A/N: I'm back for fic number three! With The Day the World Stopped finally completed I wanted to try my hand at a few oneshots before I started work on the sequel. Hopefully it will get my creative juices flowing. Ok, a few notes important to the story:

1. This is a reflective story, meaning that the majority of it will be told as a flashback. I'll make sure you know when the flashbacks begin.

2. The story will be told from Troy's point of view unless otherwise noted. To that end, all of his thoughts will be in italics.

3. This is a Tryan. You have been warned. If you're not a fan of the pairing please click the Back button on your trust internet browser.

4. Standard disclaimers apply. I don't own High School Musical, I only claim ownership to the plot of this piece. So, in a nutshell, please don't sue me.

And now…on with the story.

Story © 2007 by WriterOnWheels.

Daddy's Little Girl

The day was coming to a close over Albuquerque; the brilliant orange sun giving away to the blackness of night. But I, Troy Bolton, was oblivious to the transformation occurring outside my window. At the moment I was lost in my own world as memories of the past flooded my mind, spurred on by the thick photo album that was currently resting in my lap. This heavy book contained reminders of moments and people that helped define me as a person…my whole life was in this album; captured by a quick flash of the camera and preserved for all eternity. As I flipped through the pages my eyes focused on an image from the night of Senior Prom. There I was standing under a lighted arch, surrounded by Gabriella and the rest of the East High gang. At first glance it seems like nothing more than a happy moment between friends but, upon further inspection, one would notice that my attention was only focused on the blonde boy standing to my right, his arm slung lazily around my waist. My Ryan.

Ryan and I met in elementary school when we sat next to each other in Ms. Stanton's second grade class. He was shy and reserved and being the boisterous, outgoing boy that I was I constantly tried to draw him out of his shell. He resisted and, as we grew older, I eventually gave up and started spending most of my time with Chad and my other sports buddies. It wasn't until we all enrolled at East High and I became involved in the drama club that Ryan and I began hanging out. It started simply; two friends sharing jokes during breaks in rehearsal. He was still the same quiet and reserved boy I remembered from second grade; but this time when I attempted to break down his walls he relented and accepted my invitation to go swimming one afternoon with the gang in my backyard pool. That day I saw glimpses of the real Ryan Evans, a boy who loved to laugh and flash his megawatt smile at every opportunity. At that moment all my previous uncertainty about my sexuality was confirmed as I realized that, even though she was one of my best friends, my relationship with Gabriella would never last…I wouldn't be truly happy until I was the one making Ryan laugh and smile like he was now as he splashed around with Kelsi. I lived for that smile.

After my epiphany at the pool, Ryan and I became practically inseparable and it wasn't long before we realized that we wanted, no needed, to take our relationship to a new level. I asked him to be my boyfriend on a chilly fall afternoon as we were stretched out on my living room floor memorizing lines for the winter musical. He accepted immediately, and to say that I was absolutely elated would have been the understatement of the century. I was over the moon! Deep down, though I knew we'd be facing one huge hurdle right from the start…my parents still had no clue that their basketball star son was gay.

Ryan never made any secret of the fact that he was gay; he'd come out officially in eighth grade after some deep soul-searching and, I would find out later, a lot of sleepless nights and tears. His parents accepted his admission with open arms and everyone at school simply kept quiet about it, if only because they were afraid of retribution from Sharpay if one negative word was uttered about her twin. But my situation was about as polar opposite from Ryan's as you can get. While his parents were open and accepting, mine were more 'by the book' and I knew they wouldn't take kindly to my revelation. I was quite sure they didn't suspect anything, I was always careful to act like Ryan and I were just friends when my parents were around; the soft kisses and light touches we often shared were saved for the times we were secluded in my room under the pretense of finishing a difficult assignment. On the school front, I was terrified of coming out; I was practically King of East High and I knew that revealing my secret might lead to a drastic tumble on the popularity meter. In fact, it might ruin me. After a few months of sleepless nights, buckets of tears, and many panicked phone calls to Ryan I made a decision not to hide anymore. I loved Ryan too much and I was ready to shout it from the rooftops.

