"Thank That Star" copyright hollybaggins; November 18th 2008

This is a derivate piece of fiction featuring characters copyrighted and trademarked by Disney Enterprises Inc. It is based upon High School Musical, copyright 2006 by Walt Disney Enterprises Inc., all rights reserved; and High School Musical 2, copyright 2007 by Walt Disney Enterprises Inc., all rights reserved; and High School Musical 3, copyright 2008 by Walt Disney Enterprises Inc., all rights reserved. The author is not connected with nor is this work authorised by Walt Disney Enterprises Inc., or any other motion picture studios. This work is solely intended for posting on Fanfiction, for the benefit and enjoyment of its intended audience. No commercial or financial benefit accrues or is intended to accrue to the author as a result of said posting. Any unauthorised copying or redistribution of this work might subject the party responsible for such unauthorized copying or redistribution to legal action by the owners of the aforementioned copyrights and trademarks.

Characters created: Lydia Bolton, Aislinn Bolton, Matthew Bolton, Ayla Bolton, Samuel Danforth, Alexander Danforth, Jayden Baylor, Poppy Baylor, Ryan Baylor copyright hollybaggins; 2008. All minor characters not recognised in the High School Musical films also owned by the author.

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A/N: Yellow, all.

Thanks to Kate and the rest of those crazy Kuuipo's over at FanForum, my muse was sparked heavily when they were idly discussing which stories should have a continuation for pure fluffy Troyella future family purposes. "Broken" was one of them. And so my muse struck and here is the first chapter of the result!

You do not have to read "Broken" to continue with this fiction, although the basics of the story may need to be known for reference purposes. This story is set twelve years after "Broken" finished and is a short story containing nothing but fluffyness!

Efron, I want my pen back or thou shalt hear from my lawyers!

Hudgens, you have silky soft skin. What the hell do you use?!

Enjoy y'all! Holly xx

Chapter One: Thank That Star

There weren't many things in life that scared Lydia Bolton.

When she was young, she was convinced that a great big Lydia-eating bear was roaming in her bedroom everytime her light was switched off. And it usually took a big scream and her ever-dutiful father to rectify the situation. That was an exception.

When she was eleven years old, she officially made it her lifelong ambition to beat Jayden Baylor at basketball - one occasion which resulted in her falling over and badly (severely) grazing her knee. Her father had taken one look, and with a mischievous glint in his eye told her: "Oh, that looks terrible, baby. I'll have to sort that out right now. Wait here while I run to the garage and get the saw…"

That, also, was an exception.

When she was fifteen years old, she got asked on a date by Wally Crawford in a secluded corridor at Sunhill High school.

She'd never run so fast out of a building in her life.

Well, except for the time she'd come home early from basketball practice and walked into her parents bedroom without knocking.

But she never liked to talk about that…

At sixteen years of age, she was going through the life-crisis of any other teenager on the planet. Except for the small minor detail that every teenager wouldn't accept that they were going through either the same or similar scenario, and that everybody else's lives were just perfect.

"Yeah, they're weird. But aren't all parents?"

Her nonchalant statement did nothing to ease Michael Stape's confidence. "Well, yeah, all parents are cuckoo, babe. But your parents aren't just parents, are they?"

Lydia scrunched up her nose. Still, his answer wouldn't faze her. Ever since the hottest guy ever at Sunhill High had asked her out on a date just a little over a month ago, Lydia had been stuck on cloud nine - not allowing anything or anyone to get her down. Her behaviour hadn't gone unnoticed by her parents, but they were mainly thankful her evil teenage hormones weren't making a daily appearance.

"What do you mean?" A frown accompanied her question. Maybe he meant it in the same way as Sharpay Evans had stated in all the years since she could remember. But then what would Michael Stape - the hottest guy ever at Sunhill High - know about her parent's relationship?

Michael scoffed. "Please!" He huffed. "Your dad is Troy Bolton. Troy Bolton. He's like… a god!"

Lydia folded her arms. "He's no different than anybody else." She huffed unconvincingly. "Okay, so he thinks he's being cool sometimes. And last week, he nearly set the kitchen on fire trying to make a lasagne. And he sings in the shower like every morning. But, yeah, all parents are weird like that, aren't they?"

"Your dad is my freaking hero, Lyd. I wouldn't care if he cross-dressed at weekends and called himself Sandy."

Lydia's eyes grew as wide as saucers. "I would."

"Plus," Michael leaned back casually against the large oak tree that was situated outside the main entrance at Sunhill High. "Your mom's hot."

"Say what?"

He chuckled at her horrified expression. "You heard. If only she was a teacher here… But I don't care what you say about your parents; I'm nervous as hell about meeting them."

The light Los Angeles breeze swept through her long chocolate tresses with ease. As calming and warm as the weather may have been, Lydia's insides were a complete contrast. From the moment she'd gone on a date with the most popular guy in the Junior year, everything had been one blissful blur.

