Aubrey smiled to herself as she reached down to surreptitiously rub her feet. It had been eight months since she had worn heels. It was both invigorating and miserable and she couldn’t decide which feeling would win. She sat back up as more people came into the cafe, escaping the sudden rain that drew rivulets on the window beside her.
Emily hurried across the street toward the little cafe and froze as her foot reached the curb. A passing car squealed as it turned the corner and avoided her, but splashed water up over her boots and soaked her slacks. Startled for the second time in as many minutes, she hopped up onto the walk, shook herself of some of the excess water, and looked back at the window. The woman she thought she recognized now sat studying something before her, head down, headphones over her ears. The blonde hair, so tantalizingly familiar, covered the face so that Emily couldn’t be sure her mind hadn’t played a trick on her.
With a sigh and a fond smile at the memory of an old friend, Emily finally made her way into the cafe and found her colleague. She sank into a chair and thankfully lifted the coffee he had ordered for her to her lips, her eyes traveling to the little booth near the window almost without her intention.
“I’m sorry?” Emily clicked her attention back to the man seated opposite her.
“I asked, who is she?” Marcus smirked. “I’ve known you for over a year and I’ve never seen you so taken with someone on first sight.”
Emily laughed and blushed, “she just reminds me of...” she broke off as the blonde in question absently brushed her hair back before reaching for her own coffee, “Aubrey.” She barely whispered the name.
Marcus turned to follow Emily’s gaze. “Do you mean the girl you used to sing with? I thought you said she was in Greece.”
“She was.” Emily swallowed some more coffee. “Look, would you mind?”
“Go ahead, you haven’t been worth shit for three months. Maybe she will shake some lyrics free from you.” Marcus laughed at his own joke and turned to see if he knew anyone else in the cafe.
Emily nodded absently, her eyes never leaving the blonde. Picking up her coffee, Emily walked quickly over, all thoughts of Marcus and her soaked clothing forgotten. When she reached the table, she spoke softly. “Excuse me.”
“I’d rather not share, if you don’t mind,” Aubrey replied without looking up. “Terribly gauche, I know, but I’m only an ugly American.” She broke off when her raised eyes focused on Emily’s face. “Emily?”
Emily’s shy smile spread at the recognition. “Yeah. Aubrey. How are you?”
Aubrey moved her scattered belongings to one side and gestured for Emily to sit. “What are you doing in Paris?”
“Vacation?” Emily sat down. “Not really.” She laughed, “I have been sent to recover my creative spark.” She pointed over her shoulder at the man she’d been sitting with. “Marcus says I’m boring and dull. So, he brought me here to see if something could inspire me.”
“I’m sorry, I’m not sure I understand,” Aubrey shrugged with her own shy smile. “I know you graduated from Barden.” She shook her head.
Emily nodded, “I did. I spent some time with Beca and was able to sell a couple of songs. I got a contract with Republic, but it’s been a while since I wrote anything they were thrilled about.”
Aubrey nodded, “I see. Congratulations on selling songs, though.” She glanced at the man Emily had pointed out. “He seems nice.”
“He is,” Emily nodded. “I could have done worse.”
“I agree,” Aubrey swallowed hard, knowing from her own experience just how much worse. She looked down at the table and added, “are you happy?”
Emily frowned and then laughed. Aubrey looked up at the delightful sound, seeing Emily with her head back like whatever Aubrey had said was the funniest thing she had ever heard. Emily took a deep breath and shook her head. “I think I led you astray.” She wiped her eyes, “Marcus is my handler. He works for the label and makes sure I don’t get into trouble.” Emily leaned forward, conspiratorially, “I never get into trouble, so we just meet for coffee once a day and explore Paris in our own ways. I like museums and architecture, while he likes clubbing.” Emily shrugged again, “I don’t want to accidentally hear a song and then steal it without realizing it.”
“You would never do that.” Aubrey smiled fondly. “I don’t think you would forget where you had heard a song.”
“Maybe not, but why take the chance?” Emily smiled back. “What about you? I thought you were in Greece.”
Aubrey shook her head, “Nope, not for a long time. I’ve been in Paris for several months,” she hedged. She wasn’t sure she was ready to share what a mess she had made of her life.
Emily leaned over and placed her hand on Aubrey’s. “Then you will be here for a week or so longer?” She bit her lower lip. “I have another week, and it would be so much more fun to see things with you.”
