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spinning on that dizzy edge

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When Ronan wakes up, he is decidedly not in his room.

When he goes to rub his eyes, the hand he raises is decidedly not his hand.

He makes a sound as he shoots up, and that voice is decidedly not his voice.

Ronan slams a lid on the panic eagerly storming forth. The room he’s in is not exactly a room, rather it’s a couple of cheap dividers closing him off from what, judging by his surroundings, does not look to be a promising house.

Maybe he’s still dreaming. (He knows he’s not.)

He pinches himself anyway. Painful. And also not helpful in the slightest since he experiences pain in dreams. But this particular pain plucks at him.

He can’t remember the last thing that happened, but there was a lot of red and a lot of pain and then a lot of black.

I’m fucking dead, he thinks. Or he's stuck in some inception bullshit, and he's created his own personal hell. Hell would be a sorry excuse of a bedroom, with low thread count sheets and a mattress made of rocks.

He rubs his eyes with his not-hands. The room does not change.

What happened  what happened what was that last thing—

The watch on the hand reads 6 AM. There’s a clatter from outside the dividers.

Outside the dividers holds beer cans on any available surface, a bulky television, a mangled, squashy couch, and suspicious stains. A cracked vase with wilted flowers sits by a long window, next to it are more beer cans. There isn’t any wallpaper, though he’s not sure, it’s all vulgar posters with bits of plaster sticking through. It’s cramped. Ronan isn’t bumping into anything but he feels like he should be.

His heart beats triple time. His heart doesn’t beat at all.

In a sectioned off kitchen, a woman scrapes corn out of a can and onto a dirty plate, which she hands off to him. She fixes Ronan with a beady look. “Eat. He’ll be back in an hour so make yourself scarce.”

Who’s he  where am I  is this hell  who are you—

There’s a twist in his nerves; a deep-rooted intuition tells him this isn’t the person to talk to. He eats the corn in three bites with a hunger that can’t be his, and she claws the plate off of him.

Back inside the safety of the dividers in his new hell room, Ronan rummages. Under the bed, there are some textbooks and a torn-up shoebox with a few torn up pay stubs. There’s a backpack, unspectacular in every way except for a keychain connecting some worn, sloppily braided material. In the backpack are typical school things; more evidence he’s in hell. All the notebooks and binders are labeled with meticulous detail. The largest binder has a long and brutal handwritten schedule. There’s a wallet with a couple of crumbled bills and an ID card from Aglionby Academy. It’s faded and the lamination is coming off.

“Adam Parrish,” Ronan mutters, and shocks himself; he forgot he didn’t have his own voice.

The face on the upper corner of the ID is odd. Ronan touches his not-face, the high, flat eyebrows, the uneven corners of lips, the softness under the eyes, the dryness under that softness, like the skin is parched. Ronan hasn’t seen himself yet, but he knows the face he’s touching is the odd face of this odd boy.

This Adam Parrish.

Two weeks after his dad died, Ronan had gone back to school. He was taking a test and the pen in his hand was shaking. It was shaking and shaking until it was exploding, the blue ink splattering violent and permanent over the paper and through his shirt.

That is how the full realization of what’s happening smears across him now.

He wants it to be a dream. But there’s another clatter outside and it’s not a dream.

Ronan methodically puts everything inside the backpack, one by one, because he’s not going to freak out.

He’s at a loss over what to do, once the rummaging is done. If he does nothing, he’ll freak out which wouldn’t be productive, and he doesn’t want to stay in this place, especially not with the beady-eyed woman right outside. Adam Parrish is busy enough that Ronan won’t have to think about freaking out, so he might as well follow the schedule. He doesn’t know where the factory blocked in at 4 P.M-7 P.M. is. He doesn’t know where Aglionby Academy is.

“Get on with it!” Her voice is tired and sliced.

It’s not like he has a choice. He’ll just wing it.

It’s not hard to find the bathroom, as there aren’t many doors here, and he does it quickly, assisted by the slitted glare of the woman. The mother, she’s definitely Adam Parrish’s mother.

Ronan looks very carefully in the mirror as he brushes the teeth. After he rinses, he pushes at the face, praying for it to mold into his own, but the skin bounces back. Each time. He allows himself to panic here. One minute—sixty seconds; Ronan counts them with short, raspy breaths, and the lid is back on.

He does not look at all while he does everything else. He doesn’t look when he puts on the uniform either and feels like an idiot.

It’s a body, it’s just a body. It’s not his body.

