“Do you remember how we got here?” The overhead lights are reflected in Chloe’s wide, bright eyes as she asks, making them glint and glimmer.
Beca raises an eyebrow over the rim of her cup. “Are you seriously that drunk right now?”
“No!” Chloe laughs, rolls her eyes, then pauses, lips pursed. “Okay, I’m a tiny bit buzzed,” she admits and Beca smiles, knowing and smug, as she takes a drink. “But that isn’t what I meant. I meant here .” Chloe motions broadly to their surroundings with her cup. “National champions. Kicking Treble butt, no offense.”
Beca makes a face, “None taken. And yes, it literally happened, like, two minutes ago.”
“The journey, Beca!” Chloe drains the last of her drink and sets the cup down. “All the moments that paved the way.” And she takes a step into the space between them. “Do you remember,” gets closer, “how we,” and closer, “got here.” Until they’re almost toe to toe. As close as they’d been at Hood Night.
Beca blows out a breath. Doesn’t pull her hands away when Chloe takes hold of them.
“I’m pretty positive there are parts of it I will never be able to forget.” She makes a show of shuddering. “There’s not enough brain-bleach in the world.”
Chloe laughs and the sound makes Beca smile. “Would you really want to forget any of it, though?”
“I would gladly get the image of Lilly happily playing around in her own puke surgically extracted from my memory if I could.” Beca glances down as Chloe, still chuckling, laces their fingers together, and then peeks back up at her with a feigned-nonchalant shrug of her shoulders. “I guess the rest can stay.”
This is the quietest the house has ever been. Even when all of the Bellas had been asleep, it was always louder than this. Always something - or someone; Amy snores like a stuffed-up grizzly - making noise and disturbing the peace.
It’s silent now, as if all the sound in the world has been steadily leaking out of a hole that Beca hadn’t noticed until it was too late. Like time itself has finally given up trying to get her to listen.
Beca sits, drowning in the quiet, staring at the wall opposite where she's sitting and listening for any sound of movement coming from the upper floor. The click of a door shutting, a creak on the stairs, anything to let her know that Chloe is on her way back down. Something that will give her time to prepare herself, arrange the features of her face into something other than the crumpled mess she's currently portraying.
Wipe her eyes, maybe.
This isn't how it's supposed to end.
The words repeat themselves, rolling out on a looping, unstoppable conveyor belt inside Beca's mind, and there's a wall at the end of it, giving them no room to drop off. So they pile up, up, up until they're teetering. Swaying precariously, threatening to crash.
This isn't how it's supposed to end.
Thing is, Beca hadn't been aware that there was an ending she would actually prefer before now. Not really. Not like this. Yes, she'd always secretly hoped Chloe would find a reason to stay; she doesn't want to say goodbye to her best friend, especially not without having any kind of concrete plan for the next time they'll see each other. It could be months.
Could be longer.
Beca swallows around the lump in her throat, right foot jumping halfway off the living room floor as she bounces her leg in place and bites at the end of her thumb.
It's not fair, she thinks, finally realising how you want a story to end once it's already over. No way to change anything, no real reason to try because you can't add more time to something that's almost at its end.
By the time she hears footsteps on the stairs, she’s lost track of how long Chloe has been gone. She glances at the time which proves to be no help whatsoever and then swipes her fingers across her cheeks. Tucks her hair behind her ears. Takes a breath and stands, turning around just as Chloe clears the bottom step and sets her bright yellow carry-on-sized suitcase down on the hallway floor. She lets the small satchel she’s carrying slip from her shoulder and drops it as well.
“Sorry,” Chloe holds up her cellphone, “my mom called. Wanted to make sure nothing’s changed.” She rolls her eyes but it’s good natured and she’s smiling, no doubt moved by her mother’s concern.
And Beca almost laughs at the absurdity of the statement because everything has changed for her. There isn’t a single atom in her body that is the same as it was yesterday morning and things inside her have shifted in a way that’s become permanent. Concrete set, a new structure erected.
“Is she going to pick you up?” It’s a none-question, Beca knows the answer, isn’t sure why she asked except for the fact that she’s desperate to keep that gut-churning silence at bay for as long as she can.
Chloe nods, “She says hi.” Smiles like she has a secret. “Wants to know if you’ll come for Thanksgiving. I told her you’ll probably be too busy being a big, L.A. hot-shot by then, but she wanted me to tell you that you’re always welcome.”
Beca is genuinely touched by the offer and she asks Chloe to pass along her thanks when she sees her.
Chloe takes a step backwards and sits herself down on the second to last stair, her big blue eyes imploring as she asks, “Sit with me?” and pats the space next to her.
Beca feels her shoulders relax, hadn’t realised they were tense, and walks over to settle beside Chloe. It’s a snug fit that presses them together, but they’ve been closer than this.
“I don’t want things to be weird,” Chloe says after a moment of quiet and Beca’s heart launches itself into her throat because she doesn’t want that either.
“I’m not trying to-- I don’t--” she stops herself, rolls her eyes and lets out a huff of resignation. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now.”
“Supposed to?” Chloe blinds her with a wry smile. “I don’t think there’s really a concrete procedure for this, Becs.”
“Well, there should be.” Beca makes a show of grumbling but her mouth is curving up before she’s even finished the sentence. Chloe laughs, wiggling her hand under Beca’s until their palms are flush and she can lace their fingers together. She doesn’t say anything more, though. Just tips her head to the side and rests it on Beca’s shoulder. Releases a small, soft sigh when she feels Beca respond in kind, lying her cheek against Chloe’s crown.
They sit there for a while, soaking in the comfortable silence like it’s warm sunshine melting through the middle of winter, and Beca's words come so easily now, though they're wobbly at best as they pass over a trembling lower lip.
“I'm gonna miss you,” she says, the hint of fear lacing the statement trickling back through time from their impending goodbye and having nothing at all to do with being self-conscious about what she’s saying, because she isn’t. There isn’t really any room for that anymore.
Chloe sniffs, takes a breath like she’s about to say something but it catches and she falters, so she squeezes Beca’s hand instead.
