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FIC: Last Dance - Hotitudinosity
fiction by jalabert
jalabert
jalabert
FIC: Last Dance
Title: Last Dance
Author: Jalabert
Rating: Teen
Summary: It's graduation day.
Author's note: It's the end, folks. This is the last installment of the "Coming to Terms" series. Any future stories with this particular pair will be part of a new 'verse.

Dedicated to silver_fic, who eight months ago said I think it would be kind of awesome if Chad wore it on the last day of school. Honey, I had that in mind all along.


"You're going to do this all day, aren't you?"

"Hush, Boo," Ms. Danforth said as she adjusted his tie. Chad reached out and caught the tear that was coursing down her cheek.

"It's just high school, mom," he said lightly.

"It'll happen to you someday, you know," she replied. "Someday you'll be standing here fixing your son's tie or your--." She caught herself and looked into Chad's eyes guiltily. He smiled warmly.

"It could happen," he said with a nod. She managed a weak smile. "But if it does, I won't be such a complete sap about it," he added puckishly. "If this is how you act now, what are you going to do when I win the Nobel Prize?"

"We'll just cross that bridge when we come to it," she said, turning to pick up her purse. "Ready?" Chad nodded and took her hand. They walked out to the car and Chad slid into the back seat. Fifteen minutes later, they arrived at East High. Chad got out of the car and stood looking up at the building where he'd spent the last four years of his academic life. "Your turn, Boo," his mother said knowingly. He laughed at the comment and shrugged into his gown, seconds before a sea of friends and well wishers swallowed him up. Zeke immediately moved in to provide protection for the still somewhat fragile teen. Ms. Danforth gasped in mute horror as her only son was swept away.

"He'll be fine," Mr. Danforth assured her, but worry being a mother's prerogative, she said a silent prayer for her son.

"Hey, hey, hey, he just got out of the hospital!" Zeke cried as he tried to fend off the back slaps of his fellow Wildcats. "Chill out!"

"How are you feeling?" Charlie asked.

"Pretty good, actually," Chad said. "It's my last day at East High; how could I feel bad about that?" His comment was greeted with laughter.

"So are you coming to my house after graduation?" Jason asked as the crowd finally thinned and the remaining Wildcats made their way to the field for the ceremony. "We decided to have one last Wildcat blast before we went our separate ways. Nothing fancy; I emailed the invitation a couple of days ago."

"I haven't been on my computer in a week, Jason," Chad confessed. "I didn't know anything about it."

"Ryan didn't mention it to you? I sent him an invite, too."

Chad froze and glanced up at Zeke, whose expression was unreadable. Someone placed a hand on Chad 's shoulder and he flinched.

"Maybe Ryan could bring you by for a little while," Kyle suggested.

"Yeah," Jason agreed, taking up the argument. "Like I said, it won't be anything fancy; just the team and a few close friends. We've all got stuff to do with our families later, so we'll have one last pizza party this afternoon. You've got to come."

"Yeah, it won't be the same without you, captain," Charlie agreed. Zeke nodded in support of the scheme.

"See if your parents will let you come," Kyle said eagerly. "If Ryan can't bring you, either Zeke or I can come pick you up."

"I've got to sit down," Chad said hoarsely. Zeke took him by the arm and led him to a seat. "The Wildcats totally know about us," he said as soon as the others were out of earshot.

"Yeah," Zeke replied hesitantly. "Ryan didn't tell you?" Chad turned to glare at him, but before he could reply, someone called his name. He spent the next minute making polite conversation with a few of his classmates. But Chad heard nothing of the conversation. He smiled and answered mechanically, his mind on Zeke's last words. Chad sat down and was about to ask Zeke for an explanation when he heard his name being called again. He rose to greet his science teacher, followed by Ms. Darbus, who gave him a hug that would have hurt even if he weren't nursing sore ribs. By the time he finally sat down again, Zeke had disappeared. He spotted Troy, but he was surrounded by classmates and signing yearbooks. Chad pulled out his phone and sent Ryan a hasty text instead. While awaiting a response, Mr. Matsui appeared at his side and he quickly pocketed his phone.

"Welcome back, Mr. Danforth. I'm glad you were able to make it to the graduation ceremony."

"Thank you," he replied, looking around. "I'm glad I was able to be here. Wouldn't want to miss this day."

"Do you feel well enough to take part in the processional?" he asked. "If not, you can go directly to your seat now. It might be better for you in your condition."

"I want to march with my friends," he replied. Mr. Matsui nodded and, praising his fortitude and commitment to his friends, he escorted Chad to where the other seniors were assembling in alphabetical order. Chad caught a glimpse of Ryan and Sharpay but they were deep in conversation and, for the first time since they first became involved, Chad felt too self-conscious to call out his name. He got into line behind Jason, his mind still reeling. His phone vibrated just as the procession began.

Sitting in the front row of the assembly, Chad was reluctant to pull out his phone. So he sat stonily as Mr. Matsui droned on, the orchestra played, Taylor gave her valedictory speech and someone from Senator Bingaman's office brought greetings to the graduating class. He was tired and sore from sitting in that uncomfortable chair by the time Jason nudged him. Chad rose to his feet and followed him to the stage. Several students offered Chad a hand, but he made his way onto the stage on his own. His name was announced and Chad smiled, quickly scanning the audience for his parents. Principal Matsui shook his hand and offered his congratulations.

"Chad Danforth, member of the Honor Roll, member of the baseball team, track and field team and co-captain of the state champion Wildcat basketball team. Mr. Danforth is the recipient of this year's McMillen prize--a full scholarship to the University of Albuquerque engineering program."

Chad smiled warmly at Ms. Darbus as she finished her recitation and handed him his diploma.

"Good luck, Mr. Danforth," she said proudly. Jason was waiting for him at the edge of the stage and Chad allowed him to help him down the steps. He reached his seat just as Ryan's name was announced.

"Ryan Evans, co-president of the Drama Club, past president of the Shakespeare Society and, I'm delighted to say, recipient of a dance scholarship to The Juilliard School," Ms. Darbus said as Ryan, ever the showman, executed a little dance turn, complete with jazz hands, before accepting his diploma. "I believe he'll do very well," she added with a wink. Ryan tipped his mortarboard and left the stage with Sharpay glaring at his back.

"Scene stealer," Chad said as Ryan walked past. Ryan spared him a glance.

"Nice tie, Danforth," he said with a smirk. Jason overheard the comment and nudged him.

"That is a nice tie. Did he give it to you?" he asked.

Chad rolled his eyes and, throwing caution to the wind, pulled out his phone. After all, he already had his diploma. What could Darbus do, revoke it? He read Ryan's brief message.

Oops


Chad slid his phone back into his pocket.

"I'm kind of surprised he didn't--you know."

Chad turned to Jason and glared.

"What?"

"Well, I--. Never mind." Jason turned his attention back to the proceedings. Chad shook his head and spent the next fifteen minutes staring at his hands, looking up only when Taylor and Gabriella walked across the stage. When the last of the 204 students in the class of 2009 took his seat, the ceremony came to an end and the students erupted into a cheering mob. Chad cringed and covered his ears as a sea of humanity swirled around him.

"Chad! Chad! Hey, congratulations, buddy! We made it!"

Chad opened his eyes and looked up at Troy, who was beaming at him.

"You okay?" he asked worriedly, his smile fading.

"I have to get out of here," Chad replied. Troy took him by the arm and led him through the crowd. Gabriella joined the pair and took hold of Chad's other arm.

