Disclaimer – I don't own the characters within this story. No infringement is intended as I only take them out to play and make no profit off of this. The song lyrics used at the beginning aren't mine either – they are from the Script.
Rating – T (Language.)
Summary – He had made one mistake and had felt like he had been dying slowly ever since but, six months later as he watched her run from the party with her heels in hand and tears streaming down her face, he knew he couldn't make the same mistake twice.
Author's Note – This fic has been sitting all but finished for months and months now and I've just never got around to fixing it how I wanted it. It got to the stage where I just had to get it finished and out so I could stop picking at it and changing everything so if it's not quite right, that's the reason. The idea came from the song at the beginning but although the story was inspired by it, it doesn't follow it particularly closely. The song was really just the trigger. Anyway – I hope you enjoy. I promise it isn't as dark as All The King's Horses was.
I'm still alive but I'm barely breathing
Just praying to a God I don't believe in.
Cause I got time while she got freedom
Cause when a heart breaks it don't break even.
-The Script – Breakeven-
"Troy, I'm begging you – please don't go tonight. Please, please stay with me.
The words echoed around the empty apartment as though they had just been uttered. He could swear there was a recording of them playing somewhere yet he knew that for a recording to be playing then someone else had to have been here at one point in the last six months and that wasn't true. His apartment was empty and lifeless - just like he was. He was stumbling through life – physically alive, but unable to breathe anymore. Every breath reaffirmed the ache in his chest and he preferred not to think about it but the damn voice kept taunting him. Kept reminding him of what he had let go.
Troy Bolton had it all. He was the twenty-two year old superstar of the not so mighty Oklahoma City Thunder. His team wasn't very good, but he was young, good looking, marketable and really good at his job. He had been a surprise hit in the league - most thought he was too small to really make an impact in the land of the giants but a team had taken a chance and he had repaid them. Falling to the fourth round of the draft had hurt his bonus money, but he had more than made up for it in endorsements since and his career seemed set.
His professional life had been better than he had ever thought it could be. His private life though - if possible that was even more amazing. He had met and fallen in love with the girl of his dreams when he was seventeen and they had been together ever since. She was everything - she had supported him through injury, through dips in form, through the soul-destroying articles that picked apart his game and his head to explain why he would never make it and she put him back together and made sure he believed he could do it - because she believed he could do it.
She made him believe that anything was possible – like the song they had sung together in High School had been almost prophetic. She made him feel invincible and ten feet tall and she did it without even trying. When he had a bad day, she cheered him up, when he was worried, she listened, when he was angry, she distracted and when he was getting too big for his boots, she pulled him back down to her where he belonged. All it took was a touch, or a kiss, or a look for him to forget everything that was plaguing him and knowing that she was there regardless, supported him regardless, loved him unconditionally whether he won or lost, whether he was too short or not, and whether he was a superstar or not kept him sane in the college years where he seemed to hear more about what he had wrong in his game as opposed to how good his game was.
He had asked her to marry him at Christmas break in their second year of college and she had said yes. She didn't care that he didn't think he would be able to make it in the NBA, she didn't care that his dream of giving her everything might have to be down-graded – all that mattered to her was that he had said those four words. The thought of it still made him smile – it hadn't been elaborate as it had basically only involved him dropping out a tree at Stanford, falling to one knee and her saying yes immediately - well, as immediate as she could considering she had burst into tears first and clung to him so tightly that it was impossible for her to form words, but despite the simplicity of the setting, and the proposal, and the ring, it was still by far the happiest day of his life. A year later when he decided to leave college and was drafted she had surprised him by moving to live with him, claiming that she had moved around so much in her life that she would just end up resenting him if he got to live in a city that she'd never stayed in even though they both knew the reason - neither of them handled separation from the other well.
He hadn't realised that the reason she had been so busy the year previous was because she had been studying so she could graduate early with him but, when he asked her about it she had merely smiled and said he would have done the same if it had been for her and she didn't want either of them to be alone and that he should just be grateful that she had decided against Law as a career as she would still have been in college then. So, after graduation she had packed up her diploma and her new job prospects and got in a car and shown up at the door of his new apartment, still filled with boxes late one night with a smile, a suitcase, a batch of her mom's brownies and the declaration that 'giving it some thought, she thinks that even though her Wildcat was a superstar, she'd rather not leave him to fend for himself since it would only be a matter of time before he would starve and she would quite like to marry him before that happened.'
The brownies had ended up in a heap at the door and the suitcase was left out in the hallway for the whole night as he had pulled her indoors and refused to allow her to leave his arms, never mind his bed, for the best part of a day where they had laughed, and talked and had just been together. The way it was always meant to be. Wedding plans were laughed about as they considered jumping in a car and driving to Vegas, but deciding against it as their parents would kill them and settling on trying to get something together low-key back in Albuquerque after they had settled into their new life here. They weren't in a rush now they were together – they would wait for it to be perfect. His new team was discussed and she reassured him that the usual training camp cuts weren't going to change anything because she knew he would make it and she would be there regardless.
He had never been happier. He had it all. He had her, so even if he hadn't had the job, the fame and the apartment he would have still felt like he had it all.
"Troy, I'm begging you – please don't go tonight. Please, please stay with me."
The voice gets louder and louder as it bounces off the walls of the empty rooms and the more it repeats, the harder it is to force oxygen into his empty chest. How had he let this happen?
He knew how he had let it happen - he had lost focus. He had lost sight of everything. He let his head get turned and although he could see it happening, he always believed he would have the opportunity to fix it. It wasn't big things, it was just a lot of little things and, in a way he knew that was what made it worse.
He looked down at the invite in his hand and almost laughed. Six months of avoidance, six months of wallowing, six months of emptiness and he was about to be undone because of his stupid best friend's selfish insistence on getting married. On getting on with his oh so happy and uncomplicated life. He, of course was going to be a groomsman, while she was a bridesmaid because clearly, the universe wanted to taunt him with what he nearly had.
