Summary: Chad's gift has unexpected repercussions.
This story is a direct sequel to Exposure and part of the Coming to Terms 'verse.
Troy slammed on the breaks and jumped out of his truck before it came to a full stop. He ran for the side door to the Danforths' home as though his pants were on fire.
"Troy?" Ms. Danforth cried as he sprinted past her toward the stairs.
"Is Chad home?"
"Yes," she said, but he was already out of sight. "But Ryan's up there with him," she called. The last word died on Troy's ears as he threw open the door to Chad's bedroom. Too late to knock, too late to turn back… Troy covered his eyes with one hand and groped for the doorknob with the other.
"Troy?" Chad said uncertainly.
"Sorry, dude, I didn't--. I just--." Troy found the doorframe and took a tentative step forward, feeling for the knob.
"Dude, what are you doing?"
"I'm trying to--got it. I'll talk to you later." He started to close the door but Chad stopped the door with his foot.
"Open your eyes," Chad said, pulling Troy's hand away. Troy reluctantly did as he was bidden and saw Chad frowning at him. "What's up, dude?"
Troy was so relieved to see Chad was fully dressed he nearly swooned. He hazarded a glance across the room and saw Ryan--also fully clothed--leaning against the edge of Chad's desk staring at him open-mouthed.
"I can imagine what you thought," Chad said, shaking his head. He returned to the desk where he and Ryan had been at work on his computer.
"What are you doing?" Troy asked. "Hey, Ryan," he said belatedly, flushing with embarrassment. Ryan gave him a little wave, smirking at the flustered interloper.
"We're putting together a music mix," Chad replied. He folded his arms and looked up at Troy. "What are you doing?"
"I--." Troy gathered his wits and remembered why he'd burst into Chad's room. "I just got a book in the mail."
"Good," Chad replied, turning in his seat to face the screen. "Maybe now you can find your own answers and stop--." Troy grabbed the back of the chair and spun it back around.
"Not good! I opened that package in front of my mom! Now she thinks I'm gay!" Troy shouted.
"Because Chad sent you a book?" Ryan said in confusion. "Why?"
"She doesn't know it's from Chad. She probably thinks I ordered it myself. And now she's probably thinking--."
"Calm down, Troy," Chad said gently. He rose to his feet and attempted to reason with his excitable friend. "I'm sure your mom doesn't--."
"I'm sure she does!" Troy shouted, unwilling to be appeased. "You didn't see her! You didn't see the way her mouth fell open and… She just stared at me with this look of horror!" Ryan covered his eyes and shook his head.
"So you ran over here to confront Chad rather than explaining things to her," he said, trying to suppress a smile.
"Troy, your mom doesn't think you're gay," Chad repeated.
"Of course she does," Troy insisted.
"No she doesn't," Chad replied firmly. "Trust me. My mom didn't believe I was gay even after I told her I was."
"Dude! My mother totally believed it," Troy insisted. "You didn't see her face." Ryan was having trouble grasping Troy's distress.
"She was probably shocked to see a book about gay teens come out of the package. That doesn't mean she thinks you're gay, Troy," he said. But Troy was adamant. He shook his head and started babbling about the likely consequences of his mother's discovery. Chad sighed, and with a glance at Ryan, came to a decision.
"This is easy enough to fix," he said, heading for the door.
"Where are you going?" Ryan asked.
"To Troy's house," Chad replied. "Stay here and wait for me, will you?"
"Wait," Troy cried. "You can't talk to my mom!"
"Why not?" Chad demanded.
"What are you going to do, out yourself?"
Chad shrugged, glancing again at Ryan, who eyed him warily.
"Troy's right, Chad. Let's think this through before we do anything."
"No," Chad replied. "And we aren't doing anything. I'm going to talk to Troy's mom."
"No!" Troy cried. "Dude! Think about it! By now, my mom has probably called my dad. And--."
"And the sooner we deal with this, the better," Chad said. But Troy grabbed the back of his shirt.
