Summary: Chad resolves to change his life; Ryan resolves to make him happy.
It wasn't Ryan's nature to be a wallflower but he felt oddly disconnected from the moment he set foot in the Boltons' house. The New Year's Eve celebration was already in full swing but Ryan wasn't particularly in a partying mood. Sharpay was, however, and she abandoned him at the door, leaving him to fend for himself. He sighed and went over to the refreshment table, intent on finding something in which to drown his sorrows.
Ryan filled a cup with punch and looked across the room, where Gabriella and Troy were mooning at each other like the love-struck, star-crossed couple that they were. When Troy flunked out of--uh, left--Berkeley on academic grounds and transferred to the University of Albuquerque (and, implausibly, was still able to score a scholarship), the couple had been forced to cope with a long distance relationship. It sucked being a thousand miles from someone you love, Ryan assumed. He wouldn't know. Ryan could only speak knowledgeably about being two thousand miles away from someone who didn't even know he played a staring role in Ryan's every fantasy. Now that well and truly sucked. Ryan sighed and lifted his drink to his lips but it was taken from him before he could take a sip.
"I give it another week before she dumps him," Sharpay declared before taking a sip of Ryan's punch. "Gabriella has more brains in her pinky than Troy has in his entire body."
"She's been with him for a year," he replied, reclaiming his glass. He took a sip, made a face and gave it back to her.
"He was convenient," Sharpay said peering into the glass before setting it down. "He was the best East High had to offer. Even I have to acknowledge that."
"Yes, you do," Ryan said with a smirk. But it faded almost immediately. "Tell me again why we wanted to come to Troy's New Year's Eve party?"
"So we could see all our old friends," Sharpay said without a hint of irony. "You know it's only a matter of time before Gabriella comes to her senses and looks for an upgrade." She followed Ryan's line of sight and saw Chad arrive at the party with Zeke and another former Wildcat. "You may want to consider doing the same," she said as she walked away.
"Not while I have the power to draw breath," Ryan murmured. He looked in Chad's direction again but the crowd had swallowed him up. Ryan sighed at the loss and decided it was time to get into the holiday spirit. He crossed the room and led Gabriella to the dance floor while Troy's back was turned.
"So how's life in sunny California?" he asked charmingly as they danced. Her smile looked a bit forced when she answered and Ryan wondered if Sharpay was always right about such things.
"Great!" Gabriella replied. "It's wonderful getting to spend time with Troy. His parents were nice enough to invite me to visit so he didn't have to risk driving out to California in that old clunker of his. And it's nice to be back in Albuquerque and see all my old friends. Well, almost all of them," she amended. "Taylor's not here. She came home for Christmas and then went to Chicago to spend the rest of the holidays with her boyfriend."
"Oh, really?" Ryan's eyes were involuntarily and unerringly drawn to Chad. He was leaning against the wall and talking to some ex-cheerleader. Gabriella's smile was genuine this time.
"Oh, they aren't together anymore," she said knowingly. Ryan blinked at her. "They broke up right after graduation. Didn't you know?" He did know, but he let her explain, anyway. "Oh, that's right; you and Sharpay went off to Europe for the summer."
"Was it messy?" he asked ingenuously. He stole another glance at the girl. Even from this distance Ryan could tell she was flirting with Chad and he felt a wave of jealousy.
"Oh, no! It was completely mutual," Gabriella said, drawing his attention back to her. "I mean it's not as though they were really dating. Taylor was just Chad's--." She shut her mouth firmly, piquing Ryan's curiosity.
"Just Chad's what?" he probed. Troy chose that moment to cut in and Ryan was left alone in the middle of the dance floor. Undeterred, he danced his way over to Martha and swept her into his arms.
Nearly an hour passed before Ryan had the opportunity to speak to Chad. Ryan was sampling the seven-layer dip when someone placed a hand on his shoulder. He turned and found himself face to face with his longtime crush.
"Damn, you look good," Ryan said with a mouthful of chips before he could stop himself. "You been working out?" he added hastily, taking in the longer, tamer hair, the mustache and goatee and more finely chiseled physique.
"Not really." Chad grinned back at him and glanced down. Ryan did the same and noted, for the first time, that Chad was on crutches.
"What happened?" he gasped.
"Black SUV on Central Avenue--Ohio plates," Chad replied. "Or so I'm told. I never saw what hit me."
