Aubrey Posen looked at her phone, then tapped the close call button and put it back in her pocket. She turned away from the big whiteboard to the group of young women who had showed up for Bellas practice.
“Chloe and Beca will not be joining us today,” she said. “Which means we cannot practice our choreography, and totally messes up our training schedule. Let’s go with individual vocal practice to begin with, and we can do some cardio later. God knows most of you really need it.”
A stage-whispered “Noooo!” came from Amy.
“So how did it go?” Stacie said.
She was leaning so far forward in her seat that she was hardly sitting down at all.
“What do you mean?” Aubrey said.
“Oh come on!” Stacie said. “What did Chloe say? Did Beca talk to her? What did they say? Are they together now, or are they moping separately?”
Aubrey’s expression turned into a studied blank.
“What makes you think it was Chloe who called?” she said. “It could’ve been Beca. Or someone else.”
“Beca wouldn’t call you, she’d call Amy,” Cynthia Rose said. “And it was your Chloe ringtone.”
“And seriously?” Stacie said. “Having Ode to Joy as the ringtone for your best friend? Could be considered a teensy bit gay, of you know what I mean.”
Aubrey’s face turned beet red.
“Chloe says they’re fine,” she said. “They’re going to… spend some quality time together.”
Stacie let out an ear-piercing squee loud enough to make most of the others momentarily cover their ears.
“So are they getting married?” she said. “I so hope they are. Because really, that proposal was so movie romantic.”
“It really kinda was,” Amy said.
Behind her, Denise, Ashley and Jessica nodded and mumbled agreements.
“I don’t know,” Aubrey said. “She didn’t say. You’ll have to ask her yourselves. After practice. And after they return to the world. You will not be bothering them by calling and asking silly questions.”
Stacie waved her arms in emphatic denial.
“Oh, totally not!” she said. “They so should enjoy that first rush.”
“Unless they stay cooped up for more than 24 hours,” Cynthia Rose said. “In which case we’ll assume they forgot to eat, and get them a couple of pizzas.”
“Love makes you do the whacky,” Stacie agreed.
Lilly mumbled something that sounded like “It made me stab a cow”. The others looked at her, decided they must’ve heard it wrong and tried not to think about it any more.
“Now can we do some a cappella practice?” Aubrey said. “If you’re still interested in that?”
Stacie was talking to Cynthia Rose. Amy was talking to Jessica. Denise and Ashley were listening to Lilly, who seemed to be talking to herself. Aubrey sighed. Well, it was good that they cared for their fellow Bellas, really. They could have some time to talk. Particularly since the practice session was a lost cause to begin with.
The next day at lunch, Stacie put her tray down next to Cynthia Rose and Amy in the cafeteria.
“I talked to Chloe,” she said even before she’d sat down.
“Oh?” Cynthia Rose said. “How is she?”
“If her smile gets any brighter, we’ll need welding goggles,” Stacie said.
She dug into her salad.
“So she and the pipsqueak are together now?” Amy said. “Like, for real girlfriends bumping uglies together?”
She and Cynthia Rose both had burgers on their plates.
“That’s how I understood it,” Stacie said. “Not that she got into details.”
“What about the proposal?” Cynthia Rose said. “Are they getting married?”
Stacie put down her fork.
“OK, that’s totally the best bit,” she said.
“They are?” Cynthia Rose said. “For real?”
“No,” Stacie said. “They’re not.”
“How is that the best bit?” she said. “I thought you got off on the whole movie romance thing.”
“Yes!” Stacie said. “That’s totally it!”
“How is not getting married romantic?” Cynthia Rose said.
Stacie beamed at them.
“Because they’re not getting married because they can’t afford a wedding!” she said. “So we’ll give them one, and it’ll be the most romantic thing ever!”
Amy and Cynthia Rose stared at her.
“Seriously?” Amy said.
“Chloe said, in so many words, that the reason they’re not getting married is that they can’t afford a wedding,” she said.
“It’s also not legal in this state,” Cynthia Rose said.
“I know!” Stacie squealed. “That’s even better!”
“OK, you lost me again,” Amy said.
Stacie leaned forward and lowered her voice conspiratorially.
“It’s legal in New York,” she said. “What else is in New York?”
Amy looked confused. Cynthia Rose first frowned, then smiled and let out a laugh.
“Oh, you’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking, are you?” she said.
“I sure am,” Stacie said.
Amy looked from one of them to the other and back again.
“Now you both lost me,” she said.
“Lincoln Center is in New York,” Cynthia Rose said. “Stacie here is thinking that we get to the ICCA finals, we win the competition and as part of celebrating that, they get married.”
“It’s so perfect!” Stacie said. “Pretty much everyone they’ll want at their wedding will also want to be there for the finals. So we can get everyone there, and everything set up for a huge party, while they’re both right there and probably helping, without them suspecting a thing. Try and tell me that’s not going to be the most memorable wedding ever.”
“Call me crazy,” Amy said. “But I’m liking this idea. It’s crazy, but it would be very unique wedding.”
“You’re crazy,” Cynthia Rose said. “What if they don’t like it? What if they want a small, quiet, private ceremony? And who would we get to officiate? Do we even know what religions they follow, if any?”
“So we make sure to give them an out,” she said. “And we do our best to figure all those things out. But we have to try, Rose. If they do like it, it really will be the most fantastic wedding imaginable.”
“All right,” Cynthia Rose said. “I can buy that. But there are a couple of more problems.”
“We have to make it to the finals,” she said.
“And we have to win,” Cynthia Rose said. “Which you both know we only have one realistic way of doing.”
Stacie’s shoulders slumped.
“I know,” she sighed. “But it was such a nice idea.”
“Hey!” Amy said. “No giving up that easy!”
Stacie looked at her.
“We have to convince Aubrey to let Beca redesign our entire set,” she said. “Aubrey.”
“I’ll talk to her,” Amy said. “You guys figure out rituals and religions and all that stuff, and I’ll handle Aubrey.”
Stacie and Cynthia Rose both looked at her, disbelief obvious on their faces.
“If you say so,” Cynthia Rose finally said.
A week after the fateful party, Beca had for all practical purposes moved in with Chloe. The process had started the very first morning, even before they’d gotten out of bed. Beca had woken up feeling practically giddy with happiness, a feeling she wasn’t at all used to.
“I don’t know what to do with it all,” she had said. “It makes me want to touch and hold and snuggle and do all sorts of things with you, but when I do the feelings only grow stronger.”
“So make music,” Chloe had responded. “I can clear the desk while you fetch your stuff.”
She also brought over some clothes. The day after, most of her current textbooks. Then her sadly neglected potted plant. More clothes. Chloe came with her for those, and without even asking brought Beca’s favorite posters along. After that, what was left of Beca’s things in the room she shared with Kimmy Jin were rarely used things that might as well be stored there. Beca liked it that way, and she was quite sure that Kimmy Jin didn’t exactly mind having the room to herself.
“So how are you these days?” her father asked her one day when they happened to meet in a corridor. “Your grumpy roommate says you haven’t been sleeping in your room all week.”
“You talked to Kimmy Jin?” she said. “Why?”
“You weren’t there to talk to,” he said.
“Why were you looking for me?”
“Just wanted to see that you’re OK,” he said. “Like I’m doing now.”
“Oh,” Beca said. “I’m good.”
Some sense of honesty compelled her to elaborate.
“I’m great, actually,” she said. “I’ve been staying with my girlfriend.”
“Girlfriend?” her dad said. “That’s new. Isn’t it?”
“About a week.”
“Well, congratulations,” he said. “You two have to come over for dinner some day soon.”
She frowned at him.
“Thanks,” she said. “You’re not upset that I’m seeing another woman?”
He smiled back at her.
“Of course not,” he said. “Do you want me to be? I could pretend.”
“No,” Beca said, shaking her head. “Of course not. I was just… surprised.”
“Well, it’s not like I’m totally straight myself,” her dad said. “And your mom was with another woman when we first met.”
For a few seconds Beca just stared at him.
“Wait, back up,” she finally manage to say. “What?”
“You heard me,” he said.
Beca’s head was spinning.
“Why didn’t you ever say something?” she said. “Why didn’t I know this?”
“Right,” he said. “When, exactly, did you want to hear about your parents’ sex lives?”
She fell silent.
“Good point,” she said. “I think never is a good time for that.”
“Never it is,” her dad said. “So, dinner. How is Sunday looking for you guys? Around six-ish?”
She made it back to Chloe’s room in a daze. Now that she and Chloe were solidly together and the Bellas were almost annoyingly supportive of their relationship, her parents’ reaction had been her main worry. She’d heard enough horror stories about people being disowned and stuff for being gay, and she really had had no idea what her own parents thought about it. She didn’t have any reason to expect them to blow up, but you never knew.
As her dad had demonstrated.
“Oh my God,” Chloe said when Beca entered the room. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost! What happened?”
“I talked to my dad,” she said.
Chloe put down her textbook, got up from where she was sitting on the bed and hurried the whole two steps over to Beca, putting her arms around her.
“Oh, sweetie,” she said. “Was it bad?”
