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those days turned into nights

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If you had to swear on everything that was aca-holy, you’d admit that agreeing to taking a roadtrip with Beca after Worlds may not be the best idea.

It’s just that when she brings it up at a cafe on what’s supposed to be your last morning in Copenhagen, she’s so convincing.

“I know you’ve wanted to try Swedish Princess Cake ever since we saw it on Bake Off, Chlo. And I mean, when are we going to be closer to Sweden? It’s, like, right next door. I saw on that interactive map they showed on the flight here.”

You eye her from across the table, waiting for the punchline. “Wait. You’re serious?”

“Think about it -- we already graduated, we just reached the pinnacle of our acapella careers... We deserve to celebrate.” She levels her gaze at you, like she’s daring you to disagree. “And, like, realistically when else are you going to have the chance to go to Sweden? If we go straight home, we’ll just get entry level jobs and make measly salaries and by the time we scrounge up enough money to come back here, we’ll be too old to enjoy ourselves. And by then you’d probably want to go somewhere cheesy. Like Paris.”

You gasp and press your palm to your chest. “Paris is not cheesy.”

“Oh yeah? What would you call it?”

“I dunno… Beautiful?” You twirl a strand of your hair around your finger as you zone out, thinking of berets, croissants, and the Eiffel Tower. “Romantic,” you decide.

Beca leans back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest and looking very smug. “Thus proving my point.”

You still aren’t sure about the whole roadtrip thing, but somehow you agree. You’ve never been good at saying no to her, you guess.

Besides, you aren’t exactly thinking clearly right now.

Because Beca kissed you last night, and you have no idea what it means.

***

The realist in you says that Beca was just caught up in the moment after winning Worlds.

You were all riding high as you stood together on stage when the Bellas were declared the winners. That part of the night was a blur -- one minute you and the girls are holding hands with your eyes squeezed shut and the next you’re screaming and jumping up and down, bursting with pure elation.

The following part of the night you remember in fine detail. The part where Beca grabs your hand as you’re walking off stage, tugging you to the back of the group. The part where she stops short and guides you, with a hand on your hip, into the shadow of a towering speaker. The part where she smiles at you with wide eyes, like she can’t believe that just happened.

The part where she winds her arms around your neck and leans into you with her whole body as she kisses you.

(The part where she steps back, still smiling, and takes your hand again before pulling you along to catch up with the rest of the girls.)

***

The hopeless romantic in you -- the part of you that’s been into Beca pretty much since the day you met -- says that maybe, just maybe, it means something more.

***

You were kind of hoping that Beca would be the one to bring it up. That’s why you asked her to coffee at the cafe this morning.

It’s probably wishful thinking.

After all, she did spend the better part of last semester lying about her internship because she didn’t want to deal with disappointing you. And she could barely look you in the eye a few weeks ago when she told you she broke up with Jesse.

You know that openly talking about her emotions isn’t really in Beca’s nature.

But then again, before last night you wouldn’t have thought spontaneously kissing you was in her nature, either.

***

She doesn’t bring it up.

You decide to keep quiet, at least for now. Even though that really isn’t in your nature.

Beca just means so much to you -- you have to be smart about this. The future feels too uncertain, now that you’ve finally graduated. Everyone will be moving out of the Bellas house in a few weeks, and while there are vague plans to live with Beca and Amy in New York, nothing is set in stone.

If you push Beca on this, you’re worried she might pull away. That you’d risk alienating her forever.

So you finish your matcha latte and you don’t say a word.

***

Sweden is literally across the sound from Copenhagen, but you decide to make the seven hour drive to Stockholm. Because “if we’re going to Sweden, we may as well go to Sweden,” Beca says.

You change your flights and rent a car and tell the other Bellas you’ll see at the end of the week.

You can’t stop smiling.

***

You pack your bags faster than you ever have in your life, but based on the way Beca is slouching low on the sofa in the hotel lobby when you make it down there, you can tell she still beat you by a while.

