AN: It's an AU Oneshot, Troyella of Course, Let me know what you think!

Disclaimer: I do not own HSM.

The Edification of Troy Bolton

Age 7 – Upon Discovering that Female Frailty is a Myth

"C'mon, give it to me."


"You've had it forever."

"Stop xaggerating."

Troy frowned. "What?"

Gabriella sighed her Troy-is-a-moron sigh. "Xaggerating. Overstating something."

"What?" he repeated in the same blank voice.

"Making something more than it is. I haven't had this crayon forever, you're just an idiot."

"I want that crayon. I need to color in blood."

"Can't you do it in another color?"

Troy aired his 'Gabriella is a moron' expression. "Gabriella, blood is red. It can't be done with no other color but red. And the badie in my picture is aposed to have blood pouring out of his tummy."

"You'll just have to wait!"

"Well, if you'd quite hogging it," Troy said, elbowing her roughly.

"Hey! You ruined my picture!" Gabriella exclaimed.

Troy looked down at Gabriella's picture. There was an ugly red smear across the house she'd painstakingly drawn, obviously caused when he'd elbowed her. There was only one way to save the situation and that was to apologize. But Troy hated apologising and Gabriella was so annoying and always thought she was right, so he wasn't going to apologize.

Even if he did feel bad for ruining her pretty picture.

"Who cares?" Troy asked.

Gabriella glared at him. "You ruined my picture, you stupid…doodle-head!"

"It was an ugly picture anyways. It was just a stupid house. Give me the red crayon."

"No." Gabriella clutched the crayon tighter.

"Give it to me!" Troy cried.

They now had the attention of the entire class, including Sharpay, who was across in the play area, making a few of their classmates act out a scene from Cinderella. Troy and Gabriella had been drawing in a bid to get out of their four hundredth re-enactment.

They also had the attention of their teacher, the quiet, unassuming Mrs. Viner.

"Troy! Gabriella!" She waddled over to them. "What's going on here? The other children are playing nicely. Why do you two persist in causing such disruption?"

"I didn't cause an eruption!" Troy claimed hotly. "It was stupid Gabriella and her stupid picture."

"You ruined it," Gabriella said, apparently still stuck on that concept. "You elbowed me, and I got a big red smear all across the house, and no house looks like that. It's all your fault."

"It was a dumb picture. And I wanted that crayon. You were hogging it. Give it to me."

"You can't have it!"

"It's not yours!" Troy yelled. "It doesn't have your name on it!"

"I'm not giving it to you!" Gabriella screamed.

Troy launched himself at Gabriella, trying to grab for the hand that held the crayon. Gabriella yanked back, overbalanced, and fell out off her chair. Troy tumbled after her. The other kids started yelling, laughing and jumping up and down with excitement. Mrs. Viner, unable to cope with Troy and Gabriella in normal situations, had no idea what to do, and let out a faint moan.

Troy's hands went straight for Gabriella's braids, pulling at them until she screamed. The fight was no longer about the crayon, but exacting revenge. Using a trick her sister had taught her, Gabriella raised her knee and slammed it into Troy's groin. He let out a bellow of pain, and elbowed her in the stomach. That was his mistake.

Gabriella, now furious and winded, clutched the red crayon in her left hand, reared back her right arm and punched Troy squarely in the face.

There was a shocked pause, and then Troy grabbed his eyes. "My eye! My eye! She broke my eye."

Gabriella sighed. "You can't break somebody's eye, you idiot."

Chad walked over to his friends. "Well, she did say she wasn't going to give it to you," he said to Troy.

The other kids made a circle around them.

"Oh, shut up," Troy managed. He sat up weakly.

Gabriella scooted in beside him, and pulled his hand away from his eye. "It's not so bad."

"You should go and see the nurse," Taylor advised. "Mrs. Viner?"

There was silence.

The children turned as one to see Mrs. Viner's crumpled body on the floor.

"She fainted," Ryan pronounced dramatically.

Troy frowned. "How come? She wasn't the one who got punched."

Age 9 – Upon Discovering that a Boy can Stumble Across Sensitivity

Troy waited until Gabriella had her back turned, then snuck up behind her.

"I know you're there," she said in a superior tone. Gabriella looked over her shoulder, her eyes snapping with exasperation.

Troy shrugged. "So?"

"So, what do you want?"


"Then go away."

Troy hovered for a moment, and Gabriella turned her whole body around. "C'mon Troy, what do you want?"

"Why are you sitting out here by yourself?"

"Taylor and me had a fight," Gabriella told him. "And I don't want to discuss it."