Two quick honks of a car horn announce the arrival of Chloe’s cab and Beca’s stomach rolls like it’s just been violently kicked off its axis. She feels the hot drag of a tear hit her skin and slide over the curve of her thumb, and she has just enough time to understand that it didn’t come from her before Chloe is standing. Her wrist twists as she does and their fingers tangle, and Beca isn’t too proud to admit that she holds on for a second or two. Tight as she can.
But she knows she has to let go.
So, she does.
She allows Chloe to pull her hand away and then gets to her feet as Chloe turns to gather her luggage. She tucks her hands into her back pockets, awkward, afraid she might reach out and grab Chloe to stop her from leaving if she doesn’t. The impending loss gnaws at her, gapes like an open wound that has just started to bleed. She feels mindlessly desperate, knows there’s nothing to be done but it’s like her brain didn’t get the message. It keeps running through every possible scenario she can think of that would result in Chloe staying.
That sickening sense of dread that’s been following her seems to swell to five times its size as Chloe’s hand wraps around the extendable handle of her suitcase. It hangs off her limbs like weight belts, feels like a leaden scarf wrapped around her neck, and she finds she has to struggle against the force of it to follow Chloe to the door.
A wave of nausea sweeps over her to mingle with a silently screaming desperation that rushes like water in her ears and she’s drowning. She’s drowning and she can’t swim, and her only lifeline is about to walk out through the door of the Bella house for the last time.
A door that they reach all too soon.
“Sure you have everything?” Beca asks weakly, as Chloe turns slowly on her heel to face her. “Haven’t forgotten anything?”
Chloe offers a small smile and a quiet, “I don’t think so.”
You have, Beca wants to say, wants to shout; you forgot to give me my heart back.
“You’ll text me when you get there? And when you land?” Beca doesn’t even try to mask her concern and Chloe’s smile stretches a little wider.
“I will,” she promises, then adds, “I’ll text you every time I think of you.”
Beca wants so badly to ask how often that will be.
Because she knows if she were to promise the same thing, she’d never put her phone down.
“You better.” She can hear the warble beginning to creep into her voice and there’s a foreboding tingling at the back of her nose. And Chloe’s eyes are shining, so it’s really only a matter of time before Beca loses her composure.
They’ve apparently dawdled too long because the cabby toots his horn twice more and the glare Beca shoots through the surface of the door is knee-jerk, equal parts outraged and annoyed. They have seconds left, seconds, and she doesn’t need someone rushing them through their last moment together.
Her anger fizzles out rapidly once Chloe has hold of her, though. Arms wind themselves familiarly around Beca’s middle, pulling her into an embrace that’s just shy of crushing and Beca wishes Chloe would close that remaining distance. Squeeze Beca to her until they just meld into one. But she settles for wrapping her own arms around Chloe’s neck and buries her nose in red curls, inhaling deeply.
A shuddering breath flutters by Beca’s ear and then Chloe is pulling away. She drops a kiss to Beca’s cheek and takes a step backwards, sniffling her way through a wet chuckle as she shakes her head at herself as if to say, ‘I'm such a mess.’
Beca wishes she’d actually say the words, just so she can hear Chloe’s voice ring out inside these four walls that have changed her life forever one final time.
“Bye, Beca.” That, as it turns out, is the last thing Chloe says under the roof of the Bella house.
And it’s strange how things can seem to move in slow motion but pass too quickly all at the same time. One second they’re standing in front of a closed door, the next Chloe is halfway down the driveway.
Beca thinks she said goodbye, she can’t remember.
The guy driving gets out to put Chloe’s luggage in the trunk. He’s a gruff-looking fifty-something sporting a scruffy beard and a demeanour that turns awkward when he glances at Chloe, and it’s only once Chloe is inside the car and waving at Beca through the window that she understands why.
Chloe is crying.
And as the car pulls away from the curb, as Beca numbly lifts her hand to wave in return, she cries too.
The front door closes behind her, sounding heavy on its hinges. It swings into its frame with an authoritative finality that makes her flinch and no sooner has it shut than she’s overtaken by the stark silence of the house. It feels immediately oppressive, suffocating, and she has to draw in a deep breath before her legs will move.
It's not forever and Beca knows that, but it's going to feel like it is and she knows that too. Because Chloe's been gone for all of a minute and things already feel wrong without her. Hollow and empty, leaving Beca feeling as if she’s forgotten something. Like leaving the house and worrying that you didn’t lock the door, even though you know you did, saddling you with an uneasy feeling that lingers like a slow moving poison because you know something isn’t right.
She isn’t surprised when her vision starts to swim, isn’t surprised when a tear slips free as she tries to breathe through a sob, but then her breath hitches and the mournful sound that escapes her is unlike any noise she can ever recall hearing herself make. It starts out high-pitched and wet, then turns towards low and trembling, and she drops herself unceremoniously onto the bottom stair where she braces the points of her elbows on her knees and digs the heels of her palms against her eyes hard enough to see spots.
Then, like an avalanche of stone and rock caused by a single pebble being pulled out of place, it all comes crashing down.
And she breaks.
It’s not supposed to end like this; again and again the phrase repeats itself, circling Beca’s head like a wild animal.
This isn’t how the ending of their story is supposed to go. It shouldn’t be ending with Chloe nowhere to be found and Beca crying her eyes out on the stairs in an empty house.
Should she have said something? What was there to say? Chloe had been right there with Beca last night. Matching every move with equal passion and desire, the very same need. Everything Beca had felt, she knows Chloe felt too. How could she not? It had all been so much; it had sunk into the walls of the house. Soaked into the wood and stretched itself across floors, and she can still feel it.
Chloe’s skin beneath her fingers.
“Beca, put your hands on me.”
The press of their bodies, closer than they’d ever been, when Chloe touched her for the first time.
“ Beca ….”
The way she’d felt hearing her name fall from Chloe’s lips, twisted around pleasure.
“Don’t. Please. Please just stay. Just for a minute.”
How she’d been breathless from all the exertion and effort, and the expected but still surprising surge of love she’d felt.
And it’s not supposed to end like this, but her tears feel hot and real against her cheeks.
She isn’t sure how long she’s been sitting there crying - long enough to earn a headache, she notes - when she hears keys in the door and jerks her head up to watch it creep open. Her temples throb in protest of the sudden movement but the pain is quickly overridden by a surge of hope that slams her heart against the back of her ribs.