In fact, she’s been waiting for so ridiculously long (her words) that she already booked an Airbnb. She shows you the listing on her phone, talking super fast as she tells you about its location and amenities. It only takes you a few seconds to realize she’s worried you might be annoyed that she booked it without consulting you.

So you assure her it’s super cute, which it is. It’s a two bedroom in Södermalm -- a neighborhood that’s its own little island, right in the center of the city. The apartment has large windows and a bright kitchen and a small, cozy living room.

It’s one of those places that’s pretty Instagram-ready, with bold accent walls and decorative mirrors and oversized leafy plants. You’re kind of surprised she picked it, and you tell her so.

“Well it practically has your name written all over it,” she says. You beam at her, pleased by the admission that she selected it with you in mind, and she rushes to continue. “Plus, there weren’t a ton of options available to book so last minute. It was, like, the only decent one left. The owner said they had a late cancelation. We just got lucky.”

“Yeah...” You give Beca one of your trademark winks that always makes her blush. “I guess we did.”

***

“Oh my god, Becs. Are you really still pouting over the car?”

You’re stopped at a red light a few blocks from the car rental place and you know that look on her face. Her bottom lip is jutting out ever so slightly, mouth downturned at the corners. She’s sulking and it’s stupid precious.

“I’m not pouting.” She presses her lips together and adjusts her grip on the steering wheel. “I just thought when they said we were getting a BMW, it’d be something cool, like a sports car. Or at least not a bright blue death trap.”

You laugh and lean forward to test the radio stations. “I’ve kinda always wanted a Mini Cooper. And I like the color -- we’ll never lose it in a parking lot. Besides, it still managed to fit all our luggage, didn’t it?”

“All your luggage. I -- a normal person -- have just the one suitcase.”

The light turns green and Beca taps the gas a little too hard, making you fall back against the seat. You yelp, mostly for dramatic effect.

“Sorry, sorry,” she says. “These pedals are too damn sensitive.”

You smile brightly as you watch her drive, brow furrowed in concentration. “And you wanted a sports car…”

“Can it, Beale. I don’t see anyone else who can drive manual around here. I’ll turn this car around. Don’t think I won’t.”

You bite your bottom lip and go back to fiddling with the radio, knowing full well that she won’t.

***

You’d never really left the country before, aside from a French class trip to Montreal. You didn’t travel much at all until you joined the Bellas, and even then it was just long bus rides to regional competitions and, if you were lucky, a yearly trip to New York City to perform at Lincoln Center.

When you found out that the Bellas had made it to Worlds -- that you’d get to go to Denmark -- it felt like you’d won a contest. Europe had always been sort of hypothetical to you -- it was a place where history happened and where other people got to visit. You’d never even dreamed of going yourself.

So to suddenly be going to a second country in Europe is overwhelming, to say the least.

You feel downright giddy as Beca drives out of central Copenhagen, heading east. It turned out there were several radio stations playing familiar American songs, but you settled on a local Danish station instead.

It’s all so thrillingly different -- listening to unknown songs in an unfamiliar language as your best friend expertly drives a stick shift down narrow, winding streets.

Honestly, you don’t know how you got so lucky.

“Do you know this song or something?” Beca asks.

“What?”

Beca gives you a quick sideways glance, a trace of a smile on her lips.

“You’re humming,” she says. “I know your music knowledge goes deep, Chlo, but I didn’t know it went Danish pop deep.”

“Oh,” you say, giggling. “I didn’t realize. It’s just catchy, I guess. Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize. You sounded good.”

Beca smiles at you as she shifts into third gear, and you have to turn up the music to drown out the thud of your heart.

***

You decide to focus your excited and/or nervous energy on navigating. It’s the least you can do, considering you can’t drive standard.

(The fact that it keeps your mind from dwelling too much on Beca, and the kiss that you’ve yet to talk about, is an added bonus.)

You drag your finger along your phone screen, checking out the route ahead, and your eyes widen.

“Oh my god, Becs!”

“What?!” Beca takes her foot off the gas, eyes darting left and right in alarm, and you realize your mistake.

