The Definition of Us
Disclaimer: I do not own HSM.
Chapter One- Define Bliss
bliss (noun): a state of extreme happiness or euphoria.
Gabriella Montez hitched her bag onto her shoulder as she hurried through the corridors of East High on the last day of her junior year. The bulletin boards had been stripped bare except for a few notices advertising local businesses offering the students summer jobs, and the doors of empty lockers swung on their hinges. Most of the students had already left the building but Gabriella had stayed behind to wait for her best friend. Rounding the corner and walking towards the chemistry wing, she saw the familiar profile of Taylor McKessie talking to a handful of students outside a classroom.
The student government had been voted into their positions during the week preceding finals and were required to meet on the last day and decide on the dates for freshmen orientation in August. Taylor had been elected as class president for the seniors returning after summer and Gabriella knew there was no one else who would take the position as seriously as Taylor did. Stopping a few feet behind the group, Gabriella leaned against one of the lockers to wait. Someone had left their locker mirror inside the open door and she smoothed away a fly away curl before digging into her bag to find her lip gloss. Smoothing it over her lips in a practiced motion, she slipped it back inside her bag as Taylor left the group and approached her.
"You ready?" Gabriella asked, straightening her simple yellow sundress and sliding the sunglasses that been resting on top of her head down to cover her brown eyes.
"Yeah, thanks for waiting. I can't believe Principal Matsui wouldn't let us leave until we submitted the entire itinerary for orientation week in the fall. I mean, ever hear of summer?" Taylor complained as the girls headed towards the front doors of the school.
"At least now it's done and you don't have to think about it for another month," Gabriella offered as she slipped her hand into the front pocket of her bag and brought out her car keys. Scanning the parking lot, her eyes fell on the familiar pink convertible parked in front of the school. "Why is Sharpay still here? I saw Ryan leave with Kelsi just after the bell."
"She said something about picking the fall musical when I saw her in homeroom," Taylor said, shrugging. "She, Ryan and Kelsi want to do West Side Story for the November show but Mrs. Darbus said they have to put together a budget to make sure the department can cover the cost."
Gabriella nodded at Taylor's explanation. Sharpay and Ryan Evans were co-presidents of the drama club while Kelsi could learn or already play every song ever composed for the theatre. Sometimes, she composed her own music and East High performed an original theatre piece, but usually she let Sharpay pick a classic that they knew would attract a crowd. Taylor was usually busy with student government, the chemistry society and peer tutoring but when Gabriella wasn't practicing for the scholastic decathlon or helping in the tutoring center she liked helping out the drama club with set design. Since transferring to East High from Albuquerque's only private school on the south side in her freshman year, Gabriella had gotten to know Sharpay well enough that although they weren't necessarily friends, they got along.
"She's probably not happy that Ryan stuck her with that job. All she could talk about this morning was heading to Lava Springs and enjoying the pool," Gabriella told Taylor as they made their way to the back of the parking lot where Gabriella had been forced to park that morning after leaving the house late.
"I know," Taylor replied and groaned, "I can't believe I'm stuck working there again this summer while you get to go to Colorado. Stupid student government running orientation two weeks before school starts."
Gabriella looked at her and grinned. She and Taylor had worked at Albuquerque's country club every summer since starting high school but this year Gabriella had decided to try something different and apply as a camp counsellor at a summer camp in Colorado. She had been accepted and offered one of the lifeguard positions and would be helping the drama instructors. She felt bad leaving Taylor at the mercy of pretentious club members but she would have Sharpay and Ryan, plus Kelsi was working there again along with some of the regular staff.
"It won't be that bad," Gabriella assured her friend before looking back to find her car. Her eyes narrowed when she saw the rusted, beat-up truck that was blocking her in. One side of her red convertible was against the curb and decorative hedge while the other bordered a black SUV whose license plate read WILDCAT. She didn't have to read the plate on the white truck to know it spelled out HOOPS and she didn't have to ask who owned it. She let out a frustrated scream. "Why me? He could have parked anywhere, why there?"