"What if Coach finds out about you?" he said. "The whole point of you staying below the radar was to keep you from getting kicked off the team."
"That was only a part of it," Chad corrected. "But yeah."
"So if Coach finds out--."
"You think your dad will kick me off the team?"
Chad hadn't considered that possibility. He'd always feared that his teammates would reject him. It never dawned on Chad that Troy's father might object to having a gay player on his team.
"I don't know," Troy said honestly. Chad read the fear in his eyes and nodded.
"Then I guess I'm going to have to find out."
"Chad!" Troy cried. Chad shrugged him off and left the room. Troy and Ryan followed him but by the time they reached the driveway, Chad had already left in Troy's truck.
"We have to go after him!" Troy cried, running over to Ryan's Corvette. But Ryan shook his head. "Are you crazy? We have to stop him!"
"No, Troy," Ryan said evenly. "We have to let him do this."
"What if he gets into trouble? What if he gets kicked off the team?"
"It's Chad's call, Troy," Ryan said with a shrug, although he was just as worried. "We have to let him do this."
"No!" Troy cried, shoving at Ryan, who staggered back a few steps, but just shook his head again. Ms. Danforth came out of the house, drawn by the shouting.
"What is going on?" she demanded.
"Chad's running head first into trouble and Ryan won't lift a finger to stop him," Troy shouted accusingly. "I thought you cared about him! You're supposed to be his--."
"Troy!" Chad's mother said, grabbing his arm firmly. "Let's discuss this inside."
Troy gently shrugged out of her grasp and stormed inside. Ms. Danforth looked at Ryan, whose expression was unreadable.
"What kind of trouble is he in?"
"Possibly none," Ryan replied, uncomfortably. "Possibly enough to get him thrown off the team."
"What on earth did he do?" she cried incredulously. Ryan gestured toward the house and quickly explained the situation. "Maybe I should give her a call," she suggested once they were inside.
"Chad wouldn't appreciate that," Ryan replied.
"How the hell would you know?" Troy spat, moving into Ryan's personal space to confront him. "You've only been with him a couple of months. I've known him all my life!"
"Troy!" Ms. Danforth cried reproachfully.
"Well, it's true, isn’t it? Chad's always been my best friend," Troy said defensively.
"And he's always stood by you," Ryan said calmly. He didn't wait for Troy to answer. "That's why you came to him when you were in trouble. And that's why he went to your house. You thought his actions got you into trouble, right? Well, what did you expect him to do, let you hide under his bed until it blew over?" Troy glared at him but Ryan was undeterred. "You came here looking for your friend. Let him be your friend."
"Chad," Ms. Bolton said warmly when she opened the door of the Bolton home. "I'm afraid Troy's not here."
"I know," Chad replied. "I came to see you."
"Me? All right, then; come on in." She stepped back to let him enter and led him into the kitchen. "Have a seat," she said, going to the refrigerator to fetch a pitcher of lemonade. She poured out a glass and Chad accepted it gratefully, but pushed it aside.
"I wanted to see you because I wanted to prevent a misunderstanding on your part," he began, his eyes on the condensation occluding the view of the lemon slice in the glass.
"What sort of misunderstanding?"
"Troy received a book called The New Gay Teenager in the mail today," Chad continued. "You were present when he opened it."
"Yes, I was," Ms. Bolton said. "How did you know?"
"I've seen Troy," Chad replied. "He was afraid you might have gotten the wrong idea when you saw the book."
"What would be the wrong idea?"
"Troy was afraid you might think he was gay. He isn't," Chad said, forcing himself to look Ms. Bolton in the eye. "I'm the one who's gay."
Chad's mouth fell open and he blinked at her, too shocked to speak. She calmly rose and went to the counter, returning a second later with the book. She drew out the gift card and placed it in front of him.
Thanks for being my best friend and for standing by me. But you're making me crazy with all the questions. Hopefully, this will answer some of them.
Chad smiled sheepishly.
"I suppose you've got questions," he said. His throat was dry, but he didn't trust himself to touch the glass.
