Author's Note: Part three of six (I think) Hope you enjoy. I have to say, the end of this chapter made me giggle a little, but I'm easily amused. Reviews are welcome!
Chapter Three- Turbulence
Troy picked up the free magazine from the pocket of the seat in front of him and begins to thumb through it. She returned to her report, and felt a deep wave of loneliness consume her. She tried to concentrate on the work before her, but she felt almost physically weighed down by the silence between them. For so long, she had avoided any possible situation where they would run into one another. She had boycotted reunions, created work commitments to avoid attending fellow Wildcat weddings, just to prevent seeing Troy Bolton again. Now, when fate had thrown them together, she couldn't remember why she had been so afraid. It wasn't that their break up had been particularly ugly. It had just gotten too hard to balance their relationship and their separate lives and commitments at different universities. Forty miles apart may as well have been thousands for the number of times they were able to see one another. Their priorities had no longer been the same. It was devastating, but not hateful. Life altering, but not cruel.
Giving up on the notion that she could accomplish any work in her current frame of mind, Gabriella tossed her paperwork back into her briefcase and sighed in frustration. If she hadn't decided to be brave and go without medicine, she'd be blissfully asleep by now. No possibility for contemplation or regret to creep in and confuse her. Instead, she was settling for six hours of what ifs and why nots.
Troy watched her as he pretended to read an article about open air food markets in Thailand from the airline magazine. Years before, he spent hours watching her, cataloging her every expression and gesture. Now, she seemed so foreign to him, yet just being next to her was comforting somehow. It was a little like coming home, which made no sense to him. All those years ago, he had been the one to end things. He had made the choice to move on, to "broaden his horizons" as his college teammates had teased him over and over. They had both gotten so busy with their own things- School, basketball, theatre, new friends, new activities- that they had forgotten the things that were theirs together. They had begun their college days with daily phone calls, constant texting, emails and weekly visits. By the time they finished their sophomore year, Gabriella spent the summer in New York doing an internship and they only spent a few days together the entire summer. So when basketball training began and he was surrounded by his teammates again, it was easy to be seduced by the idea of moving on. It wasn't that he fell out of love with Gabriella; it was just that he was restless and frustrated. He wanted to feel like he was important again, wanted to see someone's eyes light up again the way Gabriella's had when they began their relationship. Gabriella had agreed so quickly that they should break up; he wondered whether she had meant to end things between them already. Somehow, it stung more than he expected it to.
After the break up, they had pretended to remain friends. They would send one another cheerful emails, leave messages for one another when they were certain the other wouldn't pick up the phone. Eventually, the pretense gave way to reality, and ten years had passed since they last spoke. Somehow, he always felt regretful that he hadn't known it was the last time he would talk to her. There were things he would have said, words that bubbled up inside him when he saw someone on the street with long chocolate curls like hers or when he came back to Albuquerque and drove by a place that had been special to them. Now that he was sitting side by side with her, he found himself mute.
Mr. Walrus next to Gabriella snorted again, and somehow seemed to spread his body further into Gabriella's seat, pushing her further towards Troy. She glanced up apologetically at him and he laughed.
"The flight gods must really have it in for you today, Montez. Are you sure you are supposed to be going to Albuquerque today?" He teased easily, trying to cover the fact that the mere brush of her thigh against his was bringing back sensations he'd almost forgotten about.
"I tried to get out of it, believe me. I haven't set foot in New Mexico in ten years."
"I noticed…you were a no show at the reunion, at Sharpay and Zeke's wedding, at the dedication of Ryan's studio, at Darbus's memorial service. I was starting to think you were avoiding running into me." Troy didn't quite meet her eyes, afraid of her admitting the truth, but wanting to know all the same. Gabriella sighed, not wanting to lie, but not really wanting to discuss the truth.
"I was so afraid that it would be awkward, for us, for our friends. You were so much more a part of all of that than I was; I thought it was better to let you be part of all of those events. I didn't want our stuff to take away from the importance of the day." Troy eyed her questioningly, unsure whether to push the issue or pretend he believed her.
"Ok, I'll buy that excuse for Sharpay and Zeke's wedding, maybe even Ryan's studio, but our reunion? Darbus' memorial? Those were days for all of us, not to mention long after we broke up." Gabriella winced at the words "broke up." Why did even the words still hurt after all this time?
"Troy…I'm trying to be polite. We're trapped on an airplane for the next four hours, is it really the time to re-hash all our …issues? Can't we just make small talk and go about our lives like we have for the last ten years?"
"Screw polite. It's been ten years and just sitting next to you has my stomach in knots and my pulse racing. You must have things you meant to say to me."
"What's the point? Why stir all this stuff up now after all these years? When I've built a life that has nothing to do with Troy Bolton, why can't you just be someone I used to know?" Her anger surprised her. She wanted to yell, to scream, to shake him for being so stupid and pig headed as always. It had taken much longer than she wanted to admit for her to even look at another man. The loneliness had nearly eaten her up. Even if she had been expecting it, losing him had nearly destroyed her. She couldn't re-visit the crash site again.
"You have no idea how long I've been waiting to run into you. I geared myself up to see you every time I came back to visit my parents, even though I knew there was no reason for you to be there. I never thought we were through, even when we broke up, even when we lost touch. I always expected to see you again. I want to know you again, even if just for these few hours." Troy spoke plainly, hoping to break through the anger she seemed to harbor against him.
