"Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success."

--Henry Ford--

The last time she was at peace with her life was when she didn't have to worry about school, about the people she talked too, or about the people she dated. There was no fighting parents, no family issues that everyone knew about, and no mother breathing down her neck about her personal life. Gabriella Montez didn't have to worry about her mother dating, about her own break-up which seemed to happen as slow as possible, or about the move from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Cannery, California.

She had grown up in Cannery, up until she was about to go into the sixth grade, but by that time her parents were at each other's throats. Her mother took custody of her, and moved them out to Albuquerque, New Mexico where she lived for the next four years--almost five years if she would have stayed for a couple of more months.

It was now the summer before her junior year and she was finally going to live with her dad. Although she didn't personally miss Cannery, she didn't love Albuquerque all that much anymore, and it was time for a change. She was done with the popularity crowds, done with the beauty pageants her old school put on for entertainment, and she was definitely done with guys who played football for a while. She was by no means a stuck up bitch like some of the girls back home, but she also wasn't purely innocent either. She was nice when needed to be, but she carried a sarcastic edge to her so that it was harder to let others into her personal life. She never did ask to be one of the only kids to have divorced parents.

Sophomore year came and gone along with breaking hearts and minds. She wouldn't trade the last year for anything, yet, she wouldn't relive it either as learning lessons about love and games was something Gabriella wanted to go through only once. When her mother started hounding her about her downfall grades that were only getting worst due to her extra-curricular activities after school, more fighting would break out. It got to the point where neither woman could go through a conversation without snapping at one another. For Anna Baker she just wanted what was best for her daughter, and sometimes she felt like Gabriella couldn't see that far into the future for the best opportunities. Anna never really did like Austin--Gabriella's old boyfriend--there was just something about him that spelled out 'bad seed'.

Gabriella was given the opportunity to move back to her old town and live with her dad for the next two years. It was something she wasn't that thrilled about since the only times that she did see her father over the last nearly five years, was at every other Christmas and Thanksgiving. There were no phone calls, there were no letters, and there were no e-mails. If anything, Gabriella preferred it that way so that she wouldn't have to go through saying 'goodbye' all that often. She wouldn't admit it out loud, but she hated that word. It sound so permanent.

Another thing that really bothered her was that the town she was moving back to was really small with less then five thousand people, and it was basically where everyone was your neighbor or part of your family. It was crazy how everyone was so close, and how gossip leaked throughout everyone's blood stream. Gabriella's return was burning like wildfire throughout the town which was neighbors with the Pacific Ocean.

Carlos Montez's house was just like everyone else's in the sense of being able to walk into the backyard, and being able to see the ocean from less than miles away. His house was fairly big, and sat on the corner of Lighthouse Road and Candle Street. It was tall, and on a bottom of a hill overlooking nearly the whole small city. Right down the street, about two blocks, was where all the town businesses were. Although Gabriella wasn't looking forward to going back to the town she used to make fun of, she was a little bit excited to be able to spend a little bit more time with her father without having to say 'goodbye' every time she went out for a walk.

She drove her car from Albuquerque to Cannery with her best friend Taylor McKessie--who was actually staying with them for the summer. Carlos thought that it might be nice to let Gabriella bring a friend when Gabriella knew deep down that her mother had been telling her father of their weekly fights, and he just hoped that Taylor would be like a cushion for them so that they didn't start fighting. But she had a feeling that fighting with her dad wasn't going to be a problem since she knew that he wouldn't be breathing down her neck about every little decision she was making. Especially since there was no Austin in California to screw with her mind.

"Gabriella!...Gabriella!" Taylor's voice called out from the distance on the sandy beach.

Surprisingly California was not that warm. Or at least in Northern California it wasn't. She should have been wearing her winter clothes, but instead she chose to wear her blue jean shorts with her black bikini top to run in the first morning she was staying with her father.

Gabriella heard Taylor's panting breaths before she heard her friend's legs stop beside herself.

"Didn't you hear me back there? I can't believe you actually like this weather," Taylor panted out as she leaned down and rested her hands on her knees to try to catch her breath.

Gabriella just smiled as she looked out at the foggy ocean. Oh yeah, another thing no one told her about was that the Ocean view from her father's backyard was nearly all fog. Everywhere in this old town consisted of fog and cold weather. Unless you were lucky and occasionally were home to enjoy the one day out of the week that it was nice with sun.

"I never said I liked the cold. I just said I would prefer feeling cold than warm."

Taylor rolled her eyes as she finally stood up. She took a step forward so that she was side-by-side with her best friend, and looked out into the ocean to see if she could see what Gabriella was looking at with fascination written in her hazel eyes.

"I can't believe you're moving here," Taylor breathed out in the silence. No one was out on the beach at this time as it was still in the early hours of six am, the water had to be at least high forties or low fifties, and the air temperature set goose bumps on anyone's skin if they weren't wearing a jacket. "There's like no--"

"Tay, just listen," Gabriella interrupted. Her hazel eyes looked out into the gray fog and a genuine smile coated her thin lips. "There's no noise. The waves aren't even moving today."

"So?" Taylor's tone was one of impatience as Gabriella knew that she was probably getting hungry and the coldness was doing nothing for them. They after all were used to Albuquerque's warm temperatures nearly year round. It was only natural for her friend to be crabby after running for at least a half an hour.

"So…it's perfect. Granted, moving our here maybe wasn't one of my best ideas since this town is really…interesting…but, oh who the hell am I kidding?" Gabriella turned around so that her back was to the gray waters. Her smile dropped and her arms crossed against her chest, pushing her showing cleavage up just a little bit more. "I'm gong to hate it here probably. I always used to make fun of this town when I was younger. I used to despise the town events, the town meetings, the town bake sale. Everything about the town!"

