Blue stood on the second story landing of Monmouth Manufacturing with her knuckles hovering near the door. She hadn’t been this nervous about entering the space since the first time she’d been invited, but that was because she felt tied to Gansey and Gansey was tied to this place. She was not tied to Ronan, who was currently the only occupant of the warehouse, as both Gansey and Adam had disappeared to DC without them. Again.
She hadn’t been alone with Ronan since she left him there in the cave. Not that she thought that had been a wrong choice. He certainly hadn’t given her any indication that he thought it was either, but she still felt a little guilty about it when she thought of him alone in the dark. She didn’t know what she would have done if he hadn’t made it through with her, if she’d been the one alone in the dark with her mother’s ghost rising from the illusory lake.
They worked well together, the two of them, which is what she reasoned when she took a deep breath and knocked on the door. Ronan was the only person she could ask for this. Blue waited a few moments, but no one came. Adam’s car, the Suburban, and the BMW were in the lot, which meant Ronan had to be here. She knocked again and then leaned her ear to the door.
There was a steady, low thump coming from inside. Blue tried the knob, remembering the trick she’d seen Gansey use a hundred times to break into his own apartment. It fell open easily and she was washed in a blast of techno music, pulsing in the space and reverberating off the high ceiling before slinking past her to the freedom of the late fall morning. It sounded like a rave in a car factory. Or some kind of factory she was sure used heavy duty robots to spin things into place at high speeds. It was perfect for Ronan. She hated it.
Ronan was standing next to Gansey’s bed with one hand under his chin looking at a pile of stones he’d placed around the downtown area of the miniature Henrietta. Blue scrunched her nose up and slammed the door closed. The sound managed to puncture the drone of the music and he looked up, surprised at first, but his face settled into a lazy smirk and he nodded at her.
“You can’t just break into people’s homes,” he shouted over the music. “That shit will get the hounds released on you!”
“You don’t have a dog!” Blue cried. She put her hands over her hears. “Can you turn that down?”
Ronan shrugged and hopped over the rock pile to adjust the speakers that were sitting on the floor outside his bedroom door. There was still 100% more mindless, repetitive music playing than Blue would have liked, but at least she was back to not being able to feel her eardrums rattle.
“What do you want?” he asked.
Nine months ago she would have heard it as a jab, what do you want? Now she knew that most of Ronan’s venom was incidental, projected. People expected him to be a hoodlum because he looked like one when he wasn’t in his Aglionby uniform, so he played to those expectations to keep away people who weren't worth his time. Those people hadn’t seen him nurse a baby bird with eerie diligence.
She looked around, realizing that bird didn’t seem to be perched anywhere close. “Where’s Chainsaw?”
There was a croak from Ronan’s room and Chainsaw flew out towards Blue as if called. She landed at Blue’s feet and hopped around a bit, picking at the small white fabric flowers decorating the tops of her white walking shoes. Blue reached down to rub the top of Chainsaw’s head.
“She doesn’t like the music,” Ronan said.
“That makes two of us.”
“Did you come to check up on my bird?”
“Ha,” Blue said. She was sure that Chainsaw, like Ronan, could take care of herself if she really needed to. Ravens were startlingly smart creatures and since Chainsaw was a product of Ronan’s mind it was possible she was smarter than most. “No.”
“Did Gansey send you to check up on me?” Ronan asked, eyes narrowed. “Because I’ll give you $20 not to tell him about the Stonehenge replica until it’s completed.”
Blue tilted her head, considering it. “Gansey did not send me, but I will take your $20.” She looked again at the pile of rocks. They did not appear henge-like. “What are you doing?”
“Revenge,” Ronan said, as if it was obvious. Maybe it should have been. She was getting better at speaking boy, but sometimes she felt there were gaps in her vocabulary.
“I think you mean Re-henge,” she said, raising her eyebrows and trying hard not to smile.
“No,” Ronan said, though his lips quirked. “I do not mean that, that is terrible.” Then he broke and favored her with a short, sharp laugh that startled Chainsaw away from Blue’s shoelaces.
“What did he do to deserve this?”
“What did he do? He left us!” Ronan spread his arms wide to indicate the vast emptiness of Monmouth. It would have been more effective if Monmouth hadn’t been so cluttered with things, but Blue had to admit he had a point.
