A/N - Another long chapter awaits... I suggest you might want to go and put the kettle on and make a cuppa first! I hope everyone has had an awesome day today... I left the house (properly) for the first time in nearly eleven months. Kinda weird. First time wearing something other than pyjamas or sweats! And I had to properly brush my hair (think Chloe's hair in the 'gold lame number' in PP2 and that's how it usually looks). Also Spring is just around the corner and March is one of my favourite months as I love seeing the flowers poke their heads out. Soon be time to plant my sunflowers!
Thanks, as always, to my beta for all the i dotting, and t crossing. Sincerely appreciate the time.
This chapter is dedicated to my friend's Papa, in his memory. xx
.oOo. Chapter Twenty Six .oOo.
"Are you okay to put them to bed, while I finish up dinner?" Chloe asked as she finished getting ingredients for their dinner out of her oversized fridge.
Beca froze. She'd changed back into her jeans after a quick shower in the guest bathroom and had been feeling less self-conscious than before. She'd brought down Chloe's bikini and shorts and put it all straight into the washing machine before playing with the girls for another hour. Chloe had to call the girls three times to come and have something to eat as they were having so much fun with Beca. Now, as Beca hopped from foot to foot in the kitchen, she felt the weirdness begin to wash over her again.
"Um, yeah, sure. All three?"
"Is that okay? Would you rather not?"
"Oh no, it's cool. Just…" Beca huffed a little. "… sorry, I'm awkward. I mean, in life. I'm just awkward. It's a thing."
"It's just bedtime Beca!" Chloe laughed. "You've put Jessie to bed a thousand times. And you've just spent most of the afternoon making them laugh and giggle. They aren't usually like that with people. So they like you, if that's what you are worried about."
"Yeah, okay. It's just... it's your kids…"
"It's okay, I can do it," Chloe said without a hint of frustration, reaching for a towel to dry her hands.
"Sorry, ignore me. I got this." Beca blew out the air in her cheeks. "Teeth and bedtime story?"
"Please." Chloe smiled. "They have a sticker chart for good behaviour on the closet door."
Chloe watched Beca climb the stairs and turned back to the ingredients laid out in front of her. She liked this, being able to have a few minutes to cook a meal without being clambered on. She loved her girls with all of her heart, but occasionally needed a little time out. David would often sit on her phone while she cooked, commenting but never actually helping.
Dinner was just about ready when Chloe realised Beca had been upstairs for quite a while. She usually just read the girls a story for a few minutes and left them to wear themselves out for the night. As long as they stayed in their beds and didn't make too much noise, she was okay with that. She knew Kate took half an hour or so to fall asleep, always had done but she thought Beca might need rescuing so covered the salad with a towel and headed on up to the girl's bedroom.
She was halfway up the stairs when she heard a soft voice floating downwards. She paused to listen.
You can spend your whole life building
Something from nothin'
One storm can come and blow it all away
… Build it anyway
You can chase a dream
That seems so out of reach
And you know it might not never come your way
… Dream it anyway
God is great
But sometimes life ain't good
And when I pray
It doesn't always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway…
… I do it anyway
Martina McBride - Anyway
Chloe crept up the stairs and to the girl's door to listen, and watched as Beca, sat cross legged on the floor, was singing quietly to the girls. Chloe looked at the three lumps in their beds, realising that in less than ten minutes, Beca had not only gotten them ready for bed, teeth brushed judging by the additional stickers on their good behaviour charts, but they were already settled and fast asleep in their beds. Chloe was impressed, but noticed that Beca didn't have a book in her hand and had obviously sung them to sleep.
She was also amazed by Beca's singing voice.
"Hi," Beca whispered and Chloe startled. She hadn't realised Beca had stopped singing.
"Dinner's ready," Chloe mumbled, her feelings tumbling around inside her belly.
"Okay, great. I'm just going to wash up and then I'll be down."
Chloe nodded dumbly and headed back down to the kitchen to serve their meal. She was just putting the last of the dishes on the table, when Beca came down, awkwardly holding back in the kitchen doorway.
"I'm sorry." She mumbled. "I didn't do a bedtime story."
"That's okay," Chloe said, not looking at Beca.
"Jessie asked if I could sing something so…"
"I am sure the girls loved it."
"I've upset you."
"What, no?" Chloe bristled.
"I am?" Chloe said, raising her hands to her cheeks and surprised to find them wet. "Oh."
"Is it better if I just go?" Beca asked.
"No, no, no. I'm just being silly. Your voice was beautiful, that was all. And it was a lovely song. I don't think I've heard it before," Chloe admitted.
"Oh, it's just something I made up."
"When?" Chloe said, shocked.
"Um, when I was upstairs."
"Just like that? You made the lyrics up?"
"Yeah." Beca fidgeted.
"How do you do it?"
"It's kinda my job," Beca said awkwardly.
"I'm impressed Beca."
"Yeah, um, thanks."
"Please, come and join me."
Beca took the chair offered to her and looked at the food in front of her. It all looked really good and it smelt amazing. Beca could feel her mouth watering which hadn't happened in a really long time.
"Who else is joining us?" She asked.
"No one, it's just the two of us." Chloe said, reaching for a tissue and blowing her nose.
"There's so much food."
Chloe looked over the table, she didn't feel she'd prepared too much. It was what she and David usually shared most evenings. The leftovers were always packed away and made for lunch the next day or snacks for the girls. She'd prepped a small rice salad, green salad, a mix of lightly fried potatoes, Cajun chicken, and garlic shrimp. There were rolls, butter, some ham and cheese, and a large bowl of cut up fruit.
"Did you make this just for us?" Beca asked, looking extremely overwhelmed.
