

 


 

The next week passes by like a blur. Ronan comes to the café almost every night he’s working like he’s figured out Adam’s schedule, and sometimes Gansey comes with him.  He and Noah get roped into a tandem bike ride with Blue, he hands in two finished assignments, he falls asleep studying on his sofa only twice. He pulls The Tower over and over. He’s in two group chats now but only one does he really check, and Henry Cheng sends him 7 different songs to listen to every other day.

He goes to some bar he hates with his college friends and some drunk guy yells in his hearing ear and the force of it sends Adam spiralling. No one around him notices and he won’t bring himself to say anything. He thinks about texting Ronan but it hurts to think of it so he doesn’t.

Adam spends Halloween at Gansey’s insane apartment with Gansey, Noah, and Blue instead of his college friends and he feels safe.

It’s like he’s living two different lives.

Then suddenly it’s November 1st.

Adam is standing at the till counting out the night’s measly tips. They close in 15 minutes, and Noah is singing off key Madonna songs as he cleans the display case. It’s been far too quiet.

The door finally swings open and of course, it’s Ronan Lynch.

Something is wrong.

He has this hard look on his face, one he hasn’t worn in a long time now. Adam hadn’t seen him last night, even though he’s heard he and Gansey are roommates. His body is a line of tension, and behind his cold eyes Adam can see what’s hidden there.

Sadness.

Adam feels himself straighten as Ronan walks over to the till.

“Parrish.” he says, and his voice is cold too. He smells like alcohol.

Why are you here?

Adam doesn’t know what to do with this closed off Ronan.

So, he makes him a coffee.

He turns to the last espresso machine left standing, and pours him two shots. The milk he steams as silky as he can, and he stirs some chocolate in too.

He can feel Ronan’s eyes on him.

There’s a bit of whipped cream left so he pours it all into mug and tops it off.

Fuck. Now he has to give it to him.

Adam stares down at the mug in his hands and it isn’t until Ronan pokes his head over the counter that he brings himself to hand it over to him.

Ronan stares at him, the mug, him, the mug.

“What’s this?”

“A drink.”

“Aren’t you closing soon?”

“Yes.”

Ronan gives him another long stare that Adam doesn’t hesitate to meet. After a dubious look at the mug, Ronan takes a sip. Immediately his eyebrows go up.

“Is there actual coffee in this?”

Adam reaches his hand across the counter.

“That’ll be $3.50.”

Now, finally, Ronan smirks at him. Their hands brush when Ronan hands him $3.50 exactly and he sees something in Ronan unwind the tiniest bit.

Adam nods over at a table in the corner.

“Take a seat, you can stay till we lock up.”

And he does just that. He just sits there, nursing his drink, and watches them flit around cleaning things up and counting the tills and taking the bar apart and putting it back together. He doesn’t ask why Adam hasn’t kicked him out even though he’s already locked the doors, he just sits there even when Noah quietly takes his empty mug away.

Adam can’t stop looking over at him, and almost every time Ronan is already looking back.

It’s only when they’re switching the lights off that Ronan gets up to meet them at the door, standing off to the side as they lock it and nodding silently at Noah as he says goodbye.

Adam gives him a look then, and says, “Come on.”

 

---

 

Ronan Lynch transforms Adam’s little apartment. He makes the broken things stand out so much worse, and all the things Adam loves about it so much brighter. No one has ever been here before.

When he switched the light on he could see his tarot cards still on the coffee table, and Ronan is staring at them now from his seat on the sofa. Adam lets him wonder and goes about watering his plants and finding Ronan something to eat.

He’s making him toast when Ronan speaks next.

“It’s my birthday today. Yesterday now, I guess.”

Adam stills where he stands at the kitchenette, hand midway buttering a slice of toast. He has a feeling happy birthday isn’t what Ronan is looking to hear.

“Sorry all I have is toast,” he says instead, trying and failing to lighten Ronan’s mood. Ronan just twists his leather bands with his teeth.

“What was that drink you made me?” Ronan asks as Adam hands him his actually quite pathetic birthday dinner.

“It was a mocha.”

“Oh. I liked it.”

Adam smiles to himself a little, and Ronan eyes stick to him like glue. He wants to  –

“I’ll go find you something to sleep in,” Adam says and disappears into his room. With the door closed behind him, he leans his head against the warped wood and tries to remind himself to be fucking normal.

Why did he even bring Ronan here? Because he looked sad? Because Adam didn’t like to see him being so unlike himself? Because he just wanted to?

Adam never used to think of himself as a reckless person.

He grabs the longer of his two sets of pyjamas and goes back out to meet Ronan sitting on the sofa, toast already eaten.

“I can take the sofa,” Ronan says before Adam even has a chance to offer him otherwise, but if he’s honest he’s not sure he could handle that anyway.

Adam just nods and when Ronan takes the pyjamas he uses both hands, and uses one to hook his pinky finger into Adam’s for just a second. He’s never been more aware of his own skin before.

Adam sits on the edge of the coffee table in front of him and counts his breaths in and out until Ronan speaks again.

“I don’t always hate my birthday.”

“But you hate it today.”

Ronan eyes won’t meet Adam’s. He seems stuck on something, he has this look on his face like there’s something he wants to say that he can’t bring himself too.

Adam won’t force him.

Ronan’s fingertips brush a tarot card he could have sworn wasn’t face up before.

The Magician.

“You have secrets, don’t you Adam Parrish.”

God Ronan. Ugly ones.

“So do you Ronan Lynch.”

Ronan just stares at him, the lines of his face so stark and otherworldly. Sometimes, Adam gets the feeling that if they had met as younger more volatile versions of themselves, they would have fought each other to hell and back. He’s not sure now what they will end up doing to each other.

But for now, Adam gets up and turns the lights off. Before he can close his bedroom door, he hears Ronan’s voice one more time.

“Some years it just makes me wish my parents weren’t so fucking dead.”

This is not wasted honesty, not on Adam. He may be a liar at times, but not here.

“I wish I had a good one I could lend you.”

 


 

[Gansey]

 

Gansey: Have you seen Ronan?

-

Gansey: Never mind, he’s home now. He said he was with you last night.

Gansey: Thank you for taking care of him.

Adam: He wasn’t bad company

 


 

[Excelsior]

 

Cheng_1: ronan we’re celebrating your birthday on the weekend instead

Blues_Clues: You know he’s never going to see that

Cheng_1: don’t be so negative he might check this time

Blues_Clues: He definitely won’t

Blues_Clues: He never checks his phone

Cheng_1: never say never!!

 


 

[Tears for College Fears]

 

Fletcher_sketch: @Adam_Parrish, you grew up in dc right? help this poor history major write his essay

Jimmy_neutron: guys, PPL rewatch starts now, my room, byob

Katy_kats_keane: can you paint my nails then i cant mulitaks if im gunno get drunkk

Katy_kats_keane: i think he has his skype call with his parents tonight fletch

 


 

[Gansey]

 

{call time: 30 minutes 02 seconds}

“I don’t understand how pigeons play into this at all.”

“Well you see Parrish – “


 

[Ronan]

 

Ronan: saw this and thought of you

Ronan: [image attached]

Adam: Ronan. That is a lost dog poster.

Ronan: looks exactly like you


 

[Inbox]

 

Admissions Office:

R.E.: Contact details

Good afternoon Mr Parrish.

We’d like to request again an update on your next of kin contact details. The details you provided us in your freshman year were for a Mr T. Boyd, is this correct? Please verify the contact information below:

 


 

[Noah]

 

Noah: Adam ! i saw this snowglobe today it looks like a turkey 

Noah: [image attached]

Noah: can we put it on top of the display case ?

