"I hear you're pretty smart."
Adam doesn't look up from his notebook. If he could afford to take a break from studying, he would use it for something better than chatting with a stranger. "I'm not going to do your homework for you."
"Wow, you had that lined up and ready to go. People really ask you to do their homework?"
"They used to." Adam glares at the girl who's standing next to his table. "I think word got around that I'm a jerk."
"Yeah, I heard that, too." His glare does not run her off; in fact, she sits down at the table across from him. He ought to be happy about that. She's cute, and she's rocking a sort of bohemian look that he could be into, if he had the time to be into anything. "I'd rather fail my homework on my own terms."
"Good for you." Adam takes a bite of his sandwich, which has gone largely ignored during his studying. "Why are we having this conversation?"
She bites her lip, like words are about to come out of her mouth and she's not sure he'll like what they are.
Eventually she says, "I want your advice on something."
"You don't even know me."
"You're Adam, right? I'm Blue." She holds her hand out to him.
He stares at her for a second before gesturing with his pen and his sandwich: look, no hands.
But she doesn't back down, and as irritating as that is, Adam can respect it. He sets his pen down long enough to shake her hand.
"Nice meeting you," Blue says. "I need your help."
Adam sighs. He could get up and leave, maybe, but it would take him a minute to get all his stuff together and at least a few minutes more to find somewhere else he can study and eat in peace. It'll probably be faster to hear her out and get rid of her. It's not like he's any good at giving people advice; she'll leave as soon as he opens his mouth.
"So, I asked this guy out. On a date." Blue pauses, blushing.
"I don't need sarcasm."
"Then you're in the wrong place," Adam says. "But I'm only half sarcastic. If you managed to say the words will you go out with me, you're already ahead of ninety percent of our peers. Nice blow to gender norms, by the way."
"That was what I thought, too! And -- the guy, he thought it was cool. He likes me back."
"I fail to see where any of this merits harassing strangers in the cafeteria."
"He said no. Because his friend is single, and I guess sort of jealous and going through a rough time, and he thought if he got a girlfriend it wouldn't be fair to his friend."
"You really want my advice?"
Blue squints at him, already knowing she won't like it, but she nods anyway.
"When you ask a guy out and he says no, he's not into you. Anything after 'no' is an excuse."
"He does like me," Blue says. "He told me so."
"Yeah, I've heard a lot of guys say a lot of things." That is something of an exaggeration. Adam can't describe the number of guys he's hooked up with as a lot, and it's not like he wanted any of them to go on a date with him, anyway. But Blue doesn't need his sob story, she needs to quit deluding herself.
"He's not like that," she insists. "He wouldn't lie to me."
"Then he's telling the truth when he says, no thanks."
"You're annoying, you know that?"
Adam takes another bite of his sandwich in lieu of answering.
"If I admit you have a point, can we move on to the actual part I want advice about?" Blue asks, and Adam looks wistfully at his notes. He has a feeling he's not going to get any more work done this lunch period.
"I want to find someone to set his friend up with," Blue says.
"That is so fucked up," Adam says.
"It doesn't have to be -- dirty, or anything," Blue says. "Honestly his friend really could use one night out where he has some fun. And then he wouldn't have to be jealous."
"Before we move on I'm going to need you to concede that this is creepy."
Blue scowls. "So you aren't going to help me."
Adam is interested in spite of himself. He wouldn't have figured Blue as the type for sketchy favors. It probably says something bad about him, that the dubious morality of the situation makes it more intriguing. "I didn't say that. I just want you to admit that you're doing something creepy."
Blue holds her breath before letting it out in a sigh. "Yes, fine, I admit it's sort of creepy."
"But it doesn't matter since I can't find anyone willing to go out with him. Even for one night. That's where I need help."
"Matchmaking is not in my wheelhouse," Adam says. "But I believe the traditional thing is to drag him on a double date with one of your friends."
"None of my friends would go for it," Blue says. "I asked."
