DISCLAIMER: The mouse owns everything. I own nothing. Please don't sue.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank you Love Butterfly for beta-reading.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Cinderella Conspiracy
By Hollywood Recycle Bin


Chapter 2: Once a fool

Gabriella smiled as she took in the warmth of the sun on her face and felt her big skirt move as she twirled. She knew she shouldn't let her step sister see how happy she was but she couldn't help it; the day was just too perfect to be spent with her guards up and ready for battle. She might regret it later but for now, she lived in the moment. She didn't often get days like this so she would savour as much of it as she could.

Gabi noticed Sharpay looking at her as she sat down on the grass, a picnic laid out before them. The shade of the overhead tree was darkening Sharpay's face but Gabi could still see the small smile. Sharpay didn't look evil when she smiled like that.

"You should smile like that more often" Gabi said. Once again, the words came out before she could stop herself.

Sharpay looked confused for a moment. "What are you talking about Cinderella? I smile all the time."

"But never like you mean it" Gabi was surprised to see Sharpay look away, a natural blush colouring her face even through the layers of makeup. She sat herself down opposite the other girl, noticing that Sharpay had brought food for two so not only was she not going to starve while waiting for Sharpay to finish but also that she wouldn't be eating leftovers or fancy meals in secret. The chef loved her but was forbidden to give her what food was given to the rest of the family. Gabi realized that this was the first good meal she would be having properly since her father died.

"Thank you," the girl said and heard the blonde girl mumble something incoherent in reply, another strange behaviour in a string of weird behaviours Gabi had witnessed that morning. Sharpay never mumbled, she often said things that other people couldn't decipher but the words themselves were usually crystal clear and often left ringing in the ears of listeners long after Sharpay had spoken them. Gabi wasn't quite sure what to make of it but decided that, for now at least, she wouldn't worry about it.

They ended up having a conversation as they ate, an actual conversation, one that didn't involve slapping or trying to push each other's buttons. They talked about clothes and fencing and irritating distant relatives... well, Sharpay did most of the talking anyway, but without the biting remarks being aimed at her, Gabi was surprised to find that she actually found Sharpay's antics entertaining. For someone who was almost famous for their scheming, Sharpay was surprisingly straight forward when they were alone. There was a sense of honesty to her that Gabi rarely found in anyone else. It was as if a veil had been lifted and all of the venomous insults were revealed to be the harsh criticisms of an innocent girl who hasn't learnt to tell white lies for the sake of being nice yet.

And for the first time in her life, Gabi found herself laughing with her step sister instead of being laughed at.

Gabi looked at Sharpay again, face flushed, brown eyes shining, bright smile on her face. Sharpay looked so much more beautiful now than she ever did when every part of her was poised and controlled. Gabriella wondered what she'd look like without a corset squeezing her into that perfect hourglass shape, or the thick make up covering her face, the immaculately curled hair that wouldn't dare move out of place. Another thought occurred to her then, a question she'd asked before but never got an answer for. What would her life have been like if her father hadn't married Derby Evans? Only this time the question had a new focus. What would she and Sharpay be to each other if they hadn't been step-sisters? If they had just met in the park or at a feast, would they still have been enemies? Or would they be just like they are now, having a conversation, enjoying each other's company, maybe even being unlikely friends, or maybe...

Gabriella's thoughts were interrupted by the feel of something hitting her in the back. She turned to see a ball, and running up after it, a young man. He seemed about her age with dark floppy hair and kind eyes. Something about him was very familiar and he reminded her vaguely of a puppy as he looked at them nervously.

"Oh …ladies, I apologize for my..." he looked sheepishly at the ball, "...minor miscalculation. I, uh, was having a game with my friends over there and well, the ball didn't really go the way I intended it to go."

The look Sharpay threw the boy made Gabi very glad that looks couldn't actually kill. She saw the boy almost curl in on himself in fear. Gabi felt the need to step in.

