Summary: Be careful what you wish for!
Happy holidays, hinshack! You generously gave me wide latitude to have fun and so I did. You asked for one line in particular: "My mother keeps sending me pictures of naked men." Hee.
Chad was surprised, to say the least, when Zeke dribbled past his opponent and passed the ball behind Troy and into Chad's hands. He took a deep breath and took the only shot he had, a jumper from the three-point line. The ball went in, nothing but net, as the final seconds ticked off the clock. The gymnasium erupted in cheers and Chad was swept up and carried to center court by his teammates, where he was declared MVP of the Albuquerque Holiday Tournament.
Try as he might, Chad couldn't erase the shit-eating grin from his face. He felt like a million bucks and he was determined to enjoy every minute of what was sure to be his short-lived celebrity. He basked in the praise of his coach during the postgame meeting and smiled right through a long, invigorating shower.
"Victory party at my house?" Troy suggested as Chad pulled on a tee shirt.
"Sorry; I've got plans," he replied as his head emerged.
"Oh?" Troy eyed him with interest. "Who with?" Chad ducked his head and bent to tie his shoe.
"Sharpay?" Troy blurted out, quickly turning his head to see whether Zeke had overheard their discussion.
"It's not like that," Chad insisted, immediately regretting his choice of words. "She asked me to help her with something after the game. She said it wouldn't take long. I'll be over as soon as I'm done." He reached for his jacket, but Troy grabbed his arm before he could make his escape.
"Oh no you don’t! What's this thing she wanted help with?'"
"I have no idea," Chad admitted, shrugging into the jacket.
"And you said yes, anyway?" Troy asked suspiciously.
"Hey, I'm a nice guy. What can I say? I'll be over as soon as I can. Save me some pizza," Chad said, turning to leave. But he found his escape blocked by Zeke and Jason.
"Hey, where are you going, Chad?" Jason asked.
"I've got something to do," he replied evasively. He tried to step around Zeke, but the taller jock didn't move. "Zeke," Chad said impatiently.
"He's got a hot date with--." Troy abruptly shut his mouth as Chad turned to glare at him. Zeke and Jason were openly curious. Chad sighed and rolled his eyes.
"Thanks Bolton," he spat. "I'm going to leave you to explain that while I--."
"Explain what?" Jason demanded. As he spoke, a collective gasp swept through the locker room and the clicking of heels was heard approaching the cluster of Wildcats. Sharpay strode up to Zeke and shot him a look. He immediately stepped back and she walked past him and over to Chad.
"I've been waiting out there forever, Danforth! How long does it take to peel off one set of baggy clothes, hose off and put on another? I haven't got all night!" she said, grabbing him by the wrist and dragging him away, oblivious to the stares and comments of her audience. Chad didn't even have time to pick up his gym bag as she led him out of the locker room. He trusted Troy to look after it for him as Sharpay marched him the length of the first floor to the auditorium.
"So what's up, Princess?" Chad said conversationally, as she dug into her purse with her free hand and opened up a message on her phone.
"Eww," she said distastefully, ignoring him. "My mother keeps sending me pictures of naked men."
"Excuse me?" Chad came to a stop and Sharpay did as well, turning to glare at him. "Your mom sends you--."
"They're meant for Ryan," she replied exasperatedly, as though that was sufficient explanation.
"Your mother sends Ryan pictures of naked men," Chad repeated evenly.
"Well, not really naked; just from the waist up. Dumbest advent calendar ever."
"How do you know she didn't--?"
"How hard is it to remember that Ryan's Tinkerbelle and I'm Maleficent?" she mused aloud to no one in particular.
"Makes sense to me," Chad replied. "Hey, I'm kind of in a hurry here, so if you don't mind--."
Sharpay silenced him with another glare and threw open the door to the auditorium. She dug into her purse once more and produced a small item, which she tucked into Chad's chest pocket.
"Stay here," she commanded, pushing him toward a seat. She spun on her heel and made her way down the aisle. Chad removed the item from his pocket and peered at it. He raised his eyes and opened his mouth to ask Sharpay why she'd given him a tube of lip balm when the sight of Ryan standing center stage in an elf costume arrested his brain. Chad's mouth fell open and he gaped as Ryan and Kelsi (who was dressed identically, not that Chad cared) handed out presents to members of the Drama Club from a large red bag.
