Fandom: High School Musical 2 (Oh, shut up!)
Category: Friendship, possibly pre-slash
Summary: Chad gains support from an unexpected quarter. (Part of the Coming to Terms Series)
Author's Note: This was finished weeks ago. It has been languishing on my hard drive for want of a decent title. I decided to post it because the longer it sat the longer it became (it has actually grown by three pages). Still don't care for the title, but at least it won't turn into an epic.
"Dumb assignment," Troy groused as he and Chad strode into the classroom. "Why do we have to talk about ourselves?"
"A little introspection is good for the soul," Chad replied absently. Troy paused and looked at him oddly. Not that he disagreed in principle--he just never expected Chad--or any other seventeen year old of his acquaintance, for that matter, to admit as much aloud.
"Introspection? I thought we were supposed to write about what others thought of us, not what we thought of ourselves," he replied as he took his seat. He quickly pulled out his notebook and checked the assignment. He read it over and turned to Chad. "Yeah; we were supposed to prepare a three-minute speech on--."
Mr. Davison called the class to order and quickly took attendance. Troy turned around as Chad squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. He hated oral presentations and, for once, he was determined to follow his mother's advice and get it over with as quickly as possible. Of course, she had no idea that Chad's speech was about, but his mother was the least of his concerns at the moment. He just wanted it to be over and done with. So when Mr. Davison asked for volunteers Chad practically leapt out of his seat to be the first to present.
He strode to the front of the room and stood before his peers, nervously clearing his throat as his eyes swept around the room. Chad raised his hand and then dropped it. He was empty-handed, a fact that did not go unnoticed by his classmates.
"Hey, Danforth, you forgot your homework--again," someone teased. Several students snickered at the remark. Chad shot him a glare, then shut his eyes for a second. He opened them again, took a calming breath and began to speak, remembering that he was being graded on the quality of his presentation as well as the speech itself.
"People assume I'm stupid," he said, meeting the eyes of the classmate who'd just teased him, "just because I sometimes drift off in class or fall behind in my homework. The fact is I have the highest academic average of any member of any varsity team at East High. I actually stand a better chance of getting an academic scholarship than an athletic one."
The snickering stopped. Troy and Zeke exchanged surprised looks and Chad continued, projecting his voice with confident ease.
"People assume that just because I live, breathe and eat sports, I'm no good at anything else. The fact is that I have a lot of interests that have nothing to do with sports."
"Name one," someone in the back of the room challenged.
"Astronomy," Chad replied with a shrug. "Philately, too--my uncle got me into it."
A chorus of "what?" ensued.
"He studies stamps," Ryan volunteered in a world-weary tone. Surprised looks and more confused murmurs filled the room.
"Go on, Mr. Danforth," Mr. Davison said, drawing the class back to the topic at hand. "I believe you have three more assumptions to discuss."
"People assume that I'm poor, because I don't wear designer clothes to school, I don't have a car, or maybe just because I'm black," Chad said with a tinge of bitterness. "The truth is that I come from a family with a very decent income, thank you very much. My parents didn't give me a car when I turned sixteen because they believed that I would appreciate it more if I earned it myself. They were right. I know the value of things because my parents have always made me earn them. And I don't wear designer clothes because I think wearing someone else's label on your chest is stupid. I don't want to be Tommy Hilfiger. I want to be me."
Mr. Davison nodded approvingly, and Ryan shifted in his seat, regarding Chad with new interest. His sister, on the other hand, sniffed disdainfully.
"You must be a stupid slogan tee shirt, then," she said. But Chad was unfazed by the barb.
"That brings me to my next point. People assume that I'm slow, some dumb jock," he said with a glance at Taylor. "They think that I don't know things…that I don't understand or don't want to understand certain things. I'm a human being. I have feelings, even if I don't show them," he said frowning. "I wish people would quit treating me like I'm an idiot." He flicked a meaningful look at Sharpay, who feigned surprise. Ryan averted his eyes and smiled wryly.
"People assume that I'm a follower. And I have been, most of my life," Chad said, turning his gaze on Troy. "But I've begun to learn to march to the beat of my own drum. I'll strike out on my own someday, when people least expect it."
"Dude, what does that mean?" Jason asked. Chad ignored the question. He could see Troy's questioning look but he ignored that as well.
