Fandom: High School Musical
Category: Friendship, pre-slash
Summary: It's Ryan's turn to interfere in Chad's personal life. (Sequel to Dad Knows. Part of the Coming to Terms Series))
Ryan pulled into Chad's driveway and turned off the ignition. Chad hardly noticed, intent as he was on making his point.
"Dude, you've got to come to homecoming game! Everyone comes! That's the whole point!"
"If everyone else goes, no one's likely to notice my absence," Ryan replied easily.
"I'd notice your absence," Chad declared. "You have to come!" He got out of the car and reached into the back to retrieve his backpack just as the front door opened. Chad's mother poked her head out.
"Dinner's on the table. Are you two coming in?" she asked. She disappeared inside again before they could answer her.
"Hey, why don't you stay to dinner?" Chad suggested. "Mom's making meatloaf."
"Meatloaf?" Ryan said hesitantly.
"My mom's meatloaf, dude. You have to stay," Chad insisted as he reached over and took Ryan's key out of the ignition. "You haven't lived until you've had my mom's meatloaf. Come on."
Three weeks had passed since Chad introduced Ryan to his parents, and just as Ryan predicted, the Danforths took to him immediately. He was still amazed that Chad had taken his hand in front of Mr. Danforth, even if it was only for the few seconds it took to lead Ryan across the room, but it had worked like a charm. The Danforths eased up on Chad and stopped asking so many questions. Of course, Ryan had also convinced Chad to meet them halfway by being as open with them as he comfortably could and that also helped eased the pressure.
As a result, Chad was feeling and acting more like his old self. He was clear-headed and focused in class and his performance on the court had improved significantly. But that also meant that Chad had begun to spend more time with his other friends, and while Ryan was glad to see Chad laughing again he couldn't help but see his role in Chad's life diminishing.
Of course, Ryan never bothered to consult Chad's opinion on the matter. He just assumed that at some point Chad would cease to need him. Just as that depressing thought crossed his mind, Chad opened the driver's side door and practically dragged Ryan from the car.
It was Ryan's first visit to Chad's house since the day he met the Danforths. He'd spent a couple of hours with Chad and his parents. Most of it was spent online checking out organizations for gay youth in and around the Albuquerque area. The visit ended rather abruptly after Sharpay called to remind her brother of plans they'd made to go shopping. Chad guiltily insisted that he go; his panicked call that morning had made Ryan forget his other obligations that day.
As he had done on Ryan's previous visit, Chad was content to let Ryan do most of the talking. Ryan's natural flair for banter relieved him from the obligation to hold up his end of the conversation, so he relaxed and enjoyed his meal. But Chad nearly choked on his food when his mother asked Ryan what the pair's plans were for the weekend.
"Plans?" he sputtered.
"Well, it is the weekend," Ms. Danforth said with a shrug. "I guess I assumed you two would be going out or something." Chad looked from her to Ryan.
"We don't have any plans," he said.
"We haven't thought that far ahead," Ryan said easily.
"Well, you should do something," Mr. Danforth replied encouragingly.
"Yeah," Chad said uneasily. "I guess we can discuss it later."
"That new horror movie's opening Friday," Mr. Danforth said. "You two should check it out."
"Yeah," Chad said awkwardly as Ryan got up to help Ms. Danforth clear the table. Chad belatedly joined him in the kitchen. "Do you have to make me look bad in front of my mom?" he grumbled.
"I'm not trying to make you look bad," Ryan replied. "I'm just being a good guest."
"Good guests kick back and allow themselves to be waited upon," Chad said, snatching the plates from his hands. "Sit down." Ryan smiled at his pouting expression and returned to his seat. His mother raised an eyebrow and smiled.
"I think it's sweet that Ryan wanted to help."
"Well, I'm fairly certain he's never cleared a table at his own house," Chad replied. "He's just trying to play up to you."
"He's a gentleman. Is that so bad?" she replied. Chad just muttered something and started loading the dishwasher. "So why haven't you made plans for the weekend?" she asked as she pulled a stack of bowls from the cabinet.
"It's no big, mom," Chad said. "I don't make plans for the weekend most of the time."
"I know, but that was before--."
Chad looked up.
"That was before what?" he asked warily. "Why are you and Dad so concerned about my plans for the weekend?"
"We're not! Well," Ms. Danforth hesitated for a second. "Is everything all right between you and Ryan?"
"Of course," Chad replied. "What makes you think it isn’t?"
"Well, you two don't seem to spend a lot of time together."
"Mom, I see Ryan every day at school."
"Yes, but that's at school. And Chad, I hope you remember what your father said about public displays of affection."
"I remember," Chad said, rolling his eyes. "And I told you before, Ryan and I are just friends."
"Are you sure?"
"Am I sure we're just friends?" Chad repeated incredulously.
"Are you sure everything's all right," his mother explained. "I saw you practically drag him into the house."
"That wasn't--. Mom, would you please stop trying to read something into everything I do? You're driving me nuts! We're fine, honest! I was just--."
"All right, all right," his mother interrupted, raising her hands in surrender. "This is me not prying anymore. Get the cookies from the pantry, Boo."
