Actions

Work Header

Con Affetto

Work Text:

The Bellas come in second at the Haverford Halloween Hoedown, losing out to the Treble Makers by a narrow margin. Beca tells herself it's not because she caught a glance of Jesse's face just before she went into her solo on their last song, but she's pretty sure that’s a lie; his face had been sad in a way that twisted her up inside, made it feel like she didn't have room in there for the air to hold her notes, and so her voice was thin and full of vibrato when it should have been strong and steady.

 

The ride on the bus back to Barden is quiet, the way it often is after a loss, and no one bugs Beca about Jesse or her bad performance, which lets her know exactly how bad it was. She spends the ride listening to her latest mix over and over, and is on her fourth repeat when she feels her seat shift under the weight of someone sitting down beside her.

 

"Hey," Chloe says.

 

Beca takes her right earbud out. "What's up?"

 

Chloe shrugs. "How are you doing?"

 

"Fine."

 

Chloe looks at her like she knows Beca is anything but.  "What's going on with you and Jesse?"

 

Beca feels her heart speed up. "What do you mean?"

 

"I saw his face just before your solo," Chloe says. "Did you guys have a fight?"

 

"No."  She and Jesse never fought after Nationals. Fighting might have been better than what they'd had instead, a relationship where everything after that first big kiss at Nationals felt like a faded copy of what had come before.  "We broke up a couple of days ago. It's fine. We're still friends. I'm fine."

 

Beca can hear how not-fine-at-all she sounds, but Chloe doesn't fight her on it. She looks at her thoughtfully, but doesn't say anything. Beca doesn't know if she's relieved or disappointed.

 

They sit in silence for a while, listening to the rattling hum of the old bus's engine. Chloe had pulled her hair off her face for the last number and it's falling out of its pins now. She'd arrived in the fall with a messy bob, such a change that Beca almost didn't recognize her at their first meeting, and even now, weeks later, sometimes she catches Chloe out of the corner of her eye and has to take a second look. In the dim light of the bus tonight she seems like another new version of herself, until she looks over at Beca with a familiar smile and says, "What are you listening to?"

 

"A new mix I'm working on."

 

"Can I hear it?"

 

Beca's usually not shy about showing things to people, but it takes her a second to pass over an earbud. "It isn't done yet. There's something not quite right about it, but I can't figure out what, exactly. It should work, but-"

 

Chloe gives her a look as she places the earbud in her ear. "I'm sure it's great, and if it isn't, I'll have them slow the bus down before I throw you off it."

 

"Whatever," Beca says, rolling her eyes, but she presses play. She sits and listens to the mix again, hoping that Chloe listening will shake something loose for her about why it isn't working, but it doesn't, mostly because Beca doesn't really think about the mix at all. Instead she catches herself looking Chloe's way to see if she likes it, aware of how close they're leaning together to share the earbuds.

 

The bus takes a sharp turn that makes Chloe lean into Beca, pressing up against her side. Beca knows that if she'd been Chloe in that moment, she would have put a hand out on the seat in front of her to keep herself upright and apart from whomever she was sitting beside, but Chloe doesn't. She leans into Beca like it's nothing, the same way she stood in front of her in the shower like it's nothing a year before, for reasons Beca still can't figure out. It's like Chloe carries a certainty deep inside where Beca only seems to have sharp edges and insecurity.

 

Beca looks over at Chloe when the mix ends. She seems lost in her own thoughts for a moment but then catches herself, handing over the earbud with a smile. "It's good."

 

"It's really not." Beca takes the other earbud out of her own ear and cradles them both in one hand.

 

Chloe leans in. "You should learn how to take a compliment."

 

"I can take a compliment if I've earned it."

 

Chloe shrugs. "You'd know better than me. I liked it."

 

Chloe's sitting closer than she had been at first, a warm presence along her right side, but instead of making her uncomfortable, Beca feels like she wants to keep her sitting there, but doesn't know how. Before she can figure something out, Chloe leans back against the seat like she isn't planning on going anywhere soon. "Got anything on there you will take a compliment for?"

 

"Maybe." Beca hands the earbud back and leans her head toward Chloe. It takes a long stretch of time to pick the next song.

 

~~

 

Beca thinks she's handling the breakup pretty well after that, but apparently not well enough. When Amy returns to the dorm room they share late on Thursday afternoon, just before the last commercial break of Beca's fourth episode of Law and Order: SVU of the day, Amy reacts as if she's walked in on an actual crime scene.

 

"Oh no." Amy leans against the door she's just shut behind her. "It's worse than I feared."

 

"What is?" Beca says, pulling her hair into a ponytail.

 

"No, don't do that!" Amy snatches the elastic out of Beca's hair with such force that Beca's pretty sure she's lost a chunk of hair.

 

"Ow! What the-"

 

Before she can finish, someone knocks on the door. "Is she ready?"

 

"Ready for what?" Beca asks as Amy opens the door to a flood of Bellas.

 

Aubrey's the first through the door and looks at Amy in an accusatory way after taking in Beca's outfit and general condition. "You were supposed to tell her to be ready at six."

