"Mama," Ava cried, when she saw Gabriella walk away.
Gabriella froze. Troy stiffened. Their eyes met. Gabriella's eyes were filled with worry. Troy's eyes were filled with confusion.
"Gabriella, what's going on?" Troy asked. "Why's Ava calling you 'mama'?"
"I'll be right back, Troy," Gabriella called as she hurried away.
Minutes later, she returned with an old stroller which had a broken handle. Gabriella put Ava into the stroller carefully and wheeled it out with Troy close behind her. They walked to the park in silence.
"Gabriella?" Troy asked. "Can I have some sort of explanation?"
"Ava's not my sister," Gabriella confessed. "She's my…daughter."
"Oh," Troy said. "And, where's the father?"
"He broke up with me when he found out that I was pregnant," Gabriella said quietly, as they entered the park. "That day, when Rachel called me a 'freak', she reminded me of the past that I never wanted to remember. When everyone at my old school found out that I was pregnant, they were rude to me. They ignored me and called me names."
"I'm sorry, Gabi," Troy said. "But, why'd you lie to me?"
"I thought, maybe, if you knew that I was a mother, then, you would treat me the way everyone at my old school did," Gabriella said, even more quietly.
"I would never do that to you, Gabriella," Troy said.
"I'm sorry, I lied to you," Gabriella said.
"Where're your parents?" Troy asked.
Gabriella stopped on her tracks. Tears filled her eyes. Troy noticed and stopped, too.
"Gabi, are you okay?" Troy asked. He sat down on a bench and pulled Gabriella down next to him.
"My mother died a few months ago," Gabriella said as tears streamed down her face.
"I'm so sorry, Gabi," Troy said as he put his arms around her. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Gabriella nodded, surprising herself and Troy.
"How'd it happen?" Troy asked, softly.
"There was a thunderstorm," Gabriella answered. "My mom was caught in it. She was driving home in her car when there was lightning. It struck a tall tree and the tree crashed on top of her car."
"It's okay, Gabriella." Troy said. "Things like that happen. You just have to learn to deal with it."
"I've never talked about her death, until now," Gabriella admitted.
"Thank you, Gabriella," Troy said. "Thank you for talking to me. Where's your father?"
"He's in jail, for child abuse." Gabriella sobbed. "He beat me up, when he found out that I was pregnant. I would have probably died if my mother hadn't called the police, then. The police came just as I fell unconscious. When I woke up, my mother said that my father had been arrested."
"Where do you live?" Troy asked.
"I sleep in Jennifer's office in the back of the coffee shop," Gabriella answered.
"Gabi, from now on I'll be your everything," Troy said as he hugged her tightly. "I'll be your father, brother, friend and your boyfriend."
"Thank you, Troy," Gabriella said.
"Come on," Troy said. "You're going to my house for dinner."
Gabriella did not protest. She let Troy put his arm around her, while he pushed the stroller with his other hand.
"Mom, dad," Troy called as soon as he got home with Gabriella and Ava. "I'm home."
"In the kitchen, Troy," Karen Bolton called.
Troy walked into the kitchen, with Gabriella – who was carrying Ava – following. Jack Bolton was by the stove making lasagna. Karen was making a salad.
"Hmm," Troy grinned. "Seems like I chose a good day to bring home a friend for dinner, right?"
Karen and Jack looked up and smiled at Gabriella and Ava.
"Mom, dad, meet Gabriella Montez," Troy introduced. "Gabi, meet my mom and dad."
"Hi, Mrs. Bolton," Gabriella said, politely.
"Please, it's Karen," Karen said.
"Uh…okay, Karen," Gabriella said. "Hi, coach."
"No way," Jack shook his head. "I'll only be a coach in a basketball court, not in this house. It's Jack.
"Okay," Gabriella said. Sensing that Gabriella was feeling uncomfortable, Troy laughed.
"So, who's this beautiful lady?" Jack asked smiling at Ava.
"This is Ava," Gabriella said. "Uh…you guys might not like me for this, but, she's my daughter."
"Oh," Jack said.
"And who's the father?" Karen asked.
"He was out of the picture before Ava was born," Gabriella replied.
"Can I hold her?" Karen asked.
