Ryan's been choreographing the yearly musicale since freshman year of high school. Ms. Darbus was so pleased to find not one but two students with more than a passing interest in the dramatic arts that she put them straight to work – Sharpay as the lead, Ryan as choreographer. Ever since then, he's spent most of his weekdays (and a number of weekends inversely proportional to the countdown to the final rehearsal) cooped up in the auditorium, tapping out beats and demonstrating moves, once in a while correcting someone's pronunciation of a French dance step until he learns that it's really not worth his while to even give them their proper names, and a well placed "left shimmy" will work just as well.
After rehearsal is over, he'll walk outside and wait for Sharpay to finish preening herself in her dressing room. He really wants a Vespa so he can drive home anytime he wants, but his parents say maybe when he's older. They're worried about the safety of the thing. They offered him his own car, like Sharpay's, but he's not into owning something so big and flashy. A modest little moped, powder blue, perhaps, but not monogrammed or anything like that, will do him just fine.
On the days when Sharpay takes absolutely ages (which is most of the time), Ryan is still waiting in the parking lot when the basketball team's practice ends. He avoids and resents the jocks because of their attitudes and the judging looks that come his way whenever he happens to pass them in the hallways, so unsurprisingly, he doesn't pay attention to basketball matches or tournaments or whatever it is they're called, but he gathers that the Wildcats are pretty successful – rightfully so, in his opinion, because the boys always come out with a sheen of sweat glistening off their bodies, so they've obviously been working hard. Not that Ryan's looking.
By the time they come out, he's usually sitting on the back of Sharpay's car. She gives him her keys so he can turn off the alarm system, and typically he reads: Keats, Hemingway, the occasional play. He likes Henrik Ibsen and August Wilson, and he really appreciates Native American poetry too. He'll read Joy Harjo and Mary TallMountain and beg Sharpay to drive him out to the Navajo reservation, which she hasn't done yet but he lives in hope. As the rabble of players thunders out, he'll lift his gaze to the top of the page he's on and peer over. Sometimes this one boy whose name Ryan doesn't know will meet his eyes with piercing blue ones, and Ryan will blink and go back to his book, exuding all the nonchalance he can muster.
The younger boys will throw around a basketball while they're waiting for their rides and the older one, the one who'll look at Ryan sometimes, has his own truck, but he'll stick around most days to help the others with their technique. It's on such an occasion that a particularly young-looking boy with long, dark hair and kind of a swagger about him mistimes his pass dribble thing and sends the ball flying in the direction of Sharpay's car. Ryan, acting on his reflexes, holds his book up in front of his face and cringes behind it, like it's really going to protect his entire body from the flying projectile. The next thing he knows, there's laughter coming from beside him and the boy, the cute one, is leaning down to pick up the ball, which ended up ricocheting harmlessly off the rear bumper. He bounces it expertly a couple of times and then catches it in his hand – just one hand, which Ryan is secretly impressed by, although he'll never admit it.
"You know, holding your hands up might've been a better defensive course of action," the boy says mockingly, the laughter still in his voice. "Or, God forbid, catching the ball."
Ryan shrugs sheepishly. He usually doesn't go in for all that intimidation-by-way-of-social-status crap, but now that the boy is right in front of him – not to mention, you know, hot – he's having trouble standing up for himself.
By now the dark-haired boy has ambled up too, and the first one – the hot one – turns to him and says, "That's theater kids for you, I guess," and they both laugh.
Ryan is still trying to figure out a suitable comeback when they lope back off to the other side of the parking lot, tossing the ball between them. Before long, they are once again heavily engrossed in their impromptu coaching session, and Ryan in turn is heavily engrossed in pretending not to watch them. Presently, Sharpay prances out in a cloud of Chanel and waves to the boy, who nods back, then snaps her fingers at Ryan.
"The last time I checked, I can't drive my car with someone sitting on the back of it."
Ryan rolls his eyes and hops down.
"Hey, Shar," Ryan says casually on their way to school the next morning.
"Hm?" Sharpay is busy reapplying her lip gloss while they wait for the lights to change.
"You know that boy?"
Sharpay switches to mascara. "Which boy?" she asks, fluttering her lashes at the rearview mirror.
"That boy from yesterday. The one who's on the basketball team."
