The Riff Off sneaks ever closer, and in the meantime, Beca and Chloe simply don't bring up that night again. True to Chloe's word, she seems to have forgotten about it, or considered it worthy of forgetting. Likewise, Beca doesn't interrogate Chloe on what it was she and Aubrey talked about behind her back, despite interrupting one or two more whispered Skype sessions between the two of them. On both occasions, Chloe looks guilty but relieved when Beca does nothing more than give Aubrey a stiff wave as she goes off to the bedroom to wait. Chloe comes in herself a few minutes later, a murmured, 'I'm so sorry' on her lips while she plants a kiss on Beca's forehead.
All Beca can think is that she wishes Chloe would at least text Aubrey instead, so it wouldn't be constantly shoved in her face that Chloe doesn't trust her.
It sours things. How could it not? Every time she looks at Chloe the thoughts start again: useless worries about whether she's not good enough, about whether Chloe is simply stringing her along for fun somehow. She begins see-sawing back and forth between wanting to put Chloe at a distance, just in case, and then realising she's being an idiot and trying to pull Chloe closer again. Because Chloe has suddenly been working a lot more shifts recently, this mostly amounts to whether she'll wait two hours to reply to Chloe's texts, or two seconds.
Thus far, however, Chloe doesn't seem to have noticed anything is wrong. Or at least, she hasn't said anything about it. Beca isn't sure which is worse.
'Do you think we're okay?' Beca blurts out one day. It's the evening of the Riff Off. Beca hadn't intended to come over - she had been in one of her "distance" phases - but Chloe had sent her a text that morning pleading her to come over and help her sort out the apartment in preparation for the Riff-Off later. Turns out she has a real problem saying no to Chloe sometimes.
Although Beca is meant to be helping Chloe clean, according to Chloe she is apparently doing it all wrong. How the hell can you dust wrong, is Beca's argument, but Chloe won't have it. In the end, Beca is banished to the couch, watching Chloe frantically try to get dressed and dust the spots Beca failed at doing at the same time.
'What?' says Chloe, now distracted by the water marks on her coffee table. 'Of course I'm okay. God, why don't I ever use coasters? Bree would kill me if she saw the apartment in this state.'
'No, I wasn't asking about you... Well, actually I suppose the question applies to you too. But I was talking about us.'
Chloe gets down on her knees for a better angle, tongue between her teeth while she rubs. 'What do you mean?'
'Exactly that,' says Beca. 'Are we okay? As in, our relationship?'
Chloe looks up, meeting Beca's eyes for a moment. 'Yeah. Of course we are,' is her response, coupled with a bracing smile. She gives the water mark another futile scrub and grunts in frustration when nothing changes. 'You know what, I give up. The Bellas will just have to see the squalor I live in.' Chloe heads off into the bedroom, grabbing her bag and starting to put on her shoes. Beca, not particularly comforted by this entire exchange, follows.
'It's hardly "squalor" - the place looks like a fucking palace. You even cleaned the top of your wardrobe.' Beca points to the object in question, which is practically glowing from the attention it's received today. Lucky bastard. 'Who the hell does that?'
'Clean people,' replies Chloe wryly, leaning in to kiss Beca on the cheek. 'I have to go soon.'
Chloe notices Beca's expression. 'I know, it's a pain. I'm sorry; I'll try and make time so we can do something together properly soon, okay?'
'You seem to have plenty of time to talk to Aubrey.' The bitchy comment spills from her lips far too easily; she regrets it immediately when Chloe's face falls. Why does she keep doing that?
A beat passes, and then Chloe's shoulders slump. 'Well, I guess I deserve that,' Chloe says weakly, 'And I guess that's my cue to leave. See you later, Bec. Enjoy the party.'
As Chloe turns around and makes towards the door, Beca says, 'Chloe, wait.' She stops, turning back around, biting her lower lip. 'I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that. It was uncalled for.'
'I suppose?' Chloe shrugs. 'I'm pretty aware that you tend to lash out when you're upset. And I guess I've been upsetting you a lot lately, one way or the other... So...'
'That's no excuse, though. I'm just being such a dick, and I - argh.' Her thoughts are getting away from her. Beca closes her eyes for a moment, pressing her fingers in her temples. 'Look. Are we okay? Should I be worried? I don't know. I have no damn clue how these things work.' Chloe looks rather puzzled, so Beca says, as clearly as she can, 'Am I ruining this already?'
