Summary: Ryan's surprise visit to Sharpay at the U of A holds a few surprises for him as well.
Author's Note: This is a story with a minimally altered universe. The sole change from the canon is Chad Danforth. He's not the usual basketball-toting, triple threat jock (and if he's a triple-threat jock and HSM3 was set in the spring, shouldn't he have been carrying a baseball or javelin instead of a basketball?). In terms of looks, think Corbin rather than Chad. This story was inspired by an icon, pictured above. Ashley and Corbin always look like such a power couple on the red carpet. My thanks to elvensorceress for creating the lovely, and la_pina_colada for playing the muse. This story is especially for them.
The next time my sister feels compelled to bitch that I don't love her I'll be amply prepared to defend myself. After all, what better proof of my devotion could there be than this? I just canceled a second date with a guy I've been trying to snare for a month and flew coach--COACH--on some crappy discount airline just to be in Albuquerque for her debut this weekend. I've passed up potential sex, palatable food and undoubtedly decent accommodations for her benefit. If that's not love then I don't know what is. Now all I have to do is find her and let her know I'm here.
I suppose I should have taken comfort in the knowledge that the college wouldn't release information on my sister without her permission or a warrant. But I was too damned tired to care. I'd just traveled two thirds of the way across the country to surprise Sharpay and now no one would tell me how to find her. It never occurred to me to bring her address. I had three choices: I could wander the campus until I found Sharpay; go and sit in the theatre until the performance; or I could look for Chad Danforth. The administration would tell me how to find him and he was likely to know where to find Sharpay.
I asked about him at the first office I come to in the music building and was directed to a room on the third floor. The door was ajar and there was no one inside, although there were signs that someone had been there recently. It looked as though he was likely to return, so I dropped my stuff and sat down on the piano bench to wait. I let my eyes sweep the room and realized that I was in a studio space, probably better suited for dance rehearsals than playing music.
I couldn't resist the urge to get up and test out the floor, humming a piece of music that's been stuck in my head the last few days. I belatedly realized that it's from the CD Sharpay had sent me. I find myself dancing to the piece every time I listen to it. The melody is hypnotic and beautiful and just meant to be a dance number, no matter what Sharpay says to the contrary. It's possibly the most perfect piece of dance music I've ever heard and I fully intend to prove it to her, if I ever manage to find her.
"What are you doing in here?"
I spun around and there he was--Chad Danforth in the flesh. Even though I'd been waiting for him, I was completely unprepared for the reality of coming face to face with the man himself. He was, impossibly, even better looking than his photographs. The corporeal Chad Danforth had a real physique, slim and athletic--he might have been a dancer rather than a musician--intense dark eyes, long dark hair, that mouth--he was everything I expected him to be and more.
I can still recall the first time I saw Chad Danforth. I'd just finished moving into my dorm room at Juilliard and decided to check out the lounge at the end of the floor. On the way, I looked at all the pictures of musicians and dancers that lined the walls of the corridor. The last picture I looked at was of someone I didn't recognize. It was one of those photographs that stared back at you, but this one not only stared, it smirked provocatively at the viewer. I was immediately smitten with the mystery man's handsome face. I've smiled back it every time I've passed it since that day.
Like everyone else whose portrait was hung in the corridor, he was apparently a Juilliard alum--or at least that's what I thought until someone enlightened me and I learned that he was, in fact, still a student at the school. Unlike the grads who studied at Juilliard and then went on to brilliant careers in the performing arts, Chad Danforth arrived with an established international reputation as a concert pianist. I'd apparently missed a lot since my family moved to Albuquerque seven years ago, so I did a bit of research and learned more about him.
Chad Danforth was a true savant, a brilliant musician whose talent was discovered at the age of five when he sat down at a piano for the first time. He started taking lessons at Juilliard at the age of ten under the tutelage of one of the senior faculty. Since then, he'd garnered all sorts of accolades as a performer, making his Carnegie Hall debut at the age of thirteen, performing with the Cincinnati Symphony, the New York Philharmonic and several orchestras in Europe. He'd also won two prestigious piano competitions. Needless to say, he was at Juilliard on a full scholarship.
I spent the next few weeks looking for him on campus and in every nook and cranny of Lincoln Center where Juilliard students tended to congregate, wanting to see that beautiful face in person. But he was nowhere to be found. Then one day Sharpay called and told me that Chad Danforth was at the U of A for the year as an artist-in-residence. Ironic, no?
"I was looking for my sister," I said, earning a very familiar-looking smirk from my inquisitor.
"Really? It looked to me as though you were dancing," Chad replied as he took off his jacket and sat down at the piano. "There are empty studios down the hall. You can dance in any one of those, if you like. This space is mine." With that he began to play.
Sharpay had told me he was a virtuoso and everything I've seen or heard about him confirmed it, but nothing prepared me for what I witnessed that afternoon. Music seemed to flow from his fingers as though he was willing it into existence. He played Beethoven--a piece of music so familiar it had become banal to me. But under his hands it took on new meaning. I suddenly knew what it meant to be in the presence of true genius.
