“Did I wake up in a scifi movie and no one told me?” Adam asks. He drops down next to Ronan at their usual corner of one of the long dark lunch tables. Their shoulders brush as he leans over the bench and Ronan pulls away. Adam spares him a slightly disparaging look.
Ronan tosses a tater tot in the air and catches it in his mouth. Tater tots, he feels, are always a joyous occasion, and sometimes the only things that make Mondays worth it. “I can’t tell you that,” he says, chewing loudly. “It’s against the body snatcher code.”
Adam rolls his eyes. “Seriously. Suddenly everyone’s into flowers and Cumberbatch or whatever.”
“Cumberbunds.” Gansey says, sitting down opposite them. “Though I don’t know why. Those are feeling a bit dated.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Ronan says. “He was okay in the Star Tours movie.”
“Star Trek,” Adam corrects him. Ronan looks up at him, and then at Gansey, who looks just as curious as he feels. Adam ducks his head. “I pay attention to things!”
“Sure you do, Parrish.” Ronan pulls his eyes away from Adam and pops another tater tot into his mouth. He stirs at the soup of salad dressing and limp lettuce in the corner of his tray.
Adam watches him for a moment. “Right, whatever. I’m just saying, it’s all a bit spooky.”
Gansey shrugs. “It happens every year.”
“Spring formal,” Ronan intones, going for his best post-apocalyptic voice over voice. “The one time a year we can all compare actual humans we paid to spend time with instead of all the other things we buy to make our lives feel less empty.”
Adam barks out a laugh that seems to surprise even him and he covers his mouth with his hand. Ronan can feel the pleasure of that laugh and having been the one to cause it building in his gut and threatening to bloom up onto his cheeks. Gansey eyes the two of them with a raised eyebrow. Ronan ignores it.
“Hey gang!” Henry Cheng drops into the empty seat next to Gansey. Ronan raises an eyebrow of his own.
“Cheng,” Adam says with a small nod.
Henry gives Adam a wide smile. Ronan wants to kick him.
“Hadn’t seen any of you at the registration table yet. There’s only a few days to get tickets for you and your townie ladies.”
Adam frowns at this and Ronan’s mood lightens just a bit.
Henry continues undeterred, leveling a bright-eyed look at Gansey. “You’ll have someone surely, Dick. Since you’re so much more sociable than your friends here?”
The lift of the question is interesting to Ronan. He hazards a sideways glance at Adam, who is carefully choosing the perfect slightly crushed potato chip to eat next.
Gansey’s voice is a study in bored politeness. “We’ll see. I haven’t really thought about it.”
"That's not a no!" Henry is glowing when he stands up and claps Gansey on the shoulder. “You must, my man! Senior year! You don’t want to miss out on the memories!” He leans in close and stage whispers, “I can find you someone if you like. Nice, polite, attractive young man like you. Girls eat that shit up.”
Adam chokes on his milk. Ronan lets himself laugh loud and ugly.
That afternoon Ronan is fiddling with the radio stations in the Pig when he hears Adam mumble something over the white noise of the static and the engine hum. He clicks the radio off.
“What?” It comes out more accusing than he means it to. He searches for Adam’s eyes in the rear view mirror.
Adam is looking out his small window. “I don’t care if you ask Blue.”
Gansey hits the brakes a little harder than their slow approach to the stop light really requires. “I couldn’t,” he says, with what Ronan knows is valiant effort.
Adam shrugs. “I don’t care, she’s not mine or anything. You obviously want to.”
“She would stab all of us if she even knew we were having this conversation.” Gansey eases forward as the light goes green.
“Hey,” Ronan says. “She has a knife now and I am not a part of this.”
“Too late.” Adam smirks. He meets Ronan’s eyes in the mirror finally. “You’re an accomplice now.”
“To rank misogyny,” Gansey says, but his lips are quirked in a small, secret smile that Ronan hasn’t seen in quite some time.
* * *
“Pizza snob,” Ronan says, feeding a piece of sausage to Chainsaw.
Blue laughs. “Seriously? The boy who spends twenty dollars on soap is calling me a snob.”
“My skin is very sensitive.” The disdain in Ronan’s voice is so pointed it might as well be real, even if it's not. Sometimes Adam can't tell. He laughs anyway and Ronan glares at him, but looks away as soon as Adam meets the glare head on. A comfortable quiet settles over the four of them as they turn back to their food and their homework.
After a few minutes Ronan says, “Parrish, can you show me that Trig thing?”
Adam raises his eyebrows in question and Ronan tilts his head slightly toward Gansey. Adam looks at Gansey and it takes him a minute to understand, but then he notices the thoughtful way in which Gansey is looking at Blue. Adam gives a grunt of affirmation and scrambles up off the floor and toward Ronan’s room.
He sits on the edge of Ronan’s bed and watches as Ronan scoots in behind him with Chainsaw flapping at his heels. She settles into her cage and uses her beak to pick at her wings. Ronan pulls the door almost closed and leans against the thin strip of wall between the doorframe and his desk with his ear to the opening.
“Ronan,” Adam says, trying to snag his attention, needing suddenly to be seen.
There’s a restlessness building in him and he can’t tell if it has to do with the Gansey-and-Blue situation or the him-and-Ronan non-situation. Ronan holds his finger up to his lips. Adam sighs and pushes himself up again. He rests his hip against the corner of the desk, leaving only an inch or so between them. “I promise, if it gets good we won’t have to strain to hear it.”
As if on cue Blue shrilly complains, “He said it was okay!? I’m not a t-shirt you assholes can pass around!”
Adam bites down on his lip to keep the laugh from escaping his throat. Their lives are grand and strange and unpredictable. It forces him to take all the pleasure he can in the small, inevitable things: the sun slipping behind the mountains at night, the oil he’ll never get out from under his fingernails, Ronan’s heavy gaze, and Blue Sargent holding all of them to a standard they have yet to figure out how to reach. The laughter overcomes him and he shifts into Ronan, pressing his face into Ronan’s shoulder to keep it from getting any louder. Ronan jerks a little at the contact and shuffles sideways so that he’s in front of the door.
“Don’t you even tell me you don’t all share clothes like girls at a slumber party. I have eyes!” Blue’s almost yelling.
Adam’s shaking with it now, because Ronan actually is currently wearing one of Gansey’s crew shirts. He reaches over Ronan and slaps his hand down against Ronan’s other shoulder and the offending piece of clothing to tether himself. Ronan doesn’t flinch this time. Adam lets his hand linger there and he can almost imagine Ronan’s warmth branding some small bit of Ronan into him, like Ronan’s essence could seep through his pores and Adam might finally understand what it means to be impossible.
Suddenly the door is being pushed in and they both stumble away from it. Adam falls backwards and the only things that keep him from hitting the floor are his legs where they’re tangled up between Ronan’s and Ronan’s firm grip on his bicep.
“You jerks can come out now,” Blue says. “I said yes.”
Ronan looks back over his shoulder to where she’s standing in the open doorway and Adam gives himself a second to appreciate the curve of Ronan’s neck as it widens up into his jaw. It’s a part of the body he’s never noticed on anyone else before. He notices a lot of things about Ronan these days. Sometimes he wonders if it’s to try and return the favor of all the noticing Ronan does for him, but he thinks mostly it’s just selfishness and eager curiosity.
Blue is dwarfed by the size of the room behind her. She’s a paradox in her own right, an experiment in something so large taking up the space of someone so small. She peers in at them for a little too long without saying anything. Adam shifts his foot and the toe of his sneaker lands lightly on Ronan’s bare feet.
“Huh,” Blue says. “Nevermind.” She turns and flounces away.
“Huh,” Adam echoes, because now he knows he’s not the only one who sees what’s happening. He’s not making it up.
When Ronan turns back to him there’s a flush splotching its way across his neck and cheeks. He pushes Adam away roughly. Adam trips and falls heavily back onto the bed. Ronan looks down at him for several harsh breaths, red tinge becoming deeper. He lets out an exasperated sigh and trips back a couple steps before turning and escaping into the main room.
No, Adam thinks, not escaping, evading. It’s not Adam that Ronan’s afraid of. Adam doesn’t think he could scare Ronan Lynch if he tried, so it’s not Adam himself Ronan is running from. Ronan’s running from their tangled feet and their mingled breath and their unique, frustrating, argumentative them-ness. The very things that have been drawing Adam closer.
Adam stays where he is and opens Ronan’s Calculus book. He considers lying down and learning what it feels like to be Ronan Lynch, alone on this large, soft mattress in the middle of the night. He decides against it, but only because he’s afraid if he does he’ll never want to leave.
* * *
The marker makes light squeaking noises against the board. It’s the loudest sound in the room. Adam and Ronan spend a lot of time in companionable quiet with Ronan not ever being able to voice what he’s thinking—or heaven forbid, feeling—and Adam none the wiser. Adam probably thinks all of Ronan’s brain power is spent coming up with especially creative strings of compound swears or ranking which of their classmates he wants to fight the most on any given day. Ronan’s okay with that. It’s safer than Adam knowing what he’s really thinking about.
