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The Party's Crashing Us

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You're such a mystery,
I just want to stand and stare.
Nibble on your ear
and smell the ocean in your hair.

*

Freshman year, Beca actually showed up for band practice on the first day of school. She'd never really been interested during middle school when it had been all about those geeks bent over double from carrying instruments twice their size, but this was different. This was high school, and if you wanted the extra credit you could participate in the jazz band. Learn to make some real music.

That was the entire point of this exercise.

Jazz band, not learning music. Beca already knew that part. She'd been making her own stuff on her laptop since she was basically old enough to have a laptop. And since her dad was the kind of father who wanted to make a big deal out of encouraging intellectual stimulation -- and since he felt really guilty about the whole divorce thing -- that had been since she was ten.

So at fourteen, she had known enough to make her own kind of music, but she'd never tried it with other people. Mostly they just got in the way by not doing everything exactly how Beca imagined it in her head. She's a composer of a fully digital symphony, and computers never let you down -- assuming you remember to recharge.

But she figured what's the harm in a little practice with other human beings? Out in LA, she might even have to talk with people to convince them to let her produce their albums. It was a horrible thought, but probably realistic.

So jazz band seemed like a reasonable start. No nerds, just serious musicians like herself.

She showed up Freshman year, ready to play, without an instrument. Percussion, she thought. Maybe trumpet. Trumpet could be cool, assuming there was less actual spit involved than the little valve on the end suggested.

Maybe not trumpet.

*

Turns out the whole trumpet thing hadn't mattered anyway. Not once Beca found out that she was expected to march.

"I don't march," she said severely, because the band director somehow didn't get it the first time. "I don't really do… anything synchronized. I've got rhythm, but not--" The word for what it was that she didn't have escaped Beca for the moment. It's not that she didn't have people skills. She was pretty sure she had those. Something else then.

High tolerance for idiocy?

"Everyone in the band is in the marching band. You march or you don't play."

"So…" Beca drummed her fingers across the top of the cymbals, creating a dramatic roll. "I guess I don't play." She walked out of the room with a stride that was decidedly not a march. More of a strut really, with hands buried deep in her pockets, shoulders stooping.

If any of these geeks knew who she was, she probably would have been famous for that move.

Then maybe they would recognize her now at 17. As it is, she hasn't got a clue who any of these people are.

*

Beca has friends. Don't get the wrong idea, okay, Beca has plenty of friends. She gets along with lots of people in her classes and they even have inside jokes. She makes clever comments about her history teacher, Mr. Lang, and the entire row laughs. That's cool.

She has plenty of friends, even if she doesn't really bother to see most of them outside of school. That's okay. They have their own thing and she has hers.

Their friendships are built on mutual bonds of understanding and respect. Or whatever.

It's just basic odds. Most people aren't getting out of this dead end town, and Beca is. She's going to build an incredible life for herself in LA with lots of cool people and there won't be any time for people she met back home. It'd be kind of cruel to lead them on with how awesome she is, right?

So she keeps to herself sometimes, so what? No reason for the stepmonster to get up in her business and declare Friday night "family night."

"Since when do you count as family?" Beca said with mock innocence. "I'm not even sure we share the same species."

"Go to your room!" her dad said that first night, totally missing the point.

*

She wasn't so lucky on week two. They played Yahtzee.

Yahtzee.

So maybe Beca got a little desperate. Who can blame her?

*

"I can't make it to family night this week," she had said, trying to sound really contrite. With her face shoved down inside her backpack, it wasn't really possible to tell if it was working, but she pushed on. "Tell everyone." It's always been easiest to get through this stuff with her dad without looking him in the eye.

"You can say her name, Beca." Judging by his voice, he was pretty pissed. "It's just me and her. We're everyone."

He was using his exhausted college professor voice. The one he probably uses when a student comes to him during office hours to talk about bad grades. The one that says you're not living up to your potential, and god doesn't it just break his heart?

He'd been pulling that one on Beca since she was five. It didn't even phase her by now.

"Yeah," she said, slinging the bag up onto her shoulder. "I could if I wanted. But I'm really excited about band, dad. We get to play at the big game." She fist pumped. That's excited, right?

Fist pumped and hit her dad on the arm. That's jovial.

He could hardly fault her for being jovial.

"Who are we playing?"

Or maybe he could. "The-- you know." She shifted the bag. "Those guys. The fighting… you know." She gestured vaguely around her own face. Maybe he'd buy it was a moose or… deer? A boar? Or… musket?

"You have no idea, do you?"

"I guess I really can't be late for practice now." She ducked out the door before he could get another word in. College professors have lots of words. "Bye!"

*

So that's how Beca ended up here, now, with nobody around who knows her, playing triangle in the marching band.

She didn't even know that a marching band could have a triangle, but apparently so.

But it could be worse. Could be Yahtzee.

*

Turns out the opposing team is actually the Cougars and they somehow suck more than the Tigers, so the cheerleaders are bouncing around a lot. They look happy.

Good thing someone is.

Beca taps the triangle whenever they score and idly wonders if her school really plans to keep playing Eye of the Tiger for the next twenty some odd years until another obvious choice comes along. It seems kind of bleak.

Almost enough to make her feel bad for that asshole music director.

But not really.

*

One of the cheerleaders is a redhead. She kind of stands out.

Mostly she does this by literally jumping higher than everybody else when their team scores, which actually doesn't make any sense because she's not that much taller than Beca. Must have killer gams.

The other reason she's hard to miss is because she seriously keeps creepy stalker staring at Beca. Like hardcore. Like she's pretty sure she might have winked one time?

What the fuck is that about.

*

The Cougars suck so hard they lose ten billion to five or something like that, and Beca's arm is about ready to fall off. Even mouthing Pac under her breath hasn't been enough of a distraction.

