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Jesse's Girl

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It’s hard to sit across the quad under that tree sometimes. Especially when the music blaring through headphones isn’t screaming in her ears in one of her semi-frequent attempts to deafen herself. No, instead of wrapped around her head, they’re hanging limply from her neck in much the same way her fingers have gone limp on her keys, her shoulders have sagged and her eyes now have that funny glazed look she adopts whenever trying to hide from the world. It’s not working today. And the shade under the tree doesn’t offer quite the same solitude and peace as usual.

He’s your best friend, damnit, she grumbles to herself. It’s an inner monologue of curses and other assorted expletives coupled with self-derogatory slurs that’s been skipping scratchily through her head for the past ten minutes. It’s an old vinyl record that’s been played once too often and this time it keeps hashing across the same few bars. She can’t make it stop.

There’s something intangible about it all. The whole situation reminds Beca of those movies she can’t stand; the ones Jesse loves so much. It’s in the way the sunlight catches her hair and turns it to molten rock and fire, the way it dances in the breeze the same way she does. It’s the way she laughs at the not-quite-as-funny-as-he-might-like-to-think things he says. It’s in the way her fingertips touch his wrist.

It’s the way she sits in the sun while Beca hides in the shadows beneath the tree.

She closes her laptop, the music pumping through her earphones cutting off as it clicked. Before she can stand and run off to bury herself in some sort of wallowing misery (preferably in the dark of her dorm room), Jesse’s eyes lift and he catches sight of her. He smiles. Beca returns with her best approximation of a toothy grin but is terribly afraid it looks more like a pained grimace.

It certainly doesn’t help that Chloe looks up too when she realises he’s been distracted. Everything from Beca’s sternum, right through her rib cage down to her diaphragm clenches painfully. It gets all squiggly and squirmy down there and makes breathing difficult. Jesse waved to her; Chloe wiggled her fingers and beamed across the grass.

Beca nodded and hastened off, needing to be far away.

 

---

 

Kimmy Jin is not in attendance. Beca sighed, relieved. Having to deal with her glaring roommate would’ve been an unnecessarily cruel and unfortunate topping to what was already looking like a baking fiasco.

Once settled on her bed with her laptop and headphones (this time curled protectively around her head and singing angry songs as they should be), sinking into her current project was easy. Well, it was until she started to think about it. And when that happened everything went to pot.

Chloe was her friend (and Jesse had been working very hard for the past few months to get her to admit that Chloe was pretty cool – and gee, hadn’t that backfired). Jesse had been her best buddy for years now. She should be happy for them. But instead, she was hunched in her bed with the lights all out mixing together three songs about how much this totally sucked.

The shocking thing was, the songs sounded pretty good together. Too good to just use the track as a substitute tub of self-pity ice cream that she’d sweep into the deep chasm beneath her bed in a few days. For that reason she closed the file (saving it of course, one day it might not hurt quite so much to hear it and if she deleted it… well Beca was a bit of a hoarder anyway). She pushed her laptop away and flopped onto her back, staring at the ceiling for a while. Almost, Beca wished she had a class to go to, just so the boredom would numb her treacherous thoughts and lull her into one of those stuporous sleeps that came when her brain switched off in the middle of a lecture. Almost.

What she did was call Aubrey (who was listed as ‘Dictator’ on her list). Something she considered as impossibly stupid for the twenty-six seconds while the phone rang. Huh, twenty-six was a long time. Why wasn’t she answering?

Finally the line was picked up with a chirpy, “Aubrey’s phone.” And Beca would know that sweet voice anywhere. Her stomach plummeted to her feet and tied itself in a little knot, hoping to die slowly.

“Is she around?” Beca asked in a somewhat hoarser tone than she might like.

Chloe’s frown was pretty audible even through the phone line. “Beca? Is that you? Why are you calling Aubrey?”

“Uh…” Beca said eloquently. “Because I am? Is she there?”

“Nope,” Chloe replied, not even questioning her lame reason for the call. “She left it here while she went to class. Apparently she forgot to put it on silent last time and has since resolved never to be embarrassed like that again.”

“So she left it in the apartment?” Beca enquired flatly.

“Yup,” she said, popping her ‘p’. “I can take a message though if you’d like.”

Beca groaned. “No. This needs to be direct from me to her. No middle man.”

Again that audible frown. “Are you alright? I’m figuring it must be a life-or-death type deal for Aubrey to be called.”

Sure is life or death, Beca lamented. I’m totally whipped by my best friend’s girl and I can’t stop. Never has the phrase ‘woe is me’ been more accurate in the history of mankind.

