To Dance Again
i wrote this for @secretly-of-course for the multifandom exchange. taking crackships too seriously is kind of my specialty, and you put this idea in my head, and i couldn’t get it out, so i hope you like it! i also made a playlist to go with it. thank you @swingsetboys for setting this whole thing up! this was a lot of fun
here’s the fic:
After Ashlyn breaks up with him, Big Red forms an unexpected bond with a certain choreographer who encourages him to dance again.
word count: 9511
Big Red walked into the theatre and was surprised to hear music playing. He didn’t recognize the song, but it definitely wasn’t from Beauty and the Beast. He walked up to the stage and saw Carlos there, dancing. That part wasn’t as surprising; Carlos was pretty much always in the theatre and pretty much always dancing. He froze when he saw Big Red approach.
“Sorry. I didn’t know anyone else would be in here,” Big Red immediately apologized.
Carlos walked over to where his phone was sitting on the floor and picked it up to pause the music. “It’s fine. I can go.”
“No, I’ll go. You were here first.” Big Red waved his hand. “You’re a really good dancer, by the way. But you probably already know that. You are the choreographer.” Someone please make him stop talking.
Carlos smiled softly at him. “Thanks. Um, did you come in here for a reason?”
Big Red shrugged. “I just wanted to be alone.”
Carlos nodded. “Me too.”
“I guess I should go then.”
Carlos took a step forward. “You can stay, if you want.”
“Oh. I thought you wanted to be alone.”
Carlos shrugged. “Maybe I changed my mind.”
Big Red smiled and then hopped up on the stage and sat down, his legs hanging off the edge. Carlos sat down next to him. “Is there a particular reason you wanted to be alone?”
Carlos sighed and pulled his knees up to his chest. “Seb broke up with me.”
“Oh.” Big Red had not been expecting that. He turned towards Carlos, pulling one leg up onto the stage. “I’m sorry.”
Carlos shrugged. “It’s whatever.” Big Red didn’t believe that for a second, but he didn’t want to push him. “What about you? Why did you want to be alone?”
He shrugged. “The same thing, kind of. I mean, not Seb, obviously. Um, Ashlyn broke up with me.”
“It’s whatever.” He pulled his other leg up on the stage and crossed his legs. He really wasn’t that upset about it. He just didn’t want to face everyone asking him about it. Or Gina and EJ glaring at him. Or Ricky pretending care while texting Nini. And he really didn’t want to confront the reason she’d dumped him. But maybe Carlos would get it. He and Carlos weren’t super close, but Red would consider them to be friends. And he was… They sat in silence for a moment, and Big Red couldn’t tell if it was an awkward silence or a comfortable silence as he started to get lost in his thoughts. “I’m gay,” He blurted out eventually, not looking at Carlos.
Carlos looked over at him, and Big Red couldn’t tell which one of them was more surprised. “Oh.”
Red looked down. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to just dump that on you. I’ve never actually said it out loud before. Ashlyn is the only other person who knows.”
Carlos nodded. “It’s fine. I’m guessing that’s why you two…” Red nodded. “How long have you known?”
“I think I’ve known for a while. I just didn’t want to admit it. And then Ash kind of called me out, and…” He shrugged.
“That’s not very fair. She shouldn’t push you to come out before you’re ready.”
“No, it’s fine. She didn’t really push. And she was right. It probably wasn’t very fair of me to date her when I liked someone else. Even if I hadn’t fully admitted it to myself yet. And I thought I liked her, but I guess I didn’t, at least not the way I wanted to.”
Big Red shrugged again and started absentmindedly playing with the cuffs of his jeans. “It’s whatever,” he repeated.
“Do you mind if I ask who you like?”
Red tilted his head to the side and looked at Carlos. as he thought about how he wanted to answer that. “Take a guess. According to Ashlyn, I haven’t exactly been subtle.”
Carlos thought for a second and then guessed, “Ricky?” Red nodded once. Carlos winced. “Oof. No offense, but why is everyone so in love with him? Like, sure, he’s cute, but so not my type,” he joked.
Carlos nodded. “Yeah, I don’t usually go for skater boys.” Red almost laughed. “Seriously though, what is the appeal of Ricky Bowen?”
“It’s mostly the hair, I think.” Carlos snorted. “And you know, everyone likes a guy who can sing.”
“We’re theatre kids,” Carlos pointed out, in a deadpan voice. “We’re constantly surrounded by people who can sing. Even us techies can sing.”
Red had to agree. “True. East High does have a weirdly high proportion of people who can sing really well.”
Carlos laughed. “It’s that Disney magic Zac Efron left behind when they filmed High School Musical.”
“He didn’t even sing in the first movie,” Big Red pointed out.
Carlos gasped dramatically and put his hand over his chest. “You take that back! Disney dubbing over his songs with Drew Seeley’s voice without even telling Zac is the greatest crime they’ve ever committed.”
“This is Disney we’re talking about, right? I think that bar is pretty high.”
They suddenly found themselves caught in an unprompted staring contest, both daring the other to break first. Carlos raised his eyebrow, and that was all it took. Once Red started laughing, Carlos joined in immediately. All of the tension Big Red had been feeling just disappeared as he let himself laugh harder than he had in a while. They started to calm down, but then they looked at each other again, and it started all over again. It wasn’t even that funny, but they fell back onto the stage floor from laughing so hard. Eventually, they slowly calmed down for real and lapsed into silence again. A comfortable one, this time Red was sure.
Realizing that there probably wasn’t much time left before the bell rang, Red was surprised that he didn’t want to stop hanging out with Carlos. “Hey, after rehearsal tonight, do you wanna come over and like eat pizza and ice cream and watch movies, or whatever people usually do when they get dumped?”
Carlos turned his head to face him, and it hit Red how close they were, but he didn’t move. “If by ‘movies’ you mean ‘musicals,’ then sure.” He smiled. “That sounds like fun.”