She frowns. "Chad? Jason? Zeke?"
"I don't know – the one you waved to in the parking lot."
Ryan tilts his head. "Troy," he repeats, testing the name out. "I think I've heard his name. You know, around."
"Well, of course you have." Sharpay rolls her eyes and accelerates. "You need to get with the program, Ryan. Troy Bolton is the captain of the basketball team. His father's the coach. He's in our grade, you know."
"Our school's big," Ryan says lamely, knowing that's not an excuse.
"He's really hot," she continues, appearing not to have heard him. "I don't get why he's not into me."
"Hm," Ryan responds sympathetically, more focused on the mystery boy's name than his sister's unrequited feelings. Troy.
It's a few days afterwards that rehearsal runs late due to a whole slew of issues from costume design to problems with props. The performance is growing ever closer; Darbus is tearing her hair out, and Ryan is right behind her. He appreciates the students who sign up for the yearly musicale despite their obvious lack of acting, singing or dancing skills, but wishes he could find people who actually know what they're doing. The only one who's really up to his standards is Sharpay, but he's under her thumb, not the other way around.
"Don't be long," he warns Sharpay as she disappears backstage to primp.
The boys are already outside tossing the ball around, but Ryan's so deep in thought he barely notices them – at least until he bumps into one.
"I'm so sor-" he begins, but then actually looks at who he collided with. His breath catches in his throat. "-ry," he finishes lamely. It is, of course, Troy Bolton.
Troy shrugs. "Yeah, whatever."
Ryan's curious in spite of himself. "It's Troy, right?"
"Uh." Troy looks at him in a very "Don't you know who I am?" kind of way. "Yeah, I'm Troy."
Ryan pastes a smile on his face. This guy's not going to make it easy for him. "Ryan."
"Well, hi, Ryan," Troy says sarcastically. "Are you going to, like, give me your entire life story now, or can I go back to what I was doing?"
The guy is a real jackass, but Ryan's not going to let himself be intimidated this time. "What are you practicing for?"
"Uh, a game?"
"When is it?"
"Everyone knows when it is, theater kid."
The dark-haired boy from last time runs up behind Troy and claps him on the back. "It's this Friday, and the Wildcats are going to kick some serious butt just like always, right, Troy?"
Troy curls his lip back in a half-smile, half-sneer and leans away from the touch. "Yeah, that's right, Jimmie."
"Well, good luck with…" Ryan trails off as he realizes he's lacking the correct terminology, "shooting some goals. Scoring some hoops. Uh… you know, whatever. I hope you guys win."
Troy shoots the dark-haired boy – Jimmie – an "Is this kid for real?" glance, but Jimmie is too busy beaming at Ryan.
"We totally will, with Troy on the team! He's like, an amazing player! He's going to get a basketball scholarship for U of A so he can be a Redhawk! You should totally come see him play! You'll never forget it! He's the – ow!"
Troy retracts his hand from Jimmie's bicep and scowls at him. "What did I tell you? More playing, less talking. Your dad's gonna be here soon and I wanna make sure you have that new sequence down before Friday."
Jimmie bounds off like an overexcited puppy, and Troy rolls his eyes.
"He's kind of, ah… enthusiastic, isn't he?" Ryan asks, and Troy seems bemused that he's still talking.
"I guess. Are you going to get out of my way anytime soon or should we just restart with you in the middle of everything?"
Ryan raises an eyebrow. There's something about this guy that just irks him. "Wow, you know, now I kind of want to show up on Friday just to see if you're better at playing basketball than you are at being a douchebag. It'd be pretty impressive if you were."
To his amazement, this actually catches Troy off guard and makes him laugh. "Nice one, theater kid," he says with a small, appreciative nod, before turning back to his friends.
Ryan almost chickens out about showing up to the game on Friday, but once he tells Sharpay he might attend, it's all over.
"Do you have any idea how convenient it would be for me not to have to drive you home and then come all the way back here to watch it? You're going, end of."
Ryan fights back a smile. Sometimes he really hates his sister's domineering attitude, but he has to admit that there are times it definitely comes in useful.
