Summary: It's Chad's turn to have his wish fulfilled. (Sequel to A Christmas Tale.)
Chad brought his car to a stop outside the Evans house and turned off the ignition. Beside him, Ryan undid his seatbelt.
"I had a terrific time," he said, turning in his seat to face Chad.
"Yeah," Ryan repeated, leaning in to nibble at his mouth. Teasing kisses quickly escalated into something more heated and sensual. "I've been wanting to do that for hours," Ryan murmured against Chad's lips. Chad reached up and ran his fingers through Ryan's hair as he initiated another kiss.
"So when's our next date?"
"Is tomorrow too soon?"
"Works for me," Chad replied, smiling. Ryan kissed him again. Chad was just too compelling like this--openly flirtatious, sexy and fixated on him. But his conscience gnawed at him and he pulled away to look Chad in the eye.
"Did you really ditch Troy and Gabriella tonight?"
"Seriously, yeah. I had a choice between this or sitting through some chick flick Gabriella wanted to see."
"Thanks for choosing this," Ryan said, "but you probably should spend a little time mending fences tomorrow."
"Hey, do I look like I'm worried about them at all?"
Ryan smiled and kissed Chad again and for the next minute they were too distracted to talk.
"You know, for the rest of my life I'm going to be insanely jealous of whoever you practiced that on," Ryan said, staring at Chad's mouth.
"What?" Chad laughed in confusion. A second later, he smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry; I haven't had much practice with guys." Ryan looked at him with mock horror. "In fact, I've--."
Ryan wasn't interested in knowing who else Chad had kissed, so he growled and leaned in to kiss him again, intent on not only silencing Chad but also erasing the memory of any other man he'd ever kissed. Chad giggled and pushed him away. Ryan sat back and entwined his fingers with Chad's.
"Oh, before I forget, my parents are giving their annual Holiday Party at Lava Springs tomorrow. You are officially invited."
"I know," Chad replied. "I got my invitation in the mail two weeks ago."
"What? Oh." Ryan rolled his eyes. "She's totally going to take credit for this, isn't she?"
"Does it matter?" Chad asked, tugging on Ryan's hand and drawing him closer. Ryan shook his head and they kissed again. When they parted, Ryan rested his forehead against Chad's.
"Do your friends know about you yet?"
"I told Troy," Chad said with a sigh. "I don't really think he really heard me, though. I'm going to have to sit down and have a long talk with him." He gazed out at the view through the windshield. "And Zeke knows. He's the only Wildcat I've seen regularly since graduation." Chad hesitated a moment. "He came out, too."
"What?" Ryan gasped, eyes wide. Chad did a double take.
"No. No!" he said more emphatically. "It wasn't like that! We didn't--. He met a guy at culinary school," Chad explained with a smile. "Said it was love at first sight. They're going up to Colorado next week to meet his parents."
"I thought he was in love with Sharpay."
"He was--maybe he still is. He told me he hasn't lost interest in women. He just found a guy he likes a lot better."
"Huh." Ryan sat back thoughtfully. Chad squeezed his hand.
"We're digressing here," he said lightly, releasing his seatbelt and leaning over to claim Ryan's mouth again.
"Right," Ryan said when he could speak again. "Let's see…I've got a family thing Wednesday. Thursday is Christmas… That leaves Monday, Tuesday, Friday and the rest of my vacation for us to spend together." He smiled in satisfaction. Chad returned the grin.
"And the party," Chad reminded him.
"And the party," Ryan agreed. "It begins at five and dinner is served promptly at six. I could pick you up around--."
"Actually, I've got a family thing to do in the afternoon and I'm not sure what time it'll end. Maybe I should just meet you there. Would that be all right?" Chad asked, giving Ryan's' hand another squeeze. Ryan nodded. Chad leaned over and drew him into another kiss, this one slow, tantalizing and way too stimulating for Ryan's comfort. He abruptly pulled away and opened the door.
"God," Ryan said, sliding out of the car. "Go home while I've still got the strength to let you escape." Chad laughed and started the ignition as Ryan walked around to the driver's side. He bent to look in the window and Chad helpfully rolled it down. "Fasten your seatbelt. I want you to get home in one piece."