"You didn't need to go to so much trouble," Beca said, shaking out the napkin on her dinner plate and laying it across her lap.
"It isn't any trouble."
"I forget this is how most people usually have dinner," Beca stated and Chloe was confused.
"How do you mean?"
"We never really… as a kid, I just… we didn't do this. My mother was never around so I just picked at stuff from the counter. And now, I guess I usually just have half a can of soup for my meal or Jessie's leftovers."
"If I'm really hungry or if it's cold, I'll put a little bit of rice or pasta in it. I can pick it up pretty cheap. That usually keeps me going."
"You have soup for each meal of the day?"
"I just have one meal a day usually. Unless Luke got bossy at me and bought me stuff. I'd pay him back on pay day for everything."
"Beca, you…" Chloe started but she didn't really know what to say.
"Had to make sure there was enough for Jessie first. She had three square meals a day, no canned soup. Plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit and lots of milk."
"I'm not questioning that." Chloe's voice was thick, trying not to shed any more tears. "She's the first to eat her vegetables at meal times."
"I've always put her first." Beca stressed.
"I know you did," Chloe said, unable to stop the tears from flowing down her face.
"I've made this awkward. I'm sorry." Beca said, balling up her napkin and making gestures as if she should leave. "I should go."
"No, please stay." Chloe said, blindly reaching out to Beca with her hands. For her part, Beca didn't pull away as she felt Chloe's fingers wrap around her arm. Chloe's touch was warm and soft. "It breaks my heart to know there are kids out there, and adults too, who go to bed without enough."
"I do okay." Beca said, brushing off the comment. She was getting hungry though, looking at the food in front of her.
"How did you survive before? We all take so much for granted."
"I just did."
"Tell me, please."
"I'm not good at opening up to people I don't know." Beca said flatly, but she made her point.
"I'm finding it confusing too, Beca," Chloe admitted. While they hadn't spoken much that afternoon as Beca had been playing with the girls for most of the afternoon and Chloe had been aware of Stacie's presence, she could feel the shift in Beca's demeanour. "We are to all intents and purposes strangers and I respect that, but this afternoon has been great. The girls have loved having you here and I've enjoyed getting to know you a little bit."
"I've just had to protect myself all my life, it's tiring at times. I'm sorry, I put up defences."
"I understand that, I do. I know people look at me and think I have it all together."
The sound that came out of Beca's mouth surprised them both.
"Sorry, I know that was rude. But you…" Beca gestured around the room. "… don't think you have it together. I thought you were joking when you said that before but seriously, look around. There's like nothing out of place, your life is good, great home, kids, full time work, food on the table and you don't have to worry when you sleep at night."
"Not everything is as it seems," Chloe said, looking away from Beca for a moment.
"I get that. I do. It's just hard for me to hear when your coffee pot probably costs more than I earn in a week," Beca snapped. Chloe raised her eyebrows at the biting comment. Beca winced, realising how rude she'd been, as a guest in someone's home. "I'm so sorry. I'm not a jealous person, I swear to you. I shouldn't have said that."
"It's okay," Chloe said, her face showing she was anything but. "I'll try to explain. I didn't sleep at all last night. I stayed up and cleaned this whole house and yes, before you say anything, I do my own cleaning. I do have a lady that comes in once a month and does a thorough clean but for the most part, it's on me. I tidied everything away, picked up toys and I even swept the leaves out of the pool. And why did I do that?"
"I don't know."
"Because, last week, I had made up my mind that I wanted to speak with you about us and our situation, here in my home, and I hoped with all I had that you would accept my invitation to come over today. I wanted to make my home look nice… for you. I needed you to be happy with it."
"It's got nothing to do with-"
"-It has Beca. Because for the time being, Jessie and Alex are both staying here," Chloe said, keeping her voice gentle. "And I wanted you to see that they would have a loving, safe, clean and happy home to live in."
"I knew that already."
"But you don't know that I don't sleep. I suffer terribly with bouts of insomnia. I am good at surviving on little sleep. But it takes its toll after a while. I'm always tired but I've learned to hide it well. Like you hide bits and pieces of yourself, I do that as well. I worry, all the time."
"Everything?" Beca asked, not following.
"Well, mostly it's about David. He takes up a lot of my time. Is he calm? Is he stable? Did the glint in his eye over dinner mean he's going to yell at me the next morning or is it just school stuff on his mind? Is my best friend okay? She's just broken up with her long term boyfriend and I wasn't there for her. Does she resent me for that? Are… are you doing all right? Are you going to hate me forever? Can I fix this problem between us? Are we going to make this work for the girls? Are-"
"-Okay, okay, I get the point." Beca said, offering a small smile.
"I'm not saying I have it bad, but I fret a lot."
"But the questions you are asking yourself is nothing you have control over."
"Hmmm," Chloe thought for a moment.
"I mean, you can't help David being a jackass." Beca smirked.
"That's true enough!"
"And your friend will understand, I'm sure. I shouted at my friend just a few days ago, but when my car broke down, without fail, she was there. She'll always come, even if she is busy, I trust her enough to know that. Because if the shoe was on the other foot, I know I wouldn't hate her for having a bad day or not being available twenty four seven."
Chloe raised her eyebrows at the statement as she knew Beca was making a lot of sense.
"And as for us, we'll work it out," Beca shrugged her shoulders. "Am I over it? No freaking way. The last couple of weeks without Jessie has been hell. But she's not mine and she's back where she belongs. Am I glad we are trying to get on? Yes, of course. But how this is going to play out, I have no idea. We... we have no idea."
"Well, thank you for giving us a chance."
