Summary: As Chad's condition improves, Ryan begins to recover as well. Part of the Coming to Terms universe
Author's note: Yes, I promised you a graduation. That will appear in a separate story.
Late to the story? Here's Part One.
"How much of that did you hear?"
"Just the screaming," Chad replied. "How much more is there?" Ryan ignored the question and carefully escorted Chad back to bed, his mind racing to prevent the inevitable. But when Chad picked up the phone he knew he was out of luck. "The stuff of nightmares," he repeated, looking up at him. Ryan sighed and sat down beside him on the edge of the bed.
"After I left the library and got into my car it suddenly dawned on me that I had no idea where you were or if you were hurt or how to get to you," he said, staring at his hands. "All I knew was that you'd been in an accident and you were out there somewhere. I tried to think of how to find you and remembered that you'd gone shopping with Troy so I decided to call him. There were two new messages on my machine. Both of them had come from your phone. For a moment, I let myself believe--hope--that everything was fine." He felt Chad's hand on his shoulder and turned to him. Ryan rose and helped properly settle Chad into bed and climbed up to sit beside him before he continued.
"You had two messages," Chad prompted. Ryan nodded.
"The first one--which was the last one recorded--was from Troy, telling me that you'd been hurt and were being taken to Presbyterian. The one before that--." Ryan paused to take a shaky breath. "The call before that had come from you. You--."
"That was me screaming?" Chad asked when it seemed as though Ryan wasn't going to continue.
"No," Ryan replied, shaking his head. "But you were on the phone at the time of the accident. You were leaving a message."
"So I wasn't looking where I was going," Chad concluded. Again, Ryan shook his head.
"You were alert enough to prevent Gabriella from getting hit so I doubt that. You pulled her out of the way and were hit yourself."
"And Gabriella screamed." Chad put a hand over his sore ribs and shut his eyes. "How many times have you listened to that message?"
"Twice," Ryan said, eyeing the phone that was still in Chad's hand.
"But you heard it over and over again in your dreams."
Ryan nodded and reached for the phone. He wasn't surprised when Chad drew his hand away, putting the phone out of his reach. Ryan sighed. He wasn't about to reach over Chad's battered body and he knew that Chad knew that.
"Why didn't you delete it?"
"I don't know," Ryan said, shaking his head. "It's like--testimony--I don't know--."
"Testimony?" Chad frowned at the phone, turning it on and looking at the screen.
"Don't listen to it!" Ryan cried, recklessly grabbing for the phone. Chad groaned in pain and he immediately drew back.
"I have no intention of listening to it," Chad said, setting the phone down and peering into Ryan's haunted eyes. "Come here," he said, pulling him into his arms.
"Your ribs are sore," Ryan protested weakly, but he let Chad hold him nonetheless.
"Let me worry about that," Chad said softly as he stroked Ryan's silky hair. Ryan quieted and they remained that way until Mr. Danforth knocked on the door sometime later. Ryan sat up and looked at Chad, who'd fallen asleep. He slipped off the bed and went to open the door.
"How's he doing?" Mr. Danforth asked.
"He's sleeping again," Ryan replied, straightening his shirt. When he lifted his head, Mr. Danforth peered into his eyes and frowned.
"Is everything all right?"
"Yeah." Ryan looked past him as Mr. Danforth waited for an explanation, a tactic he usually reserved for Chad. "Everything's fine," Ryan insisted.
"Everything is not 'fine.' I can see it in your eyes," Mr. Danforth persisted. Ryan wanted to dissemble, but he knew it was pointless.
"I--." He raised a finger and padded over to the nightstand to get his phone. He slipped out of the room and closed the door. Mr. Danforth led the way down to his study.
"You were saying?" Chad's father prompted, gesturing for Ryan to sit.
"We talked about the accident," Ryan began. "Chad had no memory of it, of course. All he knows is what he's been able to piece together from talking to people." He glanced up at Mr. Danforth, who was regarding him calmly. Ryan sighed and fidgeted with the phone in his hand.