I finally gathered up the courage to speak the words 'I'm gay' to my parents a few weeks before Christmas my freshman year. I was a nervous wreck that afternoon, pacing the floor and mumbling incoherently as Ryan tried his best to calm me with his soothing touch. Nothing was working and I knew it was breaking his heart to see me near hysterics…I could see it in his eyes. Eventually, just as I was about to reach my breaking point, my parents arrived home and I barely gave them time to get in the door before the confession spilled out of my mouth at lightening speed. Ryan held my hand the entire time; wordlessly letting me know that, no matter the outcome of this moment, he'd be there by my side. He'd always be there.

To my astonishment, my parents reacted positively to my announcement and I momentarily wondered if this was all a dream. No one yelled and nothing was thrown, instead they just hugged me and told me how brave I was for embracing who I was and not being afraid to speak up about it. I was truly shocked. When it was all over, with my parents looking on, I hugged Ryan close and buried my head against his shoulder, letting my tears of relief and happiness soak his sweatshirt.

"You did it!" he whispered, placing a comforting kiss in my hair, "I love you so much."

Now that my parents were in on my secret, the next step was coming clean to Sharpay, Taylor, Kelsi, and Chad. I'd told Gabriella when I broke up with her, I didn't have the heart to make up some lame excuse, and she had agreed to stay mum about it until I was ready to come out to everyone. Not surprisingly my friends were very supportive but I received yet another shock when other kids at school started congratulating Ryan and I on our relationship. No one ridiculed us and, aside from a few stares, we were just like any other couple at East High. We shared many laughs and fun times over our time at the school: drama performances, basketball games, Darbus detentions. And they'd all led up to the photo I was currently looking at of a boy holding his love close on one of the defining and most important nights of his high school career…senior prom.

So much has happened since that night six short years ago. After graduation, Ryan and I rented a townhouse and enrolled at the University of Albuquerque, where he studied finance and I enrolled in the computer science curriculum. By the time senior year rolled around we were more in love than ever and discussion of our future became a part of everyday conversation. Marriage was not an option since New Mexico had not yet legalized gay marriage and, to be truthful, we didn't need a piece of paper to prove our love. We knew from the very beginning, from that first kiss and the first time we made love that God had created us for each other. Ryan completed me, and I him. We were soulmates. So we took the next logical step and brought the subject of adoption to the table. Children had always been part of the plan; we both wanted a large family and we couldn't wait until the day that the pitter patter of little feet would be heard throughout the house. Just after graduation, Ryan and I submitted our application to an adoption agency and, after many hurdles and nervewracking moments we received a referral for a baby girl in December of that year…the perfect Christmas present. Our beautiful Mackenzie Grace.

Flashback

I walked slowly up the steps of the townhouse, utterly exhausted from a long day at the office. My boss had assigned me to a huge software project but he failed to mention that it would require me to practically marry my job. I was at the office until after dark most nights and I even had to work some weekends; time spent with Ryan was virtually non-existent and I wasn't happy about it. Opening the door I threw my briefcase on the floor and practically ran over to the couch, desperate to sit down and relax for the first time all day. I had no intentions of doing anything for the rest of the evening except to cuddle with Ryan. I couldn't wait to hold him, the only opportunity I got to do it these days was right before we went to sleep and in my mind that just wasn't enough time. Then again, if I got to hold him all day everyday for the rest of my life that still wouldn't be enough time. I just loved being close to him. As I stretched my feet out across the coffee table in an attempt to relax my tight muscles that were rebelling from too much time spent in a desk chair, Ryan's voice broke me from my thoughts as he walked in from the kitchen.

"Hi baby, did you have a good day?" he asked, making his way over to sit next to me.

I sighed, pulling him close and kissing his temple. "This project is evil, Ry" I whined "I hate it."

He shot me a sympathetic look but couldn't escape the laughter building on his lips. "Awww I'm sorry" he cooed softly against my cheek, "what can I do to make you feel better?"

I turned my head to look at him, our blue eyes locking. "Can I just hold you?" I whispered "all I really need right now is you."

He grinned that grin that I loved so much and silently climbed into my lap, positioning himself so that his head was resting just under my chin. Ahhh heaven.

We sat in silence for what seemed like hours, occasionally sharing a kiss or a light touch that released the pent up stress from both our bodies. No words were necessary; just being in each other's presence was enough to relax us both. Eventually I felt Ryan's body start to go limp in my arms and I knew he would be asleep in a matter of minutes. He always fell asleep when I held him.

"Ry" I whispered "c'mon baby let's go to bed, you're about to fall asleep on me again."

He sat up, rubbing his eyes and I sighed inwardly, missing the feeling of his body against mine.

