Disclaimer: I know I forgot last time, but hopefully everybody knows that I don't own either High School Musical or Princess Protection Program, as I am not - nor do I work for - the Disney corporation.
She was starting to wonder if she hadn't taken a wrong turn somewhere. Supposedly, this was her homeroom, but...
Frankly, it looked more like she'd wandered onto the set of a very low-budget Masterpiece Theatre.
But, no. No, there were desks. Evidently she was in the right place, her teacher was just... eccentric.
She could handle that.
She had the oddest feeling of déjà vu as she looked around the room, though. Not that she'd been there before, but... Well, for some reason, the back of that one boy's head seemed oddly familiar.
She shrugged it off, deciding she could think about it later, if she needed to.
After handing the necessary paperwork to the teacher, Miss Darbus, she went to go find a seat. Once upon a time, she might have expected someone to give up their seat for her if she asked them to, but fortunately she'd managed to pick up fairly quickly on the fact that this was not what a normal girl did in America.
She ended up in a seat at the back of the room. It didn't seem like this homeroom had assigned seating, which was just as well. She bent down to open her bag, putting away the papers she didn't need right then and making sure - again - that she had the textbooks she would need for her classes up to lunch as the bell rang.
"I trust you all had splendid holidays," Miss Darbus began, and Gabriella only half-listened as she advised someone with the last name of Bolton to check the sign-up sheets for new activities. She didn't know about him, but she might do that. Not to join - she had resolved to avoid attracting unnecessary attention, after all - but to get a better sense of what was going on in the school, and what her new fellow students enjoyed.
Judging by the lackluster reactions around her, the "Winter Musicale" was not one of those things. Which perhaps shouldn't have been a surprise. Her view of "Mister Danforth" was mostly blocked, but even she could tell that the boy whom Darbus informed was not in a hockey arena was holding a basketball. Clearly, she was a bit out of touch with a few things.
She shushed the sarcastic voice in the back of her mind; that was not an appropriate attitude for a princess.
"There is also a final sign-up for next week's scholastic decathlon competition." That caught her attention... and instantly made her wary. "Chem Club president Taylor McKessie can answer all of your questions about that."
Gabriella took one look at the prim, vaguely snobbish girl who held up her hand to make it clear who she was, and came to a quick decision.
Avoid Taylor McKessie like the plague.
She felt a little bad about it - the girl was probably perfectly friendly once one got to know her - but it was the only way to avoid being drawn back into the academic spotlight.
Her phone started ringing.
She knew it was hers instantly, recognizing the ringtone, but that didn't stop a significant percentage of the class from checking their own phones. A few, unfortunately, kept theirs out just a bit too long. "Ah, the cell phone menace has returned to our crucible of learning. Sharpay and Ryan, cell phones. And I will see you in detention."
She heard a girl's huff of indignation - presumably, the curiously-named Sharpay - and and an oddly metallic thumping sound, but her attention was focused on the phone she'd finally pulled free of her bag.
She couldn't quite help but feel her pulse pick up as she realized who was calling her, but she couldn't help but wish he'd had better timing. She wanted to actually talk to Troy, after all, and she couldn't do that in the middle of class.
Especially once Miss Darbus came along to collect her phone, as well. "We have zero tolerance for cell phones in class. So, we will get to know each other in detention. Cell phone." She looked up and blinked. She has a bucket? For cell phones? Either this happened a lot, or she'd just had a stray bucket laying around for no reason at all. Neither one would have surprised her.
She didn't want to give up her phone, even temporarily, especially not now that Troy had finally gotten in touch with her. But refusing would have just gotten her in further trouble, and following the rules and obeying authority had been ingrained in her practically from birth. Reluctantly, she added her phone to Darbus's collection. "And welcome to East High, Miss Montez."
It may have been petty retaliation, but she refused to thank the woman for her welcome.
"Mr. Bolton, I see your phone is involved, so we will see you in detention, as well." There was that boy again. He really did look familiar... Wait. No, it couldn't be...
"That's not even a possibility, Miss Darbus, your honor," Danforth spoke up, sounding agitated.
There was just no way she was that lucky...
