Summary: As Chad recovers from his injuries, Ryan face news challenges. Part of the Coming to Terms universe.
Ryan parked his car in front of his favorite shop on Albuquerque's main shopping drag and turned the rearview mirror to adjust his shades.
"He's right; I am turning into my sister," he muttered disgustedly as he pushed the mirror back into place and got out of the car. Ryan was meeting Sharpay at the coffee shop up the block so he ignored the purple sweater in the window--for the moment--and crossed the street, carefully checking for oncoming cars. The last thing Ryan wanted was to be hit by a passing car. He was still reeling from Chad's accident and he'd only left Chad's side that morning because his sister insisted that it was urgent that she see him immediately.
As he made his way toward the coffee shop Ryan spotted one of Chad's teammates--a senior whose name Ryan could never remember--coming toward him. Ryan had taken to calling him "Sven" while rehearsing for the show, despite the fact that the tall blond was no more Nordic than Zeke. Just as he and the jock came face to face, "Sven" smiled and raised his hand in greeting.
"Hey, Ryan!" he said affably. "How's Chad doing?"
"Chad?" Ryan repeated warily.
"Tell him all the Wildcats are pulling for him to make a speedy recovery." He patted Ryan on the shoulder and continued on his way. Ryan turned and watched him for a moment, utterly shocked by what he'd just heard. When he gathered himself and turned around, he nearly collided with his sister.
"Ry?" When he failed to respond verbally, Sharpay rolled her eyes and poked him in the arm. "Earth to Ryan!"
"Sven What'shisface from the basketball team just asked me to give Chad his regards," he said, wide-eyed.
"His name is Kyle Phillips. So what?"
"He just asked me to give Chad his regards, Sharpay," Ryan said more firmly.
"Oh, how is Chad?" she asked conversationally.
"He was fine when I left him and I'd like to get back to him as soon as possible."
"Don't get your Calvins in a twist," she said impatiently. "I won't keep you out all morning." But getting back to his convalescent boyfriend was suddenly no longer Ryan's first priority.
"Sharpay, Kyle Phillips asked me about Chad. He asked me about Chad. No, no--let me correct that. He gave me a message for Chad." He looked into her eyes. "He knows, Shar. They know."
"The Wildcats," Ryan said dully. Sharpay blanched.
"Good morning, Ms. Danforth."
"Hello, Troy, Zeke," she replied with a smile for the pair. "Chad's not up yet. He probably won't be up for another hour or two, and I'm not sure he'll be up for company even then."
"I figured that," Troy replied uncomfortably.
"Actually, we're here to see Ryan," Zeke explained. Mr. Danforth looked up from where he was sitting at the breakfast table reading the paper. Uneasiness practically radiated from the two teens. He glanced at his wife.
"Boys? What's going on?" he asked warily.
"How did this happen?" Ryan asked for the third time as he swirled his spoon through the whipped cream on top of his coffee. Sharpay averted her eyes.
"It can't be too bad," she assayed. "He didn't seem to be upset, did he? You said yourself he gave you a message for Chad. That must mean something. He wasn't lighting torches and looking for the tar and feathers, right?" Ryan just stared at her. "Well, was he?" she said optimistically. Ryan slowly set down his spoon and deliberately folded his hands into his lap, determined to retain his composure.
"Sharpay, what have you done?"
"So I accidentally--." Zeke lowered his eyes, unable to bear the look of shock on Ms. Danforth's face any longer. "I didn't mean to," he assured her. "When we got to Troy's house last night, the first thing I wanted to know was how Chad was doing. My second thought, after hearing that he was going to be okay was--well, you know." Mr. Danforth ran a hand over his face.
"Tell me exactly what happened," he said.
"Nothing, really," Troy assured him. "No one had anything bad to say about them."
"Actually, people did say things," Zeke confessed. Mr. Danforth looked up sharply. "A couple of the guys wanted to know how long they'd been together."
"A couple? How many people know about this?" Ms. Danforth demanded.
"Only Charlie, Kyle, and Jason," Troy answered hastily.
"Martha, too," Zeke said. "She showed up after it came out, but she walked in on the discussion."
"So, in other words, the whole school knows," Ms. Danforth said with a sigh.