As he stood up from the couch he looked down at me expectantly. "Can you check your email before we go to bed?"

I groaned. "Ry I just spent twelve hours in front of a computer" I reasoned "the last thing I want to do right now is check my email."

He cast a glance in my direction, throwing in his signature Evans pout for good measure. He could get me to do anything if he flashed that pout and he knew it.

"C'mon Troy" he urged "there might be an update from the adoption agency, we haven't heard from them in awhile."

Defeated, I trudged over to my briefcase and retrieved my laptop before walking down the hall to our bedroom. Once we were securely under the covers I opened the computer and logged into my email account. Ryan was hovering over me, blocking my view of the screen.

"Ryan" I chided gently "I can't see, you're blocking my view of the screen."

He laughed lightly and moved his head out of the way. "Sorry."

I hit his arm playfully before turning my head to scan the emails that were appearing in front of me. Junk junk and more junk. Then I saw it…an email from our agency director with the subject line Congratulations! We have a referral for you!

I froze for a second, unable to believe the words I was reading. After so many months of paperwork, interviews, and home studies, not to mention heartbreak and tears, we were finally getting a baby! Once my senses returned and I was able to breath again I nudged Ryan, who was still oblivious to the joyous news on my computer screen.

"Ry" I breathed out, pointing to the screen "look!"

He leaned over to see what I was pointing at and I watched his eyes widen to the size of saucers as the meaning of the subject line finally settled on him.

"Open it, Troy!" he commanded, momentarily taking on a Sharpay-esque tone. "Please!"

I laughed at his excitement, quickly opening the email and scanning its contents.

Dear Troy and Ryan:

Congratulations! I'm happy to report that we have a referral for you. This little girl was born here in San Antonio two weeks ago. She weighed six pounds 2 ounces at birth and is currently the picture of health. She is half Korean so she has a beautiful head of dark hair and pretty brown eyes. I have enclosed some pictures for you to take a look at. Give me a call tomorrow to let me know of your decision.

Enjoy the pictures!

Sue

By the time we finished reading the email Ryan and I were both in tears, overwhelmed that our dream of becoming parents was finally coming true. Once we had finally composed ourselves enough so that our tears no longer blurred our view of the screen, Ryan spoke up.

"Open the pictures, Troy" he said softly. "Hurry!"

I grinned, turning my head slightly to kiss his cheek. "Ok baby I'm opening them" I replied "hang on a second."

By the time the first picture appeared he was bouncing around like a kid in a candy store. He stilled almost instantly as his eyes focused on the image of the sleeping baby in the pretty pink dress. My breath caught in my throat. She was gorgeous. Ryan was the first to find his voice.

"Troy, that's our baby" he whispered, using his hand to wipe away the tears that were now cascading down his cheeks, "look how pretty she is!"

I was too stunned to speak, mesmerized by the tiny little girl that the agency had chosen to be our daughter. Ryan's words kept resonating through my head. That's our baby! Oh my God.

Eventually we were able to tear ourselves away from the screen and settle into bed. Ryan made himself comfortable by cuddling into my chest and I laid my hands across his firm stomach. I could feel him squirming slightly in my arms, the excitement of the night still coursing through his body. Leaning down, I placed a kiss in his blonde hair.

"Congratulations Daddy!" I cooed softly "I love you so much!"

He gave a content sigh as his eyes slipped shut. "I love you too."

End Flashback

That moment seemed so long ago now. Sleep had been impossible for us that night; in the end we stayed up to watch the sun rise and just held each other, basking in the joy of our news. As soon as the clock chimed a reasonable hour we called the adoption agency and accepted the referral then set to work getting the nursery ready. All the stresses of work and life were suddenly forgotten as we anxiously anticipated bringing our girl home at the beginning of the new year. A true Christmas miracle, she was.

Three years had passed since we received our holiday surprise. Three years of laughter, tears, milestones, and immeasurable joy. Tomorrow, the same dark-haired girl we fell in love with that night would reach another milestone: her first day of preschool. And that's why I had chosen tonight to pull out the photo album, to reflect on the events that had lead us to this point and reminisce about those baby years I missed so much. My baby girl was growing up.

I was jolted from my thoughts by Ryan clearing his throat. I looked up and he smiled as I noticed him standing next to the bed. I hadn't even heard him walk in.

Leaning down, he left a soft kiss at the tip of my nose. "The princess wants to see her Daddy."

