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Came in Like a Thunderstorm

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It was a cold day in San Francisco, the fog rolling further into the city today, creating an ethereal glow when mixed with the city lights, like some other world that wasn’t earthly. To Ronan Lynch, local bookshop owner and curmudgeon, it was both beautiful and a nuisance. Ronan could only think of getting to work on time, traffic already atrocious in this city, made a thousand times worse when it was hard to see the car ahead of you.

“Hey, be a dear and pick up some milk on your way home, could you?”

Ronan’s new roommate, Gansey, was driving him up the wall. While yes they were new to living with each other they weren’t new to being friends, having been friends for over a decade now. Living together, though, was testing that friendship. Ronan had been known to be noted as slovenly on more than one occasion, but Gansey took the cake for being a mess. He had papers and books cluttered in any available crevice throughout the house, not to mention all the mint plants he started collecting and placing by every window. Ronan made the mistake of one day asking him what the fuck was up with all the mint plants and Gansey actually responded with a real, genuine answer that Ronan tuned out almost immediately.

“Be a dear and get the fuck off the sofa,” Ronan replied tersely, staring out the window into the street outside, seeing nothing but fog and hints of color of cars passing. “Get a job or something.”

“I don’t need a job,” Gansey groaned. He was still wearing yesterday’s pajamas and four day old bedhead. His glasses were crooked on his face and a sticky note was casually stuck to his cheek. Ronan peeled it off when Gansey followed his movement to the living room. “I- ouch - am almost at my breakthrough. I’m so close, I can feel it.”

Ronan turned away from the madness that had swallowed up his living room, grabbing his book bag by the table at the front door, checking it for his keys. “You felt it back in Henrietta, and you felt it in England and you felt it in-”

“Okay, god , I get it,” Gansey snapped. He slumped back down onto the sofa cushions, disappearing from sight from where Ronan was standing. “I swear this time is different.”

“Mm.” Ronan was going to say something else, but as he opened his mouth his fingers brushed against the cold metal of his house keys, and he was reminded he was late for work. “Yeah, sure, Gansey,” he said. Stricken with mild guilt over his half hearted attempt at getting through to his best friend, he moved closer to the sofa again, halfway between it and the front door. He still couldn’t see Gansey over the back of the sofa, who was likely wallowing, face buried against pillows. “I’m heading out. I’ll see you tonight. Take a shower, Dick. You smell like shit. Not even your mint plants can hide that.”

Gansey grunted an uninvested response, enough of one to satisfy Ronan’s qualms. With keys in hand he turned on his heel, barely catching Gansey shooting up to an upright position again.

“Don’t forget the milk!”

Ronan had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from saying anything to that. Instead, he curtly nodded and left.

Gansey was only his roommate for a few months, and the only reason he was Ronan’s roommate was he became desperate recently, with the inclining price of living conditions in the Bay Area. His inheritance from his father’s death only did so much, and because of Declan most of that was sitting in some bullshit bank somewhere anyway, untouchable until it grew or diversified or whatever the fuck Declan said that he didn’t really hear. He only really did it because Matthew said it was a good idea, and so did his mother.

Gansey needed somewhere to live after he had a falling out with his parents when he said he didn’t want to become a politician, instead focus on finding dead kings and following ghost conspiracy theories. He really fell down hard, though, when his old British friend from England passed away. Ronan didn’t know what to make of these recent turn of events, this not being the Gansey he grew up with, the prim and proper and always solid Gansey that always knew what to say or do. But he helped Ronan through a rough patch back in high school after his dad died, and now Ronan was there to help him through his, best he knew how.

Ronan owned a small little bookstore at North Beach, its main dedication to Irish culture and history, with sub sections about cars and farming. Strangely enough, it had a small following in the city of hipsters, so it helped pay the bills enough to keep him afloat, and it was a quiet enough job that didn’t require too much socializing. Most of the people that came in to shop liked to keep to themselves much like him, as it was the perfect location for locals and a little out of reach for the curious tourist.

He enjoyed his life in the city, with a good collection of friends, some he met here and some who matriculated here shortly after he did. There wasn’t much need for anything else, although his friends would argue differently.

That morning, the fog was only barely starting to clear when he reached his shop a few blocks down from his apartment, a literal walk, which was nice in a city where parking was almost impossible. Sitting outside on the pavement, legs tucked under her with a book already in her lap, was his only repeating customer that never bought a single thing. A young girl around twelve or thirteen, who barely spoke a word to him and who he acknowledged only with little nods or looks. This silent bond they built over the collection of months was one of the few highlights he had each week. He almost smiled at her when she heard him coming, but that would’ve ruined the moment. Normally he didn’t take to kids, but she minded her own business and kept to herself so how could he not.

