Beca stared down at her hands.
Or, more accurately, at the tattoo on her left palm, just under her thumb. A ladybug, to be precise, about the size of a craft bead, that she got years ago when her best friend had told her that she had to take some time to find herself before joining Beca in L.A. Beca had nodded and smiled and said good luck and to come home soon, even though there was a tightness in her throat and her stomach was filled with stones.
Chloe never called.
Beca thought she understood that too. Sometimes, finding yourself meant that you had to be alone.
Still, Beca missed the red-haired beauty, the quick smiles and elated laughter that was her best friend, and after a few solid years of no news, Beca had decided on her tattoo. It was a reminder, of who Chloe was and who she had been for Beca, how she had changed the moody alt girl for the better.
“Hey, Bec, c'mon, time to go.” Sammy clapped a hand on her shoulder, and it made her jump as the lights dimmed for the night. “This is the third night this week, you can’t work yourself into the ground.”
Beca looked up at Residual’s commander-in-chief and smiled just a little. “Hey, Sammy, didn’t realize you were still here.”
“Had to finish up paperwork for the new client,” Sammy said gruffly. “She’s coming in at nine-fifteen sharp, as I’m sure you remember.”
Of course she did. It was the first new client he had assigned to Beca for a while; he always told her she was valuable, and he wanted to pair her with the best possible new artists because of the explosion he knew she could make with just the right voice. Apparently, that voice was coming in tomorrow morning, and he wanted Beca to sit in on the meeting, not just to be introduced but to go through the motions with him and learn how to handle stuff on her own.
“Yeah, I was just, uh, brainstorming a little,” Beca said as she pulled her headphones from around her neck. “Wanted to have something to start with tomorrow, ideas for a demo and then maybe even a single–”
Sammy chuckled at her. In truth, Beca liked Sammy. He was actually quite warm and gentle when he wasn’t shouting at the others. Beca had worked hard to gain her spot alongside him, and she knew he appreciated her dedication. “You work too hard sometimes, Beca,” he said. He gently reached over and closed the laptop she worked from. “I need you here at nine tomorrow, and I need you awake, not drowning yourself in coffee.”
Beca rolled her eyes, but pushed away from her workbench. “All right, I guess I’m coming.”
Sammy smiled and stepped back as she stood up and stretched, then led them both out of the building.
Beca swirled in her chair, swaying gently side to side as she waited on Sammy to get there. He usually ran a few minutes late, barking at Dax for something or other and checking on things that needed his (and sometimes even Beca’s) approval on his way to his office. It happened no matter how early he came in; Beca was simply used to it.
Today was no exception; Sammy strode in about five minutes after, muttering darkly about his nephew as he shook off his coat. Beca looked up from her tattoo in time to see his eyes soften as he caught sight of her. “I’m fine,” she said quickly before he could start. She lifted her mug from the desk. “Only one cup in, swear.”
He laughed at that and came around the desk to his own chair. “She’s usually early,” he mused, “so we might see her soon. Em should be bringing her in.”
Beca chuckled to herself. “Bet she’s ecstatic. If I didn’t know her better, I’d say she hates being coffee girl, but she’s just thrilled to be here.”
As Sammy chuckled in response, there was a sharp rap on the door, and Emily poked her head around it.
“Hey, Legacy,” Beca greeted her easily; her former Bella’s member had caught up with Residual after Beca had recommended her as an intern last year, and on occasion played songwriter to Beca’s producer.
“Morning, Cap!” Emily said brightly, calling Beca by her old Bella’s nickname. It was a habit hard to break; being captain, it seemed, doesn’t fade in time. “Need coffee?”
Beca lifted her mug half off the table in response, and Emily nodded before turning to Sammy. “Your nine-fifteen is here, send her in?”
Sammy waved his hand, and Emily opened the door wider to admit a gorgeous red-haired woman.
Beca’s stomach dropped when crystal eyes met midnight.
Chloe knew damn well that Beca was not prepared for her appearance.
