Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters or places created by the High School Musical franchise or by Disney!
It was Christmas Eve and the entire East High crew was over at the Bolton's house to hang out and enjoy each other's company before all the family festivities started at each of their houses or relatives' houses later that evening and the next day. It was senior year so each one of the Wildcats were mindful of this being their last Christmas together spent like this, all gathered together as one entire group to share in this special holiday. The pressure of applying to the right colleges had passed for most of the Wildcats while it still lingered for those slackers, aka most of the basketball team members. However, for some, the stress of finals coming up two weeks after they returned to the halls of East High was already felt, aka the decathlon team members, the composer, and the dancer. Yet on this special late morning gathering for a lunch done potluck style, every member of the close knit group of friends put all of that beside to just be there in the moment to create a memory that everyone would remember for years to come.
Out of all ten teenagers though, there were three who did have something else on their mind at varying degrees, something that wasn't completely unrelated to the holiday cheers and wishes being shared by everyone around the world at that moment. Today was the day that the slender blonde, Sharpay Evans, and the petite brunette, Gabriella Montez, gave as a deadline for the average height dark brown haired boy, Troy Bolton, to finally make his decision. The three of them had been dancing around the issue for several months now, both girls being happy to date the one guy until it became clear that after a month, Troy was not going to decide on who he really wanted on his own. For Sharpay, her desire to see this decision made came as a result of not wanting to share her guy with anyone, just as she had never wanted to share her toys with her twin when they were younger. On the other hand, for Gabriella, having Troy finally make his decision of which of the two girls he really cared for more would end several months and moments of heartache knowing that she was seeing a wonderful guy who openly cared for and dated another girl. Gabriella had no problem with the concept of sharing but it was the emotional toll it was taking on her that bothered her so much that no matter how this day turned out, Gabriella needed to know where Troy's heart really lay.
Troy let out a sigh as he sat on the couch in his living room next to Chad Danforth, the dark skinned teenager with wild hair that had always been his trademark look since he was three who had always been Troy's best friend since the same age. Chad heard this and looked over at his friend curiously but gave him a knowing look after following his best friend's gaze and saw that it rested on the blonde and brunette, both the objects of Troy's affections since this past summer at Lava Springs, for one in particular since Winter Break junior year. It wasn't until Troy had acted on those feelings and started dating both of them at the same time that this little drama had started between the three.
"Man, I have to say, I am not jealous of your big decision today," said Chad, interrupting Troy's thoughts on what he would be doing in only a short amount of time. "No matter what you do, you are closing the door on one girl who has had your attention for several months and yet embracing the other who you want to move to that next level with. That's rough dude."
Troy shook his head at this. "Totally not helping here Chad," murmured Troy as he continued to watch as Sharpay animatedly chatted with her twin brother Ryan Evans while Gabriella fiddled with some ornaments on the Bolton's Christmas tree while she softly talked with her best friend Taylor McKessie as well as Kelsi Nielson and Martha Cox. He felt himself grin as he heard Gabriella's soft laughter at something one of the girls said while Troy felt his face flush at the seductive wink Sharpay just threw his way. 'God, what if I make the wrong decision? They are so different, like night and day, yet both of them have their good qualities about them. Well Bolton, you better figure it out fast because stalling is only making this worse for them and yourself.'
Before Troy could pull aside either Sharpay or Gabriella, Zeke Baylor and Jason Cross, came into the room with freshly baked cookies made by Zeke himself and a pitcher of milk that was set down for the gang to dig into. Happy for the distraction, Troy grabbed a chocolate chip cookie off the platter and nibbled on it as he returned his attention back to Gabriella and Sharpay, who were now talking to each other. 'I also have to wonder how today is going to affect their fragile friendship. It's nice that they don't dislike each other anymore, well at least that Sharpay doesn't openly dislike Gabriella now, and I don't want to disturb that, but how do I not with what I have to do today?'
From across the room, Gabriella had just sat down with Taylor and Kelsi beside her on the floor near the Christmas tree and felt a pang in her stomach at that look she saw on Troy's face. That look of confusion and concentration that gave away to the brunette what the blue eyed boy who had held her affections since New Year's Eve last year was thinking about the decision she and Sharpay had practically demanded him to make. 'Well, the demanding came from Sharpay, but I am guilty of going along for my own selfish reasons. God, what if he doesn't pick me? Can I deal with watching him and Sharpay together as a couple?'