"It's fine, we all miscalculate sometimes," Gabi gave him a reassuring smile that, as usual, didn't fail to create another one on the boy's own lips. "I'm Gabriella," she said as she gave him her hand. She had never really had her hand kissed before and, in this outfit, she wanted to try it out.

She didn't' get her hand kissed though as the boys eyes grew wide and happy. "Gabriella? As in Gabriella Montez, daughter of Lord Montez?"

"Yes," she replied, surprised. Hardly anyone outside of the mansion knew who she was.

"I'm Jason. Jason Cross. We used to spend the summer together at my father's chateau."

"Oh, the boy who ate mud, I remember now," Gabi teased and Sharpay's murderous look intensified.

"Well, I don't eat mud anymore," Jason blushed as a shy smile blossomed on his face.

"Really? I couldn't tell from your clothes," Sharpay cut in, looking pointedly at the boy's pale blue tights, stained with the dark brown of earth.

Jason stammered. "Well I uh... miscalculate a lot," he said again while looking at the field where his friends waited.

"Oh, I almost forgot. How rude of me. This is my step sister, Sharpay Evans," Gabi said. She didn't notice the anger emanating from the other girl. "And Sharpay, this is Jason Cross II, son of Count Jason Cross of Enderwoods."

"How do you do" Sharpay curtseyed and Jason bowed before kissing her hand. Both were polite during the introductions though Gabi could still feel Sharpay's coldness towards him. It surprised her since usually Sharpay wouldn't hesitate to flirt shamelessly with men of higher standing than her own...Had done so with many who aren't nearly as good looking as Jason...Maybe Sharpay does have her limits and Jason just really wasn't her type.

Jason turned his attention away from the icy blonde as soon as he could without being too impolite (probably in fear of a cruel remark by the girl) and smiled at Gabi again. "My friends are waiting for me. It would be rude of me to keep them waiting any longer. However if you like you could come and watch. I'd ask you to join us in a game since I remember you used to love it as a child but your dress looks too beautiful to be ruined by the mud."

"You're just afraid of losing to a lady in front of your peers," Gabi smirked playfully, "I think you may remember that I don't 'miscalculate' as much as you do."

Jason smiled brightly at his childhood friend. "You always were the smart one".

Neither of the two old friends noticed the anger in Sharpay's eyes as they got reacquainted. The blonde was never one who could stand to be ignored, and if she could make things combust just by looking at them, Sharpay would have singed the skin off Jason's innocent face by now. As Jason and Gabriella walked closer to a puddle however, Sharpay realized she might not need to do something so extreme. She wouldn't even need to lift a finger.

All she needed was one quick nudge.

The mud splashed around Gabi as Sharpay gave a convincing scream, jumping out of the way before the mud could get onto her favourite dress while the pale blue fabric of Gabi's dress became coated with sticky dark brown. Her sleeves dripped with mud as she tried to pull herself up, refusing the help of the young Count. Fortunately the girl had gotten her hand under her to break her fall so her face and upper body wasn't covered entirely in mud, only tainted by stray drops.

Too bad, Sharpay thought, she would have liked to see her coquettish step sister with a face full of mud.

"MOTHER!" Sharpay's voice was a cross between an outraged scream and the high pitch of a bird's chirp. Usually Gabriella would put her hand over her ears but this time she barely heard it. She was almost shaking with anger; her face set in stone, her eyes dark and stormy.

Lady Montez II tried not to sigh and roll her eyes too obviously at the screech of her daughter's voice. It was all too often that Sharpay would completely throw away every single thing her mother had ever taught her about manners and etiquette. Sure the girl knew how to be demure yet composed in front of handsome gentlemen, and how to be courteous and charming in front of other nobles, but every time she was angry (which was often) she would always come in screaming for her at the top of her lungs. Derby was surprised that none of the servants have gone deaf yet.