"Where's Ryan?" she asked as a group of shrieking girls ran past.

"I have no idea," Chad replied. "Can we find someplace quiet? I really need to get away from all this noise."

"Yeah, sure," Troy replied, changing direction slightly and leading Chad into the school.

"Want me to get your parents?" Gabriella asked.

"Please," Chad said gratefully. "And--." He reached out to grasp Gabriella's arm. "If you see Ryan…" She nodded and took off. Troy guided Chad into the first empty classroom they found and sat him down. "Thanks."

"Feel better?"

"Yeah," Chad said, slumping a little in the chair and enjoying the silence. He opened his eyes again to look at him. "Do you have any idea why Jason and the other Wildcats know about me and Ryan?"

"You mean he didn't tell you?" Troy replied, blanching. Chad started to answer but Troy pulled out his phone, which had just begun to play Gabriella's ringtone. "Yeah; we're in--." He went to the door to peer up at the number. "Room 134. Okay. That was Gabi," he explained. "She found Ryan and is looking for your folks."

"You were saying?" Chad persisted.

"I really thought Ryan told you. He said--."

"I'd like to hear it from you."

"Well, I--." Troy flustered for a second and began to speak again but paused when he heard voices. A moment later, Sharpay and Ryan entered the room.

"Congratulations!" she said effusively, giving Troy a perfunctory hug before rushing over to Chad. The hug she gave him was warm and genuine. "How are you feeling?" she asked, dropping into the seat next to his.

"I'm good," he said unconvincingly.

"You are not," Sharpay challenged. "I can see it in your eyes."

"I'm in the second week of a headache," he replied matter-of-factly as his eyes focused on Ryan. Sharpay noted the moment their eyes locked and rose to her feet.

"Well, I suppose the only cure for what ails you is waiting for me to get out of the way," she said with a pout. Chad rose to his feet and hugged her before allowing her to leave. Troy started to follow but Chad stopped him.

"Where do you think you're going?" he asked.

"Hey, you two don't need me," Troy replied awkwardly. "I'll keep an eye out so you two can have some privacy."

"We don't seem to need any privacy anymore," Chad called after him. "You were about to explain why."

"I can explain," Ryan said, letting Troy make his escape before closing the door.

"He had something to do with this, didn't he?" Chad demanded as Ryan pulled him into his arms.

"He did," Ryan admitted, nuzzling Chad's ear. "But I'm not about to waste an opportunity. You look good enough to eat," he murmured into Chad's mouth before kissing him. Chad indulged him for just a few seconds before gently pushing him away.

"My folks are going to be here any minute. Speak."

Ryan sighed and rolled his eyes.

"They already know."

"Troy outted me to the rest of the Wildcats, you and my folks knew about it and no one thought it might be a good idea to tell me?"

"What makes you think Troy's responsible?"

"Well, he is, isn't he? It has to be Troy or Zeke. They're the only Wildcats who knew about us and they both looked pretty guilty when I spoke to them."

"Yeah," Ryan said, plopping into a seat. He briefly explained Zeke's slip-up after the accident and Troy's decision to come clean with the team.

"And just when were you planning to tell me about this?" Chad asked. Ryan opened and shut his mouth again.

"They told me Saturday morning," Ryan explained, toying with the tassel on his mortarboard. "You'd just gotten home from the hospital. Your parents agreed that we should wait until you were feeling a bit better before telling you." Ryan squirmed uncomfortably. "To be honest, I forgot all about it until I went back to school on Monday. I was expecting some sort of fallout but, other than asking about you and sending you their regards, no one said a word about us. I was bracing for something all day but it never came."

"So you figured it was no biggie and I never needed to know?"

"No, of course not," Ryan said, shaking his head. "I was going to tell you all about it when I got to your place after school, but you'd just gotten back from the doctor with that good news about your health…"

"Yeah," Chad said with a wry smile. Of course, it hadn't exactly been a clean bill of health. Their lovemaking had been brief and rather restricted. Still, it had put an end to their longest dry spell in ages and neither Chad nor Ryan had any complaints.

"There's more," Ryan said with a sigh. Chad looked up. "They aren't the only ones who know about us."

"What? Am I out to the entire school?" Chad cried.

"Miraculously, no. But Dee Somerhalder has apparently known about us for months."

"Dee who?" Chad frowned quizzically.

"She's a friend of Sharpay's. She lives in Eagle Point about a dozen houses down from Kelsi. She apparently spotted my car in the area, saw us driving around together on countless occasions and never bothered to mention it to anyone."

"And you know this how?"

"She told Sharpay. Like Zeke, she wanted to know how I was taking the news of your accident," Ryan replied diffidently.

"So everyone was really worried about you, eh?" Chad said, reaching out to caress his cheek.

"They were probably planning a round-the-clock suicide watch," Ryan said archly. He smiled and Chad leaned in to kiss him. "That really is a nice tie," Ryan said, straightening the knot. "Maybe I can trust you to shop on your own occasionally."

"It's my dad's tie," Chad confessed. "I only own two and you told me you wouldn't use either of them to strangle your worst enemy, remember?"

"All too well," Ryan quipped as the door opened to admit Ms. Danforth. Chad rose and went to her. She enfolded him in a warm hug and told him how proud she was of him.

"Thanks, mom," he said, drawing away. He started to speak, but she went to Ryan and hugged him as well before turning back to Chad.

"Gabriella said you weren't feeling well," she said. "Your father went to bring the car around." Chad shouldn't have been surprised by his parents' efficiency, but he wasn't expecting to be evacuated from the school so quickly. He glanced out into the hall, where Troy and Gabriella were talking.

"Can you give us a minute?" he asked. His mother nodded and told Chad that the car would be waiting out front. Chad handed her his diploma and walked out into the hall to join his friends. Ryan followed.

"Are you going to be able to go to Jason's later?" Gabriella asked apprehensively.

"Yeah, I think so," Chad said. Ryan gave him a doubtful look. "Just for a short visit," Chad amended. "And you guys won't be able to play loud music while I'm there. But I would like to see the gang one last time."

"It won't be the last time," Troy said, chucking his arm. "It's not as though we'll never see each other again."

"Yeah, but it'll be our last time as East High seniors. Our last time as Wildcats," Chad said. "I'll be there." He said goodbye to the couple and Ryan walked him out to the car.

"You haven't emptied your locker," Ryan remembered suddenly, turning to look down the corridor.

"Troy did it for me Tuesday."

"Ah."

They continued down the hall until Dee stopped them. She pulled out a camera and asked if she could take their picture. Chad and Ryan exchanged amused looks and then smiled for the camera, arm in arm.

"Great," she said, peering at the screen. "You're such a cute couple."

"Thank you," Ryan replied amusedly. Dee blushed and said goodbye before hurrying away. Chad watched her go.

"That wasn't so hard, was it?" he observed.

"Didn't hurt one bit," Ryan said, holding the door for him. They emerged from the building and spotted Mr. Danforth's BMW at the curb. "Are you seriously considering going to Jason's this afternoon?"

"That's another thing you kept from me," Chad answered. "You know, I remember the good old days when you used to tell me everything."

"I wasn't keeping it from you," Ryan insisted, rolling his eyes. "It wasn't high on my list of priorities and I guess I assumed you'd seen his message."

"I remember the good old days when you used to discuss things with me rather than assuming them," Chad quipped.

