Chapter Nine

Chad stood in the middle of the stage and waited for the music to start. He wasn't nervous, not really caring if he got the part did that, but he wasn't exactly thrilled to be performing either. In fact, he was really starting to regret it. The whole point of auditioning was to get Ryan to like him again, but that hadn't happened. Things between them were actually worse than they had been, to the point where Ryan had stop acknowledging Chad's presence. Which really, really sucked. He sighed and glanced over at Taylor, who gave him a reassuring smile. Chad reached out and clasped hold of her hand just as the lights dimmed and the opening notes of the song blared through the theater speakers.

His adrenaline started pumping the same way it did at the start of a game and a big smile slid onto his face as Taylor flipped the edge of her bright red dress up and shook it. He tipped his hat lower on his head and then belted out the words, no longer caring that they were meaningless fluff. Taylor danced towards him, her voice ringing out clear and true and he moved in time with her, his deeper voice joining with her's seamlessly.

They sambaed, twisted and twirled, hands clapping in time to the beat. They broke apart and shimmied. Then Taylor did this stomp kick spin that ended up with her in his arms. He pulled her close, their bodies touching from shoulders to hips, as they tangoed across the stage, their eyes locked and their hands skimmed a circle together through the air. The lights went up on the back of the stage, revealing the gaudy ladder they had to climb and Chad improvised a few moves as he cha-chaed his way back to it.

The crowd went wild and Chad felt a rush. It was as if he had just broken through the opposition's defense and landed a slam dunk. He caught Taylor's hand as she topped the ladder, and dropped an impromptu kiss on it before finishing the song out to thunderous applause. His body was humming as the lights went down and he could barely contain himself as they exited stage left.

"That was freaking amazing," he said in Taylor's ear.

She fanned herself. "It certainly was a rush."

"Ohmigod!" Gabby sped toward them and engulfed Taylor in a hug. "That was so good! You guys were seriously off the hook."

Taylor laughed. "Thanks hon."

"Excuse me," Sharpay's voice was like ice, "but you're totally blocking the stage."

Troy gave them apologetic looks. "You did great, Chad, Taylor."

"Or not." Sharpay touched the back of her head, checking her hair. "Now if you will just move out of the way, Troy and I will show you how it's done."

Chad, Gabby and Taylor exchanged an amused glance. "Come on, I've got a great spot back here. You can see everything." Gabby caught hold of their hands and started tugging them further into the wings as the music for Sharpay and Troy started up.

Chad followed her willingly until he realized that the dark patch ahead was Ryan. He stopped abruptly, dropping her hand. "Maybe I'll find somewhere else to wait," he muttered.

"Don't be silly," Gabby chided. "You and Ryan can sit next to each other without the world coming to an end."

"Don't be so sure of that," Taylor said with a dark look at Ryan.

Ryan lifted his shoulders. "I'm cool if he is."

Chad scowled. He would rather cut off his hand than willingly sit next to Ryan after everything that had gone down between them, but he couldn't leave now without looking petty and childish. "Fine with me," he lied.

He settled onto a black box and watched Sharpay strut across the stage, blue feathers fluttering as she kicked and spun. She advanced on Troy, shimming for all she was worth and Chad furrowed his brow.

"This is your choreography, isn't it?" he asked Ryan in a low voice.

Ryan nodded. "You would not believe how pissed I was when she told me that not only was I out, but that she was still going to be using my routine. Thank all that is holy that Darbus let Gabby and I sing Breaking Free instead."

Chad rubbed his cheek. "Don't you think that dance," he jerked his chin in the direction of the stage, "is a little sexualized?"

"It fit the tone of the song," Ryan replied with a shrug.

"But you were going to dance it with your sister."


"So, it's kind of creepy," Taylor cut in.

"Totally," Gabby agreed. "I think you should be glad you didn't perform it with her."

Ryan smiled at her. "I am. You are such a better partner than she ever was."

