A little AUish piece about Troy & Kelsi. Not really any spoilers.

Prompts: Troy/Kelsi, vanilla latte

Kelsi Nielsen stepped into the coffee shop and tugged her thin gloves off, shoving them into her pockets. She inhaled deeply -- she absolutely adored the smell of coffee and hazelnut and gingerbread and cookies and pumpkin and peppermint and -- she couldn't even name them all, she just knew they all melded and flowed together to create one harmonious chord that reverberated through her senses and made her think Christmas. It reminded of her of her mom when she was younger, making butter cookies for her dad. Christmas always reminded her of her parents, back when they were young and happy and had a lifetime full of love ahead of them.

She got into line, inspecting the pastry case as she waited, mentally debating the merits of a chocolate chip cookie so soon after supper. The music tinkled cheerfully in the background √ some nondescript, traditional Christmas song, updated by the newest up-and-coming artist. She supposed that particular habit of new artists was tradition, too.

She gave her typical (traditional?) order of a grande vanilla latte and paid before stepping aside and waiting her turn once more. She unbuttoned the large black buttons of her corduroy peacoat, growing warm in the crowded shop. She took her drink when it was called out, thanking the barista and turned, holding her drink up as she was jostled in the small crowd hanging around the end of the counter.

She finally made it clear and let out a breath only to hear,

"Hey, Playmaker!" Startled, Kelsi stopped in her tracks and looked up. Troy Bolton was sitting at a table by the window, more than one paper cup in front of him and a pile of papers spread out over an open textbook. He was effectively taking up an entire table for four by himself. She stopped behind one of the empty chairs and smirked.

"What are you doing?"

"Studying. For uh, the chemistry final." He picked up his bag from the chair to his left and set it on the floor, kicking it out for her. She sat and lifted one of the papers with two fingers, peering at it before peering at him over her glasses.

"Why'd you even take Chem II?"

"Cuz I needed another science and Mr. Bale wouldn't let me take Earth Science with Chad after the last class we took together--what?" He looked up from his haphazard organizing and grinned at her raised eyebrows.

"I don't think I want to know." She took another sip of her latte before setting the cup on a recently cleared space on the table. "Do you want help?" He stopped shoving papers into his bag and looked up at her, eyebrow crooked.

"You? Know chemistry?" Kelsi rolled her eyes.

"You make it sound like it's impossible. Why aren't you getting help from Gabby?" Troy let out a huff that ruffled his bangs.

"She's studying for her physics final. And--I didn't want to ask, because she tried to get me to study with her last week, but there was a game and she got mad at me and told me she wouldn't help me when I crammed and--what?"

"I can help you, if you want. You can't tell Gabby, though; she could beat me up." Troy laughed and set his papers down, picking up a couple of cups until he found one that still had coffee in it.

"You don't have to help me, Kels." Kelsi looked away and started to help him gather his papers.

"I know. That's what friends are for, right?" They were silent for a moment as they stacked Troy's notebooks and papers.

"Any plans for Christmas?"

"Nah. My grandma and I'll exchange gifts but other than that, we don't really celebrate it. We haven't put up a tree since my grandpa died."

"Oh--and your parents aren't--?" She looked up at his questioning tone, gave him a tight smile.

"They died when I was little."

"Oh, Kelsi--I had no idea. I'm so sorry." He reached out and lightly gripped her elbow. It was something he was wont to do, he was an affectionate person and he'd certainly done it to her dozens of times before. Therefore, she couldn't explain the little jolt that thrilled up her spine.

Bad Kelsi. Gabriella's boyfriend!

"It was a long time ago, Troy." She finished stacking his practice tests and handed them to him, and he added them to the pile in front of him.

"Do you--" He turned, looked up at her again. "Do you wanna go, get a bite to eat?" As an afterthought, he glanced at his watch, winced a bit at the time. "Do you need to get home?"

"No, I don't have a curfew. My grandma won't be looking for me until late." That famous Bolton grin flashed across Troy's face.

"I wish I didn't have a curfew sometimes." Kelsi rolled her eyes.

"And that's exactly why you do." He laughed and stood, tossing his stack of empty cups into a nearby trash can and flinging his bag over his shoulder. He held the door open for her and they went out into the crisp night air. Kelsi buttoned up her coat, but left her gloves off, instead wrapping her hands around her still mostly-full cup.