Eventually, Chad glanced up and seemed annoyed to find that I was still there. But he immediately became absorbed in the music again. I probably should have left at that point, but I couldn't move. I was riveted to the spot by both the music and the man. Like the first time I saw Chad's photograph, I was completely in his thrall. I felt extremely jealous of Sharpay, who got to spend time with him on a daily basis.
When Chad finished playing, he looked up again and I took the opportunity to speak. I didn't bother to compliment his performance--anything I said would have been inadequate.
"I'm looking for Sharpay Evans and I thought this might be the best place to track her down."
"And you are--?" Chad asked warily.
"Sorry, I'm Ryan Evans, her--."
"Twin brother," he concluded. "Well, as you can tell, she's not here."
"Have you any idea where she might be?"
"Your guess is as good as mine," he said with a shrug before he began to play again. This time he played something unfamiliar, possibly his own composition. It was very complex and I watched in amazement as his fingers flew across the keyboard. He abruptly stopped and looked up expectantly.
"Look," I said bluntly, "I'm obviously disrupting your practice but I just flew two thousand miles to see my sister and I don't know how to find her." Chad looked up at me curiously.
"I assume you have her number," he said archly.
"I intended to surprise her," I explained. Chad nodded slowly and then smirked again.
"Seems like you're the one who got surprised," he said as he resumed playing. My eyes were once again drawn to his hands. I wanted to feel those hands on me. I wanted them to play melodies on my naked skin while I ran my fingers through that glorious mane of hair. With no small amount of effort I forced myself back to the matter at hand.
"If you'd just tell me where her dorm is I'll leave you to your music."
"I think she's in Warren Hall," he said absently.
"I'm not sure," he said with a shrug and another smirk I wanted to slowly lick off his face. I took a cleansing breath and tried calm myself. I was getting angry and aroused at the same time. Chad glanced up briefly, never losing his place in the music. I couldn't help but stare openly, falling harder with each passing second. Until a few minutes ago, Chad Danforth had been a harmless if persistent object of fantasy. But the real, living creature of was far more compelling than I ever imagined--even if he was annoyed with me.
"I really don't think your sister's likely to show up here any time soon," Chad said as he stopped and opened his bag to pull out a sheaf of music.
"Did something happen between you two?" I asked curiously.
"Between us? Look, I don't know what Sharpay told you about me--. No, I take that back. I can guess what she must have told you," Chad said, shaking his head as he laid a score on top of the piano.
"Meaning..." I prodded after Chad began playing again and apparently forgot I was still there--again.
"Take it up with her."
"From what I think I'm hearing I'm not likely to learn the truth from her, am I?" I challenged. Chad stopped playing and looked up, now clearly irritated by the interruption.
"Is everyone in your family such a pain in the ass?" he asked exasperatedly. "Look, I have no interest in causing any trouble between you and Sharpay," he said, "but obviously, she's been filling your head with lies." He gestured loosely toward the door. "She's been filling everyone's head with lies."
"You two aren't--."
"She really doesn't take rejection well, does she?"
"That's an understatement," I replied with an uncharacteristic snort. "What did you do?"
"What did I do?" he replied. He looked like he was about to spit nails. I'd obviously struck a nerve.
"I'm sorry," I said hastily. I had absolutely no doubt that whatever happened between the two of them was Sharpay's fault. She had a talent for making trouble that was rivaled only by her ability to get out of it. "Whatever happened is none of my business. I just thought--."
"You thought you'd find Sharpay here."
"Look, I'm really sorry for interrupting your practice. I'm just trying to find my sister," I said determinedly. I didn't like what I was hearing and I was really beginning to worry about Sharpay. "Have you seen her at all today? Do you have any idea where she might be, where she hangs out, or who her friends are?"
"I haven't seen her today, I don't know where she is or how to contact any of her friends," Chad replied impatiently. I instinctively knew he wasn't lying, but there was clearly more to the story he wasn't telling me. Luckily for me, I learned all about stubbornness at the hands of a master and stood my ground. After about a half a minute, Chad rose again and began to fold the score.
"You want answers, come on," he said, stuffing it back into his bag and reaching for his jacket.
"Where are we going?"
"Somewhere where we can talk," Chad said. "I can't do that here." I was confused by that statement and said so. He stopped and turned to me. "When I'm in the studio, I play. If you want to talk we'll have to do it somewhere else." I was tempted to apologize, but held my tongue. I quickly collected my things and followed Chad out of the building and across the parking lot.
We walked in silence for a block or two and reached a small coffee shop. Chad held the door for me and pointed toward the back. I found an empty table while Chad ordered a couple of coffees. He sat down and pushed one of them across the table to me. I took a sip and was shocked to find it perfectly prepared.