"Yes, sir," Chad replied impishly. Ryan leaned in for one more kiss before Chad drove off. Ryan watched him go and then unlocked his front door and entered the house.
"Looks like you two had a good time," Sharpay said from the top of the stairs as Ryan dropped his keys into a bowl on a table in the foyer. He looked up and frowned.
"You were eavesdropping?" he accused as he ascended the steps.
"Hey, you're the ones who decided to put on a free show in the driveway," she replied unrepentantly. Ryan rolled his eyes and headed for his bedroom.
"He's coming to the party tomorrow night."
"I know; I invited him--as my date."
"What?" Ryan spun around and glared at Sharpay.
"Hey, I only did it for your benefit," she said defensively. "How else was I going to get him to come? If I'd just invited him casually he probably would have begged off at the last minute. And since you were off on the east coast doing your Eva Gabor thing--."
"Excuse me? My what?"
"New York is where I'd rather stay! I get allergic smelling hay!" Sharpay sang mockingly. "I'd been working for weeks to get you and Chad together and you decided you didn't want to come home for Thanksgiving! So I--."
"I know, I know," Ryan said with sincere regret. He walked over to her and pulled her into his arms. "And I love you for it," he said softly, kissing her hair.
"But you love him more," Sharpay said winking up at him. "So I'll let him be your date tomorrow."
"Gee, thanks." Ryan kissed her again and went into his room. He undressed and changed into a pair of pajama pants. As he brushed his teeth he recalled his phone conversation with Sharpay after his day with Chad in New York.
"I could have told you weeks ago that he would be into you," Sharpay said exasperatedly.
"Well, why didn't you?"
"Excuse me for trying to be subtle," she retorted, rolling her eyes at Ryan's snort of disbelief. "I'm serious, Ryan. This really called for a delicate hand."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I didn't want it to be an obvious set up. I'd already tried that and failed miserably."
"Why? Wait--who did you try to set him up with?" Ryan asked, frowning.
"Okay, you want the whole story?" Sharpay sighed dramatically and then told him how she and Chad had gravitated toward each other shortly after arriving on the campus of the University of Albuquerque. They lived in adjacent dorms, ate most of their meals at the same dining hall and they had one class in common. In spite of the fact that they'd barely been on speaking terms all through high school, they began to spend a lot of time together during their first few months at the U of A.
"So you became BFF's. Move on," Ryan said impatiently.
"I'm trying to," Sharpay spat, rolling her eyes. "I actually found out he was gay by accident. We were in the dining hall one morning and the RA of his dorm came in looking for him. He took Chad aside and told him something that made Chad livid. He just turned and walked out of the hall, leaving his food, his bag--everything. I went after him and when I got to his dorm I found him on the front steps engaged in a shouting match with his roommate.
"The two of them had been having problems from day one. The kid was some sort of fundamentalist and he didn't approve of Chad's music or his posters or his politics, and they butted heads over just about everything else as well. Everything came to a head that morning when his roommate made a disparaging remark about gays. Chad told his roommate that he was gay and went off to eat breakfast. The little loser went straight to the RA demanding that Chad be moved out because he refused to share a room with a pervert. That's what the two of them were arguing about. In the end, the RA arranged to have Chad's roommate moved to another dorm, since he'd been a royal pain in the ass and the RA was sick of dealing with him."
"Later, when he'd calmed down, Chad and I talked. He told me that he'd come out to his parents just before he left for school. Since then he'd been sort of in 'finding himself' mode--not quite ready for primetime. And I could tell it was true. The Chad I hung out with at the U of A was very different from the Chad we knew in high school. Back at East, I don't think I ever saw him without a basketball in his hand and a cluster of Wildcats at his back. Troy Bolton was the star of the show, but I always thought that Chad was the glue that held the Wildcats together. He was outgoing and friendly and extremely popular. But at the U of A he'd changed. He was a lot more serious and quiet; he hadn't even gone out for a team. In fact, I'd begun to wonder what was up with him. Not too much, of course; I'm not one to trouble myself with--."
"Sharpay, it's nearly two o'clock in the morning here," Ryan said dryly.
"All right! Chad had turned into this loner. He was looking seriously hot, mind you--he should have been beating men off with a stick. But if he was doing any beating off--."
