The Brownie Girl

AN: In this story, Gabriella has always been at East School (aka, East Elementary, East Junior High and now East High) and has always lived in Albuquerque. This was a cute, fluffy story I thought of when handing out brownies for a picnic at my school! Enjoy, guys!

Disclaimer: I don't own High School Musical or any of the characters!

As far back as anyone could remember, Gabriella Montez had always brought brownies to school on special occasions.

Birthdays heralded the gooey brownies stacked on plates, liberally strewn with colorful sprinkles. The last day of school found her trotting into school with a large, aluminum foil-covered tray. Personal achievements were celebrated with one of her chocolate treats and a congratulatory smile from her. The pairing of a fresh, hot brownie and her sweet smile always managed to make the occasion even more special.

Gabriella was a shy girl, and the only time anyone really paid attention to her was when she brought her brownies. She was pleasing enough to look at, with long brown curls and large brown eyes, both the same shade as her treats, and dusky skin.

She was a studious, dedicated girl who was a part of the Decathlon team and often stayed back after school to help other members of her team understand difficult and new concepts.

Somehow, the last day of school didn't seem complete without her chewy, delicious brownies, and no one ever stopped to think of what would happen if she didn't bring them one day. There were some things that were predictable and would never change. The sun would always shine golden-yellow in the sky, the wind would always whistle pleasantly, and Gabriella would always bring her brownies.

As far back as she could remember, Gabriella Montez had loved Troy Bolton.

Despite the fact that she seriously doubted that she had exchanged more than ten words in their school years together, she continued to admire him from afar, and she never missed one of his basketball games. Taylor McKessie, her close friend, was of the opinion that Gabriella was being stupid to pine away for the basketball hotshot. But Gabriella would only smile and tune out her friend's complaints about 'lunkheaded athletes'. Taylor just didn't understand.

Sharpay Evans, East High's resident drama queen, shared Taylor's belief. "Gabriella, he's never going to notice you. Why would he, with so many girls to choose from?" she scoffed. "Like me," she seemed to add silently.

Gabriella disregarded these views, laughing them off. She didn't cherish any notion of Troy actually liking or loving her back. In a way, she had been nurturing a celebrity crush of sorts – it was impossible for Troy, East High's God, to ever feel anything about her.

Wasn't it?

She remembered one occasion vividly. It was Taylor's birthday in their sophomore year, and as always, she had brought a tray of her brownies. She swatted away the over-eager hands and laughed, gently reprimanding them and telling them to wait for lunchtime. She was greeted, as usual, by discontented grumbling, but no one questioned her right to tell everyone to wait. She was the brownie girl, after all.

When the bell rang for lunch, she had a queue lining up by her and Taylor's table. With a genial smile on her face, she handed each person a brownie, greeting people she knew.

Finally, there was only one brownie left. She stored it away, breathing a sigh of relief that the crowds had dissipated and everyone had returned to their respective cliques. She was about to straighten herself after packing away the lone chocolate treat when she saw a pair of red sneakers by her own feet.

She sat up, eyeing Troy Bolton coolly. "What do you want?" she eventually said, knowing that he had already had a brownie. Gabriella was a generous person, but she was adamant that each person would have only one brownie.

He shrugged, clad in a Wildcats sweatshirt and faded jeans. "Do you have another brownie?" he asked, a hopeful grin on his face. "See, Chad didn't have one, and he's totally heartbroken…"

Gabriella released a quiet laugh. "Bolton, Chad Danforth was one of the first people to get a brownie," she informed him, a smile playing on her face. He dropped the good-friend expression and shrugged again.

"Okay, so I want it for myself. Please? I didn't get one." His blue eyes stared into hers, and she had to fight hard to suppress a shiver of delight.

"No, Bolton," she said firmly. "Besides, I know you already had one." Her face absolutely straight, she pointed to the corner of his mouth, where a crumb of brownie was stuck. "The evidence is on your face."

Troy frowned. "Where? Where?" he asked, rubbing at his cheek. "Is it gone? I can't go to basketball practice with brownie over my face!"

Stifling a giggle, she got up and faced him. "Right… here," she told him, standing on her tiptoes and reaching up to gently wipe away the stray crumb. Her heart fluttered madly – she was close enough to kiss him. But she merely dropped her weight back onto her heels and smiled up at him. He didn't even give her a thankful grin before turning and walking back to his own table. She watched him go, feeling a pang of sorrow and lost opportunity.

On the day Gabriella Montez's father died, she didn't bring brownies to school. Despite the fact that it was the last day of school, she appeared in homeroom tray-less, eliciting questioning murmurs. She hadn't even brought a smile – instead, her face had a tight grimace plastered on, evidently meant to be a reassuring smile.

The entire junior year was aghast. No Gabriella Montez brownies? It had become a tradition to savor her mouth-watering brownies on the last day of school. She was pelted with curious queries all day, and she replied the same way to each of them – "Sorry, I forgot. Next year, okay?"

Most people were satisfied with her response, but a few, like Taylor, were suspicious of the forced brightness in Gabriella's chocolate eyes. The dark-skinned girl stayed back while everyone else filtered out of homeroom to catch her friend.

