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On one hand, the fall musical probably brought Beca Mitchell more trouble than it was worth. On the other hand, it brought her Chloe Beale.

 

Well, it didn’t really bring her Chloe Beale. In her rare poetic moments, Beca thought that Chloe was likely too much of a force of nature to really be anyone’s, instead just moving into people’s lives suddenly and taking up more space than either had expected or likely intended.

 

For Beca, this dramatic life readjustment had occurred in freshman year English class, when she and Chloe had been assigned as partners to present a scene from Romeo and Juliet. Perhaps ‘assigned’ wasn’t the right term, because Chloe had volunteered. Two weeks fresh out of Tennessee, the Southern twang still lilting at the end of certain sentences sparkled with unabashedly delivered “y’all’s,” Chloe had already made an impact just upon her entry to Barden High.

 

It wasn’t too surprising; Chloe was gorgeous, put together, and far more charismatic than any fourteen-year-old had a right to be. So she’d found herself properly placed with the right sort of crowd, cheerleaders, future football stars, and girls like Stacie Conrad, who had suddenly jumped about three cup sizes over the summer between middle and high school. Chloe fit right in, all smiles and perfectly styled hair, friendly and probably more open than was for her own good.

 

This genial nature, combined with the general cluelessness that one carries entering into a new social ecosystem, was likely what led her to raise her hand, breaking the awkward pause after Beca’s name had been repeated three times for the partner scenes. And Beca really couldn’t blame any of her classmates; she’d gone through a particularly hardcore emo phase in middle school, and even the pink slightly oversized polo shirt that her stepmother had forced her into couldn’t convince her peers that she was anyone other than the scowling, brooding asshole who had once told a teacher to “fuck off” when she’d asked her to take her headphones out during study hall.

 

But Chloe’s hand shot up, combined with a loud, clear, “I’ll partner with her” as she turned around and gave Beca the brightest smile she could remember having seen, even from her perch at the back of the classroom. Mr. Stork, who happened to be married to the very same teacher involved in the study hall incident, had frozen for a moment, blinking as he took in Chloe and her surrounding students, including Aubrey Posen, who was vigorously shaking her head as she tried to get Chloe’s attention. Those absurdly blue eyes wouldn’t leave Beca’s, though, and Mr. Stork was forced to move on as the rest fell into vastly more expected pairs.

 

Beca figured she was being charitable by hanging in the back and giving Chloe a chance to get the ‘411’ from any of her friends. She’d always thought that the ‘Queen Mab’ monologue was about the only salvageable piece of Romeo and Juliet, so doing this assignment solo wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. And, sure enough, Chloe was held up for a minute as Aubrey whispered in her ear, Chloe’s brow furrowing deeply as her eyes darted over to Beca, who busied herself with finishing the pen outline of a pair of headphones on her wrist.

 

She was interrupted when a perfectly manicured set of nails drummed lightly on her desk, and Beca looked up to see those same baby blues that had captivated her a minute before. Chloe was sitting with her legs on either side of the desk seat in front of Beca, smiling so broadly that Beca couldn’t help the corners of her own mouth from lifting.

 

“Hi.” Beca felt herself taking Chloe’s offered hand, shaking it dumbly as the other girl’s eyes never left her own. “I’m Chloe. You’re Beca, right?”

 

“Um.”

 

“I’m going to take that as a yes,” Chloe said after a brief pause. “Nice to meet you. So, Romeo and Juliet?” When Beca continued to stare silently, Chloe bit her lip, finally staring down at the desk and giving Beca’s brain a chance to reengage. “I know it’s supposed to be a classic and all, but I’m more of a Twelfth Night girl myself.”

 

The conspiratorial whisper threw Beca off guard again for a moment, but she forced herself to nod, dropping her pen to the desk. “That’s a good one, yeah. I kinda always found Romeo and Juliet cliché. Dumb or whatever.”

 

Chloe shrugged, and Beca could feel those eyes burning into her, almost demanding her attention. “Cliché’s fine in some cases. I just feel like if it’s true love and all, they could’ve found a way to make things work.”

 

Beca swallowed heavily as they locked eyes again, saving herself the trouble of having to respond by pulling her book out of her backpack and dropping it between the two of them. “So should we decide on a scene?”

 

And Beca would never really be able to explain how she found herself agreeing to work on Act I, Scene V, let alone how she ended up as Juliet. It was probably then that she had the first of her poetic moments, glued, dumbstruck to her seat as the bell rang and Chloe swept away, leaving with nothing but a smile and Beca’s number in her phone.

 

They met to work on the scene for the first time two days later, Chloe running into the auditorium twenty minutes late, clad in slightly sweaty workout gear with a million apologies spilling from her lips. “I am so so so sorry,” she said, dropping into the seat right next to Beca’s in her row. “Aubrey held me late at practice because she thinks I’ll be really good at being on top.”

 

Beca spat out the water she’d been drinking, and Chloe’s eyes widened as she clapped the brunette heartily on the back until Beca grabbed Chloe’s arm to stop her. “I’m sorry, she thinks you’ll be good at what?

 

A slight crease appeared between Chloe’s brows, her mouth quirking to one side before she threw her head back in laughter. “Oh my god. On top of the pyramid. God, Beca, get your head out of the gutter. It’s a bit too early in this friendship to be figuring out who’s on top.”

 

And that was the first time that Chloe Beale winked at her, quick and casual before she turned to pull her copy of the play out of her bag. Beca could feel the color rising in her face, pretending to thumb through the text as if she hadn’t had it open on the right page for the last half hour since AV club ended. “Um, yeah, that makes sense. So should we get started?”

 

Chloe nodded, tucking a ringlet of hair behind her ear before she looked back up at Beca. “O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright! It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel in—“

 

“Do you have this memorized?” Chloe hadn’t bothered to open the book she’d dropped on the chair arm between them, launching into an emphatic speech without pause as Beca stared down at her own heavily annotated text.

 

“Um, yeah?” Chloe’s eyes dropped, chewing her lip as she placed her hand over the cover, fingers tensing. “I’m just good at memorizing things, I guess. I don’t know, I always have been.”

 

And once again, Beca was unsure what precisely came over her when she dropped her hand lightly on top of Chloe’s, giving it a gentle pat before resting on top. “I mean, that’s really cool,” she managed, voice coming out low and husky as Chloe slowly looked back up.

 

They stayed like that for probably a moment too long, Chloe’s nose barely two inches away from Beca’s own, Beca’s fingers falling between Chloe’s as their breathing matched pace. When Chloe’s thumb brushed against the knuckle of Beca’s own, she shot backwards, pulling her hand back a second later and clearing her throat. “So yeah. We should probably continue?”

 

Beca was never really sure whether or not she imagined a second of stunned delay on Chloe’s part, but, either way, she was back beaming and giggling a moment later as Beca blushed and stumbled over a line about pilgrim’s lips being used in prayer.

 

So of course Chloe nailed it two weeks later in class, even while Beca’s eyes remained pasted to the floor, hands in the pockets of her jeans as she stumbled over her lines at a barely audible volume. That was, until Beca completely blanked on her line, the snickers traveling around the classroom as she fought desperately to remember even a word.

 

She waited for Mr. Stork to cut the laughter off, or to take pity on her and give her some sort of lead-in line, but Beca looked up to see the teacher with his head down on his desk, a line of drool running from his mouth down his chin. Chloe looked around the classroom, eyes narrowing at her friends in the front before she placed her hands on her hips, opening her mouth as Beca entered into a particularly frantic set of stammers.

 

“But soft, what light through that window comes? It must be the west, and Juliet is the moon!”

 

Beca’s eyes snapped up to find Chloe’s, soft and laughing as the classroom around them quieted for a moment. When Chloe slapped her hand dramatically into her forehead, rolling her eyes as she turned to face their peers, the room burst into a much more friendly sort of mirth. “Oh my god, I’m such an idiot!” Chloe gave Mr. Stork an apologetic shrug as he sat up, bleary-eyed at the raucous, declaring that Beca and Chloe would receive a “solid A minus,” likely to cover the fact that he’d been napping throughout their whole presentation.

 

There was a strange buzzing feeling in Beca’s stomach as she shuffled back to her seat, drumming her pen on top of her notebook for the rest of the class and glancing up at the back of Chloe’s head every few moments. Chloe could’ve just continued, really, or even sat back down and waited for Beca to do the same before waking their teacher and claiming that they’d been done for a while. Instead, she’d made an idiot of herself in front of a group of people who barely knew her, just because Beca couldn’t get out a few lines of a play that she’d read a million times before.

 

When the bell rang, Beca shoved her backpack closed, almost knocking her desk over in her rush to get out of the room. She just managed to grab Chloe by the elbow before she got surrounded by her posse, the redhead letting out a quiet yelp in surprise as she was dragged back. “Beca?”

 

“Um. Can I talk to you for a sec?”

 

Aubrey Posen was staring her down with that glare that she’d somehow perfected around the third grade, although Beca had only been considered worthy of its attention on a few rare occasions. “Chloe? We have Algebra in a few minutes.”

 

“Go ahead without me, Bree,” Chloe replied, gaze not leaving Beca. “I’ll catch up.”

 

The blonde only relented when Stacie rolled her eyes, giving Beca an apologetic half-grin as she pulled Aubrey by her shoulder to follow the rest down the hall. Tom and Donald glanced over at Beca for a moment, the latter whispering in his friend’s ear before they both high-fived, stepping apart to allow the girls back into the tight huddle.

 

“So what’s up?”

 

Beca kept her eyes fixed solidly on Chloe’s nose as she took a deep breath. “Why did you do that?”

 

“Do what?” The hint of a smile played at the edge of Chloe’s mouth, and Beca couldn’t help but let her line of sight drop when Chloe licked her lips before reaching into her backpack to pull out a tube of Chapstick.

 

“Y’know. Mess up? You didn’t have to do that.” Chloe’s eyes became the safest bet as she parted her mouth, that odd feeling in Beca’s stomach only intensifying.

 

“Stage fright,” Chloe said, a decisive tone in her voice. “Happens to the best of us.”

 

“C’mon, Chloe,” Beca groaned. “Don’t bullshit me.”

 

Eyebrows flying up, Chloe seemed to consider Beca’s scowl, eyes shamelessly roaming across the smaller girl’s face. She took a step closer, and Beca could feel the color rising in her face again as Chloe leaned down. “I don’t know,” she murmured. “I guess I just didn’t like seeing you uncomfortable.”

 

She squeezed Beca’s forearm lightly, and Beca was shocked when she looked down a moment later and didn’t see a burning handprint for all the heat she felt there. Her eyes followed Chloe as she turned and headed down the hallway, pausing only for a second to look over her shoulder and shoot Beca another wink before continuing on her way.

 

So yeah, calling Chloe Beale a force of nature might have been a bit overdramatic, but Beca had never been too good at theatrical endeavors anyways. 


 

If Beca hadn’t been screwed enough just by being around, talking to, and existing in the same space as Chloe Beale, she sure as shit was done in by her voice. Because of course, on top of everything else, Chloe could sing. It wasn’t like the typical ‘I’m trying to be Idina Menzel because I was raised on a combination of the Wicked soundtrack and Glee’ or the over-dramatic, torch singer-esque tones of the countless Adele wannabes, but rather some strange mixture of powerful, belting vocals that could probably rise over a full orchestra and a personal, fixated direction that made you feel as if she was singing to you and you alone as you listened.

 

Beca being head over heels for Chloe’s voice was less of a figure of speech and more of a reality. Two things had involved Beca in the fall musical her freshman year; the first was her technical skill handling sound equipment, and the second was her best friend. Jesse Swanson had lived next to Beca for her whole life, and though they both knew that she would probably do just about anything for him (and vice versa), she claimed to be there under threat of death from the director if she didn’t get a proper reading on the stage’s sound levels after an acoustical upgrade over the summer. So she definitely wasn’t there just to support Jesse as he began his quest to become the ultimate theater geek.

