A/N: Sorry about the delay, peeps. My muse needs a good work-out.

Just want to say thank you and offer huge cuddles to everyone who nominated me at the intothelines fan fiction awards. Broken won Best Tear-Jerker and I can't express how unbelievably appreciative I am about this. Thank you, thank you, thank you! :o)

Here's the next chapter; hope you like xx

Chapter Five: That Awkward Parent Thing

As he climbed the stairs towards his eldest daughter's bedroom, Troy tried desperately to remember if those parenting books he and Gabriella had bought and read all those eighteen years ago had a chapter dedicated to advising you on how to talk to your seventeen year old daughter about boys. Remembering nothing, he figured he'd probably kiss the feet of any person who decided to release such a book - and if they could helpfully write the entire thing, publish it and get a copy to him within the next five seconds, he'd love them forever.

He slowly passed Ayla's bedroom and stopped in her doorway, smiling adoringly at his six year old as she played with her dollies on the floor, completely unaware of his presence. But his smile faded as quickly as it had sprung upon realising that although Ayla was only six, it would only feel like days until she was seventeen and she was bringing her first boyfriend home. The thought terrified him.

Lydia's bedroom was furthest down the long hallway. Troy took a deep breath; he knew nothing in life could be any harder for him than this. He remembered back in high school when he and Gabriella began to get really serious, how his mom sat him down and discussed responsibility and feelings and other mushy stuff until she tentatively brought up the sex talk and scared him to death when she talked about her first time with his dad. Gabriella had assured him the sex talk didn't need to take place yet with Lydia… but, still, the thought that it would take place sooner rather than later had him wanting to beat himself senseless with a baseball bat. Anything that would ease the pain of his current dilemma.

"What?" Lydia mumbled through the door as Troy lightly tapped against it.

He cleared his throat quietly. "It's me. You wanna open up?"

There was a small pause of silence as Lydia contemplated her dad's request. "You'll only come in anyway, right?"

Troy grinned in spite of himself. "You know me so well." He opened the door and slammed his hands into his jean pockets awkwardly. Lydia was sitting cross-legged in the middle of her double bed clutching her teddy bear, Percy, tightly to her chest. Troy smiled slightly, remembering purchasing the bear whilst Gabriella had been six months pregnant with her. Percy may have been old and tattered from seventeen years of cuddles and love, but Lydia refused to have him out of her bed.

Baby blue eyes that matched his own locked gazes with his. Lydia raised her eyebrow and huffed annoyingly. "Did you want something, dad? Or are you about to finish what Ash and Mattie started?"

"You know me better than that, Lyddie."

Her eyes softened. "You were freaking out."

Troy feigned ignorance. "What on earth makes you think that?!"

"I saw it in your face downstairs just now. And you're right, I do know you too well. And just for the record, Mike's not a douche bag. I'm guessing Matt and Ash told you that much."

Troy shrugged. "Something along those lines."

"Well, they don't even know him. And now you and mom are gonna think he's some kind of asshole who isn't good enough for me and you're probably here now to tell me he's officially un-invited to the barbeque thing."

Troy sighed loudly before placing himself down on the end of her bed. "Lyddie, just so we get this clear, to me and your mom, no one is ever going to be good enough to you. Same with Ayla, same with Ash. Mattie's going from girl to girl already that it isn't even considered serious - but even when he gets to be your age and heads in the serious relationship direction, the only thing me and mom will be concerned about is whether he's treating a girl right…" He drifted off in thought. "And is being safe… but I really don't want to focus on that right now."

Lydia breathed, twiddling her fingers anxiously in her lap. "Isn't that a bit sexist?"

"Not intentionally, no. You have to understand that to me, at least, you three are my baby girls who constantly need my protection. I look at you, Lyddie, and I still see that four year old who would cry for me in the middle of the night everytime she had a nightmare. It seems like only yesterday you were born and the midwife placed you in my arms. It's not an easy thing for a parent to admit to themselves that their baby is growing up and heading their own way in life."

