The first time Ryan enters a house that is not his parents' (or one of his relatives'), he is far from impressed. The house is not bare, Ryan knows, but there is just something about it that he does not like. It is cold, with all sharp angles and straight lines, and he resolutely does not like it. Ryan is nothing if not the polite gentleman that his mother painstakingly brought up, however, and he shakes the owner's hand politely, exchanges pleasantries, eyes never straying from the business that brought him here in the first place.
When he leaves, he does not look back, and promptly forgets that the house once knew his presence.
'Drew,' Drew shouts at Ryan when he first greets him, thrusting a grubby hand in his direction. Ryan deeply grimaces insides, but smiles an obliged smile and grasps Drew's hand for the shortest time possible before letting go.
'You're my new roommate, right?,' Drew asks, chewing something obscenely loudly in his mouth. Ryan cocks an eyebrow, because between him and the pile of luggage behind him, he thinks that it speaks for itself.
'Right. Well then, this way.'
Ryan picks up his luggage, strength that his lean arms would never otherwise suggest showing. It is Drew's turn to raise an eyebrow at him and laugh. 'Guess you don't need help then,' he says, and steps aside to let Ryan in.
The house is strewn with clothes and beer bottles. Nut shells pepper the table, and Ryan barely keeps his lips from turning downwards into what his mother dubs is his patented displeased look, which no one else does like him. Ryan notes that Drew is not a particularly organized individual (he thinks of a dozen more unpleasant descriptions in his head but ignores it in favor of manners), although he seems like a friendly enough chap.
Ryan likes clean and fresh and crisp, and this house, he decides, needs a lot of work.
It does, and in the end, Ryan is still not really happy with it.
When it is time for Ryan to buy a house (because Drew has been bringing home unpleasant women and Ryan thinks he should just leave Drew to do his thing), it takes him a long time before he finds one, and the property agent stops his internal litany of 'damnthissonofabitch, I'll kill him if he doesn't take this one' that has been playing on repeat through his mind ever since the fifth house.
It is house number twenty, and Ryan still has his reserves, but he thinks he should take pity on the agent that, by force of profession, still has a smile on his face. The smile is hard and fake, and it leaves Ryan cold and entirely uncomfortable.
The house is reasonably priced, but the walls are thin, and he knows that he has noisy neighbors, because he had just passed a whole gang of teenagers in the next backyard screaming their heads off to some forsaken music. Ryan contemplates, grimaces and figures that he simply has to buy some ear mufflers and all will be good. Besides, they can't possibly be noisy the whole day, can they?
Apparently, they can, and Ryan sells the house after two months.
His friends speak behind his back, Ryan knows, and this is an inevitable thing because no one is perfect. But he also knows because friends gossip, and Ryan knows that his friends (perhaps he should call them acquaintances instead) say that he is a picky son of a bitch. Ryan admits it freely, so he doesn't know why they have to gossip.
But the point is this - because he is such a picky son of a bitch (in their words), no one ever asks Ryan over for a beer, or out to lunch, so Ryan is pleasantly surprised that Lucy invites him over for a party. But then again, Lucy just met him, so Ryan supposes no one has had the time to warn her yet.
Her house is terribly cramped and small and stifling, and Ryan wonders quite rudely why she bothered to invite more than three people to some place that was probably no bigger than a telephone box. He hates it, and the narrow space is killing his breathing air. The music pains his ears, and the acrid scent of cigarette smoke chokes him.
He stays, however, because there, he sees and falls in love with Mallorie.
He supposes, despite the fact that she had invited him into a place of questionable habitation (yes, he knows that some people would call such as action as defining of a friendship), Ryan has quite a lot to thank Lucy for. Mallorie, as it turned out, was not entirely disinclined to having a relationship with Ryan. Not at all, in fact.
Ryan loves Mallorie, and he knows that she loves him too. Five months from their first date (one that Ryan stuttered through and Mallorie laughed in fond amusement at), Mallorie asks Ryan why he loves her the way he does, all encompassing, all giving, never grudging, never regretting. She is not stifled, nor is she wary; she is simply curious, and Ryan thinks that Mallorie deserves nothing but the truth. Ryan looks at her in the eye, tells her that that he has not exactly experimented in the many ways one can love, and this is the only way he knows how. He knows love like that does things to people, but that does not necessarily make him a victim.
She smiles and teases him then, makes him laugh.
He loves her all the more for that, because Ryan cannot remember anyone else who has made him laugh with that much abandon.
It is Christmas, and a week before, Mallorie had clasped his hands in her small delicate ones, looked at him with her blue, blue eyes and so sweetly asked if Ryan would come to her place to spend Christmas with her. Ryan had felt the rising of misgivings and his mouth automatically opened to reject her, but he had clamped down on them and agreed to her request.
He does not look forward to it (he has, in actual fact, been studiously avoiding this particular event), because he thinks that houses tell him too much about one person, and he fears the things Mallorie's house will tell him about her. He fears he will judge her like he has all others, and love her less.
When he arrives at her apartment on the twenty fifth of December at exactly seven-o-eight (because Ryan likes specificity), roses in his hand and a bottle of wine in the other, Ryan sighs in relief in knowing that this is, at least, not like the last house in which he met Mallorie. It is suitably sized, at the very least.
The door opens, and Mallorie ushers him in with a shy smile on her face, with that twinkle in her eye that never seems to leave even with her nervousness, and Ryan beams before continuing in.
He pauses in the middle of the room, takes it all in as he looks around.
He sees the Christmas tree in the corner, branches all haphazard and sticking out all over the place, ornaments placed on it with no sense of artistic decoration whatsoever, colors clashing in the most terrible way possible.
He sees the mistletoe, ruffled and looking quite untidy hanging over a door in the midst of walls that were supposed to be white but really looks quite yellow.
He sees cushions strewn all over the couch, sees the stuffed bear that is tearing at the seams sitting proudly still in the middle of the couch, and when he walks further in, he sees a door ajar that hints at a room full of things that were thrown in there in haste.
He sees the nut shells on the table, the cup stains on the wooden surface, the pen marks on the table where Mallorie accidentally doodles on when watching the television and doing her work.
He hears faintly (and he only hears faintly because he is too preoccupied looking at everything else), her neighbors partying in the background.
He stands and waits for the disapproval to hit him.
It never does.
Then it hits him.
These are her quirks, evidence of the little things that make her her, the proof of how she is and who she is. He loves for who she is, faults and all, and it doesn't make sense because he hates those faults ("the table, the table!" Ryan's mind screams), but he loves her. He sees Mallorie in front of the hearth (and this, Ryan absently notes, is a fantastic hearth, solidly formed at the highest caliber, lined with intricate and complex carvings that Ryan could stare at hours on an end and probably still never figure out where everything starts and where everything ends), the fire crackling merrily and lighting her from the behind in a brilliant, breathtaking way all fire should for a person as dazzling as she. Mallorie is staring at him, worrying at her lips with her teeth, and Ryan grins a big wide grin that could split his face and blind every person on the earth with its radiance and brightness.
Maybe, just maybe, Ryan will someday be unable to withstand Mallorie's faults (because reality rarely makes things easy), and he hopes fervently that that day will never come, but right now, right this moment at the very least, his love shines brilliant and pure.
'It's lovely, Mal. It's the best house I've ever been in.'