THE SIMPLE NEED

AN: Because I think we could use something happy. Love you, Zac!

xxx

TWELVE

It wasn't the first time they'd had sex, or the first time they'd slept in his bed together.

However, it was the first time that Gabriella woke to him beside her.

As her eyelids fluttered open and she focused on the little she could see from slightest sliver of light from the not quite closed black out curtain, her lips curved into a smile.

She could feel his skin warm, pressed flesh to flesh against her behind. There was a distinct feeling of a semi erection against her backside. She couldn't help but smile wider, like a school girl giggling at feeling an erection for the first time. She remembered the last time she'd woken up in the morning in his bed and the feeling of slight distress at the lack of presence beside her. On this occasion, there was no doubting his presence.

She reached behind her, a hand being placed onto his waist. She felt the shift in his breathing as she began to lightly caress his hip. She didn't have the intention to wake him up, or even the intention of initiating something first thing in the morning - she just wanted to feel his skin. She felt this magnetic pull to be touching him in some way at all times. However it seemed that her intentions were irrelevant.

"Miss Montez, you better not be starting something you don't intend upon delivering," his sleepy voice mumbled, his hand running up her side and gently squeezing her breast.

She giggled, and grasped his member. "I'm not a tease."

"That's a lie."

She rolled over, facing him. "I woke up with this little problem," she murmured.

"You did?"

"Uh huh. See, I woke up feeling a little... wet."

"Oh, really?"

"Mmm-hmm."

"I may need closer inspection to properly offer suggestion as to how to rectify this situation."

She expected him to touch her - what she didn't expect was that his hips would drive forward, his hand drawing her leg up and pulling it up to straddle his hip. His semi erect penis made direct contact with her sex, a shudder running through her body.

"That is a problem," he observed, a coy smile playing on his lips.

"What is your recommended plan of rectification?"

"Lie back and close your eyes."

Gabriella smiled, obeying his command. She rolled onto her back, her patience dissipating after about five seconds. When his touch didn't arrive, she found impatience settling in – impatience driven by the craving for whatever he was about to do. She expected to feel his fingers, so talented in so many ways, strum a tune against his sex. However instead, she heard a small rustle, and a moment later, his hard length pressing against her entrance, pushing his way inside.

She whimpered. "Troy..."

"This is how every morning should begin."

Their lovemaking was slow and sensual, with wet kisses and long, sweeping caresses of one another's bodies. Troy was already feeling himself attuned to her reactions, to the way that her cheeks flushed and her hands gripped a little tighter onto his shoulders as she climbed closer toward her peak. He found himself biting his bottom lip, needing to hold back his own orgasm as he brought his hand down to nuzzle her nub and provide extra stimulation; until she shook and shuddered and moaned his name in ecstasy. Moments later, he followed, groaning as he thrust the last few times.

They remained close together, Troy pulling away just long enough to remove the condom before returning back to snuggle by her side. Gabriella let out a contented sigh. In that moment, her life seemed perfect. She couldn't imagine any feeling better than blissfully lying in Troy's strong, warm arms, feeling the sensation of his hand lightly stroking her hip and thigh.

"I can't believe we're here, like this," Gabriella whispered, in confession.

"What do you mean?"

"It's like... it's like this is where I was always meant to be. But I just... I can't believe it's here with you." Gabriella stiffened a little, concerned she'd revealed too much. "Sorry if that's too much."

"It's not too much."

"A few months ago, after we met again at Starbucks, I felt like you could be someone very important in my life. But I never allowed myself to believe that we could make it work. I just... I had to protect my heart."

He wasn't surprised by her confession, but it hurt nonetheless. Everything he'd done, everything he'd said – of course she would be wary and defensive.

"Believe."

"I'm starting to."

"Good." Their lips pressed together for a tender kiss, before Troy stretched his arm out to pick up his cell phone from the bedside table. He glanced at the time, and groaned.

"I have to go to Andy's," Troy murmured by Gabriella's ear. She felt her lips curving into a pout, but before she could protest, Troy continued speaking. "Come with me."

This surprised her. Seeing him perform live was one thing – but being a part of the creative rehearsal process was another. Especially at a time when they'd be possibly working on original music.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes." He pressed a kiss to her forehead, and then withdrew back, observing, "You smell like sex."

Gabriella burst into laughter. "I wonder why?"