"I figured you'd take yours the way you sister does," Chad said simply. He took a sip from his own cup and sat back. I waited for him to say more, but when nothing was apparently forthcoming, I asked him how he met Sharpay. "When I first arrived at the U of A, the faculty encouraged me to drop in on their classes," Chad began. "To be honest, I wasn't interested. I just wanted to focus on my own work. But one day I was stuck on a passage of a piece I was composing and decided to take a break. I wandered around the halls for a bit, just stretching my legs. When I passed Brad Johnson's class and heard singing, I poked my head in. He was giving an interesting lecture about singing in character, so I decided to sit in and listen for a few minutes. He asked a few students to perform a song from a Broadway show in character. The first two did a decent job of it. But when Sharpay got up and sang, she just knocked it out of the park! She had this amazing presence," he said, his eyes lighting up at the memory. "It was incredible! And as she sang, something just sort of clicked in my head. I suddenly knew how to solve the problem in my piece and I ran back to the studio to jot it down before I lost it. A few days later, I encountered Sharpay in the hall and she gave me this look, like I'd just kicked her puppy or something. I was confused, so I asked her what it was for. She'd seen me leave during her performance."
"She was offended that you'd walked out on her," I surmised, knowing Sharpay all too well.
"You can say that again! I introduced myself and apologized, explaining that she'd inspired something that I needed to write down right away. She didn't seem to buy that so I invited her up to the studio and played it for her. She wanted to know exactly what part she'd inspired, so I played the little trill I'd added and she vocalized it. I was intrigued. We spent the next hour at it--I would play something and she would vocalize the melody. That's when I declared her to be my muse. We've been great friends ever since."
"And she thought you were something more," I concluded knowingly. Chad averted his eyes.
"I knew she was interested in me," he said, staring into space. "I pretended not to notice. I figured she'd get over her crush and things would just settle down."
"You weren't at all interested in her?" I asked curiously. Chad shook his head.
"Not romantically, no. After about a month of waiting for me to throw myself at her feet she finally came right out and laid it on the line," he confessed. "She asked me point blank what she'd have to do to get me into bed. I told her that my interest in her was strictly platonic, nothing more. She didn't take it well, at first, but we talked it out and she came back to work. Things were fine between us after that. "
"Sharpay didn't--. You didn't tell her you were gay?" I asked quizzically. Chad shrugged.
"It's not something I usually feel a need to discuss with people."
"Maybe if she'd known…" I pouted, offended on my sister's behalf.
"How long did it take you to figure it out?" Chad challenged.
"Not long, but then I'm--."
"And your twin sister has--."
"A real gift for denial," I finished for him. He was right--Sharpay had gaydar that rivaled my own. She should have put two and two together as easily as I had. So why hadn't she? I pondered that question as Chad started drumming his fingers in time to the music playing on the sound system. In seconds, his fingers absently began to play the melody on an invisible keyboard as I looked on in fascination.
"Sharpay said that you can play anything after hearing it only once," I said. Chad glanced down at the fingers of his right hand as though they were foreign to him.
"Yeah," he said softly.
"I used to think everyone could do that until someone told me differently," he said modestly. I propped my chin on a fist and stared at the dancing fingers. "I wish that kind of thing would work with math," he said with a smile so gorgeous that my mouth immediately went dry. I took a large gulp of coffee to wet it again.
"What's it like being so talented?" I asked when I recovered my power of speech, not caring that I probably sounded like an adoring fan girl.
"You're at Juilliard," Chad replied, propping his own chin. "You tell me!"
"Touché," I said, "but I'm no prodigy."
"'Prodigy' is just a word I've been saddled with," he said self-effacingly. He clenched his fingers into a fist and slowly opened it. "It's been an albatross around my neck since I was a little kid." He pouted into his cup for a moment while I stared at his ridiculously curly lashes.
"Go on with your story," I suggested, sensing that I'd accidentally said the wrong thing. He looked up. "You were saying that you and Sharpay became friends."
"Yeah," he said, with a hint of a smile. "She started dropping by to visit me. Since I have rules about talking in the studio, she'd come by to listen to me practice, or sometimes she'd sit in the corner and read. But most of the time she seemed determined to get me out of the studio so we could talk. And I liked that--I tend to get too deeply involved in my work sometimes. She'd bring me coffee and cookies, or she'd ask me to help her with a project she was working on. She even talked me into helping her start a club," he said, scratching his head. "I'm still not exactly sure what that's about but it has something to do with musical theatre. She needed ten members and a faculty advisor, and since I'm technically faculty, she drafted me for the job."
"So she hung out with you," I concluded.
"She wasn't a constant presence but, yeah, she stopped by or we'd run into each other on campus. And occasionally, when I needed a bit of inspiration or a distraction, I'd seek her out. Eventually, after listening to her sing with her music buddies one night, I decided to write something for her voice."
"When did things go sour?" I prompted, already knowing the answer. Chad sighed.
"I found out a few days ago, that in spite of our agreement to keep things platonic, she'd led some of her friends to think that we were something more." Chad shook his head. "I guess I'd always suspected her of doing that; the way she'd behave whenever they were around. She'd suddenly become flirtatious, touch me a lot, tousle my hair--that sort of thing."