Everything.

Her three younger siblings had tried their hardest to annoy the hell out of her -- as is every younger sibling's duty in life -- but none of their on-going chants and whines had fazed her in the slightest. Everything had been like a big yellow meadow with fluffy bunny rabbits and tweeting birds and beautiful butterflies… herself and Michael Stape frolicking hand-in-hand in the midst of it all to clichéd and cheesy music, basking in their fairytale happiness and oh so togetherness…

Until he mentioned that they should be official… and that he should now meet her parents by way of expressing that official-ness.

It wasn't as though she was ashamed of her mom and dad… It was merely that she'd like Michael to meet them without the risk of having his nose pulled off his face and his ears ripped off. Her dad had always been overprotective of her; more so since the day she came home from kindergarten with a grazed knee claiming some boy had pushed her over in the playground. She could remember him vividly explaining to her that all boys sucked (except himself, of course, and occasionally Uncle Chad) and that they really did all have cooties and bad odour (except himself, of course. But especially Uncle Chad).

Michael was her first boyfriend - if 'boyfriend' was the appropriate term to go by. It had been a little over four weeks since he'd first taken her out to see a movie, three weeks since they shared their first kiss, and two and a half since girls had stopped and stared in envy as they walked hand-in-hand for the first time through the school hallways. Lydia had never really thought about the prospects of a boyfriend before; not really caring about the social standings and how it was "weird" to others that she was sixteen years of age, yet had never experienced her first kiss.

The cootie thing her own father had taught her had definitely stuck with her all these years.

But since Michael had sexily strolled up to her one afternoon after the girls basketball team finished their daily free period practice and asked her on a date, boy-cooties had been the very last thing on Lydia's mind. Everything since had just been so perfect, so surreal…

And now he wanted to meet her parents?

"Can't I meet yours first?" Lydia put on her infamous stare that she still hadn't realised could only melt her father's heart. "I mean… I honestly don't know if mine are available for like… the next six months. Dad will be going on tour with the Lakers at some point and mom's got enough on with teaching and then I'll get stuck with looking after Ash, Mattie and Ayla and everything will be so screwed up--"

"Babe." His palm softly touched her cheek, shutting her up effectively. "We have to do this sometime."

She could barely speak when he was looking at her and touching her like that. Michael Stape. The most popular guy at Sunhill High was with her - the girl who took little or no care in her general appearance, who cared more about sport than shopping, who was rarely seen with the latest fashionable handbag rather than a basketball, who spent her after school time playing ball rather than worrying about fashion and make-up and boys. Well, boy. Single. One boy. This boy.

"But why now?" She managed to get out. "I've never done this before, Mike. The whole parent-meeting thing. I haven't even done the boyfriend thing before. Why does it have to be such a rush?"

"Better to get it all out of the way, isn't it?"

"Don't you want to get over your nerves first?"

Michael stepped closer to her and she felt his breath fanning her face. "I want to do this for you." Her heart melted. "It doesn't help that I'm slightly intimidated by your dad; I grew up with his posters all over my bedroom wall! He was the reason I ever wanted to start playing basketball in the first place." At this, Lydia smiled. He had been her inspiration too. "But I can put all of that aside and I promise I'll be on my most gentlemanly behaviour when I meet him. I think we should do this; we are going steady now, right?"

"Well, yeah--"

"Right?" He asked again, gently leaning down to kiss her lips softly.

Lydia Bolton was almost paralysed. So this is what it's like to be wanted by the most popular guy. Even though she was wearing nothing but some old shorts and a sweaty basketball jersey with her hair tied up in a messy ponytail, she suddenly felt like the hottest girl at the school. She always knew somewhere inside that she was destined to be with Michael Stape. That he would be the one to see and appreciate the real her.

"Right," she finally lamented, smiling widely and leaning into his hand.

"Besides." His arms wrapped tightly around her waist as he grinned in his triumph. "I'm sure you've already told them all the nice things about me - I bet they're dying to meet me just as much as I am them."

"Uh…" Lydia looked away guiltily, pulling out of his arms slightly. "About that…"

Michael's eyes narrowed. "You haven't told them about us?"

"Well…"

His sigh was heavy and his arms dropped away from her. "Lyd…"

"But I'll tell them tonight!" She grasped a hold of his forearms, almost desperately. "I'll tell them and then we can arrange for you to meet them."

"But now I'm even more nervous! I would have thought you'd at least be telling them about our dates - so much so, they'd be dying to meet me too."

"I will, I will," she promised, leaning up on her tip-toes to kiss him quickly. "I swear, tonight I'll tell them everything and be extra nice about you and by this time tomorrow, I'll be telling you all about how they want to meet you. Okay?"

She bit her lip as Michael seemed to simmer the thought in his head, his face expressionless. She'd never wanted to kick herself as hard as she wanted to at that minute; already contemplating the thought that she'd already lost him before it could develop into something truly amazing.

