By senior year you realize that your life is a cliché.
More specifically, you realize this at three in the morning on a Wednesday. Which only makes the whole situation worse, because only you would find yourself sneaking out of Chloe’s bed, still a bit drunk, four hours before your chemistry class (which you hate).
Only you would be stupid enough to acquiesce to your absolutely hammered best friend’s attempts to throw herself at you (which she’s been doing for years) on a Tuesday night.
Maybe it’s because she was so drunk you know she wouldn’t remember it. Maybe it’s because after three years of resistance, you’re tired. Maybe it’s because you and your boyfriend haven’t had sex in two months. Maybe it’s because everything you’ve spent the last three years building up has crashed back down.
Or maybe you’re just an idiot—an idiot who just slept with her best friend on a Tuesday night.
Instead you stumble back to your own room and collapse on the bed. You think about how much you’re dreading having to spend three hours with your lab partner, whom you hate. He’s the kind of person who chews gum so loudly you can hear it from fifty feet away, which is your least favorite kind of person.
It’s easier to think about that than Chloe arching her back and calling your name while the rest of your housemates partied downstairs, oblivious. Plotting the death of your lab partner is an easy distraction from the boyfriend you just cheated on—the boyfriend who didn’t even cross your mind until long after Chloe fell asleep, her bare chest rising and falling in an even pattern that juxtaposes your still-pounding heart.
You think about how much you hate your lab partner, because the only alternative is to think about how much you hate yourself.
You make it through chemistry without killing your lab partner or accidentally setting anything on fire, which is quite a feat considering the fact that you spent the entire time praying to the God you denounced when you were thirteen that Chloe won’t remember what you did last night.
You’ll always have to live with the image of Chloe’s flushed face and heaving chest, but you don’t think you can live with Chloe knowing exactly what you look like when you come.
You find her in the kitchen, hunched over a bowl of cereal (despite the fact that it’s after noon) when you return to the Bellas’ house. She looks a bit like she’s been hit by a truck, but she smiles at you as you cautiously sit across from her with an apple.
“Hey,” Chloe says, voice scratchy. It makes your heart flutter in your chest a bit.
“Good morning,” you say. “How are you feeling?”
(What you really want to say is “I’m sorry” and also maybe “I love you,” but you don’t, because you have to make a clean break at the end of this year.)
“Never better,” Chloe says, pushing roughly at a lock of hair that falls into her face. “Although next time Amy wants to get shit-faced drunk on a weeknight, please remind me that it’s a bad idea.”
You laugh, although you suppose a weeknight is as good a night as any for your life to fall apart.
You really do make a sincere effort to care that the Bellas are essentially over, but in some ways it’s a relief. You would’ve had to let go of them at the end of the year anyway, and this way you have more time to figure out exactly how to sever your personal relationships in a painless way (since you’re off to Los Angeles at the end of the year).
You suspect this is isn’t it.
After your dad left you decided that if you don’t get too close to people, they can’t hurt you when they leave (or when you have to leave). It’s a policy that allowed you to jet from Portland to Atlanta without batting an eyelash. Sure, you had friends in high school, but you knew that the post-graduation promises to keep in touch were little more than pleasantries.
And you were okay with that.
You’re not okay with this. Hell, you didn’t even come to Barden with the intention of graduating, much less to find yourself in (what essentially is) a cult with nine sisters and a boyfriend.
You do care about Jesse, and your flagrant violation of his trust eats at you as you absently flip through your iTunes library. You realized sometime shortly after staring sophomore year that you two were really better off as friends, but you kept him anyway. You needed a security blanket against Chloe and her wandering hands, Chloe and her meaningful touches, Chloe and her full lips and her big blue eyes and her flaming red hair.
Chloe’s the best friend you’ve ever had, although sometimes calling her your friend feels downright inappropriate. You’ve never spent the night in any of your other friends’ twin-sized beds, never lazily raked your fingers through any of your other friends’ hair while you cuddled on the couch watching a movie, never fallen asleep on any of your other friends’ shoulders on long bus rides.
You’ve worked so hard to never cross that line, but, in retrospect, you suppose exactly where the line lays is wholly unclear.
Feelings are messy and never did you any good; however, you can manage long-distance friendships with these girls. (At this point, you can’t imagine never speaking to any of them again, which is exactly the kind of thing you wanted to avoid, but you can manage.)
You can do the friend thing with Chloe. At least, you’re pretty sure you can. You’ll have to, because you’re off to LA and she might not even graduate.
Adding feelings to this mix could actually destroy you.
Once it becomes clear Chloe has no memory of your… activities, you start pretending that nothing ever happened. You’re excellent at doing this. In fact, it might be your only marketable skill—since apparently what you thought you were best at is not one.
