“Two cokes without ice, and one hamburger deluxe.”
The girl put the food down before Adam, and he glanced up at her, opening his mouth to inform her that the burger was Mason’s and not his, but the words as usual got stuck in his throat.
The girl raised an eyebrow at him, crossing her arms in front of her chest. Her spiky hair was done up with colourful barrettes and her apron had a little flower sewn to the corner. Adam found it all unbearably charming. He didn’t know how she managed it, but each time he saw her she seemed to be cuter than the last.
“You need something else?” Blue asked.
Just your phone number, Adam thought, but he was sure if he said it aloud, he’d receive a sound slap from her. Hadn’t she, just a few months ago, publicly yelled at Richard Campbell Gansey III for something he’d said? If she could talk to a boy like that with no reservations, nothing would stop her from kicking Adam out of Nino’s and banning him for life. No, clearly the best way to get her to go out with him was to start with something simple. Complimenting her, maybe. Telling her he liked her eyes. Telling her he thought she was breathlessly pretty.
Which, of course, would only work if he talked to her at all.
“No,” Adam said. He could feel the tips of his ears getting hot. Idiot, he chastised himself. Say something else.
Mason, as usual, didn’t bother helping him out. He simply grabbed the burger from in front of Adam. Adam watched it wistfully as it slid across the table into his friend’s hands. The waitress was still observing them. Adam turned back to her.
“No, thank you,” Adam said. “This is perfect.”
He wasn’t sure why he felt so speechless around her. He wasn’t usually bad at flirting, but he found her intimidating. Which was funny really, given how tiny she was.
Adam had actually been saving up money to buy Blue flowers. He’d been saving up for a couple of weeks, but he’d needed to dig into the fund to buy razors and a stronger soap, and so the amount he’d saved remained inadequate. Which was fine, since he had yet to have a proper conversation with her. It shouldn’t have been this hard, but he wasn’t used to asking out girls he didn’t know. Both his previous girlfriends had been friends of his before he’d asked them out. He wasn’t sure what the protocol was when it came to asking out waitstaff at a restaurant.
He gave her a wobbly smile and Blue smirked at them before disappearing through the kitchen doors. Adam pressed his palms into his eyes and let out a guttural sound.
“My guy,” Mason said, already tearing into his burger, ketchup dripping down his hand. Adam looked at the food longingly, until Mason licked the ketchup off his palm and Adam lost his appetite. “You’re more whipped than cream at an ice cream parlour. Just ask her out, won’t you?”
“I don’t know how to,” Adam muttered.
He stirred his coke with his straw, thinking of the money he was wasting on this soda. He should have just ordered water like he usually did, but he didn’t want Blue to think he was too cheap to order something; that he was the kind of person who would sit in a restaurant and not eat anything, taking up a place that could have been taken up by someone like Richard Gansey III, who would have left her a nice big tip. Adam scratched the back of his ear in frustration.
This was why Adam hated Nino’s. Well, this and the fact that it was frequented by his classmates from Aglionby - all the rich, snobby boys who glanced at him disdainfully as they stirred their sweet teas and ordered more pizza than they could possibly eat. But Mason liked coming here, and Adam couldn’t deny him the occasional trip.
“What’s there to know?” Mason said, between bites. There was a smudge of mustard on his nose, but Adam didn’t bother to point it out. “Just be like… Hi, I like you. Go out with me?”
“That’s not going to work,” Adam said. “Why would she go out with me? She doesn’t even know my name.”
“Ok, say… Hi, my name is Adam Parrish. I like you. Go out with me?”
Adam rolled his eyes, but couldn’t help but laugh. Mason was the only other scholarship student in the whole school, which is how he and Adam had found each other. Adam didn’t feel they had much in common; Mason’s favourite topics included country music, different ways to cook an egg, and books about electricity. Adam’s favourite topics included anything but country music, different ways to cook an egg, and books about electricity. They had no classes together, and on top of it all, while they both had partial scholarships, Mason’s was being paid by his somewhat wealthy uncle who lived in DC, so even their daily struggle of not being as rich as the others was dissimilar. Adam suspected the rich uncle was why Mason had joined Aglionby in the first place. He was probably being forced into it, because he seemed completely unexcited by the work, completely unmotivated to keep his grades up. Where Adam was struggling every day to save up enough money to save for college, pay for school and keep his parents happy, Mason was complaining about the schoolwork, about their classmates, about the lack of girls. But Adam figured his company was far preferable to that of the rich snobs he did have classes with.
