Summary: Being the president's son is considerably less fun than you'd think.
Author's Note: This is my second AU in this fandom, the first being Even Maids Divinely Fair. I hope this one is better received. I wouldn't have written another AU, except that I read elvensorceress's request for a story written that is set in Sharpay and Ryan's "I Want it All" fantasy world over at chyanchallenge. This story is probably as far as one can get from what she envisioned, but that was my initial inspiration. I fully intended to post this story before President Obama's inauguration. Hee.
"You're the one who chose to become the president of the United States. You're the one who campaigned, you're the one who was elected, and you're the one who became commander-in-chief. None of that has anything to do with me," Ryan Evans shouted.
"Ducky," his mother said gently, attempting to moderate his tone. But Ryan was too angry.
"Why should I have to sacrifice my ambitions just because he achieved his?" Ryan demanded to know, turning on her. "It's not fair! I've been dreaming of becoming a dancer since I was twelve! Why should I give that up just because you decided to become the leader of the free world?"
"Ryan, I'm not asking you to give up your ambitions," Mr. Evans said calmly, gesturing for Ryan to sit. The frustrated teen did so reluctantly and his mother went to sit beside him. "Look, I realize that the next four years--eight, if I'm fortunate enough to be re-elected--will be challenging, but--."
"Challenging is being the first openly gay son of a sitting president," Ryan said. "Challenging is losing not one but two potential boyfriends because they couldn't deal with the public scrutiny that comes with dating the president's son. Challenging is having the media shove cameras and microphones in my face every time I step outside of the White House. Being told that I can't go to Juilliard is not 'challenging.' It's--."
"No one said you couldn't go to Juilliard, Ryan," the president cut in. "But the Secret Service has expressed very strong reservations about being able to provide adequate protection for you on that campus. That's why they suggested that you go to a college in a more traditional setting, outside of New York with a campus that's easier to secure."
"That's all well and good, but last I heard they didn't have a dance program at West Point," Ryan said sardonically.
"Ducky," Darby Evans said reproachfully. "Your safety is of paramount importance."
"Look, all I'm asking is that you consider other colleges, Ryan," his father pleaded.
"You show me another college with a dance program comparable to Juilliard and I'll be happy to consider it," Ryan said, rising to his feet. "And don't talk to me about concessions. I didn't spend my life preparing to become a dancer so I could make 'concessions' for the convenience of the Secret Service." He spun on his heel and strode out of the room, leaving his parents staring at the door as it slammed shut.
"Stop being such a drama queen," Sharpay said when she caught up with him in the corridor. "Just pick a college and go. You know you can get in wherever you want--no one is going to refuse the son of the president," she reasoned.
"Sharpay," Ryan growled as he headed for his room. "This isn't about just picking a college. It's about fulfilling my ambition. It's about doing what I want to do for a change."
"Haven't you always?" she answered pointedly. "You came out even though you knew daddy was about to announce his candidacy, you had a public breakup with Drew during the convention, distracting from daddy's nomination, and--." The door to Ryan's room slammed shut and she gaped at it before she stormed in to confront him. "You never give a thought to how anyone--."
"Sharpay, have you any idea how hard any of this has been for me?" Ryan asked, turning around. He pulled off his hat and tossed it onto the bed before he sat down. "You can blithely flit from party to party in your endless quest for a celebrity hook-up--."
"I live in the same fishbowl you do," she spat back.
"We may be in the same fishbowl but you haven't any idea what it's been like for me."
"All the more reason to find a nice, quiet college somewhere and go," Sharpay insisted.
"I've already found a college and I'd like to lose myself there, thank you very much. I can get lost just as easily in New York as I can in Peoria. More easily, I'll wager."
"Ryan," she said, reaching out to him.
"Don’t. Just--don't." He dodged her and walked into his bathroom and shut the door. Sharpay sighed and left his room feeling a bit guilty. She knew that Ryan had come out just days before his father's declaration in order to prevent some opportunistic journalist from digging up his background and making an issue of Ryan's sexuality. And Ryan's breakup had been completely orchestrated by his ex in order to cause Ryan as much public embarrassment and humiliation as Drew could muster. Sharpay still beamed with pride when she thought about the way Ryan had handled himself in the press that week and in every subsequent interview, where the matter was invariably brought up. In truth, she felt nothing but empathy for Ryan, who had been struggling with all the changes that had been wrought upon the family since the day his father first entered politics.
"Are you ready to go, Ms. Evans?"
Sharpay looked up and cast a wan smile at the Secret Service agent standing at her elbow.
"Yes, Jason," she replied. He gestured for her to precede him and she led the way to the elevator. When the other member of her security detail fell into step with her, her smile became genuine. "Did you bring your bathing suit?" she asked.
"Yes, ma'am," Zeke said curtly, discreetly rolling his eyes. Sharpay's smile grew wider. Her brother's problems aside, it was good to be the child of the president.
"Come on in, Ryan," his father said, beckoning with his fingers. Ryan glanced at the party assembled around the president's desk and entered the room reluctantly. His father immediately moved from his position behind the desk to sit in a guest chair next to him. "I have some good news for you."
"Okay," Ryan said warily, looking around at the five men standing in the office.
"Would you leave us alone, please?" the president asked. He waited until the others had left--the chief of staff, the head of the Secret Service, the press secretary and two other people whose names and titles Ryan couldn't be bothered to remember. "You're going to Juilliard," he declared. Ryan blinked at him.
"Two weeks ago you said--."
