“We don’t have to go,” said Beca. Jesse glanced across at her.
“I already rang the doorbell,” he said, because he had. The sound of it was still echoing through the glass.
Beca shrugged. “I’m just saying, leaving is still an option.” She gestured towards the car, which was parked by the mailbox. “Getaway vehicle, anyone?”
“Isn’t it me that’s supposed to be nervous about meeting your parents?” Jesse said. For the record, he was, but Beca seemed even more nervous, and he thought that in any relationship, it always works best if only one person is actively freaking out at any given time.
Beca rolled her eyes. “You’re not ‘meeting my parents’. You’re meeting my dad and my stepmonster.”
“You’re pretty proud of the word stepmonster, aren’t you,” said Jesse. Beca opened her mouth as if to protest, and he smiled. “It’s not a criticism, just an observation.” The sound of footsteps was coming closer, and then the door opened.
“Beca!” exclaimed Carol.
Beca forced a smile. “Hi,” she said, and then froze. It was strange to watch Beca so far out of her comfort zone – she looked more confident on stage. Here it was as if she didn’t know her cues, and had forgotten the lyrics.
Luckily, Jesse was great at improvising. “I’m Jesse,” he said, extending his hand to Carol.
“Lovely to meet you, Jesse,” Carol enthused. “It’s so nice to finally meet Beca’s boy.”
Beca rolled her eyes, and stepped into the house. Jesse followed a half-step behind, pausing, trying to take it all in
“If I’m Beca’s boy, does that make you Jesse’s Girl?” Jesse stage-whispered, trying to make Beca smile. It worked - Beca snorted, and Carol turned around, half-smiling, ready to join in the joke. Beca’s smile disappeared.
As they walked down the hallway, Jesse paused in front of a family photo – it was an older one, Beca was just a young girl sitting on her dad’s shoulders, gap-toothed smile and a yellow bow in her hair. “You were a cute kid,” Jesse said.
Beca shrugged. “All kids are cute.”
Jesse persisted. “No, but you were exceptionally cute.”
“Were?” Beca teased.
“You know I still think you’re exceptionally cute,” Jesse said.
“Oh yeah?” Beca asked.
“Yeah,” Jesse said, putting his arm around her shoulder and leaning in to kiss her forehead. He felt some of the tension drain out of her shoulders. “Seriously, relax,” he whispered into her ear. “You’ve got this. It’s just one dinner.”
“I know,” said Beca. “It’s just –,” she paused. “I feel like I’ve grown so much this year, let down my guard. And suddenly I come here, and it’s so easy to slip into old habits. I can’t help it – I know my dad says that he tried as hard as he could to make things work with my mom, but I still feel like he could have tried harder. And I still blame Carol for existing.”
“Carol actually seems pretty nice,” Jesse said, cautiously.
Beca grimaced. “I know – that makes it worse. She really wants me to like her, and I just act like a grade-A bitch.”
“We loved your performance,” enthused Carol. “Your dad was so proud when you won.”
“Thanks,” said Beca. “I was glad you both could make it.”
Carol looked surprised and pleased at Beca’s acknowledgement.
“Now, let me just go see what’s keeping your father,” she said, disappearing into another room.
“See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” asked Jesse.
“What, being nice?”
“Giving a little,” said Jesse. “It doesn’t have to be happy families all at once, just a step in the right direction.”
“Thanks, Dr Phil,” Beca said, batting her eyes at him.
Suddenly, Carol reappeared, and guided them into the dining room, where Beca’s father was seated at the table. He stood up as they entered, walked over to give Beca a kiss and then shook Jesse’s hand.
“Jesse,” greeted Beca’s father. “It’s nice to meet you under more normal circumstances.”
“For the record, I only punched that guy because Jesse wasn’t going to,” Beca said. Jesse elbowed her – he wanted to make a good second impression, not reinforce her father’s disapproval of him.
“So, you’re a professor, right?” Jesse asked Beca’s father, once they were seated at the table.
“That’s right. I teach Comparative Literature,” he said.
“And what does that mean, exactly?”
“Oh. Well, we compare texts from different time periods, and different countries.”
“Oh, so that’s where Beca gets it from,” said Jesse, nodding as if something finally made sense.
Everyone stared at him blankly.
“Where Beca gets what from?” Beca asked.
“You know,” Jesse said, although clearly she didn’t. “Your mixes. Your mash-ups.”
Beca’s head was cocked to one side, but her father was slowly nodding.
“You know, I never thought of it like that before,” he said. “But you’re right, Jesse – Beca, the way you blend and juxtapose genres and lyrics to make a new interpretation – that act of synthesis becomes both an expose and a new text in its own right.”
“I just like music,” Beca muttered rebelliously.
“Face it, Beca,” said Jesse. “You’re deeper than you think. Even when you’re not trying.”
“I can be shallow,” Beca said.
“Sure you can,” Jesse said, patting her hand. “Shallow Beca with her hidden depths.”
She kicked his ankle, and he winced.
“So, Beca,” ventured Carol. “What have you got planned for summer break?”
“Actually, I’m going to LA,” Beca said. “I applied for an internship at a record label and they accepted me.”
She sounded so calm – Jesse grinned, remembering her shriek when she’d got the phone call.
“But you’ll be back next semester right?” pressed Carol, and Beca’s dad glances up, intent on the answer.
Beca shifted uncomfortably in her chair, awkward at the sudden attention. “Yeah,” she said, darting a smile in Jesse’s direction. “Turns out I’ve got quite a few reasons to come back.”
Jesse grinned back. “Don’t you forget about me,” he sang teasingly.
“Oh!” said Carol. “The Breakfast Club. I love that movie.”
“Yeah,” said Beca. “So do I.”