Beca didn’t come back to Residual Heat until Wednesday.
By then, Chloe felt pretty numb. She’d already been sad, and her anger was gone too. When she thought back on what they had done, on the phone, all she felt was embarrassed. She wasn’t a cheater - but apparently, Beca was - and she couldn’t believe she had gotten swept up in the producer’s games yet again.
Beca was probably gloating over it, that she gotten Chloe off with just her voice. She probably added Chloe to the list of conquests and moved on.
(Chloe didn’t think about the other things that she had said - about getting turned on by Chloe’s voice, or about how she thought of Chloe when she was with another woman. “I’d say anything to get you up here,” hadn’t Beca said that before too?)
So when The Bellas got called in for a meeting with Beca on Wednesday, Chloe dressed robotically and followed her friends without any thought as to how Beca would act. It didn’t matter. She had won.
That was all it was about for Beca.
All of the Residual team was already in the formal lounge when they showed up. Beca was there sprawled over an armchair, her ripped grey jean-clad legs thrown over one of the arms and flannel crumpled around her waist. She looked the slightest bit tanner as she laughed at something Jesse had said, teeth bright against a nude lip. But when the singers started filing in, she sat up quickly, swinging her legs to the floor to stand as her mouth fell into a tight line.
She stared at Chloe.
Chloe didn’t look back.
Because even though news had broken that she and Kalina had apparently ended the vacation on bad terms - that maybe the whirlwind romance was over before it even really started - Chloe didn’t care. She wasn’t Beca’s plaything to mess around with, to use when she wanted. She didn’t need that. She needed to move on.
When Beca didn’t say anything, choosing instead to stare blindly at Chloe, Jesse cleared his throat.
“All right!” he said cheerfully, clapping once. Beca broke her gaze on Chloe to glance at him, but her eyes shortly returned to the redhead.
“Let’s listen to these tracks! Beca hasn’t heard anything yet-”
“I’m sorry,” Beca said quickly, loudly, and Chloe’s eyes snapped to hers furiously.
Not now, she glowered. Hell, not ever.
She hoped that her expression conveyed the unspoken command to shut up, and when Beca swallowed and turned to the other women, Chloe thought she was in the clear.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t around,” she added, meeting Stacie’s eyes, then CR. The latter only crossed her arms with a disapproving hum.
“I had some- uh, some other work to attend to,” she winced, and Fat Amy laughed loudly.
“Is that what we’re calling it now?” she mocked. “Bumpa, want to have a business meeting later?”
Bumper rolled his eyes and went to speak, but she cut him off.
“I’m joking,” Amy said seriously. “I would never show you my spreadsheets.”
“Okay!” Jesse cut in, but Chloe saw Amy wink at Bumper, and the producer gaped like a hungry fish. Chloe’s grin tugged at the corner of her mouth, and she felt her eyes involuntary slide to Beca’s.
The brunette was grinning at her, clearly happy to be included in the joke. But Chloe dropped her smile, closing her expression like an iron door as she looked away.
They moved to get comfortable as Jesse pulled Bumper towards the stereo. Chloe purposefully chose to sit far from Beca, pointed away so that she wouldn’t have to avoid the producer’s gaze. But even sitting in a far chair that faced Stacie and Aubrey on the couch, she could feel Beca watching her.
She was about to tell her to buzz off when the songs started up, claiming everyone’s attention.
They listened all the way through, including the fully mastered version of Scared of Happy. Though they had only recorded over Beca’s initial backing tracks on all the other ones, Chloe knew they sounded good, and she struggled against singing along at certain parts. She could see Stacie squirming in her seat too, Aubrey’s hand on her knee doing nothing to keep the tall brunette shifting around.
“I wanna sing so bad,” she whispered across the room, and Stacie giggled softly.
“It’s, like, actual torture,” she agreed. “Couldn’t they have listened without us?”
“No kidding,” Amy leaned over to add. “Besides, I’m much better in a live performance.”
All of the women looked up to see Bumper with his finger to his lips.
“Bite me, sound boy,” Amy hissed, but then Aubrey shh’d them to, and they fell silent again.
The tracks came to a close, and Chloe felt everyone tittering nervously. She chanced a look over her shoulder, seeing Beca concentrating hard on her notebook in front of her. She stared for a second, glancing out in front of her, squinted, then added one more note before shutting it. She looked directly at Chloe first, and before she looked away, Chloe saw her face was nearly broken in two by a huge smile.
“Really good, dudes,” she said, and Chloe felt the collective sigh of relief from her bandmates and manager. “Seriously, you guys killed it. I have a few notes, and a few things I want to add, but we can do that after I work on these more. I’ll go through them this week and- ah. Yeah, over the weekend too. I’ll call you guys in if I need anything before that, but… yeah. These are great. Really, really good, dudes.”
