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Loud Heartbeats Under Coats

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Ryan took a sip of his vodka cranberry and tried to resist the urge to look at his phone. He doubted he would have received a message explaining his date’s absence in the thirty seconds since he last checked.

This was all Sharpay’s fault. She had decided that it was too sad for him to have lived in New York for five years now and still be single. Sure, he had been on some dates, had a few flings, but his last real relationship was his freshman year at Julliard, and it lasted only until he was cast in the winter show instead of his boyfriend.

Turns out dating fellow actors can get competitive.

He had told his sister that he had no interest in going on a blind date with some backup dancer from Sharpay’s last music video, but she wouldn’t be deterred.

On the one hand, he mused, it was nice that Sharpay’s burgeoning fame as the newest pop sensation hadn’t changed her. She had been bossy, overbearing, and self-absorbed since the day she came out of the womb four minutes before Ryan. But for all that, he knew she had good intentions.

“Ryan,” she’d told him two days previous when he awoke to find her rifling through his closet, “it is really not going to be right for my brand to have a sad-sack of a brother who never leaves the house.”

He had groaned and shoved a pillow over his face. He knew giving her a key for emergencies would be a mistake. “I leave the house every day,” he’d protested, voice muffled by his pillow.

The pillow was whipped away from his face, leaving him blinking at the light. “Going to work does not count. You need to have a life.”

“It’s a little hard to have a life performing on Broadway eight times a week.”

Sharpay had sniffed. “The point is, you are clearly wasting away here, and it’s my duty as your older sister to make sure you don’t die alone, eaten by cats. The headlines would not be good for me.”

So … she had mostly good intentions.

“Can I get you a refill?”

Ryan was jolted out of his thought by the bartender appearing in front of him. He gave in and checked his phone and winced.

“I don’t know if I should. I don’t want to be tipsy when my date never shows up and I go home alone.”

The bartender laughed, his face lighting up in an easy grin. Ryan had spent the last forty minutes doing his best to not notice how attractive the man was. It seemed like bad form to check out another guy when on a date, but considering he had definitely been stood up, he decided there wasn’t any harm in looking.

The bartender had a mass of curly hair in a bun on top of his head, eyes that crinkled when he smiled, and was wearing a skim fitting black t-shirt with the Guinness logo. He leaned forward and put his arms on the bar, causing his arm muscles to flex in what Ryan considered a very interesting way.

“I’m sorry, man. That sucks. How about I get you the next one on the house?”

Ryan thought of his empty apartment and made a decision. “Why not?”

“Free stuff is the best thing for a broken heart,” the bartender said as he got to work making the drink. “Trust me.”

Ryan snorted. “I’d hardly call a blind date my sister bullied me into something that broke my heart, but I can certainly appreciate a free drink.”

The guy rolled his eyed good-naturedly as he placed the drink in front of Ryan. “Good-looking guy like you, I’m sure you get plenty of free drinks sent your way.”

Ryan blushed, and lifted the glass to his mouth in an attempt to hide it. Evans twins, Sharpay told him frequently, did not get flustered when handsome men complimented them. They accepted it as their due. He had a little more trouble with that rule than she did.

“Damn,” he said, eyes widening after he took a sip. “That’s a good drink.”

The bartender grinned again, straightening up. “They don’t keep me around just for my looks.” Before Ryan could unscramble his brain enough to think of an appropriate response, a crowd of women wearing party hats came in, and the bartender grimaced. “Bachelorette party. Duty calls. You need anything, ask for Chad, okay?” He winked and hustled to the other end of the bar to start mixing drinks.

Ryan decided to stick around for a bit and people watch as he drank. He had been a performer since he was three years old, but he never underestimated how much he could learn just sitting back and watching people go by. God knows he gets more variety in New York than he did growing up in the bubble of his family’s country club and the private schools he attended with other wealthy, privileged white people.

Chad worked through the bachelorette party quickly, dispensing smiles and cocktails in equal measure before moving to the next woman. Ryan admired the ease in which he handled the sudden rush without making anyone feel slighted or ignored. Some people, he reflected, were just born with the charisma he had spent his whole life trying to emulate on stage.