Every week she came in, hours varying, day of the week varying, and she would sit in the corner and read part of a new book. Sometimes it was in the farming category, sometimes the cars one, sometimes the Irish one. That, too, changed based on the day. Finally, last week he told her she could take the one she had been reading for nearly a month home, so long as she promised to bring it back when she was finished. She looked to be almost done, which was impressive.

“You’re late,” she said, standing up when he moved to unlock the door.

He glanced down at her, already in a rough mood. Being scolded for his lateness by a child was not improving it.

“Sorry,” he grumbled. “I know I’ve set back so many people’s days. All these people out here waiting to buy books held up by twenty minutes.”

Her tiny little brow folded into itself as she frowned. “You could be a comedian,” she said dryly.

Ronan fought back a smirk as he unlatched the last lock on the door. “I do stand up every Sunday at the comedy club downtown,” he said.

The girl, Opal, rolled her eyes as she slipped in first through the doorway before he could.

After settling in when the shop was properly open, the majority of Ronan’s day went by as they all did. Opal settled into a corner of the shop in the back where she was likely not going to be disturbed until she inevitably decided to leave. People filtered in and out, wandering the aisles, sometimes buying books, rarely asking questions. The books were often self explanatory. They were about Ireland. Or farming. Or cars. Little else was needed in terms of detail. Lunch came around and Ronan briefly closed up shop and went across the street to get some lunch, always getting a little more than he needed to give to the girl. He knew she should have been at school right now, but he hated school and felt it hypocritical of him if he tried to enforce her to go when he wouldn’t have. She was still learning here, just non traditionally.

They were eating lunch together quietly, each mulling over a different book, when Ronan’s day started to shape up into something untraditional. Someone else came into the shop as Ronan was finishing up his sandwich, noticing the new person shape out of the corner of his eye as the shop’s bell dinged when the front door opened. The sign at the door still said closed, which meant this someone either hadn’t noticed or completely ignored the sign and barged in anyway. EIther way, Ronan was a little miffed someone came in on his lunch. He started to tell them that they were closed for another thirty minutes, but when he peered over the book he was reading (a biography about the historical feud between Lamborghini and Ferrari), he held his tongue.

The patron moved into one of the aisles closer to the register counter, where Ronan was currently stationed behind finishing up his chips. The unfamiliar face awkwardly shambled around, looking lost. His brow turned as he watched in wonder this fanciful thing picking aimlessly at books, clearly not interested in a single one. He then noticed someone pacing back and forth outside the display window, and he wondered if their strange behaviors were related.

For perhaps the first time ever, he set his book down and actively gained interest in a customer, current child company not included.

“Shouldn’t you be yelling at him right now?” Opal said, her face also buried in a book as she sat beside him behind the counter. She didn’t even look up as she spoke.

Ronan didn’t know what to say to that. Instead, he folded his brow and waved her away. “Finish your sandwich,” he said to her. To the gentleman meandering one of the aisles of his shop, he spoke up a little and said, “Do you need any help?”

His question came as a bit of a shock to the young man, who very nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound of his voice. He was wearing sunglasses indoors, a baseball cap that smushed his brown hair, which was peeking out the edges at the nape, and he had on a large scarf wrapped round half his face. That, attached to jeans and a simple black jacket, made for a strange outfit. Not that Ronan was one to talk. He wore the most basic of clothes, functional and simple (and usually dark colored).

“I’m fine,” the man stuttered out, turning away with a hand at his scarf, pulling it tighter around his face.

Ronan wasn’t so sure. The person outside was still pacing, and quite frankly Ronan was bored reading his book. This was more fascinating. This man and his odd outfit was curious. This was San Francisco, a city where people could come in wearing some of the oddest outfits at times, but this was more a disguise than anything. Even Ronan could see that.

“Are you looking for something specific?” he asked.

“No,” the man said curtly. “Just browsing.” He continued to keep his gaze down, visibly disinterested. It was clear he was a little put off by Ronan’s presence, distancing himself with his body language. Normally that wouldn’t bother him, except this time he made some form of an effort, and that was a little annoying.

Well fuck this guy, I guess , Ronan thought.

Giving the man what he clearly wanted, he backed off, frowning. Back behind the register, Opal was still sitting with her nose in her book, but he could see a smirk split across her face. Her amusement annoyed him even more. He rolled his eyes and turned back. Persistence wasn’t in his forte, but he was annoyed enough by this guy he felt the need to. He didn’t understand it, either.

His persistence went unnoticed, the young man never once looking up from his book. Either it was extremely fascinating or he was trying very hard to be invisible. He was examining the back of the book, a small thin paperback about beers and stouts of Ireland. His long, slender fingers were rapping against the paperboard, until finally he must have realized Ronan was still beside him. His eyes shifted a little behind his sunglasses, taking him in.

