Summary: The fallout from Troy's betrayal begins to hit home.
"The whole point of going to counseling is to discuss my problems privately--with someone completely neutral," Chad said, glowering at his father. But after a minute he lost the silent battle of wills and sighed. "All right--she thinks that my issue isn't with Troy. It's with Ryan."
"Ryan?" Ms. Danforth replied, confused. Her husband looked equally perplexed. He frowned more deeply and Chad shrugged.
"We argued Monday night after I spoke with Coach. He was trying to calm me down and I--well, I lost it. Chris felt that the way we parted that night was what triggered my anxiety."
"And that's it?" Mr. Danforth asked.
"Well, no, probably not," Chad admitted. "I still have issues with Troy. I definitely have issues with Troy. And she said that my not being completely out to my friends may be an issue, but I don't think so. It was a little stressful at first--especially when I almost told Jason that Ryan gave me my iTouch for Christmas. Nowadays, I don't even think about it anymore. But I was probably sleepwalking that night because I had some unresolved issues with Ryan."
"But you resolved them, didn't you?" his mother asked. "How did you sleep last night?"
"Great," Chad answered easily. "We had mad--." He cleared his throat and averted his eyes. His father sat down on the sofa and gestured absently with his hands.
"Did you two talk at all?" he asked.
"Yeah, a little," Chad said uneasily.
"Did you mention that to the counselor?"
"No, why should I?" Chad demanded, frowning.
"If she thinks that you've got unresolved problems with Ryan--."
"She knows we talked," Chad said evasively.
"Did you tell her you stayed with him last night?"
"That's none of her business."
"Chad, if you want to get to the bottom of this you have to be completely honest with her."
"I was completely honest! It just didn't come up in the conversation."
"And you didn't volunteer it," Mr. Danforth surmised.
"Dad, it's none of her business!"
"Everything you say or do is her business, Chad. If you want to--."
"Don't dad!" Chad pleaded, leaping to his feet. "Please! The last thing I need is for you to start pressuring me. I don't need that kind of drama."
"Chad!" his father said sharply, but his mother intervened.
"He's right, Earl. The last thing Chad needs right now is more stress," she said. Chad nodded gratefully as she reached up and stroked his hair. "We're only trying to help you, baby. We just want you to find out why this is happening and fix it."
"I know," Chad said wearily. "I know. It's just--. It's hard."
"We know it's not easy, Chad," Mr. Danforth said. "But if you want this to work you have to give it every opportunity to succeed."
Ms. Danforth stroked Chad's hair again and pulled him into a hug, resting her head on his shoulder. But a moment later, she looked up and voiced the question that both Chad and Ryan had been worrying about since the morning Chad woke up in Palisade Hills.
"So what will happen when Ryan goes off to college?"
"I don't know," Chad said glumly.
"Chad," his father said, rising. He drew him over to the sofa and sat him down between himself and his wife. "You know your mother and I faced this same situation. I did my undergraduate work at Texas A&M and she stayed here in New Mexico. We talked about going to the same school but she didn't want to go to Texas and I wasn't accepted at New Mexico State. So we had to split up and live mostly apart for four years. Was it hard? Hell, yes. Was it worth it? If I had to do it all over again--I won't lie--I wouldn't want to repeat those four years for any amount of money. But I don't think we'd be the same people we are today if we'd just taken the easy route," he said, reaching across Chad to take his wife's hand. "We both had things to do, ambitions and dreams to fulfill before either of us was ready to settle down.
"You and Ryan are very young, just like we were," he continued. "And people might say that you're too young to know what you want. That you should both get out there, no strings attached, and sow some wild oats. Your mother and I aren't going to tell you what you should or shouldn't do. You're old enough to make your own decisions. But we've seen the two of you together. You and Ryan aren't a couple of wild-eyed kids like Troy and Gabriella. I have no doubt that you two can do this. You just have to want it badly enough."
"I do want it. We both do," Chad replied resolutely.
"Then you shouldn't be talking to us," Ms. Danforth said, pushing back a lock of Chad's hair. "You should be having this discussion with Ryan. Where is he, anyway? I assumed he'd come home with you."
"He had a late rehearsal with his leads. I didn't want to stick around for the Troy and Gabriella show."
"Have you spoken with Troy yet, Boo?"
Chad shook his head.
