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If You Don't Expect Too Much From Me (You Might Not Be Let Down)

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Chapter One

 

When she stops to think about it, she thinks she must have been doomed from the start. (Well, maybe not the very start, but shortly thereafter for sure.)

Doomed to a path she didn't want to follow. Compelled to play a part she wasn't really fit for. But still, she could never really bring herself to regret the choices she made. The steps her feet had taken for her.

No, she didn't have regrets. Not exactly. She'd just given her first performance as a signed artist, and she was soaring. Her heart was full.

That's probably why it feels so much like a rapidly deflating balloon when Chloe walks right by her afterwards. Pays her no mind before latching onto Chicago. She watches him dip her before continuing their kiss. She can see the "romantic cliché" checkbox floating in her mind's eye, and then the big red check suddenly fill it up as he holds her there for what feels like entirely too long. The whole thing makes her confidence over “no regrets” stutter and stumble.

And not for the first time, or even the tenth, or hundredth, she wonders what those lips would feel like on hers.

So it was without surprise that she found herself grateful for the distraction. Happy to listen to Theo talking, even if it takes her an extra second to rip her eyes away from Chloe. Once she does that, it is easy to walk away. Easy to leave her love behind.

She has no reason to think Chloe could see her pain. She never has, after all. But as Beca walks away with Theo towards her future, she can’t help but think of the pieces of her heartbreak scattered as a trail behind her. Can’t help but hope that Chloe will see the breadcrumbs, and follow in her wake.

The rest of the night takes too long. There are too many people and too many of those people are strangers. Her head is starting to hurt from all the congratulatory cocktails, and she really, really wouldn't mind getting out of her heels.

She keeps chastising herself for all the inward complaining. She is happy. And she is grateful for this amazing opportunity. She can't imagine all the possibilities of where this new life might take her, but she's pretty sure they're good ones.

Still. She's tired. The adrenaline from the show is leaking out of her veins at an alarming rate. Throw in the effort of trying not to think of Chloe and her current whereabouts, and Beca is every kind of drained.

It’s after 2am when she finally arrives back in the quiet safety of her hotel room. She really wants to just crash in her bed and pass out until someone forces her awake again, but she knows she’ll regret not showering if she wakes up still weighed down with hair spray and her skin smelling like French cigarettes.

She gets out a pair of clean clothes to sleep in, a makeup remover wipe from her toiletries bag, and starts her pre-shower routine. The mindlessness of the act frees up her brain. Lets her think back to the beginning of this entire journey. She doesn’t think she’d ever have become a singer if it weren’t for joining an a capella group in college first.

If someone were to ask any of the other Bellas how Beca had been introduced to the idea of collegiate a capella, they’d probably tell you it was at an activities fair. They’d give you a funny anecdote about how Beca sort of insulted the entire idea, and how Aubrey sort of called her a bitch for it.

If that same person asked Chloe, well, the story would probably be different. It would probably involve a little David Guetta, a little shower stall, and a whole lot of nudity. Beca tries to shake away the thought and moves into the bathroom.

She turns the water on and doesn’t get in until the steam starts pouring out. As she washes the night off of her, she hears songs in her head. She doesn’t sing them. Beca Mitchell hasn’t wanted to sing in the shower in a long, long time.

///

Fall 2011

She’s pretty unimpressed with college so far. Her classes are boring. Her roommate sucks. She doesn’t have any friends. Okay, maybe that last one is a little on her seeing as she hasn’t exactly tried to make any. The closest thing she’s got is Jesse, who doesn’t seem to understand her rebuffs at all. She wants to be annoyed with him when they’re together at the radio station, but something about his careless optimism is (dare she say it?) charming.

She’s been thinking a lot about what her father said the day he caught her ditching. This is college! Enjoy it! She can’t help but secretly want to take his advice. Yes, she wants to move to L.A. to get a foot in the door of the musical world. But she knows it will be there waiting for her no matter when she actually leaves in pursuit of it. College, and all the perks of being in it (no bills and three meals a day that she doesn’t even have to cook for herself), perhaps doesn’t have to be so bad. Maybe she’s wishing away something pretty good. Something that won’t always be there waiting for her.