 

"Ready for what?" Beca asks, feeling increasingly uneasy. The Bellas aren't wearing dining hall dress, or emergency-practice-session outfits. Chloe moves to stand in her usual position beside Aubrey, and Beca notices eyeliner applied with a heavier touch than usual on her and everyone else in the room. They're dressed to go out.

 

Beca scoots to the edge of the bed. "Amy-"

 

"I knew if I told her to be ready at six, she'd be anywhere but here," Amy says. "She's basically become a full-on hermit aside from classes and practice, and I didn't want to spook her. I did suggest, gently, that she consider transitioning out of elastic waistbands sometime today-"

 

"Amy, you said you could handle this," Aubrey says, each syllable enunciated in that carefully gentle way that communicates how profoundly disappointed she is. "Now we only have ten minutes to get this-" Aubrey nods in Beca's direction in a not-quite-unkind way. "-situation under control or we're going to lose our prime position at Carapello's. Stacie, find something Beca can wear. Chloe will do her makeup, and I'll figure out something to do with her hair. Has it been washed today?"

 

Aubrey's tone implies that this would be too much to hope for, and Beca finds herself answering without thinking. "Of course it has! I mean, I think so. Maybe. Yesterday, definitely. Or the day before."

 

Chloe shrugs like it's not a concern. "It's always easier to style hair a day or two after it's been washed. Sit here."

 

Chloe pats the back of Beca's desk chair and Beca moves to sit in it without really thinking about it. After she does, she looks down at the old T-shirt and sweatpants she's been wearing for most of the last week and raises a hand to touch her hair.

 

Aubrey brushes it away. "This is my work area now."

 

"I do know how to do my own hair. And makeup," Beca says, when Chloe steps over with Beca's makeup bag.

 

"We know you do. But you don't have to." Chloe pulls a makeup removal sheet out of Beca's bag. Beca wipes her face with it and when she opens her eyes again, she sees over Chloe's shoulder that Stacie is going through her closet with Lilly and Amy, each arguing in favor of a different shirt, trying to garner support from the rest of the Bellas.

 

Chloe applies a dot of foundation to Beca's forehead, cheeks, and chin and starts blending with her fingers. Her touch is gentle, and Beca feels shy when Chloe catches her eye and smiles.  Beca closes her eyes and suddenly Stacie and the rest of the Bellas sound further away than across the room. Aubrey is doing some kind of side-ponytail that Beca would have rolled her eyes at a year ago, because of course Aubrey's idea of the best possible hairstyle is one close to what she wears most often, but now Beca appreciates can see the good heart behind Aubrey's sure-handedness.

 

Aubrey offers an opinion on Beca's outfit and Beca keeps her eyes closed, Chloe having moved on from foundation and concealer to applying blush and eye shadow. Chloe brushes some of the blush away with her fingers and then blows, and Beca feels a strange unsettled feeling in her stomach that makes her freeze in place. Chloe's breath smells like the orange Tic-Tacs she always has with her, and for some reason that makes Beca smile even though she still feels funny inside.

 

"What?"

 

"Nothing," Beca says. "Except that this is all ridiculous."

 

"I don't think so," Chloe says. "Open your eyes. I need to do your mascara."

 

Beca opens her eyes and Chloe is all Beca can see.

 

~~

 

Carapello's turns out to be a bar that has open-mic karaoke nights on Thursdays, and by the time the Bellas get there, they discover they'll have to sit through eight other singers before one of them gets on. Beca almost feels bad about holding them up, but Aubrey and Chloe take this news with a satisfied nod.

 

"Perfect. Beca gets the first spot," Aubrey says, leaning over to write her name in the book. The other girls jostle around Aubrey, arguing about who will go on when, and Beca lets herself fall to the outskirts of the group. She finds an empty table and sits down, looking up at the stage where a pair of frat guys are making their way through an awful rendition of the Flintstones theme song, which has an extra verse that neither Beca or the guys onstage are prepared for.

 

"Ready to get up there?"

 

Chloe sits down at the table and puts a beer down in front of Beca. Chloe takes a sip from her own and holds it up to the guys onstage, who are doing a terrible job holding down the last note of the song.

 

"I guess. I have to figure out what to sing," Beca says, watching a pair of shy-looking girls who look like they belong in middle school shuffle onstage. "How old are those two? How did they get in here?"

 

"How did you get that drink? Lots of questions don't need to be considered too carefully in Carapello's. Including what to sing."

 

"What do you mean?" Beca takes a sip from her beer and winces when the opening strains of Rolling in the Deep begin. "Oh, girls. No."

 

"Maybe they can do it, you never know," Chloe says, but she has to lean forward a few seconds later when the girls' voices are too soft to carry across the club. When the chorus comes along and the girls haven't gotten any louder, Chloe puts down her beer and cups her hands around her mouth. "Come on girls, you've got this!"

 

The girls look up in surprise and Beca puts a hand over her eyes, still able to see out of the corner of her eye the double thumbs-up Chloe is flashing toward the stage. But when the second verse starts, the girls' voices are clearer; off-pitch, but they carry across the room.

 

Beca puts her hand down and looks at Chloe, who smiles and says, "Don't worry, we didn't pick Adele for you."

