Summary: Troy adds two and two and, as usual, gets more than he bargained for. (Part of the Coming to Terms 'verse.)
Six weeks before Troy Bolton was scheduled to graduate from middle school his best friend gave him some devastating news. The Danforths were moving to the east coast. The engineering firm that employed Chad's father offered him a position that necessitated a move from the office in Albuquerque to somewhere in northern New Jersey. It was supposed to be a secret; Chad heard his parents whispering about it one night when they thought he was in bed. So even though it wasn't official, he told his best friend. Troy Bolton was the one person in the world who would understand how Chad felt.
Troy was understandably heartbroken and for the next three weeks he spent every possible minute at Chad's side. The nearly inseparable duo spent even more time together. If Chad missed the school bus, Troy missed it, too, and walked the mile to school at his best friend's side. He ate over at Chad's house two or three nights a week and when the Danforths sent him home, Chad spent his days at the Boltons' house. Troy even began to save all of his allowance in hopes of being able to visit Chad in New Jersey during school vacation. He didn't know how he'd manage to survive without his best friend and he was determined never to lose him.
Then a miracle occurred. Chad came to school beaming; the friends had gotten a reprieve. It seems that his mother, who was in the second year of graduate school at the University of Albuquerque, was resistant to the idea of the move. She didn't want to leave her friends and family in the New Mexico area, she had just found a great job at the Albuquerque library, and didn't relish the idea of moving to the northeast because she hated snow. After much discussion, she finally convinced her husband to refuse the job offer. When Chad told him the news, it was the happiest day in Troy's young life.
It wasn't until nearly two years later that he learned that it had all been a hoax.
Troy was having dinner at the Danforths and mentioned his forthcoming ski trip during the Christmas holidays. When Chad's mother said she used to love skiing Troy was more than a little surprised. Later that evening he confronted Chad, who unrepentantly admitted that not only had his parents never contemplated moving across country, his dad's company didn't even have an office east of the Mississippi. He'd simply perpetrated the hoax in retaliation for Troy spending too much time with Jason Cross, the kid who'd just moved into a house on his block.
As Troy sat on the lawn in front of East High watching Chad stroll across the parking lot, he felt a strong sense of déjà vu. Six weeks earlier Chad had approached him out of the blue after practice and drew him aside to tell him a dreadful secret. And just like last time, Troy bought Chad's story hook, line and sinker. Now, with the memory of that day back in 2005 fresh in his mind, Troy was feeling more than a little punk'd. Again.
He blinked at turned his head. Gabriella smiled.
"Hi. Remember me?" she said impishly.
"Yeah," he said warily, aware that he'd been preoccupied for several minutes. He stared at his girlfriend as she resumed saying whatever it was she'd been trying to tell him. Troy's mind wandered once more. Of course! Gabriella was the reason Chad's acting out again. I should have seen this coming.
"Yes?" he replied, blinking rapidly.
"I give up," Gabriella said, shaking her head. "You try talking some sense into him, Taylor."
"Hey, I'm good, but I'm no miracle worker," she replied. "If you can't make him focus, what chance do I have?"
"He does seem to be especially out of it today," Gabriella concluded with a little pout. But she brightened when she saw Chad approaching. "Oh, maybe Chad can get through to him. He's had the most experience dealing with Troy."
"What's wrong with him?" Chad said as he and Zeke reached the threesome. He looked at Troy, who was frowning at him oddly.
"There's nothing wrong with me," Troy replied defensively. "What's up with you?"
"Me?" Chad frowned and glanced at Zeke. "What do you mean?"
"Where's--?" Troy shut his mouth and reconsidered his words, but the man in question suddenly appeared behind Chad's right shoulder.
"Boo!" he said loudly. Chad cringed and shut his eyes. Ryan smiled innocently and greeted the rest of the group. "Morning, ladies and gentlemen," he said affably.
"Hey, Ryan," Gabriella said. The others returned his greeting, except Chad, who squinted at him crossly.
