Chapter Eight: Forever
Chad Danforth was curious.
"So, uh…" He wrinkled his nose. "What do you do?"
Troy Bolton blew a raspberry on his nine-month-old daughter's tummy, laughing whole-heartedly when a happy giggle erupted from her lips. "What do you mean, what do you do?" He replied incredulously. "It's totally easy, man! It just comes to you."
As a tiny foot collided with his chin, Chad narrowed his eyes playfully down at Aislinn Bolton; rueing the day she was born and he instantly fell in love with his second goddaughter. He was lying on the carpet of the Bolton living room on his stomach beside Troy; both of who were lying in front of Aislinn on her brightly coloured playmat, watching her every movement and finding multiple ways of making the little girl laugh.
Since receiving the unbelievably ecstatic news from his wife five days prior, Chad's outlook on babies had changed drastically. He'd been through the varied emotions - witnessing and attempting to help his best friend's through their grief when their baby was born sleeping all those years ago; going through the further unknown territory of being one of the first to know that Sharpay Evans and Zeke Baylor were expecting mere months after Jack's stillbirth and trying desperately to think of a way to break it to the still-heartbroken Troy and Gabriella. And then years later had experienced both the joy and the fright when Gabriella announced that she was expecting again - her own excitement held back by past memories and worries of a repeat.
Troy, too, had experienced the emotional setback, consoling in Chad his unusual feelings - how desperate he was for them to have a baby but the heartbreak and anxiousness of it all happening all over again and whether Gabriella could physically and emotionally go through another pregnancy and birth.
Sure, Chad Danforth had grown up a lot during those times. But he knew none of that would compare to now. He was gonna be a daddy.
And shit, he was scared.
"But all she does is laugh at nothing!" He protested, watching as Troy pulled a face at him. His daughters were his world. "I mean… what do you do when it comes to all the necessary baby stuff? The feeding, the cleaning, the changing… Ew, the changing."
Aislinn giggled and kicked her arms and legs as Troy lightly tickled her tummy; her limbs flying out and whacking Chad's chin once again. "You have to get used to the changing, man, and it's nothing really. What you gonna do when it's 3am and your kid's screaming for a diaper change and Taylor's too hormonal and tired to get up?"
Chad looked suicidal at the prospect of a hormonal Taylor.
Troy laughed. "I see your fright, dude, and you'd better start getting used to it now. I've survived Gabriella's third pregnancy and got my gorgeous babies out of it. It's all good, just remember that."
Chad ran his palm down his face. "This is all so fucked up, man - OW!"
"Sorry, mom! I'm kinda in a crisis here!"
"A good crisis?"
"Well, yeah," Chad paused, stopping to rub the back of his neck as he sat up on his knees. Troy also sat up, leaning down to gently pull Aislinn into his arms and hold her against his chest. The baby squealed and made a tight fist in his hair, prompting him to hiss his pain as subtly as possible as Chad spoke up again. "To tell you the truth -- and I don't mean to upset you or anything with this -- but I'm absolutely fuc-flipping terrified of all this. I mean, the birth part and well… It's just that with everything that happened with you guys and Jack and-"
"Chad," Troy smiled. "It's okay to bring up, you know. You know we don't like people thinking its taboo to be talking about our son when really it's a good thing -- keeps him alive."
"I know that. What I'm talking about is what you guys went through. I mean, it hit me and Tay hard and we weren't the ones losing a baby."
"And what did you tell me after we found out Gabriella was pregnant with Lydia? That no matter what happens, we'd still get a beautiful child to love, cherish and remember? And those were pretty strong words coming from you, dude, so I know you meant them."
"Guess it's different in the other perspective."
Troy opened his mouth to respond but stopped upon hearing a crash, a bang and a whollop and suddenly the door swung open. Lydia Bolton - long dark curls wild in a loosened ponytail, gigantic frantic blue eyes bulging and covered head to toe in red paint ran as fast as her small legs would carry her, hurtling towards her father and favourite uncle.
"Quick!" She panted, earning a wide smile from her father as she wrapped her arms around his legs and tugged. "Daddy, hide me!"
"What have you done, Lyddie?" Troy raised an eyebrow, a small smirk emitting on his face.
"It's not me, it's him!" The four-year-old hissed, pointing to the door where Troy and Chad knew they'd soon be expecting to see a bad-tempered Jayden Baylor approaching any second. And sure enough, upon hearing the footsteps through the kitchen, Lydia pounced towards Chad, holding her arms aloft in a gesture for him to pick her up. "On your back, uncle Chad; on your back!" She squealed.
Chad momentarily forgot his small bouts of worry and laughed as Lydia climbed onto his back; his afro providing excellent coverage as Jayden bounded into the room.
"Uncle Troy, Uncle Chad… she splattered me again!"
Sure, the kid would inherit Zeke's looks and Sharpay's personality. At five-years-old he was gradually transforming into his mother's state of mind. And that scared Troy and Chad more than anything. Not that they would say anything - the last time they commented that Jayden would turn out like Damien in The Omen, Sharpay threatened to castrate them both.
And sure enough, Jayden was covered in splats of red, orange, blue and green paint - a look his mother would not approve of.
Again, Troy opened his mouth to speak, but his eldest daughter always had a way of interrupting him. "Nah-uh!" She argued from behind the safety of Chad's hair. "He splattered me first!"
Jayden huffed and slammed his hands against his hips, clearly not amused. But it was the same as always. Lydia and Jayden had had a love-hate relationship literally from the moment she was born. Sharpay had dangled a one-year-old Jayden over Lydia's crib and the baby boy had slapped her on the head and made her cry. In Gabriella's words, the situation had only escalated since that moment.
Aislinn was watching the scene with great interest; her own baby blues lighting up as her big sister parted Chad's hair and protested her innocence to her father.
"My back will be covered in red paint now, won't it?" Chad mused.
"She should go on the step!" Jayden fumed.
Lydia's eyes widened in horror and she pouted in manner of her mother towards Troy who would only melt at the gesture. "Nah-uh!" She insisted. "He ruined my picture!"
"Time out!" Chad called, lowering a wiggling Lydia to the ground and sighing aloud as she began running around his legs, Jayden hot on her heels. "Woah! Kids, stop!"
Troy intervened; bending down and scooping Lydia up and resting her on his hip as Jayden finally came to a stop, huffing and puffing. "Can't you two go one whole hour without fighting?" He asked, trying to sound annoyed at his eldest but finding it extremely difficult to.
Lydia had mastered the art of 'sucking up' months ago. And Troy was never ashamed to admit that he would fall for it every time where Bolton girls were involved. Pressing her face into his neck and smearing his skin with a crimson colour of paint, Lydia grasped her father's shirt tightly and sighed.
"He ruined my picture, daddy. And he was mean. Said I smelled bad."
Jayden folded his arms. "Well, you do," he countered. "Girls always smell bad."
"See? He's horrible!"
"You splattered me with paint!"
"You splattered me!"
"Okay! Okay!" Troy carried both his girls to the hallway, gesturing for Chad to follow with Jayden. "On the step."
"Me?" Jayden squeaked indignity as Troy lowered a squirming Lydia on the very bottom stair step. "But I didn't do anything!"
"Fighting and throwing paint on one another counts as something." Sometimes he wondered where this authoritive side of him came from. Jayden huffed once again and sat on the step beside Lydia who'd curled her hands into fists and rested her chin on top of them; sighing loudly to express her annoyance. "Five minutes on there." Troy would have laughed at the look on Chad's face had he not recalled where their conversation had been leading before their miniature interruption.
"See, that's so not me," Chad huffed as Jayden stomped over and sat beside Lydia, giving her a subtle nudge to further prove how frustrated he was at her. When Lydia shoved him back, Troy shot both children a reprimanding glare and Aislinn squealed her apparent delight at the situation.
"Do you want to make it ten minutes?" Troy asked and was rewarded with silence. Feeling happy the two would spend the next five minutes moping in their own silence, he carried Aislinn back into the main room; Chad hot on his heels.
"Can you really see me doing that to my kid in a few years?" Chad beckoned. "Me? Mr. Discipline? I don't think so!"
Troy turned to him. "Could you have pictured me doing that seven years ago? Hell, I know I couldn't."
"This is way over my head. And that's pretty big with the hair and all."
Troy heaved out a sigh and handed over Aislinn to him. Chad accepted her happily; not seeing the point Troy had just visually made. Aislinn cooed and immediately reached her hand out to grasp a large clump of Chad's hair, giggling when her godfather scrunched up his face with the sharp pain when she pulled.
"Ash looks pretty happy with you," Troy commented. "In fact, she always is when you're here. Lyddie, too."
"That's different," Chad replied as Aislinn reached her other arm up to take some more hair into her grasp. "I just play with them. It's not like I have to change them or feed them or hold any real kind of responsibility when I'm with them. That's all you and Gabi."
"What about when Lyddie was staying with you and fell off her bike? You were there for her then."
"That's still different."
"How so? Gabs and I weren't there. Taylor was in the house and Lyds was screaming. You fixed that."
"I put a band aid on her knee and kissed it."
"And she stopped crying?"
"Well, yeah, but--"
Troy held his arms aloft. "And that's why, ladies and gentlemen, I am all wise and all knowing! That is why, Chad Danforth, you should bow down to me right now and kiss my goddamn feet! I rule all, admit it!"
"Dude, I think you're high."
"Dude, I just owned you. It's all instinct, man; it all comes naturally to you. You're faced with something you have no control over and no experience over and you just fix it like that. And on a more serious note, I really don't see how you can doubt your abilities in that area considering how amazing you were when we had Jack."
Chad grinned. "You're not going to kiss me are you?"
Troy pulled a face. "Ew. No."
"Good. Because you sicken me with your ugliness and cheesiness. How the hell does Gabriella put up with it?"
Troy had to chuckle; the twinkle was back in Chad's eyes and he knew silently his best friend was thanking him for pointing out his worries were far from logical. It was silent manly treatment. No ego's would be deflated and there would be no prying eyes ready to point out to the world that they'd had a 'girly' moment. They were just too cool for something like that to happen.
Aislinn sneezed and rubbed her face against Chad's shirt, much to his disgust. He was sure Troy had trained his children from a very young age to mess up his clothes in the most disgusting ways possible whilst yanking on his afro at the same time.
"Thanks, Ash," he grinned at the oblivious baby, who hiccupped and grinned, showing off her pink gums. "But my outfit was just fine without baby snot and paint all over it." As she giggled again, Chad lifted her high in the air and spun around on the spot, weaving her up and down and spiralling her through the air as though she were flying. Aislinn cooed and squealed and kicked her legs excitedly as she soared through the air; loving every second of the action.