"No," Troy insisted. "No. Look, we all had a long talk. These people are Chad's friends and since working on the spring musical they've become friends with Ryan, too. They won't tell anyone else or do anything to cause trouble for them."
"I hope you're right," Mr. Danforth said.
"I had nothing to do with it," she insisted, pausing to smile flirtatiously at the barista. "You know I don't associate with Wildcats."
"Hello? Troy Bolton? Chad Danforth?"
"You know what I mean," she said dismissively. "There's too much cinnamon on this." She spent the next ten seconds dusting the offending spice off the foam of her cappuccino. Ryan knew her too well to be convinced.
"Why did you insist on meeting me this morning?" Ryan asked, pushing away his own coffee untouched. "You know Chad got home from the hospital yesterday. He had a rough night and--."
"Excuse me for wanting to spend a little quality time with my brother," Sharpay said evasively. "I thought you might want to get away for a little while."
"Why would I want to abandon Chad when he's hurting and vulnerable?" Ryan asked. Sharpay rolled her eyes. "Look, I want to spend time with you, too. But this could have waited until tomorrow."
"Then go back to him," she said with a dramatic wave of her hand. "Go back to your little--."
"What?" she asked innocently.
"I'm not going anywhere until you tell me the real reason you called me here."
Chad opened his eyes and immediately regretted it. Sun was streaming into his room and he pulled the covers over his head to block it out.
"Mom!" he shouted. After a few seconds, he pulled the covers back and slowly sat up. The other half of his bed was empty. "Ryan?"
"Stop being so melodramatic," Sharpay said.
"All right; I might have said something to Dee yesterday," Sharpay revealed.
"Might have? You're the one who outted us?" Ryan glared at her incredulously.
"I was upset! You saw how I reacted at the sight of him all--." She pouted into her cappuccino. "I care about Chad, too, you know. And he was so… It was awful seeing him like that, Ryan," she said, defensively. "He looked so small and fragile lying in that bed with his face all swollen and his eyes bandaged. It freaked me out."
"How do you think I felt?" he asked unsympathetically. "How do you think I feel right now, knowing he's home all alone--."
"Oh, he's far from alone and you know it!"
"--While I'm sitting here listening to you tell me how you betrayed him."
"I did not betray him!" Sharpay spat back. "You know I would never do that!"
"Not intentionally, perhaps," Ryan replied. He sat back and waited for his sister's confession. She averted her eyes to her impeccably manicured nails, chewing her lip. But a few seconds later, Sharpay recovered.
"You've been expecting me to hurt Chad from day one," she said softly. "That's not what happened. I mean--." Her eyes welled up with tears. "I would never do anything to hurt either of you. I really do care about him. And you're my brother as well as my best friend. There's no one on this earth I love more than you, Ryan. I know I've hurt you in the past and I've been trying to make it up to you. When I went to see Chad in the hospital I saw how badly seeing him like that affected you. I've been worried about the both of you."
Ryan sighed, his heart warming just a bit. He knew his sister too well to be completely taken in by her little speech, but he reached out to take her hand anyway.
"Just tell me what happened."
"I was a little late getting to school yesterday because I stopped to drop off those things for you. I went to my locker to get my books and Dee came running over, all excited. She told me that Chad was in a coma. I don't know where or how she'd gotten that notion; all the facts were wrong and way overblown. So I--."
"You immediately corrected her and told her that you'd seen him," Ryan surmised. "And exactly how did you explain that, Shar?"
Chad put on his shades and slowly got out of bed against his own better judgment. He called for his mother again, but his bladder couldn't wait. He held on to the bed for as long as he could and shuffled toward the bathroom. His mother arrived just as he stepped inside and shut the door.
"I'm in the bathroom," he called back.
"Honey, you're not supposed to get out of bed without help," Ms. Danforth complained at the door.
"I'm not supposed to wet the bed, either, right?" Chad quipped. He washed his hands and opened the door. "Can you close the drapes and give me a hand getting back to bed?"
"Of course. Come on, Boo." Chad draped an arm over her shoulders and they slowly made their way back to bed. Chad settled back among the pillows while she picked up the clothes he'd discarded on the floor the previous night.
