Summary: Ryan struggles to cope with Chad's condition. Part of the Coming to Terms universe.
Ryan was exhausted by the time he pulled up in front of the Danforths' house. Ms. Danforth opened the garage door and waved him past before pulling her own car inside. Ryan parked in Mr. Danforth's space, got out of the car and turned to look at Chad's car sitting in the driveway. Chad's mother stared at it, too, before she shut the door and walked into the house. Ryan sighed forlornly and followed her into the kitchen.
"I'll make some tea," he announced, dropping his bag on the counter and moving to the sink. He filled the kettle and turned on the stove. When he turned around he saw Ms. Danforth sitting at the counter, staring at a copy of Sports Illustrated.
"Are you all right?" he asked gently. She nodded unconvincingly, her eyes filled with unshed tears.
"You know, it didn't really hit me until I pulled into the driveway and saw his car sitting there," she said softly, setting down the magazine reverently. "All of a sudden, seeing his things--his car, the mug he left on the counter this morning, his stupid sports magazine--." The tears began to flow and Ryan went around the island and sat on the stool beside her, reaching for one of her hands. He gave it a squeeze and she turned to face him.
"Thank you, Ryan," she said, toying with his fingers. "I'm glad you're here." Ryan nodded and squeezed her hand again. Part of him wanted to tell her that he needed to be there as much as she needed his company, but it wasn't important. He was glad to be of use to her and Chad seemed to be pleased that his mother wouldn't be left alone. They sat at the counter for several minutes, each lost in thought.
"Has Chad ever been hospitalized before?" Ryan asked as he rose to pull out the teapot, saucers and cups. Ms. Danforth smiled as she rose and went to another cupboard. She selected a small canister of tea and handed it to him.
"My husband used to call him our 'miracle baby.' Every time he got banged up or was sick and ended up in the emergency room some doctor would invariably say that it was a miracle he didn't lose an eye, or contract some dread disease, or break his neck. He came pretty darned close to doing that when he fell out of Troy's tree house once. But there was this one time when Chad was seven. He developed a viral infection and spent five days in the hospital while they tried to break his fever. I spent every night right there in the hospital with him. I knew he was getting excellent care. His doctor is a friend of mine who I've known and trusted for years. I had no doubt that she'd take care of him as though he were her own son. But when it came time to leave him I just couldn’t do it." She sat down again and sighed. "Now he's all grown up, three months from leaving home, and I still can't bear to think of Chad being out there on his own."
"Join the club," Ryan said softly, reaching for the kettle. "We should eat something," he declared after pouring the water into the teapot. "It's nearly nine o'clock."
"I'm not hungry," Ms. Danforth said.
"Neither am I, but Chad has drilled it into my head that dancers are athletes and like all athletes they need to be well nourished in order to perform optimally." He opened the refrigerator and peered inside. "He even gave me articles on it--said something about being the son of a librarian finally paying off." Ms. Danforth laughed and joined him at the fridge.
"All right, then, since Chad insists. We can heat up some leftovers or I can make sandwiches. Or how about a salad?"
"Sandwiches," Ryan decided. "Salads are not good dancer fuel. Not enough protein and they produce gas," he said, rolling his eyes. "I do not want to hear the rabbit food lecture again."
"Hey, it's not as though you'll be doing any dancing tonight," Ms. Danforth reasoned. "And Chad isn't here to--."
Ryan averted his eyes. She shook her head and began pulling out sandwich fixings. Ms. Danforth made two sandwiches while Ryan put on some music and turned on a few lamps to help erase the shadows that seemed to reflect the somber atmosphere. They sat down to eat at the table in the breakfast nook. Ryan was determined to lighten the mood, so he made conversation, hoping to distract Ms. Danforth. But Chad wouldn't leave his thoughts and his name frequently came up in conversation.
"Did Chad always have that hair?" Ryan asked out of the blue. Ms. Danforth looked up. "Sorry, I've always been curious about that. I've asked Chad a dozen times and he's never given me a serious answer."
"Well, he certainly wasn't born with it," Ms. Danforth said, flashing an impish smile. "He wore it short until he was eleven or twelve, when he decided that he needed to grow it long enough to braid. He hated having it braided, mind you, but he wore it that way for nearly a year. Then one day he decided to set it free and that was that."
"Have you got any pictures of him in braids?"
"Oh, sure," Ms. Danforth said, rising to fetch an album from her husband's study. Ryan cleared the plates while she was gone. "Ice cream?" she asked. Ryan nodded eagerly and went to get some cookies from Ms. Danforth's secret stash to go along with the dessert. They returned to the table and began looking through the album. Chad's mother provided the stories that accompanied each photograph. She couldn't find the picture she wanted in the first album and went in search of another. She returned with an armful. "I may as well take advantage of this opportunity to show you every potentially embarrassing picture of Chad we own," she said with a smile. Ryan beamed.
"I hope you're willing to let me get copies of the best ones," he said, opening the volume on top of the stack. As he scanned the first page, Ryan's phone rang. It was Troy.
"Hey, Ryan," he said in response to Ryan's greeting. "I was just calling to see if you had an update on Chad's condition."
