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Bleed Confusion

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“Are you fucking kidding me?” was probably the wrong first thing to say when seeing a new student, Adam thought after the fact.

It wasn’t his fault, really. Ms. Poldma should have thought twice before assigning him to tutor the biggest asshole in the school, particularly the one that she knew Adam hated. The guy who just barely beat him for the top spot in Latin, even though he always talked back to the teachers and showed up late, if he showed up at all.

“Great opening line, Parrish,” Ronan said, from where he was dangerously leaning his chair back. Ms. Poldma was sitting next to him, looking frazzled.

“Sorry, ma’am,” Adam said quickly, directing it at Ms. Poldma, who- despite the fact that she should have seen this coming- probably wasn’t too happy to see the star of her tutoring program cursing out another student.

It was just that Ronan Lynch was such an asshole.

“Don’t have to call me ma’am,” Ronan said, proving Adam’s point. Adam scowled at him.

“Look,” Ms. Poldma said. “I know- well- I know you two might not get along-”

“That’s an understatement,” Ronan muttered, fidgeting with the pencil on the desk.

“However,” Ms. Poldma continued, “Ronan, you have shown time and time over that you have academic potential, but you’re just facing some issues with study habits and focus. Our tutoring program has worked to help many students with these issues by pairing them with students who can mentor them through it.”

All of this was true, Adam mused- he’d had great success tutoring other students, and had even helped his friend (Ms. Poldma’s niece) Blue get an A in chemistry last year. It was possible, maybe, that Ronan would benefit from the tutoring program.

He just didn’t see why he had to be Ronan’s tutor.

“Adam,” Ms. Poldma said, “you’re by far my best student. If you put aside your personal differences, I think you could be of great help here.”

She gave Adam a pleading look, and Adam was not very good at saying no to authorities, especially not Ms. Poldma, who was probably his favorite teacher.

“Fine,” Adam said, sighing in resignation. “What does he need tutoring in? Not Latin, I’m assuming.”

Ronan grinned maliciously at that, which only made Adam more irritated. He was always fucking gloating about being the top of the class.

“Mostly,” Ms. Poldma said, “he’s been having trouble with AP Bio and literature. But I think it wouldn’t hurt to help him with study skills and time management in general. I know you’re very good with those, Adam.”

“Hmm,” Adam said, because it was true that he was very good at managing his schedule and studying, but he was also unsure of how well Ronan would take to learning those skills.

“Anyway,” Ms. Poldma said, “this is just an initial meeting. Let’s work out a time for you to meet. Ronan’s said he’s available just about any time of the week.”

Typical.

“All right,” Adam said, “well, I can probably make time during study hall on Thursdays and Fridays. Does that work?”

“She just said I’m available whenever,” Ronan said. He was still, infuriatingly, leaning backwards in the chair.

“OK, then Thursdays and Fridays in study hall it is,” Adam said. “Can I go? I have to get to work soon.”

“Of course,” Ms. Poldma said. “Ronan, show up here on Thursday, OK?”

“Can’t make any promises,” Ronan said.

She leaned in and said softly, “You and Gansey talked about this.”

Ronan’s practiced expression of apathy fell. He stared down at his hands fidgeting with the pencil on the table.

“Fine,” he said, voice low. “I’ll be there on Thursday.”

“Good,” Adam said, really feeling the need to leave now that the air had gotten far more awkward. “See you then.”

He headed out of the door quickly, and down out the staircase that was next to the guidance office, out to the parking lot to pick up his bike at the bike rack. His eyes were set in that expression that he was beginning to feel was permanent, of utter exhaustion and irritation with everyone around him.

Like he didn’t have enough to deal with. Tutoring goddamn Ronan Lynch.

Something about it felt off. That little exchange of words between Ms. Poldma and Ronan before he’d left. About Gansey. Adam knew Gansey mostly from the fact that both of them did typical college-app-stuffing extracurriculars: community service club, National Honor Society, languages club, fitness class, things like that. They were pretty decent friends. Adam had found Gansey painfully intimidating and attractive when they’d first met freshman year, but now he just found him to be a generally nice guy.

