AN: A Troyella two-shot, I'll post the companion piece if you review. And trust me… you want it :)
Disclaimer: I don't own HSM.
He sees her for the first time in four years, standing outside a second hand bookstore on 47th Street. She's thumbing a dog-eared copy of Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote. It's serious, fabulous literature, an appropriately Gabriella book.
It's strange seeing her here – you don't bump into people in New York. Not randomly, anyway, not in a place so big and crowded, and he's become so used to the anonymity this city gives him that he's startled to see someone so – too – familiar.
The last time he saw her was Albuquerque, four years ago, at somebody's wedding. Weddings are so alike, so androgynous, that he struggles to remember whose it was. Sharpay's? It must have been Sharpay's, Troy decides, because he can't think of anyone else who's been married recently.
He can think of a bunch of people who've divorced recently.
Gabriella tucks the Capote novella under her arm and continues looking through the books on display on the sidewalk. She bends the upper-half of her body across the table to read a title, and her hair falls in her face. She pushes it back with her thin, white hand, tucks it behind her ear, and holds it there, a strange tableau.
Troy could cross the road, dodge the cabs and walk up behind her. He could say "Hello, Montez," and surprise the hell out of her.
He thinks about how it would go.
She'd be delighted to see him, or so he likes to think. She'd smile and say "Troy!" with fervor and joy. They'd probably hug, and it would be awkward but they'd both enjoy it more than they would let on.
Troy could imagine it clearly – the way her eyes would sparkle, the way her voice would lift and carry and enthrall him. Her low, coy vowels and the consonants that sound like cultured pearls.
They'd go into the bookshop, exchanging necessary information: the – what are you doing here – haven't seen you for ages – God, yes, almost four years, right? – Sharpay's wedding – I think so – that sounds right – you look fabulous – thanks, you too – comments.
They'd be moving through rows and towers of books, aged, musty books, and the store would be thick and heavy with that old-book smell Gabriella had always adored. Taylor had never understood it, had always valued the crisp, fresh, new-book smell, preferred the way the cover shone, and the spine crackled. Whenever Gabriella had dragged them into second hand bookstores, Taylor had screwed up her nose and complained loudly.
Troy thought he understood it: the history of old, pre-loved books, the stories about who had once owned them, where they'd come from and where they'd gone, the states and towns and decades they'd travelled through, the meaning they'd had to other readers. The things that a second hand book has seen often eclipses what it says.
He'd read an old copy of Kerouac's On the Road and known that all the readers who'd gone before him had finished the novel changed people. He had travelled after that book, racing through cities, towns, women, bars, trying to catch and print the pages onto real life, until he'd realized that no novel can be lived and possessed, not even by its authors.
But they'd go into the bookstore, remarking at how they both lived in the city, but hadn't known it, hadn't bumped into each other before, hadn't found out from mutual friends, both laughing, both feeling elated, surprised, alarmed.
There was always something elating, surprising and alarming about seeing Gabriella.
They would skirt around other customers, move their bodies between the precarious stacks and bookcases – dangerously crammed and packed – threatening to topple at any moment. Maybe they'd browse through books, pull some of them off their shelves and look at them without really looking at them, talking the whole time. He imagines he might pull down Fitzgerald, Updike – perhaps Tyler, who writes reunions and revisions so well. As if they were almost real.
They'd exchange information about Taylor, Chad, about his father, Sharpay and Ryan, about when they were last in Albuquerque and how the town had changed. It was a re-establishment, an easy exchange of details: what they were doing, where they were working, what they working at, who was the same and who wasn't, and who they'd lost contact and kept contact with.
But in a tumble, Gabriella would buy the Truman Capote book, hand over the money for something priceless, and they'd be back out on the sidewalk, yellow cabs flying past hedonistically, pedestrians in no less of a hurry even if it was a Sunday and the afternoon was warm and sleepy.
Still, still, they would be constantly talking, their conversation as constant as the flow of traffic.
And they'd stand there – Gabriella would tuck her hands into the back-pockets of her gloriously-tight jeans, her arms like wings, and bite her bottom lip. Troy would notice the way she slightly chewed her bottom lip, and keep his shoulders pulled back to make himself feel taller, stronger.
She'd be the one to suggest going for coffee – maybe Berger's Delicatessen only a few blocks down – and Troy would agree too quickly, too eagerly. Or maybe they'd wander up to Central Park, up the orderly, numbered blocks of Midtown, to have coffee near there. It was so strange that the city was so clearly-set out, and yet, so uncontrollable and amorphous.