"What aren't you telling me?" Mr. Danforth asked after observing him for a minute. Ryan looked up sharply and once again, Chad's father played the waiting game. Ryan smiled wryly; it was a very effective tactic. He stopped squirming and licked his lips, ready to come clean.
"There's something--." He took a steadying breath and held up his phone. "At the time of the accident, Chad was leaving me a message on voicemail." He queued up the message, raised the volume on the speakerphone and, looking Mr. Danforth squarely in the eye, touched the screen to play it back.
"Hey, baby, we're pretty much done here at the mall."
"You call him baby? That's so cute!"
"What do you call Troy?"
"I call him Troy."
"Romantic; moving on… Anyway, we're almost done here at the mall and I was thinking that we should meet up at Earline's and have something to eat. Gabi's never been there, it's not far from the UNM library, and--. Whoa!"
"Chad! Chad! Oh my God! Chad!"
Mr. Danforth stared at the phone as the rest of the call played out.
"Someone call 911! Chad! Come on buddy! Talk to me, Chad! Chad! He's not moving! Somebody call 911!"
"Don't try to move him!"
"He's breathing on his own and his pulse is steady. I can't believe this! One minute he was talking on the phone and--."
When the message ended, Ryan deleted it and set the phone down beside him. Mr. Danforth ran his hand over his face, visibly shaken by what he'd heard. Ryan studied the rug as he fought to control his emotions.
"You let Chad hear that?" Mr. Danforth said finally.
"Of course not!" Ryan cried, realizing that it was only partly true. It didn't matter; Mr. Danforth was on his feet and pacing.
"You deleted it, right?"
"I don't ever want Chad to--. Ryan," Mr. Danforth shook his head. Ryan leaned back and slumped down into the deep leather couch. "He doesn't need to hear that." Chad's father sat down again, this time beside Ryan on the loveseat. Ryan picked up the phone and stared at it.
"No," Ryan agreed. "I wish I'd never heard it," he confessed. Mr. Danforth reached out and took the phone from his hand as Ryan explained for the second time how he'd come to have the message.
"I know," Ryan replied. "I just wish I could stop dreaming about it." He sat forward and sighed. "Actually, I'm just glad Chad isn't dreaming about it."
After several minutes of contemplative silence, Mr. Danforth began playing with the iPhone and asking questions about it. Ryan showed him a few of the apps and Mr. Danforth became absorbed in playing a game. When Ryan grew bored with watching him, he asked if he could check his email messages. Mr. Danforth gave his blessing and Ryan took a seat at the desk. Ms. Danforth peered into the study an hour later.
"I thought you two were upstairs with Chad," she said, taking in the quiet scene. Both men looked up.
"Oh, is he awake?" Ryan asked, immediately rising.
"No, he's fast asleep," she replied. "But I think he should wake up soon and eat something. He didn't have any lunch today." She turned to leave, muttering something about boys and toys. Ryan followed her to the kitchen. "You must be bored to tears," she said with a smile.
"Not at all," he replied easily, reaching for the kettle. "I like it here." He filled it and set it on the stove.
"What do you and Chad do on the weekend at your house?" Ms. Danforth asked curiously. She raised her hand to stop Ryan before he could speak. "And please edit your answer carefully," she added. Ryan smiled.
"We hang out, play videogames, watch TV or DVDs. Sometimes we go into the studio and dance, sometimes we--."
"We have a little dance studio in the house," Ryan explained, taking a seat at the counter where Ms. Danforth was seasoning chicken for dinner.
"Sure! You saw him in the show."
"So you are talking about--." She paused, casting about for the right terminology.
"He's into hip hop, but we do a bit of character and tap sometimes--whatever we're in the mood for. Oh!" Ryan said, coloring profusely. "I promised never to tell a living soul about--. He's going to kill me."
"I'm sure he'll cut you a little slack under the circumstances," Chad's mother replied with a smile. "You've been under a great deal of stress these last few days." But Ryan shook his head.