Ryan merely smiled back at Chad, who refused to meet his eyes. Troy observed the pair with interest.
"So what's wrong with Troy?" Chad asked again.
"Well, he's been staring into space for the last five minutes," Taylor said. "Now, he's staring at you." Chad tilted his head and gazed at Troy, who blinked after a moment and averted his gaze. The bell sounded and they all turned and made their way into the school.
Troy noted that Ryan chose to walk with Taylor and Gabriella, while Chad stuck with him and Zeke. He wondered if the two had argued. That would explain Chad's epithet. Then again, Troy reasoned, there was another, probably more likely explanation.
When Chad confided to Troy that he was gay, he actually hadn't revealed very much. In fact, Troy realized, Chad had avoided most of his questions--not that Troy was eager for tangible proof. But in hindsight, Chad had been more than a little vague. At the time, he chalked it up to awkwardness. They were never comfortable talking about really personal matters to begin with, and Chad's sexual preference was a subject neither of them ever dreamed of discussing. But Troy suddenly began to read the whole scene in an entirely new light. Perhaps Chad hadn't said much about what it meant to be gay because he wasn't really gay at all. After all, didn't Chad totally freak out that night at the movies when that guy took an interest in him? And hadn't he rather bluntly declared that he knew nothing about being gay?
Nonetheless, a few weeks later, after persistently evading Troy's questions, Chad revealed that he was dating Ryan Evans. To Troy, however, the supporting evidence was fairly non-existent. Other than the fact that they hung out a lot, Troy had no proof that Ryan and Chad were, in fact, a couple. There was nothing about their behavior to convince him that they two were involved in any way. And on top of that, after nearly a month of Ryan acting as Chad's personal chauffeur, Chad had suddenly started arriving at school in Zeke's shiny new Camry. Today was the third day in a row. And Troy had dropped Chad off at his house the last two days, which only fueled Troy's suspicion that something was rotten in Albuquerque.
When Chad told Troy about him and Ryan he had insisted that Troy not tell a soul. Taylor had riddled Troy's arms with bruises trying to prevent him from outing Chad to his increasingly suspicious girlfriend. But whereas Troy used to sympathize with Chad's desire for privacy, he now only saw a desire for damage control. After all, the more people who knew about Chad being "gay," the harder it would be for him to escape the lie.
Maybe Chad was about to make good his escape. That would explain why he was riding with Zeke instead of Ryan. That would also explain that little expletive he'd heard outside school that morning. After calling Ryan a bastard, Chad had words with him over by Ryan's locker. Maybe Ryan was tired of playing along with Chad's little deception. Maybe he was tired of being used; Troy knew that Ryan really liked Chad and wondered if Chad had used that knowledge to manipulate Ryan into playing along with his scheme. He couldn't believe that Chad would do such a thing, but then he'd never suspected that Chad could be so devious as to convince his best friend that he was moving across the country just because he had abandonment issues.
Taylor's role in this was something else to consider. Why would she play along with Chad in the deception? According to Gabriella, Taylor still harbored a big crush on Chad, but certainly no woman with a hope of winning a man's affections would stoop so low as to help him to convince his best friend that he was gay.
How Gabriella came to suspect anything was a complete mystery to Troy. He never saw Ryan or Chad betray any emotion stronger than friendship. Nonetheless, Gabriella frequently remarked on "how cute" they were when they showed up at school together or when Chad volunteered to tutor Ryan after he got a B- on his history quiz, or on some other occasion. The one time Troy responded to such a remark, saying that he saw nothing cute about the two of them both wearing the same shade of blue to school on the same day, Gabriella frowned at him and said she was disappointed by his attitude. That confused Troy for the rest of the day, but he couldn't quite convince himself that Gabriella was essentially accusing him of being intolerant. There was no way Gabriella knew about Chad and Ryan's relationship. Not unless Chad had found a way to co-opt her, too. Could he manage to persuade Ryan, Taylor and Gabriella to play along with the hoax?
