On most occasions, Ronan was very skilled at denying his best friend Gansey things. He had more than a decade of practice, after all. People had a way of bending naturally to Gansey’s will and giving him whatever it was that he wanted at that moment. Ronan took great pleasure in denying him things. He liked to think that he respected him for it, even through his exasperation, but Gansey was getting married on Saturday. After much consideration, Ronan’s wedding gift to him would be his reluctant compliance of his many, many demands.
Today, that meant meeting his fiancée’s maid of honor at her apartment building in Georgetown, driving her to Dulles, and flying to Aruba for the destination wedding in twin seats in first class. He long ago made it his life’s goal to feel like himself as much of the time as he could manage. He felt like himself alone at the Barns with his chickens, not here, at a fancy-looking apartment building in Georgetown with his tux in a bag and the leather carry-on Gansey gifted him in the backseat.
He loved Gansey, he loved Gansey, he loved Gansey, he loved Gansey, he loved—
Ronan rolled down his window and scanned the parking lot for a girl that looked like she might be friends with Blue Sargent. Gansey passed along a phone number that he didn’t intend to use, if he could help it. Blue talked his ear off every time she manipulated him into a wedding-related phone call. If they were best friends, it was fair to assume this girl would have talked his ear off too. Instead, Blue sent him an address, and he sent her back a time.
He waited three minutes, then five, then seven. He was just about to leave and head to the airport alone when he caught sight of a leather carry-on identical to his own moving through the parking lot toward the car. Attached to the bag wasn’t a girl but a boy—a tall, lanky boy with a shaggy mop of sandy brown hair. The boy leaned down to look through the open passenger-side window. Ronan blinked away his surprise when he was met with striking pale-blue, deep-set eyes, the same color as the hydrangeas that bloomed in late spring at the Barns. He swallowed hard and tried to remember that he was late.
“Are you Ronan?”
He ignored the question. “You’re not a girl.”
A blotchy, warm-toned blush spread across his delicate cheekbones. “Last I checked, no.”
Ronan grunted. “Gansey told me I was picking up a girl.”
He raised an eyebrow. “I can’t imagine that’s true.”
He was right about that. Ronan didn’t recall that Gansey ever specifically mentioned that Blue’s maid of honor was a girl; he assumed that part was given.
“I’m Adam,” he said. He blushed again. “Parrish. Adam Parrish.”
“Whatever,” Ronan said. “Don’t put your tux on top of mine. Gansey’ll shove a desk lamp up my ass if it gets wrinkled.”
Adam Parrish made a face. “Lovely.”
Adam was a strange bird. Ronan thought his opinion on the matter was particularly convincing, given that most people would call him a strange bird too. There was something very odd about Adam that Ronan couldn’t quite put his finger on. They made it to the airport and through security without saying much. Adam had already taken to calling him Ronan in that same exasperated tone as when Gansey said his name.
You could learn a lot about a person by traveling with them. Adam moved efficiently through security, his shoes in hand long before they needed to be. He packed his shampoo and body wash in twin travel-size containers tucked into the side pouch of his carry-on. He was impatient, tapping his foot and looking around expectantly. He glared openly at the other people in line when they took too long to lift their bags onto the conveyor belt. He also glared openly at Ronan when TSA confiscated his pocket knife, his large bottle of shampoo, his bear spray, and his Jack Daniels.
“Why would you even need bear spray, Ronan?”
Ronan blinked. “For bears .”
Later, on the plane, Adam ordered a coke and took an Ambien. Ronan suspected he wouldn’t be awake long enough to drink the coke and fully intended to steal it as soon as he passed out. Ronan would not be ordering a soft drink and taking a nap, because Gansey was footing the bill for first class, and he intended to milk the experience for everything it was worth.
He ordered two glasses of champagne and the short rib. He was almost certain Adam was asleep when his food arrived and he shoved a napkin into the collar of his sweatshirt because he hadn’t so much as twitched in twenty minutes.
Eerily, his eyes remained shut. “Can you stop chewing so loud? I’m trying to sleep.”
“There’s no fucking way my chewing is louder than the damn engine .”
When he opened his eyes, Ronan considered Adam’s gaze to be nothing short of withering.
Fuck, those eyes .
“One would think.”
Ronan shrugged and tore a large chunk of meat from the rib.
At first glance, Adam was rather like Gansey, but Gansey never put on an act. Adam’s insouciance was a well-practiced performance. There was something a little unsettling about how aware he was of himself and his surroundings. Where Ronan was largely ambivalent about his environment, Adam perpetually looked like he hadn’t relaxed in over a decade.
