As a child growing up on the West Coast, Gabriella Montez had always used to pray for a white Christmas. Her first winter in New York made sure that she became more than acquainted with the snow; with the first scattering of the year the sky had exploded with Christmas weeks before Santa had even harnessed up the reindeer. Each tiny flake that stuck to her apartment window sent silent carols coursing through her ears.
Gabriella knew that she would leave the snow behind in New York when she went back to visit her Mother in San Diego, but the resplendent white that had coated the city in its ardour was more than enough to make the Christmas spirit set in.
On Christmas Eve, the blanching white alone was enough to suck the Christmas spirit right back out of her.
Nod and smile, Gabriella thought to herself; nod, smile and pray to God that he doesn't want dessert. Karma just had to pay her back for getting so excited about the snow. All that she'd done was mention once or twice that she hoped it snowed properly this year; and look where it had gotten her. Her Christmas Eve flight home had been cancelled: there was no way that she'd make it home in time for Christmas lunch at her Grandparent's house. She cast a glare at the heavy snowfall outside the window of the five-star restaurant she was currently sitting in, before once again cursing fate. Gabriella tried to stifle a frustrated sigh as she inwardly berated herself for her inability to say no and realise in advance the flaw in accepting a seemingly harmless offer from her customarily pleasant boss. Her customarily pleasant boss had, in his old-school chivalrous manner, offered to take her to dinner that evening when the incessant snow of the last few days had made it clear that neither of them were going to manage to catch the flights that were scheduled to deliver them to family in time for Christmas.
He was harmless enough; it was the whisky and red wine that was the issue.
It was typical, really; mere months into her first graduate job with O'Melveny and Meyers as junior lawyer in entertainment and media litigation, and Gabriella would just have to get stranded in New York on her own. Just sometimes, she mused, phasing Brian's slurring out of her consciousness, she should try to be less of a workaholic. She should also, she decided somewhat belatedly, have reconsidered the neckline of her sweater-dress when she had selected her outfit that morning: Brian's glazed-over eyes were wandering.
It took every ounce of Gabriella's mental strength not to wince when her boss leaned across the table and the stench of whisky lingered under her nostrils.
Bored, Gabriella's gaze meandered across to the booth in front of where she was seated, as it had done a few times already that evening. The only saving grace of her impromptu plans was the fact that a rather delicious looking man was within her line of sight. Gabriella felt slightly ridiculous as she took a moment to admire his defined face and the stubble that was dotting it. At various points that night, when she had been particularly superfluous to her boss' whining about the sorry state of his middle-age existence, she had amused herself with imagining a story for the mystery Adonis. He was absent-mindedly flicking through the Sports' section of a newspaper, picking at his steak somewhat despondently, and Gabriella wondered whether he too had been left stranded for Christmas. She couldn't imagine that a man that beautiful would be eating alone by choice.
Catching Gabriella off guard, the man looked up from his paper; their eyes met. Immediately, Gabriella averted her gaze, embarrassed that she had been caught so blatantly admiring a stranger who was way out of her league, and it was only then that she realised that Brian had stopped speaking. She glanced across the table, cheeks burning even more brightly.
"You know, Gabriella," her boss drawled clumsily. "I'm so glad that you're so easy to talk to..." His announcement prompted a jaunt into another area of his wretched life, and one which Gabriella had very little interest in becoming involved with. As Brian began to expound upon the various failings of his marriage and how his wife just wasn't the same as she had been when she was younger, Gabriella chanced an involuntary look across at the Adonis from before, and was shocked to see him smirking. He raised his eyebrow at her and Gabriella answered his implicit question with a roll of her eyes before being dragged back to the conversation with her boss when he reached across to grasp her wrist.