"Marking her turf," I deadpanned.
"I didn't see any real harm in it, at first," Chad said after taking a sip from his cup. "After all, it wasn't really overt and she wasn't going around spreading rumors or anything. Besides, I'll be leaving at the end of the semester and going back to New York, so it wasn't like it was going to last long, anyway."
"So what happened?" I asked, storing that last bit of information for later.
"Last night she kissed me," Chad said, averting his eyes to hide his anger. I sat up straighter, confused.
"Okay," I said slowly. "I know my sister is capable of doing horrible things, but kissing isn't high on her list of tortures."
"She was clearly trying to goad me into putting on a show for her friends, so I let her do it. After they left, Sharpay and I had a long talk. That's when I learned the lengths she'd gone to in order to convince her friends that we were lovers." He signaled the waiter for another round. "I knew she'd scared off a few of my admirers by telling them I was spoken for. I didn't mind; I was happy to be rid of the groupies. Sharpay claimed to be the world's only muse and bodyguard." It had never occurred to me that a classical pianist might have groupies, but I suspected that Chad could develop a following even if he washed cars for a living.
"When we argued last night," Chad continued, "I found out that she's been hanging out in her car or the library until late at night once or twice a week so her roommate would think we were sleeping together. Oh, and when I went home to visit my parents one weekend, Sharpay offered to drive me to the airport. After dropping me off she went home to her own folks, but she led people to think that I'd taken her to New York."
"And she never let anyone could get close enough to you to ask any questions," I said. That's Sharpay's classic divide-and-conquer strategy. She'd offered me plenty of evidence that she was involved with Chad, too. And boy, was she subtle about it. She never actually said they were dating. She'd said things like, "We went to a Busby Berkley film festival last night and tonight we're just going to stay in and rehearse," or, "We were up half the night talking about music," leaving me to arrive at my own conclusions as to how she and Chad had spent the rest of the night. I'd wasted the last four months needlessly feeling guilty for lusting after my sister's "boyfriend."
"When I asked her why she'd done it, she tried to convince me that she was in love with me, but I don't buy it," Chad said, staring into his cup. "It seemed much more like a power grab than the actions of someone suffering from unrequited love. I don't understand; Sharpay is a beautiful girl. I know she could have had her pick of admirers. They were constantly hanging around just waiting for a chance with her. I thought you were one of them when I walked in and found you in the studio."
"My sister," I began, still trying to digest what I'd just learned. I wanted to be able to defend her but I knew all too well that his accusations were true. "Sharpay doesn't like being behind the pack. She doesn't even like being a part of it. It's either lead dog or she doesn't put on the harness, if you get my drift." Chad nodded. "All I can guess is that you were the biggest prize. You're the Troy Bolton of the U of A."
"What's a Troy Bolton?" Chad replied. I absently shook my head to dismiss the statement.
"It's simple; Sharpay was top dog back at East High. When she arrived here she was instantly demoted to the rank of anonymous freshman. That's not her style. Sharpay Evans was never meant to wallow in obscurity." I shook my head sadly and removed my hat, absently rearranging my hair. "I knew she was struggling. Last semester she was on the verge of giving up and going home. And it had nothing to do with academics--she's doing well in all her classes. She's just been unhappy. But I knew she could make it--I was sure that, given time, she'd hit her stride and begin to shine."
"So she fabricated a fake love life to tide her over until then?" Chad said incredulously.
"I'm not privy to her thinking on this," I admitted. "She had me snookered, too. But I think it's like this: you're a celebrity. Being connected with you gave her instant cachet. Being with you meant that she was no longer a nobody." Chad sadly shook his head.
"She's never been a nobody to me," he said disappointedly. "No one who's ever met Sharpay would think of her as a nobody." If I weren't half in love with him already I would have fallen for him at that moment.
"So what happens to your concert? Sharpay's supposed to sing tomorrow."
"I know," Chad replied uneasily. "She said she'll appear, but she didn't show up for rehearsal this afternoon. I hope she's not going to do something--."
"Drastic? Foolish?" I cut in. "My sister is a lot of things, but she wouldn't do anything to spoil her debut. She's a consummate professional when it comes to performing. If she said she'll be there, she'll be there."
"Well, it's not very professional to skip rehearsal," Chad complained.
"She's probably off licking her wounds," I insisted. "Look, I know Shar better than anyone on the planet. Trust me on this."
"I trusted your sister," Chad said pointedly. And awkward silence ensued. "Tell me something," he said as I began to fidget with the edge of my cup holder. "What are you doing here, anyhow? She told me you couldn't make the concert, which I now realize was obviously a lie to keep you from showing up and finding out the truth. But--."
"Whenever I asked Sharpay about the date of the concert she'd put me off, claiming that she had to look it up and call me back, or some other excuse," I replied. "I finally went online and looked it up myself. At the time, I just figured she didn't want me to come because she thought I wouldn't like it or that she had a smaller part than she'd let on--something like that."
"But you came, anyway."
