Seven: Committing To The Moment
Caroline Bolton looked delighted. "This is so going to work!"
Troy Bolton looked in despair. "This is never going to work."
"Do you want a candle?" Caroline asked, not taking her eyes away from the strategically placed math textbooks, notebooks and equipment on the kitchen table.
"Why the fuck would I want a candle?"
"To make it more romantic? The math books on their own don't really speak romance, do they?"
Troy breathed slowly, trying to keep his temper in check. It was an hour until Gabriella was due to arrive under the false pretences that he needed a math tutor and his stress levels really weren't showing any signs of lessening.
He wasn't a liar by nature - except for maybe the odd little white lie that was crucial to getting out of major trouble. There had been a few occasions where he'd blamed Chad for stealing his mom's freshly baked cookies or told Caroline that he had nothing to do with the massacre that involved her precious dolls and their heads. But he never used a lie in a malicious way, and although it wasn't really a mean thing to tell Gabriella a little white lie in order to see her at that stage, Troy still felt as though he was betraying her trust in some way. He knew the odds were already stacked so high against them; he didn't want to add to them.
Caroline, meanwhile, was on top of the world. She'd taken charge of Troy's wardrobe for the day, the aftershave he'd be wearing, the food and drinks he'd be offering… even to setting the kitchen table up for the fake tutoring session. It wasn't really rocket science or anything that needed such attention, yet Caroline was happily treating it as such, stating that her cousins entire future happiness depended on this going well.
"Since when has a math tutoring session been part of any date?"
She beamed. "So, this is a date?"
Troy reddened drastically. "No. It's not a date. You're the one who got me into this - you told Gabriella I suck at math and need a tutor. If I had asked her on a date, this isn't what we'd be doing."
"And what would you be doing, pray tell?"
"Anything and anywhere that didn't involve you!"
Caroline clicked her tongue in mock disgust. She was too excited to get into a full blown argument with him. "You're so negative, Troy. Why aren't you more excited? I know you're happy she's coming so you could at least crack a smile."
"This is all wrong. She thinks I suck at math."
"So I'm not lying to her. This whole thing is so unnecessary anyway."
"Don't start with all that stupid rivalry again, Troy. It's so childish; you all belong in a crèche! Just tell her the truth if that's what you're so bothered about! And if she's as narrow-minded and childish as the rest than she simply isn't worth it."
"No buts. Matter is closed. Now, I have a few candles - some unscented, but I really think you need to go for a scented one. I have jasmine."
"I have a fist. And I'll use it."
Caroline slammed her hands on her hips. "Troy, you really need to commit to the moment. Effort is required here - when you guys get married, I can't be the one to say your vows for you, ya know!"
"And if - mega, huge IF - it ever came to that, you may as fucking well. You're taking over everything else in my life!"
"And you're a psycho!"
"Whatever." Caroline waved him off dramatically. "I'm going to get a candle. Don't touch the table setting while I'm gone - we don't want you screwing up before she even gets here."
"I don't want a fucking candle!"
Gabriella Montez could only conclude that she was having an outer body experience.
There was a small part - a very teeny weeny part - of her that was desperate to go downstairs and ask Sharpay Evans for fashion and make-up advice.
She knew the nice men in white coats would be knocking on her door at any second with that revelation hanging in the air.
Sharpay was currently hanging out downstairs with Mattie, Jake and Will Jessop - Will had already made several unsuccessful attempts to prise her out of her bedroom to join them. Gabriella simply couldn't accept his sleazy invitation for a large number of reasons - mainly the utter catastrophe that was her bedroom at that precise moment in time. Her bedroom was always immaculate and now it looked as though a clothes bomb had gone off in there… and all because of a boy.
A boy, she reminded herself for the umpteenth time, that she barely knew and a boy who'd only asked her to his place to him with his math homework.
She was destined to always be the geek - the girl who just lingered in the background of everybody else's exciting and happy lives.
With a heavy sigh, she once again tried to look through the pile of clothing she'd previously raked from her closet, only to be met with disappointment after disappointment.