On the other hand, maybe Chad was just devious enough to bring them all into the scam. And now he was preparing for the grand finale. Maybe he and Ryan actually staged those little scenes for Troy to witness. That way, Chad could come to Troy and tell him that he'd broken up with Ryan. Troy could hear it now; first Chad would announce the break up, then he'd mope about for a while until some pretty girl caught his eye. And then he'd forget all about being gay.
Well, Troy wasn't going to be on the wrong end of the joke this time. He was determined to beat Chad at his own game and find the truth before he became a laughingstock to all his friends. And when it was all over, Troy fully intended to force Chad to take part in the spring musical. He was undoubtedly the best actor in East High.
"Oh, hello, Troy," Ms. Danforth said that evening when she opened the door. "Go on in; Chad's in the family room."
"Thanks," he said politely. He made his way to the family room and saw a familiar scene. Chad was ensconced in the corner of the sectional sofa amid a sea of pillows, one arm thrown casually over the back. He was watching television, his feet propped comfortably on the huge leather ottoman. Troy smiled mischievously and thought about pulling a tried and true stunt; he liked to vault over the back of the couch and scare the snot out of Chad. But just as he prepared to pounce he heard a voice and froze in his tracks.
"Miyazaki's a genius at creating surreal, grotesque characters. Yubaba is my favorite."
"That's the one with the big head?" Chad asked. Ryan was completely out of sight, so Troy guessed that he was lying with his head in Chad's lap.
"Yeah. I just love the way she chews the scenery. She reminds me of the Duchess--."
"…In Alice Through the Looking Glass; I dig it. Actually, she reminds me a little of Sharpay, too," Chad quipped. A hand shot up from the sofa and Chad neatly dodged the blow. His hand grabbed for Ryan's and a small battle ensued. Ryan's free hand grabbed a handful of curls and Chad's reached over to attack Ryan's exposed flank.
In all the years they had known each other, Troy had never messed with Chad's hair, other than a friendly tousle every now and then. The last time someone dared to mess with it--a point guard from South High--he got a bloody nose for his trouble. So when Chad began to tickle Ryan and he responded by yanking on Chad's hair, Troy audibly gasped. Chad looked up and paused mid-assault.
"Hey, Troy," he said easily. Ryan abruptly sat up, belatedly releasing Chad's hair.
"Hi," he said, slightly out of breath.
"Uh, hi," Troy said, feeling like the interloper he was. "Your mom said to come on back," he said, focusing on the ottoman. "I guess she--. Well, she didn't--. I could--."
"Have a seat," Chad said, settling back against the pillows. "We're watching Spirited Away."
"I was watching it," Ryan said, reaching for the remote to stop the DVD. "You were insulting my sister."
"Put it back to the beginning," Chad suggested, ignoring the barb. "Grab a seat, Troy. You've got to see this movie."
"I don't want to intrude," he replied, unable to meet Chad's eyes.
"If you weren't welcome, I wouldn't have extended the invitation," Chad said.
"Well, Ryan might feel differently," Troy said awkwardly.
"Nope, I'm cool," Ryan replied around a mouthful of candy. "We're just kicking back and chilling out. Have some," he said, pushing a bowl of M&Ms across the ottoman to within Troy's reach. When he sat back, he slumped against Chad, who immediately wrapped an arm around his shoulders.
"So, dude, why are you here? Aren't you supposed to be with Gabriella every waking moment?"
"She had a family thing tonight," Troy explained, his eyes on the bowl. He grabbed a handful of candy. "I was driving by and saw the light on in your room and thought you were--. I didn't realize you had company."
"Hey, I told you I was going to hang with Ryan tonight," Chad replied, frowning.
"Oh, right--I guess I forgot," Troy said. He sat back to watch the movie, surreptitiously watching Chad and Ryan out of the corner of his eye.