"She's my sister! Of course, I'd be here for her," I said defensively. "I wouldn't care if she only sang one line. It's her debut and I wouldn't miss it for anything in the world. Of course, knowing what I know now, she probably won't be happy to see me."
"I doubt it," Chad replied. "But stay, anyway. Sharpay's really awesome and you've got to see her perform."
"Oh, I have every intention of being there," I said. "I'll have to alter my original plans, though."
"What were your original plans?"
"I went to your studio to surprise her today."
"Yeah, maybe you ought to rethink that plan," Chad said wryly.
"Okay, on to plan B," I said, reaching into my pocket for my iPhone. Chad frowned as I began a search.
"What are you doing?"
"I've got to find a motel or something in the area. I'd planned on staying with Shar tonight. But that's out of the question, so--."
Chad calmly pulled the phone out of my hands and began to examine the screen.
"You can stay at my place," he said as he scanned through the apps. "Unless you'd prefer to spend the night in a nameless motel miles from anything with only a vending machine for meals."
"Well, when you put it that way…"
Chad returned my phone and rose to his feet. I quickly rose to catch up with him; he was out of the restaurant before I could put on my hat. Chad abruptly stopped and took one of my bags.
"Come on," he said, smiling. I immediately decided that I'd follow Chad Danforth anywhere if he smiled at me like that--whether or not I'd been invited along. "Hungry?" he asked after we'd walked a couple of blocks further away from the campus.
"I could eat," I replied. Actually, I was starving, having refused what was offered on the plane. We stopped at a small pizzeria and ordered a pie, which I insisted on paying for. Chad carried it across the street to a small apartment complex.
"Welcome to my humble abode," Chad said as he set my bag down near the door. It was a simple alcove studio apartment the college used for visiting faculty, rather austerely decorated but serviceable.
"Cozy," I declared archly.
"I know; makes me homesick for my crib back in the city," Chad replied. He peeled off his jacket and took mine to hang up while I took a quick tour of the place. "We can draw straws for the bed--or share it," he said from somewhere behind me. I spun around in time to see the bathroom door close. I stood there for a moment, not quite believing what I'd heard. Chad emerged from the bathroom a minute later and went into the kitchen, returning with two bottles of beer from the refrigerator. He also brought out some plates and gestured for me to join him.
"Your turn," he said, as he popped the lid off of his bottle.
"Huh?" I replied bluntly, my mouth full of pizza. Chad helpfully handed me a napkin.
"Tell me about yourself," he said, sitting back and crossing his legs. "Sharpay said you were in the dance program."
"Yes, I am," I replied, slightly thrown off balance by the sudden shift of attention. "I'm in my first year--but you undoubtedly know that."
"Do you like it?"
"Yeah; it's different than I imagined--in a good way. I really like it--so far, anyway."
"So your freshman experience has been very different from your sister's."
"Well, she really wanted to go to Juilliard, too. I think that's the major reason why she hasn't really settled in here."
"Does she resent you for winning the scholarship?"
"I don't think so," I said, even if I had lingering doubts. "She doesn't begrudge my success so much as she can't accept the fact that she was rejected."
"I can believe that," Chad replied archly. Then he smiled and set down his pizza. He made a show of wiping his hands on his napkin before extending one in my direction. "You know, I don't believe we've been properly introduced. My name is Chad Danforth."
"Pleased to meet you, Chad," I said, taking his hand. "Ryan Evans."
I spent the next twenty minutes answering questions about Juilliard, Sharpay and my new life in New York. Chad seemed determined to ask me as many questions as I'd asked him. I didn't mind; we'd gotten past our initial awkwardness and were beginning to enjoy each other's company. More importantly, Chad was flirting with me. When we were done eating, he rose from the table and went to put on some music. It was classical piano music and it definitely wasn't Chad playing. He confirmed that it was Andre Watts, one of his earlier inspirations.
"You can change it to something else if you want," Chad said. "I brought a decent collection with me."
"You said something about returning to New York soon," I said, ignoring the offer. "I thought Shar said something about the artist-in-residence thing being a year-long gig."
"It usually is, but I'm not your typical artist-in-residence," Chad replied with a cheeky grin. "It's usually given to someone a lot further along in his career than I am. The last two years have been brutal for me. I was touring every minute I wasn't in the classroom. I was halfway through my junior year when I decided needed a break. The director of the U of A music program is a good friend of one of my mentors back at Juilliard. He offered me the opportunity to come out here for a semester and I jumped at it. "
"So you'll be back in New York in the spring," I said speculatively. Chad's smile made me realize that I'd not only spoken aloud, but pretty much exposed myself. But even as I felt my ears turning red, I could see that he was speculating, too. He propped his chin on his palm and stared at my mouth as I asked about his work as artist-in-residence.
"I'm doing an independent study while I'm here but my main job as artist-in-residence is to teach. I've done a couple of master classes and I've been working one on one with four seniors in the music program this semester. It's been amazing. And fun," Chad said.
"And you've been composing," I prompted, wanting to know all about the music Sharpay had been telling me about for months.