The floorboard pops, letting them know someone has opened the door to the main hallway. Both Adam and Ronan look up at the clock on the wall. It’s still early yet for the rest of the students to be arriving, even the ones who are only slightly less over-achieving than Adam. It turns out to be just one student who comes through the doorway, disregarding the sanctity of their early morning ritual.
Tad Carruthers sweeps in, tall and blond and perfectly put together, like he's already moved on to an important life outside of Aglionby's dark paneled walls and is gracing the rest of them with his presence as a form of community service he can put on his college applications. Ronan hates him, though he doesn't know why. Tad has never done anything to him personally. Tad usually takes Ronan's postured threat at face value. Maybe it's that lack of spine that sets Ronan’s teeth on edge. Or maybe it's not.
Tad takes note of Ronan and dismisses him almost instantly with a flick of his eyes before setting his sight on Adam. He sits down in Ronan’s desk, no doubt to add insult to injury, and leans across the aisle to where Adam has his nose back in his Latin text. Yep, there is definitely more about Tad for Ronan to hate.
“Thought I’d find you here,” Tad says.
Adam looks up and blinks at him for a few moments, as if he has to give his brain time to slide back into English. “Well yes,” he says finally. “We have this class together every morning.”
“True, true.” Tad laughs a little too loudly and then stops abruptly. He sits, back straight and rigid with his hands in his lap, expectantly waiting for Adam to comment.
Adam looks back at him and frowns. “Was there a reason you were looking for me, or…?”
“Oh, let me count the reasons,” Tad says a bit wistfully. “No, yes, okay. Oh, you can do this Tad.” He fidgets and looks down at his hands and then back up at Adam’s face.
Ronan abandons his marker and leans against the whiteboard with his arms crossed, because if this is going where he thinks it is he doesn’t want to miss a single eye twitch.
Tad takes a deep breath. “I wanted to know if I could talk you into going to the formal together.”
Adam’s brow wrinkles. “Are your friends not going? I guess you could hang out with us if you want. I can’t really stop you? Not that I think it will be that interesting for you.”
“You couldn’t be uninteresting if you tried,” Tad assures him.
Ronan is only mildly surprised to find he’s thinking the same thing. He feels a sudden surge of envy for Tad, of all people, and his ability to just be himself relatively oblivious to what everyone else thinks of him.
Tad clears his throat and looks Adam in the eye. His voice only falters slightly as he says. “But no. They are. I didn’t mean. I meant. I, well.” He looks down at his hands again, wringing his fingers together in his lap. “I meant like, together. As a date?” He keeps his eyes down and waits for the answer.
Ronan watches as several realizations flit across Adam’s face and click into place at once. His mouth twitches. “Oh,” he says. “Tad I–”
Tad doesn’t let him finish. He holds up his hand. “No, don’t say no. I couldn’t take it.”
Adam closes his mouth, but Ronan can see his jaw working with the things he no doubt wants to say. He can also see that Adam is clearly amused by this display instead of offended. That does something to Ronan’s insides that he can’t quite explain.
“Okay,” Adam says.
Tad’s eyes go wide and Ronan is sure his own face looks remarkably similar, just for a different reason. “You will?”
Adam shakes his head. “Okay, I won’t say no. But I can’t be your date. I don’t. I’m not…it wouldn’t be fair to either of us.”
“You’re as wise as you are pretty, Parrish. Don’t let anyone ever tell you different.” Tad pulls himself together with some effort and stands. He’s smiling, even though his face has fallen. Ronan can only respect such pig-headed dedication to his social mask. Tad checks his watch. “I’ll just, um, see you again in ten minutes and pretend this never happened.”
He laughs again, nervously, and backs out the doorway.
Ronan slow claps as he makes his way back to his desk. “That’s some tact, Parrish. Those trips to DC really are working out.”
“Shut up,” Adam huffs. Ronan can tell he’s trying to look miserable, but there’s some small amount of pride still clinging to Tad’s opinion of him. “I can’t believe he said I was pretty. Does that work on girls?”
“Yeah, well, whatever blows his skirt up,” Ronan says. He rolls his eyes and twirls his finger in the air dismissively.
“Don’t be an asshole, that took guts.”
“I’m afraid you have me confused for someone who gives a shit about Tad Carruthers and his WASP-y guts.”
Adam hums lightly and turns back to his text. They settle back into their silence, which Ronan considers unique and generally superior to most other forms of silence. After a few minutes the floorboard pops again and something occurs to him.
“Wait,” he says. “You didn’t say you weren’t going?”
Adam shrugs. “Henry has a point. It’s our last chance, you know? Anyway, they gave me off at the shop even though I didn’t ask for it, and it’s too late to pick up a shift at the factory. Some bullshit about the time of my life or whatever. God, I hope not.”
“Henry has a point,” Ronan mimics. “Are you sure you weren’t body snatched too?”
Boys start trailing in around them, bringing their boisterous conversations and shoving matches and other manner of thinly veiled aggressions with them. Tad comes in and doesn’t look at them as he skirts around the desks and settles into the back corner. Ronan almost misses Adam’s quiet reply under the rest of the noise.
What Adam says is, “It’s not like you’d be able to tell. You don’t know anything about my body, Lynch.”
And that, that sounds like a challenge.
* * *
Once they’ve been safely swallowed by the hand-me-down treasure chest Noah pops out from behind a rack holding up a dress so purple and with such puffy sleeves that Adam thinks it could be mistaken for a muppet.
“That’s not quite what I’m looking for,” Blue says. She reaches up and ruffles her fingers through his hair and he leans into the touch.
“Don’t be so self-absorbed,” Noah says, making a quiet tutting sound. “This was for Adam. Don’t you think it goes with his eyes?”
Adam scrubs his hand over his face and rethinks this entire plan while Blue laughs high and sharp. The bored woman behind the counter looks over at them with a furrowed brow. She pops her gum loudly in warning.
Blue takes the dress from Noah and holds it against Adam by the hanger. “It’ll be a bit short. Do you often have trouble with skirts, since you’re a giraffe?”
Adam tries to give her a withering look, but it falls short of intimidating from behind the purple monstrosity. “Do you often have trouble buying pants, since you’re basically a squirrel on stilts?”
“Yes,” Blue says. She turns away to return the dress to wherever Noah picked it up from. Adam trails behind her, trying to find men’s clothes amidst the racks of dresses and girl’s jeans. “There should be some cool stuff. It’s getting into wedding season.”
Adam stops at a rack of shoes. There’s a pair just at the bottom made of shiny black leather with rounded toes. They look like a pair he’s seen Gansey wear to his mother’s functions. They would make good interview shoes. He stoops down to look them over and check for scuffs.
“Here,” Noah says from behind him. “To make up for the dress.”
Adam collects the shoes and stands. Noah passes him a pair of black wool pants. He searches them for the size and finds the Banana Republic tags still on them. They’ve never been worn. “Jesus Christ,” he says. “Someone paid one hundred and fifty dollars for these! Fuck, why?”
Noah nods, as if this doesn’t phase him in the least. “You should try them on.”
Adam figures it can’t hurt. He has to be here until Blue finishes anyway. He finds the stalls in the back of the store and slips into one, yanking the rough red curtain closed behind him. The pants seem to fit alright when he gets them on. He slides his feet into the shoes and ducks back out to check everything in the full-length mirror propped up against the wall.
He feels ridiculous standing within plain view of anyone with his shirt pulled up over his stomach, but that feeling gives in to vanity when he actually looks at himself. The cut on the legs is slim. They fall neatly just over the tops of the shoes. He runs a hand over his thigh testing the material. It’s soft and full in a way that feels rich to him. New, never worn, and expensive, they’re not the sort of thing someone like Adam Parrish should be wearing. They’re the sort of thing Ronan or Gansey would wear without even thinking about how much food could be bought for the same price instead. He wants to be the sort of person who would wear them. He wants them.
There’s a wolf whistle from behind him. Noah has his hands on his hips, lips still pursed with the threat of another whistle. Blue has her hands over her mouth, several dresses in different shades of reds, greens, and blues draped in the crooks of her elbows.
“Holy shit,” she says.
“Right?” Noah agrees. “I might not have bought new clothes in seven years, but I know what I’m doing.”
“How did you even know what size to get?” Adam asks.
“I didn’t. But Ronan does, so I could find the information when I needed it.”
Blue giggles at this like it’s hilarious. Adam does not think it’s hilarious, but he’s not surprised either. There’ve been plenty of times when Ronan was left alone with Adam’s dirty laundry or a pair of jeans dropped on the edge of a pond, and Ronan is very observant. Adam takes another look at himself in the mirror. A boy in pants like these might be worthy of Ronan’s attentions.
“Don’t wander off,” Blue says. “You have to look at these with me.”
“I don’t know anything about dresses,” Adam says, as he ducks back into his stall to put on his beat up, Parrish-appropriate jeans and sneakers.
