if our love died young, i can’t bear witness.
“You know, memories are funny things, Miss Mitchell.”
Beca closes her eyes, thinking back to what the doctor told her a few weeks before.
“Science still can’t explain everything that happens with the brain and old age. I am a doctor, but I can only explain so much about these things. Dementia does a lot of things.”
Beca shakes her head, nothing—nothing—will ever succeed to explain seeing Chloe, the one unchanging thing throughout her life, fade away into little bits of consciousness and faraway thoughts.
“No matter how many studies, experiments and machines we make, Miss Mitchell, none of it can ever quite explain humans. What makes us human isn’t science, it’s everything that defies it. Miss Beale’s condition can be related to old age and dementia, but we can never be sure what she is going through.”
Beca lets go of the wooden handle she is gripping onto like a lifeline as Chloe shifts again, her eyes darting back and forth in the room, a small frown gracing her face. Beca clenches her jaw tightly. She’s seen this a couple of times, and it is enough to know the few seconds to wait as Chloe comes back to her.
Which still tears her apart a little at the seams every time she witnesses it, because she is sure Chloe’s memories are worlds at least a bit nicer than the one they are in now. Nostalgia is always a dirty liar. Paired with dementia, well, maybe they’re indestructible.
Sixty-eight years into this earthliness, leaving a noticeable mark in the music industry, and riding waves of success, Beca still cannot fix what slowly dying feels like.
“What does she remember, then, doctor?”
“The past that’s longer ago, that’s what happens most times, Miss Mitchell.”
“That’s very possible. Her twenty-somethings, maybe even thirties and forties. If I am clear, Miss Beale interacts with these hallucinations, and sometimes it might be clearer what she is remembering.”
“Will she…remember me?”
“She’s known you for a long time, Miss Mitchell, I think she will, for now. She might forget things often, so her mind fills in the gaps with a delusion that makes sense to her.”
Beca wonders what makes sense to Chloe.
Beca wonders if Chloe is still the Chloe that always flat out refused to leave her side. If Chloe is still the Chloe that decided right way from the first day that they were definitively going to be friends.
Beca wonders if all of her youth that she’s overturned and used away will still reek of Chloe if Chloe isn’t really Chloe anymore.
A kind looking nurse that Beca recognizes steps next to them, looking no more than thirty, asking with a bright smile if they need anything.
Beca looks up with a tired smile, shaking her head. “No it’s fine, thank you, Marjorie.”
The nurse frowns, but even her frown is friendly. Her blonde hair curls around her face and bounces when she walks. “Come on, Miss Mitchell, I told you to call me Jorie! Marjorie sounds like an old lady name.” Her eyebrows rising to her hairline at the realisation at what she said, she quickly continues, waving her hand, “Not that I think old ladies are uncool,” she gestures haphazardly around her, “I mean, I’m working here and I love my job—it’s great—”
Beca grins and pats her on the arm. “It’s fine. But only if you just call me Beca instead of Miss Mitchell.”
Marjorie seems to have reeled back from her nerves, and she crouches by their two rocking chairs. “Alright, Beca. So how is Chloe doing today?”
Just as Beca is about to answer, a soft voice speaks up behind her.
“’I’m doing fine, thanks. It’s fun watching the two of you awkward dorks try to hold a conversation.”
Beca snaps her head around, wincing because she’s sure something cracked. “Chloe!” She grins, feeling like bouncing in her chair, but instead just smiles wider. “Hi!”
Chloe smiles gently, eyes sweeping Beca, taking her in a greed that Beca hadn’t been witness to in years. “Hey, Becs. Sorry for zoning out there.”
“Oh,” Beca waves her hand, “I’m just glad you’re back.”
Marjorie, out of the corner of Beca’s eye, just looks at the two of them with a knowing gaze. Unsurprisingly, she stands up and dusts her blue pants, hands then clasped behind her back.
“Well, if you two don’t need anything, I’ll let you catch up. If you need anything, I won’t be far.”
Beca smiles at the nurse that she’s come to be comfortably familiar with in these few weeks. “Thanks, Jorie.”
Chloe murmurs a thanks behind her as well, and the girl skips on to her next chore, still energetic. In a split moment, the back of her figure makes Beca think of Chloe, younger and cheerful, blunt and unapologetic unfolding everywhere.
A few quiet breaths fill the space between Beca and Chloe, hands resting on laps and chairs slightly swaying. The ivy on the windows behind twist with the early spring falling into the garden.
“You came back.”
Beca shrugs, as if it’s nothing, and it really is. “I said I’d come as often as I can to visit. I’m a woman of my word.”
Chloe shakes her head. “I just never thought that we’d be here one day. You know, old and wrinkled and kinda confused most times on my part.”
“Well,” Beca chuckles dryly, “here we are.”
“Here we are.” Chloe twists her fingers. “You know, I don’t know why I was like what when you arrived. It hasn’t gotten that bad…yet. I think.”
Beca just looks at her sympathetically.
She still never knows the right things to say. She still wonders how Chloe puts up with her, most times.
“I…” Beca swallows, “I’ll be here. It’s fine. You’re here now.”