“Do you like beer?” Ronan asked.

The man made a small sound that sounded like a snort. He shook his head, some of the brown hair tucked around his ears slipping out of his hat. “Not really,” he said. His fingers paused on the book’s cover. “Why?”

“Just really like reading about hops then?”

“Hops?” It was then he must have taken proper notice of what he was reading. “Oh,” he said, and he put the book away back on the shelves. Almost self consciously, he folded his arms across his chest, with nothing else for them to do. He remained at a distance from Ronan, continuing to stand facing the books, profile to him. Ronan understood the body language well, silently pleading to be left alone. He moved back a few steps, ready to return to behind his counter, where at least he didn’t feel like a jackass. The man noted his movement, his head turned to follow him.

“Is this your bookstore?” the man asked.

“No, I hang around the shop for kicks, approach the customers and harass them until they tell me to fuck off.” He sounded like a smartass. He was a smartass.

The man looked down at the ground and smiled mildly at his feet, nodding along to what he said. An unusual reaction to his smartass-ery. “How long does it usually take for someone to tell you to fuck off?”

Ronan smiled, too. “Not as long as this has. I think you’ve outlasted everyone else. New record.”

“Mm. I have a high tolerance for dumbass,” the man quipped.

Even while still wearing his sunglasses, Ronan could tell the man was looking at him through them. Their eyes were locked for a few seconds as together they silently reveled in the amusement of their combined jackass responses. For a moment, he almost forgot where they were, that he was at work, trying to sell a book to this man. When he remembered again, he dropped his gaze, running a hand over the smooth of his scalp, riddled with something he couldn’t quite place.

“Are you going to buy a book or not?” He sounded agitated, but he was more agitated with himself than with his one and only current customer.

But that wasn’t so easily explained in how he posed the question to him, and the man hesitated to reply, startled by his swift attitude adjustment.

“I’m not sure,” he said.

Ronan didn’t know how to explain himself, and so he didn’t. He chewed on his lip, looking at the man whose gaze was drifting back towards the exit. It wouldn’t surprise him if the man were to leave now thanks to him. He felt like rolling his eyes at himself, at his behavior. It took a lot of effort not to make another smartass comment as some sort of defense mechanism, to detach further from what was starting to be a nice conversation.

“You know, since you’re already fucking here and wandering around like a chicken who got its head cut off, there’s a book I’ve got over here that might interest you. A starter book about Irish culture, if that’s a thing you’re into.”

Even as the words came out of his mouth he was shocked this was him talking. Actively seeking conversation with someone. Offering them insight in books. He was bewitched with curiosity. It didn’t hurt the one who had him curious was, well, attractive. Very. He chewed his lip again as he reached around the front of the aisle for one of the books on center display, a book about modern day Ireland for the novice.

The man’s eyes subtly followed him as he moved, and then they dropped to the book between them as Ronan offered it over. When he held it, he took a long moment to examine it, front and back. Then he chuckled, soft and tiny little laughs, which he tried to disguise with a hand to his face.

“Don’t tell me, you have it already in hardback and signed by the author,” Ronan joked.

“No, I…” The man cleared his throat, and looked back up. “I just came from a long visit to Ireland, actually. I lived there a couple months.”

“Wow.” There was a soft little southern twang to his words that woke something up inside him. It reminded him of the warm summer nights he spent in his family home, sticky hot from the humidity with the only way of cooling down was sitting on the roof with ice water dunked on his head.

Ronan chewed his lip again for a second, before adding, “I would have appreciated if you told me that before I reached all the way over there for that book.”

One of the man’s eyebrows lifted above the rim of his sunglass frames, and he shook his head with silent amusement in response. His responses were small and subtle, but when Ronan managed to see one he was inspired to strive for more. “You don’t look that put out,” the man said. “After all, this is your job isn’t it?” he teased.

Ronan scoffed noncommittally. His idea of flirting was making a mess of himself with sarcasm and bad jokes that often were misconstrued as being an asshole (even though he was often also being an asshole). So it was often impossible to know if someone was flirting back, especially if they played his game at being a sarcastic asshole back. He then gestured for the book in the man’s nice hands, silently asking for it back. When the man realized that’s what he was asking he looked between him and the book and then handed it over again.

As Ronan returned it to its place, he kept his eyes on him, as if he would disappear if he looked away for even a second. He wasn’t all too sure he wanted him to leave just yet. This small interaction was the highlight of a rather mundane week - month - god, could he admit year?

“Since you’re apparently an Ireland expert-” he jested.

“I wouldn’t say that,” the man interjected.