Amy whooped loudly, and CR laughed but gave the Australian an excited high five. Stacie leaned forward, putting a hand on Chloe’s knee, and Chloe reached for it, squeezing happily.
But the excitement was short lived, because Beca just had to ask-
“So which of the new songs have you guys learned already?”
Chloe blanched. She hadn’t talked to anyone about the songs that she’d written. They’d read them, sure, but she hadn’t sang them for the group to learn.
No one had heard them but Beca.
“Well,” Stacie spoke up, clearing her throat. “We wrote some stuff, like you asked…”
“What?” Beca laughed. “No, which of Chloe’s songs have you started on? We picked out three or four of them last week.”
The room fell quiet, and Chloe took a deep breath and held it.
Maybe Beca would-
“Chloe, what the fuck? You didn’t teach them anything?”
Or maybe she wouldn’t.
Stacie and Aubrey were the only two that she could see, but Chloe could feel everyone staring at her, waiting for her to say something.
She didn’t say anything - couldn’t, really - and she let her breath out in a rough sigh before turning around to face Beca.
“No, I didn’t tell them anything from our convo last week,” she said, her voice stronger than she was expecting it to be. She raised an eyebrow at Beca, and the producer gave a short huff before she looked away.
“Great,” Beca said sarcastically. She reached for something behind her chair, something Chloe couldn’t see, and added, “Okay, let’s sing Flex, I already have most of a track for that one.”
She pulled out the guitar from the Broom Closet studio.
Chloe jumped to her feet. She glanced around the room, but if anyone did meet her eye, they looked away.
“I don’t want to sing right now.”
Beca blinked at her before resuming her focus on tuning the guitar in her hands. Chloe felt a hand on her arm, and she looked to see Stacie had gotten up, too.
“We should probably hear it,” she whispered. “We haven’t heard any of the new stuff, and if we’re going to be recording them-“
“Who said we’re recording them?” Chloe snapped back. She resumed her glare at Beca. “I’m not singing right now.”
Tuning completed, Beca looked up, meeting Chloe’s glare with one of her own.
“Don’t be a diva,” she spat at Chloe. “Just sing the song.”
“Ha! That’s rich, coming from you!” Chloe replied sharply.
Aubrey was up then, too, pushing Stacie away and stepping up next to Chloe.
“If my client says that she isn’t singing right now, then that’s that,” she said briskly. “It’s not the time.”
“Actually, it’s been the time,” Beca replied. “Bellas should’ve been working on these for weeks. These songs should be ready by the end of the month, and that only leaves me a week and a half to get them ready. And that’s after recording. I don’t have time to teach lyrics too.”
She spat out of the last line like it was beneath her, to train these women. Chloe felt heat raising through her chest.
“And who’s fault is that?” Aubrey demanded. “Who’s been MIA since day one? Just because you can’t deal with your obvious-”
“Jesse? Get her out of here. In fact, everybody out except the band.”
Aubrey was about to blow her lid when Stacie grabbed her, whispering something to her. She looked to CR and Amy pointedly, and when Chloe and Aubrey followed her eye-line, they saw the other two nod reluctantly. Amy turned to Chloe.
“We kinda need to hear some stuff,” she hedged, squinting into the middle distance as she sighed. “I know it’s hard, what with all the pinin’ and lustin’, but…”
Chloe blushed fiercely and looked away. Aubrey came back to her side, tugging on her arm until the redhead looked up.
“Say the word,” Aubrey said, voice low.
But Chloe just shook her head.
“If it’s the right thing for the group, I’ll make it work,” she whispered, and Aubrey nodded before pulling her friend into a tight hug.
Then she left, with the boys, and it was just Beca and The Bellas again.
Chloe moved slowly, pulling her notebook out of her bag and setting in the back of her chair as she stood beside it. She turned each page as slowly as she could, hoping to delay the inevitable.
“It’s page 37,” Beca grumbled. “Quit stalling.”
Chloe glared at her before flipping a few more pages to get to the song.
Beca started to play the guitar like a bass again, offbeat, sounding individual notes twice through before counting Chloe in.
Chloe took a breath, squeezed her eyes shut, and started on the verse. Beca guided her through with the tempo, and then, when she got to the pre-chorus, the producer began to sing a long, low harmony, holding under Chloe as she sang.
At the chorus, Chloe could tell Beca was following her note for note, traipsing a soft harmony around Chloe’s melody.
And it hurt.
It hurt that Beca had obviously been working on the song, had been thinking about Chloe and The Bellas and she still did what she did to Chloe.