Adam changes and waits with Noah as Blue tries things on and dismisses them without coming out to show them off. Noah looks at him for a long moment. Adam rubs at his cheek, worried he missed some grease. “What? What is it?”
Noah tilts his head. “You already are, you know.”
“I am what?”
Just then Blue finally comes out. “Zip this up.”
Adam does as she asks, careful not to catch her hair in the zipper, and watches as she turns in front of the mirror. The dress is a light green satin. It fits her snug in the hips and chest. He’s always been attracted to her, but he’s never seen her wear anything actually designed solely to make her attractive. She looks so different it’s almost unsettling. Noah steps forward and pets the skirt to straighten it out where it flares around her knees.
“What do you think?” she says.
Noah tilts his forehead into hers and grins. She shivers at his touch and grins back.
“That’s, it’s really pretty,” Adam says, which is a wholly underwhelming response. He doesn’t know how to say it any better, though. Not in a way that doesn’t completely ignore the boundaries she’s set for them.
Blue seems to understand. “Thank you,” she says. “I can’t wait to rip it up!”
Noah claps his hands in anticipation. Adam shakes his head and unzips her again so she can go try on something else. He pulls out his wallet to see if he can afford the deep discount price on the Lynch-worthy pants.
* * *
Henry is currently leaning back in his chair with his feet kicked up next to the metal money box, nose stuck in the dreadfully boring Russian novel they’re reading in Lit class. Ronan gave up on it three days in and is now just making Adam tell him about it on the nights he stays over at St. Agnes. He’s been doing pretty well on the quizzes that way.
When Ronan and Gansey approach Henry sits up straight and puts the book down with an excited slap against the table. “Dick! I knew you’d come around!”
Gansey grimaces at the use of the nickname and pulls his wallet out of his back pocket. “Two please,” he says.
Henry drums his fingers on the table and doesn’t move to take the money or distribute tickets. He settles his chin into his open palm. “Mmhm, I just need her name or what school she’s from.”
Gansey looks to Ronan who just shrugs. “It’s Blue, Blue Sargent.”
“Bloo-bloo,” Henry says. “My, parents really are getting creative these days, aren’t they?”
Ronan rolls his eyes and crosses his arms. “Just one Blue, like the color.”
Gansey, who tells Ronan at least once a week that he should try to get along better with Blue, appears too pleased that he’s sticking up for her name. Ronan scoffs and becomes suddenly interested in the crown molding.
“Well, that’s less like a cartoon bear, at least.” Henry takes the money from Gansey and gives him two thick cardboard tickets. These are decidedly not handmade, but embossed with the same type of flowers as the banner. Ronan eyes them as Gansey slips them into his bag and makes a decision that is very Lynch-appropriate in its suddenness and rashness.
“Me too,” he says. “I’ll uh, I will also take two.”
Henry and Gansey both look at him like it’s their birthdays and Ronan scowls at both of them equally as witheringly. Only Gansey seems appropriately chastised by it.
“So, who’s the lucky girl, Lynch?” Henry’s smile is far too wide and it has an unsettling effect when paired with his hair. It would make Ronan nervous if it didn’t make him hate Henry so much.
Ronan drops a twenty and three ten dollar bills on the table between them and stares Henry down as he slips his wallet back into his bag. “Does it fucking matter, Cheng? Are you doing background checks?”
Henry collects the bills and makes a show of organizing them all the same way round before placing them in his little tin box. “Dick,” he says, looking up at Gansey. “Please tell me he’s actually bringing a person and not a raptor.”
Gansey laughs and makes knowing eye contact with Ronan. “I can make no promises.”
Ronan sighs, as if this is the most trying thing he’s ever had to deal with. “Are you gonna give me the tickets or not?”
“Steady on,” Henry says. “I do actually have to know what school she’s from if I don’t have a name. Administrative and security purposes.”
Ronan crosses his arms again and tilts his chin up, defiant. “Here. This one.”
“She’s from here?” Henry asks, face screwed up in confusion. It slowly unfolds again as what Ronan’s said settles into his brain. “Oh. I see.”
“Way to be heteronormative, Cheng,” Ronan says.
He holds his hand out and waits for Henry to deposit the two tickets into his open palm. Henry does so without comment. Ronan takes great relish in staring him down and watching him balk until Gansey grabs Ronan’s elbow.
“Thanks, Henry. We’ll be seeing you.” He turns Ronan away from the table and marches him straight down the hallway and out into the warming afternoon. Once they’re on the lawn he lets go. “You learned that word from Blue,” he says.
Ronan grins at him and slips the tickets into his Latin text. “She’s a smart girl. Always using her words as her fists”
“I wish you two weren’t so argumentative,” Gansey says. “Just, in general.”
He runs a hand through his carefully styled hair and looks around, lips drawn tight. All around them boys are lounging on the grass, studying and playing games of frisbee or soccer. Ronan figures that on its best days Aglionby works as a sort of Never Never Land, which also means that it can turn on you in a heartbeat.
“Does Adam know he’s basically your date?”
“Doesn’t have to be my date.” Ronan studies the sidewalk and adjusts his shoulder strap. “Just has to owe someone less money than he would have otherwise. It’s not like the tickets say Mr. and Mrs. Lynch on them.”
“Now who’s being heteronormative?” Gansey says lightly. “Surely it would be Mr. and Mr. Parrish, if anything.”
“Hand to god it was Noah who doodled all that on my notebook. You can tell because it’s in purple gel pen.” Ronan grimaces, finding the idea of gel pens personally offensive.
Gansey chuckles. He reaches out and gently squeezes Ronan’s arm. “I just want us to be okay. I want you to be okay.”
Ronan can feel his muscles tighten under Gansey’s touch, preparing for flight. Eventually he’s going to have to stop running from this, but not right now. He tries his hardest not to jerk away, thinking it will give Gansey more to dissect later if he does. “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”
Gansey nods and lets him go. “I can’t believe he said raptor. I know he was thinking more Jurassic Park and less Poe, but if he only knew.”
“Ravens are not raptorial,” Ronan says, trying to imitate Gansey’s professor voice. He wishes Adam was there to hear it, because it always makes him laugh. Adam gets to laugh so rarely. Ronan doesn’t generally think of himself as funny, but he would do just about anything he could to make Adam forget about his shit for even thirty seconds at a time. “Raptors have to sneak up on baby ravens in dark alleys to even get the upper hand. It’s why if I had to take a girl to a dance it would definitely be Chainsaw.”
“Do you think she’d cost less? Because she’s smaller?”
“Probably not, Blue didn’t.”
“Asshole,” Gansey says. He elbows Ronan in the ribs and heads off toward the Pig with a wide smile.
* * *
“Hey,” Adam says, trying to figure out what he could have done to garner more personal attention and how he can never do it again.
“Adam,” Tad responds pleasantly. “How has your day been?”
“Uh, just fine I guess, do you need something?”
Tad smiles at him, a regular, placid smile. Adam realizes that somewhere along the way he’s become unaccustomed to smiles that aren’t threats or dares or related to great discoveries. In that moment, Tad Carruthers is as alien to him as the jumble of numbers and letters is the first time he reads over his Calculus homework. Tad steps away to let Adam open his locker.
“As a matter of fact, I do. I was wondering if you could settle a bet for me.”
“Still not going to the dance with you.” Adam exchanges his Latin and History texts for his Physics book and the battered copy of The Idiot he’s reading for Lit.
“Oh, don’t even think of that,” Tad says, waving the fingers of one hand between them as if to clear away the lingering awkwardness. “I told you, I’m pretending it never happened. No, I need to know who your sharp friend is taking.”
Adam closes the door to his locker. “Ronan?”
“Unless you’re hiding another pitbull of a friend around here somewhere, yes, Lynch.” Tad’s voice has not slipped out of pleasantries mode, but something about the way he says Ronan’s name puts Adam on edge.
“Is he taking someone?”
“Oh, you didn’t know?” Tad says it in a way that makes Adam certain Tad knew he wouldn’t.
“I’m not Ronan’s keeper.”
“No, I believe that’s your other friend.” A boy Adam knows as one of Gansey’s rowing team mates comes down the hallway toward them and Tad gives him a high five without breaking their eye contact. Adam tries not to look impressed. “Word in the hall is, he bought two tickets.”
“You mean Henry told you.”
“We were in the hall when he said it,” Tad huffs.
Adam nods, mind running down a list of everyone Ronan knows. None of them seem like good date candidates. Not that Ronan seems like a good date candidate on his own, as someone who hates both being at school and wearing more clothing than is absolutely necessary. “I’m afraid I really don’t know.”
Tad cocks his head, watching Adam carefully. That’s something that is familiar to Adam, being watched like eyes could climb his peaks and valleys, gazes like exploration. “The thing is, apparently when Henry asked him for school information for the mystery date he said Aglionby.”
“Huh,” Adam says, because he doesn’t have anything else to say. His mind has gone suddenly and inconveniently blank.
“Huh indeed,” Tad echoes. “I pride myself on knowing all of the boys with differing proclivities in the school and none of them have owned up to being Lynch’s plus one. It’s simply eating away at me.”
