I had two longings and one was fighting the other. I wanted to be loved and I wanted to be always
— Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
After four months in Palo Alto, Virginia felt cold. Adam rubbed his hands, and checked his phone. There were no new texts from Ronan, which didn’t surprise him. He didn’t know why he checked. He’d either be here, or he wouldn’t. And Ronan wasn’t one to break promises.
He stuffed his hands in the pockets of his jacket. The December chill bit at his nose, and by the time a charcoal BMW finally rolled up to arrivals, Adam was properly freezing.
"Hey,” Adam didn’t hesitate, stepping down off the curb to knock on the dark window. His suitcase clattered behind him discordantly.
The window rolled down to reveal Ronan, his expression sober. He was wearing an uncharacteristically purple knit beanie.
"Parrish.” Ronan nodded. “You gonna throw that in the back?”
“Yeah. I just need you to, uh," he scraped a hand over his hair. “Unlock the trunk.”
"Right." Ronan pressed a button on the driver's side door, and the trunk clicked unlocked. Adam ducked behind the car to shove his suitcase and backpack inside. There wasn't much in the trunk. Reusable grocery bags, gauze, tape, and a pair of ratty boxing gloves. Adam squeezed his stuff in among Ronan's things, and shut the trunk.
In the front seat, Ronan had the heat blasting. Adam melted into his seat gratefully, and rubbed his hands together again, blowing his warm breath over his fingers. Ronan fiddled with the stereo until it started playing something electronic, and then he pulled out of the line of cars to exit the airport.
Adam turned to look at him. He was still wearing the hat, so he couldn't tell if his hair had gotten any longer, but he tried to scrutinize any sign of change. Were the circles under his eyes darker? Were his hands rough from farmwork? Ronan looked the same. He always looked the same. In every screenshot Gansey posted from their long-distance facetime sessions, in every tagged photo Adam could dredge up from his minimal facebook page his eyes were still blue, his skin was still prone to sunburn, and he still looked sharp enough that Adam could cut himself. Nothing had changed over the fall.
Only Adam had.
"Hey," he reached out to tug the beanie over Ronan's ear. "Where'd this come from?"
Ronan shooed his hand away and glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. "I'm driving." He said, disgruntled. "Fox Way."
"Blue made it?" Adam's thoughts were already racing ahead of him, memories mingling with new anxieties. He was supposed to be a psychic, but he hadn't touched his tarot cards since he left in August. They were probably still at The Barns. Or maybe Ronan had brought them back to Maura and Calla.
Ronan shook his head. "Maura. Early Christmas gift."
"Maura?" Adam echoed. In the time that he'd known Ronan, he hadn't really gotten along with the women of 300 Fox Way. It was difficult to imagine that changing over the span of just a few months. "Do you hang out around there a lot?"
Ronan shrugged, and turned on his blinker. They were about to get on the highway to make the two hour drive back to Henrietta. "Not really. I just help them with odd jobs, sometimes."
"Like what?" Adam tried not to sound skeptical.
"I helped them re-build the fence in their backyard." Ronan paused. "Sometimes they get me to change a light bulb. Don't make it weird, Parrish."
Adam quieted for a long moment. Ronan didn't look different, but clearly something had changed. Finally, he said: "It's nice of her to make you something."
Behind the wheel, Ronan rolled his eyes. "If you're so into the hat, you can have it. Purple isn't my color." After a moment of thought he added: "I doubt you'll need it in California, though."
They had barely talked about Stanford until he left. Until it was already falling apart. Adam couldn't tell if this was a subtle jab, or if Ronan was actually being thoughtful. Either way it scraped at his insides, like a scalpel against teeth.
"It gets cold sometimes." Adam knew he sounded defensive, even to his own ears. He couldn't stand it. All this time, and as soon as they saw each other again, the wound felt raw all over again. He turned his head to look out the window, the headlights of other cars rushing past in the dark. He was supposed to spend a few days with Ronan, alone, and suddenly he had no idea how to do it. A month ago, when Blue and Gansey had visited for Thanksgiving, it sounded like it would be easy. Now, he thought he'd wasted the first two weeks of break working back in California to make up for the travelling fees.
