"To Be Oh So Officially Official" copyright hollybaggins; May 1st 2009

This is a derivate piece of fiction featuring characters copyrighted and trademarked by Disney Enterprises Inc. It is based upon High School Musical, copyright 2006 by Walt Disney Enterprises Inc., all rights reserved. The author is not connected with nor is this work authorised by Walt Disney Enterprises Inc., or any other motion picture studios. This work is solely intended for posting on Fanfiction, for the benefit and enjoyment of its intended audience. No commercial or financial benefit accrues or is intended to accrue to the author as a result of said posting. Any unauthorised copying or redistribution of this work might subject the party responsible for such unauthorized copying or redistribution to legal action by the owners of the aforementioned copyrights and trademarks.

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A/N: Hey, y'all. Thought I'd serve up a tasty one shot for you! I needed to do this one since it's sadly occurred to me that the High School Musical fan fiction fandom isn't as large as it once was… That's not natural! So, here's a one shot set just after High School Musical about Troy and Gabriella admitting their feelings for one another. Let's recapture exactly what made us fall in love with these fantabulous films and characters back in 2006!

I Feel Sparks and The Completely Dull and Uneventful Life Of… are now on live journal. The link is on my profile ;) Enjoy xx

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Troy Bolton stood up tall and proud, confidence radiating from every part of his body. His eyes held determination; motivation and above all else, stamina.

But that was all bullshit and he knew it.

"I'm going," he declared meekly, clearing his throat as his best friend, Chad Danforth, offered him a friendly pat on the back.

"You're going," he responded, tapping his shoulder.

"I'm on my way." He didn't move.

"Oh, definitely." Chad could not keep the grin off his face.

"I'm marching up there… and I'm -- I'm --"

"-going to ask Gabriella to be your girlfriend?"

"Right!" Troy pumped his fist in the air dramatically. "Totally. Going over there. Now. I'm going. I am so psyched."

"Really." Zeke Baylor coughed a chuckle from beside his friend. "Because it looks to me as though you're about to bail."

"No." Troy shook his head adamantly, keeping his piercing blue gaze on the beautiful girl across the room. "No. See? I'm so going."

"You know," Chad mused, taking a gulp of his beer. "You might actually want to consider walking towards the girl instead of standing here and telling us you're going."

"I will," Troy stated. "In a minute. Or two. Or maybe three. Holy fuck, this shit does not happen to Richard Gere!"

"Dude, if you wanna be Richard Gere, go out there and find a prostitute to tame. Seriously, why are you so fucked up over this? At the championship game last week, you were about to kiss her!"

"Yeah, and why didn't that scenario play out as planned? Oh yeah, because you have the worst freaking timing in the whole freaking world!"

Chad held up his hands in defence, a boyish grin highlighting on his features as he saw his best friend of almost fifteen years blush a deep cherry colour. This was a side of Troy Bolton he'd never seen in his life; a side he never thought he would see. Sure, they'd had their fair share of girlfriends - mainly hot and popular cheerleaders that just happened to accent their own popularity and masculinity, but none of the relationships were never serious. Troy was all about basketball - he'd always been about basketball. And no girl had ever come close. In the past couple of weeks, Chad had watched his best friend fall for the new student at East High; had watched him miss practice to audition for the school musical with mentioned new student - had watched him and this 'IQ-elevated temptress' perform on the auditorium stage with such passion and poise and something else he couldn't quite decipher. Chad hadn't recognised his best friend for the best part of two weeks. But he couldn't deny that it was for the better.

Winning the championship game only the week before had further proved to Chad about Troy's feelings towards this girl. He had mastered the perfect plan to get her out of his life and the result was Troy's lack of concentration and motivation in the game. Something that had never occurred before. And when Chad, Zeke and Jason Cross had admitted and righted their wrongs the result was a motivated Troy; a determined Troy… a Troy that would score the winning basket with mere seconds to spare on the timer. This was a Troy they wanted to get to know more.

Taylor McKessie, president of the chemistry club and captain of the scholastic decathlon team nearly had a heart attack upon hearing Chad's suggestion. But when good reasoning was put behind the need for her to hold a high school party at her house, she was more than happy to oblige.

"You so could have kissed her at the after party, Bolton. It's not like you didn't have the opportunities. The poor girl was literally throwing you signals and you were just…bleugh. What the hell is the matter with you, man?"

Troy shuffled his feet nervously on the spot and dug his hands deep into his jeans pockets as Gabriella Montez dominated his mind again. She was standing with Taylor and Kelsi Neilson across the room, a small glass of simple orange juice in her hand. Orange juice. The girl had come to a high school party and was drinking orange juice. No vodka, just orange juice. Troy's brows furrowed together as he studied her, wondering just what on earth it was about Gabriella Montez that made him feel so nervous inside?

Sure, she was gorgeous. He always had a soft spot for brunettes. But he couldn't really describe her as a brunette. Her hair was a deep chocolate brown - a gorgeous shade of deep chocolate brown. And a colour that gorgeous could not have simply be known as 'brunette'. Her eyes matched her hair but Troy had noticed that if he looked at her in a certain light, he could easily detect small spots of green in them. Gorgeous, he thought. Simply gorgeous.

The word 'gorgeous' was beginning to lose all meaning to him. Beautiful. A better description. But he wouldn't just date anyone because they were beautiful. He thought Halle Berry was beautiful but he wouldn't date her - the long distance between them just wouldn't work out.

Gabriella loved math and science. Troy hated math and science. Gabriella loved literature. Troy loved NBA magazines. He never really cared too much for Shakespeare… or even for those really old authors his English teacher would try and encourage her pupils to read. But then why was it, whenever Gabriella striked up a conversation about Jane Austen or J. R. R. Tolkien did Troy just want to melt beside her? He couldn't figure it out. He knew that in becoming her boyfriend, he'd have to up the ante where his mind was - getting C's in tests just wouldn't do when your girlfriend was constantly getting A's. He'd actually have to make more time for studying rather than playing basketball with his friends and dad. A month ago, he knew that if anyone had told him this, he'd be hinting strongly with a 'oh no, hell no!' but as it was, in this moment and time, he couldn't wait.

He was brought out of his reverie when Chad and Zeke gave him an encouraging nudge towards Gabriella. Troy instinctively dug his heels into the carpet and pushed his friends away. "Would you lay off me?"