"Chad, are you trying to make my daughter throw up?" The sweet but reprimanding voice of Gabriella Bolton filled his ears and Chad stopped the action immediately; cursing inwardly when Aislinn hiccupped against his chest and threw up on his bright red shirt. "Too late," Gabriella added with a roll of the eyes and reached for the baby wipes on the table.
"You see?!" Chad called out to Troy as Gabriella took Aislinn from him and wiped the vomit from around her mouth. "I'm going to totally suck at this!"
"All babies throw up, Chad," Taylor responded as she and Sharpay walked briskly into the room.
"So I have red paint on my back, snot on this side of my shirt and vomit on the other?! Bolton, your kids are conspiring against me! How can you say I'm natural at this?!"
"You're cute, Danforth," Sharpay grinned menacingly as Taylor handed her husband a wipe to clean himself off with. "Like Lydia and Ash's little play-thing."
Troy ignored Chad's dark glare in Sharpay's direction and instead sat back on the couch and smiled to himself as he watched Gabriella lower Aislinn back onto her playmat, pulling funny faces at her daughter the whole time. Looking at his wife and youngest child now, he found it hard to imagine there was a time when he'd been so scared of losing her in his life. A time when he'd been so scared that one day he'd wake up and she'd be gone. At the time, they couldn't see the silver lining; couldn't see that light at the end of the tunnel. Everything had just been bleak; merely a horrific nightmare until the day they'd first held Lydia in their arms and knew they'd have to create their own happiness and only think of Jack in a positive way.
The sound of small pattering footsteps brought Troy out of his daze as Lydia and Jayden hesitantly re-entered the room; guilty expressions radiating from their faces and looking adorable beyond words.
"Troy, why is my child covered in multicoloured paint?" Sharpay narrowed her eyes darkly.
"Why is my child covered in red?" Troy shot back.
Index finger in mouth, Lydia timidly trotted over to her mother on the floor and Gabriella smiled lovingly as she took in Lydia's features. Expressive and beautiful blue eyes stared back at her; her mannerisms so like Troy. "Have you been on the step, baby girl?"
Lydia nodded and Gabriella gently pulled her finger from her mouth and wiped off the saliva with a clean wipe. "Sorry, momma."
Sharpay grasped a hold of about twenty wet wipes and furiously wiped at Jayden's face. "And you guys totally think our kids will get married one day?" She shot a glare in Gabriella and Taylor's directions. "Because no relationship I've had have had fights like this."
"We have." Troy and Gabriella raised their hands and laughed at themselves. Paint fights were a regular occurrence whenever they decorated.
"Yeah, well, just because Lydia might inherit your unnaturalness, it doesn't mean Jay will."
"I'm not marrying Lydia!" Jayden retorted confidently.
Lydia's head shot up like a bolt of lightning. "Ew, no! I don't want to marry him!"
Sharpay's face softened at the little girl. "Aw, it's okay, sweetie. You don't have to marry each other. Besides, Lyddie, honey, I doubt you'll ever get married since your daddy won't ever allow it." Her hazel eyes locked up to Troy playfully. "Not even Prince William will be good enough for Lyddie, huh?"
"Heck, no." Troy announced, standing up and swooping down to lift Lydia into his arms. "You don't ever want to get married, do you, baby?"
"Ew." Lydia scrunched up her nose in distaste.
"Troy." Gabriella shot a chastise glare in her husband's direction, but couldn't keep the smirk from her face. She knew she was only going to have a whirlwind of a day the day both Lydia and Aislinn came home with their first boyfriends.
"Sweetie, we should never step in the way of our daughter's life choices. We can only support."
Not impressed with Troy's outlook on their children's futures, Gabriella rolled her eyes heavenwards and moved over the room to sit beside him on the couch, Lydia sat comfortably on his lap. Chad and Taylor seated themselves opposite whilst Sharpay was still trying in earnest to wipe the dried paint from Jayden's skin.
"I'm so excited for you guys," Gabriella swooned in Chad and Taylor's direction. "I can't believe you're having a baby!"
"Neither can I," Sharpay interjected. "Although I'm glad. I'd pay a thousand bucks to watch Chad try and attempt this."
Chad let out an involuntary squeak and Taylor glared at the blonde.
"Don't listen to her. She's still burnt because Lydia used her entire bottle of Chanel perfume when she was playing dress up last week."
Sharpay narrowed her eyes darkly towards Gabriella. "Which you still owe me for, by the way."
Troy grimaced at the memory; walking into Sharpay and Zeke's house to pick up his children after he and Gabriella attended a charity ball which required all Lakers players, wives and girlfriends to attend. Sharpay had still been fuming, Zeke had been stood outside for hours upon hours trying to breathe in fresh oxygen and Lydia had been sitting innocently in the main room, dressed head-to-toe in Sharpay's pink accessories, a sequined dress that drowned her and bright pink heels. The aroma of Coco Chanel invaded the house and anyone who dared to stand within one hundred yards of the little girl would recoil in an unstoppable coughing fit.
Troy and Gabriella had had great fun scrubbing Lydia using two full bottles of soap and three bottles of shampoo and conditioner to get the wretched smell from her hair. So much fun, that Troy ended up calling Sharpay up the next morning and admitting to her that he always thought she smelled bad and that she should really re-think what she wore. Struck in horror at the thought of his daughter growing up thinking Sharpay dressed nice, Troy didn't seem to care he was playing with fire.
Gabriella certainly did: "I do plan to grow old with you, Troy, not becoming a widow in my late twenties after Sharpay destroys you with her claws."
"Yadda-yadda." Troy waved Sharpay off and Gabriella dug her nails into his thigh, making him wince. "What?" He protested as Lydia stuck her thumb in her mouth and settled against him more comfortably. "She owes us for soap and shampoo. And for years of intense therapy for putting up with her!"
Before Sharpay could open her mouth and spurt an argument, Gabriella held her hand up to them both. "Can we focus on the important subject at hand?"
"Yeah," Taylor grinned excitedly, her hand resting on her stomach. "It's our turn to enjoy this."
Gabriella couldn't help but let out a contented sigh that night as Troy's lips descended to her neck, playfully biting and nipping the soft skin there.
"…and I was thinking…" Another gasp emitted as she raked her fingernails up his back. "…next week I call up UCLA and start discussions about me starting back at work?" Troy's face left her neck and hovered over her own, their breaths mingling and noses momentarily rubbing together. "I know my maternity leave isn't over for another three months but I feel so out of the game lately. I'm dying to get back to work."
"Well, sure, if that's what you want to do."
"Just a few hours a day for now until we get into some kind of routine with the girls. And when basketball season starts, we'd need to re-think our tactics there. We've already lost Sharpay as a babysitter."
"Just as well." Troy leaned down slightly to peck her lips. "Either we would lose Lyddie to eternal pinkness and sequins and Coco Chanel or she and Jayden would eventually kill each other."
Gabriella had to laugh as she brought her arms up around his neck. "She's not going to forget this for a long time."
"Why the hell are we talking about Sharpay when we could be doing something else right now?"
Catching onto his cheeky expression, Gabriella giggled and pressed a lingering kiss to his lips. "You sure you don't mind being a house-husband for a while?"
"No. But I do mind this endless chatter."
"Troy!" Gabriella pretended to be offended, her mouth gaping and eyes wide. Troy merely laughed at her expression. "I'm trying to have a serious conversation with you here."
"At two o'clock in the morning? Gabs, your priorities are all wrong at this time of night."
"You're right," she countered, pushing his body up and off her own before moving to straddle his hips teasingly. "We should be sleeping."
"Again, priorities all wrong. Sleep is overrated."
Gabriella couldn't help but smile as she gazed down at her husband. Even after all these years, he could still make her smile and blush like she did when she was sixteen. Life had been so simple before, but she wouldn't change her life for the world.
One certain aspect, however, she'd change in a heartbeat.
The pain hadn't faded for either of them over the last six years, but they coped. New rules had been set and abided by… different ways at looking at the world. They'd been blessed with two beautiful and healthy girls; a perfect picture that at one point in their haunted past they'd never considered ever seeing.
"How the hell have I put up with you all these years?"
"You're beginning to scarily repeat that on a daily basis." He sat up as he said this; catching on to her own cheeky expression as he swept her dark curls over her shoulders affectionately.
"Maybe because I wonder on a daily basis."
"Now you're just being cheeky." Troy huffed; humour continuing to bounce playfully in his eyes. "If you really want to divorce, just say so."
Gabriella let out a laugh and placed her palms flat against his cheeks, bringing her face down and closer to his. "Nah, it can't be that easy to get rid of you!"
His eyes widening in shock at her reply, Troy let out a feigned squeak of protest before slapping his hands on her backside and making her yelp as he forcefully flipped her over onto her back and crushed her beneath him.
"Troy!" She squealed in a hushed tone, still acutely aware of their two children sleeping down the hall.
"That was a cruel dirty trick, wife."
"You gave me that window of opportunity, husband." She poked her tongue out at him, suddenly becoming aware of how close his face was to hers.
Troy just smiled at her and tapped his nose against hers, loving her for everything. As time had gone on between them, their relationship had only gotten stronger by the day, and reliving the painful memories of comprehending what it would have been like to lose her, Troy could only grimace and curse himself for ever thinking that way. Once upon a time, it had looked so real. Once upon a time, he'd felt it was only the inevitable.
How crazy he knew he'd been.
Everything in his life that made him happy was all because of her.
Forever was something he simply could not wait for.
Gazes locked and held. Silence was such a beautiful conversation and they shared such moments on a regular basis.
When did the moment change from playful to serious? Times like these were always cherished and never taken for granted.
But, as ever, having two young children was a constant reminder that perhaps they weren't the only two people in the universe. Loved up hearts, minds and souls usually held the power to make them forget about anything else around them. And as Lydia's loud cries echoed down the dark hallway, Troy held his breath and pulled away from his wife reluctantly.
"Another nightmare?" Gabriella held her palm to her forehead as Troy reached over the side of the bed for his boxer shorts. "Is this normal?"
"I had a lot of nightmares as a kid. I'll go get her," Troy responded as he stood up and quickly hurried out of the room. Gabriella smiled. Her eldest was simply crying for her daddy to fix whatever had scared her.
Because he could do anything.
