Declan was already at the restaurant when Ronan arrived. Which, frankly, wasn’t surprising given than Ronan was an hour late. The restaurant was a fancy piece of shit full of lace and stuffy waiters, and Ronan gave the chandelier a disgusted look as he trudged his way to the table.
He’d hoped his late appearance would cause them to lose their reservation, but Declan was sitting at a table by a window in the back, his expression tired as usual. Bribes had probably been involved. Matthew sat across from him, and he waved excitedly at Ronan as he walked over. The youngest Lynch’s presence, as usual, was like a salve. The rage that was constantly burning within Ronan lessened.
“Hey, shit-head,” Ronan said. He ruffled Matthew’s curls as he passed him.
Declan smiled at him. Ronan grunted in response. He sat down as defiantly as he could. Declan’s smile faltered and then disappeared.
“You’re late,” he said.
“I came,” Ronan said.
Declan rubbed his eyes, but pushed the menu towards Ronan without saying a word. Matthew was already halfway through his spaghetti bolognese, but there was nothing in front of Declan save for a ginger ale. Ronan ordered, and Declan did too.
They ate in silence as Matthew chatted happily about school, his friends, and Declan’s rented apartment and his new room in it. Ronan thought of the Barns again. Being around his brothers always made the memories of his childhood home return with a vengeance. He missed it so much, it was sometimes physically painful.
“Ronan,” Declan said, breaking him out of this thoughts. “How’s school going?”
Declan gave him a skeptical look. He’d seen Ronan’s last report card. Ronan gave him a bored look in return.
“And Gansey?” Declan asked.
Ronan could hear the insinuation in his words. He shifted in his seat, balling his free hand into a fist.
“He’s the same,” Ronan said. He stabbed a piece of chicken with his fork.
Declan hummed and took a sip of his drink. Ronan glared at him.
“Anything else new?”
“No,” Ronan said.
Ronan thought of Parrish, and what he’d said about Ronan being stuck with him. “No.”
He was so predictable.
Ronan gave him a sharp look. “It’s not really any of your business.”
Declan’s eyebrows shot up. Matthew’s eyes widened.
“Are you dating someone, Ronan?” Matthew asked, excitedly.
Ronan chewed on his chicken mechanically. He wasn’t sure how to play this. He mulled it about in his head for a minute, then turned to Matthew. “Don’t make it a thing.”
“No way!” Matthew said. “That’s awesome!”
Declan wiped his mouth with his napkin, slowly. He kept his eyes trained on his plate. Ronan knew what he was doing - he was letting Matthew do all the talking. He knew Ronan well enough to know that Matthew was the only one who could get him to spill.
“Who is it?” Matthew asked. “Someone from school?”
Ronan felt that self-consciousness again. The same feeling he’d gotten when Matthew had, innocently as always, asked Ronan if he and Kavinsky were an item. He glanced at Declan. To his credit, this time his older brother’s expression was neutral, no judgement or disgust obvious from his gaze. But Ronan knew how Declan thought. He’d heard him talk to women in their church about people they deemed sinners.
“No,” Ronan said. “She’s a waitress at Nino’s.”
Declan choked on his drink. “Sorry… she’s a waitress?”
Ronan gave him a cool look. “Problem?”
“No,” Declan said, hastily. “Who is she?”
Ronan stuffed another piece of chicken in his mouth and chewed it agonisingly slowly. This was, after all, just a game between them.
“Her name is Blue,” he said, finally.
Declan’s lips twitched. “Blue?”
“That’s such a cool name!” Matthew said.
He could see the disbelief on Declan’s face. He thought Ronan was making her up. He would probably go to Nino’s every day of the week in search of this ‘Blue’. Why did Blue have to have such a fucking absurd name?
“Ask her to come to church with us,” Matthew suggested.
“She’s not religious,” Ronan said.
He realised, suddenly, that he and Blue hadn’t discussed what she’d say about her family if Declan asked. Declan would probably have a heart attack if he discovered she lived in a house full of women psychics who did tarot readings and owned crystal balls.
Actually, that would ideal. Ronan hoped the topic would come up.
“I want to meet her,” Matthew said.
“Maybe,” Ronan said.
“How did you meet?” Declan asked.
Ronan shrugged, lazily. “I’m in Nino’s a lot.”
“And you asked her out?” Declan asked, skeptically.
Ronan clenched his jaw. “Yes.”
“You approached her and asked her out?”
“What the fuck are you implying?” Ronan demanded.
Matthew twisted his napkin in his hands, eye flicking between them. “Guys,” he begged. “Please don’t fight.”
“Nothing,” Declan said, his voice cool. “I just wasn’t aware you did things other than fight with me and race that banshee Kavinsky.”
Ronan slammed the table, clenching his fists. Matthew let out a small wail.
“Why are you here, Declan?” Ronan snarled. “I mean, really. Why are you really here?”
“I have some work to take care of,” Declan said, sniffing.