After Gabriella's rant she was breathing a little bit heavier, but the bright side to her little temper tantrum was that her best friend was no longer complaining, but smiling. "I just realized that I'm gonna miss you Gabi."

"You just realized this?" Gabriella asked with a flat tone, although a small smile was creeping it's way onto her face again.

"I guess the plus side to this is that you're coming back for Thanksgiving, and I'll know that you're miserable since you actually like the sun and apparently that's rare here."

Gabriella would have commented, but two figures caught her eye and a flying Frisbee. Both girls looked further up the beach to see two male figures who looked to be about their age standing about fifty feet apart from one another. The bright orange Frisbee came sailing passed the African American male and landed near Gabriella's and Taylor's feet.

As the girls walked to the Frisbee, Gabriella studied the two boys. The closer one had medium colored skin with a growing afro. He was fairly taller than her with a sleek build. He was dressed in jeans with a t-shirt as Gabriella swore he looked too familiar. The other male was too far away at the time to see clearly.

"Sorry about that," the male said in a kind voice as he jogged over to the girls. Taylor had picked up the Frisbee in the time Gabriella was trying to pinpoint exactly where she had seen this guy before.

The other boy was making his way over to them. His skin was tan which Gabriella found that hard to believe since she only could see clouds that morning, his brunette hair swept over his eyes; showing off his caramel highlights, and his piercing blue eyes washed over the three other teenagers. He was slightly taller than his friend, his muscles a little bit more defined underneath his white long sleeved shirt, and a dark navy blue t-shirt over that. His jeans hung low on his waist, and Gabriella bet that if he lifted his arms, she would get a glance at his boxers.

He looked to be the typical guy she dated at her old school. A jock nonetheless with killer looks.

"Gabriella?" The first boy questioned.

He recognized her as she tried to match his face with a name. All three sets of eyes were looking at her, and all of a sudden she felt a little uncomfortable with just wearing her bikini top with blue jean shorts that barely covered anything. Her skin was slightly glistening from her run, making herself even more uncomfortable. But she put on a brave smile as she didn't want them to know that, and all of a sudden it all clicked.

"Chad Danforth?!" She nearly exclaimed in excitement.

She could picture Taylor's eyebrows shooting up in surprise and shock at her exclamation, but she didn't care what her best friend thought right now. The smile that spread across the African American's face was enough to confirm that Gabriella called out the right name.

Chad Danforth used to be her neighbor, and probably still was now that she was back. She knew that her father hadn't switched houses, and she was almost positive that the Danforth's wouldn't sell their house since it was just as gorgeous as her father's. They had grown up together as it was Chad's parents that helped her parents through the divorce. Jerry and Eileen were one of the perfect couples that just mesmerized the town with their charity work, their community participation in town events, and their devotion towards each other. They were one of the lucky couples who never fought.

Chad had been Gabriella's best friend since kindergarten as they shared the same distaste for the town events. They were nearly at each other's sides for everything that they did as Gabriella can vaguely remember skipping the Apple Pie Eating Contest to go spy on the elderly with Chad. She could remember setting the petting zoo free as the animals trampled through their town's rummage sale. She could also remember a time when the two of them were having a sleep over at his house and instead of telling his parents that they were going to go outside to sleep on the trampoline, they just went and his parents freaked out thinking that they went missing.

"Jesus you're grown up," Chad breathed out with a smile on his face. He looked up at her and she couldn't help but smile. Although this might have been a semi awkward meeting again, and she wasn't the happiest person to be moving to Cannery, California, she was at least relieved that her old best friend remembered her. He opened his arms up and took a step forward. "Come here."

His warm arms encased her small body as she let her own arms wrap around his upper torso. Chad picked Gabriella up more so that her feet weren't stationed on the sand.

"I can't believe you came back!" He exclaimed; making Gabriella's cheeks flush with a light pink tint.

When she was standing next to Taylor again, at a safe distance away from Chad and his huge bear hugs, she shrugged. "I've been back for holidays."

Both Troy and Chad sent her wary glances as it wasn't that hard to pick up on the undertone of Gabriella's bitterness towards the town.

"Troy, this is Gabriella Montez, and Gabs this is Troy Bolton," Chad introduced proudly before turning towards Taylor.

Gabriella saw the exchanging eye glances between her old best friend and new best friend. She took that as her cue to step in. "Taylor, this is Chad. He's…my neighbor." She had a little trouble spitting out the neighbor part, as it wasn't everyday that she was introducing people to each other.

The air was somewhat awkward as Gabriella didn't want to seem rude and suggest that Taylor and them go and get breakfast, but just standing there wasn't helping at all either. Especially not when she was supposed to be keeping her mind moving at all costs or else she would wind up thinking about her old home and Austin…the guy who was very dangerous to think about right now.

"So um…a big festival is happening tomorrow?" Taylor asked slowly, and Gabriella silently thanked her friend for breaking the silence.

"Harold, our town's mayor and go-to-guy, has been planning for months to have this big clam festival." Chad's friend, Troy, finally spoke. His voice was smooth as it was laced with it's own sense of bitterness.

Chad rolled his eyes as his hand reached out and hit Troy on the shoulder playfully two times. "Troy's not a big fan of town events."

Gabriella and Troy both snorted. The later snorted because of how true Chad was. Troy was not into town events. Who would be if you were still considered an outsider? Gabriella, however, snorted because of a different reason. It was one of mockery as she seemed to recall a fairly long time ago when Chad and her would sit around and do nothing more than to make fun of Cannery.

For a brief second Gabriella and Troy looked at each other. It was quite easy to bond in their town if you shared the same distastes. Later on in life, Gabriella would have loved to say this was where they fell madly in love with one another. That just one gaze made both of them realize that love does exist, but life is nothing like fairytales. In reality, it was Chad who broke their stare apart; not love.