As he leaves, the woman—the mother, Adam Parrish’s mother—sharply says, “don’t be late.”

There’s a bike outside, and Ronan takes it, hoping it belongs to this Adam Parrish. If not, he’s stealing a bike. He’s using Adam Parrish’s body to steal a bike.

What is going on  is he possessing someone  what is this

It’s not hard to find Aglionby Academy either. There’s only one road leading out of the place Adam Parrish lives, and Ronan bikes fast, following after showy cars carrying silhouettes and uniforms like his. Like Adam Parrish’s. Aglionby Academy sounds like the sort of place to attract cars like the Vulcan that blows by him. Ronan knows because he goes to a place like that—or he once did.

Don’t freak out.

Ronan locks the bike up at a lonely bike rack and swallows down dejection because Aglionby Academy has the same sweltering, trapped climate as his own school. He walks around holding the schedule like those tourists in Ireland and is late to every class. He’s always forgiven, and it becomes apparent to him that Adam Parrish is perfect to the teachers here.

Ronan draws ravens on the notebooks and writes out creative swears in creative handwriting. He hopes through the course of the day one of the students or a teacher or anyone in the school would face him with a dramatic flourish and reveal that, “yes Ronan Lynch you are in hell, you are in the underworld, you are in the shithole you go to when you’re a monster and you’ve got cursed, monster powers.” This doesn’t happen, and it’s all very boring and very scary until—

Ronan slaps the notebook onto the locker and the head next to it snaps around. “Bug,” Ronan explains while rubbing the wasp’s remains off on the locker.

The boy stares at him slack-jawed in his tailored uniform. Somehow he makes the expression look sophisticated. Ronan is suddenly so angry and hateful because what else could this place be if not some nightmarish alternate reality?

“Fuck off with that face,” Ronan growls and judging by the boy’s expression, fuck off with that face is not something Adam Parrish says often.

The boy grabs his sleeve when Ronan turns to go and the anger twists up in his gut. Ronan imagines punching him, but he can’t do it. These aren’t his hands and this isn’t his life.

Ronan slants him a glare over his shoulder. He doesn’t want to punch him really. Or anyone. At best, he wants to fling a wine bottle at an abstract form of his older brother. But that’s a normal desire, and Ronan is thankful to have one thing stay consistent.

“I know you,” the boy says, snapping his fingers. “You’re. Hm! You are...?” He trails off, his eyes questioning and expectant.

Ronan Lynch. “Adam Parrish,” Ronan says smoothly. He tugs his arm out of the boy’s grasp.

The boy’s face brightens. “Oh. Right, right. I’m Richard Campbell Gansey.” He hesitates before adding, “the third.”

“The third what?”

“That’s my full name.”

Ronan has thoughts on this he’d like to voice, but he doesn’t want Adam Parrish’s contained voice to say them. It should be his voice; why be cruel if he can’t be genuine about it?

“Cool,” Ronan says. “I have work.” Which Adam Parrish does have.

But there aren’t any cars Ronan can follow to the warehouse. He folds the schedule over until only the part where the warehouse hours are blocked in shows.

“You know where this is?”

Richard Campbell Gansey (the third) smiles like he’s waited his whole life to be asked this. He looks it up on his phone and writes the instructions on the back of the schedule.

“Do you want a ride?” he asks.

Ronan wants, but Adam Parrish has a bike, so he says no.

Biking to the warehouse means he’s forced to take in the surrounding scenery. A couple of scattered, dilapidated signs tell him he’s in Henrietta which is in Virginia which is in America. The last bit Ronan already guessed thanks to past vacations, but he doesn’t enjoy the confirmation. There’s an uncomfortable gap in his mind, a memory he has pressed down. It’s not about that last thing what was it it’s about this place. It plucks at him like the pain did; it sits in his mind like a worn down map with the names and routes faded off.

The dying grass, the smell of old pollen, the stinging dust, all of these call to him, as if he’s breathed this air and touched this ground before. But that doesn’t make sense.

He figures it’s because of Adam Parrish, who lives here and knows here. Evidence: Ronan’s never done any manual labor job in his life but somehow survives the warehouse job. He gets yelled at four times, but that doesn’t seem too bad given his situation.

It gets too bad when he starts biking again. There are no other mind-numbing tasks on Adam Parrish’s schedule. His thoughts scatter wild and unruly and it’s frightening and he doesn’t know anyone or what street he’s on and how did this happen what is happening  what was that last thing  why does he remember pain—

Don’t be late.