"Yes dear?" She replied, soft and composed, the way a lady should sound, no matter what the situation is.

"Cinderella ruined my dress!" Sharpay claimed as she gestured to the other girl, the blue dress Gabi was wearing had turned brown down the front, traces of mud clinging to her face and hair. It didn't take a genius to figure out what had happened.

"So she stole your dress and then ruined it?" Derby asked, knowing full well that wasn't the case. She asked anyway, just to see if her daughter would take the bait and lie to get 'Cinderella' into even more trouble.

She didn't; which brought up an even more interesting question.

"Then why would she be wearing your dress she didn't steal it?"

Sharpay paused at that, eyes suddenly dropping to the floor, looking not entirely unlike a child whose hand had been caught in a cookie jar.

"I bought it for her," Sharpay admitted.

Derby gave her a pointed look, something not entirely unlike dread filling her.

"I was trying to be nice," the blonde girl added, but there was guilt in her voice. If Gabriella noticed, she didn't show it.

"I see," Derby said as she hid her anxiety. She would deal with her daughter later. For now, she had a situation to salvage.

"So you were trying to be nice and bought Gabriella a beautiful dress and she repaid that kindness with carelessness and stupidity." Derby stated, playing along with her daughter's plan. "Well then, such carelessness should not be overlooked, especially when my darling daughter has gone through such effort to be nice to you, Gabriella. In fact, I'm willing to go so far as to say that you've greatly insulted my daughter by your actions."

She stalked over to Gabriella then, her tall form hovering over the girl.

"Ten lashes," she stated, calm as ever.

Gabi didn't flinch upon hearing her punishment. In fact her expression hadn't changed since she was pushed into the mud. There was only a slight twitch of her lips that acknowledged the words spoken to her.

"Mother, don't you think that's a bit harsh?" Sharpay spoke up finally, but as her mother's cold blue eyes turned to her, she backed down.

Derby's lips curved into an evil smile and while she spoke to her daughter, her eyes were now fixed on the brunette.

"Not at all dear," she answered simply. "Nothing is too harsh for someone who's hurt my daughter's feelings and spat on her kindness."

Sharpay looked over at the other girl, eyes pleading as she somehow tried to telepathically communicate her apology. She only wanted to bring Gabriella down a notch for being such a flirt with Count Whatshisname. She never meant for her mother to take it so seriously.

She never meant for Gabriella to get hurt.

Her apology fell on deaf ears as Gabriella was taken away to her fate. Though she had turned back to face her step sister one last time, her dark eyes were hard, cold and almost deadly. One look into them, and Sharpay felt herself stabbed in the heart by shards of ice.

The blonde flinched.

The sounds of clashing metal filled the room as graceful feet glided over the smooth surface of the marble floor. Lady Montez II had always preferred that her children hone their sword skills indoors (something about not wanting anyone to know their skill level or weaknesses before fighting them), which suited Sharpay just fine. While she knew very well that practicing outside would be more practical (it'd get her used to the elements in case she was ever attacked for real), she enjoyed the comfort of her home, enjoyed the warmth from the fireplace in the winter, the way the light caressed her face through the large windows in the summer. But most of all, she loved the mirrors that lined the walls of the room.

Some might call her Narcissus, but Sharpay always thought that if those people were even half as beautiful as she was, they'd have much better things to do than come up with ridiculous stories to try and keep beautiful people from enjoying their beauty.

And it wasn't like it caused any harm for her to give her reflection an occasional glance. She'd long grown out of the habit of being distracted by her own reflection during a fight. Sharpay knew very well how fatal that could be.

Of course, that didn't mean she wouldn't get distracted by anything else.

"Sharpay!" Master Edward Stuart yelled at her again as his sword grazed her face. Thankfully, they weren't practicing with real swords this session, or she'd have been killed five times over already.