"People assume that just because they see me day after day, year after year, they know everything there is to know about me. That's probably a dangerous assumption to make about anyone, but it's definitely the wrong thing to assume about me."
"Hey man, I just assumed you could count to five," Zeke quipped. Chad didn't take the bait.
"No, you assumed that I only had five misconceptions to talk about," he replied calmly. "Mr. Davison asked us to come up with at least five mistaken assumptions people make about us. I came up with seven." His courage failed him, then, and he took the easy out before he had a chance to rethink things. "But I'll cede the floor to the next student," Chad said, looking over to Mr. Davison. "I know we've got a lot of presentations to get through."
"Thank you, Mr. Danforth," he said. Chad nodded curtly and returned to his seat as the teacher randomly selected another student.
"Nicely ad libbed," Troy whispered as the next student began to present her list. Chad sighed and resisted the urge to swat the back of his head. Just another example of how even his closest friends underestimated him. He noisily rattled a few papers until Troy looked over his shoulder. Chad held up his assignment, neatly typed and ready for submission. "Oh."
Troy turned back around and Chad set down the essay. He began to read it over and bit his lip worriedly. He slumped in his seat, staring at the words in front of him. When the student's speech provoked laughter among his classmates, he took advantage of the noise to quickly tear the last page off his essay. Mr. Davison noticed the action and frowned curiously. When class ended he waited for Chad at the front of the room.
"Well done, Mr. Danforth," he said as the student reluctantly handed over the essay. "You obviously put a great deal of thought into your presentation."
"Thanks," Chad said flatly. He sighed heavily as he turned and left the room. At the door, he drew a wad of paper from his pocket and dropped it into the trash. The teacher waited until the remaining students had gone before bending to retrieve it. He smoothed it out and slipped it into the stack of essays on his desk. Meanwhile, outside the classroom, Troy accosted Chad as soon as he crossed the threshold.
"What was that all about?" he demanded.
"What?" Chad replied, feigning insouciance.
"All that stuff about us not knowing you and being a follower and stuff? Where did that come from?"
"My brain!" Chad spat angrily.
"Dude, chill out! I'm just--."
"I just didn't know you had it in--."
Chad turned and walked away. He wasn't in the mood to hear it. Nor was he in the mood for Zeke's teasing. He flipped him off and kept walking until he was outside, ignoring Troy and Zeke and everyone else demanding his attention.
He took a few gulps of air and sat on a low wall, running his hands over his face.
In a quiet corner of the teacher's lounge, Mr. Davison pulled the wrinkled sheet out of the pile and read the last page of Chad's essay. He sat back and sighed empathetically, then carefully tore up the page.
Chad lifted his head and saw Ryan standing a short distance away. He lowered it again, without acknowledging the interloper, but Ryan sat down beside him on the wall and assumed the same, thoughtful pose. After a few minutes, Chad spared him a look.
"Why didn't you go through with it?"
"You were going to tell them, weren't you? You were going to come out to the class."
"Weren't you?" Ryan said gently.
"There's no way in hell you could possibly know that," Chad spat angrily, averting his eyes.
"Except that I do."
"How?" Chad replied after an awkward silence of several minutes. He turned his head to look Ryan in the eye for the first time. Undaunted by the smoldering glare, Ryan only shrugged.
"The way your speech was building: don't underestimate me…I'm not the person you think I am…I'm striking out on my own path--. It was like reading a road map," Ryan concluded, "…to someone familiar with your destination."
Chad's mouth fell open but he quickly snapped it shut. Ryan slid his messenger bag off his shoulder and lowered it to the ground.
"I've known for a while," he said, unable to sustain eye contact. "Since the summer. I knew when we became friends--."
"Is that why we became friends?" Chad asked bluntly.
"I didn't think so," Ryan replied. "I thought we just found some common ground."
"What, because we're both gay?"
"No," Ryan said, growing slightly annoyed at Chad's defensiveness. "Look, I didn't come out here to hit on you. I just wanted to see if you were okay."
"Why shouldn't I be?"
Ryan fought the urge to just rise and walk away.
"No reason at all," he replied with a lightness he didn't feel. "I just thought--. Look, coming out is a very big deal and doing it in front of all your friends took a lot of guts."
"I didn't do it," Chad pointedly reminded him.
"I know," Ryan replied. "But you wanted to and that was pretty courageous."
"It was pretty dumb. I must have been insane to think I could pull it off."
