Disclaimer: I do not own, nor am I in any way associated with, HSM.

AN: Merry Christmas, angellwings! This is your present! I hope you enjoy.

AN2: I hope everyone else enjoys the story too. Despite the previous author's note this has nothing to do with Christmas (though I am determined to get it all posted by then). Also, the title comes from a line in Chuck Wicks' song "Man of the House."

Just Coming Of Age

Chapter 1

Troy tossed the cell phone onto his gym bag and fell back on his bed, cradling his head in his hands. It made sense, he supposed. Even before prom Chad had been getting more and more defensive about Taylor, about their inevitable separation at the end of the summer. So it stood to reason that when Troy moved over a thousand miles away, just like Chad had always known Taylor would, their solid friendship would be severed. He moaned, wrapping the yellow pillow around his head to block out the sound of the victory party.

It was Troy's sophomore year and Cal had just played a game against U of A. But Chad hadn't been there. Last year the two had faced off, their friendly rivalry making the game even more enjoyable than it had been when they were on the same team. But now … what had happened to him? Was he injured? Did he transfer? Give up basketball entirely? The last two didn't sound like the Chad Troy knew and he didn't even want to consider the first for long.

He had called Chad's number, only to be greeted again and again by that same computerized voice saying, "You have reached 505 7--" He couldn't think of anyone else to call. Everyone Chad was close to had left Albuquerque, save for Sharpay who Troy highly doubted Chad spoke to. He had a mental image of Sharpay walking down the hall at U of A and Chad ducking into the nearest restroom to hide and, of course, it was a girl's restroom.

Troy chuckled before returning to his problem. His dad would probably know, Chad was like a second son to the Boltons, just as Troy was a second son to the Danforths. But calling his father would require admitting that his friendship with Chad was suffering. Troy couldn't even remember the last time they had e-mailed, let alone spoken to each other. They'd seen each other at Easter of course, but Troy's decision to take summer classes had cost him the weeks at home they would have spent practicing and generally hanging.

There was a knock on the door, and Troy sat up just as his roommate's head appeared.

"Bolton! You gotta get out here!"

Troy rolled his eyes and pushed himself off the bed. He would call Chad again tomorrow. Everything always seemed better in the morning.


Three years later…

The morning light through the shutters woke Chad up. Three years ago he would have wondered when his room got shutters, but falling asleep on the couch had quickly become the norm and the shutters were more familiar now than his red and white curtains. So much so that he was beginning to consider selling his bed altogether.

A shadow fell across him and he frowned, knowing what was coming.

"Morning, Mom," he said, pushing himself up.

"When did you get in?" she asked. Her hands were on her hips and she wore the same expression she had when he was five and stole all the chocolate chip cookies.

He winced, thinking back. "Um, midnight, I think."

"Try two in the morning, mister. I don't like this. You can't keep staying out so late, it isn't good for you."

"I'm young," he said, standing and feeling anything but, "I don't need as much sleep as you do. What time is it?"

"Oh no!" she cried, grabbing his arm and steering him into the dining room. "You are not going back out until you eat a real breakfast."

"Mom," he started.

"No," she snapped, pushing him down into a chair. He gave up, watching as she scrambled eggs, buttered toast, and fried bacon.

"How is he?" he asked when she was arranging everything on three plates.

Her shoulders sagged. "I think today's going to be a bad day." She forced a sad smile as she placed his plate before him along with knife and fork. "He had a lot of trouble getting into the bathroom this morning."

"Doesn't he have an appointment at that new chiropractor's today?"

She nodded. "Let's hope he's better than the last guy." She sighed, her gaze wandering down the hall to the master bedroom. Chad was just opening his mouth to say something when she grabbed up the other two plates. "I think we'll eat in bed today, give him more time to get going."

"Mom," Chad said, frowning. They both knew he needed to be forced up or he wouldn't get up at all.

"I know, I know. Just today, okay?"

He saw the tired look in her eyes and nodded. "Okay, whatever you say, Mom."

She kissed him on the forehead as she left. "Leave the plate out when you're done. I want to see it empty before it soaks."

He rolled his eyes and dug in. If he was going to make it to work on time he needed to eat fast.


The old theater was coming along nicely. It had been built in the forties and fell into disarray in the eighties. For the last two decades it had been a favorite hangout for addicts and the homeless. But the façade was untouched. Sweeping arches that looked like they belonged on a cathedral sheltered the ticket area and the three sets of double doors leading into the foyer. Red brick walls flew into the sky where, on his first visit to the site, Chad had sworn he saw a gargoyle.

