The amphitheater was full of a cappella singers in various stages of drunkenness. There was singing all around, as well as talking and laughing. It was post-initiation night, and everyone there was eagerly looking forward to the coming year. In the specific case of Chloe Beale of the Barden Bellas, all those feelings were also mixed with a hefty dose of relief. For a time there it had looked like she and Aubrey wouldn't even manage to get a group together, much less get them to the Nationals. But they'd made it through at least the first step. The Barden Bellas went on. She put her arm around Aubrey's waist and pulled her friend close.
"Hey," she said. "Lay off the dour face. Have some whatever this is to drink. Party, girl! We made it!"
Aubrey frowned, although she made no attempt to escape Chloe's embrace.
"I don't know," she said. "A couple of them seem pretty weird."
"Who cares as long as they can sing and dance?" Chloe said. "We're all weird."
Aubrey looked at her.
"We're not as weird as that asian girl," she said.
"Lilly," Chloe said. "She was just a bit quiet."
"I think she said she was born with gills."
"Maybe she can use them to make cool sounds."
Aubrey's look turned disdainful.
"What about Beca?" Chloe said. "She's just what you said you wanted. Super hot, bikini-ready body, can harmonize and have perfect pitch."
Aubrey looked away.
"Well," she said. "We'll see if her attitude improves."
She tilted her head.
"Also, if she lasts at all," she said.
She pointed further up the amphitheater.
"She's up there, fraternizing with a Treble."
Chloe turned to look. Her face broke out in a huge smile.
"I'll take care of it," she said.
She let go of Aubrey and hurried up the steps. Aubrey remained where she was, following her with her eyes. A feeling of unease settled in her stomach. There was something about how Chloe looked at that new girl that made her uneasy. She loved her friend dearly, but at times she had a tendency to let her nether parts rather than her brain guide her actions. Not that she'd ever known Chloe to go for girls. But still.
"Well, you saw me naked," Beca said, with wink and a smile.
The smile did strange things to Chloe's innards.
"Yeah," she said. "I guess I should apologize for barging in on you like that. But I'm not going to."
Beca's smile turned amused.
"Really?" she said. "Well, different places, different ways."
"It got you here," Chloe said. "There's no way I can feel sorry for that."
"Flattery," Beca said. "Can't say I don't like it."
Chloe beamed a smile at her.
"Can I ask you something?" she said. "About your tattoo?"
Beca turned her head a little and looked at her.
"Which one?" she said. "Arm? Shoulder?"
"No," Chloe said. "The small one. Between your..."
She waved her hand back and forth across her bust.
Beca's eyebrows rose.
"There I was with my tits out," she said, "and you were looking at my tattoo? I should feel insulted."
"Oh no!" Chloe said. "Don't! Your tits are gorgeous! Really, really..."
Her gaze fell to about the level of the discussed body parts.
"...Gorgeous," she finished the sentence. "It's just, I saw the tattoo as well, and I wanted to ask what it means."
"How drunk are you right now?" Beca said. "Scale from one to ten?"
"Maybe... seven?" Chloe said. "Possibly eight."
"If I told you what it means to me, would you remember it tomorrow?"
Chloe straightened her back and put on a resolute face.
"Absolutely," she said.
Beca looked at her.
"Guess," she said.
"Guess," Beca repeated. "It's more fun if you figure it out yourself."
"All right," Chloe said. "I know the symbol for female, of course."
"Of course," Beca said.
"And two of them linked, that'd be that you like the ladies, right?"
"Are you telling me or asking me?"
"But I don't know what three of them linked means."
Beca leaned a little closer to her.
"Tell you what," she said. "Let's go out for dinner."
"You do like the ladies!"
"If you can figure out what the three linked female symbols mean to me, I'm paying. If you can't, you're paying."
For a few breaths, they looked into each other's eyes.
"It's a deal," Chloe said. "Tomorrow?"
"Sure," Beca said. "Of course, this all hinges on you actually remembering it in the morning."
Chloe put her hands on Beca's shoulders.
"Don't worry," she said. "This, I'll remember."
Aubrey turned away from Amy and looked up when she heard her name shouted. Chloe was hurrying towards them, clambering over chair backs and people on her way.
"Chloe?" Aubrey said when her friend was within earshot. "What's happening?"
"A pen!" Chloe said. "I need a pen! You've got to have a pen!"
Aubrey stared at her, confused.
"A pen?" she said. "Why would I bring a pen to a party?"
Chloe grabbed her shoulders and almost shook her.
"Because you're organized!"
"I'm sorry!" Aubrey said. "I don't have one!"
Suddenly, a black marker pen rose up between them.
"Voila," Amy said. "A pen!"
Chloe stared at it for a fraction of a second, then grabbed it, pulled the cap off and started writing on her own hand.
Aubrey looked down at the freshly initiated Bella.
"Why do you bring a pen to a party?" she said.
"Weeell," Amy said. "You know. You meet a guy, he falls for you, asks for your number..."
"No," Aubrey said. "I really don't."
"For a while, I was thinking of having cards printed," Amy said. "So I could just hand them out, you know? But then I thought, nah. Cards, they're paper, you know? Some beer, they get soggy and hard to read. They get lost, end up in the hands of some douche you want nothing to do with, all that. So, marker pen. Much better. It's a good one. Not bad for the skin, doesn't wash off too easy, so it lasts a couple of days. Enough to get over the hangover but not long enough to be a problem."
Aubrey stared at her.
"You plan this," she said.
"Yeah," Amy said. "Of course I plan this! You don't get nowhere in this world without planning, girl!"
Chloe handed the pen back to Amy.
"Thank you," she said. "You're a life saver."
"You're welcome," Amy said. "Bella sisters, right?"
Aubrey turned to Chloe.
"What was so important?" she said, confusion in her voice.
Chloe held up her hand. On it, the words "DATE WITH BECA TOMORROW" were written.
Aubrey's jaw dropped.
"Date?" she said. "You have a date with her?"
Chloe gave her a sheepish smile.
"I told you I'd get her away from that Treble guy?" she said.
"Well that sure worked!" Amy said. "Rock on, bitch! Wrong set of chromosomes for my taste, but I can see she's a hot one all right."
Aubrey was still staring at Chloe.
"So!" Chloe said, sounding a little nervous. "Who wants another drink?"
The rising sun found Aubrey Posen lying in her bed staring at the ceiling. She wasn't sure if she'd slept at all. Time had passed since she and Chloe left the initiation party and returned to the apartment they shared, but Aubrey didn't know what time it had been when they left, so that didn't help her figure out if she'd slept. Not that it mattered. The thoughts in her head didn't care if she'd been unconscious or not. If she had, they'd just started right back up again afterwards.
Chloe was going on a date. With a girl.
The first part wasn't strange. She did that quite a lot. Chloe was the sort of warm, friendly person everyone liked, and for the most part she liked everyone right back. Guys asked her out all the time, and fairly often she took them up on it. Only very rarely did she see someone more than once, though, and even more rarely did she spend the night with one.
But in all the years Aubrey had known her, she'd never gone out with a woman. Not that Aubrey knew of, at least. Come to think of it, she'd pretty much stopped asking Chloe about who she was seeing. It was actually quite possible that she'd been seeing a string of women, and just not mentioned their gender to Aubrey.
And even if Chloe had seen women, and Aubrey had known about it, it still wouldn't have made a difference. Aubrey was far to afraid of losing her as a friend to ever act on her feelings and ask Chloe out. She got to live with her, have her around all the time. That was enough. It had to be enough. It must be enough.
What if it wasn't?
She tried to imagine Chloe kissing the annoying little newbie. It made her heart beat, her hands involuntarily tighten into fists and lit up an all too familiar pressure in her throat. Slowly, she forced herself to relax before she threw up all over her bed.
Maybe she'd get lucky and their date would be a complete disaster.
The minute hand on the alarm clock jumped another notch forward, and Beca's stress level jumped with it. She'd been quietly freaking out since morning, when she was woken up by her phone chirping an incoming message.
"I REMEMBER!", the message said.
It was, of course, from Chloe.
She'd sat bolt upright in her bed and stared at the message. She really hadn't expected the older girl to do that. Slowly, a still panic crept up her spine. It hadn't left all day. She'd been completely unable to concentrate in any of her classes, and in the afternoon she just gave up. Instead of class, she went back to her room to try to figure out what to wear. To her date. With the hot redhead who'd barged in on her in the shower, and somehow left with at least a part of her heart. Who she'd met a grand total of four times, and knew nothing about.
It had felt so easy when she was the one sober person in a crowd of drunk people. The only one in control. When she could tease them, safely knowing that they'd either just not get it or forget it in a few minutes. Now, the day after, it felt... less safe. Chloe was older than her. More experienced. Had been at college for years rather than weeks. Had almost certainly had more than one serious relationship in her life.
Beca closed her eyes at a sudden upswell of memories. Her closed fist went to her chest, pressing through her blouse at the small tattoo there.
She shook her head and opened her eyes again. Well. Her dad had told her that college was for making memories. And a good, solid dating fuckup would be a memory all right.
She looked herself over in the mirror. Really tight jeans, white tank top, unbuttoned dark blue blouse over it. A bit heavy on the eyeliner, the way she liked it. It would have to do.
"What about this one?"
Chloe held up a short dress with a brightly colored floral pattern in front of herself.
"It shows off my legs," she said.
Nearly all the clothes she owned were spread around the room. The door to her wardrobe gaped open and empty. Shoes littered the floor.
"She's already seen you naked," Aubrey said. "Does it really matter how you dress?"
She was standing in the door to Chloe's room, leaning against the doorframe with her arms crossed over her chest.
Chloe frowned at her.
"Of course it matters!" she said. "I'm going on a date, and I want to look nice."
You always look nice, Aubrey thought. You probably couldn't look not nice if you tried.
"That one," she said, pointing at a dress hanging off a radiator. "It sets of your hair real well, and it also shows off your legs."
Chloe tossed the dress she was holding up on the bed and smiled at Aubrey. She was dressed in nothing but bra and panties, a sight that made Aubrey's breath hitch every time Chloe changed clothes. Which she'd been doing for hours.
"Thank you," Chloe said. "They're good legs. Dancer legs."
She got the dress off the radiator and pulled it over her head.
"Zip me up?" she said, turning her back to Aubrey.
Aubrey did as she was asked.
"Do you have any shoes to go with it?" she said.
"Not really," Chloe said. "I was thinking of taking the black ones. They're kind of neutral."
"I've got a pair you can borrow," Aubrey said. "The ones I wore at the Easter party last year, if you remember?"
You're helping her look good for another woman, Aubrey's brain reminded her. Actively helping her find someone who could be you but isn't. What is wrong with you?
"Oh, yeah, those!" Chloe said. "They're gorgeous!"
She sent a dazzling smile Aubrey's way, blue eyes and red lips melting the few shreds of resistance in Aubrey's mind.
Oh right, Aubrey's brain said. That is what's wrong with you.
"I'll go get them," Aubrey said.
Chloe hurried forward and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.
"Thanks," she said. "You're the best best friend ever."
