Summary: Once again, Chad and Ryan are tested by unforeseen circumstances. Part of the Coming to Terms universe (which has finally been catalogued and listed in my memories).
Jessica Danforth was typing a data entry into her computer when someone came to the door of her office. She looked up and smiled when she recognized her visitor.
"Come in, Ryan," she said, rising to greet him. Ryan returned her smile and stepped into the sun-drenched room. He set down his messenger bag, pulled out a little box tied up in brown ribbon and placed it on her desk. "What's this?" she asked, picking it up.
"It's chocolate truffles," Ryan replied, leaning in to give her a brief hug before he took a seat. "It's just a little thank you for doing this for me."
"That's very sweet of you, honey, but you know that's not necessary. But thank you just the same," she said with an impish grin. "I love chocolate truffles." She slipped the box into her desk. "So are you all ready for your interview?" Ryan nodded and Ms. Danforth had to suppress a smile when she noted his anxious demeanor. "Don't tell me you're nervous," she said sympathetically.
"I guess I'm always a little edgy before a performance," he confessed, looking down to check his blazer for any sign of imperfection.
"Performance?" Chad's mother repeated, her tone sounding remarkably like her son's. "Well, I guess it is a performance of sorts," she quickly amended.
"This is my first job interview," he confessed.
"I'm sure you'll do fine, Ryan. You're a mature, intelligent, poised young man who has the exact credentials we need for this job. Besides, the interview is largely pro forma. They're ready to make a hire based on your resume and my recommendation."
"Really? Oh," Ryan said awkwardly. "Thanks, Ms. D." He checked his watch. "I'm supposed to see Dr. Tirado at four o'clock."
"His office is two doors down," she said as he rose to his feet. She rose as well and reached up to straighten his tie, mainly as an excuse to make physical contact and provide steadying support. "Come back after the interview and tell me all about it."
"I will," Ryan promised with a smile. He hefted his bag and turned toward the door. "Wish me luck."
"Good luck, Ryan," Ms. Danforth said as she watched him make his way to Dr. Tirado's office. A woman emerged as he approached the door.
"Yes," he replied. She nodded and stepped aside to allow him to enter the room. "Have a seat," she said, gesturing toward an empty chair at a small conference table. Ryan looked around as he sat down. He had expected the interview to be one on one, but there were two people in the room. "I'm Mary Johnson, one of the librarians. This is Dr. Robert Tirado, head librarian, and Agnes Bronfman is the head of special collections." Ryan nodded a greeting at them, aware that he probably should say something but he didn't trust his tongue just yet. Ms. Johnson took the seat next to his. It was to be a three on one interview. Ryan briefly wondered how Chad had fared when he interviewed for the same position earlier.
"Thank you for coming in," Dr. Tirado said, looking up from his papers. "May I call you Ryan?"
"Certainly," he replied with a smile. He took a calming breath and the interview began. The three librarians asked a few preliminary questions, basically to learn a little about him and verify the information on his resume before they described the project he would be working on if hired.
"Three years ago the University of New Mexico Medical School was bequeathed the contents of a private library. It belonged to a prominent physician who had amassed a rather impressive collection of books, journals and ephemera and medical instruments from the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The collection has been in storage since then; the Health Sciences Library was in the middle of an expansion project that was supposed to take two years. It was subjected to numerous delays and was finally completed a month ago. Other than sending out the most fragile items for conservation, the collection hasn't been touched. Now that the renovations are finally completed we're ready to catalogue, scan and upload the books and documents. Our goal is to ultimately put the entire collection on display in its new exhibition space."
"Are you talking about the Douglas Fenton collection?" Ryan asked curiously. All three librarians looked at him with great interest.
"You know of it?" Ms. Bronfman asked suspiciously. Ryan nodded.
"Marjorie Fenton Upshaw has been a friend of my mother's since they were children," he replied. "I've heard her speak of her grandfather's library on several occasions."
"I see," Dr. Tirado said thoughtfully. "Well then, you probably have some sense of the scope of our undertaking. The Upshaws have given the Health Sciences Library a rather generous donation to carry out this project, and it includes funds to hire an assistant to help Ms. Bronfman with--."
He paused and looked up when Ms. Danforth opened the door. She gestured to Mary Johnson, who smiled apologetically and excused herself. The door was left slightly ajar so Ryan saw rather than heard Chad's mother convey a brief but rather agitated message to Ms. Johnson, who came back into the room a few seconds later. She reached for her notepad and pen.
"Excuse me," she said to the head librarian, "I have to go cover the desk. Jessica has to leave unexpectedly." Ryan looked up sharply.
"Is everything all right?" Dr. Tirado asked before Ryan could even form the words.
"Her son's been in some sort of accident," Ms. Johnson said softly. Ryan gripped the edge of the table as he felt the world shift slightly off kilter. "Excuse me," she said lightly touching his shoulder before she left the room.
"Shall we continue?" Dr. Tirado said, turning to his remaining colleague. Ms. Bronfman began to talk about her project, but Ryan's thoughts were on Chad's mother and how she must be feeling at that moment. His thoughts quickly shifted to Chad and he had to shut his eyes and inhale deeply when he began to feel lightheaded and queasy. The librarian paused expectantly, but Ryan hadn't heard her question.
Her voice finally broke through her reverie and he looked up. But he was at a complete loss for words. He blinked at her and she took sympathy on him and began to repeat her question. But Ryan abruptly rose to his feet, cutting her off.
"I'm sorry," he said hoarsely. "I--. I can't--." He cleared his throat and tried again. "I can't do this. I have to go."