 

Jesse nailed his audition, of course, all charisma and dramatic delivery, certainly helped by years of voice and dance lessons. So Beca swiftly lost interest as the girls’ auditions began, and she’d stood up on a chair to adjust a cord connecting to another speaker in the booth when a soft Southern twang startled her attention back down.

 

“Hi, I’m Chloe Beale, and I’m here to audition for the role of Cinderella.” Beca swore she looked nervous as the director ran his pencil down the list on the clipboard before looking back up.

 

“Great. What are you going to sing for us today?”

 

“Well, this was kind of a last minute decision for me,” Chloe said, voice tremulous. “So I’m going a bit non-traditional if that’s okay?”

 

“After six ‘Defying Gravity’s’ and eight ‘On My Own’s,’ I welcome it,” he droned.

 

Chloe was still dressed in what Beca figured she’d worn to cheer practice, and the muscles still clearly defined even through leggings and a tank top were certainly not doing anything good for Beca’s progress on the sound check. So maybe she was staring a little, but it wasn’t like Chloe could see her, and she was still getting a good idea of the natural acoustical set-up of the un-amplified stage from this position…or something.

 

She almost gave herself away when Chloe, after a deep breath, eyes closed to collect herself, opened her mouth to reveal a voice both sweet and strong, gaining in confidence as it progressed through a tune all too familiar for Beca. Because of course Chloe Beale would be singing ‘Titanium’ after Beca had spent almost the last week straight listening to it, testing it in countless mash-up combinations until she woke up almost every morning with it in her head. Not that it seemed likely to go away any time soon after this experience.

 

It was only when Chloe hit the soaring high note in the chorus that Beca realized she’d been subconsciously leaning forwards in some sort of lame attempt to get closer to the sonorous entrapment in front of her. And, in retrospect, it probably hadn’t been the best idea to be using a swivel chair as a support in the first place, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise when it suddenly slid out from underneath her, sending Beca crashing forwards into the soundboard with a yelp before she bounced back and landed heavily on her ass.

 

Chloe cut off in the middle of a word at the noise, and Beca rolled into the space underneath the sound system with which she’d just collided, curling herself into a ball and closing her eyes. She only opened them when she felt a hearty poke in her arm, looking out cautiously to see a decisively non-Chloe set of hands reaching towards her.

 

“So I know you’re about the size of a six-year-old, but I thought we got you out of that ‘hiding in tiny places’ habit like forever ago.” Beca allowed herself to be dragged out by Jesse before pulling him down by the elbows into a squatting position.

 

“Is she gone?”

 

Jesse’s face contorted in a look of bewildered amusement. “Chloe?”

 

Shhh.”

 

“Jesus Christ, Becs,” he muttered, leaning up slightly until he could see out of the booth’s window. “Yeah, you’re all clear.”

 

Rubbing her forehead gingerly, Beca cautiously confirmed Jesse’s statement before standing up fully. “Wanna tell me why you were hiding under the desk like a troll?” he asked.

 

“Oh, shut up.” Her attempted assault on Jesse’s arm via admittedly small fists of fury only prompted a bout of laughter from him. “I just…I don’t know. Slipped.”

 

“Hey, I get it,” Jesse said, holding up his hands with an exaggerated innocent expression on his face. “Beale’s got pipes. Plus let’s not forget to mention the spandex. Never something to complain about.”

 

Hey.” Beca finally landed a solid right hook on Jesse’s shoulder before he could dance backwards. “Look, she just caught me by surprise, okay?”

 

Cocking his head to one side, Jesse shrugged. “Yeah, I honestly wouldn’t have guessed it either. Not all people can be as blessed with charisma, good looks, and a killer voice like Chloe. Except me, of course.”

 

“Let’s not forget your endless modesty,” Beca droned.

 

Jesse snorted. “Anyways. I’m pretty sure I heard her cast as my Cinderella. Don’t get too jealous of her, Becs; you always could’ve had the opportunity to kiss me too if you’d actually auditioned.”

 

“Please. Like I’d ever be caught dead playing Cinderella.” She bit her lip, jamming her hands in her pockets as she stared at the floor. “Just um…be nice to her, okay?”

 

“If you’re asking me to leave out the tongue, no promises.” At her furious glare, Jesse stepped back, hand protectively over his previously injured arm. “Okay, okay. Scout’s honor.”

 

And it went that way for the next three years. Every fall, Jesse and Chloe would get cast opposite each other as the male and female leads of the musical, Beca of course making sure to sit on a more solid surface if she happened to be present during Chloe’s audition. By their sophomore year, Beca was completely running the AV team, even as the demands of the parade of new directors with a turnover eerily similar to that of Defense Against the Dark Arts professors in Harry Potter grew steeper and steeper. On the bright side, it meant that she kept busy during rehearsal, mind completely focused on minute adjustments to equipment and not at all on how even the slightest hint of Chloe’s voice turned her legs to water.

 

Jesse kept his promise to Beca completely, likely helped by the fact that Chloe began dating Tom Wallace about three weeks after that first audition. While Jesse was generally well-liked around the school, a bit of a class clown with enough of an easy laugh and an increasingly defined jaw to get away with most things, being caught in an intense lip lock with the future captain of the football team’s girlfriend was unlikely to be a positive for his health. Tom wasn’t a bad guy by any stretch of the imagination, but Beca couldn’t deny having had more than a few dreams about somehow knocking him out with a single punch in dramatic altercations on the football field.

 

These fantasies convinced Beca that the natural buffer between her and Chloe by the social hierarchy of Barden (not to mention a healthy dose of Aubrey) was truly for the best. However, there was only so far she could get away from Chloe, even beyond rehearsals. She had this funny habit of showing up in all of Beca’s honors and AP classes, which grew smaller and smaller as the years went on. Once again, she was constantly flanked by Aubrey and Stacie in these situations, but Chloe always went out of her way to greet Beca every morning, holding her gaze just a second too long as she passed her back a worksheet or even going so far as to text her if she’d missed out on some notes or the homework for the night.

 

The texts always led to a good ten-minute staring contest between Beca and her phone, inevitably won by the damn device, or perhaps more accurately lost by Beca’s complete lack of self control when it came to Chloe. Chloe who used far more emojis than could ever be necessary, strangely enough in combination with perfect punctuation, spelling, and grammar. Chloe who always sent the last text before Beca had to force herself to cut it off before she’d have to actually act like a normal, pleasant human being instead of just staring dumbly across a classroom, stage, or, in one especially traumatic circumstance, the football field when Jesse had dragged her to homecoming, claiming it was all due to a crush he’d developed on one Aubrey Posen.

 

So of course Tom had caught the winning touchdown and taken the moment to sweep his girlfriend literally off her feet and plant one on her in front of a cheering crowd. Beca had rolled her eyes and grabbed Jesse by the arm just as someone behind them had finished a particularly obnoxious wolf whistle, and spent the next few hours while Jesse talked his way through Gladiator trying to convince herself that that feeling in her stomach was wholly due to the two concession stand chili dogs she’d scarfed down throughout the game.


 

The only real difference their senior year was that the musical was an original, composed by some freshman songwriting prodigy with a ridiculous last name. Emily Junk, as it turned out, was an energetic gazelle of a girl who towered over Beca while speaking at a pace that only Jesse could ever really keep up with, smirking as he served as Beca’s translator through their discussion of any audio-visual needs outside of the ordinary setup.

 

On stage, Benji Applebaum was finishing his annual audition for Jesse’s understudy, and would inevitably spend his time providing stage direction and cues as necessary. The kid had a voice, for sure, and Emily definitely seemed to appreciate it as she kept glancing over Beca’s shoulder every time Benji hit the high notes in ‘Sugar.’ Jesse certainly took note of this fact, leaning against the corner of the wall that Beca had designated for him a year back when he’d gotten too close to her sound equipment during the dress rehearsal and spilled his soda over Beca’s new analog board.

 

Rolling her eyes and sighing dramatically, Beca snapped her fingers in front of Emily’s eyes after she’d dropped off in the middle of a sentence for a third time. “Hey, kid. Trying to help you out here.”

 

“Oh, yeah, sorry!” Emily said, smacking her hand against her forehead. “I totally spaced out there. But I mean, you’re the expert here, so I totally, completely, 100% trust you.”

 

“Okay, slow down,” Beca laughed. “I’m just doing sound shit for the musical. Nothing to freak out about.”

 

“Yeah, but you just kind of seem to know everything. It’s just—I don’t know, all this digital music stuff is so cool and I just wanna learn everything from you that I can.” And Beca would’ve been annoyed if it weren’t for the genuine, wide-eyed expression on the girl’s face as she literally wrung her hands nervously in front of her. Smiling despite her best efforts, Beca lightly patted Emily’s shoulder, giving her what she hoped was an encouraging nod.

 

Of course, all of Beca’s attempts at projecting the air of a dignified, nonchalant elder went out the door when she followed Emily out of the booth just as Chloe hopped onto the stage. If Beca had been blown away by the freshman Chloe Beale, there really weren’t words for what the senior edition presented. This version was all eyes, legs, and curves, paired with that truly infectious laugh as she reunited for likely the first time that year with her fellow theater regulars. The rest spent most of their time together, free periods in the choir room turning into spontaneous Broadway revues that Jesse had dragged Beca to on occasion, but they were only graced by their female lead’s presence for this short period in the fall.

 

Cheerleading captain, National Merit Scholar, and actress extraordinaire. Of course she could waltz back into one of the most tight-knit groups of the school for a few months at a time and be treated like a constant companion who they’d seen just a day before. And that was another one of the endless mysterious of this girl, still that wide-eyed, open-hearted individual who chose to transcend social strata and could make anyone feel that they were all that mattered to her at that moment in time with the slightest glance.

 

“Is that Chloe?” Emily’s whisper over Beca’s shoulder snapped her out of her reverie, and Jesse couldn’t hold back a snort as Beca felt her face grow red-hot.

 

“Um, yeah,” Beca said, dropping into a seat at the back of the auditorium. “She always does the fall musical. Kind of her thing.”

 

“I’ve heard she’s amazing.” Beca could feel Emily’s eyes boring into the side of her head, doing her best to remain focused on the chair in front of her. “I mean, you must know her, working on the musical for so long.”

 

“They’ve also had a ton of classes together.” Jesse squawked in surprise as Beca’s elbow caught him in the ribs. “Hey, I’m just clarifying!”

 

“You’re just being a dick,” Beca hissed.

 

Their ensuing squabble was cut off by Mr. Collins, the new director, turning around in his seat and glaring back at them as Chloe took center stage. Beca sunk deeper into her seat, picking at her fingernails and trying against all odds to ignore Chloe as she launched into ‘Drops of Jupiter,’ driving all memory of the Train concert that Beca and Jesse had gone to a few weeks back out of her mind with this new version as a superior replacement.

 

Chloe stopped after the chorus, biting her lip sheepishly as she always did while the director waxed poetic about her lyrical interpretation. Emily was visibly bouncing up and down in her seat in excitement while Jesse’s eyes flitted between Beca and Chloe, the former girl’s hands clasped tightly in her lip with her eyes closed.

 

Seemingly unable to hold her compliments in a second later, Emily jumped out of her seat just as Chloe got off the stage, sprinting towards the front. Beca only opened her eyes after Jesse had poked her in the arm for a solid minute. “What?”

 

“She didn’t change the pronouns,” he whispered.

 

As if she hadn’t slammed her eyes shut the moment she’d made this realization, Beca sighed. “And?”

 

“Hey, I’m just trying to be a good lesbro, Becs,” Jesse said, holding up a hand defensively.

 

Beca groaned, tentatively testing if her legs had recovered enough from their traditional Beale-induced stupor for her to stand. “We’ve been over this a thousand times, Jesse. I’m not gay.”