Taylor tried to hide her grin but failed. Gabriella glared at her and let out an exasperated sigh. Crouching on the ground, she rummaged through her bag until she found her cell phone. Punching in a familiar number, she waited for the owner to pick up while Taylor threw their things in the back seat and hopped the passenger side door to wait for her. On the fourth ring, the line clicked open.
"Yo, Gabster!" Chad Danforth answered, wondering why his next door neighbour was calling him. It couldn't be for a drive home because he had seen her car in the parking lot when he arrived that morning. He had actually taken the spot beside her.
"Is your friend, there?" she asked in an angered tone. "The one who feels the need to go out of his way to annoy me despite our limited interaction?"
"You mean Troy?" Chad asked, laughing at how frustrated the usually easy going and cheerful Gabriella sounded.
"You know who I mean," Gabriella growled. "He purposely blocked me in with his piece of crap truck and I want to go home. Preferably five minutes ago."
Gabriella heard Chad laugh and then yell something she couldn't make out to someone else. Another shout could be heard and then someone laughing. She was going to kill Troy Bolton when she saw him. She was going to run him over with her car. She was going to-
"I'll be right out, Gabs. Give me two seconds." Chad interrupted her thoughts before hanging up. Looking at Taylor who was offering her a sympathetic smile, Gabriella rolled her eyes.
"Chad's coming to move it for His Highness," she informed the other girl, hopping the driver's door and slouching in the seat.
Chad sighed and shut his cell phone, slipping it into the deep pockets of his basketball shorts. Grabbing the jersey that he had shed during the two-on-two game he had been playing with Troy, Jason and Zeke, he slipped it over his head and yelled to Troy.
"Dude, I need your keys!" Troy Bolton looked away from the basketball ball net he was aiming at and saw Chad putting his shirt on.
"We're not done yet!" he called back, not even watching as the ball arced through the air and went through the net. It bounced once before Zeke grabbed it and passed it cross-court to Jason.
"Someone needs to move your truck, you're blocking Gabriella in." Chad watched Troy think for a moment and then sighed when he saw the lazy smirk sprawl across his face.
"I know. She was in my spot." Intercepting the ball from Jason, he took another shot at the net, watching this one go in.
"Well, now she wants to go home so if you're not going to move it yourself, I need your keys to move the truck. Stop being such a prick." Chad held out his hand as Troy dug in his pockets, found his keys, and threw them. Catching them in his hand, Chad turned his back and walked out of the gym, running once he hit the hallway until he reached the parking lot.
Troy smirked and turned back to Jason and Zeke who were running passing drills while they waited. It was the last day of school and the last time they would play together until returning to school in the fall. Usually the four of them worked at Lava Springs in the kitchen, like they had for the last three summers, but this year Troy had nailed a sweet job in Colorado as a camp counsellor. The owner was a friend of Jack Bolton, Troy's dad, and he had called last night to ask if Troy would be interested working as an athletic instructor. Aside from swimming and track and field, they were looking for someone with experience in basketball, soccer, and baseball. Troy wasn't so sure about the soccer part but the other two were perfect. The money was twice the amount of what he made at the country club and he wouldn't have to deal with every guy under the age of thirty flirting with Gabriella and Sharpay the whole summer.
Bouncing the ball twice, he jumped and let the ball soar through the net. It wasn't that he and Gabriella Montez were enemies; Chad played peacekeeper too well for that to happen. It was more the fact that Gabriella seemed to be the only person that was unaffected by the status quo that dominated East High. The cliques that formed and stayed inclusive during their time at East came about from focus and dedication rather than stereotypes and cruelty. The drama department ran rehearsals everyday after school and through every free period, with shows running back to back without taking a break. Basketball ran practice the same and when its team members weren't on the court, they were playing for the baseball team or the golf team or the soccer team or lacrosse. No one had time to see each other outside of class unless they shared a common interest, hence the status quo. But Gabriella Montez was the superhuman who did everything.