"When Chad says 'not a living soul' he means it. He wouldn't even let Gabriella tell Troy that she knew about us."
"Why not?" Ms. Danforth asked as Mr. Danforth entered the kitchen and handed Ryan his phone.
"Who knows?" Ryan replied, going over to the cabinet to fetch the tea. "Your son's mind works in mysterious ways." He shut the cabinet and turned around. The Danforths were staring at him. Ryan blanched and went to the stove to get the kettle.
The Danforth family tended to cook together on the weekends, a practice that Ryan loved so much that he didn't mind getting out of bed early to participate. None of the Evans family spent much time in the kitchen, other than to throw together a sandwich or to grab a snack. Ryan enjoyed being part of a family that had rituals. He enjoyed spending time in the kitchen with the Danforths or taking part in pizza night or making the once a month trip to Cecelia's Café for burritos with carne adovada.
Ryan also secretly loved the fact that Chad's parents imposed restrictions on their son. He found it intriguing that in spite of the family's comfortable income they made Chad save money towards his own car. Chad earned his new laptop by showing his parents his report card with a 3.87 GPA. Ryan was never made to work for anything--or wait for it, for that matter--regardless of his GPA and he respected the Danforths for teaching Chad valuable lessons about self-sufficiency and survival. It had come as a complete surprise to Ryan when he realized that Chad actually had a better understanding of money than he did. He privately resolved to learn as much as he could from the Danforths about personal responsibility before he left for New York.
Ryan slipped out of bed, taking a moment to check on Chad before grabbing a change of clothes and heading for the bathroom. He took a quick shower, dressed and headed downstairs, but froze just short of the kitchen, where the Danforths were already busy preparing their usual Sunday brunch. His name was being mentioned in discussion and although he knew it was wrong to eavesdrop he figured it would be worse to walk in and embarrass his hosts.
"She's not homophobic, Earl," Ms. Danforth said wearily. "She just asked me what Chad saw in him."
"So she just doesn't like Ryan, then," Mr. Danforth replied. "That makes me feel so much better."
"What makes you feel better is finding some excuse to be angry with her," his wife spat back. "She was asking questions, Earl. She wanted to understand."
"What's to understand? Our son is gay."
"As I recall, it took you a while to grasp that concept."
"Frankly I still don't understand it," he admitted. She spun around and glared at him incredulously. In the corridor, unseen by the Danforths, Ryan's' mouth fell open. "I'm not ashamed to admit it. In spite of all the articles you shoved in my face and the hours I've spent talking about it with Chad, I still don't understand why he's gay. I just understand that he is. I understand that he's my son and I love him. I understand that he's with Ryan, who loves him, too. I understand that they're happy together. That's all I want for Chad. And that's all I need to understand." Jessica Danforth's expression softened into a gentle smile. She pulled him into a hug.
"You're a big, old softy," she said, giving his cheek a kiss. But she drew away and her frown returned. "That doesn't mean you're off the hook for what you said to Laura Franklin. She's my friend, Earl, and you're just trying to make trouble."
"No, I'm trying to--."
"Morning," Ryan said with a smile as he entered the kitchen, fairly glowing at Mr. Danforth's warm endorsement of his and Chad's relationship.
"Morning, Ryan," Mr. Danforth said. "How's the patient?"
"He's still asleep," Ryan confessed as he picked up the kettle.
The previous evening had been a quiet one for Chad. Ryan went up to wake him before dinner and they'd listened to music until Chad's father brought up dinner for the two of them. The Danforths ate in Chad's room, too. They spread a blanket on the floor and Ryan joined them for an impromptu picnic. After dinner, they ate some of Zeke's delicious cookies. When Chad finally dozed off, the others went down to the family room to watch television. But Ryan didn't stay away for long. He shucked his clothes and crawled into bed next to Chad before ten o'clock and slept like a baby.
"What's for breakfast?" Ryan asked, peering at the bowl of batter Chad's father was stirring,.
