at the restaurant, when i was still the one you want,
cross-legged in the dim light, everything was just right.
Chloe is so in love with all things unbearable.
She is so completely entranced by the way Beca shoves her entire heart out onto music and sound boards until there is none left. Beca’s flittering belief in a key signature and octave changes possesses Chloe to the point of insanity. It is almost as sacred and untouchable as religion, and although Chicago excites her, it flickers out when Beca sings a lingering note into their now shared hotel room.
There is something selfish that claws at her chest when Beca sings the song she once sang for Jesse to only her. There is something in her hands that wants to reach out and claim every legato and every turn of Beca’s lips to herself.
And later into the night, when the alcohol still swims around her heavy head but doesn’t make her have stupid thoughts anymore, Chloe lies down, pulling Beca with her onto the bed. She traces the hard outlines of her earrings with her finger, feeling Beca holding her breath.
“You know…” Beca says into the faint light of the room, her hand playing with the edge of Chloe’s sweater again, “I’m performing a song that Khaled recommended tomorrow.”
Beca finally breathes, cautiously and so, so, softly says, “Then why do I still feel like my old self? Why do I still feel like a damn basket case that has nothing?”
Chloe smooths the pad of her fingers down Beca’s ear and traces it down the curve of her neck. Their breathing mingles, the light smell of alcohol intertwining between their words. “I don’t know, Beca,” Chloe answers. “I think you’re everything.”
Beca turns gently in Chloe’s bed to face her. Her lashes flutter and Chloe lets her eyes go over every faint freckle that dots her face.
“Why don’t we ever talk about these things when we’re sober?” Chloe asks in an equally small voice.
“I don’t know.”
And then, in the quietest voice Chloe has ever heard, Beca breathes, “I’m scared. And I still have so much to do.”
Chloe brushes a piece of hair that was falling onto Beca’s eye away with the lightest touch. “I love you; you know?”
Beca’s hand brushes Chloe’s arm and drops down to her wrist as Chloe’s eyes never leave her tired, guilty smile. Gently, she scratches at the band of the watch she gave her what seems like ages ago. “What time is it?”
Chloe looks down at her wrist although she already knew the answer. The hands of her watch tick at the wrong speed, aligning at the wrong places, reminding her again that she forgets too often, that she didn’t tune them when they left for this place.
“The wrong time,” she replies with a sad little laugh.
Chloe blinks. Chloe blinks hard, blinking her tears away and watches with an aching in her chest as Beca stands in golden light, far up on a stage.
Unrecognisable, yet so familiar.
It is as close to forever she can get, Chloe believes, when Beca moves everyone in the audience with a clear voice. She wants so much for her, for the both of them—so much more than this. She doesn’t realise the lingering looks Chicago places on her, only the way Beca’s smile glows and trembles and the way she sings. (Chloe’s two favourite things on the same stage.) As Beca replaces the voices that backed her up for so many years with a music looper, Chloe wishes she could find a way to fall softer.
But there are limits to love.
And there is only so far that Beca can walk with her.
Chloe climbs up the staircase to the stage clinging to Aubrey’s arm, warm and steady like always. Their backing is still good and solid after all this time, even without much practice. Her girls are still good and solid after all these years, even without a sure future to spend together.
There were so many things she still wanted to say, so many things she still wanted to do. But Chloe chooses to believe they’re making the right choice. She is still the first one hugging Beca when it’s over, and she is still the one whispering into Beca’s ear, and it satisfies her for now.
Khaled offers Beca an opportunity in LA, just like Chloe thought he would. It endlessly thrills and terrifies her, how someone else sees all the brightness that threatens to overspill that only Chloe saw so clearly.
Chloe helps her pack her bags, a silent countdown in her own head. She avoids Chicago and his good boy grins, listening to the crazed beating of her own heart. The shy and held-back smile that Beca presents her with when Chloe hums the continuity of the song that Beca starts lights her on fire in such more lively ways.
“I think I’m going to move to LA,” Beca finally says when they succeed to zip the luggage up. “For good.”
“It’s fine,” Chloe says with a brief and strained smile, “Maybe it is best we leave it like this, maybe it’s just right.”
Beca looks at her, as if she really did expect Chloe to protest more.
Chloe shrugs and pulls the Beca’s hand away from her forearm where she’s picking at again.
“Yeah, Becs, maybe right here is just right,” she repeats herself. “Not too much, not too little—just enough to be able to laugh at over drinks in a few years.” Chloe takes a deep breath, looking into Beca’s eyes. It still makes her stomach jump and summersault, even if she refuses to acknowledge it. “Just enough to still be able to forget in a few years.”
Except that Chloe wants to do anything but forget about Beca and her. She would kill for all the moments they’ve stole in between real life and her fantasies.
She doesn’t think she would ever forget about them.
She swears she wouldn’t.
She isn’t sure why she says those things, but they felt like the right things to say.
Chloe sees Beca squeezing her eyes shut and nodding hard, taking a shuddering breath. Chloe is sure that Beca could have said anything right there, and she would believed it with her whole heart.
But Beca doesn’t say anything and Chloe doesn’t ask for anything more.
And that will be that.
Beca doesn’t really meet her eyes on the plane ride back, but still sits adamantly beside her in the vinyl seats, pretending that taking off and turbulence doesn’t bother her in the slightest. It twists Chloe’s insides, but she just leaves Don’t You Forget About Me and Freedom ’90 on repeat in her phone and stares at the side of Beca’s face.
Everything is propelled into fast-motion by Chloe’s own reluctant hands. Aubrey somehow plans a celebration without them knowing at their apartment in New York, and everyone is on the plane together until the end destination. The chatter and swearing that Chloe falls asleep to with Beca’s head on her shoulder is unchanged from the ones that lived within their younger competitions.
