Ronan was not comfortable with words. He couldn’t just say what he wanted to say. He couldn’t simply explain what he meant. That was something Blue had realised soon after she’d become friends with the Monmouth group. Sometimes it was because he didn’t have the right phrasing to say what he meant, but sometimes it was because what he wanted to say was stuffed so deep down inside him, even he didn’t know what it was.
She’d hated them initially. Gansey and Ronan, that is. She’d even shouted at Gansey in Nino’s one day when he’d said something about her uniform that sounded an awful lot like he was being condescending. However, he’d caught her after work that day and apologised, and the two had become friends very quickly.
Ronan had been a work in progress. He hadn’t particularly liked her at first, but he wasn’t as hostile towards her as she knew he was capable of being. So she’d put up with him. She pushed back. She showed him she was just as impossible as he was. Ronan was a creature calmed by familiarity, and after a few weeks of her friendship with Gansey and Noah, he’d warmed up to her.
But she was still surprised when he showed up at her house, empty handed and alone. She let him in, and he spent a considerable amount of time in silence, wandering around her room, picking up objects and dropping them back into boxes with a disgusted expression on his face.
“They’re just headbands, Ronan,” she said, after once such incident.
“They smell weird.”
She let her legs dangle from the bed, watching him. She could sense there was something important he wanted to get out. He didn’t generally pace unless something was nagging at him, and if they were with the others, she would have watched it nag at him till he exploded and it all came rushing out. She thought about what Gansey had told her about Ronan being like a scared animal. You needed to let him come to you, otherwise he’d close up and you’d get nothing.
Blue was no Gansey. She wasn’t nearly as patient, but she also wasn’t nearly as willing to take Ronan’s shit.
“What do you want, Ronan?” she asked, impatiently.
Ronan dropped a stick of mascara back into her makeup bag.
“My brother is driving down from DC to stay here for a few weeks,” he said. He tugged at the bands on his wrist with his other hand. “A month and a half, actually.”
“Yeah, Gansey was saying.” She wasn’t sure what this had to do with her, but Ronan’s odd behaviour was certainly piquing her interest. “You don’t really get along with him, do you?”
Ronan shrugged. He poked at a ball of cloth on Blue’s desk.
“Why is he coming down?” Blue pressed.
“Who the fuck knows,” Ronan said, but he looked distinctly uncomfortable when he said this.
Blue leaned back on her elbows, swinging her legs. “I thought you didn’t lie.”
“He said he’s coming to be with Matthew,” Ronan said, affecting disinterest. “But he knows I’m not doing well in school. I know he’s really coming to fucking babysit me.” He rubbed his cheeks. “You know we’re really religious, right?” Ronan said, abruptly. “My family.”
Blue nodded. She knew the Lynch brothers went to church together every week. Declan actually drove down from DC every Sunday to attend church with Ronan and Matthew.
“Declan…” His voice was razor-edged. He exhaled. “He knows I’ve never been in a relationship.”
This was not the direction Blue was expecting the conversation to go in. She tried to school her expression; to keep the surprise from showing on her face. They’d never once talked about Ronan’s dating life, and she wasn’t sure how to respond. She decided to play it cool, unaffected.
She shrugged. “I haven’t either.”
Ronan gave her a sharp look. Then he looked down at his shoes, his trademark scowl back in place.
“I want him to stop asking me questions about why I’m single. So I’m going to tell him you’re my girlfriend.”
“What?” Blue yelped, sitting up straight. Ronan’s face was still set in its grumpy mask. “Excuse me?” she spluttered. “Don’t I get a say in this? I mean… this is a ridiculous idea, Ronan. Lots of people don’t date…”
This was crazy. Completely insane. Since when did Ronan care what people thought of him anyway?
You know we’re really religious, right? Blue suddenly understood the implication of the words with a weight that almost crushed her. Oh.
The pieces were slowly clicking together. Ronan’s disinterest in Orla. His disinterest in talking about girls. The way he never looked at her breasts. The way he sometimes looked at Gansey. The way he sometimes behaved around Kavinsky.
Was Ronan… coming out to her?