Red smiled back, and said in a soft voice, “Cool.”
Red was worried that, with two newly broken up couples, rehearsals would be uncomfortable at best. But they managed to survive with only minimal tension between Carlos and Seb and Big Red and Ashlyn. Well, mostly. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast could clearly tell that Something was up but didn’t want to say anything, which significantly increased the amount of tension in the room. Eventually, Carlos got sick of it and decided to just rip the bandage off. He clapped his hands together once to get everyone’s attention. “Yes, Seb and I broke up. No, we don’t want to talk about it. No, it’s not any of your business. And no, it’s not going to affect the show, because some of us are professionals and can handle working together with our exes.” He looked pointedly as Nini, Ricky, and EJ. “Ok? Ok. Now can we please get back to rehearsal and start taking this seriously?” A few people nodded. “Good. Seb?”
Red noticed that Seb’s face was bright pink, but he simply nodded and turned back to the piano, playing the song they were trying to choreograph.
After that, the cast managed to mostly focus on practice, but Red noticed they were still a little awkward. He did his best to ignore them and hoped that Carlos and Seb were doing a better job of that than he was. He smiled at Carlos a few times in a way that he hoped came off as comforting.
When rehearsal was over and everyone was starting to pack up their things, Red walked over to Carlos.
From the other side of the room, he heard Seb say, “Amber? What are you doing here?”
Red noticed Carlos stiffen at the words and looked over to see Seb talking to someone he didn’t recognize. “Who’s that?” he asked Carlos.
“His cousin. She scares me.” Carlos quickly turned to Red. “Don’t tell anyone I said that.”
Big Red nodded, and they both looked back over at Seb and Amber. “I’m here to give you a ride home.”
“But I drove myself today. And you don’t even live here.”
She waved her hand. “I was in the area.” She ignored his continued questioning as she looked around the room. She saw Carlos and smiled in a way that made it suddenly very clear to Big Red exactly why she scared him. She waved. “Hi, Carlos.”
Carlos took a step closer to her, doing a very good job at not seeming as nervous as Red was pretty sure he was. “Hi, Amber.”
Seb, who seemed to realize what was happening at the same time as Big Red did, reached out and grabbed Amber’s wrist. “Amber…”
She turned to give him an ‘innocent’ look that didn’t actually look at all innocent. “I’m just saying hi. Why don’t you trust me? I’m really nice now, remember?”
“You know, people who are really nice don’t have to keep telling people that they’re really nice now,” Carlos said, which was pretty brave in Big Red’s opinion.
Amber raised her eyebrow at him. Red had never really paid much attention to someone’s eyebrows before, but hers were intimidating. Carlos crossed his arms. The tension between them was tangible. The room was frozen. No one moved. No one said anything. Red wasn’t sure how much time passed before Seb finally stepped between them and put everyone out of their misery. “Ok, time to go. Bye, everyone. See you on Monday.” He turned to Amber, and she rolled her eyes before turning around and walking out of the room with him.
Just before leaving, she turned back and waved. “Bye, Carlos.”
As soon as they were gone, Carlos sunk onto his knees and then fell back on the ground. “She should have just murdered me on the spot. It would have been less painful.”
“Are you ok?” Ashlyn asked.
“What just happened?” Ricky asked.
“Never date a soft cowboy with like a million overprotective relatives. If I get murdered in my sleep tonight…” He paused for a second, looking off to the side like he rethinking all his life choices. “Honestly, it could be anyone.” He sat up on his elbows. “Why did I do this to myself?”
“Do what? Break up with Seb?” Ricky asked.
Carlos scoffed. “As if I would be the one to dump him. I’m pretty sure that’s literally impossible. Have you met him?”
Sensing that Ricky was going to ask another stupid question, Big Red walked over to Carlos and held out his hand to help him up. “Come on. ‘Just got dumped by literal angels with terrifying, overprotective cousins’ party at my house.” Carlos exhaled quickly through his nose and accepted Red’s hand. He grabbed Carlos’s bag and handed it to him before they walked out of the practice room together, doing their best to avoid everyone else’s stares, especially those of the Caswells.
“What do you think is a good post-breakup musical?”
Big Red glanced at Carlos, who was sitting in the passenger seat of his car, just long enough to check if he was serious. He appeared to be. “Are you actually asking me that? I’ve only seen like two musicals.”
Carlos shook his head. “That’s going to have to change. But first, and this is very important, which two have you seen? And please tell me you aren’t including High School Musical in that.”
Red snorted. “Nah, Ashlyn made me watch a couple with her. I think the first one was Wicked. I remember because she went off about how the book is better for like a week.” Carlos snorted. “And we watched Into the Woods. That was pretty good.”
“Wait, the movie or the musical?”
“The movie I think.”
Carlos shook his head disapprovingly. “So just those two then? I guess that’s not too bad.”
“Oh! There was also that Harry Potter one.”
“A Very Potter Musical?” Big Red nodded, and Carlos nodded back. “Ok yeah, that tracks for Ashlyn, but the Potter musicals are not Starkid’s best work. Maybe we should watch one of those. They’re pretty lighthearted.” Big Red nodded even though he’d only seen the one. Carlos kept talking, more thinking out loud than anything else. “Ok… let’s see, Twisted is one of the best ones, especially if you’ve seen Wicked already, but I don’t think I’m in the mood to watch something so… romantic.” He paused for a second before lighting up. “Oh! What about Trail to Oregon?”
“What’s that about?”
“You know that really old video game, Oregon Trail?”
“Yeah…” He had vague memories of playing that game in elementary school.
“It’s a parody of that.”
“Ok…” Of all the musicals to make a parody musical of?
“It’s better than it sounds, I promise.”
Big Red nodded. “Ok, I believe you.” He pulled into his driveway. “Come on.”