"Anyway, I did a bit of research and found out that the U of A has a small but active gay and lesbian community and there's a center on campus with programs for students just like Chad. I dragged him over there and got him set him up with a mentor who gave him lots of advice about dealing with a whole range of issues."
"Good woman," Ryan declared proudly. Sharpay, for once, ignored the praise.
"Chad seemed a little more like the old Chad after that. He met a few people, began to socialize a bit--and let me tell you, after I did a little wardrobe intervention and took him shopping he became the hottest gay boy on campus."
"Are you responsible for the hair?" Ryan asked curiously. "Because the hair is amazing."
"I can't take credit for that," Sharpay replied. "He came to school with that hair."
"And you never thought to send pictures?"
"I did buy him those jeans, though. He refused to pay that much for denim but I thought the world deserved to see his butt in those jeans. I considered it my gift to sighted humanity."
"On behalf of sighted humanity, I thank you," Ryan replied, smiling. "Now go on with your story. You said something about a set up."
"Okay. So Chad was looking good. He'd become a total boy magnet, but he still didn't seem to be clicking with anyone. It was as though he he'd suddenly become a wallflower."
"Not a word I'd normally associate with Chad Danforth," Ryan admitted. "And he certainly wasn't at all shy around me."
"Good," Sharpay replied. "But it was a completely different story out here. He could have had any guy he wanted, if he'd just taken the bait. But he wasn't biting. I figured that as a newly out guy, he just needed a little push, maybe even a virgin sacrifice."
"Shar! You did not--!"
"Don't worry," she sighed. "I wasn't about to throw him to the wolves. I waited until the center for gay and lesbian students sponsored a dance. I had to practically drag Chad, but I convinced him to go and scout out the scene."
"Excuse me? You dragged Chad to a party for gay and lesbian students?" Ryan said incredulously.
"What? It was open to the entire student body," Sharpay said defensively.
"But taking him sort of defeated the purpose, didn't it?"
"Trust me," she said. "I did not cramp his style. I barely got a chance to talk to him the whole night."
"Did he make a connection?"
"No," Sharpay sighed. "He'd dance, he'd flirt, but eventually he'd walk away. There was one guy who looked very promising, but after I saw him blowing some guy under a tree out back, I forbade him to even ask Chad to dance."
"Sharpay, is there a point to this story coming anytime soon?" Ryan asked, checking his watch. It wasn't that he wasn’t interested, but he really wanted to get some sleep.
"You asked for the details, remember?" she replied curtly.
"I'm sorry, you're right; go on."
"I came away from the party thinking that Chad had a serious problem so I went and spoke to his mentor, who said that maybe Chad just wasn't ready to date. Some guys need a little time. I asked Chad about that and found out that I was completely mistaken about him. He wasn't afraid to get it on. He'd had plenty of offers for meaningless hook-ups but he didn't want that. It turns out that our boy is a diehard romantic. He was waiting for Mr. Right before taking the plunge. Fortunately," Sharpay said, smiling, "Mr. Right happens to be a very close personal friend of mine."
Ryan was suddenly wide awake again.
"He told you he was interested in me?"
"I didn't bother to ask," Sharpay replied smugly. "I just knew what sort of guy he needed and that you were that guy." She smiled and twirled a strand of hair as she continued. "Look, I know I've always ridiculed your crush on Chad, but now that I've gotten to know him better… Well, let's just say that Chad 2.0 is a definite catch."
"He was always a catch," Ryan said defensively.
"Maybe, but he was a diamond in the rough, if there ever was one," she said. "So after I failed miserably at trying to get him a boyfriend on campus, I thought I should go about getting the two of you together with a gentler approach. I invited Chad to come over the day after Thanksgiving to hang out, assuming you'd be there. You could just see each other, hang out…let things happen organically."
"And then I called and canceled my plans."
Ryan shook out his toothbrush and put it in the holder. He turned off the light and returned to his bedroom. He took out his phone and climbed into bed as he thumbed through to the gallery and looked at the picture he'd taken of Chad over dinner. Sharpay's words came back to him again.
"When I heard he was going to New York, I gave him a little mission. While I didn't doubt for one moment that you'd agree to see him, I thought having a package from me to deliver would guarantee that you wouldn't blow him off."
