Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters or places created by the High School Musical franchise or by Disney nor the songs used in this story by various artists.
Troy Bolton. A man of twenty-six who loved to enjoy life, spend time with his family when he had the time away from work, and enjoyed surfing and playing the guitar. He graduated high school at the age of eighteen, along with his childhood friends, and also graduated college, albeit a little later at the age of twenty-five. Troy was easy going and was always there for his friends who shared that camaraderie with him in return. His best friend, Chad Danforth, who had been at the same preschool with him was still his best friend while he also had other close friends, like an ex-girlfriend who was also in the acting business, Sharpay Evans, and his buddy, Zeke Baylor, who he met while working out at Troy's favorite gym in L.A. Troy also had a fascination for the aquatic life and loved nothing better than just being able to sit in an aquarium, watching as all of the sea's creatures swam and scurried around in the tanks. It gave him a sense of solitude and being just one of millions of God's creatures, a sense of peace when the outside noise became too much.
TJ Barnes. A man who got lucky when he was a twelve years old kid playing basketball in a local park. He was approached by some guy who asked if he had a parent around. Of course Troy did and he pointed out his father, Jack Bolton, to the older man. Troy back then was so focused on basketball that he just shrugged it off and continued to shoot hoops until the man came back over with a smile on his face, with his dad by his side. Everything happened so fast but by the end of that day, Troy was back home, laying in his bed, with seventy-five more dollars in his savings account that he didn't have when he left the house that morning. Troy had just continued on with his practice while cameras shot his every moment for a little over an hour, starting only after he and his father signed some paperwork. Eventually, Troy saw his work on a primetime family television show but was more excited about the call he got from that same man, Trevor Fields, who turned out to be an assistant director and wanted Troy and Jack to come down to a small studio there in San Francisco for some tests in front of the camera. Next thing Troy knew, he was TJ Barnes, a successful actor with a long list of principal and extra roles in commercials, television shows, and movies, along with modeling and doing the occasional voice-overs.
Yes, TJ Barnes was Troy Bolton's stage name but it was also his identity as far as anyone in the industry was concerned, as well as to his fans. TJ was the flashier, more outgoing, flirty man while Troy was the more private person who really had a lot more to him than what was presented to the public.
Today though, driving home for a long overdue visit, it was Troy Bolton who was driving down a familiar street of his hometown, the street he grew up on for most of his childhood and teen years, before TJ Barnes even existed. He often felt like he had two different personalities living inside of him but Troy reconciled that feeling years ago, knowing that there would always be TJ Barnes who existed for his fans, for the public at large, at least as long as he remained in the entertainment industry. Meanwhile, the real Troy Bolton would stay hidden from the rest of them, only to be known by his close friends and loved ones. Troy flipped his longer than usual brown bangs off his forehead with a sharp turn of his head and felt a grin grow across his lips as he saw his younger brother playing with some of the neighborhood kids in the cul-de-sac on scooters and bikes. There were twenty-one years between Troy and his baby brother Michael but Troy always made sure he remained as close as he could to the youngest Bolton. Michael was born when Troy was twenty-one, a complete surprise to the Bolton family. His conception was a dangerous health risk to their mother, Lucille, since she was thirty-nine at the time but both mother and baby made it through alive.
When Troy parked his car in the driveway, he stepped out of his black sapphire pearl Lexus SC 430 only to feel a pair of small arms immediately hug his legs, signaling that Michael had spied him. "TROY!"
"Hey little man," greeted Troy, picking his little brother up and holding him with one arm. "Man you're getting big! Are you sure you aren't ten instead of five?"
Michael giggled as he shook his head. "You're silly Troy. Mommy says you are home for a while to stay."
"I am, I am. I do have some work things to do but you are definitely my priority. Where's Hayden?" asked Troy, wondering where his seventeen year old sister was, knowing wherever she was, she probably had her cell phone fused to her ear.
"Mommy grounded her for kissing a boy," Michael answered honestly. "She's banished to her room."
Troy chuckled at this, realizing that was definitely true Hayden behavior, ever the wild child of sorts. "Well, what do you say we go inside? Or do you want to stay out here playing some more with your friends?"
"I want to stay with you," replied Michael, allowing Troy to lower him back to the ground but instantly taking Troy's large hand with his tiny one.
