Fandom: High School Musical
Category: Friendship, pre-slash
Summary: Sometimes good parents are even scarier than the bad ones. (Part of the Coming to Terms Series)
Author's Note: This is a follow-up to Assumptions, but it may be read independently.
Happy Birthday elvensorceress!
"Drive," Chad demanded as he vaulted over the side of Ryan's convertible and slipped into the passenger seat with such effortless athleticism that Ryan couldn't bring himself to complain about sneaker marks on the leatherwork.
"Your call. Just get me away from here."
"What's going on? And why did you have me meet you in front of Kelsi's house?"
"You know where Kelsi lives," Chad replied.
"I know where you live, too."
"Trust me; you don't want to be anywhere near my house today."
"What's going on?" Ryan asked again as he turned onto a road leading to a place where they could hang out and talk uninterrupted. But his curiosity couldn't wait the fifteen minutes it would take to get there. Chad's phone call at seven in the morning and his current harried expression demanded immediate explanations. "Chad? What happened?"
"Dad knows," Chad said with a sigh. Ryan's eyes went wide and he nearly lost control of the car when he turned to stare at his companion.
"He knows," Ryan repeated evenly, though he felt anything but calm. "You mean he found out? What happened? Did he catch you looking at porn or something?" Chad shook his head.
"I told him."
"Wow. I thought--. The last time we talked about this--."
"That all went right out the window when my dad came up to my room last night to give me the talk."
"You know, the talk--about girls."
"Is there a fucking echo in here?" Chad spat back exasperatedly. Ryan bit back his response and sped up a bit as Chad turned his glare on the scenery. They rode the rest of the way in uncomfortable silence, but Ryan didn't push. He knew he wasn't going to get anything more out of Chad until he was ready to talk. Ryan learned that quickly enough when they began calling each other six weeks earlier.
At first their conversations were limited in scope and mainly focused on Chad, but as time went on the issues that had brought them together became less important and they simply enjoyed talking to each other. Chad occasionally sent Ryan funny text messages, but they rarely said more than a few words to each other at school. Then late one night Chad called Ryan, crying into the phone. Ryan insisted on a face-to-face meeting the following day. Ryan took Chad to a quaint little restaurant and they talked for hours. Since then, they'd made a point of getting together once or twice a week, but they still spoke on the phone almost daily.
They parked at the Calabacillas Arroyo in the Rio Grande Valley State Park and walked up a narrow path to their usual spot--an outcropping of rock a short distance from the trail where passersby couldn't see them. Chad climbed up to the top and sat down, but Ryan hung back and waited for him to gather his thoughts. Chad stared out at the view for several minutes before rolling his eyes and scowling at him.
"You going to stand there all day?" he asked tersely.
"Well, since you asked so sweetly," Ryan replied before climbing onto the rocks. He sat facing Chad, who bristled slightly and looked away. He preferred to avoid eye contact when discussing something really personal. Ryan was well aware of that but usually ignored Chad's discomfort. His confrontational strategy invariably pissed off Chad but it helped Ryan to more accurately interpret Chad's words. The fact that he also loved looking at Chad in such close proximity was merely a bonus.
"What's the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you?" Chad asked, resigned to being stared at yet again.
"I wouldn't tell you on pain of death," Ryan replied. "But outing myself to my dad wouldn't come close to making the list."
"Well, just think of that occasion, multiply it exponentially and you'll begin to understand what I went through last night."
"Embarrassment?" Ryan repeated. "Not anger, frustration, pain--."
"Well, there were plenty of emotions flying back and forth, but the one that dominated was embarrassment…or awkwardness." Chad frowned at his lap. "Yeah, awkwardness is probably the best way to describe it."
Chad looked up sharply and Ryan raised his hands defensively. Chad frowned and looked away.
"When I got home last night, Mom and Dad were in the family room whispering to each other. I should have known something was up right away," he said, shaking his head. "Dad came up to my room a few minutes later and told me we had to talk." Chad shifted a little, smiling to himself. "At first I thought he was just complaining about phone calls. Ever since I gave that presentation I've been getting calls from the science geeks about joining their club and Taylor's been after me to go with her to the stamp exhibit at the museum. And apparently I've also been getting calls from some girl whose dad has a telescope she wants me to check out."
"Aren't you the popular guy," Ryan teased.
"Hey, I had no idea. I said no to the geeks ages ago, and Taylor bugged me so much I stopped taking her calls on my cell. I guess she started calling the house. And I don't even know who the other girl is."