Finally there was just one woman left, a stunning redhead whose curves were on full display in a tight tank top and leather jacket. She leaned forward and absently played with her necklace as she smiled at Chad, calling attention to her impressive cleavage. She said something and Chad threw his head back and laughed.

Ryan looked away, trying to ignore the jealousy churning in his gut. He had no reason to think that Chad was interested in men, and so he had no business resenting the woman for flirting so obviously, or Chad for being amenable.

He checked his phone again, because apparently he was a sucker for punishing himself. His date was now an hour and a half late, and he couldn’t believe he had wasted the one night off he had in the week to hang around a bar and be rejected simultaneously by two different men.

He threw the rest of his drink back and stood. If he hurried he could be home by nine and have just enough time to watch an episode of the Great British Bake-Off before turning in.

“You’re not leaving yet, are you?”

Ryan looked to where Chad was frowning in front of him. “Uh, yeah,” he said awkwardly. “You know, it’s gotten crowded and I don’t want to take up space.”

“Hey, don’t worry about that!” Chad said. “They’re doing some kind of scavenger hunt so the bachelorette party will be leaving in a few minutes.”

“Oh?” Ryan asked. “What did they need to get here?”

Chad rolled his eyes. He smiled while he did it, but it felt false. For the first time that night Ryan felt like Chad had his Customer Service face on. “Every bar they go to one of them needs to get a bartender’s phone number.”

“Oh. That seems sort of weird.”

“Yeah, well, sometimes one of the things that come with the job is people feeling like you’re there to be part of the party.”

Ryan suddenly felt guilty, remembering how he had ogled Chad just a few minutes before while he tried to do his job. Was he really any better than that woman?

“But seriously, stick around if you want.” Chad picked up a rag and started wiping the counter, staring intently at the spot he was cleaning. “I mean, we haven’t really had a chance to talk.”

Ryan thought of the long day he had tomorrow, between rehearsals and warm-ups and a three-hour long show. It was a no-brainer.

“Okay,” he said, and sat down again. “I should switch to water though. My nutritionist will kill me if I have any more.”

Chad raised an eyebrow as he slid a glass of ice water toward him. “Nutritionist? I’m guessing that’s more involved than my mom calling me every few days to make sure I’m not just surviving on Hot Pockets.”

Ryan laughed. “I’m an actor,” he said. “They’re pretty strict about you staying the same weight throughout a show’s run so they don’t have to adjust the costumes.” He shrugged. “Just one of those things that goes along with the job.”

“So are you in something right now?”

“Have you heard of Twinkle Town?”

“Uh, yeah, my mom is obsessed with it,” Chad laughed. “She keeps talking about coming out to visit me, and I don’t know if she wants to see me or the show more.”

“I could get you tickets, if you want,” Ryan offered. “Just tell me when she’s visiting. They always set some aside for friends and family of the cast.”

“Wait, you’re, like, in Twinkle Town?”

“I’m the lead,” Ryan admitted, and tried not to feel smug at the impressed look on Chad’s face.

“That’s so cool! Aren’t you, like, nominated for a Tony or something?”

“The nominations haven’t come out yet,” Ryan said. “But the show is getting a lot of good buzz about it.”

Chad shook his head. “That’s so crazy. We’re like the same age, and you are taking Broadway by storm.”

“Don’t sell yourself short,” Ryan said. “Being a bartender is a lot of work too, and you’re obviously very good at it.”

“Yeah, well, some nights there are more benefits,” Chad said, looking straight into Ryan’s eyes.

Ryan felt himself begin to blush again and wondered wildly how he was supposed to respond to that. Was Chad flirting? He thought he was just a friendly guy, but maybe he was wrong. But then there was the woman from earlier. Chad had admitted to giving her his number. Why would he do that and then hit on Ryan?

Before he could force his brain to come up with a coherent response, someone further down the bar waved for Chad to refill their drink. “Be right back,” Chad said, backing away slowly.

Ryan was distracted from watching Chad turn and walk away by his phone buzzing.

He wasn’t sure how he felt when he saw it was Sharpay, and not his erstwhile date. The thought of the guy still showing up and taking Ryan’s attention away from Chad was the last thing he wanted.

how’s it going?

Well he never showed

i’ll neuter him

Ryan felt a rush of affection for his sister. She may be a pain in the ass, but she was loyal and protective to a fault. The guy would never work on one of her videos ever again, or, if she had her way, anyone else’s.

