Watch you breathe in, watch you breathing out
And some things you just can’t speak about
Beca wished she could feel the soft, short grass under her bare feet. She wished she could throw away her restrictive, shiny shoes, as black as everything else she was wearing, and walk barefoot.
She wished for a day where doing just that would have made a difference.
But, as she slowly passed sparkling white marbles and phantoms of interrupted dreams, she knew.
She knew that she couldn’t trade away this day. She had to walk and keep walking and get there and back again.
Where? For how long? What then?
None of that mattered.
Beca glanced up, and even through her black sunglasses she felt her eyes sting from the brightness of the sun right above. A nice spring day. Sunny. No clouds. A light breeze. Birds chirping. The faint scent of flowers.
She wished she was someone else. Someone to whom all that mattered.
She hated the color of this darn corridor. The thought reverberated in her mind louder than her footsteps on the plain, white tiles. Those were awful, too.
But the color on the walls; that was something else. This tacky, swampy shade of pastel green. Supposedly soothing and calming.
Beca scoffed loudly.
Who decided it had that effect? Had they asked the people who had actually walked in this fucking corridor, who had to keep coming back and walk it over and over again, who felt something heavy and cold drop to the pit of their stomachs every single time? Had the brilliant painters and interior designers asked those people how they felt about this “healing” color?
What a load of bullshit.
The softest, most familiar voice snapped Beca out of her internal scathing monologue; and if it were hoarser than normal –which was actually the norm for the past few days- she didn’t dwell on it.
And if it were more tired than normal –the old normal, the one that counted- she didn’t comment on it.
“You’re scowling. Did the corridor color offend you again?”, Chloe teased gently.
And Beca kept up the scowl, rolling her eyes and walking further into the hospital room she hadn’t even realized she’d entered. She grumbled as she set the flowering orchid she was carrying on the window seal.
And she didn’t even try to conceal her smile at her reward; Chloe’s small, quiet giggle.
She shouldn’t have gotten an orchid that day. She knew better. Why buy a potted plant that she’d have to alone carry back home soon? Why not just get a bouquet that she could have left behind to wither away, without having to pretend that she cared?
Beca took a small breath and picked her pace back up. She’d almost stopped walking, lost in the memory of a time more complicated but simpler. A time of pain and hope and realization and delusion; of life.
A pair of squirrels running around on the well maintained lawn –Why? What did it matter? To whom?- caught her eye. Absentmindedly, her gaze followed their fluid, quick movements, the way they approached each other and ran off again but not too far; coming back together over and over again. She kept watching them until they reached one of the trees and climbed up and out of view.
Even then, her eyes wouldn’t let go of that single tree and of the image of the little creatures.
Why? What did it matter?
“Beca, Beca look! Squirrels!”
The excited squeal sounded inside her head as loudly as a gunshot; echoing and lingering and sending a chill down her spine.
None of that mattered.
“Did the kids come by?” Beca asked after a moment, smile refusing to fade from her lips.
How could it?
She was looking at Chloe.
Even in a hospital bed, connected to all kinds of machines that beeped and counted, she was still… breathtaking. Her face a bit drawn and pale but her gentle features familiar and captivating; her beautiful blues sparking same as ever; her soft red hair held neatly in a side braid; her floral night gown elegantly covering her thin frame.
Her small smile still able to make that cute little dimple, the one Beca always loved to kiss, appear on her cheek.
Her best friend. Her wife. Her person.
Even after 36 years of having Chloe in her life, it still felt unreal. It still felt like the biggest blessing, like the most valuable gift.
It still felt like magic.
“You haven’t listened to a single word I just said, have you, Mitchell”.
Beca felt herself blush at the non question that had snapped her back to reality.
She rolled her eyes at herself –she was in her mid fifties for goodness sake why was she blushing- and offered Chloe a sheepish smile.
“Sorry, babe. What did you say?”
“Well you would have heard me the first time if you had managed to contain yourself for five seconds from checking me out”, Chloe replied without missing a beat, smile spreading and eyes glimmering like midnight stars.
And Beca didn’t care if their joined laughter carried down the dreadfully colored corridor, or if they got a complaint. She didn’t care if anyone thought anything of it.
She didn’t care at all.
As the sound of genuine, sweet laughter faded from her mind, the picture several feet ahead became clearer. With a small hand motion, Beca attempted to disperse the last remnants of the already drifting and receding memory.
The edges of human shaped forms dressed in black, of hard, wooden chairs neatly arranged in a few rows, of a small platform covered in green shiny cloth, of the sparkling in the abundant sunlight, intricately carved, made of light colored wood-
Beca felt her throat bob as she swallowed with some difficulty, actively forcing herself to keep walking; to keep approaching.
Point was, the edges of everything and everyone had become clearer. Sharper.
An image popped into her mind; of a worn, warm Barden hoodie, the emblem all but faded as year after year had washed over it. Pulled out of the closet every single winter to collect stains of baby food and of home cooked sweets and of late night, stay-in dates; to collect tears, to be soaked into laughter, to withstand fights, to witness dreams come true.
She always took a moment to appreciate how the light grey of it contrasted beautifully with those soft, red curls.
The sweater was soft, too. Smooth. Always smelling of lavender and home.
Now she had to struggle to even remember how it felt having something as soft and as solid to hold on to.
None of that mattered.
It was only after her dad greeted her, saying words she never heard, that she realized she had reached the small group of people. She replied with something nice; Sheila had left them not long ago after all. He could understand what she felt.
The Bellas were there, too. All of them.
She didn’t smile, but she felt the light, fleeting caress of something warm in her heart. She received their sympathetic smiles with small nods of her head.
Her eyes took a brief pause on Aubrey, face visibly drawn even behind her huge sunglasses; Stacey supporting her, an arm wrapped around her waist, a quick word of comfort whispered in her ear only for them to know.
It had been only a couple of months since she’d seen them, on Chloe’s birthday, but they both looked so much older.
No judgment. She herself felt a hundred years old today.
Amy offered a few gentle, kind of awkward pats on her shoulder. She was grateful.
Emily opted for a hug, which didn’t surprise her. There were words again, spoken quietly by her ear, but she didn’t catch them. Thankfully the hug was short; after a pat on her back, her other arm hanging loosely by her side, Emily understood and let her go.
Emily’s hugs –those of a best friend she hadn’t looked for but she had found all the same through their many years working together in the industry- had become warm and welcome and calming.
But not today.
Beca felt a strong arm wrap around her shoulders, a warm palm squeezing her arm gently, and she let out a small breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding. Looking up, she met her son’s clear blues.
He had gotten Chloe’s eyes. Color and warmth and care and all.
He didn’t say anything. She only felt another gentle squeeze to her shoulder, and she reached for his hand. Squeezing back.
“I just walked by his room. He’s listening to his music and brooding”.
“He’s a teenager, Chlo”.
“He’s so much like you it’s not even funny. Did you accidentally get me pregnant in my sleep?”
“I’ll take that as a compliment”.
Even now, almost a decade later, Oliver remained as serious and as collected – grumpy, Beca would teasingly call him- as ever.
This hug she did return. Wrapping her arms immediately around her daughter, instinctively tightening them around her small frame.
“I can’t believe she’s gone”.
Beca ran her hand up and down her back slowly, a slight tremble to it. Or maybe that was Sophie, in her silent tears that Beca could feel on the skin of her shoulder and in her heart.
“Graduation is in two months”.
She heard how Sophie’s voice cracked on the last word. She heard her wish. She heard the emptiness hope had left behind when it fled.
She shushed her quietly, softly, just like when she was a baby. She would sway her too, if she could.
But her body felt frozen in place, unwilling to bend and twist any more. Unwilling to lose another inch of solid footing.
Which shouldn’t have mattered, really.
In her immobility she was already free falling anyway.
“Yes”, Chloe finally said after their laughter had died down, “they both came by earlier. You barely missed Sophie”.
A small, involuntary sigh escaped Beca’s lips.
Crossing the room, she took a seat on the single chair by Chloe’s bed.
It wasn’t even a conscious thought at this point to reach for her hand; to interlace their fingers; to hold on.
How do you hold onto quicksand?
“She wants me to go to her college graduation”, she barely heard Chloe breath after a few seconds had ticked by.
