SWEET DREAMS, FRAGILE HEARTS

Chapter 1—Christmas Dreams

As Troy Bolton began to awaken, he rubbed his bleary eyes, willing them to open. The morning sunlight streamed in through the French doors, and as he peeked out from beneath his eyelids, he frowned in confusion. He was in his bedroom at his parents' house in Albuquerque. His sleep-deprived mind stalled, and for a few moments, he thought he was 18 years old again. Then the woman who was curled beside him stirred, and his brain snapped into focus. He wasn't 18, he was 28. He didn't live in Albuquerque with his parents; he lived in San Francisco with his wife. That thought curled his lips into a smile, and he raised his head to look at her. Even after being married for 3½ years, and knowing her far longer, she could still take his breath away. He could feel the steady rise and fall of her chest against his side, and he watched her as she slept. The camisole she wore had slipped off her shoulder, baring her luscious olive skin. Her thick black curls spread across the pillow like a halo, and her mouth curved in a contented smile.

As Troy became more aware of his surroundings, he remembered the details of their trip. They had flown to Albuquerque late last night, after he finished his shift at the UCSF Hospital. He was nearly halfway through his second year of residency rotation, which allowed slightly more flexibility in his schedule, but taking several days off around holidays was difficult at best. Gabriella's schedule, on the other hand, was more wide open this time of year. She was on Winter Break for three weeks, which meant time off from her job as Associate Professor at UC Hastings College of the Law. She'd been working hard in the weeks leading up to the end of her third semester there, and by the end of finals week, she had been ready to collapse from exhaustion. He wished this trip would provide some relaxation for both of them, but that was unlikely. It was a short trip, which meant a jam-packed schedule of catching up with their family and friends. Hopefully, though, the special surprise he had planned would give them the reprieve they needed.

Gabriella stirred again in her sleep, and a small sigh rose from her throat. Unable to resist, Troy lifted a finger to her face and stroked it gently across her cheek. Her hand rose half-heartedly, as if swatting away a bug, but dropped back to her side. Troy chuckled and touched her face again, more firmly this time, and her nose crinkled disapprovingly. He continued to tease her with light touches until her dark eyelashes fluttered open, her brown eyes meeting his blue.

"Merry Christmas, sweetheart," he murmured, leaning down to place a kiss on the tip of her nose.

"Mmm," she hummed as she worked hard to keep her eyes open. "What time is it?"

Troy glanced at the alarm clock behind Gabriella. "Almost 8:00," he told her. "My mom usually has Christmas breakfast cooking by now." As if on cue, the rattle of pots and pans sounded from the other side of the bedroom door.

"It'll take her awhile… I can sleep a little bit longer," Gabriella reasoned, sliding an arm across her husband's bare chest and burrowing her face into his shoulder.

Troy chuckled again, tightening his arm around her. "As much as I'd love to stay here with you, I am in desperate need of a shower. I didn't have time to take one after work because we had to get to the airport, and last night when we got here, I was ready to drop." He pulled her into a warm embrace and spent a few precious moments kissing her properly before he reluctantly released her. He crawled out from beneath the cocoon of covers, wearing only pajama bottoms, and circled to Gabriella's side of the bed. He leaned to kiss each of her eyelids. "You sleep while I'm in the shower, and I'll wake you when I'm done."

"Mmm-kay," she murmured, already burrowed back under the pile of blankets.

Chuckling, he grabbed his toiletries bag and headed for the bathroom.

.....~«ώ»~.....

When he emerged twenty minutes later, freshly showered and shaved, he was surprised to find the bed empty and neatly made. He followed the sound of laughter and found his wife and his mother in the kitchen. Gabriella was cutting fruit while Lucille poured batter into the waffle maker. Troy gave his mother a warm hug before caging his wife against the counter from behind, his hands wrapped snugly around her trim waist.

"Hey," he murmured into her hair. "You were supposed to wait for me in bed."

Gabriella giggled as Lucille rolled her eyes. "I figured your mom could use some help getting breakfast ready before my mom gets here." Lucille had invited Maria Montez to join their family for Christmas. She had flown to Albuquerque the day before, but despite the size of the Boltons' house, Maria had insisted on staying in a nearby hotel.

