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a tale of two truths

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Beca pulled through the L.A.X. traffic she’d been sitting in for forty minutes straight, finally reaching the terminal Chloe was supposed to have landed at. Chloe texted her ten minutes ago saying she’d just arrived at baggage claim, so she should be out any second now.

Suddenly, a red flash of hair caught Beca’s eye. Chloe was walking down the strip with her suitcase, looking for Beca’s car. Grinning ear to ear, Beca honked twice, laughing as the redhead jumped and saw her. She threw the car in park and jumped out just in time for them to throw their arms around each other.

“My famous little star,” Chloe said, squeezing her tight.

“False,” Beca said. “I’m not famous.”

“You were on The Late Late Show with James Corden. Just admit you’ve passed the threshold of fame and quit downplaying your success.”

“Whatever.” She pulled back and took Chloe’s suitcase, throwing it in her trunk and walking back around to the driver’s seat. They took off and ignored the taxi drivers honking at her. “Well, you’re finally here, Chlo. What do you want to do first?”

Chloe leaned in close, her face an inch from Beca’s. “Oh, I think you know,” she whispered in a sultry voice. Beca swallowed and did her best to keep her eyes on the road.

Flash forward two hours, they were sitting in a pillow fort in their sweatpants, wine drunk and laughing over their usual nonsense. A movie was playing in the background, but they hadn’t paid attention to it for who knows how long.

“Ugh. I’ve missed you.” Chloe reached for her friend, climbing on top of her and squeezing her tight. The laughter slowly died down, giving way to a loaded silence. “New York’s not the same without you, you know.”

Beca laid there, her chest suddenly growing tighter. The feeling of the moment shifted entirely, the room taking on a more serious atmosphere. “You know I miss it too, Chlo.”

She didn’t say the next part out loud. But my career is here now. And your vet school is there.

The hardest part about moving to L.A. had been leaving her behind. Beca loved all of her friends so much, but Chloe was like her other half. All the facetime and texting in the world couldn’t replace this.

Beca felt something wet drop onto her collarbone. “Hey,” she said softly, pulling Chloe back so she could look at her. Tears were welling up in the redhead’s eyes. It nearly broke Beca in half to see her sad attempt at a smile to cover up how heartsick she really was. “We’re together right now. We have a whole week.”

Chloe nodded and let out a shaky breath. “I know. I just miss when every week was like this. When hanging out and seeing each other didn’t have to be some special event. I was still your person and we saw each other every day and it was just so normal for us to always be together.”

Beca pushed a stray strand of hair back from Chloe’s face. “I’m sad about it, too. You’re still my person, though.”

Chloe dropped her eyes from Beca’s finally, wiping at them with the sleeve of the Barden University sweatshirt she borrowed from Beca. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get all weepy on you.”

“Don’t apologize. Ever.” She sat them both up. “Come on, I know what we need.”

Beca kicked away the couch cushion that was the door to the fort and climbed out, waiting for Chloe next.

Chloe wiped at her face and followed her into the kitchen. “What is it?” Beca started opening cabinets and pulling random things out, loading them into Chloe’s arms one by one. The pile was overflowing her arms. “Beca, what are you doing?”

Beca pulled flour out of the cupboard and put it on top of the pile. “We’re baking a chocolate cake like we used to do at the apartment. I was saving this for another day, but I think we need it tonight.”

Chloe smiled a real smile this time and let the mountain of ingredients fall into the island countertop.

“Beca Mitchell, I fucking love you.”

***

The week had gone by faster than either one of them had liked. Chloe only had one week off from vet school for spring break, and Beca had been lucky to get a week off in the first place with her new album in the works.

For the most part, they’d achieved everything Beca had wanted. Beach days, brunches on a sunny patio, rewatching their favorite movies. They’d even performed a watered-down version of one of their old Bellas routines in their pajamas and posted it to Beca’s Instagram. Within two days, it had 250,000 views. Beca’s name was more household than she realized.

On Saturday they were laying on the couch, Chloe’s head in Beca’s lap. Her flight was tomorrow, and they were both trying not to let it get to them.

“It’s our last night before I go home. I don’t want to just sit around the house. Come on, let’s do something fun.”

Beca rolled her eyes. “Fine, what fun thing would you like to do?”

“Do your hair and makeup, we’re going out. And wear shoes you can dance in.”