Chad's fascination with Ryan Evans was a secret he'd shared with only one person. The fact that said person was a girl he was supposedly dating at the time was a bit awkward, but Taylor had surprised him by not only understanding his feelings but also encouraging them. In fact, she'd been pretty much pushing Chad to go for it ever since he confessed his crush. Chad wasn't sure he was ready to test the waters but he had to admit that Ryan looked pretty damned tempting in a pair of green tights. Maybe it was time to make a move. Had Taylor been there she probably would have dragged him out of his seat and dropkicked him all the way down to the stage. Chad knew she was right--he'd been procrastinating for months and it was high time he dredged up the courage to approach the object of his affections. But instead of taking advantage of the opportunity, Chad remained where he was, safely hidden in the last row and intent on enjoying the view until Sharpay deigned to tell him why she needed his help.
Chad couldn't hear what was being said on stage but he concluded that the club was having a little party based on the holiday music playing and the fact that a couple of the girls seemed to be cleaning up the remains of the refreshments. He raised the tube of lip balm to his eyes and looked at it.
"Peppermint," Chad said approvingly. He opened it and put some on.
"This one's yours," Ryan said, handing a small package to Kelsi, who took the gift bag from him and peered into it.
"There should be two more," she announced, frowning. "One for you and one for Sharpay. But it's empty."
"I already got mine," Sharpay declared as she approached the stage.
"Oh, then there should be one more for Ryan," Kelsi replied. She walked to the end of the stage and jumped down to look for the missing package.
"It's no big," Ryan said insouciantly, doing a little dance. "It's the holiday season; better to give than receive and all that."
"He says that now," Sharpay said to Kelsi with a snort. "Oh, you won't find the package," she confided while Ryan was distracted by departing partygoers. "I'm his Secret Santa."
"You should have put his gift in the bag with the others," Kelsi scolded lightly. "Even if he's your brother, you should--."
"Hey, I would have done that but he was busy," Sharpay explained. "Besides I don't think he would fit in the bag."
"He?" Kelsi repeated quizzically. Sharpay smiled beatifically and bent to pick up a discarded bow from the floor. She strode up the aisle to where Chad was waiting.
"I haven't got all night, Princess," he began, rising to his feet. "What do you need me--?" He stopped and looked down as Sharpay slapped the ribbon onto his chest. He started to pluck it off but she grabbed his hand and led him down the aisle.
"This won't take long," she promised. "Ryan, honey…"
"Yes?" he replied absently, bending to collect a piece of discarded wrapping paper.
"Here's your present, Ryan," Sharpay said, grinning smugly. "I'm your Secret Santa." Her brother looked up and appeared to be just as shocked as Chad. "Surprise!"
"What?" she said, pouting. "Don’t you like him? I think he's kind of cute, myself. I even made sure he was clean for you."
Chad bristled at her remark but he was still too shocked to muster a verbal response. On stage, Ryan licked his lips as he sought the words to respond to her. He was clearly embarrassed, a fact that Chad found slightly adorable. Of course, it occurred to Chad that he ought to be embarrassed as well, not to mention angry. But he was too besotted with Ryan at that moment to care. Resentment would come later.
"You--. How did you--? Sharpay, if you--. This is--. We had a twenty dollar price limit," Ryan said finally, resting his hands on his hips.
"I stayed within the budget," Sharpay replied, producing a receipt. "Your present cost me exactly $3.49, plus tax." She drew a receipt out of her bag and waved it in front of Ryan's face. Chad licked his lips, recalling the tube of balm she'd given him. He had to admit, Sharpay was smooth--wrong on so many levels, but smooth. Ryan jumped off the stage and took his sister by the arm. He tried to lead her away but Sharpay still had Chad's hand in a vise-like grip. Ryan glared at her and she released him.