“I just…” Ronan was fidgeting with the bands on his wrist again. He was looking away, not catching her eye. “I want him to leave me the fuck alone, right? He’s been nagging me about school, getting more friends, being in a relationship. All that shit. Like normally, I wouldn’t care? But I can’t fucking deal with it for six weeks straight. We don’t actually have to fucking do anything, obviously. I’ll just tell him you’re my girlfriend and then he’ll shut up, and that’s the end of it.”
She chewed on her bottom lip, watching Ronan. It was really hard to tell what he was thinking. Did he realise he had just confessed something to her? Or did he himself not understand why he needed his brother to think he had a girlfriend?
“But we have to pretend to date?” she asked.
“We don’t have to fucking make out. All we’d have to do is maybe hold fucking hands once in a while if he’s around. The most he’s going to do is ask you to have dinner with us or some shit.”
“But what about when he goes back? He still comes here for church every week.”
“He’s not going to fucking expect you to come to church. Look, when he goes back to DC, I’ll wait a couple of weeks and then tell him we broke up.”
“And that’s it?”
She bit her lip. “I don’t know about this, Ronan.”
She didn’t like lying, but she knew Ronan didn’t either. She didn’t quite understand what was driving Ronan to do something like this, to lie to his brother, but she trusted him enough to know he wouldn’t go to such lengths unless something was lighting fire to his heels. She knew he and Declan didn’t get along, and she didn’t think she wanted to know what would happen if religious Declan discovered his younger brother was gay.
But six weeks of pretending to date Ronan? She didn’t think he was the boy from her prophecy - she wasn’t worried about that, especially if he was gay - but what if people found out they were pretending? Wouldn’t that cast doubt upon Ronan? Wouldn’t people think there was something wrong with her, that she had a fake boyfriend? What if people she was actually interested in thought she was interested in Ronan?
She pushed those thoughts away. She’d already decided she was never going to get involved with a boy, and the only boys who would know about her and Ronan would be probably be Aglionby boys. And it didn’t matter what they thought, because she would never date an Aglionby boy. In fact, pretending to date Ronan would actually be beneficial to her. The girlfriend of Ronan Lynch? Even when they eventually ‘broke up,’ every single Aglionby boy would know to stay the hell away from her.
But she couldn’t help but feel like things were going to get terribly complicated.
“I don’t know, Ronan,” she said, rubbing the back of her arm. “It’s just that…”
“I’ll buy you those stupid boots you wanted.”
Now this was interesting. She got to be a good friend and get boots out of it? The idea was certainly tempting.
“I’ll think about it,” she said.
Ronan nodded and punched her arm. “Thanks, maggot,” he said.
She scowled at him. She really hated that nickname.
* * *
Ronan sat in his car for ten minutes before he decided to get out and just do it. It was a dick move, cornering Sargent at her work place, but the truth was, Ronan was desperate.
Declan had started to… catch on to things. He attributed it, like Kavinsky did, to Ronan’s friendship with Gansey. Declan had obviously seen how close the two were, and whenever they had breakfast together after church, he’d ask probing questions about their relationship. It hadn’t bothered Ronan before - either the questions, or Declan’s obvious disapproval that laced them. He knew what Gansey was to him. Gansey was his brother. He didn’t quite know what he was, but that hadn’t mattered.
But then Ronan had started having dreams. And though he tried not to think about it, it was there, lingering in the back of his mind. A… confusion, of sorts.
The truth was, Ronan had figured out a few years ago that he wasn’t interested in girls. He just didn’t want to think about what that meant. What the alternative was, as it were. Thinking about stuff like that was confusing. The problem was that he’d been thinking about it a lot lately. Partly because of Declan’s questions. Partly because of a very particular Aglionby student. He knew that if the maggot played along with him and got Declan off his back, he could continue not having to think about what it all meant, and he could go back to just trying not to think about him.
Ronan walked into Nino’s and located Sargent immediately. She was carrying a broom that was comically bigger than herself and walking towards the first table by the door, where a family was departing, leaving behind a war-zone of spilled food. The father stepped on some of the fallen french fries as they exited the restaurant. Blue glared at his back, and Ronan had to laugh.
She was muttering under her breath when he walked up to her. She clutched the broom tightly.