“I,” Aubrey felt her breath catch. Even after nearly three years, Emily could still take her breath away. “I am here for another week,” she finally admitted. In the breakup, she had gotten the flat she’d lived in for the last eight months. It was paid through May, so she had more than a week, although she wasn’t ready to admit that either.
“Great!” Emily grinned, “hang on.” She stood, raced over to Marcus, and spoke while animatedly waving her hands. Aubrey waved nervously as she saw both Marcus and Emily look her way. Marcus waved and laughed, then nodded at Emily who hurried back to the table. “I have to check in everyday, but I don’t have to have a chaperone.” Emily giggled, “come on.” She looked out the window, “it stopped raining. Come with me to my hotel so I can change?”
Aubrey collected her things, “why do you need to change?”
Emily waited for Aubrey to slip out of the booth and linked her hand in Aubrey’s elbow. “When I was crossing the street, I got splashed.” She laughed heartily, “it was all your fault. I thought I saw you in the window,” she gestured back at it as they exited the cafe. “I literally froze.”
Aubrey blushed, “I’m sorry.”
“I’m just teasing,” Emily studied the woman she remembered as powerful and unstoppable. “I mean, you are gorgeous enough to stop traffic,” she poked Aubrey with her elbow, “it was just my fault that I didn’t get out of the street in time.” When Aubrey barely smiled, Emily was struck by how much her friend had changed. “Hey, are you ok?”
Aubrey nodded and made herself smile more. “Yes, I’m fine. Just so surprised to see you, I guess.” She pulled them both to a stop as Emily started to turn into a building. “Emily, you are not staying here.”
Emily looked up at the ornate building and then at her former colleague and nodded. “The label pays for a suite here. All the talent gets to stay here when we are in town.”
“You’ve been here before?” Aubrey blinked.
“Yeah,” Emily blushed, “a couple of my songs have been used in movies. We come here for press junkets, then head down to Cannes.”
Aubrey still would not move. “Song writers are not often included in press junkets.”
Emily nodded and shrugged, “a few songs I sang have been more popular in Australia and Europe than in the US.” She pulled on Aubrey’s arm. “I even covered Flashlight after Jesse J made it popular.”
Aubrey allowed Emily to lead her into the hotel. The doorman greeted Emily pleasantly and Emily hurried to the elevator. “Come on, my feet are cold.”
Aubrey froze again when the elevator doors opened onto a magnificent suite, “Emily, this is as grand as Khaled’s.”
Emily nodded, “isn’t it weird? Three years ago, we were freeing bees and catching curtains on fire. Now I stay in a suite like his.” She dropped into a chair and pulled her boots off, water splashing as she did.
“Oh, my stars. You were not kidding about being soaked!” Aubrey snapped out of her reverie. She kicked her shoes off so she could move faster and then hurried to the bathroom to grab a robe and a towel. “Get out of those wet things.” She commanded as she knelt to dry Emily’s feet. “Take your top off and put on the robe. After I dry your feet, take off your slacks. While you finish changing, I will start the bath.”
“I don’t need,” Emily started as she was talking through laughter, although a shiver did run down her spine.
Aubrey started rubbing Emily’s right foot. “Don’t argue,” she said as she saw the shiver take Emily. “Your keeper will be furious with me if you get sick.”
Emily decided Aubrey might be right, and so removed her top and bra, although neither was as wet as her feet. She slipped her arms in the robe and belted it around her waist as best she could even though she was still seated.
Aubrey looked up when she had finished drying the second foot. “Ok, that will do for now. You scoot and finish changing while I start the bath.” She stood and exited to the bathroom before Emily could say anything more.
“What just happened?” Emily giggled to herself as she headed to her bedroom to change.
Aubrey looked up a few minutes later to see Emily leaning on the door jamb to the bathroom. Her hair was up, her glasses had replaced her contacts and she was still wrapped in the hotel-provided robe. “Hey, how are you feeling?”
“A little like I’m dreaming,” Emily replied softly. “If someone this morning had told me I would be looking at Aubrey Posen drawing me a bath this afternoon, I would have told them they were crazy.”
Aubrey blushed as she stood up, “I am sorry, I guess it was pushy of me.” She hesitated awkwardly, “I just,” she broke off as her blush deepened.