Nothing looked right. She'd always been a girl of comfort when it came to fashion; she never bothered with the latest trends or looking her particular best. But now, it suddenly seemed the perfect outfit had to be presented to her, the most flattering make-up had to be printed on her to make her the most stunning human being on the face of the earth.
The images in her head weren't the same as the reality she was facing in her full-length mirror. And she suddenly felt a need to cry. The feeling struck her as unusual, but the fact that she was standing there seeing a reflection of herself wearing the same boring jeans, the same loose fitting tank top and navy hoodie, the same plain make-up-less face and effortless hair style.
Gabriella forced herself to turn away from the mirror, and away from the clock on her bedside table that was taunting her with the fast-moving time. If she was heading over to Troy's, she'd need to get ready as soon as possible to make it for four o'clock.
This was all a mistake.
Just one, big, fucking nightmare of a mistake.
The loud knock on her bedroom door caused her to grip her hair in her fingers and tug in annoyance. "I don't want to come downstairs!" She yelled through gritted teeth. "Don't you people understand anything I say anymore?!"
"Well, no." The door opened and the face of Sharpay Evans emerged. "Maybe because you act all anal all the time about the simple things in life. Everyone's downstairs socialising and having fun - hard things to understand, I'm sure. And you're…" Her hazel eyes darted around the room. "You're… having a personality transplant… Did a clothes bomb go off in here or something?"
"I wish," Gabriella grumbled, wrapped her arms around her waist. "I was, uh, just looking for something…"
"Other than jeans and a hoodie?" Sharpay thought the situation was highly amusing. "Good luck with that one, Montez!"
Gabriella's eyes narrowed. "Well, if you're going to be making fun of me…"
Sharpay held her hands up in defence. "Woah! Woah! Calm down, woman! I guess I ought to just be happy you're at least trying branch out in the world of fashion." Her lips curled up into a smile. "But for what purpose? There's only one reason a girl would get all worked up about clothes… especially a girl who's totally retarded when it comes to the world of fashion…"
"I'm just going out."
"Going out where?"
Gabriella looked exasperated and beyond embarrassed. "Does it matter?"
"Sure it does. If you want help deciding on what to wear, that is." Sharpay didn't miss the look on Gabriella's face, the way she looked down at her shuffling feet as she tried to hide her evident blush. "And… if it's for a certain someone…" The blush deepened. "Is it Will?"
Gabriella's head snapped back up. "What? Will? No!"
"Are you sure? He's been giving you the eye so it would totally make sense if you--"
"Ew! Sharpay, seriously, I have eyes."
"So, there is a guy…"
The blush returned. "I didn't say that," she replied quietly. "I'm just tutoring someone. It doesn't mean anything. I just want to look nice."
"Because you like him."
"What?" Sharpay couldn't help but smile. She wouldn't even dare admit to herself that she was starting to like her boyfriend's sister. That would be way too weird for her. "It's so obvious, Gabriella. You're such a dork. Who is it?"
"Whatever. You're the worst fucking liar I've ever met!"
Gabriella opened her mouth to retort but then closed it again, seeing no benefit could come from arguing with her. Nobody in history had ever beaten Sharpay in an arguing contest.
Sharpay huffed in annoyance seeing no retaliation was going to take place and began to finger through the items of clothing strewn over Gabriella's bed.
"Maybe I can do something with this junk. Maybe."
Gabriella looked up surprised.
Sharpay eyed her. "Remember I said maybe. You're not even on the fashion ladder here, Montez. You're well under. Sure, it would be useful if you told me where you were going, who you were going with and your intentions with this certain someone… but then again, even if it is a date with a totally hot guy, I seriously doubt I could work wonders with the monstrosity which is your closet."
Gabriella's eyes cast downward, ashamed. In the short time she'd known Troy, she never expected to be anything but a nobody to him. But Sharpay's comment hit her so hard, it just confirmed every fear she harboured and resented about herself.
And suddenly Sharpay Evans felt as though she was having an outer body experience. She saw the look on the younger Montez triplet's face and she felt the repercussions of her actions. Not a nice thing for her to admit to herself, sure, but suddenly she found herself slowly raking back through Gabriella's clothes and thinking about the best way to apologise without actually apologising.