"I'm making one of Chad's favorites--banana pancakes," Mr. Danforth replied.
"Cool," Ryan said as he filled the kettle and put it on to boil. "I'm going to take some tea up to him, if you don't mind."
"Not a problem. Breakfast won't be ready for another twenty minutes or so," Chad's father said as he covered the bowl with plastic wrap and put it into the refrigerator. Ryan turned to Ms. Danforth, who was apparently about to start baking something.
"What's all this going to be?" he asked curiously, eyeing the assortment of ingredients.
"You never spent much time in your mom's kitchen, did you?" she answered lightly. Ryan shrugged.
"My mother's never spent much time in her kitchen," he replied impishly.
"You poor thing," Ms. Danforth said. "Would you like to make some cookies?" Ryan nodded eagerly. "Wash your hands and come over here."
Ryan did as he was bidden. Mr. Danforth sat at the other end of the island and watched the pair for a while as he sipped his coffee. The kettle began to whistle and he rose to make a pot of tea.
"I'm going to go up and check on Chad," he announced, checking his watch. "He ought to be awake by now." He took the back stairs and knocked lightly on Chad's door.
"Yeah, dad," Chad said softly from inside. Mr. Danforth pushed the door open and stepped into the room.
"You recognize my knock," he said amusedly.
"Yeah. Mom's knock is lighter; Ryan doesn't knock, usually," Chad said with a shrug. He slowly sat up as his father approached the bed.
"How are you feeling?"
"A little better," Chad said after a moment's thought. "My head doesn't feel so fuzzy today."
"Glad to hear it. Need to get up?"
"Please," Chad answered. Mr. Danforth threw back the covers so that Chad could rise. He escorted Chad to the bathroom and hovered outside the door a few seconds until he was certain that Chad was okay.
"Brush your teeth while you're in there. I'll go down and start breakfast," he announced. "You stay put until someone comes for you." Mr. Danforth returned to the kitchen. "Chad's up," he said. "Ryan, why don't you take up that tea while I start the pancakes?"
"Sure," Ryan said. He helped Ms. Danforth put the last of the cookies in the oven and washed his hands. He poured out two mugs of tea, splashed a dollop of milk into each one and carried them upstairs. "Chad?" he called, looking around. He set down the mugs and went to the bathroom door.
"It's about time," Chad answered. Ryan opened the door and found Chad sitting on the closed toilet seat.
"What's going on?"
"My dad said to stay put until someone came for me," he answered, slowly rising. Ryan immediately reached out to steady him. "I want to take a shower. Help?" Chad asked with an irresistible smile. "I don't think I should do this alone."
"Too bad I already had a shower this morning," Ryan replied playfully. "I'll call your dad." He made a motion to leave, but Chad caught his arm. "All right; if you insist."
If Ryan thought the sight of Chad's naked body might tempt him, all thoughts of sex fled as soon as he saw Chad peel off his pajama top. The memory of screeching tires, Gabriella's scream and the 42 seconds of confusion he'd heard on the phone assaulted Ryan's mind with renewed vigor. He swallowed hard as new sounds asserted themselves into the hellish soundtrack: the sound of steel hitting body mass as Chad's body met the irresistible force of a speeding vehicle, followed the dull thud of his body hitting the unyielding pavement. Ryan was almost sure he was imagining those sounds, but he didn't want to think about it hard enough to be sure.
Ryan blinked and looked up. Chad smiled sadly and reached out to caress his cheek.
"It's just a few bruises," he said reassuringly, leaning in to kiss him. He drew back and reached for the hem of Ryan's tee. "Come on. I need a shower." Ryan quickly complied. They stepped into the tub and Ryan washed Chad head to toe. "Gently," he warned, as Ryan poured a generous amount of shampoo into his hand and prepared to wash Chad's hair.
"Do I have to take the braids out first?"
"Nope. So what's for breakfast?" Chad asked, wincing slightly. He rested his head on Ryan's shoulder and Ryan let him rest for a moment.
"Banana pancakes. And I helped your mom make cookies."