 

“Okay, fair.” He followed her Beca of the row as she made her way over to Mr. Collins. “But bi-bro just doesn’t sound as cool, y’know?”

 

“Keep it up, and I’ll make it so you can completely leave the ‘bro’ part out, okay?” When no sarcastic response followed, Beca whirled around, only to find Jesse absent and talking to Benji over against the wall. Searching for the best path through the rows, crowded post-audition, Beca felt a light tap on her shoulder. “Emily, just give me a sec.”

 

“Well, I’m not Emily, but I hope you’re not too disappointed.” The distinctive twang was lessened after three years, but Beca couldn’t forget that voice if she tried. Gulping down a breath in what she hoped was a far less audible manner than she heard it in her head, Beca slowly turned to find her eyes directly level with the tip of Chloe’s nose.

 

“Chloe.”

 

“Beca.” Chloe’s smile only widened as she leaned to the side, placing her weight on one leg as her hand fell against the corresponding hip. “You know, we’ve been doing these musicals together for three years, and I think this is the first time we’ve actually talked during rehearsal.”

 

“It’s auditions,” Beca murmured, shifting uncomfortably from one leg to another as she found herself unable to stay in place.

 

“Are we really going to nitpick here? I think you’re avoiding me.” Beca’s eyes shot up, meeting the insanely bright pair across from her, filled with that boundless laughter even as a distinct pout pressed across Chloe’s lips.

 

“I uh—equipment, y’know?” Beca managed weakly.

 

Chloe’s brow furrowed as she nodded slowly, eyes taking in Beca’s face in that way that always left her feeling strangely exposed. “Very descriptive. But, on that note, I should probably thank you for always making me sound so good.”

 

“You always sound awesome anyways.” And Beca tried her best to cover her unedited, verbalized thoughts with a cough, but Chloe’s eyes widened as she bit her lip, almost as if in an attempt to contain some response.

 

But Beca figured she’d been imagining it when Chloe lightly shoved her backwards, shrugging dramatically as Beca regained her balance and tried to ignore the fact that the top of Chloe’s hand had slightly brushed against the bare skin of Beca’s arm as she pulled it back. “You’re too kind,” she said, that steady stare once again pulling Beca’s eyes back to her own. “But anyways. We should hang out more or something. You know, it’s our last musical and all.”

 

“Um.” Beca, as always when nervous, found a sudden need to do something with her hands, settling for dragging her fingers through her hair as she searched for any sort of response here beyond simply running away. “I’ll—uh—see you at rehearsal? I mean—“

 

“—You’re so stubborn, god.” Even with her eyes on the ground, Beca could feel Chloe take a step into her space, breath catching in her throat and launching her back to freshman year outside that English class. “It’s kind of…adorable.”

 

“Adorable?” Beca heard herself echo Chloe’s words slowly, eyes moving up those perfectly toned legs stretching out beneath denim shorts. “I—um—“

 

“Chloe?”

 

While Beca jumped back, Chloe remained in the same spot as her eyes traveled to the back of the hall at the sound of Aubrey’s voice. “Hey, Bree! Tryouts go okay and everything?”

 

Beca turned around to see Aubrey entering the auditorium, face slightly wrinkled with distaste as Stacie followed just a step behind. “They probably would’ve gone better if my co-captain had been there,” she answered slowly.

 

Aubrey,” Stacie chided, hitting her on the arm with a pom pom. “Relax. Don’t act like you didn’t love having complete control over the roster this year.”

 

With a quick sniff, Aubrey rolled her eyes as Stacie folded herself into a chair, legs stretching over the row in front of her. “Well, we definitely know we’re getting the best of the best.” She looked over at Beca as if she were some sort of stain on her favorite shirt before turning back to Chloe, eyebrow delicately quirked. “Are you done here?”

 

And there was that same apologetic grin she’d received from Chloe time and time again, so many times in connection to Aubrey. This time, she opened her mouth as if she had something to add for once, cut off as Aubrey called her name. Clambering over a few rows of seats, she followed Stacie and Aubrey to the door, pausing only once the other two girls had exited to give Beca her first wink in years.

 

Damn if it didn’t bring her back to being fourteen again, blown away that first day by the new girl in school. Beca did her best to collect herself off the puddle she’d become on the floor just in time to catch Jesse attempting to moonwalk off the stage and signaling that it was probably time for them to head home.


“Jesse, you are literally two weeks into this musical. You do not need to run lines this much, and I sure as hell do not need to run them with you.” Beca dropped back onto Jesse’s bed, the script falling onto her face. “Couldn’t we just like…I don’t know, watch a movie or something like normal friends do?”

 

“Beca Mitchell, are you actually suggesting that we watch a movie?” He leaned over from his chair next to the bed, clamping a hand over her forehead. “Weird, I don’t feel a fever.”

 

Beca swatted at Jesse’s arm until he relented and allowed to push herself up onto her elbows. “Okay, but seriously. Like what good does this do anyone?”

 

Jesse adopted a thoughtful look as he rested his chin on his hand. “You’re performing a valuable service for the greater good of Barden High?”

 

“Yeah, for the two percent of Barden High that actually comes to this bullshit every year.”

 

“Okay, now you’re being ridiculous,” Jesse said. “You know it’s at least fifteen once we count in every individual in the Barden population who’s in love with Chloe Beale.”

 

Grumbling as she rolled onto her stomach, Beca dropped her arms off either side of Jesse’s bed before turning her head to face him. “So why don’t you make her do this with you?”

 

“She already gets the pleasure of my company during rehearsals. Besides, I’m not the one who has her number.”

 

Beca closed her eyes, slowing shaking her head as best she could from her position. “Fuck off, Swanson.”

 

“You’ve got some surprisingly smooth game there for a tiny idiot, Becaw.” When Beca didn’t respond, Jesse began to tap her repeatedly on the head with his script. “You can only avoid your crush on Chloe for so long. I mean, you guys have actually had conversations in rehearsal. Two-sided conversations. I’m almost offended, as your best friend and designated bi-bro.”

 

“Well, she keeps talking to me,” Beca replied, wrestling the script out of his hand before turning back onto her back, the paper crumpled up on the opposite side of her body from its owner. “I don’t wanna be rude.”

 

“Being rude is kind of your thing, isn’t it?” Jesse chuckled at her respondent shrug. “I guess you make an exception for hot redheads. I should’ve looked into hair dye years ago.”

 

“Please. You lost any chance with me after you locked me in your grandfather’s shed overnight in Kentucky.”

 

“I was six, Becs!” Dodging the wrinkled ball that used to be his script, Jesse sighed. “You really can hold a grudge. Remind me why I put up with you?”

 

“Because I put up with you?” Beca answered, unfolding her own script and sitting up. “You’re not gonna let this go, are you?”

 

Jesse rolled his chair across the room to pick up Beca’s projectile with a ridiculous grin. “Hell no. Plus, it’s for your own good. Gives you a good five minutes to come up with some excuse regarding Chloe.”

 

Beca had to admit that the musical wasn’t awful, if a bit out of left field. Emily had a good musical ear for sure, even if Beca had helped her out on a few harmonic edits and transitions between the scenes and songs, and Chloe as the reluctant member of a struggling collegiate a capella group was simultaneously hilarious and believable, in a testament to her acting skills. Jesse, on the other hand, was right at home as Chloe’s overly enthusiastic coworker and member of a rival male a capella group in a role that almost seemed to be written right for him.

 

“So what’s happening in this scene?”

 

Smoothing out his script as best he could, Jesse squinted down at the page. “Um, okay, got it. So Anna just got picked up from jail by Skylar, and they’re fighting because he called her dad to bail her out and drive her home.”

 

“So I’m pissed at you?” Beca bounced on the bed lightly as she turned to face him, swinging her legs off the side. “I can do that.”

 

“You’re a very violent person, and it scares me sometimes, Becs.”

 

The scene was a bit melodramatic, but Jesse was a compelling enough actor to draw what semblance of charisma Beca had out of her. By their third run-through, she was even hitting the cues properly, and he leaned back in his chair triumphantly.

 

“We’ll make a star out of you yet,” he proclaimed, raising his arms in the air.

 

Beca repositioned herself to lean against the wall, dropping the script in her lap. “Don’t push your luck, Swanson.”

 

“So, now that you’ve managed to delay for a bit,” Jesse said. “Chloe.”

 

“Persephone. We can all just say random names if we feel like it.”

 

The unfortunate truth of it all, though, was that she wanted to talk about Chloe. Just about every god damn minute of every day, Beca wanted to be that asshole talking someone’s ear off about their crush. And if Beca was someone with a lot of friends, along with someone who particularly enjoyed sharing details about their life, maybe she would have, spreading little pieces of information around to different people and keeping it vague enough so that nothing could ever get back to her.

 

But what Beca had was Jesse, and Jesse was unfortunately too perceptive for Beca to pull any of her shit on him. It had taken all of three seconds in freshman year gym class their second semester for Jesse to put two and two together as Beca’s volleyball serve suddenly went from precise and deadly to something akin to that of an octogenarian when Chloe rotated into the spot diagonal to her. So maybe he’d taken the whole ‘bi-bro’ thing a bit too seriously in his attempts to talk endlessly about Kristen Stewart, but it was nice to have someone willing to listen on those occasions when Beca couldn’t hold it in any longer.

 

He waited patiently as always while Beca chewed on her bottom lip and pretended to hate it, squirming uncomfortably under his stare. “Okay, but like why does she keep talking to me?”

 

“She’s kind of always kept talking to you, Becs,” Jesse said slowly. “Despite your best attempts.”

 

“Yeah, and what’s up with that?” Beca dropped her head back against the wall. “I just—we did one project together and she won’t…I don’t even know.”

 

“Have you ever tried actually like talking back? Holding a real conversation?”

 

“I can barely manage conversations with you,” Beca groaned. “Let alone Chloe fucking Beale.”

 

“Aubrey certainly didn’t seem too happy about it,” Jesse added. “Though I do think she gets even hotter when she’s pissed off.”

 

“You and your whole Posen thing. That, I really don’t get.” Rolling her eyes at Jesse’s skeevy grin, Beca leaned forwards. “All right, so explain it to me.”

 

Jesse rubbed his chin as if he actually had the ability to grow a beard, rather than just peach fuzz speckles from his latest failed attempt. “Well, I’m many things, but not psychic. And even if I were, Chloe’s kind of outside the normal realm of things, y’know?”

 

“Yeah, I know. That’s why we’re here.”

 

“Right,” Jesse said. “I mean, she’s friendly to everyone, but she really goes out of her way for you. Didn’t she like drive a week of chem homework over to your house last year when you had mono?”

 

“She said it was on her way home,” Beca muttered.

 

“Beca, she lives twenty minutes in the opposite direction.” And Beca knew that, and she’d known it when she opened her door to find Chloe standing there with that impossibly wide smile and a pile of AP Chem notes that Beca would later realize were copied out by hand. That had honestly been their longest conversation until the senior year auditions, Chloe making some joke about Beca being a heartbreaker, “catching the kissing disease and all.” Smooth as always, Beca had repeatedly assured Chloe that she’d caught it off a water bottle that she’d borrowed from Stacie in class, and she could’ve sworn that Chloe almost looked relieved. Could have, but didn’t.

 

“Have you really just never thought that much about it before?” Jesse was staring at her with true incredulity, almost amazed that even his idiotic, socially incompetent best friend could be that oblivious.

 

Beca shook her head. “She’s just Chloe,” she said. “That’s how she is. Plus she has Tom and…yeah.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

After a few moments, Jesse broke the silence with a click of his tongue. “Well, I just say you go into it with an open mind. That’s what the theater is for, right? Broadening your horizons.”

 

As he laughed at his own ridiculous statement, Beca swatted him with a pillow. “Okay, I’m officially back to hating you.”