His only downside, of course, being the fact that he was friends with Ronan.

But Adam wasn’t sure- something felt off. Like this whole tutoring thing was more about Ronan and Gansey’s weird not-entirely-healthy friendship and less about Ronan actually needing the tutoring. Adam didn’t know Ronan very well, but he could tell that Ronan was incredibly smart and didn’t need a tutor, he was just an asshole who didn’t want to try.

Adam hated assholes like that.

 

Ronan didn’t hate Adam. Though, he hated most of everyone, to be frank. The world was usually quite easily divided for him into fierce hatred (that was Declan, and Kavinsky had been in that category too before he’d died), general hatred (Society as a concept, and everyone at this fucking school), and fierce love (Gansey, Noah, Matthew, his mother). Adam was in some weird abstract fourth category: tolerable, yet infuriatingly intolerable, yet magnetically fascinating.

He had to admit that even if he hated the idea of getting a tutor, at the very least it would be an interesting experience, if it was going to be Parrish.

He was only doing it because of Gansey, anyway.

Tutoring hadn’t really been part of the agreement, if you asked Ronan. The agreement had been to start caring about being alive again. It felt dumb to do all this shit that Gansey and his stupid dumb new therapist were suggesting. Like ohhh, don’t drink, go to bed at a normal time, conceptualize the whatever-the-fuck of whatever. Get a fucking tutor. Conformist bullshit.

It didn’t make him feel alive again. Some part of him knew that it was better than sitting around doing nothing, holed up in his room with his loud electronica blaring, sketching shitty drawings. It was better to be doing all this extracurricular activities and therapy and things. But it didn’t make him feel like life was worth living, really; it was just stable.

And stable was better than last summer, anyway.

Ronan heard Gansey’s voice call “Lynch!” through the din of his headphones, so he tossed them off just before Gansey burst in the door of his room.

“I told you not to do that,” Ronan snapped.

“Sorry,” Gansey said, not sounding sorry. Which was infuriating. Ronan had to do all the shit Gansey said. Which, OK, he didn’t half the time, but still.

“What’s happening?” Ronan asked.

“We’re meeting Henry at Nino’s,” Gansey said. “To discuss the-”

“No,” Ronan said.

Gansey sighed. “Ronan-”

“There is a line,” Ronan said. “I’m fine going to that dumb community service thing once a month, but I am not joining the goddamn student council. And I am not becoming pals with Henry Cheng.”

“You won’t even give him a chance,” Gansey said.

“Since when do I give any annoying Aglionby fuckers a chance?”

“I’m an annoying Aglionby fucker, I believe,” Gansey said.

Ronan grunted and crossed his arms.

“Besides,” Gansey said, “he doesn’t want you to join the student council. He wants you to help run a new club.”

“Wow, sounds even more up my alley,” Ronan said. “Does he want me to maybe be an ambassador for the Model UN, too? Or head up the school spirit committee?”

“I’m surprised you even know we have a school spirit committee,” Gansey said.

“Oh God, we actually do? That was a joke.”

“The point is,” Gansey said, “that he has an idea for a club that he thinks you’ll like. Look, what’s the worst that’ll happen? You hate the idea, you tell him no, you get pizza out of it.”

The thought of rejecting Cheng to his face was appealing. Ronan also knew, technically, that he would just feel gross if he stayed in his room for the rest of the evening. It wasn’t like he was gonna do his goddamn homework, anyway.

“Fine,” Ronan said. Gansey breathed a sigh of relief as Ronan swung himself off the bed and slid his shoes on.

“Nino’s, you said?” Ronan added as he grabbed his wallet.

“Yeah.”

Ronan smirked.

“What’s that for?” Gansey asked.

“If nothing else, I get to see Sargent eviscerate you. That’ll be entertaining.”

“I doubt she’ll eviscerate me, Ronan. She’ll be civil.”

“Not if the past is any indication.”

Gansey groaned. “She’s got to start being polite at some point. Isn’t she worried about losing her job?”

