Beca tapped away nervously against her thigh, sitting on a bench in one of Portland’s national parks. It was a hot, sunny day, but the shade under the tree felt nice against Beca’s bare skin.
To be honest, Beca didn’t know how she had gotten there.
Sure, her plan had always been to leave Seattle and her life there behind, but in her mind, she would always go alone. Never once she pictured herself tagging along with the definition of human sunshine on a cross-country trip to try and understand herself.
“It’s a soul search, Beca,” Chloe had said as they began their journey together. “Two stalwart friends, off on a whirlwind, cross-country adventure.”
“I’m not giving up my phone,” she had grumbled in response, burying her phone deep in her jacket’s pocket. “Quit it, Beale.”
They had met at another park, just like the one they were at now, back in Seattle. Chloe had been traveling by herself for a while, playing songs for the public in exchange for money. Music had always meant something special for Beca, something safe. And yet, she had only approached Chloe after she realized they had something else in common.
Chloe looked around, panicked. She had come into the small music store Beca worked at to purchase a mini banjo — and Beca almost had a seizure after she called it a banjolele — and had chatted with her the whole time, offering up way more information than Beca usually got from strangers.
But somehow she had neglected to mention that, apparently, she was cryokinetic and had managed to bring to a frost all of Green Lake.
Beca kept her distance, watched as the girl tried in vain to return the lake to its original state on her own. She approached slowly after a few minutes, laughing softly at the litany of odd curses spilling out of the girl’s mouth.
Chloe turned towards the sound, a panic-stricken look on her face.
“I—uh,” she fumbled. “It’s not what you think.”
“Relax,” Beca said. “It’s no big deal.”
She crouched down next to the shoreline, pressing her hands to the icy surface. She could feel the heat coursing through her veins, spreading through her hands, and thawing the lake back to its dark blue glory.
“You…” Chloe’s shock was evident on her face. “You’re pyrokinetic.”
“Something like that,” Beca shrugged. “It sucks, but it comes in handy sometimes.”
Chloe hummed, regarding Beca as if weighing her options, her eyes searching for something within Beca’s.
“What?” Beca asked, self-conscious.
Grumbling, she reached for the sunscreen in her backpack to lather her arms, again, as she waited for Chloe to return with their lunch. She was taking too long and Beca was afraid something had gone wrong and it was making her antsy. She was on the verge of getting up and marching down to the store when she spotted Chloe making her way over.
“Sorry, I’m late,” she said, dropping a bag containing a couple of sandwiches and sodas on Beca’s lap. “Got distracted.”
“Mjm”, Beca hummed, grabbing her chicken sandwich and tossing Chloe her potato salad. “You were flirting with the cashier again, weren’t you?”
Chloe’s silence and the blush that gently brushed across her nose and cheeks were enough of an answer for Beca.
“You’re one of those people who flash the bartender to get free drinks, aren’t you?” she spoke around a mouthful after a few minutes.
“You should know better than to ask me that,” Chloe smirked, and Beca simply rolled her eyes.
Beca had been saving money for years, taking what little she could find so she could have enough to break out of her father’s control. At first, it was just a way to just buy herself some food to keep around in case she got hungry. But then, seeing as the situation wasn’t improving with time, Beca decided she needed to get out of there as soon as possible, for her own sake.
Things got better after her best friend Luke helped her get a part-time job at his father’s music store. Beca had a reliable source of income for a change, Luke always had snacks on hand and she got to be around music. It was a win-win situation.
She knew she had enough saved to go. Luke had made sure of that. Still, Beca hadn’t gone through with it until Chloe showed up.
Sitting at a diner just down the road from the music store, Beca and Chloe waited for their waitress to bring over their orders in silence, only the faint rumbling of an electric guitar being played in the background. It gave Beca some time to think.
She didn’t know what the girl wanted from her, but she didn’t seem afraid of Beca like most people did after they learned she could shoot fire from her hands, so she was giving her the benefit of the doubt.
“Where are you from?” Beca asked, breaking their silence.
“Wow,” Beca’s eyes widened. “You’re really far from home.”
Chloe simply shrugged, shooting their waitress a smile as she brought over their orders. She slowly stirred her tea, taking a long sip before speaking again.
“It didn’t really feel like home for me,” she said and Beca felt her heart clench in sympathy; it was a feeling she could relate to a lot.