“I usually remember a lot in dreams, lately, actually.”
“I usually…um, wake up and know there’s something wrong with what I remember. Most times,” Chloe continues, her brows furrowing again. “Like…our first nationals. I know you ran offstage and kissed Jesse there.”
Beca nods again, a sad smile on her face. No matter the circumstances, talking about her college days with people who had been there with her always bring her back to a place of comfort. “That I did. He still brings it up constantly.”
Chloe laughs lightly. “You know, Beca…” Beca raises her eyebrows, tilting her head for Chloe to continue. “From whichever version of me remembered…you kissed me instead. Right there backstage, after the nationals.”
Beca is genuinely surprised, her mouth opening for a second, and she just laughs. Lightly, amusedly. There is a sad twinkle in her eyes as she replies, “Wouldn’t have that been nice, huh?”
“It would have been.”
Beca nods, still with that smile. “It really would have been.”
The old man strumming on the guitar in the distance keeps on strumming, fixing his tuning and then picking at the callouses on his fingers. Beca picks at a scar on her forearm. The last few visits never started out with a silence, only with careless chatter almost right away. There was no bitter reconciliation or fumbling for topics. But now, they fall into quiet for a few moments, just contemplating each other. It isn’t awkward or strained, Beca is sure they are well over those feelings.
From the very first one, a week after Chloe had called her as she ate stir fry with Jesse at their kitchen counter, telling her that she checked herself into a residential home, Beca swore up and down she would visit at least every week.
It’s what she needs to do. There isn’t a question.
And she does. She is sitting here after Marjorie has left and listening to Chloe say there is version of them that had once gotten a cheesy movie moment, the fourth time she comes into this building with polished floors.
Chloe’s fingers skip to an unknown rhythm on the armrest and she still regards Beca with a smile. “So,” she breaks the brief quiet, “how’s Stephen?”
“Stephen finished his masters and just moved in with his girlfriend,” Beca replies right away and a grin on her face as she talks about her son. “I have no idea how she settled for Stephen, but well, there we go.”
“Rude, Becs,” Chloe scolds, her seriousness not quite reaching her eyes, “I personally think Stephen is great. Has his mother’s pretty eyes.” Chloe adds a little wink and Beca laughs, wondering how the hell she can still manage to pull that off.
And then things are okay again, light and comfortable. Beca reaches over their chairs and takes Chloe’s hand as she gossips about whatever thing she heard from her old manager about whatever new show that’s all the tits these days. Beca plays with Chloe’s fingers absentmindedly, almost afraid to let go like Chloe is going to disappear for no reason.
In a way, she is, so Beca just doesn’t quite let go yet.
She comes back to visit the day after that again. This time, before she leaves, she gives Chloe a folded piece of paper.
“What’s this, Beca?”
Beca smiles and scratches the back of her neck. “Well, you said what you, um, sunk into-no-um, hallucinated?” She shakes her head, “Anyway, whatever you remembered that day, you said it was about, like, the first half of college. So I wrote down some things. You can go over them if you…” Beca looks down again, wringing her fingers, and in a smaller voice, “ever feel like you’re forgetting.”
The truth is that Beca holed up in her office back in the house for three days, just looking stuff up about Alzheimer’s and dementia and whatever else she could find. Hell, she even watched two science-fiction movies about memory loss and hallucinations before deciding they were completely useless (and after she saw a guy she distinctly remembers spilling wine down her shirt when she was thirty-three at some sort of event playing the leading role). She read somewhere that reading helps. She isn’t sure if it’s believable.
She still decides to write it. She has to.
The letter is dry and dead in between her fingers, a few splatters of ink seeping through to the other side. It’s more of a short list of bullet points than a letter. Beca was never good at writing essays, only short lines of emotion. She guesses that’s why she turned out decent at song writing.
“Wow,” Chloe says, smiling, “that’s…sweet. Thank you.”
Beca kicks her foot on the ground, wincing to herself at this behavior that isn’t at all fitting for a woman her age. She hasn’t been this way for ages.
“The person I’ve become only now is the best version of me. I’ve only now gotten better, I’m just that stupid. This is the least I can do.”
Chloe’s mouth twists with words unsaid. “I can’t say anything about what I am now. The best of me is long ago, when I was still young and staying a senior for the sake of everything I was afraid to say.”
“And the best of us are years away from each other.”
“Promise me you’ll remember to keep on visiting like you do now, Becs,” Chloe suddenly implores, “You…you have to.”
“Of course I will,” Beca answers right away, “it’s the least I can do.”
Beca supposes Chloe just doesn’t give that much of a shit anymore whether she sounds desperate or lonely. Beca is sure they are somewhat past giving a shit about most things. The ivy leaves just out the window curl against the wall of this little residential home in Atlanta, almost swallowing it whole.
There is a distinct taunting of the universe that brings her right back to where it started, in this city in a perpetual heat bubble that she despised with all her dark eyeliner back when. Really, she never liked its sweltering hot summer middays, the unbelievably cheerful attitudes and the dirty city sidewalks. But Beca still comes back, almost every year, because there is something in the air that weighs heavy and settles the flurry in her chest.