"I really think you should rest," Ryan continued, ignoring the tease. "We have that dinner tonight and--."

"And it's at your house. No big." Chad sighed at Ryan's offended expression. "I mean that it won't tire me out. Your family knows the deal and they'll be very accommodating. Besides, I'll rest before going to Jason's. I promise not to overdo it."

"This is your first day out of the house since your accident, other than your doctor's appointment. You're going to be more tired than you think."

"I'll be fine, worrywart. Besides," Chad said, turning to look Ryan in the eye. "This is important. The guys invited us--both of us. I don't want to just blow them off."

"Okay," Ryan conceded. "But only for a little while."

"Yes, mother," Chad replied acerbically as they reached the car. Ryan opened the door for him.

"It starts at two. I'll be at your house around 1:30."

Chad nodded and leaned in to give him a brief peck on the lips before sliding into the back seat. Ryan knew that his parents couldn't see them from inside the car, but was surprised nonetheless. Not that Chad cared. He had more important things on his mind.

"The guys are meeting over at Jason's this afternoon," he declared. "I'm going to go over for a little while before we go to Ryan's house."

"Oh, Chad, I don’t think that’s a good idea," his mother replied. "You're still recovering--."

"And the doc said I could resume normal activities as I saw fit," Chad interrupted. "And yes, I admit, I'm tired and I'll probably be wiped by the end of the day. But I really need to do this, mom."

"Why can't you meet up with your Wildcat buddies sometime next week?" she asked reasonably.

"It won't be the same. Look," Chad explained. "The guys know about me and Ryan. They made a point of inviting both of us over for our last gathering as Wildcats. They're going out of their way to let me know that they're okay with us and I really think it's important that we show up."

"I don't know, Boo," Ms. Danforth said, looking to her husband for support. But he backed Chad's decision.

"Let him go," Mr. Danforth said decisively. "They'll take good care of him."

"Thanks, dad," Chad said gratefully.

"You take a nap as soon as you get home. I want you to get as much rest as you can today," Ms. Danforth said.

"Yes, mom," Chad said, letting his eyelids fall shut. He was asleep within seconds and didn’t hear the rest of her admonitions.

**

Ryan arrived at Chad's house shortly after one. The Danforths were nowhere to be seen so he made his way up to Chad's room. He found Chad asleep and sat on the edge of the bed to stare at him.

"You'd make a lousy thief," Chad said, his eyes still closed. "I heard you coming before you even reached the door." He opened his eyes and stretched like a cat. "What time is it?"

"About 1:15," Ryan replied. He leaned in to kiss Chad, but Chad pushed him away and sat up.

"I've been waiting for you to get here. I want to take a shower before we go," he declared. Chad scooted to the end of the bed and got to his feet.

"We don't have to be there until two," Ryan said, frowning. "What's your rush?" Chad pulled off his tee shirt and tossed it onto the bed. Ryan's eyes immediately went to the expanse of sculpted, golden skin. The bruising on his chest and left arm was still readily discernable, although it had faded considerably.

"I'm not planning to rush," Chad answered with a sly smile. He strode into the bathroom and turned on the shower. Ryan smiled and followed.

They emerged twenty minutes later flushed and giggling, dripping water on the floor despite the fact that they were both wrapped in bath sheets. They stumbled into the bedroom and Chad made directly for the bed.

"See, now I'm tired again and it's all your fault," Chad teased as Ryan bent to retrieve the shirt he'd tossed on the floor a while earlier. He picked it up and examined it critically.

"I can't wear this," he said, frowning at the wrinkled shirt. He went to Chad's closet, where two of his own shirts were hanging. "And if you're tired, maybe we should skip Jason's party and stay here until we have to go to my house." Ryan selected a shirt as he spoke, fully aware that Chad would insist that they go.

"No way," Chad protested, sitting up with a poorly suppressed grunt of pain. "We're going. Give me my jeans." Ryan tossed Chad's new pair of Lucky 187's onto the bed. "Thanks." He collected a pair of briefs and put them on before slipping on the jeans.

"Only you could look hot while getting dressed," Ryan said.

"Shut up," Chad replied, heading for the bathroom to do his hair. Ryan smiled and finished dressing. He collected the discarded towels and hung them up to dry and tossed his shirt in Chad's laundry bin just as Ms. Danforth knocked on the door.

"Chad?" she called. "It's nearly two o'clock. Ryan should be here any minute." Ryan smiled and opened the door.

"Already here, Ms. D," he said. "Chad's getting ready."

"Oh; please be sure he doesn’t wear himself out. And--."

"I'll take good care of him," Ryan promised.

"I sound like a mother hen, don't I?" she said sheepishly.

"I believe that's a mom's prerogative," Ryan replied as Chad returned from the bathroom.

"Both of you sound like mother hens," he assured her as he rooted around in his drawer for a black tee shirt. "I'll be fine."

"You aren’t going to wear that shirt, are you?" his mother said.

"Now you're sounding like him," Chad said exasperatedly. "I'm wearing this shirt. Not another word out of either of you."

"I wasn't going to complain," Ryan replied with a smile.

"Wouldn't matter if you did," he replied. "Mom, would you give us a minute?" He gave her an apologetic look and she withdrew. "Before we go," Chad said, reaching into his nightstand drawer, "I want to give you your graduation gift."

"Lube?" Ryan teased. Chad shot him a look.

"It took me weeks to find the perfect one," he said as he handed a small box to Ryan, who smiled in anticipation. He knew it would be a pen. Ryan sat on the edge of the bed and ripped open the package.

Chad had given him a fountain pen for Christmas and another one on his birthday. While Sharpay continued to insist that pens were uninspired and impersonal gifts, Ryan loved both of them. He knew the effort Chad went to in order to find the perfect pen. Moreover, Ryan derived great pleasure from being able to carry something that Chad had chosen especially for him. Ryan's favorite pen was actually the one Chad bought on impulse one day while Ryan was searching for Sharpay in the mall. It was a hot pink Retro 51 rollerball pen that cost a fraction of what the others did, but it was the one Ryan carried in his bag every day. He used the others at home, or saved them for special occasions, like when he wore a suit and wanted to carry a fine instrument that complimented his attire.

"I can't wait to see what you've picked out for me--ooh," he said, pulling out the Sterling silver pen and holding it up to examine it closely. "Chad this is awesome."

"I know," Chad said impishly, sitting down beside him. "So you like it?" Ryan looked up and sighed.

"Why do we have to go through this every time? Yes, I like it, Chad. It's a beautiful pen," he said mechanically, though the twinkle in his eye was far more convincing.

"It's just that--well, it's just a pen," Chad explained. "I really enjoy looking at them and picking them out for you. I'm just worried that--."

"How many times have I told you to ignore Sharpay?"

"I know, but I thought it might be better if I didn't only give you a pen every time I had a gift giving opportunity."

"You don't! You drove all the way to Santa Fe to get my favorite chocolate for Valentine's Day. You made me a leather bracelet with your mad summer camp skills, you bought me that Jonas Brothers notebook, and at least a half dozen other things."

"I only bought that notebook to horrify your sister," Chad revealed with a smirk.

"I know, but I use it every day and I love it because you gave it to me."

"But that's not--.

"Not like every other couple's idea of a proper gift? Who cares?"

"I do," Chad said crossly.

"Hush." Ryan silenced him with a kiss and then rose from the bed, carefully shutting the box. "I'll get a better look at this later," he promised as he headed for the door. "We should get going."