It hurt that she respected the music more than she respected her.
Chloe turned away, wiping the tears before they spilled down her face. She kept singing, but she tried not to hear Beca as the producer added a few ad libs. Thankfully, the other women understood the gist of the song enough to sing along too. Chloe lost herself in her friends’ voices.
Beca stopped playing, letting the women finish the song without her. There were cheers and tight hugs as they finished, and Chloe tried her best to put on a happy face.
“Red! That was awesome!” CR gasped, punching her in the arm. “It’s even better than just the words.” Stacie was wrapped around her, but she pulled back to bring a thumb to the corner of Chloe’s eye.
Probably wiping away smeared eyeliner.
“It’s really good,” she grinned, and Chloe felt herself start to grin too.
“And I think shortstack was right, in the notebook, about the feature,” Fat Amy added. “Can you get Fetty Wap?”
Chloe heard Beca laugh, and she tensed in Stacie’s arms. She’d have to turn around, eventually, but maybe she would give herself a few more seconds to try to recover.
“Fetty Wap is a little 2016. If Chloe thinks we need it, we can get someone. How about Post Malone?” Beca replied.
Stacie squealed, and CR whistled a long note.
But Chloe rounded on the producer.
“If I think we need it?” she barked. “Last week, you wouldn’t even let me name it. Now it’s my choice?”
Beca had been smiling when Chloe turned around, but she wasn’t smiling anymore. She returned Chloe’s frustrated sentiments with an eye-roll.
“Well duh,” she said condescendingly. “It’s your song. I told you that.”
“What’s your problem, anyway?” Chloe growled.
“My ‘problem’ is that you refuse to take ownership for your skill. You’re constantly asking everyone else for their input, and you don’t need it. My problem is that you don’t see how fucking talented you are. You’re the leader of this group - and rightfully so - and my problem is that you need to start acting like it.”
Chloe let out a hollow laugh.
“The Bellas don’t have a leader,” she scoffed, but when the rest of the room stayed quiet, she turned to her friends warily.
“We’re all equal,” she said, but it came out more as a question than a statement.
Stacie’s hand returned to her arm, and Chloe knew what was coming.
“Chloe,” Stacie hummed. “I don’t want to say it, but-”
“You’re definitely in charge,” Amy cut in. “You’re, like, the best writer after me, but I can’t always turn out the volume that you do.”
“You’re the best writer, period,” CR aded, leveling Amy with an incredulous look. “And we wouldn’t even be here without you.”
“That was all of us,” Chloe persisted, shaking her head slowly. “We did that together.”
Beca spoke up again.
“The group is everyone, you’re right,” she began. “It wouldn’t be the same without each of you. But you, Chloe, you’re the linchpin. You’re the one that makes this group work.”
Beca was looking at her with that earnest pleading, that real and open look. The one when she was telling the truth, when she wasn’t hiding behind her sarcasm. Her eyes were wide, and her lip was nearly quivering, and it reminded Chloe of groaned confessions and the opposite of a smirk.
Chloe hated it.
“Yeah, well,” Chloe started quietly, turning away from that look. “I obviously can’t make everything work.”
She knew the producer had heard her when Beca sighed.
“Can I- can we talk? I want to show you something. Will you come with me?”
Stacie’s grip tightened on her arm, but Chloe shook her off. She was staring daggers into the side of her face, and Chloe knew they were probably well earned, but she met her eye gently.
“It’s probably for the best,” Chloe sighed to her friend. She straightened her back, pulling her shoulders straight, and squeezed Stacie back comfortingly.
She stepped away from Stacie, and she watched Beca bite the side of her thumb as she picked up her guitar, walking towards the door.
They opened the door into the hallway to see Jesse, Aubrey, and Bumper all waiting for them.
“It’s fine, Bree,” she said hurriedly, casting a look behind her. “Can you talk with these guys, figure out what the next move is? When we should come back to the studio? Also Stacie said she wanted to see you.”
It was a dirty move, but an effective one, as Aubrey took a half step past Chloe towards the room before turning back to Chloe and Beca. She narrowed her eyes harshly at the young producer.
“You’ll be back soon?”
“Totes,” Chloe replied, trying her best to fake enthusiasm. Aubrey was still skeptical, but she got distracted when Stacie called her from the other room.
Beca didn’t waste any time taking advantage of the distraction, pulling Chloe towards the corner of the hall. There was a door there that Chloe hadn’t seen before; one that apparently opened into the stairwell on the other side of Beca’s office. Beca led the way, and Chloe followed closely.