 

Beca squints at her. "What do you mean, you didn't pick Adele for me?"

 

"It's a Bella tradition," Chloe says, as if it's obvious. "No one picks their own song."

 

"This is the first I’m hearing of this tradition," Beca says.

 

"I know. Things were a little chaotic last year, we never got to come here. Usually it's one of the big BBAs - Bella Bonding Activities." 

 

"So we come here and sing karaoke, but we're at the mercy of other people's song choices?" Beca squints at Chloe. "I feel like you might be making all of this up."

 

Chloe shrugs and takes another drink from her beer, applauding for the girls onstage as they wrap up the song. "Get your pipes ready."

 

"What if I don't know the song?"

 

"You'll know it," Chloe says.

 

~~

 

"I can't believe you guys had me sing Irreplaceable," Beca says later that night. She's talking a little louder than she needs to, because she's a little drunker than she expected to be; she and Chloe are walking the last few blocks to campus half a block behind the other Bellas, who are engaged in a chaotic rendition of a Britney Spears song further down the street. "Such a cliché. Also, kind of inappropriate, since Jesse definitely did not cheat on me."

 

"Why did you guys break up?" Chloe asks.

 

All the others have asked, and Beca's never felt the need to give anything more than a generic answer, but this is the first time Chloe has and also the first time Beca feels like answering. Beca slows her steps further, lets the Bellas get further ahead.

 

"You don't have to tell me," Chloe says.

 

"No, it's not that. It's that I can't really explain it. I like Jesse a lot. He's great. And I really thought we'd be great together. I wouldn't have orchestrated a big musical number centered around him if I didn't believe it was something big."

 

"I know," Chloe says, her voice soft in a way that makes Beca realize how defensive she must have sounded.

 

"I know you know. It's just – I always thought in high school it was that the guys were all so immature and stupid, but Jesse's not immature or stupid. And he really liked me. Maybe I'm just not good at stuff like that, or -"

 

Here Beca shrugs, unable to finish the sentence. Chloe nods in an understanding way that makes Beca feel like she doesn't have to find whatever belonged on the end of it.

 

They walk the next half-block in silence, turning the corner to see the Bellas far ahead. Beca raises a hand to wave them off when Amy turns back and opens her arms wide in a what's-taking-so-long gesture. Beca tells herself it's because she doesn't want to run down the block in the heels Stacie picked out for her, but mostly it's because she likes walking down the sidewalk beside Chloe, the late-October air cool around them.

 

"Have you ever -"

 

This time Chloe doesn't finish her sentence. Beca looks over at her. "Have I ever what?"

 

"Tried anything with girls?" Chloe asks, in a way that's not ashamed or embarrassed but still somehow hesitant.

 

It makes Beca feel careful about answering. "No. I never really – no."

 

Chloe shrugs. "Maybe you should."

 

Beca lets the thought roll around in her head until the next corner, when she finds herself hesitating to step off the curb and cross the street. Chloe does and looks back when she notices Beca hasn't followed, her expression open and curious.

 

"Have you ever done that?"

 

"Do what? Cross the street? We've done it a few times already, but if you need a reminder-"

 

"You know what I meant," Beca says.

 

"Beca," Chloe says. "Why do you think I brought it up?"

 

"Oh," Beca says, but there must be something in her expression or how she says it, because Chloe smiles and steps back onto the sidewalk.

 

"Yes," Chloe says. "Oh."

 

Before Beca can think any more about it, Chloe's stepped closer to her, close enough that Beca can smell the orange Tic-Tacs again. Chloe's hands are cold when she places them on the side of Beca's face, but her mouth is warm against hers, her lips soft. Beca doesn't react for a long moment, surprise and uncertainty making her still, but then something inside kicks loose and she finds herself kissing Chloe back, putting a hand on Chloe's waist, pulling her closer.

 

Chloe smiles against her mouth and then pulls away. "How was that?"

 

"That was – that was good," Beca says. "A little public, maybe."

 

"There's no one around," Chloe says, shrugging. She leans in to kiss her again, but at the last moment holds back.

 

The hesitation makes Beca realize how badly she'd wanted more, her disappointment sharp and swift, but all Chloe does is say, "Okay?"

 

"Yeah, okay," Beca says. "Definitely okay."

 

~~

 

Beca spends a long time lying in bed awake when she should be asleep after getting home, listening to Amy laughing to herself as she texts someone, the only light in the room the dim glow from Amy's phone.

 

"Amy," Beca says, and hears Amy take a sharp breath of surprise across the room.

 

"Jesus, Beca, I thought you fell asleep ages ago. You scared the shit out of me. Not literally, thank God," Amy says. "Or are you talking in your sleep again?"

 

"I don't talk in my sleep."

 

"Sure you do. Not every night, but at least once a week I have a nice conversation with your subconscious. Last week it was about needing to buy green beans for Mr. Pursley."

 

"He was my high school principal. Weird," Beca says. "Kimmy Jin never mentioned it."

 

"But Kimmy Jin never spoke to you at all, did she?"

 

Beca hears the bedclothes rustle across the room and the quiet clunk of Amy's phone being placed on the nighstand. "All right. I'm convinced you're actually awake. What's up?"

