Summary: The play's the thing; summer theatre at the U of A.
Author's note: This is yet another AU. It was inspired by a comment made by la_pina_colada, who pointed out that in my two previous AUs, "Chad is famous and Ryan and I both become his adoring fans by the end." I immediately set out to write a story that reverses their roles. For those of you not familiar with the title of this piece, "Suddenly Last Summer" is the name of a play by Tennessee Williams. If you know the plot of that play, don't despair--things go MUCH better in my story.
"Thank you very much," Ryan said glancing down at the actor's resume, "Nate. Can you come back on Friday for a second reading? Martha, please make sure he gets the right excerpt for the callback." Ryan turned to address the remaining people in the auditorium. "I'd like to thank everyone for coming. I think we've seen enough people. You've given Martha your resumes and if we decide to reopen auditions we'll be in touch."
Sharpay immediately rose and began to collect her things, but he sat down, pushed back his fedora and relaxed for a few minutes, waiting for the theatre to empty. Then he rose and mounted the stage.
"What are you doing?" she said, frowning. "I want to get back to the hotel."
"Go on," Ryan replied as he did an experimental turn. "I told you this morning that you didn't have to hang around here all day."
"I wasn't about to let you choose the male lead without my input. The last time I left things up to you my co-star was a horror show!"
"What are you talking about?" Ryan said, walking to the edge of the stage to confront her. "Will was amazing! Every review said so!"
"He had red hair, Ryan! Red hair! And yes, please take this opportunity to remind me yet again that he got great reviews," Sharpay shouted. Ryan rolled his eyes and began to dance. "Ryan!" Sharpay cried, stomping her foot. "Let's go! I want to get out of here!"
"Who's stopping you?" he called from the stage as he began to pick up the pace, humming bits of a melody to complement his steps.
"You drove, remember? I don't have a car of my own," she said, pouting.
"Maybe you should consider renting one," he answered. "We're going to be in Albuquerque for six weeks."
"Maybe I will, but in the meantime, I need a ride. Now, Ryan!"
"Just a minute; I'm trying to get a sense of the space," he said as he began to move diagonally across the floor. Sharpay huffed and was about to launch into a tirade when her phone rang. She dug through her bag until she found it and answered the call.
Freed from his sister's distracting voice, Ryan became absorbed in the dance. He stopped improvising and began to do a number from the musical production he'd recently starred in. Sharpay went out to the lobby to get better reception, leaving Ryan doing what he loved best. But the sound of something heavy and metallic hitting the ground ripped him out of character. Ryan turned and looked backstage.
"Sorry," a young man said from the wings. Ryan frowned and took a couple of steps in his direction. "I accidentally knocked over a garbage can."
"Who are you? What are you doing here? Auditions are over," Ryan said, eyeing the handsome stranger.
"Chad Danforth; I'm the stage manager," he replied.
"Oh." Ryan took a step backward. "We're almost through here."
"No need to rush on my account," Chad said. "I've got nowhere to be. Just give me a shout when you're ready to leave. I've just locked the outer door."
"Sure," Ryan answered distractedly. He watched Chad go, admiring his retreating form. He checked his watch and peered up the aisle. There was no sight of Sharpay so he resumed the dance with thoughts of the handsome stage manager still on his mind.
A few days later rehearsals began. Ryan arrived early and was rewarded with the sight of Chad in a snug-fitting tee shirt, working on the rigging. Ryan set down his coffee and took off his hat, his eyes never leaving the man on the stage.
"Isn’t that work for the stage crew?" he asked conversationally when Chad finished and stood up.
"The crew won't come in until there's scenery to haul," Chad replied, wiping his hands on a rag. "That's a week away. In the meantime, this isn't going to fix itself and I didn't think you'd appreciate having no lights on your actors."
"I'm guessing this theatre isn't unionized," Ryan quipped. His heart fluttered a few beats when Chad smirked at the comment.
"This is a tiny theatre in Albuquerque, not Broadway," he said. "The stagehands will come from UA and they'll largely be working for beer money." He pushed a button to raise the rigging to its proper place. "I'll be in my office if you need anything." Once again, Ryan watched with great interest as he left the stage. He was so focused on Chad that he failed to notice Sharpay's arrival at his side.
"Who's the hottie?" she asked.
"Huh?" Ryan looked up. But Martha's voice from the back of the theatre interrupted them. Ryan was relieved; Sharpay had a rather cruel streak where her brother's love life was concerned. If she caught on to Ryan's interest in the stage manager, she'd tease him mercilessly. He sighed and reached for his coffee.
Ryan didn’t see Chad nearly as often as he hoped or expected. He tended to stay away from the stage unless his presence was specifically required. Nonetheless, Sharpay found out about Ryan's crush soon enough. And he wasn't alone in his admiration; Chad seemed to incite as much interest among members of the cast as he did in the young director and people paused to observe and admire him as he walked by. Much to Ryan's surprise, Sharpay didn't make any comments about Chad until late one evening at the end of the first full week of rehearsals when the twins got into a heated argument.
"Sharpay, you're going to be stage left," Ryan said wearily. "We blocked this out yesterday; why do you keep moving to Todd's right?"
"There's no light in that corner of the stage," she complained. "I'm the star of this play. Why should I be lost in a dark corner?"
"You're in a dark corner because you're supposed to be hiding in the shadows," he replied evenly.
"Does it have to be so literal? How are people supposed to tell I'm hiding in the shadows if they can't see me?"