"Two weeks ago the Secret Service had serious reservations. I convinced them to find a way to make it work," Mr. Evans explained. "Donald just came back to me with a plan that I deem acceptable and if you agree, well, you're off to begin your career as a dancer."
"What's the catch?" Ryan asked, afraid to get his hopes up.
"Well, there had to be a few concessions, but most of them are on the part of the Secret Service and the college. You will have a round-the-clock security detail--that's not negotiable, Ryan--but they will not impose on your classes. They'll remain outside the room at all times. Of course, any student attending classes with you will have to be subjected to a background check--."
Ryan lowered his head and flushed with righteous anger, but he nodded. It was a necessary evil and he'd become used to it. He assumed that security checks would be something everyone at the college would be made to endure.
"They've even agreed to let you live on campus," Mr. Evans concluded. Ryan looked up. "You'll have your own suite, of course. I know you want to be treated just like any other student," the president said when Ryan started to protest, "but that's just impossible. If you want to go to Juilliard, you'll have to agree to the restrictions set by the Secret Service."
"All right, whatever it takes. Thanks, dad," Ryan said, forcing a smile. Mr. Evans reached out and put a hand on his shoulder.
"I know it's not exactly what you wanted, son, but I'm not willing to compromise your safety--even if it's for your happiness. You're far too valuable to me. I don't know what I'd do if anything were to happen to you. It's a dangerous world out there; you know that. After that business last year with--."
"Dad, please tell me you're not making decisions about my future based upon Troy Bolton's sick fascination with Sharpay."
"I know that the doctor who did the psychological profile concluded that he wasn't dangerous to anyone but himself. But that doesn't make having an obsessed stalker any more appealing and I'm going to do everything in my power to protect you."
Ryan's smile warmed a bit and he welcomed his father's hug.
Ryan smiled to himself as he reached out and grabbed hold of his ankles. He brought his head down to his knees, enjoying the familiar feeling of the stretch. He allowed his eyes to wander around the room. There were several other students in the studio in various stages of warm up. Not unexpectedly, women dominated the class, but there were three other men in the room. One in particular caught his eye. He was in a corner warming up and Ryan couldn't help admiring his dark good looks and curly hair. When the class began he found himself standing next to him. But he was soon distracted by the late arrival of another dancer, who apologized to the instructor and took his place on Ryan's other side. When the class completed the barre and moved to the center of the floor, one of the female dancers spoke to the latecomer. Ryan couldn't help but overhear.
"Way to impress the dance master on the first day, coming to class late," she said softly. The latecomer shrugged insouciantly.
"It wasn't my fault. The Secret Service held me up. Must have thought I was a risk to 'Ron Reagan' over there," he said with a nod of his head and a smirk at Ryan, who blinked and turned his attention back to the front of the room.
Ryan was used to the Ron Reagan reference; it'd become a standing joke among his security detail, which had taken to using "Ron Ryan" when referring to the president's dancer son over the radio. So instead of being distracted by the comment he watched the curly haired dancer perform an adagio with the first group. When it was time for the second group to go, Ryan moved forward and the smirking latecomer stepped into place beside him. While Ryan was curious to see his neighbor dance, he was more concerned about is own performance. So he focused on the image in the mirror before him as he did the adagio. But he caught a glimpse of a pair of dark eyes and was momentarily distracted. Ryan swore to himself as he fought to retain his position.
"You're about as stable as your dad's stance on Middle Eastern politics," the latecomer said as they moved to the back of the room. Ryan glanced at the smirking dancer.
"Two and three syllable words," he said. "That's unexpected." The target of his comment was unfazed.
"Come on, I know you're impressed that I can read."
"Actually, I assumed someone read the papers to you," Ryan quipped before moving away. He looked around for the curly-haired dancer and found him again. Ryan admired his graceful lines as the dancer executed a pirouette. When the dance master stopped the pianist to correct a few of the dancers in the first group, Ryan leaned on the barre and studied the object of his interest, who caught him staring and turned to look at him. Once again, Ryan found himself lost in those dark eyes. But as quickly as he'd found them, they were withdrawn as the piano began to play.
When class ended, Ryan headed over in the dancer's direction, but when he reached the door he caught sight of the security detail. Ryan swore under his breath and let his quarry escape. He headed for the elevator and rode up to his room in silence.
Ryan had been given a suite of three rooms usually reserved for upper classmen. It was at the end of the hall in an area the Secret Service deemed secure. While he was supposed to be afforded the full college experience his father had promised them, Ryan doubted that any other Juilliard student ever had to share a suite with a Secret Service security detail. And while the men assigned to him were discreet and respectful of Ryan's privacy, it was simply impossible for him to relax completely in their company. So he retreated to his room as soon as he'd showered and changed and shut the door for an hour of solitude before his next class.
When he arrived at the lecture room, he found a seat toward the back and tried to ignore the stares of his classmates. One or two of the people in the room were familiar--the students were in his dance class. Others were probably majoring in music or drama, Ryan figured. He opened his bag and pulled out his notebook and pen to take notes as someone took a seat beside him.
"Long time no see," he said. Ryan looked up and rolled his eyes when he recognized the student who'd teased him in dance class.