He was getting defensive now. That was always Declan’s go-to response. When things got hard he retreated into himself. Ronan, on the other hand, always had his feelings so close to the surface that anything could send them rushing over.
“Work?” Ronan spat. “What kind of work?”
He could feel the anger now. Familiar and bubbling just below his skin. People were looking at their table now - giving them furtive glances and whispering amongst each other. Declan looked embarrassed. Ronan didn’t care.
Declan’s voice was clipped when he responded, “At the Barns.”
Ronan's heart stopped in his chest.
“What?” he asked. His voice sounded strangled.
“I got permission to go there,” Declan said, calm as always. “To tie things up.”
“I want to go as well.”
“Ronan, you know you can’t.”
“Fuck you,” he said, venom seeping into his voice.
“I’m trying to work it out so that you two can visit. But as of right now…”
“I want to see mom.”
Declan took in a sharp, long-suffering breath.
“I’m sorry,” he said, simply.
It was too much.
Ronan wiped his mouth with a napkin, got up, turned on his heel and stormed away. Away from Matthew’s worried expression, and Declan’s unchanging one. He stormed out onto the street, got into his car and just drove.
Kavinsky had once said that Ronan drove like the world was ending. That wasn’t true. If the world was ending, Ronan wouldn’t be driving like this - with the wind on his face, and the growl of the engine surrounding him. He’d be driving slowly, relishing the world for one last time. No, Ronan drove like he wanted the world to end. Like he knew that the worst that could happen was that he would crash, which didn’t actually sound like the worst thing that could happen.
He didn’t have a place in mind, he just drove. He let the universe take the wheel, let it guide him through the narrow lanes and wide streets that he knew so well. He let the town pass him by, not thinking, not realising where he was going till he stopped with a screech outside Kavinsky’s place.
As usual, there was a party raging in the apartment, the music loud. Ronan spotted Kavinsky and his two cronies smoking in the balcony, their chins tipped to the sky, the smoke shooting out from their lips.
“Lynch!” Kavinsky called down, raising a bottle of vodka in Ronan’s direction. “Didn’t think you were going to make it.”
“Neither did I,” Ronan said. He shucked off his leather jacket. Kavinsky let out a wolf-whistle.
“Gansey let you off your leash?” he asked.
The insult bounced off Ronan and rolled away, leaving him unharmed. He needed to get drunk, and he was willing to withstand Kavinsky’s harassment all night if it meant he didn’t have to think anymore.
“Yes, K,” Ronan said, his shark-smile in place. “Yes he did.”
* * *
Mason caught Adam as he was unchaining his bike outside school.
“You were hangin’ out with Lynch and Dick Gansey yesterday,” he said. Adam couldn’t tell if his tone held accusation or excitement. Maybe it was both.
Adam wiped the sweat off his forehead. He had work in half an hour, and the idea of being in the garage for four hours made him heavy with exhaustion. All he could think about was sleep, his hunger pangs and that odd conversation he’d had with Ronan Lynch that morning about keeping his relationship with Blue a secret.
“Yep,” he said.
“So you’re goin’ to do Plan B, then?”
“I don’t know,” he said. He and Mason walked side-by-side, Adam wheeling his bike slowly. “I don’t think it’s possible to get to the level with Lynch where he’ll ever trust me.”
“You’re not givin' yourself enough credit,” Mason said. “It took you one mornin’ to become a part of Dick Gansey’s personal crew. Imagine what you could do in a week.”
Adam considered this, flipped the thought over in his head. He still felt squeamish about the whole thing. What if Blue were to find out he manipulated her relationship with Ronan and broke them up? Was that really a good foundation for a new relationship?
But he couldn’t stop thinking about his run-in with Blue the day before. There was a spark between them, he could feel it. And Ronan himself had admitted they hadn’t been going out for long.
Adam wasn’t a person who did things halfway. If he was going to be friends with Gansey, then he was going to be friends with Ronan too, as hard as it may be to stand him. And maybe if, along the way, Ronan were to realise that he wasn’t the right person for Blue, or Blue were to figure out that Ronan was a complete asshole, then that would just be a bonus.
Maybe he could pull it off.
“Ronan Lynch is a dick,” Mason said. “He needs people to knock him down a peg or two. Don’t let guys like him underestimate you, Parrish.”
Adam nodded, feeling another wave of exhaustion wash over him. “You’re probably right,” he told Mason.
Mason grabbed his shoulder and shook him.
They walked together for a little bit longer, and then separated as Adam headed over to Boyd’s.
He opened up for the evening shift, changed into his coveralls and got to work on a Mercedes. It was painful, really, having to work on a car that was more expensive than possibly everything he owned put together. Adam liked to run his hands over the sleek finish, admire the handiwork that went into the engine and the interiors.
One day, Adam told himself. One day, I’ll be able to own things like this.
He liked to fantasise about the future as he worked. His mind could wander for hours about the things that he would own, about the way people would perceive him once he managed to leave Henrietta behind. Adam let his dreams float, ignoring the string that tethered him down to reality.