"Yeah," Ryan replied, turning the page. A six-year old Chad sat on the front steps of his house next to a child who was unmistakably Troy. "And it's all good; his tests came back negative. They removed the neck brace and catheters and all the monitors. They're going to observe him overnight and see how he fares, but they aren't expecting any complications."
"What about his eyes?"
"His eyes are still sensitive to light so they left those bandages on. But the best thing is that by the time we left he was looking and sounding a lot less like an accident victim and a lot more like Chad Danforth."
"That's great," Troy said, clearly relieved. "Gabriella and I have been thinking about him all evening. After seeing him lying there on the ground--I couldn't--. It's hard to believe that he could go from perfectly fine in the morning to--to almost fine again."
"He's far from being fine," Ryan said. "He's in a lot of pain. I'm sure he's going to have a headache and be pretty sore for a while. His eyes will certainly bother him for a few days, too. But I agree; from the time I got--." Ryan glanced up at Chad's mother. "I'm just glad things turned out the way they did."
"You and me both, buddy."
"Thank you, Troy," Ryan said earnestly. "Not only for looking after Chad out there. You were there for me, too, and I really appreciate it."
"It's what friends do," Troy said, after a few seconds. "Night, Ryan."
"Goodnight, Troy." Ryan closed his phone just as Ms. Danforth turned the album in front of her and pointed to a picture of Chad wearing braids. It was a flatter and slightly shorter silhouette than the one Ryan was accustomed to, but the dozens of braids were definitely a precursor to the halo of ringlets that was the Chad Danforth trademark. But Ryan barely glanced at the picture. The one below it caught his eye. Ryan smiled and ran a finger over it.
"This was taken the day I saw Chad for the first time," he said. "That was the day I started crushing on him." Much to his surprise, Ms. Danforth laughed.
"Way back then? Are you serious? Chad was all arms and legs and bottomless stomach in those days. Come to think of it, not much has changed," she quipped." Ryan returned her smile and privately catalogued the improvements: chest, legs, hips, and ass--and most importantly, all the physical attributes enhanced by puberty.
"Better hair," he said aloud.
The house phone rang and Ms. Danforth rose to answer it.
"That'll be Chad's father," she said as she reached for the phone. Ryan cleared the last of the dishes from the table and put them in the dishwasher before taking his phone into the family room. He sat down and turned it on. Looking at the display, Ryan recalled the horrible message he'd listened to earlier. He considered erasing it, but decided against doing so. He checked his watch. With any luck, Chad was fast asleep, but Ryan had promised to call. He lifted the phone again and called Chad's number.
"What took you so long?" Chad asked before it even rang on Ryan's end.
"I thought you might be asleep." Ryan replied.
"How could I be sleeping? You hadn't called."
"You were waiting up for my call?" Ryan exclaimed, peeking over at the kitchen where Chad's mother was deep in conversation. "You're supposed to be resting, Boo."
"You know I can't sleep until I've heard your voice," Chad replied petulantly.
"Well, you certainly had me fooled when I was sitting there in your hospital room watching you sleep earlier."
"I have a concussion, Ryan. I was resting. I'm talking about sleeping," Chad said, as if that made sense. But to Ryan it did. Ever since they started dating, they'd ended nearly every day with a phone call. Originally, calling was Ryan's job. He was the one with the car and he'd call Chad when he got home. Later, when Chad got his car, the rule became the one who got home last would make the call. But since Chad's sleepwalking incident, the nightly call had taken on a very different significance. It became part of Chad's coping strategy.
Upon learning that Chad was sometimes afraid to fall asleep in his own bed, Ryan began calling Chad every night. Sometimes the calls lasted only long enough for them to say goodnight to one another. Sometimes they chatted for an hour, talking about inconsequential things like Troy's latest unfortunate haircut or Sharpay's new shade of lipstick. Sometimes they watched television and critiqued the show. They usually flirted outrageously; on one occasion they had phone sex. They never argued, regardless of whatever had passed between them that day. The only constant was reassurance. Ryan never had to say the words directly. He only needed to be there for Chad, letting him know just by the sound of his voice that he and Chad were on good terms and that Chad could sleep without fear. The fact that Chad was worried about being able to sleep in the hospital slightly alarmed Ryan. He hated to think that Chad was feeling stress at a time when he was in pain and in need of rest.
"You were a really adorable kid, you know that?" Ryan said, hoping to distract Chad from negative thoughts as quickly as possible. "Your mom pulled out all her photo albums to show me what a little cutie you were."
"Excuse me?" Chad shot back. "Were?"
"Well, you aren't exactly a 'little cutie' anymore, Chad."
"You know, a guy has one bad day and suddenly--."
"That's not what I meant and you know it."
"And my mom just spontaneously decided to pull out my baby pictures--."
"It was totally her idea," Ryan lied. "And I haven't looked at any baby pictures. I'm more interested in your formative years."
"I'm still in my formative years."
"That's why I'm so interested."
"By the way, you were a cute kid, too--in your formative years," Chad said, turning the tables on Ryan.
"My mom did not show you my baby pictures," he said confidently. He’d exacted a promise from her--and then made sure to hide every picture, videotape and other artifact of his early years he could find.