With a nod of understanding, Troy popped open his trunk and pulled out his large duffel bag and then a suitcase, setting it on the ground as he closed the trunk before picking it back up and walking into the house. "Hello? I'm home!" he announced, hearing no response, shrugging as he figured he just wasn't heard above the television and radio he heard. "Mmm, something smells good."
Troy dropped his bags in the hallway, letting go of Michael's hand in the process as his little brother ran off and up the stairs despite his earlier declaration of sticking by Troy's side. 'Eh, there will be plenty of time to hang out with him,' Troy thought, wandering through the family home, chuckling a little as he saw that not much had changed, just a few new pictures of Michael and Hayden hanging on the wall. He stopped in the hallway as he heard the television going to his left from the large living room while he heard a song he recognized from a Broadway show playing to his right. Cocking his head to the side a little, Troy followed the Broadway music, which led him closer to the kitchen where the wonderful aroma was coming from.
"Mom, since when do you listen to Broadway and cook? Whatever it is smells…" started Troy, only to forget what he was about to say as he entered the spacious kitchen to see that it wasn't his mother cooking at all but was a petite brunette who had her back to him. Before he could say anything further, he heard a familiar voice calling his name.
"Troy! You're home early! We weren't expecting you for another hour or two," greeted Lucille, kissing her eldest son on the cheek as they returned each other's hug. "You didn't speed did you?"
"Umm, no," lied Troy, rubbing the back of his neck a bit nervously. "Why would you assume that?"
Lucille eyed Troy suspiciously, immediately seeing the lie. "Because it's the truth. Crazy boy, I swear! I shouldn't be all that surprised though considering you've always liked to drive fast. Speaking of old habits, I see you were drawn to the wonderful smell of dinner. She always does a great job of taking care of this family. It'll be such a loss when we lose her in the near future."
Troy's eyes bugged out as he realized that the brunette who was still happily cooking, unaware of their presence thanks to the energetic Broadway tune coming out a bit loudly from the speakers of the IPod player, was the nanny his parents had gone on and on about in the past two years. Troy had been home a few times over the holidays mostly but had never met her due to her own time away to be with her family. 'I never thought she was this young though, considering all the things I've heard from Mom and Dad.'
"Gabriella, dear," called out Lucille, smiling at the brunette, who glanced over her shoulder and put the cooking utensils down before turning around and smiling back at the older woman. "I'd like for you to finally meet our eldest, Troy. Troy, this is Gabriella."
"Hello," Gabriella greeted, a sweet smile playing on her lips as she tore her eyes away from Lucille to meet the curious light blue orbs staring back at her.
"Hey," he returned, walking towards Gabriella until he was within reach with his right hand offered in front of him. "So you're the wonder woman who has tamed my wild child sister and also safe guarded my baby brother."
Gabriella giggled a little, making Troy grin. "I wouldn't say I'm wonder woman or anything that extreme. Just someone who has come to love your family like my own," she replied, taking Troy's offered hand and shaking it. Before she could pull her hand back though, Troy raised their joined hands to his lips where he ghosted the softest kiss on the back of her hand. Gabriella swore in her head, as was habit with taking care of an impressionable five year old, knowing that her cheeks were most likely pink as a result.
Troy watched as the young woman blushed, diverting her eyes away from his gaze, her evident embarrassment clear not only by the color of her cheeks but her behavior as well. It had been too long since Troy had escaped from Hollywood. Even when he was off in exotic locations, he always felt trapped because he was surrounded by the same type of people, day in and day out, no matter where he was so long as there was a camera or another "celebrity" nearby. Judging from their first few minutes together, Troy could already tell that he was going to enjoy getting to know his brother's nanny and his sister's tutor all in one.
"That's good to hear that you love them so. Thought Hayden would have turned you against the family in a heartbeat or should I say turn you off to the family," stated Troy, smirking as Gabriella playfully rolled her eyes.
There was an exaggerated gasp of horror behind Troy and before turning, he knew instantly who the owner was. "I am not that horrible of a bitch Troy Jonathan Bolton! You take that back!"
Chuckling, Troy turned just in time to have his sister fling herself into his arms, hugging him tightly. "I missed you too kiddo."