“No no, nothing bad!”

“Jesus, Chlo.” Beca takes a deep breath. “You can’t yell like that when I’m driving. Dude, we’ve talked about this.”

“I know, I know.”

“I thought there was a bunny in the road or something.”

Every so often Beca says something like this -- a tiny slip up that reveals what a softie she is deep down, under her tough facade. And this nugget -- that she considers a bunny in the road a worst case driving scenario -- is almost too much to handle.

“Aww Becs! You like bunnies? Wow, we’ve only been on the road for 20 minutes and I’m learning so much about you already.”

“I didn’t say I like them,” she says, clenching her jaw. “I’d just rather not mow one down if I can avoid it. Can’t have you crying all the way to Stockholm -- you have to tell me where to go.”

“Awwww.” You poke the side of Beca’s thigh. “I think you love them.”

She clears her throat. “Weren’t you oh-my-god-ing about something?”

“Oh, right! We’re about to cross this, like, crazy long bridge to get into Sweden. Hang on...” You turn back to your phone. “It’s the Øresund Bridge and it’s the longest bridge in Europe. Woah, it’s five miles across.”

“Holy shit. That’s long.”

“I know, right?”

Beca brings the car to a stop at another red light and turns to you. She looks a touch paler than usual.

“It’s, like, probably pretty high too…” she says.

You’re sure the information is there on your phone, but you click the button to turn off the screen. Beca would never admit to being scared of heights, but you remember how she looked when she was suspended in that bear trap and the way she grabbed your hand when the plane took off from Atlanta, and you put two and two together.

“Probably.” You shrug and reach out to squeeze her knee. “But we’ll just stay in the middle lane and won’t think about it.”

“Yeah.” Beca nods, throat working. Her eyes drop to your hand for an instant before looking away. “Yeah, okay. Good plan.”

***

You’re about a third of the way across the bridge when you notice that Beca’s smiling.

You’ve been quietly filming the crossing on your phone -- because the bridge is so cool looking and it’s a beautiful day, with the sea practically the same color as the sky -- and you adjust your hand to capture Beca in the frame.

The soft afternoon sunshine is washing over her face, bringing out all the colors of her irises. Her eyes take in the horizon, occasionally glancing up when you pass beneath a spire, and you can tell she’s as awestruck as you are.

She turns to you, and there’s a flicker in her gaze that takes you back to the night before, when she smiled at you in joyous disbelief. Right before she kissed you.

Your eyes drop to her lips. You can’t help it.

“Okay I was kinda freaked out earlier, but this is actually pretty cool,” she says. “Hey, what are you doing?”

Your mouth falls open as you stammer. “I-- Um--”

“Ugh, are you recording this?” She looks back through the windshield and you feel like you can breathe again. “You better delete the part where I say I was freaked out, Chloe. I want that stricken from the record.”

“Yes, ma’am. I promise to destroy all evidence of Beca Mitchell displaying any mortal fears. I know you have a reputation to uphold.”

Beca smirks, eyes trained on the horizon. “And don’t you forget it.”

You continue filming until you’ve crossed into Sweden -- a moment that you mark with a cheer so loud it makes Beca flinch.

Once you’re on solid ground again you go back to messing with the radio, trying to find a Swedish station and wondering how much longer you can make it without asking about the kiss.

***

Here’s what you know:

The drive from Copenhagen to Stockholm is 657 kilometers. Siri says that’s 408 miles.

It would take 7.5 hours if you drove straight through. It will take you longer, though, since you agree to stop around the halfway point.

The sun will set at 9:49 p.m. You’ll arrive in Stockholm just after dark.

In the first three hours on the road, you’ve thought about the kiss upwards of 17 times.

You still haven’t brought it up.

Not yet.

***

You’ve never been this far north.

It’s colder than back home and there are more daylight hours at this time of year, which is something you’d never really thought about before.

Actually, there are a lot of differences you’ve encountered on this trip that you weren’t expecting. Like how pharmacies are marked by green crosses, and Starbucks are hard to come by, and people look at you like you’re crazy when you smile at them on the street.