"How did she get your number? I don't even have your house number."
"It's listed," Chad said with a shrug. "It's still odd that she'd call me out of the blue like that, though."
"We didn't come out here to talk about her," Ryan said. "What happened last night?"
"Well, I've apparently been getting so many phone calls from girls lately that my parents came to the obvious conclusion that their baby boy is a player." Ryan threw his head back to laugh, nearly losing his baseball cap in the process. "I'm so glad you're enjoying my humiliation."
"I'm sorry, but--. Did he actually call you a player?"
"Not in those exact words," Chad admitted. "But his meaning was pretty clear."
"So, how many girls have been calling you?"
"I have no idea, but Dad said that Gabriella had called twice since Tuesday. I think that's what got my parents so upset."
"They thought--well, I think my mother thought I might be cheating on my best friend," Chad replied, looking slightly sick.
"Because if you were juggling Taylor, the girl with the scope and the all other babes from the science club, what's one more, right?" Ryan said teasingly.
"I told you--awkward."
"That's an understatement. So your dad went up to talk to you…"
"Yeah. Mom sent him up to straighten me out," Chad began. Ryan snorted crudely and Chad punched him in the arm. "And he's no good at it. I mean I love my father to death and he's really great at being supportive about school and sports and a zillion other things, but when it comes to the intimate stuff--. I was barely able to sit through it the first time. This was even worse."
"The first time?"
"You know, when you reach thirteen and your dad gives you the 'son, you're not a little boy anymore' speech."
"Oh, that," Ryan said, rolling his eyes.
"Exactly. Mom gave me a book when I was ten that was so much better than Dad at explaining things. I stopped him halfway through the ordeal and told him I already knew the score."
"Did, too! I even gave him the book to read so he could get his facts straight."
"Huh. What did he say to that?"
"He didn't say much to me, but Mom got an earful about giving me that book."
"But he read it, right?"
"He read it," Chad replied. "He certainly did his homework before he came up to my room last night..." He shook his head and sighed again.
"You never expected him to take it well," Ryan said sympathetically.
"No, it's not that. He took finding out I was gay far better than I ever dreamed possible. It's the rest of it…" Chad shook his head again.
"I've got all day," Ryan said, lying back and leaning on his elbows. Chad resettled himself and picked up where he'd left off.
"Dad started off with all this stuff about his own high school days. How he thought he was the shit when he was seventeen and how it went to his head whenever a girl showed him any attention… I had no idea what he was getting at. Then he mentioned the phone calls. Since I got my cell, I almost never check the answering machine. I had no idea I was suddenly getting all these calls. And since I hadn't checked the machine, the messages started piling up. So Mom comes home from that conference she's been at all week and hears message after message from Taylor, Gabriella, Wendy--."
"Science club; the one with the unfortunate--." Chad gestured vaguely at his own head.
"I was going to say 'face,' but yeah," he replied. "So Mom got this notion that her baby boy was turning into a ladies' man and sent Dad to enlighten me."
"Ah, if she only knew."
"Really. So Dad starts blathering about responsibility and maturity and ego, and I'm wondering what the hell he's talking about. Then he finally gets to the point and starts asking me if I'm sleeping with any of them. I managed to convince him that Gabi and Taylor were just friends, so he started grilling me about Wendy."
"If he'd ever seen her that question would never have come up," Ryan quipped.
"Dude, that's cold!"
"Go on," Ryan urged, growing serious. This wasn't the time for levity. Chad nodded and licked his lips.
"I told him I didn't know her, but Dad wouldn't let it go. He kept on talking about sex. He asked if I was using protection and spouted statistics about STDs. I kept telling him that I wasn't seeing anyone but he kept pushing the issue and the next thing I knew I was shouting back at him. He kept demanding that I be honest with him so I--." Chad looked up again, but wouldn't meet Ryan's eyes. "I told him that I wasn't interested in girls. At all." Chad ran his hands over his face. "Kind of screamed it, actually."
"What did he say?" Ryan asked gently.
Chad shook his head, his hands still covering his eyes. For a second, Ryan thought he was crying, but that wasn't the case. Chad dropped his hands, and took a slow, calming breath. Ryan had taught him how to use breathing techniques to calm himself, so he watched his pupil with a combination of empathy and pride.
"Dad was quiet for a long time," Chad said so softly that Ryan moved a bit closer to hear him. "I could hear the wheels turning in his head. Then it clicked and for a second I thought he was going to hit me, but he just sat down on the bed and stared into space. After a while, I sat down next to him."