"Yes, well the artist-in-residence is also obligated to perform in concert and I wanted to write something special for the occasion. I've written a piece called 'Nightscapes,' he said, sitting forward eagerly. He described the music in great detail, but to be completely honest, all I could focus on was the passion and energy with which he spoke, the way his hands gestured as he talked about one movement or the other, and the way his eyes lit up. I was completely lost in him when the phone rang, bringing us both back to earth. Chad pulled his phone from his pocket and looked at it.
"It's Sharpay," he said as he opened it and accepted the call. "Hey. Yes, I've got your folder. You left it behind when you stormed out of Donovan's last night," he said, nodding at me. I felt like an interloper, but I really wanted to hear what she had to say. Chad seemed to want that, too, given that when I started to rise and move away from the table, he put a hand on my arm to stop me and put the call on speaker.
"I didn't storm out," Sharpay said defensively. I could hear the pout in her voice. "I just needed some air."
"You never came back," Chad replied evenly.
"Do you hate me?"
"Why on earth would I hate you?"
"You were very angry with me last night," Sharpay reasoned.
"I was very angry with you last night, and I ought to be angry with you for bailing on me today, too," Chad countered. "Why didn't you show up at rehearsal?" Sharpay gave him some lame excuse that made both of us roll our eyes. He continued talking with her, as I tried to process everything that had happened over the past few hours.
I'd arrived in Albuquerque to hear my sister sing in Chad Danforth's concert. Until I actually met the man I'd been operating under the belief that he and my sister were involved in a serious relationship, which, as it turns out, was only a figment of my sister's devious imagination. That revelation was troubling and somewhat pathetic; I made a mental note to have to have a serious talk with Sharpay about that later. But the more important news at the moment was that Chad Danforth was not only unattached but also gay. And hot as hell. And he'd been flirting with me. And did I mention hot?
"Besides," Chad was saying at just that moment, "isn't your family coming tomorrow?"
"My parents are in London," Sharpay explained.
"What about your brother?" Chad asked, winking at me.
"Oh, he's really busy at school. He can't get away this weekend."
"That's too bad; I bet he'd love to see you perform. Maybe when you come east next semester to visit we can perform it for him."
"Come east?" Sharpay squeaked.
"Aren't you planning to visit him? I thought you two were close."
"We are, but you know how busy--."
"I'm looking forward to meeting him," Chad said impishly, turning that stunning smile on me and once again holding me in thrall. "In fact, I intend to look him up as soon as I get back to the city. I hope he's as pretty as you are."
"Why?" Sharpay demanded.
"Why do you think?"
"What?" Sharpay gasped dramatically. "You're gay?"
"You hadn't noticed?" Chad said innocently.
"No! How was I supposed to 'notice' when I never saw you with a guy," she retorted. "You never shown an interest in any of the guys who've been hanging around all semester!"
"That's because none of them were the right guy," he replied. "But maybe--if your brother's anything like you--."
"He's nothing like me, really," Sharpay insisted. "We're as different as night and day. Besides, he already has a boyfriend!" My mouth dropped open in a blunt expression of horror.
"I don't mind a little competition," Chad said easily as he reached out and closed my mouth with an index finger. "So when will I see you tomorrow?"
For a second I thought he was addressing me and I very nearly declared my immediate availability, but Sharpay answered and I held my tongue. They made plans to meet late the following morning and Chad shut the phone.
"So do you have a boyfriend?" he asked coyly. I shook my head. "Would Sharpay really disapprove if I made a pass at her brother?" he asked as he set the phone down and stared into my eyes.
"You said it earlier--she doesn't take rejection well," I replied, "but frankly I don't give a damn what she thinks. I have my own opinion on the idea."
"Really?" Chad said as he rose and reached for my hand. "And what might that be?" He drew me over to the sofa and we got comfortable. He reached over, took my hat and reverently set it down on the coffee table before turning back to me. I guess he was waiting for me to say something, but I just wanted him to kiss me and said so. He smiled and obliged me.
We spent the next twenty minutes making out on the sofa before he took me to his bed.
The following morning Chad brought me to the studio. I sat quietly by the window while he rehearsed. I was mesmerized, swept away by both the music and the memory of the previous night. It was almost as though we were still in bed together. I could still feel his fingers on me, dancing, exploring…willing the music out of my skin. I cleared my throat and tried not to think about such things while he practiced, but Chad looked up and smiled and I knew that he was having similar thoughts. He stopped playing and waved me over.
"Dance for me," he commanded. I rose to my feet and joined him at the piano.
"I'm not warmed up," I replied, glancing down at my attire, which I supposed was loose enough to dance in.
"I can play barre music for you," he said, smiling broadly as he immediately launched into something by Erik Satie. I couldn't resist the sudden impulse to lean across the piano and kiss him.
"I could get very used to that," I confessed after he pulled me down onto the bench and deepened the kiss.
"I certainly hope so," Chad replied. "I fully intend to make a habit of it. Now quit stalling and start dancing."
