When Blue arrived at Monmouth, Ronan was pacing, looking furiously inside rooms and under tables. A cacophony of stomping and door slamming followed him as he moved through the house.
“What’s up with him?” she asked, sitting down on the sofa beside Gansey.
“He’s looking for Noah,” Gansey said. “But really he’s angry because we made a new friend today, and he doesn’t approve.”
Gansey pushed his glasses up his nose, and smiled a soft smile at her. Blue didn’t like it when he wore his glasses. He looked more human, more flawed. Less like the perfect shiny mannequin he sometimes resembled. It made her upset, though she couldn’t place why.
“Shocking,” Blue said, throwing her legs onto the coffee table.
Gansey shook his head. “It’s genuinely a miracle that he warmed up to you. You should have seen him when I tried to become friends with a boy from our Gym class last year. Ronan scared him so badly, he doesn’t even make eye contact with me anymore.” Gansey made a face that looked almost like a pout.
“I don’t scare that easy,” Blue said, glancing at Ronan. “What’s wrong with making new friends?” she called out to him.
“I don’t need any new friends,” he muttered. “Especially not Parrish.”
“What’s wrong with him?” Gansey demanded.
“He’s irritating,” Ronan said. His voice muffled as he walked into his own room and then emerged again. “Where is that fucking idiot?”
“What’s going on with Noah?” Blue asked.
“How is he irritating?” Gansey asked, clearly oblivious to everything else happening around him. He seemed genuinely offended on this Parrish’s behalf. “Just because he doesn’t let you bully him.”
“Ooh, someone who doesn’t let Ronan bully him?” Blue asked, delighted. “He sounds fantastic.”
“He is,” Gansey said, smiling widely. “He’s such an incredible boy. He’s in our grade and he works three jobs. And he’s better at Latin than Ronan is.”
Ronan snarled at Gansey. “No he’s not.”
“He’s almost as good,” Gansey said, waving an arm in the air to dismiss his words. “He’s such a charming boy. He saw that my car was broken down this morning, and he stopped and fixed it.”
“Well, it is polite to help elderly people,” Blue said, at the same time as Noah chimed in, “Did he seriously say charming boy?”
“Where the fuck were you?” Ronan demanded.
Blue was as surprised as he was. Had Noah been on that armchair the entire time? He was quiet and sometimes it was easy to miss him, but Blue was positive he hadn’t been in the room when she walked in.
“You’re so bad at hide-and-seek, Ronan,” Noah said.
“I told you I didn’t fucking want to play,” Ronan grumbled.
“That’s because you’re terrible at it.”
“Because you fucking cheat.”
“How do you cheat at hide-and-seek?” Noah pulled his knees up to his chest and beamed at all of them. “What are we talking about?”
“We’re not,” Ronan said. “Sargent. My room. Now.”
Gansey raised his eyebrows at her, and Blue could feel her cheeks growing hot.
“He wants me to help him pick out an outfit,” she whispered to Gansey, as Ronan continued glaring at her from his doorway.
Gansey looked alarmed at this piece of information, and possibly a little offended that his opinion wasn’t being asked. Blue was pleased with herself, especially picturing the look on Ronan’s face when Gansey brought this up with him later.
As soon as she entered, Ronan slammed the door shut.
“Declan is coming tomorrow,” he said.
“Yes, I’m aware.”
“You don’t have to be there, but I’m going to tell him we’re dating. At dinner. And knowing him he might just show up at Nino’s and start asking you questions. So, I thought we’d better get some of our facts straight.”
“Romantic,” Blue said, only half-paying attention.
She had never been inside Ronan’s room before. It was a strange mix of familiar and incredible. There were the things she’d come to expect - a floor covered with black clothes, a rack full of CDs, a perch for chainsaw. But the room was also filled with odd objects that glowed and pulsated. On his table sat a vase full of what looked like flowers made of coloured smoke. In the corner lay something that looked like an old set of bagpipes. None of it quite made sense. It seemed out of sync with the boy standing in front of her.
“Sargent, pay attention,” Ronan snapped.
Blue turned towards him, obediently. “I don’t have to tell him anything,” she said. “If he asks me questions, I can just say we don’t talk because we’re too busy making out.”
“That’ll probably gross him out,” Ronan said. He rubbed his stubbled chin. “Sounds perfect.”
“And if he keeps pestering I’ll just get more explicit.”
“For fuck’s sake, Sargent. Keep it in your pants.”
Blue laughed. “Relax, Ronan. We’ve been friends for months. I’m sure I can pretend I know you for a few minutes.”