Adam and Ronan hadn't really ended on bad terms. They hadn't really ended. They just took a break. And they'd been friends for so long, hadn't they? If Adam was going back to Virginia, he would have to see Ronan. Of course he would. After everything they had been through, he had to see him.
That was what he'd thought when he bought the plane tickets in November. When he'd called Ronan up for the first time in two months, and asked to stay for the first couple days before Christmas. He'd made plans to go to stay with Blue as soon as she, Henry, and Gansey returned for the holidays, but his break started earlier than they were planning to come back. Adam tried- but he couldn't find anywhere cheap enough to stay after the cost of the tickets back home. Why shouldn't he stay with an old friend? It made sense. And now that he was here, it still made sense on a logical level.
But he didn't know how to talk to Ronan anymore. He didn't know anything about the life he lead now that he was gone. And worst of all, now that they were together, Adam missed him. He missed the way they could communicate with just a look. He missed someone sleeping next to him. He missed how Ronan supported him- sometimes without even saying a word.
"It doesn't snow there." Ronan tapped his fingers against the steering wheel. "In San Francisco."
"Palo Alto." Adam corrected- but he hadn't been far off. "And no. It doesn't."
"Not really winter then, is it?" He was still drumming his fingers- an anxious sound.
Adam thought of the year he was twelve and how it snowed for three days straight- the biggest snowstorm Virginia had in years. School was cancelled for over two weeks, and he was trapped in the house with his parents like starving dogs. His father hit him so much that even now his left eye drooped half shut sometimes.
"No," Adam said. "Not really."
It had been an eight flight and Adam was exhausted. Sometime between the lapses in conversation, about halfway back to Henrietta, Adam fell asleep in the passenger seat. He'd been in this car so many times though, that it was a comfortable sleep. He had no nightmares, no dreams at all.
"Parrish," Someone was shaking his shoulder. "Hey, asshole. We're here."
Adam woke slowly, leaning into the hand on his shoulder, the familiar voice overhead. "Come on."
"I'm up, I'm up." Adam mumbled, and rubbed his eyes. Ronan was leaning on the passenger side door, a scowl on his face.
"Did you drool on the seats?"
Adam rolled his eyes. "No."
"Well, it seems like you had a nice nap."
Adam got out of the passenger seat, crowded briefly against Ronan, who was looming overhead. They were close enough for an instant that he could feel his body heat. He was so tall. Adam always forgot, unless he was standing close to him. He stepped back, away from the car.
The air was colder, but cleaner. It felt like a balm on Adam's lungs, even as his breath made clouds in the night. When he looked up over his head, he could see the shapes of tree branches and the light of stars through the canopy. Back at school, there was too much light pollution to see the stars. He'd forgotten how much he loved them, how much time he'd spent out in these fields, or up on the old farmhouse roof to catch the sunrise.
Something twisted in him, that old part of him that always wondered what he'd be like if he had grown up somewhere like The Barns. Instead, he found himself wondering why he'd left.
"Want me to get your shit?" Ronan offered, in the most impolite way possible.
"I can get it," Adam said, and went to pop the trunk. It was difficult to drag his rolling suitcase over the gravel and up to the front porch, but he managed. Ronan walked in front of him, swinging the keys to the house idly around his fingers.
Inside it was warm, and smelled like cedar wood and lemon cleaner. Ronan flicked on the lights in the front hall and the living room. From somewhere in the bowels of the house, Adam could hear a bird cawing. He left his luggage in the hall, and watched as Ronan took the steps two at a time into the pitch-black of the upstairs.
After the demon, neither of them had been able to sleep without the lights on for a full month. Ronan had dreamt them strange night-light flowers that hovered over Adam's bed at St. Agnes, or his own bed here at The Barns.
Watching Ronan step into the darkness so confidently felt strange to Adam. In dark stairwells he still flinched, still felt something crawling under his skin. It had been over a year, and he was still afraid.
L ight flooded from overhead. Ronan had turned the lights on, and now he was standing on the landing- a raven on his shoulder, her head pressed comfortably against his. Chainsaw. She cocked her head at Adam, quizzical, her black eyes shining liquid-dark under the lights. He wondered if she recognized him. She adjusted her grip on Ronan's shoulder, testily, and then let out another caw.