“No,” Beca said. “He’s bi. Mom is too, he says. He wants us to come over for dinner on Sunday.”
“Oh,” Chloe said again. “So, no problem, then?”
Beca shook her head.
“No,” she said. “No problem at all.”
“Cool. Sunday dinner works for me. Unless Aubrey wants extra practice. Which she almost certainly will.”
Chloe gave her a quick kiss and returned to her studies. Beca remained standing at the door.
“Chloe?” she said after a while.
“Yes?” Chloe said.
“This is too good.”
Chloe looked confused.
“What do you mean too good?”
“You love me. Our friends are crazy supportive. My dad’s just happy for me. If he’s right, mom’s sure to be too.”
“It’s not supposed to be this easy,” she said. “Are your parents horribly judgmental Christian fundamentalists who’ll want to burn me at the stake for bringing dishonor to their only daughter or something? Do you have brothers who’ll come after me with meat hooks?”
“My parents are second-generation hippies,” Chloe said. “If anything, they’ll be slightly disappointed that I’m sticking to only one partner. Although they’ll never in a million years admit that. And I’m not their only daughter. I have two brothers, one older and one younger than me, and an older sister. None of them will come after you with anything worse than hugs. My older brother David is the closest thing we have to a black sheep of the family. ”
“Oh?” Beca said. “What did he do?”
“He got a job where he has to wear a suit.”
Beca looked at Chloe.
“For serious?” she said. “That’s enough to make him the black sheep?”
“Dad looked really disappointed,” she said. “And then he said that David had to walk his own path, wherever it may lead and that they shouldn’t judge or criticize.”
“Sounds real horrible.”
“For my dad, that was pretty harsh.”
“Oh-kay,” Beca said. “So I shouldn’t worry, then?”
“Really not,” Chloe said.
Beca went and sat down next to her on the bed.
“So everything’s going great,” she said. “I’m even getting good grades, and Luke has started playing my mixes on the air.”
Chloe smiled at her.
“There’s Aubrey,” she said. “She still dislikes you, and insists on the Bellas doing exactly the same set as last year. Even though everyone but her knows that’ll make us lose.”
Beca lay down, resting her head on Chloe’s back.
“Yes,” she said. “At least there is that.”
“I have an announcement to make,” Aubrey said at practice the next day.
She was, as usual, standing by the whiteboard in the Bellas rehearsal room, with Chloe at her side and the rest of the group in the seats in front of her. It had become obvious to everyone as soon as they walked into the room that something was up. The big whiteboard holding Aubrey’s master plan for ICCA victory was blank. Beca had tried to convey her “What the fuck?” to Chloe using only gestures, but all she got back from her girlfriend was a confused shrug.
Aubrey smiled. It didn’t look very genuine.
“My dear Bellas,” she said. “After long and hard thinking, as well as persistent argumentation from Amy, I have–“
She paused to draw a deep breath.
“I have come to accept that repeating our performance from last year will not get us the ICCA trophy this year. Amy has collected statistics from previous years, showing quite conclusively that new, original performances have a far greater chance of winning than repeat performances.”
As she spoke, an increasingly loud murmur rose from the assembled Bellas.
“I am also quite aware,” Aubrey went on, “that original creation is not my own personal strong suit. Fortunately, though, we have someone among us for whom it is. I would therefore like to, if she accepts and it meets with the whole group’s approval, appoint Beca Mitchell as Creative Director for the Barden Bellas.”
Aubrey swallowed nervously.
“What do you say, girls?” she finished.
Everyone instantly broke out in loud cheering. Except Beca, who sat frozen in place with her mouth hanging open in shock.
“I’ve figured it out,” Beca said later that night.
She and Chloe were in bed, naked and with limbs entangled. They’d just made love, and Chloe’s breath was slowing down as she drifted off to sleep. Or, she would have if Beca hadn’t started talking.
“You’ve figured what out?” Chloe said.
“Why everything is going so well for me,” Beca said.
“Because you’re a lovely person and deserve everything nice there is?”
“No,” Beca said. “It’s actually not happening at all.”
Chloe turned her head and looked at her. She moved her hand the couple of inches needed to cup Beca’s breast and gently pinched her nipple in the way she’d quickly learned drove the younger woman half crazy. Beca’s eyes flickered closed for a moment and a moan escaped her.
“It’s not?” Chloe said. “This boob here feels totally real to me.”
“Of course you’d say that,” Beca said. “You’re just a figment of my imagination.”
“Really, solipsism?” Chloe said. “I thought you skipped that Introduction to Philosophy class.”
“I’m actually dreaming,” Beca said. “I never woke up after that party. I’m in a hospital bed somewhere, slowly dying from alcohol poisoning, and everything that happened after is just a wonderful dream.”
“I don’t think you die from alcohol poisoning,” Chloe said. “At least not if you make it to a hospital.”
“So I fell and hit my head while blind drunk,” Beca said. “Or there was a car crash on the way home. Or something. Point is, this isn’t real.”
Chloe put the full strength of her fingers into the pinch she already had on Beca’s nipple, at the same time as she twisted as far as the position allowed.
Beca yelled and pulled away.
“What did you do that for?” she said, upset. “That hurt!”
“So you’re not dreaming,” Chloe said.
Her gaze fell to the offended body part.
“I’ll kiss it better, if you want,” she said.
“That wasn’t funny,” Beca said.
Chloe’s expression turned more serious.
“You’re not dreaming, Beca,” she said. “This is really happening. So your life took a turn for the good. Enjoy it! Be happy! You don’t have to try and find some way in which it’s a problem anyway.”
Beca moved back so she was lying half on top of Chloe.
“Don’t you at least agree it’s a little weird?” she said. “We talk about how Aubrey disliking me and insisting on the Bellas doing the same old stuff is the one thing in my life that’s not going great, and the very next day she changes her mind and hands me the reins?”
“OK, it’s a little weird,” Chloe said. “But, sweetie, sometimes weird things happen. They don’t have to mean your whole life is an illusion.”
“I guess not,” she said.
She tilted her head so she could almost look Chloe in the eye.
“You can kiss it better now,” she said.
Chloe smiled and got to work.
They didn’t get around to having that dinner with Beca’s father until after the semi-finals.
“We’re so happy to have you both here,” Sheila the step-monster said. “We’ve been trying to get Beca to visit since she moved to Barden.”
The four of them were sitting around Beca’s dad’s large dinner table, in his equally large dining room. It was much larger than anything they’d had before he left Beca’s mother. There was food of several different kinds waiting in bowls and on trays, all of it smelling nice. It was easily enough to feed a dozen or more people.
“Oh, right,” Beca’s dad said when he saw the look Beca gave the food. “We had no idea what you guys like to eat, so we tried to cover all eventualities. It’s been so long since I was a regular part of Beca’s life… The casserole over there is vegetarian, and that dish is vegan curry. The rest is fairly obvious, I think.”
“Thank you, professor Mitchell,” Chloe said. “It’s very thoughtful of you. But it wasn’t necessary, we both eat pretty much anything.”
“Believe it or not,” Sheila said, “we were pretty nervous. So we kind of overcompensated.”
“Don’t call me professor,” Beca’s dad said. “My name is…”
“Nervous?” Beca interrupted. “About what?”
“Well,” Sheila said, “there’s that you’ve never been exactly comfortable with the fact that I exist. Calling me a monster and… you know.”
“Oh. Right,” Beca said.
Face to face with the woman, she felt pretty stupid about that.
“Sorry,” she said.
Sheila smiled at her.
“Thank you,” she said.
“So, I hear that you guys won the semi-finals?” Beca’s dad said.
He started in on the food, and Chloe did the same. Beca and Sheila followed.
“We sure did,” Chloe said. “All thanks to Beca.”
She beamed at her girlfriend.
Beca protested, but not very convincingly, and the conversation drifted into safer waters. As so often, Chloe’s irrepressible happy spirit rubbed off on everyone else present. Laughter and memories soon rang through the air, and even Beca had a good time, although Chloe did the major part of the talking for the two of them. She was good at that. It wasn’t so much that Chloe was constantly happy, because she wasn’t. Yes, she had a fundamental happiness in her that Beca had never seen in anyone else, but she had her bad days and got grumpy just as everyone else. No, what set Chloe Beale apart from mere humans was her ability to make everyone around her want to be better people. After Aubrey gave control of the Bellas music to Beca, Beca could’ve been a bitch about it. Gloating. Condescending. She would have, had it been but a year before. But now she didn’t. She was as polite and nice to Aubrey as she could. And, wonder of wonders, Aubrey returned the favor. They might not be best friends, but at least they were friends. Which was entirely because neither of them wanted to disappoint Chloe. The same thing went for Beca’s grades. She knew that no matter how badly she mishandled her studies, Chloe would be there with a sympathetic smile and a warm hug – which, perversely, made Beca work her ass off to deserve it.
“I have to ask,” Sheila said once they’d got to post-dessert coffee and brandy. “Are those engagement rings you’re wearing? I’ve been wondering all night.”
Beca and Chloe looked at each other.
“Yeah, they are,” Beca said.
“Really?” Beca’s dad said. “Beca didn’t mention that, she just said she had a new girlfriend!”
