“You’ve never seen her play?” Beca finishes the last swallow of beer and slams her glass back down onto the table. “You want this girl to play for us but you don’t even know if she’s good?”
Cynthia Rose shrugs and pushes a full glass across the bar until it lands in front of Beca. “She’s hot.”
Beca shakes her head. “No. Not happening. No way.”
“It’s a done deal, Short Stack.” Amy leans heavily into the bar, her eyes landing over Beca’s shoulder at something. “Dingo-daddy at 6:00.”
“That would mean he’s behind you,” Beca points out. She turns her attention back to Cynthia Rose. “We’re not taking any new players. We’ll be fine with what we have.”
“Even if we were, we don’t have enough girls to play.”
She scans the bar where most of the team has put up shop. Lilly is in the corner whispering with someone from the Treblemakers, a left fielder named Donald. Jessica, Denise, and Ashley are going shot for shot at the other end of the bar. Cynthia Rose scoops up their dirty glasses and dunks them into the wash bin behind the bar. Amy is shimmying her way across the small dance floor towards a group of guys in the back who howl at her as she winks at them.
They’re sure as hell no Rockford Peaches.
And Cynthia Rose is right; they have a killer team for the most part, but they’re two players shy of a full roster.
“Fine,” she concedes. “She can try out. But I get to pick the other one.”
Cynthia Rose wipes down a few glasses and stacks them back on the drying rack. “No can do, Captain. She wouldn’t play unless we took her and two other girls. Her friends.” She grins at Beca. “Next drink is on me.”
It’s co-ed softball. Beer league.
Their team is named after the bar Cynthia Rose owns – Bellas, after an old ex-girlfriend - and they play in cotton t-shirts and shorts. It isn’t the major leagues but from the first hanging pitch to the last bat crack, they play like it is.
The only difference is that Beca typically manages to finish a beer every two innings.
It’s a field of 7 teams, all of them made up of people in town, playing for other businesses. The Treblemakers play for the movie shop down the street that Jesse, one of Beca’s we-do-not-talk-about-it-ever-but-he-always-wants-to exes, owns. The High Notes, a head shop near Main Street, is a joke no one takes seriously. There’s the Harmonics, a piano tuning place made of up a bunch of their employees who only know Liberace standards. The Footnotes had a killer pitcher the year before but he turned out to be underage and the shoe store can’t sponsor a team for another two seasons. It gave Sockapellas, the substandard discount shoe store in the mini mall a chance to sponsor a team. Das Sound Machine, the auto shop near Bellas, has a strong team and they know it. The Tone Hangers are the old guys who play checkers near the park, who just can’t quite give it up. They’re an easy win. Beca finishes a beer every inning those games.
It’s co-ed softball, beer league, but Beca takes it seriously. Every girl had to try out before they got a $15 t-shirt.
Cynthia Rose was grandfathered into the team, sponsoring it and being Beca’s best friend since high school, but she’s a strong, solid third base. She always has been. Beca likes to watch her inch in down the baseline until the batter is too busy throwing nervous glances over their shoulder to pay attention to the pitch. Denise, Ashley, and Jessica fan the outfield effortlessly. Sometimes, Beca isn’t sure who is who or where they’re playing, but they never miss a line drive headed towards the fence. Fat Amy is their catcher but she hates to squat down so she and Lilly trade off. Beca has to limit the number of innings that Lilly plays; she scares the other teams when she whispers.
Beca feels most at home at shortstop. She sweeps her toes through the soft dirt of the field, bounces on the balls of her feet in the spongy grass two steps behind her, and crouches low for the sweep. She’s played shortstop since t-ball, when her well-intentioned father dumped her at the field house and spent the whole time talking to Sheila Tanner instead of watching her pick off Benji Applebaum who wasn’t quite standing on second base.
Benji cried, so they told him that he could stay on base.
Beca was hooked.
She played in middle school and high school and the one year she went to Barden, the local community college. But she’s been playing beer league since she was old enough to, since she talked Cynthia Rose into ponying up some money for her to start a team.
They’ve been just shy of winning every year.
When they do, Beca is going to petition to put their name on the town sign.
The fact that Cynthia Rose promised her recently vacated spots to a few girls Beca doesn’t even know makes Beca want to pull her hair out. She’s the captain of this team, she always has been. So Cynthia Rose sponsors them. And so Beca hasn’t ever really paid for a drink since she became old enough to legally order them. That doesn’t mean Cynthia Rose can go fill her roster without asking Beca’s opinion.
At least, that’s how Beca feels before she meets Stacie Conrad.
She’s basically a giraffe. A gorgeous, smirking giraffe that stands at first base like she’s the reason it was made. Beca called an impromptu practice for the time slot after Little League. She’s not going into a game against anyone without knowing what she’s working with or how to set up her field. The Bellas are get better every year but DSM is always better. They’ve added a new guy to their roster, Pieter, whose biceps are the size of Beca’s face. Kossimar, their captain, pat Beca on the top of the head and called her a Little Mouse in a way that felt like a come-on and an insult at the same time.
Stacie Conrad pat her on the head too, but it felt strangely sexual and it made Beca duck her head in embarrassment.
“She’s good, huh?” Cynthia Rose pounds a fist into her glove.
Lilly is at the plate hitting grounders and line drives at Stacie, not giving her too much time between to reset her feet. Stacie handles it well, twisting to the side to dump the balls over the baseline gracefully in the few seconds Lilly allows between hits. Stacie follows the ball with her body, trapping a low grounder, charging a slow roller, stretching back for a high pop. Beca can feel her mouth dropping open with each glove motion.
“Yeah. I did good,” Cynthia Rose boasts, heading back to third base so Lilly can start fanning out her practice hits. She belts a few over Beca’s head as she makes her way over to Stacie.
“So, dude. You’re like, you’re totally in.” Beca’s head is spinning with the possibilities of having Stacie in her lineup. “Without a doubt. What shirt size do you wear?”
“A medium is good,” Stacie says around her water bottle. She takes a few more long gulps and caps her bottle, tossing it towards the bench. “Liked what you saw?”
“Liked it?” Beca tries to stem the high-pitched squeal she can feel rising in her throat. “You’re amazing. Where did you play?”
Stacie waves a hand dismissively. “A little bit of everywhere. I’m working at Barden this semester, in their biology department. I stopped into Bellas the other night and Cynthia Rose mentioned you needed some more girls to fill your roster.”
Beca is grateful for Cynthia Rose in this moment.
“Chloe and Aubrey are supposed to be coming too,” Stacie continues. “Cynthia Rose said you needed three? I told her they didn’t need to play, we could find another team to join, but she insisted that you were looking for three new girls.”
Beca is annoyed with Cynthia Rose in this moment.
“Yeah. Where are they?” Beca hopes they found another team. The Tone Hangers are always looking for someone born in this century.
Stacie checks her phone and tucks it back into her sweatpants pocket. “Just a few minutes. Chloe had an afternoon shift after work and Aubrey wanted to wait for her. You probably know Aubrey. She’s from around here.”
Beca chews on her bottom lip while she thinks. “Aubrey… Aubrey Posen?”
Stacie smiles widely. “Yeah! She’s one of my best friends. We all went to school together.”
Beca groans and storms across the field, ignoring the whistling line drive that barely makes it over her head into the outfield.
“Beca! Watch the ball!” Cynthia Rose drops her glove to the dirt. “You’re lucky you’re so short. That could have clocked you.” She starts walking her fingers through Beca’s hair, feeling for a mark.
Beca pushes Cynthia Rose away and puts her hands on her hips. “Aubrey Posen?”
Cynthia Rose winces. It’s barely noticeable, but Beca sees it. Her eyes dart over Beca’s head and back to Beca. “Who said it was Posen?”
Beca lifts an eyebrow menacingly.
Cynthia Rose sighs. “Fine. It’s Posen. But look how good Stacie is! Look how good she looks,” she finishes slowly. Beca snaps her fingers in Cynthia Rose’s face. “Sorry. Okay. I know it’s Aubrey Posen, but she can’t still be a controlling pyscho, right? Doesn’t college teach people to grow up?”
“Beca wouldn’t know. She didn’t go,” a voice says from the pitcher’s mound.
Beca whips around and there she is, Aubrey Posen. Her hair is still straw-spun gold and her eyes are still icicle blue and Beca still feels about ten inches tall.
So, no. Nothing has changed.
“Aubrey,” Beca says through gritted teeth.
“Beca. Cynthia Rose. I heard your team needed saving.”
“Aubrey,” Stacie chides, coming into the conversation. “You said you would be nice.”
“I didn’t promise that,” Beca points out. “And we don’t need your help. I’ve been running this show for nearly four years. We’re doing just fine.”
“It’s beer league.” Aubrey turns up her nose and kicks at the dirt covering the pitching platform. “You don’t have a pitcher.”
“Mary Elise ran off with some kid who played for the Trebles. They’re having a baby, I guess.”
Aubrey scoffs. “She was always a teenage pregnancy waiting to happen.”
“We’re nearly 24 now, Aubrey. And you’re practically a dinosaur. So it can’t be a ‘teenage’ pregnancy.” Beca squeezes her hands tightly. She turns to Stacie. “Will you play even if Aubrey doesn’t?”
Stacie shakes her head. “Sorry. You’re cute and the team seems like fun, and I love softball, but we’re a package deal. Me and Aubrey and Chloe.”
Beca looks around the field. “Where is this Chloe girl?”
Aubrey hooks a thumb over her shoulder at a speck in the distance. “She’s coming. She left her cellphone in the car.” Aubrey focuses her attention back on the mound. “This is atrocious. This place needs some serious cleanup.”
“The city handles it.” Beca shakes her head. “No, wait a minute. This is nuts. I’m not doing this.” Beca turns to Cynthia Rose. “I like Stacie, but…”
“Aubrey will be nice!” Stacie insists.
“And so will you,” Cynthia Rose adds, looking at Beca. “High school is over. You two can play on the same team like adults.”
Beca growls a little. She weighs the pros and cons. She knows Stacie is practically a golden glove and she’d be a great addition to the team, but she comes with the baggage that is Aubrey and Beca has already handled four years of that disaster. Cynthia Rose nudges her forward. Beca looks at her team, gathering around her. Jessica, Ashley, and Denise are eyeing Aubrey cautiously. Lilly pops a piece of gum in her mouth. Amy narrows her eyes at the two girls before she turns to Beca. “It’s your call, Cap’n BM.”
“Yeah,” Cynthia Rose echoes. “We go with what you say.”
And that’s when the speck in the distance becomes a person, suddenly standing next to her.
“Hi!” the girl says loudly, coming to a stop next to Aubrey. “Is this the team?”
Aubrey looks pointedly at Beca. Cynthia Rose does too. Amy winks at her.
Beca sighs. “Yeah, this is the team. God save us all,” she mumbles under her breath.
The girl smiles even wider than before. “Awesome! I’m Chloe.” She thrust her hand into Beca’s face. “You have to be Beca Mitchell. My kids talk about you all the time.”
The team starts to dissipate around them, heading back out into positions. Lilly starts peppering grounds around them.
Beca frowns. “You have kids?” She looks Chloe up and down and feels her face flush just slightly. She immediately looks back up. “Really?”
Chloe smiles. “No. I’m a teacher at Edgewood Elementary. Second grade. You’re the lady who does music lessons, right? Piano and guitar? A few of my kids take lessons with you.”
“Oh.” Beca nods. “Yeah. I forget they go to school.” She scratched the back of her neck. “Uh, anyway. Good to have you, I guess. What position do you play?”
Chloe’s smile fades just a little. “Oh. I’ve never played before.” She brightens slightly. “So where do you need me?”
Beca feels like this is going to be the end of her.
“This is the end of me,” she declares, slamming back another beer. She tries to get the bartender’s attention, but the new guy Cynthia Rose hired to cover shifts during practices and games is less than stellar.
Cynthia Rose reaches over the bar and fishes two beers out of the cooler. She puts them down in front of Beca. “You said that.”
“I mean it.” Beca twists the cap off the bottle and takes a long sip. “Like, Stacie is amazing. She is a beautiful gazelle.”
Cynthia Rose snorts and takes the second bottle away from in front of Beca. “I’ll keep this, Buzz Aldrin.”
“She is,” Beca insists.
“She has nice legs,” Cynthia Rose adds in agreement.
Beca nods. “She does. They’re long. They’re as tall as I am.”
Cynthia Rose mutters something around the mouth of her beer bottle. Beca doesn’t ask her to repeat it.
“Aubrey, however, is the devil incarnate. She hates me. She lives to make my life miserable. She is the worst. She is so tall and so angry at me all the time.” Beca sighs. “She’s good, too. How can someone that mean to me be so good?”
Cynthia Rose shrugs.
“And then Chloe. Who doesn’t know how to play softball.” Beca glares at Cynthia Rose. “She doesn’t know how to play softball.”
“You’ve mentioned that a few times,” Cynthia Rose points out.
“I’mma keep saying it. Because she picked up the wrong end of the bat, Cynthia Rose!” Beca doesn’t realize she’s leaning out of her seat until Cynthia Rose pushes her back into it.
“Down, kitten,” she commands. “You’ll teach her.”
“This was going to be the year, you know. DSM is going to bury us. And then they’re going to go back to whether their forefathers are from and brag.”
“That’s xenophobic,” Cynthia Rose points out idly.
Beca groans. “It is. Ugh. I’m terrible. Just like our team.”
Cynthia Rose pats her on the shoulder, trying for reassuring and failing. “It’ll be okay, Captain. With you leading us, there’s nothing we can’t do. You’ll pull the team together and we’ll put those funky mechanics in the motor oil.” She wrinkles her nose. “That sounded weird to even say out loud.”
“Aubrey said you might be here,” a voice says from behind them.
Beca spins too quickly and regrets it. She sees three of Chloe swaying in front of her. Three hands come up towards her, but only one reaches her elbow. She looks down at it and when she looks back up, there’s only one of Chloe left.
“I’ve never been here before,” Chloe is saying to Cynthia Rose. “You own it?”
Cynthia Rose stands up and her chest puffs out a little. She gets this way when people talk to her about the bar. The bar makes her proud. “Scraped together the money working odd jobs when I was a kid and then I worked in the insurance business for, like, a year. Hated it. Opened the bar. She’s my baby.” She’s behind the bar now. “Want something?”
Chloe looks around, smiling. “It’s very nice.” Her hand is still on Beca’s elbow as she moves into Cynthia Rose’s empty seat. “Uh, a sex on the beach? Can you make those?”
Cynthia Rose snorts. “Of course I can.” She gets to work setting up the drink and Chloe turns to Beca.
“I wanted to come talk to you.”
Beca sags a little when Chloe’s hand falls from her elbow. “About what?”
“I know I’ve never played softball before, but I’m a quick learner.” Chloe accepts her drink with a smile. “Like, when I met Aubrey at school, I didn’t know anything about accounting but now I have a really amazing stock portfolio.”
Beca blinks a few times, trying to understand the connection.
“What I mean is, I can learn really quickly when I want to be good at something. And I want to be good at softball.” Chloe takes a sip of her drink and sighs contently. “So, I want you to teach me.”
“I don’t do lessons.”
“It wouldn’t have to be formal lessons. Just, you know. Pointers.”
“Why not Aubrey?”
Chloe shrugs. “I told her I wanted you to do it. You’re the Captain.”
Beca taps the bar top. “I take this stuff seriously.”
Chloe leans forward. “I know. I can tell. I want to be helpful and I want to be good. So, will you help?”
Beca closes her eyes and takes a deep breath in, her head tipping back slightly. She can feel the tips of Chloe’s fingers against the middle of her back as if Chloe is afraid she’s going to fall off her stool. She opens her eyes and leans forward again. Chloe’s hand stays where it is.
“Fine,” she breathes out. “I’ll help. Tomorrow.”
“I’m done with work at 3:00. I can meet you at the field?”
Beca nods and Chloe grins widely.
“I thought we were doing Drunk Clue,” Cynthia Rose says, wiping down the counter.
Beca sighs. “Shit. I can, uh…” She looks at Chloe and then at Cynthia Rose. “Can we reschedule? Drunk Clue this weekend?”
Cynthia Rose hesitates for a second but eventually nods.
“Great!” Chloe exclaims, squeezing Beca’s arm before she leaves the bar, the bell above the door twinkling behind her.
Beca catches Cynthia Rose’s eye across the bar and she sighs again.
Chloe is already waiting at the field when Beca gets there the next day. She’s sitting on the visitors bench, a brand new glove at her feet. She’s got a navy blue baseball hat pulled down low on her forehead. It says ‘Barden’ in large yellow letters. Beca is at a loss for words.
“Hi!” Chloe leaps up, grinning.
Beca still can’t formulate a sentence. She’s always had a weakness for a girl in a baseball hat; Cassie, her freshman year girlfriend, wore one just to drive Beca nuts. Chloe tugs at her hat self-consciously when she catches Beca staring and it shakes Beca out of her haze.
“Hey,” Beca finally manages. “You got a glove?” she asks, nodding at the glove at Chloe’s feet.
Chloe picks it up and slide it onto her hand sideways. “Yeah! Aubrey helped me pick it out yesterday. We oiled it and I slept on it last night!”
Beca reaches forward gently and straightens the glove out on Chloe’s hand. Chloe blushes just a little. “It looks good,” Beca says. “Aubrey knows what she’s doing when it comes to equipment care.”
“What is it with you guys?” Chloe punches her fist into her glove, hitting the net instead of the palm. Beca closes her fist around Chloe’s and hits the glove again, leading Chloe’s punch to the right spot. “She played with you in high school?”
Beca nods. “Yeah, she was two years ahead of me. She was the captain my first two years on the team.”
“And then you took over?”
“Yeah, Aubrey graduated. That’s where you know her from? College?” Beca checks the laces on her sneakers and reties one.
Chloe nods. “We were freshman roommates and it just kind of stuck. She’s my best friend.”
Beca wrinkles her nose. She grabs a ball from her bag and underhands it to Chloe. She barely catches it. It teeters on the tip of the glove and Chloe’s hand scrambles to grab it and hold onto it.
Beca is going to have her work cut out for her.
“So, quick vocabulary lesson. Firs base, second, third, and home. The positions are first, second, short, third, left field, right field, and center field. The pitcher and catcher are called the ‘battery’ because they make the team run. When a ball is rolling along the ground, it’s a grounder. When it’s parallel to the ground, it’s a line drive. When it’s up high and arches down, it’s a fly ball. There are the baselines,” she says, pointing, “and that’s the backstop. The benches are the dugouts.” She looks to make sure Chloe is following her. The redhead nods reassuringly for her to keep going. “Okay. We’re going to work on throwing today and maybe some fielding. Hitting tomorrow.”
Beca walks Chloe through it, all the throwing motions. She has her throw at the backstop and models each step.
“Uh, try this,” Beca says, slipping in behind Chloe. She grabs Chloe’s elbow and her other hand goes to Chloe’s wrist. She pulls it back until it’s perpendicular to Chloe’s shoulder. “All you do is roll your shoulder forward and then snap your wrist.”
Chloe looks over her shoulder at Beca. Beca swallows hard, her hand slipped down Chloe’s forearm by accident. She clears her throat and steps back, putting a few quick steps between them.
Chloe flicks her wrist perfectly and grins when Beca nods approvingly.
By the time Chloe moves into a full throw, her arm is loose and her throws look effortless. When she says it out loud, Chloe grins widely and jumps up and down happily.
“I told you I’m a good learner,” Chloe boasts. “I bet if you hit me a grounder, I can handle the heat.”
Beca smirks. “They’re two different skills. Like trying to teach a kid multiplication and expecting him to know how an Oxford comma works.”
Chloe’s eyes light up. “Are you challenging me?”
Beca crosses her arms over her chest and nods. “I am.”
She shows Chloe where to stand and then jogs to the plate. She grabs a bat and tosses up the ball, tapping it so it rolls relatively slowly towards Chloe. She bites her lip as it gets closer to Chloe and has a ‘whoop’ on the tip of her tongue but it rolls right under Chloe’s glove and between her legs.
“Glove down!” Beca yells.
Chloe frowns and sets herself again.
“Bounce more,” Beca instructs. “Don’t be so tight. Loosen up. Stay low and loose.” She models her directions. “Loose hips.”
Chloe mirrors her and smacks the inside of her glove. She grins. “Did I do that right?”
Beca can’t. Chloe is standing in the dirt at second base with a baseball hat on and she’s hitting the inside of her glove and she’s arguably the most gorgeous woman Beca has ever seen in her life. She barely manages a nod and decides to focus instead on hitting another grounder.
This time, it rolls off to the left of Chloe.
Beca sighs. “You can… You can move side to side.” She drops her bat and walks out onto the diamond. “Like, if the ball goes to the left, just go to the left.” She motions for Chloe to do it and groans when Chloe turns her body 90 degrees and walks. “No. Watch.” She crouches low and shuffles, her feet clicking together. Chloe crouches but not enough. Beca’s hands find Chloe’s hipbones and push just a little down. “Yeah,” she croaks out. She watches Chloe try again and grins when she nails it.
“I’m learning,” Chloe announces happily.
Beca grins back at her. “Now go right,” she instructs.
Chloe crouches low and shuffles, like Beca expected she would. Beca smirks. Chloe looks up at Beca and frowns. “Did I do it wrong?”
Beca shakes her head quickly. “No, no.” She motions for Chloe to move out of the way and gets into a ready position, glove down. “So, if the ball goes to the right, your glove is on your left hand. You want to get into a position where the ball is on your glove side, always. So you wanna make three or four short, quick steps and get in front of the ball.”
The first time Chloe tries to mimic Beca, she trips on her own feet.
Beca pulls her up out of the dirt hiding a laugh. Chloe takes off her hat and wipes her forehead with the back of her hand. She ends up smearing some dirt there but she puts her hat back on before Beca can say anything.
“Show me again,” Chloe demands.
The next time she tries it, she misses the ball but stays upright.
“Progress,” Beca agrees. “You’re making progress.”
Chloe hugs her tightly and the next grounder Beca hits hooks into the dugout with a clatter.
Beca started playing softball because it’s what everyone in Barden, Georgia did.
She kept playing because she liked people in ball caps and people liked her.
She kept playing for other reasons too. She loves games under the lights, sweat in her eyes, hammering a fist into the meat of the glove and hearing that satisfying ‘thwak’ come back at her.
She likes the crack of the bat. She likes the way her wrists break clean over the handle. She likes emptying the dust out of her cleats. She likes making diving catches and double plays and there’s this feeling she’s only ever gotten when she’s rounding third and flying home.
She only likes the movie ‘Never Been Kissed’ because she’s always wanted to make out with someone on a pitcher’s mound.
She still wears PF Flyers and Benny ‘The Jet’ Rodriguez is her go-to Halloween costume.
She loves the game and the game loves her. So what if she’s playing in a beer league and her games are scheduled around the fact that nearly everyone works two jobs. So what if she never played at the college level. She loves the game and the game loves her enough to let her keep playing.
So Beca keeps swinging and keeps her glove low and she keeps playing.
The next time they meet to practice, Chloe has two kids attached to her hip.
Beca slows down as she gets closer to the field. She knows one of the kids, Bobby, from lessons. The other is a girl she doesn’t recognize. Barden is small, but not that small. She still doesn’t know everyone in town.
Chloe meets her at the fence. “I’m sorry. I told their mom I would babysit today and I forgot all about it conflicting with us practicing.”
Beca has a strict no-visitors policy. Too many of Cynthia Rose’s girlfriends would sit in the stands at practice and snarl or glare, mostly at Beca. She’d deemed practices a Bella-only zone and she budges for no one. Plus, she blew off car-shopping with Cynthia Rose. And to what? Hang out with a couple of kids?
“Hey Ms. Mitchell,” Bobby says, looking up from a book he’s reading. “Ms. Beale has been talking about you all day.”
Beca looks at Chloe who is staring at Bobby with wide eyes. “I mentioned you. Once,” she clarifies. “They’ll be no problem. Bobby has to read three chapters of his book because he didn’t do his homework last night and Abby is working on some math. Right, sweetie?”
The little girl looks up, smiles, and nods. “I know my 1, 2, 3’s.”
Beca never budges on her no-visitors rule.
Chloe looks at her with wide, blue eyes and Beca caves like a sinkhole on a highway.
“Fine,” she sighs. “Okay. Okay,” she says when Chloe grins and bounces on her tiptoes. “We’re going to hit today.” She drops the bag she’s holding and fishes out two bats. She hands the green bat to Chloe. “Hold it out straight, by the knob.”
When the bat sags, Beca gives Chloe a lighter bat.
“It’s red,” Chloe says.
“It matches your hair.”
Chloe frowns. “I want pink. Or the green one.”
Beca shakes her head. “The green one is too heavy for you.”
“No it wasn’t,” Chloe argues.
“It was,” Beca counters. She picks up the green bat and extends her arm. “See how my wrist doesn’t bend. It means I’m strong enough to hold it up.” Chloe’s eyes narrow. “Not that you’re not strong! It’s just, dude, you’ve never played softball before.”
“She picks Denny Ottermeyer out of the mud a lot, though,” Bobby offers from the stands. “And he’s huge.”
“Bobby,” Chloe warns.