 

Beca presses her lips together, unsure why she'd said anything in the first place.

 

Amy lets out an impatient huff. "I hope you didn't make me cut off a very promising textual flirtation to listen to you gnaw at your lips."

 

Beca stops doing exactly that and looks over toward Amy's bed. In the darkness she's nothing but a shape across the room, but it's become a familiar one. Beca's learned that Amy stays up late and sleeps later, that she always has granola bars and doesn't mind sharing them, and that she can create a nearly-perfect manicure without using any nail polish remover. Picking her as a roommate had seemed risky in the spring, but now it feels weird to think of living with anyone else.

 

And so Beca finds herself able to say, "Do you know how girls sometimes in college, they like, experiment? With other girls? Have you done that?"

 

A long, tension-filled pause follows during which Beca finds herself gnawing at her lips again before Amy's voice carries across the room. "First of all, Beca, I'm flattered –"

 

Beca presses her hands against her eyes. "No, I didn't mean for us to – not that you're not –"

 

"I have to say, this middle of the night chat session is quite a roller coaster for my self-confidence," Amy says, but her voice carries her usual detached amusement, no hurt behind it. "Anyway, the answer is no. Girls don't really get my motor running, if you know what I mean."

 

"I know what you mean," Beca says before Amy can elaborate.

 

"I find I really need a sense of fullness that only-"

 

"I get it, I get it," Beca says, laughing.

 

"Why do you ask? Do you, uh. Want to experiment?"

 

Beca doesn't answer. She's not sure why she started the conversation in the first place, now.

 

"Do you want me to talk to Cynthia Rose for you or-"

 

"No!"

 

"That was quick. So I'm not your type, Cynthia Rose isn't-" The bedclothes rustle more and Beca realizes that Amy is sitting up. "You already have experimented with someone! Who is it? Is this why Jesse got kicked to the curb? Irreplaceable really was not a good song choice, then. We should have had him sing it."

 

"No, you shouldn't have, because that is not what happened," Beca says. "I didn't break up with Jesse because of that."

 

But something about that last statement feels not entirely true to Beca after she says it. She doesn't want to think about it further and so she rolls onto her side so she's facing Amy across the room. She can see from the shadows that Amy is pulling her hair up into a ponytail again.

 

"Hmm," Amy says, in a considering way. "Who's the lucky lady, then?"

 

"Who were you texting before?"

 

"You first," Amy says. "Or how's about I guess: Chloe."

 

"How-"

 

"My amazing powers of deduction. You two disappeared at the end of karaoke tonight and now you have all these questions about messing around with girls. Also there's the fact that she's had a crush on you for ages."

 

"Chloe does not have a crush on me," Beca says. She's grateful for the darkness of the room because this, for whatever reason, is the thing that finally makes her blush. "What are you talking about?"

 

"Whatever. Your turn.  Guess my guy."

 

Amy says this in a smug way, sure Beca won't know, but Beca doesn't even have to think about it, able to say, "Dave Huxley, the new countertenor for the Treblemakers " while most of her mind is still trying to place Amy's comment about Chloe into the framework of how she knows her.

 

"How-"

 

"Powers of deduction," Beca says, smiling to herself. "You're not the only one who pays attention."

 

~~

The Bellas don’t have practice again until Tuesday, which gives Beca plenty of time to prepare herself to see Chloe again. She spends most of the weekend in the radio station and Sunday evening in the library working on a Psych paper, keeping herself as busy as possible and not thinking about Chloe at all, so much so that she almost yelps in surprise when Chloe sits down across from her at her table in the back of the library.

 

She's wearing a dark blue sweater and her usual smile when she says, "Hey."

 

"Hey," Beca says back, and that's it. Her mind can't call up anything else.

 

"Mind if I sit here?" Chloe asks, putting her hand on the chair across from Beca, the gesture identical to when she'd asked Beca to sit down so she could do her makeup before karaoke. It makes Beca remember those moments, Chloe's fingers on her face, and-

 

"Of course not," Beca says, pulling her laptop closer to make sure Chloe has room on the other side. She feels like she might be blushing, which is mortifying, so she slouches down in her chair a little to hide behind her laptop's screen. A coward's move, but she's never claimed to be brave.

 

"What are you working on?" Chloe asks.

 

"A paper for my Psych class," Beca says.

 

"Who's the professor?"

 

"Blaine."

 

Chloe nods. "He's tough."

 

Beca hears a soft whirr of the laptop turning on and watches Chloe dig around in her bag for something else. She's not sure what she's looking for in Chloe; something different, mostly. Some sign that Chloe's feeling the same rattled energy inside that Beca's been carrying and trying to ignore the last four days, some signal that Beca's not the only one affected.

 

But Chloe just looks up with a smile when she finds what she's looking for (a battered copy of Middlemarch), the same kind of smile Beca's received from her so many times since they met the fall before. "Found it."

 

"Yay," Beca says, and then wants to die some more.  She's never yay-ed over anything in her life, but it's like her normal script has been replaced by every stupid thing she's ever rolled her eyes at someone else saying. Maybe she's been cursed.

 

"I've been putting off this paper all week, but I need to get it done tonight," Chloe says, intent on her computer screen.

