Author's Note-I am so unbelieveably sorry for the longest wait ever! I know that a couple of you guys messaged me and asked me questions, and I'm sorry for not getting back to you. Life is so crazy right now with senior year, tennis ending, my job, and then my parents' separation. Things just get thrown at me, and so I wasn't even able to finish this chapter where I wanted it to end, and believe me, I had big plans for this chapter, but they just didn't happen. So instead, my big plans will happen next chapter for sure...please don't be mad.


This sucks! I can't think! I can't sleep! I can't eat! Is love supposed to hurt so?-Unknown-


"So what's up with you and your mom?" Austin asked randomly. They were just sitting at the local park with Gabriella on the swing and Austin standing against the metal pole that supported the said swing.

Gabriella looked at him, kicking at the small rocks underneath her feet. "I don't know what you're talking about."

In fact, she did know exactly what he was talking about. How could she not? It was obvious, even to her drugged up grandfather who had gone through surgery and survived, that his daughter and granddaughter were upset with one another.

Austin rolled his eyes. "You always do that. You always push others away when you want to avoid hard issues."

Gabriella crossed her arms. "I do not," she said stubbornly. "I just don't want to talk about my issues with certain people."

Austin snorted now. "Don't feed me that bullshit Gabriella. You used to talk to me about anything and everything! Hell, you used to take me shopping and talk to me for hours about different colors." He smirked in victory as Gabriella sunk lower in her seat under his crucial eye. "I'm not asking you to tell me about your sex life," he pointed out, "but I am asking you to tell me what's bothering you."

Gabriella stood up. "First off, we used to date and that's why I would talk to you. Second, my issues don't concern you anymore and so I don't have to do anything you say. Third, you hardly know my anymore and so if I don't want to talk to you, then I don't have too."

"If you can't talk to me then who can you talk too?" Austin asked, getting closer to Gabriella. She could tell that his patience were running thin, but she didn't care. If she didn't want to talk then he couldn't make her.

"Maybe the reason I don't want to talk to you is because I can't trust you anymore. Did you ever think of that?" Gabriella snarled.

"How many times do I have to tell you that I didn't cheat?" Austin yelled back. Gabriella was wrong before. She wasn't just starting to irritate him. She already got him mad and now she was just pushing it. He stepped closer so that there was hardly room between the two teenagers. He looked down at Gabriella with a glare. "What you saw that night was nothing! I was fucking in love with you…I still am."

"Stop," Gabriella ordered, closing her eyes for a brief second. "Just stop before you say something that we're both going to regret."

Austin's tone turned softer. "I don't regret doing anything with you." For a second, Gabriella thought that Austin was going to break down, but instead, he cleared his throat and made his face blank. "The only thing I do regret is letting you go."

Gabriella wanted to remind him that she had a boyfriend. She wanted to tell Austin that she was in love with Troy Bolton. Gabriella should have said something about Troy to make Austin back off, but instead, she knew Austin well enough to trust him. No matter if he was lying to her about cheating or not, she knew Austin and she felt bad for him. She had made the choice to move on from Austin James, but Austin hadn't moved on from her, and since they were friends before they started to date, Gabriella wanted to push past her feelings and try to comfort Austin in a platonic way.

"Come on," Gabriella offered Austin a hand. "I want to go somewhere."


"She's been gone for three days and I have yet to hear from her," Troy stated dully. He turned in the computer chair he was sitting on. Troy had been on his computer, trying to locate Anna's number in Albuquerque. He was hoping that it would be online somehow, but yet, he came up with nothing. He rubbed his temple as Chad turned off the TV.

The two boys were in Troy's room, each doing their own thing. Chad had first been helping Troy, but after searching for twenty minutes, he had given up. Troy had not stopped though.

"Carlos said that she would be coming back in like two days. It'll be all good then," Chad said positively. "Her grandpa is doing fine in the hospital. He's recovering well and now everyone is not so tense anymore. Everything will be back to normal in no time."

Troy didn't believe Chad, but he put a smile on anyways. He knew that Gabriella would be coming back and then they could talk, but he wasn't sure that everything could go back to how things were before. He had told Gabriella that he was in love with her, and she didn't share the same feelings. Obviously, something had to change because Troy didn't think he could keep things the way they were.

"Hey, did Tay and Shar talk to you about her coming home party?" Chad asked randomly.

Troy hadn't heard a thing about some party, but he nodded his head anyways. This was just another thing that put Troy in a bad mood. "…Yeah. It sounds good."