"I won't be living here forever."

"I know that. It's just a scary thought when you have to sit back and acknowledge the changes are happening when you get to a certain age. And, okay, yes, I guess that means I've caved and admitted in so many words that this whole thing is freaking me out - but for those reasons only. Don't think your mom and I are trying to make your life as difficult as possible… we just need to adjust to this."

Lydia shrugged her shoulders, starting to feel more at ease. She looked down at Percy and played absentmindedly with his legs. "Mom seemed okay when I told her about Mike. She didn't freak."

"Your mom is some kind of superhero, Lyds. She gets to freak out and hide her emotions well. As usual, she's the brains of this operation."

Lydia contemplated her next words, not knowing where to start. She was surprised her dad had managed to strike up a conversation to her about this; she was so certain she'd have to make the first move to try and force it out of him once her mom had managed to break that first barrier. He was right, her mother was some kind of superhero. She watched as Troy picked at her bed covers nervously. He wasn't good at the talking thing, she knew that.

"So… me and Mike," she ventured slowly, and Troy looked up at her finally. "Are you still freaking out?"

"A little."

"There's nothing to freak out about. I'm not doing anything illegal, I'm not on the verge of making you a grandfat-"

"Woah. Stop. Right there. Don't even finish that word or I'll seriously banish you to the tower for a hundred years."

Lydia giggled at the horrified expression on his face. "Okay. I promise. I won't say anything related to that for the next--"

"Billion years," Troy finished again, managing a small smile. "It'll make me feel so much better."

There was a brief pause of silence. He felt better for talking but it still didn't ease his nerves over the entire situation. If he had his way, he'd be banishing her to the tower already and guarding it with fire breathing dragons. But since all men fell under the rules of their amazing women, Troy would have to suck it up, accept that this barbeque meeting was happening and that he would be shortly entering the seventh layer of hell.

He was pleasantly surprised when his daughter quickly flung herself at him and wrapped her arms tightly around his neck.

"Thanks, dad," she said quietly, tightening her hold on him. "I was so worried this would just be all screwed up. Jayden's not making it any easier and the last thing we needed was for you and mom to hate this."

Troy tensed up slightly as Lydia relinquished her hold. "Yeah," he answered simply.

His daughter's eyes were now considerably brighter. "He's really excited about meeting you."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah. Big, big fan. But not like those creepy stalker girls we get hanging around here. And certainly not like Ash's drooling friends."

"Well, uh, that's a good thing, I suppose."

Lydia let off a small chuckle and snuggled in closer to her dad's side. She had forgotten why she was so worried in the first place - this had been easier than she thought.

Troy bit his lip anxiously. His heart hammered loudly in his chest. His stubborn side refused to let down, and although he had cheered his daughter up as his wife had suggested, he couldn't stop the nagging fatherly feeling inside of him from raging.

Something inside of him knew that this Mike would be no good for her.

But until the official meeting, he could keep up the pretence.

For now.

---

Jayden Baylor had officially passed the phase of simple annoyance.

He was dangerously swaying on the border of hate, jealousy and being generally pissed off.

He had counted on that damn Troy Bolton. Counted on him. For the brief moment he managed to speak with Lydia that next day, all she talked about was her relief and happiness that her dad appeared to be okay with Mike Stape, and that he was looking forward to meeting him at the fast-approaching barbeque.

Damn you, Troy Bolton.

The only comforting thought was Lydia's side comment about how evil her two younger siblings were after they had humiliated Stape. At least he could count on Aislinn and Mattie to be complete terrors in his absence.

He felt his blood boil as he participated in the pairs drill that he'd set the Sunhill Tigers varsity basketball team - but his focus was not on his partner.

It was on Michael Stape, who'd managed to break free of the practise he'd set and meet Lydia in the middle of the gym. The junior and senior girl's squad had free reign of one half of the court for their practise session, yet their star player had decided that her snake-like boyfriend was more important than her team.