"The lighting in this theatre is abysmal," she persisted. "I've heard of atmospheric lighting but this is ridiculous!"
"We don’t have the set fully lighted, Sharpay. We've just started rehearsals."
"Well, would it be too much to ask if we can get the stage properly lighted so I'll be able to find my spot?" she spat sarcastically. Ryan took a calming breath.
"Take a break, everyone," he said, looking down at his watch. "No, check that. Let's call it a night. " Sharpay turned and walked off the stage. Her brother sighed and followed her down to the front row, where she'd left her bag.
"See if you can get your little piece of eye candy to do something with the lights," she said.
"He's the stage manager, Shar, not my 'little piece of eye candy.'"
"Whatever--just get him to fix it," she said dismissively. "And Ryan," she added, turning around to confront him. "I certainly hope you aren't planning on sleeping with him. The last time you screwed around with one of the stagehands I was the one he took revenge on when things went sour."
Ryan gritted his teeth and remained silent as she stormed out of the theatre. She always brought up that incident whenever she wanted to torment him, in spite of the fact that the prank the stage crew had played on her had more to do with her unreasonable demands than anyone's broken heart.
"Sometimes I wish I was an only child," he muttered.
"Too bad you aren't staging Candide; she'd make a great Cunegonde. "
Ryan spun around and saw Chad standing center stage. He was momentarily torn between defending his sister and laughing at the comment. He chose the latter.
"Actually," Ryan admitted. "Sharpay was an excellent Cunegonde when she starred in our college production." Chad blanched, realizing that it was Ryan's sister he'd just insulted. But Ryan's smile immediately put him at ease. "By the way, she wanted me to ask you--."
"I heard," Chad said, looking up at the rigging. He abruptly turned and went backstage to unlock the light console. Ryan, meanwhile, shut his eyes and swore as Chad's words sunk in. He had no intention of bedding Chad; he'd sworn off casual sex after that ill-fated fling Sharpay kept bringing up. But that didn't make having Chad overhear her comment any less mortifying. Ryan opened his eyes and squinted up at the rigging overhead. "I'll need to put a couple more lights along the back to hit the corners," Chad called out as he tested each light on the stage. "I'll see what I can do by tomorrow."
"Thank you," Ryan said, squinting up at the array. The stage suddenly went dark and he had to blink a few times to adjust to the sudden change. When he stopped, Chad was standing in front of him.
"You look like you need a drink," he said simply. "I've got beer in my office if you're interested."
"Sure," Ryan replied without thinking. He grabbed his jacket and bag and followed Chad backstage.
"Make yourself comfortable. Beer's in the fridge. I'm going to lock the doors," Chad said, leaving Ryan alone in the small, tidy office. There was a desk on one wall and sofa opposite that probably began its life as a prop for a previous show. A tiny refrigerator served as an end table and a lamp, undoubtedly another prop, sat atop the fridge. Ryan turned it on before squatting to retrieve two bottles.
Ryan had been in the office before but this was his first visit as a guest, so he took the opportunity to take a look around. Ella Fitzgerald crooned in the background from an invisible source, probably the desktop computer, giving the room a welcoming ambiance. There were books and scripts from a dozen or so plays on the shelves, as well as a few photographs and knick-knacks. Ryan smiled at the Chewbacca action figure on Chad's desk and let his eyes travel to a row of cast and crew photos on the wall above. Each was labeled with the name and dates of the production and Ryan mentally ticked off the plays he'd done as his eyes sought out Chad in each picture. He paused at the last one and frowned. In it, one of the stagehands had his arm draped rather possessively over Chad's shoulder. Upon closer examination, Ryan realized that he recognized the man. His name was Cody Jackson and he'd worked on an off-Broadway show Ryan had appeared in about six months earlier. The date on the picture put it about three months before that show--about five months before the brief dalliance that Sharpay vehemently insisted was responsible for her most humiliating moment in her career on the stage.
Ryan heard steps in the corridor and took a step back. He set the bottles down on Chad's desk, where his eyes fell on a thick document bearing his name. He glanced up at the books on the shelves once more and the pieces fell into place. Chad was a writer.
"Did you find the beer?" he asked, entering the office. Ryan held up the bottles.
"But not an opener," he replied.
"Sorry." Chad pulled a set of keys out of his pocket and used the opener on his keychain to remove the caps. "There's one in the desk. I should have told you." He took a bottle from Ryan's hand. "Have a seat." Chad dropped into his chair and put up his feet.
"Nice little sanctuary you have here," Ryan said as he settled comfortably on the sofa.
"You're welcome to use it anytime," Chad replied, "even if I'm not around. The office is always open. I only have two caveats: never, ever drink the last beer in the fridge and this invitation is for you and only you." Ryan smiled sagely.
"It wouldn’t be much of a sanctuary if I brought company," he agreed. He let his eyes wander around the room because it was the only alternative to staring at the man across the room from him. Of course, Chad was openly staring back, a fact that made Ryan's eyes go involuntarily to that cast photo. He quickly averted his gaze to the bottle in his hand. "Good music."
"Ella never disappoints," Chad said. Tipping back his bottle, he took a long swig of beer and watched Ryan watch him drink. Ryan cleared his throat and took a sip.
"How long have you been here? Last time I performed in this theatre Stan Watson was the stage manager."
"That must have been a long time ago. I've been here three years and Peter Curtis was the manager until last May. That's when I took over."
"Did you start out as one of those stagehands working for beer money?"
"Actually, I started out as an intern. Peter took me under his wing and groomed me to replace him when he moved on to a new job in New Orleans."