 

“Wouldn’t have it any other way.”


 

There were only so many times that Beca could run the same sound check in the same hall with the same acoustics over a period of a couple months, and so Jesse eventually burst into the sound booth one day, ignoring her protests as he dragged her out into the main auditorium and nearly threw her into a seat. Chloe, watching from the stage with an incredulous eyebrow slightly cocked, let out a giggle that never ceased to surprise Beca with its low timbre as Beca hurled an empty water bottle at Jesse’s retreating back.

 

In an attempt to do anything other than stare at Chloe, Beca looked around the hall until she saw Emily standing by the side of the stage, giving rapid-fire direction to Benji about what Beca assumed was staging. Benji continued to nod soundlessly, eyes wide with awe that a girl was actually talking to him of her own volition outside of a class. Of course, all of Beca’s efforts failed as Chloe began to rap.

 

Yes, Beca was sure it was in the script (hell, she’d been forced to read through it enough times with Jesse that she was pretty sure she had the damn thing memorized), and there was a certain humor to Chloe ‘Southern Belle’ Beale whipping out ‘No Diggity’ with a cohort of her fellow castmates attempting to stalk up menacingly behind her. But, on the other hand, there was also the way that Chloe’s tongue twisted around the words, smooth and setting the pace for the a capella back up with that rhythmic confidence Beca had caught onto long ago. Combined with that overconfidence that she had all rights to project at every point in her life but saved only for the stage as necessary, Chloe had narrowed Beca’s world to a place with space for just two. As Chloe circled Jesse, hand delicately running down his arm, Beca thought for just a moment that her eyes flicked over towards the audience, almost instinctively resting on the sound booth before she turned back to the scene at hand.

 

Jesse, for his part, was doing an admirable job of pretending that an insanely attractive redhead wasn’t lunging at him in an almost predatory manner. If anything, he just kept glancing over at Beca for her reaction, up to the point where he completely missed his cue. Mr. Collins let out the obligatory dramatic sigh of the high school drama teacher and declared the rehearsal complete while Beca only sunk deeper into her chair. There was a certain part of her that tried to pretend that she was small enough to legitimately disappear in the crack between the back and cushion of the seat, but, despite her best efforts, she only managed to look continually more ridiculous as time went on.

 

With a grunt, Beca placed her hands on both chair arms and pushed herself up, stumbling slightly as she stepped out of the row. “Well, I guess that’s why you didn’t audition for a dancing role.”

 

Bottom lip trapped between her teeth, Beca turned slowly to face Chloe, that unflappable grin on her face as she leaned against the row in front of Beca’s own. Beca let out a weak laugh. “Someone has to make the talent look good, right?”

 

“I guess,” Chloe said. “I was just always kind of surprised that you never tried out for anything, though. Jesse says you have an awesome voice.”

 

Beca couldn’t tell whether the flush in her face was from her current desire to kill Jesse for bringing this up to Chloe or from the fact that Chloe had apparently remembered this conversation and believed Jesse enough to want to discuss it with Beca. “Well, um. I’m not really…much for being the center of attention? Like, there are plenty of other people who are better. Obviously.” Without thinking, she flicked her fingers out at Chloe like someone trying to shake water off of their hands, and immediately thereafter decided that the safest bet was keeping them in her pockets.

 

“I mean, there’s always space for new talent. Gotta shake things up every once in a while, right?” Beca only realized she hadn’t actually responded when Chloe waved her hand in front of Beca’s eyes. “You okay there?”

 

“Um, yeah. Totally. Like super dope,” Beca stammered.

 

“Dope’s a new one.” Chloe quirked her mouth to the side as she pulled her phone out of her back pocket with a light sigh. “So, any fun plans for the weekend?”

 

Beca’s attempt at a nonchalant shrug was completely lost on Chloe, eyes on her phone screen. “Not really. Might try to get a head start on that Lit assignment.”

 

“Oh yeah,” Chloe said. “Faulkner can kind of be a bear on occasion. I mean, it wasn’t my personal experience living in the south, but I guess it’s valuable cultural context?”

 

“Well, I haven’t really started yet.”

 

“Totes.” Those piercing blues were back up on Beca before she had a chance to look away, and she could only pray that the reactive sharp intake of breath had gone unnoticed by its instigator. “But that assignment isn’t due for a couple weeks anyways, right?” Beca nodded cautiously, thumbs drumming aginst her pockets. “You should loosen up a bit, maybe? Have some fun.”

 

“Fun?” Beca caught a glimpse of a wide-eyed Jesse from the stage, shaking his head and pointing vigorously at Chloe to redirect Beca’s attention.

 

“Fun,” Chloe continued with a grin. “If you’re not doing anything tonight, I’m having a party at my house. You should come.” Beca’s eyes flicked desperately over to Jesse once again, Chloe following them this time. “Feel free to bring Jesse if you want.”

 

Beca was relatively sure that she was staring at Chloe as if she’d just sprouted a tail, a set of neon pink wings, and a giant ass horn off the top of her head. The hands in her pockets were becoming distinctly clammier as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other, almost wilting under Chloe’s gaze. It was absurd, really; it would’ve been incredibly easy to come up with some excuse of a family gathering or previous plans or even just thrown up on Chloe’s shoes and sprinted out of the room, but Beca couldn’t move, think, or even really breathe.

 

What she could do, apparently, was speak, and a weak, “cool” fell out of her mouth before she even realized it. Chloe seemed to finally be satisfied by this answer, the intensity of those eyes lessening to that of a slightly weaker celestial form as she shifted her bag back up on her shoulder.

 

“Awesome. I’ll text you the address and everything.” Before Beca knew what was happening, she’d gone from being mentally surrounded by Chloe to physically, two strong arms pulling her into a hug that she accepted without much agency, standing straight as a terrified bisexual board could manage. “See you later, Beca. And Jesse too, I guess.”

 

The bi-bro himself had apparently made his way over at some recent juncture, though not in time to save Beca from entering her current paralytic state. He responded to Chloe with a shrug and a wave as she sidled through the closest row towards the door, phone pressed to her ear. And, to be completely honest, Beca was shocked that her legs only gave out at that point in time.

 

Jesse caught her just as she was about to put a chair-shaped dent in the side of her skull, guiding her down to the floor with her back against the row of seats. “Okay there,” he murmured, dropping into a squat in front of Beca. “Want to tell me what that was all about? I’ve never been too solid on my lip-reading, especially when I’m trying to understand a tiny, mumbling nerd.”

 

Beca’s mouth opened and closed uselessly a few times as her scrambled brain tried to produce anything beyond “Chloe Beale just hugged me” or “Chloe Beale’s arms were around my neck.” The competition for Beca’s favorite thoughts finally came down to “wow she smells great” and “I’ve just remembered how much I love boobs” and, eventually, after a good two minutes of silence and deep breathing, Beca sighed, shakily lifting herself up to her feet with support from Jesse.

 

“I think we have plans tonight?”


At this point, Beca really wished she’d never told him. It had been more of a word vomit situation there, the circuitry of her brain post-Chloe in a similar state to the poor soundboard after its meeting with Jesse’s soda. They really did have plans anyways, even if it was limited to ordering a party pizza and seeing who could eat their half more quickly without throwing up (Beca currently held the record at three minutes and twenty five seconds).

 

When Beca had first told Jesse about the invitation, she’d been relatively sure that she’d have to be the one catching him on this occasion, which was worrisome in its own right. He’d stumbled forward a bit before catching himself on the edge of a seat and launching into a round of applause for Beca that he got the rest of the cast to join in on without any explanation. The next three hours, of course, had devolved into endless begging, nagging, and threats of broken childhood friendships and dreams.

 

She’d finally given in when Jesse had used the ‘Aubrey’ argument, because, as he’d put it, “at least one of them should have the right to get with a head cheerleader, given the opportunity.” Beca’s rebuttal that he was leaning a bit too far into ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ and ‘Weird Science’ territory had lost out to Jesse’s jubilant celebration of the fact that Beca Mitchell had made not one, but two movie references in an argument.

 

So Beca was sitting in Jesse’s car, arms crossed as he eased the tinny piece of shit that he’d somehow managed to keep running for far longer than Beca had expected up the long driveway. As always, Beca had control of the playlist, and her latest mash-up of ‘Drops of Jupiter’ and ‘Thinking Out Loud’ currently held her attention as she made mental tweaks, doing her best to ignore Jesse’s compulsive need to belt it out, adding dramatic runs as he saw fit.

 

This was all drowned out as they rounded the corner and came into view of Chloe’s house, bass thumping through the walls strong enough so that Beca felt it take control of the pace of her already jumping stomach. Jesse parked the car behind one that Beca recognized as Tom’s, an unnecessarily large pick-up truck about which Beca had made more than a few comments regarding “over-compensation.” She made sure to open Jesse’s door a little too vigorously before hopping out.

 

“Well, I guess it’s always good to be fashionably late,” Jesse mused as he met Beca around the back of the car. “Although I don’t really know if that was exactly why you took so long to get ready. I think that might’ve been the longest time you’ve ever spent front of a mirror, Becs, like sum total of your existence.”

 

“If you’re really forcing me to make an idiot of myself in front of half our school, I don’t wanna give them anything more to go after.” Beca pulled at the sleeve of Jesse’s freshly-pressed button-down. “Besides, you’re the one who tried on four different shirts before I could get your ass out of the door.”

 

“Gotta be on fleek, Becs.” Dodging her half-hearted punch, Jesse made his way to the door. Against her better judgment, which was vigorously calling out that she should snatch the keys hanging out of Jesse’s back pocket and floor it before her inability to function within a mile of Chloe Beale led to any further issues, Beca exhaled sharply, coming up behind Jesse just as he finished a brief series of knocks.

 

It was swung open a moment later by a noticeably flushed Stacie Conrad, slightly dented red Solo cup in hand. And Beca had to appreciate that she managed to keep her look of bewilderment down to around two seconds before smiling broadly and flinging an arm around Jesse’s shoulders and leading him into the house with an enthusiastic “hey!”

 

Beca liked Stacie; they’d actually run in pretty much the same social circle, or lack thereof, for most of middle school. Stacie had moved into their school district in fourth grade, rumored to have skipped two previous grades and in line to move up another at her old school before her dad had gotten a research position at a nearby university that he simply couldn’t turn down. To put it simply, Stacie was fucking brilliant, prone to staring in silence at a complex problem for about half a minute before stating the answer as casually as if she was just ordering food at McDonald’s.

 

So she, Jesse, and Beca had made up a bit of a golden trio of nerds throughout middle school, taking awkward bus rides together over to the high school for advanced Math and English courses where they sat in the back and tried to pretend that they didn’t stick out like tiny, prepubescent thumbs. This had all changed over the summer between middle and high school, when the great goddess of womanhood had smiled upon Stacie, completely passing over her counterpart in Beca and turning the taller girl into some sort of Victoria Secret model at fourteen. Funny how these things can work out.

 

And Beca couldn’t really fault her for leveraging this fact into social elevation that certainly made her life seem a hell of a lot easier. A flirtatious joke here, a low-cut shirt there, and Stacie Conrad was a bona fide cheerleader who had made her way through most of the football team, best friends with Aubrey Posen and, of course, Chloe. But she’d never really bothered to hide the fact that she was still intellectual head and shoulders above most of the population, even if many in her circle seemed to do their best to ignore it. The aforementioned three were still a constant presence in Beca’s AP classes, and Beca had a feeling that the slight mollification of Aubrey throughout the years had been due to Stacie’s influence, still feeling a twinge of loyalty towards her former social companions.

 

Following Stacie into a kitchen composed almost solely of stainless steel and marble, Beca was handed a cup of truly questionable punch by her guide, and immediately regretted sniffing at it when her nostrils were filled with a mix of Hi-C and what distinctly smelled like rubbing alcohol. “Oh yeah, you’re gonna want to be careful with that, Becs,” Stacie giggled, passing another cup to Jesse. “I think I mixed up the ratios of alcohol to punch, but hey, we’re young, I’m already ED to Princeton, so why the hell not?”