Beca’s suitcase doesn’t even get unpacked when they step into the apartment, everyone swarming about all at once.
It wasn’t until Beca stands up wobblily from the couch with an entire wine bottle in her hands as a toast that Chloe is hit with the sudden urge to ask her to stay. Beca scratches the back of her neck, picks at her forearm and turns a light pink, and even songs are irrelevant to the way that Chloe wants Beca. Beca stutters through her endearing and heartfelt speech to the Bellas, and there is something raw and primal tearing through Chloe’s resolve.
Chloe doesn’t even try to push it away, she just tugs Beca back down to still be the first to hug her. Her heart is so much greedier than she thought.
Her hands never leave their destinations on Beca’s shoulders, her hair and her waist, as if Chloe is physically uncapable of letting go. The buzz of crowded laughter and rosé has heat swimming around the cramped living room, and everyone knows to leave Chloe and Beca alone on the loveseat when they start dancing horribly to Katy Perry.
“When are you leaving?” Chloe says softly into the ear of a Beca that she hopes is just as reluctant to let go as she is.
Beca, sitting across her lap with her legs dangling off the side and her arm behind Chloe’s head, rests her forehead on her temple. “Next Tuesday. Eight in the morning.”
Chloe nods, gripping Beca’s waist tighter.
“I love the Bellas, Chloe,” Beca whispers.
“I know. Me too,” Chloe breathes.
“I love music, Chloe.”
“I love you, Chloe.”
Chloe closes her eyes. “I know.”
Chloe finds the old bits and pieces of herself start assembling again in the most terrible ways, approaching boys in her classes with no other reason than for fun. She talks and smiles and then walks away. She starts holding onto things too tight, and gives up trying to call her parents every Thursday. She brings home churros twice, purple moons stamped under her eyes, and watches with a delight that is rare these days when Beca jumps up and stuffs three into her mouth.
There is nothing that tugs at Chloe’s heart more than the sight of Beca with a full mouth and dusty fingers standing in front of the one real window in their apartment. All the light drops in and spills through Beca, and Chloe couldn’t see anything else.
She doesn’t say anything when Beca takes her high school track shirt and her purple sweatpants. She drinks two shots of espresso with her morning coffee, and stays later at work without real reason. But on Sunday night, she sits and slides a ring pop onto Beca’s finger while Amy cooks up some kind of lasagna in the oven for a good meal. Beca giggles (giggles) and Chloe is sure that she has everything in the world, sitting on their pull-out bed with unwashed laundry piling up at its feet. The enormity of her feelings disgusts her.
Fat Amy steps up beside her by the window when Beca leaves for a few last-minute errands on Monday morning, and for once, doesn’t say much.
“Shortstack is making it, huh?”
Chloe runs a hand through her unwashed hair and gives her a shaky laugh. “Yeah.” She shakes her head. “Yeah, she is.”
Amy hums, turning to look out the window with her.
“I’m going to miss her.”
Amy hums again, then smiles sadly in a silence that is rare in their dynamic. “Yeah. Me too.”
Amy tells her, after she offers her the muffins she never once let them eat in the three years they’ve lived here, that she’s going to spend the night out. Chloe nods, squeezing her arm.
Chloe spills Red Bull onto the carpet and doesn’t bother to clean it up. She finds a supermarket receipt behind the houseplant and a pencil by the sink. She writes.
i don’t belong to you
and you still don’t belong to me
how can this end
before even being defined?
Chloe blinks at the darkening sky outside the windows they still haven’t bought curtains for at the foot of Beca’s bed. She watches Beca wash her face through the crack in the bathroom door, taking out her earrings and brushing her teeth. She watches Beca slip into a shirt that was once her’s and sit down beside her, the same wooden frame pressing into her back.
Automatically, Chloe’s hand reaches up and runs through Beca’s hair, over the top of her ears. Beca’s face is almost transparent in the faint light, and there is something childlike in the way she smiles tiredly without anything but eyebags as decoration.
And Chloe knows they might have just thrown away the chance of late night Drag Race marathons and midnight snacks—and Chloe knows they might never be picture-perfect or sworn by the preacher; but if romance isn’t the exact way that Beca’s eyes go red with her sad smile, then Chloe doesn’t know what it is.
Her hands tremble when she reaches to her own ear to unclasp the metal backing and slip her small diamond stud onto Beca’s right earlobe. Beca is holding her breath, almost vibrating in front her, and Chloe keeps trying until she hears the small click of the earring. Beca shakes her head just the slightest bit.
They sit there in silence until Beca finally looks at her with quivering lips and a desperation so heady in her eyes that Chloe couldn’t breathe.
“Don’t let me go without saying goodbye.”
Chloe gently tugs Beca up and guides her slowly down onto their bed, resting her forehead on her’s, breathing in synch. And no matter if Beca would ever only stay within what other people would label a ‘friend’, Chloe is almost sure she would be the love of her life. There is nothing else that she has ever touched that has made her so thrilled to be alive.
(The best of friends are always the loves of her life. There is a way Beca listens to her that no one else can.)
(There is a sadness in her that only Beca understands.)
Beca is crying, and Chloe thinks that so is she, and this is totally not the way she wanted for things to end (or go on), but the way tear tracks swirl down Beca’s cheekbones as Chloe kisses them away is so unbearably enchanting.
She cries as she lets her hands smooth down Beca’s sides, her thighs, parting her legs to fit herself in between so neatly, then up again. Chloe used to believe that Beca never loving her back was rock bottom, that she couldn’t ever feel worse about herself afterwards. And then she believed that it was leaving Barden, such inevitable and painful goodbyes that she tried to delay for so long. But with Beca mumbling messily as Chloe kisses her, saying “Chloe, I do love you, I love you, I love you so much”—Chloe doesn’t know if she would ever feel alive again this, after Beca leaves.