"What did you study at Albuquerque?" Ryan asked, stretching out his legs in front of him.
"I majored in English," Chad revealed somewhat shyly, "with a minor in theatre arts management. This is a dream job for me; it's interesting work, it pays the bills, and it leaves me plenty of time to write."
"So you're a playwright and a theatre manager? That’s a delightfully incestuous combination," Ryan said with a grin.
"I wish it were that simple," Chad said, setting down his bottle. "I've been working on my first play for nearly six months and I don't know if it'll ever make it to the stage," he said, patting the script.
"What's it about?" Ryan asked curiously. Truth be told, he would have asked even if he didn't care. He was relaxed and comfortable and thoroughly enjoying his time in Chad's company.
"It's your typical love story: boy meets boy, boy falls in love with boy, boy loses boy, yada…"
"Is there a happy ending?"
"Is there ever?" Chad asked, reaching for his beer. Ryan's question seemed to make him pensive. Ryan couldn't resist hazarding another glance at Cody's picture. His phone rang and, apologizing for the intrusion, he rose and pulled it out.
"Sharpay?" he said, stepping out into the hall to talk, his eyes still on Chad, who was staring into space.
"Ryan, where are you?" she demanded impatiently. "I've got a flat tire and I had to get off the highway, I don't know where the hell I am and I'm stranded in the middle of nowhere!"
"Did you call the rental company? They have a service," Ryan suggested.
"I called my brother," Sharpay spat back. "I need you to come and get me." Ryan sighed and let the back of his head hit the wall. Chad looked up and frowned.
"Where are you?" Ryan asked dejectedly.
"What part of 'I don't know where the hell I am and I'm stranded in the middle of nowhere' didn’t you understand?" Sharpay shouted. Ryan took a calming breath and reentered the office.
"Aren't there any street signs or highway markers?" Ryan persisted. "Can you at least tell me what highway exit you got out on?" He reached for a pen and Chad pushed a pad across the desk to him. Ryan scribbled something down and asked Sharpay to hold the line. "Do you know where this is? I know her description is rather cryptic…"
"Sure," Chad said. "I go by there every day on my way home. It's like ten minutes away."
"Cool. Shar?" Ryan said, returning the phone to his ear. "I'll be there shortly."
"Hurry up," she said before ending the call. Ryan swore under his breath and pocketed his phone. He bent to retrieve his messenger bag.
"I'm sorry," he said to Chad, who had risen and was also apparently getting ready to leave. "She may be a royal pain, but she's my sister. I can't leave her out there."
"Of course you can't," Chad said with a smile. "Tell you what: let me lock up and then you can follow me over there. That'd be faster than giving you directions. It's kind of off the beaten track."
Ryan pulled up behind Sharpay's rental approximately fifteen minutes later.
"What took you so long?" she demanded as he got out of his car. She peered at the car that stopped alongside his and smirked. "Oh."
Ryan was about to explain how Chad had come to be there but decided against it, knowing that the more he tried to explain himself the more likely it was that Sharpay would leap to the wrong conclusion.
"What's wrong with it?" Chad called out from his car.
"Flat tire," Ryan replied, lightly kicking the object in question. Chad got out of his car and walked over to take a look.
"Got a spare?" he asked Sharpay.
"How should I know?" she replied. Chad shut his mouth firmly and stepped around her to reach in through her car's window to pop the trunk. He found the spare tire, along with the other tools needed to make the repair. "What are you doing?" she asked as he began removing them from the trunk.
"I'm going to fix your flat. Or would you prefer to sit here all night?" He didn't wait for a response. He rolled up his sleeves and got to work. Ryan offered to help but Chad refused his assistance. "I've got this," he said easily.
The tire was repaired in minutes as the twins looked on. Chad placed the old tire in the trunk and stowed the tools. Ryan gave him the towel from his dance bag to clean his hands.
"Thanks," Chad said, turning to Sharpay. "Don't forget to stop at a gas station and get that tire patched," he warned. "That spare will only get you about fifty miles."
"I know," she said exasperatedly. Chad shook his head and, giving Ryan a meaningful glance, he headed for his car.
"Thanks for your help, Chad," Ryan said, giving Sharpay a pointed look.
"Yes, thank you," she said dutifully, her words utterly devoid of conviction.
"And here I thought you were an actress," Chad said with a snort. "Goodnight, Ryan," he said before getting into his car and driving off.
"He's pretty full of himself," Sharpay observed. Ryan bit back a remark and got back into his own car.
Ryan arrived at the theatre early the next morning carrying a six-pack of a fine microbrew he thought Chad might appreciate. Ryan wanted to repay Chad for his kindness the previous night and the beer seemed like a friendly and innocuous way to say thanks. Ryan took the beer straight to Chad's office and put the bottles into the fridge before heading to the stage. He looked up and saw that all the lights were on, the stage fully lit.
"Chad?" he called looking around.
"Yo!" came the response from somewhere in the wings. A moment later, Chad emerged from the shadows, wiping his hands on a cloth. He was wearing an old, ripped wife beater and the sight of his bare, sculpted arms made Ryan swallow hard. Resisting Chad was getting harder by the day. Ryan silently reminded himself that he would be returning to New York in a few weeks.
"What time did you get here?" Ryan asked, unable to take his eyes off Chad's chest. Chad followed Ryan's eyes and looked down at the torn cotton and the smear of grease on his chest. "Very Stanley Kowalski," Ryan quipped.