Noah: also you’re coming to the pizza place with me and blue right ?

Adam: Aren’t the others going to be there too?

Noah: that’s what I said  

 


 

[Blue]

 

Blue: Adam! I found this plant outside someone’s stoop, do you want it?

Blue: Also, I need your opinion on this jacket, too many holes?

Blue: [image attached]

Adam: Needs more holes

Adam: Drop the plant off at Night Owl tonight?

 


 

[Henry]

 

Henry: so we’ve established that songs 3 and 6 are good

Henry: those are correct opinions all your other ones are wrong

Henry: try this album next [album link attached]

Adam: Stop trying to get me to listen to Abba

 


 

[Ronan]

 

Ronan: fuck whatever Cheng sent you listen to this

Ronan: [playlist link attached]

-

Adam: Your EDM sucks Lynch

Adam: what the fuck is a murder squash?

{outgoing voice note}

 “I like this one.”

Ronan: he’s Irish too

 


 

[Fletcher]

 

Fletcher: you’re going home for thanksgiving right?

Fletcher: so lucky your parents live close by!

 


 

[Ronan]

 

Ronan: are you asleep

Adam: Yes

Ronan: wht r u wearing

Adam: Fuck off

 


 

[Gansey]

 

Gansey: Have you seen him?

Adam: No, I’m sorry

Gansey: Perfectly alright. I think I insinuated some things I shouldn’t have.

Adam: But you didn’t mean them

Gansey: I don’t know if he thinks that.

 


 

[Noah]

 

Noah: do you think Ronan and Gansey fight ?

Adam: Definitely

Noah: me too

Noah: i think that’s why he was so weird yesterday 

Noah: i don’t think it was your fault

 


 

[Henry]

 

Henry: dw he just gets like that sometimes

Adam: What do you mean?

Henry: ronan hates a lot of things but mostly he hates his phone his feelings and his brother

Henry: add it all up with a sprinkle of Gansey-Fight

Henry: no-show Ronan

 


 

[Ronan]

 

Adam: Are we fine?

Ronan: what

Ronan: yes

Adam: Okay

Ronan: if things weren’t fine would i be outside your apartment holding a case of fireworks

Adam: promise me you’re not

Ronan: but i never lie

 


 

It’s a Sunday afternoon after Mass, and Ronan is wearing a suit under his jacket with the tie viciously mangled.

They’re climbing trees in the park, and Adam can feel his hands protesting the bark under his skin.

“So, Gansey’s this like, genius researcher right?” Ronan asks, trying to haul his leg over a low hanging branch at the base of the tree right below Adam.

“Yeah?” Adam replies, staring down at him from his perch halfway up their meagre tree.

“Right well, Blue and I spent four weeks looking for the right present for him last year for his birthday. We split – fuck – the cost of this like, super cool EMF reader and then Blue made him a spreadsheet to record his findings in which was rude cause I don’t know shit about spreadsheets – shit -“

Ronan slips then, and Adam instinctively lowers his hand to catch him, and when he grabs Ronan’s outstretched hand he feels it up and down every nerve ending. Then there’s this suspended second, full of the feeling of Ronan’s skin under Adam’s and the smell of trees and Ronan Lynch’s breathing and his eyes staring up at Adam wide open and blue.

And then Ronan rights himself and Adam has to stop living in that second.

Ronan goes back to telling him about Gansey, and Adam can hear the same fondness he always hears in Ronan’s voice when he talks about his friends. It catches Adam between three thoughts.

No one has ever known me as long as Gansey and Ronan have known each other.

No one has ever talked about me like that.

I wish Ronan would talk about me like that.

Adam suddenly, viscerally, wants to be known.

 


 

Sometimes Ronan disappears. Sometimes physically, not showing up at The Night Owl or anywhere anyone can find him. Sometimes into himself, rageful and distant and spiralling somewhere inside his brain.

Adam knows he’s haunted by something. He recognises that self-loathing very well.

It’s not always. But it’s often enough.

Every now and then, as Adam watches to see which Ronan is walking into The Night Owl or the pizza joint or Adam’s life, he wonders.

How long is he going to stay?

 


 

There are turkeys made of paper handprints all over the windows. Adam wonders what the day shift thinks of Noah’s late night decoration sprees.

Thanksgiving fast approaches.

“Noah, pass the glitter,” Blue says, hand making grabby gestures in Noah’s general direction as she glue sticks some elaborate pattern on her tiny paper turkey.

“Please don’t get glitter on the table!” Adam calls because he can’t help himself apparently but to be infinitely tense all the time.

Gansey and Henry are at some sort of fancy event tonight that’s invitation only, so Blue and Ronan came whirl winding into The Night Owl at 10:30pm like matching tornados. Blue had bought a box full of craft materials with her and Noah couldn’t keep himself from it.

Unfortunately, this leaves Adam with Ronan.

“Teach me,” Ronan says, standing at the edge of the counter trying to convince Adam to let him into the other side. “You need to close in like, an hour right? So what do you need to do?”

Ronan is leaning against the counters end, arms crossed over his chest and Adam can see the claws of a tattoo peaking over the edge of his muscle tee that he’d never noticed before. He wonders how Ronan isn’t cold and then, more so, what the rest of it looks like.

Adam lets out a tired sigh.

“Fine. Come on.”

That’s how he ends up teaching Ronan how to clean the syrup bottles.

Fuck, that is sticky,” he grumbles, and he paints an absurd picture. Standing behind Adam’s counter stirring a syrup pump in a jug of boiling water.

“Sir, this is a family establishment,” Adam says, and Ronan laughs with his whole chest. Adam feels this little ember of warmth glowing in him somewhere, standing here watching Ronan laugh.

He goes to grab the remaining syrup bottles and hands them off to Ronan so he can empty the filter coffee machine into the sink next to him.

“Watch out,” he says as he opens the spout to empty what turns out to be a fair amount of filter coffee into the sink as the tap runs it off.

It’s as he’s watching it all pour out into the sink in a roar of hot coffee and water, that a syrup pump comes waving in front his face.

Ronan is staring at him, annoyed and confused, and it’s then that Adam realises he’d placed Ronan to his left.

There is never a moment where Adam forgets that he is deaf in his left ear. There will be always be an absence of sound there and a difficult memory. He’s very good about keeping himself on the correct side of people, placing himself at angles and seats and ends of rows where he can hear best. Usually, he’s fine. Just goes about his business.

But for whatever reason, when he’s not keeping track of his surroundings, he makes mistakes. Noah has known since he joined the staff, he kind of had to tell him. Maybe that’s why he forgot to factor it in.

Ronan is talking but Adam still can’t hear him well.

“Sorry, I can’t hear you,” he says and rushes to turn off the spout of the filter machine.

Ronan is wearing this look on his face that tells Adam his own has given something away. Something about the way Adam said it. Something.

“What do you mean, can’t hear me?”

“I mean I can’t hear you,” he snaps, frustrated and tense all over his body. He doesn’t want Ronan to ask. He doesn’t want to decide between lying and being seen.

Ronan’s face closes off further, his eyes narrowing at Adam.

“Fuck me, I was just trying to help you.”

“I didn’t ask you too.”

Ronan laughs in a way that’s so unpleasant and so different than before. Adam can feel his pulse in his whole body.

Jesus Parrish, I’m sorry for trying to -“

Then the door swings open and the sudden sound of it sends Adam flinching and then he sees who it is.

