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you carried romance in the palm of your hand

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Beca spends the weeks before Christmas cramming for finals and barely speaking to anyone, the exception primarily being Cynthia Rose, since they live in the same room. She lets all of Jesse's phone calls go to voicemail, ignores texts from the Bellas, and barricades herself with her sociology readings and old chemistry exams in a corner of the library. There's no blood flowing through her veins anymore; it's all turned to coffee. She turns into some unshowered, paper-writing mutant surviving on grilled cheeses from the student center grill.

"I'm kidnapping you," Jesse says when he appears outside of her dorm room twenty minutes after Beca emails in her History of Western Music research paper. "Into your bed."

This is the least convenient time for him to do this, she thinks, but she's too tired to complain. He settles himself in next to her, ignoring her matted hair and the fact that she's worn the same sweatshirt for four days now. He's got his Macbook and a mysterious DVD and two bags from the takeout burrito place down the street from campus.

"We're going to watch A Muppet Christmas Carol and you're going to tell me about your life," Jesse informs her. "And even though you smell like dirty socks, our friendship still trumps your disturbing notion of hygiene."

"I haven't had a chance to shower," she starts, but he dims the lights and makes her shut up, which is super infuriating. What an asshole. She wonders if this is what it's like to be friends with an ex.

Her phone buzzes midway through the movie, the vibration amplified by Beca's desk. She unlocks the screen and tilts the phone away from Jesse so the light doesn't "ruin his viewing experience" or whatever. The text is from Chloe, a million exclamation points and everything:

how did your paper go??? i bet you did awesome!!!!!

Beca grins, aware of Jesse's growing irritation next to her ("How can you enjoy a movie if you're always texting through it?" "Jesse, The Return of the King ended like six times -- I got BORED"). She elbows him none-too-gently in the ribs and taps a message back.

aca-awesome, obvs.

you know, your hall smells super weird.

That's an odd text. Beca's worrying her lower lip, puzzling over it, when a knock on the door interrupts her thoughts. Jesse pauses the movie.

"You expecting someone?"

She shakes her head. No one's tried to come visit her since she nearly out-psychoed Lilly when Fat Amy tried to hang out with her like two weeks ago. Finals, not a pleasant time for anyone, especially not Beca. Come to think of it, she should really apologize for that, now that she's finished. She slides off the bed and turns on the lights, yanks the door open --

"Holy fuck," she blurts out and immediately blushes.

Chloe's beaming at her from beneath a turquoise winter hat, pulled tight around her ears. She's got her iPhone in one mittened hand, and her hair's all loose and pretty around her shoulders. She looks great, better than great even -- she's practically radiating giddiness. Beca opens her mouth, closes it, and then rushes forward for a hug.

"Hi," she breathes into Chloe's coat. "I can't believe -- what are you doing here?"

"I'm driving back to Miami for Christmas break," Chloe says, laughing, her arms warm and tight around Beca. "I wanted to stop by and see how everyone was doing. I actually got here three days ago, but Amy told me under no circumstances should I come see you before your paper was done."

"Hey Chloe," comes Jesse's disembodied voice from inside Beca's room. She's forgotten he's even there. "Good to see you."

Chloe breaks the hug, peering around the door. "Jesse! Good to see you too." She shoots Beca this look, like is-this-happening-again? and Beca makes a no-effing-way face in return.

"How's MIT?" Jesse asks. He's packing up his computer, which, good, as much as Beca likes the Muppets, it's probably a lost cause for the evening.

"Oh. Um. Okay."

It's Beca who shoots Chloe a look this time. When you're on Christmas break from your dream master's program, at your dream school, earning your dream degree in chemical engineering (ew, god, Chloe's such a weirdo), you don't just say it's "okay".

"Cool," Jesse says, startling Beca out of her thoughts. "You guys should catch up. Maybe I'll see you later? Kyle Westman's throwing an end-of-finals party over in South Hollis tonight, if you're interested."

"Sure, maybe," Beca says. "I need to shower."

He laughs. "Yeah, you should definitely do that."

"Get out of my face," she grumbles, and shoves him out the door.

She immediately wishes that she hadn't though, when she turns around, and the atmosphere of the room has changed entirely. Beca can't say for certain what, but it's not something she's entirely comfortable with.

Chloe's flipping through Beca's chemistry textbook on the desk, smiling to herself. "You never told me you were taking gen chem."

"Yeah, well," Beca mutters, suddenly embarrassed. She walks across the room and shuts the book. "You made it sound fun."

"Was it?"

"Fuck no." Actually, that's not totally true. Some of the labs were pretty fun, but mostly Beca says it to see Chloe's full-bodied laugh. "I think I bombed the final."

"I'm sure you didn't."

"Actually, I'm pretty sure I did."