You’re noticing more differences as you drive further into Sweden. The lanes on the highway are much smaller, for example, and if Beca wasn’t such a good driver you’d be kind of freaked out by the closeness of the other cars. The cars are smaller, too, and many are made by companies you’ve never heard of -- foreign-sounding names like Peugeot and Skoda.

Almost as surprising as the differences are the similarities. The trees and the landscape look pretty much like it does back home, and the highway is dotted with gas stations and fast food joints, some familiar, some not.

It’s like you’re straddling two worlds -- known and unknown.

You look over at Beca, who’s singing along to an old Maroon 5 song, and try not to see any symbolism in your musings.

***

You and Beca have been playing the ‘top five’ game for at least a half hour.

You can’t remember if it’s a real game or if the two of you made it up. All you know is it’s been in your We’re Super Bored game rotation for years now, along with ‘would you rather’ and ‘marry, fuck, kill.’

To play, you ask the other person to name their top five of anything and then you have to say yours. You guess it isn’t really a game, exactly, but the two of you always manage to make a sport out of it.

So far you’ve covered your top five Britney songs, death row meals, 2000s music videos, and classic sitcoms (the latter of which turned out to be rather contentious when you ranked Friends higher than the Office).

It’s your turn to ask next. You’re kinda wired from all the debating and your resolve not to ask Beca about the kiss is waning, just a touch. So you decide to test the waters.

“Hmm let’s see,” you say. You lift your chin and angle yourself toward Beca. “Top five moments in Copenhagen.”

Beca gives you a sideways glance, but otherwise doesn’t give much away. You keep your eyes on her, feeling the buzz of anticipation rise in your stomach.

You’ve always loved pushing boundaries with her. Over the years you’ve learned how much is okay; there’s a fine line between what she’ll tolerate (hand holding, cheek kisses) and what she’ll run screaming from (talking about her sex life), and you’ve pretty much got it down to a science.

You hate to admit it, but you kind of love making her blush, stammer, and squirm.

She’s just so cute when she’s like that. Who can blame you?

But you know with this question, you’re broaching a-whole-new level of boundary-pushing.

But hey, she started it.

She’s the one who kissed you.

“Like, out of everything that happened since we got there?” she asks.

You bite your bottom lip as you grin. She’s stalling. “Yep! Counting down from number five, please.”

Beca sighs quietly and tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. “Okay, well five has to be when you said ‘merci’ to the taxi driver when we got to the hotel.”

You gasp in indignation. “I was trying to remember the Danish word for ‘thank you.’ I couldn’t help that the wrong one came out!”

Beca snorts, and you know if she wasn’t driving she’d be rolling her eyes. “You could’ve just said ‘thank you.’ Literally everyone speaks English here.”

“Well excuse me for trying to immerse myself in a new culture.”

“The… French culture?”

“Oh my god, Beca!” You swat her arm playfully and watch her try to hide a smile. “Whatever. Moving on. Copenhagen moment number four.”

“Alright…” Beca taps her fingers on the steering wheel as she thinks. “I’m gonna go with the shower pressure in my hotel room.”

You narrow your eyes. “Really? That’s what you’re choosing?”

“Dude. It was amazing.”

“I mean, don’t get me wrong, Becs. I, more than anyone, know how you love a good shower.” Even though she isn’t looking at you, you let your gaze rake slowly down her body. When your eyes land on her face again you notice her cheeks are pink. “But that isn’t really a moment.”

“Fine.” She sets her jaw. “The first time I took a shower in my hotel room. There, happy?”

“I guess,” you say, even though it’s not really in the spirit of the game. “But the rest better be, like, real, actual moments, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Beca taps out a rhythm on the steering wheel again, probably trying to think of something that will appease you. “Oh I know -- number three is when we all hung out in Aubrey’s room the night before the competition.”

“Awww yes!” You press your hands to your chest, eyes pricking at the memory. “That was such a fun night. I’d rank that in my top five for sure.”

You wait for Beca to warn you not to start crying (again), but she just smiles.