"I saw him at school; we said hi in passing, but that was about it." Chad laughed briefly. "I think he's scared to approach me. Apparently Ryan had strong words for him the other day."
"Yes, Ryan," he replied. "Don't look so shocked, mom! I know you think of him as this sweet-faced little angel with perfect manners, impeccable fashion sense, and inestimable flair--not to mention excellent taste in men--who makes tea and helps you garden and never says a discouraging word--."
"I'm not deaf, dumb or blind Chad," Ms. Danforth replied, laughing. "I know he's no angel."
"That's right. He corrupted your innocent baby boy, didn't he? Anyway," Chad continued, growing serious, "after we argued Monday night he went home and called Troy. Apparently, he said everything I neglected to say to Troy when we spoke. Wish I'd been there," he said with a sigh. "Anyway, since then Troy's treated both of us with kid gloves."
"I think you and Troy need to work things out," Mr. Danforth said. "But first you need to sit down with Ryan and talk about this. Do whatever it takes to regain that stability you had earlier."
"Can I stay over his house again tonight?" Chad asked hopefully. His mother said yes before his father was able to mount a protest. Chad ran upstairs to grab a few things and pack his book bag. He slipped out of the front door so as not to have to deal with his parents again, but his mother was waiting for him when he reached his car.
"As soon as you get there I want you to give your car keys to Ryan," she said.
"I'll do better than that," Chad promised. "I'll give them to Sharpay. I can get anything I want out of Ryan," he said smugly. He kissed his mother's cheek and got into his car. She sighed as he drove off and went back into the house to call Darby Evans. When she got off the phone she saw her husband standing a short distance away, staring into space. He turned and looked at her.
"Are we really doing the right thing, encouraging them?" he asked.
The rehearsal was over and Ryan sat down on the piano bench next to Kelsi to write up a few notes as Troy and Gabriella gathered up their things. Ryan watched them move across the stage with one eye, lifting his hand in a tepid wave when they said goodbye. He sighed and shook his head, reaching for his teacup.
"What's going on between you and Troy these days?" Kelsi asked.
"Nothing," Ryan answered evasively.
"He seems a little skittish around you."
"Maybe he's beginning to feel the pressure of being the lead in the show. The first performance is just twelve days away."
"Or maybe he's skittish because you jumped all over him about the way he mistreated your boyfriend."
Ryan froze for a full ten seconds.
"Or that…" He turned to look at her. Kelsi turned her eyes to the keyboard and started playing a tune. "What do you know about it?"
"There's a rumor going around school that you threatened to sick your boyfriend on Troy for some unknown transgression," she said. "I didn't believe it at first because, to my knowledge, you weren't seeing anyone at the moment." Ryan frowned and she braced herself before continuing. "But I was here before practice yesterday afternoon and overheard Troy and Gabriella talking," she explained. "He said something about expecting Chad to be more sensitive to his situation, given that you and Chad were going to be a whole lot farther apart than him and Gabriella."
Ryan leapt to his feet and Kelsi started, her hands losing their place on the keyboard. Ryan turned, intent on going after Troy and demanding to know exactly how many people were now aware of his relationship with Chad. But Kelsi's voice stopped him.
"I wasn't trying to eavesdrop and I'm sure there was no one else around," she said hastily. "Gabriella read him the riot act about possibly outing Chad, so I think it's unlikely that he repeated that little speech anywhere." Ryan sat down again, this time in the front row of the auditorium seats, his expression unreadable. "It's true, then," she said. All he could do was nod. "How long?"
"Six months? And you never said a word?" Kelsi gasped. He couldn't look her in the eye.
"We made a conscious decision to keep it to ourselves until after graduation. His parents don't want him out at school," Ryan said softly.
"I can understand that. But--."
"Other than our families, we've only told a handful of people: Troy, Gabriella. Taylor, Zeke, and now you." Ryan stared at his hands. Kelsi rose and went to sit beside him.
"I'm sorry; I was just shocked to hear that Chad--." Kelsi looked up at him. "Is it serious?"
"Yes; very serious."
"I never imagined--. I mean I knew about your crush on him but--." She bit her lip to stop herself from blathering. "Troy's right--you two are in a far worse situation."
"Don't I know it," he said, sagging visibly. Kelsi reached out and gave his hand a squeeze.
"What are you going to do?"
"Well, neither of us is planning to do what Troy did," Ryan said sardonically.