Ronan’s swear mixes with the wind screeching in his ears. He’d been biking around, doing the freaking out he told himself he would not do.

He doesn’t know where the place Adam Parrish lives is, not from here. He asks anybody he sees walking questions like, “do you know this place with a bunch of long ass cars” or, “there’s this place with a fuckload of trailers do you know where”.

He makes it back to the trailer park, and Adam Parrish’s mother did not specify when late was, but Ronan knows he’s late.

Once he enters the double-wide, Ronan finds out why Adam was told to make himself scarce.

 

⊷⊶

 

When Adam wakes up in the hospital, he thinks dad’s finally done it.

He’s in a private room, which doesn’t make sense. Even if his parents had the money for it, they wouldn’t pay for him to have his own room. There’s a cheery vase on the corner table overflowing with huge, beautiful flowers. Adam reaches out to touch them, because they’re there and he’s never seen flowers so nice in Henrietta, but pain racks up his arm.

His vision blurs.

It’s a pain suppressed by painkillers, it’s a gate doing it’s best to hold off something much worse.

His arm is bandaged thickly, both of them are. What did his father do?

Fear trickles down his shoulders, cold and heavy. Maybe he has a private room because child services found him, he’s not eighteen yet, that could be it.

“Hello—” and he cuts himself off.

The word came from his mouth, he’s sure of this. But the tone is abrasive and pitched in a way that can’t be his.

“Hello,” he tries again. “Hello. Hello. He-llo.” Maybe it’s the pain, maybe he’s been knocked out too long, maybe they had to do surgery on his throat and now he’s going to have a voice that won’t go with his face.

The door opens, revealing not a professional-looking adult in a suit, but a tired-looking boy in an Aglionby uniform. No, not Aglionby, the tie was the wrong color.

“Ronan?”

“Wrong room,” Adam says.

The boy rolls his eyes and walks in anyway, shutting the door behind him. “You really had to do it, didn’t you? You crazy fucker.”

“I—excuse me?”

“I had to tell Matthew you fell playing tennis. And now I’ve got to get you out of some two-month inpatient care bullshit to keep up the lie. Are you happy?”

He’s waiting for an answer, so Adam says, “no.”

The boy deflates. “It’s not just hard for you, Ronan. Mom can’t stay awake outside that shitty place, Matthew’s always sad because you’re—” he makes a broad gesture in Adam’s direction, “—whatever the fuck this is.”

Adam’s eyes subtly search for a Call For Help button. He doesn’t know this boy, he doesn’t know why he’s being called Ronan, he doesn’t know a Matthew, and his mom is in a shitty place but she stays awake just fine.

The boy takes Adam’s silence to keep up his monologue. “I’m working my ass off keeping us together after dad. If you’re going to pull this shit, do it where I don’t have to fucking fix it.”

“I don’t know who you are,” Adam blurts out. It’s difficult hearing all this. It’s like he’s eavesdropping. “I’m sorry about your family, though.”

The boy’s eyes narrow and he appraises Adam for a tense moment. “I’m getting a nurse,” he finally says to Adam’s relief.

He presses a button on the side of the bed Adam hadn’t noticed. A couple of minutes inch by and a nurse breezes in, her face pinched with sternness.

“Declan Lynch,” the nurse says tersely, “I hope you didn’t stress him out. I explicitly said he was not to be stressed.”

“I didn’t,” the boy, Declan, says, even though Adam is very stressed out.

The nurse pokes and prods at him, and shrugs. “It’s the pain meds,” she says in a much kinder tone, “we’ll worry if you’re not alright tomorrow, Ronan.”

She sets Declan with a pointed glare. “Visiting hours end in fifteen minutes.”

Then she just leaves. Like it’s nothing. She just leaves Adam alone with Declan and the terrifying realization that he has no clue what’s going on.

“Do you have a phone?” Adam asks him hoarsely.

Declan gives him a look full of worry, a look Adam does not care for one bit. If this one-sided conversation has told him anything, it’s that Declan is not on his side.

“I have yours,” Declan says handing Adam a sleek, black phone. Adam doesn’t have a phone and he almost says it. “You can’t use the internet,” Declan adds.

“Why not?” Adam asks, like it’s his phone. Which it’s not.

“They don’t let you when you do the shit you did.”

Adam can’t consider this, he has other problems, such as trying to hold a phone while his hands are wrapped up in layers of gauze. Adam fumbles with it, and in doing so catches his distorted reflection on the screen.