Chad smiled, pleased that Troy was okay with Taylor and Sharpay planning the party with Carlos. "Awesome! So all you have to do now is just relax, go to basketball camp, and not worry so damn much. Gabriella's grandpa is—"

"Yeah," Troy said shortly, "I know. He's fine and recovering. It just seems like no one really cares that he had this massive surgery."

Chad looked at Troy, trying to read what his best friend was thinking, but found that there was some sort of road block in Troy's facial expressions. "Dude, this isn't like you. I've never seen you this pessimistic before. Are you sure everything's okay with you?"

"My girlfriend hasn't talked to me in days, however, I know that she's alive at least because she's managed to call Taylor, Sharpay, Carlos, and even Luke." Troy crossed his arms, showing just how bitter he was.

Chad wasn't buying Troy's story though. "It's not like you Bolton to get pissy that a girl hasn't called you; especially since Gabriella's mind probably isn't in the right place right now. She's not thinking straight, and you know that, so man up and admit to why you're really pissed."

Troy stood up, shaking his head. "You're right."

"I am?" Chad squeaked with surprise that Troy would easily admit it.

"I shouldn't be mad that she hasn't called, but I am and I can't change that." Troy walked over to Chad's doorway. In normal circumstances Troy knew that he wouldn't have been upset, but the fact that Gabriella didn't share his feelings when it came to their relationship hurt, and now that she wasn't talking to him just added to his already fucked up feelings. "I need to go clear my head."


"If you brought me here to torture me, then you've succeeded," Austin commented quietly. He had his hands in his pockets and his head down, purposefully looking away from Gabriella.

The brunette sighed before placing her hand around Austin's bicep. She tugged him from his spot and brought him closer to the water. "Do you remember this place?"

"Yeah. This is the place where I told you that I was in love with you. This is also the place where you told me the same thing." Austin looked up and continued to walk to the edge of the dock. Gabriella followed a step behind, watching as various emotions came across Austin's face.

"This is also the place where we first met." Gabriella looked at Austin, seeing him register this information. "It was at Josh's party and I found you at the edge of this dock, sitting quietly."

"I don't need a play-by-play. I am capable of remembering this," he snapped harshly before instantly regretting it. But Gabriella didn't give him time to continue as she kept on going, dismissing his outburst.

"We were friends before we started dating. That gives us a history that I don't want to ever forget." Gabriella scanned the empty park. Since the playground was rundown, kids no longer wanted to play at the old park. "You and I took our time—"

"I'm pretty sure we didn't take our time with our relationship. I'm also pretty sure that it was the third time that I saw you when I stuck my tongue down your throat." Austin chuckled fondly as his eyes glossed over just thinking about their times together.

Gabriella rolled her eyes while elbowing Austin in the side. "I was going to say that we took our time labeling our relationship. We tested one another out and learned the basics, but with Troy it's different. We jumped into a relationship without knowing close-to-nothing about one another." Her arms encircled her body, bringing warmth to her cold skin. "What I'm trying to say is that I want to be your friend again. And as your friend…I want you to forget about us as a couple."

"How many days are you here for?" Austin asked randomly.

"Two more. Lauren and I will leave early in the morning then."

His hand reached out, and found Gabriella's within seconds. "I don't know how to say goodbye."


Kelsi reached up as far as she could, but yet the pickles on the top shelf seemed to be so far out of reach. She grunted in frustration as she threw her hands down to her sides. All of a sudden, her favorite food didn't seem so important. As she started to backup she hit something solid.

"Whoa…I'm sorry…" Jason trailed off as he realized who he ran into. As his eyes landed on Kelsi the aisles all of a sudden felt too small. He pulled his hand away from her back and scratched his neck. "Are you okay?"

Kelsi stood there like a fish out of water. Her mouth opened, then closed, and then opened again. "Uh…yeah…it's my fault. I wasn't watching…"

"No harm done," Jason chuckled nervously. A heavy silence filled the air as Jason watched Kelsi look up at the ceiling and then down at the floor, all the while biting her lower lip. He smiled as some things never changed. He wanted to comment on how his best friend still did the childish things that made him fall in love with her in the first place. However, Jason didn't know how to say that without sounding like a creep or a jackass.

"Have you heard about Gabriella's grandfather? It's really sad that she had to leave suddenly," Kelsi said softly.

Jason trailed his eyes over her soft face before staring Kelsi right in the eye. "I heard through—" Jason stopped, figuring that telling Kelsi that he heard from Brooke about Gabriella's grandfather wasn't the best idea.