"And I'm nearly eighteen," Chad said gruffly before he disappeared into the pantry. "I'm not your Boo anymore." His mother smiled at his muffled grumbling as she scooped ice cream into bowls. He returned with a package of cookies and placed two in each bowl.
"Go ahead," she said. "I'll be right in."
Chad returned to the dining room with two bowls. He placed one in front of his father and one in front of Ryan before he sat down. He was surprised to discover that the two of them were having a lively discussion about professional basketball. He observed them with unabashed curiosity, until his mother patted his shoulder.
"Are you all right, Boo?"
Chad cringed and shut his eyes.
"I'm fine," he said through his teeth. Ryan didn't seem to have heard her pet nickname for Chad, so he relaxed and began to enjoy his ice cream.
"Your dad just had a great idea," Ryan said a few minutes later. Chad looked up. "Let's go out to Lava Springs and hit the batting cages this weekend."
"I didn't say anything about Lava Springs," Mr. Danforth protested. "There's a batting cage right here in town where--."
"It's okay, Dad," Chad said, flushing slightly. "Ryan's father owns Lava Springs." Ms. Danforth's mouth fell open.
"He owns Lava Springs?" Mr. Danforth said.
"He owns a controlling share," Ryan said with a shrug. "Well, my parents own the controlling share of Evans Leisure Corporation."
"You're one of those Evanses," Ms. Danforth said.
"I guess I am," Ryan said sheepishly. Chad was embarrassed for him.
"You two aren't going to hold that against him, right?" he said with irritation.
"Oh, of course not," his mother said hastily. Chad quickly finished his ice cream and Ryan took the hint and did the same. As soon as they were able to escape the table, Chad apologized, but Ryan shook his head.
"I'm used to it," he assured Chad earnestly. Chad wasn't mollified, but he had no choice but to accept Ryan's word. "Look, I hate to eat and run, but I should really get home. It's nearly eight o'clock and my folks are probably expecting me."
"Okay," Chad said, turning to walk him to the door. But Ryan went in the opposite direction, back to the dining room, where the Danforths were having coffee. He thanked them for dinner and praised Ms. Danforth's meatloaf for the third time before rejoined Chad in the hall. "Mama's boy," Chad said, affectionately ruffling his hair.
"You're just jealous because she likes me more than you," Ryan teased, reaching for his hat.
"As if," Chad replied, rolling his eyes. "Listen," he said as they stepped outside. "We don't have to do anything this weekend. That's just my parents' way of--."
"They think we're dating," Ryan said, nodding. "Hey, that's no reason why we shouldn't get out and have some fun, though, right?"
"Yeah," Chad said, but his tone was somewhat reluctant.
"Thanks for dinner. I really enjoyed the meatloaf," Ryan said as he got into his car. He waved at Chad and drove off quickly, trying to process what was going on in Chad's head.
He'd become fairly adept at reading Chad over the previous two months. So adept, in fact, that it had become something of a standing joke between Chad and Ryan. But Chad's behavior at dinner was perplexing. He eventually concluded that Chad's reticence wasn't personal. He was still uncomfortable with the whole idea of dating and his parents seemed to be pushing Chad and Ryan to go out on a date. Ryan understood and resolved to talk to him about it. But when they spoke two hours later, Chad told him something that made him completely forget his agenda.
"I'm going to the movies with Troy and Gabriella Friday night," Chad announced. "He called to invite me and when I tried to tell him I had other plans he kind of pressured me into it. We're going to see that new horror movie."
"Well, good," Ryan replied evenly, though he felt a lump in his gut. "You should get out with your friends. It's been a while."
"Want to join us?"
"I'm not sure that would be a good idea, Chad. I mean between your parents and Troy--. He doesn't know about--."
"He knows. I told him," Chad declared, lying back on his bed as he spoke. "Things went well when I told Taylor, so I decided not to wait any longer to tell Troy."
Ryan had suggested Taylor as the next person to tell after his parents because he knew that she and Chad were good friends and he trusted her to have an open mind. Taylor did not disappoint; she not only took the news well, she'd become another piece of bedrock in Chad's steadily growing foundation. But when did Chad decide to tell Troy? And why hadn't he mentioned it to Ryan?
"I had to tell him," Chad said in his own defense. "The longer I waited, the more difficult it became for me to face him. And my parents thought it was a good idea."
"I do, too, Chad," Ryan said, feeling slightly hurt, even though he couldn't say exactly why. "How did it go?"
"It was awkward; not as awkward as dealing with Mom and Dad, but--. Troy just--. Well, I think he's still in shock but he'll be okay. We're still good."
"He promised not to tell Gabriella. I'm not ready for that, but I can trust him with this."
"Good," Ryan said again. A brief silence ensued, during which the lump in Ryan's stomach seemed to grow larger.
"You sure you don't want to come Friday?"
"Nah," Ryan lied. "To tell you the truth, I don't like horror movies."
"Oh," Chad said.
"Well, have fun Friday night."
"I will," Chad promised. "And we'll get together Saturday, all right?"