"Hey," he replied, acknowledging but hopefully not encouraging his companion. But as it turned out, the young man needed no encouragement. He was perfectly willing to comment on the professor, the syllabus, the reading assignments and the homework with absolutely no provocation whatsoever on Ryan's part. And he did the same thing in Ryan's next class, until the instructor silenced him. Ryan soon discovered that the young man was in all of his classes. While he initially found that annoying, Ryan realized after a few weeks that not only was the young man amusing and pleasant company--he was the only student who dared to speak to Ryan at all. Other than the six agents who constituted Ryan's security detail, Chad Danforth was the only person other than members of the faculty who directly addressed him.
"You know," Chad said one day before dance class, "I bet if you asked nicely he'd let you do him." Ryan looked up and gaped at him. "Curly Boy over there. The one you've been ogling since day one."
"Not interested," Ryan lied. The truth was more complicated. Ryan actually would have happily had his way with the hot little dancer if said dancer didn't look at Ryan like he was an alien. If he couldn't get past the fact that Ryan was the president's son, the likelihood of anything happening between them was nil.
"Too bad," Chad said as he spread his legs, leaned forward and rested on his elbows. "He thinks you're cute."
"I am cute," Ryan replied without hesitation. Chad sat up.
"Does that actually work for you?" he asked archly. "I'm the son of the leader of the free world and I'm cute?" Ryan shrugged.
"I am cute. Come on, you know it," he said, smiling. Chad smiled back at him and relaxed back into his former position.
"You know, I don't think I've ever seen you smile before. You actually are cute."
"Told you so," Ryan said, resting his feet against Chad's and reaching out. Chad took hold of his hands and sat up, slowly leaning back as Ryan leaned forward until his chest was on the floor. They slowly seesawed as they continued to chat. "What do you do for fun around here?"
"Fun? We're supposed to have fun?" Chad replied. "I thought we were here to suffer for the arts. You know, dance until our feet are bloody stumps and all that."
"Yeah, yeah, but we're young and impetuous. We can't dance every waking moment."
"I don't know about you, but after dance classes, academics and homework, I usually fritter away the remaining thirty-seven minutes sleeping."
"Oh; I was hoping you occasionally got out and had a life," Ryan said wistfully. Chad let go of his hands and frowned.
"I'm bored. I was hoping I could do something else for once."
"And you need a guide?" Chad asked. Ryan averted his eyes, realizing that he was practically forcing his company on Chad. "Want to go see a movie?" Ryan looked up. "Are you allowed to go to the movies?" Chad asked. Ryan sighed.
That evening, Chad showed up at Ryan's suite. One of the members of the security detail admitted him and offered him a seat. Chad sat stiffly, waiting for Ryan, who appeared a moment later.
"Hey," he said sheepishly. Chad nodded and rose to his feet.
"So where are we going?" he asked.
"Downstairs," Ryan replied. They rode the elevator down to the mezzanine level and strolled over to the Walter Reade Theatre. They were escorted directly to a small screening room. "I guess we can sit anywhere," Ryan said, gesturing for Chad to precede him.
"I still don't get it," Chad said as Ryan took the seat next to him. "Why couldn't we go to the theatre up the block and see this?"
"It's a security issue," Ryan explained. "It'd be more trouble than it's worth."
"So they'll just bring whatever film you want to see over here?"
"Yeah," Ryan replied glumly.
"Cool!" Chad said, sliding down in his seat. "Snacks?"
Ryan looked over his shoulder and the Secret Service agent nodded. A moment later he offered Ryan and Chad a selection of snacks, including popcorn and jellybeans, along with soft drinks.
"Who eats jellybeans at the movies?" Chad asked, taking one of the bags of popcorn.
"I do," Ryan replied tersely. "And my dad; they always serve jellybeans when we show movies at the White House."
"Oh." Chad sipped his drink. "Can we see another movie next week?"
Six weeks into the semester, Chad and Ryan had become good friends. Ryan really enjoyed Chad's company. He quickly learned that Chad was good for more than comic relief; he was a serious student when it came to academics and he was an amazingly gifted dancer who challenged Ryan to perform at his best every time he took the floor. As Ryan settled into college life, he and Chad fell into a routine: they pushed each other through their dance classes, did their schoolwork together, and rehearsed into the wee hours together. Chad also became a regular visitor to Ryan's suite. They were watching television in the living area one evening when Ryan turned to Chad and asked his plans for the weekend.
"I don't know. I may go home and see my folks at some point, but otherwise I'm free," Chad replied. "Why?"
"Where's home?" Ryan asked curiously.
"I've never been to Brooklyn."
"You've led a deprived life," Chad said teasingly.
"Hey, have you ever been to Long Island?" Chad asked one morning as they warmed up before modern dance class.
"Yeah, lots of times. I've got family with homes in the Hamptons."
"Why?" Ryan asked curiously.
"Curly Boy comes from Oyster Bay," Chad replied, reaching for the ceiling with one hand and then the next. "You still interested in him?"
"I'm not interested in him," Ryan said firmly. Chad smiled.
"You still ogle him."
"He's--." Ryan shrugged and Chad shook his head.
"It's going to his head, you know."
"You staring at him. He was pretty full of himself to begin with, but having the fruit of the president's loins affirming that he's the hottest thing on earth on a daily basis is doing nothing to foster his humility."
"Shut up," Ryan said, rolling his eyes.
"Remember when I told you that he thinks you're cute? He thinks he's cuter. No," Chad said, as Ryan rolled his eyes again. "He knows he's cuter."
"Do you think he's cuter than me?" Ryan challenged, looking at the dancer in spite of himself. Predictably, the young man was staring at his own image in the mirror. He was studying his alignment, Ryan reasoned generously. Every dancer focuses on his image in order to check his position and posture. Ryan shifted his focus to his own form. "I don't," he said pouting.
