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“How can you not feel the eye lasers Stacie Conrad has been shooting at the back of your head for the past ten minutes.”

“Eh?” Beca cocks her eyebrow, letting her mouth absentmindedly hang, and causing the straw of her milkshake to twirl against her tongue. Her gaze lands on her slightly crouched, aggressively whispering best friend sitting in front of her.

Beca was not sure what Jesse was going on about; she had been typing into her cell phone before he reached across their diner booth to invade her space. In all honesty, she was nowhere near tuned in to what had been going around her for the past few minutes to begin with, so maybe she was the rude one.

Beca shifts slightly, relocating her phone and moving it out from under the hand Jesse had placed over the screen to grab her attention. The music app she had been combing coming back into her view.

Jesse’s eyes briefly shoot back over Beca’s shoulder. “Seriously, Becaw. She is throwing major sex daggers this way. Guess the rumors of her breaking up with Miller were true. She’s back on the prowl.”

There is a chuckle to Beca’s left. Fat Amy, who was seated beside her, has her neck twisted, turned to witness the view behind them. “Legs is giving major stalking panther vibes. Like the ones Mr. Benerbane made us watch in that BBC World video last week.” she casually states, mildly amused before turning her attention back on the burger in her hands. She takes a large bite. While still chewing the food that has filled her mouth, she declares “Ten bucks says she pounces Shortstack before I inhale this burger.”

“You’re on.” Cynthia-Rose, the fourth occupant of the dining booth, breaks her silent spectatorship. She holds out a fist which Fat Amy bumps with her own, grease covered one - their version of sealing whatever deal they usually arrange. “‘The Hunter’ only stalks its prey at night. I’m sure she won’t try to get some Mitchell loving until the party.”

Beca shakes her head, disregarding the apparent attention of one of Barden High’s most wanted and recently-single females for herself. “If you nerds keep looking over at and talking about her, she’s bound to come over here. Can you guys not be so obvious for once?”

“Well, she’s not being discreet. The girl is literally drooling.” Cynthia-Rose assesses. Her neck stretches just a little. “Jessica is actually handing her a napkin right now. Probably to wipe away all the drool.”

Jesse’s eyebrows raise and his eyes briefly widen. He looks half-amused, half-impressed. “Damn, Becaw. The back of your head must be ridiculous.”

Beca rolls her eyes before resuming her earlier activity, arranging the song order of her playlist she plans to use at the Applebaum house party that night.

Since the Applebaum parents were out of town, and the local Barden schools were kicking off a three-day weekend, Luke Applebaum had decided on making good use of the unchaperoned free time. Luke, who attended Barden University, had spread word around his campus and allowed his younger brother Benji to invite the senior class of Barden High to the party.

Luke had personally reached out to Beca to DJ the night. Despite their age difference, the two had bonded during Luke’s senior year of high school, while Beca was still just a freshman (he had been impressed with her talent, potential and daringness when she had hijacked the turntable during her Freshman Year Homecoming). Managing the local campus radio station once he had gone to college had given Luke the opportunity to make a handful of connections with people in the Atlanta music scene - connections which Luke had mentioned to Beca might possibly show up tonight. So really, forgive Beca if she was not currently interested in entertaining the distractions which may arise from succumbing to the teenage sexual urges of a certain tall, admittedly sexy and voluptuous cheerleader.

“Oh shit.” Cynthia-Rose’s eyes widen suddenly before a mild scramble breaks out from her and Jesse’s side of the booth. The two are straightening themselves out, making an exaggerated show of leaning their bodies against the cushioned seatbacks. Cynthia-Rose even moves to drape her arm casually behind Jesse before deciding to plant her elbow on the back of the seat more closely to her own frame.

“What are you two -” Beca lifts her attention to her friends, eyes narrowing, but does not get the rest of her question out before a foot swiftly collides with her shin.

“Ow! What the fuck!” she exclaims. Her left hand clamps down on the spot radiating pain, and her attention cannot be spared to be focused anywhere else. She misses out on the throat-clearing cough and quickly darting eyes from Jesse attempting to alert her to the new presence by their table.

“Hey, Beca.”

Beca does nothing to hide the scowl on her face because the pain which had erupted in her leg has given rise to anger. “Hey.” she offers flatly without looking up (emotional masking and politeness are not her forte). The dig to her rib from Fat Amy makes her aware of exactly how unacceptable her lacking social skills are; It also makes her sharply gasp.

“Motherfucker.” Beca hisses with a death glare to the blonde on her left.

“Sorry?” the model-esque beauty standing nearby furrows her eyebrows together tightly.

Fat Amy is doing that thing with her face where she is silently scolding Beca for being a dick, so Beca inhales and calms herself. She turns back to Stacie with a semi-pleasant smile. “Sorry, that wasn’t to you, Conrad.” she clarifies.

“Oh.” Beca figures she probably was not disguising her discomfort well enough, because Stacie is now examining her through narrowed eyes. After some pause, the tall, slender brunette tilts her head, causing golden brown tresses to drape over her shoulder as she asks “Are you ok?”

“No. My friends are jackasses.” The honest answer flows through Beca’s lips without skipping a beat. In spite of the crassness, it receives a giggle.

“Well, my friends aren’t. How about you come over and join us?”

Beca glances back to look at the table where Stacie had previously been sitting. The mentioned friends are all familiar, pretty faces. A few cheerleaders and athletes, all of whom Beca has spent the last four years of high school with. She would even say she was friends with a handful of them, because, despite her general rough and standoff-ish attitude, Beca was quite notorious at Barden High. You can blame it on her musical talent; It got her invited to all the parties.

Years of partying, being the party, and making bold, sarcastic and comical quips to teachers during class had the general student population of Barden High recognize Beca Mitchell as the talented, funny, and cool rebel. Her reputation preceded her as someone who was more approachable than her resting bitch face that shouted “Fuck off” seemed to portray.

Even though Beca was comfortable with the group of people she was being invited to join, and by Stacie nonetheless (admittedly the hottest female at Barden High that swings her way) she just did not have the time right now. Not when music-related opportunities hung in the balance.

“I’m actually still preparing for tonight.” Beca raises her phone, drawing attention to the music app she has been playing around in. “How about I give you my undivided attention another time, Conrad?”

“Yeah?” Stacie muses cheerfully, looking quite innocent, until a glint of something else flickers in her eyes. “Can I have your undivided attention later tonight? After the party I mean.” Paired with the not-so-subtle lip bite, the harmlessness of her intentions are wiped away.

Jesse audibly makes a choking sound from across the booth.

“Damn,” quietly slips through Cynthia-Rose’s lips.

Something along the lines of “Whoop, there it is,” gets muttered by Fat Amy.

Beca easily holds Stacie’s eye contact ignoring her friends’ antics, confident smirk on her lips. “Sure. After the party. I’ll be all yours.”

A pleased grin flashes. “See you at the party then.”

“Looking forward to it.” Beca lets her eyes travel over the cheerleader’s backside as she watches the other girl walk away. She earns herself a wink when she doesn’t bother to divert her gaze until after Stacie has sidled back into the booth with her friends.

“Fuck, I wish I was you.” Cynthia-Rose states wistfully.

Fat Amy scrunches her face. “Um, what about Denise, CR?”

At the mention of her girlfriend, Cynthia-Rose’s jaw drops. Her mouth opens and closes a couple times, but she only manages to emit a few sputtering sounds.

“It’s okay,” Jesse pats his friend consolingly, “she’s no Stacie Conrad.” He shakes his head almost shamefully on Cynthia-Rose’s behalf.

Cynthia-Rose groans. “God. No one tell Denise.”

“As long as you pay up, she won’t hear a peep.” Fat Amy holds out her hand, sliding it across the table toward Cynthia-Rose, palm up and motioning to be filled.

“Whoa whoa,” Cynthia-Rose waves her hands. “We all heard the deal. ‘The Hunter’ isn’t going to ravage Mitchell until after the party.”

“She still pounced.” Fat Amy’s shoulders lift into a defiant shrug. “I bet some finger pump action would have gone on if Beca went back to sit with her.”

Letting her friends bicker over the technicalities of their bet, Beca goes back to her phone.

---

Not to toot her own horn, but Beca is very aware she is a key player in the “fucking bumpin’” party (Jesse’s words, not her’s) going on around her. The Applebaum’s huge, modern mansion is a great backdrop for a party, sure, but people are moving, singing and cheering along to the music she is playing.

The air in the living room is hot and humid, almost disgustingly sticky. From her view, Beca sees masses of sweaty bodies; Beca is dripping in sweat right along with them. She had to strip down to her black tank top about an hour into the party to regulate her body temperature. Flannel wrapped around her hips, she had been using the shirt to wipe away sweat from her palms in between handling the DJ controller.

Unfortunately for Beca, she hasn’t seen Fat Amy, Cynthia-Rose or Jesse for at least the past half hour to be able to ask for water to quench her growing thirst. What she has gotten have been drunken college students slurring their appreciation for her song selection and mixing abilities. Some of the more coherent ones that dropped by had offered her a sip of their cold beers, but Beca was never one to drink on the job. Ok, so she is under the legal drinking age and she isn’t getting paid for this, but potential future music connections are still at stake. That’s her driving mantra for tonight anyway.

“You are killing, Mitchell.” A strong, reassuring grip from a hand on Beca’s shoulder brings her attention to Luke - the short-haired, dirty blonde male with smoothly sculpted facial features that has suddenly appeared beside her.

“Dude. I’m dying.” she leans to speak into his ear. “Can you get me some water?”

Luke examines Beca. His eyes trail over the red flush in her cheeks and the layer of sweat on her body. “Do you need a break?” he asks with his brows knitted together.

“No, I can keep going. I just need water.”

Luke shakes his head. He must have heard the dryness of Beca’s throat in the way her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth and how each word had come out more breathy than the last. He could probably tell she was done. She has managed to keep the partygoers dancing for the past two and a half hours, so maybe he was ok with that. “Go enjoy the rest of the night, Mitchell. DJ privileges revoked.”

“But-”

“Go. There’s water in the kitchen.”

Either it’s the fatigue or Luke is really just that much stronger than her, because he is pushing at Beca’s shoulders and she does not have it in her to fight him. With what strength she does have, she uses it to dodge through the crowded living room to reach the kitchen.

“Becaw!”

“Dude.” Beca shakes her head, finding the situation ironic. She would find her best friend slumming in the kitchen with easy access to the water she really needs right now. “Water,” she croaks.

“Oh! Yeah, coming right up.” The boyishly charming grin that had split across Jesse’s face when he first saw Beca enter the kitchen almost immediately switches to a tight-lipped and concentrated purse. He quickly fills up a fresh cup of water and is pushing through the kitchen crowd to reach Beca.

When Jesse finally reaches her, Beca takes the water cup and gulps down all of its contents. Refreshed and recharged, Beca smacks her lips and lets out an airy breathe. Alertness back, Beca starts registering the faces of people milling around the kitchen. “Where are CR and Fat Amy?” she asks.

“CR left with Denise a little while ago actually. Denise’s parents went over to her aunt’s and said they won’t be back until tomorrow morning, so you know.” Jesse wiggles his eyebrows suggestively. “I think they were trying to say goodbye to you, but you were surrounded by dancing, drunk college girls.”

Beca grins. She cannot be sure if it is the same moment, but she has a distinct memory of being sandwiched between two older girls. She even got a pair of kisses on the cheek from both after they had found out she was still a senior in high school. They apparently found that fact “so cute”.

“And Fat Amy said she was going to hang out by the pool. The heat was making her tits leak or something. I can take you to her. Might be good for you to get some fresh air.”

“Probably.” Beca agrees. She follows closely behind Jesse who has an easier time of weaving through the packed house party with his added advantage of height.

Stepping through the sliding glass doors of the house into the crisp night air, Beca feels the thin hairs on her arms prickle as goosebumps form on the surface of her skin. The early October weather was still in the slow transitions of switching into Fall.

“Oy! B Mitch! Swanson!” Fat Amy makes it easy for her friends to find her. She is stretched out in a pool lounger waving them over.

During their approach, both Jesse and Beca notice that Fat Amy is mid-conversation with a guy neither of them are familiar with. Unfamiliar face meant he was likely another Barden University student.

“You don’t know what you’re saying.” The unidentified male is wagging a finger in the air. “Acapella people, specifically us Treblemakers, are the kings of Barden University campus.” he announces as he puffs his chest out proudly.

“Puh-lease, you are just saying that to try and get me to suck on that fat burrito I can see you have in your pants.”

“Um. Gross.” the older male says, but his eyes are roaming hungrily over Fat Amy’s body.

“I’m not gross, but I am legal.” she replies.

The Treblemaker visibly swallows.

“Jesus, maybe we should turn around, Becaw.” Beca watches as Jesse slows his footsteps ahead of her. The closer they get, the easier it is to hear Amy’s conversation. Jesse is likely scared to hear more.

“What did you say your name was again? Fat Amy?”

“You can call me yours for the night. How about that?”

Before Jesse and Beca even register that their friend has at some point reached out to grab onto the shirt of the guy she was talking to, the blonde is already yanking him down on top of her. Whether knowingly or not, Fat Amy has given her friends front row seats to the viewing party of herself and the unfamiliar older male engaged in an aggressive and eager lip lock.

Beca’s eyebrows shoot to her forehead in shock, which is a relatively calm reaction compared to Jesse.

The mousy haired boy is going through a brain malfunction, raising his hands to claw at his eyes in panic and swearing expletives like “Fucking hell, Ames!” Where he looks to be undergoing traumatic stress, Beca would consider herself humored.

“Well then. I think that is enough fresh air for the both of us,” her body is shaking from laughter as she claps her hands onto Jesse’s shoulders to steer him around and away from their friend’s animalistic affair.

“Ok, so I know she gets it in, but I think I could have gone on living without the visual evidence.” Jesse grumbles.

“From what she’s told us of her sexual escapades, I think we should be glad she didn’t whip the dude’s burrito right out in front of us.”

“Fuck, Becaw, I could have done without that image too.” Jesse shivers. “Speaking of getting it in though, aren’t you going to find Stacie? She was in the kitchen earlier telling everyone who kept trying to offer her alcohol that she was saving herself to be a ‘dirty slut’ for the ‘ pretty little DJ with the quick, strong hands’.”

Beca laughs loudly. “You can’t be serious.”

“I couldn’t make that shit up if I tried.” Jesse asserts.

A surprisingly exasperated sigh escapes Beca’s lips. “Would I be an ass for ditching her then? I’m honestly so tired and am half-inclined to head home.”