Even humming Fuck You doesn't help, and she enjoys humming with a fake cockney accent. You can totally hum with an accent.

But it's not enough.

And that was even before her team scored for the fourth -- or maybe fiftieth, she doesn't fucking know -- time and someone in the band started playing Crank That. And seemingly the whole school joined in dancing.

Then it just became mortifying. Like open a pit in the earth and swallow me up, I can't take this anymore, I'm going to die of contact embarrassment because of where I come from awful.

With a stalker ginger definitely winking at her this time as the delightful cherry on top of her shitty sundae.

Just perfect.

*

She cannot do another Friday like this one.

This might even be worse than Yahtzee.

Beca makes up her mind during the (shouting, yelling, shoving, shrieking) bus ride back to school (where her car is waiting) to speak to the principal on Monday. There has to be some other school activity she can get involved in on Friday nights that doesn't involve… this.

At this point, she's willing to switch to Catholic school if necessary. Shit is dire.

*

So here she is Monday morning, waiting outside the principal's office with her headphones on and one foot curled underneath her in the chair.

The lady at the desk keeps giving her the stink-eye and gesturing with her pen in a way that makes it pretty clear she wants Beca to move her foot. Beca's only respond is to avoid eye contact. She's pretty sure the woman can't move her, since touching the students is basically a big no-no unless they're already in a fist fight or something.

So she'll slouch and dirty up the nice plastic chairs, thank you very much. This is her thing. She had a shitty Friday, let her have her thing. Rebel girl and all that.

In fact, she's giving off such a decidedly fuck you vibe that it takes a moment to fully register when someone sits down beside her. Even then, Beca doesn't really look up. That's part of the point of the whole fuck you thing.

That is until whoever it is starts actually touching, and Beca immediately recoils, jumping up from her chair. "You can't do that!" Her dad's a professor okay, she knows all the rules when it comes to inappropriate teacher conduct.

Except it's not a teacher.

It's that stalker girl, blinking up at her with wide blue eyes and a confused smile.

"… holy shh--" But one look back at front desk lady, and Beca immediately censors herself. Right, right, still at school. "--craaaap. Holy crap, don't do that."

The blue eyed wonder doesn't really seem to get it, though, still smiling in a sort of vague way that she probably thinks is cute.

Just to get the point across, Beca sits down two chairs over, this time with her elbows on her knees and her body drawn in tight. Less to poke at or grab this way, and her hands keep her headphones jammed tight on her head.

But apparently it's not enough of a deterrent.

"What are you listening to?" she can just barely hear the redhead say as she leans, leans, streeeetches and bends until she's almost directly in Beca's eye-line.

So she looks at her shoes instead.

"Can I hear?"

Suddenly there's a foot up close to Beca's. It's tapping along to some imaginary beat. Weird thing is how it's almost on time with the tempo in her headphones.

She squirms another seat down, but the girl actually follows. "And then I'll give them right back."

"-- and go away."

When Beca looks over at her, the girl looks stunned to have heard her speak. Like maybe she secretly thought Beca was some kind of forest creature, incapable of speech. Probably would have been better for the both of them, all in all, because now the look has changed from shock to confusion. She expects clarification. Great.

"You'll listen…" Beca slips the cans back off her ears and lets them slide down to rest around her neck. She nods once toward the mystery weirdo. "You'll give them back, and then you'll leave, right?"

"Uh… sure, I guess." The girl blinks, looking kind of stunned. Like she's never been uninvited to anywhere in her life before, and that's probably the truth. Girls like that don't get a lot of doors shut in their faces, you know? It actually gives Beca a perverse thrill of satisfaction -- one that shoots right up from the tips of her fingers when they brush against the other girl's while handing the headphones over.

With the cans in hand, the stranger regains some of that movie star smile and she positively beams at Beca, wriggling in her chair like she's stretching before a routine.

Oh god, Beca thinks for one horrified moment. What if she starts to cheer?

But instead she slips the headphones on and disappears inside the music. You can see it in her eyes, or at least Beca can. She recognizes that look. It's something you almost can't put into words. It's so basic, just getting lost in the bass.

Now the foot is tapping again, and it's perfectly aligned to the beat still lingering inside Beca's head. Without meaning to, she finds herself drumming her fingers in time on the edge of her chair.

Once she catches herself, she stops. "You done?"

But the ginger just shakes her head, pressing the headphones tighter to one ear and then nodding to the rhythm.

"Yes, you are done?"

She shakes her head again.

"… I thought we had a deal."

*

The redhead insists on listening to an entire song and then replays it once before finally handing the headphones back as promised. She does a little dance thing in her chair while the music is still playing, which is probably kind of close to cheering.

There are finger snaps and hip wiggling. She lip-syncs to a song Beca's pretty sure she didn't know on the first play through, and holds the iPhone like it's a mic.

There's that contact embarrassment again.

*

"You have good taste," she says, slipping the headphones back around Beca's neck and then allowing her hand -- and the whole rest of herself, really -- to linger creepily close. When Beca swallows, she feels fingertips graze against her constricting throat. Such a weirdo. "I'm Chloe."

But weirdo has a name, at least.

"I'm… not interested."

"… pardon?"

A name, but apparently not a clue. "You said you'd leave," Beca points out, sounding more miserable than she really wants to let on. If she acts too upset, this girl seems just the type to tell her to flip her frown upside down.

Beca doesn't want to have to hit her. She's got a nice enough face, all in all. For a total creeper.

From this close, Beca could almost count the freckles on it, in fact. She could almost, but there are like a billion, so she won't. Still, she goes slightly cross-eyed when the freckled cheeks crinkle in a grin that extends out from Chloe's eyes. It's kind of dizzying. "I did, yeah, but there's not really anywhere for me to go."