He couldn't help his resentment at the situation - it was, after all, supposed to be their wedding first. They had planned it to happen in the summer, but it turns out going low-key when you're one of the 'hottest' players in basketball is a forlorn dream and they had reluctantly decided to wait until they could do it without the media glare. It had killed him that she was forced to live in the spotlight when he knew she hated it, but she had taken a deep breath and shrugged and said it was a small price to pay to be with him and that she was lucky because she could blend pretty easily when she wasn't with him. She thought no one noticed her but he knew differently. Everyone noticed her and he wanted to marry her more than anything to show the world that she was his and that he was hers.
She had laughed at his possessiveness, thinking it silly as clearly he had nothing to worry about but she humoured him and they agreed that if the next superstar didn't come along in the next season to steal the attention then they were jumping on a plane and marrying somewhere where they could be alone, with or without their friends and family. All they needed was each other – nothing and no one else mattered.
It all seemed so long ago when they were making these plans, yet the pain was still so raw and it seemed unfair that he was sitting here thinking about someone else's wedding, someone who could get married when they wanted. Even if it was his best friend who was so cruelly and unintentionally shining the spot-light on what Troy had and lost and worse, he was going to have to see it highlighted as she stood at the front of an altar in a dress which would leave her outshining any bride.
Six months of hearing the same line echoing over and over and over again in his head would be over with. He would have to see her, watch her smile, laugh, flirt and know that she wasn't his. For the first time since he saw her at that ski lodge in junior year, she wasn't his.
And that hurt.
So he did the only thing he knew how to do - he was going to ignore it, the same way he had ignored everything else in the last six months. If he didn't think about it, he wouldn't have to deal with it.
And if he didn't have to deal with it, perhaps for a second, it would stop hurting.
That had been the plan anyway until there was a knock on the door and he was forced to open it.
"You should be on a plane," was the only greeting his best friend uttered as he barged into the apartment, his expression and his voice not hiding his annoyance at Troy.
"Yeah, I know, but...I have training and games and..." He was going to lie, but Chad turned around and fixed him with a 'do I look stupid' glare that shut him up. Knowing someone since they were five apparently prevented them buying any BS excuse. "I booked a later flight. You guys don't need me for the rehearsal dinner and stuff."
"Troy - you're supposed to be the best man. I haven't spoken to you in six months – you don't answer your calls, you don't check your messages and you sure as hell don't come home on spare weekends. You're supposed to be arranging my bachelor party, getting me loaded on enough alcohol to ruin my liver for the next five years and you're supposed to hook up with the hot maid of honour yet here you are hermitting away in your apartment when you're not flattening your team-mates and getting yourself suspended, which, by the way – everyone is beyond pissed about."
Troy's eyes flashed up. He knew who the maid of honour was, the same way Chad had to know that he shouldn't mention her. Didn't he hear her voice haunting the apartment?
"Don't," Chad warned before Troy could open his mouth. "Don't even try and make an excuse. You are miserable, I get that but so is she and you could have fixed this six months ago if you had thought of getting on a plane and travelling home."
"It's not that easy," Troy muttered. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Tough!" Chad shouted as he kicked the chair. "You know what I don't want to do? I don't want to watch the love of my best friend's life fall completely apart in front of me yet I had to watch that. I don't want to see my best friend ruin not only his career but his whole fucking life because he's too proud or cowardly to make the first step. She was waiting on you!"
"If she was waiting on me she didn't have to leave! I was here - she left, not me! I'm waiting on her - she's the one who ran away again."
Chad bit his lip and looked at him for a second before letting out a low laugh. "Oh God, you honestly have no idea what happened with her, do you? You still have no idea what it was all about? Have you seriously had your head in the sand for the last six months?"
He wanted to say of course he didn't, but he did and Chad knew it as he watched Troy's non reaction to the questions. "Wow. When was the last time you actually checked your messages?"
Troy shrugged, pretending he didn't know but knowing that it was six months previous. Chad merely closed his eyes and took a deep breath before shaking his head, his voice calmer when he began speaking again. "Okay, well that explains a lot. Maybe not to the person who it needs to be explained to, but it's a start. At least it means you aren't a complete ass."
"What are you talking about?"
"Dude...she called you like...a dozen times. We all called you."
Troy's eyes widened. She had called him? She had called him more than once and he hadn't known. "About what? Was she okay?"
Chad shook his head again as he looked over and saw the suitcase sitting at the door of the bedroom and gestured towards it. "You'll find out for yourself when we get back. Come on."
"Troy, listen to me. You need to deal with this one way or another. You need to either end it properly to let the pair of you move on, or you need to get your girl back. This isn't you, and the girl in Albuquerque sure as hell isn't Gabs. It's like freaky shadow Gabs who tries to smile when people are looking, and who laughs when people expect it and who we know goes home at the end of the day and wishes you were there because she wouldn't have to pretend to be happy and that it wasn't killing her to plan a wedding that isn't hers and yours. The pair of you have to deal with this. And, I need you at this damn rehearsal dinner because Taylor's dad and brother both hate me so I need at least one person there who is more miserable than I am."
With that the conversation was ended as Chad grabbed the case and headed to the door leaving Troy to sigh and nod his head as he quickly ran around his apartment picking up his cell, his i-pod, his wallet and his keys before he met Chad again. "Fine - but only because I owe you for crashing your car when I came home at spring break in college."
"Hell no," Chad said as he shook his head and opened the door. "This is payback for me having the sex talk from your dad because you and your girlfriend thought it would be funny to 'accidentally' have a overly loud, fabricated conversation that me and Tay routinely got it on in the locker room as some sort of twisted payback for me accidentally telling Darbus that the pair of you used to make out behind the scenes during rehearsals."