He ignored him as if he said nothing. “I would recommend some of the books on the next aisle over,” he said. “That is, if you think you can handle it.”

The man’s smile peeked out a little from under his scarf. He rolled his eyes only slightly, visible through the tint of his sunglasses. “I think I can handle it,” he said.

The pair of them started to head over to the aisle one over, until they reached past the edge of the bookshelf, where the man hesitated to follow after him. Ronan caught the hesitation, confused.

“Is that guy still out there?” he asked him.

“What guy?” But then Ronan remembered. “The one walking around the sidewalk outside? Yeah, he’s still out there.”

“Fuck,” the guy said, biting at his knuckles. His hand dropped promptly when he realized he said that aloud. “Sorry,” he said, attention averted to Opal.

Her attention was finally ripped from her book and she gazed up at the pair of them. Instantly her eyes went wide and she sat there frozen, as if she had seen a ghost. Her reaction was worrisome, but Ronan couldn’t even begin to pretend to know what to do about it.

“That’s nice you bring your daughter to work,” the man then remarked.

“Her?” Ronan startled himself with a laugh. “She’s - she’s not my daughter.”

“Oh, my mistake.” He lost interest, returning his attention toward the display window. To see better, he moved casually into Ronan to peek out from behind the bookshelf. The surprise closeness was startling, and Ronan held his breath at the feeling of the man’s weight against him. He could’ve taken a step back to give him space, but he couldn’t move, frozen much like Opal behind him. He smelled nice, a fine hint of a fragrance. Ronan didn’t mean to notice. It just happened.

When he saw what he expected to see, the man still outside the display window perusing the sidewalk, he recoiled from Ronan and back into the shadow of the shelves.

“Fuck fuck fuck,” he whispered.

Ronan looked between the two men and their equally strange behaviors.

“What, is he like an ex boyfriend or something?”

The man said nothing.

“Got it. Sugar daddy.”

Almost immediately, he was given a withering look. Ronan twitched a smirk in response, appreciative of whatever this was. He nearly forgot he was at work and that he should be making money. He could handle a day of no customers. Maybe.

“Did you steal from him?” Ronan said, making another joke. He stole another look of the man outside, then moved back into the aisle with his one patron.

When he looked over again, the man was chewing on his lower lip, visibly avoiding responding with a smile or any type of visual expression. Ronan could see his cheeks jitter with the threat of a smile.

“Yeah,” he said with a heavy sigh. “Stole his heart, then his wallet, now I’m on the run.”

“I knew it. Explains the absurd get up.”

The man at once touched at his hat, in an almost self conscious gesture. “Fuck you,” he said, without any heat.

“Oh, come on.” Ronan motioned to him. “Sunglasses, the hat, and the scarf? You’re evading something, or someone. It’s very obvious.”

He received a frown at that, as the man then looked away, fidgeting with his appearance. It was entirely possible he went too far, and he opened his mouth to say something else, maybe even apologize. The young man slowly began to peel away at his scarf, frowning to himself as he did.

“I didn’t mean-”

The man raised a hand, asking for him to stop. “Can I use your bathroom?” he asked.

Ronan nodded almost immediately. While usually it was reserved for just staff, since it was in the back, he felt strangely allured by this man. He also felt responsible for giving him some sort of fashion crisis.

“First and only door on the right,” he said, and gestured to the thin hall behind the counter. “Can’t miss it.”

“Thanks.”

Ronan was unable to say anything else, simply move out of his way to let him move past him. He was mildly distracted by the reveal of all the freckles across the young man’s face and the curvature of his jaw. He was annoyingly handsome, and Ronan admitted he stole a look at his frame as he walked away.

When he reached the bathroom, he glanced back down the hall before disappearing through the doorway. At once, Ronan released a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding in.

This was so unlike him. He didn’t understand what had gotten into him, why he was acting so fucking ridiculous. Like the teenage boy who used to insult his first crush as a flirting tactic. Get it together, Lynch , he thought. Just fucking sell him a book, you dumbass .

When his breathing returned to a normal pace, he turned to see Opal had moved, if only a little. She was staring at where Mr. I have amazing cheekbone structure was last visible, clutching her chair strangely with both hands. She looked as if she were about to have a heart attack.

“What’s wrong with you?” he said. He threw a chip at her head. She barely registered it with a half hearted swipe at her head delayed ten seconds. A low guttural sound came from her direction a moment later, which was strange to say the least.

“He’s - he’s…”

Was this a thirteen year old girl’s version of the feelings he was currently experiencing? He wondered if he sounded half as embarrassing talking to him as she was being.

“Tone it down a notch there, weirdo,” he said.