"You got a clam necklace?"

"Gee, should I be offended by your tone?" Gabriella asked sarcastically as she looked down at the clam necklace around her neck. It was basically a white beaded necklace with a dancing clam clip on situated in the middle of the necklace.

"Just drop it man," Troy commented from the side.

"Why is it such a big deal?" Taylor asked. "We were nearly hunted down this morning before the sun even came up by this man who looked to be about our grandparents age. He should not be able to walk that fast."

Chad and Troy both chuckled at Taylor's comments about Harold Castle. He was the guy who basically ran Cannery, California. If there was something going on or you needed a permit to do anything in town, you went to Harold.

"Locals only get the clam necklaces. Tourists have to pay like twenty dollars if they want to buy this cheap fifty cent necklace," Troy explained.

Gabriella and Taylor both looked over the guys. "Then why aren't you wearing a necklace Troy?"

An identical necklace was around Chad's neck, but Troy's was left bare. His eyes narrowed a little as his lips formed into a thin line.

"I can't believe that Gabs has been here for less than a day and she's considered a local, but yet, Troy has been here since sixth grade and he's still considered a tourist," Chad laughed as he found it amusing.

"Yeah, well Harold can go fu--" Troy started to say but got cut off.

"Isn't that him over there?" Taylor pointed her long manicured finger past Troy and Chad to a mere dot on the beach. Gabriella squinted her eyes and as her eyes adjusted, it was quite easy to see that it was Harold coming closer and closer.

"I think this is mine and Tay's cue to leave for breakfast," Gabriella suggested as she really didn't want to be stopped by Harold again that morning. She could only take so much of his praising. Even though she was rude and sarcastic at times, for some odd reason Harold always took a liking to her.

"I hope Gabi's taking you to Fred's, the diner, Taylor. It's the best place in town," Chad commented almost in a shy manner.

Gabriella narrowed her eyes in suspicion as Chad took a step forward to be closer to Taylor.

"She did mention something about a diner," Taylor spoke quietly; in an unsure manner.

"Great. Troy and I'll join you. It moved spots anyways, so we can show you the way," Chad agreed with a bounce in his step.

Taylor nor Chad waited for Gabriella's or Troy's opinion as they started walking down the beach.

"I guess we should follow them?" Troy suggested quietly as they fell into step together.

The wind was starting to pick up as now the waves were starting to crash upon the shore. Gabriella couldn't hide the shivers shaking through her body even if she tried.

"So Harold considers your family tourists still? What did you guys do to piss him off?" Gabriella asked in the bluntest way.

Troy smiled and looked at the brunette from the corner of his eye. "My parents are considered locals. It's only me Harold seems to dislike."

His tone was a little darker than normal--not that Gabriella would know what Troy's normal tone would sound like, but she could tell that there had to be some hidden story that no one knew about.

"That kind of sucks. As crazy as this town is, you almost have to be on Harold's good side," she commented.

"Yeah," Troy sighed and that was the end of the conversation. It was when they reached the end of the beach where a cement trail forked off to the side that Troy all of a sudden had a sudden idea dawn upon him. "Are you cold?"

Gabriella was busy looking ahead of herself. More people were out now as it was nearing on seven am, and she knew that people liked to walk or jog in the morning. The cold air did wonders to some people as running in cold air was one way to wake up.

"A little," Gabriella admitted with a shy smile.

"Wearing your swim suit probably wasn't the best idea. Didn't anyone tell you that Cannery was cold?" Troy teased lightly.

"I happened to live here for two thirds of my life. I still remember that it was always cold here. I just chose to dress like this because sometimes you just need to be different…to feel different," Gabriella defended herself.

"When we pass my truck at the top of the hill I'll grab my extra sweatshirt for you." Troy saw that Gabriella was about to protest, but he stopped her. "Seriously Gabriella, just put it on. Plus, it's sort of a rule at Fred's that if you don't wear a shirt, then no service."

For a moment just walking with Troy and listening to him trying to convince her to take a sweatshirt so that she wouldn't be cold made Gabriella forget everything. It was as if she was staring right at the ocean again, but instead she let his voice carry her away to a place where good people did things just to be nice instead of expecting a payment later on. It was a land of simplicity, a land where only her and select amount of people could go to.

Suddenly, after meeting one new person, things looked just a little brighter.

The walls were a teal color that looked freshly coated while the trim of the woodwork was a golden yellow. Fred's was exactly how Gabriella remembered it from the slightly over weight red headed woman who received full owner ship of the diner because of her husband's death to the small soda can shaped clock on the wall.

This diner was known throughout the locals as the spot to go to at least once a day. If you went for breakfast, then you usually went everyday for breakfast. All the tourists loved the diner too, although Gabriella remembered one tearful goodbye from Rebecca--Fred's' owner--and her admitting that she wished all the tourists would just leave so that Fred's could remain a local spot.

Gabriella practically grew up in this diner with Chad as her father took her here nearly every morning to eat, and if they didn't go in the morning, then they would go for dinner or a late night dessert. Rebecca made the best apple pies that just melted in anybodies mouth.

However, no matter how much time Gabriella spent at Fred's, she had never actually been there that early, so she wasn't accustomed to all the early birds filling in open spots left and right at tables. If the foursome didn't pick a table to sit at soon, they would get stuck eating at the counter, which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.

"Oh, I see a table," Troy said just as a couple with a baby stood up to leave.

Chad and Troy went to the table right away, and Gabriella was about to take a step to follow, but Taylor grabbed onto her arm gently.

"What's wrong?" Gabriella asked, sensing something was up with Taylor and how she was being looked at by her friend's dark eyes.