"Like I'd miss the likes of you," teased Hayden, pulling back from the embrace. "I see you met Ella. Wait until you taste her cooking. It's amazing!"
Troy turned back around to see the amused expression on Gabriella's face before she turned her attention back to the food she had cooking. "Is that so?" he asked, suspecting Gabriella not only had to mind the food but was trying to hide another adorable blush. "Can't wait to taste it."
Gabriella desperately wished her cheeks would cool off, knowing it was more than just the result of cooking that heated them up. She heard the momentary silence before Lucille engaged her son's attention again, grateful when the three voices left the kitchen. 'God Gabriella, get a grip! He's just the son of your employers. Yeah, a rich, sexy, famous, more handsome in person, son of your employers.'
A little more than two years ago, when Gabriella Montez was looking for a job to help get her through college, she didn't go out seeking to find the family of a famous celebrity. In fact, Gabriella hadn't made the connection between TJ Barnes, a man whose face had adorned her walls at one point in her younger years, with the growing boy she saw in pictures around the house until her best friend Taylor McKessie was over to study and pointed out the obvious. Gabriella thought when she interviewed for the job with Lucille that they were just a normal, average family with two working parents who just needed some extra help with their youngest, tutoring for Hayden mixed in with some healthy guidance she wouldn't accept from her mother while Michael needed to be cared for and loved, an easy thing to do in Gabriella's mind. Soon, her responsibilities around the house began to expand shortly after she started to include cooking on most nights but in exchange for all that work she got paid as well as given room and board, which definitely helped Gabriella. She even had Sundays off regularly along with the nights she had classes as the Bolton family mainly needed her for daytime when both Lucille and Jack were at work.
That was one thing Gabriella really liked about the Bolton family, especially after finding out that their son was TJ, who she actually began to think of as Troy as that was how he was often referred to and the only way Michael knew his older brother. Both Lucille and Jack still worked despite having a son who had earned millions and both were very down to earth, raising their children no differently. Their home even was the same one they had lived in before Troy became famous, surrounded by the same neighbors for the most part that had been around for most of Troy's life as Gabriella had learned over the past years, finding comfort in that, especially when she was taking care of the house and both Hayden and Michael when Lucille and Jack went away for the occasional weekend.
At twenty-three years of age, Gabriella liked to think of herself as pretty independent but sometimes a part of her missed her family and the feeling of belonging to that type of unit. Her mother, Sophia, had passed away when Gabriella was eight from a sudden brain aneurysm, leaving her to be taken care of by her nineteen year old brother, Luke. Their father had left all three of them when Gabriella was younger than four years old, leaving her with hardly any memories of him or clue as to what he looked like. When he left, Sophia had made sure to remove any reminders of him, pictures and all. Luke was Gabriella's only family and although he happily offered her what little financial help he could, Gabriella wouldn't ever dream about letting him do that with his own family now to care for.
'Which reminds me, time to call him on my way to classes tonight to see how he and Birgitte are doing,' thought Gabriella, draining the water from the pasta as she poured it into the colander. Gabriella pushed all other thoughts aside as she concentrated on finishing the dinner, making sure to keep the shrimp completely separated from the chicken to keep little Michael safe from what would be a terrible food allergy while sautéing them in the light garlic butter sauce.
Once Gabriella was done cooking, she scooped out the pasta and put it on the five plates she had set out on the counter, putting the shrimp and sauce on three plates over the pasta and the chicken and sauce on one plate over the pasta it held. She placed the four plates in their usual places before turning to walk to the oven to pull out the garlic bread, giggling as she felt two little arms circle her legs. "Hey sweetie!"
"Gaby help! Troy is coming to tickle me!" exclaimed Michael, just as Troy himself appeared in the kitchen, his hands outstretched with wiggling fingers towards Michael, who quickly scooted behind Gabriella.
Laughing, Gabriella reached behind her and swung Michael up into her arms, settling him onto her hip. "Oh, don't worry Michael. Your big, bad brother won't be bothering you right now. It's dinnertime and I'm sure he's hungry. Go get Hayden and your parents for me please."
After getting a kiss to his forehead, Michael was set back down on his feet before he ran off to do as he was told with no argument.