"In that case, it's a good thing we didn't stay in bed," Troy teased. "I wouldn't want Maria to think that I'm taking advantage of her daughter."

Gabriella turned in his embrace, wrapping her arms around his neck and tilting her chin defiantly. A mirthful smile tugged at the corners of her lips. "We've been married 3½ years, Troy. I'm pretty sure she's figured out that my 'innocence' is long gone."

"I should hope so," Lucille interjected. "How else are we supposed to get some grandchildren?"

Troy rolled his eyes and checked his watch. "Wow, Mom, that may be a new record… You've managed to last almost 10 hours without mentioning the 'G' word. Of course, we were asleep most of that time, which makes it quite a bit harder to nag us about when we're going to have a baby."

"It's not 'nagging,'" Lucille returned innocently. "But as Gabriella pointed out, you have been married 3½ years. Most couples would have at least one, maybe two by now."

"Gabriella and I are not 'most couples,'" Troy argued, a warning tone thickening his voice. "I've already told you, we chose to wait until I finished medical school and the first phase of residency."

Gabriella's hands slid down to his biceps and squeezed them lightly, drawing his eyes down to hers. "I'm going to go finish getting ready," she told him quietly. He nodded, acknowledging her need to escape the uncomfortable situation, and gave her a quick kiss before releasing her.

He waited until the bedroom door closed before he turned to face his mother, his irritation evident. "I was hoping we could at least make it through breakfast before we started with the interrogation, Mom," he told her. "I understand, to a point, your obsessive need to have grandkids, but you don't get a vote in this. It's between my wife and me. Nobody else. So please just give it a rest. "

Lucille sighed. "Fine, but I don't understand why it's such a big deal. Maria and I have always teased you about having kids. What's changed?" She paused, and her eyes widened. "Is she pregnant? That's it, isn't it? She's already pregnant, and you're afraid I'm going to ruin the surprise!"

Troy shook his head firmly. "No, Mom, she's not pregnant. There is no surprise, so please, please, leave it alone for today."

She frowned at his insistence. "What's wrong, Troy? Is she okay?"

He ran a hand through his hair and glanced toward the closed bedroom door. "We've just started trying to get pregnant. Gabriella stopped her birth control about four weeks ago." He put up a hand to halt Lucille's excited response. "Since then she's been experiencing some nasty side effects… headaches, nausea, cramps, and fatigue. It's normal to some extent, but it's not usually this extreme. Her OB/GYN said it could take up to three months for her body to reregulate itself, but if it's not improving within the next couple weeks, she's going to run tests to see if there's something wrong with Gabriella's reproductive system."

Lucille smiled sympathetically. "I'm sorry, Troy. I had no idea. Poor Gabriella, the waiting must be almost as difficult as the side effects."

"She's been a real trooper, but it's taking a toll on her," Troy told her. "I feel really awful for her, and there's not much I can do to make it better. It's frustrating."

"And you're sure she's not pregnant?" she had to ask once more. "I mean, those are the same symptoms women have at the beginning of pregnancy."

He shook his head solemnly. "She thought she was at first. She's taken several pregnancy tests since then, including one last night before we left. She was hoping to be able to surprise you and Maria with an announcement today." The doorbell rang, and Lucille took a step toward the door, but Troy stopped her with a hand on her arm. "It'll happen when the time is right, Mom. You and I both know that. But please be sensitive to Gabriella's feelings, okay?"

She nodded and headed for the door, and Troy slumped against the counter. One mom down, he told himself. One to go.

.....~«ώ»~.....

As it turned out, Lucille found a private moment to share the news with Maria so Troy didn't have to. He was relieved, and when Gabriella emerged from the bedroom, she seemed to be in good spirits. She was excited to see her mother again, and the women chatted happily through breakfast. The rest of the morning passed quickly in a blur of laughter, stories, photos, and Christmas music.

After lunch, Jack drove to the nursing home to pick up his mother, who was 89 years old. She was in relatively good health, but she was terribly forgetful. She'd suffered a mild stroke nearly ten years before, and that seemed to be the cutoff point for her long-term memory. Although she could vividly remember details of her childhood, the events of the past ten years were fuzzy at best. In her mind, Troy was still a teenager. She'd only met Gabriella a few times while Troy and Gabriella were in high school, and it apparently hadn't been enough to earn Gabriella a permanent place in her memory banks. Although she'd been around Gabriella many times since then, and had even attended Troy and Gabriella's wedding, she could not remember, for any significant length of time, who Gabriella was.

