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The Switch

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A/N - I have a tonne of stories that I have been writing since I last 'properly' posted about four years on a different site. I have also finally finished all my existing stories so I will be posting those too (if anyone is still interested in reading them!). I have no idea where the inspiration for this new story came from... I seem to recall waking up in a bit of a sugar coma with a mad idea and I hope I've done it justice. And thanks to 50 Shades of Pitch Perfect for giving me a nudge to post this. I promised her a story for her birthday... about three years ago. Sorry it is so late mate!

I hope everyone is staying safe and well in this crazy chaos around the world. 2020 is certainly not the year we all thought it would be. Much love to you all. xx


.oOo. Chapter One .oOo.

Beca Mitchell blinked against the stark light that flooded the hospital room, waking her up for at least the fourth time since midnight.

She laid as still as she could, curled up on her side as one of the other occupants in the four-person room exited their shared bathroom. It had taken her an age to fall asleep after the main light had been switched off, her mind working overtime with worry. She tried so hard in life, everything was a struggle, but she knew that was the hand she'd been dealt in life and tried to make the best of it.

Plus, everything hurt.

Her roommate shut the door as silently as possible and padded their way over to one of the other beds in the room, trying to walk quietly across the squeaky floor. Beca guessed the girl to be about the same age as her, maybe a little older. She hadn't really had a chance to talk to her when she was wheeled in around six that evening, and the curtains had been drawn around her bed. All Beca could say was that she was tall and blonde and had a heavy cast on her left arm.

Not that she really wanted to talk to anyone, she liked her own company, but she was frightened and alone and the voices in her head were making her crazy.

Beca flexed her toes under the blanket, regretting the action immediately. She unwillingly let out a soft groan and felt the tears pool in her eyes. She didn't want to get caught crying in bed, didn't want any fuss over her. Slowly, she rolled onto her back and folded her hands across her stomach, rubbing gentle circles as had been her habit for the past few months.

She thought about the events of the previous day and wondered if all of her efforts had been in vain. She needed to know, wouldn't be able to sleep until she found out what happened to the others.

Raising herself up on her elbows, Beca listened to the gentle snores around the room for a moment. The stillness suggested everyone was asleep. Sliding out of bed, she wrapped her fingers around the IV stand and prayed it wouldn't squeak too much as she carefully put one foot in front of the other and walked to the doorway.

Her thin, cotton hospital gown billowed around her and she held it closed with her right hand and used the IV stand as support as she moved slowly down the corridor.

She needed to see her.

.oOo.

The Previous Day

Beca sat on the bench in the park and raised her tired face up to the late afternoon sun.

It was just after five and she'd just finished her day shift and was ready to lay down and sleep for a week, but she had her third job of the day starting in just under an hour. She could not afford to miss another shift, having swapped with Amy last week as she wasn't feeling well enough to be in work. Amy had been a Godsend the last few weeks, covering for Beca when she auditioned for gigs or when she was too sick to be in a fast-food establishment.

She also needed to eat and her shift at McDonalds did at least provide her with her one meal of the day. It wasn't healthy, nutritious or what she wanted to eat but the sympathetic manager, Kevin, did let her have as much of the left-over salad items as she wanted as long as she didn't tell anyone from Corporate. Beca was thankful for that but she was more grateful that Kevin didn't want anything from her in return. She was used to that in life; people taking advantage of her.

Her hands worried the plastic bottle she was holding, twisting the cap on and off again as she mentally calculated her take home pay for the week.

Despite working four jobs, it was never enough. She already knew she'd be a couple of hundred dollars short and she tried to remember which bill she'd paid the month before so that she could miss the payment for a month to try and catch up on the others.

She cricked her neck and sighed. She was just so sick of trying to survive day to day. Life wasn't supposed to be like this, and it wasn't the way she and Jesse had planned it. Shivering, despite the warm sun, she buttoned up the thin plaid shirt she wore over her tank top and wrapped her hoodie around herself.

She looked down at her hands.

Hands that could play four different instruments. Hands that could work a recording deck and layer tracks with ease. Hands that held her talent at writing music and song lyrics. Hands that had once been lovingly held by her best friend.

Hands that now held dish cloths and wiped tables. Hands that now stacked shelves in a grocery store. Hands that were now sore and cracked from washing cars in all weathers. Hands that now made beds in a hotel on the weekends.

Beca shook herself.

She tried so hard not to go down the dark path that lead to regret. She knew if she tried to keep a little faith, she might one day realise her dream. She stood up from her spot on the bench and walked over to the McDonalds on the corner. It promised to be a quiet shift tonight, being the Fourth of July and for that she was grateful. Her back and hips were aching, but she knew she just had to push through for another four hours. There was a dull ache in her belly, and she rubbed her hands across her stomach, glad that today was her short shift as she could only work so many hours for Kevin. Tomorrow was her one coveted day off in the month. She planned to do nothing but read in the park and go for a walk.

Amy was waiting outside the back door when Beca walked through the staff car park. She smiled at Beca before taking a long pull on the straw in her guzzler cup.

"Hooroo." She greeted Beca warmly.

"Hi."

"How's yoos day been?"

"Long."

"Lunch time rush was crazy." Amy continued. "But I reckon everyone is now headin' out ta find a good as gold spot for the fireworks. Yoos got somewhere ta go later?"

"No." Beca said, reaching into her purse for a hair tie. She quickly braided her waist length hair and watched Amy look up at the clouds. Beca didn't have many friends. She kinda liked it that way. There was no one to disappoint. But she liked Amy. She was funny and kind-hearted without being intrusive. She was also a little bit crazy and Beca always felt that she should keep on her good side.

"Yoos okay?" Amy asked. "Yoos quieter than normal."

"I'm good." Beca answered. "Just a bit tired."

"Hardly surprisin'. Yoos working all them hours."

"I know." Beca said, reaching for the door handle. She was that worn out, she was ready to cry and Amy's words weren't helping. She walked through the door and held it open for Amy.

"I should be gone in an hour or so. But I'm gonna stay and help yoos close tonight."

"You don't have to Amy. I can-" Beca said, entering the staff room and shrugging off her coat.

"-Not arguing." Amy said, her mouth set in a firm line. She pulled her hairnet from her back pocket and plonked it haphazardly over her ponytail. "See yoos up front, cobber."

Beca pushed her purse into her locker and flung her hoodie over the back of one of the chairs, noting the seam on the left sleeve had frayed. The jacket was old, had belonged to Jesse and it was all she had left of him. She let her mind wander as she thought back to their shared time together.

Beca was born to two loving parents who adored her from the start.

She was brought home from the hospital, wrapped tightly in a fluffy bunny blanket, and laid in a crib adorned with baby hedgehogs and baby foxes. Her mother, Layla, worked as a florist and had produced a beautiful nursery for her first-born child. Her father, Ben, had painted the walls and ceilings and laid the carpet himself, immersing himself into the remodel of his tiny daughters' room, four months before she was even born.

Ben was a great dad and so proud of his little girl. She would ride up high on his shoulders to the park and she would shriek with glee when he pretended to be a monster and jump out and scare her from behind the sofa. He worked hard for his family and when Beca turned three, he took a job teaching at a nearby college. It meant he was away from Beca all day and she would wait up for him to come home every night. Despite being tired from working a full day, Ben would always find the energy to read his daughter a bedtime story, passing on his love of literature to her as she fell asleep in his lap.

As the years passed by, Ben found himself working longer hours and having to do more and more at home as Layla became less and less interested in life. Beca noticed the change in her mom after her grandma died when Beca was four. Beca knew her mom was sad, and she did all she could to make her laugh again. She coloured pictures for her and made sure she ate all her vegetables at dinner time, but it never made her mom smile.

By the time Beca was five, her dad had packed his bags and left. Beca never really knew why because her mom said it was because he'd found another family to love and therefore no longer loved them but her dad had told her that she was still his angel, it wasn't her fault and she could visit as much as she wanted.

His visits became less and less until he stopped showing up at all. She knew he had moved all the way across the country and had to fly back and forth to see her. She knew this as he'd bought a big map and shown her. Her one reliable parent gave up on her, before she'd even started school.

Layla tried to be a mother but the depression that had hit her hard after losing Beca's grandma was consuming. She stopped taking Beca to school, got fired for not showing up to work and rarely bought food, paid the mortgage, or washed clothes. Within a few weeks they had to sell the family home and move into trailer park as it was all Layla could afford. Beca hated it there. She missed her friends and her back yard and while most people were nice, there were a few that made her skin crawl.

When Beca was eight, their roles had completely reversed. Beca bought the groceries with the meagre amount of money her mother gave her, using the rest to pay for the electric. In the summer, she wandered home the long way, picking berries from the bushes on the wasteland to eat for dinner and looking for loose change in the gutter. Sometimes she got lucky and would find enough to buy some M&M's, her very favourite candy.

In the winter, she wrapped blankets around the windows and did her homework by the small oven, trying to keep warm and her mind from wandering as she solved the problems on her own. Her teachers said she was smart and resourceful but none of them knew what her life was like at home.

Her mother was rarely around, she was usually out drinking until two in the morning. She always woke Beca when she returned to their one-bedroom trailer, falling through the door, and laughing hysterically as she did so. Sometimes she had a man with her and Beca hated those nights more than ever. She would always try and leave the house for school before they woke up so the men wouldn't leer at her and make her uncomfortable.

They often called her cute and asked her if she would model from them. She hated the way they made her feel.

She'd work hard at school but kept herself to herself so no one would know what her home life was like. She would race home to clean the trailer, knowing dirt and mess would make her mother mad. Beca would cook what she could find in the cupboards and make sure her mom ate most of their shared meal, knowing she was worse when she drank on an empty stomach.

She avoided looking at her mom as much as possible. Layla didn't like to be looked at and would punish her young daughter if she felt she was judging her. She'd lock her in the bedroom closet for a couple of days and rip up her schoolbooks and break her pencils.

Alone in the dark, Beca would make plans to escape. She also thought about her dad and how much she hated him for leaving her behind to start his new life. She was growing up in poverty and was malnourished and small for her age.

The only respite in life was Jesse.

Jesse Swanson was her only friend. They shared most of their classes and had done since she'd moved to the school that was a stone's throw away from the trailer park. Jesse lived in the nice part of town, with both parents and a younger sister. He didn't pick on her for being small, like the rest of her classmates. He didn't notice that she wore ill-fitting clothes and the same pair of shoes for the whole school year. He didn't laugh at her when she handed in schoolwork that had been repaired with sticky tape because her mother had ripped it in half in rage.

They were best friends.

She loved going to Jesse's house. His mom was warm and inviting and always smelled nice. It wasn't until Beca was older that she realised why Paula always pretended to have a new shampoo or shower gel for Beca to try. Beca's trailer didn't always have running water as the utility company would often switch it off for unpaid bills.

She tried her best to keep herself clean, but it was hard. Paula would encourage Beca to shower at their home and use the fancy soap to see how it smelled. She'd give Beca some of Jesse's sister, Hannah's, old clothes to wear. Beca would sometimes find tags on the clothes and try to give them back but Hannah would say that those clothes weren't her style and Beca should keep them.

Paula would send her back to the trailer with some snacks and Reed, Jesse's father, would try to slip a couple of dollars in her hand and tell her to hide it from her mom. She'd ask why he was being so nice to her and he'd simply say he was proud of her for doing so well in school.

She and Jesse joined the school choir and she finally found something that made her happy. Jesse taught her how to play the piano and she taught herself how to play the guitar, borrowing one of the schools for practice. The band master, a young teacher called Mr Taylor, offered to teach her the violin and she learned how to play the drums by watching YouTube. Mr Taylor was excited about her musical talent and her ability to sing and pushed her into taking music lessons for extra credit.

He brought in his recording decks from home and showed her how to use them after school. He was astounded at her natural ability with music and almost cried when he heard her sing for the first time. He urged her to try out for the school concert or drama club, but she always refused, there was no way she'd be able to do it while caring for her mother almost full time.

As Beca entered her last semester of high school, Mr Taylor gave up trying. He coached her privately for fun and encouraged her to enrol in college where she could hone her skills. Beca had never considered college, there was no money for such luxuries as further education. She knew Jesse was going, his college fund had started the day he was born but for her, despite her dreams, she knew she'd be looking for a job as soon as she graduated. She did make him a promise that she would head to Los Angeles one day and try to make a name for herself.

He said he'd buy a front row ticket to her first concert and she said she'd hold him to that.

One night, near to Christmas and just one day after her eighteenth birthday, she returned to the trailer later than planned. She'd stayed in the school library, finishing up a project as she needed to use one of the school computers not having got one at home. She was one of the only kids in school not to have a cell phone, let alone an iPod or tablet. Jesse had tried to give her his old electronics, but she refused, knowing her mom would only take and sell what she brought home.

She entered the trailer park from the south side. There were less drunks to encounter and less dogs to bark at her. Layla rarely left the trailer at this point, drinking away what little money they had, and six months previously had started to dabble in drugs, selling the small amount of furniture they had to pay for it. When there was nothing left to sell, she sold her body while Beca was at school.

Beca arrived back to the only place she remembered as home and found the trailer in darkness. Thinking their electric had been cut off again, she was about to turn back around to head to Jesse's when she spotted the open cabinet drawers and spilled contents.

Thinking for a moment that they'd been robbed, she soon realised that her mother had simply packed her bags and left. She left no note, no explanation, she had just gone.

Beca didn't even cry. She just locked the trailer door, pulled out her homework and worked until three in the morning by candlelight. She was pretty used to looking after herself by that point. She didn't tell Jesse until graduation that her mom had left, and she only told him when he questioned who she had invited to the ceremony.

Beca graduated with honours and left school with letters of recommendation from four of her teachers.

She sold the trailer and bought a car. Jesse teased her about buying a 'soccer Mom van' but all of her life was in that van. She slept in it most nights, parking behind the local Walmart or leisure centre. On the colder nights, she would ride the subway through the city to keep warm.

She was twenty-one when she attended her first college party in Jesse's final year of college. Jesse insisted she be there, and she had no excuse ready when he asked. She'd been working hard, temping as an office junior for a couple of large corporations. She hated everything about it, but she made decent money and saved every dollar she could. She was paid in cash which she kept in a large tin under the spare wheel in the back of the car. She liked hearing it rattle around as she drove over bumps in the road. She was sure that no one would glance twice at her beaten-up old car.

She was still living in her car, saving money on rent in order to have money to move to Los Angeles. It was her and Jesse's plan. It always had been. He was heading to Hollywood as soon as he graduated, having already lined up a junior position at Universal. His plan was set, and he wanted Beca to join him.

Beca knew that once she got to Los Angeles, everything would be okay. She'd buy some equipment, work as a roadie, intern at whatever studio would have her and make her music. She would have the satisfaction of doing it all by herself, without anyone else help. She told Jesse that she'd make it by the time she was twenty-five.

What she didn't factor into their grand plan was everything going wrong at the college party. She had bought a new dress and her first pair of high heels at the thrift store. She purchased cheap make up and discounted perfume at the local 7/11. She'd showered and dressed at the local leisure centre and drove the forty miles to Jesse's campus home. She parked up, locked her car, and made her way to his room.

"Becaw!" Jesse's usual greeting resounded as he pulled open the door. He threw his arms around her and pulled her inside his room. "Hmm, you look good!"

"Hey buttface." She said, setting her purse on his bed.

"Never thought I'd see little Beca Mitchell in a dress." He teased. "I didn't even know you had legs."

"Fuck off Swanson! Don't make me regret coming here tonight."

He grinned and reached into his mini fridge for a couple of beers. He knocked the caps off both of the bottles and handed one to Beca, doing their usual double clink before drinking.

"Early drinking sits well with you." Beca commented as Jesse polished off his bottle in a matter of seconds. He reached for a second one.

"Yeah, got a bit of a headache so I'm drowning my pain! And this is only light beer anyway."

"Poor baby!"

"Plan is…" He started to say, before taking a long pull on his second beer. "… that we meet up with the guys for pizza at seven thirty. Then the frat house on Colverton has an open house until midnight. There's a pool. Did you bring your swimmers?"

"Funnily enough, no." Beca said, pulling a face. "Some of us didn't grow up with a bathtub, let alone a pool of their own. You know I can't swim."

Jesse rolled his eyes and looked at the watch on his wrist.

"If we hurry, we could get down to the college bar for cheap beers? Did you bring your ID?"

"Yes, of course I did, I've got my driving licence. Why?"

"They ID for everything here and are strict on serving liquor to minors."

"I'm twenty-one Jess, just like you."

"Yeah, but you look like you haven't grown since you were like thirteen, Becs."

"Fuck you Swanson. You're just some hairy man beast raised on vegetables and sunshine. I had to make a can of soup last at least two meals, remember? I may be small, but I could still take you on."

"That…" Jesse chuckled. "… I don't doubt.

They finished up their beers in silence before heading over to the bar. Jesse teased the whole way about Beca's car, calling it a hotel on wheels. She slapped his legs and told him that he could walk to the bar if he so chose.

Jesse saw a few people he knew from classes once inside and took the time to introduce Beca properly to his friends. He went to collect some drinks and by the time he returned, she was in a conversation with Luke Bryant.

"Jesse talks quite a bit about you." Luke said in his soft British accent. He leaned in a little so Beca could hear him better over the music. "I hear you are heading to Los Angeles with him after he graduates."

"I'm hoping to." Beca said.

"He is a good guy." Luke offered. "Of course, I can't tell him that, but he is. He has a good talent but a better head on his shoulders."

"You've heard some of his stuff?" Beca asked, surprised. Jesse didn't usually share his music scores with anyone except her.

"Yes, I have. I have an uncle who works for Universal. I got him the internship."

"Oh wow, well I guess I have a lot to thank you for. I don't have to put up with his dorky whining for not having a plan after college."

"I'm not a dork!" Jesse interjected, faking his mock hurt.

"Swanson, you are the biggest dork I know." Beca laughed.

"Yeah, well, you only know about five people so…" Jesse bit back, before grinning widely.

"Small circle." Luke said and Beca nodded gently.

"Easier that way."

"I guess." Luke said.

"Luke wouldn't know about that, would you?" Jesse laughed. "His family own like half of England or something. He knows the Queen, Becs! He's like a nephew or something."

Beca nodded appreciatively and Luke put his hands up defensively.

"I mean…" Luke began to explain. "… my dad was a groundskeeper at Windsor Castle and Her Majesty would always throw a Christmas party for all the staff and their families. I spoke to her a couple of times. She is actually really down to earth, very kind and very, very sharp. She remembered things about my brothers and I, years apart."

"And the half of England ownership?" Beca mused, watching Jesse wince and hold his head for a moment.

"My dad bought a farm. It is large but not quite as big as Jesse made it out to be!" Luke laughed and Beca realised she really liked this guy.

"Plan after college?" Beca asked Luke.

"I am military bound."

"Huh?"

"I am heading back to England and I am joining the Royal Air Force as an officer. Hoping to serve at least ten years. Then my plan is to move to Los Angeles and work with my Uncle."

"Oh wow. That's quite something to have your life mapped out." Beca said, easily.

"Family tradition, although I'm not that disappointed. It's better than passing teaspoons down through inheritance and yes that's a real thing in little old England." Luke smiled.

"Becs lives in the moment." Jesse explained. "She only worries about tomorrow!"

"Bite me Swanson."

"What is the plan for Hollywood, Becky?"

"I want to produce music."

"She's pretty good." Jesse said. "Not as good as me, obviously."

"Is anyone?" Beca snarked.

"She sings too."

"Shut up."

"You sing?" Luke asked. "There is karaoke here."

"I don't sing." Beca insists but she can see Jesse out of the corner of her eye nodding and mouthing, 'yes, she does' as he walked backwards, away from the group.

"Universal are looking for backing singers and vocalists for video games and commercials." Luke said. "I could put you in touch with some people over there."

"That's really kind of you Luke but I really don't sing. Jesse, don't piss me off tonight!" Beca stated, looking over her shoulder to give Jesse a mouthful for making her the centre of attention but he was nowhere to be seen.

.oOo.

"Earth to Beca."

"Hmm, what?"

"Where were yoos?"

Beca shook herself a little, ridding herself of her memory.

"Sorry, what?" She asked, seeing Amy's face as her focus came back into the staff room. She was leaning on the lockers and hadn't noticed Amy come back into the breakroom.

"Yoos got that face on where it goes all pinchy and weird. And yoos cryin'."

"Sorry." Beca said, wiping her face and straightening her hoodie on the back of the chair. She hated drifting off. People always wanted an explanation as to what was upsetting her.

"No need ta apologise, cobber. Everyone's allowed a liddle cry."

"Not me." Beca said, breathing deeply.

"Yoos thinking about that guy?" Amy asked, making Beca look up. "Jesse?"

"How did-"

"-He's the only person ta make yoos show any emotion." Amy explained. "Who is he?"

Beca sighed. She knew Amy had a point, but it just hurt too much to talk about him. Amy shifted the weight onto her hip and Beca knew she couldn't get away with a brushed off answer. She did owe Amy, after all.

"Jesse is…" Beca sighed. "… was… is my best friend. He really was my only friend. And that was okay with us both."

"You have a fallin' out?"

"No. No. We… umm, well, he died."

"Oh."

"Yeah. Eight months ago."

"What happened?"

"I don't want to talk about it." Beca said, feeling the bile rise up in her throat. She sighed again. She did want to talk about him and the night of the college party. She decided in a split second that maybe opening up a little could help her move on. "But I guess I should tell you."

"Sit down a second." Amy said, pointing to the chairs.

"I'm meant to be out front."

"Aww, don't sweat it. There's no one out there and Denise will holler if someone comes in. Yoos don't clock in for another ten minutes anyways."

Amy pulled out a chair for Beca and patted the back of it. Beca nodded and took a seat while Amy sat down next to her.

"He was in college. I went along to a party with him one night. He said he'd had a headache, but we went out anyway. Got chatting to some of his friends and then he disappeared. We went to find him, and he was out the back, by the dumpster throwing up. One of his friends, Luke, helped me get him into my car and we drove back to Jesse's place. I got him into bed, wrapped him up in one of his hoodies and Luke and I sat with him for a bit, but he was pretty out of it."

"Somethin' he ate? Someone spike his drink?" Amy asked and Beca shook her head.

"Luke slept on the sofa in the shared living room and I climbed in with Jesse as he was so cold. He felt better after a couple of hours and we sat talking for a while. We talked about our plans for the future and then he asked me why he and I had never gotten together. I told him that he was more like a brother to me and that I loved him so much but guys… guys just don't do it for me."

Amy's eyebrows knitted together as she cast her eyes down Beca's body.

"Wait… so-"

"-He knew that about me, of course. I'd never dated a guy seriously, or girl for that matter but that was more to do with my living arrangements at the time. Yeah, I'd fooled around a bit but nothing to write home about. Jesse told me that I was the only girl he'd ever loved and ever would love. He started saying all these super sweet things about me and I remember laying down on his chest and feeling like the luckiest girl in the world at that point. Which was pretty ironic seeing as I only had two thousand dollars to my name and a few changes of clothes in the back of my van."

"He made yoos feel loved."

"He did. I think that was the problem. I don't know what happened as one minute we were talking about Hollywood and then the next we were kissing. Like, really kissing. I remember it being so emotional. One thing led to another and…" Beca felt her cheeks pink up as Amy nodded along. She blew out the air in her mouth. "… and then we fell asleep. When I woke the next morning, he was moaning softly in his sleep. It sounded like he was struggling to breathe. I tried to wake him up and called for Luke."

"The guy on the couch?" Amy asked and Beca nodded.

"We called the paramedics but there'd been an accident on the freeway, and they couldn't give us a time to get there. So, Luke picked Jesse up and we got him into my car. I drove so fast to the hospital. I tried to get there as quick as I could." Beca breathed in so deep, her chest felt like it would burst.

Amy's hand covered hers.

"I don't even remember parking my car. My only thought was Jesse. They took him away, wouldn't let us follow. Demanded to know if he'd taken anything. I said he hadn't, maybe some Tylenol for his head. They worked on him for an hour, but he never came around."

"What happened?" Amy asked in a surprisingly gentle voice.

"Brain aneurysm."

"Oh shit."

"He never woke up."

"I'm so sorry, Beca."

"I said goodbye to him, they gave me a bag of his clothes and we went to call his parents." Beca indicted the hoodie on the back of the chair. "This was his. That and a stupid necklace that he got out of machine for a dollar as a joke. It's all I've got of his. Well… there's obviously something else."

Amy's eyes widened but she didn't say anything, letting Beca talk.

"His parents blamed me. They wouldn't let me go to his funeral."

"Why?" Amy asked.

"Said I should have taken him to the hospital earlier. For two people who used to care a lot about me, I was suddenly the trailer park trash kid to them after all."

"Do they know?"

"About what?"

Amy awkwardly pointed to Beca's belly.

"What? That I'm carrying Jesse's baby?" Beca asked and Amy nodded. "Yeah, I let them know."

"They must be pleased."

"Not at all. It can't be Jesse's baby in their eyes."

"How come?"

"I never knew this when he was alive, but he had cancer as a little kid that was supposed to have left him infertile. He didn't know about the infertility, they apparently never got around to telling him which is just bullshit and something I don't understand." Beca said thinly. "So, unless this child is the second coming, this is Jesse's baby. He is the only man I've ever slept with and would ever sleep with."

"Surely with DNA tests…"

"The way they treated me after he died, I could care less about them knowing their grandchild."

"They could help with money or somethin'."

"I don't want a cent from them. I'm doing this by myself. Once the kid is here, we're going to make it to Los Angeles. I made a promise to Jesse that I would do it. I just have to save up enough money to get there."

"How are yoos goin' ta get there? Ta the other side of the country, I mean."

"I'll drive."

"But hotels-"

"-I'll sleep in the car. I'll make it work with the baby as well."

"Yoos amazing Beca."

"Not really. It might take me a while to get there. With hospital bills and prenatal care, I don't have a lot of money left any more, but I'll get there. Keep working hard. One foot in front of the other."

"How will yoos work with the baby?"

"Huh?"

"What will yoos do with the liddle one while yoos work?"

"I'll work it out as I go. Easier that way."

"I could help out on my days off." Amy offered and Beca was about to answer, thanking but rejecting her offer when there was the sound of screeching tyres and an almighty bang outside.

.oOo.


Chapter Two will be up in a couple of days. Bye for now :)

Chapter Text

A/N - Just so the Copyright Police don't come after me, I don't own Pitch Perfect... or on occasion a decent grasp of the English language. I do however own two cute puppies and a very grumpy cat, who actually sat on the keyboard and deleted half this story a while back.

Anyway... enjoy :)


.oOo. Chapter Two .oOo.

Chloe Mitchem-Beale laid back against the stiff, white, cotton covered pillow and let out a deep sigh. She pulled the scratchy blanket up over her legs and let it drop around her waist, unable to cope with the itchy fabric near her chest. She was used to Egyptian cotton sheets, feather pillows and a king size bed as opposed to the uncomfortable metal frame and thin, plastic covered mattress.

Feeling the warmth from that simple action already envelope her, she longed for the air conditioned comfort of her pretty master suite rather than the little noisy, rotary fan that was in the far corner of the stark hospital room, doing little more than push the warm air around with a rhythmic rattle.

She quite liked the sound though and over the last couple of hours, Chloe had found herself humming along with the sound as she tapped out a beat with her fingers on the bedding. It was her only method of distraction as she waited for news. It was past three in the morning, but she couldn't sleep.

Chloe ached all over, pain radiating up and down her right side and across her stomach. Her head hurt, her hands hurt and her heart hurt. She was exhausted but fighting against the pills they gave her. She had too much to think about.

She was very ready to go home.

She wasn't allowed visitors. She wasn't supposed to be moving around at all but while it was quiet and the nurses were all away from their station, she figured no one would know. She was hooked up to an IV bag, and there was a heart monitor giving out a low beep every few seconds.

Chloe reached for her phone that was perched somewhat precariously on the small unit next to her bed. Aside from the small pile of clothes on the chair next to her bed, she had nothing else with her.

She dialled her husband's number and fidgeted with the ring on her finger as she waited for him to pick up the phone, forgetting for the briefest of moments what had happened the day before.

She dropped the phone onto her lap, gulping down the thick knot in her throat as the scene played out in her mind.

.oOo.

The Previous Day

"You okay babe?" David asked, reaching for her hand as they drove down the I285. They were on their way to David's parents' annual Fourth of July barbecue and games day at Berkeley Lake.

Chloe and David hadn't missed a single family gathering in their eight years of being together and it was a great excuse for David to return home to his close-knit family. Despite the epically long drive from their house in Los Angeles, they'd enjoyed the trip, stopping off to visit many different places in the past three weeks. They'd even found the time to swing by their old college, Barden University.

David was one of five brothers and came neatly in the middle. They were close, looked out for each other and kept one another grounded. Tom, the eldest ran a local gas station, Pete worked in a hardware store and built custom furniture in his spare time, Jake was a bartender and part time musician and Steve, the youngest was an electrician. David was the only one who went to college, a fact he was teased about mercilessly by his brothers. He gained his degree and became a High School teacher, just as he said he would do from the age of eleven.

He met Chloe on his first day of college and was instantly in love. He noticed her bright smile first, perfect teeth second and then found himself unable to look away when he gazed into her eyes for the first time. They were a flawless shade of blue.

She sat two seats down from him and it wasn't long before he got her attention and asked for her number. The feelings were not reciprocated but she turned down his request with such grace and kindness that David struggled to accept her answer. Chloe was at college to learn and she didn't want the distraction from a boyfriend (or girlfriend for that matter as she believed in the freedom to fall in love with whoever you wanted to fall in love with).

She relented that first Thanksgiving when her travel plans fell through at the last minute and it was too late, and expensive, to rearrange a trip back home. She was walking through the college campus with a grocery bag of food for the weekend when David, packing his car to make the short journey to his parents, stopped and asked her why she wasn't heading home.

Chloe, unable to be rude even on her worst day, simply answered that she lived all the way across the country and her flight had gotten cancelled and the only available flight was for two days' time so she was going to stay in school, eat junk food and catch up on some work.

David immediately insisted that she come to his family home for a couple of nights to celebrate Thanksgiving. It took some persuading, Chloe not wanting to be a burden on his family. He was always proud of the fact that it only took half an hour of his insistence before she gave in.

He was a perfect gentleman the entire holiday, calling his mom and explaining about his friend's situation before she had returned with an overnight bag. When they arrived at his family home in Chattanooga, two hours from college, a bed had already been made up in the den. David's parents, Trent and Helen, adored Chloe from the moment they met, and Chloe found herself swept up in the family before she knew what was happening. Helen graciously accepted Chloe's bag of weird snacks and junk food with grace and ignored Chloe's embarrassed words about how she should have brought more with her. The family was loud and boisterous but most of all loving.

They became a couple not long after. David worshipped the ground she walked on and while Chloe loved him, she knew it wasn't the same feelings as David had for her, but she went along for the journey, caring deeply for him. He made her laugh, he made her think and some of their late night discussions over a glass of wine were classed as epic. He challenged her every time she got down on herself, stressed with school life or life in general. He made her see that life was for living and the glass really was half full.

He didn't notice the moment of hesitation from her when he asked her to marry him at graduation. She said yes moments after he'd slipped the ring on her finger and ignored the pang of doubt, deep in her gut.

They moved in together after college, in a predictable step that saw them rent the smallest one-bedroom apartment anyone had ever seen. With a little work, it became their safe haven and they loved trawling through second-hand places and junkyards and upcycling furniture in an effort to furnish their home.

They spent weekends with friends, visiting family and helping out in their community. David soon found a full-time position in the local high school, teaching English and Drama. He set up a Saturday drama club which Chloe helped him when she could. They were well liked and respected.

Chloe's career had taken off before they realised it had even started. She was scrolling through the job pages when she saw an audition for a local theatre company, decided to try-out and found herself being called back for the lead part, despite having no previous experience. It was only a matter of weeks before she had an Agent and soon, she found herself being requested for television commercials which lead to work on daytime soaps.

Within a year, she was auditioning in Hollywood which saw them move to Los Angeles and rent a small three-bedroom home with a pool. David easily found work in a high school and was happy, seemingly enjoying the tougher city kids and making whatever difference he could in their lives.

Chloe quickly became a fan favourite and her kind, likeable personality shone through on chat shows where the hosts found her undemanding, honest, charming and funny. She was nice to her fans, especially the kids and gave up some of her free time to attend charity events. David usually accompanied her, proud of his fiancée.

They got married with their families and friends in attendance. David's family, much larger than Chloe's, had outnumbered them almost six to one but by the end of the celebrations, it was hard to tell where the Mitchem's ended and the Beale's began.

Chloe's childhood had been happy, but the Beale's were quiet people. She didn't give her parents, Rosie and Sam, any worry, kept their house rules in the back of her mind and did well in school. She wasn't the perfect child, got detention a few times at school but on the whole, was easy going. She had no siblings, something she always regretted but she knew the hard time her parents had had having her so understood their reluctance to have any more. She had come to them later in life, but they were energetic, busy people so appeared much younger than their years. It was only in the last couple of years as they were approaching their seventies, that they had begun to slow down.

She had plenty of friends growing up and was well liked. She was invited to parties and sleepovers and had a best friend called Aubrey who she was still incredibly close with. Although they'd gone to separate colleges, they'd kept in touch and found their friendship deepened. Chloe was good for Aubrey, calming her anxiety and keeping her grounded. They visited when they could as their colleges were not unreasonably far apart. Each girl had made new friends at school and managed to somehow merge the two groups of friends together. Chloe loved nothing more than the weekends at the lake with her gang.

"You okay?" David repeated his question, looking over at his wife as he pulled off the road, taking the shortcut through the industrial estate towards his parents' house.

"I'm still mad at myself for forgetting the strawberries." Chloe said, the annoyance clear in her voice.

"Chloe! It doesn't matter."

"It does matter! Your mom asked me to bring one thing. Just one. And it has taken eight years together and three years of marriage to you to get her to let me help! She asked, and I forgot."

"I called ahead when I was getting gas to let her know. She said it wasn't a problem and sent Dad out to get some."

"Great." Chloe said, covering her face with her hands and rubbing her eyes with her fingers. "Now my muddled brain is-"

"-Chloe! It's okay. You know how laid back they are with things."

Chloe grumbled something unintelligible as they turned down the road where the lake house was. While David's family weren't particularly well off, they'd been gifted a small lake house from an uncle on Helen's side that no one knew about until his will was read. Helen's eldest brother, James, was given the keys to a ski lodge just outside Lake Tahoe and her other brother, Keith, received the beach house in Florida. They shared the houses between them and would often congregate for the holidays or big birthdays.

"Chloe, please…" David began. "… I could have stopped for some more on the way if you'd told me how much this would upset you."

"I know." Chloe said quietly. "But it wouldn't have been the same."

"Why not?"

"Because I picked them myself, straight from that organic farm off Jupiter and Marlow. Shop bought says that I forgot or couldn't be bothered to do something nice."

David tried not to laugh as he pulled onto his parent's driveway, immediately noting his brother's and their family's cars parked slightly haphazardly across the driveway and front lawn. There were twenty houses on their side of the lake, some second homes, some lived in full time. People were friendly enough, waving to each other on the lake, commenting on how good the fish were that year or warning each other of any problems. Other than that, people kept to their piece of the shoreline and were respectful of noise after ten o'clock.

"Trust me, with the news we've got to share, they won't be caring about the strawberries. Come on darling, let's go inside." David said kindly.

Chloe nodded and unclipped her seatbelt, rubbing her hand over her stomach as she did so. It had taken them a little while longer than expected for her to get pregnant and while a handful of people knew, they'd taken great strides to keep it a secret from the media before they'd told his family. Prior planned trips had to be cancelled due to some of her work commitments and then Chloe's grandfather had passed away, prompting a trip back to her family.

Her parents were thrilled with the news, needing it in such a sad time and before the weekend was out had taken them both shopping for the baby items they'd not gotten around to buying. Chloe protested but after seeing the joy it was bringing to her parents, she quickly relented and kept quiet.

David popped open her door and held his hand out for her as she slid off the seat, landing on the ground with a bit of a jolt. She shook out her hair, running her fingers through her curls and straightened her pretty, red summer dress, brushing off imaginary crumbs as David closed the door of their shared car.

"You go in first." She said as he walked around to the back of the car to retrieve their overnight bag. She pulled a thin scarf out of her purse and tidied it around her head, knotting a small bow on the top. She could feel the heat of the day already and needed the hair off of her neck.

"Um, okay."

"That way your Mom won't fall down the front step when she sees this." Chloe smiled, gesturing to her swollen belly. David smiled and kisses Chloe's cheek as he picked up their luggage.

"Okay, beautiful."

They walked hand in hand towards the front door of the lake house, already hearing the commotion inside of the house. It had taken Chloe quite a few visits to get used to the noise and had often sort out a place of solitude when she visited. More often than not, she found Helen doing the same thing although Helen claimed she was clearing out a cupboard when she was found sitting in it with a hot cup of coffee and a piece of cake.

It had become their thing, sneaking off for some quiet time. There were a lot of boys in the house and wider family. Helen had two brothers and Trent had a brother, Frank, who lived in Canada. There were no girl cousins or offspring and even now, it was only Tom that was also married, bringing Jennifer into the family.

Jen was quite the tomboy and their two boys were born in quick succession ten months and twenty-two months after their woodland wedding. The boys, Nate and Wade, now three and two were good boys on the whole and adored by the whole family but were quite the handful.

Jen was often the one making the most noise during the football and would be the first to offer to help mend the broken fence down by the dock, confidently replacing the damaged wood while Tom hopped from foot to foot, unsure what to do to help.

She and Chloe got on famously, despite having nothing in common and Chloe loved the fact that none of them ever treated her differently, despite her growing celebrity status. She liked the anonymity they afforded her and loved sitting out on the back porch with Helen while the chaos inside ensued. It gave them the time to talk, to catch up on the latest Hollywood gossip and for them to watch the other families on the lake enjoy the afternoon weather.

As they approached the front door, Chloe felt a sliver of nervous excitement run through her. She took a step back behind David as she heard footsteps coming to open the front door. It always stuck a little, needing a good tug to open and the elongated squeak could be heard throughout the house.

Chloe saw Helen's face light up with sheer joy as she saw them on the doorstep and pulled David in for a short, quick hug before she reached out for her daughter in law.

David stepped into the house for fear of being pushed back down the steps as the two women embraced. Chloe leaned into Helen's touch, relishing in the warmth it always brought to her. She was only half shocked when Helen jumped back suddenly and watched, with a small smile on her face, as Helen cast her eyes down Chloe's body.

The shriek echoed around the whole lake.

"Chloe! David!" Helen delightfully squealed as she took in Chloe's baby bump. There was no hiding the pregnancy on Chloe's slim frame. "Trent! Come here now!"

David pulled his mom back into the house, her feet stumbling over the door frame a little as she walked backwards until she hit the small bench in the hallway, sitting down with a heavy thump.

"When did you… why didn't you… how… I mean, did you-" She spluttered out, her tone rising higher and higher.

"-What is it Helen?" Trent said, interrupting his wife's high-pitched questioning. He smiled broadly at David, clapping him on the back as he leaned down to give Chloe a hug.

"Don't you see?" Helen said, her eyes wide.

"Yes dear. David and Chloe have arrived. We've put you both in the garden room this year. Need a hand with the bags?"

"Are you blind?" Helen cried.

"Um, no. I can see quite well." Trent said, confused.

"Look at Chloe!" Helen hissed.

"I am looking at her."

"Don't you notice anything different?" Helen asked incredulously.

"Um…" Trent said, his eyes widening. He looked over at Chloe before looking back at his wife. She pointed back at Chloe. "Um, have you changed your hair?"

Chloe smiled and shook her head no.

"Trent Christopher Mitchem. I honestly, despair of you sometimes."

"Well, I don't know about these things. You girls change your hair all the time and-"

"-Dad! You might want to look again." David said, laughing at his father's puzzled face.

"-Chloe!" Jen said, coming into the hallway from the direction of the kitchen and interrupting the conversation. She was wiping her hands on a towel. "I thought I heard David's voice! It's so good to… whoa!"

"Hi Jen." Chloe said, holding out her arms for a hug. She was loving the look on Jen's face at that moment. She was a naturally beautiful girl with collar length, golden hair, the softest brown eyes and her smile at that exact moment was one of true happiness.

"Oh my God, why didn't you tell us?" Jen cooed as she rushed forward to embrace her sister in law.

"We wanted it to be a surprise!" Chloe laughed into Jen's shoulder as they hugged.

"When are you due? God, you are huge!" Jen said, stepping back to look Chloe up and down.

"Due?" Trent said, snapping his head around to look at Chloe again. "Wait…"

"Funny story." David said, walking to Chloe's side. He collected her hand in his and pulled it to his lips.

"Says you, who isn't carrying this around full time!" Chloe mused as she rested her hand on her belly. "You try being eight months pregnant in this heat!"

"Eight months!" Helen's eyes popped open wide as she spoke. Her hands fluttered to her face before she reached out towards Chloe. "Eight months!"

"Well, thirty-six weeks yesterday to be precise." Chloe said. She took a step forward towards Helen, sensing her mother in law's need to touch the low, well rounded bump. She held out her hand to take Helen's and pressed it on the side of her stomach.

"I'm going to be a grandad again?" Trent asked softly, making Chloe turn her head to look at him. Her heart melted when she saw his pink cheeks and watery eyes.

"Mmm hmm." She said in response before casting an eye over at David, who nodded back at her. "You'll be grandparents twice over."

"How do you mean?" Helen asked, drawing her eyes away from Chloe tummy for a fraction of a second.

Jen laughed hard for a few moments before looking between David and Chloe and grinning.

"Twins?" She asked, her smile almost splitting her face in two.

"Twins!" Chloe laughed as Helen began to cry.

"I'm going to be a grandad to twins."

"And…" David started, looking back to Chloe for confirmation of his next piece of news. She smiled her answer back at him. "… we're going to be adding to the girl numbers in this family at long last."

"We're having pink babies!" Chloe laughed, watching Helen's face fall in shock.

"Girl babies?" Helen asked. "Girl babies?"

"Yup. Identical, apparently!" David replied.

"Congratulations!" Jen yelled as she high fived David.

"I'm so happy." Helen sobbed into Chloe's summer dress.

"I'm going to be a grandad to… girls." Trent repeated.

"Come in, come in, let's sit on the porch and hear all the details." Jen proffered. "It's got a nice breeze out there and I'm sure Chloe would like to get off of her feet!"

The next hour was filled with the happy news amongst the family as they are rushed to congratulate Chloe and David. The enveloping of love was wonderful but soon the men drifted off into their own groups as they set up the grill and replenished the ice chests.

"How on earth did you keep this off the media?" Tom asked David, as he handed him a congratulatory beer.

"Chloe's manager never informed the press. She's been working on a closed set since February." David explained. "We don't really eat out much anyway and with the house move in June, it kept us pretty busy. She'll tell you she's not big news yet in Hollywood, but she doesn't watch the news or take part in social media and doesn't see that she's been labelled as the next big star. Actually, it's kinda nice. It makes what we have seem so much more real."

"I bet. She's so grounded. You wouldn't think she's pipped to be the next big thing."

"And to think she just wanted to be a history teacher!" David mused.

"Much left to do on the house? Jen showed me the pictures; looks a really good, solid home for your family, brother."

"No." David said, shaking his head. "It was all done before we moved in. The master suite had been recently remodelled anyway, so that just needed redecorating. The other four bedrooms were mudded and painted, new carpets and drapes. Bathrooms were all replaced and decorated. Downstairs needed some care, but we agreed we'd rip out the walls between the kitchen and dining area to make one large sunny room. It overlooks the back yard and pool. The study is at the back too, behind the garage and the den is spacious with a big television. There's a room that we are hoping to use as a playroom for the twins. There's a pool room which we'll convert to a guest room… or if I have my way, a games room! I honestly love the house."

"It's good to see you happy D."

"I've never been this happy in my life. I've got a gorgeous wife, a good job, great home and two babies on the way. Chloe's going to take some time off from filming, at least the first year to stay home with the girls."

"That's awesome. Jen did the same thing if you remember."

"I do. Seemed to work well for you guys. Money will be tight until the royalties start coming in, but we've got a little saved up. I'll have a couple of weeks with them before school starts back up and if I need to take some private tutoring on, I'll do that. Oh, and…" David paused as he took a swig of his beer. "… I got promoted to department head so that's a real positive too. I've got a great colleague, Holly, as my assistant so yeah, life feels good."

"That's wonderful D, really wonderful. I'm proud of you."

"Thanks bud. That means a lot." David grinned. He looked over at Chloe and watched her interact with his mom, answering all of her questions about the babies, work and their new home. In that moment, he was truly content.

Chloe caught his gaze, sensing he was looking at her and she smiled back at him. She was glad he was happy.

"Have you thought of names?" Helen asked, reaching for the jug of ice water and refilling Chloe's glass.

"Thank you." Chloe replied, thanking Helen for the top up. "We have a list, but we'll probably will wait until the girls arrive before making a decision."

"Any clues?" Jen asked.

"David likes traditional names. I guess I like something different or interesting, a little bit 'out there' but not hard enough to spell."

"So, I might get a niece called Sarah and a niece called Treebark-Moonbeam?" Jen laughed and Chloe joined in, holding her sides as she chuckled along.

"Well, that name is on the list."

"Sarah?" Helen asked.

"No, Treebark." Chloe deadpanned. "David's vote is for Katharine, Alexandra or Elizabeth. He wants to name at least one. So, I'll guess we'll see, when the time comes."

"Well, whatever their names are, I can't wait to meet them. What's your birth plan?" Jen asked.

"Cedars-Sinai at the moment. And hopefully, a water birth if they'll let me and both babies behave themselves." Chloe said. "They've got a private wing which I've made a reservation for. They can ensure confidentiality, away from the paparazzi and while I'm not that big of a deal-"

"-Don't say that!" Helen interrupted.

"Luckily, I'm not though, which means I'll hopefully be able to have the girls in relative peace and quiet."

"I saw you on the cover of a few magazines these past couple of months." Jen stated. "And your interview on Jimmy Fallon and Good Morning America."

Chloe flushed a little before smiling shyly.

"I think you are a bigger presence than you know, Chloe."

"Yeah, well, I'm still just me." Chloe mumbled, looking down at her hands and fiddling with her rings, signalling the end of the conversation.

"Best we help these menfolk finish up our lunch." Jen said, slapping her hands on her knees. "Or our Fourth of July will be known as the Fifth of July."

Jen stood up and turned towards the grill, lightly punching David and Tom's arms as she walked past. Tom and their brother Pete got up to follow her as David walked over to Chloe and bent down to place a kiss on the top of her head.

"I was just talking with Pete about his new workshop over towards Flintstone. Do you fancy a ride over there to have a look after lunch? Be a twenty-minute ride."

"I'm on clean up duty with Mom and Jen." Chloe replied.

"Oh hun, I think you can be excused this year! That package you are carrying is more important than having a hand with the dishwasher. I'll rope Trent in to help." Helen smiled happily. "Oh, I'm so excited to be a grandma again."

"If you are sure?" Chloe asked, gratefully. Helen nodded enthusiastically. Chloe turned back to David. "Then I'd love to see Pete's new place."

The next couple of hours was spent around the picnic tables, sharing burgers, hot dogs and steaks. Chloe was digging her way through an enormous bowl of salad when it was suggested they all go down to the edge of the lake to cool off. David held Chloe's hand as they picked their way over the gentle sloping grass towards the water and helped her sit on the edge of the deck after she'd toed her shoes off.

Chloe tilted her head up towards the sun as Wade and Nate came up to sit beside her. They weren't allowed in the water just yet and she was more than happy to sit there for a few minutes with her arms around her nephews, hearing their stories of how many Hot Wheels they had and what each one was special for. It was just after five when they walked back up to the house and David helped Chloe back into her shoes.

Walking from the house, they decided to take David and Chloe's car, a six month old Ford Expedition and Pete reassured them that he could navigate from the backseat to let Chloe remain in the front with the cars air conditioning blasting right at her.

"Whoever thought being pregnant in ninety five degree heat would be fun, needs my foot up their fucking ass!" Chloe moaned as she waited for the air con to kick in.

"And okay!" David laughed, turning up the air con even higher. "My wife, ladies and gentlemen."

They approached Flintstone at around half past five.

"Take the second left, past the tyre place." Pete instructed, pointing with his finger into the front of the car. "Then you'll see a McDonalds on the corner. Turn right and then my new place is just about a hundred yards on the right, on Peachtree Boulevard. Pull in off the road and I'll unlock the gates."

"Sure thing." David said, slowing down for the stop sign, noting the large McDonalds to his right.

"Chloe, with your permission, I'd like to make something for the girls when they arrive. Maybe a bureau or a chest of drawers they can keep. Would that be okay with you?"

"Oh Pete!" Chloe exclaimed, turning in her seat to look at her brother in law as David slowly pulled away from the stop sign. "I'd absolutely love that. That would-"

"-DAVID! LOOK OUT!"

.oOo.


A/N - Chapter Three will be up in a couple of days. Thanks for reading. 

Chapter Text

.oOo. Chapter Three .oOo.
Warning – description of a car accident and mention of blood.

Beca and Amy heard the almighty crash from their spot in the break room and looked at each other in shock.

"Shit, that sounded much worse than a fender bender." Beca said, getting up off of the chair and walking towards the door. "Come on, we'd better go see if everyone is okay."

"Right behind yoos Beca."

Beca was walking out through the kitchen when she heard Denise call out from the seating area.

"I think we'd better call nine one one." Denise said. "Guy jumped the lights and smashed into an SUV."

Beca looked out of the restaurant windows where Denise was standing, pointing towards the small trading estate and immediately saw three cars pushed into the small ditch at the side of the road. She saw one car on its side, the wheels still spinning and a thin plume of white smoke rising from the hood of the car.

"That car is going to catch fire. Denise, call for help. Now!" Beca stated, walking quickly towards the entrance. "Amy, grab the fire extinguisher. Kevin, bring the bucket of sand, there's probably gas on the road."

Beca pushed open the doors and headed out through the small parking lot at the side of the restaurant. She held her swelling stomach as best she could and picked up the pace when she saw movement inside the vehicle on its side. She could smell the gas as she drew closer to the car at the back of the pile up.

"Hello?" She called out, looking through the window, wincing immediately as she took in the smashed windscreen and the slumped body in the driver's seat, eyes staring vacantly ahead. There was blood everywhere and she forced her gag reflex to stay in check as she realised that driver hadn't been wearing his seatbelt and had bullseyed the window. She approached the middle car, crumpled in the back, and almost buried into the car on its side in front of it.

She couldn't see the driver at first, then saw his seat had reclined itself backwards with the force of the crash. His window was rolled down to the bottom and she was about to reach in to see if he was okay then realised, due to the angle of his head, that his neck was clearly broken. She let out a choking sob as she advanced on the Ford Expedition. She thought her day had been bad before, but this was worse than anything she'd seen for years.

She heard Amy yell in the distance but ignored the shout as she peered in through the windscreen. She saw movement immediately.

"Don't move!" Beca yelled, seeing a dark-haired man flailing his arms about in the back. He was held tight to the seat by his belt. It was dark inside the car and she could make out three people inside. "Try not to move dude."

"My wife…" The driver called out, gesturing to his right. Beca could see he was covered in glass and was bleeding from several tiny cuts on his face and neck. "Please help her."

Beca glanced down, to the left and saw a bunch of red curls just as Amy came running from the parking lot. She could see broken glass on the ground as the female passenger started to come to.

"Beca…" Amy hissed out, her breathing hard and fast, pulling Beca away from the car. "… there's sparks… coming from the…"

"My wife is pregnant." The driver called out again. "Please help her."

Beca pushed Amy aside and headed back to the Ford.

"Dude, what's your name?" She asked the driver.

"David."

"And what's your wife's name?"

"It's Chloe. She's pregnant." David said again.

"Okay David. Just sit tight, okay. Try not to move. And tell the guy in the back to quit moving about. We can't roll your car, it's in a ditch so I'm gonna come in through the sunroof and take a look at your wife, okay?"

"Yeah, okay."

Beca nodded sharply at him before making her way around the car to the sunroof. The glass had shattered and the hole was just about big enough for her to get through. She felt Amy pull on her arm again.

"Beca, yoos can't-"

"-I can Ames."

"Yoos baby, Beca?"

"It'll be all right. I'm okay. Just get a first aid kit and something warm. These guys are hurt." Beca said, pausing just before she knelt down. She pulled Amy down and spoke quietly. "The guys in the other two cars are dead. I have to help these people."

Beca looked around as she watched Denise and Kevin running across the parking lot. Kevin was carrying some supplies and Denise was on the phone.

"Tell them too." Beca said, nodding towards her co-workers.

With Amy distracted for a moment, Beca knelt down onto the floor, slipped a hand under her stomach and, minding the smattering of chipped glass all around the ground, crawled under the opening of the sunroof.

"Hi." She said, as she came across the guy in the back. His blank stare told Beca that he was in serious pain and she could see from the angle he was laying in that his injuries were not going to be light. "Try not to move dude."

She twisted herself around, and carefully stepped over his twisted legs and moved towards the front. David was wedged pretty well in the bucket seat and was trying to reach out to Chloe with his right arm.

"Beca, there's a lot of smoke comin' from the hood." Amy called out.

"David, your wife is Chloe, right?" Beca asked, ignoring Amy.

"Yeah. Chloe." He said, drowsily.

"David, tell me about Chloe." Beca said, as she reached around the seat, feeling for the belt.

"I… um…" He mumbled and Beca knew he was going to lose consciousness any second.

"Stay awake David. Talk to me about your wife." Beca said as her fingers closed around the belt buckle.

"She's… she's… pregnant." David muttered.

"How far along?" Beca said, struggling to release the seatbelt.

"Thirty six weeks."

"That's great David. What are you having?" Beca pulled on the thick strap just enough to be able to undo it. Chloe was laying on her side but shifted a bit as the belt slackened.

"A baby."

Beca looked over to him, could clearly see that he was struggling to stay awake. She decided to concentrate on Chloe as she squeezed between the two seats and perched on the console.

"Hi, Chloe? Can you move? Are you hurt?" She said, looking down as Chloe seemed to move around a little more now that she wasn't confined in the seat.

"Hi, no, I'm okay."

"Are you sure?" Bec asked, as she moved the belt over Chloe's head.

"Where's David?"

"He's okay, he's here. We need to get you out."

"Pete?"

"He's okay too. We've gotta work on you." Beca stressed, noting the metallic scent of blood beginning to fill the car. "Are you sure you're not hurt? Your neck, your back?"

"No, I'm okay."

"Do you think you can move?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"Give me your hand." Beca instructed.

Chloe flinched as she reached out her left hand towards Beca.

"Wait, wait." Chloe said as a sharp pain rippled across her back.

"What is it?"

"My back. Pain in my back."

"Okay, don't move. Don't move at all." Beca said.

"Shit." Chloe said quietly as she felt wetness trickle down her legs. "I think my water just broke. Oh God!"

"It's okay. Try not to move, we'll think of something else."

"I think the pain was just that, it's eased off now."

"Okay, if you want to try to move?"

"Yeah."

"Let me get your arm and I'll help you to your feet. Use the dash as leverage but there's glass everywhere so be careful."

"Okay."

Beca gripped Chloe's arm and with a few unladylike grunts, managed to get her half up from the chair.

"Stand on the door and I'll get behind you. Easy." Beca said, slipping down low behind Chloe and half pushing her to her feet. "I know it's weird but stand up if you can and get your head through the window."

Chloe did as Beca instructed, keeping both eyes closed as she straightened herself out, wincing as the pain in her back grew. She reopened her eyes and looked at David.

"David?" Chloe said quickly. "Are you okay? Babe?"

"I think he passed out. He's breathing though, look."

Chloe gave David a quick kiss and whispered something into his ear.

"We won't be able to get you through the sunroof. You won't fit through the seats with that." Beca said, nodding towards Chloe's bump. "Hang on, I'll be back in a minute."

"Don't go."

"It's okay. I'm going to help you out of the driver window. You can use the arm rests as steps."

"I'm not sure I can." Chloe said quietly, feeling a wave of pain in her belly.

"The car is starting to smoke. I really think you should get out of the vehicle now. You have to think of your baby. Help is coming for David and Pete."

Beca didn't hesitate a moment longer and pushed herself through the front seats, and into the back. She noticed that Pete was now quietly laying still, his eyes fixed in front. She hadn't noticed Kevin had come into the vehicle as well and was holding onto Pete, using the seatbelt to keep him pinned to the chair as he held onto his neck with the other hand.

"You okay?" He asked as Beca squeezed past him, ducking under the sunroof.

"Yeah." Beca shot back the quickest answer as Amy pulled her from the car.

"Yoos a fuckin' idiot goin' in there." She yelled at Beca who yanked her arm back. "Yoos-"

"-Come help me." Beca said, attempting to clamber up onto the roof of the car.

"Beca, yoos got wait for help."

"She's pregnant Amy. You'd want someone to help me if it was me in the car."

"But yoos-"

"-Just give me a boost. If you don't, it'll just take me longer. Please." Beca said, reaching up to grip on the rim on the open window. She felt Amy's hand on her ass as she was hoisted into the air, squeaking a little at the fast movement. She settled onto the top of the car, mindful that the smoke was now turning from dark grey to black. "Get the fire extinguisher going on the hood as soon as I pull the lady free. Okay?"

"Just hurry." Amy said, turning towards Denise and the fire extinguisher.

Beca shifted until she was over the driver window.

"Chloe can you reach up and use the window to get yourself out, if I pull you from here."

"I don't think I can." Chloe said, holding onto her stomach with both hands. "Is Fire and Rescue coming?"

"Help is on the way." Beca said, looking over towards Denise who was looking up and down the road, gesturing as if she was giving directions and details. Beca noticed the engine was now smoking more than ever and listened in horror as a large clanking sound occurred somewhere under the hood. Suddenly a small flame forced its way out of one of the side panels. "Okay, we've got to move now."

"I really-"

"-No, NOW!" Beca yelled. "AMY!"

Without waiting for Amy to come, Beca reached down through the window and grabbed Chloe under both armpits. Holding onto tightly, she yanked Chloe hard enough to pull her off of her feet and up onto the console between the two seats. Beca would see the flame getting bigger as Chloe placed two hands on the edge of the window. Amy rounded on the car, aimed the fire extinguisher at the flames and sent a cloud of white powder in every direction.

"Don't breathe." Beca yelled before she raised herself up on her knees and grabbed hold of as much of Chloe as she could, catching a fistful of red sundress, a bra strap and most of Chloe's right breast as she heaved her up out of the car window, internally screaming at the pain that ripped through her own stomach.

'Fuck!' She screamed in her head before turning to see Amy come up to the side of the car and hold her arms out for Chloe to take. Beca half lowered, half pushed Chloe into Amy's arms before she slid off the car herself. Her knees buckled as she hit the ground, but she scrambled away from the car, trying to gain purchase on the now slimy asphalt.

Beca was about to slip for the third time when Amy grabbed her tightly around the waist and dragged her to the side of the road, a few metres away from the car. It was still smoking but the flames had rescinded.

"Is Fire and Rescue nearly here?" Beca asked, wincing against the pain in her belly. "God, it's been hours since they were called."

"It's been less than six minutes." Amy said, letting Beca fall back on the grass verge. "Yoos idiot! I thought yoos were goin' to die in there."

"It's okay, Ames. It's over now. How's Chloe?"

Beca looked over to the right and saw Chloe's eyes rolling in the back of her head as she swayed where she was sitting. Beca shifted over to her and pulled the redhead into her side.

"I got you. I got you." Beca said gently as she held Chloe in her arms. She could feel the adrenaline begin to leave her body as she heard the first sirens in the distance. She closed her eyes in relief as she felt Chloe begin to shake violently. "It's okay. It's okay. I got you."

"I'm so cold." Chloe whimpered, the tremors coming in waves.

"Deep breaths." Beca said, feeling a ripple of pain shoot across her stomach.

"Para's are nearly here Beca." Amy called out.

"Thank God." Chloe said, gripping Beca's hand tightly.

'Yeah, thank God.' Beca said to herself. 'I think my water just broke too.'

.oOo.

A/N – I know you aren't supposed to move people in car accidents due to injuries. Please don't hate me for taking liberties with this!

Chapter Text

A/N - Thanks again for reading along. It really does mean a lot to me! Special thanks to my new beta for the help and suggestions.


.oOo. Chapter Four .oOo.

Chloe felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up on end as a small figure came shuffling down the corridor towards her hospital room in the Flintstone Medical Centre. It was a small hospital, one that usually took in minor cases rather than an emergency trauma unit. That hadn't been enough time to move the patients to the Emory University Hospital at Wesley Woods.

She watched as the petite brunette paused at the nurse's station, reading the patient names on the room board before she glanced towards Chloe's room. She watched her look left and right as if she were deciding whether to approach Chloe's room.

She looked familiar but Chloe couldn't place where she knew her from. For a fleeting moment, Chloe hoped she wasn't some crazed fan that had heard about the accident and had come for a gawp at her when she was in her most vulnerable state. She cleared that thought from her mind when she saw the same hospital gown and IV stand attached to the brunette and told herself to stop being big headed.

A few minutes passed before the brunette moved forward again. She walked up to Chloe's door and leaned against the frame. By the dim light in the corridor, Chloe could see she was young, certainly younger than she was and rail thin. Chloe couldn't see any obvious signs of trauma on her, only that she was walking slightly awkwardly.

Sensing a need to connect with the stranger in her doorway, Chloe lifted her head from the pillow and gave a small, tight smile to the girl.

"Hi." She said softly.

"Hi."

"Are you lost?" Chloe whispered and the girl took one tentative step inside the room.

"No. Not lost."

There was an awkward silence for a second or two.

"I came to see if you were okay. Well, I mean, I know you're in here and all, but I guess I just wanted to make sure you were still alive, and your family are all okay."

"Do I know you?" Chloe asked, confused. They hadn't said anything to her about memory loss or concussion when she was examined, and while she knew she'd blacked out during the accident, the doctors had reassured her as best they could that it was from shock rather than a head injury, she wasn't sure how the girl in front of her knew about her family.

"No, not really. My name's Beca. I'm the one… I mean, I was there. Today. At the accident."

"The accident? My accident?" Chloe asked.

"Yeah."

"Are you one of the other drivers?" Chloe's voice rose a little.

"No, no, no. I… God, no. I was working when we heard the accident. The McDonalds. I work there. In the McDonalds. On Thursdays and Tuesday." Beca rambled, swaying a little.

"Oh, okay. Um, do you need to sit down?" Chloe said, nodding towards the chair where her clothes were piled up in a plastic bag. Her dress was ripped and torn but they'd given it back to her anyway.

"Sure, if you don't mind?"

"It's okay. My name is Chloe, by the way. I'm not sure if you knew that."

"Yeah, I did but hi Chloe." Beca said as she tiptoed into the room, pulling her IV stand with her.

"Hi."

"Can I move your stuff?" Beca said, indicating the clothes.

"Yeah, you can put it on the bed at the end if you like, by my feet. I'm not getting out of bed anytime soon." Chloe said, tiredness creeping around her eyes.

"Oh God, are your legs-"

"-No, they are okay. I've had an epidural this evening and it's not wearing off anytime soon."

"Did you have a boy or a girl?"

"Sorry?"

"Your baby. Was it pink or blue?"

"How did you know I was preg… oh, sorry, yeah, I mentioned the epidural." Chloe said, smiling softly. "Sorry, it's been a crazy day."

"No, I knew, from before. I was the one to um… at the accident. Um, well, I pulled you out of the car earlier."

"Wait, what? That was you?" Chloe said, suddenly wide awake again.

"That was me." Beca said, quietly, raising her hand to indicate. "With my friend Amy."

"How on earth… you are smaller than I am… that was really you?"

"Yeah. I just wanted to see how you were doing." Beca looked down at her hands, suddenly embarrassed at the look on Chloe's face. It was a mix of surprise and pride, something Beca wasn't used to seeing on anyone's face when it was directed toward her.

"You saved my life and my babies lives." Chloe said, reaching out with her unbandaged hand to grab Beca's. Beca shrank back from the contact. "I honestly don't know how to thank you."

"You don't need to thank me. I'm just glad you are okay." Beca said. "Do you remember what happened?"

"Most of it. I remember driving with my husband and my brother in law. We were going to see his new workshop. A car hit us. I think it was speeding or jumped a light or something. I wasn't looking as I wasn't driving at the time. Then someone pulled me out of the car. Which I now know was you. How on earth did you manage to do that?"

"I'm pretty strong."

"Seriously though?"

"Learnt to take care of myself as a kid. Saw a problem. Became the solution."

"Wow." Chloe said, leaning back on the pillow. "I've never been a damsel in distress before."

"You did help yourself as well." Beca smiled. "But your husband, the guy in the front seat-"

"-David, yes?"

"He was shouting that you were pregnant, and my Mama Bear instinct kicked in. I climbed in through the smashed sunroof, undid your seatbelt and it was then your water broke so I half pushed you out of the car. You had no strength and the car was smoking pretty heavily at this point. I hopped back out, climbed up on the side of the car, half dragged you out of the car through the driver window and my friend laid you down on the grass. I then held you until the paramedics came."

"I'm sorry that I barely remember. It's such a blur."

"We rode in the ambulance together. It was pretty obvious that your baby was coming quickly."

"You rode with me?"

"Yeah, they think the exertion and adrenaline caused me to go into an early labour too."

"Oh goodness, you are pregnant too. Did they manage to stop it?"

"No, I had her this evening. I've got a little girl, but she's been moved to the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta hospital as she was early, and they aren't equipped here."

"You got me out of the car while you were pregnant? I was thankful before but now I'm in awe."

"It's okay." Beca blushed, briefly remembering the admonishment she'd received from the doctors and them telling her that she was lucky that her daughter hadn't died before she was born. It was almost as bad as the rage Amy had gotten herself into while she was being loaded into the ambulance after Chloe. "So, what did you have, pink or blue?"

"I had two girls." Chloe smiled. "Like yours, they were early, four weeks early but the doctors said it would only have been a matter of days before they came anyway. My smaller baby's heartbeat dropped rapidly so I had an emergency C-section just before eight this evening. Like your little girl, they have been sent to the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta hospital. I'm transferring over there at mid-day tomorrow after we know more about David and Peter. I barely had time to see them before they left."

"How come?"

"There were some complications during delivery so they had to operate on me. God, it was so scary. I had just come around when the doctor told me they were in the ambulance and ready to go. I don't even have a picture."

"Me neither. I delivered her, gave her a kiss but she was gone before I was on the ward." Beca explained. "I'm hoping my friend will give me a ride when the hospital let me go. That might be a couple of days, although I'm going to push for sooner, but they have promised me regular updates."

"Why isn't the hospital transferring you?"

"I'm not a private patient so…" Beca said, not feeling sorry for herself in the slightest. "… and because I don't have insurance, I'm going to need to get out of here as soon as possible. I've been paying my way with medical bills before, but I can't afford to stay here another night."

"Wait a second, if you had a baby, why aren't you in here with me?"

"I guess they felt you needed a private room. It's okay, my roommates are quiet, nursing broken bones and one had an appendectomy. It's like being in Hospital Gen Pop!" Beca mused and Chloe liked her new friend immediately.

"What is your little girl's name?"

"I haven't decided yet. I barely got to see her before they took her off. She needed oxygen and then they shipped her off all within about an hour."

"I'm so sorry about that."

"Your girls?"

"I was waiting for David to wake up before we named them. He's having surgery at the moment. Broken leg, shoulder and possibly a damaged spleen. They are doing what they can before transferring him to the Emory University Hospital at Wesley Woods. His parents will be here first thing and they'll go with him or stay with my brother in law. He was also in the car. His back is broken, possibly his spine too. They don't have all the facilities here to test so he's being transferred at some point tonight."

"Yeah, I remember he looked a bit mangled. I hope he'll be okay."

"Thanks."

"Can I get you anything?" Beca asked.

"No and you shouldn't be looking after me!"

"I can't sleep. It's been a crazy day. Didn't think I'd be having my baby today when I woke up this morning."

"We were all at my in laws, having a barbecue. We were supposed to be having fireworks this evening." Chloe said, her eyes brimming with tears. "A few of them came down when they heard about the accident, but hospital policy wouldn't allow them to stay. What about your family?"

"I don't have… it's just me."

"Oh."

"My friend Amy should be coming in the morning with my clothes. I'm hoping she'll give me a ride to collect my daughter."

"How big was she?"

"Huh?"

"Your daughter?"

"Oh God, sorry!" Beca laughed quietly. "I thought you meant Amy for a minute and I was going to have to explain that her nickname is Fat Amy."

"Oh my stars!"

"My little girl weighed four pounds six. She was only sixteen inches long so quite tiny. She cried though so that's a good sign."

"That's amazing. Congratulations Beca."

"How about yours?"

"Baby A was four pounds four and, like your little girl, was sixteen inches long. Baby B was four pounds seven and again, sixteen inches long."

"How sweet. Crazy that we were both early."

"I know." Chloe smiled.

"My friend Amy texted me with suggested names as she was born on fourth of July. I'm ignoring most of them."

"Is she your… no, wait. Sorry, I never asked after your husband? But you said you had no family? Gosh, my mind is so jumbled. I'm usually good at remembering things."

"There's no daddy anymore." Beca said, not wanting to explain what happened with Jesse. Chloe nodded softly. "And Amy is just my mad friend."

"You said she was thinking of names?" Chloe asked.

"She thinks Liberty, Independence, America or Freedom would be acceptable."

"Oh. Wow."

"Yeah."

"She's patriotic then?"

"She's actually Australian. Mad as a box of frogs but her heart is in the right place." Beca smiled. "Listen, I'm gonna head back to Gen Pop before someone notices I'm gone."

"Yes, of course. It was super sweet of you to come and check on me." Chloe said, holding out a hand.

"It was nice to meet you Chloe." Beca said, taking Chloe's fingers. She looked down at their joined hands in surprise as she felt a warmth spread over her. "Good luck with everything and best wishes to your whole family."

"Thank you Beca. The same to you."

Beca placed Chloe's hand back on her bed and stood up from the chair. She gripped the IV stand and started to walk out of the room, pausing in the doorway. She turned back to Chloe.

"Bye."

"Bye Beca."

Chloe watched as Beca carefully walked down the corridor towards the double doors at the end. As her new friend disappeared from view, Chloe realised she'd never asked for her number to thank her properly for all she'd done for them that day. Confident that she would find Beca in the morning and feeling much more content than she was just half an hour before, Chloe snuggled down into the uncomfortable bed, smiled the smallest of smiles as she realised her life had changed forever and she was asleep within two minutes.

The next morning, she woke up later than she thought she would when a nurse was changing her IV bag.

"Good morning, how are you feeling?" She asked Chloe, upon seeing her eyes open.

"Much better than yesterday, thank you." Chloe replied. "Any news on my daughters? My husband? My brother in law?"

"I'll get the doctor to come along and talk with you." The nurse spoke softly. "I've only just come on shift, so I don't know the details."

"Okay, thank you." Chloe said, shifting around to get comfortable. She realised, with a sliver of joy, that she was able to move around a lot easier than the day before.

"Let me help you up." The nurse offered, holding out an arm to Chloe as she swept the blankets down to the end of the bed. "Mind how you go. You won't rip your stitches out, but you still need to take great care. And remember that you've still got a catheter in."

"Thanks."

It took a couple of minutes for her to sit on the edge of the bed and she rested, feeling a little lightheaded. She looked over to the chair where her bag of clothes and purse were and noticed something neatly folded on the top. Reaching over, she pulled the unfamiliar items towards her and looked at the folded note across the top.

"Hi Chloe, I know your clothes were ruined in the accident. Please accept these maternity pants and shirt from me. They were too long for me anyway and I hope you can make use of them until your family are able to bring you your own clothes. I'm leaving in an hour but maybe our paths will cross one day. Best wishes, Beca."

Chloe hugged the note to her chest for a moment, silently thanking Beca for her kindness.

.oOo.

Chapter Text

A/N - Special thanks to my beta for the dotting of the i's and crossing of the t's. Hope everyone is having a great week... it's raining here, as usual! xx


.oOo. Chapter Five .oOo.

"Hi."

The softly spoken word reverberated around the walls of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta hospital, disturbing no one but the intended recipient.

Beca turned around slowly, mindful of the wires and tubes connecting the baby in her arms to the machines on the left. They were currently having some much needed skin on skin time.

"Hi!" She said, recognising the red curls immediately.

"It's Beca, right?"

"Guilty." Beca smirked, shifting as the tiny baby squirmed in her arms.

"You look a little different than the last time I saw you?"

"You mean, with clothes on?" Beca quipped, leaning down to plant the softest of kisses on the baby's head in an attempt to keep her moving around too much.

"Oh, I didn't mean… I realise how that-"

"-It's okay Chloe! I've had time to brush my hair now and put on a little make up."

"You look great. How have you had a baby two days ago and look as good as you do?" Chloe asked. "I feel and look gross."

"You don't, at all." Beca said, glancing up at Chloe.

"Kind of you to say but I'm in desperate need of a shower, a hairbrush and a four hour nap."

Beca grinned and tucked the blanket around the baby, wondering why she was wiggling so much.

"I didn't mean to interrupt." Chloe said, looking down at the baby.

"Oh no, it's fine. We're just sitting."

"When did you get here? I haven't seen you before today."

"Just this morning. It took a little while to organise a ride."

"Your daughter is beautiful. Really beautiful." Chloe said, cocking her head to the side and narrowing her eyes. She pulled her robe around her a little tightly, feeling a sudden chill in the air.

"Really? I think she looks like a deep fried alien that got bitten by a-"

"-You can't say that!" Chloe laughed out, trying to hide her smile behind her hand.

"Well, she hates me." Beca said.

"Oh?" Chloe asked.

"The doctor explained it as my being absent for three days, but I got here as soon as I could. He says the bond will happen and then gave me a mini lecture on not trying to force everything too quickly and sometimes it just takes a little longer, especially with preemies."

"Who is your doctor?"

"Doctor Forrester. He's good, like really good but I think he's better at dealing with the babies than the adults." Beca smirked. "Who's yours?"

"Doctor Davey. She's good too." Chloe smiled. "It's nice to see you again. How are you both doing?"

"She's not doing so great."

"Oh Beca, I'm sorry-"

"-It's okay. She was okay when she was born, there wasn't anything wrong in their first checks, but they explained with early babies that anything can change or develop in a matter of minutes. In the first twenty-four hours she's managed to develop apnoea. She's taking a long breath, and then a short one then pausing for about ten seconds. She's got a slow heart rate called bradycardia hence the C-PAP into her nose."

"Wow, that's a lot. They were testing my girls for that as one of them was really struggling for breath but they… is there anything I can do?" Chloe said, her arms itching to reach out and touch Beca.

"Right now, this…" Beca nodded down herself. "… this is all I need. She's slowly getting better. She's being fed intravenously through her belly button at the moment. She's getting glucose and medicine and vitamins through the vein and then when she's a bit stronger, I think they called it gavage feeding, then she'll be tube fed for a while until she can take from me directly. She'll need oxygen for a while and maybe some medicine but whatever she needs, she'll have it. I'll find a way to get it all for her."

"Hopefully, it won't be long."

"I hope so too. We're going to stick around for a while in Atlanta. I'm going to stay with my friend until she's okay to travel."

"Travel?"

"We're heading to the West Coast. Anyway, how are you doing?" Beca said, not wanting to explain any more about herself than she had to.

"We are doing okay, thank you. Baby A is now called Katharine… Kate. She's definitely the stronger of the two. She's managed to gain a few ounces, had her very first bed bath this morning and we have a tentative leaving date of the twenty fifth of July for her. My other daughter is Alexandra, or Alex. She's doing super well as she was the one that they were worried about the most and the reason for the emergency caesarean. She's now passing all of her tests with flying colours and will be released as soon as she's gained enough weight, so maybe a week to ten days for her."

"That's amazing."

"Yeah, she's definitely stronger than they first thought. She's doing okay." Chloe said, her face twisting a little.

"What's wrong?"

"I think she hates me too." Chloe said, cantering her weight onto her hip.

"What do you mean?"

"Katharine is so much better when I'm around. She thrives when I am here during the day. Alexandra doesn't respond to me at all."

"Maybe she's a daddy's girl?" Beca said kindly.

"Maybe."

"And how is her daddy? Your husband?"

"Oh how kind of you to ask." Chloe said, nodding towards the chair opposite Beca. "Mind if I sit?"

"Please." Beca said, reaching out and tucking the blanket around the baby.

"David's got some injuries." Chloe explained as she took a seat. "Broken tibia and fibula. He's got some plates on his thigh bone and will probably be having physio until he's forty. When we get back home, we'll get him into a rehab centre for a few weeks and see how we go. His shoulder and collar bone were both broken, and he's had those pinned. They didn't operate on his spleen in the end, although there's still a chance… we just have to wait and see. My brother in law will be transferred to the Shepherd Centre after he is well enough to travel."

"Wow, you have a lot going on."

"Luckily, I have David's family around and once we're all okay to leave, we're going to stay at David's parents' lake house for a couple of months until we can get back home."

"Be nice to have them around too."

"Yes, his parents are pretty cool, but they need to concentrate their efforts on Pete. He's going to need their support."

"But your girls will give them a reason to smile." Beca said, kindly. She looked up at the monitors as one began to beep, causing a nurse's head to snap around in their direction. She began to walk over towards them.

"You're right." Chloe said, nodding gently. "They probably will need them. I didn't think of it like that. I'd better get out of the way, and let this lovely nurse see to you and your baby. Does she have a name yet?"

"Not yet. Wanted to get to know her a little bit first." Beca said, looking down at the baby as the nurse lifted the blanket to check the feeding tube. Chloe looked at her watch.

"I'd better go." She said, looking somewhat reluctant.

"I'll see you later Chloe?"

"Yes, I've got to head back to my room, it's meals and meds time but I'm sure we'll see each other later."

.oOo.

Ten Days Later

"Yoos ready to go?" Amy asked, clutching at the handles of Beca's small diaper bag. They'd arrived at the hospital early to pick up Beca's baby, having driven from Amy's small studio apartment. Beca couldn't afford to say in the hospital and had been prepared to live in her car until the hospital refused to sign her and the baby out. Amy had immediately offered her place.

"I am ready to leave this place, that's for sure." Beca said, picking up her purse and checking inside.

"Got everythin'?"

"Diaper bag, check. Change of baby clothes, check. Box and list of medications for the baby, check." Beca said, pointing to each item as she spoke. She carefully slipped her arm under her daughter and picked her up from her bassinet, made sure her clothes were straight and planted a couple of kisses on her forehead. She carried her over to the car seat and placed her in it, fumbling over the straps a little.

"Need help?" Amy asked.

"I got it, thanks." Beca replied, clicked the buckles into place. She laid the crib blanket over the baby, tucking it in to the sides. "So, that's baby, check."

"Yoos need ta give this little lady a name."

"I know. It's such a big responsibility. Kinda gone stick with her forever."

"If yoos think the name is a responsibility, wait 'til she starts walkin', talkin' and goin' ta school."

Beca grinned and cast her eyes over the tiny, sleeping little girl.

"I actually do know her name." Beca said, quietly.

"Please let it be Liberty Freedom." Amy said, making a big show of crossing her fingers.

"Um, maybe for the next one." Beca said.

"Come on then, hit me with it."

"Well…" Beca said, cantering her weight onto her hip as she turned to face Amy. "… I decided I am going to name her after Jesse. She'll be a Jessica, but I'd really like to call her Jessie. She has a great daddy and I want her to be proud to share his name."

"That's lovely, that's really nice."

"Thanks."

"Jessica Mitchell." Amy sounded out the baby's name. "I like it."

"Jessica… Amy Mitchell."

"Amy? Like me?"

"Yeah. Um, because, you know, you've-"

"-Amy, after me?"

"Don't make it weird." Beca rolled her eyes.

"Yoos naming her after…" Amy said, her eyes welling up with tears. "… nobody ever…"

"You've been a good friend and you are the closest thing, besides her, that I've got to a family, so yeah."

Beca suddenly found herself wrapped up in a pair of strong arms, her face squished into Amy's chest as her friend rattled off a string of words that sounded foreign to Beca.

"Oh see, now you made it weird." Beca grunted out, wriggling free.

"That's ripper cobber, fair dinkum, sweet as… the little ankle biter." Amy wiped her face, surprising Beca with how much this clearly meant to her. "I'll be the best Auntie ta her, I promise."

"I know you will. I need someone to teach her all the bad stuff that I'm not allowed to do."

"Like how ta throw a decent shin di' and not be a bogan?"

"What are you talking about? I don't understand." Beca said, side eying Amy sceptically.

"I love yoos too." Amy said.

"I never said that." Bea grumbled. "Come on, you weirdo. Let's get going. I'm ready to go home… well, back to your place."

"It's yoos home for now too. The place ain't big but the welcome sure is. Welcome ta stay as long as yoos need ta."

Beca nodded as she picked up the handle of the car seat, lifting Jessie gently off of the bench. She'd already been around and thanked everyone from the NICU that morning but a few of the nurses came to say goodbye again, wishing them all well and congratulating Beca on a beautiful baby. Amy took charge of the rest of Beca's belongings as they left the NICU.

"Ready?"

"Yeah, I just want to…" Beca faltered, pausing as she passed the sign for the private wing of the maternity unit. She wanted to say goodbye to Chloe, not having had the chance that day to tell her that she was leaving, Jessie's sign off from the doctor being quite late into the day.

"Forgotten somethin'?"

"There's just someone I'd like to say goodbye too. The girl from the accident? She's here too, with her twins."

"Oh right, okay."

"She seemed a bit down yesterday."

"Yoos two became friends." Amy stated.

"I wouldn't say friends." Beca said. "I mean, we spent a lot of time talking while the girls were all getting their checks. Mostly it was about food, music and the girls. I don't even know her last name."

"And yoos still don't think she looks familiar?"

"No. Are you still running with that 'I must have known her in a past life' theory?"

"I swear on me life Beca, I know her from somewhere. Where's she live?"

"Out West somewhere, I think. I never asked but I'm sure she mentioned living out that way and was just here for the holiday. She'll probably forget me as soon as she leaves here but I wanted to thank her for her company."

"Sounds fair." Amy said, eyeing up the vending machine in front of her.

"I'll be a couple of minutes, are you okay to wait here for a bit?"

"Yeah, sure."

Beca nodded her thanks and shifting the car seat into the crook of her elbow, she pushed through the doors towards the private rooms. She wasn't sure exactly where Chloe's room was but figured she could ask someone when she got there. She knew it was room 214. Walking quietly along the corridor, she heard the hushed cries of new-born babies alongside some lusty wails of the more impatient ones. She could see families gathered, a few 'smile!'s being called out as photographs were taken and more balloons than she'd ever seen in her life.

A sliver of guilt ran through her as she realised that she really only had Amy in her life and that Jessie wouldn't be growing up in a big family, surrounded by friends and loves ones. Remembering that Amy had been by her side the entire time so far, had turned up with food, clean clothes, a couple of books as well as her company, Beca reasoned that it wasn't so bad after all.

"Better to have one good friend in life than a bunch of nobodies, hey kiddo?" She whispered to the sleeping baby.

She came across Chloe's room and knocked quietly on the door. Waiting a moment, she pushed the door open to find the room filled with flowers of all colours and types. Inhaling the sweet scent, Beca noticed that the room was empty as she pushed by the curtain at the front door. She could see Chloe's purse tucked into one of the cabinets but the room was definitely empty.

Knowing she hadn't missed her in the NICU, Beca was disappointed to not find her in her room.

She'd come to enjoy their short but intense conversations as they visited their girls, keeping each other's spirits up and genuinely interested in how the little ladies were doing. They'd talked about music, seemingly a common interest and Chloe had listened with a wide smile on her face as Beca had gotten overly enthusiastic one afternoon when she was describing Twenty One Pilots new single. Chloe had asked sensible questions about how Beca knew so much about the intricate workings of a set of decks but Beca had been called away to speak with the doctor and had never given Chloe a full answer.

They discussed the weather and just how hot Georgia could be in the middle of the summer, both admitting that they were almost glad they weren't pregnant going into August. Chloe had talked about how she loved to ski in the winter and Beca had said how she'd never seen snow but it was on her bucket list to achieve.

While their conversations might have been short, Chloe found herself looking out for Beca each time she came into the NICU. She liked Beca's company, how she completely ignored the fact she was, to all intents and purposes, famous and how kind Beca was. It wasn't grand, extravagant gestures but she sometimes found a flower laid out on top of her twins' incubators or how Beca had found the comfiest blanket and pillow and saved it for Chloe so she could have skin on skin time with the girls. She even remembered that Chloe had trouble sleeping in the hospital and had gone out of her way to bring her an eye mask and ear plugs to help her get some rest.

Chloe noticed, with a little satisfaction, that Beca wasn't as open with other people. She saw on more than one occasion how Beca would actively move out of the way if too many people came passed her or she'd find a good excuse to finish up a conversation with someone else as soon as she could.

Noting that Amy had been waiting for a few minutes now and, seeing she was Beca's ride, she didn't want to keep her waiting, Beca screwed up her nose a little and decided that her time with Chloe was just meant to be as short as it had been. Despite helping her at the scene of her accident, Beca didn't feel that Chloe owed her anything and was quite grateful for her friendship while Jessie got stronger in the NICU.

She huffed out a small sigh into the room.

"Take care Chloe." She said to emptiness and left the room as quickly as she'd entered it.

Following the same path back through the hospital, she found Amy where she'd left her, and she explained she'd not been able to find Chloe.

"Did yoos leave her a note or your number?"

"And say what exactly? She's got a family to take care of her now and I'm pretty sure she mentioned several friends in our conversations, so I doubt she needed one more. Leaving my number… it just felt like a weird thing to do. Come on, let's go."

"Hooroo." Amy said, swinging Beca's bags back up onto her shoulder. "Sure yoos don't need me to carry Jessie?"

"I got her, thanks." Beca said, protectively.

"So, I got a question." Amy said as they approached the elevator.

"Okay."

"Liddle Jessie's dad, what would he have made of all of this?"

"Him being a dad?" Beca asked as she walked into the elevator. "Or life as it is now?"

"The dad part."

"He would be… I guess… amazed that it was with me. There's so much I miss about him. From his smile to his kindness, his lame ass jokes to his words of advice. He was and probably will only ever be the one man I love. While we would have had Jessie young, he'd have found a way for us to be a family. He'd have made the best girl daddy."

"Did he want a liddle girl?"

"Jesse would have wanted a boy. He was a man's man." Beca pressed the button to take them down to the first floor and the exit. "But he would have turned to mush upon seeing his daughter. She'd have gotten him wrapped around her finger. He loved kids, wanted a bunch of them."

"You talked about it with him?"

"Sure. We talked about everything."

"So yoos two had planned ta-"

"-Oh God, no. He wanted to fall in love, have the fairy tale wedding and buy a house in the 'burbs. He planned to have one of those apartments over the garage for me to live in!"

"He sounded like a great guy." Amy said, looking up as the doors opened.

"He really was. I loved him. He was more than a best friend, I guess he was like a brother." Beca said, feeling herself welling up with tears. She sniffed hard and moved the car seat to her other arm.

"Thinking about some Mexican on the way home." Amy said, seeing Beca's face and knowing she needed to change the subject. "My treat."

"You don't need to treat me to anything. You've been putting me up in your home for a few days, it should be the other way around."

"Nah, yoos got a free card right now for naming yoos kid after me. And you're staying with me until you leave for Los Angeles"

Beca genuinely smiled for the first time in ages as they left the hospital.

.oOo.

Chloe returned to her hospital room, feeling about as sad as she could be.

She was in pain and exhausted. The harsh overhead lights hurt her eyes and she batted at the wall to switch them off, much preferring the softer glow of the wall light by her bed. She walked slowly to the bathroom, dropping her phone on the bed as she passed.

Washing her face helped a little and she dipped her hands into the cool water, cupping as much as she could as she doused her face. Looking into the mirror, she wasn't surprised to see red puffy eyes and crimson cheeks.

Her shaky breaths were the only noise in the room as she left the bathroom. She carefully inched her way up onto the bed, feeling the pull of her healing wound as she made herself comfortable. She was grateful for the quiet. She'd just had the worst conversation with David and was trying to process everything he had said to her. Feeling the tears begin to form, she picked up the room phone and called the number for the NICU.

She needed a friend.

"Children's Hospital Of Atlanta, NICU, Jenny speaking. How may I help you?"

"Hi, it's Chloe. Um, Kate and Alex's mom."

"Oh hi Chloe. How are you doing?"

"Good, you?"

"Good thanks."

"I was wondering if Beca was about. I was hoping to catch her this evening, but I haven't managed to see her today."

"Beca?"

"Yes."

"There's two ladies here with that name. Do you have the last name?"

"Oh shoot, we didn't get round to exchanging last names. She had a baby girl, born on the fourth, like mine."

"Oh, yes. Right. Um, no, she's not here. Doctor Forester signed them out today. I believe she left about an hour ago."

"She left?"

"Yes."

"Did she leave a note for me or anything?"

"Um, no. Sorry."

"No, it's okay. Thanks Jenny. Good night."

"Night Chloe, sleep well."

Dropping the handset back into the cradle, Chloe shook her head, trying to ignore the tug in her heart.

'Why are you being so silly?' She said to herself. 'Beca doesn't owe you anything.'

She picked up her phone and scrolled through her contacts, looking to see if she'd put Beca's number in there and forgotten about it, reasoning to herself that maybe they were just NICU friends and nothing more. Chloe knew she'd felt a connection to the girl but unless she could get hold of her, it would be put down to a brief encounter. She knew the hospital wouldn't give her Beca's number but the more Chloe thought about it, the more she realised she hadn't seen Beca with a phone while in the NICU. Other parents had been there, taking pictures or short videos or even making calls with loved ones but Beca had just hung out, absorbing all the sights and sounds of the department.

Deciding that she would try to find her when she left the hospital, knowing she lived somewhere in or near Flintstone, Chloe resolved to spend the evening working out what she was going to do with her life going forward. Her fight with David had left her deflated and confused and she had a lot to think about. They hadn't had many fights in the past, seemingly being in tune with each other's feelings and thoughts.

She knew he was in a lot of pain and worried about his brother who had had his third operation just that morning. Chloe hadn't been able to travel to see him yet, something David was mad at her for. Chloe ignored his ugly words and tried to talk to him about the girls instead. He hadn't been able to see them yet, only the photos that Chloe had been able to share with him.

What David didn't seem to understand was that Chloe was hurting too. The first few days of her daughter's lives weren't exactly how she had planned them to be, it certainly wasn't the joyous time she'd planned. She didn't want David to be laid out flat in a hospital bed, high on pain medication and desperately angry at the two other drivers of the crash who, as suspected, had been killed at the scene. She wanted them both to be by the children's bedsides, willing them both to be strong. She was in a lot of pain from her emergency caesarean and had a second assessment due in the morning as she didn't feel she was healing properly. David had been dismissive of her pain, which was so unlike him. He had always put Chloe first before.

She was so upset about Pete and what the future meant for him. Trent and Helen had been wonderful about keeping him company and updating Chloe each time they visited. She sent them pictures of Alex, the stronger of the two girls, as she spent more time outside of her incubator than Kate. She missed her home; she was so ready to head back to California. Knowing it could be a couple of months before the girls were well enough to travel and David was able to fly was hard. As much as she liked her in-laws, she missed her friends too. None of them had been able to visit, partly due to the distance but mostly due to the health of the young babies.

Chloe wasn't a weak person, she just wasn't used to being alone.

She checked the time on her phone before decided to give her best friend a call. Aubrey was good at dishing out advice and Chloe knew she needed someone sensible to talk through all that had happened that day.

"Aubrey Posen."

"It's me. You got a minute to talk?"

"Hi!" Aubrey's tone changed when she realised it was her friend on the other end. "For you, I can spare several minutes. How are the girls?"

"Doing okay, thanks. I'll send some more pictures later."

"Excellent. I'd love to see some more. How's David?"

"That's the reason I'm calling actually." Chloe explained.

"Is he okay?"

"Yes. He's doing well. We had a fight today."

"Oh. That's not like you two. What happened?" Aubrey asked.

"He told me he wants a divorce this afternoon."

.oOo.

Chapter Text

A/N - As always, a big thank you to my beta for the help and advice :)


.oOo. Chapter Six .oOo.

Three Years, Seven Months Later

Chloe sat on one of her garden chairs, sipping the remains of a tall glass of fresh lemonade, watching her two daughters, Kate and Alex, play in the sand box in their backyard when her phone rang with the phone call that would change her life forever. It wasn't a particularly warm day, and the late afternoon sun was shining, casting long shadows over their backyard but the girls were enjoying themselves.

She picked up her phone, saw it was David, placed her glass on the small table to her left and swiped to answer.

"Hi, we're just-"

"-Chloe! Where's Katie? What's happened?" David spoke quickly, cutting her off.

"David? What's-"

"-Where is she?" David demanded.

"What do you mean?"

"Is she missing?"

Chloe's eyebrows furrowed and her head snapped back around to the sandbox. Her two girls were giggling as they scooped sand into each other's laps.

"No, Kate's right here. They both are. What's going on?"

"Are you sure she's there?" David asked, breathlessly. It sounded like he was running.

"I'm positive, I'm looking at her right now. She's playing with Alex not more than ten feet away from me. What's going on?"

"Call. I call. I just got a call. A call. Phone call." David hissed out, stumbling over his words.

"Take a breath D, what's happened?"

"I'm coming back to the house."

"Okay but I swear to you, she's right here. I can send a picture."

"No, I'm coming now. Call Aubrey and get her to the house. She'll know if something is wrong. I'll be home in ten minutes." David said and hung up the phone before Chloe had a chance to say anything else.

Concerned, Chloe stared at the phone for a moment before scrolling through her contacts and calling her best friend.

"Aubrey Posen." Aubrey's clear and concise greeting rang out.

"Okay, good, you're okay."

"Yes, I'm okay. Are you? Everything-"

"-David just called. Sounding really weird. Kept asking me if Kate was with me. Then told me to call you and ask you to come to ours."

"Me?"

"Yeah, I don't know what's going on but he's on his way home."

"That is indeed odd. Do you need me to come over?"

"Are you busy? I hate to ask."

"Nothing that can't wait until a little later. I'm only at the club so…" There was a pause for a second and then Aubrey carried on. "… I can be with you in ten minutes, fifteen max."