"Yeah, my kid is my priority. Just because she doesn't leave with me doesn't mean she's moved from the top spot. I know this feels weird at the moment and if you asked my friends Amy and Luke what they thought I'd be doing today, it certainly wouldn't be this."
Beca chuckled before she continued.
"I'm not exactly known for forgiving people easily. I have a shit list and you were my top contender."
"I'd expect nothing less." Chloe smiled.
"Actually, David was number one, you were number two."
"If it helps, he's at the top of my list of people I'd like to throw into a woodchipper so..."
"Yeah, it's been suggested by a couple of people."
"I mean," Beca mused. "Amy will pretty much do anything for a slice of pizza. I could always..."
"As tempting as that offers sounds, I think my priority has to be working my way off of your list."
"Fair enough. Just... just give me some time. Plus, I've got some making up to do to you too."
Chloe shrugged her shoulders lightly and fingered the edge of her napkin that Beca hadn't realised was clutched so tightly in her hands that the tips of her fingers had gone white. She felt her nose tingle at that; she didn't want Chloe to be frightened of talking to her, regardless of how awkward this might be at the moment.
"What else do you have on your mind?" Beca asked, surprising herself that she was the one keeping the conversation going. She blamed it on the smell of the untouched food making her giddy.
"Okay, I'll give you an example. Are the people I know well really my friends, or do they just want to know a celebrity?"
"You seem to have a need to have people like you."
"It's more… people think they know me. But they don't. They know the actress, my personas on screen or my characters, if you will. Not the real me. I have to keep so much of myself bottled up that I wonder if people are genuinely interested. As you said earlier, some people think someone on television has servants waiting on them hand and foot and don't think they load a dishwasher twice a day, or do three loads of laundry every morning. The idea that a famous person does menial tasks is very foreign. I'm actually pretty boring, deep down. So I wonder if people want to know me... Chloe Beale, or Alyssa from Parsons Creek, or Janie from Ready, Steady, Go or any other character I've played."
"Stacie seems to like you," Beca said. "That blonde woman who looked like she was chewing a wasp, the one you had in the courtroom stared enough daggers at me that she clearly cares about you."
"Yeah, I think so."
"I've known Aubrey for years, she's like a sister to me."
"But that's a couple of people. I meet dozens of people on a daily basis."
"You don't have to befriend everyone you meet," Beca snorted. "That's crazy."
"Not if I want to work in the industry, it's not. You have to be friendly to everyone, so they don't stab you in the back right away. Reporters, studio executives, actors… anyone can turn on you."
"More friends you have, the more people for you to disappoint. Amy and Luke. That's it for me. I know where I stand with them and that's it."
"And that works for you," Chloe said gently.
"But I get it," Beca nodded, understanding. "You don't know who's riding your shirt tails."
"Exactly. And actors can be just as fake… they are just better than hiding it. Some of the nicest people on camera bite their assistants' heads off."
"Like who?" Beca asked, genuinely interested.
"I don't kiss and tell," Chloe laughed.
"But you do kiss?" Beca teased.
Chloe shook her head gently, enjoying their conversation. She wanted Beca to see the other side to her, the real her.
"What else keeps you awake at night?" Beca asked.
"Am I good enough to survive fifty years in this industry?"
"People seem to like you. I mean, you had an overwhelming crowd of people on your side in the courtroom. I've not seen your movies. I don't own a television but I know Amy watches things that you are in. Times can change, tastes can change but we all have to adapt to things. It's the same with music. Remember the garage bands of the eighties and…" Beca flinched for a second and shook herself. "… oh God, remember Bieber fever."
"I don't think we should talk about that." Chloe laughed. She really liked this side of Beca. She knew she was closed off and felt honoured she was willing to talk to her as much as she was. "I wish I didn't worry so much, but it's part of who I am."
"Tell me something else?"
"Are my girls happy? Safe?"
"They look okay to me. I mean, they seem like happy girls and accepting of Jessie moving in. And I know you can't control what happens when you are out, but the house seems super secure."
"Well, having David around does help."
"So does a working security system." Beca deadpanned.
"And that's the other thing with David moving out. While our marriage is in tatters and has been for years, will us getting divorced be the end of everything? Will I find anyone again?"
"Sure, you will. You'll find a nice guy and start dating again, I'm sure. I mean, have you seen you?" Beca said, gesturing towards Chloe.
"I don't want another guy."
"David must have done a number on you then to make you feel that way."
"No, I mean, I'm done with guys. Tried it. Realised what I truly want."
"I'm not following."
"Didn't you see my interview on Ellen… oh wait, it's not out yet, unlike me now, and you don't have a television anyway."
"Yeah, it's not a huge revelation I've just had about myself recently. I dated girls in high school and David in college. Never really thought about it but yeah…" Chloe explained. "I entered my support for a couple of causes and it caught one of the producers of the Ellen show. She called and asked if I'd come on and talk about it. She's pretty cool. It was taped back in early February and should be out as a community piece in a few weeks."
Beca's eyes widened but she played it as cool as possible. She recalled the court case, where her own sexuality was questioned and she was about to bite back at Chloe and ask her why it was a matter of discussion during that time when she had just admitted that she felt the same way about girls, when she remembered that Chloe was the one who stopped the lining of questioning with her lawyer. She decided to just store it in her memory banks in case it came up down the road.
"Admitting that you are different to everyone else is hard," Beca said instead. "But when the time is right, you'll find someone again. You can't let what happened with David put you off dating, man or woman."
"I know you are right but see thought number one. Will I find someone who likes me, for me or for my fame?"
"That I can't answer. But you seem smart. Maybe if you let go a little and just accept that things happen in their own time, it could be one less thing for you to worry about."