“I was, like, so nervous that day, especially after we rehearsed at the venue. But as soon as we were all together in our PJs, with Flo doing headstands and Legacy crying laughing from something Cynthia-Rose said, I knew we were gonna be okay.”

There’s some traffic up ahead, and Beca down-shifts as she slows the car. You take the opportunity to cover her hand on the gear stick with your own.

“I felt like that too,” you tell her.

You run your thumb across her knuckles as excited butterflies flutter in your stomach. She’s actually being vulnerable, now. This is a good sign.

Beca looks down at your hand for a few beats before her eyes return to the road. Traffic is moving, slow but steady. You don’t think Beca will need to shift again for a while, but she leaves her hand where it is, and so do you.

“Two?” you prompt.

A grin lights up her face. “That Belgian waffle we got from the street vendor in Nyhavn,” she says. “Definitely.”

“Oh my gosh, I’d forgotten about that!” You squeeze her hand in excitement. “That was soooo good. Even though you totally ate more than your allotted half.”

“Ugh, you’re still going on about that? I ate exactly 50% of that waffle and you know it, Beale.” Beca wrinkles her nose, and she looks so adorable it takes everything you’ve got not to reach across the center console and pinch her cheek. “Next time I’m gonna make you buy your own.”

You whine and make an exaggerated pouty face, hoping she can see it out of her peripheral vision. “But sharing with you is just so much more fun.”

Beca huffs. “Then maybe stop accusing me of gluttony.”

You giggle distractedly as the butterflies in your stomach start to pick up speed. There’s only one moment left, and how she addresses it is going to be very telling, one way or another.

You’re not quite sure if you’re excited or scared.

Maybe both.

You remove your hand from Beca’s and rest it on your lap. She glances at you before returning her hand to the steering wheel.

“That can only leave one thing for the top spot,” you say.

Beca nods sagely. “When that old German guy hit on you at the after party? Oh yeah, that’s number one for sure.”

You make a sort of high-pitched scoff and you must have a funny look on your face, because when Beca sees it she starts cracking up.

Traffic is at a standstill now, allowing a still-laughing Beca to turn and grin at you.

“What?” she asks, schooling her features into something close to innocence. “Is there something else that should be my top Copenhagen moment?”

You arch an eyebrow, giving her a pointed look. “I can think of a couple things, actually.”

Beca pauses, lips parting slightly, and this is the moment you’ve been after -- the one when you know for certain that you’re both thinking about the kiss at the same time.

And you know that’s what she’s thinking about. You can read Beca like a book by now. And even if you couldn’t, there’s no way you’d miss the way her gaze starts to drift down toward your mouth.

(She catches it just in time, recovering with a beleaguered eye roll.)

(But you saw it.)

“Oh,” she says, voice dripping in faux naivety. She presses her index finger to the corner of her mouth, like a thought is just occurring to her. “Did you mean winning Worlds?”

You recognize this for what it is -- Beca’s changing tack, retreating to her favorite deflection.

“Hmmm.” You nod, playing along through your disappointment. “Yeah, that might be it.”

“Right. Almost forgot about that. I guess that was pretty great, too.”

Up ahead, traffic is starting to move again. Beca smiles at you, holding eye contact for a touch longer than usual, before she shifts into first and drives on.

***

A little while later, Beca’s pulling off the highway at an exit.

You’re just about at the halfway point of your drive and you need to fill up the tank and find dinner. And while you could’ve done this at one of the many rest stops you’ve passed along the way, you decide to venture into a lakeside town.

Soon the generic scenery of the highway gives way to the bustle of a quaint little city. There are a few cars ahead of you at a roundabout, and Beca turns down the radio as she takes it all in. It makes you smile because you know she’s lowering the volume so she can see better.

It’s ridiculous and adorable and so endearing -- that music takes up so much space in Beca’s mind that it dulls her other senses.

That’s how you like to think of it, anyway.

“Where are we again?” Beca asks after she’s navigated the traffic circle (rather expertly for someone who isn’t used to them, you think).

