It doesn’t stop.
The next time Adam wakes up in Ronan’s place, he checks the journal app first. There’s a string of replies to almost everything he’d written:
‘Man can you fucking type normally? You sound like you’re on some secret mission. Yeah, roger that I can confirm everything you said. We’re fucking switching bodies or brains or whatever the fuck.’
‘You can use my credit card whenever, I don’t care.’
‘Dream means dream. Damn you really think this is some spy shit.’
Adam flips the phone over and slaps it down on a pillow, annoyance flaring up in him. The great injustice of this whole situation isn’t even that they’re switching places, it’s that Adam can’t physically tell Ronan Lynch how much of an asshole he is.
The bandages make their presence known with his sudden movement. It’s itchy and there’s an uncomfortable slickness from an ointment underneath. The ache is dull, but it spikes up when he twists the arm. His arm, for now.
How did it feel for Ronan, to go from the wounds here to the wound that was Adam’s whole life? He’s wrong, he wouldn’t be able to physically tell Ronan anything; he wouldn’t be able to even meet him. Not with what he knows; not with what Ronan knows.
His annoyance ebbs as he circles around the clear reason for this pain and turns the phone back on to read the rest of Ronan’s messages.
‘Shit you gotta know—I have appointments every Thursday. If you’re at my spot on Thursdays call “appointment lady” and cancel them.’
It’s a Thursday, so Adam makes the call.
‘I don’t give a fuck if you go to school but I’m supposed to go back in a month. Call Cheng to carpool. I screenshot my schedule.’
‘I got a pet bird. Her name is Chainsaw. Her food is next to her cage, put some in the bowl. Also, she’s a baby so don’t pull any shit around her.’
Chainsaw is not in the cage. Adam hopes the part about her being a raven was a joke.
He explains his brothers and ‘if you gotta see Declan again that sucks but don’t be fucking nice to him. Kick his ass. If you can’t do that don’t talk to him.’
There’s no sharing of sympathy or concern over what’s going on in his words; it’s as if Ronan has accepted their fate and is now passing on instructions to Adam like he’s a babysitter.
‘Also, painkillers in the nightstand if you get pissy.’
Adam reads thoroughly, prolonging the journey down to the part about his parents. When he gets to his last message he scrolls up and rereads everything, on the off chance he missed something important. He didn’t.
Adam is well-versed now in hiding the evidence of his abuse. But in the past, reactions to it would range from the sympathetic looks of elementary school teachers to awkward questions from other children to parents offering nervous smiles before quickly glancing away to endless other inactions, all whispering this is just how it is.
He can’t fathom how that’ll translate over to all this.
Ronan’s last message is darker, and bolder, even though the font and color are the same.
‘What do I do.’
He can’t discern the reaction here. It doesn’t translate.
He does Ronan’s homework because Ronan did his and Adam needs the routine of studying. They share some of the same subjects.
Adam asks: ‘How old are you?’
He struggles to copy Ronan’s handwriting—words that demand to be noticed where they stand, at best, he keeps them within the college-ruled lines.
Before Adam goes to sleep, he types on the journal app:
'You can avoid it: There’s a lot of noise, don’t flinch when any of it happens. At least don’t get caught flinching. Always make eye contact, don’t look down and don’t look past him. Don’t fight back and don’t run.’
He’s not sure how Ronan will fare with this advice, because it’s not good advice. Of the three, Adam can only manage the third.
He almost erases the message, changes it to something distant like every one of Ronan’s words. But he keeps a part of him there, under the watchful eyes of the cartoonish moon.
It’s fair then, that Ronan put a part of himself here too. 'What happened to your arms?'
A honed skill: fitting in.
All he has to do is belong in Adam’s world, to blend and be unseen. He’s an expert at this, he practices almost every night he fails to stay awake.
Ronan does precisely what Adam’s schedules dictate. He memorizes the ins and outs of the factory and warehouse jobs and he asks Boyd if he can do desk work instead. Without a doubt, he loses customers through the phone calls and emails, but he doesn’t lose the job.
He meshes into the walls of the double-wide, into the walls of Aglionby, anything to go unnoticed and get the day done as swift as possible.
That’s how he plans to live this life, quietly, like he tries to live his nightmares.