"Did you tell them about how honest your boyfriend is?" Blue glares daggers at him. "How bad could this date be, really?"
"The words 'not if he was the last living human on earth' came up a lot," Blue says.
Adam feels a surprising shot of sympathy for this poor unnamed friend, so unwanted that even the stubborn girl in front of him couldn't badger or bully someone into spending a couple of hours in his company.
Maybe he should try to help.
"Who is he, anyway?" Adam asks, and at Blue's obvious hesitation, "I can't help if I don't know who we're talking about."
Slowly, like she has to drag the words out of herself, Blue says, "Ronan Lynch."
Adam doesn't start laughing immediately, but only because he spends the first second or two after Blue's pronouncement marveling at the speed with which his meager stores of empathy had dried up. Had he really felt bad for poor, lonely Ronan Lynch? He tries not to grin at the thought, but it's hard.
Blue frowns at him, "it's not funny!" and of course that only sets Adam over the edge into real laughter.
"Trust me, it is," Adam says. "You -- what, you asked out Gansey?" Adam knows Gansey, because everybody knows Gansey; he's that level of popular where everyone knows things about him and can remember That Time He Talked To Them In The Hallway, but he doesn't have a clique or a group that he belongs to, per se. It's just him and Ronan Lynch, who is not so much popular as infamous. "And he said he wouldn't go out with you unless you could find a girlfriend for Ronan?"
"A boyfriend," Blue corrects him, and fair enough; Adam of all people shouldn't make assumptions. "And he didn't ask me to, I just thought that if I could -- "
"Except none of your friends would do it." Adam smiles at her. It's not a very nice smile, but it's the only one he has. "The good news is, you have very sane friends."
"I have very cowardly friends, and I'm deeply ashamed for all of them."
"Well, if your friends won't do it you could try just accosting people in the cafeteria -- "
Blue, to her credit, raises her chin and doesn't try to break eye contact, even though Adam can tell that his expression has turned grim.
He's not mad at her, or not only mad at her. Mostly he's mad at himself, that he took so damn long to tell what she was getting at. Let himself get distracted mocking Blue, and mocking Ronan Lynch, and didn't pay attention to what was happening in front of him. He's lucky, that the only price he'll pay is embarrassment.
"That was a nice line." His voice is frigid. "I need your advice. I guess I was supposed to be flattered?"
Blue lifts her shoulders defiantly. "Well, if I'd come up to you and just said outright, would you go on a date with Ronan Lynch, what would you have said?"
"The same thing I'm saying now: hell no. Though I wouldn't have added screw you. That's because you tried to fuck with my head."
"Oh, but it's fine when you fuck with someone's head?" Blue crosses her arms. " 'This is creepy, please tell me more, tell me who it is so I can laugh at him.' "
Adam doesn't have the high ground. He doesn't need it. His game has always been survival.
He stands up, one hand on his backpack, and says before he goes: "You know what? I work three jobs after school, I'm on the Dean's list, I get four hours of sleep a night, and I just got volunteered to build sets for the school play, so I excuse me if I don't waste any of my precious time crying over your inability to go on a date with some guy you think is dreamy. Leave. Me. Alone."
He would have bet anything that that would be the last he saw of Blue.
He would have lost that bet, so maybe it's just as well he doesn't have anyone he can talk to about these things, anyway.
"Mr. Whelk told us that the drama club was still looking for help with set construction." Gansey is obliviously, inappropriately chipper: Adam is staring down at him from the stage, hammer in hand, and Blue is a few feet behind Gansey with her arms crossed and glaring at Adam like she's daring him to say something, and Ronan -- poor, lonely, going through a rough time Ronan Lynch -- is loitering by the theater door looking bored out of his mind.
But never mind all that -- Gansey is beaming like there's nothing else he'd rather do in his free time than manual labor for a club that he isn't even a member of.
"Really." Adam doesn't aim the question at Gansey, but directs it, unyielding, at Blue. "And you decided you wanted to help out. Selflessly."