Falling back against the mattress, Gabriella breathed deeply before sitting herself back up and reaching for one of Troy's crumpled up t-shirts lying in a forgotten heap on the bedroom floor. Pulling it over her head to cover up her modesty, she sighed gently and with a small smile, as her chocolate-caramel eyes caught the small framed picture of her son sitting on her bedside table.
It still hurt. Sometimes the pain was just unbearable. She remembered more and more of the memories - could still feel her midwife feeling around her swollen stomach regretfully as she tried desperately to detect that heartbeat; could still feel Chad's grasp on her fingers as she was told that her baby had died; could still feel Troy's heartbreak and torture as she told him his son was gone… Could still feel the bitter torment and agonizing pain as she gave birth to a sleeping baby.
Sometimes she allowed herself to cry, even after all these years. After all, even with her two beautiful girls, she couldn't help but wish their big brother was there protecting them - taking the assistant protector role alongside his father, making sure no harm came to them. And when it hit her once again that he simply would never wake up, everything she remembered from those dark times would come flooding back.
Her guilt had never fully gone away.
Running her fingers delicately over the picture, Gabriella breathed her love as though the baby could hear her. Lydia had spent a lot of time talking to the photograph, stating that Jack couldn't possibly stay asleep forever and would have to listen to her sometime. It warmed her parents hearts to watch - the naïve and innocent statement showing her age; her lack of understanding. But for now, it was so much easier to tell a four year old her big brother wasn't here because he was sleeping. At least it kept him alive in their hearts and minds.
Her thoughts were shot back to the present when Troy walked slowly back into the room, a look of admiration and protectiveness on his features as he carried Lydia towards the bed. The four year olds arms were wrapped tightly around his neck; her teddy bear hanging loosely in her grasp as her legs wound tightly around his waist.
"Another nightmare, baby?" Gabriella cooed gently as Troy kneeled down on their bed, trying to pry Lydia's grasp on him as he tried lowering her to the mattress. Lydia nodded and sniffled as she loosened her grip on her father and sank down onto the bed and towards her mother's waiting embrace.
"That pesky bear again," Troy smiled to his wife as Lydia snuggled closer to her. "I'll go get rid of it and check on Ash."
Lydia sat up quickly, eyes wide. "Don't let it get Ash, daddy!"
Gabriella couldn't help but let out a small chuckle as Troy signalled a scouts honour towards his daughter before puffing out his chest and stomping back towards Lydia's room. Gabriella knew he'd just go in there, rattle some furniture around for a few seconds before returning to inform his baby girl that the monster was gone.
Gabriella ran her fingers through her daughter's tangled mane, soothing her small shakes as she gripped her teddy tighter to her chest. "Baby, you know there aren't any bears, right? The only bear here is Percy." She pointed to her soft toy. "And he won't hurt you."
"It wasn't Percy. It was a big bear. And it had big red eyes and sharp teeth and it was gonna eat me." She was defiant. "But don't worry, momma; daddy will get it."
Gabriella pressed a kiss to Lydia's temple, watching somewhat amused and warmly as her daughter eagerly waited for her father's return; once again refusing to settle until he got back. It didn't take Troy long to vanquish the hideous beast that was apparently lurking within Lydia's bedroom and returned mere minutes later with a proud smile on his face.
Lydia sat up on her knees. "Did you get him, daddy?"
"I got him."
"Is he gone?"
"He's gone, baby."
Troy let out a chuckle as he climbed back onto the bed. "She's still sleeping. She's safe."
"Oh, my hero," Gabriella gushed dramatically, earning a bemused look from Troy. "What ever would we do without you?"
Satisfied that a bear wasn't going to take her life anytime soon, Lydia grinned and climbed up to sit on Troy's stomach, causing him to grunt with the added weight of his daughter on his body.
"Lyds, you can't sit on me like that for much longer. One day you're really going to squish me."
"Sure I can."
"What happens when you're all grown up? You'll flatten daddy into a pancake."
"But I like pancakes."
Gabriella giggled as she rested her head back onto her pillow, tenderly watching the exchange between father and daughter. "This isn't working out the way you're planning, Troy." She grinned.
"I like pancakes too. But that doesn't mean I want to be a pancake." To emphasize his point, Troy laughingly raised his hand and proceeded to poke Lydia softly in the stomach, causing her to giggle at his antics. Lydia grasped his hand to halt his movements; her big expressive blue pools locking onto the gold band around his third finger and holding onto it.
Both Troy and Gabriella watched as Lydia looked at his wedding band with fascination. As a firm believer of dress up and playing mommy, she was naturally drawn to the ring, as she had been many times before she got bored with twirling it on his finger and went to find something else.
"Can I try it, daddy?" She asked innocently, as she tried to pull it from his finger. Troy quickly covered her hand with his and shook his head gently.
"No, baby. You're not supposed to. It's daddy's ring."
"But why?" Bottom lip out, arms folded; Lydia Mae Bolton had mastered the art of sucking up a long time ago.
"Because it's never supposed to leave daddy's finger. It's a special ring."
"It's magic?" Her eyes bulged.
Troy smiled sheepishly, feeling Gabriella's gaze on his face. "In a way. It stays here so everybody in the whole world knows that I belong to your momma."
Lydia's eyes immediately shone in her mother's direction. Sensing the question that was bound to follow, Gabriella smiled and lifted her own hand so Lydia could have a close look at her own band and the engagement ring that sat next to it.
"Momma has two." Lydia blinked as she held Gabriella's hand up to her face. "Why does momma have two and you only have one?"
"Well," Troy tenderly took Gabriella's hand from his daughter and pointed to the engagement ring. "This one means I chose your momma to be mine, and she said yes. And this one means that she finally belongs to me."
"I want to wear it."
"You'll have one of your own one day," Gabriella replied, earning a shocked expression from Troy.
"Lightyears away," he added quickly. "Years and years and years and years from now. Maybe even more."
Lydia scrunched up her nose in disgust. "Not from Jayden."
Troy let out a burst of laughter at his daughter. "Definitely not from Jayden!" Picturing Sharpay Evans as an in-law was enough to send him into his own fit of nightmares. "Aren't you ready to sleep yet, Lyddie?"
Just as she shook her head, the young girl let out a loud and prolonged yawn that even set Gabriella off.
"You have to kiss Percy." She held her teddy bear up for her father to kiss and he did so with a small chuckle before she held Percy up for Gabriella to kiss goodnight too. Satisfied that her request had been fulfilled, Lydia leaned over and pressed her own small wet kiss to Gabriella's cheek before kissing her father sloppily on the chin.
The two watched - Gabriella in amusement and Troy in astonishment - as Lydia settled herself down on her stomach on Troy's chest, resting her head against his heart and placing her thumb into her mouth as she closed her eyes.
"Great," Troy hissed with a small tight smile once he was certain his girl had finally dropped off to sleep.
"You love it," Gabriella whispered back with a small giggle, bringing up her hand and stroking her daughter's back soothingly as she lightly snored, still suckling on her thumb.
"Seriously, will be squished into a pancake by morning."
Gabriella rolled her eyes and itched herself closer to her husband. Troy instinctively raised his free arm so she could snuggle into his side and rest her head on his bicep before bringing his arm back round her waist.
"Still, you wouldn't change a thing." Not realising what she said until after it was out of her mouth, her breath hitched, and she felt Troy press his lips in a delicate kiss on the top of her head.
"You know," he whispered to her softly. Nothing else needed to be added. It was the same as always.
After mere minutes of silence only accompanied by Lydia's light snoring, Gabriella leaned herself up and connected her lips to Troy's, causing him to open his eyes and look at her perplexed.
"What was that for?"
Gabriella just smiled at him, lightly ghosting her fingertips over his jawline and kissing him again before pulling back and gazing longingly at him.
"How do you put up with all this morning sickness?" Taylor McKessie-Danforth groaned in the midst of another hormonal dysfunction and somewhere within the LA Lakers stadium across town, Gabriella was certain she could her both Troy and Chad's sighs of relief that they weren't there to witness another episode.
The two had spent the day together in the sanctuary of the Bolton household after saying goodbye to their respective partner's who were out for the day on a rigorous training session. At three months gone, Taylor was already feeling the effects of the evils of hormones and with another six months left to go, Gabriella didn't know how long Chad could cope without her killing him in some brutal way.
"You just… do?" Gabriella answered feebly, holding onto Aislinn's arms as the eleven-month old tried to walk towards her sister who was playing with her dolls in the middle of the room. Bouncing frustratingly on the spot, Aislinn shot out an indignant squeak at her mother who refused to let go, knowing she would only tumble over in a heap.
"But true. Just think of that light at the end of the tunnel and it makes it all worth it."
"I swear," Taylor clutched onto a pillow dangerously. "Why do we women always get the rough end of the stick? Those boys - they just get the fun part. We get the nine month pregnancy, the morning sickness, the hormones, the absolute need to eat so much we turn into big fat ugly elephants and on top of that, we lose the figures we've worked so hard for and then have to go through the absolute pain of labour."
Gabriella shrugged. "Ash and Lyds weren't so bad when I gave birth to them…"
"Yeah, because I seem to remember being told that you screamed for an epidural and threatened to kill the midwife with your pinkie if she didn't hand the drugs over."
"Okay, fine," Gabriella huffed, placing her hands underneath Aislinn's armpits to hoist her upright. "I was trying to make you feel better. Besides, you've got months before you have to start thinking about that. Just think about right now."
Taylor growled and Gabriella giggled as she slammed the pillow over her face. "Chad's gonna get castrated when he gets home. Promise you that. Seriously, how did you manage this twice?"
The smile dropped from Gabriella's face. "Three times."
The pillow fell. The atmosphere filled with tension. "Oh my god, Gabi. I didn't mean to -- god, I'm sorry--"
"It's okay," Gabriella responded with a light smile as Aislinn cooed. "Really, it's okay."
"Okay, but it's not." Taylor pulled herself up and walked over to her friend before sitting down beside her. "I didn't mean to be so insensitive about Jack and it's not like I forgot; I just wasn't thinking straight-"
"Tay, really." The soothing smile remained on Gabriella's face as she lifted Aislinn up to sit on her lap. The baby blew a raspberry and grasped a hold of her mother's curls and tugged lightly. The notion and the following pain now had immunity on Gabriella. "No one ever wrote a book for each specific couple whose gone through a miscarriage or stillbirth telling them how they should live the rest of their lives without thinking about it. I know how weird it is. Three pregnancies and two children… doesn't quite make sense."
"You guys have always been so strong through it, Gabi. It was stupid of me to have said something like that… I should have known."
"You don't have to feel guilty. You and Chad were major sources of comfort for me and Troy. You guys don't ever have to apologise for anything."