 

"Me too." Beca looks back at her own. She stares at the blinking cursor at the end of the paragraph she'd been working on about operant conditioning and tries to remember what the next sentence was supposed to be.

 

Chloe starts typing something on her laptop and Beca looks up sharply, irritated to realize again that she's the only one at the table not acting like her usual self. The only one who can't think about her stupid paper because all that comes to mind are other things: Chloe's hair between her fingers, the rush of cool air at Beca's side when Chloe pushed her shirt up and placed a hand on the exposed skin of her waist. The embarrassing sound Beca heard herself make when Chloe broke their kiss and moved her lips to the spot just under Beca's ear. All Beca can think of is that.

 

Beca starts typing into the Word document because she feels dumb just staring at it. She types, Get it together, Beca. Get it together.

 

She types those words seventeen times before she can get herself to focus back on the paper, but even then it's a half-effort, because she keeps finding herself looking up and across the table at Chloe. She never catches her looking back.

 

~~

 

Chloe lets out a sigh at around ten-thirty and closes her laptop. "I am admitting defeat. You ready to go?"

 

"Sure," Beca says, even though her paper is nowhere close to done. Beca notices a message on her phone while she's packing up her things and clicks to open it.

 

It's from Amy, and it reads, Necktie on the door, roomie. Find someplace else to be tonight.

 

"What is it?"

 

Beca looks up. "Text from Amy. She's got company, so."

 

"Ah," Chloe says, nodding. "One of the benefits of being an upperclassman. Don't run into that problem in a single."

 

"I guess I could go to my Dad's." Beca grimaces at the thought as she slings her bag over one shoulder.

 

"You sound excited about that."

 

"Things are better with him," Beca says. "It's just kind of awkward. And I still hate my stepmother."

 

"Well," Chloe says, pushing the door to the library open. The air is damp and cool outside with a strong wind, and she has to brush her hair out of her eyes before she says. "You could always come stay with me."

 

"Oh," Beca says, because she doesn't know what else to say. A week ago she would have said okay without hesitating. Now she's not so sure.

 

"I mean," Chloe says, and in her voice Beca hears the first sign of nerves the whole night. "Not like, with-me with me. Unless you wanted to. No pressure, is what I'm saying."

 

It's so incredibly awkward that Beca should run for the hills, but instead something in her feels like singing right there outside the library. Instead she says, "Sure, okay, fine."

 

~~

 

Chloe's room is even tinier than Beca's, her bed up on a loft with her dresser and desk beneath it. There's nowhere for Beca to sleep but in the bed with Chloe, which Beca had known; she'd been in Chloe's room before, she'd seen the layout, she's reasonably spatially intelligent.

 

Still it doesn't quite feel real until they're standing in Chloe's room together, each of them getting ready for bed, Chloe going through her drawers to find something for Beca to sleep in. Beca finds herself paying more attention to Chloe's room than she ever has in the past; she notices posters with the skylines of different cities around the world.

 

"You like to travel?"

 

"I'd like to." Chloe turns around with a pair of shorts and a green T-shirt in her hands. "Haven't had much of a chance."

 

Beca takes the clothes from Chloe. "Where do you want to go?"

 

"Lots of places. Paris, definitely," Chloe says. She says other stuff, too, but Beca doesn't really process it because as she says it, Chloe pulls her shirt over her head and then starts unbuttoning her jeans.

 

Beca turns around and tries to focus on Chloe's voice while she changes as quickly as she can. Chloe's talking about the Mediterranean now, her voice muffled by a T-shirt going over her head.

 

"The Mediterranean, huh?" Beca says as she pulls the shorts up over her hips. She pulls her hair out of the T-shirt and pulls it off her face with the elastic on her wrist.

 

"Yeah, definitely," Chloe says. "Can you think of anything more beautiful?"

 

When Beca turns around, Chloe's hair is held back by an old fabric headband and she's wearing a blue T-shirt and black shorts. She's staring at the poster on her wall that depicts a series of old houses cut into a Cliffside next to water so blue it looks like it must have been photo-corrected.

 

"No, definitely, it looks great."

 

"How early do you have to be up tomorrow?" Chloe says, climbing up onto the bed. She reaches down for Beca, who allows herself to be pulled up alongside. Beca settles in while Chloe fiddles with her phone, and does her best to remind herself that things are totally normal, fine, she can handle this.

 

Beca realizes Chloe is waiting for her answer. "A little before seven. I'll have to go back and get something to wear before class."

 

"We're set," Chloe says, putting the phone on a floating shelf on the wall.

 

Chloe turns on her side to face Beca, who stays on her back. She feels like she's waiting for something, but she's not sure what, whether it's the courage to make a decision or for Chloe to make the decision for her.

 

Beca turns her head to look at Chloe and sees that she's watching her, her eyes wide in the dim room. Chloe's room faces the parking lot and the security lights mean that her room never gets the kind of dark Beca's does, and so Beca can still make out the different streaks of red in her hair, the blue of her eyes.

 

"Your eyes are the same blue as the Mediterranean in that poster," Beca says.