"You and Troy seem to be a little bit closer. What's up with that?" Taylor whispered.

Gabriella shrugged. She was wearing his sweatshirt, but that was all. "Nothing much. I was just cold, and since you brought a shirt with you out on the run, he offered me his sweatshirt from his truck."

Gabriella knew she wasn't ready for a boyfriend yet, and it really didn't matter since she didn't even know if Troy was interested. It was easier to just stay friends.

"Okay?" Gabriella asked as she wasn't sure if she convinced Taylor. She wasn't even sure if she convinced herself.

Taylor sighed with a smile. "Yeah. I guess I just thought he would make a great rebound for you."

Gabriella's eyes went wide as she lightly slapped her friend on the arm. "Dirty thoughts Taylor McKessie. Shame on you," she lightly chided as Taylor just rolled her eyes and they both continued their way over to the table that was being cleared away by none other than Rebecca Tailor herself.

"Becca, we have a surprise for you," Chad was saying with a playful smile.

Taylor had a chance to sit down before Rebecca turned around, but right as Gabriella was about to pull her chair out, she heard a gasp and froze in her spot.

"Am I seeing a ghost?" Rebecca's voice was nothing but like a grandmothers who wanted to spoil all her grandkids. She was one of the only people in town who liked to listen to people rather than talk herself. Although she would speak at the appropriate times, and when she did, you listened. There was just no question about it as it was like one of the top sins in this town to disobey Rebecca.

Gabriella stood awkwardly as the slightly larger person took a good look at her. She took her time to actually see Rebecca too with her short reddish fading hair that almost now looked like a worn out brown. Her soft skin was slightly falling on her face with her high cheek bones holding it up. Her green eyes danced with delight with her red lips slightly parted, out of breath.

She couldn't breath a second later as Rebecca's arms squeezed around her torso for a tight family like hug.

"I can't believe you're back! You're father should have told me! I see him nearly everyday still. He's going to get a mouthful from me the next time I see him." Rebecca pulled back, but she didn't take her hands off of Gabriella's shoulders. Her eyes were glittering with tears and delight. "You look so beautiful. I just can't believe it."

Gabriella rolled her eyes playfully. It was so much easier to make this situation lighter than what it was now. "Oh thanks," she said sarcastically. "You make me sound so much uglier back then."

"Never. Everyone around here knew that you would grow up to be a real heartbreaker. I just…I never imagined that you would return."

Rebecca finally pulled all the way back and wiped her hands on the white apron she tied around her waist.

"Becca, this is my best friend Taylor. Tay, this is the town's most famous woman ever, Rebecca Tailor." Gabriella introduced proudly. She didn't grow up with grandparents, so Rebecca was just like a grandmother.

"Hello Taylor. Are you staying for the summer too?" Rebecca kindly asked.

"I am, but Gabi is staying for good."

The smile on Rebecca's face widened even further in excitement. Gabriella sat down quickly before she could be put into a death grip hug again.

"That settles it. All four of you get whatever you want. It's on the house," she announced with delight.

"Score!" Chad and Troy both exclaimed.

"I'll be right back for your orders," Rebecca said as she once again began picking up the dirty plates that were still on the table.

"She's one heck of a character," Taylor commented.

"I can't believe that your dad hasn't told that many people that you're back for good," Chad said as he didn't even have to pick up the menu to decide what he wanted.

Gabriella's shoulders went up and down in a shrug, but it was hard to tell due to Troy's sweatshirt being nearly three or four sizes too large. "I didn't exactly leave my last home on good notice. He probably isn't too proud that I came here for the reasons that I did." Gabriella thought for a second before adding, "and what do you mean 'told a lot of people'? Who did he exactly tell?"

"Our families," Chad answered right away, "and--"

"And of course he told the principal of our school since they play golf every Saturday morning with our dads. You know, being neighbors and all, they're close." Troy cut in right away as Chad gave him a curious look that only Taylor picked up on since Gabriella was too busy staring at Troy.

"Neighbors? You live by me?" She didn't want to seem rude with her question, but there was just simply no other way that she could think of on how to rephrase her question. She just wanted an answer, and she didn't want to go the long way of conversation to get it.

Troy just smiled. "Yeah. I live across the street from you and Chad. Principal Matsui lives right next door to me."

When Rebecca returned she didn't even have to ask Gabriella if she wanted coffee. She just automatically brought a larger mug than what she gives out to customers and filled it to the very top. "Now usually I don't do this, but you're the one exception when it comes to coffee, and of course I must remind you that--"

"that it will stunt my growth?" Gabriella filled in at the same time as Chad. "But it's so good."

Rebecca smiled at the both of them. "You two were always the handful. I'm somewhat thankful that I didn't have to deal with the three of you all together the past years. I think our whole town would be in pieces."

As they gave Rebecca their orders she always added in her bit or two about what she thought they should get with their meals on the side. Instead of just the omelet Taylor wanted, she winded up getting toast and bacon on the side. Also, instead of the two waffles, bacon, and hash browns Troy was going to eat, he winded up getting sausage and freshly baked biscuits too.

She was about to turn away to place their orders when she stopped immediately. "Before I forget Troy, my roof is going to need to be redone this summer. Do you mind helping me out?"

"No problem. I'll let Charlie know right away." Troy promised her with a wink and a hair swish.

"So what is this festival about exactly tomorrow?" Taylor asked when a silence filled the table.

People were leaving the diner now as the locals Gabriella remembered started to come in. She already knew what the festival was about as in her eleven years living in Cannery, California, they had never once switched an event in a festival unless the whole town voted to do so.