Yeah, Aubrey thought. I really am.
Beca sat waiting for Chloe. The table was nice, in a fairly quiet corner of the fairly quiet restaurant. She was too nervous to think. Or to be hungry. She'd ordered something to drink since the waiter asked, but the glass stood untouched. Unlike the breadsticks, three of which she had reduced to crumbs. So far. That she couldn't figure out why she was this nervous didn't make it any easier. She vividly remembered the last time she'd been, and that had been... different.
She looked up from the ruins of the breadstick. Chloe was smiling down at her, all bright blue eyes and gorgeousness.
"Oh, hi," Beca said.
Chloe pulled out the chair and sat down.
"Sorry I'm late," she said. "I couldn't make up my mind about clothes."
"That's fine," Beca's mouth said, moving on autopilot. "You look fantastic."
"Thank you," Chloe said. "So do you."
The waiter appeared and put menus in front of them.
"Anything to drink, miss?" he asked Chloe.
"A glass of the house red, please," she said.
She looked at Beca's glass.
"What are you having?" she said. "That's a screwdriver, right?"
Beca shook her head.
"Just orange juice," she said. "I don't drink alcohol."
"I'm fine," she added in the direction of the waiter, who nodded and left.
"Oh?" Chloe said. "Any particular reason?"
Memory stabbed Beca's heart.
"Yes," she said. "I'd rather not talk about it."
"All right, mystery lady," Chloe said. "I'll be paying tonight, by the way."
"You don't have to," Beca said. "You were almost falling-down drunk when you agreed to it. It wouldn't be fair to hold you to it."
She got treated to another blinding smile.
"That's sweet," Chloe said. "But not necessary."
She leaned forward and put her hand on Beca's.
"Tell you what," she said. "I pay today, and you pay next time. OK?"
Beca couldn't help smiling back. She made no attempt to move her hand.
"Next time?" she said. "Don't you think it's a bit early to start planning a next time? Maybe I'll bore you stupid, or say something inappropriate, or have unacceptable opinions, or..."
She fell silent when she ran out of ideas.
"I doubt that very much," Chloe said. "I googled that symbol of yours."
"How did that make you doubt that I'll bore you?" she said.
"Oh, it didn't," Chloe said. "I was just changing the subject."
Her fingers started moving over the back of Beca's hand. Beca swallowed.
"So what did you find?" she said.
"Nothing," Chloe said. "Well, almost nothing. Some page claimed that it's the symbol for the international sisterhood of women, but I can't really see someone like you tattooing that between her breasts."
"You're right," Beca said. "That's not it at all. And we should probably decide what to order. The waiter is hovering."
They ended up staying at the restaurant for hours. The conversation had quickly drifted to music, and stayed there for some time. Beca talked about DJ work, and how to work existing music into something new. Chloe talked about a cappella singing, and the exploits of the old Bellas. They talked food, and books, and radio stations and many other things. Food appeared and was eaten in the traditional Italian manner. Beca's nervousness eased.
Chloe scraped the last shred of dessert from her plate and licked it off the spoon.
"We should probably leave before they throw us out," she said.
"I guess," Beca said. "Getting thrown out doesn't sound very fun."
Chloe beckoned to the waiter, who immediately brought the bill.
"So will I get to know about your tattoo?" she said as she counted out money.
Beca hesitated a little before answering.
"You'll figure it out in time," she said.
They got up from the table and headed out.
"In that case I'll need more times like this," Chloe said. "For the figuring out."
The warm night air brought along smells and laughter.
"Don't you want any more otherwise?" Beca said, nervousness suddenly back in full force. "Because if that's the only reason..."
She couldn't finish the sentence.
Chloe slid her arm under Beca's.
"I want to see you again no matter what," she said. "But if you want me to guess the meaning of the tattoo, then I'll need to see you again. Preferably often."
Sudden relief made Beca feel several pounds lighter.
"I'm game for as many as we can manage," she said. "I should probably save some time for studies, though. And Bellas practice."
"Sounds great," Chloe said.
She moved her arm to encircle Beca's waist, and for a time they walked in companionable silence. They got the odd look from other late night wanderers. Beca didn't care. She was well used to being the odd one out, the one who got more or less stealthily looked at. Although, it struck her after a little while, maybe Chloe felt otherwise. Even though it had been she who took the initiative.
"If you want to look less couple-y when we get to the campus, I'll understand," Beca said. "Because at the moment, we're kind of obvious."
Just to underscore it, she put her own arm around Chloe. It made it tricker to walk, with both of them holding the other, but it felt too nice for her to mind.
"I'm totally fine with that," Chloe said. "But what about you? You're new here. Maybe you want to start out careful?"
"No," Beca said. "Hiding is not an option."
She could hear her own words catch a little at remembered emotion.
"Well, then," Chloe said. "Then I'll enjoy your touch until I leave you at your dorm door."
"Your apartment is closer," Beca said. "It'd be stupid for you to walk across campus to mine and then back again."
"Maybe I don't want you out walking alone."
"But I have my official BU rape whistle!" Beca said, voice dripping with sarcasm. "What could possibly go wrong?"
"Yeah, those are pretty stupid," Chloe said.
"Besides," Beca said. "I want you to be safe too. So we'd just end up walking back and forth between our places all night. Which would be dumb."
"I'm not going to win this, am I?" Chloe said.
By now they were well into the campus, and close to Chloe and Aubrey's apartment.
"No," Beca said. "You're not. Am I?"
Chloe stopped and turned so she fully faced Beca. She bent down and placed a quick kiss between the shorter girl's eyebrows. The touch of her lips sent electric shivers all through Beca's body. For a few moments, her breathing just stopped.
"Take care, right?" Chloe said. "And text me when you get to your room. I'll worry until I do."
Beca let her breath out with a soft gasp. She looked at Chloe's smiling face for a few moments, trying to restrain an impulse. And failing. She reached up with both hands and put them on each side of Chloe's face. She pulled her down, rose up on her toes, and kissed her right on the lips. There was no resistance, and no hesitation before the taller girl responded in kind. For a few eternal moments, their tongues met and explored each other.
"Um," Beca said after they'd broken apart. "See you tomorrow at practice, then?"
"Sure," Chloe said. She sounded out of breath and her face was just as flushed as Beca's felt. "Don't forget to text when you get home! I'm serious that I'll worry."
Beca took her hand and squeezed.
"I will," she said. "Good night."
She turned and started quickly walking away, before her will failed her and she just stayed.
Behind a window on the first floor, Aubrey stood looking down at the two girls. She'd been sitting at her desk going over old Bellas notes from the previous captain, when she'd spotted them out of the corner of her eye as they passed under a streetlight. Chloe's hair and dress were both easy to spot from a distance, and when she turned to look she had no problem recognizing Beca next to her. They were walking with their arms around each other, in the slow ambling fashion of people more interested in keeping close than in where they were going.
The date obviously hadn't been a disaster. Quite the opposite, from the look of it.
Aubrey had turned her desk lamp off and walked over to the window. She'd watched the two of them as they approached the building door and kissed. With every touch she saw, every smile and adoring look, another part of her turned to ice.
She remained at the window after Beca had left. She heard Chloe's steps in the stairwell. Heard her unlock the door and enter. She was singing to herself. A sure sign of her being happy, Aubrey knew from the years they'd shared a home. She couldn't hear exactly what song it was, but it didn't really matter. She was singing.
Aubrey didn't know what to feel. On one hand, she felt like her whole world had been torn apart. Finding out that she could have approached Chloe with her feelings only when it was too late to do so... It hurt worse than anything she could remember. Only she couldn't let Chloe know. Mustn't show it at all, because if she did, that would hurt Chloe. Would tarnish and possibly destroy her happiness. And that just wasn't acceptable.
The sound of a fridge door opening came from the kitchen, and soon after the sound of liquid being poured into a glass. Aubrey leaned her head against the window, willing the chill of the glass to enter her and calm her down. She drew deep breaths until she felt she was calm enough to walk out and face Chloe.
"Hey," she said when she walked into the kitchen.
Chloe smiled at her. She was standing leaning against the kitchen counter, a glass of water in her hand.
"Hi," she said. "I hope I didn't wake you?"
Aubrey shook her head.
"I was going over old notes," she said. "How did it go?"
The intensity of Chloe's smile suddenly increased by an order of magnitude, and she actually blushed.
"It was fantastic," she said. "She's so awesome. And cute. And funny. And hot."
Aubrey's resolve faltered, but didn't break.
"But you didn't take her home," she said. "Or go with her. Don't you usually do that with good dates?"
"Usually," Chloe said. "I'm pretty sure Beca would have if I'd asked her to."
"So why didn't you? I mean," Aubrey said, "that's how you like it, isn't it?"
"I don't really know," Chloe said. "I totally want to do her, it's not that. Really not. And that last kiss! Seriously, I saw stars."
The words were hitting Aubrey like hammer blows.
"Wow," she said.
"It's just that..."
Chloe's voice trailed off, and she looked thoughtfully into her glass.
"It feels like this could be special," she said after a little while. "Like this could be something that lasts for a long time. And I'm afraid that if I hurry it, that'll spoil it."
"I see," Aubrey said.
Chloe's smile turned mischievous.
"Also, anticipation is kind of fun," she said. "If it doesn't go on for too long."
She looked at Aubrey, and her smile turned into a worried frown.
"Are you OK?" she said. "You look really tense."
Aubrey shook her head.
"Just tired," she said. "I think I'll go to bed."
"You do that," Chloe said. "I'm too wound up to sleep. I think I'll read for a while."
She finished her water and put the glass in the sink. She reached out and squeezed Aubrey's hand.
"You take care now," she said. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Getting a Girlfriend
"That oath was serious?"
"Dixie Chicks serious!"
Aubrey looked genuinely upset. Beca listened to the heartfelt rant that followed for a while, then her gaze drifted over to the redhead standing behind Aubrey. The redhead she'd gone out with the night before. Who she'd kissed the night before. Who she really, really wanted to kiss again. Many, many times. She tried smiling at her, but Chloe didn't see. She was looking at Aubrey, a worried frown on her face. Worried and, Beca suddenly realized, expectant.
Aubrey suddenly broke off her tirade in the middle of a sentence. Her throat moved, as if she was repeatedly swallowing. Chloe smoothly stepped forward, grabbed hold of her and turned her around.
"Relax, OK?" Beca heard her whisper. "We don't want a repeat of last year, right?"
She put one hand on Aubrey's hip and stroked the side of her face with the other.
A pang of jealousy stabbed through Beca, intense enough to make her grunt. She looked away. There was no reason for her to feel that way, she told herself. Chloe and Aubrey were old friends. They'd been living together for years. And even if they hadn't, it wasn't as if Beca had any sort of claim on Chloe, exclusive or otherwise. Sure, the date had gone marvelously, but that didn't necessarily mean anything.
Oh God, how she hoped it meant something.
With a Herculean effort she fought down her feelings enough that she could pay attention to the practice.
"Beca, a word?"
Beca walked back to Aubrey.
"You know, you'll have to take those ear monstrosities out for the Fall Mixer," Aubrey said.