She gulped, recognising the dangerously sickening glint in his eye. It was one that Gabriella had come to recognise during nights out in her student days. She wasn't stupid; Gabriella knew that she was fairly attractive. Living in New York, she stuck out like a sore thumb with her cascading brown waves that contrasted the obsessively straightened and bleached blonde locks of the majority of the female population. But Gabriella was timid at heart, with the sort of reserved nature and slightly outdated morals that most men didn't tend to associate with her superficial appearance. Of course, she knew how to make the most of her looks. She dated and she flirted with the odd guy at a bar, but that was generally as far as it went. And when some guy or other tried to drunkenly engage her in conversation - or worse- she would send a pointed glare in their direction and somewhat awkwardly try and extricate herself from the situation as quickly as possible.
Sitting across from her boss and noting his hopefully predatory inspection of her, Gabriella's brain obviously decided that hoping and praying for some sort of distraction would be the best method of rescue.
"So, Gabriella, I find it hard to believe that there isn't a boyfriend who would prefer your company this evening?"
She didn't fight the urge to roll her eyes with much conviction: at least it had taken him an hour to make a comment that blatantly obvious.
Smiling tightly, Gabriella purposefully allowed her eyes to wander as she answered. "Erm, well, you know. Work and stuff." She cringed: it was times like this that she wished more than anything that she wasn't single – or, at least, that she was a somewhat competent liar. You'd have thought that after a few years in the theatre society at university she might just be able to put her acting skills to practical use.
"You should tell your boss not to keep such a pretty young thing away from the line of men that must be queuing up for you," Brian guffawed in response, obviously amused with himself.
Gabriella's still travelling eyes landed on the beautiful man from the next table again – at the exact moment that he loudly snorted with laughter. His ears burned red and, when he noticed that she was watching him, his eyes shifted to look at the back of her boss as he pulled a disbelieving expression.
Stifling a giggle, Gabriella turned away with a coyness that she sometimes forgot she possessed.
It wasn't as though Troy was unaccustomed to snow. Ever since he was a boy, growing up in New Mexico and taking annual ski-trips to Colorado, winter had been synonymous with it. The little child inside of him still couldn't fight the urge to let the first snowflake of the season melt on his tongue, though. The outer chill of the snowstorm that engulfed New York just couldn't freeze the warm flow of Christmas spirit through his veins.
Troy Bolton was accustomed to snow and he really should have seen that afternoon's turn of events coming. He should have realised that getting home to his family in Albuquerque was going to be rendered problematic by the determined snowfall. Naturally, believing her son capable of anything, Mrs. Bolton hadn't quite been able to rationally accept that it wasn't his fault that December had seen record snow fall that year. Because of course, eating dinner on his own like a loser was exactly how Troy had planned to spend his Christmas Eve that year.
Trying to ease his self-consciousness, Troy had spent most of his dinner reading the newspaper. The conversation on the table in front of him had been relatively entertaining, though, and managed to snatch his attention away from the Sports' news. Over the hour that he had been eating, the man lucky enough to get the chance to take the gorgeous woman opposite him to dinner had grown increasingly drunk and was obviously oblivious to the boredom of his date. Troy winced when he heard the words 'boss' and 'employee' being thrown around with regards to their relationship; he doubted that the woman in question had intended that evening to turn into a farcical episode where her drunken letch of a boss became more and more likely to hit on her.
However, stuck in New York, alone, for Christmas made Troy selfish: he wasn't about to complain about the scenery. She was probably the most stunning woman that he had ever set eyes upon and he couldn't deny that the snatches of overheard conversation revealed an enticing amount of information about her. Troy Bolton had a definite weakness for intelligent, independent women.
Missing the sight of her face, Troy snuck a glance away from his newspaper and at the opposite table, feeling both abashed and pleased when he noticed that the beauty was staring back at him. Her cheeks glowed with a rosy blush and her eyes darted back to her dinner guest.
Her timidity made him impossibly more intrigued by her. Troy didn't look back down at his newspaper or his meal and smirked as the faceless buffoon on the next table made a pathetic attempt to flirt with his guest.
