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But to return, and view the cheerful skies

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The problem wasn’t the phone, the problem was the ringtone. And even that would have been fine if it weren’t also the text alert sound. And the alarm. And the noise for those Google Calendar reminders that Adam couldn’t figure out how to turn off. A blaring SQUASH ONE SQUASH TWO out of nowhere could just about rattle the teeth out of Adam’s head if his head happened to be resting on the same surface as his phone. A blaring SQUASH ONE SQUASH TWO regularly sent Adam lunging for his backpack in the stillness of the midnight library, and sent Adam’s roommate, Chris, diving under his pillow.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” Adam muttered, bleary eyed, grabbing his phone and sliding out of bed. He didn’t know why he bothered to apologize any more, other than habit. Chris sexiled him at least three times a week and the rest of the time moved around in an Axe cloud so thick it made Adam’s eyes water. Chris’s fraternity brothers had to have noticed. Or maybe Tau Kappa Epsilon was just a miasma of body spray and regret.

“You need to dream me a new phone,” Adam said, once the door was shut behind him.

“Good morning to you too,” said Ronan. His voice sounded rough, as though he had a cold, or had been shouting. It was too much to hope that he’d just woken up. Ronan never called Adam this early unless he’d been up all night, waiting until he could reasonably call.

If Adam told Ronan he’d figured this out, Ronan would probably stop, so Adam said nothing.

“You didn’t want this one in the first place,” said Ronan. Adam could practically hear his smirk.

“And I still don’t want this one. I think I’m dreaming in the squash song. I fell asleep taking notes the other day and when I woke up I’d written half the lyrics.”

“You fell asleep in class?”

“In the library,” said Adam. “After work.”

“The dining hall or the shit for that lawyer?”

“Dining hall. The other thing’s an internship.”

“So?”

“So they don’t pay me.”

“They need to fucking pay you.”

“I know,” said Adam.

There was silence on the other end. Adam wondered where in the Barns Ronan was. Was he sitting on the porch? On the roof? In the kitchen with some dire energy drink? Had he actually tried to sleep and was he still in bed?

Adam wandered down the hall to the small common area at the end. Someone had left the TV on CNN on mute. Closed captioning foretold some crisis somewhere. Adam clicked it off. “What’s up?”

Ronan was quiet for a long time, just breathing on the other end. Finally, he cleared his throat. “Nothing.”

“Sure,” said Adam. “Because you love phone calls so much.”

“I like them with you,” Ronan said, quickly and forcefully. There was silence. “Shit,” he said.

Adam blushed, and was all at once graceful that Ronan was miles away and out of sight. He’d never live it down. He forced his voice into level and casual. “Right.”

Ronan sighed. “Declan wants Thanksgiving in DC.”

Oh, thought Adam. Well, it made sense. Declan was working, Matthew still in school. Ashley, improbably, was DC-based and still in the picture. Ronan could pick him up or they could meet there and— Or. Adam’s brain ground to a halt. He’d envisioned Thanksgiving at the Barns, the five of them and maybe Henry if Ronan would agree, maybe Blue and Gansey if they magically came back. He’d imagined awkwardness over who would sit where, who would do what with which food. A fight between Declan and Ronan was inevitable, even with this new détente, but it would be over soon enough. They would eat. After dinner, they would sit around the living room and talk. After that, they’d clean up and then Adam would follow Ronan up to his room and—

Adam had thought of it so many times in the past months that now it took him long moments to remember he’d yet to be invited. He hadn’t been invited. He wasn’t invited now.

“Makes sense,” Adam said.

“The fuck it does,” said Ronan. “They come every week for mass. It should be here. Now that it can be here.”

“You try telling Declan that?”

“Talked myself hoarse,” said Ronan.

“Thought you might be coming down with something,” said Adam. “Or you just woke up.”

Ronan let out a short, humorless barking laugh. Then he was silent.

Adam sat in the empty common room and stared at the sleeping TV and listened to Ronan breathe. “You okay?” he asked, finally. He had a fifty/fifty chance of getting his head bitten off, but Ronan was getting better at seeing the question for what it was: care for his wellbeing, not judgment of some perceived inability to keep it together.

Ronan huffed into the phone. “Missing you,” he said. “It’s fucking stupid how much.”

Come visit, Adam didn’t say, because at some point before he even met Ronan, he had set himself this idiotic challenge: he would do everything he could to prove to himself that he could make it alone, because alone was inevitable. Adam had mostly managed to unlearn the challenge, its reflexive power, but there was still a voice in his head that reminded him, often in the most inconvenient moments, that happiness was tenuous and not to be trusted.

