When Beca tells you she’s already found a place to go for lunch, you’re a little skeptical. You’ve hardly seen her on her phone all day, aside from taking photos, so you can’t imagine when she would’ve looked something up.
“What is it, that McDonalds we passed the other day?” you tease as she leads the way from the metro station. “Or a pizza joint that you’re gonna try to pawn off as Swedish food because it’s technically made here?”
Beca tuts and shakes her head. “Ye of little faith.”
She turns left at the next corner, catching you by surprise, and the backs of your hands brush against each other. When it happens again a moment later you decide to go for it and take her hand, because you’ve basically been holding hands all day and your time here is winding down and if you don’t talk – if this thing between you fizzles out after today – you may as well enjoy it while you can.
“Can you blame me?” you ask, lacing your fingers together.
“Mmm yes. Absolutely.” She pulls you in by your hand, playful jostling her shoulder against yours. “You’ll eat your words, Beale. Just you wait.”
Your skepticism only grows as Beca leads you down a nondescript street on the outskirts of Södermalm. You’re about to ask her if she needs to pull up Google maps when she stops, arches an eyebrow, and points across the street.
Your eyes follow her finger to a restaurant that, on the outside, is so understated you almost missed it. But the sign, written in English, couldn’t be more clear: Meatballs for the People.
You gasp, then squeak, then pull her into a hug (which might have been on the aggressive side, based on the ‘oof’ she lets out against your shoulder).
“Swedish meatballs?!” You step back, still holding her by the shoulders. “And not even from IKEA?!”
She rolls her eyes but her cheeks are pink, and you can tell she’s pleased with herself.
“Yup. Told you.”
“Oh. My. God.” You widen your eyes at Beca after chewing your first bite.
“I know,” she replies, holding your gaze for a few seconds before returning her attention to the plate in front of her. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this is even better than IKEA.”
You smile to yourself as you watch her create the perfect forkful of meatball, mashed potato, and lingonberries. You drop your silverware on the table, letting it clatter for effect as you gasp.
“Do my ears deceive me?” you say when she looks up at you with a furrowed brow. “Beca Mitchell actually thinks authentic Swedish cuisine is better than the flash-frozen meatballs that have been shipped across the ocean and reheated in the cafeteria of an international furniture chain?”
“Oh my god,” Beca sighs, rolling her eyes good naturedly. “Look at you acting all cultured all of a sudden. Take a girl to Europe once…”
She shakes her head at you and you grin while trying to ignore the butterflies swirling in your stomach. You just love how she phrased that – as if she’d whisked you away on a European vacation. It feels nice.
And you guess, in a way, it’s kind of true.
“Imagine what I’ll be like on our second trip.”
You retrieve your knife and fork and focus back on your food, trying to act nonchalant even as your pulse speeds up. You can sense Beca’s eyes on you and, even though you were going for subtle, you have a feeling she’s picked up on the subtext in your statement.
Ostensibly you’re referencing one of her arguments for going on this roadtrip in the first place – that you probably wouldn’t be able to afford another transatlantic adventure for a while. But what you’re really getting at – the topic you’re trying to gently allude to – is the real reason you came here.
The real reason she asked you to come here.
“What, on your cheesy Paris trip?” she says. You risk a glance at her and notice that, while she’s smiling, overall she’s very still. “Not that I’m necessarily agreeing to that destination choice, by the way.”
“Yeah,” you say softly. “That one.”
Beca tilts her head like she’s considering you. Then she nods subtly to herself.
“I’m sure you’ll be adorably insufferable.”
Later, when you’re walking back to the flat, you consider the subtext to your subtext.
What you were truly getting at, in retrospect.
When you and Beca return on your second trip, what will you come back here as?
Who will you be to each other?
(And at what point is she going to let you know?)
You try to put these questions out of your mind as you turn your attention to packing. Beca pulls up a playlist on her phone before placing it in an empty glass on top of the dresser to amplify the sound. The two of you kneel side-by-side next to the bed and get to work organizing your disheveled suitcases.
While you move about each other in silence, it doesn’t feel as contented as it did earlier in the day. Maybe you’re just projecting your own anxiety, but it seems like Beca’s acting tense, too. There’s a briskness in her step when she goes to gather toiletries from the bathroom, a jerkiness in her fingers when she pushes her hair behind her ears.