“Sorry about that.”

Ryan put his phone down and smiled at Chad. “You don’t need to apologize for doing your job. I’m the one probably distracting you from all sorts of things that need to be done.”

“Nah, you’re good,” Chad said. “It’s a slow night. Besides,” he paused, “you’re cool to talk to.” Ryan wasn’t sure in the dim bar lighting, but he thought Chad was blushing.

Time seemed to fly as they talked. Chad told him how he was in grad school to be an athletic trainer. Ryan shared some stories of the crazier auditions he had been on. They discovered they had both grown up in Albuquerque.

“Man, that’s crazy!” Chad said. “We could’ve gone to the same school if you had gone public.”

Ryan smiled ruefully. “You probably wouldn’t have liked me back then. I wasn’t exactly popular with the sports crowd.”

“Well, I’m glad I met you now.”

“Thank the guy my sister set me up with. He’s the one who chose the bar. I don’t even live around here.”

“I still can’t believe someone stood you up,” Chad shook his head. “The guy must be crazy.”

“It’s okay,” Ryan blushed. “Sharpay is pissed enough for the both of us, and she’s more creative with her revenge schemes than I am.”

Chad laughed. “That sounds terrifying.”

“She is.” Ryan took out his phone to show Chad the text she had sent him earlier, and cursed. “Fuck, I can’t believe how late it is. I need to get home.”

“I’ll walk you out.” Chad straightened immediately and walked over to the corner of the bar, where he lifted part of the bar and walked out.

“What if someone comes, looking for a drink?”

“Then maybe Jason could actually help someone for once,” Chad’s voice got louder throughout the sentence until a guy on the far end of the bar Ryan hadn’t even noticed looked up from his phone.

“Oh, hey!” He waved cheerfully. “Taking your five, Chad?”

Chad sighed. “Yeah, Jason. Be back in a few.” He walked up to Ryan and leaned close, putting a hand on Ryan’s back. “He’s lucky he’s basically the nicest person ever, I swear.”

Ryan laughed, most of his mind focused on the hand still resting lightly on his lower back as they walked out the door.

He turned to Chad on the sidewalk. “Well, thanks for everything,” he said awkwardly. “This night would have sucked if it weren’t for you.”

“Hey, all part of the service here,” Chad grinned.

That wasn’t exactly what Ryan wanted to hear. “Really?”

“No. I was seriously slacking tonight. Like Jason levels of not doing a shit.” Ryan laughed and Chad took a step closer. “No regrets.”

Ryan opened his mouth to retort and Chad leaned forward, lightly brushing his lips over his for just the briefest moment.

Ryan waited for his brain to kickstart back to life. His chest felt oddly light, like he might float away. “I thought…”

“Did you not realize I was into you?” Chad asked. “Man, I’ve been trying to do my best moves all night.”

“Oh. Yeah. No, I did not get that,” he said faintly.

Chad’s smile tightened ever so slightly as he took a small step back. “Well, hey, no big. I mean, I obviously think you’re awesome, but it’s no hard feelings.”

“No!” Ryan interrupted. “I mean, I thought – it’s just –“ He floundered on what to say. “You said you gave your number to that girl, so I thought…”

“Oh, her?” Chad grimaced. “Yeah, I just did what I always do in those situations. I gave her the phone number for the bar. I’m not interested in being a prize in a scavenger hunt, thanks.”

“Oh,” Ryan said. “Um, good. I mean, maybe not for her, if she was into you and not just the scavenger hunt thing, which I bet she was because of your whole, you know.” He gestured vaguely at Chad and took a moment to wonder what the hell he was saying.

Chad beamed. “Oh, yeah? You saying you’re into my whole you know?”

“Oh shut up,” Ryan retorted before grabbing Chad by the neck and reeling him in to bring their lips together once more.

Chad responded immediately, opening his mouth and swiping his tongue across Ryan’s lips, nipping and sucking in turn. He wrapped an arm around Ryan’s back, bringing their bodies flush together so Ryan could feel the hard panes of Chad’s stomach and where Chad’s length grew hard with interest. He felt dizzy with pleasure, with the idea that he was doing this, standing in the middle of a New York City street with a beautiful man, overcome with desire for him. Between that and starring in a Broadway show, he hoped it wasn’t possible for your life to peak at 23, because this was probably it.