Chloe shucks off her hat, shaking her curls out, and hops into Beca's messy bed. She's busy taking off her coat when Beca crawls in next to her. It feels weird like this, somehow different from last year. Beca can't quite tell what it is. She chalks it up to all the caffeine -- it's making her feel on edge all the time.

"What was that answer about MIT?" she asks, gently nudging Chloe's arm with hers.

"Oh, that." Chloe looks down at her hands. She shrugs. "It wasn't really what I expected. But," she brightens, "it's okay because, guess what?"

"Because...you joined an a cappella group there?"

"No. You suck at this." Chloe rolls her eyes. "Because I'm coming back to Barden!"

Wait -- what? "What?"

"I'm transferring my program to Barden. Everything's all set. I'm going to start after the break." She grins, reaching over and tugging on a few strands of Beca's dark hair. "Boston wasn't for me. I missed being down south."

Beca angles herself away. Oh god, her hair. She needs to shower. Now. Before now. Like three days ago. "Wow. That's...are you happy?"

"It's not an ideal situation. I wish I had known before I'd gone, you know? But my credits all transferred, and I found an apartment near campus yesterday, and I'm excited to be back."

"Then that's awesome. That's really, really great." Beca lets out a small, slow laugh. "Wow. I'm -- really glad you're going to be here."

"Yeah," Chloe says. "Me too. I...kind of missed you guys."

Beca swallows past the warm, gooey feeling filling her up. "Only kind of? I don't believe you."

"Oh, shut up," Chloe says, smiling so hard that she seems like she's glowing.

Beca can't help it; she just smiles back.

 

*

 

"Man, I knew you were going to be psyched," Cynthia Rose says when she comes back a few hours later, right after Chloe's left for the night. Her hair's all mussed, and she's got lipstick smeared on the side of her mouth. Someone had a good night.

Beca's reading in bed, her hair drying loose around her shoulders. She dog-ears page 56 of Mockingjay (yes, she's finally getting around to reading it -- shut up, everyone) and sets the book down in her lap. "What are you talking about?"

"Chloe," Cynthia Rose says, like it's obvious.

"Yeah, she's coming back." Beca snuggles down into her bed, pulling the covers up to her chin. She catches her roommate's look from across the room. "What?"

"Is this how we're going to play this?" Cynthia Rose asks, visibly amused. "Alright, whatever you say."

Beca switches off her light in response. She doesn't know what Cynthia Rose is talking about, but she's not interested in getting into it.

 

*

 

Chloe texts Beca a lot over winter break. Mostly about how she's going to decorate her apartment, bright prints on the walls, and these vintage store signs that her grandmother has. She's heading back to school a week early with her parents so they can go to Ikea too.

what are you doing? Chloe writes to Beca one evening. i'm at the worst bar. help.

Beca grins, maneuvering to put her cup of beer down. She's in Rachael Liebendorfer's basement, drinking shitty beer like they're back in high school. Sometimes it feels like things haven't changed at all, back home in Portland.

lame party, she texts back.

"Who are you texting?" Myles Weinstein asks, leaning down over her shoulder to look. "You've been glued to that thing all night. C'mon. We're gonna play Kings."

"Pass," Beca says distractedly, watching the little icon on the screen indicating that Chloe's typing.

Her phone buzzes: anyone cute?

don't be gross. they're people i know from high school.

good for hook-ups. ;)

Beca laughs quietly to herself. She takes a quick picture of herself, holding her beer, making a face, and sends it to Chloe.

cute.

Beca's thoughts freeze. She looks up from the screen, takes a breath. When she looks back down, Chloe's typing again. But then it stops.

She thinks about writing back, but she can't think of anything to say. She sits down with Myles instead, watches everyone get progressively more wasted. Later she walks home, faintly fuzzy from drinking, her phone burning a hole in her coat pocket.

The next morning there's a picture from Chloe -- a horribly awful Christmas sweater with a light-up tree in the middle. She's written, found this while cleaning out my closet. present from great-aunt 2 years ago. should i pack it?

Beca stares at it, giddy with relief. do you even have to ask? she texts back.

 

*

 

They don't hang out that much when the Bellas come back from New York, high off their win. Beca's busy spending time with Jesse, studying for her finals, and Chloe's busy with graduation and passing her senior thesis defense. But for some reason they talk all summer. Constantly, like this neverending conversation that they hit pause on whenever they go to sleep. Otherwise it's a flurry of texts and phone calls, Facetime and gchats. Stupid things too, like contingency plans in case of the robocalypse, and how precise the cheese to bread ratio in a grilled cheese sandwich needs to be.

Beca breaks up with Jesse in August, sitting on her front porch in Portland with him on Skype, the two of them trying to salvage something disintegrating too fast. Later that day, Beca bikes all the way downtown, and eats her body weight in donuts. She passes out in her bed in a sweaty, sugared mess after crying herself to sleep.

