The first time Adam hung out with the boys and Blue together was the first day of summer break.
It was one of those days where the possibility of adventure was more satisfying that the actual act of going out and having adventures. They all went for lunch to a sandwich shop, and then made their way to a dusty field a little away from Monmouth, where they spread out on the grass. The air smelled of sun-warmed mud, and Adam felt a strange sort of contentment within him.
It had been awkward to see Blue in this context. Adam had walked Blue to her home more than a few times, and each time it had been more than lovely, more than comfortable. But he didn’t know how to behave with her around other people, around her boyfriend. All through lunch they’d made casual enough conversation, but it was all small-talk, as though they were strangers.
Now, Blue was sitting under a tree, eyes closed and head tilted back. She looked a little bit like Ronan sometimes did when he dozed off in class. Gansey was next to her, reading from his journal. Something about their proximity gave Adam pause, but he shook it off. He was clearly just being paranoid.
Ronan, never still unless he was sleeping, was walking around, idly tossing a rock in the air and catching it. He seemed to be searching for something. His skin was starting to get burned in the afternoon sun. Noah trailed behind him, chattering excitedly about something or the other.
Adam liked sitting in the sun. He tended to tan instead of burn - a fact Mason had expressed a great amount of jealousy about - and he intended to take full advantage of that. He sat crossed legged on the grass, eyes flicking between Blue and Gansey, and Ronan and Noah.
Ronan and Blue had sat next to each other at lunch, and Adam noticed how comfortable they seemed. Even though Ronan claimed they hadn’t been dating for long, there was a sense of companionship and comfort between them that most couples only got after years of dating. Ronan, usually quiet and stiff around Adam, was at total ease with her. He teased her, leaned over her to get condiments, pulled at her hair. For a second, they almost reminded Adam of a pair of siblings.
He jerked as something cold touched his arm. Noah had seated himself on the grass beside him, and was watching Ronan, still on his search for whatever it was.
“What is he doing?” Adam asked.
“He found an upturned nest,” Noah said. Adam must have looked blank because Noah immediately elaborated. “Cardinal nest. He’s looking for the eggs.”
“He’s looking for the eggs?” Adam repeated. “Why?”
“He wants to put them back in the nest,” Noah said, simply. “Why else?”
“Ronan is getting burned in the sun so that he can return some eggs to their nest?” Adam scoffed. “That doesn’t really sound like him.”
Noah cocked his head, looking at Adam as though he could see right through him. “You don’t know him very well,” he said.
Adam felt uncomfortable by this piece of information. He straightened his legs and pulled his knees up to his chest.
“Does anyone?” he asked, picking at the grass by his shoes. “He barely talks.”
“I know him the best,” Noah said, proudly.
Noah squinted at Adam, as if trying to gauge his trustworthiness. Then, he reached out and touched Adam, fingers wrapping around his arm. Adam winced, jerking out of Noah’s grip. Noah left his fingers outstretched.
“Holy shit, Noah,” Adam said, touching the spot where Noah’s fingers had just been. “Your hands are freezing.”
“That’s because I’m dead,” Noah said.
Adam rolled his eyes, trying not to let out a groan.
“No really,” Noah said. “I’m a ghost. I’ve been dead for years.”
Adam was sure his disbelief was obvious from his expression, even though he was trying desperately to hide it. Noah was weird, he knew this. But this was a bit too weird even for him.
“You know Barrington Whelk?” Noah asked, vaguely.
Adam was completely lost now. “He’s my Latin teacher.”
“He was my best friend,” Noah said. “He killed me. With my own skateboard.”
Adam rubbed his arm, feeling uncomfortable under Noah’s intense stare.
His voice was weak when he finally spoke. “This is a weird joke, Noah.”
Even as he said it, Adam had a feeling it wasn’t a joke. Maybe he had been spending too much time around Gansey, but he was starting to believe there was more to the world than he knew and understood.
“Ronan knows too,” Noah said. “That’s why he’s so rude to Whelk.”
“It’s not a joke. I really am dead.” He held his chin in his hand and gazed at Adam. “I know why you don’t like it when people grab you like that,” he said, his voice low.
Adam felt all the blood in his veins turn to ice.
“I won’t tell anyone,” Noah promised. “I know a lot, but I never tell anyone these things.”
He raked his eyes over Adam, and the discomfort in Adam’s gut grew. He wanted nothing more than to walk away at that moment. To take comfort in Gansey’s predictable Glendower spiels, or Ronan’s unpredictable pursuits. But he found he was glued in place, watching Noah with bated breath.
“I know what you’re up to,” Noah said, sadly. “He’s going to be crushed when he finds out.”
