Summary: Ryan finds a sympathetic ear and a cupcake at the Danforths' home.
Jessica Danforth was sitting at the kitchen table reading when she heard a car pull into the driveway. She peeked out of the window and saw Ryan emerge from his convertible and sling a tote bag over his shoulder. She opened the door to greet him.
"Hey, Ms. D," he said, pulling off his sunglasses.
"I’m afraid you just missed Chad," she replied as she stepped back to allow him entrance. "He and Troy went off to go looking for a part for that old truck of Troy’s."
"I know. I just came by to drop something off," Ryan explained as he set the bag down.
Something in his tone made Chad’s mother suspicious and she looked up. Ryan’s expression made her heart stop. He looked so miserable and so unlike the Ryan Evans she was used to seeing that she felt a mild wave of dread for the young man. She opened her mouth and shut it again, casting about for something to say. When the teakettle began to whistle, she found an excuse to keep him from leaving.
"I was just about to make some tea," she said warmly. "Would you like to stay and have a cup? I’ve got a few of those cupcakes left, too." She was relieved when Ryan smiled.
"That’d be awesome," he replied, brightening a bit and sounding remarkably like her Chad. He removed his hat and tossed it onto the table. "Allow me," he said as he reached up and pulled the teapot out of the cabinet. "Is Earl Grey okay?" he asked, as he sorted through the choices on the shelf in another cupboard.
"That’d be fine," Ms. Danforth replied, marveling at the ease with which Ryan negotiated her kitchen, making the tea, fetching cups, saucers, napkins and plates, and placing everything on a tray. He’d become as familiar a figure in her kitchen as her own son over the past few months, she thought to herself as she dug into the refrigerator to retrieve the cupcakes.
"So how did you manage to hold onto them?" Ryan asked, setting down the tray bearing the tea things and taking a seat at the table. "I would have thought that with Chad around they wouldn’t last a day."
"I put half of them away before he even knew they existed," Ms. Danforth revealed. "Chad’s a lot like his father; when he’s hungry he eats the first viable thing that comes into view. The cupcakes were perfectly safe at the back of the fridge."
"You mean there are times when Chad isn’t hungry?" Ryan asked bemusedly. Ms. Danforth smiled and sat down opposite him.
"It happens," she said with a wry smile. "Not often, mind you, but it does happen." She placed a chocolate-covered cupcake on a plate and slid it over to his side of the table. "Promise not to tell," she said conspiratorially.
"I can assure you Chad won’t hear about it from me," Ryan said smiling softly. "You know you’ve really spoiled me. Every time I come over you feed me something amazing," he said as he lightly prodded the cupcake with the tines of his fork.
"I've spent the last five years feeding teenaged boys," she replied with a shrug. "It's a hard habit to break."
Ryan smiled, but the sigh that followed said a lot more. His pensiveness seemed to have returned in full force. Ms. Danforth frowned, but she ignored her concern for the moment and allowed Ryan to fill the next two minutes with meaningless talk about his favorite desserts and tea parties with Sharpay. He poured out the tea and sat back, staring into his cup thoughtfully. This time, Chad’s mother didn’t let the opportunity to pass.
"Ryan? What’s the matter?"
"Ma’am?" he replied, looking up at her. Their eyes met and this time she managed to hold them.
"Is there something going on I should know about?"
"No, no," Ryan replied hastily, reaching for the milk. "I was just thinking."
"About what?" she asked pointedly. Ryan averted his eyes. "Ryan? What’s in that bag?" Ryan looked up again; this time confusion reigned where surprise had previously occupied. He looked at the bag and then at her again, frowning.
"Just some stuff of Chad’s. I borrowed a couple of books from him a while back and promised to return them. There’s also a sweatshirt of his and some…underwear," he concluded softly. Chad’s mother blanched.
"I see," she said, not sure whether his revelation was at all probative. She wanted to ask him another question but couldn’t think of one that didn’t come out sounding like, Are you breaking up with my son?
"You make the best cupcakes on the planet," Ryan declared, turning his attention back to his plate. "Chad’s going to be furious when he finds out I had this."
"I thought you promised--."