“Congratulations,” Sheila said. “We’ll have to get you an engagement present.”
“That’s not really necessary,” Beca said. “It totally was a spur of the moment thing. I was horribly drunk.”
“So, what?” Sheila said. “You don’t actually mean it?”
“Oh, we totally do,” Chloe said. “We plan to get married once we’re both out of college, have our lives sorted and can afford a decent wedding.”
“That sounds very sensible,” Beca’s dad said.
“Well, you know,” Chloe said. “Weddings are expensive.”
“You don’t have to do the whole hundred-thousand dollar thing,” Sheila said. “Particularly since as two women you’re sort of out of the mainstream to begin with.”
Beca had been thinking that too. The cost argument had been an excuse from the start, and the longer she was with Chloe the more it felt like the lie it was. The truth was that she was fast approaching the point where she just plain wanted to promise herself to Chloe for the rest of her life.
“Well, as it is right now we couldn’t even make a thousand-dollar one,” Chloe said. “And while I don’t care much for a traditional wedding, I want something out of the ordinary.”
And there it was. Beca would have to wait until she could arrange that. Something special. Which, while slightly disappointing, was something she could deal with as long as she got to spend the time until it happened with her beloved. She snuggled closer to Chloe in the sofa and leaned her head on Chloe’s shoulder.
“What about your wedding, dad?” she asked. “You and mom never talked about it.”
“Well, it’s not that much to talk about,” her dad said. “Small fairly traditional wedding. Ceremony was in the nearby Episcopal church and the reception in my aunt’s garden. The first dance was to Bon Jovi’s You Give Love A Bad Name.”
Beca glared at him.
“Bon Jovi?” she said. “Really? At your wedding?”
He smiled at her.
“It was 1989,” he said. “What would you have preferred? Paula Abdul’s Straight Up was that year, I think.”
“At your wedding?” she said. “Straight wasn’t really the operative word there, was it?”
“True,” he said. “Could have had something by Madonna, I guess.”
“Hold on,” Chloe said. “What do you mean straight wasn’t the word for your wedding? As far as Beca’s told me, you were an ordinary man-woman married couple.”
“They were,” Sheila said. “But all the bridesmaids were Beca’s mother’s ex-girlfriends.”
“True,” Beca’s dad said. “I never dared ask what happened at the bachelorette party.”
“Wait, what?” Beca said.
“That’s awesome!” Chloe said.
“I think my mother never knew about that,” Beca’s dad said. “If she did, she did a Hell of a job ignoring it.”
“You had a whole bunch of mom’s old girlfriends at your wedding?” Beca said.
Her dad shrugged.
“Sure,” he said. “Your mother always was very good at staying friends with her exes. I mean, she and I are still on speaking terms, and she has a lot more reason to be mad at me than she had at them.”
“Would you like to see a picture?” Sheila said. “There’s one hanging in the guest room.”
“Oh, I would!” Chloe said. “Beca, can we?”
“Sure,” Beca said. “I guess.”
Sheila returned with it in a few seconds.
“Here,” she said, handing the framed picture to Beca.
It was a pretty typical wedding picture. There were her parents in the middle, with the bridesmaids next to and a little behind the bride, and the groomsmen similarly on the other side. She’d seen it before, she realized. Or another copy of it, possibly. Knowing that her mother had slept with all the smiling women behind her was weird and disconcerting.
“Wow, look at all that hair,” Chloe said.
“What can I say?” Beca’s dad said. “It was the 80s.”
“The bridesmaid farthest to the left looks kind of familiar,” Chloe said. “And your mom had great taste in women.”
Beca had no idea what to say to that.
“So she gave up women when you got married?” she asked. “Or, I guess, at least until you broke up again?”
A meaningful look passed between her dad and Sheila.
“What?” Beca said.
“Not… quite,” her dad said.
Sheila was blushing, she noticed. And her dad suddenly wouldn’t meet her eyes. She looked from one to the other, adding one to one and getting… three.
“All three of you?!” she said. “Seriously?”
“We met at a swinger’s club,” her dad said. “After a while things got more serious between me and Sheila, and, well, you pretty much know the story from there.”
“Oh my God,” Beca said.
“Sweetie?” Chloe said. “Are you all right?”
Beca looked at Sheila.
“You and mom?” she said.
“Not often, but a few times it was just the two of us,” she said.
Beca’s head was spinning. Things she’d thought for many years she knew suddenly turned out not to be. Or at least to be far more complicated than she’d known.
“Beca,” Chloe said. “Talk to me.”
“I want to go home,” Beca said, turning to Chloe.
“Sure,” Chloe said.
With an effort, Beca turned to her dad and Sheila.
“I’m not angry or anything,” she said. “I just need to sort this out in my head, OK?”
“Of course,” her dad said, clearly worried. “It was very nice to have the two of you here. I’m sorry if we upset you. It’s just… I think you’re old enough to hear the whole truth.”
“Yeah, um, thanks,” Beca said.
“It was nice seeing you, professor Mitchell, Sheila,” Chloe said. “We’ll be in touch.”
“Do you think your parents have any secrets like that?” Beca asked Chloe later that night.
Again, they were in bed having just made love. Beca hadn’t been that enthusiastic at first, but Chloe’s clever hands soon changed that. As had probably been Chloe’s plan to begin with, it worked admirably to bring Beca back to the here and now and calm her overactive brain down.
“No,” Chloe said. “They always hated secrets. And as I said, they’re hippies. Heirs to the whole sixties free-love thing. For my whole life, it’s happened now and then that one of them would have a special friend for a few weeks or months or years. When me and my siblings got old enough to understand about sex, we kind of figured out ourselves what made those friends special.”
“My grandma would’ve said they’d go to Hell for living like that,” Beca said.
“My dad says that the kind of mind who’d want to condemn someone to eternal torture for being different is its own punishment,” Chloe said.
“Your parents sound like pretty special people,” Beca said.
“Oh, they are,” Chloe said. “I know that now. When I was a kid it annoyed me no end that they could never be like everyone else’s parents, but I’ve come to really appreciate it.”
Beca turned over on her side so she could look at Chloe. They had all their lamps turned off, but enough light from outside snuck in around the curtains for her to make out her girlfriend’s face.
“I’m glad they weren’t like everyone else,” she said. “Because if they had been, they’d never have had such a spectacularly wonderful daughter.”
Chloe also turned, so they lay facing each other.
“They’re not perfect,” she said.
“I want to meet them,” Beca said.
“They live pretty far away,” Chloe said. “But maybe we can go visit them after we win the ICCA.”
“If we win,” Beca said.
“Are you kidding?” Chloe said. “We totally owned the semi-finals! If we can just keep at that level, we’ll win easily.”
“Yeah,” Beca said. “If.”
In another dorm room not far away, three conspirators were gathered. Gathered to watch stupid romantic comedies and eat popcorn, granted, but still gathered. It wasn’t only them, either, but Aubrey had come there with Amy.
“So how are we doing on the religions and shit front?” Amy asked when Aubrey went to the bathroom.
“We’re good on the Beca side,” Stacie said. “I pretended I was writing an anthropology paper and interviewed her father. As far as I can tell, they have no strong opinions on marriage rituals whatsoever, so anything should be equally good. Or bad.”
“I sense a but coming,” Amy said.
Stacie bit her lip.
“I haven’t been able to get anything at all from Chloe’s side,” she said. “It seems her parents not only don’t have email, they don’t even have a phone.”
“Wow,” Cynthia Rose said. “What are they, Amish?”
“No idea,” Stacie said. “I mean, I can sort of get not having email, because I guess some older people don’t, but no phone? What’s that about?”
“It’s about living close to nature,” Aubrey said.
The three girls on the bed turned as one to look at her, all three looking as if they’d been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
“They have this farm,” Aubrey went on. “They’ve had it since the early 80s, I think. They have as little modern stuff as they can get away with. They used to have a phone, but they got rid of it two years ago when Chloe’s kid brother went to college. Same with the TV. They only had them so their kids wouldn’t be so out of touch that they got bullied for it.”
“Oh,” Stacie said. “That makes sense. I guess.”
“Now,” Aubrey said, “why are you spying on them again?”
The three briefly looked at each other.
“We’re trying to arrange a surprise wedding for Chloe and Beca,” Cynthia Rose said.
“Aca-scuse me?” Aubrey said. “A surprise what?”
“Wedding,” Amy said. “Where, you know, two people get married. To each other.”
“We’re not planning to force them,” Stacie said. “Just arrange it, and then like go hey guys, we heard you weren’t getting married because you can’t afford it so, here, a whole wedding just for you if you want it.”
“So you want to know what kind of wedding they’d like,” she said.
The three others nodded.
“This is an insane idea,” Aubrey said.
Again, triple nods.
“Ok, fill me in on what you have planned so far,” Aubrey said. “I’ve known Chloe long enough that I probably know as much as she does herself about her dream wedding. I don’t know Beca, but I’m pretty sure she’ll be happy with whatever makes Chloe happy.”
“You just said it was an insane idea,” she said.
