A/N: The long-overdue final chapter for this story. Thank you so much to everybody that has read and reviewed this. I hope that this does them justice :-)
When Gabriella Montez had told Troy Bolton that she wanted to go back to being uncomplicated friends again for a while, it had seemed like a necessity: an act of consideration for the girl who they had wronged; a punishment for their misdemeanour. As the words had trudged obligated from her mouth, her stomach had already begun to flutter in anticipation of that "a while" finally being over.
It was an excitement that had been strangely short lived.
After two weeks of a return to their easy former friendship, now enhanced by casual flirting, shy touches, and a near kiss that she had inexplicably stopped, Gabriella's excitement had morphed into a nervous fear.
Lying on the grass in her back garden one warm spring afternoon almost two months after that inevitable evening, Gabriella knew that it was her ineffable and unfathomable anxiousness that had created the almost unnatural, foot-wide gap between their bodies. Basking in the comfortable silence, she wondered whether Troy had noticed her growing awkwardness, physical at least, around him before realising that over the last couple of weeks his easy efforts at drawing her closer to him had all but ceased. It was a fact that should have eased her nervousness about the impending – delayed- change in their relationship. Yet it merely engendered more frightful concerns: Had he changed his mind about her? Was he tired of waiting? Was there somebody else?
"What are you scared of?" His smooth voice momentarily stilled the conflicting thoughts in her mind.
Gabriella glanced at him out of the corner of her eyes, frowning at the apparent randomness of his question. You, she thought wryly before mentally correcting herself: Us. "Spiders," she shrugged, giving the standard answer and biting her lip as she saw his face drop for a second and a possible hint of frustration flicker over his features before he smiled.
"How can somebody as logical and scientifically aware as you be afraid of spiders?" Troy asked, amusement lacing his voice, as he tilted his head to regard her.
"They have eight legs," she replied with a shudder. "I have a severe distrust of creatures with more than four or less than two legs." At his snort, Gabriella's eyes flickered over his features and she felt compelled to elaborate: on her answer to the obvious interpretation of his enquiry; and in response to the subtle question behind it. "Sometimes logic doesn't play a part. You can be scared of the most unthreatening of things just because one random thought like freaks you out for a moment. And then afterwards that's what sticks with you." She picked at the grass beside her, a sense of déjà-vu assaulting her and attempting to pull her back to that moment in her cousin's backyard when she and Troy had been involved in one of their first true heart-to-hearts.
Tilting his head to the side, Troy observed Gabriella curiously and tried to figure out whether her reply had simply referred to her fear of spiders, or whether she had somehow picked up on his implicit ponderings. He shrugged, sending her a small smile. "Sometimes people get scared of the smallest things when they shouldn't," he stated simply before he rolled onto his side and propped his head on his elbow. "Is there anything else?"
Subconsciously mirroring his movement, Gabriella changed positions so that she could see him properly. "Why?" she questioned, quirking her eyebrow. "And did you bang your head today or something? You're being particularly random today."
"No, I didn't; that I remember." Troy countered, rolling his eyes. "And maybe I just want to find an excuse to be your knight in shining armour." His charming response would have made her blush without the accompanying wink; as it was, her cheeks became stained a dusky pink by his remark. "You'd make a beautiful damsel in distress," he continued to flirt, making sure to keep his voice soft: so as not to intimidate her.
Gabriella flipped back over so that she was staring at the sky. "Stop flirting," she protested weakly, the corners of her mouth twitching involuntarily.
Troy just smiled wider at her lack of conviction. "Nah, it's what we do."
The stain in her cheeks began to glow. "I don't flirt," she mumbled, beginning to deliberately pluck the petals off a daisy.
"Yes you do," Troy remarked with an adoring grin. "Until you realise that you're doing it, and then you blush and try and change the subject."
Even though Gabriella avoided eye contact with him, the sheepish look in her eyes was evident and telling. "I'm sorry," she muttered, looking up at him apologetically.
"Don't be." They remained silent for another few moments, only to be interrupted by the beeping of the alarm on Troy's cell phone. "That's me," he declared with fake enthusiasm, pushing himself into a sitting position. "Off for my second ball practice of the day," he deadpanned.
Pausing before she pulled the final petal from the stalk of the daisy, Gabriella glanced up at Troy shyly. "Are we still doing ice-cream later?"
The way that he tilted his head to observe her, almost to analyse her, froze Gabriella in her position as she began to sit up. His eyes seemed to expand into further layers of contemplation and meaning in moments like these, and it stirred up the fear again. "Of course," he smiled.
A hand landed upon hers, stilling her, as she went to pull away the final petal. "You know what scares me?" his nervously gravelly voice inquired, not leaving her chance to respond: "other people being scared makes me afraid." Still numbed by the intensity of his diagnostic gaze, Gabriella allowed herself to be pulled to her feet by his warm hand. Cautiously confident, Troy squeezed her hand, taking the stripped flower from it and casting it slowly to the ground. Stepping back from her, a small smile ghosted his face when she looked up at him questioningly. "You don't need the daisy to find the answer to that question."