"Okay, great. Thanks Bree."

"No problem. Bye for now."

"Bye."

Chloe placed her phone back on the small table and drained the last of her lemonade. She wasn't overly confused about the phone call, knowing David occasionally got slightly erratic over nothing. It was something that had developed in the last few years since the accident, the smallest thing could snowball into a huge problem.

Looking at her watch, she decided to make use of the girls playing together quietly and start on their dinner. Standing, she called out to the girls that she would just be inside and they turned their heads in unison to wave at her.

Dumping her glass in the sink, she slipped her phone into her back pocket and hummed as she walked over to the fridge, smiling, as she always did, when she saw the crudely drawn pictures that the girls had made stuck to the front of the fridge, with whimsical magnets. There wasn't much out of place in their entire home, knickknacks tended to be kept behind glass cupboard doors and clutter was tidied away quite well, but Chloe liked the crazy mismatch on the fridge. It made it feel homely.

"Hmmm." She said out loud to no one in particular as she pulled on the fridge door. As always, she pondered what to make for dinner. "Hmmm. Homemade pizza it is. And we'll do it heart shaped for Valentine's Day."

Chloe liked to cook. She enjoyed the time it took to prepare something; she made an effort with presentation and was always willing to try something new. If David was working on a late night project or had flown back to Atlanta to visit his family, Chloe would invite Aubrey or Stacie over for the evening and use them as guinea pigs for a recipe she'd not yet tried.

Most of the time it worked.

And if it didn't, she'd just kept topping up their wine until it didn't matter.

She tried to include the girls when she cooked, teaching them the very basics if nothing else. Kate was more amenable to it than Alex. She loved to stir ingredients or mix together a salad. Alex, less so. It wasn't as if she didn't try, her bowl never looked as blended together and most of the salad she was combining usually ended up on the floor.

"Pizza stuff, pizza stuff… pizza…" Chloe said, reaching into the fridge for some dough she'd made the day before, tomatoes, peppers and cheese. "… stuff."

"Mommy?"

"Whoa!" Chloe said, jumping and turning sharply with her arms full, juggling two bells peppers as she almost dropped them.

"Can we-" Kate started to say.

"-Outside! Outside!" Chloe exclaimed, hurriedly laying down her arm full of ingredients onto the kitchen island. "Outside, with your sandy toes and clothes!"

The two girls giggled as Chloe grabbed their hands and rushed them out to the deck to dust off the pound of sand they'd squirreled away in their pockets and creases in their clothes. Their giggles bounced around the deck as Chloe brushed them down.

"Well, that didn't quite work, did it?" Chloe laughed as Alex began swirling the sand around with her foot. "Never mind, we can sweep it up later. Go wash your hands and come help me roll out the dough."

Chloe was unwrapping everything, having warmed up the oven and laid out some garlic in there to roast, when the girls joined her a minute later. She wasn't entirely sure how clean their hands were but decided not to worry too much as they began to poke the pizza dough and help knock some of the puffy holes out.

"Okay, so that's the dough loosened up. Shall we start getting the vegetables ready?" Chloe asked, dusting a little flour from Alex's face. She was about to assign each of the girls a small job to do when she heard the front gate start to roll back. Casting her eye over to the screen on the kitchen counter that showed the front driveway, she saw Aubrey's car pull in. "Auntie Bee Bee is here!"

"Yay!" Kate yelled, clapping her hands together, sending small puffs of flour in all directions.

"Wash your hands again. Quick." Chloe said, pointing to the kitchen sink. She knew Aubrey would be wearing something expensive and while she said she didn't mind getting covered in her Goddaughter's sticky messes, Chloe always noticed the smallest of twitches in her eye when she spotted the glittery fingers coming towards her.

Crossing to the front door, Chloe pulled it open and watched as Aubrey finishing backing up her Lexus in front of the garage, squared up and neat as always. She was quickly joined by Kate and Alex and they watched Aubrey collect her briefcase from the front seat, pick up her purse, lock her car, and walk with purpose towards the front door.

"Hey ladies!" She said, smiling broadly as she approached them.

"We's making pizza." Kate announced as Aubrey bent down to give her a one armed hug and kiss. She did the same to Alex.

"Sounds good Kate. That's a pretty shirt you have on Alex." Aubrey said, making the effort as she usually did with the quieter of the twins. Alex looked down at her tee shirt.

"Kitties." She said simply.

"I see that." Aubrey said before looking up to Chloe. "Hi, you okay?"

"Yes, yes. David's not back yet and we're just making some homemade pizza for dinner. You're staying, aren't you?"

"Hmm, rain check. I've got a client who's just made the eleventh change to their kitchen… which starts installing on Monday."

"Oh sure, no problem. Sorry to pull you away from that."

"Honestly, I'm not." Aubrey said, following Chloe into the house. "Oh, something smells good."

"Just roasting some garlic." Chloe said, shutting the front door. "Are you sure I can't change your mind?"

"I'm tempted now!" Aubrey said, setting her briefcase down by the front door and shrugging off her jacket. "I could maybe do an hour's work here…"

"That's settled then!" Chloe said, clapping her hands together.

Aubrey and Chloe had been friends since middle school. They'd met at the first recess and by lunchtime they were firm friends. Not everyone understood Aubrey, but Chloe did. They remained best friends through the whole of school and when college saw them separated for the first time, they promised each other they wouldn't drift apart.

Chloe had gone to Barden University in Atlanta, majoring in history with a minor in English and Aubrey attended the Savannah College of Art and Design, majoring in Interior Design and minoring in business. She'd interned with a small firm in Savannah and had shown real potential in her time there. After she'd left college and moved back home to Los Angeles, the company, Kingston Interiors, had offered for her to work under their name in California.

She'd jumped at the chance and was gaining new clients regularly. She was known for her no nonsense approach to practical design and wouldn't allow a 'plastic, fake looking granny chair next to the rustic, natural stone of a fireplace because a leather smoking chair would be more appropriate and aesthetically pleasing', as told to one of her more famous clients, a young up and coming actor by the name of Tom Holland.

He had loved it.

Aubrey liked being her own boss. She liked making her own hours, turning down work that she didn't feel was her forte and having free range to try out her own bespoke designs for her wealthy clients. She also took on some charity projects, inspired by Chloe's philanthropic enterprise and donated pieces to raise money for the local children's hospital.

She was currently dating Bentley James III who she'd met at her tennis club. He was running for Congress and was a nice guy but as Chloe would often wistfully say, he didn't stoke Aubrey's fire. She disagreed of course, citing various reasons that he was in fact very decent and they worked well together. Chloe knew she was lying but kept her mouth shut, hoping that Aubrey would one day meet her white knight. Bentley was always on time, held the door open for Aubrey and invited her to book signing

"Drink?" Chloe asked as they crossed the hallway to the kitchen. "I've got a bottle of the Godfather wine you like so much, chilling in the fridge."

"I'd better not." Aubrey said. "I've got an early start in the morning, over towards Henderson."

"You can stay over, if you want to. You'll only be ten minutes from here." Chloe said, setting Kate and Alex up with the task of tearing salad leaves.

"Thanks, but I've got to swing by the office for their portfolio first. This is the stable and equestrian refit I was telling you about."

"Oh! I remember. I didn't think you'd got that project." Chloe said, her head buried back in the fridge. She pulled out a large bottle of sparkling water and two juice boxes.

"Me neither. But Frank Folly put a recommendation in for me, so they took a second look at my collection and with a little tweaking, we came up with a basic plan. I'm back there in the morning to discuss the final colour scheme."

"Sounds great." Chloe said, reaching for a glass for Aubrey and beginning to fill it with water.

"You got anything new coming up?"

"My agent put me forward for a supporting role in a new sci-fi feature with DreamWorks." Chloe pushed the glass towards Aubrey and began unwrapping the straws for the girls' juice boxes. They were currently batting each other with pieces of rocket. "Girls, that's good food. Please don't mess around with it."

"Vegables are not good Mommy." Alex said.

Chloe turned her head slightly so the twins wouldn't see her stifling a laugh as Alex used two pieces of rocket as eyebrows. She turned back to Aubrey and schooled her face.

"Spielberg is directing and asked for me to read. Waiting on a date for a screen test."

"Wow!"

"Yeah, kinda excited about this." Chloe grinned. She reached for the salad ingredients and began throwing them into the bowl of leaves that they twins were still busy tearing up. She handed Kate a spoon to start missing it together. "He's supposed to be great to work with. Joss Whedon wrote the script. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep are evidently signed up already. The script looks good so yeah, we'll see."

"It does soun-"

"-Chloe!" David's voice echoed through the whole house as the front door slammed, reverberating around the walls, and making the glass chandelier in the hallway shake and jingle.

"David?" Chloe called back, reaching for a towel to wipe her hands on.

He entered the kitchen, his tie askew and his shirt half untucked, looking like he'd run from his school, three miles away. It wasn't like him to look unkempt; his pressed shirt, his matching tie and suit were always immaculate even though the teachers dress code allowed jeans and running shoes.

"David, what on earth-"

"-She's here!" He yelled.

Ignoring Chloe and Aubrey, he skidded around the kitchen island and pulled Kate off of the barstool, scooping her into his arms, hugging her to his chest. He let her go after a few moments, holding her out at arm's length to look at her properly. Kate looked a little afraid and peered around his shoulder for Chloe's reassurance. Alex, sat bewildered, watching for Aubrey's reaction.

"What happened?" David said, breathlessly. He kissed the top of Kate's head as he set her back on the stool. She immediately scooted closer to Alex, side eyeing her dad. David bent down and lovingly ruffled Alex's hair. He looked over to Chloe. "Where did you find her?"

"Find her?" Chloe said, glancing at Aubrey.

"Yeah." David hissed out. "How did she get out?"

"Get out? I have no idea what you are talking about?"

"She was reported missing."

"She's literally been here the whole time."

"But I got a call. A call." David breathed out, trying to quell his racing heart.

"Who called you?" Aubrey asked, watching as Chloe stood behind the bemused girls.

"I got a call from police station. Said a woman had reported a missing child. No Amber Alert yet as she was high profile. Can you grab me a water?"

Aubrey, being closest to the fridge, pulled on the door and reached in for a bottle of water. She handed it to him and he nodded his thanks as he uncapped the bottle and took a large glug of water.

"They said it was a possible kidnapping."

"Of Kate?" Chloe asked, looking confused.

"Maybe, we could pop the television on for the girls in the living room?" Aubrey suggested, noting the girls were listening to their parents quite intently and looking concerned. "Girls, come with me."

Aubrey held out her hands for Kate and Alex and they slid off the barstools with minimal fuss. They adored their Auntie Aubrey but knew her no nonsense approach well. David watched the girls leave the kitchen, unable to take his eyes off of Kate. Chloe began straightening up the spilled food as she heard the television being switched on in the living room, followed by a high pitched cartoon character giggling about not doing their homework.

Aubrey walked back into the kitchen with purpose, her sensible heels clacking on the highly polished tile.

"Sit down David and start from the beginning." She said and David took a seat. In another time and place, Chloe would have laughed. Aubrey had a certain knack about her; people always seemed to do as she told them to.

"I was at work." He said slowly. "Finishing up my office hours for my eight graders when my phone rang. Usually, I ignore it. You know, can't tell the kids to leave their phones alone if I'm answering mine. Anyway, it rang again a minute or so later and then a third time. I thought something had happened to Chloe so I answered it, prepared to knock out the 'I'll have to call you back speech' when the voice said, 'It's Officer Jack Abraham with the LAPD'."

"Jack Abraham? Isn't he-" Chloe asked.

"-Yeah, the guy from the kids soccer team." David said in response. "He then went on to explain that they'd had a call from a concerned parent at a park over in Hollywood. At this point, I'm thinking he'd called the wrong number. He said the woman was reporting a kidnapping. I asked who had been kidnapped, my mind going overtime thinking someone had taken Chloe and was holding her to ransom or something. He said it was possibly one of my kids."

Chloe looked towards Aubrey who shrugged her shoulders slightly.

"I asked which one and he said the red head."

"Kate."

"Yeah, and I said that she was probably home with my wife and I would have heard if there was a problem." David explained further. "I mean, you'd call. I know you'd call. So I wasn't worried too much at this point. Officer Abraham recognised her from the kids career day we did in school before Christmas, when the girls came with me. You remember how infatuated the girls were with him and followed him around all day. Luckily, they went to his precinct or we might not have found out what was going on."

"I remember." Chloe said, picking up the salad bowl.

"This woman, in the park, was so convinced this little girl was our Katie, that she called the Police. There was a woman with her, claiming to be her mother but the kid was crying and saying she didn't want to go with her. But they took her and the kid downtown to the 8th Precinct for questioning."

"Why'd they do that? Surely the little girl knew who her mother was." Chloe asked, nestling the bowl she was holding into the crook of her arm.

"You know how crazed some of your fans are though Chloe. They know every single detail about you and your kids. If the kid was crying, then they had a right to be concerned. Maybe not calling the Police concerned but still." Aubrey said.

"But we keep the girls off of social media, aside from the picture on the beach..." Chloe was puzzled.

"Doesn't mean that people don't know what they look like though. Kate looks just like you. She probably made such a fuss about the little girl, and if tensions were high… the Police probably needed to act on it." Aubrey said.

"I thought so too." David said. "And then the officer said he send me a photo of the little girl to confirm she wasn't Katharine. And that's why I called you."

"Okay, but I still don't understand your panic…" Chloe said shaking her head slightly in confusion as she picked at the salad.

"Look at this then." David said, slipping his phone out from his jacket pocket. He quickly unlocked his phone and scrolled to his messages, clicking on the picture that the police officer had sent to him earlier. He turned the phone around and showed his wife the screen.

Chloe gasped and immediately dropped the bowl of salad that Kate had so lovingly mixed.

.oOo.

Chapter Text

A/N - Apologies for the interlude in getting this chapter out. Work got kind of crazy and I had writers block over a change I made to chapter nine! Thanks, as always, to my beta for catching my errors :)

Thanks for reading along x


.oOo. Chapter Seven .oOo.

"Is Officer Jack Abrahams around please?" David asked as soon as they arrived at the 8th Precinct Police Station the next morning. It was just after six in the morning but both he and Chloe had been awake most of the night.

At around two in the morning, Chloe had gotten up and gone into the girls room. Something was playing on her mind and she couldn't shake the thought that there's been a shift in her internal matrix.

Upon seeing the picture of the child that David had shown her, Chloe had dropped everything she had in her hands to grab at the phone. She ignored the spilled salad items as she stared at the image on the screen, looking at it from all angles.

"It's not Kate." She said after a couple of minutes looking at the picture.

David looked over her shoulder as she pointed to the screen.

"See, this little girl… her hair is a lot longer than Katie's. That bunny she's holding looks loved and we don't have a toy like that. If this picture was taken today, she'd have had to have been out of my sight for at least two hours and we've not left the house today, at all. They helped bake some cookies, we did laundry and they played in the sandbox until we started dinner." Chloe explained, casually pointing to the discarded sand on the deck. "There is zero possibility that this little girl is Kate."

"But you have to admit that the similarity is striking."

"Aubrey, what do you think?" Chloe asked, showing Aubrey the picture.

"I agree, it's Kate's double. I guess it's true that every person has a doppelganger out there somewhere in the world." Aubrey agreed after a few moments. "The likeness is-"

Aubrey was cut off by Chloe's phone ringing.

"-Sorry." Chloe said, cancelling the call from the unknown number. This was her private phone that only a few people had the number for. She didn't give the number out to many people and wouldn't usually answer it if it was someone she didn't know.

The phone promptly rang again three more times in quick succession.

"Give it to me." Aubrey said, holding out her hand for the phone, which Chloe handed over. She answered the call. "Hello?"

Chloe and David could hear someone talking quietly in the phone's background.

"No, this is not her. I am her secretary." Aubrey said, giving a little wink.

Chloe smiled a little and bent down to start retrieving the dropped food.

"Yes, they are all at home." Aubrey said evenly. "I am with them all now."

David reached into the tall kitchen cupboard and pulled out a long handled broom and began helping Chloe clear up the mess.

"Sorry, who is calling again?" Aubrey said and waited for an answer. "Okay, well, keep me posted and I shall let Mr and Mrs Mitchem know. Thank you. Yes, goodbye."

Aubrey laid the phone down on the kitchen counter and shook herself a little.

"This day is getting weird now." She said. "That man was claiming to be a Los Angeles Police Officer and wanted to know if Katharine Mitchem was in your safekeeping."

"Was it Jack Abraham?" David asked.

"No, he said his name was Officer Ben Wesley."

"What else did he want?"

"He asked if you could take a recent picture of Kate and a family photo down to the 8th Precinct as they had a call about a kidnapping but as we were talking, the request got cancelled, or something and they are no longer looking at Kate as the intended target. It was all very confusing."

"I doubt it's anything to worry about." Chloe said, a short bubble of laughter erupting from her lips. "Kate and Alex are both fine. The security team would have alerted us to anyone suspicious around the house."

"I'm sorry I worried everyone." David said, stowing the brush and bucket back into the closet.

"No, not at all. I would have done the same if I'd seen that little girl." Chloe said, biting her lip slightly. "Anyway, we have a dinner to prepare and let's try to forget about this weirdness."

"What's the time?" David said, already looking at his watch. "A little after five. Well, I suggest I go and get showered and changed and then we'll have dinner."

"Sounds good." Chloe said, turning around to chop a few more vegetables to replace the ones that were now in the trash.

The rest of the evening was uneventful, and the girls went to bed without too much fuss, tired from their afternoon of playing and with their tummies full of homemade pizza. Chloe and Aubrey were in the lounge and David was in the kitchen on his phone when he announced he was going to bed. Aubrey left quite quickly after that, despite Chloe's protests that she should stay.

Chloe climbed the stairs to bed, but couldn't settle after she'd tucked the girls back in. Something was gnawing at her gut and she twisted and turned until about two in the morning when she decided to fix herself a snack and a drink, in the hope it would send her off to sleep.

She found David in the kitchen, back at his laptop.

"Hey."

"Hey. Sorry, did I wake you?" He asked.

"No, I couldn't sleep."

"Me neither."

"What are you looking at?" Chloe said, as she turned towards the snack cupboard and pulled on the handle.

"Nothing really." David sighed. "News mostly."

"Want anything?" Chloe said, looking at the basket of treats in front of her.

"Animal crackers?"

"Sure." Chloe said, tossing him a packet. "D, I need to talk to you about something."

"Okay?" David said, shutting the lid of his laptop down as Chloe took a seat next to him, leaning forward so her elbows were on the kitchen island.

"That little girl."

"Yeah?"

"There's something about her. I can't stop thinking about her."

"Me too." David admitted.

"Do you think my mom and dad lied to me about being an only child?" Chloe asked. "Do I have a sibling out there, living in Los Angeles, who has a kid that looks like our Kate?"

"Wow, didn't think you'd have said that."

"What did you think I was going to say?"

"I don't know." David grinned. "Not that."

"It's all I can think of. I'm not sure my parents would have done that. They took years to have me and would have told me if I'd had a sibling. I mean, my Aunt Emma has researched our family tree and something like that would have come out." Chloe said, rubbing her temples. "I'm clutching at straws, I guess."

"It doesn't seem like the thing your family would do. I mean, they are quiet people but good people and wouldn't lie to one another."

"I know. I just…" Chloe trailed off.

"What?"

"Okay, so hear me out."

David nodded and opened his packet of animal crackers.

"I was tucking the girls in before I went to bed. Kate was curled up in a little ball, arms full of teddies and dolls and Alex was sprawled out on her back, mouth open and snoring."

"Yeah?"

"I thought to myself as I shut the door just how different they are."

"They've always been that way."

"I know. That's my point."

"I'm not following."

"I'm not making much sense, that's why."

"Take your time."

"Okay, so the day of the accident in Flintstone." Chloe said, sitting upright and running her hands over her face. "There was a lot going on. You were hurt. Pete was hurt. I went into labour and had to have an emergency caesarean. And I was all by myself."

"Yes." David said simply. He didn't like reminders of that particular

"And I barely got a chance to hold the girls before they were taken away. I didn't even get a photo to show you until I was moved to Atlanta. And remember me telling you about that girl in the hospital, the one who had pulled me out of the car?"

"Vaguely, yes."

"She had a baby too that night. I think she had a little girl too and we saw each other in the NICU a few times."

"Sounds familiar."

"She had brown hair and brown eyes and was really small, from what I remember." Chloe said, her face screwing up a little as she tried to recall the girl who, at the time, had made quite an emotional impact on her.

"Right?"

"Okay, I'm just going to come out and say it." Chloe breathed out. "It got me thinking about all the other parents that were also in the NICU and how everyone looked different... blue yes, brown eyes, brown hair, blonde hair. What if someone did actually recognise me and think it would be a good idea to swap our babies around?"

"What?"

"What if someone knew who I was and wanted to keep our baby?"

"Why on earth would they want to do that?"

"I don't know? Maybe for the future? Like a ransom?"

"Chloe, you've said some pretty crazy things in the past but this one takes the biscuit."

"Think about it, D. Think about it. Everyone in your family is blonde. Everyone in my family is either a redhead or blonde. Where does Alex's brown hair come from?"

"You can't possibly think that our child could have been switched because she has a different hair colour to us. That's ridiculous. We've all got recessive genes in families. You're the one with the history major! You like history and from all the historical pictures of people you've seen in your life, are you actually telling me that you've never noticed a random hair colour in a family photograph or topic book. Come on?"

"I know… I hear myself say it, but we were told our girls were identical."

"Yes, but they also said that mistakes can happen when doing ultrasounds."

"But the 4D imaging we had-"

"-You know we couldn't see the second baby properly. Chloe, I know you desperately wanted two little girls who looked alike and were alike, but I love the fact that our girls are different. Kate is exactly like you, in her mannerisms and actions."

"Exactly and Alex is-"

"-Is different because she probably takes after someone in the family that we hardly know. Maybe one of my mom's brothers."

"I just-"

"-I know. But think about it. As soon as babies are born, they are tagged with a bracelet. The girls would have been tagged in the delivery room or the operating theatre and-"

"-They weren't tagged."

"Huh?"

"They weren't tagged." Chloe repeated. "They were delivered and taken away and then I was put under anaesthesia because the bleeding wouldn't stop. But I didn't get my tags until I was transferred over to the Children's Hospital in Atlanta."

"You never told me this!"

"I never had any reason to doubt it before but-"

"-But nothing. Alex is our daughter!" David shouted.

"Okay, okay, don't yell. You'll wake the girls up." Chloe said, laying a hand on his arm. "Just listen to me for a moment. Think about this rationally. There is a little girl who looks exactly like Kate out there. Do you admit that?"

"Yes, of course."

"And did you get a strange feeling when you saw her picture?"

"Yes." David said, narrowing his eyes. "I panicked."

"No, I mean, in your gut."

"Well yeah, I thought…"

"I got it too. I can't sleep because I keep thinking about that child. What if she is ours? And Alex really belongs to someone else?"

"Because this doesn't happen in real life."

"But it does happens."

"Maybe in your movie induced brain, it does." David snapped.

"Whichever brain it exists in, I'm just asking you to be open minded for a moment. Please. I know you don't want to consider it, but it is an option because anything is a possibility. Just because it sounds farfetched, doesn't mean it can't be real."

"When you say that though, it sounds like you are saying you don't love Alex."

"I don't love Alex?" Chloe repeated. "Are you for real?"

"I'm scared." David admitted.

"Of what?"

"That you are right."

"Oh."

David sighed and laid his head down on his folded arms on the kitchen island.

"It's late and we are going around in circles." David groaned. "Let's go to bed and we can talk more in the morning."

"But we need to-"

"-And if we need to, we'll go to the Police station in the morning and speak with Jack and see if there is anything he can suggest or tell us and we'll take it from there."

"But-"

"-It's three thirty in the morning." David said, getting up from his stool. He looked down at Chloe's despondent face and sighed. "I'll text Jack, okay. I'll ask him if there's anything going on or if are winding ourselves up about nothing. Deal?"

Chloe nodded and collected up their discard treat wrappers, watching David as he left the kitchen. She was annoyed by his lack of urgency about the whole thing but as she climbed the stairs back up to her bedroom, she realised that he had a point. Yesterday, the thought would never have crossed her mind that there was a possibility that there could be some truth to her musings.

Laughing quietly to herself, she made a mental note that it was probably time she booked a spa weekend with Aubrey and had a bit of time to relax. She'd been so busy lately, doing some reshoots for her latest film and with the girls being so energetic, she barely had time to unwind. Slipping back into bed, she pulled the blankets over her head and tried to push all the strange thoughts from her mind.

.oOo.

David shook Chloe awake just before five.

"Wha-" She said drowsily, her head pounding at the bright light in her bedroom.

"-Jack Abraham called. Get up."

"What's going on?"

"The girl from the park."

Chloe shook her head, trying to wake her muddled, sleepy brain. She raised herself up onto her elbows.

"They've run some sort of test on the woman who was claiming to be her mother."

"Okay?" Chloe said, pushing the blankets down and swinging her legs out of bed.

"The woman is not her mother."

"Not her mother?" Chloe repeated.

"We need to get to the police station. Get dressed."

"Why?"

"They want to talk to us about her."

"Do you believe me now?"

"Get dressed. We'll talk in the car." David bit, not answering her question.

"Call Stacie to look after the girls." Chloe said as she strode towards her dressing room to collect some clothes.

"It's five fucking am. She isn't going to be up yet, you stupid-"

"-David, take a breath." Chloe paused, immediately sensing one of David's meltdowns coming. Her heart was racing but knew she couldn't handle David losing control. He sat down on the small sofa in the bedroom and closed his eyes for a moment as Chloe quickly changed into jeans and a warm sweater. She was just slipping on some boots when she heard David speak again.

"I'm sorry."

"It's okay. We need someone to watch the girls. Stacie will get here quickly."

"Holly is closer."

Chloe visibly stiffened but she tried to school her facial expressions.

"I'm not comfortable with her being here."

"I'm calling her. She's two minutes away." David said, walking out of the bedroom.

Chloe said nothing as she popped open the girl's bedroom door. They were still fast asleep. She immediately felt grounded, just by looking at them.

"… yeah, sorry. I know it's early but I'll explain everything later, I swear." David spoke into the phone as he hurried down the stairs. "No, no, Chloe's fine. We just have to be somewhere and…"

The conversation trailed off as he went out of earshot. Chloe pulled the door shut again and quickly made her way to the kitchen. She grabbed a glass from the sink drainer and quickly filled it with water, taking in a few big mouthfuls to calm herself, before offering the glass to David. He shook his head and finished up his call.

"She'll be here in a minute." David said.

"I'll wait in the car."

"Sure."

.oOo.

"Jack Abrahams?" David asked again as the desk sergeant walked up towards the counter.

"How can I help you today?"

"We need to speak with Officer Jack Abrahams please." David asked for the third time.

"In connection with what sir? Are you reporting a crime?"

"I hope not. Are you able to call him for us please? He is expecting us."

"Take a seat." The desk sergeant pointed towards a row of chairs towards the front door to the building. She finally looked at Chloe and her expression changed, clearly recognising her. "Unless you need to wait in a private room?"

"Chloe?" David asked. He forgot that Chloe was someone who was recognised on a daily basis.

"Yes please, thank you ma'am." Chloe said politely.

"No problem. Give me a minute." The sergeant reached for a set of keys on a hook under the front desk, before walking to the side door. "Follow me please."

David and Chloe followed the officer down a short hallway and turned left to a small bank of doors. She knocked a couple of times on the glass before jamming a key into the lock and opening it with a very loud click. She pushed open the door and switched on the light switch.

"Can I get you folks anything?" She asked, indicating for them to enter the room. "Coffee? Water?"

"Coffee would be great, thank you." Chloe said and David shook his head.

"No problem. I'll bring it back in a moment and I'll message Officer Abrahams now."

"Thanks." David said, making himself comfortable as possible on one of the hard plastic chairs in the room.

Chloe paced around the room for the next hour, reading the various posters and leaflets that adorned the walls and drinking so much bad coffee that she was starting to get the shakes. She fingered the small, obviously fake, potted plant that sat in the corner on a wobbly shelf before digging her hands into her pocket.

"Chloe? David? Hi, it's nice to see you again. So sorry you've had to wait so long. I got caught up in my supervisors office." Officer Jack said as he knocked on the door and walked into the room at the same time. He held his hand out to Chloe first who shook it in a friendly manner. Jack could see that Chloe looked as if she was about to fall apart at any moment. "Can I get you guys anything before we start?"

They both shook their heads to say no, thanks and Jack indicated one of the chairs in the room.

"Ma'am?" He said to Chloe. "Please."

"What's going on then Jack?" David asked, as Chloe and Jack both took a seat at the table.

"Well, folks, this is probably something and nothing but I thought it best to bring you into discuss this properly." Jack cleared his throat a couple of times before opening the packet that he'd brought in with him. "At approximately three o'clock yesterday afternoon, a unit was dispatched to Griffith Park Recreation Centre Playground where a member of the public had called with a concern over a small child, about three years old, who was being removed from the park against her will. My officers arrived at the park, interviewed the caller who said that the child was, and I quote, 'definitely Chloe Beale's daughter, I'd recognise her anywhere as I'm her biggest fan' and suggested that she'd been kidnapped."

David and Chloe side eyed each other but refrained from speaking.

"My officers further questioned the caller who was adamant that it wasn't a nanny or a babysitter who was with the child. My officers stopped the woman and the child a couple of blocks away and questioned them for a while."

"Sorry Jack to interrupt, but surely the little girl knew who her mother was?" Chloe queried.

"The child had been seen crying in the park and hadn't want to leave."

"That's typical child behaviour when they don't want to leave somewhere though, surely?" David asked.

"Right, but the caller had been concerned enough to phone the Police."

"Okay, sorry."

Jack shook his head as if to say that no apology was necessary.

"Upon seeing the child, one of the officers, Officer Watts, became concerned about the child's welfare and asked the mother why the child was distressed. The woman became agitated and to avoid the situation becoming out of control, the officers asked for her identification. She claimed she didn't have it with her as they'd just popped to the park for a few minutes before she had to go to work. The officers continued with their questions and the woman offered to show them her daughter's birth certificate which she had back in her apartment."

Jack paused for a moment as he turned the reports page over.

"The apartment didn't show signs of a typical family dwelling. Officer Watts told Officer Pelham privately that he also recognised the child as yours, Mrs Mitchem. He had seen your pictures together at a charity event over Christmas. The Homeless Kitchen one... he helped out with you in the kitchen, I believe. The birth certificate was from out of state and burnt in a few places. Officer Pelham was concerned that it was a forgery and asked the woman if she would accompany them to the Police station to get this all sorted out." Jack explained. "This distressed the young woman and she ended up in handcuffs for her own safety."

"She was cuffed in front of her child?" Chloe asked, her shock evident on her face.

"Yes. We are awaiting the full report from Officers Watts and Pelham but I know both these guys and they wouldn't have taken this decision lightly." Jack clarified. "The woman was brought into the station and Child Protective Services were called to take care of the child. The woman became extremely agitated and was left in an interview room to calm down before interviewing. Due to reasons beyond our control, she was there several hours before she was questioned. She was uncooperative and claimed we had made her potentially lose her job being held up by LAPD."

Jack turned another page of the report over.

"By this point, I had been assigned to the case and sent David a picture of the child and asked if Katharine was safely at home with you. We had not received a call about a potential kidnapping at this point but in the past, the parents of kidnapped children of… celebrity or notable statuses, are told not to inform the police if a ransom call is made soon after the child is taken."

"Oh God…" Chloe breathed out.

"You both confirmed that Katharine was in your sight safely at home and we then looked to release the accused without charge. According to this report, the woman was extremely distressed about being separated from her child and while not rude and abusive to the staff, there were high tensions. To clear the matter up, she agreed to take a DNA test to prove the child was hers."

"And?" Chloe asked.

"This is off the record, you understand?" Jack spoke clearly and Chloe and David both nodded.

"There was no DNA match. They were not related."

"So what does this mean?" David said, gripping Chloe's hand under the table.

"The accused was charged with kidnapping while I was off shift. When I came back in this morning, she was still here, I got caught up with the case and I am just in the process of getting her discharged now."

"But the child-"

"-She claims to have given birth to the child and has consented to all and every test to prove she is her mother. She said she has friends that can back up her story, she has pictures of the two of them from when the child was born. She explained in detail about the child being in the NICU and when we called the hospital, her story did check out."

"Where was the child born?" Chloe asked, desperately trying to stop her hands from shaking.

"Um…" Jack looked through the folder. "Atlanta, Georgia."

"Oh God… David!" Chloe squealed.

"Chloe, are you okay?" Jack asked.

"We had our girls in Atlanta." David explained. "Chloe had a theory in the night that somehow one of our twins was switched with this lady's daughter. I doubt many people know that our girls were born in Georgia so either this woman is making up this story or she switched one of our children. Maybe she was obsessed with Chloe and wanted our baby."

"Or maybe it's a genuine error and somehow the girls were accidently switched." Jack said as he sat back in his chair and looked between the two others in the room for the longest minute.

"Do you have pictures of both of your girls?" Jack finally asked and Chloe immediately reached into her purse for her phone. She quickly went to her pictures and turned the phone for Jack to see. "Can I borrow this for a few minutes?"

"Yes, of course."

"I'll be right back." Jack said and quickly left the room.

"What the hell is happening?" Chloe said, feeling overwhelmed.

"I'm not sure but I'm thinking your crazy ass theory isn't so crazy now." David mumbled. "I'm sorry I was so dismissive."

"I think we need to call our attorney." Chloe said, pausing when David nodded his agreement. "And probably my studio execs. Lilly would be good to deal with this."

"Why them?" David said, scrolling through his phone for Oliver Harris's number.

"Because I don't want this leaked out into the media before we figure out what is going on. Lilly covers my press releases, social media and interviews."

David nodded as he put the phone to his ear, placing a call to his attorney's office. He left a message with his secretary who promised she would speak with him the moment he was in the building. David then called Chloe's studio, speaking with one of the assistants, Lilly. He held the phone so close to his ear, unable to hear what was being said on the other end. Eventually he hung up, hoping that Lilly had heard his version of events.

"Can we call Aubrey as well?" Chloe whispered. She was trying to hold it together, but her head was pounding. David handed Chloe the phone and she placed a call to Aubrey's cell immediately.

"Aubrey Posen."

"Bree, it's Chloe. David and I are with the LAPD. Can you get down here?"

"What's happened?"

"I'll explain when you are here. It's the little girl from the park. There's been a potential development."

"I'm on my way." Aubrey said and hung up the phone. That was one thing Chloe loved about her best friend. There was never any need to give a detailed explanation if there wasn't time. She'd drop everything from Aubrey, and she knew her friend would do the same thing for her.

They sat in silence for the longest time, both staring at the door. An hour passed before they heard a knock on the door and the desk sergeant from earlier came into view.

"Mr and Mrs Mitchem, I have quite a few people in the lobby for you."

"Oh… yes, I'm sorry to-" David began.

"-No need to apologise. Office Abrahams has been caught up and has asked they be put into the large interview room. However, a Ms Posen is demanding to speak with you, and it would appear that she is not really willing to wait any longer. Does this person pose a threat to you?"

"No, she's my wife's best friend." David explained. "I'll come out and speak with her. Is she allowed back here?"

"Yes, of course."

"Clo, I'll be back with Aubrey in a minute. I'll explain it all to her, so you don't have to go through it again."

Chloe nodded weakly. All the adrenaline in her body had evaporated and she suddenly felt so very tired. David left the room with the officer, returning a few minutes later with Aubrey, who was dressed smartly in a suit with a pretty blue blouse underneath. Chloe suddenly remembered that her friend had had an important meeting that morning.

"Bree, your meeting…" She blurted out by way of greeting as Aubrey came around the table to give her a hug.

"Don't worry about it." Aubrey said, waving Chloe's concerns away with a wave of her hand. "David's just explained everything to me. So there's a chance the girl in the park could be your daughter?"

"We're not sure." Chloe said. "We don't really know what's happening right now."

"There's an army of people outside ready to help you understand." Aubrey said. "Have you eaten anything this morning?"

"No… I can't… no."

"Do you-"

"-Sorry folks, that took way longer than I thought it was going to." Jack said, entering the room. He spotted the newcomer immediately. "Oh, hi, I'm Officer Abraham."

"Aubrey Posen." Aubrey said, taking the hand that was offered to her.

"Can we talk privately?" Jack asked Chloe and David.

"You can speak in front of her." David said.

"Okay, so the accused has just been released from custody. We have collaborated her story with friends, colleagues and hospital records. We have no reason to keep her here any longer."

"But the DNA test?"

"Might not mean anything actually. I spoke to a couple of doctors." Jack said. "There could be a number of reasons why the DNA doesn't match up. She could have used an egg donor, she could have been a surrogate and the adoption went wrong and we, unfortunately, are unable to ask those questions without a subpoena."

"Then get one." David said, his voice rising angrily. Chloe laid a hand on his arm.

"These things take time to organise." Jack said gently. "Chloe, I have to ask this and I hope you are willing to share this information with me. We can step into another room if you need to."

"I keep no secrets from David or Aubrey."

"Okay, forgive my question but have you ever donated your eggs or been part of any fertility program?"

"No."

"Have you ever had an expired pregnancy?"

"No. I've only been pregnant once, with the twins."

"I'm sorry to have had to ask. We're trying to establish what has happened and have been in contact with the hospital in Flintstone, Georgia to release your hospital records. I'll need for you to sign some forms, if that's okay."

"Whatever you need." Chloe said.

"Are you thinking that the children could really have been switched?" Aubrey asked Jack.

"At the moment, we are investigating the possibility, yes."

"Where is the child at the moment?" Aubrey asked and Chloe blanched. She'd not thought to ask that question, still desperately trying to process everything.

"She's under the care of Child Protection Services at the moment."

"Are we able to see her?" Chloe asked.

"No, I'm afraid not. Although the likeliness between your daughter and the child is unmistakable, she'll be reunited with her mother at some point today."

"Which CPS office?" Aubrey asked.

"I'm not at liberty to say." Jack said, sliding a piece of paper towards Aubrey who pocketed the note without saying a word. "I'd suggest speaking with your legal team and see what they suggest but other than that, we'll be in touch with any news."

"This all sounds a little vague." David spoke out plainly.

"I appreciate that but, as a friend, I'm asking you to go home and get some rest and I'll be in touch with any developments." Jack said, reaching for the door handle. "You have my number and I can be reached at any time. I'm really glad I was put on this case and that you guys know me. We'll work it out, together."

.oOo.

Aubrey, Chloe and David stepped out into the morning sunshine four hours after arriving at the Police Station.

There was an air of uncertainty and confusion about them as they headed to their respective cars. Aubrey had admitted to them both, as soon as Jack had left the room, that he'd given her a note with the CPS office who currently had the little girl. He'd scrawled on the bottom that he would meet them there at ten o'clock.

"Let's go in my car." Aubrey said. "Leave yours here and we'll come back to it later.

"I feel a bit funny doing this." Chloe said as they got into Aubrey's car.

"Well, don't." David said simply, ending the conversation.

They drove towards Koreatown and the address that Jack had given them. There was an air of vagueness in the car.

"Chloe?" David asked, turning in the front seat.

"Yeah?"

"The woman you mentioned, from the hospital? The girl who had the baby the same day and the one you became friendly with."

"Yeah?"

"What was her name?"

"Why?"

"I'm just thinking about something."

"I don't remember. There was a lot going on." Chloe said.

"Do you have her number anywhere?"

"No, I didn't get it before she left the hospital. Why?"

"Just wondering if she'd know of anyone from the NICU that we could speak with to see if their kids are really their kids." David stated. "Or if she pinched my kid."

"She lived in California?" Aubrey asked, confused.

"No, she lived in Atlanta."

"But the child is here in California. So the chances are-"

"-But she was coming this way to work in Los Angeles." Chloe said, her eyes widening.

"She said that?" Aubrey asked.

"Yes, we had a long conversation about it. It was her plan but I don't know if she ever did it as we didn't keep in touch. The day she left was the day David said he wanted a divorce. I got really caught up with that and I've not thought about her in years." Chloe lied. She'd forgotten her name over the years and even what she really looked like but never how she'd made her feel.

David shifted uncomfortably in his seat for a while until Aubrey announced they'd arrived.

"Any clue where we go?" David asked as Aubrey found a parking spot a block away.

"I guess, reception and explain why we're here. Jack should already be there so hopefully he can let us see the little girl. Do we know her name?" Chloe mumbled as she slipped out of the car.

"Don't think we were told. I guess it's a privacy thing."

"I guess so."

They walked the block back towards the building, until Chloe suddenly stopped dead in her tracks. She grabbed at David's hand to steady herself.

"What's wrong?" David said, running his arm around her waist and following her finger as she pointed up to a figure ahead.

"It's her!"

"Who?"

"The girl from the hospital in Flintstone. In front of Child Protective Services. It's her!"

.oOo.

Chapter Text

A/N - Thanks to my beta for the read through and the catching of my mistakes. And thank you for all the reviews and feedback I've received so far, including the negative. It simply serves to push me to be better at my storytelling. I may not be 'everyone's cuppa tea', and that's okay.

Stay safe everyone xx


.oOo. Chapter Eight .oOo.

Luke Bryant stepped out of the small Starbucks, juggling his treasured hot tea and a large Americano, as he tucked a bag of pastries under his arm.

He took a shortcut down Cloverfield Boulevard and a left onto Colorado Avenue towards Universal's main office in Santa Monica. He liked the short walk in the morning, usually asking his taxi driver to drop him off at that particular Starbucks. Jeff, the barista, somehow always made his English Breakfast tea just right, didn't raise an eyebrow at Luke's request for cold milk and he'd vowed never to go anywhere else.

Arriving at the office, he swiped his badge at the scanner, joked with Henry, the security officer, about the freshly spilled coffee on the front of his otherwise pristine white security shirt and took the elevator down to the basement level. Walking along the corridor, he pushed open his office door and was not surprised to find his friend, Beca, staring intently at his laptop screen.

"Early start?" He said, by way of greeting, as he set both cups down on his desk, pushing one towards her.

"Yeah, gotta leave by twelve today." She said, her voice quiet and strained.

"Today is the day, huh?"

"Yup." Beca said, pushing herself back from the desk and spinning around on the chair to face Luke as he placed his bags down on the small sofa he had in his office. She wouldn't meet his eye, a look Luke knew well. It meant Beca was really uncomfortable and probably hasn't slept.

"These are for you." Luke said, handing over the bag of pastries.

"Why?"

"Because I know you. I know you won't have eaten this morning. And you've got a stressful day ahead of you and you need some sugar to get through it. So drink up and eat up and get out of my seat." He said, playfully giving her a shove.

"Shove it up your ass Bryant." She said, opening the bag and reaching for her favourite Danish.

"Oh, you wish." Luke said, grinning as Beca shuffled over towards the couch. He could see how tired she looked and how much the last few days had caught up with her.

"Thank you." She said, in a small voice, nibbling on the edge of the pastry. "I'll pay you back for this."

"You are welcome. And no, you won't." Luke said, turning to the screen. "What are you working on?"

"Something Shawn sent over a few weeks ago. A side project he's working on, for that summer charity event he got involved in."

"Mendes?"

"No, Connery. He's wanting to do one last Bond movie at nearly ninety years old and is singing the cover song."

"Quite the joker this morning, aren't we?" Luke mirthed, reaching over for his tea and not taking his eyes off the screen. "This looks good."

"Yeah, I played with the bass a bit. It sounded squeaky. I tightened up the echo band and runner number four."

Luke nodded approvingly and continued looking through the virtual deck on his screen for a couple of minutes. He'd worked at Universal Music Group for over three years, after he'd finished college, instead of heading back to England to enrol in the Royal Air Force. His uncle Tom had offered him Jesse's place on the intern program and while Luke had initially rejected the suggestion out of respect for his friend, he'd soon come around to the idea that he'd be honouring his friend.

He'd worked hard in the program, refusing any special favours from his uncle so he could get the job on his own merit and was now currently one of the most up and coming producers. He had months of work lined up and had gotten permission to add two assistants to his roster because he was so in demand.

He'd met Beca by chance two and a half years previously.

Luke had been walking by the Santa Monica Pier, taking a slow stroll back to his apartment in Ocean Park when he happened upon a group of street performers, who were just finishing packing up early as the light rain that had been threatening since midday had made its appearance.

The pier was usually a good place to find local talent and while he knew he'd not likely find the next Justin Bieber or Ed Sheeran, he'd sourced a couple of studio musicians for Universal.

That particular evening, as the performers made a mad dash for cover, he's been captivated by the young girl who was singing her heart out, refusing to move because of the rain. He'd stood watching her for a few minutes, keeping dry under his large umbrella as her voice carried over the sounds of that cars on the street behind him. A few people walked over to throw a few coins into the plastic bucket she had in front of her and she nodded her thanks to them as she belted out her song.

He was about to walk away, conscious of the fact he was staring and had no coins on him to give her when the wind caught hold of her hood and blew it back from her face. His eyes widened in surprise when he recognised her. They hadn't spoken to each other since Jesse died, despite him trying to find her on several occasions to see how she was doing but he knew her face immediately.

He missed his college friend and their easy friendship and wished he'd gotten her number to keep in touch with Jesse's best friend.

He couldn't quite believe she was standing in front of him, singing over the rain that was now a steady downpour. She looked up to the sky in disgust and he could see her inner turmoil as he could tell she knew that it would be ridiculous to continue. The crowds had already scattered. Smiling to himself, he walked over to her, just as she bent down to collect her change bucket.

"I thought you didn't sing." He spoke gently, standing back a little as she jumped up at the sound of his voice.

It took her a few seconds to recognise him but as the wave of acknowledgment flooded her face, he'd smiled his best smile for her.

"I don't." She said, pocketing the coins without counting them. She reached down for her bag and slotted it onto her shoulder. "It's Luke, right?"

"Well remembered." He said, holding out his umbrella over her to shield her from the rain.

"You don't have to do that." She said, pointing up to the umbrella. "I'm already about as wet as can be."

"How have you been?" Luke asked, not making any notion to move away.

"Oh, you know."

"Well, I don't. That's why I asked."

"I'm living the dream." She said sarcastically, pulling her sleeves down over her hands. She shot him a sly grin and he remembered her sarcastic sense of humour. He'd found her fun, that one evening they'd spent together, and he'd always been touched how much she'd desperately tried to look after Jesse the night he'd died.

"Does the dream involve having time to get a coffee?" He asked.

"I should get home."

"How far is home?" Luke asked. "I'd be happy to walk you back there."

"Thanks. But you know the sketchy part of Downtown?"

"Yes?"

"It's the asshole of the sketchy part. Luckily, I have a bus stop one block away from my place but thanks for the offer." She said, making eyes as if she wanted to leave as she jammed her hands in her pocket. "It's nice to see you again Luke."

"And you… Becky." Luke said.

"Beca." She corrected him and he closed his eyes and gave a small chuckle. "What's so funny."

"I'll tell you over a cup of coffee. Please. You can't go home like that. You'll catch a cold."

Beca looked up and down the street a couple of times before idly looking up at the sky again. She was soaked through and a hot drink sounded like a really good idea. She jingled the coins in her pocket, knowing she'd not made that much money that evening and shook her head.

"I've got just enough bus fare to get me home so maybe another time?"

"Now I wouldn't be much of a gentleman if I invited you out for a coffee and expected you to get your own, would I?" Luke smiled, holding out the crook of his arm for her to take. "I'm friends with the Queen of England if you remember and she'd banish me from ever returning to my motherland if she found out I'd treated a lady so poorly."

"You're really weird, you know that?"

"I've been told that before." Luke laughed. "In fact, it was Jesse that you used to say it to me."

"Yeah, it was definitely one of our catchphrases." Beca said, starting to shiver as her clothes clung to her skin.

"One cup?" Luke offered again, seeing her waiver. "Then I'll make sure you get on your bus safely to Sketchyville."

"Okay, okay, one cup."

Luke nodded and waited for Beca to take his arm. She looped her hand through and clung onto his elbow, sidestepping a huge puddle as they began to walk. Luke could feel her cold hands through his many layers of clothes and quickly headed off towards the dining area around the pier.

"Are you hungry?" He asked, seeing the sign for the Cheesecake Factory.

"No. And I'm not exactly dressed for eating out anyway."

"I didn't ask that!" Luke said.

Beca knew she had a dollar in her left boot that she kept for emergencies, in case she lost her bus fare home. She knew that she could possibly get a cheeseburger at McDonalds if they were doing their dollar menu.

"McDonalds?" She said, noting the golden arches weren't too far away.

"The dinner choice of champions."

They made their way through the empty streets towards the restaurant. Luckily, it wasn't too crowded and there were plenty of empty tables. Luke held the door open for Beca and followed her inside after folding his umbrella, spying a table for four near to a small wall mounted heater.

Touched by his thoughtfulness, Beca took a seat near to the warmth and unzipped her thin hoodie, shrugging it off of her shoulders in an effort to dry it out a little.

"Here, let me…" Luke said, holding his hand out for the wet jacket. She handed it over to him as he shook it out, placing it onto the back of the chair opposite Beca and turning it so the back of it was close to the warm air. He looked back at her, easily spotting that her arms were dotted with goosebumps. She shivered a little and pulled a hair tie from around her wrist, tying her hair up into a messy bun to keep the wetness off of her neck. She tucked a couple of loose strands behind her ear as Luke hung his waterproof coat on the back of the chair.

"Right, I'll go order. What will you have?" He asked. "Coffee and…?"

"A dollar cheeseburger please. I've got a dollar here." She said, reaching into her pocket for some quarters.

"No, please, this is on me."

"I agreed to let you buy me coffee, not a meal." Beca started to protest. She could see she was about to lose the argument. "Just a cheeseburger, please."

"Okay, anything else." Luke said and Beca shook her head. She was hungry but not about to admit that to Luke. He cast his eyes over her once more before nodding politely and heading to the counter to order. He noted how thin her arms were, how pale her cheeks were and guessed that if she were busking for change, times might have been a little hard for her.

He returned a couple of minutes later with a tray full of food. Setting it down on the table, he handed Beca her coffee which she eagerly accepted and wrapped her fingers around it quickly, trying to warm up her hands. She stared down at the cup and closed her eyes.

Seeing how cold she still was, Luke pulled off his v neck sweater and walked around the other side of the table. Sensing him move behind her, Beca's eyes flew open as Luke unceremoniously threaded her head through the neck hole of his sweater.

"You're cold." He stated as he backed away from her, fearing he'd over stepped a little.

"So will you be if you lend me this." Beca said, looping her fingers around the fabric as if to remove it.

"I'm layered up." Luke said, pulling the neck of his long sleeved shirt down to reveal a tee shirt and a tank top underneath. "I'm good. Please get warm."

Beca reluctantly pushed her arms through the sleeves, marvelling at the softness of the material. She folded the ends of the sleeves over a couple of times.

"Thank you." She said.

"Don't mention it. Now, dig in."

Beca looked at the tray of food in front of Luke and couldn't see the cheeseburger she'd asked for. She winced a little, knowing she didn't have enough money for a meal as her expenses had been quite high over the last few weeks and although Luke had offered to pay for it, there was no way she was going to let him do that. Luke noticed her staring at the food.

"I don't mean to be rude but you look like you needed something more than a cheeseburger."

"You don't have to-"

"-And I wanted the time to talk with you and figured a meal would stretch our time a little."

"I'm not used to this."

"And I'm not used to having someone to hang out with. So please, share this with me. My treat, in exchange for someone my age to talk to."

Beca nodded and reached for a packet of fries. She hadn't had those since she'd quit working at the McDonalds in Flintstone in what seemed like another lifetime.

"Thank you." She said again.

"I'm going to assume that you aren't used to people doing things for you, are you?" Luke asked, watching Beca as she shook her head.

"No, I take care of myself."

"And how is life treating you?" Luke asked, reaching for a burger.

"I do okay. We're managing."

"We?"

"Jessie and I." Beca said.

Luke stopped in mid bite and stared at her. Beca watched him gulp.

"My daughter." She explained and saw Luke's face light up.

"I didn't know you had a little girl!" He said, chewing as he spoke. "How old is she?"

"She is a year and four months. Birthday is July."

"How wonderful. Do you have a picture?"

"I do." Beca said, wiping her salty fingers on her jeans and reaching into her pocket for her phone. She quickly scrolled to a recent picture and held it out for Luke to see.

"Oh, she's beautiful Beca."

"Yeah, she's okay!" Beca smiled. "I think I commented that she looked like a deep fried alien when she was born, but now she's filled out a bit, she's okay."

"What gorgeous red hair she has."

"Fiery hair and a fiery temper." Beca laughed, locking her phone and laying it down on the table.

"Oh dear!" Luke mused.

"She's a good kid. Very adaptable really. But she's not shy in letting the world know when she isn't happy."

"What's she into?"

"At the moment, books. She loves to turn a page, runs her fingers over the words. She loves anything rabbit related, has a bunny that my friend bought for her when she was born that she loves to death. She adores animals in general. Quite a typical girly girl, really."

"Where is she now?"

"Oh, my friend looks after her while I'm working. I have to do my friends laundry as payment but I'm grateful for her. I couldn't do what I do without her help."

"Her dad not able to help out?" Luke asked carefully after a few moments. He didn't know if it was considered rude to ask.

Beca thought carefully before answering. She wasn't used to sharing so many details about her private life and especially with someone she barely knew. On the other hand, she was grateful to Luke for the food and comfort he was affording her. She remembered him well from Jesse's college stories and how much Jesse liked him. She knew Jesse wanted her to have more friends, it was something they had discussed regularly.

Luke took her silence as if he had offended and tentatively reached over the table towards her.

"My apologies, that was very blunt of me."

"No, it's cool." Beca said. "No easy way to say this, but I named her Jessie after her dad. My best friend is her dad. Jesse."

She watched Luke absorb the news for a moment or two, his eyebrows shooting towards his hairline.

"Wow." He beamed. "I remember from college Jesse talking about how he wanted to be a dad. He never mentioned you were-"

"-He didn't know." Beca blurted out. "I mean, he…"

She gulped down the hard lump in her throat and peeled the lid off of her coffee. She took a sip before meeting Luke's gaze.

"We… um, the night he died… we…"

"… I understand."

Beca nodded, grateful she didn't need to explain any further. She opened the box of nuggets in front of her and quickly ate a couple of them as they sat in silence for the longest time.

"I miss him." Luke said, laying his half-eaten burger down in front of him.

"Me too."

"He was a good guy. One of the best. I've never found a friend like him since… and I'm not sure I want to."

"Yeah."

"And I know he'd be thrilled to have a daughter." Luke said, nodding slowly.

"I think so too. I'd bet my life he never thought it would be with me though."

"Oh, don't be so sure. He loved you. Often called you his knight in shining armour!"

"I had to rescue his silly face on more than one occasion! Stupid asshole was always getting into trouble, one way or another."

"That, I don't doubt."

"But as a little kid, he rescued me too."

"In what way?" Luke asked kindly.

"A bit like you are doing now, actually. Warm clothes and food."

"Tough childhood?" Luke asked.

"Something like that."

They ate silently for a couple of minutes, Beca posting fries into her mouth rhythmically.

"So where are you working now?" Beca asked. "I thought you were going to fly planes or something."

"I stayed here, began working for my uncle. He's in development over at Universal. It felt like the right path."

"Oh yeah, I remember something about that. Jesse was going to take an internship with him."

"That's right. I, um, well I took the internship and it's going really well, actually."

"Good." Beca said, popping another nugget into her mouth.

"You don't mind?"

"Mind? It's nothing to do with me. Be silly to waste an opportunity though and Jesse would have been the first to have said that."

"How about you? Aside, from singing in the rain."

"Oh, I do a bit of this, bit of that to get by."

"Like what?" Luke pushed.

"I moved out here to pursue my dream of working in music. But there's not much call for someone who simply likes doing it. I saved up enough to buy some decks off of a really shady guy and have done a few parties, bar mitzvahs and sweet sixteens. I don't charge much as I'm just trying to get a name for myself."

"You DJ?"

"Well, yeah. It doesn't bring in a lot, but it sure helps."

"What's the dream?"

"I want to make music, not just play it."

"Producer?"

"Yeah."

"Maybe I can help you out with that."

"How?"

"I was given the green light just last week to hire a couple of part time assistants. You'd have to go through the intern program which can take a couple of years but I'd do all I can to help you get through it. It is paid, which is quite rare. And then you can come and work with me afterwards."

"You'd do that for me?" Beca asked, trying not to act as if her interest piqued suddenly.

"There was clearly a reason why I ran into this evening. Perhaps Jesse had something to do with it."

"I'd have been more grateful if he'd dropped a winning lotto ticket into my lap."

Luke laughed loudly, causing a couple of the other customers to look around. Beca liked hearing his laugh.

"How about it?"

"Don't you need a college degree to get into the intern program?"

"You do but I'll make a case for you."

"But you don't know if I'm any good."

"I heard you sing."

"That's hardly the same thing."

"But…" Luke held up a finger. "… If you can sing a capella like that, hold a tune and make your voice heard in the cold and damp, then I'm excited to see what else you can do. Jesse always said you were talented and was twice the musician he was. Can you play any instruments?"

"Only what I learned on the instruments at school."

"Did you do any exams?

"Yeah, graduated high school."

"No, music exams."

"Um, not really, a couple of recitals, I guess. The music teacher let me borrow the instruments when no one else was using them. I couldn't take the piano home but I taught myself how to play the others."

"The others?" Luke asked. "How many can you play?"

"Piano, although I'm a bit clunky. Guitar and violin aren't too bad, I did a couple of exams. I've not played on a full drum kit for ages but can hold sticks pretty well."

"Wow."

"What can you play?" Beca asked, hoping her lack of music theory wouldn't be a problem.

"Um, just the triangle!" Luke laughed. "Never even progressed to the tambourine."

"Hey, the triangle takes skill."

"Apparently. How long have you been playing those instruments?"

"I did it all in my final year of school. Enough to record a couple of demo tracks with Jesse. That was a fun day."

"You learned all of that in one year."

"Yeah, but I'm rusty. I've borrowed instruments over the years but it's not the same as having my own."

"So we need to get you on board with Universal pretty quick. Beca… what do you think about my offer?"

"I don't quite know what to say."

"Other than you'll come by Universal's main office, say Tuesday, and you can show us what you can do, then you don't need to say anything. Like I said, it's part time, but it's a start."

"Oh, I'll take part time." Beca said, the excitement in her voice evident. "I've got an interview next week to potentially do a set at Avalon, so if that goes well, part time would really sit well with me."

"Avalon huh?"

"Yeah, I did a sweet sixteen party for some rich kid... actually, not too far from here and her dad knew someone who knew someone who got me a trial."

"Fingers crossed life is going to get a little easier for you."

"The one thing I want to do is move. We lodge in a house and sharing a bathroom is just no fun."

"What are you looking for?"

"Something cheap. I have a camper van but it's just too cold in the winter. My kid has asthma and damp just isn't good for her. I can't really afford an apartment but hopefully, if my luck changes, I might be able to swing something dirt cheap. Don't need fancy."

"Where are you looking?"

"As long as I've got a parking spot and access to a metro stop, I don't really care. Why?"

"My brother, James, is heading back to England for a couple of years. His wife needs to return home for work. He has a place near Los Feliz. It's tiny but safe and decent."

"Thanks, but I couldn't afford the rent if it's-"

"-Let me speak with him. Doesn't hurt to ask. It's only a single room but it's got its own bathroom, kitchen and there's even a lovely park close by for your little girl."

"Okay, thank you." Beca said, picking up her phone to check the time. She was surprised to see a couple of hours had passed.

"Do you need to get home for your little girl?"

"No, she's at my friends place, I'm picking her up in the morning. They do some weird movie marathon and eat popcorn until Jessie almost pukes. But I should get home before it gets too dark. Like I said earlier, I live in Sketchytown." Beca said, beginning to take off Luke's sweater.

"Keep it for now." Luke said, stopping her. "Just let me have it back the next time we see each other."

"You sure?"

"Absolutely."

"Thanks." Beca said, watching Luke pick up her hoodie from the back of the chair. He held it away from him for a moment before handing it over to Beca to put on. "It was Jesse's."

"I didn't notice it earlier!" Luke said, noting their college logo on it. "It's good to have something of his you can wear."

Luke collected the tray from the table and carried it over to the trash. He picked up his jacket and umbrella and together they walked away from the warmth of the building. Thankfully it had stopped raining.

"Will you be okay to get the bus back this late?" Luke asked as they began to walk towards the bus stop.

"Yeah, it'll be full of handsy drunks at this time of night, but I've got pepper spray."

"You would be welcome to stay at my place tonight. I've got a pull out couch."

"It's fine. Honestly, I'm used to it."

"It's now a problem for me though. Now that I know it's not the safest way to travel. I'd be happy to pay for a taxi for you."

"I'm definitely not letting you do that." Beca said, shivering a little in the cool night air. "Dude, how are you not cold?"

"England never gets warmer than about sixty five degrees. The cold doesn't bother me anyway."

"Alright Elsa." Beca quipped and Luke laughed loudly again.

"Are you sure I can't interest you in a beer at my place? We could discuss the job in more detail." Luke said, desperate for Beca not to take the bus home this late. He could see her wavering. "I have a pull out couch if you want to stay over. Can't promise anything fancy for breakfast but I could borrow my Uncle's car in the morning and run you back home or to collect your little girl."

"Dude, if you need a friend that badly…" Beca trailed off.

Luke took that as a positive response and whipped out his phone and tapped away on the screen for a minute before locking it and slipping it back into his inside pocket.

"Uber is on its way."

"We could have walked."

"You're cold and I'm lazy so…"

The Uber soon arrived and within twenty minutes, they were both in Luke's apartment, sharing a couple of beers that Luke had found in the back of his fridge. Beca sat cross legged in his small lounge area, gently running her fingers over Luke's extensive and impressive vinyl collection as Luke listened to a couple of voicemails and buttered some crumpets in the kitchen.

"Rain's finally stopped." He said, handing Beca a small plate.

"Dude, just how English are you?" Beca asked, taking in the hot buttered crumpets. She inhaled the sweet fragrance for a second or two, feeling like she was about to enjoy the nicest luxury she'd had in a very long time.

"Very." He ruminated as he took a seat on the couch. "Find anything you like?"

"I swear I just saw an original pressing of an ABBA album from nineteen seventy four." Beca said before taking a bite out of one of the crumpets.

"You did. Waterloo. Belonged to my grandmother."

"Wow."

"You can play it if you like."

"No, it's okay." Beca said, waggling her slightly greasy fingers in his direction.

"Here, I'll get it." Luke said, standing up. He was about to select the record they'd been talking about when Beca subtly pointed to a small pile of albums on the floor beside her. He grinned and nodded towards the sofa. "Please, take a seat."

Falling onto the comfortable couch, Beca watched as Luke slipped the first record onto the turntable and the room was soon filled with the sound of Sweet Child of Mine by Guns and Roses.

"You never did tell me why you laughed when I corrected my name earlier by the way." Beca said, settling into the deep cushions more than she meant to. It had been a while since she'd been that comfortable and she sighed. She was surprising herself with how easy it was, with Luke, in his apartment. She didn't let many people into her life but she found she was already wondering if he'd be free to meet up again after she went along to Universal's main office.

"Oh, that!" Luke laughed. "Well, do you remember a guy called Mason Bates from college? Did Jesse ever mention him?"

"Yeah, dude looked like a hamster but was an orchestral genius. Heard he won an award with the London Symphony."

"That's right." Luke confirmed, impressed she knew who he was. "You told Jesse, after listening to some of his work, that the guy needed to add a little something to his music."

Beca nodded along.

"Well, he did. He added the electronics you mentioned. And won the award for innovation." Luke explained. "He wanted to give you credit for it and asked me what your name was. I told him it was Becky as I thought that's what it was. So, it's on his album cover as 'inspired by Becky Friend'."

"My claim to fame!" Beca mused.

"You've made it!" Luke laughed, setting his plate down. He gestured towards the rest of the sleeved records by Beca's foot. "What else do you have in that pile?"

They discussed music for well over an hour, sharing their different perspectives on what made music so enjoyable. Beca even let Luke listen to a couple of her own tunes and one of her mash ups and he got the impression she didn't really do that for everyone.

As Luke excused himself to use the bathroom, Beca pulled out her phone and sent a message to Amy.

message from beca, to amy.h: 21.47 - Hi, everyone okay? J asleep?
message from amy.h, to becaroo: 21.47 - Yup, Mini Mitch is playin' with sharp knives and drinkin' vodka
message from beca, to amy.h:  21.47 - She'd still be less reckless than you
message from amy.h, to becaroo:  21.48 - How'd yoos get on tonight?
message from beca, to amy.h:  21.48 - Weather tanked but met up with an old friend of Jesse's instead, having a drink at his place
message from amy.h, to becaroo:  21.48 - Sweet!
message from beca, to amy.h:  21.49 - Yeah, he's gonna try and get me an interview at Universal
message from amy.h, to becaroo:  21.49 - Be awesome if he did
message from beca, to amy.h:  21.49 - Yeah. See you around 8 tomorrow?
message from amy.h, to becaroo:  21.50 - Cool. Night.
message from beca, to amy.h:  21.50 - Night and thanks again

Beca pocketed her phone and drained the last of her beer just as Luke came out of the bathroom.

"Another?" He asked, nodding towards her empty bottle, as she set it down on the small side table.

"That would be great, thanks."

"No problem." Luke said, heading towards the kitchen.

They fell into a comfortable silence after Luke returned, sharing their last couple of years with each other whilst they listened to Luke's music. Without meaning to, Beca fell asleep on the sofa and woke up to the room in darkness, just after midnight.

She noticed a blanket had been laid over her and a pillow wedged into her side. She was touched by Luke's kind gesture as she sat up to remove her shoes. She ran her fingers through her hair and debated about leaving to head back home but realised there wasn't anything to head back for. Instead, she crossed the living room to use the bathroom, noting that Luke had left a new toothbrush out for her with a note attached explaining it was for her. She took a look at herself in the mirror as she quickly washed her face, noting for the first time in many months that there was a lightness to her eyes. For the first time in a long time, she'd had some time out from her life and had some fun.

As Beca went back to sleep that night, wrapped up in Luke's warm blanket, she sent a silent prayer of thanks up to Jesse for being Luke's friend.

.oOo.

Chapter Text

A/N - Evening all! Just wanted to address a little something that is getting a lot of attention! Jessie's hair colour! I also post this on another site and it's a source of confusion over there too.

My family all have dark hair. We're talking dark, dark, dark brown and black. Nearly all of them have brown eyes too and awesome eyebrows. Most of them are English (heritage) and have a normal, almost olive, complexion. They have always tanned well on holiday and keep their suntans well into the winter.

Then there's me. I'm so pale, I'm almost blue and you can see my veins through my translucent skin. I have blue eyes and red hair, freckles and I don't tan. My eyebrows are so blond, they're white unless I draw them on with a crayon. I'm almost part vampire with my aversion to the sun and burn in less than two minutes. (Side note, red hair and blue eyes is pretty rare which I find really cool which is why 'Chloe Beale' always stood out for me.)

So, am I the milkman's kid?

Nope.

For other reasons, we've had DNA testing done in our family and I am definitely both of my parents. I have my mother's sarcastic sense of humour and her love of books and my fathers temper and love of football (soccer) when EVERYONE else loves rugby. I share too many similar traits with my sister to not be related, despite us looking nothing like each other.  I'm 87% from the United Kingdom and 11% from Norway (and 2% from Germanic Europe if anyone is interested in the 'spare' percentage).

So where has my red hair come from? No one knows! There's a random gene out there with my name on it somewhere. So I guess, for me, it didn't seem that abnormal for someone to have a kiddo with different colour hair. I've researched my family history extensively and can trace this back to the 1500's using DNA as well. M y red hair probably comes from the Viking part of my life, which I find kinda cool!

I'm not having a moan about the question being raised, I promise you that. I've found it quite interesting that it's been asked so many times and I absolutely love it! It was something that didn't go unnoticed by my readers and I'm truly grateful for it.

Thanks again folks for reading along, for the messages, nudges to post regularly and the reviews. I sincerely appreciate it xx


.oOo. Chapter Nine .oOo.

"Are you sure you don't want me to come with you this afternoon?" Luke asked as he watched his only real friend finish off three pastries in record time.

"Uh nuh." Beca said, shaking her head and spraying little bits of flaky pastry around the room.

"Are you nervous?"

Beca wiped her mouth with the back of her sleeve and looked up at Luke properly for the first time since he'd entered the room. She liked Luke. There was a respectful calmness about him that reminded her of Jesse. She missed Jesse every single day but since she'd gotten to know Luke, it felt a little bit like having him back.

The night she had met him, she was almost ready to just give up.

She'd spent a year on the road to get to Los Angeles, working odd jobs to pay for gas and food and enduring some of her worst days but also some of her best. Amy had been her constant companion, something Beca was both resentful for and grateful for at the same time. There were days when the only place they could stop was at the side of the road, taking turns to stay awake while the other slept. Amy had looked after Jessie while Beca worked, doing anything she could to bring in a little money. In turn, Beca had done all of the driving, had sourced them places to stay and even Amy had to admit, that Beca's ability to stretch a dollar was impressive.

They were just outside Albuquerque when Beca's ancient van caught fire. They lost everything that night but the clothes on their backs, a handful of Jessie's belongings and each other. Luckily, the van had been well insured and after finding temporary lodgings for a few days, Beca bought a camper. It was old, smelt of old lady and cats but with a good clean, it got better. For the first time, Beca had a proper bedroom for her and Jessie. Amy took the space above the cab and somehow the new vehicle became home.

They eventually reached Los Angeles and that's where Beca found that Jessie was thriving with the warmer climate. Amy kept the camper and Beca rented a room for her and Jessie. While the two of them were best friends, they were determined to maintain their friendship and they knew living together would tear them apart eventually.

Beca had introduced Amy to Luke a couple of months after becoming friends with him. Knowing Amy as well as she did, Beca worried that she'd react strangely to Beca having someone else in her life but it actually made it easier. Amy could let go a little and she found work in a comedy club of all places, doing stand up.

Beca had gone along to one of her warm up shows and had to admit that Amy was actually pretty funny and one of her sketches revolved around their shared time in the camper. Beca left Amy on the side of the road at one particularly bleak point. Amy had clogged the toilet for the fourth time in two days and Beca lost patience and ordered her to get out. She returned to get her half an hour later and it was never mentioned again until Beca saw Amy keep a crowd in stitches over her skit.

There were nights when they'd sit outside the vehicle, sharing a beer and a snack and just looking up at the stars and talking about plans for the future. When driving from town to town, they'd agreed that they'd pull over if something looked like it was worth visiting. Beca liked Jessie to be out of the camper, in the fresh air, as much as possible.

There were the times when life got too much as well. Beca was used to living in confined conditions but Amy wasn't and she often got frustrated with the lack of space. They rarely fought but when they did it was over something breaking in the camper and they didn't have the means to fix it.

Amy was Beca's best friend but Beca found it was Luke she turned to for advice and encouragement.

True to his word, he'd gotten her a position as his assistant and she was still in the intern program. Recent cutbacks had meant there wasn't any permanent jobs going for her until the summer but Luke was her biggest advocate and supporter.

It had been pretty obvious to him after working with her for just one month that she had the potential to be twice the producer he was. He'd play her his finished polished tracks, the ones he'd worked on for days and were ready to be turned over to the artists for final approval. She'd listen with her eyes closed; the huge headphones perched on her head and her fingers would tap on the desk.

"You need to drop the base on the curve, after the first chorus." She'd say to him. "And there's a double beat on step six of the key change."

And she'd always be right. She'd pick up the smallest of details that he'd missed and he'd always give her the credit for it. As new artists came through, the small timers looking for their big break, she'd work endlessly on their demo tracks. She just needed that one artist to make a name for herself.

Luke trusted her judgement.

Beca had introduced Luke to Jessie a few weeks after they met up in Santa Monica. Beca had wanted to make sure everything was settled with Universal before bringing someone new into her daughters' life. Jessie hadn't taken to Luke straight away. She hadn't spent a lot of time around men and the strange accent that Luke had confused the little girl, but he preserved and soon won her over.

Now the pair were as thick as thieves and Uncle Luke was a firm favourite. He'd spoil her, as much as Beca would let him. He'd take her out for an ice cream if Beca had to work and Jessie always came back home with a bag of toys or something she'd persuaded him to buy for her. Jessie would show him her scribbled drawings and he'd excitedly claim they were amazing and should be shown in a museum and she'd grin up at him like he'd told her he put the sun in the sky. She'd share her favourite candy with him and curl up on his lap while he read her a story if she came with Beca to the office.

Luke cared about them both and had been shocked when Beca had turned up to work three days after Valentine's Day looking like she'd not slept for a week, not eaten or bathed and had been told the worst news of her life.

Which, as it happened, all turned out to be true.

She'd collapsed onto Luke's office sofa as soon as she'd seen him, unable to speak for several minutes as her tears silently splashed onto the carpet. He'd sat beside her, rubbing slow circles on her back until she was able to tell him where'd she spent the last four days.

"… so what happened after you arrived at the CPS office." Luke asked as he handed her a clean handkerchief. She'd paused for a little while to collect her thoughts.

"I was trying to find Jessie. They wouldn't tell me anything. I mean, the kid doesn't know many people and I knew she'd be scared on her own. Then all hell broke loose and everything started happening at once. There was loads of people there and I was on my own. It was so loud. And bright. And so many fingers pointing at me, accusing me of things I had no manner or means or reason to do."

"Why didn't you call me?" Luke asked.

"It didn't cross my mind. I just had to deal with what was going on."

"So, you met… um, sorry, who are they again, exactly?"

"It's Chloe and David Mitchem." Beca sniffed. "They were the couple in the car accident, back in Georgia."

"Right. Was it weird seeing them again after all that time?"

"Honestly, it didn't register with me who they were at first. I was in the lobby waiting to speak to a social worker when this guy came rushing in, almost taking the door off of its hinges when he came through it. He was so mad. I've never seen someone so angry. Straight away, he got right up in my face, yelling how he was going to make sure I'd serve prison time. The two women he had with him were trying to restrain him and a security officer intervened and pulled him away from me."

"Why was he yelling at you?"

"He was saying that I'd stolen his kid and I thought the guy was going to punch me in the face. I asked him which kid I was supposed to have taken and he paused and muttered something about not knowing her name. I thought he was drunk at first and then he started absolutely screaming at his wife for holding him back, then shouting at me that I'd switched his kid."

"What did you say back to him?"

"Nothing. I was too busy looking over his shoulder at the woman behind him. I recognised her straight away. It was Chloe, the friend I'd made from the NICU in Atlanta. She couldn't take her eyes off me either but she had this blonde woman with her who looked she like sucking a lemon who pulled her away."

"Did she say anything to you?"

"Who Blondie?" Beca asked and Luke nodded. "No, she was just glaring. Like absolutely shooting looks that could kill. I had no idea what was going on until they were taken off into an interview room."

"And someone came and explained everything then."

Beca shook her head and blew her nose hard.

"No, not straight away. I was kept waiting for ages in the lobby, dozens of people kept coming in and asking to speak with them. Lawyer types, stuffy suits and arrogant faces. I was thinking about what David had said to me and just how angry he had been. I figured something was going on but thought he was just scared, or confused. Like I said, it was as if he were drunk. Eventually, I was called into an interview room and told that Jessie was in a day care facility playing with some other little kids and was fine. I explained that I wouldn't be leaving without her and had a back and forth argument with them for over an hour, which was exhausting. And that's when they explained that Chloe and David's thoughts."

"About Jessie being switched?"

"No, they wanted me charged with kidnapping. See, it turns out that Chloe is famous and they thought I'd wanted a celebrities kid."

"Famous?"

"Yeah, she's a movie star."

"Isn't everyone in Hollywood?"

"Yeah, but turns out she really is."

"I can't think of an actress named Chloe Mitchem."

"It's Beale. She's Chloe Beale."

"Wait…" Luke said, pulling out his phone and pulling up a picture of Chloe on the internet. He looked at it for a little while before turning it to show Beca. "Her?"

"Yup, that's the one."

"And you didn't know that?"

"Nope."

"Why would she think that you wanted her kid?"

"I don't know how many times I explained that I'd given birth to this child. They kept telling me to deny it, throwing the DNA results down my throat but I absolutely know I gave birth to a little girl. I didn't imagine it." Beca gulped down fresh tears. "I kept asking to speak to Chloe, she was there in the NICU with me. Every time they came back into the room, the Mitchem's wanted me charged with something else… child neglect, child endangerment-"

"-How can that possibly be?"

"Mr Mitchem said that my daughter had probably died and I'd taken theirs because they had twins. I kept asking that if they had two children, why did they think I'd taken theirs. I asked to see a picture of their girls and my request was refused. It took hours before I was shown a family picture of them four of them."

"And what did that show?"

"For all the lawyers, friends, family members they had around, not one of them… not one… took the time to have a logical thought. They had twins, I had a single daughter. They still had twins, I still had a single daughter. No child was missing. And then, when I saw the picture of their children, it was so obvious."

"It was?"

"Typical Instagram family photo, taken a few days beforehand. As far as I was informed later on, Chloe didn't post the kids' pictures to Instagram and if she did, it was always from behind but there was one picture of them down by the beach, posing on the sand. It was her, David, her daughter Katharine and her daughter Alexandra. Katharine is the absolute spitting image of Jessie. Her hair is slightly different, but they are clearly identical twins."

"And they only figured this out-"

"-When I pointed out that their daughter Alexandra is the double of my best friend and her father, Jesse. I think emotions were running so high, that nobody was thinking straight. Once it all clicked with everyone, it all just made sense. It can be denied all we want but it's obvious that somehow Jessie and Alexandra were switched. Jessie is not my biological daughter. My bio daughter is called Alexandra and for the past three and a half years, has been raised by someone else. So… yeah."

"Beca… I don't quite know what to say."

"That's where I was two days ago. Now, I'm trying to come to terms with the fact that the little girl who I've raised isn't my daughter and belongs to someone else."

"Have you seen Alexandra yet?" Luke asked.

"No. We have a court liaison officer who has suggested that we leave things for a couple of weeks, to let the dust settle as it were. Then we are all going to meet up in a neutral place and let the girls play and get to know each other a little bit."

"What about long term?"

"Switching them back?" Beca asked and Luke nodded carefully. "If they were under six months old, it would have been advised that we switch back immediately but because they are older, it needs to be more of a gradual process."

"What do you need me to do?" Luke asked.

"How do you mean?"

"How can I help you?"

"There's nothing you can do." Beca said flatly. "You are doing enough by listening. Amy… Amy is too involved. She's too close to it. And... God… and while I love her, she's not saying anything useful and keeps telling me to run away to some random island her Uncle in Tasmania owns."

"I understand that. I can be your friend and support you through this."

"Thanks Luke. That really means the world to me."

True to his word, Luke stayed by Beca's side over the next few days.

She didn't want to keep talking about what was going on, despite the inner turmoil permanently etched on her face. He let her say what she needed to say and then put her to work. He dumped file after file into her lap, keeping her busy doing something where she could completely immerse herself into without consequence. And for that she was grateful.

It was the morning of the scheduled family get together and Beca had woken just before four in the morning. She had a hundred questions running through her mind and a thousand emotions coursing through her.

Amy had come over the evening before to watch Jessie while Beca was working and was currently wedged into Beca's sofa, drooling slightly onto one of her cushions. Beca crept past her quietly so as not to disturb her and showered and changed in the bathroom. She caught the subway to Universal and was deep in thought when Luke arrived at work and thrust three pastries in her hand.

"Dude, what's with the tie?" Beca asked, as she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, flicking a few crumbs onto the carpet.

"Well, I asked out of politeness if you wanted me to come with you today but regardless of your answer, I am coming anyway."

"You don't have to do that."

"I know I don't. I want to though."

"I can manage." Beca said weakly.

"I'm not saying you can't, but I imagine that both Mr and Mrs Mitchem will both be there, together, and you might need someone on your side. I can loiter in the background, fetch a cup of tea, wring my hands like an old granny or just be there to talk things through."

"Thanks Luke." Beca said after a minute or two contemplating the idea, crumpling the pastry bag in her hands.

"No problem." Luke said. "Just let me know when we need to leave."

.oOo.

It had been the court appointed liaison officer who had suggested that the two parties meet at a local children's play area in Glendale, citing it as a mutual meeting place in between where Beca and Chloe both lived. There was plenty of activities for the three little girls to do and play with and there was also a coffee shop where the adults could get a drink to help loosen up the nerves.

True to his word, Luke had left the office with Beca just before twelve. He'd tried to hold her hand as they waited for an Uber outside of the Universal main office, to offer her some support and he wasn't surprised when she pulled away from him. She'd not said much else that morning and he knew she was deep in thought. Amy had been texting Beca since she'd been in the office, giving her reasons why the meeting shouldn't take place. In the end, Beca had eventually switched her phone off for a few hours, pocketing the device and had tried to focus on her work while she waited for noon to come around. She ignored the forty odd messages when she switched it back on as they left the office together.

They'd picked Jessie up at around half past twelve, sent Amy home as she was pacing the apartment making things worse and Beca had changed Jessie into clean clothes and washed the little girls hands and face. Jessie had noticed that there was something bothering Beca and had been unusually quiet and compliant as Beca busied herself packing a small bag with a change of clothes, some snacks and a drink for the little girl.

"Ready?" Beca asked Luke as she gathered up Jessie's small backpack and held out her hand for the little girl to take. She picked up her keys and her phone, switching the device back on as Luke nodded and pulled on the front door for Beca and Jessie to walk through first before closing it behind him and following them to the elevator to take them down to the parking garage in the basement.

Beca's phone pinged with a text message as soon as the elevator doors closed.

message from amy.h, to becaroo - 12.39 - I think yoos are making a mistake
message from beca.m, to amy.h - 12.39 - I don't have a choice Ames

Walking to Beca's car, Luke looked over to see if she was all right and she nodded back at him, gripping Jessie's hand in her own tighter than she meant to. She pulled on the door for Jessie to climb, ignoring the loud metallic screech that echoed around the empty parking area and made, probably, the tenth mental note that she needed to get the car door oiled and fixed.

"Jump in Ladybug." Beca said, encouraging the little girl into the car. Jessie gave her a strange look, which Beca noticed but she honestly didn't know how to deal with it. She helped Jessie into her seat and was just buckling her into it, when Jessie leaned forward and gave Beca a kiss on the cheek.

"I love you Mommy."

Beca thought her heart was about to break and gulped down the thick knot in her throat. Instead she forced a smile and kissed the top of Jessie's head.

"I love you so much more Jess. I really do. Never forget that." Beca said, her voice high and tight. She turned to Luke who was standing beside her. "I can't do this!"

"Yes, you can. It's going to be okay." He said, tentatively attempting to reach out to her.

"What if it's not?" Beca asked, tears welling in her eyes. She pushed the car door shut and looked at Jessie as she snuggled her bunny to herself.

"The Mitchem's are probably going through the same emotions. It's something you need to do as only the three of you will understand this situation."

"I've let Jesse down. He would be so disappointed."

"Beca, he loved you." Luke said, risking a reproach and placing his hands on Beca's shoulders. "Believe me when I tell you that nothing you ever did disappointed him. He was so proud of you, your ethics and your acceptance of life. Trust me with everything you've got when I say that you have not let Jesse down. Now, we need to go so you can meet your other daughter."

"It feels like I'm giving her up this afternoon." Beca said, running her hands through her hair.

"That's not happening. You know it's not."

"They'll see I'm not a good enough parent."

"What they'll see is…" Luke paused for a second to catch the lone tear that was slowly rolling down Beca's cheek. "… a beautiful woman who has done everything she possibly could to give her child the very best of everything she can. Jessie is such a happy, sweet and thoughtful little girl. You should be proud of yourself."

"I can't-"

"-You can. And I'm here with you. Unless you want me to go and get Amy so she can-"

"-Oh God no. Please, no. I love her to death but…" Beca trailed off.

"Come on, we need to get going." Luke said, wrapping his arms around his friend for a moment. He felt her relax into his embrace and wondered, not for the first time, how long it had been since someone, other than Amy and himself, had truly cared about her.

.oOo.

They arrived at Playland R Us a few minutes before they were due to meet Ms Davies, their liaison officer. Beca parked her car, sighed heartily as the car's engine spluttered as she switched off the car. She felt out of place parking the rusting car in the parking lot, seeing much nicer, more expensive cars everywhere.

"You okay?" Luke asked, feeling like he'd asked the same question for the umpteenth time that day.

"I don't know." Beca said honestly. She turned in the seat to smile at Jessie who still looked troubled.

"Hi." Jessie said as Beca stared at her.

"Hi baby." Beca said, turning back to Luke. "She hasn't got a clue as to what is going on."

"Maybe that's a good thing."

"I don't know." Beca said, shrugging her shoulders as she stared out of her window. "She's about to see a kid that looks like her. She's about to meet her parents who she doesn't know, and they don't know her."

"And you are about to do the same. Your biological daughter is in there, or somewhere close by. I think you need to give in to your emotions at the moment."

"No way." Beca stated bluntly. "I can't show weakness."

"It's not weakness Beca. It's honesty. You are allowed to be overwhelmed by all of this."

"Except I'm not."

"Not overwhelmed? I beg to differ."

"No, I mean, that I'm not allowed to show emotion. If I do, David Mitchem will use that as a reason to declare me an unfit parent."

"He can't do that." Luke scoffed.

"Dude, he wanted me thrown in prison for taking his kid. I've suffered too but he's just seeing it from his side. Anything I say or do, he's just going to pick up on it. I mean, look at the pair of them. He's a teacher, she's loaded. Perfect combination."

"Have you talked to them since you saw them at the CPS office?"

"No." Beca shook her head. "One of them asked for my phone number but I declined to give it to them and have been going through Ms Davies."

"Why not? It might have made things easier to have talked with Chloe, at least, over the phone. Break the ice a little."

"I don't want to know about their perfect life while I'm bringing her up in a shower of…" Beca cast her eyes to the rear-view mirror and saw Jessie was contently playing with her bunny. "… shite."

"You are doing the best you can." Luke repeated.

"Which isn't much."

"Why do the CPS have to be involved?" He asked.

"It's different to a normal situation. We're trying to keep it out of the media too, for everyone's sakes." Beca explained. "The Police saw how hot headed David was-"

"-You mean the perfect (in your eyes) teacher?"

"Well, yeah!" Beca smirked. "But the Police thought it would be better to get the professionals involved and that's when the paperwork started coming through."

"What paperwork?"

"Just stuff from the courts, legal documents… there's been so much, I haven't had time to read through it all. Or the inclination."

"I can help you with it." Luke offered.

"Yes please. I just want this all to go away."

"I understand that." Luke said kindly. "Unfortunately, it's not."

"I never used to understand Amy's attitude of just burying her head in the sand with everything but now I see the benefits to it." Beca said wistfully, as she looked out of the window.

"What time is Ms Davies getting here?" Luke asked, looking at his watch.

"We said around one thirty to meet up, just inside the lobby."

"She might be here already then?"

"Yeah, I guess we should go. I need to get out of the car before they get here. I don't want them to see this rusty beast and start judging me all over again."

"There's nothing wrong with your car." Luke said politely and Beca scoffed.

"You are a terrible liar." She shook her head at him. "But you are a really good friend. Thank you for coming with me today. You were right, I did need a friendly face."

"You're welcome Becs." Luke said, opening his car door as Beca did the same. She pulled on the back door a couple of times to get it to open, to get Jessie out. Reaching for the little girls backpack, she held Jessie's hand as she jumped down from the car.

"What's this?" Jessie asked, pointing to the nondescript building in front of them. Beca kicked the door shut and shoved the key in the keyhole to lock the door.

"This is an indoor playground for kids." Beca explained. "I think there's a slide, there's definitely a tree house and probably some trikes. You can play with everything."

"Cooooool!" Jessie's eyes went comically wide and for a moment, it forced Beca to remember why she was here. She'd do anything, absolutely anything for the little girl.

"Uncle Luke, you go down the slide, yes?"

"I think I'm a little big for the slide." Luke laughed.

"I put spell on you and you go small." Jessie offered.

"That might work." He lovingly laughed.

"Come on, let's go." Beca said, beginning to cross the parking lot.

Luke held the door open to the lobby for them both and he approached the small teller window on the right hand side. He waited for someone to notice they were there but before that happened, the front door was pushed open and a tall, older lady stepped into the lobby.

"Miss Mitchell?" She asked, switching her large briefcase from one hand to the other to hold out her hand towards Beca. She looked Beca up and down a couple of times.

"Yes?" Beca said, ignoring the outstretched hand and suddenly feel like she should have changed out of her jeans and flannel shirt into the one business suit she owned.

"I'm Ms Davies from the Child Protective Services, here to oversee your meeting with your biological child and this child's biological parents this-"

"-Yeah, I haven't explained all of that to her yet." Beca said, reaching down to protectively pick up Jessie. She held her tight to her side as Jessie side eyed the stranger.

"You should have made the child fully aware of the-"

"-Ms Davies, she's not four yet. She's not going to comprehend what's going on at the moment."

"That's not an excuse. I was under the impression that both parties would be fully informed with what was going on."

"Ms Davies, was it?" Luke said, stepping forward and into the eyeline of the liaison officer. He held out his hand.

"Yes?" She said, shaking Luke's hand.

"I'm Luke Bryant, Miss Mitchell's best friend and uncle to this gorgeous little red head here. Her name is Jessie. And this…" Luke pointed to the toy in Jessie's hand. "… is Bunny."

"Nice to meet you Mr Bryant. And hello Jessie." Ms Davies took a step towards Jessie who shrank into Beca's side and turned her face away.

"Say hi, Jess." Beca encouraged, once again thankful for Luke.

"Hi." Jessie said into the crook of Beca's neck.

"Is she always like this with strangers?" Ms Davies asked but her question went unanswered as a play worker approached the window, apologising for making them wait. Luke turned around and explained what they were doing here. The worker, displaying a name badge that read Sadie, found Beca's name on the sign in sheet and read the short note that was written next to it.

"Hi Miss Mitchell, my name is Sadie, can you sign in please?"

"Please call me Beca." Beca said, stepping forward and lifting Jessie off of her hip to set her down on the ledge by the sign in window. She filled in and signed the form that was given to her quickly and handed it back.

"Thanks!" Sadie said brightly. "So, shoes can be stored in the lockers near to the food and drink station. No shoes in the play area but they can wear them in the communal areas and restrooms. No food or drink in the play area and please report any accidents to us so we can clean the area properly."

"By accidents, you mean…?" Beca said

"Yes! Little ones don't want to stop playing and we've had the odd accident before."

"Got it." Beca said, resisting the urge to roll her eyes.

"Here are your bands. Please keep these on at all times. I'll just buzz you through." Sadie said, handing over three coloured wrist bands before opening the inner door. Luke stepped back to let Ms Davies through first before he picked up Jessie's backpack. Beca scooped Jessie up from the counter and carried her through the door, setting her down near to the lockers that Sadie had mentioned.

"Shall we take your shoes off?" Beca asked Jessie, who nodded back.

"I do it." Jessie said, making a big show of sitting down on one of the small benches by the side of the lockers. She huffed as she pulled her shoes off, handing them to Beca who'd found a free locker to put them into. She held her hand out for the backpack and shoved it into the small space, locking the door behind it.

"Good girl." Beca said as Jessie jumped up, eyeing up the entrance to the play area.

"What will you have to drink Beca?" Luke asked, nudging his head towards the small drinks counter. "Ms Davies, can I get you a drink?"

"No thank you Mr Bryant." Ms Davies said, almost sternly.

"Becs?"

"Just a black coffee please."

"Little Miss Mitchell?" Luke said, bending slightly to talk to Jessie. "Would you like a juice box?"

Jessie nodded brightly and Luke felt some of the tension roll off of the little girl's tension.

"Yes pease, Uncle Luke."

"What flavour would you like?" He asked the little girl as she slipped her hand into his. She shrugged her shoulders.

"She'll take apple." Beca whispered behind him. "Grape and orange upsets her stomach."

"Apple sound good to you?" Luke asked Jessie and she grinned up at him. Beca reached into her purse and took out a small stack of dollar bills, from an old and well used wallet. She handed them to Luke who looked like he was about to refuse and pay for the drinks himself when he caught the imploring look on Beca's face. He took the money from her without further question.

"Excuse me a moment." Luke said politely to the group as he stepped away to place the order.

"Are you warm enough Jess?" Beca asked Jessie.

"Yeah, I good. Can you hold Bunny?"

"I can, but what's the word we use for-"

"-Ppppease!" Jessie laughed out, handing Beca her precious bunny as she wandered off to the left to look through the opening of the playroom. Beca turned to keep an eye on her as Ms Davies cleared her throat besides her.

"You had no trouble finding the place Ms Mitchell?" She asked, trying to ease the hostility.

"Not really. I've not been to this part of town before but Luke navigated pretty good to get here."

"Would you like to sit in the main area or in a private room?"

"Can I see the play area from a private room?" Beca asked.

"No, but the children are secure in here. The doors won't open unless a member of staff operates them."

"I would prefer to keep an eye on Jessie. She's not used to rough and tumble with other kids."

"Does she not play with other children?" Ms Davies said, pulling out a small notebook and pen from the inside of her jacket.

"She has a couple of kids we see regularly but…" Beca trailed off as she realised Ms Davies was scribbling something in her notebook and not being very subtle about it. Ms Davies paused when she realised Beca wasn't continuing.

"Oh don't mind me." She said, giving Beca a thin laugh and the impression that she should, indeed, mind her.

Beca gave her the once over as the liaison officer snapped her pad shut and stashed it back inside her coat. She was suddenly more wary than she was before. She was starting to feel quite hot and a little bit nauseous.

"Shall we take a seat then?" Ms Davies asked, snapping Beca out of her thoughts.

"Jess." Beca called out softly towards Jessie, who turned and ran back to Beca. "Shall we find somewhere to sit?"

"Yeah." Jessie said, scanning the small seating area. She pointed to a table in the corner with wraparound bench seating.

"Perfect. Good choice." Beca smiled down at the little girl who beamed back.

"Do you always allow her to make decisions like that?" Ms Davies asked.

"Choosing a table to sit at? Sure, why not?" Beca responded.

Ms Davies nodded slowly and suddenly Beca wasn't sure which side this woman was on as they turned towards the table Jessie had chosen.

"You sit on the end Jess, so you can get out easily to play." Beca said, pointing to the spot she wanted Jessie to sit in.