There is a pull down in her bones that reminds her of the best years of her life and cramped college houses. There is a pull down into the crooks of her bones that brings her back to Chloe.
Which is unfortunate.
But it’s been that way for a long time coming.
They talk about meaningless gossip and how Chloe feels about orange cats, specifically for the rest of the afternoon. It’s when the sun starts to set over the ivy that twists over the windows by their side that Beca finally pulls herself away from the rocking chair.
Back in her expensive car, Beca rests her forehead against her hands curled around the steering wheel. She curses under her breath, just staying there for a few moments. There is a different particular fear that comes with grieving for the living.
She drives home in silence as she thinks about how this is about the time Chloe takes a nap before dinner. She wonders if Chloe will dream of another better version of them that will exist for a short period of time as she almost runs a red light. She thinks of the paper she gave Chloe with trembling hands.
I was a self-focused eighteen-year-old that could only see her own troubles and I got buried under them. I finished a tube of eyeliner every two months; I hope you remembered that, and how you used to run to the drug store across campus to buy me another.
I worked at the radio station, under Luke, that British guy with terrifyingly chiselled abs. I spent months stacking CDs and you listened to me complain about it over soggy fries at least five times a week.
You found me at the activities fair because my dad forced me to join something, to participate in life and not just watch it go by. You took a liking to a hopeless cause despite Aubrey’s evident distaste and tried your darndest to make me better. I called acapella lame, then you barged into my shower and all but forced me into a duet, I hope you remember how we sang and how it echoed around the stalls. You barged in out of nowhere, like a godsent force of stupid, cheery and unapologetic happiness. I couldn’t see past your blinding happiness. So much as so I thought that was all you were made of; happiness.
Everyone is made of the similar little problems, I couldn’t see that then, through my own issues.
I took your yellow cup and tapped a beat on it at auditions, Aubrey glaring at me and you, grinning. From the first moment, I was a lucky receiver of your favoritism. The other girls sang Since You Been Gone. Then, you kidnapped me with a sack over my head and winked when you gave me the blood of the Bellas before us and told me we were going to be fast friends. We were, even if I never admitted it. I didn’t see you for the rest of the night I spent laughing with Jesse, but you weren’t far from mind.
We never knew whether to cheer on three or after three. Stacie’s hands never left her boobs the first two months and Cynthia Rose checked Stacie out every spare second. Me, I didn’t even have to bother to look at where I was going as long as you had your arm around me.
I am terrible at making friends. All the friends I’ve somehow gotten are people who stuck around even when I was a bitch and annoyed their way straight past my headphones and eyeshadow. My default to people is an immediate dislike, I’ve tried really hard to change that since. You helped a lot. You gave me a shit ton of chances until I finally was good to you. I hope you know that once you make your way in, you’re stuck with me. Like the ivy growing out your windows now, I don’t think I’ll ever let go.
Our first performance was catastrophic, in a frat house where you told us afterwards you had nodes. It was dramatic and Aubrey hung on to your hand like a lifeline.
You couldn’t sing your solo with nodes and you stuck up to Aubrey for me to get it. A flash of belief in my black-and-white world, and suddenly you claimed all my happiness. You saw something in me that only Jesse, you and Fat Amy saw. I’d live and die for these moments; you have to know. I’m slow and thick with emotions, because I truly don’t believe there is anyone in this world good enough for your shine of unblemished happiness.
But I was also scared that there was.
Bumper threw a burrito on Amy on our way to regionals, and we sang Party in the USA for half an hour. I join, just enough to be thrilled, just not enough to back out if I wanted to.
I fucked regionals up. You don’t debunk my nonchalance or my indifference, you let me be and wait for me to come back. The path from the Bellas to the auditorium doors was very long, dragging a chair and long enough for me to keep looking back. I don’t think you knew, so I’m telling you now. I had found something important enough to not want to walk away from, long ago. Even with a sack over my head then, I knew.
I tried apologizing to Jesse afterwards, he wouldn’t take it. He asked me, ‘you push away anyone who could care about you, why is that?’ I’m telling you something he never knew; I don’t know if I could handle more damage, I don’t know if you could still love the damage you’d find in me.
You were different, you worked out at the gym and planned all the choreographies and refused to be pushed. You always had a soft spot for damaged goods, from veterinary books to teaching.
I kiss Jesse after Don’t You Forget About Me, in front crazy crowds and acapella groups. We were just kids then, relatively clean and untouched, I wish we knew that. You looked at me weird, I didn’t know why then, and told me you were happy for me. We partied all night, you hooked up with Tom again.
We keep winning these ICCA titles afterwards. You stayed for another three years, and I wonder if you knew that I was going to leave after that first year as well. We both didn’t. We both stayed.
I think back to small (stop it, I know you’re making a short joke in your head) and closed-off me, eighteen years old and how she thought keeping people safe from the world meant keeping them away from it. I think back to being eighteen, stubborn and confident, believing love is more important than anything. We know that isn’t true now, it isn’t the universally simple solution.
I hope you still remember.