'I'd just rather things didn't end up like last year, you know. With me fucking everything up, the arguments and you hating my guts for a while...' She means it to sound joking but she just sounds afraid, and her tongue trips over the last few words. Chloe steps closer and puts her hands on Beca's shoulders. She meets her gaze directly.
'Beca, we're fine,' says Chloe firmly. 'Stop worrying.'
'I'm not,' she protests. 'I'm hoping I don't have anything to worry about. That's all.'
'You're pre-worrying, then, which is equally silly.' Chloe slides her hands up from Beca's shoulders to cup her face gently. 'Look, we're not going to end up like last year. Things are different now. We're different now.'
'Are we, though? Because I still feel like the same asshole I've always been.'
'Trust me, you've changed. For the better, or at least I think so.' She kisses Beca on the nose. 'I know things have been a bit harder than usual lately, but that doesn't mean everything's going to fall apart. It doesn't mean anything's wrong with us. It just means we're living our lives together now. And sometimes, life is difficult - '
'"But that's okay" is what you're going to say next, isn't it,' interrupts Beca. 'I swear, I know how your little pep talks go far too well now.'
'Good. Maybe eventually you'll start believing it without me having to say it.'
'I really doubt it.'
'I don't,' says Chloe gently.
After a moment's hesitation, Beca initiates a rather clumsy hug; Chloe readily wraps her arms around Beca, repositioning them into something slightly more comfy. She catches a whiff of Chloe's perfume, which used to be so overpowering but now has become a weird source of comfort in its own right. She feels Chloe nuzzle her temple gently, one hand passing down her back.
It's so weird to Beca how easy it is to just be when they're standing there, together like this; just existing in this little bubble together. They stay like that for several minutes, without incident, besides Beca's heartrate gradually slowing down.
'Okay?' asks Chloe lowly. Beca is aware the clock is ticking, and that Chloe's pushing her comfort zone on punctuality. But she's grateful that she's staying anyway, for Beca. She nods. 'Alright.' Chloe pulls back, giving Beca a smile and a kiss. 'I love you. Don't forget that.'
Suddenly, the desire to reply back in kind - to say "I love you" - emerges in Beca's brain so quickly and even starts to form on her lips before she catches herself. It startles her - startles her enough to jerk out of Chloe's arms and take a step back, as though to distance herself from the thought. Immediately Beca wishes she hadn't moved, because it just feels so cold now.
Chloe's watching her, as though she knows what just happened. 'Are you okay?'
'Yeah, I - I just saw the time,' Beca fibs. Her heart has gone back to slamming into her ribcage. 'You better go.'
'I still don't really know what's going on, or what this even is,' Mollie complains to Beca several hours later. It took Beca at least an hour to calm down after Chloe left; now they're waiting in the quad, by the unusually phallic statue Amy had helpfully pointed out in her Facebook event description. She still feels jittery, but a little more normal now she's out and with her friends. 'I tried to get Amy to explain it to me, but I ended up getting more confused.'
That sounds like Amy. 'It's not that hard to pick up. Probably best just to watch us for a bit,' Beca replies. She spots Stacie taking her phone out and switching the video camera feature on. 'Stacie, are you filming this?'
'Yup. Chloe paid me five bucks to do it since she can't come.' Stacie winks. 'And a few extra if I get a close up on you if and when you start rapping.'
Beca ignores her face heating up (seriously, she needs to work on not getting embarrassed all the time) and Mollie's slight titter at her elbow, pushing her way to the front of the group. Jesse has taken his place next to Donald; his face lights up when he sees her. Jesse shouts, 'You're going down, Mitchell!'
Beca feels someone jab her in the back. It's Mollie, who has apparently followed Beca up to the front. 'Who's that?'
'Jesse. One of the captains of the Treblemakers,' Beca says, watching as Jesse begin beating his chest and yelling like a gorilla. 'And also one of my best friends. Although... Sometimes, I really wonder why that is.'
'Yeah, I know that feeling.' Beca glances back at Mollie with an arched eyebrow. However, she simply stares straight ahead, either not noticing or deliberately not meeting Beca's gaze. She's not sure which one it is.