Oblivious to the other two teenagers, Sharpay continued happily talking to Ryan, thinking somewhere in the back of her mind that today was the big day but she found that she wasn't too worried. 'Troy knows what he has within his grasp. He wouldn't be stupid enough to mess things up with me. I can give him so many more things than Gabriella can, I really am better for him and I know that he must see that.'
Chad sensed all the tension and confusion in the air and decided that maybe now was the right time for a diversion. 'It's hard to see my best friend and my friend so torn up about what is going to happen later tonight. Sharpay being upset isn't all that abnormal as she is a typical drama queen but still, by the time this is all over, I can guarantee there will be tears and heartache enough for the rest of us here.' He clapped his hands together and grinned as everyone gave him their attention. "Thank you everyone. On behalf of Troy, I'd like to thank everyone for being here today, and on behalf of the gang, Troy, we'd like to thank you and Coach and your mom for having us here. Yes, I can be nice and polite when I want to be, see Taylor?"
The gang laughed at this as they knew that Chad really did have a huge heart, more than he would like them all to know. "It's good to see that nice behavior come out around the holidays Danforth," teased Jason. "Guess we can't call you the Grinch here huh?"
"Or Scrooge," added Zeke. "Too bad, my gift to him was a sack of coal this year!"
"Haha," got out Chad with as much of a serious face as he could muster before he cracked a smile. "Anyway, on that note, I suggest we all exchange gifts and open presents! I know I can't wait to see the looks on some of your faces!"
"Hmm, why do I smell trouble after that comment?" joked Taylor. "I say we go around in a circle and take turns. It'll slow us down a bit and give each other the chance to see true reactions."
Kelsi immediately agreed. "I think that's a terrific idea!"
The rest of the gang agreed and all sat down, Gabriella helping Troy and Chad pass out the presents everyone had brought over. Some of the gang laughed as they all thought of how obvious it was that the pink wrapped presents were from the Evans twins. 'Typical Evans color; pink and sparkly,' thought Martha with a laugh, which an amused Kelsi shared with her, knowing exactly what her friend was thinking.
One by one, they took turns opening the presents before them, the highlights including Zeke's new Kitchen Aid mixer given to him by most of the group, a brand new, latest designed basketball for Chad from the boys, and a professional looking portfolio with her named engraved on it for Taylor for all those future college interviews she would be going on given to her by Gabriella, Kelsi, and Martha. Ryan adored the new white and red hat Gabriella and Taylor gave him while Jason was overjoyed at seeing his favorite NBA player's jersey waiting for him in a box he opened from his girlfriend Kelsi. Martha screamed as she opened a series of presents that each held one to three CDs of her favorite music from various members of the group while Kelsi excitedly eyed the new music composition book with her name on it that Taylor, Martha, and Gabriella had given her. There were many more presents that were enjoyed and shared but there was a little bit of a letdown for three of the gang again as they realized there were no presents from Troy to either girl or a present for Troy from Gabriella or Sharpay.
Sharpay was immediately miffed by this, annoyed that she didn't get anything from Troy when her big surprise was on its was as they sat around the living room with their friends. 'Did he forget me this Christmas? No way, I'm too fabulous for that. Maybe his is on his way too for me?' she wondered before she felt her phone vibrate in her pocket, smiling as she knew that was the signal Troy's present had arrived outside. Without a word, Sharpay dashed out of the Bolton's house and went to greet the deliverer with Ryan right behind her.
Troy confusingly looked at the now closed front door of which the twins exited his house without a single word before he looked over at Gabriella, who gave him a small sweet smile that warmed his heart. 'I bet she's wondering where her present from me is. It's something I want to give her but not in front of everyone else,' he thought as he returned her smile, chuckling as he saw that shy blush appear again on her cheeks. 'Gabriella is so sweet and innocent, I'd never get tired of seeing those giveaway looks of hers. She really has been so refreshing from all the other prospects at school and from Sharpay, and yet Sharpay has this hold on my attention for a whole different set of reasons. Sharpay is beautiful to look at and she does have a very outgoing personality and all the right connections to get anything she wants. Both girls have so much to them but I know which one I want to exclusively date after all this time. It's just a matter of how to break it to them both with minimal damage.'