"Right playwright, wrong play," Chad said, puckishly. "I'd better change before the princess shows up." He strode past Ryan, pulling off the shirt as he spoke. Ryan followed Chad back to his office.
"She's not really that bad," Ryan said, leaning on the doorframe. Chad looked up with a doubting expression on his face before bending to retrieve a bag from the corner of the office. He held his tongue diplomatically while digging out a clean tee and pulling it on.
"To answer your question, I got in at seven. Want some coffee?"
"Thanks," Ryan said, holding up his cup. "I brought some in."
"I envy you, then. This stuff tastes like shit," Chad said, staring into his cup.
"Then why are you drinking it?"
"I didn't sleep much last night and I need the caffeine," Chad admitted, taking a seat at his desk. He gestured with his chin for Ryan to have a seat. "So as you saw, the lights are all on and working. Is there anything else you're going to need in the immediate future? I'll be tied up this morning trying to find the props you want out of our stores and doing a bit of inventory."
"I don’t think we'll need anything," Ryan replied, mildly regretting that Chad was all business this morning. Chad set down his cup and picked up a pad.
"Your scenery will be arriving from the storage facility this afternoon and I'd appreciate it if you would take a look at it and send back anything you don't want now rather than having to call the truck back later."
Chad dropped the pad and sat back. He took a sip of coffee and made a face. Ryan giggled at his expression.
"Want some of mine?" he offered.
"Thanks, no," Chad said as he rose to go dump out his cup in the water fountain outside his office. "I'll get some decent stuff later." He heard voices down the hall. "I think your sister's here," he said evenly. Ryan suppressed a groan and rose.
"About Sharpay," he said ruefully. "I know she was a complete bitch yesterday--and the day before--and the day before that--." Chad graced him with a disarming smile and Ryan completely forgot what he was going to say next.
"Forget it," Chad replied. "Believe it or not, I've dealt with far worse. At least your sister has genuine talent and other…positive attributes that make being in her company more than tolerable," he said with a look at Ryan that was impossible to misinterpret. Sharpay called his name from down the hall. Chad cringed and winced at the sound. "I think you'd better go."
"Yeah," Ryan said unhappily. He reluctantly backed out of the office and went to find Sharpay.
A few days before the first preview, Chad walked into the theatre and found Ryan alone on the stage. He was singing and dancing.
Forget your troubles, come on, get happy
You better chase all your cares away
Shout hallelujah come on, get happy
Get ready for the judgment day*
Chad leaned against the wall and watched the entire number. When Ryan was done, Chad smiled and walked up the aisle.
"That was terrific," he said as he approached, "but I don't recall that song being in the play."
"No," Ryan said, reaching for his towel. "That's my one gripe about Tennessee Williams--no musicals." Chad smiled and watched him walk over and turn off the CD player.
"But you like drama as much as musicals," he assayed. "I mean you've been all over Broadway in musical after musical but your bio says you've done a fair number of dramas as well."
"I love being on the stage," Ryan confessed frankly. "It doesn't matter whether it's drama, comedy or musical. You turn on those spotlights and I'll trot the boards." Chad smiled at his enthusiasm.
"So why aren't you in this play? I mean you'd be a shoe-in for Dr. Cukrowicz or Hockstader."
"I prefer to focus my energy on one thing at a time," Ryan replied. "I either act or direct, or sometimes I direct and choreograph. I try not to spread myself too thin. Besides," Ryan added with a flourish of his hat. "I already told you--neither has a singing part." Chad beamed at him and Ryan felt his heart melt.
"Want a beer? I still have a few of those Turtle Mountains left and I brought in another IPA yesterday that I think you might like."
"Give me a second to wash up and I'm there."
By the time Ryan reached Chad's office, Chad had popped open a couple of beers. As usual, he was sitting at his desk. Ryan couldn't blame him. It was a commodious leather chair that tilted back and swiveled. Ryan wished that Chad would join him on the sofa just once. Chad, however, was still keeping a careful distance and Ryan had to respect that. He took his usual seat and accepted the bottle Chad held out to him.
They fell into easy conversation as always. Over the two weeks of rehearsals Ryan and Chad had become fast friends, bonding over beer, good conversation and a mutual love of Cubano sandwiches from the local deli. Ryan couldn't deny wanting more and he was certain that Chad was equally attracted, but as the days wore on, the two men maintained a safe distance. Ryan kept telling himself it was better that way.
The morning of the first performance Chad rushed to the stage, drawn by the sound of a loud commotion. He found Sharpay and Ryan embroiled in a shouting match as the horrified cast and crew looked on. Chad froze for a second and then ran down the aisle to break it up.
"Hey!" he shouted. Ryan and Sharpay stopped and turned to glare at the interloper. Chad mounted the stage. "I don't know what's going on and whatever it is, I'm sure it's none of my business, but do you two really want to do this in front of the cast?"
"You're right about one thing," Sharpay spat. "It's none of your business." She turned back to Ryan, who had the sense to see the merit of Chad's words. He quickly told the cast to take a break. Sharpay made a cry of disgust and stormed off to her dressing room.
Ryan ran his hands over his face and took a minute to compose himself.
"You okay?" Chad asked after a minute. Ryan started and spun around. "Sorry."
"No, I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were still there," Ryan admitted.
"What was that all about?" Chad asked, blatantly curious.
"Oh, nothing," Ryan said sardonically. "Sharpay just decided that she wanted to change the stage direction for the entire last scene, forgetting that it's a mere four hours before our first performance and that I'm the one directing the play."