Troy sniggered at that memory causing Chad to whack his arm in indignation. "Dude - it was four years ago! You can't possibly still find it funny!"
"No, I still find it hilarious. I don't know what was better - seeing you afterwards or seeing my dad afterwards. The pair of you looked traumatised."
"You and Gabi were a fucking match made in hell in High School. Golden boy and sweetheart - yeah right. Your twistedness and her brains were a fucking nightmare in combination. I don't know why the hell I'm even making the effort to unite the pair of you again..."
Troy looked up to see his best friend looking at him before Chad stopped and gave him a small smile. "Ah yeah, that's why."
"Because it's like there's something missing when you're not with her and vice versa. Neither of you are happy on your own, and I'm really not sure that you can be happy without each other. Neither of you are that good an actor at even faking it," Chad said with a laugh before crossing his arms as though in contemplation. "You know, Taylor said that you can tell the pair of you were made for each other because you actually look hotter when you're together than you do when you're apart because of the way you 'radiate' off each other. I'm not going to comment on that because that's a chick thing, but I have to say, you have a look when you talk about her, or think about her, or are with her that...you just look a different sort of happy. You give off this vibe – like...I don't know, like nothing can touch you. So yeah - that's why. Besides," he continued as he turned away. "Maybe if you two get back together again you will actually listen to your damn phone messages and quit getting in trouble with your team. Do not think that we didn't hear about the 'personality clashes' you've been having recently, Hoops. Your dad is going to kick your ass – your mom basically had to tie him to the chair to stop him flying out here..."
"Some of the guys were jerks," Troy said with a shrug, not feeling guilty. "They had it coming."
"No offence, Hoops," Chad said as motioned for Troy to walk. "But from what we hear, you've not exactly been Mr Sociable yourself so maybe you might wanna man up and lose the attitude. We all work with guys we don't like, and guys with big mouths – it doesn't mean we're allowed to slug them into unconsciousness and break bones. As I said – just be careful, your dad is going to kick your ass, so you probably want to crash at mine until after the wedding so you don't get killed."
Troy rolled his eyes as he nodded. His dad probably would kill him, but there wasn't a whole lot he could do about that now. All he had to do was concentrate on the wedding – everything else, well...everything else that would just have to wait because he could not think about any of that. If he spoke to his dad he would have to talk about why he was suspended and that...he couldn't deal with that just now.
The trip home had been made eventually and he and Chad had somehow silently agreed that the subject of Gabriella was off-limits as they began talking about the rehearsal dinner, the bachelor party, what the other guys were up to and the like. Troy had filled him in on some of the pro-ball guys he knew - which ones were jerks and which ones were cool, much to Chad's amusement and it had actually been a fun trip.
It had been fun until it was time for the actual dinner.
It had started well - he kept to the side, trying to keep his head down to avoid the awkward questions and the even more awkward propositions as he tried to smile at the right moments, laugh at the right moments and act as though he wasn't scanning the room every thirty seconds equally hopeful and dreading seeing the familiar brunette somewhere in the room. Perhaps she was hiding from him? The thought had briefly flitted through his head as he didn't find her but quickly left - she was many things, but for the most part she wasn't stealthy, at least not where he was concerned.
Sure enough, he eventually saw her as she snuck in the back, mouthing an apology at Taylor for being late. He had known the second she had walked in the room - but so had everyone else. She was that type of girl - she radiated, she drew people to her. His eyes had found it hard not to stare at her all night.
At first he didn't think she had noticed him and he watched her from afar as she ran to Taylor after the speeches and began talking at speed about something or other, apologising again and again about being late before she quickly hugged Chad who seemed to tease her about her tardiness which caused her to slap him lightly as she rolled her eyes and laughed at something, causing him to blush and Taylor to crack up in laughter. He noticed she looked tired, pale and a little too thin but despite it all, she was breath-taking still. He watched as people tried to get her to dance, but she always shook her head, no. She didn't want to dance, and she wasn't drinking as she had to be home early.
It was after about an hour of sending people away that she seemed to relent and he saw Ryan Evans walk over and kiss her cheek and gesture to her arm which caused her to laugh and nod her head as she blushed. She gave him a broad smile and Troy was struck by the fact that even from half a room away, her smile could still take his breath away. He had no idea what was said between her and Ryan, but as he pulled her onto the dance floor, causing her to giggle madly at something, Troy's heart began to ache. How was it fair that he was sat here miserable and she could smile, and laugh and act as though nothing had happened? Why was he in pieces and she wasn't?
He almost got angry at her - he had actually stood to confront her, and that's when he saw her pull away from Ryan and apologising about something before she headed back to Taylor. The smile had fallen away for a mere second but he caught the pain in her eyes before she quickly hid it with another wide smile that would have fooled anyone.
Anyone but him.
She seemed to sense eyes on her as she looked around and that's when her eyes met his. They hadn't seen each other since that night at the apartment. Their eyes met and in that second everything was laid bare before them. She took a step towards him, ignoring Taylor's questions as he took a step towards her but before they could close the gap any further she had taken a step back and ran out the room.
Gabriella Montez was a good person. She was polite, kind, happy and did her best to do what was right. She forgave when people messed up, tried to mend fences after a fight and it took a lot to push her over the edge.
Why then was she running from the restaurant as though she was fleeing a crime scene? She had forgotten her coat and was currently running clasping her bag and her heels as she tried to get away.
She knew he would be there yet her brain refused to correlate the fact that he would be there with the fact that him being there meant she would have to see him.
So much for being a genius.
She got in her car and locked the doors as she leant her head against the wheel before quickly pulling out from the kerb and driving to her mother's house at a speed that could get her arrested, yet it didn't seem to register with her that she was endangering herself and other people. All that mattered was getting away as quickly as she could. It wasn't that she was scared he would run after her, it was more that it hurt to know that he wouldn't run after her and she didn't want it confirmed.