"No," Ms. Bolton said slowly. "Well, actually, one; have you told your parents?"
"Yes, ma'am," Chad replied, suddenly feeling ten years old again. Ms. Bolton was like a second mother to him and he dreaded her reaction nearly as much as his own mother's. "I told them a couple of months ago. I've told only a few other people--." He sighed and decided that he couldn't ask for her silence.
"You're not out at school, I assume."
Chad shook his head before he found his voice.
Ms. Bolton reached out and took hold of his hand.
"I'm very glad to hear that. So many awful things have happened to kids your age. The world has become a dangerous place. I don't know what I'd do if anything were to happen to you," she said fiercely. Chad looked up, eyes wide. "I'm sorry, Chad. I'm don't mean to be an alarmist but it's naïve to think--."
"I understand," he replied. "I have no intention of being out at school."
"Calm down, Troy," Ms. Danforth said, putting the kettle on to make a pot of tea. "I think Ryan's right about this. Chad has to do this for himself. It's his decision to make, not ours."
"Fine," he said, still glaring across the table. "But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be there for him. At least I should be there for him."
"He asked us to wait here," Ryan said with a sigh. "I think we'd be most helpful to him if we do what he asked."
"Maybe you're content to sit around and wait when your friend is in trouble. I'm not," Troy said, rising.
"First off, we don't know that he is in trouble," Ryan said. "And he wouldn't have been in trouble in the first place if you'd simply talked to your mother rather than running out on her."
"Oh, so now this is all my fault?" Troy spat.
"Boys!" Ms. Danforth cried, rubbing her temple. "This isn't helping."
"So you're not angry?"
"Why on earth would I be angry?" Ms. Bolton replied. Chad averted his eyes.
"I guess disappointed would be a better word," he said. To his surprise, she smiled.
"I never imagined one's sexual orientation to be something to be disappointed about," she said. "Chad, I can think of many, many things you could say or do that would disappoint me. Telling me you're gay isn't one of them."
"Oh," he replied, looking relieved. "I just thought--. Well… good."
"Just be careful."
"Yes, ma'am. I intend to be very careful," Chad said. Ms. Bolton gave his hand a squeeze. Chad bit his lip and found the courage to ask the one unanswered question that remained. "Are you going to tell Coach?"
"That's not my responsibility. You're the one who has to decide when and if he should be told," she said with a small smile. Chad looked her in the eye and read the answer she wouldn't say aloud. He nodded and she rose to her feet. "Maybe you should put this away for Troy before you go." Chad took the book and started to head for the stairs, but he turned back and enveloped Ms. Bolton in a hug. She returned it warmly and kissed his cheek.
"You know you've always been like a second son to me," she said, her eyes welling with tears. "On more than one occasion I've asked my husband if we didn't accidentally bring an extra baby home from the hospital."
"I know," Chad said. She pulled back a little and looked him in the eye.
"If you ever need anything--. If you want--well, I don't know what good it would do you to talk to me, but if you ever need to talk, you know where to find me."
Chad pulled her close again and held her to his heart, suddenly too overcome with emotion to speak. He managed to nod and kissed the top of her head before he fled up to Troy's bedroom. He tucked the book under the pillow on Troy's bed and paused to look around the room, memories of all the time he'd spent there flooding back. He smiled and wiped away his tears before he headed downstairs.
To his relief, Ms. Bolton was nowhere to be seen, allowing him to leave without having to face her again. He got into Troy's truck and drove back home, his mind and heart full. When he arrived, he walked into the house and found Ryan and his mother deep in conversation. They leapt out of their seats and descended on him, demanding to know what happened.
"Where's Troy?" Chad asked, looking around.
"He left," Ryan said awkwardly, averting his eyes.
"Well, where did he go? I didn't pass him on the way," Chad persisted. Ryan exchanged a glance with Chad's mother. "What's going on?"
"We had words," Ryan said softly. Chad raised his eyebrows in surprise. "I'm sorry--."