Not that she said any of that to Chloe, mind. Instead what came out was a garbled collection of vowels interspersed with the occasional consonant syllable. Beca wasn’t entirely sure what kind of sentiment she was hoping to express with that, but it didn’t matter. She was talking to Chloe.

Chloe, who had no comprehension of physical boundaries but knew precisely when to drop a topic and move on. She was the most baffling assortment of invasive and respectful qualities. Baffling in a good way, to be sure.

“Yeah, that makes sense then,” Chloe commiserated. Now it was a smile that Beca could hear in her voice. A smile she wished she was there to see. The reaction to seeing Chloe smile was always disproportionate and illogical, but it gave her those elusive ‘warm and fuzzies’ that people talk about.

“Cool,” she stuttered. “Let her know I want to talk to her for me.”

“Can do. Hey,” Chloe added almost as an afterthought (only Beca knew Chloe didn’t have those). “What are you doing this afternoon?”

Beca glanced over at her clock. It read 4.15pm. Her lips twitched up in a fleeting, ghostly smile of her own, tainted by cynicism and frustration. “And by ‘afternoon’ you mean ‘now’, am I right?”

There was a moment of silence while Chloe checked the time. “Oh yeah,” she said. “Well, what are you doing?”

Hiding, was her initial response. That would be inappropriate though (and open up an avenue of interrogation she didn’t have the heart to face). “Studying,” she supplied.

Chloe scoffed. “Yeah right. So you’re not busy? Great. Let’s catch a movie.”

But I don’t like movies. “Sure, what are we seeing?”

Because no matter how hard Jesse tried, no matter how he pushed or wormed or coerced or guilt-tripped, the only person who could get Beca to the movies without complaint was Chloe. No she’s not kidding. Chloe is the only one. Although if she were feeling particularly sappy (and she’s not, Beca’s not a sappy person and will not indulge in fantasies or admission of ‘feelings’) she’d dispense with the ‘only’ and be quite serious when she says it.

“Jesse’s picking,” Chloe said. And Beca’s heart, which was still down in her ankles but had been feeling a little better about this whole ‘living’ thing, returned to cowering. She pondered belatedly backing out. “No, you can’t bail,” Chloe added, reading her mind as always.

“I’ll be the third wheel, Chlo,” she whined. “Just go without me.”

“Not an option.”

“Chloe…” she tried.

“No, look. Jesse really wants us to be besties,” Chloe cut her off. “So you’re going to the movies with us. I know this for a fact.”

“You do, huh? And how is it that you’re so sure?”

“I’m standing outside your dorm.”

Shit. Beca lurched to her feet and peered anxiously out one corner of the window, trying desperately not to disturb the curtains. Jesse’s car was pulled up on the curb; he was in the driver’s seat. Two people with their heads together meandered down the path. But Chloe wasn’t either of them. She wasn’t there at all. Relief crashed through her.

That was before someone knocked on her door. She froze, phone pressing a little too hard into her ear as she stared wide-eyed at the wood. Never before had she wanted to throw herself out her window, but it was looking like a pretty viable option right now. If Jesse hadn’t been there she might’ve done it too.

“Step away from your window,” Chloe’s voice spoke softly into her ear. It still sounded too loud because it was being held so tightly. “And come let me in.”

Beca hung up.

And stayed rooted to the spot for another few moments. Minutes even, probably would’ve been more accurate. Her clock ticked on the table.

Chloe knocked again.

Sighing, (well aware of the redhead’s tenacity and stubbornness) she resigned herself to the fact that Chloe would stand there all day if she had to, Beca shuffled to the door. Her fingers hovered above the doorknob for a moment, dancing around it in much the same way she’d been dancing around Chloe for the last few weeks. Slowly (ever so goddamn slowly) she closed her hand around the steel and turned, pulling it in as she did so.

She regretted it instantly. Chloe was beaming at her in that way that wasn’t fake because nothing about her was fake. She was perfectly genuine all the time and that killed. She also looked good in everything (seriously, she could wear a hessian sack and still make Beca’s heart stop) so Beca did her very best not to notice her skinny jeans or the way her blue top made her eyes look luminescent. It wasn’t easy and Beca writhed with the effort, but managed to at least slap on a sarcastic I-don’t-give-a-damn expression.

Chloe’s smile never wavered. She just grabbed Beca by the elbow and dragged her down the stairs. Jesse had tried really hard to get them to be friends. The three of them had spent a lot of time together when he and Chloe first started dating. Even then the overly boisterous woman hadn’t had a problem invading her personal space. And even then, Beca hadn’t hated it.