“It is,” Aubrey said. “But it’s the kind of insane idea that Chloe will absolutely love. So let’s get started. I guess you’re planning to have it just after ICCA finals, in New York, so it can be legal?”
The weeks leading up the ICCA finals made Beca understand at least part of why Aubrey was such a stuck-up bitch.
“It’s going to be a disaster!” she said. “We’re going to make complete fools of ourselves, and I’ll have to commit suicide to clear my name of the shame. Or kill everyone who watched or heard.”
She and Chloe were, again, in bed.
“Relax,” Chloe said. “It’ll be fine.”
“It will not be fine!” Beca said. “They just won’t do it right! I’ve made a really great piece of music, with some kick-ass choreography, and they keep messing it up!”
“Sweetie, you’re yelling. The guys next door will complain again if you don’t quiet down.”
With an effort, Beca forced herself to calm down. She remembered all too well the embarrassment the first time she’d really figured out what Chloe liked her to do with her tongue.
“Maybe I should just go with the inevitable,” she said. “We’ll have a performance that consists of ten different songs sung without any shred of coordination, while the lot of us stumble around the stage like drunk elephants. And Stacie fondles herself.”
“It’ll be fine,” Chloe repeated. “Really. Your music is great.”
“It’s great on my computer,” Beca said. “Which does what I tell it. Unlike the girls.”
Chloe suddenly giggled. Beca turned her head and glared.
“What?” she said.
“I’m sorry,” Chloe said. “But you just sound so much like Aubrey right now. I think I had exactly this conversation with her before regionals.”
“Oh my God,” Beca said. “You’re right. I’m turning into Aubrey!”
She turned back onto her back and stared out into the darkness. Shit. She hadn’t realized what she sounded like. Which, entirely apart from the whole irony, was something that didn’t work. She’d have to come up with another way to make the girls perform well. Also…
Beca turned back to Chloe.
“Had you just had sex with her too?” she asked.
Chloe raised an eyebrow.
“Would it be a problem if I had?” she said.
“No,” Beca said. “I’m just curious.”
“Good,” Chloe said. “I don’t want things to get weird.”
“So had you?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“I said I’m curious,” Beca said. “Also, it would give Aubrey and me another thing we have in common. We could talk. Share experiences. Maybe trade tips.”
“Really,” Chloe said. “You would talk about sex with Aubrey? In that much detail?”
“You never know what I may do if I get drunk enough.”
“Can’t argue with that,” Chloe said.
She kissed Beca’s shoulder, and her hand wandered onto Beca’s thigh.
“Um,” Beca said. “Are you trying to distract me?”
Kisses made their way up her neck. Fingers made their feathery way over her hip.
“Is it working?” Chloe whispered just before she kissed Beca on the lips.
Beca decided that it was.
Over the following week, Beca thought a lot, read a book or two on group dynamics and changed how she ran the Bellas. Or, well, how she ran the musical and choreography parts. Aubrey still decided everything else and organized everything not directly related to music or dance. Which was fine with Beca. All she wanted was to create a performance that would knock the socks off the audience. And, paradoxically, it seemed that the way to do that was to ease up and give some control to the rest of the girls. It cost her some effort to explain and argue instead of just telling them what to do, but the end result was that they actually did it, so it was well worth the time.
“So, Beca, what’s your favorite food?” Stacie said one day.
They were having a short break, catching their breaths before getting into rehearsing a segment Beca had largely re-done the night before.
“What?” Beca said.
“What’s your favorite food?” Stacie repeated. “The one dish you’d want for some very fancy party or something?”
Several of the others were looking at her.
“This is a bit random,” she said. “Why do you want to know?”
“Just filling the silence.”
“All right,” Beca said. “I’d pick broiled lobster.”
“Good choice,” Amy said. “Can’t go wrong with lobster. Although, personally, I’d pick a big, juicy piece of Kobe beef.”
From there the conversation drifted off into animal care and the ethics of eating meat, and Beca forgot all about it. Until a couple of days later.
“Today Stacie asked me about my favorite fancy beverage,” Chloe said.
For once, she was lying with her head on Beca’s bare chest instead of the other way around.
“I thought that was a bit of a weird question,” she said. “Anyway, I told her champagne, if I don’t have to pay for it.”
“She asked me about fancy food the other day,” Beca said.
There was a brief silence from both of them.
“Did she say why?” Chloe said.
“She said she was just making conversation,” Beca said.
“If she asks about dessert, she’s up to something.”
“Stacie didn’t ask about dessert,” Beca said a couple of days later.
She’d just entered what was still technically Chloe’s room, and was standing leaning against the closed door. Chloe was sitting on the bed, an open textbook in her lap.
“She didn’t?” she said.
“Cynthia Rose did,” Beca said.
“She even asked what kind of dessert I thought went best with broiled lobster,” she said. “Which happens to be the dish I gave when Stacie asked about my favorite food.”
Chloe’s eyes narrowed.
“They are up to something,” she said.
“But what?” Beca said. “It kind of sounds like they’re arranging a fancy party.”
“Could they afford something like that?” Chloe said.
“Not as far as I know,” Beca said.
“Maybe Cynthia Rose started gambling again and won a lot,” Chloe said.
“No,” Beca said. “That’s not how gambling addiction works. If she was gambling again, and she won, she’d keep gambling until that too was gone.”
“I guess,” Chloe said. “Oh well, I guess we’ll see eventually.”
Beca stared at her.
“What?” she said. “You’re just going to leave it?”
“Sure,” Chloe said.
Chloe looked at Beca.
“They’re our friends,” she said. “I trust them. If they want to arrange something in secret, I’m sure they have a good reason.”
Beca thought about that. Annoyingly, it made sense.
“OK,” she said. “But if you’re wrong and we hate it, I get to say I told you so.”
“Absolutely,” Chloe said. “Now come give me a kiss.”
Beca nearly managed to let it go. Nearly. She concentrated as hard as she could on Bellas work, on getting the music and the dance absolutely perfect, and what little time that left she spent on schoolwork and Chloe. Between all those, she hardly had time to think of anything else, much less worry about possible conspiracies from her friends.
But it didn’t quite eat all her attention and time. There were moments. Short ones, little cracks in between larger blocks. Times when she was moving from one place to another. While she was in the bathroom. Not the shower, because usually Chloe would be there with her, and even if she wasn’t physically there Beca was thinking about her. The active, hands-on kind of thinking that led to singing lady-jams.
At times, during or just after practice, she’d see Stacie and Cynthia Rose talk to each other in hushed voices. Or, she noticed after a while, Stacie and Amy. Or Stacie and Aubrey, of all people. If they spotted her looking in their direction, their body language would change and they’d start speaking more loudly. And, Beca was certain, about something else entirely.
She tried not to worry about it. As Chloe had said, they were their friends, and if they were plotting something, it almost certainly wasn’t something bad. She did trust them. Or, at least, she trusted them more than she trusted anyone else except her mom and Chloe. But for her, even that level of trust left plenty of room for doubt and suspicion. Unlike Chloe, Beca wasn’t a trusting person. She was nowhere near as cold and distant as she had been before Chloe’s brilliant smile melted her facade, but she still didn’t automatically assume the best of people. She would’ve said that was a good thing, that she wasn’t as easily fooled as someone who trusted easy, but the harsh truth was that Chloe was very rarely fooled and she was on the whole a much happier person than Beca was. So rather than descend into a spiral of paranoia fed by whispering conversations between people she hoped were really her friends, she summoned what willpower she possessed and tried to make herself believe that their intentions were good.
Sometimes it worked. When it didn’t, she worked on something until she was too tired to worry. And so the days passed, until suddenly it was time to go to New York and Lincoln Center.
There were so many people.
Beca looked out from the side of the stage at the audience. It was a big audience. Much bigger than any they’d performed in front of before, and that was before taking the TV cameras into account. She scanned all the faces, trying to see anyone she knew. It didn’t take her long to spot her father and Sheila. They were sitting next to her mother. And her grandmother. Her two aunts. Someone she thought was her cousin. She frowned. Ok, she was going to be performing, and probably winning, on national TV, but was that really enough for her cousin to show up? She turned to tell Chloe about it.
And found her fiancée looking like she’d seen a ghost.
“Chloe?” Beca said, suddenly worried. “Are you OK?”
Chloe pointed out to the audience.
“My parents,” she said.
“Yeah?” Beca said. “Mine are here too.”
“No, you don’t get it,” Chloe said. “Mine almost never leave the farm, and when they do it’s not far. They haven’t been further away than the farmer’s market in a decade.”
“So they want to see you perform,” she said.
She frowned as she thought about her suggestion.
“Except why this year if they didn’t come last year?” she said.
“Beca, I didn’t invite them. Not last year, and not this year,” Chloe said. “I knew they wouldn’t come, so I gave my tickets to Aubrey, so she could invite her father’s new wife and her mother’s new husband.”
“Aubrey?” Beca said, with a sudden sense of puzzle pieces falling into place. “The same Aubrey who has been acting shifty for weeks?”
Out of the corner of her eye she could see Stacie and Cynthia Rose turn to look at her and Chloe. She looked back at them. Stacie smiled and waved at her.
“Barden Bellas, two minutes,” a stage hand said.