Ryan's surprised by how oddly graceful basketball is. It's choreographed in its own right, very different from dancing but with a lot of commonalities. He can tell every move has been practiced a hundred times before, and the team works together like the well-oiled machine of a professional dance academy. He's even a little… yes, he'll admit it, jealousof their closeness and camaraderie. Nobody but Sharpay and himself has worked on every school production in the past four years, but these guys look as if they've been playing together since childhood.
After the game, he and Sharpay wander down to the hallway outside the locker rooms ("It's like we're stage-dooring, Ryan!") and tries to look inconspicuous, regretting his morning choice of bright pink pants and a matching newsboy cap. This dark-skinned guy who Ryan kind of recalls seeing on the court walks out and starts chatting with Sharpay, and Ryan leans back against the wall and rolls his eyes heavenward as his sister's laughter gets increasingly high-pitched. He's about ready to walk out right then and there, and probably would have already if Sharpay wasn't his only way of getting home.
"Huh, you really weren't kidding about showing up."
Ryan drops his eyes from the ceiling tiles he's been eyeballing for God knows how long only to find himself face-to-face with Troy Bolton, who's looking sort of impressed in spite of himself. "Where did you come from?"
"Uh, the locker room?" Troy replies slowly, like Ryan's some kind of idiot.
"No, I know, it was… rhetorical… never mind…"
"You're so fucking awkward, theater kid."
"Um. Excuse me?"
Troy just shrugs his shoulders, but he's staring at Ryan really intensely, like he's calculating something or weighing something up. "You ever been to a real party? Like, as in, not a cast party?"
"I." Ryan isn't really sure what to say. Sharpay holds these big bashes at their house all the time but he usually just stays in his room, and somehow he doesn't think that counts.
"Would you like to?"
Ryan doesn't know where he's going with this. "Like, when?"
"Right now," and suddenly Troy's moving down the hallway towards the doors to the car park. "Me and some of the guys from the team. Girls, too. Mostly groupies, like her." He indicates Sharpay, who's twirling a lock of hair around her finger and giggling at something the dark-skinned boy is saying.
"That's my sister."
"Whoa, seriously?" He looks at each of them in turn for a few seconds, comparing, and then nods slowly. "Yeah, I can kind of see it. So what do you say, theater kid? Wanna come?"
"To your party?"
He looks surprised, and Ryan wonders if anyone at East High has ever declined an invitation from the great Troy Bolton before.
"Please. An evening of you and your jock buddies getting progressively wasted, telling me that if I'm into theater I must be gay and then asking whether I actually am over and over until they get bored and pass out on top of some unfortunate girl in one of the back bedrooms? I have better things to do with my time."
"Are you?" Troy asks, not necessarily rudely, just interested.
"What, gay?" Ryan stalls, trying to ignore the icicle that feels like it's suddenly formed in his stomach.
"No, into theater," Troy deadpans, then laughs lightly, but there's a seriousness in his eyes like he's actually expecting an answer.
"Are you?" Ryan fronts, and is amused by the other boy's reaction. Troy's jaw drops because nobody outside of his circle would ever dare ask him that, and even then it's only in jest, and Ryan gets a blast of confidence from knowing he can have this effect on somebody the rest of the school has apparently deemed so untouchable. He marches over to Sharpay, taps her on the shoulder and mutters, "Get his number already. I'll be waiting by the car," before turning back to the still speechless Troy. He calls, "See you later, basketball kid," and makes a grand exit like the theater kid he is.
After Sharpay drops Ryan off, she ends up going to the party at Troy's place and doesn't come home until the early hours of the morning. She faces a stern lecture then waltzes giddily up the staircase. Ryan pokes his head out of his room.
"How did it go?"
"Pretty well," she says, smiling.
"'Pretty well'? What kind of a description is that? Are you and that guy going steady now or what?"
She makes a face at him. "Uh, no, because it's not the 1950's anymore, Ryan, but Zeke is taking me to the movies tomorrow night."
Ryan squeals and claps his hands. "I'm so excited for you, Sharpay!"
She grins unabashedly, giving up on stifling the glee that she's been holding in all evening. "I really like him."
"What about Troy Bolton?"
"What about him? He was just a crush. Zeke actually likes me back, and he's way nicer than Troy anyway."
"That's not hard," Ryan mumbles, and Sharpay looks at him oddly. "Nothing. I'm glad you had fun."
"Thanks." She beams. "Me too."
