Summary: The Danforth and Evans clans check out the U of A.
"I like it," Ryan declared as the Danforth's vehicle approached the University of Albuquerque campus. They found a parking space in the lot and got out of the car. "It's a real campus," he said doing a slow turn.
"Unlike the couple of buildings that constitute the entirety of Juilliard?" Chad asked as he and his parents headed for the path marked out with red balloons.
"Precisely. This looks like what college is supposed to be," Ryan replied as a couple of students walked over and handed him and Chad "welcome freshmen" packets. Ryan immediately handed his back. "Oh, I'm not a student. We're just here for my big brother," he said impishly, indicating Chad. The students blinked at him and the Danforths. Chad rolled his eyes.
"He's just pulling your leg," Chad said, taking the package back and pushing it into Ryan's hands. The confused students smiled awkwardly and beat a hasty retreat. Mr. Danforth opened his mouth, but his wife gave his arm a meaningful squeeze as Ryan and Chad walked on.
Chad reached into the bag and pulled out the campus map and the event schedule. As he perused them, Ryan dug through his own bag and found a Redhawk tee shirt. He also found a pen, a notebook, a lanyard for an ID, and a bag of red jellybeans.
"Your school definitely has cooler orientation stuff. We didn't get anything like this. Eew," he said as he pulled out a bumper sticker and tossed it into a nearby litter basket. "As if."
"Cool; I won't have to send you souvenirs," Chad said, peering into his own bag.
"I'll send you and Sharpay tees from Juilliard," Ryan promised.
"Nothing matchy-matchy," Chad warned. "I don't want people thinking we're a couple."
"Wait," Ryan said, grabbing his arm. "I think I like that idea. It'd keep both of you out of trouble." Chad pulled away and walked on, shaking his head amusedly. "So where to?" he asked, quickly catching up to Chad, who pointed to the student activities building. The group headed in that direction.
"Ryan, aren't those your parents?" Ms. Danforth asked. Ryan looked up and smiled. He led the way over to his parents and twin sibling.
"Ducky! We were just looking for you," his mother said as the foursome drew near. "Good morning, Chad." She turned to Chad's parents and a round of handshakes ensued. They'd met before on two occasions--first at some school function and again at the sports award banquet that Mr. Evans had generously hosted at Lava Springs. Chad and Ryan also suspected that their mothers had begun occasionally corresponding by phone, but neither of them had gotten up the courage to confirm it.
"Ducky?" Mr. Danforth whispered to Chad, who rolled his eyes and explained that it was a childhood name.
"You know, just like 'Boo'," Sharpay said helpfully before she took Chad by the arm and all but dragged him into the building. "Listen, Danforth," she said when they had put some distance between themselves and their parents. "You are not going to hog my brother all day. It's my orientation weekend, too, you know. He's here for both of us."
"I know," Chad replied, but she wasn't finished.
"It's bad enough that he abandoned us to ride here with you; now he's going to be glued to your side the rest of the day unless you--."
"Take him," Chad said bluntly. "Seriously. He's been a little chatterbox since he arrived at the house this morning and I think he's working on my dad's last nerve. At one point on the way here, dad pulled over into the right lane and I thought he was going to put Ryan out on the side of the road." Sharpay smiled knowingly.
"Ryan's acting out," she said. "He gets like that occasionally. He talks nonstop, can't sit still, fidgets--he even gets a little bitchy sometimes. It's like he becomes this bundle of kinetic energy when he's--."
"Nervous," Chad replied. "I know." Sharpay's eyes registered mild surprise. Since birth she'd been the only one who truly understood her brother's behavior. "He was the same way in New York and worse. And he suddenly went all possessive, too. By the time we left he was practically snapping at anyone who looked at me, except for your mother."
"You've become his whole world," she said softly, averting her eyes. Chad smiled and shook his head.
"Half of it, maybe. You've been his closest friend, confidant, and co-conspirator since the two of you shared a womb. I've only been a part of his life the last six months."