Finally Chad broke away, nuzzling the side of Ryan’s neck and biting once at his earlobe, sending a jolt of pleasure down his spine. He couldn’t help the moan at that, bucking forward just slightly into Chad’s grip.

“Oh fuck, okay, I have to go back to work,” Chad whispered roughly. He ducked his head and placed a kiss behind Ryan’s ear before untangling them. “I have to, I’ve probably spent twice as much time as my break and God knows what Jason’s getting up to in there, so. I really need to go.” His argument would’ve been more convincing if his eyes weren’t darkened with desire and staring at Ryan’s kiss-swollen lips.

“Yeah,” he said. “I need to get home. And I will. Any moment.”

Chad laughed and ducked forward again to press their mouths together, pushing Ryan against the brick.

“Chad? Oh, hey, guys!”

Ryan blinked as Chad pulled away, trying to process what just happened. He looked around for the voice that had just rudely interrupted one of the best kisses of his life and saw the other bartender from earlier, grinning at them from the propped open door.

“What, Jason?” Ryan took a little comfort from how annoyed Chad sounded right now.

“So sorry to interrupt, but we just got a bachelorette party and a fraternity pledge class, so I’m a little overrun.”

Chad groaned, throwing his head back. “Fuck! Fine, Jason, I will be in in a minute.”

Jason waved again and went inside, seemingly unperturbed by the scene he just interrupted or Chad’s testy tone of voice.

“I have to actually go now,” Chad said. “I really, really don’t want to.”

“That’s okay,” Ryan assured him. “If I didn’t leave soon I would be a zombie for tomorrow’s show.”

Chad nodded, then pressed one more kiss to Ryan’s lips, swift and searing before turning around and heading inside.

Ryan rode the high of the whole thing until he was about halfway home in his cab.

“Shit,” he swore. “Fuck fucking shit!”

“You okay back there?” the cab driver asked.

“Yeah, I just – I forgot something,” Ryan said.

“Need me to turn around?” she asked.

“No,” Ryan said.

He pulled out his phone and searched for the phone number of the bar. He couldn’t believe he had left without giving Chad his info. He didn’t know when Chad worked next, and the place was far enough away that he couldn’t just drop by in the hopes of seeing him.

The phone rang and rang. Just when Ryan was about to give up hope, a harried but cheerful voice answered.

“Wildcat Lounge!” Jason said.

“Uh, hi, Jason. It’s Ryan. I mean, we met a few minutes ago,” Ryan rambled. “Uh, I was with Chad? Outside?”

“Oh, yeah!” Jason said. “What’s up? Did you forget something?”

“Um, kinda. I realized that Chad didn’t have my number, and I was hoping –"

The sound of breaking glass and raucous laughter in the background cut him off. “Oh, crap!” Jason said. “Listen, I have to go take care of that, just stay on the line, okay? I’ll be right back.”

Ryan started to agree before hearing the dial tone. He pulled his phone away and frowned. Jason had hung up.

He stared out the window at the city lights passing by, trying not to feel like an idiot. Chad probably got hit on by patrons all the time. Hell, he probably even made out with a lot of them. It’s not like Jason looked surprised when he caught them outside. Maybe it was like the woman from the bachelorette party. He didn’t want to deal with a second time or expectations, so he had walked away without even asking for Ryan’s number. What had he been thinking, calling to give it to him?

Ryan wondered if Chad and Jason had some sort of deal worked out between them to deal with clingy paramours. They were probably laughing about it now, over drinks poured for new willing ears and eager smiles.

He woke in the morning feeling like shit. He had even set his alarm thirty minutes late, opting to skip yoga this one time so he could make up a little on his missed sleep. He might as well not even have bothered with how he felt.

By the time he dragged himself to the theater, clutching the largest cup of Starbucks he could get, he was resolved to put the previous night behind him. It was an aberration, nothing more. And it certainly wasn’t going to affect his performance tonight. By God, he was a professional. He wasn’t going to let a little thwarted love (not love, he mentally amended. Attraction, maybe) prevent him from giving the patrons who spent their hard-earned money to see him the show they deserved.