"Hey, aren't you forgetting something?"

"Thank you?" Ryan said, pulling Chad into his arms. "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you." He kissed Chad's face all over as Chad squirmed and giggled. "I love my pen and I love you," he said, growing serious. "It wouldn't matter to me if all you ever gave me from this day forward were Jonas Brothers notebooks. I'd still be crazy about you and I'd still consider myself the luckiest man alive."

"Corny much?" Chad quipped, although it was obvious that he was deeply moved by Ryan's little speech. Ryan pulled him into another kiss. Chad eventually fended him off and Ryan opened the door.

"For the record, I'd really prefer the pens over the notebooks," he said. Chad swatted his backside as he followed him down the stairs.

"I wasn't talking about thanking me, you know."

"Oh? Too bad I wasted that great speech, then," Ryan said puckishly. "What did I forget?" he asked as they entered the kitchen. Chad's parents looked up.

"Well," Chad said before falling silent.

"Well what?" Ryan demanded.

"Never mind," he said, going to the counter to collect his phone and sunglasses. "We're out of here," he said to his mother, who was sitting at the counter sorting through the mail.

"Take it easy, Chad," Ms. Danforth said. Chad kissed her temple.

"I promise, mom." He gave her his most endearing smile and headed for the garage. Ryan kissed her cheek and followed.

"So what was it you didn't want to say in front of your parents?" Ryan asked after stowing his present in the glove compartment. Chad glowered at him as he fastened his seatbelt.

"Nothing," Chad said.

"You sure?"

"Yeah. Well… Don't I get a present?" he said finally.

"Oh!" Ryan replied with mock innocence. "That's what you meant. Isn't my love enough for you?"

"Never mind," Chad said, coloring. Ryan smiled and reached over to pinch his cheek.

"You're so cute when you're angry."

"I'm not angry…yet," Chad replied, slapping his hand away. Ryan laughed and started the car. Chad slumped lower in his seat and rested his head against the backrest. Ryan decided to let him stew a bit but after a few minutes, he glanced over and broke the silence.

"Are you really ready for this?"

"The Wildcats?" Chad asked. "Sure; why not?" He looked at Ryan. "Are you worried about them?"

"No," he lied. "Well, maybe. I think things are going to be a little awkward for you."

"I'm used to it. I go through it every time you introduce me as your boyfriend. Let's see; first it was the Upshaws, then all your sister's friends in New York, oh and that weird yoga lady who was staying at your house last time I was there."

"Nishtha? She's not weird," Ryan said defensively. "And all those situations were different from this one, Chad. On every occasion you were stepping into my world and meeting my friends--people who know I'm gay and readily accept it. This time I'm walking into your world. I'm meeting your friends."

"They're your friends, too."

"Yeah, but they've been your friends for a lot longer. And you're not just bringing me as a friend; you're bringing me as your boyfriend."

"I know, I know," Chad said with a tinge of irritation. Ryan pulled the Jag over to the side of the road. "What? I want to do this, Ryan! Don't try to talk me out of it!" Ryan calmly leaned across him and opened the glove compartment. He pulled out a box and dropped it into Chad's lap before pulling back into traffic. "What's this?"

"Open it," Ryan answered. Chad tried to suppress a smile as he opened the beautifully wrapped package. He gasped when he saw the name on the box.

"Really?" he said as he opened it and pulled out the watch inside.

"I hope you like it," Ryan informed him. "I wanted something that was sporty yet appropriately geeky for a budding engineer."

"Shut up," Chad said, averting his eyes to his gift.

"They were right about a concussion changing your behavior," Ryan quipped. "I've never seen you so cranky after having sex before." Chad looked up and Ryan began to laugh. He continued to do so as he turned onto Jason's block. He slowed as he neared Troy's house. "Do you think he needs a ride?"

"I doubt it," Chad replied as he removed the watch from the packaging. "He's probably already at Jason's. Besides, Troy's folks bought him a car for graduation. If he's going to be driving back and forth to California he's going to need reliable wheels."

"Cool. What did your folks give you?"

"They gave me cash. Mom asked me what I wanted and I gave her a list of things. She said she couldn't decide what to get me and decided to let me buy what I wanted for myself." Chad put on the watch and admired it on his wrist. "This is really awesome, babe. Thank you." He leaned in and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek as they pulled up in front of Jason's house.

"I expect a proper thank you later," Ryan replied.

"You got it." He put his other watch in the box and placed it in the glove compartment before he got out of the car. He stood in the driveway for a moment, taking in a few calming breaths.

"We're leaving the moment you show signs of fatigue," Ryan said, coming around the car. Chad nodded.

"Let's do this."

Chad led the way to the back of the house, where the members of the Wildcats basketball team had assembled along with their girlfriends. Martha was the first to see the two approaching and alerted the others. Troy rose and ordered the others to make some space for Chad to sit down at the long table that had been set up to accommodate the crowd.

"Thanks, I'm okay," he replied as he reached the table.

"Cute tee shirt," Martha said with a smirk. Chad looked down.

"Yeah, I like it," he said impishly. Gabriella read the message on it and immediately looked around.

"Hey, where is--? Come and join us, Ryan," she said when she spotted him standing a short distance away. Ryan smiled shyly and came forward as Zeke, Jason and Troy studied Chad's shirt.

"My boyfriend got into Juilliard," Troy read aloud. "Another masterpiece, Chad."

"You have to read the back," Martha said, spinning Chad around so they could see it.

Yours probably just got into some other girl's pants

Everyone laughed at the message. Someone offered Ryan a slice of pizza and Gabriella moved over and made space for him to sit. Ryan's anxiety immediately began to dissipate.

"This is just like last summer," she said, smiling warmly.

"Yeah, only we were at your house and we had your mom's amazing brownies," Ryan replied.

"Gabriella brought some for dessert," Jason said as he set a drink down in front of Ryan. Martha did the same for Chad.

"Yeah, we wouldn't let Gabi come if she didn't hook us up," she teased. Gabriella gasped in mock horror.

"You didn’t think we let you into the gang just because we you were dating that guy?" Zeke said, jerking a thumb at Troy. "I can't do all of the baking around here."

"Wait, I don't remember the gang hanging out at your place last summer," Troy said, frowning. An awkward silence fell over the gathering. Chad gave him a look that spoke volumes and Troy blanched as realization set in. "Oh. Right."

"That's a cool watch, Chad," Zeke said, mainly to change the subject. "Graduation gift?"

"Yeah," Chad replied, glancing across the table at Ryan with a tiny smile.

"That is nice," Gabriella agreed. "You've got very good taste, Ryan." Chad was surprised by her perception, but after a second he conceded that it wasn't that big a leap. He wouldn't be wearing the watch today if his parents had given it to him.

"He gave you that?" Kyle said, peering at the watch. "Wow, I thought it was from your folks. What did you give him, Chad?" Ryan rolled his eyes.

"A pen," Chad replied curtly.

"A pen?" Martha echoed.

"Wow, boys are so much easier to shop for," Jason said. Martha glared at him.

"I'm sure it's not just any old pen, Jason."

"You're right, Martha. It's a Sterling silver Aurora Ipsilon fountain pen," Ryan explained. "And it's the sexiest damned pen I've ever seen."

"How can a pen be sexy?" Zeke asked.

"I guess it's a gay thing," Jason replied with a shrug.

"No it's not a 'gay thing,' Jason," Chad said rolling his eyes. "Ryan means that--."

