Summary: Ryan gets his Christmas wish a little early.
Note: This is not a part of the Coming to Terms 'verse.
Ryan took a sip of his gingersnap latte before making his way over to his favorite armchair near the window. He was particularly fond of this particular outpost of Starbuck's; it was a bit smaller than the one a few blocks north that most of his classmates preferred, but it was brighter and newer and it faced out onto the intersection of Broadway and 63rd Street. Ryan loved to sit in the window and watch the world pass by. And somehow that particular Starbucks reminded him of home. Not that he longed for Albuquerque; he loved being in New York so much that he decided against going home for Thanksgiving. That decision didn't sit well with his family. In fact, he was anticipating a call from Sharpay at any moment, reminding him of his promise to come home for Christmas and demanding proof that he'd purchased a plane ticket.
But Ryan wasn't interested in going home. He loved New York. He loved being at Juilliard and he loved the small social circle he'd developed with Kelsi and a few other recent transplants to the city. Going home meant confronting the life he'd been so eager to escape. It meant seeing old, familiar faces and confronting old disappointments. No, the idea of going back to Albuquerque was depressing. Ryan was content right where he was. He sat back and sipped his latte. He loved his new life in the Big Apple. New York was the perfect venue for Ryan Evans.
If only he had someone to share it with.
Ryan shut his eyes and inhaled the spicy scent of his drink. If he masked a sigh as he did so, only he was the wiser. When he opened them again, he saw a familiar figure walk past the window. Ryan sat up straighter in his seat and tried to peer around the corner, not trusting his eyes. But it wasn't his imagination. The figure entered the shop and went to the counter. Ryan could only stare as Chad Danforth stood at the counter and placed an order. He looked different; the shock of hair that had perpetually obscured Chad's forehead was gone, showing his facial features to far better effect. He'd also grown facial hair--long sideburns, a moustache and a goatee. Moreover, he was wearing form-flattering skinny jeans and a turtleneck sweater. He looked so good Ryan just stared at him open-mouthed.
He looked on as Chad paid for his drink and then pulled out his phone to make a call. Ryan frowned as his own phone began to ring, but when he drew his phone out of his pocket and glanced down, his smile returned.
"Chad!" he called. The man in question spun around and smiled back at him. He pocketed his phone, picked up his drink and walked over.
"Hey yourself," Ryan replied, grinning.
"Small world," Chad said, taking a seat opposite Ryan's. "I never imagined that it would be that easy to track you down."
"What on earth are you doing in New York?" Ryan asked bluntly.
"Well, last year my mom started this life list thing--you know, stuff you want to do before you die? One of the things on her list was to see the tree in Rockefeller Center in person. My dad decided to surprise her with a trip to the Big Apple for her birthday and since my semester's already over, I got to tag along," Chad explained, smiling.
"Great! How long will you be in town?"
"We're just here for the weekend. Both my folks have to be back at work Monday. By the way, before I forget," he said, digging around in his pockets. "Oh, I must have left it upstairs. I have something for you from Sharpay. She made me promise to look you up and hand deliver it."
"I see," Ryan replied evenly, disappointed by the notion that Chad was only there to fulfill an obligation to his sister.
"I was going to call you, anyway," Chad continued. "It's been ages since I last saw you, dude! I was kind of bummed that you didn't come home for Thanksgiving. So I figured that since I was going to be staying at a hotel two blocks from Juilliard, I should call and try to hook up with you for lunch or something." Ryan immediately brightened.
"Well, as it happens, I'm free today if you want to hang out," he replied.
"Cool!" Chad sat back and sipped his hot chocolate. "I'm yours for the day, then."
"Don't you have to do stuff with your folks?"
"We did the tourist thing yesterday," Chad replied with a shrug. "I wanted to get out on my own today and try and spend some time with you if I could."
"Well, let's drink up and then go out and see what kind of mischief we can get up to," Ryan said, lifting his cup. As he did so, a shadow fell over him and looked up at the interloper, who perched uninvited, on the arm of Ryan's chair.
"Mischief, eh? So this is where you snuck off to," the young man said in a slightly scolding tone as he placed a proprietary hand on Ryan's shoulder. "I've been looking all over for you and here you are flirting with strangers. You're such a heartbreaker, Ryan," he said, turning his attention to Chad for the first time. "Well, hello there, tall, dark and handsome," he said as Ryan peeled the hand away and dropped it as though it was poison. "My name's Cedric and you are--."
"In the middle of a private conversation," Chad replied coolly. Ryan exhaled a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. He relaxed as it became obvious that Chad wasn't put off by the intruder's behavior.