"… so you lied to me," Beca says, realization dawning.

"I didn't lie so much as over-estimate my capacity to fulfill your request… right now."

"That's another way of saying lied."

"I guess so." Chloe shrugs, looking completely unmoved by Beca's inarguable logic. "Sure."

"… you bitch," Beca scoffs, and turns around in her chair, very pointedly ignoring the girl to her left again.

She's paying particularly no attention to that wounded little kitten look. For one thing, Beca doesn't even like cats.

*

And for another, who does she think she is anyway?

"Could you not… breathe on me?" Beca mumbles around a nail that she's not biting on so much as toying at with her teeth. "Your breath stinks."

"Does not." But Beca feels a surge of satisfaction when Chloe coughs into her own palm to check. "… minty fresh. See?"

This time she deliberately breathes into Beca's face. Holy lack of personal space, Batman. She would squirm one more chair down, but she's used up all her options already.

There's nowhere left to go except crammed against the wall, elbow almost pinched between the chair and the paint. "Jesus christ, where is the principal?"

"Oh, he's in an hour long meeting." Chloe blinks big eyes across the foot or so of space that separates them. "… didn't anybody tell you?"

"… you're joking."

"I never joke about punctuality."

Funny thing is, Beca's pretty sure that's not a punchline either.

*

"So what are you doing here anyway?" Chloe asks ten minutes later, watching Beca with that crazy-eyed stalker intensity from Friday night. "You don't seem the type to get in trouble."

"Don't I?" says Beca, sounding very much like someone who is frequently told she looks like trouble. Like almost daily.

"Well, trouble usually requires talking to other people," Chloe says, far too reasonably. "So no, you don't look like you get into a lot of trouble."

Wow, weirdly that kind of stung. It probably shows on Beca's face too. "Oh cool, a cheerleader making fun of someone else's social status. How original."

"That's not what I'm--"

"Beca Mitchell."

Without a second look back, Beca hefts her bag and follows the principal into his office, kicking Chloe's feet out of the way as she goes.

*

Turns out, there aren't a lot of options for showing school spirit on a Friday night. She's stuck with band for at least another week.

Which means she's stuck with Chloe again come game time.

"Beca!" Chloe mouths, waving wildly from the field. "Hey, Beca!"

Jesus christ. This is worse than anything the… antelopes? Or-- Maybe they're... dingos?

Anyway. It's worse than anything those other guys could do on the field to her school's guys, she's pretty sure.

Because it's emotionally violent. It basically blows.

Also, can a triangle be out of tune? Because Beca's pretty sure that hers is.

This totally and completely blows.

*

Aside from getting on and off the field, the actual marching part of marching band takes place at half time. The whole band comes together to make elaborate coordinated designs.

At least, they're probably elaborate. From the field, they kind of look like a mess?

The freshmen -- because they're too young-equals-dumb to be trusted -- stay as a really phallic, excited exclamation point the whole time. Hard to mess up a straight line, right? So of course they make Beca the center of the dot.

All through their cover of Shark in the Water, she feels someone's elbow digging into her back to move forward. The rest of the time, someone else is stomping her foot as they move back. At one point she's pretty sure a sweet looking Asian girl hisses that if Beca doesn't get in step soon, she's shoving her flute up her ass and playing Flight of the Bumblebee.

But that'd be crazy.

*

Marching (okay, slouching) off the field, Beca sees a red head of hair bouncing up and down enthusiastically. Obviously she's cheering along with the rest of the girls, which is pretty normal. But while they're facing the locker room as the guys pour back out onto the field, she's pointed directly at the marching band.

Beca thinks that she's probably the weirdo this time for noticing.

*

After half time, bands for both teams leave the stands long enough to be fed. A bag of chips and an under-cooked hotdog: a school board approved balanced diet.

"Beca!"

Holy shit. Seventeen-year-old terror Aubrey Posen is walking this way, waving her hand and shouting her name.

And PS: since when did these people all learn her name? She's kind of made a point of never telling it to a certain kind of person. (Namely the ones who look like they might be dating a dude the size of a refrigerator.) Just seemed like good policy.

"Beca," Aubrey says again, already sounding pretty pissed off.

Beca grimaces, but gives in. "Yeah! Yeah, that's... me." Cornered by head cheerleader while holding a hot dog. How awkward. "You want a bite?"

Aubrey gives her a withering look of appraisal, eyes flicking up and down. "Chloe wants to talk to you after the game. She says wait up."

"... okay?"

Aubrey nods, like that's basically self-explanatory, and turns to leave.

"Wait! Hold up." Beca laughs despite herself. "How come your weirdo friend is stalking me?"

Aubrey scoffs, a slightly manic giggle bubbling to the surface. "Believe me, I have no idea." She charges two steps forward until her pointy finger is right in Beca's face. "But she is my weirdo best friend, so I don't want to hear another word out of your misanthropic mouth about it."

Oh god, abort. Abort. "Yeah, okay." Beca's pretty sure her voice sounds like she's trying to pacify a rabid dog that just started growling. That's also exactly what this feels like. "That's fine. We're... good."

Aubrey nods sharply, as if to agree. They're good. She takes a deep breath in, elevating to her full height along with it. Apparently she'd started stooping to reach Beca's eye level.

She really could've gone all night without noticing that.

"And." Aubrey's expression constricts like she just smelled something awful. "Straighten up that marching. You're a sloppy mess."

*

They march out of the stadium as one unit, but everyone peels off quickly into their own groups. Everyone except Beca, but that's just fine with her. She's had enough socializing for one evening.

Except--

"Hey!"

She's not sure where Chloe came from exactly. She definitely wasn't standing right there a moment ago. "… hey," Beca says, slightly wary. Was she hiding behind a car?

"So, I guess Aubrey caught you."