Except that’s a flimsy strategy, because he barely survives his nightmares, and their effects inevitably show up on his skin. Ronan is grasping at a rope guaranteed to snap.
Back in his own body, Ronan rubs his thumb over the ‘you can avoid it’, willing it to disappear. The first two are easy, the third—not so much. There are endless variations to what he wants to reply with: should I call the cops, should I deck him, should I tell someone, can I tell someone.
But he can’t; because in the end, Adam would return alone to face the consequences. What if he did any of those things and they never switched again?
He doesn’t have the right words to say. He picks the ones that are the least wrong, but the shards of wrongness that remain are infuriating.
It’s discomforting to care for someone like this. Adam is a stranger, and yet he’s not a stranger.
Ronan is vividly aware of the tiny white scar over the knuckle of Adam’s index finger. He’s aware of its roughness.
That’s not something a stranger would know.
He answers Adam’s question: ‘Some big ass birds pecked them out.’
It’s not a lie.
He’s insufferable, Adam decides, reading the message.
He welcomes the annoyance, an apparent knee-jerk reaction to most things Ronan says.
He goes to the bathroom and splashes some water on his face. Adam stares into the mirror. Ever since he saw his reflection on Ronan’s phone, he’s been avoiding this, the looking bit.
It’s Ronan Lynch’s face staring back at him.
He’s a fawnish brown, desaturated in the way all things are on winter mornings. His hair can’t decide if it’s curly or a bird’s nest, it’s a little long on the front, and it softens the anger of his cheekbones. His lips are turned down with remnants of Adam’s annoyance; the expression sits like a default setting. Ronan’s face is suited for negativity. Adam aims for a smile, but it comes off as more of a grimace. He sticks his tongue out. Makes his eyebrows jump. Tugs the ears.
It all behaves the way skin and faces behave.
Adam pulls a series of unsettling expressions, saved only by Ronan not being ugly. Another insufferable thing—Ronan was very handsome. Adam rubs his thumb over the sharp corner of his jaw, all the way down to the tip of his chin. He touches his lips and his eyes snare on the line of a scar peeking out from the bandages.
He leaves the bathroom.
‘Me too. 18 this July.’
‘November for me.’
‘So I’m older than you.’
‘So what? The fuck is with the tone?’
‘There’s no tone. You can’t hear my voice.’
Ronan is so used to orchestrating his own pain it’s jarring to receive it from someone besides himself.
Worse than the pain is the feeling of failure. Adam told him how to avoid it. He doesn’t know where he messes up, he doesn’t know if it even matters. Adam Adam wouldn’t receive the immediate brunt force, but he’d return to know it happened.
When the pain isn’t physical, it’s still an entity attached to the double-wide.
It exists in the way the air there suffocates him. It’s the constant, weighted threat of what could happen with one wrong sound or action.
The desire to slice through this air with vicious words is overwhelming. Each time this desire shoots to a peak, Ronan stamps it down by writing for Adam.
‘Your school is lame. Wrote some fun jokes on the blackboard.’
‘These classes you take are a pain in the ass.’
Ronan would very much prefer to be aloof and write just what he needs to and be done with it, but writing these useless messages is his only distraction from the atmosphere of Adam’s home. He writes sometimes on the back steps of the double-wide, sometimes during breaks at Boyd’s, sometimes by moonlight to stay awake.
‘Speaking of pain in the ass, your Latin teacher blows.’
‘Dude you need to quit doing my homework. I’m not gonna turn that shit in.’
‘Then don’t. I’m doing it for myself.’
Adam wants to keep their correspondence detached, at least what’s possible with Ronan having access to practically every crevice of his life.
But he can’t.
Ronan logs Adam’s day in an insufferable manner, he scribbles insufferable comments, there is no end to his insufferability.
Adam can’t let that go.
‘Is pizza all you eat? Your face is going to become more oil than skin cells.’
‘Just order some groceries you picky fucker.’
‘Holy shit I didn’t know rich people actually did that. So you just throw money around like it's nothing.’
‘Yeah whatever man I’m not seeing fruit in my fridge.’
Not that Adam can afford it but: ‘What’s in your shampoo? Doesn't smell like ass.'
It’s dreamt up, so: ‘Bog water and bird shit.’