Chad's and Troy's voices filled the table she was sitting at as she had the most perfect view facing the door so that she could see who was entering. A man who looked familiar in Gabriella's mind walked into the diner. He was carrying a very large bag, and he kept stroking the outside of it. Her eyes narrowed as there was no question about it that the man's name was Tucker. He probably still lived with his mother, was single, and was the town's permanent temp worker. He received all the odd jobs handed out by Harold.

A woman walked through the door next. She had brown hair; slowly turning gray at the sides. Her hair style was short with a perm so that her hair puffed at the top. She was Molly Truman, the town's gossip queen. If you wanted things spread throughout the town, then you told Molly and she would spread it for you. She was always one of the town sweethearts who would do anything for you at your beck and call.

When their eyes connected, Gabriella quickly looked down and at the steaming mug in front of her. She could almost hear Molly rushing to Tucker's side to tell him that Gabriella Montez was back. It would only be a matter of time before the whole town knew now.

"Two eggs, sunny side up. With a side of brownie and ice cream," Rebecca announced proudly; setting the plate down in front of Gabriella. The eggs reminded her of eyes, and Rebecca even put bacon on the plate to make it look like a smile.

"I didn't order any brownie?" Gabriella more like questioned as Rebecca finished putting down the rest of the food.

"I know sweetie, but this was your favorite dessert before. Unless your appetite has changed, I can take it back and make something else for you?"

"No!" Gabriella nearly exclaimed. "I still eat like before. This is great. Thanks."

"I don't know how you do it Gabriella. You never put any meat on your bones. I'll have to change that this summer," Rebecca told her.

A deeper voice interrupted the table as Gabriella looked up when a shadow fell upon her plate of smiling breakfast. Tucker had dull blue eyes, pale skin, and a dark set of hair. He was somewhat tall and his body type was nothing special. He was neither big nor small. He didn't really fit in well.

"May I have a word?" He asked.

Gabriella couldn't help the smile that fought it's way onto her face. "Hello Tucker."

"Oh?" He sounded clearly surprised. "I didn't think you'd remember."

"How could I forget you? You were like the downfalls to my birthday parties every year. I hope you're still not that creepy clown who follows people around to make balloon animals anymore," Gabriella teased.

"Well I…" he cleared his throat. "I just wanted to say welcome back and I hope you do much better here than in Albuquerque. I heard what happened at your old school and in all fairness, when your dad showed the town that picture of you with that one guy I knew right away that he would be trouble."

"What?" Gabriella asked clearly puzzled. Why would her dad be showing the town pictures? But then again, it was easy to guess as Gabriella knew that he missed her. It was only natural to carry around a couple of pictures in a wallet.

"I just…there was something about him that just got under my skin. Maybe it was the tattoo on his torso that did it? I just…nope, it was definitely his upper arms. I just can't stand it when you can see the veins popping out of some peoples' arms." Tucker decided as Gabriella could instantly recall Austin's good looking arms and the way they felt around her.

It only took Tucker's small words to force her back into her sophomore self. She and Austin had been dating since the beginning of the school year until the end when things had just twisted and turned into something that Gabriella didn't even recognize anymore. She was just lucky that she had Taylor as a best friend still. All her other friends were gone now due to different reasons Gabriella wished she never had to go through.

"Tucker is it?" Taylor asked before this strange man could go on anymore. Taylor saw the look in Gabriella's eye. She hated that look and she hated Austin even more for making Gabriella feel this way. "I'm Taylor McKessie. Gabriella's friend?" She supplied before shaking his hand politely. "I think it's best that you sit down now. Before you lose your spot."

He turned away sullenly. "You okay?" Taylor asked quietly.

Gabriella looked at her with a small smile. She could feel Chad's and Troy's eyes on her. "Yeah. I told you this town was fucking crazy."

"Dad, I'm home!" Gabriella shouted into the house. For a guy living on his own, he sure knew how to decorate, although most of the stuff was from before the divorce.

"Hey you guys. Did you find your way around okay?" Carlos asked as he came into the living room with a newspaper in his hand. His hair was getting longer than normal as he usually liked to keep it short; almost like a buzz cut, but not quite as short, and his caramel eyes were clouded over due to his reading glasses situated on his face.

"Yeah. Apparently I'm big news or something. I'm actually the town gossip right now as the Clam Festival was pushed to the second most important thing happening," Gabriella responded as she sat down on the couch in the living room. Taylor followed closely behind her into the room, but then glanced at the two relatives before deciding something.

"I think I'm gonna go read for a while," she stated as she excused herself from the living room as she knew that some sort of conversation was going to be started between father and daughter. She didn't want to interrupt if it was a good or a bad thing.

Taylor's shoes could be heard on the hardware floor as she walked to her temporary bedroom which was right down the hall on the first floor, and connected to the kitchen. It was when the two Montez' heard the door click that they actually looked at each other again.

In Carlos' eyes his daughter had changed a lot. He didn't know the full story of his daughter's life, but he did know that she did go through troubles back with her mother, and that was the reason why Gabriella chose to move in with him. Anna didn't tell him the full story as Carlos insisted that she didn't. Anna had a strong belief that Carlos should know before Gabriella actually settled in at his house, but Carlos believed differently. He thought Gabriella should tell him in her own time. They should be able to feel comfortable around each other, and if Anna was just going to tell Gabriella's life story, then Gabriella would never totally feel comfortable around him.

The last time Carlos had seen Gabriella was when her hair was shoulder length, she was an inch shorter, and it was a time before make-up came into contact with her flawless face--although it still is rarely used.

He sat down in the big red armchair situated in his living room as a coffee table was dividing the father and daughter.

"Taylor seems nice," he commented quietly.

Gabriella looked in the direction that her friend went, and instantly wished that Taylor would magically switch places with her. But she swallowed up her wishes and turned her face back to her dad. Carlos noticed how even though Gabriella's physical appearance changed, her personality hadn't as she was still strong-willed, independent, and stubborn.