 

Chloe leans in close to Beca, her breath warm against her ear when she whispers, "Do you want to know a secret?"

 

"What?" Beca whispers, even though there's no one to overhear.

 

"That's why I bought it."

 

Beca smiles at the ceiling and then turns on her side so that she's facing Chloe. It feels like whatever she'd been waiting for has happened, though she couldn’t' say what exactly it was. "Jesse hasn't spoken more than three words to me since we broke up."

 

"That sucks," Chloe says.

 

"I get it. I just don't want that to happen again," Beca says. "I don't want-"

 

Chloe turns her head into the pillow in a way that pushes her back toward the wall. "We don't have to-"

 

"No, I want to," Beca says, and saying it out loud makes her feel brave. "I just don't want-"

 

Chloe looks at her for a long moment and then shrugs. "We're friends, and that won't change. We'll just be friends who do other stuff, too."

"Just friends? That can work?"

 

"I don't see why not," Chloe says. "What do you think?"

 

Beca answers by kissing her, a little awkwardly at first. But then Chloe leans up and Beca slides over and then it's not awkward at all, it's that night on the street all over again but better, Chloe's body warm alongside hers. 

 

~~

 

Beca spends most of the time she's not spending in class or with Chloe worrying about the first practice with the Bellas, but things go the way they always do. No one seems to notice anything, except Amy, who's sworn herself to secrecy but still gives Chloe a not-so-covert thumbs-up, and Aubrey, who gives Beca a few looks during practice that remind Beca too much of the year before. 

 

Beca pulls her headphones off and looks over at Chloe a few hours later. They're hanging out in the basement of the library, in a corner where almost no one has passed by during their hour there; Chloe is working on another paper while Beca has been trying to figure out the same troublesome mix she's been working on for weeks, and their isolation makes it possible for her to not worry about people overhearing her humming to herself as she tries to figure out pieces of it.

 

"Did you tell Aubrey about us?"

 

"She's my best friend," Chloe says, in a distracted way. "Why is this footnote refusing to appear? Stupid Word – anyway, you told Amy, right?"

 

"Sure," Beca says. "But Amy didn't give you dirty looks all through practice."

 

Chloe looks up at that. "Aubrey didn't do that."

 

"She kinda did."

 

Chloe looks back at her computer. "She's kind of protective. Don't pay any attention. I'll talk to her."

 

Beca stares at Chloe, but she doesn't look up, and something in Chloe's tone, the quick and dismissive way she said what she did, makes Beca hesitate to ask anything further. She finds herself wondering if Chloe might be upset with her, or angry, even though Beca can't figure out a reason why that might be true. Beca puts on her headphones and goes back to the mix, distracted by what might be wrong.

 

A half hour later Chloe announces she needs a break from her paper and says Beca needs one too. Beca can tell from the look in her eye the kind of break Chloe's suggesting, and the relief she feels at the way Chloe looks at her makes everything she'd felt for the last thirty minutes evaporate.

 

Beca shrugs in a questioning way. "Do you want to get some food, or-"

 

"Or," Chloe says, tilting her head toward the stacks.

 

"Or we go look at books?" Beca says, deliberately misunderstanding her.

 

"There are a lot of books worth looking at. Sometimes you need to look at them multiple times to fully appreciate them," Chloe says, looking solemn.

 

"Is that so?"

 

"It is so." Chloe stands up and walks toward the nearest row, disappearing entirely from view after she's taken a few steps. Even though Beca knows she's close by, seeing her vanish makes her stomach lurch in an odd way.

 

Beca casts another look around to make sure no one's close before following, but part of her suspects she'd have followed even if someone had been. When she finds Chloe pretending to read a book about irrigation in the mid-seventeenth century, she knows it to be true.

 

~~

 

The first sign that things might not be going according to plan appears around Thanksgiving, when Chloe goes home for the long weekend to see her family.

 

"Going to miss me?" Chloe asks after she finishes packing her things Tuesday night, in that voice she's started using since she and Beca started doing this whatever-they-were-doing. Her tone is light but also a little weighted, like the thing she's saying might not be a joke exactly, and hearing it always makes Beca hesitate before answering, wondering if she should give a different answer than she normally would.

 

"Stop fishing," Beca says this time. "It's only five days."

 

Chloe rolls her eyes and zips up her coat. "I think you're going to miss me."

 

Beca smirks, but when Chloe kisses her good-bye, Beca's finds herself clutching at the slick fabric of Chloe's coat, like she's trying to hold her in place, and when Beca wakes up the next morning and faces a day when she knows for sure she won't see Chloe, she feels hollow inside. She tells herself she's hungry, even goes downstairs and eats breakfast in the almost-entirely-deserted dining hall, but it doesn't go away no matter how many bowls of cereal she eats, or how many second helpings of mashed potatoes she has at the awkward Thanksgiving dinner she shares with her father and stepmother the next day.

 

The only time it abates at all is when her phone chimes with a message from Chloe, and even when it's nothing, just a few words or a picture of her turkey dinner, it's like part of that hollow feeling gets filled in for a moment, only to feel more empty when her phone goes quiet.