They found themselves walking down a strip of bars and clubs that were mostly populated by locals, away from all the touristy dance clubs. The neon lights illuminated the street making it unrecognizable from itself during the day. The sidewalks were crowded full of people laughing and waiting to get into clubs.

They passed by a bar with a red neon sign advertising West Coast Swing Night.

“I’ve seen this! Oh my god, yes.” Chloe grabbed Beca by the hand and pulled her in. “Beca, we have to do this.”

They squeezed through the masses of people to see an empty dance floor with two people in the center, dancing almost professionally to a Beyonce song everyone crowded around and cheering them on.

“What the fuck is West Coast Swing?”

“It’s a way of dancing. You and your partner don’t know the song beforehand or have any choreography, you just improv together by playing off one another. It’s really cool. I’m going to go write our names down so we can do it.”

“Chlo, I thought I signed up for run-of-the-mill bar hopping, not swing dancing. Seriously, what is this, the 20s?”

Chloe planted a kiss on her cheek. “Technically yes, Beca. It’s 2020, therefore your statement is correct in that this is the 20s and you’re dancing with me. Don’t argue.”

She shut her mouth and obeyed, not protesting, but making sure her face told Chloe just how not into this she was. Even though she secretly loved it when Chloe told her what to do. She shook her head and looked back at the couple dancing while Chloe signed them up, wondering how to hell she was going to manage that.

For about twenty minutes they watched everyone else, and Beca was only growing more nervous. All the improv in the world with the Bellas or even her budding music career could not have prepared her for this. These people were actually dancing, like with a lead and turns and actual steps. Beca improvised singing, not dancing. She needed choreographed routines.

Their names got called by the DJ and Chloe dragged her out to the middle of the dance floor. Beca’s face turned hot at all the people watching her. Now that people tended to recognize her, she really didn’t want to make a fool out of herself and end up viral for the wrong reasons.

Sexual Vibe by Stephen Puth came over the speakers. Chloe beamed and extended her hand to Beca.

“Dude, you’ve got to be kidding me,” Beca said.

“So not kidding. Come here.” Chloe moved toward her, whispering in her ear, “Just keep your feet moving and follow my lead.”

She did as Chloe said and kept her hips in constant movement, trying not to think too much about how many people were watching her. They were so close they were barely out of each other’s way. Beca brushed past her every time she moved. She did as Chloe said and just kept her feet and her hips moving, trying to imitate what she said from other dancers beforehand.

Chloe wasn’t going easy on her by any means—she was spinning Beca, twirling her around and bringing her back in. Chloe’s hips were swinging and swaying so gentle, it made it hard to focus on the dance but so easy to match the rhythm.

She made it so natural. All Beca had to do was listen to Chloe’s body and look into her eyes and it was like she knew where to go and what to do. Her ocean eyes were so bright, so locked on Beca’s. Their bodies never left each other, Chloe always keeping at least one hand connected even through the turns.

In the last frame of the song, Chloe stepped back and spun Beca into her so they were nose to nose for the final note. The entire club erupted, and they burst into laughter, their foreheads pressed together.

“I can’t believe you just made me do that.”

“You loved it.” Taking her hand, Chloe led Beca off the dance floor and to the bar. “I think we’ve earned a drink.”

“We’ve earned more than one.” Beca passed her card to the bartender and said, “Two gin and tonics.”

Chloe threw her arm around Beca’s shoulder. “You remember my drink.”

Beca’s cheeks flushed. “Like I could ever forget.”

They got their drinks and walked back to the crowd, watching the next couple take the dance floor to hot girl bummer by blackbear. Beca had to admit this was pretty cool, dancing swing to modern music. It made her begrudgingly wonder how she’d never heard of this before.

When they got home at three in the morning, buzzed and floating on good vibes, Beca pulled out her laptop. “I’m not technically supposed to do this, but let me show you some songs I’m working on for the new album.”

By letting Chloe listen, it made her the only person outside of Beca’s team to hear them. She smirked at her as she put the headphones over Chloe’s ears. The music flowed through the headphones and she lit up like a Christmas tree. It made her chest tighten.

After the first song, Chloe pulled the headphones off. “Beca, oh my god. Your music is amazing.”

“Thank you, but it’s really not.”