"Well, excuse me for butting in," Cedric said haughtily, "but you have to understand how shocked I was to wake up all alone this morning. Would you believe it?" he said, leaning toward Chad and speaking conspiratorially. "Not even a note to tell me where he'd run off to; just a cold empty bed."
"Yeah, I never leave notes for my roommate, either," Chad replied, rising to his feet and smiling smugly. "It pisses him off, but who gives a fuck? You ready?" he asked Ryan, who jumped to his feet, reaching for his messenger bag. "It's been real, Cedric," Chad said as he held the door for Ryan. When they were outside, Ryan immediately began to apologize. "Don't bother," Chad said easily. "Sharpay already warned me about your asshole roomie."
"Really?" Ryan said, frowning. "What else did she tell you? And where's your coat? In case it's escaped your notice, it's pretty cold today and it's going to get worse as the day goes on."
"It's upstairs in my room," Chad said, leading the way around the corner to the entrance to the Empire Hotel. They went up to Chad's room to retrieve his jacket and gloves. "Oh, here," he said, handing Ryan a small box, wrapped in hot pink paper and tied up with a gold ribbon. "She said to make sure you opened it right away."
"Right," Ryan said, stuffing the object into his bag. "It's probably meant to remind me to come home for Christmas. Let's go." Chad shrugged and followed him out. "So what kind of thing were you interested in doing?"
"Your call, dude," Chad replied. "Like I said; I'm at your disposal. What do you think I should see in New York?"
"Well, naturally, I think you should see a Broadway show," Ryan said teasingly.
"Already did that," Chad shot back. "We saw 'Young Frankenstein' last night."
"Cool," Ryan said, impressed. "What else have you seen?" he asked as he led Chad to the subway. He decided to take Chad to different parts of New York. They began their tour in Harlem. They strolled down 125th Street and Chad bought scarves for his mother and Taylor at a store specializing in African textiles. Their next stop was Astoria, where Ryan took Chad to lunch at a Greek restaurant. Afterward, they explored several food shops selling ethnic foods Chad had never seen back in New Mexico. Chad bought some exotic spices and a cookbook to take back for Zeke.
Their third stop was the trendy neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where they wandered from one little quirky shop to another looking for the perfect gift for Sharpay. They returned to Manhattan and walked to the East Village, where Ryan bought Chad a chullo from a street vendor to protect his head from the wet snow that had begun to fall.
"Man, a year ago I would never believed that a hat could actually fit on your head," he said as he tugged the earflaps into place.
"I've always been more of an earmuff guy, to be honest," Chad replied, looking in the small mirror the vendor held up for him. "But I think I can pull this off."
"You make it look good," Ryan said with a wink.
"It's warm, anyway," Chad replied. They continued on their way, window-shopping, laughing and eating their way across the city. "This is so much fun," Chad said, gazing at the passersby as they waited for the light to change. "It must be really cool to be here all the time."
"I love New York," Ryan agreed. "It's such an amazing place. It's like you can find the whole world here. Walk through any part of the city and you'll find people from India, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, Russia, Greece, Poland, the Caribbean, Scandinavia, Latin America, and just about every other place on the planet. The cultural and ethnic diversity is an incredible resource for an actor. I use the city as a living laboratory for studying accents and behaviors. And the food! Well, you've had a few samples of the bounty to be found here." Chad observed him for a moment and then stared at the ground thoughtfully.
"You aren't coming back, are you?"
"You won't be moving back to Albuquerque after school," Chad clarified. "Not that I expected it. You were always destined to travel the world," he said with a smile that was both wistful and sad. "You were born to live in a place like this. It's pretty obvious that you're in your element here." His tone surprised Ryan, who immediately attempted to mollify him.
"Well, I'll have to come back eventually, to visit, at the very least."
"Yeah," Chad said, his eyes averted to the traffic.
"How about you? Haven't you ever thought of leaving New Mexico?"
"To be honest I've never given it any thought," Chad admitted. "I mean I've been other places and thought they were cool, but I've never thought about living anywhere other than Albuquerque."
"Well, now that you've seen the Big Apple you almost have to consider it," Ryan replied. "I mean once you've felt the pulse of the big city how can you not want to live in a place like this?" Chad smiled.
"I admit it's pretty tempting," he said, his eyes glistening. Ryan became lost in those eyes for a moment. He forced himself to look away before he said or did something he might come to regret.
"All right, enough chit chat," Ryan declared. "Next stop: Chinatown." They walked down to lower Manhattan, arms linked to support each other in the windy and icy conditions. They ate at a dim sum restaurant, where Ryan was pleasantly surprised to discover that Chad had a rather adventurous palate. Ryan started them off with an assortment of simple dumplings and pork buns before challenging Chad to try curried squid, egg custard, turnip cakes, and a few other delicacies.