"I didn’t think you would," Kelsi said, smiling. "But if Chad's staying here and you're going to New York…"
"I love him," Ryan said plainly. "And I'm not going to let him go. We've discussed it at length and we're going to try and make a go of it."
"Yeah," Ryan said with a shrug. "It's the twenty-first century. We've got phones, we've got computers; we don't have to lose each other." Kelsi gave his hand another squeeze.
"You sound so--."
"Do you mind?" Chad said, reaching between the two seats and gently but firmly pulling Kelsi's hand out of Ryan's. "If you want to make a move on him, wait until November when he'll probably be a little desperate." He climbed over the back of a seat and sat down on Ryan's left. Ryan beamed at him.
"Yeah, well, I figured you'd need a ride home," Chad replied, smiling warmly.
"Hey, if you'd prefer to wait for her--." Chad started to rise, but Ryan grabbed his arm and sprang up to get his bag. Chad turned his smile to Kelsi, who was staring at him with open wonder.
"You aren't mad?"
"Why should I be mad?" he replied. "You weren't really trying to put a move on him, were you?"
"No, no, I--." Kelsi rolled her eyes and looked at the stage, where Ryan was dancing from table to table picking up scripts. "He's happy."
"I'd say so," Chad replied, sliding lower in the seat to observe his partner. Ryan hammed it up on the stage for his benefit.
"I think you make him happy," Kelsi declared. Chad's smile grew wider and they watched him dance for several minutes.
"Would you like us to drop you off?"
"Thanks," she said, rising to get her own gear. "I don't cherish the idea of riding home with Sharpay once she finds out you've absconded with her brother."
Ryan jumped off the stage and walked back over to Chad, leaning in to give him a quick kiss. Chad silently expressed surprise, but Ryan put on his hat, adjusted it with practiced ease, and gestured for Chad to lead the way out. They stopped by the music room where Sharpay was rehearsing a song with the female cast members to let her know that Ryan was leaving.
Chad drove to Kelsi's house and dropped her off. He then headed west and Ryan frowned when he realized that they were passing Chad's neighborhood.
"I thought we were going to your house," he said.
"Do you think your folks would mind if you ate out?"
"Of course not."
"Sure," Ryan said, eyeing Chad suspiciously. "So tell me what happened at your session."
"Tell me how Kelsi found out about us," Chad shot back. Ryan averted his eyes to the passing scenery. "Hey, I don't mind her knowing. In fact, there's no way she won't figure it out when I show up in New York this fall."
"Yeah. She was pretty shocked to hear that I snagged you," Ryan said evasively. "She knew I'd been crushing on you forever."
"From what I've heard I was the only person at East High who didn't know that," Chad replied. "So what made you--?"
"I believe I asked you a question first," Ryan asserted. The last thing he wanted was to ruin Chad's good mood by telling him about Troy's latest blunder.
"Did I mention that Chris Jenks was a girl?" Chad said, glancing at Ryan. "I mean a woman--well, she's a dyke. Anyway, she's a she."
"Got it. What did she have to say?"
"Well, it was pretty interesting, actually. She asked a lot of questions like the old dude--."
"I hope you behaved yourself," Ryan said reproachfully.
"I was a perfect--. I behaved myself," Chad said, grinning. "After both you and your mother and my father and my mother drilled it into my head that I had to--. Look, I know this is important and I really do have a respect for the process."
"I know you do, but I also know that you--."
"I went into the session with an open mind," Chad insisted. "I want to find out what's going on as much as the rest of you; probably more."
"So what happened?"
"Let's eat," Chad said, turning into the parking lot of the restaurant. "I'm starving."
"Hello, boys," Earline said as the pair entered the restaurant. "It's been a while."
"Too long," Chad said as he slid into the couple's favorite booth. "Where's Helen?"
"Oh, she'll be out to take your order in a minute," Earline replied. "Do you boys need menus?"
"Not if you’ve got chicken pot pie in the kitchen," Chad said.
"I'll take one," Ryan replied with an indulgent look for Chad. Earline brought them glasses of water and retreated to the kitchen. "You can talk while I read the menu," Ryan said.
"What's your rush?"
"Why are you stalling?" Ryan countered. He was interrupted by Helen, who came to take his order.
"So Chad wants the chicken pot pie. What'll you have, handsome?" she asked Ryan. He ordered a Greek salad with a sliced chicken breast.
"He's watching his figure," Chad teased.