After what seemed an eternity, he set his mouth into a thin smile and watched as she relaxed when he put his arms back around her. "Okay," he sighed softly, his smile widening. "Just make sure you tell your dad I'm really good at basketball."

"It's a done deal." She grinned; her stomach settling as he slowly swayed her from side to side.

She wanted to kiss him again. Badly. But as his face lowered towards hers, she heard footsteps from behind them and quickly made a mental note to brutally murder Jayden Baylor within the hour.

"Loser, let's move," he called nonchalantly as he strolled casually past them. He kept his focus away from the couple, but gestured to the boy with a short nod of the head. "Stape."

Michael narrowed his eyes and nodded his own head once as a form of acknowledgement to the senior basketball captain. "Baylor."

"Baylor." Lydia narrowed her eyes at his interruption. "Can't you just give me a few minutes here?"

"Hmm…" Jayden stopped in his tracks, a basketball tucked under his arm securely. "No. Not if you want a ride home."

"I'm kinda busy here."

"So become unbusy," he smiled as he saw the familiar fire in her bright blue eyes. "Practice has been draining and I'm dying to chill out. So if you want a ride home, move your ass."

Lydia let out a loud growl of protest but that only served to make Jayden laugh as he walked towards the school car park. "I hate him," she muttered into Michael's shirt. "He really does pick his moments."

"The sooner he graduates and fucks off to college, the better." Michael snarled at Jayden's retreating back. "And as soon as he does, I'll be the senior captain of the Tiger's and I'll get twice as many trophies as he's got. Count on that."

"You really don't have to hate him, Mike. He's just being Jay. Believe me, if you knew his mom, you'd understand."

"I don't want to know his mom. From what I've heard, Hannibal Lector would make a less scary parent. Thank god you're not related to her."

"She's not that bad." She cuddled into him again.

"Bolton!"Jayden yelled across the car park. Lydia rolled her eyes annoyingly and shot her boyfriend(?) an apologetic glance.

"Sorry. I've got to go."

"Yeah, sure."

"You'll call me later?" Her eyes were hopeful.

"I'm meeting the guys but I'll try. Remember the deal tonight."

She smiled, only half-reluctantly. "Promise."

"Bolton!"

"Ugh. I'm coming!" She yelled back before engaging in another eye roll for Michael's benefit. "I'll just run him over later." Suddenly a blush started to ignite on her cheeks as she anticipated her next move. "Kiss?"

Michael merely smiled before pressing one lone kiss on her mouth, lingering for just a second before pulling away and turning on his heel in the direction of where his car was parked. Lydia was almost immobilized for a few seconds as she watched him coolly stroll away from her, looking beyond sexy. If not for Jayden's incessant beeping of his car horn, she probably would have stood there looking like a lemon all day.

Jayden pulled his car up alongside where Lydia was standing, an annoyed look on his face. "I'm gonna stop being Mr. Nice Guy here, Bolton," he sighed loudly, then let out a chuckle as Lydia pulled a face at him. "Are you getting in or not?"

"I'm getting in." Pulling her gym bag up and over her shoulder, Lydia sprinted around the front of the car before placing herself in the passenger seat. "You know, you don't have to be an ass all the time."

"I kinda do," Jayden grinned as he pressed his foot on the accelerator and headed towards the Bolton residence. "I'm a senior and like," here, he over exaggeratedly heightened his pitch, "totally the most popular guy in school!"

Lydia smiled amusingly. "You're a dork."

"And Stape is some sort of god?" He let out a huff. "Seriously, Lyds. Anyone but him."

"There's nothing wrong with him. He's kind and he's funny and he's cute and he's only the hottest guy in the entire school."

"And you care about bullshit like that?" Jayden turned to look at her with an astonished look on his face.

Lydia shuffled uncomfortably in her seat. "Well, no," she replied. "But you can't say it doesn't help. There's loads of things I like about him - him being amazingly gorgeous and popular is just an added bonus. Plus, we shock people. Someone like me is so out of his league, but he still wants me. Me."

Jayden just shook his head hopelessly. "You know, I've never met the insecure side of Lydia Bolton before. It sucks."

"I'm not insecure. I'm just telling you how it is," she retorted.

"Okay. So right back at ya. He's scum and no good. Oh, and he hums in the shower. And he never uses deodorant after practice."

There was always that fire inside of her that only Jayden Baylor could drag out. He always had a way, right from them being young - right from the moment she was a half hour old and he'd looked at her in her crib and smacked her over the head as a gesture of welcome into the world. Their arguments had always been humourous - at least to their friends and parents. Fellow students idolized Jayden; girls glared in envy at Lydia whenever they were seen together although nothing romantic had ever occurred between them. Some just couldn't understand how they were so close yet engaged in some of the most fiery arguments known to mankind. One minute, people would worry that fists would fly; the next second, they'd be stood almost paralyzed as Lydia and Jayden carried on simply as if nothing had happened.