"Oh. Okay." Troy moved closer to the staircase and hovered for another moment.

"Just sit down," Gabriella said. "You're annoying me."

He waited another beat and did so, wedging his body between Gabriella and the post. Gabriella shifted a half-inch, but their knees and elbows were still knocking.

"Me and Chad had a fight too," Troy told her. "'Cause I said I didn't want to watch basketball again."

Gabriella nodded. "I know exactly what you mean."

"I mean, we've seen it four hundred times, right? It's all I ever do."

"Right," Gabriella agreed. "And Chad just hogs the ball the whole time, he can be

both teams and the referee by himself."

Troy laughed and nudged Gabriella with his shoulder. "What'd you fight about?"


"You're sittin' out here by yourself with a frown on your face, so it musta been somethin'." Troy stared at Gabriella seriously. "You can tell me."

Gabriella sighed dramatically. "Taylor said my dress looked stupid."

Frowning, Troy looked Gabriella up and down. "You're wearing a dress? Huh. I didn't even notice."

"Well, Taylor did. And she said it looked stupid."

Troy was confused. "What's stupid about it?"

"She said that only girls wear dresses."

He frowned deeply. "Um, you are a girl."

"I know!" Gabriella exclaimed self-righteously. "I am a girl!"

"Well, what did Taylor mean?"

Gabriella elaborated. "Taylor said I don't usually wear dresses, and I shouldn't, because I'm not a real girl. She thinks I'm going to become best friends with Sharpay if I start acting like a real girl."

Even Troy winced at that. "Taylor's such…such a…an idiot."

"Yes, she is," Gabriella said, in an aggrieved voice. "I know I don't usually wear dresses, but I'm a real girl, right?"

"Of course you are," Troy said. He added gallantly, "You look very pretty in that dress, too. It's a nice color. You look good in red."

Gabriella ducked her head. "Um, thanks."

"And Taylor's just stupid. Just cuz your friends with Sharpay too doesn't mean you cant be friends anymore. Or that you weren't already a real girl?" Troy rolled his eyes. "I've got three sisters, and I know what girls look like, and you look like a real girl. You have girl hair, and a girl face, and a girl body, and a girl voice. But you can do cool stuff, like boys, which is like being a super-girl."


"And I know what girls look like when they look good, and you look real good," Troy added in a matter-of-fact tone.

Gabriella was now crimson, her face matching the dress. "That's…thank you," she repeated for the third time.

"You're welcome." Troy nudged Gabriella again. "Taylor was just…you know, being Taylor."

"Yeah." Gabriella nudged him back, smiling. "And I'm sick of Chad and basketball too."

"Maybe…maybe you could come over and…" Troy stammered. "I don't know…we could watch videos at my house. Maybe. If you want. Not basketball."

Gabriella nodded. "That would be cool. Could I…could I sleep over?"

"Sure. We could ask my dad real nice, and he might set up the tent in the backyard for us. He likes to show off, you know? It'd be like an adventure."

"Yeah?" Gabriella's eyes were shining. "Sounds like fun."

"And, we could bug my Mom into driving us up the street for ice-cream."

"I'm gonna go home, and ask my Mom if I can. Wanna come with me?"

Gabriella's smile got wider. "Dad was making a chocolate cake when I left."

Troy sprang to his feet. "Bags the bowl for licking."

"Hey, he's my Daddy."

"I bagsed it first. You were too slow."

Gabriella rolled her eyes. "You're so annoying." She paused on the bottom step. "But sometimes, you know, you can be kind of cool, Troy."

Troy, already halfway across the yard, turned and looked at her with a smile on his face. "Sometimes you can be not annoying, Gabriella."

They raced down to the overflowing sandbar – it had been a wet summer – following it along until they reached the bridge and went home.

Age 11 – Upon Discovering That Words Are Never Enough.

Troy could see Taylor talking to Gabriella – she was obviously telling her something. Gabriella was nodding her head jerkily, as if that was too much effort.

A few feet away, Sharpay was talking to Ryan. Troy had been surprised – Ryan looked very grown up in his suit and his dark maroon tie.

Troy, of course, was horribly uncomfortable, and kept pulling at his restrictive collar.

Ryan said something, his hand hovering near Sharpay's elbow, and Sharpay bit her lip and leant forward until her head was resting against Ryan's shoulder.

Something in Troy's stomach caught and twisted: Anthony Montez wasn't coming back.

He hadn't thought about that. But Anthony wasn't coming back. Troy couldn't go and see him whenever he wanted and nag him to make chocolate cake just so he could lick the bowl and the spoon and get mixture on his face just so that Anthony would wipe it off with his thumb and hold his face between his hands and smile brightly at him.