"So you wrapped up a piece of mistletoe and sent him on his way," Ryan concluded.
"It could have been anything in the box, but the mistletoe was a stroke of genius, if I may say so myself."
"No wonder he was so eager for me to open it."
"Oh, Chad had no idea what was in the box. I gave it to him wrapped. Subtle, remember?"
"Oh," Ryan said softly, remembering how Chad had let him into the room and taken charge the moment he saw the mistletoe. "Oh!" he grinned from ear to ear. Perhaps he'd been Chad's Mr. Right after all.
"What?" Sharpay demanded.
Ryan smiled at the memory. He never did tell Sharpay about that kiss. He stared at Chad's picture until the phone automatically shut off. He set it down and turned off the light, slightly troubled by Chad's refusal to let Ryan pick him up for the party.
Chad pulled up in front of the main entrance to Lava Springs and waited his turn until he reached the valet stand. As he waited, he drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, anticipating seeing Ryan again. He smiled at the memory of the previous night when they'd had their first date--Chad's first real date with a man. Chad could hardly believe his luck.
All right, so he knew it wasn't just luck. Sharpay's ploy of sending him to Ryan with a sprig of mistletoe certainly had been a big help. But Chad had asked Ryan out before either man knew about the mistletoe and Ryan had said yes. Chad barely slept that night for thinking about the kisses they'd shared. He called Ryan the next evening, as soon as he'd unpacked his bags.
"Hey," he said when Ryan answered the phone. "I hope I haven't called at a bad time."
"No, not at all. How was the flight?"
"Don't remember much of it. I pretty much fell asleep the minute my ass hit the seat."
"How's the weather in Albuquerque?"
"About twenty degrees warmer than New York," Chad replied.
"I'm looking forward to that," Ryan said. "It's about twenty degrees here today." Ryan rose and went over to his father's liquor cabinet and pulled out a bottle of brandy. He poured some into a snifter and set it back on the shelf.
"Make that thirty degrees warmer than New York," Chad quipped. He picked up the sprig of mistletoe he'd brought home from his trip. "So you said you had questions…"
"I did say that, yes."
"Well, I'm all ears."
"Let's start with the obvious question, then," Ryan began as he sat down and put his feet up on a leather ottoman.
"I'm sure you spoke to Sharpay last night," Chad said, laughing.
"I'd rather hear it from you," Ryan replied.
"All right; I came out a few months ago," he stated simply.
"You had to wait until I left the region?"
"Why Ryan Evans, I didn't know you cared," Chad teased.
"Surely that must have occurred to you sometime yesterday," he retorted. He took a sip of brandy and let it warm him along with the sound of Chad's laughter. "So how long--."
"Have I known? A while," Chad replied cagily. "It wasn't something I was prepared to deal with while I was a Wildcat, so I put it on the back burner until after graduation."
"So then--." Ryan let the question drop. It was a moot point. "So you're out."
"Yeah. I'm out," Chad said boldly. "And I'm single."
"Surely that must have occurred to you sometime yesterday," Chad said laughing again.
"I had an inkling when you kissed me."
"I thought that would be a good clue."
"I think I like you out and single," Ryan said before taking another sip of brandy.
"Don't get too excited. I have no intention of remaining single for long."
"Oh?" Ryan set the glass down and sat back. "Are you collecting resumes or are you planning to select a partner by lottery?"
"Gee, neither of those options had occurred to me," Chad said. "I may have to rethink this."
"Why, what were you planning?"
"I don't know," Chad said, twirling the sprig in his fingers. "Sharpay suggested trial and error but that would mean kissing a lot of frogs to find a prince."
"And your kisses are not a thing to be wasted," Ryan opined. Chad's eyes opened wide.
"Well, I wasn't planning on wasting them, exactly…"
"May I make a suggestion?" Ryan intervened.
"Be my guest."
"Well, I think… You know, I do my best suggesting in person," Ryan said, smiling. "Maybe we should discuss this face to face."
"Then we'd better make plans for Saturday night."
They actually never got around to discussing the matter. Their first official date was spent much like their day in New York: having fun. Chad took Ryan on a tour of his new base of operations. It took considerably less time than Ryan's whirlwind tour of New York, but neither of them seemed to mind. They ate at a little bistro not far from the U of A campus and in spite of the fact that they had texted each other or spoke on the phone every day that week, they spent hours discussing everything under the sun. After dinner, they exchanged Christmas presents.