"Why didn't you tell us?"
"I only recently realized it myself," Chad admitted sheepishly. "I sort of guessed that something was different about me, you know? You grow up seeing your parents and your parents' friends and you watch TV and see couples on the street and you think you know how it's supposed to be. But--," Chad lowered his head and sighed. "That just didn't feel right to me. It didn't feel like me. I wanted it to," he said, hazarding a glance at his father. "But I could never be like that. I tried. I tried to like girls. I do like girls. I mean I like Taylor. I even took her out a couple of times. But I just never felt anything--you know--romantic towards her."
"Why didn't you tell me you were having these feelings? We could have talked about it," Earl Danforth said softly. The dejected tone of his father's voice broke Chad's heart. He'd had never disappointed his father before and he felt a profound sadness upon realizing that he'd probably ruined every hope and dream his parents had for their only son.
"I was scared," he confessed. "At first I thought there was something wrong with me. I thought I'd grow out of it. I kept waiting for it to happen, but it didn't. I didn't grow out of it." Chad shut his eyes. "I don't want to grow out of it. This is who I am. This is what I am. I've accepted that and I'm not ashamed of it."
"You shouldn't have had to deal with this all alone," his father said, turning to him to study his face. Chad wouldn't meet his eyes. "You know your mother and I are here for you."
"To be honest, Dad, it never occurred to me that I could talk to you about this."
"You can talk to me about anything, Chad. Any time. I've always told you that."
"Yeah," Chad said glumly. "I'm sorry."
He felt his father's arm fall across his shoulders and leaned into the hug that ensued. He held on fiercely, determined to remember that moment for as long as he lived. It meant more to Chad than anything in the world to know that he still had his father's love. He silently promised never to take that for granted ever again.
"You know your mother and I love you," his father said, reinforcing his actions with verbal affirmation. "Nothing on this earth could ever change that."
"I love you, too, Dad," Chad said, blinking back tears. "I--. I didn't know how to tell you. I've barely come to terms with it myself, you know? And you and Mom are always talking about the future and grandchildren and--."
"Your mother and I will deal with that," his father assured him. "All we want is for our son to be happy."
Chad couldn't tell his father that he was far from happy at the moment, but that didn't matter. He and his father spent the next half hour talking about things Chad never expected to be able to share with him.
"Wow," Ryan said when Chad was done. He'd turned away at some point, allowing Chad's tears to fall without witness. His own tears remained unshed, blinding him to the rugged vista spread out before him.
"Yeah," Chad replied, wiping at his face. He sighed heavily and laid back on the sun-warmed boulder. Ryan rose and moved to lay beside him.
"So what about your mom?" Ryan asked. Chad sighed again.
"Dad said he'd tell her, but I thought I should do it," he said. Ryan reached out and rested his hand on Chad's shoulder.
"How did she take it?"
Chad frowned at the sky and shook his head. Ryan sat up.
"Did she freak?"
"I almost think I would have preferred that," Chad muttered. He fell silent again, leaving Ryan practically brimming with curiosity. After what seemed like an eternity, Chad turned onto his side to face Ryan and continued his tale.
"Mom came into my room, took one look at me and demanded to know what was wrong. I made her sit down and told her that her only child was gay. She spent the better part of the next hour crying."
"I can imagine," Ryan sighed. He'd met Chad's mother once. Ryan thought she was incredibly beautiful and saw in her son his mother's best features. He looked into Chad's eyes and could easily picture her in tears.
"She said all the same things Dad said," Chad said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "She loved me, she would support me no matter what--the whole nine yards."
"Hey, that's nothing to take lightly," Ryan chided him.
"Oh, I know. But that was just the warm up. After she settled down a bit, she started asking questions." Chad shut his eyes and shook his head as though willing the memories away. But he opened them again and stared at the sky. "She asked me if I was sure. Maybe I was overreacting to some bad experience with a girl. I said I didn't think so, so she tried a different tack: Maybe I was just curious, or bisexual. I told her I was certain I was gay, but she kept right on pressing the issue."
"Because if her little stud muffin is getting calls from the ladies he must still have a few ounces of heterosexuality in him somewhere, right?"
"Something like that," Chad replied with a wry smile. "She said maybe I just hadn't found the right woman yet."
"RuPaul?" Ryan teased. Chad's hand shot out and punched him across the chest. He yelped and scooted out of his reach.