"Shut it," Ronan told her, but without any bite. He deposited her on the railing, and she hopped down onto the steps, proceeding to peck between his feet like she might find something interesting.
"Never thought I'd miss the sound of a cranky raven." Adam said, mirthful. For the first time since he saw him last, Ronan smiled. It wasn't the unguarded kind smile that he used to be gifted with, but instead a thin-lipped one that meant he was pleased and didn't want to show it.
"She's just mad I left her. It was only four hours, and I even left the window open."
"Your room must be freezing."
Ronan shrugged. "It'll warm up. And you're taking Declan's anyways."
Adam felt a twist of disappointment. He didn't know what he'd been expecting. The house was empty- there was no reason for them to share a bed. Over the summer, Ronan had moved into his parents old room so they'd have more space, and he probably still occupied it. He was too tall now for his childhood bed- he'd complained about it before.
Chainsaw hopped over Ronan's foot, and then fluttered back onto the railing with another loud caw. Adam stifled a yawn. As strange as it was to be back at The Barns- as electrifying- he was exhausted. Discounting his nap in the BMW, he'd been awake for almost 24 hours.
"I think I'm gonna take an early night." He told Ronan. "I've had a hell of a travel day."
"Fine by me, Parrish. I have cows to take care of." He came down the stairs, past Adam and towards the end of the hall cluttered with muck boots and old, waxed canvas jackets. Seeing Ronan's departure, Chainsaw launched herself into the air, touching down briefly to peck at Adam's shoulder. When she rejoined Ronan, his expression softened. "I think she missed you."
The way he said it, looking at him like he used to look at him, like it was last July, made something in Adam's throat turn tight. He looked down at his tatty pair of tennis shoes, avoiding Ronan's gaze. "I think I missed her too."
There was a long, tense moment of silence. Adam kept looking at his shoes.
"Well," Ronan said. "I'm going to check on the cows." And with that, he stuffed his feet into a pair of muck boots and stomped off into the night.
Adam let out a breath.
Upstairs, he didn't bother putting his things away in the drawers. They would be full of Declan's old clothes anyway. He only spread out his suitcase on the floor, and left his toothbrush in the bathroom after he brushed his teeth. He climbed into bed without changing into a sleep shirt or taking off his jeans. He was asleep in record time.
The next morning, Adam was woken only by the pale blue light streaming in through the blinds. He scrubbed a hand over his eyes and propped himself up in bed, checking his phone. He had no new emails, but a text from Gansey had come after he'd fallen asleep.
We're excited to see you so soon!
Attached was a photo of Blue, Gansey, and Henry posing in Stanley Park. It made him smile to see them all together, unabashedly joyful. Totally unworried. They had driven the Camaro across America over the fall, and now they were staying in Vancouver. They were flying back for Christmas. Adam would stay with Blue after she got home, and then they would all spend New Years together at Monmouth. They would all be together again for the first time since June. With a pang, Adam realized how much he'd missed them. He had friends at school, of course- people he studied with, or went to movies with, or complained about cafeteria food with- but it wasn't the same. None of them knew Adam on anything more than a surface level, and there was no way he could explain what he'd been through in the last year. Searching for a Welsh King and sacrificing his limbs to a sentient forest? He would sound insane- and that was without bringing up the demon and the supernaturally hot ex-boyfriend back in Virginia.
No- Adam didn't tell people much about himself.
He left his phone on the bedside table, and dug around his suitcase for a pair of sweatpants. His stomach growled, a reminder that he hadn't eaten anything since the airport bagel he scarfed down on the plane. He needed to eat.
Downstairs, the kitchen was empty, but the remains of a fire smoldered in the living room fireplace. Adam stuck his hands over the coals for a moment, savoring the heat. His hands and feet were always cold, even in the summertime. He'd always been able to surprise Ronan, pressing his foot against his shin under the sheets to make him jump back or curse. Eventually, Ronan made him start wearing socks to bed.
"Your feet are freezing," He would say.
He would tuck his face into Adam's neck, his stubble scraping against tender skin. "Ice water for blood."
When Adam's hands were sufficiently warm, he went to rummage through the kitchen cabinets for something to eat. He wasn't in the mood to scour the fridge and make eggs or bacon; so he ended up making instant oatmeal from a little boxed package. Heart Healthy Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal! it told him cheerfully.