"No, she didn’t," Chad replied, grunting in pain as he shifted. "Your sister, however, was rather eager to expose you in all your spindly legged glory." Ryan’s mouth fell open. The very person he’d turned to for help in hiding the pictures had betrayed him. And she knew just where to find everything, too.
"So is that what you two have been doing Saturday mornings while I sleep?"
"I’m not at liberty to divulge what your sister and I do on Saturday mornings while you lie around in a puddle of drool," Chad replied, grinning.
"It’s your drool."
"And you love wallowing in it. You love all the things you can do with it--or rather all the things I can do with it," he said naughtily.
"You’re too sick to be having this conversation," Ryan said, glancing over at Chad’s mother. "In fact, you probably shouldn’t even be talking on the phone."
"You know I can’t sleep without--."
"I know, I know," Ryan said soothingly. "Just lie back and relax--."
"What did you think I was doing? Riding a motorcycle?" Chad said impudently. Ryan smiled, but as much as he wanted to continue bantering, he knew that Chad needed to sleep. So he moistened his lips and began to sing.
"Stay awake, don't rest your head
Don't lie down upon your bed
While the moon drifts in the skies
Stay awake, don't close your eyes"
"You’re singing me a lullaby?"
"Though the world is fast asleep"
"Wait, shouldn’t that first bit be the other way around?" Chad asked. "Oh, I remember this song. It's from that corny musical Princess made me watch one day. I called her Jane Banks for weeks afterward."
"All right, all right. Start over."
"Please? I promise to be good."
"You’re never good," Ryan said with a sigh.
"I’m usually great," Chad said boldly.
"That’s my name; don’t wear it out."
"What are you, twelve?"
"All right, but as soon as I’m done, you’re going to hang up and go to sleep. Promise?"
"Stay awake, don't rest your head
Don't lie down upon your bed
While the moon drifts in the skies
Stay awake, don't close your eyes
Though the world is fast asleep
Though your pillow's soft and deep
You're not sleepy as you seem
Stay awake, don't nod and dream
Stay awake, don't nod and dream" *
Ryan paced back and forth as he sang. When he was done, he whispered goodnight and ended the call. When he turned around he found Chad’s mother staring at him, hands on her hips and a question in her eyes. Ryan shrugged sheepishly.
"He couldn’t sleep," he said simply, walking back into the kitchen.
"He has a concussion and he couldn’t sleep?" she asked doubtfully.
"Hey, that’s what he said," Ryan replied. But he sighed and made a full confession. "Okay--since he began having sleeping problems, I’ve been calling him every night. It eases his mind and he’s able to rest."
"And he can’t sleep unless you call?" Ms. Danforth asked curiously. Ryan hesitated for a moment, unsure as to whether or not he’d be violating a confidence if he answered. "Ryan?"
"Well, after the sleepwalking incident Chad was… He was kind of afraid to sleep alone for fear he’d get up and start sleepwalking again," he said reluctantly, reclaiming his seat at the table.
"I can well understand that," Ms. Danforth replied. "Chad’s father and I were worried about the same thing. We subconsciously started taking turns sleeping until we were sure he was sound asleep and would stay put for the night. Any time one of us heard a noise we’d get up and go check on him."
"Yeah, he knew he was stressing you two out as much as himself," Ryan replied. "Thank goodness that seems to be over."
"Because you call him every night," Ms. Danforth said, prompting him to say more. But Ryan merely nodded and turned his attention back to the photo album in front of him. "How is he?"
Look, I'm just going to bottom-line it for you: I already have a boyfriend and I'm not looking to trade up. Now, stop being such a--.
Ryan blanched and glanced up at Ms. Danforth guiltily as he quickly answered the phone.
"I love you, Ducky," Chad said. The call ended a fraction of a second later. Ryan set the phone down, smiling.
"That's a very interesting ringtone," Ms. Danforth said archly.
Ryan dug through Chad’s closet in search of something to wear. He knew he could fit into any of Chad’s shirts and he also had two or three of his own in Chad's closet. Pants would be the problem. Although Chad's waist was just an inch or two larger than Ryan's, the cut of jeans he usually preferred were downright unflattering on Ryan's frame. Ryan had taken it upon himself to provide Chad with a pair of well-fitted jeans, but he couldn't find them in Chad's closet. He’d personally reorganized and edited Chad’s wardrobe one weekend, so Ryan knew exactly what was in Chad's closet, but a ten-minute search produced nothing suitable.
"Damn!" Ryan exclaimed, reaching for his phone. He flopped onto Chad’s bed and called his sister. "Hey, Shar. I need to ask a couple of favors."
"Speak," she replied.
"I’m going to need something to wear tomorrow. Would you be willing to drop by and bring me a few things on your way to school?"
"I guess," she said noncommittally. "What do you need?"
"I’ve got a few shirts and some underwear, but I need a pair of jeans, maybe, and--."
"Wait--you’ve got clothes at Danforth’s house?"
"Yeah," Ryan replied. "And he has stuff over there. I guess you’ve never had the convenience of regular sleeping privileges at a boyfriend’s place. Of course, you’d have to keep a boyfriend long enough to--."
"Hey, you called asking for favors. I wouldn’t start if I were you."
"You’re right; sorry," Ryan said sincerely. "Just bring some jeans and--."