"You probably thought you'd be among friends who would be supportive of your decision to come out."
"Maybe. Maybe I thought I should just tell everyone at once and get it over with, rather than have it run through the rumor mill," Chad said bitterly. "But when the time came I realized that--."
"You weren't ready."
Chad shook his head.
"I realized that telling them wouldn't really change anything. They'd know what I am. They still wouldn't know who. I'm not sure I even know who I am anymore."
"I know the feeling," he said. "Look, if you want someone to talk to about this--any of it…"
Chad glared at him and Ryan left the rest unsaid, opting to escape after all. He hefted his bag and slowly rose, giving Chad ample time to change his mind. After a few seconds, he gave up and walked away. He was halfway across the lawn before Chad called his name.
"Can I have your number?" Chad asked sheepishly. "You know--in case I do decide I need to speak to someone." Ryan smiled wryly and walked back over to the wall. He took the offered phone, put in his contact information and handed it back.
"What about yours?" Chad asked as he hooked his phone back onto his belt.
"Suppose you need someone to talk to?"
"I've got Sharpay," Ryan said, backing away. He immediately regretted the flippant remark. After all, he'd followed Chad outside to help him, not make him feel worse. One glance at Chad's expression told him how badly his words had stung. Ryan sighed and sat down again. "One of the assumptions I addressed in my essay was that people act as though Sharpay and I were born conjoined and she got the brains when they separated us. Sometimes I give people good reason to think that," he said apologetically, digging through his bag. "But the fact is," he admitted, as he handed over the phone, "we're not the same person. We don't see eye to eye a lot of the time. In fact, there's a lot about me that she just doesn't get."
"Or maybe stuff she doesn't know about you?"
"She's not stupid, just oblivious," Ryan replied. "She knows and accepts the fact that I'm gay, but she doesn't really understand. She thinks she does, but there's more to being gay than having great fashion sense and sharing her taste in boys. It's not something she can really relate to, you know?"
"Yeah," Chad said flatly.
"I've never really talked about it with anyone," Ryan admitted. "That's why I thought--. Well, I just thought that you shouldn't have to go through this alone, like I did."
"Maybe it would do us both some good to talk," Chad said, before lightly elbowing his companion. "Look, I'm sorry I jumped all over you before. You're all right, Evans."
"Yeah," Ryan said softly. Having forged a tentative bond with the longstanding object of his desire, he suddenly felt shy and slightly giddy. But he'd meant it when he said he wasn't there to flirt. He had offered Chad friendship and the more he thought about it the more Ryan realized that he wanted that friendship, too.
Ryan smiled to himself as the pair sat in companionable silence, each lost in his own thoughts. Troy's voice suddenly pierced the air, distracting the pair and causing them to turn and look back toward the school.
"Chad! You've missed nearly half of lunch period and I've missed nearly half of it looking for you!" Troy shouted.
"You'd better go," Ryan said, collecting his phone and stuffing it into his bag. Chad rose to his feet, somewhat reluctantly.
"Yeah; I'd better find Sharpay," Ryan replied with equal reluctance. Chad nodded.
"I'll call you."
"Cool," Ryan said as they walked across the lawn. "Later." They parted when they reached the outdoor eating area, Chad to join Troy and Ryan to seek out his twin sister.
"Where are the rest of the Wildcats?"
"They're inside. I thought--maybe--you'd want a little space."
"Thanks," Chad said gratefully.
"Are you okay?" Troy asked as Chad took a seat beside him.
"Yeah, I'm fine."
"What were you and Evans up to?"
"We were just discussing assumptions."
"Look," Troy said. "I apologize for what I said earlier." Chad looked at him quizzically. "When I heard your speech in class I wondered where it all came from. I mean I knew you were smart and that you had cool hobbies, but that other stuff… What's going on, buddy?"
Chad looked up and located Ryan at the far side of the patio.
"Nothing that can't keep," he said. He smiled for the first time that day. "I'm more interested in what you had on your list."
"You heard my speech, man!"
"No, actually, I had dozed off by that time," Chad lied convincingly. "Come on, tell me what was on your list!"
"Well, you already know everything there is to know about me," Troy began, but he nonetheless proceeded to recite his list to Chad, who looked across the patio once again. This time his eyes met Ryan's. He nodded curtly before returning his full attention to Troy, making a mental note to call Ryan as soon as he got home.
On to Dad Knows