Bobby shrugs and goes back to his book.
“It’s a different muscle range,” Beca argues. “Look, you want to be good at this? Then listen to me. You’ll be able to swing the bat way better if you have something that isn’t going to slow your swing down.” She steps towards Chloe and offers her the red bat again. “You hit a homer and I will buy you a pink bat. Deal?”
Chloe contemplates the red bat, her face twisted into a frown. Finally, her shoulders sag and she takes the bat in her hands. “I want it to say my name, too, if you’re offering.”
“I’m not offering,” Beca tries to argue.
“It sounded like an offer,” Bobby chimes in.
“Bobby,” Beca growls.
He shrugs again and closes his book. “Hey, can I shag the balls?”
Chloe’s eyes widen. “Bobby!”
Beca snorts. “No, it’s…” She turns her attention to Bobby. “I have an extra glove, yeah.” She turns back to Chloe while Bobby fishes the glove out of her bag and jogs to the short field. “It’s a term, Chloe. It means that he wants to field the balls when you start hitting them. See?” She points out to the field.
Chloe nods slowly. “If you’re sure.”
“Need to see my championship medals?”
Chloe scoffs. “Just show me what to do.”
Beca picks up her own bat and rests it across the back of her shoulders, her hands wrapped around the barrel and the handle. She walks a circle around Chloe, eyeing her knees and her wrists.
She’s never taught someone to bat before. They’ve all just instinctually known. Once, Jesse, her ex, had tried to ‘show her how to really bat’ but she slugged a line drive at him when he told her that she had a weak stance. That was pretty much the end of their relationship: a black eye, a break up speech muttered around a T-bone steak to help with the swelling, and an argument over who got to keep a Butch Hobson signed baseball.
The face that Beca had hit him so hard because she was showing off for Alison Sullivan had a lot to do with it too.
“Like what you see?” Chloe teases.
Beca swallows hard and snaps back to reality. “It’ll do,” she says, trying for casual. She gestures to Chloe’s bat. “Uh, pick it up and show me how you would hold it.”
Chloe’s starting grip isn’t bad. Beca shows her how to choke up on the bat so when she’s facing DSM or the Trebles, she’s not completely off-balance. The stance is harder. Chloe’s feet start too close together. When Beca says to widen her stance, she ends up in something like a split. Beca sighs and drops her bat.
“No, like… I’m gonna touch you,” she warns. She’s already placing her hands on Chloe’s hips. Her hands slide down to the tops of the side of Chloe’s thighs. She kicks a foot out against the insole of Chloe’s. “Keep going until, yeah.”
Chloe looks back over her shoulder at Beca. They do this too much, Beca decides. It’s too overwhelming. Chloe’s got that hat on again and her hair is down. Beca could never understand how someone could pull that off, but here is Chloe giving her living proof that it works really, really well. The bill of Chloe’s cap nearly clips her in the forehead and Beca leans back.
“Yeah,” Beca manages to say. Her windpipe feels like it’s closing; like it’s freshman year again and she’s being moved up into the field because Aubrey projectile-vomited onto the umpire.
“So you want to bent at the – good.” She assesses Chloe’s stance. “Loosen your arms a little bit and bend your elbows.” Beca waits until Chloe is in the position she wants and then she smiles, nodding. “You look like a ball player.”
Chloe beams, staying perfectly still. “How do I look?” she yells out to Bobby.
Bobby puts a thumb up in the air.
Chloe squeals. “Now what?”
“Now we start with footwork.” She stands a little in front of Chloe and faces the same direction. “You’re gonna keep your back foot planted and step with your front foot. Like this. Just step.” She steps forward and steps back into her starting position.
Chloe does it with a huge smile on her face. When she gets back into her starting stance, she look up at Beca. “Now what?”
Beca shrugs. “That’s it. That’s all I want you to do today. That step is super important.”
Chloe is shaking her head before Beca even finishes speaking. “No. You told me you were going to teach me to hit. You taught me to step!”
“It’s a really important step,” Beca argues. She’s sure she’s coming off as a jerk, but without that step, Chloe won’t have any power to her swing. So many people forget the step.
Chloe crosses her arms over her chest. “Beca.”
“Don’t ‘Beca’ me.”
“Beca,” Chloe repeats. “If you won’t teach me, I’ll just get Aubrey to do it.”
Beca shrugs. “Fine, dude. Go for it.” Beca starts tossing her bats and one loose sock into her bag. She’s not up for that kind of game. Chloe realizes that quickly.
“Okay, wait.” Chloe grabs her hands. “I’m sorry. I just want don’t want to be treated like a little kid. I can handle more than one skill a day. I promise.”
Beca studies her face and sighs. The eyes. It’s the eyes. They’re round and large and the same color blue as the sky the in ‘Field of Dreams’ movie. And they’re pleading with Beca to stay.
It’s always the eyes. And the ballcap.
Beca doesn’t stand a chance; it’s what she realizes in that instance.
“Okay,” she mutters.
“Okay,” Chloe whispers back, her smile widening. She picks her bat back up and gets back into her stance. She makes sure she has Beca’s attention and then she steps forward. “How was that?”
Beca tries to be nonchalant about nodding. She’s sure she ends up looking like a bobblehead doll.
So she walks Chloe through the mechanics of swinging a bat: bat head flat, step and squish the bug, rotate from the hips. When Chloe doesn’t pull her hips all the way through, Beca moves them for her, trying to stay as professional as she can. She deserves a beer later for her efforts.
She tosses the ball underhand and Chloe manages to hit a few. She’s no Hank Aaron but she’s got the mechanics down and it makes Beca feel hopeful.
After a while, Chloe’s form starts getting sloppy; Beca knows she’s tired. She tries to tell Chloe to take a break but Chloe picks up her glove and jogs out to the field next to Bobby. Beca hits grounders and flys to them. Bobby is quick on his feet and fields the ball cleanly. Chloe field almost half of the balls Beca hits her but she never lets up on them either. After a while, Abby follows them out there and chases the two of them around, laughing. Eventually Beca’s arms feel like lead and Abby is swaying left to right, threatening to fall asleep at any minute. Bobby scoops up all the balls and packs Beca’s bag for her. He lugs it over to her car for her. Beca takes Chloe’s things for her so Chloe can carry Abby and they cross the field together, Abby’s head lolling around on Chloe’s shoulder.
“Our first game is next Tuesday,” Beca reminds Chloe. “Think you’re ready?”
“You tell me, Captain.” Chloe shifts Abby to her other arm.
“You’re not half bad,” Beca admits. Chloe shoots her a glance. “I mean it. You’re, uh, well, you’re physically fit,” she mumbles. Then a little louder, “And you try. You’re good.”
Chloe scoffs. “I’m trying.” She looks out towards the parking lot and scans for Bobby, standing by Beca’s car. “You think so?”
Beca smiles a little and nods. “Sure I do. I don’t tell people they are if they’re not.”
Chloe beams. “You’ll bring me a shirt, then?”
They load the kids into Chloe’s car and Beca loads the equipment into hers. She rifles through her trunk for a shirt and finally finds something close to the number Chloe wants.
“If it doesn’t fit, I’ll find you another one,” she offers.
Chloe doesn’t wait until she gets home; she takes her hat off and she peels off her t-shirt behind the safety of the open trunk. She puts the hat on Beca’s head and hands her t-shirt to Beca. “Hold this?”
Beca’s hands must reach out to take the shirt but her brain isn’t sending that message. Her brain is misfiring instead, sending all sorts of messages through her body. Her toes tingle and her stomach feels like that moment at the top of the rollercoaster, right before the drop. She tries to pull her eyes away but they just won’t. She finally looks back up when Chloe pulls the Bellas t-shirt over her head and down.
“How’s it fit?”
Beca’s mouth tastes like cotton but she swallows around it and nods. “Fits,” she manages. Her hands twist Chloe’s discarded t-shirt into tight circles. “Looks good.”
Chloe grins. “Awesome!” She takes her hat back and puts it on her own head, backwards.
If this is the end of Beca’s life, she’s not complaining.
Tuesday comes quickly. Beca never schedules a lesson past 2:00 so that she can get her things together, get to the field, and set up the game. They’re playing the Harmonics and Beca can’t stand them. She thinks they’re annoying; they sing Madonna songs during their warmup.
Beca cracks open a fresh can and take a long gulp before the foam spews out of the top. She’s stretching her hamstring, pushing against the bench. Almost the whole team is here but they’re waiting on Aubrey, Stacie, and Chloe.
“How do you think it’ll go, Captain?”
Beca shrugs. The Harmonics picked up Bologna Barb, the girl from the market deli, who has a wicked curve when she’s trying. She’s ordered the lineup in a way that sets them up for at least a few runs, but the Harmonics have a few heavy hitters on their side too.
“We’re going to win, obviously,” Chloe says from behind her.
Beca arches an eyebrow at her. Chloe has cut off the sleeves to her Bellas shirt and the holes dip down enough that Beca can see Chloe’s bright-pink tank top beneath it. Her hair hangs down long and her hat is on backpacks. Her ears stick out just a little.
Beca wonders if she’s panting out loud or only in her head. She feels her knee buckle and her beer spills onto her shorts. “Dammit,” she hisses.
Chloe pulls a hand towel out of her bag and starts wiping Beca’s leg down. “Uh,” Beca stammers. “I can… Um…”
Chloe waves her away. “I got it. You’re pretty clumsy, huh? For someone who works with their hands, too.”
“Beca isn’t clumsy unless-“ Amy clamps her mouth shut when Beca glares at her. “Unless there’s beer involved. Super klutz.”
Chloe smiles at Amy. “There. All set.” She grins up at Beca. “Ready to kick some ass?”
Beca swallows heavily and nods. “Yeah. I mean, we can. I mean, have you been working on your swing?”
Chloe hooks her thumb over her shoulder. “Aubrey has me outside swinging 500 times a day.”
Beca whistles. “That’s a lot for a beginner.”
“Chloe can handle it,” Aubrey cuts in. “She’s strong.”
Chloe brightens at the compliment. “Thanks, Aubrey. I’m gonna be fine, Becs.”
Becs Cynthia Rose mouths over Chloe’s shoulder.
“Yeah. No. I get it.”
She reads off the lineup; she has Stacie in the three because she’s seen the pipes she’s carrying off her shoulders and it makes Beca excited. She knows Aubrey’s strengths and has her batting in the five spot. If she puts Lilly up first and get her on base, Beca can swing into the two spot and move her around. Cynthia bats fourth and then she fills in the rest of the lineup. She lists Chloe in the eighth spot; the nine is for Jessica, who can swing the order around and keep it going. She figures it’s the best lineup she can do right now. After this game, she might make some changes. She knows that Jessica, Ashley, and Denise tend to slack during the off-season.
The Harmonics get an early lead off Aubrey. Beca kicks the dirt when a grounder skips over her shoulder and into the short field. Cynthia sneaks in too close and a grounder shoots by her before she can get a read on it. A few of the Harmonics realize quickly that the weak link in their infield fence is Chloe and they just start aiming for her. She manages a few stops; the throwing is a little lackluster. Chloe doesn’t get pissed, though. She just sighs and wipes her throwing hand off on her shorts and sets up again.
By the time they get up to bat, they’re down by three and Beca is grouchy.
Everyone knows that when she’s grouchy, to leave her alone. She usually snaps out of it, after a beer and a good solid thwack to the outfield. Everyone respects that unspoken rule, too.
“Hey, when am I up again?”
Mostly everyone. Chloe doesn’t seem to know.
“It’s on the lineup card,” Beca snaps. Chloe recoils and takes a step back. Beca sighs and reaches out to Chloe. “I’m sorry. You’re eight. After Ashley and before Jessica.” She wraps her fingers around Chloe’s crossed arms. “How’re you feeling out there?”
Chloe shrugs. “I’m doing okay. Stacie is over compensating. She’s hogging most of my space.”
Beca squeezes Chloe’s arm reassuringly. “Just move her over.” The bench cheers and Beca turns to see Lilly hitting the bag before the throw. “I’m up.”
Cynthia Rose lifts an eyebrow up at her as she heads towards the plate.
She gets on and moves Lilly to third. Cynthia Rose sends Lilly home and Stacie gets them all around and in.
Chloe gets up in the first inning and she slows as she approaches the plate. She looks back over her shoulder at Beca. Beca throws her a ‘thumbs up’ and hopes she looks more reassuring than she feels. There’s a lot of cheering as the first pitch comes in. It’s just outside the plate and the umpire calls it a “ball”. It quiets down as Barb sets up for the second pitch and there’s a noise Beca can hear, just barely. But it can’t actually be what she’s hearing. She cocks her head to the side and frowns. No, she’s actually hearing it.
Faintly, someone is singing David Guetta’s “Bulletproof”. Chloe looks back over her shoulder again and Beca is stunned - and not, all at the same time - that Chloe is singing at the plate.
Aubrey nods. “She says it helps her concentrate.”
“She’s singing. At the plate. She’s singing David Guetta at the plate,” Beca says, mystified.
The next pitch comes in and goes way over Chloe’s head. The third one is right down the middle; Chloe’s bat stays in place on her shoulder.
“Hey, don’t be afraid to swing,” Beca hollers, hanging off the fence. Chloe doesn’t look back but she nods.
The next pitch comes in high and Chloe swings at it like it’s a piñata. Beca groans. It’s a 2-2 count now and Barb is smirking on the mound. Chloe starts singing louder now and Beca can hear the words clear as day.
“I’m bulletproof, nothing to lose, nothing to lose, fire away, fire –“
Chloe swings with her eyes closed and the umpire calls her out. She sighs heavily and walks back into the dugout, placing her bat carefully back into the holder. She turns to Aubrey. “I’m sorry.”
Aubrey immediately sweeps her into a side hug and starts reassuring her. Beca stands carefully still at the end of the dugout and hopes Chloe doesn’t come down to her with those big eyes asking for her to say it’s okay. She doesn’t have to worry about it; Jessica gets herself into a pickle before Chloe can get to Beca’s end of the dugout and then they’re back in the field.
They end up winning, though, despite that disastrous first inning.
Stacie steals a grounder from Chloe and fires it to Cynthia Rose then doubles back to the bag for a throw. The umpire calls it an out and Beca jumps so high off the ground she almost lands on Aubrey’s shoulders.
Beca is grinning widely when they get to the Bellas. She climbs up onto the bar and sits, ignoring Cynthia Rose’s warning to ‘get your scrawny ass off my maple bar’ and reaches over the bar and grabs as many beers as she can. She hands one to Chloe who passes it off to Aubrey and picks up another.
“To the best damn team in the league!” she announces.
“To the best damn team!” they all echo.
Chloe picks at the label on her beer bottle more than she drinks it. Beca notices about halfway through Cynthia Rose drooling over Stacie and she slips out of her conversation to sidle up next to Chloe.
“Good first game,” she offers. She clinks her bottleneck against Chloe’s.
“I could have made that last play, you know.”
Beca takes another sip of her drink just to have something to do.
Chloe continues. “Stacie didn’t think so, though. And neither did the other team.”
“Some people can be intense about the game.”
Chloe arches an eyebrow at Beca. “Would you have taken the ball from me?”
Beca knows the answer. Beca knows that Chloe knows the answer. So Beca takes a long sip of her beer and puts the empty bottle on the bar. “I’m really intense when it comes to softball.”
Chloe nods. “And someday, you’re going to tell me why.” She reaches down the bar a little and grabs a new beer from the pile Cynthia Rose has left for them. “I’ll get better at this game, though,” she vows.
Beca takes the beer and nods. “Challenge accepted.”
Chloe grins at her and taps their bottles together.
Beca is in the middle of making a chord change more kid-friendly when the annoying doorbell that only works every seventh press goes off. She pauses and waits to see if it’s worth getting up for. The doorbell echoes again and she sighs, putting her guitar down and heading for the door.
“Hi!” Chloe doesn’t wait for an invitation in but pushes past Beca right into the living room.
Beca closes the door and frowns. “Dude.”
Chloe grins at her and sits on the arm of the couch. “Cynthia Rose told me where you lived. I didn’t know people actually lived in places like this.”
Damn you, Cynthia Rose. Beca crosses her arms over her chest. “Like what?”
“Over laundromats and bars and stuff,” Chloe says, swinging her arm around, gesturing to Beca’s apartment.
It’s not glorious, for sure, but it stays pretty warm in the winter because of the dryers below her and no one cares if she plays music at all hours. Or if she starts screaming at the TV during the softball championships on ESPN.
“It’s super cute,” Chloe continues. She stands up and starts walking through Beca’s apartment.
“Hey, you know, some people wait for an invitation before they start snooping in other people’s apartments,” Beca says, following Chloe into the kitchen.
“That’s too bad for them.” Chloe flashes her another smile. She pulls something out of her pocket and flashes it in Beca’s direction. “What are you doing tonight?”
Beca looks back over her shoulder into the living room. Her guitar case is open and there are pages of notes everywhere. “Uh, setting up for tomorrow’s lessons.”
“Boring. Instead of that, you should come with me.” She hands Beca the items in her hands. They’re tickets. “My friend Tom plays for the Gwinnett Braves, in Lawrenceville. And he slipped me some tickets when he found out I was playing for your team. He’s really excited to meet you.”
Beca holds the tickets, turning them over. She looks up. “Me? Not Aubrey?”
“He wants to meet the woman who got me to ‘give a damn about the greatest game in America’ he said.” Chloe shrugs. “I told him he just wasn’t interesting enough to want to watch. And Aubrey doesn’t like to go places on the weekend so I didn’t ask her.”
“You know there are differences between baseball and softball, right?”
Chloe grins. “And you’ll tell me all about them at the game. Come on. I don’t want to miss the kids race at the beginning.”
So Beca cleans up her living room. She really just shoves all the loose notes into the case, packs the guitar on top of it, and closes the lid. She halfheartedly tries to clean her kitchen so that if Chloe looks around and actually pays attention, she’s not disgusted and appalled by the mess. She fishes a pair of jeans out of the laundry pile and smells them; they’ll do. She finds her Braves t-shirt in the back of her underwear drawer and a pair of sunglasses on her dresser.
Chloe is fiddling with something on her mantle when she comes back into the living. She turns quickly and puts down Beca’s championship trophy. She grins widely. “Ready?”
Her phone beeps as she’s about to leave and Beca fishes it out of her pocket with a groan. She had forgotten about the car-shopping thing she was supposed to do with Cynthia Rose today. I’ll swing by and pick you up? the message says. Beca fumbles with the keys for a moment before she hits send.
You promised me last week.
I know, she texts back. And I’ll definitely keep my promise tomorrow, for sure. But Chloe knows a guy on the Braves and he gave her tickets. I swear I’ll make it up to you.
You owe me is all she gets back.
She sends a smiley face to Cynthia Rose and looks up at Chloe.
“Everything okay?” Chloe asks.
Beca shrugs but the whirlwind that is Chloe is already out the door, singing again. That’s how the whole ride to Lawrenceville is; Chloe singing loudly at the top of her lungs and Beca reluctantly joining in. They get to the field just as the parking lot is starting to fill up and when Beca really pays attention to the tickets, she gets a little more excited.
“Your friend gave you tickets for behind the plate,” she says.
Chloe looks at the tickets. “Oh yeah. Are those good?”
They won’t catch a fly ball but they’ll see every single piece of action. “Uh, yeah. These are great.”
Chloe beams. “I’ll tell Tom, then.”
Beca racks her brain because the name is familiar. “Tom as in Tommy Stewart?”
Chloe wrinkles her nose. “I haven’t called him Tommy since we were in grade school.”
Beca leans forward excitedly. “You went to grade school with Tommy Stewart?”
“You know about him?”
“93rd draft pick by the Braves, a lefty, a .375 batting average his rookie season. He moved down to the Gwinnett Braves after a shoulder injury in 2014 when he collided with the fence during a game against the Padres,” Beca recites.
Chloe’s mouth hangs open just a little. “You’re insane.” She pushes through the turnstile.
“Dedicated,” Beca corrects as she shimmies past the turnstile, grunting when she gets stuck.
“He’s going to like you. He hates that I never remember any of that stuff about him. Oh!” Chloe grabs Beca’s hand and drags her to the closest food vendor.
Beca hates food lines. She hates the little kids who dive under the line and between her legs. She hates the whiny parents and the college kids who showed up drunk.
She doesn’t hate standing in line now, though.
Chloe squeezes her hand in time to the achingly-catchy pop song playing over the loudspeaker. She taps her feet and hums under her breath.
All of this should annoy Beca. Instead, she debates whether to have nachos or a hot dog.
Chloe leans against the counter, letting go of Beca’s hand and picking up the other. “We’ll take an order of nachos and two hot dogs.” She looks at Beca. “That okay?” The service counter kid is already gone, though, slopping cheese onto a stack of chips. Beca nods and grabs a fistful of ketchup, mustard, and relish packets with her free hand. She shoves them into the front pocket of Chloe’s sweatshirt and untangles their hands to take the two hot dogs.
They meander through the crowds, Chloe looking over her shoulder nearly every step of the way, as she’s afraid she’s going to lose Beca in the crowd. Beca rolls her eyes but sidesteps a family quickly and shuffles her feet faster until she’s next to Chloe. Chloe grins at her and loops an arm through Beca’s, careful not to overturn the hotdogs.
Chloe pays for that too and hands it carefully to Beca. Beca sips it off the top and leads Chloe to their seats. She lets her sit on the aisle and squishes in between Chloe and a guy with too many elbows. As the players take the field, Beca passes off a hot dog and swallows her own in two bites.
“Braves suck!” a guy yells behind her.
Beca turns in her seat and glares. When she looks back, Chloe is smiling lopsided at her.
“Nothing,” Chloe hums. “Oh, there’s Tom!”
He comes jogging out onto the field in his navy and red and white. Beca leans forward around Mr. Elbows and puts down her beer. “He went four for five in his first major league game. All of the other teams that scouted him wanted him to pitch, but he signed with Atlanta because they wanted him in the field.” Beca claps when the announcer calls Tom’s name. “He’s practically a local hero. Georgia boy on a Georgia team.”
Chloe whistles low, smirking at her. “You think he’s a hero.”
Beca smiles widely. “He’s got a great swing.”
Chloe shrugs, still smiling. “In middle school, he didn’t have anything. No swing, no game.”
“Don’t ruin my hero-worshipping.”
“He couldn’t even kiss well.”
Beca frowns instantly. Her neck cracks as she turns to look at Chloe. “What?”
“Lots of tongue. Clearly he watched too many movies,” Chloe continues, eyes trained on the field. She points to another player. “Who’s that?”
Beca glances up briefly. “Sean Kazmar. Originally signed with the Padres. Horrible batting average. What do you mean he uses a lot of tongue?”
Chloe nods. “Like, slobber. He got much better by high school, though.”
Beca’s head is spinning. She looks at Tommy Stewart and grits her teeth to keep in the growl growing in her throat. “What?” she rasps.
“By high school, it was less tongue. More control. Much better.” Chloe cups her hands over her mouth. “Go Tom!”
Beca frowns. “There’s a theory that he ran into the fence because he was too busy staring at some girl in the stands.”
Chloe snorts. “That sounds like Tom.”
“Sounds like an idiot,” Beca mutters.
Chloe turns to look at her, her face twisted in confusion. “I thought he was your hero?”
Beca shrugs, leaning back in her seat and slouching down. “He’s whatever. Cedric Hunter is just as good of an outfielder.”
“If you say so.” Chloe jumps up when the National Anthem comes on, singing loudly along with the 5-year-old butchering it on the third base line. She claps loudly as they announce the Braves players; twice as loud when Tom steps out of the line and waves his cap at the crowd.
Beca talks Chloe through the game. She tells her about ground rule doubles and stealing bases.
“I know about bases,” Chloe says, grinning.
Beca rolls her eyes. She hears Mr. Elbows snicker next to her. She turns to glare at him. “You got a problem?”
The guy laughs a little louder. “Nope. And neither do you, it seems.”
Beca sits up in her seat a little, her eyes narrowed. “Say that again?”
He shifts back just a little bit and studies her. “Nothing. I said nothing.”
“That’s right,” she mutters back at him. She turns to Chloe and shrugs. “What?”
“Nothing,” Chloe echoes. “I said nothing.”
During the fifth inning, Beca offers to get a snack for Chloe. “What do you want?”
“Surprise me,” Chloe answers, eyes trained on a runner inching off the bag at second base. She fishes her wallet out and tries to hand it to Beca. Beca waves it off and turns to give a warning glare the guy on her other side. He puts his hands up defensively and turns to look out at the field. Beca nods, proud of herself, and manages to find a vendor selling Cracker Jacks with the prize in it. She buys a Gwinnett Braves hat next; the navy with red piping will look good on Chloe.
She comes back and her seat is taken by a long-legged blonde with a light-bright smile. She frowns at Chloe, who doesn’t see her standing there and then frowns at Mr. Elbows who glances at her briefly and shakes his head.
Too many seconds later, Chloe looks up at her. “Beca! Hey, Beca, this is Taylor. She’s a field reporter. From the field.”
Beca arches an eyebrow at the other girl. “That’s my seat.”
Taylor looks down as if she’s surprised. “Oh, is it?”