 

“You scored a 5 on the AP Chem exam, Stace,” Jesse said. “I’d think you’d be pretty solid at ratios.”

 

“Okay, so maybe it was less than accidental.” With a wink, Stacie refilled her own cup before flouncing off in the direction of the makeshift dance floor in the living room.

 

Beca took a cautious sip, face wrinkling as the concoction met her tongue. “Jesus Christ. I think she’s trying to kill us.”

 

Despite his best efforts, Jesse failed to keep the water from pooling up in his eyes as he took a particularly hearty gulp. “A bit of liquid courage always helps?” Looking across the crowded space, Jesse jerked his head towards a group crowded around the surely expensive dining room table that had turned into a beer pong arena. “Case in point.”

 

She really knew it was a bad idea to look over that quickly. A bit of preparation would’ve been useful, in retrospect, but Beca tried to blame it on the single sip of what she was relatively sure was grain alcohol currently making its way through her system. And there was the party’s host, tanned legs falling long and lean below an unfairly short skirt, a sight only eclipsed by the small amount of skin between the waistband and the bottom of Chloe’s loose shirt.

 

This would’ve all been great if Chloe hadn’t been stretching up with her arms around her boyfriend’s neck as he roared his disapproval when Donald, his partner, missed a shot. Tom shook his shoulders lightly, and Chloe dropped back down from her toes with a pout, turning to Aubrey at her side. Just as Beca took the longest sip she could manage, Chloe happened to look over Aubrey’s shoulder, eyes widening in surprise as she caught sight of the brunette currently trying to sidle behind Jesse.

 

Chloe gave Beca an enthusiastic wave, looking almost as if she was going to slip around Aubrey and come over, but Tom’s jubilation at his successful throw led him to spin her around into a celebratory kiss as Aubrey’s shoulders shook with laughter. “Well, you’re screwed.”

 

Jesse’s voice startled Beca out of her observation, smirking despite Beca’s vicious glare. “She looks hot, Becs. No way to deny it.”

 

“Yeah, I’m sure her boyfriend really appreciates it.”

 

“Not sure if he’s more into the beer pong or the redhead with what looks like some serious abs doing her best to get his attention.” Beca’s eyes traveled over to the subject of Jesse’s musings, and, sure as shit, she had to thank the school’s insane cheerleading coach for the light lines of muscle revealed every time Chloe reached upwards.

 

Taking another increasingly dangerous sip, Beca shrugged. “Beer pong’s fun?”

 

“Like you’ve ever played,” Jesse scoffed, downing the remnants of his drink with a gasp at the end that he tried to play off via what he surely thought was a cocky shoulder roll. “So I’m going to get another drink and talk to Aubrey Posen. I’m voting you grow a spine and do the same. But like Chloe. Not Aubrey. Obviously.”

 

“Are you seriously ditching me?”

 

“I wouldn’t call it ditching,” Jesse said. “More like divide and conquer.”

 

Beca stared at him wordlessly as he refilled his punch from the cooler on the kitchen counter, looking over to the beer pong game that Chloe and Aubrey had left at some point. When Jesse found Aubrey on the dance floor, pressed somewhere between Stacie and Donald, he gave Beca a wink and slipped into the crowd.

 

Ten minutes later, she was pretty much ready to leave. The kitchen in which she remained was heavily trafficked, but only for brief moments to refill cups, often accompanied by confused stares in Beca’s direction. She was halfway through her second cup of punch, leaning against the counter with her back towards most of the party, silently judging whoever had put together this playlist with apparently no concept of build or beat continuity.

 

“So I’m going to be honest.” And Beca didn’t dare to turn around, somewhere between sure and praying that she was imagining the voice at her left shoulder. “Really didn’t expect you to show up.”

 

So Beca took the heartiest sip she’d had all night as she slowly swiveled on her heels to find Chloe, elbows on top of the counter across from her and face slightly flushed. “I didn’t expect me to either,” Beca replied. “Kind of got dragged in.”

 

Chloe seemed unfazed, sliding around the counter towards the punch cooler with her empty cup in hand. “So are you saying my invitation alone wasn’t enough?”

 

“I guess Jesse just kinda helped?” Beca said weakly, shifting over to allow Chloe access to the punch. “He’s got a bit of a thing for Aubrey.”

 

Spilling a bit of her drink over the rim of the cup, Chloe chuckled. “Really? That’s a new one. I thought there was some sort of rule about theater people not dating outside of the circle.”

 

“Well, you broke it.”

 

Chloe slowly placed her cup back on the counter, turning to face Beca with a drawn brow. “Fair enough. I guess I just never thought there were any interested parties.”

 

“Really?” Beca regretted her response immediately as Chloe’s eyes darted up to her own, wide and curious. And really, there were a million clarifying statements she could’ve made, referencing Benji or Jesse or really anyone else who had been within a mile of Chloe Beale and her absurd voice, but Beca only nodded, taking another sip of the increasingly tasty drink.

 

Chloe followed suit, her gaze never moving off Beca. “So aren’t you kind of neglecting the party as a host and all?” Beca asked, gesturing across the room.

 

“Honestly, with this punch, I think I’m pretty much covered.”

 

“Stacie definitely has a knack for alcoholic chemistry,” Beca said. “She should probably think about some sort of independent study next semester.”

 

The combination of Chloe’s laugh and the accompanying arm on Beca’s shoulder was enough to tip her cup over, thankfully into the sink right next to them. And of course it only served to make Chloe laugh harder, leaving Beca grinning like a moron across from her. “You’re really something special, Beca,” Chloe eventually choked out, taking Beca’s cup and refilling it before thrusting it back into her hands.

 

“I try.” They sipped their drinks almost simultaneously as the bass filled any remaining space around them. “So, um, I was gonna head out and like you should probably be with Tom or whatever?”

 

“Please,” Chloe sighed. “Tom is currently busy trying to prove to the freshman football players that, and I quote, ‘he owns their asses’ via beer pong. He’s a bit preoccupied. But you were going?”

 

Later on, Beca would judge herself for the fact that Chloe’s pout alone was enough to change her mind. “Um, I’m not sure. Jesse’s just kind of preoccupied and I don’t really know a lot of other people.”

 

“You know me.”

 

And of course that was it. So maybe Beca had stolen Jesse’s keys out of his pocket as he’d sauntered off towards Aubrey, wholly ready to ignore Chloe and her abs and her lack of physical boundaries. But at this point, she’d completely forgotten all about it, shrugging in the tank top that had somehow become oppressively warm in the last minute, eyes shamelessly lingering on the bottom of Chloe’s skirt for a moment too long before settling, once again safely, on her nose. “I guess?”

 

Chloe stepped in closer, hand barely an inch from Beca’s. “I mean, you’d probably know me better if you hadn’t been avoiding me.”

 

“I already said I—“

 

“Because you’re obviously the most believable source there.” And Beca really couldn’t look away at that point, those eyes that she swore had to be fucking Photoshopped locked onto hers. “You know we’ve had a lot of classes together.”

 

“Well, yeah,” Beca said. “You brought me my Chem homework.”

 

“Okay, but still.” Chloe waved her hand in the air. “We’ve really nearly had every class together and I think this might be like the fifth time you’ve ever held a conversation with me. Why is that?”

 

Beca swallowed heavily. “I mean. I just…well, you always had your friends.”

 

“Seems a bit irrelevant.” Chloe’s hand landed on Beca’s forearm, thumb brushing against the sensitive skin right below her elbow. And Beca would’ve been completely, hopelessly lost at that moment if a commotion from the living room hadn’t pulled both of their attention away, Chloe dropped her arm as she swiveled to face the group before them.

 

Jesse and Aubrey were face to face, the latter having just pushed Jesse’s hand off her hips. “Excuse me?” Aubrey’s eyebrows were raised higher than Beca could ever recall, an admittedly high standard, and she took a hesitant step away from Chloe around the counter in defense of her friend.

 

Shrugging as innocently as he could manage after having just grabbed at Aubrey’s hips, Jesse took a minute step backwards. “The music took hold of me,” he shouted, voice barely rising above the sound of ‘Hey Mama.’ “You’re just really awesome, Aubrey.”

 

Aubrey’s gaze shifted from simply annoyed to furiously incredulous as Beca moved closer, Chloe hot on her heels. “And you think that’s an excuse?”

 

“I mean, I just meant it as a compliment,” Jesse said, leaning in towards Aubrey’s ear. “Just in case you weren’t really feeling a football player.”

 

Beca had to appreciate the honestly epic eye roll on Aubrey’s part as she took in the picture of drunk Jesse. Her eyes swept around the room for the moment, seemingly considering the situation, before she swung to her left side and grabbed Stacie with one hand around her waist and the other on her neck, dragging her into a kiss that Stacie only deepened. Beca was unclear whether this was in response to the whoops around them or of her own accord, but the kiss lasted for a good long minute until Aubrey stepped back with a triumphant grin in Jesse’s direction.

 

“I think I’m set on that front.” Aubrey turned to her friend, standing there slightly stunned with her fingers pressed to her lips and dazed eyes staring off into the distance.

 

“Well, I guess that’s one way to send a message,” Chloe said with a giggle.

 

Beca snorted as Jesse stood pinned to the ground, jaw literally hanging open while Aubrey and Stacie slipped back into the crowd. “Poor Jesse. Guess he’s gonna have to find something else to do at this shindig.”

 

“Still going back to the Jesse excuse as why you came?” Beca could only make out the crease in Chloe’s brow at this question, her cup covering the rest of her face as she took a sip, but she never looked away from Beca as her eyes demanded a straight answer.

 

Appeasing the sudden dryness in her mouth with a chug of her own, Beca cocked her head to one side as she considered the girl in front of her. There was a certain benefit to projecting a constant aura of protective sarcasm that most interpreted as malice, but, even in their few, brief interactions, Chloe had never stood for this bullshit. Perhaps it was something to do with having never met angsty middle school Beca, but Chloe took things at face value and Beca felt inclined to give them to her that way. Beca had initially thought of Chloe as someone who was simply immune to sarcasm, although she could never attribute this at all to a lack of intelligence on Chloe’s part, but later realized that it was more Chloe’s desire to shape the world around her into something more honest and, for lack of a better word, good.

 

And really, it was only someone like Chloe who could actually achieve a goal like this, even if it began on as simple a scale as ‘stop this tiny guarded idiot from being as much of a dick.’ Beca sucked in her cheeks, trying to form the best sentence possible in her head as Chloe placed her cup back on the counter. “I guess it’s good to get out of your comfort zone every so often?”

 

“I hope you’re not too uncomfortable, then,” Chloe said. She leaned over the counter for a moment, locating a pair of shot glasses on the other end and placing them between her and Beca. “Just in case, I do find that alcohol helps. Social lubricant and all that.”

 

Beca gave her a weak smile as Chloe filled the shots with vodka from a nearby bottle. For all of her badass posturing, Beca had never taken a shot before. All previous experience with alcohol had come from the time she and Jesse had stolen a couple Mike’s Hard Lemonades from his dad’s fridge sophomore year and a horrible experiment with a bottle of absinthe that Beca’s weird cousin from Canada had given her. Shots of vodka, though? New territory.

 

She mimicked Chloe as the redhead lifted her glass between them, clinking them lightly together before tilting her head back and pouring the liquid into her mouth in one go. Chloe placed the shot glass back on the table a second later, wincing lightly. Beca, on the other hand, had made the rookie mistake of allowing pretty much all of the cheap vodka to touch her tongue, and began to sputter and cough, barely keeping her hold on the glass.