“Do you mean us us, or you and Chainsaw?”
Ronan scoffed. “As if Chainsaw cares. Gansey doesn’t clean her cage and he rarely feeds her.”
Blue let herself smile then. She’d never thought about Ronan carefully scraping shit out of a birdcage before. It was a quaint image. “I see,” she said.
“You still didn’t answer me, Maggot,” he said. “What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to ask for a favor.” She pushed the words out before she could think about how dumb they sounded. “I need to know how to drive the Pig. A stick shift, I mean.”
Now it was Ronan’s turn to tilt his head. “Why?”
“Well, in case we go some place together and something bad happens. I need to be able to drive too, to get help.”
“In case something bad happens to all of us?”
No, Blue thought, in case something bad happens while Gansey and I are alone in the mountains late at night not kissing. She wasn’t sure how much Ronan suspected, but she and Gansey had promised not to talk about it, so she couldn’t bring herself to say any of that. Instead she clenched a fist and said, “you never know!”
Ronan looked at her for a long moment. Then he pulled his phone out of his pocket and started tapping at the screen. The silence stretched between them as Blue began to feel more and more stupid for even asking. Of course he didn’t want to teach her to drive a stick. Why would he?
He let a small hmm out and scratched the back of his head before slipping his phone back into his pocket and disappearing into his bedroom. When he came back he had put on tennis shoes and his leather jacket and was swinging his keys around on the middle finger of his left hand. He kicked the stereo off as he passed by it.
“All right then,” he said. “Let’s go.”
* * *
She was silent, looking between him and the board behind the bank of registers. “I’m okay,” she said. It was a lie. She was starving, because she hadn’t eaten breakfast, because she had woken up early to get her dog walking out of the way and then rushed over to Monmouth. She also hadn’t thought to bring any money.
“Don’t be like Parrish,” Ronan said. “I owe you $20.”
Blue hadn’t thought he’d been serious about that. “Uh, okay then,” she said, and ordered a burger and milk shake, fully expecting to snake some of Ronan’s french fries.
It turned out Ronan had anticipated that as well, because when the tray came out there was a truly worrying pile of fries balanced in the center of it. He still told her to get off when she stole the first one, but she looked him right in the eyes and didn’t break contact as she dipped it into one of the seven little white cups of ketchup standing between them. Ronan took a bite of his burger and didn’t say anything else about it as the french fries disappeared from between them.
“So,” he said. “The first thing you need to know is that the BMW is going to be easier to drive than the Pig. The Pig is a stubborn cuss and the gearbox is made of molasses.”
“I thought you dreamed it back the way it had been,” she said, purposefully obtuse. “I didn’t know condiments came standard on American muscle.”
“The seventies were a weird time,” Ronan replied.
Blue couldn’t argue that. She wished she could. She felt like she should say something, like their roles demanded it. It was strange feeling comfortable around Ronan, but she was slipping deeper into that comfort as they sat across from each other and slowly worked their way through the food.
“Where are we going?”
“Is that a place or a geological designation?” Blue asked, slurping the dregs of her milkshake. The pieces of cookie were getting clumped up in the straw at the bottom and she had to suck so hard her cheeks went concave to get anything up the straw.
Ronan got up from the table and came back with a plastic spoon. He shoved it into the large hole in the top of her cup. “It’s a town.”
“I know I’m going to be bad, but I thought we’d find a field somewhere, not a whole other town.” She pulled the lid off and used the spoon to scrape at the delicious grey sludge at the end of the shake.
“You’re going to drive there, but we’re not going because you’re driving.”
“Why are we going?”
Ronan finished his burger and balled up the paper loudly. He grabbed another handful of fries. “Re-henge,” he said seriously, and then he shoved all of the fries into his mouth at once.
* * *
Ronan had been right. The BMW was easier to maneuver and change gears on than the Pig, and it felt like it had a lot less power, so there was less to screw up. She thought briefly of Gansey’s hand on her knee and stifled a blush.
Blue stalled the BMW out twice trying to back out of the parking space and once more trying to navigate it up the small hill they had to get up to exit the lot. When he started to guide her toward the onramp she freaked out for a moment and almost forgot the clutch pedal existed. The car shuddered heavily as she bullied it from first into second.