Ronan didn’t look satisfied. She wondered why he seemed so on-edge. Maybe this Declan really was as bad as he made him sound.
She looked down at the clothes on the floor, noticing Ronan’s Aglionby sweater stuffed underneath his closet. It made her think of that boy.
“I met a boy from your school today,” she said. “We talked about you, and I…” She bit her lip, guilt settling in her gut. She’d definitely been flirting with him. It was why the information came spilling out of her; her own brand of special repellent against the disarmingly charming Aglionby boy. “I told him we were dating.”
“You what?” Ronan asked.
She couldn’t tell how he felt. He sounded angry, but he always sounded angry.
“It just slipped out! I didn’t know if we were telling other people or not.”
“We’re obviously fucking not. I don’t want this to become a whole thing. What if he fucking tells all the other guys in school?”
“But think of it this way. If he tells people, and Declan asks around, people will say they know you and I are dating.”
She was grasping at straws here. She knew that.
“Not if it was someone like fucking Kavinsky you told. All he’ll do is mess things up.”
“It wasn’t Kavinsky,” she said, rolling her eyes. “It was this really sweet boy. He was really…um…” she blushed.
Ronan curled his lip, disdainfully. “Oh. He was cute, was he?”
“He was alright,” Blue said, annoyed with Ronan’s mocking tone. She fidgeted with the hem of her dress. Then she remembered. “Oh! He was the one at Nino’s the other day. The one who fell down?”
She didn’t have to look at Ronan to know he’d stilled.
“Parrish?” There was clear incredulity in his voice.
“No, not that guy you hate. His name was Adam.”
“Yeah, Adam fucking Parrish. I know who he is.”
Adam was Gansey’s new friend? The one who didn’t let Ronan bully him? That sounded odd. The boy she’d seen looked fragile, delicate. Not like someone who fixed cars and worked three jobs and didn’t take Ronan’s shit. She looked up at Ronan. He was gnawing on the leather bands on his wrist.
“Is that a problem?” she asked.
“No,” he said, the words too hasty. “No… no problem.”
“Do you think he’ll tell other people?” she asked.
“Parrish doesn’t have any friends,” Ronan muttered. “Who’s he going to tell?”
“But even if he does tell, what difference does it make, right?”
“Right,” Blue said again, even though it felt more like Ronan was talking to himself.
“Parrish thinks we’re dating,” he continued. “That’s fine. That’s… cool.”
Blue watched him for a minute, then swallowed. “We should probably tell Gansey what’s going on, right? So he doesn’t hear it from Adam?”
Ronan whipped around so fast, she reeled backwards.
“Fuck no.” Ronan said. “That’s not happening.”
“Gansey is not going to play along with a lie. Just…” he exhaled sharply. “I’ll handle Parrish. Just leave it up to me, alright? And don’t fucking tell anyone else.”
Blue pretended to zip her lips shut, and then made a cross over her heart.
* * *
Ronan didn’t want to tell Gansey. If Gansey knew that Ronan had asked Blue to pretend to date him, then Gansey would get concerned. And if Gansey got concerned, Ronan would get a hundred million questions about it, and then he’d have to admit, out loud, that he was confused.
The reason he’d asked the maggot to help him was because he knew that she wouldn’t ask too many questions. Plus, she was the only girl he knew and he didn’t really have much choice in that regard.
Which meant that the only option he had if he didn’t want Gansey to go all Gansey on him - and if he didn’t want the rest of Aglionby to think the maggot was his girlfriend - was to approach Parrish and ask him to keep it a secret. But talking to Parrish was an idea so daunting, Ronan almost considered dropping the entire charade all together and letting Declan give him shit for the next three weeks.
But then he remembered that question Matthew had asked at dinner, about him and Kavinsky, and the way Declan had looked at him, with all that judgement and aversion in his eyes, and Ronan’s gut twisted. He couldn’t live through that again. He couldn’t stand Declan, but the idea of seeing that disgusted expression on his face made him feel ill. He wanted this to be as uncomplicated as possible, and it was already getting too complicated as it was. Time to tie up the loose ends so nothing got worse. If Sargent and Parrish kept their damn mouths shut, then he and the maggot could pretend to date, Declan would stop being suspicious, and everything could go back to the way it once was.
But that would only happen if Parrish kept his mouth shut. Which meant that someone would have to politely ask him to keep his mouth shut.
Blue fed Ronan the lines, and he memorised them as begrudgingly as he did everything else that was not drinking or racing.
He walked into second period barely a minute before the bell rang, and stalked over to where Parrish sat.