“Yeah,” Beca replies curtly. “Don’t they give you your own seat, field reporter?”
Chloe frowns and picks at Beca’s jeans pocket. “Hey,” she scolds lightly.
Taylor smiles tightly at Chloe. “I better get back to the field. Maybe I’ll see you after the game.”
Beca doesn’t even wait for her to get all the way out of her seat before she’s pushing past the girl and back into her own seat. She sits down with a huff and turns her attention to the game. She almost forgets about the Cracker Jacks in her hand until Chloe plucks a box away from her.
“She was explaining something to me.” Chloe opens the box and digs through it. She pulls out the prize and grins. “What do you think it is?”
“What was she explaining to you?” Beca opens her own box and digs through it. She pulls out her own prize. She rips it open and groans. It’s a Baltimore Oriels temporary tattoo. She peers at Chloe’s opened prize; it’s the Yankees. Beca grimaces. That’s even worse.
“Something about earned runs.”
Beca shakes her head. “She’s a field reporter. Don’t ask her anything. She has no clue.”
“Beca,” Chloe scolds. “She’s a field reporter for the baseball team. She’s got to know something.”
Beca snorts. “Yeah, like how good each player’s ass looks in their pants.”
Chloe shrugs a shoulder at her. “I think she might know more about that bat girl than the ones with the bats, if you know what I mean.”
Beca’s head snaps around at Mr. Elbows to cut off any snide remark he’s going to make. He doesn’t even look at Beca.
She ignores Chloe and leans in towards her, pointing at the second baseman, a guy named José Peraza. “Watch the way he leans as the pitch goes in. He’s shadowing, right? Like, he’s anticipating where the ball is gonna be hit. It’s because he can read the batter’s footwork. You may never be that good, but I don’t expect you to be.”
Chloe arches an eyebrow at her. “Is that a challenge?”
Beca groans. “Dude, no. Not everything is a challenge. I’m just showing you-“
Chloe rests her hand on Beca’s, squeezing gently. “Beca, I get it. I’m teasing. I’ll watch his feet and his shadow.”
“His…” Beca sighs and smiles a little bit. “Okay. Watch his shadow, Wendy.” She leans back in her seat and grins when Chloe leans forward intently, studying the players. Beca pulls the hat out of her pocket and puts it on Chloe’s head.
Chloe looks back at her and grins.
At the end of the game, Chloe grabs Beca’s hand excitedly and pulls her down towards the dugout. “Tom!” she calls. Beca starts dragging her feet a little as they get closer.
Tom Stewart looks up and grins when he sees Chloe headed towards him. “Chloe!” He claps Peraza on the shoulder and pushes past him to get to the gate. He wraps Chloe in a hug hat nearly lifts her off the ground and onto the field. The only thing tethering her to the stands is Beca’s hand, still laced in hers.
“And new person. Hi,” he says brightly, offering his hand. “You’re the one who got Chloe into the game? I’ve been trying for years.”
Beca takes it slowly, eyeing him up and down. “Why is that?” Beca asks, her question directed at Chloe.
Tom is still smiling widely at her and Chloe is making nearly the same face and Beca feels like she’s in some episode of the Twilight Zone.
“I’m Tom,” he adds.
“I know.” Beca eyes him coolly. “You were a little sloppy today. Bat slipped a few times.”
Tom lights up. “Chloe, Chloe. You brought me a live one, huh?”
“She might know more than you,” Chloe says, boasting. “She can rattle off your, uh…” She turns to Beca. “What’re they called again?”
Beca’s still staring him down. “Statistics. Stats.”
“Right. She knows all your stats.” Chloe squeezes Beca’s hand.
“I went 3 for 4 today,” he offers.
Beca shrugs. “Like I said. Your bat slipped a few times. You could have found that slider in the fourth.”
If possible, Tom smiles even more. “I like her.”
Chloe opens her mouth but it snaps shut when a tall brunette rushes down the stairs and launches herself at Tom. “Good game, Tommy!”
“Chloe, new person who still won’t give me her name, this is my girlfriend Holly. Holly, this is one of my best friends, Chloe, and… uh…”
“Beca,” Chloe supplies. She shakes Holly’s hand.
Beca lets the tension in her shoulders loosen a little bit. “Oh, hey. Hi.”
Tom starts a conversation about knowing Chloe ‘back in the day’ and Beca is content to stand there and listen. Her hand starts to get sweaty and cramp. Chloe must notice because she keeps looking at Beca every couple of seconds. Eventually she lets go. Beca pulls her arm back to tuck her hand into her pocket, but Chloe catches it before she can. She readjusts their grips and goes back to her conversation.
She leaves with a t-shirt signed by Tommy Stewart and two tickets for next week’s game.
Beca finds the Harmonics annoying. The Sockapellas, though, she finds embarrassing. They wear high socks with faces painted on the knees. It gives Beca nightmares, really. She can’t stand them.
“So I’ve been watching some movies,” Chloe says, coming up from behind her. “I learned a lot from them.”
Beca snorts. “Like what?”
“Well,” Chloe drawls. “I’m definitely going to get the girl if we win the whole league.”
Beca laughs. “That doesn’t happen in every movie.”
Cynthia Rose drops the bats she’s holding. She shakes her head at Beca. “Girl, do you have that lineup ready yet?”
Beca wrestles the slip of paper out from her pocket. She’s reworked the order, to give Chloe the nine spot instead.
“I thought if I was doing better I’d get moved up,” Chloe pouts, picking up a bat.
Beca hands the lineup off to Stacie. She’s not going anywhere near the Sockapellas if she can manage it. Aubrey eyes them suspiciously but works through her pitching warm up, throwing against the backstop.
“You are getting better,” she stresses. She readjusts Chloe’s grip on the bat. “The nine spot is important. Don’t think it isn’t. If you’ve got a crap nine spot, you can’t get the order to come back around. Say, like, you have your four and five and six get on. Then seven and eight get out. You need a solid nine to pull the order back around for the one and two and three.”
Chloe frowns and tilts her head to one side. “They didn’t cover this in ‘Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch’.”
Beca chokes on the air in her lungs. “What did you watch?”
“I watched ‘Air Bud’,” Chloe repeats. “Aubrey gave me a list of movies that have baseball in them.”
“No. Please never say that again.” Beca starts pulling on her cleats. “What else did you watch?”
Chloe sits down next to her and pulls the other cleat out of her back. She hands it to her when she Beca is done tying her first one. “I watched that one I can’t say again, uh, ‘Summer Catch’, ‘The Benchwarmers’. Oh! ‘Sandlot’! ‘Rookie of the Year’, ‘Fever Pitch’.” Chloe nods. “Those are the ones so far.”
Beca blinks at Chloe for a few moments, trying to digest all of that information. “This is all wrong,” she says. “This is not okay.”
Chloe frowns. “I did it wrong?”
Aubrey stops her warmup, staring at them. Beca feels like she’s standing on the edge of a moment; she says the wrong thing and pyscho-Aubrey will rear her ugly head. Beca meets her eyes for a moment before she looks back at Chloe.
“No. But why don’t you come over soon and we’ll watch some… better movies,” she offers.
Chloe lights up, squealing. “Tonight! We can order Chinese or any other food you want and you can give me a movie-cation.” She squeezes Beca’s arm and jogs out to the field, talking excitedly to Stacie.
“Tonight,” Beca groans, pressing the heel of her palm into her forehead.
As she jogs by Aubrey, Beca can hear Chloe apologize and tell her that they’ll find another time.
Beca’s head spins like coming off a rollercoaster. Aubrey is still evil-eyeing her so she busies herself with taking her glove and batting gloves out of her bag and setting them up.
The game goes smoothly; too smoothly. They shouldn’t be this good this early. She doesn’t want a Carl Yastrzemski at the very last game because they’re too comfortable in their spots. Stacie goes 6 for 6 and Aubrey strikes out ten people. Chloe sings K$sha at the plate three times and Liz Phair once. She comes back to the bench and twists her hat around, grinning widely at Beca when she goes up to bat. Beca bunts one down the line that sends Lilly from first to home. They’re on point in the field, too. Their outfield doesn’t let a single ball drop. Chloe manages to stop three balls in front of her; the other two deflect off her glove and into Stacie’s field of play. She kicks another ball into the backfield and Beca manages to scoop it up. Chloe doesn’t seem mad about it, either.
“I’ve gotta shower, okay?” Chloe loops her arm around Beca’s neck from behind. “Then I’ll come by with food?” She doesn’t wait for an answer. She just presses a quick kiss to Beca’s cheek and grabs her things, walking to her car with Aubrey. Aubrey shoots Beca a look over her shoulder.
“I’d be careful,” Stacie warns from behind her.
Beca turns around, scratching at the back of her neck. “Huh?”
“Aubrey is like a guard dog. She smells a threat, she’s gonna stand there with her teeth barred, ready to go for the kill.”
Beca grimaces. “Do you write her promotional material for her? Because if you do, you might want to consider alternative descriptions. Maybe something cute and fluffy and less… wolf-like,” she offers.
Stacie waves her away dismissively. “She is super protective of Chloe, just so you know. So make sure your intentions are honorable.”
“Woah, wait. I don’t have any intentions,” Beca insists. “Honorable or not. And I know how to handle Aubrey.”
Stacie keeps talking like Beca never said a word. “I mean, I know from firsthand experience. One night, a few shots of Jameson, the Hunter got a little ambitious and went after Big Red over there. Aubrey shut that down really, really quickly. It’s how we met, actually.”
Beca is shaking her head by the time Stacie finishes. “Wait, your vagina has a name? It’s a boy?”
“That’s not the point. But yes. And yes.” She rests her hands on Beca’s shoulders. “Listen. Best case, Aubrey let’s you live. Worst case, she doesn’t.”
Beca backs up slowly. “Since I have no idea what you’re talking about, I’m going to chalk this up to a winning high and we’re going to go our separate ways and never talk about your vagina again. Ever.”
Cynthia Rose’s head snaps up. “Say what?”
Stacie winks at them both and takes off towards her car.
“So what’s the plan, Cap’n?”
Beca frowns. “Chloe wants to come over and watch a few movies.”
Cynthia Rose mimics her frown, tightening her grip on her bat bag. “She does, huh?”
Cynthia Rose backs up, her hands up in surrender. “Hey, no, it’s cool. We’re cool. I’ll just watch America Ninja Warrior with Lilly and Amy this week. It’s no big.”
Beca sighs. “I’ll tell her no.”
“No, you should watch a movie with her. I told you, it’s fine.” Cynthia Rose points a finger at her. “But you cannot miss dinner with my Mom week after next, got it?”
Beca crosses her heart. “I hope to die.”
“Not before that dinner,” Cynthia Rose shoots back, heading into the darkness.
Beca rushes home to try and clean up a little bit. She hops into the shower and mostly just stands under the spray for a few minutes. She pulls on a clean hoodie and some sweats and then sits on the couch, trying to look casual. Ten minutes later, someone knocks. She hollers that it’s open and Chloe lets herself inside, kicking her shoes off and sliding over the back of the couch to sit down next to Beca.
“Most people walk around, you know.”
“Most people don’t bring you your own order of crab rangoons,” Chlor counters.
Beca grabs for the bag greedily. “How did you know that?”
Chloe makes a face. “Strangely, Aubrey knew that.”
Beca pauses, a crab rangoon halfway to her mouth. “Did she touch these in any way?”
“Stop it, would you. I picked the food up after she dropped me off at home.” Chloe rolls her eyes and hands Beca a container of rice. “The two of you, seriously.”
Beca shrugs and swallows the chunk of rangoon in her mouth. She disappears into the kitchen and comes back with some forks, napkins, and two beers. “There’s more in the fridge when we’re done with these. What movie do you wanna start with?”
Chloe takes the offered drink and then a long sip. Beca watches her tip her head back, her neck stretches, the bill of her hat hits the back of Beca’s couch.
“You’re still wearing that?” Beca asks, pointing her fork at Chloe’s head. It almost seems like Chloe hasn’t taken her Gwinnett Braves hat off since Beca shoved it down over her ears.
Chloe tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ears. “Yeah, what do you think of it? I sent Tom a picture. He wants me to get his number sewn into the side.”
“Tommy with the girlfriend, Tommy?”
Chloe spears a piece of broccoli out of Beca’s container. “Yeah, Holly, right? Tom said he can get us more tickets whenever we want to go. So, maybe you wanna go again some time?”
“Yeah, cool.” Beca steals a water chestnut from Chloe’s food and then grabs the clicker. She’s already downloaded the movies she wants to try and show Chloe so she scrolls through them until she finds ‘A League of Their Own’ on the list. “You like Geena Davis?”
“Thelma and Louise is my movie anthem,” Chloe says reverently.
Beca has no idea what that means but she hits play anyways.
Ten minutes into the movie, Chloe decides she wants to make a game of it. They’ll drink every time: Tom Hanks’ character is drunk, Dottie and Kit argue, Stillwell steals food, someone in the stands makes a lewd comments, or whenever they can see up the skirt of the girls playing.
An hour into the movie, Beca is feeling the world tilt on it’s axis every time Chloe laughs.
This was not the plan for tonight. She was going to show ‘A League of Their Own’ and ‘Major League’ and ‘Trouble with the Curve’ and maybe even ‘Hardball’ if she felt like balling her eyes out later on. Instead, she’s halfway to a hangover and Chloe has decided to eliminate the concept of ‘personal space’ from their friendship vocabulary. Chloe is stretched out along the couch; a couch Beca used to think was big enough but obviously isn’t, because Chloe’s feet hang over Beca’s lap and off the end of the couch. There are beer bottle littering the table and Beca can’t even pretend that more than half of them aren’t hers.
“Maybe we can’t do more than one tonight, huh?” Chloe’s head lolls back and forth on the arm of the couch. Her eyes are half closed and she’s trying to bury her feet under Beca’s knees. She tries to curl up into the back of the couch but she’s not fitting in the way she wants. She groans and sits up, grabbing at Beca for help.
“Come on.” Beca pushes off the couch and immediately regrets standing up. She waits for the world to settle and then reaches back for Chloe. “Come on, bed.”
“My bed is on Pine Street,” Chloe whines. She stands anyway, swaying violently to the right.
Beca loops her arms around Chloe’s waist, holding her steady. “My bed is made of pine. Or something. And it’s ten feet thattaway,” she says, nodding in the direction opposite of the kitchen.
“I can stay here?” Chloe asks, her eyes wide. “Really?”
“I can’t let you leave.” Beca holds up three fingers. “How many fingers do you see?”
Chloe leans forward, eyes narrowed. “You have really pretty eyes. And little ears.”
“Three fingers,” Beca corrects. They shuffle backwards awkwardly, Chloe happily leaning on Beca the whole way into the bedroom. Beca drops her onto the bed but Chloe doesn’t let go and they go crashing down onto the comforter together. “Ugh,” Beca groans, shimmying up the bed until she’s resting on her pillow. Chloe follows slowly but ends up next to her, their faces sinking into the pillows. Beca takes a minute to look at her; red hair fanned across the pillow, the bill of her hat sticking out of the back of her head, her eyes fluttering closed. Beca has to close her eyes.
“Why do you want to learn to play so badly?” Beca murmurs. It’s a challenge to keep her eyes open.
“Huh?” Chloe mumbles.
Beca makes an effort to keep her eyes open only to see Chloe’s hands making their way into the pocket of Beca’s hoodie.
“I’m a cuddler,” Chloe murmurs.
When Beca wakes up, she realizes that Chloe wasn’t lying. Beca feels like the bed grew arms and closed them over her tightly in the night. Chloe’s front is pressed to Beca’s side, her arms wound around her stomach, and their legs are tangled with the sheets.
Chloe still has that stupid hat on.
Beca decides to close her eyes and try to go back to sleep.
Their third game is against the Tone Hangers. Beca puts Lilly in at catcher for the game so that she can mutter random and threatening facts to them while they leer at the Bellas from the home plate.
It’s a quick game. It always is. They rack up enough run for a mercy-win and because it’s only seven o’clock, Beca calls a practice.
Cynthia Rose ‘whoops’ and pulls her SUV up onto the lawn by the bleachers, popping in a CD. Amy tugs another cooler out of her car, wheeling it into the dugout. Lilly breaks into the electrical box and turns on the overhead lights. Jessica, Ashley, and Denise start playing a game of pepper, bunting the ball back and forth.
Beca heads to car to grab an extra bucket of balls. She comes around the side of the dugout and stops short, mouth gaping as she stares at Stacie and Aubrey, pressed up against the building. Stacie is leaning in close, murmuring something that Beca can’t hear. Her mouth brushes against Aubrey’s face, lingering just a few seconds too long. Aubrey, trapped against the building by Stacie, sighs and smiles softly at Stacie.
A ball rolls out of Beca’s bucket. Aubrey startles, pushing Stacie away hastily. Stacie stumbles back slightly, caught off guard, her smile immediately replaced by a look of defeat.
“You remember Home Run Derby, right?” Beca asks, aiming her question at Aubrey.
Aubrey pats her shirt down. “Three outs or until everyone rotates once?”
“Three outs.” Beca looks at Stacie. The other girl won’t look back at her. “I’ll get the girls together.”
By the time Beca has the girls lined up so she can break them into teams, Aubrey and Stacie are back, standing on opposite sides of the semi-circle. Beca beckons Aubrey forward and offers her hand, squeezed into a fist.
“Best out of three?”
They play three rounds of rock, paper, scissors. Aubrey wins first pick and points her finger quickly at Chloe. Chloe squeals and joins Aubrey.
Beca scans the girls and points to Stacie. She knows talent when she sees it and she takes Home Run Derby seriously. Aubrey sneers at her as Stacie comes to stand next to her. Okay, so in addition to being super competitive, she also likes to poke at Aubrey. It’s not a crime in this state.
Aubrey ends up picking Cynthia Rose, Denise, and Amy.
Beca takes Lilly, Jessica, and Ashley. They take the field first.
Beca overhears Aubrey telling Chloe the rules of the game. “We hit and keep running. It’s up to the other team to get us out. Whatever base you get to, you stay there and we add up how many homeruns we get. Whoever has the most home runs after seven ‘innings’ wins.” Aubrey looks at Beca over her shoulder. “Losers still buy?” Beca nods. “Losers buy ice cream from the creamie,” Aubrey tells Chloe.
Beca takes second base, spreading the girls out. They’ll have one pitcher, two infielders, and two outfielders. The rules say that every team catches for themselves but a play at home means the pitcher needs to get it.
Aubrey is up first and she knocks Lilly’s meatball out into right field. Jessica flies after it but Aubrey is rounding second on her way to third by the time it gets to Beca. Aubrey claps her hands together smugly and sets up to run.
Chloe is at the plate now. Beca’s ears strain to pick up the song she’s singing. She groans when she realizes Chloe is singing Taylor Swift.
“We are never ever getting back together,” she starts singing louder, shaking her whole body. “You go talk to your friends, talk to my friends, talk-“ She connects with Lilly’s pitch and it loops into the shortfield. Ashley scoops it up and throws it to Beca. Chloe stops at first base, grinning widely.
From home plate, Aubrey claps loudly for Chloe. “Good one, Chlo!”
“Yeah, Chlo,” Beca mimics, smiling.
Chloe sticks her tongue out at Beca. Before Beca can retaliate, Cynthia Rose bunts one down. Chloe isn’t paying attention so she only gets one base; Cynthia Rose settles at first.
“Hey,” Chloe starts, reaching for Beca. She finds the hem of Beca’s sweatshirt, hooks a finger in it, and pulls her closer. “I can’t find my lucky socks. The ones with the microphones on them.” She’s still pulling Beca closer until Beca can feel the tops of her cleats brushing against Chloe’s sneakers. “Do you know where they are?”
“Uh,” Beca stammers, looking around quickly. “Why would I know where they are?”
Chloe starts twirling the string of Beca’s hood around her finger. “I think I left them at your place the other night.”
Cynthia Rose grunts from first base. Beca turns to look at her and dismisses her ‘girl, please’ look she’s aiming at them.
“Uh,” Beca repeats. “I’ll have to, uh, I can, uhm…” She trails off as Chloe’s finger twirls the string up towards her chin. “I can look.” Chloe is looking down at her, smiling softly at her. Beca wonders if her face looks as red as it feels.
Distantly, Beca hears Aubrey cheering. Suddenly, Cynthia Rose is charging her from behind.
“Go, Chloe!” she shouts.
Chloe winks and takes off. Beca lurches forward with the loss of contact. The ball skips past her and into the outfield. Beca watches helplessly as Stacie sprints after the ball, firing it home to Lilly standing at the plate. The throw is three years too late; Chloe is already at the bench jumping up and down excitedly.
“Foul,” Beca shouts weakly. “Foul on the play!”
Cynthia Rose, stopped at second, looks at her. “You can’t call a foul on the play because you were too busy having eye-sex with Chloe to notice we were still playing.”
Beca knows her face is as red as it feels now. “I was not,” she insists. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Cynthia Rose hums in agreement but shakes her head at Beca.
Stacie manages to tag Aubrey out the next time she’s on base. Beca’s team cheers but Beca watches Aubrey’s hand linger a little too long on Stacie’s shoulder and Stacie’s small smile as Aubrey jogs off the field.
Chloe gets on base again and Beca stays far away from her, dancing around Chloe’s wandering hands reaching for her.
“You, you got what I need,” she starts singing loudly.
Beca groans and doubles back around second base, behind Chloe. She pulls her hat down over her face but Chloe keeps singing.
“But you say he’s just a friend,” Chloe sings louder, her voice muffled by the hat. She pulls the hat back so it rests correctly on her head and beams at Beca. “You say he’s just a friend,” she sings again.
Beca is ready this time; she fields Cynthia Rose’s ball and steps on first base, then sprints forward and tags Chloe.
Chloe stops mid-stride and stands with her hands on her hips. “Really?”
Beca shrugs, smirking at her. “All is fair in love and war and baseball.”
“I think you made that up.”
Beca jogs off the field and sets up the order. She lets Stacie go first and feels satisfied when Stacie bombs one of Aubrey’s pitches up and over the fence. She goes up to the plate next and she’s digging into the dirt when the first pitch whizzes past her. She jumps back, hands up. The bat clatters to her feet. Cynthia Rose is halfway across the diamond, eyes trained on Aubrey, but Beca holds up a hand to stop her.
Beca gets it; she’s handled Aubrey before and she knows that when Aubrey feels like a wounded little wolf pup, she shows her teeth. Now that Beca found Aubrey in a vulnerable moment, Aubrey is going to show she’s still a hardshell of emotion. So Beca picks her bat back up and sets her feet again, eyes trained on Aubrey. Aubrey seems to have realized what she did. She keeps glancing at Cynthia Rose on her right before she winds up and pitches.
Beca catches it off the end of her bat. It shoots down towards Chloe, playing both first and second base. Beca takes off, determined to get to the bag before Chloe. She puts her head down and runs; it’s what she was taught to do.
So it’s surprising when she comes to a complete stop. She hits something and stops mid-motion before she stumbles back a few feet. Her vision is a little burry but she can make out red hair and that stupid Gwinnett Braves logo.
“She’s a brick, duh duh dun, house,” Amy starts to sing from the outfield.
Beca reaches out in the direction she thinks Chloe is. “Dude, what…”
Chloe grabs, pulling Beca against her. “I didn’t think you were so tiny! I thought you would see me just standing there. I was going to be all cool and tag you out!” She takes Beca’s helmet off. Beca reminds herself to give Chloe a crash course on concussion assessments. “You’re so tiny.”
“Hey, Mighty Mouse,” she hears Cynthia Rose say. “You with us?”
Beca blinks hard a few times. “Which one of you is talking to me?”
Cynthia Rose frowns and leans closer. “I am, Beca.”
“No, which one of you? Because there’s a Cynthia Rose there, and there, and there,” she says, pointing. Beca blinks a few more times before everyone comes into focus. “What were you doing?” she asks Chloe.
“I was going to tag you but then you were moving so fast and I was just standing there, how could you miss me?” Chloe asks quickly. She’s still holding Beca up with one hand, the other tangled in Beca’s hair as if she’s checking for bleeding. “You’re so tiny,” she repeats.
Beca untangles herself from Chloe and sits down on the bag. “I think that’s it for tonight, guys.” She waves off their refusal. “I’m totally just going to sit here for a while. But we’ll practice tomorrow, okay?”
“The fair is tomorrow,” Cynthia Rose reminds her. “The field is closed to the fireworks. And we have that dinner with my mom.”
“Right,” Beca murmurs. “I remember,” she adds quickly. “We’ll figure it out tomorrow.”
It takes another few minutes, but eventually people agree to leave. Beca’s vision is less blurry now and she definitely sees the way Stacie’s hand rests on the small of Aubrey’s back.
Chloe is the only one who stays behind, despite Cynthia Rose offering to drive Beca home. Chloe says it’s her fault so she’s going to be the one to stay. Beca told them she didn’t care who stayed, just as long as they stopped arguing and let her stay sitting down. Somehow, though, Chloe convinced Beca to stand up and walk to the outfield.
She lays down in the grass, eyes fluttering closed when she looks up into the field lights. She hears Chloe lay down next to her and feels Chloe’s hand drift against hers.