Jason gave out a loud drunken groan. "For fucks sake, Bolton! Freaking glacier's melt quicker than you move! If you don't ask her out, I will!"

Troy studied his friend for a moment, trying to catch the sarcasm in his voice. When Jason shrugged his shoulders and started to walk towards Gabriella, Troy panicked and dragged his friend back by his shirt. "Don't you fucking dare!" Troy threatened as Chad and Zeke sniggered. "I laid eyes on her first. Standard rules of friendship. You snooze, you lose."

"You went to Colorado, dude. I call that a hyooge head start which also isn't fair."

"And I foresee my foot up your ass if you hit on her."

"And I foresee Chad and Taylor getting hitched before you actually make a move!" At this, Chad choked on his drink and cast a daggered glare at his friends with wide eyes. "Seriously, it's not like you've had any problems getting girls before! What the hell is up with you?" Jason lifted his hand to smack Troy on the back of his head - a move the basketball captain knew he deserved.

Seeing the confused looks on all three faces, Troy squared his shoulders and set his sights on Gabriella Montez. "Nothing. Don't know what you're referring to. I'm going now." And he started walking towards her. One pace. Two pace. Three pace… And then he turned back around. "But it's not just a … a …" he stuttered, trying to find the word. "She's not just a girl is she? She's Gabriella and…and…and--"

"Oh, holy fuck," Chad breathed, folding his arms and shaking his head in dismay. "Boys, we have a lot of work to do."

"No." Troy shook his head quickly, walking back to the small group. "You don't need to work on anything, okay? Just… give me your best chat up lines. I just need something to start the conversation off."

"I have one," Zeke's eyes gleamed. "You go up to her and you say 'heaven must be missing an angel because you're right here on earth'."

Troy pulled a face. "Too corny."

"If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?"

Troy shook his head rapidly in Jason's direction. "Too… creepy."

"How about 'here's ten cents. Go call your mom and tell her you ain't coming home tonight'?"

Troy threw his hands up in the air. "No way, Chad! That's too… slimy."

"Okay." Chad stamped his foot, growing increasingly annoyed at the situation. "Then why don't you just go over there and tell her you like her and that you want to get together? 'Cause this shit is seriously getting irritating!"

"No, no, no," Troy pleaded. "I want to do this without fucking up, okay? I need to do this without making myself look like some freaking idiot and above anything else, I don't want to freak her out."

"Troy, she's not gonna get freaked. You two are gonna happen - we've known that for days now. Just go up and ask her."

"And say what? 'Hey, Gabriella; I really like you and I was wondering if you'd want to go out sometime'? Yeah, right!"

"I know," Zeke scoffed. "Like you'd say something like that to a girl you want to date!"

Troy rolled his eyes. They'd never understand how big a deal this was for him. He'd gained a friend in Gabriella - a friend he felt as though he could say anything to. She was someone he felt he could trust to keep all his deepest and darkest secrets - someone he knew would never judge him. And he had to go and fall for her in the space of two weeks. If she rejected him, he knew he couldn't go back to the way they were.

Chad looked upwards and sighed in annoyance. "Here," he said, reaching behind him for his ever-present basketball. "Give her this. Or start up a conversation about the game last week. You could talk about how heroic you were scoring that last split-second basket and then she'll fall into your arms like some damsel all dramatic-like, 'oh, Troy! You're my hero! Kiss me! Kiss me! KISS ME!' Then bibbidi-bobbidi-boo! You've scored!"

Troy pulled a face. "Or not."

"Or you could finish what you started when you went to kiss her?" Jason suggested. "We'll restrain Danforth so there's no hope of anyone interrupting again."

The basketball captain just sighed hopelessly and ran his fingers through his hair dejectedly. "You know what? Just forget it."

"You're going to do it now?"

"No. I'm not. Not ever. There's a million and one reasons why I shouldn't - one being that I can't even get the fucking balls to go up and ask her myself. It's a clear cut sign. So just forget it, guys, okay? I can't risk the rejection. There's too much at stake."

"Bolton, you're making me age prematurely here." Chad wanted to hit his friend with something heavy. "Quit being such a fucking girl."

"I'm not being a girl; I'm being realistic." His blue eyes caught a pair of chocolate-coloured ones when Gabriella slowly turned her head and smiled gently at him, orbs sparkling as they locked gazes. "I mean, look at her. There's no way she feels the same way."

"Bolton." Chad clenched his teeth and squeezed his basketball angrily. "I hate you. You stark raving lunatic."

---

Gabriella Montez was a girl who enjoyed the simple things in life. She didn't care for any teenage dramas - preferring to just be invisible and live in the shadows of those whose lives were completely melodramatic and way too complicated.

Complicated was something she never aspired to know. It was something she'd never wanted to know. And with her life led the way it was since she was six years old, complicated had never made an appearance. She'd been to eleven different schools, had lived in six different states, and therefore did not have the ability to get attached to anyone or anything. There was only ever her and her mother, and between them complicated was never an issue. She focused on her studies, her favourite hobby was reading. Only on very special occasions was she spontaneous and that usually involved Christmas time when distant relatives would visit and she'd nominate herself to go first when Pictionary was pulled out.

Vacationing in Colorado that Christmas just gone was just another period in her life where complicated would never occur. She'd happily watch the other kids snowboard and ski while she sat in the sidelines with her latest favourite novel in hand, safe and away from all the accidents and inevitable injuries that would happen. At times, she'd maybe stand and offer her services - basic training in first aid was another impressive addition to her résumé.

But complicated had crash landed into her world in a split second. Suddenly, she wasn't invisible. Suddenly, she'd been thrust up on stage with the most handsome guy she'd ever laid eyes upon - and that included Johnny Depp. Out of nowhere, she had sang, and felt strangely comfortable with the notion.

Complicated had turned into something else. She was falling… and it was only made harder to unfall when she'd transferred to Albuquerque, New Mexico, … and only to the same school as the guy who'd occupied her mind without fail.

Everything had been a blur in that past month. Musical auditions, basketball championships, scholastic decathlon competitions, drama student bust-up's and a whirlwind of friends made that she'd found herself suddenly attached to. Thank god her mother had promised her company wouldn't be transferring her until after she'd graduated. She'd made the very best of friends and was determined to not give them up.