“Watch your mother fucking foot,” he said mildly. “You’ll just make more work for Parrish if you strip the clutch entirely.”
“My foot has never been near your mother,” she said, though it wasn’t true. Ronan’s mother was a lovely dream thing and probably did not deserve Blue’s insinuated slights. She shifted the car into third more smoothly. “You do know Adam isn’t the only mechanic in town.”
“He’s the only one I trust,” Ronan said.
Blue hazarded a glimpse at him out the corner of her eye. He was looking at a map on his phone. She thought about Adam and Ronan together in the cave, ready to disappear down a deep dark hole, possibly forever. The dynamics of their little group were constantly shifting, but there was something about the way Adam and Ronan had settled against each other that seemed more final than any of the other possible combinations.
“Well sure,” she said, pulling onto the highway and lingering on the shoulder, afraid of the car coming up behind her fast in the merge lane. “You’ll trust him with your life, why not something as important as your car?”
“Get over!” he shouted as the rumble strip started to rattle against the tires. The whole car felt too skittish for Blue against the shaking. “Just pull into the lane! No one wants to ruin their car by running it into this car.”
Blue did as he said. The car coming up behind her swerved around her, laying on the horn. The BMW had stopped shaking, but her hands hadn’t. “I can’t do this. You should drive. This was a bad idea.”
“All the best ideas are,” Ronan said. “Stay on the highway for six miles, then you’re going to get on 81 south and take that forever.”
“Surely not forever. That henge isn’t going to build itself before they get home.”
“Okay, an hour, close to forever.” Blue considered the problem presented by ‘close to forever’. How did one know one was approaching infinity?
By the time they reached the highway junction Blue had started to feel more comfortable. The road slipped away beneath them and she didn’t have to shift often if they kept a constant speed. Ronan groused that she was going too slowly, but since she didn’t actually have a driver’s license she felt it was better not to draw attention to herself.
“Oh, why didn’t you say something? I can get you one of those.”
She was sure that was true. She’d seen some of the counterfeits Kavinsky had left at Monmouth. It seemed that the only limiter on dream objects was the dreamer himself. “Some of us like to do things the right way.”
“You mean the hard way,” Ronan replied. “What is it with poor people wanting to break themselves?”
“Maybe it’s the rich people who are breaking us!” she snapped, thankful to be back in well-worn grooves.
“Please, rich people are rich because they take advantage of everything they can. You and Parrish and your god damned pride. Some people like giving other people things. Just let them.”
“And then what happens when those people aren’t there anymore? How are we supposed to learn to make it on our own? You can’t just trust that your sugar daddy’s going to be there.”
“God,” Ronan said, but he sounded uncharacteristically chastened. “I’m not going anywhere.” Blue got the distinct impression that the words were not meant for her.
“Sometimes we don’t have control over that,” her chest tightened thinking about her recently returned mother and Ronan’s parents.
Ronan didn’t answer. Instead he hooked his phone up to the connector cord trailing from the BMW’s head unit and spent some more time fiddling with it. A female voice burst out over the speakers, demanding that they just shake it off. It was a song Blue knew, a song she was fond of. It was the last thing she would have expected Ronan to keep about his person for special occasions like impromptu road trips with girls.
She ran her hand over the crest of the wheel a few times, tapping her finger against it to the ‘sick’ beat. When she began to sing quietly Ronan turned the sound up. Blue was ready to be indignant, to tell him that her singing wasn’t that bad, but the indignation was knocked out of her when he began to sing along as well, loudly.
Ronan’s voice was careful, measured. She’d heard him sing before, on their first trip into the cave, but it hadn’t been anything like this. He hit the notes precisely with clipped syllables, even when the song itself called for a sliding mess of sound. Blue raised her voice and made up for his carefulness with her enthusiasm.
When the song was over she turned to him and said, “who even are you?”
“It’s a question that plagues our times,” he said, crooked grin fixed firmly into his features. “Watch the road.”
* * *
“Oh, for the love of all that is holy,” Ronan said. “That pedal is there the whole time! Use it!”
Sheepishly, Blue pulled the keys from the ignition and handed them over. Ronan accepted them and got out of the car, slamming the door behind him. When Blue got out he was walking over to a small trail cutting a path up through the trees. There was a small placard next to it. She joined him beside it.