“What are you, the gay Fagin?” Adam asks, exasperated. Tad continues to smile at him pleasantly, his face a clear pool Adam can see his own unease reflected in. And wait a minute. “You asked me to the dance.”
“I thought we agreed I didn’t.”
“No, I mean,” Adam waves his hand out toward the now mostly empty hallway, a physical demonstration of his frustrated ellipse.
Tad smirks. “Oh, please.”
“But you don’t know anything about me. I had a girlfriend. I really liked her, too.” That last part is more for himself than Tad. Adam does still really like Blue. It still stings, just a bit.
Tad looks at him with sympathetic eyes. “Those things aren’t mutually exclusive.”
The gentleness with which he says it surprises Adam. He let’s that hang between them for longer than he probably should. “Whatever, I need to get to work. I’m sorry I can’t be your informant.”
“I guess we’ll both find out on Saturday,” Tad says, turning away from him and throwing a wave over his shoulder.
“I guess we will,” Adam replies to Tad’s retreating back. But no way is Tad Carruthers getting the upper hand on him.
When Adam arrives at Monmouth late that evening Blue is there. She has a small sewing machine set up on Gansey’s desk and is using it to attack the strips of blue tulle and green satin she’s torn from the items she found at the thrift store.
“Are you hosting the Home Ec club?” he asks Gansey.
Blue turns around to shoot him a helpless look. “Orla was being too nosy.”
“Ah,” Adam says.
Gansey gives him a shrug and goes back to his homework. Adam picks his way across the the room to Ronan’s door and tries the knob. It’s unlocked, so he goes in without knocking.
Ronan is stretched out on his bed on his back with his legs crossed and his fingers laced under his head. There is something offensively industrial leaking out of his headphones. Adam can’t hear the words, he just knows that if he could he would hate it even more. Ronan is the only person he knows who can recline aggressively, as if he’s daring the universe to catch him off guard. This seems like a very dangerous game to Adam.
He softly closes the door to Ronan’s room and sits on the edge of the mattress. Ronan doesn’t open his eyes, but he pulls his headphones off and sets them on the pillow next to him. Then he reaches down without looking and runs the tips of his fingers over Chainsaw’s back where she’s settled on top of his open Physics book.
“If she learns it, is it as good as you learning it?”
“Birds are shit at Physics,” Ronan says. “Always flaunting their disdain for gravity.”
“So are you,” Adam says. “But I don’t see any feathers.”
“You haven’t seen all of me yet, Parrish.”
“Am I likely to?”
Ronan opens his eyes and looks at Adam with carefully curated disinterest. “Play your cards right and you just might.”
Now that Adam knows he has Ronan’s attention, has lulled him into a sense of normalcy, he changes the subject. It’s not fair, but very little about their relationship ever has been. “Tad cornered me in the hall after school.”
“I’m not your journal,” Ronan says. “Go tell someone else about the boys chasing you around the playground. I think Sargent is still here. I can hear her devil machine going.”
Adam sighs. He’s too tired to be dancing around the point after four hours at the garage with two hours of homework ahead of him. “When were you going to tell me about the extra ticket?”
Ronan sits up slowly and Adam knows he’s doing that thing where he thinks with his whole body. Probably trying to figure out what Adam wants to hear, but Adam doesn’t want to know what Ronan thinks he wants to hear. He just wants the actual answer to the question. Ronan disturbs Chainsaw with his knee and she takes off for his desk.
“I don’t know,” Ronan says finally. “Somewhere you weren’t likely to be too much of a shit about it. Lunch tomorrow, probably.”
Adam nods, because that’s actually well thought out on Ronan’s part. “What if I’d already bought one of my own before then?”
“You get paid on Fridays. Figured I had a few days.”
“To pluck your courage up?”
Ronan scowls. “It doesn’t need any courage because it doesn’t mean anything. You can pay me back for it or whatever. Just, you know, you’d owe me less for it than you’d owe Henry.”
“So you bought two tickets to a dance you don’t want to go to out of the goodness of your heart.” Adam tries not to smirk, he really does. He fails.
“What is this? The Inquisition? My heart is totally fucking pure if that’s what you need to know. Lighter than a feather and ready for heaven and shit.”
“Physics,” Adam says.
Ronan grunts in agreement.
Adam swallows. “So.”
Ronan crosses his arms over his chest and waits for whatever’s coming, affecting insouciance. Adam can still see his nerves fraying at the edges. There must only be seven people in the whole world who can pick apart Ronan so succinctly, and four of them are currently under this same roof. This ability feels like a privilege to Adam. A hard won privilege, but a precious one nonetheless.
Where thirty seconds ago Adam felt like he had the upper hand, he suddenly feels drastically unprepared for what he’s about to do. Probably because he is. His heart has started pounding loud and heavy in his chest.
He knows Ronan likes him. He knows he likes Ronan. Or, he’s reasonably sure he does at least. He wants to know for certain, because not knowing is starting to eat away at his attention and not acting is starting to eat away at his sleep.
He also knows that neither of them are capable of manifesting any sort of emotion in a way that most people would consider pleasant, so it’s possible that even though there is a ninety-eight percent chance he’s not actually about to overstep any boundaries, this might blow up in his face. No math class he’s ever taken has taught him just how large two percent can feel.
Adam lifts his chin to counteract his desire to look at his shoes. “Do you want to go together?”
Ronan narrows his eyes, lips slipping into a sneer that Adam knows is only armor, not an actual threat. Not for him. “What makes you think that I would not only go to school when I don’t have to be there, but also do it just to see your scrawny ass in a suit?”
Oh, only everything you’ve ever done, Adam thinks. He shrugs. “It was a calculated risk. I’ll be sure to pay you back for both tickets then.” He turns to leave.
Adam’s not actually going to pay for both tickets—what Ronan does with his ungodly sums of money is his own folly—but he knows that this trench between them is carved out of pride. There is nothing that will put Ronan Lynch into action like making him think his cunning plan has backfired. Ronan slides off his bed and wraps his fingers around Adam’s wrist just as Adam wraps his own fingers around the doorknob.
Adam lets go. Ronan doesn’t.
Ronan’s voice is soft with his resignation. “What you said to Tad. You said you weren’t gay.”
Adam turns back to face him. Ronan is looking down at some vague point on Adam’s chest, his frown a delicate pink crack in thin white porcelain. He tightens his grip on Adam’s wrist, fingers warm over the spot where Adam’s pulse rushes close to the surface of his skin. Adam wonders if Ronan can feel the way his heart is jumping.
“I’m not gay,” Adam says. “But that isn’t what I was going to say. What I was going to say is that I’m not interested in Tad. But it seemed unnecessarily rude.”
“It’s the same either way. You of all people should know I don’t want your pity. I don’t expect anything from you. Just take it. Stop being such a frustrating hardass and go be a stupid teenager for once in your life. That’s–” He takes a deep breath and looks Adam in the eye. “That’s all I want.”
Adam takes a step forward. He would be crowding into Ronan’s personal space if the concept of personal space still mattered between them. “I’m not gay. But I’m maybe not really straight either, and I am very interested in you.”
“Maybe,” Ronan says, dubiously.
Adam curls the fingers of his free hand around Ronan’s other wrist, closing the link. Everything has gone quiet. The music is no longer swelling out of Ronan’s headphones. Blue’s sewing machine has stopped running. Not even Chainsaw rattles in her cage. Adam leans forward. Ronan meets him halfway.
It’s somehow not what Adam thought kissing would be like. There are no fireworks. No brass bands pour out from hidden corners to crash cymbals in time to their heartbeats. He does not feel at all like he’s flying or falling.
It’s somehow better than Adam thought kissing would be. He feels tethered. He feels like his mouth was made to do this. The way Ronan opens his lips invites Adam to come home, so Adam slides his tongue across Ronan’s and does. When he pulls away the room seems smaller. He feels so large.
“Maybe,” he says.
From out in the main room they hear Blue loudly whisper, “Gansey, I think they’re making out now, it’s fine.”
“We deserved that,” Adam says.
“Maybe,” Ronan allows. He brushes a stray piece of hair off Adam’s forehead and then leans forward to kiss him again.
* * *
Adam answers the door in black trousers and a thin white undershirt that’s only half tucked in. When he sees Ronan a large grin breaks out across his face. He reaches out to haul Ronan in. Once the door is closed behind him Adam presses that grin to his lips. Ronan places both of his hands on Adam’s hips and then slides one of them up and around until his fingers are splayed against Adam’s lower back and pulling him closer. He forgets himself entirely and the jacket drops to the floor.
Adam breaks away and looks down. “What’s this?”
“Nothing important,” Ronan says. “Noah said you never found a jacket, so.”
He watches as Adam bends down to pick it up and holds it out in front of him to inspect it. It’s slim cut with thin lapels. The lightly shimmering fabric is soft like really expensive sheets and has a chameleon-like color that changes from dark blue to slate grey depending on the light.
