Chad started when he walked into the Lava Springs kitchen and saw someone raiding the refrigerator; he was late enough getting his work done that he figured he’d be the only one of the staff still around. Even more surprising was seeing that the late-night snacker was Ryan Evans, who nearly dropped the tomatoes and eggs he was carrying when he turned to see Chad watching him.
“What are you doing here?” they asked as one, and then Ryan grinned wryly and Chad shook his head, chuckling.
“You first,” he said with a slight bow. “After all, it’s your place.”
My folks’ place,” Ryan corrected as he sat the food on the counter next to a block of cheese and some vegetables Chad wasn’t sure he could identify. Ryan swept a hand across the spread in front of him and cocked an eyebrow. “And I’m thinking what I’m doing is obvious.”
“Ye-ah,” Chad drawled, “but don’t you have, like, people to do that for you?” He held up his hands. “And do not think I’m offering, unless you want whatever it is burnt.”
Ryan laughed good-naturedly at that. “Duly noted,” he said, pulling out an imaginary pad and pencil. “You don’t dance,” he checked off, “and you don’t cook.” After flipping the non-existent book closed and pocketing it with a flourish, he reached over to pull a knife from the butcher’s block, then started chopping in a way Chad thought looked really professional. He walked over to where Ryan was and leaned his back against the counter.
“So, you do this a lot,” he said, his tone questioning.
Ryan shrugged as he worked. “Enough. And yes, I could have someone do it for me, but just because I could ask, doesn’t mean I’m going to.” He gave Chad a challenging look. “Does that surprise you?”
“A little, I guess,” Chad replied, snagging a carrot that was out of knife’s reach. He grinned as Ryan batted his hand away, and took a big bite. “I mean, what’s the point of doing it yourself if you don’t have to?” he went on, munching happily.
“You’re kidding, right?” Chad just looked at him, and Ryan tilted his head in acquiescence. “Okay, so it’s fun sometimes, and I’m not knocking the perks, believe me. But I don’t want to have to depend on someone else for everything I want or need.”
Chad nodded; that made a lot of sense, actually. “So you learned to cook.”
“And do laundry, and I even keep to a budget.” At Chad’s dubious look, he added, “Having money doesn’t mean not paying attention to how it’s spent, you know.”
Chad pointed the half-eaten carrot at Ryan. “Ryan Evans, you have hidden depths.”
“Yes, and now that you know, I’ve no choice but to kill you,” Ryan answered, picking up a whisk and waving it menacingly, “or find a way to keep you quiet.”
Chad’s eyes widened in mock fear. “I’m s-sure we can work something out,” he replied, making sure his voice shook. Ryan kept moving toward him, stopping bare inches away. The menacing look left his eyes, replaced with something Chad couldn’t quite identify, and Chad wondered what Ryan was thinking. Before he could ask, Ryan grinned and moved back to the food, scooping up the neatly diced vegetables and putting them in a mixing bowl that he placed by the stove.
“You want some?” he asked, and Chad, still lost in trying to figure out what had just happened, was suddenly unsure of how to answer, or what was actually being asked. Ryan turned and gave him an impatient look. “Hello? Offering to cook for you here. I’d take me up on it if I were you – I’m good.”
Chad blinked at that, then mentally shook himself and answered before Ryan decided he was as brain-dead as most people thought jocks were. “Oh! Sure. I mean, I’m a teenage guy – you really think I’m going to say no?”
He winced inwardly at that, but luckily Ryan didn’t seem to notice just how bad that sounded. Only it probably only sounded that way in his head; ever since the baseball game his brain had started taking really strange detours whenever he was around Ryan.
But Ryan’s scowl just turned into a knowing smile, and he started to crack some eggs into a skillet. “I hear that,” he said ruefully. “That’s another reason I learned to cook; if I hadn’t I’d end up eating whatever awful snack stuff I could find, and that is not good for a dancer’s physique.”
Chad looked Ryan up and down. “Dude, have you seen yourself? I don’t think you have to worry about that.”
Ryan ducked his head, looking a little embarrassed, but maybe a little pleased, too, and Chad fought to hide a smile. “Trust me, I do,” Ryan answered. “Especially these past few years. I had no idea that puberty really meant turning into a bottomless pit. I feel like a cliché.”
“Yeah, my folks are always complaining that I need a fridge of my own, I eat so much. I think that’s why they were so excited about me getting this job this summer – the money they’re saving on meals alone means maybe I won’t eat my way through my entire college fund before graduation.”
Ryan poured some oil into another pan and added the vegetables. “You and Troy still planning on going to U of A together?”
Chad tried not to frown at that. A few weeks ago he’d have been able to say yes, no question. But lately… he wasn’t so sure of anything anymore. “Far as I know,” he answered, trying to sound unconcerned. “He’s sure looking good for it.”