 

Beca feels pretty pathetic over feeling so eager for these technological facsimiles of Chloe, so much so that she's considering sending a text to Chloe that says, Okay fine, I admit it, I kind of miss you, but she hesitates, cautious about sending a message she knows Chloe would have sent in a heartbeat.

 

But she's grateful for that hesitation later, when her Facebook feed updates with a bunch of pictures Chloe had been tagged in from Wednesday night. Chloe looks great in them, happy and laughing, bright-eyed and the kind of drunk Beca recognizes from nights they've spent out together. Beca rolls her eyes at Chloe dancing in one picture, clicks forward to the next, and she sees the one that makes her glad she sent the I kind of miss you text to her drafts folder.

 

In the picture Chloe is kissing a guy, her fingers curled over his biceps to pull him close, and Beca feels a rush of so many things at once that she feels sick – anger and confusion and a sad, desperate hope that she's misunderstanding something. She tries to tell herself it could be an old picture, but Chloe's hair is exactly the way Beca saw it the other day, just below her chin, growing out the bob she'd gotten over the summer. She tries to tell herself it shouldn't matter because they're not supposed to be anything serious anyway, certainly nothing exclusive, but it doesn't change the awful sick feeling she can't shake loose.

 

Beca doesn't answer any of Chloe's texts after that.

 

~~

 

Chloe shows up at Beca's door Sunday night, rolling her suitcase behind her. Beca sees her check the room to make sure Beca's alone before she says, "Why haven't you responded to me?"

 

"I got really busy," Beca says. "Sorry."

 

Chloe gives her a hard look. "Bullshit. What's going on?"

 

"Nothing's going on," Beca shrugs, feeling her heart speed up at the lie. "I just – I started thinking, maybe we should kind of, I don't know. Cool it."

 

Chloe's face goes still. "Cool it? Any particular reason?"

 

"Nothing in particular," Beca says, surprised at how steady her voice sounds. "Things were getting kind of intense, you know? I think we should just be friends now."

 

"Just friends," Chloe repeats, and even though Beca is mad at her, even though part of her had been desperate to punish Chloe after she saw that picture on Facebook, she feels an awful pang deep inside when she sees the confused hurt flash across Chloe's face. "I just don't get-nevermind."

 

Chloe turns and walks away, the sound of her boots clicking on the hallway and the suitcase rolling behind her echoing in Beca's ears long after she hears the door close at the end of the hall.

 

~~

 

Chloe acts completely normal the next time Beca sees her, smiling when Beca joins the group of Bellas at the university a capella holiday concert, her, "Hey" as warm as it ever was before they went to karaoke, if maybe missing the extra note Beca always heard in it after that.

 

Beca tries to match her, but knows she's doing a bad job of it when Amy gives her a sharp jab with her elbow after they've finished their first song and the Treble Makers are doing theirs. "How come you didn't tell me things were off with Chloe?"

 

"You weren't around to tell," Beca says, because she's in the mood to be uncharitable toward everyone.

 

"Listen, don’t let your disastrous love life sour you toward people in your life who actually know what they're doing-ow," Amy says, when Beca jabs her with her elbow. "What I mean is, you should have told me. What happened?"

 

"Nothing happened. It just ended."

 

Amy lets out a groan. "Are we going down this road again? Are you incapable of talking about why your relationships end? I think that's something you should explore with a therapist."

 

"I'm not incapable," Beca says.

 

"You just don't want to," Amy says. "Not sure if that's healthier."

 

Beca sighs. "What do you want me to tell you, Amy?"

 

"I'd like for you to tell me the reason you two stopped the Great Lesbian Experiment of Fall Semester, obviously, I think I've been very clear about that with my very direct questions on the subject."

 

"Okay, so you want to know the reason?" The combination of irritation with Amy in this moment and lingering anger at Chloe brings the words out of Beca in a rush. "The reason I broke things off is because when she went home for Thanksgiving, within twenty-four hours of leaving here, she was making out with some guy in a bar."

 

"That's what this is about?"

 

Beca feels cold inside at the sound of Chloe's voice, followed by a rush of nausea so severe she's convinced she's going to repeat Aubrey's performance from Nationals a year and a half before. She looks at Amy in accusation for not telling her, but Amy looks as aghast as Beca feels.

 

Beca turns around. "So you're eavesdropping now."

 

Chloe looks taken aback by the harshness in Beca's tone, and Beca is a little bit, too. She'd decided to go to the event on her best behavior, but it's like she's forgotten how to be anything but horrible. Chloe folds her arms across her chest. "It's not eavesdropping if you're saying something loud enough for people to hear it in the third row."

 

"Guys," Aubrey says, stepping up to them with an anxious expression on her face. "People are starting to look."

"Let them look," Chloe says, but she allows Aubrey to usher them away from the stage. By the time Chloe speaks again, they're alone. "You were the one who wanted things to be casual. That was your thing."

 

"I know," Beca says. It feels like the sure ground she'd been standing on has crumbled beneath her feet.

 

"So?"

 

"So, I don't know," Beca says, because she knows Chloe is right. She'd wanted things to be casual. She'd said it all along. "So I'm sorry, I guess."

 

"Not a great apology," Chloe says, and walks away. Beca's too much of a coward to call her back.