"Okay, Mommy."

Luke returned with a small tray, carrying a couple of bottles of water, the juice box and two coffees. He set the tray down on the table and pushed it into the centre, taking a seat on the opposite side to everyone else and handed Beca a few dollars change. She quickly folded it in half and jammed it into the back pocket of her jeans as Luke pulled the lid off of one of the coffee cups, collected two packets of sugar and ripped the tops off, pouring it into the hot liquid in a solid, well-practised, movement.

He stirred the drink for a few moments before pushing it towards Beca who mouthed a thank you back as she accepted the cup. It was only then he looked up to see that Ms Davies was watching him intently.

"How long have you two been together?" She asked, setting her pen down on the table.

"We're not together." Beca said, reaching for the juice for Jessie. "Do you want this now Ladybug?"

Jessie shook her head and pointed with a finger towards the play area.

"Couple of minutes, then you can go and play, okay?" Beca said, placing the juice box down and sliding her hands back around the coffee cup.

"You're not together." Ms Davies repeated. She looked between the two of them, confused as she took out her phone and laid it on the table in front of her.

"No." Beca said, taking a sip of her drink.

"We've been friends for a few years now." Luke explained, sensing Beca's discomfort in the situation.

"Best friends." Beca mumbled.

"Is it a problem me being here?" Luke asked, taking the cap of one of the bottles of water and drinking a couple of mouthfuls.

"No, not really."

"I just thought it would be nice for Beca to have a friendly face."

"I have a friendly face." Ms Davies quipped but the joke fell flat. She quickly swiped up her phone and pretending to be looking at something on it.

"Mommy, can I go play now?" Jessie asked, looking at the entrance to the play area and mercifully changing the subject away from Ms Davies' anything but friendly face.

"We're just waiting for Mommy's friends to come and then you can go and play, okay?" Beca said, looking from Jessie back to Ms Davies. "Where are Mr and Mrs Mitchem? Will they be here soon?"

"They are running a few minutes behind schedule as Mr Mitchem got caught up leaving school this afternoon." Ms Davies explained, not bothering to looking to look up from her phone. "They should be here any moment, unless they've hit traffic and are further delayed."

"Okay, thanks. I've got to leave around three thirty as I've got work at four. I can't afford to lose another job at the moment."

"I'm sure they won't be long. Where are you working this afternoon?" Ms Davies asked, in way of conversation.

"I refill shelves at the local grocery store, near to my house. It's not glamourous but the money is good. I was doing some bar work which paid better but they fired me for missing my shift for two days while I was at the Police station and I hadn't been there long enough to fight the decision."

"Who looks after Jessie while you work?" Ms Davies asked.

"My friend Amy has her if she's not working, and Luke can work at my apartment if I get stuck." Beca explained.

"Is it every night you work?"

"No, not every night but I work every day. I need to make sure this one…" Beca ruffled Jessie's hair. "… has everything she could possibly need in life."

"Except your time."

"I'm doing my best." Beca said defensively and she glanced at Luke, who shot her a quick wink back, trying to offer some sort of encouragement and support in his small gesture.

"I'm sure you are." Ms Davies, checking her phone again, reading a message. "Ah, the Mitchem's are just parking their car."

Beca breathed in as deep a breath as her chest would allow.

"Here we go then."

.oOo.

Chapter Text

A/N - Meant to post this chapter mid week but life got in the way, but it's a long chapter to (hopefully) make up for me being so late. Hope everyone is keeping well in this crazy world right now. We've just gone back into lockdown again until after Christmas here, with no chance of seeing anyone until the New Year. I'm lucky that I'm a hermit and can stay at home quite easily but I feel for family, friends and neighbours who've had all of their plans curtailed in the last possible minute.

Thanks to my beta for the read through.

Stay safe everyone, help keep each other sane and we'll get through this together. Much love xx


.oOo. Chapter Ten .oOo.

Beca shook her shoulders, desperately trying to rid the negative feelings she had.

She was torn between feeling nervous and wanting to leave the play area immediately, get in her car and drive home and bury her head into her sofa cushions and listen to some rock music, preferably something with a heavy base and block everything out and running over to her biological daughter, her last connection to Jesse, gathering her up and running off into the sunset with her. She wanted to meet her biological daughter, that was unquestionable but she was trying to think how this was all going to work with them all coming out of the other side unscathed.

Her gut was telling her that this was not going to end well.

From what she remembered of Chloe from the hospital in Flintstone, she'd really liked her. They'd hung out a few times when the girls where in the NICU and she'd kept an eye on her twins for her when she'd had to step out to take a call from David's hospital or from the family when they'd called with an update about Pete. Beca scoffed a little as it hit her that the whole time they'd been in the NICU, her biological daughter had been just a few feet away in a bassinet and she'd not known that the baby in her arms was not hers.

She remembered talking with Chloe, joking almost, that their daughters didn't seem to like them very much and she couldn't help the mumbled swear word that escaped her lips as she realised that someone, somewhere, had made a life changing decision by accident.

Luke stood up and moved back, stepping politely out of the way, as the main door to the building opened and the other couple stepped through, clutching their wrist bands. He immediately recognised Chloe, being a fan of at least two of her movies and, although he wouldn't admit this to Beca, he saw just how normal she looked. She was dressed in jeans, a pair of well worn but expensive knee length boots with a long black cardigan over a plain pink tee shirt, and a pair of oversized sunglasses perched up on her head, keeping her long curly hair out of her eyes. She was carrying her redheaded child on her hip and holding on tightly to the dark haired little girl's hand and was smiling sweetly as she came through the doors.

David, on the other hand, Luke noted, looked rather annoyed at his surroundings and was very overdressed for the occasion. He was wearing a dark three piece suit and striped blue tie and his highly polished shoes shone under the harsh overhead lights. He held the door open for Chloe to come through but seemed distant from his wife.

Luke looked back to Beca, to try to gauge her mood. He couldn't read the expression on her face; her mouth was twisted in such a way that he just knew she was uncomfortable but her eyes were showing interest as she watched the family approach their spot in the corner of the play room. Her eyes were following both of the children as Chloe stopped for a brief time to remove her daughters shoes and place them in one of the lockers just as she and Jessie had done.

Beca stepped out from behind the table, casting eyes at Jessie every few seconds. Jessie was intent on playing with her bunny, seemingly oblivious to the increasing awkwardness. Ms Davies moved forward, holding her hand out to Chloe who set her daughter down on the ground first before shaking hands.

"Thank you for coming Mrs Mitchem. I hope the journey wasn't too perilous and you found the place without any problem." Ms Davies said.

"Chloe, please." Chloe said politely, pulling her hand back. "We found the place easily enough, thank you."

"Of course. Mr Mitchem… welcome." Ms Davies held her hand out to David as well, but he wasn't looking at the court liaison officer, his gaze was firmly fixed on Jessie.

"David." Chloe nudged him hard in the ribs and he shook himself, remembering his manners as he spoke to Ms Davies for a few moments. His eyes kept drifting back to the redheaded little girl he had yet to meet.

Chloe took a couple of steps to her right, her hands worrying the air by her pockets as she saw her biological daughter for the first time. She closed her eyes, breathed in deeply and looked over to Beca who had moved to stand next to Luke.

"Hi Beca." Chloe said politely, although it was obvious that she wanted to run over and see her daughter first. "It's nice to see you again."

"Um, yeah, you too." Beca said quietly, doing everything she could not to stare at the little brown-haired girl who was holding onto Chloe's leg like her life depended on it. "This is my friend Luke Bryant. Luke, this is Mrs Mitchem."

"How do you do Mrs Mitchem?" Luke asked formally, offering his hand to the actress.

"It's Chloe, please. It's nice to meet you Luke." Chloe said, giving Luke a pleasant smile.

"Can I get you or your husband a drink?" Luke asked, nodding his head towards the small café, hoping Chloe didn't notice the two members of staff subtly trying to take a picture of Chloe.

"Oh we can get our own…" Chloe took a deep breath, showing a little nerves in the shaky intake. She seemed to question her decision a minute later as she eyed the small flash of a phone camera to her left, where the café was. "… actually, a coffee please, black coffee would be great. David will have the same."

"No problem. I'll be right back." He said clearly, more to Beca than to anyone else. He knew she was uncomfortable by the way she had her arms folded across her chest, hugging herself.

"So…" Chloe said as Luke took his leave, looking as awkward as Beca felt herself.

"Yeah." Beca responded, looking down to the floor. She found looking at Chloe hard and was glad that she hadn't known who she was when they'd bonded in the NICU.

"Such a strange day."

"You can say that again."

"Mrs Mitchem, Miss Mitchell…" Ms Davies interrupted the awkwardness. "… I'd suggest taking a few moments to reacquaint yourselves before introducing the children. They will pick up on nervousness and become distressed."

Beca refrained from commenting that was exactly what they were trying to do. Ms Davies turned back to speak with David and Beca noticed she'd not fiddled with her notebook the whole time she'd been talking. She got the distinct impression that Ms Davies wasn't her ally in this situation.

"I'd like to apologise to you, Beca. I'm really sorry about how the last few days went with…" Chloe glanced over her shoulder and huffed a little, her bright demeanour slipping a little for the briefest of moments as she looked at David, something that didn't go unnoticed by Beca. "… how things were left at the police station. It shouldn't have gotten so out of hand and David wasn't himself. He has some prob… I'm sorry about it all."

Beca didn't quite know what to say to Chloe's apologies but she nodded a couple of times and mumbled something about it not being a problem. She noticed David finish up his conversation with Ms Davies and the CPS official begin to listen to what she and Chloe were saying.

"Yeah, I know you've had it rough too. It's not easy on anyone." Beca said simply, hoping she wasn't going to get a mark in Ms Davies notebook for that.

"I'm trying so hard to keep it together." Chloe said, shooting a sweet smile in Beca's direction, instantly seeing the brunette relax a little.

"Me too. I don't know what to say or do."

"We never ran out of things to say back in Atlanta, did we?" Chloe asked.

"No, we didn't." Beca said, sending a small smile back towards Chloe before she caught David staring her down. She lowered her voice as she continued. "But it was different when it was just the two of us. We-"

"-Well, whatever difference it was, it's done with now." David interrupted. "I'd like to make a start. I've had to take a little time of work to be here."

"David!" Chloe hissed, spinning around to glare at him.

"Well, what of it, Chloe? Miss Mitchell's available dates and time didn't include a Saturday which would have been more convenient for me."

"I'm sorry." Chloe looked beseechingly at Beca as David continued mumbling in the background with Ms Davies trying to appease him.

"I have to work Saturdays." Beca explained politely. "If I don't work, I don't get paid."

David mumbled something under his breath and Beca took all of the inner strength she gained since becoming a mom and decided not to snap back at him.

"And why meet here of all places? Is it close to your house and convenient to you?" He asked.

"David, seriously?" Chloe admonished, her face flushing.

"What Chloe?" He bluntly said, shrugging off his jacket which he hung on the back of one of the chairs. Both of the little girls were still clinging to Chloe, unsure of their surroundings.

"It was the CPS's decision for us to meet here. You agreed that it was a good idea, back in the car." She said quietly to him. "Don't start acting up. This is uncomfortable for all of us."

"Coffee's here." Luke said, a forced almost jovial lilt to his words. He laid the second tray on the table. "I hope you don't mind but I took the liberty of getting the girls a juice box each. I didn't know what they liked so I got one of each flavour."

"Thank you Luke, that's very thoughtful of you." Chloe said, turning her back completely on her husband. "Alex likes grape and Kate will have the apple as orange and grape unsettle her stomach a little."

"Just like Jessie." He said in automatic response, then winced at his own words.

There was silence for the longest time.

"Gosh, this is awkward, isn't it?" He said.

His statement broke the ice a little and everyone let out a thin laugh. Luke stepped behind Chloe and introduced himself properly to David, angling the man's body away from the table to allow Beca and Chloe a few moments to breathe. Ms Davies stepped back and pulled out the notebook from her pocket, scribbling away and not trying to hide the fact she was taking notes.

"What do we do now?" Beca asked, not catching Chloe's eye. She was watching Jessie as she played with her bunny, perfectly content with herself in that moment. Beca couldn't believe the little girls' life was about to be turned upside down.

"Honestly, Beca, I don't know."

"I feel like I'm waiting for bad news."

"Or test results."

Beca nodded.

"I'm struggling to know what to think, let alone say." Beca lowered her voice and glanced in Ms Davies direction. "I feel like I'm being judged too."

Chloe looked carefully over her shoulder and saw Ms Davies straining to hear what they were saying.

"I think we need to get this over and done with, rip the band aid off and make the best of it." Chloe said, matching Beca's tone. She leaned so close to Beca, the brunette could smell the light fragrance of cocoa butter... and weirdly, cinnamon. She blinked a couple of times, trying to get the intoxicating smell of Chloe's skin out of her mind as she realised Chloe was whispering almost in her ear. "Let's play the game and we can meet up in a less formal setting once the excitement has died down."

Beca nodded blindly, feeling the goosebumps threaten themselves on her arms as Chloe moved back a little.

"If you are ready…" Chloe said, her voice louder. "… I'd like to introduce you to my girls."

"Of course." Beca said, nodding gently before crouching down on her knees.

"Girls." Chloe said, her voice rising in pitch a little as she bent down to address the two little ones clutching at her cardigan. "This is my friend Beca. She knew you when you were both tiny babies in the hospital and we thought it would be lovely to meet up today and you can play with her daughter too."

Both Alex and Kate blinked a couple of times, unsure of what she was talking about.

"I know her from work." Chloe said and both girls gave small smiles, already knowing that their mom met a lot of people that way.

"Yeah, I work with your Mommy. So, what is your name?" Beca asked, looking at the redheaded girl first, even though she knew perfectly well who they were.

"This is Katharine." Chloe said, nudging the young girl forward a little, as she caught onto Beca's meaning, knowing the girls really had no clue Beca had known them before. "We call her Kate or Katie at home. She likes Kate."

"Hi Kate, my name is Beca. It's nice to meet you."

"Hi." Kate said shyly.

"Your name is very pretty, just like you. You have such lovely curly hair, just like your Mommy and you have her eyes too." Beca said, searching the little girl's face and finding the exact same features as Jessie. She had hoped they wouldn't be identical, but it was clearly obvious that they were. She gulped, not wanting to scare the little girl with any intensity. She looked down at Kate's feet. "And I love your socks! They look so cool!"

"Mommy got dem for me." Kate said, feeling a little braver now that Beca was on her level. Kate loved anything pretty, sparkly or pink and the socks she was wearing that day embodied all three of her loves.

"Do you think they would fit me?" Beca asked, raising her eyebrows.

"No!" Kate giggled and she looked down at Beca's feet and scrunched her nose up. "You is a growed up and growed ups has boring socks."

"That's very true." Beca smiled. "And what's your favourite thing in the whole world?"

"Unicorns."

"Yeah? You like unicorns? So does my little girl."

Kate cocked her head to the side, and looked thoughtful.

"What is hers name?" Kate asked.

"My little girl is called Jessie. And she's very pretty, just like you. You have the same colour hair."

"Is she…" Kate paused and held up three fingers.

"Yes, she's three like you." Beca said, seeing the same sweet nature in Kate that was constantly present in Jessie. "What do you like to do the most?"

Kate looked confused at the question.

"Do you like to colour? Or play with a doll?" Beca clarified.

"Yes." Kate said, looking around, losing her attention as she spied the tree house in the corner of the room. She slunk back a little towards Chloe, keeping an eye on Beca the whole time.

"Kate is very much a girly girl. She's into anything pink and everything at the moment is all about shoes and handbags but as long as it's playtime, she's cool with it." Chloe said, laying her hand on Kate's shoulder.

Beca noticed, with a hint of surprise, a slight tremor in Chloe's hand. She was almost glad to see that Chloe was as nervous as she was.

"And this is Alexandra. We call her Alex mostly, or Axie at home." Chloe said quietly, trying to turn Alex around. She was holding onto Chloe's pocket and was hiding her face into the woollen cardigan. "Sorry, she's a little shy."

"Hi Alex." Beca said, sitting down on the floor and crossing her legs. She took a deep breath as she prepared herself to meet her daughter. "It's okay to be shy. I'm shy too and don't really like new people either. And that's okay too."

Alex turned her head a little, listening to Beca. She seemed interested in what Beca was saying to her so Beca continued.

"And you are three like your sister, huh? Well, look at you though… you are almost as tall as me."

Alex peeked around a little more.

"Some people are giants, aren't they?" Beca said, pointing towards Luke and David. "But it's okay to be small."

Alex looked up to Chloe who gave her a reassuring smile.

"What's your favourite thing, Alex?"

Alex hid her face again.

"Do you like to colour?" Beca asked, catching Luke's eye as he cast a glance in their direction to see how they were getting on.

Alex tucked her head even further into Chloe's leg.

"Alex likes to move." Chloe explained. "She usually cannot sit still for longer than a couple of minutes; always has to be busy, always has to have something in her hands or be tapping with her fingers on something. Her favourite colour is red, she loves anything in motion, like wheels or anything that spins. She loves to dance too."

Beca shot a look over to Luke who offered her a small smile in response.

"He was the same." Beca said to Chloe, hoping she got who she was talking about. She turned her attention back to Alex. "Hey, is that Mickey Mouse on your tee shirt Alex?"

Alex looked down at herself before fixing her big eyes back on Beca. She slowly nodded.

"Is he your favourite?" Beca asked. Alex shook her head but did turn around towards Beca at the same time. She shyly pointed to her socks. "Oh goodness, you have Winnie the Pooh and Piglet on your socks! How awesome is that?"

Alex smiled, showing a couple of teeth.

'Progress.' Beca thought.

"If you like to move, is Tigger your favourite character?"

Alex nodded stiffly a couple of times.

"He bounces a lot, huh?" Beca asked her, her hands itching to reach out to the little girl. Alex watched Beca with interest for a little while before she glanced up at Chloe and did the smallest of little bounces on her toes.

"You are just like Tigger!"

"Why don't you let Beca pick you up and see how big you are." Chloe said, sensing Alex begin to relax in her biologicals mom's presence. Alex looked up to Chloe as Beca raised herself up on her knees before standing up. "I bet she can lift you up high like Momma can."

Encouraging her daughter forward, Chloe took a step back as Beca offered her hands out to Alex to take. Alex didn't move but was staring at Beca's face like she just knew the secret they were trying to keep from her.

"Just pick her up." Chloe said. "She can be a little standoffish with new people."

Beca heard Luke grunt a response out that she was sure sounded like a stifled laugh but she focused her attention on picking up her daughter for the very first time. She reached for Alex who flinched but Beca gritted her teeth against the look on Alex's face and scooped her up.

Beca held Alex to her, breathing in the scent of her daughter and she slotted her onto her hip in exactly the same way she'd hold Jessie. In Beca's mind, Alex smelt of cookies, crayons and the first hint of spring and she choked back a sob so as not to startle the young child.

She hugged Alex to her, sensing the connection immediately as every single sense went into over drive. She could feel the hairs on her arms stand up, every nerve react as if she'd been doused in icy water and she could feel million emotions course through her. It was like hugging Jesse again and for a fleeting moment, she felt as if she was eight years old again and they were playing together by the creek in Jesse's back yard, using an old tyre as a swing and building a fort out of some old pallets Jesse's dad had stored in their wood shed. She felt a connection to Alex like she'd never felt to anyone in her life and she closed her eyes as the bond she'd expected to feel the first time she'd held Jessie but never did, happened with Alex.

She hadn't been holding Alex for more than five seconds when the little girl began to fight against Beca and begin to wail.

"Momma!" Alex sobbed, reaching out for Chloe.

"It's okay Alex." Chloe said soothingly. "Give Beca hug. She likes hugs."

"Noooooo." Alex cried out, her arms flailing and her voice rising in fear.

Beca immediately set her down on the ground and took three very large steps backwards. Luke moved to her side straight away, recognising Beca's first encounter as unsuccessful in her eyes.

"I'm sorry." Chloe said, scooping Alex up into her arms. She turned Alex to her side a little and whispered some comforting words in her ear.

Beca stood there dumbly, unsure what to do. She didn't expect to feel the reaction she had when she held Alex. It felt as if she had been the last puzzle piece in a huge jigsaw, or the last tick box on a long inventory list. She felt right in Beca's arms and Beca knew it… yet she was a total stranger to the little girl who'd grown in her bely for a little over eight months.

"It's okay Becs." Luke said, wrapping his arm around her shoulders. "This is new and confusing for everyone. She'll come around."

Beca held her emotions in check and tried to smile, knowing it probably came out more like a grimace. She noticed David staring at her, an odd look on his face as he watched Chloe comfort Alex. She noted that he didn't step forward to help, or interact with either Kate or Alex. Deciding that she didn't care what David was thinking about, her past dealings with him were simply poor value, she watched Chloe settle Alex easily enough and set her back down on the ground and tried to ignore Ms Davies's furious note taking.

"Sorry." Chloe said again. "She's just getting over a bit of a head cold."

"It's okay. You don't need to explain. I get that she's scared, we probably shouldn't have done that to her." Beca said quietly. She looked up at Chloe and cast her eyes in David's direction as well. "Are you ready to meet-"

"-Yes." Chloe breathed out. She looked round to her husband who took a few steps forward to stand next to her as Beca called Jessie to come over.

Jessie looked up from the bench seat she was now laying on, her bunny firmly clutched in one hand and she slid down from the chair. As her feet hit the floor, she looked up at Chloe and gave her the oddest look before running over to Beca and grabbing onto her hand. Jessie was a sociable child but Beca had always instilled in her that it was okay to hold back with new people.

"Who dem?" Jessie asked.

"Jessie…" Beca said, bending down a little to talk to her. "… this is Chloe and David. I know them from… work. Can you say hi to them?"

"Hi." Jessie said, looking at them under her eyelashes a little bit.

"David works as a teacher. The kids are a little older than you though, but how cool is that?" Beca said brightly and Jessie nodded. "And Chloe… she works inside the television. I bet if we went home right now and watched a movie, we'd find a smaller version of her in there."

"Like in Frozen?" Jessie asked, her eyes as wide as saucers.

"Not quite like Frozen. More like the movies that Auntie Amy lets you watch but I have to pretend I don't know about."

"Oh, the secret films?"

"That's right." Beca looked over to the waiting couple. "And those two little girls are their children. They are your age too. You all share a birthday."

"How?"

"You were all born on the same day. Which is pretty cool, right?"

Jessie shrugged her shoulders, but she looked interestedly at Chloe who was beaming down at her. Even David was smiling by this point.

"Do you want to show Chloe your bunny? I'm sure she'd love to meet Bunny."

"Okay." Jessie said, stepping forward and holding out the smooshed toy for Chloe to see. "Dis is Bunny."

"Hi Bunny." Chloe said cheerfully, reaching out and gently taking one of the bunny's paws into her hand. "It's super nice to meet you."

Jessie grinned and visibly relaxed.

"My bunny hops." She stated and demonstrated on Chloe's outstretched hand.

"That's super cool. Must be a very smart bunny." David said and Beca's eyes widened in surprise at the change of tone in David's voice; there was a charming lightness to it. She wondered if this was how he normally talked to kids.

"Uh huh." Jessie agreed.

"Bunny goes everywhere with Jessie. We don't have many toys, so she's very attached to everything she's got." Beca explained further.

"I like your hair bow." Chloe said, kneeling down onto the ground in a similar fashion to how Beca had done.

"Uncle Luke buyed it." Jessie said, pointing at Luke.

"He did. That was nice of him."

"I like bows."

"Well, they really suit you, don't they David?" Chloe said, turning to David and indicating with her head that he needed to come closer.

"Oh yes, very pretty." David smiled, squatting down.

"Do you want to give them a high five?" Beca asked Jessie who nodded vigorously. She held her hand up high for Chloe and David to both tap and grinned at them.

"Who dem?" Jessie asked, pointing to Alex and Kate.

"This is Kate and Alex." Chloe said, "Do you girls want to say hi to each other?"

Beca held back a tiny laugh as Kate nodded an empathic yes but Alex shook her head vehemently no with the same enthusiasm. As Jessie moved forward towards the two girls, Alex visibly jerked her head backwards as the little girl realised the other two looked alike. She looked over to Chloe, then David, then Beca before looking back at Kate and Jessie.

She pointed at Jessie, then at Kate.

"Mommy?" She said to Chloe.

"Yes baby, they do look alike, don't they?" Chloe answered her unspoken question.

"Have you told your children what is going on?" Ms Davies interrupted their little bubble and Beca wanted to slap her with everything she had.

"No Ms Davies, I felt… we feel that they are a little too young to understand at the moment."

"That's fine, I understand. Probably best to wait until you've worked things out between you a little more." Ms Davies replied, smiling broadly at Chloe. Beca snapped her head towards Luke, noting the difference in the way that the liaison officer spoke with Chloe about the same issue she'd made a fuss to Beca over.

"We has the same hair." Jessie said, bringing the attention back to the little trio.

"Yes sweetheart, you and Kate do have the same hair."

"Hers doesn't." Jessie said, pointing at Alex.

"That's right."

"She has hairs like yours Mommy." Jessie said, pointing at Beca's head first then at Alex's.

"It is the same, isn't it?" Beca nodded.

"Mommy, who dis?" Kate said shyly, moving to Chloe's side and subtly pointing to Jessie.

"This is Jessie, she lives with Beca."

"I like her." Kate said, shooting a glance in Jessie's direction.

"That's good baby."

All three little girls stood staring at each other for a few moments. Sensing their interest in each other, Beca spoke up.

"Do you girls maybe want to go play for a little bit, while we sit over here?" Beca said to the three kids, pointing behind her to indicate where they'd be sitting.

"Yeah!" Jessie shouted excitedly and passed Bunny for Beca to hold.

"Kate, Alex, we'll be sitting over here." David said, as he took his girls hands to walk them over to the gated entrance to their play area. As soon as Alex saw the giant treehouse in the middle of the room again, she began to hope from foot to foot with excitement. She turned back and caught Beca's eye and gave her a knowing smile.

"Come on!" Jessie said, pulling on Beca's hand.

"Why don't I take you?" Luke said, offering to take Jessie to the play area.

"Yeah!" Jessie yelled again, grabbing hold of Luke and dragging him towards where David was standing.

Beca and Chloe watched the three girls enter the play area and with the look of a kid seeing gifts under a Christmas tree, Alex dashed off towards the swing under the tree while Jessie grabbed Kate's hand and pulled her towards the mocked up kitchen and house area. Luke remained by the entrance with David, seemingly engaging him in conversation as they watched the girls. There were two little boys playing quietly in the sandpit area but other than that the place was quiet.

"Shall we sit?" Chloe asked, breaking the thin layer of discomfort that was threatening to return.

"Sure." Beca said, reaching across the table for her coffee as Chloe took a seat. Beca sat opposite, shifting her chair around a little so she wasn't too close to Chloe. There was something that unsettled her a little about the redhead and not in a bad way. Ms Davies took a seat at another table and watched from afar.

"That… could have gone better." Beca breathed out.

"I think it went fine." Chloe smiled and reached for the coffee that Luke had bought for her.

"Alex hates me."

"She doesn't." Chloe said warmly. "She just takes time to warm up. I shouldn't have pushed you to pick her up."

"It felt amazing though." Beca admitted. "Jessie gives the best hugs too. She's like a little limpet monkey."

"Kate's the same." Chloe said, taking a sip of her drink.

"What's Alex like?"

"Busy. She's always on the go. She's quiet, plays by herself mostly but she's clever and so, so strong willed. Was walking unaided by eleven months and hasn't stopped moving. The only time she's still is when she's asleep."

"Sounds like me." Beca said wistfully. "Why did you name her Alex?"

"David chose it. He read To Kill A Mockingbird at school and Alexandra was Atticus Finch's sister. I guess the name stuck and he always wanted to call his son or daughter Alex. Kate is named after Katherine Hepburn. She was feisty and I hope my little girl turns out the same." Chloe smiled softly. "Tell me about Jessie?"

"What do you want to know? Is she independent? Yes. Is she smart? Too smart." Beca offered. "She's sweet natured, easy going, laid back until she's not. She loves to read-"

"-I think Mrs Mitchem would like to know what her daughter is like." Ms Davies interrupted, leaning forward in her seat. Beca turned around confused.

"What do you think I'm doing?" She asked, incredulously.

"Go on… you're doing okay." Chloe said, helpfully.

"I need to get out of here." Beca mumbled to herself, before picking up her almost cold coffee and draining the remains. She shook herself a little in an attempt to shake off the icy glare that Ms Davies was sending her way.

"You were telling me about Jessie." Chloe reminded Beca but she could see that Beca had shrunk into herself a little.

"Yeah, she's… she's a great kid. You'll be proud of her." Beca managed to get out before sinking back into her seat. Chloe could see that the CPS officer was really intimidating Beca.

"Did it take you long to get here today?" Chloe asked, changing the subject.

"About thirty minutes."

"It was about the same for us." Chloe said. "I'm sorry we were a little late, David struggled to get out of school. I nearly came without him."

Beca looked over towards Chloe's husband. She didn't care for his attitude towards her but she could see he was intently watching the girls as he laughed about something Luke had said. She hoped he was a good dad.

"You'll have to excuse his gruffness." Chloe continued, trying to fill the gap in the conversation. "He's changed a bit since the accident. I think about that day all the time. Do you?"

"Well, yeah. I mean, I gave birth that day." Beca said, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. "Hey, whatever happened to your brother in law?"

"Pete?" Chloe asked, her eyebrows raising at Beca's mention of him. She hadn't expected her to remember something like that.

"Yeah, guy was all kinds of hurt. His back?"

"He's in a wheelchair now. Paralysed from the waist down."

"Ah. Wasn't the positive outcome that I prayed for."

"You prayed for him?"

"Sure." Beca said, running her fingers through her hair. "Guy was hurt, you know?"

Chloe nodded, blinking away a threatening tear. She picked up her coffee and took a few sips before looking around the room. She was glad it wasn't busy as it was usually so hard to go anywhere without someone recognising her and wanting a picture or an autograph. She usually didn't mind, actually enjoyed interacting with her fans but she just wanted to get to know Beca and Jessie.

She smiled as David and Luke joined them at the table.

"Jessie's really sociable." David said, more to Chloe than to Beca.

"Yeah, my friend Amy takes her out a lot, she's got tonnes of friends, which, you know, is a good thing. She's out by herself a lot without me." Beca said, reaching for Luke's coffee and passing him to him. He winked his thanks in her direction.

"She goes out unsupervised?" David asked, a flicker of anger passing over his face.

"She's twenty six." Beca stated.

"I mean, Jessie." David bit.

"I know. I was making a joke. And no, Jessie doesn't go out unsupervised as Amy is with her. I meant that she spends time away from me a lot so she'd pretty good at finding friends."

"How long have you known Amy?"

"Coming up to five years."

"Is she married?" David asked.

"No."

"Boyfriend?"

"No.

"Where did you meet her?" David inquired.

"I used to work with her."

"What does Amy do for a living?"

"She's now a comedian."

"Meaning?" David asked.

"Meaning that she's hilarious, good with jokes and people find her stories funny." Beca retorted.

"Where does she work?" David asked and out of the corner of her eye, Beca could see Chloe's exasperation at the line of questioning.

"She has a gig at one of the comedy clubs in Hollywood."

"Her stage name?"

"Fat Amy's Down Under(wear)." Beca answered. "Her birthday is in March, she has a brother called Zack and she has trouble understanding personal space. I don't have her social security number to hand."

David ignored the hint of snark and turned to Chloe.

"I think that's who Holly and her sister went to see. They said she was really crude." David looked over to Beca. "Is she British?"

"Australian. She's harmless."

"Well, I'm not sure I want her around my daughter if she uses bad language and lets Jessica watch inappropriate films."

Beca cricked her neck and gulped down her true words.

"She has been there since the day I left the hospital. It might not be the perfect family set up, but she loves Jessie completely and would do anything for her. It might not be up to your standards David, but I'm doing the best for my daughter."

"Mommy!" Jessie called from the over side of the gate. In her haste to defend herself, Beca hadn't noticed Jessie trying to get her attention for a few moments.

"Yes baby?" Beca called back.

"I need my puff puff."

"Her what?" Chloe asked.

"It's her asthma inhaler." Beca said, already on her feet and reaching into her purse for the piece of kit she needed. "Excuse me a moment."

Chloe turned and watched Beca hurry over towards Jessie, fitting the inhaler to the breathing mask in a well practised manoeuvre by the time she reached Jessie. Beca slotted the mask over Jessie nose and mouth and pump the inhaler for Jessie to breathe in.

"You need to slow down a little bit baby?" Chloe heard Beca say. "You need to sit down for a minute?"

Jessie shook her head no, as Kate came over to see what was going on and where Jessie had gotten to.

"What's dat?" Kate asked, pointing to the mask.

"This helps Jessie breathe better." Beca explained simply. Kate nodded and watched Jessie take in her medicine. It wasn't long before Jessie was pulling off the mask and pushing it into Beca's hands.

"I okay now."

"All right. Go and play." Beca said, before returning to the table.

"Have you lived in unsanitary conditions?" David asked rudely.

"I'm sorry?" Beca said as she stuffed the equipment back into her bag.

"Why does she have asthma? Have you lived with mould?"

"Wow." Beca said, her eyes widening. "You don't hold back, do you?"

"She's my daughter." David said through gritted teeth.

"I would have thought your teaching experience would have shown you a little more understanding." Beca hissed.

"Miss Mitchell, Mr Mitchem was simply expressing concern for the child. Perhaps you could dampen down your bad attitude." Ms Davies said, her singsong voice now grating on Beca's nerves.

""She was born with a medical condition and I've done everything I can to make her life as easy as possible. And while I understand she is your biological daughter, she is my child and I would appreciate you not continuing to blame me for everything that has happened."

"She belongs to Chloe and me." David stated.

"And Alexandra belongs to me but I'm not making disparaging remarks to you about her."

"You've barely asked one question about her but now you are pretending-"

"-Mr Mitchem." Beca interrupted. "I haven't done anything wrong here. I'd appreciate you not assuming anything about me."

"You are clearly showing a lack of interest in Alex." David snapped.

"What constitutes an interest? I chose this seat so I could watch the play area. So far, Alex has been on the swing on her own. She obviously likes her own company, which she most likely gets from me. She's reacted twice to the change of song on the overhead speakers and she's swinging herself to the beat of the music, which, again is something I'd be likely to do. She's looked out of the window a couple of times and-"

"-And that makes you think you know her?" David growled. He didn't like Beca standing up to him.

"You know what Mr Mitchem? I don't like your tone. Do you behave like this in front of your daughters?"

"That's not-"

"-Okay, okay… let's not start off on the wrong foot." Chloe said, raising her hands and speaking a moment before Luke was about to say the same thing. "We need to make this work going forward."

"Chloe!" David barked. "Don't speak to me like that in front of other people."

"Don't talk to her like that either!" Beca growled as she watched Chloe deflate a little at her husband's words. She wondered what their home life was like if this was how he treated her in public.

"And you-" David began, his finger halfway towards Beca's face.

"Miss Mitchell, may I ask that you refrain from upsetting Mr and Mrs Mitchem." Ms Davies interrupted, jotting down words and underlining them in her notebook.

Beca was about to say something ugly towards Ms Davies when David spoke first.

"Chloe, we need to get custody of Jessica. She's clearly not being taken care of properly."

"How dare you?" Beca bristled, rising to her feet.

"Ladies, gentlemen…" Ms Davies said, walking over to the table in an attempt to divert a scene. She clutched her notepad to her chest. "I know this is stressful but let's not pour oil on troubled waters. Mr and Mrs Mitchem, I understand how difficult this must be for you."

"And for Beca as well." Chloe said, her hand itching to reach out to Beca.

"Hmmm." Ms Davies pursed her lips and almost shook the comment away. "How about you take turns in explaining something about each of the children instead?"

Beca wanted to slap her around the face with the notepad in her hands.

"I'll go first." Chloe said brightly. "Umm… Alex was the first to sleep through the night."

Beca breathed hard for a few seconds, trying to recognise what Chloe was aiming for. She didn't want David around, feeling that he was making the whole thing more stressful than it should have been.

"Jessie was out of diapers by the age of two." Beca sighed.

"Alex is neater and tidier than Kate." Chloe shared.

"Jessie is thoughtful and kind and finds joy in the simple things in life, like a butterfly or a funny shaped leaf. We have a box full of leaves at home." Beca smiled, ignoring the smirk on David's face.

"Alex is a daydreamer."

"Jessie has an imaginary friend called Hogie."

"Kate has a bear called Hogie!"

Beca and Chloe paused for a few moments to smile at each other.

"How is this helping?" David called out.

"David?" Chloe said, her nostrils flaring. "I think it best if you go home."

"Why?"

"Because at the moment, you are the reason this isn't working." Chloe said quietly.

"I came to get to know my child."

"But you aren't. You are doing everything but."

"I don't have time for this." David said, standing up. "Luke, it was nice to meet you. Chloe, make some appointments to meet up with Jessica on our own. Miss Mitchell, I'll be in touch. Ms Davies, I'd like to speak with you outside."

"Um, okay, sure." Ms Davies bumbled a response as David walked away from the table.

"He didn't say goodbye to the girls." Beca stated, unaware that she'd spoken out loud.

"I'm sorry about him." Chloe said. "I know it's not an excuse, but the accident, it changed him."

"I'll have to take your word for it." Beca said blandly.

"Let's try again and see-"

"-I have to go soon. I've got work and…" Beca let the rest of the sentence hang in the air. She needed to leave, this first meeting had gone exactly how she thought it would, but she was still disappointed.

"Maybe we can speak on the phone and arrange to do this again. I know we need to make more of an effort."

"Yeah, whatever." Beca said and Luke knew she was completely overwhelmed.

"Let me write down Beca's number for you." Luke said as Beca stepped away to call Jessie over.

"I'm sorry." Chloe apologised.

"It's not you." Luke said, taking one of his business cards out from his wallet. "She's complicated to know but once you get through the first layer, she's really a remarkable woman who's fiercely loyal and dependable."

Chloe nodded her understanding, but Luke could see she was uncomfortable and upset.

"It was really nice to meet you Chloe." He said, holding his hand out to shake hers.

"And you, Luke."

"May we help you out with the girls?" He asked, casting an eye towards Beca as she took Jessie's hand and began to walk over to the lockers to get the little girl' shoes. Jessie was protesting that she didn't want to leave.

"That's very kind of you to offer but I'm used to managing them by myself." Chloe said briskly.

Luke backed away from the table and dug his hands in his pocket as he walked towards Beca who was hurriedly pushing Jessie's feet into her shoes. Jessie was looking over to the play area, watching Kate and Alex as they continued to play.

"Beca…" Luke began.

"Don't Luke. Whatever you are about to do or say, just don't."

"Okay."

"Mommy, why you cross?" Jessie asked but Beca ignored her, instead, she pulled Jessie's bag from the locker. She stood up, dug her hand into her purse for her car keys and held them out to Luke.

"Please go and get my car. I need to get out of here." She said, imploringly.

Luke took the keys and walked towards the exit without saying a word. He knew Beca would apologise for snapping at him, but he didn't like it when she took her anger out on him. He ignored the heated conversation between Ms Davies and David that was taking place in the parking lot and climbed into Beca's car. It took a couple of tries to get the engine started and he saw David watching him as a plug of black smoke plumed into the air behind the car.

Luke drove the car towards the entrance and pulled up outside, leaving the engine running as he jumped out to open the back door for Jessie. Beca stepped out, and lifted Jessie up and into the car in one easy movement. She clipped Jessie into the car seat and shut the door without saying a word.

"I'll drive." She said quietly, as she walked around to the driver's side.

"Is this your car?" David called out, beginning to walk over.

"Get in." Beca said to Luke over the top of the car. She climbed into the seat and began to pull the door towards, wincing when it refused to move at first then screeched as it began to close.

"Is this death trap your vehicle?" David yelled as he came up to the driver's side. Beca shut the door on him. "Is this thing road worthy?"

"It's tagged." Beca said, slamming the door and pulling on her seatbelt, silently cursing as it wouldn't move from its position.

"Are you putting my daughter in this wreck?" David bellowed.

"Mommy, why that man yelling?"

"Don't worry baby, he's just in a bad mood." Beca said, freeing the seatbelt and slotting it into its holder.

"Get my child out of this car immediately!" David shouted. "It's not safe! Ms Davies, this isn't safe!"

Ignoring David, Beca drove out of the parking lot as fast as she could and easily joined the traffic that was slowing building up. Her fingers drummed on the steering wheel as she prayed that he wouldn't run down the street to find her.

"Are you okay?" Luke asked after a few minutes of complete silence. He turned to look at his friend and immediately saw that she wasn't. "Pull over. I'll drive."

Beca shook her head and tightened her grip on the steering wheel.

"Beca, stop mate."

Beca shook her head again.

"Look, I know that was horrible but don't drive upset. Please, pull over somewhere and I'll drop you both home."

Beca burst into tears.

"Okay." She said quietly, indicating to move over a lane and enter a small shopping arcade. She parked in a spot and bent over the steering wheel, letting out the week's worth of emotion all at once.

"Come here." Luke said, unclipping his seat belt and reaching over to wrap his arm around her in an awkward, but much needed hug. "Sssh, it's all right."

"It's really not." Beca said and Luke had no comeback for that. Luke held her until her body stopped shaking and rubbed her back a couple of times as she wiped her face.

"I'm good, I'm good." She said and Luke nodded slowly before settling back in the seat.

"Mommy?"

"Yeah baby." Beca sniffed.

"Why cry?" Jessie asked.

"Mommy's just had a busy day sweetheart." Luke said, looking over his shoulder and giving Jessie, what he hoped, was a reassuring smile.

"Bad man made Mommy cry."

"How can I tell her?" Beca sobbed out, the tears immediately flowing down her face again. "How am I going to explain this to her?"

"I don't know." Luke said, looking out of the window. He wished he had an answer for her.

"I'm so sorry for snapping at you." Beca whispered.

"I don't remember you snapping at me." Luke lied.

"Today has been a s-h-i-t show." Beca spelled out.

"It was going well, until he became agitated."

"Uh huh."

"The first meeting was always going to be awkward."

"Yeah."

"Come on, let's get you home. I'll buy you both some dinner." Luke offered.

"I've got to go to work tonight."

"I'll call in for you."

"I can't afford to-"

"-You need a night in with your little girl."

"She's not mi-"

"-Don't finish that sentence." Luke interrupted. "She may not understand but she can hear you."

"What the hell do I do now?" Beca asked again.

"I would say you need a night off from yourself but I know that is not going to happen. Let's go back to yours, you can pack an overnight bag and we'll pick up all the paperwork that's come through for you and go back to mine and go through it all. Jessie can make camp in my bedroom, we'll order some pizza-"

"-Pizza? Yeah!" The little voice from the back sounded excited. Beca let out a thin laugh.

"And we'll discuss this for as long as it takes." Luke finished off.

"I don't deserve you."

"Yes, you do. Now, out you pop and I'll drive." Luke said, in a voice that Beca needed to hear.

.oOo.

Chapter Text

Greetings, one and all! No long spiel from me today, just a quick thanks to my beta for the read through.

Happy Holidays everyone xx


.oOo. Chapter Eleven .oOo.

7th March

"Hi, you've reached Beca Mitchell. Leave me a message and I'll get back to you." *beeeep*

"Hi Beca, it's Chloe again. How are you doing? Hope you got my last couple of messages. Just wondering if you wanted to meet up this week with the girls? Thought we could head on over to that new arts and crafts place on Belcher Street. It's only fifty dollars entrance fee. Let me know, okay? Take care, see you soon. Bye."

.oOo.

8th March

"Hi, you've reached Beca Mitchell. Leave me a message and I'll get back to you." *beeeep*

"Hi Beca, Chloe again. I'm sorry things went so badly last week at the play centre. I'd really like to speak with you again. Hoping we can get together in the next few days, spend some time together. Let me know if you liked the idea of the craft place. Call me back. Bye."

.oOo.

9th March

message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 07.09 - Hi Beca, it's Chloe, just checking in, seeing how you are and when you'd like to meet up. Text me please. Chloe x
message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 22.05 - Hi Beca, Chloe again, hope you are okay and I've got the right number for you. Just wondering what kind of day you and Jessie have had. Chloe x

.oOo.

10th March

"Hi, you've reached Beca Mitchell. Leave me a message and I'll get back to you." *beeeep*

"Beca, it's Chloe. David is asking about whether we need to get the authorities involved to mediate. I really don't want to go down that route so I am hoping to get in touch. We can meet without David if you want to. Just us girls. Come back to me when you can. Bye."

.oOo.

12th March

"Hi, you've reached Beca Mitchell. Leave me a message and I'll get back to you." *beeeep*

"It's Chloe again. Just wondering what your plans are for Easter and if you'd like to get together for an Easter Egg hunt with us. Let me know and I'll organise the tickets. They are eighty dollars each. I've also sent a third package to you with some clothes, toys and books for Jessie. Please let me know that you received this safely. Bye."

.oOo.

16th March

"Hi, you've reached Beca Mitchell. Leave me a message and I'll get back to you." *beeeep*

"Hi Beca, it's Chloe. I'd appreciate a call back Beca, when you can. Starting to now feel like you're ignoring me now. Thanks. Bye."

.oOo.

21st March

"Hi, you've reached Beca Mitchell. Leave me a message and I'll get back to you." *beeeep*

"Miss Mitchell, this is Caroline Davies with Child Protection Services. I believe the Mitchems have been trying to get hold of you for a couple of weeks with regard to meeting up with you and Jessica Amy. Please can you respond to Mrs Mitchem. Her cell number is 555-102-9185. Alternatively, I can mediate a second meeting. You can reach me on my cell or office line. Thanks."

.oOo.

23rd March

message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 07.09 - Hi Beca, trying to get hold of you. Can you call me this week please? It's Chloe, if you don't have my number saved yet. Chloe x
message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 16.11 - Hi Beca, David's asked for your number. I've had to give it to him or he'd just call Caroline Davies and get it from her. Please call me, I'd love to arrange a get together. Chloe x

.oOo.

24th March

"Hi, you've reached Beca Mitchell. Leave me a message and I'll get back to you." *beeeep*

"Chloe again. Please call me back, I'd really like to speak with you. Bye."

message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 15.08 - Hi Beca, I know you're upset with everything and we are too but we need to work together for a solution that works for all of us. I've sent some more things for Jessie today and some money in there for you to buy her anything she needs. We'd like to see Jessie this weekend please. I am sure you'd like to spend some time with Alex. Call me? Chloe x

.oOo.

29th March

message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 14.26 - Hi Beca, please can you give me a call. Chloe x
message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 17.11 - Hi Beca, I thought you might like this photo of the girls in the back yard this afternoon. Chloe x [attach KateAndAlexInBackYard]
message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 22.08 - Hi Beca, can you send me a picture of Jessie please? Chloe x

.oOo.

30th March

"Hi, you've reached Beca Mitchell. Leave me a message and I'll get back to you." *beeeep*

"This is David Mitchem speaking. If you don't respond to this message, I will be forced to take further action. I expect to hear from you by the end of the day. Goodbye."

"Hi, you've reached Beca Mitchell. Leave me a message and I'll get back to you." *beeeep*

"Hi, it's Chloe, I'm whispering because I don't want David to hear me. He's on the phone with CPS trying to work out his next move. Please, please call me Beca. Send a message... anything. You've seen David, he's not the easiest of people to deal with and it's better to have him on your side. Please call. Please. Bye."

.oOo.

2nd April

"Morning." Luke said, entering his office and seeing Beca with her nose buried in her phone.

"Hey."

"Rough night?" He asked, setting his bag down by his desk. He shrugged off his jacket and hung it on the back of his chair.

"No, just another thousand messages to delete from the Mitchems."

"Maybe if you called them back…" Luke said lamely.

"And give that fucktard another reason to scream and yell at me, no thanks." Beca scoffed, looking up from her phone for a second.

Luke sat down on his chair and turned towards her.

"I know you don't want to hear this but you can't hide from this."

"Not you as well, Luke." Beca said, exasperated. "Please, not you too."

"Don't you want to get to know Alex?"

"Of course I do, more than anything. I'm ready to meet her again. I'm just busy and I know you don't get it and they certainly don't get it, but I have to put food on the table and a roof over my kid... their kid... Jessie's head. God, I'm trying here! Universal are riding my ass to get those demo's done and I've got sets to prepare to Avalon that can't wait."

"I can help."

"No." Beca said, shaking her head and going back to her phone. "You've done enough. I'll speak to her soon."

"You don't want the authorities poking their noses in so do it soon."

"Yeah, yeah, okay."

.oOo.

3rd April

"Hi, you've reached Beca Mitchell. Leave me a message and I'll get back to you." *beeeep*

"Beca, it's Chloe again. It's been over a month since we met up and we've left countless messages for you. I don't want to pester you but we have a right to see our daughter. Please call me so we can get something arranged. I've sent some more money and a couple of books to you today. You should receive these tomorrow. Bye for now."

.oOo.

4th April

message from chloe.m, to beca.m – 18.08 - Hi Beca, couple of pictures of the girls at bedtime this evening. Thought you might like them. I'd love one of Jessie, when you can. Chloe x [attach AlexBedtime attach KatePyjamas ]

.oOo.

6th April

"Hi, you've reached Beca Mitchell. Leave me a message and I'll get back to you." *beeeep*

"Hi Beca, Chloe again. I have a meeting on Thursday in Los Feliz and I know you live there. I'm not just going to turn up at your apartment without being invited but I'm getting pretty desperate. Can we meet for coffee? It would be really nice to see you again. I'll be on my own. Let me know, okay? Bye."

.oOo.

9th April

"Hi, you've reached Beca Mitchell. Leave me a message and I'll get back to you." *beeeep*

"Hi Beca, your friendly stalker here. I know I've now left you over forty messages, and sent dozens of texts but I'd really like to talk to you. I'm trying not to lose patience but we've been unable to get hold of you for almost six weeks now. Please call me back, we can talk over the phone, if that's easier for you. Or I can meet you near where you work? Call me. Please. Bye."

.oOo.

10th April

"Hi, you've reached Beca Mitchell. Leave me a message and I'll get back to you."

"Mailbox full. Please try again later."

.oOo.

11th April

"Luke Bryant."

"Luke, hello, it's Chloe Beale. Mitchem, Chloe Mitchem. We met… um, we met-"

"-Mrs Mitchem, yes, hello." Luke said politely., wincing a little as he quickly realised what this was about.

"Chloe, please."

"Of course. My apologies, Chloe. How are you?" Luke asked, keeping his tone even.

"A little frustrated." Chloe answered, breathing out a small, thin laugh.

"I'm sorry to hear that. How can I help?"

"Firstly, I'm sorry to have called you out of the blue, but I got your number from the business card you gave me last month. I've been trying to get hold of Beca and I've not been able to. Can I check her number with you please?"

"Yes, it's 555-475-0214." Luke said, reading the phone carefully from the index card he kept on his desk even though he knew Beca's number well anyway.

"Okay, that's the number I've been trying." Chloe huffed down the phone. "Do you know if she's been getting my messages? I'm sorry to ask."

"She's been very busy with work lately Chloe." Luke said, not wanting to commit to a different answer.

"As have I."

"Yes, of course, I'm sorry for-"

"-Sorry, that came out wrong. I'm not asking for much, just a message back every now and then. I sent pictures of the girls, been asking to meet up and sent texts and now her mailbox is full. My husband and our case worker are... well, they aren't quite as patient as me."

"She's not great at using her phone."

"This is important Luke."

"I understand." Luke grimaced, knowing he'd said the wrong thing.

"I feel bad for calling you."

"No, it's okay."

"I find out my child has been switched, we go through all of that hard emption in such a short time. Then I meet Jessie once, Beca leaves rather abruptly and then radio silence."

"It's how she deals with trouble."

"How do you mean?"

"She blocks it out and fights through it in her own way."

"This isn't going to go away."

"She knows that. I'll talk to her. I can't make any promises but I'll try."

"Thanks Luke. I appreciate it. And I'm sorry for putting this onto your shoulders."

"It's fine ma'am, honestly."

"I feel Beca is the only other person who truly can understand what is going on right now."

"I understand that. I'm sorry for all you and Mr Mitchem are going through."

"No need to apologise Luke, I'm grateful she has you. I'm sorry to have called."

"No problem. It's okay. Bye for now."

"Yes, goodbye Luke." Chloe said.

Luke spun around in his chair and faced Beca who was camped out on the sofa in his office, laptop carefully balanced on the arm of the couch. She was listening intently to Luke's side of the conversation.

"Call her." He said to Beca's unimpressed face.

.oOo.

12th April

message from beca.m, to chloe.m - 14.02 - Hi been busy sorry, thanks for the stuff for J, here's a picture of J for you [attach j at amy's]
message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 14.06 - Hi Beca! So great to hear from you. How are you? What a lovely picture of Jessie, I love how she's got that chocolate smeared all over her face! Looks like a fun time all around. Thank you so much for sending me this. It's precious. Chloe x
message from beca.m, to chloe.m -18.48 - :)
message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 18.48 - Hi, how about a meet up? Chloe x
message from beca.m, to chloe.m - 23.01 - Will check diary

.oOo.

13th April

message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 08.11 - Hi, how's Friday looking for you? Chloe x
message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 12.07 - Hi, or suggest another time you are free, if it's easier. I'm not filming at the moment. Chloe x
message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 19.03 - Hi, just checking you got my last message? Chloe x

.oOo.

14th April

message from beca.m, to chloe.m - 04.17 - Busy Friday sorry
message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 07.15 - Hi, hope you are okay? Would you like to suggest a better date and time? Chloe x
message from beca.m, to chloe.m - 08.14 - At work reply later
message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 08.14 - Hi, no problem Beca. We'll speak later. Chloe x

.oOo.

15th April

message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 07.15 - Hi Beca, any news for me? Chloe x

.oOo.

16th April

message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 14.59 - Hi, hope your day has been brilliant, didn't hear back from you with a date to meet up. David really wants to meet up and he's asked Caroline Davies to get involved to mediate. Chloe x
message from beca.m, to chloe.m - 23.56 - k

.oOo.

17th April

"Hello?" Beca said absentmindedly, picking up her phone without checking the caller ID as she tried to work a new bass line into the demo she was currently editing.

"Miss Mitchell?"

"Yeah?"

"It's Caroline Davies from Child Protective Services."

"Oh. Um, hi." Beca cursed herself for not looking to see who was calling her.

"You are a difficult person to get hold of." Ms Davies said blandly.

"Sorry, been busy."

"Hmmm."

"What can I do for you?" Beca asked after a couple of moments silence.

"I've been asked to orchestrate a meeting between you and the Mitchem's on the twentieth of April." Ms Davies stated, her tone devoid of any nonsense.

"I have to work."

"This is a requirement Miss Mitchell."

"I still have to work." Beca said, looking at the work roster she had on the wall in front of her.

"The Mitchem's are prepared to meet you in your break time. When is that please?" Ms Davies all but barked down the phone.

"I don't get a break time, Ms Davies. I work a lot of hours and-"

"-I would suggest that you don't make this too hard on yourself Miss Mitchell. The Mitchem's are wanting to get to know their daughter."

"Okay, okay, okay. The twentieth really doesn't work for me. Can we make it the twenty first?"

"If you can hold on for one moment, I'll check with them."

"Oh, you can just call me back when-"

"-They are seated next to me, Miss Mitchell." Ms Davies said loudly.

"They're there with you?" Beca asked, unable to keep the hint of surprise from her voice.

"Yes, they were unable to get you to commit to a meeting so I've been asked to step in. I've had several, regular meetings with Mr and Mrs Mitchem. You have been unable to commit to even one."

"I didn't know I was supposed to-"

"-It was all in the information package I mailed to you at the beginning of March." Ms Davies bit.

"Sorry, I've been-"

"-Busy, yes I know. Please bear with me one moment."

Beca heard hold music a moment later as she turned to look at Luke.

"Sounds like I've got to meet up on the twenty first. Good job I've got nothing on that day."

"You have nothing on the twentieth either Beca." Luke said, smirking a little.

"I know, but I just don't want them choosing the date. It would-"

"-Miss Mitchell? The Mitchem's will meet you at nine o'clock on the twenty first of April. We'll have you all meet here, at the offices and this will be a supervised meeting."

"I get off work at five that morning."

"That's fine." Ms Davies said. "You'll have four hours to make it to the offices then."

"Okay." Beca said, unable to come up with another excuse to put off the meeting.

"We will see you then."

"Okay. Bye." Beca said, ending the call and turning to Luke. "Shit. Can you write me a letter saying, as my boss, I've got to work."

"You know I can't do that Becs. This isn't high school."

"Worth asking." Beca grumbled before returning to the song she was working on.

.oOo.

21st April

message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 09.26 - Hi Beca, just checking you are still able to make our meeting today. Looking forward to seeing you. Chloe x
message from beca.m, to chloe.m - 09.47 - Traffic bad be there soon
message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 09.48 - Hi, where are you coming from? No bad traffic reported this morning. Chloe x
message from beca.m, to chloe.m - 10.14 - Will be there soon
message from david.m, to beca.m - 10.26 - This is David Mitchem. Where are you?
message from beca.m, to david.m - 10.47 - Almost getting pulled over for using my phone at the wheel

"Hi, you've reached Beca Mitchell. Leave me a message and I'll get back to you." *beeeep*

"Miss Mitchell, this is Caroline Davies. It's almost mid day, are you intending on coming in today? This is quite frankly unacceptable behaviour. Please call me back immediately. Goodbye."

message from beca.m, to chloe.m - 13.15 - Got called back to work for a meeting, will re arrange
message from david.m, to beca.m - 13.17 - David here, this is unacceptable. Simply unacceptable. We have a right to see Jessica.
message from beca.m, to david.m - 13.35 - At work, talk later
message from david.m, to beca.m - 13.35 - We will meet you after work this evening. What time do you finish? David
message from david.m, to beca.m - 13.40 - Hello? David
message from david.m, to beca.m - 13.42 - Hello? David
message from david.m, to beca.m - 13.43 - Respond please. David
message from beca.m, to david.m - 14.01 - Can't take my phone into recording studios
message from david.m, to beca.m - 14.02 - I am about to instruct my lawyer to start proceedings to gain access to Jessica. David
message from beca.m, to chloe.m - 15.06 - Got message from David, I don't want to talk with him
message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 15.07 - Hi Beca, then talk with me. Please communicate with one of us. We just want to get this sorted out. Take care of yourself. Chloe x
message from beca.m, to chloe.m - 15.28 - I have to work, you understand, right? I can't drop everything to answer messages
message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 15.29 - Hi, of course I understand but you missed a meeting and don't respond to us when we message you. We just want to spend some time with Jessie and I'm sure you'd like to spend time with Alex and get to know her. I am sure you can appreciate how confusing this is for all of us. Chloe x
message from beca.m, to chloe.m - 15.59 - Don't appreciate David threatening me with lawyers
message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 16.00 - Hi, I know he's angry but he does mean it Beca, please don't push this. Chloe x
message from beca.m, to chloe.m - 16.48 - I'll try and call you tomorrow, k?
message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 16.49 - Hi, that would be great, speak to you then. Chloe x

.oOo.

22nd April

"Hi, you've reached Beca Mitchell. Leave me a message and I'll get back to you." *beeeep*

"Hi Beca, it's Chloe. Just a polite reminder that you said you'd call today. I'm trying to hold David off from calling CPS and our lawyers but I'm not sure how long I can. Please call me soon. Bye.

.oOo.

24th April

message from david.m, to beca.m - 08.15 - You said you'd call Chloe two days ago. We've heard nothing from you. I'm now done with waiting. I have instructed my lawyers to start legal proceedings for us to see Jessica. We'll see you in court. David Mitchem

.oOo.

Chapter Text

Hi everyone! Hope everyone is enjoying the festive break.

I split this chapter into two parts as it was a bit long and heavy going to read at once. I've got no concept of family court proceedings in the USA so I took some liberties with my research. If I've got anything offensively wrong, please drop me a message so I can correct it! UK courts work very differently!

Thank you, as always, to my beta for the read through.

Thanks to you all for reading along, for all the comments and support I've been getting on this story. It truly means the world to me :)


.oOo. Chapter Twelve .oOo.

The day of the court date arrived almost a month later.

Chloe woke up early, before the sun was up, and laid in bed contemplating all that had happened since February. She couldn't quite believe they were at a point where they were having to attend court over something which could have been settled between themselves to begin with. She knew they'd be some legal matters to take care of eventually, but they just wanted access to their daughter.

Oliver Harris, Chloe's attorney, had advised both David and Chloe not to attempt to contact Beca again. David had appeared quite triumphant at the news, but it had been weighing on Chloe heavily. She didn't like David's stance on the whole matter but had found herself going along with his forthright demands. She wanted to reach out to Beca, but she was also annoyed that Beca hadn't gotten in contact either.

Chloe turned over in bed, the quiet rustle of the bedsheets irking her. Knowing she wasn't going back to sleep anytime soon, she decided she needed some air and quickly changed into her running gear. Tying her hair up into a messy ponytail and, after checking that Stacie, her friend and assistant, was still asleep in the guestroom, she quickly made her way down to the kitchen, collected a water bottle and slipped out of the back door. Turning left out of the gate, she felt the cool morning air fill her lungs, burning at the same time as the weight on her chest made itself known.

She ran down Elmgrove, turned right onto Foxglove and picked up the pace as she ran towards the small park that the girls loved to play in. She knew she'd regret not warming up properly as she pounded her feet onto the pavement but that would be tomorrow. She wanted something to hurt so she could feel something other than the anxiety in her chest.

She paused at three miles into her run, the slight ache in her gut now bothering her, and stretched her back, using a small tree as support for a few moments.

She was not looking forward to the day ahead.

Making her way up the small hill past the park helped her focus. Her goal was to make sure her child, the little girl she'd carried inside her would come home to her for good. For the past two months, she'd had little else to think about. While she knew Beca had done her very best in raising Jessie, Chloe knew her place was back with her and Kate in the warm, safe and affluent house she could provide.

She checked her watch as she paused for breath at the corner of Grosvenor and Lake and decided to head back home a little earlier than usual. She wanted to make sure David was ready and dressed and able to help out with breakfast while she read through the questions that Oliver had left her one more time.

She entered the front door and kicked off her shoes by the door. She could hear Stacie in the kitchen with Kate and Alex, clearly engrossed in a discussion about the merits of Cheerios. Poking her head around the door, she let Stacie know she'd be heading upstairs to shower.

Standing under the hot steam did little to quell her nerves about the day ahead and she took longer than normal to wash her hair, feeling a little better as she sat on the edge of her bed, wrapped up in a fluffy towel as she read through her notes that her attorney had left her.

She'd laid out what she thought was her best suit and blouse the night before. It had been a gift from Armani to wear on her interview with Ellen, and she loved it. It fitted her perfectly, accentuating her slim waist and was a little more forgiving around her chest. She loved the blouse too, adorned with small pink and blue flowers, it was pretty enough to wear just about anywhere.

She dressed quickly, hoping the court room was air conditioned as she was beginning to feel quite hot. She selected a simple gold necklace and earrings and put on her Rolex. She twisted her hair to keep it off her neck and pinned it into place with a large clip. She wanted to look like she meant business, even if she didn't feel it.

Hanging her towel back up behind the bathroom door, she picked up her shoes and switched the light off in her bedroom. She was about to head back downstairs when she heard a voice behind her.

"Oh God, you look like Aubrey!" Stacie said, as she came out of the girl's bedroom. "Or a really posh flight attendant."

"It's my favourite-"

"-You can't wear it."

"What? Why not?"

"You look like you are going to a job interview." Stacie said, ushering Chloe straight back into her bedroom.

"Stacie?"

"You need a dress. Not pants."

"Why?"

"You need to look like a mother, not some sexy actress with the world at her feet."

"I don't think I-"

"-Trust me. You don't want eyes on you today, remembering you for that." Stacie said, gesturing towards Chloe's cleavage.

Chloe huffed. She's put some effort into choosing her outfit, wanting to feel empowered and look smart.

"I don't have anything else ready." She said, lamely and Stacie gave her a disbelieving look.

"I'm sure you have. Let's find something." Stacie said, walking over to Chloe's huge dressing room. She rummaged through the racks that ran around the room, her eyes falling to a summer dress she'd seen Chloe in a few weeks beforehand. She pulled it off the hanger and handed it to Chloe. "This one."

"I can't wear that to court, Stacie."

"Yes, you can."

"I wore this to a picnic a few weeks ago. It's too casual."

"It's not, if you dress it with a summer jacket." Stacie said, indicating a white linen jacket with a pink cotton detail on the sleeve. Chloe's eyes widened a little. Stacie had a point.

"Okay, I'll trust you."

"And wear the pink kitten heels, on the third rack down. They match the jacket really well. And wear your hair down, lose the Rolex and take off the dramatic makeup." Stacie remarked with a casual wave of her hand.

Impressed with Stacie's eye, Chloe quickly changed into less formal wear. She gave herself a quick once over in the mirror and unpinned her hair, running her fingers through it to slacken the curls and leaving it loose around her shoulders. She felt her stomach roll with nerves as she checked on her newly reapplied make up and ignored the tremor in her right eye as she made sure her mascara wasn't too clogged in her compact mirror.

Heading down the stairs, she could hear Stacie talking with David by the back door.

"You need to lose the blue shirt and tie today. Have you got pink or purple? You need to look like a girl dad today."

Chloe smirked as she heard David mumble something as she got to the bottom of the steps.

"Morning." She said, noticing her voice sounded a little strained.

"Morning." David said, turning towards his wife, baulking at her appearance. "What the heck are you wearing? You look like you're going to a bake sale or a Church picnic. Go and change immediately."

"Stacie!" Chloe squealed, stamping her foot a little in frustration.

"That's the look you're going for. Wholesome mother, remember?" Stacie mirthed. "David, you're the one who has got five minutes to get changed. Aubrey will be here to pick you up at eight sharp and you know she doesn't like to be kept waiting."

.oOo.

They arrived at the Santa Monica courthouse just before nine.

Chloe was grateful to Aubrey for offering to drive them both that morning. Her nerves were shot to pieces and David's silence wasn't helping matters. The last couple of months had been pretty unbearable as they argued over every single point of the case that they were putting together against Beca. Chloe was adamant that they could still sort it out between themselves while David was using every contact he'd made since dating Chloe and pulling in all outstanding favours, wanting to take Beca to court to force her to let them have access to Jessie.

Chloe was horrified when she discovered that David had Beca followed and photographed by a private investigator. David was mad at Chloe for not being more persistent with Beca and ensuring they had contact with Jessie. Chloe had tried to explain that it was much harder for Beca, but David simply didn't want to understand. Chloe told him about Jesse from what she remembered Beca saying in the hospital about him and how all of this happening had probably forced her to relive his death and the aftermath of her having to live and life without him in it.

David called Chloe soft, saying that she needed a stronger backbone if she wanted to see her daughter. Eventually, he began to wear Chloe down to where she was beginning to agree with his brash and harsh ways just so he would stop talking about it all day long. She was beginning to develop a constant headache and had stopped sleeping through the night. She'd also had several call backs for reshoots as the commercials and walk on parts she was filming simply weren't up to her usual standard.

In the end Chloe agreed to the court date, just to get some respite. She was still hoping to work it out with Beca but as time passed, she found the burning desire to see Jessie was affecting everything around her. She would dream of her daughter constantly, imagine the three girls playing together and as spring rolled over into summer, she began to purchase clothes for all three girls to wear, confident that Jessie would be coming to visit soon.

Chloe snapped out of her daydream as Aubrey pulled up to the parking lot opposite the courthouse, found a space easily enough and announced that they'd arrived. Together, they walked over to the modern looking building in silence.

"It doesn't look that frightening." Chloe said, as she took in the courthouse.

"It's just a building." Aubrey stated blandly. "A building can't be frightening. Remember that you are here for your girls, and their best interests. Try not to get any fanciful ideas or lose your way Chloe."

Chloe nodded and decided to keep her mouth shut, despite her emotions being all over the place. She liked to talk when she was nervous, it made her feel better, but she knew neither David nor Aubrey could understand what she was going through. There was only one other person who could truly understand, and she was just about to go to court… into battle with her.

She realised she was daydreaming when she heard David clear his throat to get her attention and she walked through the door that David was holding open for her. They'd planned to be early and had an hour to waste before their attorney was due to arrive but now Chloe was dreading the wait. Passing through security, David stated their intentions for the day, and they received their identification badges and security passes. Chloe declined the offer of additional security for her, knowing that it would more than likely bring unwanted interest to her. Walking through the lobby towards the staircase, Chloe attracted a few fleeting glances, but she kept her head down and to the side, trying not to draw attention to herself and hoped her redundant poise would just cause the usual, 'did anyone tell you that you look like Chloe Beale?' thoughts and remarks.

Santa Monica wasn't the largest of the Los Angeles area's courthouses and that was the reason for their attorney's request. Oliver Harris wanted the press to be kept in the dark about the hearing but would happily notify his contacts if the verdict went his way, knowing he could have forty reporters outside before the ink on the paperwork had dried.

As soon as David, Chloe and Aubrey finished climbing the stairs up to the courtrooms, they saw Trent, Helen, Jake and Tom waiting for them at the top, tucked into a small alcove that had a couple of bench seats, a water cooler and a sad looking plastic potted plant that was fooling no one into thinking it was real.

Chloe hadn't asked David's family to come, had wanted to keep them out of the drama that was unfolding but, in that moment, she was grateful that they were there with them. The small group of seven soon turned into thirty people as Chloe's studio executives, personal assistants and some of their joint friends began to show up, determined to show support for the couple. A court clerk soon moved them out of the area into one of the larger waiting rooms.

Chloe felt overwhelmed after a few minutes, something that Aubrey recognised in her lifelong friend and pulled her aside to sit on a bench away from the crowd that was slowly moving into the side room, lining up for the weak coffee and lukewarm tea that was being offered.

"You okay Chloe?" Aubrey asked, reaching into her purse for some gum. She knew Chloe got a little overwhelmed at times and gum seemed to give her something to focus on.

"No."

"It's going to be all right. Remember that you've done nothing wrong here." Aubrey said, offering Chloe some of the gum and replacing it in her bag when Chloe shook her head to say no, thank you. "You are-"

"-Aubrey!" Chloe said suddenly, reaching out and grasping Aubrey's hand.

"What is it Chloe?"

"There she is."

"Who?" Aubrey said, looking around.

"There's Beca." Chloe nodded towards the set of stairs they'd come up earlier that morning. Beca was just signing in with security and talking with one of the guards who was asking to see inside her purse.

"Nice to see she can be on time. I'm slightly surprised she showed up at all."

"She looks so little." Chloe said, ignoring Aubrey's bite.

"She's wearing a lot of earrings." Aubrey noted.

As Chloe sat and watched Beca quietly interact with security, she thought back to the last time she'd seen Beca. It was in the play area when Beca had walked away from her, upset at David's intimidation. She'd been so annoyed by her husband's outburst and line of questioning when they'd spoken at length about how they wanted the first meeting to be casual and friendly.

Chloe was disappointed that it hadn't gone better but as she drove home that night, she decided that she'd meet up with Beca without David present, in the hopes that the girl she knew from the NICU would be present, rather than the sullen, awkward woman who'd shown up that day in early March. She had met Jessie once, wanted… needed to get to know her own flesh and blood better, other than the brief meeting and two photographs that she had of her child.

She had hoped that they'd get rid of the awkwardness at the play centre and then they could go out for a quick bite to eat with the girls and break the ice even more, make a few play dates for the next couple of weeks and arrange for the girls to start sleeping at their correct parents' house.

She was highly unimpressed that David had gotten their lawyers involved but as time went on, and she also became increasingly upset with Beca's lack of responses, she started to listen to what he had to say. She began to see it from his side of things and the ache in her chest was getting worse. She was desperate to see Jessie again, to hold her, kiss her cheek and play games with her. Chloe knew she was doing her utmost to give her girls a good life and she knew, from reports, that Beca was unable to provide the same for Jessie.

She didn't agree with their lawyer's case. She wanted access to Jessie, but David insisted that they petition for custody of their twin. Their lawyers stressed they had a good case and wouldn't suggest demanding custody if they didn't have enough evidence against Beca.

Chloe had spent hours with the lawyers, answering hundreds of questions about Beca and Chloe's discussions from nearly four years ago. All recent communication had stopped after David threatened Beca with their lawyers. She wasn't surprised. Disappointed that the girl she'd known from the NICU was now fighting against them.

As she watched Beca receive her identification badge, she wondered what was going through her head that morning. She wished they could have been friends as no one else could understand how she felt. It was in that precise moment that Chloe's heart began to really thump in her chest.

She felt her face heat up as a thought flashed through her brain.

"Oh God." Chloe said to Aubrey, suddenly leaning forwards and laying her head in her hands. "It's literally just hit me."

"What has?"

"That she had her child swapped too."

"Chloe, I-"

"-Oh God." Chloe cried out again, loud enough to draw the attention of two court clerks walking through the lobby. "It's not even crossed my mind that I might have to give Alex back. I want Jessie so badly, but does this mean I have to give Alex away? Aubrey…"

"Breathe Chloe, just breathe."

Chloe watched as Beca walked up the steps towards the court room. She was adjusting the collar of her jacket as she slowly climbed the stairs, casually ignoring the throng of people who were milling around at the top. She was clearly uncomfortable in her surroundings and had no one with her as she carried a packet of documents in one hand and a small purse in the other.

Chloe thought she looked really pretty as the early morning sunlight filtered through one of the top windows, catching the natural highlights in her hair as she sat down. Keeping her focus on the courtroom door, Beca ignored everyone around her as she took a seat quite far down the hallway. She shrugged off her purse and begun to dig through it, clearly needing to keep her fingers busy.

"I have to ask you something." Aubrey said, drawing Chloe's attention away from Beca.

"Yes?"

"What did you think was going to happen when you petitioned Miss Mitchell to hand Jessie over?"

"I thought it would scare her into letting us see Jessie more."

"And what would you have said if Miss Mitchell had come to you and asked you to swap Alex back?"

Chloe blinked a couple of times, unable to answer Aubrey's question.

"You need to keep focus today Chloe. You need to keep your mind sharp and remember that you are trying to gain access to your own child. You can't let you heart start making grand gestures because you feel sorry for someone you've known for next to no time. You are here to keep Alex and get custody of Jessie. David asked me to remind you of this, if you waivered in your conviction."

Chloe nodded, wanting to agree with Aubrey when she heard her attorney call her name.

"Good morning Chloe." Oliver Harris said, coming to a stop in front of her. He was in his early forties, had a reputation for being ruthless and was a favourite amongst celebrities for keeping their business out of the press. "Are you ready for this?"

"No." She said softly.

"You went through the questions again?" He asked, checking the time on his watch.

"I did. A few times."

"And you remember the order in which I'll be asking them."

"I do, yes."

"Good. It'll be fine today, you'll see." Oliver said before giving Chloe a once over. "You look the part of a mother today, good choice of clothing."

Chloe glanced down herself as if she had forgotten what she was wearing.

"Shall we go in and get settled?" Oliver asked.

.oOo.

There was a general murmuring in the courtroom, a few minutes before ten thirty and the start of the court case.

"Aubrey, I feel sick." Chloe said, leaning back to speak to Aubrey, who was sitting in the row behind Chloe, David, Oliver and his assistant, Lauren.

"Pay attention Chloe." David said, tugging on her arm, before Aubrey could say anything.

Chloe looked around the court room. It wasn't as formidable as she'd been dreading. Her side was packed, filled with her in laws, friends, people from the studio. She gasped when she saw just three people on Beca's side, sitting so far towards the back, it was obvious that they weren't with her. She saw Ms Davies three rows behind Beca who nodded her greeting at Chloe as she caught her eye.

Chloe couldn't see Beca's attorney and wondered if he'd had to step out for an urgent matter.

She watched Beca look up at the clock a couple of times and then to the back of the room where the entrance was, as if she was looking for someone. Chloe quickly realised that Beca's attorney was late.

"Oyez, oyez, oyez… Department One of the Superior Court of the State of California, the Honourable Judge William F Highberger presiding, is now in session. All rise."

David grabbed Chloe's hand as they stood up, he smartened his tie as she smoothed down her dress. Chloe looked over towards Beca who kept her gaze on the judge the whole time. Chloe could see her hands trembling just as her attorney finally joined her, looking like he'd rolled out of bed and jogged to the courthouse. She spoke sharply to him as the judge entered the room, his robes billowing out behind him. The judge looked over the courtroom and gave a curt nod to those present. He took a seat and the court officials moved about, taking seats and organising papers.

"Good morning ladies and gentlemen." Judge Highberger spoke, his authoritative voice was calm but firm. He looked out at the room in front of him before he spoke again. "Family court hearings are habitually closed hearings. The only persons usually allowed in the courtroom are people directly involved in the case. If there is anyone in the courtroom who is not directly involved in this case, you will have to leave at this time and wait in the holding room. I will not be persuaded otherwise."

Chloe casually looked over her shoulder towards her family members and friends as they started murmuring about having to leave.

"If you are not a Youth Court or Family Court member, a Counsellor, or guardian, you will have to leave at this time." Judge Highberger repeated. "I do not have to stress at the sensitivity of this case, due partly to the status of one of the participants. Tomorrow, if this case continues, I may allow members of family and friends to join us but today, I want the facts of the case laid out as they are without theatrics or sentiments."

There was an immediate rise in the level of noise as people grumbled over the fact they had to leave before the crowd of forty people dissipated to hang out in the waiting rooms outside.

Once the courtroom had cleared, leaving only a small handful of people inside, Chloe stole another look at Beca. There was a modicum of relief on her face which hadn't been there when the court had been full.

"Everything that goes on in Family Court is confidential. We will take an oath of confidentiality. If everyone will please raise their right hand and repeat after me:"

He waited while the few hands were raised.

"I solemnly swear that I will not divulge, either by words or signs, any information which comes to my knowledge, in the course of this Family Court session, and that I will keep secret all said proceedings, which may be held in my presence. Thank you. Please be seated."

Chloe looked around again as she took her seat. Her eyes landed on Beca as the judge began to speak again. Beca continued to stare steadfastly in front of her.

"Bailiff?"

"Calling the case of Mr David Robert Mitchem and Mrs Chloe Anne Elizabeth Mitchem-Beale, of Studio City, Los Angeles, California versus Miss Rebeca Mitchell of Los Angeles, California. Are both sides ready?" The Bailiff called out across the room.

"Ready for the plaintiff, Your Honour." Oliver, Chloe's lawyer, said as he stood up from the desk. He smoothed down his tie as he retook his seat.

"Yup. Ready for the defendant, Your Honour." John, Beca's attorney, said but he remained seated. His placed his fingers over the stack of papers on the desk in front of him.

"The plaintiff may proceed with its opening statement."

"Thank you, Your Honour." Oliver Harris stood up from his seat and walked to the side of the Judge's desk. He turned back to face the room. "In the opening statement, it is my duty to tell you what the evidence will be and what we hope to achieve in the outcome of these proceedings. For now, I present the background. On the night of July the fourth, three infant girls, one singleton and one set of monozygotic twins, were born at Flintstone Hospital, between the hours of eight ten and nine fifteen to Mrs Mitchem-Beale and Miss Mitchell. All three babies were born prematurely and needed assistance after birth. The twins were to be transported to the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta hospital by private ambulance where the Maternity Unit was more suitable for their needs. It was the hospital's decision, rather than the parents of the babies, to send the singleton along in the same transport."

Oliver paused for a few moments to allow the court reporter time to catch up.

"As far as we understand it at the moment, there was not room for the three NICU incubators on the transport and one of the twins, the younger and smaller baby, was the sickliest of the three girls born that night and needed oxygen through a canula. Someone, and that person is still being investigated, decided to put the second twin and the singleton into the same NICU incubator, thus splitting the sibling group up."

Oliver looked around the room to make sure he had everyone's full attention.

"However, that person did not travel with the babies that night and when the transport arrived at the hospital, it was assumed that the two girls in the incubator were the twins. They had not received identification tags in Flintstone Hospital, which I would hasten to add was not a maternity or general hospital and was greatly unprepared for two pregnant women to arrive at once from the scene of an accident, which also saw two severely injured parties also transported. Three parties needed immediate surgery. We would also like to mention that the surnames of the two women are similar enough that a simple handwritten error could also have been to blame when filling out the forms for the women once they were checked in. We will be submitting our affidavit to this effect to this in due course."

Oliver looked around the room to make sure everyone was still listening, and Chloe followed his eyeline. She clutched at David's hand tightly and he gave her what he hoped was a comforting squeeze back. As had been her habit that morning, she looked towards Beca and saw the tears rolling down the brunette's face. Chloe's heart jumped as she watched her suffering alone and wondered, for a moment, where her friend, Luke, was.

"These facts, Your Honour, are still under investigation within the hospital. This is to form the second part of our plaintiff request and this has been discussed with the defendant prior to arriving here. When Mrs Mitchem-Beale and Miss Mitchell arrived at the hospital, the former arriving the following day and the latter arriving three days later, they were presented to the girls in the NICU at the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta hospital. Their first few days were spent by their children's incubators and each child was receiving treatment. Miss Mitchell was the first to hold one of the children, the child who had been told was hers, and commented at the time that she struggled to bond with the time. It was deemed that the three-day delay in her arriving at the hospital was the cause, rather than the child belonging to Mrs Mitchem-Beale. These facts are undenied by both parties."

"Thank you, Counsellor. Does the defence have anything to add to this statement?" Judge Highberger asked.

"No, I don't, Your Honour." John Seymour rose from his seat with the grace of a moody teenager. "At this time, we are not disputing the facts as laid out by the plaintiff."

"Thank you, Counsellor." Judge Highberger spoke. "It is my understanding that we are here today to determine parentage, visitation and custody of Jessica Amy Mitchell, aged three years and eleven months and Alexandra Helen Elizabeth Louise Mitchem also aged three years and eleven months. Katharine Rose Elizabeth Francine Mitchem, is the third child and twin sibling to Jessica Amy, and will remain with her natural parents at this time. I understand both parties wish to seek compensation from Flintstone Hospital in a separate matter, but this custody matter has been brought forth by Mr and Mrs Mitchem who have petitioned for access to Jessica Amy, Mrs Mitchem's biological child. Defence, what say you on this matter?"

"Your Honour, my client does not wish to share custody of Jessica Amy. She has raised this child on her own and believed Jessica was her biological child. It is unfair to request shared access where her home life would be disrupted."

"Does Miss Mitchell wish to seek access to her biological child, Alexandra?" Judge Highberger asked.

"Miss Mitchell would like to spend time with the child of course but wants the best interests of the child to be taken into account first and foremost and if seeing the child would confuse her, then Miss Mitchell would rather leave things the way they are. The children are currently content and happy with their respective families."

"Low blow." David leaned towards Chloe and whispered in her ear.

"Plaintiff?"

"Thank you, Your Honour." Oliver said, still facing the room.

"Why are we here today? This is a matter that could be resolved out of family court with lawyers." The judge asked.

"My clients, Mr and Mrs Mitchem have made it perfectly clear they are willing and able to take custody of all three children and allow Miss Mitchell time with the children on a supervised basis."

Beca's head snapping round to stare at her attorney caught Chloe's attention. She watched as Beca ducked her head and began talking furiously with him. This was clearly news to her, and she could catch John insisting that he'd talked to her about it and her vehemently shaking her head as she began to rifle through the paperwork in front of her.

"Your Honour, Miss Mitchell has been uncooperative from the start and continues to obstruct my clients petition. We seek full custody of all three children today. We are here to prove that Miss Mitchell is an unfit character-"

"-Objection, Your Honour. That is a defamation to my client." John called out, trying to keep Beca's hands from worrying the stack of papers in front of her.

"Counsellor's, please refrain from jumping ahead. I would like to see some evidence and research before flying to any conclusions. Plaintiff?"

"Thank you, Your Honour." Oliver said, sending a small smug glance towards John. "We are here today to prove that Miss Mitchell is an unfit character, not worthy of raising a child by herself."

"What are your client's thoughts on switching the girls back to their biological parents?" Judge Highberger asked Oliver.

"At this point in time, our interest is in taking custody of Jessica Amy."

"This would leave Miss Mitchell without a child." Judge Highberger stated, factually.

"Your Honour, since learning that her own biological child was swapped at birth, Miss Mitchell has only met the child once in the past few months. She has not tried to get to know her child apart from at the first meeting, asked Mr and Mrs Mitchem anything about her child since that initial get together and has not offered any monetary support towards the child. Miss Mitchell, in my opinion…" Oliver said, shooting a glance towards John. "… is uninterested. She has however taken money, gifts, toys and clothes from Mr and Mrs Mitchem for Jessica Amy which constitutes section three point eight of the-"

"-Objection!" John bellowed into the court room. "There is no proof of this."

"Sustained." Judge Highberger said.

"All right…" Oliver sighed. "… Miss Mitchell accepted some gifts from Mr and Mrs Mitchem for Jessica Amy which included money, clothes, gifts and toys."

"Counsellor, I would like to start hearing from your witnesses. On that note, ladies and gentlemen, I shall hereby refer to any persons speaking for either side of this settlement as a witness as, at this point in time, there is no prosecution."

"Your Honour, as our first witness, I would like to call Mrs Chloe Mitchem-Beale to the stand."

.oOo.


Part two will be coming up in a couple of days xx

Chapter Text

A/N - Happy New Year one and all.

As we all reflect back on a particular stressful year, I've been looking for the positives as well. We all know how difficult it has been, not seeing family and friends, working from home, home school and worrying for with sick/ill friends and family. I lost a good colleague and have been looking forward to this year being well and truly done as I am sure a lot of you have too.

But this last year, we've also gotten to know neighbours better, been afforded an opportunity to show a little community spirit and help each other out, and shown what we are made of. Let's hope some of this carries forward to the year where we hope we can begin to return to normal. We found news ways to stay in touch, innovative methods of communication and personally, I've picked up the phone a few more times than normal and called friends I've not properly spoken to in years.

I, for one, feel incredibly lucky that I've travelled the world a bit, met some amazing people along the way and had some great experience along the way. I certainly won't be taking my freedom for granted again when even popping to the supermarket is a hazmat style exercise.

Tonight, my country leaves the European Union and that brings me anxiety for our future but if we continue to care and support each other, we will get through this challenging time.

Thanks to my beta for your continuous help and support and thanks to everyone reading along.

Here's to 2021!


.oOo. Chapter Thirteen .oOo.

"Your Honour, as our first witness, I would like to call Mrs Chloe Mitchem-Beale to the stand."


The judge nodded and sat back in his chair a little. Chloe rose to her feet, and with a sideways glance at David, walked across the courtroom and up the small step to the witness stand. She breathed hard as she took her seat, kept her back straight and a delicate smile on her lips. Stepford Wives, as Aubrey had suggested. The Bailiff stepped forward and stood by the witness stand.

"Please stand. Raise your right hand." The clerk said to Chloe and she complied immediately. "Do you promise that the testimony you shall give in the case before this court shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"

"I do."

"Please state your first and last name."

"Chloe Beale, sorry Mitchem-Beale."

"Are you confused by your own name?" Judge Highberger asked, a trace of sarcasm to his words.

"No, Your Honour." Chloe said. "Beale is my maiden and stage name."

The Judge nodded for the clerk to continue.

"Please be seated ma'am." He said and walked off to the back of the room while Chloe retook her seat. Oliver Harris walked slowly over to Chloe, smiling as he did so.

"Now then Mrs Mitchem-Beale, is it all right to call you Chloe?"

"Yes, please."

"Thank you. Chloe, would you tell the court how long you have known Miss Mitchell?"

"I don't really know her." Chloe said, desperately trying to remember the words they'd chosen to use when running through the questions and scenarios. She was used to being able to redo a scene if it didn't work and was struggling with this being her only opportunity. She gulped hard. "We met in the hospital when our daughters were born. We became friendly while they were in the NICU, although I didn't know her surname or much about her. We talked about the girls mostly, music and food. When Beca… Miss Mitchell, left with the baby on the seventeenth of July, that was the last I saw of her until approximately four months ago."

"How did Miss Mitchell present herself to you when you met her four months ago?"

"She was wearing jeans and-"

"-I mean, how did the meeting go?" Oliver interrupted.

"Oh, sorry, well I could tell she was confused… nervous. We both were. My husband behaved poorly and has since apologised in a letter that he gave to Ms Davies, our liaison office. It wasn't a great meeting but then we hoped to arrange to meet up again. I was determined to make the best of this situation. I felt that Miss Mitchell wanted it to all go away as if it had never happened."

"Why do you think that?"

"She wouldn't return our calls, didn't make it to meetings on time and was unwilling to share stories and pictures of my daughter… of Jessica. I know there were circumstances that she-"

"-Did she ask about her own child, Alexandra?"

"No, not really but I will say that she has tried-" Chloe began to explain.

"-Did Miss Mitchell offer you to meet you at another time to discuss the situation? Away from the everyone else, just two mothers meeting over a coffee or lunch."

"No, but I-"

"-Do you know why?" Oliver interrupted.

"I believe that she had to work." Chloe sighed.

"Work?"

"Yes, she has a few jobs."

"Work was more important than meeting with you?" Oliver asked.

"I guess so."

"There wasn't one single opportunity for her to meet you?"

"I guess not."

"That seems pretty poor for someone who was going through the same thing as you. You could have been allies-"

"-Objection, guiding." John called out from his seat.

"Sustained."

"I'll rephrase. Were you disappointed that Miss Mitchell was unable to meet with you?"

"Of course. It would have been nice to get to know her better. I wanted the opportunity to become friends." Chloe said, sneaking a glance at Beca who had her eyes glued firmly onto the large clock behind Judge Highberger' s head.

"Chloe, can you describe your relationship with Katharine and Alexandra."

"Oh my gosh, I don't know where to start." Chloe beamed, thinking of the two girls she'd left at home with Stacie that morning. "They are both such amazing little girls and the absolute centre of my, and my husband's, world. There is nothing I wouldn't do for them. They are quite smart, kind, friendly and they make us laugh on a daily basis. They have grounded me, made me re-evaluate my life and choices and make me want to be a better person every single day."

"Have your feelings towards Alexandra changed since you found out she was not biologically your child?"

"Not at all. It actually helped us understand why she was a little different in her preferences and choices if anything but no, we love her just the same." Chloe said, her throat tightening as she was beginning to wonder how Beca was feeling in all of this.

"Describe a typical day for me?"

"Katie is up first. She likes to come in for a cuddle at around six in the morning. She's the real cuddle bunny of the family. Alex is not far behind, she takes a little longer to get going in the morning, needs time to bring herself around. We then get dressed for the day, I make breakfast, David leaves for work and then we start our chores. The girls help by sweeping the floor although, most of it just gets spread around. They water the plants and pick up their toys. You know, little things that don't really matter if it doesn't get done. We then do a craft activity, make something or gluing something, painting, or something like that. We then have lunch around eleven thirty. It's always freshly prepared by me. Afternoons can then be spent visiting friends, playing games, making cookies, learning words or swimming in our pool. They go to Tumble Tots once a week on a Tuesday, which is them being shown how to do baby gymnastics. They have Wiggle Workout on a Thursday which is like baby dance. It's so cute and a precursor to ballet which they'll start when they are four. Friday is a Mommy and Me beauty afternoon at the local spa. The girls get their nails painted with glitter or some face paint. They get to play with a few of their friends. On a Saturday, we attend Music Mayhem in the morning as Alex loves anything music related and, in the afternoon, they've just begun learning to ride a pony. Our evenings are spent cooking, reading books, playing in the playroom. Then it's dinner time and after that, bath time followed by cuddles, story time and lights out around seven, seven thirty."

"Your days sound action packed."

"We're pretty busy but it's a good busy." Chloe grinned.

"And what happens when you have to work."

"Oh, my stars, I am so lucky there. If I'm working at one of the studios, the girls can come with me. There's a creche on site most of the time and I keep my hours as short as I can. If I am away filming, more often than not, the girls would come with me and I'll hire a nanny for when I'm shooting a scene. We've had the same girl for the last few years, so she's known very well to the girls. Depends where it is, sometimes their grandparents visit, or their uncles. If it's not practical, they stay home with David, but I call home and we FaceTime three or four times a day and they are happy with that. I think they enjoy the daddy time."

"Describe the girls' bond with each other."

"Oh, they love each other and are best friends."

"Has the revelation that they are not biological sisters changed that?"

"No, no, they are quite content. But I'm not sure they really understand it anyway. They are sisters, just not be blood. It would be the same as if we had adopted a daughter."

"You mentioned family."

"I did. My parents are elderly and live in an assisted living facility, up in San Francisco. David's parents are amazing, and we spend a lot of time with them. He's one of five brothers. The whole family is crazy but a beautiful crazy. I've never met such loving people."

"You have no siblings." Oliver asked.

"No, I don't. It is why I was extra thrilled when I found out I was expecting twins. I knew the girls would have a friend and sister for life."

"Looking to the future, what can you offer the girls?"

"Aside from love and security, they'd continue to have a good home. We have been looking around for a private kindergarten and school. As they get older, we can travel as a family and they can attend college. They'll not want for anything in life."

"And can all of that be extended to a third child?"

"Yes, of course. Without a doubt. We always wanted a larger family."

"And financially, the third child can be supported."

"Yes."

"What did you make on your last movie? Um, Indigo Horizon."

"Objection, this is irrelevant. The vast majority of parents don't have a Hollywood pay check." John interrupted.

"This information is available for public viewing, Your Honour. We are merely discussing the family's income in sustaining an additional child." Oliver counteracted.

"Overruled but get to the point Counsellor."

"Yes, Your Honour. Chloe?

"After taxes, it was three million."

"And on Richmond's Peak?" Oliver asked.

"That one was a little over four million as there was a soundtrack and computer game."

"The Younglings?"

"I did that for half the agreed fee, so a little under two million."

"Half?"

"Yes, I asked for the other half of my pay check to be donated to various food banks and charities in California."

"Why did you do that?"

"I want to help people."

Oliver nodded, letting that settle in the courtroom for a few moments.

"Your home is mortgaged?"

"No, it's ours. The mortgage has been paid off."

"Describe your home."

"It's a five bedroom, three and a half bath Spanish style property, with a deck, pool and back yard. We also have a pool house."

"So, there is room for a third child." Oliver said, more of a statement than a question.

"Yes, completely."

"You don't think you'll have more children yourself?"