"Anyway, the more I tried to convince her that I was sure, the more miserable she looked. I finally promised to keep an open mind about women, but told her that as far as I knew I preferred people with balls over people with breasts."
"You did not say that to your mother."
"I did, too."
"You're a cheeky little bastard," Ryan said disapprovingly.
"Yeah, well, I had to make my point. She was talking about calling Aunt Lorena to set me up with some girls from her church."
"Ah, yes. God will save you."
"Will you shut it, dude?" Chad said, lying back again.
"I'm sorry," Ryan said unrepentantly. "Continue."
"No." Chad pouted like a two year old and Ryan stared at his mouth for several seconds before remembering that he was there to help Chad, not lust over him.
"Come on!" he goaded, giving Chad a gentle shove. "You know you want to vent."
"You know me too well," Chad admitted petulantly.
"Well, nothing you've told me so far explains why you hightailed it out of Dodge before noon on a Saturday morning."
"True," Chad conceded. "The worst was yet to come. Dad finally got Mom to back away from the 'give it another chance' routine. But then she started asking more questions--about boys."
Chad glowered at him and Ryan held up his hands to fend off any forthcoming blows.
"I'll behave," he promised. Chad glared at him before he spoke again.
"Since I wasn't going to satisfy her desire to see me paired up with some girl, Mom started asking me about boys," he continued. "She asked if I was seeing anyone. When I said no, she didn't believe me. Neither did Dad. He started the sex talk all over again. He wanted to know if I had ever experimented with guys or if I'd been sneaking out to gay clubs in Nob Hill. Then he talked about AIDS and the perils of casual sex. He even brought up an article he read somewhere about anal cancer among gay men." Chad abruptly sat up. "Did you know that you actually can't will yourself to die of embarrassment?"
Ryan laughed so hard he nearly slid off of the boulder. Chad grabbed his arm to steady him.
"Have your parents ever grilled you about your partners?" he asked.
"No," Ryan admitted. "They've never asked about anyone I've gone out with."
"But you volunteer stuff."
"Yeah, I guess I do. At least I tell my mom; my father would rather not know. But if I thought he'd be interested, I guess I'd be willing to talk to him, too."
"Well, I had nothing to tell my folks so they just kept interrogating me. They even asked if I ever experimented with Troy."
"Oh, come on! They have to know you could do so much better than that!" Ryan blurted out. Chad stared at him oddly. "Well, you could," Ryan added sheepishly.
"He's my friend, Ryan."
"I know he's your friend, but you wouldn't want to screw him, would you?"
"No," Chad admitted after a brief silence. "I mean I love him like a brother, but--. Just no. It would be so wrong."
"But you used to crush on him," Ryan said accusingly, reading something in Chad's hesitation.
"I prefer to think of it as hero worship," Chad replied unashamed to admit his feelings. "It only lasted a few months. And stop acting like my mother! It's bad enough I had to go through this with her."
"Sorry. I've always wondered…"
"Stop," Chad said peevishly. Ryan averted his eyes, and an awkward silence ensued. "Mom threatened to go online look up some organizations for gay teens today," Chad said after a minute.
"That's why you ran from your house at the crack of dawn? What's so bad about that?"
"She wants me to meet other people like me," Chad said, flushing with embarrassment.
"That's not a bad idea, you know."
"I didn't tell her about you." Chad looked up and met Ryan's confused gaze. "I didn't feel I had the right to tell her."
"That's okay, I wouldn't have minded," he said with a shrug. "Maybe she would be less worried about you if they knew about us."
"That we had developed our little support group," Ryan explained.
"Oh. But I think she wants me to meet other guys, too."
"Well, that's healthy."
"You think so?"
"Don't you want to have a social life?"
"I do have a social life," Chad said defensively.
"You're not out to your friends," Ryan said patiently. "That sort of precludes you from having the sort of social life you want to have--you know, dating people with balls rather than breasts?"
"I know," Chad said. "I just hadn't thought much about dating before."
"You never thought about--. What? How could you not have?"
"Well, I've never actually been with anyone yet," Chad admitted, flushing again.
Ryan stared with fascination as the color suffused his face. But he knew it was true; in all the time he'd been meeting with Chad, they'd never discussed his love life. Ryan had assumed that Chad was a virgin--at least as far as men were concerned. But he'd always thought that Chad had some experience. Other than his confession of "hero worship," however, Chad had never mentioned an interest in anyone.