"Ryan?" Ms. Bronfman repeated worriedly, taking in his ashen appearance. But he ignored her and made his way to the door, muttering another apology. He took another deep breath when he was outside the conference room, trying to recall how to get back to the entrance to the library. He took a few steps in the direction of Ms. Danforth's office and then spun around again, remembering the direction from which he'd come. He found himself face to face with Dr. Tirado.
"Ryan?" he said gently. "Are you feeling all right?"
"I'm fine," Ryan said, shaking his head and starting toward the elevator.
"Well, I hope you don't mind my saying so, but you look far from fine," he said, reaching out to touch his arm in a supportive gesture. "In fact, you're very pale. You look as though you're on the verge of a collapse. Why don't you--?"
"I'm fine," Ryan repeated more firmly. Dr. Tirado was right; he was falling apart and he'd be of no use to Chad in that condition. He needed to leave. He needed to get to Chad. Ryan pulled himself together and stepped around Dr. Tirado, intent on going. But Dr. Tirado was equally determined to prevent him.
"Ryan, I think you should--." Once again the librarian reached for Ryan, who yanked his arm free and turned to confront him. Ryan averted his eyes for a second and then met the confused librarian's worried gaze.
"Look, I'm really sorry about this. I appreciate you giving me the chance to interview for the position. The collection sounds awesome and I was really looking forward to being part of such an important undertaking. But I can't do this now. I'm sure I'm coming off as a complete flake, but I can't--." Ryan swallowed hard and sighed. "I'm sorry I wasted your time," he said, eyeing the elevator as the doors opened. "I'm truly sorry about everything." He turned to leave, but Dr. Tirado stopped him again. Ryan opened his mouth to speak, but the librarian held up the messenger bag he'd left behind in the conference room.
"Are you sure there's nothing I can do to help?" he offered, searching Ryan's face carefully. Ryan shook his head.
"Thank you, no. It's not me. My…" Ryan knew Dr. Tirado deserved a better explanation but that would take time he couldn't spare. "I'm all right. But I've got to go now." He extended his hand and Dr. Tirado took it as the elevator doors slid shut. Ryan sighed and headed for the steps.
It wasn't until he'd put the key into the ignition of his car that he realized that he had no idea where Chad was. Ryan ran a hand over his face and tried to think. He took a few calming breaths as he tried to remember where Chad was supposed to be spending the afternoon. He thought back to his conversation with Chad at lunch.
"So are you ready for the big interview?" Chad asked in a slightly teasing tone. Ryan refused to be baited. Chad had spent the previous evening teasing him about joining the working class.
"I'm as ready as I'm going to be," he replied evenly. Chad smiled warmly, nudging him gently with his elbow.
"You'll be fine. What time is your appointment?"
"Four," Ryan said, "But I want to get there a little early." Chad's smile turned impish again.
"Brown-noser," he quipped.
"I don't want to be late," Ryan replied exasperatedly, looking over at Sharpay, who was talking animatedly into her phone. "Sue me." He reached over to his sister's tray and stole her grapes. "So what are you going to do while I'm having my interview?"
"I'm going shopping for something to wear to graduation," Chad replied, reaching out to snag a grape.
"Without me?" Ryan replied doubtfully.
"I've shopped without you before," Chad countered defensively. Ryan gave him a disdainful look.
"I rest my case," he declared firmly. "Do something else this afternoon."
"I already asked Troy to go with me," Chad protested. Ryan shook his head dismissively. "And he invited Gabriella."
"I forbid it."
"You forbid it?" Chad said incredulously.
"You have my permission to scout for something decent. But I forbid you to make a final selection on an outfit."
"I'm just going to get a shirt," Chad said with a sigh. "Maybe a tie. Mom wants me to wear a tie."
"No tie," Ryan insisted. "You can pick out a shirt--preferably something classic and neutral--in a soft blue or maybe a--. No--just no. You can't buy anything without me present."
"I need new shorts; are those okay or do my boxers have to be inspected, too?" Chad asked sarcastically.
"Oh, those definitely require inspection," Ryan said huskily. "But you have my permission to buy those on your own. I like finding surprises in your pants."
Chad spat his chocolate milk halfway across the table, causing several people to leap out of their seats complaining. Ryan rose to his feet--smiling smugly--and walked away.
Ryan nodded and started the car, trying to calculate which hospital would be closest. There were two contenders, but only one of them had a trauma center. Of course, it suddenly occurred to Ryan, he might have overreacted. It was possible that Chad was fine and not injured at all. But if that were the case, Ryan doubted that Chad's mother would have left so abruptly. His spirits flagged as quickly as they'd risen.
Ryan belatedly remembered his phone. He turned off the ignition and pulled it out, intent on calling Gabriella. But before he could pull up his contact list, his phone let him know that he'd received two voicemails. Ryan brought up the call list and saw two messages from Chad. He quickly punched in the voicemail code and sighed gratefully when he heard his lover's voice.
"Hey, baby, we're pretty much done here at the mall."
"You call him baby?" Gabriella's voice said in the background. "That's so cute!"
"What do you call Troy?"
"I call him Troy."
"Romantic; moving on… Anyway, we're almost done here at the mall," Chad continued, "and I was thinking that we should meet up at Earline's and have something to eat. Gabi's never been there, it's not far from the UNM library, and--. Whoa!"
"Chad!" Gabriella's shout reflected surprise and mild annoyance. But it was quickly followed by the sound of screeching tires and another shout. This time, Gabriella's cry was one of sheer horror. "Chad! Oh my God! Chad!"
