They’d only been dating for a few weeks; Ryan had no right to be possessive about Chad. None. He repeated it to himself a few more times, hoping it would shove back the tide of jealousy rising in his chest.
Chad was technically waiting tables near the pool, but right now he was standing with his tray propped casually on his hip, chatting happily with a table full of girls. The sun was hitting him in a criminally flattering way, gilding the edges of his curls and making his skin glow. The girls were definitely noticing. They were laughing at everything he said, tossing their hair and generally being cute and flirty and fun. Ryan could see the appeal, if you were into that kind of thing.
He wondered if he could set fire to their tablecloth by the sheer force of his glare.
“Ugh, I know,” Sharpay said, appearing at his side and laying a conspiratorial hand on Ryan’s elbow. “They should not be allowed out in public in those clothes.” She slid her sunglasses down on her nose, as if the horror of their outfits needed unimpeded analysis. “But enough about them.” She tugged at Ryan’s arm. “Come see the new necklace Daddy got me! I think he must have used a personal shopper, because there is no way his taste has improved this much since Christmas, but …”
Ryan let himself be pulled along in her wake. He’d get Chad alone later. Maybe if he couldn’t convince himself not to be possessive, he could convince himself he had nothing to be jealous of.
Ryan could dance. It shouldn’t have been a surprise; Chad had always known that Ryan could dance. It was background knowledge long before the summer talent show, information he’d picked up by osmosis just by going to a school in which Ryan was co-lead in every musical.
But somehow knowing that Ryan could dance and even spending time over the summer dancing with Ryan and hearing him talk about choreography - none of that had prepared Chad for what Ryan looked like when it was just him and the music and a bare stage.
Ryan looked free and wild, spinning through a routine that left Chad dizzy. He knew he was staring, but he couldn’t look away. His cheeks flushed hot as he watched, and his breath was coming fast. Ryan leapt into the air, and the arch of his back made Chad’s mouth go dry.
Chad had the hottest boyfriend ever.
“Don’t worry about it,” Troy said, and Chad came back to himself with a start. He’d forgotten Troy was even there. “I know what you’re thinking, and you're right: I can't do anything like that. Ryan’s good at making simpler choreography for me.”
“Oh. Good,” Chad managed.
Troy nodded. “I'd probably break a leg if I tried some of the things Ryan does, and then my dad would never let me on stage again."
"The tragedy," Chad said drily.
"You'd think it was tragic when I couldn't play basketball all season," Troy pointed out. "You gonna hang around through rehearsal?"
A few months ago, Chad would have come up with dozens of reasons not to loiter around watching rehearsal for the fall show. Now, though … Ryan was still dancing, and Chad wanted to see more.
"Mom?" Ryan hesitated in the doorway to his mother's office. She had a stack of folders open on her desk, poring over reports for one of her charity committees. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Of course, ducky." She closed her report and gave him an attentive smile.
He leaned against the doorframe and tried to look casual. "I was wondering … I mean, I could ask Sharpay, but she usually treats boys more like minions or countries to be conquered than like people, so I thought I should just ask you." He forced himself to slow down. His mother was still watching him, her eyebrows climbing higher on her forehead as he rambled. He stifled the urge to run away and never speak of this again. What kind of person asked his mother for advice about boys?
He took a deep breath. "So, there's a boy that I like," he began.
"Oh, darling!" Ryan looked up quickly, but she was smiling. Her eyes were shining, and she pressed a hand to the base of her throat. "I've been hoping you would understand that you could talk to me about this." She stood up from the desk and swept toward him, gathering him into a warm hug. "I'm so proud of you, brave enough to come out at 17. Oh!" she said. "You should tell your father. Don't worry, he's been getting used to the idea over time, and I think he's ready to hear it now."
She tucked him against her side and pulled him along toward his father's office, determined that everyone in the family share in the joy of Ryan's coming out. Ryan didn't have the heart to tell her that he hadn't really thought he needed to come out to his family. He'd assumed that they knew already.
At this rate, he'd never get any advice on what to get Chad for Christmas.
Chad's parents were fighting. It was the kind of simmering argument that on the outside was all about whose turn it was to make dinner, and on the inside was about all kinds of things that Chad didn't even understand.
Chad winced when he walked into the living room to find his mom angrily straightening pillows. She moved methodically down the sofa, leaving precise little dents in the top of each pillow. It was kind of messed up that he could gauge his mom's mood by the state of the sofa. He nearly turned around and walked right back out of the room, but he was stopped by the tight, unhappy set of her shoulders.
He rubbed the back of his neck. "Um," he said. "Last week Ryan was really mad at me, and I didn't get it. I mean, just because I didn't remember about his performance? I've seen him on stage lots of times. But eventually he started talking to me again, and it's all cool now. So, I guess … try not to get too down," he finished clumsily. He wasn't cut out to be a peacemaker.