Troy merely grinned, and proposed, "Shower with me?

xxx

The 30 hours that followed were intense, passionate, affectionate and loving. With the exception of bathroom breaks, Troy and Gabriella didn't spend a moment apart. She accompanied him to rehearsal at Andy's, where they stayed for almost all of Saturday. Gabriella loved sitting and watching the guys as they rehearsed – mostly with covers, but they were playing around with some melodies for originals, Troy on his acoustic guitar and Andy on keys. When the conversation got technical she tended to tune it out and just focus on Troy – the look of passion and enjoyment in his eyes as he embraced his calling.

She brought the remnants of marking she had with her, hoping to knock over a couple of essays, however she was far too distracted. There was no doubt that her infatuation was at its peak – she was riveted by every last movement, the way he toyed with some melodies, jotted down notes on a scrap of sheet music that Andy produced, the look in his eyes as they started work on a new cover – Hands Open, by Snow Patrol.

Gabriella was curled up at Troy's side on the subway as they headed back across into Manhattan, Troy's guitar case upright between his knees, trying to make sure it didn't take up too much room. The subway was full but not packed, just a handful of passengers standing up.

"You're different with Andy," she observed. "Different to how you are with Chad and the others."

Troy shrugged. "Am I?"

"You're kind of... I don't know. It's like it's more natural. More free?"

Troy considered this. "Me, Chad and Zeke, we all grew up together. We've all changed, not just me. Chad matured a lot, he's quieter, more caring, more thoughtful. Zeke never really had much drive, he was kinda content just going with the flow, but when he really decided that he wanted to have his career, he knew he had to put in the hard yards, long hours, dedication. Even Sharpay, who ten years ago, I would've bet would have lived off her dad's money until she got married to someone rich and become one of those Upper East Side bitches who just lunch and do charity work... she proved everyone wrong."

"What about you?" Gabriella asked quietly.

"I think they see me like the old me. They've all changed – well, maybe not Taylor as much, but the others have – and they're all okay with that. Sometimes, I think they just want me to be the old me. But he isn't there. He was never totally happy. I never felt like I knew what I wanted to do with my life. Maybe I'm taking a bit longer than some people to figure out that but... what's so wrong with that?"

"Nothing, at all."

"Anyway... I guess that's why. With Andy, it doesn't matter who I was. He only cares about who I am."

"You guys have the cutest bromance," Gabriella teased.

Troy rolled his eyes. "I hate that word."

"It's totally accurate, though."

The train was pulling into Chambers Street, causing an end to the conversation. They rose to their feet, exiting so they could switch to the local 1 train. They made it with perfect timing, just a minutes wait at the station. There were only a few stations to Sheridan Square, where they exited and wound up standing just outside Starbucks.

"So..." Troy ventured, glancing around. They were at the point where they each lived in the opposite direction, just a few blocks either way.

Gabriella smiled at him, somewhat shyly given the intimacy they'd been sharing all day. "Wanna come over?"

"Yes, please."

xxx

They simply weren't ready to be apart. Saturday night was a continuation of Friday night, but in a brand new setting of Gabriella's apartment. Again Gabriella attended rehearsal on Sunday, this time with Steve joining in as well. Troy had work on Sunday evening, but Gabriella found herself hanging out with Troy at work, likely distracting him from more productive work he could be doing, not that he minded in the slightest. They walked hand in hand back to her apartment, before tumbling inside, desperate for the sanctuary that existed behind the privacy of her bedroom walls.

On Monday morning, Gabriella had a staff meeting first thing, and Troy lazed around in her bed with a smile on his face, watching as she rushed about getting ready, She took a moments pause to hike her leg up in front of him and drew out the process of pulling on her pantyhose. He was again doing the evening shift at work, so he wasn't in any rush to move from his position, and he rather liked the vantage point. Finally he was forced out the door, electing to walk her to work before returning with a grin a mile wide to his own apartment to get ready for the day.

xxx

"Doctor Montez? What are you doing over this way?"

Gabriella whipped around, and spotted one of the students from her Intro to Modern Chem class watching her. She was a little out of her usual territory – on a sudden whim, she'd found herself in an NYU building she'd never set foot in before – the Education building, which was home to the Music Business department. There wasn't a particular logic to her visit, but in a moment of daydreaming that was highly inappropriate when she had set the day aside to be focusing on her research, she decided to go for a walk and see how she might be inspired by the corridors of some of the performing arts areas of the university.

"Candice, hi," Gabriella found herself stammering, and then pulled herself together. "I have a meeting downstairs, but I'm a little early so found myself wandering. How are you? Are you finished all your exams?"

She nodded. "I am, I'm just here waiting for my boyfriend. He's handing in his final assignment. He's set to graduate, if everything goes to plan."

"That's wonderful, tell him I said congratulations. I remember what a relief it is handing in those final pages."