“I get that,” she said, fiddling with a napkin, food untouched. “Seattle doesn’t feel like home for me either.”
“I know,” Chloe smiled softly at her and understanding dawned on Beca.
“Is this why you wanted to talk?”
Chloe nodded. “I have a proposition for you,” a smirk curled Beca’s lips upward, causing Chloe to blush. “Not like that!”
“Sure,” Beca said amusedly, taking a sip of her coffee, not even flinching at its hotness. “What proposition?”
“I’m in need of a travel buddy,” Chloe stated, her awkward phrasing the only sign she was feeling nervous about it. “I was wondering if you’d be it.”
“Me?” Beca laughed, trying to ignore her racing heart. “Why me?”
“Because I have a feeling you need this as much as I do.”
Beca gulped, her mind reeling with all the possibilities the proposal entailed. “What if I say no?”
“I’ll keep going on my own,” Chloe shrugged. “I’ve made it this far already.”
Beca pondered over that. So this decision was entirely hers, she didn’t depend on anyone else to make it. A chance to take control over her life for once.
“But if I say yes?” she cautiously asked, causing Chloe to flash her a blinding grin.
“Then I have a feeling we’re gonna be really fast friends.”
Thinking back, it hadn’t been a hard decision to make. Meeting Chloe had just been the final push Beca needed to break out of her father’s control for good.
She felt almost giddy as she grabbed her backpack filled with everything she needed and left her dad’s house without so much as leaving him a note. It wasn’t like he would care. He would probably be relieved to see her gone.
The only sad part had been to say goodbye to Luke.
“You take care of yourself, Becky,” he said, ruffling her hair for good measure.
He was her oldest friend, one of the few people who weren’t afraid of her and her powers. Luke had known Beca’s mother and she had loved him as if he was her own son. He was the only one who had been there for Beca after her mom died, holding her, not letting her succumb under the weight of her own guilt.
Beca had a job, a friend, and a life because of him. She owed everything to Luke.
“Don’t I always?” Beca shot him a lopsided grin, huffing as he pulled her into a bone-crushing hug.
He didn’t answer, just held her tighter and placed a gentle kiss on the side of her head.
“Your mom would be proud, kiddo,” he whispered into her hair and Beca had to blink back her tears.
“Becs?” Chloe’s soft tone brought Beca back to reality. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah,” she cleared her throat, wrapping half of her sandwich and putting it back on the bag. “What’s the plan for today?”
“Nothing’s really set in stone,” Chloe shrugged. “Thought we could walk around, do some sightseeing.”
Soul-searching with Chloe, Beca had learned, involved no plan whatsoever. It was as maddening as it was oddly freeing.
To be fair, Beca hadn’t formed a plan for when she left Seattle either, but she was sure she would have worked something out before she made the move. Apparently, for Chloe, aimlessly going wherever her heart desired as she looked at a fold-up map she carried around in her back pocket was good enough.
“You’re not gonna finish your sandwich?” Chloe asked when she noticed Beca had packed her food.
“No, it’s fine,” she rushed to say. “I’m not hungry anymore.”
“An hour ago you said you were starving, Beca,” Chloe narrowed her eyes at her, causing Beca to fidget with her thumb ring.
“Yeah, well, I’m dramatic,” she let out a hoarse laugh, hoping it was convincing.
“Sure,” Chloe didn’t sound convinced but she dropped the subject so Beca was grateful anyway.
After walking around Forest Park and venturing into the art museum, they found their way to Hawthorne Street Fair. The smell of corndogs mixed with the sounds of children giggling and running around was enough for Chloe to grab Beca’s hand and drag her to the fair.
“Dude, slow down,” Beca laughed.
Chloe shot her a look over her shoulder, eyes sparkling with excitement, but she did slow down, not letting go of Beca’s hand. Aside from her mom, Beca had never been a fan of people touching her, invading her personal space. Her father never did, let alone her stepmother, and Luke only did it sparsely, mindful of her limits. Beca didn’t trust herself so close to other people.
But Chloe had breezed past Beca’s well-set barriers with such ease that Beca hadn’t even realized it had happened until they were there, holding hands and sitting close to one another like it was nothing. Chloe never felt intrusive or disrespectful of her boundaries, she felt safe. Beca hadn’t felt safe in a really long time.