I laughed, getting up from the bed and walking out of the room. We had a bedtime ritual at our house. Ryan would put Mackenzie to bed and read her a story and then I would go in and sit with her until she fell asleep. It gave each of us some special alone time with her each night and she loved it. Personally, I loved being able to be with her right before she entered dreamland.

I walked quietly down the hall to her room, stopping for a minute to watch her from the doorway. She was sitting up in bed, wrapped in a tinkerbell blanket and clutching the pink Care Bear Ryan and I bought her as a 'home forever' present. She couldn't go to sleep without it. Walking into the room, I stopped near her bed and waited for her to notice me.

"Kenzie Grace" I cooed "how's my pretty girl?"

She grinned and reached out for me. "Hi Daddy."

I scooped her up and moved to sit down on the warm sheets. "Hi baby girl, are you ready for school tomorrow?"

She nodded excitedly, her dark eyes shining. "Yes, Daddy says I'm going to meet lots of people to play with."

I smiled, ruffling her long hair. "He's right baby" I reassured her, "you're gonna meet so many new friends."

She quieted and I saw her thumb enter her mouth, a sure sign that something was on her mind. "Daddy?"

"What sweetie?"

"I'm scared." Her voice was hushed and I could see a few tears brimming her eyes.

Oh sweetheart, I'm scared too. I don't want you to grow up. I want you to stay little forever so I can keep you safe.

I closed my eyes and gently began rocking her back and forth in my arms, willing the tears threatening behind my own eyes not to fall. "Oh baby, don't be scared" I whispered "you'll be fine, Daddy promises."

I sealed my promise with a kiss to her forehead but she continued to whimper and grab lazily at the fabric of my shirt, clutching on to me for dear life. Eventually her hand fell to her lap and when I looked at her face I noticed that she had finally given in to sleep. Cradling her in my arms, I laid her down on her pillow and brought the covers up to her chin. Crouching down, I gently brushed my lips against her cheek before getting up and leaving the room. I had to get out of there before I had my own Daddy breakdown.

Closing the door, I made my way back to our room where I was met by Ryan's curious gaze. He immediately noticed my sad mood and motioned for me to lay down next to him.

"What happened, baby?" he inquired, kissing my lips softly "Why the long face?"

I sighed, finally allowing a stray tear to slide down my cheek. "Kenzie's scared of tomorrow, Ry" I choked out "she broke down in my arms and I didn't know what to say to her because I'm scared too."

He wrapped one arm around my back and brought me closer to him, using his other hand to point to a picture in the photo album that was resting on his knees. The image was of newborn Kenzie nestled in Ryan's arms as he sat in my lap. It had been taken on the day she officially became ours and we brought her home to Albuquerque forever.

"Do you remember how scared we were on this day?" he asked, motioning to the picture once again with his eyes.

I nodded, smiling at the memory.

Flashback

Once we accepted the referral for our baby girl who, after much debate became known as Mackenzie Grace Bolton-Evans, the process began to move quite quickly. Ryan and I put all our energy into painting and arranging the nursery; by the time it was finished it was a powdery pink retreat, perfect for our little angel. Then, in mid-February we got the call that we'd been dreaming of ever since that chilly December night when we first laid eyes on our girl…it was time to bring her home. We drove to San Antonio on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, accompanied by Sharpay. The rest of the gang tried without success to get off work but they promised to be at the house later to meet the newest member of the family. It was sure to be a joyous day for all of us!

As Ryan maneuvered his Jeep into the parking lot of the adoption agency, the reality of what was about to happen finally hit me. Holy crap, I'm about to become a father! I'm gonna be a Daddy!

I saw Ryan glancing at me in the rearview mirror and he flashed me one of those megawatt smiles I fell in love with all those years ago at the pool. His smile always had a calming effect on me and he knew it. 'We'll be fine' he mouthed and I smiled back, knowing deep down in my heart that he was right. We were gonna be just fine.

Our quiet moment was interrupted when Sharpay knocked on the window of the car. Apparently she'd made her way into the parking lot while Ryan and I were having our silent conversation. I laughed, opening my door and stepping out to join her.

"C'mon boys, quit being all lovey-dovey" she ordered "let's go…I'm going to spoil this child rotten and I intend to start right now."