"I thought that was your job, sugar," she quipped. Chad and Ryan exchanged an amused look. "By the way, your mothers came in a couple of weeks ago. I can see where you two got your good looks." She winked at them and departed, leaving Chad and Ryan gaping.
"Your mom never said anything about meeting up with my mom that day," Chad said when he found his voice.
"Well, we knew they were in cahoots," Ryan replied, removing his hat. "But lunch dates?" Chad shrugged and Ryan turned his attention back to more pressing matters.
"So tell me about the session," he said. "And no more stalling."
"It was okay," Chad said, averting his eyes. "You know how it goes."
"No I don't, actually. I've never been to therapy."
"But you've seen it on TV. They ask a lot of questions and tell you very little," Chad said, poking at the ice in his glass.
"You said it was interesting," Ryan recalled, looking up and forcing Chad to focus on him.
"It was, as an intellectual exercise. I mean the entire process--."
"You know, I kind of got the idea that you came back to pick me up because you wanted to talk to me about what happened."
"Actually, I came back because my folks said I could stay at your place again tonight," Chad said, smiling. Ryan returned it, but he knew Chad was being evasive.
To some extent, Chad was right; Ryan knew exactly how therapy worked. He'd spent weeks coaxing information out of Chad during those first awkward weeks of their friendship. Chad wanted someone to talk to but he found it difficult to trust Ryan--or anyone else--with his feelings. Ryan had become quite adept at reading Chad's emotional state in spite of his resistance. He settled more comfortably in his seat. Ryan knew it would take a while for him to open up.
Over dinner he learned that Chad liked Chris and that she spent the majority of their first session trying to establish a picture of his social circle. But Ryan learned little else of value, other than that Chad's grandmother apparently made a chicken pot pie that was decidedly inferior to Earline's. He decided to try a different tack. He signaled for Helen and reached for his wallet.
"Let's get out of here," he said.
"Without dessert?" Chad replied. "You must be mad."
"No dessert for you," Ryan said, throwing down some cash. "Let's go."
"What? Ryan, don't play like that."
"Look, if you don't want to talk, fine," he said, rising and reaching for his hat. "I've got homework to do, instructions for lighting and sets to write up, I've got to call Martha about--."
"All right, all right," Chad said exasperatedly. "I get it." Ryan glared at him. "Sit down. Come on, sit down. I'll talk." Ryan reluctantly sat down. Chad folded his hands and sealed his lips. Ryan rolled his eyes and picked up the money. After another few seconds of silence he called Helen back.
"You boys want dessert?" Helen asked, picking up the check. Chad smiled and said one word.
"I'll have a cup of coffee and an apple tart," Ryan said. Helen gave Chad a slightly reproachful look and retreated. "Now talk." Chad sighed and sat back, fidgeting with his napkin.
"All right," he said finally. "When I got home from rehearsal, my parents grilled me about the session and that made me think. Actually, something Chris said started me thinking, but dad kind of--."
"Okay. I've been operating under the assumption that this is all about Troy--that my anger over what he told me last weekend is what led to my sleepwalking episode. But Chris said something…" He shook his head. "It's me. This is all my fault."
"Your fault? What do you mean?" Ryan said suspiciously.
"I suddenly find myself questioning things," Chad said reluctantly. Ryan sat up straighter in his seat and leaned in closer. "I've become insecure."
"Excuse me?" he said, confusion writ plain on his face. "Insecure about what?" Chad shrugged and Ryan shook his head. Helen placed a glass of milk and a slab of cake in front of Chad and Ryan reached out to snag it before he could pick up his fork. "Talk."
"Someone's been naughty," Helen muttered, walking away. Chad gave her a sidelong glance and huffed slightly before looking back at Ryan.
"Do you think I was wrong?"
"Chad, you're giving me a headache," Ryan replied with a tinge of exasperation. "Just tell me whatever it is you're trying to say." Chad glanced at the cake, still held hostage by Ryan. But he was no longer interested in eating. He looked at the fork in his hand and set it down.
"Troy faced the possibility of losing the girl he loved and did something about it. I faced the possibility of losing you and didn't do anything."
"Chad, don't do this," Ryan said warily.
"Don't do what? Don't second-guess myself because I didn't have the balls to go for self when I had the chance? I've been furious with Troy these last few days when I'm the one who screwed myself. I should have applied to those schools in the east. I should--." He shook his head and looked out the window. "Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I should have done what he did."