"I'm sorry," she said softly. It wasn't a phrase she'd utter very often. In fact, Master Edward Stuart was probably the only person she ever actually said them to. "I'm just, distracted today."

"Obviously," He said with concern, but didn't push her. He'd been teaching Sharpay long enough to know that if she wanted to share something, she would. There weren't many people in the world that Sharpay could confide in other than him. Sure, the girl was quite the actor; she could make sweetness drip from her lips like honey, could charm a tiger into becoming her pussy cat if she wanted to but most people knew it was just an act. People loved to talk, even the nobles and they all heard just how wicked little Miss Evans could be with her viciously temperamental nature, her vanity and her high ambitions. So while they may smile at her as she passed their way, and compliment her on her taste in clothes and tell her how wonderful it is to see her, none of them ever held any real fondness for the girl. In fact they were probably all plotting against her. Almost as much as she was plotting against them.

The sword master really didn't envy her. He'd always hated these games that the nobles played with each other. He'd always thought most of them had too much time on their hands. Unlike the common folk, they didn't need to strive for such things as food or clothing, so they spent all their time plotting ways to bring each other down, ways to step over each other on their way to the top. Not that common folk didn't do that as well of course, but still, these nobles had all they need but it was never enough. And those that do think they have enough get dragged into it with them just to keep what they already have. It was an awful system in his opinion.

Still, his favourite student was right in the middle of it, a master of it even. In theory, Sharpay was the embodiment of everything he hated about that world he couldn't quite leave behind, and yet somehow, he could never bring himself to resent her like everyone else did.

There was something about Sharpay, something underneath that thick layer of makeup and false sentiments, underneath the temper tantrums and casual disregard for others.

Sharpay Evans had fire in her; she had drive and passion and a bullheadedness that he found both irritating and strangely endearing. She wasn't like most of the other noblewomen, the simpering sycophants that latch onto men of the highest station they could find. Though she often acted like one, he could never see Sharpay being satisfied with being anyone's trophy or arm candy, no matter what her mother had planned for her.

Most of all, in all the years he had known her, watched her grow up as he taught her the art of the blade; he'd learn that despite her cruelties, she only saved the worse for those who either deserved it, or whom she thought could handle it.

Which was more than he can say about most people.

"It's Cinderella" the blonde said eventually and Edward resisted the urge to sigh. He didn't really understand what was going on between the two step siblings but he knew enough to know that whatever it was, it was most likely Lady Montez's fault.

The sword master never had the chance to get to know the (from what he had heard) feisty brunette very well. He knew she was the daughter of the previous Lady Montez and the only legitimate heir to the Montez name and fortune. He knew that because of that, the current Lady Montez reduced her status to that of a servant and kept her out of the world of the nobles. A monumentally stupid move on her part in his opinion, since no matter how much she reduced Gabriella's status, she was still the only legitimate heir and had every right to take everything away from her the moment she comes of age. In his opinion, it would have been much better to raise her as her own and make it so that she's so arrogant and spoiled that she would be of absolutely no use to anyone. It was quite confounding to see Lady Montez II treat her step daughter in such a way. He'd always thought that the woman was wickedly intelligent, much like her daughter, but in the case of Gabriella Montez, she appeared to be very blind.

Unless of course there was another party involved. Another player in the game, one that he wasn't aware of, one who had something to benefit from an abused young Lady Montez. One powerful enough to have something over the current Lady Montez, something big enough to be pulling her strings...

Of course, that could just be his paranoia talking, left over from his days serving another Kingdom, one he wished he could forget. Perhaps Lady Montez really was blind when it came to little Miss Gabriella, letting her emotions cloud her judgment and make the decisions for her.

He hoped that was the case anyway.

Edward didn't think the overall treatment of the young lady was what was currently bothering his student though.

"So what's this about Miss Gabriella?" He urged this time after Sharpay went silent. She gave him a sigh before starting her story.