"But, then, I guess this top would look nice with a suitable pair of jeans. You have some nice jeans, right? The type of jeans you'd wear out for some special occasion or something?"
Gabriella hugged her middle subconsciously. "Um, well, there is one pair I only wear for occasions. Not really special ones but I save them for something a little more… social."
Sharpay folded her arms tightly and stared straight at Gabriella with intent. "I'm not going to pretend I'm not curious about where you're going with this, and I might feel the urge to tell Mattie and Jake about it since they insist on keeping you in their pockets twenty-four-seven. And if it's nothing, I can tell them right?"
"Uh…" Gabriella stuttered. "Well, they'd just questions and get all protective and I hate that, so I'd really appreciate it if you didn't say anything, Sharpay, because--"
"Because I'm right and it is a guy you're seeing?"
"Whatever." She rolled her hazel eyes. "That's all I'm going to say. Whatever. Go find those special jeans of yours and wear this top." She threw a cream camisole towards her and a light blue cardigan that just passed her test of acceptable wear.
Gabriella was confused at her actions but scrambled towards her chest of drawers and pulled out a pair of dark blue jeans - not exactly ideal wear if she considered this a date.
Sharpay's brows knitted together. "These are nice jeans?"
"They're not baggy, at least!" Sharpay scoffed. "They'll do. The colour totally goes with the tops and even though they're not exactly fitting to your figure, they're better than the others you have in there. My god, who'd have thought a simple outfit could cause so much stress?"
"It's too simple?" The nerves were now fluttering out of control. Time was running out before she had to be at Troy's and she was still make-up-less and her outfit was too simple.
Simple would never do. Simple just couldn't happen.
Sharpay sighed loudly. "It's okay. Okay for a first date, I suppose. It'll do."
"It's not a--"
"Maybe not, but you're definitely trying to impress someone. I don't know who and lord knows I won't rest until I find out, but you're definitely trying to impress someone here."
Blushes never told lies and Gabriella could feel her own heating her face so much, she reckoned she could successfully fry an egg on her forehead.
"Please don't tell Mattie or Jake…" she whispered. "It's not a date, I swear it's not; it's just tutoring and all I want to do is look…" she drifted off, her eyes darting anywhere but on Sharpay. "I just want look normal, okay? I just feel it's important that I do. Is that enough for you?"
"Maybe. Maybe not. But I'll say whatever on the subject and I won't tell the boys - even though lying is breaking a fundamental rule in a relationship, so if Mattie finds out and dumps me, you're officially going to hell for making me."
"It's only tutoring, Sharpay. I don't know how long it's going to last. He won't find out unless you tell him so."
"And this so-called tutoring won't spiral into something more? Clearly you want it to, Montez."
"Whether I do or don't, I know it won't. But that doesn't mean I can't make some sort of effort, right? At least - how you put it - have a little bit of dignity, right? Am I entitled to do that?"
Sharpay's eyebrows shot to the top of her head in surprise at Gabriella's admission. "So, this guy is hot, right? He's not one of these dorky science guys from your scholastic decathlon team with big, jam-jar glasses, wonky teeth and a pocket protector, right?"
A smile crept onto Gabriella's face at the mental image. "No, he's really good looking."
"Not a dork?"
"No." Her voice was strained with embarrassment. "Can I just put this outfit on and then you can help me with my hair? It's not sitting right."
"It never will if you don't look after it properly."
"I wash and brush it. Just because I don't coat it in expensive products, doesn't mean I don't look after it."
"Whatever, Gabriella. Just sit your ass down in front of the mirror and let me work my magic. And if you so much as dare complain that I'm trying to poke your eye out with an eye pencil, I will make you look like some lame-ass clown just out of principal!"
Gabriella allowed Sharpay to push her down onto the seat and she looked nervously into the mirror as Sharpay raked through the little amount of make-up she owned and never used.
"No glitter, Sharpay, please."
"Are all things dull your favourite things?"
"Please, I'm begging you. No glitter and no sequins."
"You're so boring, Gabriella. Have a little imagination, please."
"I don't want to look like a drag queen!"
Sharpay fumed. "Well, if that's how you feel!"