Adam looks from the jacket to Ronan and back with a carefully blank face. Ronan can’t tell if he’s offended or hurt. Adam pulls it on and does a couple of the buttons up. It sits snugly across his chest and tapers in fetchingly at his waist, but hangs comfortably around his shoulders and hips. It makes the blue of his eyes look stormy and deep.
“This is,” Adam starts.
“It didn’t cost me anything, so don’t complain about it.”
“Your dreams cost you.” He undoes the buttons and steps forward, gently catching Ronan’s cheeks in his hands. “Thank you.”
“Yeah, well,” Ronan says, because he doesn’t know what else to say. Somehow, his usual jabs about Adam’s appearance don’t feel appropriate. Adam holds on to him, not moving forward, just looking Ronan over as if he’s cataloguing something. Ronan wonders if this is what it feels like to be on the other end of his own longing gazes.
His pocket buzzes and he looks down to pull out his phone. Adam backs away and removes the jacket, laying it across the end of his bed so he can finish getting ready. There’s a text from Gansey that says AT FOX WAY. HELP.
U DID THIS TO URSELF, Ronan texts back.
“What is it?” Adam asks from the bathroom.
“Gansey is being eaten alive by psychics.”
“He did that to himself,” Adam says, mouth full of toothbrush.
“That’s what I said!”
Ronan hears Adam spit into the sink. “We should probably go and save him or something.”
“I was going to let him live with his terrible life choices.” Ronan pulls Adam’s shirt off the bed and passes it to him when he comes out.
Adam takes it and pulls it on, but doesn’t get more than the top button done before Ronan steps closer and brushes his hands away, starting in on the buttons himself. His knuckles trail lightly down Adam’s chest and stomach as he works. “I can do that, you know,” Adam says.
Ronan ignores his bemused smirk. “Parrish, I really would like to get you out of these clothes, but since that doesn’t seem to be an option the least you could do is let me touch something.”
“It’s only our first date. I thought loss of clothing was a third date activity, at least.”
“Do you not count paying personal visits to people who want to kidnap me as dates?”
“Okay, maybe the second date, then.” He places his hands over Ronan’s where they’re doing up the bottom-most button. “And me too.”
Ronan’s mind shorts out for a moment. He honestly never thought this would be allowed. On his more charitable days he’d let himself think that maybe, just maybe, Adam would let him in a little closer, but that it would come with conditions. He’d known for sure that Adam would never want all of him. He almost doesn’t know what to do with the confidence and trust Adam has in him or the fact that he’s going to get everything he’s wanted since they’ve met. It’s too much.
Adam kisses him quickly as he tucks in his shirt. It’s not enough.
Ronan’s pocket buzzes again as Adam is tying up his simple black bowtie. When he pulls out his phone there’s a picture message from Gansey, but more likely from Blue, since it’s of Gansey standing in the doorway of the Fox Way kitchen looking politely terrified as Calla pinches his cheek. Ronan turns the phone so Adam can see it.
Adam laughs. “We’d better go save him, then.”
“What would he do without us?” Ronan asks, straightening Adam’s bowtie.
“Get utterly lost in the woods more often, probably.”
* * *
It’s a thought that still sends a small thrill through him. Ronan Lynch knows what Adam Parrish is capable of and still wants to kiss him. Adam thought, as he’d watched the whole situation with Blue crumble, that he was going to have to learn to lock parts of himself away so they didn’t frighten anyone. So he didn’t frighten himself.
Ronan has seen him and he’s not afraid.
When they pull up to the curb at 300 Fox Way the occupants of the house have all spilled out onto the porch. Gansey and Blue are standing on the steps looking like mismatched cake toppers, Gansey painstakingly put together in his black tux and Blue in her homemade dress. Maura is standing in front of them with a digital camera while Calla stands to her side with her arms crossed. Orla is spending a long, loving amount of time running her fingers down the lapels of Gansey’s jacket as Jimi fixes Blue’s hair. The younger cousins are running after each other in the yard. Gwenllian is running after the younger cousins snapping her teeth. She pauses to snap them at Adam, then laughs high and loud and runs off again. Artemus and the Gray Man are notably absent.
Adam closes the door to the BMW and Gansey looks toward the sound, his eyes wide in a silent plea. Ronan comes up behind Adam and throws an arm easily over his shoulder, leaning into him and grinning back at Gansey.
“Don’t get too comfortable back there,” Calla says over her shoulder. “You two are next.”
“Like hell we are,” Ronan says.
Adam shrugs out from under Ronan’s arm and starts up the yard. “We’re just here for moral support.”
Maura turns the camera on him and takes a quick, candid photo as Calla laughs and mutters something about accepting support before you can give it. Blue comes running down the steps and hugs him. “Oh my god, help us,” she whispers into his ear.
The dress she’s been putting together makes her look like a blue and green candy cane, but it’s not actually a bad look. The tulle gives slight glimpses of her skin where it’s doubled over and meshed between the green satin. Adam follows it up from her calves to her thighs to her stomach and the top of her chest. Her hair is curled and falling about her face. She’s incredibly beautiful.
“Looking good,” Ronan says, ambling up behind Adam. “More like a caterpillar than a maggot tonight.”
“You don’t look so thuggish yourself,” she says, and reaches up to pinch his cheek in an assault similar to the one Gansey took earlier.
Ronan smacks her hand away gently.
“Everyone on the steps!” Maura says.
Blue grabs Adam’s hand and pulls him up the stairs with her. The look of relief in Gansey’s eyes as he holds his fist out to Adam is incredibly bright. Adam climbs to stand behind Blue and turns around just in time to see Orla herding Ronan toward them as Ronan tries to stay a step ahead of her hands.
With the three boys situated around Blue, Maura asks everyone to smile and then starts snapping pictures. Ronan is standing stiffly next to Adam with his jaw squared and his mouth straight.
“You know what smile means, Snake!” Calla calls. “Just pretend the camera’s a small, defenseless creature you can devour.”
In response to this, Ronan bends down and pretends to bite at Blue’s ear. Adam grabs his elbow and tries to pull him back upright before there’s any sort of retaliation. Blue turns around and shoves him roughly, which makes Ronan trip up the steps. Both he and Adam sit down hard on the porch.
Calla and Orla cackle. Maura and Blue sigh. Noah shows up at Blue’s elbow and laughs and then gets roped into more photos once they learn he more or less shows up in the images. Maura brings the camera over to show all of them how he looks like a faded, superimposed image. Just a boy-shaped trick of the light.
As they’re all getting ready to leave Maura stops Adam with a light touch to his elbow. “Don’t you want one of just the two of you?”
“It’s okay,” Adam says. “I know what this asshole looks like.”
“Do you?” she asks.
Ronan comes up behind him and bumps his shoulder. “Gansey and Blue are about to head off.”
Adam turns to answer Ronan and the flash goes off again. They both look at Maura a little dazed. She turns the camera to show Adam the picture. The thing is, Adam knows what Ronan looks like. He even thinks he knows what Ronan studying him looks like. He’s caught him doing it out of the corner of his eye enough times. But in the picture Ronan’s face is completely calm. There’s a ghost of a smile. Ronan often reacts to and reflects those around him, and in that split second of a moment Maura has captured he’s reflecting nothing but the easy happiness his attention makes Adam feel.
She gives Adam that small, knowing smile all mothers seem to have and reaches out to squeeze his shoulder. “Have a good time, boys.”
Adam and Ronan climb into the BMW as the occupants of Fox Way disappear back into the house. Gansey starts up the Pig and Blue waves at them as they pull off. Ronan puts his keys in the ignition but doesn’t start the car. He stares at the steering wheel for a few moments before asking, “What do you want to do?”
“Well, I was hoping we could go to this dance thing,” Adam says. “Since some jerk went to all this trouble to make me a jacket with the magical properties to make me look decent.”
Ronan doesn’t look at him. “Ish, but you could look worse.”
“I am sure I look worse one hundred percent of the time.”
“Only ninety-eight percent of the time. Sometimes the light hits you just right,” Ronan says.
“Two is a surprisingly large amount of percents. Thank god for that light.”
“You know what I mean.”
Adam fidgets in his seat. He does know what Ronan means. He was hoping he wouldn’t actually have to think about it, that maybe they could just stay in this bubble they have and not give a shit about what anyone else will say. He knows that’s asking too much of their classmates.
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t want to out you to the whole school if you’re not comfortable with it.”
“Would you be comfortable with it?” Adam asks, because he’s honestly not sure. He feels like he should know the answer to this, if for no other reason than Ronan is always unapologetically himself regardless of audience, but this is a part of Ronan that hasn’t come up with an audience before.
“I don’t know,” Ronan says.
“Well,” Adam turns toward the center console and reaches across it to touch Ronan’s hand where it sits on the wheel. “We should maybe get some of this out of our systems then.”
He leans into Ronan’s space and kisses his cheek. Ronan turns his head so that they can kiss properly. He runs his hand up Adam’s arm and over his shoulder before resting it against his neck to hold him close. This is only the fifth time that they’ve kissed and every time they do something inside of Adam unspools pleasantly and makes him feel stretched and relaxed, like his bones might turn to string, like Ronan could unravel all of his knots with his tongue and his searching fingers. He wants that to be true.