Now that they could finally label each other ‘friends’ it just hurt that little bit more. Beca spent a moment as they nearly fell down the stairs trying to work out what ‘it’ was. When they stepped outside she gave up, concluding that ‘it’ was just a nice little word to generally encompass everything that was Chloe Beale and how completely out of reach she was.

Jesse smiled his toothpaste-ad-smile when they slid into the car (Chloe in shotgun, Beca slouching as far down in her back seat as she could so she didn’t have to watch them together). Naturally, he twisted in his chair to grin at her, holding up a fist for her to bump. She complied reluctantly (it had been one of his stipulations; if they were going to be friends, some sort of friendly contact had to be maintained. Fist bumps were her compromise. Hugs were off limits).

Try as she might though, Beca spent the whole afternoon (and the movie it entailed) wishing she was anywhere else. Every time they looked at each other, every time they smiled, when Jesse would take her hand or she’d kiss his cheek, Beca wanted to die a little bit. She wanted to run off and bury herself in sand (or dirt or gravel, or whatever soil-type ground stuff happened to be closest). She ignored the movie, she ignored them, she spent most of the afternoon staring at her phone playing games or sending scrambled texts to Fat Amy or Stacie. Her go to would’ve been Aubrey, but she was pretty sure Chloe still had the blonde’s phone, much to her (surprised) irritation.

 

---

 

She needed a bath.

And, had she been brave enough, she would’ve used the public ones. But not long after Jesse and Chloe had started dating, the redhead (along with her enthusiasm and disregard for privacy) had exploded into her shower stall. And that hadn’t been awkward in the least had it? Oh no. Part of her thought it was funny that she’d seen Chloe naked before Jesse. The rest of her just bemoaned the fact that Jesse would ever get that opportunity.

Nope. She shut down that line of thinking and decided that just this once she’d bother Stacie for a shower. Given the circumstances, it wasn’t a bad idea.

“What’s up, mopey?” the lanky brunette asked when she pulled the door to and found Beca standing on her doorstep trying to look as small as possible. “You look like you just watched someone violently kick a puppy.”

“I need a shower,” she said in the most monotone voice she could manage when secretly she wanted to cry a little bit. “And the public ones really don’t seem all that appealing right now.”

Stacie lifted an eyebrow, opened her mouth, closed it again. She stepped aside. “I thought you bothered Chloe for a shower when the public ones are full of people you don’t like the look of.” Her eyes glittered with amusement (probably pertaining to the fact that some people – not naming names, Aubrey – didn’t like the look of her either).

“Jesse’s over there.”

Stacie chuckled. “I do love it when you use monosyllabic replies.”

“That’s a big word for you isn’t it, Stace?”

“I study law, short stuff. I know lots of big words.”

Beca grumbled something unintelligible and shambled down the hall to the shower. She stood under the cold water for a while, hoping it would help wash away some of her weirdness, or help her forget Chloe. It didn’t.

Staring in the mirror afterwards didn’t help either. She couldn’t help but feel every single insecurity and doubt eating away at her innards. She closed her eyes.

Stop, she commanded herself. Just stop caring about her. Take a deep breath and stop caring one whit about Chloe. Do it. Life will be better if you do that. Just say it out loud. Say you don’t care.

Beca opened her mouth, eyes still closed, to say exactly that. But those words weren’t what slipped in hushed tones through her trembling lips. They weren’t. But they should’ve been. It would’ve been easier that way.

“Goddamn, I’m in love with Chloe,” she whispered to her reflection.

How the hell does that even happen? Actually it did make a kind of warped sense really. Ever since she and Jesse had started going out about a year ago, Beca had been there on the fringes. Half in, half out of the shadows, semi-involved in their relationship as Jesse tried so valiantly to get his girlfriend and best friend to like each other. That backfired on you didn’t it, Jesse? You wanted us to be friends and now I’m in love with your girl. What a twisted life this is.

She couldn’t say anything about it though. Couldn’t do a damn thing. Beca would never be able to do that. Not to Jesse. He’d been there through everything.

Quietly, she sank on to the lid of the toilet, elbows on her knees, head in her hands. She cried then, on Stacie’s toilet in nothing but her underwear. How pathetic. But just for a little while, Beca felt justified indulging herself. This was pretty messed up, no two ways about it.

Her phone vibrated on the dresser. Then again two seconds later.

Rubbing the heels of her palms across her eyes to clear them of excess tears, she stood to grab it. Her eyes kept watering though. It was going to be tough to get out of here without having a meltdown. Maybe Stacie could be nice to her just once and let her crash on the couch (without then divulging this entire quagmire to everyone she knew).

Stacie: Are you done in my bathroom yet?

Beca stifled a chuckle. She sent back. Gimme a minute. Then she opened the next one.

Dictator: Chloe said you wanted to talk.