 

Chloe sprung into action, pouring some soda into an empty cup and thrusting it into Beca’s free hand. When the smaller girl had finally recovered enough to reopen her eyes, she looked up to see Chloe biting her lip in her best attempt to hold in a laugh. “First time?” Chloe asked.

 

“How could you tell?” Beca replied weakly, giving Chloe a thankful half-grin as she took another sip of the soda.

 

“Don’t worry, it gets easier.” Chloe tossed back another shot as Beca finished off the contents of her cup. “But maybe we should just keep you to punch tonight?”

 

It was Beca’s turn to level her gaze at Chloe, stare even and intent. “Aren’t you forgetting that I was planning to leave?”

 

Chloe seemed taken aback for a moment, eyes widening slightly as they flicked down to the subtle smirk across Beca’s lips. “Give me a few minutes to see if I can get you to actually enjoy the party. If it doesn’t work, I’m just going to have to reassess my hosting skills going forwards.”

 

Beca opened her mouth to protest (not that it was in any way, shape, or form genuine), but couldn’t get a word out before Chloe refilled both of their cups with punch and dragged Beca by the wrist onto the dance floor. They fell into the crowd easily, though Beca shouldn’t have been surprised due to the fact Chloe commanded attention and awe pretty much anywhere she went. And Beca found that her mind was not on the poor progression of songs in the playlist or the sweaty bodies pressing up against her back, but rather narrowed to the girl across from her, laughing and waving her cup-free hand in the air as she danced, carefree and beaming at everyone around them, even as her eyes never left Beca’s.

 

For her part, Beca was having a challenging time figuring out exactly where to look. In one corner, she had Jesse literally doing the worm on the floor, surrounded by a circle of their cheering classmates while Stacie and Aubrey were on the opposite side, engaged in some intimate conversation despite the blasting bass around them. Tom was nowhere to be found, and it was probably for the best, because Beca could only keep her eyes on the admittedly entertaining action around them for brief seconds before they snapped back to his girlfriend.

 

Dancing with Chloe was probably the most dangerous game she’d ever played. The music was upbeat and poppy for the most part, and so it was easy to keep a safe distance and just jump up and down while singing along to Taylor Swift. But Chloe’s hips seemed to generate some sort of gravitational field of their own, at least where Beca’s shameless staring was concerned, rolling and sashaying and dynamic with even the simplest of moves. Every time that shirt lifted slightly, Beca thanked every deity in the universe for the dark room covering the flush in her cheeks before she looked back up at what she figured was the safer domain of Chloe’s face.

 

And of course, she was wrong there, because the blue of those eyes somehow cut through the darkened space as if they had some unnatural light of their own. Chloe’s pupils were strangely blown wide, Beca figured due to the alcohol and readjustment to the lighting of the space from the bright kitchen, but it almost increased the intensity of her stare as she slowly moved closer to Beca from song to song.

 

It was when Chloe’s hand made contact with Beca’s upper arm that she sincerely regretted both agreeing to wear this damn low-cut tank top that Jesse had bought her as a joke for Christmas, calling it her “lady-killer shirt,” as well as trying to deal with the excessive heat of the room by gulping down copious amounts of punch. Beca felt as if her skin was buzzing and dancing beneath Chloe’s fingers, unused to contact with this particular sort of being. And all she wanted, all she needed, was to be closer, even as it felt like fire was spreading through all she was. She was willing to be consumed if that’s what it took to understand this wild storm that had blown into her life.

 

Chloe’s hand remained stilled on Beca’s arm, fingers barely ghosting across the pale skin as if she was waiting for permission that Beca didn’t know how to give. In all honesty, she didn’t know precisely what she’d be allowing anyways, but she experimentally took a step closer until the ends of Chloe’s hair brushed against her forehead, the bass becoming a dull thumping that couldn’t break through the strange, shelled world around her.

 

Beca figured she’d given Chloe whatever she needed as the hand delicately traced its way up to rest on Beca’s shoulder before guiding her into motion again. With her body so close to those magnetic hips, Beca couldn’t help it as her hand landed on Chloe’s waist. A sharp intake of breath escaped the taller girl’s lips, and Beca looked up in concern, realizing she’d probably, of course, gone too far and was about to resign herself to spending the rest of the month before the musical hiding underneath the audio booth table.

 

What she was not at all expecting was that wink, slower and longer than any before it as Chloe leaned into Beca’s grasp, the pinky of the brunette’s hand brushing against smooth skin. They could’ve stayed like that for hours, for all Beca knew, the pounding of her heartbeat in her ears drowning out any music around her as she and Chloe moved flush against each other, no option to separate as bodies filled the space surrounding them.

 

The spell of that moment was broken by a burst of static through the speakers, all eyes in the room darting over to the corner where Bumper Allen had spilled his drink on the speaker set. A chorus of groans spread through the crowd, and Beca felt Chloe’s hand lift from her shoulder. Eyes on the floor, she pulled her own off Chloe’s waist, and was stepping back just as she felt her wrist gripped and was dragged through the crowd and out into the hallway.

 

Chloe looked around the space before wordlessly leading Beca to the top of the nearby stairs, rounding the corner and dropping to sit with her back against the wall. Beca followed suit at her side, watching as Chloe took a slow drink from her cup. “It was getting a bit warm down there, huh?” Beca said cautiously after a few silent seconds.

 

“I was doing all right, actually.” Chloe placed the cup on the ground, tilting her head to the side to face Beca. “Bumper just kind of ruined the moment, you know?”

 

Beca raised her eyebrows, waiting for any sort of clarifying statement. Chloe only smiled as she bopped her head lightly against the wall. “Yeah, I guess. That kid’s kinda a mess.”

 

“I think that’s in the official ‘Class Clown’ guidebook,” Chloe giggled. “But as long as people are having fun, I’m happy.” Her hand brushed against Beca’s leg as it slid across the carpet between them. “Were you having fun?”

 

“Well, I stayed past the few minutes, didn’t I?” And she had to change the mood, because they were alone, upstairs in a darkened hallway, about five feet away from what Beca guessed was Chloe’s bedroom, and every thought in her head was swiftly rushing past PG-13 territory. Leaning in, Beca lightly checked Chloe in the shoulder with her own. “But uh, really just like killing it at the hosting game. You are, I mean. Total party badass.”

 

The redhead gave her a bewildered look as she leaned back, eyes traveling up and down between Beca’s eyes and the surely ridiculous forced grin on her lips. “That’s the goal, I guess,” Chloe said, pushing herself back up against the wall. “Hopefully I’ll get similarly rave reviews from everyone else later.”

 

“You know you’ve got the football team locked up at least, right? It looked like Tom was still having a solid run of defeating freshmen, from what I briefly saw.”

 

It was the first time she’d seen a serious eye roll from Chloe, punctuated with a long sigh as she faced the wall opposite them. “He’s very passionate about it.”

 

“Don’t you want to go join him? I mean, I’m sure you’ve got some ball skills of your own.” Beca regretted the statement a moment later as Chloe let out an incredulous laugh. “I don’t—sorry, that sounded weird.”

 

“A bit,” Chloe said. “But yeah, he just gets a little single-minded when he’s playing. I’m kind of on my own at these things a lot.” A shadow crossed her face briefly for a moment, and Beca tried to think of anything she could do to make her laugh again, even if the sound alone was probably dangerous for her mental well-being. “Thanks for keeping me company, Beca.”

 

Beca felt Chloe’s eyes against the side of her head, but didn’t dare to turn as she nodded. “I really should be thanking you. I mean, I was just gonna be that weird nerd creeping in the kitchen otherwise.”

 

Chloe’s hand landed on Beca’s own, and Beca could no longer look away. “You’re not a weird nerd.” The gaze was both open and insistent, assuring honesty while demanding attention and acceptance from its recipient.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Mmhmm.” And it took all of Beca’s effort not to lean in as Chloe licked her lips, almost as if she was waiting for anything from Beca. “I think people just need to get to know you better.”

 

“Is that what this is?” Beca murmured, blinking furiously to try and break the spell over her.

 

Apparently it looked strange enough to grab Chloe’s attention, the taller girl releasing a breathy giggle before the constant smile returned to her face. “Totes. I like to think it’s working. But anyways, I had a question for you.” Beca took the moment to pull her hand away from Chloe’s, running her fingers through her hair before responding with an inquisitive raise of her eyebrows. “Jesse told me that you’d run lines with him and that it really helped. Any chance I could get the same treatment?”

 

“Chloe, you have a photographic memory.”

 

“Okay, yeah,” Chloe said with a dramatic hand wave. “But it’s not all about knowing the lines. You have to get the right feeling in and everything. It’s a lot easier with someone to bounce ideas off of.”

 

“Couldn’t you ask Jesse?” Beca asked weakly, feeling that tenuous self-control slipping away between her fingers as Chloe’s lip jutted out in a pout.

 

“He says he’s got something with Benji after rehearsal from now on, and that’s really the only time I have free because of practice and all.” Chloe’s eyes dropped to the ground. “I mean, if you really don’t want to, that’s fine.”

 

“No, don’t worry.” Beca forced her face to remain as calm as it could as Chloe looked back up at her. “Sure, um, I can run lines with you.”

 

“Awes.” Chloe unfolded herself from the ground, standing up before offering Beca a hand to pull her up.

 

As Chloe opened her mouth again, Beca’s phone began to vibrate in her back pocket. She pulled it out with a quiet curse as Jesse’s face covered the screen, holding up a finger towards Chloe with an apologetic wince. “Jesse?”

 

“Becaw! Come play flip cup!”

 

Chloe tapped Beca on the shoulder, jerking her head towards the stairs. “I’m going to go check on the party,” she mouthed silently, turning and heading away when Beca nodded vigorously.

 

“Jesse, how much have you had to drink?”

 

“Enough that Bumper Allen is starting to look attractive,” Jesse replied.

 

Beca hung up that second and sprinted down the stairs, determined to prevent either of them from making too many decisions that night which they would later regret.


 

Beca was not really sure how she’d gotten into this situation. Okay, it likely had something to do with Chloe’s hips pressed against her own and those hypnotic blue eyes doing that annoying thing where they shut Beca’s higher brain function off, but this almost felt like a new low for her, even where Chloe was concerned.

 

Because neither Jesse nor Beca were really in a solid state of mind to drive, she’d been forced to call Benji to come pick them up, the two essentially carrying Jesse by the arms and dumping him into the back of Benji’s car. Beca and Jesse had spent the next day lying face down on Beca’s bed in the dark, a pillow pressed over Beca’s head to block out Jesse’s groans and ceaseless whining as best she could. On the bright side, they’d finally gotten that party pizza competition in when they felt recovered enough to sit up; Beca had won with a new personal best of three minutes and twelve seconds.

 

It was while she was once again being forced to run lines with Jesse that Sunday that she remembered she’d promised to do the same with Chloe. She had gotten halfway through sending her a text with some sort of excuse to wiggle out of it when Jesse had glanced over her shoulder, seen the recipient of the message, and pinned Beca down with one arm while he extracted the phone from her resistant hands. When he finally tossed it back to her, she saw that he’d sent a text thanking Chloe for the party the night before, ensuring that she’d had a “super great time,” and asking when she wanted to meet after rehearsal.

 

Beca’s phone went off while she was beating Jesse viciously with a pillow, and they both froze, locking eyes before Jesse recovered first and dove for the phone. “Well, that’s eager,” he said, easily holding an arm swinging Beca at bay. “Guess you’ve got a date tomorrow.”

 

What?” He wordlessly handed the phone back over before settling against the wall with a triumphant smirk. “Jesus fuck, Jesse. I’m—I’m dead. I’m so dead.”

 

“Did something happen that you’d like to share with the class?” Beca’s narrowed eyes only launched him into yet another bout of laughter. “Or something you wished happened?”

 

“Oh fuck off,” Beca muttered. “You’re the one who ditched me and then had to have your drunken ass pulled off Bumper Allen.”