They walked inside and downstairs. It was a little weird seeing Carlos here. The only other time he’d been here was when the whole cast had been here when Miss Jenn had almost been fired. This time, Big Red felt much more exposed as Carlos looked around the room. He dropped their stuff next to his bed.
“Are those tap shoes?”
Shit. Why would those be out? “Um…” He looked over to see what Carlos was looking at, and yeah, he couldn’t exactly deny that they were in fact tap shoes. “Maybe.”
Carlos looked at him in disbelief. “You tap dance?”
“How did I not know that? I’m the choreographer.”
“I’m not an actor,” Big Red pointed out. “And I made Ashlyn promise not to tell anyone.”
Carlos raised his eyebrows. “Ashlyn knows?”
Red shrugged, blushing slightly. “She may have seen me.”
“You make it sound like it’s something to be ashamed of. You know it’s not, right?”
“I know.” Were they still talking about tap dancing?
“Can I see?” God, he hoped they were.
“You wanna see me tap dance?” Carlos nodded. “Right now?”
Carlos nodded again. “Only if you want. I just think it’s really cool.”
“Yeah, ok.” He got out his tap dance mat and put on his shoes, and Carlos sat cross-legged on the bed to watch him, looking unreasonably excited. Feeling a little awkward dancing for one person in his basement with no music playing, Big Red didn’t do a particularly long or complicated dance. Just something simple and fun he still remembered from years ago.
But when he finished, Carlos started clapping, startling Red slightly. “Oh my god, that was amazing.” Big Red blushed and looked down. “Seriously.” He got off the bed and walked up to Red. “I need you to tap dance in the show.”
He looked up. “I’m not even in the cast. And I’m pretty sure there’s no tap dancing in Beauty and the Beast.”
“I don’t care. It needs to happen.”
Big Red shook his head while smiling. “Ok, if you can find a way to make it work and get Miss Jenn to agree, I’ll do it.”
Carlos smiled at him. “You might want to bring those shoes to our next rehearsal.”
Big Red shook his head again, but before he could respond, his mom was yelling that the pizza was here.
Red took off his shoes and then ran upstairs to get the pizza. When he came back, Carlos had pulled up the musical on his laptop. Red set the pizza box and napkins on his bed, so he could take the laptop from Carlos and plug it into the TV. As the two of them sat on the bed, eating pizza, watching Trail to Oregon, and nearly choking from laughter, Red could tell that Carlos knew every word by heart, not just the songs, but the dialogue too, and he couldn’t help but find it adorable. He also had a warm fuzzy feeling in his chest as he thought about how much happier Carlos seemed now than when Red had found him in the theatre earlier that day. Sure, he knew it was just a temporary distraction, but it was something. And Red had helped make it happen.
Once everyone had settled into the practice room for rehearsal on Monday after school, Carlos announced that they were going to start working on the choreography for Be Our Guest. Big Red flipped to the song in his script as the actors who were a part of the song got up and moved into place. He felt someone staring at him and looked up to see Carlos smiling mischievously, hugging his own script in his arms. “Big Red, I hope you brought your tap shoes.”
Everyone, Big Red included, froze in surprise. “Um… why would I do that?”
“Because I told you to,” Carlos answered, as if it was obvious.
“I didn’t think you were serious.”
“Honey, I’m always serious when it comes to dance. Now come on, you aren’t getting out of this that easily.”
Red set down his script and stood up. “I don’t dance.”
Carlos smirked and took a step closer to him. “I say you can.”
Red just shook his head, trying and failing to hide a smile as he searched for an excuse to get out of it, even though he wasn’t as upset as he thought he’d be that Carlos had basically just outed him as a tap dancer. “Who’s gonna run the lights during this song then?”
Carlos looked at Miss Jenn, who looked around the room at the cast and crew. “Natalie! Do you think you can handle running the lights for this song?”
She shrugged. “Sure.” But she didn’t sound very sure.
“Big Red can teach you how.” She turned to him. “Right, Big Red?”
Red looked between Carlos, Miss Jenn, and Natalie Bagley. “I guess.”
Ricky raised his hand. “Wait, sorry, I’m confused. Since when can Big Red dance?” Everyone else, except Ashlyn, looked equally confused.
Carlos turned to Big Red with his eyebrow raised, as if to say ‘This is the guy you have a crush on?’
Big Red just shrugged and chose not to answer. “Better question: since when does Be Our Guest have tap dancing in it?”
Carlos pointed at him. “You said, and I quote, ‘if you can find a way to make it work and get Miss Jenn to agree, I’ll do it.’” He had said that, hadn’t he? “So, I asked Miss Jenn, and she loved the idea, and we spent all weekend trying to figure out how to make it work. Trust me; it’ll work.”
“No offense, but have you ever actually choreographed tap before?”
“Well, no. I figured we could work out the details later. But you’ll do it, right? You did say you would.” There was a slight hesitation in Carlos’s voice at the end.
Red looked around the room and was surprised to see not a single look of judgement. In fact, most of the cast was looking at him excitedly. Like they genuinely wanted to see him tap dance. And ok, yeah, Ashlyn had told him they’d all think it was cool, but he hadn’t actually believed her. “Fine.”
Of course, Big Red agreeing to tap dance meant that he and Carlos had to meet up in the mornings before school to choreograph it together. But he quickly decided that he didn’t actually mind. In fact, he even started to look forward to waking up an hour early to see Carlos every day.
By the end of the week, things were already starting to come together. It helped that it wasn’t a particularly long dance, but Carlos kept trying to push him to make it more complicated, to show off as much as possible. Big Red was enjoying the challenge and having more fun working with Carlos than he’d thought he would. He’d kind of been under the impression that Carlos preferred to work alone, but he seemed to know exactly when his choreography expertise was needed and when to back off because Big Red new more about tap dancing than he did.
When Red finished the number all the way through for the third time on Friday morning, Carlos came up to him, smiling and clapping his hands together. “That was great!”