About four hours into the five-hour flight, Adam sighed, fidgeted for a few minutes, then opened his eyes resolutely.
“Morning, sunshine,” Ronan said. Adam scowled. “Ambien couldn’t put you down? Never worked for me either. Just makes me throw up and see shit in the shadows, you know?”
He pushed one of his champagne flutes toward Adam. He lost count of the drinks he had had three or four drinks ago; he wasn’t drunk exactly, but there was enough alcohol in his body to make teasing Adam seem like an entertaining way to pass the time.
Adam eyed the glass suspiciously, as if Ronan might have poisoned it.
Ronan arrived at the resort to find Gansey in fine form, pacing about his executive suite as he spoke on the phone to the florist. Ronan took one look at the set of his brow, turned around, and went back down to the bar. He returned a half hour later with a mojito in one hand and a bourbon smash in the other.
He took a sip from each, then sat cross-legged on the neatly made bed. When he and Adam first arrived, Ronan dropped his things on his bed and hurried off. Adam seemed desperate to be alone. He was mostly polite, so far, but he didn’t seem too polite to kick Ronan out, so he kicked himself out before he had the chance.
“How’s Adam?” Gansey asked, cheery-faced, after hanging up with the florist. Ronan wondered how long he had been on the phone before he arrived.
“He’s fine,” Ronan spit.
Gansey sighed like he hadn’t expected anything different from Ronan. Sometimes, in the corners of his mind that not even he could find, he wanted to impress Gansey. He wanted to surprise him in a way that didn’t make him frown like that.
Ronan forced himself to sit up. “It was okay, Gans. He’s not bad. Not sure he likes me, though.”
“Well, no one likes you straightaway,” he said matter-of-factly, “but given the time, everyone comes to love you.”
He snorted. Most of the time, people hated him more with increased exposure, not less. “That’s not even remotely true.”
Adam didn’t drink heavily at the rehearsal dinner. Ronan would have drank enough for the both of them, had Gansey not been so uptight about everyone waking up on the morning of the wedding without a hangover. He also recommended that everyone make their way to the spa for massages and manicures, but Ronan promptly ignored that suggestion. So did Adam.
Adam Parrish was strange .
Strangers and severe insomniacs, they had an awkward night. Once Ronan got to sleep, he usually slept through the rest of the night; Adam seemed to fall asleep more easily but wake more easily as well. Adam fell asleep by two but only slept until four. Adam was still awake when he startled upright.
Breathing unsteadily, Adam slipped into the dimly lit bathroom. The sink ran for nearly five minutes, then shut off. Adam returned to his bed.
“You don’t sleep well either?” he asked Ronan quietly in the dark room.
“Nah. Never have.”
That wasn’t entirely true. Before he lost his parents, he slept like a log every night, but that was a different time.
Adam raised his brow. “What’s your record?”
Adam nearly looked impressed. “Shit.”
“I was 17,” he said. “My older brother knocked me out, and I slept through a full day.”
“Jesus.” Adam twisted around in his sheets to lay on his back. “I feel like there must have been a better way.”
“Clearly you didn’t know me when I was 17.”
“Oh, trust me, I’ve heard the stories.”
Gansey met both Adam and Blue during his time at Harvard after he left Aglionby. If Gansey’s life could be divided into the before and the after, Ronan originated from the before and Adam originated from the after. He could only hope the kinds of stories Gansey told Adam were about the things he set on fire or the times he ended up in the drunk tank all night or the bloody brawls with his brother—not his father, murdered in the driveway, or his mother, dead of a broken heart a month later. He preferred that Adam thought Declan knocked him out so he wouldn’t behave recklessly over the truth, which was that Declan was rightly terrified he would wrap his car around a tree, pushing 175. Though, he doubted the truth would shake Adam hard; he had that haunted look in his eyes that promised he too had real demons waiting from him in his sleep.
It struck Ronan that he wished Gansey might have introduced them sooner, which was an odd feeling to have considering that he didn’t even particularly like Adam. He didn’t dislike him, exactly, but he was unsettled by him.
Adam was a lot.
Ronan wasn’t sure yet what that meant.
Getting out of the shower the next morning, Adam was in too much of a rush for more than a nod toward modesty. He toweled off before he came out of the bathroom, towel slung low around his hips, and even so, droplets slid from his hair and down his back and shoulders, which Ronan was delighted to discover were dotted with light-colored freckles on even, olive skin. His eyes were impossibly bluer, somehow. Ronan’s own eyes were the cold, unfeeling blue of the sky before an early-spring snow, but Adam’s were the same cornflower blue of a late-summer clear sky. Adam’s gaze remained fixed on the floor, but Ronan had never been much of a gentleman.