Just as Adam is considering telling Ronan to screw the dance and take him back to Monmouth to make the most of its emptiness, there’s a knock on the glass behind them. Ronan makes a disappointed grunt when Adam pulls away to turn around. Orla is standing at the door making a circular motion with her fist that means for them to roll down the window.
Ronan turns on the car and hits a button that lowers the window on Adam’s side. Orla rests her elbows on the door and leans into the car. Her nails and halter top are violently orange. She smells like a fruit basket. Her smile is wide and full of straight white teeth as she holds her hand out and says, “Have fun and be careful, kids.”
It takes Adam a moment to realize that what she has tucked between her fingers are several square condom wrappers. He can feel his ears going red. Ronan reaches across him and plucks them out of her hand. “Will do,” he says.
The window rolls up again, forcing her back out. She smacks the glass and holds up her middle finger, but she’s still grinning and shouting something they can’t hear as Ronan pulls away from the curb. Adam looks at him, curious.
“What? It couldn’t hurt. It’s not like I have a stash or anything.”
“You don’t?” Adam asks. He’s never thought about it, but he honestly wouldn’t be surprised if there was a stash somewhere at Monmouth. More out of hope than intent.
“What kind of a boy do you think I am, Parrish?”
“Mine,” Adam says, reaching his hand out to rest it on top of Ronan’s on the gearshift. “You are my boy.”
He thrills again at the way those words sound coming out of his mouth. It’s thrilling that they’re even allowed to escape his lungs at all.
* * *
The Chemistry teacher takes the tickets of the couple in front of them, but when it’s their turn Henry Cheng appears out of nowhere and elbows the confused man out of the way.
Henry looks Blue up and down. “Ah, it’s you.”
Blue scowls. “Who did you think it would be?”
Ronan leans into Adam and whispers, “Someone he could properly duel for Gansey’s hand.”
Adam places his fist over his mouth to suppress the snicker but it draws Henry’s attention anyway.
“Ah, it’s you,” he repeats. “And here I thought Lynch had actually convinced someone he wouldn’t bite.”
“Not everyone’s as skittish as you, Cheng,” Ronan says. “Some people like it when I bite.”
“I’m sure,” Henry says diplomatically. “But I find it’s a trade off. People tend to actually like me.”
“I like Ronan,” Blue says. “I like all of them. They’re all here with me!”
“Jane,” Gansey says quietly, trying to regain some control over what’s happening in front of him. Ronan thinks it’s unlikely that Henry will fight a girl, even one who’s rarin’ for it, but for a moment he wishes Blue would punch him in his smug face. It’s unkind. The idea of it makes him feel warm inside.
“Of course.” Henry’s voice is chipper. His approval sounds completely genuine, which Ronan can tell just irks Blue more. “I don’t think I could come up with a more plausible explanation. Well, I have to relieve Cheng Two of punch duty. There have been nefarious elements eyeing it, you know. See you around!” He disappears just as quickly as he’d shown up.
“What on earth was that about?” Gansey says.
Blue, Adam, and Ronan give him three different incredulous looks.
They find an empty table in a dark corner and Noah materializes in one of the empty chairs. “This is great!” he shouts over the music. “Everything is so much shinier than I remember it.”
“Could use more streamers,” Blue says dismissively, taking the seat next to him. “It’s like the students weren’t involved in the decorating at all. That’s the best part of school dances, the decorating.”
Adam and Ronan settle down across the table from them. “I’m sure Cheng wrote that check to the decorators with the appropriate amount of enthusiasm,” Ronan says.
Blue rolls her eyes. “Just for that, you’re first.”
“First for what?”
“Like I told your fancy pants sentry, you’re all here with me, which means I get to dance with each one of you.”
“You do not want to dance with me,” Ronan says gravely.
“Why?” Blue pushes one of her curls back several times, trying to loop it behind her ear in vain. “Is your terrible personality catching?”
“It might be,” Noah says. “Adam, do you feel any meaner than usual?”
“I haven’t kicked any puppies, if that’s what you’re asking.”
Gansey, who is standing behind Blue with his hands on her shoulders, sounds very serious when he says, “Ronan would never kick a puppy.”
“Right,” Ronan says, leveling Blue with the look that usually bends people to his will. “Puppy-sized people on the other hand.”
“Come on, you might as well get it out of the way.” She stands up and holds her hand out to him. The song changes to something jangly and poppy that he would never listen to on his own.
“One song,” he says. He lets her pull him out of his chair, but not without making her really work for it. She almost falls over backward when he finally gives.
“A whole song,” she agrees, and tugs him out toward the crush of moving bodies at the center of the gym. He looks back in time to see Gansey’s smirk and Adam’s amused smile. Noah gives him a thumbs up.
Ronan has no idea what dancing is supposed to look like in public. He’s only ever danced in his bedroom with this headphones on or in his dad’s office back at the Barns. It’s always been a way for him to work off some of his more frenetic energies. When he’s alone he can just kind of let his body move however it wants, jumping a little and shaking his hips, letting his arms flutter and snake and paint intricate blurred patterns in the air around him.
That does not seem to be what the rest of these people are doing. What the rest of these people are doing seems too contained to properly be called dancing. He bumps into Blue and jostles her with his elbow. She bumps him back and they tussle to the beat.
The song changes from the jangly fast pop song to something slower. Ronan tries to sneak away, but Blue latches onto his collar and won’t let him go. “I get a whole song, remember? That was half, tops.”
Ronan gives her a long suffering sigh and lets her rest her hands on his shoulders. He looks around and tries to mimic everyone else by looping his arms around her waist. She is very short and it feels very awkward. Blue moves a little closer to him and it becomes a tiny bit more comfortable.
It’s strange to be looking down at her with all of his attention. They’re friends, sure, but it’s always felt conditional. Even in the cave, when he clutched at her tightly and gave her the ghost light, it was as much out of consideration for everyone else they knew as it was for her.
“So,” she says. “Are you going to dance with Adam?”
“Is it because you’re afraid to?”
She narrows her eyes, trying to peer into him.
“Yes,” he amends. “But not because it’s Adam. It’s all of this. He’s better than this shit, and I’m better than having to share him with it.”
A look he can’t decipher flits across Blue’s face, her eyes and mouth going momentarily tight. She shifts her weight and leans into him, placing her cheek flat against his chest. She’s warm and her hair smells like summer berries and tea. He tries to imagine wanting her the way Adam did. The way Gansey does. She’s pretty and fierce and stubborn and he knows he’s come to need her in his orbit. If she left he would feel her absence and he’s sure it would hurt. Ronan still isn’t a fan of lamps, but he figures there’s something to be said for the way they can tie a room together.
“I’m sorry the world sucks,” she says.
His lungs feel tight. He’s not actually worried about what any of these idiots will think of him for being who he is. It’s just that it’s none of their fucking business. It’s that Adam’s whole survival plan hinges on going unnoticed in most places. Ronan knows that accepting the kindness of the ticket is a big step for him. Accepting Ronan himself is even bigger. It seems selfish to push for more. Also, dances are still stupid.
Ronan shrugs. “The world sucked before I started kissing one of my best friends. That’s currently the least sucky thing about it. All the bigots and assholes who give a shit can go hang.”
“Fuck the man,” she says.
“Give me a few weeks to warm him to the idea.”
Blue smirks. “I won’t tell anyone you’re a decent human being if you don’t tell Gansey you’re a better dancer than him. I’ve never seen him dance, but I’ve seen him walk. It just seems inevitable.”
“If I do decide to hold that over him, it will only prove that I’m not a decent human being. You have no leverage here.”
She brings her hand up to twirl a fake mustache. “And I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for those pesky kids and their bird!”
“That’s the case of the Meddling Maggot, solved then!” Ronan bends down and hugs her close. Then he picks her up and carries her off the dance floor even though the song isn’t over. She beats at his chest and shoulders weakly in protest, but by the time they’re back to the table she’s laughing so hard she has to wipe away a tear.
* * *
He’s also quite pleased with the way Ronan looks in his tux, the lines of it doing nothing to smooth over his sharp edges. It just makes them sleeker, power and unpredictable belligerence contained in the silky lines, like the cars Ronan loves most. Like the cars Adam daydreams he’ll one day have. Maybe sometimes those do come true, one way or another.
He’s so deep in his contentment that he doesn't realize he’s no longer alone until Tad says, “I guess it wasn’t such a mystery after all.”
Tad’s snagged Ronan’s seat at the table and is leaning back in it, the front two feet off the floor. He’s also looking in Ronan’s direction with an appreciative curl to his lip.
“It was for a little bit,” Adam says.
“A boy can live in hope.”
Adam wants to be more annoyed than he is, but when Tad turns to look him in the eye his face isn’t malevolent, or even its normal state of haughty. Adam has been thinking of Tad as some sort of puller of strings, but he’s also just a boy who wants someone to like him. Adam realizes he probably has more in common with Tad Carruthers than he’s ever imagined. None of this makes him find Tad more likeable as a person, though.