Mike had his arms wrapped tightly around Lydia's waist; her body pulled tightly against his. Every now and then, Mike was pressing his lips to hers, causing a major scene of PDA in front of both teams and making a vast majority of them gag.

"Fuck, Baylor," Dean Sampson, his current partner and vice-captain dribbled the basketball hard on the floor. "Aren't you gonna sort Stape out? Not only is he smooching during practise, but he's majorly making Lyds uncomfortable."

Jayden stopped still. "He is?"

Dean gestured obviously to the pair. "She's so squirming. I tell you, if I handled Jem like that, she'd be bitch-slapping me 'til dawn. I'm all for a little gropage … in private, this is."

"Humph." Jayden grunted and gestured for his friend to throw him the ball. "Doesn't look like she's putting up much of a fight."

"They never do with Stape. Jem used to have a thing for him before we became an item, but she said that all blew out the water after he dated her friend Anna and dumped her like yesterdays news once she gave up the goods. Apparently, the guy's got octopus limbs."

That caught Jayden's attention more that anything else - even more than where his best friend was currently still allowing Mike's tongue to try and see what she had consumed for breakfast that morning.

"Anna Bates? She dated Stape?"

"For little over a month. Jem said she was jealous at the time." Dean pulled a disgusted face. "Whatever, right? All the junior girls are after his ass, but after the way he treated Anna, Jem and all her friends have this vendetta against him. Jem said they already tried to warn Lydia away from him."

"And what did she say?"

"To mind their own business. Jem was pretty pissed at how Lydia refused to listen to them."

A small smile crept up onto Jayden's face. "She is stubborn. Way too stubborn."

"Stubborn, huh? She doesn't seem to be giving Stape a look at her stubborn side, does she? The prick seems to be getting everything he wants now, right? Hey, did I hear right? He's meeting the Bolton's at this big family bash?"

"Yeah." Jayden growled softly at the imagery. "It's a barbeque thing. The extended family is coming down and the Bolton's invited us all to join."

Dean smirked. "So, you'll be there to crash Stape's happy little meeting?"

Jayden returned the smirk. "Crash? Hell, he could do that all on his own. I really don't think Troy and Gabriella will be too thrilled to hear about how he handled Anna Bates, either." He suddenly tensed up as he caught Stape's hand groping around for Lydia's backside. "Lydia's not stupid, though." It seemed he was trying to convince himself more than Dean.

Dean shrugged his shoulders. "She's freely making out with him during basketball practise in the middle of the gym. That's not like her, right?"

Jayden shook his head. "Oh, no, she is stupid when it comes to that jerk-off. But not that stupid that she'll sleep with him on demand. She knows better than that."

"Jem thought Anna knew better too, but it turns out Snakey Stape is a lot more charming than we give him credit for."

"He'll meet my fist if he tries anything."

"Woah, dude!" Dean laughed and threw the basketball over to his friend. "That's a little overprotective for someone who's just a friend, right?"

Jayden threw the ball back with dark eyes. "I've known her since forever, Dean. And our families are closer than close. If she'd dating a prick, then it's up to me to look after her until she sees sense."

"Whatever, man." Dean shook his head and laughed. "So, are you gonna break them up, or what? 'Cause letting Octopus-Boy with his slimy eight limbs slithering all over your so-called best friend isn't exactly looking after her."

Jayden felt the adrenaline pumping through him. "You got my back?"

"Hell, yeah. Always got your back, man."

As Jayden and Dean approached the snog-fest taking place in the middle of the court, Jayden swore he heard Lydia whimper slightly - and it wasn't a nice whimper either. He could tell she wasn't lost in the kiss - if he could even describe it as a kiss. Her eyes were shut tightly, scrunched up almost as if in concentration. Her self-esteem seriously did not suit her.

