The engine hummed softly as Troy and Gabriella drove through the night. Gabriella's mom argued that they needed to leave earlier so that they would not arrive at Troy's house so late at night, but her arguments were shot down when Gabriella reminded her that she had one last morning class. It was just two days after Troy unexpectedly arrived at the Montez apartment in San Alto, California, after a fight with his dad that left him feeling like he was completely out of control. He had never had a panic attack before and to be honest, he was quite nervous it would happen again. And while Gabriella seemed to know what she was talking about when she told him that just because it happens once that doesn't mean it will continue to happen, he was still weary of it.
They had left later in the afternoon. Gabriella finished her last class of the week at 1:00, and the couple insisted on staying for lunch before finally hitting the road at 3:00.
"Drive safe," Ms. Montez begged them.
"I will," Troy promised.
"And call if you decide to stop somewhere for the night," Ms. Montez.
"I don't think we're going to stop… but if we do we will call," Gabriella added.
"Okay. I love you."
"I love you, too, Mom." And with that the two were off. The truth was, they didn't leave late in the afternoon just so they could have lunch with Gabriella's mom. They were leaving late so that by the time they arrived at Troy's house, his parents would be asleep. He knew it wouldn't help, but it wouldn't hurt either to postpone the inevitable conversation with his father. Four hours of driving later, Gabriella was becoming antsy.
"Where are we?" She inquired.
"Are you whining?" He chuckled. "We're in Bakersfield. Are you hungry?"
"No, just bored," she said, smiling at him. He smiled back at her and got off at the next exit. While he was filling up his gas tank she wondered into the convenience store. His car had finished before she came out, so he went in and saw her debating between a Diet Coke and a Dr. Pepper. He came up behind her and put his arms around her waist. She smiled and looked up behind her.
"I don't know which one to get," she explained.
"You have this in-head debate with yourself all the time, and you always get the same thing."
"Well maybe I want to shake it up."
"Yea, but knowing you, you don't," he smiled, choosing the Dr. Pepper for her. She shook her head and took his hand as he went to pay for it.
"Alright. We have an important decision to make," Troy said after an hour of comfortable silence.
"Mmm?" Gabriella mumbled, close to sleep.
"If we take the 40, we'll be get home around 3:30 in the morning."
"We can stay on the 15 and go get hitched in Vegas," he suggested. Gabriella's eyes shot open. She sat up and looked at him.
"You're kidding, right?" She said, slightly worried that he would truly to anything to avoid going home. He sighed.
"Yea," he exhaled. "I guess I was." He looked over at her and winked.
"You're crazy, Wildcat," she giggled, leaning back against the window.
"What time is it?" Gabriella asked groggily as she opened her eyes.
"Are you tired? I can drive for a while if you want," she offered.
"It wasn't that funny."
"Gabi…" Troy whispered, rubbing her thigh softly.
"Gabi, we're here."
"Come on you can go back to sleep inside."
"Okay," she said, rubbing her eyes. Troy hopped out of the car and opened her door for her, and she stumbled out. He put his arm around her and the two walked quietly into his house. Gabriella continued to his room while he stopped to let his parents know that they arrived.
"Mama, I'm home," he said softly into their room.
"Yea, Dad. I'm home."
"I want to talk to you."
"I just drove for fourteen hours. I'll talk to you tomorrow," he said, closing their door behind him. He entered his room to see Gabriella already asleep on top of his comforter. He took off his shirt and laid down next to her. Almost subconsciously, the two quickly became entangled in each other's arms before drifting off to sleep.
"Troy!" Mr. Bolton said forcefully as he opened his son's door. Troy and Gabriella jumped awake. Gabriella rubbed her eyes while Troy turned around to face his father.
"Dad, we're sleeping! Go away," he said angrily, turning back around and burying his head in his pillow.
"No. Son, we need to talk. So as much as you want to sleep with your little girlfriend…"
"Oh, give it a rest will you?!" Troy said, turning back around and pulling himself out of bed. Gabriella sat up uncomfortably. She watched as Troy almost pushed his father out of his room before following him out. As much as she tried not to, she couldn't help but overhear yet another conversation between Troy and his father. Although she had to admit, hearing both sides was a much different experience.
"How dare you come in to my room and speak about my girlfriend like that! Especially while she's right there!" Troy began, his voice already raised.
"Putting aside the fact that it is your room in my house, I just think you are putting a lot of effort into a school boy crush that you…"
"Oh, come on, Dad! It's not like that with Gabriella and you know it!"
"You just missed three days of school, Troy! Without asking for our permission, I might add!"