Ryan's mouth fell open. For the next 42 seconds, he was an unwilling witness to chaos. He stared at the clock on the dashboard as the sound of shouting and footsteps filled his ears. He heard Gabriella's distraught cries for help. Then Troy's voice broke through the hellish din.
"Someone call 911!" he shouted. "Chad! Come on buddy! Talk to me, Chad! Chad! He's not moving! Somebody call 911!"
"Don't try to move him," a stranger said in an authoritative tone.
"He's breathing on his own and his pulse is steady," Gabriella said, relief evident in her voice. "I can't believe this! One minute he was talking on the phone and--."
The call abruptly shut off.
Ryan held the phone to his ear for another full minute as voicemail offered him the option of deleting, saving or skipping the message. Ryan finally shook himself out of his reverie and began to close the phone, but he recalled that there was another message. Though it had come from Chad's phone, he knew that there was no way that Chad could have made it. Ryan swallowed hard and pressed the number to skip to the next call.
Ryan, this is Troy. I'm calling because--Chad's been in an accident," he said, clearly fighting to contain his emotions. "I won't lie to you; he doesn't look good. The paramedic said he's unconscious but stable. They won't be able to tell us anything more until they've had a chance to run some tests at the hospital. He's being taken to Presbyterian. I'll call you back as soon as I have more information, but don't hang up. I'm putting Gabriella on the line. She looked up the directions to Presbyterian from UNM on Chad's GPS. Here."
Ryan scrambled to find a pen and a scrap of paper. He replayed the message and took down the directions, stoically shutting out Troy's half of the message until Gabriella began to speak. Then he set down the phone, pad and pen and reached for the ignition key. He turned the engine over, slowly put his hands at ten and two o'clock on the steering wheel, dropped his head to his hands, and wept.
Troy stepped out of the emergency room entrance and stretched like a waking cat. He filled his lungs with air and dug into his pocket for Chad's phone. He brought up Ryan's number and called him, but before it began to ring he turned and saw Ryan approaching from the parking lot. He pocketed the phone and walked over to meet him.
"Hey," Troy called when he realized that not only hadn't Ryan seen him, he was about to walk right past Troy and into the hospital. "Ryan!"
Ryan looked up and blinked.
"I was just about to call you," Troy said, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Chad's awake and responsive," he announced with a smile of pure joy. "He regained consciousness before he reached the hospital. The docs said that he's got a concussion and lots of bumps and bruises. They did an MRI to check for any internal damage, but they said that if they don't find anything, they'll probably just hold him overnight for observation and let him go home tomorrow." Ryan just blinked at him. "He's going to be fine." Ryan licked his lips and blinked again. Troy frowned in concern. "Ryan?"
Ryan sighed deeply and crumbled to the ground. Troy grabbed his arm and followed him down. Ryan sat heavily on the pavement of the walkway leading to the entrance, mindless of his business attire or his location. Troy sat down beside him, silently offering support. For several minutes, neither of them spoke.
"Tell me what happened," Ryan finally asked. He already knew more than he wanted to about the incident, but he felt compelled to fill in the missing details nonetheless. Troy handed him Chad's phone and began fiddling with his shoelaces.
"We were at the mall looking for stuff to wear for graduation," he said. "Gabriella made us go to every shoe store in the place; Chad and I managed to pick up a few things for ourselves when she was momentarily distracted. When Gabi finally found the 'perfect' shoes, I thought we were done, but she announced that she needed Chad's opinion on something and told me to go wait in the car. I think she wanted him to help pick out my graduation present. Anyway, we'd taken Chad's CR-V, so he gave me the keys and I sat in the car listening to music while they headed for the jewelry shop.
"I saw them come out of the shop about ten minutes later. Chad was talking on the phone and Gabi was looking at hers, like she was checking her messages or something. She stepped off the curb without looking first and this car came right at her, moving at a ridiculous speed. I saw Chad grab Gabi and pull her out of the way and then--." Troy paused and shook his head. "He just went flying." Troy ran a hand through his hair. "He hit the ground pretty hard. I didn't see that; Gabriella told me afterward. The car didn't hit him head on. Chad was turning away so it just clipped him, but that was enough to make him go airborne. I jumped out of the car and went running over to him. When I got there, Chad was on the ground unconscious and Gabi was shouting for help."
Ryan shut his eyes and let his head drop into his hands. Troy gave his shoulder a squeeze.
"Zeke and Jason had just arrived at the mall. They didn't even know that it was Chad who'd been hit--they just took off after the guy in Jason's van along with a couple other guys who turned out to be off-duty police officers. Between their three cars and a bunch of other people who had also witnessed the hit and run, they managed to block the guy in and hold him until the police arrived."
"Good," Ryan said dully, his voice sounding hoarse and odd to his own ears.
"He asked for you," Troy said, looking up at Ryan. "He was worried that you would be looking for him and not know what had happened." Ryan shook his head.
"Chad," he said softly, his voice quavering with emotion.
"Chad's mom just arrived," Troy continued. "They're getting Chad admitted and moved to a room. I guess his dad will show up soon, too."
"His dad's at a conference in Houston," Ryan replied, rubbing his eyes.
"Oh," Troy said as Gabriella came out of the emergency room entrance. She looked around for Troy, spotted the two young men sitting on the pavement and walked over. Troy scrambled to his feet.
"Sorry," he said hastily. "I meant to come right back but--."