"The last scene is all about her, anyway. It's where she reveals what happened to Sebastian, right?" Chad asked. Ryan nodded mutely. "And she wants even more…what?"
"Who knows?" Ryan said, scrubbing a hand over his face. "I don't know what's gotten into her this summer. Ever since we arrived in Albuquerque she's been impossible." Chad resolutely held his tongue and let Ryan vent. When he finally began to run out of steam, Chad suggested that Ryan concede something, anything, just to mollify his sister and then move on. Ryan frowned at him.
"Just an idea," Chad said with a shrug. "Hey, it worked on my baby sister. Of course, she was twelve at the time." Ryan returned his impish smile. "Whatever you do, don't shed any blood; we haven't got time to redo the floor before the curtain goes up." He winked and turned to leave.
"Chad?" Ryan called. Chad looked back. "Thanks."
The actors had begun to filter back into the auditorium so Ryan let him go. He showed up at Chad's office after rehearsal, however. Chad was on the phone but he waved Ryan in. He flopped onto the sofa and reached for a beer. He came up with a soda, however. Ryan shrugged and unscrewed the top. He took a sip while Chad finished his call.
"So did you do it?" Chad asked, hanging up the phone.
"Tell me something," Ryan asked, sitting forward, "if this were your play and you were the director, would you do it?"
"That depends," Chad said with an impish gleam in his eye. "Is Sharpay the leading lady?"
"Well, then hell yes, I'd do it," Chad cried. "The politics of appeasement were made for--. Sorry, I really shouldn't rag on your sister like that," he said, sitting back in his chair.
"That's okay. You've never said anything of her that wasn't deserved," Ryan acknowledged. He stared at the bottle in his hands for a moment or two as a Glenn Miller tune played in the background. "Is there a leading lady in your play?"
"There are women in the cast, certainly, but the play mainly revolves around the three male leads."
"Not exactly, but the third character is a complication in the relationship nonetheless."
"I'd like to read it sometime," Ryan admitted. Chad shyly averted his eyes.
"I don't know if it's ready for primetime. I'm still editing."
"Maybe it could use an objective criticism."
"From someone who knows a bit about dialogue, staging, pacing--."
"And complicated relationships," Ryan added ruefully. Chad smiled at the floor.
"Maybe. Let me think about it."
Ryan nodded and changed the subject. Before too long he was recalled to the stage. But he returned to Chad's office that night to invite him to go for drinks with the cast. As he approached the door he overheard Chad on the phone.
"You're welcome to come by, pick up the keys and go to my place or you can just hang out here and see the show. Yeah, well, you can decide when your flight gets in and you have a better sense what you're up for. I'm really sorry I can't meet you at the airport but I've got to be here at the theatre."
There was a pause as Chad listened to something his caller said. Ryan backed away and headed for his sister's dressing room to the sound of Chad's laughter. He had no idea who he was speaking to; it might have been anyone. But Ryan was haunted by the obvious excitement in Chad's voice nonetheless.
"Where's your boyfriend?" Sharpay asked as she put the final touches on her makeup.
"He's not my boyfriend," Ryan said evenly. Sharpay looked up, genuinely surprised.
"Don't try to fool me," she said. "I know how much time you two have been spending together. Every time I come looking for you backstage I find you in his office and--."
"We're just friends, Shar," Ryan said tiredly. "Really." She stared at him for a moment.
"Are you ready to go?" he asked, his patience suddenly wearing thin. She nodded and picked up her bag. The twins walked down the hall and Sharpay glanced at Ryan worriedly. She picked up the pace and made it to Chad's office a few steps ahead of her brother and knocked on the open door. He looked up and she smiled.
"Chad? We're on our way over to Duggan's for drinks. We'd like you to join us," she said genially.
"Oh, thanks," he replied. "I've got a few things to do around here before I close up for the night."
"Well, we'll have a cold one waiting for you when you get there, right Ryan?" she turned to her brother, who was just beyond Chad's line of sight. Ryan poked his head into the room.
"We'd really like you to come," he said somewhat mechanically.
"I'll be there in twenty," Chad replied. Ryan nodded and escorted his sister out of the theatre.
"You didn't you invite him, did you?" she accused, curious as to her brother's reticence.
"I was going to but he was on the phone."
"Oh yes, I'd forgotten how that renders an invitation impossible." She got into her car and Ryan followed her in his own car over to the bar. Ryan took a seat and chatted quietly with Sharpay and one or two other people until Chad appeared. Ryan caught his eye and waved him over but Chad was waylaid by a handful of women from the cast, who handed him a beer and made him sit with them. Chad gave Ryan an apologetic smile and raised his glass to him. It was some time before Chad was able to join Ryan and he only stayed for one drink, claiming an early appointment in the morning. Ryan glumly watched him go and Sharpay observed her brother curiously.
The week of previews went well and Ryan was in good spirits the day before the formal opening of the play. He was still regretting Chad but he hadn't let it smother his enthusiasm for opening night. So when Chad came out to the stage to let Ryan know that a reporter from Albuquerque magazine had arrived for an interview, Ryan smiled and followed him out to the theatre lobby to meet her. The reporter took him to lunch at a restaurant a short distance away and upon his return Ryan stopped in at Chad's office. He didn't find Chad, but a tall, handsome, athletically built African American man was sprawled on the sofa talking on the phone. He glanced up at Ryan, who waved a vague apology and walked away. He avoided Chad's office the rest of the afternoon. After the opening, when Sharpay once again asked if Chad was coming to the cast party, Ryan told her that Chad had other plans.