She thinks, as she cradles Beca’s body tightly to her own, fingers flitting through every curve and groove, that love hurts the most when it is returned, when she knows Beca’s hurt bleeds from her own hands.
She doesn’t know who she is without Beca, (she doesn’t really want to know, either) but Beca is more flushed and vulnerable that Chloe has ever seen her, and she can’t bring herself to concentrate on anything more than only, simply, solely, her. Touching Beca used to be like breathing, but it burns Chloe’s fingertips now that she tries to stop the trembling in her hands. The stupid and dumbass cliches of flashing images hits Chloe like her tears, Beca’s face in every single pretty memory she remembers.
All the seasons stare back at her with pitiful eyes and hollow touches.
Beca shakes her head unsurely after a few seconds, Chloe feeling everything dropping out of her fingers, slipping away into slimy messes on the apartment floor. They were both crying too hard for this to work.
She gives up trying to engrave everything Beca is into the deepest corners of her memory and drops down, sobbing into Beca’s collarbone and just wrapping her arms around the slim body they have been conditioned to recognize anywhere. She hates that it isn’t anything special, and she hates how hard Beca is crying, almost just as hard as she is.
Sleep is blurry and unreal. It is haunting and restless.
The room spins when she wakes up and the comfort that usually follows is replaced with hot, burning regret, beating in tune with Beca’s breathing.
In the yellow cab, Beca holds on to her hand tight and tells her not to follow her to the gates, because it would surely just make it that much harder.
Chloe forgets how to breathe, because after all this time the way Beca says her name still tears her apart. The way Beca says her name, and Chloe is still all over the place. The way Beca says her name like she has everything to lose.
“Chloe,” Beca whispers again as the car slows to a stop.
Chloe blinks hard to keep the crying away, because Beca has to remember her properly, smiling, not a mess.
“Say you love me again,” Chloe answers.
Beca smiles sadly. “I love you.”
Chloe kisses her gently on the cheek. “I love you too.”
Chloe blinks and Beca rises to fame in a hit song four and a half month later, like a miracle dressed in grumpiness and spikey earrings. It tops the charts out of completely nowhere and Chloe stumbles over the coffee table and knocks her elbow on the kitchen counter when she hears Beca’s voice suddenly pouring from the radio.
Chloe surrenders to bad habits again, drinking coffee and barely eating anything for two days. Sleeping in until two and going to bed at four, trying to force herself into the same time zones as Beca. Twice, she buys cigarettes, trying to taste like Beca after a long month, only to throw up in her cramped bathroom with Amy holding back her hair and her mouth tasting sour for the rest of the day.
But Amy moves out as well soon enough with an enormous trust fund and new plans for her career, and Chloe spirals deeper into whatever it is that she finds to match with the storm on her insides. She finds a comfort in wasting her time away to love things that are gone.
Aubrey storms in when May comes, glaring at the empty twizzlers bags on her pull-out couch and making her a meal that she eats under another stern glower.
“What is this?” Aubrey barks from the fridge.
Aubrey spins around. “It’s been expired for a month, Chloe.”
Chloe just waves her hand. “Pining over expired shit is called romance, Aubrey. You wouldn’t understand.”
“For a piece of cheese?”
Chloe just waves her hand dismissively again. Aubrey shakes her head and whips out her phone to make a call. After a few moments of talking, she puts it away and tells Chloe that she’s staying for two weeks. Pulling Chloe to her feet, she leads her to the bathroom and speaks to her in rare, gentle words.
Everything is a blur, Chloe doesn’t know why, but days blur with nights and food blurs with coffee. She is a ghost of her own life, haunting a home that used to be theirs, haunting memories that they used to share.
It blurs and blurs and blurs until Chloe blinks one annoyingly sunny afternoon and she is sitting in a rocking chair in a warmly lit room, a young woman crouching down in front of her and talking to her in a soft voice. Chloe opens her mouth but nothing comes out, everything rushing by in a great swoop, and Beca’s twenty-seven-year-old face still flashing before her eyes.
The woman has a name tag that spells out Marjorie and curly hair, speaking to her in such a familiar voice. She hums a tune that Chloe recognizes from the radio a few days ago, the song that miraculously pushed Beca up the charts. Chloe shakes her head and breathes in and out, scratching at her forearm, humming it back.
Her fingers tap out a beat on her thigh, a shawl she doesn’t remember putting on covering her sweatpants. It seems a bit too old even for someone hitting thirty.
She feels a piece of paper being slid slowly into her hands, scratching her palms.
Aubrey always had this theory that love doesn’t ever go away. She says that love for one person stays and never fades, and new relationships, new lovers and new obsessions just pile on over it. She believes that falling in another love is finding someone new to be able to love harder than the last.
I’m not sure if I ever believed it. And if it was true, it would be so sad. So pressuring. Because how the fuck would I love someone else harder when I’ve already known what it was like to love you?
And where do I put all that love down once I’m forty years into life? Where do I get a break from all the past lovers and heartbreaks piling up on my shoulders?
You have no idea how dizzying it was, arriving in LA and just wanting to produce music, and finding myself drowned instead in a crowd of others, wanting all the same.
I had a push from Khaled, of course.
It’s crazy and disappointing to see how much good words, networking and money can immediately boost you into the eyes of the public. When Khaled made a bunch of phone calls with his big fingers plated with enormous gold rings, I wasn’t even sure I deserved to be so immediately pushed to the spotlight if all I did to get it was to please one person with status.