"I don't think either of you is as cute as you guys think you are," Chad replied archly.
"Have you ever been to Washington?" Ryan asked that evening over pizza.
"Yeah; I went with my folks as a kid and on a class trip in high school. But that's not really home to you, is it?"
"It is for now," Ryan said, averting his eyes as he dredged up the courage to say what was on his mind. "It's my mom's birthday this weekend. I have to go down to DC for the party," he began.
"Ah," Chad replied vaguely.
"I was wondering--. I was wondering if you'd like to come with me," Ryan said, his voice creaking a little as he said the words. Chad stared at him for a moment.
"To Washington? To the White House?"
Chad averted his eyes and was silent for a time as Ryan squirmed uneasily.
"I--. Thank you for the invitation, but I don't know. I mean--."
"It's okay," Ryan cut in. "I'll understand if you don't want to come."
"Well, it's not that I don't want to--. Can I think about it and get back to you?"
"Yeah," Ryan said. He slumped further down on the sofa and stared at the screen, no longer seeing the show. When Chad left twenty minutes later, Ryan retreated to his room and climbed onto his bed.
While he wasn't all that surprised that Chad was less than enthusiastic about going to Washington with him, Ryan was slightly stunned to realize how much the rejection bothered him. He stared at the ceiling for the next hour trying to reconcile his feelings and was ultimately forced to confront the fact that he was falling for Chad. Their relationship has always been completely platonic, so the revelation came as something of a shock to Ryan.
When had his feelings developed? He always knew that he enjoyed Chad's company. They spent an amazing amount of time together, so much time, in fact, that Ryan wondered whether Chad had any other friends at Juilliard--or anywhere else, for that matter. He thought back to the beginning of the semester. Although he didn't see much of Chad on the weekends, Ryan spent the better part of nearly every weekday with him. They often met at breakfast, they had all of their classes together, ate lunch together, and usually rehearsed together a few hours a day as well.
Maybe he had no other friends because everyone thought they were a couple, Ryan mused. But he discarded the notion as quickly as it occurred to him. Chad never showed any interest in Ryan other than in a friendly, nonsexual way. He seemed to be protective of Ryan, but not in a manner that was likely to scare off anyone who wanted to make friends. Perhaps, Ryan concluded, Chad was hesitant to join him in Washington because he was afraid that people would think that the two were in a relationship. He frowned at the thought, just as his phone rang. Ryan checked his watch. It was midnight.
"Hello?" he said absently.
"Hey," Chad replied. "If that offer is still open, I'd like to go."
"Really?" Ryan gasped, belatedly realizing that he probably sounded desperate and needy--or at least like a squealing schoolgirl.
"Will I get to meet the president?" Chad said lightly.
"My dad is at a summit in The Hague," Ryan answered, rolling his eyes.
"I knew that," Chad quipped. "I was just checking to see if you'd been reading the news."
"Right," Ryan replied dryly.
"So when do we leave?"
"He's a total cutie," Sharpay said approvingly as she examined the picture of Chad on Ryan's phone. "So why isn't he here?" Ryan sighed.
"He had a family emergency," he replied glumly. "He was willing to come down just for the party, but the whole point of inviting him was to have some company for the long weekend."
"Exactly how long have you two been seeing each other?" Sharpay asked conversationally as she handed the waiter her empty glass. Ryan caught a glimpse of his mother chatting with the wife of some senator and two members of the White House staff. He knew he should be circulating but his sister's comment gave him an opening to give voice to what had been on his mind for days. Sharpay was always a good sounding board, when she wasn't of a mind to ridicule him.
"We're just friends," Ryan began, handing his drink to the servant. He wanted to be completely sober for the discussion that was sure to ensue.
"I said we're just friends."
"You've got a hottie like that within mauling distance and you're just friends?"
"He's--. We're not--." Ryan sighed. "Yeah." He shrugged awkwardly. "It's complicated."
"How complicated can it be?" Sharpay demanded.
"I don't--. We're just--friends."
Sharpay rolled her eyes and practically dragged him across the room. They found a quiet corner and sat down to talk.
"Don't be an idiot, Ryan!" she said. "From what you told me, this Chad seems perfect for you. So why haven't you jumped his bones?"
"I don't have time for a social life! School is brutal, and when I'm not in class I'm practically under a microscope living with the security detail in the same suite 24/7. It's impossible--."
"You said that Chad is in all of your classes. He spends all his free time with you in your suite and you hang out together on the few occasions when you deign to leave campus. That's a social life, such as it is, and you spend all of it with him. He's obviously not intimidated by the security, and--."
"I don't know if he's gay," Ryan assayed. But Sharpay was undeterred.
"Hello! He goes to Juilliard!"
"Believe it or not, there are heterosexual men at Juilliard. Some of them even dance," Ryan said sarcastically.
"I know," she replied. "But he knows that you're gay and he doesn't seem to mind being with you ninety percent of his waking hours. That has to tell you something."
"It tells me that we're good friends," Ryan insisted. Sharpay just stared at him and he felt the ridicule about to come. "All right; I don't know if he's interested in me. We're friends and I'm content with that."
"Why don't you think he's interested?"
"Well, he's never said or done anything to suggest that he was. He's never made a move. In fact, I'd almost say he's been very careful not to do so. That tells me that he doesn't want me to getting any mistaken impression that he was into me."