Emily step forward and hugged her friend. “Nothing to be sorry about,” she tried to sound reassuring. “It’s sweet. For all that Marcus is a good guy, he has never given a rat’s ass about if my feet were wet or if I was cold.”
Aubrey buried her head against the plush terry cloth robe covering Emily’s shoulder. She didn’t know what to say. She waited for the “but” that had always followed any apparent compliment over the last year. When Emily didn’t go on, she looked up, nervously.
“Thank you.” Emily smiled, “it’s nice to have a friend again.”
Aubrey smiled despite her nerves and nodded. She reluctantly pulled from the embrace and slid passed to the door, “I think the bath is the right temperature. You might want to check before you get in.”
Emily reached out to touch Aubrey’s wrist before the other woman could exit the room. “You will still be here when I get done?”
Aubrey hesitated. She looked back and into Emily’s eyes and saw something there. Maybe it was sincerity. Maybe it was kindness. She nodded again.
“Ok,” Emily drew her hand back and smiled again. “See you soon.”
Aubrey smiled back and slipped out into the sitting room. While she waited, she found another towel and mopped up the water near the sofa. She collected the soaked clothing and second towel from the bathroom, placed them in a provided plastic bag she found in a closet and called down to the front desk. “Would you send someone to take care of Miss Junk’s clothing? She got caught in the storm.” Aubrey understood the French reply but preferred to allow the staff to believe she was a stupid American personal assistant than to interact more fully.
Emily got out of the tub, wondering if Aubrey had really stayed. She didn’t know what had happened to her confident and capable friend, but she was concerned that if Aubrey had left, Emily might not find her again. It had been nearly a year since Aubrey had been in a Bella chat, and not even Chloe had known how to reach her. Emily chewed her lower lip as she brushed out her hair, pulled on a pair of jeans and a shirt from her last concert tour and put her glasses back on. Finally satisfied she looked less like a bedraggled cat and more like a confident musician, she stepped out to the sitting room.
Aubrey was leaning against a window frame looking out over the City of Lights. Emily felt her heart jump. “Hey,” she called out softly.
Aubrey turned. “Hey,” she said back. “I really am sorry.”
“And you really have nothing to apologize for.” Emily smiled fondly. “It’s nice to know someone cares.”
Aubrey turned away quickly to hide the tears stinging her eyes. “You have a beautiful view.”
Emily nodded, even though Aubrey wasn’t looking at her. She crossed over to the dining area and pulled a chair away from the table. “Come here?”
Aubrey looked to see what Emily meant and felt her throat thicken. Without a word, she walked over to the table and took the chair Emily offered. Emily tucked it closer to the table once Aubrey was seated before she headed into the adjoining kitchen. She brought back to the table some crackers and cheese and a bottle of wine. Then she retreated again and came back with a bottle opener and two glasses.
“Does Marcus stay here, too?” Aubrey surprised herself by asking as Emily opened the wine.
Emily shook her head. “Nope, he stays on the next floor down. This luxury is the lonely prison of the talent.”
Aubrey cocked her head to one side, “is it really that bad?”
“Sometimes,” Emily admitted. “But I’m also being dramatic. Plenty of artists stay here and love it. I need to be more thankful.”
“What do you miss the most?” Aubrey asked as she accepted the glass Emily extended.
Emily put the wine down and sat, picking up her own wine as she did. “My record player.”
Aubrey laughed in surprise. “Your what?”
“My record player.” Emily chuckled. “I know, it makes me sound old, but I got a record player and some old lps when I was in high school. I would listen to them by the hour. I started writing songs while listening to James Taylor and Carole King.”
“I had every song James Taylor ever recorded,” Aubrey admitted with a giggle. “And I loved Tapestry.”
Emily leaned forward and tapped her glass against Aubrey’s. “To the only person I know who owns as many James Taylor albums as I do.”
Aubrey smiled broadly and nodded before sipping her wine.
“There you are.” Emily barely whispered.
Aubrey’s smile faltered.
“Oh, no, please.” Emily put her glass down and covered Aubrey’s free hand with her own. “Smile. Show me the Aubrey I remember.”
“Oh, Em.” Aubrey’s eyes glistened and she turned her head away.
Emily was out of her chair in a shot and on one knee by Aubrey’s side. “What happened, Aubs?”
Aubrey shook her head. “I've been spending the last eight months thinking all love ever does is break and burn and end.”