"I told her the truth," Sharpay said, a glint of defiance in her eyes. "I told her that you went to the hospital after you found out about the accident and that when I found out, I went there, too."
"And what did she say to that?"
"She asked about Chad, of course," Sharpay replied reasonably. "She wanted to know his condition and whether he'd be out of the hospital before graduation." Ryan glared at her. "Look; like every other sentient being in Albuquerque, Dee knows you're hopelessly besotted with him. She wasn't the least bit surprised that you went to the hospital. And you weren't the only one; a few of the other Wildcats showed up at the hospital after they heard about Chad's accident. They couldn't get in to see him so they stuck around and gave blood."
"And she just accepted that?" Ryan said doubtfully. Something about his sister's demeanor told him that there was more to the story. "Sharpay, I'm not leaving here until you spill, and the longer I sit here the longer I'll be away from Chad and the longer I'm away from Chad--."
"Fine--she already knew about the two of you," Sharpay revealed, reaching for Ryan's abandoned cup. "She's known for months, apparently."
"What?" he sputtered. Sharpay scooped up a bit of whipped cream with a stirrer and sighed.
"There aren't too many kids from his part of Eagle Point attending East High," she explained before pausing to eat it. "Chad lives in that narrow zone where the school districts sort of meet. Most of the kids there go to Sandia Heights. In fact, the only four I know of who chose to go to East High are Chad, Gabriella, Kelsi and--."
"Dee." Ryan shut his eyes and swore under his breath. He'd seen Dee's car on more than one occasion not far from Chad's house. "And she never said anything?" he asked suspiciously.
"I find that hard to believe."
"Me, too," Sharpay admitted. "She came over after school yesterday and we had a long talk. She saw your car in her neighborhood a few times last fall and was half-convinced that you were stalking Chad. Then one day she saw Chad driving your car. She eventually figured out that there was something going on between you two, but since you never gave away anything at school, she could never be sure what."
"And she never mentioned it to you earlier because…"
Sharpay shrugged. But she smiled and took a sip of Ryan's frappucino.
"Dee said that if there were something between the two of you I probably already knew about it. And if I didn't know about it, then you must not have wanted me to know. Either way, it wasn't her story to tell." Ryan smiled--or rather smirked--for the first time that day. "I figured you'd like that." Ryan shook his head and the smirk fell from his face.
"She apparently told someone."
"He'll be back," Ms. Danforth said, sitting on the edge of Chad's bed and caressing his cheek. "I think I should take a shot at braiding your hair this morning," she decided.
"I was too wiped to sit up last night; my hair must be a mess."
"It is impressive," his mother replied with a smile. "Want to have some breakfast first?"
"Did Ryan say where he was going?" Chad persisted. His mother shook her head.
"He said something about having to see his sister. She apparently called early this morning."
"How early? It's barely 9:30 now."
"I don't know, honey."
"Ryan never gets up early on Saturday without a really good reason. When I stay over at his house I usually have to entertain myself till eleven o'clock."
"I'm sure whatever it is, it was important or else he wouldn't have left," his mother said, rising to go in search of a brush and comb. "But he said he'd be right back."
Chad slid down in the bed and pouted for a few seconds before reaching across his body to the nightstand for his phone.
"You could have just asked me for it," Ms. Danforth said as she returned to his side.
"It doesn't hurt that much," Chad lied as he brought up Ryan's number. He thought better of it and sent a quick text. He set the phone down on the mattress when he was done. "Okay. Let's do this." He sat up again and braced himself for the ordeal of having his hair detangled.
"I swear it wasn't Dee," Sharpay insisted. "She hasn't spoken to Kyle since they broke up months ago!"
"Maybe she told him months ago," Ryan replied. His phone beeped and he pulled it out. "I've got to go. Chad's awake and asking for me."
"Are you going to tell him?"
"Of course I'm going to tell him! I can't keep something like this from him," Ryan replied. He rose and led the way to the door. He walked Sharpay over to her car.
"Ryan? For what it's worth, I'm sorry," she said gently. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her hair.
