Richard followed the delicious scent that filled his apartment and was not surprised at all to find his daughter hard at work in the kitchen, working on the turkey for the day's Thanksgiving feast, even if it would be just the two of them. After helping her clean the turkey and putting it in the oven, Richard had been shooed out of the kitchen's vicinity so Gabriella could cook in peace. Now though, Richard couldn't resist the scent.
"Dad," Gabriella whined, "I thought you promised to stay away and let me cook! I know you're just looking to get some early bites to eat and it isn't going to work. Turkey still has an hour left and the pie has at least half an hour anyway."
"Meaning you'd actually be a nice daughter and give your old man some early nibbles if they were ready?" Richard questioned, a hopeful look on his face.
Shaking her head but wearing a smile, Gabriella said, "You are more incorrigible than Troy you know that? Especially when it comes to food."
"And you too I think."
Her father's statement made Gabriella freeze, panic blooming in her chest. Carefully, she finished brushing the butter onto the turkey before sliding it back into the oven and closing the door. She used this time to try to calm down her nerves but found it wasn't particularly working all that well, especially as she felt her father's eyes on her.
Making sure not to look up at him, Gabriella swallowed as she fiddled with the small pot that now contained the cooling butter. "Yes Daddy?"
It was clear as day that Richard had made his daughter highly nervous and he couldn't help but feel bad yet somewhat amused. Sure most fathers would be disturbed or even feel threatened by his daughter getting involved with a guy, but Richard felt like this wasn't the normal scenario either. "You're avoiding looking at me. It's okay you know."
"What is Daddy?"
Biding his time, Richard leaned against a counter while he watched Gabriella begin getting the mashed potato mix ready. He watched her a little longer, seeing how very on edge she was in that moment, so polar opposite of her normal demeanor with him. "You're falling in love with Troy Bolton."
Luckily, Gabriella had already put the pot down onto the stove otherwise she no doubt would have dented the linoleum floor of the kitchen after she dropped it. "I what?"
After realizing that his daughter could possibly have a nervous breakdown, Richard decided to end his teasing and help try to ease her more than likely over fried nerves. He had planned on crossing this topic later, like after dinner, but since it had come up now, he figured now would be as good as ever. "Gabriella, you know I love you unconditionally, right? And that I'd never judge you for your choices."
Gabriella wasn't quite sure where her father was going with this but she knew he was also aware of something going on between her and Troy just as Lucille had been aware. "Yes, I know that." Nibbling her lower lip as she forced herself to look back at her father, she wasn't all that surprised to see that same loving look on his face. "You are the one who convinced me that going to see a therapist was the best for me and wouldn't make me a freak."
"And I was right by that, right? You aren't a freak, hardly."
"Sometimes I feel like it, especially these days, but not for going to therapy. You were right about that."
"So what is making you feel like a freak then?"
No matter how cool her father was with most things, Gabriella wasn't totally certain he wouldn't lose it if she admitted the truth, but she also knew she had never made it a habit of lying to her father, not after everything they had been through together. "You really want to know?" Taking her father's single nod accompanied by his sincere look, Gabriella took in a deep breath and let it go. "I feel like a freak because, as you suspected, I'm falling in love with Troy all over again and I can't seem to stop it no matter how hard I try."
"Then stop trying to fight it."
Her mocha eyes widened at his words. "Wait, what?" Could her ears have deceived her or had her father encouraged her feelings for Troy? "Aren't you mad? Upset? About to lecture me for being so stupid?"
"If you were being stupid, yes, I wouldn't hesitate to tell you that, you know that, but you aren't. I've seen this coming for a long time and saw it up close at State last week. I'm not blind like your mother or Jack. In fact, I'm willing to bet that Lucille knows as well."
"Actually, yes, she does. She said so when we were visiting her last weekend with Ari."
"See? Us old people aren't completely out of it and blind. And we've talked about this before too, in so many words. Why are you so freaked out now?"
"Because," Gabriella began, keeping an eye on all her different dishes she was working on, "this isn't just in the crush stage anymore." After her admission, Gabriella watched for a few moments longer to study her father's expression, which didn't slip from being the supportive expression at all. "I think it may actually be getting serious."
The word 'serious' though caught Richard's attention, feeling his right eyebrow arch at her words. "Serious? How serious Gabriella? Do I need to go back to Albuquerque with my shotgun?"