"No, no! Wait, I'm sorry! Don't go!" Desperation poured out of her and Gabriella unconsciously grasped a hold of Sharpay's arm, begging her with her heart and soul not to leave her. "Please, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that you'd make me look like a drag queen and I honestly don't think you dress like one. I just know it wouldn't suit me and I… well, I just need something to make me look a little pretty, please!"
Sharpay eyed her and released her anger in a rush of breath. "Fine. Whatever. I'll help. I'll do what I can but I can't make any promises, you understand."
"Yes." Gabriella breathed a sigh of relief as Sharpay harshly turned her upper body back around so she was facing the mirror. "I'm sorry; I'm really grateful that you're helping me."
"Whatever." She huffed again and began running her fingers through her chocolate strands. "I'll just fluff your hair up a little bit so it doesn't look so flat, then I'll see what I can do with your face."
"Whatever," she said again in an abrupt manner. "You've still angered me, Montez, but I know a charity case when I see one and it would just be rude for me to just walk away and leave you like this while you're out tutoring some hunk you've got a major thing for."
"Again, whatever. Just because you think I'm a walking nightmare, doesn't mean I don't have some Sharpay love inside of me."
"You know, Mattie always says he can't understand why me and you don't get on and I tell him it's a clash between someone's normal personality and… you. And he always says we should at least try, for him. But getting along with you is a lot fucking harder than I originally thought."
"Well, there's a starting point," Gabriella replied optimistically. "We both agree on something there."
"It's almost showtime!" Caroline Bolton had never tried valium, but she figured the effects of it were incredibly similar to the excitement and hyperness she was feeling right at that moment. She clapped her hands together, looking fondly at the dining room table where the math textbooks and stationary were strategically placed with a long, cream, jasmine-scented candle sat just a little further up. She was seriously thinking about wearing a white sheet, getting a bow and arrow and changing her name to Cupid.
Troy bounded down the stairs, running her fingers haphazardly through his hair. He was wearing light coloured jeans with a white t-shirt and a light blue shirt unbuttoned over the top. Caroline scrunched up her nose in distaste.
"Can't you do up the shirt or something? And wear a tie?"
"I'm not attending a wedding, Caroline. It's a fake tutoring session, remember?"
"But your outfit really doesn't speak romance."
"Oh, I'm sorry. Would you prefer me to wear some frilly outfit complete with Shakespearean tights, a sword and perhaps a red rose between my teeth?"
"Don't be so sarcastic, Troy. That would be way too extreme - although at least Gabriella would understand how much you like her in the first second of her walking through the door and then you wouldn't have to spend hours getting all tongue-tied and bumbling away before you pick up enough courage to tell her yourself."
"Just thinking outside the box is all. Right! So! She'll be here any minute! Last minute checks, okay?"
"I dread to think."
"You're so dramatic." Caroline straightened out his shirt collar, pried his lips apart to check the whiteness of his teeth, ran her fingers through his hair to position "just right" and lightly pinched his cheeks to give him "a little glow". Troy slapped her hands away in irritation - as if he wasn't nervous enough.
"Do you mind?!"
"Do you treat everyone who does nice things to you this way?" Caroline shot back. "You'll do, I suppose. But I think you were definitely on something with the rose."
"No. Fucking. Way."
"Aunt Lucy has a rose bush in the garden, right?"
"She did… until I decided to run out and burn it to the ground! I can see your warped little mind turning, and I don't like it. Don't even fucking think about going out there and picking flowers!" His gaze shot to the table. "And what the fuck is with the fucking candle?!"
"The table just looks plain without it. You want to sit at a table with your destiny with only a few dull textbooks and stationary? Please, Troy!" She scoffed. "Gabriella deserves better than that."
"The table does not need a candle. It was set up to represent a student who's failing math and needs a tutor. Would there be a candle if the tutor was a dude?"
"Yes. If you were about to fall madly in love with the male tutor."
"And you love me," she grinned. "I know you're excited, and I'm psyched too! Just let me have this candle, Troy; you won't even let me in the room with you both when she gets here… the least you can do is let me have the candle - and dibs on being the godmother when you have your first child. And if it's a girl, you name it Caroline."