As he expected, other than the fact that they were slumped against one another, there was nothing probative to be found in their behavior. After all, Troy and Chad had used each other as cushions hundreds of times over the course of their friendship. Of course, Troy never held Chad's hand and idly toyed with his fingers the way Ryan did. And when he rested his free hand on Chad's thigh, Chad immediately reached out to touch it. It seemed as though they couldn't get enough physical contact--they intertwined their fingers; Chad occasionally played with the hair at the nape of Ryan's neck or absently stroked his collarbone with his thumb. He certainly didn't seem like the Chad Troy had known for fifteen years. But then again, the Chad Troy had known for fifteen years had a yet-to-be-plumbed depth of acting ability.
After a time, Troy gave up pretending to watch the movie and blatantly observed the pair. Chad was smiling serenely, his eyes on the big screen before him. Ryan was also smiling and Troy couldn't help feeling as though they were sharing some special secret. But then, isn't that how all couples looked?
Troy shifted in his seat and cleared his throat, deliberately giving the movie his full attention. Chad glanced over at him for a second and then resumed absently stroking Ryan's silken hair. He'd stretched out again and his head was resting against Chad's thigh. After a few minutes, Ryan drew Chad's hand away and rose, stretching like a cat.
"Where are you going?" Chad asked.
"Potty break," Ryan replied. Chad reached for the remote, but Ryan insisted that they continue the movie since he'd already seen it. He left the room, passing Chad's father in the hall.
"Boys," he said, entering the room. "The pizza's here."
"Cool!" Chad said eagerly. He stopped the movie and he and Troy moved into the breakfast nook, where the Danforths had set the table for an informal meal.
Troy took his usual seat at the table and Ryan took the seat beside Chad. Troy idly wondered if Ryan sat there when it was just the four of them. In fact, he wondered if Ryan really spent as much time there as Chad claimed. He was obviously known to the Danforths and seemed very comfortable in their presence. But Ryan and Chad weren't cuddling when Mr. Danforth came in to announce dinner. Troy frowned, wondering yet again what to believe.
"So where's Gabriella this evening?" Ms. Danforth asked.
"She's at the ballet with her mother," Troy replied. "I was invited, but that's not my thing."
"What's wrong with ballet?" Ryan demanded. Chad gave him an odd look.
"Dude," Chad replied as if that was sufficient explanation.
"Well, what's wrong with it?" Ryan persisted.
"You like the ballet?" Troy asked.
"Obviously," Ryan replied haughtily. "Sharpay and I have taken lessons since we were three. And my family gets a subscription to the New Mexico Ballet Company every season."
"You get season tickets to the ballet?" Chad asked, frowning. Ryan rolled his eyes and shook his head.
"Tell me why I fell for you again?"
Chad merely smiled and Troy could almost feel the warmth of his gaze from across the table. Ryan returned the smile. Both the Danforths smiled wryly and Troy suddenly felt like he was in the middle of some weird dream.
"I like the ballet, Ryan," Ms. Danforth volunteered. Ryan turned his smile to her and it dimmed a few hundred watts.
"Cool! You should come with us sometime," he said sincerely. The two of them began to talk about ballets they liked while Troy and Chad talked sports with Mr. Danforth. When they were done eating, the three teens returned to the family room with bowls of ice cream while the Danforths repaired to the relative quiet of the living room. By then, Troy was more comfortable with Ryan and Chad. They finished the movie and then played video games until about ten o'clock. Ryan looked up when the grandfather clock chimed the hour.
"I've got to go," he announced, reaching for his shoes. Everyone who visited the Danforths tended to pad around the family room in their socks, Troy included. But instead of preparing to leave along with Ryan, he gathered up the dishes and carried them out to the kitchen. Ms. Danforth joined him there and scolded him for washing up.
"You know you don't have to do that, Troy," she said lightly.
"I don't mind," he replied, as he watched Chad and Ryan from his vantage point. The two were engaged in conversation as Ryan pulled on his sweater and stuffed the DVD into his bag. "My mom makes me do it at home, anyway."
"It takes some getting used to, doesn't it?"
Troy turned his head to look at Ms. Danforth. She smiled knowingly.