“I miss you too,” said Adam. “And I miss Opal, and the Barns, and your ridiculous bird.”

That startled a laugh out of Ronan. Honesty had that effect sometimes. “What are you doing?” Ronan asked. Then he lowered his pitch into not-joking-not-serious Barry White territory. “What are you wearing?”

The tone, sincere or not, sent a jolt to Adam’s groin. He was suddenly aware of how long it had been since he last touched Ronan. They’d attempted this, phone sex, a couple times, but it was always more awkward than satisfying. Ronan was fairly quiet in bed and barely more vocal over the phone, and Adam’s own words often rang embarrassingly in his ears after they were finished.

“Nice try,” said Adam. “Chris is still asleep. I’m in the common room.”

“Okay,” said Ronan, “so go to the bathroom or something.”

For long seconds, Adam considered it. He really did. But the dorm’s early risers would be stirring soon, and there was no better anaphrodisiac than the sound of half the James Madison Crew clenching their way through their morning bowel movements.

“Well?”

Adam sighed. “Not this morning, okay?”

Ronan was quiet for a very long time, enough time for Adam to chart the tentative movement of a squirrel from one limb to another in the tree outside the common room window. When he spoke, it was with studied casualness. “You could visit, you know.”

On the question of reciprocation, the terms of the challenge were more vague. It was surprisingly easy for Adam to swallow his fear and say, “So could you.”

“Right,” said Ronan. “Because Chris is such good company. And you still won’t let me get us a hotel room.”

“It’s stupid,” said Adam. “I have a room.”

“You said he kicks you out like half the week and you can’t kick him out?”

It’s an old, old argument. Adam is good at it; he knows his way through it backwards in high heels. That doesn’t mean he wants to replay it for the thousandth time. “Next year I’ll have a single.”

Ronan was quiet. Then he said, with a tone so flat and studied that Adam knew he’d been chewing this thought over for a while, “If I were a girl you would, though, right? You’d kick that mouth breather out and we’d go to town.”

This was an argument they’d never had, though Adam probably should have seen it coming. Ronan had dropped enough comments over the months they’d been together, but it wasn’t like Ronan was reaching for his hand in public either. “Come on,” said Adam. “Seriously?”

“Just curious,” said Ronan, defensive. “Just, like, gathering data.”

“Okay, Professor Lynch,” said Adam. “Then for the record, no, I wouldn’t be more likely to have you over if you were a girl.”

You’re lying, said the voice in Adam’s head. Adam told it to fuck off. It wasn’t Ronan’s fault he was fucked up.

“You’d make out with me in front of Declan?” Ronan asked, still pushing. “Next time Helen stares at your ass you’d tell her you have a boyfriend?”

Down the hall, a door opened and closed. Adam fought not to lower his voice. “Everyone knows you’re my boyfriend. I think Gansey took out an ad.” Ronan laughed a suspiciously wet laugh, but maybe he’d been drinking coffee, or beer, or it was allergies. Anything was possible. Adam wanted more than anything to be there with him. “But yes,” said Adam. “If you want, I’ll make out with you in front of your brother, you total weirdo.”

“Good,” said Ronan. Then he said, “It’s not, like, revenge or anything. I would make out with you here, too, not just ‘cause he’s dragging us to boring godforsaken DC.”

Adam’s entire body was suffused with warmth. “I’m invited, then?”

“Of course you’re fucking invited, what the fuck?” Adam could practically hear Ronan rolling his eyes. “You’re supposed to be some kind of genius, Parrish.”

Adam was smiling so hard his face hurt. “Okay,” he said. “Just making sure.”

“Like I’d go without you,” said Ronan, huffily. “Like I ever want to do anything without you.”

There was no sweeter music than the Murder Squash Song, really. No finer love song. Adam started laughing.

“You’re losing it, man,” said Ronan. “Go back to sleep before you wake up the other nerds.”

“I love you,” said Adam. He’d never said it before in his life.

On the other end of the phone was a sharp intake of breath. Adam probed his brain for second-guessing or fear and was surprised to find none. He stood by it. He’d say it again.

He was opening his mouth to say it again when Ronan cleared his throat. “Me too,” he said, and in his voice Adam could hear the entire roar of the Barns in the morning, the whole round revving of an engine. “Yes,” Ronan said. “That. Obviously. You fucker.”