"Taylor and Sharpay?" Kelsi supplied kindly. "They came to me also. It's nice that they're planning a small party for her. It'll be comforting."

"Yeah," Jason agreed. "They called me once they heard and it is great that they're planning this. I heard Carlos is stoked that there's going to be some kind of party. I think he believes that will wipe Gabriella's problems away."

Kelsi crossed her arms, surprised at Jason's words. "You don't think this is a good idea?"

"Well…it's not a bad idea, but…if my grandpa just had a massive heart attack then I wouldn't want to come home and celebrate. I would probably just want to go to my room and sulk by myself." Jason then added on a second thought, "Or maybe…I'd want to sulk with one other person."

Kelsi knew that he was implying that he would want her with him, and usually, she wouldn't even question being with him. After all, they were best friends just weeks before. "And I'm sure that one person would be there for you, but Gabi's different. She's optimistic and peppy at times…I'm sure she'll love this," Kelsi said with hesitation. She no longer fully believed Taylor's and Sharpay's idea of a party.

"Are you saying that because I'm not optimistic and peppy like a cheerleader that I wouldn't like a party? Because I'm pretty sure no one in her position—whether they're pessimistic, optimistic, or realistic—wants to celebrate a heart surgery."

"You just don't understand," Kelsi sighed, "You've never lost anyone and so you don't understand."

"You're wrong. I've lost one person; someone who I love." Jason took a step back. "I have to go, but…it was nice talking to you."

"Jase?" Kelsi questioned. She wanted to know more. She needed to know more. "Wait, please?"

"I really have to go, but…I'll see you around. Probably at Gabi's party."


"So your grandma tells me that you have a new boyfriend? I'm going to have to meet him to approve," Gabriella's grandpa stated.

Gabriella looked him over and decided that hospitals did not suit her grandfather well at all. He looked so big in such a small hospital bed. His dark hair did nothing with the white sheets and pillows. Also, he was starting to get some color and personality back. This hospital room was too dull in Gabriella's opinion.

She giggled while her hand enclosed his. "He's so wonderful grandpa. I met him my first day in Cannary and ever since then…" Gabriella's eyes lit up just thinking about Troy. "Ever since then it's been like a movie. He treats me nicely, Troy never does anything to upset me, and he's always looking out for me."

"Good. That boy is supposed to do that."

Gabriella rolled her eyes, all of a sudden smiling at her grandpa with sadness in her eyes. "You know, I haven't called him yet. I haven't even told him that I was in Albuquerque."

"I'm sure he'll understand. Troy sounds very understanding."

"I can't expect him to be that understanding."

"Well why didn't you call? I'm sure you had time while I was being cut open," he said bitterly.

"You never were one for being taken care of," Gabriella wryly stated before continuing. "I didn't call him because I was scared. I was scared for you, for leaving Cannary and coming back here, and I was scared because I realized while being with Austin the last couple of days that I am in love with Troy…and he loves me too."

"I don't know what teenagers think nowadays, but when I was your age, when two people loved each other than that was a good thing." Gabriella chuckled with her grandfather.

"This is a new feeling for me, and I can't explain it now, but when I see Troy tomorrow, then I'll have to have answers for him. I can't just let him follow me around acting as if everything's okay." Gabriella noticed that her grandpa was smiling at her. "What?"

"You've really grown up Gabriella. I'm proud of you."

Gabriella rubbed her eyes, stepping out of the hospital room. After talking for another thirty minutes Gabriella decided that it was time to say goodbye to her grandparents. It was later in the day and soon visitors wouldn't be allowed. She and Lauren were planning on leaving early in the morning the next day so that way they would get to Albuquerque by at least eight at night.

Her grandma, Molly, was the first to give Gabriella a hug. Although they were still in the hospital's lobby, now seemed like an appropriate time to say goodbye.

"Your mother didn't know your grandpa was sick," Molly whispered into Gabriella's ear while rubbing her back. "You should cut her some slack."

Gabriella smiled sadly into her grandma's sturdy shoulder. "It goes both ways grandma."

"I know." Molly pulled back, tears glistening in her eyes. She cleared her throat, stroking Gabriella's hair. "Tell your father I say 'hi' and that he should visit soon. I approve of Lauren and I look forward to attending their wedding if all is well with your grandpa."

"You'll get to meet Troy then."