"No, we decided that this was it for us." Chloe said, setting her mouth in a thin line. She hated this question, but Oliver had explained it was necessary. She hoped that Beca's attorney would pick up on this line of questioning as she wasn't prepared to lie in court and had agreed with Oliver that they'd gloss over many of the subjects she wasn't willing to discuss.

"Why is that?"

"It's not that we can't afford them or wanted more. Twins were hard."

"And you don't feel adding Jessica into the family would negate that?"

"Absolutely not. She is Kate's twin sister. It wouldn't be hard to integrate her at all. She's part of us anyway and we have always loved her. While I didn't struggle too badly while pregnant, I was left with some permanent scarring from my emergency Caesarean. I've had to have four further operations to get where I am today, and I have also been advised to consider the strain on my body another pregnancy would cause due to this."

"No further questions."

"Does the defence wish to cross examine?"

"Not at this time, Your Honour."

"Mrs Mitchem-Beale, you may step down."

"Thank you, sir." Chloe said, as she made her way back to her seat. She avoided looking at anyone else but David as she walked over.

"Plaintiff, do you have another witness?" Judge Highberger asked, looking at the docket in front of him.

"Yes." Oliver said, pausing as he watched Chloe sit down. "I would like to call David Mitchem to the stand."

David cleared his throat as he stood up from his chair and briskly made his way over to the witness stand. He paused as the Bailiff stepped forward and spoke to the court.

"Please raise your right hand." The Bailiff said easily. "Do you promise that the testimony you shall give in the case before this court shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"

"Absolutely, yes."

"Thank you, Mr Mitchem. Please take a seat." Oliver said, walking over towards his side of the room and reaching over for a piece of paper from Lauren.

"Mr Mitchem, may I call you David."

"Of course." David replied, looking towards Chloe as he gave his answer.

"David, can you please appraise the court of your profession."

"I am a high school teacher and also assist in a youth programme for disadvantaged youngsters."

"And where do you teach?"

"I'm at Notre Dame High School at Sherman Oaks." David said, smiling broadly.

"And what do you teach there?"

"I teach English and drama."

"And is it true that you established a drama club there?"

"Um, no." David said, his smile dropping.

"Oh." Oliver said, looking down at the notes in his hand for a second before shooting a look to Lauren. "I understood-"

"-That was at my last school. I set up a drama club for the inner city, underprivileged kids there."

"I stand corrected." Oliver said, saving face. "Of course, it wouldn't be Notre Dame. That is a prestigious school with its healthy list of accomplishments."

"It is, yes. I'm immensely proud to work for such a good school." David said, his eyes flittering over to where Beca and her attorney were sitting. David hoped that this little piece he and Oliver had rehearsed had been noted by the judge and that it had been acknowledged that he had a good job at a great school.

"And what made you get into teaching."

"I love kids… I love working with kids." David said simply. "There's something about seeing their eyes light up when they come to a conclusion by themselves or solve a problem. With drama, the shyest kid came became a star and open doors for people from all walks of life. It keeps the young ones off the streets and busy. It's a calling, not a job and I love it."

"A teacher's salary isn't much to get excited about though, is it?"

"The rewards come in different ways. The pay isn't great, no, but it's enough to get by."

"Tell me about your home life." Oliver said, changing directions as he had with Chloe. He walked over to his desk and laid down the sheet of paper. Chloe glanced at it briefly and was surprised to see that it was blank. She narrowed her eyes a little and wondered what her husband had been cooking up with the lawyer without telling her. She suddenly felt a little worried.

"I have a great life." David said, turning his body ever so slightly towards the judge. "I have an amazing, talented and supportive wife, beautiful children, a lovely home and enough free time to enjoy it."

"Tell me about the girls."

"They're great kids. I love them dearly. They keep me on my toes and I'm trying to be the best dad I can."

"What do you do with them?"

"I work a full-time job, so I see them for a short period of time over breakfast but once I'm home in the late afternoon, I'll make sure we have some time together in the playroom or the pool before Chloe puts them to bed."

"How about weekends?"

"I have them when Chloe's working. She does schedule as much time on set during the holidays as she can, so I'm not at work and with them at Chloe's house." David explained and something in his tone made Beca look up from studying her hands to stare at him.

"Is Chloe a good mother?"

"Yes, absolutely." David said honestly and Beca felt that was the first honest thing he'd said in the last few minutes. "She's amazing with the girls."

"And how did you feel your meeting went when you met your biological daughter, Jessica Amy?"

"It was so amazing to meet her, I can barely put it into words. She was a spirited delight, and I am proud of her and all she is…despite being three years old. But unfortunately, her current caregiver ruined the experience."

"Are you able to embellish on that?" Oliver asked, taking a couple of steps back to give David the open court to speak freely.

"I found Miss Mitchell to be sullen, rude and moody. She barely asked any questions about my daughter Alex and seemed to give one-word answers to any questions that my wife asked her about my daughter, Jessica. She barely said two civil words to me and dismissed my efforts at getting to know her. I stepped outside for some fresh air at one point and she left, taking Jessica with her and leaving without giving us the chance to say goodbye properly. I felt-"

"-Objection." John Seymour called out.

"Yes?" Judge Highberger responded after John failed to give a reason for the objection. The judge observed Beca speaking furiously into John's ear.

"Objection." John said again. "Mr Mitchem's opinion of the day is not the only one, Your Honour."

"Mr Seymour, may I remind you that there are always two sides to every story and your client will have her chance to explain her side of things when she is called to the stand."

"Yes, Your Honour."

"Mr Harris, please proceed."

"David, how did your attempts to make contact with Miss Mitchell after the initial meeting evolve?"

"They didn't." David said bluntly.

"Can you explain further?"

"My wife and I both attempted to call and text Miss Mitchell on many occasions and aside from a couple of pictures and a few responses, we had nothing of value from her."

"And how did that make you feel?"

"I was deeply saddened by this. This woman, Miss Mitchell, is clearly of low intelligence and has no purpose in bringing up my daughter. She makes claims that are ambiguous, attempts to obstruct us in our pursuits and clearly is in desperate need of someone to put her in her place. She is clearly not in a relationship and I am in a position where I can provide my daughter with both a mother and a father."

"And you feel, in today's society, that is important?" Oliver said, looking uneasy at David's outburst. There was silence for a few moments and Chloe looked over to Beca, again, to see that she was crying softly, looking ashamed. Chloe wanted to reach out to her so badly.

"Yes, I do." David said coldly and Chloe looked sharply at him, wanting to say something to the judge. David sensed the tension from his wife and stared her down from his position. "A child needs stability, love, routine, discipline and respect. I don't believe Miss Mitchell can provide that."

"I can see that this line of questioning is emotional for you." Oliver said, clearing his throat a couple of times. He glanced towards Beca who's shoulders were gently shaking with her sobs. Without taking his eyes off of Beca, Oliver continued. "And what do you hope to achieve today?"

"I want access to my daughter on a permanent basis. I want the opportunity to get to know her. I want to give her all the good things in life that she is clearly missing out on."

"Do you feel she is missing out in her current situation?"

"Absolutely. She has no opportunities where she is at this moment, no additional stimulation or activities. It appears that she is looked after most of the time by friends of Miss Mitchell in an unstable environment. Miss Mitchell is always working and never spends time with Jessica."

"Miss Mitchell has a long workday?" Oliver asked.

"I know she has a few jobs, but she makes out that she has to work twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Maybe if she'd stayed in high school or gone to college, she might have been achieving more by now." David said unkindly.

"Objection, my client does indeed work eighteen hours a day most days to provide safe housing for the child." John offered up quickly.

"Overruled." Judge Highberger said in response.

Chloe took a moment to look over at Beca. She knew she worked hard but didn't realise it was that many hours. If she spent even a couple of hours with Jessie, it didn't leave much time for herself or for sleep. A thick knot was starting to form in Chloe's throat.

"David, where do you see yourself in ten years' time?"

"Hopefully as a head of my department during the day and fending off unacceptable suitors from my three daughters, when they begin to discover boys." David mirthed but no one reacted to his lame ass joke.

Oliver gave him a weak smile, knowing that there was little else he wanted to ask David. His answers weren't as polished as Chloe's had been, but he needed the opportunity to show the judge that his clients were a strong couple.

"No further questions at this time." Oliver said, after a quiet moment.

"Does the defence wish to cross examine?"

"Yes please, Your Honour." John said and rose to his feet, taking a few steps over towards David. "Good morning Mr Mitchem."

"Good morning."

"How do you feel about your wife earning more money than you?"

"Objection! This is irrelevant to the case." Oliver called out, as he sat in his chair.

"Sustained."

"Mr Mitchem, is it true that you attempted to strike my client when you first saw her at the CPS office?" John asked.

"No, that is not true. I was angry, yes, as I thought Miss Mitchell had kidnapped my child."

"But you didn't have to be restrained by your wife and her friend, a Ms Aubrey Posen?"

"A cool hand on my shoulder is hardly being restrained." David said, his eyes narrowing.

Chloe huffed a little in her seat, remembering an entirely different situation to the one that David was describing. She remembered him bringing that day up in an argument several weeks later and how mad he was that she had held him back. Chloe remembered the muscle strain she had received from gripping onto him as he flailed his arms around.

"Fair enough." John said, scratching the side of his nose. He stood in the middle of the court room for a couple of minutes.

"Mr Seymour, do you have any further questions?" Judge Highberger asked.

"No, not at this time." John said, returning to his seat to the exasperation of Beca who threw her hands up in the air in frustration at her lawyer's lacklustre attitude.

"Plaintiff, any further witnesses?" The judge asked.

"Yes, Your Honour." Oliver said, standing up again and fixing his gaze on his opposing counsellor. "But first, as Mr Seymour neglected to do, may I ask my client to stand down?"

"Yes, of course. Mr Mitchem, you may step down." Judge Highberger said.

"Thank you, sir." David said, quickly walking across the courtroom to his seat.

"We'd like to call Miss Caroline Davies, Liaison Officer with Child Protective Services, Los Angeles Branch." Oliver declared, a small smirk spreading across his lips.

"Very well." Judge Highberger said, watching as the woman rose from her position in the courtroom and walked up towards the witness stand. The Bailiff stopped her before she took her seat.

"Please remain standing and raise your right hand." The clerk said to her. "Do you promise that the testimony you shall give in the case before this court shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"

"I do." Ms Davies said simply, before smoothing down her starched shirt and take a seat.

"Ms Davies, thank you for coming today." Oliver said.

"No problem."

"May I call you Caroline?"

"I would prefer not. We are not friends nor shall we mix in social gatherings which is the only time my given name is used."

"No problem, Ms Davies." Oliver said, casting a hesitant eye over towards Lauren. Beca was watching him as he gave the CPS officer a quick glance over. She felt somewhat slightly vindicated that Ms Davies was able to make the salient lawyer feel slightly uneasy. She had felt the same when she'd had her past dealings with the woman she despised so much.

"I understand you were assigned to the Mitchem and Mitchell case in February, is that correct?"

"Yes sir, that's right." Ms Davies said. "I handle all the high-profile cases for CPS in Los Angeles."

"Please explain what you mean, for the sake of the court."

"There are some higher profile cases that the Los Angeles department handle. Clients with money, political status or are well known. We aim to keep everything as private as possible for our clients. With Mrs Mitchem's elevated status, we thought she should be afforded a little privacy while the two families got to know each other."

"And did you have a chance to meet both parties individually before the arranged first meeting with the children?"

"No. I met with Mr and Mrs Mitchem on several occasions but not with Miss Mitchell."

"Can I ask why you didn't meet with Miss Mitchell?" Oliver asked.

"She is not the high-profile celebrity. She didn't respond to my messages and requests for a meeting, so I didn't follow it up. I am here to assist the willing."

"May I ask, as I am sure Miss Mitchell's lawyer will bring this up with you if I don't, why Mr and Mrs Mitchem and Miss Mitchell weren't treated the same in this case. I understand Mrs Mitchem's elevated status but surely, in broken down facts, they are both mothers who lost a child." Oliver said, his tone dropping for a brief moment. Beca cast her eyes towards him as he oh so slightly nudged his head towards her.

"There was simply no need." Ms Davies explained. "Mrs Mitchem has a list of accolades as long as my arm, she's won more awards for her work than most newcomers in the business, she can act, sing and dance which is a full trifecta for Hollywood. Mrs Mitchem is a fan favourite and an easy person to get to know. On a personal note, she is generous, and wonderful, and a beautiful, warm person and I consider it my pleasure to have gotten to know her."

"You sound quite the fan." Oliver said simply, almost bristling when he realised what he had said.

"I am." Ms Davies said simply.

"Objection." John called out. "Ms Davies clearly has a fan's opinion on one of her clients and therefore her testimony should be stricken from the record."

"Slow down counsellor." Judge Highberger said, raising his hand. "I believe I am the one who makes this sort of decision here. I will allow this to continue if Ms Davies can keep to the facts."

"Are you a fan of Mrs Mitchem? Did you know of her before the meeting?" John blurted out from his seat.

"Counsellor!" Judge Highberger barked. "It is not your turn to speak-"

"-I have seen all of her movies, yes." Ms Davies answered, interrupting the judge, who raised his hands to the ceiling of the courtroom.

"I am calling a recess." The judge growled, bringing his gavel down onto the block. "I expect the Counsellors to have spoken to their respective clients and witnesses upon my return. We shall reconvene in twenty minutes."

"All rise!" The Bailiff called out as the Judge rose from his seat and walked swiftly from his position, muttering as he went. The door banged sharply behind him.

"It's going well." John said, turning in his seat towards Beca, smiling at her as he dug his finger in his ear.

"You really think so?" Beca said sarcastically, standing up and pushing past his chair as she made her way down the aisle to the exit.

She pushed open the door and ran to the nearest bathroom, ignoring the confused looks as she fled down the corridor. She entered the first stall she found and kicked the door shut behind her as she sat on top of the closed toilet and ground her knuckles into her thighs to stop herself from screaming out in frustration. She sat for a few minutes, breathing deeply in the small cubicle and ignored the sounds of women coming and going as she focussed on keeping calm.

'It's going well.' She scoffed to herself, replaying her lawyer's words as she rested her head in her hands. Chloe, David and Ms Davies had all said the same thing; she hadn't committed to meeting up, returning texts and calls. She was now worried that, as Luke had said, it was about to bite her in the ass. Where had she missed the part about David and Chloe wanting full custody of Jessie, how had she not seen that in the reams of paper that had been sent to her and how did Luke not point that out as well?

Beca heard a toilet flush a few minutes later and realised she needed to get back to the courtroom. She blew her nose and flushed the toilet, exiting the stall and quickly walking over to wash her hands. She wanted to splash some water on her face, but her makeup was already shot to pieces and she didn't want to make it worse. She patted at her eyes with a hand towel, trying her best to catch the mascara that was threatening to cascade down her cheeks if she shed one more tear.

"Hi."

Beca jumped a little at the soft voice. She spun around towards the small blonde woman who was rinsing her hands under the water.

"You're Beca Mitchell, right?"

"Umm… yeah."

"I thought so. She looks so much like you. She's a wonderful little girl."

"I'm sorry, who are you?"

"My name is Helen. Um, Helen Mitchem. David's mother. I'm-"

"-I have to go." Beca said quickly, dropping the tissue into the nearest bin as she turned to leave the restroom.

"I'm sorry." Helen called out. "I know this is hard on you. Is there anything I can do to help you?"

Beca paused for a second with her fingers wrapped around the door handle, before she ignored Helen's comment and left the bathroom.

'Fucking people.' Beca grunted to herself as she hurried back along the corridor to her courtroom, feeling her stomach roll at Helen's kind words. She closed her eyes for a moment as, somewhere in the pit of her stomach, she wished she'd made a better effort with answering Chloe. They could have worked all of this out and she could have been included in some small way into their family. Chloe had talked at length how nice the Mitchem's were when the girls were in the NICU.

She took her seat next to her lawyer who was busy playing Candy Crush on his phone and smoothed down her hair. She side glanced towards Chloe who, she noted, looked as bad as she felt. It gave her little comfort.

She wished she had Luke with her more than anything in that moment but took a deep breath, put on her poker face and waited for the judge to return.

"All rise. This court in now reconvened." The Bailiff spoke out to the court. Judge Highberger retook his seat and nodded to the Bailiff.

"Counsellors, approach the bench please."

Oliver and John left their seats and approached the bench and spoke with the judge for a couple of minutes. It was so quiet in the court room that Chloe could hear the large clock behind the judge's head. She watched Oliver return and crouch down to speak to them.

"Judge Highberger has asked that Ms Davies not be brought back to the stand."

"Why?" David asked.

"He feels she is not impartial and has requested her written affidavit instead."

"Will this hurt our case?" David inquired.

"No, I don't think so. Ms Davies's words were not discounted but he, and no offence to you Chloe, doesn't want to hear a fan's version of events."

Chloe nodded gently as the judge cleared his throat, subtly signalling he was ready to move on. Oliver quickly moved to sit down as the judge spoke.

"Does the defence wish to call their first witness?" He asked.

"Yes, Your Honour." John said. "The defence would like to call Rebeca Mitchell."

.oOo.

Chapter Text

A/N - Thanks, as always, to my beta for the edits!

Thank you for all your messages, comments, kudos and reads. It's great to see how it's getting under people's skin :) Thank you for reading along! Now it's Beca's turn on the witness stand :)


.oOo. Chapter Fourteen .oOo.

Beca stood up and walked over to the witness stand. She didn't take a seat and instead waited for the Bailiff to speak to her.

"Please raise your right hand. Do you promise that the testimony you shall give in the case before this court shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"

"I do." Beca said in a small voice.

"Please state your first and last name."

"Rebeca Mitchell."

"You may be seated."

"Please spell your last name for the record." The court admin clerk asked.

"M-i-t-c-h-e-l-l."

"Thank you."

"Miss Mitchell, please describe your first meeting with Mrs Mitchem-Beale."

"Um, I pulled her out of a burning car. Along with my friend, Patricia Hobart." Beca said, her voice sounding hoarse.

"That's right. You saved the life of her and both of her unborn children, is th-"

"-Objection, leading."

"Sustained."

"Please describe the events that day." John said moodily.

"I was at work, there was a crash. We went outside to help. I could see the car on its side, and it was smoking. So, I pulled her, um… Mrs... Mitchem out of the car." Beca gulped, her throat was so dry with nerves that she couldn't swallow properly.

"Then what happened?"

"Her waters broke and I wasn't feeling good either so we went to the hospital. We both went into labour, I had Jessie, or Alex…" Beca paused as she felt her face flush. "… sorry, I don't know what to say."

"Take your time. Would you like some water?" John asked.

"Yes please." Beca nodded as she scratched her nails at her throat and waited while John brought a water bottle over for her. She uncapped it quickly and took a healthy gulp. "Thank you."

"Are you okay to continue?"

"Yes."

"And later that night, what happened?"

"I was worried about the lady, so I went to find out how she was doing and found her in her room. We talked for a bit and then I went back to my bed."

"And you weren't put in the maternity section of the hospital, is that correct?"

"There wasn't one."

"But Mrs Mitchem-Beale had her own room?"

"Yeah, she did. I guess they knew she was a celebrity."

"But you didn't know?"

"I never went to the movies, didn't buy those trashy magazines and didn't own a television so I had no idea who she was. She was just someone who had a baby, like me. We exchanged first names, that was all. She was just another mom." Beca said, her shoulder shrugging slightly.

"Please describe the day you found out that your babies had been swapped in the hospital."

"It was awful." Beca paused as the day came back to her. "I had the afternoon off from work, as I'd just come from an interview for a new gig. It was Valentine's Day, so I took Jessie out for a cupcake and we went to sit on the swings in the park. We did that sometimes as she loves doing that so much. A woman there started asking me some questions about her, but I didn't think much of it at the time. Jessie was playing with another kid for a bit, but we had to go as I had to work that evening and it was starting to get dark. Jessie wouldn't come to me because she didn't want to leave the park and she got upset. I picked her up, but she kicked off, crying and screaming that she didn't want to go with me. I was going to be late for work, so I had to be firm with her. She calmed down pretty quickly after that. We walked back towards our apartment, but we were stopped by the Police."

"And what did they say to you."

"We talked for a while, they asked some pretty curious questions. I had Jessie's birth certificate at home, with all of our important documents and offered to show it to them." Beca breathed out heavily, reliving the day. "I was accused of kidnapping Katharine Mitchem. I had no idea who the kid was, but they tried to arrest me in front of my daughter."

"Then what happened?" John asked.

"They took Jessie off of me and took her to the Police Station while they drove me to my apartment, it was only about four blocks away, but they made sure it was a big song and dance and blue lighted us there, made sure that the building manager was aware what was going on. I showed them the certificate but as it was out of state, they wanted me to go down to the Station to prove its authenticity."

"How did that make you feel?"

"Like a criminal." Beca said, doing her best to avoid looking at Chloe as she could see her fluster out of the corner of her eye.

"What happened after that?"

"I went with them. In handcuffs. They showed me a picture of Katharine Mitchem and I agreed that the likeness was close and that the lady in the park had been right to be concerned. They kept me in an interview room, and I kept asking to see Jessie. Eventually, I was interviewed."

"How long were you there before you were interviewed?"

"About four hours."

"Were you giving refreshments in that time?"

"No."

"What happened then?"

"They confirmed my story that I had given birth to a baby in Flintstone. I asked them to show me the reports of Katharine Mitchem's disappearance. No report had been filed so I asked them on what grounds they had to keep me. No child had been lost or kidnapped, my child was clearly distressed at being separated from me, I had pictures with us for the last couple of years so this clearly wasn't a snatch and grab. This still wasn't good enough for them, so they made me have a blood test, for a DNA sample."

"And you complied?"

"Absolutely. I was completely unaware of anything being seriously wrong at this point."

"And what did the results show?"

"The results showed conclusively that I was not Jessie's mom, there were zero markers connecting us. We were genetically strangers."

"And how did you react to that?" John queried.

"I'm not proud to admit but I got very sick at the news. I was given a jail jumpsuit to change into and locked up in a cell and charged with kidnapping. Again. I tried to talk with them reasonably and ask them to call Katharine Mitchem's parents to see if she was at their home."

"And how long was it before they did that?"

"Several hours, it was morning by the time I was released."

"Did you pick up Jessie and go home?"

"No, she was under CPS by this point and I was not allowed to see her. I went to the offices anyway and that is where I saw Mr and Mrs Mitchem. I recognised her from the hospital pretty easily. She'd never really been far from my mind."

"Did she know you'd been kept in the police cells all night?" John asked.

"I am not sure."

"Did they try and communicate with you?

"Yes, but I was too busy trying to find my kid to make nice. And after what Mr Mitchem said to me, I didn't want to talk to them."

"Are you able to remember what Mr Mitchem said to you?"

"Not word for word but he accused me of switching the babies in the hospital." Beca gulped, the tears now pouring down her face. "I didn't know why he thought I would do that but figured he was just scared and confused. It got worse after that when I was told she was a movie star and that he, or they, I don't know, wanted me charged with child endangerment, child neglect and kidnapping of a celebrity's child."

"And how did that make you feel?" John said, handing her a tissue to wipe her face.

"I was so scared but I wasn't allowed to have anyone in with me and had to wait for an attorney to be assigned to me. I could see at this point that the Mitchem's had quite the collection of people around them, lawyers, studio execs and friends. Eventually, I got pulled into another interview room where I was questioned for several hours, I forget how many, but it was at least twelve. That was when the connection was made when I saw the pictures and saw her two children."

"Tell me about that."

"One of the girls, Katherine, was, as I've said before, an incredible likeness to my daughter, Jessie. But when I saw a picture of the other girl, Alexandra, my blood ran cold."

"And why is that?"

"She looked exactly like her father."

"And her father was a man named James Alexander Swanson, is that correct?"

"Objection, coerced leading."

The judge raised his eyebrow in Oliver's direction.

"Sustained. But Counsellor, settle down." Judge Highberger warned.

"Miss Mitchell, please advise the court of your biological child's fathers name."

"His name was James Alexander Swanson." Beca repeated. "Everyone called him Jesse. His dad was a massive baseball fan and he's nicknamed after a player, but I don't know which one."

"And where is he now?" John asked and Beca flinched. She had been dreading this question coming.

"He died while he was in college. Brain aneurysm."

"I'm sorry." John said politely. "Did you feel there was justification in Mr Mitchem's claims that you wanted to switch the baby girls?"

"None at all. Jesse is still my best friend and I am glad he is my baby's father. There would have been no way I would have wanted to not have a part of him with me always."

"No further questions at this time." John said, nodding towards the judge as he walked about to his seat.

"Any cross examination, Plaintiff?"

"Yes, we have some questions for Miss Mitchell." Oliver approached the witness chair and smiled at Beca. She'd never seen something so fake in all of her life and was immediately on guard. "Miss Mitchell, may I call you Rebeca?"

"Um, I prefer Beca."

"Rebeca, please state your profession." Oliver said, ignoring Beca's request for her favoured name.

"I have a few jobs."

"Such as?"

"I'm an intern at UMG, I also-"

"-What does that mean?"

"Huh?"

"An intern? UMG?"

"I am in the A&R department in UMG."

"What exactly is that? For those not in the know." Oliver pushed, wanting to fluster Beca.

"It's the Artists and Repertoire department at Universal Music Group."

"Is it true that a friend got you the job there?"

"An acquaintance at the time put my name forward for the position, yes."

"And what was their name?"

"Luke Bryant." Beca explained. Oliver nodded a couple of times, a hint of surprise in his eyes.

"Luke Bryant? The music producer?"

"Yes." Beca said, her head cocking to one side in wonder. She hadn't expected Oliver to know his name.

"So you didn't get the job on your own merit?" Oliver asked, recovering.

"It's a tough program to get into. I don't care how I made it in there. I'm proving I belong."

"Bold statement."

"Well, I'm trying. This business is hard and I'm doing my best to-"

"-Why couldn't you apply in the same way as the other interns?"

"Like I said, it's a tough program to get into."

"Don't you need a college degree to apply Rebeca?"

"Yes." Beca sighed.

"So why didn't you-"

"-You know I don't have a college degree." Beca said blandly. She was getting tired of the questions, designed to make her look like a chump.

"Did you graduate high school?" Oliver scoffed and Beca's nostrils flared, controlling her temper.

"Yes, I graduated High School. With honours, actually. I have letters from four of my AP teachers if you want to submit them as evidence."

"That won't be necessary. Why didn't you go to college Rebeca?"

"Money. We didn't have the means for college."

"Your father is a college professor, is he not?" Oliver asked.

"That's correct, from the last I heard about him."

"He could have provided you with a college education. Doesn't the child of-"

"-I don't want anything from my father. I make my own way in life." Beca stated.

"If you make your own way in life, why did you rely on a friend… sorry acquaintance, getting you an internship where he worked."

"I make my own way in life, but I'm also not stupid enough to pass up an opportunity." Beca almost growled. "Universal Music Group has been amazing and-"

"-And what exactly do you do there?"

"At the moment, I am working on the research and data mining for new talent… artists, producers or songwriters. I go to gigs, use resources such as the internet to source potential talent. I also work alongside the producers but that's mostly grunt work."

"Grunt work?"

"Yes, anything they want me to do, fetching coffee, answering the phones, creating databases, cleaning the decks and offices or testing switches. In exchange for my time, I get to use their equipment." Beca explained.

"As well as a salary?"

"I receive a small hourly rate from Universal."

"And what is that?"

"Um, seven twenty five an hour."

"And how many hours do you work there?"

"I log twenty hours of paid work and I work an additional twenty to twenty five hours unpaid."

"You work for free?" Oliver asked, stressing the word free.

"I work for exposure to the scene and the equipment. I am building a portfolio of clients and am learning from the professionals." Beca defended.

"So, you go to gigs and watch YouTube for a living?"

"No. There's more to it than that." Beca huffed.

"You just said-"

"-I know but this is work as an intern until I can break into the industry properly."

"How does one 'break in'?" Oliver asked sarcastically.

"I have to prove myself, find a unique sound. It's not something that happens overnight."

"And is it always successful?"

"No, of course not. But I am determined to succeed."

"You mentioned other jobs. Are you determined to succeed in those as well?"

"That's not what I…" Beca grumbled and she watched John raise his hands to calm her down. "… I work other jobs to pay my rent and put food on the table."

"And what is that work?"

"I work as a barista in a coffee shop one block from my apartment-"

"-Starbucks?"

"No, it's an independent, Mom and Pop style place. They are really easy to work for and let me take a milkshake home for Jessie. She loves anything chocolate based and Kylie, that's the coffee shop owner is really sweet to her and often sends home a brownie to her or a cookie. It's a real treat for Jessie to get something like that."

"Do you share with her?"

"No. It's her treat. I don't like chocolate anyway. Never had it as a kid so never to the taste for it."

"And your other jobs?" Oliver asked.

"I clean offices at the weekends and I gig in the evenings at various clubs around Los Angeles."

"Gig?" Oliver asked and Beca was beginning to feel really irked.

"Yes, I DJ-"

"-DJ?"

"I run the decks and make music for the club goers."

"You press buttons and play music."

"No, it's a little more involved than that. I also do some freelance work for artists who want to demo new sounds." Beca said, hoping she sounded proud of herself.

"Is there a permanent income?"

"No, but I am good at stretching a dollar."

"And has your guardian, Jessica Amy, ever suffered because of your dollar stretching?"

"Objection!"

"On what grounds?" Judge Highberger asked, watching John flail around in his seat.

"For being rude."

"Counsellor, rephrase your question." The judge sighed.

"Miss Mitchell, do you feel you have provided for your child sufficiently?"

"She's still alive, isn't she?" Beca could see her attorney shake his head at her vehemently but she was struggling to keep her emotions in check. She took a deep breath before carrying on. "Jessie has everything she needs. She has a safe place to sleep, she has plenty of food and I buy her toys and clothes when I can."

"When you can?"

"Yes, I don't have the means to spoil her but-"

"-I understand that she doesn't even have her own bedroom in your apartment."

"That's correct. We share the closet space as a bedroom."

"The closet?"

"Yes. The apartment has only got the one room and a shower room."

"Where do you buy her clothes?"

"Why is this relevant?"

"It's not a difficult question to answer Miss Mitchell."

Beca looked up towards Chloe and David and for the briefest of moments wondered what they thought of her. She was so confused by every emotion running through her that she had an overwhelming need to run away from it all. She could see Chloe's strained face, her fingers worrying the sleeves of her jacket.

"Miss Mitchell?" Oliver spoke, snapping her out of her thoughts.

"I shop at Goodwill."

"So, second hand?"

"Yes."

"And toys, books, games?"

"I buy what I can. The rest comes from gifts."

"Hmm, okay. What about insurances?"

"I don't have medical insurance." Beca stated.

"Why not?"

"I cannot afford it. Not until I am working full time."

"So, what happens if Jessica Amy, or indeed yourself, gets sick?"

"Jessie hasn't needed to go to Urgent Care since she was eleven months."

"But you did have to take her?" Oliver asked.

"Yes."

"Why?" Oliver asked.

"She had some breathing trouble on a couple of occasions."

"What was the problem?"

"She was born with sleep apnoea. She grew out of it. Then she was diagnosed with asthma. It's mild but there's ongoing care for her and will be for life."

"And how did you pay for it?"

"I'm still paying for it now."

"Because you had no insurance."

"That's correct. My child needed care, I didn't worry about the money."

"How much do you still owe on medical debt?"

"About ninety nine thousand dollars."

"That's… that's a lot." Oliver said, having the grace to look a little shocked.

"Jessie needed extra care with her asthma. She has ongoing treatment and it's kept at bay because I keep on top of it."

"How is this cost divided?"

"About nine thousand dollars left at Flintstone, fifty two thousand at the Children's Hospital in Atlanta, eighteen thousand at the Children's Hospital in Los Angeles and another twenty thousand for Jessie's ongoing treatment."

"And how much does that cost you a month?"

"Over seven hundred dollars."

"Hmmm. That's just as much as insurance." Oliver said, almost to himself.

"Which is why I don't have it and why I work so many jobs." Beca explained.

"With regard to this debt and the fact that Jessica Amy is not your biological child, are you harbouring ill will towards the child for causing you to go into debt."

"Absolutely not. This isn't Jessie's fault."

"How about towards the Mitchem's?"

"What do you mean?"

"Are you angry at them?"

"Why would I be? If my biological child had been ill, Mr and Mrs Mitchem would have taken care of it. I would find the means to somehow pay them back but no, this is not their fault as much as it is not mine."

"Describe a typical day for me." Oliver said, suddenly steering the conversation elsewhere.

"Jessie wakes up when she wakes up. I'm usually working when she does. So I'll make her breakfast, shower her, dress her in her second hand clothes and then she plays with her cheap toys and books for a bit while I finish up work." Beca said sarcastically. "We usually then go for a walk or to the park and then one of my friends watches her while I go to work. I'm usually back around four in the afternoon so we have a couple of hours together then she has dinner. I go back out to work at around six and another friend comes to watch her in the evenings until I am home."

"Miss Mitchell, you heard my client's typical day. Is it safe to say you don't spend much time with Jessie?"

"I spend every spare moment I have with her."

"And what does that amount to, during an average day?"

"I don't know. A couple of hours in the morning and maybe an hour in the afternoon?"

"Because you have to work?"

"Yes."

"Does she ever come to work with you?"

"Not usually, no."

"Not usually?" Oliver inquired.

"Well, I've had to take her with me a couple of times."

"And why is that?"

"I haven't been able to find childcare for her."

"Has she been to a club with you, while you've worked?" Oliver asked.

"Yes. I've had no other choice on many occasions and have always found a quiet spot for her. She settles really well if she's got her blanket and her bunny and I always check on her several times to make sure she's okay."

"Taking a child into a nightclub cannot really be considered okay though, can it?"

"Not feeding her would also be considered not okay, right?" Beca snarked.

"Miss Mitchell, do-"

"-I do everything I can for my child." Beca interrupted. "Life isn't easy for me, but I push forward, try to make it, keep on going. I'm not sitting on my ass on welfare. I'm trying to teach my kid the value of a hard earned pay check and sacrifices that have to be made to get anywhere in life. I'm doing my best."

Oliver nodded for a few moments, letting the tension settle a little.

"Tell me about your family."

"Jessie is my family."

"Your parents?"

"My dad left when I was younger. I haven't seen him since I was five. I haven't seen my mom for about eight years. I don't know if she is even alive."

"No brothers or sisters?"

"No, like Mrs Mitchem, I am an only child."

"Why did your father leave?"

"I have no idea. I was five."

"You haven't made any effort to contact him?" Oliver asked and Beca shook her head.

"He hasn't made any effort to contact me either."

"Did he remarry?"

"I don't know."

"Do you have brothers and sisters from a new relationship?"

"I. Don't. Know." Beca spelled out. "If he does, they aren't anything to do with me, are they?"

"And James Swanson?"

"Jesse died before my child was born."

"And his family?"

"No, they do not see the child. Despite my being welcomed into their family like their own child, they have decided to not acknowledge my daughter." Beca said, her voice strained.

"And why is that?"

"You'd have to ask them that."

"What did James look like?"

"How do you mean?" Beca asked.

"Tall, short, brown eyes…"

"He was tallish, five foot ten. He had dark hair, brown eyes, a little stubble to his face. I guess, he was handsome."

"And his family? They all had dark hair too?"

"Yes."

"And your family?"

"I don't really know."

"You don't know what your own family look like?" Oliver asked, surprised.

"Well, I do. I mean, my mom had brown hair like me. I think my dad's was a shade darker but I haven't seen him in twenty years, so I don't recall exactly. Why are you asking me this?"

"I'm wondering about Jessica Amy."

"Why?"

"She's a redhead."

"Yes?" Beca said as she realised where this was going.

"Do you have red hair in your family? It's a recessive gene that can skip generations."

"Not that I know of, but I don't know my dad's side all that well."

"And you didn't think to question why the child you brought home from the hospital had a different colour hair to you?"

"Well, I-" Beca began.

"-Or why, to all intents and purposes, she didn't look like you or James Swanson?"

"I didn't-"

"-A man you claimed to love but failed to see his lack of features in the child?"

"Mrs Mitchem didn't see the difference either!" Beca yelled suddenly. She was sick of being blamed for her not noticing the disparity when Chloe and David hadn't as well.

"Miss Mitchell, I do not appreciate being yelled at." Oliver said firmly.

"I don't appreciate you blaming me for all of this. I've done nothing wrong here. I didn't speak up after bringing my daughter home and noticing her hair colour was different to mine? Well, lock me up and throw away the key! I thought it unusual, yes, but I got busy with life and was trying to keep her safe, fed and happy and I didn't notice her hair changing colour until she was a year old. By this point, she was picking up my mannerism's and copying me, so I guess the thought never really crossed my mind. I didn't know she'd been switched with my biological child until a few months ago and that's when little things began to fall into place. After I found out."

"Miss Mitchell, is it true you have a criminal record?" Oliver said, changing the subject suddenly again.

"Umm, it's…" Beca faltered, surprised by the different style of question. "… not a criminal record, no?"

"Are you able to explain?"

"I had a juvie record. I broke a window at the school, by accident. We all did, there were eight of us there. We were playing with a baseball and a stick and it flew out of our hands." Beca replied, wondering where they had dug that information up from.

"Why did you end up with the record if the others didn't?" Oliver asked.

"I was the only one from the trailer park. My mother didn't show up to pick me up, so I had to be booked in. All the other kids were taking the blame as well, but I got lumbered with the charge."

"Did your mother not show up because she was upset with you?"

"Upset with me? I was eleven. I can't remember if she-"

"-Is it true that day that the school had called your mother about your grades."

"My grades?" Beca asked, shaking her head slightly.

"Yes, that particular day, March ninth, you'd received lower grades than normal."

"I never dropped below a B plus." Beca said, exasperated. "If my mother was upset about me dropping from an A to a B, then that was on her."

"You said your father left. Did he help at all with your upbringing?"

"No, he did not. He left when I was five, as I've already said."

"So, your mother worked hard and provided for you?"

"I provided for myself."

"And how did you do that, as a child?"

"I took the money from my mom's purse and bought food and paid the bills."

"And why was she unable to do that?"

"She wasn't well."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning nothing." Beca said defiantly.

"Did you have everything you needed as a child?"

"No, I did not. But I survived so th-"

"-Did you have enough to eat, plenty of toys, clothes and supplies?"

"I got by."

"Yes or no?"

"No."

"In what way?"

"There wasn't enough to eat. Some days I went without." Beca explained, catching Chloe dab at her face with a tissue out of the corner of her eye. "I didn't have many toys after my dad left as everything had to be sold to pay for rent and food."

"How come?"

"My mother had to sell everything to pay rent."

"And how did that make you feel?"

"Determined."

"Determined?"

"Yes. I knew that I wanted to live a better life when I left home and got a job?"

"And are you?"

"I don't sleep in a mansion and dine at fancy restaurants, but I do okay." Beca said, throwing her veiled insult out into the courtroom. "Jessie hasn't gone without. And I give her all the time I can which is more than my mother-"

"-You said earlier you were welcomed into the Swanson household. What did you mean by that?"

"Mrs Swanson always made me feel welcome as a child, as if I were part of the family. She let me shower at theirs when the water was off at ours-"

"-Off?"

"They would cut off the water if we were late with the bills."

"Right." Oliver said, clearly making the remarks to make Beca uncomfortable. "What else did the Swanson's give you?"

"I ate at their house sometimes. If Hannah… Jesse's sister had some clothes that didn't fit, Mrs Swanson gave them to me. She'd help out with school supplies and bought me a backpack when mine fell apart."

"That was nice of them."

"Mmm hmm."

"Did the Swanson's have a large home?"

"Objection!" John cried out. "What is the point of this questioning?"

"Overruled." Judge Highberger said, looking over the top of his glasses.

"Miss Mitchell?" Oliver pressed, when Beca didn't reply to his question.

"I guess so, yeah."

"You guess so?"

"It was a large home." Beca confirmed.

"Three bedroom?"

"Seven."

"Wow, seven bedrooms. All en suite?"

"Yeah." Beca bit back, knowing that somehow he'd gotten hold of the Swanson's address and found out about their large home.

"Pool?"

"Yes."

"Anything else?"

"They had a stable block with a horse."

"So, it's fair to say that it was an expensive home."

"I'm sure it was."

"And what did the Swanson's do for work?"

"I don't know. He ran a company, but I don't know which one. Something with computers. She worked at a local Church, helping with admin." Beca said.

"And your home?"

"Mine?"

"Yes, what was your home like?"

"Small."

"How small?"

"It was a single berth trailer."

"In good condition?"

"Not really, no."

"How come?"

"It was old, draughty and damp. The bedroom was the worst bit. No working shower and half of the roof was missing so we'd covered it with a tarp." Beca explained.

"And you and your mother slept where?"

"Wherever we dropped."

"You had no bedroom of your own?"

"No."

"And the trailer was on the…" Oliver paused for a moment. "… Riverdale Estate in Atlanta. Is that correct?"

"Yes." Beca said in a small voice. She suddenly realised where this was going.

"The same Riverdale Estate that was demolished six years ago for its kidnapping and underage child molestation ring and drug factory."

"Yes."

"And your trailer was-"

"-My home was not part of that."

"But your mother was an alcoholic and a drug user."

"You asshole!" Beca cried out.

"Request a break for my client-" John called out.

"-Denied." Judge Highberger said. "Miss Mitchell, you will watch your language in my courtroom or you will be held in contempt. Continue Counsellor."

"Your home life was different to the Swanson household, is that correct?"

Beca breathed heavily as Oliver took a couple of steps backwards from her. He clasped his hands in front of him, pleased with the reaction he had gotten from her.

"I've done nothing wrong." Beca spoke out, her pitched tone sounding thin in the courtroom. She heard Chloe stifle a gasp and heard her crying softly but Beca didn't look her way.

"Miss Mitchell, please answer my question."

"I had my baby switched too."

"Miss Mitchell, Counsellor is waiting for an answer." Judge Highberger spoke sharply.

"Could you repeat the question for my client, please?" John spoke out.

"Your home life was different to the Swanson household, is that correct?" Oliver remarked.

"Yes."

"They provided you with items which your family could not afford, yes?"

"Yes."

"And gave you money?"

"Yes."

"And you hated that?" Oliver asked.

"Yes."

"And you were determined, your choice of words from earlier, not to do that with your child?"

"I didn't think I would have a child." Beca said.

"I'll rephrase. You were determined to live a better life than where you grew up?"

"Yes."

"And you were friends with the son of a wealthy family?"

"I didn't know they were wealthy."

"A seven bedroom home with a pool and a horse surely-"

"-Jesse never acted like he came from money. We were just friends. That was all."

"That was all, huh? Nothing like trapping your friend into a baby he didn't want so you could have some money from his wealthy parents to afford you a better lifestyle?"

"Objection!" John yelled out, standing up. "This line of questioning is completely-"

"-Overruled."

"That is not the reason I got pregnant." Beca said quietly.

"No?" Oliver mockingly asked.

"No." Beca sniffed and wiped her sleeve over her nose. "My getting pregnant was a mistake and-"

"-A mistake with a wealthy man, that's convenient-"

"-That's not what happened. Your research is wrong. I loved Jesse. He was my best friend."

"But not enough to date him, get married and start a family."

"No."

"And why is that?"

"Are you really asking me that?" Beca asked incredulously.

"Yes, I am. Why didn't the two of you date if you cared so much about each other?"

"We didn't feel that way about each other, that's why."

"But enough to make a baby one night."

Beca glanced over to John who was looking back, just as helpless as she felt.

"Why did it not become official?" Oliver pushed.

"I don't have to answer that."

"No, you don't. But for the sake of argument, information was given to me that you are in fact a gay woman, a lesbian. You can deny it if you so wish." Oliver said, his mouth twisting.

"My sexuality is irrelevant to this case." Beca baulked.

"Is it though?"

"Of course, it is. Gay women can raise kids just as well as straight women. My daughter… the child I love is-"

"-Do you think being gay is acceptable in the music world?"

"What has that got to do with anything?" Beca asked.

"Is it the trendy thing to do?"

"I… that's not… why are you asking me this?"

"I just wonder what example you are setting a child by bringing home different women each night would-"

"-Excuse you?" Beca snapped, rising to her feet. "I don't bring people home with me, and even if I was in a relationship, my child would still be the most important thing in my life. You wouldn't be asking me these questions if I had a boyfriend or currently was married to a man and I don't understand why this is relevant. You didn't ask if Mrs Mitchem paraded around with her husband in front of the two girls, did you?"

"But that's different. You are gay-"

"-Mr Harris, that's enough! This line of questioning is completely disrespectful to her. Can't you see it's upsetting her?" Chloe uncharacteristically yelled. She looked over towards Beca's lawyer who shrugged his shoulders. "Leave Miss Mitchell-"

"-Objection!" John finally called out. "Assumed facts not in evidence."

"Sustained. Mrs Mitchem, I would like to remind you that shouting in my courtroom is not acceptable. Counsellor, make your point." Judge Highberger said.

"My point, Your Honour, is to establish whether Miss Mitchell, an openly gay woman, knew of Mr Swanson's wealth and became pregnant to gain monetary value from his family for the child. As childhood best friends, I would assume it was apparent that Mr Swanson's family were extremely wealthy, despite Miss Mitchell's reluctance to confirm."

"Counsellor, what has this to do with the case here today?"

"Miss Mitchell mentioned earlier that the conceived child was an unwanted mistake-"

"-That's not what I mean, you asshole, and you know it! She was unintentional and I kept her because I wanted her." Beca called out.

"Miss Mitchell, may I remind you that you are in a court of law and your language needs to reflect your surroundings. I would ask that you retake your seat so we can continue."

"I'm sorry."

"Counsellor, finish up this line of questioning."

"Yes, Your Honour." Oliver smiled back at Beca, his thin lips stretching over his teeth. "Miss Mitchell, may I confirm again that the Swanson's denied their son's parentage to your daughter?"

"That is correct." Beca growled.

"And what happened after that?"

"Nothing. I left Atlanta and began working my way towards Los Angeles." Beca explained.

"Earlier you mentioned that you were determined to live a better life as an adult than your childhood."

"Yes?"

"And how are you able to distinguish living in your car, a thirty year old van, to that of a single berth trailer?"

"That's none of-"

"-Did Jessica Amy live in a car with you at any point?"

"Yes."

"And you felt that was adequate housing for her?"

"No, of course not. But I was doing the best I could." Beca said, gritting her teeth slightly.

"And now?"

"Now we have a safe home."

"A home that isn't currently yours, is that correct?"

"I rent it, yes. Like a million other people do."

"But she doesn't have her own bedroom, just like you didn't as a young child." Oliver remarked.

"It's a safe-"

"-And she sleeps in a closet."

"I'm try-"

"-And is left in the care of your friends while you work… or rather are out of the house, fetching coffee." Oliver sneered.

"Jessie is a happy kid. She-"

"-She deserves so much more than you are able to provide her with."

"Aren't half the kids in America just as deserving?" Beca snapped.

"And you have the ability to give her everything she could possibly want, don't you?"

"Of course I don't but I'm doing my best."

"And you won't allow the Mitchem's to see their biological daughter?"

"I'm not giving her away!" Beca cried out. "She's my kid!"

"But she's not your child though… is she?" Oliver concluded, shaking his head slowly at Beca. "No further questions."

.oOo.


A/N - Next chapter - the verdict :)

Chapter Text

A/N - Hi! A quick thanks to my beta for giving this read through a couple of months ago. I appreciate the time it takes :)

I'd like to thank every single person for their comments, kudo and discussion points. I'm beyond grateful for the support!

So, we are here for the verdict and I'm not going to waffle too much, so here goes!


.oOo. Chapter Fifteen .oOo.

Beca's pitiful sleep did nothing to quell her queasy stomach and she was up before dawn broke, her headphones perched firmly on her head as she lost herself in some work that Colbie Caillat had put her way. She was grateful for the exposure but for the last two weeks had been more grateful for the distraction. It wasn't really the music she wanted to make but knew experience in all and every genre would be beneficial when she had the means to branch out on her own.

Luke had been one of her biggest supporters and she was eternally indebted to him for the kick start. As promised, he'd taken her along to the local gigs and music festivals and she'd gotten plenty of names of unsigned artists looking for freelance work. Luke had recognised that she was distracted in the last few weeks, as the court date had approached. He'd tried to be a friend, the sensible shoulder and the sensitive ear compared to Amy's theatrics. She considered Luke one of her best allies.

Her day and a half in court had constantly been replaying in her mind. She questioned herself continuously about the answers she'd given and if she'd been prepared for Oliver's barrage. John, her own attorney, hadn't gone at Chloe the same way and she felt so let down by him.

She knew she didn't have much to show on paper, but she'd been so disappointed of her portrayal as a bad mother when Jessie was grounded, sociable, clever and friendly. She was everything Beca wanted for her and she worked hard for her, so she didn't have to grow up with the same lack of opportunities as her.

Beca couldn't wrap her head around what was going on. She had been under the impression when the letters from the court had started arriving that the court date had been set to determine the Mitchem's visitation rights to Jessie and for her to have access to Alex. She was struggling with how much she'd let Jesse down; he hadn't even known about his child and here she was, being raised by someone else entirely.

She'd been so overwhelmed by that feeling that she knew she'd not asked as many questions as she should have done about her biological child. In the first couple of minutes of meeting her in the play centre, that cold March day, she'd found herself drawn to her, wanting to reach out and hold her. She easily recalled Alex shrinking away from her, which she did understand. That was her all around, not wanting a stranger to get too close.

She was sitting at the bar stool, nursing a large mug of black coffee when the soft footfalls across the apartment disturbed her troubled mind.

"Mommy?" Jessie said, rubbing at her eyes with one hand as she tightly gripped her bunny around its neck with the other.

"Hey baby." Beca posted a smile on her face and leant down to pick Jessie up, swinging her up onto her hip as she kissed her cheek. "You sleep good?"

Jessie nodded into her shoulder as she wiggled around a little, finding a comfortable spot.

They shared a single bed in the large closet that was their substitute for a bedroom. Beca didn't have much rental choice when she'd taken on the apartment, determined to bring Jessie up in a warm, safe and brick built environment, rather than the leaky and draughty trailer. She compromised space for safety.

The closet was large and housed a dresser and bed. Beca often woke in the morning if she'd not fallen asleep on the sofa to several stuffed animals covering her. She didn't mind, liked having Jessie close by. It was the same when she was living in the van. They helped keep each other warm.

"I sleeped good." Jessie said as she swiped some of her hair from her face.

"Want some breakfast?" Beca asked as Jessie pulled on the thin necklace around Beca's neck and nodded.

Beca had worn the necklace since the day Jessie died. He always had a lot of junk in his pockets, candy wrappers, a funny shaped stone and a couple of receipts. Amongst his belongings that were given back to them from the hospital, Beca had found a pop tab from a can of drink Jesse had had at some point that last day. She had no idea why he'd had it in his jeans, but she'd kept it regardless. She wore it on a long chain that had been his around her neck, and kept it close to her heart.

"Can we has panny cakes Mommy?"

"I'm not sure we have any pancake mix baby?" Beca said, knowing full well that she didn't. "How about Cheerios?"

Jessie thought about it for a moment, wanting pancakes but understanding they only had those on special days. She nodded to the Cheerios and Beca set her back down on the floor and got up from the bar stool to fetch a bowl.

"Banana on top?" Beca asked as she tipped the Cheerios out for Jessie.

"Yes."

"Yes what?" Beca said, pulling on the fridge door to get the milk out.

"Yes pease Mommy."

"That's better." Beca said as she pushed the pink Minnie Mouse bowl that Chloe had sent to them towards Jessie. She tipped some milk onto the cereal and Jessie reached for her spoon and begun to dig in.

"Auntie Amy is coming to look after you today."

"Why?" Jessie asked, watching as Beca began to slice banana over her Cheerios. "You has to work?"

"No, Mommy has to go to court again to see Chloe so we can work out where you are going to be sleeping."

"I sleep here."

"Hopefully you will but it might not be every night."

"No, I stay here."

"You are a little too young to understand Ladybug. I know and I'm sorry it makes no sense to you." Beca said, watching Jessie try to process what Beca was saying. "But hey, we'll work it out that you get to play with your sister and Alex. That'll be fun, won't it?"

"No."

"Oh, it will be. You need some friends."

"No."

"You don't need friends?" Beca said, reaching for her mug.

"No. I gots you."

Beca leant down and kissed the top of Jessie's head, smoothing down the bed hair. She didn't know what to say to that. She didn't know what to say to a lot these days. The past two weeks had been a nightmare and she'd barely heard from her attorney other than to confirm the court date.

The familiar ache in her brain returned as she wondered what the day would bring. She'd give anything to turn back the clock a few months but at the same time, she also wanted to get to know Alex better.

Alex.

Her own child.

Beca knew she loved Alex. It was strange and powerful to feel the rush of feelings Beca got when she met Alex for the first time. It was strange to see Jesse's eyes on someone else and see how the little girls' hands were so similar to her own. Beca recognised so much in the little girl who was, in a way, a complete stranger.

Beca had no idea which way the Judge's decision would go. She'd spent the last few nights, in front of her laptop trying to work, with a large Fireball and Coke in one hand switching between wondering if the judge would grant her permanent custody of Alex and she'd have to give Jessie back to Chloe or things would stay as they were but she'd be allowed to see Alex on a regular basis.

She wanted to get to know Alex better, even build a proper relationship with her but not at the cost of losing Jessie. She hoped it would get resolved soon as her nerves were frayed and she was finding it hard to concentrate.

She rubbed at her temples, feeling the ache begin to build. She'd have to start getting ready to leave in an hour but wondered if she'd have enough time for her and Jessie to run to the park for a quick go on the swings.

She knew she didn't. She just wanted one thing to feel normal.

She checked the time on her phone and watched as Jessie finished the last of her breakfast.

"Finished?" Beca asked with a smile and Jessie nodded, her milk moustache evidence of that. "Shall we go and get dressed?"

Jessie nodded again and slipped down off of the stool, collecting Bunny from the kitchen counter. She picked up her bowl and, with a noisy clatter, dumped it into the sink.

"What do you want to wear today?" Beca asked, peering out of the window to check the weather. Unsurprisingly, it was dry and warm. "Shorts or dress?"

"Dress." Jessie said and Beca rolled her eyes. Jessie always chose a dress and she didn't know why she bothered asking. Beca pulled a purple spotted dress and underwear from the dresser and tossed it onto the bed for her. "We're going to have a race this morning. See who can get ready first. That okay?"

Jessie grinned and gave Beca a thumbs up in response. Beca smiled back, pulled the towel from the back of the door and headed to the bathroom to quickly shower. She undressed and stood under the lukewarm water that did nothing to calm the thoughts racing through her mind. Everything ached as she washed her hair.

Beca began to cry, letting the tears mix with the shampoo run off. She didn't want Jessie to see her upset and took an extra minute to dry her hair in an effort to calm down.

Amy's persistent ringing on the intercom also did nothing to calm Beca's worries.

Buzzing Amy in, Beca quickly gathered up her clothes and headed back to the bathroom to get dressed. She heard the front door shut with gusto as Amy announced her arrival. She heard Jessie squeal in delight.

"Wassup Jennifer!"

"Auntie Amy, dats not my name!"

"Yes, it is!"

"No, it's Jessie!"

"Jessie?" Amy asked. "Are yoos sure?"

"Yes!" Jessie laughed.

"I thought it was Georgina."

"No!"

"Gertrude?"

"No! Jessie!"

"Jasmine?"

"Auntie Amy!" Jessie whined playfully.

"Are yoos sure Amy is my name?"

"Yes! Mommy calls you Amy!"

"What's Mommy's real name?"

"This Mommy is called Beca. The other Mommy is called Chloe." Jessie said and Beca froze in the bathroom. She had explained it to Jessie before but didn't think she'd understood. She quickly finished getting dressed and stepped out to find Amy and Jessie roughhousing it on the sofa.

"Morning Becs!" Amy called out as she tickled Jessie who suddenly let out a very large hiccup.

"She's just had breakfast Amy." Beca warned as she looked around for her shoes.

"Aww, I was gonna take her out for beers for breakfast!" Amy laughed, swooping down on Jessie once more. Jessie was trying to get Amy to stop but couldn't get the words out through her giggles.

"Can you brush her hair while I finish getting ready?"

"Sure." Amy said, letting go of Jessie. "Yoos wanna grab me yoos brush Jolene?"

"Auntie Amy!" Jessie called out as she pulled away from Amy. "It's Jessie!"

"Okay, Joanne."

"Mommy!" Jessie yelled as she headed to the closet to fetch her brush.

"Amy, please… I've got a killer headache." Beca said, bending down to slip her shoes on.

"Yeah, sorry." Amy said, looking up at her properly for the first time. "Yoos okay?"

"No, I'm really not. Last few days have been…" Beca said, unable to finish what she wanted to say.

"Why'd yoos have ta wait two weeks for Judgey to make his decision?" Amy asked as she bent down to retrieve one of Jessie's toys from underneath her foot.

Beca rubbed her temples. She needed quiet so badly and desperately wanted Amy to leave. The noise level in the apartment was unbearable.

"Becaroo?" Amy asked when Beca didn't respond.

"Takes time to process documents through the court. Judge has to retire to consider his verdict. There was a lot of information."

"But yoos were only in court a couple of days."

"That doesn't matter. They pretty much made me out to be a monster. Bad home, crappy low paying job, no money, criminal record, no prospects whilst painting the Princess in gold and glitter. I didn't exactly aspire myself to the judge very well. And the second day, when David was on the stand again, he pretty much sucked all the life and soul out of the room, mocking my lifestyle and making more out of my upbringing."

"Did they put her back on the stand?" Amy asked as Jessie handed her a brush and Amy got to work on the red curls that bounced every time Jessie moved.

"No, just a couple of her friends. One of them was a school friend who had a face like a slapped ass. She backed up everything Chloe said, stressed what a down to earth person she was and how good she was with the kids, how much time she spent with them. A real mother of the year."

"Yoos a great Mom too Beca."

"Yeah, not so much."

"No, really. None of this was yoos fault."

"I know that but it wasn't Chloe's fault either. This whole situation is beyond fuc-" Beca glanced towards Jessie. "-fudged up."

"What I don't understand is she was told she was havin' twinnies, right?" Amy asked.

"That's correct."

"So how come she never questioned two babies that didn't look alike?"

"Honestly, I don't really know. Maybe a doctor explained a mistake or got technical over conception or something. Or maybe they literally just didn't notice. I mean Kate is a red head, exactly like Jessie. Alex has brown hair like Jesse and me. Alexandra was smaller too but doctors would have used all the excuses under the sun to explain why they looked different after an emergency delivery and a stay in NICU and by the time they got the twins home, they'd have already bonded. I wish I knew, it doesn't make sense to me but then again…"

"… what, Beca?"

"How often did I say to you that Jessie was nothing like me or her dad?"

"Yeah, maybe a few times."

"And how didn't I notice that she wasn't mine? We can blame Chloe and David all we like for not noticing the two girls they took home were different but I never once stopped to really question why my kid had red hair and blue eyes when everyone in my family has brown hair and brown eyes."

"I'm not sure yoos could have known."

"Maybe deep down we knew something but ignored it because this situation was so farfetched, it would never have crossed our minds."

"Jessie is still your kid though." Amy said. "Don't worry about what that stupid attorney said to you."

"Thanks Ames." Beca said, rubbing her temples again.

"Yoos okay?"

"I've just got a headache." Beca explained again.

"What time do yoos have to leave?"

"In about ten minutes. Need to leave spare time in case the car doesn't start."

"Yoos can take mine, if you want?"

"You sure?"

"Yeah, course." Amy said, patting her pockets for her keys. "Me and Half Pint are hanging out here anyway."

"Thanks. Would save an additional stress I don't need today."

.oOo.

"Oyez, oyez, oyez… Department One of the Superior Court of the State of California, the Honourable Judge William F Highberger presiding, is now in session. All rise."

Chloe stood up and gripped David's hand as she looked over to Beca's side. As usual, Beca wouldn't meet her eye, choosing to stare steadfastly ahead. Chloe desperately wanted to reach out to her, to see how she was, if she'd been sleeping as badly as she had been the last two weeks. Chloe wanted to hear how her work was going, genuinely interested in her life.

It was hard for her to keep her distance when all she wanted to do was make it right.

She hadn't intended for this to go as far as it did. She hoped the judge's decision would work out the best for all of them. She didn't harbour any ill feelings towards Beca and instead wanted a friendship to be born where they could raise the girls together. She knew it wouldn't be easy, but she was definitely willing to work with whatever the judge deemed as the best scenario. She couldn't live without Jessica any longer. She needed to have her in her life. She knew the little girl would fit into the wonderful world she'd created for the girls in her home and her life.

It felt strange to Chloe, leaving the fate of her little family in the decision of someone she didn't know. She knew the Judge had taken plenty of time to assess the slightly unusual situation and had spoken with the psychologists that had visited their house on a number of occasions.

Looking over at Beca again, Chloe hoped she'd had the same support that she'd felt from her friends and family. She had a sneaking suspicion that she hadn't though.

"Good morning ladies and gentlemen." Judge Highberger spoke out into the courtroom. He laid his folder of papers down on the bench in front of him before looking up. "Everything that goes on in Family Court is confidential. We will take an oath of confidentiality. If everyone will please raise their right hand and repeat after me:"

He waited while the few hands were raised.

"I solemnly swear that I will not divulge, either by words or signs, any information which comes to my knowledge, in the course of this Family Court session, and that I will keep secret all said proceedings, which may be held in my presence. Thank you. Please be seated."

He waited a minute while the court participants took their seats and the usual noise with a group sitting and sorting out papers had subsided.

"We are here today to discuss the parental rights, visitation and custody of Jessica Amy Mitchell, aged three years, eleven months and two weeks and Alexandra Helen Elizabeth Louise Mitchem also aged three years, eleven months and two weeks. What say you on this matter?" Judge Highberger spoke evenly.

"Agreed, Your Honour." Oliver and John spoke together.

"We are also speaking today regarding a compensation matter with Flintstone Hospital and the Children's Hospital of Atlanta. The latter hospital trust will be meeting with the two parties in two weeks, but I have awarded each party one hundred thousand dollars from Flintstone Hospital. Miss Mitchell, yours will be used to pay off your medical debt with the hospital and the difference, if any, will be transferred to you once completed. Mrs Mitchem, yours will be award to an account of your choosing once the matter is settled."

"Thank you, sir." Beca said, looking up long enough to catch the Judge's eye.

"It is the court's decision for Katharine Rose Elizabeth Francine Mitchem to remain in the custody of her biological parents, Chloe Anne Elizabeth Mitchem, nee Beale and David Robert Mitchem of Studio City, Los Angeles, California. Katharine Mitchem will not be sought for visitation rights by Miss Rebeca Mitchell of Los Angeles, California." Judge Highberger spoke softly.

Beca flinched. She had a sudden rush of dread flood her body. She side-eyed Chloe who was clutching at the bottom of her coat as it were a life jacket and she were in the middle of the ocean.

"It is the court's decision for Alexandra Helen Elizabeth Louise Mitchem, the biological daughter of Miss Rebeca Mitchell to remain in her guardian's custody. Mr and Mrs Mitchem will be advised to raise a formal petition to legally adopt the child, as and when they choose. It is this court's decision not to place her in an unfit family and home, where her current needs cannot be met to the same standard. The reports read that the child is settled and happy in her current home."

Beca could feel the tears pooling in her eyes as the judge delivered the kick straight into her gut.

"Miss Mitchell will have visitation rights to Alexandra, and this will be granted at one hour every two weeks at a time to suit Mr and Mrs Mitchem. Miss Mitchell will have an additional hour on her day of birth and at Christmas time, Easter time and during the school holidays when that occurs and at a time to suit Mr and Mrs Mitchem's schedule."

"Your Honour?" John spoke out, raising his hand.

"Yes Counsellor?"

"One hour every two weeks? That hardly seems fair on Miss Mitchell."

"You will have a chance to appeal after the full verdict has been given." Judge Highberger said, glaring over the top of his glasses. "Alexandra is happy and settled in her home with a family who love her. Miss Mitchell has expressed no desire to take Alexandra on full time."

"That's not true!" Beca squealed. "I'd take her in a heartbeat, but I understand the bond she has with Katharine, Chloe and David. I never said I didn't want her, I meant that I wouldn't want her life upset and unsettled."

"And will she live in a closet with you, Miss Mitchell? Your home life does not indicate a suitable level of living for a child. The Mitchems are suited for a third child."

"With my medical debt paid off, I'll get a bigger apartment. It's-"

"-This matter is not up for discussion." Judge Highberger said simply and precisely. "Counsellor, please keep your client under control."

Chloe blinked as the news settled in her brain. She didn't have to give up Alex, the tiny baby she'd loved for nearly four years. She was elated at the decision, pleased with the Judge's decision and happy that, in time, she could show Beca that Alex was happy where she was. She could hear Beca talking with the judge and looked over to her, baulking a little as she saw her face crumble and tears begin to run down her cheeks. Chloe's heart fluttered and then began to thump in her chest. This felt wrong.

David squeezed Chloe's hand.

"Pay attention Chloe." He muttered, leaning forward to sit in her view line of Beca.

Chloe shook herself just as she heard the judge ask John to keep Beca under control. She looked past David and saw Beca gripping onto the table in front of her.

"It is the court's decision that Jessica…"

The blood rushed into Chloe's ears as she waited for the words to be spoken. She hoped and prayed with everything she had she'd be granted more time with her little girl. She needed her close by. She wanted to treat her in all the ways she'd been able to treat Kate and Alex. She'd think of it more as having three daughters, than two. She loved them all equally.

"… Amy Mitchell will…" Judge Highberger continued.

Beca found herself crossing her fingers under the table as her heart thumped mercilessly in her chest. The judge was speaking painfully slowly or else the world had slowed down around her. She was devastated at losing better access to Alex but hoped as the judge had sided with Chloe and David's position on keeping Alex, that she would be granted full custody of Jessie. She recalled the first attempts at sorting out the switch, and how she'd been asked on day one if she wanted to swap the girls back. She couldn't undo the past four years with a simple yes or no and still felt to this day that she'd possibly not have a different answer if asked again.

Beca shook herself and forced herself to focus on the judge.

"… return to her biological parents, Chloe and David Mitchem." Judge Highberger paused as David leapt from his seat, fist bumped the air and gripped Oliver's shoulder in happiness.

Beca blinked once.

"Miss Mitchell will be granted one hour every two weeks visitation rights, have an additional hour on her day of birth and at Christmas time, Easter time and during the school holidays when that occurs and at a time to suit Mr and Mrs Mitchem's schedule." Judge Highberger repeated.

Beca blinked twice.

"Mr and Mrs Mitchem will be granted permission by the court to change the child's name to one of their own choosing if they so desire."

Beca blinked a third time.

"Miss Mitchell, you will be required to bring Jessica Amy to the Mitchem's home in Studio City one week from today. You will be accompanied by a member of the court staff. If you do not comply with this order, you will find yourself charged by the court and I will impose the maximum jail time for noncompliance."

Beca blinked for a fourth time. She was surely hearing things wrong.

"Miss Mitchell is also requested to provide a monthly stipend to cover costs of her biological child's upbringing to the Mitchem's. I have arrived at a figure of five hundred dollars per calendar month. The Mitchem's are welcome to challenge this figure should they see fit."

Beca blinked for a fifth time.

'I've lost everything.' The voice in her head screamed as she found herself struggling for breath.

"Miss Mitchell, if your home and work life improves, you can apply for additional visitation rights through the courts if Mr and Mrs Mitchem agree to this. There are forms for you to sign, before you leave today."

"I'm not signing anything." Beca said, her voice shaky and thin.

"Please speak up." Judge Highberger spoke.

"Your Honour, my client-"John said.

"-should have been prepared for all outcomes, Counsellor."

"How did I lose my child when I did nothing wrong?" Beca cried out, her legs giving way as she sank to the floor. "I've got nothing."

Chloe was in mid hug with David, as Beca spoke and she was looking over his shoulder as she watched Beca's heart shattering into a thousand pieces.

.oOo.


A/N – I know, I know… I received death threats* over doing this, but I swear to each and every one of you that there is a reason for doing this. There's a 'come to Jesus' revelation for one person in the next chapter so please don't give up on me or this story now. You've come this far… just a couple more chapters and the tone will change, I promise!

*Not actual death threats unless you count "I'll come and find you and beat you until you make this story happier" as such!

Chapter Text

A/N - I also post this story on another fanfiction site where I received quite a lot of hurtful comments about this story. This is what I popped on that chapter as my authors note. I thought I'd leave here for completeness and to explain my absence for a few days.

"It is with a heavy heart that I have to write this author's note, not because I don't like speaking with you all but because I have spent the last week and a half defending myself against people who don't like a work of fiction.

I get it, okay?

I get that this story might not be everyone's cuppa tea. I'm not big headed enough to even begin to believe I'm the world's greatest writer, novelist or storyteller. I'm simply a fan of words who empties her head each night of thoughts and stories onto paper as it declutters my mind and helps me sleep better. I try my best to write something people enjoy, and I take critic of my words seriously, if it's constructive and something I can work on.

If you leave me a guest review, and I honestly love any kind of interaction, I cannot respond to you personally. I can't ask you why you dislike me/my story so much. Like I said, I understand that this story isn't for everyone. I'm the same. I begin a story and if it doesn't grab my attention in the first chapter, I put it down to experience and move on. Personally, it wouldn't cross my mind to tell the author that it's not good and I'm going to stop reading because they won't know either way if I read it or not! I just move on.

I can take comments like 'the way you write Amy is the worst' and a helpful remark where some of my formatting made it hard to understand who was saying what in text messages. You've cared enough to let me know how to make the story better and I appreciate that.

I can understand why someone might feel that the story is contrived, and they can't take it seriously anymore. I'm not up for any Pulitzer prizes here! I'm just doing my best to share a story with you all. But I do thank you for taking the extra time out of your day to tell me that you aren't happy. Unfortunately, with a guest review, I cannot ask you how to be better and keep you as a reader.

What I don't understand, and still cannot fathom, is being told 'I'm the worst', or 'I can go and boil my head in a vat of acid' and that it's hoped 'I die of Covid or cancer'. These folks don't know me! Barely anyone knows the journey I've been on in my life (like everyone else in the world) and to come at me like that is something that has baffled me because I've been through cancer treatment and wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. You don't like me or my story... that's fine! I'm a big girl, I'll live! But to fling insults which don't help me be a better storyteller, to me, serves no purpose. I can't improve with what you've said, it just sits in my gut and irks away at my soul.

I'm not someone who only posts the nice/good/helpful reviews. I believe in the freedom of speech probably more than I should and you are, of course, entitled to your opinion of me. I've possibly wronged you in another life and for that, I'm sorry.

I'm so, so, so far from perfect. I make mistakes. Probably each and every day but I learn from them. I try to empower people rather than bring them down. So maybe that's why I'm struggling this week. That or perhaps I boiled my head in a vat of acid for too long?!

I contemplated not finishing publishing this story. But there's another two hundred thousand words to go that have already been written and I hope you'll all hang around long enough to give this story another chance. I've (humbly) received over three hundred mostly positive reviews (here and on AO3) and I am overwhelmed by that, which is the reason I'm continuing. Even if one person needs the closure of this story, then it's worth it... even if that person is me.

I've had some positive PM's this week from people who have given me constructive criticism and honest feedback on where I could do better, what's not working and that's something I can work on and I thank each and every person who has reached out and asked me to continue, and I do include the people who don't like to leave reviews for all to see but have let me know their thoughts in a PM. I appreciate the time it takes to speak with a stranger. I'm not asking for praise and I'm the opposite of an attention seeker but I've appreciated the kind words.

I promise that I don't bite, and I love having a good discussion about storylines, the weather or how my country is now the laughing stock of Europe. PM me anytime and I'll answer as soon as I can. The world will seem a much less bleak place if we all reached out a little more, in my opinion.

This author's note has become almost as long as a chapter, so I'll close for now and leave you with this chapter. You don't have to leave a review and tell me you wished you hadn't read it! There are some truly exceptional works (and authors) out there so if you don't like my story, I implore you to find someone elses.

I thank everyone else for sticking with me. This ride might be bumpy, but I've got snacks and two very cute puppies that adore cuddles!

Thanks, as always, to my beta for giving this chapter the read through.

Take care everyone and stay safe out there xx"


.oOo. Chapter Sixteen .oOo.

Three Days Later

"Chloe?" David called out as he came in from the deck. He'd spent the last couple of hours out there with the girls as they played in the early morning sunshine. He called the girls to him and told them to wash up and go and play in the playroom while he went looking for their Mom.

He listened for the sound of Chloe moving around in the house but couldn't hear her. Thinking she might be on the phone, he casually walked up the stairs, humming to himself, quite content in that moment as he thought about what would be happening in the week and how his daughter would be coming home to live with them.

Entering the master suite, he looked around for his wife and called out her name again.

"Chloe? You in here."

He walked through the bedroom and into the dressing room which separated the bed area and full en suite bathroom. There was a balcony off of the bathroom with two comfortable lounge chairs which overlooked the backyard and pool area. He often found Chloe curled up on one of the chairs, catching the late afternoon sun with a glass of wine and a magazine if the girls were asleep or playing quietly nearby. The area wasn't overlooked and afford her a little privacy from over zealous fans who, after finding out where she lived, loved to wait outside for a glimpse into her life. The insecure feeling of not knowing who or what was waiting for her outside her home was the part of fame that Chloe hated.

Finding the balcony empty, he frowned slightly. Chloe had been acting very odd from the moment they got home from the courthouse a few days ago. David had popped some expensive champagne a few minutes after they'd arrived home but by the time he'd poured the glasses and turned to hand one to Chloe, she was gone from the kitchen. She didn't come out of her bedroom that night and David had fallen asleep on one of the sofas in the lounge, having downed two bottles of champagne by himself and spending hours on the phone calling everyone that knew about the case so they could congratulate him.

Chloe had eventually come downstairs the next morning, ignored his attempts to talk to her and had made the girls breakfast in silence. David was ready to celebrate but Chloe mostly certainly was not. He wanted to tell the girls that their sister would be joining them in a few days, but Chloe had hissed through her teeth at him to keep his thoughts to himself and it wasn't the right time.

The full scale row they'd had that day had been epic and Chloe had called Stacie to come and collect Kate and Alex so they wouldn't be around their parents while they argued.

David didn't understand Chloe's reaction to the news but decided that she must be feeling very overwhelmed with the court results. Aside from playing with the girls and making food for them all, Chloe had had no interaction with him and was spending lots of time upstairs with her own thoughts.

Leaving the master suite behind him, David stood at the top of their stairs of the large family home, looked out of the front window overlooking the driveway and called out her name again. He was getting a little concerned as he knew she'd not left the house and her favoured car was still on the driveway.

"Chloe? Where are you?"

He pulled open the doors to the spare bedrooms, finding them all empty. Chloe's taste in decorating the guest rooms was simple, delicate yet comfortable. She'd themed each room slightly differently, colour coordinating the rooms so they could refer to each one as the 'purple bedroom', the 'musical bedroom' or the 'African bedroom'. Stacie, when she stayed over, used the purple room and stored a few items in the closet, preferring the outlook over the side of the house and the pond she enjoyed so much.

David's brow furrowed as he walked across the landing to the girl's bedroom. Opening the door to the room that Aubrey had tastefully designed as a gift to them both when the girls were born, he was hit with the wall of pink, purple and white that always made his eyes hurt a little.

"There you are." He said, smiling as he found Chloe sitting on Alex's little bed. She didn't react to him coming into the room. "Didn't you hear me calling you?"

"I heard you." Chloe said quietly, replacing the lopsided fabric doll on Alex's bed. Alex had been given the toy from Trent and Helen when she was born and while she didn't favour it during the day, she liked to sleep with it tucked into her neck at night.

"What's wrong with you now?" David said, folding his arms across his chest.

"Nothing." Chloe said, standing up but not meeting his eyes.

"You've been very quiet the last few days."

"I've got a lot on my mind D." She explained simply.

"So have I, but I don't have you to talk about it with because you're avoiding me."

"You don't need to talk to me, you've obviously got a lot to say to Oliver though."

"What do you mean?" David asked, but Chloe shook her head and pushed past him, out of the girl's bedroom. He caught her arm as she turned in the hallway. "Hey, I'm talking to you."

"Get your hands off of me." Chloe growled, her tone meaning business as she looked over her shoulder towards him. David dropped her arm quickly and took a step backwards, surprised at the look on his wife's face. She was usually so carefree, positive and happy that he was not used to seeing worry lines, a downturned mouth and heavy eyes. As he watched her stare him down, he realised he couldn't remember the last time he saw her truly happy; it certainly hadn't been for the last few months, since they'd found out about Jessie.

Chloe headed towards her bedroom and David hesitated at the top of the stairs. He could hear the girls playing downstairs and was torn between checking on them or following Chloe to find out what her problem was. Knowing they'd come to find their parents if there was a problem, he decided to deal with Chloe. Casting his eyes back over the girl's bedroom, he followed Chloe, pushing open the door that she'd quietly closed, as he remembered he needed to ask her something.

"What David, what?" She huffed as she took refuse on the small sofa by the French doors to her balcony at the front of the house. It opened up over the driveway and gave the room so much more light. She occasionally took a morning coffee up there, collecting the early sun before it got too hot. It was also a lovely place to sit out in the evening if the weather was warm as the shelter from the trees that were dotted around the driveway, afforded her plenty of privacy. Chloe pulled a small blanket from the back of the couch and wrapped it around her shoulders, despite the warm Californian morning.

"Are you cold?" David asked as he watched her.

"No."

"Why the-"

"-I don't feel good, so if you don't mind…" She said, partly in way of explanation for her actions and partly to get him to leave her alone.

"I came in to ask if you'd ordered a new bed for Jessica yet."

"No, I haven't." Chloe said, sighting heavily.

"Don't you think you should? Or do you want me to do it? I thought we said we'd get a rollaway bed for when she visited but if she's coming full time, shouldn't we get a proper bed just like Alex and Kate's?"

"Do what you want David."

"We discussed this already, didn't we?"

"We did so I don't know why you want to discuss it… again." Chloe said, rubbing at her temples. "I'll order a new bed tomorrow. I'm not in the mood today, okay?"

"Aren't you happy about Jessica coming to live with us? We also need to talk about changing her name."

Chloe stopped rubbing her temples to look up at him.

"Why would we change her name?" She asked with a slight shake to her head and her forehead creasing under the question.

"We can't keep it as Jessica."

"Why not? You liked the name for one of the twins when we first discussed names four years ago." Chloe said, remembering his choices.

"That was different."

"You can't change her name, it's hers and it's all she knows. Beca gave it to her."

The noise that escaped David's throat was unkind.

"What now?" She asked.

"The only thing Miss Mitchell did for Jessica was-"

"-Don't." Chloe said, putting her hand up to stop him. "Why must you be like this?"

"Like what?"

"She didn't do anything wrong and yet you talk about her like-"

"-Didn't do anything wrong?" David repeated. "She took my daughter from the hospital. She stole my child. She-"

"-And we took hers." Chloe said, closing her eyes at the memory of the day she packed up the two babies and with the help of Trent and Helen, drove them to the lake house to stay until they were strong enough to make the trip back home to the west coast.

"Well, you did." David said bluntly, canting his weight onto his hip.

"Oh, that's right David, blame me. That's nice." Chloe hissed out. "I was the one who didn't notice how different the girls looked because, God Almighty, there was a lot going on at the time. You forget that I had a major operation as well, gave birth in difficult circumstances on my own and dealt with my own care, your care and all the worry that came with the fact that I didn't know if you were going to live for the first couple of days and the stress that Pete's injuries were causing to everyone."

"My surgery was-"

"-Terrible, yes. And yet you recovered well. You aren't stuck in a wheelchair like Pete or unable to have more children like me."

"I get headaches."

"Oh that's right. You are the one person in the world who gets headaches David. Just you. Always… you."

"I had a brain injury."

"No David, you had a slight concussion. It was serious but not a brain injury like you go around telling everyone. Every single brain scan that you've had, which I happily pay for on your behalf as our insurance doesn't cover it, has shown there is nothing wrong with you."

"Well, I passed out in the car."

"So did I David." Chloe breathed out. "I had a concussion as well but I don't go on about it, do I?"

"Well, I… um… no, no you don't."

"I was recovering while you took the children home. I had to deal with my Mom."

"No, David, I was the one who had to constantly update your family because you couldn't deal with the phone calls as you lay in bed sulking, yes sulking, over what happened to you. Two people died that day, and you act like that was nothing. You act like Beca didn't jump into the car to save us all. You act like you were the only one in that car wreck. You act like it was only you who was traumatised by the events that July. Well David, you were the one driving that day. Were you paying due care and attention or were you just showing off to Pete, as you usually do, that our new car had all the latest gimmicks and gadgets? Were you driving too fast? Were you?"

"The guy jumped the red light, he-" David protested.

"-And could you have avoided the situation if you'd paid attention and seen him coming? Maybe, maybe not. But instead, you choose to blame everyone else around you for what happened instead of just accepting that it happened."

"I… guess." David said wincing slightly.

"And while you were enjoying your new found respect for life, or whatever the hell you referred to that period of time when you first got out of the hospital, I was still trying to recover from my own surgery, from my hormones raging all over the place, for trying to feed, change, clothe and raise two tiny fragile babies who needed so much help, on my own with no support from you."

"That's not fair. My Mom helped."

"You are their father David! You should have wanted to help!"

"I was busy recovering and getting better." David said lamely.

"No, I was the one who had to arrange all of your doctor and physio appointments, your therapy appointments and sort out the necessary adaptions to the house for you. I booked all the transports to and from the hospital to home, all the appointments because you didn't time. You once asked me why I didn't do anything about my own health problems at the time, instead of waiting to collapse almost a year later and it was because you became my third, and biggest problem, child David. You were out of plaster in four weeks, had finished your physio about three months and yet you still didn't help out."

"Okay, I accept that." David said, looking down at his feet.

"Did I notice my girls didn't lookalike? Absolutely! That is all my fault. I was with them all day, every day for months and I didn't notice. But you know something David?"

"What?"

"You didn't notice either!" Chloe yelled.

"Well, I-"

"-You didn't change a diaper until they were four months old. Four months David and you moaned about that for weeks. One diaper! Did you notice they were different? No, because you were too busy avoiding helping and instead, you were out having a good time. You didn't cuddle them until I got sick with flu that first Christmas and couldn't do anything. I had to hire someone to help because their own father couldn't be fucking bothered. You were desperate for children and when you got them, you checked out and yet you still paint yourself as father of the year."

"I-" David started to talk but Chloe was on a roll.

"-You talked in court how you were such a good teacher at a prestigious school, but I bet you don't recall when Alex first rolled over or what Kate's first words were?" Chloe breathed hard as she paused for a moment.

David shook his head.

"You said I was a good mother in court-"

"-Well, you are. I've never said you were anything but a great Mom. You do so much with the girls." David said, offering a weak smile.

"And yet you blame me for not noticing the difference. I passed a comment to you that Alex was smaller than Kate, but you dismissed it and when I recently brought up their different hair colouring, you dismissed me and said with my history major, I should know that there can be trace genetics involved."

"I'm sorry." David said simply, as he leaned up against the wall.

"And all you keep doing is blaming Beca in this. She's barely got anything in life, and I admire her so much for what she's achieved. I've… we've had it so easy. I've been lucky and got a break and do a job I absolutely love. It affords me the material things I never thought I'd be lucky enough to have and a safe home I can raise my children in. She's done everything she can to keep Jessie safe and well and loved. She's done more for her than you've done for your daughters and you've got more opportunities in one week than she has in a year. So quit bad mouthing her. I'm sick of hearing you saying unkind things about her."

"Well, you've changed your tune."

"What tune?"

"You were all for the plan for court."

"No, I wasn't, you and Oliver cooked up some dirty questions and laid out all of the bad stuff about Beca. I never agreed to that. I wanted time with Jessie, and I wanted Beca to have time with Alex. We were to arrange schedules for that but you pushed and pushed until you took all my strength away from me. I let it happen but you were the fly in the ointment. You and Oliver-"

"-You didn't stop me."

"You didn't tell me you were into playing games in court!" Chloe hissed. "You 'messing' up one of his questions just so you could get to talk about Notre Dame school was not one of your finest ideas."

"I work hard, I should-"

"-And so does Beca. And thousands of other single parents out there. She works eighteen hours a day… eighteen. And then there is housework, laundry, cooking… and yet she still finds the time to be with Jessie. That little girl is grounded, independent and far more advanced than our daughters D. She spends as much time with Jessie as you do with the girls and yet you find it in your heart to berate her for that."

"You got mad at her not returning your calls and messages as well."

"I was frustrated, yes, but not enough to go to court over. I realise now that I've made a very grave mistake in letting you talk me into this. I shouldn't have let it get this far."

"I say again, why didn't you stop me if you thought I was in the wrong?"

"Because you have a way of manipulating the situation to make it all about you."

"What?" David said incredulously.

"Well, you do." Chloe said, shaking off the thin blanket around her shoulders and cricking her neck. "You went on and on for so long about it that I just needed you to stop so agreeing with you made me have half an hour's peace. Instead of being here with the kids, you would rather spend hours with Oliver in his office or on the phone working out the best way to win."

"It worked though, didn't it? We won!" David exclaimed, annoyed with Chloe's lack of enthusiasm.

"We didn't win anything David. All we have done is to have taken a child away from the life that she's known."

"And we'll be giving her a better one."

"No, we won't. This is where you are wrong."

"I'm never wrong."

"You pompous asshole!" Chloe said, shifting in her seat as she felt her rage begin to boil over.

"So what if I am? I hardly call the life she was living better than the one we can provide for her?"

"She has a parent who adores her, works hard for her, does everything she can for her and lives and breathes just so she can bring her child up in the best way possible."

"What? An hour on the swings and a cupcake once a month is better than-"

"-Yes."

"I don't agree." David said, shaking his head.

"Have I said to you in the past how tired the girls get and how Sunday's are horrible days with them because they are so tired?"

"Well, yeah…"

"And I said to you I think we should cut back on their activities because we were over doing it?"

"You also said that you had appearances to keep up."

"When did I say that?" Chloe asked.

"When you were doing that charity thing last year, for Halloween, for the disadvantaged kids."

Chloe thought for a moment or two as David stood, smugly looking at her.

"I wasn't talking about ballet lessons and Wiggle Workout." She said, remembering some of the conversation. "I was saying that they asked me to be an ambassador for their charity and when you lost your crap because it meant I'd be out of the house for a few nights helping set everything up, I said that I needed to be there, even if it was just as appearance."

"But your social circle. The other actor moms."

"I honestly don't give a crap what most of them think about me. You think I care if they talk about me being my back. I don't attend that many compared to some of them and yes, there are some who are real mothers of the year but most of them are as stressed out as I am."

"And why don't you take me along to these things anymore?"

"You really need to ask me that?"

"Yeah."

"And you really think that's relevant to this conversation? You want to bring up Holly right now? God, you always steer things around back to you."

"Well, for the last couple of months, you've managed to make every conversation about her."

"Jessie is-"

"-No, Beca."

"I haven't."

"Yeah, you have." David scoffed. "It's all Beca this, and Beca that."

"And?"

"And it ridiculous."

"No more ridiculous than you." Chloe said, childishly. "She's in the same boat we are in."

"No, she's not. She's a paper kayak, we're an ocean liner."

"You stupid, arrogant bastard."

"Name calling Chloe, really?"

"Comparing yourself to an ocean liner David, really?" Chloe retorted.

"You were mad at her to begin with."

"Okay, this situation is something none of us could have imagined and I admit that I was in the wrong to think badly of her in the beginning. It was my knee jerk reaction. My life is different to hers, but it's not any better. Jessie is happy, we saw that and Ms Davies even said she was."

"She's our child Chloe."

"And Alex is Beca's."

"No, Alex is ours."

"If that's your logic, then Jessie belongs to Beca."

"No, she's ours as well."

"I didn't give birth to three children D." Chloe said, trying to help him see the logic. She watched as David blinked a couple of times. "However you choose to see this, we didn't deserve to have custody of all three children. I know I said that's what I wanted and until I got to court, it was what I wanted but seeing Beca made me finally understand."

"Then why the hell didn't you say anything. I'd have listened."

Chloe chuckled humourlessly.

"No, you wouldn't. Because it was a competition with you. You just wanted to win. These kids are people, not possessions."

"Are you saying this whole thing is a mistake and you don't want Jessica?"

"No, that's not what I'm saying." Chloe said, her voice gentler now. "I'm saying that you and I are a pair of absolute assholes for taking a child away from the only mother she's known."

"Jessica is our daughter."

"Yes, I know. And I want her in my life. I need her in my life. But she has a Mom in Beca. I am her mother, but I'm not her Mom."

"If we change her name, it would be as if she was no longer Miss Mitchell's daughter." David said lamely. "We could call her something completely different so the association wouldn't be there? We don't have to have all her stuff either. Miss Mitchell can keep that at her house. We'll buy her new clothes and toys."

"So you want a frightened child to move in with strangers and then get rid of everything familiar to her, then change her name to something completely different?" Chloe questioned.

"Yeah, I was thinking of Natalie or maybe Olivia as it was Oliver that got us-"

"-Are you for fucking real?" Chloe asked, shaking her head at him again.

"What?"

"Are you listening to a word I'm saying?"

"Yeah."

"See, I don't think you are." Chloe said, standing up from the sofa and straightening her clothes. She looked at David and slowly shook her head as he stood there staring at her. "I'm going out with the girls for a while. I'll talk to you later."

"We're in the middle of a conversation."

"No, we aren't because I just ended it."

She brushed past him and left her bedroom, walking away quickly from him. She appreciated the fact that he hadn't lost his temper and started shouting and raging as he often did these days, but she still couldn't talk to him about what he considered his victory.

She called out to the girls when she got to the bottom of the stairs and they came quickly from the playroom.

"Mommy!" Kate said, running up to Chloe and throwing her arms around her Mom. Chloe felt a sliver of guilt as she realised that she'd been a little absent from her girls' lives for a few days.

"Hey baby." She said, bending down to place a kiss of the top of Kate's head as Alex hesitantly edged forward. Chloe reached out a hand for her. "Hey Ax."

"Is you and Daddy fighting?" Alex asked, casting big eyes up the stairs as she squeezed Chloe's hand.

"No darling, we're just talking about some things." Chloe explained, bring them both over to the hallway closet. "Now, find some shoes quick, as we're going to go out for a milkshake."

"Milkshake!" Kate yelled, an enormous grin on her face.

"Yes, we've not done that for ages, have we?"

"Nooo!" Alex called out, diving into the closet for a pair of sandals that she knew she could do up herself. She liked to race Kate to get dressed, knowing she was better at getting organised than her sister. She had sorted herself out by the time Chloe had wrestled Kate's feet into a pair of flashing sneakers.

Chloe slipped her feet into a pair of flats and picked up her purse from the hook by the door.

"Ready?" She asked, as she walked towards the front door a few moments later. Both girls nodded at her as they waited for the door to be open. "Last one to the car is a rotten egg!"

The trio raced towards the car as the sound of the front door shutting echoed around their home. Chloe hung back as Miss Competitive, also known as Alex, got to the Chloe's Range Rover first, followed a second or two later by Kate who just wasn't as fast. Chloe found herself wondering, as she gave Alex a high five, if Jessie would like this little game they played.

She helped Alex and Kate into their car seats, wondering if she needed to change her everyday car to something bigger if they needed to squeeze in another car seat. It wasn't until she climbed into the driver's seat that the feeling of desperation came over her again. Taking Jessie meant leaving Beca without anyone, aside from two one hour visits every couple of weeks.

Chloe shook her head to clear her thoughts as she waited for the security gate to roll back. She headed away from the house and towards Ruby's Shake Shop which was a firm favourite with them all. She couldn't stop herself from wondering if Jessie liked milkshakes and if she did, what her favourite flavour was. As she drove down Moorpark Street, she wondered if Beca was able to afford little outings for treats like this. She felt her throat tighten as she couldn't decide if that was a bad thought against Beca or if she was feeling guilty for being able to do this with her girls.

Realising she had more going on in her mind than she first thought, she called Aubrey's number from the car.

"Aubrey Posen."

"Hey Bree, it's Chloe. I'm in the car with Alex and Kate."

"Hi girls!" Aubrey called out and received a chorus of 'hi Auntie Bee Bee's' back from the rear seats. "You okay Clo?"

"Um, yes and no." Chloe said. "D and I had words and I'm just so muddled about everything."

"Understandable. It's been a big week for you both."

"Yeah, yeah, it has. I just wondered if you were free for a little while."

"When?"

"Well, now? The girls and I are just on our way to pick up some milkshakes. Got time to join us?" Chloe asked and heard a soft rustling coming from the car's speakers and she imagined Aubrey was checking her appointment book.

"I can take an early lunch. I'm at the Lakeside Golf Club in Burbank actually, can you meet me there?"

"Yes, we'll be about twenty minutes."

"Great, I'll watch out for you."

"What flavour milkshake?"

"You have to ask?" Aubrey said easily and gave a light chuckle.

"Right." Chloe smiled, slowing down to wait at the lights to turn onto Lankershim Boulevard. "See you soon."

"Bye Chloe. Bye girls." Aubrey said before ending the call slightly abruptly.

Chloe looked to the lights as she listened to the girls excited chatter in the car. She remembered her own childhood days when going out for ice cream or a milkshake was a real treat. She tried not to do it all the time with the girls, not wanting for them to be too spoiled. She scoffed at her own thoughts as she waited for the lights to change. She knew she spoiled them with their current social calendar and David was right, it was partly to keep up with the other mom's. She actually like hanging out with people who weren't in the business or who she considered normal.

'People like Beca.'

She breathed in deeply, ignoring the sharp pain in her gut as she recalled the conversation in court where she'd listed all that she did with the children. She realised just what a conceited snob she must have sounded. She was just trying to let everyone understand that her girls had a wonderful life but as she sat in the traffic that morning, it dawned on her how terrible she must come across to people. She remembered her dear old Mom commenting that the girls never sat still, and they were always so busy, and Chloe had laughed it off but now she understood what her Mom meant; the children didn't know how to be quiet and play by themselves as their entire day was mapped out for them.

She groaned internally as she took a left on Lankershim Boulevard and drove to the shake shack. She'd been coming here for years, before she had the girls. It was close to the Warner Brothers studios and quiet enough that she wasn't bothered by crazy fans. Deciding to navigate the drive thru instead of going into the store, she pulled up behind a car and started rooting round in her purse for her money.