"And you're nice too." Taylor grinned and slung her arm around Gabby's shoulders. "Honestly, if you get it I will be just as happy as if I do."

Ryan glanced at Chad. "Don't take this the wrong way, but I still want the part."

"This is me not being surprised." Chad grinned. "I loved performing, I'm not going to lie, but being in the production would take a way a ton of the time I typically devote to basketball." He cupped the back of his neck with one hand. "So I'll go in with Taylor and say that I don't care who the male and female lead end up being, so long as neither of them are Sharpay."

"I don't know," Ryan looked thoughtful, "I think it would be something to see her cast as the leading man."

Gabby giggled and Taylor rolled her eyes as the music came to a close. There was a smattering of applause and then Sharpay and Troy joined them backstage. Troy made as if to join them, but Sharpay stopped him with a shake of her head. He leaned towards her, a frown on his face. Chad smirked, happy in the knowledge that, as awkward as all this was for him, Troy had it ten times worse.

Taylor leaned close and whispered, "Gloating looks good on you and I'm not the only one who noticed."

Chad frowned at her, then followed her glance to Ryan, who flushed and jerked his attention back to the stage. He grinned. "You know, I had my doubts, but maybe this dancing thing was a good idea after all," he teased.

She slapped his arm playfully.

Ryan waited until Ms. Darbus was in the middle of her speech about the high caliber of performers and the difficult task in front of her before sideling over to Chad and tapping him on the shoulder. Chad lifted an eyebrow and Ryan cleared his throat awkwardly.

"We need to talk," he said in an undertone.

Chad glanced towards the stage and the then back at Ryan. "Won't we miss something?"

Ryan shook his head. "She'll talk for another ten minutes then go hole up in her office until she's decided that we've suffered enough. Same routine she does every audition."

"But," Chad's brow furrowed, "aren't you and your sister the only ones competing for the couples spot?"

Ryan nodded. "She still makes us wait. Says it builds character. Anyway, I can guarantee that she won't make an announcement for at least a half an hour. So," he tilted his head towards the rear entrance to the theater. "What do you say?"

Chad motioned for him to the lead the way. "Just make it quick. I don't want to miss anything."

It was easier than Ryan had thought it would be to slip out of the theater without Sharpay noticing. He attributed it to the fact that Troy was staring dreamily at Gabby, thereby forcing Shar to fly into overdrive trying to get him to pay attention to her instead. Ryan smirked to himself, happy that his sister's plans were no where near close to coming to fruition.

"You wanted to talk?" Chad asked, breaking Ryan out of his thoughts.

Ryan rubbed the side of his mouth. "I don't know how to say this nicely, so I'm just going to say it and we can process it after the fact."

Chad chuckled. "Okay, shoot."

"Um," Ryan took a deep breath. "I've been doing a lot of thinking and I think that you and me, well, we deserve a second chance. I'm not saying that you were right to say what you did or that I over reacted or anything like that, just that we shouldn't let other people end what we had going just because they didn't like it."

"That's," Chad paused, his face a mask of confusion, "good?"

"Well, I had sort of hoped that you would think so," Ryan huffed. He took another breath and shook his head. "Look, I just think that we had potential. Why should we let all that go down the drain because Sharpay was jealous and Troy had his head up his ass?"

Chad laughed out right and shook his head. "When you put it like that, how can I say no?" he asked with a grin.

Ryan let out a relieved sigh. "So you're cool with us hooking back up and giving it one more try?"

Chad nodded. "Dude, I've been trying to get you to go back out with me since before you officially ended things between us."

"Yes, well," Ryan pretended to brush lint off of his shoulders. "Who wouldn't?"

Chad stepped towards him, wrapping his arm around Ryan's waist. "You know, those skin tight black pants make your ass look incredibly hot."

Ryan gave him a smug look. "Of course they do."

Chad rolled his eyes as he angled his head towards Ryan's. Ryan caught his lower lip in his teeth as he waited for Chad to close the distance between them, eager for Chad's kiss. Instead he heard loud throat clearing followed by an equally loud fake cough. Chad jerked back, turning towards the sound. Ryan glared over his shoulder at Gabby, who had an apologetic look on her face.