"I'm eighteen, Dad! It's second semester of my senior year and basketball is over! It's not like a missed anything!"
"You know, ever since you got involved with that girl…"
"That girl is named Gabriella, Dad! And I'm not going to listen to a word you have to say if you keep dragging her into this!"
"Honey, Troy's right. This is not about Gabriella," Mrs. Bolton tried to reason with her husband. Gabriella hadn't even realized she was there until then. She continued to listen.
"It has everything to do with her!" Mr. Bolton retorted. "You think he would even be thinking about Juilliard if it weren't for her?"
"Her name is Gabriella, Dad! Call her by her name!"
"Fine. Do you think he would even be thinking about Juilliard if it weren't for Gabriella?"
"I already told you! I don't want to go to Juilliard! I didn't even apply for that damn scholarship myself!"
"Well you certainly don't want to go to U of A anymore!"
"Is that so bad?"
"No, of course not…" Mrs. Bolton began.
"Yes!" Mr. Bolton said over her. "We've been working for this since you were old enough to hold a basketball, Troy. All the sudden you meet her and everything changes?"
"Her name is Gabriella!" Troy repeated again. He felt his heart rate begin to quicken. He started to take deep breaths and tried his best to block out whatever it was his father was saying. He would not do this again. He would not let his body do this to him again.
"Troy?!" His mother said, her voice finally overshadowing her husbands. Troy had sunk to his knees and leaned his head on the side of the table. He was covering his ears and counting slowly to ten. When he reached ten, he took a deep breath and looked up at his father.
"Her name is Gabriella," he repeated, his voice lower but with just as much anger as before.
"I just don't understand why you would want to give up everything you worked for a girl that you may not even be with next year," Mr. Bolton explained. Gabriella sucked in her breath. From Troy's room she could easily hear everything. The brief moment of silence had her worried, but she felt calmer when she heard Troy speak again. As far as what his father said, this was something that her and Troy had yet to discuss. Sure they discussed the possibility of being at different schools, even in different states. But they never discussed what that possibility would mean for their relationship. To be truthful, she had no idea how he felt about the matter.
"Dad, Gabriella and I could be a thousand miles apart next year. But she means everything to me. I'm not letting her go," Troy said confidently as he stood back up.
"Troy," his mother began.
"Mama, I know you think we're too young to…"
"Troy," she interrupted. "You got a letter yesterday. From Berkley."
"From Berkley?" Troy repeated.
"Berkley?" His father echoed.
"Berkley?" Gabriella joined in. Nobody had noticed her exit the room after Troy's declaration of his intentions to stay with her through college. They all turned around to face her.
"Yes. Berkley," Troy said softly to her. "The Bears play a mean game. And they have an award winning theater department," he added for his parent's benefit. His mother handed him the envelope and he took it gratefully. The room was silent while he opened the envelope. He read the first few lines of the letter, and closed his eyes.
"Sweetie?" His mother asked softly. He paused before answering her.
"I got in," he told her, a smile beginning to form on his face.
"You got in?" Mrs. Bolton repeated happily.
"I got in!" He said, allowing his mother to hug him proudly. "I can't believe it."
"I can! Oh, Honey! I am so proud of you," she said, pulling away. He couldn't take his eyes off the letter. He barely even heard his father walk out of the house in an angry huff or his mother follow him out. He did however, feel the presence of his girlfriend become stronger as she came closer. He broke his intent stare at the acceptance letter in order to look up in to her eyes.
"Berkeley is in California," she said.
"Thirty-two point seven miles from Stanford," he finished for her. She could feel the tears in her eyes begin to form as she wrapped her arms tightly around him. "Troy…"
"I love you so much, Gabi," he mumbled into her hair as they continued to embrace each other.
As Mr. and Mrs. Bolton reentered the room, they couldn't pretend that they hadn't heard those words come out of their son's mouth. Mrs. Bolton looked at the young couple approvingly, while Mr. Bolton scratched the back of his neck uncomfortably.
"How about breakfast?" Mrs. Bolton interrupted, and the two teenagers reluctantly broke apart.
"Thanks, Mama," Troy smiled. Mrs. Bolton smiled back at her son.
"Congratulations, Son," Mr. Bolton said a bit awkwardly, holding out his hand for Troy to shake.
"Thanks, Dad," Troy replied, shaking his father's hand willingly. After a short but meaningful handshake, the two men dropped their hands to their sides. Mr. Bolton went to help his wife make scrambled eggs and Troy pulled Gabriella to his side as he continued to read the acceptance letter again and again. He smiled as he felt Gabriella's lips brush against his jaw line.
"I love you, too," she whispered.