"So you guys are really together," Charlie blurted out, saying aloud what was probably uppermost in the minds of several people at the table.

"Yes," Chad said tightly. "We're really together." He took a breath to calm himself before continuing. "I'm gay and I'm dating Ryan. Is that a problem?"

"No, no," Charlie answered hastily. "I just never--. I mean I knew you two were close, but I never knew you were…close."

"I won't lie," Kyle volunteered. "It was kind of a shock. But if it's what you--I mean as long as you're happy…" Chad smiled.

"I'm happy," he declared.

"So it was your own decision, then? He didn't--you know--lure you to the dark side?"

"His name is Ryan, Charlie, and he didn't lure me into anything." Chad looked up and smiled at Ryan. "We just fell for each other."

"Aw," Martha sighed, nudging Chad's shoulder.

"And you guys call me sappy," Troy said, ruffling his hair.

"We aren't anywhere near as sappy as you and Gabi," Ryan and Chad said in unison.

"I rest my case," Troy gloated. A lively debate ensued about which was the sappier of the couples. Chad ate a slice of pizza, his eyes on Ryan, who stared right back at him. "Will you just look at them?" Troy cried. "I ask you, is that not sappy?"

"I think it's sweet," Gabriella said.

"You think everything's sweet," Kyle complained. Another good-natured argument ensued. Ryan and Chad were oblivious until Sharpay's name came up and Ryan felt duty-bound to defend his sister. The fact that Zeke also spoke in her favor surprised no one, but Chad's defense of Sharpay stunned his companions.

"What?" Chad cried. "Okay, I admit it. I like Sharpay. She's really not so bad now that I've gotten to know her and she's finally conceded that I'm worthy of her brother." Ryan smiled at the comment.

After about twenty minutes the novelty wore off and the Wildcats seemed to forget about the couple. Chad relaxed and began to enjoy himself. Ryan observed him with satisfaction and knew that Chad had been right to insist upon coming to the party. Having the support and respect of his friends obviously meant a lot to Chad and by extension, Ryan as well.

"He looks a lot better," Gabriella said, observing the scene before them. Chad and Troy were doing imitations of Coach Bolton reaming out a sophomore during a bad practice.

"Yeah, the bruising's mostly gone from his face, except for a little spot hidden under his hair. But he's still got a lot of bruising on his chest and his ribs are a bit sore even now." Ryan frowned. "And of course, there's the constant headache."

"That doesn't seem to be slowing him down."

"Yeah. I just hope he doesn't overdo it," Ryan said as Troy and Chad pushed at one another. Ryan had seem them do that dozens of times but he winced on Chad's behalf. It had to hurt.

"Tell me about your pen," Gabriella said in a blatant attempt to distract him. It took a bit of work, but she succeeded in gaining his full attention and when Ryan mentioned that it was in the car she insisted on seeing it.

"Hey, where's Ryan?" Chad asked when he looked up and saw that he'd left the table.

"He went to get his graduation gift," Gabriella replied. When Ryan returned a moment later, everyone crowded around the table to see his prize. "Wow, that really is a beautiful pen, Ryan," Gabriella said.

"You've got good taste, buddy," Troy said, tousling Chad's hair.

"Hey, only the best for my guy," Chad said smugly.

"Where did you get it? I didn't see any store in the mall that--." Gabriella paled and covered her mouth. Chad immediately went to her. They hugged and shared a few quiet words.

"What's that about?" Kyle asked. Zeke elbowed him in the ribs.

"She still gets weepy whenever she thinks about the accident," Troy explained. "They were together when it happened." Kyle nodded in understanding. Gabriella and Chad returned to the others and Troy sat her on his lap.

"This must have cost a pretty penny," Jason stage whispered when Martha passed the pen to him.

"It ain't a Bic, that's for sure," Charlie said. "Where'd you get it, Chad?"

"I have my sources," he replied enigmatically.

"And you actually write with this?" Jason asked Ryan.

"Duh, it's a pen," Zeke said grabbing the box from his hand. "It is kind of sexy," he admitted sheepishly.

"I know it's a pen," Jason continued. "I just meant that's it's the old-fashioned kind, you know with the inkwell and stuff. My dad has one."

"It's not that old-fashioned, Jason," Ryan said as Zeke returned the pen to him. "It uses an ink cartridge. And yes, I will use it. I write with all the pens Chad has given me." Chad shot him a look.

"He gave you more than one?"

"How many?"

"Do I ask about what you give your girlfriends?" Chad cried, rolling his eyes.

"You know exactly what I give my girlfriend, Troy answered puckishly. "I always drag you along to help me pick out her gifts."

"You trust Chad's taste?" Ryan blurted out before he could stop himself. Chad glared at him. Zeke burst out laughing.

"His taste is better than mine," Troy confessed. "And it can't be that bad if he picked that out on his own," he added, his eyes on Ryan's pen. All eyes turned to Chad.

"Did you?" Kyle asked, picking up the pen.

"Yes, I picked it out on my own," Chad said exasperatedly before turning and going into the house. Everyone stared at the screen door, not daring to speak. Gabriella gave Ryan's arm a sympathetic squeeze.

"Sorry, dude," Jason said, breaking the silence. "We didn't mean to piss him off."

"You didn't," Ryan admitted. "He's just a little uncomfortable with all the attention."

"Maybe you ought to go talk to him," Gabriella suggested. Ryan shook his head.

"He just needs a minute."

"Are you sure?" Charlie asked. "He looked kind of angry."

"I think I know how his mind works," Ryan said confidently.

"How long have you guys been together, anyway?"

Ryan averted his eyes. That was the one question he was hoping to avoid. His friends might be comfortable with the relationship now but they might not be too happy if they found out how long he and Chad had been dating. Ryan was spared the trouble of replying, though, because Chad emerged from the house, eating a brownie.

"Are you okay?" Martha asked gently.

"Yeah, why shouldn't I be?" Chad asked around a mouthful of chocolate. He looked at the others. "What?"

"You were pretty pissed off when you left," Kyle replied reluctantly.

"I'm fine," Chad insisted. "Just stop with all the questions, all right? I feel like I'm show and tell." Everyone hastily agreed to his request, except Kyle.

"Just one last question," he said. Ryan huffed in irritation. "Could you show me where you got that pen? I know it's pretty pricey, but maybe you can help me find one a little more in my budget. My father's birthday is about two weeks away and my sister and I have been wracking our brains trying to find the perfect gift. I think he'd really like something like this."

Chad smiled.

"I'd be happy to take you to the store," he said as he walked around the table to sit next to Ryan for the first time. Gabriella scooted over to give him room and nudged his shoulder once he'd sat down.

"I have a question, too," she said. She caught a glimpse of Ryan's glare but continued. "How many of those brownies did you eat while you were inside the house?"

"Just the one," Chad replied. "I used the bathroom and came right back, I swear."

"I'm going to take an inventory," Zeke said, rising to go into the house. "Bet he was in the cookies, too."

"You baked cookies? He baked cookies," Chad said to Ryan. Grinning, he wrapped an arm around Ryan's shoulder. But, suddenly aware of his audience, he froze. Troy quickly spoke up to distract attention from his friend.

"Martha and Charlie brought ice cream, too. Why don’t you guys go help Zeke serve it up? We'll clean things up out here."

Chad smiled gratefully as everyone began to move. Charlie's girlfriend followed the others into the house. Kyle and his girlfriend cleared away the remains of the pizza. Troy went to change the music. Only Gabriella remained at the table. She reached for the box and examined the pen, pretending not to overhear the quiet conversation that was taking place beside her.