“I’m not just trying to get you in the Broom Closet,” Beca said as she descended the stairs quickly. They got to the floor below, and Beca continued to move briskly down the hall.
“It’s going to look like that, but-”
“It’s fine,” Chloe said quietly. “Let’s just get this over with.”
Beca unlocked the Broom Closet studio, throwing her guitar on the couch as she continued to move across the dark space. She didn’t even bother with the overhead light, so Chloe stayed in the doorway to the hall, holding it open to allow for some light.
“Is this place always locked?”
Beca nodded as she turned, and, seeing that Chloe still had the door propped, she reached up to pull the string for the light.
“You gotta close that first,” she said impatiently.
But Chloe didn’t move. She really, really did not want to be in a tiny space with Beca right now.
And at Chloe’s resistance, the producer sighed.
“I know I’m like the biggest dick on the planet, but just trust me for a second. Please.”
Chloe stepped in and let the door close behind her, and as soon as it closed, Beca pushed. The wall beside her gave way, letting in far more light than the single bulb overhead.
“It’s my real office,” Beca said, stepping inside and holding the door on the other side for Chloe to come through. Two walls were full floor-to-ceiling glass, like the hallway upstairs, and there was a sweeping view of downtown LA laid out at the foot of a wide but short desk. It was cluttered with a turntable, a midi pad, and two computer monitors with a keyboard hanging halfway off the desk’s surface.
In front of the cluttered desk was a worn piano bench that belonged to the upright piano on the wall to her left. The wall was a deep red, with framed artist and band posters all over it.
And behind her, on the white wall that was shared with the studio, there was a deep bookshelf that housed what must have been almost a thousand records. Some books, too, but no awards. The bookshelf ended just before it got to the doorframe and continued to the exterior back wall. There was a small patch of brick before the window started, and as Beca kept talking, she caught Chloe staring at it.
“And I don’t even know if Jesse knows about this place, so let’s not tell anyone- oh. Yeah. I, uh…”
It was a signed EP from The Bellas. And one of their old t-shirts.
That merch, and those signed EPs… they had done them nearly a year ago, as part of a promotion for the debut tracks. They probably hadn’t signed more than a hundred of them.
“I tracked one down online, as soon as I heard your demo tracks,” Beca sighed. “I had to promise the seller that I would send them a signed first edition of the album. And even then, I’m pretty sure she resented me for offering her so much for them. I’ll probably send them back after we get something new. Maybe. I haven’t decided.”
There was a worn armchair in front of the bookcase, and Beca offered it to Chloe as she stepped up behind the desk. As Chloe sat, Beca rested a knee on the piano bench, leaning over and clicking the computer out of sleep mode. The screen came to life, one side showing some project open on mixing software, and as Chloe leaned over to look, she saw that the other showed surveillance camera footage of-
“Is that the Broom Closet? And your office?”
Beca sighed again, running a hand through her hair.
“I have to pay attention in case anyone comes looking for me,” she mumbled, minimizing the software. “The good thing is that I can just pretend to be a surly prick when people call me, pretend I’m not around, and then I can actually stay down here and get things done. They pretty much let me do what I want, because I bring in the big bucks.”
She laughed mirthlessly.
“No one’s even walked in the Broom Closet for months, except-”
“Except me,” Chloe cut in. “I was in here last week.”
Beca nodded, bringing her thumb up to her mouth as she avoided Chloe’s eye.
“The door was unlocked,” Chloe continued slowly, and Beca nodded again.
“You were in here.”
“I almost missed my flight,” Beca smiled fondly at the memory, pulling her thumb away from her mouth. “I couldn’t leave without telling you about this place.”
“And that’s how you knew I didn’t read it until then,” Chloe said slowly, letting out a small laugh.
“Yeah,” Beca whispered. Her expression morphed into one of contemplation, but she started up again before Chloe could ask about it.
“I almost told you about it, on Friday,” Beca went on as she saved her work in the mixing program, closing that window too. The screen was just her background now - a bright stage, with greens and blues, but Chloe couldn’t make out the details.
“I almost told you to come write down here, when we were texting, but you would’ve had to ask someone for keys, to get in, and I didn’t know- god, this is going to sound so stupid. I, uh, I didn’t know if you would like it.”
Chloe looked around the bright, urban space. At the piano, at the cluttered desk that had too much stuff on it, and then back, at the albums behind her.
And without overthinking it, she giggled.
“It’s much more you,” she confirmed, and Beca smiled broadly. She rolled her lips in an attempt to cover the smile as she dropped down to sit on the piano bench.
“It feels good, to tell someone about this place.” Beca stubbornly tried to hid her grin, but her eyes were shining brightly, and Chloe watched them - watched Beca relax into herself.
