Disclaimer: I do not own, nor am I associated with, HSM.

Timeframe: Senior year, but pre-HSM3


Sharpay had walked into the gym just after last period. She'd come in because of Ryan, who was arranging a Poli Sci study session with Chad and Troy. She proceeded to yell at her brother for making her late to drama club and for making her set foot in the gym. Coach Bolton had come out at that point and yelled at them both for being in the gym during practice. That was all that saved Zeke. With Coach barking at them all to get in gear the other guys didn't have a chance to mock the way Zeke followed Sharpay's every move and by the time practice was done it was forgotten by all but Zeke.

He excused himself from the others as they exited the locker room, saying he forgot his math book and would get himself home. He actually kept up the pretense of passing by his locker but from there made his way further into the school. Practice made it easy for him to sneak into the back of the theater and he knew just which seat to take so that neither Darbus nor the performers could see him unless all the house lights were up.

And there she was, sitting on the piano bench next to Kelsi. No doubt she was imposing her will on the composer's newest song, but Zeke couldn't help smiling all the same. There was a time when she would have snapped her fingers, given Kelsi an imperious command, and expected her will done the next time she saw the poor girl. But the last year had mellowed Sharpay Evans. Okay, not much, but enough that Zeke was sure he wasn't wasting his time. Now Sharpay was at least showing Kelsi what she wanted and giving the composer a chance to voice her own opinions. Zeke was certain that those opinions would be overruled, but at least they were being heard. Maybe, given a bit more time, Sharpay would actually let those opinions influence her own. And then maybe she would just believe in the original vision and let it go.

Zeke chuckled. That would never happen and he didn't actually want it to. An unopinionated Sharpay wasn't a Sharpay he was interested in. He liked her caustic attitudes. He endured her temper tantrums with a smile, shrugging off his friends' questions of whether this time would change his affection for her. It wouldn't.

Finished with her critique of Kelsi's work Sharpay took center stage and Ryan hurried up to join her. He spared an apologetic glance for Kelsi, which was returned when Sharpay repositioned him so she was the center of attention. As the revised number began Zeke found himself tapping along. Kelsi may not have liked Sharpay's changes, but the song wasn't half bad.

Zeke had long ago given up trying to explain himself to his friends. They would never understand his feelings for Sharpay and there were much more painful things they could have chosen to tease him for. If they wanted to question his feelings, he would let them, and be glad that they weren't going to be his competition.

"Mr. Baylor."

Zeke winced at Darbus's voice behind him. "I thought you were up there," he said, nodding towards the stage.

"Coach Bolton asked to see me after your practice let out. I assume you're here to join the stage crew." She added the last as she breezed past his row. He fell into step behind her, surrendering to his fate.

As Darbus discussed the newest changes to her production with her three star pupils Zeke grabbed a paintbrush and began work on one of the sets. None of the other members of the stage crew said anything and he passed the next half hour painting and watching rehearsal fall into disarray. In the end Darbus dismissed them all in a huff, ordering Sharpay, Ryan, and Kelsi to meet her before homeroom the next day to work the kinks out.

Zeke hung back while the others filed out, volunteering to put the toolboxes and paint away for the night. He was just folding the last drop cloth when he heard those familiar heels tapping behind him. He turned to see her standing not five feet away, giving him a look that would have meant she didn't think he was worth her time if she hadn't been standing alone with him in the empty theater.

"What are you doing here?" she asked finally.

"Watching you practice," he said honestly.

She rolled her eyes and looked out at the rows of crimson seats. "Ryan's choreography has too much ballet, not enough jazz, don't you think?"

His smile widened. "I wasn't watching Ryan practice. I was watching you."

Sharpay turned sharply and looked him over as if he was a puzzle she couldn't figure out.

He could see the question in her eyes, making its way to her mouth, and he knew he couldn't explain it to her any better than he could to his teammates so he quickly asked, "Can I walk you to your car?"

She smiled but it had a haughty twist to it. "I suppose so. I'll even give you a ride home if you're lucky." She turned, dropping her purse into the air as she did so.

He lunged, catching it just before it hit the ground, and catching up to her in the same motion. He could feel her watching him as they walked down the halls and was content to enjoy just being near her. Let her think he had stayed in hopes of bumming a ride home, they both knew there was more to it than that. And one day, when they were more than just the high school odd couple, when she decided to stop pretending she was just a drama queen and he was just a jock, he would tell her the truth, the real reason he didn't mind her tantrums and icy demeanor.

He believed in Sharpay Evans.