They had been so perfect, and so happy. She loved him with everything she had. She still loved him with everything she had, yet it wasn't enough. The line that sometimes love just isn't enough had actually been true. She loved him, and she knew that he loved her yet...it wasn't enough. She needed more. She needed him. She didn't care about nice things, or money, or fancy cars - she just needed him. His support. Him.
It hurt when it became obvious that he couldn't put her first anymore but that wasn't why she left.
The night she left haunted her. She had begged him to stay. She would have got down on her knees if she had thought it would have worked, but it wasn't good enough.
She knew he wanted to stay, she knew it hurt him to leave her, but he did it anyway. It was his coach's birthday and he was expected to attend - sponsors would be there, the league needed him, the coach needed him.
His fiancée needed him - but she was too far down the list.
She wondered if he regretted that night at all, or if it was a relief when he came back and found her stuff gone, her ring on the table and a note saying nothing more than goodbye and safe journey.
He never came after her. He didn't chase her, he didn't ask her to return home. He didn't call her, or try and find her. He let her go even after she had pleaded on his phone message to please call her so she could explain so she could go back home.
And it killed her to think how easily he had discarded her.
She roughly wiped her tears away, cursing herself as she did it. She had thought she had cried her last tears over him, but everyday there were more. Everyday it hurt.
Everyday it was harder and harder to pretend.
She opened the door and went into the house and sighed as she closed the door behind her. Silence - she was used to that. It used to be comforting, but not now. Now it reminded her of what she had lost, why she had left. She ran up the stairs and went to her old bedroom and leant against the door, letting the tears fall down her face as she bit her lip to keep from crying out.
He was a coward, he knew that. He was weak, he knew that as well.
He had ruined not only his own life, but he knew he had also ruined hers.
He knew all this, which was why, after he had seen her at the restaurant that he hadn't even thought for a second against chasing after her. She ran, and he chased and he knew there was no way he could leave without her but she was nimble, and quick and had dashed between bodies quicker than he could and as he reached the door he could only watch as she had wrenched the shoes off her feet and ran barefoot down the sidewalk. He watched as she collapsed in the front seat of the car and cried, and he watched as she sped off, leaving him standing there, memories of the night she left replaying in his head, taunting him as he began running after her as quickly as his legs would carry him.
He hadn't seen her leave the first time. He had come home from that damn birthday party ready to apologise, willing to grovel for her forgiveness, desperate to make things right before he left on a tour of Europe and the Far East as part of his team's pre-season preparations the following day.
As he had opened the door though, he had known that something was wrong. He had closed his eyes and listened as her words had echoed back at him when the door opened, but he was praying to God or anyone else who would listen that his gut instinct was wrong. That he would walk in and she would be asleep on their bed.
Instead he walked in to find the dark apartment pristine. Her books were gone from the table, the photos she had brought were missing, her coat wasn't hanging on the rail and her cup wasn't sat beside the coffee maker. He had walked in to find her surgically removed from his home, their home.
Her ring sat on the table, along with a tear-stained note telling him goodbye and wishing him a safe journey on his trip. She had stopped short of wishing him a happy life, but the implication was there - she hoped he was happy with the decisions he made. The funny thing was he had found two drafts of the same letter in the waste paper bin - one which was barely readable due to the smudged ink and tear-stains, the other discarded for some unknown reason - perhaps because she had said she loved him in it, perhaps because she had made some tiny error that she had felt the need to scribble over so furiously that she had torn the paper. Whatever the reason, he had been left with the note on the table - 'Goodbye. Please be safe on your trip. Be happy.'
Nine words that said so much. No mention of herself and bar the smudged ink and stains on the white paper, no indication of how her heart was broken.
There was no explanation offered, or needed. He knew why she left. He knew why she had cried. He knew.
And what had he done? He hadn't chased after her - he knew where she would run to after all. He hadn't called her - even though he knew she wouldn't change the number. No, he had walked into the empty bedroom, ignored the empty dressing table and the half empty closet and instead, pulled out his suitcase and had mechanically packed for his pre-season trip. Because that was expected - he owed the team that drafted him, that had given him his dreams that sacrifice. He packed up and set his suitcase beside the door and then went to the table and sat until the sun came up, just staring at the ring that had so recently adorned her finger. He had wanted to replace it with a more extravagant ring when he had started to make more money, but she had point blank refused and almost took it as an insult as she had clutched her hand to her chest as though she were afraid he would steal the ring off her telling him that she would never wear a different one and that if he wanted to marry her then he would have to forget that crazy idea as she thought it was beautiful and didn't want some superficial thing that didn't mean half as much as that one did.
She never took it off, citing her fear of losing it or of him stealing it yet there it was sitting on the table. The simple diamond that seemed to sparkle against her skin looked so dull and miserable when it wasn't with her. Maybe she had been right when she had said the ring was a symbol of them – maybe it would never sparkle again.
He wanted to run, to chase, to catch her. He wanted her more than anything, but he couldn't go. He had an obligation and although he wanted more than anything to forget it, too many people depended on him and, Lord knows, Troy Bolton never liked disappointing other people.
So, at 5.30am he had got up from the table, went to the door, took his suitcase and left the apartment. He left his cell-phone on the table alongside the ring and the note and he went on his oh so important pre-season trip. Five weeks later he returned to the same house, with the same expression on his face and walked over and sat at the same table, holding the same ring and staring at the same note.
Time was not a healer - if anything, time had made it worse. He hated basketball. He hated his team, his coach, the league and his sponsors. He hated them all but mostly he hated himself.
Despite it all though, he still couldn't bring himself to call her. He had turned his cell phone on and he knew there would be messages there from his mother, his best friend, her best friend. He didn't listen to any of them.
The answer-phone in the apartment blinked with new messages, but he didn't dare listen to them. The sound of her voice on the machine would kill him, so he left it.