They kept doing that.
How do you stop time?
Blue meeting blue. Clasped hands tightening their grip.
“I told her-” Chloe took a small breath.
“I told her I’d try”.
Beca opened her mouth again; ready to say more words, ready to remind Chloe, to correct, to point out, to…
None of that mattered.
She could see it in the moisture in Chloe’s eyes, in the small tilt of her head, in her secret smile that wasn’t reaching her eyes.
Carefully bringing her hand to her lips, she pressed a soft, lingering kiss to the back of it.
Once upon a time she’d call it blind hope. Naivety.
It wasn’t any of that when everyone knew better anyway.
And Chloe… Chloe had always been comfort.
How do you turn back time?
She heard Chloe clear her throat, and she looked up again.
“Remember dinner last week? Oliver said his girlfriend liked you more than me”, Chloe deadpanned, her smile barely hidden behind the most adorable pout.
Beca chuckled; and if it was a little wet and a little shaky, Chloe didn’t comment on it.
“Yes. Knowing both of us, that sounds legit, babe”.
Words. More words.
The priest had a lot of them to say.
Aubrey had some, as did Emily.
She couldn’t listen; it was physically impossible as she held Oliver’s hand in her right one and Sophie’s hand in her left. She had no more than that in her.
She was sure they were nice words, all of them.
They were about Chloe, after all.
She had to let go of Oliver’s hand when he got up to say a few words himself. She tightened her grip on Sophie’s hand.
She tightened her grip on her own self.
Beca took in his gentle features for a second; she had been so afraid to have him, to have kids at all. And then he came into her life, hers and Chloe’s, and took it by storm. The perfect blend of Chloe and herself.
“I remember how on my first day of school, I was pretty nervous, you know? It was something new, and unknown, and I felt too small for something so big. Mama-”
Beca heard the almost inaudible tremor in his voice; she watched her son take a breath, and she took one along with him.
“Mama was so restless that day. She was bubblier than she usually was, breezing through the kitchen as she made breakfast and coffee, breezing through the living room to needlessly rearrange the throw pillows on the couch and the snow globes on the mantel, breezing through washing the dishes after we were done… She was more nervous than me, and barely less excited than me. Which, if you knew her, wasn’t at all out of the ordinary”.
Beca heard people chuckle quietly all around, and it brought a small smile on her lips as she stared proudly at their son.
Chloe would approve. Chloe would like this.
Some levity. Good memories.
“She wanted to prepare me lunch. I strongly insisted she didn’t. She wanted to drive me there. I strongly insisted she didn’t. I carried the lunch she had prepared for me as she drove me to school”.
A few droplets of warmth seeping through the cracks.
“We reached the school, and I immediately asked her not to get out of the car, not to make a scene. She said that that’s nonsense and that every first day of school should start with a good hug. I strongly insisted that she didn’t”.
Beca chuckled herself now, along with everyone else. She knew where the story was going.
“She hugged me more tightly than ever before that day. My first day of school. My first day of university”, Oliver finally explained, and Beca nodded; still smiling. Still proud. “And I carried all the strength she poured into me with that hug, I carried it with me the entire day along the huge campus and the unfamiliar classrooms and the droves of new people. I carried it with me and it made everything better”.
Silence had fallen, but Beca didn’t mind. She was looking at her son and he was looking back at her, and she nodded again.
“That’s what mama did”, Oliver continued. “She always made everything better. She knew what you needed, she cared and she showed it. She was always there, no questions asked or objections granted. She made the world better and brighter and I’ll always carry that hug, and everything else that she was, along with me”.
Beca closed her eyes as the speech came to an end. She kept them closed until she felt her son’s hand in hers once more. Only then she opened them, but she didn’t meet his.
She just squeezed his hand; steadily. Putting every word she couldn’t say, every emotion she couldn’t share, into that small action.
She didn’t even have to hear him quietly clearing his throat to know about his tears.
She only wished she could cry, too.
The seconds ticked by, counted mercilessly by the steady beeping of the machines; the minutes ran like water, chasing the hours of the day away.
Before Beca knew it, night was falling.
The light was slowly fading inside one of the hundreds of rooms in the hospital. Inside one of the thousands of rooms in the city.
But no other room mattered.
Beca had watched the light slowly drain away as time fled.
The doctors had been clear about that. It’s why the kids had come by. It’s why she hadn’t left Chloe’s side to even eat, despite her objections.
They all knew.
She didn’t stop the soft circles she had been rubbing on the back of Chloe’s hand for the past however much time. She didn’t say anything either; only kept eye contact and waited for Chloe to continue.
“Can you turn on the lamp, please? I want to be able to see you”.
A small nod and a couple of seconds later the bedside lamp faintly illuminated the small space.
Blue met blue again.
And Beca traced Chloe’s features with her eyes, as gently as a feather would; she caressed the lines and the dips and the freckles.
Every last inch.
Because the beeping was slowing down.
“Hey”, Chloe called to her, voice barely above a whisper.
Grounding her, just like always.
What would she do when-
“I’m here”, Beca breathed hoarsely, ignoring the moisture trickling down her cheeks. She smiled, ignoring the ache that kept expanding inside her chest and the lump that was forming in her throat.
She would be mad at herself for crying if she had the strength to be concerned about that.
“This is not a goodbye”, Chloe said; eyes sparkling as bright as ever despite everything. “This is just a see you later”.
And Beca knew, deep into her very soul, how foolish it was believing those words. Finding comfort in them. Grasping onto them like a person drowning would on a wooden plank in the middle of a stormy, endless ocean.
She watched Chloe’s eyes flutter, just like they did every time sleep was starting to pull her under.
And just like every other time, Beca leaned over; pressing a soft kiss to Chloe’s forehead and another, lingering one, to her lips.
“Wait for me”, she managed to get the words out somehow.
The light was fading but Chloe’s grip on her hand tightened for a moment. Her smile, still present, washed over Beca like summer waves meeting their favorite shore for the last time before fall came.
“You know I will. But you better be late, my love”.
Crystal blues shut and tucked away.
The beeping of the machines fading into monotonous, continuous background noise.
A limp, warm hand held in her own.
Tears blinked back.
Still breathing. Still living. Still there.
Even though it didn’t feel like it.
There was an echo in her ears of that continuous mechanic sound, haunting in its insistence, as all the words finally ceased; as people stood and gathered, her going through the motions along with them; as the sparkling in the abundant sunlight, intricately carved, made of light colored wood casket was lowered into the warm earth; as she, too, threw on top of it a white lily someone had handed to her; as people started walking away, soft pats to her shoulder, her children on her side.
As she watched her heart being covered in more and more dirt with every unforgiving motion of the shovel.
She held her daughter as she cried.
She held her son as he tried not to.
She held herself, because she was the only one left to do it.
A soft kiss to her daughter’s hair. A soft kiss to her son’s cheek.
Motioning them away gently when they insisted on taking her along in the car.
She had driven herself here. She would do the same on the way back. Alone.
She watched them walk away together, Oliver’s arm around Sophie’s shoulders.
Her eyes back on the small mound of earth.
There were so many words she wanted to say. So many she had believed she’d have the time to.
None of that mattered now.
Her bottom lip trembled but no tears came.
It felt wrong, turning her back and walking away.
The whole way back, over well maintained lawn and through rows of shining white marbles, that sunny spring day, she kept thinking how ironic it was that time had chosen now to halt.
Now that none of that mattered.
When the sun goes down
The sight that flashed before me was your face
She could hear scratching on the front door of the house as soon as she stepped out of her car. Any other day, she’d rush to unlock the door and gently berate the impatient animal. They’d taught her not to do that.
Beca walked slowly along the cobblestone path and up the three short steps. Once on the deck, it was barely a few seconds before she was opening the door.
“Why is there a puppy running around in our backyard?”
“She needed a place to stay after her surgery, until she was ready for adoption. It’s only for a few days, I promise”.
“Babe, what have we said about bringing home animals from the shelter?”
“I know, I know. But look at her, isn’t she the cutest thing? How could someone abandon such an adorable little soul?”
“You’ve already given her a name haven’t you?”
With the quickness of someone who had done this countless times before, she prevented the excitable dog from jumping on her.
“Easy now, Pepper, easy”.