Sharpay regarded her brother doubtfully.
"I want to meet this Chad," she declared.
Ryan called Chad as soon as he reached his room that evening. He hadn't talked to him in two days and it felt odd to be out of touch with him for even that short a length of time.
"Hey," Chad said evenly when he answered the phone.
"Hey," Ryan echoed. "How's your sister?"
"She came through surgery okay, but she's still critical."
"Is there a prognosis?" Ryan asked after a moment of awkward silence.
"What is it they say? Where there's life, there's hope?" Chad answered, clearing his throat. "The longer she holds on the better her chances. Beyond that, the doctors won't say."
"I'll keep her in my thoughts," Ryan said, not knowing what else would be appropriate. "If there's anything I can do--."
"Nah, I'm good, but thanks for the offer," Chad said softly. "How was your mom's party?"
"Boring," Ryan admitted. "Not that I wasn't expecting that. That's why I invited you."
"Thanks, I think."
"You sound tired."
"I haven't slept much since the accident," Chad confessed.
"How's the rest of the family holding up?"
"We're all pretty tired, but we've been propping each other up; it's what we do."
"Good," Ryan replied softly, wishing he could be there to support Chad through his family crisis.
"Will you be back at school Monday?"
"Yeah," Chad said around a yawn. "When are you coming back to the city?"
"I'm leaving first thing in the morning."
"Have a good trip. I'll call tomorrow."
"Thanks. Night," Ryan said glumly. He closed the phone and sat on his bed for several minutes before he got up to change for bed.
Late Sunday afternoon, Chad returned to the dorm and decided to drop by to see Ryan. As he approached the suite he saw three Secret Service agents talking in the hall but recognized only one of them. Chad was well acquainted with the six men who provided Ryan's round-the-clock security so the presence of two strangers made him wary. He regretted his impulsive decision and considered going back to his own room. He started to retreat just as one of the agents looked up and spotted him.
"May we help you?" he asked, eyeing him suspiciously. Chad sighed and turned around.
"No, thanks," he said. "I'll come back later."
"Do you have business with--?" the second agent challenged.
"It's okay, Jason," the third agent said. "He's a regular visitor." He gestured with his head and Chad reluctantly approached the suite.
"I'm a classmate of Ryan's," he said, providing unnecessary clarification. He moved past the two new Secret Service agents as the third one opened the door. "Thanks, Bates," he said.
"I heard about your sister's accident. How's she doing?" he asked gently.
"She came off the critical list this afternoon," Chad replied with a grateful smile. Bates nodded and stepped back to admit Chad to the suite. He went through the door and came to an abrupt halt when he saw Ryan sitting on the sofa deeply engaged in conversation with an attractive blonde woman. "I'll come back later," Chad said awkwardly, taking an involuntary step backward. Ryan looked up at the sound of his voice.
"Chad!" he cried, leaping off the sofa eagerly. The blonde also rose and turned to gape at him as Ryan pulled him into a hug. "I wasn't expecting to see you today."
"I--." Chad forced himself to turn his eyes from the blonde to Ryan. "I have to get caught up on my homework," he said as his eyes wandered past Ryan again.
"Oh," Ryan said, remembering his manners. "I'd like you to meet my sister, Sharpay. Sharpay, this is Chad Danforth."
"The pleasure is mine," she declared as she stepped forward to get a closer look at him. He practically felt her assessing gaze raking over him. "Ryan's spoken very highly of you." Chad glanced at Ryan curiously.
"Hi," he managed.
"How's your sister?" Ryan asked as he led Chad over to the sofa and gestured for him to sit in the space his sister had just vacated. Chad sat down reluctantly. Sharpay folded her arms and Chad promptly rose to relinquish the seat. But she insisted on taking the chair. Chad sat back uneasily as Sharpay sat down to observe the pair.
"She's off the critical list," Chad replied to Ryan's inquiry. "She woke up this morning greatly improved and asking for ice cream. I think all the praying finally paid off," he said, smiling. "The doctors say she'll be in the hospital for a while, but she's expected to make a full recovery."
"That's great," Ryan said, beaming.
"That's excellent!" Sharpay agreed. "Ryan told me about the accident," she explained when Chad looked at her.
"Thanks," he said, beginning to rise again. "I just came to tell you the good news. I've got to get--."
"No, no," Sharpay protested. "You two should catch up for a few minutes. I'm sure that under the circumstances your teachers will cut you a little slack." But Chad looked like he wanted to bolt and it belatedly occurred to her that she was the reason. "You know, I think I'm going to go and let you two get caught up." She rose and collected her things, before saying goodbye to her brother with a warm hug. She turned to Chad and smiled. "It was a real pleasure to meet you," she said effusively. "Bye!"
"I'm sorry," Chad said, as soon as she was gone. "I didn't realize you had company. I should have called first."
"It's all right," Ryan assured him. "She insisted on coming back to the city with me so she could check out the place. She's on her way up to school in New Haven."
Needless to say, the minute Sharpay got to her dorm at Yale she was on the phone giving her brother an earful. She ignored Ryan's protests that he and Chad were merely friends.
"Listen, Ryan," she said after twenty minutes of arguing. If you want that little honey, you'd better act fast. If you don't lay claim to him, someone else certainly will. If you want Chad Danforth, you'd better secure his affections as soon as humanly possible."
"Secure his affections?" Ryan repeated exasperatedly. "Who talks like that?"
"Never mind what I'm saying," she replied. "When are you going to speak to him?"