Huh. His stomach suddenly hurt. A lot. Like the way it did when you had to vomit. Or cry. Troy wasn't sure he couldn't stand here and wait for Chad. He needed to move. Walk, or run, or do something, anything to get rid of this feeling. His suit was too tight, his hands felt hot, and his head tingled.

If Anthony Montez could die, anybody could die. His parents. His grandparents. His cousins.

Gabriella and Chad.

Troy gaze returned to the two of them, just to make sure they were alive, that they weren't going anywhere. Taylor was still talking. Gabriella was twisting her hands together, knotting the fingers and knuckles.

And suddenly Troy could see that she didn't want to be there. That Gabriella wanted to run away as badly as he did. That her clothes were too tight; that her hands were hot and her head was tingling.

Troy found himself walking past the marquee and the chairs, past Anthony Montez's grave, to the elm tree where Gabriella and Taylor were standing. The sun was shining, and the breeze was light, one of those late spring days.

He reached Gabriella and Taylor. The shadows of the tree leaves played across Gabriella's pallid skin.

"Taylor, I think your parents are waiting in the car for you," Troy lied blithely.

"Oh." Taylor looked at Gabriella. "Well, I…"

"I'll see you back at the house," Gabriella said softly.

"Okay." Taylor reached out and hugged her. Gabriella responded half-heartedly.

Taylor walked away from them, down the hill to the row of cars.

Gabriella looked at Troy with narrowed eyes. "Are her parents waiting for her?"

"No idea."

"Okay." Gabriella crossed her arms over her stomach. "Do you want to know how I'm holding up?"

"No. Your clothes feel too tight, your hands are hot and your head is tingly."

Her forehead puckered. "Um…yes."

Troy tilted his head down the hill. "Want head down to the sandbar? Or do you have to get back home now?"

Gabriella shook her head quickly. "I don't want to go home yet. The sandbar sounds great."

They walked down slowly, the grass brushing against their knees. When they reached the sandbar, Gabriella located a log and sat down. Troy sat beside her, stretching his legs. Troy watched Gabriella, and Gabriella watched the sandbar.

Her hands kept pulling at the hem of her dress.

She means well," Gabriella said. "Taylor does. It just that…she just…"

"She keeps talking?" Troy guessed. "And you want it to be quiet?"

Gabriella nodded, her fingers now pulling at a loose thread. Her hair had fallen across her face. "If it's quiet, I can…"

She trailed off. Troy didn't know what she could do when it was quiet. He didn't know how to help a person who'd lost their father – he hadn't. He didn't know what to say. How to act. He didn't know why his clothes were too tight, and why his throat was too.

He figured he'd never know. That there were things you couldn't ever know. There were things you could do, though.

Troy grabbed Gabriella's restless hands and held them tight. He shifted closer on the log. And said, "I don't have any stories to distract you with. I don't know how to help you. I don't know what you're going through. So, I think I'll just sit here and be quiet. Is that okay with you?"

Gabriella looked up at him, and tossed her hair out of her face. "That's fine with me."

It wasn't really quiet, Troy realized after a while. The sandbar bubbled and swished along; the trees moved in the breeze. There were cars moving somewhere, and their sound was a distant and soothing hum. There were birds and ducks and a door slammed, and Troy and Gabriella breathed.

Everything lived. Here was death, surrounded by life.

And quite suddenly, Troy's throat burst and he simply couldn't breathe. He couldn't breathe. He tightened his grip on Gabriella's hands. She looked up, and saw tears rolling down Troy's cheeks.

"I'm sorry," he said, tightly, brokenly. "He wasn't…he wasn't my dad. I'm… so sorry."

His body fell forwards, as he tried to lock his tears, his grief, his confusion in. But Gabriella pulled him sideways, until his head was in her lap. She touched his hair uncertainly. She and Troy almost never, ever touched, and even then, only under sufferance and with much complaint.

But Taylor was okay. Taylor kept making sure she was okay. Taylor kept hovering and saying things that annoyed her.

And right now, Troy wasn't okay, and this was something Gabriella could fix. Something she could do, something that wouldn't make things better, but it would remind her that it eventually would be okay.

So, she weaved her fingers through his hair and sat with him until he stopped crying.

And kept sitting there in the silence of life.

Age 16 – Why Loathing is Just another Word for Lust

"Bite me."

"With pleasure," Troy grinned.

"Seriously, does he have to be here?" Gabriella asked Taylor.

"I'm no happier about your presence."