"Sorry," Ryan said. "I didn't mean to insult you in front of your friends." Chad rubbed the back of Ryan's neck.

"Yeah; you only mean it when we're alone, right?"

"There's a time and a place for everything," Ryan said archly. Chad looked into his eyes and then quickly looked away. He gave Ryan's shoulder a gentle squeeze before dropping his arm.

"Yeah." He put his hand back on the table and Ryan immediately covered it with his own. Gabriella smiled at the gesture and pushed the pen back toward Ryan. Chad picked up to examine it.

"You know what you really need?" he asked with an enigmatic smile.

"I can think of a few things," Ryan said warmly, cognizant of the fact that the others were returning with bowls of ice cream and platters brimming with brownies and cookies. Chad gave him a look.

"Later," he said rolling his eyes. He resumed his study of the pen. "I think I may have just the thing."

"What are you talking about?" Ryan asked, frowning. But Chad released his hand and took a cookie from the platter Martha was holding. Ryan did the same and the matter was dropped.

The rest of their visit passed smoothly and they left Jason's house around four o'clock. Ryan would have headed straight for his house, but Chad insisted that they make a stop at his place first. When they got out of the car, Chad went into the garage and began looking for something amid the neatly stocked shelves at the back of the space.

"What are you looking for?" Ryan asked, watching him go from shelf to shelf. Chad squatted in the corner and began to dig into a pile of things on the floor.

"Found it," he announced.

"What?"

Chad held up an old wooden cigar box.

"It's not very big, but it'll do for now. I can always find another one when you outgrow this one."

"Excuse me?" Ryan frowned and followed Chad into the house.

"I'll put in some sort of rack and maybe--. Where's dad?" Chad asked when he looked up and saw his mother in the family room.

"He's upstairs taking a shower. Is that what you're going to wear tonight?" she asked, her tone clearly conveying her disapproval.

"Ryan's mom loves this shirt," Chad replied smugly, setting down the box.

"Chad, take that thing off my table. It's filthy."

"Sorry. Guess I can do this later. I'll put it in my room for now." He headed toward the stairs. "I'll be right back."

Ryan sat down with Chad's mother and watched television until Chad returned a few minutes later, carrying a backpack and wearing a blue oxford shirt over his jeans.

"Thank you," his mother said.

"You're welcome," Chad replied, joining Ryan on the sofa.

"What's in the bag?" Ryan asked.

"My stuff. I'm staying at your place tonight. Dad said I could," Chad added, forestalling his mother's next comment.

"Cool!" Ryan said, leaning against him. But before he could get comfortable, Chad pushed him off and reversed their positions. Chad leaned against Ryan and entwined their fingers.

"What are we watching?"

"Moonstruck."

Chad groaned and got to his feet.

"Let's go," he said, pulling Ryan to his feet.

"It's almost over," Ryan protested.

"Good, then you won't miss much," Chad said, handing Ryan his pack.

When they arrived at Ryan's house they found it teeming with activity. Ms. Evans bid them a hasty welcome as she swept through the room giving directions to the housekeeper. Someone Chad had never seen before was fluffing the pillows in the living room and, looking through the French doors into the backyard, he saw several people preparing food in the Evans's huge outdoor kitchen.

"What's going on?"

"We're having barbeque for dinner," Ryan said by way of explanation as he headed for the stairs.

"Who are all those people?" Chad asked, looking back. Ryan snorted in amusement.

"You didn't think mom was going to cook, did you? She caters any major event."

"What 'major event'? It's just us!"

"I wish," Ryan replied. "The Upshaws are coming, and Sharpay didn't want to be dateless, so she invited her latest conquest, and then dad thought it might be nice to invite Todd Browning, since he's in town for just a few days and it'll be dad's only chance to see him." Chad flopped onto Ryan's bed and groaned.

"Exactly when were you going to tell me about this?" he asked, lifting his face off the pillow to speak.

"What's the big deal?" Ryan countered. "You know everyone who's coming, except Sharpay's date."

"I guess; and as long as her date isn't Brent Masters I suppose I can deal," Chad conceded, rolling over onto his back. Ryan sat on the edge of the bed.

"You okay?"

"I'm okay," Chad said sweetly, sitting up to kiss him. He tried to pull Ryan down but he extricated himself and got to his feet.

"Maybe you should take a nap before dinner," he suggested, picking up Chad's backpack and opening it to retrieve his pen. He placed the box in his desk drawer beside his other one.

"I said I was okay."

"I know you are but you've had a long day, it's about to get longer, and your mother will have my head if you begin to nod off at the dinner table."

"I won't nod off--unless our dads start talking about the stock market again. That'd put anyone to sleep!"

"Humor me."

"Always do," Chad replied. "Why don't you take a nap with me?"

"Maybe later," Ryan replied. "I want to go down and speak to mom first."

Chad rolled his eyes, but didn't protest when Ryan slipped out of the room. Truth be told, he was tired. He got up and dug through his backpack for his pain meds and took a pill before lying down again. He fell asleep immediately, not awakening until someone gently patted his shoulder over an hour later.

"What are you doing in here, Princess?" Chad said without opening his eyes.

"At the moment, I'm trying to quash my disappointment that you're not naked," she replied tartly. Chad sat up so quickly that she yelped and nearly fell off the bed. He grabbed his head and gritted his teeth until the throbbing settled. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah; I just got up too fast."

"I'm sorry," Sharpay said sincerely.

"Where's Ryan?" Chad asked, releasing his head.

"He sent me up to look in on you."

"I don't think 'looking in on you' means waking me up."

"Well, he didn't ask me to," she said, "but I thought you might want to go down and rescue him." Chad slowly got to his feet. He looked around for his shoes, which were on the far side of the bed.

"What am I rescuing him from?"

"Your parents are here and so is Mr. Browning. Ryan's being held captive in dad's office."

"Poor baby," Chad replied, straightening his shirt. Satisfied with his appearance, he headed for the door.

"Danforth?"

"Princess?" he replied, turning to look at her.

"You may want to consult a mirror." Chad looked down again. "Bed head?" she said, gesturing at his mangled hair. Chad groaned and went into the bathroom. Sharpay followed him and supervised the reclamation of his hairdo before deeming him fit for company. They descended the stairs and entered the living room.

"Chad," Ms. Evans said warmly. "Are you feeling better?"

"I'm fine," he said, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. He knew she meant well, but he was sick and tired of answering that question. He also knew that her query would set off his mother, who, predictably, went into protective mode.

"What's wrong, honey? If you weren't feeling well--."

"I feel fine, mom," he said, cutting her off. "Ryan just insisted that I take a nap before dinner. And I did," he added, making a point of looking around. "Where is he, by the way?"

"I think he's in daddy's office," Sharpay replied on cue. "Why don't you sit there and I'll get him for you?" Chad opened his mouth and shut it again. She gave him an almost imperceptible shrug and disappeared, leaving him in the company of two fawning mothers. Sharpay knocked on the door of her father's office before opening it and peeking in.

"Excuse me," she said in her perkiest voice. "Chad's awake, Ryan. I think you'd better rescue him before he's smothered in motherly attention." Mr. Danforth smiled knowingly as Ryan leapt to his feet.

"You'd better hurry," he said. "Chad's patience for coddling is probably at an all-time low."