Complicated had become both her friend and her enemy. She'd tried and tried to find something, anything within Troy Bolton that would make her wretch and wonder why the hell she ever had a crush on him. So far, no luck. But the fact that he was stalling around her, that he sent her so many signals which made her mind swirl and spontaneously combust made her both angry, frustrated… and mushy.

Sometimes he'd look at her and she'd beam, telling herself that he must like her. That she wasn't dreaming and that soon, he'd ask her to be his girlfriend. Then the other part of her mind - the part she'd labelled as rational - would tell her he was out of her league and that she should just be grateful she had him as a friend. She found him amazing… and amazing was simply too perfect for everything else to fall into place.

Perfect didn't fall for you too. Perfect didn't stroll up to you and casually ask you on a date. Perfect didn't want to kiss you as badly as you wanted to kiss them, and perfect certainly didn't see anything more than a friend.

Because that would be too perfect. And Gabriella knew that she didn't live in a perfect world.

Perfect was just insanely sweet, selflessly kind and endearing. Perfect was also extremely handsome with the deepest and bluest eyes she'd ever seen. Perfect was also so funny, so talented… and so much more smarter than he thought he was. Perfect had the warmest arms and the kindest smile. And Perfect was the only one who saw her when she was invisible.

But she was nowhere near perfect. And so, she became more grateful she had him there as a friend; someone to talk to and confide with. Anything more would have been too perfect that the universe would have simply exploded with the utter perfectness in its happenings.

And Gabriella simply couldn't allow the universe to explode. How selfish would she have been if that were to happen?

Therefore, she accepted the fates of the world. She was miserable, but she accepted. And she'd get over it sometime.

In a few years, maybe. After Johnny Depp found her and eloped with her on his pirate ship.

But even then, complicated fell into the forms of Taylor McKessie and Kelsi Neilson who could not and would not accept the fates of the world.

Clearly, the two wanted the universe to explode.

"He's looking at you again."

Eager to turn her head and confirm what Taylor was saying, Gabriella concentrated on freezing her motions and instead stared down at her glass of orange. "Please." She gestured to the small group of cheerleaders situated behind her friend. "He's looking at those girls there. Their skirts are so short that any guy would be considered gay if they didn't look."

Kelsi and Taylor exchanged an eye roll. "You so have it bad, sister," Taylor shook her head. "For someone so smart, you're so damn blind."

"No, I'm just realistic," Gabriella shot back. She really didn't want to get into the 'As if a guy like him would like a geek like me' speech, especially since the entirety of East High had gone past the normal social standings and were mixing with groups that before seemed they could only clash in the twilight zone.

"You need to spice this party up, Montez. Go over there and stick your tongue down his throat."

"Taylor!"

"Or not. Or at least do something to speed up this process. Bolton moves slower than a slow person in an extremely slow situation on a super slow planet in an oh-my-god-how-slow-is-that world."

"He's not moving at all." Gabriella kept her voice at a hush, scared of anyone overhearing. "And I don't want him to. Really."

Kelsi blinked. "Wow. I found something you actually suck at. Lying."

Gabriella's eyes narrowed dangerously. "I do not."

"Sure you do. Next you'll tell us you don't like Troy in that way and that you really hope he and Sharpay hook up."

The flash of hurt was unmistakable in her eyes. "I'm not lying about anything," she spoke quietly, but firmly. "Despite everything that's happened and how I feel about it, I know that it's better this way. Troy's been such an amazing friend to me. I don't ever want to lose that - I never had it before… do you really think I'd want to risk that in any way?"

"You're not risking anything. It's so obvious he feels the same way back."

"Taylor…"

"You're irritating me now, Gabriella. It's one thing liking someone and feeling tentative because you're not sure how they feel back… but Troy's different. I admit I never used to think highly of the guy, but come on! You know him better than I do already yet I'm the one trying to convince you of this! If I wasn't so certain, I wouldn't be pushing."

She loved Taylor. She really did. She was a person who'd be so easy to make friends with; a girl who made academics not seem pathetic and loser-ish… a girl who even proved that anything could happen - you could be whoever you wanted to be and reaching for the stars was something that wasn't impossible, but possible if you made it.

But she had mastered the fine art of nagging. And Gabriella didn't appreciate it at that moment. Especially when everything Taylor was saying was contradicting that rational part of her mind.

"He's looking at you again. Why can't you just see what everyone else does?"

This time, Gabriella allowed herself to turn her head to look at Troy. Indeed, he was looking at her, and she felt the twinkle in her eyes as their gazes collided and suddenly they were the only two people in the entire room. Her heart lifted as a small smile made its way onto his face and she gingerly smiled back.

For a moment, she dared herself to believe everything Taylor and Kelsi were drumming into her, only to have her heart shatter when Troy suddenly looked away and walked in the opposite direction.

Perfect never fell for you too. That would only be too perfect.

Her face falling, Gabriella turned back to Taylor and sighed softly. "Can we change the subject and enjoy this party?"

---

If there was one thing Taylor McKessie never thought of herself doing, it was agreeing that she and Chad Danforth actually had something in common.

He was the jock and she was the brainiac. Could they have been from more different worlds?

Perhaps not. But the art of sneakiness and plotting was something they both shared and worked with to perfection.

Sometimes they used it for the good of mankind.

Like, messing with the school's electricity and causing a powercut so that their two best friends could audition for the winter musical.

Imagine how life would be if that hadn't happened.

Sometimes they used it for evil.

Like, setting up their best friends so that they'd fall out and not sing together, enabling both the scholastic decathlon and basketball team to keep their stars in check and their heads in the game.

There were moments in their lives that they felt like some kind of superhero. They'd each get this twang… a need for them to interfere with something and rectify it using their fantastic sneaky skills and fool-proof ideas (plots). And when that twang would… twang… they simply saw no other way but to come up with something truly amazing for the good of all mankind.

So, when Troy Bolton walked away like a lost puppy and Gabriella Montez stubbornly refused to focus on nothing except her glass of orange juice, Chad Danforth saw the perfect window of opportunity as the super twang twanged.

Taylor's eyes lifted to his. She felt it too. And with a sharp gesture of his head, he beckoned her over. Taylor sauntered over tentatively, leaving Kelsi and Gabriella looking confused before they realised she was heading over to Chad. He, meanwhile, stepped aside from Zeke and Jason as though he was in some spy movie, trying in earnest to look secretive but only looking stupid in the process.