"Looking forward to it," Ryan said. He shut his phone and stared into space. He was losing Chad faster than he thought.
Chad stood beside Troy with his hands shoved into his pockets. Troy was talking about something, but Chad wasn't listening. After a somewhat awkward conversation, he and Troy were back on track. Troy solemnly promised not to reveal Chad's secret to a soul, but Chad still felt rather exposed as they waited for Gabriella outside the ladies' room at the movie theater. He found himself wishing--not for the first time--that Ryan had come along.
"Dude!" Troy said suddenly, lightly elbowing him.
"That guy over there in the black leather jacket. He's totally checking you out."
"Huh?" Chad started to turn around, but Troy grabbed him by the elbow to prevent it.
"He hasn't stopped staring at you since we left the ticket line. You know, I've always wondered about that," he said. Chad was still lost.
"What are you talking about?"
"How do you guys, you know--." Troy shrugged. "I've always wondered how you guys seem to know who's gay and who isn't." Chad just blinked at him. "What do they call it, gaydar?"
"Excuse me, I'm kind of new at this," Chad whispered angrily. "I haven't learned the lingo or the magic formula for calculating Kinsey scores in my head or whatever it is gay guys use for identifying each other at fifty paces. And as far as I know there's no official how-to manual, so I haven't the vaguest--." He abruptly shut his mouth when Gabriella emerged from the restroom. He glared at Troy, who was both stunned and confused by Chad's outburst. Troy backed off and gave Chad a few seconds to compose himself. Feeling like a complete jerk, Chad turned and walked over to the concession stand. On the way, he took advantage of the opportunity to glance in his admirer's direction. Unfortunately, that was all the encouragement the other man needed. He quickly got on line behind Chad.
"Hey," he said in a friendly tone. "East High Wildcats, right?" Chad couldn't pretend to misunderstand the direct reference.
"Uh, yeah," he said, looking at the tall, dark-haired, moderately handsome young man. "Have we met?"
"I'm an East High alum," the man replied, extending his hand. "Brent Matthews, class of 2006. I'm at the U of A now." He held his hand a bit longer than strictly necessary and Chad involuntarily glanced down.
"Danforth. I remember; point guard on the starting five. You played a great game at last year's championship."
"Thanks," Chad replied, glancing around for Troy and Gabriella, who seemed to have disappeared. They were, in fact, making their purchase on the next line, but he was too flustered to notice.
"So the big homecoming game's next week," Brent said.
"Yeah," Chad said, knowing he must sound like an idiot, although Brent clearly wasn't put off by his monosyllabic responses. He cleared his throat. "You coming to the game?"
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Brent replied, deliberately stepping a bit closer to Chad, who stepped backward and found himself at the counter. He turned to make his purchase and glanced around again. Gabriella and Troy were waiting for him a short distance away.
"I'd better catch up with my friends," he said, gesturing with his head. "Guess I'll see you at the game."
"Definitely," Brent replied. "I'm looking forward to seeing you on the court." Chad felt Brent's eyes on his back as he crossed the lobby. Troy gave him a questioning look, but Chad didn't say a word as he passed right by him and entered the theater. He slid into a seat and slumped down, hoping that Brent wouldn't seek him out. By the time Brent entered the theater, however, the lights had begun to dim and he sat about ten rows in front of the trio.
"So?" Troy whispered as the previews began. "What happened?"
"I bought popcorn," Chad deadpanned.
"Did you talk?"
"Yes, we talked."
"And I forgot Junior Mints," Chad said. He rose and left the theater. When he returned, he sat on Gabriella's other side, effectively ending all discussion of Brent Matthews.
"So did you like him?" Ryan asked the next day.
"We spoke like twelve seconds," Chad replied, reaching for his cup. "And it was totally weird."
"What's so weird about someone flirting with you?"
"He wasn't flirting, all right? He was just making conversation."
"Chad, he was flirting with you."
"How do you know? You weren't even there," Chad said defensively. He focused on his pancakes and refused to meet Ryan's eyes.
"I didn't have to be there. He found you attractive, so he approached you and tried to chat you up," Ryan said patiently. "And if you'd been alone--or hadn't run off--he might have asked you out." Chad's eyes grew wide. "What? Is that so farfetched?"
"You don't know what you're talking about."
"I know exactly what I'm talking about. He wanted you."
"Would you stop?" Chad spat. "He just asked about homecoming."
"You do realize you're totally hot as hell?" Ryan persisted.
"Don't be so naïve," he said calmly. "The waitresses here all adore you. Women at the mall swoon in your wake. Little freshmen girls pee their pants when you smile in their general direction." Chad nearly spit his orange juice across the table.
"Shut up!" Chad cried, looking around to see if anyone had overheard him.
"Men who aren't confident in their sexuality find you oddly distracting. Those who are just relax and enjoy the view. Now, those of us with a finer appreciation of the male form publicly drool and privately--."
"I'm begging you! Shut up!" Chad said through gritted teeth.
"You don't think the stands are filled at Wildcat games because all those people want to see Troy's scrawny little ass running up and down the court in baggy shorts, do you?"
"Gah!" Chad covered his ears.
