Summary: A meeting of the mamas.
Darby Evans entered the restaurant and looked around. She spotted an attractive woman of color at a table near the window and approached her.
"Jessica?" she said. Chad's mother looked up and smiled. Darby didn't wait for an answer--the resemblance between mother and son was unmistakable. "Thank you for agreeing to meet me," said as she took a seat.
"Well, you made an excellent point on the phone, Darby," she replied. "It is high time we got better acquainted."
"I think we're destined to be great friends," Darby said with a smile. Jessica's was slightly apprehensive.
"This is a nice place. I've been reading the menu; the food looks great."
"Ryan and Chad recommended it," Darby said as she opened her own menu. Jessica looked up.
"Does that mean they know we're here?"
"Oh, no; they just told me that Earline's was a favorite of theirs," Darby admitted as a waitress came to the table.
"Good afternoon. May I offer you something to drink while you peruse the menu?"
"We're just having a little afternoon pick me up rather than a meal," Darby replied. "I'll have coffee."
"I'll have tea," Jessica replied. "Earl Grey."
"And perhaps a little treat to go along with it?" Darby suggested. She studied the menu and the two women decided on fruit tarts.
"That's Ryan's favorite," Darby said when the waitress retreated.
"Earl Grey? I know," Jessica confessed. "He's the one who got me drinking it. In fact, I've currently got more kinds of tea in my kitchen than I ever knew existed before I met Ryan."
"That's my Ducky."
"Oh, please forget you heard me say that. Ryan would be horrified."
"Chad turns beet red if I slip up and call him 'Boo.'"
"I've heard Ryan call him that."
"Really?" Jessica said incredulously. Darby nodded.
"I'd always assumed it was a pet name he came up with."
Jessica smiled at the notion and shook her head as the waitress brought their order. She stared at Jessica for a moment and frowned.
"I'm sorry," Helen said, "I can't quite shake the notion that I should know you. I know you've never been here before, but you look so familiar…"
"Perhaps her son?" Darby suggested. "He--."
"Chad?" Helen exclaimed before she could say more. "You're Chad's mother?"
"Yes," Jessica replied warily. "You know Chad?"
"Oh heavens, yes! He and his boyfriend have brunch here at least--." She covered her mouth and went pale, realizing that she had inadvertently outted her young friend.
"It was Chad and Ryan who recommended that we come here," Darby said reassuringly.
"Ryan is your son," she surmised, her relief palpable. "Such handsome, sweet young men. They light up the whole place whenever they come in." Darby smiled.
"Thank you," she said. Helen left and the two mothers exchanged smiles.
"I've always thought of my son as a sweetie, but that's the first time I've ever heard anyone else describe him that way," Jessica confessed.
"Oh, I think Chad is the sweetest, most charming young man I've ever met," Darby said warmly. "He's been very good for my Ryan. I've never seen him so happy."
"Ryan has been good for Chad, too," his mother replied. "Although I have to admit that I was a little wary of their relationship at first." Jessica sighed. "Don't get me wrong; it had nothing to do with Ryan, just the whole idea of--." Darby reached out to touch her hand.
"I understand. It was a trial for Vance and me, too, at first. But we've adjusted. I've met other parents who refused to accept their children's sexuality; it never ended well. They're your flesh and blood! All you can do is love them. I don't see why who and how they choose to love should change that."
"Agreed. We've always assured Chad that he could talk to us about anything. I'd like to think that it made things easier for him. It was a shock learning that our son was gay, but we'd lain enough of a foundation with him that we were able to sit down and talk about it openly and honestly. And Ryan was such a good friend to him during those difficult times when he was trying to come to terms with what he was learning about himself. My husband and I were so grateful for that."
"I can still remember the day when Ryan came to me and asked how I'd feel if he never gave us grandchildren," Darby said pensively. "He was only eleven or twelve at the time so I didn't think anything of the statement until he went on to explain that he didn't think he'd ever marry. When I asked why he told me he didn't like girls." Darby was silent for a moment and Jessica felt anew the shock of Chad's similar revelation. "I thought it was just a phase he was going through but he was rather insistent. He was too young to know what it all meant but he knew he was different. I think he'd known for some time. We talked about it, just the two of us. I don't think we told his father for another year or two." She looked up and saw Jessica's expression of shock.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I just--.
"We weren't sure how he'd take it. My husband's no bigot and there's nothing on this earth that would stop him from loving either of his children, but while I never doubted that, Ryan did. So I respected his wishes. Of course, while I kept Ryan's confidence I did my best to prepare Vance for the day Ryan was ready to tell him." Darby looked up and smiled. "From what Ryan's told me, you and your husband have handled things marvelously. I wish I'd had the two of you around to talk to when Ryan first came out. We were all at loose ends for months." Darby smiled. "But I didn't ask you to lunch to talk about that."