She groaned at him as her eyes darted back down the hall. Then at once she spun forward in her chair, back to the hall and looking at Ronan.

“Oh my god he’s coming back,” she said, head ducking down.

“What the…” He almost wanted to laugh at how hilariously awkward she was being. This was more active than she had ever been in any of her past visits.

“Shh,” she hissed.

He couldn’t even pretend to understand teenagers, and he was one once not that long ago. With a hint of a grin, he looked over from her to the man heading back down the hall towards them, and his grin died on his face, replaced with an expression of surprise. There went his breath again at the sight of him, sans sunglasses and hat. He had piercing blue eyes that daggered straight through Ronan, matched with freckled tan skin and dusty brown hair. Something unidentifiable stirred inside Ronan. He was definitely heavily identifying with Opal’s pre-teen panic attack right about now. As he tucked his hat under his arm, the young man ran his nice hand through his purposefully messy hair.

“You know, I’m actually starting to miss the sunglasses and hat,” Ronan remarked. He barely made it sound like a joke.

“Shut up.” His shy smiles were even more glorious when they weren’t covered up. His ocean blue eyes drifted from Ronan to elsewhere, avoiding eye contact. Ronan couldn’t help but steal the opportunity to stare a little longer when he wasn’t looking back at him. “He’s…” His smile waned when his eyes went to the window. “He’s still out there.”

Ronan didn’t even have to look to know the man was probably doing something just as weird as earlier outside his shop. “Really don’t want to return that wallet, huh?” he said.

Finally, he looked back at Ronan. Their eyes fleetingly met before Ronan turned away. “It’s a long story.”

“Well,” and his attention moved to Opal, who he only just noticed was mouthing words at him. Words he couldn’t read, since he wasn’t a damn lip reader. He furrowed his eyebrows at her, shaking his head at how she topped him in being absurd. Before him, the blue eyed handsome dick was fidgeting around, anxious as he continued to stare outside. When he followed his gaze, he realized the man in question outside was now trying to peer inside through the display window. Did he not realize there was a door right there? Oh right. They were still closed. He was probably being mindful of the sign, unlike freckle face next to him.

“Uh, I should get going.” Freckle face’s voice was a little shaky as he said it.

Opal made a strange little squeal in response. Both men looked at her weirdly. Her face went hot pink, and quick she spun around, placing her back to them.

“Anyway... ” said Ronan.

“Is she okay?” Freckle face whispered.

“She’s fine.”

Silently agreeing with a nod, the young man gave her one last look before pulling back into the shadow of the hall. The man outside was looking still through the window, trying to see with two hands over his eyes, face right against the glass. Ronan was going to have to clear those smears later, he noted with a tight jaw.

“Is there a back way out of here?” Freckle face asked.

Ronan looked to him, admittedly a little disenchanted he had to leave. That was what customers did, but for a moment he… He didn’t really know what he thought was happening. Something that didn’t require leaving so soon, perhaps.

“Wow, don’t want to be seen leaving my shop, huh?” he said. “That embarrassed by your lack of Irish knowledge after living there for a few months.”

“No, I just don’t want to be seen talking to you.” Freckle face made eye contact with him long enough Ronan knew he was joking, too.

“Oh, damn. Ouch.” He placed a hand to his chest, pantomiming a shot through the heart.

For a moment, the young man said nothing back. He only looked at him, silent. Behind his blue eyes, Ronan could see something turning in his mind, working through something. He couldn’t look away, disappearing into his haunting gaze, more than willing to be swallowed- Their eye lock was broken when the man turned his head, taking another look out the front of his shop. Ronan needed that moment to regain proper brain function, only to have it stolen away from him again when out of nowhere there was the man up against him. It lasted but only a second, but that one second was burned into his brain same as the one before. Ronan froze as he reached around him, picking something up off the counter behind him. When he pulled away, he was holding the book Ronan had been reading earlier.

With some intrigue, he examined it, flipping through a few pages. He made a small face, as if he were surprised but impressed by his choice.

“I’ll buy this one,” he said, handing it over.

“Wait, really?” Ronan should have been annoyed he wanted to buy the one book in the entire shop he was reading, but he knew he had other copies on the shelf.

“You seemed invested in it earlier,” said Freckle face. “I’m curious how good of a read it was.”

Ronan chewed on his lip. “Do you even like cars?”

Freckle face rolled his eyes. “Are you really trying to keep from making a sale right now?”

Ronan didn’t break, and folded his arms consciously across his chest. “Making sure you’re getting the book you really want. Don’t like selling books to people if they aren’t fully appreciated.”

The answer appeared to impress the young man, and he smiled a little. “I’m fascinated with learning something new.” He glanced at the book again. “Never read about them before. Can’t wait.”