With an animated wave, he turned his back on her.
Fear is an illogical caprice. It stems from the smallest uncertainty and mutates and reproduces itself until that one insecurity forces its way to the forefront of your consciousness. All it takes is a slightly more logical whim to make it disappear.
Troy liked Gabriella.
She liked him back.
It was fact. It was heart warming. It was logic.
Gabriella wasn't afraid anymore.
There were many things that Troy Bolton could be accused of: his Mother despaired of his inability to clean up after himself; his Father was convinced that Troy had lost his focus since beginning to spend time outside school with "that Gabriella girl"; and the aforementioned "Gabriella girl", his would-be girlfriend, would sink into her seat during Homeroom and English whenever her would-be boyfriend started messing around with his friends and terrorising the teachers. Troy Bolton was, however, perceptive. In the time between their free period earlier in the day, and that evening, Troy had detected a definite change in the mood between them: he wasn't sure what was different, he just knew that something was.
He snuck a glance at her out of the corner of his eyes and watched her swirl the remaining melted ice-cream around her bowl methodically before raising his eyebrows as she awkwardly shifted yet again. "Have you eaten too many smarties this afternoon?" he asked teasingly.
Glancing across at him, Gabriella frowned. "Huh? No..."
"Then why are you fidgeting so much? You've not stopped wriggling since we got here!"
Gabriella kicked him gently under the table and began to retract her foot before catching herself and leaving her legs stretched out so that they were brushing against his. If he was surprised by this move, he didn't show it. "These seats are just uncomfortable," she mumbled as an explanation to his previous question. She was so preoccupied with thoughts about whether he had noticed her attempt at re-establishing their physical closeness that she was entirely unaware of his shocked, if not slightly blank, eyes trained on her.
Nor did Troy's silence register with Gabriella: she was too focused on her own braveness; too embarrassed by her unusual forwardness. Nevertheless, Troy had definitely noticed the new contact of their legs. It was a simple gesture on the part of his would-be girlfriend, but it was one that had started to steer Troy's contemplations about the change in mood towards the possibility that Gabriella might be ready. At least it would have done, were Troy not so engrossed by that simplest of touches of her calf against his. After their kiss almost two months ago, the seven days that they had spent being awkward around each other, the weeks of subsequent flirting and casual touches that had been followed by an uncertainty that he had understood, but not shared, Troy knew to appreciate the significance of tiny gestures. He was used to Gabriella growing embarrassed and almost flinching when she thought that they were getting too close to one another: he was well aware that a physical distance was her way of protecting himself from whatever it was about their relationship that scared her. The casual grazing of their legs was, as far as Gabriella was concerned, a huge step; and Troy knew it.
He would never admit it to his friends, but being around Gabriella gave Troy butterflies. It planted a goofy smile on his face for hours after he had said goodbye to her, and he found himself constantly thinking about her. When watching laddish movies with his friends, he would catch himself imagining Gabriella's disapproval at some of the more vulgar, but hilarious, parts of the film. He almost gave his Mother a heart attack when he immediately agreed to go shopping with her upon her lamentation that he needed some new trainers: just because Gabriella had made a passing comment about the state of his old ones earlier. He even found himself taking the time to match his clothes in the mornings before school: because he knew that he would be seeing Gabriella.
Being around Gabriella on a normal day when she would be embarrassed and nervous about her feelings for him gave Troy butterflies. The feeling of her leg against his, and the possibilities that this contact conjured up, made Troy feel like he just might start to hyperventilate.
His friends had been right when they said that he had changed: he was well and truly under Gabriella's spell.
It was an amazing feeling.
With that thought in mind, Troy's head emptied of the numbing substance that had caused a slight constriction of his heart and congealing of his brain cells, and a small, slightly giddy smile tickled the corners of his mouth. "So I heard in the locker room today that your cousin is dating that Lisa girl on the cheer squad," he remarked, waiting in excitement for Gabriella to look at him.
She scoffed, rolling her eyes. "Don't expect for us to be going on a double date any time soon." Her sardonic reply was instinctive, and it was only after the words had left her mouth that she realised her slip of the tongue. Normally she would have blushed furiously and tried to correct herself: this time she didn't.
Troy took it as a definitive cue. Tilting his head, he smirked at her as he shot back a teasing response: "You mean that we won't be going on one of our strictly friends and good Lord Heaven forbid it look a date, date with your cousin?" he teased.
Gabriella blushed at his often repeated observation, but for a change she didn't ignore it. "Yes, that," she countered, sticking her tongue out and nudging his leg with hers.