The two of them had been more or less at odds all through the practice session. From Beca's initial questioning of Aubrey throwing out the girls who'd slept with Treblemakers members, through the old-fashioned choreography and the – in Beca's opinion – dreadfully dull arrangement of their songs, there had been constant tension. Beca didn't think it really had very much to do with her ear spike.
"You really don't like me, do you?" Beca said.
"I don't like your attitude," Aubrey said.
"You don't know me."
"I know Chloe's sweet on you."
"Is that a problem?"
"It is if the two of you are making googly eyes at each other instead of paying attention to practice," Aubrey said. "So stop it."
"Yeah," Beca said, "we're paying attention just fine, and you're not the boss of me, so..."
"You took an oath!"
"A stupid one, about Trebles, not Bellas. And it already cost you two girls today, so I think you need me more than I need you."
Aubrey's expression darkened.
"If you hurt her, I'll rip your guts out," she said.
There was a disturbing amount of vehemence in the threat. Beca took an involuntary step back.
"Is that more or less important than paying attention during practice?" she said. "Just so I know the priorities."
Aubrey glared at her.
"Just shape up," she said.
"Yeah," Beca said. "See you tomorrow."
She could feel Aubrey's glare follow her as she walked out. As she passed through the door, she heard Chloe's voice behind her.
"Everything OK?" she said.
"Yeah," Aubrey responded. "Everything's just fine."
Beca saw Chloe again the same evening. She got a text on her way from Bella practice to class asking if she wanted to hang out, and she'd already answered yes before it occurred to her to check if she'd got anything else planned. Not that there was any big chance of that, but she had a feeling that she should at least have checked.
"Your place or mine?" she texted back. "Or, do we bother Aubrey or Kimmy Jin?"
"Kimmy Jin," came the response. "Aubrey is in a weird mood. 6pm ok?"
Somehow she got through the lecture, although she couldn't have said what it was about if her life depended on it. She returned to her room intending to get some studying done before Chloe arrived, but it turned out to be impossible. The closer the time got to six, the more nervous she got, and the more nervous she got the less she could sit still. And the less Beca could sit still the more irritated Kimmy Jin got. By the tenth or so grossly exaggerated sigh Beca started thinking about recording one and using it in a mix.
"Are you going to settle down?" Kimmy Jin eventually asked.
Beca glanced at clock on her laptop screen. Half past five.
"Um," she said. "My sort-of maybe girlfriend is supposed to come here soon."
Kimmy Jin gave her a judgmental look.
"Girlfriend," she said.
"Yeah," Beca said. "Maybe. I'm not sure."
"Are you going somewhere?"
"Um. I don't know. We haven't really planned."
Kimmy Jin glared at her, sighed and started moving her books into her backpack.
"I'll be back by midnight," she said.
She left without saying another word. Beca sat down on her own bed and drew a breath of relief. Which lasted maybe five seconds.
Now she had the room to herself. She and Chloe didn't need to go out. They could stay here, in private. Which suddenly opened up certain options for what to do. Beca's heart sped up, and she felt her palms grew sweaty. She couldn't get the memory of Chloe in the shower out of her mind.
"Oh God," she mumbled to herself.
Some music might calm her down, but she didn't dare put on her headphones for fear of missing when Chloe knocked. Although, from what she'd seen of Chloe so far, it was far from certain that she would knock before barging in. Either way, Beca didn't want to take the risk. She unplugged the headphones, turned the volume way down and hit random play. Which, of course, meant that the stupid program started playing "Titanium".
"Oh you've got to be kidding," Beca whispered.
But she didn't turn it off. Instead, she raised the volume again and hit repeat.
It turned out that Chloe did knock. Also, that she did so on time, almost to the second.
"Wow, you're really punctual," Beca heard herself say instead of something sensible like "Hi" or "Welcome".
"I didn't want to be early," Chloe said, looking a little embarrassed. "I've been waiting in the corridor for like ten minutes."
Beca had only turned down the volume on "Titanium" a couple of minutes ago.
"Did you hear...?"
"Right," Beca said. "Well, come in."
Chloe did. She was dressed more casually than the day before, in a green t-shirt and blue jeans.
"Kimmy Jin isn't here?" she asked.
Beca shook her head.
"She said she'll be back by midnight."
Chloe smiled, and Beca's insides just melted.
"So we've got the room to ourselves for the whole evening?"
Chloe closed the door behind her.
"So what do you want to do?" she said.
Somehow, she'd ended up standing so close to Beca that they were almost touching. Beca could smell her, a heady mix of something floral and something she couldn't identify. Whatever it was, she liked it. A lot.
"I'm kind of hungry," Beca said.
It was totally a cop-out. What she wanted to do was take Chloe's clothes off and kiss her all over, slowly, proceeding from her bright blue eyes down to and all over her shapely legs. She just didn't have the guts to say so.
"We could go get takeout," Chloe said. "Take it back here."
"Sounds awesome," Beca said. "If it's what you want to do?"
Another of Chloe's heart-melting smiles came Beca's way.
"I'm up for anything," she said. "As long as it's with you."
Words failed Beca. All she managed to get out was an short embarrassed laugh. She put her hands on Chloe's hips and tried to collect herself enough to talk.
"Let's go get that food, OK?" she said.
At some point, what happens becomes inevitable. They never really decide to do it, it's rather that they both want to so much that they keep pushing a little bit further and the other never pushes back. So forward it goes, one small step after another. Chloe takes Beca's hand while they walk to and from the Chinese takeout place. Later, back in the room, Beca offers a particularly tasty dumpling to Chloe by holding it up to her lips with her chopsticks. Chloe carefully engulfs it with her mouth, so as not to make it drop, her eyes locked to Beca's as she does so. From there, it doesn't take long before the food cartons are left ignored on Beca's desk. Beca sits on Chloe's lap, facing her, kissing her, undressing her. Chloe responds in kind. When she has taken Beca's bra off, she buries her hand in Beca's hair and gently pulls her back, so she can lean forward and reach the triple-female tattoo she first saw in the shower with her lips. She kisses it once, twice, three times. Beca keeps leaning back until she's lying down, pulling Chloe with her as she moves, pulling her up so they can kiss again, kiss more, harder, longer. Hands travel faster, breaths speed up. Legs spread. Hands and mouths caress hypersensitive skin, touching, licking. Time has ceased to matter, its meaning obliterated by the music of sexual ecstasy.
"I didn't plan this," Chloe said quite some time later.
They were lying in Beca's bed, a blanket half-heartedly pulled over them. Chloe was on her back, Beca on her side resting her head on Chloe's shoulder. She frowned.
"Do you regret it?"
Chloe lifted her head a little and tried to look at Beca.
"What?" she said. "No!"
She placed a kiss on the top of Beca's head.
"I just had this idea that I should take it easy with you," she said. "Not hurry things."
"I'm not a virgin," Beca said. "Or, I mean, I wasn't even before this. If that's what you were worried about."
"No, not that," Chloe said.
She was silent for a little while.
"I hope you won't be upset about this, but I've dated quite a lot," she said. "Brief things. Like, I'd see someone I thought was hot, and I date them once and we'd have a fun night or a fun weekend and that was it."
"Ok," Beca said. "Not upset. Yet."
"It didn't feel like that with you," Chloe said. "At least not after I had talked to you. With you, it felt like this isn't just someone who's crazy hot, it's someone I want to be with for a long time. Like it was special. And if I did like I usually do and try to get you into bed on the first date, that would mess up the specialness. So I wanted to wait."
Beca reached up and stroked her cheek.
"Really not upset," she said. "That's the most romantic thing anyone's said to me since..."
Her voice trailed off. Chloe was just about to ask what was wrong when she continued.
"Well, for quite some time," she said.
Chloe turned over on her side so they lay facing each other.
"That sounded like something painful happened," she said. "Want to talk about it?"
Beca drew a deep breath.
"Not really," she said. "Someone died."
"Oh," Chloe said. "I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry too," Beca said. "I messed up your specialness. If I'd known we could've waited. Done the whole champagne and rose petals and scented candles thing."
Chloe ran her finger along Beca's lips.
"Do you want the same thing I do?" she asked. "To be together? Not just for tonight, but for, well, longer?"
She tried not to tense up in anticipation of a negative answer.
"I've only known you for a few days," Beca said.
"I know," Chloe said, heart sinking. "No problem, it's just me being silly."
She tried to pull her hand back, but Beca took hold of it and kissed her fingers.
"Yes," she said. "I'd very much like to be your steady girlfriend. I just wanted to warn you that you may change your mind when you actually get to know me."
"I seriously doubt that," Chloe said.
If Beca had any response to that, it was silenced by kisses.
When Beca woke up the next morning, Chloe was gone and Kimmy Jin was back. As trades go, it wasn't Beca's favorite ever. The other girl was already up and dressed, of course. She was also standing looking at Beca with a note in her hand.
"What?" Beca said, voice still sleepy.
"I thought you said she wasn't your girlfriend?" Kimmy Jin said.
A warm glow spread in Beca's chest, and she could feel herself break out in a silly smile.
"She is now," she said.
"Oh," Kimmy Jin said. "I guess she's not so bad."
Beca shook her head in an attempt to wake up.
"Wait," she said. "You approve? Of something to do with me?"
Kimmy Jin waved the note a little.
"She left me this," she said. "Thanking me for giving you the room last night."
That sounded a lot like something Chloe would do.
"We owe you one," Beca said.
"I know," came the reply.
After Kimmy Jin left to do whatever she did, it took a while before Beca was awake enough to notice that there was a note lying on her headphones.
"Sorry to leave before you wake up," it said, "but I need to get home for a shower and fresh clothes. See you later at practice! XXXX, your girlfriend Chloe."
She sat staring at it for a long time with a silly smile on her face.
Their first public performance was a disaster. The singing was appalling, and the dancing worse. They got asked to leave in the middle of the first song, and, if anything, Beca wished it had happened sooner. When Aubrey told them to remember the feeling so they'd want to never feel it again, she heartily agreed with her. Sure, it had been far too early for the mostly new group to give a public performance, but as a motivator to not suck it worked quite fine.
The only problem was that they kept sucking.
Sure, the singing got better – a lot better – and the dancing improved considerably as well. What kept them from actually being good was Aubrey's dogged insistence that they never change their repertoire, or even the choreography of the songs. Beca kept trying to suggest changes, and Aubrey kept refusing. Beca would've argued more and harder if she hadn't felt that there was something to Aubrey's argument that Beca just didn't have enough experience of competitive a cappella to know what would work or not.
She also would've argued more if Chloe hadn't asked her to keep it down. Which was perfectly understandable. Chloe lived with Aubrey, after all, and got to suffer the most if Beca pissed Aubrey off. Not to mention that it made it quite awkward when Beca stayed the night with Chloe. Which happened several times a week. At times, days passed between the times she went back to her own room. She supposed Kimmy Jin liked that just fine, and considered it a worthwhile investment to have given them that evening. She also supposed that Aubrey liked it rather less, but if she really couldn't stand Beca being there she didn't let on. At least not very much. They both tried to keep things civil.