Emily wrapped her arms around her friend, pulling her close. “You deserve so much more.”
Aubrey rested her head against Emily’s shoulder. “I don’t. People leave. They always leave.”
Emily rocked Aubrey slowly, “not always, Aubs.” She kissed the side of Aubrey’s head. “Your Bellas miss you. I don’t know what happened and why you couldn’t talk to any of us, but we all missed you.”
Aubrey shook her head, disbelieving. “Why?” Her voice shook.
“Because you are Aubrey Posen.” Emily pulled back to look into the troubled hazel eyes. “We all happen to adore you.”
Aubrey met the gaze nervously. She was still waiting for the criticism. “I left.”
Emily smiled, “we waited.” She touched Aubrey’s chin. “Want me to prove it? I’ll go get my phone.”
Aubrey shook her head. “Not yet.” She rested her head on Emily’s shoulder again. “I just need a minute.”
“Take all the time you need.” Emily leaned her head against Aubrey’s. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Several minutes later, Aubrey finally pulled back. “I’m sorry, I’m being silly.”
Emily shook her head. “We are going to have this argument every time you apologize so you may as well give up now.” She winked and stood up, extending a hand to Aubrey. “And that was not a challenge, Miss Posen. That was a promise.”
Aubrey couldn’t help but smirk. “Trying to get around my competitive nature, Miss Junk?”
“I wouldn’t dream of it. It’s part of who you are.” Emily wiggled her fingers. “Come on.”
“Where?” Aubrey placed her hand in Emily’s and let the other woman pull her to a standing position.
“Just over here.” She led Aubrey back to a sofa that sat facing the west. “If we are lucky, the sunset will be spectacular painting all of the clouds.”
Aubrey sat down and once again marveled at Emily’s kindness and thoughtfulness. She watched as Emily moved their light meal to the coffee table between the sofa and window. When her wine glass arrived, she picked it up and sipped.
Emily settled in beside her guest and picked up some cheese, which she offered to Aubrey. “Smoked Gouda. It’s my current favorite.”
Aubrey accepted the selection and nibbled. “You certainly have grown up well, Miss Junk.”
Emily picked up a piece and savored the flavor before answering. “It’s all your fault.” She smiled as Aubrey’s eyes widened. “It is.” She insisted. “If you hadn’t intervened, if you hadn’t encouraged me to keep writing, I doubt I would have ever returned to it.”
Aubrey tilted her head to one side, “but you said it’s been hard again?”
“Yeah.” Emily shrugged. “Nothing is flowing. It’s all a struggle.” She sat back but was close enough that her shoulder and Aubrey’s touched. “Most Girls was so easy. I just thought of each of the Bellas and wanted to have a quality of each of you that I admired.”
“We don’t have to talk about it.” Aubrey replied softly. “I haven’t exactly been forthcoming about my recent life.”
Emily bumped their shoulders. “You never have to tell me, Aubs. I’m just glad you are back.”
Aubrey smiled and ducked her head. “You make it sound easy.”
“It is.” Emily hopped to her feet and dashed to the bedroom. She hurried back and plopped down again on the sofa and leaned over. “Smile.”
Aubrey laughed but the picture was taken before she could protest. “Emily!”
Emily just laughed and sent the image to the Bella chat. In seconds, the replies started pouring in.
Chloe: Elf! get your ass back stateside!
Beca: Legacy, you better drag her back before Beale loses her shit again.
Stacie: omg Aubrey! You must come meet Bella!
Chloe: I’m not kidding, Bree
Flo: Chica! We have missed you.
Jessica: how did you
Ashley: find her, Legacy?
CR: about time someone tracked you down, General!
Chloe: I’ll drag every Bella to you if you don’t come here!
Esther: I am so proud of you, Emily. You learn well!
Amy: damn, if I’m not gobsmacked. I’ll help you get everyone to Europe, Ginger.
Emily grinned as Aubrey blinked back tears. “Told you they love you.” She leaned over and kissed Aubrey’s temple again. “It’s unanimous.”
Aubrey turned to look at Emily and suddenly the air felt very different. She reached up and placed a hand on the side of Emily’s face. “I don’t know what,” she began.
“Just know you are loved.” Emily whispered. She leaned forward until their noses barely touched. “You always have been.”
