Author's Note: Well, here it is. The last chapter to this story. The finale, the last installment, the last Troy and Gabriella scene in this story. However you want to look at it. (It's also your last chance to review -winks-)
It's been a wonderful ride. It's funny, as I look back at my first chapters, how much my writing has evolved. And I have you, the readers and reviewers, to thank for that. I never thought that my fanfic would receive such a great response. Thank you all for your support and kind words.
This story has gone much further than I ever dreamed. Over 450 reviews, faithful readers/reviewers, and it's made (at last count) 99 alert lists and 86 favorites lists. It's even being nominated for several categories in the High School Musical FanFiction Awards (see my profile for details on the forum).
And now, without further ado, the last chapter to "Because I Loved Him."


Chapter 18

Life had gone back to normal in East High. Now that May had finally come, the school was in a flurry of activity as the drama club started preparing for its Spring Musical. Mrs. Darbus had chosen a play called Love You Forever, a play in which two former high school sweethearts meet ten years after a nasty break-up.

One day, after a long, grueling rehearsal, Gabriella collapsed onto one of the auditorium seats. She propped her elbows on the armrests and massaged her temples tiredly. Through slitted eyes, she watched as the stage crew cleaned up the last of the set, sweeping the stage under Sharpay's scrutinizing gaze.

Gabriella sat up once she saw Troy bound down the stairs. "What're you looking for?" she asked as he rummaged through his backpack.

He jumped when he heard her voice, and pulled out a sheet of white paper. She could faintly see his untidy scrawl floating all over the page. "Err...nothing," he lied.

Raising her eyebrow, she said, "That doesn't really count as 'nothing.' " Shaking her head, she changed the topic. "So, do you want to come over? My mom said it's alright for you to stay for dinner."

Troy bit his lip. "Um, sorry, I can't. I've gotta stay here and work on something with Kelsi."

He looked so torn and apologetic that she couldn't help but grin. "Don't worry, it's okay," she whispered, stepping closer to him. Troy smiled as Gabriella reached up to peck him on the lips. Looping his arm around her waist, he caught her by surprise and held her for a long time. When they finally separated, she turned around and picked up her messenger bag and walked out of the auditorium.

As she waited outside for her mom to pick her up, Gabriella was thinking hard about the last few weeks. A few days after the prom, Troy had been acting strangely. However, it wasn't like when Bianca had first come to East High. This time, during class, while the teachers were giving lessons, he would be hard at work, scribbling words down onto the paper. The teachers didn't mind, because they thought that he was taking notes. But Gabriella knew better. A couple of times, when she had leaned over to snap him out of his frenzy, she had caught sight of a few lyrical lines. But before she could take a closer look, he would notice her, and sheepishly hide it under his books.

Mrs. Montez finally pulled up to the curb, unlocking the doors and motioning for Gabriella to climb in. She shook her head quickly and clambered into the front seat. As they drove away from the school, Gabriella decided not to worry. I can trust him.

---

"Hey Troy," Kelsi said. She was sitting at the piano in the music room, a pencil behind her ear and a complicated score in front of her. "Did you need something?"

Troy rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. "Um, yeah. I've been working on this thing over the last few weeks, and I want to sing it to Gabriella sometime soon. Preferrably at opening night..." he trailed off, watching Kelsi's face carefully. The composer gestured with her hands, encouraging Troy to continue. "Andiwaswonderingifyoucouldsetmusictoit," he said in one breath.

Quirking her brow, Kelsi asked, "Come again?"

"Uh..I was wondering if you could set music to it?" Troy blushed. Kelsi grinned and nodded ecstatically. He let out all his breath, making a loud whoosh. "Gee, thanks so much, Kels!"

His friend smiled at him. "Now, can I see it?" She held out her hand, and Troy placed the paper gently in her palm. Kelsi looked over it, her eyes growing wider with every line.

Troy took this as a bad sign. "Uh oh; is it that bad?"

Kelsi chuckled and looked at him. "The exact opposite. Would you mind taking over the songwriting for me?" she asked jokingly.

"So you like it?"

"I love it!" Kelsi replied enthusiastically. "And Gabriella'll love it too!" She immediately turned back to the piano and started hitting a few keys, testing combinations and chords.

Troy sat down next to her, watching as she started to compose a melody for his song. "Do you think we would be able to fit it in somewhere in the play?"

Kelsi stopped playing and turned to face him. "In the play?" He nodded. "Hmm...I'm not sure Mrs. Darbus will like that..."