Adam looked up at him, confused. Ronan planted himself heavily in the seat beside him.
“I can’t stand Carruthers,” Ronan said, not looking at Adam.
Adam glanced over at where Ronan usually sat, next to chatterbox Tad Carruthers. Ronan didn’t have to explain. Most people couldn’t stand Tad. Resignation washed over Adam and he slumped down, resting his cheek on his palm.
If it was unbearable being around Parrish in general, it was about a hundred times worse sitting close enough to be able to see the delicate spray of freckles across his nose, the way his dark eyelashes brushed his cheek as he glanced down at his textbook and then up again, revealing those heavy blue eyes. The smell of grease that wafted off his person made Ronan light-headed. Ronan leaned back in his chair, trying to get away from the scent.
“You have a pen?” Ronan asked.
“Why do you need a pen?” Adam asked. His eyes were still glued to the board, his hand mechanically noting down Milo’s words. “You never take notes.”
“I want to throw it at that dick-head, Kavinsky,” Ronan said.
He flipped the bird at Kavinsky, who responded with a crude gesture involving two fingers and his tongue. Adam caught it, and made a disgusted face at Kavinsky before returning his eyes to the board.
“Pens cost money,” he said.
“So do shoes, but you still wasted your money on these ugly things.” Ronan nudged Adam’s shoes under the desk, and though Adam’s ears turned red, his expression remained steady.
“They’re not the only ugly things here,” Adam mumbled.
The snarky comment was so unexpected, Ronan forgot to be angry. “What was that?”
“I said shut up,” Adam said, a bit louder. “I’m trying to study.”
Ronan decided not to push his luck. He kept quiet for the rest of the lesson, miming things at Kavinsky whenever they looked at each other but he said nothing more to Parrish. Every once in a while Parrish’s comment poked at the back of his mind, tried to infiltrate his thoughts, but he shoved it aside and tried to bury it. Who the fuck cared what Parrish thought about him anyway?
After what felt like an eternity, the bell finally rang. Ronan threw his shoes up on the desk and watched as Adam carefully packed his books and pens away in an old but well-kept backpack.
“Parrish,” he said. “I need to talk to you.”
Adam’s serious expression laced with suspicion.
“It’s about Blue,” Ronan clarified.
Adam dropped his gaze. “Oh,” he said. “What about her?”
“She told me you guys met yesterday.”
Parrish rubbed the back of his neck. “She recognised me from Nino’s.”
“She told you about us?”
“She said you two were going out.”
“Did you tell anyone?”
Adam frowned. He side-eyed Ronan. “No.”
“People don’t know,” Ronan said. “About us. Me and her. I’m a private person. I want to keep it that way.”
Adam pressed his lips together. Ronan tried to read the look on his face, but failed.
“That means Gansey too,” he said. “He gets… you know. Well, he has a tendency to get over invested. I don’t want him to know about it until we’re sure about our relationship.”
The words sounded completely untrue and rehearsed to his ears, the phrasing and delivery not true to Ronan’s way of speaking, but Parrish perked up.
“You haven’t been dating for long then?” he asked.
Ronan faltered. “No.”
There was something cautious about the way they were both talking now. Ronan frowned. Adam’s reaction to this piece of information was… unexpected. Ronan hadn’t anticipated anything but nonchalance, so Adam’s interest in the matter was confusing. Maybe he was one of those people who enjoyed gossip.
A moment passed in silence, and then Adam nodded. Once, and then again.
“Ok,” he said. “Sure. I won’t tell anyone.”
He hadn’t expected it to be this easy.
“Thanks,” Ronan said.
“But you have to stop bothering me.”
There it was. Ronan clenched his jaw. “Excuse me?”
Parrish had his chin set. His eyes held that tenacious look that Ronan knew was his natural setting.
“Gansey,” Adam said.
“What the fuck about him?”
“Stop trying to chase me away from him. He and I are going to be friends, and you’d better accept that.”
Ronan stared at him. “Are you blackmailing me, Parrish?”
“No,” Adam said. “It’s not a condition. I’ll keep my mouth shut about you and Blue. I’ve given you my word.” He slung his backpack over a shoulder. “I’m just informing you. I’m going to be hanging around from now on.”
The smell of grease was still overpowering, and Ronan could still see the freckles on Parrish’s nose. Everything he was saying was making him angry, and the fact that his accent was slipping out with every word was making him even angrier.
Fuck you, Parrish, Ronan thought. You don’t fucking tell me what to do.
Out loud he said, “Is that right?”
“You’d better get used to it.” Adam said, giving him a cool look. “Because you’re stuck with me.”