“Whoa whoa whoa.” Jesse’s hands clamp down on his best friend’s shoulders. “Becaw. I know you live a very blessed life to even be entertaining the thought of standing up Stacie. But, as someone who lives vicariously through you, I am going to need you to sack up and finger bang that girl as she expects you to.”

“Dude. You are ridiculous. You know that right?” Beca laughs and runs her fingers through her long, straight tresses of chestnut hair. “Wait, are you being serious right now?”

“Seriously!” Calloused but gentle fingers squeeze the shoulders within their grasp. “Becaw, please,” Jesse lowers his torso to bring himself down to the shorter girl’s eye level. “If not for yourself, do it for me - your best friend who is down on the lesser rungs of the social ladder and who would never get such an opportunity.”

“You’re such a nerd,” Beca shakes her head. “I get the feeling that this is somehow heavily motivated by you trying to live out some cheesy rom-com plot line through me.” She sighs, looking at the hopeful puppy face in front of her. “But okay. Fine.”

“Yes!” Jesse pumps a fist into the air. “Let’s go get your girl.”

The two highschoolers take a few steps back toward the house, but stop when “GIRL FIGHT!” rings loudly through the backyard.

In front of them, two female bodies are wrestling with each other and people are gathering around. In their blind stagger, one of the girls takes the wrong step and suddenly they are both emitting high-pitched and ear-piercing screams as they splash into the pool.

A head of blonde hair is the first of the two to break through the surface of the water.

The fuming, soaked blonde’s face is angled and etched with sharp iciness to her features and her voice is appropriately shrill as she sputters a “Fuck you, Alice!” Some water she must have accidentally got a mouthful of during her fall flies back into the pool.

“No, fuck you, Aubrey! You whore! You are going to be the ruin of the Barden Bellas!” The blonde’s dark-haired counterpart retaliates.

The surprise dip did nothing to shock out the anger the two females had for each other. They are lunging and re-engaging themselves into their previous wrestling position from on land. However, abrupt movement is not especially easy or smooth in the water.

Beca gets an eyeful of wet, flailing limbs more so than a proper grappling match. She finds the sight comical really. She isn’t the only one either, because a lot of the people in the backyard are watching with bemused expressions.

“Ok, break it up! No fighting in our house.” Luke shouts as he and Benji jump into the pool.

The bystanders look on while each brother grabs a girl, taking suffering blows themselves. They try to pull the two fighting females away from each other. Benji is having a tougher time than his brother; the blonde in his arms (apparently her name is Aubrey) is clearly stronger and a better fighter than he is. He sputters water, barely wading with one arm, the other trying to maintain a hold on the blonde.

“Damn it, Benji.” Beca mutters. It does not look like the people nearby are making any effort to help the struggling highschooler. Pulling Jesse by the wrist, she hurries the both of them over to assist their classmate.

“Don’t fucking let me go,” Beca instructs to Jesse as she tightly grips his hand. Once she is certain they have a good hold on eachother, she uses her free hand to reach over the edge of the pool to grab onto the back of Benji’s shirt. The blonde is fighting to be released with all her might and Benji is just doing his best to not be drowned by her at this point. It takes all of Beca’s effort to reel both bodies back to the edge of the pool using only Benji’s shirt as leverage.

Benji wipes his face, looking up at Beca with awe. “Thanks, Beca. I think you just saved my life.” He starts climbing out of the pool and is helping his older brother shepherd everyone back inside.

“Come on. Let’s get you out of there.” Beca extends her arm and offers her hand to the blonde shooting daggers up at her.

“Fuck you, midget.”

Beca’s eyebrows raise, but she barely has time to process what was said to her before someone hastily brushes past. She glimpses a flash of red just as a wafting aroma of fruity, floral and intoxicatingly sweet elements overwhelm her senses. For a moment, Beca feels like she is suffering from whiplash. She blinks slowly then adjusts her sights on the backside of the female with long, loose auburn waves that had swooped in out of nowhere.

“Aubrey! Are you okay?” There’s evident worry dripping in the ginger’s voice. Beca watches as she hovers around the blonde, inspecting the other girl, turning the blonde this way and that, most likely checking for scrapes or scratches. When she appears satisfied at not finding any, she encompasses the wet female in a quick hug, getting herself drenched through contact. “Bree, you should not be fighting with Alice. We are a team and she is our captain.” her tone is almost scolding.

“That bitch had the nerve to call us failures, Chlo. We haven’t even performed at the semi-finals, and she is al-already blaming us. Th-that isn-n’t a t-team c-capt-tain.” The blonde (Aubrey) is gritting her teeth, and evidently getting cold, because her teeth have started chattering.

Beca really wishes she didn’t care about the current state of the blonde that threw an insult her way when she was trying to be helpful, but she does. Untying her flannel from where it has been around her waist, she steps around the redhead. Shaking off the sweet scent that has trickled again into her senses, she drapes her shirt on the shoulders of the shivering blonde. “You should probably dry up before you catch a cold.” she states, ignoring the blonde's surprise glance at her.

Beca steps away from the wet mess of a human and begins to address the ginger instead. “I’ll go see if Luke has towels for you and your -” Beca stutters. She was not prepared for the jolt that shot straight through to her soul and made her heart literally skip a beat.

The most mesmerizing blue eyes she has ever seen are gazing back at her. And by themselves, the eyes are stunning, but Beca’s eyes are widening in amazement because oh. They are just one component of a perfectly orchestrated face. Even the small, faint scar present on the girl’s forehead looks like it was intentionally placed.

“Whoa,” Beca breathily murmurs. She vaguely hears a faint girlish giggle reminiscent of days on the playground and catches a twinkle in sky blue eyes.

Beca is not entirely sure how long her momentary pause in brain function lasted, but she is aware she is staring. That realization whirls her brain back to some semblance of normal operating conditions. She whips around and quickly walks into the house to get out from under the heat of that gaze, because “What the fuck?” she mutters.

“Becaw!” Jesse jogs up and slips in beside her, both of them stepping back into the house. “You ok?” he asks with a quirk to his brow.

“Yeah,” she distractedly answers. “Where the fuck did Luke go?”

Like magic, Benji suddenly materializes through the partying crowd. Though not his brother, he stands with a stack of fresh towels in hand. “The blonde really scares me, so can you guys take these towels out to her?” he squeaks, dumping the towels into Beca’s arms and dashing away.

“Benji!” Beca yells after him, “Dude! Get back here! These are your guests,” but Benji has already successfully skittered back into the crowd to disappear. “Fuck!” Beca groans.

“What’s the matter, Becaw?” Jesse grins. He leans in, brings his voice down to a quiet volume, and lets teasing words playfully dance out of his mouth, “Redhead got you on edge?”

“Watch yourself, Swanson.” Beca warns her best friend with a growl. She gives Jesse a quick gut check that brings the male bowling over, gripping his stomach. She stares at him with a deadly glare. “Next time I won’t be so nice.”

“Ok, but we still need to take these towels back out to them.” He manages to gasp. And even though it looks like Jesse is trying his best to bite back his smirk, Beca can still see it.

“Useless Benji just has to be fucking useless,” Beca mutters. She lets out an exasperated sigh and mentally gathers herself together to head back in search of the beautiful redhead and her friend.

Making sure to not slip and verbalize her thoughts while Jesse walks beside her with an arrogant smile and pleasant hum slipping through his lips, she mentally recites that the ginger is just another pretty girl. She has dealt with pretty girls before. Somewhere in the throngs of the party, she even had one ready and waiting for her.

Stepping back out to the backyard, Jesse and Beca find the two older females have relocated to one of the poolside lounge chairs. Seated beside each other, the redhead is rubbing comforting circles on her friend’s back, and speaking to her in a hushed tone. She looks up as soon as Jesse and Beca step in front of them.

Experiencing breathtaking eyes locking on her own is much easier for Beca the second time around. Still, she briefly had to grind her back molars together to stop herself from breathing out a ”holy fuck” anyway. Even if Beca has seen pretty girls before, she is kidding herself to not recognize that the one in front of her was on another scale of gorgeous. Or maybe she is just a highschooler without enough exposure and college girls are a breed of their own.

A cool breeze floats by, stirring the air, and Beca pulls herself from her thoughts when she notices that the blonde is quietly shivering. Beca’s flannel, which is now drenched, has been rendered useless.

With a sigh, Beca kneels down beside the blonde and peels her wet shirt off the other girl’s back. “Tradesies,” she casually holds out the pile of fresh towels like a peace offering. She is relieved when the blonde silently nods and accepts a towel (Beca isn’t entirely sure how she would have responded if the blonde were to give her another biting remark).

Beca clears her throat, steadying herself, before she turns and finds herself reconnecting with true blues. The bundle of towels bobbles a little due to Beca’s slight weight change. “For you too.” The towels are gently lifted toward the redhead.

“Thanks,” the one word is paired with a warm smile and sweet gaze, and Beca has honestly never felt so welcome.

“Yeah, no problem.” Beca discards the unused towels in an empty spot on the lounger by the two girls. She steps back and shuffles her feet when she realizes light blue eyes are dancing over her face. The tiniest bubble of self-consciousness rises in her chest, because the eyes are noticeably, inextricably tracing her features.

She is about to make a comment, just to ease her own anxiety, when she sees something spark in the eyes that had been dissecting her. They narrow, widen, and then the redhead is lightly gasping. “You were the DJ tonight, right?”

Beca smirks and nods. “Were you out in that hectic mess of bumping bodies then?”

“Of course! Aubrey and I were having an aca-mazingly fun time. Right, Bree?” The redhead leans into her friend and nudges her.

Aubrey glances up and nods her head. She’s patting her blonde locks dry.

Her gaze landing back on Beca, the redhead smiles and tilts her head. “So how come I’ve never seen you around campus?”

Beca nervously scratches the back of her neck. “That would be because I don’t go to Barden University.”

“Oh! Then how do you know Luke? Are you some super hip DJ,” the redhead bites her lip and mimics the motion of spinning an invisible turntable albeit exaggeratedly (Beca will replay this moment in her head later, because she finds it incredibly adorable). “Do you DJ for him at the campus radio station?”

Beca laughs heartily. “I wish I was DJ’ing on air. But no, Luke and I actually went to the same high school.”

Something urges Beca to come clean. Not like she was hiding anything really. But she was staring into pools of untainted, clear blue, and she feels a desire to share. Openly. Honestly. “Well, Luke was at my high school, but then he graduated. I am in the same grade as his younger brother Benji. We’re seniors at Barden High.”

The redhead’s eyes widen, though just a little. “Oh, wow.” she breathes out.

Beca purses her lips together and rocks on the balls of her feet during the brief moment of silence.

“You can’t have been DJ’ing that long then.” The words are muttered as if the redhead were speaking to herself. But then something switches and she is back to being bubbly and animated. “Luke should totes give you a program slot! You’re a natural!”

Beca feels a blush on her cheeks, so she ducks her head with a small smile spreading on her lips. “I really appreciate that you think so.”

If it wasn’t for the snort that suddenly sounded from behind her, Beca would have forgotten that Jesse was still standing there. She glances quickly over her shoulder, and is reminded of how much of an idiot her best friend is to think staring up at the night sky while randomly whistling is casual and discreet.

“Sorry, I apologize on behalf of my friend, Jesse, who is a complete nerd.”

“Oh! I just realized we never properly met.” The redhead jumps up, brushes off her dress and holds her hand out expectantly, “I’m Chloe.”

“Beca.”

They’re trading smiles and holding - no, shaking - hands until a light cough draws their attention.

“Um,” Aubrey is standing up, folding the towels she used back into a neat stack. Her hair is damp, less sopping and her dress is no longer clinging to her body. “Well. It’s pretty late, and the party looks like it’s dying down. Now that I am less likely to leave a puddle in the seat of my car, I think I am going to head home.” Aubrey turns to Chloe and says her next words slowly, almost hesitantly. “Chlo, if you want to stay, well, Tom is probably still inside. Waiting for you.”

“Right. Tom. I almost forgot about him.”

Beca does not know who Tom is, but she does not have to wait long to find out.

“Chloe! Where have you been?”

Beca tries not to frown when she feels the hand in hers drop away. Chloe’s focus has moved beyond Beca’s shoulder, so Beca steps back and turns around to find a broad shouldered male, looking very much like a live action Ken doll, crossing the distance from the backdoor to where they are standing. She crosses her arms and can’t stop herself from silently judging him. He is so stereotypically the image of a collegiate frat boy and Beca kinda sorta hates him for it.

“Why are you wet?” Ken doll asks Chloe as he gets closer. His eyebrows are scrunched together, and he looks thoroughly confused. Or maybe that’s from the overall vapid look Beca thinks he naturally has.

“If you had come out to the backyard to help me find Aubrey like I asked you, you would know.”

“Babe. I was running the BP table. I can’t leave on a winning streak. What do you mean?”

Chloe looks to be irritated, she’s rolling her eyes and shaking her head, arms crossed in front of her chest.

“Aw, come on babe. Don’t be like that.” Tom steps closer to Chloe. His hands easily slip around her waist. “I’ll make it up to you,” he sweetly whispers in her ear before placing a chaste kiss on her cheek.

It pains Beca to admit it, but she is more invested in their interaction than she would like to be. The apt attention allows her to catch the way Chloe pulled her head away from the kiss though, and that minor detail makes it all a little bit more bearable.

“You reek of alcohol, Tom.” There is definitely a hint of mild disgust when Chloe says it.

“Babe. What part of BP champ do you not understand? There is so much beer pumping through these veins right now.” He laughs.

“Chlo?” Aubrey calls for her friend. She is more or less stoneface save a single eyebrow arched high on her forehead. “Home?”

Tom leans back and looks toward the blonde; his eyes slowly come to focus on her face. “Oh, hey, Aubrey. I didn’t see you there.”

“Tom.” Aubrey nods her head curtly. “Chloe?” she repeats again. There is a hint of something in the way she says Chloe’s name, like there is some unspoken communication going between the two of them.

“Yea- Yeah.” Chloe nods her head at Aubrey and then is breaking free from Tom’s embrace. “I’m going to head home with Bree. You should probably ask Luke to let you crash here.”

“What?” The frown on Tom’s face is dark for a second before it morphs into an annoying and sugary sweet grin. “Babe. I can take us back to my place.” he is trying to wrap Chloe back in his arms again.

“No.” Chloe pushes him back. “You just told me you have beer pumping through your veins.”

“Chlo, I’m a professional. Don’t you trust me?”