"You want to convince me to change my mind about letting Chad go to New York," Jessica said. Darby set down her cup.
"I understand your objections--."
"I don't think you do," Jessica cut in. "Chad's not even eighteen yet. He's in his first serious relationship. I don't doubt what he feels for Ryan, but I think it's unrealistic for him to think that it will last forever. With Ryan going all the way to--."
"I recall hearing Chad say that you married the boy you fell in love with in the tenth grade," Darby replied. "Did you have any crazy illusions about love back then?"
"Of course I did. But our parents made sure that we didn't act on them. We waited until after college to marry and settle down."
"I believe your husband went to Texas A&M. Where did you attend college?" Darby persisted.
"I went to New Mexico State," Jessica replied, smiling as realization set in. "Did they put you up to this?"
"Those two? Chad and Ryan don't even know we talk on the phone," Darby said dismissively. "I'm just trying to understand why you want to deny Chad the same chance for happiness that your parents apparently afforded you."
"New York is a lot farther away than Texas."
"It's not the distance that matters, Jessica," Darby said. "It's the strength of the bonds between two people that makes the difference. Surely you know that."
"I do, but Earl and I were the lucky ones. A lot of couples try long distance relationships and don't make it. I don't want Chad to be hurt."
"You can't protect him forever, Jessica. I wish that were possible. Whether they break up before Ryan leaves for college or they break up ten years down the road, it'll still hurt. There's nothing either of us can do about it." Darby toyed with the crust of her tart. "Ryan used to come home from school raving about some cute boy or another," she said sadly. "He was inevitably disappointed. So when Sharpay first told me about his crush on Chad, shortly after he started working at Lava Springs, I was rather worried. I knew that what Ryan felt for Chad was no passing fancy. I was certain that Ryan was going to be badly hurt. At the time I had no idea that Chad was gay or that he would someday return those feelings. But by the end of the summer Ryan told me they'd become good friends. A while later, much to my surprise, he told me that they were dating. And since then they've fallen deeply in love.
"Our sons aren't a pair of starry-eyed kids, Jessica. You've seen them together. Most teens--like my daughter, Sharpay--fall in and out of love every other week. One minute she's completely besotted with someone, the next she's forbidding us from even mentioning the boy's name. That was never Ryan and Chad," Darby said as she signaled for the check and pulled out a charge card. "They're two mature, pragmatic young men. They're not lost in each other, like Troy Bolton and Gabriella Montez. They aren't about to throw their lives away on a wing and a prayer. The fact that they've deliberately chosen separate schools speaks volumes about their maturity. Ryan and Chad are trying to figure out how to have what they want out of life, and a very significant part of what they want is a life together. They're in a loving committed relationship and I for one, am prepared to do everything in my power to support them."
Jessica sat back and took in what she'd just heard.
"Chad has never done that," Jessica said after a moment. "That 'falling in and out of love' thing kids do. Looking back, that should have told me something. He never talked about anyone at school unless we prodded him into it. Even when he told us he was seeing Taylor, he sounded so unenthusiastic. My husband thought that they just weren't right for each other. He said they were probably just dating because it was convenient. Of course, we assumed that he'd eventually find the right girl…" She smiled wryly, swirling the water in her glass. "We never dreamed it'd turn out to be the right boy. And I agree; Ryan Evans is the right boy."
"Then let Chad go to New York with him. I think it's very important to both of them."
"Why?" Jessica asked as she watched Helen leave with the card and folder.
"Because they need to do this for each other. You talked about being realistic. Ryan needs to confront the reality of Chad staying behind in Albuquerque. Chad needs to see Ryan settled in at college in New York. They made the decision to do this--they need to deal with it--on their own terms."
"I never saw Texas until my junior year," she confessed. "Once I did--I don't know--it became a little easier, somehow." She pushed away her plate. "All right. He can go."
Darby returned her smile as Helen reappeared with her card and a little bag.
"These are for the boys," she said. "Chad's crazy about Earline's chocolate chip cookies and Ryan--well, that boy just needs to eat more."
"Thank you," Jessica said bemusedly. She waited until Helen left before she spoke again. "She's right; Chad's never met a chocolate chip cookie he didn't like. Here," she said, pushing the bag toward Darby. "I believe they're headed to your house today."
"If I show up with these--."
"Just tell them that you took their advice and came here for lunch."
"We're going to be 'so busted,' as Sharpay would say. The next time they come in, the waitress is bound to tell them we were here."
"I don't think they'll mind…too much."
They walked out of the restaurant and paused at Darby's car.
"Thank you for this," Jessica said earnestly. "I needed to hear everything you said today."
"Let's keep in touch."
Darby pulled her into a hug and, after sharing another smile, the two mothers went their separate ways.
College Visit (East)