The play's four-week run went by fairly quickly. Although Ryan became even more circumspect in his behavior toward Chad after encountering the man in his office, the two continued to meet on a friendly basis. One afternoon, shortly after Ryan arrived at the theatre, Chad asked if they could meet after the show. Ryan readily agreed to the idea and they met up at Duggan's later than evening.
"You're probably wondering why I invited you here," Chad said once the waiter left with their order. He reached into his backpack and produced a large envelope. "It's finished. At least, I think it's finished," he said as he pushed it across the table to Ryan. "Please be gentle," he said with a slightly wicked grin. "It's my first time." Ryan nearly choked on his beer. "No, seriously," Chad said when Ryan stopped coughing. "Do your worst. I want an honest critique and I trust your judgment."
"I'll do my best," Ryan said. "You've cut it really close, though. We're out of here at the end of the week."
"I know," Chad replied, averting his eyes. "I guess I figured that the more time I gave you the more you'd nitpick." He looked up and met Ryan's eyes with a shrug. "It's not that long, only one act, but if you won't have enough time--."
"I'll read it," Ryan promised.
He was as good as his word. He sat down to read it as soon as he got back to his hotel room and didn't go to bed until he'd finished. The play was phenomenal, in his estimation. Ryan assumed it was autobiographical, or at least somewhat based on a personal experience in Chad's life. The play focused on the relationship that develops between an actor and a stagehand behind the scenes of a major production. The leading actress takes a proprietary interest in the actor, as does the director, an older, closeted man who knows he'll never be able to win over the young man. That realization doesn't prevent him from interfering in the budding relationship and, ultimately, the director's appeal to the actor's ego makes him throw the stagehand over. The plot was brilliant and subtle and Ryan couldn't bring himself to fault one word on the manuscript. He held onto it for three days and read it two more times before reluctantly bringing it back to the theatre. When he arrived, he learned that Chad was gone and would not return before the end of the play's run.
"It's a family emergency," Martha explained as Ryan set the envelope down on Chad's desk. "His parents were traveling in Hawaii when it happened. They'll be all right; his mother will be in the hospital until tomorrow but his father's already been released." Ryan looked up, completely confused.
Martha began again, explaining how Chad's parents had been in a vehicular accident. Ryan shook his head and waited until his assistant left the office before sitting down to write a note to Chad. At first it was a brief note just to express his thanks for his assistance and friendship over the past two months, but he quickly turned his attention to Chad's play.
He looked up and saw Sharpay at the door.
"I just heard about what happened," she said, pouting. Rising, he let her enfold him in her arms and smiled as she babbled on about knowing how much he cared about Chad. She left after a few minutes and Ryan turned back to his note. After a moment, he picked it up, along with the envelope and left the office.
Three weeks later, Ryan was back on Broadway. He was settling into his old routine once more: eight shows a week--two on matinee days--dance classes in the mornings, voice lessons on Thursdays and an endless round of meaningless social engagements wedged into every available minute in between. He longed for the relative quiet and pace of Albuquerque, but he was committed to his current show and they weren't about to let him take another six-week vacation. Not that returning to Albuquerque was an option, anyway…
Ryan sat down at the mirror and sighed. Maybe after his show closed he'd leave New York for a while and spend some time working in smaller theatres. He'd have more time for a life. He could travel, if he wanted to, or even accept a longstanding offer he'd had to do a bit of television. Yes, Ryan decided, reaching for his watch, it was time to get away from Broadway and reconsider his options.
There was a knock on his door and answered it without hesitation. He'd know Martha's knock anywhere. He rose and reached for his jacket as she opened the door. When he turned around, however, it was Chad he found standing in the entrance.
"May I come in?" he said. Ryan nodded, his mouth falling open.
"Chad!" he gasped. "Of course, you can come in. I was just thinking about you!"
"And here I am," Chare replied with that irresistible smile.
"If I'd known that just thinking of you would make you appear I would have done it a lot sooner," Ryan said, pulling him into his arms for a hug. They held each other for a moment until Ryan recollected himself and reluctantly stepped back. "When did you get into town?" he managed, forgetting the jacket in his hand and letting it fall to the floor.
"Late this afternoon," Chad replied, looking around. "My flight was delayed and I thought I was going to miss the curtain, but I made it with about five minutes to spare. "
"Well, I'm glad you did. You look great." Ryan couldn't take his eyes off of Chad, who looked somewhat amused when his eyes alit upon Ryan once more. Recovering his wits, Ryan averted his eyes to his jacket. He bent and retrieved it. "You must be famished. Let's get out of here and find you something to eat." He took Chad by the arm and led the way out of the theatre, escaping through the main entrance rather than the stage door in order to avoid his fans.
They retreated to a tiny restaurant a couple of blocks from the theatre, quickly getting caught up on things that had transpired since they last saw each other on the way. Ryan asked after Chad's parents, the theatre back at the university and what Chad had been doing since he left. When they reached the restaurant, Ryan insisted that Chad put himself into Ryan's hands. Over the next hour he was treated to an excellent meal of northern Italian food.
It was like they'd never parted. They talked about the show, laughed about Sharpay's latest diva act and discussed the wines they'd tasted on their respective travels in Italy. Ryan found himself falling for Chad all over again.
"So how long will you be in town?" he asked, pushing away his empty espresso cup.
"We finally agreed on five days," Chad replied. "I would have liked to stay longer, but I've got to be back in Albuquerque on Monday. We're gearing up for the next production." He continued to talk, but Ryan could only focus on one word.