"I admit, it was hard for me at first, but I've adjusted. You will, too." She peeked into the family room. "Now, Chad's father is another matter entirely. He likes Ryan, but he's still having trouble getting used to the idea of his son having a boyfriend." Troy blushed just as Chad and Ryan came over to them.
"Goodnight, Ms. D," Ryan said, leaning in to kiss her cheek.
"I'll see you at school," Troy said sheepishly.
"I'll be right back," Chad said as he followed Ryan to the door. Ms. Danforth returned to the living room and Troy took the opportunity to eavesdrop on Chad and Ryan as they stood in the vestibule. He was stunned to see Chad wrap one arm around Ryan's shoulders and the other around Ryan's waist. He pulled Ryan into his arms and kissed him passionately.
Troy's suspicions had begun to erode the moment he first entered the family room and saw Chad and Ryan together. But that kiss destroyed any remaining doubt. Troy knew instantly that it was no act. He'd been dating Gabriella for eight months and he'd never kissed her the way Chad kissed Ryan. Even from twenty feet away he could feel the intensity and emotion embodied in that kiss. He turned away, unable to intrude on such an intimate moment, and returned to the family room to wait for Chad.
"Sorry about Troy showing up unexpectedly like that," Chad said, caressing Ryan's cheek as he spoke. In spite of his gentle tone his voice carried easily in the quiet of the large house. Troy heard every word they said.
"We may have freaked him out a little," Ryan said with a little laugh, "but I think it's really cool that he's okay with us. I know how important he is to you and you've been worried about that."
"I knew he'd be cool," Chad insisted. "Troy's the best--except when he's being a dick. But even when he's a dick, he's always been there for me." In the family room, Troy frowned at the left-handed compliment.
"At least he didn't yell at us every five minutes like Sharpay did."
"Well, your sister's an attention whore. And if you hit me again--." Chad grabbed Ryan's hand and silenced him with a few kisses. "Maybe we can do this again, sometime. It's nice to be together with friends."
"Mm," was all Ryan could manage because Chad was kissing him again. After a minute or two, Troy heard Chad laugh again, softly. Thinking that it was safe, Troy rose and went to use the lavatory. He peeked at the couple as he passed through the hall and saw the two men exchange a series of light playful kisses.
"I've got to get out of here," Ryan said. "You know your dad doesn't like it when we make out in the foyer."
"He doesn't like it when we make out in the living room, he doesn't like it when we make out in the family room, he doesn't like it when we make out in the foyer, and he really doesn't like it when we make out upstairs in my room," Chad replied huskily. "There's no pleasing that guy."
"I can hear you two, you know," Mr. Danforth shouted from the living room, but his tone carried no malice.
Ryan and Chad exchanged a conspiratorial smile. Chad abruptly pulled Ryan closer and hugged him tightly. They held each other for several moments before Ryan kissed Chad's temple. He whispered something Troy couldn't hear as he returned to the family room.
"I love you, too, Boo," Ryan said into Chad's hair. Chad looked up and they stared at each other for a long time. Ryan gave him one last kiss and slipped out of the house. He gestured at his ear and mouthed "I'll call you later" and then walked to his car. Chad watched him leave before returning to the family room, where Troy was staring at the screen.
"Hey," Chad said as he slid into a chair. Troy looked over at him. He couldn't recall ever seeing Chad look happier or more relaxed.
"Hey," he said softly. "Look, I'm sorry I barged in on your date."
"Not a problem," Chad insisted. "We both enjoyed your company. In fact, I was just thinking that maybe next time you should bring Gabriella."
"You know, Gabriella? Hot brunette with an inexplicable devotion to you?" Chad said with a cheeky grin.
"Yeah," Troy said awkwardly. "You know, I think she suspects something's going on between you two. Maybe it's time to--."
"She knows about us, Troy," Chad replied easily.
"She saw Ryan and me kissing one night when we were over at her house."
"Huh?" Chad repeated mockingly.
"How come I never--. I mean--." Troy cleared his throat. Chad sat forward.
"How come I didn't tell you that she knew?"
"Hey, she didn't tell me that she knew, either." Troy frowned, completely flustered by this revelation.