"Here's the deal," he stated in a hushed tone as he and Taylor met in the middle. "My guy digs your girl. You dig?"

Taylor folded her arms suggestively. "Well, my girl digs your guy. You dig?"

"He's fucking me off."

"She's fucking me off."

"We need to do something."

"That we do."

"So, we agree." Chad grinned devilishly, to which Taylor pulled a disapproving face.

"I guess… we do."

"Awesome."

---

Zeke and Jason eyed Chad and Taylor suspiciously.

"They're up to something."

"To do with Troy and Gabriella?" Jason asked, completely clueless.

"I want to help," Zeke declared, feeling the weight of the challenge. "Someone needs to grow some balls for Bolton."

"What are you going to do?" Jason asked sceptically. "Bake them some love cookies?"

Zeke narrowed his eyes. "That's not totally impossible, you know. I could bake them heart-shaped."

"With chocolate chips?"

"Yeah."

"And funny faces made out of icing on the top?"

"If that's what you consider to be romantic…"

Jason grinned widely, a small bout of drool appearing at the corner of his mouth. "Okay, we're sorted on that. You go and bake the cookies and I'll…" His eyes wandered to where the amateur DJ was standing, providing the tunes for entertainment and dancing purposes. "I'll set the mood." He winked.

"Set the mood?"

"Yeah. With all those soppy love songs. But, hey, we need to get them both together on the dance floor for this shindig to work. So, you get the cookies made and in the oven and while you're waiting for the hotness to bake, you can get them both together while I work out my music list."

"Jay, you're no DJ."

"Hey, you and Troy aren't the only people in this damn high school who has a secret they need to share."

---

"Oh my god, we're good!" Chad punched his fist into the air in triumph. "We totally have to go into business, McKessie."

Taylor raised an eyebrow. "I'm not going into business with you. I'd be running the entire show on my own!"

"Well, then we become detectives. Like Sherlock and that other dude. Except the dude would actually be a dudette because, well, you're--"

"It's Watson, Chad. And why would I be the Watson character? I just thought this up myself. If anything, you're Watson."

"Is he hot?"

"Not even close. Now, come on, I think I saw Tim go through to the dining room."

Chad allowed Taylor to drag him through to the kitchen and then eventually into the large-sized dining room where a few of their fellow students were hanging by the table where food and punch (most likely spiked) were laid out. In the corner, talking to two other students who neither Taylor nor Chad had seen before, was Tim Dundridge.

Their pawn.

Well, in reality, he was another student at East High - neither popular nor unpopular - with a love for football, golf and classical literature. When the status quo had broke free at school, it was mainly Tim's extra activities that had caused controversy… purely because there were so many. He'd already questioned Taylor about joining the scholastic decathlon team as well as continuing his commitments on the second string football team and golfing at the weekends. She'd also heard on the grapevine he was thinking of starting East High's very own book club on a Monday evening.

In their eyes, he was a mixture of Troy and Gabriella. And he was easy on the eyes… blonde curtains, green eyes, medium build… According to Taylor, he was the perfect candidate to intimidate Troy so much, he'd be faced with the prospect of either asking out Gabriella or losing his chance completely. His popularity nowhere near matched Troy's, but his brains and determination was close to Gabriella's. And it was obvious that Troy's insecurities included the fact that he thought he wasn't clever enough for her.

The plan was magnificent. Fool-proof. A million dollar idea.

But Tim didn't look impressed.

"You're kidding right?"

Chad clapped his hands together. "Come on, man! It's the chance of a lifetime!"

"To get beaten up by Troy Bolton? Yeah, 'cause I'm sure every kid dreams of that."

"Look." Taylor looked exasperated. "Think of this as making high school history. And saving my sanity."

Tim folded his arms in defence, wanting to do nothing more than running out the back door and leaping over the garden fence. "Let me get this straight. You want me to spend the rest of my evening pretending to chat up Gabriella, dance with her, flirt with her… basically make Troy jealous, yes?"

"An amazing plan, huh?" Chad grinned.

"Not really." Tim shook his head with distain. "I mean, it's not like I don't like her… it's just that I like my nose more. And I don't fancy getting it squished by Bolton's fist."

"He won't!" Taylor laughed it off. "He'll get a little bit jealous, rant to Chad about it and then he'll ask out Gabriella… and perhaps lightly warn you away from her. That's all."

"Or you could just butt out and let nature take its course."

"This is Troy we're talking about," Chad scoffed. "The human species will be extinct by the time he's managed to pluck up just an ounce of courage."

Tim Dundridge still didn't look convinced.

Taylor folded her arms. This was the final resort. "We'll pay you two hundred bucks."

Tim's eyebrow shot up his forehead. "…Really?"

"Really, really," Taylor smiled devilishly. "We'll even pay it in small bills so you can spread them out on the floor and roll around in it. If you're not going to do this for the good of mankind, then do it for the hard, cold cash."

"Hmm…" Tim was thoughtful. "I was looking to save up for a set of wheels… I could really use the set of wheels. And I guess with a decent set of wheels, it really wouldn't matter if Bolton ruined my nose because I'd look too cool for people to care."

"And you can tell everyone that Bolton punched you and you survived so they'd think you were extra cool," Chad added with a wide grin.

Taylor shook her head in irritation. "Whatever. Tim, do you accept this challenge?"

"I accept."

"Perfect." Taylor grinned and elbowed Chad roughly in the chest. "Chad, pay the man."

"Me?!"

---

Gabriella looked at her reflection in the bathroom mirror and sighed loudly. No amount of make-up or hair products was going to fix this disaster.

She ran her fingers through her curls, moving them behind her ears, pulling them over her flushed cheeks.

Nothing would work.

Perfect wouldn't consume her.

And even if it did, she really didn't want the world to explode.

Did she?

She did. And that thought made her cry softly.

---

"Update on Operation Love Cookie?"

"Operation Love Cookie is in process." Zeke gestured towards the oven where perfect heart-shaped pieces of dough were slowly rising in the heat. "How about the music?"

"Oh, I've searched high and low for the best tunes and I've totally got this under control."

Zeke processed the thought. "Right. So the cookies are baking, the records will soon be spinning. All we need are exhibit A and exhibit B. Do we have the 411 on Troy and Gabriella's whereabouts?"

"Troy's wallowing in self-pity in the back yard. Gabriella… position unknown. We need them both here for this to happen."