And LA was so grand and crowded, I didn’t know if I could take it. Because in all of my carefully crafted plans and thought-out futures, I wasn’t prepared to love. I wasn’t prepared for a nerdy group of acapella dorks to be something to get attached to or to suddenly understand the feeling of home in a place that I was sure I didn’t belong in.
(But it was a home I wasn’t born in. But it was a home that wanted me.)
It was in the loud words of Amy that I learned understanding, and the patient nights with you that I learned how to love.
You kissed Chicago, although I don’t think you remember. It wasn’t wrong, and I wasn’t mad. I believe that you didn’t want to hurt us, and I believe that you never once lied to me. I never thought I would start having these thoughts, these moments where I try to put others first. It’s almost disgusting; caring so much. You understood what I wanted before I did, I think. But I can never be sure. I don’t blame you for that. But I wish you would remember, you dated him for a brief two months before he left for Seattle or Phoenix or something like that. You weren’t overly heartbroken. You were kind of bummed and we stayed on the phone for an entire night, although I don’t think it was completely about Chicago at all.
I know it wasn’t ideal, I know it wasn’t how it should have been. I hate that we both knew the right things to say and do, but neither of us did it. All those motivational bullshit about carpe diem and shit like that are so much less motivational when I have to use it on myself.
My biggest regret is that your regrets have to do with me.
Places on top charts can be bought, did you know that? You can pay money to get the song onto the chart or to boost it up a couple spots. The higher it is, the more people playing it.
Pictures can be photoshopped. Videos too.
I didn’t really know anyone then, it’s like being the new kid at school again, and it’s only your reputation that precedes you all over again.
And I looked at myself in mirror, a first live show, a face covered in makeup done by someone else, and I could barely recognise myself. She was a stranger, unfamiliar, but made her appearance when I was in front of fans (I had fans, isn’t that so crazy?) and she was the one knowing and having all that brilliant glory close enough to touch. Of course, the show had varied reviews and opinions, and I understand. Who was Beca Mitchell, suddenly popping out of nowhere with a hit EP? Who was Beca Mitchell, who put her in the spotlight?
Who was Beca MitchelI? (I would have liked to know as well.)
(The EP was called 85.7, my first radio station all the way back then.)
Guest stars and interviews were not as personal as they seemed, but I couldn’t bring myself to dislike them either. I guess everyone likes talking about themselves, even me. I kept threatening to back into being generic, kept wanting to just fuck all that publicity and just do music, but that is simply not allowed.
I get instructions to play up the sarcastic part, they said it would make me different and fun to watch on screen. I was allowed to keep the straight face, to be as moody as I want. They said it adds mystery. They said I have to do what they said, because that was what was good for my career. I have to get people interested to have people listen to my music, don’t I?
(Also, the contracts. I have to listen to them because it’s literally the contract.)
So when I stood in front the mirror at night, after a day of doing what people want to see, and washed away the makeup, I could barely recognize myself, still. Without the mascara, without the dresses that my team fought with other teams to have monopoly over, without the high heels, I looked like Beca, but I didn’t feel like her.
I didn’t really know which one was real.
It can’t be the one that they’ve modeled to their taste, right?
But if it’s this one, standing in front of the mirror without anything, she wasn’t really the one that people like, was she?
So, what am I without all that applause?
What am I if not the Beca that the public had sculpted into life in their screens with all the things they choose to like about me?
Here’s another thing I don’t think I’ve ever told you: you are the one good thing that still belonged to me even when I wasn’t myself.
You’d answer my calls even after weeks without contact and make me see that LA isn’t all there is. You’d stay on the phone for hours like a virtual hug and show me that there is much more to the world.
You remind me that what my dreams became shouldn’t bury the girl I once was.
When my existence was based on how much strangers liked me without reason, you didn’t budge one bit and stayed my friend. I wish I told you that enough times so you would always remember: that you’re my best friend. You will be my friend until the very end.
Learning that I have value despite the applause that comes and goes was hard.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is thank you. Thank you for keeping a love for basket cases, thank you for not forgetting about me yet.
Chloe blinks and blinks and she slowly wakes up again, still in the clothes she was in yesterday, on her couch and her back aching.
Beca is thriving on magazine covers as a sudden hit, winning over the heart of loads and loads of other people. Chloe wanders through the supermarket aisles, feeling haunted by the sparkling eyes of Beca that decorate half of the shelves by the cashiers.
Nothing changes, but Chloe forces herself to get better. No one comes and saves her, so she finally cleans their (now only her’s) apartment and gets out to go grocery shopping. Aubrey sends her a text to tell her she’s proud and promises to visit again soon.
Chloe could feel Beca up on the shoulders of fans looking down at her happy and a little lonely life. Chloe doesn’t entirely dare to look right back, keeping her eyes down on her normal little days. She puts her photography licence to practice, freelancing between a few studios and stock photo distributers. There is an annoying nagging excitement that follows when an employer emails her about maybe having to travel a bit for a few new stock photos.
Chloe has bills in her mail, she’s trying to block the small leak on the windowsill, she’s forcing herself to cook meals—and she’s almost thirty, but still feels twenty-two. It’s so scary, how she could count the years on the crease in her forehead by not the way she sings in the shower. It’s scary, when she sold her college textbooks to another young girl, that her entire youth was only worth fifty-two bucks.
She is lonely, without the overwhelming crowd of girls figuring out the laundry or random song breaks, but she is content with the days she’s managed to build. So she isn’t really that lonely, and more romantically put, she’s completely free.
Chloe blinks and snow is falling, her first winter without anyone around.
She is aware how terribly intwined with this fate when Beca calls her at three in the morning out of nowhere. (She is so aware. So painfully aware.)