Troy watched their interactions with interest and amusement, glad to see Gabriella cared for his little brother like that. "You spoiled my tickle attack," pouted Troy.
Gabriella rolled her eyes, turning to walk towards the oven and turning it off before pulling the pan out. "You're a big boy, you'll survive."
Although she hadn't spared him a glance, Troy still found himself smirking at Gabriella, who was currently engrossed in cutting the garlic bread. "Well, I'm not sure how you knew that but I'm honored you do know about that aspect of me."
It took a few moments but Gabriella soon caught onto what Troy was implying by his spoken words. "Eww, no! Ugh, anyway, which do you prefer? Chicken or shrimp? Wasn't sure if you had food allergies like your brother."
"Shrimp please," Troy replied, seeing her nod her dark head before finishing cutting the bread and then turning to put the shrimp and sauce on the last plate full of pasta that was on the counter. With the plate in one hand and the tiny pot with the remainder of the chicken and sauce in the other, Gabriella walked back to the table and set Troy's plate down next to Michael's plate, where she put the remainder of the chicken, his usual amount that he could eat. Next, Gabriella put the garlic bread in a basket and tossed the salad last, putting both on the table just as Lucille and Jack entered the room, followed shortly by Hayden and Michael.
Troy sat down where he saw Gabriella put his plate, silently counting the place settings and seeing it was just enough for his family. He could hear water running in the other room and could guess it was Gabriella washing the pots and pans already.
Seeing his son's confused expression, Jack explained, "Gabriella usually doesn't eat with us even though we wish she would!"
The last half was said in an almost yell eliciting an amused laugh from the kitchen while the water kept running. Fifteen minutes later, Gabriella appeared, smiling as she saw the entire Bolton family together for the first time, seeing how much they got along despite the spats between Troy and Hayden that sometimes came up, at least the way Hayden tells it.
"Hayden, don't forget you have that quiz tomorrow in Honors Chem," stated Gabriella as soon as she saw she had caught the younger girl's gaze. "I'll try to come home before it's too late to help you study."
Hayden shook her head. "I got it, relax Ella. I'll do the dishes too."
Gabriella just grinned at Hayden in response. "Hopefully you all will enjoy the rest of dinner. See you in the morning then!"
A chorus of good-byes were said before Gabriella left the room, leaving Troy curious. "Date night?"
"I wish," murmured Hayden. "She's got classes at night and usually eats on the way."
Lucille nodded. "Gabriella always takes care of this family before herself. She's graduating at the end of the summer and I'm pretty sure we'll lose her after that."
"How old is Gabriella? I really thought your nanny and tutor would have been older," stated Troy, taking a drink from his water glass.
Jack chuckled, popping the last shrimp on his plate into his mouth. "Gabriella is twenty-three I believe. She's far more mature than that though. Really incredible with teenagers and kids alike."
"She would have to be in order to be able to work with the wild child over there," commented Troy, grinning as he threw Hayden a look only to have her glare back. "Are you seriously in Honors Chem brat?"
Hayden stuck her tongue out at her older brother before putting a forkful of pasta into her mouth. "Just because I'm blonde doesn't mean I'm dumb Troy."
"Hate to break it to you kiddo but you are as much blonde as Michael and I are and that's not at all. Blonde coloring with your brown roots showing doesn't really count," teased Troy, delighted in the instant flare in temper he caused. "Sorry but you are a plain old brunette like the rest of us."
Outraged, Hayden sputtered before she exclaimed, "No wonder Sharpay dumped your ass! You have no respect for women and their beauty! How is the b-i-t-c-h anyway?"
Troy glanced at Michael seeing that his little brother was intently listening but didn't seem to understand the word that Hayden had inappropriately brought into the conversation, even if she spelled it out. "How many times do I have to tell you to stop calling her that? And no, Sharpay and I didn't break up because of some stupid squabble over surface beauty. We broke up mutually because we realized we were better as friends and that was two years ago! At least Sharpay is her natural color now."
"Are you calling me fake Troy? That's rich coming from the guy who is called TJ and acts entirely different outside of this house, especially when he is in precious Hollywood!" Hayden almost yelled, her voice raising in outrage at being called fake.