He stood in one of the aisles inside, noting the progress that had been made over the past months. The rotting stage and rodent infested seats had all needed replacing, the floors redoing, the curtains were gone entirely, and the walls had severe water damage from the leaking roof. But that work was mostly done. The seats had come last week, the curtains were coming Friday, giving his men plenty of time to finish the stage before they went up.

A sigh behind Chad drew his attention to the doors.

"The lights are all up," he said, turning back to the stage where men were busy working to rebuild. "I don't want to check the sound system until the stage is finished though, it'll just mess up the harmonics if we do it now."

She stepped next to him, her expression one of pure joy. "It's incredible," she sighed.

"You said that same thing the day you brought me here, telling me you'd bought a crappy old theater and wanted me to fix it up for you."

Sharpay turned sharply. "It is not crappy."

"Well, now --"

"And you never were," she added, patting one of the padded seats as if it were Boi's head. "The Regal has always been beautiful. It just needed love."

Chad rolled his eyes. "What are you doing here, anyway? You promised me you wouldn't come in here distracting my guys anymore." Granted, an unseasonable spring chill had her wearing a long jacket, but there was always the possibility that she'd take it off to reveal something more, well, revealing.

"I know but my business partner wants to come see the progress." She sauntered up the aisle.

"What?" Chad demanded, his voice echoing through the theater and shocking the workers. Chad frowned and waved a hand, signaling them to keep working. He stalked after Sharpay, who had taken a center seat ten rows back.

"You tested every seat, right?" she asked when he approached.

"Yes," he sighed, dropping into one and leaving a seat between them. "But what is this about a business partner? I've been working here for months and never heard you mention him."

"Her," Sharpay corrected. "And you never asked."

"I assumed, being the spoiled, rich girl you are, that you could buy this on your own … or your father could."

"I could have," she said, sighing in a way that told him she was seeing the theater as it would be, filled to the rafters and with a spectacular cast on the stage. "But it wasn't my idea to buy this place …."

"Then who --?"

"It was mine, Mr. Danforth."

Chad's head whipped around so fast his hair smacked him in the face. "Ms. D?" he gaped.

Ms. Darbus smiled kindly and stepped past him to take the seat between her two former students. "I have been dreaming of buying this place for years. I used to perform here, you know, before Broadway called my name."

Chad looked between Sharpay and Ms. Darbus in confusion.

"When she told me about it," Sharpay said, "I fell in love. I insisted she let me help her."

"And since I have no children, I decided it was important to know the theater would be going to someone I trusted. Plus, knowing I own slightly more than half of this place will stop someone from going through with all her foolish little fantasies."

Sharpay smiled. She had grown since high school. She was still spoiled, still craved the spotlight, but recognized that she didn't always deserve it or do it justice. She had learned to seek out parts she was more suited too, rather than assuming she was perfect for every lead. But she was still prone to going overboard and Ms. Darbus frequently had to rein her in during practice at East High.

"How could you afford that?" Chad asked, not caring that it was impolite to ask about finances.

Ms. Darbus turned to him with a laughing smile. "Did you think I went into teaching for the money? My dear, late husband was quite wealthy, left me everything."

"There was a Mister D?" Chad asked, shock making his eyes wide and his jaw loose.

Sharpay stretched her legs out beneath the next row of seats and her arms high in the air. Her hands were fisted, save for two fingers on her right hand, which she held up meaningfully.

"Yes, Mr. Danforth, there was," Ms. Darbus said. "And Sharpay is right as well, I was married twice."

Sharpay quickly dropped the pretense of stretching. As she did her cell phone buzzed and she silently excused herself, ignoring Darbus's look of reproval.

"I maintained my maiden name through each marriage though, since I was most famous as Renee Darbus."

Chad shook his head, the idea of his odd high school drama teacher bagging not one, but two husbands making his head spin. "Anyway," he said, "how do you like the place?"

"It's magnificent." She laid a hand on Chad's arm, meeting his eyes. "You've done a fantastic job, Mr. Danforth, and I don't just mean the theater."

Chad's eyes dropped to floor. "You're just saying that."

"No, I'm not. I cannot think of many young men who would have so willingly given up their dreams, and even fewer who would have done it with as little help as you did."

Chad scowled. "Sharpay told you."