Troy squared his shoulders, ready to unleash hell and breathe fire all over his super annoying cousin. But instead of blowing up, he unleashed his most powerful weapon at that moment in time. Slowly, and maintaining eye contact with her, Troy leant over and blew the candle out.
"I don't want a candle. I don't need a candle. Gabriella does not need or want a candle."
"She might love candles."
"You're right, she might. But right now, I don't care about anybody's love for candles. I care about getting through today by whatever means possible, and without you making my blood pressure go up any higher."
Caroline narrowed her eyes darkly and reached for the lighter she had in her jeans pocket. Quick as a flash, she grabbed hold of the candle and despite Troy's feeble attempts to stop her, managed to re-light the candle.
"It's insane!" He blew out air rapidly, trying to reach the helpless flame.
Caroline held the candle away from his face, cupping her hand around the dancing flame to protect from Troy's evil breath. "Leave it alone!"
"No!" With one large blow, Troy managed to make the flame disappear again and Caroline wasted no time if fumbling clumsily with the lighter to re-light it.
"You're going to cause a fire!"
"I'm not the one re-lighting a candle, Caroline!" Puff! Out went the flame again.
"You need to start respecting the candle."
"You need to stop lighting it."
The struggle continued for what seemed like forever for the two of them until they both froze solid at the sound of the doorbell ringing.
"Oh my god!" Caroline pushed Troy away from her and quickly re-lighted the candle and replaced it on the table. "Code red! Code red!"
Troy quickly bent over and blew the candle back out. He could feel his palms sweating and his heart thumping - how the hell was he going to get through this in one piece?
It seemed he didn't have time to figure that out. As soon as Caroline re-lighted the candle, she pushed him hard towards the front door, smoothing down his shirt and positioning strands of his hair in random places.
"Now remember," she whispered loudly through gritted teeth. "You suck at math until you decide it's the right moment to tell her otherwise. Compliment her - she has beautiful eyes, glorious long brown hair, luscious lips and an exquisite soul."
"Stop reading romance novels." It was supposed to sound threatening, but it just came out strangled.
"She's also oh-so smart. Keep your legs pointed towards her body - it's a clear sign of flirting. And stare at her eyes and her lips - nothing below them! Lean into her, invade her personal space… you'll be getting married before you know it!"
Troy shook his head in astonishment at his cousin's advice. "One more thing?"
"Where's the large hole in the ground I can just fall into and disappear forever?"
"It doesn't exist! Now," Caroline pressed his cheeks and caused his mouth to open wide. Troy made a strangled sound as she did so and as his mouth opened, she squirted peppermint flavoured spray into his mouth. "There! Phase two: complete!"
"Moron!" he hissed as she backed away from the door with a grin.
"She's waiting!" She hissed back.
Troy had never thought he'd be the tongue-tied type. He was Mr. Flirt-Tastic! He had girls falling constantly at his feet at school… sometimes by doing nothing, sometimes by using his charm tactics and making them weak in the knees.
Gabriella Montez seemed to give him those effects by just standing there in front of him. He'd opened his door to see her looking sheepish, clutching a couple of math textbooks, a notebook and a pencil case, and looking beyond stunning in a simple pair of jeans, white camisole and a blue cardigan. She had little make-up on and her hair wasn't done up in any special style.
But she looked impossibly beautiful. And he felt his jaw drop and freeze in place upon seeing her.
For the past twenty minutes, Gabriella had sat beside him (in front of a lit jasmine scented candle) and had talked through every math problem, going through all step by step and in such a passionate manner that had Troy transfixed.
He didn't know what was the matter with him. He was good at math but that didn't necessarily mean he enjoyed it or thrived on discussing it. It was one of the most boring topics in the world, yet the way Gabriella spoke, he could have sat in that seat for the rest of his life and listened for eternity.
Caroline was trying (unsuccessfully) to have in on the occasion - walking through towards the kitchen pretending she was in desperate need of a glass of water or some snacks, even offering the two some so she could stay in the room a little longer. At one point, Troy had to insist that she left before he beated her with his rular and for good measure, blew out the candle once again.
But that just gave Caroline another excuse to come into the room to re-light it, and in the end, Troy figured he should just ignore the candle and explain to Gabriella that his cousin was insane and had a fetish for candles.