It’s not his face. The phone falls onto his lap.

“Are you okay?” Declan asks urgently. “Do you need help with your phone? Do you need help with anything?”

“No.” Adam’s voice is miles away from him.

He manages to turn on the phone and there’s no passcode but it doesn’t matter because there’s nothing useful on it. The weather app tells him he’s in Belfast, Ireland, or at least his brain, or soul, or whatever is in Ireland. The app next to it has a crescent moon icon and when Adam presses it he finds that it’s some kind of journaling app.

The same crescent moon pops up with a sad face and scolds, “I’m crying! Ronan Lynch, you have zero entries!”

Adam expects this will be the most normal thing to happen today. He closes out of the app.

He wants to google help the body I woke up in isn’t mine but he can’t use the internet and Declan is still watching him.

That must be what’s happening though. It’s ridiculous and impossible, but the fact of it stares back at him, shrouded and shadowy, when he turns the phone off. He turns it back on. Whatever makes Adam Adam is stuck in someone else’s body. He flicks up and down on the weather app just to be doing something. Adam needs answers, he needs to find a way to not be in a hospital in Ireland, he needs his body.

He needs this to not be happening.

He can’t say anything to Declan, because he’s not sure Declan cares much for Ronan Lynch. The pain licks up under the skin of the arms. Adam doesn’t think Ronan Lynch cares much for Ronan Lynch.

“Did you really do it?” Declan whispers. “Tell me they were dreams.”

The question itself is sad, but the demand after is bizarre.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Adam replies because there’s no plausible lie for him to come up with here.

Declan’s face turns to marble. “Whatever. I’m not letting you get out of therapy. I read all of the brochures.”

“Okay,” Adam says.

Declan’s face turns to something else, unnatural only because it’s not an unkind expression. He touches Adam’s—Ronan’s—head and leaves.

The silence is huge and foreboding. He wishes this wasn’t a private room. He wishes he didn’t have to believe this. He wishes he could say something about this.

He wonders if the real Ronan is dead.

He’s not sure how he falls asleep but when Adam wakes up again, he’s in his miserably familiar bed with a miserably familiar ache in his ribs. Of course it was a dream, of course it was a very realistic dream.

You don’t recognize a dream while you’re in it, that’s why he accepted all of it. But this is real life, not a fantasy where he gets thrown into someone else’s world. And it wasn’t even a good world.

He lets himself lay in bed for a few more moments to pretend he has time.

He hauls himself up.

He lifts his shirt to check his ribs and his thoughts splinter.

Under a bruise, in shaky black marker, are the words ‘ not a dream’ .

 

⊷⊶

 

Ronan can’t pinpoint when it happens. One second he’s in Adam’s bed replaying Adam’s father’s yelling and Adam’s father’s fists and Adam’s mother’s cold eyes and in the next, the ugly dividers become ugly hospital tiles.

He hadn’t been sleeping. He wasn’t going to take that risk. There was maybe a blur before it happened, or he blinked maybe, or maybe there was a string tied to whatever part of him was stuck here and it pulled him back into his own body.

He sees his arms, and he remembers that last thing.

“Fuck,” he mutters.

“I see you’re back to normal,” comes Declan’s unwelcome voice from a far corner.

“What the fuck are you on about?”

“You were being an idiot yesterday, that’s all.” As usual, Declan can’t leave it there. In an ugly imitation of Ronan’s voice, he continues, “You were all ‘oh I don’t know you, who are you?’”

Ronan can’t rise to the bait. “Was I doing anything weird?” He asks evenly.

“I just said—”

Doing,” Ronan snaps. “Like actions.”

“You messed around with your phone. You were being somewhat polite, which I know takes you effort. So that should count as an action.”

Ronan glowers at him. He despises Declan for being in this room with him, and for confirming everything. Adam Parrish was here, where Ronan’s body was. Adam was here, and he left here with some conclusions about Ronan. The conclusions probably weren’t very wrong.

But the big, blazing fact is that Adam Parrish is real. Not a made-up boy who’s life Ronan lived for a day.

It isn’t comforting now to be back in his own body and his own life, but he doesn’t ever want to return to Adam’s place again. He doesn't want the knowledge of Adam Parrish's life. What Ronan wants is to be gently crushed into smaller and smaller pieces until there’s no sign he’s ever existed.

“I’ll get you some jello,” Declan says before leaving.

Everything still hurts, and he still can’t ask anyone for help.