Chloe nodded, there was some truth in what Beca was saying.
"I get that," Chloe said. "It would give me more time to ponder the other things."
"Did the weird call I got on my cell mean that my private number is out for any random fan to call me or was it a genuine wrong number? Will I be working long enough to get the girls through college? Is the security light on? Do I have time to get a dog? Will the mark on Alex's face disappear before the paparazzi snap our pictures next? Will Kate ever stop colouring in things when she shouldn't? The questions go on and on."
"I guess I have it easier than you then," Beca offered, listening to Chloe. She was realising that while their needs, and worries, were different, that everyone has their own uncertainties in life.
"How do you mean?" Chloe asked.
"My needs are easier. Can I feed my kid tonight? Is she safe and warm? That's all I ever worried about."
"I don't know what it's like to live in your shoes," Chloe said honestly.
"And I don't know what it's like to live in yours either. But I will say one thing…" Beca said, cricking her neck a little as her face pinked up. "… you do seem like a good person. And I've enjoyed getting to know you this afternoon. I know I'm as awkward as they come but it's… it's been nice."
"I've enjoyed it too," Chloe said. "I believe in fate. I believe that the path is mapped out for you. And I wonder, in another life, whether you and I could have been great friends. If we'd met some place else."
"I'd like to try to be friends, for the sake of the girls."
"Me too," Chloe said, holding her hand out for Beca's plate. "Come on, let's eat before it gets too cold."
"This really does look amazing. Thank you."
"You're so welcome," Chloe said, as she dug into the potatoes, turning a spoonful out onto Beca's plate. "It's nice to have someone to talk to through dinner."
"I thought you said David usually joined you."
"He does. He's on his phone, I'm on mine. We only talk about the girls these days. It can get quite lonely."
"I like my own company," Beca said, taking the plate back from Chloe before she put too much food on here. "But then I met Amy and I just got used to her being around."
"Amy? She's the blonde girl that I saw when we were supposed to meet the lawyers, right? I remember you mentioned her when the girls were born."
"Yeah, she's a bit mad, but she means well. She's the reason I'm in Los Angeles, actually."
"I worked with her, at the McDonalds in Flintstone," Beca explained, forking a piece of garlic shrimp. "After Jessie… Alex… the girls were born and I took Jessie home, I couldn't work for a while and she really rallied around and helped. We stayed with her, in her apartment. I guess she became my family, and I became hers."
"That's good to have a friend like that," Chloe said, watching Beca's eyes widen as she popped the food in her mouth.
"This is amazing," Beca said, quickly loading her fork up with some potato.
"Glad you like it." Chloe beamed, tucking into her plate of food.
"I lived on the leftover salad at McDonalds when I was pregnant."
"I craved salad too," Chloe smiled, watching Beca begin to eat with gusto. She sure hoped she was enjoying it more than the canned soup she usually lived on.
"Yeah, the manager there, Kevin, was pretty cool. I wasn't entitled to a meal there, but Kevin didn't mind. I never took a lot, but it kept me from starving to death. When I was out for six weeks, Amy bought me home some leftovers from Kevin."
"That was kind of him."
"Yeah, he died when Jessie was about six months old. The franchise got sold and we lost our jobs."
"How did you manage, after that?"
"As a kid, I learned to stretch a dollar. Most stores have bashed cans and will sell them cheap if you look desperate enough. Market stalls, country fairs… if you go at the end of the day, they'll have their bruised or single items left and I'd sometimes get lucky and get a whole bag full for a dollar. It would last a few days, it just looked ugly. Growing up, I ate at Jesse's quite a bit. I didn't mean to, but we did a lot of homework together. His mom would send me home with leftovers. As I hit my teen years, I realised how embarrassing that was and stopped being around there at mealtimes. Just learned to eat cheap, I guess. Like I said, Jessie never went without."
"I can see that. You've done brilliantly with her."
"This food really is amazing," Beca said again and Chloe beamed. "Can I please have a little bit more?"
"Of course, please help yourself," Chloe smiled, moving the serving utensils towards Beca for her to help herself. "Did you find work easily again?"
"Well, I was working four jobs anyway and I was working in the McDonalds to put money away for when I had the baby. Amy helped out with the baby when she could but then one day, she walked up to me with a backpack, got in the car and told me that we were leaving for Los Angeles that very minute."
Chloe laughed as she reached over to the jug of water on the table and filled both of their glasses.
"Thank you," Beca said, picking up the glass and taking a sip. "She'd had enough of just getting by. I'd talked about going to Los Angeles long enough that she got caught up in it, I guess. Said she could work at any fast food joint, it didn't have to be in Flintstone."
"What did you decide to do?"
"I quit my jobs and we left that afternoon. Amy subbed our trip. She paid for everything in exchange for a ride."
"Yup. We had everything in the van so we set off. Jessie was just coming up to a year at that point. We got as far as Albuquerque and that's when the van caught fire. Lost pretty much everything but Jessie and her car seat that day."
"Oh my God!"
"Amy had the sense not to carry cash so we found shelter for a few days and then once she could get a new bank card, we had money to travel again. We worked odd jobs from Albuquerque to Los Angeles, took us a year but we made it."
"You stayed in motels along the way?"
"No, we bought a camper. It wasn't good for Jessie to be in the car all the time so at least that way she could lay down, move around and play. Plus, it was a home. We stayed at some campsites, so she got to play with other kids. Amy was really good with her too. They are really close, and she's missing Jess a lot."
"And you and Amy lived together?"
"Yeah. That was hell on wheels. But I'm grateful for her. I truly am."
"You are the strongest person I've ever met."