"I will..." Candice paused. "Are you looking for something in particular? You know, while you're... wandering around? I know these halls pretty well, I've spent a lot of time here with Rhys."

Gabriella considered this, but found herself shaking her head. "Uh, no. Thank you, though. Best I get down for my meeting."

Gabriella walked away, a little bit embarrassed at being caught out. The tinge of pink to her cheeks was enough to fuel her to sit back down in her office and shut Troy out of her mind to get some work done – well, not completely out of her mind.

xxx

When Troy had dropped off Gabriella at work on Monday morning, they'd left without any formal plans of when they'd next see each other. It had, however, been the understanding that it likely wouldn't be that day. He was on the late shift again and realistically, it wasn't practical for them to get together on those days. They weren't completely silent on communication – they had a few text messages back and forward, checking in on each other and seeing how the day was going. It occurred to Troy at one point that it almost felt lonely, her not being there with him. She's so easily fit into his world throughout the course of the weekend, it had surprised him just how natural and comfortable it had felt having her there the whole time.

By the time that 10pm rolled around and he was locking up at work, it had been 14 hours since he'd seen her and he couldn't deny it – he was feeling an itch. It wasn't just an itch to feel her naked skin pressed up against his, although that certainly was part of it. More so, he just wanted to see her, hold her, hear her voice, be with her. And so, instead of returning to his own apartment like he knew he should, he found himself heading straight to her place, and not hesitating to press the buzzer to her apartment.

She answered fairly quickly, which assured him that she hadn't gone to bed yet.

"Yes?"

"Hi," he said softly.

She didn't respond verbally, but a moment later, he heard the buzz of the door opening, allowing him entrance into the building. He bound up the stairs, taking them two at a time and rounding the floors with efficiency, until he arrived outside her door. He paused for a moment, catching his breath, before knocking softly. He heard a rustle of movement behind the door, and then a moment later, it swung open – revealing his somewhat scantily clad girlfriend.

Troy's mouth dropped open slightly, taking in her silky black camisole, with a black lace along the low cut neckline; and sheer black bikini briefs.

"Are you going to come in, or are you just going to stand there with the door open so that if anyone passes by, they can see me?" Gabriella asked, a coy smile playing on her lips.

Immediately, Troy stepped inside, almost slamming the door behind him.

"Do you always hang around in your apartment dressed like this?" he asked, taking a step toward her.

She shook her head, biting her lip somewhat coyly. "No."

"Am I interrupting? Were you waiting for someone?"

"I was. I'm not any more." She took a few small steps backward, while he continued to move in her direction, like a predator moving toward his prey.

"You wanted me to come over after work?"

She nodded. "I hoped..."

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"Didn't want to be needy," she admitted.

He shook his head. "Silly."

"Did you come straight here from work?" Gabriella asked, pausing at the kitchen and gesturing toward it. "Are you hungry?"

"Yes." Between his tone and the look in his eye, she knew that the hunger he was experiencing mirrored her own.

"For food?"

"No."

"Good, because I don't have any."

Troy was done with the hunt, and took one final step toward her and grabbed her slender body, pulling her toward him and kissing her hard.

It appeared that neither one would be yet to face the loneliness of extended separation.

xxx

On Tuesday, Troy was working with one of the better casuals, a college sophomore named Jimmy. He was a switched on kid, great with customer service and had developed a really great knowledge of the stock and product. His interest in music was purely on a hobby level, which impressed Troy even more how dedicated he'd been to widening his music knowledge. They got along pretty well, and it wasn't lost on Jimmy the extent to which Troy's demeanor had changed over the last few weeks. Jimmy knew better than to say anything – Troy wasn't the kind of guy to really discuss his personal life at work.

For all his flaws, when it came to his work, Troy took his job very seriously. Work colleagues who had been to his gigs and been witness to his charm and charisma with the ladies witnessed an altogether different side to Troy in the store. Sure, he was charming with customers, but he was no more charming with a beautiful young woman than with any other customer.

However he found himself feeling rather distracted on Tuesday. It was a quiet day – beautiful weather, the kind of weather that encouraged people to spend time in the park, not hunting around music stores. He left Jimmy to handle the front of the store, and took advantage of the quiet to get ahead on things behind the scenes. He'd knocked over rosters, accounts and administration work – all the while picking up his phone every ten minutes, engaging in a continuous text message conversation. Around 2pm, Troy was about to leave Jimmy to go grab some lunch. He'd sent his last text about a half hour earlier, and she hadn't responded, so he was considering going by to see her.

"Hey Troy," Jimmy popped his head out into the office. "There's some woman out here asking for you. She said that she'd placed a special order with you last week, and you'd promised you were going to contact her with an update and you hadn't?"