As Troy got up from the floor to cross the circle the group of friends made to approach Gabriella, he heard a loud sound coming from outside, sounding like a revving of an engine nearby. 'What in the world?' he wondered as he heard the sound again and then saw Ryan run into the house.
"Gang, Troy, Troy's present has just arrived!" huffed Ryan with a grin on his face, extending his right arm out to invite Troy to go outside.
Beyond curious, Troy abandoned his mission to talk to Gabriella and led the gang outside and down the path to the driveway where he felt his jaw drop. There in the driveway was Sharpay, revving up his Christmas present from her, a brand new BMW 2007 F 650 GS motorcycle. 'Holy crap!' thought Troy excitedly, a grin forming on his face. "Are you serious Sharpay?"
Sharpay couldn't hold back her excitement in seeing that joyous look on Troy's face. "It's all yours Troy Bolton, all paid for and everything!" confirmed the blonde, eagerly getting off to let Troy examine his new present. "Daddy said this was the best motorcycle any young man would want so I knew that you had to have this. I think you look damn sexy just standing next to it actually."
Troy gingerly ran his fingers over the top of the motorcycle, examining every little detail. Everything was in mint condition and stood very distinctly in the driveway, especially compared to his parent's parked old compact Hyundai. 'Not a single scratch on the black paint and everything is just so shiny!' he thought, finally taking his eyes off the motorcycle to look at Sharpay. "Sharpay, are you sure about this? This must have cost thousands of dollars!"
Sharpay just rolled her eyes at this and waved him off. "It's nothing Troy but it is valued at $7,500, just so you know. To me, it's worth every penny to see you this happy. Do you really like it Troy?"
"I love it! Thank you so much Sharpay!" exclaimed Troy, immediately wrapping the slender girl into a big hug. "This is so off the hook!"
She grinned even wider now, feeling like the answer she had been waiting for all day was about to be spoken to her ears to behold. Sharpay quickly leaned in and kissed Troy, smiling more as she felt him kiss her back with true emotion. 'Sorry Gabriella, but Troy only deserves the best and I don't share,' thought Sharpay in the back of her mind as she continued to kiss her official boyfriend.
Jason, Chad, and Zeke all gathered around the BMW motorcycle to check it out up close, happy for their friend and each hoping that they would get a ride with him or on this bad boy on their own before they all left today. 'I take back what I thought earlier, I think I am actually jealous of Troy now,' thought Chad as he shook his head, appreciating the sleek design of the motorcycle.
Taylor watched her boyfriend, Chad, eye the motorcycle and suddenly felt herself feel a bit tormented that she couldn't give him a gift like that which he obviously appreciated. 'He seemed to have liked the basketball jersey I got him but that look in his eyes, that was definitely not there when he opened up my present to him earlier,' thought Taylor, looking over to see Kelsi's expression just as troubled as her own was probably. 'Money may not be able to buy love but it can certainly buy quite a bit.'
With that sudden thought, Taylor became aware of a small sniffle behind her and looked over her shoulder to see her best friend in tears. "Oh Gabriella," whispered Taylor, pained more now by seeing the tears freely course down Gabriella's cheeks as she watched Sharpay and Troy kiss after a rather ecstatic Troy expressed his gratitude to the blonde. Taylor turned and moved to her best friend, putting an arm around her shoulders and leading her back into the house so she wouldn't torture herself more.
Once inside, Taylor directed Gabriella into Troy's room so they would have some privacy, both girls sitting down on Troy's bed as Gabriella began to cry harder. Taylor wrapped the brunette into her arms, slowly stroking Gabriella's curly hair that hung down her back in hopes of providing her some form of comfort. After a few minutes, Taylor felt Gabriella's body stop heaving from sobs and now only heard quiet whimpers and sniffles for which Taylor was glad.
Eventually, when she felt strong enough, Gabriella pulled back and looked at her best friend in horror as she saw the huge wet spot she left on Taylor's red long sleeved shirt. "Oh God Taylor, I'm so sorry!" exclaimed Gabriella, embarrassed by it.
Taylor only shook her head. "Don't worry Gabriella, it's just water. Tears I'd rather not have seen you cry but no permanent damage. The question is, are you okay?"