Their relationship was unique… strange, yet unique. They never thought of the other as a best friend, although they were closer than any friend could be. He was just Jayden, and she just Lydia. As simple as that.

"You're just being impossible." Lydia pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped an arm around them as she fiddled with the car radio. "He's already that serious about us, that he wants to meet mom and dad."

Jayden choked on his breath and Lydia sent him a smug look. "You serious?" His wide eyes darted to her briefly before focusing back on the road. "You're actually serious?"

She nodded her head. "Uh-huh. And it's so cute," she smiled. "He's nervous as hell."

"And he wants to be! I'm telling you, your dad will flip when he finds out you've been seeing this slimeball in secret. You remember the heart attack he almost had when you decided to be clever and ask him what it meant when the blue line appeared on the white stick?"

Lydia laughed at the memory. "The look on his face was so worth the weekend grounding!"

Jayden couldn't help but join in on her chuckles. "Still, that heart attack will be nothing compared to this."

"You don't know that. He'll love Mike! He plays basketball and he's charming and sweet. And he loves dad! Dad is one of his all time heroes."

Jayden smirked. "I think he loves your dad a little too much. Have you seen the poster he has of him in his locker?"

"He does not!"

"Yes, he does! And, okay, in his defence, he's not the only guy in the country to have a poster of him somewhere amongst his possessions. But he does fawn over it a lot… Sometimes he even strokes it "for luck" just before a game."

Lydia gave Jayden a hard punch in the bicep. "Shut up."

Jayden laughed. "You're too easy, loser! But honestly, I'd just keep an eye on exactly how much he loves your dad." His tone turned serious. "Or whether he likes the idea of dating Troy Bolton's daughter rather than just dating Lydia."

Lydia tried to ignore him; his words now angering her beyond belief. She turned her face away from him, settling her deathly eyes out of the passenger window and trying to slow her breathing. Not even Jayden could disrupt her moment of paradise. She wouldn't let him. Michael Stape was dating her, he liked her… so much so, he was eager to make it official and meet her parents. That's all there was to it. Nothing but.

After a few moments of silence, Jayden pulled to a stop at the curb outside of the house Lydia had lived in all her life - a large, yet modest house situated in Toluca Lake, only two blocks from the Baylor residence and four away from the Danforth house. The three families had been closer than close long before Lydia had been born, and it showed with every exchange between them.

"Look, I'm sorry, okay?" Jayden noticed the upset on her delicate features. "That didn't come out right."

"You're an asshole."

"Maybe, but believe it or not, I actually care about how scumbags like that treat girls. And he's one of the worst."

"He's been nothing but a gentleman to me."

Jayden sighed heavily. This was only going to escalate. "Look, I've got to get home. Mom and dad are going to this function thing to do with the restaurant tonight and I've got a tonne of stuff to do before I have to babysit Poppy and Ryan."

"Whatever."

He sighed again, hitting his hand against the steering wheel in frustration. "Don't get mad at me, okay? I haven't got the strength to deal with it right now. Stape pissed me off."

"You're pissing me off!" Her eyes had turned to ice, the angry red tint in her cheeks contrasting perfectly, and her chocolate curls wild with her lack of care and commitment to its wellbeing. In all, she was beautiful. "He's my boyfriend, Jay. I've got enough pressure to deal with tonight and telling mom and dad about him… and even more just thinking about introducing him. I need them to like him."

"Why so much?" His annoyance was evident.

"Because I like him, you moron!" Her flame was bursting. "I really, really, really like him. And not just because he's popular and sexy… He just makes me feel different. A good different."

"You don't know if this good-different will last."

"It will if you get off my fucking back!"

"Well, excuse me for caring, Lyds!" His anger was reaching scorching point. "When he fucks you over and your dad gets done for murder, don't come fucking crying to me!"

In more than just a bad temper, Lydia threw open the car door and dragged her gym bag out lazily as she climbed out, slamming it shut before sticking her head through the open window. "Believe me, I won't!"

And then she stomped away towards her house; not offering a single look back. Jayden groaned loudly and cursed himself for losing control. His head fell back against the car seat hopelessly, his heart racing at one hundred miles an hour. He'd never met a girl that could get his adrenaline running like Lydia Bolton.

She was a loose canon, a bull in a china shop… One second she'd be the sweetest thing with that gorgeous twinkle in her eyes and the next she'd be red with fury… a desperate passion shooting out of her that he'd only ever witnessed himself dragging out of her. It was never a dangerous fire; it was just the norm between them.

Some found it humourous, some found it strange.

Jayden Baylor just found it ignited things within him he never thought possible to feel.

---

"…and then my decathlon competition is on the twenty-fourth and should we win - which we will - I'll need a new dress because Jasmine Phillips will be hosting a celebratory party and we've decided it should be a dress occasion."

Gabriella Bolton had to place her hand over her mouth to hide her amused smirk. "A dress occasion, huh?"