“No, actually. Not when you drank as much alcohol as you have.”

“Ok, so you’re not going to invite me back to your place?” There is bitterness in his tone and the darkened expression is back on his face.

Chloe sighs, “We aren’t going to argue about this now. We’ll talk tomorrow. I’m going. Come on, Bree.”

Aubrey does not need to hear another word. She is already bumping past Tom.

To Beca’s surprise, the blonde halts in front of her, extends her arms and flexes her fingers. The abruptness and stiffness of it all gives Beca the impression this is out of character for the blonde. She quickly shakes off the temptation of saying something sarcastic about the whole deja vu-ness of it all and places her hand in Aubrey’s.

“Thank you.” There is the tiniest upward curve at the corner of Aubrey’s lips when she says it.

Beca nods. “No problem. Anytime.”

The blonde withdraws her hand and walks back to the house.

“Beca.”

Beca turns and finds herself the closest she has been to those sky blue eyes all night. She takes note of the fact that they are even more electrifying up close.

“I will be waiting to hear you on the WBUJ airwaves one of these days. But don’t keep me waiting too long, ok?” Chloe’s smile is intoxicatingly sweet and Beca can feel herself becoming dazed from the sight of it. “You are going to be something special. I can feel it.”

Beca looks down at her hand where Chloe has just pressed a comforting squeeze. When she looks up again, the redhead is already walking away.

And don’t tell Jesse, but Beca thinks she understands that inexplicable warm feeling that gushes through your whole body and makes the sappy characters in cheesy romantic movies go crazy over.

Breath stolen, body tingling and mind stunned, Beca doesn’t notice a tall brunette stalking over and slipping into her space.

“There you are.”

Arms snake around Beca’s neck; lips teasingly brush against her ear. And either it’s the combination of those things or the fact that she loses sight of auburn hair, but her arms wrap around the waist of the body pushed up against her own at least just to steady herself.

---

Beca wakes up to the unrelenting glow of the sun breaching through to the back of her eyelids. With a groan, she rolls onto her back. She had been dreaming of clear blue skies and the feeling of flying, which sounds pleasant, but her dreams have never been that colorful. It’s quite abnormal for her really.

Sitting up, Beca stretches her arms and rolls her neck. She was easing the tension her body had acquired from the physically exerting, highly pleasurable activities that ended her night. Her partner of said activities - the soundly sleeping brunette beside her - lies on her side, blankets snug against her curved body, and looking thoroughly at peace.

Beca, not wishing to disturb her, slides out of the bed and silently gets dressed.

Beca finds Luke, Benji, and a few of Luke’s friends cleaning up the kitchen when she heads downstairs. They must have been up for some time, because the kitchen is near spotless compared to last night’s state. Not a single red cup, liquor bottle, or cardboard case is in sight.

“Morning,” Luke greets with a grin. “Did you sleep well last night?” There is a mischievous glint in his eye.

Beca knows the question is rhetorical, so without a word, only a wink, she lifts herself on to the kitchen counter.

Luke chuckles with a small shake of his head.

They both clearly remembered when Beca had come to approach Luke last night asking to crash in one of his guest bedrooms. The giggling Stacie nibbling on Beca’s ear as she asked was an unforgettable detail of the whole exchange.

“We’re about to head out and grab some food. Want to come with?”

Beca nods. “Down.”

Luke spares a glance over at Beca. There is a slight hesitation before he asks, “What about that tall glass of water you have upstairs? Is she joining us?”

Beca shrugs. “I have a feeling she’ll be sleeping for a while longer.”

Luke and a few of the older guys laugh.

“Gotta say, I missed you, Mitchell.” Luke says.

“Hey, man. Barden campus isn’t that far off. Let me know the next time you need a DJ.”

“Actually.” The older boy stops mopping the floor. “I was going to give you the news later, but fuck it.” He grins widely at Beca. “You should know, you made quite an impression on a couple of people last night. I have a gig for you.”

Beca widens her eyes, but narrows them just as quickly. She throws a sidelong, suspicious glance to Luke. “You’re fucking with me.”

“No, seriously.” Luke replies, nodding his head earnestly. “We lost our Saturday midday DJ, and it’s kind of prime realty time. I immediately thought of you, but I needed to get the approval first. I didn’t want to tell you beforehand, but last night was your audition. And obviously, you rocked it. If you want it, you can be the WBUJ host every Saturday from eleven to five. You will have to share some of that air time with Unicycle’s sports check-in, but the point is - you’ll be DJ’ing on live broadcast radio. How about it, Mitchell?”

“Wha - Are you seriou - holy sh - Yeah! Yes! Definitely!” Beca jumps up and off the counter to squeeze Luke in a hug.

The action apparently surprised the older boy; he stands there eyebrows high on his forehead. “Damn, Mitchell. I did not know you had hugs in you.”

“Dude.” Beca punches Luke’s shoulder lightheartedly. “When you give me news like that, you get hugs.”

“Hey, Applebaum.” one of Luke’s tall, dark skinned friends walks into the kitchen. “Your couch crasher just threw up.”

“Fucking hell.” Luke’s head tilts back and his shoulders deflate. “I’m going to kill Tom one of these days. We literally just cleaned up the living room.”

“Want us to get him out of the house?”

“Yeah. Throw that asshole out.”

Beca couldn’t help it, but the mention of a Tom had piqued Beca’s interest. She needed to see with her own eyes whether or not it was the cookie-cutter boy from the night before, so she follows Luke and his friends into the living room.

Sure enough, Beca recognizes the limp body being lifted from the couch. It is Ken doll, with his twenty-five dollar haircut, pastel button-up, and khaki pants. She feels oddly triumphant.

“Fuck this is so gross.” Luke mutters frowning down at the present Tom had left behind.

Beca almost feels bad as she watches Luke mop away the mess, but not enough to hold back her chuckle.

“Is that dude a friend of yours?” Beca asks as she crosses her arms and leans against the doorframe leading from the kitchen to the living room.

“Tom?” Luke’s face scrunches together. “Fuck no. He only ends up at my parties through association.”

“What do you mean?”

“He has this on-again off-again relationship with my ex’s best friend. Poor girl. She’s too sweet to just dump him to the curb. Anyways, when they’re on, I have to deal with his ass.”

Beca nods her head slowly while she absorbs what Luke is saying to her. Then it hits her. “Dude. Time out. Your ex is Aubrey?”

Luke glances up at Beca. “How the hell do you know Aubrey?”

“Just met her last night actually.”

“Oh.”

Beca starts laughing.

“What’s so funny?” Luke’s gazing at her through narrowed eyes.

“Just thinking,” Beca tries to not let her grin crack so widely. “I would have never guessed you had a thing for girls that are pretty in the annoyingly perfect type of way.”

“Hey, pretty is pretty.” he simply states with a shrug.

Beca can’t disagree with that.

They fall into a comfortable silence. Luke cleaning up the mess. Beca watching him.

“So, Chloe -” Beca lets the name hang off her lips as she breaks the silence. She shifts her weight against the doorframe.

“What about Chloe?”

Beca scratches the back of her head. She is not sure what she intended to say, but she knows she wanted to say that name. She tries to press on. “Does Chloe - uh - does she come to your parties often?” After the words leave her mouth, Beca internally cringes. She heard how queerballs and random she had sounded, so she can’t blame Luke for the way he is examining her. His head is tilted and his eyes are on Beca, like he is sizing her up and trying to make sense of the current situation. Eventually his face cracks into a grin.

“Is Beca Mitchell thirsting for Chloe Beale?” the playful lilt in Luke’s voice makes Beca squeamish.

“She’s easy on the eyes. And nice. I guess. Whatever.” Beca shrugs, doing her best to be indifferent.

Luke laughs. “I never thought I would see the day.”

“What are you talking about?” Beca straightens her back.

Luke props the mop upright. His hands cover the top of the handle and he rests his chin over them. “Well, that girl from yesterday - total bombshell, by the way - I’m betting you’ve never asked someone if she goes to parties often. She is probably just another one of them that fell in your lap.” He smirks when Beca just shrugs. “Chloe, though -” Luke hums thoughtfully. “Out of all the years I’ve known you, I don’t think you’ve even been remotely interested in anything outside of music. Chloe must have made quite the impression on you. Beca Mitchell’s interests have strayed just a tiny bit off the music producer path. That’s all.” Another silence fills the space between them until Luke lifts his head from his hands with a sigh and shake of his head. “Why does it seem like your ocean has better fishes than mine?”

Beca grins, “It might be all the rainbows. Girls go apeshit over pretty things like sprinkles, mermaids and unicorns. They’re practically drooling for all that good stuff.”

“Right. Sure. All of the good stuff.” Luke says.

Beca watches Luke take the mop outside before walking back over to her. Beca furrows her brows when he releases a heavy sigh.

“Everything good?” she asks.

“I have to be honest with you, Mitchell. About Chloe-”

“Damn, she doesn’t play for my team does she?”

“No, it’s not that.” Luke shakes his head gently. “She does. Trust me. I have a mini mental rolodex of Chloe’s dating history from when I was with Aubrey.”

Beca tilts her chin down and glances up at Luke. “Do you now?”

Luke chuckles before he lays a hand on Beca’s shoulder. He levels her with his olive green eyes. “Look. Chloe Beale is a sweetheart. I know you’re young and having fun, and nothing will trump your goals for LA, but Chloe is not the type of girl you hook up with to fill the time before you bounce out of here. If that’s all you’re looking for, leave her out of it. I don’t want you going down like the bad guy, and she doesn’t deserve more shit than what she’s already getting from Tom.”

Beca frowns and her eyes drop down to her hands. She fiddles with the rings on her fingers. Thinking.

“It’s not like that. There is something different about her. I wish I could explain it, but I - I don’t know.” Beca furrows her brow and shrugs her shoulders, “We just met and it doesn’t make sense, but I have this feeling. Like I already won just finding her.” The words are leaving Beca’s mouth drawn from some place inside herself she is unfamiliar with and it's left her feeling exposed and vulnerable. She finds it in her to look up and hold steady under Luke’s gaze. “I just want her to be in my life.” The smallest, tight smile curves her lips upward.

Luke studies Beca for a second.

Beca feels him measuring her.

Finally he steps back and asks, “What are you doing tomorrow?”

---

”What’s our state football team again?”

Beca rolls her eyes. For a guy, Jesse’s sports knowledge was heavily lacking even in the general knowledge and awareness department. Beca is about to say something about that, but Cynthia-Rose is already answering him.

“There is no such thing as ‘state’ football teams, but the Atlanta Falcons are the NFL team based in our city.” Cynthia-Rose is seated in Luke’s desk chair. Her head is tilted back and arms are hanging over the chair’s arm rests. She’s spinning in slow circles. Probably just as bored as Beca is from waiting on Jesse.

“Huh. Falcons. Weird.” Jesse says from behind the wardrobe door.

“Dude. Hurry up. Luke said it’s just a kickback. There is no one to impress.” From Jesse’s bed Beca tosses a pillow over the opened wardrobe door. She hears the soft collision and grins when Cynthia-Rose spins to her and says “Bullseye.”

“Ow.” Jesse finally emerges from behind the door, rubbing his head, dressed in a grey t-shirt and blue jeans.

“Really? You took thirty minutes to decide on a t-shirt and jeans? Let me guess, you’re going to finish this fashionable ensemble with your navy zip-up.”

Jesse chuckles nervously. “Sorry?” He walks over to where Cynthia-Rose is seated. The mentioned zip-up happens to be draped on the desk chair his friend is spinning around in.

Cynthia-Rose stands, making room for Jesse to retrieve it.

“It’s not my fault I don’t have a collection of badass leather jackets I can cycle through.” he grumbles.

“Whatever, nerd. Let’s go.” Beca pulls her phone out from the back pocket of her skinny, ripped black jeans where it had just ‘dinged’. She swipes open the chat thread to read the new message her phone alerted her to.

“Is that Stacie?” Jesse asks with a coy smile.

“Nah,” Beca shakes her head. “Luke. He is asking us to pick up chasers and snacks.”

“What kind of snacks go well with - what was it again? - football sunday?”

“Dude, seriously. Why are you such a nerd?” Beca flicks Jesse’s ear as she walks past him to Cynthia-Rose.

He rubs his assaulted ear with a scowl.

“Yeah, Jesse. You can’t be that lame. You have to have at least seen all the commercials where people are eating nacho chips, wings and shit.” Cynthia-Rose is the first to exit Jesse’s bedroom with Beca and Jesse following her.

“I don’t know.” he shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t watch that much TV.”

“What about all your movies?”

“They’re all on DVD or VHS, so no commercials.”

Having traversed the short walk to the front door, the three friends put on their shoes and head out of the house into the cool Sunday afternoon air.

“There has to have been at least one movie of all the ones you’ve watched where people are gathered and hanging out.”

“Well, yeah.”

“Ok, so, what are they usually eating?”

Jesse shrugs. “Chips?”

“Yeah. Exactly.”

“Ok, but I didn’t know if football changes things.”

Beca shakes her head and slides into the front passenger seat of Cynthia-Rose’s black Jeep. “You’re killing me, Swanson.”

“It’s actually, ‘You’re killing me smalls’.” he corrects.

Beca turns around and punches Jesse on the thigh.

“Ow!”

“Hey, children.” Cynthia-Rose raises her voice. “No fighting while I drive please.”

“You’re really prickly today, Becaw. I thought people who got some recent action were supposed to be all chipper and toxically happy.”

“You watch way too many movies.”

“No such thing.”

Beca slaps away the finger that reached over her seat back to tickle her ear.

Hand retreating with newfound sting, Jesse looks at Beca through the reflection of the sideview mirror. “So, you never told me. Did you get a repeat with Stacie last night?” He raises his eyebrows in quick succession.

Beca rolls her eyes. “No. I spent most of last night working on a few mixes.”

“Oh, that’s why you weren’t answering my texts. I was thinking you were preoccupied with other things.”

“Life isn’t only about sex, Jesse.” They are just highschoolers, but Beca thinks Jesse can be a little more juvenile around the topic of sex than the rest of her friends.

“Easy for someone who readily gets it at the drop of a hat to say. But if I had the option to have it with a beautiful girl, I would do it as often as I could.”

“Amen to that.” Cynthia-Rose is nodding her head. She takes her eyes off the road for a brief second to address Beca.“You know, we are at the precipice of cuffing season tryouts.”

Beca laughs. “Coming from the girl in a committed relationship.”