Now that Sharpay's seeing Zeke, she makes a point of going to every single game (admittedly, Ryan usually tags along, but only because she's his ride, okay?) Those evening always end the same way, with her and Zeke talking circles around each other, flirting awkwardly, and sometimes Troy will come out and roll his eyes at Ryan. They'll end up making small talk or something, and Ryan makes the other boy laugh a couple of times, which is really kind of awesome.
What's not so awesome is that Sharpay's taken to cutting out of rehearsal while Ryan's still easing the actors through "shuffle… ball change… stomp," and sits with Zeke on the hood of her car until long after practice and rehearsal have let out.
Ryan's getting kind of sick of it.
"Hey, theater kid."
He looks up from his new reading place – a nice sunlit spot up against the brick wall of the gymnasium in the area of the parking lot that's farthest away from Sharpay and Zeke – and raises an eyebrow. "Basketball kid."
Troy accepts the hit. "I take it you're trying to get away from the lovebirds too?"
"Good guess," Ryan replies with a grimace. "Where are your little teammates?"
"If you're talking about the shining future of East High basketball, they all went home already."
"So why are you here?"
"Uh, well, let's see. We were practicing over there," he points, "and my car is over there, and right in the middle is you, looking all sorry for yourself and reading your Shakespeare or whatever the fuck that is. I thought I'd say hey. Sue me."
"Dostoevsky," Ryan corrects him.
"I'm reading Dostoevsky."
"Oh. What is that, like, a play?"
Ryan sighs. "An author. Ever hear of Crime and Punishment?"
"Nah, but I watch Law & Order." Troy can't help but laugh at the expression on Ryan's face. "I'm kidding. I know who Dostoevsky is. I read The Brothers Karamazov last year."
"Really? Like... for a class?"
"For pleasure. But, anyway, I'll leave you with Fyodor because I've gotta go. I have a date tonight. Catch you later, theater kid."
"'Bye," Ryan replies, and stares down at his book. He wonders why all of a sudden he feels so empty.
"So, how'd it go on Friday?"
It's Monday – the Monday after Dostoevsky in the parking lot and Troy's bombshell about his date (right, like the leader of the basketball team wouldn't have girls fawning all over him) – and Troy slams his locker closed, peering at Ryan like he's trying to place the boy's face.
"It's Ryan," Ryan says after a beat. "Jeez, Troy."
Troy has the grace to look at least a tad bit embarrassed. "Sorry, man, I wasn't expecting-"
"A lowly 'theater kid' to come up and talk to you in front of all these people, showing flagrant disregard for the social hierarchy of the school and inexorably blemishing your – gasp! – reputation for ever and ever and ever, or at least 'til graduation?"
"…To see you somewhere that isn't the parking lot or the gymnasium," Troy finishes, and Ryan feels quite silly. "Take a chill pill, theater kid. Good use of all those SAT words, though. You coming to the game on Friday?"
Ryan scowls. "Maybe. How was your date?"
"Okay. Not good enough to repeat. How was Fyodor?"
"Fine. And that means…?"
"Still single. Why, did you want to make out under the bleachers?"
"Fuck you," Ryan says, but he's smiling.
Ryan believes he's finally found something more lame to do with his Friday nights than curling up with a good book – namely, watching his sister play tonsil hockey with Zeke. Tonight they couldn't even keep themselves at bay long enough to get to her car, and are currently pressed up against the wall outside the boys' locker room.
Troy peeks his head out of the door as Ryan watches them in abject horror. "It's like a train wreck, isn't it?"
"Are you incapable of saying hello like a normal person?" Ryan grouches, but secretly he's glad to see someone he knows who isn't… otherwise engaged.
Troy doesn't dignify this with an answer, and instead beckons to the other boy conspiratorially. "You can come hang out in here, if you want. Nobody should have to be subjected to that."
"Uh, right. You're inviting the theater kid in amongst all the naked, sweaty jocks? I'll have twenty verbal assaults thrown at me before I've even stepped through the doorway."
"My friends really aren't that bad, you know. Besides, they sympathize with you. Your sister is all Zeke talks about."
Ryan fiddles with his white fedora and slides his eyes to the couple just in time for Sharpay to let out a little moan. He shudders.
"Okay, fine, but if they gang-rape me, I'll never speak to you again."