Big Red smiled, blushing. “Thanks.”
Carlos spun around in a circle. “I can’t wait to see how it looks with the rest of the song.” He pointed at Red with a smug look on his face. “And you said I couldn’t put tap dancing in Beauty and the Beast.”
“I think I did most of the choreographing, actually,” Red pointed out jokingly.
“Hush. We did it together.”
Red shrugged one shoulder. “Ok fine, I’ll give you that.” It really had been a team effort.
Carlos handed him his water bottle and the two of them sat down on the floor together, knowing without saying anything that they were done practicing, but not yet ready to leave.
“So how are things with Seb? Rehearsals seem to be getting less awkward.” They hadn’t talked about it much because Red didn’t want to push Carlos, but he had seemed to be doing a bit better over the course of the week, and Red wanted to check in.
Carlos nodded. “Yeah, we talked the other day, and I think we’re good now. I don’t think I’ll be invited to a dance party at Amber’s anytime soon, but I’m pretty sure no one in the Matthew-Smith-Kippen family is going to murder me, so there’s that. Although, Seb’s older sister is away at college, so we’ll see what happens when she comes back to see the show.”
“I’d say I’ll protect you, but I think we both know I wouldn’t stand a chance.”
Carlos snorted. “I appreciate the thought anyway.” He smiled and the hit Red’s leg with his knee. “What about you? EJ and Gina were both ready to murder you last week.”
“I think Ashlyn talked to them.”
“She didn’t tell them why she dumped you, did she?”
“Nah. She wouldn’t do that.”
“How’s that going, by the way? Still got a crush on skater boy Rick?”
Red snorted. “You mean since I told you about it a week ago? Yeah, not much has changed. And he’s still my best friend, so don’t be a dick.” He hit him back with his knee.
“What do you mean?”
“No offense Red, but Nini’s not even in this state, and I’m pretty sure she spends more time with him than you do. And that’s including rehearsal time.”
He shrugged. “So? They’re dating. That’s what people who are dating do.”
“Doesn’t mean he gets to pretend like you don’t exist until he needs you for something.”
“He doesn’t-” Carlos cut him off with a look, and Red had to admit that he had a point. “Ok maybe a little.” He laid down and sighed. “Why do I have to have feelings?”
“I don’t know. I stopped having feelings years ago.”
Red hit him in the arm. “Shut up.”
Carlos laid down next to him. “Seriously though, I really don’t get the appeal of Ricky Bowen. And I think you could do better.”
Now it was Carlos’s turn to hit Big Red. “Of course you could. Ricky’s like the straightest guy in this school. It’s only uphill from there.”
“What about EJ?”
“Ok, you got me there.”
They both laughed, and Red was suddenly hit with the thought that he laughed with Carlos more than he did with most people.
The bell rang, and Big Red was disappointed that they had to get up and go to class, but he told himself that that was just because his first class was English, not because it meant that he had to stop hanging out with Carlos. He sat up, changed his shoes, and let Carlos help him up. As they left the room, heading their separate ways to their lockers, Big Red found himself looking back over his shoulder at Carlos as he walked away.
“Big Red, are you even listening to me?”
Big Red looked up from his phone. “Yeah, of course.” Ashlyn was sitting at the piano in her living room, and he was standing next to it, leaning against the wall.
She raised an eyebrow at him. “What? Did Ricky finally text you back or something?”
He gave her a confused look. “Why would you assume it’s Ricky? I have other friends.”
She pointed at his face. “Cause you’ve got that look on your face.”
“The ‘I’m texting my crush’ look.”
She looked confused. “Wait, are you actually denying it? I already know you like him. It’s fine.”
“No, I mean it’s ridiculous because I’m actually not texting Ricky.”
She seemed surprised. “Seriously? Who are you texting then?”
“When did you two get so close?”
He shrugged. “We’re friends.”
“Last I checked, you two were friends in the ‘talking to each other at rehearsals and cast parties’ kind of way, not in the ‘texting each other constantly on a random Sunday afternoon’ kind of way.”
He shrugged again. “We’ve been working on the choreography for the tap dancing scene together, and I don’t know. He’s cool.”
She nodded slowly. “Yeah… how did that happen anyway? Cause when I found out you could tap dance, you made me swear on EJ’s grave not to tell anyone.”
“I don’t know. We hung out last Friday, you know, after we broke up, and he saw my tap shoes and we were kind of joking around, and I told him I’d do it for the show.”
She nodded slowly again. “Right…”
“So, did you want to show me that song you were working on, or?”
She nodded and turned back to the piano. Big Red put his phone in his pocket, so he could listen to her this time. He really did like listening to Ashlyn sing, and he was really glad that they were still friends, but he couldn’t get the conversation about Carlos out of his head. Was it weird that they were hanging out so much all of a sudden? Had he really been making a weird face when he was texting him? Did that actually mean anything?
At rehearsal the next day, the whole cast was there to work on the choreography for Be Our Guest, and Big Red couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed that the private rehearsals with Carlos were over so soon. They’d met that morning to go over it one last time, but they couldn’t stay long because Red had a Robotics Club meeting. When he walked into the practice room, Carlos said hi to him, and he smiled as he said hi back. Ashlyn sent him a look, and he felt his face heat up a bit. Damn, why’d she have to get in his head?
Today was his first time tap dancing in front of the rest of the cast, and he was a little nervous, but they all assured him that he’d do great. It wasn’t perfect, but they made it all the way through the song without disaster. Afterward, Carlos came up and hugged him, and Big Red felt his brain short circuit and his heartbeat pick up. He told himself that it was just adrenaline from the dancing, but he wasn’t sure if he believed that.
Carlos let go but put his hands on Big Red’s arms. “That was great!”