"I still think about it a lot." Taylor reached for Aislinn's flapping hand. "More now than ever. I know you guys do too and please don't think that I've just ignored Jack completely because I haven't. It was a slip of the tongue… my hormones, even! I'm throwing up so much I guess any common sense I had left has just… well, disappeared."
"Taylor, please." Gabriella's tone became heavier. "Stop apologising, okay? When I say I'm fine, I really am fine. Me and Troy have our own way of getting through everything together and you certainly haven't ruined anything just now, okay?"
Taylor's face softened, knowing that her friend wouldn't lie about something so sensitive. "I'll never know how you guys did it."
Gabriella merely shrugged and bounced Aislinn up and down on her knee. "Some people told us to just accept it as a part of life - like he wasn't meant to be. Said that we'd lost him as though we'd lost the car keys or something insignificant like that. Almost as though it was fate and we were just meant to have a stillborn and Lyddie as our eldest. Those people really pissed us off. And then there was the priest at the funeral, telling us he was in 'God's hands' and was safe and in 'a far better place'. We know he meant well… but that pissed us off too. Because at that time, and even now, we know the best place for him was with us. Others then told us we needed to channel our grief into something positive. Like charity work or something. And then we were told to keep normal in every aspect of our life." Here, she sighed deeply. "But then we thought… you know what? He's our baby boy and we'll live through this how we want to live through it. We don't know why or how it happened and we don't want to know. We just…" She drifted off as Aislinn nuzzled her face into her neck comfortingly, as if she knew and could feel her mother's pain. "We just know that it did happen and that we need to remember him and talk about him in a positive way. 'Cause any way else would only drive us apart and make us miserable."
"It sounds so simple when you put it like that; but we all know it wasn't."
Gabriella refused to break and reached out for her best friend's hand. "And we're not focusing on your baby because…? Haven't you thought about what you'd like? Any names? Future pictures?"
Here, Taylor finally smiled. "To be honest, the morning, afternoon, evening and night sickness is taking up a lot of my thinking time. I was really hoping my first pregnancy wouldn't be such a miserable time. But I feel hormonal and sick and tired all the time and--"
"--and isn't it bliss?" Gabriella grinned with a wink. "When you see your baby; hell, you'll know it was all worth it. And you'll be so prepared to do it all over again."
Taylor cocked an eyebrow. "Really, Mrs. Bolton? And how many more were you thinking of breeding?"
Gabriella shrugged with a deep blush emitting on her cheeks. "I don't know. Maybe another two…? I don't know; we haven't really talked about it."
"I'm sure Troy would want more."
"Well, sure. I don't doubt he would. Hell, he'd have a whole basketball squad given the chance and I know he's craving another boy. Living in a house full of girls can't be all that thrilling."
"Are you kidding?" Taylor blinked. "You girls are his entire world. And with Lyddie rarely getting seen without a basketball in tow, that squad's already on it's way! I think I'd like a girl first, but then I'd definitely have a boy. I grew up with just me and my older sister and sisterly fights aren't a pretty sight."
"I noticed! I just hope Ash and Lyddie aren't anything like you and your sister were!"
The sound of a car pulling up on the driveway outside was enough for Lydia to abandon her precious dolls in a forgotten heap and run to the front window. Standing up on her tip-toes and jumping up and down to get a good view over the windowsill, Gabriella and Taylor looked on amused at Lydia's antics.
"Daddy and Uncle Chad are home!" She exclaimed, quickly turning on her heel and sprinting towards the hallway just as the front door opened and the two guys emerged.
"Woah!" Troy yelped out in surprise as his daughter sprung out of nowhere and wrapped her arms around his legs before he scooped her up into his arms and carried her through to the main room where the girls were waiting. "Hey! We're back!"
"After one hell of a training session - we freaking nailed them!" Chad whooped as he spun his basketball on his pinkie much to Lydia's delight as they entered the room. "Hey, gorgeous!" He declared brightly at his wife.
"Chad." Taylor narrowed her eyes dangerously.
Chad froze on the spot. "…Babe?"
"Hormones, dude." Troy coughed.
"Hello, husband," Taylor hissed as another wave of nausea struck her. "The love of my life. The apple of my eye… the heartless bastard who put me in the goddamn position of puking up every goddamn waking hour!"
"Uh…hi?" Chad smiled nervously. "So, how's your day been?"
"Danforth, don't swear in front of my kids." Troy was obviously living on the rough side of life.
Taylor glared at him. "Are your breasts feeling tender, Troy?"
Troy stepped back. "Well, now you mention it…"
Taylor opened her mouth to respond - anything that involved throwing up as much verbal abuse towards Troy as humanly possible. But when her barely three-month gone baby decided that now would be a great time for her to vomit, the notion was passed and Taylor leap up, palm covering her mouth, and ran from the room.
Chad stopped at Troy's hard glare.
"She's been like it all day," Gabriella explained as she stood up, Aislinn in her arms, and walked towards her husband. "And I know the feeling."
"Y-eah." Chad looked scared. "I'm gonna see if she's okay."
Troy huffed. "Good luck, buddy."
"Here, gorgeous," Chad handed over the ball to Lydia as Troy placed her back on the ground. "Present from the team. Scored the last winning basket in today's training."
"We're getting a collection of those." Gabriella rolled her eyes. Chad ignored her comment and proceeded to jog out of the room and towards the bathroom.
"But, momma, it's from the team." Lydia tried her hand at a couple of dribbles; momentarily stopping once she realised she was already breaking a fundamental rule of the household: no playing basketball indoors. "Daddy, can we go out and play?"
"In a minute, princess." Troy placed down his gym bag and moved forward to place a kiss on Aislinn's cheek. "You girls been okay today?"
"It's all been good," Gabriella smiled as Troy placed a kiss on her own cheek in greeting. "Taylor's felt more ill than normal but I guess it just comes with the package. Her hormones have been on fire today."
"So I see." Troy smiled as Aislinn reached for him and he wasted no time in pulling her into his arms. "That's the one part of your pregnancy I don't miss."
Gabriella scrunched up her nose as she got close enough to hand Aislinn over, taking in his sweaty appearance and damp hair. "You couldn't have showered, Troy? Have you not heard of personal hygiene?"
"Aww, come on, we didn't get out of the gym until late."
"I'm sure you're intoxicating your daughter right now." Gabriella raised an eyebrow as Aislinn didn't seem to mind her father's disgusting smell. "And Taylor's hormones could sure do without Chad smelling like a pig."
"You love it really." Troy grinned his mischievous grin; a grin Gabriella knew all too well. But before she could make her grand escape, Troy pulled her forcefully towards him by the waist and proceeded in attacking her neck with sharp nips and kisses.
"Troy!" She squealed; laughter seeping uncontrollably out of her as she tried to push him away. "Oh my god, you pong!"
"There's nothing like coming home to the support of your loving wife," he joked, pulling his head away from her neck and pressing his mouth to hers. "Hey."
"Hey," she grinned back. "Training go well?"
"Was awesome." He hissed as Aislinn took a clump of his hair into her tiny grasp. "Got such a good feeling about this season… It's gonna be huge…"
"Dad-dy!" Lydia clearly wasn't up for a decent conversation. The four year old was clearly annoyed that attention had been diverted away from her - especially since she had been waiting for her father's return for the last six hours. "We need to play!"
Troy looked down amusingly at his eldest; a basketball firm in her small grip, almost covering her petite face. "We do, do we?"
"Yes! I've been waiting since forever and you said you'd play ball with me as soon as you got back from playing ball!"
"Ah, right. I did."
"And momma gets mad if you break a promise."
"Indeed she does," Gabriella chuckled as she reached out to take Aislinn back. "You may as well take her outside to play before you get a shower. Then you'll both stink."
Troy wiggled his eyebrows before hovering back toward her ear. "And a little company in the shower wouldn't go amiss."
"And you're just impossible," she laughed as Lydia dropped the basketball and angrily wound her arms around Troy's thigh, digging her heels into the carpeted floor in an attempt to pull him out of the house. "Go. Play. Then shower up. I'll go make sure Taylor hasn't flushed Chad's head down the toilet."
"Now, that would be a fun day for all." As Lydia gave out another squeak of protest at her father's lack of movement, Troy growled playfully at her before bending over and swooping her up and over his shoulder, claiming the basketball with his free hand before dragging her towards the back of the house. "Come on, you terror," he laughed as Lydia burst out into a fit of giggles that she could only have inherited from her mother.
Gabriella shook her head with a roll of the eyes. Resting Aislinn comfortably on her hip, she attempted to clear away empty glasses and what toys Lydia had left scattered on the floor - only stopping her actions when Taylor and Chad walked back into the room.
"You okay?" She directed to her best friend; briefly gazing over her shoulder towards Chad who didn't look as though he'd adopted any new injuries. "Feeling better?"
"Better out than in," Taylor shrugged nonchalantly. "Part of the package, ay?"
"It only gets better," Gabriella chuckled as she spotted Chad's eyes widening like saucers. "Troy and Lyds are out back playing ball," she informed him. "She's been waiting for you both all day."
"Sure. Two against one again," Chad sighed before kissing Taylor's cheek tenderly and running out towards the back yard where Troy and Lydia's laughs and whoops could be heard clearly.
"Come on, you." Gabriella reached out her free hand to her best friend. "Let's get you some water."
"Before it starts all over again." This time, Taylor smiled genuinely back as she grasped Gabriella's arm and allowed her friend to lead her towards the kitchen. "I know I moan… and I know I threaten to kill Chad on a daily basis--"
"He wouldn't change it for the world."
"I know." Blushing slightly, Taylor sat herself at the breakfast bar as Gabriella placed Aislinn in her highchair and retrieved a bottle of water from the refrigerator for her friend. "I'm really, really lucky."
"I think we both are." She looked out of the window which gave her a perfect view of the basketball half-court built into their back garden where Troy and Chad were on their knees pretending to chase after a victorious Lydia who was sloppily dribbling the ball towards the net at the end. Being so tiny, Gabriella couldn't help but laugh as Troy swept his daughter up by the waist as she neared the pole; raising her up high and mighty to allow her to easily hover over the net and drop the ball through it gallantly. "We're married to such morons," she commented as Taylor joined her at the window, laughing whole-heartedly as Troy kept Lydia rested on his hip - dancing around the court, cheering his daughter's victory; each of them with one arm aloft and waving frantically in the air as Chad looked on feigning disgust at his loss.
Troy lowered his arm and held up his palm for Lydia to slap her hand against his in a high-five.