And of course there were Chloe's vocal nodes, and their consequences.
Beca closed the door to Chloe's bedroom as softly as she could and stalked into the kitchen. More to have something to do than because she was thirsty, she got a bottle of water out of the fridge. Her hands were shaking badly enough that she almost dropped it, and tears were on the verge of falling down her face.
"How is she?"
Beca looked up, startled. Aubrey was sitting at the kitchen table, in the dark.
"Sleeping," Beca said. "The painkillers finally kicked in."
She went and sat down at the other side of the table from Aubrey. She didn't bother to open the water bottle.
"If you read about nodes on the net, it says they're not painful," Aubrey said.
"Then the net is full of shit," Beca said. "I hate seeing her like this."
"Me too," Aubrey said.
"If they're not supposed to be painful, what's going on with Chloe?"
"She's singing," she said. "It irritates the nodules, they get inflamed and, well,..."
She gestured in the general direction of Chloe's bedroom.
They sat in silence for some time.
"She'll be crushed if she can't sing," Beca said eventually.
"I know," Aubrey said. "But what can we do?"
"Look," Beca said. "I know you hate changing our songs, but couldn't we at least move Chloe to a part that doesn't strain her voice as much? She won't like it, but it's got to be better than this."
There was a long pause before Aubrey spoke.
"Yeah," she said. "We can do that."
"Thank you," Beca said.
She opened the bottle.
"Do you want some?" she said.
Aubrey shook her head.
"I love her too, you know," she said.
"I know," Beca said. "You two have been friends since third grade."
"Yeah," Aubrey said. "Friends."
Beca frowned. There was a strange kind of emphasis to Aubrey's words. She shook her head a little. It was the middle of the night and they were both exhausted. She was hearing things that weren't there.
"I'm taking the couch," she said. "I don't want to risk waking her up, but I want to be here when she does."
"There are some spare pillows and stuff in the closet," she said.
"Hi," Chloe rasped the next day.
"Don't talk," Beca said. "Please. Your vocal cords need rest."
She sat down on the edge of the bed and held out a legal pad and a pen to Chloe.
"Here," she said. "So you can communicate. Or text, if I'm out of view."
Chloe wrote something on the pad and held it up, smiling.
"Yes, mom!" it said.
Before Beca managed to think of a good response, Chloe was writing again.
"What was you and Aubrey arguing about this morning?" she wrote.
Her smile was gone.
Beca looked away, then back.
"You realize that even if you're in shape to sing at Regionals, there's no way you can do your solo?"
"Sucks," she wrote.
"That it does," Beca said. "Anyway, Aubrey and I were, um, discussing who should do it instead."
"YOU" Chloe wrote, then underlined it three times.
"Yeah, well," Beca said, blushing a little. "Aubrey actually suggested that."
Chloe gave her a "So?" look.
"I kind of demanded that I get to choose the song and choreography," Beca said.
Chloe tilted her head and raised her eyebrows.
"Because we have to!" Beca said. "We're never going to win if we keep boring people to death!"
She stroked Chloe's blanket-covered thigh.
"Anyway, things got loud," she said. "As I guess you heard. And we'll do the same old song. Again. Fat Amy gets your solo."
Chloe pulled her into a hug. Beca closed her eyes. The soft warmth felt so good. She stayed where she was when Chloe's arms released her, and while Chloe wrote something. She opened her eyes at a nudge.
"I wish you guys wouldn't fight," the pad read.
"I try not to," Beca said. "But it's just so damn frustrating. We are good. We could beat the crap out of the Trebles. But we're not going to as long as Aubrey stops us from changing."
"For me," Chloe wrote. "Please?"
Beca sat up.
"I'll do my best," she said.
Chloe smiled at her and gave her a quick kiss.
"Thank you," she mouthed.
Chloe really knew that Beca was right. They'd managed second place in the regionals by the skin of their teeth, and if Amy hadn't put on a surprisingly vivid performance they quite likely would have lost right there. Yet Aubrey chewed Amy out for not following the plan. Which made Beca jump in to defend her, and in seconds Chloe's girlfriend and best friend were having a screaming row.
It tore at her heart to see them. It didn't help in the slightest that she knew perfectly well that Aubrey was wrong, or that she couldn't understand why Aubrey was so incredibly stubborn about it. It was as if she wanted to completely recreate last year, only this time without the projectile vomit. Which she had to know was impossible.
Chloe wished she could talk to her friend, but Aubrey had grown increasingly distant since Chloe had started seeing Beca. It was hard not to think she disapproved of their relationship, but every time Chloe asked Aubrey claimed she was all right with it.
"So what are your plans for Christmas this year?" Chloe asked one day in late November.
It was a chilly and wet day, and they were both at home, theoretically studying.
"I'm going to see my parents," Aubrey said.
"Oh," Chloe said.
"Did you want to do something together?" Aubrey said. "If so, I'm sorry. I just assumed you were going to be with Beca."
"No, it's fine," Chloe said. "It's just, I... It's fine."
Aubrey frowned at her.
"Are you sure?" she said. "I'll cancel if you want me to stay."
Chloe shook her head.
"I'll be fine," she said. "Say hi to your parents from me."
"Are you sure?" Aubrey repeated. "You will be with Beca, won't you? I don't want you to be alone on Christmas."
Chloe smiled at her. At least they hadn't grown so far apart that Aubrey didn't care about her.
"I'm sure," she said. "Go. Have a good time. Come back rested."
"I'll call and check," Aubrey said. "And I'll be back for New Year's."
"I'll be waiting," Chloe said.
"So what are your plans for Christmas?" Chloe said.
It was late night. She and Beca were in her bed, having just made love. She was lying on her side next to Beca, slowly running her fingers over her lover's still perspiration-moist chest.
"Whatever you're doing," Beca said. "If you'll have me. Sitting in front of my computer with headphones on, if not."
"We may have a problem there," Chloe said.
Beca turned her head and looked at her.
"Oh?" she said. "What?"
"I was planning to do whatever you're doing, if you'll have me."
"I see," Beca said.
"What about Aubrey?" she added.
"Visiting her parents."
There was a pause.
"So we have the apartment to ourselves?" Beca finally said. "For, what, a week? With nothing we need to do? No Bellas rehearsals, no studying, no nothing?"
"Pretty much," Chloe said.
Beca suddenly pushed Chloe over on her back and straddled her hips. She leered down at her.
"I think we can figure out some way to pass the time," she said. "And I'll definitely have you."
Chloe laughed, then pulled Beca down and kissed her.
Aubrey called at noon on Christmas Day. Chloe had been half-expecting it since she woke up, so when the phone finally started playing her special Aubrey ringtone, she just lifted it to her ear. Beca nodded at her from the other end of the couch.
"Wish her Merry Christmas from me," she said, put on her headphones and got her laptop off the floor.
"Hi there," Chloe said to the phone.
"Merry Christmas," Aubrey said. "How's it going?"
"Pretty great," Chloe said. "You?"
"Christmas is a family holiday, and I'm with my family," Aubrey said. "Do you have company?"
"Yes. She wishes you a Merry Christmas."
"Let me talk to her."
"You want to talk to Beca? For serious?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
Because you detest her, Chloe thought. But she couldn't say that.
"No reason," she said. "Hang on a moment."
She nudged Beca with her foot. Beca lifted her headphones.
"What?" she said.
"Aubrey wants to talk to you."
"To me? Why? What did I do?"
Beca frowned and took the phone.
"Yeah, it's Beca," she said.
"No," she said a moment later.
"Ok," came next.
After which she removed her headphones entirely, got up from the couch, walked into Aubrey's bedroom and closed the door.
Chloe stared after her.
What on Earth was this?
"Did you get her a present?" was the first thing Beca heard Aubrey say through the phone.
Which she hadn't. She'd completely forgot. Christmases had stopped being something to look forward to after her father left them, so she'd gotten into the habit of ignoring it as much as she could.
"No," she said.
"I suspected you wouldn't," Aubrey said. "Would you go to my bedroom and close the door behind you? Please?"
Beca's first instinct was to refuse on principle, but the "please" threw her off. That wasn't entirely like Aubrey.
"Ok," she said.
She disentangled herself from headphones and laptop, and did as she'd been asked.
"All right," she said. "Door's closed. Chloe shouldn't hear what I say. What's going on?"
"You asked Chloe if she cared about Christmas decorations and music and a tree and all that, right? And she said no?"
Beca had, more or less. She'd asked if Chloe wanted help putting up decorations or buying a tree or something. Chloe had said she didn't do that sort of thing.
"Not in those words, but yeah."
"I thought as much," Aubrey said. "The thing is, she lied. Or, not lied, exactly. She thinks she doesn't like those things. But if they aren't there in some way, she gets sad. I think a present will be enough. There is one under my bed, with space for you to sign your name next to mine on the card. If she starts being mopey later, there's a plastic tree and some things to decorate it with in my closet."
Beca was speechless. She'd had no idea Chloe felt that way, and she was amazed that Aubrey would help them this way.
"I had no idea," she said. "It really seemed like she didn't care."
"You've known her a couple of months, Beca," Aubrey said. "I've known her since we were nine."
She sounded tired.
"Thank you," Beca said.
She really meant it. She hoped Aubrey could hear that.
"I'm doing this for her," Aubrey said. "Not for you."
That was so much more like the Aubrey Beca expected that she had to smile.
"Totally understandable," she said. "It's still... you could have just done nothing and let us both have a bad time."
"I never want Chloe to have a bad time," Aubrey said. "If that means helping you look better than you really should, so be it."
When did Aubrey get this fucking noble?
"I won't sign my name," she said. "It was your idea, so it should be all from you."
"Oh please," Aubrey said. "She'll figure it out, and I bought it to be from both of us anyway. Just sign and say it's from you too. It's only a new robe, nothing special."
"Ok," Beca said. "Aubrey?"
"I hope you're having a good Christmas," she said. "I really, really do."
"Thank you," Aubrey. "Merry Christmas to you too."
She hung up. Beca remained sitting looking at the phone for while. There was something off about Aubrey's behavior, but she couldn't put her finger on what. Or maybe it was just how she got during the winter holidays. It wasn't like Beca had any grounds for comparison. She put the phone away, and knelt down to look under the bed. As Aubrey had said, there was a present there. A square box, wrapped in red paper with holly and mistletoe decoration. A card and a pen lay on top of it. She fished it out. The inside of the card simply said "Merry Christmas to Chloe from Aubrey". There was plenty of space for her to add "and Beca". It was even the same pen, so it was hard to see that both names hadn't been there to begin with. She left the pen on the bedside table.
Chloe was looking worried when Beca returned to the living room. She hadn't moved from the couch.
"What did she want?" she said.
Beca held out the present.
"Merry Christmas!" she said.
Chloe stared at it.
"For me?" she said.
"From Aubrey," she said.
"And me," she added.
Chloe took it.
"You shouldn't have," she said.
The smile on her face was saying something else entirely.
"It was Aubrey's idea," Beca said. "She said it was kind of important to you."
Chloe started taking the wrapping paper off.
"I wouldn't say important," she said.