Her fingers drummed against the phone casing for a minute as she thought about that. What if it was Chloe on the other end still? But no, that’s not how Chloe would write a text. Hers usually came accompanied by emoticons of one variety or another.

I do, she replied. Can you meet me at the Bella’s rehearsal space?

There was a very long moment before her phone buzzed again. And when it did it was from Stacie. Seriously. Get out. I need to pee.

Hold your horses, Stacie. I’m semi-nude.

That does not bother me.

Her phone whirred again straight after that message, diverting Beca’s attention back to Aubrey. Five minutes, was all the blonde’s text said. It was good enough.

Beca splashed water across her face in a somewhat fruitless attempt to wash away all evidence of her tears (they were unbecoming and if anyone asked she didn’t ever indulge in them). She was successful enough that after pulling on her clothes she felt pretty alright with facing Stacie.

Her friend was doing an amusing dance routine just outside the door. Stacie peered at her briefly before dashing past her into the bathroom. Incidents like this were precisely the reason Beca would invest in a toilet separate to the bathroom in her own house.

“Stacie,” she called through the door. “Can I sleep on your couch tonight?”

There were some muffled noises before Stacie shouted back, “Why’s that? Don’t you have a bed of your own?”

“Kimmy Jin’s friends are coming over tonight,” Beca improvised. “I don’t like the way they look at me.”

“What about Jesse?”

Oh good Lord, no, Beca thought. “I think he’s with Chloe. I don’t want to intrude.”

More muted sounds preceded the toilet flushing and Stacie emerging again. Beca was getting frowned at then, studied minutely and weighed every way to Sunday. “Sure. My couch doesn’t have a tenant at present. So be my guest.”

“That is the plan,” Beca told her sarcastically. “I’ll be back in twenty.”

Happily (or unhappily, she wasn’t sure) it was a relatively short walk to the hall from Stacie’s room. Aubrey was sitting on the bench outside with an extra jacket pulled tight around her. It was then that Beca realised the night had a bit of a cold sting to it. Funny she hadn’t noticed that earlier. She didn’t feel it.

Aubrey stood when she saw Beca slouching over. Her perma-scowl was affixed to her face as usual; it might’ve looked slightly more intense today because she was out so late. Or maybe it was because Beca was the one who called, or maybe it was the moonlight or… really, who knew? Beca didn’t care that much.

“Hey,” she said, stopping beside the angry blonde.

“You better have an excellent reason to have dragged me out here, hobbit,” Aubrey growled, dispensing with pleasantries completely. This is a good sign.

Beca hunched her shoulders a little. She wasn’t even in the mood to get defensive about the nickname. Something Aubrey picked up on immediately and her expression softened.

“Are you alright, Beca?” she asked quietly. The use of her name was also a good sign.

“No.”

Aubrey rolled her eyes. “Enlightening. Now try to explain with words what’s going on in that head of yours.”

Beca exhaled heavily, stuffing her hands in her pockets. “I don’t even know why I called you,” she muttered. “It’s not like you can help me. Actually, it’s probably the dumbest thing I’ve ever done and given recent developments that’s saying something.”

“You’re blabbering,” Aubrey deadpanned.

“Sorry. I just…” Her hands reappeared of their own volition, kneading the air in front of her in a vain attempt to get across how weird she was feeling. “I can’t… I met a girl.”

Aubrey fixed her with a very penetrating stare. It was worrying. “So?”

“So she’s seeing someone,” Beca went on carefully. This could end super horribly. “But I started spending time with her anyway. She’s pretty cool, you know? And Jesse’s always telling me I need more friends, so I figured why not, right? But…”

“You like her.”

Beca could not express how thankful to Aubrey she was in that moment. Speaking those words was too hard. It was nice that she didn’t have to. She bobbed her head absently, plunging her hands back into her pockets.

“I do,” she eventually murmured. “Way too much. She’s… she’s amazing and loving her is so easy. Like breathing. And it’s just as necessary too. That stupid movie analogy about needing someone more than the air you breathe has never felt more real than it does right now.”

“So say something.”

Beca scowled at her. “Weren’t you listening? She’s in a relationship already. I can’t do that.”

“Why not?” Aubrey looked genuinely confused. “You just admitted that you love her. To me. Tell her. What’s the worst that can happen?”

At that, Beca actually chortled. “We can’t be friends after something like that. And I would rather be her friend than be nothing at all.”