"Could that picture be more perfect?"
Gabriella let out a small sigh of happiness as she let her head fall to the side and rest on Taylor's shoulder. "I don't think I ever got to thank my mom for moving us to Albuquerque all those years ago. I don't think I ever thanked her for that ski-trip holiday to Colorado that New Years. I think I've got so much making up to do for the rest of my life - I owe her everything for that."
The sweet sound of a newborn baby crying gave the couple the biggest sense of relief that any human being could ever feel.
Breathless and exhausted, Gabriella tried to heave her wary body up, desperate to see her baby as the midwife took her over to a small crib and proceeded to clean her and wrap her up in a pink blanket.
Troy pressed his face into her slick hair; a smile so wide it threatened to split his face in two. Emotion overwhelmed him as he closed his eyes and basked in the sound of his newborn daughter crying. He never thought he'd hear a sound so unbelievably breathtaking in his life.
"Is she okay?" His wife's shaky and despairing tone brought him back and he squeezed her hand delicately, assuring her with his touch.
"She's fine, Gabi. She's perfect. They're just cleaning her…"
"Here you go." His heart leapt as the midwife gently brought over the pink bundle; a large smile on her face. "Baby-Girl Bolton has ten fingers, ten toes, and is looking absolutely perfect."
Gabriella whimpered a happy sob as her daughter was finally placed in her arms; Troy drawing just that little bit closer to his baby girl. Gabriella started crying gently as she rocked her slowly; the baby's crying deceased as she relaxed in her parent's embrace.
Troy lifted a timid hand over to touch her, his heart elating when she cooed gently and slowly opened her eyes.
"Oh my god," Gabriella breathed, allowing the blissful tears to fall. "Hey, you," she smiled as her daughter's gaze locked with hers. "I know you…"
Troy watched as Gabriella lifted her hand to gently rub her baby's tummy; her heart catching in her throat as the tiny human being lifted her arm and wrapped her delicate fingers tightly around Gabriella's index finger. The simple gesture brought wondrous tears on heavily, and as she whimpered her happy cries, she allowed her head to fall against Troy's as he kissed her temple.
"She's beautiful," he murmured. "Hey, gorgeous," he directed to his child. The baby's eyes darted around the room and new faces curiously, looking so intrigued at the big wide world she'd just been introduced to. She could feel her mother's heavy heartbeat and she unconsciously nestled her head against Gabriella's chest, feeling secure in her new and exciting surroundings.
Her body begged for sleep, but it was the furthest thing from Gabriella's mind. As her daughter started to drift, she felt Troy gently push her sweaty bangs from her cheeks and forehead. Thirty-two hours of excruciating labour had been worth it and more - just for this perfect moment.
"Love you." The moment just got one hundred times more perfect.
Gabriella looked at her husband and smiled widely, knowing what he was thinking. Rubbing her nose affectionately yet briefly against his before responding with her own words of love, Gabriella sank back tiredly into the pillows and allowed herself to bask in their own bubble of blessedness.
Troy Bolton had always been a deep sleeper.
Back to the time of his teenage years, it would take an alarm clock, three telephone calls from his girlfriend and subsequent pillow bashings from both his parents before he'd wake up in order to prepare for another day at school.
Nowadays, deep sleeping was just a thing of the past. Even as he slept, he'd be listening out for the slightest whimper or cry of distress coming from the bedrooms of his two young daughters, preparing himself to leap out of that bed and race across the hall in manner of Batman to once again save the day.
Gabriella's sleep patterns, however, had done the opposite.
Sleep was something she now cherished. Something that was both heavenly and rewarding when it came to actually receiving a full eight hours worth of slumber. She was tired a lot of the time; mainly recently due to the few hours she'd picked up back at the university along with the endless hours of being a full-time mother.
It was no surprise to Troy to find her fast asleep on his lap or against his chest; something as simple as spending time together watching a film or talking late into the night would send her straight off without warning. Parenthood was such a perfect concept, though draining and tiring a lot of the time. But after all they'd been through, there was hardly any cause to complain.
That night was no different. As soon as he'd heard the first whimper coming from Aislinn's room, Troy's eyes opened as if on autopilot, and he gently - in the hopes of not waking his sleeping wife - got out of bed before picking up his pace in order to reach his youngest quicker.
Aislinn was getting into such bad habits with her midnight cries. Troy wondered if she'd inherited his stealthy and sly character when it came to her 'needs' to have warm milk in the middle of the night. Still, it never failed to warm his heart everytime he quietly opened her bedroom door to find his baby girl sitting up in bed cooing and sobbing over her lack of attention at that hour. As soon as she'd lay her eyes on her ever doting father, Aislinn's face would shine and a toothless grin would encompass her unnaturally cute features as she reached for him.
"You must think I'm a right sucker," Troy grumbled amusedly as once again Aislinn reached out her arms with a loud cry of protest. "You've got me well wrapped around that little finger of yours." He couldn't help but let out a laugh as Aislinn's small cries stopped as soon as he picked her up and turned to walk her out of the room; the action just confirming what he'd stated.
Aislinn, like Lydia, had inherited those dominant blue pools, and combined with Gabriella's high cheekbones and heart shaped lips, she was an absolutely adorable baby. Whereas Lydia had inherited his nose, Ash had inherited Gabriella's button nose and so obviously her ability to make him melt with the slightest glance.
He had to remember to watch where he was walking in the darkened house. Aislinn's large orbs blinked heavily as she let out a small yawn; taking in her surroundings as she was carried down the stairway towards the kitchen. Troy had to adjust his eyes to the brightness as he switched on the kitchen light and headed towards the stove.
"The usual?" He questioned with an amused grin as Aislinn blinked up at him. Taking her small fist slapping against his chest lightly as an answer, Troy pretended to feign annoyance and reached into the cupboard above the stove for a small pan. "Okay, daddy's not-really-that famous - yet simply made - warm milk coming up."
Aislinn didn't look impressed.
She watched with wide eyes and her head nestled securely in the crook of her father's neck as he switched on the stove and poured a small portion of milk into the pan before allowing it to slowly and gently heat. Troy pressed a kiss on the crown of her head and gently bounced her up and down in his embrace, not caring that he was wide awake at 4am.
Feeling unnaturally mischievous at that ungodly hour of the day, Troy walked over to the radio and turned down the volume as to not wake up the rest of the house. Aislinn giggled as he pulled a face at her before dancing on the spot and spinning around much to the baby's delight. Her tiny fingers dug into his bare skin and tugged as she unconsciously hung on tighter, but the pain was nothing to Troy. Aislinn had the best laugh in the entire world - a giggle that could only match her mother's with the accompanying twinkle in her eyes and it only encouraged Troy to do more stupid things in the day just to hear it again.
Sure, he looked like a complete idiot at that moment. Dancing, bouncing and twirling on the spot wasn't exactly a good look for him but Aislinn wasn't going to tell anybody. She just clung to her dad and laughed and kicked her legs out beneath her as if trying to copy his moves.
"Holy hell, I married a moron." The tired yet humourous tone in Gabriella Bolton's voice made Troy stop still on the spot, his face flush red and his daughter to squeak in indignant protest at his lack of action. When Troy sheepishly turned to face his wife, he practically melted at the sight of her bed head, her sleepy gaze and her stance leaning against the doorframe with arms folded, a small smile and his t-shirt covering her body.
"You knew that when you agreed to marry me." Troy pointed his finger at her accusingly. "And you vowed to love me in sickness and in health so this little situation here is technically all your fault."
Gabriella rolled her eyes and paddled across the room towards the stove where the milk was slowly heating. "I think it's done. Did you get her bottle out?"
Troy kissed Aislinn's head again as she nestled her head back against his heart. "Not yet."
Opening the appropriate cupboard and pulling out Aislinn's bottle, Gabriella let out a small sigh as she switched off the stove and proceeded in funnelling the milk into the container. "These midnight escapades have to stop, you know. If she gets into the routine…"
"But, babe, she's hungry."
"I don't think she's hungry, Troy. I think she knows she can get what she wants and exactly how to. You know she won't finish this bottle."
Shrugging his shoulders, Troy reached out and took the bottle and made his way slowly into the living room where he sat himself down on the couch; moving Aislinn in his arms so she lay horizontally. "She's no different from you and Lyds," he joked pathetically, knowing that once again, she was right. "Except she has a more… conventional way of going about it."
"By crying softly in the middle of the night?" Gabriella came to sit on the arm of the chair, resting her arm over Troy's shoulders as he lowered the bottle to his daughter. Aislinn, now able to support the bottle without the need of her parents, placed her hands on either side, curling around Troy's fingers as she did so and began to drink contentedly. "You're so whipped, Mr. Bolton," she chuckled as Aislinn's eyes moved up to look at her mother innocently. "I know your game, sweetheart," she cooed towards her daughter and ran her fingertip gently down her cheek.
Just as predicted, Aislinn began to push the still half-full bottle back into Troy's grasp before giving off a tiny belch and rubbing her eyes tiredly. Troy didn't have to look up at Gabriella to see she was pulling a 'I told you so' expression.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he smiled sheepishly.
"She's definitely her mother's daughter," Gabriella chuckled as she watched Troy stand up and reposition Aislinn so she could rest her head on his shoulder as he walked back to the kitchen. "She's got you right where she wants you."
"As is the norm in this house," Troy smiled and watched as Aislinn's eyelids began to get heavier. Gabriella merely smiled as she strolled over to her husband and daughter, taking the bottle from Troy's grasp and placing it in the sick before wrapping her arms around his waist.
"You're still our hero."
"A hero who dances like a moron, huh?" Troy grinned playfully and felt Aislinn's head drop sleepily into his neck.
"Uh huh." Her arms moved up to around his neck where she began to play with his hair softly - an unconscious routine that had developed in the early stages of their relationship. Aislinn was slowly but surely falling back to sleep; oblivious to the looks of love her parents were exchanging at that moment. She'd had her midnight milk. She'd succeeded once again. Life was sweet.
"I think we've lost her…" Troy nudged his chin against the crown of Aislinn's head and smiled. Gabriella just stepped that little bit closer to him; her fingertips trailed tantalisingly slow along his jawline, his unshaven stubble that only served as an extra bonus when it came to him looking so deliciously sexy.
"Aislinn Bolton wins again."
"But she's so cute… right?" The unconditional look of love on his face only made her desire strengthen at that moment. Biting her lip briefly, Gabriella then reached up and connected her lips to his in a kiss that some would argue as too heated for that time of the night. Nevertheless, Gabriella's passion only erupted further, and she let out a deep groan as her tongue met Troy's; too caught up in the moment to remember where they were and who they were with.