Cynthia Rose, overhearing this conversation, wrinkles her nose. 'No offence, B, but I've really never liked Jesse.'
Beca laughs. 'Why not?'
'I dunno.' She scrutinises him from afar. 'His face is just too symmetrical, you know? You just can't trust guys with faces that are too symmetrical.'
'Didn't know you had much opinion on guys.'
'True,' Cynthia Rose concedes.
Suddenly, Mollie jabs Beca with her elbow. 'Beca, why're those guys wearing capes?'
When Beca looks around again - hoping she doesn't mean any of the Trebles - she sees what Mollie is talking about. Justin is standing next to a smaller, younger boy; both are wearing capes, although the one the younger boy is wearing looks far too big for him.
Beca can guess what's about to happen. 'Seriously?' she groans.
Justin walks forward and clears his throat importantly, drawing the attention from the surrounding crowd. The talking gradually dies away as everyone begins to wonder what the hell he's doing.
'As you all know, I'm now a senior, which means I'll be leaving you guys next year.' Justin pauses here, as if waiting for the audience to make "aww" noises or something. When none come, he scowls and goes on, 'Anyway, because of that, I've had to pick my heir to take over for me next year - it's been a vigorous auditioning process, but I think I've finally chosen him.' Justin steps back a little. 'Say hi, William.'
Justin steps back again. 'Anyway, welcome to this year's Riff Off! With your hosts, Justin and William!' He waits once more: a few scattered cheers go up, mostly from the High Notes. He shakes his head disapprovingly. 'Y'all disgust me. You know what, let's just get on with it already.' He lifts his virtual spinner and then says monotonously. 'And our first category is...'
'Can I try?'
Justin looks at William for a moment, studying him with narrowed eyes - William shrinks back under his gaze. But eventually he sighs. 'Sure. Have at it.' He then throws the gadget to William, who... promptly drops it.
He looks up in fear to see that Justin's face has gone stony.
'You're dead to me,' he hisses. 'Return your cape and go.'
'Acapella is so weird,' Mollie whispers, as a mortified William rips off his cape and disappears into the night, almost in tears. Beca nearly finds herself speaking in its defence before she realises what the hell she's saying; then, she just nods.
As it turns out, Mollie has absolutely no idea how weird acapella can be. Last year was fun, but everyone knew who was probably going to win until Beca pulled out "No Diggity". This year, with many of the smaller groups bolstered by the toppling of the Treblemaker crown, there's a new energy amongst them and a sense that each group wants to be the one to win this time. People are pulling out all the stops: synchronised dance moves, costumes (where the hell did those masks come from?) and someone from the High Notes is even dressed like Beca. It's a bit creepy.
Despite Chloe's wishes, and those of the Bellas, Beca does not rap this time (Stacie pointing the camera in her face every time it looks like she's about to sing is a bit off-putting). Nonetheless she's relieved to see the Bellas still work together the way they always did, even under her captaincy. They still have an almost unrealistic ability to put arrangements together on the fly, as though they'd been practising them for months in a studio with trained professionals. Uncanny.
However - and most worryingly - the Treblemakers are... good. Really good. And it's not that she didn't know that already - obviously, considering they were the main rivals for the Bellas last year. But in the back of her mind, Beca had sort of thought that Jesse being the new captain meant they weren't actual competition anymore. Looking back, that was a rather short-sighted view to have on things, considering he wanted to make composing and arranging music his career. They really needed to watch out for those guys.
In any case, despite the Trebles putting an aggressive and determined fight (as aggressive and determined as you can even be in acapella, anyway) the Bellas sneak into a win. But only just, and based on the same bullshit rule that caught them out last year. She almost feels guilty about it, especially when the Trebles start arguing with Justin to get him to reverse the verdict, but for all she knows this could be the only win they get with her as leader.
'Beca, why didn't you rap?!' Stacie whines, marching over to Beca as soon as they're finished. 'I need the extra money!'
'There wasn't anywhere I could've brought one in.'
'Are you kidding? We literally sang "Love the Way You Lie" for "Weird Rap Duets"!'
'Oops, sorry, must have a missed that. Will you give me a sec?' Beca has spotted Jesse trying to sneak past her by hiding behind Donald. 'Hey, Swanson!' she calls. 'What was that you were saying earlier?' She puts her finger to her chin. 'Something about the Bellas being pitch-slapped? But wait - I'm confused. Because it seemed like that was you guys...'