"Thank you, Captain Obvious." Zeke rolled his eyes. "Just get set up in the room and I'll get the King and Queen of Pathetic-ness."

A large and excited smile covered Jason's face. "I'm on it!" And with that. He scrambled back into the main room, already smelling the sweet smell of victory. Zeke shook his head, automatically making Jason the Prince of Pathetic-ness as Chad raced past him, almost knocking him over in the process.

"Hey, Danforth!" Zeke called out, annoyed. "Watch it, will you? My chef hat almost went flying!"

"Dude, seriously! I've got the answer to all our problems!"

"You found fire-breathing whores who'll do anything to our command?"

"No… But that would be awesome…"

"You hired a hitman to get rid of Darbus?"

"No… But I'll get right on that after this…"

Zeke's eyes lit up. "You found the ultimate, endless, delicious recipe book which can only be found in chef's heaven?"

"No… I found the answer to the problem of the evening. The problem of Le Troy."

"I've found the answer too. Me and Jason - we've got it all planned. I'm telling you, dude, after tonight, we'll never have to listen to Troy's endless rants and whines about Gabriella again. It's fool-proof."

Chad's eyes widened. "Mine too! Well, mine and Taylor's but she's not here right now so I guess I get all the glory. It's called Operation Tim Dundridge - I came up with that title all on my own."

"Operation Tim Dundridge? What the fuck?"

"He's gonna get Bolton so green with envy, he'll have to suck it up and ask out Gabriella before he loses her forever. Taylor says it's one hundred percent achievable. Apparently, according to her older sister, guys gets all territorial and stuff when it comes to girls - even if they're not dating them. She says we're like a pack of lions… insanely anal about our territory." Chad paused and shuffled his feet nervously. "And apparently we're all mindless jerks who think we own what's not ours… so when someone comes over and steps on our turf - our turf being the girl, because we're pigs - we get all possessive and then do anything and everything in our power to claim what's ours."

Zeke scrunched up his nose. "I really don't like that McKessie sometimes."

"Me neither. But it's bound to work. You saw how retarded Troy got when Jason threatened to ask her out."

Zeke looked deep in thought. "I guess it's a good idea. Mine and Jason's rock too, you know. On their own, our ideas are phenomenal… but put together… we could take over the world."

"What's yours called?"

"Operation Love Cookie."

Chad looked sceptical. "Riiight…"

"I have heart-shaped chocolate chip cookies baking beautifully in the oven and Jason's setting up the music to set the mood. Between the jealousy, the love cookies and the mood music, I bet they'll be married by the end of the evening."

"Hmm… well I suppose it couldn't hurt…"

"Damn straight!" Zeke punched his fist in the air. "So Troy's wallowing in self-pity outside. You got the 411 on Gabriella?"

"She's with Taylor. She found her crying in the bathroom. Damn Bolton for his selfishness; he'll owe us one after all this trouble we're going to."

"We're such great friends."

"I know. It's so beautiful."

"We need to get them both in the main room. Jason will be ready any minute now with the mood music."

"Taylor's just fixing Gab's make-up and then we're all set. I'll keep a look out while Taylor gets Dundridge and Gabriella in place and then you go get Bolton. Tell him his turf is majorly getting trod on here. But don't bring him in straight away… I'll let you know when by doing my top secret crow call."

"Operation Love Cookie Guest Starring Tim Dundridge is in motion."

---

Troy liked wallowing in self-pity. He could be as stubborn as a mule and have the best reason in the world to do so. And then all his friends and family would tell him how ridiculous he was being which would make him feel ten times worse and then he'd be able to wallow in self-pity even more.

At the moment he was wallowing because this party had really started to suck. He'd been really looking forward to this party - and not because the entire school had been buzzing about having a party in Taylor McKessie's large house complete with alcohol and a hired DJ. He'd been looking forward to it because it was a party that Gabriella Montez was going to be present at. Because she was Taylor's best friend and she'd feel comfortable there, secure… surrounded by all of her new friends and acquaintances. He'd remembered how awkward and embarrassed she'd felt at the party after the championship games. He hated seeing her feeling so sad, forlorn and out of place.

He was also wallowing because his wallowing wasn't allowing him the urge to get drunk and start acting like an idiot. Parties were invented so people could start acting like idiots.

And he was also also wallowing because he wanted so badly to walk up to Gabriella and confess his feelings in manner of some smooth, slick and romantic dude that were always in chick flicks. Like Richard Gere in Pretty Woman. He'd spent a fortune on buying his girl clothes and taking her to the opera and to a polo game. He'd also gallantly overcome his fear of heights to climb her apartment complex armed with flowers as he declared his undying love for her.

Troy knew he couldn't be Richard Gere. He didn't have a fear of heights, flowers, or even enough money to take Gabriella to Burger King right now, let alone to the opera or a series of expensive clothes shops.

He could do Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle. But he wasn't sleepless. Or in Seattle.

Awake in Albuquerque didn't really speak romance in the love books.

He supposed he could be Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. Gabriella had a balcony. He'd already climbed it. But he wasn't so good at the words. Sure, he'd won her over with a song… but he couldn't do the same thing twice. That would just be stupid.

He knew he should just give up. Whatever he said or did would only come out wrong and she'd laugh in his face.

He sighed loudly, looking up at the cloudless sky and continued to wallow in that self-pity of his. He was just too good at that.

His sigh turned into a growl when he heard footsteps approaching, and the growl only got louder when Zeke casually strolled up and sat beside him, a small and menacing smile on his face.

"Still being anal?"

"Shut up, man. I don't need this right now."

"You know we're all only trying to help. This is a big deal and we don't wanna see you crash and burn. It would help if you listened once in a while, you know?"

Troy drew his knees up to his chest. "I have listened. To you guys and everything inside of me telling me to do this."

"And the problem is…?"

"She's an amazing girl. I haven't met anyone like her in my life and I can't believe how close we've got since we met. I can talk to her, tell her anything, do ridiculous things like audition for a cheesy school musical… I'd even wear a damn leotard if Darbus required it for the show because I know in a really twisted way, it would make her smile at how dumb I'd look."

"Wow." Zeke blinked heavily. "That's so screwed up."

Troy started picking at pieces of grass mercilessly, ripping them from the ground and tearing them to shreds. "I know. Majorly screwed up. But it's not like I care about how fucked up my life is becoming because of her… She's become one of my best friends, so why the fuck would I want to ruin all that by making a move on her?"