"Ahem." He made a point of folding his arms as Stape made an exaggerated show of pulling his tongue from her mouth and slurping at the same time. "Interrupting something, Stape?"

Stape smirked in Jayden's direction and Lydia was breathless. "As a matter of fact, Baylor, you were."

"Well, I thought I'd be kind and just remind you of your surroundings. This is free period, in case you weren't aware, and if you were even more clueless about why we're here, this is called basketball practise. And since your skills are seriously lacking on court and you're this close to getting benched, I'd think you'd want to make the most of these sessions."

Mike's eyes narrowed in hatred. "Just humouring the girlfriend, Baylor. You know how it is when they get all girly and start missing you after a couple of minutes."

Lydia backed away a couple of steps, still in a distant haze. It appeared to Jayden that she hadn't been as willing a participant in the kissing as he'd first thought.

"Well," he tried so hard to keep his temper at bay. "If your priorities right now are, as you say, humouring your girlfriend, then maybe you won't be too annoyed if I bench you for the next couple of games."

Mike's eyes widened drastically. "You wouldn't dare," he hissed through clenched teeth.

Jayden held his hands up in defence. "I'm the captain of this team; you tend to keep forgetting that, Stape. And if I think my hard-working team deserves the best on the court, then I'm going to take action to make sure my team get just that. You better start stepping up to the plate now unless you want to be benched for the rest of the season."

Dean's intimidating pose behind him did wonders for Jayden's threat, and Stape marched past them both in an angry huff before harshly scooping up the nearest basketball and sloppily throwing it towards the net. It hit the rim and then the ground so loud, it sent echoing vibrations through the tense gymnasium.

---

Gabriella wouldn't admit it out loud, but she seriously loved being the domestic goddess.

After an enjoyable day at work, she'd picked up Ayla from kindergarten and then headed straight home to start the dinner preparations. It was a very rare occasion that she'd beaten Troy home from work, and she'd suddenly come over this urge to keep herself busy until he and the rest of her family came home.

Ayla was sitting in the living room with the television on; Gabriella could hear it was some sort of child's programme, but thanked the heavens that Ayla hadn't ever taken to that annoying purple dinosaur.

Speaking of annoying…

"Aloha!" Ever since Zeke had whisked Sharpay off to a paradise surprise vacation in Hawaii, everyone had had to endure Sharpay's needs to use terms from the language. Gabriella rolled her eyes with a smile.

"In the kitchen!" She called out.

She heard the heels of Sharpay's heels click across the laminate flooring and smiled again as she greeted Ayla to be met with silence. When the television was on, Ayla Bolton was always in her own world.

"My god, your daughter is so rude," Sharpay commented as she finally made it into the kitchen and sat herself down at the breakfast bench. "Mmm, smells good, Bolton. What are we having?"

"We are having pasta and roasted vegetables, and Ayla isn't being rude - she's just transfixed at the moment."

"You know too much television is bad for them."

Gabriella shot her friend a pointed look from over her shoulder and continued to chop up the vegetables. "You know she barely watches it. Did you just come over here to nag at me?"

"Meh. The kids are still at school, Zeke's still at the restaurant. Got bored pretty quick."

"You get bored pretty quick with everything in life."

"Is it too much to ask for a little company?" Sharpay shot out. "Or are the entire Bolton family just being rude all of a sudden?"

"No," Gabriella sighed softly. "Just wondering if there was any particular reason, is all."

Sharpay tapped her fingernails on the surface of the breakfast bar and used her other hand to prop up her chin as she watched her friend work. There was a few several minutes of pause before she finally decided to speak up.

"I think my son has the hots for your daughter."

Gabriella turned around quickly and raised an eyebrow. "Oh, you do, do you?"

"For sure."

"And here was me thinking you just thought they hated each other because they've argued since, well, birth."

"Maybe I discovered McKessie's right with her whole fine line between love and hate stuff. But don't tell her that I think she might be right - I couldn't deal with that humiliation."