Aislinn Bolton narrowed her eyes at her mother's stance, surrounded by a mass of math and science-based textbooks. "Duh."

"Okay." Gabriella sat down at the table across from her thirteen year old daughter, humouring her. "What kind of dress?"

"Hmm…" Aislinn pretended to think. "A black one. With some frills on the skirt. And maybe some diamonds. Short--"

"Nah-uh." Gabriella waggled her finger at her. "How short are you thinking here?"

"Enough to make dad sweat before he orders me back upstairs to change?"

Gabriella laughed. "You're a devil!"

"I'm a teenager, mom." Aislinn rolled her eyes dramatically. "It's my job to keep you both on your toes."

"Sure it is." Gabriella stood up and walked into the adjoining kitchen, her eyes darkening upon seeing the sink full of unwashed pots that her husband promised he'd do before he left with Chad to take the kids to Sammy Danforth's baseball game where their own son, Matthew, was also playing. After spending the last seven hours at UCLA while her own children were at their respective schools, she had hoped that Troy - having the luxury of a day off work - would have at least kept the house tidy.

"Is a dress still on the cards?" Aislinn called out to her mother. When she heard no immediate response, she continued. "Just imagine the pride you'll feel when your favourite daughter wins and comes home with the shiniest cup ever that'll make every brainiac at Sunhill Middle so jealous they'll turn green. You know you'll shed a tear… Dad will too. And you'll just beam and love me even more - if that's possible - and you know one or both of you will turn to me and say, "Ash, sweetheart, darling, our favourite person in the whole world let us buy you a really gorgeous dress for your dress occasion celebratory party…"I can see it now."

Gabriella let out a laugh as she walked back towards her daughter. "I think you've got an over active imagination, Ash. But we can discuss it nearer the time. Speaking of… this party?" She raised an eyebrow. "Where is it at? Who's supervising? And you were only joking when you said you wanted it so short you'd almost kill your father… weren't you?"

Aislinn had such a look of innocence on her features that Gabriella could almost see the halo sitting on top of her head. "Mom, we'll discuss it nearer the time." She waved her off and Gabriella shook her head with a chuckle.

Aislinn had certainly inherited Troy's sense of humour - she had to inherit something from him since Gabriella's looks dominated her along with the obvious brains and a love for learning. She was their freaky math girl, and she was proud. At thirteen, she'd already harboured ambitions to be a top lawyer and was excelling in all her classes. Her brains and ruthless ambition had caused the principal of Sunhill Middle School to call both Troy and Gabriella in for a meeting to discuss plans for Aislinn to skip grades and start at Sunhill High in the fall. Aislinn had declined the offer, preferring to stay with her friends and people her own age.

Gabriella completely understood her reasoning's. And so they didn't push her.

"Ugh!"

The perfected art of the teenage growl could only come from Lydia Bolton.

As the front door slammed shut and Aislinn mouthed 'abort' to her, Gabriella let out a sigh and slowly walked towards the living room where Lydia would be no doubt pacing back and forth.

"Good practice, Lyddie?" She asked carefully as Lydia's worn out sneakers began to wear into the carpeted floor.

"I hate Jayden!"

Gabriella hid a smile and sat herself down in the armchair opposite where her eldest was standing. "Of course you do," she replied. "What did he do now?"

"He…" Lydia drifted off, realising what she was about to say. "He just pissed me off so--"

"Language."

"Sorry. He annoyed me greatly."

Gabriella sighed softly. If she had a dollar for every conversation she'd had with Lydia about Jayden Baylor… "Didn't he just give you a ride home?"

"Yeah. But I should have walked. Or got the bus. You don't get abused that way." Folding her arms tightly over her chest, Lydia let out another groan before flopping back lazily on the couch. "I'm never speaking to him ever again, you know. Never."

"Sure."

"No, I mean it. Big time. Seriously. Completely. He's crossed the line now."

"Really?" Gabriella raised an eyebrow. "More than the time he bit the heads off all your Barbie dolls?"

The tomboy inside of her scowled. "I didn't ever have Barbie dolls."

Gabriella smiled. "You so did."

"And we agreed to never bring that up again," Lydia seethed through gritted teeth. "Do you want me to put myself up for adoption?"

Gabriella suddenly put on her best serious face. "Oh, no. Definitely not. So, come on, tell me, what did Jay do now?"

Lydia looked at her mother through lowered lashes, suddenly becoming nervous at where this story was heading. She wasn't so nervous about telling her mom about Mike… more so about her dad and how his ever overprotective self would respond to her dating. Still, she could never be certain about how Gabriella would respond; whether she'd think the same as Jayden and forbid her from seeing Mike again…

But she knew that was unfathomable. Her parents had done nothing but keep her happy her whole sixteen years and she happily shared a bond, a closeness, that she knew was sometimes a rarity in some families. Her brother and two sisters were often pains in the asses, but they shared their moments where they were completely protective and admirable of one another. She knew deep down that her family would never try and make choices for her life but her need for them to like Mike was adding pressure that was too unnecessary.