"Is it bad?"
Chad gestured with his head and hobbled his way out of the Bolton's enormous family room to the relative quiet of the empty living room. He carefully lowered himself onto the sofa and Ryan sat beside him.
"It's bad," Chad admitted grimly. "Possibly athletic career-ending bad. I tore up my knee and it's taken three surgeries to reconstruct it."
"Wow," Ryan said. "I'm sorry." Chad shrugged.
"I've been reconsidering my career choices, anyway."
"All you've ever wanted to do was play basketball."
"Where did you get that idea?" Chad asked amusedly.
"I've only heard you say it a million times." Ryan stared at Chad's left leg, which was encased in a blue brace from ankle to thigh. "And here I was considering asking you to dance," he said ruefully. Chad's laughter surprised him.
"Evans, I would give anything to be able to oblige you," he replied sincerely. He carefully positioned his leg on an ottoman and sat back, digging into a pocket. He produced a beer and handed it to Ryan before pulling one from his other pocket. "There's more to life than basketball. Even I know that."
"Where did you get these?"
"I've spent as much time in the Boltons' house as Troy. I know where things are," Chad said wryly, twisting off the lid. He waited for Ryan to do the same, intervening when Ryan had difficulty. "Here, take this one." He took the unopened bottle from Ryan and uncapped it with practiced ease.
"So what are you going to do?" Ryan asked, realizing as he spoke that perhaps Chad wasn't interested in talking about his leg. He'd undoubtedly already been asked that at least a dozen times since arriving at the party.
"Well," he replied, "I'm obviously taking the spring semester off. But after that… I'm considering a change of venue. I don't know if I want to stay at Albuquerque if I can't play ball. I only went there because they offered me a full ride athletic scholarship. If I can't play, I'd just as soon go to another school. I've been hitting the books far more than the gym, unlike someone I know, so I've got pretty decent grades."
"Where--." Ryan shut his mouth and took a sip of beer.
"So how about you, dude? How's life in New York?"
"I love it!" Ryan beamed as he talked about his first semester at Juilliard, life in New York and all the ways it was a thousand times better than going to school in Albuquerque. Chad smiled warmly at Ryan's enthusiasm.
"Sounds like a match made in heaven--Ryan Evans and New York City."
"I'll drink to that." Ryan touched his bottle to Chad's. "Hey, if you're off this semester you should come east and check it out for yourself."
"Maybe I'll do that," Chad said with a smile, "although I don't see myself getting on a plane anytime soon." He emptied his bottle and set it down, then patted Ryan's thigh and shifted forward in his seat. "Help me up." Ryan rose and helped Chad to stand. Chad took hold of his crutches and started to make his way toward the door. "Come on," he said. "Oh, and grab those bottles. We shouldn't leave any evidence behind." Ryan complied and followed Chad outside into the cold night air. He deposited the bottles in the garbage and then followed Chad to the edge of the property.
"What are we doing out here?" he asked, wrapping his arms around himself for warmth.
"Can't you hear it?" Chad said. "It's almost midnight." Ryan frowned and listened. He heard the buzz from inside the house. Ryan checked his watch; it was 11:57. Chad smiled. "New Year's parties aren't my thing; I prefer to celebrate in a quieter fashion. Usually, when I'm at home, I climb up to the roof and sit up there to watch the fireworks downtown. That's obviously not going to happen this year."
"Couldn't we see them from over there?" Ryan asked, pointing to the park across the street.
"Yeah," Chad said. "We won't have an unobstructed view, but it's better than nothing." They crossed the street and entered the little park. Ryan looked around and smiled.
"I know; we can see the fireworks from up there," he said, pointing to a little fort at the edge of the playground.
"Are you nuts? I can't climb that!"
"You don't have to climb, there's a ramp," Ryan said, jogging ahead to check it out. He quickly made his way up and grinned down at Chad. "See? Come on, I'll give you a hand."
"You're nuts, Evans," Chad said, but he slowly made his way into the little fort and up the ramp. "How did you know?"
"I did a service project last year with the Albuquerque parks department. The playground where I performed had a fort just like this one. It's wheelchair accessible."
"Just my speed," Chad quipped. They reached the top of the fort just as the clock struck midnight. They heard cheers and other sounds of revelry from the houses surrounding the park. "Happy New Year, Evans."