"Are you okay?" Chloe asks when Beca calls the next morning.

"Yeah, sure," Beca says, picking at the scab on her knee. "Never been better."

The sarcasm must have been evident though, because Chloe emails Beca a list of flights from Portland to Boston that evening. Beca ignores it for another week before she spontaneously buys a roundtrip ticket leaving the next afternoon.

Boston is overcast and humid, and her shirt sticks to her skin immediately after walking out of the airport. Chloe is bouncing around, like an overexcited puppy, and she talks non-stop the whole drive to her apartment in Somerville.

Beca spends five days hanging out with Chloe, eating endless amounts of ice cream, and listening to Top 40 hits on the floor of Chloe's living room, the window fan set at the highest setting. She sees Chloe's tiny little office and the lab; they have a picnic lunch at the Esplanade.

"You can call me anytime, you know," Chloe says, neatly tearing off the crusts of her sandwich.

"I know," Beca says, chewing. She swallows and gives Chloe a wan smile. "Thanks for this."

"Come back soon," Chloe tells her.

"I will."

 

*

 

This year Beca's January Term class is silversmithing. Last year it was nothing because Aubrey made them all come back just for the purpose of rehearsal, and Beca pretty much wanted to die.

"Two weeks without classes to distract you!" she had said. "It's the perfect opportunity for us to work on our set."

At that point, Beca was already ready to stab someone if they even so much as mentioned Ace of Base.

January Term is relaxing this time around though. Silversmithing only meets twice a week, so Beca spends the rest of her time finalizing what the Bellas are going to sing in the spring and helping Chloe put together Ikea furniture.

It beats being in her empty room. Cynthia Rose decided to spend the extra time at home.

They collapse onto Chloe's bed one night, after putting together a bookshelf that's way more complicated than it has any right to be (fuck you, Ikea picture directions). Chloe keeps talking about how she has tequila somewhere, but neither of them really want to get up to look for it. They sprawl in comfortable quiet until Chloe bumps Beca's shoulder with her own.

"What?" Beca asks.

"You and Jesse," Chloe says. "What's going on there?"

"What do you mean?"

"You were hanging out with him when I came to your room before break."

Beca rolls her eyes. "Oh, god, nothing."

"You were looking pretty cozy. I thought you were broken up."

"We are. We're just friends."

The expression on Chloe's face is openly doubtful. "Uh-huh." She's eyeing Beca in this way that Beca can't quite read. "It's okay to get back together with him, you know. If that's what you want."

"No, no way. That was like -- a complete trainwreck. You remember." Beca absently picks nail polish off her pinky. It peels away in a dark green flake. "I thought I told you about it anyway. He came up to me after Hood Night, wanted to try being friends again. Showed up at my door the next night with snacks and a movie." She shrugs. "It's a low-key hangout thing."

Chloe still looks unconvinced. "Okay."

Beca rolls her eyes and shoves a throw pillow in Chloe's face. "Shut up. I'm serious. He and I are, in the immortal words of Taylor Swift, never ever ever getting back together."

"Okay, fine," Chloe laughs. She adjusts herself, lying down on her stomach, her head pillowed near Beca's knee. She reaches out a hand and traces aimless shapes on Beca's calf. It makes Beca shiver, Chloe's fingers warm even through her jeans. "Any new prospects then?"

"What, did you miss the line of suitors when you came to my room?"

"So…no."

"Not even a little." Chloe thumb brushes against the strip of bare skin peeking out from above Beca's sock. It sends this full, intense shock through Beca. She jerks her leg away. "Sorry -- ticklish. But um. Yeah. No one. How about you?"

"There was -- someone in Boston. It's why I didn't transfer immediately."

"You didn't tell me about anyone," Beca says after a moment. The room feels weirdly too hot, a little bit claustrophobic.

"It wasn't serious. Well. Not that serious."

"What was he like?"

"Uh. Well. Um. She…was a girl?"

Silence. Chloe lifts her eyes to Beca's, challenging, and Beca stares back. "Oh," she says finally, her voice a little bit croaky from surprise. "That's…great."

Chloe starts laughing, burying her nose in the duvet. The sound is all muffled. She raises her head again after a few seconds, her cheeks pink. She's grinning. "You're freaking out so much right now."

"Oh my god, fuck off, you just said it like it was a really big deal, that's all! I didn't want to -- ugh, nevermind. You suck." Beca laughs too, trying to hide how everything feels like it's been tipped sideways, how her heart is suddenly beating so loud she wonders if Chloe can hear it.

"Her name was Tali," Chloe says after a minute. "She was in her last year of undergrad. We met at this party I went to."

"But, you're not still...?"

"No, it was just -- it was really fast, I guess."

Beca bites the skin around her thumb, already thinking about how she's going to look up Tali on Facebook when she gets back to her room. "I didn't know you were into girls," she says. Her hands are trembling; she sticks them in her lap, all twisted up in the hem of her shirt.