It did end up affecting his performance. Ryan found himself so determined not to think about Chad, and what he might be up to a few blocks over at the Wildcat Lounge that it was one of the best performances of the run so far. By curtain call he didn’t know when he had last felt that exhausted.

“Great show, Ryan!” Mindy, his co-star, hugged him after the curtain went down. “Do you want to get a drink after the show? You look like you could use one.”

He shook his head as they walked offstage toward the dressing rooms. “No, thanks. I need to sleep, ideally for a year or two.”

Mindy laughed. “Wouldn’t that be the best! I’d settle for a good eight hours.”

“Isn’t that the truth,” he sighed as he went into his dressing room to begin the process of removing his stage makeup and changing into his street clothes.

He paused before exiting the stage door. He knew that if he really wanted to avoid the line of fans wanting autographs and pictures he could ask security to take him out a side exit, or he could just wait in his dressing room for the crowd to disperse. But he reminded himself that it’s not everyday a 23 year old got a leading role on Broadway, and he wasn’t about to start acting too busy for the fans who had already been waiting for almost an hour.

Cheers broke out as he walked outside. He saw Mindy and a few of his other castmates already signing pictures and taking photos. The line wasn’t too bad as it was a Tuesday night, but every night there were at least a few people lined up.

Ryan worked through the line methodically. He smiled and made polite jokes and signed programs and t-shirts that were being sold inside. He called upon everything he’d learned as an actor to make sure no one felt his attention was elsewhere.

Eventually he got to the end of the line. “How’d you like the show?” he asked as he reached for the program and signed his name.

“It was incredible.”

Ryan jerked his head up. There, standing sheepishly with his hands tucked into his jacket pockets, was Chad.

“You came?” he asked dumbly. What was going on?

Chad nodded. “I had to see you. Jason didn’t tell me you called until we were closing at 3 am and I couldn’t believe I didn’t have any of your info. This was the only thing I could think of. I had to make sure I saw you again, so I traded shifts for tonight.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Ryan said faintly. “Did you see the show?”

Chad grinned. “I mean, they weren’t great seats and it took a big chunk of my savings, but man, you were incredible. I don’t even really like musicals but that was so good.”

The teenage girl standing in front of Chad and clearly eavesdropping gasped. “You don’t like musicals?”

Ryan smiled at her as he tugged Chad out of line. “He was kidding,” he assured her. “Honest.”

“Did you see the look on her face,” Chad murmured as Ryan pulled Chad toward the curb so he could call a cab. “I thought she was going to hit me.”

“Broadway fans are an intense bunch,” Ryan agreed. “I can’t believe you came to my show just to see me again.”

“Of course I did,” Chad said. “You didn’t think I would just let you get away that easy, did you?” Ryan paused, and Chad frowned. “Unless, that’s what you wanted?”

“No,” Ryan protested. “I … I thought that was what you wanted. That you were blowing me off.”

“Well, I hope I proved that wrong,” Chad smirked. “But just to be especially clear. Ryan Evans, I think you are one of the hottest, funniest, most talented man I have ever met, and I would very much like to take you on a date.”

Ryan felt like his heart was going to beat out of his chest. “My schedule sucks,” he said. “I never have any free time, especially on weekends.”

“Me too,” Chad said. “I’m going through grad school and working in a bar. I figure we can make it work. Maybe a lot of lunch dates.”

Ryan nodded. “I know a good brunch place.”

“I’ve never had brunch in my life,” Chad said. “But I would like to try it with you.”

Ryan couldn’t take it anymore. He leaned forward and swept their mouths together, delighting in the feel of Chad’s chapped lips against his own.

“Wait,” he pulled back slightly. “Is that brunch thing a metaphor? I mean for men? Because I’m not crazy about being an experiment.”

Chad rolled his eyes. “No, it was literally about brunch, now will you stop overthinking everything and kiss me again?”

Ryan happily complied.

Later, as he pulled out his phone while waiting for Chad to get out of the shower and took another look at the text Sharpay had sent him the night before. With everything that had happened, he had never responded.

Don’t bother. Things turned out for the best.

He paused, then picked up the phone.

Don’t just let yourself in if you come by tomorrow morning.

He turned the phone off, and tossed it onto his night stand before leaning back with his hands behind his heads, waiting for Chad.