“What?” she said, because it was all she could think to say, confronted as she was by an explanation of something called Foamhenge.
“I know,” Ronan said. He bounced on the balls of his feet a few times, giddy. “I’ll race you.”
Blue opened her mouth to tell him there was no point, since her short legs and general apathy towards athleticism made his win inevitable, but before she could say anything he was off.
“Oh you did not,” she shouted, and sped after him. The cool air burned through her lungs. It felt amazing.
Her assumption had been correct. He did win, but only by just, since he’d slowed to a jog as they reached the end of the path. Blue burst into the clearing behind him and skidded to a halt. “What?” she said again.
“Jesus shitting Joseph,” Ronan said. “It’s glorious.”
‘It’ was a replica of Stonehenge, perched there on a Virginian hilltop. Blue had never seen the real Stonehenge, only videos of it on History Channel documentaries about aliens leaving universal Easter eggs all over the ancient planet, but what stood before them looked like a pretty competent depiction of what she thought she knew about it.
“Is this why you were playing with rocks this morning?”
“What?” Ronan asked, distracted. He waved his hand. “No, no. That was just because I was bored and Parrish has been hoarding rocks from all over the god damned place in his shit box. I didn’t know about this until you came by this morning.”
“Do I even want to know what you googled to find this?”
“I was just looking for attractions. You wanted to drive, I figured we needed somewhere to go.”
“Around the parking lot would have been fine,” she said.
“Now where’s the adventure in that?” Ronan shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket and started up the hill.
Blue watched him make his way right up to the closest pillar and reach his hand out slowly to touch it. She assumed he was satisfied by its foaminess, because he then began circling the whole installation, running his finger along the bumpy, weathered surface.
Instead of following around the outside, Blue marched straight to the center and tested the altar with her foot. It seemed sturdy enough. She climbed up onto it and looked out over the gently sloping hills of the landscape. She thought of Adam. I sacrifice myself. She considered whether she would be willing to give up any part of herself to become attached to the golden afternoon sun and the burnt fall landscape. She didn’t think she would, but stranger things had happened. Stranger things had happened to them.
Ronan spent several minutes going up to pillars and shoving his face right in close to them, as if daring them to convince him they were actual stone. When that didn’t work he joined Blue in the center. She looked down at him looking up at her. She felt powerful, suddenly, as if she stood on even ground with him and Adam and Gansey. Her mother had been right, it seemed, a slight shift in perspective really did make a world of difference.
“Looking good,” he said. “Maybe I’ll dream you some stilts.”
She hopped down next to him, taking the feeling of power with her. “So, where next?”
“How do you feel about dinosaurs?”
“How does anyone feel about dinosaurs? I think they’re amazing.”
“That is the correct answer.” Ronan pulled the BMW’s keys from the pocket of his jeans. He shook them at her.
“I think I’ve had as much practice as my nerves can take for one day.”
“Oh, thank god,” he said. “I was hoping we’d make it before sundown.”
Blue punched him in the shoulder lightly the way she’d seen Adam punch him from time to time when he was being a miserable cuss for no reason. Then she turned and started running as fast as she could down the path. Ronan barked out a hey! and started after her.
* * *
“So,” she said, over the sound of corrugated metal trash can being run across an industrial grater. “Adam.”
Ronan stopped moving. “Is a person we know, yes.”
“Do we though?”
“What do you mean?” He glanced sidelong at her, his lips turned down in a curious frown.
“I mean he’s something else, since,” she reached for a way to put it. It had been a sacrifice plain and simple, but it also didn’t sit with the ways she had previously thought about sacrifice, because he was still there with them, breathing and bickering and busting his ass to better himself and Cabeswater. “Since,” she said again, putting an unsatisfactory period on it.
“We all are, don’t you think?”
“Maybe,” she said. “But I still feel like me. And you and Gansey are still more or less as you were when I met you. I mean, you’ve gone through stuff, but you could always dream things even though we didn’t know, and Gansey is Gansey.”
Ronan nodded. If anyone knew just how Gansey Gansey was at given time, it had to be him. “And Adam is wearing a forest as a second skin.”
“Yeah,” Blue said.