"It's inevitable that someone would make a move," Ryan continued, smiling at his blushing companion. "Bottom line: Brent saw you and wanted you. That's what happens when boy meets boy. I'll shut up now." Ryan had totally exposed himself but he'd made his point. Besides, Chad's expression was priceless. He was completely flustered and, to Ryan's eyes, utterly adorable. Chad sighed and pushed his plate away.
"He probably won't even show up, anyway."
"What if he does?" Ryan asked seriously. "Look, all you have to do is talk to him. If you decide you like him you can go from there."
Ryan rolled his eyes and called for the check.
"You know there's no reason to be nervous," Ryan said once they were outside Earline's. "It's not like you have to do anything."
"You'll be at the game, right?" Chad asked hopefully.
"I don’t' think so," Ryan said, averting his eyes. "I'd just cramp your style if he shows up."
"Oh, no! No, you have to come!"
"Promise me you'll come!"
"No," Ryan said firmly. Chad stared at him in shock. "Look, I can't do this for you. You have to handle this part for yourself. Chad, you know I'm right about this." Ryan replied. Chad shook his head and turned away. "Oh, for crying out loud! Come on, Chad!"
Chad just shook his head again and walked away. Ryan swore under his breath and decided against following him. After all, he had problems of his own. He walked over to his car and got in to wait for Chad to return. He pushed his hat forward over his eyes and pouted.
It's not as though he hadn't expected Chad to attract other admirers. Ryan knew better than anyone what a wonderful guy Chad was and he'd always intended to let Chad know how he felt about him when the time was right. But Ryan should have known that Chad wouldn't fly beneath the radar for long. Even if he wasn't ready for the attention, Chad was bound to attract it.
"How the hell did I let this happen?" Ryan muttered. He slumped in his seat and sulked for another ten minutes before he realized how much time had passed and began to worry. Chad hadn't come back and he was nearly ten miles from home. Intent on looking for him, Ryan started the car. But when he looked up the road, he spotted Chad sitting on a bench only fifty yards away.
"Want a ride?" he said casually as he pulled up in front of the bench. Chad sighed and got into the car. Ryan patted his arm and took him home. They rode in silence until they reached Chad's house.
"I don't think I'm ready for this," Chad said softly.
"I understand," Ryan replied. Chad got out of the car and walked to the door. "But even if you blow off this guy, another one's going to turn up sooner or later. And another, and another, and another."
"I get it!" Chad said curtly. "Look, I'll talk to you later." Chad opened the door and started to enter the house just as Chad's mother came around the side of the house carrying a garden hose.
"Hello, Ryan," she said, smiling. Ryan waved and returned her smile. He turned his attention back to Chad.
"Hey, Chad!" he called. Chad turned around. "I'll pick you up at seven o'clock."
"Huh?" Chad replied, pausing in the doorway.
"Seven o'clock. Be ready." Ryan started the car and backed out of the driveway before Chad could answer him and drove off.
Chad came downstairs in response to his father's call and found Ryan standing in the foyer. He was dressed in a dark grey suit and blue shirt. For the first time since Chad could remember, Ryan Evans wasn't wearing a hat. He stopped on the landing and stared.
"You're not ready," Ryan said. Chad looked down at himself, turned around and went back upstairs. Ryan smiled at Chad's father and went to wait in the living room.
"So where are you two going?" Mr. Danforth asked.
"I thought we'd just have a nice dinner," Ryan replied. "Maybe go to an arcade, afterward." He shrugged shyly. "Whatever Chad decides."
Chad came down the stairs again. He'd changed out of his tee and into a black shirt and blazer. He'd traded his sneakers for a pair of loafers, worn without socks. Chad looked down.
"Should I lose the jeans?" he asked uncertainly.
"No," Ryan said hoarsely. He quickly cleared his throat and rose to join him. "Let's go," he said. He belatedly remembered his manners and said goodbye to Chad's father before stepping outside.
"Where are we going?" Chad asked once they were on the road.
"On a date."
"A date?" Chad sputtered. "You didn't say anything about a date!" Ryan shrugged nonchalantly, although he was actually afraid that Chad might make him turn the car around and take him home.
"Well, I know your parents are expecting us to go out, so I thought we should. Besides, you sounded nervous about the prospect of dating," Ryan said. "Think of this as practice." Chad eyed him warily.
"Look, it's no big," Ryan said, hastily backtracking. "Forget the practice. We'll just eat and then find something else to do afterward. You know, have some fun."
"Okay." Chad looked down again. "You're sure I'm dressed all right."
"Fishing for compliments again?"
"You look great. I wish I'd worn jeans myself," Ryan admitted. "No, really," he said in response to Chad's doubtful look. "You look great." They drove downtown and parked outside an elegant bistro. The hostess greeted them cordially and showed them to a table. A waiter came to ask for their drink orders. Ryan ordered them a couple of microbrews and asked the waiter to come back in a few minutes.
"Isn't he going to card us?" Chad whispered.