"I'm an actor Hayden! It's my job to pretend I'm someone I'm not! Hello, newsflash!" Troy responded, his own voice beginning to rise. "Don't call me fake for doing my job! Speaking of which, when was the last time you lifted a finger to support your texting habit instead of killing Mom and Dad's funds by running the phone bill up? I support myself and try to help this family too when they will accept it. Don't even dare call me fake for doing my job!"
Jack let the argument continue for a few more moments, believing it was healthy to let the siblings get it all out in the open, as they always seemed to do whenever Troy first got home before settling back down into caring siblings most of the time. When Michael began putting his tiny hands over his ears though, Jack decided it was time to pull the plug on the overheating argument, feeling for sure now that Hayden and Troy both had gotten their claws into each other enough to last for a while, sometimes wondering if they did it just because they missed each other so much, which was after all typical sibling behavior.
"Enough! Troy and Hayden, both of you stop it," demanded Jack with a bit of steel in his voice that instantly shut up both brother and sister. "Hayden, you were in fact born with brown hair, which makes you a true brunette but we let you color it blonde because it makes you happy, thinking blondes have more fun or something like that. Troy, yes, acting is your career and we know that also includes PR and other stuff and we appreciate the financial help you have given us every once in a while as well as the elaborate presents we all wish you wouldn't give because you should keep your hard earned money for yourself. Hayden is in Honors Chem along with other advanced classes and has been all this past year and will be again next year, her senior year. She is actually very bright like you Troy but she just has to apply herself. Gabriella has helped in that department and has kept Hayden on track. But yes, Hayden, you could cool it with the amount of texts you send. I'm surprised your fingers haven't fallen off. Now that is all out in the open and clarified, did I miss anything? Oh, and Hayden, your brother's love life is his own business so it's best to stay out because you know how protective he can get with that type of stuff."
Both brother and sister shook their heads silently, each glaring at the other while the tension in the room slowly started to vanish, Jack's timing being just right in the fact that the fire to fight with one another began to drain from the siblings.
Lucille was secretly amused seeing how this argument differed from those Troy and Hayden used to have when they were a lot younger, even though tonight's seemed reminiscent of them. 'I have no doubt they'll be over it by the time Michael's bedtime comes around.'
For the rest of dinner, Troy and Hayden avoided talking to each other, instead engaging their parents and Michael in conversations, Troy finally gaining the wonderful relaxing feeling of being home by the end of dinner. When Michael was done, Hayden got up and started gathering the dishes, making good on her word to Gabriella of washing the dishes. Feeling the need to do so, Troy stood up and gathered the rest of the plates, letting his parents relax with Michael as Troy walked into the kitchen, placing the dishes in the sink before turning around and gathering the glasses and whatever else he had missed in a few more rounds.
While Hayden started washing the dishes, she had noticed Troy coming in and out until he finally just rested up against the counter, his left hip leaning against the edge as Troy just watched her. "Surprised I know how to wash dishes too?"
Troy chuckled a bit at this. "Somewhat but more amazed at how you've changed since the last time I saw you. I think maybe you even got taller."
Hayden rolled her eyes. "Gee, thanks big brother. Way to boost the confidence level there and of course I've changed since the last time you saw me. It was about four to five months ago you know."
Guilt crept into Troy's mind, seeing Hayden's facial features soften as she thought of this, knowing that time period since the last time he was able to come home was too long, leaving him missing so much of all of their lives. "I'm sorry squirt, I really am. It's just been so busy with the latest project in the past couple of months."
With a sigh, Hayden nodded her head. "I know, no rest for the big Hollywood star as much as his family wished it for him. I really miss you when you aren't here Troy."
A crooked grin graced his lips as he said, "And I miss you too just as much as I miss Michael, Mom, and Dad. I promise the next break I get, you are all coming down for a few weeks to hang out with me there. I didn't want you all coming before because Michael may get freaked out by some of the random paparazzi hunts but I think he'll handle it well now."
"We'll make it into a spy game or something," added Hayden, smiling at the idea of going to L.A. and spending time with Troy. "Since you're just standing there, you want to help dry?"
"Gladly," Troy replied, grabbing a kitchen towel and getting right to work, brother and sister working in peace and in tandem, making both of them feel like there really wasn't any time between their actual visits of each other, a feeling both Hayden and Troy loved.