Adam’s eyes fly straight to Noah.

Noah is sitting rod straight in his chair, pale eyes wide and mouth a line of anxiety. He sees Blue’s mouth form the shape of Noah’s name in a whisper, as the guy from before with his wretched watch comes slinking over to the counter.

Adam has to keep his attention.

“We’re about to close sir,” he says, and just like last time the guy looks derisively at Adam.

“Why is that every time I come here, it’s about to close?” he sneers.

“Maybe because you keep coming in at the same time,” Adam replies, and he can feel Ronan seething behind him before Ronan moves away.

But the guy has already turned away from Adam, instead staring down at Noah at the table closest to the counter.

“Czerny, make me a drink will you?”

Noah’s already pale face is only getting whiter, and he’s not saying a word. But Blue is.

“Excuse me, who do you think you’re talking to like that?” and she sounds furious.

But this stranger just laughs in her face.

He can feel himself move and he can see Blue about to push to her feet, but Ronan is already there and placing himself directly in the asshole’s line of site. He pushes right into his space, fearless, and absolutely calm. It’s the most frightening Ronan has ever been.

“It’s time you left,” he says, his voice a dagger and his face a storm.

The guy tries to look past at him at Noah but Ronan shoves him back with a hand to the chest.

“No, don’t look at him. Look at me. I’m right here asshole, you want to try and intimidate me?”

“I don’t think you know who I am – “

“And I don’t care. Get. Out.”

The tension in the air stretches taut and Adam can’t actually feel his pulse anymore at all. 

But then the guy turns in a huff and is out the door, Ronan following close behind and giving him one last shove out the door.

“We’re fucking closed.”

---

 

The night fizzles out after that. After a few hugs from Blue and a couple pets of her spiky hair, Noah returns to helping Adam close the store and Blue packs up her crafts. Adam grabs the snow globe from the backroom and places it on the display case just to see Noah smile again.

Then finally, the lights are off and the door is locked, Blue and Noah walking away hand in hand as she leads him home.

It’s just him and Ronan and the night air.

Beside him, Ronan is wrapped in a black puffer jacket, fighting off the cold November night and he wants to tell him to wear a sweater next time but he doesn’t know where the line is. He’s looking at Ronan, and Ronan is looking at him.

He’s so beautiful.

He wishes so badly they hadn’t fought.

Adam shoves his hands in the pockets of his old coat and walks away. He just has to hope Ronan will follow.

 

---

 

They wind up in the park near Adam’s apartment, sitting on the swings, rocking gently back and forth and not talking. He can feel Ronan’s eyes on him and how fast they look away whenever Adam turns his head.

“Thank you for standing up for Noah.”

“Well, little weirdos my friend. So.”

In Adam’s pocket is his phone. In it, there are several numbers. No I.C.E, no parents, no family. There are three numbers who know nothing true about him. There are five numbers who know bits and pieces of him, which is more than anyone else in the world.

There is one particular number that knows he used to be a mechanic. That he’s agnostic, that he has an accent he tries to hide, that he has tarot cards and plants at home, that he doesn’t have any good parents, that he used to live above a church. There is one number in his phone that knows the sound of Adam’s voice at night, how he likes his pizza, how to push his buttons, that he got his license at 18, the sound of exhilarated fear Adam makes when he’s moving too fast in a shopping cart, how to look at Adam just right so that he feels like telling the truth.

Adam has told Ronan so much already. What’s a little more?

“I’m deaf in my left ear, because my dad hit me so hard I fell and bashed my head.”

He hears Ronan’s sharp intake of breath, sees his swing stop moving in his peripheral vision.

“Adam –“

“I got emancipated after that and moved into the church I told you about. I was 17 I think, at the time.”

“Adam that was only three years ago.” Ronan’s voice is angry, complicated, like Ronan on the outside. But there’s an element of softness too. Empathetic. Protective. Sad. Like Ronan on the inside.

“I know,” because how could he forget. There was a court case and everything. “That wasn’t the first time either. Not by a long shot.”

He doesn’t want to see Ronan’s face. He doesn’t want to know if it makes him feel worse or better.

At the moment he’s not really feeling much of anything. His hands do feel numb though. He keeps staring at them, but they don’t feel any more his.

“I can’t believe Adam Parrish just told me one of his secrets,” Ronan says and to his credit it does make Adam laugh, even if Ronan’s voice comes out a shade too angry still and Adam’s laugh comes out sort of sad.

“Yeah, me neither.”

And then in the corner of his eye he sees Ronan shuffle his swing that little bit closer, and he feels fingertips tangling with his.

He looks at Ronan finally, and finds him looking back with this look on his face. It’s not angry, or sad, or vengeful. It’s just earnest.

“I promise I’ll pay you back for it,” he says.

Adam believes him.

He squeezes his fingers and he can feel him.

 


 

It’s like a dam breaks after that.

Adam devotes himself to his finals studying and collecting Ronan’s secrets, big and small.

 Ronan texts him in the middle of the night and says:

I have insomnia, how bout you?

He gets pizza with the gang at their pizza place, each of them poured over textbooks except for Ronan and Noah who keep trying to throw olives into each other’s mouths.

He pokes Ronan in the arm with a fork and tells him about Magician_Tarot. Ronan looks at him, calls him a witch, and gives him this quiet smile he’s never seen before. Blue is ecstatic to hear he does tarot and spends the rest of the night telling him about her family.

Ronan follows him shopping after work at The Night Owl and pushes him way too fast in a shopping cart. They end up sprawled across the ground surrounded by off brand pop tarts and toothpaste, and Ronan is breathless and grinning next to him. He says, out of nowhere, “You know, my favourite fruit is peaches.” Adam laughs so hard he feels sick.

Adam sends him a picture of a trailer he saw advertised and tells him that he grew up in a trailer like that. He panics in his bathroom for 25 minutes afterwards.

Ronan sends him a picture of him and his brother Matthew at a national park, Ronan scowling in the heat of summer and Matthew a beam of light beside him. ‘This is my little brother. I cried when he was born.’

 


 

[Blue]

 

Blue: You’re coming to Friendsgiving right? It’s on Tuesday

Adam: Yeah of course

Blue: Cool

Blue: Do you wanna drive home with me for Christmas?

Blue: To Henrietta

Adam: You can drive?

Blue: Technically yes, but it’s safer when someone else is in the car

Adam: I don’t know yet, I’ll let you know.

 


 

Then one night, Adam’s working a rare weekend three days before Friendsgiving. Ronan is walking him home from work, bundled up in that same black puffer jacket and a grey scarf. The black one he gave Adam is around his own neck now. It doesn’t smell like moss and gasoline anymore.

They’re silent the whole way home.

Then, two minutes from Adam’s building, Ronan tells him about finding his dad bludgeoned to death with a tire iron when he was 15 and his mom dying a year later.

Adam lays awake that night unable to think of anything else but a young Ronan Lynch with his bleeding heart he likes to hide, attending two funerals before he’s even 18.

Life is cruel, Adam is no stranger to that. It’s just that, sometimes, you trick yourself into thinking you’re used to it. And so, it’s not really that bad anymore. But then someone slams their hand on your shoulder too suddenly and you’re 7 years old again. Someone beats your dad to death. Someone invites you back to a home you don’t have.

Life is cruel and one day you wake up and realise you can’t remember the last time someone told you they loved you.

 

---

 

[Blue]

 

Adam: I can’t go back with you

Blue: That’s fine! Are you staying to work?