“You want one?” Chloe asked, gesturing towards a cotton candy stand.
“Sure,” Beca agreed, taking the time to stop and look around the fair while Chloe placed their order.
The fair wasn’t overly packed, but the energy coming off from people enjoying themselves was electric, making Beca’s body buzz. She understood why Chloe wanted to be there. It was something she had noticed about her traveling companion; Chloe liked to be around people, sharing their love, their energy, while Beca, more often than not, sought solitude, fearing to feed off that energy.
“You think he’s pyrokinetic too?” Chloe’s question startled Beca out of her reverie and she noticed she had been staring at a guy entertaining people by eating fire.
“I don’t think so,” Beca frowned. “He looks so… carefree. See how he’s not afraid? Means he doesn’t know what fire can really do.”
Chloe hummed and Beca could sense her eyes on her. “Maybe he just learned to control it.”
Fire never surrenders. Fire always finds a way.
Growing up in an unstable household, Beca had learned to look after herself but, most importantly, she had developed a keen sense of observation. She paid close attention to how people talked, how they moved, and how they treated others.
Spending as much time as she was with Chloe, Beca was noticing those things about her.
Chloe was chatty. She was always talking about something or another, sometimes humming a song, like she was unable to sit in silence for longer than five minutes. At first, it kind of annoyed Beca, but she had grown to accept that was just how Chloe was. Plus, she had a beautiful voice, and Beca liked how it always seemed to put her at ease when she was restless.
She also never walked in a regular step. She skipped, bounced, or danced her way through life and was easily distracted by everything — sunsets, pretty flowers, dogs, a song playing in the distance. Chloe was so full of joy and life Beca wondered why she had asked for her to come along in the first place. Beca, known for her grumpiness and razor-sharp wit, someone who carried herself with so much weight on her shoulders it hurt sometimes.
Being around Chloe eased some of that pain, lifting the weight. It was in the way she treated Beca — her touch, always soft, never intrusive; her voice, always gentle, never angry. Beca hadn’t been around that in a long time. Kindness wasn’t something that was freely given after her mom had died, so she had learned to live without it.
Getting used to it again was weird, but definitely not unwelcome.
They had been in Minnesota for less than three days when Beca noticed that, despite never pushing the issue, Chloe started keeping packed meals in her rucksack, handing them to Beca without a moment’s hesitation whenever she started getting hungry.
Most of the time, the thought had barely entered Beca’s mind before Chloe was handing her a sandwich, sometimes a frozen meal that she was quick to heat up or whatever leftovers they had from their lunch. Beca appreciated her for that and maybe that was why she couldn’t help words coming out of her mouth as they laid in the dark in a hostel in Minneapolis.
“My dad didn’t keep food around the house,” she whispered, knowing Chloe wasn’t asleep but not wanting to disturb their peaceful atmosphere. “After… After my mom died, he was afraid. Of what my powers could do. He thought that if he only gave me the bare minimum, that it would keep me, my powers in check.”
She didn’t say anything else, sighing in relief as she felt Chloe’s cold fingers interlacing with hers, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze.
“I’m sorry that happened to you, Becs,” she whispered after a while. “No one deserves to be treated like that.”
Beca could feel the telltale sign of tears threatening to fall and cleared her throat before saying, “Thank you.”
When Beca woke up the next morning, she noticed they were still holding hands, Chloe curled up against her as if trying to soak up the warmth radiating from within her.
She couldn’t help but smile.
After her late-night confession, something shifted between them. Beca couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was, but she knew could feel it in every interaction. Maybe Chloe was rubbing off on her because, somehow, she didn’t care that she didn’t know. She was happy, comfortable, for the first time in a really long while.
“My coffee’s cold,” Chloe whined.
They had been in Chicago for about an hour and were sitting at a Starbucks, soaking up the free Wi-Fi, trying to find a place to stay.
Beca was focused, scouring website after website for a place that was acceptable and within their price range. Chloe had told her long ago that money wasn’t an issue — unlike Beca’s father, Chloe’s parents were supportive and had the means to help her, setting up an account for her so she could focus on her journey and not on trying to get by.
But Beca refused to live off other people’s money, firmly stating they would share expenses. So that meant they had to compromise.
“Beca,” Chloe whined again, poking her side. “Help me.”
“I am trying to help you,” Beca grumbled. “Stop poking me!”