The answer machine still blinked with those messages six months later.
No one in his new life understood what it felt like. To them it was a break-up and he should just move on. Those people were idiots. He pitied them as much as he envied them. This wasn't just a break up - this was part of him being torn from him, the best part of him being wrenched from his grasp and he hadn't even tried to hold onto it.
His team-mates thought he should just try dating someone else, or screwing someone else. That he should do whatever it took to get his head together again.
They were idiots who had no idea about anything.
They couldn't accept that the superstar was mortal - that his game was so inexplicably linked with his heart. That instead of being more focused due to the lack of 'distraction' in his private life that he was actually a pale imitation of the superstar who had turned so many heads in his first year. Sure, he made most of the shots, he made almost all the passes but anyone could see that it wasn't the same. He wasn't the same. The press called it a sophomore slump; his coaches called it a lack of maturity and a bad attitude and everyone else? They knew what it was. It was a guy trying to muster some level of enthusiasm for life after he had lost the only thing he had ever wanted due to the game he was supposed to excel at. His team knew they could call him out for anything - his lack of enthusiasm, his lack of spirit, his lack of eagerness but if any of them mentioned her in a remotely derogatory manner, or mentioned their relationship in a remotely negative way, there would be a problem. He had already broken one of his team-mates jaw's for it - and received a suspension and a fine in punishment, but he didn't care. It didn't mean anything anymore.
Twenty minutes later, his brain still taunting him with the memories of his bad decision he found himself standing inside a familiar gate, looking up at a familiar balcony above him and almost laughed as it suddenly became four years previous when he was standing in the exact same position, holding a picnic basket and a pizza, calling her up to open her balcony so he could sneak into her room like they had done on countless occasions. A lot had changed since then - they had both went to college, the house had been put on the market briefly before her mother had had a change of heart and decided she couldn't let it go after watching her daughter blossom in the town, they had got engaged, she had changed majors and graduated, he had been drafted.
He walked to the tree he had climbed so many times and almost smiled at the familiarity of it all. He didn't know what he was thinking - he would be suspended for so long if his team found out and he hadn't climbed a tree in two years, but despite the half-hearted warning voice in his head, he barely paused as he began his ascent. Perhaps she had got the sensible part of him when she left him as well as everything else because he just didn't care what the consequences were at that moment in time. What could really happen? He would slip and fall? Well it couldn't possibly hurt anymore than he did now, could it?
He climbed onto the balcony and stood there and saw her huddled in a ball by her door, holding her head in her hands as she tried to comfort herself by rocking. He recognised the gesture - he had done it plenty of times himself in the past six months.
He lifted his hand to knock the window of her balcony but couldn't bring himself to do it, instead he found his hand leaning against the glass and his head pressed against it. It ached being so close to her and not being able to touch her.
He didn't know how he managed to knock the door - but sure enough the sound alerted her of his presence and she raised her eyes up to meet his. She was expecting him, but she was still surprised. She didn't expect him to chase after her - after all, he hadn't chased after her the last time.
She rose to her feet but didn't say anything as she unlocked the doors before she swiftly turned away from him, never meeting his eyes, not trusting herself to stand too close. He watched as she walked over to the door and leant her head against it before she turned around, keeping her gaze focused on the carpet at his feet.
He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing would come out leaving them standing there – him in his suit, her in her black dress, both of them drowning in a thick silence.
"That night haunts me," he cut her off, knowing that he had to take the lead in this if he had any hope of winning her back. She had to know that he was sorry. That it hadn't been easy for him. That she needed to give him a chance to make it right.
She didn't lift her gaze but he saw her grasp the side of her dress as she nodded.
"I know I messed up, and it's killing me," he took a step closer to her. "It hurts to breathe. I can't stay in our apartment because I hear you asking me to stay..."
"Begging. You hear me begging you to stay," she whispered and he could only sigh in response.
"Yeah, I hear you begging," he replies reluctantly. "It doesn't mean anything without you, Gabriella. None of it means anything."
She looked up and he could see her brown eyes, so pain filled and hurt and it made him ache even more. "You didn't come. Even after your trip, you didn't come."
"I'm here now," he said as he took a step towards her. "I didn't know what to say. I was scared that it wouldn't matter. I was...weak."
"I didn't get to be weak," she said her voice getting stronger. "I had to be strong. I had to do it on my own. I needed you, Troy. I needed you."
"You had me! If you had just waited a couple of hours..." He almost shouted, but he reined it in, knowing that his frustration wasn't helping. Sure, she could have stayed, but he knew why she had left. He took her for granted and he didn't see it in time, so how could he get mad at her for doing something about it? "I know I made a mistake leaving that night, but you always had me yet you ran away again. You know – you could have waited and yelled at me for being an ass when I came home and I would have deserved it, but you just...you just ran."
"I know," she said as she wiped her eyes. "I know, I'm sorry but...I couldn't wait. Even though I wanted to wait for you, I couldn't. I didn't know what to do and it hurt too much to stay."
"It was one night. We had been happy. Why would one night, one mistake change that?"
"You don't get it..." She stumbled as she shook her head. "It wasn't one night that made me leave. It was the fact that I was begging you to stay with me and you never even asked why I needed you."
"I know I messed up," he sighed. "I know I did. I know you were hurt, but..."
"I was pregnant," she whispered, cutting him off. "I was scared and I was alone and the doctor was telling me all these things and I needed you to wrap your arms around me and tell me it was all going to be okay but you weren't there, Troy. For a week I barely saw you and then you were leaving for five weeks and I needed you to stay that night. I needed you and you weren't there."
He froze - his heart stopping at the words. Pregnant. She had been pregnant. "What?"
Her eyes widened as though she suddenly realised what she had said and he watched as her face paled and she shook her head and brought her hands to her hair. "N...nothing. I...I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that..." She whispered, almost desperately as she took a step back. "I'm so sorry, don't...no, it...it doesn't matter now..."