"Of course, when I told them that I hadn't actually done anything, Mom started the whole discussion over again. She thinks I can't possibly be gay if I haven't really--."
"She thinks maybe I only think I'm gay."
"Because gay is as gay does," Ryan concluded impertinently. Chad shrugged.
"Dad practically dragged her out of my room at that point, muttering something about giving me ideas. I couldn't bear to face them again this morning."
"So you ran."
Chad nodded. He stretched out and propped his head on his fist.
"How come you can be straight without having sex, but you can't be gay without having sex?"
"Who said you couldn't?" Ryan said, sitting up and moving closer to Chad. "Regardless of what you mom thinks or hopes, you're not going to turn heterosexual by dating women if you're gay. And you're the only person who can know for sure that you are."
"Even if I've never had sex?"
"With anyone?" Ryan said incredulously. "Ever?" Chad turned beet red. "Would you like to?" Chad blanched and Ryan blanched as well, realizing that he'd not only added to Chad's humiliation, he'd probably come off sounding like a sex-crazed opportunist. "What I mean," he added hastily, averting his eyes, "is that some people make a conscious decision not to."
"Not to have sex?"
"Yes, some people--gay or straight--decide to remain celibate."
"Well, I hadn't planned on being celibate," Chad replied. "I just hadn't given much thought to sex."
"Never?" Ryan quickly moderated his tone. "Chad, you're a teenager! You're male!"
"I know," Chad replied archly.
"How could you possibly be a teenaged male and not think about it?" Ryan cried. "I think about having sex all the time! Well, not 'having sex all the time.' I mean--."
"Can we change the subject?" Chad asked abruptly.
"Yes," Ryan said, realizing that he was making a fool of himself. More importantly, Chad looked emotionally drained and Ryan wasn't helping matters. "Are you hungry?"
"Yeah, I'm starved. I left the house this morning before I even thought about breakfast."
"Want to go back to that place that makes those great pancakes?"
"I guess," Chad said unenthusiastically.
"Well, we don't have to if you'd rather go somewhere else. Just name it."
"No, I don't mind going there. I just--. Let's go." He started to rise, but Ryan grabbed his arm.
"You 'just' what?" Ryan asked gently, sensing that Chad was feeling vulnerable. He tended to withdraw into himself when he felt that way, and the events of the last twelve hours had certainly been stressful for him.
"I just don't feel like being around people right now," Chad said softly. Ryan nodded.
"Tell you what--you just hang out here and I'll go pick up breakfast."
"That place doesn't do takeout," Chad warned.
"Don't worry," Ryan assured him. "What'll you have?"
"Anything," Chad sighed. He reached into his pocket.
"I've got it," Ryan said. "You paid last time. Sit tight." He patted Chad on the shoulder and made his way down to the car. He drove a few miles to Earline's, a small restaurant they'd found a few weeks earlier. It was now their favorite meeting place.
"You're early today," one of the waitresses said as Ryan entered. "And where's your handsome friend?"
"Sorry," Ryan replied. "He's a little under the weather today. I was hoping you could help me cheer him up with an order of your fabulous banana pancakes."
"Oh, honey, we don't do takeout," the second waitress said regretfully.
"But you do give doggie bags," Ryan said, laying on the charm. "Couldn't you just make a nice doggie bag for Chad? I just know he'd really appreciate it."
"Chad? Is that his name?" the first waitress said. Ryan nodded. "I think we might be able to do that for Chad," she said smiling flirtatiously. The other waitress slapped her arm.
"Helen, you are old enough to be that boy's mother!"
"I may be old, but I'm not blind," she said, winking at Ryan. "He's a real cutie."
"Maybe so, but you're certainly not his type," the other waitress said with a meaningful glance at Ryan. Ryan was amused by the remark, but he didn't want to leave Chad alone any longer than necessary. He smiled at Helen and she took the hint.
"Banana pancakes for Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome," she said. "And how about you, honey? You're still far too thin for my liking."
"I'll have the same."
"None for me please."
"How about your friend?" she persisted, emphasizing the last word just a bit.
"Sure," Ryan said vaguely, not sure of Chad's preference.
"Chad hates coffee, but I'd love some," Ryan said.
"Well, here, sugar," Helen replied, reaching for a cup and saucer. "You kick back and relax with this while I go and speak to Earline," Helen said. She poured him a cup of coffee and disappeared into the kitchen. Ryan sat down and sipped his coffee as his thoughts turned back to Chad.