“Oh yeah, definitely say some shit like that in front of her,” Ronan said. “That’ll really charm her.”

“I’m not interested in charming anyone,” Gansey muttered as they headed out to the car.

 

“You know, you are so lucky to have me, Adam,” Blue said, as she sped down the road heading to Henrietta’s tiny downtown. “Not in, like, a you-should-be-grateful guilt-trippy way. Just reminding you that I really am a gift.”

Adam laughed. “Yeah, a real gift.”

“Is that sarcasm?”

“Course not.”

Adam was grateful for Blue. Not that many people were lucky enough to be good friends with their exes. And Blue was an amazing friend. At a school that was mostly made up of rich assholes, she was one of the few other kids who understood what it was like to not have endless money. And she didn’t take any shit from anyone, including Adam. It was refreshing.

Plus, she got to borrow her mom’s car for work, and would give Adam a ride home from his job when he needed one. Which was also nice.

“You going back to St. Agnes?” Blue asked, when they got to the turn.

“Oh- no,” Adam said. “Actually, I’m meeting someone at Nino’s.”

“Ooh, who are you meeting?”

“Oh, just Henry. Henry Cheng. He’s telling me about some idea he has for a club he wants me to run.”

“Jesus, really?” Blue said. “Why would you want to run one of Henry’s hare-brained schemes?”

Adam shrugged. “If I’m running the club, it counts as a leadership role, and if it’s a new one, it means I was instrumental in forming it. Admissions officers are into that.”

“Good point,” Blue sighed. “I should do something like that. Well, Nino’s it is then, I’ll be there early so I can steal some pizza for you.”

“You really are a gift.”

“What did I tell you?”

She rolled into the Nino’s parking lot a few minutes later and they headed through the back, where Blue stuck her nametag on and dipped into the kitchen to grab two slices of pizza. She handed one to Adam on a paper plate and he scarfed it down, starving after his shift at the auto shop.

Blue watched him carefully as she ate her slice.

“Hey, I told you, you can come over for dinner at my house whenever you want,” she said.

Adam looked up, and she added, “Not charity, I just know you’re looking for any excuse to suck up to the teachers.”

Blue’s house was filled with Aglionby teachers- the English teacher Ms. Poldma, Adam’s favorite, and then the chem teacher, Ms. Johnson, and Blue’s mom, Ms. Sargent, who taught European history. He did like getting a chance to talk to them, and it was true that offers for dinner were less condescending when they came from someone like Blue, but still. He knew it was pity.

“I gotta go meet Henry,” he said. “Thanks for the ride and the pizza.”

He opened the door to the main area to figure out where Henry was, and then he spotted him. He was gesticulating excitedly, sitting across from Gansey, who looked intrigued, and goddamn Ronan Lynch.

“Are you fucking kidding me,” Adam said, for the second time that day.

“What is it?” Blue asked.

Lynch is here. And he’s doing it again, he’s leaning back in his chair like an asshole. This is a public place. I can’t believe what an entitled asshole he is.”

“Geez,” Blue said. “I mean, yeah, he is, but chill, Adam.”

“I forgot to tell you,” he said, turning around. “I got a new student to tutor today. Guess who it is?”

“Who- no,” Blue said. “You’re kidding me.”

She started cracking up.

“What’s funny about this?”

“Ronan Lynch needs a tutor,” she said, still laughing. “Ohhh, I am gonna give him so much shit for this.”

“There’s nothing wrong with needing- actually, yeah, go ahead and give him shit for this,” Adam said.

“God,” she said. “I’m sorry you’re gonna have to put up with him, but damn. I’m not saying it’s bad to need some help, but Lynch is so fucking arrogant. This is beautiful.”

Despite himself, Adam felt something sting inside him. He remembered the way Ronan’s face had fallen when Ms. Poldma brought up Gansey. He was beginning to wonder what was actually going on here. He didn’t want to be a dick to Ronan just for the sake of being a dick.

“He’s with Henry,” Adam said finally. “Time to go suffer.”