"You know, Gabriella, I'm so glad that you're so easy to talk to..."
When Gabriella looked back up at him, Troy couldn't make the amused curling of his lips settle: he was far too preoccupied with the butterflies causing a stir in the pit of his stomach. Trying to act cool, he pulled a face as he slowly glanced over at the back of her boss. He hoped he wasn't being presumptuous in assuming her displeasure. The eye-roll that she gifted him with in response told him otherwise and he smiled inwardly. Thankfully Gabriella had already looked away when his cheeks started to heat in bashful delight at something unspoken.
His newspaper long abandoned, Troy gave up any pretence that he wasn't eavesdropping.
"You should tell your boss not to keep such a pretty young thing away from the line of men that must be queuing up for you..."
Troy snorted involuntarily. He wished that he had chosen a slightly more attractive way to express his amusement; especially because the beautiful woman that he had been watching all evening was looking over at him with a slightly quirked eyebrow. The embarrassed heat burning his ears was salved by her barely-there smile and he cast a wry glance at the back of the man whom she was eating with. For a second, he wondered why on Earth he thought that he would be able to charm such a stunning, intelligent woman through wordless flirting.
Her practically inaudible giggle told Troy that he should have more faith in himself. Her nose crinkled in a kittenish fashion, eyes twinkling with mirth, before she slowly looked away from him and tried to pay at least a modicum of attention to her boss. Her cheeks were glowing pink; she was sublime.
The minutes ticked by excruciatingly slowly as the last morsels began to disappear from Troy's plate. There was only so much longer he could continue sitting in the restaurant before the inevitable happened and he had to leave. His fork had been pushing the final slice of beef around the circumference of the dish long enough for him to realise that the possibility of him managing to grab the mystery woman's number, at least, or to engage her in proper conversation, at best, were limited.
He knew that his disappointment was stupid: they had hitherto failed to communicate through anything but flirty glances and facial expressions. Realistically, Troy was well aware that his attraction to this woman had a lot to do with how beautiful she was; he wondered whether he would have shown this much interest had the woman been plain looking.
His rationalism wasn't quite enough to convince him that the tumbling reams of black, silken curls and the warm, chocolate eyes that seemed to melt under his inspection were solely responsible for the tangoing of ardent spectres across the flexed muscle of his heart.
Troy was jerked from his introspection by the sound of a proximal chair scraping clumsily against the floor. His eyes rose, slowly, to note that his vision of Gabriella was no longer partially obscured; her petite upper body was entirely open to his shy inspection. Tentatively, his eyes lifted further. Brown melted into blue. Blue floated amidst brown.
A tender thrill ignited the air between them.
The only measure of the time that passed was the hastened pounding of Troy's heart. Not blinking, he licked his lips, preparing his mouth for the words. His head was agog; he could see nothing but her. His moistened lips rounded into a silent greeting. "Hi," he mouthed across at her, too intoxicated to feel the reddening of his cheeks.
Angelic fingers dabbed a splattering of pink over Gabriella's cheeks and her mouth curved with a tempered glimmer. "Hi," she mouthed back, just as shyly, casting her eyes downwards immediately out of nervousness.
Troy's lips creased as he waited hopefully for her to look up again. She did. Glancing at the empty chair between them, he looked over at her questioningly. Momentarily he wondered whether she would grasp his implicit question.
"My boss," she whispered slowly, "is drunk."
A low chuckle skimmed the back of Troy's throat at the eye-roll that accompanied her wry statement. His eyes dazzled brazenly. "Do you need rescuing?" he mouthed in question. His throat grew dry at the way that her eyes were focussing intently on his lips.
Gabriella smiled gratefully, flicking her eyes over to the male restroom, before she shrugged. "I think it'll be okay," she whispered slightly more loudly this time. "We're probably going soon."
Nodding, Troy sent a soft smile in her direction before his eyes mellowed at the glimmer of disappointment in hers when she looked over to the restroom again.