Chloe stopped, a mischievous smile on her face as she pushed her coffee towards Beca. Rolling her eyes, she grabbed the cup and held it until steam started coming off the lid again.
“Thank you,” Chloe batted her eyes exaggeratedly at her, kissing her cheek.
Trying to cover her blush with a sip of her own coffee, Beca groaned as she picked her phone again.
“There are no places to stay here,” she complained. “Everything’s either sketchy or expensive. Big city my ass.”
Chloe looked thoughtful as she sipped her now warm drink.
“We could always go camping,” she said nonchalantly and Beca guffawed.
“Camping? Are you crazy?”
“Why not?” Chloe insisted. “It’ll be fun! I have everything we need.”
“Of course you do,” Beca mumbled, eyes searching Chloe’s face for any signs that she was playing a joke on her. “Camping? Seriously?”
“Yeah!” Chloe’s grin was infectious. “Come on, Becs! Adventure, remember?”
Beca couldn’t believe this was her life.
They ended up having to rent a car — public transit was going to take forever and Beca was exhausted — Beca dutifully paying for half of it despite Chloe’s protests.
A little over half an hour, they got to Tinley Park, Beca letting Chloe set up their tent as she got started on the fire camp. They had stopped on the way for supplies, Chloe insisting they got supplies for hotdogs and s’mores.
“It isn’t a proper camping trip without s’mores, Bec,” Chloe explained as they scoured Walmart for ingredients.
“Whatever you say, Beale.”
They hadn’t gotten much else because, true to her words, Chloe did have everything in her rucksack and then more. When Beca asked how she managed to fit everything inside, baffled at the number of things coming out of it, Chloe just winked.
“Family secret,” she said mysteriously, grinning like the Chesire cat.
Beca rolled her eyes, grumbling under her breath as she helped Chloe set up their camp. They only had one tent — predictable — but, according to Chloe, it was big enough to fit both of them comfortably. Not that it mattered since they had been sharing a bed with no space between them more often than not.
“How do you know so much about camping?” Beca asked as she watched Chloe expertly set up a grill for their hotdogs and cheesy potatoes.
“My grandpa used to take my brother and me all the time when we were little,” she said, a wistful look on her face. “He was geokinetic and taught us all about living in harmony with nature.”
Beca felt a pang in her heart and cleared her throat before saying, “My mom was geokinetic too.”
Chloe gave her a sad smile. “I bet she was awesome.”
Beca nodded in agreement, unable to say anything else.
Thinking about her mom always led to a restless night for Beca. She kept getting flashes of the accident — fiend fire burning within her, controlled by the fear gripping at her insides that she was dangerous, that she was gonna hurt someone like her father always said.
And in the end, she did.
She hadn’t meant to, but she had started an uncontrollable fire that took over their house quickly. Beca locked herself inside her closet, afraid of herself, almost suffocating from the smoke. Her mom had rushed through the burning house, looking for her, and found her before it was too late.
She saved Beca.
But she ended up inhaling too much smoke herself, and there was nothing the paramedics could do to help her. She died before they got to the E.R.
Beca woke up with a gasp, tears running down her face.
She could still hear her mother’s voice, shouting her name as she looked for her, and the fire tearing everything apart but her. She looked around, thankful she had managed not to set anything on fire in her sleeping state, but frowning when she saw Chloe wasn’t lying next to her. She was pretty sure she had been there when Beca went to sleep.
The fire was still crackling outside, so Beca took an educated guess, finding Chloe sitting by the campfire, knees close to her chest and head laying on top of them, staring blankly at the flames dancing in front of her.
It was an odd look; Chloe was usually so lively, full of energy and excitement. Right now, she was melancholic, almost sad, and the sight tugged at Beca’s heart unexpectedly.
“Didn’t mean to wake you,” she apologized, carefully sitting next to her.
“You didn’t,” Chloe’s voice was raspy. “I couldn’t sleep.”
The question flew out of Beca’s mouth before she could stop it and she cursed at herself. She wanted to take a leaf out of Chloe’s book and not push but it felt wrong to see a sad Chloe Beale and just leave her be.
Heaving a deep sigh, Chloe hesitated, not taking her eyes off the flames.
“Thinking about my grandpa is… hard,” she said. “I loved him, but thinking about him, about my family, hurts too much sometimes.”