Chloe’s jaw went slack. “Are you kidding me? Of course it is, don’t say that. You have a song on the Billboard Top 100 right now.”

Beca shook her head. “No, I know that it’s good. I’m not being self-deprecating. Like, I know I can do some really cool things with a song. But amazing music is about more, you know? It’s about more than a beat and a melody and lyrics. That’s what a song needs. It’s not what a song is,” she murmured. She ran a finger along Chloe’s collar bone, something she'd never do if she was sober. “You have to go to that broken place in your heart to make truly amazing music. They say it’s like open heart surgery, sometimes. It’s invasive. And I just haven’t gone there yet.”

“Why haven’t you?”

Beca shrugged, avoiding her gaze now. “I don’t know. It’s not easy,” she said quietly. “You go there and you expose that part of you that’s hard to look in the eye, that part of you that scares you a little. And you put it in a song, and it lives forever. It becomes real, and you can never hide it or forget about it again. It’s the acknowledgment of that. It scares me, honestly.”

Chloe pushed a stray hair back from Beca's face. “I stand by what I said, that you make good music. But you’re going to make amazing music, too, you know that?”

Beca looked down at Chloe, and saw more love in her eyes than most people will ever see in a lifetime. “Maybe someday,” she said quietly.

“Someday,” Chloe murmured, reaching out for Beca’s hand. She let their fingers lace together. “I hate that word. Someday.”

“Why?”

“It feels like there’s always a ‘someday’ to be waiting for. There’s so much uncertainty attached.” She got quiet. “I don’t want to wait for someday, Beca.”

They gazed at each other for a long time, too long. An understanding passed between them. A truth that they’d been hiding from.

Finally, Beca whispered, “Then don’t.”

Chloe didn’t move an inch, still gazing into Beca’s eyes. Then, slowly, so slowly, she dragged Beca’s hand to her mouth, pressing her lips to Beca’s fingertips. Turning her hand over, she closed her eyes, placing a featherlight kiss to the inside of Beca’s wrist.

It stirred something inside Beca. It made her skin burn. It made her want more. The sensation inside her grew and spread out from her chest, down through her body, out along her arms and legs, to the tips of her being.

Chloe’s hand wrapped around Beca’s arm, pulling her in, and then their lips were sliding against each other feverishly. Instead of satisfying her, the kiss has the opposite effect, making her need greater. Every touch, every kiss, was an act of necessity.

They were pulling at each other’s clothes, sloppy kisses landing in the crook of a neck, along a jaw, against a shoulder, on the slope of a breast, driven by a compulsion they needed to obey. When Chloe’s hand reached between her thighs, Beca arched against her.

“Chloe, don’t stop,” Beca gasped.

***

Beca woke up and stretched, groaning at the dry mouth that usually accompanied the morning after drinking. Her hand bumped into soft skin. She opened her eyes to see Chloe asleep on her stomach, undisturbed by her. The white linen sheet covered her only from her bottom down, leaving her bare back exposed.

A thousand conflicting emotions ran through Beca all at once. Among the most prominent were fear and confusion, along with an unhealthy dose of longing. She looked down at herself. She was naked under the sheets, too. Pulling them back as gently as possible, Beca slid out and walked to her dresser, grabbing sweatpants and a t-shirt before walking out to the living room.

Chloe was naked. In her bed.

And she was supposed to be flying back to New York today.

Beca clumsily pulled the clothes on and filled a glass with water from the sink, guzzling it down and filling another.

Chloe was naked in her bed. They slept together.

It was good. It was really, really good.

She clenched her eyes shut, pressing her fist to her forehead. She walked out to the balcony of her penthouse suite and sat down in a wicker chair, leaning her forehead against the railing.

Obviously, Beca developed an attraction to Chloe, because she was human and had a pulse. Add that to her being a woman with sexual needs, she made a horrible decision under the influence of alcohol.

Except she wasn’t that drunk. And it wasn’t the first time she’d wanted that to happen. Or wished it, or dreamed it, or zoned out and imagined it. Truthfully, the reality had been better than any of that.

That small, important fact crept back. Beca’s career was here, and Chloe’s vet school was in New York. They were saying goodbye today. Beca had to take deep breaths to keep tears from spilling over.