Chloe shrugs. "I've just...never been with one. Until now." Pause. And then, so carefully: "Have you?"

"Been with a girl? No, definitely not." Beca says it all in a rush, her cheeks burning.

"I meant. Interested in."

"Oh, um." Beca laughs shakily, tries to make it nonchalant. "Who hasn't been, right?"

Chloe looks at her in a way that's almost too much. Beca sucks in a breath.

"Beca -- "

"I gotta pee," Beca yelps, throwing herself off the bed.

 

*

 

Tali Grossman is disgustingly pretty. Like, more than disgustingly pretty. Fucking perfect looking with her short dark hair and long eyelashes and her skinny jeans. Beca can't see more than a few lines of information on Tali's Facebook profile, but it still feels like she has this weird rock sitting in the pit of her stomach.

It doesn't look like Tali Grossman can sing though, so. Beca has that at least. Although -- and Beca shuts her Macbook with more force than necessary -- why the fuck does she even care.

Trick question. The answer is she doesn't. Not at all.

 

*

 

For some reason that Beca cannot fathom, she signs up for gen chem II. It's like she was possessed during course selection because oh my god, this was the worst idea ever. Stoichiometry? Great. Counting electrons? Easy. But now there's phases of matter and gases and more laws to remember and shit, she's so far in over her head. She frantically scans her syllabus -- there's no way she's going to get through the thermochemistry unit or pass the first exam.

It's two weeks into the new semester and she feels like she's eating, sleeping, singing chemistry. She's taken to lugging the heavy textbook with her around campus so she can work on problem sets when she has a break. Every time she thinks about it, a wave of panic threatens to engulf her.

"Drop the class," Amy says at dinner. "You can join my religion class. It's all about Judaism." She makes a raise-the-roof motion. "Jews! What what. I think my familiarity with Fiddler On the Roof is giving me an advantage."

Beca stabs her rubbery piece of chicken parm with some force. "I can't. There's nothing else I want to take. I have the music courses I need, and everything else sucks."

"Just take a freshman seminar. It'll be an easy A." Stacie waves her fork around. "I'm TA-ing for Intro to Gender Studies. We're talking about dildos."

"...Thanks, but I think I'll pass."

"Why don't you ask Chloe to help you?" Cynthia Rose interjects.

Amy grins. It looks like trouble with a capital T that rhymes with P. "That's a brilliant idea. Chloe can tutor you. She's like a chemistry savant."

Truth is, Beca's already thought of that. It was pretty much the first thing that popped into her head after she got back her first lab quiz. "I don't know. She's really busy with her...molecular design stuff or whatever."

"I think she'll make time for you," Lilly whispers, pitching it more audibly across the dining hall din.

"Yeah, all those late nights, studying, just the two of you," Amy says.

Cynthia Rose throws her dinner roll at Amy. "Leave her alone. She's just trying to pass a class."

Beca gives the table a big, forced smile and picks up her still-full plate. "Thanks, aca-nerds. You've been super helpful. I'll think about it."

 

*

 

"Of course I'll help you. I'd be happy to." Chloe smiles at Beca over the rim of her red solo cup. "You should've asked earlier. Thermo can be a bitch."

Beca gives her a small smile back. "Thank you. Seriously. I don't even know why I'm taking this class, but. Add drop's almost over and I don't think I'll be able to get into anything else."

They both squint into the dimly lit, crowded darkness of the room. It's loud and too hot -- Beca wishes someone would open a window. Jesse invited all the Bellas to the Trebles' annual Spring Semester Blowout Bash, but Beca would've ditched the party if it weren't for Chloe forcing Beca to attend. So now Beca's spending her Friday night, leaning against a questionably-clean wall at the Treble house. She can think of a lot of things she'd rather be doing, including chemistry homework.

"Is Amy grinding up on that poor Springie?" Chloe laughs, pointing. "Look at his face. He's terrified. Aww. What's his name? Oliver something?"

"Oliver Stadum. Man, you have the worst memory. He auditioned like last week."

Chloe shrugs. "We never take girls from spring auditions. I don't pay attention."

"Well, you're back in the Bellas now, so you should."

"Hey, I ceded all power to you." Chloe nudges Beca with her shoulder, and Beca nearly loses her beer. "Oops. Sorry."

"It's fine," Beca mumbles, her face flushed. She feels like she should've built up a tolerance for Chloe's casual touching at this point, but instead her reaction seems to be getting worse. "I'm just clumsy. Also, you never ceded any power. That was all Aubrey."

"What are you implying? That I was her toadie?"

"You said it, not me." Beca glances at Chloe though, wondering if she's offended.