"It's not your fault, Shar." He smiled impishly. "Boy, that doesn't roll off the tongue, does it?" He kissed her hair again, not even trying to dodge her punch to his ribs. "I've got to go. Say hi to mom for me when you get home."
"Call her yourself," Sharpay said. "I'm going shopping for Chad's new jeans. Oh, and I saw the cutest pair of shoes over at--." Ryan shook his head and walked away. He checked out the sweater in the shop window and made a mental note to come back for it later.
Ryan made a point of passing through a street he usually didn't venture into along the way back to the Danforths' house and saw Dee's red Volkswagen Beetle sitting in the driveway of a large colonial a short distance from Kelsi's house. When he arrived at the Danforths', he saw Troy's truck and Zeke's red Toyota in the driveway. Frowning, he went inside.
"Hey, Ryan," Troy said, looking up from where he was sitting in the family room watching a sports channel.
"Hey," Ryan said cautiously. He glanced over at Zeke, who was sitting on the sofa next to Mr. Danforth. "What's up?" When Zeke averted his eyes, Ryan felt a sinking feeling in his stomach.
"The boys have been waiting for you," Mr. Danforth said, rising. "They've got something to tell you."
"Well, you won't win any beauty contests but at least you're presentable."
"Aw, come on. I'm gorgeous and you know it," Chad replied, grinning disarmingly. His mother pulled him into her arms and hugged him gently.
"You'll always be the most beautiful thing in the world to me, baby," she said, kissing his brow. "But being with Ryan is totally going to your head." Chad smiled and pulled away.
"Speaking of which," he said, reaching for his phone. He checked for messages; there was no response from Ryan. His mother pried the phone from his fingers.
"You rest while I get your breakfast. Ryan will be back in no time."
"Sure he will," Chad said petulantly.
"Yes, I'm sure. You're gorgeous remember? He can't stay away for long." His mother waited until Chad settled back and shut his eyes before leaving the room.
"We didn't even see the accident," Zeke explained. "We heard the screeching tires and a lot of shouting as we entered the parking lot. Next thing we knew this blue car came at us with a big black Suburban on its ass. The Suburban sped up and got in front of the blue car and this other car blocked it from the rear. The guys in the Suburban got out, identified themselves as cops and told the guy in the blue car to cut off his engine. The guy in the blue car tried to make a break for it but Jason pulled his van forward to block his escape. The cops in the Suburban grabbed him and called 911.
"Anyway, we had no idea Chad was the one who was hit until we saw Troy driving Chad's car behind the ambulance. We followed him to the hospital, but they wouldn't let us see him, so we decided to give blood, even though he didn't need it. We just wanted to do something to help," Zeke said diffidently.
"Thank you," Ryan said softly. "But from the way Mr. D was acting I got the impression that there was something…more. Was I mistaken?" Troy and Zeke exchanged a look. "Guys?" Ryan said, a sense of dread gnawing at his belly.
"We met up at my place last night," Troy said, reluctantly taking up the story. "Everyone knew that Gabi and I had been to the hospital to see Chad."
"Everyone," Ryan repeated warily.
"Jason, Charlie and Kyle--the other senior Wildcats."
"Martha showed up, too," Zeke added. Ryan sat down in Mr. Danforth's favorite chair.
"Well, naturally, the first thing everyone wanted to know was how Chad was doing," Zeke replied. "Troy gave us an update and I--I asked how you were dealing with the whole thing." Ryan shut his eyes. "I immediately caught myself, but it was too late. I tried to cover up the mistake, but Charlie demanded an explanation."
"I thought we should come clean," Troy said. "I accept full responsibility for outing you guys. I figured that if we left things open to speculation it would only make things worse."
"No one was upset. In fact, they weren't even all that surprised; they all saw firsthand how close you guys had become while rehearsing for the spring musical," Zeke continued. "We let them think that things started then; it was well after basketball ended and we thought…" Zeke trailed off and shrugged. Ryan nodded. "I'm really sorry." Ryan removed his baseball cap to scrub at his hair.
"Forget it, Zeke. All things considered, I'm surprised we've been able to fly under the radar for this long. Chad's parents didn't want him out at school. I don't think we could have done a better job of it than we have, but we were probably deluding ourselves thinking we'd get away with it." He shrugged again, wishing for the fourth or fifth time that morning that he hadn't gotten up so early.