"You have no idea of the power you hold over him," Sharpay replied, still not meeting his eyes. "Ryan was obsessing about you long before he got up the courage to say anything."
"I know; but long before he said anything to me, he confided in you." Chad lifted her chin, forcing her to look into his eyes. "Right?"
"Of course," she replied, but her tone was not that of the confident Sharpay he was accustomed to sparring with. He felt a little guilty as she tried to hide the pain in her eyes, understanding for the first time the mild resentment she seemed to harbor against him when he and Ryan first became involved. "I just want to spend a little time with my brother, all right? We don't have a lot of it left," she confessed sadly. "I know he's leaving you, too, but--."
"He's not leaving either of us, Sharpay," Chad replied. "Ryan's--."
"You know what I mean."
"Yeah, I do," he acknowledged. "Look, you and I should really talk." Chad glanced over her shoulder and saw the others approaching. He took her arm and led the way across the lobby to pick up their registration packets. The D's and E's were on the same line so they were able to continue their conversation as they waited. "I know it sucks that Ryan's going to be going to school two thousand miles away, but it's going to be a lot harder on him than it will for either of us."
"Speak for yourself," Sharpay shot back. "I'm going to miss him terribly."
"And so will I," Chad insisted. "But he's going to be all alone and--."
"And I'm not?" she challenged.
"No. You'll have me," he replied. Sharpay rolled her eyes.
"I'm sorry," she said angrily. "I know you two have become inseparable but you're far from interchangeable."
"You're missing my point," Chad said, giving her a small push to keep up with the line moving ahead. "I'm not talking about being a surrogate for your brother."
"Look, he's about to leave the two people he loves most in the world, aside from his parents, and move to the other end of the country. The only thing he can take comfort in is that neither of us is going to be alone. He's entrusting us to each other. He expects me to look after you and you to look after me."
"And I suppose he's discussed this with you at length," Sharpay said sarcastically.
"Not in so many words," Chad admitted, "but it's true nonetheless. He did admit that he's glad you decided go to U of A instead of some other school because he would be worried about you being on your own otherwise."
"And I'm not supposed to worry about him?"
"Of course you are! We both are," Chad replied patiently. He shook his head as Sharpay turned and gave her name and Chad's to the person at the desk. She retrieved their packets and they moved to the side, away from the line and out of sight of their families.
"We've both got to be strong for Ryan today," Chad said. "Don't you see? He's trying to put on a brave front for both of us."
"I don't need you to tell me what's going on in Ryan's head," she cried. She shoved his packet into his hands as she turned and strode away from.
"Sharpay!" he jogged to catch up with her. "Look, I know how you feel--."
"Like hell you do!" she spat. But she caught herself and looked into his eyes. "Of course you do," she said softly. He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her to his chest. "How can you just let him go?" she asked after a few seconds. Chad sighed and shook his head.
"How can I not?"
"You really love him, don't you?" she said with a small sniff.
"Yeah," he replied, taking another steadying breath.
"He really loves you, too."
"He loves both of us, Sharpay," Chad replied. "We'll get through this together, all right?"
"Agreed," she replied, resigned and slightly teary eyed.
"Okay, then," he said, giving her an affectionate squeeze. "I've had him for the past three hours. It's your turn." Sharpay looked up, a tiny smile on her face.
"Are we going to keep a schedule like he's some sort of--?"
"What are you two up to?" Ryan asked suspiciously, appearing out of nowhere. Sharpay released her hold on Chad and averted her eyes.
"Princess here was reading me the riot act about what classes I can and can't take," Chad said quickly.
"Why?" Ryan frowned.
"Well, of course I don't want to be stuck in the same classes with him," Sharpay replied, taking up the lie. "Duh--that would be like going back to high school."
"I think you're pretty safe from that, Shar," her brother said. "Chad's majoring in computer engineering and you're in drama. And with five AP--."
"Six," Chad supplied.
"Six AP courses under his belt, you're not likely to see him in one of your classes anyway, unless it's phys ed."