When Ronan said Adam’s first name it sounded completely different than when he called him Parrish. Blue had thought maybe he always used Adam’s last name because he was further removed from him, the same way Gansey carefully used the boys’ last names when he was annoyed or taking charge. Now she was beginning to understand that he used it out of some sort of deference to the power of the word ‘Adam’. She pulled her feet into the seat with her and wrapped her arms around her knees.
“Do you talk about this with Gansey?” he asked, changing lanes and blowing by a minivan.
“When would I talk about things with Gansey?” she said.
Ronan rolled his eyes and was quiet for half a song. “Adam is...he’s trying,” he said finally. “He’s trying so hard not to scare us with what he’s become that he thinks we can’t tell how afraid he is of it.”
“But you can tell.”
“We all can.”
“No,” Blue said. “You can tell. You anticipate what he needs before he needs it.”
“That’s what friends do.” Ronan’s voice was so quiet Blue almost missed it under the sound of the music.
“Maybe,” she said, doubtful. “Earlier you said he was the only one you trusted.”
“To fix my car,” his trademark edge was creeping back in. “My car that was my father’s car. That is important to me. That I’m not just going to hand over to some yokel with a greasy rag like it makes him a professional.”
Blue knew she was pushing things, knew she should stop this line of thought because she was a good two hour drive from home by now and it would take her almost forever to walk back if she upset him enough, but she felt like she was on the brink of something important.
“But you trusted him with your life too, in the cave.”
“You trusted me with your life in the cave,” he said, as if that hadn’t also been special.
“I think,” she said, hugging her knees closer. “I think you should tell him.”
“Tell him that I trust him with my car?”
“Tell him that you trust him with your you.”
Ronan’s face slipped into a perfect mask of indifference as she watched. He reached over and turned the music up. Blue sighed and cradled her head against the seat belt. She watched the gold-green-blue countryside fly by them and wondered why love was such an impossible thing to define.
* * *
“Dinosaur Land was a very optimistic name.” Ronan was looking around at the tree covered lot filled with fiberglass replicas of dinosaurs set to no specific scale. Blue imagined them set around the miniature Henrietta. “Chainsaw would have liked it,” he said.
“It is on land,” Blue tried, diplomatically. “Even the shark and the ninety foot octopus, who I still think could use a monocle.” Near the chain link fence that bordered the parking lot there was a long, flat shark replica lying on the ground. A pair of little girls were crawling in and out of it through the teeth and jumping out and scaring each other.
“Do you think that’s safe?”
“Safer than an army of skeleton beasts, surely.” She started a slow walk down the gravel path with her hands shoved deep into the pockets of her hoodie. It was getting cooler out as the day wound down.
Ronan followed, keeping a few feet’s distance even when she stopped to read the handpainted signs. Their comfort had been destined to be short lived, it seemed, but now that Blue’d had it she kind of missed it. She tried to imagine what this might be like if she hadn’t ripped his chest open and shoved her hand in. And okay, she’d screwed up, but that didn’t mean they had to wallow in it.
“So,” she said, walking up to a velociraptor replica that was roughly the same height as her and throwing her arm around its slender neck, “who does my new friend here remind you of?”
The creature as painted a dusty orange with a tan underbelly and its mouth was pulled back in a rictus smile. Ronan looked down on both of them, wary. “That guy who gets eaten in that Jurassic Park movie?”
“Okay, one, you’re really going to have to narrow that down. And two, no, look again.”
Ronan frowned slightly and shifted his weight from one heel to another. He put his hand up under his chin, carrying his concentration the same way he had that morning. Blue took her arm from around the thing and hooked the corners of her mouth with her pointer fingers, baring her teeth and pulling her lips into a Cheshire grin that she hoped was a little terrifying.
“Oh,” Ronan said, “Kavinsky?”
“Five points!” Blue said, fingers still in her mouth. The little girls from the shark ran up the path between them and one of them screamed and pointed at Blue. Blue stuck her tongue out and chased after them for a few feet.
She wiped her fingers on her hoodie when she stopped to stand up and turned around. Ronan was still loitering by the Kavinsk-iraptor, brow raised, but there was a look of amusement caught in his eyes. I can do this, Blue thought. We’ll be fine. “Your turn,” she said.