“But why?” Chloe said. “Why would she want to bring my parents here? Why would they come?”
“I have no idea,” Beca said. “But we don’t have time to sort it out now. After we win, OK?”
Chloe nodded. Beca turned toward the rest of the Bellas.
“All right, aca-bitches!” she said. “It’s time to show these people how it’s really done. Hands in!”
As soon as she walked out on the stage, Beca’s nervousness disappeared and a cocky confidence took its place. She put a little extra swagger into her walk as she approached the front center of the stage. The lights made it impossible for her to see the audience as more than fuzzy shadows, but that together with the utter silence was enough to tell her that they already had everyone’s rapt attention. She smiled to herself. It had been quite different at semi-finals. Then, the general expectation was that they’d place second or third, and most of the audience wasn’t even looking at them. Instead, they’d won by a humiliatingly large margin, leaving audience and critics wondering what they’d do next.
Beca turned slightly to the side when she reached the front of the stage, leaving the center spot to Aubrey. On the other side of Aubrey, Chloe took position. The rest of the Bellas formed a half circle behind them. Beca blew the pitch pipe, then counted to three in a half-whisper. It sounded strangely loud in the silent hall.
Aubrey began to sing, closely followed by backing from the rest of them. The initial lines of Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors flowed out over the auditorium.
All the songs she’d chosen were from the 80s, and made famous by women. She’d decided to follow those limits as a nod to Aubrey and the Bellas traditions. True Colors was the base, the song that was there in some form all the way through the set and that everything else started from and returned to. She’d tried to suit the mixed-in songs to the personalities of the girls singing, and to have enough variety of songs and rhythm in how they varied to really hook the audience.
And it worked. She could see that it did. The audience reactions clearly followed the music, whether it was Amy belting out I Love Rock and Roll at the top of her powerful lungs or Stacie making Like A Virgin sound so kinky it ought to have an age limit. When she saw one of the judges actually headbanging to one of Amy’s segments, she knew she’d made it. That they all had made it. Even if she had made most of the design and most of the choices, she’d left enough slack and room for improvisation that the various singers could infuse their performance with themselves. It was a group effort in the truest sense, where Beca’s framework got embellished and polished by the others into a fantastic musical jewel.
Beca let her mind relax, and just sang. She knew this was the best she could do, and that it was very good indeed. It was out of her hands, her part was done, but for the performance. She let the music take over, guide her voice and movements. She tried not to think, not to plan, but simply to let the Platonic ideal of the set flow through her. And for a time it worked. She lost track of time. Lost track of place. There was no intention, no worry, just an eternal now that lasted until the set was nearly over.
As it had started, the set ended with True Colors. Originally, Beca had also intended it to end with Aubrey singing solo, for the symmetry, but at the urging of the others that had changed to a duet between herself and Chloe. Back in their rehearsal room, it hadn’t felt special at all. But now…
Everyone else had pulled back a few steps extra. All the lights gathered in the middle of the stage, creating a pool of light in relative darkness. A pool in which she and Chloe stood facing each other.
“If this world makes you crazy,” they sang. “And you've taken all you can bear.”
Beca found herself slowly walking closer to Chloe, who just as slowly walked towards her.
“You call me up because you know I'll be there,” the words went. “And I'll see your true colors shining through.”
There were mere inches between them. Beca’s heart was beating a million miles an hour. Somehow, Chloe looked more beautiful than she ever had before. She raised her hands to Chloe’s shoulders at exactly the same time Chloe put hers on Beca’s hips. Over the course of the next line, the other Bellas flawlessly took over the song.
“I see your true colors.”
It felt like the most natural thing in the world. She tilted her head back, and Chloe bent hers forward. As the final line rang out over the audience, in front of the assembled multitude and the cameras’ electronic vision, they kissed.
“And that’s why I love you.”
Silence fell. The lights faded around them. The entire hall exploded into applause, shouts, stomping feet and whistles.
“That… wasn’t planned,” Beca whispered after they broke the kiss.
“It’s not like we weren’t out already,” Chloe whispered back.
An hour later, they were announced the winners. For Beca, things instantly turned into a whirlwind of congratulations, flashing cameras and horribly stupid interview questions. Chloe stuck close to her side, which was a great relief. The journalists fell for her lovely smile and easy charm just as readily as everyone else.
“Was that kiss for real or just part of the act?”
“Oh, it was totally real. See, here are our engagement rings.”
The trophy was almost the size of Beca’s upper body. She needed both arms to carry it, which was both a relief and annoying. On one hand, she didn’t need to worry about what to do with her hands. On the other, she couldn’t hold on to Chloe.
“Engagement rings? So you’re planning to get married?”
“Yes, as soon as practically possible.”
Beca looked up at Chloe. That wasn’t what they’d agreed on. They’d said they’d wait until they’d both graduated, and then talk about it. Granted, as soon as practical was more along the lines of what Beca actually wanted, but still. She smiled at the journalist and accepted a quick kiss from Chloe.
“How long we’ve been together? Oh, we pined for each other for half a year before we discovered by accident that our feelings were mutual. We have hardly been apart since.”
There was a CNN logo on the side of the camera that was pointing at them. Beca blinked at it. CNN? She was on CNN? Her relationship was on CNN?
“Er, don’t you want to ask about our music?” she said.
The man with the microphone ignored her. The camera briefly dipped toward her, and she got an impression it focused on her cleavage.
“I’m planning to stay at Barden as a grad student until Beca graduates, then we’ll see.”
It kept going like that. The team from CNN was shoved aside by one from Fox News, who were replaced by one from MSNBC. Smaller networks hung around the edges and tried to get the occasional question in. Somewhere in between two of them, she handed the trophy over to Amy, who promptly vanished with it. All the news teams focused on her and Chloe, none were at all interested in the actual competition or the music. It all left a sour taste in Beca’s mouth. On top of it, once the adrenaline left her she got really tired.
“Chloe?” she said in the short time while two news teams were shoving each other for the front spot. “I want to leave.”
“See if you can get Aubrey’s attention,” she said. “I think she was going to arrange a ride from here.”
Since they were still standing right by the stage, Beca climbed back up on it to get a better view. She looked out over the auditorium, then frowned.
“Chloe?” she said.
Chloe turned her head and looked up at her.
“They’re all gone,” Beca said.
“What do you mean all gone?” Chloe said.
“I can’t see any of the Bellas,” Beca said. “Or your parents. Or mine.”
Chloe turned fully around, ignoring the reporter trying to interview her.
“No one?” she said. “Why would they all leave without us?”
“I don’t know,” Beca said.
She really didn’t. It made no sense at all. Not on any day, and particularly not right now. She looked out over the room again, more carefully.
There was a guy standing behind the throng of reporters. He looked to be maybe fifty, was dressed in a driver’s uniform and held a sign with “MITCHELL - BEALE” written on it.
“Hang on a minute,” Beca said in the general direction of Chloe.
She jumped off the stage and made her way to the livery-clad man.
“I’m Beca Mitchell,” she said.
He bowed slightly in her direction.
“Indeed,” he said. “Congratulations on your victory tonight. I have been hired to drive you to the celebration.”
“Hired?” Beca said. “By who?”
“By the Barden Bellas, ma’am,” he said.
Beca’s eyes narrowed. Apart from herself and Chloe, the only one with the authority to spend the Bellas’ money was Aubrey.
“I see,” she said. “Is the car outside?”
“It is, ma’am,” he said.
“We’ll be right out,” Beca said. “Just hang on a moment.”
“There is no need to hurry, ma’am,” he said. “I am to take you to the site whenever you so desire, within reason.”
“The site? What site?”
“I was asked not to reveal that, ma’am.”
Beca glared at him. Celebration at an undisclosed location? Right.
“We’ll be out momentarily,” she said.
She made her way back to Chloe, who was still surrounded by journalists. She was starting to look tired. Beca took her hand.
“Hey,” she said. “The car is waiting.”
“Car?” Chloe said. “What car?”
“The car that Aubrey ordered,” Beca said. “To take us to the celebration.”
First confusion, then surprise and finally determination flew across Chloe’s face in quick succession.
“I see,” she said. “We’d better go, then.”
The car was a huge black stretch limo. Chloe and Beca sat in the middle of the forward-facing seat in the rear of it. There was a mini-bar with lots of different liquors and actual crystal tumblers. There was a TV, with a Blu-ray player and a small library of movies.
“I think I could fit my whole car in here,” Chloe said.
“I think I’d rather be in your car,” Beca said.
“At least now we know for sure they’re up to something,” Chloe said. “Although I’m still not clear on what.”
Beca looked out the window. They were driving through Manhattan streets, but that was as much as she could tell.
“Are you familiar enough with New York to tell where we’re headed?” she said.
“Really not,” Chloe said. “The only times I’ve been here have been with the Bellas.”
Beca took Chloe’s hand in both of hers.
“What you said in there…” she said.
She fell silent there, unsure what to say. Or rather how to say what she wanted to say.
“Yes?” Chloe said. “You’ll have to be a bit more specific, I’m afraid, I really don’t remember everything I said. But I hope I didn’t upset you. After what we did on stage it felt pretty pointless to be secretive.”