“Hey, just because I’m tied down doesn’t mean I don’t have an interest in how the season plays out for my friends.” Cynthia-Rose smirks. “Which is precisely why I know Fat Amy is currently hosting tryouts with that guy she met last night.”

Jesse makes a gagging sound. “That’s gross.”

Cynthia-Rose laughs. She glances at Beca again. “So, tell us. What did you think of Stacie? Will she be on the roster for the pre-season?”

Beca sighs as she contemplates over what her friend is asking her. It isn’t a serious topic. Not really. But the discussion she had with Luke from the day before has been weighing on her mind. “Stacie’s fun. She really is. But I don’t know. Maybe I should stop this whole hooking up without a connection thing. Actually dating someone could be a nice change.”

“Mitchell, say what now?” Cynthia-Rose whips her head, eyes widened in utter shock to look over at Beca. Her sudden motion causes the car to swerve erratically.

“Dude! Eyes on the road! I’m not trying to die before I graduate high school.” Beca evens out her breathing, hand held to her chest, cautious glance to the side to make sure Cynthia-Rose’s eyes were back on the road.

“Was that reaction necessary?” Beca asks after the car calms.

“Sorry.” Cynthia-Rose shakily checks her rear view and side view mirrors. Collecting herself, she clears her throat. “Look, B. Ever since you first set your heart out on becoming a hot shot music producer in LA post graduation, Jesse and I have never, not once, seen you remotely interested in anything more than physical relationships. You barely gave Blake Ryan a chance.” Cynthia-Rose shakes her head in disbelief. “Blake Fucking Ryan, Beca. The whole eighth grade class either wanted to be her or wanted to be her’s and you, Ms. Music-Producing-Or-Bust, gave zero shits about her gigantic ass crush on you. Everyone knows she threw that seven minutes in heaven party, just so she could have her first kiss be with you for God’s sake.”

Beca’s eyes narrow. “I didn’t know that, actually.”

“Oh, shut up. You didn’t care. From then until now, you haven’t given two shits about getting yourself tied down. Casual sex has been your m.o and every highschooler in Atlanta knows it.”

Beca stares ahead with arms crossed against her chest. She can feel Cynthia-Rose sending darting glances at her, but she does not have it in her to look back. “I feel attacked right now.”

“I’m not trying to attack you, B.” Cynthia-Rose sighs exasperatedly. “I’m just saying. You’ve been a certain way for a while now. Excuse me for being shocked at your sudden change in heart.”

The car falls into a solemn silence when no one pushes the topic further. There are only drumming sounds of traffic outside creeping into the car.

“Does this have something to do with the redhead from Friday night?” Jesse hesitantly questions from the back of the car.

“What redhead?”

“This college girl that Beca shared abnormally lengthy periods of sustained eye contact with. Don’t think I have ever seen her look at anyone else the way she did this one. Literally breathless with hearts shooting out of her eye sockets.”

Beca feels Cynthia-Rose’s gaze burning the side of her face. She turns to look out the window, silently plotting Jesse’s death.

---

When Beca, Jesse and Cynthia-Rose step through the large double doors of the Applebaum house, they are greeted with a drastically different atmosphere than how they were welcomed previously. The house is quiet. Calm. Clean. Instead of dozens of unrecognizable faces and wall shaking music, there is a gentle hum of conversation mixed in with the sound of a television. The noises float from the living room where they find Luke and his guests gathered. Save for the DJ booth and a lone foldable table, the room was hardly recognizable from what it had looked like two nights ago.

The large flat screen TV is set to the Atlanta Falcons’ football game. Luke and a handful of other people are hanging out on the rearranged large sofa sectional watching the game. Most of them are wearing Atlanta Falcons jerseys, but there is a small peppering of other teams - Saints, Chiefs, Ravens, Bills.

“Hey, guys.” Luke greets the highschoolers with a head nod. “You can set up snacks on the coffee table,” he motions towards the table which currently houses a few pizza boxes and wings. “Any drinks can go in the kitchen.”

Beca was holding the bags with the liters of soda, so she split off from Cynthia-Rose and Jesse as they headed over to the coffee table.

Benji was in the middle of pouring liquor into a cup when Beca entered the kitchen. The rustle of the shopping bags as she walked up behind him appeared to have startled him. Beca sees his arm jerk, resulting in him dispensing a heftier dose of the clear vodka than most people would generally pour into his cup.

He turns his head as Beca comes to stand beside him. “Oh,” he sounds almost relieved when he smiles at her weakly. “Hey, Beca.” He sets the large liquor bottle back on the kitchen counter just as Beca places the bags of soda down.

“You okay there?” she asks with a cocked brow.

“Y-yeah. Why?”

She wordlessly leans over to inspect his cup filled one-third of the way with vodka. “Usually when I see that much liquor in a single cup, the person is having a rough day.” she says, leaning back.

“Okay, so.” Benji scratches the back of his head. His face goes through a few contortions as though debating whether he should reveal what is on his mind. “Please don’t laugh.” he says, shuffling his feet.

Beca just stares at him with a deadpan expression.

Benji opens his mouth, closes it, and then finally opens it again. “I’ve never drank liquor before. I didn’t try the other night, because I wanted to help my brother watch over the house. But today, I figured I would try it out. Am I - am I doing it wrong?”

Beca masks the chuckle itching the back of her throat with a clearing of her throat. She reaches over to take Benji’s cup. “First of all, there’s no right or wrong way to prepare something you plan to ingest. Everyone has their own preferences and tastes.” She reaches to grab a new cup and pours half of what was in Benji’s cup into the empty one. “But, as first times go, I think it is always best to ease in.” She places both cups down onto the counter. Pulling out the Coke bottle, she unscrews it, and pours in both cups until they’re a little less than half-filled. Then, she screws the cap back on the soda container, places the bottle back on the counter and picks up one of the two cups she has just filled. “Cheers,” she says as she holds out her cup.

Benji lifts the other cup, clinks the plastic rim against Beca’s, and takes a sip. Based on the lacking motion of his Adam's apple, he has let the drink settle on his tongue. Eventually he swallows it down. “It just tastes like Coke with a hint of something else.” he looks at his cup with his brows pushed together in confusion.

Beca releases an unhindered chuckle. “Benefits of skilled proportioning. Would you like to try a shot instead?”

“Sounds painful,” he says.

She shrugs. “You get used to it.” Beca lifts the vodka bottle by the neck and shakes it. “How about it, champ?”

Benji mulls the thought over and slowly nods his head.

Beca prepares two new cups with shot-worthy amounts of liquor. Before she slides Benji’s shot over, she gives him a warning. “This is going to be nothing like what I gave you earlier. The best method is to throw it to the back of your throat and swallow. Reason being, the longer this sits on your tongue, the worse it’s going to be. If you follow it quickly with the drink I made you, you might not even taste it at all.”

“If people don’t enjoy the taste, why do they do it?”

“Like I said - It’s all preference. Some people like the taste, some people don’t, but we’re all in it for the feeling that comes after.”

“Being drunk?”

Beca shakes her head. “No. Feeling free.” She winks and downs her shot smoothly.

Benji’s jaw drops in awe. When he realizes Beca is watching him expectantly, he nods his head slowly and pulls his face together into tight concentration.

After steeling himself, Benji smiles a tight-lipped smile, brings the cup to his lips, tilts his head back, and then swallows. Unlike Beca, his reaction is far from smooth; he starts breaking out in a coughing fit.

Beca curls her lips to hold back her grin and hands him his mixed drink, which he accepts eagerly.

Benji takes as large of carbonated-filled gulps as his nasal passage is able to handle. He chokes out an, “Oh my gosh.” Tears brimming the corners of his eyes.

“Hey, you did it.” Beca states with a nod. “Good job.” She pats him on the back before picking up her used shot cup to throw in the trash. She turns around to walk over to the trash can, but the awareness of striking blue eyes paired with a fond smile trained on her causes Beca’s steps to falter.

Chloe is casually leaning - her back against the wall, arms crossed against her chest. She looks comfortable, which makes Beca wonder how long the redhead has been standing there.

“Hey,” Beca greets, calming herself and crossing to her original destination. She drops her cup into the trash can before glancing up at the redhead. “Come here often?” she slides in jokingly.

Chloe tilts her head, auburn waves falling on to her shoulder. Her smile grows wide. “Depends,” a gentle hum seeps from between her lips, “How often could I find you here?”

“Oh, I’m a regular.” Beca brings a hand up to the side of her mouth as though she is preparing to reveal a secret. Her voice is lowered when she says, “I know the owner.”

Chloe giggles and pushes off from the wall. She steps up to Beca, bringing her lips (to a distance Beca considers tantalizing) close to Beca’s ear. “I’ll have to drop by more often then,” she says with a wink before brushing past and on toward the kitchen island.

Beca watches her pass by, stunned into silence.

A chuckle snaps Beca’s attention to the doorway where Cynthia-Rose and Jesse stand. Both have their eyebrows high on their foreheads and amusement etched on their faces.

“That’s Ms. Eye Contact.” Jesse not-so-subtly whispers into Cynthia-Rose’s ear.

The shit-eating grin that forms on Cynthia-Rose’s face makes Beca want to punch Jesse.

---

Beca is not entirely sure how they progressed to here, but football has long been forgotten for some time now.

Everyone is gathered around the foldable table servicing as the surface for the rounds of drinking games they’ve been playing for the past few hours. Presently they’re hovering right around the end of an intense game of Rage Cage. The filled-to-the-brim cup of beer is the last cup that remains. People have been frantically bouncing ping pong balls to land into stacked empty cups and hastily passing the cups around the perimeter of the table.

The guy to Beca’s left (Beca thinks his name is Donald) has been struggling. He had lost two consecutive rounds of Sinking Ship earlier, and it definitely seemed to be impairing his pong ball bouncing skills.

“Shit shit shit,” Beca hears him mumbling, trying his best to get his pong ball into the cup but failing.

There is a cheer from across the table. Aubrey managed to bounce her pong ball into the cup on her first try. She slams the tower of cups, pong ball inside, right in front of Beca. “Come on, Beca!”

“Fuck!” Donald near screams as he misses for the upteenth time. He’s chasing the ping pong ball bouncing away from him when Beca takes hers out of the cups in front of her.

Beca crouches down slightly. She concentrates and focuses her eyes. Her tongue ever so slightly peeks out between her teeth. With as much precision in angle and force as she can reasonably calculate in her current state, she bounces the ball. The air around her stills. Beca holds her breath. She hears a gasp when the ball starts its arc and lands. Right. In. The. Cup.

The crowd of people around the table erupt.

“Becaw!”

“Yes!”

“Let’s go, B!”

“Mitchell!”

Beca takes her stack of cups and slides it into Donald’s. She raises her hands, balled into fists, triumphantly into the air.

Jesse is grabbing at one of her hands and jumping up and down. “That’s my girl!”

Beca points her free hand at Donald, “Bottoms up.” She smirks and leans with drunken swagger backward. She might have started falling. She isn’t sure. Thankfully, she doesn’t find out.

Arms wrap around Beca’s waist. A warm body presses up against her back. She feels herself balance out. Comfortable and drunk, she leans a little more into the embrace. Beca inhales and her nose fills with a familiar sweet and alluring scent. It rushes to her brain and makes her feel more intoxicated.

“You alright there, superstar?”

Beca knows that voice. She recognizes that melodic giggle. She lazily turns her head and smiles when she finds enchanting blue eyes. “You’re gorgeous.” The compliment slips out as easy as breathing.

“Why thank you.” The faintest blush colors the cheeks of the face Beca’s dreamily gazing at. And just because she feels so inclined to, Beca reaches out to boop the end of the adorable nose perfectly within booping distance. It crinkles under her touch.

“Mitchell! In honor of shutting down Donald so epically, you get to choose the next game.” Luke bellows.

Beca turns her head and frowns. She isn’t sure why everyone is so loud and rowdy when there isn’t even any music playing. “Music first!” she insists. Whether she righted herself, or whether she had help from Chloe’s cushiony body pressed against hers, Beca is back to standing somewhat firmly on her feet.

“Be right back.” she kind of slurs. “Goin’ to put on some jams.”

“Whoa, ok. Is that where we’re going?” Beca doesn’t complain as her arm gets draped over strong shoulders (Chloe’s) and a hand (Chloe’s) grips firmly on her waist.

Beca starts walking, aided by the redhead, toward the DJ controller a few feet away.

Having fought through heavy eyelids during sleepy nights to finish whatever mix she was adamant on finishing, Beca detaches herself from Chloe and navigates the DJ controller with near-sober precision. In a few seconds, she has music playing at a mild volume through the powered amplifier speakers. She sighs satisfactorily and begins humming. Leaning over the turntable, she scrolls through its local memory to queue songs in a playlist.

The corner of Beca’s eyes catch on to a shuffle at her side.

Mindful that she isn’t alone, Beca glances over to her ginger companion, stopping her humming. She is greeted with the sight of the older girl examining her - mouth slightly gaped open, head tilted just a fraction, and eyes narrowed in a way that looks questioning.

“Dude. What?” Beca asks a little self-consciously.

“Do you sing?”

“Me?” Beca presses her lips together and shakes her head. “No, not really.”

Chloe’s lips contort at an odd angle. Her eyes narrow even further like she doesn’t believe Beca.

“Why do you ask?”

“Oh, I was just curious because I do.” Chloe smiles and her uncertainty is wiped away. “Aubrey and I are part of an acapella group. The Barden Bellas. We’re kind of like the tits,” she declares with a wink.

Beca’s eyebrows raise, “Acapella, huh? I f’rgot that’s a thing now.” she smirks. Her teasing tone laced in with her words.

Chloe nudges her. “Hey, don’t make fun. We make arrangements to sing covers of songs, kind of like how you put together your dope setlists.”

Beca grins at the way the redhead had said “dope” paired with a hand motion. The word was evidently foreign to Chloe’s vocabulary, but the combination of it with her gesture made the whole moment dorkily endearing. As much as Beca thinks Chloe should never do any of that again, Beca kind of thinks this quirky Chloe in front of her is absolutely adorable.

“The only difference in what you do and what we do is that we don’t have any instruments. It’s all from our mouths.” The utter happiness and pride in Chloe’s eyes draws a smile on Beca’s face. “And I don’t want to jinx it, because we haven’t even gone to the Semi-Finals yet, but I have a really great feeling about us making it to the Finals at the Lincoln Center this year. If we accomplish that, we’d be the first all-female acapella group to do it. Wouldn’t that be totes aca-mazing?”