It occurred to Chad that this was an ideal opportunity to leave. Righteous indignation belatedly welled up in his gut and he rebelled at the notion of being used by Sharpay--especially since she'd apparently humiliated her brother in the process--but Chad was intrigued in spite of himself. Kelsi was equally intrigued, but she gathered up her things nonetheless and left Chad and the twins to sort things out. Chad shrugged and sat down in the front row, just within earshot of the arguing pair.
"Sharpay, you can't just drag someone in here and give him as a gift!" Ryan stage whispered. "It's--it's just wrong!"
"Oh, get off your high horse!" she spat back. "You asked for him on your Christmas list. Don't go all coy on me now!"
"It's a wish list, Shar!" Ryan shouted, forgetting he had an audience. "A wish list!"
"You wished for Chad," she replied complacently. "I gave him to you."
"You can't 'give' me a person! He's a human being, Sharpay, not a puppy!"
"Well, he looks an awful lot like a sheep dog, if you ask--."
"Sharpay!" Ryan cried angrily.
"It's Chad," Sharpay reasoned, disappointed by her brother's reaction. "You said you wanted Chad Danforth for Christmas! It was on your list! And here he is."
"Sharpay, you can't just drag him in here against his will and foist him on me as part of some stupid stunt!"
"It's not a stunt! It's a gift. And he's not here against his will," Sharpay insisted, gesturing at Chad, who was watching the pair from a distance. Ryan blanched and lowered his voice.
"How did you--?" Ryan frowned at her. "Shar? What did you do?"
"I didn't do anything!" she replied with a roll of her eyes. "He's here, you're here; I suggest you not waste any more of his time. He's got other things to do tonight." With that she picked up her bag, waved at Chad and strode out of the auditorium. Ryan ran a hand over his face and walked over to where Chad was sitting. He patted his hips, belatedly recalling that he was in costume, and then reached for his messenger bag.
"What did she pay you?" he asked, searching for his wallet.
"Sharpay? She didn't pay me anything," Chad replied. Ryan looked up suspiciously.
"She blackmailed you."
Chad shook his head.
"Threatened you?" Ryan suggested. Chad shook his head again.
"She just asked me to help her out with something after my game. She didn't say what, though," he added, letting his eyes wander down Ryan's legs. Ryan frowned thoughtfully and Chad abruptly rose to his feet. He'd stayed too long, he realized as mild panic set in, and worse, he'd probably just exposed himself. He had to get away before Ryan put two and two together. "Now that she's had her fun, I've got to go," he said with forced calm. "The Wildcats won the tournament this afternoon and I've got a victory celebration to attend."
"Wait! I--." Ryan shut his mouth when his eyes met Chad's.
"Haven't had your fun?" Chad quipped. Even as he said the words he regretted them. He knew that was the farthest thing from Ryan's thoughts at the moment. Despite his confessed interest in Chad, Ryan clearly felt badly about what his sister had done. Ryan shook his head.
"I wanted to apologize," he said softly, his eyes on his bell-tipped shoes.
"Hey, you aren't the one in the wrong here," Chad replied reassuringly. "Your sister should be apologizing to both of us."
"Don't hold your breath," Ryan said, picking up his bag. "But if it makes you feel any better I fully intend to return the gift I got her and exchange it for a cheap knockoff."
"You do what you've got to," Chad replied with a smirk. "I'm out of here."
"Let me get dressed," Ryan said hastily. "It'll only take a minute. I'll drop you off at your party. It's the least I could do."
Chad opened his mouth to protest. He really should leave; he didn't trust himself alone with Ryan, especially now that he knew his feelings were requited. It was one thing to lust after him from afar; Chad still wasn't sure he was ready to take the next step. But Ryan disappeared backstage before he could speak. Chad sighed and sat down again. He checked his watch, resolved to wait despite his apprehension.
Ryan reappeared sooner than Chad would have thought possible. He'd thrown his sweater and jeans on over his costume. Chad could see the tail of a dress shirt sticking out of Ryan's bag.
"You planning to wear that hat?" Chad asked amusedly as he followed Ryan up the aisle.