'Yeah, yeah,' Jesse grumbles, crossing his arms. 'You only won on a technicality. I swear, Justin's getting more of a stick up his ass every year: "their" and "they're" sound the same, who cares if they're spelt differently?! It's acapella!'
'No worse than losing on "it's",' says Beca with a shrug. 'Tough luck, dude. Shame you guys suck.'
'Never mind. We'll get you back at Regionals.'
'Yeah, yeah, I'm sure you will.' It's a good thing he doesn't know how likely she thinks that really is. She goes on quickly, 'Anyway, speaking of us wiping the floor with you, we're celebrating at Chloe's. You want to come? As a consolation prize,' she teases. 'You can drink your sorrows away.'
'A party?' He doesn't even look like he's considering it. 'Ah - I might pass. Kinda tired, you know?'
'What are you, eighty years old? It's not even midnight.' Jesse shrugs. It doesn't take a genius to work out why he's being so weird about it. Irritated, Beca says, 'Chloe isn't actually there tonight. She's working. Now will you come?'
'What does Chloe working have to do with anything?' he replies. 'It's cool, Beca, you go ahead. I'm sure us Treblemakers are going to do something together anyway - like you said, drown our sorrows, blah blah blah.'
'You can do that with us,' Beca insists. 'C'mon, we've barely spent any time together lately.'
'I'd just be in the way.'
'No... You wouldn't.'
'Beca, we're leaving soon. You coming or what?' shouts Cynthia Rose.
'Be there in a sec!' Beca calls. She looks back at Jesse. 'Jesse... Please, don't be like this.'
His face is blank. 'Like what? It's cool, Beca - you should be with your group. We can hang out with another time, okay?' He gives her the most cheerful wave he can muster, and leaves before Beca can say another word; Cynthia Rose appears at Beca's shoulder a moment later.
'You okay?' she says, casting a suspicious eye at Jesse's retreating back.
'You ever had someone be crushing on you, but they make it feel like it's your problem all the time?'
Cynthia Rose snorts. 'You know, now I know the real reason I don't like that boy. Can't keep his dick in his pants.'
'He's not always that bad,' protests Beca. 'He's just kinda dumb when it comes to stuff like this. I don't think he can help it.'
'Sure, and I bet he makes that feel like your problem too.' When Beca has no response to that besides a few splutters, Cynthia Rose takes her arm gently. 'C'mon, B. Bellas are waiting.'
In celebration of their win at the Riff Off they congregate at Chloe's, as planned. Beca feels a little weird being in her girlfriend's apartment without said girlfriend being there too - and in fact, interacting with the Bellas at all like this without her around seems a little surreal. Hard to believe she went from being coerced by a naked ginger into joining, to the captain of this crazy bunch of aca-girls. Willingly.
For the time being, she's content to simply sit and watch them interact for the most part, listening in while they gossip about Amy's various on-going flings, with Stacie offering everyone very serious relationship advice. Mollie looks a little uncomfortable, squashed onto the couch between Lilly, Denise and Ashley, but smiles whenever Beca looks her way with an eyebrow raised.
The buzzer goes half an hour into it; the guy delivering pizza on the other end insists that they placed an order. Everyone blames Amy when about three rounds of large pizzas from a place in town arrive half an hour into it, but she denies any involvement ('Oh yeah, blame the fat girl for ordering a massive amount of food. Nice, guys.') The culprit is quickly been revealed to be Mollie when she jumps to her feet, pays, and returns a minute later with the pizzas.
'What?' says Mollie, blushing slightly under the weight of everyone's stunned gazes. 'I'm hungry, and you guys didn't seem like you were going to do anything any time soon.'
'Jeez, Mollie. Wasn't that expensive?' asks Beca.
She smiles. 'Employee discount. I work there.' Beca starts to protest, knowing even with an employee discount the price would probably still be high. However, she goes on (still pink in the face), 'Honestly, dont worry about it. I just really wanted to do something nice for the team.'
'Atta girl!' says Cynthia Rose admiringly, as she sets the pizza down. 'Say, Mollie, you dating anyone?'