Ronan craned his neck around for a minute, taking in the assorted animals he could see from where they were standing. “Oh, here,” he said, pointing toward the back corner. He let his hand lead both of them and shook his finger a little when they approached the giant sloth.
It was shaggy, with a slightly put upon look about its face. Its arms were reached out in what looked like an eternal plea for a hug. It listed to the left where the ground had settled under it. “Noah?” she asked.
“Damn,” he said. “How did you know?”
“Who else do you know that wants a hug that badly?”
“Have you ever tried?”
“Hugging Noah?” Ronan asked. “No, I can’t say that I make a habit of hugging my friends. Not even the dead ones.”
Blue waved her hand. “Boys are stupid. Hugs are great. Anyway, it’s super cold. Like hugging a snowman.”
“So what you’re saying is, if I’m going to start wait until July.”
“Hmm,” she said, looking for another dinosaur. “It might not be a bad idea.” On the other side of the park area there was a brontosaurus. It appeared to actually be painted blue, but there were patches of rust brown growing on it. Without thinking about it she grabbed his hand and yanked him forward. “Over here!”
He followed behind, letting her pull him, gripping her hand tightly so she didn’t slip free. When they finally stopped she didn’t immediately let go and he didn’t shake her off. It was a wonder touching someone so easily without worrying about what they wanted from you. Even if she hadn’t been pretty sure Ronan didn’t like girls at all, she knew he didn’t like her, and that made his contact so much less loaded than any contact she’d ever received from Adam or Gansey.
She held on for a few more seconds before giving his fingers a quick squeeze and letting go. He squeezed her hand back before letting her pull away. Blue felt like maybe it was forgiveness for her earlier clumsiness. They stood shoulder to shoulder-or rather, shoulder to bicep-and looked up at the head of the brontosaurus.
“I thought these didn’t actually exist,” he said. “Someone needs to update their signs.”
“What?” Blue asked, raising her voice, scandalized. “You mean I’ve been lied to this whole time?”
“That’s public school education for you,” Ronan said.
“Jerk,” she replied. “Guess.”
“Orla,” he said.
“I think this game is too easy.”
“Do people ever say that about Orla?”
“God, you, you,” she said, searching for a word and finally settling on the one everyone else always seemed to be using to describe Ronan. “Shithead!” She reached up and grabbed a hold of his jacket. When she punched him this time it was for real. Then she shoved his shoulder hard.
He tripped forward a few steps and narrowly missed falling over a low rope meant to keep him away from the ‘authentic replica’. “Ow, what? You assholes are the ones who made me drive her back to town from the lake. That girl has a very...singular nature.”
It was the most diplomatic she had ever heard Ronan be. It was a miracle. “You still shouldn’t say it like that.”
“Yeah, maybe.” he said, holding his arm.
Blue knew not to expect a real apology, but that was more than she thought she’d get. A further miracle. “I’m glad you did drive her back. I don’t know that Gansey and Adam would have been able to take it.”
“And you think I make a good sacrifice because?” There was a dare in his eyes, but she still wasn’t sure enough to meet it. Maybe Ronan didn’t want anyone. Maybe he wanted everyone. It was hard to tell when he treated everyone but Adam and Gansey and Matthew with the same level of disdain.
“There’s little you can’t deflect, right?” she offered. He regarded her for a moment before looking up and behind her.
“Aren’t you two adorable,” a woman’s voice said.
Blue turned around to find a short dark woman standing behind her. She had one of the shark twins by the hand. The little girl was squirming to get away. Behind her there was man, a little older and a little taller. He looked tired and he was greying at the temples.
“Don’t they remind you of us?” the woman said.
“Don’t bother the young people, dear,” the man said absently. “You know they don’t have time for us.”
“Nonsense, that’s all they have is time.” Then she leaned forward and stage whispered, “you hold onto that one. He’s a good looking young man.”
“Um.” Blue was completely lost. She wasn’t sure if she was supposed to be responding to these comments, rude and intrusive as they were, but everything that came into her head was rude in return and ended with ‘mind your own business’.
Ronan came up behind her and draped his arm around her shoulder. He was incredibly warm and solid through his jacket. “Don’t worry, ma’am,” he said in a careful accent, sounding much more like Gansey than she had ever heard from him. “I’m not letting her get to anywhere I can’t follow.”