I shot Ryan a look of mock horror and he laughed softly as he intertwined his fingers with mine. We walked into the agency, coming face to face with Sue, the director. She smiled warmly, instantly melting away the butterflies that seemed to be taking up permanent residence in my stomach.

"Hi boys" she said, embracing us and then moving on to Sharpay, "are you ready for this?"

I grinned, squeezing Ryan's hand for reassurance. "As ready as we'll ever be, Sue."

She smiled again and gestured with her hand to a pod of chairs situated against a wall. "Well if you'll go sit down, I'll go get your girl for you."

This is it…there's no turning back now.

We watched Sue disappear behind a door as we sat down. Though my brain was moving at a thousand miles per hour, my mouth said nothing as we waited for her to return. Ryan was equally as quiet, his eyes fixed on a painting that adorned the opposite wall. Suddenly, we heard a creak and our heads whipped toward the door. I stood, pulling Ryan up with me. He was shaking like a leaf and I quickly pulled him close and placed my mouth to his ear.

"It's gonna be okay, baby" I said, kissing his earlobe, "just relax."

He calmed almost instantly when I kissed him and we turned our attention back to the direction where the noise had come from. At that moment Sue came walking through the door, a pink blanket in her arms. Our baby girl!

I was rooted to the floor; despite the messages my brain was sending telling me to walk over and get my girl my legs refused to move. Ryan and Sharpay stood silently beside me; hands clenched together, their eyes never leaving the pink blanket that was getting closer by the second. An eternity later Sue finally reached the spot where we stood and I gently slid my hand from Ryan's grasp and stepped forward to get a closer glimpse of the tiny bundle in her arms. My baby girl was no longer just a picture on a computer screen…she was real, she was here…and she was amazing. Noticing the awestruck look that was undoubtedly gracing my features, Sue grinned and moved to gently deposit the blanket in my arms.

"Troy, Ryan" she said softly "I'd like to introduce you to your daughter." The grin on my face was so wide I was afraid my face was going to break into a million pieces.

My breath hitched in my throat as I focused my attention on the blanket's occupant. My beautiful little girl. She truly was stunning; a small patch of black hair covered her head and she had perfectly plump baby cheeks and gorgeous long eyelashes. She looked like a little porcelain doll, too adorable for words. I was completely speechless; overwhelmed and unbelieving that the angel contentedly napping in my arms was my responsibility; I'llbe the one she comes to when she skins her knee falling over her bike, when she struggles with homework, when her first boyfriend breaks her heart. The mere thought of that made me feel faint so I gingerly walked over to the chair I had vacated only minutes earlier. Once I was comfortably seated I leaned down, placing soft, gentle kisses across the baby's cheeks. She stirred slightly and a smile returned to my lips. Or maybe it had never left.

"Hi baby girl, it's Daddy" I cooed softly "it's so good to finally hold you."

I heard a sniffle from the spot beside me. Ryan. I'd been so caught up in admiring our newest addition that I forgot he was even in the room. Turning my body slightly, I pecked his cheek and motioned for him to open his arms so I could lay the baby in them. He did so without question, staring down at the little bundle in his arms with a look that could only be described as pure love.

"Kenzie Grace" he murmured, kissing her pink lips "my little angel."

I realized that it was the first time she had heard her name. It couldn't have sounded more perfect as it rolled off Ryan's lips. A perfect name for a perfect baby. Watching Ryan interact with Kenzie was enough to send me into emotional overload and I realized that I wanted nothing more at that moment than to hold the two people who had captured my heart and become my whole world. I nudged Ryan, silently telling him to come and sit on my lap. Once we were in position, Sharpay went to work snapping pictures on her digital camera….our first family photo. The feeling of euphoria, of pure and utter bliss that was running through my body as I held my two angels was unexplainable. I thought I knew what true love and devotion meant but my previous definition didn't even come close to explaining these new feelings. Love had taken on a new meaning and, I realized, my life was nothing short of perfection.

After taking care of some last minute paperwork we prepared to leave, but not before an emotional goodbye with Sue and the rest of the agency staff that helped us realize our dream. When the last hugs had been doled out and the tears dried, we walked to the Jeep and got ready for the trip back to Albuquerque. Ryan carefully situated Kenzie in her new carseat and we climbed in, sitting on either side of our girl. We didn't want to miss a moment of her trip home so we forced Sharpay to drive, throwing in a stern warning that there would be consequences if she even thought about driving over the speed limit. As she turned the car west toward home, Ryan and I were in the backseat simply in awe of what had just happened. We were smiling at each other like idiots, and every once in awhile we'd reach out just to touch Kenzie's baby soft skin or kiss her cheek; almost as if to make sure we weren't dreaming, that she was actually real and actually here in her carseat sleeping soundly.