"It's okay," she said softly as she leaned into Troy. He immediately enveloped her in a hug. "Chad's settled in his room. I didn't get a chance to talk to him, but he needs to rest. I can see him later."
"Yeah," Troy said, kissing her temple. He drew away just enough to look her in the eye. "Home?" Gabriella nodded.
"Oh, wait--we have Chad's car."
"Take it," Ryan said, getting to his feet. "You can leave it at his place, or take it back to yours for the time being. I've got my car, Ms. D has her car; if you take it home that will make everything a lot easier for everyone." Troy nodded, and Gabriella pulled away from him to hug Ryan.
"Go see him," she said softly. "He's been worried about you." Ryan smiled crookedly.
"He loves me."
Troy clapped him on the shoulder.
"Do you want us to stick around?" he asked. Gabriella nodded; she looked pale and drawn. But neither she nor Troy would leave if Ryan asked them to stay.
Ryan looked over at Troy; he looked as emotionally drained as she did. He shook his head. There was so much Ryan wanted to say at that moment. But there were more important things on his mind and so he just mentally catalogued all the words of gratitude and appreciation that sprang to mind, promising that he'd share them with Troy and Gabriella later.
"Thank you," he said simply. Gabriella gave him another squeeze before she released him. Ryan reached out and gave Troy a hug as well before he went into the hospital.
He asked for Chad Danforth and was directed to a room on the seventh floor. When he entered, he saw that the lights in the room had been dimmed. Chad's eyes were bandaged and he was wearing a neck brace that immobilized his head. The left half of his face looked bruised and slightly swollen. Ryan gasped at the sight and Ms. Danforth looked up.
"Ryan," she said, rising from her seat. She went over to him so she could speak without disturbing her son. "He just fell asleep."
Ryan nodded dully, his eyes on the frail-looking figure lying on the bed. He looked nothing like Ryan's Chad--nothing like the handsome, cheerful young man with a wicked sense of humor and easygoing charm who attracted the attentions of every girl at East High and made friends anywhere he flashed a smile. He didn't look anything like the young scholar who'd aced his ACT and SAT tests and won a full scholarship to the University of Albuquerque. Looking at the unmoving figure on the bed, Ryan saw no trace of the triple threat athlete who, to the surprise of everyone except Ryan, virtually stole the senior show by out-dancing every one of the leads. He looked nothing like the man Ryan had fallen in love with, nothing like the man who owned his heart. Ryan blinked at the sight before him, trying to maintain his composure. Ms. Danforth gave his arm a squeeze. Ryan swallowed hard.
"Now that you're here I want to go call my husband. He was planning to fly back tonight, if necessary, but I think he can stay on until the conference is over." She slipped out of the room and left Ryan alone with Chad. He slowly moved further into the room, afraid of disturbing his lover.
He studied Chad's face, tears welling up in his eyes as he took in the evidence of Chad's face-first collision with the pavement. He reached out and lightly touched Chad's swollen cheek, just to convince himself that it was real. He walked around to the other side of the bed and sat down, reaching out to take Chad's hand in both of his.
"So everything is on track for the summer program," Dr. Tirado said into the phone. "All we have left to do is find an assistant to help Agnes with the database."
"I thought you had already selected someone," Marjorie Upshaw said, setting down her teacup. "At least that was the impression you gave me when we spoke about this three weeks ago."
"I did have someone," he admitted. "We'd interviewed the son of one of our librarians and he was perfect for the job. Not only was he bright and capable, he already had some knowledge of the Library of Congress cataloging system and he was comfortable working with databases. In fact, he's bound for the University of Albuquerque's computer engineering program in the fall on a full scholarship. Unfortunately for us, he was unexpectedly offered a chance to intern with a major engineering firm this summer and asked us to release him from his commitment. So now we're scrambling to find someone to replace him."
"Well, it shouldn't be too hard to find a bright teen looking for a summer job."
"You wouldn't think so," Dr. Tirado said with a sigh. "We interviewed someone this afternoon who had real promise. Actually, we only started to interview him. He up and left before we were done."
"He left in the middle of the interview?" Marjorie replied doubtfully.
"Yes; he just up and bolted. I'm not sure what came over him. It was the strangest thing. And it wasn't as though he was flighty or--. By the way, he said he knows you."
"His name is Ryan Evans," Dr. Tirado replied as he reached across his desk and picked up a folder. He looked through the papers inside until he found the one he wanted.
"Ryan's looking for a job?"
"Then you do know him."
"Of course! Ryan's practically family. And you say he walked out of the interview? That's not at all like him."
"I got the sense that something was terribly wrong. He was very apologetic, but he didn't give any sort of explanation for his behavior. Agnes was a bit put out, but up until that moment we were both rather impressed with him."
"Ryan Evans is an extraordinary young man," Marjorie declared. "He's also very levelheaded and reliable. I'm sure that whatever happened, it must have been something very important. He would never just walk out like that without a good reason."
"I'd like to believe that," Dr. Tirado confided. "In fact, I've been thinking about giving him a call. If you're willing to vouch for him--."
"I certainly will vouch for him. In fact, as the primary underwriter of the collection I'm going to insist that you hire him. If--and only if--there's a good explanation for his behavior today, that is." She frowned into her teacup. "I do hope everything is okay. Now you've got me worried. Why don't you let me call his mother and see if I can find out what's going on?"