“I used to do this a lot when I was younger,” Beca confesses. “Me and my dad would come out here and lay in the grass and he would show me the stars.” She flushes, though Chloe can’t see her. “I don’t know why I just told you that.”
Chloe’s hand drifts again and this time tangles with hers. “I’m glad you did,” she murmurs. “How about a secret for a secret?”
“It wasn’t really a secret.” Even as she says it, Beca feels like it’s a lie. She’s never told anyone about coming to the field with her dad. “You don’t have to tell me a secret.”
“I want to. Hmm.” Chloe slides a little closer towards her. If Beca were to turn her head to the right, they’d be touching noses. “I’ve never been to a fair. The first time I almost went to one, I saw a clown outside and panicked. I told my parents I was never, ever going back.”
Beca is quiet for a moment. “I hate clowns, too,” she admits.
“Tell me something else,” Chloe says softly. “Something you’ve never told anyone before.”
“Jesse Swanson, from the Treblemakers, thinks he was my first kiss but he wasn’t.”
“Oooo,” Chloe sings. “Who was?”
“His best friend, Benji. It was a stupid thing at a birthday party before Jesse moved into town, but it happened.” Beca’s eyes search the sky for the Big Dipper. She can’t find it. “Who was your first kiss?”
Chloe sighs. “Michelle Thomas in the first grade. Turns out, all she wanted was my chocolate pudding.”
Beca snickers. She sobers when Chloe squeezes her hand. “Sorry. That’s… That’s too bad.”
“She was my first real love,” Chloe says, sighing again.
“Who was your second?”
“Seth LaChance, fifth grade. Who was yours?”
Beca frowns. “I don’t think I’ve had one, yet.” She stares up at the sky. Chloe is quiet next to her and for a moment, Beca almost forgets she’s there. Chloe shifts around a bit, pulling slightly on Beca’s hand, then settles again. “My dad left when I was eleven. After that… Well. I watched what ‘love’ did to my mom. And I knew I didn’t want to sign up for that.”
“For what?” Chloe asks softly.
“For that… pain. And sorrow. And alcoholism.” Beca shrugs like it doesn’t bother her. “I watched love eat away at my mom until there was this empty, human shell where she used to be. And I’m not… I don’t want that.” She sighs. “It’s one of the reasons why Jesse and I broke up.”
Chloe squeezes her hand again. “One of the reasons?”
“Kissing him was gross,” Beca says firmly.
Chloe laughs, loud and bright. It sounds like it fills the whole sky. Beca likes the way it echoes in her ears. She’s noticed that about Chloe. Her laugh sounds like a song Beca heard once, but she can’t remember how it goes or what it’s called. She smiles and it makes Beca want to smile.
It makes Beca want to panic. Instead, she grips Chloe’s hand a little tighter; just to make sure she doesn’t give in to that panic, get up and run.
“My parents keeping setting the whole love bar really high.” Chloe rips up a handful of grass; Beca can hear it. “They’re gross and totally into each other even after three grown kids. I caught them making out in the kitchen last Christmas.”
“Ew.” Beca grimaces, smiling. She looks to her side and catches Chloe’s eye.
“Aubrey forced me to play,” Chloe continues. “That’s a secret I haven’t even told Stacie. She thought it was my idea to get involved so we could all do something, but Aubrey took my favorite Miami State sweatshirt and threatened to unravel it if I didn’t play.” It’s like Chloe knows Beca is going to ask ‘why’ because she keeps talking. “My grandfather got sick last year. Really sick. This strong, big guy who used to hoist me up into the air when he hugged me could barely get out of bed. It was kind of all of the sudden, that he got sick. And then one day, he was just gone. It took about two months. I was… I didn’t handle it well. He loved baseball. He’d tell me that baseball was his religion and Hank Aaron was his god.”
Beca snorts softly.
“He tried so hard to get me to pay attention to the game but I didn’t care. I wanted to dance and sing and catch fireflies and he wanted to play catch instead.” Chloe sighs quietly. “And when he died… We didn’t talk about softball or baseball or anything. Aubrey loved it and she got along so well with my Pop and she’d put the Braves game on as background noise, all the time. And one night, I stopped by her house, and the game was playing, and they were talking about Hank Aaron and I just…” Chloe pauses for so long that Beca glances over to make sure she’s not crying. “I was done living in this town. I had my bags packed and everything. And Aubrey told me she would ruin my sweatshirt and my teaching career if I didn’t do one thing with her before I left. If I didn’t do one thing with her, for my Pop.”
Beca stays quiet. Chloe rips another handful of grass, reaches her arm over and drops it into a pile on Beca’s stomach. She’s not good at this. She’s not good at emotions. She racks her brain for something to say, but there’s nothing good; nothing worth as much as Chloe’s story.
“Jesse wanted to run away together,” Beca breathes out. “After graduation. He had train tickets and his entire savings in a bag in his backpack. He’s into movies and romance and he thought it was a great time to be alive. I thought it was a great time to break up.”
“How’d he take that?”
Beca shrugs. “We didn’t talk for two years. He went to Barden Community instead of Barcelona. I got a job working with the only piano teacher in town and last year, when he retired, he left the business to me. Jesse opened the movie store on Main.”
Chloe shuffles impossibly closer. “And now? How’re you guys now?”
Beca groans. “He’s super annoying. He calls me ‘Becaw’ and flaps his arms at me. When we play against his team, he spends the whole time reminding me about how we dated and how he knows what I look like in a prom dress.” She rolls her eyes. “Like there weren’t a hundred other people at the prom. Including Aubrey.”
Chloe smiles. “I wonder what you look like in a dress.”
“You’re never going to find out,” Beca promises. She changes the track of the conversation before Chloe somehow sweet-talks her into wearing a dress. “Have you always wanted to be a teacher?”
Chloe nods. “My mom is a teacher and her mom before that. I love it. I love kids.”
Beca shrugs. “Kids are okay.”
Beca nods. “You’re not.”
“Three older brothers,” Chloe says, smiling widely. “They taught me everything I know.”
“Except how to play ball,” Beca adds before her brain realizes how insensitive it is.
“Right. You’re teaching me that.” Chloe rolls over onto her side, their hands getting trapped there. Beca doesn’t pull away yet. It’s like a game of chicken she’s not going to lose. “Did you always want to teach music?”
Beca shakes her head. “No.” She doesn’t say anything else until she looks back at Chloe and sees the redhead staring at her like she’s waiting for me. Beca sighs. “I’ve always, kinda, wanted to make music professionally. Not like a rock star. But, like, a producer.”
Chloe doesn’t laugh at her. Chloe doesn’t roll her eyes. Chloe tilts her head a little and says, “What does a producer do.”
“The producer is the final cut. So someone comes in and plays a song and the producer makes it good.” Beca shrugs. “It’s a pipe dream.”
“It doesn’t have to be,” Chloe argues softly.
Beca shrugs again. “I’ve always wanted to win a softball championship, too. We almost did my sophomore year, but Aubrey-“
“She told me,” Chloe cuts in. “About getting nervous.”
“About projectile vomiting on the umpire,” Beca corrects.
Chloe makes a face at Beca.
“My dad came up that year, which was weird. I guess he must have read something about us in the paper, a box score or something. And he was standing behind the fence by the first baseline.” Beca pulls the memory out of the back of her head, smiling softly.
“That sounds nice,” Chloe says softly.
“It took me almost three innings to notice him standing there,” Beca continues. “He was so different looking, you know? Like, the version of him I had in my head was so different than the guy standing by the baseline in some stupid Red Sox cap and his hands in his pockets.”
“Not a Red Sox fan,” Chloe gasps, smirking.
Beca rolls her eyes. “I come from a family of flawed humans,” she explains. “But I got up to the plate and caught his eye and he looked exactly like he did when I was a kid and I was playing t-ball. He was so excited, you know?”
Chloe’s fingers start dancing across Beca’s forearm.
“I was so nervous I swung at a pitch I couldn’t have hit even if I had a ladder. And he laughed and then I hit the next one right up the middle.” Beca sighs. “And then Aubrey blew her top and I just remember how he shook his head as the game came to a quick stop.”
Chloe’s fingers dip under the sleeve of Beca’s t-shirt.
“When I tried to catch up to him, he was gone. And then we never got close to another win. I keep thinking… It’s stupid.”
“Nothing is stupid if you believe it,” Chloe says quietly.
Beca sucks in a breath before she swallows heavily. “I keep thinking that if we win, he’ll show up. It’s dumb,” she rushes to add.
Chloe leans in, resting her chin on Beca’s shoulder. “It’s not dumb.”
Beca stares at her for a moment and feels her whole body on edge. She swallows heavily again but her tongue feels stuck to the roof of her mouth. “I think the world has stopped spinning,” she mumbles. Chloe frowns at her. “My head,” Beca explains. “I feel better.”
“Oh. Oh!” Chloe rolls back over so they’re both staring up at the sky. “Well, do you maybe want to stay here for a little bit?”
Beca looks at Chloe out of the corner of her eye, the field lights washing golden light down on them. “Sure,” she mutters. “Yeah, we can.”
Somewhere in between the field and Beca’s front door, Chloe convinced Beca to take her to the county fair. Beca usually skips it; after nearly 25 years of attending it, there’re only so many things that change. And even if they change, they’re mostly the same. She took a trip down to see her Mom last year and she was planning on doing it again this year, but Chloe pouted and her eyes got wide and Beca found herself handing over Chloe’s lucky socks and an ‘okay’ to going to the fair.
So she’s outside Chloe’s house in her good jeans and the least dirty Braves cap she owns, wondering if she was supposed to bring anything. Like flowers, or something.
Chloe flings the door open, a toothbrush hanging from her mouth. “Two seconds,” Beca thinks she says. She disappears into the house. Beca follows, closing the door behind her. Chloe’s house is nice. It’s bright and it’s open and Beca rolls her eyes because houses aren’t really a reflection of people, that’s not actually true. If it is, she’s not doing so well.
She wanders towards the living room and the giant mantle that lines one wall. The fireplace looks boarded up, not that they need fireplaces in Georgia. She scans the pictures. There’s a large frame with Chloe and the rest of her family, Beca assumes. She scans their faces. Chloe looks like her mom, Beca decides. She picks up another picture, this one of Aubrey and Stacie and Chloe is green robes, hamming it up for the camera. They’re nearly falling over, hanging off each other. She picks up a third one of Chloe and what must be her brothers.
“Alex and Andy are twins. Then it’s Greg, and me,” Chloe says, coming up from behind her. She points them out as she names them.
“You guys all look exactly the same.”
Chloe shakes her head. “Andy has a lopsided face,” she says. She grins. “Ready? I am.”
Beca drives with the radio on and Chloe seems to know every song that plays. She sings them on key, head tossed back, not caring that they’re in the smallest car in Atlanta and Beca is literally a foot away from her. She gets to the fair and gets out of the car with her ears ringing and ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ stuck in her head.
Chloe immediately grabs her hand and squeals. “Cotton candy, then games, then the rides.”
Beca raises an eyebrow. “You have this all planned out, don’t you?”
Chloe’s response is a smirk and a tug of Beca’s hand. Beca pays for the admission; Chloe argues that it means she gets to buy Beca cotton candy and Beca is fine with that. What she’s not fine with is that her dentist is manning the cotton candy booth and is glaring at parents who buy cotton candy for their kid. Chloe, who hasn’t had the pleasure of meeting the business end of Dr. Kramer’s sickle probe, smiles widely at him and assures him she flosses twice a day. Beca hides behind the next group in line; she’s missed her last two appointments.
Chloe tries to feed her cotton candy but Beca ducks and dives and leads Chloe around the fair instead. She points out the mayor and the town clerk and then they’re standing in front of the games section of the fairgrounds. Chloe squeals again. Beca is becoming used to it.
“Challenge: whoever wins the most prizes wins.”
Beca frowns. “Wins what?”
Chloe shrugs. “Wins whatever. Winner chooses.”
Beca rolls her eyes. “You have to have a bet with a clear wager in mind. You’re a terrible gambler.”
“Isn’t that good for you, though?” Chloe pulls a twenty-dollar bill out of her pocket and waves it in Beca’s face. “Ready, sucka?”
Beca isn’t ready, but Chloe grabs her by the hand and pulls her to the first game booth. It’s one of those ‘shoot the water to make your boat go fast’ games. Chloe is laughing too hard to get her water stream into the right position but Beca buckles down and keeps her aim steady. She ends up winning by a few inches and gets a handful of tickets for her efforts.
They play a round of Wack-A-Mole and a basketball shooting game that Chloe does impossibly well at. In the back corner of the game section, they find an old wooden skee-ball game manned by a kid who is asleep. They play for fifteen minutes and Beca leaves a five-dollar bill on his lap.
Their competition is almost nonexistent until they get to the milk bottle toss. Chloe gets a look in her eyes that has Beca backpeddling, but Chloe is quicker. She pulls Beca under her arm and they stand at the counter, waiting until the girl running the booth is done giving a prize to the people ahead of them. Beca sighs when she turns around and notices them.
“Hey, Beca,” Cassie says. She sets the bottles back up in order.
“Cassie.” Beca tries to untangle herself from Chloe but Chloe won’t budge.
“You two know each other. Hi, I’m Chloe.” She sticks her free hand out to the girl behind the counter.
The girl takes it gingerly. “Cassie. Nice to meet you.”
“Well, Cassie, we’d like a round, please. I’m betting Beca here that I can kick her cute little behind at this game.” Chloe grins down at Beca.
Beca wonders, if she wishes it hard enough, will the ground open beneath her?
Cassie gives them three softballs, arching an eyebrow at Beca. A guy in black and white stripes comes into the booth and motions to Cassie. “Well, break.” She nods at Beca and Chloe. “See you around, Beca. And Clover.”
“Chloe,” Chloe corrects, her teeth forming a smile that looks a little wild.
Cassie nods. “Yeah. Right.”
Chloe watches Cassie leave and then turns to Beca. “She seems nice.”
“Like a bear,” Beca agrees. “She’s harmless, really. Just never rebounded from us breaking up.”
Chloe’s head snaps back towards the direction Cassie went. “You? And her?”
Beca shrugs. “She looks good in a baseball hat.”
Chloe’s eyes narrow. “Better than me?”
Once, Beca heard the expression ‘between a rock and hard place’. But this is first time she’s actually understood the phrase. She swallows heavily once and then forces a smile. “Did you want to go first, or do you want to go first?”
Chloe’s still staring at her; glaring really. But she pushes the softballs towards Beca and steps away from the counter. “Go ahead,” she offers.
Beca takes the first ball and glances over her shoulder at Chloe who is watching her. She aims it for the lowest row of the pyramid and fires at it. She takes the whole pyramid down in one toss. She turns to look at Chloe and leans back against the counter, smirking. “Want me to throw all three? Whoever knocks down the most bottle wins.”
Chloe thinks about it for a moment before she nods, stretching her arm across her chest. “What? I’m warming up.”
Beca scoffs and takes her second softball, cracking her neck left and right. She aims and throws, knocking nearly ever bottle over again. One lone bottle rocks back and forth on its pedestal but settles right side up where it started. Beca growls and asks the guy to set them up again so she can use her last softball.
She makes the mistake of looking over her shoulder again at Chloe, to see if she’s paying attention. Chloe’s paying attention, but to that long-legged field reporter from the Gwinnett Braves game.
“Beca, look. Taylor’s here!”
Beca looks at Taylor, not amused with her showing up. “Awesome. Are you paying attention?”
Chloe smiles widely at her. “Of course, Becs. Go ahead.” She motions for Beca to throw.
Beca can make this throw. She just did. But she can hear Chloe laugh at something that Taylor girl says and her throw careens off to the left, only catching three milk bottles on its way into the side of the booth. “Shit,” she hisses. She turns back but Chloe isn’t even looking at her. Taylor is, though. And she’s smirking.
“You’re up, Chloe,” she says brusquely.
“Oh, okay! How many did you get? For all three throws, I mean.” Chloe smiles at the guy behind the counter when he hands her the three softballs.
“Thirty-two,” Beca grumbles.
“Okay.” Chloe sets her feet the way Beca taught her to and pulls her arm back to a sharp angle. The softball-freak inside Beca winces at the angle. But Chloe lets the ball fly and it hits the center of the milk bottle pyramid, taking the whole structure down. Chloe squeals and jumps up and down. Taylor claps politely. Beca musters up something like a smile.
“That was great, Chloe,” Taylor rasps from behind Beca.
Beca rolls her eyes.
Chloe sets up again and follows the exact same motions. She takes aim, throws, and cheers when the tower comes down. She’s knocked over 30 bottles. She only needs to hit three more to beat Beca.
And Beca can’t let that happen.
Chloe picks up the last ball and Beca slides forward. “Hey, wait a second,” she murmurs. She steps behind Chloe and loops her arm around Chloe’s front. She can hear Chloe inhale sharply and her lips twitch in a smile. She slides a foot between Chloe’s, tapping the insole of Chloe’s feet lightly. “A little more. Remember, your knees and feet should be right under your shoulders. Good,” she coos. Her hands slide along Chloe’s arms, pulling and pushing them into the right position. “Remember,” she says in Chloe’s ear. “Loosen up.”
She can feel Chloe swallow and hear her soft ‘uh huh’ that she mutters.
“And then you throw,” Beca continues in a whisper. “Come on, Chlo. You can do it.”
Beca steps back quickly. Chloe throws as she turns to look for where Beca went. The ball sails sideways. The guy behind the counter ducks at the last second and the ball hits the wall behind him with a heavy thud.
Beca smirks and shrugs. “Damn. Only thirty bottles. I had thirty-two.”
Chloe’s eyes go wide in disbelief. “Are you… Did you… Beca.”
Beca shrugs again and looks around. “And Taylor left. How sad.” She pushes her hands into her jeans pocket. “So I wonder what I should choose as my prize.”
Chloe shakes her head, advancing on her. “You cheated.”
“I was adjusting your throw.”
“There was nothing wrong with it,” Chloe argues.
“Who’s the softball expert here?” Beca doesn’t wait for an answer. “Right. Me.”
Chloe opens her mouth and closes it without saying anything. She opens it again, shaking her head. “You… you sneak.”
Beca smirks at her and tips her head towards the row of games they haven’t gone near yet. “Come on. I’ll win you the biggest teddy bear.”
“Yes you will,” Chloe agrees, pulling Beca’s hand out of her pocket. She laces their fingers together and starts walking. “And it has to be purple.”
It takes three booths before they find a giant purple teddy bear hanging from the top of the prize wall. Chloe leans against the counter and points at it. “I want it,” she demands. She takes Beca’s hat off her head and turns it around, putting it back on backwards.
Beca looks at the kid running the booth. “What do I have to do to win that thing?” she asks, pointing at the purple bear.
The kid points lazily over his shoulder. “Hit the targets. Knock them all over. Win a prize.”
“Wow. Did you go to charm school for this job?” she mutters, handing him enough money for a game. She glances over at Chloe who stares back at her.
“Go ahead, big shot.”
Beca sticks her tongue out at Chloe and aims the gun at the first target. She squeezes and hears a satisfying ding of the rubber pellet hitting the metal target. It doesn’t fall over.
“Hey, man. Your game is busted,” she complains.
The kids shrugs. “It doesn’t fall over, you don’t win her the prize.”
Beca growls. She fires at the second target and it goes down. So does the third and the fourth. She lines up the shot on the fifth target and watches it fall, grinning and proud of herself. “There,” she says, dropping the gun onto the counter.
The kid shakes his head. “No can do. You didn’t knock them all down.”
“But I hit the target,” Beca argues.
“Hit the targets. Knock them all over. Win a prize,” the kid repeats.
Beca growls, louder this time. She looks at Chloe.
“Win me a prize,” Chloe demands. She crosses her arms over her chest but she smiles just a little.
Beca throws another two dollars at the kid and picks the gun back up. She skips the first target and takes down the second and the third before going back to the first one. She takes aim and hisses in satisfaction when it goes down. She fires at the fourth one and turns to smirk at Chloe. She turns back to the game and aims the gun. She squeezes the trigger and nothing happens. She pulls back and looks at the barrel. She squeezes again and doesn’t get anything out of the gun. “Dude, what the hell.”
The kid points at a sign above his head that reads, “Game Runners are not responsible for any equipment that may malfunction during use.”
Beca drops the gun to the counter and leans forward. “Are you serious?” She turns to Chloe. “Is he serious?”
Chloe frowns. She reaches for Beca, trying to calm her. “Okay, it’s fine. I don’t want that teddy bear anyway.”
“Oh, no,” Beca says, pulling out of Chloe’s hold. “I’m winning you that damn bear. Right now.” She slaps another two dollars down and picks the gun back up. She feels Chloe step up behind her and she tries to shake the tension from her shoulders.
Chloe beats her to it, squeezing her shoulders gently. “It’s really okay, Beca.”
Beca shakes her head. “It’s ridiculous. I‘m winning this stupid thing.”
“Okay,” Chloe murmurs, leaning back against he booth but staying close to Beca.
Beca lines up the shot and fires it quickly. She hears the ding and keeps moving. She hits the second and the third but as she’s aiming for the fourth target, a kid walks into her and her shot goes wild.
“Really?” she hollers, taking a step after the little kid. His dad glares at her. Chloe steps in her way, hands up. “He knocked into me on purpose.”
“Beca,” Chloe tries to soothe. “This isn’t important.” She runs her hands down Beca’s arms. “Honest. I don’t need the bear.”
Beca takes a deep, steadying breath. “I’m getting the bear,” she says resolutely. “I am.” She steadies the gun and fires five shots rapidly, ding, ding, ding, ding, clunk.
“Another winner,” the kid running the booth says dully. “What prize would you like?”
Beca grins at Chloe and points at the purple bear hanging from the top of the prize wall. “That thing.”
“Big prizes cost two wins,” the kid says, pointing at another sign above his head.
Chloe grabs her around the waist and holds her tightly. “That nice little blue teddy bear, please,” she says to the kid. Chloe takes it and puts it in Beca’s face, backing her away from the booth. “Look. You won me a teddy bear.”
“I’m gonna set fire to that booth,” Beca vows.
“Sure thing, Becs. Hey, want a beer?” She backs Beca into the beer line and keeps her hold on the smaller girl The teddy bear stays caught between their bodies.
Beca growls again but settles when she realizes she’s standing in line with Chloe’s front attached to hers; the only thing between them is a blue teddy bear. Her body relaxes and she wonders what she should be doing with her hands. They end up resting on Chloe’s hips. The other girl is looking over her head at the beer list and Beca feels off-balance.
“I think I’m okay now,” she murmurs, almost hoping Chloe doesn’t hear her.
But Chloe hears her and lets go suddenly. “Oh, shoot.” The teddy bear hits the ground. Chloe leans down to pick it up at the same time Beca does and their foreheads connect with a sickening crack.
“Shit,” Beca hisses.
“Goddamnit.” Chloe looks up, squinting through one eye. “Oh, no. Let me see your eyes.”
Beca reaches for her eyes. “What’s wrong with my eyes?”
“I’m checking for a concussion.” Chloe tips her head back and pulls down her lower eyelid. “I did some reading last night after I dropped you off and I’m supposed to see if your pupils are dilated.”
Beca bats Chloe’s hands away. “I don’t have a concussion.”
Chloe reaches for her face again. “You might. I keep causing head injuries, apparently.”
“Hey, can you two feel each other up later? I’m trying to keep this line moving,” someone shouts to them.
Beca pushes at Chloe’s hands again and takes three giant steps forward to the front of the beer truck. She orders a draft and one for Chloe and Chloe doesn’t say anything until they sit down on a bench near the rides entrance.
“You’re sure you’re not concussed?” Chloe asks slowly. She holds up her hands defensively. “I’m only asking because you’re not supposed to drink beer if you’re concussed.”
Beca sighs. She turns to look at Chloe and tries to widen her eyes as much as she can without using her hands. “I’m fine, see? No dilation in my pupils. Just normal crazy eyes.”
“You have really pretty eyes,” Chloe counters.
Beca snorts. “No, you do.”
“No I don’t. Yours are better.”
“No, they’re not. Yours are.”
Chloe shakes her head. “Not a chance.”
Beca opens her mouth but frowns. “We’re arguing over who has prettier eyes.”
Chloe giggles. She downs half her beer and looks at Beca over the rim of her plastic cup. “What do you want to do next?”
Beca shrugs. “We did the cotton candy and the games. So what’s left? The Ferris Wheel, right?”
Chloe sits up, smiling. “The Ferris Wheel. Excellent. Come on!”
Beca tags along, pretending like she’s dragging her feet. They wait in line, finishing their drink before the ride operator sees them. Chloe hangs off of Beca like she’s a chair, looping her arms around Beca’s shoulders and resting her chin on Beca’s shoulder. They finally get to the front of the line and Beca insists on letting the couple behind them get on first so they get the purple seat and not the green.
The car swings wickedly when they sit down. Chloe squeals a little bit and clings to Beca tightly. The whole ride creaks as the operator sends them forward, loading the cars one at a time. He yells ‘go ahead’ and the ride starts, sending Chloe into Beca again.
The higher up they go, the more Chloe shakes. “Heights,” she mutters. “I hate heights.”
Beca gapes at her. “Then why are we up here?”