Pushing the front door closed, she patted the English setter’s head gently and scratched the back of her neck.
“You didn’t like being alone all day, did you?”
A small whine and a wildly wagging tail was her answer, and Beca ruffled the soft fur on the dog’s back.
“Let me get out of these clothes and I’ll fetch your dinner, okay?”
She had gotten used to hearing the distinctive sound of paws on the hardwood floors following her around; so when she didn’t after a few steps, she turned back to see why that was.
Pepper – “Isn’t it a fitting name? She has black specks all over!”- was standing at the same spot as before, looking expectantly at the door.
Beca watched her for a moment; how she was still wagging her tail excitedly, barely able to stand still. She watched her sniff the air, a small bark breaking the silence. The dog turned its head, glancing at her quickly, before returning her attention to the door.
The front door of their home that Chloe had insisted they painted red, on both sides.
“Pepper”, Beca beckoned softly. This time, she did hear her paws on the floor, until she was standing right next to her; those gentle chocolate eyes looking questioningly up, right into hers. As if she wanted an answer. As if she’d understand.
Chloe always said that she did.
“She’s not coming back”, Beca breathed quietly. “Come along, girl”.
This time, once she turned back around and started walking towards the bedroom, she could hear paws following her.
She wished they weren’t. She wished she could have said something different.
The lukewarm water felt nice as it poured over her hands. Beca watched it run absentmindedly as she rinsed her dish after dinner.
Maybe she should have turned on a light. The sun was starting to get low.
She could have used the dishwasher, but it had seemed ridiculous. One dish, a fork, couple of pots, a water glass.
She could manage.
One by one, she washed and rinsed everything before carefully placing them at their proper place after drying them with a clean towel. Her glass was the last one. Its place was the cupboard right above her head. That’s where she placed it.
Everything in order.
She was in the process of closing the cupboard when, in a split second, her eyes fell on a pair of mugs that sat in front of all the rest. Side by side. Always there, year round.
Dark blue, with silver spots –stars or snowflakes she never knew- sprinkled all over them, a snowman with a Christmas hat and a rainbow scarf on one side of each mug, Merry Christmas written in candy cane colors on the other.
The only difference was, one snowman was singing, the other was snoozing.
Without even thinking, she slowly reached for the former.
Beca stepped back and observed the sparkling Christmas tree proudly. Chloe had left her to finish up as she prepared their customary hot chocolate.
It had taken them the better part of the day to set everything up, to put on the lights and then hang all the ornaments in a satisfactory way, but they had done it.
Beca had crossed her fingers before switching on the lights, but she shouldn’t have worried. They worked perfectly, and her cheeks were starting to hurt by how big she was smiling now, staring at the result of all their hard work happily.
Chloe would absolutely love it.
“Chlo! Chlo, come here!”
A short moment later, she heard hurried footsteps approaching and she turned to look just in time to see Chloe appear around the corner; her smile only growing at how her favorite face lit up with pure joy as soon as she took in the sight in front of her.
“Oh my God, it looks so pretty”, Chloe uttered in wonderment.
“Yes it does”, she nodded; immediately making grabby hands towards the mugs Chloe was holding. Her melodious giggle was music to Beca’s ears.
“What”, Beca whined. “I want my payment for all the blood, sweat, and tears I poured into this work of art”.
Chloe’s affectionate eye roll made her heart skip a beat, and she was sure she was smiling like an idiot as she accepted the steaming mug she was offered.
“There you go. Be careful, it’s-”
Beca winced at the burn on her tongue.
“-hot”, Chloe finished her sentence, and Beca pretended to glare at how she was trying –and failing- to hold back her giggles.
“I just got injured and you’re laughing at my misery”.
It’s a true wonder, how full a house can feel when there’s laughter floating around and sparkling blue eyes that illuminate every distant corner of it.
“So how do you like the new mugs?” Chloe asked, remnants of her laughter still in her voice.
That was when Beca noticed, finally, what exactly was in her hand.
“Aren’t they adorable?!”
“You got us Christmas mugs”.
“You got us”, Beca looked at the mug Chloe was holding, “matching Christmas mugs”.
“Yes! I wanted to find ones with reindeers on them, but oh well. These were the next best option, and look at the snowmen!”
A beat of silence, and then-
“Why is mine snoozing and yours isn’t?”
“Because mine is singing!”
“Are you insinuating something, Chlo?”
“Of course not, Bec! And look, look at their scarfs!”
“Did you really get us matching, gay Christmas mugs”.
“Well, if you haven’t noticed”, Chloe started saying, wrapping her arm around Beca’s waist and pulling her gently to her, “we’re pretty gay, babe”.
Beca burst into laughter, not even caring if some of the hot chocolate spilled on the floor; especially when Chloe pressed a soft, lingering kiss to her lips, both smiling into it.
She didn’t care one bit.
It was as if in slow motion, how the images of times past flashed before her eyes. It was also in slow motion how she first felt, and then watched, the mug with the happily singing snowman, silver white specks all around it, slip from her hands and head towards the floor.
The contact with the hard surface too severe. Too loud.
Ceramic colliding with hardwood; bigger and smaller pieces of the weaker material, so many of them, blasted at every direction.
So many of them. So loud.
It was the sound that brought time back to its proper speed; that had her gasp as a trembling hand shakily covered her mouth, eyes flying over each and every one of the disjointed pieces spread disorderly at her feet.
Rooted to the spot.
Until the sound of a loud bark and running paws drew her gaze away and towards the kitchen entrance. Just in time, too.
“No, Pepper, stop! Stop!” she ordered loudly, her hand extended towards the dog that, thankfully, came to a screeching halt just outside –as far as she could see- of the perimeter the broken pieces had created.
Heart pounding inside her chest, she breathed a sigh of relief; until she saw how Pepper was looking at her.
Head and ears hung low, apprehensive eyes, her tail tucked by her side… An all too familiar stinging at the back of her own eyes.
“I’m sorry”, she whispered, tone more apologetic than the words themselves could ever be. “I’m sorry, girl”.
She felt out of kilter as she watched Pepper trudge away, as her eyes lingered at the now empty kitchen entrance before returning to the broken pieces laying at her feet.
“Jesus, Beca, what happened?!”
“I- I was emptying the dishwasher-”
“Are you okay? Are you hurt?”
“No, I’m fine, I’m okay. But-”
“Hush don’t worry about it, baby. Go fetch me the broom and the dustpan, will you? And make sure Oliver doesn’t crawl in here until I’ve tidied up, okay?”
“I- Okay, yes, I can do that”.
“It’s okay, Bec. Just a broken dish. No big deal”.
The ghost of a gentle kiss to her cheek; the ghost of a time when it didn’t feel like pieces had been ripped out from her heart and thrown at her feet as haphazardly as the pieces of the shattered mug.
None of that mattered.
A violent shiver ran down her spine, and she looked around the big, empty space. Searching. Hoping.
Should she throw the pieces away? Keep them and try to fix the mug? Who would keep an eye on Pepper until she retrieved the broom and got back in the kitchen? Did she even need a broom? Would it be better to just use the vacuum?
And she stood there, lost for a moment in her own questions. Forgetting that she wouldn’t get an answer –ever again.
How could that even be possible? She always got an answer, a helping hand, a soothing caress. A gentle word.
She had been promised that ‘always’ and she had promised it back.
They had both promised.
So this… This shouldn’t-
Careful not to step on any pieces, Beca turned on the light and retrieved a plastic container from a cupboard. Gripping it steadily, she crouched down and started collecting every broken and disjointed piece from the floor one by one.
The mugs were a set. She could fix this.
And I can go anywhere I want
Anywhere I want, just not home
Beca walked along the designated path, passing row after row of chairs on either side of her. She kept her head held high, but her eyes straight ahead.
She wasn’t interested in accidentally catching the eye someone she knew, only to then have to go over and engage in mind-numbing, pointless small talk. Her peripheral vision was swarmed by crowds of people, however. Parents and grandparents and other family members, friends and even little kids.
College graduations were a big deal.
She just wished it was quieter.
Ahead of her the stage, professors strewn about all over it in small groups.
And then there were the hundreds of students, dressed in their dark green robes; smiling and laughing and talking as they moved towards the front rows of chairs to take their seats.