"I'd like you to come back to New York with me," Ryan said as Chad stared at the plane ticket in his hand. "I made the reservation for a week starting on the fifth, but if that doesn't work for you, I can change the dates. I thought--." Chad looked up and Ryan forgot what he was going to say next.
"That's when I plan to go back to New York. But as I said, if that doesn't work for you I can--."
"No, no, that's fine. That's fine," Chad replied. He reluctantly drew out his gift to Ryan. "I didn't get you anything nearly as nice."
"Are you kidding me? You just agreed to come to New York," Ryan said, his eyes aglow as he unwrapped the book Chad had given him. It was a book on the history of New York. Ryan smiled and immediately began to flip through the pages.
"After seeing so many of the places we went to in the book and hearing you talk about them, I got really curious about how they came to be," Chad explained sheepishly. "I don't know if you've read--."
"No, I haven't," Ryan replied, studying a page. "This is very cool. It's very cool," he repeated, reaching out to give Chad's hand a squeeze, not sure that Chad would be comfortable with a more public display of affection. But Ryan silently vowed to make up for it later.
Boy can Ryan kiss, Chad thought as he finally reached the entrance of Lava Springs' main building. He emerged from his car and smiled when he recognized the teen that came to collect it.
"Hey Curt," Chad said as the valet opened the door for him.
"Hey, Chad," he replied, giving him a quick smile. "You going to this shindig?"
"Yeah; guess I'm moving up in the world," Chad said archly before heading into the building. Inside, Ryan paced nervously in the entrance hall, where cocktails were being served.
"He's late," he said for the third time in twenty minutes.
"He'll be here," Sharpay insisted, rolling her eyes. "Stop fidgeting. Chad is going to show up."
"What if he doesn't?" Ryan replied, petulantly. But Sharpay didn't notice.
"He's here," she announced, turning Ryan toward the entrance, where Chad stood talking to their parents.
"Gah! I'd better go rescue him," Ryan said, but Sharpay grabbed his arm.
"Relax. He'll be fine. They know him, you know."
"He was their caddie once, a year ago."
"He was their guest last month," Sharpay corrected. "He played touch football on the lawn with daddy and went shopping with mother and me."
"He did?" Ryan said curiously as he watched his father chat with Chad like an old friend.
"So how did you like your first semester at the U of A?" Mr. Evans asked.
"It was a little rocky at the beginning," Chad admitted, "but overall, it went pretty well. I think I've finally settled in. Oh, and thank you for the recommendation. I'll begin working in Professor Hamilton's office at the start of the new semester."
"My pleasure! Glad to be of assistance," Mr. Evans replied. "When I was your age, I was penniless. And unlike you, I had neither a scholarship nor--." His wife took pity on Chad and gently intervened.
"If you're looking for Sharpay, she's right over there," she said pointing.
"I was looking for Ryan, actually," Chad said as he spotted Sharpay's twin standing to her right. "Thank you. I'll see you later." He waded into the crowd and began to make his way across the large hall. Ryan made a move to go and meet him, but Sharpay held onto his arm.
"Wait for it," she said, as she saw Chad stop and speak to a young man about his own age.
"How does he know Russell?" Ryan said, frowning.
"The Barretts were with us for Thanksgiving, remember? Russell really liked Chad," Sharpay said, glancing up to see the effect of her words on Ryan. "In fact, I think that was the first time I've ever seen him volunteer to play touch football." Ryan once again started to pull away from his sister's arm, but she held onto him. "He's coming, don't worry," she assured him, her eyes on Chad. "Like his suit? I picked it out." Ryan eyed her oddly. "What? He had a job interview."
Chad stared at Ryan as he began to make his way across the room. He paused to accept a canapé from a waiter, but otherwise kept his eyes on the prize. Ryan was dressed to kill in a tuxedo and white pleated shirt, worn with a black velvet vest and no tie. He looked elegant and chic, even if the red Santa cap was a bit incongruous. Chad smiled at one of the older waiters who recognized him and continued to make progress toward his goal until someone called him by name. Chad would have ignored him, but the greeting was accompanied by a friendly slap on the back, making escape impossible.