There’s no order or system to it. Adam intends to make one, but Ronan is so mulishly uncooperative it doesn’t happen. Somehow, this results in them holding multiple, barbed conversations about different topics on either end.
They don’t talk about how sometimes Adam wakes up in Ronan’s bed with reddened knuckles and a splitting headache, or how Ronan wakes up in Adam’s with purplish bruises. They fill that gap with pasted paragraphs and links from dubious articles, anything with a tie to their situation. But even those devolve into stupid arguments.
‘The link you left me is about alien-human interactions. I didn’t really look at it but I think it’s nsfw.’
‘Why did you specify that you didn’t really look at it?’
‘Anyway, it would help if you’d take this seriously.’
‘Fuck you. That link had body switch come up 50 times when I used advanced search.’
‘It wasn’t the same as what’s happening to us!’
‘So you did look at it lmao.’
Adam buys a new notebook. When scrolling through one entry gets tiresome, Ronan opens a new one.
The googly-eyed moon icon buzzes with joy.
It’s shocking that Richard Gansey III knows his name.
More shocking than being propositioned about dead Welsh kings. Adam reluctantly accepts the magic of it, he’d be a hypocrite not to. The thrill of having friends, or the possibility of friends is cut with the worry of how he’ll make the space of having them.
“Can I just say something?” Gansey asks as he drives them to Nino’s.
Adam is sick of pizza, but Nino’s is okay because of the choppy-haired waitress. There had been a slow moment, the first few times they’d gone, where Adam wanted to place his finger or maybe his mouth on the indent of her cupid’s bow. But those moments passed, and now she mostly looks at Gansey like she wants to spill iced tea over his shirt.
“You can,” Adam allows.
“You’re quite different from when I first met you.”
The only sound is Gansey’s roommate, Noah, biting straight through his jawbreaker in the backseat.
Later, he writes for Ronan: ‘I’ve been hanging out with these two guys, Gansey and Noah. We met because I helped fix Gansey’s car. In case that comes up. Please don’t be weird around them.’
Following their next switch, Ronan: ‘Dude I got this, that Dick Gansey guy is fucking in love with me.’
Adam: ‘I’m not even gonna ask.’
‘If you’re here on Sunday I’m going to church.’
Adam reads this a minute before he finds out Chainsaw being a raven was not a joke.
Chainsaw is, in fact, a real bird who’s a raven whose real name is Chainsaw. No longer a concept, she screeches from her imposing stance on the bedpost. Her beak clacks and she seems just about ready to eat Adam’s eyeballs.
He grasps the phone like a lifeline and flees Ronan’s room, slamming the door on the raven’s terrifying wingspan.
The rest of the message informs that Declan picks him up at 9, Matthew would be there, and ‘don’t be fucking nice to Declan’.
There’s nothing else provided, nothing on church etiquette, if that’s a thing, nothing on what to expect, no tips, no tricks. It would be remiss of Adam to expect otherwise. He watches with lackluster acceptance as the time goes from 8:58 to 9:00 and knocking ensues from downstairs.
All in all, the morning is shaping up to be unpleasant.
He opens the door to Declan and the cold. “Hi.”
Declan’s eyes widen in surprise and Adam has a split second to wonder if even a simple hi was beyond Ronan’s level of kindness before Declan snaps, “you’re not ready yet? Fucking of course you aren’t.”
Adam’s shoulders rise up in defense. “I just woke up.”
Declan’s mouth thins and he sighs. “At least you're sleeping. If you’re not ready in five minutes we’re leaving without you.”
Adam is partial to that course of action, but it feels like a betrayal to not do Ronan’s things when Ronan is on the other side doing Adam’s things. He trudges up the stairs and peeks in through the door.
Chainsaw is back on the bedpost, regal and ugly. Her head inclines in an oddly human, inviting way and she studies Adam as he edges his way in. She’s much smaller now, without the screeching and flapping, but she’s also not the baby Ronan claimed her to be. She allows Adam to approach her and stays still as he raises a hand up to her head.
Half of him thinks you idiot, she’ll eat your finger, while the other half is consumed by the universal desire to win the affection of an unaffectionate animal.
She nudges her beak against his index finger and flies to the window. She pecks at the glass, and her head twists back to him. The beadiness in her eyes is unnerving, like she’s staring right through Ronan’s skin.