"Woah, babe." Troy pulled away quickly with a breathily chuckle. "Where did that come from?"
Gabriella narrowed her eyes. "What? I can't ravish you all of a sudden?"
Troy's eyes widened. "Uh, no, by all means ravish away. It just feels, uh, unnatural with Ash here." He motioned towards the baby who was fast asleep and snoring lightly.
Gabriella's eyes sparkled. "So put her back to bed, Bolton, and then we can go back to ours."
As she spoke, she tugged on his free hand and walked backwards towards the staircase, beckoning him to follow. Troy eagerly accepted her request, gently rocking his sleeping child as he allowed Gabriella to lead him back up the stairs and towards Aislinn's bedroom where they had to dodge past the scattered toys on the carpeted floor in order to reach her crib. Before Troy gently placed his baby girl back down in the crib, Gabriella pressed a soft kiss against her cheek and whispered her goodnights, watching as Aislinn snuggled against her soft toys and let out a contented and dream-filled sigh.
"Night, princess," Troy bent down in order to kiss her. His loving gaze fell upon her but was broken once he felt Gabriella tugging on his waist impatiently. "What's with the sudden hormones? Not that I'm complaining or anything…"
"Well, we're both wide awake. We should take advantage of the situation," Gabriella whispered huskily, bringing her arms back around his neck tightly.
Troy pulled a face. "And I'm arguing this because…?"
"Like, I said." She pressed another heated kiss against his lips. "I married a moron."
Quiet and playful giggles once again spilled out of her and Troy practically growled as he grasped a hold of her bare thighs and hoisted her up so she could wrap her legs around his waist. As his teeth hungrily sought out her throat and neck, Gabriella moaned and made a fist in his hair, trying to suppress her excitement until it was safe to release.
"Babe, we need to leave Ash…"
"Can you navigate?" She looked around nervously as Troy began to blindly walk out of the room, gently pulling the door shut with his foot.
"Possibly not…" His mouth found hers.
He was nothing if not efficient. Stumbling along the blackened hallway, Troy gave up trying to guess just exactly where they were in the house and pushed Gabriella up against the wall, passionately kissing, suckling and nipping at her lips and squeezing her hips with his ever excited fingertips. Moments like these just happened spontaneously; no need for discussion or a schedule. It was the way it had always been with them. Passion just seemed to take over at the most random of times, mostly at the most inappropriate of times.
It never ceased to amaze the other at the feelings invoked at the slightest touch, even after all the years they'd been together. It had started with that first look when they were seventeen and unsure of themselves as they were trusted unwillingly on stage. It had started with a single musical note, a look of disbelief and adoration that passed between them as they unknowingly found the one thing within each other that they had no idea they'd been looking for.
He'd been shy. She'd been shy. He'd tried to be cool and flirted (very un-coolly) as he sang to her. She'd just blushed a deeper crimson as she fell hopelessly for that charm.
They hadn't looked back since.
The t-shirt she'd been sporting was thrown to one side amidst hungry kissed and passionate caresses. Skin burned against skin as Gabriella tried desperately in vain to pull him closer, knowing the action was damn impossible but trying none the less. As Troy let out a loud moan as her playful hands snaked lower and lower, Gabriella pulled her mouth away from his, taking deep breaths to compose herself.
"Troy, you have to be quiet," she breathed heavily. "You'll wake the girls…"
"You have to be quiet," Troy whispered back. "And you have to stop that." He motioned towards her still lively fingers. "You're making me do that."
Gabriella smiled adoringly at his husband, melting her lips lazily onto his. "The bedroom's that way."
She giggled as he reattached his lips to her neck and sucked harshly, pulling her away from the wall and walking haphazardly in the direction she'd pointed out. Her limbs encased him tightly, scared of what he'd walk into next. They barely scraped past the door before Troy picked up his pace and they fell back onto the bed in a mass of tangled limbs, sloppy kisses and giddy laughter.
It had started with a single look of amazement.
Just one simple look.
And after ten long years, that look still had not lost meaning or its sparkle.
Troy and Gabriella both suddenly remembered that they still needed to go thank that DJ…
Better late than never, right?
Gabriella had been bouncing on the balls of her feet for the last nineteen and a half hours. Since the very second Taylor had fallen into labour and she'd been rushed to hospital, Gabriella just couldn't contain her excitement. Her happiness for her best friend had caused her ignorance of the exact location of Cedars-Sinai General Hospital where she'd been admitted six years previous, for reasons so contrasting to the current scenario.
She'd happily called the Danforth's and the McKessie's, informing them of their impending grandchild, and they'd rushed to the hospital at a speed that was surely unnatural. Nineteen and a half hours of labour and Taylor's hormones were through the roof, thus officially branding Chad forever a saint. Troy had only laughed hard down the phone every time Gabriella called him with an update on Baby Danforth's progression - and the current state of Chad's life. He'd stayed at home all day with the girls while Gabriella chose to pace a hole in the floor in the hospital waiting room.
Her excitement was now out of control; Baby Boy Danforth was now in the world. The McKessie's and Danforth's were currently in Taylor's room welcoming the new addition to their family whilst Gabriella was forced to wait outside for her husband and children before she could be introduced.
She didn't have to wait long after calling Troy with the happy news. Only fifteen minutes later, she looked up to see him jogging down the corridor towards her; Aislinn resting on his hip, Lydia attached to his hand, and Sharpay, Zeke and Jayden rushing enthusiastically behind him.
"What have we missed?" He breathed as he came to stop, hastily placing a kiss on Gabriella's cheek. "Does he have Chad's afro?"
"Dude," Zeke chuckled. "Of course the baby came out with Chad's afro. It's been our dream."
"You boys seriously need to get a life," Sharpay commented in a fluster, brushing her hair from her face. "So, there's officially a miniature Chad in the world? Do I need to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge?"
Gabriella rolled her eyes in an act of reprimand. "Sharpay, come on, not today."
"Where's the baby?" Lydia darted her head frantically around the waiting room. "I want to see the baby!"
"I want never gets," Jayden mocked and Lydia narrowed her eyes darkly at him, folding her arms tightly over her chest.
"You started it."
"No, you did!"
"Time out!" Zeke declared, scooping up Jayden whilst Gabriella took it upon herself to grasp a hold of Lydia in her arms. "There'll be no fighting between you two. Especially not today."
"You carry on and you can forget going to Chuck E. Cheese later on," Gabriella warned her eldest.
Troy's eyes widened. "But, babe!" He protested with a pout. "Chuck E. Cheese…"
Sharpay groaned and rolled her eyes as Gabriella placed Lydia back on the ground. Annoyed, the little girl stuck out her bottom lip and turned on her glazed over innocent stare to her father who tried in earnest to focus on something else. Aislinn proceeded in watching the scenes around her with interest, all the while sucking on her four fingers.
For a while, the only sounds emitting were the constant taps of Sharpay's pink stiletto's on the hard floor as she paced up and down. She'd never been one for patience. Gabriella's stomach was still churning with excitement which only managed to amuse Troy, who knew every contour of every expression his wife gave off.
It seemed like forever had been and gone by the time the McKessie's and the Danforth's left the room; the two women with tears still pouring down their faces and their husbands with looks of pride and accomplishment. Gabriella had jumped out of Troy's one-armed hug as soon as the door had opened and after receiving a flash of confirmation from Taylor's mother, she grinned and excitedly grasped a hold of Troy's arm and lead the way into the room.
It was a sight for sore eyes. Taylor was propped up on the bed, looking exhausted but beyond happy, and Chad was seated on the edge of the bed, cradling his two-hour-old son and soothing the baby's soft cries with gentle rocks and hums.
"Dude," Troy breathed with a wide smile as the two families walked into the room. "No afro?"
Chad looked up at his best friend and grinned widely. "He's beautiful. You gotta check him out…"
"So, he looks like Taylor then?" Sharpay enquired which earned a sharp look from Zeke. "Oh, you know I'm joking! Let's see!"
Chad stood up as the four adults crowded around to get a better look at the newborn. Gabriella reached over and took Taylor's hand as she cooed and kissed the air as Baby Danforth stared curiously up at her.
"Meet Samuel," Taylor smiled sleepily from the bed. "Or Sam. I have a feeling the Samuel part will only be used for discipline purposes later on in life."
"Well, if he's anything like his dad here…" Troy laughed, ruffling up Chad's hair.
An indignant squeak and a subsequent huff exploded at Troy's feet, and he looked down to see his daughter was clearly not happy with him. "I want to see the baby," Lydia declared.
Jayden groaned. "I want never g--"
"Okay!" Troy quickly diverted yet another argument and quickly handed Ash to her mother before scooping Lydia up by the waist so she could see the newborn baby in her Uncle Chad's arms.
"Hey!" Jayden called out whilst tugging on Zeke's jeans abruptly. "Me too!"
Zeke complied, lifting his son up beside Lydia so he too could get a good look. Lydia scrunched her face up at how close Jayden was to her and sharply nudged him. As ever, his response was to nudge her back with a grunt, only for it to start escalating when hand slapping started taking over as quickly as the fight started.
"Cut it out!" Troy hissed, placing Lydia back on the ground in annoyance. Jayden, too, was placed back and held back by Sharpay to prevent them upsetting the new baby with their insignificant arguments. Gabriella merely rolled her eyes, briefly wondering if they'd ever become friends in the not-too-distant future. With Taylor's constant remarks that the two would grow up and eventually fall in love, the latter needed to be accomplished before any speculating could happen.
"So, Taylor," Sharpay smiled as she wriggled her finger over Sam's stomach. "Any plans for anymore babies?"
Taylor scrunched her nose. "Give it am few decades and then I'll at least consider discussing it."
"It was bad?" Gabriella enquired with a sympathetic smile.
"It was bad. Worse than I thought. I think I thought up a thousand and one ways to castrate Chad during the entire time." At this, Chad's eyes bulged. "But it's all worth it in the end."
"So, it actually hurts?" Troy raised an eyebrow. Gabriella's mouth opened in horror at her husband's remark and thwacked the back of her hand against his stomach, making him grunt.
"Excuse me?" She seethed. "What do you mean by that?"
"N-nothing!" Troy replied, rubbing the spot she'd hit mercilessly. "I just thought Taylor had these unnatural super powers… She never hurts easily. I thought all this childbirth would be so easy on her."
"Digging yourself a hole, Bolton." Taylor snuggled back into the pillows in satisfaction and blissfulness.