Over the next two weeks, Ryan began to slip into a mild funk. His sister's words haunted him as he tried to work up the courage to speak to Chad. Every time he thought he was ready, he'd back down, fearing rejection. Ryan's concentration began to wander as his frustration grew. His only consolation was that Chad seemed to be oblivious to Ryan's struggles, but ultimately that only made Ryan feel worse. Perhaps if Chad had noticed Ryan's funk, Ryan might have found a way to broach the issue with him. But he hadn't and Ryan became increasingly glum.
One Saturday night, he finally screwed up the courage to go and talk to Chad. It took him a while to actually figure out where Chad's room was, but once he did he slipped out of his suite without being seen and made his way down to Chad's floor. He raised his hand to knock on the door to Chad's suite when the door across the hall opened to reveal the dancer he'd come to know as "Curly Boy."
"Hey," he said, clearly just as surprised to see Ryan.
"Hi, Jared," Ryan replied, only barely managing not to use the more familiar epithet. "Have you seen Chad?"
"Chad went out," Jared said quickly. "I saw him leaving when I came in a few minutes ago. Want to come in and wait for him?"
"I don't--." Ryan shrugged. "When's he coming back?"
"Who knows, but we're having a party. Come on in." Jared stepped back and beckoned Ryan inside. Ryan looked back at Chad's door for a moment before reluctantly following Jared into the suite. "I think you know everyone," he said, gesturing at the three students Ryan recognized from his ballet class. The man sitting on the floor was not familiar, and Ryan said so. Jared made the introductions and handed him a half-empty bottle of vodka.
Three hours later, Chad turned off his television and tossed aside the remote. He heard a knock and went to answer the door muttering to himself.
"Whoever it is, you'd better be glad you waited until USC finished kicking major ass because--." He opened the door and saw Jared looking anxious and worried.
"You've got to help me, man!" he cried, grabbing Chad by the arm and leading him across the hall. Chad eyed him suspiciously.
"Why? What happened?"
"It's--. Ryan Evans is in my room," he confessed after a second's hesitation. "I think he's sick."
"What?" Chad cried, pushing past him. He entered Jared's suite and headed toward the bedrooms. "Where is he?"
"In the bathroom," Jared said, pointing toward the back of the suite. Chad glared at him for a moment, but his instincts kicked in and he began to push his way through the small gathering of students in the living area when he heard the unmistakable sound of retching coming from the bathroom. He found Ryan on his knees in front of the toilet. Amber, another dance student, was kneeling beside him, rubbing his back.
"Why'd you just dump him in here and leave?" she said accusingly. "You're such a selfish prick, Jared," she spat before turning her attention back to Ryan, who lifted his head and wiped his mouth.
"Shit," Chad said under his breath. "Let me take care of this," he demanded. Amber rose to her feet and slipped out of the bathroom, but Jared stood his ground.
"Can you take him to your room? I don't want to get into any trouble and if they find him in here I'll be--."
Chad glared at him.
"This is not about you, asshole. Get out of my way," Chad said as he bent to help Ryan up. He didn't bother to see if Jared left. He focused on Ryan, who was a lot steadier on his feet than Chad dared to hope. Chad reached for a cup and ordered Ryan to wash his mouth out. Ryan did as he was bidden and Chad used a towel to wipe Ryan's face.
"I'm never eating onion dip again."
"Uh huh." Chad could smell the alcohol on his breath and didn't even entertain Ryan's excuse.
"Seriously; the stuff is vile. All right, I also drank a little," Ryan confessed, staring at his reflection in the mirror. He looked pale and drawn. Ryan tousled his hair a little and rubbed his cheeks to bring some color back into them. "I only threw up because of that dip, though. I think it was bad." He checked his watch and became even paler than he was before. "I've got to get upstairs. The guys will be looking for me." Chad nodded.
"Don't they know you're down here?"
Ryan shook his head.
"I snuck out," Ryan admitted sheepishly, averting his gaze to his shoes. He made a sound of disgust and grabbed a piece of toilet paper to clean them off. Chad rolled his eyes.
"Let's get you back to your room." Chad took Ryan by the arm and steered him toward the door. Chad spared another glare for Jared. "I'll deal with you later," he promised, pointing at him menacingly.
"I couldn't find you," Ryan explained as they left the suite and made their way toward the elevator.
"Well, maybe that's because I don't live in Curly Boy's suite," Chad reasoned.
"I know. He told me I could wait for you there." Ryan turned to frown at him. "Where were you anyway? I was getting worried."
"I've been in my room all night," Chad said, shaking his head. He leaned Ryan against the wall. "I told you I'd be watching the Trojans whip UCLA."
"You've been home?"
"How much did you have to drink?"
"How much is 'not much'?"
"One." Ryan frowned at Chad. "Jared said he saw you go out."
"Jared's a manipulative dick," Chad replied bluntly. "You tossed your cookies after one drink?" he asked doubtfully.
"No, no, that was the dip," Ryan insisted. Chad privately conceded that Ryan didn't appear to be terribly inebriated, but he had definitely been drinking.
"How much?" Chad repeated.
"One bottle of--something. Well," Ryan said, holding up his hands to indicate something Chad didn't bother trying to understand. "And I didn't drink the whole thing. There wasn't much left in it when he gave it to me." Chad rolled his eyes and reached for the button to summon the elevator. "Seriously," Ryan insisted. "No!" he cried as Chad pushed the button. "We've got to take the stairs. The elevators have cameras. Let's walk up."