"It's just life," Beca said, shrugging her shoulders.
"What a story though."
"I promised Jesse, Alex's dad, that I'd make it by the time I was twenty five. I'm not there yet but I'm trying."
"I can see that. You work a lot, don't you?" Chloe asked.
"I just need one of my records to do well, just one. Then my name will be out there and I'll get some money. I've got about a month left in the apartment, but I should hopefully get paid for some freelance work in two week's time and I'll find a new place then."
"My friend Luke Bryant?" Beca looked up at Chloe who nodded back to say she knew who he was. "It's his eldest brother's place. He was out of town and said I could live there while he was gone. I mean, it's small but it was home to us. But he's back from wherever he was in a few week's time and I can't stay there any longer. We knew it was temporary and the rent was pretty high anyway."
"Where is Amy living now?"
"Partly in the camper van, partly with me and partly with a colleague, just over from Hollywood Boulevard. She does a one woman show on the street corner, stand up comedy club and works at the 7/11 nearby."
"Will you miss your apartment?"
"Yes and no. It's been home. A good home but it's small. I see that now. It worked for a while. Jessie had the closet room, with a small bed in there. I shared with her when it was cold, to keep her warm or I slept on the sofa. When Amy stayed, we often shared the pull out couch. Well, most nights, I slept on the floor because as much as I love that girl, there are some things I'm just willing to put up with and she can be a little handsy."
"It would be nice to meet her properly one day."
"Yeah, maybe. But if she visits, you might want to lock away your valuables," Beca smirked but stopped when she saw the look on Chloe's face. "Oh, I don't mean that she'd steal anything, more that she's a bit high spirited and enthusiastic."
"Maybe I can organise a barbecue or something in a few weeks… when the dust has settled a little bit."
"I'll invite a couple of people over, you can bring your friends and we'll all get to know each other a little bit better. If we are going to co parent these kids together, it would be good for everyone to mix."
"Yeah, that could work," Beca nodded, feeling like she could manage a small get together if she knew she had her friends with her.
"We'll sort that out then."
"I like how you said co parent."
"As I said to you earlier today, we're going to find a way to make this work. I don't know where my head was at when we asked for more time with Jessie. I mean I wanted to get to know her, but I don't think I ever really considered that Alex was your daughter until that first day in court. I should never have taken it so far. I am truly sorry Beca," Chloe fretted, trying not to cry again.
"Nothing can be undone now. I'm not a rule breaker and I won't be stealing my kid back," Beca said simply. "I shouldn't have let it get as far as it did. I didn't respond to your messages. I was busy, I do work a lot of hours but I should have made time for a five minute call. It was wrong of me."
"It's okay." Chloe said.
"No, it's not. I'm sorry for my part in this too, and I'm not just saying that because I lost Jessie."
"You haven't lost her, Beca."
"It feels like I have," Beca sighed and met Chloe's eyes. "I don't agree with the outcome, I don't find it fair but I wouldn't do anything to harm her, Alex, Kate or you. That's not my nature."
"As I said-"
"-But…" Beca interrupted. "… I can see how happy Alex is here. She's settled and has a proper family with more opportunities that I could ever, ever give her. Jessie… Oh God… Jessie is better off here too. I can see it. She has everything here that I can't give her. And Kate… she's so sweet and such a good sister."
Chloe handed Beca a tissue as the tears began to roll down the brunette's face.
"This last week… I've felt so alone. It was like when Jesse, her dad, died. The silly things that we used to laugh off, the jokes, the easiness of our friendship… I missed it. I still do. And it's the same with Jessica. It's so quiet without her there, it's just the hum of the house. Amy isn't round all the time, she's grieving too and she's so confused by it all. I'm trying to be strong for her too. And it was so much easier when I hated your guts. Like you said before, in the hospital, when the girls were born, we had a connection. I can't explain it. I tried to find you the day we left but you weren't in your room. I always regretted not leaving my number for you."
"Me too. I tried to find you but didn't know your last name."
"If we'd kept in touch, we'd have noticed the switch years ago. Maybe we could have swapped them back again before any real harm was done."
"We'll never know," Chloe agreed, wiping away a tear.
"No, we won't."
"I'm so sorry."
"My lawyer should have fought harder for us. To this day, I don't know how or why I ended up with nothing. I've only ever felt like trailer trash once before, when Jesse's family disowned me, but last month, it was like that all over again," Beca breathed out, sniffing a couple of times. "I knew I couldn't fight back until I got some money. And my only hope was the Children's Hospital of Atlanta would accept some responsibility. But it wasn't their fault, not really."
"You've incurred a lot of costs with Jessie's medical bills, haven't you?"
"Yeah. Her first year was a nightmare. She was in the doctor's office a couple of times a month. Diagnosed with asthma was pretty much the best thing that happened as that was something we could deal with. But without insurance, everything was out of pocket so the bills started building up pretty quick."
"No one offered assistance?"
"No, I wasn't entitled. I slipped through the crack in the system. I earnt too much money to qualify for Obamacare but not enough to afford insurance. As I was making regular monthly payments, they let me have all the treatment I needed for her."
"And for you?"
"Heck no, I've not been to the doctor for myself since I was in hospital with her."
"But follow up checks?"
"Nope, claimed I was having them elsewhere and dealt with my own care."
"We need to reimburse you for the costs you spent on Jessie."
"I honestly can't think about that right now. There's costs you have incurred for Alex, but I have no means to pay you back for all those dance lessons and tutu twirling classes you take her to." Beca smiled.
"It's been my absolute pleasure to help raise Alex." Chloe reached out for Beca's hand and to Beca's credit, she didn't pull away.
"And mine, for Jessie."