"He's digging himself his own grave," Gabriella corrected. "When scientists some day find a way for men to carry and deliver children, by god you'll be the first on the list."
"It worked for Arnie in that film," Zeke put in. "You could try that."
Troy pulled a face. "No thank you."
Gabriella shook her head, still shocked he'd come out with that. "You owe me big time, Bolton." She put on her angriest glare.
"Chuck E. Cheese on me tonight?" Troy offered feebly, at least drawing a smile out of her.
Chad merely chuckled at the scenes unfolding around him; turning around, he gently laid his son into his wife's arms and sat beside her, kissing her temple as she gently rocked him to sleep.
"So," Taylor put in with a cheeky smile as she averted her eyes to Gabriella and Aislinn. "Perhaps an eligible suitor for Ash in the future?"
"Tay, quit trying to arrange our kid's marriages," Troy replied somewhat seriously, somewhat jokingly. "Sam's not even a day old."
"Never a bad thing to be prepared."
"Ash would never go for a toyboy."
"Are you saying my boy's not good enough for your daughter, Bolton?" Chad put in with a mock hurt expression.
"I personally think you all need to grow up," Sharpay put in, earning all heads to shoot round to glare at her. "What? You guys can plan baby's weddings but I can't voice out what everybody's already thinking?"
"You will do anyway," Taylor commented. Motioning down to the sleeping baby, she gently lifted her eyes. "Anyone want to hold him?"
"Me!" Lydia's over eager response caused chuckles to emit as she raised her arm and jumped up and down on the spot. "I'll do it! I'll hold him tight. I promise I won't let go."
"Up here, precious," Chad lifted her up onto his knee and held her close as Taylor gently placed Sam in her arms.
Gabriella wanted to chastise herself for getting so emotional at the sight before her. Tears threatening to spill, she leaned her head against Aislinn's and rocked her gently as she watched Lydia gently kiss Sam's forehead and attempt to rock him. Chad supported his head as Lydia held on tight as promised.
Feeling nothing but euphoria and the unconditional love he never thought he'd experience in a million years, Chad smiled and looked up at his best friend. "Does it get any better than this, Bolton?"
"Better and better every day."
"No evil surprises coming our way?"
"None. Everything's good, dude; everything's a great surprise. A new one every single day."
Sure, when Troy voiced the statement, he sounded convincing. But a tiny and curious voice emitting from his eldest daughter only made him wish he'd not spoken too soon as his heart leapt into his throat and his stomach constricted into tight knots.
"Daddy, where do babies come from?"
Gabriella couldn't help but giggle.
She was definitely at Sharpay's birthday party. The event - or "momentous occasion", as she'd called it - was held at a large venue just outside of Hollywood with the theme being everything pink, of course. Troy had commented that it was so pink it was nauseating and Gabriella felt she simply could not disagree.
In the three months since Sam Danforth's birth, life had just been one perfect picture. Chad had proven to be a natural born father; something he'd harboured doubts about for so long but seeing no logical reason to his unnecessary thoughts. Of course, he would never show a lack of modesty, claiming he was just taking each day as it came. But as Troy had pointed out on various occasions leading up to his son's birth, Chad was just so natural, so flawless when it came to parenting.
The perfect picture was still standing strong, and as she sat at a table looking on at the other party guests, Gabriella's chuckles only heightened.
She could spot Troy with Chad, Zeke, Jason and old school friend Jimmie Zara over by the bar. It was clear Jimmie was already drinking a little too much and respectively, his four friends merely responded by casually making him do stupid dances on the spot to prove his obviously not-so-clear state of mind. Nothing had changed between their friendships since school. Sharpay was talking to her parents across the dance floor, dressed in a floor length shockingly bright pink gown with her trademark tiara sitting on her head.
Again, Gabriella laughed. She couldn't wait for an East High school reunion to take place, purely to see the looks on teachers and student's faces when they saw their very own Ice Queen had not changed in the slightest.
The running body of Lydia streamed into her line of vision; a very annoyed looking Jayden chasing her with what looked like pink cake icing on top of his head. Half wanting to laugh at what had obviously occurred between her daughter and the boy she loved to hate, and half wanting to go over and reprimand her, Gabriella sat back and relaxed when she saw Lydia grasp a hold of Jack Bolton's legs desperately.
Jack was just as bad as Troy when it came to falling under Lydia's enchanting charms. As soon as he looked down to see his granddaughter begging to be rescued, Jack swooped her up into his arms just as Jayden came to a stop, shaking an angry fist at her as Jack held her up high away from harm. Even Gabriella could spot the look of humour bouncing in Jack's eyes when it became obvious to him that Lydia had indeed splattered Jayden with pink icing.
As Jack led Lydia away from the frustrated boy, Gabriella saw her grin smugly over her grandpa's shoulder and stick her tongue out menacingly at him.
She had to remember to punish her beloved little girl when they got home that night.
Taylor was holding onto Sam in a corner across the other side of the room surrounded by Kelsi, Martha, and a few other guests who were desperate to clap eyes on the latest arrival. It already seemed Sam was mastering the art of stealing Sharpay's thunder, and for his own safety, Gabriella hoped it wouldn't become a life habit.
"You're in your own world." Ryan Evans nudged her side gently with a smile as he continued to bounce Aislinn up and down on his knee. "Penny for your thoughts?"
"Just gazing off," Gabriella smiled and turned to him. "You know how tiring any event Sharpay hosts are. I can already feel myself drifting off."
"And the karaoke set hasn't even started yet," Ryan tutted with a shake of the head before pulling a funny face at Aislinn, who squealed and clapped her hands together in delight. "Would've thought you and Troy would be first up there on stage."
Rolling her eyes, Gabriella coughed a chuckle. "Far from it. You might Lyddie up there first tonight. As for me? I think I'll just find somewhere to snooze for a while. I can barely keep my eyes open right now."
Ryan laughed as he watched his old friend take a swig of wine. "Maybe it's the alcohol."
"This is my first and only glass."
"Still, you were never good with the alcohol." He backed off slightly at Gabriella's mock horror glare. "It's true and you know it! Remember that party we hosted after graduation? Troy had to literally carry you everywhere and you'd barely consumed a drop!"
"I've never been a big fan!" Gabriella responded in defence. "You guys were lucky you got me to try some that night."
Ryan gestured over to where her husband was currently trying to persuade Jimmie to try walking in a straight line by the bar. "It looks as though Jimmie can't handle his either. You think one of us should go and warn him?"
"And ruin Troy's fun?" Gabriella raised an amused eyebrow and smirked. "I think it's fair to say Jimmie brings things on himself."
Ryan just smiled sincerely as Aislinn looked up at him, annoyed that attention had been diverted away from her and went to slap her hands against the rim of his hat. He laughed at her antics and started to bob his knees up and down to assure her he remembered she was still there. "This one must be a handful," he commented with a laugh as Aislinn attempted to reach up and grasp his hat again. "Jayden was never this troublesome with me."
"He's getting there," Gabriella nodded in the direction of the dance floor, where Jayden was standing with his arms folded as he glared menacingly at Lydia who was sat on her grandpa's shoulders as he danced around. He was trying in earnest to explain to his father and uncle's what the girl had done to him with the icing, but Jimmie's antics were proving far too amusing. "You must know that your sister bares all the dominant genes. If he was a girl, Jayden would already be dressed up in pink and sequins."
"It's not really a big deal to me how Jay turns out - I'm used to Sharpay so it wouldn't really make a difference to me. But this one seems to have started early!"
"That's all Troy." Gabriella smiled lovingly at Aislinn, who was trying to pick herself up in Ryan's arms in order to stand on his thighs.
"I always wondered what a female version of Troy would be like," Ryan mused. "Lyddie's a great candidate, but I see more of you in her. Ash is definitely the one to watch when it comes to naming the ultimate female version of Troy."
"That she is." Gabriella reached out and tapped her child's nose affectionately. Aislinn blinked; wide blue eyes staring up at her mother innocently before trying to grasp a hold of Ryan's hat to inspect it further. "He's trying so desperately to make sure her first word is 'daddy'. Lyddie obviously chose 'momma' so now he thinks it's his turn." Gabriella smiled softly to herself. "He thinks that by chanting it over and over again to her that somehow it'll stick and one day she'll just blurt it out. Ash just looks at him like he's some form of alien."
"She learns quick," he quipped with a cheeky wink.
"She's going to be our little genius; I can just see it now." Gabriella's smile grew impossibly wider - as it always did when she was either talking or thinking about her family. "A genius, with Troy's incessant need for pranks and trouble causing. She'll cause us a few heart attacks along the way but she's going to go so far."
"She'll be our little athlete. Have you seen her play basketball with Troy?"
Ryan sighed regrettably. "This being one of the reasons New York is just this big evil city. I miss out on everything with you guys. I'd love to be closer to Jayden especially. And I know that your two beautiful babies and little Sammy over there aren't technically speaking family, but I've always looked at all you guys in that way - so they kinda are. It just bums me out sometimes that I'm so far away."
"We all split up after college, Ry. Tay and I had to go to Los Angeles with Troy and Chad and then Sharpay and Zeke kinda followed for her career. Jason, Kelsi and Martha stayed in Albuquerque and you needed to go to New York to live the dream. Life just is sometimes."
"I know, and I love living there. But it does get to me sometimes that I'm missing out on my nephew's day to day activities. I could be a lot closer to him, you know? And Ash and Lydia. And I'd especially love to watch Chad and Sammy grow."
"But don't you want any of your own?" Gabriella enquired, briefly glancing at Aislinn who was now comfortably snuggled into the crook of Ryan's arm.
Ryan merely shrugged his shoulders. "Barely had any time to think about stuff like that with the show and all."
"I can imagine."
He smiled. "What about you? Any more on the way? Or soon-to-be on the way?"
Gabriella flushed. "You know, I'm feeling so, so broody. Especially since Sammy was born I've just--" She drifted off. "But me and Troy haven't talked about it yet."
"I'm sure he wouldn't complain. I thought he wanted his own Bolton army."
"Basketball team, more like," she laughed whole heartedly. "But these things we kinda have to talk about. And plan. With my teaching and his training schedules and seasons coming up, it won't really be easy to go with the flow if an unplanned pregnancy came up."
"You'd find a way around it. You two always do. It's kinda a given with the whole Troy and Gabriella package. You guys can do anything."
"You only say it because you think it."