"… uh."

"You were… coming to find me, weren't you?" Chloe's sad face is like watching an avalanche. Or ice cream falling on the floor.

So Beca tries to scoop it up with her best attempt at a smile. She only gets it to stick on one side, though. "Sure!" Hey, it's a start.

And at least Chloe seems to buy it, immediately brightening again. Mission accomplished, apparently. "I wanted to say sorry about before." Her face is doing a contrite thing that's not exactly the same as sad. More like droopy? "Whatever your social status is, I'm sure it's fine as long as you're happy." Back to perky, just like that. "And you're happy, right?"

Yeah, Beca is officially dizzy. "I-- Sure?"

"Great! I'm glad." Chloe loops one arm around Beca's elbow and tugs. "Come on."

"Where…" The way Chloe tugs her close, Beca almost trips over her own feet. Maybe Aubrey has a point about the whole marching thing. "Are we going somewhere?"

"Party."

"I don't--"

"I insist. It'll be fun."

Beca highly doubts that.

*

The party is at some guy's house she doesn't know. He's apparently a senior and he has a pool overlooking a really massive back yard, which is the real draw. At least, that's judging by the number of people that look ready to pass out on his lawn after just an hour in.

"Everyone else got an early start at the game," Chloe explains, as if apologizing on behalf of their classmates.

Beca doesn't really care, and in this one particular area she's also not really one to judge. She's a bit of a lightweight, actually. Like literally: she has a body mass index on scale with some small woodland mammals. "I can see that," is all she says, nodding toward the guy and girl going at it under the tree nearby.

Chloe makes a disapproving face that Beca probably shouldn't find cute. Maybe it's that good Christian girl thing that goes so well with the whole cheerleader thing. Beca doesn't really know a lot of people who can pull it off and seem sincere, but Chloe just radiates genuine. "Get a room!" she shouts, and Beca laughs.

There's no way they can hear her over the music and other people shouting, but it's cool that she tries. "You're a maniac."

Chloe shrugs, takes a drink, and moves in closer. Beca's noticed her doing that a lot over the course of the past hour. "I just have standards…" And closer still.

"For…" Beca lifts her eyebrows expectantly, and she could swear that Chloe sways. For a moment, their arms almost press together. "Uh, dude?"

"Making out."

Beca blinks and deliberately ignores the way Chloe's elbow feels when it definitely presses at her side this time. "… what?"

"I have standards for make out spots." She shakes her head and her hair drifts close to Beca's nose, which wrinkles automatically. It tickles. "Place where birds and squirrels shit is not okay."

"Ohh, okay."

"No. It's not okay, Beca."

"Yeah…"

So apparently Chloe's a bit of a lightweight too, or maybe she's just been drinking more. Beca probably should have been paying attention. She feels a bit like a shitty friend for not noticing.

Which is the first time that it strikes her that maybe she considers Chloe almost something like a friend.

And then, right on the heels of that; "Where's Aubrey?"

"Hm?"

"Shouldn't she be like your designated… whatever?" Chloe's apparent best friend should be here to keep her from making bad decisions that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Whoever that is -- if not Aubrey -- needs to hurry and show up now. Preferably someone with an evolved moral compass. Someone who is definitely not Beca.

"I'm fine," Chloe says with a smile, pressing her forehead against Beca's shoulder.

"… I'm getting Aubrey."

*

There is nothing pleasant about going to Aubrey Posen for help, and it's only made worse by the dirty look she shoots Beca once she sees Chloe.

"She said she's fine…"

"Well obviously she isn't, Beca."

Chloe grins lopsided. "I can hear you guys, you know." She leans into Aubrey's shoulder and hides her face against her neck. It's kind of a relief, actually. So Chloe does this small fragile kitty act with everyone. Good to know.

"She can hear us," Aubrey hisses, still probably way too loud. "Beca."

"… yeah. Got it."

*

Beca still doesn't know anyone at this stupid party, so she settles for a ride home with Aubrey.

Chloe curls up next to her in the back seat, her head on Beca's shoulder and one foot on top of one of Beca's favorite sneakers.

She doesn't say anything about it, though; too busy avoiding Aubrey's dirty looks in the rearview mirror.

*

Sober, contrite Chloe actually is pretty cute.

When she sees Beca in the halls on Monday, it looks like she might actually be blushing. "Hey…" Definitely cute.

"Hey." Beca nods and thinks how Chloe's parents probably let her get away with murder, because right now she can't even remember any of the unpleasant parts of Friday night.

There's just Chloe and the way she sways onto the balls of her feet, rocking closer. "So… We should hang out again sometime."

"What?" Beca slows, because apparently this isn't just a casual greeting. They're going to have a conversation. So she adjusts her bag on her shoulder and looks level at Chloe, putting on an incredibly neutral face of mildly skeptical interest. "Why?"

"For fun?"

"… oh." She hasn't actually got a good argument for that.

"Like a movie."

At least that Beca can answer to. "Oh, I don't go to the movies."

"… what?" Chloe looks at her like she just said she ate puppies or that she hates Justin Bieber. Or something equally likely to make a sparkly pink kitten explode with rage. "You don't-- Beca, everyone goes to the movies! That's where you make out."

Suddenly Beca's brain feels like it just missed a step going downstairs, and she has to mentally catch herself on the railing. Or anything. "Wait-- hold on."

But Chloe's still too busy looking outraged to be of any real use on her own.

"We're not-- That isn't--" Wait, more importantly. "I'm not…"

"That isn't the point."

Oh good. If it's not the point, then there wasn't a massive misunderstanding that just sent shivers down Beca's spine like ice water. Good to know.

But a simple "okay," is all she says.

"Beca," Chloe continues, sounding frighteningly serious. The kind of serious that usually means someone has a plan. "We need to fix this, okay? I'm bringing over Bring It On and we're going to watch it. Your house, Friday night."