"We not going in Mommy?" Alex asked from the back, snapping her out of her daydream.

"Not today sweet girl." Chloe replied, locking eyes in the rear-view mirror with the little girl. Alex pouted and Chloe remembered she loved to go in as there was an old-fashioned jukebox which she loved to pick a song from. A pang of something ran through her stomach for the second time in just a few minutes as it dawned on Chloe where Alex got her obsession with music from. "Next time, okay?"

Alex nodded and went back to poking Kate with a green crayon that she'd found between the car seats.

"Welcome to Ruby's, may I take your order please?" The crackly voice came through the diner's outdoor speaker.

"Hi!" Chloe said brightly. "Can I please have three chocolate chip cookie dough milkshakes and one vanilla milkshake?"

"No problem. Anything else?"

"Um, a couple of bottles of water and a few napkins would be great as well."

"Sure thing. If you'd like to drive around to the next window. The total will be twenty one eighty six."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. Have a nice day."

Chloe pulled up to the next window and fished her bank card out of her wallet. She pulled a set of oversized sunglasses out of her purse and quickly put them on, not wanting to deal with a dozen questions as she picked up her drinks. The window opened after a few moments and a young girl of about fifteen smiled in the direction of the car.

"Hi, that will be twenty one dollars, eighty six please."

"Thanks." Chloe said, gesturing to the card in her hand. "Can you round it up to twenty five please?"

"Yeah, thanks." The girl said sweetly, holding out the card machine for Chloe to tap. As she checked the screen at her register, she did a short double take at the name that appeared on her screen before glancing up at Chloe with the look that she knew all too well. Chloe tucked her head and put her card back in her purse, fiddling around in an effort not to make eye contact.

"Sorry, excuse me, are you Chloe Beale the actress?" The girl asked and Chloe took a deep breath before turning on her charm.

"I am." She smiled kindly.

"I am such a fan of yours! I know I shouldn't ask…" She squealed excitedly and Chloe thought 'then don't ask' as the girl continued to wave her hands about enthusiastically. "… but can I have an autograph?"

"Sure." Chloe said, turning on her megawatt smile as the server looked for a pen. She thrust a napkin and a Sharpie towards the car window and reached for her phone to take a picture of Chloe as she did so. "What's your name?"

"Lana." She said, half leaning out of the server window so she could take a selfie with Chloe.

"Okay, here you go." Chloe said, handing back the napkin and pen.

"You are such a great person!" Lana said, snatching back the napkin from Chloe's outstretched hand. "Are your twins in the car?"

"Umm, yeah."

"Can I say hi to them?"

"We're actually just on our way to meet someone..." Chloe trailed off as Lana just continued to look hopefully at her. "… If we can just get our drinks please."

"Oh yeah sure." Lana said, ducking back inside and collecting a drink holder with the milkshakes and a small paper bag with the water and napkins. "Sorry."

"It's okay. You have a great day." Chloe said, still with the fake smile plastered on. She reached for her drinks.

"And you. You're great!"

Chloe nodded her thanks as she set the drinks down on the passenger seat. She rolled up the window in an effort to get away a little faster and gave the server a quick wave goodbye as she pulled away from the drive thru window and onto Lankershim Boulevard, heading towards the golf club to meet Aubrey. She didn't mind interacting with her fans and people who recognised her but today, she had too much on her mind.

She knew it took a lot of courage for some people to come and talk to her and she wished instead of just asking for an autograph or shoving a camera in her face, they'd ask her questions so she could ask some back. Sometimes she did just want to hear about a cashier's day or how the mail man's vacation went. She was a person deep down and as she drove to meet Aubrey, it hit her hard that she'd not afforded Beca the same courtesy. She realised that all she'd done was to push her about meeting up, getting anything on Jessie rather than let Beca breathe and ask the questions when she was ready.

Her time with Beca in the NICU, when she was a complete unknown to her new friend, was one of her most favourite times of the past few years, despite the trauma her family were dealing with at the time. It had been Beca that had talked about the weather, music, food and anything else that wasn't personal. She groaned a little as she pulled into the golf club's parking lot, declining the valet parking and parking in a vacant spot near to the broad trees that would afford a little shade as she realised she'd been a complete moron.

She waved at Aubrey who was waiting under the canopy porch at the main entrance and Aubrey began to walk over.

"Auntie Bee Bee!" Kate said enthusiastically, pointing with a chubby finger as Aubrey approached the car. Chloe opened the car door and smiled at her friend who gave her a small frown as the two embraced and Chloe kissed her cheek.

"You look terrible." Aubrey said bluntly, before turning and waving at the two girls in the back of the car.

"Gee, thanks." Chloe muttered, rubbing her hands over her face as she remembered she hadn't brushed her hair in about three days and hadn't worn any make up for about the same time.

"I'll get the girls if you want to find a spot to sit." Aubrey said, nodding towards a couple of benches just out of the shade along the wall of the property.

Chloe nodded before she leant back into the car, snatched up her purse and the drinks and shut the car door with her foot. She walked over towards the picnic benches, smiling to herself as she glanced back and saw Kate grab hold of Aubrey's perfectly starched, crisp white shirt with a hand that was covered in green crayon. She saw Aubrey bristle a little as she noticed it herself, but she was in the middle of a conversation with Kate about the importance of seatbelts which Aubrey was blinking rapidly along with, trying to take in Kate's excited gabble.

Aubrey quickly shooed Kate over towards Chloe and tracked around the car to get Alex out of her car seat. She held Alex a little longer than normal before setting her down on the ground and pointing her in the direction of Chloe and Kate. Aubrey didn't want Alex to think she loved her any less. She wasn't sure how she was going to manage to love another child, despite it being another of Chloe's children. She didn't think it was possible to love another as much as she adored Chloe's girls.

"Bad day?" Aubrey said, joining them at the bench a few seconds later, having replaced her frown with her usually stoic expression.

"Tough week." Chloe said, over the girl's heads. She handed Aubrey a chocolate milkshake and straw, before unwrapping a straw and jamming it into the top of another chocolate milkshake for Kate. She did the same with Alex's vanilla milkshake before taking a seat with her drink.

"It's weird that a kid doesn't like chocolate." Aubrey said quietly, referring to Alex, as the two girls chattered excitedly about whose milkshake was better.

"Alex isn't a chocolate fan at all, not like the rest of us. No idea where she… gets that… from." Chloe said, tears immediately pooling in her eyes as she recalled the conversation about Beca not liking chocolate.

"Hey…" Aubrey said, concerned for her friend's sudden change of mood.

"Sorry, I keep doing this lately. Everything is just getting to me."

"Surely this should be a happy time. Everything will come together now."

"I wish I felt that way." Chloe said, wiping her teary cheek on her shoulder.

"What's changed?" Aubrey asked.

"I don't know. I guess a big dose of reality. Take the milkshake for example. A couple of months ago, we had no idea why Alex didn't like chocolate. Then boom, we find out Beca doesn't like chocolate."

"That's still weird to me." Aubrey said, trying to give a little humour.

"I know but there's so much about Alex we don't know yet."

"Same can be said for Kate."

"I guess, but I understand Kate better."

"And you'll need to learn all of Jessie's quirks too." Aubrey said kindly.

"Hmm." Chloe said noncommittedly. She brushed some hair out of her face and wouldn't look Aubrey in the eye. Something her friend picked up on immediately.

"Chloe?"

"David's acting like we won the lottery. He's only seeing this as a victory for us and not once has he stopped to think about Beca in all of this. She's ended up with nothing."

"But you knew that was a strong possibility." Aubrey said, keeping her voice low so the girls wouldn't hear. "There was a chance you had to give Alex back but let's face it Chloe, she was in no position from the start to fight against the type of lawyer you have."

"Why didn't you tell me this sooner?"

"What good would it have done? You've both been so wrapped up in your own world trying to come to terms with all of this, anything I said was like water off of a duck's back."

"I said the same thing to David, but I thought I was on the outside of it. I wasn't, was I?"

"I think you went along with a lot of David's thoughts, even though you had no obligation to." Aubrey said, setting her drink down. "His control over you, this sense of power he feels he needs to have, you allow him to still do that to you. And now, here we are, and it sounds like you've changed your mind."

"I feel we've made a terrible mistake." Chloe admitted.

"How?"

"Please understand. I want Jessie in my life more than anything. I didn't realise I was missing a piece of the puzzle until the day I met her, and it was like all the pieces of my life suddenly fit. I imagine Beca felt the same when she met Alex. You should have seen Beca's face when she held Alex. It was… it was… pure contentment."

"Well, that's something I can't imagine." Aubrey said honestly.

"I was so focussed on seeing Jessie again that I got myself and Beca overwhelmed with meeting up. It became an obsession to call her and message her. I didn't once stop to think how she was coping with it all or think about how busy she was with work."

"You said she works long hours."

"I think it's about eighteen hours a day. And I don't think that includes travel time between jobs. She spends as much time with Jessie as she can, so she probably only gets a couple of hours sleep a night. How does she cope?"

"She copes, because she has to."

"I thought so too. It's so obvious now that everything she did, all those hours, wasn't so they could live a high profile life… she was working to give the kid a decent home and a hot meal and a few toys. I didn't give her space to adjust to this whole situation. I mean, I've got you to talk to, and David, in a way but I get the impression she's a pretty closed book. I didn't allow her a chance to ask questions, or to see if she was overwhelmed with me being famous. And I realise that makes me sound big headed and it's all I can think about over the last few days. I wasn't born into luxury, I had a lucky break and even now, if I didn't work for the rest of my life, I'd survive on what I've got in the bank.

"She's-" Aubrey began.

"-She lived in her car!" Chloe exclaimed, making the girls look up. She smiled down at them before running her hands over her face. "She works harder than me and does more for Jessie because she gives her everything. And okay, her friend looks after Jessie while she works sometimes, but I've got people who work for me and organise my life, so I've got time with my girls."

Aubrey sat patiently waiting for Chloe to stop rambling.

"And when David was talking earlier about changing her name as soon as she moved in, not letting her bring any of her belongings or toys with her and making her have a fresh start, it hit me like a tonne of bricks that this was a frightened little girl we're dealing with. Before, she'd almost just been a name on a document, but I realised just what a culture shock it's going to be to take her away from her Mom." Chloe babbled.

"She's your daughter Chloe. You gave birth to her."

"I know, Bree. It's so hard to explain. It's like… I guess…" Chloe sighed and took a long pull on her straw as she collected her thoughts for a few seconds. "… My love for Alex is so strong, it physically hurts me. She's so precious to me. I love everything about her. Yet, it's as if that is all a lie to the outside world now. It's like I was wrong for loving her."

"Bold statement." Aubrey said simply.

"I should have known, shouldn't I?"

"We've been over this a dozen times. There's no way you could have known. If your love for Kate and Alex was no different, then there's no way you could have imagined something like this happening."

"And all I keep thinking about, as David keeps on and on about how we won, is that Beca has nothing. She's done nothing wrong and yet she's lost."

"Your petition was strong. That was always going to be the way. On paper, you and David are ideal parents. She, unfortunately, cannot keep the same standard."

"No, she's like every other hardworking family out there."

"Granted, your lifestyle is rare, but you work hard for-"

"-I work less than four months a year. She works every day. It doesn't seem fair."

"Chloe, you're losing the point of your story. You can't be getting all misty eyed about Beca now. What's done is done. The judge's decision was final, and I know there's an appeal but from what you've said, she doesn't have the mean to support a second court date." Aubrey said, matter of factly.

Chloe nodded sadly as she reached for a napkin from the bag she'd brought from the car and handed it to Alex to wipe her mouth, smiling sweetly to the little girl.

"I've been such a…" Chloe glanced over towards the girls before she continued. "… b-i-t-c-h about this whole thing. The way I handled the initial meeting, the CPS team, in the court room… I've hurt so many people in my own pursuit of happiness."

"But that's not usually how you are."

"I know. I try to do the best by people. But my instincts just took over. And I understand that Beca's silence was her instincts taking over. I pushed and pushed and then pushed some more. Beca was the opposite, she went insular, almost into hibernation, to protect her family."

Aubrey nodded along, finally understand what Chloe was getting at.

"Why does David want to change her name?" Aubrey asked, as she recalled some of the conversation they'd just had.

"Because he has to have full control over everything, as always, I guess. I like her name; it suits her, and it meant something to Beca to name her those names. If Alex had gone to her, I'd have been upset to know her name had been changed to something different."

"It does seem odd. If I remember rightly, Beca named her after her best friend. How does she feel about her bio kid not having that name?"

"I don't know, we didn't talk about it."

Aubrey nodded slowly and checked the time on her watch.

"I've got to get back in a minute. Are you going to be okay?"

"Yes, thanks. I just needed to get out of my head for a bit."

"No problem, sorry I couldn't be any more help to you." Aubrey said, reaching out and patting Chloe's arm in a rare display of affection from the blonde.

"Busy afternoon?" Chloe asked, as she swung her leg over the picnic bench and began gathering up the finished cups.

"Just a few last minute details. There's a big function on which I was asked to set up by the James Corporation. I was supposed to be attending with Bentley."

"Supposed to be?" Chloe questioned as she uncapped one of the bottles of water, dampened a few napkins and attempted to wipe off Kate's chocolate beard. "Everything okay between you two?"

"Chloe, we broke up last month."

"What?" Chloe's squealed, her head snapping upright making Alex jump in her seat. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I did. We had a long conversation about it. You sent me a basket of cookies the next day."

"I don't remember doing that. Oh God, Bree, I'm so sorry. I've not asked…"

"It's okay Chloe. We've parted as friends and that's the most I can hope for. He asked me to attend this evening, but I don't think it's a good idea."

"But you've been together for so long."

"Almost three years." Aubrey said, standing up and looking at the stain on her shirt sleeve. "You were correct when you said we weren't right for each other."

"I didn't mean-"

"-Oh, I know. But we rarely found time for each other and when we did, one of us always working. He's still running for Congress and I felt it was better to let him go so he can enter into his campaign without any bad press."

"I'm still sorry."

"I know." Aubrey said easily. "I know you've had a lot on your plate."

"No excuse. I should have been there for you. Come round for dinner and a glass of wine? This week is a little busy with Jessie arriving but soon, okay?"

"When does she come?"

"Friday."

"Let me know how it goes?"

"Of course."

"I'd best go." Aubrey said, looking towards the golf club.

"Girls, say goodbye to Auntie Bee Bee. She's got to go back to work but she'll come to the house soon to see you."

Aubrey crouched down to give the little girls warm hugs and kisses, trying not to cringe at the sticky faces messing up her flawless make up.

"Bye Auntie!" Alex said, as she fell into Aubrey's lap, causing her Godmother to rock a little on her heels.

"Bye Auntie Bee Bee." Kate said, throwing her arms around Aubrey's neck. "Love you."

"I love you too. Both of you." Aubrey said, giving them one last kiss.

"Come on, let's go home and find Daddy." Chloe said, collecting up her bags and beginning to walk over towards her car.

"Call me later, if you want to talk." Aubrey said, as she began to head across the parking lot. Chloe nodded at her retreating figure.

"Have a good afternoon." Chloe said, her attention turning back to the girls. She'd finished buckling Kate into her car seat when she looked back in Aubrey's direction, chuckling a little as she watched Aubrey furiously swiping at her shirt with a napkin in an attempt to get rid of the green stain. "You settled Miss Kate?"

"Yup Mommy!"

"Alex, your turn." Chloe said, walking around the back of her car. "Let's get you buckled in and get home. Mommy suddenly has a lot of phone calls to make this afternoon."

.oOo.

Chapter Text

A/N - Sorry for the delay in posting to those who've been waiting. Been a crazy week. I've split this next chapter into two as it was just too long (I keep adding to the story and I shouldn't!). I'll post the next part in a couple of days and get back to posting twice a week. I much prefer a schedule!

Thank you everyone for your reads, reviews and comments. It truly does mean a lot to a writer when you get feedback and support.

Thank you to my beta for the read through.


.oOo. Chapter Seventeen .oOo.

"Good afternoon, Harris-Ginsberg, Mr Harris's office, Dominque speaking, how may I help you or direct your call today?"

"Hi, can I speak to Oliver Harris please?" Chloe said, as she placed a call as soon as she'd gotten everyone settled at home after their outing to Ruby's Shake Shack and to see Aubrey. She'd found a note from David informing her that he'd gone out for afternoon and probably wouldn't be home until the morning and Chloe thought she knew where he'd be from the lack of detail. She crumpled the note tightly in her hand before dropping it into the trash and ushering the girls into the playroom, texting Stacie at the same time to see if she was free for a couple of hours to come and play with the girls while she made some calls.

She set them up with a slightly later than usual lunch and the promise of a popsicle if they stayed in there until Stacie came over. Chloe found the stack of court papers easily enough as they were still on the kitchen counter, her usual interest in keeping everything organised had waned since Judge Highberger had given his verdict just three days before. She read through the papers, blanched slightly at the rulings once more, before picking up the phone and calling her lawyers.

"I'll see if he is available." Dominque said politely. "Whom may I say is calling please?"

"It's Chloe Mitchem-Beale. Case number four seven-"

"-That's okay Mrs Mitchem, we have your files to hand. I'll just check Mr Harris's office, if you are okay to hold please?"

"That's fine, thank you." Chloe replied, hoping her voice didn't sound as shaky as she feared it did. She heard elevator style music for a couple of minutes as she drummed her fingers on the kitchen counter before moving to take a seat on one of the kitchen stools.

Usually she liked to stand for any sort of confrontational matters so that she didn't get side tracked but today, she just didn't have the energy to stay on her feet. She heard the front gate begin to roll back and checked her security camera to make sure it was only Stacie, settling back down on the seat knowing Stacie would let herself in and go and see to Kate and Alex, understanding Chloe's brief messages about important phone calls.

"Mrs Mitchem?" Dominque cut into Chloe's daydream. Chloe quite liked the girl that worked as her lawyer's office manager. While not his personal secretary or legal assistant, Dominque was up to date with the cases and was usually extremely helpful in assisting with small pieces of information or confirming dates and times of appointments.

"Yes?"

"Mr Harris is unavailable this afternoon. He is free next Monday-"

"-If you would like to tell Mr Harris that he is about to lose me as a client, I am sure he can free up some time for me."

"Um…" Dominique began, making Chloe smirk. She never heard her say 'um' before.

"I'll wait." Chloe said, reaching for her pen and beginning to doodle on the corner of a dogeared envelope.

"He's not available, as he's out of the office." Dominique explained, causing Chloe's nose to twitch.

"Can you put me though to his cell?"

"Mrs Mitchem… he's out with… he's with your husband this afternoon, discussing the other matter."

"Oh." Chloe said, her eyebrows raising. She collected herself quickly. "Is Francis Delvecchio available?"

"I can check with his secretary. Are you okay to hold please?"

"Yes, of course." Chloe said, leaning to the side and giving Stacie a short wave from the kitchen as her friend quietly closed the front door.

"Mrs Mitchem, thank you for holding." Dominque said after a short wait.

"No problem."

"Mr Delvecchio will return your call in just a few minutes. He is just with a client at the moment. Would you prefer your home number or your cell?"

"My cell would be fine, thank you. Thanks for your help Dominque."

"You are welcome, Mrs Mitchem. Thank you for calling today."

Chloe ended the call and cricked her neck, annoyed that she seemed to be losing a little bit of the gumption she'd developed on her drive home earlier. Gathering up her papers, she slipped them back into the cardboard folder and wondered if it was too early to pour herself a glass of wine, deciding quickly that it wasn't and set to work on opening up the fridge to see what was available. She was just replacing the bottle back on the rack when her cell phone rang.

"Hello?"

"Mrs Mitchem? It's Frank Delvecchio. Good afternoon to you." The crisp, honed accent from Oliver Harris's boss belittled a warm, grandfatherly gentlemen who often played Santa Claus at his grandchildren's school.

"Thank you for calling me back so soon, Mr Delvecchio." Chloe said, settling her glass of wine down on her kitchen counter.

"Please call me Frank."

"Frank."

"How may I help you today? I hear the court case was a wonderful success for your family and I am sure you must be very pleased with the outcome."

"That is what I am calling you about, actually. I'm afraid there has been a huge mistake."

"A mistake?" Frank said, his voice rising a little.

"Yes. I need to make a complaint about the way my case was handled, and especially about Oliver Harris's conduct."

"I'm terribly sorry but I'm not following Mrs Mitchem."

"This is partly my fault as I allowed myself to get carried away with David's thoughts but the little plan that he cooked up with Oliver was beyond compression. I don't understand how they both thought that no one else was going to get hurt by their actions. By my actions too, as I have to take the blame for this as well." Chloe babbled. "And the way he went at her in court, I mean, it was atrocious and unforgiveable. She's a human being, a mother and a great person and didn't deserve this. I don't want to take the child away from her over this. I'm not paying the bill until this is settled."

"Mrs Mitchem, I think you'd better start from the beginning." Frank said, his voice neither sounding frustrating or as if he were trying to rush her.

Chloe spent the next twenty minutes oversharing her thoughts and feelings, her misgivings and struggles with the way that the court case was handled, the judge's verdict and what a terrible person she'd become over the last few months.

"It's just not me, Frank. I've never treated a human being like that before, let alone the mother of one of my children. Gosh, that sounds so weird to say it like that but it's how it is. I've acted appallingly but that's not an excuse and I have to make this right." She said, her voice beginning to break with emotion.

"What do you need me to do for you here Mrs Mitchem?" Frank asked carefully.

"How do I go about undoing the judge's ruling?"

"In simple terms, it cannot be undone. The ruling is final. All paperwork has been signed by all parties."

"There must be something?"

"Miss Mitchell can appeal the verdict and it's likely to take six months for the appeal to go through. It isn't as simple as just changing your mind, I'm afraid."

"There's no cooling off period?"

Frank Delvecchio gave a low chuckle.

"I'm afraid not. Your husband specifically asked not to have that in the contract as he, and I quote, said 'I know that Chloe will change her mind', and he wanted to save you the heartache of-"

"-This isn't about me anymore. This is about Beca and Jessie and Alex. I'd not stopped to consider them as people before now."

"Unfortunately, you cannot appeal a court's decision simply because you don't like it or have a change of heart. There has to be a valid reason for you to appeal… and I'm not sure a judge will hear a plea against a case that went your way. Some people launch appeals because they are just mad at the decision or at the other side, but an appeal is taken seriously and the court can punish people who frivolously file a lawsuit, for example, one that isn't based on a valid reason. Winning an appeal is very hard, as it must be proved that the original judge made a legal mistake. It can't be an ethical mistake or a change of heart, there has to be something legally immoral." Frank explained.

"Thank you for the explanation but I have to make this better."

"I can have Oliver Harris run through some options with you."

"No, not him." Chloe said bluntly. "I don't want any more dealings with him. I don't know who is worse, my husband or my lawyer. Is there another attorney available?"

"None that match Oliver's status. He deals primarily with our Hollywood high profile family law cases."

"Would you take me on as a client Mr Delvecchio?" Chloe asked, turning on a little of her charm. "I feel very comfortable speaking with you."

"I… I would have to speak to Mr Harris senior; Oliver is his son, and I would rather not… interfere in their family matters without speaking to Richard first. I would be able to take you and your husband on if-"

"-It would just be me, Mr Delvecchio. David can stay with Mr Harris."

"I am sure we can work something out Mrs Mitchem." Frank said easily. "I believe with the current situation with your husband, we might be able to appeal on what is known as a de novo review. It goes before an appellate court and they don't defer to any decisions made in the court. It isn't a new trail, for want of a better word. The appellate court will base its review on the evidence in the record from the original court review."

"Okay…" Chloe said, scribbling a few notes down. "… and if that doesn't work?"

"You could potentially file a request for Miss Mitchell to adopt Jessica permanently, instead of yourself, with a look at a private, shared custody order. Or if you felt it was better to do the adoption for Alexandra, we can arrange for that to happen. Either way, it is not going to be easy and the fees-"

"-I'm not worried about the money; I just need to make this right. When Beca… Miss Mitchell, brings Jessie over on Friday, I'll try and talk to her then. Maybe we can work something out. Or maybe I should just talk to her beforehand, so she doesn't have to move her around and disrupt the child?" Chloe suggested.

"If you don't take Jessica on Friday, you could be held in contempt of a court ruling. And believe me when I say that we would have no control over the media on this matter. We are able to limit the outflow through our own channels but for something like that, it would be impossible as you will have, in essence, broken the law."

"Okay, I understand. I sincerely thank you for your time."

"You are welcome Mrs Mitchem. I will ask my secretary, Jane, to follow this up with you and arrange a time for you to come to the offices."

"That's perfect. Thank you again."

"Enjoy the rest of your day." Frank said kindly.

"And you, bye."

.oOo.

David came home the next morning and found Chloe out by the pool with Alex and Kate. The area by the steps was littered with colourful pool noodles that Alex was using to poke Kate in the butt. Kate was yelling and squealing at Alex to stop but it was doing little to dissuade the little brunette. Chloe watched the two of them play, as she sat cross legged on the edge. She had been awake for most of the night, the afternoon of phone calls having taken their toll on her.

After speaking with Frank Delvecchio, Chloe had called the lawyers at her studio for any additional advice, as well as contacting a child psychologist and Legal Aid. Although Mr Delvecchio was quite correct, she wanted to see if there was anything else for her to consider. She knew she could get this sorted out, but it was just going to take time and money to put right. Every time Chloe closed her eyes, she saw Beca's face as the final verdict sunk in and the way she collapsed to the floor with no one around to catch her.

"Hi." David said quietly.

"Hi."

"So, I got a call from Oliver."

"Hmm mmm." Chloe replied, non-committedly, knowing her husband was lying.

"He said you don't want him working with you anymore."

"That's right."

"Can I ask why?"

Chloe turned to look up at him.

"Do you really need to ask me that question?"

"I guess not." David said gently.

"Please don't play me for a fool. I know you met up with him yesterday."

"Did Lauren call you?"

"No. Just…" Chloe sighed and watched as David crouched down beside her, knowing his question didn't really warrant an answer. "… I need you to stop lying to me, okay?"

"Okay."

"I know our marriage fell apart years ago and we tried to hold it together for the sake of the kids, and it worked… for a while. But you never used to lie to me."

"Yeah, I know." David said so softly that Chloe almost missed what he said. She looked over towards the girls for a couple of minutes while David fiddled with his hands.

"Can I ask you a question?"

"Sure."

"Why do you never talk to the girls when you come home?" Chloe asked.

"What do you mean?"

"You always say hello to me, or yell something obscene if you're in a mood, but you never address the girls directly anymore?"

"I do."

"If you do, then why aren't they out of the pool wrapping their wet little bodies around you in delight at you being home?"

David scratched his cheek for a second or two and looked over to where the girls were playing. For a moment, Chloe saw the old David in the look he gave the two girls. It was the same look he used to give to her when they were dating in college.

"You've been so obsessed with winning the court case with Beca, that you've completely lost sight of what you have here at home." Chloe continued. "As I said to you yesterday."

"You may be right." David said, settling himself down next to Chloe. Her eyes widened a little at his simple sentence. "I've not lost sight of what I have here, but I've been preoccupied. I guess I felt everything was out of my control. I was shocked and, as you know, I don't handle change very well."

"But you stopped talking to me too."

"I know. I know I did." David said, picking up a small stick from the side of the pool. "I'm sorry."

Chloe let those words hang in the air for a while as she tried to remember the last time that they'd spoken this calmly to each other. It meant a lot to her to hear David apologise.

"What's changed with you since we spoke yesterday?" Chloe asked, keeping an eye on the girls as they started to see how far they could throw the pool noodles into the water.

"Everything."

"Like what?" Chloe asked.

"Like Holly's pregnant."

"What?" Chloe said weakly as she blinked rapidly against the news. Holly wasn't the surprise, but she hadn't been expected David's news.

"Yeah, eleven weeks."

"Your girlfriend is pregnant?" Chloe felt her cheeks flush as she squeaked out the words.

"Yeah."

Chloe looked up to the sky for a moment, trying to take in David's news. She'd known about David's girlfriend for a while now and it wasn't a secret between them. Chloe had accepted that their marriage was over years before, just after the girls were born. Holly's name was rarely mentioned, and the last Chloe remembered David saying anything about her was just after Valentine's Day when she came over to watch the girls while they took a trip to the police station. Chloe closed her eyes against the threatening tears and took a deep breath.

"Are you happy?" She asked.

"I mean, yeah." He said, looking over to her. "It wasn't planned."

Chloe chewed on her lip for a minute or two, willing herself not to cry. She wasn't completely shocked by David's news, there had been plenty of warning signs as hard as she tried to deny it, although the painful truth was hard to hear.

"I think… for me… I can have all the kids I want." David said flippantly and ignored Chloe's sharp intake of breath. "I guess, I never considered the women's side of it before. It's different for you. I told Holly about the court case, don't worry she won't say anything, and she asked me about Beca and Jessica. I guess it finally fell into place a little that if Beca is gay, then she may not get another chance at having a kid unless there's a process involved. I can start another family, but you and she might not be able to."

"Wow!" Chloe exclaimed.

"Crap, that came out wrong." David winced at the exasperation on Chloe's face. " Sorry. I just mean that when Holly told me yesterday and I could just hear you saying, 'these kids are people, not possessions' and you were right, I had taken everything for granted."

"Took you long enough, you sack of shit." Chloe said, punching his arm lightly.

"So, I hear you want to appeal." David said, poking at the grass with his broken twig. "Against your own decision."

"Your decision. And yes, I feel it's the right thing to do."

"Why did you let it go this far?"

"I think I've been trying to fix something that was so beyond broken that I let myself get swept up with what you wanted, in order to keep the peace. But I'm not attributing it all to you anymore, I'm as much to blame in this mess. I broke someone's heart and it's up to me to fix it. I didn't let Beca's feelings come into this or give her a chance to come to terms with it all."

"And what if I don't agree to this?" David said.

"If you don't agree to this David, there is nothing in the future for you. You continue to ride my shirt tails like it's nothing, but I'm not putting up with it any longer. You have given me dozens of ultimatums over the last few months and now it's my turn. I don't know how to make it work yet, I'm still trying to figure that all out but if you don't consent and agree to finding a better way for us to work this out, then I'll take you to court and prevent you from seeing any of the girls. There's enough photographic evidence of what you've done to me over the years that you'll not have a leg to stand on once I've finished with you. I'm not doing this anymore David. Especially if Holly is pregnant. You'll need to move out, find somewhere else to live other than the pool house."

"I know. We're going to get a place near to the school. We might qualify for teacher housing."

"And you know you'll not get a penny from me in alimony." Chloe said, her voice thick. "I was prepared to give you money to leave but a baby changes everything D. Your timing really, really, really sucks."

"Money never meant anything to you before. You always called it our money."

"But it does now. And the reason it does now is because it meant more to you than the girls, me, your family."

David nodded slowly, accepting he couldn't win that argument.

"I'm appointing Frank to be my lawyer and I'll have him draw up a new set of divorce papers. Are you going to contest anything?" Chloe asked him.

David looked over towards the swimming pool for a couple of minutes as an early morning breeze rippled the water.

"The house is yours." He said simply. "I want the girls to grow up in a place I know so it would be good to picture them here."

"Okay." Chloe nodded. "You are keeping your car?"

"If that's okay with you?"

"It's fine. I'll transfer the note over to you."

"I'll take some of the furniture, so we've got some stuff for our new place."

"What are you thinking of taking?"

"The stuff from the pool house. Bed, sofa, kitchen stuff and my recliner in the lounge."

"And…" Chloe sighed. "… money?"

"No, I think you were right. I got used to the good life and forgot where I came from. I don't want to take anything."

"What made you remember?"

"I think the baby news hit me hard." David said wistfully.

"It would be nice if you remembered your daughters in that sentiment too." Chloe said, though not unkindly. "Just promise me you won't screw up your next family."

"I'll try not to." He said. "I still love you."

"And part of me will always love you." Chloe said calmly. "I don't want to end up hating you though, so we need to make it this right for all three girls and for Beca."

David nodded slowly.

"Okay, okay. I want to make this right. I still want access to Jessica, and I want to see Kate and Alex."

"An hour every two weeks good enough for you?" Chloe asked.

"No way, that's not enough for…" David trailed off, finally understanding the situation in its entirety.

"Frank Delvecchio said we still need to take Jessie on Friday or we risk being held in contempt. And I've set up some appointments for the week so I can get this sorted. I just need Beca to listen to what I have to say and hope that she'll eventually understand that we need to work together properly. When she brings Jessie on Friday, I'll talk to her then and I just hope she'll hear me out."

"And if she won't listen?" David asked but all Chloe could do was shrug her shoulders.

.oOo.

Chapter Text

A/N - Here we go, mid week update as promised. Thanks to my beta for the read through. And thanks to everyone who is still reading along. I appreciate each and every single review, read and PM. I'm really glad this story has got under the skin for a few people.

Stay safe everyone x


.oOo. Chapter Eighteen .oOo.

Friday

message from luke.b, to becky.m – 07.41 – Thinking of you today. I have no words to offer as comfort only that I'm so proud of you for all that you've done for Jessie. She's a true testament to you as a person. I know you have to hand her over to the Mitchem's today and I'm so terribly sorry that this had to happen like this and can only hope, in the future, that she finds a way to keep in touch forever. I'm here, if you need anything. Luke x
message from luke.b, to becky.m – 08.16 – Amy's messaged me, but I told her to leave you alone today. Didn't think you needed that. Am here, when you are ready. Luke x
message from luke.b, to becky.m – 12.05 – Can't concentrate until I know you're okay. It's me, a one word response will be enough. Luke x
message from luke.b, to becky.m – 16.09 – You okay mate? Luke x
message from luke.b, to becky.m – 18.52 – If you need some company, I'm just going to pick up some food. I can come by your place if you need me? Luke x
message from luke.b, to becky.m – 20.45 – Come over any time. Door is open, beer is cold, shoulder is ready. Luke x
message from luke.b, to becky.m – 23.18 – I'm sorry you're hurting. You aren't alone and please, I beg you, don't disappear on me. Luke x
message from luke.b, to becky.m – 11.59 – I'm staying up, going to work for a bit if you just want to come over and lose yourself in the music. No need to talk. Luke x

Saturday

message from beca.m, to luke.b – 04.18 – J's gone. They came and took her from me. 2nd Jess I've lost thru no fault of my own. Fuck this shit. I'm taking Mon off, k?
message from luke.b, to becky.m – 04.26 – Can't imagine what you're going through. I love you mate and wish that were enough. Fine for Monday but keep in touch. Luke x
message from beca.m, to luke.b – 05.39 – Might come by later
message from luke.b, to becky.m – 10.58 – I'm home all weekend. Luke x

Sunday

message from luke.b, to becky.m – 13.20 – I've made too much food for lunch. Want to come and share so we can talk? Luke x
message from luke.b, to becky.m – 18.36 – Amy's messaged. She's been to your apartment a couple of times over the weekend and can't get hold of you and you're not answering your phone. Just drop me a message and let me know you're still breathing. Luke x
message from beca.m, to luke.b – 23.44 – druuunck
message from luke.b, to becky.m – 23.46 – Okay, go sleep it off. See you Tuesday. Love you, Luke x

Tuesday

message from luke.b, to becky.m – 10.25 – Are you still coming into work today? Luke x
message from luke.b, to becky.m – 11.01 – If you are, can you bring Starbucks? Luke x

Luke had just placed his phone on the desk when it began to ring and the sound of a tinny, but upbeat, God Save The Queen theme tune echoed around his studio. He glanced down to see who was calling, noting it was a withheld number and decided to ignore it.

He turned to concentrate on his laptop screen, wondering if Beca was going to show up that morning or if he was going to have to go around to his brother's apartment and knock on the door until she answered. He had a spare key but was reluctant to use it unless he felt Beca was in true danger.

He was just getting engrossed in a demo recording of a new group he was hoping to assign to Beca when he heard God Save The Queen again. Frowning, he glanced down at this phone to see the same withheld number message. Ignoring it for the second time, he returned to the screen only for it to immediately ring once again.

"Luke Bryant." He said, a little hastily into the phone as soon as he'd snatched it up, deciding to answer it to tell the caller to go away.

"Is that Mr Lucas James Bryant?"

"Yes. Speaking." Luke said, wondering who was middle naming him.

"This is Officer Rosenberg with Hollywood Community Police Department, a division of the Los Angeles Police Department. Do you know a Miss Rebeca Mitchell?"

"Yes, she's my friend." Luke gulped, grimacing against the feeling it was bad news he was about to be told.

"Miss Mitchell has to be released into the custody of a responsible adult and, although it took a while, she has eventually given us your name."

"Um, released? I'm sorry, I'm not following."

"Are you able to come down to the station this morning with some identification for both you and Miss Mitchell?" Officer Rosenberg asked.

"Is Beca all right?"

"Sir, if you'd like to come down to the station, we'll be able to fill in the paperwork and look to get your friend released into your custody. We're at one three fifty eight north Wilcox Avenue in Hollywood."

"I will, but can you please tell me if my friend is all right?" Luke spoke evenly.

"She is now. We found her in the early hours of Monday morning. She was extremely intoxicated and agitated and threw a stone ornament from Folkers Park through the window of a disused music shop."

"What's her booking status?" Luke asked.

"Miss Mitchell is not going to be arraigned before a judge at present, although her unwillingness to comply should suggest otherwise. I understand there have been some family matters that may be affecting her at this-"

"-Yes, she's just lost her child. I've been trying to get hold of her for days, but she's not responded to me. I'm sorry that she has caused some damage to property. Is there a penalty to pay for this?"

"Miss Mitchell will be required to pay for the broken window, and she may be subpoenaed to court if the fine is not paid with two weeks."

"I understand." Luke said. "Are you able to take a payment at the station?"

"Sir?"

"If I pay for the fine today, will that clear her name?"

"It's not for us to decide that Mr Bryant. Her docket will be picked up by the courts next week. Although…" Officer Rosenberg lowered his voice slightly. "… I am sure it would look better for Miss Mitchell if the fine were to be paid promptly if the matter is passed to the courts."

"Okay, thank you." Luke said, sensing a bribe style arrangement.

"Are you able to come down here today?"

"Yes, I'm on my way. Please tell Beca I'm on my way. Thank you, Officer Rosenberg." Luke said, ending the call rather abruptly. He picked up his wallet, sunglasses and his half-eaten breakfast bar and headed out of his office, mentally planning the best way to get to Beca's apartment to get some identification for her.

'What have you done?' He thought to himself as he decided an Uber, whilst not the cheapest option, would certainly be the quickest if the traffic was forgiving.

The Uber was just pulling up as he stepped out into the bright sunshine and he pushed his sunglasses onto his face as he waved to get the driver's attention, hoping he wasn't going to be a chatty driver as he suddenly wasn't in the mood for small talk.

message from luke.b, to amy.h – 11.24 – Morning Amy, have you heard from Beca today? Luke
message from amy.h, to britboy – 11.26 – Not since Thursday last week. Whaddup?
message from luke.b, to amy.h – 11.27 – I'm just about to go and pick her up but just wondered if you'd spoken with her. I'll catch up with you later. Luke
message from amy.h, to britboy – 11.28 – Cool bananas.

Luke arrived at Beca's apartment just after mid-day and used his spare key to go inside. Immediately, he was hit with a wall of chaos which he'd never seen before in any aspect of Beca's life. Her car was always kept clean, there wasn't even a tissue left in one of the cup holders. Her workstation was always meticulously tidy and orderly and usually Beca and Jessie kept the apartment extremely uncluttered; they didn't have a lot of belongings anyway and Beca had always attributed her time in the van to keeping anywhere she lived in order. Normally, everything was neat as a pin and very clean and today… today was the complete opposite.

"Oh Beca…" Luke murmured, as he moved a trail of clothes, paperwork and more than one used bath towel to the side so he could walk into the main room. He saw piles of Jessie's clothes and toys leaning haphazardly against the walls and on the kitchen counter. He heard a dripping coming from the small kitchen area and peered around the corner hesitantly to see the refrigerator door was wide open.

Blanching, he pulled up the neckline of his tee shirt and covered his nose as he saw the now rotting food dripping onto the tiled floor, each splash sending out a tiny puff of stench as it hit the mouldy puddle.

"Oh God." Luke's stomach clenched. He looked around the room, suddenly afraid of what he might find next. The closet door was open, and the bed was neatly made and almost looked out of place in the messy room. Every cupboard door was open, every drawer was laying haphazardly on the floor and everything was scattered about the room.

Knowing he had a job to do, Luke made his way over to the small bureau that usually housed most of their clothes and all their important paperwork. He felt a little guilty as he pulled the top drawer fully open and rooted around for something to use to identify Beca. He soon found a packet of documents and quickly realised that Beca had been through it recently as all of Jessie's documents were missing.

Closing the drawer again, he grasped that in the last few days, Beca's life had turned to absolute mush. He winced as it hit him that she'd just given up and he mentally kicked himself for not getting over to see her sooner. As his eyes swept the room, he saw her small purse wedged into the back of the sofa and quickly walked over to pick it up, opening and scanning the contents, noting her wallet and cell phone were still in there.

Taking in the rest of the room and the clutter that was scattered everywhere and he shook his head sadly. She'd been suffering and he'd not really noticed just how badly. She usually had such a tough exterior that he'd forgotten that, underneath, she was terrified. He saw a couple of Jessie's hand drawn pictures placed neatly on the rickety end table and he felt a wave of emotion flood over him. He knew he needed to bail his friend out, in more ways than one.

Arriving at the police station almost an hour later, Luke asked for Officer Rosenberg and dealt with the necessary security and identification checks before enquiring about how to pay Beca's fine. He knew if she heard him offer to pay for it, she'd only protest, and he decided it would be easier to deal with her wrath at him stepping up to do that rather than spend two hours of back and forth arguing where one of them would usually end up red in the face. He had just placed his credit card back in his wallet when he caught sight of Officer Rosenberg, out of the corner of his eye, opening the door and indicating a small figure to go through.

"Beca?" Luke asked, barely recognising his friend as she walked painfully slowly towards him. She looked like she hadn't slept in days and she was beyond filthy.

"Hi." Beca said in the quietest voice Luke had ever heard.

"Can I take her home?" Luke quickly asked the nearest police officer who nodded his head towards one of his colleagues. He could see she was about to fall apart.

"Can I help you sir?" One of the desk sergeants asked.

"Yes please. Am I able to take my friend home?"

"You can." The sergeant said easily. "Are you willing to supervise her for twenty-four hours?"

"Of course."

"Please sign here."

Luke untwirled the pen that was attached to the front desk and signed the document that was placed in front of him. He handed the form back to the desk sergeant.

"Has she been charged with anything?" He asked.

"No. She's lucky she got off with a caution and the fine for breaking the window."

"I've got to pay for that." Beca said quietly, pulling her sleeves down over her hands. Luke saw that her knuckles were bloody.

"I've taken care of that." Luke said bluntly and held up his hand when Beca opened her mouth to say something. "No, you do not get to comment on that."

Beca blinked at him a couple of times.

"Are we free to leave?" Luke asked again.

"Yes sir." The officer nodded towards them both.

Luke reached out his hand and gently took Beca's arm. She flinched slightly as he began to pull her away towards the door to the Police Station. He didn't speak again until they were outside and that was only to quietly ask if she was all right. She nodded but didn't say anything. Unsure of what to do next, Luke called an Uber and was thankful there was one only two blocks away that arrived a couple of minutes later.

They didn't speak the entire ride home and Luke tipped the driver handsomely for not trying to force small talk. It was obviously, even to a stranger, that the pair were in no mood to talk.

Luke walked ahead of Beca, who followed her friend a couple of paces behind. They climbed the stairs in silence, the only sound was the rhythmic clonk of Beca's boots on the concrete steps that lead to her apartment.

Luke unlocked the door and pushed it open, flinching slightly at the smell that hit them as they entered the small space. He kicked the door shut with his foot.

"Thanks for bailing me out." Beca said, shrugging her shoulders slightly as she dug her hands in her pocket, wincing as the rough material snagged her sore knuckles.

"It's okay."

"I'll pay you back. As soon as I get some cash, I'll pay you back."

"Beca, just stop…" Luke put his hands up. "… not everything is about money. You don't have to pay everything back in a rush or at all. Just… take some time here. You've been through a lot."

"I've lost her." Beca said, her eyes immediately filling with tears. "They took her from me."

"I know." Luke said, pulling her into his arms and letting her cry on his shoulder for what seemed like eternity. "Want to tell me about it?"

Beca shook her head as she pulled away from him and sniffed.

"Not right now." She whispered, her voice raspy. She looked around at the state of the apartment as Luke watched her take it all in. He didn't say anything as her eyes narrowed as they swept over the piles of Jessie's things. She settled back into Luke's chest.

"May I suggest you take a bath?" He said after a minute or two.

"Huh?"

"A bath. I think you need one." He said.

"I mean, I guess…"

"And I'll order us some food and we can just hang out."

"There's some crackers in the-"

"-I think you need a bit more than a few crackers Beca."

"It's fine. I'm not hungry." Beca said and Luke could tell she was lying.

"You can't live like this Beca." He said, gently pushing her away from his chest so he could look at her.

"Like what?"

Luke simply nodded his head towards the main living area.

"I let the housework go a little." She stated lamely.

"A little?" Luke chuckled.

"For four years, I've had a reason to live smart, to keep a clean and orderly home, be it brick or on four wheels. What's the point now?" She said, her voice thick. "What's the point of any of this? No one is going to care if the laundry is done or if I make my bed or I've got food in or paid the bills. And what's the point of one hour every two weeks Luke? That's not enough. It's just going to confuse them more so it's probably best I just don't go."

"The point now is that you don't want to make Jessie feel guilty, or Alex for that matter."

"Huh?"

"Jessie had to leave, and you fall apart. How do you think either one of them is going to feel in ten, fifteen year's time, when they are old enough to make their own decisions and you've not bothered to turn up to one appointment with them and you live in a shit pit?"

"Luke, I-"

"-And you gave up bathing, and combing your hair because 'what's the point?'"

"I-"

"-And don't even get me started on the refrigerator!" He said, his voice rising slightly. "I looked earlier when I first got here, there's some unfriendly things in there and the door was wide open, so it's all gone off. And there's nothing in the cupboards for you to live on. I knew things were tight Beca, but you have to start taking better care of yourself."

"Why?"

"Because of everything."

"They took everything from me." Beca snapped, suddenly angry.

"Then damn well fight to get it back." Luke argued, matching Beca's tone. "We've lost her too. Amy and me. I know it's nothing compared to what you are going through but you have to fight for her."

"I don't have the energy right now."

"Okay, maybe not this minute but tomorrow, when you've had a hot meal, a good night's sleep and we've talked some more, you'll feel more positive. We'll discuss setting up an appeal and how we go about that.

"I don't have the money to-"

"-Not everything is about you having money Beca."

"Says you who has some!" Beca spat out.

"That's what you choose to think. I didn't have the easiest of starts, was never able to put down roots anywhere as we always travelled around so much. We always had to sell everything, get rid of toys we weren't ready to part with because we were moving six thousand miles away and the military wouldn't pay the shipping costs. I made a decision, despite not having much, to look after what I have. I save as much as I can because I also know what it's like to have nothing too."

"Is that why you don't talk about your family much? Except your brother?"

"No, I do talk about them, just not very much. I'm one of eight children Beca. Eight boys to be precise. I had it luckier than you, I know that, but I had to fight for attention from my parents. They are good people, just very busy and it doesn't sit well with me that Jessie and Alex are going to have to fight for you because you've given up on them before they were ready."

"I've not given up."

"Oh really?" Luke laughed. "Look, I love you... God, I love you. You're my best friend but bloody hell Beca, look at the state of this place."

Beca looked around the apartment again.

"I'm sorry." She said, her chin hitting her chest. "I've messed up. My head… I'm not in a good place."

"No need to apologise. Just stop worrying about how to pay for everything. I've got some money put aside and we can launch an appeal to get better access or if we can speak with the Mitchem's and see if they can be reasonable."

"I don't want to see them… her and David."

"I know you hate them right now, but you're going to have to find a way to work together. It's not going to be easy, but you also don't have to do this alone. I'm here, I've always been here." Luke said kindly, gently rubbing his hands up and down Beca's arms.

"Thank you."

"Go and bathe and when you are ready, we'll talk. Okay?"

"Okay." Beca nodded gently. She blinked slowly and Luke could see she was beyond exhausted.

"When did you last sleep? I mean, properly sleep."

Beca shrugged her shoulders and sighed heavily.

"Probably before the court case. I've caught some sleep but… not much." She started to yawn, as if to prove her point.

Luke didn't offer any comment to that, noting quickly that he needed to take charge as Beca really was incapable to making any decisions in that moment. He left her standing in the hallway and pushed open the bathroom door, pleased that there was nothing too scary hiding behind the door. He pulled open the bathroom cabinet, found a bottle of bubble bath and quickly began to fill the bath, liberally tipping in the contents of the mango and passionfruit concoction he vaguely remembered Amy buying for Beca's birthday the year before.

He saw her small frame come into the doorway as he swished his hand about in the water, frothing up the bubbles. Standing, he rooted around in the cupboard for a clean towel, noting that most of them were quite threadbare. He laid out the best one he could find on the toilet seat.

"Take your time." He said, as he pushed past her, closing the door behind him. "I'll just get you some clean clothes."

.oOo.

It was just starting to get dark by the time Beca emerged from the bathroom, looking calmer and a lot cleaner than she had done when she'd first gotten home. Luke had knocked quietly a couple of times to check she was okay, and she'd splashed the water to let him know she was still alive. She'd refilled the tub with hot water at least twice and couldn't recall the last time she'd spent so much time underwater. Not growing up with a bathtub meant that she still felt this was an absolutely luxury.

Luke had been busy while she'd been contemplating her life surrounded by fruity bubbles. He'd cleaned the kitchen, tidied the lounge and changed the small bed area. Realising she had less food than he'd first thought, he'd taken a trip to the local grocery store and bought her a few times to see her through the next couple of weeks. He'd cleaned the fridge mess, mopped the floors and straightened everything he could. He'd even found time to hurry down to the laundry room in the basement and had done two loads of laundry and put it away in what he hoped was the best place.

He was just closing the blinds to the outside world when he heard Beca switch off the bathroom light and step into the hallway.

"Whoa…" She said, immediately noticing the difference in her apartment.

"Come here, and I'll dry your hair for you." Luke said, holding out his hand to Beca, not really wanting to mention the work he'd done. "I changed the bedsheets while you were bathing. I could only find a Fancy Nancy duvet cover, but it is clean. I've ordered Chinese food; it'll be here in about half an hour."

"Luke, I don't know what to say." Beca said, reaching out for his hand before she lifted the lid on the small linen hamper that was tucked just behind the closet door and dumped her clothes inside. She smiled at the whimsical duvet cover that she'd gotten Jessie for Christmas. Jessie loved Fancy Nancy as, like the little girl herself, she also loved Paris, poodles, tutus and shoes.

"You don't need to say anything." He said kindly, pulling her over towards the couch. Beca settled on the small rug in front of the sofa and leant against Luke's legs as he sat down.

Luke gently rubbed Beca's hair with her towel until it was almost dry. Without being prompted, and because he could see her eyes were starting to droop, he dipped his hand into her purse and pulled out a hairbrush and began to detangle the large knots from Beca's hair. She leaned into his touch and as he moved to do the side of her head, she rested her head on his knee.

"Luke?"

"Yes?"

"Sometimes, I wish I wasn't gay."

"Why?"

"You'd be my perfect partner." She said simply and he watched as a single tear tracked itself halfway down her nose before noiselessly splashing onto the carpet below.

"I wish that too sometimes. We'd be good together."

"You don't take my shit."

"And you don't take mine." Luke smiled.

"I'd probably even put a wedding dress for you. We'd probably spend our days surrounded by music."

"Is that a bad thing?"

"We'd probably have a nice house with a yard."

"And room over the garage for Amy?"

"Yeah. Maybe a kid together."

"Maybe." Luke said.

"I've dreamt sometimes that you were Jessie's dad… Alex's dad."

"Beca…"

"Just be so much easier. I might not have lost her."

"You haven't lost her. We just have to work on Plan B."

Beca nodded slowly.

"I probably wouldn't have gotten arrested either."

"I have to say…" Luke muttered. "… not one of your finest moments. Amy…, I'd have expected it but not you. What happened?"

"I couldn't handle being in here. The walls were closing in. I went out for a walk, to clear my head. Bought some alcohol, I don't even remember what, but it was cheap, and it gave me gut ache."

"Serves you right."

"Yeah, I know. Anyway, I headed out to get more because I'm an asshole like that and walked down by Folkers Park and there's a small set of shops. I used to take Jessie down there sometimes as there's a pet shop and she liked to look through the window. There was a music shop next door which I used to go in sometimes. They were pretty cool if I needed to pawn my decks for a weekend, while I waited for my money to clear. Well, the shop's gone, closed up. Big sign in the window saying they'd gone out of business. But right next to the sign was a movie poster with her ladyship on there. And I just saw red. Literally."

"And you felt better for doing it?"

"Yeah."

"Really?"

"For a minute." Beca said meekly. "Someone called the Police on me and I just wanted to give up at that point."

"You can't give up now Beca. You've been everything for that little girl, and there's Alex and you need to get to know her too. I know it seems bleak at the moment, but I have a feeling that things will work out."

"I wish I had your faith."

"You've got to find the strength from somewhere Beca. You didn't give up after Jesse died. And your girls are still here, just… away at the moment."

"I'm not giving up."

"It sounds like you are."

"I'm just a sore loser." Beca smirked slightly and in that moment, Luke saw a twinkle in her eye that he hadn't seen for a long time.

"You can always call Chloe. You've got her number. I'm sure she would let you talk to the girls and she'll send pictures."

"I don't want to talk to him."

"You don't have to. You've never seen eye to eye with David so just leave him out of it. You've always seemed to get on better with Chloe."

"Used to. She stole my kid. A weak friendship can't survive something like that."

"You're going to have to find a way to make it work because you are connected with them now."

"Only for one hour every two weeks."

"If you keep up that attitude, then you're not going to get anywhere."

"They saw me as weak. In the court room, I mean. They saw me as-"

"-Okay, stop." Luke said, pushing her off of his knees. "Snap out of it Beca. No wonder you lost Jessie with this attitude."

"Luke!" Beca cried out.

"No. I don't care. You gave up before you started."

"How could I not?" Beca wailed. "She's a superstar and he's-"

"-She's a mother. Like you. She tried to organise time together."

"So you're saying this is my fault?"

"Yes."

"Thanks for the support Luke. I think you'd better leave."

"You can't kick me out."

"I think I just did."

"You can't kick me out for being right." Luke said sternly. "You buried your head in the sand and ignored them. This could have been avoided if you'd pulled your head out of your arse and communicated. But no, the wall went up. Just like it did after Jesse died. I tried to find you. I lost my best friend too that night, but you just disappeared. And I could have done with your support, as well as you needing mine. And you ignored everything around you. We could have helped each other. And Chloe could have helped you and you could have helped her. But instead, you ignored them. And then act surprised that it came to this."

"I think you are wrong!"

"And that's okay."

"Luke, get out!"

"No. You aren't going to push me away, like you've pushed everything in your life away."

"I've got nothing left to push away!" Beca yelled.

"Well, thanks a lot Beca." Luke glared. " You've got a real friend in me, but if I'm not even worth fighting for, no wonder you don't want to fight for your kid."

"That's not fair!"

"Look, the world doesn't owe you any favours, okay? You had a shit childhood. Get over it. You had a rough time of it after losing Jesse. Get over it. You're pissed off because the court case didn't go your way. Get. Over. It."

"You can't talk-"

"-Stand up and be that feisty, no bullshit girl that Jesse loved beyond words. Be the tiger bear mama I've always known you to be when it comes to Jessie. Fucking grow a pair Becky!"

"Did you just call me Becky?" Beca's face twisted into a smirk.

"That's what you got from that entire conversation?"

"Pretty much." Beca said, leaning back into Luke's knees again. She was quiet for a long time, thinking of what Luke had said. The sound of her door buzzer interrupted her thoughts and Luke eased himself off of the sofa.

"That'll be dinner." He said, walking quickly over to the front door to let the delivery driver in.

Beca stood up at the same time and headed to the kitchen to find some plates for their food. Luke had given her a lot of think about it. She was just setting the plates, cutlery and napkins on the large packing crate that served as her coffee table when Luke came in with a large box.

"Dinner is served." He announced, as he set it down to the right of the plates.

"Drink?" Beca asked, walking backwards to the small kitchenette area.

"Hmm, please. What have you got?"

"Water."

"Water's great." Luke smiled and watched as she reached up for the tumblers from the high cupboard, her shirt rode up, exposing her lower back and hip. "What's the tattoo for?"

"Which one?" Beca said, spinning her head around as she filled two glasses.

"The one on your hip. Why? How many do you have?"

"Eight."

"Oh." Luke said, and began unpacking the food, serving some onto the plates and handing one to Beca.

"Yeah, and Jesse paid for most of them! But the one on my hip is a car crash… literally."

"That's… um… an odd choice."

"Well…" Beca said, coming closer to him with their drinks. "… the car crash that changed my life. It was the day my daughter was born. It was the day I helped save a life. It was the day I met… it was a big day."

"Beca, I've got to ask you something?" Luke said a few moments later.

"Sure."

"Did you like Chloe? Before the whole baby swap thing came to light."

"How do you mean?"

"I dunno, you just get this funny look on your face whenever her name is mentioned. I thought it was nerves to start with, but I think she means something to you."

"Well, yeah, we went through something together."

"Something more than that."

Beca's face pinked up a little as she dismissed his words.

"Well, you've got nothing to worry about now. I feel nothing towards her now." Beca admitted. "And I doubt I'll feel anything towards anyone every again the way I feel right now."

"Hey, you'll find someone, when the time is right."

"Maybe." Beca whispered before changing the subject. "I thought of some lyrics of a song for Jessie while I was in the tub."

"Yeah?"

"Just a few notes that were going round my head from earlier in the police station and I thought of a verse and a chorus while I was in the tub."

"Sing them for me?"

"I don't sing dude."

"Liar. I hear you often at work and you know I think you've got a lovely tone. What's the song about?"

"You remember how much Jessie liked my voice?"

"Yes, of course."

"I guess it was about that. And I thought maybe I could record it for her and then she could play it, so she doesn't forget me."

"She's not going to forget you. Because you are going to see her. But you are never going to get Jessie back if you go around throwing garden ornaments though shop windows, you know that, don't you?"

"Yeah, yeah I know." Beca said, uncomfortably. She was regretting her actions and she was hearing what Luke had to say about everything.

"Sing me a little bit of your song." Luke repeated.

"Luke, I-"

"-Please."

Beca sighed and laid down her fork.

"Okay, but don't laugh. This is really rough. And I'm not having a good day."

I hope the days come easy and the moments pass slow
And each road leads you where you want to go
And if you're faced with the choice and you have to choose
I hope you choose the one that means the most to you
And if one door opens to another door closed
I hope you keep on walkin' 'til you find the window
If it's cold outside, show the world the warmth of your smile
But more than anything, more than anything

My wish for you
Is that this life becomes all that you want it to
Your dreams stay big, your worries stay small
You never need to carry more than you can hold
And while you're out there gettin' where you're gettin' to
I hope you know somebody loves you
And wants the same things too
Yeah, this is my wish

"My Wish" – Rascal Flatts

"Beca, that's beautiful. If you can come up with something like that on a bad day, what the hell will you come up with on a good one. You need to be writing music, not just producing it."

"Yeah, well, I'll remember that when I put in my order for my big break."

"It'll happen."

"I know and I'm grateful for what I've got with my career now. I'm just tired and cranky."

"It's okay."

"Would you mind staying over tonight?" Beca asked, looking hopeful.

"Of course not."

"It's just been a rough few days."

"You don't need to explain." Luke said. "I understand you haven't been sleeping all that well."

"I signed Jessica away like it was nothing." Beca said.

"You can't think like that. You had to comply with the courts. She's with a good family. Have you seen any pictures of her?"

"I haven't checked my phone for a few days." Beca admitted, standing up to look for her phone. She found it in her purse and swiped to unlock it. "Thirty eight messages, sixteen photos and nine emails."

"Popular!"

"Mostly from Chloe. She's checking in and updating me on Jessie and Alex." Beca said, turning her phone to show Luke the pictures as she scrolled through various messages. "Oh, great."

"What is it?" Luke asked, recognising the bland tone to her voice.

"It's from Chloe's solicitor. They want to meet next week to discuss the settlement from the Children's Hospital of Atlanta."

"Hasn't that already been discussed?" Luke asked.'

"No. Not yet. The settlement from Flintstone came through a few days ago, mine cleared off my medical debt so yeah…"

"This is a good thing. It might mean you can finally start breathing again."

"I guess so. My medical debt is paid off which means I could quit two of my jobs and be no worse off. Spend some more time on my music. I mean, that's one positive, I guess. And if I get anything from the second settlement, it would be great if I could get a place closer to Studio City, be closer to the kids."

"Now that's the optimistic thinking I was hoping to hear from you." Luke smiled. "Have they said what you are likely to get? Do you know what you'll do with it?"

"I mean, if I walk away with twenty grand from the Children's Hospital of Atlanta, that could get me a pretty nice place."

"Um, Beca, I think you are in line for a little more than that from the second settlement. You should fight for at least a million."

"Oh."

"Yeah, don't hold back. Someone needs to be held responsible for the mess this has caused."

"Yeah. I know. Urgh, I'm so over all of this."

"You find the strength to fight for your girls."

"Yeah, just gotta find the strength to fight with Chloe first... and by the sounds of the latest email I received today, that's going to be next week at the meeting with the lawyers."

.oOo.


A/N - Be great to get some feedback or your thoughts on this chapter if you can spare the time! Next chapter is Beca and Chloe meeting up. Have a great few days everyone!

Chapter Text

A/N - A huge thanks to my beta for this chapter. It was one of the first chapters I wrote in the story last year. They were honest enough to say the changes in this chapter didn't match the flow of the story so it got a quick rewrite and two thirds of it will come later! It'll get back on track and I really appreciate the advice!

Without further ado...


.oOo. Chapter Nineteen .oOo.

One Week Later

"I don't get it." Amy huffed, as she stepped out of the elevator, turning back to Beca as she walked a pace behind.

"What now?" Beca snapped, her nerves apparent. She tightened the grip on her messenger bag handle and looked left and right, unsure which direction to go in.

They had signed in with the receptionist at the front desk, been given security badges for both of them and received instructions on how to get to the boardroom for her meeting with the hospital representatives . Amy's nonstop questions and mutterings all the way from the car to the elevator to the fifth floor of the rather imposing lawyer's office, which had made Beca forget everything she'd been told.

"Why does that woman get ta keep liddle Jessie?" Amy asked, brandishing her arms around as through she was conducting an orchestra. Beca, following closely at her heels, ducked under Amy's enthusiastic swoops.

"She is technically Jessie's Mom, Amy." Beca said, seeing the small, discrete sign for the lawyer's office on the wall and making her way down the hallway.

"But it ain't fair."

"Life isn't fair, Ames."

"But-" Amy spluttered out.

"-We just have to live with the hand that we're dealt with."

"You always say that." Amy muttered.

"Well, I always have to make the best of a bad situation. So…"

"You are her Mom though."

"Amy, it's not as easy as…" Beca sighed and paused in the corridor. She turned to face Amy, huffed and gave her a small smile. She loved Amy with all of her heart and knew that Amy was in turmoil over this whole ordeal as well. "… biologically, the child is hers."

"I get that part." Amy said.

"Through no fault of our own, it happened. And yes, we haven't dealt with all of that yet. That's what we have to sort out today. The hospital trust has to pay for their mistake and be answerable to our questions."

"Exactly, it isn't your fault."

"It's something I'm trying to come to terms with, in my own way."

"Money ain't gonna brin' Jessie home though." Amy stated flatly.

"No Ames, it's not. But it might mean I can launch a case against the Mitchem's… against David for the way he acted towards me. If nothing else, I can make a fuss so that he's looked into and then it might cause some trouble for him at his school."

"When did you cook that scheme up?"

"It's not a scheme Amy. He's an aggressive asshole who has dragged his wife along with him and brow beaten her into submission. Luke and I discussed it over dinner a few nights ago."

"After you got arrested and didn't tell me." Amy muttered.

"Huh?" Beca said, looking at her watch.

"I mean, you saved their lives and this is how you get repaid?"

"There's more to it than that. There was no way any of us knew this was going to happen."

"Would you have left them in the car if you had known?"

"Amy! You can't ask me that." Beca hissed.

"Well?" Amy said, folding her arms across her chest as she waited for the answer.

"Not her. Him, I'd leave."

"I don't get it." Amy said, again after a moment.

"She has every right to get to know her child. I can't hold that against her. I didn't exactly act properly in this, did I?"

"But Alex is yours." Amy moaned.

"I know she is. And things might have been different if I'd pulled my head outta my ass in the beginning. I was hoping it would all go away and look what that has cost me."

"But you don't get to keep her and you don't even get ta spend time at your place with her alone."

"I know Amy." Beca said, looking at the watch on her arm again. They had plenty of time before the meeting, but she was nervous about showing up late.

"And you're okay with that?"

"Am I okay with that?" Beca repeated and Amy nodded.

"Well, are you?" Amy asked when Beca failed to answer.

"Are you seriously asking me that?"

"Yeah."

"Do you think I enjoyed having my life laid out in front of everyone? Every single bad grade in school and my lack of a college education?" Beca breathed out hard through her nose. The memory of her being questioned on the stand making her heart thump in her chest.

"Well, no."

"My single parent family and the probability of history repeating itself? My mother's drug and alcohol abuse?" Beca snapped out, recalling her troubled youth.

"I didn't mean-" Amy tried to intervene.

"-My life in a trailer park? My best friend and father of my baby dying? My lack of a sustainable career? My inability to lay my hands on a few million dollars in a moment's notice?" Beca barked out at Amy, a lone tear threatening to fall.

"I don't think that-"

"-My lack of a husband? My sexual orientation? My working hours? My complete lack of failure at being a fucking human being?" Beca's voice was rising with each question. She only stopped when she drew the attention of a receptionist towards the end of the hallway.

"Beca, you-"

"-Do you seriously think I am okay with all of this?" Beca said, a lot quieter.

"I don't know Beca. You come home, you go inta your closet bedroom thingy and then you don't come out 'til the next morning when you goes back ta work. You don't talk ta me or people from work or anyone, you don't sleep, you certainly don't eat. So, no, I don't know if you are okay with it. You shut down and we're scared for you."

"Amy, I love you. I do. But you are infuriating the crap outta me right now."

"I don't understand why Jessie can't stay with you. You're her Mom."

"Jessie is not my daughter, Amy." Beca breathed out, trying not to lose her patience. "Alex is my daughter. Jessie is Chloe's biological child and a twin sister to Kate."

"I understand the family dynamics."

"Then why ask me the same question over and over?"

"Because I don't get it."

"Am I okay with being told that the child I brought home from the hospital is not mine? No, I'm fucking not!" Beca cried out, tears immediately pooling back in her eyes. She took a step back from Amy, needing some space around her as her face reddened. She'd gone through the whole range of emotions in the past two weeks. She'd not slept, barely eaten and was feeling very unwell, not to mention her stupid mistake which caused her to spend two nights in the local police station. It was only by the good graces of Luke that she'd managed to make it through. "Every time I fed her, every time I bathed her, every story I read to her, every cry I hushed, every laugh I made her have, every kiss I gave her and every time I told her that I loved her… it was all for someone else."

"Beca-"

"-And the same can be said back about Alex. Chloe gave her kisses that should have been mine. Chloe taught her how to talk, walk and play, instead of it being me. Alex has grown up with a sister. I can't give her that, can I? And, as it was so lovingly pointed out, I'm gay and have no intention of sleeping with a guy just to get pregnant again."

"You-"

"-Chloe even said she was a solitary child who loved to bang pots and pans, loved anything musical and to climb trees whereas Kate was always off in dream world playing with dolls and throwing tea parties and shit with her teddies and her friends. That's Jessie too, isn't it, Amy? Kate and Jessie are the same. I never really understood my own kid and the way she did things… because she's not mine."

Beca leant against the wall. The tears were rolling down her face, splashing onto her suit jacket. It was the same suit she'd worn to court and she was so grateful to Luke for getting it dry cleaned for her after he sorted out her apartment and kick started her into getting her life back in order.

After the court case, her lawyer John had left quickly after the verdict, leaving Beca outside the courthouse all alone. She didn't have the energy to move from the wall she'd leaned up against as every emotion coursed through her veins. She was blaming herself and could feel part of her life slipping away as she began to rebuild the wall around her heart, each virtual brick cementing itself in place.

She watched David and Chloe leave with their lawyer. David cast no more than a fleeting glance and smirk in her direction but his hand gripped Chloe's arm tightly as she attempted to pull away from him and move to speak with Beca. She was dragged along, twisting to get away as he walked them back towards their car.

It was dark by the time she heard her name being spoken and a strong pair of arms holding her to Luke's chest. He'd been trying to call her for hours to see how things had gone and eventually had come looking for her, not comprehending that she might still be at the courthouse on her own.

She'd collapsed on the ground, her legs giving way and she explained the verdict and the reasoning to Luke who'd nodded along as she spoke. He scooped her up in his arms and driven her to his apartment. He'd given her a clean tee shirt and a pair of sweats to wear and pushed her into his bathroom to shower. She'd felt a little better after washing the day away and he sat up with her for two days straight as she came to terms with losing the little girl in her life.

He'd been the one to call Amy and tell her, asking if she could keep Jessie for a little while and Amy had readily agreed. By the third day, she was ready to face Jessie and tell her what had happened and start preparing her to have to go and live elsewhere. It was the single hardest thing that Beca had ever had to do and that included losing her best friend.

"I love Jessie. I love her so much." Beca said to Amy, pushing herself off of the wall in the lawyer's office. "And it's because I love her beyond words that I am giving her back to her Mom and not challenging that fucking Judge. I'm almost twenty-five years old and today is her fourth birthday. Since she left the hospital, I'd not been away from her for more than a few hours until the verdict. I'm missing her damn birthday! I've lost everything in my life that I care about except you and Luke. And I'm not dealing with it very well."

"You always got me, Beca." Amy sniffed, nodding to confirm her words.

"I can do right by my kid, in a way that no one did right by me. She'll live in a big house, with a pool and a bicycle. Maybe even a pony, one day. She'll go to the best schools, maybe college and lead an extraordinary life. She'll eat three times a day guaranteed. Good meals. She'll have toys, games and books. She'll probably vacation every year, spend Christmases in some exotic land and her summers by the beach. She'll be surrounded by people, stability and love. I can't even promise her that we'll not be back in the van before Christmas."

"Which kid are you talking about? Alex or Jessie?" Amy asked.

"I don't know anymore. Both of them, I guess." Beca cried out. "Does it even matter?"

"No, I guess not." Amy muttered.

"So, ask me again if I am okay with it, Amy?" Beca sniffed. "I get to see Jessie and Alex for one hour every two weeks. I'm not losing Jessie and gaining Alex. I'm losing everything. I'm a stranger to Alex. Look how she cried when I picked her up the first time. I can't get to know my own child in one hour every two weeks. And that poor kid, Kate. Imagine how baffling it is for another kid to turn up that looks like her but be a complete stranger at the same time. And she's not allowed to come with the girls when they visit me because it's too confusing for them all. Not one of those kids is coming out on top, are they? The only thing I'm grateful for is that they probably won't remember this when they're older and I'll just be like a weird Aunt who visits and sends gifts."

"Why do you have ta pay Chloe money for Jessie every month?" Amy asked, remembering one of the court's decisions.

"I don't anymore. Chloe refused that part of the agreement."

"So, Chloe wins everything. It doesn't seem fair." Amy stated. She looked as deflated as Beca felt.

"Welcome to what a shit load of money, a huge mansion and fancy lawyers can do for you."

"I still don't get it." Amy repeated and Beca rolled her eyes.

"Not much more to get Amy. My lawyer fucked me over. He was all I could afford so I get what I deserved. The only thing he did for me was give me an invoice for his time."

"I don't get-"

"-I know you don't get it Ames but please, I'm begging you. I need to concentrate today. And I need you to be a friend and just have my back, take notes about the meeting and help me leave this the room today with a little dignity." Beca said plainly. She had hoped Luke would be free to come with her but as luck would have it, he had a meeting with a new prospective client that was only in town that morning. Beca had brought Amy along as backup but she was seriously regretting the idea and wished she taken Luke up on his offer.

Amy nodded and zipped her mouth shut. Beca gave her a small smile and they continued down the corridor, following the arrow on the small brass plaque bearing the lawyer's names. They reached the boardroom of Harris-Ginsberg and Beca knocked on the door, waiting for a signal that she was okay to enter.

After a minute of waiting, she knocked again but there was still no answer. Realising that she was probably the first to arrive, Beca pushed on the handle and the door opened with a soft whoosh.

The boardroom was large and impressive and smelt of wood polish and lemons. The twenty-place, highly polished, mahogany table and soft looking leather chairs shone under the spotlights and the desk lamps that were dotted around the room. The pot plants were big and leafy, well-tended to and healthy. The wall of windows gave an inspiring view over Santa Monica and Beca could see the Boardwalk in the distance; the colourful crowds having fun not quite matching her current mood.

She stepped into the room, Amy following closely behind. It was almost as if she were afraid to let her be by herself for just one moment. Beca was about to wander over to the window when someone else spoke, making her jump and spin around.

"Hello Beca." Chloe's voice sounded shaky as it cut across the room. Beca hadn't noticed her sitting in one of the side chairs.

"Hi." Beca said curtly, unable to stop her lip from curling.

"It's good to see you again. You look really well." Chloe said softly. "How have you been?"

"Don't. Just… don't." Beca said coldly, putting her hands up in defence and she watched Chloe flinch at her tone.

"Can we speak in private?" Chloe asked as stood up, straightened her dress and took a couple of steps towards Beca. Even in her current mental state, Beca could see how beautiful Chloe was. There wasn't a hair out of place, her makeup was simple and highlighted her natural beauty and she kept her actions slow and steady, without the theatrics of the courtroom. She still clutched at her purse like her life depended on it. Chloe held herself well as she waited for Beca's answer.

'Ever the actress.' Beca thought to herself but she could see the pain in Chloe's eyes as she stared at her. Beca looked away, she didn't want to look at the woman's face that so clearly resembled the child she'd been raising for the last four years.

"Please?" Chloe asked quietly.

"I don't have anything to say to you." Beca said, her voice hitching.

"Well, Miss Mitchell, I have some things to say to you." Chloe said, the strain in her voice apparent as she tried to control her emotions.

Beca didn't want to talk to Chloe in private, she didn't have anything left to say to her. Beca thought back to the day of their children's birth and the accident which held their connection and for a fleeting moment wished she had left Chloe in the car that day, then this mess wouldn't have happened.

She immediately felt guilty for those thoughts. Chloe didn't exactly ask for this to happen either and that part wasn't her fault. She was just angry at her for winning and taking everything away from her. She looked under her eyelashes towards her, taking in her appearance and noting, with surprise, the fading bruises on her arm that looked to be in the same spot that David had held her arm tightly on the day of the verdict in court.

Beca threw a look over her shoulder and saw Amy hopping nervously from one foot to the other. She was fiddling with her hair, a sure-fire way to know that she was uncomfortable and scared of the situation that no one had a clue on how to deal with. She knew Amy was a little star stuck with Chloe, even though she was pretending not to be.

Beca would always say that she met the real Chloe in the hospital all those years ago, not the actress they were used to seeing in the court room. In Chloe's defence, she'd refused to do any interviews or talk about the court case. It was the talk of the town and the media were desperate to know what was going on and why the young actress was in court.

"Amy, please wait for me outside." Beca spoke gently, she could feel some of the fight leaving her and that was a feeling she didn't like.

"Beca, it's not a good idea ta talk without your lawyer present." Amy leaned down to whisper in Beca's ear.

"It's okay, Ames." Beca said, hoping she sounded convincing.

Amy looked up at Chloe and bit her bottom lip. She so wanted to say something to the other woman but out of respect to Beca, she kept her mouth closed. She'd watched Beca fall apart over the last few months in a way she had never expected. She looked up to her friend in a way that Beca would never understand.

"Amy, please..." Beca said, pulling on Amy's hand.

Amy walked backwards the couple of steps to the door, glaring at Chloe the whole time. She didn't stop giving her the evil eye until she pulled the door shut as she left the room.

"Thank you, Beca. I appreciate you-" Chloe began.

"-Ms Beale… Mrs Mitchem… whatever name you go by-."

"-You can call me Chloe."

"I'd really rather not." Beca snapped. Using her name made Chloe seem human and Beca wanted to keep it strictly business.

"That's okay. I understand. Please, let's sit for a moment and we can talk." Chloe said, indicating one of the chairs at the end of the table.

"I'm not here for pleasantries so what do you want?" Beca said as she watched Chloe take a seat and fold her arms across her chest. She saw Chloe's face change from hopeful expectation to sad and scared as Beca stood her ground.

The silence was thick with unspoken insults.

"I asked to meet with you without our lawyers present today to discuss-" Chloe began, realising Beca wasn't going to sit down.

"-How is my daughter?" Beca interrupted, not knowing exactly which one she was truly asking about.

Chloe seemed to understand the internal struggle.

"They are all doing well. Getting to know each other. It's hard and the adjusting is not easy, but we are finding our footing. They are wonderful little girls. I've brought some pictures for you." Chloe said, reaching into the small purse she'd laid on the table as she sat down.

"Why would you bother doing that?" Beca said, feeling the beginning of a headache.

"I thought you might like some for your office, or your… um, home." Chloe said, holding out the envelope towards Beca.

"So I can see what I'm missing?"

"Excuse me?"

"You brought me pictures so I could have a reminder of what I'm missing out on?"

"That's not why…" Chloe sighed, this was going to be harder than she thought. "… it's just pictures. You didn't respond to any of my messages that I sent last week so I wasn't sure if you were getting them."

"Here we go again." Beca snapped.

"What?"

"I don't respond to messages. Call the fucking police then. Call your fucking lawyer. Call that fucking judge back and tell them I'm still acting like a child. I dunno, call God and tell them that you want to take everything else from me too. I've got thirty eight dollars in the bank, six changes of clothes, a crappy laptop and a rusty car… want that as well?"

"Beca? What are-"

"-You don't get to call me by my first name. You haven't earned the right to do that." Beca said, even though she knew what she was saying sounded ridiculous.

"Sorry. I'm sorry. Miss Mitchell, it's just a few pictures of the girls together. It's not meant to be anything else but a gesture of goodwill." Chloe said, sincerely. She laid the envelope down on the highly polished table.

"Gesture of goodwill." Beca said, turning her head to the side and mocking Chloe's tone.

"Okay. Okay." Chloe breathed the words, trying to calm her voice. She knew being this close to Beca was going to be difficult, but she didn't imagine it to be this awkward over just a few pictures. "I'm sorry. I'm not trying to make you mad on purpose."

"Nope, you did that intentionally."

"What? When?"

"Um, the whole frigging court case."

Chloe sat back in her chair a little, needing to feel something on her back for support. She had a real sinking feeling that meeting Beca without their lawyers was a bad idea.

"This has been really hard on me Beca. I thought-"

"-Hard on you?" Beca repeated. "Hard on you."

"I know, it's not easy for you either." Chloe muttered, regretting her outburst just a moment before.

"Hmm." Beca glared. "See, I thought the ones who were probably finding it hard at the moment were the girls."

"Well, of course, them too."

"You know, how you ripped a perfectly happy child away from her home?"

"It wasn't my decision to do that."

"Don't give me that bullshit. You got exactly what you wanted."

"This is getting us nowhere." Chloe sighed.

"Now you finally understand how I feel." Beca said, her arms folding across her chest again. She had, what Amy would describe as, her Beca 'Effing' Mitchell face on. It was the look she used whenever Amy did something that Beca knew would take an hour to clear up, fix with tape or clean off of the ceiling.

Chloe sagged into the chair and closed her eyes. She didn't want the conversation to be heading the way it was going. Her idea had been that she would invite Beca out for a coffee and they could make a plan. She was frustrated that Beca wouldn't let her say what she'd been carefully rehearsing that morning as she got ready for the meeting. She didn't care about the lawyer's appointment, already deciding that she would put whatever money she was awarded into a trust fund for the girls. Chloe had just been keen to meet up with Beca.

"This isn't going to work, is it?" Chloe said, her voice barely above a whisper.

"What isn't?"

"Us talking."

"I'm standing here, aren't I?"

"But you're not being receptive."

"So?" Beca shrugged her shoulders.

"So, this needs to be a two way street and if you aren't going to listen, I'm not going to waste any more of your or my time." Chloe said, as she stood up.

"Good." Beca said, dropping her arms to her side, turning and walking back towards the boardroom door. She decided it would be better to wait in the corridor for the lawyers to arrive.

She had her hand on the door knob when she heard Chloe speak.

"She cries at night." Chloe whispered so quietly that Beca almost missed it.

"Huh?" She said, spinning around.

"Jessie. She cries herself to sleep at night."

"She does that from time to time." Beca sighed, tears threatening as she thought of Jessie missing and needing her. She turned back around. "Always has."

"She's really struggling without you."

"What did you expect?" Beca asked, brushing some hair from her face.

"I didn't think it would be this hard. It's only been a week and everything… everything has changed. I didn't want Jessie to be scared of her own sister… sisters and me. I've tried everything but she's not settling well." Chloe said, retaking her seat.

"And that's my fault I suppose?"

"No, that's not what I meant." Chloe said and Beca could see tears forming. "She's my daughter and I am a complete stranger to her."

"Bit late for the guilty conscience, isn't it?"

"She won't eat properly. She picks at food and I know you said in the past that she's a good eater."

"She is. Usually." Beca said flatly.

"But the worst is hearing her cry at night time."

"And it bothers you because it keeps Alex and Kate awake?"

"No, it bothers me because she isn't happy. I didn't want to tell you."

"Then why did you?"

"Because I thought you might know why? And you might tell me how to make it better for her."

Beca scoffed and gently shook her head. She opened her mouth to say something but thought better of it.

"Please." Chloe said, her teary eyes shining under the lights.

Beca sighed heavily and cantered her weight onto one hip. She was torn over what to do. She wanted Chloe to suffer but didn't like the thought of Jessie being upset. It wasn't the little girl's fault and there was an easy solution to get her to go to sleep. However she also didn't want to make it easy on Chloe. As soon as she had that thought, another flittered across her mind. What if Alex had been returned to her and she had no clue on what to do for her, to make her feel better and stop her missing the only Mom she'd known?

Jesse's face popped into her mind, his soft eyes wordlessly asking her to not take out her pain on innocent children. She didn't need his memory floating around at that moment.

"Look, you've got what you want. I can't help you." She faltered.

"I didn't want her to be unhappy." Chloe implored.

"You'll just have to deal with her… struggles at night time." Beca said, walking a couple of steps back towards Chloe, who took that as a good sign. "She's only ever known me there, or her Aunt Amy or her Uncle Luke. And she's now surrounded by a lot more people than she's used to. Complete strangers who know more about her than she knows about them."

"Okay." Chloe said, sensing she wasn't going to get anywhere.

"I can't help you."

Chloe nodded.

"I mean, you're the expert, aren't you?"

"I'm sorry?" Chloe asked.

"On parenting."

"I'm hardly an expert."

"Really?" Beca scoffed.

"Of course not. I make plenty of mistakes. I just try my best."

"Mmm, I remember thinking I did that too. And I remember that not being good enough."

Chloe's eyes narrowed a little. She thought Beca had calmed down enough for them to perhaps have a civil conversation.

"Are you going to argue against everything I have to say to you today?"

"Quite probably." Beca smirked. "I'm pretty good at it."

Chloe breathed out a long raggedy breath. Her mind was all over the place. A part of her was pleased that Beca was still here, talking with her, despite the way the conversation was going, but on the flip side, all they were doing was arguing and getting nowhere but frustrating each other. She decided to try one last attempt to begin rebuilding the enormous crack in their relationship.

"It would seem that I approached giving you the pictures I offered in the wrong way and I apologise for that." Chloe said evenly, keeping her tone light. "I'm sorry for upsetting you. Can we please start again?"

"Oh sure, want to be besties?" Beca said, her words dripping with sarcasm.

Chloe stared up at Beca, who was now standing at the other side of the table. Reading her body language quite clearly, she held her hands up in mock defeat and tried to look Beca in the eye.

"It's just a couple of pictures. I didn't think it would upset you this much."

"Upset? Who's fucking upset? Not me, that's for fucking sure." Beca said, her tone high pitched and a little squeaky as she waved her hands about. "Oh, why am I using my hands so much?"

"Miss Mitchell, please calm down. I'm trying to have a civil conversation with you."

"What do we have to talk about that can't be done through lawyers? I'm only here so I can hear what the lawyers are offering me as compensation for having my life ruined and turned upside down. That's not something I wish to discuss with you. I don't want to hear how great your life is. I don't want to talk about your friends and family. I don't give two shits or a fuck about your career and your charity work so don't want to know about that."

"We could-"

"-I don't want any sort of conversation with you."

"You've made that perfectly clear with your lack of response to anything I've sent!" Chloe uncharacteristically snarled.

"And who's fault is that?"

"Yours!"

"Mine?" Beca said, raising her eyebrows a little.

"Yes, if you'd acted better in the first place, then David wouldn't have gotten mad and gone to the lawyers."

"Because he acted so well the first time we met, right? So kind and caring about the situation."

"He felt threatened by you."

"Me? You're joking, right?" Beca laughed without humour.

"No, I'm not."

"I'm barely five foot two, I'm just a scrappy little nobody. How can you be threatened-"

"-He researched you before we met. Heard some good things about you. He knew he had to be that way."

"Instead of being friendly and making it work in a civilised manner? Oh sure, that had to be the better way. You are so full of fucking bullshit." Beca said, her voice rising.

"Where do you get off talking to me like that?"

"Don't paint yourself in that colour Princess. You fucking know you are in the wrong or you wouldn't be here!"

"And that gives you right to talk to me like that?" Chloe countered. "I'm trying to be nice here. I've wanted a chance to get to know you better and see how you are doing. You won't answer my texts, phone calls, or emails so how else can I get you to talk to me?"

"Again, I don't want to talk to you."

"So this is how it is going to be, is it?"

"What the fuck do you care? You don't have to be friends with someone like me. I can pick the girls up at the bottom of your driveway and drop them back off at the door. We don't have to fucking speak to each other."

"And how will that look to them?" Chloe asked, tilting her head to the side and watching Beca still fidgeting from one foot to the other, clenching her fists.

"How will any of this look to them? This whole situation has got to be affecting all three girls. Nothing about their lives is normal right now. Are you worried about me running off to the media about it all?"

"No." Chloe said, shaking her head. She knew Beca didn't want this whole debacle laid out for everyone to see any more than she did.

"Then what the hell does it matter to you how I'm struggling with it all?" Beca slammed her fists to her sides.

"Because I care."

"You have a seriously funny way of showing it."

"All my messages and me trying to communicate with you. Trying to organise meet ups and play dates with the girls, inviting you to my home with Jessie. That was me trying to show you I care. I wanted to get to know you as much as Jessie, and for you to get to know Alex and see what an amazing little girl she is. She's such a wonderful little girl and she will love you so much."

"I doubt that. No one loves me enough to stay around anyway. I'm used to it."

"Oh Bec… Miss Mitchell…" Chloe's hands flew up to her face as she realised something. "You have never had anyone give a serious damn about you before, have you?"

"What?"

"You don't know what it looks like, do you?" Chloe sobbed out. "You've never… oh God!"

"What?"

"I'm such an idiot." Chloe cried out. She flustered for a moment, before standing up and smoothing down her dress. She looked blankly around the room before faltering a little. She looked over to Beca once last time. "I'm so, so sorry. I have to go."

Chloe collected up her small purse from the conference table, wrapped her fingers around the handle and slipped it onto her shoulder. Her eyes darted about everywhere as she moved towards the door. Beca took a step back as Chloe marched past her.

"Hey, wait a minute."

"I'll rearrange the meeting with the lawyers. I'm so sorry to have wasted your time. Goodbye, Miss Mitchell." Chloe said, pulling on the door handle quickly, almost stumbling in her haste to leave the room. She choked back a sob as she walked out of the boardroom. As Beca got to the doorway, all she saw was Chloe's fast retreating figure as she disappeared down the corridor.

"Wait!" Beca called out.

"Everythin' okay Becaroo?" Amy said, standing up from the chair she'd been making herself comfortable in for the last half an hour. "Where's she goin'? She's runnin' like her ass is on fire!"

"I don't know what happened. We were talking and then she had some weird epiphany and left."

"What'd you say to her?"

"Nothing."

"Nothin'?"

"I mean, I wasn't nice to her but she stole my kid so she doesn't deserve me being nice." Beca said, looking back into the room. She spotted the envelope on the table and walked over to pick it up. She opened it quickly, flicking through the photos that Chloe had printed out for her. She'd written the date on the back and what they were doing at the time. There were pictures of Jessie playing in Chloe's beautiful back yard, a couple of them playing on small scooters and one of her decorating cookies.

Beca noticed that in more than half the pictures, Jessie was sitting to the side, looking about as sad as could be. Her heart hurt. She didn't want Jessie to be miserable and miss her. She thought back to when Chloe had said that Jessie was struggling at night time and began to wonder if, by not telling Chloe the easy solution to help Jessie fall asleep, she was doing as Luke had said, the week before, and she was starting to ruin their lives by not being present and supportive.

She leant against the table for support as it hit her that she was in the wrong for acting the way she'd done that afternoon. She was only thinking of herself and not the young girls who were caught up in the middle of all of this. She wasn't helping anyone by acting like an asshat and if they worked together, it might be more amicable. She felt herself deflate a little like a balloon with a small hole in it.

Chloe had made an effort, albeit not one that Beca recognised or wanted but an effort, nevertheless. And she'd acted like a complete dick.

"Shit!"

"You okay B?" Amy's voice in the doorway snapped her out of her thoughts.

"Yeah… just… I… can you take me to Luke's?"

"What about your meeting?" Amy asked.

"Postponed. I'll explain on the way."

"Okay, then let's go. But can we stop for ice cream on the way?"

.oOo.


A/N - Sorry/not sorry for the non conclusion and the slow burn (I did warn at the beginning!). Can't have them being too friendly straight away, can we?! I really hope you'll continue to stick with me for this story. Every message, comment and kudos means the world to me.

 

Chapter Text

A/N - Thank you for the feedback on the last chapter! And apologies this one is a few days late in posting.  Decided to split this chapter into two parts, and the next one will be up in a coupla days.

Thanks, as always, to my beta. And thank to my readers, I couldn't do this without you!

Happy Sunday everyone :)


.oOo. Chapter Twenty .oOo.

Aubrey was just putting the finishing touches to her perfectly calculated, calorie-controlled and colour coordinated lunch when her phone rang, making her jump and wonder who was calling her. It was quite rare she wasn't working over a lunch break and she was enjoying a couple of hours at her own home for a change.

She lived in a completely remodelled two storey home in Toluca Lake, about ten minutes from Chloe's house which suited them both just fine. It wasn't too far to get a taxi back home if a quick pop in after work turned into dinner, four glasses of wine and an impromptu sing-along to whatever Disney movie was still in the blu ray player, long after the girls had gone to bed but it was just far enough away that they didn't feel like they were living in each other pockets. Aubrey didn't feel obliged to babysit, just because she was around the corner and convenient. She offered, simply because she could.

The house itself was simple in it's footprint and while Chloe loved visiting Casa Bella, as she truly felt at home, there was a lot of white furniture and expensive art pieces which she was constantly checking for fingerprints and left over stickers from her daughters. She knew Aubrey wouldn't say anything if Alex or Kate left a trail of glitter throughout her pristine home, but Chloe was acutely aware that her best friend had spent close to two million dollars turning the small, run down, 1920's home into something that was the talk of the neighbourhood. Word soon spread about her interior design work and she had enough small projects lined up from her neighbours to keep her busy for the next two years.

Aubrey loved her home, enjoyed the free-flowing layout, large kitchen which could incorporate the wide patio area at the back of the house. The kidney shaped pool was perfect for swimming in and the small waterfall was a favourite with her two Goddaughters. The three car garage had an apartment over the top which Chloe always joked that she'd live in when she was older. Sometimes Aubrey rented it out to people if she was going to be out of town on a large project for a few weeks, Chloe having put her in touch with people from her studio. Occasionally an actor wanted to bring his or her family with them on a shoot and it suited Aubrey. She didn't really have to interact with them, as they appreciate the privacy afforded to them and she got some extra funds to invest into her next project.

Aubrey liked living in Toluca Lake. To the south, was the Lakeside Golf Club of which she used to frequent corporate dinners with Bentley and its open spaces, and smaller density in population, gave Aubrey the air to breath. Having been born into a military family, she was used to tight knit communities and often felt the walls were closing in on her. The house she chose gave her an outlook over the private lake and she had access to it, from a small corner in her backyard.

Aubrey didn't mind living alone, she craved the quiet but there were times when she was a little jealous of Chloe and her family lifestyle. She adored spending time with the girls and loved them dearly and was beyond shocked when it came to light that one of her best friends' babies had been switched at birth. She was supportive as she could be for Chloe but couldn't tell her that she was struggling with the news too. Every time she saw Alex, she knew she was acting a little differently towards her at the same time as she was learning that there was a reason why the little brunette was harder to get to know.

Aubrey shook herself as her phone continued to ring, snapping her out of her daydream. Glancing down and noting it was Chloe, she tapped the Bluetooth speaker in her ear.

"Good afternoon Chloe, how are you?" She said, her usual level of greeting whoever she was talking to still in place.

"Bree…" Chloe cried out, sniffing twice before continuing. "… I didn't get it. I mean, I got it, but I didn't. And I've just been so horrible and cruel and self-absorbed and all she needs is someone to love her. Just one person. Anyone. I mean, she's had people that love her in the past, but they've all just left her. And I am sure her friends love her. Um, Amy. She's the Australian. She's… I think her best friend, but it might be Luke. He's a sweetheart."

"I-"

"-And I am sure they love her and care about her, but she doesn't see it. It's why she acts like she does. She just expects people to leave her and walk away or something. I mean, God, why didn't I see this happening? Why did I just think she was being aloof all the time, what for fun? Who does that, right? Who really does that? No one. Right?" Chloe rambled. "That's why she was… oh God, it's why she's just been so horrible today. I thought I'd make it up to her and it'd be fine, and she'd come over for lunch and we'd be best friends by dinner, but she lost the one person who truly, truly loved her. And that's my fault. It's no wonder she hates me."