“Who?” Adam asked. “What are you talking about?”
But Noah had gotten to his feet. He dusted the grass off his clothes.
“Noah…” Adam began, but his attention was stolen when Ronan stormed past the two of them, outwardly simmering.
“Did you find the eggs?” Noah asked.
“Yes,” Ronan said. “They were broken.”
He sounded genuinely upset by this. Adam watched as he made his way over to Blue and Gansey, before turning back to talk to Noah. But the smudgy boy had disappeared.
* * *
Ronan dreamt about Parrish again.
They were in Ronan’s bedroom. Parrish was on the floor, ringed by a pile of white sunglasses like the ones Kavinsky usually wore. There were hundreds of them. Thousands. They surrounded Adam, closing into him.
Adam was studying, a look of intent concentration on his face as he scribbled down notes in that neat handwriting of his. He was not in his impeccable uniform as usual. Instead his shirt was untucked, his tie was missing, and his top buttons were open. His sleeves were pushed up to reveal forearms that were covered in grease stains that shimmered into images Ronan couldn’t discern. Tucked behind his ear was a sprig of mint.
Ronan was on the bed. He was pretending to study, a pen clicking methodically against the blank pages of his notebook, but really he was watching Adam. He could watch Adam for hours, but at some point during the dream he realised that Adam was smirking.
He knew. He knew Ronan was watching him.
Flustered, Ronan stumbled off the bed, onto the carpet that smelled of grass and farm animals, and made to leave. Adam jumped up and followed him. Ronan reached for the door knob, but Adam leaned over him and shut the door, one palm on the door as the other grabbed Ronan’s waist and turned him around. Adam pushed him into the wood, trapping Ronan between his body and the sturdiness of the door.
“What are you doing?” Ronan asked, in Latin. His voice was trembling.
“Something I’ve wanted to do for a while,” Dream-Adam whispered, also in Latin.
His voice was hoarse. His eyes, blue as the day-sky outside, flicked down to Ronan’s lips.
And then he was kissing him. First on the lips, soft and deep, and then along his jaw, feather-light kisses that made Ronan’s breath hitch. Ronan tilted his head back, and Adam continued leaving burning kisses down his neck. Ronan wrapped his fingers in his hair, his breathing quickening.
“I like your tattoo,” Adam said. “Multum.” A lot. He plucked at Ronan’s shirt. “Can I see it?”
Ronan shivered as Adam’s fingers slipped under the hem. Ronan could feel the warmth of his hands on his skin. He could feel the callouses on Adam’s fingertips as he traced the lines on his torso.
“Adam,” Ronan gasped.
And then he woke up, drenched in sweat, his heart shuddering in his chest. He lay there for a moment, letting the euphoria seep out of him till nothing was left but the shame of it all.
He glanced out of the window, relieved to remember it was summer break. He didn’t have to go to school. He didn’t have to see Adam.
He probably couldn’t even if he wanted to. Adam worked double the amount of shifts during the summer. He was probably already in Boyd’s, working up a sweat. Adam claimed he wasn’t one to take risks, but he really seemed intent on working himself to death.
Not that it mattered anyway. Ronan had plans with Matthew. Plans he wasn’t intending to break.
He grabbed a slice of toast, then drove down to Declan’s apartment. He parked his car outside and waited. He figured he could text Matthew and let him know he was downstairs, but decided eventually that it was too much effort. Instead he honked loudly. Immediately, Matthew’s face appeared in the window. He spotted Ronan and then made a complicated hand gesture that Ronan guessed meant, I’m coming down. Ronan nodded. The happiness that pulsed through him whenever he saw Matthew was constant and expected.
As was the appearance of Declan in the window.
Ronan leaned back, a picture of impudence. He could see Declan scowl.
Declan had called him a few days ago to ask if he and Blue wanted to have dinner with him that weekend. Ronan had said he’d think about it. He had actually already planned on taking Adam’s advice and going for the dinner. It just made sense. He could ask Blue to act fucking civil for a night so Declan could decide she was suited for Ronan, and hopefully that would be that and he’d leave them the fuck alone.
But not this weekend. He wanted to let Declan stew a little.
The truth was, as much as Ronan felt this was all getting too complicated, it was proving to be a very efficient form of distraction. His dreams were turning against him. He dreamed of the Barns every night he wasn’t dreaming of Adam Parrish’s hands on his chest and lips on his neck. And when he wasn’t dreaming of either of those things, then it was nothing but darkness. Darkness and monsters that were still there when he opened his eyes in the morning.
It helped to have this thing with Blue to occupy his thoughts. The Barns were off limits. The dreaming was off-limits. Adam Parrish with his obviously female ‘ex-girlfriend who he never took to meet his parents’ was off-limits.
