You’ll never know
Oh, I know
If you never try
There’s just one little thing that stops me every time, yeah
I don’t dance
I know you can
“I underestimated you, Evans,” said Chad. The two boys were making their way into the locker room. All of the others either needed to leave or were already headed to the “after party.”
“You wouldn’t be the first,” said Ryan with a teasing lilt.
Despite the sparkle in his eye, Chad could see a somber truth that Ryan was expressing.
“I guess it must be pretty tough being Sharpay’s twin,” said Chad, sympathetically. “I’ve only ever thought how hard it is for the rest of us, but you actually get the 24/7 experience.”
Ryan shrugged, sticking his hands in his pockets as they entered the locker room. Chad noted that Ryan seemed to do that when he was feeling most vulnerable or on display. Almost like a confidence coping mechanism - blend in with the guys and maybe you’ll feel that way soon.
“She has her moments,” said Ryan, softly. “I can’t explain away most of what she does, but she had my back when I needed it most.”
“How’s that?” Chad asked, before realizing that they barely said two words to each other before today. “Sorry, you don’t -”
“You’re fine,” said Ryan. The two walked over to the sinks and began washing up. It was Chad’s first time in a locker room that actually offered disposable deodorants and other cleaning items.
After a prolonged silence, Ryan sighed.
“She was the one who ran interference when I came out to my parents in our freshman year,” said Ryan. “We moved to Albuquerque not long before and … well, my parents went through a great deal of change already.”
Chad’s mind was whirling and Ryan offered him a lopsided smile that didn’t meet his eyes.
“Yeah, I didn’t imagine that it would be such a big change either. I’m fairly certain that I came out of the womb singing show tunes. The writing was on the wall, or so I thought.”
“My father adapted fairly quickly - which actually surprised me because I thought it would be the other way around.”
“And your mom?” said Chad, apprehensively.
“She took the unsurprising motherly route. Said perhaps I just wanted to be like the other guys. Worried that if people knew, I’d miss out on the opportunities I deserved.”
“Eventually Sharpay lost it at her, which was funny,” Ryan laughed, “because I didn’t even think that she heard anything when I told them since she was updating her MySpace.”
“She actually screamed at our mom that Evans’ are born exactly who they’re meant to be. It was touching … though a little less so when she tried to use that same argument to justify why she maxed out her credit card.”
Chad actually laughed at that. Each boy was leaning up against the wall now, just admiring each other.
“Thank you for sharing that with me,” said Chad, finally. Ryan smiled at him. “You’re just trying to soften me up so I do any dance routine that you please, huh?”
Ryan grinned at that.
“How’d you guess?” Ryan laughed. “Don’t look so panicked. I saw those moves out there - you will easily outshine the others.”
Chad felt something inside him swell at Ryan’s words. From anyone else, they might feel silly, even perfunctory, but not after the exchange the two of them just shared.
“I still maintain that I don’t dance,” he muttered.
“I know you can.” Chad rolled his eyes. Then an idea crossed his mind.
“Want to cause a stir amongst the others?”
“What’d you have in mind?”
He told Ryan and the other boy threw his head back and laughed. The blond boy then took off his hat and tossed it to Chad.
“We can do that, too.”
“You don’t have to do anything you’re not ready for, you know that, right?”
Chad knew that Ryan was speaking, but the words barely processed in his mind. He was too busy staring at where some of their classmates made donuts on the field. Fucking elitist, rich kids. He was distinctly aware that once upon a time, he would have pegged Ryan as the same and was glad he could say that he could not be more wrong. Ryan was just as outraged by the seniors’ stunt as Chad was when he learned about it.
“That’s going to cost a fortune to fix,” muttered Chad, still staring at the field. He couldn’t think about what Ryan said moments before. Not yet. “How much do you figure?”
“For artificial turf?” sighed Ryan, playing along. “Over half a million, easy. Fucking ridiculous.”
“I’ve never seen Coach Bolton lose it like that. I thought he was going to have an aneurism.”
“Chad,” said Ryan, softly. He felt Ryan’s finger stroking the backside of his hand in a discreet manner. “You don’t have to do this today. I won’t be mad or anything.”
“I know,” exhaled Chad. “But I will.” He looked at Ryan and saw the latter was waiting for him to elaborate. “I hate feeling like I’m lying to him, Ry. He’s my best friend. My brother. We promised we wouldn’t keep any more secrets from each other.”
“This isn’t like Zeke hiding his love of baking or Martha hiding her love of dancing,” said Ryan. “I know you know that, too. You letting Troy in by telling him that you like boys is something that is deeply personal.”