"I parked over here," he said, gripping her arm gently again, and she followed him over to his beat-up brown truck. He slid behind the wheel and leaned across the bench seat, popping the lock on the passenger side door and pushing it open for her.

She held onto the door frame and hoisted herself up≈barely≈to the high seat of his truck.

"Sorry," he looked at her as he started the truck with a roar and smiled. "That door doesn't open from the outside."

"S'okay. I was more concerned with being able to hold on as I climbed Mt. Truck." He laughed and shifted the truck into gear, taking his foot off the clutch as it lurched forward.

"I was thinking just going to Rancheros. That okay with you?"

"Works for me. You sure you won't get in trouble?"

"Nah, tomorrow's Friday and Gabby won't care." Kelsi couldn't say why that was disappointing. She wished, for once, someone would care.

"Man, does this thing get any louder?" She half-joked over the sound of his idling motor as they sat at a light.

"Wait til I go the speed limit. Your eardrums will pop," he replied. They took the rest of the ride in silence, the old truck gliding to a smooth stop into a parking space in the relatively empty parking lot of the restaurant.

Kelsi peeked at Troy over the top of her menu.

"What's good here?" She asked, when he caught her eye.

"I like the fajitas, personally, but Gabby says that's because I like how loud and messy they are. The Quesadilla Grande is good, too. You can get it with chicken." He bent her menu down and tapped on it but it was his hand that caught her eye. Without thinking, she dropped her menu from her right hand and caught his hand.

"What did you do to your fingers?" The long, slender index and middle fingers of his left hand were scraped and bruised, and his knuckle of his middle finger looked close to being out of joint.

"Oh, just an accident," he said. "During practice." He pulled his hand back, cracked his knuckles of both hands simultaneously. She winced. "What?"

"You're not normal."

"Yeah." He grinned. "Probably."

The waitress walked up and they both ordered. They were quiet until the waitress appeared with their drinks.

"So, why are we here?" Kelsi asked. "Do you go out to eat with everyone who offers to help you study?"

"I thought you offered to take my test for me? I only usually buy a coffee for people who offer the study option." She snorted and took a sip of her water. Troy was looking down at the table, spinning his still-wrapped straw around on the table.

"Troy? What is it?"

"The truth is, Kels--" He sighed. "Gabby and I sort of broke up the other day."

"What!" Her shriek was loud enough that a couple a few tables over turned to look at her. She blushed, sliding down in the booth. "You can't break up," she hissed, quieter. "You're Troy and Gabriella!"

"I know but--yeah." His slender shoulders shrugged.

"Are you okay?"

"It was mutual." Which meant no.

"That doesn't answer my question," Kelsi pointed out quietly.

"The thing is, it hasn't been the same since this summer." Kelsi knew he was referring to two months during the summer he and Gabriella had been broken up. "Just one of those things, you know."


"I was just wondering--" he cleared his throat, waiting while the waitress set their steaming plates in front of them. Kelsi eyed his. Gabriella was right. "I'd like to learn how to play piano," he finished, after the waitress walked off.

"You what?" Kelsi paused in gooping sour cream and pico de gallo onto her quesadilla, fork suspended above her plate.

"Would you teach me?" He started assembling his first fajita without really looking at it, studying her instead. He took a massive bite and she had to steel her face, remembering that he was a growing teenage boy and as such, had no manners. "You're really good at it and we're friends, right? So, you can teach me and we can get to know each other better."

Alarm bells clanged but she ignored them, shoving a bite of her quesadilla into her mouth, chewing before she could blurt something out. She swallowed slowly.

"And what do I get in return?"

"Other than spending time in my charming presence? I'll teach you to throw hoops."

"Troy. What good could that possibly do me?"

"Who says you need to profit from it? It's fun and it's healthy exercise at the same time."

"Are you saying I need exercise?" She felt her eyes narrow. She couldn't help it.

"No! God, no, that's not what--"

"Troy," she laughed. "Chill." He relaxed and laughed at her, shaking his head as he took another huge bite of his fajita.

"So, what about it? You teach me piano, I teach you hoops." It seemed like there was more he wanted to add, but he didn't and Kelsi didn't push him.

"Sure. You'll be a regular Billy Joel." Troy grinned, went about making a second fajita.

"I'd say you'll be the next Michael Jordan. But, well, there's probably a height requirement."