Chloe's grinning into her cup, her head tilted a little to the side. She looks good -- pretty -- lacy top and low-rise jeans. Beca has the sudden urge to brush Chloe's hair out of her eyes. Ridiculous. Chloe can do that herself. Beca curls her fingers into a fist.

"You want another beer? I'm getting low," Beca says.

Chloe knocks back the rest of hers and hands her empty cup to Beca. "Thanks."

"Breathe, Mitchell," Beca mutters to herself as she elbows her way through the crowd.

 

*

 

"What's up with you and Chloe?" Jesse asks three days later, the two of them doing homework in the empty music auditorium.

Beca gnaws distractedly at the end of her pen, immersed in her reading. "What?"

There's a definite pause. Jesse continues hesitatingly, "Are you two...?"

"What?"

"Do you really need me to spell it out for you?"

She looks up from her reading. He's sitting two seats away. "We're just friends," she says, and the words sound a little bit forced, even to her.

Jesse raises both eyebrows. "Okay."

"It's -- I'm not into girls," she says. She thinks briefly about the curve of Chloe's smile.

"I didn't say you were." Jesse clears his throat a little, shifts in his seat. "Hey, actually, I have something to tell you."

"Is it about your mom?"

He makes a you're-very-mature face. "I'm seeing someone. Girl in my creative writing class."

"Not the one that writes emo poetry -- " Beca starts, and then notices his expression. "Oh, Emo Poetry Girl. Alright."

"Melissa's very funny," Jesse says stiffly.

"Yeah, of course." Beca looks down at her reading. "Well, um, have fun with that."

"I didn't want you to find out from someone else."

She nods, trying to focus on the little lines of text in front of her eyes. She reads a sentence once, and then again, and then for a third time before she realizes she hasn't processed any of the words. When she glances up, Jesse's still staring at her.

"Beca?"

"I -- I have a headache," she says, starting to throw her stuff into her bag. "I think I need to go lie down."

"Do you want me to -- ?"

"No, I'm good. Thanks. I'll see you later."

 

*

 

It's not that she still has feelings for him or whatever, Beca thinks, lying facedown in her bed. The headache that she lied about is tingling in the back of her skull, creeping towards her eyeballs. It's just that -- well, she doesn't know what it is. She feels weird about it in any case. Yeah, Jesse should be dating other girls, but she just didn't think about it.

He's moving on -- shouldn't she be dating other people too?

Thinking about it just makes her headache worse. She drags herself out of bed to grab the ibuprofen out of her closet.

 

*

 

Chloe comes over for their first chemistry tutoring session while Beca's in the middle of making a new mash-up, her headphones snug around her ears. She doesn't notice Chloe's there until the other girl's tapping her shoulder, which makes Beca nearly jump out of her chair.

"You scared the shit out of me," she says, her heart racing from the shock. "Did you just...barge in?"

"I'm not quite that rude," Chloe replies, sitting on the edge of Beca's bed. "Cynthia Rose was just leaving. Does she have a new girlfriend or something? She seems really happy these days."

Beca feels a pang of guilt; she hasn't had a chance to ask Cynthia Rose about her life in days. "Uh -- I'm not sure, actually. Maybe."

"I've kind of been meaning to talk to her. I'll find out."

"About what?"

Chloe takes her laptop out of her bag. "I was wondering if she knew anything about the LGBT groups on campus."

"I think she goes to their events sometimes, but it's hard to find time -- between Bellas rehearsals. Are you...thinking of going?"

"Yeah, I don't know. I'd like to meet some more people, I guess. I went to some...things at MIT because Tali was really into that stuff, and it was cool." Chloe types something rapidly. "Who knows -- maybe I'll meet someone."

Beca bites her lower lip. "Are you looking for a girlfriend?"

"I'm looking for something, maybe." Chloe's smile warms Beca from the inside out. "Are you ready to go over gas laws?"

They go over chemistry until Beca can't stand it anymore -- figures and formulas swimming in her vision when she closes her eyes. They take a break, lying close together on Beca's bed, eating chocolate-covered pretzels and discussing Bellas business. Chloe props herself up on an elbow, peers down at Beca's face.

"What?" Beca mumbles, staring up into a curtain of Chloe's hair, her thoughts suddenly wild and frenzied.

"I saw Jesse with a new girl." Chloe's voice is soft and carefully gentle. "Looked like they're together."

Beca turns herself towards the wall. "Oh. Yeah. Jesse told me."

"Are you...okay?"

"Uh-huh."

"You wanna talk about it?"

There's a crack in the plaster by her head. Beca traces it with one finger. "There's nothing to say. I feel... I don't know. Weird, maybe. Is that what I'm supposed to feel?"

"I don't know if there's anything you're 'supposed' to be feeling."

"I don't like him like that anymore," Beca continues, squeezing her eyes shut. "It's not that. I just, I don't know." She feels Chloe scoot closer, heat coming off skin, and then she's being hugged from behind. Chloe spoons Beca, fitting her body around Beca's tiny frame.