"Yeah. She's my best friend," Gabriella said as she drew her legs up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her knees in a way to receive body warmth.

Gabriella was by no means an ugly person as in her father's eyes, she was the most beautiful daughter he could have imagined, and he knew that in others' eyes, Gabriella was considered gorgeous. He knew that she had past boyfriends who he never did get the chance to interrogate, but when she came home from going out her first morning back and she already was wearing someone else's clothing, that was bound to bring up a conversation topic.

"So where did you guys go this morning?" He asked casually.

There was just something in his tone that set Gabriella on high alert. "Um…we went down to the beach by the pier, and then we went to Fred's. I introduced her to Rebecca," Gabriella explained smoothly. She smiled in reminiscence of one of the best breakfasts' she had ever had since the big move nearly five years ago. She knew there was a reason why she would always go in the morning.

But the food was only one of the reasons why the breakfast was so good. The other thing that contributed to the breakfast was the two boys sitting across from her and Taylor. Chad and her caught up on many things including school, past friends, and new stories to tell one another. But when she wasn't talking to Chad she was busy learning more things about Troy Bolton. They were in the same grade, he moved in when she moved out, his dad is the gym teacher at the high school and the basketball coach, and he was an only child.

"Is that a roofing sweatshirt?" Carlos asked finally as he took in the green coloring on the gray sweatshirt. It was as if the design was created by a five year old who drew stick people on top of a basic square house and triangle roof.

Gabriella looked down to hide her pink cheeks before smiling a little and looking back at her father. Her shoulders shrugged before she said, "Yeah. Who would spend money on buying this sweatshirt? It's kind of…messy."

"That's not the point Gabriella. Where did you get it from?" He hated asking so many questions, but that was the only way Gabriella would ever talk to him then.

"While Tay and I were on the beach, we ran into Chad and his friend Troy. They came to breakfast with us, and since I was only in my swim suit top, Troy lent me his sweatshirt. Okay?" Gabriella quirked an eye brow.

"Okay, and…I'm glad you met up with Chad already. I kind of needed to tell you something."

Gabriella nodded as it couldn't be that bad. From what she heard out of Chad's mouth during the morning was that he did a complete turn in his life starting high school. He actually was getting involved in the community. Even just thinking about those words coming out of Chad's mouth put a smile on Gabriella's face.

"I invited the Danforths and Boltons over for dinner tonight. Sort of like a cook out type bonfire thing. Of course after the grilling and eating, the adults can go inside, and the teenagers can be alone around the fire tonight," Carlos explained.

"Teenagers? There's only going to be four of us. That's hardly anything, you guys can join us too."

Carlos smiled at his daughter before continuing. "Actually, Chad and Troy were planning on bringing over some of their friends. You actually might remember some of them from your intermediate school."

Gabriella mustered a smile as she was kind of interested to see what group Troy and Chad fell into. But then again, she could already guess with their good looks, strong muscular builds, and their egos giving her clues. They were probably in the jock or popular crowd.

A crowd that Gabriella knew she should stay away from.

"You okay honey?" Carlos asked as he noticed Gabriella's faraway gaze.

She shook out of her thinking. "Yeah. Sounds great."

"It does, doesn't it? Also, I have a surprise guest for you to meet. I think you'll really enjoy this cook out tonight."

Somehow, Gabriella doubted that.

Gabriella sat down on the built in window edge looking out over the backyard. Her room was situated in the back of the house as the one window that was in her room was built into the wall with bookshelves surrounding it. She never did admit to anyone back in New Mexico her love for reading, and she wasn't planning to announce it in California either.

The sky was becoming darker and soon enough stars would be able to shine down; lighting up the sky naturally. If Gabriella looked close enough down into town from her window, she could look past her backyard and see the town square far away, with little moving dots preparing for the festival the next day. That was one of the reasons why she liked this spot in her room so much. It was so easy to see into town when the sun was out.

But she didn't know how long she could stand looking out into the town that night. Everything she did had a link back to Albuquerque. Going out to breakfast reminded her of her first time meeting Austin's parents after church one Sunday morning during brunch. Hearing her dad say that he invited people over for a dinner party made her think about the parties Austin and her nearly always had to attend due to being a big football star and cheerleader. Finally, just looking up at the stars held a meaning for her as for her first date with Austin, he took her down to one of the many beaches and they had dinner on the beach while watching the stars.

Gabriella drew her legs up closer to her chest and wrapped her arms around her knees. As she looked up into the stars her eyes glistened with unwelcomed tears. There were times when she was alone and tears just automatically came into her eyes. They were unwanted tears that she hid from everybody else.

She knew her top was probably being wrinkled, but she didn't care as it wasn't like she tried to dress up. She was just wearing her dark blue jeans that fit perfectly, as most of her friends called them her 'hot jeans', and then her top was a light weight cotton blouse which was plaid and the sleeves were rolled up to her elbows. She had the top three buttons undone with a black strap tank top underneath.

"Knock knock," Taylor's voice called before she lightly pushed the door open just enough so that her whole body came into view. "Hey, Chad and Troy are here with their families. Your dad sent for me to come and get you."

Gabriella looked at her friend while wiping with the back of her hand underneath her eyes. If Taylor knew that Gabriella had tears in them she didn't say anything. Gabriella caught the wariness in Taylor's voice, however, as her friend stood in her doorway.

"What?" Gabriella asked unsurely. She didn't know if it was a good thing or a bad.

Taylor snapped out of her thoughts and looked at her friend. She was caught in a dilemma and she wasn't sure if she should tell Gabriella or not. After all, it wasn't really her place and she now knew who the special dinner guest was.