"And Coach Bolton, and even then I had to somehow get them both together in the same room and force them to tell me. I cannot tell you how proud I am of you … or how disappointed."

"What?"

"You stepped up. You were presented with a crisis that should have turned your entire world upside-down, and you took it in stride. The way I hear it you didn't even pause. You knew exactly what you needed to do and you did it and I could not be more proud of you for that. But you could have had help. You and I both know that any one of your friends would have been on the first plane back here if they had known. How you got Coach Bolton to keep it from Troy I will never know."

"But that's just the point. This was my problem and if they were here it would be our problem. They had futures to get to, I couldn't let them pass up on that. And anyway," he added, a hint of petulance sneaking into his voice, "Sharpay was here."

"We both know Sharpay can be a very sweet girl when she wants to be, but she was never one of your closest friends. The two of you just happened to inhabit the same sphere. Now," she patted his arm, "it's over and done and you are very well situated in your life. But you know you cannot keep this from them forever. Eventually Troy Bolton will return to Albuquerque, as will all the others, and I highly doubt you will be able to procure their silence as easily as you did Ms. Evans'. Just something to think about."

Chad frowned as she stood and stepped past him to leave. "I graduated more than four years ago, weren't you supposed to stop teaching me then?"

"Asking a teacher to stop imparting wisdom is like asking an actor to stop monologue-ing. And I am both."


"She's right, you know," Sharpay said, spinning the ice cubes in her glass with her straw.

Chad sighed and let his head fall back against the cushioned booth seat. "I so do not want to have this conversation again." They were having their weekly lunch, which she had conned him into by promising never to wear a miniskirt and stilettos within a hundred yards of the construction crew after the first time resulted in three hours of extra work. They had already eaten but were hanging around on the pretense of considering dessert.

"But--"

"No. Okay? No, Sharpay. Four years. For nearly four years you and mom and Coach Bolton and even some of my employees have been coming to me, telling me the same thing Darbus told me today."

Sharpay cut him off. "People have been telling you that Ms. Darbus used to be married?"

He glowered at her, but without any real anger.

"See?" she said with a smile. "I can do comedy."

"Like I was saying, I expected the lectures in the beginning. But not anymore. I've been doing this for more than three years, Shar, and I'm doing a damn good job. I shouldn't have to defend myself to Darbus or you or anybody."

She glared at him and he was suddenly reminded of the Sharpay he used to know: drama club dictator and spoiled princess of Lava Springs. "The others would want to know. They're your friends, Chad. Did you know that I still talk to Gabriella? Not a lot," she added at his shocked expression, "just sometimes when one of us remembers that we were sort of friends. She's mentioned you a couple times -- in passing when she's talking about Troy. And Zeke and Ryan and Kelsi … they all miss you."

Chad focused on his soda. "What do you tell them?"

"Nothing, they never ask about you -- we weren't exactly joined at the hip in high school, you know -- they just mention that they miss you and that no one seems to know what you're up to."

Chad frowned. There was one name conspicuously absent from Sharpay's list but he wasn't about to ask.

"I'll tell them at the reunion in five years," he offered with a smile.

Sharpay's angry expression never faltered. "It's not right that you're asking Coach Bolton to lie to his son. Troy's going to come home eventually and he'll be angry that you didn't tell him."

Chad sighed. "Do you know what your first play will be yet?" he asked abruptly.

She took the hint and said, "Shakespeare, a modern interpretation."

"Does that mean it's people in jeans and t-shirts talking in iambic pentameter?"

"No, I want people to actually understand what they're saying."

"Thank God," Chad muttered.

"It's Much Ado About Nothing, one of my old classmates reworked it to fit in post World War II America."

"Is it a musical?"

"Of course. Not as good as one of Kelsi's, but still worthy."

"Sounds like fun."

"It is. We've been doing auditions at one of daddy's offices for the past few weeks. I think we've got a really stellar cast."

"You'll be able to practice on stage by the end of the month."

"We'd better. Opening night is six weeks away. I expect you to build sets."

"Six weeks?" Chad demanded.

"Well, we need the extra time for you to finish and to make sure that everyone can work well together, that there was no fluke during auditions and Hero should be playing Beatrice."

"You know I have no idea who those people are, right?"

"I know."

"And I'm not building the sets."

"Of course you are. You expect me to trust someone else with this job?"

"And I'm not acting."

"Well duh. I don't have time to direct a whole musical and deal with your moodiness."


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