Beca nods her head slowly. The glint in Chloe’s eyes and the passion as she speaks - Beca’s seen this before. The moment is sobering - recognition of the importance of acapella to Chloe sinking in on her. She clears her throat trying to find the right words to say. To let Chloe know her dreams are heard, valid, and attainable.

“You - you’ll get all of that. I’m positive.” is all Beca manages to get out. She isn’t sure if her sincerity had come through, but it was the best she could do, so she looks down at the turntable and begins fiddling with useless levers.

The silence that follows isn’t necessarily uncomfortable, but Beca grows uneasy because she senses Chloe’s gaze on her. She carefully glances back up.

As suspected, Chloe is looking at Beca, a light smile on her lips but a hint of something indecipherable in her expression. It makes Beca feel like there is something hanging in the air that she can’t quite catch.

“What?” she asks.

“Nothing.” Chloel’s head shakes and her auburn waves gently bounce. “You’re just - you really are special. Do you know that?”

“Thank you?” Beca narrows her eyes. “Why do you keep saying that?”

“Because.” Chloe shrugs. “I see it. I believe it.” As if it is as simple as that.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough for Beca. “What do you see?”

Chloe scrunches her face briefly and hums. She looks to be contemplating what to say. “Well, your talent for starters.” she finally begins, “You’re talented. That’s obvious and so undeniable. You effortlessly layer songs and easily blend the next song into the last. You create this rollercoaster ride of a musical journey. You command people to let down their walls, to ride out the rhythms and flows, and trust that journey. That’s talent.” Chloe nods like she’s sure of her words.

“And then there’s your passion,” Chloe looks down and reaches a hand out to touch the turntable. “I bet you’ve mapped out every knob, every lever, every button on this thing. You could probably point out each one and tell me exactly what they do while blindfolded, because you’ve spent so much time back here.” Chloe’s fingers ghost over the knobs and levers of the DJ controller. She steps closer to Beca as she does so. “And you look so happy standing back here. Did you know that?” the softest smile graces her lips. “You look so happy like you could care less what is happening around you. Like everything can fade away, so long as you get to stand right here. Nothing else matters, because this is home.” Chloe’s blue eyes flick upward to Beca before they fall back down. She takes another step forward and she’s close enough now that Beca can smell her perfume. “It’s rare, you know? Finding that kind of passion.”

Beca shifts her weight. She breathes in slowly.

“But on top of it all,” Chloe looks up, holding Beca’s gaze, and really, she is so close now, “your heart. You-” Chloe smiles tenderly. “You wear it on your sleeves. As much as you think you have your walls up. As much as you think you’re cooly guarding it. I can see it.”

Soft, gentle fingers are lightly tracing the back of Beca’s hand. She tries to hold back her shiver.

“You try to not let on, but you care.”

“Everyone cares,” she says, goosebumps prickling her skin.

Chloe shakes her head. Slowly. Somberly. “No. Not always. Not like you.”

Beca feels her pulse quicken when Chloe’s hand delicately caresses her cheek. Her breath hitches when she sees something flash behind those captivating blue eyes. They’re getting larger, darker, and closer. Beca’s eyelids start to flutter -

“Ok! Cheese fan game!” Luke is marching past like a man on a mission with a stack of cheese squares in his hand. “Benji! Ge’me the stool.”

Beca blinks realizing the warmth against her cheek is gone. Chloe is still standing beside her, but the redhead’s attention is on the small crowd of people walking, some stumbling past, following Luke. Beca’s eyebrows furrow briefly, but she pushes down the gnawing feeling of disappointment clawing up.

“Spread out in a circle,” Luke directs the crowd of people. He is standing on the coffee table under the ceiling fan, arms spread out and exaggeratedly drawing out an invisible circumference around himself.

“What the hell is this white shit?” Cynthia-Rose mutters to Beca out of the corner of her lips when she passes by.

Beca grins and shrugs.

“It’s the college experience, CR!” Jesse squeezes Cynthia-Rose’s shoulders.

“We’re not even in college yet.” she responds.

“I know, isn’t it great?” he beams.

After a quick glance back at Chloe - Aubrey now beside her - Beca steps out from behind the turntable and follows her friends.

With the stool settled safely on the coffee table, and Benji holding it securely, Luke steps on holding a cheese square in his hand. He removes the wrapper, passing the plastic to his brother standing by. Everyone looks on while he places the wrapless slice of cheese so that it’s half-hanging off a blade of the fan.

“Here’re the rules,” he announces once he’s satisfied with its placement. He glances around the large circle of people, impressively hopping off the tabletop, and crossing the room. “When I turn the fan on, whoever gets hit by the piece of cheese - or is standing closest to where it lands - either does a shot or accepts a dare. We keep going until there are no more slices of cheese.”

“Yeah, this is some serious white shit.” Cynthia-Rose leans over to Beca and mutters again.

Beca responds with a sidelong glance and grin.

The moment the fan starts spinning, Beca takes a second to scan her eyes around the circle. The view in front of her is comical - a bunch of people standing around, eyes trained on the slowly spinning, but picking up momentum fan.

The first four people to get “cheese-slapped” choose to take a shot (Chloe being one of them). On the fifth round, the slice of cheese flies off the blade and lands on Aubrey’s thigh. She is utterly shocked and maybe a little disgusted as she picks the cheese slice off her body very delicately using the tip of two fingers. She surprises everyone when she says, “Dare.” But nothing is as shocking as when, out of all the dares proposed to her, she accepts the challenge to lick up Luke’s abdomen.

“Holy shit.” Beca hears Jesse mumble. Beca echoes that sentiment.

A little rattled from the executed dare, Luke is blushing as walks over, almost tripping, to the coffee table to prepare the sixth slice of cheese for the night.

People are still unpacking the show they just got when Tom - good American boy Tom - strolls through the living room.

“Damn, no invite to the party?”

No one answers him. If Beca is gauging the vibe appropriately, it almost seems like they’re used to him randomly appearing.

“Where’s my girl at?” he asks - once again ignored.

Tom finds Chloe on his own. He approaches her, wrapping an arm around her waist. “Hey, baby.” he kisses her cheek.

Beca thinks she sees Chloe frown, but her eyes might be biased, and she isn’t entirely sober. She does see Chloe whisper something in his ears before pulling him away to the kitchen.

“Oh, you missed me that much, huh?” Beca hears him say. She makes herself tear her eyes away, jaw clenching.

“Alright, boys and girls! Who is our next victim?”

The fan turns on. Shortly after it has gathered enough momentum, Beca sees a blur of orange flying toward her face. She moves her head slightly to the side, feeling for the briefest second, contact with something sticky against her cheek. She turns to look down where she finds the slice of cheese a little behind her.

“Beca! Shot or Dare?”

There is no hesitation. “Dare.” she responds.

“Booty call someone right now!” the same person that brought it up on Aubrey’s turn suggests it yet again.

Beca doesn’t wait for other dare suggestions. She slides out her phone, opens her contacts and immediately hits call on ‘Stacie Conrad’. The call rings twice before she is answered. Looking at all the faces watching her in earnest, she grins.

“Hey, what’re you doing right now? Can I come over?”

---

The school week passed by pretty slowly, despite it only being a four-day week. Beca thinks she made it more grueling for herself, because she kept checking her calendar and counting the days left until Saturday where she had written, circled, and highlighted “First day at WBUJ”.

Now it is Saturday and the universe must share in her excitement, because it is sunny and bright, and she really could burst out in song (if she did sing). Instead, she goes about her morning routine, headphones on, good vibrations bumping until 10:00 AM when she heads to Barden University campus..

The moment Beca drives onto the campus, she feels like she’s been transported out of Atlanta. She gets an eye-full of stone-laden buildings, lush green shrubbery, and perfectly paved roads and sidewalks. None of this is new to her.

Beca has been to the Barden University campus plenty of times before. Her dad is a professor at the school, so she has driven to meet up with him for dinners or random events he would so desperately bribe her into attending.

A new mixpad here, an upgraded pair of headphones there, a lot of mixing equipment and DJ software thrown in between; Beca had become quite proficient in dad-bartering as she called it. She did not hold an ounce of guilt about taking advantage of her dad’s hope that she would eventually like something about college. The way she saw it, losing a few hours of time throughout the week while entertaining the idea of college so she might add to her collection of equipment was more than worth it.

Beca finds a parking spot outside the building where WBUJ broadcasts as soon as she pulls up. In addition to it being Saturday, when no one has class, the location of the building is a little off main campus, so the parking lot is not commonly used by students.

The introductions with everyone inside are easy enough. The only new faces Beca had to pair with a matching name were the interns stacking CDs outside the booth.

“Alright, Mitchell. You ready to rock this?” Luke asks her.

“Ready as I’ll ever be.”

Luke squeezes her shoulder comfortably. “Do what you always do.” He nods confidently before he leaves her with Unicycle. They take the next few minutes to plan their shared hour of Unicycle’s sports talk that cuts in the middle of her broadcast time.

“So, I’m going to go grab lunch. I’ll be back in about two hours for the sports section. Have fun, Beca.” Unicycle closes the door to the booth when he leaves.

Beca stands silently alone in the booth, soaking it all in. She knows she has 5 minutes of advertisements currently looping through. Beca inhales deeply and exhales slowly, continuously controlling her breathing to mentally steel herself and steady her rapidly beating heart.

With 2 minutes left, Beca walks over to the leather roller chair. She sits down, places the headphones on her ears, and queues up her first song. Right as the last advertisement plays, she switches on her microphone. The moment the red light of the microphone flashes, the jitteriness Beca was feeling escapes her. She makes her introduction and then her selected song is playing through the station.

Beca settles into a groove after that. She walks around the shelves, scanning the CDs and picking songs here and there to add to her queue. Before she knows it, Unicycle is popping back into the booth with her, handing her a cup of lemonade and a thumbs up. “Heard you while I was out for lunch. You’re doing great.”

She thanks him and watches as he settles into the other roller chair. He positions the second microphone before him.

“Let’s give everyone a taste of what true bromance sounds like.”

Beca laughs. “You got it.”

The red lights on their microphones both switch on.

“Hey hey hey, Barden. It’s your favorite football-slinging, acapella-singing, unicycle-riding friend. I hope everyone is out there enjoying their beautiful Saturday afternoon. I’m sure it’s made much easier to do with our new DJ gracing the WBUJ radio waves. All I’ve heard since she’s been on have been on point beats and vibes to ride out this easy breezy weather we’re having.” Unicycle glances over at Beca, “I have to say, Beca, I feel almost guilty intruding in on your time.”

Beca chuckles into the microphone. “Nah, not at all. We have Football Sunday tomorrow. The Falcons are playing the Titans tonight. I think it goes without saying that we need a little bit of Unicycle insight on the possibilities of what’s to come in the NFL this weekend. Tell us like it is, Unicycle. What challenges are each team facing with their match-ups? What can we expect to see?”

Smooth like butter, Beca and Unicycle go back and forth talking about sports. At some points, Unicycle takes the time to break down concepts in basketball or baseball Beca doesn’t completely follow. It isn’t until there is 15 minutes left in Unicycle’s program that they transition out of the realm of collegiate and professional athletics.

“So, Beca, I am sure the listeners want to learn a little more about you. Tell us. What’s something fun you have lined up for this weekend? What does a DJ such as yourself get up to?”

“Honestly, Unicycle, at the risk of sounding lame, I don’t have plans this weekend. But you can usually find me in front of my laptop working on mash-up mixes or behind a turntable honing my live mixing.”

“You make mash-ups?”

“Yeah, yeah something like that.” Beca nods her head. “I like to combine songs into new arrangements. Break them out of the mold you’re used to listening to them in. It’s a fun thing for me. Sometimes my friends pick random songs from completely different genres, different tempos and I challenge myself to see what I can do.”

“This sounds quite impressive. Will you be giving us the privilege of hearing one of your mixes?”

“Oh, definitely. Or at least I hope to. Maybe in the coming few weeks. I am a bit of a perfectionist, so I’ll have to find one that doesn’t make my insides crawl with anxiety thinking about playing for you guys.”

Unicycle laughs. “I am sure whatever you create will be spectacular, and we will cherish the opportunity to listen.” Unicycle glances over at Beca and his eyes narrow, he’s studying her. “You know what though, would you be interested in arranging something for my acapella group?”

“Ah man, you’re in the acapella circuit too, huh?” Beca shakes her head.

“Of course! Belting out beautifully harmonic notes with my Treblemaker brethren is a treasured passtime. Is acapella not your thing?”

“To be honest, I haven’t really listened or tried. So I guess I can’t be a judge of that. But I do have some other friends who are apparently in the acapella domain with you. I would feel like a traitor if I were to help you out and not them. But you know, maybe I’ll catch a performance one of these days and then I’ll truly know how I feel about it. You guys have the semi-finals for your competition coming up, right?”

“Yeah!” Unicycle’s eyebrows raise. “I am surprised you know that’s coming up. Not many people are quite aware of what us acapella kings and queens get up to.”

“Like I said, I have friends in that world. So you know, trying to be a good friend and staying informed.”

“Oh, you’re a great friend. My roommate still always asks me where I’m coming back from whenever I’m getting back from acapella practice.”

Beca laughs.

“Beca, it’s been great sharing the past hour with you. Since you did mention you don’t have any plans tonight, I wanted to let you know that a few of us acapella heads are getting together for our bi-monthly karaoke contest. You should come and then maybe you can tell our listeners what you think about acapella next Saturday.”

“You know what, I’ll take you up on that offer.”

“Awesome! Well alright, everyone. Hopefully by next week Beca will feel better about acapella. As always, it’s been a pleasure.” Unicycle switches his microphone off and stands up.

“And that concludes Unicycle’s Sports Talk. Let me get you guys coasting back on some Saturday jams.”

Unicycle holds out a fist that Beca bumps with her own. “Easy peasy. You were born for this. I’ll see you later tonight?”

She nods her head and goes back to queuing songs for the rest of her broadcast.

---

“Is that ‘Ms. Prolonged Eye Contact’?” Fat Amy is whispering into Beca’s ears. Beca traces Fat Amy’s eyes to where they’re obnoxiously focused on Chloe sitting across the way, giggling with Aubrey. To Beca’s horror, she sees Fat Amy begin to lift a finger to point.

Beca quickly grabs Fat Amy’s hand and shoves it down. Without providing Fat Amy with an answer to her question, she shies away from the Australian, sliding across the cushion of the karaoke booth. She doesn’t stop moving until she is right beside Jesse. “I’m going to kill you for telling Amy about Chloe.” she aggressively whispers to the boy on her right.