Perhaps the idea of joining a campus club could use some more introspection. She wishes she’d paid more attention to the options at the activities fair. She’s thinking through the clubs she remembers as she enters the communal bathroom to take a shower. She’s humming to herself a little but doesn’t hear any other showers running, so her hum quickly turns into actual singing. After all, who doesn’t love singing in the shower?

She’s been in there for all of sixty seconds before she realizes she is no longer alone. Her first thought in response to the intrusion is Holy shit, I’m naked! This thought is very swiftly followed by Holy shit, SHE’S naked! Beca feels completely overwhelmed and stumbles through the motions of trying to cover herself. Her eyes keep landing on the girl in front of her, try as she might to avert them.

She doesn’t think there’s any way of getting out of this situation not permanently scarred, so when the girl from the activities fair (she recognizes her now) asks her to sing her lady jam, Beca really doesn’t have any other thought besides Might as well…

And then they’re singing together. And Beca sort of forgets about covering herself up. And they’ve got some pretty intense eye contact going on, but Beca thinks the girl’s eyes are probably the safest place to look. They finish perfectly in sync, and Beca can’t help the smile tugging at her lips. She also can’t help that her eyes finally fall. She internally berates herself for being so obvious about it.

The redhead doesn’t seem to mind. She’s apparently pretty confident about all this. Beca’s lips don’t stop her response. And it is momentarily not awkward at all. Sharing this very small space with this very naked girl. It isn’t lost on Beca that she isn’t nearly as appalled by the situation as she was two minutes ago.

It’s weird how quickly people can bond over a little nude singing.

The non-awkwardness evaporates quickly once a third person enters the mix, but fortunately they both quickly leave her be after that.

And by the time Beca is walking back to her dorm room, she is sporting a small smile she doesn’t quite have an explanation for.

///

It’s a few days later and she's waiting in the shadows backstage. She keeps telling herself she's only here to get her dad off her back. She’d watched the last few people audition, singing that catchy Kelly Clarkson song. She has to admit to herself that it was interesting, how each person approached singing the song differently.

She feels a little out of her element. Okay, a lot out of her element. She doesn't like the idea of going out there purely for the purpose of letting the audience judge her skill. She doesn't like the idea of singing that song, even though she knows the words, because she hasn't practiced. She doesn't like the idea that simply by being here she's asking for acceptance.

She watches the various people dotted among the seats in the auditorium. The judges of the a capella hopefuls. There's a group of boys in the back that Beca can only describe as nerdy dude bros. She's pretty sure she recognizes some of them from being pointed out at the activities fair. They all mostly appear bored during the auditions. They don't look up at the singers. Rather, they talk amongst themselves, as if giving their attention elsewhere isn't a high priority.

She recognizes members of the other a capella groups also. Identifiable by their brightly colored polos with popped collars, and their vacant expressions respectively. Beca suppresses a smirk at the fact that they're perpetuating their own stereotypes so well.

In the very front row though, sits Aubrey and Chloe. Beca finally discovered the redhead's name when she introduced herself to one of the girls auditioning. She finds it weird that she knew the girl's body before she knew her name, but by this point she's just accepted that they're doing things out of order.

It's while she's having that thought that the end of auditions is announced. And Beca is regretful because she hasn't had enough time to decide if she really wants to do this or not. In a moment of near panic, she steps into Chloe's line of sight. She still isn't sure if she wants to be seen or not but then Chloe's eyes land on her and she's walking forward onto the stage.

She hears herself say something about the song choice and feels relief when Chloe lets her out of singing it. Gives her the freedom to sing what she likes.

And Beca's not sure what's going through her head except she feels like she wants to impress this girl. She wants her to like what she hears.

She goes for simple. She sits, takes the cup, and patently ignores the doubtful look Aubrey is giving her. Her eyes instead lock onto Chloe's and then she's singing and they're doing the eye contact thing again. 

She claps the cup back down for the last time and Chloe gives her the same radiant smile she gave her in the shower. And why can't Beca seem to stop thinking about this girl in the shower?