Again, her expression didn't agree at all with her words.
The robe, once Chloe got it out, turned out to be made from deep jade-green silk that went fabulously with Chloe's hair and eyes. She stood up and held it in front of her.
"It's gorgeous," she said. "I didn't get you anything. Either of you."
"That's fine," Beca said. "The way you're smiling right now is present enough."
"Aubrey can't see that."
She spun around, still holding the robe to her.
"Put it on," Beca said. "I'll take a picture and send it to her."
"I can't wear clothes under this," Chloe said.
Beca smiled at her.
"You say that like it's a problem," she said.
Chloe wore the robe for the rest of the day, except for the times when neither of them wore anything at all. They ordered in Chinese for dinner, and when midnight loomed Chloe wanted to watch a movie on TV.
"It's Heathers," Chloe said. "You'll like it."
"Now you sound like this guy at the radio station who used to flirt with me all the time," Beca said.
"He likes movies?"
"He said he was going to give me a movie education," Beca said. "Then he got all weird when I asked if my girlfriend could come too."
"If I can have my head in your lap while I watch I don't care if you actually do or not," Chloe said.
"Works for me," Beca said.
Chloe laid down, remote control in hand.
"There's eggnog," she said. "Do you want some?"
"No alcohol, remember?"
"I do," Chloe said. "I bought the kind where you get to add your own, if you want to."
Beca stroked her hair.
"Maybe later," she said.
Chloe looked up at her.
"You still haven't told me why you don't drink," she said. "I know that something happened, but not what."
Beca's expression turned haunted, and she was silent for quite a long while. On the TV screen, three girls named Heather played croquet using the head of a girl named Veronica instead of a hoop.
"I wanted more wine," Beca finally said. "But I didn't want to go get it myself. So I tried to convince Jessica to go instead. We knew a liquor store that'd sell to us, even though we were underage. It was maybe ten minutes drive away. Jessica didn't want to go, on the quite reasonable grounds that we were all too drunk to drive. But I kept nagging, and eventually she relented. Stephanie decided to go with her."
Beca visibly swallowed before she went on.
"I don't know exactly what happened," she said. "But for some reason they went off the road doing about seventy. The car flipped several times, and landed with the driver's side down on a concrete block. Stephanie survived with several cracked ribs and a broken collarbone. Jessica..."
Beca fell silent. She'd gone pale, and Chloe was about to tell her that she didn't have to say any more when she continued.
"A corner of the concrete block caved in the driver's side door," she said. "It was pushed far enough inside that it crushed the side of Jessica's ribcage. She died before the ambulance got there."
There were tears on Beca's face. Chloe sat up and put her arms around her.
"The last thing she ever said to me was ´I'm only doing this because you're so damn cute when you pout´," Beca said.
"Oh my God," Chloe said. "She was your girlfriend?"
"Oh, Beca! That's horrible!" Chloe said, hugging her harder. "Now I feel like an ass for making you talk about it."
Beca shook her head, and wiped her face with her hand.
"No, that's fine," she said. "I want you to know. Anyway, I haven't drunk any alcohol since. I just don't want to any more."
"And no wonder," Chloe said. "Poor you!"
Beca shook her head.
"No," Beca said. "I was snug at home. Poor Stephanie. She got to hang from her seatbelt in excruciating pain for half an hour, listening to Jessica die. She hasn't talked to me since. I don't blame her. Some days I don't really want to talk to me either."
"How long ago was this?" Chloe asked.
"About a year and a half," Beca said.
"Or, to be more precise, seventeen months, three weeks and two days," she said.
Chloe hugged her harder.
"What can I do to make you feel better?" she said.
"Don't die," Beca said. "Don't leave me."
"I'll do my best," Chloe said. "And never."
She stroked Beca's hair.
"Do you want to go to bed?" she said. "You look kind of wrung out."
"I thought you wanted to see this movie?"
"I've seen it," Chloe said. "And I have a feeling my girlfriend needs me right now, so the movie will have to wait."
"Is it OK if we go to bed and you just hold me?" Beca said.
"Of course," Chloe said.
She gently kissed Beca and took her to bed.
The spring term started and rehearsals with it. Beca had some hope that things would go better than they had during the fall, after her Christmas talk with Aubrey, but that hope was soon dashed. If anything, Aubrey was even more unwilling to allow the slightest change or deviation from how the Bellas had done things the year before. For Chloe's sake, Beca tried to bite her tongue and go with it. If nothing else, the dogged repetition of the same songs and moves made sure that they were actually really good at performing them. Gone was the chaos of that first travesty of a public performance, and in its place was an almost robot-like precision. By now, they were actually really good.
What bugged Beca was that if they only added some variation and fun, they could be awesome.
The tension didn't go unnoticed. As soon as anything went wrong, everyone would stop for a moment to see if it would lead to another explosion between her and Aubrey. Beca tried not blow up at the older girl, since she could easily see that every time it happened it made Chloe a little bit sadder. But she had a temper, and every few days she'd fail to control herself.
"Doesn't it bug you guys?" she said to Stacie, Cynthia Rose and Amy one day on their way from practice. "That technically, we're really good but as a show, we're a snoozefest?"
"I wouldn't say that we suck, exactly," Amy say. "Yes, a bit on the repetitive side, but..."
"Oh please," Cynthia Rose said. "You could bottle us and sell us as a sleeping pill. I'm with Beca on this one."
"Me too," Stacie said. "Maybe that's what happened last year. Aubrey got so fed up with The Sign that she puked. I won't lie, I've felt the temptation myself."
"You feel every temptation," Cynthia Rose said under her voice.
"Yeah," Amy said. "I know, really. But come on, we've got time. We can do better next year. There's no need to raise a ruckus now. It just makes everyone sad."
Unfortunately even Beca could see that Amy had a point. So she kept trying.
But then semifinals happened.
"What the Hell, Beca?" Aubrey were almost screaming. "Were you trying to screw us up?"
Beca stared at her.
"Are you serious?" she said.
"Newsflash!" Aubrey spat. "This isn't the Beca show!"
"No," Beca said. "It's the loser show! They audience were yawning, Aubrey! The judges were checking their phones! Probably posting on Facebook about how much we suck!"
Every word was like a needle in Chloe's soul.
"It's not your job to decide what we do or when we do it!" Aubrey said. "Why don't you ask the rest of the group what they thought about your little improvisation?"
"Amy?" Beca said, after a little hesitation.
Amy looked acutely uncomfortable.
"It did take us a little by surprise..."
"Yeah, a lot by surprise!" Aubrey said. "I knew you weren't Bella material! I should never have listened to Chloe!"
"Oh, so now it's her fault?"
Beca and Aubrey were practically screaming at each other. All around them, people were stopping to look at what was going on. There was as huge hard knot in Chloe's stomach.
"Beca, please," she said. "If you'd only..."
Beca stared at her with a shocked expression.
"You're taking her side?" she said. "Seriously?"
"You're a grade-A pain in everyone's butt!" Aubrey yelled. "Your attitude stinks, and you have no idea how to work in a group."
Beca wasn't even looking at Aubrey.
"Chloe?" she said.
"Beca," Chloe said. "You have to understand..."
"No, that's fine," Beca interrupted. "I can see when I've overstayed my welcome."
At first Chloe didn't understand what she was saying, and just frowned. But when Beca turned around and walked away, it became all too clear.
"Beca, wait!" she shouted.
Or at least tried to. All that came out was a low croaking sound.
Her hands flew to her throat and stunned incomprehension flooded her mind.
"Chloe?" she heard Aubrey say. "What's wrong?"
It took Chloe a few seconds to figure out what was wrong.
"Nodes," she rasped. "My nodes."
In the distance, a door slammed shut. Chloe looked in the direction Beca had left, but there was nothing left to see.
Aubrey had never in her life felt like such a monumental asshole as she did the following night, and she fervently hoped that she never would again. She'd had to lead the devastated Chloe home, since her friend hardly reacted to anything at all.
"It'll be OK," Aubrey had whispered, because that was what you said in situations like these, even when you didn't believe it yourself.
In this case, Chloe didn't believe it either. She curled up in fetal position on her bed and started crying. Not gentle, soothing tears, but full-body heart-wrecking sobs that left the redheaded girl gasping and shivering in between bouts of crying.
"I'm sorry," Aubrey whispered to her. "I'm so sorry, Chloe. I really shouldn't have said what I did."
Chloe only turned her back to Aubrey in response. Aubrey sat there, perched on the edge of Chloe's bed, for a while in case Chloe would change her mind. When it became obvious that that wouldn't happen, she left. She walked into the dark kitchen, vaguely thinking that she ought to eat something. It had been many hours since they last ate, and she ought to be hungry. But she wasn't. Her stomach felt like a solid lump of fear, and she was sure that if she ate anything whatsoever she'd puke. She ended up standing at the kitchen sink, gripping it's edge with white-knuckled force.
This was what she'd wanted. This was what she'd fantasized about. Beca leaving Chloe. Leaving room for Aubrey to swoop in and comfort the distraught Chloe, comfort that would lead to closeness and love. The reality turned out to be far, far different. There was no room for romance, no room for comfort or budding feelings of love. There was only despair and pain, and Aubrey had no idea how to fix either of those. All she could do was stand there in the dark and listen to the woman she was in love with cry her broken heart out.
She went and sat down on the living room couch. Not reading or watching anything, just sitting there. In the dark. Listening to Chloe cry and feeling her own heart break one sob at a time. Eventually, long past midnight, Chloe fell asleep. From exhaustion, most likely. Which made the sobs stop, but in their stead came the most heartrending little whimpers Aubrey had ever heard.
The whimpers were what finally cracked Aubrey's will. Even in her sleep, Chloe was suffering.
She took out her phone, and with an effort of will called Beca's number. It rang once, and then went straight to voice mail.
"Hi," she said. "It's Aubrey. I know I'm the last person in the world you want to hear from, but please hear me out. Chloe is in a really bad way. And I mean really bad. Devastated. If you have any feelings left for her, even if you only just like her, please come talk to her. Don't punish her because you're angry at me, OK? I beg you, Beca. I just can't stand seeing her like this."
She hung up. She felt like her insides had been scooped out, and horror was waiting at the edges to fill the void. For lack of anything better to do, she lay down on the couch. After a while, she fell into a fitful sleep.
Aubrey woke up when Chloe came out of her bedroom.
"Chloe?" she said, still groggy with sleep. "Are you OK?"
One look at the other girl told her how silly the question was. Chloe's face was drawn, almost gray. She was wearing a brown leather jacket and carried a suitcase.
"I'm going to my parents over spring break," Chloe said. "I'll be back when classes start."
"All right," Aubrey said, although it really wasn't. "Is there anything I can do?"
Chloe gave her a look that all but spelled out that Aubrey had done quite enough already.
"No," she said.
With that, she left.
On the third day of spring break, Beca's father walked into her room. Beca took off her headphones and looked at him.
"Don't you knock?" she said.
"I did," he said. "Several times. I also shouted your name."
"Whatever," Beca said. "What do you want?"
"Your roommate called me last night," he said.