Their eyes met once more before Troy's view was blocked by the returning figure of her boss. He sighed, pushing his plate away from him.
His stomach lurched when the waiter took it as his cue to clear the table.
It took an inordinate amount of time for Troy to count out his change and pay the bill. It required even more restraint for him not to look back up at the woman that had captured his attention that evening, for him to ignore the tickling sensation dashing agog between his heart and the back of his neck.
After placing the final coin onto the silver tray, Troy just had to risk one last look at her.
His mind went blank when he observed her eyes trained despondently on the tray of change.
Gabriella's lips twitched as she watched the beautiful man from the next table deliberate over counting out his cash as he paid his bill. He had practically taken every item out of his wallet, separating the coins out into matching piles.
Brian was still talking, thankfully having taken the hint that his employee wasn't to be engaged in conversation about boyfriends and relationships, and now talking about the damn case that had kept them both in New York until Christmas Eve.
She added a thoughtful, "hmmm", to the conversation before flicking her eyes back to the man who was now slowly placing the correct amount of money onto the tray.
He was stalling.
Gabriella knew that he was stalling.
His heavy hand settled the final coin onto the silver dish; Gabriella's weighty heart tugged her mouth downwards in disappointment.
This was it.
Gabriella's eyes snapped upwards, one last time.
Their eyes met, one last time.
Gabriella's heart clamoured against her head.
His eyes dawned in recognition before she even opened her mouth to break the habit of a lifetime.
The coupled words swam in Troy's vision, begging his heart to take action.
He was powerless to refuse its call.
Gathering his coat and folding it over his arm, he took a deep breath, before swaggering over to the next table and forcing a confident smile onto his face.
She watched his every move.
"Gabriella!" Troy announced excitedly. "I can't believe that I've only just noticed that you were sitting here!"
Gabriella's widened, an instinctive smile bursting over her lips. "Oh my goodness, I haven't seen you in years!" she exclaimed in response, thanking her lucky stars that her acting skills had finally kicked in. "Where were you sitting?" Her body automatically curved round in her chair so that her body was mere inches away from his.
Resting one hand unconsciously on the back of her seat, Troy tried not to shiver when her soft hair brushed against his skin. "Just on the table behind you," he explained. "But put a plate of food in front of me and I'm oblivious to anything," he added with a chuckle, scratching the back of his neck. The curious stare of her boss was making him nervous.
Gabriella seemed to pick up on his discomfort and turned back to her boss. "Gosh, how rude of me for not introducing you!" She gestured at her boss, "This is Brian Lockwood, my boss at O'Melveny and Meyers; I started there in the Fall." Her voice faltered after giving the explanation, praying that the stranger would know when to jump in. "And, Brian, this is..."
She didn't have to finish, Troy had stuck out his hand, his muscles flexing under the sleeves of his rolled up shirt. "Troy Bolton," he finished for her. "We were in the same dorms when..."
"We were doing undergrad at Stanford." His voice phased out at the perfect moment for Gabriella to pitch in.
Troy's lips twitched: she really was smart. They were quiet for a moment, and Gabriella blushed afresh when Troy looked at her out of the corner of his eye. "This really is crazy," he said a minute later. "I've literally only been in the city for half a year." He glanced down surreptitiously at the empty plates on the table. It was now or never. "Hey, I don't mean to sound presumptuous, and I'm sure you've already got plans on Christmas Eve, but I don't suppose you'd like to head out for a drink; I mean, unless you were planning on staying for dessert...?"
Gabriella smiled and her lips painted a feathery smile across her face. "I mean, I think we were pretty much finished, weren't we, Brian?" She took a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves. "And my flight home was cancelled because of the snow so..."
Troy chuckled. "Same here, I was supposed to be back in Albuquerque by now."
Her glowing eyes lifted to gaze into his. "Sounds like a perfect time to catch up then."