He was awoken from his reverie by a high pitched squawk. He lifted his head and then ducked as a raven came swooping through the air, only to land on one of the beams at the back of the shop. Adam clutched his chest, his heart racing.
He bent over, holding his knees, and then straightened up again to find Ronan Lynch at the doorway of the garage, surveying the room, a beer bottle in his hand.
Fucking brilliant. Just what he needed.
“I saw your shitty bike outside,” Ronan slurred. “Should have figured you worked as a mechanic.”
“Is that your bird?” Adam demanded. “It almost gave me a heart attack.”
“That’s Chainsaw,” Ronan said, gesturing with his bottle. “And she’s a she, not an it.”
Adam stared blankly at him. He’d really thought Blue had been joking about Ronan’s adamance to use the bird’s correct pronouns. He shook his head and then returned to the engine of the car he was working on. He heard the sound of Ronan’s heavy boots across the floor, but didn’t look up as he came closer. He tried to focus on the engine, ignoring the smell of beer that Ronan brought with him. It smelled familiar. Too familiar. Adam’s stomach roiled.
“What the fuck are you wearing?”
“Coveralls,” Adam said, tightly. “They keep my clothes from getting grease on them.”
“You still smell like grease all the time anyway,” Ronan said.
Adam felt a stab of shame, of self-pity. It was something he’d always been sensitive about. He'd even saved up money to buy nice soap, but no matter how hard he scrubbed, he still felt like he smelled vaguely of petrol and oil.
“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” Adam asked, venomously. “Like your girlfriend’s house, or literally anywhere else?”
Ronan snorted. Adam looked up at him, curiously. Ronan turned away and took a gulp of the beer.
“My girlfriend,” he muttered, bitterly. He took another gulp of the beer and hiccuped. “Blue is busy.”
“I’m sure you have other things to do,” Adam said, his voice tight.
Ronan grinned, showing off his teeth. “I am doing something. My brother is in town.” He lifted up his bottle and drawled. “I’m celebrating.”
“Clearly,” Adam said, matching his sarcastic tone. “Looks like a load of fun.”
“Not something you have much of, is it?” Ronan asked, gesturing at the garage. “There’s more to life than fucking school and all this shit, you know.”
Adam ignored him. He didn’t want to talk to Ronan. He didn’t want to listen to any of this. He plucked a wrench from his tool-belt and ducked back under the hood.
Ronan leaned over him. “What are you doing?”
“Why do you care?”
“That’s harsh, Parrish,” Ronan said, but he wandered away, looking at the grease-covered rags and car parts. “I thought you worked in the factory next to Alessandro’s.”
“That’s my other job.”
“Right. You have three,” Ronan snorted. “Where’s the third one then?”
Adam was tired of the back and forth. Tired of Ronan’s derisive tone, of his intrusion into the one space Adam generally got some peace and refuge from snobby Aglionby boys.
“Why the hell are you here?” Adam snapped.
“You know what really pisses me off about you, Parrish?”
Adam took a staggered breath. He was shaking now, rage and fatigue running through him.
“What is it, Lynch?” he asked, his voice low and dangerous. “What do you hate most about me?”
“I didn’t say hate… I said…” Ronan seemed to have lost track of his thoughts. He stood for a moment, squinting at Adam and then gestured at him with his bottle. “What pisses me off is that you’re fucking everywhere. Just every fucking where I turn, there you are. I can’t escape you.”
“Funny,” Adam spat. “I could say the same about you.”
“It’s not the same,” Ronan said. “You don’t mean it the same way.”
Adam felt another bout of fury - pure and white. Every day, Adam struggled. From his waking moment, he tried not to think about how hungry he was, how tired he was. How he didn’t have enough money and how he didn’t have enough time and how he didn’t have enough love. And then Ronan Lynch came traipsing in, asking him inane questions, asking him why he never had fun. Adam didn’t have any fun because he didn’t have the time or the energy or the company for fun. Nothing in Adam’s life had ever worked out in his favour, but one day it was going to. One day Adam was going to have a job, and a life, and a fancy car. And he wasn’t going to let his classmates and their low opinions of him stand in his way.
“No,” Adam spat, “it’s not the same. Because the reason you can’t stand me is because I’m not like you. You hate me because I study and work all the time, but guess what Lynch? I wasn’t raised with money like you. I have to work my goddamn fingers to the bone because I don’t have parents with money. I don’t have people who can send me to college and away from this goddamn town and people like you. If I want any of those things, I have to work for them myself. Do you understand?” Adam slammed the hood of the car shut. “Just get the fuck out of here.”
Ronan was staring at him, looking a lot more sober now. He swallowed, and then shrugged. Adam expected him to say something along the lines of you’re a fucking psycho, man or you PMSing, Parrish? but Ronan just turned and walked away.
A moment later, Chainsaw flew out after him, leaving Adam all alone. He let out the shaky breath he was holding.