Chloe closes her eyes for a moment, head heavy with Beca’s hesitant smiles. She grapples with what is real and what isn’t. She opens them again when she feels a pull on her arm, suddenly grounded, but something is missing.
“We gotta go back before the other girls think something’s up,” Beca says as she pulls Chloe on through the branches beneath their feet and the leaves above their heads. Chloe nods.
As Chloe holds the flap of the tent open for Beca who crouches, stepping in just behind her, she immediately hears Stacie loudly greeting them.
“So!” She drops her sleeping back with a huge grin, “What did you two get up to all alone out there in the woods?”
“In the dark, too,” Cynthia Rose adds.
“Where no on can see,” Fat Amy says too, already spread out on the furthest side.
Emily is already buzzing with a smile much less dirty than Stacie’s. Flo chimes in from her stretches, “And no one can hear!” She then murmurs something about being used to locked up and no one ever hearing the screams, and exchanges a knowing looking with Lilly.
Beca just mutters a small ‘oh my god’ and covers her face with an arm as she kicks Stacie in the shin.
Wincing but not letting the absolutely invading grin go from her face, Stacie turns to Chloe. “Did our married captains have hot, angry make-up sex in the leaves?”
“Is that why Beca is extremely red and hiding in her sleeping bag right now?” Emily asks.
Already buried in her bag, Beca shoots up again. “No!”
Chloe just laughs, heading to her bags as well. “No guys, we just talked. After our little shouting match-”
“-yeah, girl fight!” Cynthia Rose says.
“-before Beca was caught in a bear trap, you know?” She doesn’t forget, however, to send a wink Stacie’s way before taking out her sleeping bag too.
She lays it right next to Beca before anyone else takes the spot, although it doesn’t look like they were going to. There is an empty space in the middle, Fat Amy and Flo already taking the far back and Cynthia already stealing a spot next to Stacie closer to the door. Lily is, from what it looks like, meditating in the spot right next to the entrance, blinking open an eye just to say something about the fastest escape route.
It warms Chloe chest, knowing the spot next to Beca is saved for her automatically.
“I’ll keep annoying you two tomorrow,” Stacie says, yawning, “But Aubrey’s kickass activities were really fucking kicking my ass.” As an afterthought, she adds, “But wake me up if Chloe starts groping you in the middle of the night, Mitchell.”
Beca roll her eyes and flips her off. “Go to sleep, Conrad.”
“Aye aye, captain.”
The hard ground under her back keeps Chloe awake, eyes flitting over Beca’s upside-down forehead. Her eyes won’t close even if Jessica and Ashley’s whispers have already lulled the rest of the girls to sleep.
How can Beca not see her when all the other girls have worked it out months ago?
She shifts again, but she doesn’t want to turn around and not stare at Beca’s upside down face.
As if the person in question hears her thoughts as clearly as she thinks them, Beca shifts too and rubs her eyes. She squints at Chloe. “Chlo?”
“I can’t sleep,” Chloe whispers back.
Beca grumbles something under her breath and her eyes bore right into Chloe’s (as much as she can in the dark, squinting sleepily). Her hand then fumbles the zipper of her sleeping bag and reaches out to touch Chloe’s, resting next to her cheek.
Chloe moves her own so that their fingers are closer, but she still doesn’t see the butterflies that bombard her stomach coming when Beca groggily grips her hand instead.
“Sleep, dude,” she mumbles, eyes already closing again, but not before giving Chloe a stern look. “I am absolutely not surviving Aubrey tomorrow if you are half asleep.”
Her fingers are cold in Chloe’s warm ones, and Chloe smiles at Beca’s thumb drawing shapes in the palm of her hand.
“Mm,” Beca scrunches her nose, eyes drooping, “’night, Chlo.”
As soon as they get back to somewhere close to campus, they watch, sitting on the doorsteps as Fat Amy scurries to the opposite side of the lake, mumbling something about a canoe. Sure enough, in just a few moments, she appears again, a paddle in hand and clothes still unchanged from the trip, shouting very Australian things.
Bumper covers his face, then turns around, pretending he didn’t see anything.
Beca squints at them from the distance, head resting on Chloe’s shoulder. “Why doesn’t she just walk around the lake? There’s like, a shortcut right there.”
Chloe shrugs. “Fat Amy doesn’t do anything small.”
“Do you think Legacy’s doing okay there?”
Chloe glances towards Emily, on the phone talking animatedly with her mother, assuring her that yes, she’s wearing her shower shoes. “She’s fine. We’ll assure Mrs. Junk afterwards that we’re taking care of her.”
Beca shakes her head. “I feel like we adopted a child.”
Somewhere behind the door held ajar just behind them, Stacie calls out, “You adopted all of us, aca-parents!”
Beca just shakes her head again as Chloe chuckles, looking down at her frown. She pushes her cup in front of Beca’s face. “Here, drink something instead of worrying about your kids.”
“Not my kids,” Beca grumbles as she takes a sip nonetheless.