But it isn't a familiar redhead that enters, it's Stacie. She’s carrying a large mermaid-branded to-go cup of coffee in one hand and is pushing her sunglasses up onto the top of her head with the other, as she shoulders the door open.
Beca feels herself deflate, the muscles which had tensed in anticipation slackening in a way that’s almost painful. Stacie stands in the entryway, not bothering to close the door, and creases her brow into a sympathetic frown when their eyes meet.
“Dee jay Bee,” she coos at her, moving closer, and Beca has to crane her head back to keep eye contact. “What’s wrong?”
Beca doesn’t want to get into this right now. Wouldn’t know where to begin even if she did. She really just wants to disappear into her room and lay curled up on her bed crying for the next five hours. She doesn’t have the energy or, frankly, the will to explain everything to Stacie. So, Beca falls back on bad habits.
Push those feelings down.
She sniffs, wipes the underside of her nose with the back of her hand and manages a wobbly, “Chloe just left. I um,” then huffs a watery, mirthless laugh, “You know I hate goodbyes.” She swipes at her cheeks with her fingers and drags her thumbs along the undersides of her eyes in an attempt to dry her face, letting out a displeased groan. “I’m a mess.”
“Yes,” Stacie snips, “you are.” Her tone is coloured a shade Beca doesn’t think she’s seen her wear before and she gazes back up at Stacie, confused. Green eyes regard her with a heavy sense of something Beca can’t place until Stacie opens her mouth again. “You let her go?!”
Stacie is annoyed, frustrated, possibly close to angry, she thinks, and it’s all being aimed at Beca.
“What are you--” The sound of the door banging closed makes Beca jump and she has enough presence of mind to note that Stacie must have nudged it with her heel before she blinks and finds Stacie striding into the house, towards the living room, with the first two fingers of her left hand rubbing firmly at her temple. Beca follows along, being ushered by her desire for clarity more than anything else.
“I was having such a good morning,” Stacie murmurs, then says something filthy about a hook-up that Beca is glad she doesn’t quite catch. Suddenly she rounds on Beca, wagging index finger nearly ending up in her eye because Beca almost walks into it. “Everything was basically laid out on a platter for you, Beca. How did you still manage to mess this up?”
“Hey!” Beca barks reflexively and then pauses. “Wait, what are you talking about?”
“Is your brain leaking?”
“I don’t-- I don’t think s--”
“Do you have any idea how long, how many hours I’ve put into this?”
“Hours? No, I don’t--”
“I spent less time studying to graduate with distinction!!” Stacie explodes, close to furious, but it’s in the same way a cartoon character might; startling enough to potentially be funny, if it weren’t for the concerning amount of smoke wafting out of the angered’s ears.
Beca blinks, owlishly.
“I can’t believe I thought you’d be fine without me.” Stacie turns away from her, curving her palm around her forehead in the same way people do when a headache comes on without warning. “I should have just slept outside in my car like I originally planned.” She throws her arm out to the side into the empty air. “You know what, no. No, I haven’t been playing puppet master behind the scenes for the last three years, just to sit back and let you take over at the last second. I won’t--”
“Stacie!” Beca finds her voice again, turns up the volume to get her friend’s attention. It works and Stacie turns back to face her. “I need us to go back to before you came in so you can explain to me what the hell you’re talking about. Please.”
She must see something other than bewilderment shadowing Beca’s face because Stacie actually pauses to compose herself, taking a deep breath before letting it out slowly.
“Okay,” Stacie begins, thinking over her words, choosing them carefully and then letting them out with the same candidness as always. “Jesse was sweet and funny, and hotter than McDonald’s coffee. But he was never who you were supposed to end up with.”
Beca feels the floor tilt up at a sharp angle beneath her and her stomach drop through it. A cool breeze seems to flutter in her veins, but it passes. Still, she’s rooted to the spot, staring at Stacie who is looking at her with sympathy now. The kind of sympathy a person displays when they watch someone putting together the pieces of something that they had figured out a while ago. It isn’t condescending, it’s more like a silent, ‘I’m sorry I have to be here to watch the penny drop, this is so embarrassing for you.’
The immediate aftermath of Stacie’s observation is tense and charged, and sees them staring at one another until a voice comes from over Beca’s left shoulder to break the silence.
“Somebody say McDonalds?” The Australian twang is unmistakable.
“Jesus christ, Amy!!” Beca’s hand flies to her chest, trying to hold her heart in, and she glowers at Amy who breezes by her, entirely unbothered. “Where the hell did you come from?”
“Um, outside?” And Amy has the audacity to look at her like she’s crazy. “You know, you should really lock the back door. Any crazy person could just walk in off the street.”
“Yeah, I see that,” Beca grimaces as she closes her eyes and presses her palm to her forehead, focuses on the pressure of it and tries to drown out Amy’s incessant yammering so she can get her bearings.
“I heard yelling and came in to check, but then I walked by the mirror in the hallway and got distracted by how hot I look in this tracky jacket.” Amy runs her hands over the front of the aforementioned jacket; an action Beca sees on the cusp of her vision.
“Okay, I-” Beca cuts herself off with a huff and a disbelieving shake of her head. “I need you to make this make sense to me.” This is directed at Stacie, who heaves a long-suffering sigh and levels Beca with an expression that is both pitying and sympathetic at the same time.
“I don't know if you guys know this,” she says, a bit like she’s standing at the head of a class about to confess something serious, “but I have a lot of sex.”
Beca rolls her eyes hard enough to almost dislodge them, but Stacie continues on, “I can see when people have chemistry and you two are close to setting fire to the science lab.”
“Who?” Amy interrupts before Beca can say anything. “Me and Shortstack?” She nudges Beca in the ribs with her elbow. “Yeah, right. She wishes.”
“Beca and Chloe,” Stacie throws out, offhanded, almost like it’s a reminder, rather than the atomic bomb Beca thinks it is.
“Oh,” Amy sighs with enough volume and force to vibrate her lips together and raises her eyebrows. “That.”
“That?” Beca parrots back, twisting her voice into a mockery of Amy’s. “You knew?!” And Beca is caught between two decisions; to simply hyperventilate or sign herself into a psychiatric facility.
“Well, I didn’t know.” Amy lifts her shoulders in a shrug, the epitome of nonchalance. “It’s not exactly a surprise, though.”