Miss Jenn stepped up, and Carlos dropped his arms. “Yes, Carlos, it was, but I’m me, and I have notes.” Miss Jenn smiled and started critiquing all the dancers, with occasional input from Carlos. Red was surprised that neither of them had too much to say about him.
Toward the end of rehearsal, Big Red was talking to Ashlyn when Carlos came up to them. “Hey Ashlyn, can I have a ride home? My parents can’t, and it feels weird to ask Seb now.”
“Oh, um… I’d have to ask EJ…” She spoke slowly and kept glancing at Big Red.
It took a second (and her elbowing him) but he eventually got what she was trying to say. “Oh, I can give you a ride,” he offered. Ashlyn smiled, and he was relieved he had interpreted her correctly. “If you want.”
Carlos smiled. “What, no skateboard today?”
“After Ricky fell off his last week, Miss Jenn banned them until after the show’s over.” Carlos laughed. Then Red remembered, Ricky. Shit, he was supposed to give him a ride, too. That wouldn’t be weird, would it? No. Why would it be? They were all friends. He decided to just deal with it when it happened.
Ashlyn said goodbye to them and disappeared, but the two of them barely noticed. They continued talking as they cleaned up and got their stuff together. By the time they were ready to leave, Red looked around and most of the cast, including Ricky, were gone. He checked his phone and saw that he had a text from Ashlyn. ‘I got Kourtney to give Ricky a ride home. You’re welcome. ;)’ He shook his head and put his phone back in his pocket before looking over at Carlos. “You ready to go?” Carlos nodded, and the two of them walked out to his car.
As they drove, Big Red let Carlos plug in his phone and was perfectly content to listen to him sing along with whatever showtunes he was playing, even if it meant he took a couple wrong turns because Carlos was distracted and forgot he was supposed to be giving him directions. Eventually, they made it, and Red pulled up in front of Carlos’s house. Carlos waited until the song was over, turning to Big Red to sing the last couple lines dramatically. “I’m a sexy mouse.” He struck a pose, and Red laughed.
“What is that from?”
Carlos rolled his eyes as he unplugged his phone. “Mean Girls, obviously.”
“There’s a Mean Girls musical?”
Carlos sighed. “I can’t believe I’m friends with someone so uncultured. How are you even a theatre kid?”
“Hey, you know I only kind of fell into the whole theatre thing last semester.”
“Yes, I know. Don’t worry. I’ll add it to the list.”
“Of musicals I’m going to make you watch,” Carlos said matter of factly.
“You have a list?”
Carlos’s smile faltered a bit. “Only if you want, of course. I’m not actually going to make you. I just-”
Big Red smiled. “What else is on the list?”
Carlos bit his lip. “I don’t know if I should tell you. Don’t want to ruin the surprise after all. Or overwhelm you.”
Red nodded. “Well, I can’t wait.”
Carlos smiled. “Cool.” He glanced out the window at his house. “I should probably…” He put his hand on the door handle.
“I’ll see you.”
“Yeah. Do you need a ride tomorrow morning?”
“Uh, sure.” Carlos opened the door. “Thanks, Big Red.”
Red watched Carlos walk up to his house. As he got to the door, He turned back and waved. Red waved back and waited until he was inside before he drove away.
The next morning, Red pulled up in front of Carlos’s house right on time. Carlos immediately came outside and walked to the car, pulling the door open and sitting down with a sigh. “Do you think we have time to get coffee?” He asked as he put on his seatbelt. “I’m exhausted.”
Red looked at the clock. “Maybe?”
Red smiled as he started to drive away. “Yeah, we probably have time”
Carlos smiled and didn’t even ask this time before he plugged in his phone to play music. “Oh, oh, oh, woke up today feeling the way I always do…”
“What is this from?”
“Hairspray? Come on, it’s a classic. Zac Efron’s in it.”
“Is it on the list?”
“It is now.” He continued singing along. “The rhythm uptown starts calling me down. It's like a message from high above.”
“How do you have this much energy? You just said you were exhausted.”
“I’m gay. If iced coffee isn’t available as an energy source, showtunes will have to do.” Big Red laughed and shook his head in amusement as Carlos continued singing. No, he wasn’t just singing. He was performing. At 7 am. In the passenger seat of Big Red’s car. “Good morning Baltimore!”
As it turned out, they did not have time to stop for coffee, but that didn’t stop them. They showed up almost ten minutes late to rehearsal, much to everyone’s surprise. Carlos was never late. Except that one time, but we don’t talk about that. Fortunately, he had at least had the foresight to order Miss Jenn a coffee as well, so she wasn’t too mad.
The next day, Big Red stopped and got coffee before picking Carlos up, and it was worth it to see the look on Carlos’s face when he got in the car and saw it. And, you know, to not have Miss Jenn be mad at them. Big Red soon found out that blasting Good Morning Baltimore on the way to school was a part of Carlos’s morning routine. He didn’t mind adding it to his own morning routine as long as it meant that getting coffee and hanging out with Carlos was also a part of it. And it helped that the song was a bop.
On Friday after rehearsal, Carlos came over to Big Red’s house, so they could check another musical off his List, which he still wouldn’t actually show him. They ended up staying up so late talking that they decided Carlos might as well just stay the night.
As they got ready for bed, Big Red was worried that the sound of his CPAP would annoy Carlos like it had Ricky, but he said he didn’t mind. He did, however, mind sleeping on the floor. Red offered to sleep on the floor and let him have the bed, but Carlos just rolled his eyes and said, “I’m not gonna make you sleep on the floor in your own house.”
“But I thought-”
“I’m not some emotionally repressed straight boy who’s afraid of sharing a bed with my friend.” Red opened his mouth, and then closed it when he didn’t know what to say. To be fair, the only guy Red had ever had a sleepover with was Ricky, and he always overthought everything he did around Ricky, trying not to come off as ‘gay’ or make him uncomfortable. “I can say ‘no homo’ if that would make you feel better.”