Ryan held Chad's hand and lightly stroked the backs of Chad's fingers with his thumb. He knew he needed to be strong for Chad, but he felt unequal to the task. Even though Chad was the one who'd ended up in therapy, Ryan always thought of Chad as the strong one in the relationship. He was the one who held the Wildcats together when Troy abandoned them to chase his dream of a basketball scholarship. Chad was the one who whipped them into shape for the senior show. More recently, it was Chad who always reminded Ryan to think about the changing dynamics of his relationship with Sharpay and Chad was the one who tried to include her in their plans as often as possible. He was the one who mediated their arguments and he was the one who Sharpay increasingly relied upon when she needed brotherly advice. And it was Chad she would turn to as Ryan's surrogate when he left for college in the fall. Ryan lifted his head and forced himself to look at Chad's battered face.
Ryan thought Chad Danforth was the most beautiful person he'd ever seen. He recalled the first time he ever laid eyes on him, at some track and field event his father dragged him to against his will. It was the state regional championships and East High apparently had a good chance of making it all the way to the finals. Ryan was bored to tears until he spotted Chad. It wasn't until Chad won the 1600 meter final that Ryan discovered he attended East High. Ryan spent the rest of the meet watching Chad and wondering how he'd managed to spend eight months at the same high school without ever noticing him.
For the next two weeks, Ryan sought out the elusive teen. They finally came face to face when Ryan accidentally bumped into him. Chad smiled and apologized; Ryan promptly forgot the little congratulatory speech he'd prepared. The following fall, Ryan was pleasantly surprised to discover that Chad was in his homeroom class and he found an opportunity to congratulate Chad on his victory.
"Thanks, dude," Chad said with that irrepressible grin before he was swallowed up by an admiring throng of cheerleaders. Ryan backed away and resorted to admiring him from afar for the better part of the next three years. Over that period, he watched Chad mature from an adorable pubescent teen to a certifiable hunk. His beautiful smile was the one constant during Chad's metamorphosis, and Ryan took comfort in the knowledge that Chad's best smiles were now reserved only for him.
Ryan's phone vibrated and he pulled it from his pocket. Seeing that it was his mother calling, he reluctantly rose and moved to the far corner of the room, near the unoccupied bed over by the window.
"Mom?" he said softly.
"Ryan? What's wrong? Where are you?" his mother demanded worriedly.
"I'm at Presbyterian Hospital. Chad's been in an accident."
"Oh dear! Is he all right? Should we come--?"
"He's got a concussion. They're just keeping him for observation," Ryan said as the tears began to fall openly. As always, he found comfort in hearing his mother's voice. All his fears for Chad suddenly came spilling out. "He's going to be okay, but he's got tubes and sensors all over him and a huge collar on his neck and his face is all--."
"Slow down, honey," Ms. Evans said gently. "Tell me what happened. Were you with him? Were you hurt?"
"No," Ryan said with a sob. "I was at--." He paused and wiped his eyes. Only Chad and his parents knew about the job interview. Ryan hadn't planned on telling anyone else until he'd secured the position. "I was at the library where Chad's mom works and he was at the mall with Troy and Gabriella. I just--."
Ryan looked up at the sound of Chad's voice. It was groggy and slightly hoarse, but it was enough to startle Ryan out of his misery.
"He's awake," Ryan said hastily. "I have to call you back." He shut the phone and ran over to Chad's side. He reached out and brought Chad's outstretched hands to his lips.
"Why are you crying?" Chad asked. "I still have all of my hair, right?" Ryan frowned momentarily, but within seconds he was laughing through his tears. Chad raised a finger and lightly brushed it against Ryan's cheek.
"You look pretty awful," Ryan said with a sniff, "even with the hair intact."
"Yeah, well I have an excuse," Chad countered. "But you're crying, your nose is running, and I bet your eyes are red and bloodshot."
Ryan gave a Sharpay-like yelp and raced over to the mirror above the sink near the door. He grabbed a bunch of tissues and dabbed at his eyes before he blew his nose. Chad smiled wryly.
"Hey, come back here," Chad said, reaching out blindly. Ryan abandoned the mirror and took hold of his hand.
"Sorry," Ryan said, warming Chad's cold hand with his lips. "What's with the bandages?" he asked, lightly touching the strips of gauze that held cotton pads over each of Chad's eyes.
"Headache," Chad replied. "My eyes are kind of sensitive to light."
"What did--?" It didn’t matter, Ryan decided. Nothing mattered, except that Chad was alive, safe and within reach. He wanted to hold Chad, but he looked rather fragile. Ryan brought Chad's hand to his lips and kissed it again.
"So how was your afternoon?" Chad asked, his impish smile completely incongruous with his situation and environs.
"Shh," Ryan said, giving his hand a squeeze.
"Where's my mom?"
"She went to call your father," Ryan replied, feeling better as Chad's voice grew stronger and he sounded more like himself. In fact, if he didn't look at Chad, Ryan might have easily been led to believe that everything was fine. But Ryan couldn't look away. He gently squeezed Chad's hand. "How are you feeling?"
"Well," Chad replied with a sigh. "My feet, calves--my whole right leg and arm--those are the parts of me that don't hurt right now." Ryan winced. "Even my dick hurts."
"They wanted to check for internal injuries that don't show up on CT scans so they shoved a Foley up there," Chad said shifting painfully. "Trust me when I say that having a catheter in your bladder is an experience to be missed."
"They think you've got internal injuries?" Ryan said worriedly. Chad squeezed his hand and tried to put him at ease.
"It's just a precaution. The CT scans didn't show anything; they just want to make sure."
"Troy said you might go home tomorrow."
"Yeah; that's what they said."
"You don't look like you could go home tomorrow," Ryan said tentatively.