Ryan was relieved--for Chad's sake--that he'd come out to his parents. It was the thing that Chad had feared the most ever since coming to terms with his sexuality. The two of them had discussed the matter at on numerous occasions. Now that the worst of it was over, Ryan expected things to improve for him. He'd already convinced Chad not to come out at school, except to his closest friends. In spite of Chad's insistence on complete honesty, Ryan persuaded him that his sexual preference was fundamentally irrelevant to anyone outside his social circle.
"Here you are, honey," Helen said, derailing Ryan's train of thought. She hoisted a large shopping bag onto the counter. "I made up some nice hot chocolate for Chad, and when Earline heard that he was sick, she threw in one of those blueberry muffins, fresh from the oven." She leaned in toward Ryan and whispered. "I threw in one for you, too. Tell Chad that Helen sends her love and hopes to see him soon."
"I will," Ryan promised.
"Oh, and be a good boy and return the non-disposables. Since we don't do takeout we had to improvise some of the containers."
"Yes, ma'am," Ryan said. Realizing that he'd need flatware, he turned on the charm once more and Helen gave him two place settings, including cloth napkins. Ryan left her a generous tip and made his way back to the park.
There were three cars in the parking area when he arrived, which meant that there could be hikers on the trail. Ryan decided to leave the food in the car and fetch Chad. The picnic area would still be deserted at that hour and they could eat in seclusion and relative comfort at one of the tables. Ryan reached the outcropping and panicked momentarily when he saw no sign of Chad. He quickly scrabbled up the rocks and found him curled up on the flattest part of the boulder, fast asleep. Ryan sat down, hesitant to disturb his slumber, possibly the first he'd had in some time.
He's never seen Chad sleeping before, so he took advantage of the opportunity to observe him. All the tension was gone from Chad's face and he looked so peaceful that Ryan didn't want to wake him. He sat there for about ten minutes hoping that Chad would wake up on his own as he pondered whether Chad would prefer to get some rest and wake up to cold pancakes or wake up now and have hot food. Ryan decided to give him a few more minutes and crossed his legs to meditate. When he looked down again, Chad was still fast asleep.
Ryan reached out to push back an errant curl that was tickling Chad's face. Chad made a soft noise and shifted slightly. Ryan smiled and lightly caressed his cheek. It was warm from the sun and slightly stubbled, since Chad had neglected to shave. Ryan frowned and put his hand to his own face. His was round and smooth, with neither hair nor the chiseled planes of cheek and jaw that Chad possessed. Ryan frowned and ran his hands over his cheeks.
"What the hell are you doing?" Chad asked mildly, squinting up at him. Ryan quickly dropped his hands.
"I think I got shortchanged when they were doling out the testosterone," he said sheepishly. "Compared to you, I've got cheeks like Shirley Temple." Chad rolled his eyes and sat up, stretching like a cat.
"You're such a goof, man," he said around a yawn.
"Come on," Ryan said, rising to descend from their perch. "Let's go eat."
"I told you they didn't do takeout," Chad taunted him as he followed Ryan back to the car.
"Get in," Ryan commanded, refusing to be baited. They drove the short distance to the picnic area. Chad started to ask a question, but Ryan silenced him with a pointed finger. Chad meekly went and sat down. "Now, watch and be amazed."
Ryan reached into the bag and pulled out a brown paper bag. He set it aside and reached in again. He was surprised to find a tablecloth swaddling the food cartons. Helen obviously wanted to make sure that the pancakes stayed warm. Ryan unfolded the cloth and snapped it in the air with aplomb before spreading it over the table. Chad drew back, blinking up at him.
"Let's see," Ryan said. "One of these contains hot chocolate and the other one has coffee." He put two Thermos bottles on the table. "Bacon and sausage…pancakes for you, pancakes for me," he said as he set out the containers. Chad surveyed the spread and looked up.
"I'll never underestimate you again. Syrup?" he asked hopefully. Ryan dug into the bag once more. He came up with a jar of syrup and another brown bag.
"Ooh, cookies! I didn't order those. That other bag must be the muffins. Those women really like you. When they heard you were sick they started laying on the goodies."
"Maybe they really like you, Shirley Temple cheeks," Chad teased. "Why did you tell them I was sick?"
"I didn't; I said you were a little under the weather and they just assumed it meant--."
"And you did nothing to disabuse them of that notion."
"Hey, it got us breakfast," Ryan said with a shrug, refusing to be ashamed of his deception.