"Everyone's really cool with it. Hell, they were even a little proud of you for finally getting your man," Troy said with a snort. Ryan frowned at him and then turned his attention to Chad's mother as she entered the family room.
"Ryan!" she said, relieved that he'd returned. "Chad's awake and asking for you." Ryan rose immediately, as did Troy and Zeke.
"Can we see him?" Zeke asked hopefully. Ms. Danforth would have suggested that they wait, but Ryan's expression made her reconsider.
"Just for a few minutes," she said. "He's still pretty out of it."
"Yes, ma'am," the two teens agreed.
"I don’t think we need to mention your little revelation just yet," Ryan added, looking to Chad's mother for approval. "I'll tell him later." She nodded in agreement.
"Here, Ryan; take him some applesauce. He can't take those pain pills on an empty stomach."
Ryan led the way upstairs and signaled for the others to wait as he opened the door to Chad's room. Chad appeared to be dozing lightly so Ryan placed the tray on the desk. When he turned around, Chad was looking at him.
"Dude, do we need to have another discussion about my abandonment issues?"
"That depends," Ryan replied, bringing the tray over. "Are you going to hit me again?" Chad smiled innocently.
"What's for breakfast?"
"I've got tea, juice and applesauce. Your mom's making the rest of your breakfast."
"I'll take the tea."
"You'll take it all," Ryan corrected, setting the tray over Chad's lap and leaning in to kiss him. "Eat your applesauce so you can take your pills."
"Does your mom give you applesauce when you're sick? My mom always does," Chad said raising a spoonful of it and eyeing it distastefully.
"Eat it, anyway."
"What's my motivation?"
"You're in pain, aren't you? Don't you want to take your pills?" Ryan asked. Chad shook his head.
"Let me rephrase that. What's my incentive?"
"Oh," Ryan said, smiling impishly. "I've got a really good incentive." Chad returned the smile as Ryan rose and went to the door. But instead of shutting it as Chad expected, he opened it wider to admit Troy and Zeke. "You have company," he said with a wink. He slipped out of the room and went downstairs. He groaned when he reached the kitchen and saw Taylor sitting at the counter with the Danforths.
"I don't want to disturb his rest," she was saying. "But Chad's always been there for me whenever I've needed anything. This is my opportunity to return the favor."
"Well, I'm sure he'll appreciate the cookies," Ms. Danforth said.
"I'm sure I will, too," Mr. Danforth added, snagging a cookie before his wife could slap his hand away. "Between you, Zeke, the Boltons and Gabriella's mom, Chad's going to gain ten pounds before he fully recovers."
"Better him than you," Ms. Danforth quipped, taking the box out of his reach.
"Hi, Taylor," Ryan said, pasting on a smile and entering the kitchen.
"You look like death warmed over," she said bluntly. Ryan smiled ruefully.
"I feel worse," he admitted. "Chad had me up three times during the night and I had trouble falling asleep because I was worried about him. Then Shar had me up at the crack of dawn to tell me--." He paused and looked up as the Danforths eyed him expectantly. He sighed and reached for a clean cup and poured himself some coffee. "She found out yesterday that someone else knows about me and Chad."
"There's a lot of that going around today," Mr. Danforth said, shaking his head.
"What?" Taylor asked worriedly. Ryan sighed again and explained. After he'd told her and the Danforths all he'd learned that morning, Taylor nodded in agreement with his conclusion. "Dee's good people even if she is a friend of--." She glanced at Ryan guiltily. "You can rely on her discretion. As for the others, it was only a matter of time, anyway."
"Yeah, but I don't like the feeling that things are spinning out of control," Mr. Danforth said as his wife set a plate of scrambled eggs and toast on a tray.
"Breakfast is up," Ryan said, rising to his feet.
"Let me," Taylor said. "I want a peek at him." She took the plate and asked for directions to Chad's bedroom. She encountered Troy and Zeke at the top of the stairs.
"Watch out, he's a little cranky," Zeke warned. Taylor nodded and pushed open Chad's door.