"Gabs!" she hissed, seeing the brown-haired girl exit the classroom slowly. She grabbed Gabriella's hand, causing the girl to stop and stare in confusion at her friend. "Listen, girl, I know something's up with you. You're acting way too unnatural today and no one just forgets to make brownies! You know it's a tradition for you to bring them on the last day!"

Gabriella winced and glared at her friend. "Is that all you care about?" she demanded. "Are you just checking up on me because you miss my brownies? Are you like all of them, Taylor?"

Taylor looked stunned. "No, Gabriella, no! You know me, come on. I'd never befriend you for something as petty and materialistic as your cooking," she pleaded. Gabriella shot her a sad, angry look through red eyes.

"Save it, I don't want to hear it," she snapped before sweeping past a shocked Taylor.

Gabriella took refuge in the library, burying her head in a chemistry reference book about charged particles. She refused to take it out, even when she felt someone drop into the chair next to her and lean close to her ear, whispering, "No brownies today, Montez?"

Her eyes snapped open and she lowered the book, gazing straight into Troy Bolton's enchanting blue eyes. To her horror, she felt herself blush as she replied shakily, "N-no… I, um, I forgot." His eyes grew dark with amusement.

"Come off it, Montez. Everyone's been talking about today for weeks. You can't seriously tell me you just happened to forget."

The grin that curved across his face was just so breathtakingly beautiful that she snapped. "Will no one care about me?" she yelled, slamming the book down. "Is everyone just concerned about my brownies? Is that all that defines me? Does no one take time to ask me how I'm doing, instead of harping about brownies? I mean, God, go out and buy them yourself!" Tears of anger had sprung to her eyes and slowly began trickling down her cheeks. "I'm tired of just being noticed because of my cooking!"

The librarian and all the other students in the library were too shocked by sweet, timid Gabriella's furious outburst to silence her. Troy, however, leaned closer, his breath warm on her face.

"Your middle name is Anna." His voice was soft. "You like the colors blue and silver, but you hate purple. Your mother's name is Sienna and your father's is Dominic. You love to eat pasta; baked ziti is your favourite. Greek mythology and culture fascinates you. You dream of being a writer, but you don't think you're good enough. Your favourite subject is history."

She gaped at him soundlessly, her eyes wide. He laughed quietly at her innocent expression.

"Do you like, stalk me or something?" she finally asked, closing her mouth and blushing even more furiously as the words escaped her. Troy laughed again, leaning back again.

"No. I'm just more perceptive than people give me credit for." She saw a flash of sadness in his blue eyes and suddenly understood.

"Everyone defines you by basketball too, don't they?" she murmured. "It's like my brownies. No one cares about your life beyond basketball."

He gave her a half-smile. "Something like that, yeah," he admitted. "It's like they can't see beyond the playmaker, because they don't want to know about the real Troy."

She rested her hand over his considerably larger one and squeezed it gently. "I care about the real Troy," she said sincerely.

He met her earnest eyes and smiled. "Thanks, Gabriella," he replied softly. He shifted his hand until his fingers were intertwined with hers. "You want to tell me what happened?" he asked gently.

Talking to him had made her forget all about why she hadn't brought the brownies. In a sickening rush, everything came back. The sudden wave of memories was too much for her – she started to cry softly, bowing her head to hide her tears from the world. Troy drew her closer, letting her head rest against his chest as her body shook with emotion. His arms snaked around her, comforting her with a sense of security.

Her sobs ended in a few minutes, and she sniffled softly. "I-I'm sorry," she muttered, trying to pull away. "I…I've got your shirt all wet."

He grinned at her. "I don't mind," he replied. "I don't mind at all."

She looked up at him, and despite how her eyes were swollen and red with her crying, he thought that he had never seen someone more beautiful.

"My… my dad… he died last night." The whispered words caused her more pain than anything she had ever experienced. "My mom and I woke up and he… he just wasn't breathing. The doctor said that he died of a heart attack." She clutched his shirt as if he was all she had left. "I had made the brownies last night, but I… I couldn't bring them! I didn't want to see everyone else enjoying something while I felt like, like this!" She gestured vaguely at her face.

He grazed his lips against her forehead, trying to comfort her. "Why didn't you tell everyone? I'm sure they would have understood," he said. She shook her head slowly.

"No one cares about Gabriella Montez. They only care about the brownie girl," she replied softly.

"That's not true." His gaze was steady. "Taylor cares about you, and… and I care about you, Gabriella."

She blinked up at him in astonishment. "But… last year…" she muttered in confusion.

Troy knew what she was talking about instantly. "Oh, that," he said, laughing uncomfortably. "It's just… I've never known how to act around you, Gabriella," he confessed. "You do such strange things to me. It was so much easier to just act like everyone else." Shyly, he added, "I really like you, Gabby."

Her heart thumped painfully. "I-I really like you too, Troy." She lowered her gaze, sure that her cheeks were crimson now. She felt Troy's body shake as he chuckled.

"Hey. You've got something on your face." She frowned and looked up at him again. He wiped at the corner of her mouth with a gentle thumb, and leaned in to kiss her.

As his lips met hers, she tasted chocolate brownies.

AN: Did you like it?? Personally, I loved it! It was so cute and fluffy, and I adored writing it! I hope you guys liked reading it!