"Nah," Ryan waved her off with a reprimanding glare. "It's always been that way and I happen to have witnessed it. It's like… no one ever worries about you guys where your relationship is concerned. Troy worships the ground you walk on and would rather walk in the path of an on-coming train than ever allow himself to think about ever letting you go and you're so goddamn in love, it should be considered unhealthy. It's just always been that way -- it's like you both don't have to try."
"You know we do." Her tone was quiet, almost forced. He knew the certainties she was trying to subtly refer to.
"I know. But like I said, you two have and will never change. Just promise me you'll call your baby boy Ryan and all will be well."
Gabriella laughed out loud as Ryan playfully lifted Aislinn up in the air so she hovered over his face. "Will give it a lot of thought, Ry."
"That's all I ask." He laughed loudly as Aislinn finally managed to successfully retrieve his hat. Settling her back down in his lap, Ryan moved his most favourite accessory up so it sat on top of Aislinn's head; slowly slipping down so it covered her eyes and nose. Not minding in the slightest, she giggled and bounced herself up and down causing Ryan and Gabriella to look at each other and collapse into more chuckles at the sight. She was anything but dull.
Troy could only laugh as he walked briskly towards the table, seeing Ryan's brightly coloured hat sitting on his daughters head. Gabriella beamed as she saw him approach and watched with loving eyes as Troy bent down and slowly lifted the hat from over Aislinn's eyes.
"Where's Ash?" He declared out loud before revealing her pools of blue. "There she is!" He called dramatically. Aislinn giggled loudly and blew bubbles at her father before reaching back up to pull that hat back over her eyes. "Where's she gone again?" He looked at his wife who happily shrugged. Enjoying the game that her dad had started to play, Aislinn moved her arms up to lift the hat again and reveal her face. "Oh! There she is!" She laughed out loud again and clapped her hands, causing the three adults the laugh when the hat slipped down again.
"You could never say she's not entertaining," Ryan commented as he took the hat back from her.
"What do you expect, Evans? I contributed in creating her!" Troy joked, earning a slap in the stomach from Gabriella. "I thought you'd be hitting the dance floor by now."
"I would have but your adorable daughter just happened to catch my attention and poor Gabs here is practically falling asleep! Would be the alcohol if you ask me."
As Gabriella's jaw dropped, Troy and Ryan shared a knowing and humourous look. "You tired, babe?" Troy cooed with a smirk and Gabriella narrowed her brows.
"Extremely. Ash will never get to sleep early tonight and we need to punish Lydia later on for obviously throwing icing at Jayden's head. Honestly, Troy. You said you'd keep an eye on her out there."
"I did!" He protested. "Then mom stepped in and lead her away. If you're gonna blame anyone, blame my mom!"
Gabriella shook her head hopelessly. "I'll be sure to mention you said that."
Troy rolled his eyes and placed a deep kiss on the top of her head. "Can I not have one dance before we go?"
"Oh, come on!" He begged, putting on his best puppy eyes. "Just one dance and I promise we'll go. And as soon as we get back, you can put your feet up and get all snuggled up while I bath the girls and put them to bed. And I'll set up a suitable punishment for Lyds. Deal?"
"You can't say fairer than that," Ryan put in with a grin.
"Hmm… Guess not."
"And I'll order Chinese. You know you can never say no to Chinese."
"He does know me too well." Gabriella looked at Ryan. "Are you okay if we go and --?"
"Go. Dance." Ryan waved them away as Troy grasped a hold of his wife's hand. "I'll look after Ash; no worries."
Without another word, Troy pulled Gabriella out of her seat and lead her hurriedly towards the dance floor where she saw Jack still had Lydia on his shoulders and was carrying on with his weird dance routines. Troy blew a kiss to his daughter before sweeping Gabriella into his embrace and holding her close as they started to sway to the music.
"I've barely seen you all night," he whispered gently against her skin.
Gabriella sighed softly and blissfully, burying her face into his neck and inhaling. "Hmm… That's because you've been teasing Jimmie since we got here."
"What can I say? The boy never learns." Gabriella could feel him grinning as he rested his chin on the top of her head. His arms instinctively tightened around her waist, his fingers flexing into the small of her back as her own wound securely around his neck; fingers buried deep within his hair and running ever so gently around his ear.
They fell silent for a while, basking in the soft melody surrounding them. Somewhere along the line, Sharpay and Zeke had joined in and Ryan had made his way onto the dance floor with Aislinn still resting against his hip.
But the two could barely see or hear anything or anyone else.
The sparks were still there; electrifying and shocking them even to this day that such a feeling could last for so long. Ryan's words played on Gabriella's mind as they swayed and her heart knew that he was right. She had always believed that Troy could fix anything but knew that Troy believed only in their united front - almost making them invincible to the evils of the world.
Sometimes she allowed herself to dare to think what her life would be had she not met him. Had she not gone to Colorado and joined the teen party on New Years Eve or had her mother not been transferred to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and she'd not been enrolled at East High.
Sometimes she dared herself. And everytime it would hurt.
More of an aching feeling in her chest - a hole appearing deep within her that only Troy could fill. She just couldn't imagine not ever meeting him; not ever experiencing life with him.
She felt his heart beating against the side of her face where her head rested and she smiled.
Gabriella slowly lifted her head up and locked eyes with him, running her fingertips around the circumference of his ear and gently playing with the lobe. "I want another."
"Another?" He blinked as a wide grin threatened to take over. "Like, now?"
"Not right now," she giggled. "But soon. Very, very soon. What do you think?" She bit her lip.
"What do I think?" Troy looked shocked at the very question, but instead he pressed a kiss to the tip of her nose and lifted her up high in the air and spun her around over and over which seemed to entertain the other guests who stopped what they were doing to watch. "Of course I agree with you!"
Gabriella giggled and tried to regain her breath; coming back from the brief shock of him unexpectedly spinning her around. She shook her head at him and smiled, taking in every moment and cherishing them forever. "I love you," she breathed; her fingertips sliding to his cheek and caressing him there. "I love you so much."
"Love you too." Troy was so overcome with happiness right at that moment, his wide grin made it virtually impossible for him to kiss his wife. Nevertheless, he tried, and pressed his smiling mouth to Gabriella's in a sloppy and desperate attempt to make it a worthy kiss.
Gabriella's smile mirrored his own and she curled her fingers around the back of his neck, keeping her others firmly against his cheek - holding him to her. "You're just…" She cursed herself inwardly when emotion started to take over. She was just too damn happy. "You're just everything, I--"
He kissed her again.
"I don't know what I'd ever do without you. Without the girls…"
Troy smiled and connected their lips softly again. "I know." He ghosted his lips delicately over her cheeks. "Ditto."
He could see her glazed over expression; the emotions that threatened to fall as they got themselves too caught up in the moment - basking in their own little world. And as she opened her mouth to speak again, Troy grinned wickedly to himself before quickly dipping her and blowing a large and over-exaggerated raspberry into the skin of her neck.
Gabriella clung to him and laughed loudly at his actions; closing her eyes and loving him more as he slowly moved her back into a standing position. She knew he knew everything she was feeling, not needing for her to explain nor for her to understand what was going on in his head and heart.
She already knew.
Troy and Gabriella just closed their eyes, contented smiles resting on their lips as they started to sway again. Their bodies melted into each other, holding each other, knowing they could never ever let go. Noses rubbed and faces pressed together - lips lightly grazing as they moved, breaths mingling and arms holding on tight.
They simply felt as two halves of a whole. Neither complete without the other; life so truly perfect and love that just grew more and more with each passing day.
It had been ten years. Ten years of continual falling - both knowing they would love each other more and more but certain they hadn't even started yet.
Their relationship was sacred. Their marriage solid.
It would only be another ten years plus forever and it still wouldn't be long enough.
For Troy and Gabriella, everything was just the beginning.
Everything would only ever get stronger.
And nothing could ever brake that magic between them.
There weren't many things in life that scared Chad Danforth.
The day he sat and held Gabriella Bolton's hand as the midwife told her she'd lost her baby was an exception.
The moment he'd watched as best friend Troy Bolton heard the devastating news was an exception.
The day he found out he was going to be a daddy was an exception.
But the day he finally held his son, his fears escaped him. The unconditional love had taken over and he vowed to himself that he would never let any harm come to his baby or his wife. He would do whatever it took to protect them and make them happy.
The day he stood at Sharpay Evans' party and watched as Troy and Gabriella danced softly, trapped in their own little cocoon of happiness, he knew that the world was finally right again. Ryan Evans was dancing to the side with little Aislinn Bolton and Jack Bolton was dancing merrily (yet embarrassingly) with his granddaughter, Lydia, at the other end of the room… and everything fit.
Everything made sense.
There weren't many things in life that scared Chad Danforth.
Losing this perfect picture -- this feeling of euphoria, bliss and contentment -- was right at the top of his list.
A/N: Oh my god.
It is officially the end. I never thought I'd be this emotional at this story ending - but by god, I am!
I'd just like to take this opportunity to thank every person who ever read and/or reviewed this story for giving me so much motivation and giving my muse one hell of a kick in the butt whenever I started to have doubts about this. This story was the biggest challenge I've ever set myself to write and I'm feeling partly relieved, yet partly sad, that it's finally over.
I'd also like to thank everyone who PM'ed me - those who felt that they could share their own experiences and give me such brilliant support and encouragement to carry this on. You all have my virtual cuddles and kisses and I thank you so, so much for your support from the bottom of my heart.
Obviously, the one's who have helped me and put up with me everytime I've moaned and groaned about this evil fiction: Mya, Lynn, Kylie, Dalia… what would I have done without you to moan at? Love you all.
Caroline. You couldn't even read this one but still managed to poke me here and there when I needed it! Mwah!
To all at ZAAngels and all my fellow Kuuipo's at FanForum.
… Is this starting to sound like an Oscar's speech? Maybe. But it has to be said!
Of course, to all High School Musical cast and crew since, well, basically this story wouldn't exist without you!
Efron, I want my FREAKING PEN BACK!
Hudgens. You da bomb.
And, finally, I've never had any experience with any of the issues highlighted in this story so A LOT of research into birth complications/still births/miscarriages had to be taken out on my part. What I found regarding case studies and real life stories shocked me. Shocked me so much I was reduced to tears over and over again just reading about what so many families go through.
I don't know how they cope or how they deal with it in their minds, but they are so inspirational with how they choose to help others and how they make it through the days with their babies always in their hearts.
Mahoosive virtual hugs and kisses go to all who have unfortunately experienced it. I've officially begun looking at these heartbreaking issues with a whole new frame of mind.
Thank you all again for reading. It's been a rollercoaster but it's been interesting. You all rock my socks!