I went to the barre and began warming up. It was difficult to concentrate with his eyes on me. But I was determined to please him. I did a quick barre then turned to him, ready to perform.
"What should I play?" Chad asked. I shrugged, casting about for a number in my repertoire that he might know. Then it struck me.
"Play this," I said, before humming that tune I'd danced to the day before. Chad stared at me for a moment.
"How did you--? Where did you--?" Chad averted his eyes. "Sharpay."
"She wanted me to hear--."
Chad shook his head dismissively and started to play. I stood there for a seconds, confused by his reaction, until Chad stopped and glared at me.
"Are you going to dance or--?"
"Sorry," I said hastily. Chad smiled and began anew. This time I let the music take me and began to dance. It was exhilarating, dancing to the music played the way it was intended to be heard. I'd only choreographed half the piece, so I improvised the rest. Nonetheless, Chad enjoyed the performance and rose to applaud me when I was done. I demanded and received another kiss as my reward and sat down next to him on the bench.
"That's not meant to be danced to, you know," Chad said as he began to play something light and loose.
"So Sharpay keeps telling me," I replied. "But since I've obviously proven otherwise, the argument is moot."
"And the composer has no say in the matter?"
"What does he know? He's not a dancer, is he?" I replied boldly. Chad smiled impishly.
"Sharpay told me that you sang a little, too," he said, shifting keys and smoothly segueing into one of the songs from East High's senior show. I snorted at the comment. I bet Sharpay had told him just that--literally.
"A little," I replied teasingly. Chad kissed me again and asked me to sing. After the third song I asked if I was good enough to be his named his muse.
"You'll have to take that up with your sister," Chad replied. "I'm not going to get involved in that fight."
"Wuss," I said, leaning in to kiss his cheek. "Pretty wuss," I said, stealing one more kiss before retreating back to my corner. "You'd better get back to practicing." Chad smiled and resumed playing. I continued to dance in the corner, doing a bit of adagio as unobtrusively as possible.
Sharpay came in around eleven o'clock and when Chad rose to greet her, she threw her arms around him and held on for dear life. I felt a surge of guilt, which I fought down, recalling that I hadn't spent the night with her boyfriend. I was the Evans twin Chad had actually fallen for. I was the one he would be seeing again when he returned to New York. Still, it felt awkward watching the two of them together.
"I'm sorry," Sharpay said repentantly. "I've been a brat."
"Yes, you have," Chad said reproachfully. "But that's not important now. We've got a performance tonight and we've got to prepare for it."
"I did rehearse," she promised. "With the tape--which is not the same thing as rehearsing with the piano, but--." Sharpay spotted me standing there and froze. I walked over to greet her. "Ryan?"
"Shar," I said, hugging her tightly. I sensed her confusion and could only imagine the swirl of emotions she was feeling at that moment. She slowly drew away and looked at me with haunted eyes.
"What are you doing here?"
"Well, when Chad found out that mom and dad wouldn't be able to get here for the concert tonight, he called and convinced me to come and see your debut. He thought it was really important that you have someone here for you," I lied. Sharpay was flushed with embarrassment, so I told her I'd go and let her rehearse in private. I quickly grabbed my messenger bag and left the room with a brief glance at Chad. An hour later she found me sitting under a tree on the quad and sat next to me on the bench.
"Why did you lie to me back there?" she asked. I frowned at her. "Chad told me the truth as soon as you left. You came here of your own accord." I shrugged, not trusting myself to answer her. There was so much I might have said, but she spared me the trouble. "Of course, I lied to you, too. Chad and I--we aren't a thing."
"Of course you do. He also told me you slept with him last night."
"Did he?" I said, trying unsuccessfully to suppress a smile. In characteristic fashion, she hit me.
"Ryan! How could you? He's a genius, an artist! A very sensitive artist--you can't just drag him into bed like some club kid!"
"I did nothing of the sort!" I protested. "It was a mutual decision, not that it's any of your business. And where the hell did you ever get the idea that I was in the habit of seducing club kids?" I said distastefully.
"Whatever happens to Chad is my business," Sharpay replied. "I'm his bodyguard."
"Don't look now, but you're about to be displaced," I said, lightly bumping shoulders. She averted her eyes.
"Again." She spoke so softly I barely made out the word. I frowned at her and she shook her head, trying to take back the comment. But it was too late.
"Is that what you think?" I asked. "That because I won the scholarship and got to go to Juilliard I've somehow surpassed you?"
"You were befriended by all the Wildcats, won the Star Dazzle award, got to choreograph the spring musical, won the scholarship to Juilliard, and slept with the hottie I've been lusting after all semester," Sharpay replied, although she was smiling.
"I have had a damn good year, haven't I?" I said without an ounce of remorse. I wasn't about to let Sharpay deny me my happiness.
"I guess you have," she said, wrapping an arm around my shoulder. "But you know I'm due for a comeback any moment." I smiled at her.
"Go for it," I said. Her smile bloomed into a thing of beauty and I kissed her cheek. "Just don't mess with my hottie."