"It wasn't his fault, Chad," Ms. Danforth interjected in Ryan's defense. "You know Troy; he was a bit upset after you ran out and he took it out on Ryan."
"On you?" Chad frowned and reached out to lift Ryan's chin. "Why?" he asked gently. Ryan shook his head and Chad looked to his mother for help. But she picked up her mug and left the kitchen, leaving the two to talk. Chad took Ryan by the hand and led him up to his room. He closed the door and turned to Ryan, who was still pouting. "Now tell me everything."
"It's my fault," Ryan said, sighing heavily. "Troy was very upset when you ran out of here. He followed you downstairs and insisted that we go after you." Ryan paused and looked up. "I refused. I thought we should respect your wishes and wait. He--." Ryan turned away and began to fiddle with a button on his shirt. "I don't know. I think I did the wrong thing."
"I wanted to speak with her alone," Chad replied. "You did the right thing." But Ryan shook his head.
"Then why do I feel as though I've let both of you down?"
"Troy trusted me. He believed that I was good for you and that I'd love and protect you, the way he's always done."
"I'm sure he still believes that," Chad said softly, reaching out to drag Ryan's hand away from the button and entwining their fingers. Ryan shook his head.
"I doubt that. I completely blew it, Chad. Troy's right. He's your best friend. He's known you all his life; he knows how you think and what you feel and what to do when you're in a bind. I thought I was doing the right thing but I don't know you the way he does," Ryan admitted soberly. He sat down on the edge of the bed. "I should have listened to him. Instead, the first time I was called on to prove my worth, I failed."
"You didn't fail anything, Ryan," Chad said, joining him. "There was nothing for you to do but wait. I wasn't in any danger. I knew I could talk to Troy's mom and explain the situation."
"What about Coach Bolton?"
"Well, he's another matter," Chad confessed. "He's always been a father figure, but he's also the coach and that could have been awkward. Fortunately, he wasn't home and Ms. Bolton said she thought telling him should be my call." Ryan could only nod. Chad sighed and reached for Ryan but he shook his head, still troubled by what had happened. "Look, Troy's a bit--excitable," Chad said, casting about for the right word. "I'm sure he--."
"You didn't see him." Ryan swallowed hard. "I knew--. I knew when we began this thing that it was going to be hard on him. Even before we got close I knew how important your friendship was to both of you and I knew that even if Troy approved of us, he'd have trouble dealing with you having me in your life. It's different with you and Gabriella--even if you didn't like the way she sucked up all of Troy's time, there's no way she could replace you in Troy's life, simply because she couldn't ever fill that role of 'best guy friend.' With me, it's a whole other matter."
"You're saying that Troy's jealous."
"I think we both are," Ryan admitted sheepishly. Chad kicked off his shoes and scooted back on the bed. He extended his hand and pulled Ryan into his arms before he could get out of his shoes, so he waited a few seconds until Ryan was comfortably settled.
"Now tell me all about it," Chad said, caressing Ryan's cheek. Ryan rested his head against Chad's chest and listened for a few seconds until he isolated Chad's heartbeat. Smiling, he nestled deeper into Chad's arms. "Hey, don't fall asleep on me," Chad teased.
"I'm not," Ryan said, opening his eyes.
"So explain; why are you both jealous?"
"Maybe 'jealous' isn't the right word for it," Ryan said, backpedaling a bit. "Maybe it's envy. It's just--. Maybe we just want the same things from you--in our own way. I felt like I let you down because I didn't go after you and I think Troy felt bad for not trusting you to handle things on your own. We both felt pretty bad about the fact that neither of us knew what to do. Neither of us knew how to help you. Fighting certainly didn't help."
"Fighting? You didn't say anything about fighting," Chad said, tensing. Ryan immediately regretted his choice of words.
"We didn't really fight," he said hastily. "He pushed me a couple of times and I eventually got mad and pushed back. That's when he left." Ryan raised his head. "I'm sorry for what I did and I know he's sorry, too. I don't think either of us knows how to do this. But you have to know, Chad; I never wanted to mess up your friendship."