Jesse takes his eyes away from Bumper (previously unfamiliar guy Amy made out with at Luke’s party) and Bumper’s interesting rendition of John Mayer’s “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room”. “What? CR and I both know. Why can’t Amy know?”

“The girl does not have a single subtle bone in her body.”

Jesse looks over Beca’s shoulder and grins nervously. “So uh, Becaw, maybe don’t turn around?”

Beca narrows her eyes and turns around to find Amy jerking her neck and motioning with her head and finger in Chloe’s direction. “Jesus Fucking Christ.” she groans, dropping her head into her hands.

“It’ll be alright, Becaw. There’s way too many people, noises and crazy glow-y lights in here. With how much drinking that has gone on, more than half of these people are drunk.” On cue, there’s a loud clanking sound that resonates through the room.

Jesse and Beca look over where the sound originated. Chloe and Aubrey are frozen, but their faces are guilty. Two full soju bottles are lying on their sides, one of the bottles spinning around.

Chloe sees Beca looking at her and giggles. “Oops,” she says with a little shrug and her mouth hidden behind her hand. Aubrey starts laughing beside her, picking up the fallen soju bottles and standing them both upright again.

“See.” Jesse says, as if the clumsiness of Chloe and Aubrey was proof of his earlier words. “Amy will fall into the background. Here. Relax.” Jesse pushes a cup of water into Beca’s hands.

Beca accepts the cup of water with a scowl. She eyes the shot glasses Aubrey just poured on the karaoke table, wishing she could have one of those instead. Unfortunately for Beca, the acapella karaoke night Unicycle had invited her to was being held at a public establishment. After ID checks were conducted, Beca, Jesse, and Fat Amy were left without the necessary wristbands for drinking. Under the legal drinking age aside, Beca was driving tonight anyway.

With a sigh, Beca drinks her water. She tries not to grimace, hearing the obnoxious riff Bumper is belting into the microphone as he concludes his turn.

“Suck on that, motherfuckers.” He kicks the air and turns around to look at the TV screen. After a few shots of virtual confetti, the screen shows a score of 83. “Bullshit!” Bumper stomps over to the table where the system remote is. “I demand a redo!”

The karaoke room speakers start playing the first few seconds of the song originally configured to be played next. However, when Bumper starts furiously pounding the buttons on the remote, the song stops, restarts, stops, restarts and then the room is left music-less.

A collective groan is shared amongst the Treblemakers.

“Damn it, Bumper. Did you break the system again?”

There is a ‘pat’ ‘pat’ as Unicycle tests out one of the microphones. The sound gets amplified through the speakers. “At least the microphone still works.”

“Well, we are acapella singers.”

“Ok, karaoke competition continued. Acapella version. Whose turn was it next?”

“Me!” A more than typically perky Chloe bounces in her seat before standing up, bumping the table in the process. Aubrey’s hands shoot out to steady the soju bottles threatening to tip over for the second time. Barely aware of what occurred, Chloe happily skips over to take the microphone from Bumper.

The ginger stands at the front of the room. She scrunches her mouth and taps a finger to her lips. After a beat, she grins and announces, “I forgot what song I was going to sing.”

“Would you like us to assign you a song?” Donald asks.

“Bruno Mars. Just The Way You Are.” Aubrey speaks into the microphone Unicycle’s holding.

“Ok!” Chloe agrees readily.

“Tambourine master, please lay down a beat for Chloe.”

One of the Barden Bellas Beca has not been introduced to starts hitting the tambourine against her thigh.

Beca frowns. It already sounds all wrong. She stands up and holds out her hand to the tambourine girl. “Can I have that?” she asks.

The Bella looks at her, staring questioningly.

“Jesus, Lisa. It’s just a tambourine,” Aubrey reaches over, grabbing the tambourine from the girl’s hand and passing it over to Beca. Beca nods her head in thanks to Aubrey. Then she turns to Unicycle. “Uh, can I have that too?” she motions to the second microphone.

“Sure.”

Microphone and tambourine in hand, Beca sits back down. She looks over at Chloe who is watching her silently with a smile. Beca sees a beat appear almost instantaneously in her mind. She starts stomping her foot against the ground, mixing in thumps of the tambourine against her thigh. Then she is articulating a vocable into the microphone.

It takes Chloe a moment, but then she’s nodding her head like she’s understood the pattern Beca has laid out for her to follow. She rolls back her shoulders, lifts her chin, takes a breath and -

Barely three notes have left Chloe’s lips before Beca realizes she has never heard a voice as beautiful as what is filling her ears and soothingly caressing her soul right now. The combination of Chloe’s angelic honeyed voice and Chloe’s mesmerizing clear blue eyes locked on her stirs something inside Beca. She feels it rise from the pit of her stomach to bubble through her chest and when it leaves her, Beca is suddenly singing the first line of Nelly’s “Just a Dream”.

There’s a flash of surprise on Chloe’s face, but then her impossibly blue eyes brighten and the smile on her lips widens and grows in brilliance as she continues (Beca isn’t sure if it’s the trick of the neon lights, but she thinks Chloe is glowing). Beca doesn’t shy under Chloe’s concentrated gaze; she returns it with one of her own. Their eye contact breaks, though only briefly, when everyone in the room joins in on Beca’s foot-stomping beat.

The foot stomps are almost overpowering, so Beca stops her harmonizing. She wants to hear only Chloe. Eventually the tambourine and foot stomps die out as well, and Beca gets her wish. The room fills with the sound of Chloe’s voice - the only sound melodically flowing out of the speakers.

Everyone is watching Chloe, but Chloe’s eyes haven’t left Beca. They stay on Beca when Chloe sings out the last note and stands there with a wide, open-mouth smile and gleaming eyes. Her chest steadily rising and falling, her cheeks flushed, her face literally radiating - Beca thinks this version of Chloe is the most beautiful thing she has ever seen.

“You can sing.” Chloe’s breathy mutter travels through the microphone still held up near her mouth.

---

An hour and a half of Beca helping to make arrangements for everyone else’s turn at karaoke later, they stand out in front of the karaoke bar.

“I m’the champion, my friends!” Chloe’s voice belts through the late, Saturday night air.

Beca chuckles. Her arm is wrapped around the ginger’s waist; she was keeping the drunk redhead somewhat steady on her feet while she said bye to her acapella friends. Friends now gone, drunk ones safely packed into sober drivers’ cars, they should be trekking over to Beca’s parked car. Beca takes one of Chloe’s currently outstretched arms (the girl was standing with her arms spread wide like a bird) and wraps it around her neck. “Let’s go, champion. Time to get you home.” she says.

Chloe giggles. “I ‘m the champion, aren’ I? I won the kar’oke competition.”

Beca nods. “Uh-huh. You did.”

The redhead suddenly stops walking. She sighs and starts leaning into Beca.

Beca has to dig her heel into the ground to firmly balance the two of them out.

“I’don think I won fair and square though.”

“What do you mean?” Beca hums. “You were amazing.”

Chloe roughly spins her body, the intention most likely so she can stand in front of Beca, but she’s uncoordinated and drunk, so Beca’s hands shoot out to grab onto Chloe’s hips to stop her from falling.

“On’y because I had you.” Chloe places a finger on Beca’s chest. “You were my secret weapon.” she slurs and then sways, once more almost falling sideways if not for Beca.

“Whoa now.” Beca readjusts her grip on Chloe. She wraps an arm around the older girl’s waist until they’re upright again. Now stable, Beca’s hand not supporting Chloe brushes strands of auburn hair that have messily spilled over Chloe’s face, revealing a frown.

Beca doesn’t think frowns suit Chloe’s face. “What’s wrong?” Beca asks.

“You lied to me,” Chloe near whispers.

Beca’s eyebrows press together in confusion. “I did?”

“You did.” Chloe nods her head. “You told me you don’t sing. But you do.”

Beca sighs. “I don’t - I don’t normally sing.”

“Why not?” Chloe tilts her head and her arms wrap around Beca’s neck.

Comfortable, Beca pulls the redhead close, tightening her arms around Chloe and pressing their bodies securely together.

“It’s just not my thing,” she answers with a twitch of her shoulder.

“But your voice. It’s beautiful.” Chloe’s eyes flutter shut and she smiles a wide, pleasant smile. “So so so beautiful.” she says, tilting her head back. A satisfied kind of hum escapes her. “You sound sexy when you’re talking on the radio by the way.”

Beca pauses. “You heard me?”

Chloe’s head snaps back down, almost bumping into Beca’s. Her glossened eyes take a moment to refocus, but then she’s gazing at Beca with a twinkle in her eyes. “Of course I did. I told you I’would be waiting to hear you. I’m not a liar like some people.” Chloe presses a finger into Beca’s chest firmly.

Beca’s eyebrows raise. She unwraps an arm from Chloe’s waist to gently pry the redhead’s prodding finger away. “Okay, I’m sorry.” she says. “I won’t do that again.”

“Promise?”

Beca is about to respond, when over Chloe’s shoulder, Beca sees Jesse and Fat Amy working together to guide a very drunk and aggressive Aubrey to Beca’s car. They’ve almost covered the whole distance, and Beca realizes she’s still way back here with the car keys in her pocket.

“I’ll promise if you promise to do your best to walk back to my car.”

Chloe is confused. Beca can see it. She re-strategizes.

“Look. Do you see Aubrey?” Beca points around Chloe and brings the redhead’s attention to her friend.

“Bree!” Chloe happily squeals.

“We need to get Aubrey home, because she’s drunk. Will you help me make it to my car, so we can get her home?”

There’s a fierce determination on Chloe’s face when she nods her head.

With minor stumbling here and there, Beca and Chloe make it to Beca’s car. The two drunk college girls get tucked into the backseat, immediately snuggling against each other and falling asleep. It’s only after Fat Amy has slid in next to them, and Jesse is taking the front passenger seat that the three friends realize they have no idea where the older girls live. They decide to call Luke to ask to crash at his house rather than risk jostling the girls and potentially causing one of them to puke in Beca’s car.

The drive to Luke’s house is mostly silent, until Jesse breaks it.

“So,” he starts.

“So,” Beca repeats after he hasn’t said anything else.

“Are we not going to talk about the fucking epic duet you had with Chloe?” Jesse looks at Beca with a sidelong glance.

“What about it?” Beca asks.

“Um. That shit was magical.” Fat Amy declares. “I didn’t even know you could sing.”

“Yeah, that’s kind of a huge thing. Finding out your best friend can sing after eleven years of friendship.” Jesse shakes his head. “All of that aside though, I am more interested in unpacking the lovey-dovey eyes you and Chloe had for each other.”

“Oh, yeah. That was some passionate shit.” Fat Amy agrees. “I was surprised you guys didn’t rip each other’s clothes off at the end of it all.”

“You guys are ridiculous.”

Jesse huffs. “You’re crazy if you’re going to try and brush off the obvious chemistry between you two. You think your friends are going to let that one go unnoticed? Literally everyone in that room saw it.”

“Can we not right now, nerds?” Beca glances into her rearview mirror, spying the slumped bodies in the backseat. “Chloe is literally right there.”

Fat Amy leans over to inspect Chloe and Aubrey. She sees the shallow and steady rise and fall of both of their breathing. Properly sitting back in her seat, she shakes her head. “Your girl is shit-wasted, B. I don’t think she’s conscious for any of this.”

“Still,” Beca sighs, “Just let it go.”

Jesse apparently doesn’t want to. “Beca,” he starts, “we’re your friends. We want you to be happy.”

“I am happy.”

“Romantically?”

Beca cringes. “Ew. Can you sound more queerballs, dork?”

“Beca. I’m being serious.”

Beca sighs. “Why are you so insistent on this?”

“Because you could be happy. With Chloe.” Jesse says matter-of-factly.

“Yeah, too bad she’s taken,” Beca grumbles.

“What? Basic boy?” Jesse shakes his head. “You should have seen them at Luke’s. After you left -”

“Just drop it, Jesse.” Beca raises her voice, just a little, but there’s an obvious bite of finality.

Jesse gives her a cursory glance. Defeated, he shakes his head and sighs. “Fine. We’re at Luke’s anyway.”

Beca unclasps her seat belt. “Luke said he left the front door unlocked for us, so I’m guessing that means he’s not helping.”

“Well then, here comes the fun part.”

“Yeah, getting these two twig bitches inside and upstairs to the guest bedrooms.” Fat Amy takes a deep breath before she exits the car.

After a few unsuccessful attempts at waking either of the girls, Beca, Jesse and Fat Amy decide to carry them up one at a time. Aubrey gets tucked away into bed easily, but arms weary and stamina drained from having already brought up the blonde, the three friends are exhausted and have less strength to transport Chloe smoothly.

“Dude!” Beca hisses at Jesse and Fat Amy when they almost swing Chloe’s head into the bedroom door.

“Sorry, Becaw, I lost my grip on her arm.” Jesse cowers guiltily, almost sheepish.

“Ok, but there’s two of you up there.” (Jesse couldn’t lift Chloe’s torso on his own, because of exhaustion, so Fat Amy was helping him. Beca was left carrying the redhead’s legs on her own.)

“Eh, sorry. I kinda did too.” Fat Amy admits.

Beca huffs. Her physical exhaustion is starting to wear her down mentally. She feels herself losing patience with her friends. “Come on, just a little farther. Get her through the threshold at least.” Beca says mostly to herself.

“Ow, fuck!” In his cautiousness at making sure Chloe’s head didn’t get bumped against the door, Jesse had slammed his head into the doorframe. His grip on her body fully slips. With Jesse’s strength gone, Amy stumbles backward, bringing Chloe and Beca down with her.

“Shit,” Amy groans, flattened on the floor - Chloe’s body atop hers and Beca on them both.

“Damn it, Jesse.” Beca grumbles, lifting herself off from the pile. As she’s standing up, Beca sees Chloe mumble before she turns and rolls off of Amy’s body. The redhead lands on the floor with a soft “thud”. The slight impact, though from a very short fall, seemed to have woken the ginger.

Chloe sits up, her hair curtained over her face and a pout on her lips. “Where’mI?” she mumbles.

“Oh, thank God. You’re awake.” Fat Amy brushes herself off and stands. Like Beca, she is sweating. She starts wiping the sweat away from her forehead.

Chloe looks up at Fat Amy and then over at Beca. “Becs?”

Beca thinks the drunkenness and drowsiness caused Chloe to stumble over her name.

“Hey, yeah. It’s Beca. You ok?” Beca crouches down in front of the redhead.

“Becs, why m’I on the ground? Where’r’we?” Chloe is still slurring, but hearing it the second time around, it definitely sounded like she purposefully said Beca’s name in that manner.