Before long, Sharpay pulled the car into our driveway where we were greeted by Chad and the gang, who had evidently spent some time decorating the house. A 'Welcome Home Kenzie' sign hung from the front porch railing, topped off with some pink balloons. I carefully lifted Kenzie from her carseat, cradling her in my arms as we made our way up the steps. When we reached the door, I switched the baby onto my right arm and linked my left hand with Ryan's. As we crossed the threshold we both leaned down and kissed Kenzie's cheeks, whispering the words we had only ever been able to say in our dreams prior to this moment.

"Welcome home, baby girl."

End Flashback

As I thought back on that first night, I couldn't help but laugh. We had a quick party to celebrate but everyone left after an hour; they'd said it was because they wanted to give us some alone time with Kenzie but we both knew it in protest of the fact that we weren't letting anyone hold her quite yet. When Sharpay asked, the look Ryan had given her was enough to make her flinch. We weren't trying to be mean; we just couldn't get enough of holding our precious girl. Two months of waiting had taken its toll on us and we had no intentions of putting her down for awhile. After everyone had left we continued what we'd started in the car, just staring in complete awe at this tiny human being that was now completely under our care. Eventually she woke up and started wailing; to some it might have been annoying but it was like music to our ears. We spent the rest of that first night in the nursery, rocking, feeding, and doting on our princess. Our little angel.

By the time we finished reminiscing my tears had ceased. I quickly changed into my pajama pants and removed my t-shirt before cuddling into Ryan once again and preparing for bed. This was my favorite place to fall asleep…in the arms of my love, especially when I was upset. His touch always did wonders to calm my fragile emotions and I needed him tonight more than ever. I could feel my eyelids closing getting heavy, a consequence of the exhaustion that was plaguing my body. Ryan's soft voice lulled me to sleep.

"I love you, Troy" he murmured, kissing my head, "and remember…everything's gonna be okay, just relax."

He always knew the right things to say, my Ryan.

HSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSM

Sunshine was streaming through our bedroom window as I woke the next morning. Casting a quick glance to my left I noticed that Ryan was no longer in bed; judging from the delicious smells meeting my nose I had a good idea where he was. Rising from the bed I walked over to my closet and got ready for the day, dressing quickly in a t-shirt and jeans. I had decided to take the day off work in honor of Kenzie's special occasion. Ever since we brought her home Ryan had made a deal with his office that allowed him to work from home so that we wouldn't have to send her to daycare. After missing those crucial two months at the beginning of her life we never wanted to miss another moment. I had drastically scaled back my own work schedule, but days off were a rarity so I had every intention of enjoying this special day with my girl.

We had decided that I would be the one to wake her up and get her ready this morning, a task I readily accepted. So, once I was dressed I made that familiar walk down the hallway to the powder pink room where my angel slept. I paused for a moment, admiring her sleeping form, before walking over to her bed.

"Kenzie baby, it's time to wake up." I whispered, eliciting an agitated sigh from my precious daughter.

When she pulled the blanket over her head in protest of my interruption I turned to my next tactic. "You've got school today, pretty girl" I cooed, placing a kiss on her forehead, "don't you want to go to school?"

At the word school she shot out of bed like a cannon and ran over to her dresser. I was glad her reaction had changed since last night. I guess she is excited. She quickly picked out a dress and let me go to work dressing her and fixing her hair. I loved moments like this, just me and my girl in the mornings when neither of us was really awake. Usually she didn't say much but today she was talking a mile a minute and, just like her cry had been on her first night home, it was music to my ears.

Leaving my thoughts of the past behind, I turned back to my task at hand.

"Hurry Daddy" Kenzie ordered as I slipped her tiny Mary Janes on her feet, "school soon."

I grinned, ruffling her hair. "Calm down Kenz" I laughed "Daddy and I won't let you be late."

Picking her up, I carried her downstairs to the kitchen where Ryan had plates of her favorite Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes waiting for us. As soon as I put her down she ran over and launched herself into his arms, and he immediately hoisted her onto his hip.

"Look at my dress, Daddy" she said "it's pretty."

