A/N: here it is: the LAST chapter of MA. It feels good to finally finish, sad, but good sad. Bittersweet... perhaps? (cough) two things real quick 1- sorry, no sequel :( & 2- new story in the works already & another with that. Enjoy! And final thanks to all my reviewers & even those who read but didn't review :))

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

The sound of Alexis using his body as a human layout of hopscotch was what woke him up. He twirled over, his head hitting the bedroom door he had so stubbornly stalked himself out of.

Then, realization hit him. Had she snuck out of the room without him knowing?

"Al," Troy said, stopping the little girl from pouncing on his groin. "Have you see Gabriella?"

The young girl stopped, as if taking time to ponder the question and let it soak in. She raised her pinky to her cheek, poking at the dimple she knew would appear if she smiled. She made a humming noise that sounded as if she were a bird.

"Nope." she answered.

He rolled over, stood up, and knocked on the door with enough strength to pound the wooden frame in.

"C'mon, Gabriella!" he shouted, "Let me in, dammit."

He knew if she was listening, or actually in the room, she would have answered prominently with, 'No, Bolton, let me in.' But when no smart remark came back to him, he leaned his head against the door frame and clicked his tongue against his cheek.

"She's not in there, honey." Lena's voice carried from somewhere downstairs. "And your car's not in the driveway…" She left it as if it were a cliffhanger on one of her favorite television shows. He could almost hear the dramatic music playing in the background.

"What?" he yelled, hanging himself over the staircase banister.

"Well, dumbass, when you tell a girl she's just another girl who let you in her pants, she usually doesn't take it so well." Jamie chimed in, peering her head from around the corner in her bedroom.

"No one asked you, Jamie. Stay out of this." Troy growled, running into this bedroom to grab his coat. He bolted down the stairs, and out the front door. No excuse or explanation was needed when he slammed the door behind him. Both Lena and Jamie knew he was going to look for Gabriella. They also doubted his luck of finding her.

She had been driving for almost an hour, the gas tank was now only a quarter full, and she had absolutely no clue where she was. The road had been straight through, until now. She had reached a four-way turn and she hadn't the slightest idea which of the four was her turn.

At this point, she would've turned off the car, to preserve gas, and focus. But, fearing that she wouldn't be able to re-wire the car once more, she sat; waiting patiently for luck to overcast her. And then, she gave in. It wouldn't matter what way she turned, as long as she got as far away from Troy Bolton as possible.

She smashed the gas pedal and reared to the right, spinning the car down a road called "Pine Apple."

"Fan-fricken-tastic. I'm God knows where, on 'Pine Apple' road, and I need gas. This is great. Really, really, great."

She turned and turned and turned; letting her hands guide her. The roads seemed to be getting wider and the scenery became less snowy. She flipped on the radio, hoping to let the music take her mind off of… everything.

He jumped into his sister's car and slammed out of the driveway. He knew his way through Crescent Alvolent like he knew his way through a basketball court. Only problem was, Gabriella didn't.

She had no idea how to get back to his mother's house or how to get back to Albuquerque, let alone New Mexico. If he wasn't so shut out and complex, then maybe none of this would have ever happened.

But didn't she understand that he needed time? He needed time to grow up; to get into the feel of things.

He'd never had a real girlfriend, at least not one that he cared about. Sure there had been girls, of course there had been girls; just not like her.

He liked Gabriella, yes, he definitely liked Gabriella. And as he slid down the snow-covered roads of his hometown, he realized there was nothing he could do about it. He knew what concealed feelings could do to you; after all he was a walking example.

Maybe he could give it a shot; a trail run.

The car slid to a stop, slowing at the stop sign.

No, it would not be a "trial run." He wouldn't hurt her because it would end up hurting both of them far too much.

Gabriella's eyes scanned the clock, realizing another hour had flown by. She found her way onto the highway, by some miracle. But the gas was running lower and lower, and she was hours away from home.

Home. Some home. She sighed, reading the road signs closely. A deep, inset breath she hadn't known to hold slipped through her parted lips.

"Welcome to New Mexico." She read aloud, smiling. Finally, there was good news.

He had no idea where she would go, and he was pretty sure she had no idea where she would go. His heart pounded in his chest as sweat dispersed on his forehead. It was barely thirty degrees outside and he was sweating.

He pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the engine. How could one girl, one simple, lonely girl, cause him so much stress? How could one single person turn his life upside down? He had done the one thing he should've never, and that was let her get to him. It was crazy to think that one individual could break him in half and twist his heart into two.

Her chest rumbled and her stomach knotted as she drove into an overpass. Another hour or so and she'd be even closer to home. Only problem was, would the car last another hour? Maybe looking for a gas station would be a better idea.

The car sped through an excavated tunnel where she was albeit tempted to blow the horn. She smiled, if Troy had been beside her, she would have, no questions asked.

Oh, Troy. Sure he might not have meant it, but that didn't mean it wasn't going to tear her apart. It was simply the fact that he had said it, whether he meant it or not. It was too late now. Much too late. And now, while he sat in his cozy home with his adorable family, she was heading back to Albuquerque where she had nothing but leftover take-out and a big, empty house.

As soon as she stepped into the door, she'd call her mother immediately and demand to be moved to another state, far, far from New Mexico. She had never asked Veronica for much, ever. And deep down, she had never intended on asking her for anything, ever. But this was an exception, and she needed to get out of here, no matter what the costs were.

She was done with New Mexico, and she would do anything to get that point across.

Her eyes cast to the left, where there was nothing but more roads, though as she tilted her head to the left, she was greeted with a familiar, oddly comforting setting.