To be fair, she wasn’t expecting Beca’s, either. She had thought Beca would pursue her dreams in L.A., where she had always dreamed of going, but for some reason, the tiny producer-to-be was still in Atlanta (thought not quite the intern she had been).
So when their eyes met across the room, she was fairly certain that her own shock matched Beca’s.
“Don’t be a stranger.” Beca surprised her by greeting her before Sam, whom Chloe had met with briefly before, but it seemed as though the man was content to let Beca lead. “We have a lot to talk about.”
There it was. That sardonic, sarcastic way that Beca spoke when she didn’t want to be around people because she was hurt or angry. Even subdued, almost professionalized, Chloe recognized it instantly.
She had memorized everything about the woman in front of her.
Still, the recognition did nothing to help unknot Chloe’s insides as she came in, Emily closing the door behind her, and took a seat across from the imposing pair.
Sam eventually shifted forward. “I would like to introduce my, ah, I suppose I should say my partner, Beca.” Beca gave him a strange look, which he ignored. “She kindly agreed to sit in with us today, as you two will be quite close in the coming months.”
Beca shuffled through the papers she was holding for moment, but simply slapped them down onto the desk and looked up at Chloe for the first time since she walked in. “To put it quite simply, Miss Beale, Residual Heat has been looking for new artists to help recreate its sound.” The lack of familiarity she showed stabbed at Chloe’s insides. “Sam believes – and I agree – that our tones of music will mix well and reach out to our target audience. That means fans for you, followers for us, and a great deal of money for all involved.” A pause. “If you’re willing to take on the job, there’s a contact awaiting you in my office, as well as a few starting ideas to get the ball rolling.”
At that, Sam chuckled, and Beca threw him a dirty look. Chloe hid a grin until Beca looked back at her and there was no laughter in her eyes. And right there, she also knew that Beca was, for the first time in a very long time, decidedly not happy with the usually-bubbly redhead.
Suddenly, the small brunette got to her feet, with a look at Sam, who flicked his fingers at her to proceed, and moved to the door. “I think a tour should also be in order,” she said, somewhat stiffly, and Chloe also stood.
“That would be lovely,” she said.
Anything to get Beca to talk to her about what’s bothering her.
“So this is where we’ll be recording,” Beca said, pushing open the heavy door. She saw Chloe glance briefly at the plaque on its front, displaying Beca’s name in glossy brass, but the producer herself hardly paid it any attention, preferring to flip the switch beside the door to flood the room with soft light. It was a spacious room, as far as studios go, but the dark red walls and oak flooring lent it a coziness that Beca had grown fond of. The far wall had huge speakers built into it, and sitting between these was a large professional soundboard with a window at its head overlooking the next room. The right wall held a display of guitars; the left had Beca’s “worktable” against it, atop which sat several files and Beca’s open laptop. There was a couch as well, a lighter, bright shade of red than the walls, sitting to the right of the door, but other than that, the room was devoid of ornamentation. Beca liked the simplicity of it; besides, she worked from home on most days. “I have an office upstairs, too, but I don’t usually use it. I’m usually here if someone needs me.”
“Why have an office if you don’t use it?” Chloe asked, sounding genuinely curious, and Beca shrugged, setting her bag down by her chair.
“Appearance, mostly. Official stuff. Sammy says it looks better on me or some shit.” She swept towards the soundboard and started flipping switches across the top; the lights behind the window flickered to life, revealing the recording booth behind it.
“Beca,” Chloe said after a moment, softly, and the tension in the room multiplied tenfold. Beca gritted her teeth and tried to ignore how her name on Chloe’s tongue sent solid shivers down her spine and tightened her chest until she could barely breathe.
“Em will probably be with us a few days a week,” she said instead of replying, proud that she controlled the tremor in her voice. “Her songwriting skills are sharp as ever, thank God, or I’d never get anywhere.” She started to work different parts of the soundboard, preparing for a session.
“Beca,” Chloe said, more firmly this time, and this time Beca paused, closing her eyes and biting her cheek against the hurt and bitterness and betrayal she felt, and the anger that it came with. Her fingers stilled against the controls, but couldn’t turn around.