When she was settled onto the couch in the Boltons' living room, Troy bent to kiss her weathered cheek.

"Good to see you again, Grandma," he greeted warmly.

"Troy, what a nice surprise!" she exclaimed. "When did you get home from college? Are you studying hard? You're not drinking too much, are you?"

"I'm done with college, Grandma," he explained patiently. "I'm a doctor now."

"You're a doctor? Oh, that's just wonderful! I'm so proud of you!" She reached up to pat his cheek, and he smiled indulgently. Then she caught sight of Gabriella behind Troy, and motioned for him to come closer so she could whisper, "And who is that lovely girl with you? Is that your girlfriend? She must be special if you've brought her home to meet the family."

"She's very special," he confirmed, bringing Gabriella up to stand beside him, his hand settling on the small of her back. "This is Gabriella, my wife."

"Your wife?" she questioned. "Jack, why didn't you tell me that Troy got married? Shouldn't he finish college first? Don't you think he's too young?" She paused, staring dreamily into space. "Then again, I married your grandfather when I was 19. He was about to move across the country for a new job, and I was afraid that if I didn't marry him, I'd never see him again. Times were different back then…"

As she launched into her story, Jack motioned for Troy to come with him to bring the gifts down from upstairs. When they returned, their arms full, Grandma was telling a story about Jack's childhood while Gabriella, Maria, and Lucille listened with amusement.

When she reached the end of her story, Jack cleared his throat. "Mom, we're going to open the gifts now, okay?"

"Some things never change," Grandma chuckled, leaning toward Gabriella. "Jack used to wake his father and me at daybreak every Christmas, unable to wait to open his presents."

"Hmm," Lucille interjected. "I seem to remember another Bolton man who used to practically break down our bedroom door on Christmas morning to get us up." She looked meaningfully at Troy, and he simply grinned and shrugged, circling the couch to sit on the arm next to his wife.

"Guilty as charged," he replied good-naturedly. "It must be genetic."

Gabriella caught his eye and dropped her hand to her stomach. "Maybe this time next year…" she whispered so only he could hear.

"Maybe," he encouraged with a wink before leaning down to give her a lingering kiss.

.....~«ώ»~.....

Half an hour later, the living room was strewn with wrapping paper, and everyone chatted happily and admired one another's gifts. Soon Grandma launched into more stories, and Gabriella listened attentively. She hadn't had grandparents who lived nearby during her childhood, so she always enjoyed spending time with Troy's grandmother. Troy, who'd always found Grandma's stories rather laborious, appreciated them more as he enjoyed his wife's enthusiasm. He found himself imagining the two of them, fifty years in the future, with Gabriella telling the same kinds of stories to their grandchildren while he sat holding her hand, just as he was now.

As Jack dozed in the recliner and Lucille and Maria excused themselves to begin preparing the big Christmas dinner, Grandma reached out a crooked finger to stroke Gabriella's cheek. "Such a pretty girl," she mused. "Is my grandson a good boyfriend? Does he treat you the way you deserve to be treated? If not, I'll have a word with him myself."

"He's a wonderful man," Gabriella told her, squeezing Troy's hand. "I couldn't ask for anything more. I love him with all my heart. In fact… can I tell you a secret?" She leaned conspiratorially toward the older woman, and Troy's eyebrows creased suspiciously as he wondered what she was up to. "He's asked me to marry him, and I said yes!" She held out her left hand, displaying the engagement ring that Troy had actually given her nearly five years earlier. It was nestled against her wedding band, but as she'd suspected, Grandma didn't even notice the second ring as she admired the diamond.

"That's just wonderful, dear!" Grandma exclaimed happily. "Troy, good for you! Although I think you should wait until you finish college before you get married. Do you and Troy go to the same school,… um…?"

"Gabriella," Troy supplied with a smile, playing along. "No, I go to Berkeley and Gabriella goes to Stanford. But we see each other as often as we can, and I know she's the girl I want to spend my life with."