"We need to find a better system than an hour every two weeks." Chloe said, sitting back in her chair and crossing her legs. Her stance showed that she was used to sitting like this for negotiations. "Have you managed to have any thoughts on this?"
"I'd like to see them all the time when I'm not working. I'd like to be able to take them out on my own occasionally without anyone following me or alerting the airports. My way might be simple, but it always worked for us."
"I have no problem with you taking Alex and Jessie out without me."
"But not Kate? Okay, that's… okay."
"What do you mean?"
"By them, I meant all three girls."
"You'd take Katie out as well?"
"Well, yeah. If your husband doesn't mind as well. She's affected by this as well and it's unfair to leave her behind. And she's their sister, so it makes sense to me to keep them together."
"I didn't think you'd want to include her in your plans."
"I didn't think I'd ever be considering more members in our family, but life's changed for us all now. She's a sweet kid, she watches out for Jessie and Alex all the time. And it seems really unfair if she misses out."
"She's a little mother hen, that one."
"So, yeah, I'd like to take them all to the beach and collect shells, get an ice cream… that sort of thing. Maybe go for a treasure hunt in the park, near where I live. It's got the cutest little woodland trail and-"
"-Beca, stop," Chloe cried out, holding up her hand. Beca balked and immediately shrank back in her chair. "I can't hear anymore."
"I'm sorry. I've overstepped."
"No, it's not that at all. Your plans sound amazing and if I hear any more, then I'll want to come along too."
"Perhaps you could come too? I mean, if you have the time," Beca said quietly.
"That would be great, But I do think you should spend time with the girls alone as well."
"It will be weird for them. I don't know what you said to Alex and Kate about the dynamics, but Jessie knows, I've tried to explain it in simple terms. I'd love to be an Auntie to Kate and I hope in time, they'll just get used to me being around."
"I feel the same and I am glad we are on the same page. We've tried to explain it to Kate and Alex but I'm not sure they really get it."
"I guess the only way forward is to just go forward," Beca said. "I know I'd feel better about my long hours if I know my daughter's tucked up in bed, not watching America's Most Wanted with Amy."
"Amy really does sound like a character." Chloe laughed.
"She's certainly something."
"Would you like something to drink? We can take it out onto the deck. As strange as it might sound, I'd like to celebrate the day you saved my life."
"Um, yeah sure."
"What do you like to drink?"
"I'm not much of a drinker. Proved that a week ago." Beca explained but didn't elaborate. "Um, but if you have a beer, I'm good with that."
"We do indeed. I'll just clear up and then we'll talk more."
"I can help."
"You're a guest, you shouldn't-"
"-I'm also not someone who can sit around and watch other people tidy away," Beca emphasised her words by standing up and picking up a couple of bowls of half-finished food.
"Okay, well, thank you. The bowls you can just pop on the island. I'll saran wrap them and put them away in a minute."
"Do you have a dishwasher?"
"Yes, it's under the microwave in the corner," Chloe said, pointing in the general direction.
They cleared the table together and cleaned the kitchen in just a few minutes. Chloe pulled the French doors closed, flicked on a switch that lit the deck area in a soft glow and pulled a couple of bottles of beer from the fridge, knocked the caps off, and handed one to Beca. She picked up a baby monitor and tucked it under her arm.
Beca followed Chloe from the kitchen towards the second set of back doors which led onto the deck. Chloe clicked another switch in the hall as she passed by and by the time they took their seats, the small fountain on the deck was gently bubbling water and the soft sounds of orchestral music were playing from a discrete set of speakers.
They took their seats and sat in silence for a few moments as Beca listened to the music, subconsciously tapping out a beat with her fingers. As the tempo changed, she looked round to Chloe in surprise.
"This is Mason Bates." She stated.
"How did you know that?"
"Dude was one of Jesse and Luke's friends in college."
"You know him?"
"No, not personally, but…" Beca gave Chloe a shit-eating grin. "… I like to think that I had something to do with his recent success with the London Symphony."
"How?" Chloe asked, smiling broadly.
"He was a senior when they were freshmen. Mentored their class on a couple of occasions. Mason wrote a piece for submission and was told it was good, but lacked surprise. Jesse was telling me about it one day. I told him to tell Mason to fuse the orchestral sound with some electronics, that would be a shock. Next thing we hear, Mason had added some techno to the mix and the song, Mothership, was formed. It's pretty out there. He's got a good style. He won some awards with it."
"Oh my goodness! I hope he credited it back to you."
"He kinda did!" Beca laughed, taking a long pull on her beer. "He asked Luke for my name and he always called me Becky back then so it's on the notes section as Becky Friend because Luke didn't know my surname and Jesse had passed away by then, and we weren't in touch."
"I think Luke catches up with him every now and then."
"We met Mason when he was a composer in residence at the Kennedy Centre in New York. We were up there with my college a cappella group."
"I remember you saying earlier that you did that in college."
"It was great fun. Met some great friends and I still see a couple of them at reunions. I'll have to let Mason know that I know you."
"You are still in touch with him?"
"More the odd email and a Christmas card but yes, sort of."
Beca nodded appreciatively and looked out towards the garden and pond, the soft lights peeking out through the flower beds and the strings of twinkle lights everywhere gave the whole place a whimsical feel.
"Your home is really lovely Chloe."
"Thank you. I'll give you a key to the gate and front door before you leave."
"So you can let yourself in when you come over."
"I wouldn't just turn up," Beca said, looking slightly horrified.
"Okay, well keep it for emergencies instead then. I want you to feel welcome in my home."