"I know. Your grandpa said that he would fill me in when he wakes up for dinner. He said that we have to debate whether or not Troy is good enough."

A clearing of the throat broke the pair apart. Gabriella looked at her mother standing off to the side with Lauren patiently.

Brown eyes met their match as Gabriella stood in front of Anna awkwardly. "We should be pros at saying goodbye," Gabriella murmured to break the ice. Gabriella didn't know what she was expecting, but when Anna wrapped her arms around her she was surprised. "Bye mom."

"I'll see you soon," Anna whispered as if it were a secret.

"What?"

"Just trust me," Anna pulled back with a small smile. She slowly ran her hand down Gabriella's cheek, pushing hair out of her face. "I'll see you when you least expect it honey."

"I don't understand," Gabriella whispered as a tear leaked down her cheek. "God," she complained, wiping the water off her face, "I'm crying like a baby."

Anna chuckled. "I'll call you tomorrow. You better go now before it gets too late."

It was a 'goodbye' that neither Anna nor Gabriella expected, but it happened so naturally that it led Gabriella to believe that maybe things weren't as fucked up as they seemed.


Troy kicked the little rock in front of him as he stuffed his hands in his jean pockets. He looked around at all the shops on the boardwalk and scoffed. Everyone else seemed to be in this great mood but him, and that made him even more upset.

"Wow, who died?"

Troy looked up, but his facial expressions didn't change. He had never felt this worried, upset, and disappointed before. He had no idea how to handle these overwhelming feelings, and just the fact that he felt overwhelmed by his feelings made him even madder at Gabriella.

"Don't joke about that Amanda. Someone almost did."

Amanda stayed in tune with Troy as she followed him down the boardwalk. She was a little too close, but Troy didn't say anything. Gabriella was probably with Austin and so he had the right to hang out with friends who were girls—even though this girl was attracted to him slightly.

Amanda looked at Troy sympathetically. "I heard about Gabriella's grandfather. That sucks majorly." She glanced around and noticed that Troy was walking to the very end of the boardwalk where very few people were compared to around the shops. "I also heard that she's out of town."

"Yup," Troy sneered. "But I wouldn't know that if I didn't talk to her father and her other friends who are obviously more important than her boyfriend."

"Hey," Amanda put her hand on his shoulder, stopping him next to the railing that overlooked the ocean. Troy looked at Amanda, and it wasn't until their eyes connected that she continued, moving just a little bit closer so that there was about an inch between their pelvises. "Any girl would be lucky to have you and if Gabriella can't tell that then she doesn't deserve you."

Troy cocked his head to the side. His thought process was moving slower than usual, and so it took him a moment to realize what Amanda was getting at. Troy all of a sudden felt too close. He should have backed up minutes ago, but when he went to back up his body hit the railing.

"Although I'm mad right now…I'm still in love with Brie. We'll get through this. I'm sure of that." There was no hesitation in Troy's words. He was in love with Gabriella and he would remain loyal to her.

Amanda looked surprised for a minute, but that emotion quickly left her face. She giggled while moving her hand down his shoulder to his bicep. "Oh Troy…I've known you for years now. You never change—always being optimistic. How do you know that you're in love with Gabriella when you haven't even given anybody else a chance." She moved closer yet again as Troy squirmed.

He was still Amanda's friend -although he was finding that being her friend was becoming more difficult each passing day—but he didn't want to hurt her physically by pushing her off of him. He wanted to lightly dodge her, and move off to the side, but before he could do that, her lips were on his.

The kiss lasted five seconds before Troy yanked his head back and lightly gripped her upper arms. He moved her backwards forcefully, taking two huge steps off to the side so that he couldn't be trapped against the railing again.

"Whoa!" He put distance between them, shoving his hands out in front of his body. "I'm in love with Brie. Not you, but her. That was crossing the line Amanda."

"You're in love with her?" Amanda spat out. Troy was confused at first as he had never heard such venom in Amanda's tone, but as she took one step closer to him, he knew instantly that she was no longer a friend. He didn't believe in being friends with someone you kissed or didn't respect, and as of now, he had no respect for her whatsoever.

"I love her. I really do," Troy confirmed, "And if you ever try this again then I'm sure Brie won't handle it too well…and let's just say that she won't be too pleased with you."

Troy realized for the first time that day that maybe he shouldn't be that disappointed in Gabriella. He was just feeling a little lonely and left out since she didn't call him, but maybe she had her reasons? He would find out soon enough as he couldn't prevent Gabriella coming back to Cannary. Troy was just a little concerned about the state of how she will come back. He could imagine her being sleep deprived, with bags underneath her eyes. Troy decided that no matter how she was, he would take care of her…and then they would talk.