"Huh?" Chad stopped and frowned at him.
"My name is Ryan," he said firmly, unaccountably nervous under Chad's intense gaze. Chad smiled.
"Happy New Year, Ryan," he said softly, reaching out to enfold him in his arms. Ryan never wanted the hug to end, in spite of the awkward angle necessitated by Chad's crutches.
"Happy New Year," he said. He reluctantly let go when the first barrage of fireworks pierced the sky. "Look!"
"This is cool," Chad said, beaming at the sparkling lights. "Thanks for thinking of this."
"Thanks for inviting me," Ryan said, staring at the man beside him. Chad was silent for several minutes.
"They're over there, you know," he said presently. Ryan immediately turned his head to look at the colorful pyrotechnic display. When the show ended Chad peered over the side of the fort and then turned to him, smiling. "You're going to have to help me down. I don't do 'down' very well on these things."
"Yeah, sure," Ryan said. He led the way down, walking backward and acting as both a guide and potential barrier should Chad lose his footing. When they were clear of the fort, Ryan suggested they sit and rest for a few minutes.
"We should head back to the house," Chad said, even as he took a seat on a bench. "People are probably looking for us and you're freezing." It was true enough; Ryan had been cold from the moment he left the house, but he sat down beside Chad and smiled reassuringly.
"I'm more worried about you at the moment," he said, pulling out his phone to check for messages. Not unexpectedly, there were three texts from Sharpay demanding to know his whereabouts. Ryan texted her a quick happy new year message and pocketed his phone.
"So are you planning to stay in town for the rest of your break?" Chad asked, stretching out his injured leg.
"Actually, I was thinking about going back to New York this weekend," Ryan admitted, although he'd been having second thoughts since Chad joined him. "My mom wants me to stick around. We haven't seen much of each other since I started school."
"Well, if you decide to hang out, let me know," Chad said. "Troy's going to be tied up with Gabriella and Zeke's going to spend some time in Santa Fe with his dad. I won't have anything to do." He looked up apologetically. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded," Chad said awkwardly. "I meant that--."
"You meant that you'd enjoy some company," Ryan said graciously.
"Yeah," Chad said, flushing slightly. "No. What I meant was that I'd like your company." He looked up and met Ryan's eyes. "Ever since this happened," he explained, tapping his left thigh, "I've had the sense that--. Well, I've come to the conclusion that I'm meant to do something else with my life. To be something else--maybe even be someone else."
"Who are you now?" Ryan teased lightly. Chad smiled briefly.
"I don't know," he said plainly. "I'd like to find out. That's my New Year's resolution. That's why I want a change of venue. Maybe--. Maybe if I went to New York…"
The rest of the sentence was left unsaid, leaving Ryan to figure it out. He frowned and was momentarily lost in thought until Chad's movement snapped him out of his trance.
"Let's go," Chad said, rising with more grace than someone in his condition ought to be able to, and settled himself on his crutches. "My butt's freezing." Ryan rose and they began to walk back to the house.
"You know, if you fly on crutches you get special treatment," he said conversationally.
"Yeah; you get to board first and the flight attendants fuss over you. And you can get assistance to help you negotiate the airport. It wouldn't be so bad."
"Oh," Chad replied. "Well, maybe I should think about traveling east, then. Of course, my mom would freak at the idea and she'll probably say no, but I'm eighteen now and I'm ready to make my own decisions. I have some money saved up--."
"My folks have an apartment in the city," Ryan volunteered. "You could stay there, so all you'd have to pay for is your ticket. And I'd be willing to cook for you."
"Can you cook?" Chad asked as they crossed the street.
"I'd be willing to order takeout for you. How's that?" Ryan replied giddily.
"I'm going to be in this cast for another month," Chad warned. "So I wouldn't be able to get around a lot."
"The Beekman has hotel service. And the concierge would personally come up and scratch your butt if you asked."
"I can take care of my own butt, thanks," Chad said wryly.
"Well, come to New York and I'll take care of the rest of you."
Chad stopped at the door and turned to him. They looked at each other for a moment and Chad smiled slowly.
"Sounds like a plan. Think you could me put up for a week or two?"
"You're welcome to stay as long as you like," Ryan said breathlessly. Chad nodded.
"This may be just what I need." He opened the door and stepped inside. Ryan turned and gazed up at the full moon. It was just what he needed as well.