"It's all right, Yoko," Chad said, kissing Ryan's hair. "We'll work everything out." Ryan pinched him for the epithet and they wrestled on the bed for a few seconds before Chad pinned him to the mattress.
"Hah! I've got you right where I want you," Ryan said triumphantly. Chad grinned and kissed him. He rolled onto his back, pulling Ryan with him, never losing contact with his mouth. When he finally pulled away he closed his eyes and sighed. "Chad?"
"Don't fall asleep on me," Ryan said, lightly tickling Chad's ribs. Chad squirmed, but refused to open his eyes. "Hey!"
"Believe me, sleep is the farthest thing from my mind at the moment." Chad sighed again and opened his eyes. Pasting on a frown, he raised his head to kiss away Ryan's pout. "I love you, Ducky." He kissed the tip of Ryan's nose and then lightly kissed his lips. Ryan smiled when Chad continued to kiss his face, throat and ears with light, teasing kisses. Ryan wriggled against him and started to pull him closer, but Chad's phone interrupted them.
"Hold on a second," Chad said, reaching for his phone. "That's Troy." Ryan nodded and moved back to let him sit up. "Hey, dude! Where are you?" Chad smiled and kissed the tip of his finger as he listened. Ryan did the same and touched his finger to Chad's. "We'll be right down." He shut the phone and bounced up off of the bed. "He's outside. We'll have to continue this later."
"What are you going to say to him?" Ryan asked as he pulled on his shoes.
"I don't know; depends on what he has to say. Let's go find out what that is," Chad said as he pulled Ryan into his arms. They hugged each other for a long moment and pulled away. Chad looked at him and giggled. "You look--. Never mind; Troy's seen it before." He grabbed his shoes and headed for the door. Ryan frowned and looked in the mirror curiously before he followed.
Troy was pacing back in forth in front of his truck when the couple emerged from the house. He glanced at Ryan nervously before concern for Chad overtook him and he turned his attention to his best friend.
"What happened?" he asked anxiously. Chad shrugged.
"Your mom never thought you were gay," Chad said, smiling. "She read the gift card."
"What gift card?"
"The one that thanked you for being the best friend a gay boy ever had," Chad said archly. Troy ran a hand over his face. "Hey, it's all good, dude," Chad said, pulling Troy into a rough hug. Troy gratefully returned it, glancing over at Ryan, who looked equally relieved.
"Say, is anyone else hungry?" he said. Troy and Chad looked at him.
"I could eat," Chad replied tentatively. Troy nodded with a bit less enthusiasm.
"I think it's time we introduced Troy to Earline's," Ryan suggested. Chad's grin made his heart warm and he felt emboldened. "The 'Vette's a little small for three. Mind if we take the truck?"
Chad gave Troy a nudge and he nodded. The three teens climbed into the cab and Chad gave directions to the restaurant. The tension was palpable, but Chad pasted on a smile and was relentlessly positive. He held Ryan's hand and talked to Troy about everything under the sun until both of them began to relax. By the time they reached Earline's he was exhausted.
"Well, this is a treat," the waitress said as the trio walked in. She led them toward the back of the small establishment. "We don't usually get you boys for lunch. Too bad Helen isn't here. It would make her day."
"Who's Helen?" Troy asked as Ryan slid into the booth. Troy took the seat opposite, leaving Chad to make a difficult decision.
"She's one of the waitresses," Ryan volunteered. "She's really got the hots for Chad, but she's pretty much happy whenever any reasonably attractive male walks through the door. The crowd here is usually older and female."
"Is that why you come here?" Troy asked as Chad claimed the space beside him. "I mean--."
"I know what you mean," Ryan replied not at all offended. "And yes; we started coming here because it was an out of the way spot where we weren't likely to run into anyone we knew."
"Back when I was still trying to figure things out we used to come here for breakfast every Saturday morning and talk for hours," Chad recalled. "Now we just come for breakfast. This place makes the most awesome pancakes." The waitress returned with a pitcher and filled their glasses as they perused the menu.