“Fuck,” she whispered to herself, wiping her eyes. There was this burgeoning feeling in her chest she couldn’t ignore. She knew it would be a bold-faced lie for her to tell herself last night was just sex because it wasn’t. It was a thousand lingering gazes and tender moments snapping into place at once. It was about them, purely them. Fuck.

How could they face this after seven years of friendship? She couldn’t stand for Chloe to come out here and see her like this. She wiped her eyes again and took another deep breath, finishing her glass of water.

Beca heard the glass door slide open and shut. Looking over her shoulder, Chloe was walking toward her, her copper hair beautifully mussed. It made Beca’s heart hurt.

“Hey,” Chloe murmured. “When I woke up you were gone. Hope you don’t mind, I commandeered some sweatpants again.” She reached out and touched Beca’s shoulder affectionately.

Chloe did something she’d done a thousand times, but for the first time, Beca recoiled. Confusion flashed in Chloe’s eyes for the briefest of moments before pulling her hand back.

A huge knot filled Beca’s throat and she couldn’t do anything but stand there awkwardly.

“Am I driving you to the airport?” Beca finally said.

Chloe looked at her with such crushing disappointment in her eyes that Beca had to look away. “Yeah, I guess,” Chloe muttered.

They moved around the apartment silently. Beca ran the coffee machine, drinking quietly as Chloe ate a bowl of cereal. Chloe disappeared a little while later to change and get her suitcase.

They didn’t say anything the entire ride to the airport, not until Beca stopped in front of her terminal.

“Are we really not going to talk about this?” Chloe finally whispered.

Beca ran her fingers through her hair. “I don’t know. I don’t know what to say, Chlo. You’re leaving.”

Chloe put her forehead in her hand, her voice cracking. “We don’t have to make anything out of it. It can be like-”

“Like it never happened?” Beca said, hating the edge to her voice.

“No. I don’t know. Just tell me what to do, Beca. I can’t go back to New York like this.” Tears streamed openly down Chloe’s face. “I’m sorry. I thought… I thought we both…”

Beca’s chest was folding in on itself. She couldn’t speak, she literally had no words. The tiny piece of her brain that retained sanity screamed at her to fix this, but she couldn’t even begin to understand how. She’d been lying to herself. That’s why it felt so impossible to tell Chloe goodbye- because she was too in love with her. But it was a truth too hard to face.

“I just don’t know if I can do this,” Beca said, staring out the windshield, wishing different words were coming out of her mouth.

“If that's what it has to be... I’ll accept it. But I just have to say this now. You know it’s okay to just let yourself be happy, right? You don’t have to push people away. There are worse things than letting someone in.”

Beca closed her tear-wet eyes. Behind her eyes, she could see an entirely different path expanding. She could see them waking up together just like they did today every morning, but with sleepy smiles and soft kisses. She could see years passing, molding them and changing them.

Beca could feel a crack forming in her heart as she imagined a door slamming on all of it. She’d seen love crumble and fall apart before. It wasn’t even rare.

It was so hard for Beca to look at Chloe’s face, knowing that she loved her. “Is it? Is it really better?”

“That’s life, Beca. That’s fucking life. You can’t avoid that broken place in your heart forever, keeping people at arm's length because the alternative scares you.”

“Fine. You want to hear me say that my parents fucked me up and that I’ve been walking around since I was ten years old believing love isn’t real and never lasts? Or that you waltzed into my life with your a cappella group and proved me so absolutely fucking wrong it brings me to my knees? You want to hear me say that the only thing I really know, in the pit of my stomach and in my bones, is how love gives someone the power to break you? You have the power to fucking break me, Chloe! Don’t you get it?”

Chloe’s eyes were so soft, it killed Beca. The only thing worse than her anger was her pity.

“It’s okay,” Chloe said quietly. “I always knew this was a long shot.”

Hearing Chloe say that hurt more than anything else they'd said to each other. They sat there in silence for a moment. Chloe let out a shaky breath. “Can I tell you what the worst part is?” Chloe asked. “It’s knowing what could have been.”

It was. It was the worst part. Beca wondered if she would have wavered if she’d seen good love in her life before. If she wouldn’t have fought this for so long.

“I’m really, really sorry your childhood made you feel that way. I know what you’re doing right now, it’s easier, and it’s not as scary. If you ever figure it out, Beca, call me, okay? I’m always going to be there for you waiting in the wings. I mean that.”