Sharpay pouted and stalked off to rejoin her parents. Ryan watched her go and then turned back to Chad, who shook his head disapprovingly.
"That was mean."
"That was fact," Ryan corrected. Chad gave him a reproachful look. "So why was she crying?" Ryan asked perceptively. Chad smiled softly.
"I think she's just beginning to realize that this is really going to happen. This is a big step and she's a little nervous."
"Shar?" Ryan frowned again and looked over at Sharpay, who was speaking with her father. "She's been looking forward to college since kindergarten."
"Yeah and she always thought that you two would be going to college together."
"I did too," Ryan admitted with a sigh. "I guess we're both feeling a little separation anxiety."
"I'd noticed," Chad said impishly. "You guys are really going to miss each other."
"This guy's going to miss you, too," Ryan replied, shoving his hands deep into his pockets because all he wanted to do at that moment was cling to Chad for dear life, just as his sister had done. Chad nodded, not quite meeting his eyes, and then gestured toward Sharpay with his chin. "She really needs her brother today."
"What about you?" Ryan asked, looking worriedly at his sister.
"I'm used to being an only child," Chad replied with a shrug. Ryan turned back to him.
"What has that got to do with anything?"
"Nothing," Chad replied, smiling. "But being a twin has everything to do with how your sister is feeling right now. Go on; spend a little quality time with the Princess. We'll catch up later at the motel." Ryan hesitated, but Chad insisted. Ryan reached for his hand and gave it a brief affectionate squeeze.
"Thanks for the heads-up, Boo."
"Yeah," Chad replied. They walked back over to the others. Sharpay looked up from the brochure she was reading.
"Did you know they have a gay dorm here?" she said, apparently recovered from her earlier distress.
"And exactly how did they determine its sexual preference?" Ryan asked archly as he took the brochure from her to read. She smiled up at him and he winked.
"Maybe you should consider requesting that, Chad," Ms. Danforth said. "I'd feel better knowing that you were in a dorm where there were others like you."
"You would be in a more receptive environment," Mr. Danforth concurred.
"I'm not sure I like the idea of Chad being in a more receptive environment," Ryan opined, ignoring Mr. Danforth's glare.
"Dude, like Juilliard could be any less receptive?" Chad scoffed. "I don't think I saw anyone in the dance or theatre program who wasn't gay!" Ryan was about to respond, but Chad turned back to Sharpay. "Is there a dorm for divas, too?"
"I believe it's just called 'freshman dorm,' Chad," Ms. Evans replied dryly. "I must say, I like the idea of having you nearby to keep an eye on our Kitten."
"I don't need supervision," Sharpay replied, rolling her eyes. "I'm quite capable of taking care of myself."
"No one said anything about supervision, Princess," Mr. Evans said soothingly. "It's just reassuring to know that you'll have at least one friend here when you come back this fall. I can remember my first semester here. I didn't know a soul when I arrived. It was pretty difficult those first few weeks."
"You?" Sharpay said, shock evident on her face. "I can't imagine you not having friends, daddy. Everyone loves you."
"Everyone will love you, too, Princess," he replied, pausing to kiss her temple. "Once they get to know you. But until then, you'll have Chad for company."
"I think we'd better get inside," Ms. Danforth said. "They look like they're getting ready to start the program."
They all headed for the auditorium where the orientation program was scheduled to begin. Ryan stuck close to Sharpay, but when they reached their seats, she took hold of Chad's hand and made him sit between herself and her brother.
"Don't you want to sit next to Ryan?" Chad asked.
"Yes," she sighed as she tightened her hold on his hand. "But I guess I've got to get used to sharing you."
"You," she replied as Ryan took possession of Chad's other hand. Chad turned to look at him. Ryan was glaring pointedly at Sharpay, who held Chad's hand in her lap.
"What does she think she's doing?" he whispered as the program started.
"I think she's establishing a lifeline," Chad said with a smile. Ryan returned it and gave Chad's hand a gentle squeeze.
On to College Visit (No Show)