Just Coming Of Age

Chapter 5

Getting a visitor pass at East High was harder than Taylor had thought but once Principal Matsui had seen her she'd gotten in easily enough. She didn't tell him she was there to confront one of his teachers in an environment where they couldn't run away, but had let him jump to his own conclusion that she was there to reminisce. He only asked that she stay out of the way of the classes and that she stop by the tutoring center on her way out to update them on the developments in her life -- they liked keeping up with the former tutors so that their current students had something to strive for.

The campus hadn't changed much since Taylor graduated. A fire took out the science labs a few years after she left and they'd gotten their own building near the north lawn, while the old science labs were torn out to make room for a new south lawn. It wasn't a big change but it was enough to confuse her for a few seconds, eventually though she made it to the theater. After the confusion of the missing science wing the theater was a welcome familiarity. Nothing seemed to have changed, except that the piano, always present during all but dress rehearsals before, was missing from the stage.

Taylor took a seat in the back row to watch. A class was in session, most of the students lounging in the first few rows, watching a rough scene acted out on stage. Ms. Darbus was watching from the wings, occasionally jumping in with advice for the students. They weren't great, but they were still pulling off Our Town quite nicely. Taylor kept her eyes on Darbus. She wasn't really sure the woman would know anything, but she was out of other options. She'd spent all weekend in the public library, pouring over the newspaper records for anything on Chad Danforth. The last mention of him she could find was a report on U of A's last game of her freshman year. The writer had praised Chad's skills, saying that if he brought the same game for the next three years then U of A would be unstoppable. But there hadn't been a next three years. When Chad's name was nowhere to be found she searched the team roster and found him missing there too. She and Chad hadn't discussed college much, knowing it would be the thing that ended their relationship, but from their few conversations she'd assumed Chad needed his basketball scholarship. But he hadn't lost that, he was a big enough star on the team that if he'd suffered some sort of injury there would have been a news report. Whatever had happened, it had been enough to take him out of school.

"Hey."

Taylor gasped at Sharpay's voice at her shoulder. "What are you doing here?" she asked, one hand on her chest as her heart slowed.

Sharpay lounged in the row before her before answering. "I earned some college credit helping out here and decided to keep it up whenever I could. It's really fun."

"I thought you only did that to get back at Tiara."

"That was just a perk," Sharpay said with a sly smile. "Even when I wasn't torturing her I still had loads of fun with the other kids. And," she said with what Taylor would have called a wistful sigh if it had come from anyone else, "it really is rewarding work."

"Isn't it tough to do this and run the theater?"

"Sometimes, but at the end of the day this is just a volunteer job. Plus, Darbus knows I have to keep things going there. Speaking of commitments, shouldn't you be at work?"

Most people would have been intimidated by Sharpay's question, but Taylor knew her better than that. "No, my boss gave me the morning off." That wasn't quite true, she had the morning free to run miscellaneous errands that needed doing before the groundbreaking that afternoon. She'd finished with most of them and was certain she had enough time to spare to talk with Darbus. A week ago she'd planned on spending any free time today keeping an eye on Trent, but her priorities had shifted since the reopening of the Regal.

"Was he the guy who Darbus left the theater with the other night?"

"Yeah, Drake Paulson. He took her home."

"Oh, that's just fabulous."

Taylor frowned, at the time she'd been too caught up in her own personal drama to think much of Paulson and Darbus but experience had taught her that anything Sharpay thought was "fabulous" probably wasn't.

Before she could ask just what was so fabulous about it, Sharpay continued. "But, back to the topic at hand. What are you doing here?"

"I wanted to ask Darbus about Chad. He said he drove her to the opening, I figured she might know something about what happened to him after high school."

Though Sharpay's eyes stayed locked on Taylor's, her expression became carefully blank. She definitely knew something.

Taylor was momentarily annoyed that Sharpay would know more about Chad than she did, but quickly pushed the emotion away. She was here as a concerned friend, nothing more. Instead she focused on why Sharpay would know anything. Granted, she was the only one of their group during high school who had stayed in Albuquerque after graduation, but it had never occurred to her that Sharpay and Chad attending the same university would bring them closer.

"I don't know if Ms. D would know anything," Sharpay said, a laugh in her tone. "I don't think Chad's really hung out with her after graduation -- or before, really."

"You know," Taylor said, ignoring her.

"Know what?" Sharpay asked.

"Don't play me, Evans, I've seen you act, remember? I know what it looks like. Out with it. What happened to Chad?"

Sharpay let out a long sigh. "You'll have to ask him. Not that he'll tell you," she added, frowning.