Barden was, as always, full of life. Full of people.
Standing on the house stairs, impatiently waiting for everyone to gather around so they could get this over with. Someone yelling at Amy that they’d take the picture with or without her. A beaming, radiant in her happiness Chloe coming to stand right next to her, her own heart speeding up at her mere proximity. Silently chastising herself for it, scowling unamusedly in the process.
The flash of a camera.
Full of memories.
“Mum! Mum, over here!”
Beca clenched her fists for a moment, her short nails digging into her palms painfully, as she moved towards a smiling Oliver.
He kissed her on the cheek and she did her best to offer him a smile, before settling her handbag on the empty seat right next to her.
The ceremony was long and it passed quickly. Name after name being called, student after student walking across the stage to receive their diploma and the well deserved congratulations for their achievement.
“Why are you smiling to yourself?”
“I was thinking…”
Beca wrapped her arms gently around her wife from behind; her palms coming to rest over Chloe’s on her growing belly. Both standing at the door of their finally finished nursery, slowly swaying in place.
She felt Chloe sigh quietly.
“Now that we know that it’s a girl, can you imagine if when she grows up she decides to go to Barden and-”
“Of course your mind would go there”, Beca chuckled.
“We could have a legacy of our own, Bec!” Chloe said excitedly. “I’m gonna be the proudest aca-mama at her graduation!”
Sophie’s name being called had Beca on her feet in an instant, not caring if she drew people’s attention. She clapped and cheered and smiled as her daughter walked the stage; as she received her diploma; as she shook the hands of her professors; as she walked back down.
Only then Beca sat down again. Only then she turned, still smiling, to the chair next to her. Like she always had done.
In times past, she would have found there the warmest smile and the most beautiful blues; she would have received a soft kiss; she would feel her hand being encompassed in another.
She took a quick glance at her black handbag before averting her eyes; smile frozen on her lips and a bitter taste in her mouth.
She was a fucking fool.
After the ceremony was over Sophie rushed to them and threw herself in her arms. Still talking a mile a minute, still smiling, still buzzing with excitement and happiness and dreams.
So Beca held her close, tightening her arms around her daughter.
A moment of quiet.
“I wish mama could be here”.
Even the noise of the crowd falling away.
“I know. I know”.
“I’m sorry I missed Sophie’s graduation”.
Beca offered Emily a steaming cup of coffee, settling her own right across from her on the kitchen aisle.
“I would have flown out yesterday, but Theo insisted on one last rerecording before we wrapped up. My last album has to be perfect and all that”.
“No worries, Em”, Beca reassured, opening the cupboard and getting a plate.
“How was it?”
“Loud. Crowded. Fun”.
She heard Emily chuckle as she tore open a couple of cookie packets.
“I bet Sophie was ecstatic! I remember back at my own graduation- Boy, was that a day! And when you all graduated! My hands were hurting afterwards from all the clapping and my voice was hoarse from all the yelling!”
Beca took a small breath, emptying the first packet on the plate.
“I still have that picture, of you guys’ graduation, framed”, Emily laughed. “Benji likes to tease me about how I took longer to put up a picture from our wedding than I did with that one. But what a day that was… And then Worlds right after!”
Beca threw the second batch of cookies on the plate, a couple of them splitting in two. She paid them little attention.
She could hear giggling as she turned the bathroom light off; curiously, she padded along the hallway and entered their bedroom, only to find Chloe in bed; sitting back against the headboard and holding her cell to her ear.
A questioning look and another giggle later, Chloe put her phone on speaker.
“-get me wrong, I’m so happy for Sophie and you guys; this is the best news ever!” Beca immediately recognized Emily’s voice as she climbed into bed. “But I have grown attached to my title, okay? It’s been mine for so many years, and now! Now I have to share it!”
Beca chuckled loudly as she settled comfortably in bed, which only made Chloe’s giggles come back in full force.
“If not lose it entirely! This will take me years to get over; years!” Emily concluded her performance before bursting into happy laughter.
“I called to tell her because I knew this would happen; she never disappoints”, Chloe whispered amidst her giggles, bumping their shoulders conspiratorially.
And Beca was left laughing and affectionately rolling her eyes, all the while wondering how she had gotten this lucky.
“I was the Legacy and now Sophie is a full-fledged Legacy too!” Emily’s excitable rambling pulled Beca away from warm bed sheets and even warmer laughter, and landed her harshly back in her kitchen. “She was before, too, obviously; but now that she graduated it’s just-”
“Okay!” Beca exclaimed, harsher than she had intended.
A charged silence fell around them as she placed the plate in front of Emily with a loud clank, a few cookie crumbs landing on the kitchen aisle.
She had been meaning to take a seat but now she wasn’t so sure. There was the sound of static in her ears; a monotonous, continuous sound that made a shiver run down her spine. There was a hue as red as her hair and as blue as her eyes that she kept seeing, that kept covering everything at the edges of her vision.
There was something as cold as the snow she loved so much and as sharp as the thought of lonely steps in a quiet corridor painted pastel green, that was coursing through her body.
“Beca, I’m sorry if-”
“You didn’t do anything wrong”.
Everything was wrong.
Everything had unnaturally tilted on its axis, and she had been left behind to deal with it. She had been shoved into this and was expected to deal with it.
Things happen. Life goes on. Nothing anyone could do.
Except, she had been promised more than that. She had been promised a whole life –not half of one. She had been promised gray hair and walking canes and- she had been promised fucking more.
Chloe had promised.
And she had believed her.
Beca inhaled deeply, a shaky hand flying to her chest; her heart beating wildly under her palm. Another deep, loud inhale.
There simply wasn’t enough air. The room, the house, this city –her life- weren’t big enough to hold enough oxygen for it to fill her lungs all the way down to that dark, empty space that had been left behind when half her heart had been cut out and thrown in the dirt.
Just like her. She had been left behind.
Chloe had fucking promised.
“Beca? Beca, are you okay?”
Her eyes drifted all around her; Emily’s worried face, the cupboards Chloe had picked, the glass doors that led to the backyard Chloe had wanted, the table where their family of four ate dinner…
The plate of cookies crashed into the opposite wall but no sound reached her ears.
“How could she do this?! So many years and she just threw everything in the fucking trash! She gave up! She fucking- She gave up and moved on and she didn’t even consider what she was leaving behind!”
“Beca, Chloe didn’t-”
“She fucking did! She- I don’t know how to exist without her, I-”
Her voice was dropping in volume with every word she was speaking.
She felt her anger, burning and bitter, drain out of her as quickly as a frightened bird took flight. It was as if it had swallowed her whole, only to spit her empty shell back out.
Emily was on her feet and by her side in a flash as she felt her legs giving out slowly; she slid to the floor, the aisle behind her and gentle grips on her arms slowing her descent.
“I look for her everywhere; everyday. And she’s not here. She had always been here”. A small pause. “I’m so tired of looking”. No more than a whisper. “She was the one place where I always belonged; and now… now?”
Beca met Emily’s gentle browns; she searched their depths for an answer she knew her friend couldn’t possibly have.
“How could she do this? How could she leave?” the whispered question fell from her lips shakily.
“It’s barely been two months. You gotta give yourself more time”.
“Time”, Beca chuckled humorlessly.
She let her head fall back against the kitchen aisle. She swallowed with difficulty, her throat suddenly dry.
Blue and red hues dancing in her peripheral vision.
“Time won’t bring her back”.
I thought I saw you at the bus stop, I didn’t though
But we were something, don’t you think so?
A minor enhancement of the bassline… A few tweaks to the clarity of the electric guitar… Slightly upping the reverberation of the violins in the background…
She pressed the play button and leaned back on her desk chair, folding her hands on her lap and concentrating on picking up anything that required further adjustment.
A sudden flash of light had her eyes drifting from her screen to the window. The city lights were illuminating the night anyway, but a few seconds later the rumbling of not so distant thunder reached her ears even through her headphones.
Beca took a sip of her coffee absentmindedly, making a mental note to get some more once she was done with the track. Or maybe she should start heading home.
A storm was coming and it was- she glanced at the clock above her office door- a quarter to eight.
The music picking up, signaling the chorus, drew her attention back to the task at hand. She had work to do.
She’d leave when she was done.