“I don’t even have a label for it -” Ryan shook his head.
“Labels are for files, not people.” Chad cracked a smile at that. “Maybe it’s easier for others to be able to have labels for us and, in turn, easier for us to know our own because then we don’t have to explain ourselves as much, but you’re still you , Chad. You’re still the guy who knocks sense into Troy when he acts like a self-righteous twat, the same guy who listens to Gabi’s fifteen different college application essays. The same guy who makes me want to be the best version of myself.”
Chad’s heart hammered at the last part and felt an overwhelming urge to kiss Ryan. He held back, mostly because they were in plain sight, and that was the problem.
“ I’ll be mad if I put it off any longer,” Chad finally said. “I’m proud of you, I’m proud of us . But I’m scared. Not scared that he’ll hate me, but that things will change. That he won’t feel comfortable around me anymore. I … As much as I want to tell him, the small nagging part inside of me feels like I can’t do it.”
Ryan smiled sadly, squeezing the other boy’s hand. Then, he said the four words that Chad needed to hear the most in that moment.
“I know you can.” Chad’s vision went slightly blurry as he looked at Ryan. Then he nodded.
“Hey guys, what’s up?”
Chad looked to his left and saw Troy standing there, his bookbag haphazardly slung over his shoulder. If he noticed their hands entwined, he gave no indication of it. Instead, he merely smiled easily at the two of them.
Chad looked at Ryan for a last-ditch dose of confidence, and Ryan just smiled.
“Step up to the plate, Wildcat.” He then hopped off the hood of Chad’s car. “I’ll see you two later. Shar will have my ass if I’m late getting her to her manicure.”
“Doesn’t she have her own car?” said Troy, raising an eyebrow. Ryan scoffed.
“You expect me to drive after I’ve just had my nails done to perfection?” replied Ryan in an eerily accurate imitation of his twin. The other two boys snorted. Waving one last time, he took off at a run to the other end of the parking lot.
“You see the donuts on the field?” said Chad, filling the sudden silence.
Troy shook his head in disbelief.
“Don’t even. I just talked Dad off the ledge for the past 20 minutes. You want to shoot some hoops at mine?”
“What’s going on, man? Your jump shot is …”
“Shit, I know,” snorted Chad when Troy trailed off. Troy rolled his lips slightly and raised his eyebrows. “Just distracted, is all.”
“Anything you want to talk about?” Chad quirked an eyebrow. “What? I’m an evolved new-aged, well-adjusted man.”
Chad actually let out a cackle at that remark.
“You sound like our dads,” he gasped, holding the basketball to his side to steady himself. Troy crossed his arms, with an unimpressed, yet amused expression. “Gabi’s working on you, huh?”
“She says I need to be more observant,” said Troy, throwing his hands slightly in the air. “Maybe that’s true, but I told her, I’m not a mindreader.”
Chad hummed, and he couldn’t help but agree with the latter sentiment. He exhaled.
“You know mine and Taylor’s relationship was … well, it was D.O.A to say the least.”
“Yeah, you two still seem good, though?” It was Chad’s turn to nod.
“It took a little while to get beyond the weirdness, but yeah. We’re good. I never, uh … I didn’t tell you why it didn’t work out, though. It wasn’t just that I wasn’t interested in her that way. I actually liked someone else.”
Troy didn’t say anything, but nodded in what Chad assumed was encouragement to proceed. He said a silent prayer.
“I realized I liked guys,” Chad blurted out. “One guy in particular. Ryan.”
He said it somewhat rushed, but also somewhat robotically and watched as Troy absorbed the information. The other Wildcat placed his ball on the ground and sat on top of it, something he knew Troy’s father would scold him for doing. He did the same.
“Ryan Evans,” said Troy. Chad couldn’t detect any disgust in his voice, or even surprise. Just mild amazement. “I take it he’s not as strung out as Sharpay.”
That made Chad laugh, which made Troy laugh in turn. Suddenly, the environment felt much more light and easygoing.
“Not by a longshot,” chuckled Chad. “He’s … He’s really great. It’s pretty unbelievable that I couldn’t see it before, but I guess she casts quite a shadow.” Troy gave him a look that was basically saying, ‘Yeah, no kidding.’
“Are you guys a thing?” Chad nodded.
“Yeah. We got closer after the staff baseball game,” said Chad, grinning at the memory. “He can do things with a ball that you wouldn’t believe.” Troy coughed.
“Is that an euphemism, or …” said Troy, sardonically.
“Shut up .” The two of them laughed again. When they calmed down again, Troy looked closer at him. “What?”