Adam: No

Adam: I don’t really have a family to visit anymore

Blue: Oh

Blue: Then do you wanna share mine?

 


 

It’s Friendsgiving and Adam think he loves these people.

They’re all drunk on food and Blue, Noah, and Henry are drunk on margaritas and playing karaoke. Blue has an almost lovely voice, drunk as it is, and Henry is painfully devoted to their duet rendition of Cherish. Gansey is sat on the sofa in his beautiful apartment clapping like a kid at Christmas, Noah asleep on his shoulder.

Adam stares at them from his spot on the floor and can’t not smile if he tried. He feels like himself. Sitting here, full of takeaway food and Blue’s homemade brownies. He looks down at his hands and curls his fingers in towards his upturned palms. They look like his.

“Hey, Parrish.”

Ronan is kneeling next him on his right side, with a coca cola bottle in one hand and a beer in the other.

“Let’s play a game.”

---

 

Initially, Adam thought this would be something dangerous or stupid. But Ronan leads them out onto the balcony, and gestures to a deck chair. Ronan throws himself into the chair next to Adam’s and he’s not sure those chairs need to be so close to each other, but he doesn’t mind.

There are lights strung around the slats of the balcony railing, and the dark air is crisp with late autumn chill and it makes Adam shiver despite the heater in the corner on.

Next to him, Ronan is the softest he’s ever looked in the blur of the balcony lights. He watches Ronan lean backwards in his chair and grab a blanket that he throws at Adam. Then he passes Adam the coke, takes a sip of his own beer, and says –

“When I was 13 years old I figured out I liked boys.”

Adam knows what game they’re playing.

“I was 16 when I realised I liked both,” he returns, eyes on the city skyline stretching out in front of them even as he feels Ronan’s eyes on him.

“I win,” Ronan says, voice half a gloat and half a whisper. A silence meets them then, but Adam doesn’t want the game to stop before it can really start.

So he offers another secret, “When I was growing up in the trailer park, I used to hide under the stairs so he wouldn’t find me.”

“I don’t think I would have lived past 16 without Gansey.”

“I think I picked my college friends because I knew they’d be easy to lie to.”

“When I was 18, I realised my dad wasn’t a good person.”

“When I was 16 I kissed someone for the first time and I only half liked it.”

“I have nightmares.”

“I don’t drink because of my dad.”

Fuck, we’re traumatised.”

Adam laughs so hard he almost chokes on his coca cola.

When he catches his breath again, he looks over at Ronan and they’re both just quietly smiling at each other like two broken fools. He wonders how their pieces would fit together. Adam has this thought then, looking at Ronan. This thought that he wants to keep all of Ronan’s secrets for him.

“Tell me about something else,” is all he says. Ronan chews his lip, puts down his beer, and keeps his eyes on Adam like it’s not going to pull at him.

“I have a secret I’m scared to tell you,” Ronan says, voice hesitant and face scared. Adam doesn’t like to be wrong. When he met Ronan he seemed like this fearless beast. But he is just as scared as Adam.

“I don’t think you need to be scared,” which is the first time he’s really lied to Ronan. He knows he doesn’t.

Ronan looks at him, his face sharp and nervous and so much braver than Adam. He takes Adam’s hand, brings it to his lips, and kisses the back of it.

Adam aches.

He puts his cola bottle on the ground and shuffles even closer to Ronan, desperately ignoring the rush of his heartbeat in his ear. Ronan’s mouth hangs slightly open, the tiniest bit, like he’s having trouble keeping his composure and thank God. Adam needs to remember that he’s human like Adam if he’s going to do this.

“Can I pay it back?” Adam asks, his accent dripping through his voice.

Ronan’s eyelids flutter a little and he whispers one brutal word between them.

“Please.”

So Adam kisses him.

He feels the softness of Ronan’s lips first, then the squeeze of his hand still tangled in Adam’s. He feels every inch of himself come to life with Ronan’s mouth under his. He kisses Ronan slowly and gently because he deserves it. He brings his hand to Ronan’s collar and Ronan’s hand moves across his jawline and into his hair and Adam is so awake. Ronan lets out this quiet sound and then he’s pushing closer, kissing Adam harder, and it’s still somehow the softest thing that’s ever happened to him.

He’s dizzy and everything smells like moss and gasoline and autumn air.

When they break apart, Ronan flits his eyes across Adam’s face and says –

“Please tell you more than half liked that.”

Adam laughs and gives Ronan a fleeting kiss. When Ronan chases after him he says “I more than half liked it. I liked it a lot.”

Ronan grins like a shark.

“Thank fuck,” he says, and pulls Adam back in.

 

---

 

[Ronan]

 

Ronan: did you get home okay

Adam: Yeah

Ronan: what are you doing tomorrow

Adam: Studying

Adam: And hanging out with you

Ronan: your place?

Adam: I have a study session at 2, come over at 4?

Ronan: see you then

 


 

Ronan is sprawled across Adam’s sofa behind him, watching him do a reading. He finished up his studying an hour ago, the clock ticking 7:30pm and the sun long gone. Now, he’s flipping over the Three of Swords on his coffee table, his favourite card for how much it hurts to look at.

“Adam?”

“Mm?”

“How did you learn how to do that?”

Adam lays down his final card for the second of three questions, and then flips one more for himself. The Eight of Pentacles. 

“I taught myself when I was 17, after I moved into the church. I hadn’t been sleeping and then one night, I fell asleep so hard I started sleepwalking.”

He notes down the formation in front of him and reshuffles his cards. The weight of them in his hands is one of the most familiar sensations he knows by this point. Ronan is listening quietly behind him.

Adam continues, “When I came too, I was standing in Boyd’s mechanic shop. I had wound up in the office holding the lost and found box.”

Behind him, Ronan sits up and asks, “How did you even get in?”

Adam leans back against the sofa and reshuffles his cards again and again.

“Because I had lost a day. It turns out, when I woke up I had already gotten changed and my shift was about to start.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah. There was this deck of tarot cards in the box, and Boyd said they’d been there forever and if I wanted them I could just take ‘em,” Adam says. He fans the cards out on the table and stares at their familiar delicate lines. “For whatever reason, I said yes. I spent all summer teaching myself how to use them and I never sleepwalked again.”  

He wants to tip his head onto Ronan’s legs. He wants to crawl into his lap. You can’t give Adam an inch and expect him not to yearn for a mile. But he doesn’t know yet what the new boundaries are.

So he just knocks on his deck three times and lays the cards for his final question. But then Ronan’s hand finds its way into Adam’s hair.

This is all going to end very very badly or it’s going to be the best thing that’s ever happened to Adam Parrish.

He lays his cards and then turns around because he needs to kiss Ronan. And he does. Ronan pulls him onto the sofa and Adam gets to lie on top of him and drown himself in Ronan Lynch.

It’s such a relief.

Ronan’s tongue is just as eager as Adam’s. He runs his hand under Adam’s shirt and brushes a spot on his rib that makes him ticklish. Ronan seems to delight in the laugh it brings out. Adam finally gets to see what Ronan’s tattoo looks like.

There are a lot of things about himself that Adam doesn’t like. He’s balancing his study schedule with two separate friend groups. He doesn’t trust gifts still sometimes. He doesn’t share his troubles easily and he doesn’t like to ask for help.

He doesn’t think kissing Ronan Lynch is going to make those things magically go away. He knows they both have baggage. He knows eventually something here is going to give. He has no clue what this even is really, it’s just. Nebulous.