"Um…Gabi, are you okay?"

A forced smile overtook her face. "Yeah." She stood up and moved to sit on her bed. Taylor smiled back as she also sat on Gabriella's bed cross legged. "I just…was thinking again. Something I've been doing too much lately."

Taylor laid a hand on Gabriella's knee in a friendly way. "I'm sorry about how things ended. Austin's a dick for doing that. In fact, he's more than a dick. He's a dirty slime ball who needs his ass kicked."

Gabriella hiccupped back more tears as she appreciated Taylor's comforting ways, but yet, she didn't want comfort anymore. It had been nearly a month since their break up and Gabriella was tired of people trying to comfort her. She needed to be brought back into the real world where real people got hurt.

"Tay…thanks." Gabriella couldn't tell her friend that, however, as Taylor was set on speaking her mind. Although Gabriella knew it was only a matter of time before Taylor probably would make amends with him since she would still be going to school with him, and they were friends before Gabriella started dating him.

"You sure you're okay?" Taylor asked.

"Yeah…unless there's something you're not telling me?" Gabriella asked with worry.

"Let's just go down to dinner. It smells great," Taylor said with cheerfulness.

"I'll follow your lead."

Taylor had been very careful to lead Gabriella out onto the house's backyard deck that was big enough to fit an outside table with six chairs, a large grill, and stairs leading down to the backyard. There was a table set up next to the grill which held all the necessities for eating. Plates, napkins, plastic forks and spoons, along with ketchup, mustard, and relish for the hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and hotdogs. There was enough meat to feed a small army along with buns, chips, and dessert.

Gabriella looked at the table next to the grill with confusion. "Since when did my dad learn how to make brownies?"

Taylor stopped and turned to look at Gabriella. She was hoping she could get Gabriella down the deck stairs and down near the fire pit and picnic tables without her stopping. Troy and Chad were sitting in lawn chairs that were near the fire pit, even though there was no fire yet, and the five parents were all sitting at the picnic table that was a good distance away from the fire pit.

"I think one of the mom's brought the brownies," Taylor said. "Now come on. We don't want to get caught up here by the parents and be made to check on the food."

Gabriella shook her head to clear her thoughts and followed Taylor down the steps. Jerry and Eileen Danforth were sitting on one side of the table while Mr. and Mrs. Bolton were sitting on the other side. Carlos was just standing up when Gabriella and Taylor made their presence known.

"There she is. The girl who this dinner is all about!" Jerry Danforth announced in his deep voice. He was a bigger man with a good hearty personality. He seemed to always have a smile on his face and a thought to share whenever needed.

Gabriella blushed lightly as Taylor just smiled at her and went to go sit over near Chad and Troy across the pit in the ground.

"Hi everyone," Gabriella greeted with a small wave.

"I'm gonna go check on the food. Gabriella, honey, I'm sure that you remember Jerry and Eileen, and then I don't think you've ever met Jack and Lucille Bolton yet, have you?" Carlos asked as he made his way over to the stairs.

Gabriella looked at the later couple who seemed to look just a little bit older than her father, but not by much as she knew the Danforths were five years older. Carlos and Anna fell pregnant right out of high school and Gabriella was born right before their first year of college was done. Gabriella only could assume that that Boltons were just out of college when they had Troy themselves.

Lucille had brown hair that went past her shoulders a little bit, creamy colored skin that looked flawless on her face, and green eyes that greeted her with friendliness. Jack Bolton seemed to be tall as Gabriella could tell that with just him sitting down. He had dark hair, a strong body build, and bright blue eyes.

"Nice to meet you Mr. and Mrs. Bolton."

"Oh dear, call us Lucille and Jack. The formals make us sound old," Lucille laughed a little.

"That's because you two are old!" Troy shouted.

Jack rolled his eyes as the adults all laughed a little at Troy's words.

"Gabriella, I can't believe that you're back. You're grown up so much," Eileen gushed with a smile.

"Yup. I just…can't believe it either," the teenager agreed before hearing Chad calling her over to the open chairs.

"Gabi, come on! Baylor said they're almost here!"

Gabriella smiled one last time at the adults before she walked over to the fire pit. She sat down in the empty seat between Troy and Taylor so that she was facing the house and her back would be to the people who were coming up the hill at the moment.

"The food smells so good right now," Taylor said as the smoky grill smell assaulted Gabriella's senses.

"You ready for this?" Troy mumbled out of the corner of his mouth. His bright blue eyes looked at Gabriella with a twinkle in them and Gabriella knew that he was finding something amusing.

"How many people did you guys invite?" Gabriella asked just when a blonde came into view. She was short, had long blonde wavy hair that looked too perfect, and a stick like figure as Gabriella thought she didn't have an ounce of fat anywhere on her body. She was dressed in a bright dark blue shirt with rhinestones, along with short white shorts. She had a smile gracing her tan skin as her hand was laced within a boys hand.

"Shar, Zeke!" Chad greeted as he held up his soda can in his hand and tipped it a little in greeting.

Zeke was wearing khaki shorts with a green polo highlighting his darker skin color. His sparkling white teeth showed as he looked right at Gabriella in a silent greeting.

"Soda anybody?" He asked politely as the girl, Sharpay, already took a seat in the open chair next to Chad.

Sharpay was the only one who requested sparkling water as Gabriella noticed for the first time that Taylor already had something to drink. Zeke looked right at Gabriella this time as he walked backwards towards the cooler that held the drinks. It was as if he already knew where to walk to get things.

"I'm Zeke," he introduced. "And this is my girlfriend Sharpay Evans."

Gabriella smiled, "Gabriella."

"Where are the others?" Troy asked. "I could have sworn that I heard Cross down the street."