"...see, cause we have basketball practice, and Troy..."
He and Taylor were also given fifteen minutes, which would make Gabriella's plan to avoid the latter difficult, but she couldn't bring herself to care just then. She tried to calculate the odds of this, and... couldn't quite manage it. Granted, they might have ended up at the same ski resort because it was the closest one to Albuquerque, but that they would end up in the same school, in the same homeroom...
To say the least, it was ridiculously unlikely.
Unless somebody up there finally decided to give me a break, she thought, smiling to herself. She tuned out most of the rest of the period, only noticing when somebody named Jason asked Miss Darbus how her holidays had been.
Perhaps fortunately, the bell rang before she could answer, and Troy was out the door almost immediately. Quickly shouldering her bag, she hurried to follow him. She didn't see him in the crowd, until he approached her from behind. "Hey!"
It was him. It was really him. "I don't-"
"-Either. But how?"
"My mom's company transferred her here to Albuquerque," she said, smiling. Technically speaking, it was the truth. "I can't believe you live here. I looked for you at the lodge on New Year's Day..."
"We had to leave first thing."
She noticed something odd. "Why are you whispering?"
"What? Oh, uh..." He deliberately resumed a normal speaking tone. "My friends know about the snowboarding. I haven't quite told them about the singing thing."
She paused while he was greeted by a passing student, then asked, "Too much for them to handle?" She knew some of her amusement was leaking into her tone, but he'd never guess the reason.
After all, she was the one with the secret that would be too much for her fellow students to handle, not him. Compared to that, singing was nothing.
He was quick to deny it, of course, stating that, as far as his friends were concerned, it just wasn't what he did. "That was, like, a different person."
She checked her map to make sure she knew where she was going, then suddenly changed directions, confident that Troy would follow her. She'd mostly gotten out of the habit of assuming that her whims would be obeyed - even before, she'd tried not to abuse that expectation, but people had tended to defer to her whether she wanted them to or not - but every now and then, she still slipped up. This time, though, she didn't regret it. After all, Troy wasn't following her because she was royalty, he was following her because she was herself.
And she liked that.
"So, ah, anyway, welcome to East High." He drew them both to a stop next to a bulletin board, stating, "Oh, and now that you've met Miss Darbus, I bet you just can't wait to sign up for that."
Sure enough, it was the sign-up sheet for the musical. "I won't be signing up for anything for a while," she replied. "I just wanna get to know the school." Not that she believed she'd want to sign up for anything once she had. She'd never really had the chance to just blend into the background, going completely unnoticed. She wasn't sure she'd enjoy it, but she knew it was safer then being in the spotlight. "But if you sign up, I'd consider coming to the show," she teased, believing she knew what his reaction to that would be.
She was right. "Yeah, yeah. That's completely impossible."
"What's impossible, Troy?" a new voice asked. Gabriella felt a moment of tension, but it was only the blonde from her homeroom. "I wouldn't think 'impossible' is even in your vocabulary."
Oddly, despite the fact that this girl was blatantly flirting with Troy - which she did not especially like - Gabriella found herself relaxing. She knew this girl's type, after all. She'd run into it before, at her other schools. The kind of scheming and conniving bitch - perhaps her name was appropriate, then - who gave the word 'princess' negative connotations. Having to deal with her attitude was almost comforting in its familiarity. She didn't so much as bat an eye when Sharpay cattily remarked that it was nice of Troy to show their "new classmate" around.
Nor was she especially surprised when, as she signed her name on the audition sheet, the pink-clad girl took up most of the available space in the pairs auditions section. "Oh, were you going to sign up, too?"
She exchanged a look with Troy. She could see that the suggestion, no matter how "innocent" sounding Sharpay had tried to make it sound, alarmed him.
"My brother and I have starred in all the school's productions, and we really welcome newcomers," Sharpay continued in her falsely pleasant tone. "There are a lot of supporting roles in the show. I'm sure we could find something for you."
Gabriella had heard better.