"… are you asking me out?" Back to the misunderstanding thing and that sudden sinking feeling in her chest. "Chloe, I am really flattered, but--"

"Beca, no. This isn't a date." Chloe's face is so serious and now it's also inches away from hers. She could count the freckles, but there are way too many. They creep down her neck and disappear into her shirt collar.

Beca never noticed before.

"This isn't a date," Chloe is saying, still super sincere. "It's an intervention."

Either way, it's still a Friday night. At Beca's house. "No," she says abruptly. "We need to go out."

There's a strange look on Chloe's face and it strikes Beca a moment later why that might be. Same old misunderstanding, right?

"Not-- you know. Just like... out of the house. Not..." She struggles for a moment, in search of a word, but settles lamely on, "-- actually out."

Well, at least the point seems made, because Chloe is smiling again. It's like her default expression, and it's good to see a return. "Great! I'll pick something out."

Which is enough. They could leave it at that, but Beca feels a sudden pang of something that just might be a guilty conscience. She wasn't even sure she had one of those. "Hey, uh… Chloe?"

The other girl turns, smiling bright.

It sends another sharp pang of guilt straight to the center of Beca's chest. "… Chloe."

"Mmhm?"

"I'm not…" Her throat's gone dry and her hands feel clammy. She wipes them off on her jeans -- kind of pointlessly, since it's not like they're touching. "I just want to be sure… that you know." Beca pauses, her eyes sort of caught up with Chloe's. She really doesn't want to make her look like a cat left out in the rain again, so it's best if they're just honest. "I'm not… gay."

There.

"Oh, okay." But Chloe looks nonplussed. In fact, she barely reacts, almost shrugging. "Beca, labels are so last decade."

Beca blinks, opens her mouth to respond, and then decides against it. Blinking makes more sense overall.

"See you Friday!"

*

Friday rolls around, and for about twenty minutes Beca seriously considers not bothering to show up to the movie theater since she's pretty sure that Chloe won't either. Like Chloe Beale doesn't have something better to do on a Friday night than hang out with some nobody she barely knows in a movie theater watching (probably) some lame romantic comedy?

So yeah, Beca looked up her last name in the yearbook. Beale.

It's weird how she never knew it before, actually. Like she knew who Aubrey was, but everybody knows Aubrey. She's like an industry all her own. Head cheerleader, but also strangely captain of the debate team and something for the student council too. Beca's not sure what exactly; she always tunes it out during school events.

So Aubrey she knew, at least by name. (In fact, Beca suspects that Aubrey is pretty good at making herself known. Like that's her thing.) But Chloe slipped under the radar, which is kind of crazy.

She's cute and has a good smile. She does the cheer thing okay as far as Beca can tell. She has a nice voice, and she's funny. How does someone like that just disappear into a crowd?

Probably she doesn't. Most likely she's just hanging out with a different class of person, doing dumb preppy kid things. Like the modern equivalent of a soda shop, whatever that is.

Beca actually doesn't know. Maybe it involves meth?

Actually, she's pretty sure Chloe Beale does not do meth.

*

Against her better judgement, Beca goes to the movies. She arrives at almost exactly when they agreed to meet because she doesn't want to be that loser who shows up way too early, but also remembers what Chloe said about punctuality being a thing and takes her at her word.

They watch some movie with Ben Stiller in it that has the audience cracking up. Beca chuckles a few times, but Chloe's reactions are way more entertaining than the movie itself. She watches with super intensity, like there might be a quiz after. She grins and the light from the screen sort of reflects in her eyes, making them look even bluer.

The movie's not bad, and going to it with a person who doesn't make Beca hate them every five minutes helps too. She could probably do this again sometime.

Not that she'd make it a habit. That could come dangerously close to being mistaken for a date. Which this isn't.

*

It's Chloe's idea to order popcorn. "It's not a movie without it," she says, but Beca notices her only eating it every once in a while and she wonders if some asshole made a wisecrack about watching her figure and Chloe took it to heart.

It annoys her to think about it, so she tries to focus on something else. Like the movie.

But then their hands bump briefly reaching for the popcorn at the same time. Knuckles graze against each other, and even Beca's seen enough movies to know that this is a huge cliche. It takes concentrated strength of will to keep their eyes from locking.

Oh jesus, did this just somehow become a date?

Like the touching itself wouldn't be a big deal, but she's pretty sure she heard Chloe gasp immediately after. There's even a tremor in her throat, Beca sees it from the corner of her eye, but Chloe doesn't pull her hand away.

Come to think of it, neither does Beca. At least, not right away. But then she feels Chloe's fingers shifting slightly, a single digit tracing the length of her palm. Probably searching for the popcorn underneath.

Immediately Beca's hand retreats, wiping grease off on her jeans, and she mumbles, "Sorry."

"No problem," Chloe mutters back, staring directly at the back of the chair in front of her instead of looking at Beca or even at what's on screen. She just looks ahead, breathing slowly, like she's trying to level back out.

It's weird to think that Chloe might have felt it too -- that jolt in Beca's stomach.

The one that's probably not just from overly-buttered popcorn and a flat soda.

*

No but really, is this a date now?

It's suddenly awkward and awful like one. Is that all it takes?

And if so, does Beca have to like walk Chloe to her door to say good night? Do they have to kiss?

If Chloe Beale is expecting a kiss in exchange for crappy popcorn and a soda that's more ice than liquid, she's sorely mistaken.

*

They don't kiss, but Beca does start to walk Chloe home.

Apparently they both live close enough to the theater that neither bothered to drive, and the weather's still pretty great. They walk along, bumping elbows, and talking softly.

When they draw to a stop in front of Beca's house, Chloe smiles. "I didn't know you lived around here," she says, sounding pleased.