He laughed, kissing her cheek softly. "You look beautiful sweetheart" he replied "are you ready for school?"

She nodded her head against his shoulder as they made their way over to the table. We devoured the pancakes at record speed, and before we knew it the time had come to leave for school. Kenzie was bouncing off the walls with excitement, but one look into Ryan's eyes told me that the confidence he'd shown last night was all an act; he was just as nervous as I was.

The drive to the preschool was quick, Kenzie chattered the whole way about all the friends she was going to meet. When we arrived at the tiny brick building Ryan picked her up out of her carseat and we started the short walk to the door of the building. It didn't take long for us to find the classroom once we stepped inside. The room was bright and cheery, red and yellow paint graced the walls which were also covered with many brightly-colored paintings. The teacher, Ms. Reynolds, greeted us warmly as we crossed the threshold of the room.

"Who do we have here?" she asked, a big smile on her face.

Kenzie spoke up softly from her spot in Ryan's arms. "I'm Mackenzie Bolton- Evans" she said, moving her hand to point to Ryan and I "and these are my Daddies."

Wow. My girl truly is growing up, she never talks to new people like that.

Ms. Reynolds shook our hands and began walking toward a group of tables. I could see Kenzie's nametag at one of them indicating where she should sit.

"Mackenzie, this is your seat and here's a nametag for you" Ms. Reynolds said sweetly "would you like to sit down?"

She nodded but as Ryan moved to sit her down I saw her tense up and tighten her grip on him, the realization dawning that we would be leaving soon.

"No daddy" she cried, tears running in rivers down her cheeks, "I stay with you!"

Ryan sighed, pulling Kenzie to his shoulder once again and kissing her forehead. "No baby, you have to stay here with Ms. Reynolds for awhile so you can meet your new friends."

Wrong answer. She was full on sobbing now and I could see that Ryan was about two seconds from joining her. Choking back my own tears, I stepped in front of him and took her from his arms.

"C'mere Kenzie" I whispered "let Daddy hold you for awhile."

She whimpered, cuddling into my chest and lacing her arms around my neck as I rocked her back and forth in a calming motion.

"No leave Daddy" she hiccupped through her tears "please."

Oh sweetheart, please don't make my heart hurt anymore. I love you so much.

It took all the strength I possessed not to grab Ryan's hand and walk out the door with our daughter in my arms. I hated to be the one to make her cry. Instead, I planted a kiss on her tearstained cheek and moved to whisper something in her ear, trying desperately to soothe the cries coming from her lips.

"Kenzie, do you remember what Daddy promised you last night at bedtime last night?"

She nodded slowly. "Yes, Daddy" she whispered back "you said I be fine today."

I smiled at her. "Right, baby." I cooed "now can you be good for me and stay here with Ms. Reynolds for awhile?"

She lifted her head from my shoulder and rubbed furiously at her red eyes, a pout on her pretty pink lips. "Yes, Daddy" she said quietly, "I stay."

I grinned, kissing her cheek and handing her back to Ryan so he could do the same. "That's my girl."

After he sat her down in the tiny chair at her table, Ryan and I slipped out the door. It had barely closed before we dissolved in tears. Tears that mourned the fact that our little girl wasn't so little anymore.

Once we had composed ourselves we headed to the mall in search of a present for our big preschooler. The morning we accepted Kenzie's referral we had come to the mall to start our baby shopping. On the way to Babies R Us, Ryan was distracted by the Build A Bear store so we went inside and picked out a pretty teddy bear for our sweet girl. He came up with the idea to record our voices so that so she would learn them from a very early age. With a message of 'We love you baby girl' safely tucked inside the brown bear, we mailed it off to her foster home. Since that day it had become a tradition that she got a new Build A Bear for each special occasion in her life, and today was no exception.

The mall was packed, which was very unusual for a weekday morning. Normally Ryan and I hated crowds, but today we were too excited to care. As soon as we reached the store Ryan spotted an animal he thought Kenzie would love. It was a tiny little Koala whose tag said his name was Joey. Perfect. I walked over to the clothing section and snatched up a pair of tiny jeans and an orange shirt to dress him, then I found a pair of red and white sneakers to cover his feet. When I showed my creation to Ryan, his smile was bright enough to light a room.

"Perfect!" he proclaimed "Shall we record the message?"

I nodded and we stepped into a quiet corner of the store where no one would interrupt us. I pressed the record button on the tiny device that would go inside Joey and we started speaking.