"Would both of you shut up?" Chad was sitting between them and elbowed them both in the ribs.

"Nah, keep fighting," Sharpay said from the driver's seat. "It makes the trip more entertaining."

"Oh, Troy's a regular source of entertainment," Gabriella said. "He's a clown, don't you know?"

"Well, Gabriella works in a different form of entertainment. One that involves far less clothing."

Gabriella reached across Chad and smacked Troy over the head. Ryan laughed and Sharpay smiled from the front seat. Taylor glowered.

"Seriously, I'm not going to spend the next seven days at Aunt Ann's listening to the two of you fight the whole time. I'd like to have a good time. A peaceful time before school goes back."

"Fighting with Gabriella is a good time for me," Troy told his best friend. "There aren't many people who challenge my intelligence anymore."

"I think you just complimented me, Troy."

"Oops," he said. "My bad."

Gabriella rolled her eyes. "Hopefully you'll drown in the damn. Or the pond. Or your own blood. Something appropriately painful."

"Gabriella, you're looking at the New Mexico under-16 short-course freestyle champion," Troy told her.

"Good Lord, how could I forget? I'm surprised you haven't worn the medal out from looking at it."

"Well, I could say the same thing about you, baby doll. Aren't you worn out with all the looks being sent your direction?"

"First of all, don't call me baby doll. And second of all, I have no idea what you're talking about."

Troy raised a surprised eyebrow. "Seriously? You haven't noticed the looks you've been getting these days? Dominic Lockely in English class just about falls out of his desk trying to look down your top. Or Tony Wright in Math who doesn't keep dropping his pencil because he's clumsy but because he gets an excellent view of your legs when he bends down. There's a list as long as my arm from our gym class, Gabriella."

Gabriella had flushed a deep crimson color. "Stop being facetious."

"I'm not," Troy said, quietly and genuinely. "I can't believe you haven't noticed the way the football team's heads move in synch when you walk past."

"Gabriella has more important things to think about," Taylor interrupted. "She couldn't care less about any of those boys."

But Gabriella was looking at Troy. "Really?" she asked, with the faintest flush of pleasure in her voice.

Troy nodded. "Really."

She cleared her throat and looked out the window. "Well, as long as you're not looking at me like that, I don't care."

"That's right," Chad agreed.

Sharpay and Ryan exchanged amused glances in the front seat.

"I swear to God, I'm going to bust down that bathroom door, Troy. Nobody needs to look at themselves in the mirror for that long."

There was silence from the bathroom.

Gabriella banged on the door again. "Troy Bolton! Open up!"

More silence.

"No matter how long you look, your face will stay the same."

There was movement behind the bathroom door and Troy pulled it open. "I think you've got anger management issues. You really need to see someone about that – get some therapy."

Gabriella stormed past him. "I've been waiting out here for twenty minutes! Twenty minutes, Troy! Of course I'm pissed."

"It takes a lot of work to look this good. It doesn't just happen, you know."

"Uh-huh." Gabriella rolled her eyes. "Get out of here. I have to shower."

"No, I think I'll stay." Troy leant against the door jamb and crossed his arms over his chest. "Enjoy the free show."

Gabriella shoved at his chest. "Move."

Troy didn't budge. "You could take a course. A relaxation course, maybe, and learn to understand your inner rage. Channel it into something worthwhile."

Gabriella shoved at him again, only she was off-center and Troy shifted at the last minute and toppled to the floor. He took Gabriella with him.

Gabriella's awkwardness had been legendary the year she was fourteen but she'd thought she'd grown out of it. Obviously not. Her limbs wouldn't work properly. The more she moved the more tangled up she and Troy managed to get until their legs were locked together and she was flush up against him and sprawled across his chest.

"Uh…" Gabriella trailed off.

Troy shifted slightly and bit his lower lip. "You need…" His voice was hoarse. "You need to get off me, Montez."

"Yes. I just need to…" She began to move, only moving mostly involved resting her hands against Troy's warm, hard chest and levering herself away from him. Gabriella finally stood up, a vivid blush spread across her face. Then she stared down at Troy, flounced into the bathroom and slammed the door behind her. Troy whistled, stretched his legs out and put his hands behind his head. He heard Gabriella start the shower and allowed his imagination to roam.

"What are you doing?" Chad asked, looming above Troy.

Troy grinned. "Enjoying the show."

"Well, if you weren't such an asshole…"

"Language," Ann said as she sailed through the kitchen.

"Well, if you weren't such a bitch…"

"Everyone would be a lot happier," Sharpay finished. "You guys can't even cook one meal together without degenerating into a petty, childish argument."