Gabriella dropped her duffel bag into the trunk of Lauren's car, sighing heavily as she was too tired to be up, but she wasn't tired enough to actually sleep.

"You look horrible Montez," a feminine voice spoke out.

Gabriella was confused since it was before five in the morning. No human person should be up before that time.

"What are you doing here Brooke? I thought you were in Cannary?"

Gabriella turned around to take in her old friend. Brooke looked good as she was wearing her usual tight jeans and shirt that revealed cleavage.

"I heard about your grandpa and came back home. I figured the hospital needed me now." She was still her cocky self, but at least she was there for Gabriella. In ways, leaving her grandpa now was easier knowing that she had a friend to keep tabs on him through the hospital.

"It's not the only thing that needs you," Gabriella admitted quietly. She shyly looked at her, swallowing her pride. "I was wrong the other night. I should have listened to you, but the facts didn't add up right. I even asked my mom, and she swears she didn't know anything."

"Stop. You don't have to justify yourself. If the situation was reversed we both know that I wouldn't bother apologizing." Brooke looked to her side before smiling at Gabriella once more. "I'm not going to say goodbye because I'm thinking about coming back for your father's wedding." Before Gabriella could question it, Brooke continued, "Harold invited me. But I do know that someone else wants to speak to you before you take off."

Austin walked up alongside Brooke, his hands in his front pockets, looking more sheepish than ever. "I had to come see you one last time."

"We were never good with saying goodbye."

"So I'm going to go start my shift at the hospital. I'll tell your grandpa that you and Lauren took off okay. I'm sure he's going to drill me with questions about Troy," Brooke smiled slyly before hugging Gabriella goodbye. "I'll see you in a couple of weeks. I promise everything's going to be okay, but if I were you, I would keep some people closer than others when you return home."

"What do you mean?" Gabriella asked, letting go of her friend.

"There are some people who are also attracted to Troy…or at least that is the rumor around town. I don't know much more, but I do know that Amanda is no friend," Brooke warned.

That was Brooke, and it made Gabriella smile. Her friend always had the gossip, and so Gabriella had no reason to second guess her. She wasn't going to make that mistake again.

"Thanks."

When Brooke walked away, she squeezed Austin's arm in encouragement. It was strictly platonic as Gabriella watched them interact with each other.

"I can't believe you're up this early," Gabriella commented to break the silence. "I used to have to drag you out of bed."

Instead of cracking a smile like she would have expected, he stared at her as if he was evaluating her. She felt nervous under his intense stare—like she was exposed to his eyes only.

"Austin, you're making me kind of nervous. I've had a long couple of days, and I don't want to play anymore mind games."

"Don't leave," he whispered. "Stay here. Don't stay just for me, but stay for your grandparents and for your mother. You've gone so long without your father. It can be like you've never left."

He took a step closer, but she took a step back. Tears glistened in her eyes because of his request. "I don't understand. Why are you telling me this?"

"Isn't it obvious Ella?" Austin took two more steps so that he was cornering her against the car. "I am still in love with you," he whispered. "I know you love Troy, but…" he was breathing heavily, slowly lifting his hand up to cup her cheek.

She turned just in time, only to have his fingertips ghost across her skin. "You cheated on me. That's not loving someone, and to be honest, I don't think I could ever fall in love with you again. I can't fall in love with anyone as long as Troy is around, and I hope he's around for a very long time."

Austin shut her eyes, leaning his forehead against Gabriella's. She looked down at her feet, not being able to look at Austin's face when he was that close. "I was waiting for you in Jake's guest room."

"Stop," Gabriella choked out, knowing that Austin was remembering the night she walked in on him and Emma together.

She tried to turn her head again, but Austin's hand reached out, and kept her in place. Their foreheads were still connected, although Gabriella felt like their connection was burning her.

"You were talking to Brooke, but you said that you would be upstairs in five minutes. I waited for you, and when the door opened in the dark room, I thought it was you." Austin breathed in deeply, savoring the smell of the girl he loved. "I stood up, but noticed right away that it was just Emma. She was so wasted—at least that's what she acted like."

"I don't want to listen to this Austin." She knew that no matter what he said, she could never get back together with him.