Beca flicks her on the cheek, wondering if she should start using a spray bottle when Cynthia Rose gets like this. She mutters to her, 'Dude, you can't date someone just for the discounts.'
'Why not? It's great. I once went out with someone who worked at Victoria's Secret... Best time of my life,' she says wistfully.
Despite the tangent, Mollie still seems to want to answer Cynthia Rose's question. 'Um, no, Cynthia Rose. I'm single.'
'You're not dating Lauren?' Beca can't help blurting out, since it's something she's been wondering for a while; Mollie's eyes go wide.
'Ew, no!' she exclaims, looking aghast at the thought. 'No, we're not... Um, like that.' It's an odd way to phrase it - Cynthia Rose and Beca exchange glances, something Mollie notices. She gets even more flustered. 'I mean - well, it's okay if you guys are, I suppose - I can't tell you how to live your lives after all, it's your choice -'
Everyone in the room winces; Lilly, who is closest, lays her hand over Mollie's mouth. 'Stop talking,' she murmurs.
'Did I offend you guys?' says Mollie, looking upset. 'I'm sorry, I wasn't trying to.'
Cynthia Rose shakes her head. 'Have you never met anyone that's gay before?'
'No, not really?' says Mollie. 'Except for Beca and Chloe.' Cynthia Rose coughs. Mollie looks blank, until Beca explains, 'Cynthia Rose is also gay. And Chloe is bi, while we're at it.'
Her expression clears. 'Oh. That explains a lot.' She appears to consider this for a moment. 'How are there so many of you in one group?'
'Think about this carefully, Mollie,' says Beca. 'All-girl's acapella group. Heck, I only ended up auditioning because Chloe jumped me in the shower.' Mollie looks mildly alarmed by this story, so Beca decides not to go into any more details, despite Cynthia Rose jabbing her in the side and asking for exactly that.
'Speaking of which, how are you and Chloe doing?' asks Stacie, helping herself to pizza. She hands some to Cynthia Rose, who grins shyly in response (Beca rolls her eyes at this interaction and grabs some for herself just to make a point). 'Share any more clothes lately?'
'Beca's hardly ever in her room; she's always at Chloe's,' pipes up Cynthia Rose. 'I'm not even sure I have a roommate now.'
'Oh, shut up,' replies Beca. 'That's only because you're always bringing people back to the room. It's the only place I can get some peace.'
Cynthia Rose laughs. 'Like I said before, you could always bring Chloe back too. The more the merrier, right?'
'You're a fucking pervert, dude,' she says, throwing a piece of pepperoni at Cynthia Rose - who manages to catch it in her mouth. The Bellas gasp and applaud; she bows solemnly while she chews, saying, 'Thank you, thank you.'
'Why couldn't Red make it to our little shindig, anyway?' asks Amy.
'Lame,' she complains. 'But it was cool of her to let us stay here.'
'Right? But I think I should probably tell you that if there's any mess, you'll all be cleaning it up. And extra cardio during tomorrow's practice!' she says, imitating Aubrey's voice.
'You don't actually make us do cardio,' Cynthia Rose points out.
'Well, maybe I'll start if there's any mess,' says Beca with a meaningful raise of her eyebrows. 'Trust me, you're getting the easy end of the deal. Chloe would kick my ass if I left this place messy.'
'Whipped,' coughs Amy into her fist.
'I am not whipped.'
'Mm, you kinda are, B,' says Cynthia Rose, holding her index finger and thumb up and inch apart. 'But don't get upset about it. It's a good thing.'
'It's adorable,' Stacie adds. She puffs out her chest. 'And I'd just like to say, I take full credit for them getting together in the first place.'
They all stare at Stacie, Beca included. 'You? Why?'
'Remember that time in the pantry?' says Stacie. 'You totally only got together after that.'
'Stacie, if anything you made it worse,' says Beca incredulously. 'Chloe thought I was making out with you.'
'Wait, what?' says Cynthia Rose, her eyes widening. 'Did I miss something here?'
'Ah, but you fixed it eventually, right? So no harm done. I consider myself an important part of your story.'
'Remind me why the hell I'm friends with you girls?' She shakes her head and stands up. 'Gotta pee.'
As she leaves the room, she hears Cynthia Rose say, 'Seriously, what was that about you and Beca making out?'