"So I finally get into your bedroom and you're too sick to take advantage of," she said as she entered Chad's bedroom. Chad spit orange juice across the bed. She set the plate down on the desk and helped him pull off the wet sheet. "Sorry," she said unrepentantly.
"What are you doing here?"
"I've got your breakfast." Taylor set the plate on his tray and sat on the edge of the bed. "Hi, honey," she said, reaching out to caress his cheek. "I'm so glad to see you're okay."
"I don't feel terribly 'okay' at the moment, but thanks." He leaned forward a bit and Taylor closed the distance and kissed him.
"So that's what you were up to when you volunteered to bring up his eggs," Ryan said from the door. "Ten seconds alone and you're trying to steal my man."
"As if," she said with a wink. "I've got to go. Your mom said you need your beauty sleep and to be honest, honey, you look a lot worse than Ryan. If you need anything--." She turned to Ryan. "Either of you--don't hesitate to call."
"Excuse me?" Ryan said, pouting. Taylor kissed Chad again and then went over to Ryan and gave him a hug and a kiss as well. She pulled the door shut behind her. "Did she just insult me?"
"I think she insulted both of us," Chad replied. "She was right, though. You do look tired."
"I am tired," Ryan admitted, walking over to the bed and climbing up to sit beside Chad. "I got up way too early this morning."
"Mom said you had to go see Princess."
"Yeah," he replied cryptically. "Eat your eggs."
"You eat them. I only want the toast," Chad said, pushing the plate toward him. "Talk to me."
"I like the hair," Ryan said, reaching out to finger a braid. "You look like your middle school pictures."
"Why'd you have to see the princess?" Chad persisted, pulling his hand away. Ryan sighed.
"She wanted to see me. If I'd known it wasn't urgent I'd have stayed here in bed with you." Ryan shifted a bit, settling more deeply into the pillow. "Eat your eggs."
"No. I don't even want to look at them. Would you take them away, please?"
"Please; just the thought of eating eggs right now turns my stomach."
"Okay." Ryan sat up, slid off the bed and took the plate back down to the kitchen. "He doesn't want the eggs," he said, setting the plate down on the table. Zeke, Taylor and Troy looked up. Ryan briefly wondered why they were still there but he ignored them and went to the cupboard for a bowl. "Maybe he'll eat some cold cereal." He opened another cupboard as the others looked on and pulled a couple of boxes from the shelf. He briefly examined each box, selected one and tucked it under his arm before reaching for the milk and heading back upstairs. Zeke and Troy exchanged a meaningful glance.
"He spends a lot of time here," Troy said cryptically. "Can I drop you off somewhere?" he asked, turning to Taylor.
"No offense, but I'd rather ride with Zeke," she replied, pulling out her phone. "I'll just let Tyson know he doesn't have to pick me up."
"He's resting comfortably," Ryan said softly, glancing up at the hand that was dangling over the edge of the bed.
He was sitting on the floor leaning against it, speaking softly so as not to awaken his sleeping boyfriend. Although experience had taught him that nothing short of cannon fire would awaken Chad if he were really asleep, since getting home from the hospital Chad tended to doze lightly.
"He's eating, but in small amounts--well, for Chad, anyway. He could be prone to nausea because of the dizziness so smaller meals means a lower chance of throwing up." Ryan shifted as he spoke, unfolding and refolding his legs into the reverse position of his previous yoga pose. Chad's fingers fluttered and moved to tousle Ryan's hair. Ryan looked up and grabbed his hand. Chad gave his hand a squeeze. "He's awake. I've got to go," Ryan said, rising to his feet to sit on the edge of the bed.
"When are we going to talk about your job interview, Ducky?" Ms. Evans asked calmly. But her tone belied her concern and Ryan sighed.
"I wasn't going to tell you about it until I--well, had I gotten the job," he replied.
"Will you tell me about it now?"
"Well," Ryan began, examining Chad's fingers as he spoke. "Chad is going to be working at his dad's firm this summer. You know that he was offered an internship; well, I thought I'd get a job, too. It'd be good experience for me. I'm going to be living on my own come the fall so I thought I should try being a little independent this summer. I didn't think you or dad would mind."
"Of course we wouldn't mind, Ducky," Ms. Evans replied. "I was just a bit put out at having to learn about your plans from Marjorie Upshaw."