The third time she tries and fails to zip her makeup bag closed she swears in frustration, and your anxiety is instantly replaced with compassion. As much as you want to have clarity on what may or may not be blossoming between you, you don’t want her to feel pressure to explain if she’s still not ready. You hope she hasn’t been picking up on your impatience – that it hasn’t been contributing to how she’s feeling right now.
“Here.” You slip your fingers over hers before tugging on the bag. “Let me.”
She smiles at you and allows you to ease it out of her hands. “Thanks,” she says, letting out a long breath.
She holds eye contact with you longer than you’d expect, but you just smile back. “What are friends for, right?”
Beca furrows her brow, gaze falling to her suitcase. “Yeah,” she says distractedly. “Right.”
You’re contemplating taking her hand and telling her that it’s okay – that you’re here for her, that you’ll figure it out – when she stands abruptly. Assuming she’s going to grab something she forgot in another room, you bite your lip and concentrate on getting her makeup bag to close.
Then the music shuts off.
You glance over your shoulder to see Beca placing her phone flat on the dresser. She runs her fingers through her hair before walking back over to where you’re kneeling. Instead of mirroring your position, like she had before, she sits on the floor in the space between your suitcases.
“Hey, um.” She wrings her hands, finally meeting your eyes. “Can we talk?”
You sit next to her, leaning back against the wall. There isn’t much room between you – when you turn to look at her you can just bring her features into focus – and you’re tempted, again, to reach for her hand, but you hold back. Beca’s jaw is tight and she’s looking at her shoes and you want to give her time to work through whatever mental obstacles she’s grappling with.
Your pulse races as you wait, as you try to tamp down the hopeful anticipation rising beneath your ribs. She might be about to tell you it was a mistake, for all you know.
She might be working up the nerve to let you down.
In reality it’s probably been a handful of seconds, but it feels like eons have passed by the time Beca shifts to angle herself toward you. You meet her gaze and attempt to school your features into something close to neutral as your heart hammers in your chest.
“So like… I guess I should tell you why I broke up with Jesse.”
You frown, eyebrows knitting together. Of all the things you thought she might be about to say, you never would’ve predicted that.
“What do you mean?” you ask, angling your body toward her. “You told me right after it happened – you said both of you had realized you’d grown apart. That you’d be better as friends.”
Even as you’re speaking you remember the night she told you, hovering in your bedroom doorway and barely making eye contact.
“Hah, yeah.” She laughs quietly. “While that is technically true, it’s not the whole story, strictly speaking.”
It takes effort to keep your breathing even. “Oh?”
Beca nods. “I, um. With me and him, it did start feeling like the romance side of things was gone. That we’d gone back to just being friends,” she says, suddenly concentrating on picking at a loose thread on her sleeve. “But I think part of that was because, with you…” She meets your eyes again and the world goes quiet and still as a breathless moment hangs between you. “...it was starting to feel like we could be more than just friends. And once I realized that…”
She trails off and even though you’re dying to hear the end of that sentence, it takes you a second to find your voice. “Yeah?” you finally ask.
Beca gazes at you through her lashes, smiling softly as a blush spreads across her cheeks. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
And you know it’s not actually possible, but you swear your heart briefly stops. “Really?”
“Mhm,” she says, nodding. “Really.”
She looks so sweet and bashful that you have to hold yourself back from wrapping your arms around her.
“I had no idea. At least, not then…”
“Hah, yeah. I definitely wasn’t ready to divulge any of that at the time. It was kind of a big realization, but it, like, didn’t hit me all at once. It was like a trickle-down breakthrough that I needed time to process. My brain is slow and weird like that.”
She’s fidgeting with her sleeve again so you reach out and cover her hand with yours. “I don’t think it’s weird at all,” you tell her. “I love how your brain works. I think it makes a lot of sense.”
“Thanks Chlo,” she murmurs. She turns her hand over and links your fingers together. “I did plan on talking to you about it eventually. Like, before randomly throwing myself at you. In public. With all our friends nearby.”
She grimaces but you grin, remembering how it felt when she pulled you aside and kissed you behind the speaker. You’d thought winning World’s was the happiest you could possibly feel, only for Beca to prove you wrong seconds later.