"But I don't. I don't want to relive old times. I don't want to feel the loss of you all over again when we land and go about our separate lives as usual. I don't want to hear all about your beautiful wife and kids or the amazing girl you just started dating. I don't want to silently wonder what she has that I don't. I want to sit on this stupid airplane and review stupid statistics about whether or not Taylor McKessie should run for Congress." Gabriella's voice rose sharply and to her horror, tears formed in her chocolate eyes. She would give anything to be able to walk away right now. Even to lock herself in the bathroom for a few minutes of peace. But that would mean climbing over his legs or brushing against him as she stood and she knew that with her luck a huge burst of turbulence would push her into his arms and escalate the situation even more.
"There isn't a beautiful wife or girlfriend or anyone else. There's not much of anyone in ten years. I thought I needed something else…something new, but what I've found is that I needed you. So I'm sorry if you aren't interested in hearing me right now…I'm not about to let this moment pass me by again." There was a heat in Troy's eyes that almost frightened Gabriella. She had no way to run, no way to avoid him. Every other minute her unfortunate seat mate seemed to lurch further into her seat, pushing her closer and closer to Troy.
"Troy…what good will it do? We happened to run into each other on an airplane. That doesn't change the fact that we live completely separate lives now."
"I don't know what comes next. But I know that when I was holding your hand an hour ago, it felt like home. And I haven't felt that way with anyone else in the years we've been apart. So at the risk of being a total romantic idiot, I'm going to do everything I can to keep this conversation going." Gabriella continued to look panicked and evasive.
"How about this…we back up, pretend this whole crazy conversation hasn't happened and just catch up like normal people would after ten years. No pressure, not expectation, just a couple of people who used to know each other re-meeting for the first time in a long time. How long have you been in New York?" Troy asked gamely. Gabriella bit her lip, clearly still torn between playing along and running away.
"Since law school. Where are you these days?"
"I moved to New York a few years ago, actually."
"What are you doing in the city?" Gabriella realized suddenly that their whole interaction had been upside down. How could they have been sitting next to one another this long and never discussed his work or the fact that he lived in New York?
"I'm a physical therapist. I actually do a lot of work with the Knicks…athletes who are rehabbing an injury. All those years on the court aren't a total loss."
"Isn't it difficult to work with people who are living your dream, the dream you can't have?" It was unimaginable to Gabriella that Troy wasn't playing basketball anymore.
"I love the game of basketball, I always will. But even before my knee injury, I knew that I wouldn't be playing after college. I was a decent college player, but not good enough for the NBA. And I always wanted to have a life, you know?" There was wistfulness in Troy's voice that caught Gabriella off guard.
"And do you have a life now? I have to say, I don't even know what that means." Gabriella commented jokingly.
"Not the life I'd planned on, but I guess so. I have work that I enjoy family that puts up with me forgetting birthdays and only rarely harasses me to settle down and get married. I've got buddies to watch the game with and have a beer with. Not too bad, I suppose." There were a few moments of stillness between them as Gabriella digested what he had said and left unsaid. She battled with her better judgment over whether to ask the question he seemed to be daring her to ask.
"But not what you'd planned? What did you plan?" Suddenly Gabriella's pulse raced and she felt her whole body get a little shaky. She didn't want to hear the answer to the question and yet she couldn't restrain herself from asking anyway.
"I guess I wanted the life my parents have, you know? A wife, kids, a home that is more than a place to sleep at night. I was on that path and somehow…I lost it. I never could figure out why." Troy couldn't quite bring himself to look at her. Another moment of silence held between them. The airplane jolted suddenly, causing Gabriella to grasp the arm of the seat between them desperately, and in the process, grasp at Troy's hand as well. He took her hand and squeezed gently.
"Just a little turbulence, Gab, nothing to panic about." He said as he continued to stroke her hand with his thumb. As he spoke the familiar dinging of the seatbelts sign was heard throughout the plane and the crackly voice of the pilot was heard.
"We are hitting a little bit of choppiness, ladies and gentlemen. Shouldn't be too bad, but we're going to turn the seatbelts sign on for a little bit till we settle down a bit. Please find your seats." Gabriella shifted uncomfortably in her seat, still holding Troy's hand tightly in spite of herself. Troy reached over and pushed the armrest between them up and wrapped his arm around her shoulders.
"I can't believe you still get so freaked out by flying. Don't you have to fly a lot in your business?" He remarked as he tried to snuggle her closer to his chest, the need to protect her from her fears suddenly strong. Gabriella pulled away, not sure what was more unsettling- Troy's arm around her and her head on his shoulder or the jerkiness of the airplane. One more sudden dip and the comfort of Troy's embrace was far too tempting to worry about what it all meant.
"Talk to me." She pleaded softly as she nestled her head into the crook of his neck, wanting to drown out the usual airplane noises that always seemed so much more distracting and terrifying when the flight was choppy.
"What about?" Troy asked, a little rattled to suddenly have her in his arms again.
"Doesn't matter. Just distract me." The near desperation in her voice made Troy's mind blank. The aircraft jerked roughly again and Gabriella whimpered as she clung to him. Her need for him overtook his panic and he plunged ahead with the only story he could think of.
"Ok, did you hear about Darbus' memorial service?"
"Do you really think funeral stories are appropriate at a time like this? We could be dying here!" Gabriella shrieked, causing people around them to turn and stare.
"Gabi, we're not going to die. This is just a little turbulence…happens nearly every time you fly. And the story isn't really about the funeral, it's about Sharpay." Gabriella's curiosity was sparked. Who could resist a good Sharpay story, even if they were moments from plunging to their death?