She reached across Gabriella to pat her grandson's knee. "Then you hold onto her. Someday you two will have beautiful children." Troy slipped his arm around Gabriella's waist and squeezed, and she sent him a loving smile. "I only hope I live long enough to meet my great-grandchildren," Grandma continued wistfully.

Gabriella suddenly felt guilty for deceiving the older woman, although she knew Grandma would forget the conversation by tomorrow. She cleared her throat to come clean, but Troy's hand on her back stopped her.

"Gabriella and I do hope to have kids, Grandma, and I'm sure they'll love hearing stories about all the mischief their father and grandfather got into," Troy told her. "So you'd better stick around so you can tell them."

"I certainly will," she replied definitively. "But I want you to finish college and get married before you start thinking about having children."

"Yes, ma'am," Troy answered with a wink.

.....~«ώ»~.....

After dinner, Jack took Grandma back to the nursing home, and Lucille and Maria shooed away Troy and Gabriella's offer to help with clean-up. Troy guided Gabriella into the living room and sat them both on the couch, pulling her tightly into his side. He'd noticed during dinner that she'd grown quiet amidst the gaiety, and he was anxious to make sure she was all right.

"Feeling okay?" he asked softly.

"Yeah... just another headache," she answered, rubbing her temples.

"Do you want to go lay down for a little while?" he asked sympathetically.

"No, I don't want to miss anything. It'll pass." She rested her head on Troy's chest, and he gently massaged her neck and the back of her head.

Before long, he felt her relax against him, and her even breaths indicated that she'd dozed off. He rubbed her back and watched her sleep, hoping that the pain would be gone by the time she woke. When Maria and Lucille returned to the living room, they spoke in hushed tones as they watched her sympathetically.

"How frequent are her symptoms, Troy?" Maria asked, waving a hand toward her daughter.

"The headaches have been pretty regular, and she's been really run down," he told her. "The nausea and cramps are less frequent, but she's had a few bad bouts."

"Hopefully it really is just the hormonal change from quitting birth control and not something more serious," Lucille commented.

Troy nodded seriously. "Yeah, hopefully."

"What do you two have planned for tomorrow?" Lucille asked, redirecting the conversation.

Troy smiled gratefully at her. "Well, we're having breakfast with Maria before her flight leaves," he looked to his mother-in-law for confirmation, and she nodded. "Then we're going to make a quick trip to Santa Fe to visit Chad and Taylor. Then an early dinner with you and Dad before we head back to San Francisco."

"Sounds like a busy day," Maria observed.

"Yeah, I wish we had more time to spend here, but vacation days are really at a premium at the hospital this time of year," Troy commented.

Their conversation was interrupted as Jack bustled back into the house. Lucille shushed him, fearing he would wake Gabriella, but she barely stirred.

"Son, I think it's time you and I do some bonding on the basketball court," Jack invited.

Troy quirked an eyebrow teasingly. "Are you sure you're up for that, Dad? I mean, you're not getting any younger."

"Ha, ha, very funny," Jack shot back. "Fortunately, if I get hurt, I know a good doctor who specializes in sports medicine and orthopedic surgery."

"I'm not fully certified until I finish residency, so you're on your own until then," Troy told him.

"Then I guess you'll have to take it easy on your old man, huh?" Jack taunted.

"Game on," Troy replied with a grin. He glanced at Gabriella uncertainly, but Lucille waved him off.

"Go play, little boys. We'll keep an eye on her," she said. He carefully eased out from under his wife and gently laid her down on the couch, pulling a blanket over her and kissing her brow. He missed the knowing smile the mothers exchanged as he jogged toward his room to change into more comfortable clothes.

.....~«ώ»~.....

It was fully dark outside by the time Troy and Jack came in, sweaty and worn out, but with big smiles on their faces. Lucille was in the kitchen making tea, and she shook her head nostalgically.

"Some things never change," she observed. "I couldn't begin to guess how many evenings I stood in this kitchen, wondering if you two were ever going to quit playing and come inside."

Jack was out of breath, but he slung an arm around his son's shoulders. "Let me tell you, our son may not be playing on a team any more, but he's definitely still got it," he declared proudly.