It’s paranoia. She’s just a bird. Adam lets her out.
Adam finds a crisp dress shirt and slacks in the closet. Winding leather straps have taken the place of Ronan’s bandages. The scars are bearable to look at now (out of the corner of his eye), shallow and shiny in the light, hidden by the bracelet strands. They are only awful in their number. Adam carefully rolls the sleeves down over them and puts on a suit jacket.
It’s eleven minutes when he leaves the house, but Declan’s Volvo is still waiting. A massive boy with massive curls leaps out of the passenger seat and pulls Adam into a hug.
He’s saying something, loud and happy, and Adam dazedly realizes this is Matthew. The hug is like laying in warm laundry. A mass of emotion wrapped in barbed wire ends clog Adam’s throat and he squeezes Matthew’s shoulder until it disappears.
Declan gives him a once-over in the car. “Not too wrinkled. You don’t look like a trash heap for once.”
What would Ronan say? He eyes Declan’s suit; it’s expensive, not a wrinkle in sight, and the collar is tight around his neck. “You look like you’re about to sell me into a credit scam.”
“That one’s new,” Declan mutters as Matthew laughs in the backseat.
Church is a blur of Adam pretending to know what to do and trying to not fall asleep. The lunch after is nicer, because Matthew laughs at everything and Declan leaves for a phone call five minutes in.
Back in the house, he burrows under the covers, the air drafty from the weather outside. He should be mad about today. Adam tries to call back the frustration of the morning, but he thinks of Matthew’s hug and Chainsaw pushing against his finger, and anger is suddenly beyond his reach.
He gives a polite revision of his morning thoughts: ‘Why didn’t you tell me you had church earlier?’
Two days later, Ronan’s response reads: ‘Because I decided to go the day before. Why does it matter?’
‘I could have prepared!’
‘How? Were you gonna memorize the fucking bible?’
When Adam sees this three days later, he debates listing the numerous things Ronan could have told him to make it easier. But Chainsaw knocks over her food and refuses to eat it off the floor so instead, he types: ‘You’re a shithead. And your bird’s a shithead too.’
‘You don’t really act Irish.’
‘If you have something irishphobic to say then don’t half-ass it.’
‘Not a lot of green in your wardrobe. No red hair.”
‘You say dude a lot. No ambiguous European accent.’
‘I traveled around. Do you expect Irish people to have fucking leprechauns too?’
‘Just you, actually.’
Another skill: making his insomnia look couture.
This one is hindering here, leaving Ronan unequipped to be in charge of a body that yearns for sleep.
Adam runs on a trainwreck version of exhaustion—heavy eyelids, jittery nerves, hollow stomach. Nothing fashionable about any of that.
How did he stay awake like this?
On some switches, the strain of it is easier.
They’re at Nino’s, him and Gansey because Noah was smart enough to opt out. Ronan sits alone in the booth, fidgeting with a chipped fingernail.
He brings his hand up close to his face and observes the little curve of knuckle. Ronan urges it to bend, and it obeys, as joints often do. He does this to each finger until he gets to his thumb, and this doesn’t bend, something goes wrong in the process and it protrudes out. Alarmingly, Ronan thinks he’s broken Adam’s thumb.
(It’s Adam’s thumb when something goes wrong.)
But no, there’s no pain and when he flexes, it locks back into place.
Gansey chooses that moment to return. “Adam, what are you doing?”
“Dude,” Ronan says, demonstrating his new discovery. “Look at that. Double jointed. Fucking neat, right?”
Gansey gapes at him, then with a touch of concern, asks, “did you not know you were double-jointed?”
Ronan opens his mouth, closes it, opens it again to say, “I just thought it was cool. Wouldn’t expect you to understand simple pleasures.”
That seems to hold enough passive-aggressive distaste for the rich to be Adam-like.
It passes for Gansey and Ronan is punished with a long tangent on exactly how much Gansey loves bones.
“We were at this archaeological dig and—” he cuts off, and punishes Ronan even further with a whispered, “you’re staring at her again.”
“What?” Ronan snaps. “Staring at who?”
Gansey’s eyebrows arch. “The waitress.”
Ronan casts said waitress a fleeting glance. “So? She’s got cool shit in her hair.”