Aubrey slid silently back onto her bench. “Look, I’m not your best friend; in fact, I’d be very hesitant to call you my friend at all. So advice from me isn’t going to be coloured at all by my desire for you to get a happily-ever-after. I don’t care that much. But you’ve been distracted recently; you’ve been hiding, hard to get in contact with and a bigger pain in my butt than normal. If this girl is behind it, you need to tell her. How many times have I told you people to handle your toners, huh? You’re not happy. And I guarantee you it’s better to tell them and find out one way or the other than do nothing and live with that regret for the rest of your life.”

Beca was taken aback by the slurry of words pouring from Aubrey’s mouth. At the end it sounded as though she was talking to herself more than Beca. For a moment (just one moment, mind you), Beca wondered if Aubrey kept a similar regret tucked away behind her ribs.

“I will,” she eventually allowed. “If you tell whoever you’re pining over that you’ve got it bad for them.”

Aubrey’s smile took on a dark cast. “That sounds almost like blackmail, Mitchell.”

“It might be,” she conceded. “But I’ve always learned from example.”

She sighed. “If you like the girl and you think you could be better for her, what’s stopping you? You don’t come across as the type of person who cares much about other peoples’ feelings.”

Beca sank down beside Aubrey hesitantly. “I know her… significant other, too,” she admitted.

Aubrey eyed her pointedly and Beca wondered if she’d said too much. “You don’t make life easy for yourself, huh?”

“What do I do?” The words were so small that even Beca was scared by them. That was completely ignoring the part where she asked Aubrey for help as well.

For a long time Aubrey didn’t answer and Beca got a bit antsy about that. Then, “If you told her how you felt and the whole thing went south,” she began tentatively. “How easy would it be to cut them both out of your life?”

She shrugged. “I guess I could move to Iceland and hide in a smoky tavern as a beer wench for the rest of my life,” Beca said with a completely straight face.

“Wow.” And that was all Aubrey had to say.

“You’re being very helpful,” Beca griped.

“What do you want me to say?”

“I dunno. But I figured you’d have something really classy to say that would make me feel so much better about holding all this in,” Beca said. “Maybe something about letting my friends be happy even though I feel like shit because it’s the right thing to do. Just something to validate my decision to feel awful about this because every time I see her I… I just can’t stay there in case I do something I’ll regret like kiss her or whatever.”

Aubrey arched an eyebrow. “You’re totally whipped. Who is this girl?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Beca said, hoping Aubrey wouldn’t push it.

Of course, that got a horrible thoughtful expression to cross Aubrey’s face. And when she spoke, Beca wanted to die. “Why did you come to me with this? Couldn’t you ask Jesse?”

She shook her head. “Nope, I couldn’t do that. He’d tell me to go for it.”

“So you want someone to tell you not to do anything,” Aubrey mused. “As your captain first and foremost, I dislike how distracted you are by this mystery girl. So I’m telling you to do something about it. I don’t care what, just do something.”

“I…” Beca began, but there was no way she could get across just how much of a bind she was in without telling Aubrey everything. And honestly, she didn’t trust the blonde that far. She was pretty convinced that if Aubrey found out, Chloe would too. Couldn’t have that.

Aubrey stood. “Well you’re being unnecessarily difficult to talk to about your own problem,” she huffed. “So I’m going. And you can wallow if you want. Just stop letting it affect your performances.”

With that she left Beca sitting in the cold outside the gymnasium. Beca sighed, leaning back into the wall, hoping the night would have something edifying to say. It didn’t.

“Goddamn it, Mitchell,” she grumbled to herself watching the leaves sway in the breeze above her. “You had to go and fall for the one girl you can’t have.”

“And who might that be?”

Beca jolted upright, twisting to see Chloe slide down beside her.

“What are you doing here?” Beca blurted.

“I came looking for Aubrey. Did she leave?”

“Yeah you just missed her.”

Chloe bumped her in the shoulder. “Who’s the lucky girl, huh?”

“No one.” Beca made the mistake of looking over at Chloe though. “She’s taken.”

“Come on, Becs,” Chloe pressed, grabbing Beca’s wrist causing her brain to short-circuit. “If she doesn’t break up with whatever tosser she’s dating to be with you then she doesn’t deserve you.”

Beca’s heart looked up from where it had been sitting in her feet and leapt to her throat, forcing it shut. Best not to say anything to that, it seemed to be telling her. And Beca could only agree. Nothing good would come of a confession. She shook her head at Chloe, the only answer she could muster.

“What’s the matter?” Chloe asked after her prolonged silence. “Can’t tell me? I promise I won’t tell.” And she smiled then. Beca could feel her resolve crumbling. Not even her pragmatic heart wailing in her ears had much chance of holding her together when Chloe smiled at her like that.

“I can’t…” she whispered. The sincerity and concern in Chloe’s blue eyes wasn’t helping. She had to look away. “I can’t do that to my friends.”

