It had been two years since Gabriella had last seen Alicia Moretti.
Yet, while sitting on the sidewalk outside the jewelry store, she recognized her in a heartbeat.
"Gabriella Montez?" The girl called at the same moment that Gabriella sighed with boredom and began to impatiently tap her fingers against the burning sidewalk.
At first, in the balming sunshine, Gabriella believed she was delirious. It was quite possible that being outside had quickly given her heatstroke and she was imagining the meeting. Los Angeles held 9,862,049 people – it was highly unlikely that the woman she met in New York City two years ago would run into her on a Saturday afternoon. But there she was, with her hair in caramel shimmers that now reached the middle of her taut abdomen and her glowing skin that hadn't shined the same bright hue when she last saw her. However, the eyes were what proved this was no mistake – they shined emerald and exploded with life when she approached with her heels sharp and her hand laced with someone else's.
Gabriella squinted in the light, struggling to comprehend what she was really seeing, "Alicia?"
For the first time ever, Alicia Moretti smiled brightly as she stopped in front of her. Quickly, Gabriella scurried to a stance in old habits to keep from being inferior. She came up short, only wearing sandals that wrapped around her ankles in the popular Greek style to match her jean shorts and decorative tank top. Alicia wore a top that showed off the toned muscles in her arms and had her sunglasses pushed atop her head, with the same astounded expression Gabriella had on her face.
"Wow… I can honestly say I never thought I'd see you again." Alicia exclaimed.
They didn't hug, as other long lost friends might. Instead Gabriella awkwardly ran her fingers through her curls, a nervous habit she had picked up from Troy, "Um… yeah… how have you been?"
Alicia smiled. Again, it was unnatural, "Good… really good, you?"
Gabriella, feeling her competitiveness that she hadn't experienced since she lived in New York kick in again, quickly nodded, "Really, really good." Instinctively, her eyes flickered towards the chic store, knowing who remained inside.
For a moment, they were silent. The memories and emotions of disgust and irritation began to rise again, ones she hadn't felt in over two years. Gabriella couldn't help herself when she gave the woman a one over, checking for faults just as she had the first night that she met her back in Taylor and Chad's apartment. Again, she cursed the woman's perfection, for now it had escaladed in the years that had passed. There was a sudden sparkle that she had never seen, a glint in her eye as she shifted weight been her heels that made her absolutely stunning. Although she knew he would never shift his attraction, Gabriella suddenly prayed the jeweler attempted to sell Troy the entire store to keep him from walking outside.
"What are you doing in LA?" Gabriella asked curiously, still floored at her appearance in the city that belonged to her.
Alicia noted her slight bitterness; it was easy to see by the faltered lines of her face. But instead of matching her annoyances as she once had in the past, she simply shrugged, "We were visiting my parents in Sacramento to um… make an announcement."
It was then that Gabriella noticed the dazzle that rested on her third finger in the hand that tightly clutched the body builder beside her. For the first time, Gabriella really acknowledged him. He was blonde and beefy – by no means overweight but so muscular that it made Gabriella's natural fear pulse. Strikingly handsome, his face formed the shape of a heart with the widow's peak grazing over his forehead. His eyes were piercing and blue – not oceanic like Troy's, but protective and sharp. It matched the definition of his jaw to prove he was tough, but his grin revealed a vulnerability, especially when he looked at Alicia.
Any guy would have to have a backbone to date her – he seemed like the perfect fit.
"Wow, I'm a bitch. Kyle, this is Gabriella Montez… Gabriella, this is Kyle Morton, my fiancé." She smiled when she spoke the final word, glancing up at him as though he owned the sky.
For the first time since she arrived, Gabriella let a breath out and released the tension in her shoulders when Kyle grinned at her, "How's it goin'?" He asked in a charming voice.
"Well um… congrats!" Gabriella said sincerely, which sounded strange on her lips, "wow… when's the big day?"