She forces herself to stop that train of thought, and then she's standing and letting her feet carry her away once more. She's wondering when the next time she'll see Chloe will be and she’s thinking maybe it won’t be the end of the world to have two friends instead of one.

///

It’s weird, how similar joining an a capella group is to joining a sorority. It’s been two days since she auditioned, and she hasn’t heard a peep about anyone being asked to join any team. Jesse says during their time at the radio station that if a group wants you, they kidnap you first. No better way to indoctrinate you to their “culty ways.” She thinks he’s kidding though. Even if he did say it with a completely straight face.

She’s already taken several steps into her dorm room after the last class of the day before she sees them. Two small envelopes are on the floor right in front of the entry, which she realizes after a few seconds is probably because they were pushed under the door while she was away.

She picks them up and stares at the one on top. Her name is written across the middle in slanted writing, just legible enough not to be called sloppy. She opens it to find an off white card inside with more of the same handwriting scribbled across it. She reads it quickly with a mildly shocked expression.

Beca Mitchell,

Thank you for coming to the a capella auditions. This is an invitation for you to join Barden University’s High Notes team. If interested, please meet us at 9pm on Friday night behind the music building on campus. If not, then please at least be kind to the earth and recycle this invitation.

May peace follow you wherever you go,
The High Notes

Beca blinks at it a few times. She didn’t even realize the other teams were still listening as she was singing that day. She shakes her head as she places the bid on her desk, more than certain she has no interest in joining the team literally named after their affinity for smoking the green. She turns back to the other, slightly thicker envelope yet to be opened.

The name Beca is written much more elegantly than she could ever manage herself. Upon opening it she sees a fancy looking emblem in the middle, dominating most of the space. It almost looks like a family crest, and the letters BB are written in loopy script in the middle. At the top she reads the following:

Dear Beca,

It is with great pleasure that we invite you to join the Barden Bellas. For decades, our strong sisterhood has been a part of Barden’s extracurricular life. In an effort to respect the sisters who came before us, we expect loyalty and dedication from all those who join our number. If you think the Bellas are a good fit for you, please join us for an initiation and hood night this Friday night.

Beneath the Bellas symbol was the information for where to go and what time to be there for initiation night. And beneath that:

Hoping to see you soon,
Aubrey and Chloe

Beca smiles at their handwritten signatures. She is happier than she thought she’d be over receiving a bid from them. Not that she’d ever admit to it.

///

It wasn’t a kidnapping. She got herself into this entirely of her own volition. Still, she wonders what exactly she agreed to join when the first thing Aubrey and Chloe do upon her arrival is put a dark hood over her head. She doesn’t freak out over any of the overly dramatic, ritualistic pledging process all night (though she came close with the whole “drinking the blood of your sisters” thing). By the time she’s gotten her scarf and officially proclaimed a Bella, she finds she’s actually enjoying herself. These girls seem crazy but she supposes it’s the good kind of crazy. The kind that inspires a lot of laughter and makes for good memories.

To celebrate the new initiates, all the campus groups meet in the outdoor amphitheater to sing and party together. Beca thinks it might be the nerdiest gathering of her life, but it isn’t all together unenjoyable.

She’s standing alone and just people watching when suddenly Chloe is completely invading her personal space. What’s with this girl and boundaries? She has Beca’s wrists in a death grip and pulls them so hard Beca can’t do anything but lurch forward. Her face is inches from Chloe’s and God, she smells good, and isn’t that a weird thought to have? Somehow she manages to get through their interaction without stumbling over her words, though she chastises herself when she unnecessarily brings up their naked shower encounter just because Chloe says they’re going to be fast friends. She lets Chloe go shortly after, not wanting to embarrass herself any further.

Before she can decide what to do next, Jesse finds her. He’s awkwardly climbing over the stone benches instead of just using the steps like a regular person and she can’t help but smile at him. She begrudgingly admits to herself that his company is starting to grow on her. She sees Aubrey narrow her eyes at them from across the space but she shakes it off. She knows this won’t be the first time she pisses off Aubrey Posen.