Something in the music composition as the chorus gave way to the second verse didn’t sit right with her, and she was ready to replay the last few seconds when another flash of light in her peripheral vision sliced through her train of thought.
Her eyes remained trained on her screen but she wasn’t really looking at it; eyes unfocused, mind violently pulled away as the strike of lightning echoed loudly inside her head.
Intertwining present and past into one.
Beca blinked her eyes open, feeling the mattress shift under her. It was still pitch black outside the bedroom window, which meant it was nowhere near the time either of them had to get up.
A bit confused, she rolled over and found Chloe looking back at her; lightning illuminating the apologetic expression on her face before she gave an almost imperceptible jump in time with the distant roll of thunder.
It had Beca smiling sympathetically up at her.
“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to wake you up”, Chloe said quietly.
“I went to check on the kids, make sure they weren’t scared”.
Chloe rolled her eyes in a way that reminded Beca so much of her own self she had to resist chuckling.
“They’re sleeping perfectly peacefully”.
This time, Beca did chuckle; her smile growing bigger at the pout on Chloe’s face and at the adorable way in which she crossed her arms.
“Would you like for them not to?” she teased, avoiding Chloe’s hand when it reached to swat at her.
“Of course not!”
Another thunder, another small jump; with Chloe pulling the covers a bit higher over herself. Only a few seconds passed before Beca could hear rain pelting down against the glass of the window.
With a small yawn, she shuffled closer to Chloe and reached for her hand; giving it a little squeeze.
“I’m not scared”, was the immediate reply, and Beca gave a small nod.
“I know, baby. Now come here, I want my snuggles”.
Chloe’s small giggle and the way she burrowed into her side, both resting their heads on the same pillow, made her heart flutter.
“Beca Mitchell demanding snuggles? Now that’s prime blackmail material”.
“No one will believe you, you’ve got no witnesses”, Beca retorted, wrapping her arms around the warm body next to her and pressing a soft kiss to her forehead.
She felt Chloe sigh peacefully beside her, her arm draping over her waist, and she allowed her eyes to drift closed; letting the rhythmic sound of the rain, the faint scent of Chloe’s lavender perfume, and her even, peaceful breathing to lull her back to sleep.
The loud crash of thunder had the glass of her window shaking inside its frame and pulled Beca back to the present abruptly; she could still hear the heavy rain as she glanced around her quiet, empty office.
No. It had actually started raining; the water against her window looking as if someone was throwing buckets of it.
Beca drained the last of her coffee and threw the empty paper cup in the trash, over the half full container of the chicken salad she’d had for lunch. She should probably order something when she got home.
Images of a half empty spaghetti pack and two withering tomatoes resting against each other in her fridge popped into her mind. Maybe she should do a grocery run during the weekend.
If only she’d taken Sophie’s offer in helping her set up an account so she could order things at home the month before. If only she’d taken Oliver’s offer in driving her to the grocery store and helping her with the bags; any one of his offers for the past couple of months. She could do those things herself.
If only she could just call them and say that she needed some help with-
Beca rested her head back against her chair and rubbed her eyes slowly, until bright spots started appearing on the back of her closed eyelids. A long sigh fell from her lips, and she felt as if the last remnants of her strength escaped from her just like the air from her lungs had just done.
Out of reach.
Just like everything else she’d tried to hold close.
Her arms felt heavy as she took her headphones off. With a quick glance to her screen, she pressed the send button; submitting the track for final evaluation. A technicality, really. Theo and her co-owned the label after all.
The track was done and she had nothing else on her calendar for now. She shut her computer off; staring at the black screen in front of her for a long moment. Nothing more for her to do.
Everyone had said that to her at various points since the funeral. That that’s how those tragic things worked; out of human control, out of solutions, out of-
If only they’d caught it earlier, like the first time. If only there had been signs, if only she hadn’t gotten too comfortable, felt too safe.
If only she had insisted on more checkups, on further treatment, on not fucking giving up.
If only Chloe hadn’t given up.
“It’s not giving up, my love. It’s accepting that things are happening; it’s wanting no more needles and throwing up from chemo and being unable to even go to the bathroom by myself. It’s keeping some- some of my dignity, and peace, and being myself until… We can’t stop this so I just want to be myself, and with you, until then”.
How could she have accepted that? How could she have given up on Chloe?
A little flame of anger flickered inside her, only to fizzle out almost immediately.
Beca tightened her cardigan around herself.
If only she’d insisted. Chloe was tired, she understood that, but she could have made a better argument. Not given up. She could have made a better case for them to keep trying, she could have kept hope and passed some of that on to Chloe, like she had done for Beca so many times before.
So many times; and how had she repaid her?
None of that mattered now.
But if only she-
Three knocks on her door interrupted her racing thoughts, and she glanced at the clock. A quarter to nine.
Beca stared at Theo with a slightly confused, she had to assume, expression on her face as he walked in and took a seat in one of the armchairs in front of her desk.
The silence that fell was a bit unnerving, and she was too tired for any of that.
“You’re here late”, she pointed out flatly.
“I’m actually on my way out, but I thought I’d stop by before you left. I saw you just sent me the new track”.
“Did you listen to it?”
Theo sighed and scratched his beard in the same way he always did when trying to talk about something he didn’t really feel comfortable with. She had seen it only one too many times through the years.
“Was there something wrong with it?”
“I want you to take some time off”.
Beca sat up on her chair, her eyes pinning Theo to the spot. She opened her mouth to speak but she was cut off before she could utter a single word.
“This can’t continue, Beca”.
“What are you even talking-”
“You haven’t left this office earlier than eight at night, not ever since- You finish tracks weeks before you’re supposed to, you handle meetings yourself that you could easily pass on to someone else, you even took on interviewing people for the receptionist position, you-”
“Are you actually lecturing me for doing my job too well?”
“No, I’m lecturing you for doing things far and beyond your job without you needing to. I’m lecturing you for- Look at yourself”.
“You’ve lost weight, there are dark circles under your eyes, you’ve been looking paler each day-”
“I’m handling things perfectly well, considering”.
“I worry, okay? Your kids worry, and Emily worries-”
“Stop”, Beca barked, standing up abruptly. “How dare you talk to me about how my kids feel? How dare you come in here and lecture me about anything in the first place? What gives you the right?”
“We’ve been colleagues and friends for years”, Theo said, his voice nowhere near the volume hers had gotten to. “Emily stopped by after she came back from L.A. She asked me to keep an eye on you, because-”
“Because she likes to meddle in things that don’t concern her! Just like you!”
“Because she cares. And because so do I. I’ve observed you for the past six months, and enough is enough. I want you to take some time off. As much as you need”.
“I don’t need time off, I’m perfectly capable-”
“You’ve messed up simple things in the past four tracks you’ve sent over”.
Him slapping her wouldn’t have done a better job at knocking the wind –and the fight- out of her; Beca slowly sat back down, her eyes searching his.
He wasn’t lying.
She kept watching as he was the one to stand up now, awkwardly straightening his suit.
She wanted to be mad; she wanted to keep shouting; she wanted to keep fighting, to keep insisting, to prove that…
His gentle eyes were burning right through her.
“Beca this isn’t even about the job. We’ve been friends for how many years now?” A short pause. “Just take some time off; please”. Beca saw him hesitating. “She wouldn’t want you to-”
Beca raised her hand in a motion for him to stop; he did right away, looking guilty.
They both knew that that one had been a low blow.
Beca also knew that he did care.
Her hand fell heavily on her desk. A small inhale.
“I’ll take some time. A couple of weeks. Maybe more”.
“There’s no rush”, he reassured quietly.
Exchanged nods. The door closing quietly behind him. Heavy rain against the window.
Lavender permitting the air faintly.
Beca had to agree. There was no rush anymore.
The sun had risen only a couple of hours ago by the time she was ringing the doorbell to the all too familiar house, a quiet Pepper by her side. Beca instinctively tightened her fingers around the leash as the door opened.
“Morning”, she nodded to a softly smiling Aubrey, all dressed and ready for the day. Some things never changed.
“I’m sorry to be bothering you so early”.
“Nonsense”, Aubrey dismissed her with a motion of her hand, her eyes drifting to the third member of their small group who was wagging her tail at her happily. “Hi, pretty girl. Ready for some wild times with your cousins?”