"Dude, you've been here like ten minutes and you've already insulted me twice," Chad said lightly, but he gave Ryan's hand another squeeze and grew serious. "What do you see?"
"The left half of your face is a little swollen. Chipmunk cheeks are so not a good look for you," Ryan replied, trying to keep things light. "You've got a bump on your forehead and your lip is swollen."
"So I guess a kiss is out of the question," Chad quipped. Ryan immediately bent and lightly kissed him. "Ow."
"Sorry," Ryan said as Ms. Danforth returned.
"He's awake?" she asked as she took hold of his other hand.
"Who could sleep with Ryan blubbering?" Chad said teasingly. Ryan blushed but Ms. Danforth smiled warmly.
"He said the same thing to me, Ryan," she confessed with a wink. "Your father sends his love. He said he'll come home early, but probably not until tomorrow afternoon."
"That's cool," Chad replied hoarsely. Ms. Danforth directed Ryan to give Chad a drink of water from the cup on the nightstand on his side of the bed. Chad's doctors came in and she and Ryan left the room to give them some privacy.
"I'm beat," Ms. Danforth said as they walked down the corridor to stretch their legs.
"Me too," Ryan admitted. "This afternoon feels like it's been twenty hours long." She reached out and rubbed his shoulder.
"So how did the interview go?" she asked. Ryan averted his eyes and shook his head. Ms. Danforth stopped and turned to him. "Ryan?"
"As soon as I heard that Chad had been in an accident I left," he said, looking up at her apologetically. "I couldn't stay there and talk about books while Chad was lying somewhere hurt."
"Oh, Ryan," Chad's mother sighed. "I didn't want you to hear about it that way. I'm sorry. I thought I'd go to the hospital and call you once you were out of the interview with some solid information on Chad's condition."
"I didn't hear it from you," Ryan explained, leaning against the wall. "Ms. Johnson came back into the room after you left and said that you had to leave because your son had been in an accident. I tried to focus on the interview, but--." Ryan shrugged. "That lasted about ten seconds. I had to get out of there."
"Did you--? Never mind," Ms. Danforth said, shaking her head and reaching out to place a reassuring hand on his arm. "I'll speak to Robert in the morning."
"It's all right," Ryan said. "I must have violated every rule about how to behave at a job interview. I'll totally understand if he hires someone else. Besides, I can always work at the dance studio." One of the physicians came out into the hall and asked to speak with Chad's mother. She took Ryan by the hand and went back into the room.
"Ryan's family," she said when the doctor looked at him oddly. "What have you found?"
"Good news," the doctor replied. "There's no blood in Chad's urine so we're pretty certain that he's got no internal injuries. His eye's are still pretty light sensitive, but his pupil size is balanced again, so--."
"What does that mean?" Ryan interrupted. The doctor glanced at him again, openly curious about Ryan's connection to the family. But the second physician was focused on the question.
"When Chad was first brought in, he was diagnosed with a Grade III concussion, according to the Cantu guidelines," she said. "That means that he'd suffered a loss of consciousness exceeding five minutes, he had no memory of the incident that put him in the hospital, and he had other symptoms that led us to look for more serious head trauma, including facial bruising, swelling at the site of the injury and pupils that were unevenly dilated. Uneven pupil dilation can be indicative of brain damage, so we did tests to look for bleeding on the brain and found none. There was also no sign of spinal cord injury, so we've removed the neck brace." Ryan glanced over and noticed for the first time that Chad was no longer in the bulky restraint. The monitors had also been detached and Chad looked a lot less like an accident victim and a lot more like Chad Danforth. "We're still going to watch him closely for the next twenty-four hours or so just to be on the safe side, but we don't expect to see any complications."
Ms. Danforth chatted with the doctors while Ryan returned to his seat. Chad had fresh bandages on his eyes and Ryan could now see the black eye that had been obscured previously. He took Chad's hand and gave it a squeeze.
"What time is it?" Chad asked. Ryan checked his watch.
"Almost seven o'clock."
"Is there a TV in here? The Rockies game should be on."
Ryan and the two doctors looked at Chad oddly, but Ms. Danforth knew her son.
"There is a TV. We'll get it set up for you in a few minutes," she said without missing a beat. The doctors wished Chad a good night and left. "Are you hungry, Chad? The doctors said you should eat something."
"I was really looking forward to chicken pot pie at Earline's," Chad said with a sigh.
"I'll make sure you have one for lunch tomorrow," Ryan promised.
"Why don't I go out and try and find something," Chad's mother suggested. "I know you won't eat anything the hospital will try to feed you."
"And here I thought you'd eat anything," Ryan teased when she was gone. Chad didn't answer right away and Ryan frowned in concern. He rose to his feet to look closely at Chad for signs of duress.
"What are you doing?"
"Are you okay? Do you need anything?"
"They don't make ibuprofen big enough to take away this pain," Chad sighed. "But I'm okay. It really sucks to get hit by a car. I don't know why everyone keeps telling me I was lucky." Ryan bent to lightly kiss his forehead.
"Well, I feel very lucky right now, and no one is going to convince me that I'm not," he said fiercely. Chad's smile returned and Ryan kissed it.
"Ow," Chad complained.
"Sorry," Ryan said unrepentantly. "You have no idea how happy I am to be able to do that."
"Well, can you do it later? It hurts."
Ryan kissed him again and sat down.
"Have I ever told you--?" He smiled, suddenly feeling lighthearted and giddy. Chad was alive and he was going to be well and everything was right in the world again.