The sun was peaking just above the canyon, while the glorious ever-so beautiful Rio Grande River ran by. Finally, some closure. She knew exactly where she was. White Rock.

The corners of her mouth turned up, cheerfully, as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. It was the strangest thing, how she could find happiness in a place that was Troy's. The steering wheel seemed to guide her hands into the side pasture, mindlessly. Her seat belt unbuckled itself from around her, and her hand reached for the door.

By the time reality struck her, it was too late. The car was out of gas and the engine wouldn't start. But being stranded in a quite foreign place didn't even bother her in the least bit.

How happiness could come from a place that meant so little to her was astounding. Sweeping her legs off the edge, her back met the ground, voluntarily. The weather was warmer. The air was clearer. And her head felt so much lighter. Thinking clearly was easier here, she decided. There wasn't a question as to why Troy came up here.

It was so relaxing and calm. The feeling she got was amazing. And that was saying something coming from a girl lying in the dirt on the side of a giant cliff. It was like being free, and new; like she could get a new start here.

Maybe this was what life was supposed to feel like; she thought as a breeze blew by, blowing her hair in a whirl. Sensational. That's what it was, sensational. It rolled off the tongue and made her shoulders loosen. So sensational.

The sound of a car skidding next to hers (or Troy's rather) was what brought her out of sensational dreamland. A door slammed and footsteps crushed the rocks beneath her. Her eyes were closed, and knowing who it was, she didn't bother to sit up. Or even flinch for that matter.

He had thought about saying something. The whole drive where ever the hell he was going, he had tried to come up with something to say. An explanation, atonement to what he had done. But no matter what he said, there would be nothing that would patch the holes that he tore. They both knew it.

His breathing was slow, his heart rated calmed. White Rock really was something.

Slowly, he approached her, lying there on the ground. Greenery and gorgeous colors of the Earth surrounded her form. The words he had planned, the manipulative speech, drifted off with the breeze that swept his hair into the air.

He lay down next to her, his body only inches apart from her own. Excuses didn't matter, right then and there was all that counted. As his hand crept towards hers, the silence was broken.

"Don't think that just because you chase after me and hold my hand that I will immediately forgive you." He silently nodded, intertwining their fingers together like a puzzle piece. They fit. "This isn't a movie, and you are going to have to work your ass off to fix this."

"I know and I'm sorry." It was said so simply, so purely, that she finally opened her eyes. Her head tilted towards his face and she was met with his closed eyes. She smiled.

Silence sifted through the air, another cool breeze creeping through their clothes. It was cool outside, but flames were burning on the dirty ground.

"Did you mean it?" she asked, after minutes of purity.

There wasn't an answer for quite some time, leaving her to believe that he had meant it. Insecurities ran down her arms, goose bumps appearing instantly. He took a deep breath, squeezed her hand, and turned his head to face her.

"Gabriella," Her named coated his tongue like a warm piece of chocolate. As it roamed into the air, it was a melody to her ears. "At first… at first, I did mean it." The words crushed her like a boulder falling from the sky. Her own Cloud 9 had just nose-dived into the Rio Grande River. "But now, laying here on the ground next to a river, while millions of bugs are probably biting the hell out of me, I realize that I was wrong. So wrong, I feel like nothing can ever be right again. It's like failing a math exam; I want the chance to retake it, to get an A."

Her mouth hung agape and she wondered if he meant it. No, it was surely too good to be true, too deep for the cold Troy Bolton.

"I'm not an exam, Troy. You can't just retake me 'til all of the answers are correct and you get a hundred percent. I'm a real, living, breathing person, and it just won't work. Not with you, not with us."

"I know you aren't, and I know you're a person, with feelings too. But I want this to work, Montez." His last words were stated so easily she believed it.

"…So do I."

"But you're going to have to give me time," he paused, choosing his words carefully, "I mean, if you give me a chance." His cocky tone and foolish smile broke through their romantic moment and she punched him in the arm.

"Troy!" she yelped, giggling. He smiled the most beautiful, original, real smile she had ever seen. His cheeks turned up, and a dimple appeared on the corner of his right lip. A chuckle cascaded through her parted lips and she laughed, humorously.

"What?" he questioned.

She didn't answer at first, only met his lips with her own in a sweet kiss that brought stars to her eyes. Happiness had never come so strangely. And for her, happiness hadn't come at all.

"You have a dimple." It was such a simple statement but it meant the world to her.

He brushed a stray hair away from her eyes, letting go of her hand. His legs rose, bringing his body along with them. Smoothly, with the sternness of a machine, he brushed the dirt off of his back. Her eyes met his own, peering up from below him. He smirked and reached for her hand, pulling her up easily.

"Come on. Let's get back, prove to my sister that I'm not a complete screw up." He grinned, jokingly as he led her to the car.

His arm wound his way around her shoulder, giving her the confidence to wrap her own below his rib cage. She squeezed him closer to her, looking up at his defined features. She might have been getting herself into a bad situation too fast and forgiving him so easily might come to haunt her in the future, but the consequences would have to be dealt with later. For once, she wasn't going to let analysis and thorough thinking get in the way.

This was spontaneous, this was new, but most importantly – this was love.

"Hey, Montez?" She arched her eyebrows, he finished, "Where'd you learn to hot wire a car?"

She smirked, playfully, answering cockily, "We all have out secrets."

He laughed, a melodious laugh that rung through the air. This was definitely a good thing. Consequences or not; she'd deal with that later.

He might have needed time, to change, collect himself, whatever. But she would wait and she would be there for him through whatever it was. His good moods and his bad moods, she'd stick through it all.

After all, unmasking the affection would take time, right?

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