"Apparently not. 'Sides, Gabriella's supposed to serve the food like the proper wench she is, not cook it."

"Aren't you supposed to eat it with your hands?" Gabriella asked sweetly.

"Ooh, harsh," Troy said in a mocking tone. "I vote you go put on your short black skirt and that almost see-through white shirt, and serve us dinner tonight."

"It wouldn't be that hard to put poison in your food, Troy." Gabriella reached around him for the chopped onion. "You'd be dead before you lost your virginity."

"That's all you know," Troy fired back.

"Oh, I'd know."

"You would not!"

"I would so." Gabriella swept the onions into the pan. "I'd totally know. It'd be written all over your face. You'd have a stamp on your forehead saying 'I Got Laid', like the Neanderthal jerk you are."

"You're a class act, Gabriella Montez." Troy reached around her for the pepper. "No, really. I mean that. Your disappearing Mother hasn't turned you into trailer trash at all."

Gabriella's eyes went wide. "Excuse me? This from the juvenile delinquent? Oh, the irony of the teacher's son being so anarchic. You're like James Dean without the cool. You think your petty rebellious streak means anything, Troy?"

"Yeah, it means that I don't dance to the tune the rest of you so blindly follow. I do my own thing."

"Yeah, you're the wild one. Leather and all." Gabriella stepped up close to him. "You shut your mouth about me and my family."

"Then you shut your mouth about my sex life!"

"What sex life?!" she shot back. "You don't have one."

"Oh, but lusting after the unattainable is the superior choice. Unrequited love really is the way to go."

Gabriella whirled around, "Who told you about Derek? And if you ever mention it again, I'll cut your balls off with a pair of scissors. Hear me?"

Gabriella shoved at him again, but Troy didn't move.

"With all this shoving Gabriella, I might start to think that you like touching me."

She screwed up her nose. "I'd rather touch dead fish."

"You sure about that?" Troy reached out and ran a hand down Gabriella's arm.

She pulled away. "Cut it out, you jerk."

Troy stepped closer, until his body was right up against hers. "Make me."

Gabriella made to step back, but Troy suddenly placed his arms on either side of her waist. Her back was against the bench, and she was pinned in place. But the thing that really scared her was that a part of her liked it.

She looked behind her at the paring knife on the cutting board. "I know I said scissors, but that knife would work just as well."

"C'mon, Gabriella, you can't even admit that you like touching me. You sure as hell get a lot more out of me than you would Derek."

Gabriella looked up at him. "Sounds like you're the one in love with me, Troy."

He shook his head. "No. But I'm not blind. I'm not going to pretend I don't look at you like all those other guys."

"That's gross, Troy." But she didn't mean it, and he could tell.

"No, be honest, Montez. You got a thrill yesterday, when I told you about those guys. You got a thrill just then when I told you I look at you like that. You've got one now, because I've got you pressed up against the bench with no escape and you're wondering what I'm going to do to you."

"No, I…" Gabriella trailed off weakly.

"Admit it. You don't mind it when I touch you." Troy's hand skimmed her waist. "You haven't thought about it? Not once?"

"Thought about what?" Her voice was getting breathier.

"What it would be like to kiss me."

"No," she scoffed.

He leaned closer. "Liar," he said in a low, deep voice.

Gabriella's lips parted slightly.

"You have," Troy said, in a soft crowing voice.

"I…" she trailed off and shifted her hips upward.

"Are you two quite done?"

Troy and Gabriella sprang apart. Chad was yelling at them from outside the kitchen window. He couldn't see them and both were more relieved then they would ever let on.

"'Cause I'll just stand here until you are. I'll stand here all night if I have to."

Gabriella touched a hand to the base of her throat and took a deep breath. Her voice was almost steady when she spoke. "We're done, Chad."

But as she looked at Troy he thought that they were only just beginning.

Age 17 – The Promised Land

Gabriella's body was a shadowed comma against the bed.

Troy was tracing the line with his own body, spooning her, but he'd created a slight distance between them so he could look.

Seemed strange – after what they'd just done – that all he wanted was to look. He wanted to mark the boundaries and seasons of her body. He wanted to know exactly how her skin looked in moonlight, how his fingers could trace her spine and feel each individual bone, how he could bend her heel against his toes.

He needed to know it all, compulsively, not just because he wanted the memory of it, but because he felt like he'd been waiting for this moment for four or five years. Somewhere, in the back of his brain, he'd decided that once – just once – he was going to sleep with Gabriella. Their banter and fire would explode once, and Gabriella wouldn't care about Derek. She would think only about him.