"We?" he said, stopping Chad mid-sentence.
"Me and Martha," Chad clarified. "She was trying to book--."
"My Martha?" Ryan frowned, confusion evident. Chad stared at him for a moment and then sat back looking equally confused. He sighed and averted his eyes to his hands.
"You weren't expecting me tonight," he concluded.
"No," Ryan admitted. "But that doesn't mean I'm not happy to see you," he said hastily. "I'm really glad you're here, Chad. I've been thinking about you ever since I left Albuquerque."
"But you didn't invite me to New York."
"No," Ryan admitted. "I--. What made you think I had?"
"This," Chad said. He reached into his backpack and pulled out a letter. It had obviously been read over several times. Ryan took it and turned toward the lamp to read it. "I suppose you didn't write that, either."
"No, no, I wrote this," Ryan confessed. He peered at it again. "Well, most of it. But--." He looked up at Chad. "I started writing this on the day I found out about your parents' accident, realizing that I probably wouldn't see you again before I left Albuquerque. But I wasn't happy with it and decided to try and rewrite it. Which I did the next day," he said, frowning. "I left it on your desk. This is the version I threw away. Most of it, anyway; how did you get this?"
"That's what was on top of my manuscript when I got back," Chad revealed. "That and a handwritten note about the play." He took the letter back from Ryan and looked at it, his expression unreadable. "So how much of this--? Never mind; maybe I'd rather not know." He started to rise and reach for his wallet, but Ryan caught his hand.
"I'd like to tell you," he said, "and I hope--I'd like to think you'll like my answer." He paused and looked into Chad's eyes hopefully. "But let's not do this here." Ryan insisted on paying for dinner. They left the restaurant and walked a couple of blocks to the small apartment Ryan kept in the city. Neither man said a word, each one lost in his own thoughts.
"Come in," Ryan said, stepping back to allow Chad to pass through into the apartment. "Make yourself comfortable."
"Thanks," Chad said, dropping his backpack and immediately heading over to the window to take in the view. "Whoa! I'm not in Albuquerque anymore, am I?" Ryan smiled.
"No," he said, "and to be honest, I couldn't be happier about that." Chad turned to look at him. Ryan joined him at the window and looked out at the glittering landscape below. "I began writing a very appropriately cordial, somewhat formulaic note thanking you for everything--the sort of thing I've done dozens of times at the end of the run. But I realized that you'd become more than a work colleague. So I decided to start over and I wrote a very nice, polite note--something warmer and better suited to someone who'd become a friend, not just a part of my production team. And I hated it," Ryan said with a laugh, leaning against the window frame. "It didn't begin to say any of the things I wanted to say, nothing I'd been wanting to say for six weeks." He hazarded a glance at Chad, who was gazing at him curiously.
"So…" he prompted after a moment.
"So I chickened out," Ryan said, averting his eyes. "I was returning to New York, you were staying there and you seemed to be happy with…things. I didn't feel it would be right to tell you I'd fallen in love with you and then run back to the east coast."
"Suppose I wanted to hear that?" Chad asked without hesitation. Ryan looked up.
"I didn't know," was all he could say.
"Then it's a good thing you've got devious friends," Chad said archly. Ryan smiled crookedly as Chad pulled him into his arms. "I think someone might deserve a raise."
Ryan never got a chance to reply, not that he cared. Chad was finally in his arms and he wasn't about to waste time making casual conversation. Ryan took Chad to his bed and they spent the next half hour making love.
"Jesus!" Ryan cried, rolling off of Chad's chest. "We should have done this back in Albuquerque." Chad laughed low in his throat.
"I kind of got the impression that you didn't want to give your sister the satisfaction," he said. Ryan rolled back over and frowned in confusion. Chad reminded him about Sharpay's warning about sleeping with the little people behind the scenes.
"She had nothing to do with it," Ryan replied, embarrassed anew at the memory of that day. "I under the impression that you weren't--. Especially after reading your play; I thought--."
"You thought what?" Chad asked, genuinely curious.
"Never mind what I thought," Ryan said, wrapping himself around Chad. "You're here. That's the only thing that matters."
"Amen," Chad said, reaching up to stroke Ryan's hair.
"So where are you staying?" Ryan asked drowsily.
"According to Martha, you're putting me up here."
"Good woman," Ryan said around a yawn. "My guestroom's a total mess, though. You'd probably be better off staying in here." Chad kissed his brow.
"Fine by me."
They talked about Chad's stay for a few minutes, although they quickly digressed into flirtatious kissing and teasing. Chad rolled Ryan onto his back and began to kiss his a path from his ear to his navel.
"I still don't get it," Ryan said, frowning. Chad grunted a question from the vicinity of his ribcage. Ryan lifted his head and sat up so that they were face to face. "I don't understand how you got that letter, who typed it up, amended it and invited you to New York."
"I thought we agreed it didn't matter," Chad replied. "We've got better things to worry about." He lunged for Ryan's throat and began nibbling at it, but Ryan pushed him away again.
"There's a lot we have to discuss," he said. Chad rolled his eyes.
Chad awoke the following morning in an empty bed. It took him a moment to recall where he was, but once he got his bearings he wondered where Ryan had disappeared to and rose to go in search of him. He found Ryan at the small dining room table staring at the letter.
"Good morning," Chad said. Ryan looked up and took in the sight of his gloriously naked lover.
"Hi there," he said, smiling. "There's a robe behind the bathroom door you can use."
"Great," Chad replied. "That was my third question," he said, turning to leave.