"Kimmy Jin?" Beca said. "Why did she call you?"
"She was worried about you. And I won't claim to have any great insight into your life, but she didn't strike me as someone who cares overly much about you."
"Oh," Beca said.
Kimmy Jin worried about her? She must really have been looking like death warmed over for that to happen.
"So I tried calling you," he said. "Even though Kimmy Jin said you weren't answering. I left four or five messages before I decided that for some reason or another, you weren't paying attention to your phone. And I got worried. So I decided to pay you a visit, just to make sure you're still alive."
"I'm alive," Beca said.
"And I'm glad to see that," her father said. "Now try to tell me you're all right."
She didn't even get half the sentence out before she started to cry. Her father walked up to her chair and hugged her.
"Kimmy Jin said something about you breaking up with your girlfriend," he said after a little while. "I didn't even know you had one."
"Her name is Chloe," Beca said. "Or, her name was Chloe."
"I'm glad to hear you found someone," he said. "It's been almost two years since, well..."
The sentence petered out rather than ended.
"Twenty months," Beca said. "It'll be two years in July."
"Of course," he said. "So. Chloe, huh? What do you say we go for lunch and you tell me about her?"
At the mention of food Beca's stomach informed her that she hadn't eaten anything but energy bars and Red Bull for three days, and some real food would be highly welcome. So she agreed, and started talking about Chloe even as they were on their way to the pizza place. By the time she got to where she walked out on the Bellas, pizza had been eaten and she'd used up most of a box of Kleenex. Her father had been silent nearly the whole time.
"She sounds like quite the girl," he said when it became clear that Beca was done.
"She is," Beca said. "You'd like her. I miss her so much."
She was smiling and crying at the same time.
"So why don't you talk to her?"
"After the way I left, I have no idea what to say."
"Well," her father said. "What are you willing to do to get her back?"
"Anything it takes," Beca said.
"Including swallow your pride and apologize?" he said. "Possibly even apologize for things you don't really think you did wrong, but she does?"
She looked at him for a few long moments. She stood up.
"I left my phone back in the room," she said. "Thanks for the pizza."
"I'll call in a day or two to see how it goes," he said. "Please answer when I do?"
She had eighteen missed calls. Seven were from Kimmy Jin. Ten from her dad. And one, the very first one, was from Aubrey. Who had called at four in the morning the day after the disastrous semi-finals. There was no way on Earth that could be good, and she'd ignored it for three days. She called her voice mail with a huge lump of worry in her throat. It didn't really get better when she heard Aubrey's desperate plea that Beca would talk to Chloe. Aubrey was begging her. Aubrey was begging her. And, from the sound of her voice, on the verge of breaking down and crying.
With shaking hands, she cut the call. She brought up Chloe's number, and then froze with her thumb ready to push the call button. She gathered what strength she had, drew a deep breath and pushed it.
One signal went through. Two. Three. For every one, Beca got more worried. By the sixth she was ready to scream.
"Chloe's phone, this is her mother," a voice suddenly said at the other end.
That did not make Beca less worried.
"Er, hi," she said. "My name is Beca Mitchell, and I'm a friend of Chloe's. Can I talk to her?"
"I'm afraid not," Chloe's mom said. "They're still operating."
A wave of pure terror swept through Beca, blotting out all rational thought in an instant. Operating?! On Chloe? Images of tumbling cars, splintered glass, torn skin and crushed flesh flew through her mind.
"Where is she?" she screamed. "Which hospital? TELL ME!"
"Saint Magdalene's," Chloe's mom said. "But..."
"I'm on my way," she said.
She turned off the phone and ran.
Chloe was feeling like crap. One part of it was expected and quite natural. She'd been put under general anesthesia and had bits of her vocal cords blasted away with lasers, neither of which were at all conducive to feeling great. Her throat hurt like hell, she had a pounding headache and felt generally nauseous. Possibly the nurses would give her something for that if she asked them, but she didn't want to. So she lay there in her hospital bed, iPod in hand and earbuds firmly in place.
The other part had nothing to do with the operation. Well, except for how it had made her stop dithering and decide to get the nodules taken out as soon as humanly possible. If it ever happened again that she needed to call out to someone she loved to try and stop them from leaving, her voice would not betray her. If that meant never being able to sing very well again, then so be it. She felt completely hollow inside, and Beca's "You're taking her side?" kept echoing in the emptiness. She'd managed to stop crying, but that was to a large part because she didn't want to scare her mother even more. All the sadness and loss was still right there, with every breath she took.
Her iPod was playing the same song on repeat. She hadn't known that it existed until she heard it on the radio in the hospital waiting room. The group was called Lulu and the Lampshades, and the song was the very one Beca had used for her audition. It simply hadn't occurred to Chloe that it was a cover version of an existing song. Or that it was prophetic. You're gonna miss me when I'm gone indeed. Chloe sure was doing that.
A sound slipped past the earbuds in the silence between two repetitions of the song. Someone saying her name. She frowned. It had sounded like Beca's voice. She opened her eyes and tore out the earbuds.
Beca was standing right there. Only a couple of steps away from her bed.
Chloe's first thought was that she was imagining things. But the vision was too realistic. Beca had an expression like she was on the verge of crying, running away or both. Chloe's imagination never would've made her look like that.
"Um, hi," Beca said. "And I know you can't talk, so..."
She put a notebook and a pen on the tray in front of Chloe. The notebook had sparkly pink ponies on it. With wings.
"I tried to call you to beg you to forgive me," Beca said. Her voice was wavering. "Only your mom answered, and said you were being operated on, and I kind of... freaked."
Chloe's brain wasn't working. The darkness and misery that had been drowning her got in the way of thinking. Slowly, gradually, facts got through. First, that Beca was there. Right there. In her hospital room, far away from Barden University. Second, that she'd just said that she'd tried to call to beg Chloe for forgiveness.
"I'm so sorry I walked away like that," Beca said. "More sorry than I can say. I've missed you so much, every moment since."
Tears. There were tears on her face.
"Can... can I please come back?" she said. "I'll do anything it takes. Leave the Bellas. Be nice to Aubrey. Whatever. Only can I please get to be with you again?"
Gradually, the meaning of the words dribbled through the pain. Slowly, so slowly, elation started to drive out the darkness. Once it got a foothold, it flashed through her. Beca wanted her back. Chloe grabbed the pen, tore off the cap and flipped the silly notebook open to a random page. Then she froze with the pen to the paper.
She had no idea what to write. Her mind was just blank. What could she say? Just "YES!"? That was too short, too simple for what she felt. Words and phrases tumbled through her brain faster and faster, but none felt right.
In the end, she shoved the tray aside, notebook and pen and iPod and all, and simply held out her arms.
Later that evening, Beca was sitting on Chloe's hospital bed. She was leaning against her chest, and Chloe's arms were around her. To her own dismay, her first reaction when Chloe showed herself willing to take Beca back was to cry like a baby. Which didn't go very well with the tough image she usually tried to project. It was just such an intense relief that she couldn't handle it.
Chloe kissed her on the top of her head, pushed her upright and gestured at the notebook on the tray.
"Oh, right," Beca said and handed it to her.
"How did you find me?" Chloe wrote.
"Ah," Beca said.
She felt herself blush a little.
"I kind of called my dad and screamed at him in a blind panic until he looked you up in school records," she said. "I should probably call him and say that everything is all right."
She took Chloe's hand, looked into her loving blue eyes.
"Much better than all right, actually," she said.
"Much," Chloe wrote.
"You get that I'm sorry, right?" Beca said.
Chloe nodded and gave her a quick kiss on the forehead.
Beca pulled herself up to give Chloe a proper kiss, but she turned her face away. Beca frowned.
"What's wrong?" she said.
Suddenly there was a lump of worry in her belly again.
Chloe stroked her cheek, then started writing.
"Infection risk," she wrote. "No kissing for a week."
Ah. The worry dissipated, and was replaced by feeling stupid.
"Right," Beca said. "Of course. I should have thought of that."
"Also no giving oral," Chloe added to the page.
Beca stared at her.
"Your doctor told you that?" she said, aghast.
Chloe nodded, smiling broadly. She put pen to notebook again.
"Afternoon checkup. Made quite an impression when you arrived," she wrote.
"I'm going to die of embarrassment," Beca said. "Seriously."
Chloe's smile faltered. She picked up the notebook and pen again.
"No dying. No leaving," she wrote.
She put her finger between Beca's breasts, on top of the triple-female tattoo.
Beca took her hand, lacing their fingers together.
"Right," she said. "No dying. No leaving."
Aubrey Posen spent most of her spring break in the gym. Working herself into exhaustion was the only way she could get any sleep, and it wasn't like she had anything else to do. The apartment was silent and empty. Most of the time she felt like an intruder there, as if it wasn't really her home. In a way, it wasn't. Her home was with Chloe. Without her, the apartment was just a place to keep her stuff. She kept constantly thinking of calling her, but she was too convinced that Chloe wanted to be alone to actually do it. So instead, she worked out, studied and counted the minutes until classes would start again.
When the call came that the Footnotes had been disqualified and the Bellas were back in the running, she couldn't even bring herself to feel enthusiastic.
"I see, sir," she said to the man calling. "We'll be at Lincoln Center in time. See you there."
She stood there looking at the phone for a long while after he'd hung up, sweat slowly drying on her skin. She should be happy. In spite of everything, she'd been given a second chance. Another chance to win, to redeem herself after the previous year's disaster. But all she felt was a vague, distant pleasure. A vague annoyance gone, nothing more. Nothing important.
One by one, she texted the other Bellas. Fat Amy. Cynthia Rose. Stacie. Lilly and the others. After some hesitation, Chloe.
Beca left on her own. She wasn't one of them any longer. So there was no reason to tell her. Aubrey resolutely put the phone away and got back up on the treadmill. She turned the speed up two notches and started running, anger building inside her. Anger at what, she couldn't tell. But running helped it build and let her work it out at the same time, so she ran. Faster than she used to, much faster. Breath burned in her throat and the muscles in her legs screamed at her. She turned the speed up even higher. Discomfort rose into pain. She was panting desperately, not getting enough air to keep going like this, but she didn't want to stop. She wasn't going to stop. Never stop, that was the solution. Never ever stop. Not until you won or died. Let the pain blot out all thought.
But there was one thought that refused to let go. No matter how fast she ran, no matter how raw her throat got, no matter how badly her legs wobbled. Chloe's not going to like this.
Chloe and Beca ended up staying with Chloe's parents for the entire spring break. Nobody really intended it to be that way, but since Chloe's mother refused to let her daughter leave until her throat was as healed as possible and the two girls refused to leave each other's side, Beca stayed. The parents seemed a little doubtful at first, to a large extent because of Beca's dramatic entrance, but given the very dramatic improvement in their daughter's mood, they soon relented. And while Beca in theory stayed in their guest room, in practice she spent every night in Chloe's bed.
