Chloe's stomach growls at her for the third time in ten minutes as she clambers up the stairs to her ratty apartment, and she winces when her neighbour shoots her a mildly startled look before slamming his door shut behind him. It's been protesting at the lack of food all the way home from work.
Chloe wrestles her own door open and wrenches off her sneakers, tossing her keys aside as she does so. Stumbling across the room, she collapses into her mattress with a moan of relief, pulling out the leftover ham croissant that she managed to salvage when she left work for the night. Chloe can't help the sigh of appreciation that slips out between her lips when she bites into it — it’s cold by now, and slightly soggy, but it's free food.
She can't exactly afford to turn down free food, can she?
Chloe’s job at Starbucks barely earns her enough money to get by, and she's grown used to skipping meals since she's arrived in New York City. It’s been five months since she arrived, a heavy backpack strapped to her back and just $300 to last her... well, indefinitely. Finding a job wasn’t hard; everywhere’s looking for barista’s these days, but finding an apartment? That was a different story.
The shitty apartment Chloe’s holed up in now was the only place she could afford with her tiny budget, and that was without furniture. Her salary barely pays the rent, let alone provides luxuries like heating and electricity.
But it’s fine. She’s used to it.
Chloe forces down the croissant, ignoring the unpleasant taste. She doesn’t even like ham. As a wave of nausea rolls over her, Chloe chucks the last few bites into the bin and curls up on the thin mattress. A small shiver runs down her spine as a gust of wind blows in through the window; it’s broken, and her asshole of a landlord won’t pay to fix it.
Sighing heavily, Chloe scrubs a hand over her face and fights back the sob that crawls up her throat. She shouldn’t complain. She has a roof over her head and she’s not dying. Chloe knows that people have it worse than her, a lot worse, but the last six months of her life have been such a whirlwind and they’re only just catching up with her.
Chloe casts her mind back to that day, the one that changed her life forever. It haunts her, day and night. Just the thought of it causes tears to prick at the corners of her eyes and roll down her cheeks. Chloe claps a hand over her mouth to muffle a sob, choking back tears.
She hasn’t cried since that day. She’s been doing so well. She hasn’t broken in six months, and now here she is, a blubbering mess.
“Chloe! Get down here now!” Chloe flinches as her father’s voice booms up the stairs, his tone harsh. She slams her laptop shut and scrambles off her bed, tugging her hair out of its messy bun as she does so. Her parents prefer her hair down, so she doesn’t dare to keep it up around them. “CHLOE ANNE BEALE!”
Chloe stumbles down the stairs, pulling her cardigan round her slim frame as her heart rate speeds up. It pounds painfully in her chest, threatening to break out of her rib cage. Dread twists deep in her gut as she wracks her brains; what did she do now?
She enters the kitchen to see her parents standing together, their expressions angry. Even though Chloe’s used to the icy glares and disgusted looks, it still scares her every time.
Why do her parents hate her so much? She’s a good student, one of the best, even. She helps out at the local nursery for free, she donates any spare money to the homeless and she has nice friends. She’s a perfect daughter, according to her parents’ friends. It seems only they think so.
Chloe hovers in the doorway, too afraid to step over the threshold. She smiles weakly as her father beckons her closer, his eyes glinting with anger and something akin to malice. Her mother’s expression is less threatening, because Chloe knows the anger is a facade to get her father off her back
Chloe doesn’t blame her. How can she?
“We have something to talk to you about,” her father starts, stepping forward menacingly. Chloe takes a step back on instinct, but the raising of the man’s eyebrows makes her regret the movement instantly. “Get here.” He grabs Chloe’s wrist tightly and yanks her forward, the skin twisting and pinching in his grasp.
Her mother watches silently, avoiding Chloe’s scared gaze. “W-What did I do?” Chloe sobs, trying to rip her wrist from her father’s grip. There will be a bruise tomorrow, not that he cares.
“A little birdie told me you were gay.” He spits the final word with disgust, pure hatred raging in his eyes. Chloe’s body goes rigid as panic consumes her, suffocating her, pulling her under. Her blood roars in her ears as tears spill from her eyes and her shoulders shake.
“P-Please dad, I-I’m not. I’m not g-gay I swear,” Chloe protests, desperately trying to tug her arm free. Her foot shoots out and slams into her father’s calf, the impact causing him to yelp with pain.
“You’re lying! You’re a filthy little dyke.” The man lunges forwards and wraps his fingers around Chloe’s throat, forcing her against the wall. “You’re disgusting,” he hisses, tightening his hold.
Chloe brings a hand up to her throat, her slender fingers curling round her father’s thick ones. “Please, dad,” she begs, tears dripping down her neck and soaking into the fabric of her shirt
“SHUT UP.” The man squeezes Chloe’s throat tightly as he raises his other hand into the air and brings it down upon his daughter’s face. Chloe cries out as her cheek stings sharply, the skin already turning red. Her father releases his grip on her throat and slaps her so forcefully it she stumbles sideways.