Alone in the bathroom, Beca allows herself a few moments to breathe and check her phone, which has a few unread texts from Chloe in the last hour or so. She'd been wary of replying to them while the girls were watching in case one of them stole her phone. It can be a bit hit or miss whether Chloe's texts are safe for her to read around other people or not - and not just because she has a tendency to say exactly what's on her mind - because sometimes she just comes out with the most vomit-inducing, cutesy stuff, sometimes. Vomit-inducing for anyone else, that is. Beca secretly eats the whole thing up. And Chloe knows it.
And today, despite her little freak out earlier, she almost finds herself craving it. Chloe does not disappoint.
The latest text reads: Heard you won the Riff Off! YOU'RE AMAZING! Hope you're doing okay over there. Text me when you remember me for a moment, you social butterfly xx
She replies, Oh hey, Chloe. I'd almost forgotten about you. Yeah, we kinda won on a technicality... But then again so did the Trebles last year, so whatever. I think we're even now.
Surprisingly, it doesn't take long for a response from Chloe to arrive.
Oh thanks, glad you finally decided to grace my presence with your texts :) how's the party?
Alright. Lots of talk about me being whipped, as per usual.
Awww baby. They're not wrong though, you are extremely whipped. I even got you to help me clean today :) Until I realised how bad you are at it.
Beca snorts. Yeah yeah, w/e. :P How's work?
dead. Like, completely dead. Hence me texting. Before Beca can reply, Chloe quickly sends another message: I miss you.
I miss you too.
I really wish I was there.
I know. Me too.
I wish I was kissing you.
Beca swallows as her stomach jolts, inwardly rolling her eyes at not seeing where Chloe was going with that line of conversation. It's so like Chloe to catch her off guard like that. Another texs comes from Chloe: Did I scare you off? Sorry, it was just something I was thinking.
Nono i'm here. I'd like that too I guess. But... as much I'd love to talk about that with you rn, I'm in the bathroom. I better go back to the party or they'll think I'm pooping... Or texting you...
Which is worse?! See you soon Bec xx
After returning from the bathroom (after taking a few cooling breaths to calm herself down after Chloe's text), Beca does a quick look around to make sure nothing in the room has been destroyed. She's relieved to see that there isn't, and that the usually boisterous Bellas seem to just be content to enjoy each other's company for once. There hasn't even been any mention of alcohol, despite Amy saying this party was BYOB.
Beca spots Mollie chatting away to Ashley and Denise, occasionally interrupted by a muttered comment from Lilly - and as she does so, it suddenly occurs to Beca that she hasn't seen any sign of Lauren. They look up when Beca approaches them, hands in her pockets. Mollie smiles at her hesitantly.
'Hey,' she greets them, receiving the same back. 'Mollie, where's Lauren?'
'Oh - yeah, she didn't want to come,' says Mollie, with a rueful roll of her eyes. 'I tried to convince her, but I guess stuff like this isn't really her thing.'
'Was she at the Riff-Off?' Beca screws her face up, trying to remember, but at this point all she remembers of the Riff-Off is Jesse singing Blurred Lines for the category 'Sleazy Pop Songs'.
'She was, but she didn't really get too involved, even though I think she was sort of enjoying it.' Mollie shrugs at the expression on Beca's face. 'That's Lauren.'
'Why'd she join the Bellas if she isn't going to bother to join in?' asks Beca, genuinely curious.
'Oh...' Mollie shuffles her feet slightly, looking embarrassed. 'I made her join with me. We went to the same high school, and I thought it'd be nice to be in a club together so I'd have a familiar face there with me. But apparently she doesn't agree...'
'She sounds like a lovely friend,' Beca says sarcastically, but Mollie shakes her head.
'There's really nothing wrong with her. I mean, she's quite loyal, and pretty protective of me sometimes. But she's just a bit - prickly, I suppose.'
'So is a cactus, but at least they have some redeeming qualities.' Denise and Ashley both look away and smother their guilty laughs, but Beca feels bad when Mollie's face falls and she directs her gaze towards her lap. Beca says quickly, 'Still, at least you seem to be getting on alright with the other Bellas. When Cynthia Rose starts hitting on you a lot, then you know you're really part of the group.'
'Hey! I heard that!'
'Good, you were meant to!' Beca calls back.