Every day, Chloe's throat got a little bit better. After a week, the doctor gave her the go-ahead to start talking, and said that if nothing unforeseen happened she should be able to start singing again in another week or so. He also said that she'd never have the range she used to, and she'd be lucky to go above a G-sharp ever again. Oh, and to under no circumstances try to verify that until at least a month had passed. Her vocal cords had healed enough that she could use them and the infection risk was gone, but it would take a lot longer before they were fully healed. While the news weren't quite as good as Chloe might have hoped, they were better than she had realistically expected. She and Beca retired early that night and celebrated in the predictable way. Spring break passed like that, one day at a time, until one morning it was time to go back to Barden.
"Thanks for letting me stay," Beca said.
They were standing in front of the parents' house, next to Chloe's old beat-up Ford all packed and ready to go.
"Oh, tosh," Chloe's mom said. "It's been a pleasure having you here, girl."
"Not as great a one for us as for Chloe," her dad said, "but a pleasure none the less."
"Dad!" Chloe protested.
"What?" he said, smiling. "Did you think we couldn't hear you?"
"He's just teasing," Chloe's mom said. "Well, mostly teasing."
He held out his hand to Beca.
"Jokes aside, it really has been a pleasure to get to spend some time with someone important to our daughter," he said. "We'll sleep better for knowing that she chooses well."
Beca shook his hand.
"Um, thanks," she said. "She's, um, important to me."
"You made that quite clear from the start, dear," Chloe's mom said. "Now you two take care, and we hope to see you again, Beca."
"Have a safe trip," Chloe's dad said.
Chloe hugged them both, and then they left.
For some time, they drove in silence.
"I've had a really good time," Beca said when she couldn't stand the silence any more. "Your parents are really nice."
"Me too," Chloe said. "Well, after you came back to me. Before that, I didn't like at all."
"I'm sorry about that," Beca said. "I wish I could go back and change it."
"I forgave you already," Chloe said. "But..."
Beca turned to look at Chloe. She was steadfastly watching the road, which Beca couldn't really blame her for.
"But?" Beca said. "There's a but?"
Chloe gnawed on her lower lip for a few moments.
"There's something I haven't told you," she said.
"I'm trying to think of some way that could be good," Beca said. "But I'm not coming up with anything. Help me out?"
"It's nothing bad," Chloe said. "It's just that if I'd told you before, you would've spent the time thinking of what's going to happen after the break. And I kind of needed the time with un-worried you."
That actually was a pretty good reason.
"Ok," she said. "I'll buy that. What is it?"
"I got a text from Aubrey," Chloe said.
"A text?" Beca said. "You got a text from Aubrey? Why didn't she call?"
"I was pretty messed up when I left," Chloe said. "She may not be sure if I want to talk to her or not."
"But you do, don't you? I mean, you guys have been friends forever. It's not cool if you stop talking. It's extra not cool if it's because of me."
"Oh, I'll talk to her," Chloe said. "Don't worry. But anyway, she sent a text. And it said that the Footnotes got disqualified, because their singer is in high school, not college. Which means the Bellas are back in the game. We're going to Lincoln Center after all."
"I see," Beca said. "I'm happy for you guys. I'm sure you'll do great."
Chloe actually looked away from the road to glare at Beca.
"Don't lie, Beca," she said. "You don't think that. You know we're going to lose. If you didn't, things wouldn't have blown up."
Beca took a deep breath. Chloe was right, of course.
"I still kind of wish I was going there with you," she said. "I miss the gang. Not as much as I missed you, but still way more than I expected to when I joined."
"Good," Chloe said. "I want you to apologize to Aubrey."
"Hear me out," she said. "I'm not asking you to actually change your mind. Just lie like a rug, do the apology, get back in, come with us to the finals, lose, and next year you take over and lead the Bellas to victory."
Beca looked at her. A smile played over her lips, and Beca couldn't help but smile herself.
"That easy, huh?" she said.
"You'd have to swallow your pride," Chloe said. "I'm not sure if that counts as easy."
"It'd mean spending several hours more with you every day," Beca said. "I'll swallow a lot of pride for that."
"So you'll do it?"
"You really think we can win next year?"
"Not a shadow of a doubt," Chloe said. "You'll still have everyone but me and Aubrey. With the two of us gone, you're the natural leader. We're already good enough to reach the finals, with you adding a creative and fun performance on top of that, there won't be anyone else who can touch you."
"All right," Beca said. "I'll do my best."
She smiled, and tried not to think about Chloe graduating and moving away.
Aubrey had been sitting at the window all evening. Chloe had said that she'd be back in time for classes, and they'd resume in the morning. So it stood to reason that she'd come home the night before. Unless she intended to go directly to class without coming home.
Just thinking that made Aubrey's insides hurt. Although even that would be a resolution of the uncertainty she felt now. If it turned out that Chloe no longer wanted to be her friend, then she could at least move on from there. Cry her eyes out, move somewhere else. And if Chloe still wanted to be her friend, then, well, then nothing would have changed, really. She'd still be in the situation she'd been in for the past few years. Except she now knew that Chloe could go for women, sometimes.
Which led to the other huge uncertainty. Had Beca contacted Chloe? Had they talked? Were they back together?
She so hoped that they weren't.
One of the cars passing by on the street below her window failed to pass by. It stopped, and did the back-and-forth thing to park. Aubrey got up and looked down. A worn old Ford, blue with rust spots. Chloe's car. Aubrey held her breath as the lights went out in the car – and let it out with a whimper when doors opened on each side of it, and both Chloe and Beca got out.
Her jaw clenched. As the two girls down at the sidewalk embraced and kissed, she turned away from the window.
The question if Chloe still wanted to be her friend didn't feel as important any more.
When Chloe got up in the morning, Aubrey was already gone. It wasn't that odd, since she'd already been asleep when Chloe came home the night before, but it was disappointing. Chloe had hoped that they'd get to talk before they met at rehearsal. They had things that needed to be sorted out. Things that had been left hanging when Chloe ran off to her parents. But it seemed it would have to wait. She'd just have to hope they could at least be civil to each other during rehearsal. She had her morning coffee and went off to class.
The day passed in a haze of apprehension. It felt like it went on forever, and at the same time lectures ended before her brain got going enough to take them in. By the time she headed for the Bellas, she felt like a huge bundle of raw nerves. The night before she'd asked Beca to show up some time into the rehearsal, to give things a chance to settle into the usual before her arrival stirred things up. She kind of regretted that now, because she really could've used a hug or two. But, well, the reasons she'd had the night before still held. So it was for the best.
Aubrey was standing in the middle of the room, a stack of papers in her hands. Bracing herself, Chloe went up to her.
"Hi," she said. "I missed you this morning. And last night. How are you?"
"I had an early class," Aubrey said. "So I went to bed early last night. I'm fine."
She didn't look fine. She looked like she'd been crying, and covered up the tracks with extra makeup. Chloe put her hand on Aubrey's arm.
"Are you sure?" she said. "I'm sorry I ran off like that. I was... not in a good place."
For a moment, a yearning expression crossed Aubrey's face. Then she settled back into a neutral smile.
"I'm sure," she said. "And I understand. Talk later, OK? It's time to start."
"Oh," Chloe said. "OK."
She took a place in the front row, waving and smiling to the others. Everyone was there, and looking happy to be so. Except, of course, Beca. Nobody had taken her usual seat, Chloe noticed.
"Welcome back, everyone," Aubrey said. "As you know, the aca-gods have smiled upon us and given us a second chance. We're going to Lincoln Center after all. If we practice diligently and perform without unwanted interruptions, I'm positive that we can bring home the trophy. So let's get started, shall we?"
There was general rustling and mumbling among the Bellas.
"Beca's not here yet," Stacie said out loud after a little while.
"Everyone who's supposed to be here, is here," Aubrey said. "Now, I think we need to focus on the transition..."
Chloe stopped listening. She did not have a good feeling about this.
It didn't get any better as practice wore on. Their singing was off key, nor did it harmonize. The dancing was stiff and uncoordinated. Amy and Cynthia Rose even managed to collide, and that sort of thing hadn't happened since their first month. Every now and then, Aubrey would stop everything and just yell at people. Which wasn't fair, especially as she herself was among the worst offenders.
"Aubrey," Chloe eventually said, "this isn't working. We need to..."
Aubrey turned and glared at Chloe as soon as she began to speak.
"We need to what?" she said. "Do whatever precious little Beca says?"
"Excuse me?" Chloe said. "I didn't mention Beca."
"But that's what you're thinking, isn't it?" Aubrey said. "That's what you're all thinking!"
Her voice was turning shrill.
"I'm thinking it," Stacie said.
"Me too," Lilly whispered.
"Ok," Chloe said. "You need to..."
"Er, hi, guys?"
Silence fell throughout the room. Everyone turned to look at Beca.
"So," Beca said. "What are you doing?"
"You can't be here," Aubrey said. "This is a Bellas rehearsal."
Chloe could see Beca mentally gather strength.
"I know," Beca said. "I came to apologize."
All eyes turned to Aubrey. She was staring at Beca.
"So let's hear it," she said.
"Right," Beca said. "What I did was a really dick move. I shouldn't have changed the set without asking you guys. And I definitely shouldn't have left. I let you guys down, and I'm really sorry. And..."
She drew breath.
"Aubrey, if you would have me, I want back in."
"Aubrey!" came a whisper from Amy.
"No," Aubrey said.
"What?" Chloe said.
"No," Aubrey repeated. "You can't get back in. You can't just go wherever you want and do whatever you want without consequence. This is mine. The Bellas are mine. You may have taken Chloe from me, but you're not getting this. The Bellas are all I have, and you can't have them. No matter how great a cleavage you flash or how much you strut your taut little body. I won't let you."
As she spoke, she'd taken step after step closer to Beca until she ended it practically standing on her shoes.
Chloe was confused. This was really not how she had thought this would go. There was something here that she'd misunderstood gravely.
"I took Chloe from you?" Beca said. "Are you mental? If you wanted to make a move on her, you had three years to do it! Also, she's not a possession. She doesn't belong to you, or to me, she belongs to herself."
"Wait, how did this become about Chloe?" Stacie said.
"Dudes, get a room!" Amy stage-whispered.
Something clicked in Chloe's mind. There was a feeling as if a handful of puzzle pieces fell together and formed a perfect pattern, and she suddenly knew what was going on. As well as what to do about it.
"All right!" she shouted. "Rehearsal is over! Everyone who isn't me, Aubrey or Beca, leave."
She glared at people until they did as she said. Aubrey and Beca stood staring daggers at each other.
"We have things to sort out," Chloe said.
They waited in silence until they were the only three people in the room.
Aubrey opened her mouth to speak, but Chloe silenced her with a slashing motion.
"Aubrey," she said. "How long have you been in love with me?"
Aubrey looked away.
"Two or three years," she said. "I'm not sure when it started."
Beca looked stunned.
"Oh my God," she said. "Why didn't you say something? You were living with her!"
Aubrey looked at Beca with the saddest smile Chloe had ever seen.
"She was dating boys," Aubrey said.
"Not only," Chloe said. "There were a couple of girls too."
"You never talked about them," Aubrey said. "Believe me, I would have remembered."
Chloe had walked closer while they talked. She reached out her hand and gently touched Aubrey's cheek.