Kyle looped his arm around her waist, pulling her close and kissing the top of her head, "Not til next April… Kyle's just got hired at a new firm and doesn't want to take off right away, and we didn't want to have it in winter… you know how New York gets."
Thanks to her talents as a profiler, this simple sentence informed her so much of what had become of Alicia in the time that she had been in Los Angeles. Obviously, they had met due to their matching professions. Kyle lived back in the Big Apple with her, and they were planning to stay there after their union, or he would not have accepted a job there. She could speculate that they had been dating for at least a year and a half – Alicia hadn't been a person to jump after the first person she saw, therefore they would have had to have a solid foundation before agreeing to marry. There was a sudden flicker of jealousy in Gabriella's eyes that she would be settling before Gabriella herself would be, but it disappeared when she noted the pure happiness that radiated off the two, something she had never truly seen.
"I do." Gabriella responded, playing with her naked ring finger.
Alicia's bright eyes narrowed on it, Gabriella was certain she was searching for a rock, "You still working for the Times? Everything working out?"
Gabriella nodded, a burst of pride welling in her stomach, "Yep. We're happy." She was surprised Kyle didn't react as most did when they discovered where her job was stationed. It was probable this wasn't the first he had heard of her.
There was a silence when Alicia looked up and locked gazes with her. We're. Gabriella hadn't even purposefully let it slip; it had now become a habit. The lawyer didn't have to ask the question – Gabriella could already tell what the topic would be by the way her orbs shined with a burning curiosity. Kyle noticed the shift in her too, his grasp on her lightened and he tensed. She gnawed on her lower lip and allowed her eyes to close, potentially returning to a place she hadn't been in for years.
Alicia took a deep breath and allowed her lashes to lift, "Do you ever see… I mean, are you… is he…?"
Instinctively, Gabriella's eyes shifted towards the shadows that shimmered beyond the door of the jewelry store, where her world began. Alicia followed her stare and nodded, understanding completely.
The momentary vulnerability, however, disappeared when Kyle squeezed her fingers, bringing her back to the present. She swallowed and looked back at Gabriella, a sad smile on her face.
"We should uh… probably get going." She said, glancing up at her fiancé with reassurance. Kyle kissed her forehead, knowingly – comfortingly.
Gabriella nodded, "Well congratulations, again."
Alicia let out a dry laugh that was not funny, "Thank you. Good luck Gabriella."
They didn't hug; they didn't make amends for what had occurred between them two years previously. The last time Gabriella had seen her, she had admitted she was in love with the same man Gabriella was. But now, as she looped her arm around her new fiancé's waist and began to walk past her, she understood what Alicia's place had been in Troy Bolton's life, and how it had made both best friends stronger. Despite all that happened, Gabriella was thankful Troy had had Alicia when he needed her during the psychotic episodes of Emily's obsession. Their sexual connection had been unhealthy, but it had brought him to Gabriella – and she would have never traded that away.
Alicia timed her escape well. No later than the fade of her heels against the sidewalk, Gabriella heard the sound of a swinging door and footsteps behind her. With sweat dripping down the back of her neck, she twirled her cascading locks around and sighed in both relief and adoration.
A smile drew on her face as the figure approached, his golden skin glowing in the sunlight without a taint of shadows or darkness.
"Finally!" Gabriella whined with a pout of her arms. His eyes narrowed in a playful offense, his strides lengthening as he grew closer to her, "What? Did you buy the entire store?"
Troy stuck his tongue out, "Shut up. It's is my mom's birthday and she was super picky about what she wanted." He dangled the plastic bang that held the elongated box fit for a necklace, "Besides, you were the one who walked out of there."
"Because you kept making fun of me in front of the guy!"
Troy pointed to her, "Hey… even you have to admit it was funny when you thought you sliced your finger on that necklace."
She glowered at him, "So are you done now?" Gabriella asked, not meaning to be rude about getting a gift for a woman she had grown so close to since her first of many visits to Albuquerque.
"Man, demanding…" Troy snickered with a roll of his eyes, not before winking with his stunning iris towards her.
