Gabriella didn't mind tutoring her friends. She was always happy to help out, and at least here at East, they didn't treat her like some sort of performing monkey who did math homework for them. It felt nice, everyone she helped really appreciated it. It was great.
At least, that was what she told herself so she wouldn't kill Ryan.
She knew why Ryan had trouble with school, and especially English class. He was dyslexic -- she'd had to drag that out of him, because even when she'd politely hinted around to find out if it had even been diagnosed, he'd managed to brush her off or laugh it off or somehow change the subject. He was great at that. He was obviously really smart, but afraid of embarrassing himself, so instead of trying at any of his classes, he put all that intelligence into finding clever ways to avoid doing work.
She managed not to sigh and gave Ryan an encouraging smile as he finished reading aloud, "O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi." He still stumbled over the word magi, even though they'd discussed the title before they'd started and he'd tripped over it every time he'd had to say it.
"Great!" she said with gusto when he'd finished. They'd taken turns reading aloud for the whole thing, and it had taken most of the time they'd set aside for tutoring. "So what do you think?"
"It's all BS," Ryan said automatically. "Waste of time."
She made a clucking noise. "It's a moving story, Ryan. They loved each other so much that they were willing to sacrifice --"
"BS," he repeated.
"Okay," she said. He had to write an essay on it over the weekend, maybe she could at least get him to think critically about it. "Why do you that?"
"He got his wife combs," Ryan said. "Which is basically just old-fashioned talk for hair products. He loved her? Please, he was gay."
Somehow, Gabriella didn't think his English teacher would count that as a critical thesis for his essay. She masked her internal sigh with another bright smile and giggle. "You always say that. Not every guy is gay."
"Yeah, some just haven't met me yet." He actually fluttered his eyelashes and gestured from his wrist as he said it.
"Ryan," she scolded. "You know you can't just turn people gay."
"Obviously I can. I flipped Chad, didn't I?" He grinned.
"Chad was already gay!"
"Sure, he just never mentioned that to anyone or did anything about it until I kissed him. I'm convinced."
"We're getting off task again. Aside from claiming that Jim is gay, what else did you think?"
He sighed, as if he was hugely put upon by being asked to think about it. "Well, his wife is just selfish."
"I mean it! Look, everyone knows that guys love girls with long hair. I mean, Troy's constantly playing with yours, isn't he?"
She self-consciously pushed her hair behind her ears. "That's not the point."
"I think it is. If he's straight like you claim, he obviously loved her hair enough that he thought to buy her accessories for it. He probably missed running his fingers through it."
Two could play at this game. "Well, you'd love Chad no matter what he did with his hair, wouldn't you?"
"Well, yeah, but I still like it long."
"Why? I mean, I guess it's cute," she giggled, "but you can't exactly run your fingers through it."
"I like having something to grab," he said, and waggled his eyebrows.
She blushed. "We're definitely off topic. The point is that she loved him so much she gave up her hair, and he really appreciated that -- and he loved her so much he gave up his pocket watch, and she really appreciated it. I mean, if it would show Chad how much you care about him, wouldn't you give up your Vespa?"
Ryan made a face but conceded, "I guess. It would suck, though."
"Would it? Think about…" She tapped her finger against the desk, trying to come up with an example. "Okay, everyone heard you whining and moaning that Chad asked you to be the basketball mascot."
"Because that thing smells atrocious! And what's the point of performing if no one can see who you are?"
"Right," she said, and barreled on. "But I was there when you finally agreed to do it. And I saw the way Chad reacted… and I saw the way you reacted to Chad reacting."
"Put it in English, nerd."
She bristled but rephrased: "Chad jumped up and down and cheered and then he pinned you to the wall and Principal Matsui had to remind him of the PDA rule really loudly." She blushed again, just thinking about it. "But you were grinning, too."
"Because I was making out with my boyfriend."
"Even before he kissed you. The second you said it, you started smiling too, because admit it, it felt good. You know how happy he was, and it made you feel good."
"Wait, what was the point again?"
"The story isn't BS. It isn't about people doing stupid things, or being selfish. It's about a couple that wants to make each other feel like that, and will sacrifice anything to do it."
"But they both lost what they loved most!"
"What they loved most was each other," she continued. "Think about it like this. Even if something goes really badly -- god forbid -- and Chad gets hurt and can't play in the championship, don't you think it would still mean everything to him that you're the mascot?"
He frowned and actually thought about it. She waited. But all he said was, "Whatever, I still think he was gay."
She actually did sigh out loud now. "Let's just work on your essay outline, okay?"
By the time they had an outline banged out, she was ready to kill Ryan, but she was pretty sure the feeling was mutual. So it was a relief when it hit 5:00, officially releasing their boys from basketball practice. They both took off, parting ways to go to their lockers, and after she grabbed her books she hurried to meet Troy when he got out of the locker room. He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and they walked together towards his locker, but she when she walked around the corner and saw Chad and Ryan.
Ryan was slumped against the row of lockers a few feet away. He was staring down at the tiled floor. Chad was in front of him, hand on his, leaning in close. They were talking softly, but Gabi could just make it out. She held up a finger to hush Troy and listened.
"I get it, school sucks, but you are not stupid."
"Ry, you are not. The end." Chad dipped forward, resting his forehead against Ryan's. "Okay?"
Gabi couldn't hear it, but saw Ryan say, "Yeah."
"Good." Chad kissed him quickly, then ducked away. Ryan grabbed his arm and tugged him back.
"You'd cut your hair if you thought it would make me happy, right? I mean, really happy?"
"Yeah, sure," Chad agreed. He didn't hesitate, but he did sound confused.
"Good," Ryan said, and kissed him. "But don't. Ever. I love your hair."