"Yeah," he replied with a tinge of defiance. Chad smiled and followed the bouncing bells into the corridor. By the time the pair reached the exit he'd long since forgotten about looking for Sharpay and his eyes had unconsciously strayed from the bells on Ryan's hat to the movement of Ryan's slim denim-clad hips. Chad caught himself and averted his eyes seconds before Ryan turned to him. "My car's just over there," he volunteered. Chad nodded and followed him over to it, assiduously keeping eyes on the car.
"Nice wheels," he said, admiring the sleek lines of the silver Jaguar.
"Thanks," Ryan said modestly. "I really--." He paused and pulled his phone from his pocket. "Geez! My mother keeps sending me pictures of naked men." Chad's mouth fell open and he shut it again as Ryan set his bag down on the hood of the car and fiddled with the phone. Chad took advantage of the opportunity to peer over his shoulder at the bare-chested stud on the screen. "A friend of my mother's found this stupid advent calendar for adults on the web. She gave my mom the link and mom's been sending me a picture a day ever since."
"Your mom sends you--."
"I'm sure they're meant for Sharpay," Ryan explained. "She has a problem figuring out our emails. Knowing her, she probably just decided to send them to both of us."
"Because she thinks you'd like pictures of naked men," Chad said tentatively.
"Well, they're not really naked; just from the waist up. They've got G-strings. And they aren't even hot--just heavily-bronzed, overly-muscled beefcake types with too white teeth and plastic smiles. Refugees from Chippendale's, I'll wager." Ryan shuddered disdainfully. "My mom knows I have better taste than that. They're really more Shar's sort of thing."
They got into the car and Ryan started it up. But a moment later, he shut off the engine and pulled the key out of the ignition.
"What?" Chad asked, frowning.
"Look," Ryan said, sitting back and toying with the keys in his fingers. "I know you think I don't owe you an apology, but I'm really sorry about all this. I'm the reason you were dragged into this in the first place. If I hadn't--." Ryan shook his head.
"Did you really put me on your wish list?"
"It's a wish list, right? I mean I'm supposed to be able to ask for anything I--." Ryan licked his lips nervously and hastily put the keys back in the ignition. This time it was Chad who turned it off.
"Talk to me," he said gently. "I want to hear this." Ryan looked at him doubtfully, then leaned back against the headrest and closed his eyes.
"I've had a crush on you since the first time I saw you," he admitted.
"We met in the seventh grade," Chad replied, frowning.
"On August 26, 2003," Ryan said, opening his eyes as he spoke. "You were wearing a blue polo shirt and denim cut-offs and by the end of homeroom you'd made friends with nearly everyone in the class except me." Chad opened his mouth and shut it again, not sure how to react as Ryan continued to talk. Chad bit his lip and listened, feeling somewhat sheepish at Ryan's awkward disclosure. "Of course, that's all water under the bridge," he concluded. "We're not in middle school anymore and we did eventually become friends." Ryan hazarded a glance at Chad. "I hope we can still be friends…in spite of--."
"Of course we can," Chad said a little too hastily. Ryan nodded, acknowledging the hollow promise, and started the car.
"Where am I dropping you?" he asked after a few minutes.
"Troy's house; turn left at the next light." They rode the rest of the way in silence until Ryan pulled up in front of the Bolton residence. "Thanks," Chad said, slowly undoing his belt.
"No problem," Ryan replied. "I'm sorry about--."
"No big," Chad said easily, reaching for the door. He put a foot out of the car and then brought it back inside and shut the door again. "It was last summer for me," he confided timidly.
"That's when I developed my crush," Chad said softly, his eyes averted to his lap. "That's the first time I really got to know you and to see you as a real person. You know, out on the golf course, the dance room, in the restaurant... You're a whole different guy when you aren't in your sister's shadow." Chad took a steadying breath and turned his eyes to Ryan's. "And I like you."
Ryan stared back at him, unwilling to believe his ears. This had to be part of Sharpay's game, his mind insisted, even though he knew that there was no way on earth she'd ever be able to convince Chad to play along with such a scheme.
"You like me?" Ryan repeated cautiously. Chad smiled and rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, I like you."
"Hey, your sister tricked me into going with her to the auditorium and then gave me to you as a gift. And I hung around long enough to get a ride over here, right? What does that tell you?" Chad reasoned. Ryan smiled.