Troy hadn't imagined this – hadn't imagined her loving him in return, hadn't imagined that the sex would come after months of dating and other intimacies that seemed more precious and real than sex. Troy couldn't think of anything more to ask for than this, right here. Gabriella rumbled deep in her stomach.

"What was that?" he asked, sleepily.

"Hunger?" she guessed. "Contentment," she settled.

He reached down to her hip for her hand and twined his fingers through hers. "Not as heinous as you thought it would be, huh?"

Gabriella flushed, Troy knew, although he couldn't see. "I didn't think…well, no, it wasn't so bad."

"Seemed like you were having a fine time to me." Troy tucked their combined hands over her stomach, which was slightly clammy and damp like the rest of her skin.

"So were you." Gabriella twisted her head slightly. "Thank you…for putting up with me. For waiting."

"Albeit impatiently."

"No. You couldn't have been more patient." Gabriella buried her head into his shoulder. "You couldn't have, Troy."

"It was important to you, therefore it was important to me."

Gabriella kissed the arch between his shoulder and his arm. "Thank you."

Troy stroked her thumb and continued looking his fill. Her hair was mussed and tangled from his fingers and tiny hickeys dotted her neck and jaw. On the inside of her right knee was a flower-shaped scar, and although he'd seen it before, it was different now that he could see all the way up past the scar.

There were few other marks on her mostly-unblemished body – a cluster of chicken-pox scars on her hip, which he had kissed an hour earlier. Two pink mosquito bites on her back. Gabriella sighed, and her stomach moved under his.

Under his hand, under his palm, Gabriella could carry life. She wasn't, and she wouldn't, not for years. But the thought of it – of the complex world of tubes and eggs and babies underneath his hand – made Troy shiver.

"Troy?" Gabriella asked. "Cold?"

"No." He dropped a kiss on her neck. "You?"

"A little."

He let go of her hand and pulled away from her body to collect the blankets. Gabriella rotated and tucked herself into his body the opposite way.

He thought she would talk for hours afterwards. Spewing out meaningless words. Words she could use to cover their bodies and feelings. Troy discovered that he liked this better: the quiet, the stillness. He liked the blankness of his mind. The pure whiteness of feeling perfectly, absolutely right.

His arm was across Gabriella's back now, and he fingered her birthmark until she squirmed.

"Tickles," she muttered.

So he did it again, and asked for only one thing more. That one day, when she did carry life, he wished it would be his.

Age 26 – What Goes around Comes around and Usually Bites you on the Ass

"Hey," Troy said.

Gabriella looked over her shoulder. "Hey yourself. I haven't seen you all evening."

"I've been hiding out in the men's bathroom," he grinned. "I've only emerged for some air and more alcohol."

He walked towards the edge of the balcony and leaned next to her, against the ledge. He brought the scent of honey and leather with him.

"I'd hide away in the women's bathroom but Sharpay's in there making out with the drummer."

"Ah, the band was looking for him earlier. I'll be sure not to let them know where he is." Troy clasped his hands together and looked out at the city skyline. "Wow, what a view."

"I never get tired of it," Gabriella confided. "The lights, the buildings, the river, the bridge, the people, the cars…New York is so gorgeous."

Troy grinned. "Oh, New York is gorgeous too."

Gabriella rolled her eyes and knocked his elbow with hers. "You don't ever change."

"You have." Troy looked down at the traffic on Sixth Avenue. The cabs were crawling along and the sound of their horns was faint by the time it reached the reception center's rooftop. "You seem calmer than I ever remember."

"That's just the drugs."

He laughed. "Well, that too, but you know what I mean, right?"

"I do." The wind lifted a strand of Gabriella's hair and played with it. "I feel like I'm finally doing what I'm meant to be doing. I love living here – I feel like I belong."

"I'm glad for you. All your life you've been looking for a place to belong."

"You know, I wasn't looking for a place to belong. I could still be happy in Albuquerque. I was looking for a purpose. A job – a passion. It seems that being a teacher gives me that feeling." Gabriella tucked the strand of hair behind her ear. "What about you, farmer boy? You don't feel stifled, being back at home?"

"No." He shrugged. "My passion is there. Helping and coaching those kids, it's what I'm meant to do."

"I can see you now," she said, in a dreamy voice. "Out on the park's rundown court, you and five or six helpless kids. You always belonged there- in Albuquerque."

"You were happy with me, weren't you?"

Gabriella looked over at him. "Do you have to ask? I can't remember a time when I was happier."

"But look at us now," Troy grinned. "Hiding out on the rooftop at Chad's wedding reception."

"I'm not hiding. I'm just…taking a break. It's hot in there."