But he does get to spend the rest of that evening eating noodles with Ronan. He spends Thanksgiving wondering around the city with him and falling asleep on his shoulder on a park bench. It’s nice.

 


 

[Ronan]

{call time: 45 minutes 07 seconds}

 

“What was he like when you were little?”

“A total asshat. He was such a stick in the mud, he wouldn’t even let me eat mud.”

“Was he an asshole, or were you just poisoning yourself?”

“Whose side are you fucking on?”


 

[Noah]

 

Adam: I’ll be there in 10

Noah: okay !

Adam: Wait, you said you wanted to feed the squirrels right?

Noah: yes i did but i already have the nuts

Adam: I’ll bring the disinfectant and the band aids

Noah: don’t think so poorly of the squirrels !

Adam: Wear a thick coat please

 


 

[Tears for College Fears]

 

Jimmy_neutron: idk i barely see him

Fletcher_sketch: me neither

Fletcher_sketch: i’m sure i have notes for it somewhere we’ll be fine

 


 

[Ronan]

 

{incoming voice note}

“So, I heard this song, thought you might like it. Here goes –“

“-Squash one, squash two, squash three – “

Adam: I’m blocking your number

 


 

The Night Owl is immediately overrun in December, covered in paper snowflakes that Ronan and Noah made while Adam was studying.

It’s a strange month for Adam. Always has been. He’s never had much by way of gifts, and he’s certainly never had much use for all those commercials full of happy families gathered around the Christmas tree.

When they got to work there was already a Christmas tree in the corner from the day shift, covered in blue and silver baubles, little owls on clips stuck to the synthetic branches. All of three of them had arrived at The Night Owl around the same time to tip their heads at this new found tree.

Ronan’s face was a bizarre mixture of disgust, yearning, and sadness. It made him want to hold his hand.

He doesn’t want to know what his own face looked like. Probably like nothing. He tries not to bother thinking about them. It’s not really any different from any other time of year. Adam is one exam into his finals, his brain is occupied. But somehow, it still finds time for this. Ronan Lynch, folding a paper snowflake into his hand and fucking up Adam’s heartbeat.

“I gotta go Parrish,” he says, even though it’s the last thing Adam wants to hear. He wants to wrap his fingertips in Ronan’s shirt collar and hang out there in the warmth of him. But he finds himself caught on nerves instead.

“Where to?” he asks.

“I promised Gansey I’d help him brainstorm gift ideas for Blue,” Ronan says, voice low like it’s a secret just for Adam, leaning against the counter.

“I thought it was a $5 max Secret Santa?”

Ronan smirks.

“It is. But that has never stopped Gansey.”

Adam can feel himself leaning forward into Ronan’s space over the counter’s edge, pulled in by the tones of his voice.

Am I allowed to ask for your time like that?

“I bet Blue loves that,” he says it sarcastically, but also he knows she probably kind of does. He’s seen how much she treasures that awful hat he apparently knit for her.

Ronan gives him a small smile, tilting closer, says “Sometimes I fear he’s not long for this world,” and fuck if Adam doesn’t want to kiss him. It’s entirely possible he’s wanted to kiss Ronan for a long time. He knows what it feels like now. How could he not want him that close, all the time? He thinks Ronan is staring at his lips, eyelids fluttering just a bit.

Do it, Ronan.

What am I allowed to ask for?

But Ronan just knocks on the counter between them and shouts goodbye to Noah as he leaves, one last long look shot to Adam before he’s out the door.

 


 

“Fuck, Ronan I’m going to be sick.”

“No you’re not, just hold on tighter.”

Ronan.”

All he gets is a sharp cackle of laughter, as Ronan spins them around faster still on the merry-go-round. It goes round and round and round and it feels like it’s shaking all the information he’s ever learned right out of him.

It’s 1:04am and it’s almost definitely not safe to be here. But Ronan couldn’t sleep, and Adam didn’t want to if he wasn’t going to. During finals it was a stupid impulse decision; one his anxious brain wouldn’t let him hold onto. So, he’d told Ronan he had an hour before Adam was going back to bed.

Apparently, he was making it count.

“Okay, now stand up,” Ronan says, breathless, his words turning to icy clouds in the air around them.

“Urgh, no, I feel like I’ll die,” Adam groans, eyes squeezed shut.

He feels a pair of hands lift him gently by the arms and onto his feet.

He is dying.

The sky and the ground are both the same thing now, and Adam’s so dizzy, stumbling around like an idiot, tripping over himself.

“Come here Parrish,” Ronan says, impervious to the consequences of his actions, with his arms outstretched to Adam. For the life of him Adam couldn’t tell you if Ronan was actually moving deliberately out of reach or not.

In the end Adam sort of collides into Ronan, sending them both falling to the ground. Ronan’s arms come up around him, and even though it’s absolutely freezing down here Adam feels safe to ride out his dizziness.

“All the fun of alcohol without the actual drunk part,” Ronan says, a pleased sound in Adam’s ear like he’s proud of himself.

“Alcohol’s shit then.”

Ronan laughs, squeezing the breath out of Adam so hard Adam has to break free by shoving snow down his jacket collar.

Damn it, Parrish.”

 


 

Adam was right.

In winter, his apartment becomes truly cold. He’s layering himself up as best he can, wrapping himself in his three blankets and pretending like he’s comfortable at night when he’s trying to sleep.

He just doesn’t have time for this.

Finals are happening. His college friends keep trying to drag him off to food trucks and ball pits he doesn’t have time for because he’s the only one on a scholarship and he spends half his time either studying in the library or studying at home, and the other half in class and then somehow, an impossible third half, working at The Night Owl and spending time with Ronan.

Gansey sits with him at the library often, even at late hours, and the others send him study playlists and swap ‘get your ass back to your textbook’ texts with him. They don’t push him, they just work on their own studying and seem to freakishly understand that this is important to Adam.

And Ronan.

Adam never hears him talk about class, rarely ever sees him study. Adam also knows that he’s not as available to be fun right now even with this whatever-this-is happening. But Ronan just shows up at his door with kisses and makes Adam coffee from his own cupboard. He naps on Adam’s sofa, waters Adam’s plants, watches him count his tarot money before he’s forced to go on the same finals hiatus he did last year. He lets Adam fall asleep on him and almost always wakes him up at the time Adam asked him to.

The problem starts with Adam.

This time, Ronan let him sleep five extra minutes.

And now he’s rifling through Adam’s barren fridge as Adam shivers on his sofa surrounded by textbooks.

“There is nothing in here, how are you not starving?”

Adam thinks I’ve been starving before, it’s not that hard, but he knows that’s not healthy.

“I’ll go food shopping soon, okay?” is what he says instead.

“Sure, but this place is a fucking ice box,” Ronan says, closing the fridge and moving to face him from the kitchenette, “would you please just let me lend you a heater?”

There is this ugly thing inside Adam. This hare trigger thing. This fragile ego driven fear fuelled thing. It’s the thing that takes his hand and flattens his highlighter sharply on the textbook in front of him with a soft slam.

“I don’t need one, it’s fine.”

Ronan has been perceptive since the day he met him, so of course he knows that Adam is angry. But Ronan has his own fragilities too.

“Parrish come on, that’s stupid. You’re cold, take the heater.”

“Don’t call me stupid,” he says, hearing is own voice go flat with the effort not to raise it.

“I’m not calling you stupid, I’m saying you’re being stupid, are we fucking fighting?” Ronan’s voice when he’s angry goes cold. Good to know.

“Ronan, I don’t have time for this.”