Wherever it was, wherever they decided to go, they'd sit at the front table in the window and have a New York conversation. Words and voices were different in New York, because the city gave its people another sense of self, another costume to put on and pull off. And all New York conversations were attended by the city herself, a sprawling, heady figure who sat in every bar, every brothel, every library and gallery, near the Top Lake, in the subway cars and alleyways.
The city listened to the words, noises, cries, screams falling out of their mouths, and loved them all, judged them all, as they loved and judged her.
Gabriella would take off her coat, and her earrings would flicker and bob as she talked with her whole body. Sunlight through the tall window would color her once-long, now-shorter hair bronze. It would catch the hollows of her collarbones, highlighting the shadow in those dells. He would lean back in his chair, smile more then he had in a long time, and look handsome and confident.
Their words would stumble over each other, Troy talking about being a chef and all the challenges and joys of his job, Gabriella about whatever it was she was doing these days. They would joke about the past; about the strange rituals and dances of their teenage years. Now, in their mid-twenties, they would laugh about it, remind each other of the time when…
They would order a second coffee – Gabriella still had hers black and strong, he was sure – and continue talking. They wouldn't see the other customers coming and going, the waiters, the people parading by their window with their dogs, their children, their partners, their sports equipment, their briefcases, their books, their shopping bags, and their baggage.
And when the second coffee was finished and their mouths were thick with caffeine, they'd leave the coffeehouse, only to discover that the afternoon had disappeared, and it was almost, almost a chilly autumn evening; that time was hovering on the edge of the sunset.
Sunsets in autumn are always so orange, Troy would think, knowing that Gabriella was thinking it too.
The buildings of New York would be grey, blue and purple, and people would be hurrying home, or hurrying out for dinner, always, always going somewhere, returning from somewhere.
Gabriella would pull her coat back on, button it up and hunch her shoulders – winter was coming. She would hold her bag closer, too, and look around with her peripheral vision, with paranoia. Night-time was the mugging hour.
Gabriella would say something about going home, and Troy would wonder whether she was going home to somebody, the question on the tip of his tongue. He could never make it a casual question, though, and he didn't want it to be a serious one. He liked to think she would wonder the same thing, but for all their talking, there would still be things unsaid between them.
Quite suddenly, heavily, the night would fall and the cars would flick on their headlights, one by one, bright and distracting. The sounds of New York would coalesce around them; the ceaseless conversation of a city talking to itself; the voices of people trying to be heard and the voices of the people ignoring them; the music from apartment buildings and cars; the traffic; the sirens; the honking horns; the impatient drivers; the barking dogs; the crying children; the beeps, buzzes and bells that were attributed to nobody, came from nowhere.
The bookstore would seem like hours, days ago, but Gabriella would take the book home and read about Truman Capote's wet, nomadic New York, which was as brilliant as everybody wanted and needed New York City to be. She would read about Holly Golightly; about finding somewhere to belong.
And suddenly, as that grey, purple and blue night arrived, they would just be two people on a sidewalk who had spent all afternoon talking about things that didn't matter.
So, Gabriella would say goodbye, promise to look him up.
"Bye Ella," he'd called, watching her walk away with long, easy strides.
She would be swallowed up by the night.
All of this he imagined, standing in the middle of the sidewalk on 47th Street, the autumn afternoon stretching away from his mind and down across the hours. He longed for it, for the crammed bookcases, the coffee, the noise of Berger's Deli, the parade of people past the window they wouldn't see, for her flickering earrings, for the orange sunset, for the grey, blue and purple buildings.
And he was scared of it, too.
Gabriella straightened, looked through the bookstore's open doorway, judging whether to go inside or not.
He thought that maybe Gabriella didn't really want to read Breakfast at Tiffany's; that she wouldn't buy it, that she would buy something else or nothing at all. He thought that he was neither handsome nor confident, that they probably wouldn't hug or remember their past without steel in their voices and hurt in their eyes.
Maybe they would have nothing to talk about, and there would be only silence.
Troy didn't want that; didn't want to take the chance that the city would judge him and find him lacking, that Gabriella wouldn't be delighted to see him.
The afternoon could never be as he'd imagined it, never be as detailed and precious.
And how would he know how she took her coffee these days, anyway?
So, Troy started walking, falling back into the rhythm of the other New Yorkers around him, back into the movement of the city, back into its conversation and colors.
He walked up the ordered, uncontrollable blocks of 47th Street, and kept walking until he arrived at his apartment, alone.