Chloe pressed her lips to her cheek, so sweetly Beca’s heart ached, and whispered, “Don’t take too long.”

She got out of the car and pulled her suitcase from the trunk before walking away. She turned back to look at her, an unfathomable expression in her eyes, and then nothing at all when she walked through the sliding doors.

Beca put the car in gear and left, but she didn’t get far before she couldn’t drive anymore. She pulled into a grocery store parking lot, unable to see through the tears. All the weakness she’d been fighting washed over her and crushed her, fresh guilt to match the pain.

***

Six Months Later

Beca stood in the studio, headphones over her ears, trying to record a new song. Frustration like she’d never known gripped her. Her timing was off, her voice lacked emotion. Beca could physically feel it. Everything had been off since Chloe left. Not just at work, but everywhere. Her whole life was deteriorating.

During the day she tried to stay busy enough that she wasn’t wondering about where Chloe was, but it rarely worked. She was thinking about her right now.

She pulled the headphones off and signaled to the booth that she needed a break. The door to the booth opened loudly.

“What’s wrong with you?” Theo said shortly.

Beca gave him a blank stare. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me just fine. You haven’t been able to write a decent song. Your music has been shit. Your interviews are sullen and depressing. Your social media presence vanished months ago. So tell me, what the fuck is wrong with you?”

“Nothing is wrong. This is just me. This is Beca. A girl from Georgia who is just out here doing her best.”

“No, it’s not your best. I’ve seen your best. It’s fucking inspiring. This… this person you’ve been for months now is just a shell of her.” He sighed. “Listen, you don’t have to tell me a thing. But for your sake and everyone else’s, you’re going to have to figure it out. Otherwise, when this album is done with… call it finished and go back to Georgia. Because right now, you don’t want it. And I’ve got a line of people out the door who are dying for me to make their dream happen. Not throwing it away with both hands.”

“Thanks. That wasn’t harsh at all.”

“Tiptoeing around you certainly wasn’t going to work. Look, I’m giving you two weeks off. It’s not optional, so don’t argue with me. Take a break. See your family, see your friends. Get your head on straight. Come back and we’ll try again, alright?”

She drove home, but she didn’t want to be there, not really. Too many times she considered selling the penthouse and just finding a new one. On her worst days, it was too many memories from her week with Chloe.

For days she moped around, hating this forced vacation. One night, lying in bed, she went to Youtube and found some old Bellas videos. Looking back at them, knowing what she knew now, there were so many signs. It was amazing that she and Chloe took as long as they did to fall together. During every single performance, Chloe always looked to Beca during transitions, like Beca was her anchor. She was the first one Chloe smiled at when the routine finished. The first one she hugged.

Beca flopped her phone down on the pillow next to her.

***

Every single time, she came back to her beginnings. When she was young and still believed in love. But even the love she thought was normal back then was cold and unfeeling in comparison to what she found out really existed.

Sitting in her kitchen over a plate of food she didn’t even want, she tried really, really hard to recall a single memory of her parents ever displaying some sort of affection to each other. Beca wasn’t able to conjure anything up, not even a mental image of a kiss, the kind that you give like a habit after work or dinner simply because it is the thing to do.

Some facts of her childhood remained ageless and unalterable. In her family, no one ever talked. To this day Beca never had a real conversation with her dad about any of it. She looked down at her phone, tapping her fingers restlessly on her knee.

After a long time, the food in front of her cold, she dialed her father’s number.

“Hey, Bec, how are you doing?” he answered. There was an undercurrent of surprise in his voice. Beca didn’t call often.

“Guess you could say I’ve been better.” Her finger slid back and forth across the table nervously. “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course, Beca.”

She paused, her stomach tightening and twisting in knots. “Did you ever really love Mom?”

There was a long silence. “Bec, that was so long ago…”

“Dad, I’ve never asked you to explain anything to me. I’m asking now because I need to know. Please.”

Beca could hear Sheila in the background. “Let me step outside,” he muttered. “Is there a reason you’re bringing this up now?

“I just… need to know. I need to know that I’m not going to spend the rest of my life wondering why you never made it work.”

He let out a long sigh. “Will it help to know?”

“It might.”