"What kind?" Chad asked, lifting his head to look into Ryan's eyes.
"Oatmeal," Ryan replied, smiling as Chad's eyes lit up. "She put dried cranberries in them, too; Maria always put raisins in hers. And pepitas."
"What are pepitas?"
"Pumpkin seeds," Ryan replied.
"Why didn't you just say that, then?" Chad asked as Ryan started massaging his scalp again. "Ow."
"I'm sorry, hon," Ryan said softly, leaning in to kiss away Chad's pout. He kissed Chad twice more before gently turning him around and pushing him under the spray. When Chad's hair was thoroughly rinsed. Ryan reached around him to shut off the water and then helped him out of the tub. He wrapped Chad in a bath sheet and gently dried him off. "What do you want to wear?" he asked, heading for the bedroom for fresh clothing.
"Pajamas, I guess. I'm just going to be in bed all day, anyway," Chad replied glumly. He sat on the lid of the toilet again and waited for Ryan to return.
"Don't you want to go downstairs for a bit? We can set you up in the family room and watch TV," Ryan suggested as he slipped a loose-fitting tee shirt over Chad's head.
"You can watch TV," Chad replied, slowly standing so that he could put on the loose-fitting pajama pants Ryan held out. "I'm supposed to rest my eyes."
"Right," Ryan recalled. "Well, maybe we could listen to music. Or we can sit out back before it gets too hot to be outside."
"Whatever," Chad said, turning to stare at his reflection in the mirror. "I think I'm growing a beard for the next few days." He smirked at Ryan. "You can live out your Sonny Crockett fantasies."
"That's it--you spend no more time alone with Sharpay on weekend mornings," Ryan declared, his cheeks growing red. He turned away and grabbed another towel, rubbing it vigorously over his own body and quickly redressing. Chad leaned against the vanity waiting for him, enjoying the view. "Besides, you look more like Tubbs, anyway."
"Yeah, but you never dreamed of having Tubbs do you--at least not according to Sharpay."
"You shouldn't believe everything Sharpay tells you," Ryan said as he zipped his pants. "Come on, Rico." He led Chad back to his bed and sat him down just as Ms. Danforth knocked on the door.
"Come in, mom," Chad called. She opened the door and smiled when she saw him sitting on the edge of the bed.
"Hi, baby; how are you feeling this morning?" she asked, gently lifting his face to hers and peering into his eyes.
"A little better," he replied, smiling warmly. "A lot better, now that I've had a decent shower."
"I'm glad to hear that, honey," she replied, lightly running her hand over his damp hair. "Are you ready for breakfast?"
"Yeah; I think I could eat a house this morning."
"Too bad; all we made were pancakes and sausage." She released his face and straightened up. "Would you like to come down for it this morning or should we bring up a tray?"
"I'm supposed to stay in bed," Chad said as Ryan handed him a mug. "But I'd like to eat with you guys downstairs. And this is cold," he said after taking a sip.
"You're the one who insisted on a shower," Ryan said, taking a sip from his own cup. He set it down and bent to look for Chad's slippers under the bed. "Let's get you downstairs and I'll make you a new one." He found a pair of flip-flops and slipped them onto Chad's feet.
A few minutes later Chad reached the kitchen and took his usual place at the table. His head was throbbing, but he wasn't about to let on. It felt too good to be out of bed and among the living again. Ryan fetched him a new cup of tea and his mother spent several minutes fussing over him, getting him juice and closing the curtains and adjusting the radio to a more acceptable level. Chad endured it with good humor until Mr. Danforth placed a stack of pancakes in front of him. His eyes lit up.
"Thanks, dad," Chad said, reaching for his fork and knife.
"Ryan?" Mr. Danforth said. Ryan took his seat beside Chad and another serving of pancakes was set on the table.
"Awesome," Ryan breathed reverently before digging in. The Danforths exchanged an amused glance as they began to eat.
"So how are you doing today, Chad?" Mr. Danforth asked well into the meal.