"Yeah, that's because you were hammered the night Aubrey drove me home."

"Oh right," Chloe says, and Beca wonders when it was that she closed so much of the distance between them. Her hand is on Beca's arm, close to her wrist.

One tug, and Beca rocks closer. "… so."

Chloe smiles even wider. "Thanks for coming with me."

But the smile is gone the moment Beca's dad pops his head out the front door to scowl and point dramatically at his watch. If anything, Beca would say the look on Chloe's face is properly chastised.

It's okay really. He used to have that effect on Beca too. "See you tomorrow," she says, trying to sound cheerful and reassuring.

"… you mean Monday?"

"Right!" Beca smiles, all teeth and awkwardness. "Yes, Monday."

*

They actually do end up seeing each other on Saturday, completely by chance.

Given a choice, Beca probably would have opted not to see her this way. Or at least for Chloe not to see her.

Like most bad stories on the weekend, it begins at work.

Beca is working the busiest shift at a small corner music store in the mall. Which, given that it's a music store in a mall in the 21st century, is not actually very busy at all. Mostly she stacks CDs with this guy who has a huge thing for her, and smiles politely at maybe eighty percent of his Empire Records references.

At least that's a movie she has seen.

*

"The busy shift" is once again almost entirely devoid of actual customers. At the rate things are going, it won't be long before Beca is out of a job and the mall is short one more store. No big surprise. It's happening all over the country, so why not here?

Still a downer, though.

Beca is so busy thinking about the bleak future for retail in America -- which probably means a bleak post-college job market while working to make it big -- that she easily would have walked right on by without even seeing Chloe. Would have, if Chloe didn't suddenly grab her.

"Beca!"

For some reason, Chloe likes to clarify who she's talking to while already physically assaulting them. At least, that's been the case so far. "… hey," Beca grunts with a tight smile, more focused on not falling over than being polite. "How's it going?" She pulls her headphones off with the arm not currently under Chloe occupation.

"It's Saturday," Chloe says, beaming, like that answers everything. And maybe for her it does. She seems the type of girl who can get any date she wants on the weekend, and her parents probably don't expect her to get a job.

Beca's dad on the other hand thinks it builds moral fortitude. She suspects he just likes throwing around words like fortitude really casually during family dinners. Like a college professor with a passable vocabulary is supposed to be super impressive.

But Chloe's smiling, so Beca tries to match it. Sure, hers is a little smaller and maybe her mouth doesn't open completely, but whatever. Her teeth are pointy. It'd probably look like an act of aggression.

"What'd you get?" Chloe bounces a little.

Beca sways from the pressure tugging at her arm. "A paycheck." She points back in the direction she came from. "I work over at That Record Store."

"Oh." Chloe blinks, looking thrown off, but only briefly. "That place is still open?"

"… jesus." Financial prospects looking dimmer and dimmer.

But she recovers quickly, and it's back to beaming. "Cool!" Only Chloe could make that sound like she meant it. Like working on a Saturday really is super cool.

"Um, sure." It's only then that Beca notices what Chloe's carrying in her hand.

Well no, more like holding in the hand she's also holding Beca's arm with. What she's essentially rubbing all over Beca's arm.

Underwear. Like okay, frilly, girly, pretty underwear, not like granny panties or Costco bundle packs, but that's kind of besides the point.

The really essential point here is Chloe rubbing underwear that she probably intends to wear against Beca's arm. Whether deliberate or not, it's enough for at least a double take.

Do it twice, maybe that's a quad. "Dude, no." Beca tries to draw back sharply, but Chloe's got a shockingly strong grip for her size -- which okay, is admittedly actually bigger than Beca. Besides the point.

At least Chloe seems to be catching up. There's a moment or two of sort of blank confusion in her eyes before she gasps and recoils. Like she's been shot.

If Beca weren't so busy being creeped out, she'd probably be really offended.

"I'm-- I am so sorry."

Beca frowns, massaging her elbow. "Yeah, no. Uh." She really wants to have her headphones back on again. Something about Chloe makes Beca feel vulnerable and off-balance like nothing else. Having the cans off in addition to that is like being naked.

And one of them has already seen the other's underwear today, so that's probably enough for now.

Not that Beca is picturing the underwear as anything more than just basic fabric. Sure, it's obvious Chloe is going to wear it. She's probably buying it for some guy she's going out with tonight or something.

But that doesn't mean Beca's mind takes it any further than that. As far she's concerned, the underwear stays precisely where it is -- clutched in Chloe's hand, and decidedly not on her body.

The overall discomfort must show on her face, though, because suddenly Chloe's back and invading personal space again. This time she grabs hold of Beca's coat, which is at least less likely to spread cooties. Also, she uses her other hand. "It's for cheerleading." She tugs the jacket, and then releases.

Beca sways. "I don't… care." Because she doesn't. And it's weird that Chloe would think that she would.

"No, I just mean…" Chloe bites her lip and blinks up at Beca through her eyelashes. Which is a pretty neat trick, considering she's taller. "It's not for a guy. I don't have a boyfriend."

"I don't care," Beca repeats, not really sure why her voice sounds hoarse this time.

When Chloe nods, her head moves but her eyes never leave Beca's face. They're both staring so hard, they should probably go cross-eyed. "I just like to feel pretty. You know, when I cheer."

She giggles in a way that's sort of quiet and sad, and for a moment Beca's reminded of the asshole that might have said something. The theoretical figment of her imagination that makes someone like Chloe Beale reach out for reassurance. Like she doesn't already know how she looks by just glancing in a mirror. Like she isn't one of the prettiest and most popular girls at the school.

It's stupid. But Beca still can't stop herself when she laughs, a quiet scoff, and says, "You are pretty."