Matthew bounded down the driveway. He got into the car, then leaned over to give Ronan a hug that knocked the breath from his lungs. Ronan sat there and let his brother hug him. He hadn’t realised how starved he was for a hug like this. When they pulled apart, something in Ronan stilled.
“What are we doing today?” Matthew asked, tugging his seatbelt on.
“Whatever you want,” Ronan said.
“Ice cream,” Matthew said.
Ronan began the car.
“I had a weird dream last night,” Matthew said, as they pulled out of the lot. “I was camping with my friends from school, and we were attacked by a bear. Everyone was scared but I wasn’t. I stood up and I started singing and the bear looked scared and it ran away.”
Ronan hummed, only half paying attention.
“Weird, right?” Matthew asked. “I didn’t think my singing was that bad. What did you dream about?”
“Uh," Ronan said. “The same thing.”
“Really?” Matthew asked, looking amazed. “That is so cool.”
The Ice Place, Matthew’s favourite ice cream parlour, was completely packed when they arrived. Matthew chattered on about bears and camping while they picked their ice cream flavours, and then about school as they hovered about until a couple got up, leaving their empty cups and dirty spoons on the table. Matthew raced to grab the empty seat. Even as they sat down, Matthew continued chattering - this time about some science project - but as soon as he was three bites in, he quieted down.
“Ronan,” he said, his brow furrowing slightly. “Do you remember Mason Hunter?”
Ronan pressed his lips together.
“Yeah,” he said. “Of course I remember him. He goes to our school.”
“Oh, right. I never see him.”
“He’s in my grade, that’s why.” Ronan said. “Why are you asking about him?”
“Hmm? Oh, because he’s coming in here.”
Ronan swore under his breath as the door swung open and a familiar accented voice floated into the room.
“I don’t know, Mason,” said the voice, resignation clear in it. “I don’t really listen to any country artists.”
Ronan ducked low, a hand covering his face, his heart hammering in his chest. Matthew watched him curiously.
“Are you still upset with him?” he asked.
“No. Fuck. I don’t care about fucking Mason,” Ronan hissed.
“Then why are you hiding?” Matthew asked.
Ronan didn’t have a chance to respond.
“Lynch! Lynches!” Mason laughed that aggravatingly high-pitched laugh of his.
Ronan swore again, louder this time, and sat up straight. Mason had stopped right before their table, and was now grinning at Matthew.
“Hey kid,” he said. “You’re all grown up.”
Matthew beamed, and Ronan made a face at him. Did he really have to be such a goddamn delight around everyone?
“You know Adam Parrish?” Mason asked Matthew.
Matthew and Ronan turned in unison to look at Adam. Ronan instantly regretted it. He’d never seen Adam in his regular clothes before, but there he was in a dark short-sleeved t-shirt with some band logo on it and worn jeans. His hair was wind tousled, and his trademark dark circles looked worse than usual. He looked messy. Ronan’s stomach clenched as he remembered his dream.
“Hi,” Adam said to Matthew. “You must be Ronan’s younger brother.”
“Matthew.” Matthew said, cheerily. “It’s lovely to meet you.”
“Likewise.” Adam glanced at Ronan. “Hey.”
Ronan grunted in response.
“Nice to see you too, Lynch.” He nodded at Matthew’s cup of mint chocolate chip, smiling. “That’s my favourite flavour.”
“Mine too!” Matthew said, looking as though he’d just won an all expenses paid trip to Paris. Ronan rolled his eyes.
Mason and Parrish moved to the front of the store to get their ice cream. Ronan watched their backs, feeling that now familiar feeling of irritation at seeing them together.
“Who’s the other guy?” Matthew asked.
“Parrish,” Ronan mumbled. “Gansey’s new friend.”
“He seems cool,” Matthew said.
“He’s a loser.”
“Shut up, shit-head. Eat your ice cream.”
Matthew obediently got to work with his plastic spoon. Ronan prodded at his cookie dough ice-cream. He seemed to have lost his appetite.
A few minutes later, Mason and Adam passed them, Adam’s hands empty.
“See you boys,” Mason said.
“Where are you off to?” Matthew asked.
“Goin’ fishin’ with some of my cousins,” Mason said. “Gotta rush back. There’s no place to sit anyway.”
“You’re not eating anything,” Matthew noted, staring down into Adam’s empty hands. Parrish stuffed his hands into his pockets.
“No,” he said. “I was just here to keep Mason company.”
“You goin’ fishin’ too, Parrish?” Ronan asked, mimicking Mason’s accent. He leaned back, insolence well-rehearsed. Mason frowned.