Chloe understands the notion of family all too well, raised by good parents in a peaceful suburb. Her parents were busy, never home, but they were good people, and Chloe still did all the things she should have done, from white nights for midterms to sneaking liquor down to the basement with her neighbor. All the sunny days she had spent in her bedroom in front of an ancient CD player spent trying to figure out how to be human without anyone there guiding her take form these years in bursts of energy she is afraid most people can’t put up with. She is mostly confident and simple in her decisions, but there are moments she feels like just as much of a trainwreck as Beca.
She wonders if she will ever know when to stop giving, when to stop caring. She’s carrying everything she’s ever loved on her shoulders, and she isn’t sure if she has somewhere to put it down. She isn’t sure if they are all the things that make her Chloe or just weights stopping her from flourishing.
Beca chokes on Chloe’s drink when she lifts her head and sees Fat Amy looking like she’s eating Bumper’s face on the other side, rolling in the front lawn.
“Alright,” Chloe shoots up, “time to go now.”
Hurriedly, Beca stuffs the cup back into Chloe’s hands as she drags Emily up from the steps and slams a hand over her eyes. Chloe takes the time to laugh because Beca’s on her tip-toes and hanging onto Emily’s shoulder just to have the tips of her hand barely keep her eyes from seeing the absolute ruining of whoever’s front lawn that is.
Emily doesn’t even ask questions, just follows when Beca pulls her along into the house, still assuring her mom that yes, she packed enough underwear.
Chloe has found a home she built for herself with these misfits she calls her family, and she isn’t sure she can ever put that down somewhere.
Chloe blinks and Beca is practically bouncing on her bed, telling her how she’s figured out a time (ridiculously early in the morning) where no one was using the studio at Residual Heat and her boss let her bring Emily to try recording.
“Tomorrow morning,” Beca vibrates, “-well, more like, middle of the night, but whatever- I can bring Emily along and make her sing her dumb little song and we can, like, legitimately try to make a demo!”
Chloe laughs at the way Beca is grinning so wide she could count her teeth, and shoots out of her chair, sweeping her into a hug. Beca just squeals, not even trying to hide her excitement and wraps her legs around Chloe’s waist and lets Chloe spin her around, laughing.
She pulls back a little, breathing heavily and keeping her arms around Beca’s waist. “So, tomorrow morning?”
Graduation is just around the corner, and Chloe has been living and sleeping in a pit of panic, but it’s suddenly nothing at all when Beca is this excited for everything that comes next.
“I’m so proud of you, Becs.”
Beca just keeps grinning so hard. “I know. This is so great. I’m so nervous.”
“You’ll be great,” Chloe replies, eyes sparkling. “I love you, you know?”
Beca rubs her hands on Chloe shoulders in still uncontainable excitement and Chloe thinks that grin might just never go away. She’s okay with that. “Love you too, nerd. I’ll feed and provide for you when I get all big and famous.”
Chloe scowls playfully and drops Beca on the bed, earning herself an undignified yell of surprise.
Chloe is still laughing from that look on Beca’s face, barely squeezing out an ‘well, you’ll still feed me, right?’ when Beca all but pounces forward, grabbing her arm and pulling her onto the bed as well.
They lay entangled with Beca’s head back in the crook of Chloe’s arm, just right of her shoulder after a thorough wrestling match where Chloe definitely came out on top, breathing in synch.
Beca turns the tiniest bit and looks up at Chloe. “You’ve helped me so much; do you know that?”
Chloe raises an eyebrow.
“Deadass, dude,” Beca says, “you’re a godsent.”
Chloe has the sudden urge to go out and buy flowers to fuss over and hold while anxiously waiting for Beca to come back tomorrow. She has the sudden urge to give them to Beca who will surely flush a good pink and don’t know what to say, and Chloe wants to cross that line they have ignored for the past year.
She doesn’t think she actually will.
But she hopes that if she isn’t someone that can give Beca flowers at twenty-two, she will at least be someone that Beca could talk to when she’s thirty-two.
Instead, she sets an alarm after Beca leaves her room late at night for an ungodly hour and wakes up twenty minutes before both Beca and Emily and makes them both coffees. She scrambles some eggs for good measure and takes out the cream cheese and the bagels Flo got at the grocery store and threatened everyone who would dare eat them.
She looks up from her own coffee when she hears Beca step into the kitchen. Her hair is only somewhat presentable and her shirt hands off her shoulder in a way that makes Chloe momentarily almost drop her mug.
Beca looks around the kitchen island and rubs her eyes, walking closer. “You didn’t have to, dude.”
Chloe shrugs and the lie slips out easily. “I couldn’t really sleep so I thought, why not? It’s a big day for you two.”
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, Mitchell. Don’t argue.”
Beca just smiles and shakes her head.
“I don’t know what I did in my past life to deserve you, Chlo.”
When, a few days later, Fat Amy and Lily come bounding into the living room with green gowns flopping in their arms, Chloe is nestled with her back to the arm of the couch, legs comfortably resting on Beca’s lap.
“Grad gown runway time, pitches!” Fat Amy yells across the room, waving her arms and making at least three of the gowns fall into a heap on the floor.
Beca huffs and stills her fingers, which were tracing patterns on Chloe’s knee. Chloe remembers distinctly thinking Beca tracing her name, and it made her stomach flutter as she kept her eyes glued to her laptop screen. “Is that really necessary, Amy?”