Then Chloe frowned. “You know who she’s dating?”

Beca nodded absently, feeling warmth spread through her radiating from where Chloe’s fingers still wrapped around her wrist. She could feel the tears again, burning behind her eyes.

“And you don’t want to hurt them? Why?”

She opened her mouth to speak but her heart was still sitting there with fingers clamped firmly around her tongue to keep her quiet. “I can’t…” Beca wavered, fighting herself. “I can’t tell her that I’m so hopelessly in love with her because I can’t hurt my friend like that. I’d lose them both and that would suck so much.” She glanced back over at Chloe again. “I can’t get between them,” she whispered. “I could never hurt my best friend like that. Ever.”

Chloe’s eyes widened and Beca thought back on what she’d said. When she realised the words she’d used she ripped her hand from Chloe’s grip and raced off into the dark without even saying goodbye.

She crashed into her dorm room (startling Kimmy Jin and two of her friends, weird how her excuse was actually legitimate after all). Beca ignored them all as she hastily packed her suitcase and a backpack. Laptop and accompanying equipment, a few changes of clothes and a haphazard assortment of toiletries later and she was rushing back out again.

Kimmy Jin didn’t say so much as a word the whole time.

It took her a very frazzled ten minutes to run (or whatever speed comes just before that because Beca doesn’t run anywhere, not even when Aubrey is yelling at her during practice) across campus to Stacie’s apartment. She banged on the door for a few overly stretched moments before Stacie pulled it open rolling her eyes.

“Calm down, pint sized,” she said. “Come in.”

“I thought only Amy and Aubrey made fun of my height,” she puffed, slumping onto the sofa.

“We all do it. Did you run?” Stacie had a funny little smile on her face.

“Not quite, but I did go pretty fast, yes.”

“Why? Is Kimmy Jin really that scary?”

“I didn’t want to be at my dorm for longer than absolutely necessary. That’s the first place Chloe will look.” Or Jesse… she realised absently. Of course Chloe will tell Jesse about her weird behaviour and then he’ll go visit to find out what’s wrong.

Stacie collapsed beside her. “And why are we hiding from your pretty friend, huh? And why are you all packed like you’re going somewhere?”

Beca pulled her laptop from her bag and immediately began a search for plane tickets. “Yes I’m hiding from Chloe,” she said, happily locating a plane leaving in the morning. “No I don’t want to talk about it. Yes I am leaving. Mid-semester break starts next weekend and I’m starting my holiday early.”

“Um… why are you going to…” Stacie leaned closer to see where she’d selected as her destination. “Philadelphia?”

“It’s where my mum lives,” Beca told her softly. “I’m spending the break with her.”

Stacie smiled. “When did you decide this?”

“Just now.”

“I guess you prefer flight to fight, then yeah?” Stacie asked with a teasing jab in her shoulder. “Aubrey’s going to kill you when she finds out.”

“Only if she comes to Philly.”

 

---

 

“Oh, Beca!” her mother squealed as she opened the door, throwing arms around Beca’s neck. “You’re here.” Then she pulled back. “Why are you here? Isn’t there another week of term left?”

Beca shrugged. “I’ll hand my assignments in over the internet, mum. Don’t worry.”

Her mother peered at her worriedly but pulled her inside anyway. “What prompted this surprise visit, Beca?” she asked, attempting to relieve her of her baggage. Beca fended her off.

“Do I need a reason to spontaneously visit my mother?”

The other woman quirked an eyebrow. “Usually.”

“Well I see dad a lot now,” Beca said slowly, making it up as she went. “I figured I could visit on my break.”

Anita bobbed her head. “You did something stupid didn’t you?”

“Mum!” Beca cried.

“Well,” she said defensively. “You do tend to run from mistakes. It’s a logical conclusion to come to. What happened? Was it your father? Did he say something?”

“No, mum. Geez,” she sighed, crumpling onto a chair in the living room. “I just got here. Can’t the interrogation on the failure that is my life wait for a few days?”

Anita held up her hands in surrender. “Sure. If that’s what you want. Just promise you’ll talk to me about it, okay?”

“Course.”

“Good. Then what do you want for dinner?”

The peace lasted a few days, Beca wasn’t sure how many, time got a little blurred somewhere in there, but she thought maybe it was five days. And then her mother brought it up again. She tried to deflect, tried to exist in a little bubble of ignorance and stupidity, but Anita wasn’t having any of that.

Turns out visiting her mother wasn’t quite the best idea. She should’ve gone to San Francisco. She didn’t know anyone there.

“Beca…” Anita whined across the dinner table. “Stop being a grump and tell your dear old mother what happened.”