"I promised not to tell him where it was hidden," Ryan corrected. "I said nothing about not gloating." Ms. Danforth smiled, momentarily disarmed by his infectious smile. But she quickly recovered and resumed her inquiry.
"There’s something on your mind, Ryan. Aside from cupcakes, I mean."
"Yeah, there is," Ryan admitted, sitting back. He sighed and set down his fork. "You know the other night when you and Mr. D were talking with Chad and me about college?"
"Well, it’s very likely that Chad and I will be going to schools on opposite ends of the country. I’ve decided to apply to Juilliard and Yale and NYU. He’s planning to apply to U of A and a few other places, none of which are anywhere near the northeast."
"He’s talked about applying to Howard University," Ms. Danforth replied. "That’s the closest to New York, but its computer engineering program isn't as strong as U of A's and they've also offered him a scholarship."
"Troy's going there, too," Ryan said glumly. "I'm sure that's a big factor in Chad's plans."
"A bigger factor than you?" she asked doubtfully.
"I can't hope to compete with a lifelong friendship."
Ms. Danforth wanted to disagree but she knew it would be pointless--Ryan persisted in believing that Troy had a prior claim on Chad no matter how many times Chad tried to convince him otherwise. She tried to think of something reassuring to say, but wasn’t sure how to console the teen, who looked utterly despondent.
"Do you--. Do you think he’ll break up with me if I go away to school?" Ryan asked, averting his eyes. Chad's mother knew instinctively that Ryan had finally given voice to his greatest fear.
"That’s something the two of you need to discuss," she replied carefully.
"I know," Ryan answered, sitting forward, "and I fully intend to talk to him. I just wanted your opinion."
"My opinion?" Ms. Danforth replied. "Why would my opinion matter?"
"Because you know Chad better than anyone," Ryan said. "You would know how he’s likely to react if I’m accepted at an east coast college."
"I doubt that," she said. "Look, I can probably tell you a million things about Chad. If you were asking me about his favorite color, or how he likes his eggs, or how old he was when he learned how to swim... But this isn’t that kind of question. I honestly can’t answer that, Ryan."
He sighed and nodded, absently stirring his tea.
"He really wants to go to U of A and I can't--it's not my place to interfere with his plans. I know he'd never interfere with my dream of going to Juilliard," Ryan said. "He supports my ambitions one hundred percent, even if he doesn't understand them."
"I think he understands you," Ms. Danforth replied. "In fact, I think you two understand and respect each other. That's probably why this is so hard. Each of you wants what's best for the other." Ryan shifted uncomfortably as he nodded.
"Has he--? Never mind, I shouldn't ask," he said hastily. "Mother-son privilege and all that, though I'm sure my mom would tell Chad anything he asked. She's putty in his hands."
"Yeah. Of course, he says the same thing about me and you," Ryan admitted sheepishly. Chad's mother smiled.
"I can tell you this about my son," she said, reaching out to take hold of his hand. "Chad loves you, and he’s fiercely loyal to those he loves. His head may be willing to let you follow your dream but his heart isn't likely to give you up so readily."
The smile that spread across Ryan’s face was priceless. Ms. Danforth gave his hand a squeeze and released it. They sat back enjoyed their tea and cupcakes in companionable silence until Ryan asked about the book she’d been reading. They fell into conversation and spent the next half hour chatting until the sound of Troy’s truck chugging its way up the driveway broke into their discussion. A moment later, Chad came through the door and headed directly to the sink to wash his hands, muttering about Troy’s driving skills. It wasn’t until he reached for a towel that he noticed his mother and his boyfriend sitting at the table.
"Hey," he said, smiling. He went over and gave his mother a perfunctory kiss on the temple before giving Ryan a much warmer greeting. "Hey!" he repeated tersely, eyeing the crumbs on Ryan’s plate. He glared at his mother accusingly. Smiling smugly, she rose and carried her plate over to the sink.
"So how’s Troy’s truck?" Ryan asked in a blatant attempt to distract Chad, who momentarily took his eyes off of his mother to frown at him.
"Troy? Truck? How did it go?" Ryan asked. "Did you find the part?"