Chloe just looks at her, going quiet. In what little time they've known each other, Beca has never really known her to be the quiet type, and this is probably worse than the creeping and the borderline groping. This is uncomfortable squared.

Beca really, really wants her headphones back on.

"Thanks, Beca," Chloe says softly, blue eyes still staring straight ahead. Beca realizes belatedly that what Chloe appears to be looking at is her mouth.

Her as in Beca's.

Her twitchy, chapped, and chewed-up, stupid mouth.

"You're really--" Chloe looks ready to say something more, but she stops. Just a deep, shivering breath, and then again; "Thank you."

Breathing should come easier than this. They're both doing a lot of borderline lamaze, and that's without even running. They're standing perfectly still, even if Chloe's somehow found a way to move in even closer.

How does she do that?

Maybe it's the ground that's moving? That'd explain why Beca feels so off-balance.

"You're welcome," she mumbles, not quite returning eye-contact. She's watching Chloe's hands instead.

Specifically the one without underwear.

*

They decide to have lunch together in the food court, but only after Chloe finishes paying at Victoria's Secret.

The sales lady looks pretty pissed that she's been carrying the merchandise around outside the front of the store, but Chloe explains that she had to run the purchase by her friend. The look the woman gives Beca implies she probably thinks "friend" is a euphemism.

She doesn't really look completely okay with it, either.

So Beca does the only thing she really can do in those circumstances. She blows a kiss and then licks her lips slowly. After that, they probably look slightly less-chapped. Wet and red instead of flaky and dry. Improvement, right?

Better be.

Because Chloe is staring again.

*

"Cheeriously? Her?" Aubrey sounds just outraged enough that it goes past offensive, straight into funny. Like Chloe just said she's dating a koala.

Which isn't even what's going on. They're still not dating. Sure, sometimes Beca lets Chloe hold her hand instead of her elbow, but that's just because she tugs less when she gets what she wants.

And sometimes there's movie night on Friday, but other nights they go to the football game just like before. Except that Beca doesn't bother with the band anymore. She still sits close to the field and gets annoyed when her own school's team scores, but that's only because Chloe has to leave the railing to cheer when it happens.

Otherwise, they spend most of the game talking. The Tigers suck too much for the cheering to really matter, and Chloe is more interesting than a game with more timeouts than running anyway.

But that's not a date. It's a football game. If it was a date, then Beca would be dating almost everybody at her school. They're all there, too.

Especially Aubrey, who Beca certainly isn't dating. And some nights, Aubrey hangs around almost as much as Chloe does. She sort of looms and circles around like a vulture.

Which is pretty funny considering the rumors that still float around the school about Posen's infamous problems with puking. Vultures eat their own vomit, right?

*

Also: if it were a date, Beca probably wouldn't be thinking about puke. Which she definitely does when Aubrey looks at her a certain way.

Like the look she's giving both of them now when Chloe says she can't come to the party tonight, she's made plans with Beca.

And Aubrey takes it completely the wrong way.

"I'm so sick of this, Chloe!" Aubrey huffs, and for one frighteningly vivid moment Beca conjures a mental image of dry heaving. "Just own up to the fact that you want her inside your spanky pants. Get her in and then out. Out of your system!"

And thoughts of vomit are completely off the table now, replaced instead with Beca's own scoffing and inarticulate facial ticks. "What? Gross. No." She looks to Chloe for confirmation, but overall her face is less twitchy.

It's actually just kind of stoney and resolved. Which is terrifying.

Beca knows that look. The one that reminds you that even kittens still have claws.

Aubrey should be very, very afraid.

*

Whether out of modesty or obligation to some kind of best friend code, Chloe pulls Aubrey aside to unleash whatever it is she plans to say.

Beca really wishes that she could hear it. There are hand gestures! And instead of her usual smile or bubbliness, Chloe's expression is still sharp and closed off. There might even be lots of swearing! The last time Beca heard Chloe swear, she actually apologized after.

Missing out on this is a huge rip-off.

Aubrey's not really saying a whole lot -- not even to defend herself, as far as Beca can tell -- which is kind of disappointing. How is this ever going to escalate to hair pulling and mud wrestling if they just resolve things reasonably like adults?

Beca tries to school her expression into something neutral, less amused, but judging by the sharp look Chloe gives her when she comes back over, she's failing miserably. As funny as the angry kitty might be, she doesn't really want to be on the receiving end. "So that went… well?"

"I'm not talking about it." Instead of angry, now Chloe just sounds drained. "Come on. My place, right?"

Okay, so now Beca's worried. Because Chloe actually marches off to the car by herself, without dragging, tugging, or man-handling Beca in any way. Something is definitely not okay.

"Hey!" Beca calls, caring enough to sort of half-jog at least some of the distance. See? Effort. "Wait up!"

*

Whatever was bothering Chloe, it's apparently long forgotten by the time they get to her house.

It's probably for the best. Beca already spends most movie nights sulking enough for both of them. If Chloe were being a downer, who would make the popcorn? Pretending not to want any but then eating it anyway is Beca's job.

It's an important job. She'd hate to give it up.

*

This is supposed to be the night they finally watch Bring It On, but sometime early on Chloe starts talking over the movie. She never does that, so maybe whatever Beca thought had resolved itself is still on her mind.

She's talking about Aubrey, about cheerleading and co-captaincy, but also leadership and supporting each other. It's all coming in a bit of a rush, like the words are just dying to get free, so Beca doesn't say anything. She lets Chloe vent.

It's pretty revealing stuff. Like hold on, Chloe's a captain too? Since when? And how come Aubrey never lets her do an equal amount of talking (or yelling) if that's the case? Not that Chloe would be the kind to be inclined to yell.

"I just want her to support me, you know!"