"Don’t worry about it. I’ll put together something."
"I'll probably be here the weekend."
"The Upshaws are coming over to dinner tomorrow."
"Make my apologies, will you? Oh, and one more thing," Ryan said, running his hand over Chad’s pillow. "I just realized that they must have cut up his Lucky 181’s at the hospital."
"Who cut up who’s what?" Sharpay asked in confusion.
"Chad's 181's!" Ryan replied exasperatedly. "They cut off his jeans in the emergency room!"
"It’s what they do, Shar!"
"When Chad was brought into the emergency room, he was suffering from a head trauma," Ryan explained impatiently. "They cut off his clothes in order to be able to treat him as quickly as possible."
"Well, if I ever go to emergency room they’d better not--."
"Sis, would you focus?"
"None of his shirts would be any great loss, but how long does it take to get a guy out of a pair of jeans?"
"I don’t know."
"Well, if you had been there, it would probably have taken no time at all to get him naked," she quipped.
"All right; what’s your point?"
"My point is that he needs new jeans. I loved those Lucky’s."
"He must have another pair of jeans he can wear home."
"He’s got several, none of which I’d care to see him in on a regular basis. I'll take his 501's to the hospital, but he really needs another good pair of skinny jeans."
"I can go shopping this weekend," Sharpay eagerly volunteered. "He’d look great in True Religion. In fact, I’m sure his little honey buns would look great in just about--."
"Can you just--?" Ryan rubbed his brow. He felt a headache coming on.
"What size?" she demanded impatiently.
"He’s a 32 regular."
"Vintage, dark, or--."
"His were dark, but--."
"I don't really--."
"Never mind. Leave it to me. I’ll get him jeans that’ll make him look so good you’ll have him on his back and begging for it as soon as he’s well enough to stand up."
"Uh…thanks, I think." Ryan spoke with Sharpay for a few minutes more before he ended the call. She grilled him about the accident and Ryan told her what happened, although he couldn't bring himself to mention the phone message. After setting up his phone to recharge he changed and climbed into bed. He slid over to Chad’s side, hoping that it would make him feel better but he still laid awake for an hour, haunted by the memory of screeching tires, Gabriella's screams and Troy's voice trying to rouse Chad. When he did fall asleep he had a nightmare about finding Chad's body--battered, bloodied and twisted--under the wheels of a huge, black semi-trailer.
Ryan got up and went back down to the kitchen and made a cup of tea. He looked at photo albums until he could barely keep his eyes open. He reluctantly returned to Chad's room at three in the morning and finally fell asleep after grabbing a tee shirt Chad had left on top of the hamper in the bathroom and taking it back to bed with him.
Ryan awoke a bit disoriented. He was in Chad's bed but there was no sign of Chad. It took a moment for him to remember the circumstances that led to him spending the night. He sat up and rubbed his eyes.
On most mornings, Ryan got a call from Chad reminding him to get up, especially on the mornings after they'd spent a few hours on the phone after midnight. Ryan glanced at his phone and sighed. He picked it up and carried it over to the dresser and put it next to his wallet and keys so he wouldn't forget it later.
He went to the bathroom to shower and shave before pulling on a pair of sweatpants and a tee and heading downstairs. When he reached the kitchen, he was surprised to find Troy and his father sitting at the table with Ms. Danforth. Ryan froze, uncertain as to whether he should enter or wait until they had left. But the decision was taken away from him a moment later.
"Well, if there's anything we can do, Jess, you know--."
"Hey, Ryan," Troy said, cutting off his father. "I didn't realize you were here." Mr. Bolton looked over his shoulder and Ryan reluctantly came forward.
"Ryan stayed over last night. He thought I wouldn't want to be alone in the house," Ms. Danforth explained, rising to set a place for him. "He was right. When we got here I was completely at loose ends." She set a cup and small plate down at Ryan's usual place at the table. "Troy and his dad brought over some of Ms. Bolton's coffee cake. You should try a piece. I can assure you that Chad won't complain about it being bad for your diet because he's certainly put away at least a ton of it in his lifetime."
"Thank you," Ryan said shyly as he sat down and accepted the slice that Troy served him.
"So what time do you think Chad will be released?" Troy asked.
"I'm not sure," Chad's mother replied. "When we spoke to the doctors last evening they said another twenty-four hours. I assume it will be late in the afternoon at the earliest."
"The Wildcats are going to want to visit," he said. "I called the gang last night to let them all know what happened. Zeke and Jason had already spread the word." His father spoke up before Ms. Danforth had a chance to protest.
"I don't think Chad needs any extra stimulation at the moment," Mr. Bolton said with an involuntary glance at Ryan. "He's going to need peace and quiet when he gets home. You should give him a day or two to get settled at home and maybe you can pay him a visit tomorrow or Sunday."
Ryan averted his eyes, aware that Mr. Bolton was speaking to him as well as Troy. While he was inclined to be slightly offended by the coach's remarks, he knew that he was speaking in Chad's best interests and that took a bit of the sting out of his words.
"That's what I was about to say," Ms. Danforth added. "He really needs to rest. If you and Gabriella want to come by for a short visit, that would be fine. But other than Ryan and you two, I think Chad's friends should give him a few days to recover before paying him a visit."