She pretends the past three weeks of no texts are inexistant and answers without blinking the sleep away from her eyes. Beca cries through the screen, a little drunk. She almost starts crying herself, because how can she ever stop have a weakness for Beca, how can she get rid of her Archilles heel when she can’t even bring herself to dislike it?
And Beca goes on and on about how, weirdly, the only person she truly knows in LA is Jesse. How she really wasn’t born for this, how she hates being placed on a platter and dishing out crazy tricks just to impress a bunch of people who don’t even really like her. How she misses New York.
And she’s hiccupping, and Chloe can physically feel the tremors in her voice echoing through to her own head. How Theo is now telling her to embark on a publicity relationship with Jesse, how she doesn’t want to but her team insists. How she has to try everything just to keep a relevancy, to keep people looking at her.
So Chloe blames it on how hopeless and sad Beca sounds, how in need for a friend she is, when she decides the next spot for still life shoots for whatever small magazine is going to be in LA. And Chloe blames how she misses her old friends when she set a date to meet up with Beca again at a coffee shop on Vermont Street.
Chloe blinks and she is bouncing her leg in a coffee shop, never once before so nervous for meeting a friend. Because that’s all that Beca should be. A friend.
There are things overturning and boiling up in her stomach as Chloe watches Beca still wear her shyly sharp smile but neater clothes and lighter makeup. The crescents of her eyes when she grins is pulling in not only her this time, but thousands of other people.
They sit down talking and Chloe convinces herself that friends do look at each other like that. Beca stares at her with these big hopeless eyes and Chloe wishes she could turn back time to a time when they weren’t so heavy with the weight of living.
“You’re a such a huge deal,” Chloe says softly, “Don’t you see that? Everybody loves you.”
Beca bites her lip and looks down at the heart pattern on her latte already fading in with the coffee. “Yeah.”
Chloe’s look doesn’t have to linger at all to know Beca isn’t happy, though. Chloe is all too familiar with the thin layers of people’s smiles around LA and she is all too familiar with Beca’s frown. “Come on, what’s wrong, superstar?”
Beca looks back up at her with such desperation. “This is everything I’ve ever wanted. But…this is…everything I’ve never wanted.” She picks at the scar on her forearm, earning a disapproving glare from Chloe, who never fails to try to stop her from doing that even now. “It’s just…I want producing. I’m…so much more now. It’s all like, wow,” Beca lightly shakes her head, “I’m like…barely a music producer anymore. I’m…” Chloe watches her fiddle with her cup as she finds her words. “I’m…entertainment.”
Chloe watches Beca with her soft eyes and she sees Beca with that expression of sadness and exasperation that is there when she spills Starbucks coffee on the sidewalk and when her intern job just before Worlds made her lose all confidence.
“You’re a big-shot entertainer for everyone, Becs.”
“All I do is entertain everyone, Chlo.”
Beca lowers her head and sticks her hands in her hair. Chloe watches her take a deep breath. “I’m…not a producer anymore. It’s like…I’m the production and I’m there like a clown in a circus just trying to get people to look over for a little bit.”
Chloe watches Beca crumble over her latte and it completely ruins her. She wishes she could be someone that could still take Beca into her arms, to kiss her on the forehead, to drag her into their noisy dorms and watch bake-offs until they want to throw up.
It still feels like only seconds ago they were having the time of their lives in the sweltering heat of Barden. Chloe feels like she is still stuck there. The floor spins as she listens to Beca continue, words still spilling over like nothing at all when is with Chloe.
“Come home for Christmas this year,” Chloe says, out of nowhere.
Beca barely hesitates, to her absolute surprise. “To Barden?”
“To Georgia. Back to my hometown.”
Beca blinks. “Okay.”
Having Beca on a plane beside her, snoring on her shoulder is far more calming than any bullshit meditation or self-help books Chloe has tried in the past year and a half.
Chloe is reminded of Luna Lu, that one fleeting name attached to a museum piece she scrolled past mindless a couple months ago on Facebook. How she paused and smiled at the two red hearts pressed together in a big and cream-white ribcage, how it was the first thing she saw on the internet that did make her smile in a long time.
“The Anatomy of a Hug.”
How it made her smile. How things that make her smile without reason were getting rarer and rarer, and how desperately she is trying to undo that.
(She smiles without reason when Beca is around.)
(It is terrifying and irrational, and she wants to run away from it.)
She wants to write long, never-ending poems on the backs of the vomit-bags they give her on the plane and tie her heart to Beca’s shadow. She wants to name the poem ‘friendship’, because it is the one thing as stable and selfless as the feelings she yearns to pour onto Beca’s hands forever.
The drive back to the suburbs Chloe knows so well flashes by like bits of scenes from a movie. There is rain falling down on the car windows, the windshield wipers doing there rhythmic back-and-forth with the steady beat Chloe taps onto the steering wheel.
The pharmacy she got her friend a morning after pill in. The swings she snuck out to at fifteen and flew so high on it with the girl she liked at the time, so high she swore she would never come back down.
This is a town that holds everything Chloe except for Beca.
And now she’s brought Beca here, a ethereal presence beside her, eyes already drooping from the ride here and hair sticking to her cheek.
Chloe is sure they were never meant to sleep apart, ever since a fateful college night when there was a Bella bonding night let by a very blonde and very intimidating Aubrey, herding all of them into the Bella House before the freshmen were even allowed in, pulling out lame party games. After many problems led mainly by the two bottles of champagne Fat Amy brought under her shirt (Gross, Beca had said, I don’t want bra-alcohol, and then managed to finish half a bottle by herself), it turned into a middle school sleepover, and Chloe cheeks had hurt from smiling so much.