Stacie pops out of seemingly nowhere from upstairs, a huge grin on her face that Chloe wishes she could reciprocate. “Of course it is!” She does a dangerous flip over the banister. “Alright, which one is mine?”
“Don’t think there’s any differences, Stace,” Beca grumbles, still not getting up, “They’re all cheap scratchy green cloth.”
Stacie, already holding up various gowns to her body and inspecting them with a diligent frown, shoots her a playful glare. “There is surely one that makes your boobs look better.”
“Surely,” Beca drawls, rolling her eyes.
Chloe laughs, shaking her head and tugs on Beca’s forearm. Beca turns her head from where it was resting on the back of the couch, watching Stacie with a lazy and fond smile to meet her eyes. Chloe gives her a pointed look and quietly says, “Come on, Becs.”
As they drag themselves up from the couch to round up all the other girls, climbing up the stairs lined with all the random stuff Flo and Amy had hung up over the months, Beca slows to a stop just as the banister gets replaced with a wall.
Chloe, still keeping her hold on Beca’s hand, turns around and leans against the wall to look at her. “What’s up?”
Beca looks down instead of into her eyes and kicks her foot on the stairs, hesitating. Chloe shakes off the lingering feeling that this will last forever, because it is already ending. She watches Beca fix her gaze determinedly on the centerfold of a magazine pinned to the wall behind them. It depicts a decidedly not PG-13 picture of a Calvin Klein model behind her.
“I, uh, was thinking the other day.”
Beca gives her glare that just makes her feel more at home. “I’m trying to say something here.”
The girl in front of Chloe is still the girl she found the activities fair, and Chloe still nurses this uncontrollable urge to take care of her that comes from nowhere. A few muffled voices make their way to them from downstairs, and Chloe is terrified she wouldn’t be able to block out the storm of nostalgia that has been threatening to knock her out since coming back from Aubrey’s retreat. Graduation has never felt more real when her whole family is graduating, and Beca too, and Chloe has no more ties that give her a steady reason to give to herself to not let go.
“Well,” Beca sighs, “the first thing is that I…I don’t think I’m with Jesse anymore.”
Chloe blinks. “Oh?” Beca’s hands find the hem of her tank top and plays with it, giving Chloe a few seconds to gather her wits. She can’t say she’s surprised, but that elation daring to wash over her is overpowered by being afraid Beca is sad. “Are you okay?”
Beca nods, and Chloe lets herself be elated. “Yeah. Yeah, I think it was a long time coming. We’ll talk about it later, if you want to, okay? Later,” she pauses, and Chloe can see the word graduation just on the sidelines of their conversation, but Beca not letting it in, just waving a hand, “later, after…all this.”
“Okay,” Chloe replies, “Whatever you want.”
An ecstatic shriek that sounds just like Stacie pierces their space, and Chloe smiles a little to herself, thinking she had surely found that one gown that has a neckline that goes lower. This is the house she’s spent all her seasons in, and the countdown hanging in their kitchen doesn’t even have that many days left to cross off.
“And the next thing?” she asks Beca instead.
“The next thing”, Beca repeats, “I think I’m moving to New York.”
Before Chloe can squeal and yank her into a hug, Beca rushes out, “and I was wondering if you wanted to…be roommates.”
Beca has the same nervous smile she had in the very beginning, and there is nothing much Chloe can answer, apart from a soft and assuring “of course.”
Emily ushers them out in the morning, the early summer sun spilling over their roof onto all the Bellas cramped together on the stairs with Beca grumbling non-stop and Chloe right by her side. She leans closer to Beca who is just standing there with a scowl on her face, but Chloe sees the way Beca keeps glancing behind, mentally tallying the girls there. And Chloe knows how it feels like; how desperately hopeless it is to try to pull back all the years to no avail.
“It’s going to be fine, Beca.”
She sees the flutter of color that bleeds into the tip of Beca’s ears. The ivy that stretches along the foot of the home she’s loved for the past three years winds along like nothings is wrong. She hates to let all this go. She looks back at their house and wonders in tune with Beca looking back as well; Will it miss them as much as they miss it?
Will this keep being her home when new girls take their place?
Will this keep being her home if she leaves her heart here?
The plastic chairs wobble on the lawn they are placed on, and Chloe stands up on equally wobbly legs as they call her name. The rolled-up paper full with nothing at all tickles her fingertips, and she wishes she could just put on a flight attendant costume and do it all again.
Copenhagen is rainy and filled with fish, and seemingly, nothing else. Chloe is happy for it to be rainy if it means that Beca will be pressed into her side under the same umbrella, an arm around her waist.
Backstage, they watch, huddled together for the last time as flashing lights lick over the shining costumes of DSM. Chloe grabs onto Beca’s hand and holds it tight. Beca squeezes back. There is a different kind of thrill enveloping all the buildings when they are occupied by different teams in different costumes, and vying for the same title.
When it’s their turn in front, quite literally, the entire world and the lights cast shadows down on the girls Chloe has called family for the past four years, the past she’s leaving is only a ghost behind the scenes. The only ghost is the person she is all the other days where she isn’t right here, right now.