"Chl-" Aubrey tried to break up Chloe in mid rant.

"-I'm so stupid. I took the one person she loved and who returned that love away from her. And it doesn't even matter anymore that darling little girl is mine, I've done it too. And why? Why? Because I don't have a backbone when it comes to David. I mean, you know what I've been through with him. And he… he's moving out soon. They are getting a place together. She's having his baby. A baby. My husband is having a baby with someone else." Chloe gave out a thin laugh. "We're really getting divorced this time. I've told him he can have the furniture and then I'll get the pool house re done because he's been in it for nearly three and a half years and… he's having another baby."

"Wha-"

"-And I don't get to have another one. And she can't have another one unless… oh God, I've taken it all away from her. And all I did was give her some photos. I thought it was a nice gesture but no, that backfired on me too. She was so mad at me, like really mad as if I was rubbing her face in my happiness." Chloe sniffed a couple of times. "But I'm not happy Bree, I'm not. I'm miserable. I am. David's going. He's moving on. Finally moving on. I'm alone again, which, I'm okay with but he's loving someone else now. David was all about winning the case but he had no intention of staying with me so what was he so desperate to win for? He's so competitive and I'm glad he's going."

"Can-"

"-I mean I was scared of being on my own for a while but not anymore. After he told me, I thought it would be a great start for us to begin talking properly without him breathing down our necks and he wants time with the girls too and I don't know anymore. But she's so, so mad at me and I tried to talk to her, but I couldn't, and it was awful. I guess she doesn't know me at all. But she was so kind in the hospital and I still remember that. I remember it all." Chloe rushed out. "Should I have taken her a gift? Or brought Alex and Jessie with me? Stacie could have watched Kate. Or just brought Jessie? Would that have been a bad idea?"

"If-"

"-Jessie misses her so much and I feel so awful. I don't know my own daughter and it's not going how I imagined it going. I thought it wouldn't hurt like this. And I've hurt her so much. Everyone. Everyone hurts and it's all my fault. I should have known they were switched and noticed but I didn't because everyone around me was just getting on with it." Chloe cried. "I had too many people who cared about me around me all the time and she has no one to care about her. Honestly, she has like two friends or something, I think. She just doesn't like people, maybe? Or has she been cast away all of her life, so she doesn't know how to love anyone but Jessie."

Chloe sniffed again.

"Bree, are you there? Why aren't you saying anything?" Chloe asked.

"I've been trying to, but someone hasn't paused for breath yet. That was a lot of information to receive in under a minute."

"I'm so overwhelmed." Chloe wept.

"I can tell. Where are you?" Aubrey asked.

"I'm just driving back from Santa Monica."

"I'm home, if you wanted to come round and talk."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, of course. I've got lunch so we'll talk and eat." Aubrey offered.

"Thanks Bree, I owe you one."

"Mmm hmm. Bye." Aubrey said, disconnecting the call and forgetting for the hundredth time that Chloe hated it when she shut off her phone too quickly. To Aubrey, time was money and sometimes every second counted.

She looked over to her perfectly prepared salad and decided it wouldn't be enough to share. Pulling open her freezer door, she scanned the colour coded and carefully labelled meals that Chloe often sent over, knowing cooking was definitely not one of Aubrey's skills. Reheating, chopping and making toast was about Aubrey's limit and although she insisted that she could organise her own pantry and freezer, Chloe took it upon herself to make spare meals for her best friend.

Aubrey was just microwaving a vegetarian lasagna when her doorbell echoed throughout the house.

"No one cares about her Bree." Chloe gushed as soon as the door opened, forgoing her usual greeting.

"I assume you are referring to Miss Mitchell?" Aubrey said in response.

"And that's the other thing, she said I couldn't call her Beca. That I hadn't earned the right, or something."

"Come in." Aubrey said, gesturing for Chloe to enter her home.

"Oh yeah, sorry." Chloe said, stepping inside and wiping her feet on the doormat for quite some time.

"You are going to wear a hole in that." Aubrey said, looking down as Chloe scrapped her feet back and forth.

"Sorry." Chloe said, ceasing actions but fiddling with her hands instead.

"You need a drink." Aubrey stated, turning on her heel and marching towards in the kitchen in a move that Chloe never thought Aubrey realised she was doing. "White or red?"

"I'm driving." Chloe said, shutting the door behind her and kicking off her heels.

"Call an Uber. Stacie's got the girls?"

"Yeah, but I said I wouldn't be long." Chloe said, thinking that Stacie wasn't expecting her back for a couple of hours as she didn't know Chloe had already postponed the meeting with the hospital lawyers. "Maybe one glass? Um, white please."

Aubrey nodded briskly and set about pulling a decent bottle of wine from the fridge. She didn't have any work calls to make that afternoon as she'd just planned to catch up on paperwork. She quickly uncorked the bottle – Aubrey would never entertain a screw top – and set about pouring her friend a large glass. She handed it to her, briefly wondered if it was a bad idea, knowing that a couple of glasses of wine usually meant that Chloe became even more chatty than usual before deciding not to worry about it and clinked their glasses together.

"So, tell me from the top… what happened today."

.oOo.

"And like I said, it just hit me why she's been so defensive about everything. She's got no one in her corner." Chloe said, finishing her story by slumping into the lounge chair she'd found herself in after lunch. She'd barely drawn breath while telling Aubrey all about her meeting with Beca and made just pushed her food around the plate, banging her cutlery on the plate which irritated Aubrey as she'd always been taught not to use knives and forks as orchestral batons. Aubrey's only interactions throughout their lunch had been the occasional 'hmm', 'right', and 'okay'.

"Wait, I thought you mentioned she had people called Amy and Luke?" Aubrey asked, knowing those names had come up a couple of times.

"She does but maybe she doesn't trust them enough to let them in properly?"

"That's not your problem Chloe." Aubrey said gently.

"But I've made it a problem."

"Chloe, my dear, sweet and lovely friend, you cannot just decide that everyone you come into contact needs or wants your help. Look, I know, for you, the world is an exciting place. You grew up with a great Mom and Dad who loved you from the very second you were born and still love you with that same ferocity. You had a lovely, stable childhood with loads of friends because people naturally gravitate towards you. That's the sort of person you are. You are the human equivalent of all that is needed in the world to make it a better place."

"You say it like it's a bad thing?"

"No, I'm saying that you see the world as a good place because you had a good start in life. Your parents saved for college from the day you were born They bought you a car for your sixteenth birthday. You had a nice bedroom and a backyard to hang out in. Now, just for a minute imagine that everything was the opposite. Your parents abandoned you or left you to fend for yourself in a trailer that wasn't fit to keep chicken feed in. At thirteen, you became the adult because your only parent just gave up on life and went off and did their own thing… what was it, alcohol and drugs?"

"Yeah, I think so." Chloe confirmed.

"So you've never had anyone turn up to a parent and teacher conference or hear about your bad day at school, baked you a birthday cake or spared a thought if you were two hours late home from school. You didn't have a reason to even try to make something of your life because no one cared if you reached the age of thirty."

"Aubrey?"

"No, that's not my life. It's Beca's. Just from what you've said. And I know what it's like. My dad, The Colonel, was absent for most of my childhood and yes, we're doing okay now, and my Mom tried her best until the cancer took her away, but I know what it's like to have to raise yourself. You've said to me on a number of occasions that I struggle to let people get close to me and I think Beca is the same."

"But that-"

"-I know you want to paint the world with glitter and make everyone happy and I love you for that. But not everyone wants or needs to sparkle, okay? You love the limelight, being in front of the camera, sharing your gift with the world and doing your best to bring joy into people's lives. But you have to remember that not everyone is destined to be happy."

"That's not true."

"It is though Chloe. Look, Beca had a tough upbringing. She's had to stand up for herself, probably more than anyone I know. Then, her best friend died. The one person she could count on, right? Wouldn't that make you a little dark and twisty too? You're alone in the world with no one. You find yourself pregnant and working all the time to afford the proper care for your unborn baby. And you do it all by yourself. It toughens you up, as a person, I mean. You get tough."

"But she was so nice to me in the hospital."

"Yes, but just because you are tough, doesn't mean you are inhuman. She's still a person. She can care about other people, but she finds it hard to accept the love from others. She's like me, in a way. It took us just a few hours to become friends and that was us, for life. But I wasn't hardened to life's adventures like Beca. What if we'd met in college and the damage was already done? My upbringing and good graces would have forced me to be friendly and polite to you but would I have let you into my life in a few hours, absolutely not."

"So, what are you saying?"

"Slow down." Aubrey said, matter of factly.

"That's it."

"Yes. I love you with my whole heart, so much that it sometimes hurts. You are the best friend I could ever hope for. You are my person. But sometimes, just sometimes, you can overwhelm me."

"Bree…"

"No, no, it's not a bad thing. I didn't mean it like that. You are cookie dough, warm summer evenings, the first sip of coffee in the morning, a fleece blanket on a wintery day and the sliver of joy when you see someone waiting for you at the airport arrivals. People like Beca and I, we're the opposite. We're vegetable peelings, we're running out of milk, we're rainy days that stretch into a week, we're catching your sleeve in a door handle and we're missing the train by ten seconds. And that's okay. Because we need those types of people in the world or it would be Pleasantville and a strange Utopia that society couldn't sustain."

"Did you just compare yourself to vegetable peelings?" Chloe mused, her mouth twisted into a slight smirk.

"I did. Look, I know you're barely holding it together. You don't fool me. And I know the real you. You aren't Chloe Beale, rising star and Hollywood darling, you're just Chloe, my friend who read trashy teen magazines with me, who's hair I held back when she puked after too much tequila at sixteen and the girl I know who never wears matching socks 'because who has the time to match them out of the drier'. You're not just a famous actress, you are the dork who doesn't know all the words to Gangsta's Paradise but sings them anyway. You're my everything. And I love you with my whole heart. But you've got to let Beca do some of the work too. Yes, she's hurting. Yes, she's gotten the worse deal out of all of this. But if all she is going to do is sulk and manipulate you, yell at you and not listen to what you have to say, then that is on her."

"But I-"

"-You need to let her come to you, when she's ready. You can't fix something that isn't ready to be fixed, just because you've decided you need to make yourself feel better. It's only been a couple of weeks since she handed Jessie over to you. It's all so new to everyone. I mean, I've not met Jessie yet because everyone needs time to adjust."

"You can come over anytime to meet her. I keep inviting you."

"Yes, I know. But it's not time yet. Jessie hasn't had time to get to know you yet, let alone David, Kate and Alex as well. She's gone from a simple, single parent family to suddenly thrust into a paradise with more people than she's used to."

"Yeah, I guess."

"And another thing, don't try to put yourself in her shoes. You've never had to worry about where your next meal comes from or where you are going to sleep that night. You've had money in the bank from day one."

"That's not quite true. When David and I first started out, remember that little house we owned and we had to buy second hand furniture?"

"You can hardly compare a two bedroom house, however small, to living with all of your stuff in a car, while pregnant, I might add and working all the hours in the day just to afford prenatal vitamins. It's simply not the same."

"Are you calling me a snob?" Chloe bristled a little.

"I'm just saying that you can't compare anything about your life with hers. For her, losing Jessie to you wasn't like losing one of your cars, or having to give up your cleaner or go without those charity lunches you love to give. Jessie was her entire world. If, God forbid, something happened to Alex or Kate or you were simply desperate to extend your family, you could add to it within a few weeks. You could open your home to more kids and because of your status in the world, you'd be allowed to. Think about Madonna and Angelina. Could you imagine anyone granting Beca another child?"

"I guess not." Chloe admitted after a few moments contemplating.

"So you can cry about Beca not having someone as much as the day is long, but until you've walked a mile in her shoes, you can't understand. So calm down, think rationally and move on."

"So…" Chloe said after a few minutes reflection where she finished off her wine. "… I need to be less Chloe."

"A little."

"How long for?"

"I can't tell you that." Aubrey said, shrugging her shoulders.

"Hmm, you've certainly given me a lot to think about. Thank you."

"I'm just glad that I'm able to say these things to you and you don't hate me."

"I could never hate you. I know we've had our fights throughout the years, but we've always forgiven each other."

"Of course. Like I said, you're my person. And you, and David, need to forgive Beca at some point for her involvement. And she needs to forgive you. It might take years. It also might be that you never forgive each other."

"I don't hold anything against her."

"That's not exactly true, is it?"

"What do you mean?"

"I'm going to leave that with you to think about."

Chloe nodded, grateful that Aubrey was able to poke her thoughts with the very sharp stick she knew her friend kept just for her.

"Okay, okay, I'll spend some time working on that."

"Hey, you're all right. Just try not to rush into a resolution that isn't ready yet or you might regret it. These things take time to settle down. This is not going to be resolved in a week. Take small steps. And remember to let her come to you. She is playing the victim here, but she also forgets that you didn't do anything wrong either with regard to the girls being switched. And I know you came out on top with getting Jessie, but you'll also have to deal with the fallout when they grow up and start questioning everything. Like I said, you two might never resolve this and you might need to get some mediation organised."

"Mediation?"

"Yes, it might help."

"In what way?"

"What's the first thing you do at a table read?"

"How does that-"

"-Tell me."

"We sit around a large table, two or three people deep. Usually whoever is on the script is at the table, then the second layer are the production team and the third layer, at the back of the room, are the professional extras, key grips and anyone else involved who wants to be there."

"And why do you all sit in one room?"

"So everyone knows what's going on at the same time. All on the same page."

"And are you and Beca on the same page?"

"Ah, I see what you mean." Chloe said, as the realisation kicked in. "We're both too busy thinking of our own agendas that we're not thinking collectively."

"Exactly."

"When did you get so smart?"

"Right about the time I was born. I've got a number I can give you of the company that sorted The Colonel and I out when we were struggling to communicate. Worked wonders for our relationship. They are a little… controversial and definitely unconventional but you've got nothing to lose, have you?"

"What's the company name?"

"The Smith-Abernathy-McKadden-Feinberger Institute Of Mediation And Positive Thinking."

"Whoa, big firm. I'm not sure-"

"-No, there's only two people. Look them up and when you are ready, I'll do an introduction for you if you can get Beca to agree to come."

"Okay, I'll message her." Chloe said, nodding along.

"No. You'll…?"

"Oh right. I'll wait for her to message me and give her some space."

"It's really the best thing. And she needs to see how hard it is when you don't respond to her questions. When is her scheduled time with the girls?" Aubrey asked.

"Not until August. Courts decided Jessie needed a settling in period. I could offer Beca to call her?"

"Or?"

"Oh, yeah, wait for her to ask. You are right Bree. I do push myself onto people."

"It's not a flaw Chloe, just sometimes you need to not fix everything and let people come to you."

"No, I get it. I'll spend some time working on myself and thinking over everything you've said."

"I'm here if you need to talk."

"I know, thanks." Chloe said, checking her watch.

"Go, spend some time with Jessie and help her settle in." Aubrey said, noting Chloe's reaction to the time. "Give everyone some time to breathe and stop worrying about trying to fix everything."

"I love you Bree."

"I love you too Chloe. No, go home and give those beautiful babies a big kiss from their Auntie Aubrey."

"I will, I promise. But first, tell me everything that happened with Bentley and how you are doing?"

.oOo.


A/N - Part two out on Wednesday.

Chapter Text

A/N - A bit of a short chapter for the mid week update but I hope you enjoy nevertheless. Thank you again for all the support.

As always, thank you to my beta, I honestly couldn't do this without you!

Happy Wednesday to you all!


.oOo. Chapter Twenty One .oOo.

message from beca.m, to luke.b – 12.47 – You got time for lunch?
message from luke.b, to becky.m – 12.54 – That depends!
message from beca.m, to luke.b – 12.56 – On?
message from luke.b, to becky.m – 12.57 – What the offer is…
message from beca.m, to luke.b – 12.59 – Oh, I'm buying.
message from luke.b, to becky.m – 13.00 – So the meeting with the lawyers went well?
message from beca.m, to luke.b – 13.02 – Not exactly. Bailed before that started.
message from luke.b, to becky.m – 13.03 – What happened?
message from beca.m, to luke.b – 13.04 – Lunch, and I'll tell you.
message from luke.b, to becky.m – 13.05 – Where?

.oOo.

Beca was sitting in a booth at the back of a small café near to Universal's main office, studying the menu when Luke arrived ten minutes later.

"You okay?" He asked, looking down at her for a couple of seconds before he took a seat on the faded leatherette bench opposite.

"Yup, I'm fine. What's good here?" She said, with an amused twist to her mouth. They had a lot of 'business lunches' here.

"Well, that depends."

"On?"

"If you are going to continue reading the menu upside down…" He mirthed as he pulled his wallet and phone from his back pocket, laying it all on the table next to the napkin dispenser.

"Huh? How about that?" Beca said, rotating the menu and trying to hide her slightly pinking face.

"Mate, you aren't subtle at the best of times but…" Luke tapped the top of the menu. "… even you can't read upside down. That's Amy's trick, remember? At least, she tries to do it, something about being Tasmanian, I don't know, and fails every time."

"How do you know? I might have skills you don't know about."

"That, I don't doubt. So enough with avoiding the issue. What happened?"

"Don't you want to order first?"

"You already know what you are having as you order the exact same thing every time we come in here. I'm having a cheeseburger, as usual."

"Oh, well… um, what about drinks."

"You'll have a water, like you do every time and I'll have a coke. Like I do, every time."

"What if the waitress-"

"-Stop stalling Mitchell and spit it out." Luke playfully growled.

"Okay, okay, you win. But this wasn't my fault, this time."

"Uh huh."

"No really. Chloe is the one who left suddenly." Beca explained.

"Why?"

"I dunno."

"Seriously?" Luke's face said he wasn't sure if he should believe her.

"Seriously… we were talking and then she had this weird like lightbulb thing happen and she apologised, and left."

"And you didn't try to catch up with her?"

"Yeah, but she was gazelle like."

"Gazelle?" Luke raised an eyebrow in Beca's direction.

"Yeah, she was outta the room like a gazelle. Like fast moving."

"What were you two talking about when she left?"

"All sorts. I mean, she brought some pictures of Jessie for me." Beca explained.

"That was kind."

"Yeah… yeah, it was." Beca grimaced a little. "I may have acted like a bit of a dick."

"You acted like your normal self then."

"Fuck you Bryant."

"You wish Mitchell." Luke smirked, nodding to the waitress who usually served them when they came in. He mouthed, 'the usual' and she gave him a thumbs up before scribbling in her pad. "So, tell me, why'd you act like a dick?"

.oOo.

"So, it wasn't totally my fault." Beca said, concluding the story.

"Hmm." Luke said, wiping his mouth on a paper napkin. He balled it up in his hands before aiming it at Beca's forehead, bouncing it neatly off of her hairline with predictable ease.

"Quit doing that!" She said, reaching out for the paper ball and throwing it back at him, missing him completely and just avoiding the patron behind him as it rolled onto the floor.

"Okay, you've got two ways that this can go, yes?"

"Right."

"Or left." Luke mirthed but dropped his half smile when Beca looked confused. "You can either call Chloe and apologise to her, tell her you were acting out of character and you were overwhelmed by it all and you'd like to try again or you can simply collect Jessie and Alex once a fortnight… sorry, every two weeks from a mutually agreed pick up point and live your life that way."

"I don't like either of those options."

"That's not my problem." Luke said, reaching over towards Beca's plate and taking one of her leftover French fries.

"That's not helpful."

"I can't tell you what to do."

"But what would you do, if this was you in my situation."

"Honestly?" Luke asked.

"Yeah."

"I'd be doing everything I can to secure access to my kid in the most stress free way possible. As I said, you've got two ways of going about this and it's a real take it or lump it choice." Luke said, stealing two more fries.

"So, I either back down or-"

"-What are you backing down over?"

"How nice I have to be to her."

"That's up to you anyway, regardless of how this decision of yours goes. You can be friendly and still keep to the two-week visits until the girls are older and they can either choose to spend more time with you or not at all. You can petition for more time with the courts or speak with Chloe and David and see if it's mutually agreeable to get more time with them. You could also be your usually cranky self and just pick up the girls at the end of Chloe's driveway and stick two fingers up as you drive off."

"I may have said something like that to her earlier."

"Why am I not surprised?" Luke winked, pinching another fry. "You can be whatever you need to be with Chloe. You can be your moody self, or you can actually show the part of you that only a few of us usually get to see."

"Which is?"

"The Beca you try to hide so you don't get hurt. Underneath all the eyeliner and the snark and the 'I'm going to cut you if you stand too close to me' attitude is someone who's been through the darker side of life and been through the mill but will wake up extra early on someone's birthday and take all their saved pennies and go and buy them a birthday muffin from their favourite bakery. Someone who'd sit up all night just to make sure their piece of work was done properly and text and call if someone is unwell, even if you just say, 'are you dead yet?'. You try to hide it, but deep down, you are a really good person."

"Yeah, well, Jesse taught me well." Beca said, shrugging off the compliment.

"He did. He showed you love and compassion and how to live life to the fullest. He gave you an amazing gift before he left us."

"And I lost that gift."

"You didn't lose it Beca. You haven't let him down, like you keep on saying. You got a judge with a bad attitude and took the facts as they were on paper. Chloe isn't the better parent just because she can take the girls to baton twirling lessons and dress them up in tutu's at a moment's notice. Jessie can already tie her own shoes, she makes her own bed, she's really polite and friendly and she sees how hard you work every day to give her the best life possible. True, she wasn't about to get everything handed to her on a plate like some other people might but that's not real life anyway. This whole situation is out of control for everyone. We're all hurting here. We've all lost Jessie. I know my feelings don't compare to yours, but it's unlikely I'll see her again. And Amy feels the same way. You get an hour every two weeks. We don't. But we can't make you do anything different than what we are doing at the moment."

"Thanks Luke."

"For what?"

"For loving Jessie."

"Her parents are amazing people and my two best friends." Luke smiled, stretching over the table to retrieve another one of Beca's fries.

"But that's where you're wrong!" Beca said, swatting his hand away from her plate.

"How?" He said, immediately wondering.

"Her parents are Chloe and David. Alex is Jesse and I's daughter."

Luke blinked a couple of times.

"Sorry." He said quietly. "I forget she's not actually yours."

"It's okay. So I need a favour from you."

"Sure."

"I need you to tell me what to do here."

"Beca, I can't."

"Please?"

Luke sighed and looked over at his friend.

"Please Luke. My mind is all over the place at the moment. I don't know what to do. I want my daughter to have the best life. I mean, I don't know why I acted that way in front of Chloe today. It wasn't my intention to be like that. I think she just caught me off guard. She was actually really nervous and it was sweet of her to bring me the photos of Jessie. She has been trying to reach out, to talk to me, and I've been ignoring her messages. I guess she really did feel the only way to talk to me was face to face. It's just every time I look at her, I feel something."

"In what way?"

"I think it's just the memory of the day I gave birth to my daughter and my connection to Chloe, I dunno. It's weird. Like a flutter in my belly and my heart beats a little faster."

"I think Chloe reaching out to you makes you feel strange as well."

"How do you mean?"

"Because you aren't used to people wanting to be your friend." Luke said, matter of factly, staring her down.

"I've got you. And Amy. For all her weirdness, she's pretty loyal."

"Two friends Beca does not make-"

"-Oh, like you can talk! You don't have many friends either."

"But we're not talking about me. And I have plenty of friends."

"So you think because she's trying to get to know me, I'm… what?"

"In your words, 'freaked out' by it. You've been so busy building up these walls around you that you can't see there are people waiting on the other side to get to know you."

"I'm not freaked out. Just don't see the point."

"In what way?"

"Making friends. You and Amy are different. But eventually, everyone just leaves so why waste all your time and energy in developing something that isn't going to last?"

"Is that why you won't date anyone?"

"I've dated people."

"When?"

"At times." Beca smirked and Luke shook his head at her. "So, come on, what advice are you going to charm me with?"

"I'm not."

"Luke!"

"I can't give you advice Beca because I don't know myself. I've only met Chloe and David once. I thought they were nice people. David seemed all right until he started interrogating you and Chloe seemed like a genuinely nice person. You come from opposite sides of the track to each other and I honestly don't know what to suggest to you. What do you think you should do?"

"I don't know either. It's like half of me wants to hear what she has to say and half of me wants to tell them both to go to hell. She's got the perfect house and the perfect family and the perfect job and she's successful and friendly and nice and sociable and she's beautiful, I mean really beautiful. She's everything I'm not. And I guess I'm too angry to want to talk to her. I mean, what are we going to talk about?"

"Well, you could start by just talking about the children." Luke suggested, his hand snaking out across the table once more to steal the last remaining fry on Beca's plate.

"I guess so. I mean, she did tell me that Jessie was struggling to sleep at night."

"She's reaching out for help. I hope you told her the trick."

"I may have told her she had to figure it out herself."

"And what does that achieve?" Luke asked.

"Momentary satisfaction. But then I felt guilty."

"So who won?"

"No one I guess."

"And the point of doing it then…?" Luke asked, signalling to the waitress for the check. He stared at Beca for the longest time until she began to grow uncomfortable under his gaze.

"Okay, you're making sense. Which I hate."

Luke smiled and held his hand out as the waitress came over with the folder containing their check. As soon as he laid it on the table, and leaned over to collect his wallet, Beca's hand shot out and picked it up.

"Lunch is on me."

"No, I got it."

"Luke, please. It's a small gesture in comparison to you helping me out all the time."

"You sure?"

"Yes. I really don't know what I'd do without you sometimes and I can get you a cheeseburger these days. Got more money in my bank account at the moment than I've ever had. Just don't have a kid to spend it on."

"Well, talk to Chloe, as I said. Maybe the two of you can work something out."

"Yeah, maybe."

"Whoa, was that an almost positive response?" Luke smirked.

"I mean, yeah. I got what you were saying. I was acting like a dick so I'll speak with her, okay?"

Luke just grinned.

.oOo.

message from beca.m, to chloe.m – 14.39 – Hi, it's Beca. Which you prob already know cos my name is on the text, right? Just wanted to talk to you about today. You around?
message from beca.m, to chloe.m – 14.59 – So, yeah, I'm sorry for what I said. Okay?
message from beca.m, to chloe.m – 15.06 – And for acting like a dick.
message from beca.m, to chloe.m – 15.17 – I'm not good on text. Can you call me if you're free?
message from beca.m, to chloe.m – 18.31 – I know you're prob in the middle of bedtime. Call me after?
message from beca.m, to chloe.m – 19.58 – Is Jessie okay? If she's still awake, I can help you get her to sleep.

message from chloe.m, to aubrey.p – 20.01 – She's sent 6 texts. When do I respond? X
message from aubrey.p, to chloe.m – 20.04 – When you haven't had a few glasses of wine.
message from chloe.m, to aubrey.p – 20.06 – What's that got to do with anything? X
message from aubrey.p, to chloe.m – 20.09 – Anything more than three glasses and you'll be asking her to move in with you.
message from chloe.m, to aubrey.p – 20.10 – OMG, what a great idea! She could have the pool house. X
message from aubrey.p, to chloe.m – 20.12 – Thank you for confirming my reason for why you won't be responding tonight. Go to bed.

message from beca.m, to luke.b – 20.47 – Tried to message C but no response. Why isn't she responding?
message from luke.b, to beca.m – 21.12 – She might be busy x
message from beca.m, to luke.b – 21.14 – Too busy to answer a text?
message from luke.b, to beca.m – 21.15 – Did you really just say that? x
message from beca.m, to luke.b – 21.19 – What?
message from luke.b, to beca.m – 21.22 – Remind me how long you took to respond to one of her messages or calls? x
message from beca.m, to luke.b – 21.29 – Okay wise ass
message from beca.m, to luke.b – 21.53 – What if something is wrong with Jessie? What if she's hurt and C's taken her to the ER?
message from luke.b, to beca.m – 21.55 – Chloe would tell you.

message from beca.m, to chloe.m – 22.06 – Hope everything is okay. Night

message from chloe.m, to aubrey.p – 22.06 – She's just sent me another one. X
message from aubrey.p, to chloe.m – 22.12 – Goodnight Chloe.

message from beca.m, to chloe.m – 07.14 – Hey, how did Jessie sleep last night?
message from beca.m, to chloe.m – 09.28 – Is Jessie okay?
message from beca.m, to chloe.m – 10.33 – Why are you ignoring me?

Beca slammed her phone down on her desk and huffed. She spun her chair around and faced Luke, who twisted his head to look over in her direction.

"You can't be mad because she's ignoring your texts." He said before Beca had a chance to say anything. "You did the same thing to her."

"That was different."

"How?!"

"Jessie wasn't living with her then."

"She might be busy Beca. There's three little ones there now." Luke held up three fingers to emphasise his point.

"Thanks for reminding me."

"I can't help you with this."

"I bet Chloe has that twitchy blonde on her side."

"Who?"

"Audrey or something. I dunno what her friend is called."

"Maybe if you made an effort to learn people's names properly?"

"You're no help." Beca said, standing from her chair. "Well, fine, if she's going to be like that, I won't bother either."

"You know…" Luke said, trying not to laugh. "… that snark would be a lot more assertive if you weren't checking your phone every second!"

.oOo.

From: Chloe unicornsrule4ever
Sent: June 29 14.04
To: Rebecca Mitchell djmitchmatch
Subject: Mediation

"Dear Miss Mitchell,

Thank you for meeting with me yesterday. I apologise that something came up and I had to leave. Thank you for your text messages. Jessie is quite well.

Upon seeking advice, I think it best that we engage a mediator to help us learn how to communicate with each other in a civil manner, for the sake of the girls going forward. With your agreement, I will confirm an appointment I have tentatively booked for Monday morning at 10am, with two representatives from a firm which has come highly recommended. They are not psychologists and offer no legal advice and are simply there to aid the conversation and steer it in the right direction.

If you are agreeable to attend, I've taken the liberty of attaching their site address and small company mission statement for you to read through.

If you are not agreeable, you can simply disregard this email.

Regards,

Chloe Mitchem-Beale"

.oOo.

"Who the fuck does she think she is?"

"What now?" Luke asked, continuing to stare at the screen in front of him. He'd spend the last few hours trying to ignore Beca as she stomped her way around the office. While he wasn't enjoying seeing his friend suffer, he knew it was teaching her a valuable lesson.

"She wants to go to mediation."

"How's Jessie?"

"Huh?"

"Did 'she' say how Jessie was?" Luke asked.

"Jessie is…" Beca paused to read the email again. "… quite well."

"Okay, good."

"Did you hear what I said?"

"All I'm hearing from you is you being petulant."

"Petulant?"

"Yes, Chloe is offering to meet you and-"

"-So she gets the upper hand in this yet again."

"Beca! Stop! Just stop, okay! You are not going to get anywhere if you continually negate every attempt to get through this. Even if…" Luke put his hand up as Beca opened her mouth to protest, essentially cutting her off. "… you don't agree with it, she's trying here. Go to the mediation. Sit and talk with her. And stop hating her. It's not doing you any good. And suck it up, quit being a bitch about or you'll never see Jessie, or Alex without any stress again."

"Geez, dude, take a pill or something. Relax, all right?"

"Just... get get back to work." Luke tried to hide his eye twitch at the serious look on Beca's face.

"Yes sir!"

Luke smirked as he turned his head around, knowing Beca would eventually be the death of him.

.oOo.


A/N - Next chapter is Chloe and Beca meeting up again... fingers crossed it'll go better than last time!

Have a great week everyone :)

Chapter Text

A/N - Evening all! Just a cheeky update for you all. I know some folks are a little confused about what's going on so please be rest assured, I have it all under control. Honest! This chapter is a little bonkers, and again, is a two parter so if it doesn't feel like it's finished, the second half will be up soon.

Thanks to my beta, for all you do and thank you to everyone for reading along x


.oOo. Chapter Twenty Two .oOo.

"Good morning." Chloe said, forcing a bright smile as she approached the reception desk of the mediation centre that Aubrey had suggested she visit. She'd arrived at least half an hour earlier for her scheduled appointment, nervous and feeling slightly timid of the reaction she might get from Beca again. She'd woken that morning with a headache that just wouldn't shift and an ache in her gut that she couldn't explain.

'Be less Chloe.'

That thought had sat with her all weekend. She knew Aubrey meant well when she had said it, knowing her friend wouldn't intentionally say anything to upset her. Aubrey had a way of explaining things to Chloe that no one else could and she knew, deep down, it was because Aubrey was the only person to really get her. She saw behind the Hollywood movie star façade and the good fortune and wide circle of friends. She knew Chloe meant well at everything she did but, as Aubrey had pointed out to her just a few days beforehand, she had received everything in life on a silver platter.

'Be less Chloe.'

She'd spent the whole of Sunday wondering what it would be to live in Beca's shoes. By the evening, she'd confidentially worked out that she had absolutely no idea how to begin imagining it and vowed to work on herself. She knew she was generally well liked but as the day wore on, she began to doubt everything around her. By the time Monday came around, she was so on edge that she nearly cancelled her own meeting but instead, had showered and dressed in record time and had left the house almost an hour earlier than she'd meant to collect a take out coffee. She wasn't sure if having caffeine when she was already jittery was a good idea but as she pulled up to the drive thru window, she figured it also couldn't make anything worse.

'Be less Chloe.'

Although it was obvious that the server recognised her, she was grateful there wasn't much interaction other than to hand over her coffee in a double cup and thank each other. She was starting to doubt how real her life was and if there was a way for her to turn back time and start over again. She'd spent hours, replaying everything in her mind and while, deep down, she knew she wasn't a terrible person, she knew she'd acted like one over the past few months.

"Hello, and welcome to the Smith-Abernathy-McKadden-Feinberger Institute Of Mediation And Positive Thinking." The cheery receptionist's pleasant voice cut into her daydream.

"I've got an appointment this morning at ten o'clock, with John Smith. My name is Chloe Mitchem." Chloe said politely, tucking some loose hair behind her ear, thinking to herself that she probably should have tied her hair up rather than leave it loose, as she was less likely to fiddle with it.

"No problem, I can see your appointment in Mr. Smith's calendar. Can you sign in here, please?" The receptionist asked, pointing to a small tablet screwed to the front desk. Chloe read the small sign on her desk that said her name was Claudia.

"Yes, of course," Chloe said, quickly tapping in her details. "Do you know if Miss Rebeca Mitchell has arrived for the same meeting?"

"I'm afraid I don't have her checked in yet," Claudia said, after checking the screen in front of her. "But it is still early."

"Yes, of course. I thought traffic was going to be bad…" Chloe trailed off, not quite knowing why she was babbling to the receptionist so much. The receptionist smiled at her, unaware of the situation.

"This is for you," Claudia said, laying a visitor badge on the top of the desk. She pointed to a small waiting area to the left of the double doors that Chloe had come through just a couple of minutes beforehand. "If you'd like to wait over there, Mr. Smith will come and collect you. Please help yourself to coffee and let me know if there's anything you might need to make your wait more pleasant."

"Thank you very much," Chloe said politely, hitching her purse onto her shoulder and nodding to the receptionist.

She walked over to the bench seats that formed a squashed diamond shape and sat down. The table in the middle of the room was littered with magazines and glossy supplements and she internally cringed slightly when she saw at least three of the covers contained her picture. One of them was taken just a couple of weeks ago when she was picking up a few groceries and looking a little worse for wear after the couple of bottles of expensive Merlot that she'd shared with Aubrey the night before.

She found her mind drifting, wondering if Beca enjoyed wine as much as she did. Or if she didn't, what her favourite drink was. She didn't know her favourite food, or if she liked movies or... as she thought about it some more, anything about her at all anymore. She held onto the memory of how Beca treated her in the hospital and how they'd discussed music more than anything else. Chloe's head dropped a little as she thought how she'd never really taken the opportunity to get to know Beca, as a person, rather than just someone to communicate with over Jessie.

She began to wonder, as the minutes clicked by and her coffee began to wear off, if Beca would even show up that day.

It had taken everything she had in her not to reply to every one of Beca's texts. She felt guilty about making her wait for a response, but she knew Aubrey was right. She'd sent Beca the email, inviting her to the mediation meeting, and hoped for a reply but as yet, she still hadn't received one. Aubrey had typed the email out, not allowing Chloe to put her usually whimsical charm into the wording, citing the reason for that as it needed to remain professional sounding. Although she couldn't give Chloe a good enough reason why, when her friend had questioned her.

Chloe crossed one knee over the other and flicked a stray piece of cotton off of her jeans. She'd opted for casual that morning, not in the mood to play dress up or wear business attire. She'd chosen an outfit similar to the one she wore on the day she'd met Beca for the first time since the news had sunk in that their daughters had been swapped. She felt that without Ms. Davies being there, they might have had a better outcome and she wondered, in the back of her mind, whether it was because she'd also dressed casually and came across more on Beca's wavelength.

She hated herself for having those thoughts now, wondering if it was that kind of thinking that made it obvious to those around that it was assumed that she thought quite highly of herself. She had never intended to come across like that to anyone because, deep down, that wasn't her.

Chloe cleared her throat and checked the time of the small clock on the wall. She still had twenty minutes to wait and was getting antsy. She didn't want to touch the magazines as she couldn't be bothered to read more fake news about herself. So far that month, as Chloe had been a little absent around town, there'd been rumours that she had entered rehab for drug abuse... but there'd also been rumours that she'd been abducted by aliens, run off to join a cult that worshiped goats and, her personal favourite, that she was undergoing therapy for tax evasion of all things.

"Mrs. Mitchem?"

"Yes?" Chloe's head snapped up at the sound of her name.

"Hello, I'm John Smith, co-founder of the Smith-Abernathy-McKadden-Feinberger Institute Of Mediation And Positive Thinking. I'm actually the brains behind the whole outfit, which is why my name comes first!" John said, holding out his hand for Chloe to shake. "That, and because I'm a man, I am more superior."

He chuckled at his own joke as he smiled at Chloe.

"I must say, you are much prettier in real life." He continued. "I expect you get by on your looks alone, is that right? I'm right, aren't I?"

"Umm-"

"-Shall we head upstairs to BED?"

"Excuse me?"

"BED. It stands for Bugbear Evaluation Department. You have a bugbear, a problem, that you've come to us for and we are the ones who will sort it out for you once you are evaluated." John over explained, smiling so wide it looked painful. He held out his hand to his side, indicating away from the seating area. "Shall we?"

"Umm, yes. Sure." Chloe said, rising to her feet and following John as he headed towards the elevators beyond the reception desk. "Has Miss Mitchell arrived yet?"

"I don't know. Was she driving herself here today?"

"I'm not sure."

"Well, you know women," John said, pausing to press the call button for the elevator. He looked over towards Chloe's confused face. "What I mean is, women are bad driver's so she's probably late because of that. You know statistically, women are more likely to have a car accident on a Wednesday afternoon at four, than they are at becoming doctors. Did you know that?"

"No. Is that real?"

John turned and smiled as the elevator doors opened.

"After you." He said politely, stepping in behind Chloe as she passed him. "My colleague, Gail, will wait for the other party to arrive."

"Okay, thank you. And Gail... is she one of the other co-founders?"

"Yes, she is. She's on her fourth marriage but we've stopped adding her names to the company name now. Changing the logo every two years gets expensive."

Chloe sided eyed the man with whom she was sharing a lift, wondering what on earth Aubrey was on to have recommended this man, and the company, to her.

"After you've met with myself and Gail today, you can speak with Claudia on reception to book any follow up appointments."

"I understand," Chloe said simply, thinking that as long as she could get through the next couple of hours, she didn't actually have to come back.

"And how long have you known Mrs. Abernathy-McKadden-Feinberger?"

"Oh, you can call her Gail. Everyone here is on a first name basis, except me, 'cos I'm a man and therefore, more important." John said, his manner friendly, but his word choice was strange.

Chloe narrowed her eyes a little.

The elevator stopped on the ninth floor of the building, and the doors opened to reveal a waiting area which consisted of a couple of rows of wooden lockers, a water machine, and a statue of John made out of matchsticks, bubblegum, and moss of all things. Chloe was beginning to feel quite hot and made sure she noted where all of the emergency exits were, should she feel the need to leave suddenly.

"We will be in room three today, Mrs. Mitchem. If you would like to get undressed, and leave all of your belongings, shoes, and purse in one of the lockers and wait for me here, I'll go ahead and get the room ready."

'Undressed?'

"Sorry, excuse me, did you say undressed?" She blurted out as John turned away.

"Why yes. We can't conduct a mediation meeting if you are wearing a jacket for example. We find things like sleeves a terrible distraction, especially for a woman."

'He means your coat, get it together Chloe!'

"Thank you." She said, hoping that no one else had heard her ask such a strange question. He nodded briskly to her once, before turning and leaving her in the second waiting area.

She quickly chose a locker and laid her purse inside. Opening it, she reached in for her phone, checking there were no messages from Stacie, before switching it to silent mode. She'd left the institute's number for Stacie on the fridge in case of an emergency but she also knew Stacie was more than capable of dealing with most problems.

Shrugging her thin summer jacket off, she pulled out the coat hanger inside the locker and threaded it through the arms, making sure to line up the creases of the sleeves with the hard plastic. Wondering why she was doing that when there were better things to be worrying about, she reached down to slip off her sandals and placed them in the locker.

She noted that there were spa style slippers for her to wear so dropped them to the floor and pushed her feet inside, closing the locker door and turning the small plastic key to keep it locked, slipping it into her pocket for safety. She turned to look around the room, her eye catching a couple of landscape pictures and a hand drawn picture that John himself had done when, judging by the caption, he was in second grade.

Chloe shook her head, trying to rationalise her thoughts as this whole place confused her. She wondered what Beca would make of it. Thinking of the brunette made her left eye twitch and she wrapped her arms around herself to stop her hands from shaking. She was just contemplating taking a cup of water when a door popped open to her right and John's head appeared through the gap.

"Would you like to come in?" He asked.

Chloe nodded and made her way over, entering the room which, to her surprise, was nothing like she expected. Aubrey had told her nothing of what happened when she'd been there. She'd anticipated that the room would be stark, clinical almost, with simple seating and generic furnishing and some insipid music playing in the background.

Instead, the room was much cooler than she'd imagined a room in California could be, very dark with just a couple of soft lights near to a small set of steps which lead to a circular seating area that was filled with cushions, bean bags, and plush throws and smelled like a winter's evening.

Chloe took a deep breath, instantly finding the scent calming. She recognised cinnamon and the smell of buttered toast as John closed the door behind her.

"Please, make your way down to the comfort zone." He said, indicating a path for Chloe to take with a small flashlight. "Find a place to sit and make yourself comfortable. I'm just going to see where Gail is."

"Thank you." She said, walking to the short staircase and carefully took the five steps downwards. She felt it was similar to when she stepped into her hot tub, but instead of soft bubbling water, there were soft furnishings everywhere. She found it difficult to walk on the spongy surface in the dim light and stumbled slightly, falling into one of the beanbags. She decided not to fight to move anywhere else and just sat where she landed.

The room was cold so she reached out for one of the thick fleece blankets that were stacked around the top part of the room, laying it over herself easily. She leant back and soon found herself cocooned. She closed her eyes for a moment, breathing deeply as she still tried to work out what the rest of the smells were.

She could feel herself relax for the first time in a few weeks and was fighting against a quick power nap when John slipped back into the room, the light from the waiting area illuminating the walls for just a moment. Chloe could just make out the posters on the wall showing the classic motivational slogans that she always thought were quite tacky.

"Can I get you anything?" John asked as he kicked off his shoes by the door.

"No, thank you. Has Miss Mitchell arrived?"

"Not yet." John said, making his way down the steps. He pulled out a small tablet from his back pocket before he took a seat opposite Chloe.

"Okay. If she doesn't come-"

"-My colleague Gail, will be here shortly."

"If Miss Mitchell doesn't show up..." Chloe tried again. "... what does that mean?"

"Nothing to worry your pretty little head over. We can spend some time with you but if the other party chooses not to come, there isn't much we can do. We'll give you some exercise to use to aid communication but she would need to want to do this for desired results." John said simply and Chloe nodded, chewing on her lip for a moment.

There was a soft knock on the door before it opened, revealing a pretty blonde woman in the doorway.

"Ah, this is Gail," John said, by way of indication.

"I think we should make a start John," Gail said, entering the room. She made her way towards the cushiony pit and, instead of taking the stairs, jumped down to take a seat near John. As she did, the distinct sound of material tearing flitted across the room.

"Is it me, or are those skirts just not working anymore?" John asked, looking at her bemusedly.

"You're walking the line, John. A skirt rip can be refreshing, yet displeasing to the eye." Gail said in response before looking over to Chloe. "Hi, I'm Gail."

"Hi. Chloe."

"Nice to meet you."

"And you."

"Shall we make a start?" Gail said, clapping her hands together a couple of times. Chloe nodded, disappointed that Beca had chosen not to show up. She settled back under the blanket and rested her head on a heart shaped pillow.

"So, welcome again to the Smith-Abernathy-McKadden-Feinberger Institute Of Mediation And Positive Thinking. We began this venture about ten years ago when we understood there was a gap in the market for people who needed to learn how to communicate with each other. It can be lovers, friends, married-for-a-decade couples, or co-workers. Sometimes, there is no conflict but the beginning of a conversation just can't happen and we're here to assist with that. As Miss Mitchell has declined the invitation to attend, we will start with a few basic questions to get to know each other. How does that sound?" John asked.

"That's fine. I'm sorry Miss Mitch-" Chloe began.

"-Firstly, we don't apologise for how the other person feels. We have little control over a person's feelings unless we intentionally seek to hurt them. Okay?" Gail said, running her finger under the wide bracelet she wore on her wrist.

Chloe nodded.

"So, firstly, how are things today?" John enquired.

"In what way?" Chloe asked, looking between them both. "Do you mean, how do I feel about things or how is my day going? Are my kids okay with their babysitter, or how is work?"

"You tell us," Gail said, reaching over to the tablet in John's hand and tapping on the screen.

"Well, I want to get this situation resolved. At this point, Miss Mitchell is my number one concern after my daughters."

"And why is that?"

"I believe that I am partially to blame for her being unhappy."

"Because of the court case outcome?" John asked, looking at the screen in front of him.

"Yes."

"And why do you feel like this?"

"I don't know."

"Hmm, we have a problem here," Gail said, sucking a little air in between her teeth. She turned to John. "Let's try this a different way."

"You're right Gail."

"Chloe, your life has obviously turned upside down in the last few months."

"Yes, that's true."

"How are things generally at home?"

"Surprisingly good. Mostly. Although my daughter, Jessica, has only been home for a very short space of time and yes that has brought forward some challenges, in some ways, I feel a little bit like my old self again. I've got back into running recently."

"That's good. Is it compensating for something?" John pondered, more to himself than anyone in the room.

"My running?" Chloe asked and John nodded. "No, I don't think so. I run to keep in shape, to get out in the fresh air and have some time to myself."

"Well, that's great." Gail said. "Running and moving does release those feel good endorphins."

"So, it's not to avoid... Gail, I think something is wrong with this program." John moaned, pushing the tablet into Gail's hand as the screen flashed a couple of times. "Well, that's a problem."

"You just touch the one button." Gail snapped, taking the gadget from him and tapping the screen furiously.

"No, no, I have to do a lot of buttons," John said, reaching over and touching the device.

"You big klutz, you've switched it off. Why did you touch it? I'm in charge of the tablet in future," Gail said, smacking his hand away.

"Ha! You just make sure that the light's on."

"No, I fix your mistakes. I..." Gail started to whine but she was interrupted by a sharp knock to the door. "... yes?"

The door to the waiting area was pushed open and a head appeared, framed in a halo of light, looking slightly more than frazzled.

"Riccardo?"

"Sorry to interrupt, Mr Smith... Gail but..." The young secretary's head disappeared for a few seconds and the group could hear furious whispering in the waiting area before he reappeared. "I've got Rebeca here and she says she was invited to come here by Mrs. Mitchem and she was late as her car broke down on the way here."

"Did you explain the clinic's rules to her?" John said, his voice a little colder than before.

"Yes, of course."

"Once we start, we don't care for interruptions." John sneered. "We can't have women turning up at all times of the day and night. It's distracting to us men folk."

"I know that sir, but she's demanding to be let in. And I'm not sure if she'll take no for an answer."

John and Gail exchanged glances before they both turned towards Chloe, waiting for an answer to the unasked question.

"Oh. Um, yes, please... let her in." Chloe said, shifting from her comfortable spot and smoothing down her hair in a move that wasn't lost on Gail.

John nodded towards Riccardo and he looked so relieved that Chloe wanted to laugh.

"Thank you, thank you, she will be in shortly." Riccardo gratefully sighed, ducking back out of the room, leaving the door to shut with an audible pop.

Chloe could hear Beca talking in the waiting area before she heard the banging of a locker door and furious whispers between the two outside. She smiled to herself, grateful that Beca had decided to come along, willing to give this another chance. She found the ache in her chest lessen as the seconds ticked by.

"Excuse me a moment," Gail said, standing from her position and clambering up to the main part of the floor, flashing both John and Chloe a quick view of bright pink underwear. She walked to the door and opened it slightly, before reaching out and grabbing Beca by the arm, pulling her through with such enthusiasm that Beca nearly fell over.

"My goodness, you're tiny," John said, unashamedly. "In my opinion, small women are like children; they should be seen but not heard."

Beca's confused and questioning eyes shot to Chloe in the darkness, finding them just as the light from the doorway disappeared. Chloe took that as a good sign, that she'd look for Chloe in amongst her brief confusion.

"Take a seat over here, Beca," Gail said, pointing to a spot where she'd have to face Chloe. "And welcome."

"Um, yeah, sure" Beca said, almost falling down the steps. "Why is it so dark in here?"

"We find the truth comes out better when it's harder to see reactions."

"That's weird," Beca said, finding a place to sit. "And why is it cold?"

"We didn't pay the heating bill." John deadpanned before winking at Chloe in what she felt was a move to get him on her side. "We do this so people feel comfortable."

"By making them freeze to death?" Beca snarked. In the soft lighting, Chloe could see that Beca's arms were dotted with goosebumps.

"There are blankets to wrap around you, so you can feel the comfort envelope you," Gail explained theatrically as she flung her arms around herself. She took a seat next to Beca, who visibly flinched then moved up a few inches.

"So Rebeca, we were-" John began.

"-Um, it's just Beca."

"... we were talking before you got here-"

"-Yeah, I'm sorry, I'm late," Beca said, fiddling with the hem of her tee shirt. "My car isn't really reliable."

"... before you got here about what we are hoping to achieve in these sessions."

"Actually John, we hadn't gotten that far." Gail reminded him.

"Oh." John said, looking confused.

"A quick run down of the rules." Gail started. "We do not tolerate bad language or belittling personalised attacks or remarks directed at us or each other. We do not appreciate raised voices and gesturing. Our aim is to help but we cannot solve this situation for you. The work has to come from you."

"I guess we'd best leave now then Chloe, eh?" Beca smirked, trying to make light of their last meeting. She was nervous and her attempt at humour didn't seem to go down very well. She cast her eyes over to Chloe who was staring back at her, wincing at her comment.

"Perhaps you should leave the jokes to the men?" John said.

"Yeah, sorry. I'll... sorry." Beca stuttered out. She looked back at Chloe who wouldn't meet her eye. "Sorry, Chloe."

"It's okay." The redhead whispered, suggesting everything was not all right.

"I do care about doing this," Beca said quietly.

"And why is that?" Gail asked.

"I want to... I dunno, make it work."

"Make what work?" Gail posed the question.

"Us." Beca gestured between herself and Chloe a couple of times.

"Is there an 'us'?" Gail said, using quote marks.

"I mean, we've got the girls to think about," Beca explained.

Chloe looked up under her eyelashes and saw the strain on Beca's face.

"So, my understanding is that between you, there are three girls who currently live with Chloe. Beca is mother to one, but raised a different child."

"Correct," Chloe said, watching Beca as she nodded along.

"And why have you two come to us today? Do you despise each other enough to-"

"-I don't despise her at all." Beca interrupted.

"I think you'd best remind Beca of the rules, Gail," John said, smirking at Chloe.

"Rules? I thought we just went through the rules... you know, about the no yelling. I didn't raise my voice."

"It was on the check in sheet," Chloe said quietly. "No interrupting each other as we speak. Holding thoughts until the other has finished talking."

"Oh. Sorry." Beca said, her face pinking up. In her hurry to not miss too much of the meeting, she'd just skipped reading the terms and conditions and signed her name.

"Let's start again." Gail said. "Beca, you'll work with me and Chloe will work with Mr Smith."

"Okay." Beca said.

"Sure." Chloe mumbled, looking at John.

"Well, my group of not men, I shall begin with the questions. Being the man, I should go first."

"John, a change of pace could not come soon enough here for these two. This is not a great way to start their session."

"Agreed Gail. This number is like an elephant dart to the public's face."

Beca shot Chloe a look as if to say 'what the heck' and found Chloe looking equally as bemused as she was. She had been in there for almost ten minutes and it seemed like nobody had started saying anything of help yet. The whole meeting so far seemed uncoordinated and as if the two instructors had no idea how to manage the meeting.

"Chloe, do you trust Beca?" John asked, earning him a side glance from Gail.

"She saved my life once. That garners a level of trust, I guess." Chloe said, shrugging her shoulders.

"But not in the sense of friendship?" Gail motioned with her hands between the two of them.

"I barely know anything about her, if I'm honest. Aside from the basics, I mean."

"And Beca?" Gail asked.

"No, I don't trust her," Beca ignored Chloe's flinch as she spoke.

"Can I ask why?" John asked Beca.

"Why should I?" Beca shot back. "She said I saved her life once... which, yeah, is true but because of that I fuc... because of that, my life took a different direction."

"And do you feel you could trust her in the future, if we continue to work together?" John said, looking towards Gail.

"I mean, I want to. She's going to be raising my kid."

"And Chloe?"

"I think trust is such an overrated word. I trusted my husband but he left me down. Beca hasn't actually ever let me down, not really. Yes, conversations are hard, emotions are high but this is new territory for us all." Chloe said easily.

"I kinda did let you down," Beca added.

"Go on." Gail prompted when Beca didn't continue.

"I mean, in the beginning, after we first met up. I didn't exactly take ownership of the situation on my side and didn't answer messages or send pictures or gifts for Alex or anything."

"Yes, but now, I understand that it was hard for you. I pushed you, assuming you'd be like me and keen to build up a friendship but in reality, I think you were trying to protect yourself and take time to process it all at your speed."

"No, I was being an asshole." Beca gave a light chuckle before noting the glare from John. "Sorry."

"Chloe, do you love Beca?" Gail asked, randomly.

"Um-" Beca blanched.

"-Wow, that's a tough question. I don't know her. But I will say that I love her for raising Jessie. She's done a wonderful job."

"Thanks." Beca mumbled.

"Beca, how does that make you feel?"

"I don't know."

"Well, do you love her?"

"Dude, this is like the... sixth time I've met her." Beca retorted.

"So, that's a no."

Beca nodded, unable to say the words.

"And why is that?"

"Why is what? Why don't I love someone I barely know? I don't love you either."

"Hmmm."

"What's hmmm?" Beca asked.

"Is it time for a talking exercise?" John asked Gail, not answering Beca.

"Yes, I think so. Is it me, or did we just take a left turn into snooze-ville?" Gail said.

"Yeah, and we parked in a lot where they do not validate," John responded.

Beca looked over towards Chloe and mouthed 'what the fuck?' this time and Chloe ducked her head to avoid laughing out loud, looking back up again to see Beca shrinking away from Gail a little more.

"Chloe?"

"Yes."

"Five things you like about Beca. Go." John said.

"Huh?"

"Quickly. You've got fifteen seconds."

"Five things I like about Beca? Um, she's feisty, um... smart, great Mom... um, takes no crap... um... stands up for herself."

"And five things you don't like about her? Go." John pushed.

"Oh jeez, um... she's... um... she's...-

"-Cold, standoffish, rude, snarky, and reluctant." Beca interrupted, recalling her eighth grade report card.

"Beca, no interrupting." John glared.

"What's the point of this exercise?" Beca asked. "To make us feel even more uncomfortable?"

"To open up the start of conversations, hopefully," Gail explained.

"I don't understand. We need to be discussing the girls here, not finding out why we dislike each other."

"Ah ha! So you do dislike each other." John said, putting one finger in the air. "One point to Team Chloe!"

"There's teams now?" Beca mumbled. "Well, if we're scoring points, tell me Mrs. Mitchem, what don't you like about me?"

"Beca, I..."

"No, come on. Why are we here? You want to talk to me... let's lay it all out in front of these strangers so we can move on."

"Do you want to move on Beca?" John asked.

"I want more than one hour every two weeks with my kid. That's all I want!"

"So, you harbour resentment towards Chloe?" Gail asked.

"No, that's not what I'm saying."

"What are you saying Miss Mitchell?" Chloe asked quietly.

"Call her Beca."

"She told me not to." Chloe said.

"Did you?" Gail turned to Beca.

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because I'm an asshole, and because I could," Beca said defiantly. She watched as Chloe took a deep breath and felt herself deflate a little. "Look, I want Chloe and I to have a civil and rational conversation about the girls, but I need to move forward, not dwell on the past."

"But Chloe has some issues that she needs to discuss," Gail explained.

"No, not really. I want the same as Beca." Chloe said.

"No, you don't," John said. "What you need is vocal exercises."

"Why?"

"To loosen up your vocal cords so you can talk."

"But we are already talking." Beca said.

"Think of it as exercising the demons within."

"Oh trust me, you do not want to go there with me." Beca smirked.

"Why not Beca? Are you-"

"-I'm not doing this." Beca said, suddenly standing up. "Chloe, I'm sorry, but this isn't helping. I promise I'll call you and we'll sort things out between us."

"Miss Mitchell, please..."

"Call me Beca. I was being a..." Beca glanced over to John who was itching to raise his hand again in an effort to score a point for his team. "... an idiot."

Beca sat down again, not wanting to give the weirdo on her left the satisfaction. She saw a flicker of relief come across Chloe's face.

"Okay, we'll play a game instead of vocal exercises." John said, nodding towards Gail in a habitual way that was making Beca want to punch him in the face. "I'll say a word, then Chloe, you have to say the first word that comes into your mind, then Beca, it will be your turn, then back to Chloe. Make sense."

Both girls nodded.

"Okay, so tree..."

"Green." Chloe said.

"Leaves."

"Bonfires."

"Death."

"Whoa..." John said. "That went pretty dark, Beca."

"Hi, welcome to me." She deadpanned in response.

"Okay, moving on. Water."

"Ocean." Chloe said.

"Sharks." Beca continued.

"Attack."

"Court."

"Lawyers."

"Hatred."

"Again, Beca with the dark side."

"I didn't know there were rules of what I could say." Beca mumbled.

"Okay, I think that's enough." Gail said, giving both Beca and Chloe more to think about as neither of them could understand the benefit in what they were doing.

"I think that just about wraps us up today." John said, checking the time on his watch. "If you speak with Claudia on your way out, you can fix up a future date for the second session. I suggest in three months' time. Gail?"

"Yes, that sounds perfect." Gail said, smiling broadly. "We'll leave you two alone in here for a couple of minutes so you can think about all we've talked about and you are free to leave whenever you are ready."

Beca looked blindly around the room as John and Gail stood up and followed each other to the door, Gail holding the door open for John to walk through first.

"What just happened?" Beca whispered to Chloe.

"I honestly don't know." Chloe muttered in response.

"I'm so confused."

"Me too."

"I'm gonna go."

"I think that's wise. I can't believe this program worked for my friend. She recommended it to me."

"Some friend." Beca laughed and Chloe's eyes lit up at the lightness that appeared in Beca's eyes as she giggled.

"Yeah."

"How much do I owe you for this?"

"Nothing. It's on me."

"Come on..." Beca implored.

"No, seriously. I'm not sure that I'll be paying the bill as I don't think we achieved anything."

"No, I just feel even more muddled." Beca said, getting up and holding out her hand to pull Chloe from her pile of cushions. Chloe grasped Beca's hand and allowed herself to be hauled up.

"Thanks."

"You're welcome. Look, I'm sorry I was late this morning. My car... died on Freemont and I had to walk the rest of the way. It was further than I thought."

"Oh don't worry, you didn't miss anything." Chloe said kindly, causing a small smile to appear on Beca's mouth as she climbed the short set of steps and made her way towards the door.

"So, I'll see you downstairs to make another appointment?"

"Yes, sure."

"Unless you have time for a coffee now?"

"Coffee?"

"Um, yeah. Unless you don't... forget I asked." Beca said, blushing a little as she held the door open for Chloe. They both blinked a little at the harsh light in the waiting room as they walked towards their lockers.

"No, a coffee would be lovely. Sorry, I was just surprised you asked."

"Well, this place is quite far from home so I think it would be a waste of time if we didn't actually talk about something while we're here."

"Agreed! I'm just going to run to the ladies..." Chloe said, feeling the effects of her early morning start and overload of caffeine. "... so can you wait for me in the lobby downstairs?"

"There's a coffee shop just next door, shall we meet in there?" Beca explained. Chloe didn't remember seeing it on her way in that morning but knew she was in a funk when she'd arrived so wasn't surprised that she'd missed it. "What will you have?"

.oOo.


A/N - I know, I know but 'the point' of it will be explained in the next chapter!

Chapter Text

A/N - Urgh, I've had a really shit day today! I've had my identity stolen online (which is really strange as I am pedantic about being careful for so many reasons, have a VPN, don't store any card details online etc...) and my bank account rifled through. Luckily the account they got into is my savings account which had about £4.50 in it so I didn't lose out but it's a horrible thing to have had happen. I feel quite violated! And quite ready to punch her in the face!

I guess some people are just arseholes... all I can say is that I hope their next shit is a pinecone.

Anyway, a special thanks to my beta... as always, I really appreciate the help and support.


.oOo. Chapter Twenty Three .oOo.

Beca had just sat down with two large cups of coffee at one of the side tables in the Mom and Pop style coffee shop when Chloe walked in, shaking out her hair as her eyes swept the room for Beca, who noted, with a slight pang, that Chloe looked relieved as anything that she was where she said she would be.

"Sorry, that took a bit longer than I thought it would," Chloe said, by way of additional greeting. "The receptionist collared me on the way through so I said we'd go back in a bit to make another appointment."

"I have a question about that." Beca said, as Chloe shrugged off her jacket and hung it on the back of the chair, before pulling it out and sitting down. She nodded at Beca for her to continue. "How did you get an appointment at such short notice? I looked them up and there's a waiting list for even just a consultation."

Chloe felt a slight rush run through her that Beca was interested enough to research them before she turned up for the appointment that morning. She ducked her head to the left as she saw a random person on the street stop in mid step, pausing to take another look at her, clearly recognising her. Beca followed her interaction and visibly flinched.

"You okay?"

"Yes, I'm fine. Just the guy on the street is about to take my picture." She said, looking up. "And I've got yesterday's makeup on!"

"Sucks to be you, huh? Do you want to go somewhere else?"

"No, here's fine. I'll just turn my back a little. It's okay, I'm used to it. I'd just rather not be interrupted while I'm talking to you." She explained and didn't mention the pink tinge that appeared on Beca's cheeks. "So, to answer your question, I got a consultation with them last minute because... well, because of who I am."

"Guess it doesn't suck all the time then?" Beca mused, lifting the lid of her coffee and inhaling the freshly ground aroma.

"How much do I owe you for the coffee?"

"Nothing, it's on me." Beca replied, snatching up four packets of sugar and ripping the tops off.

"Well, thank you."

"Welcome." Beca nodded, pouring the sugar into her drink and looked around for something to stir it with.

"Here." Chloe handed her a thin straw that was in a container to the side of their table.

"Thanks." Beca said, stirring her drink quickly before lifting the cup to her lips. "Shit, that's hot!"

She laughed at herself, in spite of her sore mouth.

"How's Jessie doing?"

"She's... she's doing okay."

"Is she sleeping any better?" Beca asked hopefully. Chloe shook her head.

"No, it's like she's missing something. I read the girls a bedtime story, and she seems okay and settled but as soon as I go back downstairs, I can hear her get up and move around the bedroom. I do check on her, to see if she needs a drink or to use the bathroom, but she jumps back into bed and pretends to be asleep. She's not going to get in trouble for not sleeping."

"She's not used to having people on two floors." Beca explained, blowing lightly on her coffee before she took a small sip. "I was only ever six feet away from her in our apartment. When she was at Amy's, she just fell asleep while watching television and if she was ever at Luke's, I think she used to have so much fun with him, she'd just fall asleep out of exhaustion."

"Okay, I'll try to remember that and not take it personally."

"I'm sure you are doing fine." Beca said, a small lump coming back up into her throat as she thought of Jessie missing her. "Look, I know you asked me last time what you could do to help her sleep and I'm sorry I was such a dick to you... and her, and didn't give you a proper answer."

"No need to apologise. I understand why you didn't want to share your secrets. I'd probably be the same."

"I doubt that. You actually do seem like a nice person." Beca smirked. "But anyway, with Jessie, the best thing to do is to sing."

"Sing?"

"Yeah, it calms her."

"What song?" Chloe asked.

"Anything that comes to mind."

"You sing to her?"

"From the day I brought her home. Usually just make up a song as I go along, sometimes it's just a grocery list or things I have to do. It helps me remember, as well. I didn't even have to be next to her, just the sound of my voice seemed to soothe her, so I always sang as she drifted off to sleep."

"That's beautiful." Chloe smiled. "Kate takes a while to go to sleep, needs a nightlight and half a dozen stories usually but Alex sleeps like the dead. Once her head hits the pillows, she's out."

"She gets that from her Dad." Beca explained, smiling genuinely for the first time in a very long time.

"Yeah?"

"That guy could sleep through anything, including a smoke alarm, which is in fact a true story. So yeah, he slept like the living dead except when I'd open a packet of cookies." Beca chuckled at the memory of her and Jesse's numerous sleepovers. "Dude's eyes would open so fast, it was like a light bulb switching on!"

"That's a lovely memory to have."

"It's all I've got of him now. Memories."

"There's Alex…" Chloe trailed off, not wanting to finish the sentence. "I am really sorry about that way this all turned out."

"Yeah, well, the better parent won, I guess."

"Neither one of us has won here, Beca. I realise I've done a lot of things very, very wrong here."

"So have I. But I meant what I said, I do want to move forward and not dwell on what's happened. I need to do this for Alex and Jessie." Beca scoffed. "It's so weird, I always think to ask about Jessie... but never about Alex."

"It's not weird. There's no rule book for how you're feeling, and the same for me." Chloe said kindly.

"I have the rest of Jessie's things in my car. Her toys and clothes. I know you'll probably be wanting to dress her in something better, probably designer and buy her new toys, but they are hers and familiar to her so…" Beca said, after a few moments of reflection. "Once I've got my car started, I'll get them to you."

"Oh. Right." Chloe looked confused. "Don't you want to keep them? For when she visits?"

"My apartment is half an hour away from your house." Beca said simply and without malice. "By the time I got her back to my place, it would be time to leave again. I'd rather not waste my allotted hour in a car."

"I'm sorry, I didn't think."

"How exactly does it work?"

"I'm sorry?"

"With the time I'm allowed with the girls. Is it supervised? Are you there too? Do I meet you somewhere? Is there a drop off point? Am I allowed to take them somewhere or do I have to stay in the same location so you can keep an eye on me?"

"I don't really know. I'm sorry." Chloe said, shaking her head.

"You say sorry a lot."

"I guess I do. I've got a lot to feel sorry about."

"It must be hard," Beca muttered thinly, after a few moments of quiet.

"What's that?"

"Sitting in your ivory tower. Coming from a good home. Having a good family. Having a life where no one judges you. Being able to trust people and even have strangers save your life…" Beca trailed off; knowing it wasn't Chloe's fault that she'd been lucky enough to be born into a better life than hers. Just because she wasn't, didn't make it right to be rude to someone who had.

"I'm truly sorry it came to this." Chloe raked her fingernails over her throat as her face turned pink. Beca could see she was about to cry. Her nervousness at the situation was beginning to show. She desperately wanted to reach out and touch Beca. She heard what Beca was saying and was taking her words to heart. She wished Beca could see things from her side and understand that she wasn't the horrible monster she was being made out to be. "I never thought Judge Highberger would make the decision he did."

"Then why put us through it all? You must have known it wouldn't end well. How can someone like me, who's now got nothing to live for by the way, compete with someone like you?"

"Don't say that."

"You really don't know the first thing about me."

"I know you are loving, hardworking, capable, and honest. You've seemingly set out and are achieving everything you said you would. You saved my life once and only a good person would put themselves in harm's way to help another."

"And just look what I got for doing that for you."

"I've been hurt as much as you have, Beca. I've lost everything too."

"How? How exactly have you lost everything, Ms. Beale-Mitchem? The last time I looked, you had it all."

"Appearances can be…" Chloe paused for a brief moment to try to think of a word to use.

"Deceptive?" Beca snapped.

"Yes, deceptive."

"What a shame you couldn't afford me the same courtesy in the courtroom."

"I was frightened. I thought we were losing the case. I didn't mean for Oliver to bring the past up, about your Mom."

"You? Losing?" Beca scoffed.

"Yes."

"I lost the case the day it started!" Beca cried out. "Ms. Davies is your biggest fan and was always going to be on your side."

There was silence for a little while and the air in the room felt thick with emotion and unspoken words. Beca looked at Chloe who was busy examining a short loose thread on her sleeve. Beca could see she was physically shaking and a flicker of something ran through her. She didn't know what it was, but it made her heart and her head hurt.

"Look, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to drag it out, seeing as I just said that we need to move on." Beca said, gazing out of the window to avoid looking at Chloe.

"It's okay. We've got things we both need to say." Chloe could see that Beca was still in such pain and she hated that she was the cause of so much of Beca's distress. She didn't want Beca to hate her. She wanted to find out a way to make this work for both of them, for the girls too. They had a deep connection now, an invisible thread that would connect them forever.

"Beca, I asked for us a chance to talk today, without anyone else here. I thought it would be easier if we could speak freely. I thought the Institute would be able to give us a structure, but clearly they are all just mad."

Beca continued to stare out of the window but she turned her head slightly, which Chloe took to be a sign she was listening even though she was pretending not to.

"I want to hear what you need. I'd like to tell you what I need. And maybe we can come up with something in the middle that suits us both. And the girls."

"And your husband."

"Huh?"

"Your husband. Dude in the suit and pink tie that made all those shitty comments about my career, brushing off what little success I've had in comparison to yours in court."

"That was wrong of David and I'm sorry." Chloe sighed. "I should have stopped him at the time. I've made him understand that he was wrong to do that."

"I should have hired a better lawyer, but I doubt you had any dirt on you anyway." Beca scoffed. "But my juvie record, really?"

"David and I argued a lot that night, over what was said. It wasn't fair. I'm sorry."

"I've tried so hard to put my past behind me. My upbringing is part of me but it doesn't define the path I'm going on. I've left my humble beginnings behind me. It's a shame that others want to see my failures, not my successes. It's as if-"

"-We aren't together anymore." Chloe suddenly blurted out and Beca's eyes snapped to Chloe's.

"Who isn't?"

"David and I." Chloe said simply.

"What?" Beca watched Chloe's face drop.

"We've not been together for a while now."

"You looked pretty together in court if you ask me."

"I asked him to be there as my husband for the sake of the girls. I requested that he show up and support us as a family. As their father, biological or surrogate, he had a right to know what was going to happen." Chloe explained.

"I don't get it," Beca scoffed at her own words as she was repeating Amy's mantra from a few days before, when they last had attempted to meet up.

"I realise I should have made it clear that we had separated a long time ago. We still plan on parenting together, but we are living apart."

"How long?"

"Huh?"

"How long have you been separated?"

"Right after the girls were born," Chloe admitted and Beca's eyes went wide.

"That's a long time."

"We drifted apart after the accident."

"People don't usually drift apart unless there was something wrong in the first place," Beca stated matter of factly.

Chloe nodded at the simplicity of her statement and fiddled with the ring on her finger.

"I met him when I was eighteen. Got swept up in the routine and expectation of dating, then marriage, then kids. It was easy. I had wanted to graduate college, travel the world a little, start a career and settle down after that. But then I met his parents. His family were and still are great and I loved them. Probably more than I loved him. "

"I had the opposite," Beca explained. "Known Jesse since I was in first grade. He was a good guy. His family was great. He died, they blamed me and never spoke to me again. We all made our feelings clear."

"How long did you date Jesse?"

"We never dated, remember? He was like my brother."

"But I-

"-It was just a one time thing with him. I didn't want him in that way, God, no. I honestly don't know what happened that night. We weren't drunk, it was just… maybe we knew something was wrong and he needed to leave some part of him behind. He was, and still is, the only man I've ever…" Beca gave a little shudder, realising she was sharing way too much with the woman she was desperately trying to hate. "… dating him, just no. Guys are... I don't… well you know, my orientation was tabloid news for a while."

Beca knew that Chloe's lawyers hadn't actually splashed anything about her in the news, in fact, the whole thing had been kept under the radar pretty well, considering. But she'd DJ'd a session in San Francisco over the last Pride Parade weekend and that was the image that was being used in the media when Chloe's recent court trip was being discussed as her being seen in the courthouse at the same time.

"David is currently living in our pool house."

"Pool house," Beca repeated.

"He sleeps there at night but eats with us in the evening and helps put the girls to bed."

"Why didn't he move out?"

"He can't afford to at the moment. There's going to be no settlement from the divorce for him."

"Sounds like he's in it for the money."

"I met him before all of that," Chloe explained. "We lived in a tiny place when we first got married. He put food on the table until I got my first big acting part. It was a couple of months after the girls were born that he needed some time to himself and moved into one of the spare bedrooms while I was at an appointment. I got home, that was that. Our marriage was done."

"You didn't fight for it?"

Chloe shook her head slowly.

"He's not a good person, is he?"

"He used to be," Chloe said easily, a small smile on her lips. "He was sweet and loving and would do everything for me. Now, he's just so angry all the time. It's never directed at the girls, never."

"Is he a good dad?"

Chloe chuckled humourlessly.

"He wanted to try for a baby as soon as we were married. My own mom took twelve years to have me and it was not without complications. I just assumed it would take me a while so I appeased him. It did take a little time but I understand now that he was fulfilling a role. Like I was but he just didn't realise. And I guess I didn't either. I had my doubts early on but I wouldn't have my girls if I'd given up on him so, I guess that was fate's joke on me. He loved me completely but the accident changed everything. He told me he wanted a divorce before the girls had even left the hospital."

"Wow."

"He had a life changing experience and it was the first wrinkle in his perfect life. He took the divorce remark back, but it was already out there, and it was always hanging over us. After leaving the hospital, he started living like a twenty year old with no responsibilities. The girls were tiny, needy, and demanding and we never found time for each other. His parents helped in the first couple of months but I was rushed back into the hospital for surgery and he was nowhere to be found. He realised he wanted nights out with his friends and freedom. Then, my career took off so fast and it was so challenging. He wanted someone at home while he led the good life. But to answer your question, yes, he is a good dad when he puts his mind to it. It's not just going through the motions."

"I'm glad. And happy for you that you found a way to work it out."

"It's just me that he doesn't want anymore. It wasn't a happy marriage in the end."

"How do you mean?"

"He's the middle of five brothers. It's a very male dominated family. They don't talk about the deep stuff. How could he tell them that he was different?"

"Different?"

"He became angry all the time, irrational and moody," Chloe repeated. "I blamed it on lack of sleep, and he went on medication. He started drinking heavily. Like really heavily. There were nights where… um… he became very difficult to live with."

"How do you mean? He was a bad drunk?"

"Something like that," Chloe said, wincing a little. Beca noticed how dull Chloe's eyes went as she obviously recalled some bad memories.

"What happened?" Beca asked, her voice softer.

"He became… um, abusive."

"What the fuck?" Beca's eyes were as wide as could be and she sat up in her chair.

"He hadn't dealt with the accident, didn't have counselling."

"That doesn't make it okay to hurt you!" Beca said, her voice rising in anger. Whatever she thought about Chloe, no one deserved to live in fear.

"He didn't hurt…" Chloe breathed out before pausing for a moment, knowing what she was about to say next would have been a lie. She looked out of the windows, lost in her thoughts. "… it took me a long time to realise what was happening. It started off as small things when he got home from the hospital and by the end of the first month, he had me pinned to the bed one night screaming abuse about me seeing other people. He'd wear me down with his constant barrages of ugly comments that it was easier to play the part of his wife, rather than be his wife."

"Why didn't you report him?"

"I guess I still loved him, in my own way. I thought he would change back. I said some hurtful things to him, but I know that I didn't deserve all he did to me."

"You look so happy together." Beca blindly said.

"I'm a good actress," Chloe said, sending Beca a tiny wink. "I learnt how to calm him when the temper would threaten. I continued to let him have use of the house, so he'd take care of it."

'…so I'm not at work and with them at Chloe's house…' David's comment in court flashed through Beca's mind.

"Why didn't you just get the Police involved?"

"Because I didn't want my life appearing as entertainment on the evening news. With my career, I control what gets put on there. With tabloids, it's harder to control."

Beca nodded simply.

"I called the Police on him when the girls were six months old though but those involved were asked to sign a confidentiality agreement."

"What happened?" Beca asked.

"He felt so responsible for his part in the accident. It wasn't our fault, but two people died that day and his brother ended up in a wheelchair. We all still feel partially responsible for what happened. His drinking got so bad one night that I had to call the Police on him. I needed to shock him and it worked. He checked into a rehabilitation centre for three months but he never moved back into the house when he came home and still lives in the pool house."

"That still doesn't give him the right to treat you like that."

Chloe nodded slowly, surprised at how much Beca seemed to care, despite not even wanting to talk to her ten minutes before. She decided to carry on as Beca seemed to be listening intently.

"He told me one night that he didn't want anything more to do with me as every time he looked at me, it reminded him of such a dark time. My own husband fell out of love as quickly as he'd fallen into love."

"What the fuck?"

"It's okay. I understand. He blames it on weakness on his part, not being strong enough to deal with the event and aftermath. But until you are in an out of control situation, you don't know how it will affect you."

"Yeah, but you make a commitment to someone and…" Beca trailed off.

"Everything started to bother him. I could earn good money and he felt his contribution to the family wasn't as great. He admitted he was jealous of me and my success. But he still doesn't understand that part of my success is down to him. I've learned from all of my life experiences. Even meeting you."

"I'm sure I barely made a ripple in your pond," Beca mumbled.

'Oh, if only you knew.' Chloe thought to herself before speaking. "He's in a much better place now and moving on with his life."

"Why? Did he find someone else?" Beca asked.

"Yes, another teacher at his school."

"Holy-"

"-I know about it, I've known for a couple of years now. We talked and… her name is Holly… she knows about us, our situation. They've been together for a couple of years now. Honestly, I'm happy for them both. It's easier to just accept it. I'm glad he told me about her and didn't have an affair behind my back. My life is splashed about on the front pages of magazines, he didn't want me to read about it that way if it got out. My social team and publicists can keep a lid on most things, but tabloids are such a bitch to deal with."

"You don't seem… that upset."

"You can't help who you fall in love with. His family got over the shock although it's not quite the same as it was. His parents… well, we were close and they are angry at him for causing upset. But honestly, I'd rather not get twenty years down the road with us living the way we were. It was hard. His mom and dad travel to see the girls when they can, but David usually goes away when they come. I don't really know why. But, anyway, my parents are in assisted living now, we've not told them as I know they wouldn't understand that it is all for show."

"Your relationship was a lie?"

"No, we genuinely cared for each other. Even now, I still love David, but I'm not in love with him. We led an old married life, and both admit now that we weren't right for each other for the long haul, not the way things are now."

"I guess it's like me and my best friend Jesse." Beca said and Chloe nodded.

"Probably. You'll have to tell me about Jesse one day."

"Yeah, maybe," Beca softly murmured.

"David's moving out soon though."

"Why?"

"We both need to move on with our lives, he needs to give things a go with Holly and while our arrangement works for now, it's holding us both back," Chloe said, not wanting to reveal the news about Holly's pregnancy just yet.

"He wants to leave his daughters?" Beca asked, her eyebrows shooting upwards in surprise.

"He'll see them as much as he can."

"So, you can be a one parent family but I can't," Beca said, her voice rising.

"I know how it sounds. I do. This is why I wanted to talk to you before the meeting with the lawyers a few days ago."

"Again, I'm sorry for not understanding what you were trying to do."

"And I'm sorry too. I came about it in the wrong way." Chloe said, looking at her watch. "Look, I'm really sorry, but I've got to get back to the girls soon."

"Yes, of course," Beca said, not really understanding why her heart suddenly skipped a beat.

"It's been really, really nice talking with you today."

"Yeah, and you Mrs. Mitch-"

"Please, it's Chloe. How about we call tomorrow and talk some more?"

"That sounds okay."

"Good. It'll be when the girls are asleep." Chloe said, standing up and picking up her jacket, laying it over her arm.

"I guess we'd best go back and make another appointment with those weirdos next door." Beca suggested.

"How about we don't?"

"What do you mean?" Beca asked.

"Do we need them to mediate this? We seem to have been okay on our own this morning."

"You're right." Beca grinned. "Fancy that, two adults can be left to talk!"

"Let's go back in there, to save me a phone call later and tell them we're cancelling the rest of the sessions. That sound okay to you?"

"That sounds good."

Beca collected their empty coffee cups and threw them in the trash as they made their way towards the door, talking easily about how nice their drinks were. They walked in silence back towards the Institute and through the revolving doors.

"You can wait here, if you like," Chloe offered.

"No, it's okay. Just in case I have to sign something else I didn't read."

"Hi." Chloe said as the receptionist caught her eye.

"Mrs Mitchem, thank you for coming back. Are you ready to book the next session? Did they suggest a time frame for you?"

"Um, yes, they did. I think they said... three months," Chloe said, looking to Beca for confirmation. The brunette nodded in response. "But actually, we've decided not to continue coming here. We think we'll manage on our own. Please thank Mr Smith and Gail for us."

"Are you sure?" Claudia asked. "We can offer a payment plan or-"

"-No, it's not about that," Chloe looked to Beca again. "I just think we'll be okay from now on."

"Well, okay then. If I can ask you both to sign these discharge papers and non disclosure agreements, citing that you won't discuss the Institute's methods with anyone, you can be on your way," Claudia said, laying four pieces of paper out for them to read.

"No problem, thank you." Chloe said, nodding towards Beca to sign her document first. Chloe picked up her document and speed read through it before Beca handed her the pen.

.oOo.

John and Gail stood on the mezzanine level, above the reception desk and watched as Claudia turned and gave them the thumbs up as Beca and Chloe left together, talking lightly as they made their way back through the revolving door.

"I think we have just seen some institute history being made, John."

"And from an all-female group, Gail. I could never have called this one."

"Never. Well, you are a misogynist at heart, so there's no way you would have bet on these girls to win."

"Absolutely. Looks like our programme worked again. Another success. I told you that acting like a pair of incompetent idiots, would give people a reason to bond over."

"You were right, John. Let's go get some lunch."

.oOo.

"Aubrey Posen."

"Bree, it's Chloe," Chloe said as the call connected in her car as she turned down her road, almost home.

"Hi! How did it go?"

"My trip to the Institute was possibly the weirdest two hours of my life," Chloe laughed.

"Yes, I know, their methods are completely unorthodox and unconventional."

"So, why did you send me?"

"Did you and Beca start to talk again?" Aubrey asked.

"Yes. But not because of them. They weirded us out, so we went for a coffee to talk instead."

"So it worked."

"Well, they didn't help us by-"

"-But it worked," Aubrey interrupted. "My father and I bonded over how ridiculous it all was too in that same coffee shop so I knew it would work for you."

"That was a risky little game," Chloe laughed. "But I thank you for it."

"You're welcome. I've got to run, got a client arriving in five minutes."

"Love you Bree."

"Love you too Chloe."

Chloe ended the call just as she arrived home. She pushed the button on her car's centre console and her gates began to roll back. She sat for a few seconds, thinking that she was pleased to be back home and couldn't wait to see the girls. Parking her car in her usual spot, she reached into her purse to check her phone before entering into the chaos that came with three little girls. She was surprised, but really pleased, to see a message from Beca.

message from beca.m, to chloe.m - 12.04 - Thanks for the lift back to my car. It started the first time and I've just got home! Hope you got home safely too.

Chloe quickly typed a message back.

message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 12.07 - Hi! You're welcome. Thanks again for today, it was really nice to spend some time with you. Talk tomorrow. C x

Chloe was just about to get out of the car when her phone pinged again.

message from beca.m, to chloe.m - 12.08 - And you. Give my love to the girls. Have a great afternoon.

.oOo.

Chapter Text

A/N - As always, a special thanks to my beta for everything they do! Happy reading everyone xx


.oOo. Chapter Twenty Four .oOo.

message from beca.m, to chloe.m - 08.14 - Did you try the singing thing I suggested?
message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 08.19 - Hi, good morning, yes I did so thank you so much. I was going to message you later to tell you. I read a bedtime story, then sang as I tidied up their bedroom as they drifted off to sleep. I think Jessie was asleep before the others! Cx
message from beca.m, to chloe.m - 08.37 - That's great to hear. How's Alex? And Kate?
message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 08.39 - Everyone is fine. Here are a couple of pics for you. C x [attach triobreakfast]
message from beca.m, to chloe.m - 08.51 - Looks a chaotic mess!
message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 08.54 - Always! Are you free later today or tomorrow for coffee by any chance? C x
message from beca.m, to chloe.m - 09.12 - Yeah, sure. Today is cool but tomorrow better, as I'm not at work in the afternoon. Be good to talk some more.
message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 09.19 - Awes! 2pm okay? C x
message from beca.m, to chloe.m - 09.34 - Yeah, great. I'll be in Santa Monica tho. Too far for you?
message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 09.37 - No problem. Text me where you are tomorrow and I'll come and meet you. C x
message from beca.m, to chloe.m - 09.46 - Sure. I've got to go. Got a meeting with Shawn Mendes in a bit.
message from chloe.m, to beca.m - 09.51 - Oh wow! I love him. Say hi from me! C x
message from beca.m, to chloe.m - 12.06 - He said hi back.

.oOo.

"Hey," Beca said, keeping her tone as casual as she could. She'd finished work just after midday and, as promised, she'd texted Chloe and let her know that she was free. They agreed to meet at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf coffeehouse that was situated halfway down Santa Monica pier.

Beca liked the café, and it was well known to her. She often came with Luke if she'd stayed over at his place and Jessie loved to get a kiddie cappuccino and watch the beachgoers. It was familiar to her, and she wanted somewhere that felt safe for her second meeting with Chloe. Despite the easy going text messages being sent back and forth since their meeting, Beca was still wary of what she might potentially be getting into. She didn't trust Chloe, not even a little bit, but she was willing to try.

"Hi Beca, you look great!" Chloe called out brightly as she caught up to Beca who was leaning with her back to the railing, her face tilted up to the sun. She looked cool and confident as she waited for Chloe to join her, a look which hadn't gone unnoticed by the redhead.

"Um, yeah. So do you," Beca responded, raising an eyebrow in Chloe's direction. She was trying not to stare too hard at Chloe, but the little blue romper and tennis shoes she had on made it quite hard. Beca realised that Chloe had no idea just how attractive she was, as she ignored all the subtle side glances from everyone around her. She didn't look like a movie star in that moment, despite her enormous sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat covering half of her face.

"How was work?" Chloe asked politely.

"Oh pretty good. My boss... um, Luke. You met him?"

"Yes, I remember Luke."

"Yeah, well, he's just been assigned to Kendrick Lamar's new album... and it's really not his scene, so I'm helping him out a bit more than normal."

"That's great," Chloe said politely. "Wonderful bit of credit for you for your portfolio."

"Oh, my name doesn't go on there."

"But you're-"

"-I'm just an intern," Beca explained.

"Surely you'll still get recognition."

"I mean, yeah. I can say I worked on the album on my resume, but until I'm employed full time by Universal, I'm officially just doing grunt work."

"Hmm, you'll have to explain it to me some other time."

"Yeah, okay." Beca nodded. "Um, do you want a coffee or something?"

"Hmmm." Chloe spun around to look at the menu on the outside of the coffeehouse. "I think I'll get a frappuccino. You?"

"The last time I was here, which admittedly was a few weeks ago, they had this frozen fruit slushie thing. If that's on the menu, I'm having that."

"Oh, that sounds lovely. I might have to change my mind." Chloe smiled, her tone friendly and relaxed.

"You won't regret it."

"Do you want to sit in or..."

"Fancy a walk on the beach? I know it's busy but we could find a quiet spot in some shade, maybe?" Beca offered. "I come down here quite a lot and there are some nice things to see along the way."

"That sounds perfect. I'll just go in and order, okay? My treat, as you got the last one."

"Oh, sure, um... thanks."

Beca watched the door close behind Chloe as she walked with purpose up to the barista to place her order. She smirked a little as she caught the reflection of herself in the window, staring as she watched Chloe approach the counter.

'Pervert.' She thought to herself, walking back to the uncovered side of the pier and into the sunshine. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and texted Luke, letting him know that she'd met up with Chloe. He messaged back a few minutes later telling her to play nice, and keep calm.

"Jerk." She said out loud as she repocketed her phone and then had to look away quickly as an old man, just walking past, shot her the stank eye, thinking she'd called him rude names. She studied her shoes for a couple of minutes until she saw Chloe's shadow rejoin her.

"I think your suggestion sounded too good to pass up!" She laughed, handing Beca a monster of a drink.

"It's the size of a bucket!" Beca exclaimed as she struggled to hold the cup in one hand.

"It does seem a little excessive, I know. But look..." Chloe said, holding up the cup to her face. "... it's bigger than my head. I just had to have it!"

Beca snorted and tried to hide it by taking a huge gulp of her drink.

"I usually only get a small one." Beca winced as the start of a brain freeze passed over her. She blinked a couple of times, hoping Chloe wouldn't notice, but the redhead was too busy smiling as the world passed her by. "But thank you, I appreciate this. Are you sure I can't pay you for this?"

"You're welcome, and no thank you. So, which way Miss Tour Guide?" She asked.

Beca nodded back towards the entrance to the pier and they took off at a slow pace, not speaking but walking in step together. Beca was distracted by the simple sounds of Chloe's bracelets knocking together, the low hum of people talking and the sounds of the waves crashing and immediately her mind drifted where she was lost in the musicality of it all.

"... and then, she knocked over the whole gallon of milk onto the floor!" Chloe laughed and Beca realised she'd zoned out and had no idea what Chloe had just said.

"Sounds like her." She said, in the hope it was the right thing to say. "Let's take a right down here."

She pointed to some steps as she dug her toes into the heels of her Converse.

"Oh, sure." Chloe bent neatly at the waist to unbuckle her own sandals, as she spoke.

Gathering up her shoes in the hand, Beca took another slurp of her drink as they walked down the slope towards the sand. It was no surprise that the beach was packed and pockets of people littered the beach. They picked their way down to the shoreline and began walking towards the Venice Beach end.

"Nice day," Beca said lamely.

"Yes, it is. I love this time of the year. Not just because it's the girls' birthday, but everyone is usually quite happy and in a good mood. I always think that people are starting to think about Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas, even with the hot weather." Chloe looked over to Beca and, thinking back to Aubrey's words - 'be less Chloe' - and wondered if this was an example of what her best friend had meant and if she also needed to explain everything that she was thinking.

"I like winter the best," Beca responded, taking a healthy gulp of her frozen fruit slushie and regretting wearing a full black ensemble as she felt the first bead of sweat begin to roll down between her shoulder blades.

"Oh, totes."

'What the fuck is totes?' Beca mused to herself. She liked the way Chloe was able to explain how she was feeling. She'd never had the opportunity growing up to talk to anyone in mindless chit chat, except Jesse, and it was still a foreign art form to her. She didn't mind listening to Chloe babble on about her favourite season.

"Do you like Christmas?" Chloe asked, pausing as they approached the bottom of the pier and tentatively reaching out to Beca who pulled away from the redhead's touch.

"Probably as much as everyone else."

"What do you usually do?"

"I had to work." Beca looked out towards the ocean. "Spent the morning with Jessie and then Amy would come by and take her for the afternoon."

"I'm sorry." Chloe breathed out, wondering if she'd hit a nerve but Beca didn't seem to react badly.

"Nothing to be sorry about, you're only asking me about Christmas. Do you like the holidays?"

"I do! We..." Chloe paused, suddenly not wanting to share how they overindulged every year. "... stay at home, have a couple of friends round for some food. You know?"

Beca nodded her response.

"So what is Venice Beach famous for exactly?" Chloe asked.

"Arnold Schwarzenegger went to the gym there."

"Ooooh." Chloe mockingly said before pulling down the brim of her hat as she noticed a couple of people do double takes as she walked past.

"I know, right? Some old movie in the eighties was filmed there. Some Dudes Can't Jump, or something."

"White Men Can't Jump?"

"Yeah, think that was it. Oh shit, you probably knew that already... you know, being Miss Hollywood?"

"I didn't know that actually." Chloe shrugged.

"My best friend in school was a total movie nerd. I guess I did listen to a couple of things. But anyway, there's also a pretty decent Farmer's Market on Venice Boulevard on a Friday."

"That's good to know."

"Yeah, if you ever find yourself stuck in Santa Monica on a Friday morning."

"I'll keep that in mind."

"Up there," Beca gestured with her drink cup towards the gym equipment. "Is the original Muscle Beach. Rumours have it that this place is the start of the fitness boom in the United States. But don't go down there on a Sunday morning if you have a hangover, I can, without a shadow of a doubt, reassure you that it's full of old men in Lycra, and trust me... it's not pretty when early morning yoga begins. Yeeesh."

Chloe threw back her head and laughed as Beca beamed at the action.

"Well you are full of fun facts, aren't you?"

They walked along the beach in silence for a few minutes, both enjoying the fresh, salty air. Beca stopped in mid stride and bent down to pick up a beautiful white and pink sea shell, walking out to the water's edge to rinse off the sand before holding it out to Chloe.

"Jessie will love that." She stated simply.

"Thanks, I'll give it to her. Did you often come here to collect shells?"

"Yeah, if we were with Luke. We used to have a competition to see who could find the nicest one, or the biggest one or the most colourful. When it was time to go, we'd throw them back in the water for someone else to find."

"I've never done anything like that with the girls," Chloe admitted. 'Because you were too busy spending money on organised activities.'