"No, it does matter," he said as he reached out and took her arm, and tried to keep his voice calm. "It does matter. Tell me."
Their eyes met, their faces inches apart and for the first time in six months Troy felt. He brought his hand up and brushed it down her cheek cautiously, and to his relief she closed her eyes at the gesture and leaned into his touch. She had ached for that contact as much as he had and his heart fluttered at the thought. He didn't know how long they stood there before she pulled away and leant against the door of her room, her back to him and her hand pressed flat against the door. "You weren't supposed to find out like this. I'm so sorry, I don't know what I'm thinking but I didn't want to tell you like this. It isn't fair on you. I'm sorry. I never meant for you to find out like this."
"I was supposed to find out though, right?" He asked as he stood in the same spot, almost directly behind her. "I mean..."
"I miscarried," she spoke so softly that it was almost hard to hear her, especially as she refused to turn around. "I'm so sorry."
"Sorry?" He choked, trying to get his head around everything. She had been pregnant, and she had lost the baby and she had done it all on her own. Why the hell was she apologising? He closed his eyes and turned around so he was facing the balcony doors. "Why...I mean how could I...you didn't say you were...I would have..."
He rubbed his eyes before giving up and just closing them tightly, trying to get his head and thoughts together to make sense. The night she left, when she asked, begged him to stay, did she know? Is that why she was so desperate? Did he leave her to deal with it on her own?
He felt himself spiralling down inside his own mind before it stopped. He felt a small hand on his back and heard her soft voice in his ear, whispering his name, trying to coax him back to her. His eyes snapped open to see her wide, tear-filled brown eyes looking at him in concern.
"This was not your fault," she said strongly for the first time that night. He could only roll his eyes in dispute, but she brought her hand to his chin and held his face in place as she leant closer and shook her head. "Troy, listen to me - this was on me, okay? This wasn't because of you."
"Why didn't you tell me? I would have...something. I didn't know you were pregnant..."
"I only found out a few days before I left. I fainted a few times at work and just figured it was because of that stupid diet I went on when I thought I was putting weight on," she gave a small laugh at the memory. Sure enough he could remember her pouting at her reflection in the mirror when she didn't think he was looking, worrying about her clothes not fitting properly. "When I fainted the third time they made me go to the emergency room and they found out there. I was going to tell you that night...but I wanted to do the big gesture thing. You know...the little jersey, baby sneaker thing? I had bought the jersey and everything but...I...fainted again and the doctor started...he started talking about how there was something wrong, how my hormone levels weren't good and how it was dangerous and all the tests that would need to get done and I panicked. I didn't want to tell you until I was sure one way or another because I knew you would be scared worse than I was and you were working so hard to get ready for the season and it didn't seem fair to worry you about it when I didn't know what was happening..."
She let go and walked over to her bed and sank down, keeping her gaze on him - almost begging him with her eyes to listen to her. "Then...I got called in to the hospital and I...the doctor kept talking about how I couldn't keep the baby, how it was dangerous for me and everything and I got scared and...I left the hospital. I was going to tell you that night, but you didn't come home until so late and you were so tired and happy that I couldn't tell you...and then you were out so early the next day and the hospital kept calling me over and over and over again, kept saying how I had to go in to talk about getting a termination and I couldn't deal with it...and when you came back, I had made dinner but you needed to go to the party...and I just panicked because he kept saying how dangerous it was and how I couldn't keep the baby and I just...I was so scared because you were leaving to go away the following day and I just..."
She dropped her head to her hands and began crying into them.
"You needed me," he finished for her, his voice hoarse as he looked at her as she nodded desperately.
"I'm so sorry for leaving but I couldn't stay, because...the doctor, he wanted me to get rid of our baby, but I couldn't do that. I would never do that, Troy," she pleaded with him, tears streaming down her face. "And I was so...alone. It felt like I was...alone so I came here and I pretended the doctor was wrong. I didn't tell anyone anything..."
His breath caught in his throat at that, picturing her being so...un Gabriella like. Blatantly disregarding what the doctor said, sticking her head in the sand, pretending...
"I didn't tell anyone, Troy so...it wasn't...I swear, I didn't tell anyone else. Anyone. I didn't...I didn't even tell my mom, or Taylor or anyone. I wasn't...I wasn't going to tell anyone until I told you when...when you came or called," she looked down then and bit her lip and he saw her crunch her eyes closed as though she was trying to block out that thought, as though she was in pain. He knew why - he hadn't come. He hadn't called. She wanted him to come for her, and he hadn't. She eventually opened her eyes again and took a deep breath. "I...it was stupid of me to...ignore the doctors and not tell anyone. I...I collapsed in the wrong place and...I lost the baby and...I was out for nearly a week while they tried to get everything right. I was...selfish and stupid and I made everyone worry. I am so sorry, Troy."
"I don't understand. Why are you apologising?"
"I didn't take care of our baby," she whispered. "I tried, but...please don't hate me. I know I did wrong by leaving, and I scared everyone and I hurt you but I am so sorry for doing that but I was scared and I didn't want to be on my own, but I'm so sorry..."
In that second his own feelings were pushed aside. The last six months didn't matter - all that mattered was the woman sitting on the edge of the bed in tears. He dropped to his knees in front of her and brought his hands to either side of her face, pulling her gaze up to meet his as he used his thumbs to wipe away her tears. "Shhh, baby," he whispered as he laid a soft kiss against her forehead. "I could never hate you. You didn't do anything wrong. It just wasn't meant to be this time, that's all."
She was going to shake her head no, but he tightened his grip to keep her head in place as he leant his head forward, keeping their eyes locked. "I am so, so sorry, Gabriella. I can't tell you how sorry I am, but I need you to forgive me and let me make it up to you. Please. Please."