“You said we were going to get married as soon as practical,” Beca said. “Is that what you want? Because it’s not quite what we agreed.”
Chloe added her other hand to her first and Beca’s two.
“I know we said we’d wait until you graduate,” she said. “And if you want to wait until then, then that is the soonest practical time. But…”
“We said we’d discuss it after I graduate,” Beca said. “If we’re still together then.”
Chloe looked down.
“I know,” she said. “I’m sorry. I presumed.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Beca said. “I’m not upset or anything. It’s just… I won’t graduate for another three years, Chloe. That’s a long time. Plenty of time for you to change your mind. To find someone less messed up than me, who doesn’t have panic attacks when they feel too much. Someone with a stable career ahead of them, and decent prospects in general. Maybe a guy, so you can have kids that are biologically from both of you.”
She lifted her head so she could look Chloe in the eyes. Her kind, loving, blue eyes.
“I’ll never be able to give you any of that,” she said.
She tried to read Chloe’s expression, but couldn’t.
“You said yourself that the panic thing is getting better,” Chloe said. “You’ve had, what, two attacks in the whole time I’ve known you? And after today, I’d say your chances of having a fine career in the music business are pretty good.”
She squeezed Beca’s hands harder.
An intercom crackled to life and interrupted her.
“Ladies, we have arrived,” the driver’s voice said.
There were trees all around them. Among them, party tents had been set up and a large number of brightly colored lanterns hung from branches and lines. Here and there, loudspeakers emitted soft music. People milled around, talking and laughing. Most of them carried glasses. Behind Beca and Chloe, the limo reversed and left. The two of them stood there, looking.
“What now?” Beca said.
“I kind of expected someone to meet us,” Chloe said.
Beca looked around, trying to spot someone she knew. After a few moments, she frowned.
“Chloe?” she said. “How many people here do you see that you know?”
Beca watched as Chloe did the same looking around followed by a frown that she had just done herself.
“Quite a few,” Chloe said. “Surprisingly many, actually.”
“Me too,” Beca said. “If there were that many for all of the Bellas, how large would the crowd be?”
Chloe looked at Beca.
“Much larger than it is,” she said. “But why?”
“I don’t know,” Beca said. “But I’m sure that Aubrey, Amy, Stacie and Cynthia Rose do. So let’s go find them.”
As they walked through the crowd people nodded at them, or gave brief congratulations on their victory. None, however, actually stopped to talk. After a while, it got suspicious. Or at least it made Beca suspicious. It was like everyone else knew something about her that she didn’t know herself, and she really didn’t like that feeling. She felt the bad sort of tension start to build in her stomach. She reached out and took Chloe’s hand, clinging to the safety of her presence.
“OK, now I know something’s up,” Chloe said.
“Why?” Beca got out.
“Because my parents just looked at me, smiled and changed direction so they wouldn’t meet us,” Chloe said.
“Maybe they just hate me,” Beca said.
“They haven’t even met you,” Chloe said. “And if they did, they’d go out of their way to be extra nice to you.”
“Right,” Beca said. “So if they’re really nice, they hate me. Check.”
Chloe let out an exasperated sigh and stopped, forcing Beca to do the same or let go of her hand. Beca stopped.
“Beca!” Chloe said. “Stop putting yourself down!”
“That last one was a joke,” Beca said.
Except it hadn’t been, not entirely.
Chloe gave her a suspicious look.
“Right,” she said. “Just remember that no one is allowed to treat my Beca badly, and that includes you. OK?”
Maybe the downward spiral in Beca’s head didn’t entirely stop, but the words certainly made it spin a whole lot slower. She pulled Chloe into a tight hug.
“Thanks,” she said.
Chloe stroked her hair.
“You’re welcome,” she said. “Now try to be happy. We just won the ICCA! We’re supposed to be celebrating!”
“I know,” Beca said. “I hope they get to their surprise soon. Even if I hate it, I’ll feel better once I know what it is.”
“I’m pretty sure you won’t hate it,” Chloe said. “The girls know us. I am certain that they’re trying to do something nice. My only worry is that they may get it wrong.”
Beca let go of Chloe.
“Come to think of it, some food might help my mood right now,” she said. “I was too wound up to have lunch, so I haven’t eaten since this morning.”
Chloe took her hand.
“OK, change of plan,” she said. “First priority, food. Second priority, Bellas.”
They set off in the direction of a set of tables with large plates of food and many filled glasses on them. The crowd was a bit thicker around them, of course, and Beca scanned the people on auto-pilot. Until her gaze suddenly stopped on a short, slim woman in a long yellow dress.
“Hey, that’s my mom!” she said, pointing.
Her mom was talking to another woman. Someone she liked, from the way she was smiling and laughing and had her hand on the other woman’s arm. Beca tilted her head a little. The other woman looked kind of familiar.
“Where?” Chloe said.
“There,” Beca repeated. “Yellow dress, short. Next to a taller woman in a business suit.”
When she mentioned the clothes something clicked in her memory. Replace the business suit with a short pastel summer dress and remove about twenty years of age, and she’d seen the woman in a photograph in her father’s living room. It was one of the bridesmaids. One of her mother’s ex-girlfriends, according to her dad. Beca frowned. What would one of them be doing here? Was she dating her mom again? Was she living in New York and her mom had taken the opportunity to catch up with an old friend?
“I think we saw the other woman in that picture at my dad’s,” she said. “One of the bridesmaids.”
“No, that’s…” Chloe said.
She fell silent. Beca looked up at her. Chloe looked absolutely stunned.
“Oh my God,” she said. “You’re right. It is!”
“Chloe?” Beca said. “What?”
“It thought she looked familiar,” Chloe said.
“And I repeat myself,” Beca said. “Chloe. What?”
Chloe turned to Beca. A huge grin had appeared on her face.
“You said you don’t like other people knowing what’s going on while you don’t?” she said. “Would it help at all if you knew something that probably nobody here but us two know right now?”
“It might,” Beca said. “What is it?”
“The woman your mom is talking to?” Chloe said. “One of her old bridesmaids? Her name is Christina Posen.”
Beca gave her girlfriend a long look while that sank in.
“Posen?” she said. “As in Aubrey Posen?”
“As in my mom shagged Aubrey’s mom?”
Chloe nodded again, grin growing wider.
“If we tell Aubrey, do you think she’ll spontaneously combust?” Beca said.
“Entirely possible,” Chloe said. “Or, you know, puke all over the place. So only do that in an emergency.”
Food did make Beca feel better. Particularly since it was really tasty. They’d managed to get a platter of canapés and other finger food, most of it to Beca’s delight seafood-based. Together with a glass of bubbly white wine it improved her mood considerably in a surprisingly short while.
“Feeling better?” Chloe asked.
“A lot,” Beca said. “But now I kind of feel like dragging my fiancée somewhere private.”
“We’re in Central Park,” Chloe said. “I think private is a bit much to hope for. Less public is probably as good as it’ll get.”
“So we might get discovered.”
Beca gave her a long look.
“You like that, don’t you?” she said.
Chloe winked at her.
“It’s exciting,” she said. “Gets my juices flowing.”
Beca could feel herself blush.
“Noted for future reference,” she said. “Except, um, not on the one day there’s actually a reasonable chance there might be journalists following us.”
Chloe sighed theatrically.
“You never let me do anything fun,” she said.
Beca was still trying to come up with a good response when Amy’s voice cut through the night air.
“There you are!” she shouted. “We’ve been looking for you guys!”
She came barging at them, with Stacie following behind.
“Hi,” Beca said.
“Amy,” Chloe said. “What’s going on?”
Amy jabbed her thumb in the general direction of Stacie.
“It was her idea, she gets to explain,” she said. “But maybe we should move to the side a bit.”
“Stacie?” Beca said.
“Right,” Stacie said. “Um, over under that tree?”
She pointed, and the four of them moved out of easy earshot from the crowd.
“We have, um…” Stacie said.
She looked half ashamed and half excited.
“Stacie,” Beca said. “If you don’t get to the point soon, I’ll get Lilly to whisper things in your ear while you sleep.”
“We kinda got you a present,” Stacie said. “That you can chose to accept or not. Both are OK. Really.”
“A present,” Chloe said. “A present that involved getting our families here, and us getting here after everyone else. What kind of present is that?”
“A wedding,” Stacie said.
Chloe’s jaw dropped.
“A what?” Beca said.
“A wedding,” Amy said. “You know, where two people get married to each…”
“I know what a wedding is,” Beca interrupted. “How do you make one a present? And what made you think it would be a good idea?”
“Actually, we thought it might not be, so…” Amy said.
“So it’s an offer,” Stacie said. “I heard Chloe say that the reason you two aren’t getting hitched is that you can’t afford a wedding. So here it is. Ready and waiting.”
Beca stared at her in disbelief.
“What exactly do you mean by ready and waiting?” Chloe said. “We saw that there are more of our families than anyone else’s, so I guess that’s part of it. Do you have a priest standing by, or what?”
“Priestess, actually,” Amy said.