"You must be mad!" Chad said, grabbing Ryan by the shirt to keep him from wandering away. "I'm not dragging your sorry ass up eight flights of stairs."
"They're probably looking for me."
"Who's looking for you?" Chad asked, confused.
"The Secret Service--they see everything," Ryan said, shaking his head. Chad quickly reassessed Ryan's condition. Perhaps he wasn't wasted but he was definitely not himself. "You've been across the hall all evening?" he repeated sheepishly.
"Yeah," Chad replied. The doors opened and Chad guided Ryan into the elevator.
"But Jared said--."
"You shouldn't listen to anything he says," Chad interjected. "You know that." Ryan nodded, rubbing his eyes.
"I think I'm a little drunk. I feel a bit nauseous," Ryan said, taking in a slow breath to quell his stomach. "Anyway, the combination of bad dip and vodka can't be good."
The elevator doors opened and Ryan turned away so as not to be seen by the newcomers. But the students who got on had also been partying and paid neither Chad nor Ryan any attention. The trio got off on the next floor and Ryan turned back around looking miserable.
"Are you mad at me?"
"No," Chad replied, amused in spite of himself. "Should I be?"
"I didn't mean to--."
"You didn't mean to what?"
"I just didn't want to go back upstairs without seeing you," Ryan explained. "They wouldn't let me sneak out again."
"Why'd you sneak out in the first place? No one would object to you visiting me," Chad reasoned. Ryan shrugged.
"I didn't want to make a big deal out of it. I just wanted to see you."
"Well, you found me," Chad said as the doors opened on the top floor. He had to hold the button and practically drag Ryan out of the elevator. Ryan was clearly reluctant to leave.
"We have to talk," Ryan insisted.
"We can talk inside. Come on, buddy."
"I don't want to--."
But it was too late. Four Secret Service agents and half a dozen New York City police officers surged forward, clearly agitated and full of questions. Chad stayed them with a hand.
"Where have you two been?" Bates, the senior agent demanded. "We were about to start a door to door search."
"I got this," Chad replied, his eyes meeting Bates'. He held his breath for a moment, one hand on Ryan's arm. Bates nodded and pulled out his radio to call off the search. The others stepped back and Chad sighed in relief before leading Ryan into the suite and directly to his room. He shut the door behind them and sat Ryan down on the bed.
"I'm sorry," Ryan said softly. "I didn't mean to get you into trouble."
"Why am I in trouble?" Chad asked.
"They'll probably blame you for this," Ryan replied. "They'll probably think you snuck me out to some party. I'll explain everything to them in the morning."
"It doesn't matter," Chad said, sitting beside him. "Let them think whatever they want."
"No; that’s not right. I don't want to get you in trouble."
"All right, then blame Curly Boy," Chad suggested lightly. Ryan sighed deeply and shook his head.
"I--." He dropped his head into his hands, rubbing his eyes. "Oh, God. I can't believe I almost did that."
"Did what?" Chad asked, suddenly dreading what he might hear. Ryan got to his feet and went to the window. He leaned against the frame and stared out at the Hudson River.
"Never mind," Ryan sighed, scrubbing at his eyes. "Damn! I'm such an idiot."
"What is it, Ryan? What's going on? Why were you looking for me?"
"I--." Ryan paused again and chose his next words carefully. "I got tired of wondering and hoping. I've spent months waiting for you to get on the clue bus."
"What are you talking about?" Chad asked. Ryan looked up and sighed exasperatedly.
"You really don't know, do you?" He brushed past Chad and threw open the door. "You know what? You should go."
"Please, Chad; just leave."
"Ryan?" Chad stared frowned at him in confusion, until realization dawned. He took a step to close the distance between them and reached out to place a hand on Ryan's shoulder. But Ryan turned away, shaking his head. He faced the wall, leaning on one shoulder. "Ryan, I--. Look, I'm very flattered that you're…attracted to me--."
"But you don't feel that way about me. I got it." Ryan slowly turned to face Chad, eyes glistening in the dim light of the room. "I've totally fucked up. I'm sorry."
"You know, I was content with just being your friend. You're easily the best friend I've ever had. I don't know how I would have survived this long at Juilliard without you."
"I'm glad we're friends, too," Chad began. "And--." But Ryan cut him off before he could continue.
"I didn't mean to mess it up by--."
"You haven't messed up anything, Ryan," Chad interrupted. "I think--well, maybe we ought to talk about this later. After you've had a chance to sleep off the alcohol…and that dip."
"There's really nothing to talk about, is there?"
"Ryan," Chad said, lifting his hand again. But Ryan shook his head and he let it drop to his side.
"I think I ought to go to bed," he announced, pushing off the wall and giving him wide berth.
"We'll talk tomorrow," Chad said firmly, before moving past Ryan to the door. He left the room and Ryan shut the door behind him. Chad leaned against the door and sighed. When he turned to leave he saw the four agents staring at him. Sighing again, he went to deal with their questions.
Ryan stayed in his room the next day, hoping to avoid Chad. But it was unnecessary; Chad usually spent Sundays with his family, especially since his younger sister's release from the hospital. He called Sharpay and commiserated with her.
"What on earth were you thinking?" she shrieked.
"I was thinking that Chad was probably out partying with some girl while I was sitting there like a dork mooning over him," Ryan said petulantly. "I was thinking that he'd come back with a smile on his face and the scent of a woman on his body and I was about to make a complete fool of myself."