"I do," Beca said. "But I am a stranger and…"
"I know, I feel the same way. We barely know each other yet we're connected for life and… this will sound strange, I do feel like I've known you forever. I do struggle to make real friends and I feel, if we are able to put the past few months behind us, we can do this."
"I really want to make it work, us raising the girls."
"Perhaps I can give you a copy of my schedule each week so you know my whereabouts? It will have my gigs on there, which jobs I am working on and where I'm based."
"That would be great. I'll do the same for you. I'm due to start filming in three weeks, so I may be absent a little. Stacie covers me most of the time but if she's studying or got a lot on, Trent and Helen can come down and Aubrey can come over to give them a break. David is also around but it's right at the time school starts back up and he won't be living here then. He moves in a week."
"If Stacie is busy, I can be here. I can work from anywhere if I give my clients some notice. I might be busy some evenings or if I have to run to meetings but she and I could work together."
"I'm going to be around overnight for a while but then I will have some night shoots to attend to."
"If It doesn't clash with some pre planned gigs, I can cover those."
"That would be awesome. I'll set up a bedroom for you and you'll have space to work and-"
"-You don't have to do that. I can sleep on a couch."
"It's not a problem. I do it for Stacie. I'd rather keep it between as few people as possible so it's not too confusing for the girls so if you keep a few things here, in the house, so you don't have to go back and forth to your new apartment, that would be fine."
"Cool. Maybe we just wing it for the next few weeks until you know your shooting schedule. Then we can come up with a proper plan for the future."
"I think that's a great idea. While we're settling into this new routine, if you are free in the afternoons, why don't you just come on over. You can spend time with girls, either in the playroom, the pool or if you like, you could take them to the beach or whatever you wanted. Then come and stay for dinner."
"I wouldn't impose on you like that."
"You aren't. To be honest, I've really enjoyed this afternoon and it's been lovely having some company. When the girls are asleep, it would give us some time to get to know each other. Even if we just sit in silence out here on the deck. And maybe one night, if you want to, you could have the girls at your place."
"It might be a bit crowded."
"It will be an adventure for them!"
"That's true! Would you mind if, once in a while, Amy came round to visit? She's really missing Jessie and I know she wanted to get to know Alex. And Kate." Beca added.
"That would be fine by me. And we'll organise that barbecue soon too."
"Okay." Beca said simply. She huffed a little as she wanted to ask Chloe something. She caught her eye and gave her a weak smile.
"Everything okay?" Chloe asked, sensing a little hostility coming from Beca.
"I can't say that I'm over what's happened. I can't just push past it all."
"I feel the same a little bit too."
"We probably need to have a longer discussion about it all." Beca said, clicking her tongue. She wanted to explain to Chloe how upset she was, but also how sorry she was for her part in everything that had taken place. Beca didn't want to upset the mood of the evening which, admittedly, she had really enjoyed.
"I agree. But not tonight, unless there's something you need to say right now."
"Actually, there is."
"Go on." Chloe encouraged. "I want you to feel comfortable with speaking with me."
"I've probably told you more about my life tonight than Luke and Amy know." Beca half smiled.
"I'm grateful for that." Chloe said, and waited while Beca sorted her thoughts out.
"I'm worried about seeing David again," Beca admitted after a minute or two of silence. She immediately looked up to the night sky, so she didn't have to look at Chloe's face.
"I can… understand that," Chloe said. "I've shared a lot with you over the last few days about him. Truths that could hurt us all if it got out."
"Oh, I won't say a word to anyone about what you said," Beca responded quickly. "I'm not a gossip and I avoid social media as best I can, except for work stuff."
"I appreciate that."
"Besides, you've been really cool about not running to the media about our situation."
"I honestly don't think you and I need that in our lives right now!" Chloe smiled. "But you were talking about David?"
"Yeah, I'm not interested in spending any time with him right now."
"Can I ask why?"
"Well, aside from the way he's treated you, I-"
"-It's not been bad for-"
"-Yeah, don't do that. I can see those bruises on your arm from a couple of weeks ago. Please, don't-"
"-Beca, it's…" Chloe trailed off, not wanting to get into that conversation with Beca.
"Look, I just don't like the guy. I think he's mean and rude, and he treats you like dirt. I know I'm a difficult person to know and I'm definitely a harder person to understand and yeah, these last few months have taught me a few things I need to work on, but seriously, was this whole thing a game to him?"
"There are a lot of things about David that you don't know," Chloe explained carefully. "He is a very different man now than when we got together."
"Yeah, and that worries me about Holly. Is he going to treat her badly too?"
"I loved David… but I was never in love with him. We tried counselling… after the accident. We tried to put our marriage back together but he'd given up on me. He admitted about a year ago that he got swept up with the idea of marriage and children and really liked me but there wasn't the spark. He found that feeling in Holly. We'll always be in each other's lives and I do think that him moving out will be the best thing all round. He will still see the girls, we will need to include him in our plans, but he also knows that he's done a lot of things wrong."
"He's changed his tune since the court case?"
Chloe laughed humourlessly.
"Yes, quite spectacularly and he does support the idea to get this sorted between ourselves. I think, as I've said a couple of times, that there is a lot we don't know about brain injuries and how it affects an individual. He remembers the accident, he remembers trying to move me and save me and being so worried about me and I was his very first thought as soon as the accident happened, he remembers you coming into the car and he called you his angel. But then, when I visited him in the hospital, just after having the girls, he said I was like a stranger to him and every time I looked at him, I was like the enemy."
Beca blinked a few times, trying to understand what Chloe was telling her. She didn't want to interrupt Chloe's train of thought.
"He's always been very competitive. He's always had to win everything or be the first to do something. He was the first to go to college in his family. He was the first out of his brothers to marry. But he wasn't the first out of them to have kids and that's always irked him."