Lilly whispers something. 'What?' says Ashley, the only one who noticed Lilly had tried to say something.
'She said, "We should do a blood initiation rite",' says Mollie, wrinkling her nose. 'Lilly, you have a very odd sense of humour.'
The other Bellas look confused, even Lilly. 'You can understand her?' says Beca.
'You guys can't? But she's always muttering stuff under her breath about -' Lilly glares at Mollie and draws her hand across her throat; Mollie pales, shrinking back.
Beca rolls her eyes. 'Lilly, stop trying to freak Mollie out.' Lilly huffs, but obediently crosses her arms and sits back at her chair. She notices Mollie slowly trying to shuffle away from Lilly surreptitiously.
Suddenly, there's a knock at the door. 'Who's that? Did you order more pizza?'
'No. Ooh, it could be Lauren,' says Mollie, brightening. 'Maybe she changed her mind? Or... maybe not?' she adds in disappointment, when no one looks particularly enthused at this prospect.
'Well, who else could it be?'
'Maybe a neighbour? No one buzzed, so it's gotta be someone in the building.'
'Shit,' says Amy, jumping to her feet and rushing to the kitchen. 'Hide the booze!'
'What about Chloe?' suggests Cynthia Rose.
'No,' Beca interjects, reaching for her long forgotten drink, 'it can't be, at least not yet. She's working right now.'
Stacie shrugs and gets to her feet. 'You know it'd be easier to just open the door, guys?' They all watch nervously as Stacie goes out into the hallway; there's the sound of the door opening, then she shouts, 'Chloe! It is you!'
Beca chokes on her drink, managing to spill a sizeable amount of it down her front at hearing Stacie shout her girlfriend's name. She's just desperately trying to wipe down her shirt when Chloe and Stacie return, and their eyes meet for just a second. Chloe grins at her briefly before turning back to the other Bellas who have all excitedly jumped to their feet and crowded around her. She stays sitting, waiting her turn while Chloe does the "perfect host" thing.
'Hi guys!' She goes around hugging all the Bellas, even Mollie, chatting exuberantly to each of them and asking them how they're doing, what's going on in their lives, and probably even how their parents are. She explains that she didn't use her key because she wanted to make a dramatic entrance, which is so very Chloe.
It takes her a good ten minutes for her to get to Beca, but by the time she approaches the couch she's sitting on, she finds a weird kind of anticipatory excitement in the pit of her stomach. Never mind that she saw her earlier and has been texting her since.
Chloe stops in front of her. 'Hey you,' says Chloe, smiling and twirling a strand of her hair around her finger in such a weirdly provocative way that Beca feels her heart flutter a little.
'Hi,' she replies, ignoring how she can hear the other Bellas giggling to themselves at this display. 'You good?'
'Much better now I'm here.' Chloe bends at the waist, pushing Beca's hair back from her face and giving her a sweet kiss on the lips. It only lasts a few seconds but Beca still finds herself blushing furiously when Chloe eventually pulls back with a content smile. 'Missed you,' she whispers.
'You too,' Beca mumbles. She tugs Chloe down next to her, hiding from the Bellas' chortles by burying her face in Chloe's shoulder. Someone she strongly suspects is Amy - who scuttled back from the kitchen once she realised it was Chloe - makes a whipcrack noise.
'Aw, stop making fun of her, guys,' Chloe admonishes them. 'Beca can't help being absolutely adorable.'
'I'd just like you all to know that I officially hate everyone in this room,' says Beca.
'Even me?' says Chloe, pouting.
'Not yet.' She turns her back on the other girls, focusing solely on her girlfriend and not on the Bellas gossiping loudly about what positions Chloe or Beca would take in bed. 'What are you doing here anyway? I thought you were meant to have a long shift tonight?'
'I told you, it was dead. The manager just told me to go home in the end.'
'Probably a good thing you came back, Chloe. This one's been all mopey without you,' says Amy, pointing at Beca. 'Like literally crying her eyes out going "Where is Chloe? I need Chloe!"'
'Yep, that's me,' Beca deadpans, pointing at her cheek. 'If you look closely you can see the tearmarks, riiiight here.' Chloe giggles and kisses just below her eye, which has the desired effect of making her squirm like an idiot and the others hoot with laughter. 'Jesus, guys, get your own relationship!' she says peevishly. 'You really gotta get a life of your own. You're too invested in mine.'