"No," Ryan replied. He turned his attention to the menu and Chad did the same. "Okay, you're on a date and you're offered a drink. Say yes if you want, but never overindulge. Not only will you make an ass of yourself, you'll undoubtedly end up being lured into doing something you'll come to regret later." Chad rolled his eyes.
"I do have an ounce of sense in my head, you know."
"Never doubted it for a moment," Ryan replied, setting down the menu as the waiter returned. He recommended the steak burger and ordered seafood for himself. When the waiter left again, Ryan resumed his lecture.
"When ordering food, think simple. A date is not the ideal opportunity to try some exotic food you never heard of. You're out to have fun, not test your intestinal tract. Avoid foods that are messy, unless you're dressed down. You don't want to wear Hugo Boss to a rib joint. And try to avoid food that you can't put down once you pick it up or stuff that will run down your arm or smear all over your chin."
"You said it was just going to be dinner," Chad said, warily. "What's with the lecture?"
"Right," Ryan replied, abandoning the lesson. "Let's just relax and have fun."
"Well," Ryan said a minute later. "Here we are."
"Yeah," Chad said. "Having fun." He looked around, noticing for the first time that there were several other male couples in the room. He took a breath to calm himself. The silence continued.
"You know, as entertaining as it may be," Ryan said teasingly, "you can't just sit there staring at your fingers all night." Chad looked up. "Good. Now say something."
"I don't know. Make conversation."
"Why don't you make conversation?"
"I always make conversation," Ryan said. "It's your turn." Chad started to speak, but the waiter brought their appetizers and Chad turned his attention to his soup. "Good?" Ryan prompted.
"Yeah. How's your--. What is that?"
"It's fried artichoke. Want to try it?"
"No thanks," Chad said. He glanced up at Ryan, but quickly averted his eyes again. Then he looked up again. "You know, you should always wear blue. It really does things for your eyes."
Ryan nearly dropped his glass.
"I mean it; you look good in blue," Chad said earnestly.
"And you said you couldn't flirt."
"I'm not flirting," Chad protested. "I was just-."
"You were flirting,"
"I was not!"
"Hush," Ryan said. Chad scowled at him.
"First you tell me to talk and then you tell me to hush?"
"Didn't your mother teach you to say thank you when someone gave you a compliment?"
"Didn't your mother teach you?" Chad countered. "And how do you consider calling me a flirt a compliment?"
The waiter came to clear their plates and Chad sat back. Ryan smiled at him.
"Having fun?" he asked mildly. The arrival of their main course prevented Chad from responding. Ryan let up on him and they soon fell into easy conversation. They even discussed Troy. Chad revealed that he'd spoken to Troy after basketball practice a few days earlier.
"Why didn't you mention this?" Ryan asked. Chad shrugged.
"To be honest, I completely forgot about Troy when I came out of school and saw you waiting for me," he replied. Ryan was too surprised by that revelation to pursue the matter any further. He changed the subject and they enjoyed their dinner, laughing over each other's jokes and sharing their food. But the tension returned when the check arrived.
"No," Ryan said when Chad reached for his wallet to split the check. "I asked you out, I pay."
"Since always! I always pay when I take someone out. Especially on a first date."
"So this is our first date?" Chad asked wryly. Ryan didn't answer. He busied himself with signing the credit slip until he felt Chad's gaze slip away from him. When he finally looked up again, Chad was staring at something across the room. Ryan glanced over his shoulder but saw nothing remarkable. He turned back to Chad again and met his eyes. He quickly suggested that they leave and rose to avoid Chad's confused gaze.
They left the restaurant and since Ryan wanted to walk a bit, they strolled along Nob Hill's main strip, taking in the sights and sounds of the trendy neighborhood. They came to a bead shop and Ryan dragged Chad inside.
"This is right up your alley," he said.
"How do you figure that?" Chad asked.
"Well, you're always wearing something beaded around your neck. Let's see if we can find you something new."
"What's wrong with what I've got?"
"Humor me, Chad."
"I've been humoring you all night," he quipped. Ryan smiled and scanned the cases until he found the perfect focal bead, a piece of bone carved by an artisan in Africa.
"That one," he said. The man behind the counter pulled out the bead Ryan selected and helped him to choose several more. "Cool," Ryan said. "It's perfect. Can you put them on a 'thing' for us?" he asked, vaguely gesturing at Chad.
The man behind the counter measured out a length of leather cord and made a new choker for Chad in a matter of minutes. Chad and Ryan perused the rest of the beads on display while they waited.
"What's really going on?" Chad asked casually as his eyes scanned the array before him.
"What do you mean?"
"Why'd you really ask me out tonight?"
"You're right about your mom being an awesome prospect when she's got an agenda," Ryan said, hoping that his answer would suffice. To be honest, he was a bit confused about his own agenda. He had, indeed, wanted to forestall Chad's mother. And he thought that it would be good for Chad to get out of the house…on a date. And Chad certainly needed a little practice. Ryan just wasn't sure whom he was preparing Chad for.
"You're afraid of my mother?" Chad teased.
"Aren't you?" Ryan replied as the man called them over.
"No," Chad said firmly. Ryan just smiled knowingly.