"His appetite has apparently returned in full force," Ms. Danforth replied before her son could respond. "He ate two chicken breasts last night." Chad looked up from his second stack of pancakes.
"I'm feeling better," he said defensively.
"Good," his father replied archly.
"We were thinking Chad could hang out down here for a while," Ryan said. "Maybe listen to some music."
"Think you can keep an eye on him while we do a bit of food shopping?" Ms Danforth asked. "If Chad's appetite is back, I'm going to need more food in the house." Ryan's eyes lit up. He suppressed whatever he was about to say, however, and nodded. Chad grinned at him knowingly.
The Danforths cleared the table and cleaned up the kitchen while Ryan settled Chad in the family room. As soon as they were alone, Chad looked up and grinned again.
"You could have gone with them, you know. Mom likes it when you shop with her."
"Are you nuts? I'm not leaving you alone in your condition!" Ryan replied, affronted by the idea that he'd prefer food shopping to spending time with Chad.
"Well, I'm sure dad would have been willing to trade places with you," Chad insisted. "You could use the break."
"What?" Ryan pouted like a three-year old. "Are you trying to tell me--?"
"I'm not trying to tell you anything," Chad interrupted with a sigh. "I just meant that you've been here since Thursday; you've been waiting on me hand and foot since I got home and you're exhausted."
"And running around forty aisles of supermarket would make all that all go away," Ryan spat sarcastically. Chad smiled indulgently and Ryan flopped onto the sofa beside him. Chad gritted his teeth against the jolt to his head and reached for his hand.
"I'm not trying to get rid of you, dumbass," he said gently, resting his head on Ryan's shoulder. "I love you and I love you even more for being here. All I was saying is that it's okay if you have a little fun, too."
"I plan to--as soon as your ribs are up to it," Ryan replied wryly. Chad gave his hand an affectionate squeeze.
"Go ahead and turn the TV on if you want," he said after a minute. "When the doc said no television I don't think she was talking about a giant flat screen. I'll probably drop off to sleep in a few minutes, anyway." Ryan started to protest, but shrugged instead and reached for the remote. "Any preferences?"
"Sharpay and I usually watch Food Network on Sunday mornings," Chad revealed. "But it won't be any fun laughing at Paula Deen without her." They eventually settled in on a sport channel because Chad "needed" to get caught up on his scores. Ryan excused himself for a moment and went back up to the bedroom. He returned with his phone and called Sharpay. He handed Chad the phone and took control of the remote. When his two favorite people on the planet were deeply ensconced in a discussion of the day's heart-attack-inducing menu, Ryan curled up on the other end of the sofa and dozed off. It felt like any other Sunday in Ryan's life over the past few months--until the doorbell rang, anyway.
He rose and went to answer the door, wary of encountering a complete stranger and having to explain his presence in the Danforth's home. He was relieved, however, to see Gabriella and Troy on the porch when he peered through the peephole.
"Hey, guys," he said with a smile. "Come on in."
"I know my dad said we should let Chad rest," Troy began.
"So you've been over every day since he said that?" Ryan finished playfully. "He's in the family room." He clapped a hand on Troy's shoulder and steered him toward the back of the house.
"Hi, Chad," Gabriella called, but she quickly covered her mouth. "Sorry; I didn't realize you were on the phone."
"It's okay," Chad replied, adjusting his position on the sofa. "Sharpay just hung up." Gabriella's mouth fell open, as did Troy's. "What?" Gabriella quickly recovered and went to give him a gentle hug.
"Hey, buddy," Troy said, taking a seat close to him. "How are you feeling?"
"Well, I'm not queasy anymore so my appetite's back, and my brain is beginning to feel like it just might fit inside my head again someday."
"Your bruises are beginning to fade, too," Gabriella said, lightly caressing his cheek. Ryan's eyes went wide and he bristled silently as she closely examined Chad's injuries. Chad smiled and gently drew her hand away.
"How are you, Gabi?" he asked, turning the tables on her. Mollified, Ryan joined the discussion.