A small bark and many quick, even more excited tail wags later, she had unhooked her collar from the leash and Pepper dashed inside the house; disappearing from view in an instant.
It brought a small smile to Beca’s lips as she handed the leash to Aubrey.
“Are you sure she’s not gonna be an imposition?”
“Absolutely sure”, Aubrey reassured firmly. “Pongo and Perdita are gonna have a blast, and so are we. We all love this little girl of yours, and we’re more than happy to have her for a few weeks”.
“I still can’t believe you named your dogs that. They’re not even Dalmatians”.
“I did argue that to Stacey, as you very well know”, Aubrey chuckled.
A moment of comfortable silence fell between them as the sound of excited barks reached them from somewhere inside the house.
“Would you like to come in for a cup of coffee?”
The question drew Beca’s attention back to Aubrey, and something cold washed over her. In times past, she wouldn’t even have thought about it. She would have been already sitting at their kitchen aisle, laughing over the dogs’ antics, happily listening to Aubrey and Stacie’s bickering and exchanging everyday news.
And she’d have a hand to hold onto whenever she wished to –even the entire time. Just because.
In times past.
“I should hit the road”, Beca denied quietly, and Aubrey –surprisingly- didn’t insist.
“Take care of yourself, okay? And we’re a call away, if you need anything”.
A small nod, and another one in return. The sound of her footsteps on neatly laid gravel. Her car roaring to life.
She refused to let her eyes stray to the rearview mirror as she drove away.
Showed you all of my hiding spots
I was dancing when the music stopped
There was something different about the open road; about being able to be inside her car, just her, and drive.
No destination. No predetermined stops or breaks. No direction.
She was driving ahead as far as she pleased, she took turns when she felt like it, she wasn’t even checking for gas stops. She’d happen upon one sooner or later.
The first night went by with the wind of the freeway blowing through the open windows, the radio turned off, and her fourth –or fifth?- cup of coffee in the cup holder.
With first light came the realization that the years that had passed over her made a difference; a difference that translated into her entire body aching, her stomach growling loudly, and an insistent pounding at her right temple probably from the lack of sleep.
Time hadn’t been kind. Then again, she knew that already.
She was half done with her scrambled eggs and toast when the restored, two-story building across the street from the diner she was currently in caught her eye. High windows, a slated, tiled roof, brick walls… A sign next to the front door read ‘Hotel’ in an elegant script.
“I think you’ve taken enough pictures, babe”.
“But it’s so beautiful! Just look at the details on the eaves, look! And that beautiful red brick gives such a warm feeling! I can’t wait to see how the interior looks!”
“Yes, let’s go inside. Although, if I knew you’d love the outside so much I’d have booked us a spot on the front lawn instead of the bridal suite”.
She could still hear the faint echo of carefree, happy laughter when she checked in.
A different building. A different life.
How different can it really be, though, when the ghosts of everything that once was follow you around?
When they swell and expand and take so much space you find yourself curled up on a neatly made bed, the starry sky staring right back at you through the open window?
When the hours slide over your stillness, passing but unable to touch you?
The quiet of the room was suddenly broken by a soft sound. And then another, and another. Labored breaths, hot against the sweaty skin of her neck. Fingernails digging into her arm. A small gasp, followed by the sound of her name, breathed into the night like a prayer.
Beca tightened her arm around Chloe’s trembling body; holding her as close as possible, her every reaction sending shivers down her spine and intensifying the ache between her thighs.
Naked skin against naked skin, heartbeats so intertwined she couldn’t tell them apart anymore. Nor did she want to.
“Beca. Please”, the hoarse, quiet words whimpered into the crook of her neck, before she felt teeth sinking gently into her skin. Both scattering burning coals over every inch of her being and leaving her lightheaded.
She pressed a lingering kiss to the top of Chloe’s head at the same time as the fingers of her free hand finally stopped exploring drenched, swollen folds; only to sink slowly inside wet, inviting heat. Feeling Chloe’s walls clenching hard around them; feeling her nails scratching down her arm in a desperate attempt to find something to hold on to; feeling her whole body shake and melt into hers. Feeling everything, all at once.
“Oh my- God, baby, I’m-”
“I know”, Beca reassured, slightly picking up her pace. Curling her fingers in the way she knew Chloe loved. “I know”, she repeated gently, her words getting lost amidst soft sounds that were increasingly getting louder. “Let go, Chlo. I’ve got you”.
And she held her shaking body as close as possible; coaxing her through the waves with gentle fingers and even gentler words, whispered against her temple.
She closed her eyes so she could take everything in, everything her wife was.
Everything they were. Together.
She held her close until her body went slack, sagging against her and into the mattress; until her breathing evened out some and a small, tired giggle glided over her bare skin.
“You’ve gotten really good at that”.
“I know. Hey!” she objected to the swat at her shoulder. “You’re not supposed to be able to move yet!”
“It was an automatic reaction to your smugness”.
“You mean my well earned and deserved confidence”.
She could easily stay warm the rest of her life, if only she had Chloe’s laughter encompassing her like at this moment, she thought; dripping lavender scented honey into every last corner of her heart.
“I won’t oppose to that; since I can’t feel my legs”.
“Good”. Beca released an overdramatic sigh. “That’s better”.
She wrapped her arms tighter around herself; it was getting colder. She could get up and close the window, she could slip under the covers.
She stayed where she was until the first rays of light started turning the sky from black to a deep blue. She watched the stars go out one by one.
She had checked out and was already driving off before the sun had had the chance to start rising.
It still did; so she kept driving away from it the whole day, stopping only once to get more coffee and use the bathroom and refill her tank. She splashed some water on her face while in the bathroom, walking away from the dark circles under her eyes and the paleness of her face that not even she could pretend anymore that they weren’t there.
She was back on the road ten minutes later. Windows down. Radio off. Coffee in the cup holder.
She had no intention of stopping, but her eyes started getting bleary by the time twilight had taken hold around her. So she had to.
She had no idea which town she was currently in, but she noticed a hotel belonging to a well known hotel chain in the town square.
“This is so dumb”.
“I know, Bec, but it’s okay. It’s only for a couple of nights”.
She walked through the front doors and a small breath later she headed towards the reception desk. One look around had been enough. They even decorated these places the same.
“This is too fancy”.
“You’d think so, right? It’s so pretty! But I promise, it’s in our budget. I checked”.
“Stupid pipes. You’d think that when you buy a new house you won’t have to deal with problems like that for at least a few years; especially when you had those same pipes checked a month ago”.
“I know, babe. Let’s get a room”.
The receptionist was smiling politely at her. She asked for her name, an ID, and for her credit card.
Then she asked about what type of room she’d like.
“Right now there are available rooms in both directions. Would you like one that overlooks the square or our back terrace?”
“The square, please!”
“It will be noisy and you need your rest, Chloe. Let’s get the-”
“How much noise can there be, babe? I’ll be fine, don’t worry; besides, I love looking at the city lights from above”. A soft kiss to her cheek.
She asked for one that overlooked the back terrace.
As soon as she walked into the room and turned on the lights, her eyes got stuck on the painting above the bed. It was nothing special, really; one of those generic hotel paintings, abstract soft greens and blues on a canvas, with a few well placed splotches of yellow.
She plopped down on the double sized bed as soon as she’d dropped their luggage on the floor. A heavy sigh fell from her lips, enough to draw Chloe’s attention.
A few seconds of silence passed between them before Beca rolled her eyes with another sigh.
“We’ll have to repaint the nursery”, she answered Chloe’s silent question.
“It’s okay, Bec. We still have the blue and green swatches; we can buy more color”.
“But you-” Beca huffed. “Look at you”.
“Hey”. Chloe put her hands on her waist, the action accentuating her already protruding belly. “Did you just call me fat?”
Beca rolled her eyes again; softly this time, and with a small smile flickering on her lips.
“Come here”, she beckoned quietly; wrapping her arms around Chloe’s hips as soon as she came to stand in front of her. Pressing a lingering kiss to her belly before meeting her gaze again.
Answering Chloe’s smile with one of her own and feeling gentle fingers run through her hair slowly.
“We’ll have the nursery ready on time”, Chloe’s soft reassurance.