“Oh,” Matthew said. “Then why don’t you stay? You can sit here with us.”
Ronan’s heart stalled in his chest. Whoever taught this damn kid manners did too good of a job. Though, admittedly Ronan was quite amused by the growing look of panic on Adam’s face.
“I forgot my wallet,” Adam said, hastily.
“Ronan will buy you some ice cream. Won’t you Ronan?”
Adam looked mortified at the suggestion. “He really doesn’t have to. I don’t…”
“Sit down, Parrish.” Ronan said, affecting boredom. “I’ll get you some damn ice cream.”
“I don’t want your hand-outs, Ronan,” Adam said, stiffly.
“It’s not a fucking hand-out.”
“It’s a present,” Matthew said, smiling widely. “For the pleasure of your company.”
Matthew’s very presence had the capability of melting anyone, and Adam Parrish was no exception. He started to splutter, but he must have understood the genuine nature of Matthew’s invitation, because he deflated and eventually gave in. He mumbled his goodbyes to Mason - who sent Ronan a strange look - before sitting down in the chair besides Matthew. Ronan went up to the counter and bought Adam a mint chocolate chip cup. He pushed it across the table and Adam took it, not meeting his eye.
“Thanks,” Adam muttered.
“Adam,” Matthew said, grabbing his hands. The gesture surprised Adam, who flinched a little before settling into it. “Can I ask you something?”
Adam sent Ronan a quick, confused look before returning his attention to Matthew. “Sure,” he said.
“What’s your favourite kind of reptile?”
Adam let out a small gasp of a laugh that made Ronan’s stomach do that fucking fluttering thing that he hated.
“Oh. Um. I think a snake?”
“A snake?” Matthew said, eyes wide. “Can you guess what mine is?”
“Um. A crocodile?”
“No. A chameleon. They can change colours, you know.”
“I do know. They’re very cool.”
“They’re so cool. Ronan’s is a dinosaur. He’s so basic.”
Adam laughed at this, and Ronan could feel his cheeks starting to heat up. He couldn’t deny Matthew very much, but he was starting to wonder if asking Adam to join them had been a good idea. He hadn’t expected Adam to be so charming, discussing things with Matthew. He hadn't expected him to be so gentle with Matthew, hadn't expected to see him laughing. Ronan had yet to get the sound of Adam’s laughter from the other day out of his head. If he’d known dragging him behind the BMW on a dolly would have made him smile like that, would have made Ronan feel like that, he never would have done it.
Still, seeing Adam’s face as he ate, seeing the hungry look in his eyes disappear and that look of contentment take over… it made something warm grow in Ronan. He watched the way Adam looked at Matthew, so attentively, so studiously. Adam licked a dab of ice cream off his top lip. Ronan dropped his gaze.
“But I don’t think his favourite really are dinosaurs,” Matthew said, in a conspiratorial whisper.
“Is that right?” Adam asked. “What’s his favourite then?”
“He doesn’t like reptiles. He likes furry things. We used to play with mice when we were younger. He liked those a lot.”
Adam looked up, an amused look on his face. “Mice?” he asked Ronan.
“Baby mice,” Matthew said.
“Baby mice?” Adam asked, his eyebrows shooting up.
Ronan noticed Adam’s lips twitching in a clear attempt to suppress his laughter. Ronan’s neck grew hot.
“We don’t have to talk about this,” Ronan complained.
“He taught me how to check their heartbeats. You have to hold them up to your cheek,” Matthew held an imaginary mouse up to his cheekbone, “and you can feel it there.”
“Ronan taught you how to check the heartbeats of baby mice?” Adam’s tone was incredulous. He turned towards Ronan, and there was something wicked in his eyes that made Ronan’s throat go dry. He was really revelling in this fucking moment, wasn’t he? What an asshole. “Sounds like a good brother.”
“He’s such a good brother,” Matthew said, smiling at Ronan. “He always played with me. And he used to tell me stories. And sing to me.”
“Did he?” Adam asked, an impish half-smile on his face. “What did he sing?”
“For fuck’s sake, Matthew…” Ronan began.
“Irish jigs, mostly,” Matthew said, ignoring him completely. “Ronan’s really good. He used to enter competitions.”
Adam looked absolutely delighted by this piece of information. Ronan’s face burned.
“You entered singing competitions?” Adam asked.
“Irish music competitions,” Ronan muttered. “I didn’t fucking sing.”
Adam leaned forward, far enough that Ronan could smell his deodorant, his chin resting against his hand. He grinned at Ronan, and his eyes glittered.
“Tell me more, Matthew,” he said, his eyes never leaving Ronan’s face.
Ronan’s stomach flipped over. He was definitely regretting this.