"I like the eel," he said after trying a bit. "Don't know about the jellyfish. But the eel's definitely good."
"And the chicken feet?" Ryan asked. Chad reached out with his chopsticks and selected a piece. He chewed it thoughtfully and shrugged. Ryan smiled delightedly. "I brought a bunch of friends here about a month ago and I couldn't get them to eat half this stuff."
"Beats me," Ryan said impishly as he helped himself to a pork bun. They ate their fill and Chad called for the check. "Hey, you're my guest today," Ryan said, grabbing for it and handing the waiter a charge card.
"Come on, man! You've been treating me all day!"
"Next trip, you can pay, all right?" Ryan suggested. Chad had no choice but to concede gracefully. They left the restaurant and Ryan headed them south. Chad noted their direction and frowned.
"Shouldn't we be going in the other direction?"
"Tired?" Ryan asked.
"A little," Chad confessed. "But I guess we should walk off that big meal," he said with a smile. Ryan returned it.
"Just one more thing and then I'll take you back to the hotel," he vowed. They walked to the South Ferry Terminal and boarded a vessel bound for Staten Island.
"I rode this ferry the first time I came to New York," Chad said as the mounted the steps to the upper deck. "It was during the daytime, though."
"Well, it's an even more impressive ride at night," Ryan promised. "Come on." He drew Chad outside, where they were buffeted by brisk winds the moment the ferry was underway. Chad pulled the flaps of his hat down lower and shoved his hands deep into his pockets. "So what do you think?" Ryan asked as they looked across the harbor toward the Statue of Liberty.
"I think it's freaking cold out here," Chad said, but he smiled warmly. "This is awesome." Ryan grinned and leaned against Chad for warmth. Chad pulled a hand out of one pocket and tucked it into Ryan's arm. They looked back at the glittering lights of the city in silence, each man lost in his own thoughts.
When they reached Staten Island, Ryan made Chad step off the boat for a minute before reboarding. Chad looked at him oddly, but did as he was bidden.
"Now you'll be able to tell people that you've been in four of the five boroughs of New York City in one day," Ryan declared. "I'm sorry about missing out on the Bronx. If I'd thought about it, we could have gone to the Christmas train show at the Botanical Gardens."
"Maybe next time," Chad replied as they found seats on the lower deck for the ride back to the city. But in spite of the cold, they ended up outside once again. The snow had ended while they ate dinner and the night sky was crystal clear.
"My parents have a place in the city," Ryan said, breaking the companionable silence. "Juilliard has a policy requiring all freshmen to live on campus, but I go there on weekends, or whenever I want to escape my roommate." He hesitated a moment, glancing at Chad sidelong before he continued. "If you ever want to come back to the city, I can put you up at the apartment. All you'd have to do is scare up the airfare."
"Thanks, that's cool," Chad replied. Ryan sighed. He wanted to extend a formal invitation, but Chad's response was little more than polite. He decided not to push it and was somewhat pensive on the taxi ride back up to Lincoln Center.
"Here you are, safe and sound," Ryan announced teasingly as they emerged from the cab. Chad's mother had called to check on his whereabouts twice over the course of the evening.
"Ryan, this was totally awesome," Chad declared, turning to him. "I had so much fun today."
"Me, too," Ryan said sincerely. "I love looking at the city through the eyes of a visitor, you know? It's almost as though I have to chance to discover it all over again."
"I can really see why you love it here. New York is awesome."
"I think so," Ryan replied, averting his eyes. "Hey, I'm really glad you found me this morning. It's been a long time since--."
"Yeah," Chad said, shuffling his feet and also averting his eyes. "You are coming home for Christmas, right?"
"Oh yeah, my family would skin me alive if I didn't," Ryan replied. "I'll be there next Friday."
"Good," Chad said, looking up. "Listen, I probably can't show you anything in Albuquerque that you haven't already seen, but maybe we could do this again. You know, get together and hang out while you're there; maybe we could have dinner or something. I mean if you're up for it."
"I'd like that," Ryan said, smiling. Chad Danforth had just asked him out.
"Troy and Gabriella will be home then, too. They said something about getting together on Saturday," Chad said, digging out his phone. Ryan's spirits began to ebb again as Chad checked his text messages. "Yeah. Well, never mind--I'll figure out a way to ditch them," he said, pocketing the device. "That is, if you don't already have other plans for Saturday night…" He looked up hopefully and Ryan smiled.
"I do now," he said, reaching out to hug Chad. They held each other for a long moment. "What time's your flight tomorrow?"