Chloe looks at Beca, then past her. “For that,” she breathes out.
Beca turns slowly and inhales sharply. From their perch high above the fairgrounds, and going higher every second, Beca can see almost all of Barden. Main Street is lit but quiet. The lights don’t extend too far; a few houses are lit here and there but nearly everyone is at the fair, especially since the fireworks are do any moment.
“Wow,” she breathes out. Beca has never seen Barden this way before.
Chloe’s hand finds hers. “I know,” she says.
The first firework surprises both of them. The already-swaying car rocks a little more with the boom that follows the lights shooting across the sky. There’s a crowd below them oohing and ahhing as each new firework goes up.
Beca glances at Chloe. Chloe is staring up at the sky, watching the lights burst and pop. She looks back at Beca and smiles softly.
It’s a moment. Jesse used to talk about these kinds of moments. It’s a moment that symbolizes something that is so much bigger than Beca or Chloe or their Ferris wheel. Chloe’s hand squeezes her gently, tugging at her. She feels her whole body slide forward towards Chloe. It’s a moment. She should stop it right here, slide to the other side of the car, and wait until the ride stops. But Chloe is smiling at her and her face is lighting up with the fireworks and Beca’s moment is now, stopped at the top of the Ferris wheel, overlooking Barden.
But she turns her head and picks a spot on the ground and lamely says, “Oh, look. I think it’s Cynthia Rose.” Her heart suddenly drops into her stomach. Cynthia Rose. Dinner. She can’t believe she forgot.
Chloe pulls back, head cocked to the side. “Huh?” She peers over the edge of the car. “Oh. Yeah. Could be.”
Beca sighs, rolling her eyes are herself. “Idiot,” she mutters. She’s such an idiot.
“Nothing.” She glances at Chloe. “It’s nothing.”
Chloe nods slowly. “Beca, can I-“
“I should probably drive you home after this, I think,” Beca says quickly. “I have a thing.”
“Oh,” Chloe says slowly. “Yeah. Sure.” She lets go of Beca’s hand.
Beca flexes her fingers, creating a fist. She feels her fingernails dig into her palm and she doesn’t mind.
When she pulls up to Chloe’s house, she tries to figure out what to say, how to say it, and whether or not she’ll sound like an idiot for saying anything. But Chloe is out of the car, waving over her shoulder, and up the walk before Beca can even form a full thought.
Beca tries not to take that too personally.
Instead, she races to Main Street and pulls her car over haphazardly in front of Bellas. There aren’t many lights on but the front door gives easily and Beca slips inside while the fireworks boom.
“I’m so sorry,” she pants.
Cynthia Rose doesn’t look up from the glass she’s cleaning.
“I was at the fair and we were on the Ferris wheel and we almost kissed,” Beca continues, slumping into a bar stool. “I forgot. I did. I’ll call your mom and apologize.”
“Forget about it,” Cynthia Rose says hoarsely.
Beca frowns. “Hey, wait. What’s wrong?”
Cynthia Rose’s head snaps up. Her eyes are bloodshot and tinted red. “What’s wrong?” she repeats.
“Yeah,” Beca says lamely.
“Well,” Cynthia Rose snaps, “my best friend stood me up. Again. On the night my mother came back into town to tell me that she’s marrying some other dude not even a year after my old man dies.”
“Woah,” Beca breathes out. “What?”
“Forget about it.” Cynthia Rose slams the clean glass down onto the bar top. “If you had cared, you would have been here. Not on a ferris wheel with a girl you’ve known for weeks. You would have been here with me, the girl you’ve known for years.” She storms around the bar and blows by the stool Beca is sitting in. “Lock the door on your way out,” she grumbles.
Beca watches the ‘Employees Only’ door slam shut definitively.
She sighs and drops her forehead to the bar, feeling everything start to unravel.
For the first time in nearly all of Beca’s career, she’s not looking forward to going to a softball game.
She’s been texting Chloe over the last week, but nothing. She’s not sure if she would answer either, if she was Chloe, but she’s Beca and she’s stressed about it.
Bobby Adams, in Chloe’s class, comes for his weekly piano lesson and lets it slip that Ms. Beale is bringing all the kids to their next game. So, Beca reasons, she’s coming to the game. And that’s good.
She’s been texting Cynthia Rose, too, but she hasn’t gotten anywhere. She’s been too nervous to go back into Bellas since she left the other night, locking the door tightly behind her. All her texts have gone unanswered, for the first time in their nearly fifteen year friendships.
By the time the game comes, though, Beca is a ball of nervous, toe-tapping energy.
“BM, chill. You’re stressing me out and it took me a long time to get my hair right,” Amy. “I get it, trust me. But it’s no reason to stress out.”
Beca sighs. “No, you don’t.”
“Yeah, I do,” Amy argues. “It’s DSM. I went to their game last week. They annihilated the Treblemakers. I get why you’re worried but we’ll do fine.”
“Yeah.” Beca shrugs. “That’s why I’m worried.”
“I know. But we’ll be good,” Amy assures her.
There’s fifteen minutes to game time and Chloe and Cynthia Rose still aren’t there. Neither is Stacie or Aubrey, but that doesn’t even register with Beca. Chloe’s students are here, though, filing into the stands with their parents. Beca was planning on finishing a beer before the game but she tucks it back into the cooler instead. She gives lessons to about half of those kids; she knows about good examples and bad examples.
Beca starts getting worried and she wonders if she’s going to need to call in her alternate, Mary Jo. Mary Jo isn’t awful at softball, but she’s awful at paying attention to the actual game. Beca would rather not.
Ten minutes before game time, Stacie comes into the dugout, her bag swinging violently from side to side. She’s glaring, her face pinched and tight. Beca ducks when Stacie swings her back up, throwing it onto the shelf above the bench. “Sorry,” she huffs.
Beca nods slowly. “No problem.”
“I’m not an angry person,” Stacie continues. “But Aubrey just…”
“She’s got a knack for finding the nerve, right?” Beca asks. Stacie frowns at her. “Like, she finds that one spot of you that’s exposed and she pokes and pokes. Or something,” she finishes weakly.
Stacie’s shoulders sag. “Yeah. Damn her.”
Beca spares a glance towards the parking lot. “Is she… Is she coming today?”
“She’s at the car trying to get Chloe excited about all the kids being here.” Stacie starts changing into her cleats. “They went out and bought cleats yesterday. Chloe got them monogrammed. They’re hideous. But if she asks, say they’re nice.” She pauses for a moment. “Cynthia Rose was right behind me too.”
“Thank god,” Beca mutters.
“Hey, sorry for being a spaz,” Stacie says. “I’m not like that.”
Beca shrugs. “Aubrey brings out the worst in us.”
“She brings out the best, too,” Stacie says firmly, jogging into the field. She intercepts a throw headed towards Lilly and joins the warmup.
Beca busies herself with finalizing the lineup as Aubrey and Chloe come into the dugout. Half the kids in the stand notice Chloe and start waving, calling her name. Chloe smiles bashfully and waves back.
“You’re late,” Beca says, eyes darting between the book and Chloe.
“We’re here,” Aubrey argues. She raises an eyebrow like she’s challenging Beca to say something else.
Beca ignores her and rips the lineup card out of the book. Aubrey heads to the field and joins the warmup eight girls apart from Stacie.
“Where am I in the lineup?”
Beca glances at Chloe and swallows. She’s still wearing the Gwinnett Braves hat. “Ninth again”
Chloe nods and pulls a pair of cleats out of her bag. Stacie was right; they’re hideous. They’re bright, neon pink with Chloe B embossed on the side in navy blue. Chloe puts them on and tries to lace them but she puts the string through the wrong loop and doesn’t realize until she’s worked her way up the shoe. Beca can hear her growl softly and without thinking about it, Beca drops the book and crouches at Chloe’s feet, gently pulling the laces out of Chloe’s hands.
“Let me,” Beca murmurs. She doesn’t look up while she does it. She laces the first shoe and double knots it and then laces the second. Eyes cast down, she stands back up, suddenly embarrassed.
“Thanks,” Chloe mutters. She leaves the dugout; her cleats tap tap against the concrete floor.
Beca sighs and looks up just as Cynthia Rose puts her bag down. They stare at each other for a moment before Beca gives into her fear and look down. She laces her own cleats up before the umpire calls for captains.
She stands at home plate with Cynthia Rose and avoids looking at Kommisar, the DSM captain. The taller woman is smirking at her. Beca can feel it without even having to look. Beca gets flustered whenever they make eye contact; she can’t explain why, but it happens.
Kossimar loves it.
Pieter, the other captain and the owner of the DSM auto shop is a very tall, very German man. If Beca stood on Lilly’s shoulders, they might be the same height as he is. He towers over the umpire, Kelly, as she reads the rules. They’re asked to shake hands and only then does Beca spare a glance at Kossimar.
“Good luck, little mouse,” Kossimar says, shaking her hand firmly.
“You will need it,” Pieter adds.
“You probably don’t need a mirror to know how gorgeous you are,” Beca spits back, blanching.
Cynthia Rose rolls her eyes and grabs Beca by the shoulders, steering her into the dugout. Amy pats her shoulder reassuringly. Beca looks up at Cynthia Rose with wide, pleading eyes, but her best friend sighs and looks away.
“Some day you won’t do that,” Amy says. “Maybe.”
Beca groans and puts her head in her hands. “I don’t know why that happens.”
“I could cut her into tiny pieces,” Lilly whispers.
Beca frowns and takes a step away from Lilly, putting her elbow-distance from Chloe.
“Okay guy, we’re at the plate first, so let’s make something happen, right out of the gate.” Beca nods. “Yeah, I think that’s all the pep I’ve got in me. Oh!” She hooks her finger towards the stands. “There’s a ton of kids here, so keep it classy. Beer stays out of sight.”
Cynthia Rose sighs and lifts a finger. “Who is gonna be on Beca-duty?”
Beca groans. “Guys, seriously?”
“Yeah, seriously,” Cynthia Rose says, her voice short and her tone leaving no room to argue. She puts her hands on her hips. “We could have won the last time against them but you ran out of the base path because Kommisar was standing there.” She looks around the circle, ultimately announcing, “I’ll do it today. Chloe can help.”
Chloe looks at Beca out of the corner of her eye. “What am I doing?”
“Whenever Beca gets near Kommisar, she gets all fuzzy in the head. Just yell at her and she usually pulls out of it. So, like, if Kommisar is running the bases, shout at Beca to tag her. Otherwise she’ll just stare or compliment her or something,” Cynthia Rose explains. “It can get ugly.”
Chloe is staring at her with an expression on her face that Beca can’t name. Beca wants to die.
“Whatever, losers. Put your hands in. Bellas on three,” she instructs.
“On three or after three?” Stacie asks.
Beca ignores her. “1, 2, 3… Bellas!” everyone cheers with her.
The umpire calls for a batter and Lilly goes up there. Beca grins when Allie, their catcher, backs up a few steps to keep away from whatever Lilly is muttering. Lilly bats one down the third base line, but Jeremy, the only guy Beca knows who can actually fix her car, scoops it up and sends it to Kommisar at first base.
Beca gets up to the plate and takes a deep steadying breath. She glances down the first base line at Kommisar. The blonde waggles her fingers at Beca and the first pitch goes by Beca without her even seeing it.
“Come on, Beca!” Cynthia Rose shouts. There’s a harsh, clipped quality to her voice that shakes Beca out of her own head.
Beca looks back over her shoulder and nods, stepping out of the box. She takes a practice swing and steps back into the box. Pieter’s next pitch comes down the center and Beca swings but misses. She growls and sets her feet, digging in with her front foot. The third pitch sails over her head so she steps out again, taking a check swing before she gets back into the box. The fourth pitch comes in down the middle and Beca swings and misses.
She storms back into the dugout and drops her bat loudly. Aubrey glares at her from the other end of the dugout. She resists the urge to stick her tongue out and then figures, what the hell? She makes a face and sticks her tongue out as far as she can. Aubrey frowns at her and turns away, back to Stacie at the plate.
Stacie belts one into the shortfield and gets to first. Cynthia Rose finds a gap in left field and Stacie gets to third. Aubrey bunts one down the third base line. Jeremy fields it and looks back at Stacie before he fires to first. He’s too late or Aubrey is too quick; either way they’ve got two outs and bases loaded. Amy manages to make contact with the ball and it hits Pieter in the shin. Stacie crosses the plate before he can pick it up and underhand it to Kommisar. Three outs, but they’re up by 1.
Beca gets out into the field and Cynthia Rose throws them some practice grounders. She ends up at second base at the same time as Chloe and she nearly trips on her own feet.
“How’re the cleats?” As soon as she asks, Beca wants to kick herself.
Chloe looks down at her feet. “Uh, they’re fine.”
Beca nods and then sighs. “Listen, Chloe-“
“It’s fine,” Chloe interrupts. “Honest.”
The umpire calls for a batter and Beca groans inwardly when she sees that it’s Kommisar up first. She easily connects with Aubrey’s fastball and it sails high into the outfield, through the gap. Denise fields it and throws it in but Kommisar is already on second base, smirking at Beca.
“Well hello there, little mouse. You are very, what is the word, grouchy, today.” Kommisar rocks on the base, waiting for the pitch. “Have you decided to accept defeat?”
Beca turns to face Kommisar completely. “You wouldn’t know defeat if it smacked you in your perfect face.” She groans.
“Beca!” Chloe snaps.
Beca turns just as the ball comes sailing at her. She catches it more out of fear of it hitting her than skill. She barely manages to remember to close the glove around the ball.
“What a lucky catch, little girl,” Kommisar remarks. “You won’t be that lucky again.”
“You’re lucky you’re-“
“Beca, stop it,” Cynthia Rose snaps this time.
Beca turns to face the play and tries to calm herself down. Pieter hammers a line drive towards Stacie who snaps it out of the air and turns to look and see if Kommisar is off the bag. She can’t throw it anyway; Beca isn’t covering the bag.
Kommisar opens her mouth and Beca braces herself but Chloe speaks up first.
“Just shut up. We’re trying to play here.”
Kommisar clicks her tongue. “Well, well. A feisty one.” She grins wickedly. “I will have fun with you.”
Chloe rolls her eyes and gets into a ready position. Jeremy is up to bat and he pops a foul ball high up into the air.
“I don’t have it!” Amy shouts.
Cynthia Rose sprints forward and dives for it, catching it in the tip of her glove.
“I’ll be back,” Kommisar promises. She saunters off the field and Beca stands there helplessly watching her go.
Cynthia Rose cuffs her in the back of the head and drags her off the field. “Snap out of it, Captain.” She turns to Chloe. “Good work, Red. Beca almost took one to the face.”
Beca sits down with a sigh. “Sorry, guys.”
Jessica, Ashley, and Denise circle around her, telling her it’s okay. Cynthia Rose calls out the order and the three disappear, getting their bats ready.
Ashley hits one into the pocket at short and is thrown out. Jessica leans over the plate for the ball and ends up catching it on the end of the barrel. It dribbles down the third base line and she manages to get to the base before Pieter can bend over and pick up the ball. Denise bunts one just a few feet in front of the plate and moves Jessica to second, coasting safely into first.
Chloe picks up a bat slowly and walks to the plate. The stands explode in chants. Ms. Beale! Ms. Beale! She grins up at the kids and then over her shoulder at Aubrey. Her smile fades when she finds Beca’s eyes and she turns back to the game, setting her feet and looking hard down the line at Kommisar. Pieter’s first pitch goes up and into the top of the strike zone.
“Come on, Kelly!” Beca shouts through the fence. “That was way too high!”
Kelly looks at her with a face that clearly says, “shut up.”
Cynthia Rose looks at her. Beca offers a small smile that Cynthia Rose slowly returns.
Beca turns back to the game and rattles the fence a little but backs off. Kelly will throw her out of the game; she has before, when Beca first founded the Bellas and got a little too into the idea of yelling at the umpire. It was not Beca’s finest moment.
The next pitch comes in low and Kelly calls it a ball. Beca nods approvingly as Pieter sets up for the next throw. Beca watches it leave his hands and knows immediately where it’s going. She’s already rounding the fence to the dugout when it clips Chloe in the elbow. Chloe drops the bat in surprise, her eyes wide.
“Are you okay?” she shouts at Chloe. She’s not stopping at Chloe, though. She ignores Cynthia Rose telling her to sit down and marches forward. “Are you okay?” she asks again over her shoulder. She comes to a stop in front of Pieter. “Are you serious? Are you kidding me?” She leans in towards him. “Really, dude?”
Distantly, she can hear someone calling her name.
Beca lifts her hands and pushes at Pieter’s chest, as high up as she can reach. “Throwing the ball at her, dude? Really?” She shoves him again but he doesn’t move. He’s staring down at her like she’s insane. “Try and throw it at me. See what happens,” she challenges.
Two hands grab her and tug her off the mound. Two arms wrap around her and Beca feels her body settle. “Beca, relax,” Chloe whispers into her arm. “I’m fine.”
Beca turns around and grabs at Chloe’s arm, examining her elbow. It’s red and it might be swelling a little bit. Angrily, she turns back to Pieter and goes to shove him again but Kelly is between them suddenly, glaring at her.
“Get out of here, Beca. You’re done,” she says firmly. Beca opens her mouth to argue, but Kelly shakes her head. “Go sit in the stands. One more word from you and I’m sending you to the parking lot. You got it?”
Chloe must know she’s going to try and argue that so she steps in and answers. “She understands. Doesn’t she, Beca?” Chloe pokes Beca in the side.
“Yes,” Beca grumbles. She lets Chloe lead her towards the bench but she keeps her eyes on Pieter. He’s shaking his head at Kommisar and looking at Beca strangely.
“Good job keepin’ it classy, Captain,” Amy mumbles.
Beca glares at her and grabs her bag. She stomps out of the dugout and then suddenly turns back around but Chloe is right there, in her face.
“I am fine,” Chloe says slowly. “I’m going to take my base and you’re going to go sit with the kids and be nice. Do you understand me?” Beca opens her mouth but Chloe shakes her head. “Just nod if you understand me.”
Beca nods slowly, the tension draining from her shoulders. Chloe stares at her for a long moment before she smiles softly and jogs out onto the field.
Beca climbs the side of the stands and drops onto the cold metal bench, pulling off her cleats. She shoves them into her bag, pulls her sweatshirt out and then on, and sits back, arms crossed over her chest.
Bobby climbs over a few empty benches and settles down next to her. “That was really cool,” he breathes out.
Beca raises an eyebrow at him. “What was?”
“The way you Hulk-ed out on that guy. He’s, like, three times your size!”
Another kid Beca knows, Henry, scrambles over. He takes guitar lessons from her. “Beca, that was so cool. I think you could have beat him up.”
Henry’s twin sister, Hannah, who plays the piano, sits down next to her brother and looks at Beca. “You’re like Kristoff,” she sighs.
Beca frowns and looks at her. “Who?”
Hannah sighs heavily. “From ‘Frozen’?” She looks at her brother. “Isn’t she like Kristoff? When he protected Anna from Hanz?”
Henry frowns. “But Elsa saved Anna.”
Hannah squints at Henry. “Well, Beca isn’t a boy so that’s okay.” She turns to Beca, dismissing her brother. “You protected Ms. Beale from the scary guy who fixes Daddy’s car.”
“He’s not that scary,” Beca says. “He’s just tall.”
Hannah shakes her head. “You don’t think he’s scary because you’re, like, a superhero. You saved Ms. Beale from him.” Her tone allows for no argument.
“She’s like the Hulk,” Bobby jumps in. “Because he’s all calm and coll… call…”
“Collected,” Beca offers.
“That! He’s all calm and collected, my dad says and then something happens and he’s all RAWR!” Hannah shrieks a little when Bobby lunges at her. Beca flicks his kneecap and he shrugs. “You are. You’re an Avenger.”
“Can’t I be Black Widow?” she asks.
Henry and Bobby shake their heads. Pretty soon, Beca is surrounded by the entire second grade. They chatter loudly and incessantly, thanking her for protecting Ms. Beale from Pieter and calling her the Hulk. She shifts uncomfortably on the bench and looks out into the field to find Chloe staring back at her, a small smile on her face. All the kids notice Chloe is looking and start waving excitedly at her.
They end up losing the game; Lilly goes to shortstop and Amy gets tired behind the plate. Aubrey is running the infield like a drill sergeant and Stacie is steadfastly ignoring her. It’s a disaster. By the time the game is over, Cynthia Rose is glaring at Amy, Stacie is flirting with Pieter, Aubrey is shouting at the outfield, and Hannah is asleep in Beca’s lap.
Cynthia Rose makes eye contact with her as she leaves the field and Beca holds her gaze. Slowly, Cynthia Rose shakes her head, a small smirk on her lips. Beca grins widely at her and Cynthia Rose echoes the smile, still shaking her head. Beca breathes out easier; they’re done fighting, mostly, and Beca will take that as a start.
Chloe comes over to the stands excitedly and the kids swarm her, except Hannah who is out like a light. Beca awkwardly hands her to her mother and tries to get through the mass of kids all vying for Chloe’s attention.
“Hey, guys, let the Hulk through,” Bobby shouts from Chloe’s side. Chloe looks at her in confusion but Beca waves her away and shakes her head.
“I’ll tell you later,” she promises.
It takes about ten minutes for all the parents to corral their kids and get them to leave. Beca stands back shooting stats with Bobby about their season. He’s a smart kid who likes baseball and Beca doesn’t mind him that much. Then it’s just Chloe and Beca and the overhead lights buzzing.
“How’s your arm?” she finally asks.
Chloe holds it out. It’s red from the contact but it looks okay. “Sore, mostly. Maybe it’ll bruise tomorrow.”
Beca nods and sticks her hands into her sweatshirt pocket. She looks out over the field. “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Chloe tips her head to the side, waiting.
“For, like, a lot of things. Like, the fair and cheating at that milk bottle game-“
“So you admit you cheated,” Chloe interrupts. She holds up her hands when Beca looks at her. “Sorry. Continue.”
Beca sighs. “And for the Ferris wheel,” she says then quickly continues, “and for spazzing out at the target shooting game and not leaving you alone when you clearly didn’t want to talk to me and for attacking Pieter and setting a bad example for your students and not paying attention to the ball and-“
Chloe’s hands press against her cheeks. “Breathe, Beca,” she instructs.
Beca takes in a large gulp of air. “I’m sorry,” she finishes lamely. “And stuff.”
Chloe’s hands slide down until they’re tangled with hers in the big pocket of her sweatshirt. “I got carried away on the Ferris wheel,” she admits. “It was… a little intense up there.”
Beca nods. “Because you’re afraid of heights.”
Chloe frowns; it’s a small, minute frown, but Beca sees it. She just doesn’t say anything about it. “So, Hulk, huh?”
Beca groans. “The kids.”
“Keira told me I had my own superhero.”
“Yeah,” Beca says, rolling her eyes. “That’s what I am.”
The air in Beca’s lungs disappear. “Uh, a superhero.”
Chloe smiles crookedly at her. “Walk me to my car?”
Beca picks up her own bag and then Chloe’s bag too, ignoring the look Chloe shoots her. “You wore your hat,” she says, trying to sound casual.
Chloe reaches up and touches the bill of the hat. “Yeah, of course. Why wouldn’t I?”
Beca shrugs. “I just figured, you’re mad at me and maybe…”
“Maybe I wouldn’t wear the hat you bought me because I was ignoring your texts?” Chloe finishes.
Beca nods. “Yeah. That.”
“Well, maybe I was ignoring your text messages, but it doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about you,” Chloe says quietly.
The parking lot is dark; less overhead lights. Beca drops her bag at her car and walks an extra fifteen feet to Chloe’s car, leaning against the driver’s door. She’s still holding Chloe’s bag between them like a shield.
“This is me,” Chloe says, pointing at her car. Beca’s lips twitch in a smile. “Listen, one of the kids asked if you wanted to come in and do a thing at the school. Like, a quick music lesson. I can talk to the principal about you getting paid to-“
“I’ll do it,” Beca says quickly. She pulls back, surprised at herself.
Chloe must be surprised too. She smiles slowly. “Really?”
“Yeah, sure. Why not? I know most of the kids anyway, right?” Beca kicks at the ground. “Just like, once, right?”
“Yeah,” Chloe says, still surprised. “Yeah. That would be so cool. We’re always trying to have local heroes come in and present.”
“Superhero,” Beca correct, pointing to herself and smirking.
Chloe rolls her eyes. “Right. Superhero. Well, Hulk, I need to get home. Beauty sleep, you know.”
Beca nods. “Yeah, sure. Night.”
Chloe waits a minute and then snorts. “Beca, you’re leaning against my car door,” she points out.
Beca startles and steps away from the door, nearly colliding with Chloe. Chloe holds on for a moment longer, staring down at Beca. Beca looks over her shoulder and exhales noisily. “Okay. Well. Text me tomorrow about the school thing and I’ll, later.”
Chloe smiles softly and leans closer. Beca holds her breath, willing herself not to move. Chloe’s lips brush against her cheekbone. “Goodnight, Beca,” she whispers. She steps around Beca and opens her car door, sliding in.
Beca steps away from the car as it starts, finally breathing out. She waves clumsily at Chloe and hits her forehead when the car turns out of the parking lot.