"Sure," Gabriella said, a bit surprised. "You guys don't hate me?"
"No, of course not," Jack assured Gabriella.
"Why should we?" Karen asked. "Because, Ava's been abandoned by her father before she was born?"
"No, it's just…never mind," Gabriella shook her head. The Boltons were so nice. Troy was so lucky. How she wished she could have a life like his. "Um…can I use the bathroom, please?"
"Sure," Karen said. "Down the hall, second door to the left."
"Thank you," Gabriella said.
Troy waited before Gabriella was out off side till he said anything.
"Okay, guys, here's the deal, Gabriella's my girlfriend," Troy said causing his parents to looked at him in surprise. "I broke up with Rachel. Don't ask me what happened. Anyway, please, don't ask her about her parents. She gets really upset when people do that. I learned that today. Her mother died in a thunderstorm when a tree which had struck by lightening crashed on top of her car. Her father beat her up, when he found out that Gabi was pregnant. He's in jail for that, now."
"Where is she staying?" Karen asked.
"At an office in Jennifer's coffee shop," Troy answered. "That's where she works."
Karen and Jack stared at Troy in surprised. They felt sorry for the poor girl. Ava started crying because of lack of attention. Karen could not calm her down. Troy took Ava from his mother and held her close to his chest, where she instantly settled down.
"Seems like she knows her true father," Jack said, softly as Karen walked back into the kitchen.
"Huh?" Troy looked at his father, confused.
"A baby never settles down like that unless he's in his father's or mother's arms," Jack explained to Troy.
"To be honest, dad, I kind of wish that she is mine," Troy confessed.
"Well, maybe, that can happen one day," Jack said.
"What do you mean?" Troy asked.
"Well, a kid can always choose his father, although his birth father will always be in the picture," Jack said.
"You think there's a chance of me being able to adopt Ava someday?" Troy asked his father.
"Of course," Jack answered. "Never give up on your dreams, son." He walked back into the kitchen
"My mother used to give me the same piece of advice," Gabriella stood behind him.
"Did you here anything just now?" Troy asked Gabriella, urgently. He did not want Gabriella to know what he had talked to his father about.
"No," Gabriella answered. "I just heard Jack say never to give up on your dreams."
After dinner, Troy and Gabriella walked outside to the backyard. They watched the full moon shine brightly on them. It was a chilly evening and Gabriella rubbed her hands on her arms to fight off the cold.
"You cold?" Troy asked.
"Yeah," Gabriella nodded.
"Here," Troy put his arm around Gabriella. "Feel any better?"
"A lot," Gabriella smiled. "Thank you, Troy. For everything."
"No problem," Troy said.
"Troy," Karen called from the house. "Can we talk to you?"
"Sure," Troy called back. He turned to Gabriella. "Why don't you go wait in the living room? I'll go see what they want."
"Sure," Gabriella walked to the living room, while Troy went to the kitchen with Jack and Karen.
"Troy," Karen said. "We've been thinking, and, we've decided that it would be nice to have Gabriella round the house."
"Uh...okay," Troy said, not really understanding what his parents were talking about.
"What we mean is that," Jack began. "If you don't mind, we'd like Gabriella to move in with us."
"What?" Troy asked. "That'd be great. She'd love that."
"Shall we go talk to her? Jack asked.
The three Boltons walked into the living room where Gabriella was trying to calm down a wailing Ava.
"Hey, what's wrong?" Troy asked Ava, as he sat down on the couch with her on his lap. He tickled her and immediately Ava started laughing. "That's more like it."
"Gabriella, would you like to move in with us?" Jack asked.
"What?" Gabriella asked, taken by surprise.
"Would you like to move in with us?" Jack asked again.
"I'd love to," Gabriella said.
"You can, on one condition," Karen said.
"What's that?" Gabriella asked, suddenly feeling nervous. "If you want me to give up Ava, then, no way."
"Don't worry, Gabi," Karen laughed. "We don't want you to give up your daughter. We want you to quit your job and focus on your studies."
"Gladly," Gabriella laughed.
"And, while you're at it," Jack said. "Try and get Troy to do the same."
"Very funny, dad," Troy smirked as everyone including Ava laughed.