It was warm, sugary, and probably the apple flavor was artificial. But it was comforting on a day like this. He could see condensation on the windows from the warmth of the house, and the gray sky outside that threatened to pour down freezing rain. It wasn't unusual for December weather but Adam had been looking forward to crisp air and the blue spine of the mountains outlined against the sky. Today, they were swallowed by clouds.
Cabeswater was long gone, but sometimes Adam still felt pulled back to the ley line. He would find himself up at night, looking at a map of the Shenandoah Valley online, or trawling flickr for photos of the blue ridge. It left him feeling restless and itchy, a tingle under his skin that he couldn't get rid of. He couldn't tell if it made it worse or better to be back.
The door slammed and Adam looked up from his mushy bowl of oatmeal. He could hear the heavy footfalls of Ronan's boots, before a thump indicating he'd abandoned them or something else heavy in the front hall. A moment later, Ronan rounded the corner to the kitchen. His cheeks and ears were a ruddy, saturated red from the cold.
"Hey," Adam said.
Ronan pulled a heavy sweater over his head, his response muffled by the layer of wool. "Mffrnng Pariff." he plunked himself down on the kitchen counter, socked feet knocking against the cabinets. "'s freezing out there."
He was wearing a black thermal shirt that stuck to his broad chest and shoulders in a way that was mildly distracting, and a pair of grubby blue jeans.
Adam chose not to look at his chest. "It looks like it's about to spit rain."
"Ice," Ronan said unhappily. "It's supposed to be an ice storm."
"Shit." Adam remembered how sometimes, when it was too cold for rain but not quite cold enough for snow, Henrietta would end up covered in ice. Trees and powerlines would break under the weight of it. "Will The Barns will be okay?"
Ronan shrugged. "It won't mess with the animals. I have some heat lamps so they'll be fucking cozy. Don't know about the plum trees out front, though."
"Aren't heat lamps a fire hazard if they're around flammable stuff? Like hay?"
He rolled his eyes at Adam. "Not if they're dreamt-up, genius."
Adam made a sour face. "You didn't specify."
"Whatever, Parrish." Ronan said, pushing back from the counter and going to rifle through the fridge. "You want something else or are you just going to sit there eating mush?"
He eyed Ronan suspiciously. "What are you making?"
"Bacon." His head was practically inside the fridge. "Eggs. I don't fucking know. Food."
He emerged with a pack of bacon in his hand. "What do you want?"
"I'm fine with whatever." Adam said, taking another bite of his oatmeal.
Ronan snorted. "Clearly. Matthew got that shit last time he was here."
Adam hadn't seen Matthew since late last summer, when he and Declan had visited for a weekend. They all made barbeque and swam in the muddy hole he and Ronan built in July. It had been hot, and sunny, and of course because it was summer in Virginia, it was sweaty. He and Ronan spent hours on the bedroom floor with their shirts off, air conditioning turned all the way up. They made cupcakes and put the blue icing on too early. It melted all over the place, but Matthew loved them.
He didn't know how either of the Lynch brothers would feel about seeing him now. He and Ronan were broken up- or something like it.
Adam cleared his throat and watched as Ronan lay down bacon in a pan, methodical. "Where's Matthew now?"
"Some fancy-ass Quaker school where Obama's kids went. Declan liked it."
"How about Matthew? Does he like it?"
Ronan shrugged, and with his back turned, Adam could see all the muscles under his skin moving through his shirt.
"They don't have lacrosse there so he's doing wrestling. Sweaty shit, so yeah. I'd say he likes it."
"That's good," Adam said. He liked Matthew. It was impossible not to like Matthew, and he knew how much Ronan cared for him. "I'm really glad."
"He told me they have this weird thing-" There was a loud pop from the sizzling hot pan, and Ronan cursed. The bacon grease must have burned him. He sucked on the heel of his palm for a moment. "They all sit in silence for an hour or some shit. And you can only talk if you feel 'moved to.' What does that even mean?"
Adam felt a smile quirking the corner of his mouth. "Does he sleep through it?"
"Of course." Ronan scoffed. "He sleeps through our church sermons when someone's actually talking." He poked at the bacon in the pan with a fork.
