The first time Ryan enters a house that is not his, he is far from impressed. The house is not bare, Ryan knows, but there is just something about it that Ryan does not like. It is cold, with all sharp angles and straight lines, he decides, and 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 and 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, and Ryan cocks an eyebrow, because between him and the pile of luggage behind him, Ryan thinks that it speaks for himself.
'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 cock 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, and nut shells pepper the table, and Ryan barely keeps his lips from turning downwards into what his mother dubs is his patented displeased look, because no one else does it like him. Ryan likes clean and fresh and crisp, and this, Ryan decides, needs a lot of work.
It does, and in the end, Ryan was still never 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 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 the man 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 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 was a new friend, 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.
Ryan loves Mallorie, and love is an inexplicable thing. It does things to people, and Ryan knows, somewhere deep down inside, that he is a victim, because it would explain a few things.
It is Christmas, and a week before, Mallorie had clasped his hands in her small delicate ones and 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 feels the rising of misgivings, but clamps them down and agrees to her request, her bright smile quelling all doubts in his mind.
When he arrives at her apartment on the twenty fifth of December, roses in his hand and a bottle of wine in the other, Ryan sighs in relief at knowing that this was, at least, not like the last house in which he met Mallorie in. It was large, at the very least, and Ryan thinks this could possibly be the first place he approves of.
Then the door opens, and Mallorie ushers him in with a shy smile on her face, and Ryan beams before continuing in.
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 thinks faintly because he is too preoccupied looking at everything else), her neighbors partying in the background.
And then he really sees.
He sees that this house is Mallorie. It is not merely Mallorie's house, it is her. Those are her quirks, evidence of the little things that make her her, the proof of how she is and who she is. And he loves who she is. He sees Mallorie in front of the hearth, 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 those little teeth of hers, and Ryan grins a big wide grin that could split his face and blind every person on the earth with its radiance and brightness. '
It's lovely, Mal. It's the best house I've ever been in.'
And the thing is, Ryan truly means it.