“Yeah I know, because all you do now is study and torture yourself.”

“I’m not torturing myself, I just care. I actually give a shit about my degree,” he snaps, and he knows he shouldn’t say that he knows.

Ronan’s hackles rise right in front of him, and his body does this defensive tensing thing that makes Adam feel sick to see.

“I’m sorry not of all us have built their lives around fucking academia, there are more important things,” Ronan snaps back at him.

This whole conversation is horrible but Adam is so tired. He’s so sick of being this person who cares so much about a number on a piece of paper but without it he’ll lose everything.

“No, Ronan there’s not. This is my future.”

Please just understand this. Adam’s pulse is rising. His body feels hot.

“I can’t believe we got here because you wouldn’t accept any fucking help.”

“I don’t need it.

“No, you don’t need me, and my future I’m apparently throwing away.”

“Well aren’t you?”

Fuck.

Fuck you.”

The door slams shut and Ronan is gone.

They’re supposed to meet with the group in a few days to celebrate Christmas before they all head home.  Adam’s last final is tomorrow. In a dim part of his brain, he realises that’s probably why he was so wound up.

They’ve barely been anything and Adam has already ruined it.

He’s not really sure how much times go by, but by the time he notices he’s hungry it’s gotten dark out. Which means next to nothing in December.

Adam is cold and he’s not angry. He’s ashamed.

Oh wait.

He picks up his phone, and dials.

 

[Blue]

{outgoing call}

 

“Adam?”

“Hey. I don’t think I’ll be able to drive back with you anymore.”

“What, why? Is everything okay?”

“I – I don’t know what you – I had a fight. Ronan and I had a fight.”

“Oh. Oh Adam. Look, Ronan is a prickly asshole but he – I mean I know you guys are a thing. I know he cares about you a lot.”

“No, no Blue it was my fault. It was my fault. So, if you don’t want me to go with you then I completely understand.”

“Adam…you know you’re ours too, right?

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you’re our friend. We care about you. We like you, independently of Ronan.”

“Oh.”

“Yes oh. Text me your address I’m coming to get you.”

 

---

 

Blue is sitting next to him on the park bench, dressed all in shades of neon and a gigantic orange jacket that falls to her knees. She looks absolutely wonderful and he can’t believe she’s here. He didn’t even have to ask.

“What happened Adam?” she asks her voice quiet and patient.

Adam slumps backwards on the bench, lets his accent slip out because she’s from Henrietta too. It’s safe.

“I got mad at him for trying to do me a favour. And then, he said I was torturing myself and I said he didn’t care about his future and then it just. He left and I fucked it up.”

Blue hums quietly next to him, bringing her legs crisscross on the bench beside him.

Adam has to swallow before he can keep going.

“I think I still, still struggle to be vulnerable. I just have no idea what I’m doing Blue, but I’ve been trying. I’ve been telling him the truth, and he’s the only person in the world I trust with so much of it. Which is completely insane because –“

Blue leans her head against his shoulder.

“Because really how long have I even known him? What if let him see too much, or I take too much, and then it’s all ruined?”

Blue nestles her head against him.

“I don’t have a family like him, I don’t have real friends like him, I’ve never been loved like him. Not by my parents, not by friends, not even by me. I don’t how to do it Blue. I don’t know how to love someone, or let someone -.”

Blue’s arm entwines with his.

“I’m scared I’ll do it wrong. I’m scared I can’t be.”

That’s the truth of it, isn’t it? Adam is scared. Telling her all this has made his whole body shake. Isn’t that proof that Adam isn’t built for this?

“You didn’t fuck it all up. You’re just new to this,” Blue says, and Adam holds onto the sound of her voice like a tether. “And you’re not unlovable Adam Parrish. I know because I fell in love with you, and so did Gansey and Henry, and I think Noah’s loved you for ages.”

Adam closes his eyes. He focuses on the sensation of being close to another human being.

Blue tips her head up to look at him.

“Ronan cares about you so much, I knew the second he told us about you where this was going,” she says, removing herself from him to put her mittened hands on either side of his face.

“Adam Parrish, that monster is my friend. I’d do anything for him though you don’t dare tell him that. And I trust you with him.”

So Adam collapses into her arms. She pats his back like he’s a child, and for the first time in his life he feels sheltered like one. Like it’s all going to be okay.

“Have you guys even defined the relationship?” she asks, tone lilting and teasing, a hammer to Adam’s tension. He laughs.

“No.”

“Urgh, well that’s your problem right there. I almost killed Gansey several times when we were figuring things out. Just talk to him, tell him how you’re feeling. You’ll be surprised by him I think.”

Adam pulls back at to look at her.

“Blue Sargent. You are very wise.”

She gives him this fantastic grin that reminds him so much of Ronan his chest aches.

“I know,” she says. Then she pinches him through her mittens and adds, “And don’t you dare say you don’t have real friends when I’m right here.”

“Sorry ma’am.”

 


 

[Ronan]

 

Adam: Can we talk?

-

Adam: Please Ronan

{incoming call}

“Talk Parrish.”

“I’m sorry. About yesterday. I didn’t mean to snap at you like that, it wasn’t fair what I said.”

“I was just confused Adam.”

“I know.”

“I think we should have this talk in person.”

“Yes please.”

“Meet me at the park in 45 minutes.”

“Okay.”

“Wait – how was your final?”

“It went well I think?”

“Of course it did. It’s you.”

 

---

 

He finds Ronan on the swings in the same absurd puffer jacket he’s always wearing when it’s cold. He’s wearing his black beanie with the little embroidered fangs that Blue made him for his birthday, and somehow ripped jeans. Yet, he’ll still complain about being cold.

Adam steels himself for a second staring at him. He waits for Ronan to notice him, but it doesn’t take long, before he walks over to sit on the swing next to him.

Ronan looks nervous. Pinched around the mouth and tense around the eyes. But he looks straight at Adam and says -

“What did I do?”

Adam cannot tolerate that.

“Nothing, Ronan, nothing, no. No.” he says, shaking his head.

“Then, what happened?” and there’s that confusion that Adam keeps putting there. This just has to stop happening like this.

“My scholarship means a lot to me.”

“I know that –“

Adam can’t look at him.

“I know you do. But I have this deep fear, all the time. Like if I make one single mistake it’ll all be taken away. If I mess up an exam, or a paper, or a quiz, or you. Everything.”

Beside him, Ronan is staring openly at him, his body leaning towards Adam like he can’t help it. Adam is going to be helplessly in love with him before long. So he keeps going.

“I have all these college friends I don’t even like, because I thought it’d make me…I don’t know, valuable? Make me feel wanted. But I couldn’t risk them knowing me so I lied to them.”

“Adam.”

“I don’t know how to be myself, but you make me feel like I could be, like it’s not impossible to be who I am and still be worth something.”

Adam.”

“Your future belongs to you, it should be what you want it to be not what anyone else thinks it should be. I was just being shitty because – because I’m scared I’ll fuck this up and then I won’t be in it anymore.”

Fuck, Adam stop. Stop,” Ronan says, grabbing the chains of Adam’s swing so he’ll look at him again.

“I’m sorry Ronan.”

“Well so am I. We both said stupid shit, this is not all on you, asshole.”

“It’s insane that being called an asshole makes me feel better,” he says before he can think about it. He’s rewarded with a slow smile from Ronan, and gentle huff of almost laughter.

“Sorry I corrupted you Parrish.”

“I’m not.”

Ronan looks so lovely when he blushes.