It struck Ronan that he couldn’t wait to walk down the aisle with Adam, just for the excuse to stand close.
The maid of honor? Wasn’t that a little cliche?
Ronan wanted Adam, undeniably. He had always had a tendency to fixate, and once he got the idea in his head, he couldn’t get it out. He took it as an unlikely relief when he had to leave to wrangle Gansey into his tux. If Gansey were a different groom, Ronan would worry about wedding-day jitters, but Gansey wasn’t the type to be nervous about this sort of thing. Adam asked three separate times if he had the wedding bands before he left—the final time while he tied Ronan’s bowtie.
“If I do them both, they’ll look the same,” he explained.
His deft fingers worked close to Ronan’s bare skin but never actually touched.
Adam was a better maid of honor than Ronan was a best man, fussing over Blue’s train and holding her bouquet. He clearly knew nothing about hair and makeup but complimented her ceaselessly anyway. Ronan forgot the wedding bands on the table in Gansey’s room and had to run back to get them, then he tripped and got a tiny, itty-bitty little grass stain on his shirt. Just before they walked down the aisle, Adam offered his arm with a threatening stare.
The ceremony was nice and all, but Ronan didn’t hear a word after Adam straightened both of their ties, smoothed Ronan’s shirt down, and wrapped Ronan’s fingers around his own bicep. Adam nodded resolutely. Ronan’s heart pounded too hard to hear Gansey’s vows. It was only by sheer luck that he managed to fish the rings out of his pocket at the right time. Adam performed his duties perfectly, but that was hardly a surprise to Ronan. He was very tightly wound.
At the reception, Helen Gansey caught Ronan by the bar before he could catch up with Adam. She always questioned him with the same curiosity as a psychologist interrogating a serial killer, and by the time he turned back, Adam was gone. Adam had a peculiar way of somehow dodging every dance. He always found himself consumed in conversation every time someone asked.
Late in the night, Gansey found him at the bar again, trying to look like he wasn’t watching Adam.
“Go ask him to dance,” he said.
Ronan scowled. “Who?”
“I will not.”
Gansey gave him a firm look. “He just got dumped.”
“Then I think it’s fair to assume the last person he wants to dance with is some guy he hates.”
Gansey sighed. “Please? For me?”
Ronan groaned. “Fine.”
Ronan cursed himself when the next song the band played was a slow waltz. Adam tried to slip away, but Ronan cut off his exit strategy to slip a drink into his hand—top-shelf bourbon. Adam had been sipping Old Fashioneds all night, but he always requested the cheapest liquors. He seemed cautious about running up Gansey’s bar tab. Clearly he didn’t know that the table would practically be loose change to the Ganseys.
“Dance with me,” Ronan said before he could talk himself out of it.
Adam quirked his brow and held up the drink Ronan brought him. “What about this?”
Ronan gestured toward one of the empty high top tables surrounding the dance floor. Adam looked for a long moment like he intended to turn him down, but at the last moment, he put the drink down and placed his hand in Ronan’s.
“Don’t worry, this is just a pity dance,” Ronan said, because he was very good at fucking himself over. “Heard you got dumped.”
Adam, to his credit, didn’t flinch.
“Something like that. Apparently I’m emotionally distant and don’t know how to compromise.”
“Yeah, I can see that.”
“Hey,” Adam snapped.
Adam held one of Ronan’s hands in his own. His other palm slipped around the small of Ronan’s back. It was nearly romantic, if you liked that kind of thing.
“What? You’re kind of a dick.”
“Real nice,” Adam teased. “And to think I just opened up to you.”
“You call that opening up? You’re right. You are emotionally distant.”
Adam barked a handsome laugh. “Real nice,” he said again.
“Hey, no shame here. I am too. You get away with it because you’re smart, and I get away with it because I’m weird.”
Adam’s mouth pressed into a thoughtful line. “You’re not that weird.”
“You’re only saying that because you haven’t met my bird.”
Adam laughed like that was a charming thing to say.
“Anyway,” Ronan continued, “her loss. Your ex’s, I mean.”
Adam blushed. “His,” he corrected.
“Oh,” Ronan said lightly.
Adam looked shy, though only for the briefest of moments. He had nice, thick eyelashes that caught the dim candlelight like fireflies in a jar. “When he dumped me, he said he wanted to date a person, not a workaholic robot.”
He snorted. “I wonder if we have the same ex.”
“Well, my bird hated him, which should have been the first sign.”