She hears all her girls giving it their all.
A light shines into her face, and she doesn’t know why she keeps letting Beca slip away, she doesn’t know what is it exactly the hurts that dazzles her eyes.
She enters with Aubrey in to the hotel lobby and Aubrey gives her a little look as they prepare themselves to another temporary separation before they can take a break from real life.
“Beca broke up with Jesse,” Chloe finally says, just before their goodbyes, “I think.”
Aubrey is skeptical as always. “You think?”
“It’s what Beca said.”
Aubrey just nods, to Chloe’s surprise, and pats her on the shoulder when they stop in front of the elevators. Maybe Aubrey sees how she’s a hopeless cause clearer than she does.
The door of their hotel room creaks open with a swipe of Chloe’s key card and she steps in, the brief kiss she shared with Beca after their first win at the ICCA’s all those years ago keep repeating itself in her head. Beca is sitting on the carpeted floor, swiping through her phone at the foot of their bed, and the ache swells up in Chloe’s chest right when the exhilaration from winning makes place.
She swears she’s not in love with Beca, she swears she just wants the night to end on an equally high note it began with when she kisses Beca again.
It’s just that when Beca looked up and saw her, it was the prettiest smile that greeted Chloe, and there is an ache eating her up from her gut. Beca makes an undignified little noise against her lips, and when Chloe pulls back and stares into Beca’s wide eyes, she says her name in such an overdue way.
There is a steadiness that only her name in Beca’s hands can bring.
“We can forget about this afterwards, Beca,” Chloe whispers out of selfishness, still giving herself a safety net to fall back on, “We don’t have to talk about it.”
Beca brushes a finger delicately over Chloe’s collarbone, right where her hands rest. She nods and is the one that leans back in first. Beca touches her and Chloe is a little less torn in between worlds. She still doesn’t know what it means to be alive, but she feels a little closer to it when Beca touches her.
If this ruins her for everyone else, Chloe doesn’t care, because her lips fit so perfectly in the crook of Beca’s neck when she licks right where Beca’s heart beats. From saying things at all the wrong times and loving so hard it’s practically violence, Chloe has not yet felt so much like a trainwreck until this very moment.
Beca confuses her in every way possible, but all that is nothing compared to the way she whimpers when Chloe’s hands wander down her sides.
The taste of Beca lingers on Chloe’s tongue the whole way back to Atlanta.
The air smells like rain the morning Lily hauls her suitcases out the front door, the first of all the girls to get on a plane and step into the life that’s waiting for them outside the safe walls of youth and Barden. The air smells like rain, almost like they were back in Copenhagen, when things were not quite ending just yet. The air smells like rain, and Chloe can already feel the ground they stand starting to forget about them.
The house is emptying itself of their memories, slowly letting happiness fade into the inside pockets of suitcases and cardboard boxes. Chloe never knew the distance from their rooms upstairs to the front door only took three years. Chloe is terrified she will one day cross one of her friends on the street and not recognize their face, and she wonders where they will all end up in ten years.
She helps all of the girls pack of their lives in Barden into cardboard boxes, without exception.
The first time stepping into the world after Barden is thrilling and completely debilitating.
Chloe follows Beca to New York, and Amy tags along, saying things about business opportunities. Jesse comes to help with moving in, although moving in consists mainly of copious bags of clothes and shoes, a table Amy found God-knows-where and all of Beca’s music equipment.
It’s Thanksgiving and Jesse is planning on calling Benji and Donald over to their apartment and have a recently-graduated-gathering of take out because they are all too busy and cheap to afford anything more.
Jesse and Beca laugh and joke, and Chloe and Amy share looks with one another, trying to guess if they’re dating again or have had an extremely amicable breakup. Jesse doesn’t once complain about Beca not moving in with him instead, and Beca never once brings it up.
They keep sharing looks until Beca stumbles on a staircase, a duffel bag on her shoulders. A surprised squeak escapes her and Amy shouts, “Don’t break your neck, Shawshank! We’re too broke for that shit!”
Jesse laughs and Beca rolls her eyes.
“Aw, it’s fine, Becs,” Chloe says on instinct, “I’ll stitch you up and save you, honey!”
Amy snorts. “Yeah, Mitchell, your aca-wife will save you, don’t expect anything more from us.”
Beca turns around to flip Amy off in the most childish way. Unfortunately, she forgets there’s a whole duffel bag on her shoulder and slips, her knee banging onto a stair in a way that most definitely is painful. The duffel bag knocks Jesse in the ribs and he winces as she tries to grab onto Beca’s arm, and it doesn’t work as Beca knocks against the banister instead.
A few loud, ‘oh shit’s go around, and despite Amy’s earlier remarks, she’s the first one kneeled down by Beca’s head.
Beca just groans. “You fucking cursed it, Amy.”
“Oh my god, Beca, you’re bleeding,” Jesse says in a voice even louder than Amy, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, Chloe do you actually know how to stitch people up?”
Chloe squeezes Jesse’s arm out of the way, “No, Jesus, I was bullshitting, why would you think I actually can—”
“Because you said so?”