With a satisfied smirk, Troy disappears back through the door frame. "You wish, theater kid."
The hallowed sanctum of the boys' basketball team's locker room is really just that – a locker room – and Ryan finds himself feeling faintly disappointed. Most of the team has left already, so it's just Troy and a couple of others, one of whom he recognizes as this guy who always sits next to Troy at lunch time.
"Ryan, this is my main man Chad," Troy says by way of introduction, thumping the guy on the back. "And this is Jason." A boy with messy hair and light brown eyes raises his hand in a cautious greeting. "Guys, this is Ryan – Sharpay's brother."
"Ohhh," Jason winces. "My condolences."
"Does she talk about Zeke as much as he talks about her?" Chad asks, running a brush through his wild, curly mane.
"If you mean roughly 24/7, then yeah," Ryan replies, surprised at how willing they are to accommodate him into their territory.
"They're making out against the outside wall as we speak," Troy informs them, tugging his basketball jersey up over his head, and Ryan averts his eyes so forcefully that he can feel his retinas burning.
"Yeah, it's a good time," he mumbles, "but listen, I've gotta…" He leaves before finishing his sentence.
Ryan gets three quarters of the way down the hallway before Troy catches up, pulling on his T-shirt as he moves.
"Hey, man, what happened in there?"
"Nothing," Ryan says shortly, pushing open the double doors to the parking lot. He shivers a little. It doesn't really get cold at this time of year, per se, but at night the wind gets up, and he wishes he'd remembered to grab a jacket before leaving home this morning.
"Seriously," Troy says from behind him, reaching out to grab his arm. "Hey. Stop."
"What?" he asks flatly, but does as Troy requests.
"What's up with you?"
Ryan shrugs Troy's hand off his arm. "I don't… you shouldn't have invited me in there. It just. It was awkward."
"It was only awkward in your head, dude. My friends were perfectly nice to you. I warned them before you went in there that if they weren't, I'd kick their asses."
Ryan bites back a grin. "You really said that?"
"I really said that."
He feels like he should say thanks or something, but he doesn't want Troy thinking he owes him. The guy is cocky enough already without Ryan giving him some kind of savior complex.
"Anyway, listen, uh, I don't know if you saw but… Sharpay and Zeke just went into the janitor's closet."
Ryan blinks. "Sharpay went into the janitor's closet? Voluntarily? Why?" Troy just looks at him until he gets it. "Oh, no. Ew. Oh, ugh. Really?"
"Really. Sorry, theater kid, looks like you're going to be hanging around here for a little while."
"For God's sake, this is so dumb," Ryan raves, stomping over to the car and kicking one of its back tires petulantly. "I'm sick of not having my own wheels. I think I'm just going to have to relentlessly beg my parents about the Vespa until they say yes. They're freaking out because people who ride mopeds have a higher accident rate, but it's going to be a really distinctive color so everyone's definitely going to see me."
"Uhm." Troy sounds like he's trying not to laugh. "That's… very… what color?"
Troy loses his battle and cracks up. At first Ryan is mortally offended, but soon he's laughing too.
"Okay," Troy says when he's calmed down a little bit, "I have to ask."
"Are you? I mean… you've got to be."
Ryan feels a nervous tightening in his stomach. "Am I what?" he asks flippantly. "Powder blue?"
Troy gives him a Look. "You know what. I don't care either way, I swear. You're a decent guy, theater kid, and my opinion of you really isn't gonna be affected by knowing who you like to kiss."
Ryan exhales slowly, measuredly. "Do we have to make this into, like, a thing? Can't I just be who I am and not have everyone categorize and dissect the hell out of me?"
"This is high school, you know." Now it's Troy's turn to be the recipient of a Look. "Okay, seriously, you're making this whole 'warring factions' thing out to be way more than it is. Like, we hang out. If you and I can, anyone can."
"You treated me like shit when you first met me."
"I treat most people like shit when I first meet them." He shrugs self-deprecatingly. "We don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."
"I don't want to."
"That's fine." He hops up onto the hood of Sharpay's car. "Is your sister's car alarm gonna start blaring at me?"
"Um…" Ryan winces. "Yeah."
"Shit." Troy jumps off like he's been scalded. "Okay. My truck it is."