Dipping his spoon back into his almost entirely melted ice-cream, Troy looked up at her challengingly. "You know," he mused aloud, "I was going to let you have a bite of my Almond Fudge before it melted, but if you're going to be rude and mock me, then I guess that I won't." He slowly raised the spoon to his lips, opening his mouth but then pausing to stare at her pointedly before taking the spoonful of ice-cream into it. "That is, unless you make it up to me and then you can gladly have some..." He grinned at her longing gaze at his bowl and the adorable wrinkling of her nose as she weighed up her options.
"Sorry?" she offered meekly, biting her lip and trying to stifle a giggle at his unimpressed look.
"Sorry?" Troy questioned cheekily in return. "Nah, that won't do it..." He brought the spoon closer to his lips.
"Hmmm," Gabriella laughed, stroking her chin in mock contemplation. "Well, I suppose that you could come back to mine to watch a movie..." she suggested.
Inwardly, Troy was doing cartwheels. Outwardly, he wanted to see what else he could wrangle from this situation. "I don't know: you really did hurt my feelings...." he added with a pout.
Eyes glittering, Gabriella shot him a sweetly sympathetic look. "My Mom's made brownies..."
His own eyes widened delightedly in response before he reached his arm across the table and held the spoon out for Gabriella. "Okay, I'm sold. I would do ANYTHING for your Mom's brownies," he murmured contentedly and took the opportunity to slide the spoon between Gabriella's lips as she began to giggle.
Savouring the mouthful, Gabriella leaned back in her chair, her eyes closed, before letting out a contented sigh. "You know," she smirked, "if you were a super hero, my Mom's brownies would be your Kryptonite!"
Troy shrugged. "Yeah, but your Mom would never give the bad guys the brownies. She loves me too much."
Rolling her eyes, Gabriella started to gather her things. "She really does." She couldn't help but find it amusing just how much her Mother fawned over Troy; Maria Montez hadn't baked so often since Gabriella had been in Middle School. Strangely, however, Troy's ecstatic ramblings about just how good the brownies were had given her Mother a sudden boost to bake every single week-end; an activity that was always accompanied by the not-so-subtle comment that her daughter should tell Troy that there was a fresh batch of Brownies. "Come on, you," she added standing up, "Let's get you some brownies before you salivate to death."
As they walked out of the cafe, side-by-side, Troy took a deep breath before wrapping his arm around Gabriella's shoulder. Her hesitation was so insignificant that he would never have noticed it had he not been expecting it. Yet after wavering for a millisecond, Gabriella relaxed into his body, casting a shy smile up at him.
Gabriella definitely wasn't scared anymore.
Tutting for what must have been the millionth time since they had started watching 'Superbad', Gabriella gave the almost hysterical Troy a withering look. "That wasn't funny," she scoffed; readjusting herself so that her head rested more comfortably on his shoulder and trying her hardest not to look too obvious when Troy squeezed her shoulder and her insides began to churn as if they were swirling in a typhoon of confetti and sparklers.
Troy bit his lip, and attempted to stifle his laughter: "No, it definitely, definitely wasn't. It was just immature and crude and mildly amusing at most."
Giggling at his pathetic attempts, Gabriella simply settled back against his frame. "You're a horrible liar. How are you feeling about the game tomorrow?" she asked absent-mindedly; hoping to keep conversation going and save them from having to watch the rest of the film.
"We're playing Valencia," Troy replied as if that was supposed to mean something to her.
"Is that good or bad?"
"Good," he laughed. "They've lost the last ten games."
"Oh," she sighed, snaking her arm more snugly around his lower back. "How come your Dad's been making you practice really hard this week then?"
"There are going to be some scouts there for the seniors, and he thinks that it's never too early to make sure the rest of us get some attention too. Dad wants us to absolutely trounce them so that we look good and scare everyone else a bit. You coming to the after party tomorrow night?"
Scrunching her nose, Gabriella shook her head slowly. "Is everyone going to be drunk? I heard Chad saying how he wanted to get everybody absolutely wasted..."
"Did he say wasted? I'm pretty sure that he only mentioned having the odd tipple to celebrate. What?" he added at her disbelieving snort.
"The odd tipple? You're all going to be running around doing strange things, aren't you?"
"I may have a couple of beers: but just to get merry..."
"Wasted," Gabriella coughed, sticking her tongue out at him again.
"Same difference," Troy countered, nudging her shoulder with his.
"Whatever, you are so not trying to argue semantics with me."
Her challenge was lost on a confused looking Troy. "I don't think I even know what semantywhatsits are?" he pouted, sending her once again into a fit of giggles.
"Okay, then, maybe you weren't," she deadpanned. Frowning, she watched as the characters on screen fumbled around drunkenly on a bed at a house party. "Seriously, though," she muttered, gesturing at the screen. "Do people really do that? Get ridiculously drunk and annoying and go and try and lose their virginity with complete strangers..." she pulled a face as the female character was sick. "...and then barf all over the guy that they are trying to seduce?"