It was true. He’d saved her several times now from assorted terrible fates. He’d wrapped himself around her to anchor her before she’d realized she needed saving. Maybe she was wrong. Maybe it wasn’t just Adam whose needs Ronan anticipated. Maybe it was all of them. Maybe underneath all of it Ronan was incredibly thoughtful and caring. She turned her head and coughed into his shoulder, trying not to laugh at the thought.
Ronan pulled her closer and brushed his lips lightly against her temple. She tensed for a second, but only for a second. It was possible this was something he’d been wanting to do to someone just as much as she had been wanting someone who could give it to her. They weren’t for each other, but they were with each other and they trusted each other. She felt lucky to know him, which was a thought that caught her totally off guard.
“Let’s get on,” he said. “We have a drive ahead of us. You all have a nice night.”
The woman beamed at them. The man had turned around to watch the other shark twin climb a stegosaurus and didn’t notice that they were going. The harried woman from the gift shop was running out to warn the child off the models. Ronan turned her around and they walked up the path together until he let her go to open the door to the gift shop. She eyed him suspiciously.
Even when he was presenting a fabricated reality Ronan didn’t lie. It was amazing. That was the sort of skill she wished they taught at school. Maybe they taught it at Aglionby to the future business jerkwads of America or whatever they were.
“What now?” she asked. It was getting late, the sun was sinking behind the mountains and painting everything around them in purple shadow. She should call home. She hadn’t thought about it in hours and even though her mom was back to keep Calla from rounding up another search party she still wasn’t immune to the talking to she’d get about being inconsiderate.
“Now,” Ronan said, rubbing his hands together and heading toward the giant teeth that made up the shop entrance. “We find dinner.”
* * *
They ate without speaking for about ten minutes before Ronan swallowed his mouthful of ham and said, “so, Gansey.”
“Is a person we know,” she replied, accepting the role reversal. It was only fair, really. If you were going to be a nosy jerk you had to expect to get it back.
Instead of asking any questions Ronan just looked at her, as if willing her to spill her secrets. He put his elbow on the counter and propped his head on his hand and watched her eat a few more bites of omelet before she put her fork down. She was slightly miffed that whatever he was doing was working.
Maybe it wasn’t just dreams that opened themselves up for Ronan, maybe it was the world. She’d always assumed that to be a side effect of having money, but if she’d learned anything over the last nine months it was that some people were just beloved by the universe.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I like him, but I can’t have him, so it doesn’t matter.”
“Is it? Or are you making it complicated?”
“I could ask you the same thing.”
Ronan turned back to his plate and took a bite of eggs. “Not knowing is the worst,” he said to the salt shaker.
Blue felt a little guilty at that. She did know. She knew Gansey would give himself to her completely if she would let him, if they weren’t worried about Adam and Glendower and a hundred other things. But also, she didn’t know if he would survive it if he did, so maybe she and Ronan weren’t in entirely different boats. “Does anyone else know?”
“Noah, but he knows everything, so it almost doesn’t count.”
Noah did have an uncanny knack for finding things and people out. Maybe that was a side effect of being dead. Maybe without all of a person’s them-ness to be concerned with they were more receptive to everything else around them. “Gansey doesn’t know?”
“Gansey doesn’t think I know about you,” Ronan snorted. “Even though I found him sitting on the floor of the bathroom with his phone. And even if I hadn’t, it’s completely obvious in the way he looks at you. But you know, he’s not exactly paying attention to the delicate balance around him at the moment.”
“Oh,” she said. She’d assumed Gansey and Ronan had just been talking about these things because that’s what she thought best friends did together. She gave herself a moment to feel flattered by his confession. “So, are you going to tell him?”
“I don’t know.”
He rapped his knuckles lightly on the countertop a few times, drumming out a now familiar beat. It was impossible to her how wrapped up Ronan was in that noise. Then again, everyone had to be wrapped up in something, especially if they weren’t going to be wrapped up in another person.
“It’s not the same,” he said, anticipating her rebuttal. “Not only do you know Gansey likes you, but you know he likes people like you. And we know Adam likes people like you. So.”
“That doesn’t mean he doesn’t like people like you,” she said.
“It doesn’t mean he does.”