"Huh? I haven't placed any special orders."

"I don't know. Can you come talk to her? She was pretty insistent."

Troy rose from the desk, feeling slightly annoyed at having his lunch plans delayed. When he entered the shop floor, he was met by the sight of none other than Gabriella Montez, browsing the shelves of the indie folk section.

"Excuse me, miss, I hear there's a problem?" Troy's voice rang out with a teasing tone.

He watched her as she looked up, a somewhat guilty look on her face at her trick. He wasn't at all mad at her though – especially not when she was looking professional and hot as hell in a slim grey dress with a high neck and capped sleeves, a cinched waist, and fabric clinging just tight enough to show off her curves without being work inappropriate. The look was completed with pantyhose and flats – though he knew she wore heels inside the building, and the flats were just for the walk to and from work, or evidently, the walk to and from her workplace and his workplace.

"Yes, there's a major problem," she teased.

He stepped toward her, crossing the floor. He took a quick glance around the store to confirm that there were no other customers present at the time, and without any regard for Jimmy, gave Gabriella a short but tender kiss hello.

"And here I was thinking that you leave your Mr. Charismatic antics at the bar," Jimmy commented with raised eyebrows from behind.

Troy turned, grinning ear to ear. "Jimmy, my girlfriend Gabriella. Gabriella, Jimmy is one of our superstar employees. He's going to be stepping up pretty much full time over his summer break."

"Sorry Jimmy, for the lie," Gabriella apologised. "I wanted to surprise him."

Jimmy held his palms up. "Not a problem. No harm done."

"I was just about to go on a lunch break," Troy told Gabriella.

"I hoped that," she said, with a smile. "I don't actually want to constantly distract you from work."

He leaned over, murmuring by her ear. "You do that whether you're here or not."

She felt her face heat up a little – it was a reciprocated feeling. "Is the big boss here?" she asked, glancing around.

"Yes, you're looking at him," Troy said with a wink. "Uh... come with me to get my phone and wallet?"

She nodded, and accepted his outstretched hand, and he led her out the back. She avoided eye contact with Jimmy, but out of the corner of her eye, she could see a wide smirk on his face. It was a very accurate knowing smile – because the minute that the door was closed to the back office area, Gabriella was pushed back against the door, Troy's hungry lips seeking contact with hers.

"Opinion on workplace quickies?" he asked, not having a moment to build up to the obvious question. His lips trailed along her chin in a series of kisses, and she mewled as he licked her nick.

"If you'd asked me that in January of this year, I would've said absolutely not." She sharply drew in a breath at the sensation of his hand seeking contact with her thigh, her dress bunching up.

"It's May, not January," he responded.

She closed her eyes, allowing the sensation of his fingers lightly circling her sex through her lace panties and tan pantyhose wash over her. In an instant, she made a decision, and her eyes opened. He was looking right at her, face inches away, imploring eyes gazing directly into hers.

She reached out, her hand seizing the zipper on his brown corduroy pants, carefully pulling it down.

"I went to a bar in February and my life changed," was all that she needed to say.

xxx

On Wednesday, Troy was back to a regular work day, starting at store open time. He and Andy had pre-arranged that they would spend some time on their music in the evening. On Tuesday night, when he'd told Gabriella this, she pouted a little, but was ultimately understanding. He invited her to come with him, but finally they made the decision that it was perhaps time to spend a night apart. She'd felt confident about this on Tuesday night, and even on Wednesday morning. But come Wednesday evening, as she sat alone in her apartment, it was strange.

She hadn't spent a whole evening alone in almost a week – Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday night were all spent with Troy. She was the type who was able to appreciate the quiet, enjoy the privacy and solitude. However she suddenly felt very lonely.

A knock came at her door, and she felt a little dubious, but smiled at the sight of Taylor through the peep hole before opening the door.

"So, Chad is at this awards ceremony thing at school. Want to order Chinese food?" Taylor asked.

Gabriella smiled. Just a couple of hours earlier, she'd texted Taylor and mentioned that Troy was rehearsing. They'd known each other for less than six months, but it was long enough for Taylor to understand enough that while in the middle of the honeymoon stage of a fresh, exciting relationship – a night apart felt like forever.

"Yes, please."

An hour later, they were sitting in Taylor's apartment. They had half empty takeaway Chinese food cartons in front of them, picking at some of the leftovers as they chatted. They'd gotten all the small talk over with – clearly Gabriella was doing her best to not talk about him. Clearly though, she was about to burst, and Taylor didn't want to deprive her the pleasure of gushing, and so decided to open the door.