"You think you made a mistake because you didn't abandon your scholarship or your career plans?" Ryan cried before he could stop himself. Chad looked at him and he sat back, trying to modulate his tone. "Don't do this, Chad," he repeated. "It's a fool's errand."
"What do you mean?" Chad said, frowning. Ryan pushed Chad's plate across the table.
"I'm not going to let you do this, Chad," he replied, reaching for the milk. He poured a bit into his coffee and set it down. "You haven't done anything wrong. You made a mature reasoned decision and I did as well. Or are you questioning my behavior, too?"
"No, of course not!" Chad cried. "But you're not the one who made a promise to a friend."
"No, I made a promise to myself," Ryan corrected. "Just as you did."
"Yeah, but--." Chad picked up his fork and poked at his cake.
"Lock the door."
Ryan went back to the door and locked it before going into the bathroom to brush his teeth. Chad was stretched out on the bed, catching the end of a baseball game. When Ryan returned he reached across Chad to get the remote.
"I want to see the last inning," Chad complained, grabbing it from his hand.
"It's nearly midnight; I've got to get some sleep."
"I'll turn it down," Chad replied, lowering the volume.
Ryan glared at him and rolled over. He pulled the covers up around him and reached out to turn off the light on his side of the bed. Chad swore under his breath and shut off the television. He turned off the light and slid over to Ryan's side of the bed to spoon against him.
"I'm sorry," he said, his breath warming the back of Ryan's neck.
"Mm," Ryan said, relaxing into the warmth of Chad's body. Chad felt a little better when Ryan entwined their fingers together and turned his head to kiss Chad. But he laid awake nonetheless, worried.
They'd talked on the way home. Ryan did his best to convince Chad that Troy's rash behavior was not sufficient cause for calling into question anything he and Chad had done. They had jointly come to a decision to go to different schools for good reasons and they were bound to live by that decision.
"I know, but--." Chad bit his lip and shook his head.
"You only agreed to it because of Troy?" Ryan suggested.
"No! I agreed to it for us!" Chad insisted. "And especially for you; there are plenty of schools out there with good computer engineering programs but there's only one Juilliard."
"Chad, you're questioning your choice of schools," Ryan said patiently. "Not because you're not happy with the U of A, not because you think your scholarship is crap or because you don't like their computer engineering program. You're only questioning it because Troy bailed on you."
"And because Troy bailed, you think you should have bailed," Ryan concluded. "Chad, this isn't about Troy, it's about us."
"I know that!" Chad said angrily as his phone buzzed. He pulled it from his pocket and handed it to Ryan, who opened the text message. It was from Gabriella.
"It says 'talk tomorrow,' with a question mark," he reported. Chad sighed.
"Tell her yeah," he replied. Ryan sent off a message. "Thanks," he said as they reached the gate of the Evans estate.
The rest of the evening had been given over to doing homework. Chad was uncharacteristically quiet at first and Ryan kept a worried eye on him. But Chad seemed to lighten up when Sharpay asked for help with her homework. When he was done tutoring Sharpay, he went into the home theatre to catch the Colorado Rockies game with Mr. Evans. Ryan remained in the lounge with Sharpay working on the show.
They didn't go to bed angry. In Chad's estimation, however, things had not improved between them and although he was willing to accept culpability, he felt nonetheless powerless to do anything about it except cling to Ryan's sleeping form.
He was awake for an hour before he realized that he was afraid to go to sleep.
Gabriella met with Chad to broker a negotiation with Troy. He was willing to have the meeting. The situation between the two of them had begun to affect all the other Wildcats and Chad decided that it was time to step up and put an end to the tension. That much he could handle.
He sent a text to Ryan telling him that he was meeting Troy during free period. Ryan asked if he should join them, but he fully expected Chad's refusal. So Ryan waited uneasily in the auditorium instead, checking his watch every few minutes and anticipating Chad's promised call.
He looked up at the sound of Gabriella's voice.
"Hi," she said, smiling. Ryan returned the greeting, noting that she looked better than she had all week. "Chad and Troy are going to talk," she declared. Ryan nodded.
"I know. He's supposed to call me when they're done."
"I hope they can work things out. Troy's been so unhappy."
"We've all been unhappy, Gabriella," Ryan replied with a pointed look. "You've gotten the two of them together. Now what about you?"
"What do you mean?"