Adam looked down at his oatmeal. He wanted to ask what Ronan had been doing. If he was okay. He looked fine. Better than fine. His skin was bright, his hair was freshly cut, and there weren't any new scars on his arms- accidental looking or otherwise. He didn't know why he'd been worried that their break would affect Ronan in some way. He hadn't actually wanted to take a break- but the thought of stringing Ronan through three more years of college and then three more years of law school was nearly unbearable. He would be on the other side of the country for six years. It wasn't fair to either of them.
He tried to sound casual around the lump in his throat. "And what have you been doing?"
Ronan stilled. He'd been putting paper towels on a plate, presumably to soak up the bacon grease when he got the bacon out of the pan. "I've been working on the farm." He said slowly. The pan cracked and sizzled. "I haven't changed my life just because you left, Adam."
He felt shame burning his ears. "I didn't mean it like that." He wanted to say: you knew I was leaving. You said it would be okay. "I just wanted to know what you've been doing. How the farm is. Stuff like that."
"I built a greenhouse." Ronan said. He was carefully transferring the bacon from the pan to the plate. "And I started making cheese."
"Cheese?" Adam echoed.
Ronan nodded. It was hard to imagine Ronan making cheese- but that was probably because Adam had no idea how one made cheese.
"What kind of cheese?"
Ronan shrugged and took a bite of the bacon, moving to dig through the fridge again. "Goat cheese. Fancy french shit, you know. Chevre. Roll it in some dried herbs and rich fuckers eat it up."
Adam wanted to say that Ronan was a rich fucker but that had also been well established in their relationship by now, and it wouldn't do anything but make him sound bitter. Instead, he said: "Let me try it."
Ronan was still rifling in the fridge. "Bossy." He said. Adam stood up and crossed the room to look over his shoulder. Ronan grabbed the eggs, and backed away from the fridge. "Fine. Go wild, Parrish. It's in the Tupperware container. There's crackers in the pantry."
Turning his back to Adam, he cracked his eggs into the pan- still coated in a thick layer of bacon grease. They dropped in with a loud sizzle. It smelled delicious.
"Will you make me one over easy?"
Ronan waved his hand in a noncommittal gesture that probably meant yes. Adam got out the cheese. Without looking for the crackers, he grabbed a knife from a drawer next to the sink and tested the cheese plain.
It was good. Creamy, rich, and a tiny bit salty. It was the kind of thing some of his classmates would get on their salad at an overpriced brunch place on a sunday afternoon. Which meant Ronan could probably sell it if he wanted.
"Have you thought about selling it?"
"I kind of am." Ronan said, sounding somehow sheepish about it. "Do you like it?"
"What do you mean 'kind of'? It's good." Adam had another bite. Then he closed the tupperware before he spoiled his appetite and made himself sick eating cheese.
Ronan shrugged. "Maura started buying it off me, and then told some of her clients about it. They were buying it off her and then some of them tried coming out to the farm- which was a fucking hell mess." Ronan shuffled the eggs around the pan. "So I stopped selling it to anyone but 300 Fox Way. Which is fine for now- I'm starting at the farmer's market in Charlottesville this spring, anyways."
"Wow." Adam said. "The farmer's market."
"Asshole" Ronan shot him a sharp look. "It's a start. Better than people coming out here and sticking their nose in shit. "
Ronan's shoulders were a tense line, and Adam was reminded of the strain he must be under. His dreaming was a secret that people would kill him for- and The Barns was at the heart of it.
He softened. "Hey. I'm sorry. It's really cool what you're doing and I'm happy for you. If it's making you happy, I'm happy for you."
Ronan looked begrudging, but he said. "Thanks." He plopped two eggs out of the pan and onto a plate with a spatula, and shoved them at Adam, who was still standing next to the fridge after putting the cheese away.
Adam took it, and Ronan pointed at him with the spatula. "Take some of the bacon too. The freshman 15 clearly did nothing for you."
"Hey!" He was only mildly offended because it was completely true.
"You look the same as you did when you left." He looked at Adam for a long moment and then corrected himself. "You have more freckles now."
Adam felt heat rising high in his ears. Ronan had told him once, when he was drunk on sleep and summer, that he loved his freckles.