'We just like seeing you get wound up about it, to be honest,' admits Amy. 'It's pretty funny.'
'Bleh. You guys suck.'
Chloe wraps her arms around her, cradling Beca's head against her collarbone. 'Leave my Beca alone!' she shouts.
'I kinda hate you as well, now,' says Beca, voice muffled in Chloe's chest. But it's hard to keep that up when Chloe kisses her apologetically and takes her hand, and then, effortlessly, engages the other Bellas in conversation. Any attempts to bring the conversation back to Beca and Chloe are quickly evaded, a skill Beca can only marvel at. Soon the attention is definitively away from the two of them - where it should be - and Beca takes the time to study Chloe without anyone judging her.
She's looking a little on the pale side, and there are noticeable bags under her eyes, but at least she looks reasonably happy to be here and interacting with the others. Still, it doesn't stop Beca leaning towards her and asking in a low voice once there's a lull in the conversation, 'Are you okay? You look exhausted.'
Chloe turns towards her, her smile instantly lighting up her face and subduing some of the visible effects of her tiredness. 'Yeah, I'm fine,' Chloe answers.
'Are you sure? I can get rid of them and you can go to bed if you want.'
'No, I don't want to ruin their fun.' Chloe draws her legs up on the couch with her and lays down. She pushes Beca's legs into the position she wants, then promptly flops her head down into her lap and nuzzles her thigh. 'I am going to do this, though, if you don't mind.'
'Uh, no.' She looks up to see the reactions of the others, but thankfully they've finally found a more interesting topic of conversation than what Chloe and Beca are up to - Regionals. Hesitantly she puts a hand to Chloe's head, gently scratching her nails over her scalp; she sees Chloe sigh and wiggle to get comfier.
'You're amazing,' Chloe says in an undertone. 'I love you.'
Beca's mouth goes dry, remembering earlier. She tries not to tense up too much or Chloe will know; she lets out a long breath. 'Yeah,' is all she can reply with, but she seeks out Chloe's hand with the one not in her hair and squeezes it tight, before absorbing herself back in the conversation about their set. Which isn't so she can distract herself - obviously. It's just that she's the captain, so really she should be part of this discussion, especially since she'd been so insistent about needing their help the other day.
'I was thinking, what do you guys say to adding "Run the World" to our set?' she asks - it's been on her mind for a while. 'I know I said the arrangement was finished, but it'd be a pretty killer addition.'
The Bellas look at each other. Cynthia Rose says, 'Don't we already have like five different songs?'
'Yeah, but this one could really pull the whole thing together.'
'Do we really need anything else?' asks Stacie doubtfully. 'I thought what we have already was fine.'
'All those in favour of not adding another song?' says Cynthia Rose. Most of the girls raise their hands, except for Lilly, who murmurs something (translated by Mollie as 'She doesn't believe in democracy').Mollie herself seems to be dithering between the two. When Cynthia Rose looks at her pointedly, she hesitantly raises her hand. 'See? Just chill out, B,' says Cynthia Rose. 'It's just Regionals and our arrangement is already awesome. We can win it with our eyes closed; save all the big guns for later.'
Beca sits back reluctantly, shutting her mouth. But then she remembers she has someone on her side that might be able to vouch for this song to be added. 'Chloe? What do you think about all this?' She pokes Chloe in the back. She doesn't reply. However, Beca soon sees why when she leans forward to look at Chloe's face: she's asleep. Apparently she was more tired than she let on.
'Aww, Red's all tuckered out,' says Amy, noticing this.
'Should I take her to bed?' They all titter; Beca rolls her eyes. 'You know what I mean.'
The girls exchange a look. Amy says, 'Nah, don't wake her up - just stay there. We can be quiet.'
They nod, and within seconds are back into a spirited yet whispered conversation about the benefits of waffles over pancakes. She tries to listen for a bit, but Beca soon finds herself drifting off, feeling happy with the direction things are heading for once in her life.
And sure, in the morning she and Chloe will wake up with dicks drawn on their faces and she'll end up chasing them around the apartment screaming her head off, while Chloe looks on in bleary, half-asleep confusion. But for now, it feels pretty good to have friends around her, and the gentle weight of Chloe's hands clasped in hers.