“Sometimes, you’re quite—” he tilts his head “—nevermind. I could wingman for you if you want.”
Ronan wants to leave.
“No. I don’t want you to get us banned.” His tone doesn’t have as much ice as he intends.
Adam never told him he liked someone, not that Ronan cares, but it would have been helpful. For something. For interactions.
Ronan takes what he decides to be the higher road:‘Do you want me to hit on the so-called cute waitress for you? I can do that. I got you, dude.’
Next switch, with an insulting number of exclamation marks, Adam had written:‘Do not!!!!! Just take my notes!!’
Ronan, brimming with relief:‘Oh right. Forgot you were married to homework.’
‘I’m sorry. I don’t know what the fuck I did. I didn’t do anything. He was so pissed I don’t know why.’
‘God. No, I’m sorry. You didn’t do anything. I wish we could make this stop so you wouldn’t have to feel this. I’m really sorry. It’s shit.’
‘Don’t fucking apologize, yeah it’s shit and you don’t deserve it.’
‘Well, why did you apologize?’
Ronan doesn’t answer this, but the margins of Adam’s notebook are covered in doodles of flowers exactly like the ones from the hospital.
Ronan warns him about school a week early, and Adam naively thinks this is a milestone in their tentative friendship.
Throughout the week, Ronan reminds him multiple times: ‘you don’t have to go. In fact, you shouldn’t go.’
So of course, Adam decides to go.
He calls Henry. “Can you pick me up?”
“Why?” Henry whines. “You drove yourself fine yesterday.”
“My head’s acting up.”
There’s some annoyed murmuring on the other end. “Fine. Give me a bit, since you've chosen to be a hermit.”
Adam gets ready. He makes toast, he feeds Chainsaw, he catches up on Ronan’s messages. He kicks his feet up on the coffee table as Henry had done, and immediately puts them back down.
It’s over half an hour later when Henry’s car honks a staccato beat from the driveway.
Henry is yawning when Adam gets in the car and asks, “when’s school?”
He ignores the question, staring at Adam with disbelieving eyes. “Who are you and what have you done with Ronan Lynch?”
Adam’s throat goes dry and dreadful, but Henry only reaches out and loosens the knot of his tie. He tugs it down until two of the buttons pop open.
“Was that like, a joke? I forgot you knew how to button a shirt properly. And knot a tie.”
Adam concentrates on breathing normally. His cover wasn’t blown. God, he really did treat this like a secret mission. Who was going to think this wasn’t actually Ronan? Nobody, that’s who.
He starts driving, and Ronan had not warned Adam about this.
Henry drives like he believes he’s a bad driver, like he’s navigating his way around an accident already occurring. Adam leans his head dejectedly against the window and winces back upright when Henry miscalculates a turn.
There’s a moment where he jolts up with his car and glances at Adam frantically. “Do you think I ran over something? I’ll speed up if I did.”
“That was a speed bump.”
They drive on with several similar events. When they arrive at the school, parking is a trickling, back-and-forth ordeal with abrupt starts and stops.
“We’re late,” Adam says regretfully, and at Henry’s perplexed gaze, adds, “which I love. Love being late. Fuck punctuality.”
Henry’s smile is wary. “You should see a brain surgeon.”
All in all, Adam considers it a win for not choking on fuck.
In retaliation for not mentioning Henry’s driving, Adam turns in all of Ronan’s homework. He enjoys the teachers’ astonishment, as well as Henry’s for the two classes they share.
He adjusts to Ronan’s school with ease; most of its differences from Aglionby are surface-level. Rich people are the same everywhere.
The one challenging part is he can’t stare at himself. After that first time in the bathroom, it’s become a force of habit to catch and hold any glimpse of his reflection. It’s impossible not to. Whatever higher being was out there sacrificed a lot of personality points to make Ronan so offensively attractive.
He keeps himself in check for most of the day until he passes by a large, black window, and his self-control dies. It’s a shrouded reflection, like the one off Ronan’s phone screen or the shiny black lining of his oven. His eyes stand out here; they’re the flinty blue of an impending, inescapable storm. Adam’s own eyes are blue but he can’t remember anything about them when looking at Ronan’s.
“What are you doing. ” Henry roughly checks his shoulder.