Blue lifts her chin up, too high; she clearly learned her intimidation body language from someone much taller than she is, because it just looks comical on her. "I think it's disgusting that this is the twenty-first century and we're staging on Taming of the Shrew," and Adam has to agree she has a point. He's not even a woman and hearing thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper while the actors were rehearsing around him was super awkward. "But since we are I figured I could prove that women know how to use power tools."
"Uh-huh. And do you know how to use power tools?"
"I can learn."
"I'll show you," Gansey offers. He gazes at her with the kind of look that, if he's honestly trying to put her in the friendzone, isn't doing either of them any favors.
"Great." Blue doesn't quite smile at him, but her face goes soft and warm for a split second, the first time Adam has seen her that she hasn't looked ready to charge into battle. Then she looks back up at him on the stage, and yup, the war paint is back on. "Ronan, I'm sure that Adam could use your help with something," and his glare slides right off of her.
It's a while before he can get Blue alone. Gansey is wholeheartedly enthusiastic about the project now that he's a part of it, and he wants to know everything that Adam has done so far (not much), everything they have to work with (not enough), and what the plan is for the rest of it (not determined). Blue invests herself deeply in putting hands on every tool the drama club has at its disposal, either to keep Adam at bay or to do her part for feminist representation. Ronan lurks at the edge of the stage, barely not in the group. Adam wishes he would just leave already if he's going to do it, instead of sticking around first to make his life harder.
But eventually Gansey goes to get something out of the back and Ronan's sequestered himself in the wings of the stage and Adam manages to catch Blue in the auditorium before she can eel away.
"What the hell, Blue."
"You said you needed help with the sets for the play."
"That's not what I said and you know it."
"Fine, you didn't say it, but you do need help. You don't even have a plan!"
"Do not criticize my work while you're -- "
"While I'm what?" Blue challenges, and Adam grinds his teeth, because he doesn't want to say it, all of this is too stupid to put into words. "Seriously, what's the problem? The sets get done and you two can get to know each other. Maybe you'll fall in love."
"Yeah, because that's going to happen."
"Honestly? It might. You're perfect for each other, you're both assholes."
"You want my help and this is how you talk to me?"
"Who's helping who, here? We're going to get this project done way faster with four people than with one, and if you use some of that extra free time to ask Ronan out, what could it hurt?"
"You may not have noticed this," Adam says, overenunciating his words to be obnoxious, "but he does not like me."
"He doesn't like anyone, it's not all about you. Besides, he doesn't need to go out with you. It's still progress if someone hits on him, right? Because he'll know. You know. That he has options."
Adam stares at her. "What did you do?"
"I didn't do anything."
"You're rationalizing like crazy right now. What did you do?"
Blue bites her lip, trying not to answer, except she so clearly wants to tell someone and Adam is, if not an excited audience, at least a captive one. "I might have kissed Gansey. He might have kissed me back. It might be too late to be just friends."
Adam sighs. "This is going to blow up in your face."
"Remember how we decided that I don't actually want your advice?"
Adam's not convinced that they'll finish the sets any faster together than he would on his own, and certainly not in a quarter of the time, as Blue has suggested. He has no such faith in committees in general, or in Blue or Gansey or Ronan's particular usefulness. But at the very least they can help carry heavy things, and it would be nice to go to his job not already sore and exhausted.
"You three can help me with sets," Adam says, and Blue straightens up, looks at him with such complete and utter joy that for a second he's jealous of Gansey. "But you have to work around my schedule. I'm not missing any shifts at work."
"And you'll talk to Ronan?"
"I'll talk to him, that's it. Okay?"
Gansey arrives back in at the theater, "the art teacher had a bunch of paint she said we could use!" and Adam's shoulders tighten. When he'd asked the art teacher she'd said she didn't have anything she could spare.
He almost snaps at Gansey, you're getting ahead of yourself, and then he decides he might as well leave before he says anything nasty. It's not like Blue is going to mind.
He hops back up onto the stage and pokes around the wings until he finds Ronan holding a cordless drill.