Hoping he was at least half teasing, Gabriella quickly shook her head. "No, no, not in that way. We aren't making love Dad, no way. I meant more like, well, considering being exclusive."
Relieved, Richard nodded his understanding. "Ah, well that's to be understood. I'm sure it's nice back in Albuquerque to not have you two feuding these days in that house."
"I'm sure Mom and Jack are very happy," Gabriella agreed, "but we're not so concerned with them except for how they'll react if they found out about us."
"And that answers my next question as to what they know. Don't trust telling them?"
"It's not really a trust thing. More of a fear of getting in trouble thing."
"Getting in trouble? Are you doing anything that would warrant that fear?"
"Well, somehow I think dating Troy while they are married and we all live in the same house together may qualify as something that would get us both into trouble."
Richard realized what Gabriella's point was and had to admit he agreed. "So basically you feel like if they knew, Jack and Maria would not be quite so understanding as Lucille or myself. How do you plan on taking this to the next level and becoming more serious, being exclusive that is, if you aren't honest with them?"
Knowing this was her pain point, Gabriella shrugged. "Number one reason why I'm not rushing head on into this with him Daddy. This is a big thing, I know it, he knows it, and I think the people who know already know it."
"But it also isn't as world ending as you make it seem to be either," Richard pointed out. "There's a lot to be said about your history together but I think if the both of you want it badly enough, you can make this all work out for the better. I can't speak for Jack but I know that your mother, despite the ways she chooses to show it and how she acts sometimes, does love you as unconditionally as I do. In time, when you're ready, make sure to give her a chance to prove to you she can handle this truth in your life."
"Maybe." Gabriella focused on her next few steps in her cooking before giving her attention back to her father. "So, enough about me. What about you? Don't you think you deserve some happiness in your love department too?"
When he didn't immediately respond, Gabriella looked up from the pot she was stirring to see him uncomfortably shift, running a finger under the collar of his shirt. "Well, funny you should bring that up…"
"Daddy, what is it? You can tell me anything. I love you unconditionally."
Richard couldn't help but snort at this. "Way to use my words against me there dear daughter but I know you mean them too. Actually, I have been dating someone and it's to the point that I'd like for you to meet her, if you want."
When the slotted spoon dropped from Gabriella's hand and into the pot, Richard expected to hear screaming from his daughter. Instead, he was delightfully surprised by excited squeals before she launched herself into his arms. "Daddy! How could you have kept this from me? This is amazing! I'm so happy for you!"
He caught his daughter with ease. "Wait, what? Where's the temper tantrums? The demands about how I could move on from your mother? All that stuff that I've prepared myself for by reading articles and books?"
Gabriella pulled away from his embrace to look her father in the eyes. "Really? You really think I'd be that upset? After all you've done for me after Mom broke our hearts? All the love you've shown me, the support you've given me? Dad, you put your life on hold to make sure I was going to be okay. I won't ever forget that."
Oddly yet not all that oddly, Richard felt his throat tighten with emotions as he stared down at his daughter. "You really think all that?"
Hating to pull away but knowing she had to pay attention to what she was cooking, Gabriella nodded before dislodging herself from her father's embrace, giving him a smile over her shoulder. "I really do. I may not have told you how much it meant to me back then but it truly means a lot. I know especially now how much you sacrificed and if this woman makes you happy and get that twinkle in your eyes, I'm all for it. Is she coming over tonight? I don't know if I made enough but eating less isn't a big deal."
"No," Richard replied, still a bit amazed this conversation was going so well. "She has plans with her own family. She has a son who goes to NYU and they went over to her parents' apartment. Tonight is just about you and me baby girl."
"Sounds wonderful. I really am happy for you Dad, please know I meant that."
"Oh I do, but I just am reminding myself how lucky I am that you are."
Shrugging her shoulders, Gabriella kept her eyes on the stovetop while she continued to talk. "It's like I said. You are more than deserving of having your own life, your own way of living it. Besides, if I get to find happiness in the romance department again with your blessing, it would be wrong of me to begrudge you the same. So how serious is this Daddy?"
"Well it is exclusive and we do sometimes talk future together. It's important though for her to get my daughter's seal of approval though before taking this any further."
"So when do I get to meet her?"