"Happy first day of preschool, Kenzie" we chorused in unison "Daddy loves you."

With our sentiment preserved on the recorder, we set to work stuffing and dressing Joey. When it came time to put the heart inside of him we both kissed it, a symbol of all the love we had for our precious daughter. Once Joey was stuffed to our satisfaction and situated in his little Build a Bear box we left the mall and started back toward the preschool to pick up our little student.

I could feel the butterflies creep up in my stomach as we got closer to the building, memories of the near-disaster this morning replaying themselves in my head. I was afraid she had spent the entire morning whimpering and asking for us; she obviously wasn't used to being without at least one of us just yet. As we approached her classroom I grasped Ryan's hand and squeezed gently, silently preparing myself to face what was behind the door. What I saw shocked me. There was Kenzie sitting quietly at her table with a crayon in her tiny hand, tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth as she colored intently. Most of the other children had already left so I took the opportunity to sneak into the room and surprise her. She didn't hear a thing as I walked over and tapped her shoulder. Ms. Reynolds looked on from the corner of the room.

Feeling the tap on her shoulder Kenzie momentarily glanced at me, eyes returning almost immediately to her artwork. "Go way Daddy" she ordered with a wave of her hand "I busy."

Oh what a difference a few hours can make. Now she doesn't want anything to do with me!

I laughed and cast a glance back at Ryan who was smiling as he leaned against the doorframe. "C'mon Kenz, it's time to go home" I urged "Daddy and I got you a present."

At the word present she reached up for me, abandoning her masterpiece. "My bear!" She loved our tradition almost as much as we did.

With a wave to Ms. Reynolds I carried her out to the car and handed her over to Ryan, who got her ready for the ride home. She jabbered excitedly the whole way about her new friend Kayla that she met during block time. It wasn't long before we pulled into the driveway and the second part of our present came into view…Sharpay's car was parked near the garage door, she'd flown in from New York just to be here when Kenzie got home. My daughter, ever the observant child, recognized the car almost immediately.

"Aunt Paypay's here!"she screeched, running inside the house as soon as Ryan put her down, "Daddy Aunt Paypay's here!"

Ryan and I had to stifle a laugh as we watched the joyous reunion; Kenzi catapulting herself into Sharpay's open arms.

"Hi Kenzie girl" Sharpay greeted, "How was school?"

That was all Kenzie needed. She started talking at top speed about her day, words flowing from her mouth like water out of a geyser. Sharpay just held her, soaking it all in and responding at all the right times. Eventually we all moved to the couch where Ryan presented Kenzi with the Build A Bear box. She tore it open and lifted her newest bear gingerly from its temporary home. She let out a happy squeal when she realized it was a koala and Ryan and I shared a smile, pleased with our choice. After a minute or so of admiring the newest member of her collection, she climbed out of Sharpay's lap and crawled over to the spot between Ryan and I.

Glancing between both of us, she smiled. "Thank you, Daddy" she said softly, "I love you."

I exchanged a glance with my love and together, just as we had done on the night of her homecoming, we kissed both of her cheeks and whispered "We love you too, baby girl."

HSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSMHSM

Once the presents had been opened, we all settled in to catch up with Sharpay. Since she had moved to New York two years ago visits home were rare, and we cherished each visit with her. Sharpay was filling us in on her latest Broadway role when I happened to notice that Kenzie's near-constant chattering had stopped. As I looked to my right I saw that she was asleep, obviously worn out from her big day. I glanced at Ryan and mouthed 'I'll take her' and he nodded. I stood up and crouched down to the couch, cradling my sleeping princess in my arms…ever so careful not to disturb Joey as she clutched him in her right hand. Arriving in her room, I gently laid her down on her pink Barbie sheets. She stirred slightly and I carefully took Joey out of her hand, replacing him with the pink Care Bear that was her constant sleeping companion. I placed a quick kiss on her forehead before walking over to the other side of her room to place Joey on the shelf above her window where we kept all of her Build A Bear creations. As I made room for him next to the puppy she'd gotten for her third birthday, a calming realization settled on my heart, banishing all the bittersweet emotions I previously felt about this day.

It didn't matter how much Kenzie grew; how many milestones she reached; or how many stuffed animals we put on this shelf because, in the end, she would always be daddy's little girl.

A/N: It didn't turn out quite like I'd hoped. But reviews are always appreciated!