"I know." Chloe's words brush the back of Beca's neck, damp and hot. It makes Beca shiver, and Chloe holds her tighter.

 

*

 

This year the ICCA Southern Regional Semifinals are the week after spring break. Beca's not usually all Type A, and she gives the Bellas a lot more leeway than they got from Aubrey, but every time she opens her Google Calendar, she feels stress clawing at her insides. Logically, she knows that they're in good shape. They've got the routine down, and the set sounds great, but logic isn't working. She can't mandate the girls to stay on campus during break, can she? No, she can't. That's insane, right?

"That's insane," Cynthia Rose says flatly.

"But -- " Beca sputters.

Cynthia Rose zips up her suitcase and sighs. "Look, we all need time off. No offense, Bec, but you look like shit. Have you thought about anything besides midterms and a cappella?"

Yes, Beca thinks fiercely. She's thought about lots of things -- chemistry and Chloe and music and Chloe and -- she cuts herself off.

"Are you going to be alone on campus?" Cynthia Rose asks, tone softening. "Doing your radio show?"

"It's not a big deal. Chloe'll be here. And, you know, my dad. Amy was supposed to be, but one of her boyfriends is taking her to Palm Springs."

"Oh, right. Chloe." Cynthia Rose grins in a way that makes Beca blush. "Forgot about that. Okay, have fun."

She heaves the suitcase up, rolls it towards the door. Beca opens it for her, staring at her roommate glumly.

"We're going to be fine. I'll see you in a week," Cynthia Rose says, giving Beca a hug. "Stop obsessing over it."

She turns around to wave halfway down the hall and Beca yells after her, "Don't gamble! And your crazy ex is still crazy!"

 

*

 

Chloe has to spend the first two days of her break grading midterms, so Beca lets her into the booth while Beca's doing her radio show. Sophomore year and her slot's gotten moved up to midnight -- she's doing okay. She plays requests and her own mash-ups and sometimes requests of her mash-ups, which is something. She gets so into what she's doing that she forgets Chloe's there.

"What?" Beca says, after she introduces a song, and pulls the headphones from her ears.

Chloe laughs. Her cheeks look a little pink, but it's hard to tell in the dark booth. "I just like this. You, being so cool. You're going to be an awesome DJ."

"Yeah, well. You're going to be an awesome chemical engineer. Whatever that means," Beca mumbles in return, fiddling with her computer, switching the order of two songs.

"You're so bad at taking compliments."

"Shut up," Beca says, prickly with embarrassment. "I mean. Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"You don't have to stay here with me, you know," Beca says after another minute. "I don't mind."

"I know." Beca glances over to see Chloe's grin, brighter than the glow of the computer screen. "Didn't I just say that I like this?"

Beca's stomach does a flip. "You might've been saying that sarcastically."

"That's more your thing."

"Seriously. You don't mind?"

Chloe sets her pen down and reaches over with one hand, lacing her fingers through Beca's. Beca's stomach flips again -- twice. "I swear I don't mind. I like you."

Which is, of course, a totally normal thing for people to say to each other, right? Beca isn't sure. Chloe brushes the pad of her thumb against Beca's palm and Beca isn't even sure of her own name. She keeps her hand frozen for a beat too long though -- it suddenly occurs to her that there's no noise coming from her headphones, and she scrambles for the mic to breathlessly introduce the next song.

"Sorry," Chloe says, not sounding sorry at all, once Beca's sorted everything out.

Beca fidgets with the soundboard. "Hey," she says, not looking up. "You wanna pick some songs to play?"

"I get to touch the computer?"

"Yeah. Just -- don't tell anyone."

Chloe leans over, her face so close that Beca can smell her breath, sweet from the Lifesavers she's been eating. Beca turns her head a little, their noses brushing. She jerks back sharply.

"Uh -- here. Let me show you," Beca says, her voice tremulous and high, hoping her pulse will slow.

 

*

 

"I have a crush on a girl," Beca says to Cynthia Rose the moment her roommate walks through the door. It feels good to say it aloud, like something's been lifted off her chest.

Cynthia Rose drops her suitcase on her bed, starts unzipping it. "Hi to you too, Beca. How was your spring break? Good? So was mine, thanks for asking."

"Sorry. I didn't mean to -- I just wanted to tell someone."

"Okay." Cynthia Rose busies herself putting clothes on hangers in her closet. "It's Chloe, right?"

"What? How did you know?"

"Yeah, because you play it so cool. Everyone knows about your giant lesbian crush."

Beca colors, folds her arms across her chest. "It's not...everyone knows?"

"Duh."

"Oh."

"You talk about her all the time."

"We're really good friends," Beca says hotly.

Cynthia Rose holds up her hands. "I'm just telling you the facts."