"When are you going to tell Troy that you don't want him to follow you to California?"
"Troy?" Chad said tentatively. Troy dropped his bag and sat on the low wall beside him.
"We need to talk."
"Go for it. I'm listening," Chad said, averting his eyes to the road in front of the school.
"I need you to talk to me, Chad," Troy said, taking hold of his arm. "I already said my piece. You haven't said anything." Chad stared at the road for a few more seconds before he conceded and nodded.
"All right," he said, rubbing his hands together. "I seriously don't understand you sometimes. In fact, sometimes I wonder if I even know you. We were always best buds. We trusted one another. We--." He turned to Troy with hurt eyes. "I can't believe you just up and applied to that damned college without telling me!"
"I know and I'm really sorry, man. I didn't stop to think," Troy admitted. "I know you and Ryan--."
"Never mind me and Ryan," Chad spat back. "This is about you and me. What you did you did to me, Troy."
"Yeah," Troy said swallowing hard.
"I can't forgive you for this. I can't ever forgive you for this," Chad continued. "I've forgiven every other shitty thing you've ever done to me, but not this." He rose and walked over to the base of a tree and grabbed a handful of mulch before sitting down again. He handed Troy some of the chips and they took turns throwing them at the tree. "Our friendship is never going to be the same."
"I can deal with that, as long as we're still friends," Troy said sincerely. Chad looked at him and rolled his eyes.
"Dude, you watch too many chick flicks," he said, nudging Troy with his elbow.
"That's what happens when you're with a chick," Troy replied smiling. "I guess if you're with a guy--."
"I'm with a guy who watches chick flicks," Chad said with a sigh. He dropped the remaining chips and dusted off his hands. "But that's because Princess has him trained. I'm trying to break him out of it." He rose to his feet and turned to face Troy. "And speaking of chicks, what about Gabriella?"
"What about her?"
"Did you even think to consult her before you made your big move?"
"I wanted to surprise her," Troy replied. Chad rolled his eyes again and picked up his bag.
"You want to surprise someone, you buy him flowers, or a new hat or--."
"You buy Ryan flowers?" Troy asked in disbelief. Chad ignored the comment.
"You don't make life-altering decisions on your own," he continued. "Did it ever occur to you that Gabi might not want you trailing her to California?"
"What?" Troy cried, leaping to his feet.
"I'm not saying that's the case. But you'd better talk to her, man." Chad turned to go.
"Wait!" Troy demanded, reaching for his own bag. "We did talk. She said--. Did she tell you something?"
"Nope," Chad replied as he strode back into East High. "I've got to go see Ryan."
"Explain it to me," Chad challenged. Chris smiled. She enjoyed tangling with Chad. He was bright and intelligent and sincerely engaged in his therapy, but he was also stubbornly resistant to discussing the very things he needed to be most open about.
"When you were stressed out over a failed test--."
"Hey, I didn't fail; that teacher was dyslexic!"
"You got up that night and tried to go to school," Chris continued over his protest. "I think that was pretty indicative."
"In what way?"
"Chad, I bet you scored pretty high on your SATs."
"Mid to upper 700's on each part," he replied smugly. Chris sat forward.
"Then stop the dumb act," she said bluntly. "You got up and went to Ryan's house the same way you tried to go to school that night. You clearly had something weighing on your mind in each case--something so pressing that you felt compelled to get up and do something about it immediately." Chad nodded gravely.
"So I went to Ryan because I felt compelled to try to fix things between us."
"Do you think things need to be fixed between you?"
"I've had trouble sleeping since last week," he confessed after a long silence. "I think--. I--." Chris sat back to give him a little space. "I think I'm afraid to sleep."
"Well, after that first night, I stayed at Ryan's house. Our parents thought that if I felt more secure being close to Ryan I'd be better off staying with him. I stayed with him the next night, too, but--we had words."
"No," Chad said, shaking his head. "I've developed my own theory about what's been going on in my head. My folks thought--and rightfully so--that I needed to discuss it with Ryan, so I did."
"Tell me about your theory," Chris said.