"True enough; I half expected you to run screaming," he replied.
"Look, what Sharpay did was totally bogus. But all in all, I think her heart was in the right place."
"She did mean well," Ryan agreed. But he was too interested in Chad's revelation to spare another thought for Sharpay. He smiled at Chad, who returned one that carried enough wattage to power the entire neighborhood.
"We have off tomorrow," he stated, glancing over at Troy's house to see if he'd been spotted. He'd better get inside before anyone noticed the Jag out front.
"We have off until January 4th," Ryan replied, confused by the seemingly random comment.
"Yeah; we've actually got nearly two weeks. My mom's going to have me all tied up tomorrow with 'day before Christmas' stuff," Chad said, rolling his eyes again. "And I don't know about you but I've got family stuff Christmas day and all weekend. But maybe we can get together sometime next week."
"Get together?" Ryan repeated warily.
"Yeah," Chad said, reaching for the phone peeking out of the top of Ryan's pocket. He put in his phone number and called himself. "There; now I've got your number and you have mine. I'll call you; we'll get together and do something."
"Okay," Ryan replied, taking back his phone. "Maybe we can catch a movie."
"Yeah, and then get something to eat." Chad stole another glance at the house. "I've got to go. I'll call you tonight, okay?"
"Okay," Ryan said, beaming.
Chad got out of the car and gave him a curt wave before jogging up to the door. Ryan started the car and drove off. When he arrived home, he went up to his room and changed his clothes before joining the family. He occasionally glared across the dinner table at his sister. After all, she'd done a horrible thing and he needed to keep up the pretence of being offended for at least a day or two. Ryan decided that he'd forgive her on Christmas morning. She'd be getting that Juicy Couture bag after all, and maybe he could run out tomorrow and find a cashmere scarf in hot pink as a little extra. Sharpay deserved a little extra, as far as Ryan was concerned. She'd gotten him the best Christmas gift in the history of Christmas.
Chad spent the evening dodging questions about Sharpay. Troy and Zeke were the most persistent. All Chad would say was that she needed his help in bringing Ryan his Secret Santa gift. Perhaps if he hadn't smiled so enigmatically when he said it they would have left him alone. As it was, Chad was thrumming with energy the entire night. Fortunately, he was able to play it off as post-game euphoria, not that Troy was buying it. But Chad had an answer for that, too.
"Hey, you've never seen anyone else get to be MVP, hotshot," he said after Troy teased him. "You wouldn't know what it looked like." He checked his watch and silently wondered how late he could safely call Ryan. "I've got to go," he announced. "My mom wants me up at the crack of dawn to start the Christmas Eve countdown, whatever that means."
"Sure she does," Troy replied, but Jason and Kyle announced that they had to be home early, too. Kyle gave Chad a lift home. He checked in with his parents before retiring to his room. Stretching out on his bed, he pulled out his phone and spent a minute filling in Ryan's contact information before placing a call.
"Hi," Ryan said, breathlessly, answering on the first ring.
"Hi," Chad replied. They fell into easy conversation about nothing and everything and very quickly lost track of time. When his eye caught his clock radio more than an hour and a half later, Chad smiled. "Hey, it's Christmas Eve, Ryan."
"I'd better get to bed. I've got to be up early tomorrow to do a Christmas show at the hospital. The Drama Club performs at Presbyterian every year."
"Go ahead," Chad said, fighting a yawn himself. "You need your rest."
"Thanks. I'll call you tomorrow."
"You mean later."
"I mean both. Goodnight, Chad."
"Hey," Ryan called. "Before you go--I have a question and I don't think I dare ask Sharpay. She said you cost $3.49. Do you know how she--?" Chad's laughter interrupted Ryan's inquiry. "Then you do have an answer."
"Yes, I do," Chad replied. "But you'll have to wait until I see you again to find out what it is. 'Night, Ryan."
Chad rose from the bed and went to his jacket to retrieve the lip balm. He put it in his nightstand for safekeeping. He undressed and climbed into bed again and shut off the lights, wondering if he could steal a bit of mistletoe from his mother's decorations in the family room and sneak out for an hour or so before the party without being missed.