Adam had once had the opportunity to become friends with Dick Gansey III. He’d seen his car - a beautiful orange Camaro - broken down on the side of the road. Gansey had been beside it, calling a tow truck. Adam had known how to fix it. He worked as a mechanic at Boyd’s, and he’d been fixing cars since he was old enough to work. He’d even stopped his bicycle by the road for a minute, wondering if he should offer to help, but he decided against it and rode away. He didn’t need a friend like that; a friend whose mere presence would remind him every day that he was born trailer trash in a world that took every opportunity to try and squash him.
Not to mention, he didn’t care for the company Gansey kept.
Mason was slurping his drink now, making loud noises as he guzzled it. “I doubt she’s going to turn you down. She’s a six at best, and she’s a waitress. I don’t think she has many options.”
Adam rubbed his temple. “You really are a prick sometimes, you know that?”
“How am I bein' a prick? I don’t know why yo- …motherfucker.”
Adam stared at Mason in surprise. Mason didn’t usually swear. Adam didn’t either - not out loud anyway - though Mason’s company did sometimes almost bring it out in him.
“What is it?” Adam asked. He made to turn around, but Mason grabbed his wrist, fingers digging into his skin. The forcefulness of the grab caused Adam to wince backwards. He let out a sharp gasp. Alarmed by his reaction, Mason let go. The chair Adam was sitting on toppled, and he went crashing to the ground.
Adam’s shoulder surged with pain, but it was nothing compared to the shame that consumed him. His humiliation was so acute, it seemed to puncture his lungs. The throbbing in his shoulder was just white noise as he staggered to his feet, his entire face burning. He turned to see how many people had witnessed his faux pas, but instead he found himself facing the cause of Mason’s swearing. Adam’s stomach shrivelled up on itself.
Ronan Lynch stood at the front of the restaurant, arms crossed, wearing a smirk as sharp as his cheekbones. Beside him, staring at Adam with a hand on her hip, was Blue the waitress.
The first thing Adam felt was anger. Ronan Lynch usually inspired that in him.
The second thing Adam felt was surprise. Because it became apparent at that moment that Ronan and Blue had been talking to each other. The two of them were standing close, Ronan a head taller than her, a familiarity obvious between them.
Ronan Lynch was Aglionby’s resident asshole, a boy made up of loathing and sharp angles. While Adam moved around school carefully, trying to avoid trouble, Ronan moved around like he knew if he ran into trouble, it would gracefully step out of his way. He was in Adam’s English, Latin and Technology classes. He didn’t show up for any of them when he could help it. Adam knew him as Gansey’s best friend, Kavinsky’s racing buddy, one-third of the infamous Lynch brothers, and that guy who occasionally gave him shit for no reason at all. Ronan insulted anyone he wanted to, kept his uniform and books in shambles, and didn’t give a damn about anyone or anything. His uniform, as if illustrating this point, looked exactly as it had in school this morning - his shirt untucked and his sleeves rolled up, his tie loose, his top two buttons undone. There were rips and claw marks on his shoulder that were clearly inflicted by that ridiculous pet raven of his.
Adam ran his hand through his hair. He was sure his entire face was bright pink. The fall had caused his tie to go askew, and he quickly straightened it and shoved it back inside his raven-breasted sweater.
“Sorry,” he said. He flinched as his Henrietta accent came out, clear and unmistakeable in the quiet room. No one reacted. Lynch turned away from him - clearly very few things could hold his attention for a long time - and started talking to Blue again. Adam picked up his chair, sat back down and glanced up at Mason, who had his hand pressed against his lips, badly suppressing laughter. Adam ignored him, straining his good ear to hear their conversation.
“I’m working right now, Ronan,” Blue was saying. She was sweeping the front of the restaurant where a small child had spilled french fries. “We can talk about this later.”
“Declan is coming tomorrow.”
“What is fuckin' Lynch do…” Mason began, but Adam held up a hand, effectively silencing him.
Blue sighed, and Adam could practically see her putting her hand on her hip and giving Ronan that ‘don’t push me’ look. Since when were Blue and Ronan Lynch friends? Adam knew Ronan frequented Nino’s with Gansey and some other boys from their school, but he had no idea he was friendly with Blue. Friendly enough for him to stop by and visit her at work, at that. It filled him with an awful kind of jealousy.
“Fine,” she said, her voice full of resignation. “We can tell him we’re dating.”
Adam experienced the very particular sensation of all his internal organs being turned to mush. He had to have misheard them. There was no way he heard her correctly.
“What the fuck?” Mason asked, his mouth hanging open to reveal half-chewed burger meat. “Did Blue just say she was datin' Lynch?”
“You’re the best, maggot,” Lynch said.
Adam didn’t see what happened next, but he heard Blue shriek. “Ronan, my boss.”