“Okay,” he said quietly. “Yeah, I did love your mom. We had a few good years. Honestly, we did. It’s just that… sometimes things fall apart when you aren't looking. We cared about each other, and we loved you, but we didn’t have the kind of love that weathers all storms, do you understand what I’m saying? It was never that strong. One day we went on autopilot, and the next thing we knew, years had passed and we just didn’t recognize each other anymore. I don’t know if that’s the answer you’re looking for, but that’s it.”

Beca sat there quietly, waiting for him to say something else, but he never did. “I don’t know either.”

“Should I be worried about you, Bec? You don’t sound good.”

She closed her eyes and put her forehead in her hand. “Just trying to solve the facts of life, Dad. Nothing major.”

After they hung up, Beca slid into the shower, letting hot water scald her skin. She put her face under the stream, closing her eyes and tilting her head back.

She was so tired of feeling so vacant. She missed Chloe so much. If she thought leaving her to come to L.A. was hard, it was nothing compared to months of this emptiness.

The water was running down her neck, and Beca could feel the memory of Chloe’s lips in the same spot. Sliding down the cold shower wall, she sat and put her face in her hands. She loved Chloe so much and still made a mess of everything. Maybe she was just like her dad.

In her mind she could see Chloe’s red hair and immutable eyes, always looking to her, waiting for her to smile back.

Or maybe, just maybe, she could accept that her parent’s failures taught her something she didn’t want to know. Maybe she could accept that their failures were exactly that—theirs. That she didn’t have to own their crap.

Those empty spots inside her, she had the power to fill them if she would only just let herself do it. That place of healing was a savage place. Beca had been scared of it for so long, but she never realized before that she didn’t have to battle blind. She didn’t have to do it by herself. The real, deep-down, knees-in-the-mud healing was entirely up to her. Only she could cross that bridge. But she didn’t have to be lonely to do it.

Theo had been right. Nothing in Beca’s life had been right since Chloe left. She got out of the shower and threw clothes on, her hair still soaking wet. She shoved handfuls of clothes into her suitcase and then grabbed her laptop to look for the soonest flight.

***

Beca was in New York with no plan and no idea what she was doing. She was walking briskly up the path to Chloe’s apartment, trying to force herself to get there before she lost her nerve.

She knocked on the door four times, hard, making her knuckles sting.

The door opened, an unassuming Chloe waiting for her on the other side. Her eyes widened at the sight of Beca.

“Hey,” Beca said nervously.

Chloe opened her mouth to respond, but nothing came out. She cleared her throat. “Hey.”

Beca could all but see the question in her eyes—what are you doing here?

“Chloe,” she said. “I—I only know two things for sure.” She let out a shaky breath. “Only two things. That love can break you. And that it can free you. There was someone… someone who always loved me best. It was always you. I realized that I make the choice to let it break me every day I go without you. And it does, it fucking breaks me. And I don’t want to do it anymore.”

That broken place inside her was on full display. She pushed past every instinct of privacy, of self-preservation, for her. “Chloe,” she breathed, her voice shaking beyond reproach. “I’ve been frozen in place for a really long time. We both know that. I think that I’d been looking for you for so long without even knowing it, and when I found you, I had no clue what to do with you. I’m really sorry we fell apart like that. I wasn’t ready. But I am now. I really, really am. I’ll be whatever you want me to be. I’m begging you please to just let me.”

“Beca, I’m—”

There were footsteps coming from inside the apartment. “Chlo? Everything alright?”

A blonde woman walked up behind Chloe, a small smile on her lips. Beca’s stomach sank. She was in pajamas.

It was like having an anvil dropped on her chest, hearing another woman call her Chlo.

“Oh… Oh my god. I’m such an idiot.” Beca took a step back, shaking her head. “I shouldn’t be here. Fuck. I’m sorry, Chloe. I’m just… I’m really sorry.”

“Wait, Beca—”

Not being able to meet Chloe’s eyes again, she shoved her hands in the pockets of her jacket, quickly walking down the sidewalk. She could hear Chloe calling her name, but it only made her walk faster.

She’d missed her chance. She’d taken years of opportunities and burned away every single one.

Beca didn’t know how long she walked for or how many times her phone buzzed. Eventually, she registered a sign for a bar and walked in, finding an empty seat.

“What can I get you to drink?”

Her mind was so numb, she couldn’t think straight. “Surprise me. Something strong.”