"Sure." Troy shifted his stance. "It wasn't just Albuquerque – it was you, being there with me."

Gabriella angled her body in order to face him. "Did you ever see The Philadelphia Story?"

"With Katharine Hepburn? I think so – doesn't she get really drunk at one point? And then Jimmy Stewart carries her home."

"That's the one. She ends up with the former husband, C.K. Dexter Haven – Cary Grant. When they were first married they had their honeymoon on a ship that he designed especially for the trip."

"C.K. Dexter Haven sounds like my kind of guy."

"You often remind me of him," Gabriella told him. "Which makes me your Katharine Hepburn, and I don't sound that bad, do I?"

"I always liked your voice," Troy said. "Particularly when you were happy, and it turned low and languorous."

Gabriella rolled her eyes, but smiled at the same time. "Anyway, there's this scene in the film where Katherine and Cary talk about that honeymoon, about how happy they were on the boat, and it always reminds me of us- of our summer."

He eyed her carefully. "Does this mean we'll get back together when you're set to marry another guy?"

Gabriella smacked him on the shoulder. "You really haven't changed."

"Come on." Troy stood up straight and held out a hand. "That's enough hiding. Let's go inside and brave the dance floor."

Gabriella adjusted her silk wrap, took his hand and let him lead her inside.

It was a few hours, and a few glasses of champagne later, after the lavish dinner, after the interminably long speeches and the bridal waltz, after the drummer had been restored to his kit and Sharpay had fixed her lipstick, when Gabriella and Troy finally got a chance to dance.

The band was singing old standards and they took a turn about the low-lit floor to Van Morrison's "Moon Dance".

"She looks happy," Gabriella said, her mouth near Troy's neck.

"Taylor?" Troy spun them so he could see Taylor and her Chad, sitting at the bridal table, chatting to Ryan. "She does. Of course, that's probably the drugs."

"Probably," Gabriella smiled. "I can't believe she ended up with Chad. But I suppose he's good for her. Better than any of the other guys she's dated."

Troy slipped his hand lower, until it rested against her lower back.

"He's good at handling her without letting her know that she's being handled," Gabriella pointed out. "That's another tick in the plus column."

"There'll be lots of pretty children."

She pulled back from his shoulder and looked at him. "Tell me – you seeing anyone?"

"Certainly nobody serious." Troy raised an eyebrow, surprised she was the one to ask first. "What about you?"

"I was seeing a guy all last year, but it ended badly. I'm not game enough to get back on the horse yet," Gabriella rejoined. She leaned her head back into his shoulder. "It gets harder, every time, to throw caution to the wind, to revel in the passion, when there's a little voice in the back of your head reminding you that it's never worked out for you yet, and it's suicide to keep trying."

"I know what you mean." Troy swung her out and back in. "It's hard to have faith."

Gabriella settled back into his shoulder. "Plus, I feel so old. We're twenty-six, that's one year over half-way to fifty."

He laughed. "Oh, hardly, Gabriella. We're twenty-six – that's not old by anybody's standards."

"I suppose." Gabriella looked up at him again. "You're coming home with me tonight, aren't you?"

Troy paused a moment, then nodded. "You got that feeling too, huh?"

"Hell, yes. I just thought I'd check that we're on the same page."

Gabriella might have changed, but Troy's memory of her body was still as sharp as ever. As she lay sleeping, he factored in a few new scars, including a nasty looking gash above her right kidney.

"Appendix," she'd murmured, earlier that evening, when he'd traced it with his mouth.

"When?" he'd asked, surprised.

"It burst two years ago – I was in London."

"Oh." He'd run his tongue down it.

Her hair was shorter, but her skin was as soft it had been when she was seventeen and she still slept the same way: on her side, knees up, one hand tucked under her cheek.

Troy lightly ran a fingernail across her hip. Gabriella shivered slightly and moved closer to his body. It was almost dawn – he couldn't see the clock from his position, but it was probably about six o'clock.

Taylor and Chad had left at about ten o'clock, to catcalls and cheers, and Troy and Gabriella hadn't stayed much longer. They'd caught a cab to Gabriella's apartment, down in Greenwich and stumbled inside, already pulling clothing off.

What he'd seen of Gabriella's apartment, or rather what he'd paid attention to, was nice. The floors were wood, the walls were cream, and the windows were huge. There was a bay window next to the bed and the early-morning light streamed through the curtains.

Troy thought for a moment, then eased away from Gabriella. She made a noise in the back of her throat. He pulled the sheets up to cover her, and touched the ends of her hair. Then he started putting on his clothes.

