Jesse regards Beca thoughtfully. They are both so calm about the whole situation that this conversation could literally be about the latest stock market gains and nobody in the café would be any wiser. Beca gives her cup of coffee an absentminded stir and asks, “So you were never really in love with me, huh?”
Jesse only shrugs. “Were you?” Beca stays quiet. The silence stretches on so long that Jesse grins wryly at Beca and says, “My point exactly.”
Beca laughs. “This is the most ridiculous break-up I’ve ever been in. And just so you know, my high school boyfriend stood at my window and sang won’t go home without you at least sixty times until my brother dumped a pail of water on him.”
Jesse raises an eyebrow, grinning. “I could do that. Any particular song requests?”
Beca rolls her eyes and doesn’t dignify that with a response. “So how did your parents react?”
“I think they always sort of knew. I think they were more surprised when I introduced you as my girlfriend than when I came out to them.” He shakes his head. “Well anyway – friends?”
Beca grins. “Please. Have we ever been anything but friends?”
“Now that’s just being mean,” He says, returning her smile.
“So that rumor about you and Kommissar – that wasn’t just a rumor?”
Beca makes a face. “Ew. No. That was just a dumb crush. I’d never cheat on you. Even if you did.” She narrowed her eyes, and Jesse gulps and blushes guiltily. She’s teasing, though, because it has literally been weeks since they’d last talked on the phone – months since they’d last seen each other face to face – and their relationship has been unofficially over for longer than they’d like to admit.
Heck, they’d pretty much given up on having a seriousrelationship since junior year and were mostly just too lazy and too scared to call it quits because being with each other was easy. It was expected. It was safe. It was funny, how they’d been drawn to each other from the start – two young, terrified people, not lovers, but kindred spirits, both struggling with emotions they didn’t want to have. But ultimately, it wasn’t enough; it had never been enough. It wasn’t love. It wasn’t real. It didn’t bleed or throb or burn.
Obviously she didn’t blame Jesse for doing what he did, she couldn’t. Not when she’d been equally guilty, in thought if not in deed, for possibly the entire duration of their relationship. “Anyway,” she said, not wanting to make things weird. “Kommissar isn’t even that hot.”
“Mm,” Jesse shrugged nonchalantly. “She’s rich and famous now, though.”
“Don’t mm me, you’re gay – you don’t think any girl ishot.”
He rolls his eyes. “I prefer being with guys yes, but I’m not fucking blind. I can appreciate beauty when I see it.”
“Oh, gee, thanks.” Beca said, scowling.
Jesse laughs. “I didn’t mean it in that way. You’re hot."
Beca grunts in approval, then falls silent for a long while. When she speaks again, there’s a slight tremble in her voice. “It’s terrible, isn’t it? What we did? Five years is a fucking long time to spend lying to yourself.” The words Chloe had whispered to her as they lay side by side, faces just inches apart, during their retreat just before the World Championships comes back to haunt her like they always did in times like these. I wish I did more experimenting in college. Beca grits her teeth. “Dyou – dyou ever wonder what you could’ve had with – someone – if you hadn’t been so damn stupid?”
“Beca,” Jesse’s voice is quiet. “Don’t do that to yourself.”
Beca sighs and bites her lip. Jesse pats her awkwardly on the arm, because he’s never been good at comforting her, and tells her that it isn’t too late. Except that for her, it is, and Beca doesn’t have the heart to tell him why.
Instead, she stays silent and takes a sip from her cup of lukewarm coffee. It’s salty. She runs a curious hand along her cheeks and realizes, almost distractedly, that she’s crying. As if to augment this particular observation, another tear plops into the cup and sets off small, tiny ripples in the milky brown liquid. Beca scowls, but continues drinking the coffee anyway. Salty coffee is still coffee and to be honest she can’t taste anything anyway.
She’s earlier than she has ever been for work. Which is still five minutes late, but well. John – the manager and owner of the bar – notices, and although he doesn’t show any signs of approval, he doesn’t show any signs of disapproval, either, which is a start.
“Busy night tonight,” John grunts, running a wet cloth over the bar counter. Blake, the regular bartender, hasn’t arrived yet. “Death cab for cutie concert,” John says, by way of explanation. Beca nods. She has only been working here a couple of weeks, but she already knows that for some inexplicable reason, fans of the alternative rock scene love it here. She also knows that John rarely says much, and getting these two disjointed phrases from him is probably a sign that he’s finally beginning to warm to her – or at least is somewhat convinced that she isn’t going to suddenly disappear off the face of the earth like the past four DJs before her.
Dropping her backpack on the floor, Beca settles down into her seat at the elevated mixing table and pulls on her headphones. She starts up the music and begins adjusting the dials and scratches out something fast and edgy to warm herself up before the dive bar opened its doors to the masses.
Slowly, she begins to relax into the music. She’s always been good at this – feeling out the music, understanding its rhythm, its tune, its soul – this was instinctive to her, much more than songwriting or singing had been. She has a good voice, yes, and occasionally she came up with some semi-decent tunes, but scratching out mixes, throwing together seemingly disparate songs and creating a blend of something that was new and fresh and beautiful – that was what made her come alive.
These seven hours of her life are the hours she lives for.
Beca gets people, too – almost as much as she gets the music. She knows when a crowd wants hot, angry music, when it wants slow, sad songs, and when it wants to dance itself into oblivion. She’s pretty damn good at her job, and John knows it. But he’s far too cheap to admit that she’s good – and run the risk of having to pay any more than she’s getting right now.
The night passes by in a blur of movement and music. Beca loses herself in it, her heart thumping to the rhythm of the mixes she’s scratching out on her table – tonight the music is more for herself than for the throng of drunk sweaty people grinding against each other on the dance floor because tonight she can’t bring herself to give a damn about them.
Her thoughts keep running back to Jesse, college, the Barden Bellas and a time when everything had been so simple and straightforward – if she’s honest, those thoughts constantly end up looping back to one particular woman and the things they’ve whispered to each other in the dead of night when no one is listening or watching. It’s dumb, because the time for action – for anything, really – has passed now. They’ve both moved on from college, from each other, from that thing between them that neither had had the courage to acknowledge. And yet, she continues to yearn for Chloe’s presence, her beautiful twinkling laugh, her infectious optimism, that sad, sweet smile that spoke so softly of yearning and regret. And that wink. The goddamn wink that somehow manages to blow her insides apart every single fucking time, without fail.
It’s simple, really. Maybe it’s always been. She needs Chloe.