"No, no, no. I was just looking at all the bulletin boards," she assured her. Wouldn't want to tick off the school's queen bee before she'd even been there an hour. "Lots going on at this school. Wow." The impressed tone in her voice wasn't even entirely fake, as it was true - there did seem to be a lot happening in the school. That was just as well for her. If everyone was busy with their own activities, then it would hopefully be easier to escape notice.
Except that Sharpay evidently would keep noticing her if she continued hanging around with Troy, and she had no intention of stopping.
So she let her gaze linger on the sign-up sheet for a moment longer, then turned to Sharpay. "Nice penmanship," she remarked sweetly, then favored Troy with another dazzling smile before heading on her way.
She rather thought her mother would have approved.
Her first real class was chemistry. She'd used much of the time between leaving her old school and starting at this one to read through their books - Elena having easily been able to get her hands on copies of them - so she would be able to catch up with her new classmates with little difficulty. Fortunately, they weren't very far from where she'd left off before moving.
There was only one minor discrepancy between Elena's information and what was waiting for her: the teacher, Mrs. Sandoval, was pregnant. Given that she had to be at least seven or eight months along, Gabriella didn't see how Elena could have missed it, and suspected she just hadn't seen it as relevant that her 'daughter' knew that going in.
Still, American Teenager Law said that she was fairly well required to tease her 'mother' about it later on.
All things considered, though, chemistry was going just fine.
"So, it seemed like you knew Troy Bolton."
More or less.
She started at Sharpay's unexpected voice - it would figure that they had class together; though it did tell her that Sharpay couldn't be as stupid as she seemed determined to pretend she was, as this was an advanced class - but replied easily enough, "Not really. He was just showing me around." If Troy was determined to keep his singing a secret, there was no way they could have known each other beforehand.
She wasn't sure she liked it, but really, she was the last person who could complain about someone keeping secrets.
Sharpay laughed. "Well, Troy doesn't usually interact with new students."
"Uh, why not?" Gabriella asked, looking at the equation Mrs. Sandoval was writing on the chalkboard. She wasn't trying to ignore Sharpay, precisely, but there was really no good way to end this conversation without yelling or seeking the teacher's intervention, and neither would be a good long-term strategy. Her best option, she thought, was making Sharpay become bored with her.
"Oh, it's pretty much basketball twenty-four/seven with him."
Interesting - and good to know what she would have to compete with - but her attention had been diverted by actual classwork. Looking from her notes to the chalkboard again, she mused, "That should be sixteen over pi."
"Yes, Miss Montez?"
Mused aloud. Oops. "Oh, I'm sorry, I was just... uh..." Mrs. Sandoval was looking at her expectantly, now, and force of habit had her blurting out, "Shouldn't the second equation read sixteen over pi?"
"Sixteen over pi? That's quite impossible." Gabriella waited patiently as she looked at her source book - was it called a Teacher's Edition at this school? She'd been to a number where it wasn't - and found that, sure enough, it was very much possible, indeed. To give her credit, though, she had no problem at all admitting it. "I stand corrected."
Mrs. Sandoval turned to correct the equation, and Gabriella happily resumed working on her notes, only looking up when she added, "Oh, and welcome aboard."
The princess in her, satisfied that she'd helped and was welcome there, didn't pay much attention to the rest of the class. Given that said class included not only Sharpay - who was already jealous of her for attracting Troy's attention - but also Taylor McKessie...
This was not the wisest move on her part.
Detention was something of a new experience for her - and enough of a departure from the norm that it would have thrown off anyone looking for her, which, combined with the fact that Troy was also there, was enough to overcome any lingering negative feelings she might have had toward Miss Darbus.
Painting set pieces was new, too. Not exciting, but there was a kind of zen quality to it. The rest of the school day had passed without incident. During her free period, she'd just found a quiet spot to read. Her English class had been Literature with Miss Darbus, who really was in her element where theater was concerned. They'd been discussing one of Shakespeare's plays, and she'd played the new student card and merely observed. Her social studies course was covering current events, and anything political always made her want to hide.
She didn't really think they were going to go over anything relating to her or her home country, but her political classes were always the ones that stood the highest chances of revealing the truth about her.