"I'm sorry, mom. If Chad hadn't been injured you would have heard about it Thursday. It's actually a cool gig. Chad's mom works at the Health Sciences Library at the UNM Medical School. They had an opening for a summer job cataloging the collection the Upshaws donated a few years back."
"It's not like you to keep secrets, Ryan. That's more your sister's style."
"Speaking of which, I haven't told her about the job. Of course, there isn't any job to tell her about. I totally botched the interview. When I heard about Chad I just lost my concentration and bailed. But I intend to try again. There must be another job out there for me."
"I'm sure there is, honey," Ryan's mother said soothingly. "I'll let you get back to Chad. Give him my love."
"Ryan? Why don't you give Marjorie a call? Perhaps she can do something for you."
"I'll do that," Ryan promised. "Bye." He shut off his phone and leaned in to kiss Chad's brow. "Mom sends her love."
"Swell," Chad replied abstractedly as he slowly turned over onto his back. He stretched like a baby, and then slowly sat up. Ryan reached out to steady him, his hand hovering near but not touching Chad's sore left arm. "Hi," Chad said, rubbing one eye. Ryan smiled and kissed him.
"Hey," he said fondly. He rearranged the pillows a bit and Chad settled back against them.
"What time is it?"
"Nearly one. You missed a great lunch. I made sandwiches and your mom made--."
"You made sandwiches?" Chad said with a teasing smile. He made a show of pinching himself. "Am I awake?"
"Very funny," Ryan said. "Just for that you aren't getting one."
"Aw, don't be like that," Chad protested. "I'm sick."
"Are you hungry?"
"Not really," Chad admitted. "But I am really curious."
"Curious? About what?"
"About why Zeke and Troy and Taylor showed up here this morning."
"Is that really so strange? They're your closest friends and you've just got out of the hospital. They wanted to see you." Ryan averted his eyes and Chad regarded him suspiciously.
"All right," he said, conceding the point for the moment. "What was all that about bailing on a job interview?" Ryan cringed inwardly, cursing himself for speaking unguardedly. "Ryan?"
"I was interviewing for that job at the library when I heard about your accident," he confessed with a sigh. "Your mom interrupted the meeting to let one of the staff know that she had to leave due to an emergency and that staff member told Dr. Tirado that you'd been in an accident."
"And you just got up and walked out?" Chad said incredulously.
"Well, I couldn't just sit there and talk about old books and medical implements knowing that your were out there somewhere hurt and suffering," Ryan said defensively, shaking his head, "I lost all my focus."
"Don't," he snapped angrily. "I know what I did was wrong but I don't care. I had no idea where you were or what had happened to you or what condition you were in and I wasn't going to just--."
"Ryan!" Chad shouted, grabbing at his flailing hands. "It's all right," he said softly, pulling Ryan into a hug. "It's all right. I would probably have done the same thing," he admitted between kisses to Ryan's brow. Ryan lifted his head.
"Really?" he said doubtfully.
"Of course," Chad admitted with a tight smile. Ryan immediately pulled away and settled at his side. "What?"
"Stop trying to be such a tough guy," Ryan said with a pout. "I can see the pain in your eyes even if you don't say anything, you know."
"So can I," Chad replied, not bothering to admit that Ryan was right; having him pressed against his chest did hurt, even if it also felt good. Chad turned his head to peer into Ryan's eyes. "So what's hurting you?"
"Me? Nothing," Ryan insisted. "You're the one with the bruised ribs and concussion."
"And you're the one who's been lying to me for two days," Chad shot back. Ryan's mouth fell open and he sat up to stare at Chad, open-mouthed. "Something's been haunting you from the moment you arrived at the hospital," Chad said. "Talk to me."
"I don't know what you--." Ryan huffed and laid back, staring up at the ceiling. "All right; of course I'm haunted. I thought I'd lost you!"
"You knew different the moment you saw me," Chad reasoned.
"Intellectually, perhaps, but that didn't make it any easier to forget the--. I've been having nightmares."
"Nightmares," Chad repeated, frowning. Ryan nodded grimly. "Tell me about them."
"I'd rather not."