"I'm hungry, alright?"
Troy snorted, "Weird…that never happens." His sarcasm made her glare.
He stopped before her, raising the hair on her arms ever so slightly in the memory at who was standing in his place just moments before. Of course, while not wanting to draw attention to it, Gabriella turned in the direction that Alicia escaped to only to see, even two blocks away now; her muscular body was strutting away with her hand in Kyle's. And, obviously, Troy turned towards where her attention was divided and furrowed his eyebrows – not with pain – but with curiosity and recognition. There was a dawn upon his face, a widen of his eyes, that suddenly made her tense. For a brief second, Gabriella feared he was going to sprint down the sidewalk towards the disappearing figure. It made her stomach churn.
But instead, Troy simply shook his head and turned back to her – a blinding smile on his lips, "There's gonna be so much at the game tonight that you won't want to eat for a week."
Slinging his arm around her waist, Troy pressed a kiss to her temple, the same way he had since they inhabited New York. He turned in the opposite direction of where Alicia walked, not looking back.
"Are you sure me coming is okay tonight?" Gabriella questioned with hesitation, but nonetheless wrapped around Troy's built abdomen as well.
"Of course it's okay. Pat been pissing and moaning for months now me coming to the game." Troy smirked. She saw the cockiness of his youth shine through at the mention of Patrick O'Neil and what would have been his coach in the NBA if his life hadn't taken an alteration, as he now called it, "It's not every day the Heat and the Lakers go head to head."
She let out a breath, "I know, I know… but you could have called Chad and had him fly down… or Drew – since he does work at the PT office you do, so he's gotta like sports. I overheard you talking to him about it when we went out with him and Claire last Friday. Jason could have flown in with Jamie… since living with that douchebag has got to be taking a toll on her."
He stopped and forced her to turn to face him, his eyes shining and his large hands rested on her shoulders – anchoring her to her spot as cars zoomed by, "Gabriella. I wouldn't want to go with anyone else. Tonight's going to be perfect, I promise you."
There was something in the way he spoke that made Gabriella's ears prickle up. His tone had always been hypnotic and alluring, but there was another emotion that laced through each word and syllable. At first, she didn't recognize it – she hadn't heard it in the two years that he had moved into their extended temporary apartment. It was such a contrast to his confidence and swagger that Gabriella had completely forgotten what it sounded like. But then, as her recollections began to flood through her brain, she suddenly recalled the way his scalped chest held its breath beneath the black t-shirt and his khaki shorts held shifting knees.
He was nervous.
She scratched his back, "I've never been in box seats before." Gabriella commented excitedly, snaking her arms up his neck to pull them close together. Troy was hesitant, keeping a distance from her and making her frown with disappointment.
"Well then you're about to get star treatment." He whispered in her ear tenderly and pushed back her bangs to smile adoringly at her face.
Gabriella giggled her oh so famous laugh, "Guess I get to take a walk on the famous life of Troy Bolton side, huh?" She teased his past - what was once voodoo in his life.
"Play your cards right," Troy purred in her ear and brought their hips together, groin to groin in the middle of the sidewalk, "and I'll make sure you get the VIP treatment." He nibbled on her lobe.
Gabriella gasped, but not because of his provocative suggestion….
It was because of the bulge resting in his pocket.
There was no denying what it was as it pressed up to her taught abdomen through the shorts that hung low on his toned waist. The object was hard – too square to be his iPhone and too flat to be his keys. There was a hollowness to it, but still sturdy enough to poke into her stomach. It was the shape of a woman's fantasy and a childhood's play. The feel caused Gabriella's body to tremble and her dark, mocha eyes to widen with disbelief. Had Troy not been holding her up, she would have certainly passed out onto the cement. The world halted and raced at the same moment – time stood still.
It was the perfect shape of a velvet box fit for a ring.
Fourteen long seconds passed before Gabriella's hand, quivering, reached to be sure it was real.