Engaging in this charade with Troy was both the strangest and most natural experience of Gabriella's life so far. By rights, things should have been awkward and clumsy; conversation should have fizzled out much sooner than it did. But as Gabriella and her boss settled their bill, it never even came into question that Troy would stay by her side to continue chatting. It really shouldn't have been that easy to fool her boss into thinking that a stranger was a man that she had met years ago.
It really shouldn't have been that easy to start talking to a stranger as though she had known him for years.
As Gabriella stood up, she shouldn't have felt surprised that Troy helped her into her coat. When he placed a gentle hand on the small of her back to lead her out of the restaurant, she was less shocked by his chivalry than by the thrill that she got out of it. It was an intimate gesture that she normally wouldn't have afforded strangers.
Stepping out into the lightly falling snow, Gabriella realised that Troy was definitely going to be more than a mere stranger.
It was as though the entire evening had been planned down to a tee by some higher power; the moment that the door to the restaurant closed behind the threesome, a cab could be seen driving slowly towards them. Brian looked over at Gabriella as he hailed it, gesturing for her to get inside but she declined with a firm but polite smile. "My favourite bar is just around the corner: we can walk." She placed a platonic kiss against her boss' cheek in farewell and waited for the headlights of the taxi to release her from their glare.
Her heart beat a slow, steady, knowing accord against her rib cage, joining with the melody of the chilling wind to send a charged aria swirling between the nervous bodies. Standing on the sidewalk, hands nestled deeply in her pockets, Gabriella glanced shyly up at Troy out of the corner of her eye. "Thank you," she started, her voice traipsing through the air with a nervous husk. "I think work next week had been pretty awkward if he had ordered that next bottle of wine."
Troy smirked as he turned his body to face her. "You're very welcome, and I'm pretty sure that I should be the one thanking you: after all, my Christmas Eve would have been a lot less entertaining if I hadn't been sitting close enough to eavesdrop!"
Gabriella giggled timidly. "Well I'm glad that you got so much amusement out of my discomfort," she countered sarcastically. "Kidding, Troy," she added upon noting the look of fear that crossed his face. "Even I thought it was funny." She shook her head wryly. "He's such a sweet man normally; I mean, I really lucked out compared to some of the other graduates who have gotten stuck with completely misogynist SOBs..."
Grinning, Troy scuffed his boots in the powdery snow. "I just can't believe we managed to pull it off!" He shivered as the pronoun made itself comfortable in his mouth.
Nose wrinkling and feigning smugness, Gabriella answered with a laugh. "Well I always knew that those bit parts I had in musical theatre at college would pay off."
Troy laughed, impressed. He shook his head in awe. "Crazy coincidence but I did musical theatre too..."
Gabriella raised an eyebrow. "This isn't the part where you tell me you're some Broadway star, is it?"
A hearty chuckle swirled in Troy's throat. "Nah, I just did drama as a minor in first year before concentrating on my science and sport. I work as a junior trainer for the Knicks."
"Oooh that's exciting!" Gabriella exclaimed. "I'll have to keep a look out next time I watch a game!"
And the girl got even more interesting, Troy mused. His eyes were warm as they regarded her and decided on his next move; he really didn't want to let her go this early. "So, I suppose we should hail you a taxi then..." He regarded her expression carefully, his heart skipping a beat when he detected a glimmer of disappointment in her eyes. "Unless, I mean, we could always..." He took a deep breath, banishing his sixteen year-old self back to the nether regions of his mind. "There actually is this really nice cocktail bar around the corner. It's really cosy and quiet and I'd really love it if you had time to go for a drink."
Another giggle toppled over Gabriella's lips and into the wintry night; Troy decided that he'd never heard a sweeter sound. Looking up at him through her eyelashes, she nodded shyly. "Little Branch?" Troy smiled to confirm the location. "That's the one I was thinking of before. I love it there!"