Ronan laughed, a sharp hiss of a laugh. “I’ll see you later then. You coming by Monmouth?”
“Sure,” she said. “See you later.”
Wasn’t it enough for Ronan to be rich, savagely handsome, top of their Latin class, and best friends with charming, powerful Dick Gansey? He had to go and date the girl of Adam’s dreams as well? Adam took a sip of his coke. The cloying sweetness of the drink and the injustice of it all made his stomach curdle.
“Real smooth stuff there, Parrish.”
Adam glanced at Lynch from the corner of his eye. Ronan rubbed his cheek that was sporting a day’s worth of stubble, looking completely at ease. What a fucking asshole. “I knew you were intimidated by me, but I didn’t know it was that bad.”
“Fuck off, Lynch,” Adam muttered. Ronan’s mere presence fatigued him. The boy encapsulated everything he hated about Aglionby.
Ronan gave him a shark-grin and then grabbed a few french-fries off Mason’s plate. Mason let out a muffled noise of protest.
“See you losers later,” Lynch said.
Adam really hoped not. He watched as Ronan walked out of the restaurant, slamming the door loudly behind him.
The truth of the matter was that Adam Parrish didn’t have much at all. And potentially, this was because Ronan Lynch had taken absolutely everything.
* * *
When Adam got out of Boyd’s that night, his feet felt like they were made of lead. He hopped on his bicycle and made his way slowly down the winding streets towards his home. There was a stifling quality to the darkness; the kind that enveloped him and made it hard to breathe even when he was outside in the fresh air. Adam turned on the flashlight he’d taped to the handlebars and kept to the side of the street.
He was almost home when he heard the roar of an engine. He made it off the road just in time to see a white Mitsubishi swerve past him at break neck speed. The road was narrow, and the car grazed his bike as it sped past. Adam was thrown back. Gasping, he got to his feet and inspected his cycle. No damage. He glared after the offending car. Hardly a minute later, a black BMW screeched past, sending Adam back into the brush.
He was brimming with fury now, all the exhaustion from the day transforming into pure white anger. He hopped on his bike and pedalled furiously towards his house.
On the field with the two ruts that led to Adam’s double-wide, the two cars had stopped. Leaning against the hood of one of them, a cigarette between his fingers, was Joseph Kavinsky, Aglionby’s other asshole extraordinaire. Ronan Lynch was against the other one, drinking beer from a green bottle. They were both in jeans and tank tops - Lynch in black, Kavinsky in white.
“Parrish!” Kavinsky called out when he spotted him. “Thought we had run you over.”
“You almost did,” Adam bit out. “If you’re going to drive like a maniac, at least make sure there aren’t people in your way.”
Kavinsky shrugged lazily. Adam could feel Ronan watching him. He turned and gave him a venomous look. Ronan bared his teeth at him.
“We’ll try our best to watch out for you next time, princess,” Kavinsky said. “But can’t say it would be much of a loss if we did run you over.”
The words were words Adam had said to himself over and over again. When he was lying in bed, when he was looking at himself in the mirror. You don’t matter, Adam. But hearing them voiced by someone who wasn’t his father was too much. Shame and fury took ahold of him, making him shake.
Kavinsky took a long drag and grinned at Adam as the smoke came shooting from his nostrils. Adam glared at him, before turning to Ronan. Lynch was looking down at the ground. He didn’t look at Adam and he didn’t say anything. Not that Adam expected him to. If Kavinsky hadn’t said it, Lynch probably would have.
Adam blinked back the hot tears. He wanted to say something in response. Anything. Something sharp that would tear their flesh and make them bleed. But he was worried his voice would crack, which would be even more humiliating. They needed to think he didn’t care about them; that he didn’t care what they thought of him. So without a word, he pushed his bike past the cars, not making eye contact with either of them, and trudged up to his home.
The one small mercy at the end of the day was seeing his father passed out on the couch. His mother had left a plate of cornbread and mashed potatoes on the kitchen table, and Adam ate it hungrily even though it was cold and barely enough to silence his hunger pangs. He’d been feeling terrible all day, and this final run-in with Kavinsky and Lynch when he was too bone-tired to even think up a scathing response, hadn’t helped.
He thought again about Blue. He wondered if things would have been different if he’d just had the courage to ask her out first. He had no idea how long Blue and Ronan had been going out for. It must have been a while if they were telling Ronan’s older brother about it, right? He finished eating and made his way over to his bed, his entire body aching.
“Adam,” his mother called from the living room. She had the same passivity that she always had in her voice when she talked to him.
“Yes?” Adam called back.