"Never mind. Just rest," Ryan said, sitting back. He reached for his phone to call his mother back, but he looked up and saw her at the door, along with Sharpay and his father. "What are you guys doing here?"
"What do you mean, why are we here?" Sharpay said shrilly. "Chad was in an accident! Did you expect us to just sit at home and play checkers?"
"We don't own any checkers and lower your voice," Ryan said. "He's got a severe headache."
"I've got a severe body ache," Chad corrected, lifting his left hand and waving vaguely.
"How are you feeling, son?" Mr. Evans asked gently as his wife took hold of Chad's hand.
"I've felt better," Chad replied cryptically.
"What happened to you?" Sharpay asked, pushing her way past her brother to reach Chad's side. Ryan relinquished his spot readily. He went around the bed to his mother, who immediately gave him the hug he never had to ask for.
"I have no idea what happened to me," Chad said.
"It's not uncommon for someone suffering a head trauma to have no memory of the incident," Mr. Evans explained. "What did the doctors say about your injuries?"
"I'm just here for observation. All their tests were negative."
"But you're--." Sharpay gasped and covered her mouth as tears welled up in her eyes. "Oh, Chad."
"The bandages are to keep the light out, Shar," Ryan said, rolling his eyes amusedly. "He's not blind."
"No, but he looks so awful, all--." She turned away, overcome by tears. Ryan recognized her version of his own meltdown earlier and rushed back to her side.
"He's going to be fine, Sharpay," he assured her, holding her close. "I spoke to his doctors myself just a few minutes ago."
"I wish everyone would stop insulting me," Chad said from behind them. Sharpay wiped her eyes and turned back to him. "Just because I can't see everyone thinks it's a good time to tell me I look horrible."
"I bet you're not used to that, are you?" she said gamely, reaching for his hand again.
"Nah, I'm used to being called things like 'hot' and 'beautiful' and 'absurdly gorgeous.'"
"That's what you get for listening to Ryan," Sharpay said, sitting down in the chair. "He's probably swelled your head bigger than that concussion."
"We won't stay too long," Ms. Evans cut in, giving his hand a squeeze. "I know you need quiet and rest. We just wanted to be here for you. Is there anything you need or anything we can do for you?"
"Thank you," Chad said automatically, a lifetime of lessons on good manners showing themselves in spite of the situation. "I'm good. Just take Ryan home and keep an eye on him for me." Ryan promptly shook his head. His mother looked up and Ryan gestured for her to step outside with him. Mr. Evans promptly agreed to Chad's request but out in the hall, Ryan had a different plan in mind.
"I'd like to stay over at Chad's house tonight," he told his mother. "His mom's going to be all alone in the house. Mr. Danforth is away at a conference and he won't be home until tomorrow."
"It's a school night, Ducky," Ms. Evans began, although her argument was pro forma. She knew that she couldn't refuse Ryan's request, even though she wanted to speak to him about the odd phone call she'd received from Marjorie Upshaw. Of course, she now understood what had led Ryan to abandon his interview. He obviously left in order to rush to Chad's side. What Ms. Evans didn't understand was why Ryan was at a job interview in the first place. But her questions could wait. She pulled Ryan into her arms and held him to her heart.
"I'll go to school tomorrow; I promise."
"No, you won't," she said, pulling away to look into his eyes. "I'll call Ms. Darbus in the morning. You take care of Chad and his mother. All right, honey?" She ran a hand through his hair, bringing it into some semblance of order. "Where's your hat?" Ryan shrugged.
"I guess it's in the car. I didn’t wear it into the interview and after--." Ryan blanched and froze. He sighed and licked his lips. "Mom--." She pressed a finger to his lips.
"We'll talk about that later. Right now let's just worry about Chad," she said with a reassuring smile. Ryan blushed a bit and nodded.
"I'm sorry I hung up so abruptly earlier. I was really losing it."
"I know, honey. Remember when Sharpay broke her ankle at summer camp? I was a wreck until I was at her side and saw for myself that she was all right. Angie Caruthers had to drive me to the hospital because I was in no condition to be behind the wheel."
"It was awful," Ryan agreed. "Especially since--. Chad was on the phone when it happened. He was leaving me a message and when I listened to it I heard--." Ryan shook his head and shut his eyes. "I heard everything."
"Oh, Ducky!" Ms. Evans exclaimed as Ms. Danforth returned. She was carrying a shopping bag full of food.
"Darby?" she said when she saw Ryan's mother. Ryan took the bag from her and carried it into the room.
"We came as soon as we heard," she replied, reaching out to give her a hug. "Ryan said he's going to be fine, but we wanted to be here for him."
"Thank you," Ms. Danforth replied, peering into the room, where Ryan's father was fiddling with the television and Sharpay was holding a cup so that Chad could sip some water.
"Ryan wants to go home with you tonight. I don't think he's going to rest well if he doesn't. Would you mind?"
"Oh…no," Ms. Danforth replied. A smile crept over her face. "No; in fact, that would be nice."
"I'll call the school tomorrow and let Ms. Darbus know that he won't be in. It's not as though he'll miss anything so close to graduation."
"What will you tell her?"
Ms. Evans peeked into the room and then turned away from the door so as not to be overheard.