"Aubrey, I had no idea," she said. "I'm so sorry."
Aubrey threw her arms around Chloe. Tears were running down her face. Chloe put one arm around her, stroking her hair with the other one.
"Um, Chloe?" Beca said.
There was a sharpness in her voice. Not quite an accusation, but on the way to becoming one.
"Don't worry, Beca," Chloe said. "I'm not leaving you."
She could feel Aubrey's body sag at the words.
"That's good to know," Beca said.
"Probably," Chloe added.
"What?" Beca said.
Aubrey rose her head so she could look at Chloe.
"What?" she said.
Chloe let go of Aubrey and took a step back.
"I finally figured out what your tattoo means, Beca," she said.
The other two looked at her.
"Three linked symbols for female," Chloe said. "You, and two girls in the car. One died, one lived but wouldn't talk to you. When I asked what I could do to make you feel better, you said not to die and not to leave. Don't do what Jessica did, or what Stephanie did. They were both your girlfriends, weren't they? You all had those tattoos."
"Yes," Beca said. "They were. And we did."
Her voice was barely above a whisper.
"Aubrey?" Chloe said.
Aubrey looked at her.
"I love Beca," Chloe said. "I want her in my life. I want to live with her, although I haven't actually asked her about that yet. I'll be doing postgrad work right here at Barden next year. It's not the best place for it, but it means I can stay with her."
"I understand," Aubrey said. "I... I won't stand in your way."
"Wait," Chloe said. "Beca?"
"Aubrey has been a part of my life for a very long time. I'd miss her a lot if she wasn't there. I haven't loved her like I love you, but only because I never let myself even think of it as a possibility, and I do love her in a different way. Now that I know how she feels... things will be different. I don't know how yet, but things staying the same is not an option."
The two women looked at her.
"Chloe," Beca said. "What are you trying to say here?"
Chloe took a deep breath and gathered her courage. She wasn't at all sure that what she was going to do was a good idea.
"I'm going to walk out that door," she said, pointing at the exit. "Then I'm going to sit down under the big tree right outside. And wait."
"Wait for what?" Aubrey said.
"The two of you," Chloe said. "Will stay here and figure out how you can share me. I want you both. Find a way to make it happen."
She started walking toward the exit.
"What if we can't?" Aubrey said.
Chloe's palms were sweating. She could feel her heart beat much too fast. It was an effort to sound even remotely calm.
"I'll be waiting under that tree for as long as it takes," she said. "You'll find a way."
Beca and Aubrey stood looking at each other. Beca's feelings were all over the place, and she found it hard to think straight. This was so much not what she'd expected to happen.
"She will, you know," Aubrey said. "She can be extremely stubborn when she wants to."
"So our deadline is when she passes out from dehydration?" Beca said.
"Oh no," Aubrey said. "I'm pretty sure the other girls will bring her food and water. And, if necessary, camping equipment."
"Yes, they would, wouldn't they."
It felt like the tension eased a little.
"How are you feeling?" Beca said.
Aubrey's eyebrows rose.
"You really want to know?" she said.
Beca made en effort to keep calm.
"Yes," she said. "I really want to know."
"Look," she continued before Aubrey could say anything. "I've done a three-way relationship before. Only once, and it ended very badly, but it lasted for most of a year. And there were some things I learned. One is, the mood of someone you love affects your own. Obvious, right? But that means that your mood affects Chloe's, and hers affects mine. So yours affects mine, although indirectly. So I have a reason to want you to be happy. Because that makes Chloe happy, and Chloe being happy makes me happy. So let's help each other make Chloe happy?"
"You make it sound so simple," Aubrey said.
"In theory, it is," Beca said. "It gets trickier at three in the morning, when you need to pee and someone's hogging the bathroom."
Aubrey laughed a little.
"We have managed to cooperate before," she said. "When she had the inflamed nodes."
"Also Christmas. And you did put her good before your own when you called and begged me to talk to her," Beca said. "Which was really noble and selfless, by the way."
"You didn't see her," Aubrey said. "She was devastated. What else could I have done?"
"Wait until it passed, and hope it got me out of the picture permanently," Beca said.
"No," Aubrey said. "I couldn't do that. Not to Chloe."
Beca took Aubrey's hands.
"I know," she said. "I saw you when she was in pain. I heard your message on my voice mail. I know that you will do whatever you can to make her happy. And that's why I know I can share her with you."
"I'm not that noble," Aubrey said. "Really."
"Oh, you're still a control freak and often a right bitch," Beca said. "But not to Chloe. Not when it's important."
"Although, suddenly I'm wondering how much of our constant fighting have been jealousy," she said.
Aubrey visibly pulled herself together.
"Well," she said. "Unlike you, I have no idea what I'm doing. But I'm willing to try. The way I see it, it'll be like this whole year has been, with you and Chloe being insufferably cute at home, except I get to join in. I don't see how I have anything to lose by trying."
"I'm not cute," Beca said.
"You so are cute," Aubrey said. "As a button."
"Great cleavage and a taut little body counts as cute?"
"Cute and hot aren't mutually exclusive."
They looked at each other for a few breaths, still holding hands.
"Are we flirting?" Beca finally said.
"I think we are," Aubrey said.
"And it sounds like we've agreed to go for this," Beca said. "To share."
"We have," Aubrey said. "And yes, of course I've been jealous of you. How could I not? You got to have Chloe!"
"I was jealous of you," Beca said.
"Really," Aubrey said, voice dripping with sarcasm. "Because my part of all this was so enviable?"
Beca shook her head.
"No," she said. "Your part of all this sucked. But you have all this history with her. You grew up with her. You know her in a way I never can and you share things with her that I never will. There will always be a bond between the two of you that I can't have."
Beca smiled at Aubrey. She let go of one of Aubrey's hands.
"Come," she said. "Let's go tell our girlfriend we love her."
"Let's," Aubrey said.
Hand in hand, they walked toward the exit and Chloe.
"Aubrey?" Beca said when they were almost outside.
"Yes?" Aubrey said.
"We'll win if change our set."
Aubrey let out a strange snorting sound, which turned into clear, unrestrained laughter.
"All right," she said once she had her breath back under control. "This day is already too weird to be real. Let's do it your way. "
"You two are way too amused by this," Chloe said. "It's not healthy. There's something wrong with you. Both of you."
The three of them were cooped up on their living room couch, Beca and Aubrey on each side of Chloe.
"It's the facial expression that makes it," Beca said. "Just priceless."
"Did either of you even consider the thought that I might not want to come out on national television?"
"Yes," Aubrey said. "But we rejected it."
She was holding a remote control, and was busily stepping through menus with it.
"Also? The two of you ganging up on me? So not what I had in mind."
Beca ran her hand down Chloe's thigh.
"You told us to find a way to get along," she said. "So we did."
"Ah, there," Aubrey said.
She pushed a final button, and the TV screen in front of them sprang to life. A birds-eye view of the stage at Lincoln Center appeared.
"And the judges are back, Gail," a male voice said. "I think they made their decision in record time this year."
"No wonder, John," a female voice said. "It's been many years since we last saw a final this uneven."
"Indeed," John said. "From the look of the audience, there'll be a riot if their decision goes the wrong way."
"Oh! The head judge is opening the envelope!"
On the screen, a suit-clad man stood behind a microphone at the center of the stage. He tore open a white envelope and took out a piece of paper.
"And the winners of this year's International Competition of Collegiate Acapella is..."
He made a dramatic pause. The auditorium was dead silent.
"...THE BARDEN BELLAS!" he shouted.
The audience exploded into applause and shouts of joy. The Bellas themselves made their way onto the stage, hurrying as much as they could between congratulations.
"Just as we hoped, Gail," John said.
"And a well-deserved victory it is, John," Gail said. "I don't think I've ever seen such a drastic improvement between semi-finals and finals. It was nothing short of astounding."
"I have to agree with you there, Gail," John said. "The Bellas really knocked it out of the park this time."
"And Aubrey Posen does get to redeem herself after last year's humiliation," Gail said. "You go, girl!"
On screen, the Bellas had gathered around the head judge, who was handing a large trophy to Aubrey. The cameras had zoomed in, and were giving closer looks at what was going on. Which was, basically, a bunch of young women happily bouncing around. In their center, flanked by a redhead and a very short brunette, Aubrey raised the trophy into the air. When the ensuing applause began to die down, she handed it to one of the girls behind her.
After which she embraced the short brunette, bent her elegantly backward and gave her a deep and passionate kiss.
"Woah!" John said. "That's not a friendly kiss!"
"I'd say it's a very friendly kiss!" Gail said. "That's Beca Mitchell, who we saw display some hostile tension with Posen at the semi-finals."
"Well, it looks to me like they dropped the hostile and kept the tension!" John said.
The redhead stood staring at them with an expression of complete and utter surprise, which gradually changed into a wide happy grin. Which quickly changed back to surprise when Aubrey pulled Beca back up to standing, and the two of them then jointly bent her backwards and took turns kissing her.
"And it keeps getting better!" John said. "What do you say, Gail, do you think the rest of the Bellas will also join in?"
"I say you're a pig, John," Gail said. "And that is Chloe Beale, Posen's co-captain, being kissed. Like Posen, it's her last year at the ICCAs."
Aubrey and Beca pulled Chloe back up to standing. Her face was bright red, but she turned and beamed a brilliant smile at the audience. Aubrey and Beca stood on each side of her, arms around her waist. The noise from the audience was deafening. The trio stood there, smiling and waving, flanked by the rest of the Bellas.
"And that is it for us," John said.
"We'll see you all in the fall," Gail said, "with a new crop of talented young singers."
"And I for one can't wait to see what reigning champions the Barden Bellas will treat us to next year," John said.
"Whatever it turns out to be, I'm pretty sure it won't top this," Gail said. "And with that, good bye for this season."
The picture faded to black.
"I still don't know what possessed you to do that," Chloe said.
"Want to watch it again?" Aubrey said.
"No, thank you," Chloe said. "Five times is quite enough."
"Would you believe us if we said it was a spur of the moment thing, caused by the overwhelming happiness of just having won the ICCAs?" Beca said.
"No," Chloe said.
She was leaning against Aubrey's chest, and Beca was in turn leaning on Chloe. Aubrey put her arms around the two others, as well as she could.
"Are you really upset?" she said. "Since we've been pretty open here on campus, we figured it'd be OK."
"And it's not like your parents didn't know or anything," Beca said.
"Mine didn't," Aubrey said. "Still don't, if they didn't watch this. My dad will probably have an aneurysm."
"What?" Beca said. "But it was your idea!"
She turned to look as much as she could. Chloe took Aubrey's hand in both of her own.
"I'm tired of hiding," Aubrey said. "Doing that never made me happy. The two of you... you do."
"OK, this is getting mushy," Beca said. "I way we watch the video again."
"Works for me," Aubrey said.
Chloe let out a theatrical sigh.
"Well then," she said. "One more time. After that I'm dragging the two of you off to bed so you can apologize properly."
Aubrey and Beca looked at each other and smiled. Aubrey pressed "play".