The bartender gave her a strange, steady look, but didn’t say a thing. Thank god for strangers who mind their own business. Running her fingers through her hair, she gladly accepted what was placed in front of her, taking a long draw from the dark liquid. Whiskey and coke, apparently. Not bad.

Her eyes burned, having nothing to do with the liquor and everything to do with the red-haired blue-eyed love of her life.

Who had found someone else.

The girl in the pajamas was probably everything and more that Chloe needed. Obviously beautiful. Beca could picture it all now. This woman no doubt didn’t carry deep scars, could let love in. She probably told Chloe everything Chloe deserved to hear.

Taking a long drink, she couldn’t help but let the self-loathing sink in deeper. Had she been there for Chloe? Had she loved her full throttle, had she given it everything she had? She didn’t really know.

Beca drained her whiskey glass entirely. Had she fixed it after she fucked it up? No. Not when it really mattered.

Her phone buzzed again. Opening the lock screen, she saw there were five missed calls from Chloe and ten texts.

Chloe:
Beca, please pick up the phone.
Where are you?
Please, please don’t ignore me.

Beca gulped, setting her phone down. She pressed the heels of her palms into her eyes. “Fuck.”

“Another drink?”

She looked up at the bartender. “Yes.”

He just nodded and took her glass, placing another one in front of her a minute later. Beca tried to pretend she didn’t see the sympathetic glance that came along with the drink.

Taking a long, burning gulp, she looked back down at her phone. Her eyes landed on the very last text Chloe sent thirty minutes ago.

Chloe:
You owe it to me not to let this be the way this happens.

As much as she hated it, of course, Chloe was right. When was she not?

She was still looking at the screen when a familiar voice came from behind her. “Hey.”

It was like a punch to the chest. Beca looked over her shoulder, though she already knew who it was. Chloe was standing there, hands in her jacket pockets. She didn’t miss the red tint to her eyes. Beca dropped her gaze.

“How’d you know where I was?”

Chloe’s lips formed a sad smile. “Don’t you remember?”

Beca just stared at her in confusion for a moment, until a hazy memory came rushing back to her. They’d been sitting on the living room floor of the New York apartment drinking wine, laughing, and listening to their favorite songs. It was nothing out of the ordinary back then. Beautifully simple in retrospect.

Beca had grabbed Chloe’s phone, opened up iMessage, and gone into their conversation. “What are you doing?” Chloe asked.

“I’m sharing our locations.” She gave the redhead her phone back and picked her own up, selecting ‘Share My Location’ indefinitely. “There. Now if I ever get kidnapped, you’ll know how to find me.”

“We should have a safeword. So if we ever text each other that word we’ll know something’s wrong.”

It was totally ridiculous, of course. Planning your hypothetical kidnapping escape with your best friend over wine wasn’t how most people would spend their nights. They’d laughed so hard about it at the time.

She blinked, looking at Chloe. “Pineapples,” she murmured.

Chloe was biting her cheek, clearly trying to hold back tears. And Beca couldn’t fucking handle it. She fished a twenty-dollar bill out of her wallet and laid it on the bar.

“I’m really sorry, Chlo. About all of it. You should know that.”

Walking outside into the cold wind, she set off down the alleyway behind the bar. She could hear Chloe’s feet moving a mile a minute behind her.

“Oh no you don’t. Beca fucking Mitchell, you do not get to do this. You do not get to show up on my doorstep after months without so much as a single word, drop a bomb, and walk away.”

Beca stopped and whirled around to face her. Their gazes clashed like a shot to the chest. “I got the message loud and clear, Chloe. I’m too late. You moved on.”

“Oh, would you just stop?” Chloe said incredulously. “For one second just stop and listen. You owe me that much.”

Instinctively, Beca opened her mouth to react, but she shut it. She didn’t have any room to play the victim here. Silently, she nodded.

“Beca, the woman in my apartment, she’s my lab partner.”

Beca turned around, scrubbing her hands over her face. She didn’t really want or need to know how they met. In fact, she wanted exactly zero details on this subject. Yet she couldn’t help biting out, “She had really adorable pajamas, by the way.”

“We were in pajamas because we were going to be pulling an all-nighter studying. We have an exam in three days. Vet school is kind of hard, believe it or not.”

She turned back to Chloe. Beca let her words permeate through her mind. “You two aren’t—?”