The next slap sends Chloe tumbling to the ground, clutching her burning cheek fearfully. Her father towers over her, a menacing grin spreading across his lips. “Get out. I never want to see you again.”
Chloe doesn’t hesitate as she scrambles to her feet and sprints up the stairs, ignoring the pained look of regret her mother shoots her. The redhead has nowhere to go, but she’d rather be anywhere else than living with her father. Anything is better than the life she’s currently living.
Her father leaves the house as Chloe’s packing, presumably to go to the pub for a few drinks with his friends. He goes every night, comes back blind drunk every night, uses her and her mother as his punching bags every night. It’s routine now.
Chloe worries about her mother. If she’s gone, it means the older redhead will be the only one left, the only one there to ensure her father’s wrath. The poor woman is too fragile to stand up to him, but Chloe’s doesn’t blame her.
Twenty minutes later, she’s ready to leave. She straps her bag to her back and trudges down the stairs, her stomach flipping. She’s finally going to be free, free of her father’s constant abuse. It’s certainly a welcome feeling.
Chloe unlocks the front door and yanks it open, a gentle breeze washing over her as she sticks her face outside. She can almost taste the freedom. Heart in her throat, the redhead steps out of the house, grinning to herself as she—
Wincing, Chloe turns round to face her mother. She was planning to leave without saying goodbye; somehow she’d convinced herself it would be easier for the both of them if words were left unspoken. There was too much to say and too little time.
“Mom,” the redhead whispers gently, reluctantly walking back into the house. She leaves the front door open, a reminder of what’s waiting for her. Now that she’s allowed to leave — well, she’s being forced to — her body is itching to just escape from the hell-hole she’s been trapped in for her whole life.
“You were going to leave without saying goodbye.” It’s more of a statement than a question, but Chloe can hear the underlying hurt and confusion in her mother’s tone.
“Yeah. I just—There’s not much to say, is there? You never really loved me anyway.” Chloe shrugs and presses her nails into the palm of her hand to create a line of tiny crescents. She knows her mother doesn’t love her, and though it used to hurt, she’s made peace with it over the years. She can deal with it now.
“I’m sorry, Chloe. You’re a great girl.” The woman smiles sadly, her eyes pained and haunted. Chloe just shakes her head, tears slipping down her cheeks. She’s always known it, but hearing it now, spoken from her mother’s mouth, hurts more than she’d anticipated.
“I get it.”
And with that, Chloe turns and leaves. There’s no hug, no sad goodbye, no hurried kisses to her forehead, no grabbing her hand at the last minute. Her mother just stands in the doorway silently and watches her daughter walk away, out of her life.
Chloe still has nightmares most nights. She wakes up, tangled in her blanket, her soaked in a cold sweat. Her father’s menacing glare and forceful hits haunt her, weighing down on her shoulders every time she lies down. She’s been free for six months. Chloe knows no one can find her, yet she still worries the man will turn up at her door and drag her home with him.
Pained sobs escape her lips, echoing round the tiny room, bouncing off the thin walls. Squeezing her eyes tightly shut, Chloe curls into herself and pulls her blanket up to her chest, willing sleep to pull her away.
Luck seems to be on Chloe’s side, because minutes later, she feels her eyelids grow heavy. It’s probably more exhaustion than luck, but the redhead isn’t really sure she cares. All she wants to do is sleep.
Beca jolts awake from her nap as her phone starts to ring, the annoying ringtone echoing through her apartment, loud and clear. She yawns as she fumbles around blindly for the device, rubbing her eyes with her spare hand. She scoops her phone up from the floor and presses the green button, not bothering to check the caller ID.
“Yeah?” Beca mumbles, slapping a hand over her mouth to muffle another yawn. She leans back on the couch, arranging her blanket around her so she retains as much heat as possible. It’s getting cold, colder than usual for October. Even with top-notch heating, Beca’s apartment is still a bit chilly.
“Beca Mitchell, were you just asleep?” Stacie’s chirpy tone filters through the speaker, and Beca knows she’s getting ready to go out. It’s a Friday night, of course she is. The brunette is still as much of a party animal as she was when they were in college together, minus the sleeping around, of course. Beca's glad that Stacie finally matured and got herself a long-term girlfriend instead of having sex every night.
They'd always joked that Beca would be the one to get a girlfriend and Stacie would be the one that lived off one night stands, but here they are, their roles reversed. Beca's nowhere near as bad as Stacie used to be — she has the odd one night stand every few weeks or so, just to keep herself satisfied.
Beca tends to just drive to the nearest club, knock back one too many shots and seduce a woman (or two). They never go back to her apartment. Sex is often sloppy and rushed, both focusing more on function than foreplay. Beca always leaves immediately afterwards, desperate to get home and wash the smell of sex off her body; she always regrets her one night stands, but continues to have them anyway.
It's a routine though, and Beca likes routine. It's not exactly a routine she's proud of though.