"Come on, you love gossip, especially when you're telling it to someone who really shouldn't hear it. Give in to your evil side, Sharpay, you know you want to."

Sharpay's expression was somehow both flattered and affronted. "I can't, really. I promised him a long time ago that I wasn't going to tell. The only reason I even told Darbus was because she used her villain face on me."

"Her what?"

"Her villain face. The one she uses whenever she's playing someone evil. It's really scary."

Taylor quickly decided that anything that could scare Sharpay was something she didn't want to see. Instead she decided to ask Sharpay where she could find Chad. She wasn't going to talk to him unless she had to, but if she didn't think of any other leads soon, she would have to. Before she could ask though, her cell phone went off.

As she fumbled with her purse Ms. Darbus' voice echoed over the seats. "Miss McKessie! I thought I was free of this when you graduated! Out!"

It was Trent calling to tell her that the Channel 5 News had called to say that the post-groundbreaking interview would need to be moved back half an hour, along with instructions on what Mr. Paulson should avoid wearing to appear best in the studio. Taylor wanted to throttle him. She'd called Channel 5 days ago about that interview and specifically told them to call back on her cell. The only time since then that she hadn't been able to take a call was when she was at the Regal and her phone was off. She suspected that they'd called the office when she didn't answer and Trent had somehow intercepted the message. He'd been angry ever since finding out that Mr. Paulson was taking her to the hottest show in town and she had no doubt that holding onto the message until the last second was his way of getting revenge.

She left the school without another thought and rushed to her car. The tie she'd chosen for Mr. Paulson to wear to the groundbreaking was perfect for the outdoor photographs, but the color was on the Channel 5 list of don'ts. She didn't know how it would clash with their studio but she wasn't about to take any chances. Not only did she now have to run to his apartment to choose a new tie for him that would look good both at the groundbreaking and in the studio -- there were enough people annoyed with the new store as it was, she didn't need people nitpicking that he'd changed ties in the middle of the day -- but she had to rearrange his schedule for the evening now that the interview had been moved back.

It took her nearly an hour to fix things to her satisfaction and she barely made it to the groundbreaking as a result. She got Mr. Paulson into the correct tie before any of the reporters saw him and, as he made his way into the limelight, she sagged against the side of a news van.

There was really no point in her watching the groundbreaking so she let her eyes wander. A small crowd of protestors was outside the site's gate. Some people in the community were annoyed at the presence of the new megastore. Taylor might have agreed with them, but she knew enough about the politics and finances of these sorts of things to recognize that this site was destined to either be a megastore or a strip mall. The park that the protesters thought should go here just wasn't an option.

Robust laughter drew Taylor's attention to the end of the line of news vans. Construction workers, eager to do their job, were standing around, laughing and joking while the pomp and circumstance went on a few dozen yards away. It occurred to Taylor suddenly that Chad's father would be there. He might let someone else oversee the day to day work at the site, but today was a big deal for Danforth Construction and he wouldn't miss it. He would probably be with Paulson and the mayor, not to give a speech, but just to represent one of the businesses already being helped by this project.

Taylor stood on her tiptoes to see over the crowd of reporters and cameras. When she caught sight of a curly head of hair she nearly lost her footing in shock. What was Chad doing here?

The public relations expert in her knew that it wasn't to put a younger face on the business. No one wanted young in their construction workers (except perhaps rich wives eager for something to ogle), they wanted dependable experience and a guy fresh out of college wouldn't give that impression. She wondered for a moment if he was a stand in. Perhaps something had come up to delay Mr. Danforth and Chad was stepping in. But that theory fell to pieces quickly. Chad was too well-composed to be doing this as a last minute favor.

The groundbreaking finished up while she was still mulling over the possibilities. She needed to touch base with Mr. Paulson, let him know about the changes in his schedule, but she really wanted answers. Before she could think better of it she hurried over to the construction workers.

"Excuse me," she asked, "can one of you tell me where I could find Mr. Danforth?"

"Sure," one of the men said, "he's over there, talking to the mayor."

"Thanks," Taylor said. Charles Danforth hadn't suddenly appeared on the scene, it was Chad talking to the mayor. It was possible, she thought as she rushed to Mr. Paulson's car, that Chad was working for his father, getting ready to take over the family business one day, and that the workers were used to having them both be in charge. But Taylor knew Chad's father, the man had a work ethic that even she admired. He would have made Chad start at the bottom, just like he had, and work his way up slowly until he was ready to take the reins of the company.

A cold feeling settled in the pit of her stomach. This mystery was getting more complicated and she was almost certain she wouldn't like the answers she found.


AN: I'm sick, but reviews will make me feel better. Don't you want me to feel better?