"Jason Cross?" Gabriella asked quietly. She normally wasn't quiet, but remembering names was something she wasn't used too.

"You remember him?" Chad asked as Gabriella could hear more people talking in the distance. She could vaguely make out another girls' voice and a guy's.

She searched within her memory and smiled a little as it all seemed to click into place. "Yeah. A little. He transferred into our fifth grade class, right?"

"The one and only Cross!" A boy who had shaggy dark brown hair announced proudly as he held out his arms for effect. He had heard Gabriella describing how she remembered him and decided to just make an entrance.

The girl next to Jason blushed a little as she walked underneath his open arms and sat down by Sharpay quietly; leaving no spot for Zeke to sit down in, but he didn't seem to mind as he sat down by Taylor.

"Heads up Shar," Zeke called before tossing Sharpay a water bottle. The blonde scrunched up her nose before deciding that the bottle would just have to due.

Jason sat down in the last available spot between Zeke and the quiet girl who came up the hill with him. Gabriella looked at the quiet girl as Zeke and Jason were commenting on how the traffic wasn't that bad getting to her dad's house. She looked somewhat familiar. It wasn't until her big blue eyes looked at her that Gabriella realized who she was.

"Kelsi, right? I'm Gabriella, and this is Taylor."

"Yeah," she answered quietly.

"You were from Albuquerque before?" Sharpay asked abruptly as everyone seemed to quiet down. Gabriella didn't recognize her, so she figured that Sharpay must have moved here after Gabriella had left.


"Moving here must have been one step up then," she commented casually; making Gabriella narrow her eyes just a little bit as she was taking Sharpay's tone as being rude. Gabriella's best friend still lived in Albuquerque, so if Sharpay was being disrespectful over that, then she sure was going to get a piece of Gabriella's mind.

"Actually, I consider moving back here one step lower. There's no sun, half the time it's raining, and the town is crazy," Gabriella replied coolly. The two girls stared at each other, one smirking in a challenge and the other playing with the top of the water bottle to distract herself from making a scene.

"So," Jason announced loudly; breaking the uncomfortable stare the two girls were having, "who's heading into town for the festival tomorrow?"

Nearly every kid there groaned except Gabriella and Taylor. This was all new to Gabriella. She never felt like such an outsider before. Sure, she felt like an outsider when her parents were announcing they were getting a divorce, and then she felt like an outsider when she switched schools, but she was in sixth grade at the time. She still had time to make friends without worrying about fitting into the right crowd.

"I personally think Danforth here has the best job ever," Zeke said with a sarcastic edge in his tone. "Dressing up as a giant clam is so worth seven bucks an hour."

Chad narrowed his eyes playfully. "Well at least I'm getting paid for what I'm doing. You guys all took the easy way out to just sit at a table and collect stupid tickets. At least I'm doing something productive."

Everyone all kind of laughed at how serious Chad sounded.

It wasn't until Gabriella heard her dad's voice that she realized he was down with the adults again. She looked straight ahead, past the staring Jason and past a laughing Zeke that she saw the happy smile on her dad's face.

"Gabi, I have someone for you to meet. Come on," Carlos urged as he stood up and motioned for Gabriella to follow him up the deck's stairs. Gabriella didn't see the panicked look on Taylor's face as she followed her dad.

She was just walking past Lucille that she froze in her seat as she looked above herself to see the sliding glass door open. A woman with long blonde hair stepped out on the deck with an apron around her waist. She looked to be in her mid thirties as she smiled down upon everyone.

Gabriella's smile dropped as her dad continued up the stairs as if nothing was wrong with a strange woman coming out of his house. The lady had on dark blue jeans with a white turtle neck on. A pink apron was wrapped securely around her waist as her hands were patting the material gently to rid herself of the extra food that collected onto her skin. Gabriella's eyes took in the way that her dad put his arm around the woman's shoulders. The blonde snuggled into her father's side while smiling right at her. She had dark brown eyes, much like Gabriella's, and her body was slim yet curvy. Her skin was tan and her face looked young with the way that she smiled.

"Lauren, this is my daughter Gabriella, and Gabi, this is Lauren…my fiancée," Carlos announced proudly as he pressed a quick kiss to the side of Lauren's head.

Gabriella's mouth was left open as she stood there gawking at the happy couple. She couldn't believe her father would just spring this on her in front of people who could possibly become her friends at school. She didn't know how to react as she took a step backwards to balance herself.

Carlos' smile dropped as he saw that Gabriella wasn't saying anything. He looked concerned. "Gabi…say something."

"I…I…uh…" she looked at Lauren's still awaiting face. She looked kind enough, but then again, anyone could look kind. The bottom line to Gabriella's shock was that Lauren was not her mother. "I need a minute to think."

"I'm surprised she's lasted this long. If this were sprung on me, I would be throwing a tantrum by now," Gabriella could distantly hear Sharpay whisper to Kelsi who nodded her head in agreement.

Gabriella could feel all eyes on her as she walked towards the house without glancing up at her father or backwards towards Taylor.

"Gabi!" Taylor called.

She momentarily paused before forcing a smile and turning around to glance at everyone but her father and Lauren. "Tay, I'll be back in a minute. Really."

Taylor sat back down hesitantly. "Okay."

A minute, however, would never be long enough to adjust to the idea of her dad remarrying.

Author's note--So Cannery, California is not a real place. It's fictional and I made it up, but it's loosely based on this one place that I visited recently. So this is it. The first chapter to my story, and I'm pretty excited with what I have planned. I felt maybe this dragged on, but hey, I love it still and this information in this chapter is setting things up. So review if you want and tell me what you think. It's crucial for me to know what you guys think because I'm hesitant about some of the topics I'm gonna approach, and I want to know what you guys think.