“Idiot. Idiot idiot idiot,” she hisses under her breath. She walks back to her own car and gets in just as her bag dings at her. She fights the zipper and pulls her phone out as it dings again.
It’s Chloe’s number, a picture of Chloe attached to it. They took it at the game after Beca gave Chloe her new hat. “I missed you,” the first message reads. “Thanks for saving my life, Hulk” says the second one. That one has a few smiley faces at the end of it.
Beca groans and hits her head against the steering wheel. The horn bleats back at her.
She starts the car with one hand and texts back “I missed you too” with the other.
Beca hasn’t set foot inside Edgewood Elementary since she graduated in the 5th grade. She still remembers the mostly-cardboard graduation cap and how the braid her mom did in her hair made the cap sit at a bad angle.
Nothing has changed. Mrs. Sullivan, the school secretary, still glares at her over the rim of her glasses, eyeing her like she’s late for school, again, and already dirt-smudged. She straightens her shoulders because she’s an adult now and glares back at Mrs. Sullivan who takes nearly five minutes to write her a Vistor’s Pass, even though Mrs. Sullivan knows all of her information.
“It’s a left down the hall and a right-“
“Where Ms. Kakley’s room used to be?” Beca asks.
Mrs. Sullivan sighs. “Yes.”
“Perfect. I already know my way there.”
Mrs. Sullivan glares at her again. “I’ve got my eye on you, Ms. Mitchell.”
“I expect nothing less from you, gargoyle,” Beca murmurs as she leaves the office in search of Chloe’s class. She’s got her guitar under one arm and a keyboard under the other. Her backpack is stuffed with extension cords and sheet music from Frozen. She figures she can’t go wrong with that.
She finds Bobby Adams and Henry first. They’re standing in the hallway, giggling over something in their hands. They don’t notice her yet so she continues walking towards them, attempting to mute her steps. She lowers her voice as she gets closer and says, “Hand it over.”
Bobby jumps back three feet and Henry immediately shoves the piece of paper they were giggling over into his pocket. They settle a little when they realize it’s just Beca but she still frowns.
“No, really. Hand that over and it stays between us.” She holds out her hand pointedly, the keyboard under her arm slipping just a little. Henry reluctantly hands it to her and she nods. “Now one of you, can you take this?” Henry reaches for the keyboard and she puts down her guitar case to unfold the crumpled paper.
“Can you look at it later?” Bobby asks, his eyes darting to the classroom door. Beca looks at the carefully stenciled “Ms. Beale” letters in all different colors of neon.
Beca shakes her head. “I can read it to Ms. Beale if you want,” she offers.
Bobby and Henry immediately shake their heads.
Beca nods. “Okay then.” She unfolds the note and it takes her a minute to work through the second-grade scrawl and the spelling errors. What she comes up with is something along the lines of Ms. Beale is a babe. She lifts and eyebrow and looks down at each boy. “Really.”
“Please don’t show Ms. Beale,” Henry says quickly.
“Please,” Bobby echoes.
Slowly, Beca folds the note back up and puts it in the pocket of her khakis. “It stays between us, for now,” she stresses when the two boys look like they’re going to celebrate. She hands her guitar to Bobby. “You carry this, okay?”
She knocks at the door to Chloe’s classroom, taking a moment to watch Chloe at the front of the class, making large motions with her hands. Chloe stops when she sees Beca in the doorway and grins at her through the glass, motioning her to come in. She opens the door and lets Bobby and Henry slip in before her. “I made these two be my pack mules. Hope that’s okay.”
Chloe rolls her eyes at Beca but tells the two boys to put the instruments near the front of the room. Everyone is staring at Beca like she’s a Martian; Beca squirms. She knew a striped shirt was a bad choice.
“You look nice,” Chloe murmurs before she turns to the class. “Alright everyone, why don’t you come up to the front rug and we’ll introduce out guest today.”
“It’s the Hulk,” some kids whispers as they sit down in a semi-circle in front of her.
Chloe gives her a look that Beca ignores and hushes a few kids in the front. “So today, we have a special musical guest. Some of you take lessons with Beca, but for those who don’t, this is Beca Mitchell.”
“Ms. Mitchell beat up the guy at the garage,” Bobby boasts.
Chloe frowns at him. “Bobby, that’s not nice.”
“But she was protecting you!” Bobby argues. “And you always say to help those who can’t help themselves.”
Beca grins at Chloe, waiting to see how Chloe will field this one. Chloe chews on her bottom lip, frowning, before she turns in her seat to face the whole group.
“Bobby’s right,” she admits. “But,” she stresses, “You shouldn’t get into fights. You should try to help everyone and yes, I was a little helpless when I got hit by that pitch, but…” She casts an apologetic look towards Beca. “But Beca could have helped me more by calling a time out and making sure I was okay before she stormed the mound.”
Henry catches Beca’s eye and shakes his head. Beca ignores him but a part of her brightens at knowing that the kids think she’s that cool.
Henry’s sister Hannah scoots closer so she’s basically sitting on Beca’s feet. She crooks her finger up at Beca and beckons her closer.
“What?” Beca whispers. Chloe is still talking to the larger group.
“Will you play ‘Let It Go’ for Ms. Beale? It’s her favorite,” Hannah whispers back.
Beca grins. “I can definitely do that.” She straightens up as Chloe finishes her conversation and smiles as Chloe nods at her to start.
“Okay,” she beings. “You guys can call me Beca. I teach the keyboard and the piano.” She rifles through her backpack. “I figured I could have you guys do some singing with me? I brought a bunch of sheet music with me and if you ask nicely, Bobby might even play the keyboard while I handle the guitar.”
The class nudges Bobby forward. His ears are tipped red. He mumbles thank you when she plugs in the keyboard and hands him the music.
“Who knows Frozen?”
The whole class erupts into two noises: cheers and groans. Henry seems to be leading the groans while Hannah is definitely heading to the cheers. Chloe claps excitedly, grinning at her.
“That’s my favorite!”
Beca smirks. “Gosh, how did I know?”
Chloe’s hand finds her elbow and squeezes quickly. “Take it away, Bec.”
“You got it, Chlo.”
Beca leans over her guitar, checking her fingers and looking at the kids. “Okay, so we’re gonna start here, okay?” Bobby nods and follows her lead. The whole class sings along; even all the boys who groaned. Chloe’s voice is louder than them all, though, and she belts out every syllable. Beca sings along softly, mostly for Bobby’s sake.
They finish with a flourish of chords and the applause is thunderous; Chloe’s is the loudest.
“That was so great!”
Hannah bounces at her feet. “Play another one!”
Chloe rests her hand on Beca’s knee lazily. Beca looks down at it for just a moment before she tries to focus on other things. “Let’s ask a few questions, first. We came up with a few,” she directs at Beca.
Beca is flustered for a moment. She wasn’t expecting questions. She figured she would come in, play some Frozen, some other things, and call it a day. Questions are not something she was prepared for. She feels like she should have been. “Uh, sure,” she mumbles. She adjusts the guitar in front of her like a shield. “Shoot.”
“What’s your favorite instrument?” a kid in the back asks.
Beca shrugs. “Uh, the guitar?”
Chloe’s hand flexes against her knee. “Be honest,” she warns.
“My computer,” she answers again. “I can play a bunch of instruments on it.”
Henry looks up at her. “What do you do with your computer?”
Beca looks to Chloe for encouragement. “I mix songs together.” She pauses. “Do you guys want to see?”
The class shouts “yes” at her and she looks to Chloe for permission. The redhead grins and nods. “Go for it,” she says, sitting back in her chair.
Beca fumbles through her backpack and pulls out her laptop, setting it up on Chloe’s lap and turning it so she can see the screen. She types in a few things and lets her hand hover over the ‘record’ button. “Okay, so we’re going to sing ‘Winter Wonderland’ now. Do you know that one?” They nod. “Okay. I’m going to record us. Ready?”
She starts the song over and the kids put everything they have into it. Chloe hangs back, letting them put their hearts into it. Beca grins as she plucks at the strings; even Bobby and Henry are really crooning. When they finish, she holds up a hand until she taps to stop the recording and then claps for the kids.
“Awesome. Now, watch this.” She scrolls through until she finds the recording and hits playback. It squeaks through the speakers of her laptop and she bobs her head, trying to time it.
“Here comes Santa Clause,” she layers over the kids recording.
When she’s done, everyone is asking a hundred questions at once and Beca is looking at Chloe, who is smiling so widely that Beca is afraid she’s going to split her face in two.
She tries another couple of songs with them and before she knows it, the bell rings and the kids are pushing out the door to get to recess. Beca sags back into the small chair she’s sitting in and sighs.
“How do you do that every day?”
Chloe, standing at the door as the last kid stumbles out, smiles at her. “I don’t have music superstars here every day.”
Beca snorts, putting her guitar down and twisting to crack her back. Chloe frowns and rests her hands at the base of Beca’s neck, kneading gently. Beca’s head lolls to one side reflexively. “I’m hardly a superstar.”
“Try telling that to the kids,” Chloe counters. “They’re never going to believe me when we start our nonviolence unit next month. I’m going to have all the kids shouting that ‘The Hulk solves problems with her hands’ and then what?”
Beca smirks. “That’s not my fault. If they liked you less, they would have cheered when you got hit.”
Chloe’s fingers stall for a moment and Beca looks up at her, her head tilted back at a strange angle. It distorts Chloe’s face just a little. “You didn’t need to do that.”
“We’ve talked about this, Chloe. I did it. End of story.”
Chloe’s fingers dig into her neck again. “I know.”
They’re quiet for a few minutes before Chloe speaks up again, moving to come sit next to her. “You’re really good at that,” she says, pointing to Beca’s computer.
“It’s just fooling around.”
“It’s better than that,” Chloe argues. “You know it.”
Beca shrugs. She really doesn’t. It helps to hear someone say it.
“You should put something out there. A mixtape, a youtube channel. Something. People need to hear how good you are.”
Beca snorts. “No way. I’m good with this, with playing in your room and sometimes for Cynthia Rose. This is good for me.”
Chloe shakes her head slowly. “You can be better than that. You’re really talented, Beca.” Beca tries to shrug off the compliment but Chloe grabs her by the shoulders. “I’m not kidding,” she says, her voice low and choked. “Your dad would be proud of you.”
Beca’s breath catches in her throat and she can’t speak.
They stare at each other for a moment before someone crashes into the side door. They look up to see Henry and his friends making faces at them through the window. Chloe laughs and walks to the door, opening it and scolding them. She turns back to Beca and smiles.
“I’m not kidding,” she repeats.
Beca nods. “Okay. I hear you.”
Beca puts her hands up in mock surrender. “Yeah, yeah. Let’s talk about what you’re going to bring to our next movie night.”
“BECAW” Jesse shouts, arms flapping.
Beca groans and tries to hide herself behind Chloe but Chloe giggles and darts to the side so that Beca is standing in the open in the dugout. Jesse zeroes in on her and swoops, entering the dugout with a crash and scooping her up.
“Hey, Becaw. How’s it going?”
Beca wriggles in his arms, trying to escape. She shoots a pleading look at Chloe but Chloe is grinning at the two of them and is useless to Beca. “Put me down, you meatsack.”
“Easy language, Becaw. There are children around.”
Beca looks just over Jesse’s shoulder at the stands. He’s right; there are kids everywhere. Most of Chloe’s students and some that Beca has for lessons are packed into the stands excitedly. “What the-“
“Language,” Chloe and Jesse remind her in unison.
She frowns at them. “Don’t start doing that regularly.”
Jesse lets her go and leans against the fence. Beca balls her hand into a fist and punches him in the shoulder. He rubs at it, frowning at her. “Your fan club has grown since our last game,” he remarks, nodding at the stands. “Is that a ‘Hulk’ sign?”
Beca peers into the stands. She sighs. Bobby Adams and Henry are at the top of the stands with a giant homemade sign that says “BECA = HULK” and they’re waving it violently.
Chloe grins wider. “They made it during their free block this week. They were very excited to bring it to the game. You, Ms. Mitchell, are the talk of the playground.” She tweaks Beca’s nose playfully.
Jesse pushes off the fence. “You know, when Beca played on that playground-“
“Shut up, Jesse.”
“Go ahead, Jesse,” Chloe prompts him.
He shakes his head. “I heard, though, about you going all David and Goliath on Pieter,” he says to Beca. “What’s up with that?”
Beca flushes. Chloe’s hand finds her arm and squeezes just a little to let her know she’s there. Beca watches Jesse and sees him tracking the motion, his eyes narrowed in confusion.
“Beca is very honorable,” Chloe says, looking at Beca. She smiles softly and strokes Beca’s arm.
Jesse snorts. “Sure, sure. Well, no matter why you did it, he’s not happy. He stopped in the store yesterday to pick up a movie and some kids outside the store asked him if he was going to fight you.”
“I’m not going to fight him.” Beca looks at Jesse, annoyed. “Come on.”
“I don’t know. You were all gung-ho in high school too.” He looks at Chloe. “She was like, a tiny little Chuck Norris. I mean, she wanted to fight everyone.” He throws an arm over Beca’s shoulder. “It was very cute. But not as cute as when she wore her prom dress.”
“Yes!” Chloe grins widely. “Tell me you have pictures.” She wraps both arms around Beca, tucking her front against Beca’s back and resting her chin on Beca’s head.
“He doesn’t,” Beca interrupts, glaring at Jesse. “He might not have air in his lungs, either. Or a brain in his head.”
“Awh, Becaw,” Jesse sighs. “Why do you continue to try and deny the world the image of you in your prom dress. You were such a cute little thing.”
Beca decides she’s going to punch him again just as Aubrey comes into the dugout. She’s glaring at the three of them, her glove on her hand.
“So, we have a game today, if you forgot.”
Jesse tips his head to the side, giving Beca a ‘you’re on your own’ look before he jogs over to his own dugout.
Chloe shakes her head. “I remembered. I have my cleats, too.” She rummages through her bag and takes them out. Beca has to avert her eyes so she doesn’t go blind.
Aubrey’s glare fades as she watches Chloe. When she turns to Beca and Jesse, though, her eyes harden. “Nothing’s changed with you too, I see. Still all over each other like you were in high school,” she sneers.
Beca snorts. “Please. You were jealous because you wanted to be all over him.” She immediately claps her hand over her mouth, eyes darting around their small circle.
“You’re an idiot,” Aubrey growls, her eyes wide with fury.
“You’re an idiot,” Beca shoots back.
“Guys–“ Chloe tries.
“At least I didn’t string him and every other halfwit with blinders on through mess after mess of relationship,” Aubrey snaps.
“At least I had relationships.”
“Okay!” Chloe steps in between them, shooting them both confused and worried looks.
Beca takes a deep breath and step back. “The lineup is almost done. Two minutes.” She tries to duck around the corner of the dugout but Aubrey follows her quickly, backing her against the concrete.
“I’m sorry,” she tries to get out before Aubrey says anything.
“You promised,” Aubrey hisses.
“And I’m sorry,” Beca stresses. “What does it matter anyway? You’re with Stacie now, right?”
Aubrey looks at the ground for a brief moment before her eyes snap up again. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Dude, it’s fine. No one cares. Stacie obviously really likes you.” Beca pushes off the wall a little, forcing Aubrey back. “Unless you’re chickening out again.”
Aubrey flinches a bit. “What?”
Beca shrugs. “Nothing.”
“What’s going on with you and Chloe?”
Beca frowns. “Nothing,” she repeats.
Aubrey glares at her, one of her hands clenched tightly. She stares down at Beca for a few moments before she huffs and storms back around the side of the dugout, the fence rattling behind her.
Beca enters the dugout slowly behind her, ignoring Jesse and Chloe’s looks. She feels them staring at her though, and she looks at Jesse pointedly. “Out of my dugout, Swanson. It’s game time.” Jesse hustles back to his own dugout and leaves Beca alone with Chloe.
“What was that?”
“It was nothing,” Beca dismisses.
Chloe steps closer to her, reaching for her arms and pulling her close. She looks down at Beca and Beca is helpless to do anything but stare right back at her. “Are you okay?” she asks.
Beca opens her mouth but she can’t form words. She ends up closing her mouth and nodding sharply.
Chloe stares at her for a second longer and then shrugs. “Jesse promised me that he would show me some of your old yearbooks.”
Beca glares across the field at Jesse stretching. She frowns at Chloe. “Dude, come on.”
Chloe grins at her. She leans in, her fingers playing with the edge of Beca’s t-shirt. “Dude,” she mocks. “Come on. Game time.” She winks. “Gonna kiss me for good luck?” she asks, offering her cheek.
Beca ducks around her, rolling her eyes and hoping her face isn’t the color of a fire engine.
They take the field first and Beca is relieved to see that Bumper Allen isn’t playing today. He spends the whole game preening and making crude gestures at Amy. Jesse gets up the plate and winks at Beca, digging his front foot into the dirt too far. Beca has been telling him for years that he doesn’t have half of the power in his swing than he should.
He doesn’t have to worry. Aubrey’s first pitch is so high up above the zone that Beca drops her face into her glove and turns to face the outfield. She can practically feel Aubrey glaring at the back of her head. She definitely feels the handful of dirt hit her in the leg that comes from somewhere near where Chloe is standing. When she looks back, Chloe is facing forward, body in the ready position. She still doesn’t have it down, but Beca gives her points for continuing to try.
“Becaw!” Jesse shouts as he connects with Aubrey’s second pitch.
It barrels down the first baseline but Stacie scoops it up flawlessly. Jesse stops running halfway down the line and pouts at her. Stacie crooks her finger at him and he shuffles forward, accepting the tag and taking the first out.
Beca grins at him and tosses Stacie an air-five, setting up as Benji steps up to the plate. She makes an easy catch off his line drive and he looks exactly like he did nearly twenty years ago. This time, he doesn’t cry. They make an easy third out and file into the dugout, chanting Lilly’s name. Cynthia Rose throws an arm around her shoulders and grins at her. They haven’t talked talked, but Beca hasn’t blown her off either. She’s more than content to leave it at that and keep going on with her life.
Beca doesn’t even jump when Chloe’s arm loops around her neck, pulling her against Chloe’s front. “He mentioned it was a halter,” she mumbles against Beca’s ear.
Beca rolls her eyes, pressing her fingernails into Chloe’s arm lightly.
“Red,” Chloe continues. “Heels, I think he said.”
Beca is ready to turn and respond, but suddenly the entire bench is calling her name; shouting, really, and Aubrey is glaring at her, snarling.
“Two seconds, Mitchell,” she hears Kelly yell from behind the plate.
Beca looks out onto the field and realizes that Lilly is standing on second base; Beca’s up. She pitches forward out of Chloe’s hold and scrambles across the dugout to her bag. When she can’t find her batting gloves on the first swipe-through, she growls in frustration and grabs a bat, heading towards the plate. Kelly taps the side of her head and Beca groans, rushing back to grab the helmet Cynthia Rose is handing out to her. She can feel the team staring at her as she digs in. She feels Chloe’s gaze too. She spares a glance over her shoulder and doesn’t even see the first pitch coming in. It skips across the plate at her feet and she jumps back a second too late. Kelly throws out a warning to Benji on the mound and resumes play. Beca shakes her head, trying to clear it, but her eyes are closed when the second pitch comes in. She swings halfheartedly and the ball ricochets back up the middle to Benji. He fields it and throws it to Adam the bakery shop kid at first before Beca even gets out of the box.
The bat hangs heavily from her hand as she walks back to the dugout. Cynthia Rose claps her on the shoulder and tells her to get her head on straight, her voice hard on the last word. Aubrey narrows her eyes, tracking Beca’s trek back towards the end of the dugout where Chloe is waiting. Chloe opens her arms wide and Beca sinks into them, savoring the shield it provides from Aubrey’s harsh glare.
“That’s okay, Becs,” Chloe says quietly, smoothing her hair back. “You’ll get it next time.”
Except that she doesn’t get it next time. For the first time since high school, Beca goes 0-5 at the plate and has three errors in the field. She frowns at her glove after the second error, as if there’s a hole in it she can’t see. But when she slams her first into the pocket, the glove is as solid as it’s ever been.
Chloe is all over her, draped like a curtain, telling her it’s okay and she’s just having an off day. Cynthia Rose frowns at her and tells her to swing by the bar so they can talk. Stacie gives her a sad look as she packs her things to leave, alone again. Aubrey is still glaring her, her mouth twisted into a sneer. Jesse is doing victory laps around the field, singing Queen at the top of his lungs.
Beca slowly packs her bag and scoops Chloe’s off the bench too. She’s replaying the game in her head, ignoring Chloe chattering away beside her. She can’t understand why she went right on that last grounder when she so clearly should have gone left. She almost walks by her car, but Chloe grabs her by the elbow and tugs her to a stop.
“Oh,” she says, staring dumbly at her car. She shakes her head. “God, I suck.”
Chloe coos softly. “No, Becs. You just had an off day.”
Beca continues to shake her head. “No. I don’t have off days. Like, that sounds conceited, but I don’t. This was… It was way off. Like, Canada. But I was aiming for San Francisco.”
Chloe frowns briefly. “I don’t really understand that, but it’s totally fine.”
“I’m the captain of the team. I’m not supposed to have off days.”
“What about when you play against Koss-“ Chloe’s mouth snap shuts when Beca glares. “It’s totally okay,” she finishes. “You’re human, Becs.”
Beca sighs, leaning back against her car. Chloe steps close. “I just don’t understand. I can’t even put it together.”
Chloe reaches forward and tucks a strand of hair behind Beca’s ear, her hand lingering at the base of Beca’s neck. “I don’t know, Beca. What were you thinking about instead of the game?”
Beca’s mind flashes; the ball went left but Beca went right, towards Chloe, who wasn’t seeing Adam charging at her from first base on his way to second. She blinks rapidly and Chloe is standing in front of her, waiting. She shakes her head, swallowing heavily.
She was seeing Chloe, the whole game. All she saw was Chloe.
“Nothing,” she stammers. She makes a show of checking her watch. “Well, gotta boogie.” She winces. “I mean, I have to go. Work. Tomorrow. Morning. You too.”
“Me too,” Chloe agrees. She leans forward, pressing a kiss to Beca’s forehead. Her lips stay pressed there; her knuckles graze along Beca’s waistline, their legs tangle together.
It feels like the longest moment of Beca’s life.
She pulls back and Beca ducks her head, finding the handle of her duffle bag suddenly interesting. Chloe’s shoes shuffle against the pavement before they turn and start taking Chloe across the parking lot. Beca looks up, then, just in time to catch Chloe throwing her one last smile over her shoulder.
Beca tosses her bag into the car and turns the engine over. She cranks the radio up as some current pop hit nearly blows the bass in her speakers.
She doesn’t see Aubrey leaning against her car in the corner of the parking lot, eyes narrowed in thought, as she drives away.
“Where are you taking me?”
Beca can see a hint of a frown on Chloe’s face, even if most of it is hidden by her Gwinnett Braves cap that Beca pulled down low over her eyes. She had a brilliant idea last night and showed up at Chloe’s early, telling her she had a surprise and she couldn’t know where they were going. When Chloe had asked about practice, Beca had shrugged her off and told her it was cancelled.
“If I tell you, then it’s not a secret anymore.”
Chloe groans dramatically and flops around in the front seat, limbs splaying out. Beca tries to hide a grin but when she remembers that Chloe can’t see her, she just smiles.
“Tell me a secret,” she prompts, feeling bold without Chloe’s eyes able to really see her.
“You’re annoying,” Chloe deadpans.
Beca slaps Chloe’s leg lightly. Before she can pull her hand back, Chloe laces their fingers together. “You tell me something,” Chloe demands.
“Where I’m taking you, I’ve never taken anyone before,” Beca admits. Her dad took her all the time when she was younger and a few times after the divorce, when he was trying to be a ‘cool’ dad. “You’re… Uh, you’re the first.”
Chloe squeezes her hand gently. “Well I’m glad you’re sharing with me,” she murmurs.
Beca spares a glance at Chloe and nods, forgetting that Chloe can’t see her. She turns on the radio and Chloe perks up instantly, singing along to some pop song Beca doesn’t know the words too. She bops her head, but only because Chloe’s eyes are closed.
She sees the sign up ahead and starts to slow down. Chloe’s head whips towards her. “Are we stopping? Are we there?”
“You’re worse than the kids in your class,” Beca says.
Chloe’s grin is barely visible under the brim of her hat. “I’m excited.”
“I can tell,” Beca says dryly.
She finds a parking spot and unbuckles. Chloe unbuckles too, fumbling around for the seatbelt. She can’t find the door handle, either, and Beca snorts before she gets out of the car and rounds the back end, pulling Chloe’s door open for her. She offers her hand and Chloe grabs it tightly, their fingers lacing.
“Can I take my hat off now?”
Beca looks at Chloe and snorts again. Walking around the parking lot with the hat so low makes Chloe look frustratingly amazing and ridiculous at the same time. She grants Chloe some mercy and tugs the hat back to where it should be sitting on Chloe’s head.
Chloe blinks a few times at the sudden sunlight in her eyes before her eyes focus on Beca. She looks around. “The batting cages?”
“I promised you,” Beca says, feeling defensive.