“I met a girl,” she ground out after almost a week of avoiding the topic. “But she’s dating my best friend.”

Anita made a pained face. “Ouch.”

“Thanks for the support.”

“Find another girl, Beca.”

She shook her head. “It’s really not that simple.”

Anita smiled sadly then. “I’m sorry. She’s that great huh?”

Beca sighed. “More fantastic than you know.”

Her phone beeped then, saving her from further questioning. She snatched it from her pocket and stared at it for a very long time before what it was saying actually sank in. So long in fact that Anita stood and walked off to go do something else.

Jesse: Chloe broke up with me.

Beca didn’t even know what to do with that information. Maybe cry again? It took her six minutes and forty-three seconds before she was sure her hands would stop shaking long enough to type a reply.

Sorry man, she sent. Did she say why?

Yeah. She said she wasn’t feeling ‘it’ anymore and that there might be someone else.

Ouch, bro. You alright?

There was a silence then. No doubt Jesse was trying to decide if he was alright or not. I’m not sure, his reply eventually told her. Maybe. I don’t feel as hurt as I expected. Like… Like I’m not upset or let down or anything.

You’re in shock.

Beca, she broke up with me a week ago.

AND YOU’RE ONLY TELLING ME THIS NOW?

I’ve been trying to work things out.

She supposed that would make sense. But still. Jesse had been her best friend for years. Beca would never admit it, but she was just a little bit hurt that he hadn’t told her sooner.

And how did that go for you, she sent him.

I’m ok with it. I mean, if she found someone better, good for her right?

You were together for a year, Jess. Don’t you feel slighted even a little?

Nope.

How reasonable and gentlemanly of you.

I know it’s hard, but can you not sarcasm me through text?

Beca did not even know how to respond to that. Stop being sarcastic? The very idea was alien. She waited a moment, wondering if it was completely wrong to ask her next question.

She asked it anyway. Jess… Do you know if there really is another guy Chloe was seeing?

His reply was less than instant. In fact, it took him just short of two minutes to send something back. I… I’m pretty sure, he said. She said she wasn’t sure how she felt about him (this other guy, I mean). And she wanted to work it out before anything happened. But she was definitely sure it wasn’t fair to me. Honestly, the way she’s been these last few months, I’m not surprised. Not really.

Few MONTHS? Jesse, are you crazy? She’s been seeing someone else for a few months?

I don’t think so. Not dating anyway. Just someone she’s met and fallen for or something. Does that happen to girls?

Why are you being so calm about this? Beca was curious because she was pretty flustered.

Because. I’m not going to be that jerk who says no one can have her if I can’t. That’s what happens in movies and it never ends well.

So you’ll just let her go? Just like that? You won’t even fight?

She didn’t let me. Every time I tried she shut me down. So yes, I’m just going to let her go.

Beca had to stop for a minute and put her head in her hands. Then she pressed the dial button to ring him. All this typing was giving her carpel tunnel. Or RSI.

“Beca?” he asked after a few rings.

“I’m sick of typing, talking is easier.”

“Fair enough. Do you have another line of enquiry to follow then?”

She chewed her lips for a minute. “I’m not sure,” Beca conceded. “I just… I just don’t get it. If you knew she was being all distracted by some other guy, why didn’t you call her out?”

“I wasn’t sure. And it’s no big deal.”

“It’s a whole year of your life, Jesse,” she said dryly. “That’s a pretty big deal.”

He chuckled. “You’re seriously having trouble wrapping your head around this, aren’t you?”

Yes,” she exclaimed.

“She’s in love with someone else, Beca,” he said as one might to a six year old. “I can’t change that.”

“Why didn’t you press her on it earlier, though?” she groaned. “I mean, really.”

She could basically feel him shrug. “I don’t know. I didn’t realise.” His voice was funny. He sounded… distracted. Beca was going to say something but the doorbell rang. She ignored it.

“Beca, get the door would you?” her mother called from further in the house.

“Should I hang up?” Jesse teased.

“No, don’t worry. I’ll just chase them away. Then I can grill you some more.” She stood, heading for the door. “I don’t understand you, Jesse,” she went on. “How do you not notice your girlfriend is pining after someone else? More to the point, how do you not know who that person is?”

“Aubrey said you were pining after some mystery person too,” he said wryly. “I didn’t know that. Who is she?”

Beca was about to snap at him for that (or ask him why he was talking to Aubrey), but then she pulled the door in. And nearly dropped her phone.

“Chloe,” she rasped.

What?” Jesse screamed in her ear. “What’s she doing? Where are you? What–” Beca hung up on him. It started ringing again instantly.