He went home that afternoon, earlier than he did most weekends when he stayed over. Not because he was eager to be rid of Chad, of course. But Chad did have a point--Ryan was exhausted. And as much as he hated to admit it, he'd sleep better alone and in his own bed. That didn't stop him from worrying, of course, so he wandered about the house looking for ways to distract himself until he relaxed enough to go to sleep. His mother caught up with him as the door to his room.
"Ducky?" she called. Ryan turned around as she closed the distance between them. "What's the matter, dear?" she asked, stroking his hair. Of course, the answer was obvious, so she didn't wait for his response. "I'm sure he's fine. You said yourself that Chad has been improving steadily since he got home."
"I know," Ryan sighed, leaning against the doorframe. "I'm just thinking--." He looked up and sighed. "I know he's fine," he said, turning to enter his room. Ms. Evans followed him inside and sat beside him on the bed.
"What are you thinking?"
"What if this had happened while I was in New York?" he asked. "What if I wasn't here when he needed--." Ms. Evans subdued his flailing hand and held it in her lap.
"I've asked myself that same question countless times over the past eighteen years," she confessed. "Your father regularly accused me--and rightfully so, I might add--of wanting to swath you and your sister in bubble wrap and put you on a shelf where you'd be safe from harm."
"And totally unable to do anything," Ryan added sardonically.
"That was his point. I could no more prevent you and Sharpay from going out into that big scary world than you can prevent Chad. And things are going to happen. Good things, mostly, but bad things, too, and you won't be able to prevent it even if you're right there with him."
"Yeah," Ryan said glumly.
"I thought you understood all this when you two agreed to go to different schools."
"I did. We did, but that was before this," Ryan said. "How can I go to New York--?"
"How can you not?" his mother countered. "It's what you've been dreaming of since you were a child."
"Chad's all I dream about these days."
Ms. Evans rose to her feet, still holding onto her son's hand.
"You'd better not let Chad hear you talking this way. You know how important it is to him that you fulfill your ambition." She gave his hand a squeeze and released it. "You look all in. Why don't you lie down until dinner?"
"Yeah," Ryan said, lying back on the bed. "I was planning to do just that."
"Good," Ms. Evans said, bending to kiss his forehead. "Oh, and don't forget to call Marjorie Upshaw later."
It wasn't until Ryan arrived at school Monday that he remembered what he'd learned from Sharpay, Troy and Zeke on Saturday. He took a calming breath and climbed out of his sister's car, prepared to take on whatever came.
"I can do this," he said softly, paraphrasing one of Chad's favorite lines.
Ryan glanced at Sharpay, who was eyeing him oddly. Ryan shook his head and hoisted his bag. Sharpay led the way into school.
Whatever Ryan was expecting, it failed to materialize. People greeted him as they always did. No one whispered behind his back, no one avoided eye contact. No one asked him about Chad. Ryan relaxed and settled in for the last week of his high school experience. It was boring as hell. He was frankly disappointed.
"Admit it; you miss me," Chad said on the phone at lunchtime.
"I miss you," Ryan deadpanned. "I've got a folder full of stuff for you here. No homework--just tests and stuff. You passed everything with flying colors."
"No need to be so smug about it. I wouldn't want to be known as the seventh smartest person in East High if I were you."
"Why not?" Chad asked mischievously. "Can't count that high? Wait--seventh? I finished seventh in our class?"
"Go me! I had no idea I was even in the top ten."
"Well, you are the complete package, my dear: brains, brawn and beauty," Ryan said, beaming with pride as Taylor took a seat beside him. "Here's Taylor. Any words for the valedictorian?" He handed her the phone and she spoke with Chad for a moment while Ryan stared out across the campus.
He wondered if he'd miss East High, after all was said and done and the graduation ceremony was over Thursday afternoon. He always tended to doubt it, but the more Ryan thought about it the more he realized how important a role East High had played in his life. He thought back to all his performances on East High's stage, the friends he'd made among his classmates, and the teachers who'd changed his view of the world and opened his mind to new ideas and experiences.