"I was okay with the whole thing--you know, Ryan going to New York and me going to U of A. I wasn't thrilled with the idea of a long-term separation, but we knew we could make it work. We'd made a commitment. We'd talked about it, made plans--. I'd visited his school and was ready to accept the fact that he'd be living in New York for the next four years... Everything was fine until Troy's little secret came out. " He looked up and made eye contact with his counselor. "When Troy told me he was going to California instead of the U of A, it just upset everything. All of a sudden I found myself doubting my own decision. I could have gone east with Ryan. I could have done exactly what Troy had done." Chad grew flustered for a moment and Chris rose and got him a cup of water. "So why did I stick to my plan to attend the U of A once Ryan told me about Juilliard?" he asked after taking a few sips. "Maybe Troy is doing the right thing! Maybe I'm the one who made the mistake."
"Do you really believe that?" Chris asked gently.
"That I made a mistake?" Chad shook his head. "No."
"But maybe--. I should love Ryan enough to screw Troy over the way he screwed me," Chad said softly.
"And you think you don't."
"God, I--. I don't want to even believe that's possible! I love him more than anything! My parents--both our parents think that we have what it takes to last forever. Most kids my age fall in love with someone and think it's going to last and it doesn't. The first time they're apart for five minutes they discover that there are a lot more potential true loves out there." Chad shrugged. "But Ryan and I are not like that."
"How do you know?" Chris asked curiously.
"We just aren't," Chad snapped.
"All right, I'll take your word for it, for now. I want to back up a moment and clarify something. Tell me about your sleep issues."
"Well, Tuesday night I slept like a baby. But Wednesday--."
"After you and Ryan had words?"
"I couldn't sleep," Chad said, nodding.
"You said you were afraid to sleep."
"Well after you made the connection between sleep issues and Ryan--. I didn't know what would happen if I let myself sleep."
"And since then?
"Thursday night I went home--and didn't sleep because I was afraid I'd try to go to Ryan's house again. My parents probably didn't sleep, either," Chad said with a sigh. "We all had a miserable night. That's when I decided to call and move this appointment up to Monday."
"And what about the weekend?"
"Well, Ryan was over for the weekend. He usually comes over my place or I go over his on the weekend."
"And your parents allow this?" Chris asked.
"Yeah," Chad said. "I told you our folks were cool. Anyway, he stayed at my house and I slept a little, but I was still afraid to sleep."
"What went through your mind as you laid there awake?"
"I wished I could sleep, but I thought--I was afraid that if I went to sleep I'd start sleepwalking again."
"Because you told me that I had issues with Ryan and the last time I had issues with Ryan I got up in my sleep and drove sixteen miles."
"What's stopping you and Ryan from resolving your issues?" Chris asked. Chad rolled his eyes and rose to his feet. He strode over to the wastebasket and tossed the empty cup before he began pacing.
"How the hell should I know? I've tried talking to Ryan. I told him everything. He's told me everything."
"What did he tell you?"
"He told me I was doing the right thing."
"And that is…"
"Going to the U of A," Chad said frowning.
"And you don't believe that."
Chad sat at the back of the auditorium grinning at Ryan and Sharpay, who were arguing in a language only the two of them--and Chad--could understand.
"I should have brought popcorn," he said as he put up his feet.
"Here you are," Troy said as he dropped his backpack to the ground and took a seat beside Chad. "I hope you're satisfied."
"Am I supposed to understand that?" Chad asked, turning to look at his friend's grim profile.
"I spoke to Gabriella, as you suggested. Turns out she--. I'll be going to the U of A after all," he said, folding his arms.
"What?" Chad was completely shocked by his revelation.
"I did what you suggested. I asked her what she wanted. She told me she didn't want me to throw away my scholarship on her account," Troy said petulantly.
"That's cool," Chad said as a slow smile grew on his face. Troy glared at him. "Well, don't you see? She wants you to live out your dream to play ball at U of A, dude!"
"She wants me to stay here while she goes off to California alone."
"Yeah," Chad said, his smile fading. He slid down in his seat. "I can see how that would bum you out. But dude, it's only a thousand miles!"
"Spare me, will you?"
"Yeah." Chad turned his attention back to the stage, where the argument had ended and Ryan was running through his number. "You know, if it's meant to be, it'll work out."
"Is that what you keep telling yourself?" Troy said bitterly. Chad shook his head.
"I don't have any illusions," he replied. "In fact I'm scared to death that I'll lose him. New York is a big place with a lot of people and a lot of distractions. And Ryan's an amazing guy. I'm terrified." Troy looked at him disbelievingly.
"I'm so scared I actually got out of bed and drove to his house in the middle of the night last week just to make sure he was still there," Chad admitted.