Gansey and Noah return with cups. Tad pays no mind to the ones Noah places on the table. Adam wonders if they looked like they were floating, if anyone noticed at all. He spends so much of his time wishing he was invisible, but when it comes down to it it seems like it would be an incredibly lonely way to live. Noah sits down in the chair next to Tad and nods at Adam, as if to agree with his assumption.
“Gansey boy!” Tad says. “Who is that lovely girl? I don’t believe I’ve seen her at any other functions?”
“No, she doesn’t really go in for this sort of thing, usually.” Gansey places a cup in front of Adam and raises his eyebrows at him, asking if he needs to step in at all. Adam shakes his head minutely and Gansey smiles at Tad, relaxing.
“And you’re not afraid she’s going to just leave you for Lynch? They look pretty cozy.”
The four of them look over just as Ronan is picking Blue up by her waist and Blue is beating him about the shoulders. Gansey laughs. “No, I don’t think I have to worry about that.”
Adam can hear in Gansey’s voice that he’s thinking the same thing Adam was. How lucky they all are to know each other and have each other. Since Blue and Noah don’t ever show up at Aglionby it can be easy to think that school is separate from the rest of their lives. But it’s not really, it all coexists, just like Glendower and Gwenllian and Artemus and all of the other deeply strange things that happen to them. It’s okay if some of it bleeds together at the edges, that can only make things better, right?
Ronan rushes up to the table and deposits Blue in Noah’s lap. She wraps an arm around Noah’s neck and laughs into his shoulder, her whole body shaking with mirth. Noah grips her about the waist and uses his free hand to spring her curls up and down. Ronan grins at all of them until his eyes fall on Tad, then the grin slips from his face entirely.
“Isn’t there a meeting of Effete’s Anonymous you could be at over by the punch bowl or something?”
Tad wiggles his fingers in Ronan’s direction and drops his chair forward so he can stand. “You know, I think there may be. Have fun, Parrish.”
As Tad wanders off through the crowd of students Ronan sits back down next to Adam.
“How was dancing?” Adam asks.
“Maggot’s so short I think I have a crick in my neck.”
Blue sticks her tongue out at him. “Do you want your turn?” she asks Adam.
“Nah, why don’t you take Gansey. I think he’s waited long enough.”
Blue slides out of Noah’s lap. “How about it?”
Gansey bends slightly at the waist and holds his hand out. “May I have this dance?”
Blue laughs. “Yes, if you stop acting like you’re eighty.”
“As you wish, Jane.” He straightens up and holds his elbow out for Blue to take. They work their way through the crowd to the edge of the dance floor.
Adam, Ronan, and Noah watch them until Noah complains that they’re being boring and blinks out to find entertainment elsewhere. Ronan slides his foot sideways under the table until it’s touching Adam’s. Adam slides his back until he can cross it under Ronan’s and press his shin up into Ronan’s calf. Ronan looks down at his hands and gifts him with a small, hidden smile.
“So,” Adam says. “This is what school dances are like.”
Ronan takes a sip of punch and then frowns at it, as if it’s personally offended him by not being spiked. Apparently the Chengs are doing their job too well. “I still don’t see why everyone’s had their panties in a twist.”
“If television and terrible movies have taught me anything, that comes later.”
“You don’t have any designs on my panties, do you, Parrish?”
Ronan’s smirk makes Adam’s chest tighten with want, and it’s a small marvel to him how similar the feeling is to the want he’d had for Blue. They’re very much the same. They’re very much not. They’re both impossible and Adam likes the challenge of impossibility, likes having been able to touch it and make it possible, as if he could ever hope to leave a mark. Mostly, he’s learned, he likes it when impossibility deigns to touch him back. Ronan speaks loudest with his hands.
“What if I did, Lynch?”
Ronan pushes his plastic cup away and stands, straightening his jacket. “I think I’m going to take a piss.”
“I think I’ll join you,” Adam says. “Safety in numbers and all.”
Ronan nods in agreement. “Never know what monsters are waiting out there in the dark.”
Adam ghosts his hand over Ronan’s lower back as they turn toward the gym doors. Ronan picks up his step. They follow a crowd of students out into the cooling night. When the rest of them turn right to head to the bathrooms Ronan snags the sleeve of Adam’s jacket and pulls him to the left. They trip up the steps and into the darkened hallway of the Lit building.
They sneak past the first row of lockers and Adam can’t shake the feeling that they’re doing something incredibly clandestine. He realizes this is ridiculous, as they have done legitimately clandestine things that could get both of them arrested in probably most places in the world. But somehow being alone in the school in the dark, looking with intent for a place to hide away and do what they can’t do in the halls during the day, feels more daring. He grabs a hold of Ronan’s lapels and pushes him into a corner created by the end locker and the next door.
“Eager, Parrish?” Ronan arches an eyebrow and Adam can tell he’s trying his hardest not to grin. Ronan Lynch, badass in all things, except for the things that concern Adam Parrish. It makes Adam feel more powerful than Cabeswater ever has.
“What of it?” Adam uses his finger to tilt Ronan’s chin up and looks him in the eye.
He doesn’t push forward, struck suddenly by the way Ronan is looking at him. It’s different than the gazes Ronan has been giving him. It’s less guarded. There’s more certainty in it, more defiance. Adam doesn’t know whether Ronan is defying Adam himself to change his mind about this or defying the world at large to take this away now that he has what he’s wanted.
Adam can’t answer for the world, but he can answer for himself. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“You’d better not.”
“If I do, I expect you to know where to come and find me. I’m sure I’ll need saving.”
“How will I know?”
It’s an actual question and Adam feels his gut twist. Ronan trusts Adam, but he still doesn’t trust himself. “I have faith in you.”
“That’s all I really want,” Ronan says. “You’re, god I–”
“I’m not God,” Adam says. He’s joking. Ronan doesn’t smile.
“You know what I mean.”
“I do. Most of the time, anyway. I’m learning.”
“That’s also all I want.”
It’s funny to Adam that Ronan would feel an urge to be seen the way Adam often does. Adam’s always been certain that there’s not a person within a fifteen mile radius who hasn’t noticed Ronan or some minor destruction he’s left behind. But maybe that’s it. Ronan’s not his destruction. Ronan’s destruction, including his self-destruction, is just another form of armor, something hard and brittle to keep the unworthy from seeing him for real. Ronan Lynch thinks Adam Parrish is worthy. Adam can’t fully process the immensity of what that realization feels like, so he kisses Ronan instead.
If he’s counting, and he is, he can now count the number of times he’s kissed Ronan on two hands. It makes him feel a little more delirious every time. The more of Ronan he touches, the more of Ronan he wants to touch. This seems backward to what Adam knows about building up tolerances. He thinks that if they continue on this way he’s going to be in real trouble in a week or so. For now he just focuses on running his hands under Ronan’s jacket and pulling him close, pinning Ronan between his eager body and the unforgiving wall. Ronan, sliding his fingers down into the back of Adam’s pants, does not seem interested in forgiveness of any type.
After several minutes the top buttons of Adam’s shirt are unbuttoned, his bowtie lost on the floor, and Ronan is sucking lightly at Adam’s collarbone. Adam has his hands up under Ronan’s shirt and he’s almost lost himself to all of it, which is why it takes him a moment to notice when the hallway lights go on over them. Ronan freezes. Adam tilts his head back a few inches to peek around the corner of the lockers.
“Henry and Tad,” he hisses to Ronan. Ronan pulls his head back, but grips Adam’s hips tighter.
Henry is unlocking a room at the end of the hall and Tad is following behind him. “Reminds you of Lynch, doesn’t she?” Tad says.
“Maybe he has a type,” Henry replies, disappearing into the room. There’s some rustling and then he says, “Hold these.”
Adam looks back at Ronan who mouths, Blue? Adam mouths, Who else? Ronan pretends to look affronted.
“Maybe they both have a type,” Tad says.
“Parrish dated her too, I think. He said he had a girlfriend.”
“Huh, what does Parrish have to do with this?”
“He’s here with Lynch.” Tad comes out of the room carrying several bags of cups.
Henry kicks a huge package of silver napkins into the hallway and then locks the door behind them. He picks up the package and turns toward the main door. “Yeah, they all came in together, but then Lynch and Gansey both danced with the girl so I was assuming it was a money thing.”
“Maybe,” Tad says. “But I think there’s something else too.”
“I’m sorry dude, I know you really like him.”
“Hhhhhheartbreaker,” Ronan whispers into Adam’s ear, really leaning into the h so that his breath tickles Adam’s earlobe. Adam pokes Ronan in the ribs and Ronan bites back a laugh.
“We haven’t graduated yet. Lynch has two months to fuck it up.”
“And you’ll be here to pick up the pieces?” Henry asks, voice dripping in sarcasm. “How chivalrous.”
“Mother always said patience wins out in the end.”
“Does your mother go on your dates for you too?” Henry asks. Then the lights go out and the door slams shut behind them.