"It started with a trip to the seamstress, and things were going well and then this...this toad of a nobleman came along and he had his eyes all over Cinderella and she was actually encouraging him! That tramp!" There was a pause in her tirade. Then the sharpness in her voice softened.

"Anyway, I may have gotten a little upset and so I came home and I got Cinderella in trouble with mother. I only wanted to bring her down a notch for being so flirtatious with that toad but, I didn't want her to actually get hurt over it. I know she and I have never been on the best of terms, to put it mildly, and I usually really do enjoy the sight of her being humiliated but... I don't want to actually hurt her."

There was a sigh again and Sharpay's eyes gravitated back towards the mirror. Somehow it didn't make her feel that much better.

"Mother completely overdid it this time" she said, resigned now. "Ten lashes with a whip; and by that barbarian too. I don't know why she would go so far over just a dress."

That was rather overdone, the swordsman agreed in his mind. He really didn't understand the relationship between Derby and her step daughter. Still, at least her daughter wasn't so far gone.

"If you feel so horrible about the punishment, then why didn't you stop it?" He asked.

The girl gave a decidedly unladylike shrug. "Mother was so insistent in the matter. I didn't want to oppose her. She's always so... overly cautious when it comes to Cinderella. Always told me she was the enemy. And besides, it's too late now anyway. The sentence has already been carried out. There isn't much I can do."

"I seriously doubt that," Edward retorted, a warm smile on his face. "You're Sharpay Evans. There isn't much in this world that you can't do."

"Well, you're not wrong." The girl finally broke into a smile. It was small but still more sincere than most. "I knew there was a reason I keep having lessons with you."

The man laughed. "That wasn't supposed to be a compliment but still... on the issue of 'Cinderella' as you call her, you could try just talking to her."

"Talking to her?" She made a face as if he'd just told her to wash her own clothes.

"Yes, talking. You know, where you open your mouth and sounds come out to form words. It's a very effective method of communication."

"But, what on Earth will I talk about?" Before Edward could reply, there was a knock on the door.

"Pardon my interruption Master Stuart," Lady Derby said courteously. "But is the lesson finished? I need to have a word with my daughter."

"Of course my lady," the man replied curtly. Sharpay was too distracted to continue anyway and it wasn't like he could give her any advice on her step sister with Lady Derby in the room.

He gave them both a farewell bow before leaving. He never really enjoyed being in the company of his employer.

"What is it, mother?" Sharpay asked the moment the man left the room.

"Darling! Have you forgotten everything I've taught you about manners?" Derby's smile was pleasant and her tone condescending. It grated against Sharpay's nerves. Still, she gritted her teeth, straightened her back and gave her mother a curtsey in greeting.

"I apologize for my abruptness mother," she said as she returned her mother's fake smile. "But you were the one who said that directness has its value."

"I also told you that value is subjective. Only a certain number of people value directness darling. You should be careful who you use it with."

"Of course mother," Sharpay replied, trying to seem courteous and amiable but unable to keep the stiffness from her stance.

"So what is it you want to speak to me about?" She tried again.

Derby's smile widened. "Well, I wanted to congratulate you of course. That ordeal with that... What did you call her again? Cinderella was it? Anyway, marvellous scheming on your part dear, buying her that dress and then getting her covered in mud and getting her in trouble for it. Simple, yet brilliant, very well executed as well. You'll make a brilliantly dangerous lady one day."

"Oh, thank you mother," Sharpay replied, not looking her mother in the eyes. There was an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach and she knew that if her mother could see her eyes, she would be able to read everything she felt from them.

"One thing does bother me though. Why did you buy that girl a new dress? You could have simply given her one of yours and then after, claimed she'd ruin your favourite one."

It seems like her mother could read her after all, even without looking into her eyes.