"Come on, Kels! Please? It doesn't even have to be at all the performances! Just opening night!"

Grinning at her friend's despair, the brunette composer gave in. "All right, we can put it in at the 'Midnight Meeting' scene. Sound okay?"

"Okay? It's great! Thanks so much, Kelsi, for everything," Troy's voice started to crack.

Kelsi leaned over and wrapped her arms around him, enveloping in a warm hug. "Don't worry about it. You and Gabriella are happy again, and that's all that matters," she whispered. Pulling back, they smiled at each other, friend to friend, and started to work on Troy's song.

---

Opening night came way too fast. During the last few rehearsals, Mrs. Darbus was running around like a frazzled chicken, making the actors run through the entire play several times. If she found the tiniest mistake, they would have to rehearse that scene over and over, until she was satisfied.

As the auditorium began to fill with people, Gabriella stood offstage, peeking out at the growing audience. She had changed into her opening costume a long time ago; the first scene was to take place at a party, so she was dressed in a long white strapless dress, with a big bow around her waist. Her heart was pounding so loud that she was sure everyone could hear it.

"Nervous?" Gabriella jumped as a voice spoke behind her. She turned around and a pair of warm blue eyes came into view. Troy stood before her, dressed in a black dress shirt and black slacks. When she nodded, he chuckled and pulled her into a hug. "You'll do great," he whispered into her ear. "You always do."

Gabriella lifted her head off his chest to look at him. He leaned down and kissed her softly on the lips, lingering there for a moment before Gabriella batted him away. "Ruin my makeup, and I'll slaughter you, Bolton. I don't want to have to spend another hour in the dressing room!" she chided, a grin playing around her lips.

Troy laughed. He opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by Mrs. Darbus' voice as she spoke into the microphone. "Ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you to this chapel of the arts." Sniggers were heard as she said this. "What you are about to see is a production of Love You Forever, starring Troy Bolton as Aidan Calloway--" Cheers broke out in the auditorium. "--Gabriella Montez as Chelsea Montressori, Sharpay Evans as Lily Pascal, and Ryan Evans as Jacob Blusant." The cheers grew louder, but died under Mrs. Darbus' intense stare. "At this time, we ask that you turn all mobile phones and pagers off--" The room was filled with electronic music as cell phones were switched off. "And now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show!"

The heavy curtains were dragged to the side to reveal an elaborate set, modeling a penthouse apartment. Sharpay, Ryan, and a lot of extras milled around, carrying champagne glasses filled with colored liquid. Off to the side, Gabriella took one last fleeting look at Troy, before moving to step out onto stage. But before she emerged, Troy grabbed her arm and whispered, "If anything seems out of the ordinary, especially in the second act, just follow my lead, 'kay?" Puzzled by his cryptic remark, Gabriella had two choices: stay behind, ask what he meant, and miss her cue, or just nod. She nodded briefly, before walking onto the stage and joining the extras.

Troy smiled to himself. He watched as Gabriella started to act out her part, chatting silently with an extra. After a few minutes, he entered the stage and started to approach the two girls.

"Hey, Chelsea!" Lily called out across the room. The pretty brunette turned and grinned when she caught sight of her old-time friend. Chelsea weaved in and out of small socializing groups, making a beeline for the blonde. When the two girls finally met up, they immediately hugged.

"Lily! How are you? I haven't seen you forever!" Chelsea exclaimed.

Lily beamed. "I know; it's been way too long. And as for the 'how are you' statement, I'm good...and engaged..." she trailed off, lifting her hand. Gasping, Chelsea inspected her friend's ring.

"It's positively humongous! Now, which guy did you pay to propose to you?" Chelsea joked, nudging her friend.

Huffing, Lily pretended to be offended. "For your information, I didn't pay any man to propose to me!" she said indignantly. Then, lowering her voice, she added, "He chose me because he is completely hypnotized!"

"Really? I thought I was in love with you. Well, since I was hypnotized, I guess that I'll be taking that ring back." All of a sudden, a tall, blond man stepped up to Lily. Giggling, she hid her left hand behind her back. He wound one arm around her waist, and stuck his right hand out. "I'm Jacob Blusant. And her whole 'I hypnotized him charade' is sadly true. Unfortunately, I'm completely in love with her." Lily looked up at her fiancé and beamed, then smacked him in the chest.

Chelsea smiled and shook Jacob's hand, laughing as the blond winced from his fiancée's blow. "Congratulations, you two. So, Lily, who's hosting this party?" she asked, changing the subject. "It never mentioned any names on the invitation."