She lifted her gaze to look at him. "You never came. Even after your tour, you never came for me. I called you and I begged you to call me so I could go home, that it was important. That I needed you and that I was sorry for leaving but you never called me back..."
He sighed and nodded, not able to deny it while he cursed himself for his stupidity. He had been an idiot, but he knew that if anyone could understand, it would be her. He kept his eyes on hers as he brushed her tears away with his fingertips before he let her head fall onto his shoulder as she cried against him. "I was...I am...a wreck without you and all I was concentrating on was getting through the day. Nothing else registered." He reached down and pulled out his cell-phone and showed her, desperate for her to understand that he didn't purposely ignore her. "I never...my phone, I never...you can listen. I didn't check my messages...or the answer machine or anything. I should have, I know and I am so sorry I didn't...I didn't...I just wasn't thinking. I would have come, I would have called...please...you can check...I swear..."
"Really?" she whispered as she met his eyes.
"I swear I would have come. I would never...I wouldn't have ignored you again. I shouldn't have done it the first time, but I hate myself for what I did."
"It's okay," she whispered into his neck but he could only shake his head as he pulled back to look at her. "You didn't know I was freaking out. It's okay."
"It's not okay. None of this is okay. You were always the most important thing to me, and I made a mistake and the worst thing was that I knew I was making a mistake while I did it and I still left that night but," he said as he leant close to her and traced his finger down the side of her face towards her lips. "I will never do that again. I won't make that mistake again. It's just us now - if you give me a chance to fix this, I swear to you, I will make you so happy. I swear, if you forgive me and give me a chance I will make you happy this time."
She brought her own hand up to his cheek and his eyes closed instinctively at her soft caress as she leant close to him and brushed her lips against his ear. "You always make me happy. I didn't leave because of you...I was just so scared and I'm so, so sorry. I promise I won't do it again if you can forgive me for running. I'm so sorry, Troy. I wish...I wish so much that I had been smarter. So much."
He sighed as he pulled her close to him and kissed the side of her head as he wrapped his arms around her. "I think if you're willing to forgive the fact that I was an inconsiderate asshole then I can forgive you getting scared and wanting to be with people who would be there for you. Just so you know though," he pulled back to meet her eyes before leaning in to press his lips against hers gently before pulling back again. "I am always going to be there from now on. Always. Nothing is more important to me."
Fresh tears fell from her eyes as she nodded her head and flung herself at him, sobbing into his shoulder and he could do nothing but hold her and let her get the emotions out, just grateful that he was getting another chance.
They sat like that for a while before she pulled back and wiped at her eyes, smiling slightly before she looked down. "Sorry..."
"Everything," she said as she closed her eyes before opening them again to meet his. "You must be sick of chasing me."
"You must be sick of taking me back after I screw up," he replied, taking her hand with a small smile.
"Never," she whispered as she interlaced their fingers and he couldn't help but look down at the gesture, missing seeing her slender fingers enclosed in his. As he looked down though his gaze fell on the normally silky smooth skin of her forearm, only to find an ugly scar running from the inside of her elbow to just above her wrist. His breath caught as he turned her arm to look at it and his eyes widened in horror.
"What the hell happened here?"
She bit down on her lip and took a deep breath. "Um...the place I collapsed was...kinda at the top of the stairs. I mean it could have been so much worse because I was just about to leave to go out in the car, so...could have been so much worse if it had happened and I had ran someone over or something. I would never have been able to live with myself if that had happened."
"You fell down the stairs?"
"Yeah. The scar...I broke my arm pretty bad. It caused quite a lot of blood loss and that combined with the other complications was why I was out of it for a while. I was unconscious though so I don't know a whole lot about it, but Taylor said it was kinda gross. They had to put a steel plate in to hold it together – hence the kinda ugly scar but...it wasn't my neck, or my back so...apart from everyone making magnet and metal detector jokes every time I see them, it's not actually too bad if you don't look at it. It's kinda ugly to look at but I think it will be a good reminder about not doing stupid things like I did."
She gave him a small smile and he couldn't have returned it if he wanted to. The idea of her in that sort of state was like a nightmare for him. What if she hadn't left? What if she had collapsed at home on her own and no one would have found her? What if she had got in the car...? "I don't understand how this happened. Why did you collapse?"
"Um...it was kinda a complication. Um...it's...have you ever heard of a heterotrophic pregnancy? I had never heard of it either, but that's what the doctors said I had. It's like you're having twins and one twin is growing where it's supposed to and the other...it doesn't and...that's what happened. The baby that was growing in the wrong place did a little damage and it really, really hurt and...I passed out and...landed in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. It...it just...I was so stupid, Troy. I don't know who was going to kill me more – my mom, Taylor or Chad. He...he was very angry at me for being stupid, and no one understood that I couldn't tell them because...because it wouldn't have been right for them to know and you not to." She paused and ran her hand through her hair as she took a deep breath. "I just thought...I thought I could pretend and things would magically be okay. But...well," she gestured to her arm and gave a sad smile. "It could have been so much worse."
Worse? He wasn't sure how much worse it could be. "You passed out because of the pain, you had a compound fracture on your arm which resulted in surgery, you nearly bled to death and you were on your own, how could it have been any worse?"
She lifted her gaze to look at him and gave a soft smile. "I can still have children. The damage...nothing...my idiocy didn't cost us anything in the future if...you know. I mean...um...if we, or I guess me since I don't know what we technically are, but...it could still happen, if...you want to...you know. I understand if you don't because I was an idiot, and...a coward but...I...I'm going to shut up now, I think."
He could see that she hadn't finished flogging herself for her perceived crime, but he had no interest in watching her punish herself, or letting her punish herself because he was too grateful that she was alive, and healthy and was even willing to contemplate having children with him one day but he had to know that she understood that he was sorry for his part in this whole mess. That she knew he was serious about them. That she knew, and was 100% certain that he would never let what happened before happen again.