Gabriella chuckled and leaned back against the countertop, loosely folding her arms over her chest. "So, what's been going on?"

"Jayden's getting more narky everyday. And I'm pretty sure there's more to it than him just being a grumpy teenager - Zeke's told me to leave him alone, but I hate it when he's grumpy. And you know why he's being so grumpy?"

"Hormones?"

"No. It's your eldest and her psychopathic boyfriend."

Gabriella sighed again and turned back around to continue with the dinner preparations. "Sharpay, please. I'm asking you nicely here. Lyddie's really nervous about this barbeque and introducing him to everybody - particularly Troy - and if you keep referring to him as psychopathic before any of us have even laid eyes on him, you're just going to make this whole thing worse. Troy's freaking out enough as it is without you putting silly ideas into his head."

"I personally don't think they're silly. Jayden's really upset, Gabriella."

"They've been friends forever. It's natural for him to feel low initially after his friend gets herself a boyfriend."

"No, I mean he's really upset. He hates this Mike person; he said that he's worried about Lydia being with him."

"Worried?" This time, Gabriella couldn't ignore her friend's incessant nagging. Again, she turned around and showed Sharpay she was prepared to listen.

Sharpay shook her head briefly. "I don't know anything for certain, but I know my Jayden is a decent guy."

"He is."

"And even though he has his teenage hormonal moments, I'm pretty sure that he's not making exaggerations purely because he's confused about how he feels about Lydia. I had to practically force Jay to talk to me about why he's acting the way he is, and what he said did make me slightly apprehensive."

"Slightly? You? You don't do anything slightly, Sharpay."

"Which is why you should take me seriously right now. And I swear this isn't some competition where I'm trying to force you to make her dump this psycho and fall for my Jay. I'm just giving you the 411, as they say. Jay says this Mike is bad news, and I think you and Troy should keep that in mind."

Gabriella ran her hand tiredly down her face. "This parent thing is so hard."

"You're telling me! They say the labour is the hardest part… they have no idea!"

"I think we owe it to Lyddie to be open-minded about her first boyfriend and get to know him before we make judgements, but then I guess I will take what you just said into account as well."

"Just be cautious. And anyway, it's not as if this barbeque can be ruined -- Troy and Jack being there? Lyddie's got her own two personal bodyguards right there!"

Gabriella laughed along with her, imagining the scene of Troy and Jack Bolton standing over Lydia and intimidating the poor boy who was trying to win them over.

"Poor Jayden, though," Gabriella finally said quietly. "He really likes her?"

Sharpay nodded with a smile. "He hasn't said. I think he's having a little trouble admitting it to himself. Who'd have thought, ay? Our kids… falling in love…"

"Woah! Let's not get carried away here! You start talking like that and then Troy walking in… That scenario's got heart attack written all over it!"

---

"I don't get what Jay's problem is all of a sudden."

"His problem is Mike, Lyds. You should talk to him."

Lydia shook away Eloise's comment as the two girls walked out of school at the end of the day. "But, why? I know he's never really liked him, but now it's like he wants to start World War Three. I'm serious here, Ellie. This barbeque has to go right and if Jay's gonna start something…"

"Well, to be fair to him, he was only doing what any other basketball captain would do."

"He threatened to bench Mike."

"Because he said that Mike hasn't been performing. You know that, too. The last game, coach took him off court pretty much straight away because of all the mistakes he was making. I don't think today was about pissing Mike off, I think he was just doing his job."

Lydia scoffed, even though she saw the truth behind Eloise's words. "You're only saying that because you think Jayden is hot."

"Who doesn't?"

"I don't."

Eloise laughed. "Yeah, because you see him as this friend you've had since forever and therefore think you're incapable of thinking of him as anything more."

"The term friend is used loosely, here."

"Whatever, Lydia. If you switched from reality for just one second, you'd see what every other girl sees in this school."