Most importantly, Ryan thought about Chad, the skinny teen who was "all arms and legs and bottomless stomach" the first time he set eyes on him. Ryan thought he was attractive then, but over the next four years, Chad blossomed into someone Ryan thought was certifiably gorgeous. Moreover, after crushing on Chad from a distance, he and Ryan had become first good friends and eventually lovers. They were now in a serious, committed relationship that was far better than anything Ryan ever dared to imagine much less hope for. He was inordinately happy, Ryan concluded with a contented smile. Yes, East High would always have a special place in his heart.
"He must be feeling better," Taylor said, breaking in to his thoughts. Ryan turned to look at her. She handed him the phone. "He's in rare form today." Ryan smiled and watched her walk away as Chad proceeded to repeat the joke he'd just told Taylor. When he finished the call, Ryan started to pocket the phone when he remembered something. He scrolled through his contacts and found the number he wanted.
"Hello, Dr. Tirado," he said when the head librarian answered the phone. "This is Ryan Evans."
"Ah! Ryan, I've been expecting your call," he replied affably. "Ms. Upshaw told me that you'd be willing to do a second interview."
"Yes, I am," Ryan affirmed. "And I'd like to thank you for agreeing to allow me a second chance. I behaved appallingly last week."
"Well, I understand that you had good reason," Mr. Tirado said diplomatically. Ryan took a breath and released it.
"Chad Danforth and I have been dating since last October," he said evenly. "He's the most important person in the world to me. When I heard he'd been in an accident I lost all perspective."
"That's quite understandable."
"But my behavior was inexcusable," Ryan confessed. "Chad was the first to tell me so. It won't happen again."
"Well, I certainly hope you never have cause. How's Chad doing?"
"He's better; much better," Ryan said with a smile.
"Good," Dr. Tirado said with a smile before turning to the business at hand. "Now when can you come in for that interview?"
"Hey," Ryan said a day later, dropping his bag and crossing the family room to give Chad a kiss. "I got the job." Chad hugged him warmly.
"And I got a clean bill of health from the doctor," he said, pulling away. "Dad and I just got home from the hospital."
"A clean bill of health? How's that possible?"
"Well, I'm still recovering from the concussion," Chad said, scooting over a bit to allow Ryan to squeeze in next to him on the sofa. "but I've recovered enough so that the doc's relaxed a few of the restrictions on me. I can drive and go out and do whatever I want, as long as I don't overdo it."
"Whatever you want, eh?" Ryan said thoughtfully.
"Yeah, and that means I'm good to go on graduation day," Chad declared happily. Ryan blinked at him.
"I was kind of hoping you'd be 'good to go' on something else, a bit sooner than that," he said bluntly. Chad frowned in confusion and Ryan rolled his eyes. "I didn't realize that your amnesia extended to--." Chad suddenly smiled his understanding and Ryan leaned in for a kiss. Chad indulged him for a minute or two then abruptly pushed him away.
"Don't even think about it," he said, reaching out to grab onto the arm of the sofa. "Dad's in his study. I may have been hit in the head but I haven’t lost my mind."
"Upstairs, then?" Ryan suggested.
Although he wasn't nearly as sore as he'd been the previous week, Chad discovered that his concussion did tend to make him a bit unstable upon rising. He got up slowly and waited a few seconds to be certain of his balance before turning his best smile on Ryan, who gestured for him to lead the way.
Chad headed for the stairs at a fairly normal pace, but Ryan could see that his movements were slightly tentative. He resolved to take things slowly. As if reading his thoughts, Mr. Danforth came out of his study just as they reached the base of the stairs. Chad determinedly ignored him, but Ryan hazarded a look down and saw him standing, arms folded and looking up at the pair.
"We're just going up upstairs," he explained weakly.
"Chad, remember what Dr. Emory said about over-exerting yourself," Mr. Danforth warned. Then he went back into his study and turned up the volume on the music system.