“We did have it ready on time; and then the stupid pipes, and what if you go into labor and-”
“We still have one month left, Bec. We’ll have it ready on time”.
“You don’t know that”.
“I do. Because as soon as we’re back in our home, I know you’ll work day and night so the nursery can be cleaned and painted and arranged properly and perfectly in time for”, Chloe pointed at her belly, “this little visitor”.
Beca nodded in agreement, now focusing her attention on the swollen belly in front of her.
“Hi buddy”, she said quietly. “Mama is right, but don’t let her know that, okay?”
She smiled at Chloe’s small giggle.
“We’re a team, you, your mama, and I”, she continued, just as quietly; rubbing gently and her heart skipping a beat at the small kick she felt against her palm.
“That’s right. So we’ll be ready for you”, she reassured.
Chloe’s fingers hadn’t stopped combing through her hair.
“We can’t wait to meet you, Oliver”.
She turned off the light as soon as possible; another night of little rest, sitting in an armchair by the window with its back turned to the rest of the room.
Another night spent staring at the night sky; counting stars and avoiding wishes. Her eyes skimming over every inch of the expansive blackness again and again.
It felt smaller than her hotel room. More manageable.
She was so tired.
She wished she could throw everything into the night and let it disappear from view; swallowed by darkness and endless shadows, never to be seen again.
Everything that hurt gone. If only it was that simple.
So much for no wishes.
Hours passed and minutes ticked by; and then she found herself driving away from the rising sun once again.
That night she stopped at the first motel she came across once the ruthless sun had set. She stayed in her car for a long moment, thinking back.
No, she concluded. She hadn’t stayed in a motel before.
She had been chasing memory, and ended up being chased instead.
Maybe here she’d be alright.
I know better
But you’re still around
Beca crumpled her empty burger wrapper before throwing it in the trashcan, on top of half a dozen used coffee filters and two empty bottles.
She walked by the unmade bed on her way to the kitchen area. She’d specifically asked for a single bed when she’d first checked in 17 days –or rather, nights- ago.
The bed was still too big. Too empty.
She filled a glass with water and took a few sips before emptying the rest in the small sink. Stared for a moment at how it drained away, only a few droplets remaining; scattered around the dark grey surface, separated one from the other. Too far.
She picked up her half empty bottle of whiskey from the tiny fridge on her way back to the deck.
The garden chairs had definitely seen better days; they were pretty rusty, with their fabric faded and worn to the point of holes in a couple of places. The small table she had relocated from the kitchen area, so it was in a better state.
They had all served her well enough nonetheless, in the many hours she’d spent on that spot. The room she used only for a couple hours of sleep and to make coffee; and to shower, once every couple of days. The rest of the time she used to drive around, scenery and towns and people passed by quickly and forgotten by the time she returned to her room at sundown.
Even that had gotten old quickly enough. She didn’t want to be going out anymore. She didn’t want to be staying in, either.
So the private deck she never had expected the room to have access to had been her compromise. Outside but stationary. Watching things move around her instead of her having to move through things.
She was tired of moving; of having to.
She was tired.
Beca relaxed against the back of the sturdier than it looked chair, her whiskey filled glass held in her hand loosely. There wasn’t much to look at; a few trees, a couple of withering flower beds in desperate need of some water, a gravel laid small road that, she knew, led to the parking lot.
People rarely made an appearance.
She preferred it that way.
She took a long sip from her glass, draining half of it. Now that she wasn’t driving anymore, she could drink. And she had been, for the last few nights.
“Not on an empty stomach, baby. I’ll make you something”.
She emptied the rest of her glass quickly. A small wince at the burn. The loud clank of her glass against the table.
She had eaten a few hours earlier. It would have to do.
Beca refilled her glass to the brim –one of these days she had to get some ice cubes- and curled up in her chair, resting her head back.
It had worked so far; the alcohol had done its job. She had been free.
But now… now there was red and blue, dreamlike and swirling and insistently there, at the edges of her vision; there were sharp edged echoes of that voice –her voice- in her head again; there was a bitterness on her lips she couldn’t swallow down or wash away.
She was terrified to breathe deeply in case she caught the faint scent of lavender wafting around her; she could already feel it on her skin and in her bones.
It had taken a long time to realize; there had been a heavy fog, swelling and spreading and taking hold inside her ever since that day.
The day when soothing, successive beeps had turned into a continuous, irreversible buzzing. It still echoed in her ears some days.
The day when she had to walk along pastel green walls for the last time; carrying a small bag of personal items and a flowering orchid- and her own self, somehow. She could still feel that weight some days.
The day when she no more had a home to go back to.
Ever since then and for the past almost year at this point- the anniversary was approaching rapidly, a mere week away- those colorless, odorless clouds kept growing inside her to the point where now… now she couldn’t even find a solid place to grab onto and ride the storm out.
She wasn’t even sure if she wanted to.
Things would happen. Life would go on. What did it matter if she got lost along the way?
What was the point?
Beca took yet another long sip from her glass, the fingers of her free hand skimming over her hoodie absentmindedly. Light grey and worn, the Barden emblem all but faded on the front. It didn’t matter; she knew it was there.
She took in the feeling of the warm fabric under her fingertips. She breathed in deeply, ignoring her fear to do so and the sting in the back of her eyes. It didn’t smell like Chloe anymore, understandably. But it still did, in a way. Still felt like her.
It was still hers. That’s what it came down to.
It’s why she put it on every day, for as long as she could handle. It’s why she’d brought it along in the first place.
Her ringtone made her jump, and she reached for her cell; more to make the sound stop and less because she wanted to talk to people. When she saw who was calling her, though, she felt –surprisingly- a small part of that heavy fog being lifted.
She stared at the caller ID for a couple more rings, her son’s smiling picture staring back at her, before she pressed the green button.
Beca strained her neck, her eyes searching the crowds of tiny humans rushing out of the front doors of the elementary school; lips tight and expression serious. She could only see happy faces as the kids ran towards their parents and guardians who were there, just like her, to pick them up.
Smiles were reassuring, she had to admit. But what if something had happened? What if other kids had made fun of him; he was a quiet little boy. Sheltered. Friendly, yes, but reserved, too. What if his teacher was mean? What if someone had stolen his food? What if he had fallen and hurt himself? No, the school would have called. Maybe they did and she had missed their call.
She was ready to fish her phone out of her bag when a flash of dark red hair caught her eye. Beca breathed the biggest sigh of relief and she opened her arms just in time for a smiling, excited Oliver to run into them.
“Excuse me”, Beca gripped him gently from his little shoulders and moved him back only enough to be able to look at him, “what happened to ‘mummy’?”
“Shhh”, he hushed her urgently. “I go to school now”, he emphasized the word ‘school’, his face more serious than she’d ever seen it. “I’m too old for that word”.
“Yes”, he nodded seriously, staring at her as if she’d proven his own point.
Beca chuckled and ruffled his hair gently.
“Okay, big guy. Did you have fun today?”
Oliver beamed at her.
“Good. Ready to go?”
“Yes, let’s go home! But, mum?”
“Can I come again tomorrow?”
“Only if you eat all your vegetables”.
Beca swallowed down the lump at the back of her throat, refocusing her attention on what her son was saying. The sting at the back of her eyes, she ignored yet again.
“- so we thought we’d call and check in”.
“I’m glad you did”, she sighed, sitting up in her chair. It took her another second, but something clicked in her mind. “Wait, who’s we? Cecille?”
“No, mum, Cecille’s out of town for work. Sophie came by for dinner and we thought we’d call you before she headed home”, Oliver said, the patience of someone who had just had to repeat themselves but didn’t really mind it evident in his voice. “Haven’t heard from you in a while”.
There was neither judgment in his words nor complaint. There was worry, though. There was that silent ‘I miss you. I love you’.
“I’m okay, Oli”, Beca reassured quietly; the nickname Chloe used to call him slipping from her lips as effortlessly as breathing. “How are you, guys?”
“Same old. Work is going well, landed a new client this week all on my own”.
She smiled at the note of excitement and pride in his voice.
“As for Sophie-” Beca heard her daughter’s voice saying something indistinguishable from the other side of the phone. “Okay, okay. She says she can tell you herself”.
Another smile; she could hear his eye roll even through the phone.
“I’ll let you go so Sophie can have her turn; but, mum?”