"Oh, that," Chad replied. "Yeah. We found the part. But as usual, it's a makeshift fix because Troy's too darn cheap to--." Chad’s mother reached over his shoulder and placed a cupcake and a tall glass of milk in front of him.
"I’ll leave you two to talk," she said. She kissed the top of Chad’s head before she departed, but paused and bent to speak into Ryan’s ear.
"You know what I said earlier?" she whispered. Ryan, assuming that she was referring to her mild threat, nodded, his eyes open wide. "He gets it from me," she continued. "Neither of us is going to let you go anytime soon." She kissed his hair and left the room smiling. Chad was oblivious to their exchange; he was too busy gaping at his plate.
"I’ve only been gone about an hour. How did she come up with more cupcakes?" Chad demanded as soon as she was out of earshot.
"I’ve been sworn to secrecy," Ryan replied.
"Secrecy, eh?" Chad replied with a mouthful of cake.
"My lips are sealed."
"I know ways to unseal those lips," Chad said boldly.
"Indeed you do," Ryan conceded, reaching for Chad’s free hand. "Look, before you drag me up to your room for interrogation we should talk about something."
"That sounds serious."
"It is," Ryan admitted, entwining his fingers with Chad's. "I've decided to apply to Juilliard."
"Cool," Chad replied, squeezing his hand. "I know you'll get in. You're too awesome a talent not to."
"Thanks," Ryan replied, surprised as always by Chad's unconditional support. "You do realize that if I do it'll mean--."
"You'll be going to school in New York," Chad interrupted. "Yeah, I've seen the map. New York's that big thing between New Jersey and the Atlantic Ocean." Ryan sighed reproachfully and he sobered. "Truth be told, Ry, I've been thinking about it for weeks now."
"You didn't say anything," Ryan said, frowning.
"You didn't, either. There was no reason to mention it until I knew for certain that you wanted to go."
"I do want to go," Ryan confessed, "but not if it means losing you."
"Drama queen," Chad said, pulling his hand away to tousle his hair.
"I mean it," Ryan insisted. "I want to go to Juilliard but if that means that we can't be together--." He exhaled and came to a decision. "I'll find somewhere on the west coast to go to school. If I'm as talented everyone says I am--and I am--it really won't matter where I get my degree. I'll just have to--."
"Ryan," Chad stopped his rambling with a firm squeeze of his hand. "Go to Juilliard. You've wanted to go there all your life."
"I've wanted you all my life--at least since puberty," Ryan replied. "And now that I have you--."
"Look, if you move to New York, it'll suck," Chad said bluntly. "But it won't be the end of the world. It won't change the way I feel about you. I'd like to think that it wouldn't change the way you feel about me."
"It won't," Ryan promised, reaching out with his free hand to caress Chad's face.
"Good. By the way, before you leave Albuquerque I'm dragging you downtown and having 'TAKEN' tattooed on critical parts on your body and getting you fitted for a chastity belt," he said, laughing. "And if that doesn't convince the Chelsea boys to keep their paws off you, you'll just have to learn to choreograph from inside a hazmat suit."
"How did I get myself mixed up with you again?" Ryan said, leaning in to kiss him. "You're nuttier than a fruitcake," he declared when he pulled away.
"Well, you're fruitier than a nutcake," Chad retorted.
"Guilty as charged," Ryan replied.
"Hey, as long as I'm your fruitcake and you're my nutcake," Chad began, "there's no way in hell anything or anyone--." He paused when his mother returned to the kitchen to retrieve her book. She winked at Ryan and left again. Chad picked up the last of his cupcake and fed it to him. "As I was saying--." Ryan put a finger to his lips.
"If I go to New York, we'll be fine. Got it. Let's go upstairs," he said, drawing Chad to his feet.
"Ready for that interrogation?" Chad asked as he quickly cleared the table.
"No; I want you to show me those 'critical parts' where you're planning to put those tattoos." Ryan took Chad by the hand and drew him down the hall. Ms. Danforth glanced up as they passed the living room and decided that it would was a good time to go shopping. There was a new cupcake recipe she wanted to try. She grabbed her bag and reached for her keys. Checking her watch, she got into her car and drove off smiling.
On to Life Lessons