"It's lunch time now," the waitress said. "But if you boys would like pancakes I'm sure Earline would be happy to make up a batch."
"Oh, you don't have to go to any trouble on our account," Chad replied.
"Yeah, we can always bring Troy back for breakfast another time," Ryan said, studying the menu. He felt rather than saw Chad's smile. "I think I'll have the club sandwich."
"How about you, Troy?" Chad asked. "I can assure you that anything you order will be good."
"Awesome," Troy replied. "How about a burger deluxe and a Coke?"
"Make it two," Chad said, handing the waitress the menu. "But just ice water for me."
"So what happened with my mom?" Troy asked when she was gone. Chad smiled and briefly recounted the discussion he'd had with Troy's mother, smiling at the memory of her loving show of support. "So what did the card say, exactly?"
Ryan and Chad exchanged a glance.
"Go home and read it for yourself," Chad replied. "And read the book. There'll be a quiz next weekend."
"Where did you find that book?"
"Same place I found my copy," Chad said unashamedly. "I had questions, too. Ryan answered a lot of them, but there were some things I couldn't bring myself to talk about, at least at the time. So I got online and did a search."
"And then his parents went shopping," Ryan said amusedly.
"Yeah," Chad sighed. "They bought a bunch of books, too; one or two of which they didn't want me to read."
An awkward silence fell over the table when Troy's laughter faded. He glanced at Chad, who was gazing at Ryan. Troy turned to Ryan and saw that he was staring at his folded hands.
"Look, Ryan," Troy said hesitantly. "I'm sorry I blew up at you before. I didn't mean to sound like I didn't trust your judgment. I took a walk to cool off and I realized that you were right." Troy hazarded a glance in Chad's direction but wouldn't meet his eyes and he couldn't look Ryan in the eyes, either, so he gazed at the menu board as he continued. "You have a very different understanding of Chad. I thought I had the advantage of time and experience, but you probably know--. You understand his heart," Troy said softly.
"You both do," Chad said, leaning into him a little. But Troy shook his head.
"But he sees it differently. He sees you differently. Ryan sees you as a grown man. When I look at you I see the kids we've always been together--older, taller, a bit smarter, but still kids, you know? Ryan here can be objective and grown up about you because you two have an adult relationship. I panicked today the same way I did back when I was eight and broke that window and was afraid my mom was going to kill me."
He paused when the food arrived and Ryan and Chad took the opportunity to digest all that they'd heard. Chad started to speak but Ryan cut him off.
"If I may," he said, turning to Troy. "After you left, Chad's mom said the exact same thing you just did because I was convinced that I was in the wrong for not trusting your judgment. You do have the advantage. Chad knows you in ways I can only begin to understand and I believe you understand him the same way. Who am I to question that? Common sense dictated that if Chad asked us to wait, we should wait. But you really know Chad. You knew he'd go rushing to your defense even if it meant putting his head in a noose," Ryan said, jerking a thumb at his boyfriend. "You know he'd do anything for you no matter what it cost him. I didn't know that."
"You know what I think?" Chad said calmly. He waited until he had everyone's attention. He lifted his burger and smiled puckishly. "I think we should eat." Ryan and Troy rolled their eyes, but did as they were bidden.
When Earline learned that two of her favorite customers were in the house, she came out of the kitchen to say hello and was introduced to Troy. She returned to the back and sent out warm apple pie with ice cream for dessert along with a huge slab of devil's food cake that she claimed to be "testing." Chad, Ryan and Troy were only too happy to share the luscious offering and declared it to be perfect. Thus the trio was too absorbed in enjoying their food and comparing chocolate cake memories to return to their discussion. Chad was relieved; he found the entire situation emotionally draining and spent most of the meal thinking about ways to resolve it.
"I can't remember eating this much at one sitting since Thanksgiving," Troy said, pushing away his plate.