"Wait," Ryan said, enjoying the view of Chad's ass. "What were the first two?"
"Where's the bathroom and have you got anything I can put on. The first was, 'Where's Ryan?'" Chad left and returned a few minutes later. Ryan had poured out two cups of coffee and was on the phone.
"Thanks, Martha," he said, before ending the call and setting the phone down. "Mystery solved."
"Thanks," Chad said, reaching for the milk. "So Martha fessed up to playing Cupid?"
"Before I answer that, I think we should discuss something else," Ryan said seriously. "It's about your play." He sat forward and licked his lips. "You got my note," he began. "I thought the play was brilliant. I've read it at least five times it was so good."
"Thanks," Chad said modestly. Ryan licked his lips again.
"I made a copy of it and brought it back to New York with me. And a few days ago I showed it to a friend of mine."
"What?" Chad said warily.
"Please don't be mad," Ryan said hastily. "Look, Chad, your play is amazing. And it's ready. It's so ready for the stage, Chad. I want to play Mark. I haven't been so hungry for a part since I got my first break on Broadway." Chad opened his mouth to speak but Ryan plowed on. "I showed it to a friend who has a small theatre downtown. He likes to showcase the work of new talent like yours."
"You had no right," Chad sharply.
"I know, I should have asked you first," Ryan replied, raising his hands defensively. "But you were out of town and Brian just happened to call and I couldn't help telling him about the play--."
"He's a theatre owner and a producer," Ryan explained. "Once I told him about the play he insisted on reading it and he was as crazy about it as I was. He wants to meet you, Chad. He's ready to offer you a deal."
"What sort of deal?" Chad asked despite himself.
"He wants to put it into production at a theatre workshop early next spring with an option for a full run if it does well." Ryan explained exactly what Brian was proposing and suggested that they meet to discuss possibilities.
"I'd have to come back to New York for that," Chad said, a slow smile spreading across his face.
"Well, I'm hoping you'll agree to meet with him while you're here," Ryan replied. "But yes, you'd need to be around for casting as well as any script adjustments that may need to be made and--." He paused for dramatic effect. "I really think that you should direct the play. At the very least, while its in workshop."
"Direct? I don't know anything about directing!"
"You know your play," Ryan insisted. "And while I could direct, I'd rather focus my energy on the role of Mark."
"If I cast you," Chad quipped. Ryan smiled and leaned across the table to kiss him. "Look," he said when Ryan pulled away. "I'm not really sure about this."
"Please, Chad," he said, reaching out to caress his face. "At least agree to meet with him."
After a few more kisses, Chad was putty in his hands. They returned to the bedroom and, after Ryan called to cancel his voice lesson, fell into bed.
"You never did tell me whether or not you got Martha to confess," Chad said sometime later.
"Actually, she wasn't the mastermind behind this. She was just following orders."
"Whose?" Chad asked, smiling. "Not that I care, but someone deserves a thank you for this."
"You're not going to believe it, but it was Sharpay."
"You're right," Chad sat, shifting to sit up. "I don't believe it. Why would she do this for us?"
"Because, in spite of anything and everything anyone could rightly accuse her of, she loves her twin brother," Ryan replied. "She knew how I felt about you and she was a little surprised to find out that we weren't together. According to Martha, she set out to find out why. So she probed around a little, watched the two of us--both together and apart--and eventually had a chat with a friend of yours."
"A friend of mine?"
"Zeke Baylor, your friend from high school," Ryan explained. "She apparently took him out for drinks and got him to drop a dime on you while he was in town. And once she decided that the two of us needed a push, she orchestrated our meet-up last night." Ryan sighed and stretched out on the bed. "I'll have to talk to her about digging around in my trash."
"And editing your letter," Chad said, rolling over to pin Ryan under him. "You never did say how much of it was yours."
"You mean you couldn't tell? A trained writer like yourself and you couldn't tell where my original words stopped and hers began?" Ryan teased.
"No games," Chad said seriously. Ryan lifted his head and kissed him. Chad indulged him for only a few seconds before pulling away.
"She added the invitation to visit me in New York and had Martha do the follow-up calls," Ryan said. "Every other word of that letter was mine."
"Excellent," Chad said bringing their mouths together again.
"We can have a happy ending, Chad," Ryan said in his ear as Chad nuzzled his throat. "I just learned yesterday morning that my show is closing in three weeks. I'm going to take some time off; my next commitment isn't until January when I'll take over the same role in the Los Angeles production for six weeks. After that I intend to make some time to work on your play--if you agree to a deal with the producer."
"And if I don't?" Chad said lightly, lifting his head to look into Ryan's eyes.
"I don't know. Maybe you should invite me to visit you in Albuquerque after I'm done here and I can try to talk some sense into you."
"I'll have my assistant call you and make reservations," Chad quipped.
"You've got an assistant?" Ryan asked. "Since when?"
"Since two days ago. He's an intern. So far, all I know about him is that he follows instructions well and makes good coffee."
"Is he good looking?" Ryan asked with a mock frown.
"Yeah," Chad said impishly. "But forget about him--he's married."
"I think I like him already. Will he be ready to take over for you next spring?" Ryan asked. Chad's smile lit up the bedroom. "God, I'll never get tired of that smile."
"Isn't that a line from my play?"
Ryan laughed and rolled them back over so he could get up. It took a little persuasion but he finally got Chad to join him. They showered and dressed and went out to brunch and over dessert, they began to plot out the next act of their story.
* "Get Happy" by Harold Arlen