Red rolled his eyes. “Yeah, ok, I get it.”
Just two gay teenage boys who definitely didn’t have feelings for each other sharing a bed right after having a very passionate discussion about Hairspray (ok, let’s be real, mostly Zac Efron). What could be straighter than that?
When Big Red woke up, he was laying on his back, Carlos curled up at his side resting his head on his chest, Red’s arm on his back. He tried to carefully remove his arm from Carlos’s back without disturbing him, so he could turn off the CPAP and take off the mask, but just as he set it on his bedside table, he felt Carlos stir beside him.
Carlos sat up quickly and didn’t look at him. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine.” Red sat up. “You said ‘no homo,’ right?” He joked.
Carlos visibly relaxed as he looked at him and tilted his head to the side, feigning confusion. “Hmm… that doesn’t sound like something I’d say. I’m always 100% homo.”
Big nodded once, smirking slightly. “Oh, sorry, I must have heard you wrong. Is that why I’m suddenly gay now?”
“Yeah, I forgot to tell you, your application for your gay card was approved last night. It should be coming in the mail any day now.”
“Oh good. I was wondering when I’d get that.”
Carlos nodded. “Yep. By having seen at least two musicals starring Zac Efron, you’ve officially met the requirement to be a Level 1 Gay.”
Red raised his eyebrow. “There are levels?”
“How do I advance to the next level?”
Carlos tapped his chin as he thought. “I think that cuddling with a fellow Gay qualifies you for level 2, but to get to level 3, it is a requirement to drink iced coffee.”
Red wrinkled his nose. Coffee was meant to be hot, and he stood by that. They’d had that conversation several times already that week. “Is there no other way?”
Carlos shrugged. “You might be able to watch enough musicals to get to level 3, but we’d have to make it most of the way through my list.”
“And how many musicals is that?”
“Sorry. Still can’t tell you that.”
“There are a couple non-musical movies that could earn you a few points. Love, Simon obviously. Brokeback Mountain automatically moves you up 2 levels, but I don’t think you’re ready for that. Honestly, I don’t even know if I’m ready for that.”
“What level are you at then?”
Red raised an eyebrow. “Oh really?”
“Of course. Have you met me?”
“How many levels are there?”
“I don’t think there’s a limit. I believe Hayley Kiyoko is at level 100 though.”
Carlos gasped and put his hand on his chest. “Lesbian Jesus.” Big Red just stared at him blankly. Carlos put his other hand on Red’s arm. “Oh honey, you have a lot to learn in the ways of the Gay.”
“Well, can I learn later? I need to pee.”
Carlos shook his head. “Still needing to pee? Smh. Once you get to level 20, you don’t need to worry about things like that anymore.”
Big Red rolled his eyes and got up to go to the bathroom. “You’re ridiculous.”
Carlos just laughed and fell back onto the bed.
Big Red got home from dropping off Carlos, humming Without Love as he went down the stairs to his bedroom. He skipped the last couple steps and then froze when he saw Ricky there, sitting on his bed. “Hey.”
Ricky waved at him. “Hey.”
Red took a couple steps closer to him. “Sorry, should I have known you’d be here?”
Ricky shook his head. “No. Sorry. I just came over. I didn’t expect you to not be here. Your mom said you’d be right back and that I could wait here.”
Red nodded slowly. “Right. So what’s up?”
Ricky shrugged. “Can’t a guy come see his best friend? I feel like it’s been forever since we hung out.”
And whose fault is that? But Red was nothing if not forgiving, so he just nodded. “Ok um, you wanna play Fortnite?”
Ricky nodded. “Sure.” Red turned on his tv and handed Ricky a remote. “Where were you anyway?”
Red didn’t look up from the tv remote as he answered while switching the tv to the right source. “I was just giving Carlos a ride home.”
Red grabbed the other XBox remote and sat next to Ricky. “Yeah, he stayed the night.”
Ricky looked confused. “Oh. I didn’t realize you two were that close.”
Red shrugged, still not looking at Ricky, pretending to focus on the screen as he opened the game. He hated that he felt weird talking about Carlos with Ricky. “Yeah, he’s cool.”
“Yeah, I guess I just didn’t think you two had a lot in common.”
Red just shrugged again, not knowing what to say. They started playing the game, but Red had a hard time getting into it. He just felt so… weird. And not even in the way he normally felt weird around Ricky. There were no butterflies or worrying about saying the wrong thing. Just this tension. Like neither of them knew how to talk to each other anymore. After dying who knows how many times, Red paused the game and stood up in frustration. “I’m hungry. Are you hungry? Should we get pizza?”
He started to walk away, but Ricky stopped him. “Hey, Big Red?”
Red stopped and turned to look at him. “Yeah?”
“How long have you been tap dancing?”
Where the hell did that come from? He shrugged. “Since like fourth grade. Why?”
“How come you never told me?”
“I guess it never came up.”
“In seven years? Come on.”
Red sighed and looked down. “I guess I thought you’d make fun of me.”
“Oh.” He paused for a second. “I’m sorry.”
“Because you’re probably right.”
Ok, he hadn’t expected that. He looked back up at Ricky. “What?”
Ricky turned his body to face him more. “I was a jerk, Red. I took the whole ‘hating musicals’ thing so far I got Nini and I kicked out of a movie theatre because I thought I was funny. So yeah, as much as I’d love to say I wouldn’t have made fun of you for tap dancing, I honestly don’t know if I can. I’ve been a shit friend. I’m sorry.”
Red sat back down next to Ricky. “Hey, it’s ok. You didn’t make fun of me when you did find out. And you definitely don’t hate musicals anymore.”
Ricky shook his head. “That can’t be where the bar is. Look, Red, I know I haven’t been a great friend to you lately since me and Nini got back together. And before that too. I haven’t been spending enough time with you or listening to you enough. And I’m sorry. I’m gonna try to do better. If you don’t hate me anyway.”