"Thanks," Troy replied. "We won't stay long, I promise. But we--. You know, after what we saw--."
"I think Chad would be glad to see you, too, Troy," Ms. Danforth assured him.
"Thanks," Troy said gratefully. Mr. Bolton rose to his feet, announcing that he needed to get to work.
"You coming, Troy?" he asked.
"No, I'll wait and ride in with Ryan, if you don't mind giving me a lift," he said. Ryan looked up and opened his mouth, but the coach had already walked out of the room with Chad's mother.
"I'm not going to school today," he said. "But I'd be happy to drop you off."
"Oh," Troy replied. "No need; I'll call Gabriella. She's just a few blocks away. I can get a ride with her," he said, pulling out his phone. He sent a quick text. "That was nice of you, volunteering to stay with Chad's mom."
"Well, it wasn't just for her," Ryan admitted with a shrug. "But I'm glad it made her feel better. Mr. D is coming back today and hopefully Chad will be coming home, too."
"Do you think there's a chance he won't be released?"
"No, no; but I want them to be sure everything's all right before they release him."
"Yeah," Troy said, reaching for his coffee. He took a sip and nearly choked on it. Ryan looked at him oddly until he saw the cause of Troy's reaction.
"Good morning, Ry," Sharpay said as she strode into the room. "Troy." She pulled out a seat and sat down, crossing her legs in an exaggerated gesture. "Chad's mother put your garment bag in the closet," she told her brother, reaching out to snag a bit of his coffee cake.
"Get your own," Ryan said, slapping her hand away.
"Would you like a piece? My mom made it and it's awesome," Troy said, rising to fetch a plate. Sharpay looked at Ryan quizzically as Troy collected a fork as well. "Here," he said, sliding a piece of coffee cake onto the plate and pushing it toward her.
"Thank you," Sharpay said, still looking at him oddly. "What did you do, have a sleepover?" Ryan kicked her under the table.
"Sharpay, would you like some--oh, I see you've already been taken care of," Ms. Danforth said as she returned to the kitchen. "I'd better go call the school." She excused herself and went into the study.
"So is there any update on Danforth?" Sharpay asked as she picked at the cake with her fingers.
"I spoke with him briefly last night," Ryan reported. "He's sounded a little bored."
"That's a good sign," Troy said, smiling. "Chad's the world's worst patient. Growing up, every other kid would drag out any illness to prolong his sick days, but not Chad. Two days at home and he'd be climbing the walls."
"Well, he needs to give himself enough time to heal from this," Ryan said as Sharpay's eyes wandered over to one of the photo albums left on the table the previous night. She peered at the pictures of Chad and Troy sitting under a tree in Chad's backyard and smiled. Ryan's mouth dropped open as he remembered Chad's revelation the previous night.
"Hey!" he said indignantly. "You--."
"I've got to get to school," Sharpay said, abruptly rising. "If Chad needs anything else, just let me know," she called from the hall, as she fled, coffeecake in hand.
"Chad's already had plenty of help from you," Ryan called.
"What was that about?" Troy asked, grinning at Sharpay's comical escape. Ryan rolled his eyes.
"It's Sharpay," he said, rising to his feet. "I need coffee. I only got about four hours of sleep last night."
"I hear you. I was awake for hours, seeing the accident over and over again," Troy said, rubbing his eyes.
"I consider it a blessing that Chad has no memory of it," Ryan said as he brought the carafe over to the table. Troy raised his cup for a refill. "I don't think I'll ever be able to erase the sound of those screeching tires out of my head. I'm glad Chad won't have to live with that."
Troy stared at him oddly. Ryan set the carafe back in its place and returned to his seat. He looked toward the study to make sure that Ms. Danforth was out of earshot.
"Chad was on the phone when the accident occurred. He was leaving me a message." He stared into his cup. "I heard everything; Gabriella's scream, your calls for help, those damned tires…"
"So you heard everything that happened until I saw and phone and shut it off," Troy said, running a hand over his face. "Man! Wow," he said with a sigh.
"I had nightmares," Ryan confided. But the sound of footsteps made him cut off his next words. Ms. Danforth joined them at the table.
"Troy, would you collect Chad's school work from Ms. Darbus? I doubt there'll be much of it less than a week before graduation, but she said she'd speak with all of his teachers."
"Sure, I'd be happy to," Troy replied as his phone sounded. "That's Gabriella. Her mom's outside; I'd better go."
"Thank you for coming over, Troy and be sure to thank your mother for the coffee cake."
"I will. See you later, Ryan."
"Yeah," Ryan said with a brief smile. It faded as soon as it had appeared and Ryan rubbed his eyes as he stared at his plate.
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah," he said glumly.
"Ryan, Troy's father didn't mean to suggest that you shouldn't be--," she began.
"No, no, I know he meant--," Ryan said a bit too hastily.
"But he was wrong to say what he did and I told him so. I know that when Chad comes home he's going to want you to be here with him. My husband and I want you here with him, too."
"I know," Ryan said with a sigh. "I'm not going anywhere unless Chad kicks me out."
"Good," Ms. Danforth said with a smile. But it quickly faded and she looked at Ryan worriedly.