"I'll let you in on a little secret," she said. "She knows about Chad and Ryan." Chad's mother gasped. "She found out quite by accident; she was performing in a play at a theatre in Santa Fe and they went to see her. She said that when she looked out and saw them holding hands she almost shouted 'hallelujah' right in the middle of her scene! We ran into each other at the post office a week later and she told me that she saw Chad and Ryan in Santa Fe. She applauded their relationship," Ms. Evans revealed with a twinkle in her eye. "I never told Chad and Ryan; Eleanor and I agreed to keep it our little secret and she promised to look out for our boys. Anyway, I think she'll understand if Ryan takes the day to be with Chad." Ms. Danforth smiled conspiratorially and the two mothers went back into Chad's room, where Ryan was peeking into the bag.
"The doctor said there were no dietary restrictions," Chad's mother said, "so I went to the restaurant across the street. I just got plain burgers and drinks; I figured they'd be easiest for Chad to manage in his condition. There's one for you, too, Ryan."
"I'm not hungry, thanks," Ryan said.
"Feed me," Chad demanded. "I'm starving." Sharpay unwrapped one of the burgers and put it into his hand. "Thanks, Princess."
"Will they take the bandages off before he leaves the hospital?" Ms. Evans asked.
"They'll take them off in the morning, the doctor said, but it may be a few days before the sensitivity subsides," Chad's mother explained.
"That means they'll make you wear those dorky old people sun shields," Sharpay said as she took out another burger and began to eat.
"Shar! That's Chad's!" Ryan protested.
"Ms. Danforth said it was yours and you said you didn't want it," she replied.
"You're welcome to it, Sharpay," Ms. Danforth said. "I actually brought three, but I don't really have much of an appetite. In fact, if anyone else wants one--."
"No, thank you," Mr. Evans said. "In fact, we should be going. I know from firsthand experience what a concussion feels like. What Chad needs now is peace and quiet and minimum commotion." He bent over Chad's bed and placed the remote next to his hand. "Can you hear the game well enough, son?"
"Yeah, thanks," he replied. Mr. Evans spent a few moments instructing Chad on how to work the controls.
"Here," Sharpay said, setting down her burger to attend to Chad. "Want something to drink?" She put a straw in one of the drink cups and held it up for Chad.
"If you need anything else--anything at all, don't hesitate to let me know," Mr. Evans said.
"Thanks, Mr. E," Chad replied, reaching out to shake his hand. Sharpay swallowed the last of her burger and daintily wiped her mouth before she bent to kiss Chad's brow.
"What daddy said goes for me, too," she said softly. Chad smiled and gave her hand a squeeze. Ms. Evans took her turn at giving Chad a kiss and then the Evans clan made its way to the door.
"Ryan?" Chad called. "Don't I get a kiss?"
"You said it hurt when I kissed you," he said puckishly.
"I'm willing to overlook that for the moment," Chad said indulgently.
"Too bad," Ryan replied. "I'm not kissing you goodbye." He reached for Chad's hand. "At least not yet." A nurse poked her head in to announce that visiting hours were just about over.
"The mom can stay a little longer, but I'm afraid the rest of you will have to let the patient get some rest," she said.
"The patient's boyfriend should get some rest, too," Chad said when she was gone. "You've had a rough day."
"Compared to whom?" Ryan shot back.
"Ryan, I don't think this is a good time to pick a fight with Chad," Ms. Evans said. She kissed his cheek and hugged him tightly before making her way to the door. "Goodnight, Jessica. Good night, Chad," Ms. Evans said. Sharpay gave Chad another kiss and Ms. Danforth accompanied the Evans family to the elevator. Chad listened to the ballgame for a moment and then turned his head unerringly to the spot where Ryan remained.
"Why didn't you leave with your folks?"
"I'm not going home," he replied.
"Well, you can't stay here all night," Chad reasoned.
"I wasn't planning to," Ryan replied, moving back to his seat. "I'm going home with your mom. That way she won't have to be all alone tonight." Chad reached out and groped for his hand.
"Have I told you today how much I love you?" he said softly.
"Let's see: you told me I was adorable," Ryan said thoughtfully, ticking off the list in spite of the fact that Chad couldn't see him. "You told me I couldn't dress straight if my life depended on it. You told me not to wear my hat to the interview--it sucks driving a convertible without a hat, by the way. How the hell do you do that and manage to still look so damn good?"
"You told me that I could have half of your hero sandwich in return for sexual favors to be named later--."
"I still intend to collect."
"You told me Sharpay should never wear olive green… Nope--you never mentioned that you love me," Ryan concluded.
"Ryan Evans, I love you," Chad declared, smiling radiantly. Ryan returned the smile and rose to kiss him. This time he was extra careful and aimed at the right corner of Chad's mouth.
"Ryan, we should let him get some rest," Ms. Danforth said, returning to the room.
"Yeah. You really could use some beauty sleep," Ryan teased lightly. But he caressed Chad's face as his spoke. "Goodnight, honey," he said, leaning in to kiss him again.
Chad's mother leaned in and gave him a kiss, too.
"Goodnight, Boo. Get some rest. We'll be back tomorrow. If you need anything--."
"I'll have someone call," Chad finished for her. "You're going to need to bring me some clothes. They cut everything off in the emergency room."
"All right, honey," she said as she picked up her things and moved toward the door. Ryan leaned over the bed to have a last word.
"Maybe being in the hospital isn't so bad for you after all," Ryan quipped. Chad's hand shot out and although Ryan tried to dodge, his punch landed square on his arm. "Ow!" But he smiled anyway; Chad was, in spite of his obvious discomfort, behaving just like Chad. Ryan pulled out Chad's phone and pressed it into his hand. "I'll call you later, okay?" Chad smiled and Ryan kissed him one last time.
End Part One
On to Part Two