“Her name’s Margot,” Stacie said. “She’s a Wiccan high priestess. Your parents know her from way back, so she was willing to come hang out with them, and to wed the two of you if you want to. She can do it legally proper and all.”
“Oh. I know her,” Chloe said. “She’s nice.”
“Clothes?” Beca said.
“Blue tent over there,” Stacie said, pointing. “It’s not a very fancy selection, but it’s something, and they’re your sizes. Or at least the same sizes as your Bellas uniforms.”
Beca had no idea what to say. Her suspicions had been of some sort of surprise party, maybe a late birthday for Chloe, not this. Not a wedding. Not her wedding. She looked up at Chloe. Their eyes met for a few moments before Chloe turned back to Stacie and Amy.
“We need to talk,” she said. “In private.”
“Oh, sure!” Stacie said. “Absolutely!”
“We’ll be waiting over by the drinks,” Amy said. “Come on over when you’ve decided.”
They left. Walking a little faster than normal, Beca noted. They were probably a bit nervous too. She turned to Chloe.
“We’re saying no, right?” she said.
“If that is what you really want, of course,” she said.
“I thought we had agreed on waiting,” she said. “We talked about it only, what, fifteen minutes ago? In the limo?”
“We didn’t get to finish talking,” Chloe said. “I wasn’t going to bring it up again, but now… Beca, what do you want?”
Beca felt confused.
“I think we should wait until I graduate,” she said. “I told you in the limo.”
Chloe shook her head.
“No, love, you didn’t,” she said. “You gave several reasons why I should want to wait. All of them being variations on you not being good enough, so I should have time to find someone better.”
She put her hands on Beca’s shoulders and placed a soft kiss on her forehead.
“There is only one thing that would make me want to wait,” she said. “And it is that you want to wait, for your own sake, because you need the time.”
She bent down and placed another brief kiss on Beca’s cheek.
“Maybe you want some time to see if you can find someone better than me,” she said.
A laugh flew out Beca’s mouth before she could stop it.
“Better than you?!” she said. “Chloe, I can’t even imagine what that means! You’re…”
Words failed her.
“Beca,” Chloe said. “I know you didn’t really mean to propose. That you were too drunk to know what you were doing. I know that I should’ve taken it for what it was, and just laughed it off.”
She smiled a slightly lopsided smile.
“But I couldn’t,” she said. “I couldn’t bring myself to do that. Because I wanted it too much. I insisted on keeping your ring, on making it real, simply because of that. I love you. I want to share my life with you. I want to wake up next to you every morning for the rest of my life. And I would be very happy to get to call you my wife.”
She ran her hands down Beca’s arms until she could take her hands.
“That’s what I want,” she said. “I want to go out there and do this. But only if you want to. For yourself. You doing it just for me is not all right. In that case I’d rather wait, or never do it at all.”
Beca’s vision grew blurry as Chloe talked, and she blinked frantically to clear the tears away.
“How can you love me?” she said. “I don’t deserve this.”
“Very easily,” Chloe said. “And we don’t get love because we deserve it. We just do, and all we can do is make the best out of it that we can.”
She let go of Beca’s hand, in order to have a free one to wipe a tear from Beca’s cheek.
“So what do you say, love?” she said. “Do you want to get married tonight? Your opinion only. I’ll still be here with you, still love you, no matter what you chose.”
Beca looked at Chloe. Her girlfriend. Her kind, wise, beautiful girlfriend. Who had dragged her out of loneliness and into a world were she had friends, a lover and got to be on national television as a winner. Who saw her, wanted to be with her. For a moment, she tried imagining what life would be like without her, and the thought scared her. She tried to imagine someone even better than Chloe, and her imagination failed her completely.
“I never want to be without you,” she whispered. “You make my whole life so much better. You make me so much better.”
“Is that a yes?” Chloe asked.
“I still don’t understand why you want to be with me,” she said. “But I accept that you do. Very, very happily.”
Chloe’s face broke out into one of those smiles that made Beca’s whole world brighter.
“Shall we go tell Amy and Stacie it’s on, then?” she said.
“Not quite yet,” Beca said.
“Oh?” Chloe said.
That was all she had time to get out before Beca put her arms around her, hugged her hard and kissed her as if the fate of the world depended on it. For a short delicious time, Beca’s world was full of Chloe. Her warmth, her smell, her taste, everything was Chloe. She ran her hands along Chloe’s back, feeling the solidity of her dancer’s muscles.
“There,” she said when the at long last broke apart again. “Now we can go tell them.”
“I feel ridiculous,” Beca said.
She was standing in the designated wardrobe tent, in front of a full-length mirror. She was wearing a double-breasted black dinner suit, complete with white shirt and a red bow tie. Her hair hung down her back in a single thick braid.
“What are you talking about?” Aubrey said. “You look great.”
Aubrey brushed a couple of invisible hairs off the shoulder of Beca’s jacket and stepped aside. Beca turned back and forth, trying to see herself from different angles. Aubrey was right. She did look great. That didn’t entirely help how she felt.
“But I still feel ridiculous,” Beca said. “Like a child playing dress-up.”
“Well, I suggested shoes with lifts,” Aubrey said, “but Stacie wouldn’t hear of it.”
Beca frowned at her.
“Very funny,” she said. “My height is not the problem.”
“No, your self-confidence is,” Aubrey said. “Clothes aren’t going to fix that.”
Beca turned back to the mirror, frown deepening. Aubrey was right, of course. She sighed.
“Look,” Aubrey said. “Do you trust Chloe’s taste?”
“Yes,” Beca said. “She has great taste.”
“And it was she who suggested that you go with a dinner suit rather than a dress,” Aubrey said.
“Oh, I’m going to wear it,” Beca said. “And you’re right, it does look pretty great.”
“Excellent,” Aubrey said. “Both your father and Jesse offered to walk you to the altar, by the way. I told them that that is an archaic tradition based on the concept of male ownership of women, and that you’d have none of it.”
Beca snorted. She wished she’d seen that.
“How did they react?” she said.
“Stunned and confused, mostly.”
Beca sighed at her mirror image.
“I’m as ready as I’m going to be, I think,” she said.
“Good,” Aubrey said. “Then we just have to wait until Chloe is. Which, with Stacie helping her, may be some time. Do you want me to get you something to eat or drink in the meantime?”
Beca shook her head.
“How come you’re with me rather than her, anyway?” she said. “You guys have been friends since like Kindergarten.”
“Not quite that long,” Aubrey said. “And that is the reason. When we try to help each other out with clothes or makeup or that sort of thing, we usually end up screaming at each other and not talking for a few days.”
Beca turned and looked at her.
“Chloe screaming?” she said. “Really?”
“It takes some doing, but she can get there. I’m sure you’ll learn that in time.”
“I’m sure I will,” Beca muttered to herself.
She looked at herself in the mirror again, and adjusted the fall of her jacket a little.
“You think she’s making a mistake, don’t you?” she said.
“In marrying you?” Aubrey said.
“No,” Aubrey said.
Beca looked at her, surprised.
“No?” she said.
Aubrey looked thoughtful. It wasn’t an expression Beca had seen a lot on her. Usually, she’d had a stiff smile or rigidly controlled anger.
“I’m not going to claim that I understand what she sees in you,” Aubrey said. “Because God knows I don’t.”
“Thanks,” Beca said.
That was more like the Aubrey she’d come to know, and in a strange way like.
“But she does see something,” Aubrey continued. “That much I know for sure. She changed too much after meeting you for it not to be serious and real.”
Beca kept silent, hoping Aubrey would continue.
“She was always beautiful,” Aubrey said. “Most popular girl in the class. Cheerleader. Homecoming Queen. The whole enchilada. Except unlike the stereotype, she was always very kind, to everybody. She liked everyone.”
Something wistful and bitter passed over Aubrey’s face.
“Even you,” Beca whispered.
“Even me,” she said. “The uptight clever little know-it-all everyone else hated.”
She drew a deep breath.
“She started dating early,” she said. “All the boys were after her, of course. She went on a lot of dates, yet somehow never got it held against her. And she could take care of herself. Some time, ask her about the time a guy tried not taking no for an answer, and she Tasered him and dragged him to the police station. It’s quite the story.”
“Tasered?” Beca said.
“She may be incredibly nice,” she said, “but she’s far from stupid. She knows how to protect herself. Anyway, she kept dating like that all through High School and the first couple of years at Barden. Until she met you. Then, bam, she just stopped. Turned down dates. Didn’t go to parties. When I got worried and asked why, she said she just didn’t feel like it.”
She looked at Beca.
“Then she started going to parties again,” she said. “At least some. It took a while before I noticed that she went to those, and only those, she managed to convince you to go. Not long after that, you two started hanging out more and more. Then you got epically drunk, and now we’re here.”
She tilted her head and looked at Beca.
“And maybe I can guess why she fell for you, after all,” she said. “You’re also extraordinary, even if in a very different and much more annoying way. Her opposite, in some ways. It may be that you complete her in a way no one else ever managed to do.”
“So no, I don’t think she’s making a mistake,” she said.
She fell silent. She looked quite a bit more tense than she had before she started talking, and she was looking into the empty distance.
“Aubrey?” Beca said.
Aubrey looked at her.