"I didn't sleep well," Ryan admitted, looking up at Ms. Danforth. She reached out and patted his arm.
"I was worried about him, too," she assured him. "Why don't you go back to bed for a while? Visiting hours don't start until eleven o'clock."
"I think I'll do that," Ryan replied, yawning into his coffee.
"How's Chad doing?" Dr. Tirado asked solicitously.
"He was diagnosed with a concussion and he's got bruises and scrapes all over his left side, but all things considered, he came out of it as well as one could hope for. The fact that he's so athletic certainly helped; he's more resilient and will probably heal faster than most. But it's still tough seeing my baby boy lying there in a hospital bed."
"I'm sure," he replied. "Please give him my best wishes for a speedy recovery."
"I will," Ms. Danforth said. "And if he comes home today and does well over the weekend, I'll be in on Monday."
"Don't feel that you need to rush back on our account, Jessica. Take care of your son. We'll manage things here."
"I have no doubt of that," she replied with a laugh. "But my husband is returning from a business trip today and has volunteered to take a few days off to look after Chad."
"Good man," Dr. Tirado affirmed. "I'll see you on Monday, then."
"Oh, one more thing, Robert," Ms. Danforth said, peeking over into the kitchen. Ryan had declared his intention to return to bed, but he was sitting at the table twenty minutes later and showing no sign of moving soon. "Ryan Evans is a close friend of Chad's…" She wasn't unwilling to be completely honest about the young men's relationship, but she felt that it wasn't her place to out Ryan or her son.
"Oh dear; and he heard that Chad had been in an accident--." Dr. Tirado chose his next words very carefully. "They must be very close."
"Yes," she replied, content to let him draw his own conclusions.
"It must have been rather traumatic to hear of it secondhand."
"I never intended for Ryan to hear of it at all until after the interview."
"He's well aware of the fact that he blew off the interview," she said. "I just wanted you to understand that there was a good reason for it. I wish he'd handled things differently, but--."
"Do you think he'd be willing to come in for a second interview?" Dr. Tirado asked. Ms. Danforth smiled.
"Maybe next week, once Chad is home."
"Come on in, Marjorie," Darby Evans said, rising to greet her oldest friend. "I was just thinking about calling you." She gestured for Marjorie to sit and poured her a cup of tea.
"Have you spoken with Ryan?"
"Yes and no," she replied. "I have managed to solve half the puzzle, however."
"Well, I'm completely confused," Marjorie admitted. "Enlighten me."
"You remember Chad, don't you?"
"Well, the poor dear was injured in a vehicular accident yesterday," Ryan's mother explained with a sigh. "He suffered a concussion and was badly bruised on one side. They kept him in the hospital overnight for observation, but he should be released sometime today. As you might well imagine, Ryan was completely beside himself."
"Poor Ryan," Marjorie said. "Poor Chad!"
"So now I know why he left the interview," Ms. Evans continued, "but I still have no idea why he was being interviewed in the first place."
"How did Ryan find out about the accident during his interview? According to Robert Tirado, he was fine at the beginning and then he just seemed to lose his focus."
"Chad's mother works at the library. I'm sure he learned of the accident from her. I don't know the details yet; Ryan spent the night at Chad's house. I plan to speak with him today."
"Oh dear," Marjorie sighed. "Oh! You know, everything is beginning to make sense now. Robert told me that the position Ryan interviewed for was originally going to be taken by the son of one of the librarians, but he was offered an internship with an engineering firm. He must have been speaking of Chad; isn't he going to engineering school in the fall?"
"Yes; but that still doesn't explain why Ryan was interviewing for the position," Ryan's mother insisted. Marjorie frowned at her.
"You don't object to him taking a job, do you? Chad's obviously going to be working this summer; what should Ryan do, lounge about out at Lava Springs and try to avoid a sunburn? I think it's a great idea! He'll be going to New York in the fall. It's time he learned a little independence."
"I'm not opposed to Ryan working," his mother said defensively. "I was just surprised to find out about it from you!"
"Perhaps he planned to surprise you," Marjorie suggested. "Maybe he's afraid that Sharpay will hear of it and ridicule him. Or--."
"You're right. I know you're right. It's just--."
"He's not a child anymore, Darby."
"I know," she replied wistfully. She thought back to what Ryan had told her the previous evening. "No, I think my dear boy is all grown up and learning to deal with the harsh realities of life."
Ryan entered Chad's room and found an empty bed. Alarmed, he turned back toward the door, ready to summon a nurse, but the sound of the toilet flushing in the bathroom made him stop and sigh in relief. A moment later Chad came lurching out, one hand clutching at the wall for support. Ryan immediately closed the distance between them.
"Chad!" he said worriedly as he drew Chad into his arms. Chad clung to Ryan tightly and tried to catch his breath.
"Bed," he said weakly. Ryan led him over to the bed and helped him climb back in. Chad laid back, his eyes shut tightly, panting. Ryan reached for the cord to summon the nurse. "Where's my mom?" Chad asked.
"She's speaking with your doctor," Ryan replied as he took in Chad's appearance. He was sweating profusely and deathly pale, save for the bruises around his left eye and cheek. Much of the swelling was gone, but the left side of his face still looked somewhat battered. A nurse came into the room.