You call Jesse at two in the morning, leaving a self-deprecating voicemail while trying to focus on your breathing and resisting the urge to slip upstairs and crawl into Chloe’s bed.
You’re not absolutely sure why you can’t seem to tell her about the internship. True, she seems like she can’t possibly handle any more stress, but maybe it’s because you want to keep Residual Heat a Chloe-free zone. It’s easier to work when you’re not thinking about the taste of her against your tongue or how her fingers lit you on fire. Maybe it’s so you can pretend this impending dump into the Real World isn’t happening as quickly as it actually is. It might be because you know that once you graduate you’ll have to figure out how to exist without your friends—without Chloe.
Maybe you’re avoiding talking to her, because every time you see her face you’re assaulted with images of her biting her lip as she looks down at you between her legs, of her hands twisting in her bed sheets, of her muscles going rigid and then slack.
Only talking about arrangements and choreography is easy, because it gives you clear boundaries.
Until you guys hardcore tank your performance.
You have no idea how to fix this—you suspect you had a hand in breaking this, actually.
The horrified look on Chloe’s face physically pains you, but you don’t know how to make it better. None of you do.
You acquiesce to this retreat thing easier than you probably would have in the past, but you’re officially out of ideas. The only mixes you’re turning out these days involve sad Kelly Clarkson songs—and you’ve deleted every one of them because they’re embarrassingly melodramatic, even for you.
Had you known that Aubrey ran this place, you’d have never agreed to it. Aubrey has a tendency to bring out the worst in you, the emotions you try to keep from surfacing.
You’ve really only yelled at Chloe on two occasions, and Aubrey was present for both.
It’s self-sabotage; you know this. If you can get Chloe to hate you, convince her to leave hating you, you’ll never have to deal with this (your feelings, your guilt, the fact that the mere idea of leaving Chloe behind as you fly off to LA makes your chest clench painfully).
And then you almost died and came thisclose to spilling your guts, having enough sense to keep your declarations of love family-friendly as you dangled from a tree.
By the time you all cram yourselves into your tent that night, you’re exhausted in every possible way.
You think of Chloe’s whispered offers of backrubs, her breath hot against your lips, closer than you’ve been since that night. You think of her arms around your shoulders, breasts pressed against yours as she swings you around herself on the log. You think of her announcement that she’s going to graduate and can’t crush the tiny flame of hope in your chest that she might want to come to LA with you.
Suddenly, you feel like you’re suffocating. You creep out of the tent as quietly as possible and collapse on a bench several feet away, cradling your head in your hands.
You try to picture yourself in ten years, working at a record label—maybe even your own—thoughts of your college best friends faded into background noise as you accept your first Grammy.
Your head snaps up. Chloe is walking towards you, hair tousled and sleeves tugged down over her hands against the chill.
“Hey,” you echo, trying to keep your voice even as she sits next to you.
“What’re you doing up?” Chloe asks through a yawn, tugging one of your hands into her lap. You allow her to do this, because you’re tired.
You just shrug in response, because you don’t know how to answer that question, and instead decide to change the subject. “So you’re gonna graduate, huh?”
Chloe looks at you and you think you detect and hint of melancholy in her features, but you’re not sure in the dark. “Yeah,” she says. “I think it’s time.”
“If the whole teaching thing doesn’t work out, I heard there’s some very classy strip clubs in Atlanta.” It’s probably the least appropriate thing to say right now, but you’ve never been able to resist saying the wrong thing.
Chloe looks at you, and for a second you think she might slap you, but instead she breaks into a grin, laughing lightly.
“Only if you’re the DJ,” she says, resting her head on your shoulder.
You don’t know what to say to that, so you stay silent, closing your eyes and allowing your cheek to rest against her hair.
You bite back the “I love you” that threatens to escape your lips, instead squeezing her hand in yours.
Copenhagen is a welcome distraction (you know, if you don’t think about why you’re actually there). You didn’t realize how badly you needed a change of scenery until you’re walking through streets that look nothing like the ones around Barden.
You curl your hand around Chloe’s under the umbrella, allowing yourself (stupidly) to believe for a few hours that your reality is not your reality.
Jesse arrives that night, but you don’t see him, instead distracted with last-minute set tweaks and choreography run-throughs.
You have breakfast with him the next morning, but you’re a ball of nervous energy and barely able to choke down some toast and a banana.
You notice that he doesn’t talk as much as he normally does, but you assume that it’s because he knows you’re nervous.
You don’t say much, either; spending time with Jesse just reminds you how terrible of a person you are. You almost tell him when you go to part ways after breakfast, but an creating an ugly scene in the middle of the hotel lobby would do no one any favors.