“It’s not like you were all the way wrong anyway. I don’t know what I’m doing with my future at all. I don’t even know for sure that I want to be a fucking farmer,” Ronan says.

Adam wants to hold his hand so badly. He thinks maybe he can. When he reaches a hesitant hand between them, he is painfully relieved when Ronan takes it.

“That’s okay. I’m pragmatic enough for both of us, I’ll help you figure it out.”

Ronan laughs then at last, finally, finally. It’s when Ronan twines their fingers together and gives Adam one of his loose smiles that Adam knows it’ll be okay.

“I think you should ditch those friends of yours Parrish,” he says.

“It’s not like they’re bad people.”

“But are they your people?”

No. No they’re not. Adam’s people do arts and crafts in the workplace. They give him his space, make him playlists, welcome him into the party’s hidden inner sanctuary, pick the olives off his pizza, spend hours pouring over books on runes with him, offer to share their families with him.

No, they’re not his people.

Adam shakes his head. Ronan squeezes his hand.

Silence rests easy between them for several long minutes, their hands entwined and the cold air kissing the tips of their noses. Ronan’s cheeks are slightly pink from the cold. Unbearable, really.

“Blue says we need to define our relationship,” Adam says.

Fuck, she’s probably right.”

Adam doesn’t feel as nervous as he thought he might, when he asks.

“Will you be my boyfriend Ronan?”

He is very aware that Ronan will tease him for this later, but honestly, it’ll be worth it. Adam is not often wrong.

“If I say yes, will you let me take care of you? At least a little,” Ronan says, with that soft deeper voice he only uses when he’s talking to Adam.

“You already do.”

But Ronan is shaking his head at him, earnest.

“Just, be patient,” Adam says.

Ronan takes their hands to his lips and kisses the back his hand, like he did a month ago. It makes something in Adam settle.

“I was going to say yes regardless.”

He’d feel like an idiot for smiling so hard if Ronan wasn’t doing it too.

“Come on Parrish, it’s fucking freezing,” Ronan says, tugging them both up to their feet so suddenly that they both almost fall over. Adam lets himself fall into Ronan’s orbit and kisses him. They’re both still smiling, it’s cold as ice, it should be terrible but it feels fantastic. Ronan’s laugh in his ear makes Adam warm.

Faces still close, Ronan smirks at him like a dick and says “I can’t believe Adam Parrish asked me to be his boyfriend.”

Adam rolls his eyes and pushes away from him. Ronan chases after him, throwing his arm around Adam’s neck and trying to tug him back even as they’re both walking.

God I hope he asks me to prom, do you think he’ll ask me?”

“Fuck off Lynch.”

“Ha! Never, stuck with me now shitface.”

They bicker their way out of the park, stopping every once in a while to kiss each other or smile or some other cheesy shit.

Adam barely notices the cold.

 

---

 

Ronan takes him back to his and Gansey’s apartment, storming past Gansey on the sofa with a “Adam’s staying over shut up.”

“Will he be joining us for breakfast?” Gansey calls after them as the door to Ronan’s room closes behind him.

Adam has never been in here before, but he immediately likes it. Everything looks like Ronan; wild, messy, loved, and so bright.

It’s art.

All over the walls there are homemade posters glued together from other posters from different EDM bands. There are bits and pieces of sculptures all over the place, clothes around the floor, a pile of used glue sticks in the bin and a smouldering iron on the desk.

There are photos stuck everywhere too; of a younger Ronan and Gansey, of Gansey and Blue, Henry, Gansey, Blue and Ronan all crammed together as Henry takes the picture. His brothers. New ones, that he doesn’t even remember Ronan taking. A picture of Noah and Blue making turkeys, of Noah standing in a junk store holding a giant ball of glitter rubber bands, and Adam. Smiling with the others over pizza. Asleep on the sofa of his apartment in Ronan’s hoodie.

Ronan is a maker of things, mess, and memories.

Of course Adam hasn’t been in here before.

Ronan takes his coat from him, grabs him by the hand gently and leads him to the bed. Adam sort of flops down onto the bedsheets and they smell so much like Ronan. There’s a part of him that’s overwhelmed, another part that feels his shoulders start to untense.

Adam kicks his shoes off as he hears Ronan do the same, then the light switches off leaving just a lamp on. Ronan lands on the bed beside him, and the weight of him there settles what’s left of Adam’s nerves.

“Do you wanna know why I kept coming back to The Night Owl?” Ronan asks him, almost whispering. Adam can’t look away from him.

“Not for the coffee.”

Ronan laughs quietly, “Obviously not. It was because you were such an asshole. Most beautiful boy I’d ever seen.”

Now Adam can feel his own heart beating double time.

“I really like you, Adam.”

“You know, no one’s ever treated me like this before.”

“Like what?”

“Gently.”

“God Adam, you have got to stop breaking my heart.”

“I really like you too Ronan.”

Then Ronan kisses him. It’s soft, slow, deep. Wonderful.

They fall asleep that night in Ronan’s pyjamas and tangled up together.

 

---

 

In the morning when he wakes his whole body is warm, and his muscles loose. There’s a bedside alarm clock that’s partly caved in, by all rights it shouldn’t be operational. But it’s telling him the time is 6:42am. Adam is wrapped up tight in someone else’s bedding, it smells like moss and fabric softener. Beside him, there’s a tall collapse of a Ronan Lynch, dead asleep.

The sun hasn’t risen yet, so all he can see of Ronan is what the remaining moonlight allows him through the windows. It’s lovely. His features are so sharp when he’s awake, and it’s not as if sleep magically changes the shape and lines of his face. It’s just that Adam has never seen him at this time of day before, or quite this asleep. Ronan is so touchable. He’s snoring the tiniest bit. Adam wants to hold him so badly.

But not if it means waking him up.

Adam allows himself five minutes to watch Ronan, a second to lean forward and kiss his shoulder gently, then he’s rolling as quietly as he can out of bed. He creeps across the room, and shuts the door softly behind him.

Gansey is already in the kitchen when he comes in, standing at the stove and sipping a cup of orange juice.

“Adam!” he says, with the voice of a cheerful friend and the face of a boy who definitely hasn’t slept a wink.

“Morning,” he says, settling himself onto a stool at their island that Adam can’t stop being jealous over.

“What happy timing, I made extra eggs,” Gansey says, scraping some dubious looking scrambled eggs onto a plate and sliding it across the island to Adam.

“Oh, you’ll need cutlery,” he says, whirling around to find him some, and Adam is filled with unbearable fondness for his friend. That, and the painful compulsion to ask –

“Gansey, why did you…why did you let me in?”

Gansey gives him a quizzical look as he hands Adam a knife and fork. He leans over the island to better see Adam in his no doubt day old pair of contacts. “What do you mean?” he asks.

Adam lets himself be comforted by the way Gansey talks and the way he smells like mint. These are things Adam is getting used to. And that’s nice. He just.

“Why did you guys accept me so quickly?”

It feels pathetic to ask. But he doesn’t think he can take not understanding.

Gansey looks at him for a long moment, clasping his hands together. Then he says, “I’m deathly allergic to bees.”

“Um, that’s awful but I don’t see how…” he trails off, unsure of where this is going.

Gansey gives him a rueful smile and continues.

“When Ronan found out, he was furious. He went off at me about how stupid I was being, wondering around the woods without telling anyone, leaving windows open in the summer.”

Adam smiles. What a Ronan way to worry.

“Then he started keeping EpiPens in his school bag. In his locker, in his car, in mine, in his room. Every time I found one it reminded me that I was loved. Eat your eggs Parrish, they’ll go cold.”