“You look happy,” said Troy, simply. “And I’m really happy for you, man. Thanks for telling me.”
Chad stood up at that and after he pulled Troy up, he embraced his best friend. The other boy hugged him back, patting him on the back.
That was everything.
“You look nervous.”
“Really,” said Chad, faintly. He knew it came out incredibly sarcastic, but he was bricking himself. “That’s unexpected.”
He vaguely heard Ryan chuckle and then felt the other man’s fingers stroke his arm in the soothing way Chad loved. It almost calmed his pounding heart. Almost .
“I wish I was back in that final East High game with 16 minutes left.”
“That’s oddly specific. Besides, if memory serves, you were equally pale then. I should know - I had quite a nice view from inside the mascot.”
That got a laugh out of Chad, but then he shook his head.
“I didn’t know real nerves then.” Ryan shook his head.
“Your whole future was ahead of you and you didn’t know what scholarships would come in then. But you proved your talent, love.” Chad loved that term of endearment. “You proved you’re second to no one. You earned your spot on that court with the Knicks, and I’m so proud of you.”
He smiled into the kiss when Ryan brought their lips together. Chad could almost feel the anxiety leave his body thanks to those soft, loving lips.
Far too soon, though, Ryan pulled back as they heard the buzzer. Chad stared at his new husband with fearful eyes as the blond man cupped his cheeks.
“It’s time to get your head in the game, Wildcat.” Chad rolled his eyes. “Make sure to look at the VIP Box before the game starts, okay? I think you’ll feel better.”
Chad furrowed his brows, but nodded anyway. After one more fleeting kiss, Ryan was running out of the locker room.
Chad Danforth wasn’t like most men. He wasn’t like most people, period. Unlike the people who say they hate when their partner is right, Chad is the complete opposite.
He loves when Ryan is right (and he’ll be the first one to say Ryan is almost always right).
Chad loves it even more now. Remembering his husband’s earlier words, he chanced a glance up at the VIP Box and his eyes widened in shock.
There stood all his friends and former Wildcats, cheering for him and holding number eights. It was Troy, Gabriella, Zeke, Taylor, Martha, Kelsi Jason, and even Sharpay. Though he figured Ryan tempted her by saying Chad would make introductions for her with his teammates.
Still, he resigned himself to the fact that they all led busy lives and wouldn’t be able to make the game. He understood that.
It turns out that he should have understood his husband would make tonight possible, as would his friends who love him.
And, of course, there stood Ryan. Shining like a beacon and making it impossible for Chad to see anyone else. His eyes were always drawn to the light-skinned boy. Like a moth to a flame.
I love you , he mouthed. Ryan smiled widely at him, repeating the same words. Then, like so many couples before them, they managed to convey their thoughts just through their gazes.
I couldn’t do this without you .
I know you can .
So he did.
“Red or blue?”
“Definitely blue,” said Ryan, without hesitation. He took the tie held in his husband’s trembling hand, gently kissing the other man’s pulse point. “More soothing on the eyes. You’re stunning enough - you don’t need a statement tie.”
“Thank God one of us retains this information,” mumbled Chad, and Ryan chuckled. He was focused on securing the necktie, but didn’t miss the way Chad’s Adam’s Apple bobbed.
“You’re going to be incredible, love,” said Ryan in what he hoped was a reassuring, soothing tone. “Like always.” Chad let out a shaky sigh. “Talk to me.”
“I just never thought I’d have to reinvent myself in such a major way. Not at this stage at least. I … what if I fall on my face?”
“They wouldn’t have hired you as a sportscaster if they doubted your abilities,” said Ryan. “You’re the best one for the job, and I’m so proud of you.”
Chad smiled weakly at him.
“I’m being silly. Busting my knee and not knowing if I’d walk without a permanent limp should be the most scared I’ve felt. Somehow, though, this still feels worse.”
“There’s still a part of me,” Chad continues, “that knows the way people view basketball players. The ‘just shut up and dribble’ mentality. The voice in my head saying I can’t possibly succeed in this new job.”
Ryan smiled at him, and he suspected Chad knew what he was going to say before he said it.
“I know you can. All it’ll take is an adjustment period. You know the sport, you know how to break it down in a way that even I manage to care about it.” That got a genuine laugh from Chad, making Ryan beam. “I’m so excited for you.”
“So am I,” Chad admitted. Ryan stepped back to admire his handiwork, humming in approval.
“You look hot. Ready for your close-up, I’d say.” Ryan smiled when Chad’s cheeks turned pink. “Don’t get bashful on me now, Evans-Danforth.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, Evans-Danforth .”