"You need help, Mr. Danforth?" she said.
"He's wheezing," Ryan declared, backing away from the bed. The nurse frowned and pulled out a stethoscope. She listened to Chad's chest for a moment and then left the room. Ryan pouted at her departing figure for a moment before turning his attention back to Chad. "Hey," he said, wiping his brow. Chad made a grunting noise in response, rolling over onto his right side in the fetal position.
The nurse returned with Chad's physician and Ms. Danforth in tow. She was engaged in a conversation with the doctor, who immediately pulled out her stethoscope to listen to Chad's lungs. Ryan heard the word "puncture" and froze in fear.
"Chad, I'm Dr. Emory," she said as she gently rolled him onto his back. "Can you tell me what you're feeling?"
"Nauseous," he replied weakly. "Dizzy. Can't breathe." The doctor carefully examined Chad's lungs, asking the nurse and Chad's mother to hold him still when he began to roll over again. Ryan stood back, his hands over his mouth, fear welling in his chest.
"Chad, I need you to relax," the doctor said soothingly. "Chad, listen to me. I want you to breathe in through your nose, exhale through your mouth, nice and slow. The nausea should subside in a few minutes." She rubbed Chad's arm and comforted him until he began to calm down. "That's better. Can you breathe easier now?" Chad nodded and she listened to his chest again. "That's much better. There you go."
"He didn't puncture a lung?" Ryan demanded to know, unable to remain silent any longer. He knew instinctively that Chad probably wouldn't be able to take deep breaths with a punctured lung, but he needed the doctor's confirmation.
"Not likely," Dr. Emory replied. "I don't hear anything remotely like a leak and he didn't break any ribs in the accident. The nausea is most likely the result of his concussion. But I won't rule out any possibility. Chad, have you been out of bed?"
"He was in the bathroom when I came in," Ryan supplied. The doctor nodded crisply.
"Chad, did you fall down while you were out of bed?" Chad slowly shook his head. "How long have you felt nauseous?"
"Since I got up."
"Since you got up this morning or since you got out of bed?" Dr. Emory persisted.
"Bed." Chad reached out and Ryan moved forward to take hold of his hand.
"I could order another x-ray of his chest to make sure his lungs are okay, but I don't think we're dealing with a punctured lung," she said. "More than likely, he's having difficulty breathing because he's fighting severe nausea." The doctor pulled out a flashlight to look into his eyes. Chad immediately recoiled. She shut off the light and pulled back the curtains to examine him in natural light.
"He's not having complications, is he?" Ms. Danforth asked worriedly as she stroked Chad's hair. Dr. Emory didn't answer; she was still pursuing evidence.
"Chad? Did you get up because you were nauseous or did the nausea begin after you got up?"
"After I got up," he said. "I had to pee."
"So you removed your own bandages and got up," she said knowingly.
"I wasn't about to use that urinal thing again," Chad said defiantly, though he looked as meek as a kitten as he spoke.
"What does all this mean?" Ryan asked. Dr. Emory looked down at their joined hands. Ryan was stroking the back of Chad's hand with his thumb and she smiled softly at the intimate gesture.
"I want to look at another CT scan of his head. There's a chance that he could have developed a bleeder and if that's the case it'll need to be addressed immediately. But that's the worst-case scenario. I'm willing to bet that Chad just got up a bit too fast. His eyes are very sensitive, his balance is off, his head hurts…" She reached out and lightly patted his shoulder. "He may have just overwhelmed himself. I want you to stay put, Chad. If you need to use the bathroom again, I want you to ring for a nurse."
"I'm not going to--."
"Listen to the doctor, Chad," his mother said sternly. He turned his face away from her and shut his eyes.
"You don't need to use the urinal if you get help and move slowly," Dr. Emory said. "Don't be a hero, Chad. Give your body time to adjust, okay?" She patted his shoulder again and smiled at Ryan reassuringly. "I'll go order that CT scan."
"I guess this means I won't be going home today," Chad said once the doctor was gone.
"You shouldn't even worry about that," Ms. Danforth said as she pulled the curtains around the bed once again to limit the light. "You just rest."
Chad groaned and rolled onto his side. Ryan reached out and stroked his hair. Chad opened his eyes and managed a weak smile.
"Sorry for all the drama."
"Shh," Ryan said. "Just rest."
"I'm trying," Chad said with another groan. "But I feel like crap, my head hurts and my stomach--."
"All right, Mr. Danforth," a nurse said as she entered the room with an orderly. "We need to take you downstairs to get a CT scan." Ryan backed away as the orderly came around to his side of the bed. He disconnected a few ties that held the nurse's call button and the television remote to the bed while the nurse fashioned a makeshift shield to protect Chad's eyes. Ryan sat down again as they wheeled Chad out of the room. Ms. Danforth went with Chad, leaving Ryan all alone with his fears. He rose after a moment and walked down to the lounge to call his mother. Maria answered the phone and said that his mother was out. Ryan declined to leave a message and called her cell. He reached her voicemail and sighed in frustration. He shoved the phone back into his bag.