"Ryan, you have to confront your fears if you want to defeat them."
"That therapy's really working out for you, isn't it?"
"Ryan, this is--."
"It's not a big deal," he said tersely. "I just dreamed about the accident." Ryan shifted uncomfortably, running his hands over his face.
"Tell me. I can take it."
"But I can't," Ryan admitted readily. "It was too--." He shook his head. "All right. I've been having the same dream for the last two nights. I saw you being hit by a big, black semi. I heard the screeching tires, the sound of your bones crunching as the truck made contact with your body. You went flying through the air like a rag doll, screaming my name before you--." He ran shaky hands over his face again as Chad reached out to him.
"It was just a dream."
"It was too real," Ryan said, shaking his head. "Too close to what actually happened."
"I was hit by a truck?" Chad asked. "They told me--."
"No, not that; but the sounds--. Over and over again, every time I closed my eyes."
"No wonder you look like hell," Chad said impishly. Ryan glared at him for a moment, but as always, Chad's disarming smile worked its magic. "I'm still here."
"Thank God," Ryan said fiercely, pulling Chad into his arms. Chad went willingly, pain be damned. They held each other for several minutes until Chad had to pull away and turn over. He rolled onto his right side and Ryan spooned against him. Chad quickly dozed off again as Ryan held him to his heart, not daring to shut his eyes. He toyed with Chad's braids and nuzzled the skin at nape of his throat, inhaling the familiar scent. When Ryan gave in and kissed his way up to Chad's ear, Chad cringed and squeezed his hand.
"That tickles," he protested.
"Too bad," Ryan said, escalating the assault.
"Stop!" Chad demanded, giggling and trying to squirm away.
"Give me one good reason why I should."
"I have to go to the bathroom," Chad replied. "Help me up." Ryan reluctantly released him and helped Chad walk to the bathroom. "I'll be a few minutes," Chad said before closing the door.
"Okay," Ryan replied. He went back over to the bed and sat down, reaching for his phone to answer his sister's ring. "Hey, Shar. What's up?"
"I found the perfect jeans for Chad," she replied eagerly. "You so owe me."
"I'll pay whatever they cost."
"Save your money for a respirator--he'll look so hot in these jeans he'll take your breath away."
"You mean a defibrillator, then," Ryan replied with a smile. "And he can take my breath away without jeans. In fact, he--."
"You guys aren't into those dangerous sex games, are you?"
"No, I was talking about the sight of his naked body. As I recall, you were fairly impressed by it, too."
"Never mind," Sharpay said hastily, trying to erase the unbidden image of her brother's boyfriend. "How's he doing?"
"He's good," Ryan replied, guiltily recalling how he'd rudely abandoned his sister earlier. "So did you find any bargains for yourself?" he asked, settling more comfortably on the bed. Sharpay entertained him for the next three minutes with a detailed recital of her purchases.
After she hung up, Ryan brought up his message screen and stared at the list. Not surprisingly, Chad's name dominated the queue. Ryan generally deleted all his messages as soon as he'd listened to them, saving only a few of Chad's more memorable communiqués. At the moment there were eight on his phone. Ryan clicked on the first message and deleted it, knowing that the call had come from Troy. He looked at the remaining messages and considered deleting the next one on the list.
Chad was right--it was over. He was alive and healing and Ryan was letting his fears get the better of him. He started to delete the message, but hesitated, his thumb hovering over the touch screen. He spared a glance at the bathroom door and bit his lip. Reason yielded to impulse and Ryan replayed the message, lowering the sound as he listened to the words and sounds long since committed to memory. Ryan shut his eyes bracing himself for the horror to come as Chad teased Gabriella. He stopped the playback as soon as she screamed.
"What the hell?"
Ryan looked up and saw Chad standing in the bathroom doorway and blanched. He rose to his feet, dropping the phone to the bed.
"Why didn't you tell me you were done," he said, hastening to Chad's side. "You shouldn't be moving about on your own."
"What was that?"
"Ryan," Chad said suspiciously, looking him in the eye. "What was that?" Ryan tried to avert his eyes, but Chad fixed him with a glare.
"It's the stuff of nightmares."
End Part 4
On to Part Five