“What are you doing here?” she demanded, glaring at the floor.
“Came to see you, maggot,” he said, cheerfully. She batted him out of the way, and started sweeping up the french fries. “Did you have a chance to think about what I said the other day?”
Blue sighed. The small part of Ronan that felt usually felt sympathy and told him things about himself that he preferred to ignore - small enough, that he could sometimes block it out completely - felt bad about what he was asking Blue to do. But he wasn’t friends with any other girls, and he wasn’t asking for much. And he was offering her compensation. Not to mention, he was desperate. Every day the dreams were getting more vivid, the thoughts were getting harder to ignore, and the confusion was getting worse. He just… he needed time. Time away from Declan and his questions.
Before Blue could say anything in response, there was a loud crash from the back of the restaurant. Ronan looked up, and his breath caught in his throat.
Struggling to his feet in the middle of the restaurant, his face bright pink, his collar dipping to reveal his very prominent collarbone, was Adam Parrish.
Ronan’s smirk slipped off his face. Was this a dream? It felt like a dream. The situation seemed too outlandish to be real. Here Ronan was asking a girl to pretend to date him because he was confused, while the very cause of his confusion was standing right there, watching them both with wide, dizzying eyes.
It was very likely a dream. Parrish was a frequent visitor in Ronan’s dreams.
“Sorry,” Parrish said.
The accent that laced his words was as thick as honey. Ronan’s stomach twisted. Adam’s eyes darted from Blue to Ronan, and Ronan turned away, not wanting to look at Parrish anymore, not wanting anyone to see that his hands were sweating. He balled them into fists and then opened them again.
Act fucking normal. It’s only goddamn Parrish.
“Come on, Sargent. You said you’d make a decision.”
“I’m working right now, Ronan,” Blue said. She started sweeping again. She wasn’t making eye contact, and Ronan wondered if she’d noticed the way he’d reacted to Parrish. Probably not. If Sargent knew about Parrish she’d have been outwardly smirking right about now. “We can talk about this later.”
“Declan is coming in two days,” Ronan said.
He glanced at Parrish’s table, but Adam was sitting down again, his back to them. Across from him sat Mason Hunter. He was a slimeball if Ronan had ever met one. Ronan clenched his jaw.
“Fine,” she said. Ronan turned back to her, surprise curling in his gut, replacing the heat from a moment ago. “We can tell him we’re dating.”
He felt a few wisps of relief, but there was still that underlying feeling of dissatisfaction. Of wrongness. Here was Ronan, asking one of his closest friends to blatantly lie to a member of his family. He tried to push the thought away and grinned, affecting nonchalance.
“You’re the best, maggot.”
He reached out and ruffled her hair.
Blue shrieked, and swiped at his hand. “Ronan, my boss.”
She tapped her hair, making sure it was still in place. Ronan couldn’t help but laugh.
“I’ll see you later then. You coming by Monmouth?”
“Sure,” she said. “See you later.”
Ronan made for the door, but then turned to look at Parrish again. Ronan had seen Parrish in Nino’s maybe a handful of times, but he couldn’t ever remember seeing him eat. Across from him, Hunter was stuffing his pie-hole, no care in the world. Before that small part of his brain could stop him, Ronan turned on his heel and walked over to their table.
“Real smooth stuff there, Parrish,” he said. “I knew you were intimidated by me, but I didn’t know it was that bad.”
He immediately regretted his decision when Adam turned to look at him, cool blue eyes drenching him with a look of aversion. There was a twinge in his heart that Ronan refused to acknowledge.
“Fuck off, Lynch,” Adam muttered. His natural accent had morphed into the one he used to suck up to teachers at school. Ronan felt a bolt of fury run through him.
Ronan forced out a grin, the one he reserved for Kavinsky, and grabbed some fries off Hunter’s plate. The guy deserved it. He was an asshole.
Parrish was watching Ronan, guarded look in his eyes, saying nothing. That small part of Ronan’s brain was screaming at him now, telling him to leave before he said something else he’d regret.
Parrish hadn’t straightened his collar. Ronan spotted the sharp line of his collarbone again. Another bolt of anger made him clench his teeth.
“See you losers later,” he said.