“Well I can’t say I minded.” You smooth your thumb over her knuckles. “You were- how did you put it earlier? Caught up in the moment?”
You wink and you know she catches the reference to kissing you in the train station when another blush tints her cheeks.
“Oh my god,” she says, rolling her eyes. You giggle and take the opportunity to scoot in closer, pulling her hand into your lap. “But yeah, I guess,” she continues. “And that’s kind of why I came up with the whole roadtrip idea – I didn’t want to leave without telling you how I felt, but I needed to buy myself more time.”
While you had a feeling that was the case, it still makes your stomach swoop to hear her admit it.
“So it wasn’t about the Swedish Princess Cake?” you ask, lightly nudging her with your elbow.
“I mean, it was a little about the cake.” She grins and elbows you back. “Man, that was so good.”
You gasp, feigning offense, and start to lean away only for Beca to grip your hand tighter and pull you back against her.
“Okay, dramatic much?” She laughs. “Fine, it was all about you. There, happy?” She rolls her eyes again when you nod emphatically. “Of course we now know the only problem with my whole plan of buying myself more time was that I couldn’t stop kissing you.”
You duck your head to press your lips to her shoulder. “Again, can’t say I minded.”
“I know, but still. I know you’re not a fan of ambiguity and not being upfront about how you feel, so I’m sure this has been frustrating for you.”
You can’t deny that these past few days have been trying. In some ways it feels like a small miracle that you didn’t try to broach the subject on the drive up from Copenhagen, or on the bench in Jönköping, or after your second kiss at the bar. But you could tell she wasn’t ready even before she told you she wasn’t ready, lying side by side in your shared bed.
So no, you can’t deny it, but any feelings of frustration are the furthest thing from your mind right now. Biting your tongue for a little while was a small price to pay in exchange for letting her process how she feels.
“Meh. It was only a few days,” you say, squeezing her hand. “Besides, going on this trip actually helped me to realize something, too.”
Beca’s eyebrows lift. “Really? What?”
You open your mouth only to close it again. You hadn’t totally meant to say that out loud.
“Oh, um. I don’t know if I should say…”
“Oh my god, Chloe, tell me.” She stares at you with wide, imploring eyes. “You can’t just dangle that carrot – you have to say it now.”
Your stomach twists uneasily as you hesitate. Which is weird, because you usually have no problem sharing exactly how you feel. Maybe you’re having a hard time shifting gears, now that Beca’s willing to talk.
Maybe, this time, you’re the one who’s scared.
“Chloe, come on,” she says softly. “I can’t be the only one spilling my guts, here.” Her eyes fall to your joined hands. “Whatever it is, I can take it. It’s- I’ll be okay.”
The trace of doubt in her voice gives you the courage to take the leap. Your throat is dry and your palms are sweaty and your heart rate is seriously out of control, but it doesn’t matter, because you can’t let her go another second thinking that what you realized might be something bad.
You cup her face with your free hand and stroke her cheek with your thumb. When she meets your eyes again you smile.
“I think I’m in love with you,” you tell her. Beca’s lips part as she lets out a short breath, and you know she didn’t see that coming. “I think I have been for a while,” you explain, pulse still racing. “I just didn’t let myself believe it until we got here. Until things with us started changing. It was like I couldn’t even let myself entertain the idea unless there was at least a chance…”
You trail off, hoping it sounds like that's how you intended to end the sentence. Because Beca’s still gaping at you, barely moving a muscle, and you don’t want to put anything back on her. You know this conversation has already been a lot. She’s shared so much.
You push her hair behind her ear, hoping she knows she doesn’t have to say anything back.
You’re just glad you got to tell her.
You’re about to say just that when Beca beats you to the punch.
“A chance that I’d feel the same?” she asks.
Now you’re the one who’s caught off guard. Not only is that exactly what you were going to say, but Beca didn’t hesitate to fill in the missing words. It’s hard to wrap your head around.
“Yeah,” you whisper.
Beca’s eyelids flutter. She nods shallowly, as if to herself.
“I think I do,” she whispers back.
It’s a good thing you’re already sitting because, in your peripheral vision, the room seems to swim. The only thing that’s steady is Beca. She’s surprised you so many times during your trip, but none of it – none of the kisses or confessions – compares to this.