Ryan was out of the room before Mr. Danforth finished the sentence. He practically flew into the living room and found Chad looking rather predictably petulant. Ryan smiled and took a seat beside him.

"Hey, honey," he cooed, wrapping an arm around his shoulder and kissing Chad's brow. "Did you have a nice nap?" Chad glared at him.

"Peachy."

"Good. See, Ms. D? I told you he'd be fine," Ryan said as the Upshaws entered the room. After a round of greetings, they sat down again. Chad appeared to be somewhat mollified, so Ryan relaxed and talked to Marjorie about his upcoming summer job at the library.

"What? You aren't coming with us to Lava Springs?" Sharpay cried. Ryan cringed.

"I knew you forgot something," Chad said somewhat maliciously. Ryan shot him a look that threatened recrimination and hastily explained his decision.

"Kitten," Ms. Evans added when Ryan finished. "I'm sure Ryan will be able to spend a part of his time at Lava Springs. But I think it's wonderful that he wants to work this summer."

"And you're going to let him stay here all by himself?" Sharpay challenged.

"Actually, the Danforths have graciously offered to let Ryan stay with them." Ryan and Chad exchanged a look of surprise. "Now, since we're all here," Ms. Evans continued, smiling up at her husband as Mr. Evans and his guests entered the room, "I think it's time to give the children their presents." Sharpay immediately perked up.

"Daddy?"

"Yes, Princess," Mr. Evans replied with a smile. He dug into his pocket, but Ms. Evans stayed his hand.

"Why don't we start with Chad?" she suggested.

"Why?" Sharpay huffed.

"He's our guest, Kitten," Mr. Evans said with a stern look. She pouted and sat down.

"It's okay if she goes first," Chad said graciously. Sharpay applauded and bounced in her seat.

"Yes! Yes! Me! Me! Me! Me! Me!" she squealed.

"Please put her out of her misery before Chad 's head explodes," Ryan said, wincing. Mr. Evans reached into his pocket and withdrew two sets of keys.

"It's time you retired that Mustang and got something a bit more sophisticated, Princess," Mr. Evans said as he handed the first set of keys to his daughter.

"A Mercedes?" Sharpay squealed as he handed her the keys. "Great! Now I won't have to steal mom's anymore." Chad covered his ears.

"I hope it isn't pink," Ryan said, lifting one of Chad's hands. "No blood." Chad laughed and put his hands down.

"It's won't be pink," Ms. Evans said with a smile for her daughter, "but I do think you'll like it."

"Oh, thank you, daddy!" she cried, bending to hug him and then her mother. "Thanks, mom! Wait--where is it?"

"Those keys are just for show," her father explained. "I thought you'd want to have it customized to your liking, so we'll have to go to the dealership to finalize the specs." Sharpay pouted for a second, but her smile was irrepressible and she began to gush anew. Her father gave her a few seconds to settle down before turning to Ryan. He tossed the second set of keys to his only son. Ryan smiled.

"I know you love your Jag, but I don't think a convertible's practical for Manhattan," Mr. Evans said. Ryan's thanks were gracious and subdued. He returned to Chad's side and showed him the keys.

"Do I get car, too? Chad quipped, after handing them back.

"I'm afraid not," Ms. Evans replied as she crossed the floor to where he was sitting and handed him a box. She kissed his cheek and congratulated him on his graduation.

"Thank you," Chad said as he tore open the paper and saw a familiar looking box. He glanced at Ryan.

"Wow! Two Tag Heuer watches in one day," he said brightly. Chad glared at him as he opened the box and saw the watch inside.

"Oh," Ms. Evans said. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize."

"It's fine, Ms. E," Chad assured her with another glare at Ryan, who was unrepentant. "It's completely different. And it's beautiful; thank you."

"It's nicer than the one I gave you," Ryan confirmed, reaching for the box. Chad slapped his hand away.

"I have a present for you, too," Sharpay said, reaching for the box on the floor beside her chair.

"Hope it's not another watch," Ryan quipped.

"What did you take while I was napping?" Chad teased. "I have something for you, too, Princess," he said, turning to her. "It's in my bag upstairs." He started to rise, but she stayed him with a hand.

"You can give it to me later," she said before threatening her brother with bodily harm if he said another word. Chad opened his gift, a silver ID bracelet with the name "Danforth" spelled out in capital letters. Chad rose and kissed her cheek.

The Upshaws had presents for the twins as well. Sharpay's date arrived while they were being opened. Sharpay introduced him to everyone and Ms. Evans suggested that they all adjourn to the dining room.

After a delicious meal, the young people were allowed to escape the older crowd. Sharpay dragged her date off to the home theatre and Ryan and Chad headed out to the deck to sit and enjoy the moonlight in peace. But Mr. and Ms. Danforth followed them outside.

"We have one more gift for Ryan," Ms. Danforth said.

"Watch or car?" Chad asked impishly.

"Neither," Mr. Danforth replied, producing an envelope from his pocket. Chad frowned as Ryan opened it.

"Wow, thanks guys," Ryan said. "This is so cool!"

"What is it?" Chad asked, peering over his shoulder.

"Cooking classes!" Ryan said, grinning from ear to ear. He hugged each of the Danforths.

"We thought you would like that," Chad's mother said. "You seem to have so much fun cooking at our house."

"I love being in the kitchen with you guys! This is awesome!"

"Did you guys really invite Ryan to spend the summer with us?" Chad asked.

"Yes," Mr. Danforth replied. "We figured that if Ryan was left home alone he'd end up spending half his time at our house, anyway."

"And we expect you two will want to spend most of your weekends out at Lava Springs," Chad's mother added. She looked at Chad. "We'll discuss that later."

Chad rolled his eyes as Ryan thanked the Danforths again. As soon as his parents left, Chad sat down. Ryan joined him on the loveseat and Chad took the envelope from his hand. Forgetting his mother's last words, he smiled.

"Zeke's going to be so jealous," Chad teased as he read the gift certificate. "Whoa! These classes are right on the UNM campus. You can go after work. Four sessions: Culinary Skills I, Culinary Skills II, Breakfast and Brunch, and Extreme Chocolate…" Chad looked up. "I'm looking forward to that one. Hope it requires a lot of homework."

"Maybe it will," Ryan replied with a smile. He wrapped an arm around Chad's shoulders. "Good day."

"Yes," Chad replied, nestling against him. "We graduated high school, you got another sick car and I got enough jewelry to open a shop."

"And I got a beautiful pen for my collection," Ryan said, kissing his brow.

"I love my watch."

"Which one?"

Chad elbowed him in the ribs and a tickling match ensued. Chad quickly subdued Ryan, who fell off the loveseat laughing. Chad slipped to the floor and sat beside him. Ryan pulled him into his arms and they sat looking up at the stars.

"It has been a very good day," Chad agreed. "And I'm not overly tired."

"Good." Ryan kissed his brow again. "Want to be?"

"Do you think anyone would miss us if we snuck upstairs?"

"I don't think so," Ryan said, getting to his feet. He helped Chad up and led the way to the back entrance to the house. They made their way up to Ryan's room and locked the door behind them. But a moment later the door opened again and a small package wrapped in hot pink paper and festooned with glittery ribbons was placed outside. Then the door was locked again and remained that way until the next morning.


The End

Ryan's pen
Ryan's pink pen
Chad's gift from Ryan
Chad's watch from Mr. and Ms. Evans

Tags: , , , , , ,

18 comments
Comments
few From: few Date: August 23rd, 2009 10:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
"The Wildcats totally know about us," he said as soon as the others were out of earshot.