"And Dad can still put me through my paces, that's for sure," Troy returned, poking Jack in the gut. "Not bad for an old man!"

"Hey!" Jack feigned hurt and tightened his arm around Troy's neck, pulling his head down to rub his knuckles across Troy's scalp.

"Ow! What's with the head rubbing?" Troy protested. "I beat you fair and square!"

He grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator and headed for the living room. A few seconds later, he was back. "Mom, where's Gabriella?"

Lucille patted his shoulder. "She got sick a little while ago. Maria took her to your bedroom to help her get cleaned up."

The smile had disappeared from Troy's face. "Why didn't you come get me?"

"There was no need," she defended. "Maria took care of her when she was sick for 16 years before she met you."

"Yeah, but I shouldn't have been out there playing when she needed me," he argued, moving toward the bedroom. He didn't hear his mother's response as he stepped through the door and saw Gabriella curled in bed with Maria sitting next to her, stroking her daughter's hair. He circled the bed and sat on the mattress beside her, and she opened her eyes when he touched her face.

"How are you feeling?" he asked gently.

"Better," she answered. "My head still hurts, but I'm not nauseous anymore."

"I'm sorry I wasn't here to take care of you," he told her remorsefully.

"It's okay, Troy," she replied, and then offered a small smile. "Who won?"

He grinned charmingly. "Your favorite Wildcat, of course!"

"Oh, Jack beat you?" she teased.

"Hey!" he feigned hurt, and Maria laughed at their playful exchange. "You'd better be nice to me… I still have a Christmas present to give you."

"Really?" she instantly perked up.

"Really," he confirmed with a smile. "I'm going to grab a quick shower, and you close your eyes and rest, okay?"

"Okay," she agreed drowsily.

.....~«ώ»~.....

When Troy emerged from the shower, he found Gabriella still awake and talking with her mother. Maria discreetly excused herself, telling them that she would be back for breakfast in the morning. He pulled a small wrapped gift from his overnight bag and sat back on the bed, dropping the gift on the cover beside her. She sat up and excitedly tore the wrapping off and lifted the lid from the box. Inside was two plane tickets and a reservation for New Year's weekend at the ski resort in Colorado where they'd first met. She squealed with delight, threw her arms around his neck, and showered his face with kisses.

"Oh, Troy, we're going back to Colorado!" she exclaimed with delight. "What a wonderful surprise! But what made you decide… this year…?"

He pulled her away from him and took her hands in his. His expression suddenly grew serious. "Gabriella, we've started each new phase of our life together at that ski resort in Colorado. It's where we met, and where I asked you to marry me. Now… well, we're trying for a baby, and I thought, what better place to start this next phase together than where it all began?"

Her eyes swam with unshed tears, and she threw her arms around him again. "I love you so much," she murmured in his ear. He gathered her close and kissed her deeply.

Finally he pulled away and drew back the covers, preparing to slide into bed next to her, but she halted him.

"There's a box in your closet that I need you to get," she told him.

Frowning, he pulled open his closet door to reveal a very large box wrapped in Christmas paper. When he looked back at her, she was grinning with barely-contained excitement.

"How…? You didn't bring this on the plane," he stuttered, lifting it and carrying it back to the bed.

"I had it shipped here instead of our house," she told him. "Your mom wrapped it for me before we got here."

"You little sneak," he teased. He tore off the paper, pulled open the box, and stared speechlessly at the new custom snowboard nestled inside.

"Do you like it?" she asked anxiously beside him.

"It's incredible!" he exclaimed, lifting it out and running his hands over the polished surface in awe. "Wow! I can't wait to…" He trailed off, eyeing her suspiciously. "Wait a minute, how did you know that we would be going back to the ski resort?"

"I didn't," she admitted. "I mean, I hoped… but that's why I kept it hidden until now. I did have a backup plan, though, in case we didn't…"

"What's that?" he asked curiously.

"Now you'll never know," she answered with a wink.

The snowboard was temporarily forgotten as he covered her mouth with his, showing his appreciation with the tenderness of his kiss. He broke the kiss momentarily to turn off the lights, and then slid into bed next to her, pulling her into the warmth of his arms.

"Merry Christmas, Troy," she told him lovingly.

"Merry Christmas, baby," he answered before claiming her lips once more.