“I’m not taking her away from you,” Beca said.
“I admit I’m just guessing here,” Beca said. “But that’s what you’re worried about, isn’t it? That when she has me, she’ll leave you, and you’ll be alone.”
Aubrey looked away, lips tightly pressed together.
“She won’t,” Beca said. “But I suppose asking you to believe that is pretty much the same as asking me not to feel ridiculous in these clothes.”
The corner of Aubrey’s mouth tilted up in what might have been a trace of a smile.
“So how about this,” Beca said. “I don’t want to lose you.”
Aubrey’s head nearly snapped back so she could look at Beca.
“You?” she said. “Don’t want to lose me?”
“I’ve never been any good at making friends,” she said. “I don’t want to lose one of the few I’ve managed to get.”
“So we’re friends?” Aubrey said.
“Of course we are friends!” Beca said.
She couldn’t help smiling at Aubrey’s look of disbelief.
“You hadn’t noticed?” Beca said. “These past couple of months, since you asked me to be Creative Director, we haven’t argued even once. We’ve been awesome together. I could never have organized things as well as you have, or gotten the girls to practice as hard as they have. Truth is, I don’t think we would’ve won if it hadn’t been for both of us.”
Aubrey looked thoughtful for a few moments.
“No, I guess we wouldn’t,” she said. “And you’re right, we haven’t argued.”
“So, yeah, you’re a bitch,” Beca said. “But then so am I. And I think we’re both the kind of bitch that Chloe likes.”
This time Aubrey’s smile even reached her eyes.
“I don’t know what you plan to do after you graduate,” Beca said. “But if you move away from Atlanta, I’ll miss you, OK?”
Aubrey looked embarrassed, although she was still smiling.
“Thank you,” she said. “I’d miss you too. It wouldn’t be easy finding someone else at that level of annoying.”
“I’ll say,” Beca said, also smiling. “That takes talent and hard work.”
For a little while, they both stood there in comfortable silence.
“I think I’d better go talk to Stacie,” Aubrey finally said. “I know there’s some more planning we need to do, that can’t really be done without you and Chloe. What ritual to use, your vows, things like that.”
Vows. Beca hadn’t even thought about those. She probably should. She nodded.
“I’ll be here,” she said.
On her way out of the tent, Aubrey stopped.
“Oh, and Beca?” she said.
Beca looked quizzically at her.
“You really do look gorgeous in the suit,” Aubrey said.
Aubrey vanished out of sight before Beca could think of anything to say, so instead she just shook her head and smiled. She walked back to the mirror and looked at herself again, striking a few poses. Trying to look somber. Impressive. Aloof and cool.
None of them really worked. She sighed, mentally gave up, relaxed and just glared at her mirror image.
Vows. She should think about vows.
“So what do we want to promise Chloe?” she asked her mirror image.
The short answer was, of course, everything. Everything she could give. Everything she was, for whatever that was worth. She frowned at the mirror image, which promptly frowned back. Could she promise that? Was it too corny? Too freaky? Too vague? What did people usually promise anyway? She’d seen any number of weddings on TV and in crappy movies, but she couldn’t for the life of her remember what they usually said. Mostly, admittedly, because weddings tended to come toward the end of movies and she was normally asleep from boredom by then.
“Fat lot of help you are,” she said to her mirror image.
So what about other sources? They’d read about weddings in ancient Rome in one of her classes. They hadn’t had vows as such, but rather a phrase the bride used to signify her consent. Never the less, Beca had sort of liked it. When and where you are, there I am. Maybe she could just steal that. Although it had that whole implication of transferring ownership of the bride from her father to her husband.
She wondered what her own parents had promised each other. Knowing them and how little they cared about religion and tradition, she guessed they’d gone with the standard text for the ritual, whatever that had been. From what Chloe had said about her parents, they had probably made up both their own vows and their own ceremony. Maybe she should ask Stacie if she’d prepared vows for them, to go with the rest of the preparations.
From outside, she heard steps and voices approach.
“Come on,” she told the mirror image. “Come up with something. What do we want to promise her?”
The image stood there looking at her. Well-dressed. Neat hair. In a tent in Central Park, surrounded by friends and family, having just won a national competition by the widest margin in that competition’s history. None of which would have happened if her soon-to-be wife hadn’t insisted on butting into her life.
And suddenly she knew what she wanted to promise.
“That’s it,” she whispered to the mirror image. “Thanks.”
Beca looked around.
“So many people,” she whispered.
“Your family, my family, some for all the other Bellas, it adds up,” Chloe whispered back.
She was standing next to Beca, dressed in a long, figure-hugging white gown. It was pretty low-key for a bride, but at least to Beca Chloe looked absolutely gorgeous in it.
All the people were forming a large circle next to the tents. The circle itself was empty except for Beca, Chloe, the high priestess Margot and an altar. The latter was nothing but a folding table with an embroidered cloth on it, where Margot had placed a bunch of things. Most prominent was a chalice in the middle.
“They’re all looking at us,” Beca whispered.
“Yes,” Chloe whispered. “That’s to be expected, don’t you think?”
Chloe smiled at her.
“Nervous?” she whispered.
“Incredibly,” Beca whispered. “I’m afraid I may pull an Aubrey.”
Chloe nudged Beca in the side with her elbow.
“No, you won’t,” she whispered. “Don’t be silly.”
“I’ll drop the ring.”
“Then you’ll have to pick it up, won’t you?”
Beca’s fingers gravitated to the place where she’d quickly gotten used to having her engagement ring. Which was at the moment not there. Instead, it was hanging from a piece of string around Chloe’s neck. Chloe’s ring was in Beca’s pocket.
At the other side of the circle, the eight other members of the Barden Bellas stepped forward. Aubrey blew their pitch pipe, and in moments an a cappella rendition of Mendelssohn’s wedding march rang out over the assembled people.
“That’s our cue,” Chloe said.
She took Beca’s hand, and started walking toward the altar. Beca followed, trying her best to keep pace and not look as nervous as she felt. She was really doing this. Getting married. To Chloe. In Central Park, with the Manhattan skyline all around them. Surrounded by an astonishing number of friends and family.
The singing ended as the two of them reached the altar. The priestess smiled at them, which made Beca feel better. The old woman had an aura of safety and warmth that made it harder to be nervous around her. Even though they had only spoken a few sentences to each other earlier in the tent, Beca liked her.
“Beca, Chloe,” her voice rang out.
It was a voice clearly used to speaking outdoors, to crowds.
“Ladies, gentlemen,” she continued. “A quarter of a century ago, I stood in a circle quite like this one. I was about to do for Chloe’s parents, what I am now honored to be about to do for her. Having known Chloe and her family for all those years, I have no doubt that she has chosen her partner well, nor that their marriage will be as lasting and as happy as her parents’.”
Beca looked at the people around them. Her father, beaming happily at her. Sheila, who wasn’t really that bad after all. Her mom, standing next to Mrs Posen. Chloe’s mother and father. Who would in mere minutes be her parents-in-law. They looked happy, and they were holding hands. Beca couldn’t help wondering what she and Chloe would look like a couple of decades into the future. If it would be more like Chloe’s parents or like her own. She hoped for the former. No, she decided, it was* going to be* the former.
Margot cleared her throat. Beca’s attention snapped back to her. She suddenly realized that she’d totally missed a large part of her address. She smiled sheepishly at her.
“Beca Mitchell, will you take Chloe Beale to be your wife,” Margot said, “to love, honor and cherish her now and forevermore?”
“Dude, yes!” Beca said without thinking.
She shook her head.
“I mean, I do,” she said.
She heard Chloe stifle a giggle.
“Your turn,” Margot whispered.
Beca tried to recall the words she’d memorized. Her eyes met Chloe’s.
“I, Beca Mitchell, take you, Chloe Beale, to be my wife,” she said. “To have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish always.”
Without hesitation, Chloe took over.
“I, Chloe Beale, take you, Beca Mitchell, to be my wife,” she said. “To have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish always.”
“Chloe Beale,” Margot said. “Will you have Beca Mitchell to be your wife, to live together in creating an abiding marriage? Will you love and honor, comfort and cherish her in sickness and in health, in sorrow and in joy, from this day forward?”
“I will,” Chloe said.
She started untying the string holding the ring around her neck.
“As a token of mutual fidelity and affection,” Margot said, “the rings are now given and received.”
Chloe took Beca’s hand.
“With this ring I swear,” she said as she slid it down Beca’s finger, “that whatever may happen, whoever may come into our lives, you will always be first and foremost in my heart.”
She squeezed Beca’s hand hard for a moment before she let it go. Beca wanted so much to hold her and kiss her, but that had to wait a few moments more. She had one more thing to do. One more thing to say. She got the ring from her pocket, and took Chloe’s hand.
“With this ring I swear,” she said, “that for as long as I live, I will work as hard as I can to make your life as much better as you have already made mine, and more.”
“Oh, Beca,” she heard Chloe breathe.
“I hereby pronounce you wife and wife,” Margot said. “And I believe it is tradition at this point that you kiss.”
With an intense feeling of rightness in her heart, Beca embraced her wife and kissed her for all she was worth.