"Let's see how it looks on you," Ryan said as he reached around Chad's neck to fasten the newly crafted choker. "You smell good," he whispered as he stepped back, ostensibly to look at the new neckpiece. But he found himself drowning in Chad's eyes instead. "How much?" Ryan asked, not taking his eyes off of Chad's. He reached for his wallet, finally tearing his eyes away to select the proper bill.
"Thank you," Chad said as they left the shop.
"You're welcome. I told your dad we might go to an arcade but to be honest I prefer shopping," Ryan admitted. They laughed as they continued their way up the block. Ryan wanted to hold Chad's hand, but he didn't want to push his luck. He was happy enough just being with Chad like this. He could pretend--for a while, at least--that Chad belonged to him, even if it was only in his own mind.
"I'm buying desert," Chad announced as they approached a Flying Star Café.
"I asked, I pay," Chad argued. Ryan conceded the point and allowed Chad to treat him to a cappuccino and a decadent piece of pastry. "You never answered my question," Chad said, setting down his chai latte to gaze into Ryan's eyes.
"Yes, I did," Ryan insisted, unable to sustain the contact. He toyed with his chocolate tart, mashing one edge of the crust into powder.
"You asked me out tonight because you're afraid of my mother," Chad said doubtfully.
"We agreed to do something tonight," Ryan said with a shrug.
"Like get dressed up and go out to a fancy restaurant in Nob Hill…"
Ryan shrugged again.
"I like it here," he replied. "I thought you would, too. Aren't you enjoying yourself?"
"Yes," Chad said. "But this is us. I'm not sure I'm ready to do this with someone else. That's what this is really about, isn't it? You want me to go out with that guy I met last night."
"You said you weren't planning to remain celibate," Ryan said, going for casual and failing miserably.
"And you think I should go for it with this guy."
"If that's what you want."
Chad shook his head dismissively and lifted his drink. Ryan wasn't sure what the gesture was supposed to signify, but he knew that Chad wasn't interested in pursuing the conversation, so he said nothing. When Chad spoke again, it was to ask about the homecoming game.
"We've already been through this," Ryan said wearily.
"I know, and I'm still trying to make you see reason," Chad replied. "Please come to the game. I really want you there."
Ryan flatly refused. They argued about it on the way home and continued the argument on the phone the following day. By the time game day rolled around the following Friday, Ryan was refusing to take Chad's calls. But he did call Chad the morning after. Of course, Chad didn't accept the call--or his second or third. Ryan finally got into his car and drove over to Chad's house.
"Give me one reason why I should talk to you," Chad growled when he opened the door.
"You abandoned me!"
"You needed some space, Chad. I just gave it to you."
"I didn't need any space! I needed you and you bailed on me."
"Bailed on you? I--."
"I never asked you to come to a single game before. I know basketball's not your thing and I respect that. I only asked you to come to one stinking game out of the whole season. One game, Ryan; it was really important to me. Would it have been so hard for you to sit in a fucking gym for one hour?"
Ryan felt as though he'd been punched in the gut. Chad was right. He'd refused to go to the game because he didn't want to see Brent Matthews making time with his crush. He hadn't given a moment's thought to anything else, such as the fact that Chad had asked him to come to the game long before Brent Matthews came into the picture.
"You're right, Chad," Ryan admitted. "It was a reasonable request and I'm sorry."
"A day late and a dime short. "
"What do you want me to say?" Ryan pleaded. "I'm sorry, Chad, really. I just thought--."
"I'm really not interested in what you thought. You don't get to decide what's best for me. I do!"
"So that means I have to go to your stupid game just because you want me there?" Ryan spat back.
"If you think basketball is stupid, then it's probably best that you didn't bother," Chad shouted.
"I'm sorry! I didn't mean it that way," Ryan said, running his hand through his hair in frustration.
"Well, what the hell did you mean?" Chad cried. "And while you're at it, explain to me how you get to decide--."
Chad's mother appeared at the entrance to the living room.
"Sorry, Mom," Chad said, sheepishly. He walked away from Ryan and sat down in a chair.
"What is going on?" she asked, stepping into the room.
"He stood me up, that's what," Chad said.
"I told you last week that I wouldn't be at the game," Ryan replied reasonably.
"Is that true, Chad?" She stared at her son until he looked up. "Is it true?"
"Yeah," Chad admitted.
"So what's the problem?" she asked. Chad averted his eyes and stared at the wall.
"Ask him why he stood me up," he said petulantly as his father came into the room, also drawn by the angry voices. "Go ahead! Ask him!"
"This is between the two of you," his father said gently. Chad was stunned. For the first time in recent memory, the Danforths chose not to interfere in his private life.
"Your father and I are leaving for dinner at the Jacksons'," his mother said. "Why don't the two of you calm down and try talking instead of shouting at each other."
"Yes, ma'am," Ryan said. Ms. Danforth smiled at him and looked back at her son. She gave him a look that brooked no argument.
"I hope that you two resolve your differences like the two civilized young men you are." She headed for the door. "Chad, you know the number if you need anything."
The Danforths left and Chad and Ryan glared at each other for a minute before Chad abruptly rose and walked into the kitchen. Ryan followed him.