“I knew,” Stacie supplies, deadpan and entirely unhelpful.
Beca kind of wants to strangle her.
“Stacie.” Hearing her name spoken so firmly and with such pleading, the woman addressed turns serious eyes on Beca. Serious and sad; solemn.
“Don’t you see how she looks at you?” she asks and the question strikes Beca like an ice pick to the chest. Cold and sharp, and fatal. "How she's always looked at you?"
The world around her starts to crumble, fraying at the corners and tearing at the seams, undoing itself as she thinks. Considers. Runs her finger along the spine of their catalogue of moments and picks a page at random, then another, and another.
And finds the exact same messages between the lines on all of them.
"I… no." She sounds forlorn, feels it too, beneath the crease of her brow. Upset she’s missed catching something that she didn’t see falling. "I didn't know. I didn’t….” Beca runs twitching fingers through her hair and swallows past the rock that has managed to lodge itself in her throat as panic claws its way up from her feet. “Then it was time for her to leave and it was too late.” She’s finishing a sentence she hasn’t actually spoken aloud and she knows it, but she also knows she’ll be understood.
“It’s never too late,” Stacie announces, squaring her shoulders, resolute as she checks the time on her phone. “How long ago did she leave?”
“Yes!!” Amy releases a primal grunt of victory and balls her hand into a winning fist in front of her. Her smile is wide, showing every last one of her teeth. "I've always wanted to be involved in a romantic-comedy airport chase scene!" She lets out a whoop of excitement, jumping on the spot before dropping down into a celebratory, albeit slowed down version of the Running Man.
"Then let's make everyone's dreams come true today," Stacie says, and Beca can hear her, but it’s as though she’s speaking from the far end of a long tunnel. All echoey and distant, and she suddenly thinks she might pass out.
Beca thinks she might be sick.
Or she might have thought that, if she’d been given any time to. As it is, the journey from house to car had been so quick, she doesn’t remember it. Then again, she also doesn’t remember pulling away from the house. Doesn’t remember anything before Stacie exits onto a more busy road and Beca comes to in the middle of a near-collision.
“Oh my god! Stacie!” She can’t quite manage a scream, every muscle in her body wound tight enough to restrict the movement of even her vocal cords, but her squeal is loud enough for Stacie to hear and she throws a raised eyebrow in Beca’s direction.
“What?” Stacie asks, nonplussed, and then doesn’t give Beca a chance to answer. “What time is her flight?”
“Her-- oh.” Beca pats her pockets, looking for her phone and the email Chloe had forwarded to her, the appointed hour well known to her but forgotten in the slippery mess her mind has become.
“Here.” From the back seat, a folded A4 piece of paper is being thrust into the space between their heads. “I grabbed the itinerary off the fridge before we left.”
“Thank you, Amy,” Stacie praises, loud and pointed, taking the sheet and looking at Beca the entire time.
“I also tried calling her but it went straight to voicemail.” Amy’s boasting now, preening and prideful, and Stacie’s sighs like this whole thing is the biggest inconvenience of her life.
“At least someone’s head is in the game.”
Beca’s expression shifts from a strangely blank panic to one of mild offence, nose scrunching and head jerking back in the same motion.
“I’m kind of stressed out right now, Stace!” she snaps, eyebrows launching skyward.
“And whose fault is that?”
“Your fault! You dumb idiot!” Amy’s snarky spite is so off the charts that it prompts both women seated up front to glance back at her. She twists her features into a passable excuse for an apology and shifts restlessly. “Sorry, I’ve just been really hungry since you mentioned McDonalds. Can we go through the drive through?”
“Sorry, Ames.” Stacie swerves around a Buick being driven by a grey-haired, bespectacled man who doesn’t seem to notice her as she maneuvers past him. “No time.”
In her periphery, Beca sees Amy slump against the backseat like a disappointed child and she experiences an inexplicable moment of guilt before she comes back to herself.
“Are we-- is this really happening?” She asks, clutching the edges of the seat below her with both hands, her grip white-knuckled and her eyes wild as they flit from car to car.
“It shouldn’t be,” Stacie huffs, hands tightening around the steering wheel. She changes lanes without indicating and Beca swears under her breath. “I swear to god, Beca, I love you, I really do, but you couldn’t find your way out of a paper bag if it had Chloe’s face on it.”
“What does that mean?” Beca’s cheeks are burning.
“You're like a blind puppy when it comes to her and as cute as that shit is, it is infuriating when you've been working as hard as I have.”
“What are you talking about?”
Stacie slams on the brakes just in time to stop for a red light, throwing them all forward in a way that would be comical if it didn’t raise so many questions about the functionality of the seatbelts.
“Oh my god! What are you so afraid of?” Stacie puts the car in park so that she can turn to look at Beca more directly and Beca wants very badly to shriek at her about how that maybe isn’t a good idea, but the question throws her so completely off guard that she forgets the moment it hits her. Like a wet slap across the face on a stingingly cold winter morning.
For a long few seconds, the car is silent. Even Amy doesn’t make a sound. Looking at her in the rearview mirror, Beca can see that she’s still as a statue except for her eyes, which are darting back and forth between the two of them as she waits for the impact from that particular atomic bomb. And as she waits, Beca thinks.
“I don’t know,” she admits, voice rough and wavering as she swipes her tongue around the inside of her mouth. “Messing up.” She gestures, aimless and hopeless, with one hand. “Hurting her. Losing her.” She swallows hard, mouth moving awkwardly, jerking as she speaks, trembling with a sudden breathlessness. Then, as the light turns green and Stacie puts the car in drive without once looking down at the gearshift, Beca says, “It’s Chloe. You know?” She sounds defeated.
“Yeah, I know.” Stacie sighs and rests a comforting hand against Beca’s knee, smiling at her in a way that seems like it might be a tiny bit patronizing but is mostly just sad. “What you need to understand though, Bee, is that Chloe is literally the last person likely to leave you on the side of the curb like a crusty old couch once you fess up. Which you will.” She pats Beca’s knee, then lifts her hand to do the same to her cheek and that definitely is patronizing. “You and I both know that.”
Beca bristles and jerks her head back, batting Stacie’s hand away with a scowl.
“There seem to be a lot of things you know that I’m only now finding out about.”