"Nine o'clock," Chad replied, reluctantly pulling away. "Which means my mom is probably going to be waking me up before six."
"Well, then, you'd better get to bed. It's pretty late. Have a safe flight home," Ryan said, backing up a step or two. Chad nodded.
"I'll give you a call during the week and we'll firm up our plans for Saturday."
Ryan nodded and the two parted.
"Hey!" Chad called. Ryan turned around. "Don't forget Sharpay's gift. She's left three messages about it on my phone already."
"Okay," Ryan said, digging in his bag for the box, which had been buried under his purchases.
Chad pulled off his turtleneck and tossed it on the chair. He reached for the remote and began to flip through the channels, looking for something to watch. He heard knocking and lowered the sound. He heard it again and rose to answer the door, padding across the room in his bare feet. He opened the door expecting to see one of his parents, but instead he saw Ryan smiling at him. He frowned in confusion until Ryan held up the object in his hand. Chad returned the smile and stepped back to admit him.
He shut the door and turned to Ryan, reaching out to carefully draw Ryan's messenger bag strap over his head. He set the bag down on the floor. Ryan stood there, swallowing hard as Chad took a step forward into Ryan's personal space, placed one hand at the back of his head, the other on his waist and leaned in to kiss him.
To Ryan, the kiss seemed to last an eternity. He had time to register the warmth of Chad's body through his tee shirt, the strength of the arms around his torso, the prickly sensation of Chad's moustache against his mouth. Ryan dropped the box as Chad deepened the kiss. And just as Ryan really began to enjoy it, Chad withdrew. Ryan opened his eyes and saw Chad smiling at him. Ryan started to speak, but Chad put a finger to his lips.
"Before you say anything," he said softly, pointing to his left, "my parents are sleeping on the other side of that wall." Ryan nodded and Chad just gazed at him. After a minute, he smiled again. "Cat got your tongue?"
"I'll save my questions for next week," Ryan said, picking up his bag. He smiled at Chad and moved toward the door.
"Or I could call tomorrow night and answer them for you," Chad suggested, leaning against the wall.
"Sounds like a plan." Ryan turned the knob to open the door as Chad bent and picked up the box.
"Don't forget your mistletoe," Chad said, extending it to Ryan.
"If I bring that back to my room, Cedric might get ideas," Ryan replied archly. Chad made a face and Ryan leaned in to kiss it away. Chad pulled him closer and Ryan dropped his bag to the floor. This time the kiss was a leisurely exploration of tongues and Ryan forced himself to pull away a lot sooner than he wanted to--Chad had a wakeup call coming in less than four hours and Ryan wasn't about to push his luck.
"Get home safe," Chad whispered, nuzzling Ryan's ear before letting him go. He watched Ryan walk down to the elevator before shutting the door. He pulled off his jeans and crawled into bed reaching for his phone. He opened his text files and read Sharpay's messages:
Did he like it?
I'm dying here!
Chad smiled and sent a reply.
We both liked it! :)
Ryan, meanwhile, rode down to the lobby with a silly grin plastered on his face. Suddenly the idea of going back to Albuquerque didn't seem so depressing. In fact, he was rather looking forward to it. After all, he had a date for the upcoming weekend with Chad Danforth, who, Ryan was pleasantly surprised to discover, was an astoundingly good kisser.
Instead of walking the two blocks back to his dorm he hailed a cab and headed for his parents' apartment. As the cab made its way across Central Park South, Ryan stared out and silently thanked the city that had helped him woo his longtime crush. In his wildest dreams he couldn't have imagined a more perfect day. Chad Danforth had appeared out of the blue and they'd spent the whole day together. And Chad had made the first move; he'd asked Ryan out on a date and he'd initiated their first kiss. Ryan shut his eyes and touched a finger to his lips, savoring the memory.
"Maybe there is such a thing as a Christmas miracle," he said as he rode up to the twelfth floor, digging in his bag for his keys. He couldn't wait to talk to Sharpay. Ryan made a mental note to go to Tiffany's before leaving town and get that Elsa Peretti bracelet she wanted. She'd more than earned it. And come to think of it, Ryan needed to find the perfect Christmas gift for Chad, too.
"That's easy enough," Ryan said as he put the key in the lock. "I'll get him a plane ticket to New York."
He entered the apartment and headed straight for his room. As he set down his bag, his phone rang and he knew who was calling without even looking at the caller ID.
"Hey, Shar," he said, shrugging out of his jacket. "Well, I'll tell you all about it after you tell me what you know and when you knew it. By the way, about our plan to stay in next Saturday night and watch 'It's a Wonderful Life'--I'll have to ask for a rain check. I've got a date."