Adam shovels a forkful of scrambled eggs into his mouth and waits for Gansey to keep going.

“Ronan doesn’t make friends, friends sort of make him. And then he decides whether to let them in or not. So, I thought it was very interesting when he came home one day complaining about some idiot falling asleep where he shouldn’t. Didn’t this idiot know how to take care of himself?”

His insides feel very warm all of a sudden. Gansey smiles at him like he can tell.

“I trusted that if Ronan had decided to care about someone on his own, they were probably a good person. Then when I met you myself, and Noah, it was like oh, this is it. These are the last pieces we were missing.”

Adam has to focus very hard on eating his eggs.

“Adam, we let you in because you fit. It felt right to have you around, he just found you first.”

When Adam met his college friends, there was never a moment where it all clicked together. There was never a moment where he felt right. If Gansey had said this to him before all of this, he’d have no idea what he meant.

“I think I feel the same way.”

Gansey gives him a vibrant smile, an awake happy one with all his perfect teeth. Tells Adam to hurry now and finish his eggs, he needs his opinion on piece of old lore he found last night.

In a couple of hours, Ronan will come out of his room and squish himself between Adam and the arm of the sofa, still sleep warm and grumpy, and make fun of Gansey’s colour coded notes. Noah will come over in another hour, and Blue the hour after that, and they’ll watch holiday movies until Ronan and Noah get distracted trying to set popcorn on fire ‘by accident’.

But for now.

“Actually, Gansey, if I wanted to drop my Psychology class…”

“Let me grab my laptop, we’ll find you something fun to learn!”

 


 

[Excelsior]

 

Gansey: Don’t forget your gifts everyone!

Blues_Clues: Gans that’s the third time now

Cheng_1: hush now Blue he’s just a nervous host

Gansey: Nonsense, I just want to make sure no one gets left out.

Blues_Clues: Don’t tell me to hush you bastard.

Adam_Parrish: We were supposed to bring gifts?

Cheng_1: HAHAHHAAA

Gansey: I hardly think that’s funny Parrish

Ronan_Lynch: i do

Blues_Clues: Oh my god it’s a Christmas miracle!

 

---

 

[Blu e]

 

Blue: I’ve already packed the car with my stuff, there’s loads of room for yours

Adam: What time are we leaving tomorrow?

Blue: Well, the roads will be busy, so I was thinking kind of asap tomorrow morning?

Blue: You can bring your stuff to Gansey’s, my place is only 10 minutes so we can walk to my car from there

Adam: Sounds good

Adam: May I pack you some snacks?

---

 

[Noah]

 

Adam: I’ll give you the key when I see you later

Noah: okay !

Noah: i can’t wait to meet your plants !

Noah: i promise i’ll visit them regularly

Adam: I trust you

Adam: Oh, and please tell your family I said Merry Christmas

 

---

 

[Tears for College Fears]

 

Adam_Parrish: Hi everyone, just wanted to say I’m dropping Psych next semester

Adam_Parrish: Things are sort of changing in my personal life, so I’m not sure you’ll see me around much anymore, I hope that’s alright

Adam_Parrish: Just in case, thank you all for everything

 

---

 

“Okay let me see…oh, Henry this one’s for you,” Gansey says, handing Henry a slim envelope.

They’re surrounded by wrapping paper and Christmas cookies of Blue’s own creation. There’s heated mulled wine in mugs on the floor around them, and only two gifts left to be opened. Henry is currently holding one of them to his ear, and shaking it.

“I hope it’s a pony,” he says as he carefully peels open the envelope. Denting his tall quaff of hair is a pair of foam antlers. He pulls out a pink piece of card paper, written out like a cheque.

Pay: Henry ‘1’ Cheng

Date: 12/22

Amount: Abba listening party w/ guest

Amount ($): $5

Signed: Anonymous

Henry looks at Adam with a wide open grin.

“You know I will be cashing this in?” he asks. Adam just nods. Henry laughs and whoops into the air, “Abba!”

Blue claps him on the shoulder and congratulates him for finally breaking Adam, but Adam is already distracted. Beside him, Ronan is sitting very still. He’s looking intently at the last gift in the pile, the one that most definitely has Adam’s name on it in Ronan’s handwriting.

“Adam, this one’s for you,” Gansey says as he hands it gently over to him.

It’s a soft, rectangular like shape, and he feels Ronan’s stare as he slowly unwraps it.

“Jesus Parrish, it’s not a race slow down,” Ronan says sarcastically. Adam would feel bad about how nervous he is if it wasn’t so fun to tease him.

When the wrapping finally comes off, he’s holding a mini binder made of glittery transparent plastic. Inside it are several plastic wallets, a packet of labels, and a wad of cash tallies. On it’s front, it reads in sharpie:

Adam Parrish’s Cash-o-Counter

“Noah helped me pick it out,” Ronan says quietly, still staring at Adam who’s still staring intently at the binder, “it’s for cash stuffing, you know, like with your envelopes. I promise it was $5.”

Adam looks over at Ronan’s nervous face, and smiles. A loose, honest one that he couldn’t hold back if he tried. He laces his pinkie finger with Ronan’s where his hand rests near Adam’s knee.

“Thank you, Ronan.”

Ronan returns his smile, and it makes something in him unravel. He feels Ronan’s pinkie tighten around his.

Then Noah leans over and whispers across at Adam.

“Not only did I help him pick it out, he practically begged me to switch with him.”

Ronan launches himself at Noah, who laughs like a lunatic and scrambles up off the ground.

“You little shit,” Ronan snarls, as he chases Noah around the couch.

Adam laughs himself hoarse watching them.

 


 

“You’re meeting Declan there?”

“Yeah, Matthew and I are flying,” Ronan says with a displeased scrunch of his nose. His precious BMW lives at home at The Barns apparently.

They’re standing in the kitchen at some unpleasant time of morning, Bue and Gansey saying goodbye outside, and the rest still asleep on various surfaces in the other room.

Ronan’s arms are looped around Adam’s waist, hands linked together like an anchor at the small of Adam’s back. Adam wants to touch the soft material of his sweatshirt, so he does. He runs his hands up Ronan’s chest up onto his shoulders and is rewarded with another kiss.

“Will you survive the drive with the maggot?” Ronan asks, voice soft and slow, tired.

Adam rolls his eyes.

“From what I’ve heard, she’s a much safer driver than you.”

Ronan gives him one of his shark like grins, which isn’t fair really because Adam’s developed a strange fondness for those.

“But I’m way more fun,” Ronan says.

Adam won’t dignify that with a response, so he just kisses him again. Being so close to Ronan makes him greedy.

They stay that way for a while, wrapped up in each other, before they hear the sound of Gansey calling Adam’s name through the front door.

They split apart from each other, Ronan handing Adam his backpack.

They’ve been something, for just over a month. They’ve been officially boyfriends for even less time. But all the same.

Adam will miss him.

“See you ‘round Parrish.

“See you around Lynch.”

They stand there for just a moment longer, gazing at each other like idiots. Adam gives Ronan’s hand a squeeze, one last smile and a kiss on the cheek for the road.

Then he’s out the door.

 

---

 

Later, he’s alone lying on Blue’s bedroom floor as she takes a shower, in her house full of psychics and wonderful women. In that brief moment to himself, he checks his phone.

 

[Ronan]

{incoming voice note}

“You know Parrish, The Barns is only two hours away from Henrietta. Wanna make out for the new year?”

 

Adam smiles.

Yeah, actually. He does.