He sat with his chin rested on his hand in somewhat of a daydream as Gabriella talked through another problem. She shyly kept her eyes on the page in front of her and wouldn't make eye contact with him unless he managed to hold it for a few seconds. But then, she'd blush and revert her gaze and Troy would be back to square one trying to recapture it.
The issue of the lie he was going along with was constantly in the back of his mind, and he'd made a promise to himself to tell her as soon as she's arrived. But Gabriella's habit of talking non-stop had prevented him from doing so, and then he'd become so mesmerized by what she was saying, he found he didn't have the strength to interrupt and lose this new feeling of bliss.
Gabriella finally took a breath and looked at him for a split-second before her cheeks took on that gorgeous tinge of pink and she moved the textbook so he could see it clearer.
"So, what do you think is the answer?" She asked slowly, with a small smile. Troy didn't look at the textbook.
"I think I'm…" He paused, shaking himself out of his reverie. This was so wrong on so many levels. "I think I'm losing my mind to be honest, Gabriella. This isn't me, and I feel so lame about all of this." He ran his fingers through his hair in frustration, his hands shaking somewhat. "This whole tutoring thing -- Caroline meant well, but I'm really, really sorry about all this; it's really all my fault."
"Troy, it's okay, really," Gabriella looked at him again, eyes soft. He lost his mind for a second.
"It's… okay? No, wait, you don't understand - it's so lame--"
"You're not stupid for having a tutor, you know. I don't think you're stupid. There's just some things people are good at, and things people are bad at. I mean, I'm good at math and science, and I enjoy them. But people can be so judgemental and it kinda bothers me. Just because I like these things, they say I'm stuck up and that I think I'm better than everyone else but I know I'm not." She locked eyes with him again; this time they held sadness. "I don't think people are stupid. Well, some are in my year. But only because they don't care about doing well or achieving anything, but you're trying to get better and just because you're not confident in it, doesn't mean you're stupid."
"No, Gabriella, I--"
"I won't tell anyone. I know it's kinda dorky having a tutor, or even being a tutor. I've tried to tutor my brothers, but they really hate studying. But then, they are really good at basketball."
As Gabriella finally took a breath between words, Troy stiffened at the mention of Jake and Matthew Montez. All of his previous fears washed over him like a tidal wave and he couldn't see any way of this ending good.
"I suck at basketball. Everyone in my family loves it except me. But then, that's what I mean about people not being stupid just because they don't know how to do a certain thing. They don't know math like I do and I can't do sport like they can. And I…" she drifted off, her blush more prominent on her features. Troy's eyes narrowed only in confusion as Gabriella tried to pick her words carefully. She was clearly embarrassed about something. "I don't know anything about fashion or make-up. Sharpay does. And as much as she annoys me and makes me wants to kill myself with any sharp object, she really does know a lot about those things, and how to look nice."
"I think you look really, really pretty." The words were out before he could stop them. Damn you, word vomit!
Gabriella looked away again and cleared her throat. "I'm just saying. I won't tell anyone. And you're not stupid."
"Don't you know who I am, Gabriella? I mean, really. You have no clue?"
"Should I? Are you royalty or something?" She smirked.
"Suppose if you asked the population of East High, they'd sure as hell say so. I'm just asking because, well, for a start, I had no idea who you were when we first met and I was really drawn to you, I'll admit. But I do know who your brothers are, and for that reason, I just find it hard to believe that you'd never heard anything about me until the day we did meet."
Gabriella's brows knitted together. "You're friends with Jake and Mattie?"
"The opposite, really. You honestly don't know? You've never been to any of their basketball games? Any games against East High?"
"I usually take a book. It's far more interesting."
"So, you don't know."
The tension hung high in the air and Gabriella looked more confused than ever. There was silence for a few moments, even the sound of Caroline moving around in the next room to eavesdrop had gone deadly quiet.
"Is this…?" She gulped. "Is all this some sort of set up? Some sort of game to get one up on Jake and Mattie?"
Troy closed his eyes in pain. "No, not at all. I mean, I guess, yeah, on some level, a set up, but not for the reasons you think right now."