"Hey, how are you doing," he said with little enthusiasm.
"This is a pleasant surprise," Russell replied. "I didn't expect to see you here."
"The twins invited me," Chad said, looking over at them.
"Well I, for one, am very glad they did. This party is deadly dull. Your presence is the first thing I've had to get excited about tonight."
"I don't know," Chad said looking around. "Looks pretty cool to me. If you'll excuse me, I'd better go say hello to the twins," he added, gesturing with his head.
"Yeah; I'll catch up with you later," Russell replied, raking his eyes over Chad as he slipped away.
"Terrific," he muttered as he dove into the crowd. He emerged a minute later and finally reached Ryan. "Hey."
"Hey yourself," Ryan replied with a slightly mocking smirk. Chad took a step closer and leaned in, intent on kissing it off his face, but before he reached Ryan's mouth, they were interrupted.
"You two look really hot together," Sharpay said, looking on with great interest. Chad and Ryan slowly turned their heads to look at her. She stared back unabashedly. Ryan shrugged and turned back to Chad. "Enough," Sharpay said, grabbing Chad by the arm and dragging him away before they had a chance to exchange a kiss.
"Hey!" Ryan protested. "Mine!" He followed the two of them, but Sharpay was too fast; she lost Ryan and drew Chad into a quiet corner of the lobby.
"What's up?" Chad asked when she released her vise-like grip on his arm.
"I've been calling you all day!" she complained, looking over her shoulder for her brother.
"I was at a church function. My cousin was singing--."
"Never mind," Sharpay interrupted. "Look, before you go mauling my brother in public--."
"I was just saying hello," Chad replied affably. "By the way, our 'date' is off."
"No duh! Listen, Chad," Sharpay said, drawing him a little farther into the corner. "Before you go back out there, you should know that the Boltons are here."
"All of them…and Gabriella. I have no idea why mother put them on the list. Maybe it's because the benefactor of this year's fundraising drive is that youth sports center where Troy's dad coaches during the summer. Anyway, they were invited and they actually showed up. Whatever. I thought you ought to know, in case--."
"It's cool, Sharpay," Chad said. "Troy knows."
"I told him months ago. He hasn't seen me out yet, and I'm not going to pretend that I'm in the closet for his or his parents' benefit. Now if you don't mind--."
"May I have my date back?" Ryan said, appearing behind them. Sharpay didn't acknowledge him; her attention was focused on Chad.
"Are you sure?" she asked, reaching out to squeeze Chad's hand. He nodded firmly. She stood on her toes to kiss Chad's cheek, but Ryan grabbed Chad by the arm and pulled him out of her reach.
"Do you mind?" he said, glaring at Sharpay.
"I'm going," she sighed. She walked away smiling.
"Do you two always play 'yank the hottie' at parties or am I special?" Chad asked wryly. Ryan frowned at him.
"Sorry for the hottie abuse, but I wasn't about to let her kiss you first," Ryan said defensively.
"Possessive," Chad replied, leaning in to kiss him before anyone else had a chance to intervene. "That's kind of hot."
"You're kind of hot," Ryan replied, leaning in for a second kiss before leading Chad back toward the main hall. "We'd better get back in there. Dinner's going to start in about ten minutes and if we're not there mother's going to have a fit." They started back down the corridor, but this time Chad paused to look at the row of small trees that lined one side of the space.
"What are these?" he asked, stopping to read the sign.
"Oh; my parents' party isn't all fun and games. It's also a fundraiser. Every year they ask friends and business associates to decorate a tree and they're auctioned off to raise money for charity."
"So there'll be an auction later?"
"It's a silent auction, actually," Ryan replied as Chad moved to the next tree and examined the gingerbread decorations. "It's really cool. Every tree is so different. One has toys; another is decorated in crystals, or natural materials. Oh, and this year, I sponsored a tree, too," he said eagerly. "Come see." He put his hand to the small of Chad's back and drew him past a tree with rather pedestrian, albeit beautiful, decorations.
"How do you sponsor a tree?" Chad asked in confusion.