Ronan took a drink of his soda. When he placed the glass back down he left his hand there on the countertop. Blue placed hers next to his and overlapped their pinkies. Ronan looked at her finger, but he didn’t move his hand. He continued eating his food with his left hand, which she found to be pretty impressive, until he had to take his right hand back to use the knife.
* * *
Ronan had put on music that sat on more neutral ground. Just something slightly rock-ish that Blue felt was probably made by guys and girls in impossibly tight jeans wearing large glasses. She didn’t mind it, but neither of them were too passionate about it, so all of the energy from before was left along the side of the road as they headed toward home.
“Do you ever think about forever?” she said.
“I try not to.” Ronan rolled his shoulders and stretched his neck as they merged back onto 64. They really had spent a lot of time in the BMW for one day.
“I’ve been thinking about it since this morning. Since you said close to forever, and that seemed like such an impossible measure. How do you know you’re approaching forever?”
“I think,” he said, “that we’re all always approaching it. It’s probably kind of a moot point.”
“Yeah, but we won’t get there, so it doesn’t mean anything. Like, if we could get there we wouldn’t need to define it, you know?”
“I don’t think Noah wants to.”
“That seems prudent.”
She laughed lightly. ‘Prudent’ was a Richard Gansey the Third-ism if there ever was one. Of course Gansey would wear off on Ronan and Ronan would wear off on Gansey. They spent all of their time together. Or most of it. They’d had a private, intimate friendship before her and probably would after her. Or might if they could all find a way to save Gansey. It was just harder to tell when they were standing next to one another because of all of the parts of them that were so shockingly different that people felt compelled to take account of first.
At one time she had resented the idea that Gansey had wanted her to be his, but now she thought it might not be so bad. It was always comforting to have a place to belong, and Ronan was still Ronan, for relative values of what she thought it might mean to be Ronan, so it wasn’t as if Gansey swallowed people whole. Maybe Gansey was a little bit of a mirror too, like her and Gwenllian. Maybe he reflected all the best parts of people back at themselves until they believed them to be true.
“What a wise young man,” she said.
“Nah, he still let me throw him out a window.”
Blue looked at Ronan’s pale profile glowing in the dash light. She started laughing. She laughed until Ronan joined in. She laughed until her stomach hurt. She laughed until she forgot how to breathe. She tried to get it under control, she did, but she laughed intermittently until they made it back to Henrietta.
* * *
Ronan sloughed out of his jacket and dropped it across the back of the couch. He wiped his hand over his face and then disappeared into his room. He came back holding Chainsaw under his arm.
“I know,” he said, tapping his finger lightly against her crown. “I know I’m a terribly absent father. What can you say, you become what you know.” He took her to the bathroom-laundry-kitchen and when they returned she was perched on his shoulder, a thin round slice of deli meat gripped in her beak. She dropped to the floor by the Henrietta Public Library and started shaking the meat apart and tearing it with her claws.
“Do you want to do this tonight?” Blue asked, indicating the rocks with a careless gesture.
“Nah,” Ronan said. “They won’t be back until the evening. I’ll have plenty of time tomorrow.”
She knew she should go. She could have Ronan drop her bike in the BMW’s trunk and drive her back so she wouldn’t be on the streets in the dark. She didn’t want to go. “Will you need help?”
“Yeah, of course. If you think you’d like to.”
“I do,” she said. “It only serves him right, really. Do you think I could…?”
She trailed off, not sure how to ask to be allowed to stay. Ronan didn’t need her there. It wasn’t as if they were desperate for each other, unable to let go. But the people they were desperate for weren’t there and it felt natural now to want to abide that emptiness together.
“Yes, absolutely. You can sleep on Gansey’s bed. I’m sure he won’t mind, and even if he would he’s going to be way less concerned about it than the hundred pounds of rock that will be there tomorrow.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket and tossed it to her. “Call your mom. I don’t need Calla coming after me. My own nightmares are bad enough.”
“Thanks,” Blue said.
Ronan disappeared into the bathroom-laundry-kitchen again and closed the door.
Blue kicked off her shoes and pulled off her hoodie. Then she sprawled out in the middle of Gansey’s large mattress and pressed her face into his pillow. She put the phone to her ear and waited for someone to pick up at Fox Way, anchored by the knowledge that Gansey had done the exact same thing before, feeling the distance between them slide off into an almost forever.