"I'm sorry," she said shamefaced, but Ms. Darbus called for all of us to come back on stage."

"What?" Ryan pulled away from Chad. "She never wraps things up this fast."

Gabby lifted her shoulder. "Sorry. I know that you two were," she trailed off.

"Agreeing to give it another go?" Chad finished with a grin.

"Ohmigod!" Gabby clapped her hands, a grin spreading across her face. "That is awesome!" she rushed towards them and somehow managed to wrap her tiny little arms around them for a tight, three-way hug.

"I'm glad you approve," Ryan said dryly.

"Duh," Gabby leaned back to smile up at him. "Of course I approve! You and Chad are like the hottest thing ever." She flushed. "Um, that is, what I meant was--"

Chad cut her off with a laugh. "Dude, we are the hottest thing ever."

"I don't know what's going on out here," Taylor said as she exited the building, "but Darbus is building up a head of steam in there. So I suggest we wrap this up right quick."

Gabby extricated herself and dashed over to Taylor. She caught the other girl's hands in hers and squealed, "They're back together!"

Taylor flashed them a grin. "Really?"

Ryan nodded as he caught hold of Chad's hand and started walking towards them. "Yes, we are. Although, I must say, if I knew what sort of a reaction this was going to get I would have waited till after the auditions. Finding out who gets the part seems sort of anticlimactic now."

Chad gave him an amused look. "Are you saying that fixing things with me comes in over some part in a stupid high school musical? Be still my heart."

"Whatever," Ryan said in a perfect imitation of Sharpay.

Gabby giggled as she held the door open for them. "We seriously have to celebrate after this is done," she said as they hurried on stage.

"It's nice of you to finally join us," Sharpay said with a sniff, her eyes narrowed at Chad and his joined hands.

Troy noticed too and a smile bloomed on his face. "So things are all worked out between you two?" he asked eagerly.

"Totally," Chad answered with a grin.

"Awesome!" he held out his hand and Chad slapped it.

"Yes, well, as heartwarming as all that is," Sharpay cut in, "I think Ms. Darbus has something important to say."

Ms. Darbus smiled up at them from the audience. "Thank you, Sharpay. And let me just start by saying how very pleased I am at the turn out we've had for our Spring Musicale.' She fluttered her hands to encompass the stage. "With such an unusually large showing, I decided to do things a little differently. After evaluating all of your wonderful and charming performances, I was hard pressed to chose between you. But chose I did, and the lucky pair to gave the coveted spots of Arthur and Minnie is Troy Bolton and Gabriella Montez."

"What!" Sharpay shrieked. "They didn't even audition together!"

Ms. Darbus inclined her head. "You are correct. They didn't. But, as I said, I did things a tad bit differently this time. I put the two strongest singers together and formed the perfect pairing. I'm sure that Miss Montez and Mr. Bolton will do us all proud when they perform in our Spring Musicale.

Sharpay started ranting about right and wrong and how she was the best singer by far. Ryan made a face and leaned over towards Gabby. "Congratulations Wildcat. The best girl most certainly won." He shot a glance towards Taylor, "No offense, hon."

"None taken," she replied with a smile. "I was only in this for Chad, and he got what he wanted."

Chad grinned and squeezed Ryan's hand. "He sure did."

Gabby winced as Sharpay hit a particularly high note. "How about we all go out and celebrate?" she gave Sharpay's back an evil look. "Somewhere quite."

"With good food," Chad added.

"Betty's," Troy put in with a smile. His face crumpled. "Uh, if there are no bad memories," he added. "And if I'm invited."

Ryan looked down at his and Chad's clasped hands and then up at Troy's expectant look. "Of course you are," he said. He gave Sharpay one last look, smiling to himself as she stomped her foot and raged. "After all, we are all in this together. We might as well all be friends."