 

⊷⊶

 

Three days is an odd span of time. It's just enough time for Adam to start feeling comfortable again. To start believing That Event was truly nothing more than a dream. A mere side effect of his exhaustion.

On the fourth day, Adam wakes up to fluffy pillows and dappled sunlight.

First things first, he types out a message on Ronan Lynch’s journal app.

'I am Adam Parrish typing this. I am currently in control of Ronan Lynch’s body, and I have reason to believe that he is in control of mine at the same time. Ronan Lynch—when you see this please confirm everything. We need to communicate and figure out why this is happening and how to stop this.’

The arms are still bandaged, not as thick as before, and the hands are free. The fingers are slender and pretty, violin fingers. They are also covered in an erratic pattern of scars.

Adam still doesn’t want to consider that.

He takes stock of the room. There are piles of clutter all over, organized perhaps by color, or by the type of clutter, or some inane category Ronan Lynch came up with himself. There’s a large bookcase, full of books which don’t appear to be organized by anything. A large cage, with the bars set too far apart to trap anything inside. The room is so obviously lived in, and want rises in Adam.

He shoves it down. Someday, he’ll have it better, he’ll have it the best, and he’ll have it organized right.

Two texts come in, from Declan Lynch: Just order pizza. Don’t visit mom.

Adam slips out of bed, side-steps a pile of laundry right next to an empty hamper, steps on a pencil, and makes it to Ronan Lynch’s desk. There are crinkled papers scribbled with doodles and smudges of color. The textbooks are untouched, and Adam leaves the room that way; it doesn’t feel right, none of it is his to touch.

Adam does whatever he needs to do without looking at a mirror. When he catches peripheral glimpses of skin, he pretends he doesn’t.

The house, as he explores it, confirms Ronan Lynch is rich. It’s subtle in the richness. There are cracks in the paint, but there’s luster too. It’s beautiful and quaint, vibrant and shy.

He sits at the breakfast nook, out of place and small.

Ronan’s phone has wifi, so he reads the plot synopsis for Freaky Friday and deletes the search history. He googles various iterations of my mind is stuck in someone else’s body until the mental health links stop showing up and he finds himself ten pages into a paranormal forum. Then he deletes the history again.

The whole time, Declan has been texting for updates. The latest one reads I’m coming home if you don’t reply.

Adam texts him: What’s the number for the pizza?

Declan immediately texts back: Seriously?

Adam reads his text again. It’s a simple text. Nothing incriminating about it. Ronan Lynch has been through something, he should be allowed to forget phone numbers.

Adam texts back: Yes?

Declan calls.

Adam stares down at the phone, letting it ring.

It’s not like Declan Lynch’s first thought would be someone is controlling my brother’s body, that’s nobody’s first thought.

With this in mind, Adam picks up.

“Did you seriously pick up your phone?” Declan asks. “Ronan?”

Ronan Lynch does not pick up calls from his brother.

“Yes?”

“You sound—do you need me to come home?”

Adam gulps. “Can you just tell me the number for the pizza?”

“You have the number saved on your phone. Are you good?”

Adam ignores the question. “And how do I pay?”

“Jesus fuck, man. Use your credit card, in your wallet?”

The need to confirm, to make sure this is absolutely okay for him to do, is on the tip of his tongue, but that would be too much. “Okay, thanks.” Then he adds, “man.”

Adam winces and hangs up.

He opens the journal app again and adds— ‘I used your credit card to order pizza. Should I pay you back?’

He backspaces on the question because how would he pay Ronan back? Instead, he types, ‘I’ll be keeping a log of what happens while I’m in control of your body. If I’m correct and you’re in control of mine as well, then you should keep a log too, for whenever this happens again after you read this.’

Adam is not optimistic enough to think this will be the last time.

He finds Ronan’s wallet back in his room. Adam orders the pizza, and he hates the pretty black credit card and how easy it is to use. When he opens the door for the pizza, he hates the paved, winding road and the blooming garden.

The pizza is delicious, but he eats it with a disembodied hunger. It’s the same as the pain; a step out of reach, unfamiliar, not his. He has never felt hunger or pain this way.

Adam doesn’t get to enjoy the pizza for long, as there is a rhythmic knocking on the door. He ignores it. He needs Ronan’s life to restricted to this house, he can’t deal with more. They’ll go away, they’ll just go away.

The knocking persists.

“It’s Henry!” a chipper voice calls from the other side. “I know you’re in there Lynch, I have homework.”