His mom was looking at him with a fond, bemused expression, one pillow still held tight in her hands. "Chad? Did you just compare my argument with my husband, whom I have been married to for twenty years, to your tiff with Ryan?" She shook her head and squashed the pillow to her chest like she was hugging it. "Baby, we'll be fine. Sometimes we fight, but we'll get over it. That's what happens when you love someone enough to make it work."
Chad nodded dumbly. That had been his point.
Chad's t-shirt was bright red with white lettering across the chest. It said, "My boyfriend is cooler than yours." Every time Ryan caught a glimpse of it out of the corner of his eye, a jitter of happiness slid up his spine. He was trying to play it cool, like this wasn't the sweetest thing anyone had ever done for him in his life, but he was pretty sure he was failing. Gabriella had had to repeat herself three times already.
"Are you okay?" she finally asked.
Ryan scrunched his nose apologetically. "Just distracted." When she raised her eyebrows, he added, "Chad's t-shirt is a little … unusual today." He barely managed to keep a proud, beaming grin off his face.
"Oh!" Gabriella's eyes went wide. "Oh, Ryan!" That excited happiness was bubbling through him again, ready to break through with her realization, when she said, "I don't think he's being homophobic, really. I mean, Chad's your friend. He's probably just being ironic. That's a thing, right? Ironic t-shirts?"
Ryan felt all the fizzy bubbles of joy inside him pop at once. "Or maybe he just thinks I'm really cool," he said pointedly.
He wanted to go hold Chad's hand, defiant and proud, but the warning bell rang. He took his seat with disappointment rolling through his stomach.
Ryan had been smiling mysteriously the other day when he'd mentioned that Senior Superlatives voting was coming up, and now Chad knew why. On the ballot, Chad Danforth and Ryan Evans were listed under Best Couple, right below Troy Bolton and Gabriella Montez.
"That's awesome, Chad," Tommy said, grinning at him across the lunch table.
Chad's chest swelled a little, and he opened his mouth to say that it really was, when he was interrupted by Nathan from JV. "Yeah," Nathan said, laughing, "It's almost as good as Sharpay being nominated for Best Personality."
"Or Jason for Most Likely to Succeed," Arturo added meanly.
Chad stared down at the list. Half of the nominations were jokes. Chad felt small and dismissed, and really disillusioned with his teammates. The unhappiness settled like a lump in his throat, and he couldn’t swallow around it.
"Ryan and I are the best couple," he said.
Tommy held up a fist to bump."Sell it, man. It would be hilarious if you won." Chad left him hanging with his hand in the air. He picked up his pen and scratched an X onto the paper next to his and Ryan's names, pressing so hard he nearly tore the paper.
"We're going to be late," Ryan gasped, hitching his body tighter against Chad's. The wall of the empty art room was cool at his back and Chad was hot all along his front, and the contrast gave him shivers. Well, it was either the temperature contrast or the thing that Chad was doing with his tongue. Ryan tipped his head back to give Chad better access to his neck.
Yeah, it was definitely the tongue thing.
"So we'll be late," Chad said, tracing a hot, wet line up to Ryan's jaw. "I don't care." He rolled his hips, slow and dirty, and the pressure was so good. God, Ryan didn't care, either.
Except he did. "If we aren't there, no one will be able to stop Sharpay from making the show all about her. Or Troy from making it all about Gabriella," Ryan pointed out. He maybe would have been more convincing if his fingertips weren't skimming under the waistband of Chad's jeans.
"You're right," Chad said. "Totally right. We'll go work on the show. Just," he nipped at Ryan's ear, "five more minutes."
"Five minutes," Ryan agreed. It's not like it would take them long to walk through the empty halls to get to the rehearsal room, anyway.
Chad rolled his hips again, and Ryan lost the thread of his rationalization. His fingers spread wide against Chad's warm, smooth skin, inching lower, and his mouth opened to Chad's kiss, and there wasn't room in his head to feel all this and think, too. There was barely room in his head to feel all this and hear, too, which was why he almost missed the sound of the door opening
"-butcher paper, and … Oh, my God," Zeke said. He was standing in the door to the art room, staring at them. His mouth was literally hanging open, like he'd forgotten how to close it. It would have been hilarious if Ryan hadn't had his hands down Chad's pants at the time.
"Oh, wow, guys. I'm," he blinked three times, quickly, "just going to leave the room now." It took him two tries to do so, because his hand missed the door handle on his first attempt.
Ryan closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against Chad's shoulder, trying to decide whether to laugh or cry. He heard Zeke's voice echoing from down the hall, "Tell Kelsi and Ms. Darbus that Chad and Ryan weren't joking about doing a love duet," and he decided to go with laughter.
He could feel it all through his body when Chad laughed with him.