“Jönköping,” you say slowly, no idea if you’re pronouncing it right. “It’s a town at the bottom of this super long lake.” You zoom in on the map on your phone, looking for landmarks of note.”Ooh there’s an IKEA!”

“Oh great,” Beca deadpans. “Lets go get lost in an IKEA and get in a fight and then be stuck in a car together for another three hours.”

Your cheeks warm at that comment. Isn’t the joke that couples get in fights in IKEA?

“I wasn’t saying we should go, obvs. It’s just cool! We’re, like, seeing an IKEA in its natural habitat.”

Beca laughs. “Okay, calm down. We’re not on safari -- it’s just a store selling mass produced furniture that you have to assemble yourself.”

“It’s not just a store. I read once that one in ten Europeans were conceived in an IKEA bed. Name another store that can claim that -- I’ll wait.”

Beca breathes out a long sigh, but you can tell she’s trying not to smile. “Maybe we can drive by on our way back to the highway.”

***

It’s at the gas station that you find out that Danish money (krones) is different from Swedish money (krona). And you don't have any of the latter.

Luckily the attendant tells you that there’s a currency exchange a few buildings down, and he lets you keep the car parked there while you jog down the sidewalk to sort that out.

Soon, you and Beca have a full tank of gas and wallets full of krona (though you saved a few krones as keepsakes).

You’re really getting hungry, so you direct Beca to a public parking lot down by the shore. You both groan when you get out of the car, finally able to appreciate the relief of stretching your legs in a way that you couldn’t during the frenzied currency debacle.

It’s a little breezy, but it’s warm enough that you don’t mind. You reach your arms over your head as high as you can, groaning again as you lengthen your spine.

Your t-shirt must hike up with the movement because the breeze is skating along the strip of skin above your jeans, and you close your eyes at how refreshing that feels. You link your fingers together and slowly bend to the right, then the left, shaking out the cobwebs in your muscles.

You let your arms drop and roll your shoulders a couple times before opening your eyes again. When you do, you find that Beca is staring intently at the pavement with this guilty look on her face, and you could kick yourself for not opening your eyes sooner to catch her looking at you.

You love doing that.

(You love that she does that.)

“See anything interesting?” you say anyway.

Beca levels you with one of her more ferocious glares, though its effect is diluted by the blush creeping up her neck.

“Maybe I would if you’d stop doing sun salutations so we can get a move on,” she says. “We’re burning daylight here.”

***

You’re making your way to a lakeside restaurant you saw on the map when Beca grabs your wrist.

“Chloe, look!”

You frown as you follow where she’s pointing with her other hand, which is in the exact opposite direction of the lake. Then you see it.

“Really, Beca? McDonald’s?” You put a hand on your hip. “And you thought I was bad for being excited about IKEA.”

Beca tightens her hold on you and takes a step closer, like she needs your full attention to get her point across.

“No, you don’t understand. It’s a foreign McDonald’s. They’re so much weirder and cooler than normal McDonald’s.”

You tilt your head, brow furrowing in confusion. Sure, Beca has traveled more than you -- you know her parents took her to England and France before they split up and you think she went to Madrid in high school -- but you don’t get it.

“I thought the whole point of McDonald’s is that it’s the same everywhere,” you say.

“I mean, within the same country, yeah. But other countries have their own menus with food you wouldn’t even think a McDonald’s would serve. I read that in Japan McDonald’s sells spaghetti.”

You raise your eyebrows. “When were you, like, reading Japanese McDonald's menus?”

“Look everyone procrastinates in their own way, okay?” Beca’s fingers slip down your wrist so she can take your hand. “We’ll exclusively eat authentic Swedish food when we get to Stockholm, I promise,” she says as her final plea.

You smile and shake your head like you just can’t believe her. Beca takes it for the concession that it is and grips your hand as she pulls you along.

***

And that’s how you wind up sitting on a bench with Beca on a pier somewhere in the middle of Sweden with a greasy McDonald's bag between you.