Red bumped his shoulder into Ricky’s. “I could never hate you, Ricky.”
Ricky smiled. “Good. Cause I missed you.” He winced. “Sorry. That sounded cheesy.”
Red smiled and shrugged. “I don’t mind cheesy. Except for actual cheese. You know, too much lactose.” Ricky started laughing, and Red laughed too, already feeling way lighter than he had when he’d first seen Ricky that morning. After a few seconds of comfortable silence, Big Red made a decision. “Hey, Ricky?”
“Can I tell you something?”
Red looked down, suddenly feeling nervous. Only a couple hours ago, he’d sat on this very bed and made jokes about it with Carlos, but now he was struggling to get the words out to his best friend. He took a deep breath and looked back up at Ricky, who was looking at him expectantly. “I’m gay.”
Red exhaled in relief and felt himself smile slightly. “Ok.”
“Um… How long have you known?”
“Honestly? I only fully realized it like a couple weeks ago when Ashlyn broke up with me.” Damn, had it really only been a couple weeks ago? “But looking back, it probably should have been obvious way before that.”
“Oh. Have you told anyone else?”
“Just Ashlyn. And Carlos.”
“Oh. Is that why…” He trailed off, but Red knew what he meant.
He nodded. “I think so. Like we only really started hanging out like two weeks ago, but I pretty much instantly felt more comfortable around him. Like I didn’t have to hide anymore, you know?” Even though Ricky didn’t, couldn’t, really know what that felt like.
Ricky nodded. “Yeah, that makes sense.” After a couple seconds, he shook his head, as if trying to shake himself out of his thoughts. “So, is pizza still on the table?”
Red smiled. “In this house? Always.”
After Ricky left, Red pulled out his phone and texted Carlos.
so… I came out to Ricky
how’d it go?
he came over and just like apologized for being a bad friend out of nowhere?
and then I came out to him?
and then we ate pizza and played fortnite for like 5 hours?
sorry, i’m too pretty to know what a fortnite is
but i’m proud of you
so did you also tell him you like him?
he’s still dating Nini, remember?
i’m not so sure that i do still like him?
i don’t know
we hung out all day
and i didn’t feel the way i used to feel around him?
like at all?
gayby is all grown up
getting over his first crush on his straight best friend
i feel like a proud parent
i’m older than you
yes but i’m gayer than you
Big Red enjoyed running lights. It was a lot of fun, making sure to press all the right buttons at the right times. It was kind of like a video game. Not to mention, he had the best view in the house. He got to watch his best friends perform their hearts out every night, getting better and better every time until it finally all came together on opening night. With the stress of tech week behind them, Big Red could only sit back, do his job, and hope everyone else did theirs. Which was actually only slightly less stressful. But Act One was going great so far: the acting, the singing, the dancing, the choreography, the lighting (if he did say so himself). It was all perfect. He looked down at the stage in pride as he adjusted the lights, but his stomach filled with nerves as he thought about what song was coming up next. Natalie came into the booth, and he let her take over. He knew that she knew what to do. He’d gone over it more times than was probably necessary, but it felt weird to leave the booth in the middle of a show. “Are you sure you got this?”
She rolled her eyes. “Yes! Now go!” She waved him out of the booth, and he ran around the theatre to the dressing room.
Kourtney took his headset from him, so he could get changed. Then, she did his makeup before pushing him into the wings. “You got this.” He smiled at her and then stepped on stage right on cue. He danced along with the ensemble as he made his way to where Rico and Kaden could help him up onto the table in the middle of the stage. He could practically feel the moment the audience realized he was wearing tap shoes. He hadn’t performed in front of an audience in years, and a children’s dance recital had completely different energy to musical performed in a packed theatre. He was nervous but also excited. As he danced, he couldn’t stop himself from grinning the whole time. As much as he loved running the lights, he could see why the others liked being on stage so much. It was exhilarating.
The curtains closed at the end of the song, and the cast surrounded him in a group hug. Everyone started talking, and Big Red got swept up in it all as they made their way into the dressing rooms for intermission. He changed back into his normal clothes and shoes and was trying to get his makeup off when Carlos appeared in front of him.
“Need some help?”
Red smiled. “Sure.”
Carlos took the makeup wipe from him, and started removing his makeup for him. He closed his eyes, and his heart started pounding when he realized how close they were. Eventually, he felt Carlos move back. “Ok, I think I got it all.”
Red opened his eyes and looked in the mirror. “Thanks.”
Carlos tossed the makeup wipe in the trash. “No problem.”
Kourtney came over and interrupted them. She took off Red’s headset and handed it to him. “Here, you can have this back.”
He took it and put it around his neck. “Thanks.”
Suddenly, she looked up and her eyes widened as she saw something behind him. “Nini?”
She ran passed Carlos and Big Red, who both turned to see Nini standing by the door, holding hands with Ricky. The rest of the cast was already starting to surround them. She dropped Ricky’s hand as Kourtney approached, so they could throw their arms around each other in a hug. Red and Carlos shared a look before getting up and walking over to join them.
“Sorry to interrupt. I was going to wait until after the show to come see you guys, but I couldn’t resist. You’re all doing amazing.” She hugged Gina. “You are killing it as Belle.” She saw Big Red and walked up to him. “Oh my god, Big Red!” She hugged him. “It’s about time everyone sees how talented you are.” She pulled back and held his hands. “Seriously, when you walked out on stage, my jaw dropped. I thought you quit tap years ago.”
Ricky looked taken aback. “Wait, you knew?”
Nini turned to him. “Um. Maybe?” She looked back at Red. “But seriously, what happened?”
Big Red glanced at Carlos then looked back at Nini and shrugged. “Peer pressure?”
She laughed and hugged Big Red again. “I missed you.”