Five minutes later, he shut the door behind him.

When Gabriella woke up, she could smell coffee. She assumed it the coffeehouse below her. It was high summer, and she usually left the windows open at night. There were definite advantages to living above a coffeehouse – she hadn't made a cup of coffee since she moved in, and she hadn't paid for one in over six months. Tony, the barista and owner, treated Gabriella like one of his many daughters.

Rolling over, Gabriella realized she could smell bacon, as well. Her stomach rumbled and she sat up. It was seven-thirty, and the room was already bright with sunshine. It was the middle of July and it was ridiculously hot.

She ran her hands through her hair, rubbed her eyes, and frowned, because something was different, only…

Troy, she suddenly thought.

She'd definitely gone to sleep with a Troy in the bed, only he wasn't here now, and his clothes were nowhere to be seen. Nor could she see any note or message.

"Well, damn," Gabriella said, although she hadn't expected anything else.

It had been almost four years since they'd seen each other. She'd graduated college and won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford for a year. By the time she'd come back, everybody had dispersed – Taylor to New York, Ryan and Sharpay to L.A., Chad to Boston, and Troy had returned to Albuquerque.

She'd heard about him through the others. Gabriella had been honest last night; she really could picture him in that role. Troy would never admit to it, but he'd inherited a sense of community service from his father.

Gabriella had stayed in New York, and got a job at a private prep school, got this apartment, and told herself that she didn't miss Troy's friendship.

Only, she did, and seeing him last night, at Taylor and Chad's wedding had only reminded her how much.

"Damn," she said again.

"What's wrong?"

Gabriella's head shot up to the doorway of her bedroom. Troy was standing there with a tray and a quizzical expression.

"I would have left a note, but I didn't think you'd wake up before I got back. I went downstairs to get some breakfast – I thought I saw a coffeehouse last night."

"Oh…I…" Gabriella trailed off. "I...thank you."

"My pleasure. Tony and Melissa say hello, by the way."


"Really – Tony told me I better treat you right or he'd send his cousin Vinny around to fix me up."

Gabriella groaned. "He's actually serious. Vinny is Tony's cousin on his mother's side."

Troy's eyes widened. "Well, that's good information to have. I really better treat you right."

"Vinny's not so bad. But, then again, I've never been on his bad side."

"I'm sure I can hold my own." Troy placed the tray on the end of the bed and pulled off his white shirt from the night before. He tossed it to her. "You always used to steal it from me."

"It's not the same when you give it to me," Gabriella complained, pulling it on. It smelt like him, and the cuffs extended over her hands. She folded them back. "The fun part was always stealing it."

"It's a bit of a cliché isn't it?"

"Yes, but it's a cliché that I fully support. It's the woman's right to wear the man's shirt the next morning, only she's supposed to make him breakfast."

"I've never liked tradition," Troy admitted. He pulled his pants off and climbed under the covers. "I've got bacon, eggs, bagels, cheese, and coffee."

"Smells divine." Gabriella grabbed one of the coffees and one of the plates.

"So, you've got a nice place."

"Had a good snoop?" she asked, with her eyebrows raised.

"Sure did. Nice underwear drawer. Why didn't you wear that red stringy thing last night?"


"C'mon, you were asking for that." Troy spread his bagel with butter. "So, I got a text message on my cell phone from Sharpay."

"What did she want?"

"It says, 'Hey, Troy, what do you think of Gabriella's bedroom? The bay window's pretty nice, huh?'"

Gabriella almost choked on her coffee. "Damn it. I thought we left inconspicuously."

"It's okay. I texted her back and said, 'Bass players do it with rhythm. What about drummers?'"

Gabriella laughed loudly. It was a beautiful sound. "I've missed you."

"Missed you too," Troy said quietly. "Before, you thought I'd gone, didn't you?"

Gabriella moved a piece of bacon from one side of the plate to the other. "Uh…yes, I did."

"I don't blame you for thinking that."

She looked up at him. "You've got crumbs on your face…" She reached up and brushed the side of his mouth. "Hey Troy?"


"Don't ever change."

She kissed him, heedless of their breakfast, their coffee, the noise outside, the bright sunshine, everything but him.

He broke away and rested his forehead against hers. "How are we going to make this work?"

"No idea," Gabriella cheerfully replied. "But breakfast and a shower seem like a good start."

"When you say shower, you mean a shower together, right?"


Troy ate another piece of bacon. Then he kissed Gabriella on the forehead. "We'll make it work."

Gabriella looked at him, with messy hair, and wide green eyes. "Yes."

He had faith that they would, this time.