“You know it’s bad when Ginger starts swearing,” Amy mutters under her breath.
“—Beca are you okay? Can you hear me? Do you need an ambulance?”
Beca groans again, tentatively lifting her arm to swat away all the hands on her body. “I’ve got a scrape, I’m not dying, Chlo, I’m fine.”
“No you’re not! Look! There’s blood on your clothes!”
“Nothing an ice pack won’t fix—OW!” Beca twists her arm away from Amy who is poking at it with a smug expression on her face. “What the fuck, Amy?”
Amy looks up from where Beca’s arm had caught on a sharp piece of metal protruding off the banister.
“Not that tough now, Mitchell? It’s bleeding a lot, you know.”
Jesse is already taking his phone out when he’s met with Beca’s deadly glare.
“No ambulances, Jesse.”
Chloe glares right back at Beca. “You need to get that checked out, Beca.”
Beca glares at them long enough to hurt her own eyes and Jesse ends up carrying her all the way to his car, Chloe holding a wadded-up piece of cloth on her arm and cooing encouraging words into her ear, despite Beca mumbling about how it’s not that bad at all.
And they spend Thanksgiving in the emergency room, Beca non-stop swearing under her breath as the doctor tells her she needs stitches, and Chloe just squeezes her hand tightly and strokes her hair. Amy sends a wink at the nurse and makes him stumble as he sanitizes the instruments, successfully making them all sit in the waiting room instead.
They call their parents, assuring them that they’ve settled in. As well as they could have in a hospital waiting room, anyway.
Jesse leaves for a few minutes to get them all coffee, and Chloe and Amy play a very short game of never have I ever under the fluorescent lights where Chloe gives up after ten minutes. (Who the hell could have ever hidden a koala in the janitors closet for two months before it escaped and stole a student’s left shoe?)
Jesse comes back with a latte with two sugars for Chloe, a terrifyingly colorful Starbucks drink for Amy, and a double-double kept in his hands, saved for Beca. He really always was a good guy.
Beca walks out wearing an expression that’s even broodier, if that is even possible, snatching up her coffee and downing it in one go. Chloe stands behind her with a hand on the small of her back as Beca scratches her neck with her good arm and awkwardly apologises for ruining Thanksgiving.
“Thanks for the coffee, Jess,” she says as they walk past the reception again, “I’m sorry for being a bitch sometimes.”
Jesse just answers with a grin and ruffles her hair despite the immediate glare he gets. “It’s what makes you charming, Mitchell.”
“Yeah, Shawshank, it’s where all your talent lives.” Chloe snorts, Amy keeps talking. “You know, a person who giggles at everything like Chloe wouldn’t ever do the broody musical genius thing as well.”
That earns her a light punch from Chloe.
“Oh relax,” Amy whispers too loudly, “I’m just saying that to make Beca feel better.”
That earns her a light punch from Beca this time, although it is immediately interrupted by a loud cursing from Beca’s part, since she had delivered it with her stitched-up arm. Both Jesse and Chloe scold her all the way to the car, telling her to be more careful and to take care of her body.
Jesse gets in the driver’s seat and Amy calls shotgun, and neither Beca nor Chloe complain. Which isn’t entirely true, since Beca does still complain, saying Chloe and Jesse sound just like her dad.
“You should probably call him, actually, Becs,” Chloe says as she puts Beca’s seatbelt on for her, not seeing Beca’s pink face in the dim light. “Tell him you’ve moved safely and all.” She chuckles to herself, “Which isn’t exactly true, actually, we did end up at the hospital.”
“Oh shit,” Beca fumbles for her phone, “I forgot about that.”
Jesse puts on a top-forties radio on and Amy sings along to it annoyingly loud as Beca assures her dad again and again that she’s perfectly okay. Finally, she huffs a ‘fine’, and puts him on speakerphone.
“He wants to know you guys will take care of me,” she grumbles, “even though I’m a full-grown woman that can take care of herself.”
Chloe grins widely and she is sure both Jesse and Amy do as well as they talk over each other, shouting out assurances.
“Beca’s going to be great with us, Mr. Mitchell!”
“Yeah, I know enough self-defence to fight off alligators, Shawshank’s never gotta worry with me here!”
“We promise we’re going to take care of her!”
Beca turns off the speakerphone and puts the phone back against her ear as Amy doesn’t stop there and goes on into another full-blown tale of her fighting off various wild animals in Australia.
No, dad, don’t worry, that’s just Amy being Amy.
Chloe smiles to herself and feels alive as Jesse rolls the windows down.
What? No! Dad, there’s no crocodiles anywhere close in New York!
The air sweeps her hair into her face and Chloe swats in away, absentmindedly playing with Beca’s fingers on the faux-leather seats. She feels unreal, things never went this good for her.
No, Dad, what the heck? You don’t need to come over to check for amphibian hazards around the apartment, I promise!
Chloe struggles to hold down to reality, it’s dizzying sometimes. An unnerving feeling that none of this is real pops into her mind when she closes her eyes in Jesse’s car, but she pushes it away even as her head spins.
And Chloe holds onto the feeling everything is moving towards a good ending.