"She and her son, Cody, will be meeting us for dinner Saturday night. Is that okay? I know it's your last night in New York and all…"
"Dad, it's fine," Gabriella answered, giving him a reassuring smile. "In fact, it's better than fine. I'm looking forward to it."
"Great, I'll go give her a call now and confirm and we'll be set. Don't forget about basting the turkey one last time Gabriella," he warned before leaving the kitchen, not seeing his daughter roll her eyes at him.
"He acts like I've never done this before," she muttered, giggling quietly though at the thought of how happy he looked when he just mentioned his girlfriend. True, it was odd to know her father was dating someone again but she meant what she said. Gabriella was happy for him and knew in her gut that this could the next chapter in her father's life after her mother in the field of romance.
Leaning back in his chair, Troy groaned as he felt his stomach begin to argue with the large amounts of food he just consumed. "Mom, that was all so delicious. Thanksgiving is always so good when we're with you."
Lucille smiled at her son, who was now patting his stomach. "Well the proof to back up your compliment is in the number of plates of food you had."
"And they weren't modest, half filled plates either," Ariana teased. "We're talking massive, back breaking plates. God, how can Gabriella be attracted to a pig like you? She must see you at the dinner table stuffing your face every night."
"Just like I don't understand what Frank sees in you dear sister," Troy countered, sticking out his tongue at his sister while he leaned back forward over his plate and eyed the last of the sweet potato and marshmallow helping on his plate. "I mean, you take forever to get ready and you drag him shopping every week."
"That's what boyfriends are for. Better get used to it too little brother if you stand a chance of making things work once you and Gabriella become an exclusive item soon, and by judging from things the last time we were here with her, it should be any day now."
Troy licked his lips as he contemplated his sister's words that didn't surprise him all that much yet sort of startled him, to hear them out loud. After all, they weren't thoughts far away from his own. "It's all up to her. She is the one calling the shots."
Ariana smirked, taking a sip from her water glass. "Proof right there that I got you primed for her. The girlfriend always calls the shots, no matter what."
Lucille rolled her eyes at her daughter. "Now now Ari, let's not go down that road. I think in today's world, that's not always the case although it seems like you like to think that."
"True, but it's a nice thought to have anyway."
Rolling his eyes, Troy shook his head as he sipped from his water glass. "You never, ever change Ari and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing."
"When someone is as wonderful as moi, why change?"
"Ego maniac much?"
"Nah, just honest."
"All right you two, I know you love getting into each other's hair but can't we have a peaceful holiday dinner? Troy, you know your sister is just playing it up since you keyed in on it and Ari, that really is unflattering to hear you talk that way even if you're joking." Lucille watched as both of her children gave her sheepish looks. "It must be said though that there are just some things about you two that hasn't changed over the years and I find it actually charming."
"Charming?" Troy asked. "Me and Ari? Hearing that we're funny and cute from Gabriella is one thing but to hear you say that…"
"It's what? Just the simple truth is all. With everything that's happened, you both, well actually all three of you including Gabriella, could have turned out much differently."
Ariana caught Lucille's drift and smiled at her mother. "But we didn't because we had each other plus we had you as Gabriella had her father. Family is important to survive what we did. And as much as Troy and I harass each other, I think at the end of the day we are pretty close as far as siblings go."
Troy readily agreed. "She may be annoying at times but I recognize that I can be too. Ari has also listened to my woes and issues over the years when she didn't have to. Helps a lot too when I want advice and even when I don't."
"The latter being my specialty," Ariana commented with a laugh. "Same goes for him though. Troy has given me some good perspective as well. It's a give and take when we're being silly or serious."
"Sounds like you both are thankful to have each other. Music to a mother's heart." Lucille beamed at her children. "I'm thankful to have you both here once again and to have another nice family meal. I do miss you both so much while you're away."
"As we do you too. At least my college campus isn't too far but a few hours drive away."
"True. Speaking of colleges, Troy, what have you been thinking about in terms of where to go?"
With a sigh, Troy leaned forward and placed his elbows on the edge of the table as he collected his thoughts, glancing briefly at Ariana before focusing on their mother. "I've got a few places in mind that I've been thinking about for a while now but a few new ideas have also come to mind."
"Well you better make it quick before Dad signs you up for U of A without asking," Ariana truthfully warned. "You know he's been wanting you to go there since you were in diapers, right?"
"Thanks for the reminder dear sister but I haven't forgotten, that'd be impossible to do. It's an option but a few other schools have come up that I really want to look into too."