There was no way to argue his way out of this, to somehow for some insane reason keep the guy around a little longer. There was no real point risking a sale anyway, when he took up so much of his time.

Quietly he scanned the book, and gently moved Opal out of the way to look at his register. They silently went through the process of payment, even down to him signing his name on a receipt. When it was all finished, Ronan held onto the book a little longer.

“Do you want a bag or?”

“I’m fine.” The man took the book from him, tucking it under his arm same as his hat.

“The back exit is the door on the left, inside the small office there,” said Ronan finally, knowing that’s the only reason he bought the book. Out of some courtesy for letting him leave back there.

But even as he said his thanks, Freckle face didn’t leave. Not yet. He lingered a little, almost hesitant to leave.

“I’d say tell me how you find the book,” said Ronan, filling in the silence, “but I have a feeling you’re a one time kind of customer.”

The young man’s brow arched a little at the comment, and his lips twisted up enough. “You never know,” he said. His eyes followed the continued movement outside. “If he comes in and asks for me-”

“Tell him exactly where you went. Got it.”

He frowned at Ronan’s joke.

“Never saw you,” Ronan answered again. “Don’t even know your name.”

He seemed to get a laugh out of that one, as if that were the joke. Then he reached for a handshake. “Adam,” he said.

Adam. Fuck that was a good name. They shook hands, Ronan feeling the strength in his grip, the softness in his touch. He was on fire. The small touch lit him like a match to gasoline, and he was bursting aflame. His face felt hot.

“This is usually when you say your name, too,” Adam offered.

“Nah.” Ronan released his hand. Adam responded with rolling his eyes, sighing.

“Thanks for the book,” he said.

“That is what I sell here.”

“Really?” Adam took one more look around. “Thought this was a bad joke shop.”

Ronan genuinely laughed, as he watched Adam disappear down the hall. As if he were never there to begin with. When he heard the door shut in the back he looked over at Opal, who was turning back to him slowly, coming down from whatever she was going through before. Then he looked at the man still outside, still trying to see through his window. He moved to him first, opening the door to the store.

“Hey,” he said, no longer amused. “Stop looking through my window like that. Scaring my customers away.”

The guy laughed. Ronan didn’t shake from his laugh, taking his sexual frustration out on this guy with actual frustration. He glared down at the man, a short, balding older fellow. He cowered a little at Ronan’s face. His laughter died in his throat. “It’s a free country,” he said. “I can stand wherever I want.”

“You’ve been out here keeping my business away,” he said, ignoring the visible CLOSED sign next to his head. “Go loiter somewhere else. Unless you’re going to buy something, fuck off.”

The man raised his hands in surrender. “Sorry. Sorry.” He turned to leave, and that’s when Ronan saw the giant camera hanging around his neck. Stranger and stranger.

Once the man was finally gone for good, Ronan went back inside, flipping the sign from closed to open again. He shook his head at himself, still in disbelief of the absurdity of today. It was only three. Slowly he moved back toward the rest of his food, finding Opal staring at him with her intense eyes.

“What got into you earlier?”

Opal’s gaze didn’t deter. “You didn’t know who that was?” she said, in shock. “How old are you?”

“Hey.” He stole the last of her chips, eating a few of them in one mouth full. “I let you read for free and I buy you food.”

Opal jerked away from him. “Ew! You’re spitting on me.”

Ronan put a hand over his mouth. “Sorry.”

“How uncultured are you?” she asked.

“Opal.” Ronan swallowed.

“That was Adam Parrish ,” she said, voice reaching a new elevation.

Ronan shrugged. “I don’t know what you’re saying right now.”

“Adam Parrish.” When Ronan didn’t react, Opal gaped. “Oscar nominated actor. Just finished shooting a period drama in Ireland like two months ago.”

“Eh, I don’t think so.” Ronan shook his head at her.

Opal rolled her eyes, disillusioned with his lack of knowledge. “You’re so old!” she said. She turned to his computer that was next to the register on the counter, and she opened up google. He jumped for control of his computer, frowning. “Employees only, kid-”

Before he could reach the keyboard she had typed in Adam Parrish, and a bunch of articles and pictures popped up. She clicked on one image, and there he was. Handsome as ever.

Well, fuck.

“How did you recognize him?” he asked. He leaned into the screen, taking a peek at the suggested images next to the one she clicked on. Fuck, he looked just as good in pictures.

Opal gave him a look as if he asked a stupid question. “He’s only one of the most popular actors ever right now,” she said. “He’ll probably win an oscar next year, because god forbid they don’t nominate him again for-”

Ronan leaned into the mouse and took control of it from her, tuning her out as she talked at length about his acting career. He moved through some of the photos, some photoshoot and some candid. Even his candids looked like photoshoots. There was one shirtless from a beach candid and he visibly swallowed. He tuned Opal back in.