"Thanks, Sweet Cheeks," Chad said. "Man, Coach would freak if he saw me eating all this."
"I can't believe you eat so much and manage to stay so fit," Ryan said as Chad reached for a strip of bacon. Helen had packed enough sausage and bacon for both of them despite Ryan's refusal.
"I can't believe you eat so little and manage to have the energy to breathe," Chad countered. "Here, have some bacon." Ryan looked up, ready to reject it, but when he met Chad's eyes, he took it willingly and enjoyed it.
"So what are your plans for the rest of the day?" Ryan asked when they were done eating.
"Well, there's enough food left for another two meals, Chad said lightly. "I could hang out here until tomorrow."
"Or you can go home and see your parents," Ryan suggested.
"You cannot be serious!"
"I think I am," Ryan replied. "Listen, Chad. You know your folks have your best interests at heart. Maybe they're coming on a little strong and, yes, it's humiliating to have your parents taking such an active interest in your personal life. But you know they're doing it out of love and concern for you."
"Yeah," Chad conceded, laying his head on the table to hide his embarrassment. Ryan wanted to reach out to him, but held back. He let Chad have a moment before he continued.
"They're probably up by now," he said, checking his watch, "and sick with worry because they know what you went through last night and now you've up and disappeared on them." Chad shook his head, still cradled in his arms on the table, but didn't look up. "What do you think is going on in your mother's heart right now?" Chad abruptly sat up.
"I hate you."
Ryan was unrepentant.
Chad swore and dug out his phone. He opened it and checked his messages as Ryan rose and began to clear the table.
"No calls." Chad snapped the phone shut and confronted Ryan's glare. "All right!"
He opened the phone again, muttering something about Ryan being a mama's boy and wondering if it was a requirement for being gay. Ryan smiled and went to load up the trunk, affording Chad a bit of privacy. Nonetheless, he heard every word Chad said.
"Hey Mom," Chad said shyly. "Yeah, I'm okay. I'm sorry if I worried you. I didn't think--. Yeah. I'm really okay. I just needed to get some air, clear my head, you know? I'm at the park." Chad glanced over at Ryan. "Around 5:30." Ryan's head shot up and he turned to glare at Chad, who had turned away from him. "Look, I'll be home soon, okay? I'll--. Can we talk about this when I get home? I know. I know." Chad rolled his eyes but he was smiling when he did so. "I love you too, Mom. I'll see you soon." He sighed and closed the phone. Turning around, he found himself face to face with Ryan.
"You left the house at 5:30?" he sputtered. Chad shrugged.
"I didn't exactly sleep last night, okay? I needed to get out. Just be glad I waited until a decent hour to call you."
"I don't exactly consider seven o'clock on a Saturday morning a decent hour," Ryan replied. Chad smiled disarmingly and Ryan instantly lost his train of thought.
"So have you got somewhere else to be?" Chad asked. Ryan shook his head suspiciously.
"But you're going home," he said sternly.
"Who died and made you boss?" Chad asked amusedly.
"I'm your confidant, advisor and friend, remember?"
Chad smiled again and Ryan had to step backward to prevent himself from doing anything he might regret.
"Okay," Chad replied, slightly confused by Ryan's mild retreat. "If you aren't busy, why don't you come with me?"
"To your house?"
"Yes, to my house."
"Oh, no," Ryan said. "You're going to have to deal with your folks on your own, Chad. I understand your reticence, but--." Chad placed two fingers on his lips.
"You're coming with me," he said. "Get in the car." He dropped his hand and walked away. Ryan followed him, but he wasn't ready to concede his point.
"You said yourself that my folks would feel better knowing about you. It's time you guys met."
"You can help me do that research, too," Chad added wryly. Ryan got into the car.
"The gay youth organizations?"
"Mom wants me to look them up today. Maybe if we find a good one we can check it out together."
"That sounds like a good idea," Ryan said. He put the car into drive and they left the park. Chad reached over and turned on some music. Ryan stole a glance at him. "You look happy."
"Amazing, isn't it? When I woke up this morning, I thought--. Well, it still sucks to be me," Chad admitted. "But right now I feel truly blessed." Ryan waited for him to elaborate, but Chad leaned back and closed his eyes. "Sometimes I wonder what I did to deserve such great parents." He opened his eyes and looked at Ryan. "And such good friends."