"Um. So. Anyway." Beca sits on the edge of her bed, realizing that she has no further follow-up. "That was my break. How was yours?"

Cynthia Rose gives Beca this half-pitying look, and launches into a longwinded account of her spring break. Beca zones out, thinking about nothing, but maybe thinking about Chloe.

 

*

 

They place first at Semifinals, the Trebles right behind them. Beca sticks her tongue out at Jesse good-naturedly, waving their first place trophy. She's not breaking it this time, not like last year. He flips her off and laughs, the boys piling back onto their tour bus.

She runs into him kissing his new girlfriend after the winners are announced, and it doesn't make her feel much of anything. Beca counts that as a personal victory. She's happy for him.

On the way home she sits next to Chloe, her nerves rattling with each little bump in the road (their arms occasionally brush and that doesn't help at all). Most everyone else is asleep. Amy's turned the radio down low and Beca can hear her softly crooning away in the driver's seat.

"I can't study with you tomorrow night," Chloe says drowsily.

Beca leans her head against the cold windowpane. "Okay. Why?"

"I have a date."

It's a little bit like suddenly plunging off a cliff. Beca's insides twist up. "Oh."

"This girl I met at the library last week. She asked me to a movie."

"What are you going to see?" Beca struggles to keep her voice neutral and calm. Like a normal person.

"This weird art house film. Could be crap, I don't know. She suggested it."

Chloe's trying to make it sound like it's no big deal, Beca can tell. Not that it would be anyway. It was presumptuous for Beca to assume that Chloe liked her back. It hurts though, a heavy sort of ache that seeps into the spaces between Beca's ribs, and lodges something in her throat. Beca has to swallow a few times before she can continue the conversation.

"Have fun."

Chloe makes a noise, kind of like a sigh. "Beca," she says, pitching her voice low, "if there's something you want to say to me, just say it."

Beca's head hurts. She scrunches herself up, making her body even smaller. It's on the tip of her tongue, but she can't, she just can't. "I don't have anything. Enjoy your date."

Chloe puts in her headphones and they ride the rest of the way in silence, Beca stewing all the while. When bus pulls back into parking lot by the music building, she waits until Chloe exits, and bolts the opposite way, not bothering to say goodbye.

It's not until she gets back to her room that she realizes she still has the trophy, gleaming gold beneath the overhead light.

 

*

 

The next afternoon Beca holes herself up in a corner of the music library, ostensibly to study chemistry, but she ends up working on a new mix instead. It's all slow and melancholic, nothing that would ever be played in a club or on her radio show. She tries not to think about Chloe going on her date; it's spectacularly unsuccessful. Her brain wants to play that on a continuous loop.

"Uh-oh, trouble in paradise," Amy says, dropping her bag onto the table Beca's at.

Beca lowers her headphones. "What?" she says, ungraciously.

"You know, you and Chloe -- you're in a fight." Amy mouths the word 'fight', as if it were dirty.

"We're not in a fight."

Amy leans in. "So what's your fight about?"

Beca cracks a smile because she can't help it. Amy grins, glowing with triumph. "I don't know if we're in a fight," Beca says, hesitant. "I can't -- I don't know how to explain it."

"So you're moping."

"I'm studying."

"Okay, yeah, this is how I study too, all super depressed. Really effective. It's how I'm getting an A in Jewish Studies."

"Amy -- "

"You should just go talk to her," Amy says, like it's obvious. She grabs her bag. "She's probably all mopey too. Anyway, I have to run. Connor's waiting for me."

Beca toys with her headphone cord, looping it between her fingers. "I thought you were seeing that other guy, Evan something."

"I'm mad at him right now, and Connor's hot."

"They're all hot," Beca grumbles.

Amy looks smug. "Yeah, they are." She points her index finger at Beca and with a, "talk to Chloe, okay?", heads towards the door.

 

*

 

Maybe it's Amy, and maybe it's not, but a half hour later Beca is staring at Chloe's Facebook page, clicking through her photos, and the next minute she's throwing her laptop and books into her backpack, sprinting out of the library. She gets instantly wet in the spring rain and has to take a breath on the sidewalk, huddled beneath a building overhang. There's a stitch in her side from running.

hey where are you? she texts Chloe, massaging her ribcage.

There's no response for a few minutes. Beca's worrying her bottom lip when her phone makes a noise.

my apartment.

Beca's pulse picks up. stay there.

She's soaked through by the time she gets to Chloe's front door, her hair plastered to her skin. She drags a wet sleeve across her face to wipe away droplets of water before knocking. Her feet make a squishing noise in her shoes.

"Oh my god," Chloe says when she opens the door. She looks like she's in the middle of getting ready for her date, her hair pulled back. She looks great, Beca thinks with a pang of...something. Guilt perhaps. "Let me get you a towel."