Stacie rolls her eyes and dismisses Beca’s snark with a wave of her offending hand.
“Look, forget all that crap about being afraid for a second and answer one question for me.” Stacie tosses Beca a sidelong glance to make sure she’s being listened to. Then, satisfied that she is, “Do you want to be with her?”
Things rattle to a sudden stop as the question sinks into every crack of Beca’s being and it’s funny, Beca thinks, how people talk about that whole life flashing in front of your eyes phenomenon happening before you die. Funny because that’s exactly what happens in the wake of Stacie’s query, though the timeline is condensed down to the last four years; the last few weeks.
Every miniscule moment that had turned momentous in the time that succeeded it, each one a small death of its own in a way. The end to a misunderstood part of herself snuffed out by the blinding light of realisation.
“I am so glad that I met you.”
“Of course we waited up for you.”
“You just need to believe in yourself as much as I do.”
“I want you to touch me.”
“You ever been straddled by a redhead before?”
“No, Beca. No one else. There's only you.”
“I love you.”
“Yeah,” Beca answers thickly. She lifts glassy eyes to look at Stacie and raises her shoulders in a helpless shrug. “I do.”
A smile spreads itself slowly across Stacie’s face and she squeezes the steering wheel as she lets out a squeal of happiness, shimmying in her seat. Which happens at the exact same moment that Amy barks out a loud, “Gay!” that she covers poorly with a cough. She does have the decency to mutter an apology when Beca twists to stare at her, but Amy doesn’t actually look all that sorry.
“Are you in love with her?” Stacie brings Beca back around once again and Beca huffs a laugh as she wipes at her eyes.
“That’s two questions,” she sniffs.
“You are.” Stacie bites her lip but she can’t hold in a second squeal. “And you’re going to tell her.”
The thought makes Beca’s stomach roll.
“Yeah, we’re definitely going to hit that car,” Amy announces, like she’s predicting rain, and Beca grasps wildly for the handle above the door as Stacie jerks the car into the next lane, cutting off a minivan that honks angrily at them.
“Jesus, Stacie! I'm not going to be able to tell her anything if I'm dead,” Beca bites out through clenched teeth, knuckles turning white around the handle. “How do you still have a license?”
“A good pair of boobs can get you out of a lot of things,” Stacie explains with a smirk. “But I’m sure you’ve experienced that for yourself already.”
“Oh, yeah.” This from Amy, who leans forward until she’s practically perched between the two front seats. “Have I told you guys about the time me and Bumper got caught in a compromising position with his Segway by campus security?”
One way or another, Beca is certain she’s going to die before she ever makes it to the airport.
It’s only then, as she has that thought, that she registers the true severity of what she’s doing.
Not only is she being driven to the airport in a manner that could seriously be considered life-threatening, not only is she in a mad dash to make it to said airport before Chloe’s flight takes off, she’s also doing all of this in order to make it to the airport in time to stop the woman she’s realised she’s in love with from leaving.
It’s the basic blueprint for a romantic-comedy.
Jesse is never going to let her live this down.
Somehow, be it by luck or divine intervention, they arrive at the airport in one piece. Beca’s soul had fled from her body on two separate occasions, but returned unscathed. It does try for a third time as the airport comes into view, though that has more to do with Beca than it does Stacie’s driving.
Tires screech across the asphalt as Stacie swings into a designated drop-off area and brings them to an abrupt stop outside Departures. Normally, people would pay attention to something like that, but airports are a different breed when it comes to public places. Everyone’s in their own stressed out bubble of anxiety, too busy making sure they don’t leave their luggage unattended so they can answer that question honestly and without any suspicious hesitation when they’re inevitably asked. That or ensuring they don’t lose a member of their party to a gift shop or gate number mix-up.
“Okay Deejay Bee, this is it.” Stacie sighs with a smile. “You ready?”
Beca blows out a slow, steadying breath, then nods before resolutely saying, “No.” Stacie laughs, reaches over to pat Beca’s knee.
“Yeah, you are. You’ve got this.” She flicks her gaze to the rearview mirror, to Amy. “You need to go with her and make sure she doesn’t mess this up.”
Beca rolls her eyes, Amy salutes, and they both shuffle out of the car. By the time Beca is out and has her door closed, Stacie has rolled down the window to send them off with a loud, “Go get the girl!” Then she’s speeding away.
“She’s coming back, right?” Beca asks, watching the car as it disappears from view. Amy makes a series of gestures with her shoulders and head that indicate to Beca that she has no idea whether or not Stacie will be returning to collect them. “Okay, whatever. That’s a problem for future us,” Beca presses on before her nerves can get the better of her. “Let’s go.”
They enter through two sets of automatic sliding glass doors and walk headfirst into a bustling hub of barely organised chaos. There are so many people that Beca immediately feels nauseous at the prospect of trying to find Chloe in the midst of them all.
“It’s like a Where’s Wally book in here,” Amy comments with a visible wince, hands on her hips as she surveys their surroundings. “Only we’re looking for a ginge and not some lanky weirdo walking around with a cane.”
“I don’t-- just start looking, okay?” Beca doesn’t wait for any kind of confirmation, just takes off in the direction of the first large gathering of people she sees, all of whom are in line to check in. She’s too short to see over most of their heads and has to resort to bending at the waist or lifting herself up onto her tiptoes in order to see through the gaps between bodies. She sees a flash of red and her heart leaps into her throat, but she quickly realises that the person is about a foot too tall to be Chloe and has a beard the same shade as his shoulder-length red hair. She feels the sting of disappointment but keeps looking.
Realistically, Beca knows that they were far enough behind her, there’s every chance Chloe has already proceeded past the security checkpoint. But she’s also been to an airport before and knows how painfully slow the entire process can be.
She reaches into her pocket for her cellphone, deciding to try Chloe again, only to find it empty. Pats her other pockets and finds them much the same. Has a vague recollection of placing it beside her on the stairs at the Bella house and clenches her jaw around a “shit” that’s loud enough for a woman and, presumably, her daughter to hear as they pass. The little girl gasps and then bursts into a fit of giggles, and the woman gives Beca a look so sour it could turn milk to cheese. She mutters a chagrined apology but doesn’t allow herself to dwell on feeling bad. There’s isn’t enough room in her head right now.