"Mission accomplished," Sharpay said caustically.
"Shar!" Ryan protested.
"What, did you expect me to applaud your display of utter stupidity?"
"No! I just--. It's complicated."
"I was feeling vulnerable and Jared--no. I went into his suite willingly. I'm the one who decided to drink, so what happened is my fault, regardless of whether or not he encouraged me."
"He tried to get you drunk," she surmised.
"And take me to bed," Ryan confessed. "And God help me, I probably would have let him, I was so--." He shook his head.
"Ryan, on what planet--?"
"I know, I know," Ryan whined. "But I was so--."
"Yeah," he sighed. "Chad hates me."
"It doesn't sound like he hates you."
"Maybe 'hate' is too strong a word. He definitely still likes me enough to cover my ass with the guys. I was half expecting a call from mom this morning, but Chad apparently told the security detail that he'd invited me down to his room to watch the game."
"And they bought that? You? Watching football?"
"I watch a lot of football with Chad," Ryan admitted sheepishly. So what if he couldn't tell the difference between a first down and a touchdown? Any excuse to spend three hours in close quarters with Chad was an opportunity not to be missed. "What's the big deal?"
"You really do have it bad," Sharpay replied with a sigh. "You've never watched ball with any of your other boyfriends."
"Chad's not my boyfriend, nor is he ever likely to be."
"Don't be so sure," Sharpay insisted. "Why don't you go and talk to him?"
"No," Ryan answered stubbornly.
When he arrived at class on Monday, Ryan found a quiet corner in which to do his warm-up. He dreaded facing Chad, but he was more afraid of what Jared might do or say to him. But the expected confrontation never materialized. Jared didn't so much as look in his direction as he found a place in front of the mirror and began to stretch. Chad arrived a few moments later and made his way over to Ryan.
"Saw your dad on the news this morning," he said conversationally as he draped his towel over the barre. "He was wearing a tie that nearly made my eyes bleed. You should talk to him about the potentially devastating effect of poor sartorial sense on his approval rating. I personally dropped him three points."
"I gave him that tie for his birthday," Ryan protested, too distracted by the comment to feel awkward in Chad's company.
"That explains it," Chad replied with a grin. "Next time, go for something a bit more low key. Maybe a mug."
Ryan smiled and took his place at the barre behind Chad. It wasn't until class began that he realized what Chad had done. He'd skillfully and purposely teased Ryan in order to put him at ease. They'd talked for ten minutes without Ryan feeling the slightest bit of discomfort. By the time class was over, Ryan was convinced that Chad had also played a role in silencing Jared. He distantly recalled that Chad had promised to deal with him before leaving the party Saturday night. Chad had spent a lot of time glaring at Jared during dance class, so much so that Ryan couldn't help mentioning it later that day.
"Jealous?" Chad shot back, glancing at him sidelong. Ryan didn't reply, but he assiduously avoided Jared and his roommates over the next couple of days nonetheless. He also refused to discuss what had happened Saturday night, insisting that he'd been sick and out of sorts that night and not responsible for anything he said or did. Chad accepted Ryan's decision and the two of them tried to pretend the incident had never happened. He hunkered down to focus both his schoolwork and his performance in his dance classes. But Ryan couldn't forget that night, nor could he forget that he was in love with a man who didn't return his feelings.
Ryan went home for Thanksgiving break and tried to keep a low profile. But Sharpay's relentless questioning made him edgy and cross. The twins' bickering drew their mother's attention. She observed the two of them and began to notice subtle changes in her son's behavior. When Ryan retired to his room one evening, his mother followed him.
"Would you like to talk about it?" she asked, sitting beside him on the bed and smoothing his hair. Ryan looked into her eyes and then averted his gaze to the floor, shaking his head. "Then why don't you just tell me about him?" He looked up again and his mother smiled. "Sharpay's been home for two days. It's been impossible not to hear something of your troubles," she said gently. Ryan sighed again and slumped against her shoulder and told her all about Chad.
"He's so… I'm in love with him," he said glumly. "He said he was flattered but…" Ryan shook his head.
"I'm so sorry, Ducky." She wrapped an arm around him, brushing back a shock of hair to kiss his brow. "It happens to the best of us. We've all been disappointed in love."
"You?" Ryan said incredulously, turning to look at her.
"Even me," his mother replied. "His name was Walter," she revealed. "We were in college and he was so handsome and athletic and smart and he was the man of my dreams. I couldn't imagine a more perfect man and I wanted him in the worst way." Ms. Evans smiled sadly. "I thought I would die when he came back from spring break his senior year engaged to someone else. Mind you, he'd never shown the slightest interest in me, but that didn't stop me from falling hopelessly in love with him."
"It still hurt," Ryan said knowingly.
"It did," his mother admitted. "But I got over it and a year later I met your father. So--."
"Mom, if you're going to tell me that there are other fish in the sea--."
"I was going to tell you that I understand what you're feeling and my heart goes out to you," she said, pulling him into her arms to hold him to her heart. As always Ryan found comfort in his mother's unconditional love and support. They talked for a while, about school, mostly. Ryan flatly refused her suggestion that he consider leaving Juilliard.
"I can't run away from this," he said. "And I'm not going to give up my dreams just because of one disappointment. I'll get over Chad. We're still friends and I'm learning to be content with that."
"Oh, Ryan," his mother said. She stroked his hair and looked into his eyes. She saw the steely determination there and nodded. "If you ever change your mind…" She let the last words die on her tongue.