"I am." Jacob and Lily's eyes went wide as they stared at the person behind Chelsea. The brunette slowly turned around, clearly knowing the owner of the deep voice. Please, let it be someone else she prayed silently. Alas, they weren't answered.

Raising a shaking finger, Chelsea stuttered, "Y-y-you're hosting this party?"

"Why, are you afraid to see me, Chels?"

"Aidan," she whispered.

---

Intermission was suddenly upon them, and everybody rushed to their dressing rooms, hurrying to change costumes and touch up their makeup. The audience milled around, escaping the auditorium to the hallway in order to breathe and buy programs. Troy and Gabriella had finished early, and were now standing behind the curtain, listening to the audience's low mumble.

"Well, we've got the second act coming up, and that'll be the last one," Troy said casually, trying to start a conversation.

"Can you please tell me what's going to happen? Please? I hate surprises!" Gabriella pouted. Troy mimed zipping his lips shut, and she humphed, crossing her arms and turning away. After a few seconds, she looked at him again over her shoulder. He shook his head, and she stuck her tongue out at him.

"Oh, very mature, Gabriella," Troy laughed. She turned around to face him again, a smile playing about on her lips. Troy couldn't resist; she was the only person that could ever coax secrets from him. He leaned down and placed his mouth next to her ear, whispering, "Watch out when the duet comes." His warm breath tickled her ear, and she looked at him quizzically, her eyes pleading for more information.

Gabriella opened her mouth to protest, but Mrs. Darbus' voice cut her off as it boomed in the auditorium. "Ladies and Gentlemen, the second act of Love You Forever is about to begin. Please return to your seats and turn all mobile devices off. Thank you."

"Ready?" Troy asked. Gabriella nodded. "Good." He gave her a quick kiss, before walking out onto the stage and preparing for the next scene. The curtain lifted, showing a new scene. Taking a deep breath, Gabriella stepped out to join him onstage. She looked out into the darkened auditorium, her lines coming instantly to her lips.

The second act had started.

---

"Chelsea! Fancy meeting you here!" Aidan called out. They had accidentally run into each other at the same restaurant: Le Restaurant Luxueux.

"You too. Listen, I've got to tell you something." Chelsea had finally decided to own up to her feelings about him. Truth was, despite their difficult break-up back in high school, she had fallen in love all over again with him over the course of the past few weeks. "I—I—I think I'm—"

"Honey, who's this?" Both Chelsea and Aidan turned to acknowledge the newcomer. Beside him stood a tall, willowy woman, with long, honey-brown hair, high, sculpted cheekbones, and piercing green eyes.

Aidan paled. Shifting so that he faced Chelsea again, he bit his lip nervously. "Um...Chelsea, this is my girlfriend, Blanche. (Gabriella winced at how close the name was to Bianca. That whole memory was still sharply imbedded in her mind.) Blanche, this Chelsea, one of my very close friends from high school."

Blanche regarded Chelsea with a cold stare. "Nice to meet you," she said coolly. She didn't bother to stick out her hand.

Chelsea smiled weakly. Aidan noticed this and asked, "So, Chelsea, what was it you wanted to tell me?"

She shook her head. How could she have been so foolish, to believe that she could tell him that she loved him and that everything would be okay? Why didn't she anticipate this?

"Chelsea?" Aidan's voice shook her out of her reverie.

Chelsea looked up into his blue eyes for a moment, before averting her gaze. "It's not important anymore."

---

Aidan didn't know what was going on. He wasn't happy with Blanche; she was egotistic and conceited, always concerned about herself. He found his thoughts straying to one certain brunette, someone that he had known in high school...

Over the last few weeks, they'd run into each other more than just a couple of times. While he secretly suspected that Jacob and Lily had something to do with it, he was more than happy about the occurrences. Every time he caught sight of Chelsea, something fluttered in his chest, his breathing quickened, and he felt giddy and laughed at every little joke, even if it wasn't that funny.

What was going on?

---

Gabriella steeled herself. The duet scene was coming up, and she still didn't have a clue as to what was happening. As soon as the stage crew finished setting up the new scene, she rushed onstage to take her place, mouthing a quick "thank you" to the stage manager, who happened to be Taylor. Yes, the president of the Science Club had decided to become more active in the drama club, ever since her best friend became one of the biggest stars to ever hit East High's stage.

A sound rang out, striking 11:45. Chelsea sat on a stone bench in a small rose garden, staring up at the stars. She couldn't help but think that wishing on everyone of them would help her situation with Aidan. While it was a childish thing to do, she wished "I wish for Aidan to love me again."