Ronan might want his homework.

Adam heaves himself to the door and swings it open, revealing a boy with gravity-defying hair. He walks right by Adam and lobbies his backpack to the couch, then proceeds to toss himself onto it like he’s been here a million times.

“The homework?” Adam reminds him.

Henry gives him a weird look. “Did you hit your head?”

“Yes,” Adam says, snatching at this one strand of luck.

Henry’s eyes widened. “Oh shit. I mean, you never reply to my texts anyway but I just thought you dreamt up a new monster pet so—why are you walking like that?”

Adam stops in front of the armchair across from Henry. “Like what?”

Henry scrutinizes him. “Like not you.” He does a shimmy with his shoulders. “Like you care where you’re going.”

“I hit my head,” Adam says.

“Right. I’m sure that explains it.” Henry’s sharp gaze doesn’t change but he glues on a concerned frown. “How did it happen anyway?”

“I don’t remember.” Then, quickly, because he’s milking the head injury, “what did you mean about the dreamt up monster pet?”

“Oh I don’t know, you say Chainsaw’s just a raven, but I have my doubts.”

This only serves to confuse Adam more. He’s missing some key backstory or an inside joke. He opens the journal app again and adds, 'is "dream” a code word for something?’

“I’m writing down everything,” Adam says because Henry is still giving him an unnerving look, “since I hit my head.”

“Since you hit your head,” Henry parrots.

Adam’s lips turn down. “Look, I’m not feeling well so if you have the homework I’ll be taking it.”

Henry’s eyebrows shoot up. “You were serious? Is Ronan Lynch turning a new page?” His eyes flicker down to Adam’s—Ronan’s—arms and back up. “Hitting your head made you a brand new person, did it?”

“Homework,” Adam says flatly, even though he’s starting to realize now that Ronan will not, in fact, want his homework.

“I would have hit you on the head myself if I knew this could happen,” he says cheerfully, but hands Adam a moleskine planner covered in stickers. The center of it is a sticker-free rectangle, engraved with the name Henry Cheng.

As Adam starts to take pictures of the assignments, Henry kicks his feet up on the coffee table between them. “Wow. You’re actually doing it. I need a moment to soak this in.”

Adam’s knuckles tighten on the phone and he reminds himself that Henry thinks he’s talking to Ronan.

Henry leaves soon after he finishes his soaking (“you’re being civilized and it’s making me uncomfortable, take some melatonin, Lynch”), and takes Adam’s tension with him. Henry knows Ronan well enough to tell something was off just by the way Adam walked in his body. Adam can’t walk like Ronan Lynch, or talk like Ronan Lynch. He can’t be like Ronan Lynch.

Besides Declan’s continuous texts, nobody else checks up on him. Unlike Ronan’s room, the rest of the house has stale touches of a home that might have once been lived in.

He intends to read everything over on the journal app and go to sleep but he gets stuck on the first message he wrote in the morning. He reads it once, twice, several times, and his blood goes cold.

Adam wishes fervently, pointlessly that Ronan’s mind is floating around in the air while Adam is in his place.

It’s pointless because Adam’s boss told him he acted weird on his last shift. Because he woke up with letters he did not write on his body. Because he woke up with a bruise he did not remember receiving. Adam berates himself for not thinking of this first.

Ronan must know.

He puts in one last note: ‘If I’m correct and we’re switching bodies, you know how my parents are and you know what my father does.’

And he stops there. There’s nothing else he can follow that up with.

When Adam wakes up in his own bed, relief floods him first—because he has his body back. Then comes the despair—because he has his life back too. That pizza was so good. He has one second of bleak, reluctant hope, that again, all of it was a dream.

He curls over, and the hope shreds.

There’s another message, this time on his hand. ‘Check your math notebook.’

Adam’s notebooks are jammed with words and numbers; he can’t afford to waste space. Ronan’s writing is sharp and bold and stands out in the midst of Adam’s scrawny cluster— ‘tell me how to do your damn jobs so you don’t get fired.’

He can't deny it.

It’s real. It’s so acutely real. There’s some boy across the ocean who knows his embarrassing life and there’s nothing Adam can do about it. He rubs his thumb over his braided keychain. It’s the only thing anchoring him here.

He reads the message again and again and again. The page following it are notes from his classes in Ronan’s handwriting.

Adam presses his face into his notebook. He takes a moment to hate it. He hates it so much.

He flips to a blank page of his notebook and begins writing.