Tipsy Beca was loopy and giggly, and fell straight onto the lap of an amused Chloe spread on the loveseat to the far right. Chloe remembers Beca’s sweet-smelling breath huffing out little laughs against her neck as Stacie and Flo moved around the floor, bumping into each other as they tried to beat the Just Dance routine while singing whatever song was playing (Chloe really didn’t know what it was, it was indistinguishable). It wasn’t unlike the feeling right now, the same soft breaths washing over the crook of her neck where Beca laid in bed, curled up under Chloe’s arm around her shoulders.
Chloe watches the arm slung over her chest, a rare part without tattoos but adorned with a small, curved, scar. She takes in the girl still asleep so peacefully on her arm that is numb, on her bed. She thinks about all the days they’d been without each other, and thinks about what a stroke of luck it is to be back together.
Beca’s head moved, only to press further into Chloe. Their bare bodies under the blankets make Chloe’s heart skip a beat. She thinks about the holidays that Beca dislike so much, thinks about how she’s spending them with her.
Chloe feels Beca stirring as she props herself higher against the pillows, against the headboard. She watches Beca scrunch her brows together and then purse her lips. Chloe watches her move her head sleepily, trying to find a comfortable angle after the change of position. Chloe hears her grumble something.
“You’ll have to be clearer than that, Becs,” she replies with a smile that is admittedly too wide for such a foggy morning.
Beca blinks open an eye and gives a glare that is in no way scary. It makes Chloe want to deepen the purple marks that are already shining against Beca’s neck. “Come back here, Beale.”
“I am here.”
Beca pouts and Chloe chuckles. She watches Beca blink away the sleep and move in slow movements although her limbs are dreading whatever is meant to come next, after they leave the comfort of the bed. Good thing it wasn’t happening soon.
They are going to sleep in half the day just for old times’ sake.
Beca runs a hand through her hair and shifts lazily closer to Chloe, finally sitting up, only to swing a leg over her’s. Chloe just keeps on smiling and runs her hands slowly up and down the thighs of the girl now straddling her.
Chloe smiles. “Beca.”
Beca wraps her arms around Chloe’s neck and brings herself closer again, nuzzling her face back into Chloe’s neck, and it fits so well. Chloe allows her hands to move now, running over Beca’s back, her tattoos, her legs, her neck, and lifting her face to kiss her. But Beca’s face soon returns to the comforting solidity of Chloe’s neck as Chloe hands find their place firmly over her hips as they roll obediently. Chloe feels Beca’s whimper into her ear as an ache that she knows is burning since years.
She hears the repetition of “Chloe, Chloe, Chlo” by her face and Beca’s wetness warm on her skin. Chloe doesn’t think she can quite shake off this moment for the rest of her life. Beca’s quick, short, breaths melt into the softest of sobs into her neck when Chloe curls her fingers inside her.
You’re so good, baby, is what Chloe whispers into Beca’s ear just as she stills and her fingernails dig into Chloe’s shoulders.
They stay there, and Chloe just has her arms resting around Beca’s body, and neither of them move.
“I love you, you know?”
Chloe nods imperceptibly. “I know.” She kisses the top of Beca’s ear. “I love you too.”
A tall tree stands in the corner of the living room, where the carpet meets the stairs. The lights twinkle in multicolor and her mother gives Beca a gift along with Chloe’s. Chloe doesn’t say anything, but can see Beca blinking away tears.
Chloe has a distinct feeling that the whole house is alive, and the details of her childhood that lives within the walls are present with weird, excruciating detail, carving themselves into her head. She points to the posters on her wall and the track banners from senior year, associating a memory with each of them and Beca listens to them all in silence and quiet smiles. There are whispers and laughter in the walls where her adolescent self used to sneak in alcohol and weed, late night talks in the basement and kisses at the foot of her bed.
Snow sticks to the window pane and Chloe suggests they go out to the front porch, wanting to get away from the suddenly unbearable loud house.
The snow falls heavily outside, on the branches of the old willow tree in from of the cabin and the pines surrounding the back.
Beca always understands things too slow. Aubrey once said, in her freshman year, that all her eyeliner must’ve blocked off some nervous receptors or something, because emotions can’t ever seem to break into that thick skull of her’s. Beca might disagree with the thick part, Chloe is sure, but maybe Aubrey was still a little right.
“Do you remember when I punched that guy at regionals and got arrested?”
Chloe snickers. “How could I ever forget?”
Chloe wishes Beca could find some of that reckless impulsivity that was there and ruining things for so long. She could really use it now.
“Do you remember sending me that text, when no one else did?”
“Of course, Beca.”
The rippling of her coffee as she shifted almost sloshed over the sides, playful and uncontrollable, almost mocking Beca for understanding everything, always too late.
Chloe was always defending and favouring her stupid, stubborn choices when everyone else had given up on her.
“Do you remember my internship?”
“Geez, you were weird as heck everyday that year, you really did underestimate my spidey senses.”
The weight of loneliness that wrapped around Beca instead of her father’s arms ever since he left might have also been the one clogging at her nervous receptors, Chloe thinks. Chloe knows Beca never understood why Chloe was so good to her.
“Do you remember me kissing Jesse after Nationals?”
Chloe frowned, then laughed. “You jerk. I was the one you kissed. I can remember that anywhere just by how your face shined bright red.”
Beca grinned. “Just testing you. Can’t have you forgetting on of my most charming moments, can I?”
Do you remember?
Do you remember?
Do you remember?
Chloe shakes her head at all of Beca’s questions, not sure why she’s asking them now.
How could she ever forget?
“It’s you,” Beca says.
Chloe blinks. “Huh?”
“Everything, you know, it was all you.”
As they stand there on the front porch under the light snow, Beca looks up at her, blinking slowly. The weight of all the passing seasons rest on her eyelashes, little flakes of snow clinging and making them sparkle. Beca licks her lips and smiles a little. “Please don’t forget me and all the things we did. Okay?”