She feels the panic stewing inside her start to bubble and rise, and stops for a moment, right in the middle of everything. Laces her fingers together and lifts her arms, elbows out, and presses her palms to her forehead. Takes a deep breath and carries on.
But Beca can’t find her. Doesn’t see her standing at any of the check-in desks or sitting in any of the chairs dotted around for weary travellers. She tries not to freak out, tells herself that maybe Amy has had more luck and turns to head back to where they’d parted ways.
She ends up standing by the doors they’d come in through for a while, leaning against the wall with one arm wrapped around her torso, the elbow of the other resting atop the hand beneath it and the tip of her thumb caught between her teeth. She hadn’t wanted to go looking for Amy and risk missing her in the shuffle, but she feels like she’s been loitering in the same spot now for about an eternity plus a few years and she’s not sure how much longer she can take it. When Amy does finally come into view, Beca’s hope sinks.
“No luck on that end. Thought I saw her for a second, but it turned out to be a Ronald McDonald cutout.”
“Are you…” Beca blinks at her. “Are you eating McNuggets right now?”
Sensing ‘a tone’, Amy jumps to defend herself, loudly complaining that, “I can’t focus if I’m hungry!”
“Where did you even….” Beca glances around, incredulous, then shakes it off. “You know what? I don’t care. I’ve got more important things to worry about.”
“Do you mean, like, finding Chloe before she leaves and inadvertently destroys your one chance at true happiness?” Amy is thoughtfully chewing on half a nugget when Beca flicks her attention to her, brow furrowed and pinched, gaze withering and unimpressed.
Amy doesn’t seem to notice.
“Yeah,” Beca snaps. “That.”
“Maybe we can find out what gate number she’s supposed to be at.” After wiping her fingers across the side of her track pants, Amy points towards a bank of screens hanging above a sign that says ‘Welcome Aboard.’ Beca jogs over - hears the sound of Amy groaning in protest behind her - and starts scouring the screens for Chloe’s destination and flight time.
“T6.” Beca says this mostly to herself as Amy comes up behind her. “She’s at gate T6.” She spins on her heel, looking for something without realising, and feels a knot of dread tie itself tight in her stomach when she spots it. “Now I just need to convince someone to let me through security.”
Her palms are sweating profusely as she approaches the winding line for the security check, the rows separated by those cloth banner-type barriers that retract into the pole when you unclip them from one another. She walks right by the entrance to the queue and instead approaches a large man wearing an outfit emblazoned with the word ‘security’ in several places, who appears to grow bigger the closer Beca gets to him.
“Uh, hi, excuse me?” She tries not to sound nervous, tries not to sound anything that might raise suspicion. The man hooks his thumbs into the front of the tactical belt he’s wearing and leans forward slightly, lifting his eyebrows in both invitation and anticipation. “Hi. This is-- I know how this is going to sound but I really need to get back there.” She points towards the front of the line and the man back and forth between it and Beca, obviously confused.
“Oh… kay. You can just join the end of the line here and head on through. Be sure to have your boarding pass and identification ready in hand and nothing in your baggage that matches anything on this sign.” The sign in question shows simple artwork of things like water bottles, bottles of lotion, scissors, knives and guns. Beca glances down at her empty hands, looking a little lost.
“Oh, I don’t… have any of those things.”
“Fantastic. So, if you’ll just make your way--”
“I mean, like, any of them.” She tries not to visibly grimace. “Including the, um, the boarding pass.”
“I’m sorry?” He actually shakes his head like he’s trying to clear away cobwebs because, clearly, he can’t have heard right.
“I don’t actually have a boarding pass?” She doesn’t mean for it to sound like a question and rushes to continue before he can attempt answering. “And I know this is like, usually a total no-no, but I really need to find my friend--” Amy snorts unhelpfully somewhere behind her. “--before she leaves.”
“I’m afraid I can’t let you through without a boarding pass.” He straightens to his full height, very obviously switching into ‘all business, no nonsense’ mode, and Beca really doesn’t want to get arrested - again - but she can’t just let Chloe slip through her fingers either.
“No, no, I know. And I’m not asking to, like, stay back there, I just need to find--”
“Perhaps you can try calling your friend and telling her--”
“I already tried that.” Beca forces her mouth into the shape of a smile around gritted teeth. “Look, I wouldn’t be asking if I wasn’t totally desperate.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t let you through.”
“Oh my god, why is this so much easier in the movies?” She lets out a bark of unamused laughter and pulls her fingers through her hair in a manner that’s made frantic by her overwhelming awareness of the seconds ticking by. “Can you please just go back there and ask if--”
“Ma'am,” the security guard holds up a hand to quiet her and Beca bristles like a disgruntled porcupine. “I’m going to have to ask you to vacate the airport premises.”
“Ma'am?” It practically explodes from her, dripping disdain. “Ma'am ?” And okay, since she’s definitely going to get arrested, she might as well lean into it. “What am I, forty? Do you think I look forty?”
The security guard becomes flustered at that, thrown for a loop, and Beca’s about to launch into a full crazy-person tirade when Amy bodily bumps her out of the way. She half turns, never once looking away from the man carrying the power to throw them both into airport jail, and waves a hand out towards Beca.
“Beca, hold my nuggets.” It is, Beca thinks, supposed to sound menacing. Kind of does, if she’s honest. Then, quietly, she adds, “And I know there are two left, so don’t even think about stealing one.”
“Amy, I don’t think--” Beca takes the nuggets because what else is she supposed to do and stands aside, somewhat slack-jawed and very much horrified as Amy goes to work.
“All right.” She gives him a slow once over. “What’s it going to take?” Really looks him up and down as Beca looks on, feeling like she’s having an out-of-body experience or walking through a dream because this can’t actually be happening. “My usual offer has, unfortunately for you, been removed from the table since I am now a one-man woman.” Amy leans towards him, dropping her voice to a conspiratorial whisper that is, also unfortunately, still loud enough for Beca to hear. “But there’s a fifty in my bra that I'll let you grab with your teeth if you let short-stack through.”
“Oh my god,” Beca mutters to herself, head starting to hurt as Amy goes on about this being a matter of life and lesbian-death and, “Don’t you know how lesbians are treated in the media? Let love win for a change! Or do you want people thinking this is some kind of hate crime?” And Beca’s head is ready to completely detach itself from her shoulders when yet another voice enters the fray.