“I missed you, too.” He really had. No matter how annoying it was when Ricky talked about her all the time, Red could never be mad at Nini for it because he loved her so much. She was just so nice. And she was like a sister to him. And he was so relieved that now that he’d worked things out with Ricky, maybe things between their whole friend group could go back to normal. At least, until she went back to Denver at the end of the summer. But he didn’t want to think about that right now.
Natalie Bagley came over and interrupted them. “Yes, we all missed Nini, but there will be plenty of time to catch up after the show. Five minutes until places for Act Two.”
Shit, yeah. Everyone jumped into action, finishing last minute touch ups to their makeup and costumes and psyching themselves up for the next act. Red grabbed his xylophone and walked with Nini out to the lobby.
“So… what’s up with you and Carlos?” Nini asked, as soon as they were alone.
“What are you talking about?”
“Oh come on, I’ve been back for like 2 seconds, and I can see the way you look at each other.” When he didn’t say anything, she continued. “It’s the same way you used to look at Ricky.”
He stopped. “Wait, you knew about that?”
She turned and looked at him. “Of course I did.” She gave him a sad smile. “I’m sorry.”
“For what? It’s not your fault he chose you.” It’s not your fault he’s straight.
She bit her lip and nodded. “I know. But still.” She turned, and the two started walking again. “I like Carlos. I think you two are good for each other.”
She nodded. “Yeah. I never would have guessed it, but now that I see it, it makes a lot of sense. You both have a lot of love to give. He’s already making you more confident.” She nudged him lightly with her elbow. “I mean, he’s the one who got you to dance again, isn’t he?” Red just gave a small nod. “And I think you make him softer. More grounded.”
“Really?” He wondered how much she’d noticed in the few seconds she’d seen them together. Or how much Kourtney had told her over the past few weeks.
She nodded. “You deserve to be happy, Big Red. And I could see how happy you were up on that stage. And you deserve to love someone who loves you back.”
“You think he does?” He thought it was a bit soon for ‘love,’ but maybe…
“I do.” She looked around the lobby. “I should probably…”
He nodded. “Me too.” He held up his xylophone. After all, he had a job to do.
When the show was over and the theatre was emptying, Red was still in the booth, resetting the lights and cleaning up for the next show. He heard someone walk in and looked up to see Carlos standing there, holding all the microphones in his hands. “I brought these for you.”
“Thanks.” The two of them set to work plugging them in to charge and putting them where they were supposed to be, so the cast could come grab them the next day. When they were done, they stood there kind of awkwardly for a second, not wanting to leave, but not quite knowing what to say. Red broke the silence, clearing his throat as he pulled something out of his pocket. “I got you something. Like an opening night thing.”
Red nodded and handed it to him. It was a small black card, about the size of a business card. Carlos looked confused for a second and then smiled as he looked down at it, laughing when he realized what it was. There was a little pink flower in the top right corner, and in the middle, in a rainbow cursive font, were the words:
Level 23 Gay™
Red bit his lip nervously. “Do you like it?”
“It’s a Gay Card.” He looked up. “I love it. This might be the greatest gift I’ve ever received.” He kept laughing. “And I can’t believe…” He shook his head and looked up at Red. “I got you something, too.”
“Of course.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a similar-looking white card.
Red took it and started laughing too when he read it. There was a rainbow going across it diagonally, and in black comic sans font, it said:
Level 3 Gay™
Red tilted his head to the side and gave Carlos a confused look. “Wait, I thought I was only a Level 2 Gay?”
Carlos bit his lip and stepped closer to Red. He looked confident, but Red could tell he was a little nervous. “I thought of something else you could do to be promoted to the next level.”
“What is it?”
Carlos’s eyes flickered down to Red’s lips. “Kiss a boy.”
Oh. Oh. “Oh.” So he definitely hadn’t imagined that then. He smiled. “That sounds way more fun then drinking iced coffee.”
Carlos smiled. “Just a little bit.”
“Got a particular boy in mind?” Red asked because he needed to be sure, even as he glanced down at Carlos’s lips.
Carlos’s hand brushed against Red’s. “Perhaps.”
“I thought you didn’t go for skater boys.”
“Maybe I changed my mind.”
Their hands that had brushed together found each other and interlocked. Red wasn’t entirely sure who initiated it, but suddenly they were kissing. Carlos’s lips were soft and tasted vaguely like chapstick. Red barely noticed his card flutter to the ground as his hand instinctively moved to Carlos’s waist and he felt Carlos’s hand in his hair. As he melted into the kiss, his mind screamed, ‘Oh my god I’m kissing Carlos!’ and then ‘So that’s what kissing is supposed to feel like.’ Because while kissing Ashlyn had been nice, it was nothing like this. This time, there were those fireworks that Ricky had always talked about that Red hadn’t been convinced were real. This time, he felt comfortable and warm and so so happy. Red smiled and felt Carlos smile back, cutting the kiss short. They leaned their foreheads against each other, looking into each other’s eyes, grinning widely and breathing a little more heavily than normal.
“You know, I think you’re right. I feel gayer already.”
“You’re ridiculous.” Carlos kissed him again, just a short peck on the lips this time, and Red kissed him back, just because he could.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t stay there kissing forever. Big Red leaned down to pick up the cards they’d dropped, handing Carlos his and putting his own in his pocket, not letting go of his hand the whole time. “So… what happens now?”
“We all go to Denny’s and cry and then we come back tomorrow and do the whole thing over again.”
Red shook his head and smiled. “That part I remember actually. I meant, what happens with us.”
Carlos nodded, smiling back. “I don’t know.” He squeezed Red’s hand. “But we have as much time as we need to figure it out. The question now is,” he held up their hands, “do we walk out there holding hands or not?”
Red thought for a second before answering by squeezing Carlos’s hand back. The two of them left the light booth together, and Red turned off the light just before closing the door behind them. They walked into the lobby, where their friends and family were waiting for them, their hands still intertwined with no intention of letting go any time soon.
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