 

~~

 

It's like Jesse all over again after that, only worse. Instead of feeling a kind of phantom pain over the breakup the way she did with Jesse, an echo of the true heartbreak she saw on Jesse's face, she feels the real thing, an ache that starts at the center of her and seems to radiate out, one so strong she's surprised the rest of the world doesn't feel it.

 

She figures it will go away, fade with time, but it just gets sharper every time Beca sees Chloe. She finds herself wondering how things could have gone differently; if she'd taken Chloe's goodbye more seriously and answered honestly, "Yeah, of course I'll miss you" instead of rolling her eyes. If she'd called Chloe right when she saw the picture, or said something to her right when she got back.

 

Basically, if she'd done anything but what she did do, which was the worst.

 

"Definitely the worst," Amy confirms when Beca tells her the whole of it.

 

"You're not being a very supportive roommate."

 

"Truth-tellers are more valuable than supportive people," Amy says.

 

"But not as popular."

"That's for sure," Amy says. "So, what are you going to do about it?"

 

Beca turns her head on her pillow. They're having another after-dark conversation across their room. "Do?"

 

"Yeah, do. You're obviously still into her."


This is the place where Beca would usually deny something like this, but she doesn't. "I don't know."

 

"Well, Aubrey's got a plan to heal the rift among the Bellas."

 

"Are you kidding me? That's ridiculous, we-"

 

"Everything isn't entirely about you, Beca. Apparently Lilly and Stacie both liked the same professor, and it ended badly. You've missed a fair bit with your romantic drama lately. I think she's planning to schedule another karaoke night. You could do something there. It is, after all, where it all began. Rather poetic."

 

"Rather corny," Beca says, and feels the soft weight of a pillow land on her midsection a moment later, having been tossed across the room by Amy.

 

"Who's the one in a decent relationship right now?"

 

"You got me there," Beca says. "I'll think about it."

 

~~

 

Beca thinks about it. She thinks about it all through the next practice, where Aubrey announces the karaoke date, and watches Chloe's face for any reaction, but can't make out the meaning of what she finds there. Beca keeps reading over their past together and tries to make the pieces fit but feels like she's missing the biggest part of it, which is how Chloe really feels.

 

"Only one way to find out," Amy says at karaoke a few nights later. They're sharing a table this time, Chloe sitting across the room with Aubrey. "I put your song in as requested."

 

"Thanks," Beca says, but as the night goes on and her slot gets closer, she becomes more and more unsure. She watches other bar patrons and fellow Bellas onstage with an uncertain knot in her stomach. By the time Stacie and Lilly are making their way through Islands in the Stream onstage, the last slot before hers, the idea of getting up there and singing is inconceivable.

 

Beca walks over to Chloe and Aubrey's table and stops next to Chloe's chair. "Would you talk with me for a minute? Outside?"

 

"You can talk right here," Aubrey says, her voice cold. She's been polite to Beca since the holiday concert, but never more than that.

 

"No," Chloe says, after giving Beca a curious look. "It's fine. I'll go outside."

 

The air outside is cold and Beca regrets not bringing her jacket. She folds her arms across her chest and stares at Chloe for a long moment before saying, "I know I said it before, but I wanted to say it again because I really mean it. I'm sorry. I was stupid. I shouldn't have done what I did. It was dumb and immature and you're right, we are friends, and I should have stayed true to that. So I'm sorry I let you down."

 

Chloe watches Beca steadily through the awkward speech, and says at the end of it, "It's okay. I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have done what I did either. I only did it was because I was mad at you, and that's not really cool, so. I'm sorry."

 

Beca  can tell Chloe means it, and knows this could be the end of it. They could go inside and go back to being just friends for real, something close to what they were before. But Beca can't quiet the hope that came alive inside when she heard Chloe say, I only did it because I was mad at you, and so she doesn't move to go back inside.

 

"About the just friends thing. I don't want us to just be friends. We can, if you want to, but I'd rather not. I want to be with you pretty much all the time. I don't like to see you with other people. I'd rather – I mean –" Beca finds she's run out of words and the breath to use to say them, and so she takes a deep breath and lets it out before saying, "I should have stuck with the original plan."

 

"Original plan?" Chloe's voice sounds funny. "There was a plan?"

 

 "I was going to go up there and sing a song to you." Hearing it said out loud makes Beca wince. "Because that worked out so well for me the first time. Man. What is wrong with me?"

 

"Nothing is wrong with you," Chloe steps closer and takes Beca's face in her hands the way she did that first night. This close Beca can see that Chloe's voice sounds funny because she's crying, or trying not to, and that everything she feels deep inside is written all over Chloe's face.

 

Beca pulls Chloe closer and kisses her, tries to put everything she couldn't find a way to say out loud into the kiss, into how tightly she holds on to Chloe after. 

 

"What song were you going to sing?" Chloe asks, after a while.

 

"I Can't Make You Love Me."

 

Chloe lets out a watery laugh. "That's a terrible choice."


"What are you talking about? It's a classic torch song. One of the best."

 

"No doubt, but no one likes a slow song at karaoke." Chloe's arms close more tightly around her. "And also, it isn't true."

 

.end.