"I've wondered the same thing about you, too," Ryan said, winking. He was being flirtatious, but for once he didn't care. Chad was feeling better and his spirit was infectious. Chad chuckled and turned his head to look out at the scenery. By the time they reached Chad's house he was fast asleep. Ryan pulled into the driveway and gently shook him awake. Chad cleared his throat and checked himself in the mirror before he got out of the car.
"And you call me a queen," Ryan teased. Chad shot him a glare and led the way to the door. He reached it and abruptly turned back to him, his eyes wide. "What? You aren't going to panic now, are you?" The door opened behind Chad before he could speak.
"Oh, Lord," he muttered softly, shaking his head. Ryan frowned in confusion as Chad turned around. He was promptly swept into his mother's arms.
"I've been worried about you, honey," she said, holding her beloved son to her breast. "Are you all right?"
"Mom," Chad groaned, embarrassed by her babyish voice. Ryan giggled at his tone and she noticed Ryan for the first time. She smiled and released Chad to greet him.
"You didn't tell me you were bringing someone home with you."
"Uh… yeah. Mom, you've met Ryan Evans," Chad said by way of introduction. "He's a friend from school."
"Well, welcome, Ryan," she said. "Come on in. You two must be hungry."
"Actually, we've already eaten, Ms. Danforth," Ryan said, eyeing Chad, who looked slightly uncomfortable.
"I see," Jessica Danforth said, gesturing for Ryan to sit. He took a spot on the large sofa and Chad strode across the room, seemingly intent on sitting as far from him as possible. "So you're a classmate of Chad's. Which classes are you in together?"
"Uh--." Ryan hesitated, searching Chad's face for cues.
"Mom," Chad said, sighing as he rose and came back over to the pair. He plopped onto the sofa next to Ryan. "He's not here to help me study. We're friends. Just friends," he repeated. Ryan rolled his eyes impatiently.
"Ms. Danforth," he said bluntly. "I'm gay. And when I realized what Chad was going through, I offered to help him--. I mean I--."
"He means he gave me his number so I'd have someone to talk to about it," Chad said, glowering at him. "He answered my questions and he even let me cry on his shoulder when I felt like the world was caving in on me. Without Ryan's help I don't know how I would have dealt with all this."
"Oh, baby," Ms. Danforth said.
"I know you and Dad were here for me, but I wasn't ready," Chad continued. "Ryan's been there and he didn't think I should have to go through it on my own."
"Then we owe you a debt of gratitude, Ryan," she said, reaching out to grasp his hand. She gave it a squeeze and released it. "Now, Chad, had you told us about this last night, your father and I wouldn't have been so worried."
"I know," Chad muttered, playing with the hem of his shirt. Ryan reached over and pulled his hands away. Chad rolled his eyes and folded them in his lap.
"Chad didn't feel that he had the right to out me," Ryan explained. "I told him that I didn't mind. I've been out to my family for years."
"Maybe you ought to talk to his mother," Chad said, only half-joking. "You can exchange tips on how best to embarrass your son."
"Chad!" Ryan said reproachfully, reaching out to slap him on the thigh. Ms. Danforth rose and went to the door.
"I'll be right back; I want you to meet Chad's father," she said. Chad groaned again.
"You shouldn't be rude to your mother," Ryan said disapprovingly when she was gone.
"You know what she's thinking, right?" Chad replied, ignoring the reprimand "You know what they'll both be thinking in about ten seconds from now." Ryan shrugged.
"So what if they think we're an item? What's the worst that can happen?"
"Are you kidding?" Chad spat back. "They'll think--."
"They'll think you lied last night and forgive you for it, given the circumstances," Ryan explained calmly. "They know they were bullying you and understand that you were on the defensive."
"And they'll think that you aren't alone in all of this and that you have someone in your life who understands exactly what's going on in your head," Ryan explained. "...A nice boy your own age, in the same school…"
"I know, but--."
"And they'll think that you're spoken for and stop meddling in your private life."
"Not so bad, right?" Ryan said, waggling his eyebrows.
"You're assuming they'll approve of you," Chad replied archly.
"Are you kidding? Your mom already loves me and your dad will be putty in my hands inside of half an hour."
"I hope he gives you the sex talk."
"Hey, I could probably teach him a few things," Ryan said smugly. He abruptly rose as Ms. Danforth returned with her husband. "Good morning, Mr. Danforth."
Chad also rose to his feet and, taking a deep breath, he reached for Ryan's hand.
"Dad, I'd like you to meet Ryan Evans."
On to We Both Know