Adam’s heart clamped up. He’d told Mason not to call here. He wasn’t sure whether Mason knew about his home life or not, but Adam wished he would just listen to him. Adam didn’t want to imagine what would have happened if his father was the one who answered the phone.
He took the phone from his mother and waited till she returned to the kitchen before speaking.
“What?” he hissed.
“I was bored,” Mason said.
“I told you not to call on my home phone.”
“You don’t have a cell-phone. Where else am I s’posed to call you?”
Adam rubbed his eyes, too bone-tired to argue.
“How you doin’?” Mason asked.
“Come on man. It’s me. I know you feel like shit because of the whole Blue thing.”
“If you know that, then why are you asking me, Mason?” Adam asked. He couldn’t stop the frustration from leaking into his voice.
“Chill out,” Mason said. He yawned into the phone.
“Chill out?” Adam asked, disbelievingly. “I’ve liked this girl for months, and now I find out she’s dating Ronan bloody Lynch? He’s an absolute piece of shit. He’s no good for her.”
“I know that,” he said. “You know I know that.”
“If she likes guys like Lynch she probably wouldn’t have dated me anyway.”
“Adam Parrish,” he said. “You are the most stubborn dude I know. You goin' to take this lyin’ down?”
“How else am I supposed to take it?” Adam asked. “She’s made her decision.”
“She didn’t know you were an option.”
Adam bit his lip. This was true. But he wasn’t about to make it known he was an option now. Not when it would just cause more tension between him and Lynch.
“Well, I lost my chance,” Adam sighed.
“Not necessarily. All we have to do is come up with a plan.”
“Is that right?” Adam rolled his eyes, even though Mason could not see him. “What sort of plan?” He was humouring him now. Why did he always humour Mason?
Oh right, because he had no other friends.
“Plan A,” Mason said. “You go over there, and you ask her out.”
“Excuse me? That’s a terrible plan.”
“What do you mean why? Lynch already hates me.”
“Lynch hates everyone.”
“Yeah, but he’s always been extra rude to me,” Adam muttered. “Besides, I don’t really want to get a beating from him and his pal Kavinsky, thanks.”
At these words, Adam glanced over at the couch. His father let out a snore. Adam felt relief splatter him like rain.
“Look,” Adam said. “Lynch is an asshole. I doubt it would take very long for them to break up. And when they do, then I’ll take my chance and ask her out, ok?”
“Dude,” Mason said. “You’re a genius.”
“Ok, hear me out. How many girlfriends has Lynch had?”
Adam stared dumbfounded at the empty cork board above the phone. Apart from the things Mason had told him, he couldn’t remember hearing any rumours about Ronan Lynch at all, let alone ones about his dating life. “I don’t know? He’s a very private person.”
“His brother Declan is a total playboy, but Ronan is a total recluse. Hasn’t dated anyone.”
Adam frowned into the phone. If that were true then it was probably by choice. Whatever said and done, Ronan Lynch was painfully good-looking.
“And how many friends does Ronan have?” Mason continued. “I think two at most. Because he’s an asshole. People don’t become friends with him. And girls might like bad boys, but they don’t like guys like Lynch.”
“I don’t understand where you’re going with this, Mason.”
“You should become friends with Lynch.”
Adam let out a sardonic laugh, and then stifled it. “Wait… are you serious?”
“No, listen to me. You become friends with Lynch. You get him to trust you. Then you start givin’ him bad information, right? You’ve dated enough to know what girls like. Just, tell him the opposite. Tell him to do the crap that girls hate. Like, that he should be brutally honest with her. That he shouldn’t text her good mornin’ and that he should say that she looks fat in her dress, or whatever. That sorta thing. And you know a lot about Blue. You know what kinds of things she doesn’t like…”
Adam had neither the time nor the energy to point out everything that was wrong with what Mason was saying. “Lynch is a lot of things, but he’s not stupid. He would be able to tell if someone is trying to sabotage him.”
“Look, all I’m sayin’ is, it’s easier to take advantage of him when you’re on the inside. You know? And you won’t be doin' anythin' wrong, you’d just be… speedin' up the process. You said yourself they’ll probably break up anyway. This is just our way of gettin’ in his head a bit. Exposing him as an asshole to her. To everyone. You remember what he did to me, right?”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“The guy is a total dick. Aren’t you even a little bit tempted by the idea of fuckin’ with him?”
“This is a stupid idea, Mason,” Adam said. “I’m hanging up now.”
“You’re no fun,” Mason said.
It really was a dumb idea. The absolute dumbest. Adam hated Ronan, but he was not the type to become friends with someone just to fuck with them and steal their girlfriend. It was a terrible plan. Completely awful. But as Adam lay in bed that night, it was all he could think about.