The truth was that, Sharpay bought that dress because it suited Gabriella. She looked so beautiful in it, the big blue skirt fanning around her when she spun, the way the white bows flowed with her wavy dark hair as the sun kissed her coffee coloured skin. Sharpay had always known Gabriella was beautiful. It was what made her such a threat, according to her mother. Not that she was any more beautiful than Sharpay of course, but her beauty was different. It wasn't like her and the other girls, where Sharpay could simply compare their looks. Gabriella wasn't like that. She was in a category all on her own.

Sharpay had never seen Gabriella as beautiful as she had that afternoon. It wasn't just that she cleaned up and got out of the dirty clothes and into a fancy dress. It was that, for the first time, Sharpay got to see what Gabriella was like when she was happy. Got to see the bright smile on her face, and the way her dark eyes lit up and that adorable little laugh.

It made Sharpay queasy thinking about what she'd done to the other girl. She didn't think her Cinderella got the chance to smile like that very often.

She couldn't tell her mother any of this of course.

"I just thought she'd get in even more trouble if it was a brand new dress." She said instead. "I mean, anyone can give a servant their old clothes. Buying her a whole new wardrobe is just so much more personal."

Her mother smiled again, but there was a knowing look in her eyes. It told Sharpay that her answer had come too late. She'd already been caught.

"Well that is a nice touch dear," the Lady Montez said, despite knowing the truth. Derby, unlike her daughter, was almost never direct, even if she occasionally had to pretend to be. "I have to say, I'm rather glad to see you finally turning your more vicious games towards your stepsister," she continued, still with that soft voice and sharp knowing smile. "You usually only play them with the noble families. I'm glad you're finally starting to see what a threat that girl is to you. How dangerous she could potentially be to your future. After all, she is the only legitimate heir to the Montez name and fortune. Once she comes of age, she has every right to disinherit all of us, to take everything away from you like we all know she would.

By keeping her here, under our control and out of the courts, I've managed to stop her from making important connections that would help her in the future. The work she does has managed to curtail her beauty somewhat; she doesn't exactly have noble women's hands anymore, and the whipping on her back might leave scars. Also she has no sense of etiquette to speak of. All of these things will go a long way to obstruct her as a member of the nobility, not to mention she will still have the mindset of a servant girl. It'll be something of a mental prison for her. Still, while you do have those advantages over her, it doesn't mean that she should be taken lightly. For all of your talents and skills and connections, she is still the one with law on her side. Unless you can manage to find yourself a husband of higher station than her, you will not be protected when the time arrives."

"I understand mother" she said amiably, playing the good daughter once again even as she thought to herself that Cinderella's hands really weren't that bad. In fact, she rather liked the feel of them, even if they were slightly rough and calloused.

Sharpay stood awkwardly in the dingy hallway, trying very hard to put her mother's words out of her head. The necklace she had given Gabriella earlier that morning was clutched tightly in her hands like a protection amulet. In a way it was that; after all, without it she wouldn't have the excuse to be down here in the first place.

The necklace had been returned to her soon after her mother had left. It had been handed back to her by one of the servants; a mousy little one with dirt on her face. Usually she would have expected someone like that to cower before her, but this one didn't. She had stood in front of her with her back straight and though she didn't say anything inappropriate, the anger was clear in her eyes.

Despite Sharpay's favouritism of her sycophants, she also held a certain amount of admiration for those with a fighting spirit, which was probably why she didn't come up with an excuse to punish the girl for her unsubtle attitude. Now that she was actually here in the servant's area though, she realized that she may have made a mistake. If she had punished the mousy little maid, Sharpay would have made an example of her, reminding them all of why they should be cowering before her, and then she wouldn't right now be faced with two, much bigger servants, both with identically grim expressions on their faces and both holding broomsticks like they were weapons.

They were guarding the room where Cinderella was.

Sharpay resisted the urge to draw her sword. Just because her mother didn't care about the well being of those beneath her, didn't mean Sharpay wouldn't get in trouble for maiming or killing them. So instead she straightened her shoulders and placed back on her face her usual mask of arrogance.