Laughing, Troy gestured down the street with a tilt of his head. "Shall we?" They started walking, almost close enough that their shoulders brushed as they walked. "You've done pretty well to discover that place in such a short space of time," he commented, impressed.
"My mentor actually took me there at the end of my first week and it's just stuck in my memory." As Gabriella looked across at him, she smiled at the large snow flake that had settled itself on the bridge of his nose. She battled with the cliché but she couldn't avoid drowning in his beauty. He was breath-taking.
He glanced down at her, feeling his cold cheeks warm at the ineffable thoughts written in her eyes. "What?" he asked softly. "Do I have something..." His sentence trailed off as he lifted a glove-clad hand to wipe at his mouth. "Please tell me I wasn't lame enough to leave sauce around my mouth all this time?"
Gabriella tilted her head to the side, her doe eyes trained firmly on his face: he was adorable. "No, you've just got a snowflake on your nose..." As Troy scrunched up his nose in response, Gabriella giggled and reached a finger out to wipe it away. "All gone..."
Their eyes locked and before she could dig her bare hand back in the warmth of her pockets, Troy had grabbed onto it. "Your hands are freezing," he murmured, still not breaking their stare.
It took Gabriella two attempts to find her voice: the depth of his blue eyes had number her mind to everything else. "I....I left my gloves at home," she muttered sheepishly in response.
He squeezed her hand firmly in his own, swallowing as he remembered that they were standing in the middle of the sidewalk staring at each other. "You should wear mine..."
It was instinct for Gabriella to duck her head shyly but she just couldn't break away from his gaze. "Troy..." His name sounded like the opening chord of a libretto as she voiced it. She had no idea what she had intended to say; she just knew that the small smile that appeared on his lips made her words superfluous.
"Now you've got one on your nose," Troy informed tenderly as he raised his other hand to brush at her face. It was crazy and irrational: he was standing in the freezing cold, being snowed on, with a gorgeous stranger and he just didn't care. He just wanted to revel in the way that her cheek fit perfectly into the curve formed by his hand. He wanted to lose himself in her rich autumnal eyes. He wanted to watch her blush and giggle - the snow be damned.
Gabriella felt herself swooning; her hand burned under his touch and insanity was the only way to describe the state that his intense blue eyes had plunger her into. Gabriella was swooning and she didn't ever want him to release her hand from his gentle grip.
There was no conscious decision made by either of them. Rational thought had stopped long ago. Their hearts had taken charge the first time that their eyes had met that evening.
Their faces tilted closer, instinctively, naturally, mouths aligning until they joined in a perfect kiss. Troy pulled back warily, moving the hand that was cupping her cheek to brush a snow-crystallised curl away from her face. "Was that too bold?" he wondered quietly, not quite believing how the evening had unfolded.
Biting her lip, Gabriella shook her head slowly before leaning up to connect their lips again quickly. "Was that too bold?" she repeated his prior question with a cheeky smile.
A bright smile lit up Troy's face and he shook his head enthusiastically. "Definitely not."
"Excellent." They kissed again, only to break apart chuckling. Hands linked between their bodies, they both tilted their heads back to look at the snow. "It's still snowing..."
"We should probably actually get to the bar," Gabriella prompted softly.
"We should," Troy agreed. He really was going to pull back from her and start walking. "It's just..." His eyes fell to her lips again. "You've got something right here..."
Dipping his head down again, he kissed a glistening snowdrop from her lips.
When Gabriella had been wishing for a white Christmas, only to get stranded in New York, she thought it had been karma. Pulling back from the kiss, grinning up at Troy as he shook the snow out of his hair, Gabriella realised that it might just have been fate.
"How did it happen that their lips came together? How does it happen that birds sing, that snow melts, that the rose unfolds, that the dawn whitens behind the stark shapes of trees on the quivering summit of the hill? A kiss, and all was said."
~ Victor Hugo~