"I suppose I was doomed, anyway," Sharpay conceded with a pout. "He lives in New York, he's gay--."
"Not to mention the fact that he prefers natural blonds," I added impishly. Sometimes I just didn't know when to when to keep my big mouth shut. Sharpay pounced on me and attacked my ribs. I tried to evade her by dropping to the ground, but she climbed onto my back and continued to tickle me mercilessly until a shadow fell over the two of us. We looked up to see Chad standing there, looking down at us curiously.
"Who's winning?" he asked wryly. Sharpay reached out and he helped her to her feet before doing the same for me.
"All right," I declared, dusting myself off. "You can keep the muse-cum-bodyguard title. I'm work on earning another one, anyway." Sharpay shot me a dirty look and bent to pick up her bag.
"Like 'boyfriend?" she said with a smirk.
"Sounds good to me," Chad said with a significant look. I grinned idiotically. "Shall we?"
Sharpay, the stinker, leapt forward and took hold of his arm. My mouth fell open, but Chad reached for my hand. We walked to the parking lot and Sharpay drove us to a small diner for lunch. I let her have her way--Chad rode shotgun while I sat in the backseat. It didn't bother me one bit; I knew where I'd be sleeping that night.
I got to watch the concert from a box reserved for special guests. As expected, it was amazing. Chad opened with Schumann's Concerto in A minor, which he'd spent the afternoon rehearsing with the U of A orchestra. But the second act was devoted to his own composition.
"Nightscapes" brought the house down. It was a jazz piece in three movements, and Sharpay's song was the second. I'd never imagined anyone singing a song without words, or for that matter, a song in which the human voice portrayed an instrument. And the last thing I would ever have expected was to hear my sister performing such a piece. But she was brilliant. The entire suite was a tour de force and I was incredibly proud of the standing ovation she and Chad received. When the concert ended I waited for them outside by Sharpay's car. It was nearly an hour before they were able to escape their admirers.
I handed Sharpay a bouquet of roses and she plucked one out and gave it to Chad, who smiled rather wickedly, undoubtedly anticipating a very different reward for his performance. Another two hours passed before he was able to claim it, unfortunately, and we faced the dawn together with the heavy realization that my visit was nearly over.
I'd flown to Albuquerque fully expecting to spend the weekend with Sharpay, so I felt more than a little guilty about having had less than a day with her. Chad encouraged me to spend my remaining time with my sister. So we rose early and went out to breakfast before he walked me over to Sharpay's dorm. It was a quiet Sunday morning so Sharpay and I decided to take a walk to enjoy the late fall weather.
"You know, I would have understood if you wanted to spend this time with Chad," she said as we strolled across the campus.
"I came here to see you," I replied, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "Besides, he'll be back in New York in a few weeks. Who knows when I'll get to see you again?"
"You're coming home for Christmas, aren't you?" Sharpay asked.
"Yes," I promised. "For a week or so, anyway." She pouted. "And then you're coming to New York for a visit." Sharpay smiled.
"Thank you for coming, Ryan," she said earnestly. "It really meant a lot to me having you here last night."
"I wouldn't have missed it for the world," I replied, giving her arm a squeeze. She eyed me suspiciously.
"You're glad you came because of Chad," she said with a pout that was totally wasted on me.
"He's just a bonus," I said with a wink. "I've really missed you." She smiled and rested her head on my shoulder.
"I'll take good care of him for you."
"Good. He promised to look after you for me, too."
We had a good visit, including that talk about what she'd done to Chad. She was contrite, of course, and rather reconciled to the idea that Chad would now belong to me. She wouldn't tell me exactly what Chad had said to her, but I suspect it was fairly convincing.
I was feeling surprisingly happy as we approached the airport. By rights, I should have been miserable. I was about to be separated from Sharpay and from Chad. I was going to get on a plane operated by a fly-by-night discount airline with uncomfortable seats, lousy service and food not fit for human consumption. I was going back to the dorm room I shared with a guy who mumbled in his sleep and sit up half the night doing homework due first period Monday. And I'd have to call Joaquin and explain that I wouldn't be cashing in that rain check, after all. But for some reason, in spite of everything, I couldn't stop smiling.
"What are you thinking?" Chad asked amusedly. I blinked back at him.
"I'm thinking that I'll see you again in six weeks," I replied.
"Three," he said.
"I'll come home for the weekend," he explained, giving my hand a squeeze. "Six weeks is a long time; I wouldn't want you to forget me."
"As if," Sharpay said before I could respond. She was right, of course.
I should probably get rid of that Chad Danforth poster currently hanging over my bed before he gets back to New York. But that could wait a while. Chad squeezed my hand again and I looked up. He smiled fondly and I decided that the poster was nonnegotiable. If he didn't like it, he'd just have to deal.
(The title was taken from a fitting quote, author, alas, unknown: "All things mortal are; And o'er this on tomorrow's hearth, Muse: Even maids divinely fair Must, like flowers, resolve to earth.")