"You have to listen," Austin whispered before clearing his scratchy throat. "She had some lame excuse about her stomach hurting her. She had me backed up against the wall of the bedroom, kind of like how you and I are standing now, and she wanted me to check out her stomach just to make sure there were no bruises."

"I didn't know what to do. Before I knew what was happening, her hands started going for my zipper, and my jeans were already loose to begin with. You always used to comment on how I should wear a belt."

"And that's when I walked into the room," Gabriella filled in. "You didn't want to use force on her—"

"Because I'm a guy who would never intentionally hurt a girl, emotionally or physically."

"But you did hurt me. You accused me of cheating and the whole school turned on me. I lost nearly all of our friends because of you," Gabriella pointed out, finally pulling back her head so that he could no longer comfort himself with her warm skin.

"I need to know if you forgive me because I'm sorry. I'm so sorry Ella."

Gabriella was surprised by her next sentence. "I forgive you…but I can't stay. I have responsibilities in Cannary. I have a boyfriend there. But most importantly, I have potential there. I can actually start over and rethink things."

"I was afraid of that answer," Austin murmured. "You're one of a kind Ella."

A clearing of the throat broke the two apart. Austin finally stepped back, smiling weakly as Gabriella looked down at her feet again, unable to meet Lauren's or Austin's eyes.

"Are you almost ready Gabriella?" Lauren asked.

Gabriella glanced at Austin. "Yeah, I'm ready to leave." Lauren got into the car, letting Gabriella and Austin have one last moment alone. "Austin I—" She stopped as Austin bent down and kissed the corner of her mouth.

"I said that I wasn't good at saying goodbye, and so I'm refusing to say it. But I will say 'see you later' because I have a feeling that we're going to see each other again sometime…that is if you want to see me?"

Gabriella nodded her head slowly. "I would like that."

He led her over to the car, opening the door for her. And as he shut the door, Gabriella couldn't help but think about how in fifteen hours, she would get to see Troy, and tell him how she really felt.


Gabriella felt exhausted. There was no describing how her body was undergoing cycles of numbness, tiredness, and sadness. The numbness was the best part because that was when Gabriella just floated through tossing and turning in her seat during the car ride home. She could try to relax and shut her eyes for peace, but then her body would convulse involuntarily. Sleep wanted to come and overtake all of her senses but her mind would not settle down. And then once she decided that sleep would not consume her body the reality of almost losing her grandfather devoured her thoughts. She's not a five minute drive away anymore, but a fifteen hour drive, and if anything were to ever happen again, she might not be so lucky and the loss of family might actually occur.

"Are you hungry?" Lauren asked hesitantly. She glanced at Gabriella, a sympathetic look adorning her face. "You haven't eaten anything in a while."

"I'm not…" Gabriella trailed off, looking away from Lauren and instead looking out of the window. Tears glistened in her eyes as she curled her feet underneath her body. "…hungry. I just want to get home."

All of a sudden, saying the word home felt weird. She loved living with her dad, but what if something happened in Albuquerque? How would she get back to help out?

"It's okay if you miss them. Your dad will understand if you tell him that you want to visit more often." Lauren glanced at Gabriella again. "I'm sure we can work something out with your mother. Maybe you can visit once every month?"

Gabriella noticed for the first time that Lauren had bags underneath her eyes too. "Are you sure you don't want me to drive?" She was avoiding Lauren's words, but Gabriella was okay with that. She didn't want to talk about her issues, and so she would do anything to avoid them. "You look tired."

Lauren cracked a smile. "I don't think you're up for driving either. Your dad is going to have a fit when he sees you."

"I don't look that bad," Gabriella protested, for the first time since they got into the car she smiled lightly.

Lauren's mood changed, the smile faltering on her face. "You know, your mom and I talked while you were with Austin. She's worried about you."

"I know. Deep down she cares and she loves me, but sometimes that isn't enough to keep two people connected. She's my mother, and I love her, but…I'm just emotionally drained right now. I can't keep switching modes like this. I can't go from being happy one moment and then sad the next. There has to be a balance, right?"

"I'm sorry," Lauren whispered. "I'm sorry that you were put through this. Right now everything is jumbled up, but things will get better. They have too."

Gabriella nodded her head. "Yeah, I just wish Troy was here…"

Lauren watched as the teenager curled up in a little ball, closing her eyes and ending the conversation permanently. It broke her heart to see Gabriella so torn.

"I wish he were here too," Lauren murmured once she was sure Gabriella was asleep. Lauren truly believed that Troy was who Gabriella needed in that moment.