As if by coincidence, Aidan stumbled into the garden. She rose to meet him, taking in his disheveled clothes and messy hair with a worried expression. The question, "Are you al--" died on her lips as he lifted his head and met her eyes, his burning with a passion and fire that she had seen only once before, so many years ago.

"May I have this dance?" Aidan asked suddenly. (Gabriella blinked. This wasn't supposed to happen. They were supposed to have a conversation about infatuation and true love. But then she remembered Troy's words: If anything seems out of the ordinary, especially in the second act, just follow my lead, 'kay? and Watch out when the duet comes.)

Chelsea nodded. He took her right hand and clasped it in his left, while his right hand wound itself around her waist. Her left hand rose up to rest on his shoulder, and he began to lead her in a slow, smooth waltz. (A piano began to play, and Gabriella saw that Kelsi had gone up on the stage to play. The composer shot her friend an encouraging glance before turning back to the score.)

A beautiful rift of notes filled the room, and Aidan began to lead Chelsea around the garden, humming softly under his breath. She stared up into his face, searching for an answer, but his expression revealed nothing.

Then, Aidan opened his mouth and began to sing. (Gabriella had the feeling that this was what Troy was talking about. She decided to just follow his lead, and see where it took them. She also had the strange idea that what "Aidan" was singing wasn't really coming from the character, but from Troy himself.) (Author's Note: This is where the 'play' will end for this chapter. Keep in mind, there would be a lot more to the story, but I'm cutting it off here for chapter purposes.)

From the moment I saw you,
From the moment I looked into your eyes,
There was something about you
I knew. I knew
That you were once in a life time,
A treasure near impossible to find.
And I know how lucky I am to have you.

Troy's words took Gabriella's breath away. They were simple, yet so full of meaning, intricate, yet easy to understand. He loved her, and this was his way of showing it.

His right arm left her waist to draw wide arcs in the air.

'Cause I've seen rainbows that can take your breath away.
The beauty of the setting sun that ends a perfect day.
And when it comes to shooting stars, I've seen a few.
But I've never seen anything
As beautiful as you.

Troy's arm returned to her waist, and with it, a sense of love and security, warmth and trust. He spun her out of his embrace, and she giggled as the skirt she was wearing swirled around her legs. Troy pulled her back in such a way that she was resting against his chest, and he wrapped both of his arms around her waist. In response, she covered her arms with his, and he bent down so that he could sing into her ear. They swayed from side to side in time with the music.

Holding you in my arms,
No one else has fit so perfectly.
I could dance forever with you, with you.
And at the stroke of midnight,
Please forgive me if I can't let go.
'Cause I never dreamed I'd find a Cinderella of my own.

Ironically, a loud gong resonated in the auditorium, signaling "midnight." Gabriella marveled at how Kelsi and Troy had arranged the music and the lyrics to go perfectly with the atmosphere. She also smiled at his reference to her favorite fairy tale.

'Cause I've seen rainbows that can take your breath away.
The beauty of the setting sun that ends a perfect day.
And when it comes to shooting stars, I've seen a few.
But I've never seen anything
As beautiful as you.

Troy turned her around so that she was facing him again. He pulled her closer to him, and she eagerly tightened her hold on her shoulder, while his arm tightened around her waist. He dipped her down briefly, before bringing her back up and singing louder and louder as he continued to whirl her around the set.

'Cause I've seen rainbows that can take your breath away.
The beauty of the setting sun that ends a perfect day.
And when it comes to shooting stars, I've seen a few.
But I've never seen anything...
Oh oh, oh no,
I've never seen anything
As beautiful as you.

As the song began to slow down, Troy's voice lowered in volume, until he was all but whispering. Of course, their microphones picked it up so that the whole audience could hear it.

From the moment I saw you,
From the moment I looked into your eyes.

He cut off, both of them breathing heavily. No one moved, and Gabriella suddenly noticed how close they were. While they were dancing, they had unconsciously moved closer and closer, until only about three inches separated their lips.

Troy took the initiative and closed the gap. Their lips met, and her arms immediately went around his neck. His hands were instantly on her waist, and he lifted her up. Gabriella smiled against his lips, but never broke the kiss. He set her down, and then they finally noticed the thunderous applause. Everyone in the audience was on their feet, clapping and cheering. Including Troy's parents, Gabriella's mom, and Mrs. Darbus, though she didn't look too happy about his improvisation.