"Well, no one actually does the tree himself. You hire a decorator to do it," Ryan explained as they stopped in front of a tree decorated in a New York theme. Chad grinned and bent to look closely at the taxis, miniature Statues of Liberty, Empire State Buildings, subway cars and the garland made of subway maps that festooned the four-foot tree.
"This is so cool," he said. "Where did you get the tiny Playbills?"
"Copy machine," Ryan said with a shrug. "So what did my sister want with you, anyway?"
"Oh, she just wanted to let me know that the Boltons were here, along with Troy and Gabriella."
"Have you spoken to them yet?"
Chad and Ryan spun around at the sound of Gabriella's voice.
"Nope," Chad said as Troy and Gabriella approached. She pulled him into a hug and kissed his cheek.
"Hey, Wildcat," she said before turning to Ryan and giving him a hug and kiss as well.
"Hi, Gabi," Chad said before pulling his best friend into a half hug. "Hey, Troy."
"Chad. What are you doing here, man?"
"Same as you; I was invited," he replied challengingly. But Gabriella had another question.
"So how was the big date you skipped out on us for last night?" she asked archly. Chad glanced at Ryan.
"It was very nice," he replied. "I took Ryan out and showed him the holiday lights around the campus before we went to dinner at a little--."
"Ryan was your date?" Gabriella laughed. "You know, if you didn't want to see that movie why didn't you say so? We could have gone bowling or--."
"Actually, we just wanted to have a quiet dinner alone," Chad replied, reaching out and entwining his fingers with Ryan's.
"So you guys are dating?" Troy asked cautiously. Ryan and Chad exchanged another look.
"Yeah, we're dating," Chad replied. "I hope you don't have a problem with that."
"It'll take some getting used to," Troy admitted. Chad smiled. Ryan studied Gabriella's face as realization dawned. Chad wasn't kidding.
"Fair enough," Chad replied, chucking Troy's arm. "It took me a while to get used to the fact that you were seeing Gabriella," he replied.
"You guys…" Gabriella whispered. She paused and glanced at Troy and then smiled at the other couple. "I'm sorry; I didn't know."
"That's all right, Gabriella," Ryan replied. "It's kind of new. Yesterday was our first real date."
"Oh," she said, hazarding a glance at Chad, not quite able to meet his eyes.
"You've been keeping things from Gabi, haven't you?" Chad said softly as he began walking up the corridor. The others fell into step.
"I didn't think it was for me to tell her," Troy confessed.
"Right; you always expect me to do all the heavy lifting," Chad teased as they reached the main hall. Ryan gave his hand a squeeze and Chad turned his eyes to him. Ryan gestured with his chin and Chad looked at the grand ballroom, where the guests were taking their seats.
"Shall we?" he asked. Chad smiled and nodded.
"We'll catch up with you guys later," he told Troy and Gabriella before he let Ryan lead him to their table. "I'd like to be a fly on that wall," he said puckishly.
"I thought Chad was your date, Kitten," Ms. Evans said when she looked up and saw Ryan approaching hand in hand with Chad.
"Nah, I was just Ryan's placeholder." Sharpay replied easily. "They've been destined for each other for years."
"Oh?" her mother said with interest. "This is news."
"You mean Ryan never told you about his huge Danforth crush? I thought he told you everything."
"I don't recall him ever mentioning Chad by name, but now that I think of it, he was always particularly happy when Chad waited on our table that summer," Ms. Evans replied thoughtfully.
"So I've been grooming him for the wrong child," Mr. Evans said wryly. Sharpay leaned over and kissed his cheek.
"Thank you, daddy, but yes--he's Ryan's. By the way, he might need more money than he's going to get working for Professor Hamilton if he's going to be dating Ryan. He's going to have to travel to the east coast for conjugal visits."
"Sharpay, this is hardly the time," her mother warned.
"I'm just planting a seed," she replied insouciantly, smiling up at the two young men as they reached the table. "Chad, you sit here next to me," she said, patting the seat beside her. He took the seat, smiling warily. She leaned over and kissed his cheek, grinning at her brother smugly.
"Wait," Mr. Evans said. "I thought--."
"He's Ryan's date, daddy," Sharpay assured him. "I just like him," she said with a wink for Chad.
"Mine," Ryan said tersely, but he smiled as he said it, reaching out to squeeze Chad's hand under the table.