"You seem happy," Taylor observed with a smile. "Separation anxiety aside."

Gabriella smiled wider. "I'm so happy Taylor, there are no words. You know... the beginning stages."

"It's exciting," Taylor nodded knowingly. "The falling, the point where all the quirks are charming and there's lots of sex – and hopefully, good sex."

"Lots and lots of great sex," Gabriella elaborated, before blushing a little. "Is it weird, me talking about him? Because he's your friend?"

Taylor waved her hand dismissively. "Nah. I mean, I don't want too much detail, but a little I can handle."

"I feel like I don't want to be apart from him. Ever. I don't think I've ever had a start of a relationship where it's felt like this before."

"Then that was your sign that those relationships are doomed," Taylor pointed out.

"Maybe. I was worried with Troy that it would become all about sex and nothing else... and even though there's a lot of sex, it's not... it's still about something more. I don't know how to explain it."

"You don't need to, I understand," Taylor said knowingly. "Define a lot of sex though?"

Gabriella paused. "Every night since Friday."

"And every morning, I assume?"

Gabriella nodded in confirmation, and then blushed and confessed in a low voice. "Yesterday afternoon in Troy's office."

Taylor's jaw dropped. "Okay, that could be TMI. At least it's good sex – it'd be a shame if he was all talk."

"I've lost track of how many orgasms I've had."

Taylor laughed. "Very good, then."

"I was worried before Friday that maybe it wouldn't be good," Gabriella admitted. "You know, that last time was a fluke, and that with all this anticipation over the months it would be kind of, average. Too many expectations, that sort of thing. But... I was so wrong."

"Can I ask you a question?" Taylor asked thoughtfully.

"Sure."

"Does it bother you that he's been with a lot of women?"

Gabriella hesitated. She had thought about this matter, she'd be lying if she were to deny that it had crossed her mind. "Not really."

"Not really? That means kind of yes."

"I think I worry more that he has come to enjoy that lifestyle. I mean, I know it's not like he's a crazy rock star type, but that muso life... I love that he's into music, and I'm completely supportive of him pursuing it, professionally. But half of Troy's appeal is being that broody musician who is single and has sexual charisma. I don't want to like, tie him down, or hold him back."

Taylor looked at Gabriella contemplatively, before suddenly saying, "I want to show you something. Give me a second."

Gabriella waited curiously as Taylor disappeared into her bedroom. A few minutes later, Taylor returned holding a book, and as she neared, Gabriella was able to make out the text on the cover.

"Your yearbook," Gabriella said with a smile.

Taylor nodded, and began to flip through the pages, in search of a particular section. When she found it, she handed the book to Gabriella, who began reading the page. There was something similar in her yearbook – a list of "most likely to" categories, generally voted on by fellow students and classmates. As Gabriella read the page, her eyes glimpsed on a small photograph of Troy. He was wearing a white t-shirt with red sleeves, a grin on his face.

"Most likely to live in the 'burbs with a wife, a dog and 2.5 kids," Gabriella read the caption aloud.

"This is who Troy really is. Him and Tiffany weren't going to work because she wanted him to compromise his passion. It wasn't because he wasn't prepared to commit, or because he didn't want a steady and stable relationship. He's changed a lot, but, at heart, he's still this person. The kid who grew up in middle America in a beautiful house with the parents who remained to be just as in love as the day they got married. That kind of upbringing, it shapes a person, you know? I'm not saying that he'll ever want to go back to suburban middle America life - but those values are there."

xxx

Her night with Taylor left Gabriella overwhelmed with thought as she lay in bed. She couldn't seem to get her mind to settle enough to fall asleep. Added to the empty space in the bed beside her, she was foreseeing a sleepless night laying ahead.

Her cell phone vibrated on the night stand beside her, and she reached out to check what she was being alerted to. A text message had come through, from Troy.

Are you awake?

She smiled, and wrote back. Yes. It's lonely here.

About ten seconds after she pressed the send button, she heard her intercom buzzing from in the living room. She rose to her feet, her pace quick as she darted out to answer it. She knew it was him.

"Hi," she spoke into the intercom.

"Hi," his simple voice came back.

She didn't say anything more, just pressed the button to release the downstairs door. She waited by the door, and as soon as she could hear footsteps outside, she opened the door, not even giving him time to knock.

"Umm... I..."

Troy didn't know what to say. He didn't want to sound clingy or needy, but the fact was that he had found himself returning home after rehearsal, and wanting to be in her presence. It wasn't even necessarily about sex, it was just the simple need for her touch.