Hee! You think? :) It had completely slipped my mind--or possibly I never noticed in the first place?--that Ryan hadn't told Chad about that.

Oops

Yeah, "Oops" indeed. I understand why he wanted to give Chad some more time to recover before telling him, but Ryan probably should've remembered to mention that before he actually saw the others again.

"And just when were you planning to tell me about this?"

Yes, exactly. *taps foot and looks expectantly at Ryan*

It uses an ink cartridge.

*gasp* Ryan uses cartridges? Blasphemy! What's the point of a nice pen if you're using cartridges? (I had considered getting an Ipsilon next for myself, btw, back when I had a job. Chad's got good taste. :))

Aww, Chad's going to make him a pen case.

"Ryan's mom loves this shirt,"

Well, of course she does--how could she object to anyone's bragging about Ryan? :)

"Actually, the Danforths have graciously offered to let Ryan stay with them." Ryan and Chad exchanged a look of surprise.

How could they possibly be surprised by that? I'm not; I've been expecting it.

"Wow! Two Tag Heuer watches in one day,"

Maybe they noticed his penchant for wearing multiple watches at once? Or has he outgrown that? :)


"Wow, thanks guys," Chad said. "This is so cool!"

"What is it?" Chad asked, peering over his shoulder.


I'm guessing that first should be 'Ryan'?

"We figured that if Ryan was left home alone he'd end up spending half his time at our house, anyway."

"And we expect you two will want to spend most of your weekends out at Lava Springs,"


Exactly the arrangement and reasoning I was expecting from them! They sure have come a long way from that first time Ms Danforth accidentally gave permission for Ryan to sleep over, haven't they?

*sigh* I'm sad that this whole long saga is over, but it does feel like a natural ending. I hope you do continue in this 'verse--I simply love the relationships in it. Not just Ryan and Chad, but the boys and each other's families as well.
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jalabert From: jalabert Date: August 23rd, 2009 10:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow! It always amazes me how fast someone else can read my stories. It takes me forever. Thank you for the edit. I thought I'd caught everything.

You're absolutely right about the case; Chad's going to make his honey a special gift. Believe it or not, I hadn't thought about Ryan spending the summer with the Danforths. I originally toyed with the idea of having Ryan get an apartment near the campus for the summer but decided against it.

I love the Coming to Terms series but I think it's going to be even more fun writing post-high school stories. Thank you for being such a loyal fan and I'm glad you enjoyed this!
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applepiecrust From: applepiecrust Date: August 24th, 2009 02:41 am (UTC) (Link)
Before I read this, I need to say that this feels like the end of an era.
This has been my favorite series in fandom, ever (not that I've been in fandom long, or heavily, but still).
And, just wow. Thank you so much for writing these!
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jalabert From: jalabert Date: August 25th, 2009 01:20 am (UTC) (Link)
Aww, I didn't mean to sadden anyone. I'm just moving onto post-high school fic. I'm very flattered by your praise and I'm so glad you've enjoyed the stories. I love writing them for you.
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darkhawkhealer From: darkhawkhealer Date: August 24th, 2009 04:43 am (UTC) (Link)
This entire piece was bittersweet for me, knowing it was the end of the series.

I saw the header and before I clicked on the cut, I had butterflies in my stomach and I was already starting to sniffle. It's heartbreaking that this is the end.

I sincerely hope you continue to write this pairing, because your voice is a touching and unique addition to this fandom.

I enjoyed this, as I enjoy all your work, and as always I thank you for all the work you put into making each piece shine. ♥

Edited to fix a small spelling error. ;)

Edited at 2009-08-24 04:44 am (UTC)
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jalabert From: jalabert Date: August 25th, 2009 01:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, there'll be more of these boys; they just won't be in high school anymore. I look forward to moving them out of their rather constricted world.

I'm so pleased that you've enjoyed the stories. I am very proud of this series. Hope you plan on coming back to read the new one.
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lil_1337 From: lil_1337 Date: August 24th, 2009 06:25 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm really sorry to see this series end. It was one of the first non one shot I read and is in part responsible for making me truly fall in love with this pairing. You've done a wonderful job of showing the process of the relationship building as well as putting it in context of all the other relationships in their lives.

Thank you for the hours of enjoyment you've given me.
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jalabert From: jalabert Date: August 25th, 2009 01:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you!

I'm so glad you've enjoyed this series. I'm looking forward to the next phase of their lives. And I couldn't write such compelling stories our boys without wonderful readers like you to inspire me.
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silver_fic From: silver_fic Date: August 24th, 2009 09:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
The dedication made me giggle like crazy, and it took me a few minutes to remember for sure what it was ^____^

Yay, return of the pens ^__^ The pens are so sweet. Wow, that pen is shiny. I think I like the watch Ryan gave Chad best ^__^

That was lovely, and I am kind of sad that the series is over. But it was a lot of fun, and I look forward to seeing what you write next ^__^
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jalabert From: jalabert Date: August 25th, 2009 01:44 am (UTC) (Link)
When you said that at the end of Fallout I was ready to freak because someone always manages to reach into my head and anticipate something I've got in the works. So the minute I started to write this part I thought about your comment about the last day of school.

Continuity is a big deal for me (I should get a job in television) so I like to connect threads throughout a series. The Upshaws, Browning, Brent Master, the tee shirt, and the pen, all appeared in previous episodes of the series.

Thank you for being such a loyal reader. I thrive on your enthusiasm!

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silver_fic From: silver_fic Date: August 25th, 2009 03:30 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't actually remember Browning, but I do remember the rest ^__^ Was Marjorie Upshaw the one that told Ryan's mother about his job interview?

The t-shirt was just so cute, and Chad's parents said until school was over, and graduation is the end of school ^__^

Every time you write a new story it makes me smile ^__^ Just to see that you have updated, I have to resist just commenting to say yay before I have actually read the story :D
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magicalrachel From: magicalrachel Date: August 25th, 2009 06:17 am (UTC) (Link)
I love this story. The whole series has been wonderful and a joy to read, Thank you!
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jalabert From: jalabert Date: September 6th, 2009 08:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for reading and commenting!
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totally_loca From: totally_loca Date: September 6th, 2009 05:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Aww, this is such a perfect ending to this 'verse. I have enjoyed reading it muchly, so thank you. :)

I am curious as to what Sharpay's present from Chad was though. :)
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jalabert From: jalabert Date: September 6th, 2009 08:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hah! Whenever I write these stories I literally spend hours looking for things like the presents Chad and Ryan gave each other. I even looked at pink pens for Sharpay, just in case Chad wanted to give her one. In the end, he gave her something else, but for the life of me, I can't recall what I decided on. I do know that the box was about six inches square, so use your imagination!

Thanks for the comment!
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noapologyapathy From: noapologyapathy Date: March 21st, 2010 03:19 am (UTC) (Link)
Okay so I spent a good part of today reading the entire Coming To Terms 'Verse and let me just say that it was absolutely fabulous from start to finish. I enjoyed it so much and couldn't be bothered to stop reading for anything! It was perfect and you ended it so nicely. I look forward to reading other fics you've done about them.
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jalabert From: jalabert Date: March 22nd, 2010 03:22 am (UTC) (Link)
Whoa! That's a lot of reading!

I'm very flattered that you found my stories worthy of such devotion. Thank you! I hope you were well entertained.
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