 

“Yeah, thanks for that, by the way.”

 

“Oh, I’m certainly regretting it now.” Beca dropped onto the bed, back against Jesse’s headboard and legs placed over his. “I don’t know. I just…it’s not really good for me to be around her?”

 

“Good by what metric?” Jesse asked.

 

“The ‘I don’t feel like going to hell’ metric.” Beca picked at a thread on the bottom of her shirt, refusing to meet Jesse’s stare. “I don’t know, Jess. She’s Chloe. It’s kind of a challenge.”

 

Jesse puffed out a breath through his noise as his fingers drummed against the comforter. “Do you think there’s something there?”

 

“She has a boyfriend,” Beca said. “It doesn’t really matter.”

 

“That wasn’t a no.”

 

And Beca really didn’t have an answer, every one of Chloe’s insistent stares and daring touches burned into her mind. Yeah, Chloe Beale was a physically affectionate human being in general, from all that Beca had seen, but there was a point between ‘I like to hug people’ and ‘I’m totally okay with my completely platonic friends essentially feeling me up under my shirt.’ Or not even friends. That was another point of confusion, really.

 

“I mean, as a completely innocent bystander with absolutely no stake in the matter,” Jesse said slowly. “Don’t you think it’s worth a chance? At least seeing how you are as friends? She clearly wants at least that.” When Beca only shrugged in response, Jesse rolled his eyes. “C’mon, Becs. Would it really hurt to have more than one friend? I’m willing to share.”

 

So she’d made some snarky comment about him trying to get rid of her, hit him with yet another pillow, and spent the rest of the night whining as he performed every single monologue and solo from the musical, but Beca found herself sitting near the back of the auditorium at 4:55 as rehearsal was wrapping up. Chloe was sitting on the edge of the stage, nodding along to whatever direction Mr. Collins was giving her while her eyes drifted up every few moments to meet Beca’s with a grin. After the third time, Beca decided it was safest to turn sideways, plugging in her headphones and drifting off into one of her playlists with her eyes closed.

 

She was pulled back into reality by a tap on her shoulder, bolting upright and pulling the earbuds out as she smiled nervously at Chloe. “Sorry, I was just—“

 

“No, no worries,” Chloe said, dropping her bag onto the floor. “Sorry for waking you up or scaring you or whatever.”

 

“Not at all.” Beca pushed her hair out of her eyes as Chloe took the seat next to her. “I was just listening to something I’ve been working on. No big deal.”

 

Chloe’s mouth quirked to the side. “Like music?” She leaned forwards, trying to catch a glance at Beca’s phone screen. “You make music?”

 

“Um, I guess?” Beca replied with a slight jerk of her head. “Just mash-ups and stuff. Nothing too big.”

 

“Nothing big?” Chloe shook her head in incredulity. “Beca, that’s so cool. Any chance you have some you could send me?”

 

“You like that sort of stuff?”

 

 Chloe sighed as she leaned down to reach into her bag, pulling out a pair of scripts and handing one to Beca. “It’s amazing how much you underestimate me, Becs. I do have interests beyond cheerleading, Taylor Swift, and vodka. Speaking of which, how’d you recover from Friday?”

 

“I’d be lying if I said I went outside much the next day,” Beca said with a rueful grin.

 

“Hey, as long as you had fun.” When Beca didn’t respond, Chloe leaned slightly forwards. “I mean, I’m hoping you had some fun?”

 

Beca gulped as she flipped through the script in front of her. “Definitely. You’re, um, I mean, it was a great time.” Silence filled the space until Mr. Collins let the door slam behind him on his way out. Sitting straight up against the chair back, Beca turned her head to face Chloe. “So should we get going on this?”

 

And they’d made their way through a couple scenes, jumping around the script and only interrupted by Chloe’s laughter at Beca’s obligatory sarcastic asides (even if she really did have to appreciate the lyricism in Emily’s work). Of course, this all came to a screeching halt at the shower scene. Beca had seen them building the set pieces, and, since it wasn’t one of the parts of the script in which Jesse was involved, really had no idea what was going on, but script in hand, she was almost even more confused.

 

“So, wait.” Chloe cocked an eyebrow as Beca peered furiously at the page in front of her. “They’re in the shower together. Naked.”

 

“Isn’t that really the only way to shower?”

 

“Dude, like naked naked?” Beca dropped her script onto her lap with a sigh. “This Brittany girl is a bit too dedicated to a capella.”

 

“She’s driven,” Chloe said. “I kinda have to appreciate that.” She seemed to accept the break in the practice schedule, placing her own pages onto the arm between her and Beca’s chairs and looking around the room. “So. Do you remember last time we were here?”

 

Beca’s brain froze, her hand tightening on the other arm of her chair. “What do you mean?”

 

“I’m hurt, Becs.” Chloe tapped the top of her script to draw Beca’s attention. “Freshman year? Romeo and Juliet?”

 

“Oh.” Beca took an almost painful gulp of air, willing herself to remain calm even as she shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “Yeah, that. Kinda long ago, right? I sort of forgot about it.” Which was a blatant lie, and the blush on Beca’s face spelled it out as she weakly grinned at Chloe.

 

“Well, I didn’t,” Chloe said. “It’s part of why I knew you’d be a good scene partner.”

 

“Chloe, I sucked in that scene.”

 

“You were nervous.” And suddenly Chloe’s arm was on her own, and it was too much like freshman year all over again as Beca stared at her with eyes wide. Whether from terror or anticipation, she wasn’t sure, but she had no option other than to simply wait. “I think you’ve got some real potential there.”

 

“I think you’re just being nice because I’m willing to pretend I’m naked in a shower with you,” Beca murmured, all too aware of Chloe’s absurdly long eyelashes hanging over slightly hooded eyes.

 

“Is it really that much of a hassle?”

 

“I’ve had worse afternoons.” She was a woman possessed, half of her crying out about morality and common sense and social strata as the other half wanted nothing more than to lace her fingers through those fiery locks, dragging Chloe in and giving her some idea of precisely what would happen if they were actually in a shower together.

 

“Glad I’m not ruining your day too much,” Chloe said, and Beca couldn’t even convince herself that she was imagining it as Chloe leaned in, eyes traveling from Beca’s own to her lips and resting as their noses bumped.

 

Suddenly, there was a hand at the back of her neck, fingers drifting into her hair and pressing lightly against her head, waiting for permission or action or anything. Beca could feel Chloe’s breath against her lips, quick and hot and almost needy. And it would’ve been so simple right there and then, closing that infinitesimal space between their lips and fulfilling every fantasy she’d had throughout every moment that Chloe Beale had consumed her life. This unnatural being that had somehow deemed Beca worthy of note was asking her to take charge, only to move the slightest inch and to just let the moment go.

 

It probably would’ve been easier to just give in. Consequences and drama and life be damned, it might’ve been the most effortless thing Beca Mitchell ever could’ve done. But it was obviously that moment that her hyperactive, overly anxious upper brain functions chose to kick in, sounding a warning alarm that abruptly pulled her backwards. Chloe’s arm dropped to her side, and those baby blues shot up, desperate and scared. And Beca reconsidered it then, because seeing Chloe on what looked like the brink of tears was almost painful, but Beca committed to this brief moment of maturity, dropping the script to the floor as she stood up.

 

“Um, I—“ Beca’s voice was higher than she had expected, breathy as she stumbled over every word on the edge of her lips. “I just—I’m gonna go.”

 

“Beca?”

 

“I—I can’t.” She grabbed her backpack off the floor, backing out through the row while shaking her head. “I’m sorry.” Turning on her heel, Beca sprinted out of the hall without another glance, not trusting herself to be strong enough to continue if she took one single look.


She thought it would be easier. Running in completely different social circles with seats on opposite sides of the classroom in the classes they shared, Beca seriously believed that she could avoid Chloe for the rest of the month up to the musical without too much effort. But, as with much of her life as she was swiftly realizing, she was wrong.

 

Chloe was everywhere, already in the auditorium when Beca tried to sneak in early, right at her heels when she was running late, even so far as ending up directly behind Beca in the lunch line three times within the following week. So Beca’s schedule shifted slightly, and she knew Chloe noticed. But it was safer, it was better than testing herself to explain whatever had happened between them when she didn’t even really know.

 

Had Beca wanted to kiss Chloe? God yes. Had Chloe wanted to kiss Beca? Apparently, or Beca didn’t really understand the behavior of Southern Belles properly. Maybe threading your fingers through someone’s hair and dragging them in close was just a form of particularly intense communication? Regardless, she knew she’d gone the safe route, and slowly turned her regrets over time into the line item pros-and-cons list of a ceaselessly practical realist.

 

In sum, boyfriend+confusion beat out libido. Even Jesse couldn’t come up with an acceptable explanation, nodding slowly like an idiotic owl for a good five minutes before he simply help up his hands in helpless surrender. So, despite the stresses and unpredictable turns that it always presented, Beca was pleased when opening night arrived.

 

As always, she’d given her father and the stepmonster the wrong date for the premiere, slipping out of the house with some excuse regarding a ‘classic Jesse emergency.’ For his part, Jesse was doing his best to be as dramatic as humanly possible, beginning with spilling coffee over one of his costumes and then tripping over an intricate set of AV wires a moment later.

 

Beca had stuck him in the dressing room a moment later with a cup of water and a pack of M&M’s (a tactic she’d learned back in middle school theater camp), slipping by Chloe without a glance as the redhead entered the room. Despite the encounter, Beca was able to busy herself for the next few hours with completely unnecessary, minute acoustical adjustments, going so far as to drive Mr. Collins to enter the audio booth and ask her to “please end her ceaseless nattering.”

 

She ended up backstage as the musical began, because Jesse argued that it was their senior year, and she really needed a better view to “appreciate his majesty.” Really, it was fine; she’d trained most of these AV monkeys throughout their whole careers, and they’d managed to memorize the intricate, step-by-step processes she’d laid out time and time again in their terror.

 

And it was all going off without a hitch, the comedic timing of Emily’s writing surprisingly on point, and Chloe and Jesse’s voices much less surprisingly carrying the production. Through intense mouthing and gesturing, Benji kept the side actors who hadn’t bothered to actually memorize their scripts honest, and Chloe was even able to improv to cover up the failings of any of her fictional a capella teammates.

 

With two scenes left, Beca and Emily had turned to amusing themselves by playing Jenga with a pile of props. The crash as Emily attempted to pull out a women’s high heel that had definitely been worn by Jesse their sophomore year was only drowned out by the crash onstage, Beca sprinting towards the edge of the curtain only to see Jesse on the floor, cradling his knee as the rest of the cast stared on in horror. Mr. Collins was on the stage in an instant, assuring the audience that everything would be fine after a “brief, impromptu intermission.”

 

Two football players, present as part of an extra credit assignment in Mr. Collins’ sophomore English class, lifted Jesse up by his arms and assisted him as he hobbled off stage, falling to the ground in front of Beca, Benji, and Emily. “What the hell happened?”

 

Jesse looked up at Beca, tears pooling up in his eyes. “I tripped, I just—“ He turned to Mr. Collins, wincing as he gently poked at his knee. “I don’t think I can go back out there.”

 

“Opening night.” Mr. Collins threw his hands up in the air, no care for the clipboard that fell to the ground with a clatter. “I swear, if someone spoke of the Scottish Play…well, Mr. Applebaum. I believe this is your moment.”

 

Benji’s face ran the gamut from red to green in an instant before he joined his best friend on the floor. Even a few solid kicks from one of the varsity linebackers didn’t rouse him, and Mr. Collins turned to Jesse in desperation. Jesse shifted back to place his weight on his hands, eyes closed as if in agony.

 

“Beca could do it.”

 

All sympathy Beca had for her best friend was lost in an instant, and she shook her head vigorously as every eye in the area turned to her. “Dude, no.”