Adam looked at him strangely, turning him around and around. Ronan supposed it was a good sign that he hadn’t stormed off. “I can never tell when you’re joking.”
“Gansey says I’m an acquired taste.”
Adam turned up his nose in a now-familiar way that Ronan at first found annoying but was beginning to find inexplicably endearing, “Well, I like you just fine.”
“Thanks, Parrish. For the record, I think he’s dumber than a kindergartener if he let you go.”
Adam’s face twisted into an expression that could have been called shy, if it wasn’t such an unfamiliar look on him. “Thank you, Ronan.”
His lips parted. With his hair swept back like it was, Adam Parrish was infuriatingly handsome. He was covered in freckles, he was a really spectacular maid of honor, and at least some of the time he dated men. He was a Harvard graduate, which Ronan found annoying in most of Gansey’s college friends but impressive in Adam. He slept in a sweatshirt with the hood over his head, and Blue liked him. That was an overwhelming number of things to know about someone so pretty.
“Blue warned me about your nice face and terrible personality.”
“Sargent thinks I have a nice face?”
“That’s really what you took from that?”
“Well, I already know about my terrible personality, but I didn’t know she liked my face.”
“I’m starting to think she might’ve been wrong about the second thing.”
“And the first?”
Adam blushed again. “No.” He ducked shyly. “She got that part right.”
Gansey set Ronan up with every bad date in the book but never mentioned the mean, cynical, insomniac genius who thought Ronan was handsome and apparently might not hate his personality.
Adam tugged him closer by the hip until there was no space between them. Ronan nearly couldn’t see straight. Their hips moved in tandem. Ronan led in steps, stepping forward into him, but Adam led with his eyes.
“Ronan,” he said lowly, “I can’t stop thinking about you.”
They moved less chastely with every shift of their hips. Ronan decidedly had approximately thirty seconds before this turned into a situation he couldn’t hide from Adam if he tried, though he suspected Adam wouldn’t be surprised by his attraction to him. Their mouths nearly crossed paths but slipped past each other at the last possible moment.
Their mouths brushed fleetingly, Ronan’s chapped lips against Adam’s.
In the elevator, Adam smelled like sex and the cologne he borrowed from Ronan. It smelled different on him, though, when Ronan buried his face in the crook of his neck and nipped sensitive skin. Adam palmed the back of his head and moved him how he liked.
Ronan chased after Adam until he caught him by the hips and pinned him against the wall of the vacant hotel hallway, kissing him like they might set one another ablaze. When Adam touched him like that, he burned hotter than a chemical fire.
“We shouldn’t—” Adam gasped between kisses. “God, Ronan. The room. Let’s go to the—”
“The room,” Ronan agreed, fingers still twisted into his neat dress shirt, now wrinkled from his grasping touch. “Yeah.”
Adam was shorter than Ronan and leaner too, but it didn’t seem that way when he pressed him back into the closed bedroom door and began listing off all the things he wanted. Ronan’s vision nearly went dark at the edges when Adam unbuckled the belt Gansey made him wear.
“Anything,” Ronan agreed, and it was the easiest promise he ever kept.
Ronan pulled into Adam’s apartment complex in Georgetown late in the evening, just mere minutes before the sun set. Adam wore a black sweatshirt she borrowed from Ronan’s suitcase, and Ronan would have sooner set his car on fire than ask for it back. Seeing Adam in his clothes brought more satisfaction than that sweatshirt ever did. Ronan rested his wrist on the top of the steering wheel.
Adam stood on the sidewalk with his bags in hand. Ronan didn’t drive away.
“I, um. I had a really nice time this weekend,” Adam said shyly.
Ronan wondered how shyness was even possible after the night they had less than a day ago.
“Yeah,” he agreed.
He didn’t want to drive away. Quite possibly, he couldn’t .
“I’m sorry, this is gonna sound crazy,” Adam said.
Ronan got out of the car. He put his hand on the hood and nodded hard. “I like crazy. Crazy’s good.”
“I like you,” Adam blurted. He blinked in surprise, like he hadn’t meant to say it. He laughed. “I barely know you. Jesus, Ronan. I don’t even know where you live.”
“Close,” he answered. It was something more like two hours. “Close enough,” he amended.
“Yeah? Close enough to come back?”
Ronan bit back a smile. “For a good reason.”
“And what about a date?” Adam blushed. “Is that a good reason?”
“Yeah, Parrish. That’s a good reason.”
“Would you come back Saturday?”
“Yeah.” Ronan ducked his head to cover a grin.
He drove home to the Barns thinking of blue eyes and a long drive he wouldn’t mind making, so long as Adam was on the other end of it.