"Of course." Beca nods, which is being very supportive. See, she can take hints. She's good with social cues! "I get that," she reaffirms, just so Chloe knows that she's listening. That she hears and supports.

Not that she's interested in taking Aubrey's place. It actually sounds kind of lame being that friend. She likes being the kind of friend she is. Because finally, somewhere along the line, she did accept that she and Chloe must really be friends.

Together they have fun. And not the prescribed bullshit high school fun that everybody else has. They make their own fun. They do whatever they feel like, and sometimes they do nothing.

Or sometimes they talk through a movie, just because.

Okay that's not true. This is the first time they've ever talked through a movie and Beca's pretty sure that if it had been her starting the conversation, Chloe would have scolded her. One thing she does almost as good as Aubrey is scoldings. Instead of yelling and looking pissed, she looks stricken. Like you slapped her with your bad manners.

It's more effective than any of Beca's dad's high brow bullshit tactics. It actually makes her feel bad. Like guilty and remorseful. Who'd have thought, right?

"I think you two should talk tomorrow," Beca suggests before really bothering to clear the thought fully with her head. Since when does she stick up for Aubrey? Must be the new and evolved Beca Mitchell. Even more awesome than before.

The awesomest.

Chloe slouches down into the corner of the couch, looking deflated. "Yeah," she mumbles, leaning her head into an over-stuffed sofa cushion. She's done for now, it seems. "I guess."

That actually doesn't look very comfortable, though. It's the angle. "C'mere, weirdo," Beca says, just as quiet, and pulls Chloe back over to her side of the sofa. She makes room and offers her entire right side to curl against. Probably less soft than the cushion, sure, but warmer and at least she's not built at an odd angle.

Pretty sure anyway.

*

At the end of the night, Chloe declares that she'll walk Beca home, which obviously doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Beca laughs. "So then who is walking you back home?"

"No one." She shrugs. "Me, I guess."

"So how come I need an escort?"

Chloe shrugs again, holding the door open for her.

Beca grins and winks, then sashays through. It's a bit of a sideways two-step maneuver. Marching band might be over, but she's still got moves. "God, dude. You're so butch."

And even though it's brief, Beca's pretty sure that Chloe blushes.

It's a good look on her.

*

"You called me gross."

Suddenly, Chloe's not walking. It actually takes Beca a moment to notice, and then she has to double back. "What?" she says, laughing. Thinking this is some kind of joke.

But then Chloe looks up and her eyes are wet like she's almost ready to cry. Oh crap. "Earlier. With Aubrey."

Double crap. She looks really upset -- and this time because of something Beca did hours ago apparently, that she doesn't even remember. "I… don't think I'd do that."

But that only seems to make Chloe angry. "I think I remember when my best friends call me gross, Beca." She wipes her eyes with the back of her hand and frowns. "Jesus, this is stupid. Sorry."

"No, hey…" Actually, it is kind of dumb, but Beca knows that Chloe doesn't really mean that. What she means is she's embarrassed to be crying, and probably also ashamed of imagining that Beca said something she obviously never said. But both of those things aren't as stupid, so it's okay to be comforting, rubbing Chloe's shoulder. "It's all good, dude."

Chloe shakes her head and a single tear streaks down her face, playing connect the dots with her freckles. "It's not. It's really not good. Not any of it."

Suddenly Beca's reminded of why she doesn't really hang out with people. They get leaky, and then what do you do? Apart from squirming awkwardly and fidgeting with your hands, which Beca has already got covered just fine. "I'm sorry I called you gross?" she volunteers, still unclear on what context she could've possibly said that in. "You're not gross. You're pretty and you're smart, and--"

And very suddenly, Chloe is kissing her. So maybe add "blessed with good dramatic timing" to the list of qualities then.

Chloe is kissing her, and she tastes like sweet flavored lip-gloss.

Well, that and tears. But that part is probably temporary, so Beca just focuses on the rest. She wriggles up onto her toes and pushes forward, and this time it's her who tugs at Chloe's jacket.

But only a little. It's a good jacket, and it looks great on her. Beca doesn't want to fuck it up.

She doesn't want to fuck this up either, so she's the one to pull away first.

She rocks back on her heels, and Chloe is standing there stunned. Silent twice in one night. It's like a record. "… wow," she finally whispers.

Beca can't hide her grin. "Really?" She lifts her eyebrows. "I'm that good?" Probably she should at least pretend to be modest, but how often do you kiss someone and they're left almost speechless? This is something you revel in.

For as long as Chloe will let her, at least, which isn't very long. "Shut up." She rolls her eyes and laughs, defusing the tension out of her shoulders with a shake.

"No, no, no," Beca laughs, tangling her fingers up with Chloe's. She's not sure when she took her hand exactly, but might as well make use of it while she's got it. "Please, continue. I believe you were saying… wow." Maybe the laugh is almost more of a giggle now, high and lifting higher.

And maybe Chloe really does want to shut her up, because she kisses Beca again.

It's effective.

The laughs disappear inside their mouths, morphing into something more like a hum. Chloe's hand is cupping Beca's jaw, and maybe she can feel it thrumming there. Almost like a downbeat, and their tongues are keeping time.

She feels fingers in her hair and shivers. No headphones tonight -- she doesn't usually need them when she's hanging with Chloe -- but it's only strange now that Chloe's toying with her hair. She's aware of the lack of them. Fingers cup the back of her ears instead, and she grimaces, pulls back and makes a face.

"Don't…"

"What?" Chloe smiles, squeezing the hand she's still holding onto.

Beca's mouth wriggles as she shifts from foot to foot. It's twitchy again. "They're big and… just don't."

Chloe's giggle is soft but it feels so loud when she leans in close to kiss the very tip of Beca's ear.

It tickles. That bitch.

*

You free me from the past
you fuck the suburbs out of me.