Now that she was stopping to think about it, Chloe rarely mentioned her family, and Beca cursed herself for noticing sooner.
“I thought you guys were good,” Beca spoke softly, wanting to reach out for Chloe’s hand but unsure if she should.
“We are, I mean,” Chloe sighed as if looking for the right words. “The thing is, I don’t feel… right.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s—” Chloe’s emotions were evident in the way her voice cracked. “It’s this power, these freezing shards inside me, I—”
Her breaths started coming out in sobs, tears running unimpeded down her face, and Beca couldn’t help but reach out to comfort her, causing Chloe to turn and crash into her, her tears getting soaked up by Beca’s flannel. It allowed Beca to run her fingers through Chloe’s hair, gently, humming the same song her mom used to sing to her when she was little.
Take it easy with me, please, touch me gently like a summer evening breeze… Take your time, make it slow, andante, andante, just let the feeling grow…
Chloe’s breath started coming out in more even puffs and Beca felt her own racing heart starting to slow down.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered after a while, head still buried in Beca’s neck.
“You have nothing to be sorry for,” Beca assured her. “I get it.”
Chloe slowly extricated herself from her hold, sitting back on her feet and looking at Beca. With the campfire glow, she could see how her face was tear-streaked, with bloodshot eyes, and some of her hair sticking to her cheeks. Beca thought she looked gorgeous.
“Your father?” she asked, voice raspy from crying.
Beca shook her head. “My mom,” she took a deep breath before uttering the next words. “I killed her.”
“Beca,” Chloe gasped.
“I wasn’t careful,” she continued, voice strained to keep her control from snapping. “I let my emotions get the best of me, the flames were out of control. I tried so hard to take it back, but I couldn’t, and my mom died saving me,” she didn’t realize she was crying until she felt Chloe softly wiping her tears away. “She died because of me.”
“Beca…” Chloe used her hand on Beca’s face to keep her looking at her. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“It was, I—I should have been able to control myself,” she choked out. “But I didn’t. I failed. And she died because of that. I blame myself every day for it.”
Chloe sighed, folding her hands in her lap, eyes downcast. “I blame myself too.”
“For what?” Beca’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.
“For being ungrateful,” Chloe said in a small voice. “I feel like… like I should just suck it up and accept this is my destiny. That I’m bound to feel ice cold in my veins instead of warmth. Everyone in my family is so in sync with their powers, y’know? They love them. But I don’t. I’m afraid.”
“Afraid of what?” Beca prompted as Chloe went quiet again, heart breaking seeing tears welling up in her eyes again.
“That I’m evil,” she sniffled and Beca felt her own tears pricking her eyes.
It was a fear that hit a little too close to home for her.
“I’m afraid of being evil too,” she admitted and Chloe turned her sorrowful eyes at her. “And it sucks to live like this, so afraid of yourself.”
“Yeah,” Chloe agreed, eyes downcast.
“But I’m a pretty good judge of character,” Beca continued. “And I say, with the utmost confidence, that there’s not a single evil bone in your body.”
“Really?” Chloe asked timidly, tears still shining in her eyes.
“Dude, yeah,” she snorted. “No evil person stops to pet literally every single animal they see on the street.”
Chloe laughed at that, the melodic sound dissipating the heavy knot in Beca’s chest, and she allowed her own timid smile to come out.
“Is this why you try so hard? To be happy all the time?” she asked, surprised by her own astuteness.
And judging by the look in her eyes, so was Chloe.
“I guess,” she finally said. “I think that if I give into this sadness, this coldness, then I’ll never get out of it.”
“My mom used to say it’s all about balance,” Beca said, absentmindedly fiddling with her thumb ring. “That we feel what we feel, we can’t help it, and that’s okay. It’s how we respond to those emotions that matters.”
“Then why do you carry yourself so rigidly?” Chloe’s question caused her to stiffen. “You’re not evil either, Bec,” she said softly, looking at her with nothing but sincerity shining in her eyes.
Beca gulped, having a hard time believing her. Especially when her dad’s voice was so loud in her head, screaming the opposite.
“We’re quite a pair, huh?” she tried to deflect, shooting a lopsided smile at Chloe.
“We are,” she agreed, taking in a deep breath and exhaling slowly. “That’s a good thing, right?”
At that, Beca’s smile shifted into something real, sincere.
“It’s a great thing, Chlo.”