“Elise, enough,” sighed Chad. He pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration.
The little girl in the high chair continued to fuss, refusing to eat her dinner. Worse still, she was making a mess of herself and the dining room. Chad didn’t know what to do anymore.
So he called his husband.
“She’s giving you a hard time,” was the answer he got when the other man picked up the phone. Chad groaned.
“I’m sorry, I know your run is almost over and you’re exhausted -”
“Love, breathe for me.” Chad exhaled. “What’s she doing?”
“She won’t eat. She’s messing around with her food. Basically an overall skutch.”
Ryan let out a sudden cackle.
“Where on earth did you learn that word?” Chad flushed even though Ryan couldn’t see him.
“One of our writers is Ital - never mind,” he groaned as Ryan continued laughing. “We’ll talk ethnic slang some other time. What do I do? You know that she doesn’t take me seriously. I’m failing miserably here.”
Chad said the last part softer and he knew that Ryan knew he wasn’t just referring to the current situation with their 2-year-old daughter. For all of his excitement about becoming a father, Chad still constantly battled with feelings of inadequacy.
“You’re not failing,” said Ryan, softly. “You’re just not … the stern type.”
“That’s a generous way of saying that I’m a pushover.”
“You’ve got the kindest heart, Chad. Harshness isn’t in your nature. It won’t make you a bad person, though, to put your foot down.”
“I know it’s all in my head,” sighed Chad, feeling his eyes prickle. He hated when they spent so much time apart. He was the proudest partner ever when Ryan got to tour and live his dream, but it also made him realize how scary his life would be without the other man by his side. “I know I need to be more stern, but I don’t know that I can do it without feeling worse. I’m not certain that I could handle seeing her cry.”
Ryan was silent for a beat. Then, he responded, and it was quite frankly the perfect response.
“I know you can do it,” he said, simply, “because I know you don’t want our daughter to become a mini Sharpay who thinks that she can walk all over us.”
Chad inhaled sharply, making Ryan laugh.
“You play dirty, sir.”
“I know. Now, go on. And send me a photo of the two of you. I miss your cute faces.”
Chad’s heart beat harder at that. He has known Ryan for over 20 years and the man still made him feel like a teenager in love. He loved that.
“Of course. I love you.” He could practically hear Ryan smile.
“I love you, too.”
Just as he ended the call, he heard a pang. He looked over and saw his daughter banging the bottom of the plate on her table.
“Elise,” he warned. She giggled, and then he watched as she grabbed a fistful of her pasta. She lifted it up, poised to drop it. “Elise, don’t .”
She stopped giggling, staring back at him with a challenging look Chad was certain she inherited from her aunt. Then, she opened her hand and it landed on the floor.
“ HEY ,” Chad shouted in a voice he wasn’t even sure belonged to him.
The sudden tone shift was enough to startle her and he watched as her lip wobbled before she began crying. He did his best to remain stoic as he walked over to her. He crouched so that he was eye-level with her.
“We don’t play with our food, Elise,” he said, seriously. Elise blinked up at him, her eyes wet. “Do you understand? Food is only for our mouths.”
“Sorry, Dad,” she said. He sighed, kissing her forehead.
“How’s this? If you finish your dinner and behave in the bathtub, we can send funny photos to Daddy. Does that sound good?” She nodded eagerly, and he smiled. “Perfect.”
“Bye-bye, Dad! Bye-bye, Daddy!”
“See you later, sweetie,” said Ryan.
“Have a great day,” Chad added, his heart aching. He felt Ryan’s arm slip around his waist. He leaned into the other man.
“She’ll do great,” whispered Ryan.
“I know she - did you see that?” Chad exclaimed. “She’s actually motioning for us to leave without looking our way!” He felt Ryan vibrate with laughter from beside him.
“You’re going to be inconsolable during the college years, aren’t you?”
“I’m a softie. You know this about me,” pouted Chad.
“Correction - I love it about you.” Chad grinned. “At any rate, it’s just pre-school. We’ve got another 14 years to experience the first crush, first dance, first driving lesson -”
“Don’t,” groaned Chad as the two of them began walking back to the car.
“What’s on your mind?” asked Ryan some time later. The two of them were in the car, Chad driving with their hands entwined.
“Just thinking about how I can’t picture myself sharing these moments and milestones with anyone else and that I wouldn’t want to, ever.” Chad quickly glanced over, grinning at him.
Ryan easily returned the smile.
“I know you can’t,” came Ryan’s voice. “Neither can I.”