“I drove us to Luke’s and we were trying to get you into bed. We kinda dropped you though. Sorry.” Beca brushes the curtain of auburn hair away. She tucks loose strands behind Chloe’s ears.

Chloe giggles and looks up. “If you wanted to get me into bed, you could have just asked.” Sitting seems to be too much for the redhead to handle in her current state, because she starts swaying. Beca protectively approaches with outstretched arms in case she does indeed fall.

“Okay, can you get into bed for me then?” Beca asks gently.

Chloe hums and jerks her head to the side. “That’s not the way to ask me.”

“How am I supposed to ask?”

“If I have to tell you, you don’ deserve to know.” Chloe huffs and then makes a start to get up off the floor. She fails. “I’m stuck,” she wines.

Beca frowns. “You’re stuck?”

Chloe nods her head. She pouts up at Beca. “Help me.” she says before she stretches her arms up.

Taking Chloe’s hands with a sigh, Beca uses the strength she has left to pull the redhead up. She wasn’t expecting Chloe to push herself up at the same time, and their joint effort results in too much exerted force, bringing Chloe’s body crashing into Beca’s. The moment she realizes they’re stumbling, Beca’s arms instinctively wrap around Chloe’s waist and she shuffles her feet into a grounded stance.

Fall averted, Beca sighs in relief.

There’s a quick giggle. “You’re deceptively strong,” Chloe mutters in her ear.

Beca only has it in her to grunt in response.

“Are you going to take me to bed now?” Chloe asks almost dreamily.

Beca hears Fat Amy stifle a laugh. She shoots her a glare, which completely silences the Australian. “Come on,” she says to Chloe.

As Beca tries to balance Chloe’s very sleepy and drunkenly swaying body the rest of the way to the bed, her phone starts ringing from her back pocket. Hands occupied, she turns over to Fat Amy. “Can you get my phone?”

The ringing gets louder once the phone leaves her back pocket; it's blaring and abrasive.

“Uh,” Fat Amy freezes holding Beca’s phone in her hands.

“What? Who is it?”

“Stacie.” Fat Amy whispers - but it’s not really a whisper. “I think she’s booty calling you.”

Beca is just about to tell Fat Amy to ignore the call when she feels the weight in her arms disappear. Her mind processes Chloe standing upright on her own; she sees Chloe snatch her phone from Fat Amy’s hands. Beca’s eyes widen when Chloe picks up the call and places the phone against her ear.

“Fuck off, slut,” Chloe slurs into the receiver.

Fat Amy’s jaw drops. She stands half-stunned, half-awed, dumbly watching Chloe place the phone back in her hand, clumsily walk the rest of the way to fall into the bed and wrap herself into a cocoon with the blankets.

Fat Amy slowly turns her head to Beca. “Well shit,” Fat Amy mutters.

“That was kinda badass,” Jesse, who had been silent for the past few minutes, admiringly states from the doorway (Beca had forgotten he was even there).

“Beca? Who was that?” there’s a tiny, barely audible voice coming from the phone in Fat Amy’s hands.

“Oh shit,” Fat Amy hurriedly tosses the phone to Beca, who also echoes a quick “Oh shit” of her own and quickly hangs up.

“Think it’s time to call it a night, Beca”

Beca vaguely nods, agreeing with Fat Amy. They head to join Jesse on the other side of the bedroom doorway.

With a final glance into the room, Beca eyes the bundled heap on the bed and closes the door. She is about to step away from the bedroom entirely, but the lacking initiative of either of her friends to head downstairs brings her to a startled halt.

Jesse and Fat Amy are both standing, looking at Beca with crossed arms and amused grins.

“What?” Beca asks.

“Are we going to talk about that?” Jesse nods his head in the direction of the doorway and arches his brow.

“There’s nothing to talk about, nerd. Move.” Beca takes a step forward, but neither of her friends budge from the two-man human blockade they’ve formed.

Jesse hums, “Um, right right,” he trails off, “the girl you eye drool over asking you to take her to bed is nothing.” Jesse nods his head, but there is no conviction behind the motion.

“Not to mention the green-eyed monster we all just witnessed,” Amy lets out a low whistle. “I thought Red was only sugar and bubbles, but that person back there could cut a bitch and not wince.”

Beca half-raises her arms in defeat. “What do you want me to say to you guys?”

“Admit that you can feel something between you and Chloe.”

“Ok,” Beca nods, “I admit there’s - there’s something there. Satisfied?”

Jesse looks smug. “That’s cute. You think all we needed was to hear you say all of that when it’s already obvious.” Jesse rolls his eyes and grips Beca’s shoulders. His eyes bore into hers. “No, Becaw. What we actually want to know is what are you going to do about it?”

Beca wordlessly opens her mouth. She doesn’t know.

---

Beca, Jesse, Fat Amy and Cynthia-Rose are seated at their usual booth at their favorite diner eating breakfast.

Fat Amy easily catches the tater tot Cynthia-Rose throws across the table into her mouth. “Ok,” she says, mouth chewing, “I have an idea, Beca. What if - and hear me out here - you serenade Chloe with a song, while standing on a canoe, crossing a lake.”

Jesse’s mouth twists and his eyes narrow. He places his utensils back on his breakfast plate. “Why the hell would she do that?” he asks, turning to Fat Amy.

Fat Amy scowls. “I don’t see you giving any suggestions, Mr. Movie Marathon.”

“You know you could just tell her you like her’, right? That’s what I did with Denise.”

Beca nods. “Ok, sure. I’ll do that.”

“No no no.” Jesse leans across the table. “You’re popping your ‘catching feelings’ virginity, Becaw. We need to bring the tears and blow minds.”

“You’re such a fucking nerd.” Beca tosses a tater tot at his forehead before picking up her ringing phone. “Sup, dude?” she answers cooly. “Oh,” her eyebrows raise, “we’re at the Pitch Platter.” She pauses - listening. “Ok, see you soon.” she hangs up the phone. “Luke said he’s coming with Chloe and Aubrey.”

Jesse’s eyes widen, “But they can’t! We haven’t figured out how you’re going to confess your undying love for Chloe yet.”

Beca’s fork scrapes her plate, creating a bone-chilling screech. “Whoa. Chill out, nerd. It isn’t that serious.”

“Have you seen the way you look at her?” Jesse deadpans. “Come on, Beca. We need fireworks and pizazz.”

“I’m about to stick fireworks up your ‘azz’,” Beca mocks. There’s a movement by the front door, and maybe she’s been keeping an eye on it since her phone call, but Beca turns her attention to the diner entrance.

“Oh God.” Beca is muttering before she can contain herself. Her friends turn to see what caused her irritation.

“Who is that?” Fat Amy asks, “I want to be the brisket in his sandwich.”

Beca rolls her eyes, “Gross.”

“Far from it,” Fat Amy licks her lips and smacks them noisily.

“That would be Tom.” Jesse answers Fat Amy. He leans across the table toward the blonde to add, “Chloe’s ex-boyfriend.”

“Wait - what?” Beca directs her question at Jesse, but her best friend is staring open-mouthed at something (someone) beside their table.

“Beca, we need to talk.”

Beca turns her head. She finds Stacie standing with hands on her hips. “Hey, Conrad.”

The cheerleader taps her foot impatiently and crosses her arms.

“Oh, talk. Right. Yeah, ok. Outside?” Beca slides out of the diner booth and follows the tall brunette.

Stacie doesn’t stop walking until they are a few feet away from the diner entrance. When she turns around, she huffs. Annoyance is written clearly on her face. “What the fuck was that last night?” The question comes out relatively calm, more curious than accusatory, and Beca can only be grateful.

“I’m sorry. Someone grabbed my phone and answered it before I could do anything about it.” Beca meets Stacie’s gaze and offers a tight-lipped smile.

Stacie narrows her eyes and brings her arm to cross against her chest. “I know what happened, Beca. I’m asking if you are cheating on someone with me.”

“Whoa, no!” Beca waves her arms frantically in front of herself.

“You’re not lying to me, right? I’m not trying to be a homewrecker.”

“I would never, even remotely, cheat on anyone. Child of divorce and everything,” Beca admits with a vague wave of her hand.

Stacie’s shoulders relax and her arms drop to her side. “Oh, I didn’t know that.”

Beca shrugs. “We don’t really know much about each other.” Seeing Stacie’s expression, Beca holds up a hand, “Not like we need to. For what we have.” Beca’s hand flicks back and forth between her and Stacie, “I was just saying. It’s understandable you didn’t.” Beca scratches the back of her neck and laughs. “God. I have no idea how we got to this point.”

Stacie lets out a light giggle, “Well, I appreciate the honesty and you sharing the tidbit about yourself.”

Beca grins. Feeling that the tension in the air has dissipated, she squints at Stacie, “Are we good then?” she asks, still grinning.

“Yeah, we’re good.” Stacie nods. “For future reference, you can tell me if you’re busy with someone else. I’m not trying to monopolize your time. We can all get our share of sexual release. If she’s willing to share.”

“Uh,” Beca’s hand rubs her neck, “It’s not like that at all. She and I don’t have - we aren’t - Fuck, I don’t even know what I’m trying to say to you right now.” Beca laughs nervously.

Stacie tilts her head and eyes Beca intently. “You know,” she starts, her eyebrows lightly furrowing together, though very briefly, as if she’s recalling something from her memory, “that girl from last night - whoever she is - sounded pretty pissed at me.”

“Eh,” Beca shrugs, “some of that might have been because she was drunk.”

“Maybe,” Stacie nods slowly, “but drunk feelings are usually sober thoughts. And I don’t think she’s happy you’re entertaining me.” There’s a pause before Stacie speaks up again. “Do you like her?”

Beca finds herself nodding.

“So what’s stopping you?”

“From what?”

“Telling her. Bagging her up. All the fun phases of starting a relationship.”

Beca gives herself time to think, but she doesn’t need more than a second. “Nothing is stopping me at all, actually.” She frowns at the realization.

Stacie laughs. “You should probably do something about that then. She obviously likes you back.”

Beca chuckles. “ I am really sorry about the phone call yesterday.”

“Oh,” Stacie waves her hand, “I wasn’t talking about that. Based on the way that redhead,” Stacie tilts her head, pointing in the direction of the diner windows, “has not let her eyes stray since she noticed us standing here, I think I have a pretty good idea who called me a ‘slut’ last night.”

Beca peeks over her shoulder, and through a layer of glass, she finds Chloe easily.

The older girl, aware she has been spotted, averts her gaze.

Beca feels a smirk forming, but instead she frowns, noticing that Chloe is engaged in a conversation with Tom, but looking very much like she doesn’t want to be. They’re standing in the middle of the diner; Chloe, with her arms crossed, is tapping her fingers and looking anywhere but at Tom. Whatever he has just said to her must have thoroughly annoyed her, because she’s shaking her head and turning to walk away.

“Looks like your girl needs saving, Beca.” Stacie sighs. “Don’t fuck this up, okay? I already don’t like losing you as a fuck buddy.”

Beca turns back to Stacie and chuckles. “I’ll try not to, Conrad.”

“Good luck,” the taller girl grins, winks and saunters off.

“Chloe!” Tom’s angry voice breaks the calm air outside the diner and alerts Beca to the fact that Chloe and Tom’s discussion has spilled outside. “Stop walking away from me.”

“Oh my gosh,” Chloe spins around. “Are you even listening, Tom? I’m over this conversation.” Chloe’s voice is more elevated than usual and there’s a tremble Beca can hear; it’s vastly different from her usual sweetness.

Beca feels the need to make sure she is okay.

Tom’s eyes dart over Chloe’s shoulder to Beca as she approaches. There is a moment where Beca thinks he recognizes her, but then his eyes are back on Chloe. “I am listening to you, which is why I think this is all bullshit. You break up with me over a tiny argument we had? I can’t believe that.”

“It wasn’t tiny, Tom. It wasn’t even the first time we’ve had that argument. It keeps happening and nothing is changing! I’m so tired of it.” Chloe’s hands clench in the air. “And I told you two weeks ago we’re over, but you keep showing up. What part of ‘we are done’ did you not understand?”

“We aren’t over until I say we’re over, Chloe. You think you can do better than me?” Tom scoffs. “You are nothing. Just a pretty face and a nice body.”

Beca’s derisive and loud laugh cuts the air.

Chloe, who had been oblivious to Beca’s proximity, was now looking at her. She seemed surprised to find Beca so close beside her.

“I’m sorry.” Beca manages to say between her laughing. “I thought you looked dumb, but you’re a fucking idiot, dude.”

“Who the fuck are you?” Tom asks.

“Someone who sees Chloe’s worth.” Beca crosses her arms. “I would clue you in, but I don’t think your dumb ass would even be able to comprehend.” Beca shakes her head. “You’re lucky Chloe has as big of a heart as she does to put up with however long this lasted.”

“Look, bitch. Get the fuck out of my face.”

“Tom,” Chloe steps in front of Beca, getting between the two of them. “Just go.”

Beca smirks at the fuming Tom from behind Chloe’s shoulders. ‘Just go’ she silently taunts, waving goodbye.

“Seriously, Chloe?” Tom scowls.

“Is everything okay out here?” Luke is walking out of the diner. He looks at Chloe standing between Beca and Tom and narrows his eyes.

Tom glares at Luke. “Why the hell have you always been around lately, Luke? You trying to steal my girl?”

Luke raises his hands, palms outward. “Whoa, man, I -”

Tom reels back around, not bothering to hear what Luke has to say. “Is that what this is all about, Chloe? You being a fucking slut -”

Tom doesn’t finish his sentence, because Beca immediately steps around Chloe, curls her hand into a fist, and throws all her weight forward as her knuckles collide deftly into his face, sending Tom spiralling to the ground.

“Oh my God!” Beca curls over as she grabs her wrist, jolts of aching pain shooting from her hand up her arm.

“Beca! Why did you do that?!” Chloe yells. She’s frantic.

Beca looks up at Chloe through widened eyes. “Are you serious right now?”

“Yes! You can’t just go punching people! Especially when you’re not even my-” Chloe lets out a maddened, frustrating groan. Her hands helplessly raise in the air. Then, as if trying to control whatever emotions are coursing through her, she clenches her hands into fists before kneeling down to check on Tom.

The pain in Beca’s hand is nothing to the surging fire in her chest when she watches Chloe treat Tom with so much concern. It’s even more jarring when she hears Tom mutter, “Stupid ass bitch. I dare you to try that shit again.”