You have to admit that Beca was right -- this McDonald's was nothing like the ones you’ve been to back home. Beca ordered a ridiculously massive burger called “Big Tasty.” You ordered a six-piece McNugget meal -- your go-to -- but when you saw the pout on Beca’s face you asked for a stroopwafel McFlurry as well. (Whatever that is.)

Eating fast food on a weathered wooden bench isn’t how you envisioned spending this pit stop, but you really can’t complain. Beca’s just so happy, humming to herself as she demolishes the comically large burger. And the meal is certainly budget friendly, which is probably for the best since you’re on an impromptu trip with a dwindling bank balance.

Besides, you’d challenge any restaurant to beat this ambiance. The waves are lapping gently at the base of the pier, creating a sound that instantly puts you at ease. And the lake itself is breathtaking -- it’s a beautiful shade of grayish blue that stretches out for miles.

As you pop a fry into your mouth, it hits you that the lake reminds you of the color of Beca’s eyes.

You wonder if now is the right time to bring up the thing that you’ve wanted to bring up this whole time.

***

Beca points out that your McFlurry is melting, so you tell her you can split it since you’re still finishing your fries.

She takes a tentative bite at first, testing the new flavor, and then her mouth falls open in delight. She spoons another scoop of ice cream into her mouth and actually moans a little bit. Your chest warms as you smile at your tiny foodie.

“I don’t know how your stomach can fit any more food,” you tell her, crunching on your last fry. “I still can’t believe you ate that whole burger.”

“Dessert doesn’t count toward fullness, Chloe. Don’t you know that?”

Beca finishes her half of the ice cream (“please verify that I’ve only had 50%, as stated in our verbal agreement of five minutes ago”) and hands it over to you to finish.

You take a bite and it really is good -- crunchy and creamy and caramelly -- but the McFlurry doesn’t have your full attention. At home, at this time of day, the sky would be starting to fill with the telltale splashes of pink and orange that precede the sunset. But up here, it’s still as bright as day, and something about it is unsettling.

Or, perhaps, clarifying.

Illuminating.

“Hey, Becs?” you ask, heart rate picking up.

Beca’s sipping Coke through a straw as she gazes out at the lake. “Hmm?” she says, eyes still focused straight ahead.

“At Worlds… you know how, when we won…” You trail off, wishing she would look at you. “I mean, after we won...”

That specification does the trick, because she turns to you. You don’t recognize the expression that clouds her face, but you know you have her full attention now. She’s become very still, watching you with unblinking eyes, and you might’ve worried that time had stopped if it wasn’t for the way the breeze is playing in her hair.

There are two things that you understand in this moment. The first is that she knows exactly what you’re referring to.

And the second is that now isn’t the time to say it out loud. Not yet.

“I just…” You persevere, trying to find the words to lead you out of this in-between place. When in doubt, you’ve always found it’s best to say what you feel. You decide that’s what you should do here, too. “I really liked that,” you say, simply.

Beca looks down at her shoes for a few seconds and nods subtly to herself. Now you’re the one who feels like she can’t move. You’ve stumbled onto a tipping point, and you can’t breathe until you know which way things will fall.

When Beca looks back at you, her face is partially hidden by a curtain of her hair. You can see her eyes and the apple of her cheek and not much else.

“Yeah?” she asks.

And maybe you’re projecting, but you hear so much in that one syllable -- hesitance and fear and the faintest trace of hope. You inhale through your nose and resist the urge to reach for her.

“Yeah,” you say, quiet and sure. “I did.”

You smile at her, trying to convey everything you’re feeling; trying your best to reassure her that it’s okay, no matter what.

Beca tucks her hair behind her ear and you can see her whole face again. There’s a ghost of a smile on her lips.

“Okay.” She holds your gaze for a second before turning back to the lake. You watch as she closes her eyes and tips her face up toward the evening sun. “Noted,” she says.

***

(It’s enough for now.)

***

You finish the McFlurry, throw out your trash, and the two of you head back to the car.

Beca makes sure to drive past the IKEA on the way out of town.