Beca yawns again and groans softly. “Yeah, I was until you woke me up.”
“I can’t believe you! Aren’t you working tonight?” Beca mumbles a negative and pulls her blanket closer to her chest. She curls her toes into the couch and snuggles further into the corner of it, a wave of exhaustion washing over her. “Why don’t you come out with Aubrey and I? We’re going to a club.” Beca really doesn’t know why Stacie asks, because she knows what the answer will be. It’s the same as it always is. She supposes it's sweet of her friend to ask, but she's not due another one night stand till next week, so asking now really is futile.
Beca doesn't like going out to clubs, which is slightly ironic since she spends a lot of her time working at one. It's not that she hates clubs, as such, it's more that she hates going alone without a motive. If she's going purely to get drunk and have sex, it's fine, because she doesn't have to waste time. But when she goes with Stacie and her girlfriend Aubrey, it's just awkward. Beca just ends up standing alone in a corner with a beer, sending hopeful men and women away with a sharp glare.
Beca doesn’t blame Stacie for this, not at all. She has Aubrey and that’s brilliant. They’re a gorgeous couple, and Beca doesn’t know two nicer people. It just sucks that they have each other, and she has no one.
“Stacie, you know my answer.”
“But Becs, you never get out. You work most evenings, I appreciate that, but you never give yourself a chance to find anyone.” Stacie huffs through the phone, the sound followed by muffled words and a series of crashes. Beca can only guess at what stunt Stacie's attempting this time; despite her extremely good looks, she's significantly lacking in coordination. Stacie on the phone paired with trying to get ready is a recipe for disaster.
“Don’t think I’ll find anyone while drunk off my ass at a club, but sure, whatever you say,” Beca says wryly. “Look, I’ll come out next time, okay? I promise. I’m just tired tonight and I’ve already ordered takeaway.” It’s true, she does have a medium margarita pizza on the way. Beca doesn't admit that it was hurriedly ordered fifteen minutes ago in anticipation of Stacie’s call.
“I’ll hold you to that.” There’s more rustling on Stacie’s end of the line followed by another loud crash and a litany of mumbled curses. Beca smirks as Aubrey's voice floats through her speakers, scolding Stacie for attempting to straighten her hair while holding her phone. It's certainly a very Stacie thing to do. Beca knows Aubrey will want to speak to her, so she waits patiently for the couple to sort themselves out and mentally prepares herself for an argument with the blonde woman on the other end of the line.
Soon enough, Aubrey's voice comes crackling through Beca's phone, her tone firm and direct. It's very Aubrey. The blonde hasn't changed since Beca met her five years ago, even when she started dating Stacie. Sure, she's softened around the edges a lot, but she's still as no-nonsense and nearly as uptight as she used to be. Stacie's working on it though. “Beca Mitchell, you need to take a break from work. You work six nights a week, and spend most days at the studio. Please just take a break.”
Beca groans at the sudden attack, even though she'd anticipated it. It seemed that every conversation she had with Aubrey these days included some kind of comment about her work habits. The brunette loves Aubrey, she really does, but she's so tired of the blonde constantly going on about taking a goddamn break. “Wow, no ‘hi Beca, how are you this evening?’ then? I’m offended." Beca gasps, feigning hurt in an attempt to lighten the tone.
“Beca, can’t you take things seriously for once? Take a break," Aubrey snaps, clearly in no mood for jokes. Beca scrubs a hand over her face and squeezes her eyes tightly shut for a few seconds, willing herself to just wake up out of this nightmare conversation. (Okay, that's a slight exaggeration, but Beca really is tired of these talks now. They're all the same.)
“Bree, you know it’s harder than that. My apartment is too big, too empty. There’s no point me being an internationally renowned DJ if I have no one to share my life and wealth with. It’s pointless. Working is my way of distracting myself, you know that." Beca's pretty sure she says exactly the same thing every single time, and she's still waiting for it to sink in. Aubrey used to be a workaholic too, before she met Stacie, so Beca knows she's familiar with the struggle.
Aubrey sighs heavily and clears her throat, preparing herself for another protest. “Beca, I get that, I really do, but you need to—”
Beca lets out a strangled sound of annoyance at the repeated words. “I’m tired. Have a nice evening with Stacie.” She hangs up abruptly and tosses her phone next to her on the couch. Letting her eyelids flutter shut, she reaches out to grab the television remote. Finally, some peace.
It's too quiet and she's lonely, but it's better than standing awkwardly in the corner of a club as men try to subtly slip drugs into her drink. Beca almost wishes she was working, a crowd cheering her on as she played her most popular mixes. Mixing at clubs is one of the only times she actually feels loved, like she's finally doing something right after years of being told by her father that she'd never make it in the music industry. She's happy when she mixes; she feels like she's proving everyone who ever doubted her wrong.
Beca sighs softly as the doorbell rings, the obnoxious noise filling her empty apartment. Time to enjoy a quiet night in.