“Have you seen any movie that was released in the last decade?” she was saying. “Don’t answer that. Don’t embarrass yourself like that.”

He scowled. “Hey.”

“Watch these four,” she said, and she was writing them on the back of receipt paper. “They’re my favorites that you can rent. He has one out in theaters right now, too, but… I don’t know if you would like it.”

“Is that code for chick flick?”

“That’s sexist.” Opal frowned. “And no. It’s a space movie. He had to do a big budget film because it was only a matter of time, but the period drama is coming out in November, which I can’t wait for. But I hear it’s rated R.”

“Mm.” Ronan pretended not to be interested, when in fact this was the first time mainstream pop culture fascinated him. Adam Parrish. Who would’ve thought. Just his fucking luck that god of a man was a fucking Hollywood superstar.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The rest of the day was spent as plainly as all others, no noticeable change from the routine he had grown accustomed to. He made several more sales and even more drop bys, but none so eventful.

At the end of his work day, he was locking up the store. Opal stayed the whole work today, which was out of the ordinary, but after the eventful afternoon they had he wasn’t all that surprised she felt like sticking around. She tried to school him more in Adam Parrish culture, but quickly realized he didn’t want to hear anymore about him, and she changed subjects to other celebrities he cared even less about.

Opal was tucking her book away in her bookbag when she spoke up. “I still can’t believe you’re so culturally ignorant you didn’t even know who Adam Parrish was.”

Ronan shrugged. “Not my kind of thing,” he said.

“Enjoying things?”

He paused, upset. His teeth scraped against each other as he locked his jaw. “Okay,” he said, voice gruff, “give me the book back.”

“What.” Opal put a hand over her bag. “No. I’ll stop.”

“Good.” He took a tiny breath to collect himself, noting she was lingering longer than she needed, or normally did. “Today was the most we’ve ever talked.”

She shrugged, hand still covering her bag opening. “You were actually fun today.”

Ronan laughed a little. “Wow,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Thanks.”

“I’ll see you next time,” she said, which he knew meant was likely a few days from now.

He nodded. “So long as you don’t bring up Adam Parrish again and his beautiful freckles ,” he said, mocking her from earlier.

“They are beautiful,” she said, defensive. “You noticed them, too, gramps. I know you did. Everyone does.”

Before he could get another word in edgewise, she spun around and started walking off. As he followed her movement briefly, he caught her wave back at him, fully aware he was looking. He turned back to the locks on the door, but not before his eyes catching at the hint of a billboard from behind the rooftops of the buildings across the street. At once he could see the piercing blue eyes of Adam Parrish staring down at him from a poster for the space movie Opal mentioned earlier. Fuck . He really was pop culture clueless. Somehow he had developed a crush on a famous actor. This was some cosmic joke.

When he arrived home not long after, he found Gansey in the exact place he had left him, in what appeared to be the same outfit, same unshowered mess.

"Gansey."

"Don't talk to me." Gansey didn't even look over at him. He was doodling on a pile of papers in the mess of paperwork that ate up Ronan's living room.

"What the fuck did I do now?" Ronan groaned.

"You forgot the milk," Gansey said simply.

Ronan wasn't in the mood for this and he said nothing. If he was just going to sit there and do nothing all day, he could go out and get milk on his own. Ronan had a long day and he was tired, and so he simply walked away. Gansey didn't even appear to notice. He was ruining what little joy Ronan had from today, and here Ronan thought that he was going to come in and tell him the news of seeing a celebrity today at the store. Gansey probably didn't even know who Adam Parrish was either.

After making himself some dinner, Ronan settled down in his room, far away from Gansey and his mountain of papers that would take him nowhere. He opened his laptop, which was a rare sight, and before he realized it he was knee deep in Adam Parrish Internet Hell, or Heaven if he he really thought about it. He was nice to look at. Somehow in the span of a few hours he found out a lot about him. Well, what the internet had to offer, which wasn't a lot. This Adam Parrish was pretty private. There wasn't even anything about his love life, just a lot of speculations, always assuming he was with a co-star of his current film.

He went to Yale University for acting, with a minor in biochem. Who minors in biochem? He was half a year older than Ronan, and his mainstay was New York City. There was no information on his life before Yale, where he lived before that, or anything, which wasn't that surprising. Actors were allowed to have private lives, too. But Ronan wanted to know where that hint of a Southern accent came from that sent a shiver through him when he heard it. He wanted to hear it again.