"Because she wants you to?"

"Bullshit. Girls like Gabriella never go for second best. They work their entire lives to only achieve the best in everything and that goes for guys too."

"Trust you to have so low self-esteem and ruin mine too in the same fucking sentence."

"It's true."

"It's a pile of shit. You're putting the entire male species down with your stupid speech. Only Taylor McKessie and her hormonal older sister would appreciate and agree with what you're saying."

Troy pursed his lips together, getting more annoyed by the second. "I know I'm right this time, Zeke, for this scenario. She's part of the scholastic decathlon - a team consisting of five other guys who are smart, sophisticated and are heading towards similar career paths. They could be doctor's, lawyers… people who earn the big bucks, who are career-driven, respected, intelligent and can give their girls anything and everything they want. A sweaty basketball player who only just gets a C in his class subjects? Tell me you can see the logic now."

Zeke nodded. "Sure. If Gabriella was a mindless, snobby bitch. And I know that isn't true. And if you think that about her then maybe you shouldn't go for it. Maybe you really are second best if that's what you think about her."

Troy gritted his teeth. "I don't think that about her. I just know she can do a hell of a lot better."

"And how do you know that? How does she know that? You're both driving us all insane in there - you can cut the air with a knife. You want her, she wants you, and you're stupid thinking and over-analysing is only making this worse. She's a gorgeous girl. She won't wait forever for you."

Troy was silent, his eyes glued to his sneaker-clad feet.

"There's already guys talking about hitting on her, you know. They all keep asking us if you're gonna get there first and I really don't know how any of us can stall it anymore. If you don't ask her out, Troy, they will."

Again, no response.

"There's a hyooge queue brewing for her. Eventually she'll just start thinking you only think of her as a friend and she'll accept the first invitation she gets. She won't want to be stuck in Troy limbo forever. Dude, if you really care about her that much, you need to do something tonight."

Troy opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again. After several minutes of silence, he turned to look at his friend. "How can you be so sure that all this is such a sure thing?"

"I am a master of knowledge. I know these things."

Troy sighed again. "Zeke, if you don't know anything for certain, then this conversation is a fucking dud."

"Trust me, Bolton, I know more than you do."

"Then explain it."

SQUAWWWWWWKKKK!

Troy turned his head sharply back to the house, towards where the weird noise had originated from. "What the fuck was that?"

Zeke smiled. "A sign. A clear cut sign."

"Sounded like a chicken being strangled."

"It was a crow."

Troy furrowed his brows. "What the hell--?"

Zeke stood up and gestured for his friend to do the same. "You want an explanation of what's going on, Troy? Then dig this. Right now, in that very house, Gabriella Montez is in danger. Real, real danger."

"…from a chicken…?"

Zeke looked exasperated. "No. And it was a crow. But that's not the point. The point is, Tim Dundridge has been raving on all night about how much he wants to ask out Gabriella and while we have been the bestest friends in the whole world by telling him to back off, Taylor has decided that you're stalling is upsetting Gabriella too much and she's told him to go for it. So, he's going for it. As we speak right now, he's homing in on her. Taking what's not his. You need to be a lion, Troy! Go in for the kill! He's totally tredding on your turf."

Anger flared in Troy's eyes. "She's not my turf, Zeke."

"She wants to be. But she doesn't think you do. And if you don't act soon, she will go for second best."

---

"Honestly," Taylor tutted with irritation as she grabbed another tissue to wipe away the smudged make-up from Gabriella's cheeks. "Crying over a boy. Have I not taught you a thing?"

Gabriella sighed heavily. "I'd really like to go home, Tay. I'm sorry for being such a bore tonight."

"You're not being a bore. A love-sick puppy from the Jane Austen period, maybe, but not a bore. And instead of Mr. Darcy declaring his love for you on some foggy hill in the middle of England, your love interest is moving slower than a tortoise with a limp and feeling all sorry for himself in a drunken haze. Now I know why I don't date."

Without another word, Taylor finished the last touches of Gabriella's make-up and then dragged her down the stairs by her wrist, nearly pulling her arm out of the socket.

"Right. Now we're gonna enjoy this party."

Gabriella rolled her eyes with a small smile. "I really appreciate you helping me, Taylor, but I'd rather just go home. We have auditions tomorrow and I'll be tired and--"

"Yes. Auditions with Troy. Auditions that will run so much smoother, so much quicker and so much more full-filling when you've both admitting your feelings for one another and get over yourselves. Just think how plain crap it's gonna be when you both go into the auditions tomorrow and it's awkward as hell because you've both got major sticks up your butts. Darbus won't appreciate Minnie and Arnold with sticks up their butts. So it's best for all round if you just ADMIT IT TO EACH OTHER!"

"Taylor…"

"Gabriella… I've had enough of this bullsh--"

"Hey, guys."

"-shh…hey!" Taylor feigned over-excitement as Tim Dundridge approached them. "Tim! What on earth are you doing here?"

"Um, well, I was hoping I could speak to Gabriella…" Tim gave Taylor a firm look. Her scary-ass wide smile was sending triggers of suspicion off in Gabriella's mind.

"What a wonderful idea, Tim! You know, I always thought of you as a really good idea man. You talk to her. Liven her up. She's being such a bore!"

"Taylor," Gabriella narrowed her eyes. "What's going on?"

"How would I know? Ask Tim. Tim wants to talk to you! I'll leave you both alone now…"

SQUAWWWWWWKKKK!

"What was that?" Both Tim and Gabriella asked, looking around for the source of the noise.

Taylor looked blank as she slowly backed away. "What was what? I heard nothing."

"Sounded like a chicken…" Tim answered.

"Timmy, sweetheart, how much have you had to drink? Are you seriously just telling me you heard a chicken?"

Gabriella raised her hand. "I did…"

Taylor merely laughed it off and backed away quicker. "I'll just go and check on the supposed… chicken… situation. You two talk. Enjoy. Indulge. Don't fight it. I'll be back." And she scampered off.

"Sorry." A small blush emitted on Gabriella's cheeks as she looked at her feet. "She's been acting weird all evening."

"You're telling me," Tim smiled. "I never realised just how weird Taylor can be until tonight." His face fell more when he saw Jason Cross standing at the DJ stand, his thumbs held up high in the air as he pressed some buttons and suddenly "Puppy Love" played annoyingly over the speakers. "But how are you doing? How's the rehearsals going?"