Chloe notices. She squeezes Beca’s hand reassuringly and grins. “Batting cages! I’m still excited. But I didn’t bring Aubrey’s bat.”
“They have bats at the register. I have an extra set of gloves. And you’ve got your hat.” Beca shrugs. “You don’t need anything else.”
“Your hands are so tiny.” Chloe holds their joined hands up. “Your gloves won’t fit.”
“My hands aren’t that small.”
Chloe nods seriously. “They’re tiny hands. Delicate little hands.”
“They can break you,” Beca warns.
“I’d like to see them try that.” Chloe smirks. There’s no space between them now, just Chloe looking down at Beca.
“Maybe they will,” Beca murmurs.
“Whenever you’re ready,” Chloe mumbles back. “You call the shots.”
“Well, well, Tiny Mouse.” Kommisar voice cuts through the haze in Beca’s head.
Beca takes a big step back, her hand jerking in Chloe’s grasp. It’s a jerky motion that causes Chloe to take a step forward so she doesn’t fall over.
Pieter smirks down at her. “Troll,” he greets her.
Beca almost sticks her tongue out at him. “They call me ‘Hulk’, actually.”
Chloe squeezes her hand quickly.
Pieter laughs loudly. Even in the open air, it seems to echo. “How cute. Did you hear that, Kommisar?”
“I heard,” Kommisar coos. “How quaint. That must make you feel almost taller.”
“Is the air thin so high up there?” Beca asks. She rubs at her throat with her free hand. “The air is so thin down here.”
Chloe rolls her eyes. “Is there something you needed? Or do you just frequent mini golf establishments to scare little kids.”
Kommisar smirks. “She is feisty. It must be because she’s a… how do they say it? A ginger?”
Pieter nods. “Gingy.”
Chloe frowns. “We’re gonna go. We have things to do today.”
“You cannot learn how to be a good player in a few weeks, ginger-girl. It takes years.” Kommisar looks Chloe up and down. “And talent.”
“Well, I have Beca,” Chloe counters. She looks at Beca. “Let’s go, Bec.”
“Goodbye, Tiny Mouse.” Kommisar wiggles her fingers at Beca. “Do not let the heavy bat hurt your delicate little hands.”
“They could break your amazing cheekbones!” Beca hollers back as Chloe drags her away. She immediately groans. “What is wrong with me?”
“She’s not even that good-looking,” Chloe says casually, giving them one last glance over her shoulder. “She’s, like, terrifyingly pretty.”
Beca shakes her head and huffs. “Let’s just go hit a few hundred pitches.”
“Aw, Becs. Don’t let her in your head.” As they walk to the small kiosk, Chloe presses a kiss to Beca’s cheek. Except, Beca turns at the last moment and Chloe’s lips end up presses to Beca’s. They both linger for a moment; Beca counts to three in her head. She pulls away quickly and fumbles with her wallet in her back pocket, avoiding Chloe’s eyes.
“Uh, two bats. And however many tokens I can get,” she says, thrusting two twenty dollar bills into the kid’s hand. She taps impatiently on the counter, feeling Chloe’s gaze burning into the side of her face.
The kid puts two bats on the counter and Beca immediately hands them to Chloe, looking past her instead of at her. “Carry these?”
“Didn’t give me much of a choice,” Chloe mumbles.
Beca pretends not to hear her. She takes the large handful of tokens the kids gives her and takes off towards the cage at the end of the complex, Chloe trailing behind her. As she reaches the bench in front of the cage, he hears the bats hit the ground, two metallic pangs behind her.
Chloe shrugs at her and takes her hat off, smoothing her hair back before she puts it on again, backwards. Beca bites at her bottom lip before taking a short breath and leaning forward. She tugs at the bill of Chloe’s hat until it’s on straight, giving Chloe a hesitant smile. Her hands linger at Chloe’s neck, absently twisting a strand of hair around her finger. She won’t say sorry; this will have to do.
There’s a sense of relief that floods through Beca when Chloe finally gives her a small smile in return. Beca lets her finger trail across Chloe’s neck and over her collarbone before she drops her hands and turns back to face the cage. She counts out some tokens and hands a small pile to Chloe, their fingers brushing over each other. Chloe smiles widely at her. Beca ducks her head.
“So what’s going to happen?” Chloe asks. Beca frowns. “In the cage, I mean. How does it work?”
Beca nods, getting it now. “Oh, well. You go stand in there like you’re standing at the plate. The machine is going to turn on and every thirty seconds or so, it’ll toss a yellow, softball-sized ball at you.” She leans back against the bench. “So show me what you got, Beale.”
Chloe winks at her, pulling her helmet on, and wiggles a little at the plate as the machine gears up. She’s in her ready position, arms loose and bent at the knees. “What’s going on?”
Beca shrugs. “No idea. Give it a second.”
Chloe gets back into position and waits but after another ten seconds, the bat drops from her shoulder in frustration. “Beca, will you-“
A ball shoots out of the machine and narrowly misses Chloe’s head. Beca sits up a little straighter. Chloe steps back into the box and holds the bat up. The second pitch comes in high and Chloe ducks, using the bat as a shield.
Beca pushes at the cage door but it won’t unlatch. “Chloe, open the cage.”
Chloe ducks as another pitch comes towards her. She’s using the bat like a sword, swatting above her like she’s trying to kill flies. “I can’t. I’ll die.”
“You won’t,” Beca says calmly. Another pitch wizzes in. “Just time it right and come over here.”
Chloe shakes her head violently. “No. I can’t.” There’s a sharp metallic crack as the bat and ball connect. Chloe loses her footing and sprawls out on the ground. “Beca, go on without me.”
Beca pulls at the chain-link fence door. “Open the door, Chloe.”
Chloe army-crawls forward as rubberized softballs fly above her, hitting the mat tied to the back of the cage with dull thuds. She grips the latch on the fence and stands, blinking lazily at Beca as she slowly unthreads the lock.
As soon as the cage door opens, a small buzzing starts and the machine brakes. Beca grabs at Chloe’s helmet, steadying the gentle swaying she’s doing. “You okay?”
“I’ve been hit,” Chloe says weakly. “Ouch.”
“You slipped,” Beca points out gently. “But let’s take a break, okay?”
They sit down on the bench outside of the cage. Chloe slumps against Beca’s side, her eyes fluttering closed. “I hate the batting cages,” she murmurs.
Beca snorts. “You’re a drama queen. Did you know that?”
“That machine was sent from the future to kill me,” Chloe counters. When Beca stares at her blankly, Chloe groans. “Terminator, Beca. Schwarzenegger. I’ll be back.” Beca shrugs. “Disappointment.”
“Go on without me,” Beca mocks. “Seriously?”
Chloe shrugs. “If I was going to die, I was going to give you a chance to move on.”
Beca shakes her head and throws her arm across the back of the bench. Chloe shuffles closer, filling in the space against Beca’s side. “You weren’t going to die.”
“I might have,” Chloe argues. “And Kommisar would have shown up and you would have forgotten all about me.”
“Not possible,” Beca murmurs. She feels Chloe looking at her and spares a glance. “What?” she challenges.
Chloe shrugs. “Nothing. Wait until the kids find out Hulk has a soft spot.”
Beca rolls her eyes but lets Chloe push in even closer to her side.
Beca frowns when the door opens and the shape of the person coming into the room isn’t Bobby Adams. Instead, Aubrey strides into the room and looks around, not seeing Beca sitting behind the piano at first.
“Mitchell,” she calls out, her heels clacking against the hardwood floor.
Beca stands up, her hand pressing down on the E key as she does.
Aubrey spins to face her. “Oh, there you are.”
“What do you need?”
“We’re having a practice, tonight. Cynthia Rose said you never have your phone during lessons. So I volunteered to come down on my lunch and tell you myself.”
Beca frowns. “I make the practice schedule.”
Aubrey shrugs. “We skipped practice this weekend because you were at the batting cages. The team decided we needed to get together.”
Beca narrows her eyes but Aubrey glares back at her.
“You’ll be there?”
“I’ll be there,” Beca says tightly. She frowns as Aubrey leaves and it takes almost Bobby’s entire lesson for her to stop. He asks her four times if he’s playing the notes wrong.
After a few more lessons, Beca cleans up for the day and heads to the field. She pulls into the parking lot and slowly makes her way to the dugout. Only Cynthia Rose and Aubrey are there, talking and waving their hands furiously. They immediately stop when Beca comes into the dugout, dropping her bag loudly.
“Hey, girl,” Cynthia Rose says. Her voice is off; Beca frowns a little, feeling uneasy.
Aubrey turns to look at her, arms crossed over her chest. “You’re late.”
“Traffic,” Beca says dryly. “What’s going on?” She looks at Cynthia Rose.
Aubrey looks at Cynthia Rose and sighs pointedly. “We’re here for an intervention,” Aubrey says. Cynthia Rose looks away.
Beca snorts. “An intervention.”
Cynthia Rose speaks up. “It’s kind of like you’ve given up on the team. On us.”
“First of all,” Beca starts. “This is the team I started. This is the team I put together.”
Cynthia Rose opens her mouth but it closes without anything coming out.
Aubrey sighs and steps closer. “What she’s trying to say is that with all of the focus you’re giving Chloe, you’re leaving your team in the dust. Do you even care about them anymore? Or do you only care about Chloe?”
“Are you kidding me, dude?” Beca turns to Cynthia Rose. “Is this for real?”
“What’s it going to be, Beca?” Cynthia Rose asks. “The team or Chloe?”
“An ultimatum,” Beca sneers. “You’re giving me an ultimatum.”
Aubrey steps in front of Cynthia Rose, blocking the girl’s guilty expression. “You can lead this team or you can give the reins to Cynthia Rose and you can sit in the back seat with Chloe.”
“That’s what this is about?” Beca scoffs. “Because I’m hanging out with someone else? So now you’re jealous and being petty.”
Cynthia Rose meets her gaze and holds it, challenging her. “It’s your choice, Beca.”
Beca’s eyes dart between the two of them. “Where is Chloe?” Aubrey only glances away for a second, but Beca catches it. “She doesn’t know about this, does she?” She takes a step forward. “You didn’t tell her you were calling a practice so you could push me into a corner.”
“It’s your choice,” Aubrey repeats. “You heard Cynthia Rose. You lead this team and you stay away from Chloe, or you get Chloe to yourself and Cynthia Rose call the shots.”
“You know, this is low. This is real low.” She stares hard at Cynthia Rose before she looks back at Aubrey. “I pulled all of them into this. And you,” she growls, pointing at Cynthia Rose. “You would still be sitting behind that bar, crying over Teresa if it wasn’t for me starting this team.” She thrusts her finger in Aubrey’s direction. “You wouldn’t even be on this team except that Cynthia Rose thought your girlfriend was hot. If I had known… This is bullshit.”
“Make a choice, Beca,” Cynthia Rose says firmly.
Beca stalls. She stalls because she sees Chloe in the back of her mind, smiling at her with that damn Gwinnett Braves cap on, holding a softball in her hand with a tower of milk bottles behind her. She stalls because she hears Chloe singing along to the radio. She stalls because she feels Chloe’s hands in hers.
But she’s always wanted to feel that trophy in her hands too. She’s always wanted to hoist it over her head, as the leader of the Bellas.
But she can’t commit to Chloe. She doesn’t think she can. It’s such a huge step and her mind flashes back to her mother, sitting forlornly at the kitchen table, divorce papers unsigned and waiting.
The winning season; she deserves that. She can’t let anyone take that away from her.
Not even for Chloe, she thinks.
“Screw you two,” she hisses. “This is my team. No is going to take that away from me.”
“Good,” Cynthia Rose says. “Then tell Chloe she’s done.”
“Shove it,” Beca growls, picking her bag up and slinging it over her shoulder. Beca stomps across the field and kicks at the gravel of the parking lot. She throws her bag in the car and slams the door. She gets into the driver’s seat and punches the steering wheel. Her phone, tucked into the center console of her car, vibrates loudly. She picks it up and scans through it.
Cynthia Rose: I’m sorry, girl, you know you’re my best friend. But you’ve been neglecting the team lately.
Cynthia Rose: It’s not like you’re in love with her. You don’t do that. She’s just going to leave when she’s done with the team. Aubrey told me.
Cynthia Rose: This is for the best. You’ll see.
She deletes it. She goes through her contacts and deletes Cynthia Rose. She goes onto her hardly-used Facebook account and changes her profile picture from the picture of her and Cynthia Rose in front of the Bella to some random picture from her last family reunion.
She scrolls through the rest of the message. Her stomach drops a little lower as she reads each one.
Chloe: Beetlejuice is on tonight. Want to come over?
Chloe: I’ll get the beer, you swing by and grab the take out from Mo’s? I’ll call it in ahead of time.
Chloe: Unless you don’t want to hang out?
Chloe: I guess I’ll go get Mo’s and I’ll be waiting at my place if you decide you want to come over.
Chloe: You okay?
Beca yells at her windshield. She pulls her glove compartment open and throws her phone inside, wincing when it makes a noise she doesn’t like. She slams her hand into the steering wheel again, cursing.
The whole ride home, her phone buzzes in her glove compartment.
Beca feels herself shutting off a little more each time.
Beca makes it to the field a half hour before anyone else on the team. She sits in the corner of the dugout and sighs heavily. She thinks about the fourteen text messages she’s gotten from Chloe in the last three days, how they ranged from confusion to sadness to anger. She said ‘forget it’ this morning and locked her phone in her knife drawer in her kitchen and went about her day. She came to the field right from work and she’s sure there’re another five messages from Cynthia Rose’s number, all apologizing but holding steadfast to the idea that this is the right thing to do. She doesn’t want to see them or hear about it. She’s done, definitely, after this season. She’s going to cut the dead weight of the team and do something else.
“Hi Hulk,” someone yells from the stands. She waves back half-heartedly and starts going through her bag, unlacing her cleats. They’ve got the Footnotes tonight and it should be an easy win.
“So you’re alive,” she hears from the dugout entrance.
Beca sighs and turns to see Chloe standing in the doorway, her hands on her hips, eyes narrowed. “What?” she greets wearily.
“That’s it? What? Not, sorry for ignoring your twenty text messages, Chloe. Or, Gosh, Chloe, I’m sorry you stayed up half the night worrying over me.”
Beca shrugs and tugs at her laces but they won’t give. “Sorry,” she offers lamely, not meeting Chloe’s eyes.
“You’re worse than whiplash,” Chloe growls. “You flirt with me like a prepubescent teenage boy and then you run off and ignore my messages and leave me with way too much takeout and you’re so damn- Are you listening to me?”
Stacie ducks into the dugout, smiling briefly at Chloe.
“No,” Beca lies.
A batting glove hits her in the temple. It stings. “What the-“ She rubs at her head, glaring at Chloe. “Are you serious?”
Stacie starts, looking between the two of them. “Maybe I’ll just…” She leaves without either of them paying her any attention.
“You’re the one who started acting like a second grader on the playground. I’m just coming down to your level,” Chloe snips. “Are you gonna pull my hair and kick me in the shins now?”
“What?” Beca backs up, matching every step Chloe makes towards her. “Chloe, stop it.”
“I’m just trying to figure out the rules, here.” Chloe stops a foot away from her. Beca feels the wall at her back. “Is this how it’s gonna go? You’re gonna tell me that hurting my feelings means you like me? Because I never subscribed to that idea. And if that’s how it’s gonna…” Chloe sighs and pulls at the collar of her shirt. “What is going on? Just, just tell me,” she pleads, her eyes wide and wet.
Beca opens her mouth but snaps it shut as Cynthia Rose comes into the dugout, slowly placing her things on the bench. Beca looks at Chloe, watching the hopeful look on her face fall. She shakes her head and gets her glove out of her bag, taking a wide turn around Cynthia Rose. She can hear Chloe turn and ask Cynthia Rose what’s going on, but she doesn’t look back. Instead, she pushes past Aubrey who is making her way into the dugout, and heads out to meet the captain of the Sockapellas.
While they talk, the rest of the team shows up and Kelly pulls onto the lawn, pulling her umpire’s mask out of her trunk. “Hey, Beca. Let’s keep the fighting to a minimum, huh?”
Beca gives her an attempt at a smile and wishes Tucker, the Sockapellas captain, good luck. She trots over to her own dugout where they’re in a circle, looking at her.
“Go team,” she offers lamely. “Amy, you’re pitching today.”
Everyone turns to look at Aubrey. Her face is pinched in confusion. “I’m the pitcher.”
“I’m the captain. Remember?” She looks at the rest of the team. “Any one else need reminding of that?”
Cynthia Rose puts her hands up in surrender. Lilly murmurs something under her breath. Jessica, Ashley, and Denise chatter quietly among themselves, shooting her quick glances. All of them are confused but shake their heads slowly.
“No? Good. Amy, you’re pitching,” she repeats. “Aubrey, you’re behind the plate.” When no one moves, she claps her hands together loudly. “Well? What’re you waiting for? Go.”
The team files out, Stacie stopping briefly to shoot her a questioning look. Beca shoos her away and looks up to find Chloe lingering, staring at her. “What?”
Chloe shakes her head slowly. “I thought…” She shakes her head again and jogs out into the field.
Beca follows and tries to focus all of her attention on the game. Amy’s pitching is sloppy and she walks the first two batters. Aubrey is slow behind the plate, glaring at Beca in between each pitch.
Finally, Amy throws one over the plate and the Footnotes swing the bat. There’s a solid thwack and the ball skids across the dirt, right to Chloe.
Chloe looks at her briefly and stands up, takes a giant step to the right; the ball skips out into the outfield.
Beca groans and puts her head into her glove. She hears the stands shout in confusion and looks back up to catch Chloe shrug and put her head down. The next batter hits one to Stacie and she tags him, then throws home for the double play. Cynthia Rose catches the last out and the Bellas slowly trudge into the dugout.
Beca refuses to make eye contact with anyone. She paces the corner of the dugout while Lilly gets up to plate, ignoring Cynthia Rose trying to get her attention. Lilly sends one out into right field and makes it to second.
Beca gets up to the plate and digs her front foot in. The pitcher winds up and sends it to the left over the plate. She steps back and rolls her shoulders. She swings the bat a few times and steps back into the box, waiting for the pitch. It sails in over her head and she drops a few inches to avoid being clocked. She can hear a sharp gasp from behind her but when she turns back to scan the dugout, Chloe is looking down at something Beca can’t see.
She steps up for the next pitch and knows its coming right down the middle. She swings with her eyes closed and misses by a mile. There’s a whoosh of air as she swings the bat and a rush of disappointment in her chest. She controls her urge to slam the bat against the ground and takes a deep steadying breath instead. She grips the bat tighter and narrows her eyes in concentration. The pitch comes in down the middle again and she knows she’s going to find it. The bat connects and sends the ball loping over the shortstops head into the grass. She settles into first base and claps her hands together excitedly.
Stacie bombs one over the fence and they take a one-run lead. They keep the score running up until Chloe gets to the plate. It’s like game one all over again; her grip is sloppy, her stance is nonexistent. Chloe shrugs when the first pitch comes in down the middle and she doesn’t swing. Beca’s ears strain to pick up a hint of a song but she doesn’t hear anything.
There’s a sinking feeling in her stomach. Chloe looks so small up at the plate, so quiet and still. Aubrey is cheering loudly for her, rattling the fence on the dugout, but Chloe’s still up there with the bat on her shoulder. Two more pitches come in and Chloe shuffles back to the dugout, her head down.
“It’s okay,” Aubrey assures her, looking back at Beca briefly. “You’ll get the next one. I can give you some pointers on your grip, okay?”
Beca grinds her teeth together. She has already given tips to Chloe on her grip. She has already shown her the right stance. Aubrey is changing everything she has already taught Chloe.
A hand clamps down on her shoulder and Stacie is suddenly in her ear. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I know Aubrey and she’s trying to get a rise out of you, Beca. Just take a deep breath.”
If Beca were able to step back from her life, to observe it from the outside, she would take Stacie’s advice. She would know that Aubrey is taking back what she though Beca stole from her and Beca would understand why. There’s something magical about Chloe; Beca doesn’t know what but she knows it’s there. It’s in her smile and the gentle squeeze of her hand.
Chloe smiles at Aubrey. She squeezes Aubrey’s shoulder and whispers, “it’s fine” so quietly Beca only knows she says it because she watches her mouth move.
Beca gets back up to the plate and strikes out.
They keep the lead anyway, no thanks to Beca or Chloe. Chloe lets three more easy grounders go past her and Beca strikes out twice more, going 1-4 the whole game. Aubrey sneers at her from the corner of the dugout when she strikes out for the last time, dropping her bat heavily. She ignores Aubrey and focuses her attention on untying her cleats instead. They’re knotted and she’s frustrated and she ends up tugging the knots tighter instead of loosening them.
“Let me,” Cynthia Rose says, pushing Beca’s hands away. Beca is too tired, too weighed down to argue, so she works at pulling her t-shirt off, leaving her in a tank top.
Cynthia Rose works quietly, unknotting the laces efficiently. “There you go,” she says as she drops her hands. “You’re all set.”
“Thanks,” Beca mutters, toeing off her cleats.
“Beca, listen,” Cynthia Rose starts. Beca goes to put her hand up to shut Cynthia Rose down but Cynthia Rose talks over her. “No, listen. Because even if you never want to talk to me again, you gotta hear me out.”
“I don’t have to,” Beca points out.
“You owe me that much,” Cynthia Rose counters. “You might have pulled me out the destruction Teresa left, but I pulled you out from underneath Cassie’s mess and your mom and your dad leaving. So I get to talk and you get to sit here and then we can… Do whatever from there.”
Beca shrugs, pointedly turning her head towards the field. They’re still up to bat and Cynthia Rose doesn’t have a lot of time before she’s due up to the plate.
“I’m a shitty friend. I got jealous of you spending so much time with Chloe and when Aubrey talked about how you were spending more time focusing on her instead of the team, I agreed with her.” Cynthia Rose frowns when Beca glances back at her briefly. “But I was being selfish and petty. Girl, you’re my best friend. We’ve been through too much and, well…” She trails off.
Beca looks back at her, waiting.
“Well, no one has threatened that before,” Cynthia Rose finishes quietly. “I thought Chloe would. I thought she was.”
“She’s not my best friend,” Beca mutters, glancing away again. “You are. Were. She’s…”
“Something else. I get it, girl. I just… What I’m trying to say is that I didn’t get it but now I do and I’m miserable without my bestie,” Cynthia Rose breathes out in a rush. “Terry from the bank tried to sit in your seat at the bar and I nearly threw him out the door.”
“Terry is a shrimp,” Beca says. “I could throw him out of the bar.”
“You just like to fight people.”
Beca smirks. “I do.”
“I hope you don’t like fighting me.”
Beca’s smile fades. “I don’t.”
Cynthia Rose studies her for a moment before cracking a smile. “Well, good, girl.” Amy calls her name and she turns to see that they’re beckoning her to the plate. “I’m up. I love you, nerd.”
Beca pushes at her playfully. “I love you too, dork.”
Cynthia Rose belts one over the fence, securing the win. She whoops as she rounds the bases, pointing at Beca victoriously. Beca runs out to the baseline in her socks, grinning widely. The whole team is there with her but when she looks back at the bench, Chloe is hanging by the dugout entrance, watching them. Beca’s smile falters as she catches Chloe’s eyes.
She takes a small step towards Chloe but Aubrey beats her to it, throwing an arm around her shoulder and pulling her close for a hug. Beca frowns and turns back to Cynthia Rose, jumping up and down when Cynthia Rose grabs her.
“Drinks on the house!”
The rest of the team cheers loudly and piles into the dugout to get out of their cleats and socks. They file out of the dugout in groups until it’s just Beca, struggling to put the equipment into the bags, and Chloe.
“Here,” Chloe offers, holding up one side of the bat rack bag. Beca sighs gratefully and slides the rest of the bats into their places.
“Here,” Chloe repeats, handing Beca something.
It takes Beca a moment to realize that it’s a cutoff t-shirt and a moment longer to understand that it’s her Bellas uniform. She takes it, frowning. “What is this?”
“Thanks for letting me play.”
Beca shakes her head. “But we’re in the championship game now. Against DSM. We have one more game left. And Cynthia Rose and I are fine.”
Chloe frowns for a moment at Beca’s odd sentence, then snorts softly. “Beca, I can’t do this.”
“Pretend. I can’t pretend that you want me here or that I want to be here.” Chloe shrugs. “I don’t know what I did. I don’t know if I… Did I come on too strong? Do you just want to be friends? I can’t figure you out and I don’t want to try right now.”
Beca stands up as Chloe takes a step back. “No, Chloe. Just, let me explain. It’s actually stupid, really–“
“You don’t need to,” Chloe assures her. “I may seem like I can be pretty obtuse, but I know when someone doesn’t want me around. And that’s okay. I just wish you had told me sooner.”
“I want you around,” Beca chokes out. “It’s this stupid thing and I’m gonna tell-“
Chloe puts her hand up and Beca falls quiet. “Thanks for teaching me how to play. It was fun. My Pop would have loved to come to a game. He would have… He would have really liked you. He would have really liked that you left me have this before I moved back towards home.” She turns before Beca can stop her and makes her way across the field to where Aubrey is standing, waiting for her. She watches Aubrey hug Chloe close and the two of them head further away from her to the parking lot.