"Come in here," Gabriella said, pulling him by his t-shirt through the door.

xxx

On Thursday night, Gabriella cooked dinner for her and Troy. They ate at the dining table, playing footsies while eating. They did the dishes together. Then it was to the couch, where they snuggled and watched television, before falling into bed at 9pm. One round of tender sex later, and they were both content and happy. They were exhausted from the week but falling madly in love, and the exhaustion was worth it, because they fell asleep with smiles on their faces and in each others arms.

xxx

Gabriella felt like she'd hit full on groupie mode when she arrived at The Lion's Den on Friday night. Except she wasn't a groupie – she was tempted to make up a t-shirt that said 'The Lead Singer Is My Boyfriend.' Not that a t-shirt was particularly necessary. She'd texted Troy letting him know she had just arrived, almost expecting him to tell her to come see him out the back where the band was prepping. Instead, no sooner had she greeted her friends, when he darted out from the mysterious side stage door, almost barrelled her over in the middle of the crowded bar, and initiated a steamy kiss. A couple of wolf whistles sounded from around them.

Troy pulled away, leaving Gabriella somewhat breathless.

"Gotta go, just wanted to say hello," he said, flashing her a smile.

"You're raising the bar on greetings," she responded with a chuckle.

"You raise the bar on everything," he responded with a wink. "See you after the show."

Gabriella couldn't help but watch him as he darted away, the moment before he disappeared backstage, he turned back and gave her a quick wave before disappearing behind the close door. Her cheeks were flushed as she turned back to the others, who were watching with amusement.

"So, it's going well?" Zeke asked with raised eyebrows.

"Yes," Gabriella responded simply, the radiant beam on her face a confirmation by itself.

"She's practically glowing," Sharpay observed teasingly.

"The walls are practically shaking in the apartment building," Chad joked.

Gabriella's mouth dropped open in a moment of genuine panic. "What?!"

"He's kidding," Taylor said, but she couldn't help but laugh a little at Gabriella's reaction.

"I'm getting a drink before the set begins," she said, cheeks flushed. "Anyone want anything?"

The group all declined, having just bought their own round. Gabriella had been standing back behind a few people waiting at the bar, when she found her elbow being tapped, and turned around to see one of the girls who worked at the bar – she recognised her. It occurred to Gabriella in a flash that this was a sign she was officially a regular, when she recognised the employees.

"What were you after? We'll bring it over."

Gabriella narrowed her eyes. "Why?" she asked dubiously.

"Welcome to the life of rock star royalty. You don't know if he can afford to pay his rent, but at least you get VIP treatment at his gigs."

Gabriella laughed a little uneasily. "Thanks, I think?"

"So what'll it be?"

"Um, just a vodka, soda and lemon, please. How much?" Gabriella went digging into her purse, but was stopped with a wave of the hand.

"It's from the tab. I'll bring it over, have a good night."

xxx

Troy was nervous – but not in the body crippling, nausea inducing way that he had been the week before. He was nervous in a healthy stage fright kind of way, the way that allowed him to channel the nerves into adrenaline ready to rock the stage on set. He felt a whole lot more prepared than the week before, from a musical sense, and more importantly was that he'd survived the set the week before and not crumpled into a heap on the floor.

Their set list for week 2 was built upon, in the way of Troy exploring singing about his emotions. It wasn't a coincidence that of the songs that they'd already performed in the past with Drew, that they carried across to Troy as lead Accidentally In Love by the Counting Crows, Beautiful Day by U2, Addicted by Saving Abel. Added to the list was a simple version of Your Body Is A Wonderland by John Mayer, Open Your Eyes by Snow Patrol, among others. The new layer that was added to Week 2's set list was a continuation of the conclusion of the first week – songs that were positive, songs that were about feelings of attraction, love and sex.

Troy was happy.

Perhaps it was the waves of happiness which were helping him to work through his anxiety. He knew it was corny. He knew it was cheesy. As he strummed his guitar in a final rehearsal of the rawest acoustic song which he and Andy had put together, he felt the corners of his lips tugging into a smile and he simply couldn't avoid the flashes of her in his mind. And he didn't care about Andy and Steve teasing him, nor did he care that when they got up on stage, that he spent far too much of his set sneaking looks in her direction. He didn't care that when they did Your Body Is A Wonderland that he was thinking about that day in his apartment, her coming out of the bathroom and looking at him like she really knew him, or that Accidentally In Love made him think about watching the second half of Shrek 2 with her, when it had been on television as they'd been lazing around the weekend before. She'd moved their group forward, to the closest tall bar table to the close. Every time that a lyric was particularly poignant or scandalously dirty, his eyes would meet hers, his lips would curve into a smile and her cheeks would flush. And that very smile, that very flush, would only fuel him to feel more – and to put more into the performance.

xxx

"Ugh, get a room."