After dinner, Chad and Ryan returned to the hall to look at the remaining trees before they joined the rest of the young people on the dance floor. After dancing together for several songs, Chad danced with Gabriella while Ryan went off to get them something to drink. When he returned, he found Chad dancing with another woman and bristled. Chad leaned in and whispered something in her ear, which made her turn around and gape at Ryan as Chad slipped away.
"What did you say to her?" he asked as he handed Chad his drink.
"That my boyfriend was back and I had to go," Chad replied impishly. Ryan smiled crookedly. They sat out a few dances before returning to the dance floor. Sharpay was out there dancing with Russell, who cut in on Chad and Ryan at his earliest opportunity. Chad reached out and took Sharpay's hand, conceding Ryan to the interloper.
"Well done," she said. Chad bowed to her with an exaggerated flourish. "By the way," she said, wrapping her arms around his neck to bring his ear closer. "If you and my brother are ready to jump each other's bones--and it looks to me that a leap is imminent--." Chad smiled and put a finger to her lips.
"Thanks, Princess. I think I can handle this part."
"I appreciate the help, but some things I have to do on my own."
"Aw, my little baby's all grown up," Sharpay said, squeezing his cheeks. Chad laughed and she pulled his head down and kissed him lightly on the lips. She glanced over at Ryan, who was squinting at her. She took Russell by the arm and led him away. Ryan did the same with Chad.
"Where are we going?" he asked as Ryan pushed open a door and made his way out to the back of the building.
"To get some air," Ryan replied. Chad followed in silence as Ryan walked around to the side of the building and came to a stop just out of sight of the revelers out front. He turned to Chad and eyed him head to toe.
"You look utterly lickable," Ryan declared, eyeing Chad's grey suit and black shirt.
"Yeah?" Chad replied tauntingly, closing the distance between them.
"Very lickable," Ryan said, as Chad encroached on his personal space, his tongue darting out to lightly touch Ryan's for just an instant, the effect electrifying. Ryan pulled him into his arms and kissed him. Chad went willingly, sighing deeply when Ryan's lips left his mouth and began trailing along his jaw. He swallowed hard and cleared his throat.
"If you're planning to have your way with me--and that sounds like a really good plan to me, by the way--you should know that I have standards," Chad said, his voice surprisingly steady in spite of his aroused state. Ryan lifted his head to peer into his eyes.
"Standards?" he asked, his eyebrows disappearing under a shock of unruly hair.
"Yeah--no dark alleys, closets, conveniently empty rooms, backseats of cars, or other cliché make-out spots."
"If I'm going to lose my virginity, I'm going to hold out for the full Monty--and a bed," Chad said impishly. Ryan looked into his eyes for a long moment.
"I can arrange that," he said, "If you're sure…" Chad nodded.
Ryan took his hand and they started walking toward the front of the building. "Where's your car?" Chad pulled out his ticket. Ryan took it and walked over to the valet stand.
"Put this in the family circle," he told the valet before he led Chad over to the condominium wing. He brought Chad to the last unit and opened the door with a key card. "Will this do?" he asked, turning on the light and stepping back to allow Chad to enter first.
"This is yours?"
"I have it to myself during the off-season, yes."
"Cool," Chad replied, looking up at the sleeping loft. "I think this will do."
"Good." Ryan drew off Chad's jacket, but before he could take it away, Chad grabbed it back and pulled something from the pocket. Ryan hung it up, along with his own jacket, and returned to Chad, who pulled him into his arms and kissed him. "I love it when you do that."
"It's the mistletoe," Chad said with a shrug. "You see I've still got this," he continued, holding up the sprig of mistletoe he'd brought back from New York. It was dried and a bit shriveled but neither man would deny that it still worked perfectly. "Something about having both it and you in my line of vision makes me do that."
Ryan smiled and took the mistletoe from his hand. He placed it on the mantle with due reverence.
"I'm going to have that bronzed," he declared before reaching for Chad's hand. He led him up to the loft. "Fully Monty, eh? I can do that."
And he was as good as his word. He not only stripped for Chad--to music and much hysterical laughter--he even left his hat on. Until Chad threw it over the railing, that is. A man can take being slapped in the eye with a pompom during the throes of passion only so many times before he cracks, after all.