"He was…" She drifted off before sitting up straight and darting her eyes quickly around the room. "Where's dad?"

Gabriella leaned forward in her chair, now intrigued at how her daughter's behaviour had suddenly changed. "He and Chad took Alex and Ayla to Sammy and Mattie's baseball game. Why?"

Lydia looked down at her lap. She'd always been able to talk to her dad and felt guilty that she was desperate to hide something so important… for now. Even Gabriella sensed her discomfort and walked across the room to sit beside her on the couch. "It's nothing, really. Well, it's something. And I don't know how dad's going to react and he might hate the idea but I really need to tell you this tonight. And Jayden piss-- uh… annoyed me greatly when he started freaking me out about telling you…"

Gabriella's face was unreadable. There were so many thoughts that would go through a parent's mind upon hearing something so subjective as that. "Wait, Lyds… what are you…? I mean, uh… what are you trying to tell me here?"

"I…met someone…" She bit her lip but relaxed somewhat when she saw her mother breathe a large sigh of relief. "Well, not met per-say. I already knew him. He's called Mike Stape and he's in my year at school and he's, like, the most popular guy there."

Gabriella smiled softly; beaming almost. Oh, how she remembered that feeling. "Is that all?" She asked gently and smiled wider when Lydia shrugged.

"We're sorta dating now…"

"Really?" Gabriella's smile turned into a grin. "What's he like?"

Her calm attitude finally soothed Lydia's nerves. "He's so gorgeous, mom. And he's on the basketball team and is aiming for captaincy next season. Oh, and he's really charming and sweet. And funny too."

"What's his name?"

"Mike." Lydia smiled in spite of herself, picturing the big meadow and tweeting birds again. "And he chose me. Out of every girl in the year… Over all those gorgeous cheerleaders and those smart girls… He asked me out. Right there in the middle of the hallway. Can you believe it?"

Gabriella let out a laugh. "You know I can! Honey, I was in the same position as you at your age; you know that. Your dad was high school royalty and I was this evil witch who came out of nowhere, bewitched him and stole him from the female population! They all hated me. But out of everyone, he chose me. Of course I can believe he chose you. Why wouldn't he?"

"No guy ever looked twice at me before," Lydia replied quietly. "And I never really cared before. I always thought Mike was hot, I just never thought it would actually get somewhere, you know? They all want their flawless and popular cheerleaders… or the girls who take care in their appearance and get wasted at all of these house parties and make out with random guys. All I wanted to do was play ball, and no guy ever really understood that before. Well," she paused with a small smile. "Except Jay, maybe."

"Of course except Jayden; and apparently this Mike too."

"Yeah." Lydia's lips twitched into a blissful smile. Her posture finally relaxed and her smile widened, and Gabriella could only be reminded of when she was sixteen years old and experiencing her first crush. A few brief moments of silence occurred before her smile faltered slightly and she raised her eyes back to her mother. "Do you think dad will freak?"

Gabriella let out a small and sympathetic sigh. "I think that's kind of an unwritten rule where fathers are concerned."

"Yeah, but will dad freak? Mike wants to meet you guys as soon as possible… Mom, I'll be introducing him to my boyfriend."

Gabriella's eyes widened upon realising the severity of the situation. "Hell yeah. Your dad's gonna have a nervous breakdown."

"Holy sh-- shackles." Lydia fell backwards again, covering her face with her hands desperately. "Mom, this has to go well."

Her mother merely gazed at her lovingly, knowing how hard this was going to be. She knew Troy would automatically hate this Mike with a passion, even more than he hated Will Fanthorpe when the literature professor hit on her not long after she started at UCLA. He'd always say his girls were too good for any guy, even though Gabriella suspected he never meant it; that he would be happy as long as his children were happy.

But Lydia's first boyfriend was bound to lead to bad places were Troy was concerned.

"Look, I'll talk to him, okay?" Gabriella reached out to stroke Lydia's hand affectionately. "I'll talk to him later on tonight and ease his mind about the whole thing whilst throwing in guidelines here and there for the meeting. It'll be fine?"

Lydia pulled her hands down tiredly. "You really think so?"

She smiled. "I know so. He'll be his usual self about it when I first mention it but you know I'll get around him somehow."

Her daughter smiled again. "You always do. It has to work out, mom. I mean, Mike loves dad. He's his hero. If dad hated Mike just because we like each other…" She drifted off. "Well, to say it would majorly suck would be an understatement."

Gabriella contemplated her next question. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask, but the nagging sensation in her mind telling her her question would only upset her daughter held her back from speaking her new worry. She quickly put it down to the overreacting parental worries; that Lydia knew what she was doing and was old enough to distinguish things that looked and sounded right and things that were wrong. She didn't want to assume the worst - rather she wanted to bask in her daughters new happiness and share it with her.