Before he knew it he was searching his jacket pocket for the note Opal wrote him, with the list of the four movies she recommended he watch of Adam's. The first one was about a pair of teenagers who try to buy weed for the first time and accidentally witness a murder. It was listed as a dark comedy and won a bunch of indie film awards. It wasn't usually Ronan's thing, but he put it on anyways. It was listed as Adam's first film, nearly ten years ago. He was eighteen, in his first year at Yale. Ronan knew too much already.

He was halfway through, annoyed with how talented and handsome and funny Adam was in this, when Gansey barged in. Ronan fumbled around on his computer to pause the film. Gansey promptly made a face.

"What are you doing in here?" He gasped. "Are you watching porn? On a laptop?"

Ronan scowled. "That is where people usually - Fuck off, Dick. I'm not watching porn. Go shower or something."

"Why were you laughing so much? I was worried." Gansey was too curious for his own good and he moved around the room to steal a peek at Ronan's laptop. Ronan only shut it halfway before Gansey managed a look.

"Oh my god." Gansey was smirking. "Is that-?"

Ronan was going to murder Gansey. "Get out of my room."

"Since when did you like Adam Parrish movies?"

"Get out, Gansey."

"Why didn't you say anything?" Gansey was clueless. "You know, I remember I tried to get you to go see one with me last summer, and you literally told me to-"

"Fuck off, Gansey!"

"That! Those exact words!" Gansey shook his head, somehow oblivious to the look of a thousand daggers Ronan was throwing at him right now across his bed. He chuckled to himself until finally he met with Ronan's clenching jaw and narrowed eyes and he took a small step back. "Jesus, what's wrong with you?"

"Get. Out. Of. My. Room." Ronan was on the verge of jumping across the mattress to shove Gansey out. He was embarrassed enough with this newfound curiosity, he didn't need him here to witness or comment on it.

"You don't have to be so rude, you know," Gansey said, hands on his hips, giving Ronan a very vivid flashback to his teenage years when his mother walked in on him in a much similar situation to this. About something else though. He shook himself out of that thought process to find Gansey still standing above him, and he rolled his eyes, the tension in his body easing a little, and the frustration coming down a little too.

"Sorry, I just..." Ronan's jaw still clenched. "Opal suggested a few movies."

"Opal." Gansey nodded knowingly. "You know what I think about you two, and how unhealthy that all is."

"And as I've said before, you can take your concerns and-"

"Okay." Gansey raised a hand in the air between them and shut his eyes. "I don't want to fight with you."

Ronan didn't want to fight with him, either. He settled his back again against the headboard, releasing some of his grip on his laptop. Above him, Gansey relaxed his posture too, hand falling and eyes drifting from Ronan's face and back to his computer. Suddenly he was wearing a smirk again.

"You know that he's in San Francisco right now?" said Gansey.

There was a pinch in Ronan's chest, and for a second he thought he had given himself away somehow, but when he looked over at Gansey he didn't look the least suspicious in his response. Again, he was a little oblivious.

"How do you know that?" Ronan cleared his throat to sound less pitchy. He stared down at his laptop to evade having to meet his best friend's gaze.

"Dunno." Gansey shrugged. "Saw it on instagram."

"Insta..." Ronan's voice died as Gansey reached into a pocket of his sweatpants and pulled out his phone, flicking through apps and screens until finally his fingers stopped tapping. He flipped his phone around and Ronan blinked. He had to bite back the urge to yank his phone from his hand, patient enough to just lean in. Adam was at the California Academy of Sciences in the park, standing inside the aquarium tunnel with his head tipped back and eyes closed, a smile playing at his face. It had the simple caption of a fish emoji. Fuck, this was becoming a problem.

"If you weren't so anti-social media, I would suggest you follow him. He doesn't update that often though."

Ronan started to shake his head and pull back from Gansey's phone. He couldn't do this. He was already in too deep. The guy was a movie star. If he ever saw him again he wouldn't recognize Ronan, and probably ask some bodyguard of his to take the crazy man talking about books away.

"Could you imagine if we ran into him?" Gansey pocketed his phone into his sweats. "I think I'd fangirl too hard, though. Probably a good thing this city's so big."

"Yeah..."

"Hey, if you want to go see his new movie, the space one, I'd be down. You keep trying to get me out of the house. I'd actually get out for that."

"Maybe." It sounded like a good idea, to get Gansey out of the house, but Ronan wasn't sure how well he could handle seeing Adam 20 feet tall on a screen.

Gansey finally caught on something was a little off, and for once he didn't push. He left not long after, but Ronan wasn't invested in the movie anymore. He lay flat on the bed, staring at the ceiling of his room, wondering how in the span of half a day he went from content and single to crushing on the least attainable man in the world. It was bad enough when it was just a customer he would never see again. Now it's the lead of what was said to be the hit of the summer. Just his goddamn luck.