“I’m sure he isn’t the only one,” Ryan replied, and it was Chad’s turn to flush. “I mean, you’re a team, right? And if you play basketball as well as you do baseball, I’d think you’d be up for scholarships too.”
Chad warmed at the sincerity in Ryan’s voice. “Thanks. And yeah, I’m good, but Hoops has me beat.”
“Hoops?” Ryan repeated, eyebrow raised. “That’s what you call Troy?”
“Yeah, since we were kids.”
“Does he have a nickname for you?”
Chad shook his head, not really wanting to talk about Troy anymore. “So you’ve never been to a game? Not in three years?”
Ryan gave him a you’ve got to be kidding me look. “As appealing as watching guys run back and forth bouncing a ball is, no. Drama club, remember? Lots of rehearsals, not much time for anything else.”
“Is that why you quit baseball?”
“Among other reasons.”
Ryan turned to add bits of diced cheese to the eggs, and Chad wondered what those other reasons were, but he wasn’t sure he had the right to ask. Didn’t stop him from wanting to, though, and he wondered if he and Ryan could get to be friends enough that he could ask. The realization that Ryan’s friendship was something he’d really like to have hit him then, and Chad found himself staring at Ryan. He turned away quickly before Ryan noticed; this was something he needed to file away for later.
Trying to lighten the mood, he moved closer to Ryan and clapped a friendly hand on his shoulder. “You should come to a game this year, if you can. See what a championship team is all about.”
Ryan had tensed when Chad touched him, but relaxed at his words. “Maybe I will at that,” he said with a nod. “It’s senior year, after all. Maybe it’s time to make a few changes.”
He turned to look at Chad, who hadn’t realized until then just how close to Ryan he was standing. The two looked at each other for a long moment, then Chad stepped back, casually as he could, but he knew his cheeks were flushed again. He could only hope the dim lighting of the mostly-closed kitchen hid it.
Ryan turned back to the stove with a small smile, shifting the contents of the skillet and turning down the heat on both burners. “You want to get us plates?” he asked, nodding toward the cupboard.
“Sure,” Chad replied, happy to have something to do. He found plates and forks, then moved to the refrigerator, snagging the cheese and vegetables Ryan hadn’t used to put away. “Want something to drink?”
Chad got Ryan’s water and his milk, then watched as Ryan easily slid the food onto their plates, presenting them with a flourish. They sat next to each other at the counter to eat. After the first cautious bite, Chad closed his eyes in bliss.
“Man, this is heaven! I didn’t know anything with this many vegetables could taste this good.”
Ryan smiled and took a bite. “Thank you. It’s definitely a favorite of mine.”
“Dude, I bet you can get Sharpay to do anything if you promise her you’ll make this.”
Ryan’s face got more serious as he shook his head. “I don’t really cook for her, actually.”
What? Why not? You’re good!” He held up a hand and waggled his fingers. “If I tried to chop things as fast as you did, I’d be missing a few of these for sure.”
Ryan grinned. “So now you’re saying you don’t cook because it’s hazardous to your health?”
Chad grinned back. “Hey, the kitchen is a pretty dangerous place! Sharp objects, open flame… plus, at home if you mess up the kitchen you have my mom to answer to.” He shuddered. “So I can microwave with the best of them, and I make a mean sandwich, but that’s about it. There’s a reason I wasn’t one of the ones they asked to help the cooks here.”
“You’re making it out to be a lot harder than it is.”
“Of course you’d say that,” Chad countered, readying another big forkful. “You’re a natural.”
Ryan blushed and looked at his plate while he ate few more bites of food. “It’s just – you want to know why I really got into cooking?” he asked quietly, lifting his eyes to watch Chad. At Chad’s nod, he continued. “Because the kitchen was one place Sharpay would never come. Whether it’s because she thinks cooking is beneath her, or is dieting again, or whatever reason, she stays out.”
Chad thought about that for a second. “Cooking gets you get a place where you can be you, not you and her.”
Ryan nodded. “Exactly. After a while, she figured out that ‘in the kitchen’ was code for ‘Ryan wants to be alone’ and now she makes sure to give me my space when I’m in here. It’s the one place she won’t come looking for me, though she’ll text if it’s really important.”
“That’s a lot cooler than I expected her to be,” Chad admitted, then really thought about what Ryan had said and a sinking feeling hit him. “Dude, if you wanted to be by yourself I totally screwed you out of that.” He started to stand. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s totally fine,” Ryan assured him, putting a hand on Chad’s arm to keep him from leaving. “Really. Tonight was not me wanting to be alone – mostly I was really still starving. So sit back down and finish and keep me company.”
Chad tried not to think about how happy Ryan wanting him to stay made him, or how Ryan’s hand on his arm felt really nice. Pulling away to salute, he barked out a, “Sir, yes sir!” that earned him a laugh. And if that made Chad’s heart do a little flip-flop, well, he was ignoring that too.