"For us, it covered everything; doing something, a bit of fresh air, a competition, and spending time together. Aside from gas money and maybe a sandwich, it didn't cost much."

"I think I might have to borrow your idea. I'm sure they'd love to come here and look for shells. Maybe you can join us and-"

"-Yeah, that'd be great," Beca said, noncommittally.

"At some point, you'll have to fill me in on what else Jessie likes."

Beca was about to open her mouth and retort that she'd need to figure it out herself, but remembered who the victim would be in that scenario... Jessie. She would also need to ask the same thing about Alex. She was still having a really hard time wrapping her mind around the fact that Jessie wasn't hers. In her eyes, Chloe had accepted the change much easier than she had. Or was better at hiding it.

"Yes, sure." Beca swallowed thickly. "She's actually pretty easy to entertain. She's a proper little girl, loves Fancy Nancy, has an unhealthy obsession with unicorns, loves to colour and decorate things with stickers. She's quite content with books for a couple of hours, but does need to be reminded to brush her teeth and her hair."

"Sounds very like Kate."

"And Alex?"

"Well, Alex's needs are simple. She's busy. Always busy. She's constantly got to be touching something or moving around. She reacts wonderfully to music, which I now understand has got to come from you. She can dance pretty well... for an almost four year old! Her coordination is good too but wow, she can have some impressive mood swings."

"That's definitely something from me." Beca mused.

"Although she's emotional, she's also extremely friendly and loving. She's shy with people she doesn't know but once you are in her circle, you are there for life, I'd imagine. She loved her Nanna... that's David's Mom, Helen. She's really nice."

"I met her a few weeks ago."

"Did you?" Chloe asked, as she didn't know how or when.

"Yeah, first day of the court hearing. She approached me in the bathroom which I've got to admit, was pretty ballsy."

"What did she say to you?"

"Honestly, I can't really remember," Beca admitted, flinching a little as a slightly bigger wave splashed a few droplets up to her knee.

"I know the first meeting didn't go all that well with Alex, and I understand if you have some reservations but she's a super kid, she really is. I honestly struggle, and have to remind myself, that she's not really mine."

"Well, she kinda still is."

"Not in the-"

"-I don't have her living with me, so she's not mine."

"She is yours, Beca. She's just-"

"-Look, it's hard for me. Okay? I'm not going to lie. Just because we're here, on the beach, enjoying the sunshine, doesn't mean I'm over it all. You need to let me process in my own way. You look like you've got it all together and I'm over here trying to remember to brush my teeth every day as I don't have my little girl to remind me to be an adult."

"And you think I'm not struggling too?" Chloe said gently, indicating a slightly quieter patch of sand with no one sitting in it. "Let's sit for a moment."

Beca hesitates, not wanting to sit in one place. Like Alex, she needed to keep moving at times, especially when she was frustrated. It helped soothe her troubled mind. She gulped down her fears as she took another sip of her drink and moved to take a seat next to Chloe, keeping a respectable distance and crossing her legs.

"I don't know if you're struggling as well," Beca admitted. "As I said before, in not such a nice way, you seem to have all together on the surface."

"There's a lot about me that you don't know Beca. And I will share it with you one day. But right now, I just want us to focus on the girls."

"Me too. It's why I'm here."

"The last few months have been really hard. A non stop train ride to Crazyville. I'm desperately afraid suddenly everything will be out in the media before we are ready," Chloe said, her forehead creasing for a split second as the mere thought of it troubled her.

"Wow, thinking of your reputation, huh?" Beca bit.

"Actually, I was thinking of the girls. I've tried to keep my kids out of the public eye. I may be a public figure, but I'm not public property and neither are my children," Chloe tried to ease the tension. "If I was like some of the other celebrities to splash their kids about on camera, you might have seen a picture of Kate and noticed sooner."

"Here we go with blaming me again."

"No one is blaming you here Beca. I'm just at fault."

"Are you trying to get me to confess to something?" Beca snapped.

"What on earth are you talking about?" Chloe's tone smelled of exasperation, despite the small smile on her mouth.

"I think my friend was right the other day, I think I should have had my lawyer present today. You are probably-" Beca said angrily.

"-I'm sick of fucking lawyers!" Chloe suddenly cried out. She pushed her hair out of her face, knocking her sunglasses off with the action. She angrily picked them up from the sand and threw them into her purse with such vigour, it made Beca shift along a few inches on the beach. "I'm tired of my whole life being governed by court rooms… appeals… subpoenas… contracts… rules. I hate looking at your face."

Beca blanched and Chloe's shoulders dropped. She turned to look at Beca.

"I mean, not your face because you are so, so beautiful but…" Chloe explained and Beca didn't know how she felt about that. "… the look you wear all the time. And to know that part of that is because of me kills me. You were so nice to me when the girls were born. I've never forgotten that. Simple gestures but meaningful. You always got me the softest cuddle blankets and the nicest cushion for the nursing chair. You made sure I had everything I might have needed before you left for the evening. I just got caught up with so many opinions about what was right for the girls. I listened to the wrong people and I see that now. I hate that I've caused you sadness. I can see you've lost weight in the last couple of weeks. I've barely seen you happy, and I imagine you have a gorgeous smile."

"I don't exactly have a lot to smile about."

"Well, I'd like to change that," Chloe said simply. "I'd like to come up with an arrangement amongst ourselves, that we'd adapt and make work as we see fit, not the lawyers or other people who think they know best. We call the shots. Just two moms making it work, doing the best we can for all three girls. I know we tried to organise it before and I know it didn't work. I don't think we were really ready to talk about anything. That first meeting was horrendous and far too public. No one could relax. It should have just been you, the girls, and me, and I should have insisted that CPS not be involved until we were ready. It's my fault."

"I agreed to it too."

"And as I said, I was listening to too many people and it never even crossed my mind that you were in the same position as me. I wanted it all and didn't consider your feelings or even the girls' feelings. David would go on and on for hours and instead of telling him to listen to my thoughts, I just went along with it for an easy life. So, would you be up for a partnership? Not one hour every two weeks. That could never work. It's wholly unfair to the girls who need you in their lives."

Beca's heart thumped painfully in her chest at Chloe's honesty.

"Are you serious?" She asked, hating how timid her voice sounded.

"Dixie chick serious," Chloe breathed. "What does that even…" Beca muttered, feeling confused. "I don't know what that means."

"The past couple of weeks have been so distressing." Chloe continued. "I kept thinking if the court had ruled the other way, and Alex had been taken from me, how it would have felt for me. I could barely breathe. I was never happy with the outcome; I was just so overwhelmed with it all and then David was pushing me into the car. I thought I could talk to you when you brought Jessie over, but then I heard she was taken from your house, from your arms and that's when I knew I needed to make this right. I've looked into this with a new lawyer, I've spoken to some child psychologists last week and they've all agreed that this is a new situation and there is no precedence for it."

"So, what are you saying?" Beca thought she knew but needed Chloe to say it.

"I don't want a judge or lawyers or court liaisons or family court telling us how to raise these children, when and where they can spend time with you, or me, or David for that matter, and what you should be doing with your life."

"Neither do I," Beca said, her heart pounding in her chest. "But I can't afford to go back to family court."

"We'll come up with a plan together, it will need to be changeable to suit ourselves and then we'll file it… together. I'll take care of the financial side of it, this is my decision to do this although I hope I can have your blessing with us."

Beca nodded empathetically. Any chance to see the girls more sounded like a great plan.

"I can't say it will be a fifty fifty split and I haven't even thought about Kate's place in all of this," Chloe explained. "My head is all up in the clouds and I need to work through this with you, rather than against you. But I'd really like for us both to be comfortable with the arrangement and for the girls to be happy and cared for. What do you say?"

"Um, yes. I say yes," Beca said. "I'm trying to process it all but obviously yes. I want more time with the girls."

"I know we have a lot to think about and we also still have to rearrange the meeting with hospital reps, so I wonder if you'd come to my house on Thursday and we can discuss this over dinner. Just the two of us? I know Jessie would be thrilled to see you on her birthday. And you can spend time with Alex and start that ball rolling too. It might not be the fourth of July celebration you wanted or planned, but I hope we can salvage some of the holiday."

"I'd like that," Beca shyly smiled. "I don't have any other plans. I mean, I have stuff for the girl's birthday but wasn't sure if I'd get to see them."

"Well, then, this works for that too. Oh, and just to let you know, I've put in a formal complaint about the way Oliver Harris was with you and I've been assigned a new lawyer. I've also spoken with the court about the current petition, so they are aware that I am talking with you about this. As long as it's mutually agreeable, we aren't doing anything wrong. I can't fix what's already happened, but I can try to make it better for the future. I've never forgotten what you did for me and what a fantastic job you have done raising Jessie. If I'm honest, I cannot believe the outcome went the way it did."

"Tell me about it."

"I have David's permission to talk with you, but if you wanted to bring someone over on Thursday, I would understand."

"No, it's fine. I make my own way in life."

"If you are okay with staying in, I'll cook dinner-"

"-You cook?"

"I do!" Chloe laughed. "I know, shocker! Do you have any food you don't like?"

"No, I don't. Please don't go to any trouble. I'm not a big eater."

"It'll just be a low key, sweats and a tee shirt affair. David will be out with Holly. Will you come?"

"Umm, yeah sure. You live in Studio City, right?" Beca asked.

"Yeah, I'll text you the address. But it's the first white house past the apartment blocks, it's got high white walls and a brown security fence. Park on the road and I'll come out to meet you."

"What time?"

"Why don't you come around two? That'll give us some time to get organised, get the family birthday calls out of the way. We can spend some time with the girls, maybe go for a swim in the pool, give them some food and then once they're in bed, we can eat and talk. It would be good to get to know you a little better as well. I'm enjoying our talks."

"Two is great. Can I bring anything?"

.oOo.

"I don't get it."

"Oh my fucking God, Amy! Is that all you ever say to me these days?!"

"Don't yell at me Beca!"

Beca had called Amy for a ride, as she couldn't get her car started, again. Amy had arrived about an hour later, wearing the jump leads around her neck. She'd leapt from the car, eager, as usual, to help Beca in her time of need.

"You need a new battery," Amy said.

"How'd you know that?" Beca asked.

"I'm the best female mechanic in Tasmania."

"Why are you like this?" Beca had asked, but she was used to Amy at this point and the comments just washed over her. Beca had driven towards home with Amy following her in case of another problem and they'd left her car at a local mechanic who said they'd fix it by the morning.

Beca had asked Amy to drop her back at her apartment which she'd been happy to do, but Amy had taken it upon herself to start questioning Chloe's motives. Beca was exhausted. The emotions she had been holding in, the long conversations with Chloe and the additional work pressure, combined with her desperately missing Jessie was taking their toll on her.

She was trying to fill Amy in on her talks with Chloe as the Australian could immediately sense something had changed when she picked her up from a side road, not too far away from the pier. Amy, however, wouldn't let her explain what was going and kept interrupting while Beca was talking as they waited for the mechanic to do their first checks. Beca didn't speak again until they were near Amy's car.

"My head is pounding. I think I got a brain freeze from that bucket of iced drink that Chloe got me. Or she slipped something in my drink and tried to poison me." Beca said as she pulled on the car door and slipped onto the back seat, laying down as best she could. "I just need to close my eyes for a minute and breathe."

"No problemo Becaroo. Are we heading straight to yours?"

"Please," Beca said, bending her elbow and covering her eyes in the crook of her arm. She felt Amy start the car and pull out of the space, feeling the air conditioning kick in as they drove away from the mechanics. After a few minutes, she let out a long, raggedy breath which caught Amy's attention.

"You okay back there in the cheap seats?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm good. I didn't mean to yell at you earlier."

"You did. And that's okay. I shoulda let you finish."

"It's been a long day. My head is all over the place."

"What happened?" Amy asked, pulling onto the freeway.

"Mrs. Mitchem and I talked without saying a lot. She wants us to work together to find a better solution for caring for the girls. She said I'll definitely be getting more time with them."

"That's amazing!"

"Yeah, it's not going to happen overnight, but anything is better than what I've got now."

"You setting up a meeting with the lawyers?" Amy asked.

"No, we're just going to talk first."

"Are you sure that's wise?" Amy grimaced. "Yo Becs, what if it's a set up?"

"A set up for what?! I cannot possibly be any worse off than I am right now. And what have we said in the past about you using the word

'yo'?" Beca mumbled, sitting up in the back of the car and reaching for the seatbelt. "She's invited me to her place on Thursday so we'll see what happens there."

"I don't get it," Amy said, for possibly the hundredth time that day. "I mean I get it but I don't get it."

"Helpful, as usual Ames."

"It's all just a bit of a big U turn. You were ready to rip her head off just last week for making you miss Jessie's birthday on Thursday and stealing your kid and being privileged. Now you are playing house with her?"

"Look, I get to see the girls this week. All of them. I'm not breaking a court order to do it. Mrs Mitchem has invited me for dinner. I'll make notes on what she says. If need be, I can use it as evidence to prove she's lied in court." Beca said, thinking of Chloe's revelation about her and David's relationship a couple of days previously. She decided not to tell Amy about it, knowing it could start an argument that she had no energy to get into. Beca was also aware there were things in court that she'd not mentioned either. "I still don't trust her, I know she has corporate lawyers who, let's face it, are extremely good. But I think she realised that I was a victim too, in all of this. And I acted badly in the beginning."

"Well, you were scared," Amy said.

"I'm not denying that. I'm not saying Mrs Mitchem will fix this overnight. I still don't have my kid but I'm willing to see what this week brings. I told you before, the Chloe I met in the hospital is not the Chloe you see in films or in some of those texts and emails. I believe someone wrote them on her behalf. She's actually really nice. She talked a lot about how sorry she was, how messed up things had got and she knew it was unfair to me."

"I'm just asking you to watch your back."

"I will, I promise. And I'll tell you everything when I get home, okay?" Beca offered, her fingers on the door handle.

"I just worry that you'll get pulled in by the glitz and glamour and everything she's offering and you'll get inta a situation you can't control. She's got a lot of making up ta do."

"Yes, but it's not going to happen overnight, is it? We're barely friends... it's just going to take time."

Amy nodded, not looking convinced.

"Need my car this afternoon?" Amy asked, pulling up to Beca's apartment block.

"No, I'll walk back to get mine when it's ready."

"Okay, I'll head back ta my place. That bloke, Bumper, who I met in the karaoke bar, called and said he wanted ta take me out."

"I hope you mean on a date and not a hitman."

"There's my Beca." Amy mused, turning around to look at Beca in the back of the car. "We're going to the fourth of July fireworks on Thursday."

"Cool. Have fun." Beca smirked, stepping out of the car. "But, Ames, what kind of name is Bumper?"

"I dunno. Guess I'll find out." Amy laughed. "Say Happy Birthday to Jessaroo for me."

"Will do."

"Love you Becs."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah."

.oOo.

Chapter Text

A/N - Bit of a long chapter tonight, sorry, not sorry! I hope you enjoy it anyway. As always, I'm super indebted to my beta for their time and efforts in helping me make this the best story it can be.

On another positive, it's Friday tomorrow and it's also payday! xx


.oOo. Chapter Twenty Five .oOo.

Beca got into her car, feeling nervously excited, and placed her backpack on the passenger seat.

She couldn't wait to see Jessie and she hadn't slept well during the night, but had eventually nodded off on her sofa, waking early to take some Tylenol for a headache and managed another hour's sleep before working at home for the morning. It had kept her busy, but she found she was clock watching more than normal.

Just after midday, she sent all of her morning's work over to Luke before showering and dressing in clean clothes. She put on her best jeans, favourite shoes and a tee shirt she didn't think would offend anyone and picked up one of her plaid shirts, in case the temperature dipped after their time in the pool. She wished she had some nicer clothes, but Chloe had said casual so, casual was what she went with.

She carefully finished wrapping up three presents for the girls' birthdays and stood debating, for quite some time, whether she should bring something for Chloe as well. Deciding that giving her Jessie was the biggest gift she'd ever need, she left her apartment with a spring in her step for the first time in what seemed like forever.

She pulled on the car door hard and it shut with a rusty protest before she threaded her seatbelt and turned on the ignition. It took a couple of turns before the car leapt into her life and Beca thanked her lucky stars it started. Checking her gas level, she pulled out onto the street and drove towards Chloe's.

She knew the area she was heading to, having done some work for Universal and at Warner Brothers, but she stopped at a nearby Walmart to check the GPS on her phone when she knew she was close by.

Beca turned into Chloe's road, nodding appreciatively at the mix of houses on the street. Some were single storey, a couple of duplexes and some apartment blocks as well as some larger family homes. The trees lining the street gave the place a wholesome feel as she looked around at the numbers to find Chloe's house. Finding the first white house that Chloe mentioned, she quickly realised she was in the right place.

Chloe's house had a Spanish feel to it, with flowers creeping around the front door and up a trellis to the left. She had thought Jesse's family home had been large, but this appeared, from the road, to be much bigger, yet it didn't stand out like a sore thumb amongst the mix of houses in the area.

Pulling up at the side of the road a little way from Chloe's, she sent her a quick text to let her know she had arrived and got out of the car, reaching for her backpack and purse as she did so. She looked down at herself, hoping again that her choice of jeans and Chucks wasn't too casual for the occasion. She tugged down her tee shirt, smoothed her finger under the collar of her plaid shirt, thanking her lucky stars that she'd at least ironed it and locked her car.

She walked back down the road towards the house just as the gates started rolling back.

"Hi!" Chloe said brightly. She leaned forward as if to hug Beca, but seemingly remembered at the last moment that they were, in fact, still strangers. Beca was pleased to see that Chloe was barefoot but also in jeans and a tee shirt, emblazoned with a Barden Bellas logo which Beca wasn't sure what it meant. She looked relaxed and her hair was bouncing as she walked, exactly the same way that Jessie's did.

"Hi," Beca nodded her greeting back.

"Where's your car?" Chloe asked, looking at the immediate area around her driveway.

"Um, it's that old rustic beast, down there," Beca replied, pointing.

"Why did you park it all the way down there?"

"Didn't want to lower your house price with that thing outside," Beca leaned forward and stage whispered. "This is a nice neighbourhood!"

Chloe threw her head back and laughed. Beca grinned and decided not to mention David's opinion on her car the first time they met and spoil the mood.

"I'll give you a gate key before you leave," Chloe said, indicating towards the house. Beca took that as the invitation to follow Chloe as she turned around. "You can just keep it in your car for the next time you come over and park on the drive. Well, I mean… you know, if you wanted to come back."

"This is a lovely place," Beca said, ignoring what Chloe said. Small steps. "I'm impressed."

"Thanks, we're pretty happy with it. I mean, it's home," Chloe smiled warmly, but her eyes told a different story. "Let's go and see the girls and I'll give you a guided tour later."

Chloe pushed open the front door, which had been left slightly ajar. Beca heard the rattle of the front gate shutting itself and she liked the security that the house provided. She gasped as she took in the front hall and vestibule.

"Wow," She said as she wiped her feet several times on the doormat. She looked up and saw a chandelier in the centre of the large, bright hallway. Several closed doors lead off from the foyer and the staircase rose like a centrepiece in the middle of the room. There were family photos on the wall along with some printed pictures and a couple of framed magazine front pages, celebrating Chloe's movie star success.

Beca dug her toes into the back of her boots and slipped them off, picking them up off the floor and holding onto them. The floors looked new and clean and she didn't want to bring any dirt in with her.

"You can leave everything by the front door…" Chloe said, sensing Beca's awkwardness, finding it quite endearing. Chloe pointed to a door adorned with a picture of some funny looking hats. "… or in that closet there."

Beca nodded, suddenly feeling very overwhelmed. She opened the closet door quickly and placed her boots and backpack on the floor and pushed the door shut.

"Your coat closet is almost as big as my kitchen," She stated, running her hands over her face and shaking herself a little. She hoped Chloe hadn't heard her.

"Would you like a drink?" Chloe asked.

"No, thank you. I just need to see…" Beca trailed off, her mouth dry.

"Come on, let's go find the girls," Chloe said brightly.

"Please."

Beca followed Chloe across the hall and through the only open door. Beca found herself in a formal living room, with three huge, overstuffed sofas piled high with brightly coloured cushions which tied in well with the cheerful area rug and drapes. It was discreetly tasteful and simple. The open fireplace seemed odd to Beca, southern California wasn't really an indoor fire kind of place, but she then realised this was what people meant when they talked about having a focal point in the room. The large screen television above the fireplace, wide brimmed lamps and ornaments finished off the room nicely. It was clearly used and enjoyed. Beca liked this room.

They crossed through the lounge and Chloe paused at the door in the opposite corner.

"This is the playroom. I didn't tell the girls… Jessie… you were coming."

"Oh?"

"Just in case you hit traffic or something." Chloe said, but Beca read between the lines.

'Just in case I didn't come,' She thought.

Chloe pushed open the door and a wall of sound hit Beca. It was obvious that the playroom had been previously sound proofed by someone. She could immediately hear giggling over the sounds of a television set.

She pushed past Chloe into the room and was confronted by more pink than she had ever seen in her life. The room wasn't overly large and had a door that led onto an enclosed outdoor deck area with a few potted plants. The room was bathed in mid afternoon sun which highlighted the glitter on the pink painted walls. This was Beca's idea of hell for a room, but she failed to notice the rest of it as she laid her eyes on Jessie for the first time in over two weeks.

Jessie was pouring out fake tea in several cups and saucers with ardent attention. To the side of her, Kate was tending to a dolly, wrapping her up in a scarf of some description and talking non stop to anyone who would listen. She was trying to do her task one handed as the other was firmly clutching Jessie's ankle, keeping her close. Alex was sitting slightly apart from the two redheads, playing on a toy keyboard like her life depended on it. She glanced over to the other two girls every few moments and was the first to notice someone had entered the room.

"Ladybug," Beca said quietly and watched as Jessie's head spun around so fast, her whole body twisted with it.

"Mommy!" She yelled, pushing away the tea set in front of her to make room for her to stand up. She brushed Kate's hand off of her ankle and struggled to her feet, spilling the contents of her lap all over the floor.

"Hey," Beca crouched down as Jessie approached her at speed and held her arms out for what can only be described as the hug to end all hugs. "Happy Birthday baby!"

"Mommy!" Jessie cried out again, throwing herself into Beca's arms. "You is back!"

"I'm back. And I missed you more than sunshine!" Beca said, kissing the top of her head. "But, where did I go?"

"That lady said you work late." Jessie muttered, pointing a sly finger towards Chloe as Beca scooped her up easily. Jessie slotted onto her hip as she always did and nuzzled into her neck.

"That's right, Mommy had to work," Chloe said, shooting Beca an apologetic look.

"Yeah, yeah I did," Beca faltered. "How have you been, Bug?"

"I fine."

"You being a good girl?"

"Yeah."

"What are you playing with?"

"Hers tea set," Jessie said, pointing at Kate.

"That's cool and super nice of Kate to share. I hope you are sharing your toys too."

"I is."

"Did you have a nice birthday?"

"Yeah. We all got presents."

"Well, that's because you guys all share a birthday. How cool is that?" Beca smiled.

"It's okay," Jessie shrugged.

"I've got a present for you in my bag."

"You has?"

"I have."

"Can I has it?" Jessie asked.

"As soon as I've said hello to everyone, yes baby."

"When's your birthday Mommy?"

"Mine is in September."

"And hers?" Jessie asked, pointing to Chloe.

"It's June," Chloe said.

"I has no idea when that is," Jessie grinned happily. "We go home now Mommy?"

"Well, here's the thing, Chloe and I are going to have a little chat this evening as I might need to work some more this week and you might get to stay here with Alex and Kate. Would you like to do that?"

"Nooo," Jessie said, burying her face into Beca's neck. "I go home."

"I know you want to go home but for now, you will stay here and I'll come and see you when I can."

"You was gone for aaages."

"I know, but I missed you every single second," Beca admitted to the young girl.

"I want home," Jessie began to squirm on Beca's hip.

"But here is an awesome place. Did you know this house is magical?"

"Mag kick?" Jessie stilled immediately.

"Yes, magic. It has special powers but you'll only get to find out what they are if you stay here."

"What mag kick?"

"Well I don't know 'cos I don't live here. It's only magic that kids can see so you'll have to look out for it and tell me."

Jessie pulled herself back and looked at Beca. She wasn't completely sure what Beca was saying but she trusted the woman she believed was her Mommy. She nodded a couple of times and brushed the hair out of her face.

"I bet the faeries are nicer here than we have at home, huh?" Beca continued.

"I no see faeries no more."

"Any more," Beca corrected. "Well, are you looking for them?"

Jessie shook her head.

"Perhaps you are being too busy all the time?" Beca asked and Jessie nodded.

"Them toys," She said, pointing at the vast array of clutter all over the floor.

"I know, there's so much, isn't there?" Beca laughed, kissing the top of Jessie's head. Jessie nodded and started to play with the thin necklace around Beca's neck. "But remember, it's okay to sit and be quiet sometimes."

"I know Mommy."

"I'm going to go and say hello to Alex and Kate. Okay? We'll have more cuddles later. Do you go back to your tea set and maybe you could pour some tea for Chloe and myself?"

"Okay Mommy."

"Good girl," Beca said, setting her down on the thick, plush and very pink carpet. Jessie ran back to her seat and started setting the cups back onto the saucers, side eyeing Beca all the time as if she might disappear again.

Chloe watched Beca run her hands down her jeans and walk over to where Kate was now earnestly drawing on her dolly's face. Her heart had been pounding while she watched Beca and Jessie's interaction and she loved how open they were with each other.

"Hi Kate, do you remember me? I'm your Mommy's friend from um, work," Beca crouched down besides Kate.

"Uh huh," Kate said, without looking up.

"I came by to wish you a Happy Birthday today," Beca said, crouching down on her knees and leaning forward. Kate was so like Jessie. Beca could easily tell the difference in the two girls, but the resemblance was still obvious to the casual observer. "What's your dolly's name?"

"Ummm…" She looked over to Chloe who was taking a seat on one of the two pink armchairs in the room. Chloe smiled broadly back at her which Kate took to be permission to talk to the relative stranger. "… she called Wawa."

"Your dolly is called Wawa?" Beca checked, not sure if she'd heard the right name.

"Yeah. Wawa."

"And are you giving Wawa a makeover?" Beca asked, referring to the green colouring in on the dolly's eye and lips.

"Yeah."

"Well, she looks beautiful, " Beca lied.

"I know."

"Is she your favourite dolly?"

"Yeah. She the best. But I like JoJo, she my dolly," Kate explained and Beca felt her begin to loosen up. "I has another baby called Sam."

"That's amazing. What else do you like to do?"

"Puzzles, " Kate said, looking up and looking confused for a second. "What's dat?"

"What?"

"On dere, " Kate said, reaching out to where Beca had rolled her sleeves up.

"This?" Beca pointed to the tattoo on her forearm. "It's a picture on my skin called a tattoo."

"Does it come off?"

"No, not even in the shower. It's always there."

"My mommy has lots of pictures on her," Jessie joined in the conversation.

"You do?" Kate's eyes went as big as saucers.

"I do."

"Why?"

"Each picture is like a memory."

"What's a mem rory?"

"A memory is like putting Wawa's face on my arm so I don't forget her and she's always with me."

"I put Wawa on my arm?"

"That's up to your mommy but you are too small at the moment. You'll have to get a lot more sunshine and eat a lot more vegetables and grow up big and strong."

"I try."

Beca threw her head over her shoulder and looked to Chloe.

"I'm sorry, I think I've just talked your kid into getting a tattoo..."

"I'll remember that when she's eighteen when she comes looking for the money to pay for it!" Chloe laughed, enjoying watching Beca interact with her daughter.

Beca shuffled around until she was seated comfortably and crossed her legs, as she turned to speak to Alex. The mini version of herself looked over to her and cocked her head curiously. Chloe watched intently, not wanting to get involved as Beca attempted to restart the bond with her biological child.

"Hi Alex. Happy Birthday," Beca said, trying hard not to stare at Alex and frighten her. She was desperate to reach out and touch her, clearly remembering the feeling she got the last time she'd been able to hold her daughter.

"Hi," Alex mumbled, looking back at her little keyboard. She had it perched on her knees with her feet out straight in front, and was busy pressing down on the little black and white keys.

"How are you? Have you had a nice day today?"

"Good."

"What are you doing?" Beca asked.

"Mus kick."

"You like music?"

"Yeah."

"I like music too."

"Okay."

"I make music for a living."

Chloe watched as Alex looked up at Beca, clearly trying to determine who this lady was who was talking to her. It was obvious to an outsider that she was a carbon copy of Beca and Chloe knew Alex wasn't stupid. She could probably tell something was familiar about her, and not just from meeting her that one time. She watched Beca talk to her, trying to get to know her without scaring her, while looking up and keeping an eye on Jessie at the same time.

"Yeah?"

"Yes. Shall I show you some?"

Alex shrugged her shoulders and side eyed Chloe for reassurance. After a few seconds, she pushed the keyboard towards Beca.

"What's your favourite song?"

"She likes Guns and Roses, Sweet Child o' Mine," Chloe said helpfully. Beca's head spun around.

"Seriously?" She said to Chloe who nodded to confirm. Beca turned back to Alex. "You've got great taste. I have no idea where you learned that song, but it's a classic."

Beca picked up the keyboard, and without realising what she was doing, she straightened her legs out in front of her and balanced the keyboard on her knees, copying Alex's stance exactly. She waggled her fingers in front of her and smiled at Alex.

"Ready?" She asked the little girl, who nodded slowly back, still unsure. Beca made a great big show of raising her hands up before crashing them back down on the keyboard, mashing them onto the keys in a jumbled mess of noise. Alex's eyes grew wide and she clamped her hands over her ears and Beca pressed as many buttons at once.

"Do you like it?" She asked Alex, who shook her head back and forth. "You don't? Huh... people pay lots of money for me to do this... oh wait, I know what's wrong..."

Alex looked up to Beca and took her hands away from her head.

"... I'm using too many hands. Let me sit on one real quick and then it will work."

Alex continued to watch Beca skeptically, but it was obvious that the newcomer had her attention. Beca placed a hand under her leg and flexed her fingers for a second before returning them to the keys and began to tap out the notes to the Guns and Roses song she knew so well. It had been one of Jesse's favourites too, so much so, that he'd spent nearly the entire summer one year with it on repeat.

Chloe was quite amazed as she recognised the tune immediately, despite it being played on a children's toy and watched as Alex began to bounce up and down a little as Beca's fingers deftly flew over the keys. Chloe was quite stunned to see how quick she moved her fingers. A minute or so later, the music abruptly stopped.

"Shall I show you a trick on the keyboard?" Beca asked Alex.

Alex nodded her response, she hadn't known her little toy could play such great tunes.

"So, you see this button here…" Beca said, pointing to the on/off switch. Alex nodded again. "… the trick is to switch it off."

Alex watched Beca flick the button.

"Now watch really closely, because it will be quick, okay… but if I press this key here at the same time as pressing my nose, my foot will start tapping a beat out."

Alex looked at Beca like she had suddenly grown two heads.

"Oh, you don't believe me, huh?" Beca asked and Alex shook her head. "Okay, I'll show you. Are you ready?"

Alex shifted back a little to make room for Beca to move the keyboard closer to her. Beca reached out and pressed one of the keys down and noticed Alex look straight at her foot.

"Hmm, it's not working." Beca said. Alex raised herself up onto her knees and with a tentative finger, reached out and lightly pressed the tip of Beca's nose, jumping back when Beca's foot began to tap back and forth.

"You have the magic touch!" Beca laughed and Alex's face broke into a sly grin. Beca suppressed a gasp, seeing Jesse's face in the little girl. "Shall we see what the other keys do?"

"Yeah."

Chloe watched Beca play with Alex for a few minutes. True to her word, they tested every key on the plastic keyboard to see what worked and she was amazed at how quickly Beca came up with different sounds or movements as Alex pulled on her ear lobe or touched her chin. Alex climbed into Beca's lap, leaning back against her as they played together. Kate and Jessie watched them playing and soon abandoned the tea set and dolly in favour of coming over to see what all the giggling was about.

Chloe leant against the back of the chair as she watched her shy Kate climb into Beca's side as they took turns in hunting for the trick noises. Jessie stood behind Beca and threw her arms around her neck and laughed as Beca made animal sounds, did jazz hands and even pretended to be frozen when two of the girls pressed on the keyboard at the same time.

"You are such a natural with kids," Chloe said, once Beca managed to move away from the girls leaving them to play with the keyboard themselves. They kept bursting into fits of giggles as they made up sounds and movements.

"With no money growing up, I learned to improvise with what I had pretty quick. I do the same with music. I guess I related that to kids too."

"I never would have thought to do that with the keyboard. Look how they are sharing Alex's toy and look at the sheer happiness on her face now that Jessie and Kate have forgotten their dolls and tea set and are playing with her," Chloe said, laying her hand over her heart. She opened her mouth to say something else when a head appeared around the door.

"Thought I heard adult voices," The newcomer said, brightly, coming through the door. She held out a hand towards Beca. "Hi, you must be Beca."

"Hi, yeah," Beca said, shaking the hand that was held out to her. "My God, you are tall."

"Beca, this is Stacie!" Chloe explained with a small laugh. "She's my… well, my everything."

"Aww, sweet of you to say Chloe," Stacie laughed, nudging Chloe in the ribs.

"Stacie comes round for a few hours a day, sorts out the mail, books appointments, organises my schedule, keeps an eye on the kids if I need to run an errand or something. And just helps keep our lives on track."

"I'm working my way through college at the moment," Stacie said, as if she needed to explain her presence in Chloe's life.

"Oh, okay," Beca said.

"Stacie is at UCLA. Bioengineering. It's something I don't understand," Chloe laughed and Beca realised that for the first time in ages, she was seeing the real Chloe in person. Even the Chloe in the hospital was slightly guarded. Every interview she'd seen which, granted, wasn't many, everyone always said how natural and easy going she was and now Beca was watching a different side to her emerge. She much preferred this Chloe than the one in the court room.

"I don't even know what that means," Beca said, her eyes wide.

"Molecular science. In a nutshell," Stacie explained, smiling broadly.

"Yeah, that doesn't help," Beca muttered and Stacie grinned.

"Clo said you were a music producer. That's pretty cool."

"Well, I'm not quite there yet. I've yet to get my big break, but at the moment, I'm still an intern."

"Ah, right."

"I do some freelance work; commercials, company jingles… that kind of thing."

"And you DJ at clubs at the weekends," Chloe interjected.

"Oh, anywhere I know?" Stacie asked, seemingly genuinely interested.

"I've done some sets at Sound, um Avalon… Academy. About once a month, I host an after-hours night at Bardot, that's pretty intense."

"What's your stage name?"

"I just go by MitchMatch. No big surpr-"

"-Wait, you're MitchMatch?" Stacie turned to Chloe. "Remember that guy, the stud? The one with the cute face."

"Oh Stacie, there's so many," Chloe laughed and gave Stacie a small wink.

"The one with the glasses, the smooth skin, is a reporter for MTV or whatever…" Stacie explained but giving up when she got a blank look in response. "He was raving about this DJ he'd seen in Bardot that he said was going to be the next big thing. It was MitchMatch… and that's you."

"That's me."

"Are you kidding?" Stacie asked.

"Um, no."

"And you seriously play at some of the best clubs in Los Angeles. That's amazing!"

"They pay my rent, that's all I care about."

Stacie shook herself, clearly awestruck. Chloe watched Beca squirm under Stacie's gaze and inwardly chuckled. Here was this slightly awkward but very clever young woman who could command a nightclub full of hardened partygoers and music lovers, blushing as she received praise.

"I can never get into places like that," Stacie said. "My best friend, Cynthia Rose, would just die to get in!"

"I can bring guests," Beca said lightly. "I sometimes bring a friend but usually the tickets go spare. I can let Chloe know the next time I've got some, if you want to go?"

"Oh, I didn't say that to get free tickets," Stacie looked flustered. "I wasn't asking for that reason."

"It's okay," Beca shrugged.

"Mommy?"

Both Chloe and Beca spun around at the same time. Kate stood in front of them, hopping from foot to foot. Her voice was similar to Jessie's and Beca looked over towards the other two to see they were still playing together.

"Yes baby?" Chloe said.

"We go swimming now?"

"We can, if Beca would like to?"

"I don't get in the water," Beca said.

"You don't swim?"

"Never learned, I guess."

"There's a shallow end-"

"-I didn't bring anything with me, so I'll just sit on the edge of the pool."

"I can lend you a bikini," Chloe offered.

Beca looked out to the sky, from the playroom windows. It was a lovely warm afternoon, and she knew some rays on her skin would probably do her some good. She felt a bit funny accepting the clothing from Chloe, seeing as just a few days ago she despised just everything about her. But she was doing this for the girls and she promised herself that she would have fun and join in and see where the afternoon took her. Swallowing her former opinion, she nodded her acceptance to Chloe.

"Yeah, thanks."

"We'll get the girls changed in their room and then you can change in the guest room."

"Okay."

"Stacie, can you please get their swimming things ready and take them upstairs. We'll be up in a minute. I just want to show Beca around."

"Of course, Chloe," Stacie called out to the girls. Jessie walked past Beca and gave her leg a quick hug. Beca patted her head and told her she'd be up soon.

"Let me show you the rest of the house."

"Sure," Beca nodded, following Chloe as she walked back through the living room and back into the hallway.

"So, the coat closet is by the door and that door there…" Chloe indicated a second door Beca hadn't even noticed before. "… is the half bath. This door, past the stairs, is the laundry room and there's a storage room in there too. The double doors lead straight onto the deck. It's pretty cool for parties."

"Okay."

"This one leads to the kitchen," Chloe said, pushing on the door and leaving it open after Beca had walked through.

The kitchen was modern and filled with some of the latest gadgets. The island had seating around it and there appeared to be a coffee maker built into one of the cabinets. Beca noticed that none of the counters were cluttered with junk or appliances and looked like something straight out of a magazine.

"Wow," She said quietly.

The pale green walls worked well with the grey floor tiles, even though it looked like it shouldn't. The dining area overlooked some of the garden at the back and the table could easily sit eight people. There were colourful placemats and napkins stacked neatly on one end and a pile of muslin cloths for any spills.

"The French doors open onto the deck area as well. It leads down to the pool on the right," Chloe explained. "Really nice in the summer to get the scent of the flowers coming through in the evening while we're eating."

"You always sit at the table?"

"We do. It's a great time to discuss the day or make plans. It's better for their digestion too."

"We don't have a table," Beca mumbled absentmindedly. "Jessie used to sit on a barstool in the kitchen and ate at the kitchen counter. I usually just stood and ate on my feet while I was saving up for a second bar stool."

"That will explain how her balance on those things is so much better than the others then," Chloe smiled as she pointed towards her own barstools and Beca shrugged. "The study is through that door in the corner although we don't use it so much these days. There's a desk, a sofa and about three laptops in there. Probably a few spiders. Stacie pretty much takes care of my diary and appointments and now that David no longer uses it for school prep, it's not used much. He does his own thing in the guest house."

"I've only got the one room for everything," Beca said plainly. "But we make it work. And I've got one ancient laptop."

Chloe's eyes narrowed at Beca's comment. She wasn't sure if she was upsetting or embarrassing her by showing her around; she didn't know her well enough to be able to tell. She was trying to show her around so she knew where the girls lived, but realised after Beca's comment that it might all be a bit much.

'Be less Chloe.'

"Um, sorry. I've just realised that I probably come across as… well, I don't know."

"Oh no, it's cool. This is a lovely home and I hope to have something like it one day. I've always had dreams and they come true eventually, if you work hard enough for them." Beca declared.

Chloe could have kicked herself as she watched Beca look around. She didn't look upset at all as her eyes roamed over the stainless steel appliances and gadgets. She took a few moments while Beca's back was turned to study her profile. Chloe already thought she was beautiful, but she realised that Beca moved about with a certain grace and elegance she'd not seen for a while. There was something about the way she ran her fingers so delicately over the kitchen counter, as if a featherlight touch would tell her all she needed to know.

The way she touched everything reminded her so much of Alex, who also had a tactile need to feel her way around as well.

Chloe noted Beca's athletic but very slim frame and wondered if she always got enough to eat. Beca had a healthy glow about her, but Chloe still felt something tug at her heart strings. She wanted to look after someone who clearly didn't need looking after, but she couldn't help the way she felt.

'Be less Chloe.'

"Have you lived here long?" Beca asked, snapping Chloe from her thoughts.

"Just over four years."

"It's so nice. It's like a proper home." Beca said, turning around. "Well, you know what I mean. It's normal."

"How do you mean?" Chloe laughed, her eyes twinkling.

"I mean, I wasn't exactly expecting a red carpet and a row of Oscars but…

"No Academy Awards yet. And I keep my trophies and statues in the study!" Chloe mused, throwing her thumb in the direction of the closed door. "Haven't looked at them in months."

"I mean, I've never been to a movie star's home before. I guess I always thought everyone famous had full time maids and all that, never lifted a finger to do anything, expected people to fan them with giant leaves and swanned about in their underwear." Beca said before laughing.

"I've locked the help in their respective closets for now." Chloe winked and Beca grinned back, glad that Chloe got her jokes. "I'm gonna go see how the girls are getting along. Would you like to see upstairs or have you had enough house tour?"

"I'd love to see upstairs."

They left the kitchen, crossed the hall and climbed the stairs. Beca paused every now and then to look at the family pictures.

"Hey Chloe?" Beca called out as she followed behind her. "I've brought some baby pictures of Jessie with me. They're copies and some are a little dog eared, but I thought you might like to see years one through three. I don't have many pictures of her first year. They were in the van that caught fire but the rest are good."

"That's really thoughtful Beca, thank you."

They reached the landing and again, Beca was amazed by the size of the empty space. In her apartment, there was barely enough room to breathe too deeply, let alone just have space for turning around.

"So there's five bedrooms up here. The girls are currently sharing the second bedroom which has its own bathroom. So, the master suite is on the left, girls bedroom here, and then the other three bedrooms are on the right along with the family bathroom."

"I need to see your room." Beca said seriously.

"Um, okay." Chloe, confused, turned left.

Beca followed and waited as Chloe pushed open the double bedroom doors. Beca inhaled deeply as she took in the size of the room. It was about the size of her whole apartment. She was surprised at the colour scheme, expecting peach and cream taffeta or pink polka dots and definitely a random unicorn in the corner but she was confronted with a fake brick wall, painted in dark grey instead. The rest of the walls were painted a lighter grey, the colour broken up by some bespoke white furniture and silver accessories. The bed was simply enormous and looked like it could sleep twelve people, the bedding was a deep grey and the throw pillows were fluffy and in a mix of black, grey and white.

There was a tall, open backed unit which housed a couple of leafy plants and some decorative vases. The only colour in the room were a few large prints of flowers and the mix of teal, purple and pink actually worked really well.

"Yay!" Beca said as she took in the dressing area and the corner of the en-suite bathroom she could see from where she stood. Chloe cocked her head at Beca's exclamation.

"You okay?" She asked.

"Yup!" Beca grinned, turning to face her. "Now I can say that I've been in a celebrity's bedroom!"

"Oh my God!" Chloe laughed, thinking Beca was an adorable dork at heart. She nodded her head towards the next bedroom. "Shall we see if the girls are ready for swimming?"

"Sounds good." Beca said, backing out of the room.

Chloe pushed open the girl's bedroom door and called out to the girls as she entered. There was a lot of shrieking for three people who were supposed to be getting dressed for the pool. Stacie looked a little harassed but was just fixing the last water wing on Kate when the door opened.

The girl's bedroom was pretty. The walls were painted pink and white and everywhere Beca looked there were butterflies. There were three small beds in the room, but it wasn't overcrowded. Each bed had the same set of sheets and butterfly blankets, slightly ruffled and the first unkempt thing Beca had seen on her house tour. She guessed there had been some jumping on the beds that afternoon. Each bed had a different throw on top and she wasn't surprised to see the bed that Jessie was sitting on had a purple one. She noticed that the beds had recently been moved around, judging by the deep indents in the soft carpet.

"Are you girls ready for swimming?" Chloe asked and three loud cheers suggested they were.

"I'll take them downstairs while you ladies change," Stacie said, ushering the girls out of the room.

"Do you have a preference on a bikini?" Chloe turned to Beca as they could hear Stacie cajoling the girls down the stairs. "Colour or style, I mean"

"Um, no?" Beca said. "I mean, if you have a black one…"

"Yes, I do. Or would you prefer a one piece?"

"Bikini is fine."

Chloe left the room and went off in search of a bikini for Beca to borrow while Beca looked around the girl's bedroom a little more. It was a little angels paradise and Beca was glad to see it wasn't completely filled with toys. They didn't seem like spoilt girls, despite their mother's status and Beca was glad of that. She felt a little piece of resistant fall off of her shoulders.

"Here you go," Chloe said as she came back into the room wearing a different outfit than she was a couple of minutes ago. She held out a small pile towards Beca. "There's a couple of different styles to choose from and you can mix and match if you need to. There's some shorts as well, if you don't want to wear your jeans by the pool."

"Thanks," Beca said, taking the swimwear.

"You can change in the guest room or my room. I've already changed so you'll have privacy."

"Um, your room is fine."

"Okay, just come down when you are ready. There are pool towels downstairs already so… yeah. Need anything?" Chloe said, gently clapping her hands together a couple of times.

"Nope, I'm good."

Chloe left the room and hurried downstairs leaving Beca in the girl's room. She gave it one last look over before leaving and making her way back to Chloe's bedroom. She felt a little weird changing in, what she felt was her arch enemy just last week, bedroom but she tried to brush those feelings off. Chloe was making a real effort in welcoming her into her home and family and Beca knew she needed to do the same.

Beca quickly changed and folded her clothes neatly into a pile. She selected the bikini bottoms with the tie, as Chloe's hips were slightly wider than her own, but the top part fitted her perfectly. She piled her hair up onto her head and using the band that was around her wrist, tied it up into a messy bun.

Chloe reached the bottom of the stairs and walked through the kitchen and into the back yard, turning right towards the pool. Stacie was just finishing up spraying all three girls with sunscreen.

"Hey, how's it going?" Stacie asked.

"Surprisingly well," Chloe replied. "I thought it was going to be super awkward, but so far so good. I mean, we haven't talked about anything yet and all she's done is see the kids and had a tour of the house, but she didn't do a snatch and grab so…"

"I'm still sorry for suggesting to you that she might do that," Stacie said, tugging the water wings further up Kate's arm. "Okay, Miss Katharine, you are good to go."

Kate wandered off to the edge of the pool and walked down the first step to sit in their water. The girls knew they weren't allowed to go any further than that without an adult in the pool with them. Chloe had stressed this many times to Jessie when she first came to the house. Jessie was afraid of the water and was happy to wait by the edge with the others. They kicked their feet in the water, splashing each other and laughing.

"She actually seems really nice," Stacie said, referring to Beca. "Bit shy, teeny bit standoffish, but I'd be guarded as well if it was me."

"I honestly think she just wants the best for all of the girls. She's very level-headed, much more than I gave her credit for. I admit, I heard trailer park and thought the worst and I can't get over that thought in my head. I don't think like that usually, I think I was just desperate to find something horrible about her, so I could be mad at her. But humble beginnings aren't a bad thing."

"So, you misjudged her-"

"-I think we all misjudged her. I know I did. And just look how adjusted Jessie is to life. She's far more independent and capable than Kate or Alex. She's more grounded and she's such a happy little girl. Beca has done an amazing job in raising her."

"I agree with you. She dressed herself in her own swimsuit today," Stacie agreed.

"From the things she's said, in court and today, she sets herself a goal and simply achieves what she sets out to do, whatever the pitfalls might be. It might take her longer than most, but she does. And on her own too. I can't say that I'm like that, can you?" Chloe said, shaking herself.

"I guess not."

"She hasn't had it easy."

"Sounds like you've attached yourself to her a little bit," Stacie said, keeping an eye on the girls in case the splashing got too much.

"I'm trying not to."

"Why?"

"I don't know her. Not really. Last month we were… well, I guess, bitter enemies. Today, she's at my house and we're sharing dinner this evening."

"You are both hurting. It's not easy on anyone, the last few months have been rough. Honestly, and don't get mad at me for saying this, but I think she's probably struggling with this a lot more than you."

"No, I agree," Chloe nodded, looking over towards the girls. "Everything is complicated. Everything. I've barely gotten used to having Jessie here and… I want Beca to be involved in all their lives. She was so cute with them today in the playroom, so natural. It literally doesn't seem right to keep her away from them."

"Well, that's a good thing, right?"

"Of course. But how do we work this out? I don't regret reaching out to her, but I should have thought it through. I mean, do they live here, and she visits them here or do they stay overnight with her three nights a week? Is Kate included in her plans? What if she tries to contribute, you know, financially? We rejected the judges decision for her to make a monthly contribution as she barely makes enough to cover her own bills, but will she then get upset if I pay for everything?"

"I think you just talk to her. You've said before that she seems pretty smart. Background check showed she graduated school with honours, right? So, she's got a good head on her shoulders. Chances are she's probably got some ideas. So, start by working out the next week. Then once a week is managed, work out the following one. Small steps."

"You've got a point, thank you."

"It's okay. Just… just try not to let other… people influence you."

"By other people, you mean Aubrey?" Chloe smiled, casting her eye over the girls as they played.

"She's made her feelings known about the whole thing and that's great, she's allowed an opinion but she's been known to bully you a bit in the past so this time, it's you and Beca and the girls."

"I know, you are right."

"I occasionally am," Stacie smirked. "Beca will see just how normal you are soon. She doesn't seem that starstruck which is a good thing."

"Like you."

"Honestly, I wouldn't have answered your placement ad for help if I'd known who you were to start with. I'm just glad we talked on the phone first and you seemed so normal."

"Me too. You're a good friend Stacie."

"As are you," Stacie said, looking over to the house. "We'd best change the subject before she comes down."

"Will you join us out here for a bit?"

"For a bit, yes. But then I've got to go. Got a hot date tonight… a guy from my chem class. He's got such a cute face."

"They all have a cute face Stacie! Here comes Beca now," Chloe noticed a figure in the hallway.

"I'm going to go and change. I'll be back in a minute," Stacie said, before heading back towards the house. She passed Beca as she stepped out onto the deck and gave her a half wave.

"Hi." Beca said, looking as awkward as a turkey at Thanksgiving.

"Hey, did you find everything okay?"

"Yup. Got the bikini on, under my shirt," Beca announced, not knowing why she explained that.

"Awesome. The towels are down by the pool house. It's in the far corner," Stacie pointed in the general direction. "You should have a look around the backyard. It's really nice, there's a pond through the gate in the far corner."

"Thanks," Beca mumbled.

"You're welcome." Stacie said, heading into the kitchen. She watched as Beca nervously picked her way across the deck, down the steps and across the tiled pool area. She paused at the pool house and saw the stack of towels and picked out the one on top.

Stacie reached into the pocket of her shorts and pulled out her phone, opening the messaging app and scrolling to Aubrey's number.

message from stacie.c, to aubrey.p - 17.10 - It's going well. Chloe is keeping her cool. Beca seems nice actually. :)

message from aubrey.p to stacie.c - 17.11 - Knowing Chloe, she'll be in tears by the end of the night. I'll call her tomorrow and thanks for the update.

Beca found Chloe sitting on a sun lounger, near to the steps of the pool. She was watching the three girls as they splashed in the water. Alex turned when Beca approached and gave her a small smile.

'Progress.' Beca thought as she awkwardly waved at Chloe.

"Hi," Chloe said, leaning over and patting the sunbed opposite. "Sit."

Beca felt uncomfortable. She didn't understand why she agreed to this. This was not how she imagined her day was going to pan out when she woke up that morning.

"Thanks again for the swimwear loan."

"Oh no problem. Did it not fit?"

"Yup, I've got it on underneath my shirt," Beca explained again. "It's fine. Just… I'm not used to, um-"

"-No pressure Beca. You can wear whatever you want to. That's a cool shirt, by the way."

Beca glanced down at her chest and noted she was wearing one of her David Guetta Bulletproof shirts.

"You know David Guetta?"

"Yeah," Chloe said. "I crawled out from under a rock quite a while ago now."

"I've got a recording session with him in August," Beca said as she perched on the end of the sunbed. She was feeling really subconscious and couldn't help but sneak a glance at Chloe's beach ready body.

"Seriously?"

"Yeah, it's only half an hour, but I'm prepped with questions already."

"What made you get into music?" Chloe asked, reaching out to stop Alex smacking Jessie on the arm.

"My best friend, Jesse."

"Ah."

"He got us into the stupid school choir. That turned into band practice. My music teacher liked what I did. Kinda rolled with it. Never had anyone believe in me before."

"I sang in an a capella group in college."

"That's like a thing now, isn't it?"

"Oh yeah. We toured a lot. It was really good fun."

"I don't sing."

"But you said you were in a choir? And you mentioned signing Jessie to sleep."

"Yeah, but I don't sing, like in front of other people. I stood at the back and generally messed about. I was one of the smallest so I hid pretty well. It's pretty lame. I mean, for me. Kudos to you though."

Chloe smirked at Beca's face pinking up.

"Mommy come. Beca come," Alex said, making them both look towards the pool. Kate was bobbing about by the steps, kicking her legs underneath the water.

"You girls can swim?" Beca asked and two heads nodded enthusiastically.

"They've been in the pool since they were little," Chloe explained.

"I can't swim. Will you teach me one day?" Beca asked Alex who nodded enthusiastically. "And you'll help Jessie learn too?"

"Yes." Kate answered and flicked some water towards Jessie, who flinched in a very Beca like move.

"CANNON BALL!"

"Oh my God Stacie!" Chloe yelled as Stacie came charging down the deck steps, dressed in a bright pink bikini. She threw herself into the pool to the squeals of delight of the three girls. "Ladies, I give you my oldest child!"

.oOo.

"Holy Christ!"

"Chloe?" Stacie's head snapped around and she paused drying her legs to look at Chloe. "You okay?"

"Look at her," Chloe whispered, her eyes wide, as she subtly nudged a finger in Beca's direction.

Stacie looked over towards Beca who had finally stripped her tee shirt off and was sitting on the edge of the pool, with her feet in the water. She had her head tilted back, her face turned towards the last of the afternoon sun. Jessie was sitting next to her, half leaning onto her and was in an animated discussion about something which had Beca laughing and nodding along. Kate and Alex were close by, fighting over a pool noodle as they joined in the conversation. Alex would glance up to Beca a lot, who was encouraging Alex to win the pool noodle as well as telling Kate she was doing an awesome job of holding on it.

Chloe was loving how carefree Beca was with the girls, and she was seemingly treating them all the same. She watched as Jessie threw her head back laughing, as Beca giggled over something they found funny. She then leant forward and told Alex and Kate the same thing and the little peals of laughter drifted across the water. The small pang of regret that Chloe still had about taking Jessie away was growing ten fold as she saw that Beca was the most relaxed and happy that she'd ever seen her as they sat by the pool.

"Chloe?" Stacie said, snapping Chloe out of her daydream.

"She's like an angel."

"Jessie? Yeah, she seems like a real sweetheart."

"No, Beca," Chloe muttered.

"Beca?"

"She's practically glowing."

"Or burning. Did you offer her sunscreen?" Stacie laughed, sliding her shorts up over her legs.

"Um, no."

"Distracted over something, were we?" Stacie smirked.

"She's beautiful. I mean, really beautiful."

"Um, Chloe, your toner is showing."

"No, no, it's not," Chloe stammered.

"I know that look."

"What look?"

"Chloe… don't do anything you'll end up regretting later."

"I'm not."

"Don't make this any more complicated than it already is."

"Whoa, I'm not. I'm just saying anything like that. I'm just saying she's beautiful."

"You cannot fall for her."

"I'm not falling for anyone," Chloe said, biting her lip as she watched Beca pull her hair free from her bun. It tumbled down her shoulders and she shook it back, away from her face.

"I wish this conversation was making me uncomfortable, it should be. But the look on your face right now…" Stacie grinned. "… Chloe, do you like her?"

"No! I mean, yes. I mean…"

"Chloe?"

"It's just… I remember her from the hospital when the girls were born. I remember her coming to my room and, you know, David… but I remember thinking she was beautiful back then. She was so young. But she had this resolution about her that impressed me. I saw her a few times when the girls were in the NICU. She always smiled when she saw me. Always had a kind word, although our conversations never went on for longer than a few minutes. Those first few days were rough, and I eventually forgot about her face, I guess, but I never forgot how she made me feel. David and I stopped working not long after and I always wondered if she awoke something in me. David changed, I know that, he knows that, but did I fight hard enough for us? Did I want to make it work or was this creature from my past in the back of my mind? I don't know."

"You know you've made this whole thing way more complicated, don't you?"

"Yeah, I guess so. I can't tell her," Chloe said, smiling softly towards Beca.

"Oh God, no."

"She'd run a mile. And I'm hopeful we've turned a little bit of a corner today. It will take her a long time to even begin to trust me, but I think she's worth the effort. I think she's really special and she needs people to tell her."

"Just be careful. She's been hurt by a lot of people."

"I know, and I'm one of the worst offenders. When she was with the girls earlier, it was like seeing a different person," Chloe admitted. She looked around her, as if remembering what she was saying out loud. "Stace…"

"Don't worry Chloe, your secret is safe with me."

.oOo.


A/N... part two of their evening will be up in a few days. Hope you enjoyed the start of them talking like decent humans! x

Chapter Text

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.

"You're crying."

"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.

"Of course."

"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."

"Just soup?"

"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."

"What about?"

"Everything."

"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."

"How come?"

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..."

Beca laughed.

"Woodchipper, huh?"

"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."

"Aubrey?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"I've known Aubrey for years, she's like a sister to me."

"Well then."

"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."

"Wait? What?"

"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."

"Such as?"

"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."

"Oh?"

"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."

"Seriously?"

"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."

"You're moving?"

"Have to."

"How come?"

"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."

Chloe chuckled.

"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."

"Hmmm, okay."

"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.

Chloe grinned.

"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."

"That's awesome!"

"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."

"Why?"

"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."

"Me too."

"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.

"Stop him?"

"His research?"

"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."

"Please stay."

"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.

.oOo.


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…

Chapter Text

A/N - *knock knock*... remember me?!

Don't worry, I won't be giving out a long ass speech about where I've been for the last few months! A little context though - my father in law passed away and I quite s pectacularly  broke my ankle in about a dozen places a couple of weeks after that. There's so much more to my absence but I'll try not to bore you with it all. It's just been a bit of a journey with physical therapy so my time on here had to be put on the back burner.

I have plenty of chapters lined and ready to go so I hope you'll come back and rejoin me on this journey.

Thank you for waiting!

-waatp :)


.oOo. Chapter Twenty Seven .oOo.
Part One of Three

One Month Later

message from amy.h, to becaroo - 05.57 – Becaroo! I've got nothing ta wear
message from beca.m, to amy.h - 06.03 
– WTF Amy? It's 6 in the fucking morning!
message from amy.h, to becaroo - 06.04 
– Help me!
message from beca.m, to amy.h - 06.06 
– Go back to sleep you weirdo

Beca lay back on the sofa in her apartment and pulled the blanket back up over her head. She was already half awake when Amy had texted, thinking of the day ahead and worrying slightly at the amount of people Chloe had invited to her house for a supposed casual get together with friends. Beca didn't hate people as much as she used to, being around Jessie had made her change but Chloe's cavalier, 'I've only invited about forty people... or so' was still quite daunting to Beca.

She groaned when she heard her phone ringing, its slow melodic tune bouncing around the sparse apartment.

"What?" She said by way of greeting.

"Becaaaa," Amy whined. "I've got nothing ta wear!"

"What the heck are you on about?" Beca grumbled, pushing the blanket down to her waist before propping herself up on her elbows.

"What does one wear ta a celebrity's house?"

"What the fuck does it matter?"

"It matters! There might be important people there."

"Clothes. Shoes. Underwear. As long as you are wearing underwear, then life is all good. And then you can be around polite company."

"Becaaaa!"

"Why are you being so weird about this?" Beca asked.

"I'm not."

"Don't make me regret inviting you."

"If you don't want to regret inviting me, then come and help me choose somethin' ta wear," Amy cried out.

"You don't need my help to get yourself dressed."

"Please help me!"

"Oh for f... what are your options?" Beca asked, suppressing a yawn.

"I've got some fancy dress possibilities."

"Huh?"

"I can come as an alien or a cowgirl. I do have a-"

"-Could you maybe just try and be normal today?" Beca cringed. "Just wear jeans and a shirt, or something like that."

"But celebrities Beca… Chloe's important."

"Chloe is just a normal person, Ames," Beca said, rubbing her eyes. She was wide awake now.

"Beca! She's. A. Celebrity."

"Amy. She's. A. Person."

"But-"

"-If you start whining, I'm hanging up the phone."

"If I bring breakfast, will you help me choose something?"

"Oh for fuc…" Beca sighed heavily. "… yes, okay, that's fine."

"Hooroo!" Amy yelled before hanging up the phone.

Beca grumbled to herself for a couple of minutes as she dragged herself out of bed and set about straightening up her kitchen. She'd spent the night before packing up her apartment. She wasn't sad to leave the place, it wasn't her and Jessie's home anymore. She was currently looking at listings nearer to Studio City but was well aware that she'd likely not find anything in her price range. Time was running short on her finding a new place in time.

She did consider renting a single room in a house again but quickly discounted the idea. She'd have no room if the girls came over and also there wouldn't be adequate space to lay her equipment out properly.

Plus, a shared house might just be a little too peopley for her.

She showered and dressed quickly, choosing cut off shorts, sandals, and an Elvis Presley tee shirt before she braided her hair to keep it tidy and off of her neck in the early August sun. She started putting together the things she wanted to take to Chloe's that morning as she walked around the apartment, brushing her teeth at the same time.

Chloe had insisted that she had it all under control when Beca had texted the night before, but she felt uncomfortable not bringing anything with her. The redhead was starting to understand Beca a little better now that they were spending a decent amount of time together and had realised that she needed to ask Beca to contribute in some way to their daughters' upbringing, including the social events that Chloe loved so much.

Beca offered to put together some music and Chloe had asked her if she'd help set up their lunchtime gathering, rather than pay for food and dessert, explaining that an extra pair of hands was worth more than anything Beca could buy. Beca had happily agreed and said she'd be there as early as possible on the day to help out. She packed her laptop, her recently bought bikini, her favourite sunglasses, and a small collection of things she'd picked up for the girls over the last couple of days. The night before, she'd stopped at Jessie's favourite bakery and picked up her favourite cupcakes, choosing similar ones for Kate and Alex.

She was just mentally running through what else she needed when her door buzzer began trilling through the apartment.

"Come on up," She said into the speaker, knowing there was only one person who buzzed with such enthusiasm.

"Morning!" Amy said as she barrelled through the door a couple of minutes later, clutching more clothes in her arms than Beca owned. She pushed a cup holder with two hot coffees and something in a paper bag towards Beca. "Righto, I've got me outfits."

"Yeah, I can see that," Beca said, shutting the front door and placing breakfast on the kitchen counter. She took the lid off one of the coffees and sniffed. "How much do I owe you for breakfast Ames?"

"Nothing."

"You got the last lot."

"Well, not really. I took twenty dollars from your purse last week so technically, you bought the last two lots."

Beca grumbled something unintelligible as she opened the paper bag.

"Doughnuts," Amy said.

"I can see that," Beca said, lifting out a sticky mess from the back. She examined the pastry quickly. "Um, Ames, did you lick these doughnuts?"

"Yeah. The frosting had some sort of glittery shizzle and I just couldn't help-"

"-You are really weird, you know that?" Beca said, dropping the doughnut quickly back into the bag and wiping her fingers on the towel laying out on the kitchen counter. "Right, what have you brought?"

The next thirty minutes were spent with Amy trying on a few different outfits; some conservative and some not so much. As Amy changed into her fourteenth costume, Beca sighed and rubbed her hands over her face; it really was quite early to be dealing with this. Amy stepped out of the bathroom wearing what can only be described as a ball gown.

"What the fuck is that?" Beca asked as the glittery gold dress shimmered under her spotlighted ceiling.

"Sunday best," Amy stated, turning to look at herself in the small hallway mirror.

"It's just a simple barbecue. Burgers. Beer. Pool. I can't see what was wrong with what you wore over here in the first place," Beca reasoned, remembering Amy's shorts and cheery yellow tee shirt.

"This is a chance for me to meet people Beca. I'm single and ready to mingle."

"And you don't think that dress screams, 'I didn't go home last night from the party and have had to do the walk of shame'?"

"No, it's me best frock. I wanna wear it. Heck, I'm gonna wear it."

"Amy, it's meat in buns, it's not the bloody Oscars."

"What are you wearing then Beca?" Amy asked, huffing at Beca's lack of enthusiasm. She watched as her friend gestured down herself. "That's what you are wearing."

"Yup."

"Is that it?" Amy's eyebrow shot up into her hairline.

"Yup."

"What's Luke wearing?"

"How the fuck would I know?"

"Call him."

"No."

"Beccccaaaaa." Amy whined.

"Oh for the love of…" Beca moaned. She stepped past Amy and towards the piles of clothes that were now littering her hallway floor. She rooted through for a minute until she found, what she considered to be, a perfect outfit. She held out a pair of jeans that she always thought Amy looked nice in, a pair of flat sandals with a daisy motif and a pink tee shirt with a unicorn on it. "This… this is your outfit."

Amy looked crestfallen.

"Trust me. Besides…" Beca knew to throw in her best weapon just as Amy looked prepared to argue again. "… you know Jessie loves that tee shirt and I'll make sure she wears her matching one today."

Amy's grin split her face in two.

"Okay, you've got a deal. So, Luke's pickin' me up at ten thirty, right?"

"Yes, that's right. Don't forget your swimming costume."

"Sure it will be okay ta borrow some water wings?"

"I swear you are the only Aussie who can't swim."

"I survived in the bush Beca! Aboriginals learned from me."

"I'm sure they did," Beca said, resisting the urge to wind Amy up a little more. "Do you need anything else from me or can I get back my chores?"

"Thanks, Beca," Amy grinned, leaning down and giving Beca a quick hug. Beca pulled back quickly, knowing how handsy Amy could be and she didn't feel like getting her butt squeezed that early in the day. "I'm gonna go get changed."

"Wait! Before you go… I want to talk about the twenty that you stole from me."

.oOo.

Beca stepped out of her car and kicked the door shut with a hefty bang, grimacing slightly as she heard it reverberate around the quiet neighbourhood. She'd already texted Chloe to let her know she was on the way, offering to pick up coffee if Chloe wanted some.

Chloe had replied with a smiley face but said she was already on her third latte of the day and was starting to get the shakes. Beca didn't feel like stopping just for her own, unable to justify the expense to herself so she'd just driven straight over. It was still early and the day wasn't too hot yet.

She hoisted her laptop bag up onto her shoulder and gripping the cloth bags in her hands, she walked to Chloe's front door. Noting it was slightly ajar, she called through the opening, still not quite comfortable with just walking in, despite Chloe's reassurances that she could.

"Hello? Chloe?"

"Beca, that you?" Chloe called back from somewhere towards the kitchen.

"Yeah."

"Come on in silly."

Beca pushed open the door with her foot and slipped inside. She placed her bags by the front door, wondering whether to close it or not.

'Meh.' She said to herself as she toed off her sandals, pushing the door closed at the same time with her hip.

"I'm in the kitchen."

Beca made her way into the kitchen, already catching the fresh scent of lemon and lime as she entered the room. Chloe was at the kitchen island, apron tied haphazardly around her waist. She was elbow deep in a huge silver bowl but turned and gave Beca a huge smile as soon as she saw her. Beca had learnt, in the short time that they were friends, that Chloe had a different smile for each person she knew. She could already tell the genuine smiles from the ones reserved for the over zealous fans.

"Marinating shrimp," Chloe said, by way of a proper greeting. She leant back towards Beca and air kissed her cheek.

"Smells good," Beca said.

"You look cute today," Chloe said, taking in Beca's simple outfit.

"Um, thanks, um, you too," Beca flushed, taking in Chloe's romper, covered in little blue flowers. She looked around and realised it was way too quiet. "Where are the girls?"

"Oh, yeah, sorry. They were super bouncy this morning, so Stacie's taken them out for breakfast."

"Okay," Beca said, trying to hide her disappointment.

"They wanted to wait for you," Chloe said, as if she could read Beca's mind.

"Am I late?" Beca asked, looking at the clock on the wall.

"Late?"

"They were waiting for me?"

"No, not at all. The girls were planning to ambush you with water balloons out in the front yard. I think it's payback for the water pistol fight you started a couple of nights ago."

"About that…" Beca started. "… sorry if I overstepped. It just seemed too funny an opportunity to-"

"-No need to apologise Becs. They are your kids too. I'm sorry though, I should have thought and got them to wait for you."

"It's okay, I'll see them all day today," Beca dug her hands into her back pockets and surveyed her surroundings.

"They are super, super excited about today," Chloe smiled but Beca couldn't quite match her enthusiasm. "And I think we are all going to enjoy the chance to spend more time with you."

"Need help?" Beca said in an effort to hide her cheeks pinking up again at Chloe's words, attempting to change the subject.

She was really trying hard with the girls, all three of them. The situation was awkward, but she was doing her best to act as normally as possible. In the very short space of time that they'd been trying to make this work, she'd come to think of all three of them as partly hers. It did help that she and Chloe seemed to be getting on well and while it was still relatively polite and formal, they were both really trying to make it work. They both knew there was a lot left that they needed to say but for now, they were just focussing on moving forward and making an effort together.

"Actually yes, could you grab me some water from the fridge please? I think my caffeine high is starting to plateau."

"Sure," Beca said, bypassing the island and pulling on the fridge door.

She saw Chloe's favourite water at the bottom and pulled out the large bottle that had been started and the small box of cucumber slices that sat in the place of the egg tray. She pushed the door shut and reached up to the cabinet on the right, picking out one of the tall glasses. Twisting the cap on the bottle, she let the fizz calm as she opened the box and pulled two cucumber chunks from it, dropping them into the glass and filling it up to the top, draining the last of the water out.

"What?" Beca said as she pushed the glass over to Chloe who was watching her with an amused look on her face.

"Nothing," Chloe smirked. She loved how easily Beca had learnt how she liked her drinks and how comfortable she seemed to be becoming in the house. "Thank you."

Beca nodded her response and walked over to the French doors, looking out across the grass and pool. There were some tables and chairs already set up, slightly haphazardly with varying cushions and tablecloths dumped on each table top. There were some benches set around the pool and a couple of long serving tables on the deck.

"How many people are you expecting?" Beca asked, looking at the number of seats.

"Not too many," Chloe said, shaking some hair off of her face. "Aubrey will be here and her assistant Emily. She's super sweet, everyone loves her. Stacie and her friend Cynthia Rose are coming by. My assistants Flo and Lilly. Some of the studio guys I work with; you'll like them too. My in-laws have flown in. I've invited some of the neighbours so they don't complain too much if it gets noisy. Some of the girl's friends and their families are coming early on. And a couple of my actor friends who I'll be working with on my next movie. Thought we'd have a bit of an ice breaker and kill two birds with one stone."

"Chloe?"

"Yes?"

"That's like half of the population of Los Angeles," Beca said and Chloe laughed.

"Trust me Beca, it's half the amount we usually have around."

"Will David be coming?" Beca asked quietly. She had successfully managed to avoid him so far over the last few weeks, not really wanting the opportunity to spend any time with him. She watched, in surprise, as Chloe stiffened at the mention of his name and her whole demeanour changed.

"No. I told him about the party but he's getting ready for school." She answered stiffly. "That's why there is only half the amount of people coming, 'his' side hasn't been invited. Except his family, because they are awesome. His mom and dad are really missing the girls and his brother and his wife will be coming for the weekend too with their kids. They've rented an Airbnb for a week or so and are just hanging out with the kids when they can and seeing the sights."

"Um, right… sure," Beca said, nervously fiddling with the hem of her tee shirt.

"Becs…" Chloe said and Beca's head snapped up at the nickname. It immediately gave her a strange feeling in her stomach. "… it's okay."

"I know, I know," Beca said, her eyes darting around.

"If this is all too much…"

"No, it's good. I swear."

"If it is too much…" Chloe started to say again, pausing to wipe her hands on the towel on the kitchen counter. "… and you need a little time out, you can always go and sit in my bedroom for a bit. My dressing room is awesome for hiding out in and you can keep an eye on the party from the Juliet balcony off of the bathroom."

"It's fine. Honest. It's just a lot of people and…" Beca sighed. "… I can't hide cos my friend Amy might cause damage to something."

"I'm sure she can't be worse than a four year old."

"I'll get you to say that later on this afternoon after she'd broken your favourite lamp and tried to stick it back together with bubble gum."

Chloe laughed and waited for Beca to stop fidgeting as she paced the kitchen floor a couple of times.

"Do you need a job to do?" Chloe asked.

"Yeah, my hands… I need to keep busy when I'm nervous."

"I wish you wouldn't be. These are nice people and they want to come and get to know Jessie, and you, better."

"Just… there could be a lot of questions."

"You don't have to answer them, if you don't want to."

"It's just that-"

"-I know the last few weeks have been overwhelming… trust me, I feel it too. But this is not going to be like the grilling you received in court or in any lawyer's office. This is just a casual get together with friends and some family. I'd really like the chance to get to know your friends as well. I want you to be comfortable and host this party with me."

"I'm sorry."

"You have nothing to apologise for. I've been up since five worrying about whether I've bought enough food," Chloe said, nodding to one of the kitchen counters that was groaning under the weight of the food piled on top of it. "And that's not the bits for the barbecue."

"I guess I still struggle with knowing you get anxious like me," Beca said, looking out towards the pool again.

"It's different for me, I get that but yes, I do too."

"I'm going to go and start laying the tables. I just need to get out of my head for a little while."

"That would be lovely. Somewhere, in a couple of the boxes, there's some table decorations… just a few simple things. If you can leave them out, Aubrey usually puts together those when she arrives because I'm really not good at doing it. She hates having that job, but knows I'm rubbish."

"I can't imagine you being rubbish at anything."

"Oh you don't know me well enough yet," Chloe half laughed.

Beca grinned and nodded, before heading out of the French doors. The smell of an early summer morning hit her as soon as she jogged down the short set of steps to the lower patio area. The flowers were in full bloom, turning their petalled faces up towards the sun. Beca saw that the grass had recently been mowed and the remnants of the overnight sprinkler system was just drying on the pathways that criss-crossed the backyard.

She liked the garden area very much.

Heading towards the patio tables, she quickly laid out of the white tablecloths and laid a smaller gingham cloth over the top. She didn't know if Chloe had a proper plan, but figured if she'd done it wrong, Chloe, or her friend Aubrey, would come out and change it later. On the longer tables, she laid out the cloths, plates, cutlery and serving dishes in what she hoped was the correct format.

Finding the boxes of table decorations and remembering Chloe's words about her friend not really liking to do the job, Beca set about making small centrepieces with what she could find.

Chloe watched Beca busy herself out in the back yard as she sorted out several packets of bread rolls on the kitchen dining table. She watched Beca lay each table with neat precision and liked what she was doing. Beca was quite meticulous with making sure things were straight and Chloe's heart jumped a little at the care she was taking. After sorting out the bread, she poured a glass of fresh lemonade for Beca and took it out to her.

Beca was bent over a table with her back to Chloe when she felt a cool hand on her shoulder.

"I thought you might like a drink."

"Thanks," Beca said, straightening up and taking the glass that was held out to her.

"Thanks for all… whoa, what are you doing?" Chloe said, looking at the table decoration Beca had made.

"I'm sorry, it's-" Beca started to say, backing away from the table she was standing at.

"-Why are you sorry? I love what you've done here. Where did you find-"

"-It was just stuff in the boxes. I picked some of the flowers by the pond and wove them into the vases, the candle holder, and those small ice buckets you had. I can throw it out if you don't like it."

"I would never have thought to do that. It looks so pretty."

"You like it?" Beca said.

"I can't make a bunch of flowers look like that. How did you do it?"

"My mom was a florist."

"Oh," Chloe smiled, understanding Beca's love of flowers from previous conversations. She closed her eyes for the briefest of seconds when she remembered seeing Beca's large lotus flower tattoo on her shoulder when she came over for the girls' birthday the month before. Chloe looked at the decorations again. "I think these look really pretty."

"Thanks. I didn't pick too many flowers," Beca explained. "Once the outer petals start bending, they have reached potential and if you don't damage the stalk, they'll re-grow again really easily if you give them plenty of water."

"Pick away. There are a lot of flowers here... I've not planted anything myself, I let the gardening service take care of it. I wanted to do it myself, but David said it would be better to establish the garden first. I'm not green fingered at all. Are you?"

"A little. Never had the chance to do much. We had a couple of window boxes when I was a kid and Mrs Swanson let me plant some things at the Lodge."

"The Lodge?"

"Jesse's family home."

"Ah." Chloe nodded. "Well, perhaps we can do something together next spring. Get the girls involved?"

"Yeah, sure. Wouldn't hurt, I guess."

Chloe scrunched up her nose a little at Beca's lacklustre answer but remembered that Beca was probably so used to people not following through with arrangements, that she didn't make plans until the last minute. A few things from the last couple of weeks fell into place as she remembered Beca only confirming or asking to meet up the day before. She made sure to remember that for the future.

"Okay, so I'm going to finish off doing these," Beca said, in lieu of Chloe saying nothing. "What do you need me to do next?"

"Where would you like to set up your music?"

"Ummm…" Beca said, looking around the area. Her eyes settled on a semi sheltered spot under a large oak tree. "Over there would be good. I've brought some speakers, if you don't mind. I can hook up to your speakers as well, just noticed there wasn't any by the pool house."

"That sounds great. I'm going to finish getting the food prepared and once you've finished, we should have some time to sit for a while before the girls get back."

"Sounds nice," Beca looked around again. "Who's working the grill?"

"Well, actually, I don't know," Chloe frowned for a moment. "It was always David's job. I can ask his brother Tom, when he gets here."

"I can grill. If you like."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah, Jesse and I would do it at his place. He showed me how but it's been a while so…"

"You are quite the jack of all trades," Chloe laughed.

"Not really," Beca shrugged.

"If you can start the grill off, that would be awesome but I'd like you to socialise as well. You aren't here to work all afternoon."

"I just get a bit jumpy around a lot of people."

"I get it, I do a little as well. That's why I need you by my side!"

"Won't your friend get funny about me being 'by your side' all afternoon?"

"No, she's okay," Chloe sighed. "Once you get to know Aubrey, she's really, really nice. The prickly outside is just something you have to work through."

"I guess leaving the hospital with your kid didn't grant me any favours with her."

"I left with yours," Chloe said plainly. "And all three girls don't seem to be too affected by any of this yet."

"It's just us Moms that are the nervous wrecks."

"High five to that!" Chloe said, raising up her hand for Beca to smack. "Another hour and we should be done. Girls should be back by ten. What time did you tell your friends to get here?"

"About eleven, if that's okay."

"Perfect."

.oOo.

Beca was just putting the finishing touches to the outside when she heard her phone ring. She's spent a sweaty hour setting up her speakers and she was pretty ready for a sit down in the shade. Wishing she'd bought a change of clothes, she pulled her phone out of her pocket and saw it was Luke calling and quickly answered.

"Hi."

"Hey, Beca. We're just outside," Luke said.

"Cool. I'll come and get the gates for you. See you in a sec."

"Thanks."

She pocketed her phone and walked up the steps towards the kitchen. Chloe looked up as she came into the kitchen, smiling as she held the icing bag tightly in her hands. She was in the middle of piping the cupcakes and the girls were holding packets of sprinkles and decorations, ready in their efforts to make the prettiest cupcakes ever. They all looked up to Beca as she walked in, telltale streaks of icing across their cheeks. She ruffled Alex's hair before she wrapped her arms around all three of them.

"How do you find the time to do all of this?" Beca asked, smiling at the joy on the girls' faces. Chloe shrugged her shoulders and blew an errant piece of hair that had fallen across her face away. "Um, my friends are here."

"Oh gosh, is it that time already?" Chloe said, looking at the clock on the wall. "I'm not in a fit state to meet your friends, my hair's a mess and I haven't changed. The time, the time ran away from me."

"And what were you saying to me earlier this morning!" Beca laughed as she walked out of the kitchen door into the hallway.

"Touche!" Chloe giggled as Beca opened the front door. She walked to the front gate and unlocked it for Luke to drive through, giving him a mock salute as he bumped over the gate railings. He parked up in the corner that Beca was pointing to and she pushed the gate back to close it.

"Hi," Luke said as she stepped out of the car. "Am I dressed okay?"

"Oh God, not you as well?" Beca laughed.

"Amy said it was a posh event."

"No, it's really not. I had her over at six this morning; she was trying on different outfits. You look great," Beca said, taking in his long tailored shorts, grey fitted tee shirt, and overshirt.

"I didn't think a barbecue warranted a tuxedo but you know Amy," Luke turned and pushed his door shut, coming around the back of the car and opening up the back seat to retrieve a bag of belongings and a small posy of flowers.

"Yeah. Maybe the next event, huh?"

"Maybe!"

"Is Amy getting out of the car?" Beca asked.

"She's a little star struck, I think. Uncharacteristically quiet in the car this morning."

Beca bent down and tapped on the window. Amy looked like she'd seen a ghost.

"Ames, come on," Beca said. "Jessie's waiting to see you."

Amy looked over at Beca then back to the building in front of her. Beca stood up, trying not to laugh.

"This is a nice place," Luke said, looking over the front of Chloe's house. "Understated in a way."

"But that's Chloe. I know Amy has got issues with her celebrity status but honestly, I forget she's famous. She's actually a really nice person now I've gotten to know her a little better."

"I'm very glad you are getting the chance to get to know her better. I know it was a rocky start, but it seems you are forging a way forward together," He said, lightly punching her shoulder; the only affection he knew he could get away with at any time.

"Me too. It is less exhausting than trying to hate her and she's doing a lot for me," Beca said, looking back at Luke's Explorer. "Is she ever getting out of the car?"

"Maybe we should leave her in there."

"Would be much less of a stressful afternoon!" Beca laughed. "I can handle three four year olds much better than one Patricia Amy Hobart!"

"Do you need to go back into the house? I can wait out here for her."

"No, let's leave her there. She can follow when she's ready."

They both turned towards the front door, taking a couple of steps before they heard Amy's door pop open.

"Hey twig bitches, wait for me!" She said, sliding down from the SUV. Beca was relieved to see she was in the sensible clothes that she'd picked out for her that morning.

"Come on Slowpoke," Luke laughed, locking his car as soon as Amy shut the car door.

"Did you remember how to curtsey?" Beca mocked, as Amy came up alongside them.

"What? Becaroo, you never said-"

"-Good morning!" Chloe said brightly, stepping out from inside the house onto the front porch. She was wiping her hands on a towel as she smiled broadly at Beca's friends.

"Morning," Luke grinned, stepping up a couple of steps and holding his hand out to Chloe. "It's lovely to see you again, Mrs Mitchem."

"Chloe, please… and you as well," Chloe said, shaking Luke's hand. She really liked him, he was friendly, very polite and Beca's rock.

"A little something for you," Luke said, holding out the bunch of flowers to Chloe.

"Oh thank you Luke," Chloe said, taking the posy from him and sniffing the soft fragrance.

"And these too…" Luke said, handing over some goodies Beca recognised as being his favourite British treats from back home. "… just a small contribution for this afternoon."

"You didn't have to do that," Chloe said, looking into the bag that Luke gave to her. "This all looks interesting."

"A little taste of my homeland. Some of my favourite sweets… well, candy to my American friends. There's nothing too strange in there though but I thought you might like them."

"I look forward to sampling these," Chloe said, thinking how thoughtful Luke was.

Luke nodded and stepped aside so Amy could come up the stairs. Beca gave her a not so subtle shove to get her to move but Amy was rooted to the spot.

"Hi, you must be Amy…" Chloe said, her wide smile showing her perfect teeth. Beca's breath caught in her throat a little as the sun highlighted her hair, making the golden strands stand out and her whole being glow.

Beca jumped when Amy suddenly bowed at the waist.

"It's a pleasure ta meet yoos, Your Highness," Amy breathed out.

Beca bit the inside of her cheek to stop herself from laughing at the look on Chloe's face. Chloe's eyes shot to Beca's before she plastered on her smile again. Beca poked Amy in the leg.

"You've done enough grovelling," She laughed before stage whispering to Chloe. "See, I told you she was unique."

"Auntie Amy!" Jessie yelled, coming through the door at speed at the sound of one of her favourite people in the whole world. Amy immediately dropped to her knees to embrace the little girl as she jumped from the top step into Amy's arms. She buried her face into Amy's neck and shoulder as Amy hugged her hard.

"Oh I've missed you!" Amy said, her tone changing and a small tear appearing in the corner of her eye as Jessie successfully managed to get some icing in Amy's hair.

"I misseded you too. Are you here all day?" Jessie said, pulling back to look at her favourite Auntie.

"All day," Amy repeated.

"Unless you break something," Beca quipped, gesturing towards the front door. Amy stood up, holding onto Jessie for dear life. Beca's heart swelled a little at the love that Amy had for Jessie.

"Come on in," Chloe said, retreating back inside the house.

"Hi Uncle Luke!" Jessie said as she passed Luke, still being carried by Amy.

"Hey, sweet girl. How are you doing?" He asked, bending to kiss her on the cheek.

"Good," She beamed. "You want to meet my sisters?"

"I sure do," Luke said, nodding empathically as he followed Chloe through the front door. Jessie had completely forgotten Luke had met them before, five months was a long time in a four year old's life.

"Shoes, coats, bags," Beca said, pointing towards the large closet that had overwhelmed her so much on her first day. She pointed at the other doors. "Lounge, kitchen, restroom."

"Check," Luke said.

Amy looked around the hallway in wonder. Beca held in her laugh at her best friend's face.

"Amy, breathe," Beca said.

Amy set Jessie down on the floor and the little girl immediately grabbed hold of Luke's hand and pulled him towards the kitchen.

"Welcome to my home," Chloe said, pushing the front door closed behind them all. Amy stood still, unable to move. "As Beca has pointed out the main areas already, please feel free to explore whenever you like."

"Becaroo…" Amy murmured out of the corner of her mouth. "… this is a real house."

"Yeah Ames, what did you think it would be?"

"I dunno, like a rocket ship or somethin'."

"A rocket ship? Have-"

"-Or like a movie set with a tiger."

"Okay, shall we take it down a notch maybe, and-"

"-Or a desert island or-"

"-Amy, can I get you a drink?" Chloe asked politely, trying not to laugh at the Australian's side-whispering to Beca, who was watching her friend with a look of pure disbelief.

Beca poked Amy in the stomach to get her to answer Chloe.

"Um, sorry ma'am, I didn't hear what you said."

"She asked if you wanted a drink," Beca said, hearing the excited voices of three little girls coming from the kitchen alongside Luke's even higher pitched one.

"She has a butler ta do that for her, right?" Amy asked, putting her hand in front of her face as she spoke.

"No, there's no butler."

"Sssh Beca, she can hear you."

"She can also hear you," Beca said, pulling Amy's hand down. "Dude, stop being so weird."

Amy shifted from foot to foot for the longest time before Chloe began to feel uncomfortable. The redhead looked to Beca, silently asking what she needed to do here. Beca shrugged her shoulders in response.

"Ames, do you want a drink?" Beca asked and Amy nodded. "Then will you answer Chloe like a normal person, you are making this whole thing very uncomfortable."

"It's okay Beca," Chloe said, taking a step forward towards Amy.

"But she-"

"-Hi Amy, it's really lovely to meet you," Chloe said, in a sugary voice. Beca recognised the difference immediately, noting it was the voice she used when she'd seen her encounter one other highly emotional fan before. "I've heard a lot about you from Beca here, but I'd really like to get the chance to talk to you. I'd rather do that over a cold glass of lemonade with my feet in the pool rather than standing in my hallway with the dust bunnies. I'm sure you have a few questions for me so why don't we take some drinks and snacks to the pool and get to know each other a little better before everyone else arrives."

Chloe's speech snapped Amy out of the weird funk she'd gotten herself.

"Ginger here is all right," Amy nodded, directing her thumb towards Chloe.

"Oh, thank God." Beca said and Chloe looked to her for an explanation. "Oh, if she likes you, she'll give you a nickname. She just called you Ginger so..."

"And what do you get?" Chloe asked, with a small laugh.

"Becaroo, Becatron, The Becsanator, BecaBob, BecanAndEggs…" Amy recited.

"Pretty much anything other than Beca," Beca explained.

"I see!" Chloe giggled. "Right, my kitchen is this way."

Amy followed behind Beca and Chloe as they made their way to the kitchen. She paused in the doorway when she saw Luke sitting on the floor to the side of the kitchen, wearing a Princess tiara and talking to the three little girls who had surrounded him and showing him one of the cupcakes they'd just finished decorating.

"Amy, these two are Kate and Alex," Chloe said, pointing to her daughters and holding back a laugh when her eyes fell to Luke. "And I'm sorry, I don't know this beautiful little girl? I don't believe we've met."

"I'm Lady Lucille… apparently," Luke said, chuckling as he adjusted the tiara he'd had plonked on his head. "I've just been given the task of bestowing royalty onto these darling children of yours."

Chloe turned to Beca and raised her hands up in the air.

"I don't know why I was ever worried about meeting your friends!"

.oOo.


A/N - This chapter ended up being extremely long so I cut it into three. I'll post part two in a couple of days. Take care everyone xx

Chapter Text

A/N - A day later than I meant to post but here's part two of Chloe's barbecue. I hope you enjoy it.

Thank you to everyone who has reached out regarding the last few months. Really does mean a lot!

A huge thank you to my beta, I couldn't do this without you. :)


.oOo. Chapter Twenty Eight .oOo.
Part Two of Three

It had just turned three o'clock in the afternoon and Beca was quite happily flipping some burgers and marinating a couple of steaks in the warm sunshine. She was hiding out from the current crowd of people who were enjoying the sunny afternoon by the pool.

Beca wasn't completely peopled out yet, as Chloe had strategically engineered the timing of the afternoon, suggesting that different groups of people come at different times and Beca had appreciated that. It was no surprise to her that Chloe was gifted when it came to entertaining. Everyone who came through the side gate, immediately sought the redhead out, bestowing the host with small gifts as they hugged or kissed cheeks.

Chloe exclaimed over each gift as if it was the best thing she'd ever received and showed each person where everything was situated, even if they'd been to her home before. Beca lost count of the times she heard Chloe say the same thing as she walked past her.

"The pool is a great temperature today, if you feel like swimming. Drinks and ice are in the kitchen should you run out, and food is out by the grill and on the deck. Come and find me if there's anything you need! And I hope to catch up with you in a little bit."

For a solid hour, it had been complete chaos when Kate and Alex's little friends and their parents had all come along. Some of them straight up ignored Beca (which she was fine with) and some were giving her curious glances. One mother, who Chloe had side whispered was the one to watch out for, had kept on glancing, not so subtly between Beca, Alex, and Jessie as if her life depended on it. It made Beca so uncomfortable that she'd almost dropped a platter of brats and burgers.

Chloe had swooped in at the last minute, catching the tray and setting it down on the table as if it were a polished move and she did all the time.

"Everyone, this is Beca," She said, laying a hand on Beca's back and encouraging her forward. Beca didn't fail to notice that Chloe's fingers trailed a little too long for comfort but she fought the urge to smack Chloe's hand away with the barbecue tongs. "She's the genius behind the amazing music you hear. All her own work."

Beca's face flushed but as Chloe turned to speak with someone, a couple had moved along to chat with her. She blanched a little as they were both over six feet tall and, embarrassingly, had to bend a little to talk to her.

"Hi, Beca? We're Greg and Jo Phillips," Jo said, holding out her hand to Beca. "Our daughter, Indigo-Marie, goes to the same Tumble Tots as Alex and Kate... and Jessica as well, I guess now"

"Nice to meet you," Beca shook hands with them both.

"Are you local?"

"Los Feliz," Beca explained. "You?"

"We're in Sherman Village, just the other side of the freeway."

"Oh cool."

"It's certainly a lovely day," Jo continued, glancing up at the sky as if to explain why she said that.

"Yes, it is. I still can't quite get used to the heat out here."

"Indigo-Marie loves the sunshine. She's definitely an outdoorsy kid, like her dad," Jo seemed quite content to make small talk but Beca was desperately trying to think of an excuse to get away.

"Which one is your daughter?" Beca asked, looking around.

"She's the one in the pink top, talking with Kate," Jo pointed out.

"That's Jessie," Beca said, though not unkindly. It was hard to tell them apart to the casual observer, especially since they now wore a similar hairstyle, at their own choosing.

"Is it?" Jo narrowed her eyes. "Gosh, they really do look alike."

"They do," Beca muttered, catching Luke's eye. He instantly saw that she was uncomfortable.

"I hope you don't mind but we bought a little gift for all three girls to share."

"Um, yeah, that's fine and very kind of you."

"It's our pleasure. It's a unicorn hoopla. I know how much all the girls love unicorns."

"That they do." Beca mused.

"So, you're the DJ," Greg stated, changing the subject. It was more of a statement, than a question.

"Um, yes," Beca replied awkwardly.

"Where do you work?" He asked.

"At Universal Music Group."

"Bet you see a lot of famous people?"

"Um, sometimes, yeah. Mostly, I'm just in the basement, keeping out of the way."

Greg laughed as if it was the funniest thing he'd heard in a long time, and Beca desperately tried to school her face into something that didn't resemble her usual resting bitch face.

"Do you like famous people?" Jo asked. "I mean, if you hang around them all day and with Chloe..."

"I don't really think about it," Beca mumbled, wondering where their line of questioning was going. She looked up in relief as Luke came walking towards them.

"We like knowing Chloe," Jo explained. "We're trying to get her to help out in the school's Christmas play this year. Her name and her status would certainly help sell more tickets. She's turned us down in the past and said she didn't want the focus to be on her but always made a sizeable donation to the-"

"-Um, this is my friend Luke Bryant," Beca interrupted as Luke joined her side, laying his hand on his friend's shoulder. "Luke, this is Jo and her husband Greg. Their daughter is Indigo-Marie and she's playing with Jessie."

"It's a pleasure to meet you ma'am," Luke said, offering his hand.

"You're British," Jo blanched, stating the obvious. She looked almost disparaging.

"What gave it away?" Luke tried to charm the woman and gave her his most pleasant smile.

"Your goofy hair," Beca deadpanned, earning a dig in the ribs from Luke.

"But to answer your question, yes, I am British."