He sat for a few minutes watching Judge Judy with morbid fascination. When it ended he got up and wandered out of the lounge, in no particular hurry to return to Chad's room because he knew that Chad was still being tested. His phone vibrated and, hoping it was his mother returning his call, he returned to the lounge. But it was someone else.
"Hey, Taylor," he said somewhat disappointedly.
"I just heard about Chad," she replied. "My phone was turned off last night so I could study. How is he?"
"About the same as yesterday," he replied, slumping into a chair near the door. "He's got a bad concussion and apparently it's playing hell with his vision and balance."
"Poor thing," she said with a sigh. "My brother had a couple of concussions when he played football at East High. It takes about a week for the bells to stop ringing."
"A week?" Ryan sighed. He couldn't bear the thought of seeing that pain-filled look in Chad's eyes for a whole week. "How long was he in the hospital?"
"He wasn't hospitalized either time," she replied. "Then again, he hadn't been hit by a car. Well, that and the fact that Tyson is as bullheaded as they come."
"Chad's not exactly a poster child for patience, either," Ryan said. "They'd bandaged his eyes to keep out the light and he took off them off so he could go to the bathroom. He got so nauseous he nearly passed out."
"He's lucky to have you there to take care of him."
"I'm trying, anyway," Ryan said glumly.
"Problems?" Taylor asked perceptively.
"Well, I haven't been of much use to him yet," he admitted. "And I guess I'm worried. He looked really bad just now." Ryan explained what he'd found upon his arrival at the hospital, culminating in Chad 's second CT scan in as many days.
"Well, Chad's doctors are taking good care of him. Who's taking care of you?"
"Chad's mom is here. We're kind of taking care of each other."
"Good. If you need any help, or you need someone to stand in for a bit while you take a breather, you know where to find me. I know a thing or two about wrangling Chad."
"Thanks, Taylor. I appreciate that," Ryan said as a familiar figure passed by the lounge door. Ryan frowned.
"Give him my love, will you?"
"I will," Ryan promised. "I'll call you later with an update."
"Bye," Ryan said, rising to go in search of Mr. Danforth. He caught up with him at the door to Chad's room. Mr. Danforth turned away from the room just as Ryan reached him. "Hey, Mr. D."
"Ryan; where's Chad?"
"They took him for another CT scan," Ryan said, leading him into the room. "Chad got out of bed this morning and was overcome by nausea. They think it's probably just the concussion but they're taking another scan to be on the safe side."
"What was he doing out of bed?"
"Chad had to use the bathroom so he took off his bandages and went on his own," Ryan said with a shrug. Mr. Danforth shook his head. "I thought you were coming back later today."
"After I learned about the accident, I called my office and had them make arrangements to return. They booked me on a flight that would have gotten me back this afternoon. Last night I called the airline and they were able to get me on an earlier flight."
"It must have been awful not being able to be here," Ryan said, staring at the space previously occupied by Chad's bed.
"That's a gross understatement," Mr. Danforth replied. He looked at Ryan. "How are you holding up?"
"I've been better," Ryan said. Mr. Danforth laughed at Ryan's expression, just as Chad was wheeled back into the room.
"He's a bit out of it," Ms. Danforth said. "The CT scan did a number on his head."
Ryan stared numbly as the orderly and nurse worked to resettle Chad. There was now a pair of dark glasses over his eyes--the dreaded "old people sun shields" Sharpay had spoken about. Ms. Danforth walked around to the other side of the bed to greet her husband. Ryan watched with interest as they hugged each other warmly and kissed.
"Get a room," Chad muttered. His father immediately moved to his side. "Hey, dad."
"How're you feeling?"
"Head hurts; I want to go home," he said petulantly. His father reached out and stroked his arm. Chad captured his hand and held it to his chest. His mother placed her hand over their joined hands and Mr. Danforth wrapped an arm around her shoulder. Ryan immediately took a step backward, suddenly feeling like an interloper. "Where are you going?" Chad asked, lifting his head.
"Me? Nowhere," Ryan answered awkwardly.
"Then what are you doing over there?"
"I--. I just remembered something I have to do," Ryan said. "I'll be back."
"I'll be back," Ryan promised, approaching the bed only long enough to kiss Chad's brow before he disappeared from the room.
"Mom?" Chad said plaintively. She was already headed for the door and caught up with Ryan at the elevator.
"Ryan? Is there something wrong?"
"No," he said, pressing the down button. Ms. Danforth reached out and took hold of his arm.
"I promised Chad a chicken pot pie from Earline's," he said sheepishly.
"And that's it?" she asked gently. Ryan averted his eyes.
"I figured you guys needed some family time," he said.
"Ryan, you know we--."
"I know, I know," he said with a small smile as the doors opened. "Take care of Chad while I'm gone. I'll get lunch for all of us." He stepped into the elevator and gave her a little wave as the doors slid shut.
Chad's mother sighed and returned to the room.
"Where is he?" Chad demanded.
"He went to get you some lunch," she replied. Chad started to sit up and both parents pressed him back to the mattress.
"What did he say?"
"He said he promised you a chicken pot pie from Earline's," Ms. Danforth replied.
"Oh," Chad said after a moment. But he worried about Ryan anyway.
End of Part Two
* Stay Awake, by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman (from Mary Poppins)
On to Part Three