"Um, they're good. Yeah. Troy actually has a bit of trouble with the dancing but he's picking it up." Here, Gabriella smiled in spite of herself, even though she felt queasy at the unbelievably cheesy music Jason had decided to play. "He kept falling over and stepping on my toes… which really hurt but I didn't really mind… The dancing is really is hard when you think about it. Especially for an athlete…" At the look on Tim's face, Gabriella paused and her cheeks highlighted a brighter shade of pink. "I'm talking too much, aren't I?"

Tim smiled. "It's bittersweet when you get the urge to ask out a really pretty girl, only to find she's so in to somebody else…"

"Tim, I-"

"It's okay, you know. Everybody knows you and Troy are gonna happen. Granted he's being a bit of a dick taking his time with asking you out. Any normal guy would get in there before you could get away."

Gabriella only blushed more. "I-I don't know what to… I mean… I-I…"

Tim laughed softly. "It's okay, Gabi. Really. I know where I stand with you. Every guy in the school know where they stand… except Troy that is. All I can say is, he's just lucky he's got friends who care enough to sort out this mess for him."

Gabriella's eyebrows knitted together in confusion. "Excuse me?"

"This… whole thing. Me talking to you. And… I guess the whole chicken thing is involved with the set up. But all this, the party, everything. It was all put together for you guys. Your friends really care about you two."

"Meaning?" It was more anger than happiness that was seeping through Gabriella Montez in that moment in time.

Tim looked confused. "Meaning… Chad paid me two hundred bucks to come talk to you. To make Troy jealous. And if you look behind you right now… well, he looks seriously pissed."

"Excuse me?!"

"Oh man, he's so gonna break my nose. When all this is over with, please tell him I was paid, okay? And that I never flirted with you. Oh, and that I thought his final shot in the championships was astronomical and I'll buy buying front row seats to Twinkle Towne."

"Tim." Gabriella ground her teeth together. "Tell me everything."

---

"Chad. A chicken. Seriously?"

Chad narrowed his eyes. "It was a crow!"

"A dying crow?!"

"Whatever. We need this to work. Awesome! They're talking!"

As Troy and Zeke bounded into the room, Jason stuck his thumbs up in the air and hit a button.

"And they call it puppy looooo-ooooveeee! Oh, I guess they'll never knoooowww…"

Zeke pulled a face. "That's mood music?!"

"Ah, Troy, so pleased you could join us. What's the hubbub-bub?"

Troy glanced over Taylor's shoulder, swallowing the lump in his throat. Gabriella and Tim Dundridge were talking.

Fuck.

"How long have they…? Like, has he…?"

"Asked her out? No, he hasn't. They've been like that approximately two to three minutes, but his intentions look pretty clear, right? Gabriella was stuck in the bathroom crying because somebody has been hurting her feelings because somebody won't get the balls to tell her how he feels. At least Tim does."

"But Tim can't."

"So stop him…"

Taylor's eyes were playful and mischievous. Jason was busy at the DJ stand rocking out to Donny Osmond - more than any human being should - and sending him kissy faces and thumbs up in encouragement. Chad nudged him in the back towards Gabriella while Zeke started performing an odd dance routine on the spot.

If there was ever a need to feel more nervous. This was it.

As Tim edged closer to Gabriella, Troy saw fire and a surge of strength he never knew he had. He took a step towards them.

…until Gabriella stepped away, flames burning in her own eyes as she turned on her heel and stomped towards them, totally ignoring Troy and heading straight for Taylor and Chad.

"What were you trying to do?! What were you thinking?!" She screeched. "You think this is all some sort of game?! You think I need to feel used to make me feel better about all of this?!"

"Gabi…" Taylor reached out to take hold of Gabriella's wrists, trying to stop her arms from flailing about in anger. "Sweetie, you know we didn't mean--"

"Mean what? To make me feel even worse than I do now?! You think that was what I needed?" Tears scorched her chocolate orbs and they rained down her cheeks in humiliation. "Well, if that's what it means to have you as a friend, then you can go to hell."

"Wait, Gabi--" Taylor reached out for her but Gabriella shoved past the group and headed out towards the dark garden, her vision blinded by heartbroken tears.

Troy was breathless, speechless… His heart was thumping madly in his chest, his mind trying to work out exactly what had just occurred. He looked over at Tim and shot him a warning glance before turning his sights back on his best friends. "Taylor, Chad… what did you do to her?"

"It's not what we did, Troy," Taylor responded heatedly. "It's what you didn't do."

"Me?!"

"You're so damn clueless, Bolton," Chad put in.

"And ridiculous that you're still standing here whilst Gabi is outside crying, alone…" Zeke added.

Something hit him and Troy was immediately turning on his heel and running in the same direction Gabriella had gone. It didn't take him long to find her once he was outside; she was sitting behind a large tree, hugging her knees to her chest and burying her face in her elbows, her shoulders shaking with her quiet sobs.

Troy's heart lurched. Taylor's words were on a loop running through his mind. She told him he had caused her to cry - something he had realised he'd done but done none-the-less.

Slowing his pace, he walked up behind her and gently set himself down in the soft grass and realised this was the same spot he'd been wallowing in self-pity in earlier.

"Hey, Gabi," he said softly, timidly reaching up a hand to rub her back gently. "You okay?"

A slight shake of her head caused him to free fall into turmoil.

"Did he hurt you?"

Again, Gabriella shook her head. "N-no," she stammered, heaving in another sob. "He didn't."

"Did he… say anything… to upset you?"

She shook her head yet again. "No. I'm just re-evaluating the people I've chosen to hang out with since I transferred here."

Finally, she looked up but didn't turn to look at him. This made Troy nervous. Gabriella was looking straight ahead, tears still slowly streaming down her cheeks but she still looked amazingly beautiful.

Troy gulped, but tried to make his tone sound light-hearted. "This isn't… I mean… I'm not one of these people, right?"

Gabriella finally turned to look at him, blinking heavily as a fresh onslaught of tears overtook her. "Could you ever hurt me, Troy?"

"No," he answered immediately. "I mean… I hope I wouldn't. If I did it unintentionally, I wouldn't mean it. And I'd do anything and everything to make everything right again."