She could hear her husbands chants and whoops before he even entered the front door. Along with Chad Danforth's very own cheers of victory, she could also hear that of her eleven year old son and six year old daughter, accompanied by Sammy Danforth's champion-based song.

"I guess they won," Lydia commented as she turned to lie down horizontally on the couch. Aislinn bounded into the room excitedly as the front door slammed shut and Troy - with Sammy thrown over one shoulder, and Matthew the other - and Chad holding Ayla on his hip, who sported an oversized baseball cap and a poorly made foam finger.

"Do I smell victory?" Aislinn clapped her hands together as her father lowered her brother and Sammy to the ground. "Did Sammy D do us proud?" She ruffled the twelve year olds hair and Sammy recoiled from her.

"Of course I did proud!" Sammy retorted, straightening the cap that was slowly slipping off his steadily growing afro hairstyle. "Mattie wasn't so bad either!"

"Mattie, you hit a homerun?!" Gabriella leapt off the couch and towards the miniature version of her husband.

Matthew Bolton wore a smug expression as he offered Troy a high-five. "More like two!"

"Two?!"

"He and Sammy were on fire!" Chad exclaimed, patting his boy on the head. "The crowd were chanting for them both by the end and it wasn't even a competitive game!"

"Could we have been more proud, man?" Troy laughed and placed his arm around Chad's shoulders before taking Ayla from him. "You still hungry, baby?" He asked his youngest; chuckling when she nodded her head with wide puppy eyes. "She's already had a hotdog." Troy directed to Gabriella. "She's been complaining her tummy's empty ever since she finished it."

"A hotdog before dinner?" Gabriella shot him a reprimanding glare. "You know she can eat like a horse."

"It wasn't a big hotdog," Ayla reasoned, idly waving her foam finger around in the air. "And Mattie had one too."

"You had hotdogs without me?" Aislinn's jaw dropped. "With extra mustard?"

Troy shot her a guilty look.

"Dad! That's the ultimate betrayal!"

"I was thinking of you the entire time…"

"So not talking to you ever now."

Troy poked his tongue out at her. "Drama queen."

"Golden oldie."

"I'm in my prime!" Troy retorted, trying to hold back his laughter at the look of victory plastered on Aislinn's face. When he caught sight of Lydia lying out on the couch chuckling at the scene unfolding before her, Troy quickly placed Ayla on the floor and strolled over to his eldest, still kitted out in her Tigers basketball practice gear. "Lyddie, Lyddie, Lyddie; good practice?"

"Meh." Lydia shot a brief look to her mother. "It was the same as always."

Troy opened his mouth to respond, but caught the somewhat annoyed glance his wife of eighteen years was throwing him. "What?" He was trying his hardest to remember something he would have done to make her mad.

"Uh oh…" Chad grinned at the sight before him. "I think me and Sammy better make tracks…"

"No, seriously." Troy looked worried now. "What did I do?"

"Not get your favourite daughter a hotdog?" Aislinn supplied, folding her arms indignantly. "I can't believe you'd do that to me! And you should know better!" She pointed her finger in Chad's direction.

"Woah! Woah!" Chad raised his hands defensively in the air. "I was forced against my will, Ash. You know I'd never consume a hotdog without you by my side."

"Gabs, you're scaring me here…" Troy edged closer towards her tentatively.

"Something you forgot to do on our luxurious day off, Mr. Bolton?" Her tone was hard.

"Well, Sammy," Chad rubbed his hands together. "You know what they say: if Troy's ever in trouble… it's best to be as far away as humanly possible…"

"Actually, I quite enjoy it when dad's in trouble," Aislinn commented, taking a seat beside her elder sister to get a better view.

"Thanks, Ash," Troy said pointedly before staring back at his wife. She was still as beautiful as she was when she was sixteen when they'd first met. He knew that spark in her eye - the spark that said, yes, you've managed to piss me off again but I can't help but damn love for it. It was a spark he knew he couldn't play with without getting away with it - a spark that even his children had learnt to read at a young age. "Gabs, could you just tell me? I know you're wanting me to get the answer right away but I'm male and I'm stupid and I never remember what it is I'm supposed to remember 'cause I have this illness -- oh, god; the dishes!" His head whipped around sharply to Chad.

"Holy crap. The dishes."

"Dude!" Troy slapped his friend's bicep. "We were supposed to do the dishes!"

Gabriella cleared her throat with a small smile. Troy and Chad wore similar shocked expressions - wide eyes, mouths agape; a sudden look of horror and realisation dawning upon them. Amused at the picture, she spoke up. "Um, we?"

"We have this thing…" Chad started with a sigh. "And it's not a big thing but it's still a thing. And we were going to do the dishes before we took the kids to the game but then the match on the xBox--"

Gabriella's eyes bulged. "You went on the xBox?"