Lydia shook her head again as the two came to a stop and she scoured the parking lot looking for her boyfriend. Mike was nowhere to be seen. Jayden, however, was standing next to his car surrounded by his friends and team members. Eloise followed her friend's gaze and smiled softly.

"You should go talk to him, you know. You haven't spoken all day."

"With good reason."

"Not really. Everyone says he's a decent guy, and I haven't anything bad to say about him. I really don't think what happened today was an act to spite you or your boyfriend."

"I'm sure Mike would disagree."

"Maybe. But if you want this barbeque to go smoothly, then you better start clearing the air between them."

Lydia huffed. She knew her friend was right, once again. She strolled over towards Jayden, ignoring the knowing looks from some of friends, and came to a stop right in front of him.

"We need to talk." She folded her arms.

Jayden looked at her, surprised, before steering her away from prying gazes. "Oh? We do?"

Lydia gritted her teeth. "You know we do. What was that during practise?"

Jayden feigned confusion. "What was what?"

"You, Jayden, you! Having a go at Mike, threatening to bench Mike… everything you're doing jerk-wise to Mike!"

He smiled at her tone, the reddish tint in her cheeks, the fire in her blue eyes. "And, um, Mike can't take care of himself?"

"Why are you being like this, Jay?" Her voice lowered, her eyes softened. "We've known each other since always, and okay, yes, we fight and stuff," here, Jayden laughed, "but you've never acted like this before."

The laughter automatically stopped. "Acted like what? I'm acting the same as I've always acted."

"You've never been this jerky."

His eyes burned into hers. "I've always been protective of you, Lyddie. Always. I have issues with Stape, and I'm not gonna pretend I like the dude, but they're my issues and anything you think I'm doing to him is because I don't like him is wrong. I wouldn't waste my time on a snivelling weasel like him. You and Stape, however, completely different set of issues. You're one of my best friends, and I think he's a moron. If I think you need someone making sure you're okay, then I'll do it, because I will waste my time making sure you're okay."

"You're not my dad."

"No, but he's not here now, is he? I'm not trying to piss you off; I'm just making sure you're okay."

"I'm fine." Lydia's teeth ground together again.

"Fine isn't good enough for me, Lyds. Sorry."

"Just… ugh! Butt out, Jayden!"

He held his hands up in defence, his gaze staying locked against hers. He looked hurt for a brief second; only a brief second. He looked straight at her, taking in her posture, her anger. He didn't have a comeback - at least one that wouldn't make her blow up in his face. He knew that was totally impossible.

"Jayden!" A high-pitched voice interrupted their interaction, and Lydia's eyes widened slightly upon seeing Clara Sear skip up behind Jayden and playfully dig her fingers into his side.

"Woah, hey, Clara," he answered bashfully, scratching the back of his neck. "What's up?"

"You coming? Everyone's getting kinda antsy and wanna head over to the mall?" She smiled up at him adoringly. "You ready?" Her eyes flickered over Lydia quickly.

Jayden looked at the brunette. "You wanna come, Lyds?"

Lydia swallowed. "I don't think so."

He shook his head in dismay. "You need to stop being so melodramatic."

"No." Her eyes narrowed. "You need to stop making false assumptions and making things worse. I'm waiting for Mike."

Clara raised an eyebrow. "So, you're dating Mike Stape?"

"Yeah. What of it?"

"No reason." Clara shrugged her shoulder nonchalantly and slyly slid her arm around Jayden's waist. "Just… maybe it's not Jay here you should be yelling at."

Lydia's eyes raged fire and she ignored Clara's comment and instead looked at Jayden. "Just… stop trying to start fights all the time. That's all I'm asking, okay? I need this barbeque to go right and you're ruining it before it's even started. Just promise me you'll lay off Mike. Please."

Jayden didn't answer for a moment. "Like I said, I don't waste my time on people like him."

All Lydia could do was watch angrily as Clara steered Jayden away from her and he followed, looking back at her once as one of the hottest seniors walked him back to his friends.