Ronan starts to laugh out loud and Adam pokes him in the ribs again. Ronan shoves him and Adam trips out from behind the lockers into the empty hallway. “What do you know,” Ronan says. “When you finally get tired of me Tad will be there to comfort you.”
“Ugh.” Adam retrieves his bowtie from the floor and shoves it into his pocket. “As if you not being around to be a dick to me would break my heart.”
“Wouldn’t it just?” Ronan’s mouth is still in its sharp grin, but his eyes are holding on to something else.
“You wanna get out of here?” Adam says.
“What about Maggot’s dance? She’s gonna be pissed she didn’t collect the full set of us.”
“I’ll make it up to her.” Adam heads out toward the main door to check and make sure no one will see them coming out.
Ronan comes up behind him, wraps his arms around Adam’s waist, and presses a short kiss to his neck just above his collar. “The Magician gets what the Magician wants.”
“I do, don’t I?” Adam says, just realizing that sometimes he does.
* * *
Adam’s removed his jacket and placed it in the back seat. The buttons Ronan undid on his shirt are still undone. He’s unbuttoned his cuffs as well and folded his sleeves back so that his forearms are visible. Ronan thinks he’s a total goner if he’s going to start mooning over Parrish’s forearms, but he’s not even a little bit ashamed by it. Those are forearms he knows and has studied, forearms that are attached to hands he would know in the dark, hands pulsing with the magic that flows through every part of Adam. Adam Parrish is made of magic, Ronan’s just the one who sees it most often because he’s the one looking for it.
He takes them off the highway and down a winding surface road that turns into a dirt road and ends in a clearing. Ronan pulls onto the grass and parks the car, leaving the headlights on. Adam climbs out. Ronan turns the stereo up before stripping out of his jacket and following him. To their left there are trees, dense and black in the dark of the night. To their right there’s a short field that ends in a mountain drop off and beyond that the stars hang bright in the sky, a tumult of lights crashing all around them.
Adam leans against the hood of the BMW, looking out across all of it. Ronan leans next to him and crosses his arms. He doesn’t have anything to say, so he doesn’t say anything. They stand together and listen to the pulse of the music as Ronan’s playlist shuffles between hectic elated dance music and angry guitars and something moody and French that makes Adam raise an eyebrow.
Ronan responds by elbowing him in the side. Adam elbows him back and soon they’re shoving and chasing each other into and out of the pool of light cast by the headlights. Adam tries to fake Ronan out by dashing to the left and turning back to the right quickly, but he only ends up tripping over his feet and landing in a heap in the sparse mountain grass. Ronan drops down on top of him and pokes him in the ribs in retaliation for earlier. Adam laughs, gasping and trying to roll over to protect himself. Once Ronan feels his point is made, he flops down on his back next to Adam.
The BMW is pumping a techno remix he found of the Swallowtail Jig, his father’s music clashing gleefully with the sheer noise of the electronic accompaniment that sets his shattered nerves at ease when he most needs it. This moment, he thinks, this is what perfect feels like. It’s a crystalline moment when all of the old hurts are muted to allow for new wonders.
“This is perfect,” Adam says.
“Have the psychics taught you to read minds as well as cards?”
“I don’t need to be a psychic to read you.”
“Really?” Ronan rolls over on his side. In the white light from the car Adam’s profile is sharp and stark against the black behind him. His eyes are closed. He looks settled in a way Ronan’s rarely seen him since the sacrifice. I did that, Ronan thinks. Not everything I touch breaks.
“Really,” Adam says, confident.
“What else am I thinking then?”
“You’re thinking about how incredibly lucky you are to know me. And also about how stunningly attractive I am. And also that we really should have gotten some food at some point.”
“You know, it’s not as much of a feat if you read your own mind.”
Adam cracks an eye open and peers at Ronan. “It was worth a try.”
“Hey.” Ronan sits up as the song on the stereo changes to something that comes in like metal cables twisting in the wind and then picks up with an insistent cello. “We went to a dance and didn’t dance.”
“No,” Adam says from the ground. “I didn’t dance. You danced with Blue.”
“Do you want to?”
Adam pushes himself up. “I thought you’d never ask.”
Ronan stands and reaches down to pull Adam to his feet just as the singer’s deep, incendiary voice breaks in, singing about fire and smoke and longing. These are all things Ronan feels at home in. He grasps Adam’s hip, tugs him close. They sway a little and take small steps. Ronan is paying more attention to the tight concentration on Adam’s face than he is to what he’s doing.
“Don’t think so hard,” he says. “Just move with me.”
“Says the boy who was taught to dance,” Adam mutters.
“If you’re waiting for me to do a jig you are going to be waiting a long time. Here, just.” Ronan catches Adam’s attention with a kiss.
Adam’s eyes snap up and then fall smoothly closed. Ronan pulls him closer so that they’re hip to hip and chest to chest. He slips his tongue between Adam’s lips and lets his body flow into any other spaces Adam’s left open. Adam has one hand on Ronan’s shoulder and one splayed flat against his back, clinging. Soon it feels like they’re one burning entity as Ronan guides Adam and pushes against him. To Ronan, Adam is all of these things: fire and smoke and longing. Adam is also home.
The song changes to something faster that calls for jumping and elbowing and probably some light drug use and about a dozen glow sticks, but they keep the same pace, timing their movements off each other. Ronan wishes that they could just do this in every part of their lives. Fuck undead kings and nightmares and scholarships and broken hearts. Fuck any sort of elation or pain that doesn’t have to do with Adam’s skin warm against his, none of it matters nearly as much.
As if he’s read Ronan’s mind again, Adam finishes untucking Ronan’s shirt and runs his fingers up under it, lightly tracing spirals into the skin of his hips and sides. Ronan trails his lips sideways across Adam’s jaw and down his neck. When Adam speaks the vibration buzzes through Ronan pleasantly.
“I guess this is the sort of thing they frown on at school dances.”
“One foot apart,” Ronan says into Adam’s neck. “Gotta leave room for Jesus.”
“Not to be callous about your whole faith thing, but Jesus can find his own dance partner.”
“If Jesus tried to kiss you I’d punch him.”
“Someone’s going to have to go to confession,” Adam says. “I don’t know much about God, but I’m pretty sure he frowns on people who pick fights with his son.”
“Shoulda taught him to box then, my dad did.”
Ronan kisses Adam on the lips again, and because he’s feeling foolish and young and triumphant, he dips Adam backwards. He goes too far and they both end up on the ground in a tangle of limbs. Adam holds his top lip where it got caught between their teeth.
“Am I qualified to tell if you’ve been body snatched yet?”
Adam hums lightly along with the song playing in the background. He pulls Ronan’s tie loose and uses his finger crooked in the loop of it to drag Ronan forward. “You’re getting there.”
* * *
“That was supposed to be in the trash,” Henry says.
“I think it was, technically.” Tad pulls a bottle of vodka out of the bag and holds it up in the street lights. “It just seemed like such a shame to waste it.”
Henry takes the bottle from him and studies the label. “As long as we did our best to dispose of it.”
“Were you going to any of the after parties?”
“Might. Might not. I hadn’t decided yet.” He starts off across the lot toward his car.
Tad follows. “You better decide soon. The whole night’s getting away from you.”
“The night started away from me,” Henry says solemnly. He peers into the bottle again and then decides that even taking one sip before driving would be irresponsible. Irresponsible does not get you into Harvard.
Tad hovers near the car, looking like he wants to lean against it but is unable to find any place he wouldn’t immediately slide off of. Henry smiles. That’s one of his favorite things about the car.
“We’re idiots,” Tad says.
“I just don’t know why he spends all of his time with such weirdos. He could clearly rule this place if he wanted to.”
“Lynch is the worst. Why do the pretty ones always have such terrible taste?”
Henry holds his bottle out towards Tad. Tad pulls a bottle of tequila from the bag and clinks its neck with the neck of Henry’s vodka. Henry wants to go to one of the many parties he was invited to. He wants to go up to his dorm and take a nap with this bottle. He looks at Tad who is way too perky for two am, every part of him still perfectly put together. Tad Carruthers is impossible. Not in the way that Dick Gansey is impossible, but in his own way.
Henry likes impossible.
“Hey,” he says. “Have you ever watched the sun come up from that abandoned drive-in in the hills?”
“No,” Tad says. “Have you?”
“No.” Henry opens the door to his car and places the bottle of vodka on the floor behind the driver’s seat. “But I think it might be a cool thing to do before we graduate.”
Tad slides his tequila bottle back into the bag. He walks around the car and climbs into the passenger seat. “Okay then, let’s do it.”
“Just like that?” Henry asks.
“Just like that,” Tad says. The glow from the radio and the instrument panel makes him look like he’s being lit from below in a cavern pool, drowning and still not one hair out of place.
Henry thinks he can fix that. He gets in and turns the car on, rolling the windows down to let the night air get the job started for him. The radio comes on, blaring the EXO-M CD Cheng Two had put in the player earlier.
Tad starts singing along. Henry hums along too as he pulls out of the parking lot. Impossible.