So yeah, maybe she did take an oath not to bang any Trebles. She honestly didn’t see much likelihood in that possibility anyway, so what did it hurt? The oath didn’t say anything about not being friends with them. Where could the harm be in that? After all, Jesse did seem pretty harmless. She takes in his careless smile, thinking a tentative friendship with him might not be the end of the world. After all, he’s the only one seeking out her company right now.

She looks around at the rest of the new Bellas while she stands with him. Fat Amy is chatting with Aubrey, and Beca can only think the words “hard pass” before letting her gaze move on. The rest were grouped in twos and threes, laughing and dancing and drinking. Oh, and her fast friend? She’s busy making out with her shower buddy. Not that that bothers Beca at all.

///

Present Day

Beca is yanked back into the present once the water of her shower starts to run cold. She's almost grateful for the goose bumps spreading across her skin. Spending too much time thinking of her memories with Chloe typically leads to even more brooding than usual. 

She dries off, slips into her mismatched pajamas, and gets into bed. She double checks the alarm on her phone before finally, finally giving in to her exhaustion. She hopes she sleeps well because she's got a long day of sightseeing with the girls tomorrow now that the tour is over.

The next morning comes far too quickly. It's 8am in Nice and despite her vehement protest that it was too early to do anything, the rest of the group has decided they need to leave soon to start exploring. Beca's blood doesn't have nearly enough caffeine in it yet and her eyes don't seem to be able to open all the way. She's wearing over-sized sunglasses indoors and she doesn't care one bit that it makes her look like a giant douche. Most of the other Bellas don't look much better, but they’re at least excited about the free time the day offers. The one exception to the bunch, of fucking course, is Chloe, who always looks like she eats sunshine for breakfast. And Beca can't believe that's a thought she actually just had, so she takes another sip of her coffee, hoping this time it won't scald her tongue.

They’re all corralled in the hotel lobby, waiting for the cars that will escort them about the city. Despite the “Don’t talk to me yet” vibe she’s projecting in spades, Chloe still sits down next to her at the little spindly table she’s sipping her coffee at. The redhead has always somehow been immune to Beca’s more surly moods.

"So, you're like a big shot music star now," she says, her eyes twinkling.

"I don't think one song makes me a star yet, Chloe." She can't help the small smile that pulls at her lips though as she says it. It’s like Chloe makes her forget she has a no smiling before coffee rule.

"You will be. What's next now with Khaled?"

"We have a few conference calls already set up in the next few weeks. I think their plan is to have me collaborate with a few other artists before giving me anything on my own. I'm not sure though," she ends thoughtfully, wondering for the hundredth time where her life will take her now.

"Good. I don't think I could handle it if you up and decided to move out as soon as we get home."

She doesn't respond. Doesn't tell Chloe that that's exactly what she's been thinking about since the night before. Doesn't tell her the thought of going home and going back to sleeping next to her every night kills her just a little bit. But if Chloe senses anything weird in her lack of response, she doesn't comment on it.

She changes the subject. And the words come out of her mouth before her brain can stop her.

"So, you and Chicago?"

She cringes. And she hates herself for asking because she's told herself about a thousand times she doesn't want to know. Except maybe she's a masochist because she kind of does want to know. If for no other reason than to continue wallowing in her unreturned feelings.

Chloe smiles. And it isn't her sunshine smile. It's her mischievous smile. The one she uses when she's done something decidedly not innocent.

"Yeah," she says casually. "I just figured why not you know? He seems really nice and we'd been sort of flirting the whole tour. And I dunno, after the show I was just feeling so good. We didn't die on that yacht and that stupid Evermoist band didn't win the competition. And you, God, you were so good on that stage. I was just so happy."

Beca hates herself for contributing to Chloe's overt boldness the previous night.

"Yeah, I... I saw you kiss him."

She doesn't look at Chloe when she says it. Can't.

"Man was he good at that, too. And that's not all he's good at if you catch my drift."

She sends a wink across the space between them and Beca is praying to anyone listening that her facial expression is appropriate for that revelation.

"I'm... glad you had a good last night."

Except she's not glad at all. And by this point she's lost count of how many lies she's told Chloe Beale.

When Aubrey comes over to announce the arrival of the driver for the day, Beca can’t walk away fast enough.