"Aren't you two supposed to be working? This place is grotesque!"

They didn't budge.

"The Montez Manor does not hire servants so they could just stand around all day while the hallways collect dust. Start cleaning right now or I will have all of you whipped!"

They did budge this time. But not in the way Sharpay wanted. Instead of moving out of her way they merely gave her a small sneer.

Sharpay started mentally listing down the things she would need to get them all hanged. Still, getting them hanged in the future wouldn't lead to her being able to see Cinderella now.

Sighing in frustration the blonde turned around, intending on finding herself a big axe she could use to hack her way in when she noticed a large book sitting on one of the crumbling shelves. Like the rest of the area, it was completely covered in dust.

Before she could think better of it, she grabbed the book and blew the dust right into the eyes of her step sister's guard dogs.

"I told you not to stand around and let this place collect dust," she said with a smirk as they wiped at their eyes.

Before they could stop her, she pushed them aside and barged her way into the surprisingly unlocked room.

She locked the door behind her.

The sight that greeted her once she turned around made her stomach drop.

Gabriella was lying on her front, over a bed of pillows. Her back was bare and there, over the smooth curves, on what had once been smooth skin were long ugly welts, crisscrossing like a crudely sewn patchwork. There was blood on some of them, and even more on a towel on the floor.

Sharpay found it hard to breath.

"I'm sorry." The words were soft, fragile like a thin sheet of glass. She'd never apologized so often in one day before.

Gabriella's eyes turned to her then, finally noticing that she wasn't alone in the room. They were so cold that Sharpay felt the ice running inside her veins. She'd never seen Gabriella this angry before. In all the years they've known each other, she and Gabriella had always played their little games, but every time Gabriella took it in strides, and even if she was angry, she made sure never to outright show it. It was part of their game after all. The first one to show how they truly feel, the first to break and let their emotions come through, loses.

Gabriella had always been better at that game than Sharpay.

Though she should have been happy to have finally won against her step sister, Sharpay really wasn't. Gabriella's true anger was nothing like her own familiar fire. Rage was always an explosion with Sharpay; a quick, destructive burst of flames, engulfing everything in its path before dying out, almost as quickly as it came. Gabriella's anger was quiet, and cold. Not a short attack but a state of being, inescapable like a long winter's night.

The blonde shivered under the intense stare.

"What have you got to be sorry for? It was my fault." Despite the anger, Gabriella's voice was devoid of emotion. "I was the one who was stupid enough to fall into your trap, after all."

Words left Sharpay as Gabi spoke. She couldn't do anything, couldn't even move she was so frozen by the girl's words.

The brunette shifted slightly. There was a wince there. Sharpay didn't think it was possible for her to feel guiltier than she did, but she was wrong.

"In fact, I think I should even be thanking you. For teaching me a lesson I mean. I'd almost forgotten how dangerous it could be to trust someone. Thank you for reminding me."

It was Sharpay's turn to wince now, as if the words were rubbing her skin raw. Gabriella maybe the one with her back bared, but Sharpay was the one who felt completely naked. She turned away from the other girl, unable to look her in the eyes. Before she could lose her nerves completely and run away from the room, she placed the necklace on a nearby table.

"I just came here to give you this," she said, voice still fragile.

"Why? So you could accuse me of stealing it later?" The words struck Sharpay like a blow. She swallowed the saliva in her throat and tried to ignore the wetness that began to gather in her eyes at Gabi's accusing words.

"I won't do that. I promise," she said, hoping that somehow her Cinderella would believe her.

The girl didn't reply. She merely looked at her untrustingly. Dark eyes boring into Sharpay's soul.

"I'm gonna go now," Sharpay said quickly before rushing out of the room. As she ran down the dark, dusty hallways, the tears she'd been holding escaped her eyes.

She told herself that it was just the dust, but even she couldn't convince herself of that lie.

To Be Continued

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