 

“She knows all of my lines,” Jesse continued, looking up at Mr. Collins with an all too innocent expression on his face. “She ran them with me at least twenty times over the last few months.”

 

“Is this true?”

 

Beca shrugged. “I guess? I mean, I’m not the understudy or anything.”

 

“The understudy just collapsed on the floor at the mere mention of filling in,” Mr. Collins said. “It seems as if you may be our best bet.”

 

“But, I don’t—I’m…I’m not right for it.”

 

“Mitchell, you could be a three-headed orange platypus and I’d throw you out there as long as you knew the lines.” Mr. Collins accepted Jesse’s costume blazer that he had somehow managed to pull off even in his extreme pain. “The show must go on. I will not become yet another casualty of the Barden High drama grinder.”

 

And Beca really had to have a stern conversation with her genetics regarding her height and ability to be manhandled, blinking as the bright stage lights flooded her vision as she stumbled forwards. Across the stage, Chloe stood stock still, the other actresses around her having settled into conversation before Chloe cleared her throat.

 

“Skylar?” Chloe’s voice wavered slightly, as if she was unsure whether she actually wanted to acknowledge the tiny moron in the oversized blazer cautiously walking towards her.

 

Every line, drilled into her head over months, suddenly vanished, and Beca could barely croak out a “mmhmm” as the rest of her fake a capella troupe fell in behind her. And it was freshman year English all over again, that uncomfortable silence only punctuated by a few coughs and the shifting audience. At least this time Beca couldn’t see the smirks on the faces of the audience, shrouded in darkness as she prayed desperately to slip on whatever the hell Jesse had, for a stage light to drop from the ceiling, or to just generally be swallowed up by the earth below her.

 

And of course it was Chloe before her, driving every confusing sensation around her to a single point as she stepped forwards. The gaze she gave Beca there was nothing but trust and confidence, confidence not just in herself but in the terrified girl in front of her, as if everything that seemed to come so easily to Chloe was now Beca’s, that grace and energy and ability to really just accomplish all she could imagine. So she didn’t joke this time, or flub a line that was permanently pressed into that incomprehensible mind of hers, but instead gave Beca the slightest of smiles.

 

Beca took a deep breath, rolling her shoulders back and allowing those words she knew so well to fill in her mind. “Did you really do that for me?”

 

A smirk, only familiar from watching Chloe on stage so many times over the semester, covered the redhead’s face, and she gave Beca a cocky jerk of her head that ignited that so known buzzing in her stomach. “I felt inspired,” Chloe replied, voice low as she took yet another step forwards.

 

“I told you. Endings are the best part.”

 

“You are such a weirdo.” It was probably too low for the audience to hear, but Beca couldn’t give a damn as Chloe’s arms wrapped around the back of her neck, finally closing that impermissible space between them. Despite her best efforts, Beca couldn’t hold back the tiny gasp that escaped her mouth as she leaned in, hands falling to Chloe’s waist.

 

It wasn’t in the script, really, no more than a brief lip lock after a period of arguable sexual tension, but Beca’s hand drifted up of its own accord to the small of Chloe’s back and pulled her closer. So maybe it was a bit of a more conscious decision as Beca’s teeth pulled at Chloe’s bottom lip, relishing in the moan it produced before Chloe’s tongue slipped between Beca’s parted lips.

 

Beca’s fingers dug into the back of Chloe’s shirt, and she could forget for an instant that she was just the AV club manager, pushed on stage in a borrowed blazer to kiss the head cheerleader and close out the penultimate scene of the school musical. She sure as hell had enough years of longing to make up for, and she was taking advantage of every stolen moment to do as such. Chloe’s fingers twitched in Beca’s hair, the other hand slipping up to cup her jawline in some useless attempt to drag her even closer just as the brief instant where any of this was acceptable ended with a round of applause.

 

It was as if the earth had simply had a delayed reaction to her plea, dragging Beca back down with gravity that possessed a harsh speed. Beca’s eyes opened only to meet Chloe’s closed lids, her lips still hanging open as if she was waiting for Beca to fill the space again. With a strangled yelp, Beca pulled her hands back from Chloe’s waist, barely able to hang on until the curtain fell before she sprinted off stage.

 

Pure fantasy, irresponsible and wild. Beca lived most of her life in reliance on reason and in total comprehension of the world into which she’d been placed, taking care to put distance between herself and anything that messed with these perceptions. One slip up had put it all to waste, and Beca burst past the backstage assembly and through the nearest door to the utility corridor, vaguely registering Jesse’s voice as she passed.

 

Beca’s world wasn’t necessarily one of order, but it was one that made sense to her. The world where Chloe Beale, of all people, wanted her, did not. This girl who’d actually seemed to listen for every snarky aside, allowed Beca to go on long, tangential soliloquys regarding allusions to Nazi Germany in T.H. White during small group discussions and replied as if she’d genuinely paid attention to every word, who, if anything, made every effort to pull Beca out of the corner shadows in which she’d found her.

 

Because Beca didn’t try to be invisible, not at all. She just realized that she was and accepted it with a certain degree of regret for every time she’d just instinctively scared someone off because it was easier, easier to be left alone with one friend who was essentially platonically married to her, free of any expectations or opportunities to disappoint anyone else. But Chloe looked at her as if she held no expectations, no judgments, and just wanted Beca to be.

 

Listening to Chloe didn’t really seem to be getting Beca anywhere at the moment, other than sobbing in a back hallway, knees pressed up to her ears and her back against a hard brick wall. At least it was over, and she could sink back into that hidden space where only Jesse found her, seeming to have literally done just that as a pair of hands gently landed on her knees. “Guess you’re walking again?”

 

“Well, I would’ve run too, but I had to finish a scene and all.” Red hair splayed across Beca’s fingers as bright blue met gun-steel grey, equally wary. “Are you okay?”

 

Beca sniffed, wiping her thumb underneath her eyes as she fought back another round of tears. “Yeah, sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have freaked out like that. I mean, you’re the one with the right to be pissed.”

 

“Pissed?” Chloe shifted until her elbows laid atop Beca’s knees, resting her chin on clasped hands to level with Beca’s line of sight. “Why would I be pissed?”

 

“I basically assaulted you on stage in front of the whole school. Including, I’m assuming, your boyfriend, which just—“

 

“Tom and I broke up. Guess you hadn’t heard.” And the insistence was back, as if Chloe was begging Beca to understand before she had to say anything further, but Beca couldn’t; she had to be sure, had to quiet every voice in her head as she took a shaky breath.

 

“You did?” Chloe only nodded, never breaking the chain she’d thrown between their eyes. “Did you—I mean. Why?”

 

“He just…wasn’t who I was looking for,” Chloe murmured. “We were going different places and, I—it was easy for him to see me one way and ignore anything else.” Biting her bottom lip, Chloe leaned forwards until she was on the tips of her toes. “Besides, I’ve kinda had a crush on someone else for a while, and they only recently seemed to realize it.”

 

“They sound a bit like an idiot,” Beca said, her pulse thudding in her ears as she pushed herself up with her arms.

 

“Sometimes, but I sort of like it.” Chloe’s thumb ran lightly over Beca’s cheekbone before she hesitantly, cautiously pressed their lips together, moving in closer as Beca dropped her legs to the floor.

 

And it was slower this time, no desperate hunger with only a brief moment to attempt to sate it before responsibility and guilt took hold. No, Beca could let herself actually appreciate the brush of Chloe’s lips between her own, the way the ringlets of Chloe’s hair slipped between her fingers, and the little shared breaths as they reluctantly gave in to the limitations their lungs imposed upon them.

 

It was in one of these instants that they were wholly snapped out of their space by the sound of Mr. Collins’ voice shouting Chloe’s name right outside of the hall. “Is that what I think it is?” Chloe asked.

 

“If you’re gonna say lark, I’m going with nightingale.”

 

“Oh my god. You might be the most absurd nerd I’ve ever met.” Chloe placed a kiss on Beca’s forehead, pulling her up despite her groaning protests. “Breaking out the Romeo and Juliet on me because you think I’m that much of a nostalgic sap.”

 

“Am I wrong?” Beca asked, slowly raising an eyebrow.

 

Chloe quirked her mouth to one side as she considered the question. “No. But I also have my fans to consider.” She dragged Beca towards the door and swung it open, almost crashing into the drama teacher as they stepped out into the backstage area.

 

“Chloe, thank god,” Mr. Collins breathed. He grabbed Chloe by the shoulders and thrust her forwards towards the main stage. “They’ve been trying to give you a standing ovation for about two minutes, and I think even your stalwarts are getting tired.”

 

“Well, I’m not the only one here who deserves a round of applause.” Chloe turned towards Beca. “How about it, Becs?”

 

Beca looked at Mr. Collins for any sentiment towards the contrary, but the man simply shrugged. “You brought the house down and kissed the girl without breaking anything,” he droned. “At this point, I’ll consider that high success.”

 

She was really in no place to complain as Chloe took her by the hand and dragged Beca back into those bright lights, applause washing over them. Jesse suddenly appeared at Beca’s other side, hobbling onto stage with Benji supporting one arm. “So, how was your theatrical debut?” he whispered out of the corner of his mouth, even as that drama kid grin did not drop for an instant.

 

“All I’ll say is you need to fuck up your leg more often.”

 

“’Atta girl.” Jesse nudged her lightly in the side before slinging one arm around Beca’s shoulder and pulling them both into a deep bow. 


“So it really was all part of a long game?”

 

Jesse shrugged, sucking out the last sip of his Capri Sun before dropping it on the grass. “I’m an evil mastermind, what can I say?”

 

Beca pushed herself up from her lying position on Chloe’s lap, resting on one elbow as she turned to face Jesse. “Really, mastermind? You basically had to get me to memorize all of one line.”

 

“Which you almost forgot,” Chloe added, tucking a strand of Beca’s hair behind her ear with a smirk.

 

“I was a bit overwhelmed. Cut me some slack.”

 

“Guess you never really grow out of stage fright, huh?” Aubrey dropped onto the grass to Chloe’s side, Stacie following suit. “I was honestly expecting Chloe to have to pull some incorrect Shakespeare out again.”

 

“Be nice,” Stacie said, tossing a handful of grass at Aubrey. “Keep this up and I’m going to have to reconsider my roommate request for fear that you’d scare any friends away.”

 

“I think her resting bitch face has that covered,” Beca muttered, prompting a snort from Chloe above her.

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“I’m getting flashbacks,” Chloe said, shifting her hips slightly to face her friends. “I feel like Aubrey’s going to grab Stacie and kiss her again in a moment.”

 

“I wouldn’t necessarily complain.” Stacie smirked as all eyes fell on her. “Besides, who said that was the only time?”

 

“Hi, Jesse Swanson,” Jesse said, dashing across the space to offer his hand to Stacie. “Certified and licensed bi-bro.”

 

“Fuck off, Swanson,” Beca groaned. She let her head fall back onto Chloe’s lap with her eyes closed, humming slightly as her girlfriend began to braid a long strand of her hair, fingers brushing against Beca’s cheeks. “So are you gonna leave my hair looking crazy like last time?”

 

Chloe giggled, her hand pausing for a moment. “I’ll try my best to avoid it.” She leaned down and placed a kiss to Beca’s temple, lips remaining against the side of her head as her breath ghosted over Beca’s ear. “I’ll just make sure to mess up your hair later.”

 

Swallowing heavily, Beca nodded. “Count me in for that.”

 

So yeah, maybe Beca was still overwhelmed at times by the force of nature that was Chloe Beale, and maybe she’d need a good long time to recover after that statement before heading back to class. But Chloe had pulled Beca out into a world with more spaces than she knew existed, and she was more than happy to let her help fill them. She opened her eyes, taking in that smile as just hers for a selfish instant before jumping up to help Stacie drag Aubrey off of Jesse.