After the set, while Andy had headed straight to the bar, Troy had headed straight to his girlfriend. Their passionate public display of affection was interrupted by Andy arriving with Troy's Corona, a wedge of lime neatly down the neck of the bottle. Troy pulled away from Gabriella, leaving her somewhat flushed as he accepted the beer and tipped it back, letting the refreshing nectar pour down his throat.

"I have another round coming for you guys," Andy advised with a grin.

"Thanks buddy," Chad said with a smile. "Good one tonight. Guess next step is to get your full band going, huh? Steve's a nice placeholder but not a long term thing, right?"

Andy nodded. "Yeah. I've been hitting up a few gigs, doing some research around the scene to see who is looking. There's a few options. It's hard, I wish I knew someone. Everyone I know is either tied to another band or just looking at a different direction to us."

"Doctor Montez! I thought I saw you before!"

Gabriella turned around, seeing her student Candice. She was aware that it was an NYU student favourite, however it was her first time actually encountering someone from school.

"Hi, Candice," Gabriella said, attempting to suavely swat Troy's hand off her backside. "Uh, everyone, Candice is one of my students. Well, former students from the semester just gone."

"I can't believe you're here! Do you come here a lot? Of course you do, if you guys are going out." Candice said, eyeing Troy who was smiling beside Gabriella.

"Oh, well I, uh, you know..." Gabriella was somewhat taken aback.

"It's okay, I know you guys have real lives too. It's cool. And what a real life! You're hanging out with the band!" Candice looked at Troy and Andy. "You guys are so sick, I've been coming here nearly every Friday this year. And the last two weeks – amaaaazing!"

"Thank you," Troy said, genuinely.

"Great to hear," Andy chimed in.

"Listen I uh... this might be totally inappropriate but I figure in life it's all about who you know, right?"

"Indeed," Andy agreed.

"My boyfriend Rhys is a musician – he's really, really good. Like, he's actually really good, not just in a me bragging about my boyfriend way. He's a drummer, but plays keys too and doesn't have a bad voice. We've been here the last couple of weeks and he's heard that you guys are looking to form a new band, more indie acoustic stuff. He was here last week, loves the subtle change in direction you're heading toward. He's here tonight and he brought a demo that he wanted to find an opportunity to give to you but he didn't know how to come up, and..."

"Bring him over to say hi," Andy interrupted her.

Candice grinned broadly. "Are you sure?"

"Absolutely."

With a flash, Candice headed back to the other side of the bar.

"She seemed nice. Do you know this boyfriend?" Andy asked, looking at Gabriella.

Troy had been listening to her talk, however he'd somewhat checked out – fixated on something else that she'd said. He interrupted, before Gabriella could even respond to Andy.

"Doctor Montez?" Troy repeated, his lips curving into a smile.

"You know I have a PhD. I've told you that before."

"Yeah but... it didn't really register. Your students call you 'Doctor'?"

"He's going to turn this into something kinky, isn't he?" Gabriella said, looking at their friends.

"Troy is good at doing that," Zeke said with a laugh.

"What do you mean turn it into something kinky? Babe, it is sexy. You should harness that power of it. You do know that pretty much all of your male students, and probably half the females, would find you ridiculously hot?"

Gabriella rolled her eyes. "There is nothing sexy about Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology."

"I beg to differ. Say it again."

"Okay, you seriously have to get a room now," Chad groaned. "Because the kid is headed over."

Troy glanced up, managing to straighten just a little bit, but not able to completely rid his mind of the present thoughts. He remained with Gabriella close by his side, her arm slung around his waist. He saw that Gabriella's student was headed over with another guy. If first appearances counted, the guy had a good look – early twenties, tall, floppy blonde hair that was styled in a way that made it look like he'd just rolled out of bed. His look was fairly clean, skinny leg grey jeans, a white vee neck t-shirt with a black jacket slung over his arm.

"Everyone, this is my boyfriend Rhys," Candice said.

They went around, exchanging handshakes and hello's.

"This is gonna sound lame, but it's really cool to be talking to you guys," Rhys said with a laugh. "You might think you're just a small band, but I really dig your stuff, especially of late."

"Thanks," Andy said sincerely. "Doesn't sound lame – we like compliments!"

"You like the new stuff?" Troy asked.

"Yeah, I do. You guys are headed in a really cool direction," Rhys said. "Hope you don't mind me saying it, but Drew leaving town might've been the best thing that could've happened for you."