Troy snorted. "Yes, Gabriella. I've never heard of anyone in our year puking on during foreplay though." He knew that it was mean to embarrass her by saying things like that, but he just loved it when she blushed. "You're too cute when you get embarrassed," he mumbled, almost too quietly for her to hear, before tapping her on the nose. "Anyway, that time at your cousin's, when we ki-," he stopped himself, not wanting to ruin the evening by creating awkwardness, "-the thing sort of happened, we were both a bit drunk...it happens."
Turning her attention fully away from the television, Gabriella shifted in Troy's hold and took a moment to really look at him. His features were soft as they regarded her; there was an earnestness and hopeful intensity in his eyes that was astonishingly unthreatening and unobtrusive. Even though she knew that he was watching for her, waiting for her next move, she felt as if she could take all of the time in the world to make her assessment and gather her thoughts. Looking down bashfully, Gabriella giggled softly as she recalled his abrupt change of wording. "Speaking of being shy," she mused. "Who can't say the "k"-word?" she teased, forgetting about the matter at hand for a second.
Troy smiled softly before answering with a smirk: "The only reason that I don't say the "K"-word around you is that I'm pretty sure your blushing would reach dangerous levels and you would hyperventilate at the thought of it..."
Gabriella pouted. "No I wouldn't." Scoffing, she continued. "And you sure think highly of your kissing skills if you think that the mere mention of them would send me into a fit."
At her use of the circumvented word, Troy pumped his fist in the air. "You said it," he taunted goofily. "Although, you've now just completely battered my ego, by the way," he added as an aside. Tucking an errant curl behind her ear and letting his hand linger on her cheek, Troy changed the topic of conversation: hyper sensitive of ruining the mood or pushing Gabriella too far. "So, yeah, you should definitely come to the party tomorrow. You are the only possible reason I'd have not to get completely wasted so I need you there," he pleaded with a pout before batting his eyelids over-exaggeratedly at her unimpressed expression.
"Well I suppose it depends," Gabriella replied slowly, chewing on her lip and wondering at how, after weeks of agonising, it felt so natural to be flirting with Troy.
Once again they were interrupted by the ringing of Troy's cell-phone and Gabriella slumped dejectedly into her seat as he answered it. After a string of frustrated, monotone words by Troy, he hung up before sending Gabriella an extremely apologetic and disappointed look. "Supposedly my Dad has had some sort of once-in-a-lifetime brainwave and wants to run it by me before he forgets it. I should probably head," he sighed, pouting at her.
"Okay," she replied with a matching pout. Standing up, she offered her hand to him and pulled him to his feet.
"You going to be okay here on your own until your Mom gets back?" Troy asked with a concerned frown on his face as he paused in the doorway.
"Yep. I'll probably just get ready for bed now anyway."
"And am I going to see you tomorrow night?" Troy demanded rather than asked, his eyebrows waggling in a supposedly taunting manner.
Gabriella merely rolled her eyes. "Maybe. I'll see if I can persuade Taylor to come with me."
A finger raised in warning, Troy smirked at her. "You do that. Hug?"
As was their normal goodbye routine, Gabriella stepped forward into his open arms and squeezed him tightly to her before regretfully pulling back after a few moments. "So I'll see you soon, yeah?" she said quietly, already missing the feel of having him wrapped around her.
"You bet. Goodnight Gabi." With one last wave Troy began to walk towards his car, aware of Gabriella's longing gaze trailing him every step of the way.
Watching Troy walk away from her, Gabriella finally realised that she had been fighting a losing battle since the moment that they had first become lab partners.
Life, in its random complexity, is made up of an incomprehensible number of coincidences. And yet, sometimes, when it involves the right person, fate is all that matters.
Racing down the driveway after him, Gabriella gripped Troy's arm as he went to climb into his car. His eyebrows raised initially in confusion and amusement at her, Troy's expression disintegrated into one of abject shock as she wordlessly stepped closer to him and placed an uncharacteristically confident hand on his cheek.
"Gabi? What?" Troy spluttered; his hands automatically resting on her waist as the gap between their bodies narrowed even further. "Are you - ? I mean, what are you? Are - ? Is -? Does -?"
Rising up onto her tiptoes, Gabriella rested her forehead against his, "I'm going to kiss you now, so if you have any objections then I'd try and form a sentence within the next three seconds."
Troy grinned goofily before silently shaking his head.
"Right then," Gabriella resolved, suddenly feeling nervous.
She didn't get another second to contemplate her nerves before Troy swooped down and captured her mouth in a long overdue kiss.
It was everything that their first kiss should have been.
There are so many things that circumstance and fear can force us to deny: inevitable love just isn't one of them.