"Thanks." Beca cautiously steps off Chloe's welcome mat and into the apartment. She peels off her shoes and wet socks, leaving them in a little muddy heap in the hallway before shutting the door.

Chloe comes back with a clean towel, draping it around Beca's shoulders. For a second she's too close again and all the muscles in Beca's neck tense up. Chloe retreats though, her expression cautious.

"Sorry. I guess, you have your date." Beca squeezes water from the ends of her hair with the towel. "Um. I'll try to be quick."

"What is it?"

Beca takes a deep breath and focuses her eyes behind Chloe's shoulder, on the photograph of the Bellas from last year's ICCA Finals. She wasn't nervous the whole way over and now she is. What was she thinking, really, coming here looking like a drowned rat, all bedraggled? "I, uh. I wanted to say sorry. For yesterday." She starts again, trying, but ends up lapsing back into silence.

"Okay," Chloe says. "Um. Thanks."

"Okay," Beca repeats, her thoughts warring with each other. She wipes a clammy palm on her jeans.

There's a pause before Chloe speaks again. "Beca, if that's all, I have to get ready for my date."

"Right. Um. Yeah. Your date." Beca takes the towel from her shoulders, offers it back to Chloe. She feels strangely hollow, a numbness spreading through her chest. "Sorry again."

"It's fine. You really didn't have to come all the way here in the rain."

Beca catches a glimpse of Chloe's face before the other girl turns away with the towel. She looks almost disappointed, her mouth set, and a wave of something fierce and sharp wells up in Beca.

"I like you," Beca blurts out, immediately coloring. "I don't -- I like you. Don't go on your date."

Chloe stops mid-step.

God, Beca wants nothing more than for the earth to open up and swallow her whole, but she steels herself. It can't get more awkward than this, she thinks. "I...just wanted you to know that. I don't know, I guess, I thought, maybe, you felt the same way..." Her words trail off. "Um. Maybe you don't. I -- I don't know. You know, I think I'm gonna go -- "

"I do."

Beca blinks. Twice. "What?"

"I do feel the same way, Beca. I like you." Chloe's face is unreadable, but her cheeks are bright pink, and her eyes are shining. "I've...always liked you."

Oh. Beca lets out a shaky breath. Relief makes her legs feel rubbery, her whole body trembling. She has to brace herself against the wall.

"Are you okay?"

Chloe's concern makes Beca smile, and then she can't stop smiling, like a switch that's been flipped, and she's stupidly happy. "Yeah. Yes. You...like me."

"Yeah," Chloe says, her voice still careful, but she's starting to smile too.

They grin at each other for a few seconds, big goofy grins. Beca puts down her bag and gestures to the towel. "Um, could I have that back, actually? I'm...kind of cold."

"Oh, god, yeah. I'm sorry. I'm the worst host."

Chloe takes a few steps forward, shaking out the towel. She drapes it around Beca again, coming in close, but she doesn't move away this time. Beca tilts her head up a little and Chloe leans in, still clutching the front of the towel in one hand. Beca's going to go cross-eyed, but she doesn't want to close them because she can feel it, the anticipation sharpening the air between her and Chloe.

"Hey," Chloe says when their noses brush. Beca can see her lips curving upwards. "Do you think I can kiss you?"

And even though she knew it was coming, the question still sends a thrill through Beca. She nods. "Yeah," she answers, and the word gets lost in the kiss, Chloe's mouth warm and sweet on hers. There's a moment where Beca has to tell herself to keep breathing because she can't -- she doesn't remember -- and she's on sensory overload -- Chloe's lips and skin and her smell, the scratchy softness of the towel beneath Beca's chin, and the rhythm of her heart kicking in overtime.

Chloe pulls away, breathless.

"So you're canceling that date, right?" Beca asks, once she finds her voice again.

Chloe laughs, that full Chloe laugh, and she reaches over to brush a strand of Beca's hair out of the way. "I'm thinking about it."

"Let me convince you," Beca says, curling a hand behind Chloe's neck, tugging down, feeling both shy and brave at once.

"Deal," Chloe whispers, giving into the kiss.

 

*

 

"Uh, where were you last night?" Cynthia Rose demands when Beca walks into their room the next morning.

Beca's grinning all over again. "Just around."

Cynthia Rose goes wide-eyed. "Shut up. You got laid."

Beca shakes her head, still grinning, not saying anything. She sets her bag by her bed and starts changing out of yesterday's clothes -- wrinkled from how they dried by Chloe's radiator.

"Congratulations, Beca," Cynthia Rose laughs. "To Chloe too. Way to go. I'm happy for you guys."

Beca nods, pulling a new shirt over her head. "Thanks. Me too."

Her phone buzzes on her desk. Beca pulls her hair out of the shirt collar with one hand and sits down to read the text message.

hi. :) is all Chloe's written.

hi. :) Beca writes back, and presses send.