Chloe brushes a thin layer of snow from the top of Beca’s head. “I could never. I can never help myself with you, Mitchell, you know that.”
“Feeling any better today?” The cheery nurse asks as she skips by with a few flowers that Beca is sure she is going to give around. What an angel.
She shakes her head. “Not really. I’ve been bringing back random things we did in our college years, and she just nods to each one, but she doesn’t really look like she’s really there.”
“Oh,” the nurse frowns, “that sucks. What kind of stuff did you bring up? Maybe you can try more general events?”
“Maybe,” Beca answers, “they were pretty specific. Um, I asked her if she remembers me punching a guy at my freshman regionals.”
She chuckles at the nurse’s surprised but undeniably impressed expression. “I was young and dumb, what can I say. Um, I also asked her about a text she sent me after that…about my internship when I was senior, and the time I first kissed my husband right after our Nationals.” Beca purses her lips. “But she shook her head for that one. I’m not sure why. It was such a huge deal too, we won and everything.”
“Memory and love are funny things, Miss Mitchell,” the nurse replies sadly.
Beca knows all about the nonsense remembering does. She looks down at her lap and she can still hear Chloe’s younger voice, all playful and careless and pushing her towards things she never would have done.
Come with me.
Clear as day, although nothing else is.
“Come with me,” Chloe says, because that’s what Beca remembers. And Chloe leads them to a corner in the basement where the other people at the admittedly not-that-lame party wouldn’t go.
Chloe puts her hands on Beca’s shoulders, an out-of-place solemness that almost makes Beca laugh if she wasn’t having a near stroke as Chloe inches so close.
“You’re so good, and you don’t even know.”
Beca doesn’t know what to answer in her decently buzzes state and just nods. The scar on Chloe’s forehead shines light green with the neon lights bouncing off the walls.
“Beca,” Chloe says, her name rolling off her tongue in sincerity even though Beca is already swearing to herself that she would never drink again.
“Chloe,” Beca whispers back in a voice she doesn’t even recognise.
Chloe stares so hard at her, staring so hard Beca thinks she is surely able to see the afternoon her mom threatened to jump out the third-floor window when she was ten, four months after her dad left, her thin, childish, arms and incoherent crying the only things that yanked her back. Staring so hard Beca thinks Chloe is surely repulsed by her habit of lashing out with completely viciousness at her father when she carries his very eyes and his tendency to avoid hard situations. Staring so hard Beca believes Chloe has found every title of every book she’s read on Sunday afternoons spent at the public library her mother left her in, because raising a child in a city so far away from family is the hardest thing ever, and Beca understands, she really does.
Chloe stares so hard at her, and breaks into a goofy smile, pulling her in and resting her head on Beca’s temple.
“You’re so great, Beca, and you so fucking dumb because you don’t even know,” Chloe says with an amusement so clear Beca thinks she might be close to laughing. “You are my absolute favourite person, and it scares me shitless.”
She squeezes Beca hard and kisses the side of her head. She squeezes Beca tighter and much longer than it should be appropriate for friends to do, and it fills Beca with a senselessly hot light that makes her fearless of whatever she would have to face after this.
The nurse squeezes Beca’s hand and she is back in front of Chloe staring off into the distance, and deep crease in between her brows. The blue mesh seats and distant hum of a heater.
Beca sighs. “Yeah. I know.”
Chloe blinks her eyes at the sudden disorientation and looks at herself deeply in the mirror, feeling weird about how all the fears she used to have in college come right back. The world is so big, and as Beca is going back out there with grand plans and grand connections, how much longer would Chloe matter?
January has already dug itself halfway into the new year, and Chloe sits down beside Beca on the bed that has been theirs for the past dozen days. There is so much she could map out and see clearly with logic, but there is so much more she can’t control with rationality. Her suitcase that is near empty and the boarding passes that are tucked into its front pocket are sore reminders that it is not really their bed, nor their shared home.
“Come on, Becs, LA is waiting for your talent. You gotta pack sometime.”
Beca doesn’t turn around for lift her head to look her in the eyes like she did so often when they were in college. She just shifts closer and rests her head on Chloe’s shoulder, taking a deep breath.
“I don’t know how I could ever make it up to you.”
Chloe is about to ask what for, but she knows why. She’s always known.
All the times she’s dropped her blatant favouritism on Beca over everyone else just for the sake of it. All the times she’s let her plans be wrecked to stay close for a bit longer, and all the times she’s gone into the shower before Beca in their shared Bellas house with sucky hot water tanks to warm the room up at least a few degrees before Beca comes in afterwards.
Chloe shrugs. “Go back to LA and go show the world your music,” she raises her eyebrows and manages a smile after a pause. “Then we’ll call it even.”
Beca finally lifts her head, her eyes are watery and she’s biting her lip, without eyeliner or mascara, she looks untouched and helpless. From the corner of her eye, Chloe sees her hand gripping the sheets until the knuckles are white.
There is a corner blocked off by wood shelves from unloading trucks behind a McDonald’s on the corner of the street Chloe used to wait for the last bus in her sophomore year of high school. After her grandfather’s abrupt death from cancer, she had a weird obsession with service jobs, and worked at that McDonalds for a spring and a summer before quitting and never going back. Work days were long and boring, the oil from the fries burning her fingers and drive-through headsets buzzing in her ears for so long she would hear them in her dreams.
She used to wonder, after a shift and her shirt smelling like fast-food, if she could ever love something longer than it would exist.
“Chlo,” Beca’s voice is cracked and scratchy, “Chlo. Chloe.”