“No. If you would have stuck around long enough, I would have been able to tell you that.” Chloe’s gaze was unblinking. “I need to know, did you mean what you said?”

She chewed on her lip. “Of course I did.”

“You said you would be whatever I needed.”

“I meant it, Chlo.”

“I need you not to run away from me. Even when it’s hard, and it really sucks, I need you not to run away. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

She nodded, her heart beating out of her chest. “Does this mean you still want me?”

Chloe stepped in closer. Their lips met, and they were kissing right there in the dusty alley. Beca’s hands reached out for her neck, and Chloe drew her tight by her waist, too tight and yet somehow not tight enough. The space around them evaporated, Beca’s pulse jolting into a wild rhythm as if her body was confirming for her how right this was.

“I want you,” Chloe said, sounding choked. She paused a moment, as though unsure what to say next. “I want you so much I can barely breathe.”

Suddenly Chloe was touching Beca in all the places she’d tortured herself imagining for months. Beca’s hands cupped the sides of Chloe’s neck, but she wanted more. She wanted all of her. Chloe’s lips were burning hot, her fingers digging into Beca’s skin.

A slight breeze made its way through the sliver of space between them, making her remember where they were. The empty ache between Beca’s legs pulsed. “Fuck,” Beca muttered against her jaw. “Chloe...”

“Come back to my place.” It wasn’t a question or an invite—it was a demand. Beca nodded almost imperceptibly, but Chloe released her instantly and took her hand. They walked out to the street and Chloe flagged a cab down. Apparently, Beca had walked three miles from Chloe’s apartment.

Beca felt like a fumbling teenager on the ride home. With the silence lengthening, Beca could hear Chloe’s breath. Beca turned her head and kissed Chloe, losing all sense of propriety, forgetting that they were in the car with a cab driver. Thankfully, Chloe had not. She pulled away, pausing to squeeze her thigh. “Soon,” she whispered into her ear.

After what seemed like hours, the cab finally stopped in front of Chloe’s apartment building. They walked up the steps, Chloe’s hand trailing behind her to hold Beca’s. Chloe turned the lock and let them in. Finally, they were alone.

Chloe and Beca moved to capture each other’s lips at exactly the same time, clashing somewhere in the middle. Chloe pinned her to the door, her hands threading into Beca’s hair.

Chloe deepened the kiss, and Beca melted, her heart glowing and mending itself back together. She moaned when Chloe’s tongue slid into her mouth, her hands reaching up to hold each side of her face.

She slowed the kiss, pulling back. “Look at me,” Chloe said. Beca opened her eyes. She swallowed under Chloe’s hand. A part of her couldn’t believe this was really happening, and she could see the same thing in Chloe’s eyes. “I missed you,” Chloe said quietly.

She kissed her, and this time it was laced with every ounce of her emotions. Deep and rough and consuming. Reality faded away till it was nothing but Chloe—her heat, her scent, and Beca’s heart feeling whole again with every touch of her hands. The kiss burned into madness. A breathless, greedy sort of madness.

Chloe’s lips and teeth trailed down her neck. “Bed,” she murmured against her throat.

They collapsed onto the mattress, Chloe’s reassuring weight making Beca release a sigh. They disconnected, trembling as they pulled at each other’s clothes to unburden themselves.

Chloe nipped at her breasts and stomach, her mouth drifting downward. Her palms skimmed up the back of Beca’s thighs and stilled. “Are you sure this is what you want?”

Beca let her thumb skim across Chloe’s bottom lip, nodding slightly. “It’s all I want.”

***

The next morning, Beca opened her eyes. She glanced over to Chloe, who was still sleeping, half-covered by a sheet. A sense of deja vu washed over her, leaving a little pang in her chest. Beca reached out and touched Chloe’s back. She moved her hand in a circle when Chloe didn’t wake.

After a moment, she finally stirred and rolled over to Beca with sleepy eyes.

“Morning,” Chloe murmured. “Everything alright?”

“Yeah. I just really wanted to kiss you.”

“Mmm, I think I can make that happen,” Chloe said. A small smile graced her lips. She pressed the length of her body against Beca, brushing her mouth against her before letting them meet fully.

“I wrote a song yesterday,” Beca whispered. “On the plane.”

Chloe looked at her with soft eyes. “You did?” Beca nodded the tiniest of nods. Chloe whispered, “Will you play it for me?”