“Take care of yourself, okay?”
Beca felt the sting from the back of her eyes spread along the rest of her face; to her nose and to the back of her throat.
“I promise”, she said hoarsely; a bit shakily, too.
She cleared her throat in the few seconds it took for her son’s phone to change hands on the other end of the line.
Beca knocked gently on the bedroom door, listening carefully.
There was no reply.
She knocked again, this time just a tiny bit louder; straining her ears for any kind of sound. She thought she heard some shuffling.
“I would like to stay by myself, please!”
Even though she was a bit concerned at how Sophie had come back from school and immediately locked herself in her room, she couldn’t help but smile. At just ten years old she sounded and acted so much like Chloe.
“It’s me, Sophie”.
Some more shuffling from the other side of the door.
“Can I come in? It’s okay if not”.
It took a few seconds but a small ‘okay’ reached her, and she opened the door quietly.
Sophie was sitting on her bed, a stubborn, pouty expression on her face; she could see right through that, though.
She didn’t comment on the tear tracks on her daughter’s cheeks, or on her slightly red rimmed eyes. Instead, she closed the door behind her just as quietly and took a seat right beside her.
A comfortable silence fell between them, stretching over many long seconds. Beca took brief peeks at her from the corner of her eye, but didn’t let her eyes linger for too long. Her eyes drifted around her daughter’s room instead, taking in all her colorful stickers and teddy bears and her huge assortment of books neatly arranged on her bookcase.
She met her daughter’s eyes, so similar to her own it made her heart melt every single time; noticing how they were shining with unshed tears.
Again, she didn’t comment on it.
“Is it possible that we could make my birthday banana muffins?”
Any time something would happen that made her sad, either in school or with a friend, Sophie would ask for those muffins. They had started as her breakfast on her birthday, but they had become a different kind of calming tradition. They had also provided Sophie’s nickname.
Beca had already asked Chloe to make the short trip to the grocery store to get some bananas as soon as she’d seen how Sophie had come back from school.
Of course, she didn’t point any of that out.
“Sure”, she nodded, smiling. “Let’s do it”.
Her daughter’s smile only made her smile more.
“Amy and Katie are assholes”, Sophie suddenly proclaimed as they were walking towards the kitchen, her face as serious as ever.
“Yes”, Beca agreed. “But just to be clear; if mama hears you say that word, you didn’t learn it from me”.
She barely heard the front door open and close over Sophie’s giggles.
“So”, Beca cleared her throat again, “Oliver tells me you have news to share”.
“It’s not- I mean, not really- I met a girl”, her daughter blurted out in the end, and Beca found herself smiling once more.
“I mean, it’s not really new; a few months now, but you see, we became more serious over the weekend so I thought- or maybe it’s dumb-”
“I thought that maybe you could meet her. Soon. Or, or not soon. You know? At some point. Is that dumb? That’s dumb, I’m sorry. It’s too soon, it’s-”
“Sophie”, Beca interrupted her. “I’ll be happy to meet her. Soon. Or not soon. Whenever you want”.
“I just… I really, really like her, mum”, Sophie’s quiet voice dripped into her heart. “I wasn’t even up for dating for some time, because you know… But she snuck up on me. And she- she really was there for me”.
Beca nodded even though there was nowhere around to see it.
“Good”, she breathed into the line, clutching her cell tighter against her ear. “I’m so happy for you, muffin”.
A beat of silence.
“I love you, mum”.
“I love you, too”.
They hang up shortly after that; her fingers felt numb as she slowly placed her now silent phone back on the table.
The colors were swirling quicker now; clashing and exploding into a thousand new shades, into a thousand old images.
Their first official date; buying their first house; assembling a baby crib; celebrating Beca’s first grammy; clapping and cheering at Oliver’s first school play; taking the kids to their first concert; listening mesmerized at Sophie playing the guitar at her first recital; holding Chloe’s hand tightly at childbirth; traveling; shopping for groceries; attending Bellas reunions; making breakfast; going to the cinema; watching the fireworks on the fourth of July; singing; graduating college; winning Worlds; winning the ICCAs; moving to New York; studying side by side; meeting at the activities fair…
Color and sound and feeling intermingling and flashing memory after memory in front of her, as if she was watching the movie of a lifetime.
Of her lifetime. Her lifetime with Chloe.
So many years. So much, so incredibly much to be thankful for.
Tears trickling down her cheeks in quick succession, her breathing shallow.
Chloe had been so many things; her best friend, her confidant, her wife, the mother of her children, her safe harbor, her hope. Her home.
A light that was, now that she had finally allowed it, illuminating every single precious memory in her mind. Pulling them all to the forefront. Showing her; as vibrantly and as gently as only Chloe ever could.
Making her point.
They’d had so much. And it mattered. It still did and it always would.
Her chest felt uncomfortably tight, a loud sob escaping her lips; only to be followed by another, and then another. Her vision was blurry; all the tears she hadn’t managed to cry for a year, that she had held back, finally let free.
Her hands found residence on the edge of the small table, clutching so tightly her knuckles turned white. She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, shaking her head.
And then she inhaled deeply, sobs still falling from her lips. But she kept breathing; as deeply as possible.
Not to stop crying.
“Crying can be good for the soul”.
No, not to stop crying.
But rather because she could finally feel some relief; she could finally feel that numbing, all consuming fog lift and drift away from her heart.
She could finally feel the gentle breeze and the clothes on her skin; the metal of the small table; her hair against her cheeks; her heart beating insistently in her chest.
Beca opened her eyes, blinking a few times to clear them some. And there it was; the night sky starting to turn blue from black. The stars starting to dim. The shadows fading and receding. The colors of everything around her starting to become more pronounced.
Chloe would call it poetic.
She had to agree.
A small sound between a sob and a chuckle fell from her lips. She dried her cheeks with the sleeve of her worn Barden hoodie even though a few tears were still falling. She took another deep breath, fully welcoming the faint scent of lavender back.
She gave herself more minutes, to just sit and take in the slowly rising sun and the chirping birds and the lightness in her heart.
She would get up in a little bit. She would shower and gather her things. She would check out.
She would drive towards the sun for once.
But for now- and Beca smiled at a couple of squirrels running up a tree a few feet away- she could take a few minutes to just be.
“Hi, Pepper, hi! You’re happy to see me, aren’t you? I’m so happy to see you too, girl. Yes, yes I’m here. I’m- okay, we’re doing kisses now. I missed you too”.
“She recognized your car; was ready to scratch through the door to get to you, this one”.
“Thanks for having her, Stace. I hope she wasn’t too much trouble”.
“Are you kidding? She was an angel, especially compared to ours. Any time, Beca”.
“Let’s meet up some time next week. For coffee or for dinner. Or lunch?”
“Absolutely! I’ll tell Bree and we’ll text you”.
“Good. Now come on, girl; let’s go home”.
Soft steps over well maintained lawns. Passing through rows of white marbles, sparkling under the gentle touch of the bright sun.
A bouquet of white lilies in her hand.
No clouds in her sight.
She reached her destination relatively quickly. Her eyes caressing every carefully carved word; every letter.
Chloe Beale - Mitchell
Loving wife and mother
Her light will forever shine on those she loves
She had intentionally asked for present tense to be used in the small phrase.
It made her smile now, as she gently set the flowers down.
She had been right to ask for that. It was the truth, after all. Chloe’s love remained.
“I’m back, Chlo. Took me a while, but you know me; I always find my way sooner or later. I hope you weren’t too worried. You probably were”. A small breath. “I’m back now and I’m okay. I’m having the kids over for dinner tonight; Oliver is bringing Cecille, and Sophie is bringing her girlfriend, Jo. I’m meeting her for the first time and no, don’t worry, I won’t be too hard on the poor girl”.
She pressed a kiss to her palm and her palm to the warm to the touch tombstone. Held it there for a moment longer.
“We’re okay, baby. I promise”.
Another small breath. There was a dull ache in her chest, but that was okay.
Warm blues and vibrant reds swirling at the corners of her vision. Lavender scented breeze gliding over her skin. Her favorite voice humming along to a familiar song.
She smiled, her whole heart shining in her soft gaze.
“It may take some time, preferably quite a lot; but I’ll come to you. Wait for me”.
She knew she would.