Soon they're holed up in the cab of Troy's rickety old pick-up, Ryan gingerly perched on the passenger seat while Troy is sprawled out in the driver's.
"So, theater kid…"
"Hm?" Ryan's still a little tetchy from their previous topic of conversation. He hopes Troy has enough sense to leave the subject alone.
"When's this play of yours happening?"
"In two weeks. Why?"
"I was thinking of, you know. Rolling out. If I have nothing better to do, or whatever."
"Troy Bolton, you are so transparent," Ryan says with a shake of his head and a smile on his face. "You want to see me sing and dance my little heart out, don't you?"
"Hey now, don't push it," Troy says gruffly, but he returns the smile.
"Fuck," Ryan groans just then, catching sight of the luminescent numbers of the digital clock on the dash. "I have never been at school this late, except on performance nights. This should be illegal."
"I could give you a ride if you want?" Troy suggests. "Just text Sharpay to tell her where you're at. I wouldn't recommend calling because… you know."
Ryan makes a face. "Don't remind me. Um," he tilts his head, thinks about it. "Yeah, that'd be really cool, if you don't mind."
"Awesome," Troy replies, and grins lopsidedly at him in a way that makes his stomach flip.
They end up talking about dating and Dostoevsky, ballet and basketball, and the drive home is a very pleasant one indeed. Ryan's strangely disappointed when he realizes they're almost at his destination.
"This was nice, Troy."
"Aw, don't get all mushy on me."
"Oh, trust me, I'm not. It was just a good thing of you to do. You're a decent guy too, you know, once you get past all the…" he pauses to think of the right word.
"Bullshit?" Troy finishes, and shakes his head. "How did you get so smart? That was supposed to be my big secret."
"You can pull up right here," Ryan directs, indicating an area in front of the vehicle. "And, I don't know, since you started letting your guard down around me?"
Troy pulls to a stop and turns to Ryan, leaning one elbow thoughtfully on the steering wheel. "You know," he says after a short pause, "that's really interesting. Like, Chad, I love the dude – in a totally masculine kind of way…" (he thumps his chest for emphasis, then laughs at himself and continues) "but the day he starts having deep insights into my soul is also the day I call 911 on his ass because he is definitely not feeling okay."
Ryan chuckles softly. "I guess different friends provide different things. That's why most people have a group of them, not just one or two."
"Very wise, theater kid, very wise. Damn, how did we get to talking about this from… what? Basketball?"
"Ballet. I'm pretty sure basketball was before ballet. Right, because you were talking about dating and how all the girls only want you because you're the basketball captain, and then we got into why you started playing in the first place, and I told you how I got interested in ballet. Or something. I think."
"Ballet." Troy shakes his head in disbelief. "You know, I'll totally call you my friend and everything now, but you're still fucking awkward."
"Shut up," Ryan says, and grins. "Hey, where did you end up putting my stuff?"
"Under our seats, I think. Mostly yours. Sorry my truck is so crappy, man."
"You know what my alternative was." He grimaces and retrieves his books, flipping through to make sure he has everything. "Is my math textbook under yours?"
"Uh, let's see." Troy reaches down and adjusts the toggle that moves his seat forward and back. Ryan leans across, reaches underneath and pats his hand around the slightly sticky carpeting until his fingers come into contact with a corner of a book.
"Found it!" he exclaims. He pushes up with his other arm to try to right himself but ultimately wobbles, which wrecks his balance and causes him to fall unceremoniously against Troy's upper chest. "Whoa. Sorry. Hi."
"Hey," Troy breathes.
"Hey," Troy says again, and kisses him.
Ryan's too shocked to really say or do anything, so he just goes with it. "Um," he says nervously when they break apart, "what was… what?"
Troy licks his lips self-consciously. "Sorry if that was – I mean, I didn't mean to –"
"No, no, it's okay." Ryan dips his head, leans in and connects their mouths, testing the waters. "Well," he says after breaking away for the second time. He shifts back to his seat. "This is."
"Ryan," Troy says firmly, and since when does he call him Ryan? "Stop making things weird when they don't need to be." Ryan nods and Troy hands him his book. "Okay?" He nods again, gathering up the rest of his stuff. "Have a good night, yeah? See you Monday."
"See you," Ryan manages faintly. He watches Troy's taillights fade off into the distance, and wonders what the hell just happened.