She spins, wide-eyes searching - though not for long, never too long when looking for this - and there she is. The noise of the airport, the buzz of people and the rhythmic rolling click of suitcase wheels, it all turns to background static as their eyes meet.
Somehow, Chloe is just standing there in front of her, like a spectre, clearly confused but smiling like she already hasn’t seen Beca in months.
“Amy? What are you guys doing here?”
“Oh, thank god.” Amy lets out a whoop of relief. “I was about to start offering this one the really good stuff.” She nudges the man with her elbow and then knits her eyebrows together. “Wait, how were you behind us this whole time?”
“I got stuck in traffic,” Chloe supplies, answering Amy but being visibly distracted by Beca, and that’s about all Beca can take. She stalks towards Amy and shoves the cardboard container of nuggets back into Amy’s hands. Sees her reluctantly offering one to the security guard as a peace offering before her attention is completely recentered.
Stomping down on her nerves with a heavy foot, Beca reaches out and takes hold of Chloe’s wrist, tugging her away from the security checkpoint. Beca leads them over to the windows, away from the larger crowds, and Chloe follows along, pulling her small yellow suitcase behind her. When they stop, after Beca releases her hold, she takes a moment to steel herself before turning around. Finds Chloe watching her with one corner of her mouth twitching upward curiously and a bemused frown adorning her features when she does.
Beca’s palms are sweating again.
“Hi,” is all she manages.
“Hey,” Chloe replies, chuckling through her uncertainty. “Did I forget something?”
For all her panicking that she wasn’t going to find Chloe and be able to tell her everything before she left, Beca doesn’t know what to say now that she’s standing in front of her. She thinks back to earlier, back to the things she wished she’d said instead of ‘nice’. The things Chloe deserves to hear, not the flustered ramblings of someone gone half-insane with their feelings because they don’t quite know how to process them correctly. Even if Chloe is the only person that would be able to take Beca’s nonsense and make sense of it, wouldn’t judge her for it.
Aubrey’s voice rises unbidden, a ghost in the back of Beca’s mind.
“Talk to her, Beca. It’s just Chloe. She’s easy to talk to.”
At the end of the day, no matter how difficult Beca finds this to be, there’s never been anyone in her life she’s found it easier to talk things through with. It’s part of the reason they made such great co-captains. There’s an understanding that runs along the leyline that connects them deep within the earth, one that has allowed them to communicate without speaking.
And so Beca doesn’t try to complicate things by over-explaining. She just takes a deep breath and talks, knowing no matter what comes out of her mouth, Chloe will understand.
“Do you remember the night we won Nationals?” Beca asks, feeling about as surprised as Chloe looks when the question leaves her.
“I, yeah, of course.”
“You asked me if I remembered how we got there. If there was anything I’d really want to forget. You remember that?” At Chloe’s answering nod, Beca continues, voice only slightly shaking. “Well, if you asked me that same question right now, I’d say no.” She pauses to swallow, to gauge Chloe’s reaction and wet her lips. “I’d tell you that I don’t want to forget a single second of it. Especially not these last few weeks.” She studies Chloe’s face, sees her mouth part slightly and her shoulders shift as she draws in a quiet gasp.
Beca can feel the way her heart is racing, the rush of blood in her veins, and even though every instinct she has is telling her she should be petrified right now, she isn’t. Yes she feels like a livewire, but she feels grounded too, held to the spot where she stands by Chloe’s unfaltering gaze.
“And I know I can be pretty dumb when it comes to this stuff. I really don’t know what I'm doing most of the time. Or like, ever.” She sniffs, tries to cover it with a laugh that dies out almost instantly. “But I know what I’m feeling. What I’ve been feeling. And I know I don’t always, like, process that information correctly, but I know what it is. I do.” She reaches forward with trembling hands to take hold of Chloe’s, her grip loose in an unconscious effort to not make Chloe feel stifled in any way. “And I should have told you. I shouldn't have let you go, not without…” she shakes her head, “I should have told you first. Told you everything, even if you didn't….” There’s a lull of uncertainty that can’t be helped and then, resolutely, Beca goes on. “You should know. I want you to know.”
“Beca….” Chloe doesn’t ask her what she means, doesn’t jump in to clarify or fill the gaps. She laces their fingers together, gives Beca’s hands an encouraging squeeze, and then waits. Patiently waits, like she’s been doing for who knows how long.
“When you first asked, I thought I was helping just to be a good friend.” It seems so ridiculous now, the idea of entering into this arrangement with no thought toward what it might mean for Beca. It’s like it happened a hundred years ago and the Beca that she was back then doesn’t exist anymore. “I thought it was all about you and maybe it was, but it didn’t stay that way.” She frowns as she thinks back, wonders when everything changed and if anything really changed at all, or if it just shifted further out of the shadows and into the light. “I don’t think it ever could have. I don’t think there’s a scenario where we come out of this as friends.” The grip on her hands slackens as hurt flashes across Chloe’s face and Beca feels it like a scalpel to the chest, sharp and precise. She hurries to clarify. “As just friends. Because that isn’t what we are anymore, you know? And it’s not…” This is it, she thinks. Time to be brave. “That isn’t what I want us to be, either.”
The tiny paperweights that have been lining her shoulders are lifted away by celebratory balloons and for a few seconds, she can breathe again. Hadn’t realised how constricted she’d felt until she could. She feels lighter for having told the truth, for shirking off the burden of lying to not only herself but to Chloe, too. Still, it isn’t long before a different kind of heaviness slinks in to take its place. One that pushes her down and forward at the same time, forcing her to scrabble out from under the weight of it. She’s sent careening forward again, her speech less controlled as she hurries to fill the silence growing between them in the aftermath of her admission.
“But you’re my best friend and if you don’t want that, or-or I guess, like, if you do want that, for us to try and go back to how we were and not….” She stalls there, a deep crease forming in the space between her eyebrows as she grows more and more experated with herself and her inability to just clearly state what she wants to say. There’s doubt there, too, creeping in on the sidelines, hoping not to be noticed until it’s too late. Irrational and unwelcome, but present nonetheless. “This was probably a dumb idea. I don’t--” she squeezes Chloe’s hands reflexively, looking down at them instead of at Chloe’s face. “I just thought you should know, before you left, that….”