"Have you eaten?" Chad asked as he pulled something from the oven.
"Come on," Chad said, as he picked up the dish and carried it into the family room. He placed it on a trivet and sat down. Ryan sat beside him on the sofa and Chad handed him a napkin. "They're hot," he warned Ryan before reaching for a nacho. Ryan carefully selected a chip and tasted it.
"So tell me about the game," he said.
"No." Chad replied. "You just want to grill me about Brent Matthews. Give me one reason why I should tell you anything."
"All right, forget I mentioned it," Ryan said. They ate in uncomfortable silence.
"He wasn't there," Chad said a few minutes later.
"Not that it mattered; I wasn't interested in seeing him again to begin with."
"Then what are we arguing about?"
"We're arguing about the fact that you didn't come to my game last night," Chad said pointedly. "I asked you a dozen times and you just blew me off with some lame excuse about cramping my style with some other guy."
"I'm sorry," Ryan said.
"You ought to be," Chad said, sitting back and reaching for the remote. "I was awesome."
"Says you," Ryan replied, confused by Chad's abrupt change in tone. But hey, if it meant the fight was over, he could deal.
"Says everyone. I scored fifteen points."
"And that's a good thing…"
"If you'd watch a game occasionally you might understand that it's a very good thing."
"Oh," Ryan said sheepishly. "I'll come to the next one, promise."
"I ought to make you watch the Clippers-Suns game right now," Chad said, grinning mischievously. "But it just so happens that Dad brought home a new DVD set. Up for a marathon of Criminal Minds?"
"Bring it on," Ryan said, relaxing into the plush leather of the couch. They settled in and began to watch the first episode. By the time the second show ended, Ryan was slouched against Chad's shoulder. Chad elbowed him in the ribs and rose. He returned a few minutes later with a freshly made bowl of popcorn. He sat down next to Ryan, placed the bowl in his lap and threw an arm over the back of the couch. Ryan snuggled closer and fed Chad a few kernels every now and then to distract himself when something grisly came on screen.
After the fourth episode, they took a bathroom break. Chad asked Ryan if he'd like some ice cream when he returned to the family room. When Ryan answered with an enthusiastic affirmative, Chad collected the remains of their dinner and returned with a container and two spoons. He handed one to Ryan and sat down. They took turns digging into the carton. When Ryan took a second spoonful before Chad, he protested. Ryan solved the problem by feeding it to him. Chad pulled the spoon out of his mouth and handed it back to him.
"Here, you finish the rest. I've had enough," he said as he leaned back and sank further into the cushy sofa. Ryan shrugged and ate the last two scoops. He returned the container to the kitchen and rejoined Chad, who'd sprawled across the sofa. Ryan stared at him and, without even looking up, Chad patted the space in front of him. Ryan climbed onto the sofa and Chad pulled him close. He nestled into a comfortable position, leaning against Chad's chest.
"Comfy?" Chad asked, smoothing down a tuft of unruly hair. Ryan nodded and settled in to watch the next episode.
"You're having more fun tonight than you did last Saturday, aren’t you?" Ryan asked as his fingers traced the face of Chad's watch sometime later. He felt Chad shrug behind him.
"Not really; I'm pretty much happy doing anything with you," he said distractedly. Ryan beamed. He completely forgot about watching television and reveled in the fact that he was lying on a sofa pretty much draped over Chad Danforth. He could happily stay right where he was for the rest of his life. Of course, Chad's phone rang chose to ring at that precise moment and he excused himself to answer it.
"Hey, buddy," Troy said. "What are you doing tonight?"
"We're watching Criminal Minds. Dad got the first season DVDs."
"You can watch them any time. Why don't you come over and play--."
"Can't. I've got company."
"Company?" Troy repeated. "Is it that guy who was looking for you after the game last night?"
"No! Wait; was he?" Chad said, surprised to hear it.
"Yeah; you left so quickly I thought you two had plans to hook up. Hey; if it's not him then who's your company?"
"Ryan's here," Chad replied without thinking.
"Ryan? Ryan Evans?"
"Yes, and I've got to go."
"Wait, wait! You're seeing Ryan?"
"Did I say that?"
"Dude! You didn't have to!" Troy replied. Chad rolled his eyes. "Wow, I should have seen that one coming."
"Come on! Ryan's been crushing on you since the eighth grade! I bet he figured out you were gay long before you did."
"I'll talk to you later," Troy said. "You'd better get back to your date."
"Wait!" Chad cried, but Troy was already gone. "Huh." Chad turned his phone off and set it down before returning to the family room. He found Ryan sprawled this time. He stared at him until Ryan sat up. But Chad wasn't interested in sofa space.
"Have you been crushing on me since the eighth grade?"
"Who told you that?" Ryan asked, stunned by the completely unexpected question.
"Never mind. Is it true?" Chad persisted.
Chad looked unconvinced. Ryan frowned at him.
"It was the ninth grade, right after you won gold in the 1600 meter event at the state regionals," he said. "I had wet dreams about you for weeks." Chad just blinked at him. Ryan shrugged sheepishly. "I was thirteen."