"Like I don't want to jinx it." Ariana merely stared at him. "What? I believe in luck, fate, and the ability to jinx things and I don't want to do that. They are good colleges, trust me. No Clown University for me, promise."
"Oh, I don't doubt that but it makes me wonder what exactly these new changes are to your college plan."
Feeling their mother's gaze, Troy looked back over at her. "I'm still looking in the area too just so you know."
Lucille gave her son a warm smile. "As much as that means to me, I want you to know that your college decision is your own. No matter where you choose to go, I'll support you and will do everything I can to help you get there, scholarship or not."
Unexpectedly, Troy got up from his seat and rounded the table to hug Lucille. "Thank you Mom, thank you."
More than happy to, she returned his embrace, squeezing him a bit tighter before letting him go. "I mean it too."
"I know you do," he replied, returning back to his seat and ignoring the smirk on his sister's face. "It just means a lot to hear you say that, to be the opposite stance from the pressure that is Dad these days. He's pushing us all hard this season but especially me."
"He is only trying to do what's best for you, what he thinks is best anyway."
"That's the point exactly, what HE thinks is right. I want to find the right college for me and that means the best location, the best academics, the best sports program, and the best experience for me."
"Tell me where you find that cause I'll so transfer with you," Ariana commented. "But I guess each campus holds something different for everyone. So since you aren't revealing your college options yet, do you know about Gabriella's?"
"I have a hunch," Troy admitted, "but that's not my secret to share, far less than my own choices. We'll let you all know when the time is right, when it's final."
"Enough said. Speaking of Gabriella, I'm surprised you haven't run off to call her today so far."
Troy shrugged, leaning back in his chair. "She's with her dad, who she hardly sees. She sees me every day. I think she's more than overdue some uninterrupted time with him, don't you? Figure she'll call me if she needs or wants to but I'll probably text her in a little bit."
Ariana beamed. "See, I did instill good boyfriend traits in you! Giving her space and respecting her time and will, perfect!"
"Don't you think that maybe this has more to do with Mom's raising than yours?"
"Well duh but I so had a hand in this too!"
"Are you denying all the advice I've given you over the years Troy Bolton?"
"No, but I am denying that my behavior is a direct result of your influence. Sure, some of it definitely is, but I'd like to think Mom, myself, and Gabriella also had an effect too."
"Troy does have a very good point, especially about himself having a big part of who he is." Lucille looked between her children and caught a glimpse of them both sticking their tongues out at each other. "Wow, what wonderfully mature children I have. I knew I should have had you two further apart in age."
Ariana laughed. "Like that would have helped. If I was still me and Troy was still him, no matter if we were ten years apart, we'd still be like this. You know you love it Mom."
"Sadly, I think I do."
All three laughed as they continued to fall into their post Thanksgiving Day feast sleepiness, each in truth thankful to have each other.
Gabriella's eyes opened as she heard the quiet beep, turning her head to see the face of cell phone lit up. Squinting to read the small font, she saw she had a new text message. After grabbing it, Gabriella pulled it closer to her face, opening the cell phone to find a text from Troy.
Hoping it's not too late but wanted to say Happy Turkey Day again. Thinking of you.
Smiling, Gabriella quickly typed back.
I was actually dreaming of you. Happy Thanksgiving Troy to you and your fam. Miss you.
Once the message was sent, Gabriella closed her cell phone and dropped her head back on the pillow, seeing that it was past midnight by indication of the clock nearby. She was tired but was very happy that Troy texted again. As much as it was nice spending uninterrupted time with her father, she did miss Troy a lot but was able to find a little bit more clarity on their situation with the help of her father too. In fact, Gabriella was pretty sure she actually had an answer ready for Troy for when they got back.
Another beep caused Gabriella to open her eyes again and lift her arm up so she could see the new text after flipping open her cell phone once more.
Sorry to have stopped the dream. Miss you too. Can't wait to see you Sunday. I'm thankful for you esp 2day. Night.
Despite her sleepy state, her fingers flew across the little keyboard forming her reply.
Sweet dreams. I'm thankful for you too, every day it seems these days. Night.
Knowing he wouldn't reply back most likely, Gabriella flipped her cell phone closed and put it on her nightstand, turning on her side and closing her eyes again, easily falling back asleep and to a new dream that involved a certain blue eyed boy.