Chloe frowns. “Tom. Don’t -”

Before Beca is able to make a move forward, Luke steps in front of her. His hands grasp her shoulders and Beca is firmly, but gently shaken to attention. Beca’s eyes lock onto Luke’s green eyes. The stern warning she sees in them disrupts the second impulsive flare of red that flashed in her mind.

Beca grits her teeth and rips herself from Luke’s hold on her. “If this is what I get for trying,” Beca shakes her head. She presses her lips together and turns around. Beca gets as far as two steps before -

“So you’re just going to leave now? You’re not going to explain yourself?”

Beca hears Chloe behind her; she hears her exasperation. But Beca also feels her own, so she continues to walk away.

Beca isn’t sure how many blocks she has walked or how long it has been, but by the time she cools off and makes it back to her car, everyone has left the diner.

Jesse had texted Beca earlier to let her know Luke had offered her friends a ride home. No one was sure how long it would take for her to calm down; her lack of response to text messages or phone calls providing them no clarity.

Beca sits in her car and fields another incoming text message, throwing her phone into the passenger seat. Her mind is no longer reeling from the multitude of emotions, primarily anger, compared to earlier, but she still feels so much. She rests her head against the top of her steering wheel, sighing. The last time she had felt as much as she was feeling now had been the day Luke had told her about her new DJ opportunity for WBUJ. She had channeled her happiness and excitement into a mash-up of songs, which she believes might be the most upbeat mix she has ever made.

Deciding to do what she always does when she needs an emotional outlet, Beca starts up her car and drives home.

---

Beca spends the next few days socially disconnected and purely engrossed in her music and working on her mix. If she wasn’t in class, she had headphones on walking to and from class. If she wasn’t in school, she was at home in front of her laptop. She had not opened a single text message thread or answered a phone call outside the ones with her parents.

It isn’t until Wednesday as Beca is sitting in her bedroom, in front of her laptop, headphones on, current mix-in-progress open on her screen that her friends sneak back into her life.

Just as Beca is adding a vocal layer to her mix, a rainbow collection of sweets pour out above Beca’s head and over the keyboard of her laptop. She flinches back slightly and then slowly takes note of what is going on around her. Jesse is standing behind her chair, holding the bag of candy being emptied, wearing a wide grin on his face; Cynthia-Rose and Fat Amy flank either side of her, arms crossed.

She pulls her headphones off her ears. “What’s up, nerds?” she casually greets as though it hasn’t been days since she last spoke to her friends.

“Oh, so we aren’t invisible after all.” Jesse states, placing the empty plastic candy bag onto the table.

Beca rolls her eyes.

“Beca, we’ve given you three days. We feel like it’s time you talk about what happened at the diner the other day.”

“What’s there to talk about?”

“Uh,” Fat Amy looks at Beca slack-jawed, “You physically assaulted someone?” The tone Fat Amy speaks with holds a hint of incredulousness, shocked Beca could forget something that monumental.

Beca shrugs it off. “I physically assault Jesse all the time.”

“That’s true.” Jesse rubs at invisible wounds, slightly wincing.

“You know it’s different, B.” Cynthia-Rose gazes at Beca. The kind of gaze that doesn’t let up.

Beca sighs exasperated and pushes back from her desk, almost rolling over Jesse’s foot in the process. “Sorry, that wasn’t intentional,” she apologizes to Jesse before she spins in her chair so all her friends are in her view. “Do you guys want me to go apologize to Tom or something?”

“No, we want you to unpack your feelings.”

Beca grimaces and scowls, “feelings?”

“B, we’re being so serious. We’ve seen you upset, frustrated, angry, but we have never seen you explode in a physically aggressive manner. There’s some powerful emotions you’re trying to bottle down, girl. With how tiny your frame is, we don’t recommend it.”

Beca’s hand runs through her long hair. She huffs and leans her head back. Staring up at the ceiling, she inhales deeply before slowly breathing out.

“Luke told us what set it off,” Jesse’s voice is low, like he’s aware Beca is mentally working around to participate in the conversation. “What Tom said about Chloe.” Jesse lets a brief silence settle before he speaks up again. “You’re a great friend, Becaw. You’ve only ever been fiercely loyal to all of us. But as much as I know, without a shred of a doubt, you would lay someone out for me if it required, you wouldn’t clock someone in the jaw just for verbally insulting me.”

“Beca,” Fat Amy’s voice is gentle, but Beca feels the nudge.

Lifting her head, Beca looks back at the three faces watching her patiently.

“God, is this some kind of intervention?” she asks, jokingly. She gets no responses unfortunately. “Geez, tough crowd.” she mumbles. Beca breathes out heavily through her nose. “I don’t know how to explain myself. Just -” she scratches the back of her neck before she spins around. “Just listen and tell me what you think?” she unplugs her headphones and presses play on her mix.

The melodic sound of plucked guitar strings, the introduction of Gryffin’s Feel Good starts playing. The light vocals of Daya carry through the first verse, but then there’s a growing bass and suddenly PnB Rock’s verses from Ed Sheeran’s Cross Me is layered over top. Beca has added her own bass and electronic beats to seamlessly create an even tempo between the two songs. For a while, Ed Sheeran and Daya’s harmonic voices are weaved in and out of each other while Beca’s beat carries them through. Suddenly though, a third, very familiar voice starts singing the chorus of Alesso’s Remedy. Finally, the bass and electronic beats fade. The last note is a guitar string as the mix ends.

“Becaw,” Jesse gapes. “Did you - was that - you were singing.”

Beca turns around, looks at her wide-eyed best friend, and with her lips tightly pressed together, she nods her head.

“Beca, that was amazing.”

“B, I think that mix says more than we could ever get you to say,” Cynthia-Rose shakes her head in disbelief.

“Yeah?” Beca rubs the back of her neck. “I was thinking of playing it during my radio show this weekend.”

“Definitely. Do it.” Jesse nods his head earnestly. “Becaw, this is the way you get the girl.”

Beca laughs, but then she’s massaging her left arm with her right hand. “I don’t know if she’ll even be listening.”

“She will be.” Jesse asserts.

---

Beca is queuing up radio advertisements while Unicycle gets comfortable in the seat beside her. She has completed her first two hours of her broadcast, and their joint segment is about to begin.

“You’re sure you’re cool with bringing up the whole Tom thing?” Unicycle checks with Beca again. “I won’t explicitly mention the physical assault or anything. Not trying to get you in some heat. Though I will have to say, I will be surprised if there’s a single person on campus who hasn’t heard about Tom getting socked by a highschool senior.”

Beca laughs. “Yeah, it’s fine. If he wanted to do anything about it, I would have heard by now.”

“Alright, Beca. It’s showtime.” He grins at her as the red lights on their microphones switch on.

“What’s up to all my WBUJ listeners. It’s your favorite unicycle-riding, acapella-singing, sports-loving fiend joining our freshest DJ - Beca Mitchell. If you guys remember us talking about it last week, Beca held true to her commitment and showed up to acapella karaoke night. Before we get into our sports chat, let’s do a quick check-in with her. Beca, tell us. Did you have fun? What did you think?”

“You know, I did my best to come in without any expectations, and you guys pleasantly surprised me. I had a lot of fun.”

“Get this, listeners. She had so much fun she even sang. And let me tell you, this girl can sing. If you needed any other reasons to dig our DJ even more, there’s another tally to mark.”

Beca chuckles. “Hey, you can’t be sharing all my secrets.”

“It’s hard to keep things about you a secret, Beca. You’re still in high school and somehow making waves in the college campus rumor mill. Though, rumor implies speculation, and everything so far I’ve heard about you is fact.”

“Really now? What is something you heard about me?”

“Well, word around campus and the greater Barden community for the past week is that you got yourself into a little altercation with Tom Stewart outside everyone’s favorite diner - the Pitch Platter - last Sunday.”

“Ah,” Beca sighs. “Not one of my finer moments. I don’t know if this amounts to anything, but I am really sorry for what I did. It was a complete dick move - entirely impulsive and juvenile and there was no excuse for it. No matter the motivation.” Beca is shaking her head, but even if the viewers can’t see, she knows they hear the pause. “And what’s worse is I just left the scene after that, and well, I shouldn’t have left.”

“Sounds like you had a lot of time for introspection this weekend, Beca.”

“Definitely. Yes.” Beca nods. “I also did a lot of mixing. I actually have a mash-up I wanted to play for you guys today.”

“Oh! Well, to all our sports fans, I will have to ask for you to be a little more patient with us here. This is an opportunity I cannot pass up.”

Beca queues up her mix but before she presses play, she leans into the microphone. “Honestly, I am not great with words, and as you all have heard, my actions aren’t always thought out. When it comes to music, though - music is what I know best. It’s what I use to sort out my thoughts and emotions.” Beca chuckles and scratches her head, “My mind has been in a crazy whirlwind for the past few weeks though. As cheesy as this is going to sound, it all started because of a girl.” Beca breathes in deeply, “So to Chloe Beale, if you’re listening, this one's for you.”

The song plays and Beca sits in nervous silence, watching Unicycle’s face morph throughout its progression. By the end of it, he has his eyebrows far up on his forehead and his mouth hangs slightly agape. He looks to Beca.

“Beca, I am finding myself at a loss of words here. That was a banger.” He nods his head like he’s agreeing with his own sentiment. “The song selections, your beats, and if my ears weren’t mistaken, I believe I heard a little bit of you in there. What a journey.” He shakes his head in disbelief, “You made me feel so many things throughout that song. There was one definite and prominent emotion that kept rising in my chest, though.”

“What’s that?” Beca asks curiously.

“Love.” Unicycle smiles and places a hand to his chest. “Love like I haven’t felt in a long time to be honest. But before I get too distracted and go down that road, let’s pursue a different kind of love in the interests of our listeners. It’s time to dig into my love for sports.”

Unicycle transitions easily into his segment from there.

---

As Beca steps out of the broadcasting station - done with her segment and having passed the reins to the next DJ for the night - she feels her phone vibrate in her pocket. Unlocking the device, she is immediately overwhelmed. The multitude of icons indicating notifications, especially the ones of her unread threads, reminds her she still has yet to catch up on all the messages she had not gone through despite having made up with her friends.

Not bothering to check the latest notification, Beca decides she’ll go through everything once she’s home. She slides her phone into the back pocket of her black skinny jeans and begins to head over to her car only to stop short.

Propped against the hood of Beca’s Honda stands Chloe - a sight Beca was terribly unprepared for but completely welcoming of. The moment they lock eyes Chloe’s pushing off the car and walking over; Beca’s feet naturally move to meet the redhead.

“Hey,” is all Beca manages to slip out of her mouth before her heart kicks up in her chest and she’s forced to inhale through her nose, dousing her senses with Chloe’s perfume. Her head fills with an overpowering lightness, and Beca almost staggers back because - right now - her whole being is drowning in Chloe. Chloe’s strong, gentle hands cupping her face. Chloe’s soft, full lips pressing against her own. Chloe’s scent washing over her.

As quickly as Beca acknowledges the simultaneous occurrence of all these things, it dawns on her that Chloe Beale is kissing her and she isn’t kissing back. So she does. Her hands find Chloe’s waist, her eyelids flutter shut, and she presses forward to close the tiny distance that was left between them.

Beca relishes in the feel of Chloe’s lips as they mold perfectly against her own. Every breath she takes sends in waves of Chloe, and she inhales it like its oxygen. She presses deeper; her mouth growing more insistent. Feeling Chloe reciprocate her urgency, Beca soars into a dizzying oblivion where the only anchor is Chloe’s lips connected to hers. Before Beca completely slips away, Chloe is slowing their pace. She pulls back and breaks off, leaving her forehead pressed against Beca’s while she takes chest-heaving breaths; Beca floats back down catching her own breath as well.

There’s a brief comfortable silence, both girls just breathing, until Chloe starts giggling.

“What’s so funny?” Beca asks.

“I totes told myself to keep it together. I was going to make you apologize and grovel and explain how you can ignore my text messages, then say all those things on the radio,” Chloe gently shakes her head, “but the moment I saw you, all I could hear was your mix.”

“You were listening then?”

Chloe lifts her head until she is gazing directly into Beca’s eyes. “Of course I was. As immature as you had been about punching Tom and potentially hurting yourself, I am still in the ‘Beca Mitchell is going to be great someday and I want to be there for every moment of the journey’ corner.” Chloe steps back and pulls at Beca’s right hand holding her waist. She traces her fingers over the knuckles. “These hands are important. I need these hands, ok?”

Beca smirks. After the kiss they just shared, she does nothing to mask the coy flirtation when she asks “For what exactly?”

Chloe laughs. “I mean - yes to exactly what you’re thinking. Well,” her eyes flick upward to Beca’s, “if that’s okay, that is. When we get there,” she bites her lip and there’s a pause like Chloe is gathering herself together before she drops her gaze back down to Beca’s hand, “I need to see where you go from here. I can’t have you potentially ruining your future over something silly as trying to defend me.”

“Noted,” Beca nods. “I will take better care of these hands.” She pauses before adding, “For all the things you will be needing them for.”

Chloe playfully rolls her eyes.

Grinning, Beca interlaces her right hand with the one Chloe’s holding it with and pulls the redhead in for a sweet, chaste kiss. “In case it needs to be said again, I’m really sorry. I know I shouldn’t have punched Tom. I definitely shouldn’t have walked away from you. But I like you, Chloe Beale. Like a lot. And I had no idea what to do with that information at the time.”

“Are you sure it’s just ‘like’? Because your mix has this intensity in the way it really builds.” Chloe winks.

Beca laughs. “Calm down, nerd. We’ll work our way there.”

“Yeah?” Chloe tilts her head. Her blue eyes are sparkling.

Beca leans in, “Yeah,” she answers, laying another sweet kiss on Chloe’s lips.

“That might be hard to do, though, if communication lines such as - oh, I don’t know - phones aren’t being used.”

“About that,” Beca slides her phone out of her back pocket, quickly unlocks it and shares the view of the screen with Chloe. “I was actually going to go through all of this tonight.”

“Oh wow,” Chloe whispers, her eyebrows raising. She reaches out and scrolls through the list of unopened message threads until she comes to one labelled with a phone number Beca hasn’t saved into her phone yet. She opens the thread and taps her fingers against the screen. When she’s done, the message thread has been labelled under a new name.

Beca smiles looking down at the new addition to her contacts. Through everything she has experienced since meeting Chloe, nothing clearly defined how she felt about the redhead as straightforward and simply as Chloe with a heart emoji next to her name.

Maybe it is more than ‘like’.