Not one to ever speak falsely, Gabriella gave Taylor's question some thought while she bit the corner of her lip. "I will be," answered Gabriella. "Troy has made his choice today and I promised myself that as long as there was a resolution, I'd be okay to walk away from this house today. In some ways, this feels like a relief that I don't have to worry about him and the status of where we stand in each other's lives. Now I know. I'm in love with a guy who is in love with another girl who cares for him back. It sucks, don't get me wrong, but I can handle that, at least that's what I'm telling myself right now."
Taylor gave her a small smile. "I have to hand it to you girl, you are made of stronger stuff than most. You going to be okay to stick around for a little while longer?"
Gabriella looked down at her watch and saw the time. "No, I can't. I promised my mom I'd make it home in time for us to leave with enough time to make it to the airport. I'm just going to go out through these doors so none of the gang sees the pitiful mess that is me right now. Say goodbye to them for me?"
"Sure," agreed Taylor, not liking the idea of letting her best friend return home on her own in this state. "Will you let me give you a ride at least?"
She shook her head at Taylor. "No, I want you to stay here and enjoy the rest of the party with the gang and your boyfriend. Just remember how very luck you are that you care for a guy who returns those feelings, even if he doesn't show it since it is Chad we are talking about," said Gabriella with a smile returning to her face. "I guess I'll just leave Troy's present here too. It doesn't compare to a motorcycle but it came from the heart."
"I'm sure he'll love it Gab," replied Taylor, standing up with Gabriella, who went out into the hall for a few moments and then came back with a white and blue box that she set on Troy's bed. "Don't worry about your gifts from the gang. I'll bring them home with me so you don't have to carry them walking back home."
"Are you sure?" questioned Gabriella.
"Positive, no worries. You just take good care of yourself, okay? Don't even think about what a bad choice Troy just made either. I'll see you New Year's Eve, right? Small gathering at my house?"
Gabriella nodded her head. "I wouldn't miss it for the world. Thanks for everything Taylor," murmured Gabriella as the two girls shared a big hug before Gabriella stepped away and disappeared through the doors that led to the side of the backyard from Troy's bedroom.
'I just wish that being good all this year would have paid off like it was supposed to for Gabriella instead of this heartache,' thought Taylor before she left Troy's room and returned to the living room to see Kelsi and Martha sitting there talking on one of the couches alone in the room. "Hey girls."
"Hey," returned Martha. "Is Gab okay?"
Taylor let out a sigh. "She says she will be but I am not so sure. Gabriella also told me to say goodbye to you guys for her. She left for home to make her family's flight to visit her relatives."
"She's gone already?" asked Kelsi. "That actually doesn't surprise me. Gabriella is the type of girl who would rather slip out of the situation she is now without a word or hint of her own heartbreak to ensure she doesn't ruin everyone else's time, especially Troy's. I guess if she can respect his choice so can I, but I still think he's a nut for choosing the drama queen over her."
"But as you said, if Gabriella can accept it, so must we," answered Martha, although her eyes showed some of the pain she too was feeling for their sweet friend.
The three pushed the matter aside though when the front door opened as Chad, Jason, Ryan, and Zeke walked in, smiles on their faces.
"Hey girls," greeted Zeke as Jason and Chad went ahead of the two guys and sat down next to their girlfriends, leaving Zeke and Ryan to take a seat on the couch across from the couples and Martha.
The three girls were subject to a summary of the motorcycle's features and the feel of the bike under their hands even though none of them had ridden on it yet but were promised they all could before the party was over.
'Honestly, how could they be so insensitive to what this means to Gabriella?' wondered Taylor.
'How do they not know that Gabriella is no longer with us and how hurt she must be right now?' thought Martha.
'Leave it up to the boys to be clueless as to how that single gift affects the future of that love triangle and the emotions of one of our good friends,' reflected Kelsi, who was truthfully annoyed at the guys for their lack of sensitivity on Christmas Eve of all days. 'At least Gabriella is not here to see this.'