He promises to be in the audience at the competition and kisses you on the cheek.
Your skin burns where his lips touch, and you dig your fingers into your scalp for a moment until it passes.
Your performance goes as well as it possibly can go, but instead of feeling happy, you feel drained.
For some reason, winning just makes you feel worse.
You force a smile and exchange hugs with all of the Bellas, but once you’re backstage you mumble some excuse you don’t even remember and set off in search of an empty dressing room.
When you find one, you shut the door behind you and fall to your knees. All of the emotions and stress of the last year hit you at once, and you bury your face into your palms and cry.
It’s ugly, and it’s loud, and you’re not even really sure why you’re a sobbing mess when you’ve just been crowned a world champion. You have a bachelor’s degree in music theory, three national championship titles and a world championship titles under your belt, but instead of feeling accomplished you feel tired.
You’re attempting to regain your composure when the door cracks open, revealing Jesse, which only makes you cry harder.
“Whoa, Bec,” he says, moving to wrap you in his arms. “What’s wrong? What happened?”
For a moment you can’t speak, feeling trapped rather than comforted in his arms.
You’re not sure if it’s residual stress, or guilt, or you just don’t care anymore, but you say, “I cheated on you.”
Jesse’s hand stills where it’s rubbing your arm. For a moment you’re both silent.
“When?” he asks.
You’re confused by the fact that he’s not yelling. “At the beginning of the year.”
“Was it with Chloe?” His voice is tight, strangled.
You feel like the wind has been knocked out of you, and all you can do is repeat, “I’m sorry,” as you cry.
You both sit in silence for a long time. By the time your crying subsides to sniffling, Jesse says, quietly, “I’m kind of surprised it took this long.”
You turn to look at him, confused. He doesn’t look angry; in fact, he looks about as tired as you feel. “What?”
He doesn’t offer any explanation. “I love you,” he says instead.
“Yeah,” you say. “I know.” You look at him again. “I never wanted to hurt you.” It’s the truth.
“I know,” Jesse says.
You sit there for a few more minutes before he stands. “Maybe…” he says, rubbing at the back of his head. “We can talk. When we get back home.”
You think it’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you. “Okay,” you say, and he nods, pausing by the door on his way out.
“You should tell her,” he says. And then he disappears.
It takes you several minutes after that to get your shit together. There’s really no hope in trying to make it look like you haven’t been crying your eyes out, so you shrug at your reflection and slip out of the room.
When you check your phone, you see seven text messages from various Bellas (three of them Chloe), asking where you are, warning you that the bus is about to leave.
You slip onto the bus and into one of the front seats away from everybody, and they seem to sense your bad mood and leave you alone.
Much to your dismay, the bus stops at a club rather than the hotel.
You don’t have the best track record with alcohol, but you suppose getting drunk and sulking in the corner isn’t a terrible option.
Chloe comes and finds you when you’re on your second beer. She nudges you over on the little couch you’ve found in the back and sits.
She doesn’t ask you any questions or say anything. After a few silent minutes you say, “I broke up with Jesse,” just so she’ll stop looking at you like that. “Or maybe he broke with me.” (You realize you’re not exactly sure, but you do know that you’re done.)
“Are you okay?” Chloe asks, and you shrug.
“I remember that time we had sex,” she says simply after several minutes.
You don’t know what to say. Aside from the fact that you’re shocked she remembers, you have no idea why she would bring it up now.
“Oh,” you say.
“We could do it again, if it would make you feel better,” Chloe says, and it’s just such a Chloe thing to say that you start laughing and can’t stop. (You also might be a little drunk.)
And then you kiss her, because you have terrible judgment and your self-control dried up sometime two hours ago.
It’s messy and your noses bump and your teeth click against each other, and you clutch your hands in her hair so desperately that she whimpers a bit.
“I can’t live without you,” you whisper against her lips when you part, and it’s the kind of thing you promised yourself you’d never say, but you realize you don’t actually give a fuck anymore.
Chloe kisses you again—hard and brief. “They have strip clubs in LA, don’t they?” she says.
You realize it’s the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to you and you start laughing again. And then she starts laughing, grasping at your knee and tucking her head into the space between your shoulder and your neck. You laugh until tears prick the corners of your eyes and you can’t laugh anymore.
Chloe picks her head up and looks at you, with her big, stupid, irresistible blue eyes, and even you—the emotionally stunted dumbass that you are—can’t stop yourself from saying, “I love you.”
Chloe leans over to whisper something into your ear, her hot breath against it sending shivers down your spine.
And then you laugh again.
Because you’re the idiot who fell for your best friend, but she kind of loves you, too.
There are worse clichés to be had.