She'd been glad when the lunch bell had rung, almost fleeing the room before it had died down. She'd eaten her lunch outside - and the weather really was nice here for early January - then gone to Algebra. It was the class most guaranteed to bore her to tears - she could have been taking advanced physics classes, after all - but it seemed to have that effect on most of the students there, so she didn't stand out in the slightest. Indeed, a number of people had even sympathized with her for ending up with that on her first day, and if not friends, she was at least on polite speaking terms with several of them. Presuming Elena was right, and they really would be there until she graduated, she would love having the opportunity to make plenty of friends.
After that had been French class, which she considered kind of cheating - her royal tutors had taught her French long ago, along with English, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian. All of her siblings had learned them, to be better equipped to deal with visiting ambassadors, and the world at large.
The only other choice, though, would have been Spanish, and that really would have been cheating.
She wasn't really getting to spend any time with Troy, but she was hopeful that they could talk on the bus ride home. Or, perhaps, if he was getting a ride home from someone, they could be convinced to bring her along? She wouldn't dream of imposing herself on anyone, but if she were invited...
It was right at that moment that she was reminded that she shouldn't show off her math skills in any class, not just Algebra. "The answer is yes!"
She looked up in confusion to find Taylor beaming at her, almost bouncing with excitement. Having no idea what the question had been, all she could do was ask, "Huh?"
"Our Scholastic Decathlon team has its first competition next week, and there is certainly a spot for you."
It was then that she noticed that, in addition to the required paint supplies, Taylor was also holding several papers with... Her stomach clenched. No. Oh, no. "Where did those come from?" she asked, caught somewhere between bewilderment and panic.
Neither was coming through very clearly, it seemed, because Taylor just seemed mildly confused. "Didn't you put them in my locker?"
"Of course not." It was like being caught in a slow-motion car accident. She could see what was coming, knew it would be disastrous, but could do nothing to prevent it.
"Oh. Well, we'd love to have you on our team. We meet almost every day after school. Please?"
She twitched inwardly. Taylor was being so sincere that it hurt, and she knew she could be a big help to them. She wanted to just say 'No', but she couldn't. Still, she made one last-ditch effort to avoid needing to. "I need to catch up on the curriculum here, before I think about joining any clubs." That was reasonable, wasn't it?
"Well, what a perfect way to get caught up - meeting with the smartest kids in school."
Suddenly, things made so much more sense. Sharpay had evidently done some research - and the ease with which she'd picked up on even part of Gabriella's trail made her very nervous - and decided that the best way to get her away from Troy was by making sure she had something else with which to occupy her time. It wasn't as cruel an act as it could have been, perhaps - there wasn't anything really malicious about it - which was something of a surprise... but it was bad enough. "What a generous offer, Taylor," Sharpay added, seemingly just to prove how nice she was... and make sure Gabriella would feel all the worse if she turned it down.
She had an unlikely rescuer in the form of Miss Darbus. "So many new faces in detention, today. I hope you don't make a habit of it, but the Drama Club can always use an extra hand." She was moving about the stage while she spoke, unknowingly making sure no one was paying Gabriella any attention as she struggled to get herself back under control. She could handle this, she could. Even if she did say yes, and did join the Scholastic Decathlon team, she wasn't going to draw the world's attention to her... right? "And while we are working, let us probe the mounting evils of cell phones."
Having just gotten hers back, Gabriella was in no mood to do any such thing. Fortunately, Miss Darbus didn't seem to care all that much if people were listening all that carefully to her while she indulged in a dramatic rant.
It was only when the coach stormed into the auditorium and demanded to know where his team was that she gave any real attention to her audience. "It's called crime and punishment, Bolton. Besides, proximity to the arts is cleansing for the soul."
Gabriella blinked. Bolton? As in... She looked from the coach to Troy, who was scrambling to get down from the tree set piece he'd been on top of previously. She could see certain similarities, she thought. And that did help explain just why Troy was so worried about people finding out that he cared about more then just basketball. He couldn't even escape it at home. He was forced to live a life he might have enjoyed to a certain degree, but which restricted what he could be, forcing him to conform to what others judged safe and necessary.
Evidently, they had more in common then she would have dreamed.