“I want you around,” Beca repeats, sitting back down on the bench. She stares at the t-shirt in her hand. “I do.”
When there’s no more beer in the fridge and all she has are half-filled takeout containers, Beca calls her dad.
“Beca? It’s close to midnight. What is it? Are you okay?”
Beca breathes into the phone, trying to find the words and put them in the right order. They’ve been bouncing around in her head all night and she can’t make sense of them.
“Were we defective?” she manages.
There’s a heavy sigh that stretches through the telephone wire. “Beca,” her dad murmurs. There’s some rustling and she imagines him getting out of the bed he shares with his new wife and walking down the hallway in the house he shares with his new family.
“Beca,” he says again. “Are you okay? Are you somewhere safe?”
“Safest place in Georgia,” she echoes dully. “Good ole’ Barden. Haven’t left yet.”
“Is there someone with you?” her dad asks.
Beca looks around the living room, cataloging the flickering TV and her dirty socks scattered around her. “Nope. Solo life. It’s how I like it. How I liked it,” she corrects. “See, there’s a girl. And she’s very pretty. Way too pretty for me. But she liked me. I liked her. I like everything about her. But I can’t like her, you know. I want to. But I picked the game over her. I feel like Johnny Castle. Except that I put Baby in the corner. So does that make me Jerry Orbach?”
“Beca,” her dad says wearily. It’s been years since she’s actually been in the same room as him but she can imagine what he’s doing now: sighing her name and running a hand through his quickly-thinning hair, exasperated.
“Dirty Dancing. The 1987 rom-com starring Jennifer Grey as Baby Houseman and–“
“I know the movie, Beca. Why don’t you start over, okay?”
Beca sags back against the couch. “There was a girl.”
“What’s her name?”
“Chloe,” Beca sighs.
“Is it serious?”
“It’s seriously over,” Beca offers. “There was something and now there’s nothing. Which is fine. That was my life before her. It can be my life after her.”
“Were we defective?” she asks again. “Mom and I, I mean. Is that why you left?”
There’s a noise on the other end of the line that Beca doesn’t recognize. “It that what you think?” her dad asks, his voice breaking.
“I don’t know what to think. No one gave me a really good reason,” she admits.
“I told… Your mother didn’t talk to you about it?”
Beca shakes her head before she realizes he can’t see her. “Nope.”
Her dad sighs. “Your mother told me to leave. She said she couldn’t pretend to love me.”
Beca feels something in her stomach unravel. “Because you were in love with someone else, right?”
“No,” her dad breathes out. “No. I loved her for so long. She didn’t want to be married anymore. She told me she woke up and she felt like she was suffocating around me and she wanted me to go.”
Beca blinks a few times as her dad’s words sink in. “But…”
“I don’t know what she told you, Beca. But I wanted to stay. I was willing to fight through whatever your mom was struggling with. She’s the one who wanted to give up.”
It doesn’t make sense. Her whole adult life, it was always her father’s fault. He left, he left, he left, her mom would repeat like a broken record. He left us.
“You left us,” she echoes.
“I made a commitment, Beca. To you and your mom and our love. I didn’t leave willingly.” There’s more noise she can’t make out, like he’s opening and closing doors. “You were my mini-me. Did you really think I could leave you that easily?”
There’s a soft dinging noise and a door closes. “Are you still there, Beca?”
“Yeah,” Beca breathes out.
She was always her dad’s shadow, mimicking him and studying his every move. When he left, she begged to go with him. She slammed doors and stomped across the floors, throwing tantrums whenever someone paid attention to her. She got in fights and wondered if he would have cared. She got good grades and told herself she wasn’t doing it to make him proud.
She grew up thinking he had just decided he couldn’t hack it, that commitment wasn’t in his vocabulary and promises were made to be broken.
She grew up thinking she was hardwired exactly the same way.
“But I’m not,” she says out loud.
“Not what?” her dad asks, shocking her.
“I’m not hardwired that way,” she says dumbly.
Her dad is patient with her; too patient for a midnight phone call from a daughter her hasn’t heard from in nearly thirteen years. “Hardwired what way?” An engine roars to life on the other end of the line.
“You’re not a commitment-phobe,” she continues.
“I’m a fan of longevity,” he offers.
“Me too,” she breathes out. “I wanna longevity with Chloe.”
Her dad chuckles. “Why don’t you start with making it to tomorrow? I’m only about 20 minutes from Barden, in Roswell. I’m gonna come over, okay? We’ll make some tea and talk.” He speaks quietly. “I think it’s past time we do that, huh, kiddo?”
“I’m not a commitment-phobe,” she murmurs.
“If you’re still anything like your old man, you’re not even close to one,” he agrees. “Now, what’s your address?”
“We’ve got this,” Cynthia Rose tells her for the tenth time. “We’re totally gonna win this game. We deserve it.”
Beca barely pulls her eyes away from the stands, scanning repeatedly for any sign of Chloe. She had called and texted and driven by her house, but Chloe had been impossible to get ahold of. “Sure,” she answers distractedly.
“And when we win, I’m finally going to make my dream come true.” Cynthia Rose raises an eyebrow when Beca grunts at her. “I’m going to lay a big, wet kiss on Pieter.”
“Okay,” Beca responds. She frowns and turns to Cynthia Rose. “What?”
“Now you’re paying attention.” Cynthia Rose sighs. “Did she say she was coming?”
“I texted her a hundred times asking her to come, so probably not. She said…” Beca hesitates. “She said earlier, at the beginning of the season, that she was leaving when the season was over. Leaving Barden, I mean. And again, the other day. She’s just done.” Beca sighs. “I’m an idiot. Even my dad said so.”
“We all are,” Cynthia Rose assures her. “She’ll show.”
Beca hums, unsure. She laces her cleats and stands, rolling her neck side to side. The team is talking low and it’s the nice kind of quiet noise that Beca likes before a game; the hum of everyone getting ready to do what they do best. Stacie files into the dugout, smiling sympathetically at her. Aubrey slinks in behind her, head down and eyes darting around to look at everything but Beca. They stand there for a moment before Stacie elbows Aubrey and tips her head in Beca’s direction.
Aubrey finally looks up at her but doesn’t meet her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she murmurs. The team quiets down and turn to look at what’s going on.
Beca frowns. “What?” She looks to Stacie who nods and tilts her head towards Aubrey.
“I’m sorry,” Aubrey repeats clearly. “For, you know.” Stacie clears her throat and Aubrey sighs. “For pushing Cynthia Rose to make you choose between the team and Chloe. I’m sorry. It’s come to my attention that I was a…” Aubrey sighs again. “I was a heinous bitch.”
Jessica, Denise, and Ashley start murmuring in confusion.
Stacie nods. “Yes you were.”
“Whoomp there it is,” Amy breathes out.
“And,” Aubrey stresses, glaring at Stacie for a moment, “I am working on my ability to share.”
Beca looks to Stacie. “This your doing?”
Stacie shrugs. “I knew something was going on, but I didn’t know what. Finally, she told me. The Hunter is hard to stay away from.”
Beca frowns and Aubrey blanches.
“Who is the Hunter?” Cynthia Rose asks.
Beca ignores her and focuses her attention back on Aubrey. “Is she coming today?”
Aubrey has the decency to look disappointed. “I don’t know. I told her. About what I did. She said she had a lot to think about.” She reaches out to Beca but her arm drops back to her side before it gets to Beca. “I told her it was my fault.”
“I could have said to shove it up your ass,” Beca counters.
Aubrey snorts. “I think you did.”
“But I could have said it and given up the captain spot. Softball means a lot to me, but…” Beca scratches at the back of her neck. “I made the wrong choice. I wish I could tell Chloe that.”
Aubrey pulls her phone out of her pocket and shakes her head. “If she texts me…”
“She won’t,” Beca sighs. “Is she… Is she leaving?”
Aubrey shrugs. “I don’t know, Beca. Since Pop –“
“I know,” Beca interrupts, conscious of the team hanging off every word. “I just thought, if she liked the game enough… If she liked me enough… But thanks. For apologizing.”
“You should thank Stacie, really,” Aubrey says. “She’s the one who got me to see that I was wrong.”
“I wasn’t stealing Chloe from you.”
Aubrey is shaking her head before Beca can finish her sentence. “I know you weren’t. But I get…” Aubrey spares a glance at Stacie. “I get a little possessive, I guess.”
“A little,” Beca snorts.
Aubrey waves a hand dismissively. “Whatever. This is a lot of sappiness. Can we be done with it?” she asks, though she’s smiling.
Beca grins crookedly. “Only if you tell me I’m the best.”
Aubrey crosses her arms over her chest, one eyebrow raised. “Really?”
Beca catches Stacie’s eye and smirks. “Oh, yeah. Totally.”
Aubrey looks between Beca and Stacie and rolls her eyes. “The two of you can just go…”
Stacie’s arm loops around Aubrey’s waist, pulling her close. “We can go what?”
Aubrey blinks a few times, staring at Stacie’s mouth. “Uh…”
Stacie grins. “I thought so,” she says, pecking Aubrey’s lips quickly before letting her go. “Who wants to kick some DSM ass?”
Aubrey turns to the team, her hands working nervously in front of her. They look past her, to Beca, waiting for an answer. Slowly, Beca nods and everyone grins back at her. Beca laughs and raises her hand, high-fiving Stacie and pulling the team together into a circle. “Alright, nerds. This is it. DSM can suck it, right?” They cheered loudly. “Let’s play our game out there. Swing at our pitches, make our throws. That’s the only way we’re going to beat them. Gloves down, heads up. Whaddya say?” She looks at Aubrey.
“Let’s kick some ass,” Aubrey offers.
They’re in the field first which means they have last ups. Beca sees it as their first ounce of good luck. Her dad’s words echo in her head: Leaving you was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’m sure she feels the same way. With a little bit of luck, she’ll realize it sooner than later.
She’s put Lilly at second base to fill the gap Chloe left but she still scans the crowd, hoping for a flash of red. She focuses back on the game as Kommisar steps up to the plate.
Kommisar finds her eyes and smirks at her. She points the bat in Beca’s direction and digs in as Aubrey’s pitch comes flying at her. Kelly calls it a strike and Kommisar glares. She’s ready for the second pitch but it’s high. When Aubrey looks back at Beca, Beca flashes her a small smile. The third pitch is even and Kommisar connects, sending it bouncing just over Stacie’s head. Kommisar stops at first and nods back at her team with a smirk.
“Where is your feisty ginger?” she calls to Beca. “Has she left you for someone who doesn’t need a ladder to look into her eyes?”
Beca doesn’t spare her a glance. She keeps her glove low and focuses on the batter instead. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Kommisar on the base, rocking back and forth, getting ready to take a lead. The batter finds the ball and it dribbles back up the middle to Aubrey. She fires to first and Stacie turns to throw to Beca, but Kommisar’s lead is good enough that she rests safely at second. There’s still one out.
Cynthia Rose looks at Beca as Pieter comes up to the plate. “You good, Cap?”
Beca chews on her bottom lip. “I’m good.”
“Are you, Tiny Mouse?” Kommisar leans towards her. “How good are you?”
“You’re probably amazing,” Beca sputters. She sighs. “Shit.”
“Hold on, Beca.” Stacie catches her eye. “Get your head in the game.”
Beca shakes her head to clear her thoughts and watches Pieter step up to the plate. She still sees red when she looks at him, imagining that pitch hitting Chloe in the arm. She catches his eye and glares but he only smirks back at her. He belts the first pitch out towards the right field fence. Jessica jumps up but can’t find it before it sails over the fence and rolls towards the Youth League soccer fields.
Kommisar jogs slowly by her and winks.
Aubrey catches her eye and nods reassuringly. The rest of the half of the inning is quick. They make two solid outs and Stacie and Aubrey surround her as they leave the field so Kommisar can’t get close.
“We can do this,” Beca tells them when they circle up. “This is our game.”
“No charging the mound, Beca,” Jessica says to her.
Beca blushes slightly. “I promise,” she mumbles.
Lilly leads off but barely finds the ball in the zone. She manages to clip it and drop the ball right in front of the catcher who fires it down to Kommisar. She’s tagged out easily.
Beca gets to the plate and kicks the dirt out of the box. She holds up her back hand, signaling to the umpire that she’s not ready, and digs in with her back foot. As soon as she drops her hand, Pieter throws one in that grazes the top of the strike zone.
Beca looks back at Kelly umpiring. “Really?”
“Letters to knees,” Kelly says. “That’s always been the zone, Mitchell.”
Beca shakes her head and focuses back on Pieter. She digs in and hefts the bat onto her shoulder. She glares at him as he winds up. The next pitch comes in through the zone but she doesn’t like it so she lets it go.
The team is rattling the fence behind her, screaming her name. She sees the last pitch come out of Pieter’s hand and knows that this is it; this is the one. She swings hard and fast and finds the ball in the zone, sending it out into the shortfield. It’s an easy single but it puts her right next to Kommisar.
“Well, well. You have some strength, Tiny Mouse. How impressive,” she coos.
“You know what’s impressive?” Beca spits. “Your face.” She winces.
Kommisar smirks. “Thank you. I know.”
Stacie sends a hard line drive towards the third baseman who fumbles it before he throws. Beca settles at second and Stacie slides into first. Beca claps her hands together, cheering for Cynthia Rose who steps up to the plate. She hits one out to Kommisar but advances Beca and Stacie. Aubrey bats Beca in but Jessica leaves Stacie stranded at third and Aubrey at first.
It’s two-one in favor of DSM. Beca jogs out onto the field and takes her spot. They make quick work of the first two outs but they fumble to pick up the third out. DSM scores one more run before they can tag out the kid on third and they go into the bottom of the second inning, down by two.
Denise and Ashley get on with some short game tactics, bunting it down the baselines. Amy manages to find the ball with the bat but doesn’t make it to first before the ball. Lilly is up again; she puts one into short left field and Denise scores. Ashley rounds third but heads back when the left fielder fires it home.
Beca steps back up to the plate, determined to do better. The first pitch is everything she’s looking for in a pitch. It hangs right over the middle and she barely puts any effort into chasing it. It gets Ashley home and Lilly to third. Beca steps onto first confidently and scans the crowd again.
“What are you looking for, little one?” Kommisar asks her. “Are you looking for your girlfriend to save you from defeat?”
Beca sneers at Kommisar. “You could defeat me. Dammit.” She straightens her shoulders. “I will defeat you.”
“How cute. You think you can win.”
“I know so,” Beca counters. “We’re gonna kick your perfectly symmetrical ass.”
Kommisar looks over her shoulder and shrugs. “My ass is quite perfect.”
“I know,” Beca snarls. She winces when she catches Lilly’s eye.
Stacie sends her to third on a double and Cynthia Rose pushes her home. Aubrey sends a hard line drive right into Pieter’s glove and they end the second inning.
“We’re ahead by two,” she tells them. “Let’s not lose this.”
Aubrey points a finger in her face firmly. “Stop. Talking. To. Her.”
Beca groans. “I’m trying. She’s just… she’s so in my head.” She pushes at her temples. “She’s so viciously good-looking.”
“Stop right there, Mitchell. She’s human and she sucks. So snap out of it,” Aubrey demands.
Beca straightens up a little and nods.
The next two innings are scoreless and they manage to hold DSM off of third base, at the least. Beca keeps her eyes straight ahead and ignores whatever taunting suggestion Kommisar whispers to her. Stacie shields her like she’s the President when they jog into the dugout.
It’s the top of the fifth when Pieter hits a crushing grand slam. It pulls DSM ahead by two. Beca deflates a little as he jogs by her, bumping chests with Kommisar as he crosses the plate. Cynthia Rose claps her on the shoulder. “No big, girl. We’ll get it back. Powerhouse Conrad over there has been waiting for a chance to flex her muscles all day. We’re good,” she assures her.
They get three outs quickly and Beca feels a little better. She feels even better when they get a quick run off of some clever bunting. She puts down a bunt herself, sending Lilly around to third. She sails safely into first. She’s pretty much on top of the world.
“Tiny Mouse, why must you pretend you will win? There’s nothing you can do. We are far superior to you.” Kommisar shrugs like it’s matter-of-fact.
“You are superior,” Beca counters.
“Even you agree, there is no chance for you.”
“There’s a very good chance you are making me rethink my sexuality completely.”
Kommisar smirks again. “How quaint.”
“Beca!” Someone shouts at her.
Beca turns to apologize to that person; she knows what she’s doing and she shouldn’t be doing it, not when they’re so close to winning. Except that when she turns, she’s expecting to see Aubrey shouting at her and she’s definitely not expecting to see Chloe Beale pressed up against the fence by the stands, calling her name, glaring daggers in her direction.
“Focus on the game!” Chloe shouts.
Beca reminds herself to breathe and then sets up in her ready position, rocking back and forth as she waits for the pitch. She ends up stealing second, sliding under the tag. She jumps to her feet, grinning widely, totally unsure of why she even tried to do that. When Stacie sends one into deep left, she’s glad. She crosses the plate as the tying run.
“And we’re back in the game!” she shouts as she rushes into the dugout. She peels off her batting gloves and presses herself against the fence, scanning the crowd for Chloe. “Did you see her?” she asks Aubrey frantically.
Aubrey points to a figure by the fence, staring intensely at the game. “She’s there.”
Beca pulls at the fence, frustrated. She wants to go over there and talk to Chloe. She wants to say something. She wants to do something. Instead, she cheers for Cynthia Rose, one eye on the game and one eye on Chloe.
They end the inning up by one and Beca trots out onto the field without giving them a pre-inning pep talk. Her eyes are locked in on Chloe. She’s standing by the fence with a bunch of students milling around her. Chloe looks up and catches her eye and Beca can’t do anything but stare, mesmerized by Chloe.
A ball hits her in the shin. She winces and looks around to glare at Stacie.
“Whoops,” Stacie says, shrugging. “My bad.”
Beca growls and throws the ball back. Her eyes scan to find Chloe again but this time Chloe is talking to someone and isn’t looking at her. A DSM player steps up to the plate and gets to first base quickly while his team cheers him on. Beca barely even registers it happen, eyes locked in on Chloe, following every movement.
The ball gets hit right to her and she grabs it more out of instinct than anything else. She flips it to Lilly at second who turns and fires it to first for the double play. The crowd cheers loudly and Beca sees Chloe high-fiving some of her students.
Kommisar steps up to the plate and swings the bat easily. It’s the prettiest homerun Beca has ever seen in her whole life and she groans as it arcs through the air over the scoreboard and out towards the soccer fields. The scoreboard flickers and shows that they’re tied now, at the top of the sixth. Beca kicks at the dirt in frustration but fields the next ball as it rolls to her and fires it to first for the third out.
“Get us back on the board,” she instructs Amy, Ashley, and Jessica.
DSM has caught onto their short game, though, and picks off three bunts in a row, making it a tie game at the top of the seventh.
She circles the team up, her attention split between them and Chloe lingering at the fence. “Listen,” she starts. “We have to hold them. We have to. We’re tied and we need to hold them and we need to score a few runs. What do you say?”
“Yes!” They cheer.
“Let’s do this!”
They jog out onto the field and settle in. Beca scans the faces of her teammates. They’re all wearing the same, steely glare of determination. Her eyes flick towards the stands and she sees Chloe reach into her back pocket and pull out a hat, pulling it down over her head. Beca’s stomach flip-flops as she reads ‘Gwinnett Braves’ on the cap. A small smile pulls at the edges of her mouth but she tamps it down as the right fielder for DSM steps up to the plate.
He swings at the first pitch and it ricochets right back up the middle. Aubrey fields it between her legs and underhands it to Stacie at first.
Beca whoops loudly and slaps her glove against her knee, ignoring the sting. She looks to see Chloe cheering loudly at the fence. They lock eyes again for a moment.
The DSM catcher is up next and he waits for the first two pitches before he swings at the third. It’s a loping bouncer to Cynthia Rose who plucks it off the ground like a dandelion and tosses it effortlessly to Stacie.
The stands are going nuts, hollering and stomping. The entire second grade is crammed into one corner and they’re all shouting. Beca feels like she’s back in high school, right on that precipice between ordinary and something more.
Kommisar gets up to the plate and a hush washes over the crowd. Aubrey cracks her neck, twisting it one way and the other. She sets up and delivers the first pitch. Kommisar goes after it but half a second too late; it flies off into foul territory. A group of kids scramble after it.
Aubrey bounces on the tips of her toes and winds up a second time. Kommisar lets the ball go and it’s a 1-1 count. The third and fourth pitches are called balls and Beca feels her chest tightening. The fifth pitch sails towards the plate in slow motion. Beca can see Kommisar’s wrist snap around; she can see the moment the ball’s momentum shifts and heads directly for her.
No, not directly at her. To the left. It’s going to right over second base. Beca digs in with her left foot and pushes with her right, taking two quick side-strides before she sucks in a deep breath and jumps. She feels her whole body leave the ground and she dives out to the side, arms outstretched. She hits the ground with a dull thud that she feels through her shoulder and hipbone. Her ears ring and she blinks dirt out of her eyes but when she flexes her hand, she feels a softball in her glove.
Hands pull her up onto her feet and grab at her. People are shouting in her ear. She shakes them off and grins.
“Damn, girl. How did you catch that?” Cynthia Rose shakes her happily.
Beca grins at Kommisar who glares back at her, making her way to the dugout.
Beca sits down on the bench heavily, wincing at the flash of pain in her hip. “Okay, okay,” she calls, trying to get everyone’s attention. The crowd is still cheering loudly. “Listen, we still need a run. Just one run.”
Denise is up first and she slap-bunts, placing the ball neatly over the third baseman’s head. She makes it first before he even finds the ball.
The crowd feels electric now. Every time they cheer, Beca feels it in her fingertips.
Lilly gets up to the plate but strikes out in three pitches. She drags her bat back to the dugout, apologizing to everyone, but Amy scoops her up into a hug and tells her to shut up.
“Come on, Beca,” they start cheering.
Beca takes a deep breath and walks slowly up to the plate. The whole team is shouting her name, screaming so loud her eardrums ache. She makes eye contact with Chloe and holds it until Chloe nods at her, a small smile on her lips.
She steps into the box and closes her eyes as the first pitch whizzes past her. She pays it no attention, setting up for the second pitch. She catches Denise’s eye and scratches at her chin; the second pitch comes in and Beca fakes a bunt. Denise takes off for second, staying upright.
The crowd roars at that. Denise grins and gives her a thumbs up.
Beca spares a glance at Kommisar. Beca grins as the third pitch comes in; a ball.
Beca steps out of the box and takes a steadying breath. She can feel the excitement of the crowd the way she can feel the bass in a song. It rattles in her chest and makes it hard to breath. She steps back into the box and stares down at Pieter.
The pitch comes in and if her last hit was nearly perfect, this one is.
It smacks off the bat in the very middle, leaving the aluminum with a satisfying thunk. It skips just a few inches over Pieter’s insane vertical jump, hitting the dirt behind second base. Denise is already rounding third by the time Beca realizes she should be running. She hits the bag at first just as Denise crosses home plate and Beca feels like the whole world explodes.
The Bellas rush her, tackling her and pulling her to the ground. The entire second grade is chanting ‘Hulk, Hulk, Hulk’ in the stands.
She’s laughing so hard she can’t see. Hands are pulling her up off the ground again, raising her arms up in the air in a victory cheer. The tears in her eyes start to clear and all she can see is Chloe.
“We won!” she shouts.
“You won!” Chloe echoes, running to her. Chloe grabs her by the elbows, their momentum spinning them in a circle.
“I’m sorry,” Beca says, sobering instantly. “I wanted to tell you. It was so stupid, wanting this trophy. And for what? Nothing!”
“Beca, I know why you wanted it.” Chloe looks her in the eyes, even though the world is spinning around them. “Your dad would be really, really proud of you. And that’s what you wanted,” she adds.
Beca is shaking her head before Chloe can finish the sentence. “No. You’re what I wanted. You’re what I want. I want you to stay.“
Chloe grins at her. “I am.”
“And I want us to be together and I’m not a commitment-phobe anymore and my dad is actually a pretty cool–“ Beca stops and frowns. “What? You are?”
“I was going to tell you, the night I invited you over to watch Beetlejuice. The night you blew me off,” Chloe prompts. “I was going to tell you I’m staying. My Pop would want me to be happy and you, adorable and infuriating you… You make me happy.”
Beca opens her mouth to say something but Chloe beats her to it.
“Don’t ruin the moment,” she murmurs.
And then Chloe kisses her, her arms winding around Beca’s waist and pulling her closer. It takes Beca an agonizingly long moment to catch up, her mouth still running with an apology she can’t remember anymore. She kisses Chloe back, trying to say I’m sorry and You’re what I wanted and This is better than Fever Pitch, isn’t it?
She pulls back when someone knocks into her and she turns, ready to kick whoever just hit in her ass. But she grins when she sees it’s Aubrey and she’s holding a giant, shiny trophy out towards her.
“Here you go, Captain,” Aubrey offers, grinning ear to ear.
Chloe’s hand flexes against the small of her back and Beca shakes her head, turning back to Chloe.
“Keep it,” she murmurs, leaning in to kiss Chloe again.