Gabriella just nodded with a small smile. "Good answer."

"What did Taylor do to upset you?"

"Doesn't matter."

"It does if you're crying, Gabi. I don't like seeing you upset…"

His words only made her cry harder and he instantly regretted whatever it was that made her so sad. Quickly reaching over, he pulled her into his arms, tucking her head under his chin and holding her tightly against his chest. As he soothed her and apologised over and over, he couldn't help but realised just how perfect they fit together.

"Hey, shh, I'm sorry, I'm sorry… Gabi, please tell me what's wrong…"

Her fingers clutched his shirt desperately, her knuckles turning white. "If you don't know, Troy, you'll never be able to fix it," she mumbled against his chest, shutting her eyes tightly as the words spilled out.

Troy froze. He wanted to believe the meaning behind her words, but his confidence only knocked him back again. He swallowed. "I'd like to try…"

"I just want a strong and handsome prince to come riding up on his beautiful white horse, drawing a sword and promising me the whole world. It's not too much to ask, is it?"

Troy tensed. His world came crashing down before him. "I guess not…"

Gabriella lifted her head, looking into his bright blue eyes with all the desperation in the world. "Do you have a white horse, Troy?"

He shook his head dismally. "No. But I could get one."

The brunette smiled, lifting her hand to wipe a tear from her chin. "You would?"

The air around them turned thick, closing in like a protective barrier from the world. Troy nodded numbly in response to her question, seeing her eyes light up as he did. He timidly reached his own hand up to brush stray curls from her face, wiping under her eyes as he did so.

"For you, yeah. I think I'd suck at horse riding, though. But I do have a pirate sword up in my treehouse from when I was a kid. I used to kick Chad's ass all the time."

Gabriella's smile only got brighter. Her eyes sparkled at his words; her fingers continued to grip his shirt with force. "Well, I'd like that too. A strong and handsome prince doesn't have to be brilliant at horse riding… and it really doesn't matter what kind of sword he uses…"

A smile was starting to creep up on Troy's features. His hands gripped Gabriella's tiny waist, unconsciously bringing her closer to him. "A prince, huh?"

Her voice dropped to a whisper. "He doesn't have to be a prince either. Not really…"

"Good to know." They were drawing closer, not realising their bodies were moving without intent. Like magnets, they seemed to have no control of themselves, and soon they were so close their breaths were mingling, their noses touching. Troy closed his eyes at the close proximity. He could die right there and be ecstatically happy. "Gabi…"

Gabriella's eyes closed too, her tears long gone. Troy's hands slowly made their way from her waist, up her sides… finally cupping her face, fingers skimming along her jawline. She felt the sparks, she felt that twang of electricity. She felt whole.

"Fuck, what the fuck is going--" Troy didn't finish his sentence. He just ended it with a sigh. But the words made Gabriella's eyes fly open in horror, though his own remained closed. The next few seconds seemed endless to her as she waited for the inevitable rejection.

But it never came.

"Gabi, I should have done this fucking ages ago… I-" He broke off. Her heart settled again. "I'm sorry I didn't. I just kept freaking out every time I got the urge to ask you… I'm still freaking out now. I don't know… I mean… would you…? You don't have to, but--"

Gabriella Montez had never been so bold or so spontaneous as she pressed her lips softly against his, unknowingly letting out a small moan as he returned her kiss with fervour.

It was magic. Amazing. Everything she'd dreamed it would be and a whole lot more.

It was all perfect. Just too damn perfect.

She could feel the world explode around her, and to be honest, she didn't care one bit. She would be selfish, she would sacrifice the whole world just to feel his kisses and caresses.

Troy's hands clutched her face, his fingertips skimming along her cheeks and jawline until the eventually ventured into his curls and pulled her closer. Oxygen was beginning to become necessary but neither were ready to let go, and so after a quick separation and a deep breath, they joined again; lips, tongue and teeth meshing together to a perfect rhythm and creating a perfect symphony of feeling and emotion.

Gabriella's arms tightened around his neck. She knew she'd never be ready to let him go.

But, as usual, their band of friends were always there to interrupt at the worst of times. They heard a squeal, a squeak, a quick scream, a high five and a loud, "fucking FINALLY!" which caused them to abruptly end their perfect kiss and turn to look at the cause of their interruption.

Taylor was clapping her hands together and squealing. Kelsi had obviously been the one to squeak since she had both hands clamped over her mouth. Jason and Zeke were pumping their fists in the air whilst Chad was standing there with a look of satisfaction and relief on his face.

"You two infuriate me." He grinned, bending down to punch Troy's shoulder. "But thank fuck we can bear to be in the same room as you guys without all that unresolved tension hanging in the air!"

"It was totally my mood music." Jason gave them a thumbs up.

Troy and Gabriella said nothing, but continued to sit in each other's embrace, panting with kiss-swollen lips and dishevelled hair.

"And now the final touch…" Zeke stepped forward, a hot tray in his grasp emitting a delicious smell. Both Troy and Gabriella frowned as the tray was lowered before them covered with plenty of heart-shaped chocolate chip cookies, hot and fresh from the oven. "Love cookies. Zeke's homemade contribution." He winked.

"Dude." Troy's voice was raspy. "Save us a couple? We were kinda in the middle of something…"

"Oh, just pretend we're not here." Taylor was still watching them with starry eyes. "Continue."

"It's kinda private."

Chad chuckled. "We know what you're gonna ask her. You've been talking about it none stop! Just ask her to be your girlfriend!"

Troy turned twenty shades of red. "Chad!" He hissed.

Gabriella just giggled and pressed her mouth to his cheek, her arms tightening further around him. "You really think he needs to ask me?" She asked, never lifting her eyes from him. "I think actions speak louder than words… don't you?"

"Sha-bam!" Chad nodded his head in approval. "Go for it, Gabs!"

"Oh!" Taylor made out she was welling up. "I have taught you something after all!"

"And she'd thank you… but we're kinda busy here, so if you wouldn't mind--"

"Fucking off?" Gabriella Montez never swore. And the looks on her friends and Troy's faces as she uttered her abrupt request were priceless.

The boys laughed, the girls swooned, but they generously backed off as the new couple savoured the moment alone. Kisses started up again, melting embraces radiated warmth and security.

And though they hated to admit it, they would be eternally in their friends debt for all their help and support through finding and falling for one another.

They'd just never tell them that…