"I can explain that," Chad replied, moving to sit beside Troy on the sofa. Troy scooted over a little bit and Chad froze for a second. Then both of them made a conscious show of relaxing. "It was the night after we did that reading of Frankenstein," Chad began. "Ryan and I had to talk about something, so we slipped outside for a few minutes. Gabriella overheard me saying something and peeked out. She saw us kissing. The next day she called me," he said laughing. "She was frantic."
"I could imagine."
"Well, she was surprised to find out that I was gay, but she was more worried about you finding out about it. She begged me to speak to you. She had no idea that I'd already come out to you." Chad smiled impishly. "I promised to speak with you if she promised to never tell another soul what she saw."
"Hello?" Chad cried, throwing up his hands. "What do you mean why? I thought you understood why." Troy stared at him for a minute.
"Oh, I get it. Gabriella didn't tell me that she knew about you because--."
"Precisely; you were my little integrity test," Chad said.
"Hey, Gabriella can keep a secret," Troy said defensively. Chad grinned again and Troy sighed deeply. He averted his eyes and Chad grew worried.
"Hey, buddy, what's up?"
"I'm sorry, I--."
"No; I'm--. Well, yes--I never expected to see you kiss a guy," Troy admitted. Chad threw back his head and laughed.
"I never expected to kiss a guy, either, but Ryan--."
"Dude, please do not finish that thought."
Chad laughed again and reached for the remote. He fiddled with the channels as Troy gathered his thoughts.
"I need to apologize for something," he said finally. Chad looked up. "I thought--. Well--."
"Well, until tonight, I didn't really believe you were gay."
Chad laughed briefly, but he was more curious than amused.
"Well," Troy grew flustered as he tried to explain himself. Finally, he looked up and pointed a finger at Chad accusingly. "New Jersey."
"New Jersey?" Chad's mouth fell open. "You think I--. Troy!"
"Well, the evidence all seemed to imply--."
"I can't believe you'd--."
"Hey, it's not as though I had no reason to doubt you," Troy shot back.
"Dude, I cried on your shoulder! Did you think I faked that?"
"Dude, you cried on my shoulder when you found out you were moving to New Jersey, too!"
"Oh." Chad sat back to consider that fact. He smiled after a moment, and it quickly blossomed into a grin. Soon he was laughing heartily and Troy was laughing with him.
"What's so funny?" Ms. Danforth asked, appearing at the door.
"Troy didn't believe I was gay," Chad managed.
"I'm sure he does now," she replied with a wink. "And if he's not convinced, he can go ask your father what he saw last weekend." Chad quickly sobered and Troy looked at him curiously. "Troy, it's a school night."
"Yes, ma'am," he said, immediately rising to his feet. He continued to stare at Chad, who apparently wasn't going to be forthcoming. Troy gestured with his head and Chad rose to walk him to the door. "I have one question," Troy said as he reached for his jacket.
"No way," Chad answered bluntly. Troy blinked.
"No, not that. Whatever your dad saw, I'm sure I'd rather not know about it," he insisted, despite his curiosity. "I just want to know why you're suddenly riding to school with Zeke instead of Ryan."
"Oh," Chad replied, visibly relaxing. "We lost a bet with Sharpay," he said with a shrug. "He has to ride with her for a week."
"Oh." Troy scratched his head. "So…"
Troy looked at Chad for a moment, trying to reconcile everything he'd learned about his friend. He smiled, then, realizing that what Chad had said about him earlier equally applied to Chad.
"Don't ever change, man," Troy said, pulling Chad into a fierce hug, which Chad readily returned.
"I won't if you won't," he whispered. He started to say something more, but he remembered that they didn't do the touchy-feely emotional stuff. So he pulled away and just nodded. Troy understood and seconded the unspoken emotion.
"See you tomorrow, Chad."
"Yeah." Chad stepped back and watched Troy walk down the driveway. "Troy?"
"Sorry about New Jersey."
Troy rolled his eyes and walked home smiling.
On to Exposure