And she does look at Chloe now, only to see her face frozen in an unusually unreadable expression. Like she’s been carved right into this moment in time. Beca’s tongue feels thick, suddenly too big for her mouth and drier than petrified wood, and she huffs at herself, annoyed. Then, letting that annoyance act as a fuel, she grabs what she wants to say by the shirt collar and throws it out onto its face.
“I love you, Chloe.” Her voice warbles in the middle but it still manages to come out strong and there’s a measure of thawing that happens at the sound of it. One that defrosts some basic motor functions and then the corners of Chloe’s lip are twitching uncertainly and she’s parting them to speak.
“Beca, I love you too--”
“No,” Beca interrupts, firm without yelling, as the kind of aggravation that is aimed solely inward rushes towards a boil and begins to spill over. “No, I mean I….” She brings her teeth together with an audible clack, bears them for a handful of seconds before she opens her mouth and flounders soundlessly for a handful more, finally expelling, “Do you have any idea what I’m trying to say right now?”
And it isn’t fair to hope for Chloe to be able to decipher Beca’s mess, but she’s always been so good at it that Beca falls back onto that hope like a crutch. Because no matter what, whenever Beca hasn’t been able to rely on herself, she’s been able to rely on Chloe.
Chloe, who remains seemingly suspended in time, unmoving but for the rise and fall of her chest. And it’s Beca’s own frustration that throws her into motion. She brushes by Chloe, not really intending to leave but knowing she can’t keep looking at Chloe, not when she feels so stupid for being unable to make herself clear.
“You’re a ten!” Chloe’s words, called out with such desperation, act like a lasso and they catch Beca around her waist, and pull. Hard enough that Beca whirls around so fast, she almost completes a full pirouette. Chloe’s expression has changed finally and the only other time Beca has seen her looking anywhere near this scared was when they’d all been waiting to hear what the repercussions of Amy’s Wrecking Ball incident would be. “You’re a ten,” Chloe says again and now Beca can hear the warble in her voice. Can feel it like something tangible as it reaches inside her chest and squeezes. Catches her breath in its hand and holds it. “You’re an A-plus.” It’s only when Chloe lifts her hands to wipe at the underside of her eyes that Beca realises she’s crying, sees the shimmer of tears on her fingers as she crosses her arms over her chest. “I love you so much.” Her voice catches, stumbles over a sob in the middle of her declaration, but she powers on through. Doesn’t hold back. “I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you.”
And Beca’s never been so thankful for Chloe’s loyal honesty. Still, she looks so vulnerable that Beca goes to take a single, instinctual step towards her.
Only, her feet don’t stop at one.
They carry her right back to where Chloe is standing. Bring her close enough to see the bright specks in cerulean seas.
“I think you might be--”
And Chloe mutters those last few words against Beca’s lips before she’s cut off with a kiss. It’s warm and welcome, and it feels like home, and Beca can feel tears of her own rolling hotly down her cheeks but doesn’t acknowledge them. Doesn’t stop to wipe them away - might never stop kissing Chloe, actually. Chloe, who sighs into her mouth when Beca parts her lips and who winds her arms unapologetically around Beca’s neck, wanting her closer. Beca’s hands settle on her hips and squeeze, distantly wanting to make sure Chloe’s real. That she hadn’t fallen asleep on the staircase and is about to wake up at any moment with a sore back and a broken heart.
But she feels real beneath Beca’s hands and she feels real when her teeth scrape across Beca’s bottom lip, and god, Beca wishes she could breathe through her ears or something so she didn’t have to pull away.
“Stay,” she says when she’s forced to. Presses her forehead to Chloe’s and keeps her eyes closed as she pleads, “Don’t get on that plane.” Shivers at the feel of Chloe’s fingers dragging over the back of her neck. “Go tomorrow instead.” It’s selfish and Beca knows that, but can’t find it in her to care. Her hands are locked in place and she doesn’t think she could let go of Chloe even if she were being forced to. The security guard would need a taser and a crowbar. “I know your mom will be disappointed but can we please just--”
“Okay.” Chloe’s nodding against her forehead, their lips a hair’s breadth from brushing.
“Okay?” Beca’s stomach becomes a springboard for her heart.
“Yeah, okay.” Chloe sounds breathless, the kind that only comes with happiness, and she kisses Beca again. “I can leave tomorrow.” Can’t quite stop kissing her.
“Really?” And Beca isn’t trying very hard to stop her.
“Really.” There’s another kiss after that, but it’s broken by Chloe’s laughter, wet-sounding but giddy too, and she takes Beca’s face in her hands, pulling back to look at her. Her eyes are a red haze over shocking blue and her smile is as wide as Beca has ever seen it. “I’m so glad you came after me.”
Beca chuckles, lifting her own hands to curve them loosely around Chloe’s wrists, and adds, “I’m glad Stacie is some kind of maniac puppet master.” This earns her a confusedly raised pair of eyebrows. “I’ll explain on the way back.”
Chloe straightens suddenly, hands falling away, and she looks around.
“Did she drive you here?” It’s very obvious from the way Chloe asks what she wants the answer to be. Beca winces apologetically and Chloe lets out a groan.
“Look, it was either I risk my life or I risk losing you.” Beca shrugs like that isn’t the most cornball thing she’s ever said and pretends to ignore the unbridledly gleeful grin that blooms on Chloe’s face following it. She turns her head to look for Amy and doesn’t even try shoving Chloe away when she covers her cheek with kisses. Spots Amy staring forlornly into what she assumes is now an empty chicken nugget box, still standing beside the security guard who is giving Beca an enthusiastic thumbs up.
She sends Stacie a text while Chloe is changing her flight and by the time they walk back out through the airport doors she’s there waiting for them curbside. Sees their joined hands and lets out an excited squeal.
Amy insists on taking the front seat this time and Beca doesn’t care, is all too happy to climb into the back with Chloe, who pulls Beca into the middle seat so that they can stay close. Presses herself to Beca’s side and rests her head on her shoulder, their hands still laced together.
Later, Beca will digest all this. Everything that’s happened.
Later, she’ll think back and try to figure out when exactly things began to change.
Later, they’ll laugh about how this got started.
Experiment conclusion: Success.