"He eats like this every time we come here," Ryan said with a nod for Chad. "Helen piles on the food."
"Not just for me," Chad cried in his own defense. "She's been trying to nudge Ryan past a hundred thirty pounds." He signaled for the check and argued with Ryan over who should pay as Troy reached for his wallet to pay his share. "My treat, man," Chad declared. "You can use a meal or six yourself."
"Hey, I--." Troy paused to answer his phone. Chad grinned.
"His mistress's voice," he said with a wink. "Hi Gabriella," he called. Troy glared.
"Gabriella said you're a dork," he said, sticking out his tongue. Chad called him on it as Ryan sat back and observed the pair, smiling. Troy resumed his conversation, so Chad propped his chin and stared back at Ryan, a tiny smile on his face. "Say," Troy said, breaking the spell being woven by the couple. "Gabi wants to know if you two want to go to the movies."
Chad raised an eyebrow and smiled meaningfully. Ryan was tempted to blow off the invitation as well, but he turned to Troy and smiled.
"Sure; what movie?"
Chad sat back and stared at him in disbelief. Ryan paid him no attention; he listened with great interest as Troy relayed Gabriella's choices and decided that he approved of two on her list. Chad shot him a look and rose to use the facilities.
"She's going to check the schedule for show times," Troy said, pocketing his phone.
"I'll need to get my car," Ryan replied.
"Sure. I'll drop you off, pick up Gabriella and meet you at the theatre."
"Sounds like a plan," Ryan said, looking over his shoulder for Chad. When he didn't return, he paid the bill--splitting it with Troy, who insisted--and went to wait for Chad outside. Troy wanted to use the restroom before he left.
Chad stepped outside and stretched before walking over to the truck. Ryan was examining it as though it were a museum specimen. He observed his partner for a few moments before Ryan noticed his presence.
"We're going to the movies," he said, turning back to the truck. "This thing is cool--in a prehistoric sort of way." Chad moved closer and shoved his hands into his pockets. That was his way of preventing himself from touching Ryan inappropriately in public.
"I thought we had plans for this afternoon," he said softly. "We had some unfinished business."
"It'll keep," Ryan said easily. Chad's eyes opened wide. "Right now I think this is more important."
"If you say so," Chad conceded. Ryan shoved his hands into his own pockets and stood very close to Chad, their arms touching.
"I say so. Think of it as normalizing relations."
"Chad, we both need this. I think we all need this."
Chad turned to him and Ryan could see how badly he wanted to pull Ryan into his arms. Ryan stared at Chad's mouth for a moment, swallowed hard and licked his lips. Chad turned away, smiling.
"Lying bastard," Chad accused, turning back.
"My lips were dry," Ryan said, shrugging. Troy emerged from the restaurant, talking on the phone.
"That was Gabriella. She said there's a showing of Jupiter Chronicles at 5 and another one at 7:15. We've got plenty of time to make the 5 o'clock showing, but would you prefer to wait and go at 7:15?"
"Yes," Chad and Ryan said in unison. Troy blinked at them and then colored slightly. "Then I'd better get you two home," he said. Chad and Ryan exchanged smiles and climbed into the truck. When they reached the Danforth house, he offered to pick up the tickets to the movie.
"Why don't we meet at out front at 7?" Chad suggested.
"We'll be there," Troy promised. Chad slid out of the cab and started to follow Ryan into the house. "Chad!"
Chad turned and waited for him to catch up.
"Look, I'm sorry about everything that went down today."
"All's well that ends well, dude," Chad said, giving him a half hug. "We're still good."
"He's good, too." Troy averted his eyes and cleared his throat. "Ryan's a really good guy."
"I knew that, but thanks," Chad said grinning. Troy pushed him and Chad pushed back. They began a mock battle on the driveway. Ryan returned to the door to find out what was keeping Chad. He peered out at the pair in confusion. Troy caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of his eye and stopped.
"You'd better go," he said. Chad looked over his shoulder and smiled. "See you later."
"Looking forward to it."
On to Rivals