“I had something stuck in my teeth,” Adam says, mildly gleeful. He’s getting good at being like Ronan.
Henry scrunches up his nose. “No words,” and then, contradicting himself, “there are teachers on the other side of that.”
“Hope they enjoyed the show.”
“Hope you know you’ll be single forever.”
‘You need to fucking stop checking out my face everywhere. It’s fucking awkward explaining it to Cheng.’
‘Sorry I need to look at it to remind myself to be the world’s biggest jackass.’
‘Does it work? I’ll stare at your face for an hour next switch to get your shitbastard attitude down.’
They’re at an authentic Chinese place, so Ronan has his guard up. Henry only ever wants to eat at trendy, fast food Asian fusion places because “if I wanted authentic, I’d eat at home!”
“Our server is hot,” he comments.
Ronan agrees but he doesn’t turn to check him out again. Once is enough. He’s envious of how easily Henry can do and say these things. That’ll never happen for him.
Golden lights and twangy meditation music don’t match well with these thoughts.
“You’re trying to distract me,” Ronan says. “Why am I here?”
“Don’t make this sound like a hostage situation. I asked if you wanted to hang out that’s why you’re here.” Henry taps a chopstick on Ronan’s nose. “Did you forget because of the head injury?”
“Yeah, that’s it,” Ronan says wryly. “So you’re not gonna say some dumb shit?”
“Just two dudes getting fancy Chinese food,” Henry assures.
The waiter approaches their table with heaping bowls of sesame chicken and chow mein. With the food and steam between them for protection, Henry’s smile turns guilty.
“Well, actually—” never a good start to a sentence.
“Can you chill? I just want to know if you’re doing good.”
“People care about you Lynch—” Ronan gags—“I don’t care if it kills you inside, it’s true.”
Ronan scoops a messy pile of noodles onto Henry’s plate so he doesn’t have to acknowledge this.
“Come on, are you okay? You act weird at school, you keep staring at yourself, you’re doing homework —”
The only visible exit is blocked by a poshly dressed group exchanging back slaps and business cards. Henry tends to have heart-to-hearts in places difficult to run from.
“I’m good, man,” Ronan grounds out, spearing a piece of chicken with one chopstick. “You’re really gonna do this here.”
“Fine. This guy in America keeps randomly taking over my body. Like a few times a week. He’s the one doing that shit.”
“You are very attached to this head injury charade,” Henry muses. “Alright then, don’t tell me. I didn’t expect you to.”
They eat in tense silence, and Henry’s eyes keep flicking between Ronan’s wrists and his chow mein.
Ronan sighs. “Fuck, just say the rest.”
“I’m not stupid, Lynch.”
Henry picks up a piece of sesame chicken from his plate and puts it on Ronan’s, even though the bowl itself next to Ronan’s plate, and still full.
“I’m not gonna tell you some motivational self-help book crap.”
“But the sentiment, it’s here amongst us. I’m sending you self-help book vibes.” Henry makes a wafting gesture with his hands.
“All I’m getting is the egg shampoo you made me crack over your hair this morning.”
“Aw, really? I’m getting the satisfaction of being a caring friend.”
“Eat your fucking noodles, Cheng.”
Henry eats his noodles, wearing a triumphant smile he didn’t deserve.
The rest of lunch is Ronan showing Henry new Robobee designs on a napkin, and wondering if the server’s hands are double-jointed. He makes Henry pay because emotional intimacy comes at a cost and gets a to-go box for most of his food.
He microwaves a tiny portion in the evening to commit to the act that he got it for himself.
For Adam: ‘Eat this shit. Or throw it out if you don’t.’
Ronan wishes Adam could feel full eating this, but even the taste has to mean something after days of canned food and stale sandwiches. He doesn’t expect Adam “stupid head injury excuse” Parrish to figure it out.
He gets away with it three more switches before Adam figures it out.
‘You know you’re the one getting clogged arteries out of this, right? Like it’s all going in your stomach?’
Out of spite, he goes and buys a whole slew of fruits and makes a salad out of it.
‘Enjoy the damn antioxidants.’
Adam clearly does, as Ronan finds when he’s back in his body. The salad is gone, and so are all the extra raspberries from their little plastic boxes.
'That was actually good? I didn’t know you could cook.’