"I don't understand," Chad continued, after digesting that bit of gratuitous information. "If you've been crushing on me for the better part of four years, why are you trying to push me at that guy?"
"I'm not pushing you at anyone," Ryan said defensively.
"You've been talking him up for a week, Ryan," Chad shot back. "You took me out last week so I could practice being on a date with him. You even refused to come to the game last night because you thought it would ruin my chances with him!"
"How did you put it earlier? I don't get to decide what's best for you." Ryan said smugly.
"That didn't stop you from trying, did it?"
"Look, I just backed off to give you a better shot. That way you could decide whether or not you were interested in him."
"And if I was?" Chad challenged. Ryan didn't have a simple answer to that, so he averted his eyes.
"Look, I'm sorry he didn't show up last night. I guess we both stood you up."
"Actually, he was there," Chad replied. Ryan looked up.
"I never saw him. Troy just told me that Brent was looking for me after the game. Of course, I was in such a foul mood I skipped all the post-game festivities and went home."
"Sorry," Ryan said, staring at his hands in his lap. "I didn't mean to ruin things for you."
"Dude, you're as bad as my parents," Chad said, flopping onto the couch. "You're all trying to dictate my love life. And I don't even have a love life!" he said, throwing up his hands in frustration.
"You could if you'd just--."
"Hey, I don't need any more help from you! You're the one who needs help!"
"Yeah! You keep going on and on about helping me to decide what's best for me. You're the one who's confused; I already know what's best for me! If you'd bothered to answer one of my phone calls this week you would already know that!"
"Well, why don't you just tell me what I missed?" Ryan replied, growing angry.
"Sure, let's do everything according to your schedule. When I need something, you can't be bothered!"
"I already apologized for that!"
"Well, I'm still pissed!"
"Chad, I'm really--."
"I called you three times, but you were too busy being a drama queen to answer the phone."
"Well, you didn't answer your phone, either!" Ryan shouted back, rising to confront him. "That's why I came over here!"
"You came over here to find out whether or not I hooked up with Brent!"
"I--. Well, maybe I did. I thought--."
"I know what you thought. You're an idiot!"
"I'm an idiot?" Ryan sputtered. Chad turned away, shaking his head.
"I can't believe I actually prefer this. I must be insane."
"Prefer what?" Ryan said, suddenly confused. But their argument was interrupted by the return of the Danforths.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Ms. Danforth cried as she entered the room. "I thought you two were going to talk things out! I come back and find you arguing four hours later?"
"We're not arguing, Mom. We're just--brimming with youthful exuberance," Chad said gesturing absently. Ryan stared at him incredulously.
"You certainly had us fooled," Mr. Danforth replied.
"I'm sorry, Dad," Chad said. "Everything's fine, really. Ryan's just being a little dense."
"Dense?" Ryan repeated disbelievingly.
"Yes," Chad said. "I've been trying to explain something to you, but apparently I'm going to have to break it down into smaller words."
He wrapped an arm around Ryan's shoulders and sat down, pulling Ryan with him. The Danforths exchanged a confused glance and left the pair alone. Ryan waited until the sound of their voices faded away before he turned to glare at Chad.
"And an idiot," Chad said. "As long as you're going to be mad, you may as well have the whole list."
"I'm not mad," Ryan confessed. "Just confused. What was that bit about preferring something?"
"Dude, you should listen to your voicemail occasionally," Chad replied, refusing to give him a break. Ryan gave him an imploring look, but Chad refused to budge. "I'm sure I used small words."
"Maybe I'll do that," Ryan said guiltily. He peered at the clock on the wall and declared that it was getting late.
"I'll walk you to the door." Chad waited for Ryan to put on his shoes and collect his hat before escorting him to the foyer. "Thanks for coming over."
"Thanks for letting me in," Ryan replied, unable to resist the snark.
"Well, if you hadn't--." Chad shut his mouth firmly and unlocked the door.
"What are you doing tomorrow afternoon?" Ryan asked as he stepped onto the porch. Chad shrugged. He shoved his hands into his pockets and stepped outside in his stocking feet. "Want to take a ride out to Lava Springs and play some ball?"
"Would that be another date?"
"Could be," Ryan said moving into Chad's personal space. Suddenly it all fell into place and he smiled. "Yes, it's definitely a date."
He removed his hat and handed it to Chad, who frowned at the object in his hand. Ryan lifted his chin and kissed him. It was very brief, but sweet and full of promise. He collected his hat once again and turned to walk to his car.
"That's it?" Chad complained. Ryan turned around. "After crushing on me for years, finding out that I was on your side of the fence and available--not to mention 'totally hot'--and nearly blowing your chance with me by throwing me at some guy you've never even seen, and standing me up, all I get is--."
Chad had no complaints about the second kiss…or the third, or the fourth. He exhaled deeply to clear his head and opened his eyes just in time to see Ryan start his car.
"Night, Boo," he said with a wave. He backed out of the driveway laughing. Chad watched him until the car's rear lights were out of sight. Then he turned to the door and deliberately banged his head into the dark wood.
On to Who Knows?