"Is he the eldest?"
"No, middle. He was the first to have girls in the family for a long time and he was so excited about being a dad. And the accident took that away from him. He had to learn basic tasks over and over again as he forgot how to do so much. As the girls began to develop skills, so did he. It was like he learned alongside the girls so then he finds out one isn't technically his daughter and it was like he was back to square one. He needed to win, against you."
"Why?" Beca asked, genuinely curious.
"Because he's afraid of you."
"Me?" Beca scoffed.
"Yes Beca," Chloe said gently.
"How did you come up with that bullshit?"
"When he was fact finding, he just getting positive things about you in return. It took them a long time to piece together enough terrible things that have happened to you and he used those because if the judge had seen what a truly remarkable, hard working and caring woman you truly are, he knows he would have lost Alex to you."
"And you didn't think to stop him?" Beca asked.
"I only found out a few days ago."
"But you went along with it all, in the court room."
"Honestly… I don't know what I was thinking. I had no one to talk to. I find out my baby is living with someone else and the little one I've been raising is not my own and I'm trying to process it all and then we meet, then suddenly David is pulling me into his vendetta against himself and my feet weren't touching the floor. It went from nothing to everything and it was all he talked about. I couldn't think straight and all I wanted to do was to speak to you and just talk about my feelings with you. And for you to do the same and us understand each other."
"I'm sorry that I was so lame in answering texts."
"Why didn't you?"
"I was hoping it would just go away," Beca declared simply and half smiled when she saw the look on Chloe's face. "Believe me, it's all I've heard about from Luke the last few weeks."
"Why wasn't he in court with you… you know, for support?"
"I didn't want him there."
"But he's your friend."
"Yeah, and I didn't want him to see me in such a vulnerable state," Beca explained. "I've spent most of my life looking after myself. I do okay, most of the time. I've only got a couple of friends and it's just easier that way."
"You've got one more now."
Beca nodded, but didn't say anything to Chloe's comment.
"This has been a nice evening," Chloe said, stifling a yawn. "Gosh, I'm sorry, that is incredibly rude of me."
"Not at all. It's getting late and I should get going."
"It's cool. I've got to finish up some work anyway. I've got a gig tomorrow night, but I'm free some of the weekend if you want to do something." Beca offered, standing up and collecting her empty bottle. "I know we've got a lot to talk about still."
"That would be lovely," Chloe said, rising from the chair, taking the recycling from Beca. They walked back into the kitchen, Chloe shutting and locking the double doors at the back of the house as she passed through. "I'm having a birthday party for the girls at lunchtime; just a few of their little friends and their parents. Some of my colleagues will be here but it'll be low key. You are very welcome to join us or if it's too much, we'll be free from three."
"Okay, I'll let you know in the morning if I can make it." Beca said, fully intending to make up an excuse. She wasn't ready for an onslaught of people knowing her business just yet.
"That's great. And lunch on Sunday? Just us and the girls. I'll ask David to make himself scarce."
"Sounds great. Is it okay to pop up to see them one last time before I go?" Beca said, looking up the staircase.
"Of course, you don't need to ask."
Beca took the stairs two at a time and quietly crept across the hallway to the girls' bedroom. Pushing the door open, she slipped inside and walked up to each little girl, kissing the top of their heads and pulling their blankets up over them. Kate and Jessie stirred a little but Alex remained flat on her back, snoring lightly. Beca pulled out her phone, snapping a quick picture of them all to send to Amy before she headed back downstairs where Chloe was just finishing up sorting out the kitchen. Beca gathered up her belongings from the closet and dug through her purse for her keys.
"So, I'll be in touch about Saturday." Beca said, suddenly nervous about leaving as Chloe came back into the hallway, having heard the jingling of keys.
"Perfect. Call anytime you want to speak to the girls. Call at bedtime, if you like." Chloe said, holding out her arms for a hug.
"That would be great, thanks." Beca said, hesitating for a fraction of a second before letting Chloe wrap her arms around her shoulders. "Thank you for having me today."
"You're welcome," Chloe said, before placing a soft kiss on Beca's cheek that lasted a second too long to be considered normal. "Drive home safe."
Beca pulled back a little in surprise as she felt the warmth from Chloe's kiss spread over her face, but nodded her head in the redhead's direction as they parted, grateful to hear the gates rolling back outside.
Chloe watched Beca walk across the driveway and turn to wave as she veered left towards her car. Chloe shut the front door, a lightness to her heart as she realised that the day couldn't have gone any better. She was suddenly very tired, the rush of feelings that had been circulating all week suddenly evaporated and she was just left feeling exhausted. She knew she still had a journey with Beca, but felt as if they'd taken a step forward.
Switching off the lights downstairs, she quickly walked up the stairs, grateful for her earlier shower after swimming and quickly stripped off and changed into pyjamas.
She checked on the girls one last time and pulled their door closed behind her as she padded across the thick carpet to her room. Slipping under the covers, she just had time to switch off the bedside light and plug in her phone before she began to drift off, already dreaming off a different future. She was glad Beca was willing to be part of it.
Beca drove home, singing softly to the radio. She had a few pieces of work to finish off when she got in and even though she tried to focus on that, her mind wandered back over the day. She was surprised she's opened up to Chloe so much, seeing as she usually barely shared anything about herself. Beca didn't realise until she saw her apartment block in the distance that she'd driven home with her fingers on her cheek the whole time.
Chloe's kiss was lingering on her mind as well as her skin.
A/N – Beca hasn't let Chloe get off too lightly, I promise you that. They'll be back to this conversation, soon enough! Stick with me…