"Do you know the Queen?" Greg's laugh boomed around the backyard. "I heard that everyone always asks a British person that and-"

"-Yeah, he does actually know her," Beca smirked, remembering their first ever conversation. Luke's cheeks flushed for a second.

"Seriously?" Jo asked, her face changing into something completely different. Beca was getting the impression that Jo was one of those people that worshipped celebrities; she'd read about this after joking around with Amy how weird she was around anyone famous too.

"Long story, but yes, I've met her a few times. She's a wonderful lady."

"Oh, well then," Jo mumbled.

"What do you do Luke?" Greg asked.

"I work over at Universal Music Group with this mastermind," Luke said, nodding towards Beca and sending a small wink her way. "How about you both?"

"I'm in construction and Jo is a dental nurse," Greg explained, as Beca took this opening as her cue to make escape plans.

"I'm just gonna go check on the grill," Beca said quietly, slipping away from the conversation. She had the distinct impression that the only reason they approached her was to ask her to persuade Chloe to do something and that didn't sit well with her and knew Luke was the perfect person to protect Chloe's privacy.

Luke immediately took over with the small talk, distracting the friends as Beca was grateful for the hundredth time for Luke. She walked over to the grill, noting the coals were now a perfect temperature to start cooking. She was surprised that Chloe had a coal based grill, rather than gas. Chloe had explained that she preferred the smoky taste that it provided.

Hurrying to the kitchen, Beca was pulling out a tray of meat waiting to be grilled from the refrigerator, head buried into the top shelf when she heard high heels click clacking on the tiled hallway floor, followed by the tail end of a telephone conversation.

"I must insist on the Formica being removed from the office area. Please ensure this is taken away by Monday. The carpenter will be there by eight in the morning to start working the bespoke cherry wood furniture and the area will need to be clear and spotlessly clean. I am at my next engagement now, so I will speak with you after the weekend. Goodbye."

Beca heard a deep sigh as she wrestled the tray she wanted free from underneath a bag of salad and several lemons.

"Hi Clo, sorry I am a few minutes late. It's been quite a morning," The crisp voice spoke as Beca pushed the fridge door closed. The blonde in front of her was startled a little. "Oh, you're not Chloe."

"Nope," Beca said, shaking the hair from her eyes. She recognised the woman in front of her, having seen her at the courthouse and in various pictures around the house.

"You must be Rebeca," The clipped tone was almost offensive. "I'm Aubrey Posen."

"Hi Aubrey. Chloe's out back."

The blonde nodded bristly and moved past Beca with purpose. She paused in the doorway.

"Forgive me, Chloe always needs me to help with setting out the tables. We can catch up later over a beverage if you want to. It's nice to meet you."

"Sure," Beca said, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. Balancing the tray on the edge of the kitchen counter, she reached over for the other grill utensils that Chloe had pointed out earlier just as a second girl walked into the kitchen, carrying a couple of bags.

"Oh my goodness! You must be Beca!" The tall brunette squealed, dropping the bags onto the kitchen counter and rushing forward to hug Beca, who instinctively held up a spatula and grilling fork in front of her, in self defence.

"Emily!" Chloe called as she came in from the deck, seeing one of her favourite people in the kitchen.

"Chloe, darling!" Emily stopped descending on Beca who shook herself a little, before she side stepped around Beca and embraced Chloe tightly.

"How are you Em?"

"I'm so good, really good, like the goodest good I could be. I'm soooo good! Benji says hi and he's sorry he couldn't make it this time but he'll see you soon! He's good too," Emily gushed out, turning back to face Beca. "I was just saying hi to Beca."

"Becs, this is Emily. She works for Aubrey and is just a beautiful soul inside and out," Chloe explained, smiling up at the girl.

"Oh Chloe, you're too kind."

"It's all true," Chloe said, giving Emily a beaming smile.

"It's lovely to meet you at last. I've heard so much about you. And I can't wait to meet Jessie finally! I bet she's as cute as a button and just as lovely as-" Emily babbled.

"-Chloe!" The shrill tone cut through the kitchen interrupting Emily's babble.

"Bree!" Chloe beamed, reaching out for her friend.

"Who made your table arrangements?" Aubrey said, air kissing Chloe's cheek. "Did you hire someone? They are very professional. Tell me who, as I might want them for a future portfolio project I'm putting together."

"Um, no, I didn't hire anyone. Beca took care of that."

"Who did you hire?" Aubrey asked, turning on Beca who stood there, watching the friends interact. She'd barely spoken so far and was feeling quite intimidated by the loud voices and easy way the friends spoke to each other, even if one did appear to be overly forthright as she spoke. Beca couldn't see how the blonde and Chloe were friends.

"No Bree, she did them for me. She's got quite talented fingers," Chloe said, sending a soft wink in Beca's direction. Beca's face flushed and she began to fidget with the tray cover to avoid looking at Chloe at the obvious innuendo that was sent her way.

"Oh," Aubrey said, narrowing her eyes at Beca, as she rested her hands on her hips. "Well, one less job for me to do, so thank you Rebeca."

"It's just Beca," The smaller brunette mumbled.

"What's that?" Aubrey bit.

"Come and get a drink," Chloe said, looping her arm through Aubrey's and walking her quickly back towards the patio doors.

"Don't mind Aubrey." Emily said, leaning over to whisper in Beca's ear as they watched the two friends disappear outside. "She's really nice once you get to know her. She's actually-"

"-Emily!" Aubrey called from outside, clicking her fingers at the same time, making the young girl jump a foot in the air and race around the kitchen island to catch up with Chloe and Aubrey without even so much as a glance back at Beca.

"Yeeesh," Beca shook herself a little, and gathered up everything she had originally come into the kitchen for. She was just walking back towards the grill when she heard Amy call out to her.

"You okay Shortstack?"

"Yeah, you?" Beca asked as Amy drew up next to her.

"Yup. Just found out that Chloe used to sin' a capella in college."

"Yeah, think they toured a lot and there was something about singing with Prince."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Oh right!" Beca laughed. "You were swooning enough about Chloe already, so I tried to downplay everything else. It's okay not to know everything about everyone all at once, Ames."

"But it's somethin' we have in common Beca,'' Amy whined. "You know I'm the best singer in Tasmania... with teeth."

"I didn't think you'd-"

"-Becs?" Luke interrupted their conversation as he popped his head out from around the wall that sheltered the grill from the plants.

"Um, yeah?"

"Who's the blonde talking to Chloe?" Luke asked, subtly jerking his head backwards. Beca looked over his shoulder, where Chloe was in an animated discussion with Emily and Aubrey.

"That's Aubrey, Chloe's best friend. Why?"

"Oh, no reason," Luke said, stealing a glance as he pretended to look around the garden.

"Dude, no," Beca shook her head and returned to her task of uncovering the tray of marinating meat.

"What?" Amy asked, looking between the two of them. While she had known Beca the longest, she was often confused how Luke and Beca could communicate without using sentences.

"I was just asking who she was," Luke muttered.

"Just no. She's like the ice queen," Beca countered.

"What's goin' on?" Amy demanded to know.

"Brit Boy likes the look of the Bitchy Ice Queen."

"I didn't say that, I just asked who she was," Luke explained.

"Then why is your face all red?"

"Probably for the same reason yours does when you talk about Chloe," Luke hissed, giving Beca the look to drop the line of teasing. Her eyes widen dramatically and she looked towards Amy who thankfully was not listening at that exact moment and was still looking around to see what she was missing out on.

"I think I'm going to go and explore for a little bit," Amy said. "Leave you two alone with your secrets."

"Okay, but Ames?"

"Yeah?"

"This house cost like, a billion dollars, so don't touch anything," Beca warned.

"I'm not going to break anything Beca," Amy whined.

"Well... you usually do, so maybe just try and be careful?"

"I will!" Amy said cheerfully, as she stepped away.

"And don't go through her underwear drawer," Beca grinned. "There's laws against it."

"Only if you get caught." Amy laughed, walking away.

"Luke?"

"I'll check her pockets before we leave, don't worry!" Luke smiled, reaching out for the set of tongs and clacking them together a couple of times. "Need a hand?"

"Sure," Beca handed Luke the tray and he started unloading it onto the grill. "Hey, I just wanted to say thanks for helping me escape from those people earlier."

"It's okay, I could see you weren't having much fun. They seemed nice though."

"Yeah, I guess."

"I know there's a lot of people here but try to enjoy yourself a little, okay? Chloe's gone to a lot of effort to do this, to include you in her plans."

"I know, she's been really good at that for the past few weeks and I have been trying," Beca explained before catching the look on Luke's face. "I have. I like her friend Stacie, she seems pretty cool. Hey, you should get all red faced and silly over her when she gets here later, rather than over Bitchy McQueen."

"I do enjoy how you always try to steer the conversation away from yourself."

"What? No, I don't."

"Yeah, you do," Luke said, as he finished stocking the grill. "Do you need a hand with the rest of this?"

"No, I got it. Kinda just need to hide out a bit."

"You mean until all the kids and their parents have gone?"

"You read my mind!"

"Okay, well, I'll leave you to it. I'm going to go hang out for a bit. Need anything else?"

Beca shook her head and Luke gave her one last wink before he left her to it. He knew Beca wasn't shy, she just didn't manage big crowds well. He looked over towards her a few times as he mixed with some of Chloe's friends, explaining for the tenth time that no, he wasn't Alex's dad and was simply a friend. He was glad to see her relax as the early afternoon wore on, checking on the food and laying out trays of cooked burgers and sausages onto one of the nearby trestle tables.

On one of her trips back and forth to the grill, Beca squeezed past a small group of parents that clearly knew each other well. She knew they hadn't seen her, as they had their backs to her, looking out over the rest of the garden, facing the pond that Stacie loved so much.

"Well, the kid seems normal."

"What did you expect, Bryce? Two heads?"

"I heard that she grew up in very humble surroundings, yet she seems to know how to play with toys."

"She's still a kid." Beca heard a female voice say and it clicked that they were discussing Jessie and her.

"It's so good of Chloe to accept the child back into her life. Does anyone know if the child has been vaccinated? I'm not sure I want Victoria-Mae hanging around with her if she could catch something from her."

"Sami! You can't say that."

"Sure I can. What was the mother... well, not the mother, thinking?"

"I heard that they lived in a car. Surely, any self respecting person would have just bought a house."

"Not everyone has the means to do that, Clara."

"Then she should have asked her parents for assistance Angelina."

"Not everyone is a trust fund baby."

Beca cricked her neck and decided not to bother defending herself. She didn't want to embarrass Chloe in front of her friends and walked away just as the threat of tears began to prickle her nose. She knew she'd tried her best with Jessie but this group of people clearly had no idea how some people lived.

Luke popped by a couple of times to check that she was okay, he had noticed a sullenness come over her. Fetching her a drink, she declined to tell him what was wrong and blamed her quietness on dealing with summer allergies.

Beca slipped inside the house to use the restroom and to splash some water on her face. She went in search of her purse and found her sunglasses, wanting to use them to hide behind rather than to keep the sun out of her eyes. The grill was under a small pergola which provided decent shade.

Resuming her position back at the grill, she blanched as another parent came up to introduce himself.

"Hi, Beca, right?"

"Um, yeah. Hi," She said awkwardly.

"I'm Marti."

"Nice to meet you," Beca automatically said.

"My son is Benjamin. He's in preschool with Kate and Alex," Marti explained, pointing to a small boy who was desperately trying to hold Kate's hand by the edge of the pool. Kate was having none of it. "I was just wondering if I could ask a favour?"

"Sure..."

"This is your music playing, right?" He asked and Beca nodded. "My nephew is seventeen and trying to break into the music business. It's pretty tough."

"Tell me about it," Beca half smirked.

"He's really good. If I give you his number, do you think you could get him an interview at Universal?"

"Um, well, that depends. What style of music is he into?"

"Anything really."

"Usually, they like you to focus on one type."

"Surely music is music? It's just notes, right?"

"That's what the industry would like you to believe but no..." Beca smiled.

"So, he needs to choose between pop and classical?"

"There are over thirteen hundred different types of music out there. These days, musicians and fans are more free and honest about their influences. Genre differences evaporate, expand and change month by month. If you listen to the current charts, you'll hear African drums in the background in more than twenty songs. Next month, that will disappear and you'll probably hear something completely different, like a bicycle bell or something."

"A bicycle bell?"

"That's just an example," Beca explained, looking back to the grill to check the food wasn't burning. "If your nephew-"

"-Tom."

"If Tom wants to get ahead, he'd be best to focus on one of the main genres like blue, rock and roll, dance, hip hop, soul, country, rock, rhythm and blues, jazz and get some demo's made and start sending them out to the big studios. Maybe do some free gigs, upload some of his work on YouTube, even write a blog and definitely attend local gigs and open mic nights. You never know who attends these things and if he's good, like you say he is, he'll get heard."

"Can't you put in a good word for him?" Marti pushed.

"I would be able to speak to someone if I heard his recordings but I am still just an intern myself."

"You're an intern?"

"Yes. I work with Luke, over there," Beca nodded towards Luke. "He's technically my manager."

"Oh right... I'll go and speak with him then," Marti said, turning abruptly and walking away.

"Yeah, you're welcome," Beca muttered to his retreating figure.

She was slowly catching onto what Chloe had meant when she said, a few weeks previously, when she questioned if people were her friends or were just out to get what they could from a celebrity. She felt her face flush a little as she felt a pang of sympathy for Chloe.

"Beca?"

"Yeah?" Beca replied, snapping herself out of her thoughts and looking over as Stacie came over. She easily recognised her, having now met her on a number of occasions and had even, to Chloe's delight, swapped phone numbers with the tall brunette.

"So sorry I missed you this morning."

"Huh?"

"I took the girls out for breakfast and dropped them home but didn't come in to say hi, as I needed to go and pick my friend up," Stacie explained.

"Oh, no, it's fine." Beca said truthfully.

"Can I introduce you to my friend?"

"Sure."

Stacie turned her head and nodded towards a woman, standing a few feet behind her.

"This is Cynthia Rose. CR, this is Beca."

"Hi, nice to meet you," Cynthia Rose held out her hand towards Beca. "I've heard a lot about you."

"Uh oh."

"Yo, it's all good!" Cynthia Rose smiled. "My girl here said you're responsible for these awesome beats this afternoon."

"Yeah, it's some of my early tunes."

Cynthia Rose nodded appreciatively.

"If this is your early work, I'm sure the later melodies will be awesome."

"Thanks," Beca mumbled shyly.

"How are you finding it?" Stacie asked, subtly flicking her hand towards the crowd. "I know big gatherings can be overwhelming."

"Yeah, a little bit," Beca admitted.

"Chloe's gatherings can draw quite the crowd," Cynthia Rose grinned. "She's a great person, so down to Earth but some of these people are such limpets."

Beca breathed out a sigh of relief.

"I noticed that," Beca admitted. "What do you do Cynthia Rose?"

"Oh, please call me CR. All my friends do, and if you are a friend of Stacies, you are a friend of mine."

Beca tried to keep her expression neutral. She hadn't really thought of Stacie as being a friend, not yet anyway. She felt something stir in her gut and was surprised to find she didn't mind the feeling.

"Thanks..."

"So, yeah, I run my own catering business. Got a cafe over on Hollywood and Vine, and I cater for events; weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, sweet sixteens, that sort of thing."

"That's cool!"

"She's being modest," Stacie laughed. "She's really good, and has had some of her cakes in wedding magazines. She's catered for one of Chloe's movies too... it was one of the independents, wasn't it, CR?"

"Yeah."

"CR is also in college with me." Stacie explained.

"Busy lady," Beca commented.

"She's studying theoretical music."

"That's so different to catering," Beca blurted out, before she could stop herself.

"Not really," Cynthia Rose mused. "For example, cake base is simple...flour, eggs, sugar and butter. What you add into it changes the base from a plain cake to chocolate, or nutty or a fruit cake. Music's the same, right? You've got your base beat, add in different components and you've got a completely different tune, each time."

"You're so right," Beca nodded. She flinched a little, waiting for the inevitable question of whether she would be asked to help out with anything.

"But we're not here to talk about me," Cynthia Rose grinned. "We're here to talk about Beca."

"No, please. I'm absolutely fine with the focus not being on me."

Cynthia Rose laughed out loud and held out her fist for Beca to bump.

"You and I are going to get on great! Now, tell me a little more about yourself."

.oOo.

There was a break in the festivities as the girl's playmates began disappearing around two in the afternoon. Beca was just clearing away from glasses and discarded plates when Chloe came up to her side.

"Hey, you don't need to do that," she said kindly, gently slipping her hand around Beca's elbow. Beca was soon catching on how much Chloe needed to be touching people, all the time.

"It's okay, someone needs to." Beca said, determined not to socialise with any of the parents, who clearly thought so little of her. She'd hung out with Stacie and Cynthia Rose and decided that they were decent people.

"Yeah, but it doesn't have to be you doing all the work."

"Honestly, it's fine," Beca insisted.

"Come and sit for a bit. Jessie's been asking where you are."

"She okay?" Beca said, instantly looking around for the little redhead. She'd seen her a minute before playing in the shade with Alex.

"Yes, but you've been working all morning and grilling while the parents were here. You aren't here to work. Come on, I want you to come and sit for a bit."

"Okay, I just need two minutes to finish up, then I'll come and sit, okay?"

"Hmm mmm," Chloe smiled. "Drink?"

"Yeah, a beer would be good."

Chloe nodded, and took off in the direction of the large ice chest that was tucked away under the shade of the trees in the far corner of the garden. Beca watched her bend over the cooler before she finished gathering up the empties, picked up the small bag of rubbish and headed towards the kitchen. She quickly loaded the dishwasher with the remainder of the glassware and switched it on, hoping she used the right setting. She pulled on the small trash compactor Chloe had in one of the kitchen cabinets and shoved the bag instead, closing the lid tightly and listening as the machine did what it was supposed to do.

"Mommy?"

Beca's head snapped around as she heard Jessie calling her.

"Hey Bug!" Beca said, holding out her hands for the little girl to take. "Are you having a good day?"

"Uh huh." Jessie nodded, smiling broadly. Beca could see the smattering of freckles on her nose really beginning to show now she was spending lots of time outside, and she brushed away the sliver of guilt that she had about Jessie never spending much time outdoors before.

"Did you get a hot dog?"

"Yeah! It was yums. Mama Chloe put the kitchen pup on it."

Beca froze for a second. That was the first time she'd heard Jessie refer to Chloe as anything other than just her name before. It made her feel a little uneasy despite the little girl doing nothing wrong. Brushing away her own insecurities and desperately trying to pop the little bubble of worry that Jessie might be moving on from her, she crouched down next to her.

"It's ketchup, baby, not kitchen pup."

"Oh, okay," Jessie said brightly. "We's not had that before?"

"No, Mommy... I mean, I... we didn't have the money for things like that. But you liked it, huh?"

"Yeah, I did. I ateded all my hot dog."

"Well, that's good baby. Did you play lots as well?"

"Yeah, played with Axe and Kate and Indi and Julia and Thomas and... some boy," Jessie frowned.

"Wow, that's so many people."

"Yeah, lots of people here."

"There was."

"And we gots presents."

"You did?" Beca mused, knowing there had been a few presents bought for the girls. As she'd been avoiding small talk with people, she'd missed out on seeing what the girls had been given. "What is your favourite thing?"

"You, Mommy."

"I meant what gift was your favourite." Beca laughed, but was overjoyed with Jessie's response anyway.

"Oh. Um, I dunno." Jessie shrugged her shoulders.

"I'm sure it was all great."

"Mama Chloe said we could go swimming later if you come too. Me and Kate and Axe."

"I don't want to swim baby but I'll watch you in the pool."

"Yeah, okay."

"Do you need help getting changed?"

"No, I gots it."

"Come on then, let's go and join the others." Beca said, standing back upright and letting herself be tugged towards the patio doors by the impatient redhead.

"Beca?" Chloe called out as Beca came down the deck steps. She patted the seat next to her as a definite invitation to join them.

"Yeah, two minutes," Beca held two fingers up to confirm. She looked around for any stray glasses that could delay her joining the large group of people that had formed a circle with chairs. Reluctantly, she realised she had no further excuses to delay so, after checking that Jessie was back playing in the sand pit with Alex and Kate, she made her way over towards Chloe.

She noticed that more people had arrived since she'd been inside and was trying to work out who everyone was.

"Becs, you okay?" Chloe whispered as Beca took a seat next to her.

Beca didn't know how, but she could feel the happiness radiating off of Chloe, even as she looked at her with a flicker of apprehension. It didn't take a genius to work out that Chloe loved being surrounded by people she cared about but Beca recognised that Chloe was concerned about her.

"Yeah, I'm good. Was just clearing up," She answered as she took the beer that Chloe held out to her. She wasn't surprised that one of Chloe's fingers trailed over her hand as she let go of the bottle.

"I told you that you didn't need to do that."

"I know," Beca took a swig of her beer in an effort to not continue the conversation.

"Let me introduce you to everyone you haven't met properly," Chloe announced loudly as she noticed Beca shutting down in front of her a little. She clapped her hands together a couple of times to get everyone's attention. The group stilled as she began speaking again. "You've met Aubrey, Emily and Stacie."

Beca nodded towards them, noting Emily's enthusiasm hadn't wavered in the last couple of hours as the girl looked ready to pop sitting on one of the benches with a girl who did not share the same vivaciousness and was side eyeing her strangely from under a very neat set of bangs.

"Next to Stacie is Cynthia Rose. She's in college with Stacie but is working on theoretical music."

"Yeah, I chatted with her early. She seems really cool." Beca side whispered, awkwardly. She liked the look of Cynthia Rose, the girl smiled broadly before she briefly let her eyes drop to Stacie's cleavage as Stacie leant backward on the chair to shake her hair out a little.

"Then next to Emily is Lilly. She works with me at the studio," Chloe explained, dropping her voice and subtly continuing. "She's weird but you get used to her."

"Noted," Beca mused, in the same low tone.

"Then," Chloe continued in a normal voice. "Next to Luke is Flo who also works with me and helps me look less like a beast when filming. She's in charge of my hair and make-up and I just love her."

"Hi." Beca nodded again.

"Then there's Tom and his wife Rita and Aubrey's bench buddies are Meryl and her husband Don."

"It's nice to meet you all," Beca said formally before she retook her seat and reached down to pick up her beer. The group burst out laughing which made her jump. "What?"

"Told you, she has no clue who is famous and who isn't!" Luke belly laughed as he shot a not so subtle look towards Aubrey.

"What did I miss?" Beca asked, her forehead creasing in confusion. She looked to Chloe for confirmation, a move that didn't go unnoticed by Luke.

"Nothing," Chloe smiled as one of the group stood up and held out his hand for his wife to join him. She turned slightly as the man came up to Beca's side.

"Hi, I'm Tom," He said and held his hand out to Beca., who stood up to greet him.

Beca glanced over to Chloe for a brief second before taking Tom's hand. He pulled her hand towards him, bending at the waist a little and kissing her hand gently.

"Um, Beca," She looked as awkward as she felt.

"And this is my wife, and my much, much, much better half, Rita," Tom continued, taking half a step back and circling a hand around his wife's back.

"It's really nice to meet you both," Beca nodded stiffly as she shook Rita's hand.

"And you," Rita smiled politely.

"Um, how do you know Chloe?" Beca asked, feeling she should say something.

"We're working together at the studio," Tom explained, sending a quick wink in Chloe's direction.

"Oh, right," Beca nodded. "Are you behind the scenes? Um, like in the production or... I don't know much about filming stuff, sorry."

"That's okay," Tom spoke politely, his voice warm and friendly. "I just play a small part in Chloe's new movie. Only a small part."

He pinched his fingers together to emphasise his point as Beca became acutely aware that Amy was laughing her head off in the background. She was mouthing something and gesturing towards Tom but before Beca could figure out what she was doing, Chloe was leaning forward and all Beca knew about was how close Chloe was to her ear and how warm her hand on her arm was as she half turned her away as Tom and Rita snuck away back to their drinks.

"He's the male lead in my new movie," Chloe whispered.

"Lead?" Beca hissed back. "That's like the top guy, right?"

"Yeah."

"He's famous too?"

"He's Tom... as in Tom Hanks."

"The fuck?" Beca glared at Chloe. "Even I've heard of him."

"I did say a couple of friends from the studio were coming."

"Yeah, but I thought you meant your assistants or something."

"We try to keep things pretty informal."

"But he's like famous," Beca blanched, trying to ignore the amused twist to Chloe's mouth.

"It's okay. He's really cool. His son is into music too, although he's... not quite in the same league as you."

"Oh God..." Beca breathed out hard.

"Okay, so maybe now might not be the best time to explain that Meryl is actually... Meryl Streep. I think you mentioned you'd watched The Devil Wears Prada?"

"Yeah, cos Luke said some British woman was in it and I dunno, he was having some Brit solidarity thing happening."

"Well, Meryl played Miranda Priestly."

"The fuck she did," Beca did a double take towards Meryl who was laughing over something Aubrey had just said. "Doesn't look like that battleaxe woman."

"It's all smoke and mirrors Beca, makeup and camera angles."

"Jesse always wanted to educate me in movies, perhaps you should so I don't embarrass myself anymore."

"I'd love that! Now seriously, Luke explained that you don't watch television so no one is going to take any notice if you don't recognise them. Honestly, it's actually really nice when people just treat you like a normal person. Just talk to them, like you talk to me."

"Nu huh." Beca shook her head violently. "I'm going up to that place in your closet you said I could escape to."

"Beca?"

"Or actually, I'm going to go and get the kids changed for swimming and I'll be over there," Beca said, thrusting her thumb in the direction of the pool. "And I'll be avoiding any conversations with people I don't recognise."

"Beca!"

.oOo.


A/N - Part three will be up in a couple of days. Until then...`

Chapter Text

A/N - Here's the update that no one asked for!

I jest, but after being told (via private PM) that I need to go and work on myself and I'm a disgrace to the literacy world, I honestly just felt like giving up and not bothering to upload the rest of this story. While I am trying to believe that their intention was to help, sending me a (fifteen hundred word PM) with a list of my faults was like a punch in the gut. However, I made a promise to myself that I'd get this finished, if nothing else for myself.

A very, very, very special thank you to J, for the support, friendship and patience while I pulled my head out of my ass/arse. There are many chapters ready to go, all kindly beta'd and polished.

Thank you everyone for reading along. I hope the rest of the story is worth the wait. We are about halfway through so I hope you can settle in for the ride. I'll bring the biscuits, if you put the kettle on!


.oOo. Chapter Twenty Nine .oOo.

A couple of hours had passed, and so far Beca had avoided any more awkward conversations, mostly because she was hanging out with the girls in the sandpit. At Chloe and Luke's insistence, she'd finally managed to hold a decent conversation with Tom about her speakers and, of all things, which colour he should use to paint his recently remodelled master bedroom. He offered for Beca to come down to the studio, to see how they had things set up in the production and editing rooms and she was honestly surprised that he really seemed to want to help.

Meryl, Beca found to her surprise, was incredibly warm and funny and spoke mostly about her new grandbaby, who was only a few months old. She'd talked about the baby having early breathing difficulties and they almost bonded over the worry of a small baby with asthma. Meryl seemed genuinely interested in Beca's work and gave her a few ideas, for no particular reason at all, on how to keep on the good side of the business.

Beca had successfully managed to avoid Aubrey who, to her amusement, looked completely out of place in her three piece pant suit. She couldn't understand why someone would wear that to a backyard barbecue but Aubrey, to her credit, didn't seem uncomfortable. She had wandered over to Luke at one point to ask his opinion on it all, but he'd been staring at Aubrey in such a way that Beca couldn't find it in herself to tease him.

She'd promised the girls that she'd watch them swimming and had just finished getting them all ready when Chloe announced that Tom and Meryl would be leaving. She'd successfully managed to say goodbye to them without embarrassing herself any further, although neither of the Hollywood greats seemed in the least bit bothered by her first reactions to them and she secured both of their agent's numbers for any help she may need in future projects.

Tom profusely proffered that Beca's grilling techniques were the finest he'd ever seen and had laughed about having her around to grill for his next family gathering.

Chloe had reassured her that Tom was joking.

Beca felt herself relax a little as she sat with her feet in the pool, watching the three girls splash about by the steps as they waited for an adult to join them in the pool. She felt that, despite a couple of things, the day had gone really well and knew she only had to contend with David's family coming around for the evening and then she could escape back to her apartment for the night.

She had a late night of packing ahead of her but managed to forget all about that as she watched Alex gently scoop a bug out of the water and rest it gently on the side of the pool. She defended it against Kate and Jessie who were quite busy squealing in horror that she'd touched a bug and wouldn't let the little redheads anywhere near it, until it had recovered enough to fly away.

All Beca could think about was how it would have been something Jessie would have done.

"Doing all right, Becatron?" Amy asked, snapping Beca out of her thoughts.

"Uh huh," Beca said, pulling down her sunglasses as she looked up to Amy, not even reacting as she saw her friend dressed in a bright pink swimsuit with matching pink water wings and... a frilly tutu.

"You comin' in?"

"Nope," Beca cricked her neck, wondering where on earth Amy had found her swimsuit.

"You not brin' swimmers?"

"Wearing them now under my shirt," Beca explained. "Just not sure the world is ready for all my paleness."

Amy took a spot next to Beca as she watched the girls continue to play in the shallow water.

"Been a nice day," Amy said.

"It has," Beca said, pushing away the prickly tutu material.

"Girls have had fun. Jessie seems so grown up. Kate is adorable and Alex... she's surprisingly nice, considerin' she's your kid."

"So kind of you to say," Beca deadpanned, casting her eyes back towards the girls as Kate squealed especially loudly.

"None of 'em seem bothered by all of this."

"At the moment," Beca said, a little wistfully.

"And you and Chloe are goin' to make this work, aren't you?"

"We're going to try, yes. For the kids' sake."

"And not for any other sake?" Amy jabbed Beca so hard in the ribs that the small brunette nearly ended up in the pool.

"What?"

"Saw the way you were lookin' at her."

"I'm not looking at her in any sort of 'way'," Beca bristled.

"Right? And my real name is Patricia."

"Your name is Patricia."

"Yeah, well, you were still lookin' at her all funny like."

"Whatever you want to think," Beca sighed, watching as Alex and Kate's play became a little rough. "Hey, girls, take it easy on each other."

Beca continued to watch the girls for the next half an hour as the afternoon sun began to make her feel quite hot and sticky. She wanted to get into the pool to cool off, but didn't feel comfortable with so many people around. She had tuned out Amy's irrelevant ramblings, a trick she'd learnt from their time living together and was just sending a couple of nods and a few 'uh huh's' in her friends direction while she absentmindedly watched the three girls playing with some floaties in the pool.

She was acutely aware that Aubrey was staring at her from the other side of the pool, and it hadn't gone unnoticed that Luke was intent on making conversation with the frosty blonde.

"So you gonna make a move?" Amy asked, flexing her toes in the water. She was thoroughly enjoying herself in Chloe's back yard, having quite forgotten about her new friend's celebrity status just as Beca said she would.

"Hmm?"

"On Chloe."

"Huh?" Beca spun her head around as Amy's comment brought her crashing back to Earth. Her reaction made Luke look over towards her. "What did you say?"

"I was just checkin' you was listenin'," Amy laughed, kicking her feet a little in the water, sending ripples towards where the girls were playing.

"There's nothing going on between Chloe and me," Beca hissed. "There's far too much-"

"-Eyeballin' each other when you think nobody's watchin'. It's like eye sextin'."

"That is not... that is not happening and stop trying to make something out of nothing. We're barely friends."

"And yet you look the most relaxed I've ever seen you."

"How can you not relax here?" Beca asked, gesturing lightly with her head. "I mean, it's like a five star resort."

"I mean, it compares with the van to some degree," Amy mirthed and Beca snorted. "Do you miss it?"

"What?"

"Van life."

"In some ways," Beca pondered. "I mean, life was simpler. Jessie, you, me. We just needed enough to put food on the table and gas in the van. Now... now everything is just hard. I had a kid when I was in the van. Now I've got nothing."

"You still have them. They just don't live with you."

"Isn't that my point?"

"I dunno. I can't imagine what it's like to live a day in your life," Amy said, somewhat sensibly. "All I will say though is that Chloe actually seems like a good person. Her friend is pretty scary though. Ol' Blondie over yonder."

"Over yonder?" Beca smirked. "You've been spending too much time with Luke and his British-"

"-Beca?"

"Yeah?" Beca's head spun around as Chloe called out her name, interrupting her conversation with Amy.

"Come and meet Trent and Helen, babe."

"Babe?" Amy's eyes went comically wide. "And you're tellin' me there's nothin' goin'."

"She calls everyone that," Beca bristled, pulling her feet out of the pool and looking around for her shoes.

"I've not heard her say that to anyone this afternoon. And you know me, I've got the best hearin' out of everyone in Tasmania."

"Yeah, well, you think about that while I go and meet the in laws. Unless you want to trade places?"

"Me? Nah! Now run alon' Becaroo, and play nice!"

Beca stopped short of pushing Amy into the pool and took the short walk up the stairs to the deck where Chloe was animatedly talking with her extended family. Beca saw two young boys, about six and seven, who were already dressed in their swimming shorts and hungrily eyeing up the pool.

She recognised Helen straight away and a sliver of fear ran through her as she remembered their last interaction, in the court house a few weeks ago. She wondered what Chloe's mother in law would make of her, now that time had passed and the courts had found in Chloe's favour and if David's mother would still be as nice or now that their side of the family had effectively won, would Beca now be dismissed.

"Beca, how lovely to see you again," Helen gushed, as she took in the young girl coming towards them. Beca felt a little relieved that the woman was still as nice as she had been.

"Hi." She said, a little awkwardly, as she joined the group, freezing as Helen wrapped her arms around her, holding her tenderly. Beca almost forgot where she was as she felt a little bit of love enveloping her.

"Everyone," Chloe began, even though it was obviously who she was. "This is Beca. Jessie's... Alex's... this is Beca."

"Hi!" The group chorused, as if they'd been practicing it.

"Hi," Beca said again, feeling her cheeks burn a little as she gave them all an uncoordinated wave with both hands.

"This is Helen and Trent, David's parents," Chloe explained, nodding towards the older couple. "Helen is an excellent cook, she writes poetry and is really good at gardening."

"Nice," Beca said, nodding a couple of times.

"Trent loves fishing, family and football. I'm not sure in which order though!"

"College or professional?" Beca asked Trent, looking shyly towards him.

"College," Trent answered, his interest piqued.

"'Bama or Georgia?"

"'Roll Tide."

"Oh shoot. And we were so close to being friends," Beca quipped.

"Bulldog, huh?" Trent's eyes were shining.

"Yup," Beca nodded. "All the way."

"Well, we certainly have some things to discuss later on." Trent said, nodding appreciatively towards the small brunette. "None of my boys like college football, only my daughter in law. We'll meet for a beer later."

"Yes sir," Beca grinned.

"You dark horse," Chloe whispered in Beca's ear, sending more shivers down her spine. Beca was starting to wonder if she was doing that on purpose. "I didn't know you liked football."

Beca shrugged.

"I guess it never came up."

"It makes me happy!"

"What does? That I didn't tell you I like college football?"

"No silly! It makes me happy to know there's so much more of you to get to know."

Beca eyes went wide for a second before Chloe clapped her hands together a couple of times and turned back to the family.

"Beca, these two handsome chaps are my gorgeous nephews. This is Wade," Chloe said, stepping forward and ruffling the taller boy's hair first. "And this is Nate."

"Hey guys." Beca said, offering her fist out for them to bump. Wade hesitated for a second before bumping fists but Nate was straight in there when it was his turn.

"Can we go swim now?" Nate asked, turning to his Mom.

"Yes, go on," Jen said, casting her eyes around the group. "You've been standing still long enough."

The two boys raced off towards the pool, kicking their flip flops off onto the grass before they flung themselves into the pool, causing water to cascade everywhere. Beca had to hold back a laugh at the overly prim as Aubrey, still resplendent in her three piece suit, was showered in fat droplets of water. To her credit, she didn't react but Beca watched Luke school his face too as he reached around the back of his chair to pass her a napkin to dry her face.

"Sorry about that... they've been itching to get into the pool for quite a while! I'm Jen by the way." A young woman spoke as she stepped forward, holding out her hand to Beca. "David's sister in law and mother to those two urchins."

"Nice to meet you." Beca smiled politely.

"And to help Chloe out, three things about me are that I'm into tree hugging, nature walks and astrology." She smirked, shooting Chloe a quick wink. Chloe laughed good naturedly at Jen's teasing. "This is my husband Tom."

"Hi Beca." Tom said, raising his hand to offer a small wave.

"Hi." Beca smiled back.

"As much as I want to stay and chat for a bit longer, I'm just going to go and say hello to the girls," Helen said. "I look forward to catching up with you in a few minutes Beca."

"Yeah, sure." Beca said, and Helen patted her arm before moving away.

"Oh, before I do... are you okay with me introducing myself to Jessie as Nana or would you prefer something else?" Helen asked, turning back to Beca for a second.

Beca was a little taken aback at the question, more of the thoughtfulness of Helen's question. She'd quite forgotten that Helen and Trent were about to meet their granddaughter for the first time and she hadn't thought to explain anything to Jessie.

"Um, Nana is fine. That's fine. Thank you for asking."

"Does she have another Nana? I don't want to confuse her."

"Nope, my mother isn't in the picture," Beca explained simply but concisely, so as not to encourage further questions. Helen patted her arm again.

"Her loss," She said kindly as she moved away, walking gracefully towards the end of the pool where Luke was still trying to help Aubrey with drying herself.

"She's been dying to meet Jessie," Trent shared, in response to Helen's retreating figure. "We all have. She sounds like a wonderful little girl."

"She really is," Beca said, a little wistfully. "All three of them are."

"Yes, I'm a very proud grandfather of three granddaughters now," Trent enthused but Beca didn't know what to say to that. Luckily Chloe noticed she was becoming a little uncomfortable.

"So guys, if you want to go and make yourselves comfortable, we'll bring some drinks down. Tom, I'm not sure if Wade needs rescuing from Kate," Chloe laughed, nodding towards her nephew's attempts to swim away from his cousin.

"I'll go find out," Tom answered obediently, shoving his hands in his shorts pockets and heading towards the pool. "Come on Dad."

"What? Oh yes, of course," Trent said, following behind his son.

"Thought it might be easier with less people. I know it's been a chaotic and crazy day but you've done really well," Chloe whispered towards Beca, who glanced over at Jen to see if she heard what Chloe had said.

"Um, yeah, sure."

"You should see this side of the family, when everyone's around," Jen laughed, not reacting badly at all to what Chloe said which confused Beca. She wasn't used to a big, friendly family and it hit her that Jen and Chloe were practically sisters and friends. "You'll have to come to one of the in law's July fourth parties or their Halloween get-togethers to really know what mayhem looks like."

"True!" Chloe grinned.

"Hey Chloe," Jen began as she turned and walked back towards the kitchen. "Remember that Christmas we got together when I was pregnant with Nate and Trent got his foot stuck up the chimney."

"Oh God, yes!" Chloe chuckled and turned to Beca, encouraging her to follow them. "That is definitely a story you have to hear from Trent."

"And he'll happily tell you," Jen continued, laying her purse down on the kitchen counter. "Keep it in your back pocket for when he's bored you rigid about his beloved Crimson Tide team."

"I will, thanks." Beca said, relieved that Jen seemed so normal and unfazed by her presence within their family unit. "Are you the daughter in law who likes football?"

"I am, but I'm into the pro's. My family are originally from Denver-"

"-Ah, a Bronco's fan then?"

"I am!" Jen beamed. "Do you like the pro's?"

"I've been known to watch a game or two in my time," Beca confirmed.

"Team?"

"Falcons. Gotta support my home state," Beca declared.

"New stadium looks good," Jen nodded appreciatively.

"Yeah, I heard."

"Not been?"

"Tickets were way out of my price range. Never been to a live game."

"For real?" Jen's eyebrows shot up.

"Yeah."

"Jen's brother is a reporter for Denver's sports radio," Chloe added her piece into the conversation.

"Yeah?"

"Mmm hmm, he's a jackass but he can get free tickets to most games. Box seats."

"That's so cool."

"Next time you head back home, let me know and I'll sort something out for you at the Mercedes Benz stadium," Jen offered.

"Oh, it'll be a while before I'm back there but thanks."

"Sure. Difficult to get away with the kids, huh?"

"More like I have nothing to return to Atlanta for at the moment," Beca said simply.

"Cali grows on you, doesn't it?"

"The girls are here, my job... you know?" Beca said, wanting the conversation to stir away from herself. She glanced over at Chloe who seemed to recognise that Beca was getting a little uncomfortable again.

"Drinks?" She asked. "Shall I make us a pitcher of margaritas?"

"If only to see Helen get drunk and fall in your flowerbed again," Jen laughed, looking over at Beca. "Oh, you have to hear this story."

.oOo.

It was now just before eight in the evening and Beca was begrudgingly admitting to herself that she was having a good time. She looked around at the group of people she was sitting with and realised she was enjoying their company, although she was doing a better job of listening, rather than joining in.

Helen hadn't left her side for the last hour, asking her questions about her work, music and Jessie. It seemed as though Chloe's mother in law just knew which were the safe subjects to discuss and which ones were to be avoided. Chloe and Jen were laughing and filling Beca in on lots of the family mishaps and the stories of Alex and Kate as they grew up. She was happy to share stories of Jessie as well.

Amy had attached herself to Trent and they were both trying to outdo each other with their tall tales and funny stories. Luke and Aubrey were off to the side of the group, sharing one of the benches and laughing over something that Luke was trying to pronounce with an American accent. Tom and the boys were building a small campfire towards the back of the yard and telling everyone that the smores would be ready soon.

The three little girls were quite content in the middle of the group of adults, happily situated with a cup of M&M's each and a toy. They'd been persuaded out of the pool an hour or so before, showered and were sporting matching pyjamas. Chloe's eyes would naturally drift over towards them every thirty seconds and Beca enjoyed watching her keep an eye on the girls. Despite her early thoughts of Chloe, she couldn't deny that she was a good Mom.

Chloe, too, had enjoyed the day and despite the early start, she was feeling quite energised. She was grateful for Beca's help that morning in getting the house ready but more so of the attention she had given the girls all day. She didn't even think Beca realised she was doing it.

Usually at one of Chloe's gatherings, she felt as if she'd been run ragged with looking after Kate and Alex at the same time whilst hosting the party. Even with the fifty or so people that had come along over the course of the day, she felt as if she'd had time to speak to everyone.

Everytime she thought that she should check on the girls, get them a drink, apply sunscreen or make sure they took a break from being out in the sun, there was Beca, having got to them first. She watched her a couple of times as she negotiated around the guests, carrying three juice boxes and three sun hats before making the girls get out of the pool to get something to eat. She didn't treat any of them differently or favour Jessie as she slipped tee shirts on over their heads and led them to a quiet spot under the oak tree to get out of the heat of the midday sun while they ate a hot dog.

Stacie and Chloe had exchanged a glance as they watched Beca gently kiss each of their sunkissed faces as she applied cream, checking that no one was getting too pink.

Chloe noticed, as it was something she would do as well, but Beca would casually glance over at the girls regularly to check on them, and a fleeting thought crossed her mind that Beca was a great person to parent the children with. She felt guilty a moment later that she'd completely forgotten about David's role in that matter.

As Beca watched Jessie swap four of her blue M&M's with three of Kate's red ones, she gave a soft chuckle. Red was Jessie's favourite colour and she always insisted that any red food tasted the best. She was just wondering what Alex's favourite colour was when she felt Helen's hand on her arm.

Realising she'd zoned out and missed what Helen had said, she spun around quickly.

"Sorry?" She said, cringing a little as it was obvious she'd not listened.

"No, not at all. I was just asking if you minded if I bought Jessie some clothes before we leave?"

"Oh, um..." Beca shot a look towards Chloe. "Is there something wrong with-"

"-Oh no, it's not like that. I just always buy my other two girls and my big boys a couple of outfits for the summer and fall while I'm here. I'd like to include my third granddaughter, if that's okay with you?"

"Um, yeah, sure."

Helen seemed pleased with the answer and took her phone out from her pocket, seemingly making a few notes on it or sending a text which gave Beca an opportunity to watch the girls a little more.

In sync, both Chloe and Beca, looked to the wall clock above the back door and spoke at the same time.

"Bedtime in five minutes, girls."

They looked at each other and grinned, before Chloe carried on talking to Jen who was theatrically demonstrating a story with her hands.

"Do we have time for sparklers?" Trent said, overhearing the bedtime announcement which his granddaughters were happily ignoring.

"Sparklers?" Beca asked, shooting a look at Chloe.

"Oooh yes!" Chloe said. "Hold on Jen, put a pin in the story for a few minutes."

Chloe jumped up, out of her seat, and headed towards the kitchen with her usual enthusiasm over everything. Beca had long since given up on the notion that her perpetual happiness was fake; she actually seemed to be happy most of the time. She was getting lost in her thoughts when Chloe returned with a large box under her arm, carrying two safety lighters in her hand.

"Trent?" She said, as she handed the box to him.

"Of course," He grinned back at her.

"Um, Chloe?" Beca motioned to Chloe to come over, as she stood up herself.

"You okay?" Chloe smiled, as she came up to Beca's side.

"Are the sparklers safe?" Beca asked, nodding towards Trent as he began to hand them out to people.

"Yes, of course, we do this all the time. It's okay, we're here with the girls."

"They are safe for kids?"

"Yes. Absolutely. Jessie, Kate and Alex will be fine."

"Oh, no..." Beca said, shaking her head. "I'm not worried about the girls... it's Amy I'm concerned about."

"Oh Becs! You are too funny."

"No, seriously. You see her left eyebrow?"

"Yes, of course."

"Well, she has to colour it in... she lost most of it on a fourth of July celebration that she got a little too enthusiastic over. And if you value your table cloths, I'd suggest you move her away to somewhere near the pool so I can push her in, if things go wrong."

"I'm sure everything will be fine! But I'll watch out, don't worry," Chloe grinned.

"Can you helps me?" Alex's little voice interrupted their conversation and Chloe turned and was about to help Alex when she saw that the little brunette was holding out her sparkler towards Beca. Chloe's eyes widened for a moment or two before she gathered Alex's face in her hands, placed a noisy kiss on her forehead and went off towards Kate and Jessie who were wrestling to get their sparklers out of the wrappers.

"Of course, little one," Beca said, quickly sinking to her knees. She glanced up just in time to see the look on Chloe's face, not unlike her own when Jessie had called Chloe 'Mama' earlier that day.

"I a bit scared."

"Nothing to be scared about. Do you want to hold it together when it's time to light it?"

Alex nodded, turned herself around and backed into Beca's chest. Beca steadied herself on her knees and instinctively wrapped her arms around Alex, feeling the little girls' warmth as she sagged lightly into her. She heard Alex hum to herself as Trent began to make his way around the group, lighting sparklers as he went.

Beca watched Kate and Jessie go first, smiling broadly at the way their eyes lit up as the first sparks began to shoot in all directions. She couldn't help but grin when she watched Luke step forward when Amy went next, watching intently as the Aussie immediately brandished her light stick as if it was a wand, quoting spells from Harry Potter as she flung her arms about.

Soon it was Alex's turn and as Trent began to light the end of her stick, he murmured to Beca that Alex was little afraid of them. Feeling a touch overwhelmed that her daughter had sought her out, amongst the family that she knew so much better, Beca gripped Alex a little tighter as she whispered in her ear.

"Just swish it gently, everything will be okay."

Alex nodded, mesmerised by the fizzing, but she didn't move her little hand at all. Beca quickly covered Alex's fingers with her own and guided her, making a slow circle and then a heart as they ignored the sound of Amy's whoops and snorts as she tried to write inappropriate words with her sparkler.

"Shall we write an A, for Alex?" Beca asked as she saw the sparkler was about to run out. Alex nodded and Beca helped her form the letter. "Good job buddy!"

"Dat was fun!" Alex exclaimed, causing Helen to turn and chuckle. "You is good at dat."

"Why, thank you, little lady." Beca said, releasing her grip on Alex's hand.

"Fank you."

"You're welcome." Beca said, unconsciously looking for Chloe in the small crowd. She caught her watching the two of them and smiled. Chloe gave a watery smile back towards them before shaking herself and snatching up a glass to put the spent sparklers in. Alex rushed forward to put hers in the glass. Beca stood up, brushed her knees down and took a spot by the patio steps.

"It's bedtime girls," Chloe said brightly. "Say goodnight to everyone."

"We want to stay up!" Kate yelled happily, not wanting the fun day to end.

"Yeah!" Jessie called out, turning to Kate for back up, a look that didn't go unnoticed by both Chloe and Beca.

"You can yell all you like but it's bedtime," Chloe repeated.

"I'll put them to bed," Beca offered.

"You don't have to," Chloe said, her voice a little thicker than normal and she didn't turn to look at Beca.. "Stay here with everyone. Girls. Bed. Now."

The group each received a hug and kiss from each of the little girls, lingering a little longer with Beca as she wrapped each girl into a tight hug and gave a noisy kiss on the top of their heads. Jessie paused for a few seconds.

"DId you have fun today, Bug?"

"Uh huh. You be here tomorrow?"

"Probably not sweetheart, I've got some work to do. And you need to spend some time with the family."

Jessie nodded and began to walk off, not before sending a long look over her shoulder at Beca as she disappeared through the double doors, following her sisters and Chloe.

There was a general murmuring as everyone began to take their seats again and no one else seemed to notice Chloe's light frostiness in the last few minutes. Beca shrugged her shoulders and took a seat near to Trent.

"Have you thought about what you are going to do about the girl's name?" He asked, slightly out of the blue.

"Um, no," Beca replied.

"I understand Jessie's dad was called Jesse."

"Alex's dad was called Jesse," Helen corrected him.

"Oh, of course. I forget..." He shook his head lightly. "Are you going to change their names?"

"Um, Chloe and I... and David haven't exactly discussed it yet. I mean, they have their name now, it's too late to change them."

"We were wondering if a different child to your own having your boyfriend's name was going to upset you."

Beca gritted her teeth a little; more about the question itself, not so much at the quizzical tone.

"We've not discussed it but I don't see any need to change the girls' names. It would confuse them all now if we just swapped them around and besides, Jesse... Alex's dad... his middle name was Alexander so she's got part of his name anyway. And Alex suits Alex, and Jessie suits Jessie. Chloe and I will talk about it, for sure, but I don't see any point anymore."

"You'll have to tell us about Alex's dad one day, when you are ready."

"Yeah, maybe."

"Smores are ready Granddad!" Wade called out, saving Beca from any more questions. She thankfully made a beeline straight for the kitchen as the group moved over to the firepit en masse.

.oOo.

It was just after two in the morning when the phone rang, making Beca jump and fight to sit up. The blankets had wrapped themselves around her legs and she tried to kick them off as she searched for her phone.

"Fuck sake…" She mumbled as she finally connected.

Seeing Chloe's name on the screen filled her with a sudden dread.

"Hi, um, hey, is everything okay?" She mumbled out, her mouth dry from catching flies in her sleep. She could hear the sound of soft crying in the background.

"Hi Beca, so sorry to wake you up."

"It's okay. Is Jessie... Alex... Kate, whoever is crying... are... is she okay?"

"She's fine. Jessie's fine," Chloe said quickly. "She's running a little temperature, nothing to worry about."

"Okay?"

"She woke up about an hour ago, I gave her some medicine and she settled for a bit while I sat with her but she's gotten herself so worked up and sad, I don't know how to settle her. I don't know how to comfort our kid."

Beca's eyes widened at the reference to 'our kid' and she felt a warmth spread over her despite the situation.

"Um, yeah, she's not really a kid who gets sick often but when she does, her world ends. Worse than a Greek tragedy."

"That's exactly how it seems."

"I have no idea where she gets dramatics from," Beca mused and she heard Chloe chuckle lightly down the phone. Beca sighed. "If you can sing to her, she really likes that. Have you got Bunny and her yellow blanket?"

"Yes, she's got Bunny but I think the blanket is with you?" Chloe questioned and Beca looked around but couldn't see it.

"She likes to hold something in her hands so maybe get a washcloth. She'll curl up with you and go to sleep that way usually."

"Okay, I'll try that."

"She's a space hogger so I wouldn't put her in bed with you," Beca said, wincing slightly as she could hear Jessie's cries getting louder in the background.

"A little late for that," Chloe said. "I didn't want to wake Lex and Katie so…"

"I get it. You want to put her on the phone to me?"

"That would be great. Thank you."

"Sure," Beca said and waited as Chloe handed the phone over to the little girl.

"Mommy?"

"Hey Ladybug… you're not feeling good?" Beca asked gently.

"My tummy hurts," Jessie cried.

"Oh no."

"Yeah."

"How come?" Beca asked. "Was it the three hot dogs and two dishes of ice cream you ate today?"

"Dunno," Jessie sobbed. "You come here?"

"I can't come now baby. How about I come see you tomorrow afternoon?"

"No."

"No?"

"Now."

"I can't come now baby, it's the middle of the night. Everyone is asleep. Alex and Kate are trying to sleep and Chloe will-"

"-Mommmmyyyyy…" Jessie wailed and Beca heard jostling before she heard Chloe hushing the little girl.

"Beca?"

"Yeah, still here."

"I'm sorry about this."

"Look, I can come over if it's not going to disturb you guys too much?"

"Are you sure?" Chloe said, her voice a mix of hopeful and thankful. "I've tried everything but the washcloth."

"No problem. Give me half an hour to get there," Beca was instantly out of bed and looking around for a pair of sweats and her shoes.

"Thanks Beca. I'm sorry."

"No need to apologise. I'll see you in a bit. I'll just come in the gate at the side, okay?" Beca pushed her feet into a pair of tennis shoes and picked up her keys from the small coffee table that served as a bedside table.

"Sure, I'll leave the door unlocked in case she does fall asleep. We've come downstairs anyway, as she wouldn't even settle in my bed," Chloe explained, pausing for a second in an attempt to console Jessie a little. "And thanks."

"Don't mention it," Beca said, heading towards her front door. "See you in a few."

The drive to Chloe's didn't take long due to the lack of traffic. She passed four police patrol cars, all of them giving her and the car a once over as they drove alongside her. She ignored them, wishing that she'd stopped to pick up her purse and her driver's licence before she'd left the apartment.

Turning into Chloe's road, Beca's car gave an almighty shudder and she coasted down the avenue until she was about ten yards from Chloe's home. Raising her eyes to the Heavens in silent thanks, she quietly shut the door, ignored the burning smell that came from under the hood and hurried around the side of the house to the back gate; the one that she'd only walked through just a few hours before.

She used the key that Chloe had given her, just that evening, as she left after the barbecue. The rest of the evening had been lovely and Chloe had seemed more herself when she'd come back down after putting the girls to bed. Beca had stayed, after everyone had left to help clear up but there hadn't been an opportunity to talk much as it was obvious they were both tired, and Beca had a long drive home. Chloe had sent her on her way with a huge bag of leftovers just before eleven.

She quietly made her way up to the house, glancing over the backyard as she walked. Everything had been tidied away and the yard was dark, save for the dim lights along the pathway. She found the back door unlocked and quietly pushed it open, closing and locking it behind her as she came through to the hallway and into the lounge where the soft lamp light showed Chloe curled up on the sofa with Jessie tucked into her side.

"Hey," Beca spoke softly as she came into the room, digging her toes into the heels of her shoe and kicking them off. "How's she doing?"

"A bit calmer. She's still saying her tummy is hurting," Chloe whispered as Beca sank down to her knees next to Jessie.

"Hey Bug."

"I don't feel good Mommy Beca," Jessie whimpered. Beca's eyes widened at the choice of name, her heart dropping for the briefest of seconds again as her mind raced, wondering if this was the start of her losing Jessie to Chloe. She tried to tell herself, it was just a name, similar to earlier when Jessie had called Chloe, Mama Chloe.

"I know sweetheart. What can I do to make you feel better?" She asked instead.

"Rub," Jessie mumbled, pointing to her belly.

"Roll over then."

Jessie shifted onto her back and lifted her pyjama top a little, showing the smallest amount of skin.

"Need me to move?" Chloe asked, looking as though she was about to get up. Beca shook her head.

"No, this is something that helps and you'll need to know this for the future."

Beca's fingers began to dance across Jessie's belly, feather light touches that barely made contact. After a couple of minutes, Jessie's breathing began to slow down and she reached out a little hand to rub at her eyes. Beca shot Chloe a look and gave her a small smile.

"Sing Mommy?"

"You need a song too?"

"Yes pease."

"Chloe could sing for you," Beca said softly but Jessie shook her head.

"That sounds like a job for you," Chloe murmured, winking oh so slightly at Beca.

"Yeah, but I'm not used to an audience when I sing. I'm not exactly any good."

"Jessie seems to like it."

"Hmm mmm," Beca lightly growled, looking down at Jessie who stared back at her; big blue eyes imploringly locked onto Beca's. "I've got one I'm working on for one of Uncle Luke's clients, okay? But I kinda had you in mind when I wrote it, Ladybug."

Jessie nodded, looking sleepy.

"Don't laugh," Beca uttered towards Chloe, who said nothing in response but laid her head back on the couch cushion next to Jessie. Beca wondered for a brief moment if Chloe was still having trouble sleeping, remembering their conversation from a few weeks before.

"All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am..."

Beca glanced at Chloe as she sang before fixing her gaze back on Jessie.

"So many stories of where I've been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don't mean anything
When you've got no one to tell them to
It's true, I was made for you..."

Jessie reached out with her fingers to touch Beca's face.

"I climbed across the mountain tops
Swam all across the ocean blue
I crossed all the lines and I broke all the rules
But baby I broke them all for you
Oh, because even when I was flat broke
You made me feel like a million bucks
You do and I was made for you..."

Beca's eyes swept over to Chloe, pausing for a second before she continued. She'd written this song for Jessie a few days after she'd learned she'd have to give her away to Chloe but had finished the lyrics after she'd spoken to Chloe and her muddled mind had come to light.

"You see the smile that's on my mouth
It's hiding the words that don't come out
And all of my friends who think that I'm blessed
They don't know my head is a mess
No, they don't know who I really am
And they don't know what I've been through like you do
And I was made for you..."

Beca's face pinked up as she sang the last few lines, she wasn't sure what had made her write them but she remembered having Chloe on her mind, as well as Jessie and Alex as she had furiously scribbled the words, handing them to Luke and asking if it was something that his client would like.

As she finished the song, Beca looked down and saw, with some amusement, that both Jessie and Chloe were fast asleep, their faces showing the same expression as the peaceful moment surrounded them. She watched them for a few seconds, before deciding it was a little creepy, and pulled the blanket that lay on the back of the couch over the sleeping pair.

She saw the flush that had been on Jessie's face had lessened as sleep overtook her. Beca laid a soft hand on the little girls' forehead, happy that her temperature didn't seem that unusual.

Deciding to wait a little longer in case Jessie woke up again, Beca crept over to the other sofa and took a seat, leaning back against the squishy cushions as she watched both of them sleep.

.oOo.

The sound of soft giggles woke Beca the next morning. Though her head only popped up from the arm of the sofa, when she heard the sound of a coffee machine pinging, announcing its success in brewing an early morning drink.

Turning her head in confusion, Beca was for a moment at a loss as to where she was and why she was covered in an unfamiliar blanket. Beca found herself looking straight into the dark blue eyes of her biological daughter. Alex was sitting cross legged on the coffee table playing with the ear of a plush duck.

Beca blinked a few times, as the memory of her coming over the night before and singing to Jessie came flooding back to her. She looked over to the other sofa, but Chloe and Jessie weren't there. She turned onto her side, wondering who'd covered her up, and smiled at Alex before checking the time on her watch, shocked to see it was after ten in the morning.

"Hi Mommy," Alex said, tilting her head in such a way that Beca was instantly reminded of Jesse. The half crooked smile she wore was all him. She almost failed to notice that Alex had just called her Mommy for the first time.

"Hi baby," Beca whispered back.

"Why you sleep dere?"

"I, um..., last night..." Beca started to explain, grinding her knuckles into her eyes as she tried to rid herself of sleep. She couldn't remember the last time she'd slept so late. Or so well. "... Jessie wasn't feeling... good, so I came to see her."

Alex nodded and uncrossed her legs, sliding onto the edge of the table.

"Careful," Beca said easily.

"I okay," Alex said, sliding down to the floor. She handed Beca the duck she'd been playing with. "Dis is for you."

"Um, thank you."

"Hers name is Laura."

"The duck is called Laura?" Beca asked and Alex nodded again. "Right, okay."

"You take to your house."

"Won't you miss having Laura here?"

Alex shook her head.

"For you," She smiled, pushing the soft toy closer towards Beca. "If you is sad, Laura help you."

For a moment, Beca wanted to cry. It was a small gesture from Alex but it meant everything to Beca, like she was being accepted into Alex's world a little more.

"Thank you Alex. I'll look after her always and when I don't need her anymore, she can come back to you."

Alex shrugged her shoulders.

"Where's your... where are the others?"

"Kitchen. They is having snacks!"

"You don't want snacks?" Beca asked her and Alex grinned back at her.

"I come to get you," She whispered conspiratorially. She reached out and pulled some of Beca's hair that had fallen over her shoulder. "Dis is like mine."

She pointed to her own head.

"Yeah, we have the same colour, don't we?"

"Yes," Alex said simply, rolling Beca's hair around in her fingers. Without warning, she bent down and kissed Beca lightly on the cheek before letting out a soft giggle, turning and running out of the room. Beca watched her leave, then stiffened as she saw Chloe standing in the doorway watching.

"Um, sorry, she-"

"-Don't apologise Beca, please."

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to fall asleep here last night. I thought I'd hang out for a quick minute to see if Jessie would wake up again. And I must have just closed my eyes for a second."

"I should be the one saying sorry. I fell asleep during your beautiful song. I haven't slept that well for so long."

"Funny, I thought the same thing. How's Jessie this morning?" Beca asked, wishing her cheeks weren't heating up the way they were.

"She's absolutely fine. She wanted to wake you earlier but I managed to persuade her to go back to her own bed for a couple of hours."

"This was you?" Beca asked, nodding towards the fleece covering her.

"Mmm hmm, you were out for the count. Hope you don't mind."

"No, not at all."

"Sorry about Alex waking you. She's been asking for ages to come in," Chloe explained.

"You should have let her, I could have been out of your way ages ago."

"You aren't in the way," Chloe said kindly. "It's a beautiful morning outside. I was thinking of taking the girls over to the rec centre to play on the swings."

"Yeah, no problem," Beca sat up properly and pushed the blanket off of her, haphazardly folding it in half a couple of times. "I'll get out of your way."

"No silly, do you want to come? It's a lovely day, we could pack a picnic and hang out for a couple of hours. If you wanted to. Unless you've got things to do?"

"Um, only packing… and that can wait," Beca's mind raced a little. She liked the idea of hanging out with everybody and after her little interaction with Alex that morning, really wanted to start spending some proper time with her.

Chloe beamed.

"I don't have anything else to wear though," Beca gestured down her body.

"What's wrong with what you have on?" Chloe asked. Beca glanced at Chloe's cut offs and pretty blouse before she looked down at herself, her raggedy sweats and sleeping tee shirt that had seen better days. Chloe seemed to understand without Beca saying anything. "You can borrow something of mine, if you like? Just root through until you find something you like."

"You sure?"

"Absolutely."

"Um, thanks."

"Hungry?" Chloe asked.

"I could use a coffee," Beca mused. She wouldn't mind taking the time to chat with Chloe to make sure she was all right about the evening before.

"Pot's just brewed. Come through when you are ready."

"Wait, don't you want to spend the day with your family?"

"David's family," Chloe corrected.

"David's family," Beca repeated.

"They are actually spending the day with David and..." Chloe breathed heavily through her nose. "... Holly today. Which is fine, because as much as I love and I do, I really do, love them, they can be a bit much sometimes. I actually do like a quiet day with just the girls, although that does mean I never have time to sit and read or anything like that."

"I can watch them if you want to read a book."

"You are too sweet. Honestly, I'd rather spend the day with you."

.oOo.

"Jack Preston."

"Hi, it's Sam."

"Yeah?"

"I've found her."

"Where is she?"

"In a park on Rye and Beeman."

"Good work. What's she doing? Who is she with?"

"She's with the other woman again, and the three kids... the two that look alike and the other girl. They look like they are friends and it's definitely the same woman from the courthouse or if I'm wrong, it's definitely her double."

"What are you thinking?"

"I dunno, but I think there's potentially a story going on here. I can just feel it."

"Can you get closer to them? See if you can hear anything they are saying?"

"Yeah, I'll try. Okay, talk to you later."

"Yeah, see ya."

.oOo.


A/N - One of the biggest criticism's I received in the PM was my over use of characters. Sorry, not sorry, that I just chucked another two in the mix!

Chapter Text

A/N - Good evening everyone! I just wanted to say a huge thank you for the overwhelming show of support for this story, and for me. It truly means the world to me that so many of you get what I'm trying to do here, for the Bechloe world. As someone who likes to talk, I'm pretty speechless about the whole thing.

I'm actually quite excited to bring you this next chapter :)

Thank you to J, for everything!


.oOo. Chapter Thirty .oOo.

"Morning."

"Hey... good morning to you, how was... whoa, you look like you had a rough night," Luke said in response to Beca's quietly spoken greeting as she came into their small, shared office, a couple of weeks after Chloe's barbecue. "Are you okay?"

"Nope, I'm good. Just was up late sorting out a few things," Beca explained.

"Makes a change from getting arrested, I guess."

"Are you still going on about that?" Beca asked, shaking her head.

"Of course. I plan to use it at every available opportunity for at least the next fifteen years," Luke smirked, good naturedly.

"You are such a jerk," Beca growled under her breath as she set her purse down on the tiny sofa they mostly used for dumping paperwork and discarded coffee cups. "What's on the plan for today?"

"Well..." Luke said, spinning around in his chair to face Beca as she pushed the sleeves of her shirt up to her elbows. "... job number one today is you doing the coffee run."

"Why?"

"Because you look like hell." Luke's words were delivered with his normal jocularity, but Beca could recognise the honest assessment lying underneath.

"I've just been packing up the apartment, going through a lot of stuff. It takes time and-"

"-You don't have a lot of stuff! And I told you I'd help with that."

"It's okay, I can manage. I've got nothing else to do with my time."

"Bec..."Luke waited for an honest answer from his friend.

"It's just with the new Kendrick album, driving back and forth to Studio City to see the girls and finding a place to live, I don't have much time for sleep at the moment."

"Have you ever thought about taking a couple of days off?"

"What?" Beca laughed lightly. "A week before the album debut? Yeah, right..."

"Seriously, I can cover for you," Luke offered.

"Really, it's okay. I'll be fine once I've moved."

"You're going to make yourself ill," Luke chided, turning back to his laptop as a message pinged onto the screen.

"I definitely don't have time in my schedule for that," Beca said humourlessly. She watched Luke type a quick reply to the pop up.

"So you've found a place?" He said, as he pressed the send button.

"For what?" Beca asked.

"To live dummy? Isn't that what we're talking about? I thought you said my brother needed you out by next week."

"He did and I'm... grateful for the time I've had there, really. It beats sharing a bed with Amy full time!"

"Do you need me to have a word with him? Ask him to give you a bit longer?"Luke offered.

"No, honestly, it's fine. Need a fresh start in a new place."

"And to answer my question?"

"About?"

"If you found anyw-"

"-Oh, I'm still looking for a place but I've got some leads and will have something sorted by the end of the week."

"Bec..." Luke muttered.

"Yeah?"

"If you need a place to stay, you can always crash with me for a while. I know it's not ideal but it's a roof over your head and you can save yourself some money."

"I don't need help, I'm good," Beca explained.

"We all need a little help occasionally."

"I know, I know. But I don't want to cramp your style! What about all the ladies you entertain in the evenings?" Beca joked and Luke laughed before Beca noticed a slight pink tinge on his cheeks.

"Right," he mirthed. "Bree and I aren't ready-"

"Who's Bree?"

"What?"

"You said 'Bree and I'..."

"I'm pretty sure I didn't," Luke stressed and Beca could tell he was lying about something but dropped it, knowing it wasn't really any of her business andLuke would tell her when he was ready..

"Besides," she said, steering the conversation back. "I don't want to live with a boy. You're all smelly and gross."

"Right, because all females are delightful fairy cake baking, fruity flavoured-"

"-What the fuck is a fairy cake?" Beca baulked at the thought.

"A small muffin, you heathen."

"Then call it that, you weirdo."

"If you agree to speak English, you should learn our idiosyncrasies too," Luke winked at Beca, nudging her with his elbow, when she didn't come back with her usual, sarcastic retort.

"Yeah, yeah... shut up," She growled slightly at him, looking out toward the window.

"That's more like it."

Beca grinned back at her friend, before lowering her eyes for a second, a look Luke knew well.

"Do you want to come and stay with me for a while? We can make it work quite easily if we put up a screen or two and-"

"-Seriously, thanks for the offer of a place to stay, I do appreciate it Luke, I really do. But I gotta do this on my own," Beca said, unable to meet his eyes. "I don't want to be too far from Chloe's and want to find somewhere in Studio City but the only things I can afford to rent at the moment are a leaky garage space or a psychedelic pink room belonging to a Grandma who had about eighteen cats."

"If you need the deposit for a nicer place-"

"-It's okay, I'm okay. I've just got to find somewhere that isn't miles away from Chloe and here and everything will be fine."

"Not sure if you are trying to convince me or you."

"Me either," Beca mumbled. "But you know me, I somehow always make it work and-"

Their conversation halted as Richie, one of the admin assistants knocked on their office door.

"Sorry to interrupt guys," Richie said, stepping into the office. Both Luke and Beca shook their heads to show it wasn't a problem as Beca reached into her pocket for her phone.

Richie was good at his job and well liked. He was organised, friendly, seemed to have a good head on his shoulders and the senior executives were all keen to keep him on the payroll. He often stopped at Luke's office to ask sensible questions because he'd heard something in a meeting he didn't understand, he remembered people's birthdays and would lend a hand where needed; doing the mail run, picking up a tray of sandwiches for a last minute meeting or act as a sounding board for one of the producers having a melt down in the break room.

"What can I do for you Richie?" Luke asked.

"Actually, it's Beca that I need."

"Oh?" Beca's head snapped up from the text she was reading.

"Mr Samuelson would like a meeting with you at ten thirty, if you have the time in your schedule," Richie paused for a second, before continuing, talking out of the corner of his mouth in a stage whisper. "And I'd consider making time in your schedule."

"Sounds ominous," Luke commented, side eyeing his friend.

"Um, yeah, I can meet with Sammy... Mr Samuelson at half ten." Beca said, casting an eye to the clock on the wall.

"Excellent... meeting room five. Ten thirty," Richie nodded to confirm.

"Ten thirty," Beca repeated.

RIchie bowed his head awkwardly, looking slightly relieved to have delivered his message

"What's that all about?" Beca asked, turning to Luke as Richie walked back down the corridor, towards the coffee room.

"He's probably heard how grumpy you are," Luke deadpanned.

"Don't joke Luke, what if they fire me?"

"They aren't going to fire you," Luke said matter of factly.

"You don't know that. What if they can't afford to keep me on as an intern any longer?"

"Then I'll stand up for you and-"

"-I need this job!"

"Calm down, it might be something else. You might be needed for a special project or something, but whatever happens, I'll be here and if it's bad news we'll work something out."

"Strangely enough, I don't find that comforting."

"Well, I guess you'll find out in a couple of hours."

"Do you know something?" Beca asked, a little suspiciously.

"No. I don't. I wouldn't keep something important from you Bec."

"Unless you were told by the seniors that you had to?"

"Look, you're my best friend and that trumps work colleagues any day in my book."

"I appreciate that. But what-"

"-You'll find out in two hours."

"Should I start looking elsewhere? Maybe I can get some night work in a grocery store instead? I can see the girls during the day and..." Beca trailed off.

"And in the meantime, it's your turn to get coffee and then I want to talk to you about the updates that Maroon 5 want on their new single," Luke picked up the paper that was laying on his desk, changing the subject, knowing his friend was getting worked up over the meeting. "And after that, you want to explain how yet another picture of you and Chloe not only got into the local paper but made fourth page news?"

"Another one?" Beca asked, thinking of the paper that Luke had shown her last week which showed a rather grainy photo of her and Chloe in a park with the girls.

It had been taken the day after the barbecue and showed the two of them talking while the girls played on the picnic blanket. Beca had her arm around Alex who had taken to her other Mom like a duck to water almost overnight. Beca was acutely aware of the look Jessie had sent her way, noting that it was a cross between worry, jealousy and a touch of contentment.

There hasn't been much wording attached to the photograph, as it was in the 'Celebrity Spotted' section, only to say that actress Chloe Beale and female friend were seen at Fullerton Rec Centre with 'their children' and a throwaway comment of how pretty Chloe looked in the company of her friend.

"Yeah, looks like you were waiting outside the Shake Shack with the girls while Chloe was inside. Comments questioning if you were the nanny to the girls but then the journalist mentioned the identical girls in the next sentence."

"This is hardly newsworthy," Beca groaned, taking the paper from Luke's outstretched hand.

"To some people it is. You know how folks gossip and like to dissect every detail about someone famous down to their hair follicles and freckle count."

"You can be quite random at times, you know that?" Beca folded the paper back in half and slapped Luke's arm with it.

"Just be careful, okay?"

"Careful about what?" She asked.

"Don't get caught with Chloe anywhere."

"What the heck do you mean by that?"

Luke sighed heavily and looked thoughtfully at her for a few moments.

"You want to keep the girls out of the public eye as much as possible and the more times you are seen in public together, people are going to start figuring it out."

"Why though, I'm just a nobody."

"You aren't exactly a nobody, but you know as well as I do how much of a big thing Chloe Beale is."

"She's just a normal person," Beca breathed out through gritted teeth.

"But she's not Bec. I know you think she's just Chloe, but to a lot of people, she's not. You can't deny that people hang around her just because she's been in a few movies and want her to be their friend because she's famous. You might know her as the girl who hosts a pretty decent barbecue or movie night in her back garden but not everyone sees her that way. They want to know every detail about her, from what she has for breakfast to the car she drives, where she holds a bank account and what colour her bedsheets are."

"I don't get the devotion," Beca retorted, running her hands through her hair. "She's a public figure, not public property."

"Yeah, that's how you see it but not everyone is like you."

Beca nodded and rubbed at her eyes.

"I'm going for coffee," She stated. "Need anything else?"

.oOo.

Beca stood outside meeting room number five just before ten thirty. She was fiddling nervously with the sleeve of her shirt when she heard her phone ping in her pocket.

Message from chloe.m to beca.m - 10.27 - Hi! How's your day going? C x
Message from beca.m to chloe.m - 10.28 - Just waiting for a meeting with the suits
Message from chloe.m to beca.m - 10.30 - Everything okay?

The door popped open just as Beca was about to respond and she pocketed her phone quickly pushing herself off the wall she was leaning against.

"Miss Mitchell?"

"Yes, sorry," Beca said, smoothing down the front of her shirt.

"Please come in."

"Sure."

Beca entered the room, surprised to see five people already seated along one side of the large conference table. The room itself was one of Beca's favourites to make or take a sneaky phone call as it gave a great view of the busy junction outside and it was a decent place to people watch or just have some quiet time to think.

Beca squared her shoulders as she took in the group in front of her, recognising two people from Human Resources; the manager and the assistant manager as well as Sammy, who she knew quite well. Richie, seated next to someone Beca recognised but didn't know the name of, grinned at her as she stood awkwardly on her side of the table.

"Morning Reggie," Sammy said, picking up the pen in front of him and slotting it behind his ear, before selecting it again and fiddling with the clicker.

"Morning," Beca nodded towards one of the senior managers.

"This is Brian and Sarah from HR," Sammy explained, pointing his pen in their direction. "Richie, you know. And this is Kirk Beaumont, director of operations here."

"Pleasure to meet you," Kirk nodded before standing up, clearing his throat and holding out his hand towards Beca.

"Likewise," Beca said, leaning over the table and shaking his hand.

"Please have a seat." Kirk said, indicating the chair with his hand.

"Thanks," Beca said awkwardly, slipping into the chair in the middle of the table, opposite everyone else. She pulled herself into the table and folded her hands on her lap before looking up, under her eyelashes, at the folk in front of her.

"So... um, why am I here?"

"Huh... well, yes, why don't we cut to the chase," Sammy said, finally putting down his pen. He looked over to Brian and Sarah before continuing. "We wanted to talk to you about your future with Universal Music Group."

"My future?" Beca floundered a little, wondering if her worst fears really were about to come true and she'd need to leave.

"Yes, we were wondering if you liked working here," Kirk interjected.

"Yeah, I mean, yes I do. Sorry, my mouth is as dry as hell... I mean, it's as dry as-"

"-It's okay Beca," Kirk said kindly. His voice had a fatherly tone to it and the kind of pitch that made you want to listen to what he had to say. "This is purely an informal meeting at the moment, so please, take your time."

"Have a drink Reggie," Sammy nodded towards the water bottles just within reach.

Beca reached for one of the glasses in the middle of the table and quickly poured herself some water, before gesturing the jug towards the others, offering to pour some for them too. She couldn't help notice the look that passed between Sammy and Kirk as she reset the jug on the table.

"I enjoy working here," Beca continued carefully after taking a healthy glug. "I've learnt so much while I've been here and I love working with Luke very much. There's nowhere else I want to work right now."

"That's good to hear," Kirk smiled. "Very good indeed. Do you live locally?"

"Um, yeah, about half an hour away."

"Do you have any ties to the area?"

"Ties?"

"Is there anything that keeps you in California?" Kirk asked.

"Um..." Beca glanced towards the two HR representatives, wondering what was going on. They remained expressionless, watching the interaction unfold.

"Family members, special friends, relationships... that kind of thing," Sammy explained.

"I mean, I have a kid, two kids... three if you count... yeah, there are my kids."

"Oh. Right, yes of course. I remember seeing the..." Kirk flustered a little, earning an obvious cough from Brian in HR.

"They live in Studio City right now and I'm moving that way in a week or so," Beca offered by way of explanation.

"You don't own your property?" Kirk asked.

"No, I'm in a rental."

Sammy and Kirk both nodded slowly. Beca's mind was working overtime. Were they asking about rent because they had some weird conscience problem if they were going to fire her in approximately two minutes.

"Rent is expensive around here," Sammy said after a few seconds.

"Um, yeah," Beca cricked her neck a little. "I've noticed that!"

"Do you drive Reggie?" Kirk asked.

"It's Beca."

"I'm sorry?"

"My name... it's Beca, not Reggie."

Kirk shot a confused look towards Sammy who shrugged his shoulders and picked up the pen he was previously fiddling with, placing the end of it into his mouth and nibbling a little.

"Sorry... Beca," Kirk apologised. "Sammy said... maybe I misheard..."

"It's okay, I don't know where Reggie came from but I've pretty much rolled with it from day one," Beca said good naturedly. "But to answer your question, yes I can drive."

"And you have your own vehicle?"

"Yes."

"And you work long hours for us, don't you? I mean, more than the average intern."

"I don't know about everyone else but yeah, I'll put the time in if I want to get something right and if it means overtime, so be it."

"But those hours are unpaid."

"I know, but..." Beca sighed. "... I want the music I produce to be perfect. I listen to jingles all day, and pick apart the set of notes for being too shrill or for fading out in the wrong place. I don't want someone else to ever listen to anything I've put together and think, 'oh, she missed the key change on the down angle of the riff'. So I guess to me, the work takes as long as it takes, and if that means working without pay sometimes, so be it."

"Mmmm," Kirk nodded appreciatively. He looked over to Sammy and nodded again. "It's fine with me."

"Okay," Sammy said, spinning in his chair a little.

"Can I ask what this is about?" Beca asked, more uncomfortable now as she wasn't understanding what was going on.

"I'm sorry," Kirk apologised again, looking around the room at his colleagues. "We'll make this quick."

Beca cast her eyes around the room as if in sync, everyone began to open matching folders and pull out a few sheets of paper. She was then acutely aware that everyone was staring at her intently.

"How long have you interned for us now?" Kirk asked.

"Two years, three months."

"Quite a long time to be an intern."

"I guess. I'm waiting for a spot to open up and there's nowhere else I'd rather work."

Kirk nodded appreciatively. Beca noticed that he did a lot of head bobbing.

"I understand and I thank you for your loyalty. However..." He paused and shifted in his seat and Beca's heart sank. Her mind began to run overtime as she tried to plan her future, firmly believing now that they'd pulled her into the meeting to make her leave. She willed herself to listen to Kirk. "... there are no available positions here at the moment."

Beca felt a rumble in her gut at the news. She didn't want to have to start somewhere else, didn't want to leave working with Luke or some of the artists that she was forming a decent working relationship with. She didn't want to have to go back to working five jobs just so she could afford rent.

"I understand," She murmured quietly, trying to cover up her disappointment. Her mind was racing, wondering if she'd end up back in the van with Amy and her weird collection of smells in jars. "When do you want me to go?"

"Go?" Sammy asked, sitting bolt upright in his seat.

"Yeah, Mr Beaumont just said there were no positions here."

"I'm not letting you go Beca," Kirk said and he lightly chuckled. "No way. I've heard from Sammy that you are one of the best interns he's ever had through his program and the work you've been putting together with Luke Bryant has always been flawless. I very rarely get to hear about the work the interns do; in all honesty, I don't know what you... they... all do except get coffee and watch YouTube videos to find the next Justin Bieber. But I can tell you that your name has regularly come up in meetings, and Bryant would always credit your work back to you, even though he had every right to claim it as his own."

"Oh okay... so why am I here? What do you need from me?" Beca asked.

"I want to offer you a full time job with a pretty hefty benefits package but it's not based at this office."

"What?" Beca blinked.

"We're opening up a freelance sponsorship studio, to encourage youngsters without the means to get demo recordings into the music business. I understand that you came from humble beginnings and felt you could add an edge to the project. We currently have fourteen artists lined up to offer their time to the new studio and more are coming on board."

"I don't understand..." Beca looked towards the two HR reps but they gave no indication of anything.

"What we can offer you is a starting salary of one hundred and twenty thousand dollars a year, plus a finders fee for any signed artists, the opportunity to work on your own music or with any of Universal's portfolio," Kirk explained.

"There is a housing and expense allowance of five thousand a month, not one but two company vehicles at your disposal. You can choose the make and model of one vehicle and the other is a corporate van," Sammy added.

"There's also a travel allowance being granted to you of twenty thousand per annum. As there will be some high profile parties and award shows to attend, there is also access to the corporate wardrobe department at all times for clothing and beauty treatments," Kirk reeled off some more of the benefits and Beca just sat blinking at his words. "What else am I forgetting?"

"There's a medical insurance package, including dental." Sarah spoke up for the first time. "Pension plan, twenty five days paid vacation each year and performance bonuses. And there's the opportunity to use any Planet Fitness gym if you want to with a heavily discounted gym membership. There's access to the theme parks for a donation to charity, masses of retail discounts, use of the company retreat, opportunity to take part in the recognition and appreciation programs, and all new equipment; laptop, decks, instruments, which will be installed in your home and at the new studio."

Beca blinked for a little longer as the words began to settle around her. Convinced she must have transported herself into another realm, knowing that she wasn't destined in life to be that lucky, she pinched the skin on her right arm to make sure she wasn't dreaming.

"The studio itself will still be under my management team," Sammy continued. "But you will have full control on site. You'll be required to video call once a week for a meeting and I would suggest you select a team of around four, maybe five staff. An office manager is essential, as well as a studio musician but see how you get on and if you need more, then submit the proposal to the board and it will be considered. The building at the moment consists of three studios and offices but there is scope for expansion in the future. Universal is quite prepared to fund this project for the next five years."

"Do you have any questions?" Brian asked as he wrote a few notes down on his paperwork.

"Why me?" Beca said quietly.

"Why not?" Sammy sniggered. "You've proved yourself in the past couple of years."

"But there are people who've been here longer, worked harder for an opportunity like this," Beca breathed out.

"We need fresh eyes on this style of project. If it works, we'll look to open up centres like this across America," Sammy explained.

"And possibly even globally," Kirk said brightly. "I like to aim high."

"So what do you say Reggie?"

"Honestly, I don't know right now. You might have to run all of that past me again."

"We'll let you have a copy of the proposed contract to read through at your leisure before coming to a final decision," Sarah said, pushing her glasses further up her nose.

"I know this might be a little overwhelming so you should take a couple of days to talk it through with people, but please be discreet."

"Yeah, I mean, I will," Beca stuttered, already deciding to fill Luke in as soon as the meeting was over. She was surprised that Chloe's face filtered through her mind and Beca knew she wanted to share the news with her too.

"Anything else you want to discuss right now?" Kirk asked.

"Do I get to name the studio?" Beca said playfully.

Kirk and Sammy exchanged glances before Kirk spoke again.

"I guess as long as there are no copyright infringements, I can't see that being a problem."

"And can I offer to bring Luke with me?"

"I don't see why not, if he wants a change of pace," Kirk smiled. "We'll miss him around here if he wants to go."

"And you would be his boss," Sammy sniggered and a light laugh sounded around the room.

"There must be a catch here!" Beca said, her face flushed with happiness. It was a massive turning point for her and the offer itself was almost too good to be true.

"Well, I guess there is something that could be classified as a tiny wrinkle in the plan." Sammy said, setting the pen he's been fiddling with the whole meeting down on the table. He smoothed his hand over his beard.

"What's that?" Beca asked, ready to agree to anything for the job of her wildest dreams.

.oOo.


A/N - Sorry! I know everyone hates a cliffhanger! I'm finally getting to visit with my family tomorrow for the first time in two years! My poor old mum is about to get the hug of her life! I only booked my flight half an hour ago and I travel tomorrow morning so I'd best go and pack!

Catch you all in a couple of days.

Stay safe everyone :)

Chapter Text

A/N - Hi everyone! Here's the next chapter for you all. Thank you for all the continued support with this story :)

I had a great weekend with the folks (in Spain), they were completely surprised and very overwhelmed with me turning up unannounced on Saturday morning, to join them for a cuppa tea! I was supposed to be 1600 miles away! The look on my lovely Mum's face will keep me going for quite some time. I got some much needed family time... and plenty of cake too!

Hope you've all had a great weekend too. xx


.oOo. Chapter Thirty One .oOo.

"What did Chloe say about the job?" Luke asked, around a mouthful of cheese and pickle sandwich.

"Um... she...um, I guess she... yeah, she's okay with it."

Luke paused mid chew for a moment, hearing the catch in Beca's voice. They were sitting in their office, as usual, catching up over a quick bite to eat, in between meetings. The morning had been frantic, with the first drop of the new Kendrick Lamar album. The artist had co-produced it but had asked Luke and Beca to 'give the album a final once over'.

So far things with the album had been resoundingly positive. The test group had loved the upbeat, fresh feel of the songs and so far, there had only been minor changes requested from the rapper.

Luke knew Beca had poured her heart and soul into the album, but it was just one of the reasons she looked so tired as she sat on the sofa in the office with a cold towel pressed against her forehead. She'd claimed it was a bad headache from working so late though Luke knew the real reason for her week-long headache was the job offer from senior management.

"You didn't tell her yet, did you?" He asked, with an exasperated sigh.

"No," Beca replied truthfully, sighing with purpose a second later.

"Why not?" His voice was gentle, probing, but not pushy.

"Because she'll tell me to go for it."

"And? What's the problem with that?" Luke raised an eyebrow in her direction as he tucked the rest of his sandwich into the corner of his mouth and reached for his hot tea.

"Are you serious?" Beca snapped, lifting up the damp towel that covered half of her face and fixing a death stare in his direction.

Luke put his hands up in mock defence before taking a glug of his drink. He studied Beca over the top of his mug while he watched her internally struggle with the conversation he had had with her a week ago. He'd been nervously waiting for her to return to their shared office for well over an hour by the time she returned. He was mildly surprised when she refused to talk about it, and then completely shocked when she abruptly left work early. Beca never left work early.

Fearing the worst news, and that she had been let go by Universal, he'd gone round to her apartment that evening to find out what had happened. He found her in quite a state, laying on the floor in her now completely empty apartment.

"Where is your sofa?" He'd asked, as he shut the front door.

"Sold it," Beca snapped.

"Why?"

"Because I needed gas money," The monotone response echoed around the beige walls.

"Bec..."

"Don't 'Bec' me, you know my life has turned to shit lately. I'm spending everything I've got on going to Chloe's to see the kids. And I don't need shit from you about the state of the rest of my life!"

"Okay, okay..." Luke said, taking a big step backwards. "I'll just go and when you pull your head out of your arse, you can tell me what's going on. However, I'm not going to be a punching bag for your temper right now."

"Just go..."

Luke turned and left the apartment without saying another word. He was almost back at his car when his phone rang. Seeing her name on the screen wasn't unexpected but for a fleeting moment, he debated whether to answer her call. Of course he did answer, he would always answer Beca's calls; even when she was acting like a complete twit.

"I'm sorry," Beca said softly as soon as he put the phone to his ear.

"It's okay, but I'm only trying to help."

"I know, and I was being a total shit."

"Well yeah," Luke smirked, "You want to talk about what happened?"

"Tomorrow?"

"Okay, I'll see you in the office."

"Sure."

He'd hung up without saying goodbye but drove home with a heavy heart, citing the only real reason she was acting like that must have been down to Universal letting her go. He knew there would be no point in him trying to say something to anyone senior. He knew Beca wouldn't want him doing that, firmly knowing she wanted to do everything under her own steam.

He really liked working with Beca; enjoyed their mutual respect for each other, and he had so much admiration for her incredible work ethic and mad skills with music. She was one of the best people in the industry; she just had never had that lucky break she so desperately needed to get a leg up in this incredibly competitive field. He also liked working with her as a friend; she was fun to bounce ideas off of, work out a complication or to simply discuss their workload.

Feeling out of sorts, he debated on cooking or ordering in some dinner when he got home. For a spell, he just stared moodily at his phone, browsing Facebook videos on how to peel a pineapple when a message notification caught his eye at the top of his screen.

message from beca.m, to luke.b - 19.54 - I'm a jackass, aren't I?
message from luke.b, to becky.m - 19.55 - Yes.
message from beca.m, to luke.b - 19.55 - I'm sorry
message from luke.b, to becky.m - 19.56 - It's okay. Try not to push me away ALL the time. We'll talk tomorrow, okay?
message from beca.m, to luke.b - 19.58 - Are you free to talk now?
message from luke.b, to becky.m - 19.59 - Call if you want to, I'm just going to order myself some dinner.

The light tapping on his door brought a smile to his face. Despite her snark, she was his closest friend and he'd do anything for her. He should have known she'd show up once she'd thought everything through. He quickly made his way across his lounge and pulled open his front door.

"Hi," Beca said sheepishly, leaning against his door jamb. He could see that she'd showered and changed in the time he'd driven home but hadn't lost the pained expression behind her eyes.

"Hi yourself."

He held the door open for her and she stepped in, ducking under his outstretched arm. Beca stood awkwardly in the small hallway for what felt like the longest moment before Luke shut the door. He gestured towards his living room, and with a silent nod Beca followed him to his sofa. She kicked off her shoes and tidied them away in the corner of the room, dropping her purse on top of them in an easy move.

"Are you hungry?" Luke asked, not looking up from his phone.

"No."

"I'm ordering Chinese."

"I'm okay, thanks. You go ahead," Beca said, waving her hand around to encourage him.

"You want your usual?"

"I'm not hungry."

"That will be a yes then," Luke ignored the huff that came from Beca's mouth and quickly placed the order for delivery from Chuckling Chow Mein. "Drink?"

"Is there any point in me saying no?"

"Nope. Beer?"

"Please."

Beca took a seat on the sofa as Luke returned from the kitchen with two beers in his hand, quickly popping the tops of both of them before handing her one.

"Thanks."

"So..." Luke began, as he took a seat next to her. Subconsciously, Beca moved towards him and leaned her head on his shoulder.

"So..."

"Was the news not good today or has something else happened?"

"No, it was good. Amazing. Unbelievable in fact."

"Okay, and you're behaving like a petulant child because...?"

"Because I've just been offered the absolute job of a lifetime, literally everything I've ever wanted, with more opportunities than I could have dreamed of and... I've got to turn it down."

Luke lifted his arm up and wrapped it around Beca's shoulder, pulling her in a little tighter.

"You want to start at the beginning?" He asked and felt Beca nod as she tucked herself into his side a little more.

"So the suits called me in, offered me a job working with brand new artists who haven't got their lucky break, and signed artists will support them through their journey. Perfect for me, right?"

"Right," Luke was a bit guarded in his response. This definitely wasn't what he had been expecting his friend to say.

"I get my own studio, the chance to work with professional artists who are donating their time to get this project off of the ground. I get a six-figure salary, the chance to manage a team, state of the art equipment, transport, travel allowance and all the good stuff that comes from a contracted position with Universal."

"Okay," Luke's response was a little more combination of puzzlement and growing excitement at the list of what had been offered to Beca.

"I mean, they said I could pick my own team for the studio and my first thought was that we could carry on working together and that made me so happy. You gave me a start and I could give you a boost too and work with you, rather than for you... even though technically I'd be your boss."

"Which you'd love, I'm sure," Luke smirked. He was having trouble containing his happiness for his best friend.

"Well, yeah... as much as I am sure you'd love to ignore everything I said to you."

"True. So, what's the issue?" Luke asked; truly puzzled by Beca's response now.

"Oh, and there'd be a housing allowance too and new equipment for me to have in a home studio too which, as you know, is my dream."

"I'm not understanding the problem here," Luke took a swig of his beer. "It really does sound like the perfect job for you. What's the catch?"

"Well, the studio is going to be situated in New York."

"New York?"

"Yeah. East coast, New York. Different time zone, New York. A million miles away, New York."

"Ah," Luke nodded, finally understanding Beca's problem.

"Yeah."

"How often would you be able to fly back and forth?"

"I can't be that far away from the kids."

"Ignore that part for a moment."

"I can't Luke. Jessie... look, I know Jessie isn't mine but she still needs me. Chloe's picking up superfast on everything she likes, doesn't like, needs and all that, but I'm still her Mom. And Alex, I'm just starting to make good headway with her. She comes to me and shares her scribbles with me, or a plushie, and then wants to sit in a corner and play on her toy piano with me. She's starting to ask about me more and has accepted that I'm not going anywhere. If I up and leave now, we'll lose the fragile connection we've created."