"So, all of this is a game?!"
"No! Not at all! I didn't know you were even related to them until that day I saw you at West! When I saw you get into their car, I freaked out. I had no idea they had a sister but then I thought about it and you guys look so much alike…"
"Being triplets, you usually look a lot like your siblings." Gabriella's tone was icy, hurt, confused. Troy's brain scrambled to make everything right.
"I didn't know, I swear. And no, I don't exactly get along with your brothers and the reason I asked if you knew me was because I was sure you'd hear about the fighting. I'm captain of the Wildcats basketball team - I'm public enemy number one."
"And even if I did, you'd think I'd join in on their petty games? I know they hate the Wildcats, and yes, names are thrown around like garbage but I never pay attention. My brother's aren't stupid, but that's definitely an area they succeed on all levels of stupidity." Her tone was still off and Troy felt the moment slipping rapidly through his fingertips. "No, until just now, I had no idea who you really are. And now I know for sure that it really was for the best that I didn't tell them where I was going today."
"I thought you had a right to know. And I want to make it super clear that all this isn't a game to get back at them. I don't start the fights, I don't want to be a part of the fights, but they happen anyway. It's so ridiculous."
"Yeah." A pause. "So, then, what is all this? You really need help tutoring, or…?" Gabriella gestured to the textbooks lying on the table and the candle with its flame still flickering tauntingly in Troy's face. He leaned forward and blew it out again, putting his frustration into that one blow.
"It's Caroline, all Caroline. But then, it's all me, too. I spent the entire day waiting outside West High hiding in a bush to talk to you, and then it all got out of control when she thought it would be a good idea to ask you to tutor me."
"Because she's a lunatic. But I'm not that much better, going along with it. I'm actually really good at math, although it bores the socks off me." He realised what he'd said. "I mean, not today! I've really enjoyed today and you're really, really smart and it's fascinating the way you talk about it. Socks were definitely not coming off in boredom today, promise."
Gabriella was trying to take all of this in, but her low self-esteem wasn't allowing her to see the bigger picture. Her logical mind wanted to ask more questions to confirm what her heart was already telling her. But she wouldn't believe it. It would be far too good to be true.
"Why are you telling me this?" She asked quietly. "What was the point in still inviting me round here when you know the trouble it could cause with my brothers?"
Troy shrugged his shoulders, almost in defeat. "I guess I should stop thinking about things in a pathetic way. Just because I don't get along with your brothers, doesn't mean we can't be friends, does it?"
"Well, no, I guess not. I don't care what they think about me, but then if we were to be friends, I wouldn't like to announce it to the world. They're really annoying when they get all protective and stuff."
"And they're even more annoying when they start boasting about fights they've started and who they've beaten up and how many hits they took. If they found out we were friends, all that plus the annoying protectiveness would come out and irritate me further."
"Yeah, I get what you mean." His voice was low, effortless.
"So, if we were to stay friends, it would have to be secret and we'd have to, you know, sneak around, lie about where we were going, what we were doing, and who we were doing it with."
"It's… kinda a lot to do and a lot of pressure to put on yourself for the sake of being friends."
"I know." Troy looked down. "Situation really sucks, doesn't it?"
Gabriella nodded her head, her heart beating wildly in her chest. "But you've still gone ahead and set up this little charade… even with the pressure and stuff. You think this," she gestured between the two of them, "is worth it?"
Troy looked up and finally caught her gaze with his again. "Well, yeah, I do." He swallowed nervously. "It sounds stupid - everything we've just talked about sounds so, so stupid. But, yeah, I think it's really worth it."
He felt his throat tighten with the nerves and his stomach was one giant roly-poly. But, albeit very gingerly, he roused up enough courage and strength to lift his hand and very gently press his fingers against hers on the table.
The electricity was undeniable. That one touch told the world and his brother that all the hassle was so worth it.
Gabriella bit her lip and held her breath. And though her shyness always caused her to look away bashfully when she felt his eyes on her, suddenly his beautiful baby blues were just too much to look away from.
"So, you hid in a bush all day for me?" She asked in a gentle whisper.
Troy nodded slowly. "Yeah, I hid in a bush for you."