Ronan is begrudgingly amused that Adam considers salads to be cooking.
‘Tone down the surprise, asshole. Obviously I know how to cook, I live alone.’
“You’re still living in that creaky old place?”
“You know I am.”
“All by yourself?”
“You know I am,” Ronan repeats wearily.
His mom tuts, and draws a sweeping line with her charcoal. The wind is quiet because Ronan asked it to be. He has no interest in running into the ocean to save her newsprint sketches.
Aurora Lynch lives in a small, beachy dream place Ronan doesn’t remember creating. It closes on one end several feet behind her cottage, at a sloping fixture of jagged rocks. On the other end, hidden by the rolling sand dunes, it’s closed off by a formidable boulder and a smattering of lively tide pools. Ronan doesn’t count the waves as a boundary, they were here before the dream place.
It’s a very large prison.
“Pass me that brown charcoal, please.”
As he does, a little bit of its dust falls on the blankets they laid out.
“It would be nice if you could leave. Move into the school dorms, or live with Henry and your other friends."
“Those are Henry’s friends, not mine.”
She makes the tutting sound again. “They could be if you lived closer to them. You could see your brothers more often too.”
“Don’t care to. I see Matthew all the time. Hard no on Declan.” Ronan squints at her. “Are you kicking me out?”
Aurora fixes him with an unimpressed look. “All I’m saying is it would be good for you to be somewhere else.”
“What about you, mom? You don’t want to be somewhere else?” He asks the question to hurt himself.
She shrugs, and her smile is faded and unfocused. “It’s so nice here—the sea, the air.” She goes to squeeze his cheek, even though he doesn’t have the baby fat for it anymore. “No creaky stairs.”
“You don’t want to go anywhere else?” He presses.
She touches her smudged hand to his hair. “A grocery store, maybe. Have you eaten a vegetable today?”
“Not one this week,” Ronan answers dutifully.
“As expected.” She combs a hand through his hair, and it flops right back over his forehead. “It’s gotten a little long right here.”
“Should I shave it off?” He has no intention of doing so.
She laughs, and Ronan clings to the sound. “If you want. Such a handsome boy, we’ll make it work.”
Ronan wants to leave right then, but he remains a while longer before heading to the third boundary: a twisting, gravelly road. Sometimes he walks here, but today he drove, and he drives the car to the grocery store to buy raspberries.
On his phone, amongst several other messages, Adam had written: ‘When I get out of here, we should actually meet up. You can teach me to cook so I don’t live off ramen in college.’
It’s from three days ago; a switch should be coming up soon. They haven’t gone more than five days without one.
They both separately, tacitly have come to the conclusion that this may never end. That they may never find a solution, that the body swapping would be their new reality. It’s not so new anymore.
He parks in a messy, obstructing manner and replies to the messages, including: ‘You deserve hypertension after talking all that shit about me clogging my arteries.’
Ronan goes back inside the creaky Lynch house. He goes up to his bed. He goes to sleep.
In the dream, Ronan’s hands scrape into the dirt until he uncovers roses. They aren’t growing there, they lay as if someone buried their bouquet. Ronan tries to get them, but his hands merely snatch back with thorns. Every time he reaches for the roses, the petals, it’s the thorns embedding themselves in his palms.
“Give me roses without thorns,” he pleads.
“For who?” The roses ask him, or the trees, or the whole dream.
For his mother, for Matthew. He would come away with roses then.
“For me,” Ronan says.
Adam wakes up in Ronan’s bed with small punctures all over his palms. They’re blotting over with blood.
It’s a needle-like pain and he’s glad Ronan didn’t wake up to feel it.
He finds a first aid kit and disinfects before putting bandages over them with care. He eats the raspberries and does Ronan’s homework.
He has to say something.
Before going to sleep, Adam writes: ‘I wish the birds would stop pecking.’
It’s so incomplete. But he had nothing complete to say.
‘You think ley lines got something to do with our shit?’
‘Maybe. We’re getting more books on it. And we’re going to some psychics soon.’
‘You’ve got witches too? Man, your town is fucking creepy.’
‘Psychics. Don’t be shitty if you’re there.’
These three months wash past them, simultaneously slow and fast. Then:
‘Ronan we found this forest. I don’t know what to say, you need to see it yourself.’