Chloe shakes her head, trying to stop her from saying anything more. But Beca doesn’t take it, and keeps saying her name like she’s trying to reel back all the years that have passed. “You know if you ever told me to stay…” Beca looks so deep into her it’s like she’s scooping up all over Chloe’s college feelings. “I would. In a heartbeat.”
Chloe closes her eyes and takes a deep breath.
“How about this?” She opens them again and Beca’s eyes never left her face. She swallows down the well wishes, and has a sudden urge to keep this break from the world in her hands. She wants to be selfish.
“I’ll wait until you’re thirty-five. And I won’t leave New York for another year.” Chloe feels like she’s suffocating but she continues. “But you know that I’ll always be here. I won’t forget anything about us.”
Wait for what, she doesn’t know, and neither does Beca. But Chloe knows they both know what it means.
It’s Beca’s turn to squeeze her eyes shut so tightly, and a couple of trails of tears escapes, making a sparkling path down her cheeks. She finds the voice to hoarsely say, “You’re crying, Chlo.”
Chloe licks her lips and taste salt. “Oh. I am.”
Beca shakes her head. “I won’t ask you to wait if you don’t ask me to stay.”
The drive to the airport is nothing but blurry numbness. Chloe is sure this is what dying must feel like, and it never gets easier every time. They are such messy things, and Chloe understands why they are this way. She really does. Beca squeezes her hands and has red-rimmed eyes and Chloe wants to cry again.
Only music has come this close to divinity. Only music.
Beca is on her way to standing up because her back is getting sore when she sees Chloe frown deeply and her wide eyes glancing around only to land on her. There is a stability and clearness in them that weren’t there before, and Beca drops back on the rocking chair in a way that is probably extremely bad for her back. But she can’t care less when she struggles to breathe as she gets to be met with such familiar eyes that are still a most disturbingly clear blue.
“You’re back,” she chokes out.
Chloe rests her hand gently on her’s, but doesn’t say anything just yet. She just keeps staring at Beca with eyes that reach every inch of her, and Beca keeps taking Chloe in, with the lines that curve around those very same eyes now.
“You were somewhere good just now,” Beca says, after remembering how to breathe again. She’s not sure if Chloe can register what she’s saying, and maybe she’s just talking to herself, but she doesn’t mind. “You said something about snow and beds, and I think you were back to that Christmas I spent with you are your family, but you didn’t talk to any of them. You didn’t call out your uncle James on all his girlfriends, or count for hide and seek with little August—” Beca gets hit with an unpleasant feeling, “Oh god, I hope you still remember their names.”
Chloe’s eyes just crinkle a bit sadly.
“Oh, Chloe.” Beca wants to cry again, but she is sure that she must have dried up all her tears in all the years that have passed in between.
She just keeps talking. She recounts that whole vacation she got away from LA, where people knew her for herself and not her face or her name. How Chloe convinced her to go back to her hometown for the holidays, and got her to love the holidays for the first time in a long time. How Chloe’s parents thought they were dating in the beginning, and how Chloe wouldn’t stop teasing her about it the whole time. How they took walks in Chloe’s old high school and the trees that surrounded it that still has seventeen-year-old Chloe’s carving of ‘long live orange juice’. How a few relatives dropped by throughout the time they were there, all welcoming and loud and cheerful. How they played hide and seek with little nieces August and Betty, running through the closets and basement of that good sturdy house.
Beca lowers her voice and tries to wipe the bashful smile off her face that definitely did not suit a person her age as she tells Chloe about the night her parents left for dinner at a café and they didn’t sleep a wink. How they ruined the sheets and the walls locked in words that could not ever be repeated.
And then her voice breaks while she talks about the day after, having to finally pack her suitcase and leave for LA again.
“I know what you meant now, Chlo,” Beca whispers, “I understand so much more now.” She shakes her head. “Only now.”
Beca squeezes her eyes shut. “It’s so dumb. It’s so, so, fucking dumb. Every huge thing that was stopping us then looks like nothing when you’re sitting there getting stuck at twenty-three and twenty-five and twenty-nine.” Her voice is wobbly when Chloe shakes her head and opens her mouth, but Beca squeezes her hand, and she doesn’t say anything. “You’re…you’re trapped, fucking stuck, to watching me not choose you when I should have.”
She passes her hand that isn’t holding onto Chloe’s through her hair. But it’s pinned up and she only makes it a mess, loose tendrils now falling onto her face. “Oh my god.”
Beca lifts her head and watches Chloe’s face soften even more and her eyes seem like they’re drowning her.
“Beca, come on. It’s not dumb.”
Chloe shakes her head. “’I know I’m losing it. But at least I’m stuck in…” Beca watches her pause and frown, searching for her words, and it carves a fissure into her chest with every wrinkle on Chloe’s forehead that becomes deeper with thought. “…in a place you exist in.”
“Chlo,” Beca protests, “don’t say that.”
Chloe just squeezes her hand again, tighter. They sit there, just watching each other as an old man in the back picks up a guitar and picks on all the wrong chords.
“I can’t…stay in New York or Barden or old houses for something I want to come back,” Chloe finally whispers, her words a bit jumbled and broken, but she still manages to chuckle. “We’re too old for that.”
“I can’t wait for you until you’re thirty-five anymore.”
Beca stares emptily at Chloe’s hair, pinned up as well in a neat bun. The once bright colors now fading, greyish-whitish leaking away from auburn. “You’re stuck,” she says in a hoarsely low voice, “right where I left you.”
“I can’t wait on any more of the promises,” Chloe replies, “But I’ll be right where you left me, waiting for the rest of my life, you know.”
A tendril of hair sticks to Beca’s wet cheek as she just keeps shaking her head, more to herself and anything. Chloe sits there and holds her hand and lets Beca cry silently, rocking back and forth on their chairs.