"Do you know how to use that?"
Ronan holds the drill up by his face and switches it on without looking away from Adam.
Adam waits until the high loud whir comes to an end.
"So that's a no."
He's going to regret this.
It turns out that double dates are even more awkward when only two of you know it's a date and you aren't the two who are dating.
They end up at a tiny hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant across from the school, the kind of place with streaky windows and no decoration and amazing cheap food. It's empty except for the four of them, even though the pizza joint two doors down the strip mall is packed with their classmates. Nino's is the traditional after school hangout spot for kids at their high school, but Blue vetoed it with prejudice when Gansey suggested grabbing a bite there after a loud, tiring hour of set design.
"I work there, I'm not going to go hang out there on my day off." Blue shoots Adam a quick look. He says nothing. Is she trying to win him over, after their conversation in the cafeteria, I have a job too, we're on the same side, so help me out? If she is, it's not working.
Except maybe it is, because now he's sitting opposite a glowering Ronan Lynch over an order of potstickers while Gansey and Blue look at each other with sappy, love-stuck grins.
Honestly, he prefers the glower.
"You never said," he starts. It's not like he's planning on going along with Blue's guilt-induced pity-dating scheme, but it's awkward to stare at someone without talking, and he'd like to drown out the conversation next to him, Gansey complimenting Blue on how quickly she'd learned to use power tools.
Ronan's glower shifts a little -- still angry, now also inquisitive.
"How you got dragged into doing sets," Adam finishes. "Somehow I don't think Mr. Whelk's tragic plea for volunteers moved you."
"I have a boner for Shakespeare."
Ronan's glower shifts again -- angry, but also self-satisfied.
Like hell does Ronan Lynch get to be smug at his expense.
"I wouldn't have thought he was your type," Adam says. "Nietzsche, maybe, or Lovecraft."
"Nope, Shakespeare. That ruffle collar does it for me."
Adam kicks Blue, proud refusal giving way to need for a rescue. If Ronan doesn't get to be smug at his expense, he definitely doesn't get to make Adam laugh.
"How's taking down the system from the inside going?" he asks when she turns to look at him. "Hide any feminist subliminal messaging in the background yet?"
"I think that'll have to wait for the painting stages," Blue says. "I don't know that there's a lot I can do to undermine the play at the structural level."
"Build a set that falls over and crushes half the actors on opening night," Ronan suggests.
"I don't want to tarnish Adam's reputation as a carpenter." Blue pauses. "Not yet, anyway."
"Fine, if you want to have a boring, patriarchal, death free play."
"Death free is as high as I'm willing to set my standards for high school theater," Adam says. "Does your boyfriend know you think his play is boring?"
Ronan leans back in his seat, like Adam caught him off-guard and he doesn't have a snappy comeback ready.
Blue kicks him. Ow. Adam bites down on a potsticker to avoid asking her what the hell that was for. He agreed, barely, to spend time with Ronan; he never said it was going to flirt or be nice while he did it. If Blue wanted that she should have picked someone who was capable of either flirting or being nice.
"So, Adam." Gansey and Adam have had a dozen classes together in the last four years, but they've never talked about anything more personal than the third conjugation future imperfect or the area under the curve. He gives off an impression now that is not unlike a guidance counselor who just brushed up on Adam's transcript thirty seconds before their appointment. "How did you get involved in the theater?"
Adam toys with the idea of answering that honestly -- Well, Gansey, Whelk made it clear that the letter of recommendation he wrote for me had strings attached -- that would get a reaction from Ronan, for sure.
But in the end, he does what he always does: deflect, distort, defend.
"It's my boundless school spirit," Adam says, monotone. "Anything for the Huskies."
"We're the Ravens," Gansey points out, like he thinks Adam has honestly forgotten.
Adam's eyebrows pop up, mock surprise. "Are we, now."
Adam looks at him with a smirk: You laughed first. I win.
Ronan eats the last potstickers, vindictively.