Troy saw her everywhere. He would see her running lines with Sharpay or Ryan during homeroom before the bell. He would see her on the track outside as she ran laps against Chad for track and field practice during lunch hour and she was normally in the chemistry wing for free period helping Taylor with the scholastic decathlon. After school, she normally left the building just ahead of Troy, following hours in the auditorium helping to build and paint sets. She refused to let anything get in her way or stop her and while Troy found it admirable, he also found it annoying that she held no specific group in reverence. She didn't drool as the basketball boys walked by or scurry away when Sharpay was in one of her moods. Troy found it unsettling and had made it his primary goal during his sophomore year to push her buttons.
It usually worked.
Gabriella straightened in her seat when she spotted Chad approaching in her rear-view mirror. Turning the key in the ignition, she watched as Chad pulled open the door to the truck and let the engine turn over. Backing it into the vacant spot on the other side of his SUV, Chad cut the engine and climbed back out, heading over to where Gabriella was waiting for him.
"Problem solved," he told her with a wink and she gave him a weak smile. They had been neighbours since childhood and close friends until high school when activities and friends had them drifting apart from lack of time. They still chatted once in awhile and family barbeques occurred occasionally but their conversations never went deeper than school events or homework.
"Thanks," she said quietly as he leaned on Taylor's side of the car. "I didn't mean to get you involved; I just didn't want to walk all the way back there."
"Don't worry about it," he shrugged. "He only does it to rile you up. His ego needs a boost for all those times you refuse to treat him like a king."
"He's just like every other male student in the school except he can shoot a basket with his eyes shut. Nothing special in the grand scheme of things," Gabriella pointed out, shifting the car out of park and into reverse.
"You know how he is. Anyway, I have to get back. I'll see you girls at Lava Springs on Monday? Fulton was so kind as to bump me up to head waiter. I get a bigger tray. It will be thrilling," he replied in a sarcastic tone that was only used in reference to the middle-aged, balding man who expected his staff to fly when he said jump.
"He gave Taylor a purple planner. She was excited too," Gabriella told him with a grin while Taylor rolled her eyes. "But I'm not working there this year. I'm headed to the wild outdoors of Colorado."
"Seriously?" Chad said, his eyebrows so high that they were hidden by his bushy hair. "You're ditching us?"
"Yes," Taylor sighed dramatically, "I haven't decided if I should be able to survive or not." Gabriella giggled and elbowed her.
"I got a position at a summer camp about two hours past the border, just past a town called Maplevine Ridge. Pay is good and they board me for free. Feed me for free. And the bonus is of course that Mr. Golf Pro won't be spending excessive amounts of time in the kitchen discussing the many characteristics of his nine iron." Gabriella closed her eyes and let a dreamy expression cross her face. "Blissful summer. You're on your own."
"I'm sure I'll live," Chad shot back as he stepped away from the car and let Gabriella back out.
Waving bye and telling Taylor he would see her on Monday, he turned and jogged back to the gym where Troy was playing one-on-two with his friends instead of waiting for his team mate. Sighing, Chad stepped onto the court and intercepted the ball from Zeke, passing it to Troy who didn't even miss a beat before taking a shot at the net. A thought passed quickly through Chad's mind as he remembered what Gabriella had said.
"Hey, Hoops. Where did you say you're working this summer?" He caught the ball Troy threw to him and turned, putting Jason at his back and shot.
"Maple Grove? No. Maple Woods? No. Maple Hill?" Troy shook his head in disinterest. "I don't know. Something with trees. Some stick town in Colorado. We're driving up Saturday. Why?"
"Just curious," Chad said, grabbing the ball and going for a lay-up. "At least there's no Fulton."
"And no Sharpay and no Gabriella and no Star Dazzle Award banquet. It will be bliss." Troy smirked at the dazed look that crossed Zeke's face at the mention of Sharpay. She was the only reason he slaved away at a stove all summer. Chad smirked back but not for the reason Troy was.
"That's second time today that someone has used that word," Chad muttered.
Troy didn't hear him as he caught a rebound of the backboard and took another shot. Perfect shot. Perfect job. Perfect summer.