“Don’t.” It came out hard, sharp, and the room went cold with her anger. She felt rather than heard Chloe inhale with surprise, felt her falter before pushing to try again. She had never liked Beca’s anger, the brunette reflected; not because she was afraid (not that Beca couldn’t become a bit terrifying), but because of how destructive it was. “Just don’t, okay?”
“I can’t. You know we gotta talk–”
Beca’s fragile control snapped, and she turned on her heel to face the redhead. “Oh, so now you wanna talk? Why now? It’s been five goddamn years , Chloe, and now you wanna talk?” An angry film obscured her vision, but she impatiently scrubbed it away. “You never bothered before, so why now? For that matter, why come back?”
Chloe looked thoroughly startled. “Bec, there was just stuff I had to do.”
“Just stuff,” Beca echoed scornfully. “Bigger things? Better things? Big enough to leave your friends behind?”
“What would have had me do?” Chloe demanded. “Sat around while you became a superstar? I had to learn to do things on my own–”
“But you couldn’t stand to pick up a phone?”
“Did you?” Chloe snapped back.
Beca flared up faster than she ever had before. “You know damn well I did. I left a voicemail every night for three months, Chloe. Did you bother to listen to them at all?” Chloe’s eyes widened, and Beca knew she had her. “I would never leave you like that, Chloe. Not like….”
Chloe heard what she didn’t say. Not like she had left Beca. Her eyes softened, and so did her voice. “Why did you stay?” she asked Beca suddenly, and Beca’s throat constricted. She looked away from the crystal blues and clenched her jaw, refusing to speak. “I figured you and Jesse–”
“I want nothing to do with Jesse,” Beca said flatly, still refusing to look at Chloe.
“He went to New York to chase his own dreams. I refused to go.”
Chloe’s brow furrowed, and she took a hesitant step forward. “Why not? Why not LA, then?”
Beca clenched her jaw again. She knew why she didn’t want to leave, why nowhere other than Atlanta appealed to her, and she didn’t want to talk about it.
Chloe was quiet for a moment. After some time, she said softly, “I left to find my voice.” Beca snorted contemptuously and crossed her arms. “I did, Beca. And I did because I wanted to be able to do the things you can; trap people in this bubble of music that doesn’t let go.” Beca looked sideways at her out of the corner or her eye. “I wanted to do it as well as you did, so we could do this together. That’s what you wanted, right? I just didn’t feel ready. I had to find my own way for a while.”
Beca was quiet, but Chloe’s words struck every chord in her body and made it thrum with relief. “Why come here? You thought I went off with Jess, so why here?”
“I hoped your boss could point me to where you had gone. Em convinced me to come in myself.” Chloe fidgeted. “I’m sorry I made you feel like that. I didn’t know.”
Beca pursed her lips, staring at her palms, at the ladybug etched into her left one. “I missed you, y'know. Every day. You never had to prove yourself to me.”
“I know. But I had to prove it to myself. And I missed you too, Bec. Bad, but I –” Chloe shook her head. “Calling you felt like cheating. Maybe that’s stupid, but I had to do it on my own. No help, no encouragement.”
Beca nodded. She thought she could understand a little; she understood the drive. Satisfied that Beca had shed her anger, Chloe came forward and wrapped the smaller woman in a hug. Beca would normally have shrugged away, but Chloe’s hug felt warm and like home, and she didn’t really want to let go, so she wrapped her arms around Chloe too and tucked her chin into her shoulder.
“If you ever leave again,” she said gruffly, chest tight again, “I don’t think I’ll be able to sing again. Music is too hard without you here.”
It was quiet for a moment. Then Chloe rested her chin in Beca’s hair. “I guess that means I’m staying. I don’t think I could live in a world where you’re not singing.”
And Beca didn’t think she could ever feel warmer.
“For the record,” Chloe mumbled, “I did listen to your voicemails. Every night.”
Actually, she could.