"Gabriella," he whispered, his voice hoarser than he thought it was. He had to make sure - he had to make 100% certain that she understood. "If I'm ever having children, they will be with you. I need you to please say you forgive me. Or that you can forgive me one day. Please. I can't do it without you – nothing works for me when you're not there. I'll do anything...we can move, or stay, or whatever else it takes. Just please, let me fix this."
She looked at him for a second and he saw confusion cross her face before she reached up and brought her hand to his cheek and began caressing it again. Something caught his eye though and he grasped her hand in his and pulled it in front of him and looked at it. There on her ring finger was his college championship ring, which he had given her after his first year in college. He blinked in confusion before he looked up, and as he did so he caught sight of a familiar necklace on her neck, the ruby stone glittering against the silver metal as it rested on her olive skin. Not releasing her hand, he brought his other hand up to cover his initial as it lay on her chest and his eyes closed instinctively as his hand covered his initial that had marked her as his until he had replaced it with the ring that was in his wallet. But she had left him, and the ring. She hadn't wanted to be his anymore...
"I made a mistake," she whispered, bringing her spare hand up to his hair. "I was hurt and scared and I made a mistake and the second I left it on the table, I knew it didn't feel right but I had to hurry or I wouldn't leave so I didn't go back for it. I needed something...even if you didn't want me, I still needed something to show...to show that I was still yours. That I would always be yours, because...I needed to believe there was a chance that you would understand and take me back if you could forgive me."
His eyes opened at her words. "You still wanted me?"
"Always," she nodded and gave him a smile. "As long as there was a chance that you still wanted me..."
That was all it took and he found himself launch himself up towards her where he met her lips in a fiery kiss. All the residual hurt and fear was poured into it as they savoured the contact, each giving as much as they could as her hand clutched his hair and his enclosed her hand whilst the other held her in place. Minutes past and he could vaguely taste salty tears on his lips, and he didn't care if they came from him or from her because all he knew was in that second that nothing else mattered. She wanted him, she had wanted him from the second she left and they could fix this.
He abruptly pulled back, his breathing ragged as was hers as he waited on her to open her eyes. She did so and he couldn't resist the temptation to kiss her again, slower, softer this time before pulling back again.
"I want you forever," he whispered desperately against her lips. "Marry me."
"You...you still want to marry me?" she asked and he nodded the affirmative before a broad smile broke out on her face, causing his own heart to race.
His smile was almost painful as he dropped her hand to reach into his pocket to retrieve his wallet where he proceeded to pull everything out of it until he found the ring that he had placed there six months ago. He held it up to her and took a deep breath. "There is never going to be anyone else. I feel like a part of me is missing when you're not there. Marry me. Today, tomorrow, whenever just say you'll do it one day."
"Yes," she whispered, her eyes filling with tears again as she nodded. "Yes...of course, yes."
He exhaled the breath he was holding and immediately took her hand and removed his too large class ring from her finger before sliding the engagement ring back on. Immediately he felt calmer seeing it glitter on her finger and he placed a kiss against her hand as he looked at her and smiled.
"You didn't change it," she whispered as she looked at it. "I was always scared to take it off at home in case I came in and it was replaced with something else."
"You said that was the only one you would ever wear," he replied just as softly as he caressed her hand with his thumb. "I needed that to be true."
"It is true," she sighed as she looked down at their entwined fingers and smiled softly at the stone shining in the dark. "I missed it. I missed you. So, so much. Everyday."
He closed his eyes and nodded, not trusting himself to form words as she leant into him and he heard her sniff against his neck, her tears against his skin as he tried to control his own emotions, but failing.
"I promise I'll never leave again. I swear, no matter what I'll stay."
He couldn't formulate words so he merely pulled her closer, enclosing her body in his arms, letting her slot beside him like she had always done. He trusted her to keep her promise, and he knew she trusted him to keep his. He wouldn't make the same mistake he had made that night, and she would open up to him sooner next time. They didn't have to say it again – like so much between them, it was understood.
For Troy, all he cared about was that he was finally complete again. For the first time in six months he wasn't suffocating under the weight of the memories of the worst decision of his life and having her in his arms, where she belonged, just erased all that pain. He could breathe at long last and he knew he was never going to be stupid enough to let that go again. The months of going through the motions, of existing, of praying to anyone to turn back the clock, of ignoring everything were hell, and he was never going to put either of them through that again. He lifted her head from his shoulder and wiped her tears with his thumbs, completely oblivious to the tear tracks down his own face. He leant close and brushed his lips against her cheeks and then her lips before he pulled back and looked at her. "I love you. I will always love you."
She started to cry again as she smiled at him through her tears. "I love you too. So much...I love you."
He grinned at her and refused to let her hide her face in his shoulder again. As much as he loved being able to hold her, he hadn't seen her in so long that he needed to see her face. Her beautiful smile, her hypnotising eyes, her radiant hair... "So...am I still going to have to crash at Chad's tonight?"
She giggled and he found his heart racing at the sound. God he had missed the sound of her laughter. "I wasn't planning on letting you leave tonight..."
His smile broadened as he leant in and kissed her again, remembering how addicted he was to her. "I'm not planning on leaving you ever," he whispered into her ear, making her shiver. "You're stuck with me forever."
"Good," she replied back as she reached down and tugged at his hand. "I can live with that."
He could only kiss her again in response. The night would be spent just holding each other, catching up, and talking. They had a lot of ground to cover – he would tell her about how he felt like his career was falling apart, she would explain to him how she had come to the rationale that sticking her head in the sand was a good idea. They would talk about the baby they had lost, and learn from their mistakes, and listen and re-affirm the unbreakable bond between them and after everything was cleared up, they would move on. Together. The way it was always supposed to be with them.
Because, for the first time in six months, they were together, they were whole, they could breathe and nothing else mattered in the world as long as they were together again.