After some time, Troy himself appeared through the front door by himself. "Hey Ryan, umm, Sharpay wants to see you outside," called out the teenager, avoiding the curious looks he was getting from everyone. Troy closed the door behind Ryan and sat down on the couch where Ryan had been sitting, seeing the excited smiles still playing on his basketball buddies' faces while taking in a whole different set of expressions from the girls. Troy examined the serious and almost unforgiving looks on the faces and in the eyes of Kelsi, Martha, and especially Taylor and wondered what they were about until he realized there wasn't a fourth face looking back at him. A sudden clenching in his gut told him that something was definitely not right as his blue eyes looked back into Taylor's dark brown ones. "Where's Gabriella?" asked Troy in a quiet voice.
"Dude, she's probably in the bathroom or something," answered Jason before he got shot a hard look from his girlfriend. "What?"
Chad and Zeke looked around the room and saw that Troy was right, Gabriella wasn't there with them. "Maybe she's in your room?"
Troy narrowed his gaze on Taylor, who defiantly looked back at him, refusing to say anything. "McKessie, where is Gabriella?"
After seeing that Taylor wasn't about to answer him and seeing that Kelsi and Martha were not about to talk either, Troy decided to get up and look around the house for Gabriella. He checked the kitchen and the bathroom before making his way to his room where he saw the door to the side yard slightly ajar. Troy quickly walked across the room and opened the door, hoping to see Gabriella curled up on their favorite bench on the porch but sadly realized she wasn't there or anywhere in the backyard for that matter. It was only after searching the entire backyard that Troy realized the side gate was open. Troy ran out through the gate and down the side of the house and down the driveway and scanned the neighborhood, desperately searching for a sign or a glimpse of the pretty brunette. 'She's gone…' thought Troy sadly as he closed his eyes against the heartache that set in finally as Troy played the scene of him receiving the motorcycle from Sharpay and their kiss in his mind, realizing that Gabriella had probably witnessed the whole thing and took that as his answer. Troy turned around and ran back into the house, absently noticing that Sharpay's pink Mustang and his new gift were gone from the driveway, and only slowed when he reached the living room.
"Chad, can you give me a lift to Gabriella's? I think she went home and I desperately need to talk to her," got out Troy, looking anxiously at his friend. "My truck is blocked in by all your cars otherwise I'd go on my own."
"Umm, sure," agreed Chad as he started to stand up before he felt Taylor's hand on his arm, gently seating him again.
"It's no use. She's gone Troy," said Taylor, finally breaking her silence. "Gabriella is on her way to the airport right now, I just got her text. Her mom must have picked her up on her walk back home somewhere. You won't catch her in time."
"But I have to!" argued Troy. "She'll leave thinking… Oh God, what she could be thinking right now."
Troy allowed himself to slide down the wall and rest his head in his hands as he thought of what the brunette must be thinking on her way to the airport or at the airport by now. 'I've lost my chance to talk to her.'
His mood continued to be down and on the quiet side for the rest of the gathering, which ended shortly after this as it was close to the time most of them told their families they would be home. Chad and Taylor were the last to leave, Chad giving Troy a sympathetic look while Taylor barely uttered a civil goodbye to Troy.
After Troy cleaned up the living room, he dragged himself to his bedroom and threw his body down onto the bed, staring up at the ceiling, thinking about what had occurred in just a matter of hours earlier on in the day. 'How did things get so out of control so quickly? How could I have done the exact opposite of what I wanted to and hurt her?'
When his mind finally released his lightning speed thoughts, Troy noticed the blue and white box with a big red and white bow sitting on the side of it next to him on the bed. He pushed himself into a sitting position and dragged it over, feeling that now too familiar feeling of self-torture at the realization that it was a present to him from Gabriella. Troy's heart clenched as he pushed himself to open it and saw a medium sized black and white stuffed penguin with a permanent smile on its face via its yellow beak and beady black eyes. There was a small red bow on top of its head that matched the red sweater with a white heart on it which the penguin was also wearing. Upon looking over the stuffed penguin again, Troy noticed a small sticker on one of its flippers. Troy looked closer and saw that it had words on it: press here.
Curious now as to what would happen, Troy squeezed the flipper and felt tears sting his eyes as he heard Gabriella's sweet voice come from the penguin. "Troy, you are my forever penguin. Merry Christmas!"
Troy sat there for a long period of time, just holding the stuffed penguin in his hands and playing the voice box over and over, feeling as if his world was spinning out of control as the full understanding of what had happened at his own home just hours before came crashing down.