Silently, Beca stepped back to let the redhead walk past and quietly wondered if she was hallucinating. She followed to the kitchen, trying not to stare (too openly) and then stood dumbly as Chloe leaned against the table.

“This place wasn’t easy to find you know,” Chloe told her calmly. As if she hadn’t just materialised on Anita’s doorstep miles from Barden.

Beca’s throat worked for a moment, trying to decide how the hell she should react to this situation. “What… How did… What are you doing here? How did you find me?” Neither question seemed more important so she just asked both.

“Stacie told me you were going to Philly to see your mum,” Chloe said, gaze fixed steadily to Beca’s face. “So I asked your dad for her address.”

“That’s not stalkerish at all, is it?” She tried to sound cavalier about that, but it came out a little hoarse so it probably didn’t work. “And why are you here?”

“Because you ran away and I need to talk to you.” She glanced down at Beca’s pocket which was still singing a little tune. “Are you going to answer that?”

She shrugged. “It’s just Jesse. He’ll give up in a minute and start spamming me with stupid texts. Speaking of, he said you broke up with him.”

Chloe nodded. “I did.”

“Why?”

“I know he’s your best friend,” she said slowly. “But… But I just don’t like him like that anymore. I don’t think I have for a while now.”

“So he was right?” Beca asked quietly, her heart trying to burn a hole through her ribcage and run off. “There is someone else?”

Chloe tilted her head to one side, regarding Beca quizzically (perhaps unsure of something). “Yes,” she admitted gently. “I wasn’t sure at first, but I think it makes sense now.”

A strange cacophony of anger and confusion surged through Beca. “How long have you been with them?” She wanted to yell at Chloe, to demand why she would do this to Jesse.

“I haven’t been seeing anyone,” Chloe said hastily, eyes widening as she realised what Beca was thinking. “It was an accident. I promise. I didn’t want to hurt him and I didn’t expect to fall for someone else. Sometimes life just throws a few curve balls at you.”

“Must be one hell of a curve ball,” Beca grumbled.

“Yup, a five foot two, grumpy, brunette curve ball,” Chloe replied with a blank expression.

Beca’s heart stopped.

Chloe slid up onto the dining table and patted the spot next to her. Beca didn’t move. She suddenly had a flash of insight, understanding exactly why it was deer always froze in headlights.

“You should probably say something right about now,” Chloe said around an awkward smile.

Her throat constricted. “You should’ve stuck with Jesse. He’s taller,” was all she could get out.

Chloe actually laughed at that. “Beca, you’ve gone red.”

She huffed. Part of Beca understood what Chloe was saying. The rest of her was still staring at those headlights wondering when the rest of the car would enter her field of vision and canon right over the top of her. It wasn’t a pleasant experience.

“Nothing else to say?” Chloe asked quietly.

Beca shook her head.

“Are you sure?”

She shook her head again.

Chloe laughed. She slipped off the table then and took a step towards Beca. “Would you like me to explain it to you then?”

Beca wanted to ask all sorts of questions, but her brain had gone into overdrive and she couldn’t concentrate hard enough to figure out what it was she wanted to ask. She stopped trying and just nodded.

“I thought it was one of those passing fancy things, you know,” Chloe told her. “But no. I just really like you. Kay?”

“You dated my best friend,” Beca said feeling very stupid.

“Good observation skills.” Chloe stopped right in front of her and Beca was abruptly self-conscious. “I didn’t want to like you this way, Beca. I tried really hard not to,” she continued. “But I do.”

“I can’t hurt Jesse,” Beca mumbled.

“This is his fault,” Chloe stated nonchalantly, waving a hand between them.

“How do you figure?”

“He was the one so invested in getting us to like each other,” she said impishly. “I think it worked. Better than he might’ve intended.”

“Did it?” she croaked.

“You tell me,” Chloe muttered. “Was I, or was I not the girl you basically confessed undying love to last week? You said you couldn’t say anything because she was dating your best friend. Well I hate to break it to you, Bec, but you don’t have such a long list of friends and Jesse is at the top. Did you obliquely tell me you love me?”

Beca thought about that. Her hearing was all fuzzy because her heart was pumping so much blood to her head like it thought she was about to pass out. Actually, passing out seemed like a pretty good idea in that moment.

She nodded.

And Chloe lit up like the sun. Like Christmas lights, like fireworks on New Years’ Eve. Like the stars in the sky on a clear night.

“If I kiss you right now will you panic?” Chloe asked.

“Probably.”

“Can I do it anyway?”

“If you want.”

So she did. Chloe leaned in, wrapped her around Beca’s neck and kissed her. Just like that. Soft and careful; leaving open every opportunity for Beca to run away.

She didn’t though.