But Troy didn't care. He looked down at Gabriella, and she looked back up at him, and they both laughed as they bowed and the curtain closed, surrounding them in darkness.

(Author's Note: The song Troy sang was "Beautiful" by Wayne Brady, accompanied by Jim Brickman on the piano.)

---

About half an hour later, Troy and Gabriella had wriggled out of their itchy costumes and washed off all the heavy stage makeup in their respective dressing rooms. Then they met up and walked towards the gymnasium, where a party to celebrate opening night was being held.

"That was a beautiful song, Troy," Gabriella commented. "Did Kelsi write it specially for the situation?"

Troy snorted. "What makes you think that Kelsi is the only one with songwriting abilities here?"

She gasped. "You wrote that?"

"Is that so hard to believe?"

Laughing, she shook her head. "No. It makes it all the more meaningful." Gabriella reached up to peck him on the lips, and they continued the rest of the walk in a comfortable silence.

Troy's hand found its way to Gabriella's waist, and he rested it there, watching her carefully for any signs of protest. But she didn't utter a sound. When they entered the gym, the crowd went wild as everyone rushed to the entrance to greet the two stars. The people were thrusting their programs at Troy and Gabriella, asking for autographs. Their friends gathered around them, trying to shield them from the massive onslaught.

All of a sudden, the crowd parted like the Red Sea as someone hobbled up to them. They watched the newcomer silently, some with looks of surprise, and others with looks of contempt.

"Bianca," Gabriella said, her face hardening. Troy instinctively tightened his hold on her, bracing for any possible lash out from his former girlfriend.

But the blonde girl looked tired. "Gabriella, Troy...it's nice to see you again," she started awkwardly. They were silent. She sighed. "I didn't come here to cause any more trouble, or try to break up new relationships. I came here to apologize, to you two." Bianca gestured to the two leads.

"I truly am sorry for everything I've done. Troy, I'm sorry for tearing you away from Gabriella, when you are clearly meant to be together. And Gabriella, I'm sorry for breaking you guys up, and causing you so much pain. I was a stupid, conniving cow; I only had eyes for what I wanted, and I didn't care what happened to everyone else. But I was lonely, and I wanted a way to make myself known."

Gabriella's heart melted. "Bianca, you could have just told us. We would have taken you in, shown you around, and get you comfortable here. That's what everyone did for me, back in January." She looked up and smiled at the assembled crowd.

"Yeah, I should have done that. And I wanted to let you know that no matter what the world says, you two are meant to be together. You guys are amazing, both on and off the stage," Bianca said.

Troy spoke up then. "Um, thanks, Bianca."

She smiled weakly at them. "I also wanted to let you know that I won't be such a big pain next year. In fact, I won't even be here at all." At their questioning gaze, she continued, "My parents are sending me to a boarding school back East. Apparently, my grades and conduct weren't that spectacular."

"Oh," Gabriella said softly. "When are you leaving?"

"Tonight. I just came to congratulate you on a great show and apologize for everything. Oh, and to thank you for your visit, Gabriella." Bianca turned and started to limp towards the exit of the gym.

Troy and Gabriella ran up to her. "Bianca, wait," Troy said. He took her program and signed it with a flourish, then passed it to Gabriella, who imprinted her swirly signature upon the glossy paper.

"Thank you." Bianca said sincerely. Then she limped out of the gym, and out of their lives.

---

Eventually, the crowd had disippated, as people started to head home. But the gang stayed behind, including its newest members: Ty and Sarah. They were all talking about the play, Bianca's exit, and the final scene. Troy and Gabriella were laughing along, their hands never separating.

Sharpay finally broke the subject. "So, Gabriella, why'd you take Troy back so easily?" Troy blushed. "I mean, even after what he did to you, you still gave him a second chance. Why?" Everyone else started talking all at once, saying things like, "Yeah! Tell us!" and "Not many people would do that!"

"Guys!" Troy barked. "Maybe if you're quiet, she'll let you know?"

"Yes Captain," Chad, Zeke, and Jason said automatically. When they received stares from the rest of the group, Chad put his hands up defensively. "What? It's a reflex!"

Chuckling at her friends' antics, Gabriella looked up at Troy. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught her staring at him and turned towards her, a goofy grin on his face. Coloring furiously, Gabriella ducked her head shyly.

"Well?" Taylor's sharp voice said.

Gabriella snapped her head back up. "Well what?"

"Why'd you take him back so easily?"

Smiling up at Troy, Gabriella knew her answer instantly:

"Because I love him."