It felt so good to see her this way.
And it felt so, so bad.
Because who did this to someone? Who built them up, broke them down, pushed them hard and told them they thought they smiled when they orgasmed when they couldn’t even treat them with common respect? When they had someone else?
“What, you never brought Kalina up here?” Chloe asked.
Beca rolled her eyes playfully, smirking in a way that looked more happy than teasing.
“No, Jealous McJealousy-pants,” she grinned. “I did not bring my fake PR girlfriend to my incredibly secret producer studio.”
Chloe gasped, and Beca’s grin dropped quickly.
“Fuck,” Beca swore. “You didn’t know.”
Chloe stood suddenly, beginning to pace around the small room.
“I just assumed - I figured you knew, with the way I was- with the things I said. With the things you said,” Beca rushed. “Chloe I wouldn’t have done any of that on Friday if I was in a real relationship.”
“Then why did you hang up on me?”
Beca sighed, carding her fingers through her hair again as she leaned back.
“You were talking about the power I had over you - that you felt like you had to be with me - and I knew I was letting my personal judgement cloud what should be a professional relationship.”
She toyed with one of her bracelets, twisting it around her wrist nervously.
“It wasn’t fair, what I did,” she said quietly. “It isn’t fair, and all this time, I thought- I thought you were in on it, the whole flirting-with-fire thing. I think of us as partners, working towards the same goal but, ya know, having a good time along the way. But then I read your notebook, and then, what you said after we-”
She cut herself off, shaking her head.
“I thought you gave me that notebook as, like, part of the game. I thought you realized that all the relationships were fake, that you were feeding into the whole ‘will they/won’t they’ teasing thing that we had going on. And then, in the booth, and on the call, I just-”
Beca stopped on a huff, and Chloe flushed with embarrassment. She could feel herself turning red. Beca had been playing with her feelings because she thought Chloe was playing along. She thought that Chloe was just, what, pretending to go through all these feelings? Pretending to be so worked up over her?
“Yeah, well I guess I’m just a gullible Southern girl,” she said quietly as she fell back into the armchair, and she heard Beca chuckle half-heartedly.
“No, Chloe, you’re not,” she gritted. “You’re just honest. You’re real. You were telling me the truth the whole time, and I just didn’t believe it. Because I’ve been lying about almost everything for the past three years. This town is just like that; I have to keep my name in their mouths so they keep giving me Grammys, or Vogue interviews, or those fucking TMZ walks. You know Jesse pays that guy to show up and stick a camera in my face, when I’m just walking to my car? That he encourages me to say mean shit about people, just so they get clicks? Tell me, do you get that my reputation is more important than the music I put out? Than who I really am?”
Beca groaned roughly, dropping her head into her hands.
“I don’t know how I got here,” Beca mumbled into her palms, but she looked up, pulling her hands down her face.
“I don’t know how I got here,” she repeated. “But I won’t let you stoop to this level. I want you, Chloe - beyond all the games and the lies, and the fake relationships. I want to be with you. But I’m not gonna do that to you. You deserve to be with someone who knows who they actually are.”
Beca was breathing hard as she finished speaking, and Chloe watched her. After weeks of back and forth, she felt like the real Beca was finally here, speaking to her clearly for the first time. In the space that was her own, in a way that wasn’t manipulative or snarky.
This was Beca - not Beca Mitchell, womanizing Grammy-winning producer - but Beca, the young, talented artist. The one that she had lost somewhere along the way, that only glanced daylight in incorrectly performed interviews, or in her music.
And that Beca had just begged Chloe to stay away.
Not in so many words - not explicitly. But Chloe knew that was what Beca was doing when she told Chloe that she “wasn’t going to do that to her.” She was asking Chloe to leave her alone, to move on without her.
And Chloe didn’t want to.
This is the real you! she wanted to scream. Be her, and be with me.
But Chloe knew that Beca wouldn’t hear that. That she wasn’t in the right space to let her reputation go. She had someone to be, someone that needed to be out late and photographed.
And for whatever reason, she thought that Chloe didn't fit in that picture.
Chloe wondered what it would be like, to be out with Beca. To be in the tabloids and papped, before their first album was even released. She knew Beca was probably right - that Chloe didn’t belong there.
She wanted to be there. For herself, and for Beca.
But it wasn’t right. It never was, even from the beginning.
She knew that they couldn’t be together, that the work came first, and maybe Beca finally knew that too.
So against her better judgement, Chloe let her go.
“Okay, Becs,” she said softly. She got up, picked up her bag, and moved to the door, not even bothering to turn around as she sighed.
“You won’t have to worry about me anymore.”