"No!" Troy replied quickly, shooting Chad a death glare. "We had to uh…"

"Dad," Aislinn grinned. "You know you can't lie to mom."

Troy dropped his hand, defeated. "Sorry," he offered feebly.

"We did make an extra effort to do them," Chad added. "We just uh…"

"I'm sorry. I can't get over this 'we' thing." Gabriella couldn't help but smile at the two. "I've had one of the worst days in the world at work today and my only reassuring thought was that my husband was home and that he'd take care of the basic cleaning so when I did get home, I wouldn't have to worry about insignificant chores. But I get home, I find the one thing I asked him to do isn't done amongst the obvious things that need doing… and all I get is a poor excuse and my husband and his best friend apologising. Why the hell are you sorry, Chad?!"

"We have this thing…"

"Like a romantic one?" Lydia put in.

Chad ignored her. "He washes, I dry."

"Or sometimes I'll dry and he washes," Troy added. "Sometimes we alternate halfway through just so its fair. And when Taylor leaves Chad a mountain of things to do…"

"We share those too."

Gabriella put a hand up to her mouth, trying to stifle her laughs. "Oh my god, you two are so cute!"

"Like an old married couple," Aislinn commented. "But weirder."

Troy turned a delicate shade of pink and Chad watched his shoes as the scuffled on the spot in embarrassment. "It's just this thing we've always had…"

"I thought you would have grown out of it by now! Or, at least, do what I so kindly asked you to do this morning."

"It's not his fault, mom," Aislinn winked cheekily to her father. "It's his mind. He's getting old. It's not a nice thing losing your memory."

Troy's jaw dropped. "Ash! Who's side are you on here?!"

"After the unfortunate hotdog incident, I had to re-evaluate my priorities."

Gabriella couldn't keep her laughter inside after Troy looked at his daughter speechless as everyone chuckled around him. "She's your influence, Troy. I don't why your so shocked everytime she opens her mouth anymore." He didn't respond, just pointed at his daughter accusingly as she looked proud at her performance.

"I'm really getting old?!" He squeaked.

Gabriella rolled her eyes heavenwards before taking pity on her forever gorgeous husband; strolling up to him and lazily wrapping her arms around his waist. Eighteen years they'd been married; twenty-two spent as a couple… and yet it still didn't seem long enough. Four - but five - children later, all they looked forward to now was another twenty-two years plus forever in one another's lives. The love between them only growing with each passing day; if it were even possible.

"Come on, darling husband of mine." They ignored the vomiting sounds coming from Chad, Lydia and Aislinn. "You get those dishes done now and we won't mention your and Chad's "thing" to anybody else. It'll be our little secret."

Troy smiled and tapped her nose with his own. "I'm holding you to that, Mrs. Bolton."

Gabriella's eyes sparkled. "Promise?" She asked in a hushed tone - doing what they usually do and block out the entire world with their own secret magical powers. Troy's smile widened and he kissed her forehead affectionately before looking over at his children. Lydia and Aislinn had taken to hiding behind pillows to display their disgust at their parents "canoodling" whilst Matthew and Ayla were somewhat distracted by Sammy's baseball he'd taken from the game. Chad was meanwhile pretending to be fascinated by the ceiling, which only served to make them laugh.

Troy wound his arms around Gabriella's waist and swayed her in his grasp. "Danforth. You wash, I'll dry?"

Chad pulled a face. "Hell no, man. We gotta go. I gotta pick Alex up from nursery before Tay gets home and I got a whole lot of my own chores to do."

"Mom, are all guys under the thumb?" Aislinn enquired.

Gabriella grinned at her daughter. "Of course they are, Ash." She pressed a kiss on Troy's chin. "They'd be extinct by now if they weren't." Troy merely raised a questioning eyebrow before Gabriella wiggled out of his arms and nudged him gently towards the kitchen, slapping his butt as he moved past her. "I want them so clean, they shine!" She called after him with a laugh.

"Yes, madam," Troy joked, waving her off as he made his way into the kitchen.

"I'll supervise." Aislinn offered, although every person in the room knew it wasn't for their own benefit - more like an opportunity to cause trouble. "I would do that for you, mom. Never forget that." Aislinn blinked innocently as she looked up at her mother. "Particularly when it comes up to my dress occasion…"

"You just try that tactic with your father and see where it gets you."

Aislinn looked as though she'd gracefully accepted the challenge. "Well, I will need something to do while I supervise him…" And she jogged quickly into the kitchen after her father.

Gabriella shook her head with a smile and caught Lydia's somewhat desperate gaze. She could read her children's minds; she'd always been able to. And she knew now this step that her daughter required her, as a parent, to take would only mean the world to her. She had to prepare Troy without him becoming Super Overprotective Father about everything.

Gabriella merely nodded at her in response and Lydia smiled slightly.

There weren't many things in life that scared Lydia Bolton.

Introducing her first boyfriend to her parents was an exception.