"You snuck out? Did your folks find out?"
"Yeah; Ryan called them," Chad replied.
"He squealed on you?" Troy said incredulously.
"Well, my mom would have figured out I was gone the minute she walked into my room after calling me to come down to breakfast a half dozen times," Chad replied, grinning.
"Yeah, but your dad--. I bet he blew his stack when he found out!" Troy cried. "You must be grounded for life!"
"I'm not grounded at all," Chad replied easily as he rose and walked down the aisle. He went up to the stage and beckoned Ryan, who squatted down to talk with him briefly. Then he picked up his backpack and headed back up the aisle.
"Where are you going? We've got another couple hours of rehearsal," Troy asked when Chad reached him.
"I have an appointment with my counselor."
"A lot has happened in the last two weeks, Troy. I'll be back in about ninety minutes."
"Troy's still a dick, but we're getting along. I hope he'll come to appreciate what Gabriella did for him someday."
"Will you room with him at U of A?" Chris asked.
"I don't think so. Maybe," Chad sighed. "I don't know. Maybe if he asks."
"How are things going with Ryan?"
"Good," Chad said, averting his eyes. Chris suppressed a smile at the way Chad invariably glowed when Ryan's name came up. He was apparently aware of it and slightly embarrassed, now that he was calm enough to realize that he was doing it.
"Are you sleeping?"
"No," Chad said bluntly. Chris propped her chin on her hand and waited. "It's hard sleeping in my own bed alone. It's like I lie there wondering what will happen if I let myself fall asleep. And when I'm with Ryan I lie awake watching him because I've got a limited number of days left with him, you know?"
"Does he know you do that?" Chris asked, smiling at Chad's unvarnished romanticism.
"Yeah," Chad said, coloring slightly. "He teases me about it all the time."
"He doesn't do anything like that to you?"
"I don't know. You'd have to ask his counselor."
"Does he have one?"
Chad shook his head. Chris smiled and reached for her appointment book.
"So we can't meet next week because that's the night of your big debut…" She flipped through the pages to the following Monday. "How about--?"
"I don't know if we're allowed to do this, but since the show will be over then and we'll have time… I'd like you to meet Ryan."
"I'd be delighted to meet him," Chris replied. She glanced down at her book. "The 28th?"
"We'll be there."
Ryan left the auditorium and walked with Gabriella to the door.
"He's bringing his truck around. Where's Chad?" she countered.
"Meeting me outside. So how are things between you two?"
"He's not happy," she said, "but I think it's for the best. You know," she said, wrapping an arm around one of his, "I'm going to be looking to you and Chad for advice about how to cope." Ryan laughed heartily but wouldn't explain why he found her remark so funny. They went their separate ways and Ryan got into Chad's car, still laughing.
"What's so funny?"
"Did Troy tell you he's going to go to U of A, after all?"
"Yeah," Chad said, reaching over to fasten Ryan's seatbelt. "And why do I have the distinct impression that you had something to do with that?"
"All I did was help Gabriella get up the courage to be honest with Troy."
"And she didn't want him to give up the scholarship? Or was there more to it?"
"Well?" Chad repeated. Ryan shrugged.
"I guess it's okay to tell you. Gabriella was a little freaked. She didn't feel that their relationship was on that level. His idea to up and run off to California to be near her seemed a bit stalkerish."
"Anyway, she said that they'd give it a year and see how things go. If they decide they want to be together after that, they'll consider their options--together."
"Sounds familiar," Chad said as he started the car. Ryan chuckled again.
"She said she's going to look to us for cues on how to cope with separation issues."
"She won't have a car in California, will she?" Chad quipped.
"By the way, you missed the end of rehearsal. I thought you would be coming right back after your session," Ryan complained.
"I had to make a stop," Chad said unapologetically. "I figured I was doing so well this week, I deserved something special."
"Oh? And what might that be?"
Chad reached behind him and grabbed a bag.
"Here, take a look."
"A tee shirt," Ryan said dully, peering inside. "I thought we were moving past that unfortunate stage in your sartorial development."
"Read it," Chad demanded. Ryan held up the black tee.
Yours probably just got into some other girl's pants.
Ryan looked at Chad disapprovingly. Chad reached over and turned the shirt around.
"Read the front."
My boyfriend got into Juilliard.
"Have I mentioned lately how much I adore you?"
On to Coping