He ducked his head and mumbled. "I'm just in the sun more."
"California boy." Ronan said, without any disdain.
Adam ate his eggs.
That evening, the wind howled and the trees groaned. It got dark at five, and when Adam looked out the windows into the fields he could only see blackness and a light on in one of the barns like the beacon of a lighthouse. He hadn't seen much of Ronan since breakfast- partially because he'd spent the rest of the morning in the living room, finally reading for pleasure for the first time in months- and because Ronan had been out on the property all day.
Adam stole a jacket off of the hook by the door, and slipped into a pair of too-large muck boots. He made his way across the pastures using his phone as a flashlight to avoid cow shit and muddy holes from too many hooves. It wasn’t a long walk, but by the time Adam ducked inside the barn- his nose and ears felt frozen. He’d stuffed his hands deep into the pockets of the jacket, despite the tell-tale grime of animal feed that had clearly been stowed there previously.
Inside the barn it was bright, and considerably warmer than outside. The cattle were lying in the hay, their large, rangy bodies casting long shadows across the floor. Ronan was crouched off to the side, and Adam rapped his knuckles against the wall to alert him to his presence. Ronan only looked over his shoulder, and then beckoned with a lazy wave of his hand.
“If you’re lurking in here Parrish, you might as well help.”
Adam came over to see Ronan mixing cup fulls of a thick powder into warm water. “Is that milk?”
Ronan nodded absently, whisking the mixture until it turned white and frothy. He poured it from the bucket into a two liter bottle, and screwed a strange lid with an artificial teat on.
A loud bleat came from the corner of the barn, and Adam turned to see a baby cow with its face pressed up against the wooden slats of a makeshift stall. It bleated again, its tail flicking.
“You didn’t say you had calves right now.” Adam was surprised. Winter wasn’t the usual calving season.
Ronan thrust the bottle at Adam. “Just one. Born late, and the mom abandoned it.”
“So you’re bottle feeding.”
“Bingo, genius. And you get to do the fun part.” He stood and clasped Adam’s shoulder. “C’mon, the baby’s over here.”
He guided Adam over to the stall. Upon hearing Ronan and Adam’s footfalls, the cow began to bleat even more, pacing excitedly in the stall. It was mostly brown, with large patches of creamy white fur. Adam was not immune to the charm of baby animals, and he felt himself smiling despite the tension between him and Ronan. The calve flicked its tail at them, beat its hooves in joy. It mooed.
“Calm down,” Ronan told it. “Dinner’s coming.”
Adam looped his arm over the stall, and tilted the bottle down where the calf could reach it. Immediately, the cow began to suckle it with the enthusiasm of the hungry. Milk began to froth around its mouth like a mustache.
“Tilt it down.” Ronan told him, and took Adam’s hand around the bottle, moving it to a lower angle so the calf could nurse easier. “And if she starts wheezing take it away. She might be cute, but she’s got a brain the size of a walnut. She’ll choke herself on the food.”
Adam nodded. Ronan’s hand was still on top of his, a moment too long to be mistaken for guidance. Adam knew he was holding the bottle the right way. Their shoulders were pressed close and if he shifted to the side, he would be flush against Ronan’s chest.
But Ronan stepped back and put his hands in the pockets of his coat. Adam tried not to feel betrayed.
“What’s her name?” he said, soft. The cow was still eating happily, and he reached to scratch her ears with a free hand.
Ronan worried at a fraying seam on his jacket. “Camilla.”
Adam smiled, the barest tilt of his mouth. “From the Aeneid.”
“Right you are, Parrish.” His lips turned up, smug, and it reminded Adam deeply of their time in the Aglionby latin class. Trading quotes from dead poets had been their version of tactful flirting.
“To think you gave me all that shit for being a nerd," He grinned. "And you’re naming your farm animals after obscure characters from Roman literature.”
Ronan shrugged. Adam was long past being surprised by his knowledge when it came to Latin and the Classics, but it always gave him a thrill. They had been the only ones competent enough for the difficult texts at school, and it began to feel like a secret language.
"Agnosco veteris vestigia flammae. " Adam said.
Ronan smiled, and Adam had to focus on petting the cow. His hand was turning orange from all the dirt on Camilla's fur.
I feel once more the scars of the old flame.