“Good luck,” Blue said.

When Adam approached the table, Ronan’s eyebrows raised.

“What are you doing here?” he said loudly.

Adam glared at him. OK, he was going to be a dick to Ronan.

“Adam!” Henry said, spreading his arms in greeting. “Just in time, I was telling Ro-ro here about-”

“I told you, if you call me Ro-ro again I will fucking end you,” Ronan said through gritted teeth.

“I was telling Captain Boring over here about my new idea,” Henry said. “Sit down.”

Adam sat down next to Henry. Ronan folded his arms and leaned back in his chair. Adam clenched his fists.

“So Henry,” Gansey said, “why don’t you, uh, bring Adam up to speed?”

“Sure,” Henry said, flashing Gansey a grin. “So, Lynch here has put in what amounts to 20 hours of volunteer work at the Henrietta community garden-”

“Only ‘cause Gansey fucking made me-”

“And I have it on good word that you’ve done some extra credit work for your botany class with Mr. Waters.”

“How many people are you fucking spying on, Cheng?” Ronan asked.

“I have my connections,” Henry said. “The point is, I want one of you, or ideally both of you, or maybe if you can recommend anyone else, to run Aglionby’s brand new gardening club.”

“No,” Ronan said, while Adam said, “What would that involve?”

“Lynch, you’re killing me here,” Henry said. “And Parrish, don’t worry about this interrupting your busy schedule too much. Maybe a meeting every couple weeks after school, some events, teaching the student population about gardening opportunities. Maybe do a little plant-your-own-flower party, I don’t know. The real point is that you’re starting something exciting!”

“Eh, I don’t know about that,” Adam said. “It sounds all right but to be honest, if I’ll do it, I’ll do it to put it on my college apps.”

Henry’s smile quirked.

“Well, I’d hoped for a little more enthusiasm, but it’s a start! What about you, goth king?”

“Can you not give me a cutesy nickname?” Ronan said. “And I just said no.”

“Why not?”

“Cause it’s dumb. I don’t want to talk to a bunch of shitty entitled assholes about gardening. They have no respect for it.”

Adam rolled his eyes, and Ronan said, “Got a comment, Parrish?”

“You’re one to talk about shitty entitled assholes,” Adam said, leaning forward onto the table. Ronan’s eyes narrowed.

“Let’s be civil,” Gansey said, but Adam ignored him and continued.

“Henry’s handing you an opportunity for a leadership role on a silver platter, and you turn it down because you don’t feel like it. You’re too busy fucking around in parking lots, getting drunk and blowing shit up-”

“Fuck you,” Ronan snapped.

He’d finally leaned forward in his chair, and it hit the ground.

Adam felt like he’d been hit with icy water- something had suddenly gone wrong. It wasn’t like he wasn’t used to rich boys throwing fits when he pointed out how privileged they were, but something felt different this time.

“I’m leaving,” Ronan said, sitting up. “Cheng, the answer’s still fucking no, don’t ask me again.”

He stormed out.

The three left over looked at each other. Gansey was the first to speak. He looked tired.

“Adam, I know you didn’t mean to hurt him-”

“No, I did,” Adam said. He was surprised to find that he sounded tired, too. “I was being a dick.”

“Well, regardless, he wouldn’t have reacted that way- only- well, he’s trying to recover. I don’t know if I should tell you all this-”

“Oh,” Adam said.

He knew enough about alcoholism to know what that implied.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Well, maybe I should say that to him.”

“Don’t,” Gansey said quickly. “That is a bad idea. He doesn’t like apologies. Not obvious ones, anyway. Just be wary of it in the future.”

“Yeah, I definitely will.”

“At least you barely see each other,” Henry chimed in.

Adam laughed emptily.

“Oh?” Henry said, raising an eyebrow.

“Oh, no,” Gansey said. “You’re his student tutor, aren’t you.”

Adam nodded.

Henry laughed. “I can’t wait to see that. Should be entertaining, if nothing else.”

“Yeah,” Adam said. “Should be entertaining.”