Troy, however, had more sense than she did. He quickly snatched her fingers before they could confirm her suspicions and weaved them through his. She had no room to protest, for Troy's eyes closed and he pressed his lips against hers. The kiss was slow and sensual; enough to make her toes curl with each pulsation of her lower lip caught between his. The sun was not as explosive as they were – Gabriella's arms quickly wound around his neck and she pressed her body against his to feel the box again. She didn't care that they were on display for Los Angeles; Gabriella wanted the world to know he was hers.
When they pulled away, the sapphires of Troy's eyes darted over the curves of her face. Gabriella's did the same, trailing over the gold in his skin to the scar that ran to his lip – the remembrance of a horror in his past and a reminder of his strength that he had overcome.
And she had loved him for it. Always.
Gabriella played with the tiny hairs on the back of his neck, "So what's the story?" She asked, her eyes flashing to the pop of his pants, what would soon be on her finger.
Troy smirked wickedly, "Last time I checked, Montez, you were a journalist."
"That is what it says at The Times."
He gazed at her through his lashes, "Then maybe you'll find your answer."
Raising his eyebrows twice in a challenge, Troy pulled away from her – dangerous and scheming.
"I intend to."
For a period of his life, the number had haunted him, mercilessly. Every gasp of air, every thump of his heart echoed the double digits in a cruel and tortuous way. It wasn't until he spent the first fourteen minutes beneath an ass shaped sign meeting the woman that would pull him from his pain and showed him how to love that transformed the number into a blessing instead of a curse.
It took fourteen minutes for the happy couple to skip hand in hand from the bottom of the Staples Center to their box seat that night – numbered fourteen. Fourteen red roses had shed their petals when they stepped inside, leading a path to the fourteen stems that twirled in a glass vase upon the table. The coach that would have been his visited their bubble fourteen minutes before the players were released from their locker rooms. After shaking his hand fourteen times and chatting for fourteen seconds before he had to return, he dimmed the lights and sat in the fourteenth seat. The Heat was up by fourteen points when, fourteen minutes after the fourth quarter commenced, he lit fourteen candles and dropped down to one knee. She said yes fourteen times before jumping into his arms, which then he spun her fourteen twirls with giggles leaking from their throats.
They were married with fourteen friends that stood up in the ceremony. After spending fourteen days lying on a beach and spending fourteen hours between the sheets per day, they returned to Los Angeles with domestication in their sparkling in their eyes. It took fourteen weeks before she turned in her resignation at The Los Angeles Times and to move into a three bedroom home in Pasadena. Fourteen days later, she was hired at the local journal and he was requested as a coach for the local high school, along with a job as a physical therapist fourteen blocks away.
Fourteen months after their rings were exchanged; they attempted to create life fourteen times before she finally conceived. Tears streamed down their faces in happiness for fourteen hours after receiving the news and they called fourteen of their friends and family. They suggested fourteen names before finally agreeing on one. Months later, she was rushed to the hospital fourteen miles away.
It took fourteen hours for their child to reveal itself. A final fourteen minutes of contractions was needed before the infant took its first breath of life. He kissed his wife fourteen times in the process, before his love was suddenly split in two. He first laid eyes on his daughter at 2:14 AM. For fourteen minutes, he cried before finally taking the baby girl in his arms, promising her fourteen times that he would love her for an eternity.
Fourteen minutes. All it took was fourteen minutes for her to live.
A/N: I want to thank everyone who stuck with me through this story. I'm going to be completely honest – this was hard for me. I really wanted to prove that I could write a story that wasn't driven by Troy and Gabriella's attraction to each other, and even though I believe a lot of you were frustrated by this, I really hope I was successful to deliver that. There was a point that I really struggled, but you guys didn't give up on me, and for that I am thankful. This turned into a story I could really be proud of.
Special thanks to HPincognito247 and Savannah O'Ryan, who always gave me a lifejacket when I wanted to jump ship. You both kept me from insanity, thank you for being there when I needed you most.
Thank you, so much again for reading. My next story will be up within the next few days – or hours, you all know how I am.