"What was your favourite track from tonight?" Andy asked.

Rhys considered this question seriously. "Probably the acoustic cover of Home. Really raw. Fantastic vocals, man."

Troy smiled somewhat bashfully. "Thanks, man."

Gabriella squeezed his side hand – she too had loved that track, it was one she'd not heard him rehearse.

"Candice said you do percussion and keys?" Troy asked.

Rhys nodded. "Yeah. I grew up with classical – my mom had me take piano lessons when I was really young – but at some point in early high school I got into percussion. I'm into either, and a bit of both, really. I think your best kind of band is going to be versatile, so I try to keep up with both. I've got decent back up vocals too."

"Do you write?"

"A little. I'm better at collaborating. I guess that's why I'm really just looking for some new people to play with. I've jammed with a few people over the last month or so. I was with a band but they broke up, unfortunately. I stuck to myself for a while but really looking to get back out there now. I uh... I really would love to jam with you guys. No expectations, just some fun."

"You said you were with a band? Anything I'd know?" Andy asked.

"Yeah. I uh... I actually have a demo," Rhys admitted, and reached into his satchel, pulling out a couple of CDs. "Just a couple of tracks that were recorded live with my last band, one of them has a decent drum solo, and then this track I wrote and recorded with a friend – me on keys, her singing and playing acoustic." He handed a CD to Andy.

"Oh, you played with Mascara. I saw you guys a few times!" Andy said, looking at the scrawl of a note on the cover. "Cool sound."

"Thanks. Sucked when we broke up. One of the guys joined the marines, another one wanted to do more of a heavier sound."

"Mascara? Your lead singer was a chick, right?"

"Co-lead singer, it was her and the guy who went off to do the grunge thing. She's more into her guitar. She's the one I did that last track with."

Troy glanced at Andy – he knew Andy well enough to see that the wheels were spinning in Andy's brain.

"Let's grab some more drinks for everyone?" Troy suggested, glancing around.

Candice beamed as Troy and Andy escorted Rhys toward the bar.

"I knew there was a reason I took Intro to Modern Chem last semester," Candice said with a broad smile. "I made him bring his demo tonight but I don't think he would've come up if I hadn't forced him to."

"Here I was thinking you took the class because you love Chemistry?" Gabriella remarked.

Candice laughed. "Hardly. Just needed to fulfill a science requirement. I did enjoy the class though, which was a nice surprise!"

They all spent another hour or so at the bar, having another couple of drinks, which led to Troy and Andy invited Rhys to come jam on the weekend. Troy stifled a few yawns, not wanting to be the first to leave – it wasn't exactly the cool guy rock star image he tried to portray. Gabriella could very clearly see that he was exhausted, and so she decided to do the job for him.

"Guys, I'd love to stay, but I'm so exhausted. I'm going to head off," she said. She gave Troy a look. "You can stay, if you want."

"I'll come. Don't want you walking alone," he said, flashing her a smile.

Everyone said their goodbyes, handshakes, hugs and kisses on the cheek goodbye.

"We'll plan that dinner for this week, better late than never," Sharpay said.

"Yeah, everyone can come by the restaurant, try the new menu," Zeke encouraged. "I need honest feedback."

"Sounds great, let me know the details," Gabriella nodded.

"Andy and Rhys, see you guys tomorrow afternoon," Troy said, with handshakes and a triumphant step toward the door.

xxx

When they arrived back at her apartment, it was clear that Troy was wiped. Gabriella didn't make any mutterings about sitting up and watching a movie or offering him any food. She simply pressed a kiss to his lips and suggested they get ready for bed. Troy was in agreement, and he used the toothbrush which had become designated as his to brush his teeth and quickly gave his face a wash. They swapped places in the bathroom, with Gabriella taking a little longer than him.

About fifteen minutes later, she emerged having slipped into the blue t-shirt she'd acquired from him so many months ezrlier. She went back out into the main living area, switching off the lights and double checking that the front door was locked, before returning to her bedroom. The main light had been switched off, with just the light from her bedside lamp filling the room – revealing that Troy was lying in her bed, eyes closed, fast asleep. The covers were strewn about at waist level, low enough for her to have full view of his shirtless upper body and his boxer briefs. With a smile, she tiptoed over to his jeans and t-shirt that were lying on the floor on his side, picked them up and folded them, leaving them on her dresser. She then eased herself into bed beside him and flicked off the switch on the lamp.

As much as her body was craving his touch, she felt entirely satiated in a way that went beyond their physical chemistry – which was enough to allow her to drift off into a deep slumber with a smile on her face, with the man she was falling hopelessly in love with right by her side.