Aubrey closed her eyes. What was it she had said to Emily not half an hour ago? Love breaks and burns and ends. Was she really that wrong?
Emily took her chance and pressed her lips ever so gently against Aubrey’s. Aubrey responded instantly, pressing closer to Emily as her free hand slid over Emily’s thigh and up to her waist.
Emily couldn’t help but smile as the Bella chat continued to ping. “Damn I should have waited to tell them.” She murmured against Aubrey’s lips.
Aubrey pulled back shakily but her hand closed over the material of Emily’s shirt. “I don’t know what to say to them.”
“Come back with me?” Emily asked. She turned to face Aubrey more directly. “It’s not much of a life yet. I travel a lot, but mostly because I don’t have a reason to stay home. You can travel with me, and on my next break we can find you a place in the states. You can be near Stacie and Bella or Beca and Chloe.”
“Or you?” Aubrey asked, her voice quavering.
“You are always welcome.” Emily’s smile broadened. “I want you to be happy, Aubs. I’m not gonna lie, I love how comfortable...” her voice trailed off. She grabbed her phone and texted the chat.
Emily: hang on guys. I got a song to write down.
Beca: get it, Legacy!
Chloe: I wanna talk to Elf!
Emily: gimme a minute, aca-mom!
Emily looked up, “if I text you Chloe’s number, will you call her?”
Aubrey nodded slowly. She didn’t understand why Emily had broken away so abruptly, but she took several deep breaths to try and calm her nerves.
Emily smiled and leaned in. “Just for a few minutes.” She kissed Aubrey again softly. “I gotta write something down.” She handed over her phone for Aubrey to provide the number, then moved to the dining table.
Aubrey felt her phone ping. She sent a text to the number in the text.
The FaceTime app rang.
“Aubrey Posen.” Aubrey fell back into an old habit.
“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry or yell at you.” Chloe choked out.
“I’m sorry, Elf.” Aubrey managed to reply despite her own tears. “It’s been a rocky year.”
Chloe nodded, “then the story and the yelling can wait. I just want to know: when are you coming home?”
Aubrey looked over at Emily who was busy typing furiously on her phone. “We are working on that.”
Chloe’s smile started small but grew quickly. “Might there be more than just a plane ride being negotiated?”
Aubrey blushed. “I’m not sure.” She studied the face of her friend. “I’m not sure I trust me, Elf. I’ve made some pretty bad decisions lately.”
“The first being pulling away from us.” Chloe shook her finger at Aubrey. “The rest are probably related.”
“You are probably right,” Aubrey smiled as she wiped away a tear. “Can I promise to call you tomorrow?”
Chloe tilted her head to one side. “How long has Legacy been hiding you?”
“Since lunch today.” Aubrey laughed as Emily looked up at the sound.
“Ok, I’ll give you guys today. Text tomorrow and we’ll see what happens next.” Chloe paused for a heartbeat before adding softly, “I’ve missed you.”
Aubrey nodded, “oh, I’ve missed you too. I’m so sorry.”
Chloe shook her head, “just get back here. I need a Posen hug.”
“I will. Text you tomorrow.” Aubrey promised again before she closed the connection. She stood and crossed over to where Emily was sitting. “What are you writing?”
“A song.” Emily met Aubrey’s gaze, her eyes shining. “All I needed was you.”
Aubrey started to shake her head and Emily started to sing.
Cause I feel so comfortable with you
You make me comfortable with you
I feel so comfortable with you
You make me comfortable with you
Set the tone, when it's just me
And you alone, and we're lonely
In the room, breathin' slowly Oh, you know me, yeah
Aubrey felt her throat tighten. “You just wrote that? Just now?”
Emily nodded. “The second part started bouncing around my head when you were drawing the bath. The first part came to me just now. I will have to tinker with it, but it’s not a bad start.”
“You are amazing.”
Emily shook her head, “I’m inspired.” She put her phone down and reached for Aubrey’s hand. She used that hand to tug Aubrey closer, so the blonde was standing between Emily’s legs. “You always inspire me.”
Aubrey melted closer. “Could it always have been this easy?”
Emily closed her arms around Aubrey’s waist. “I don’t know. I know I’m so glad I saw you today. I’m so glad you are here. I know I don’t want to waste another minute with you unaware of how important you are to me, how much you mean to me.” She leaned up and kissed Aubrey again, tenderly. “I have loved you for years, Aubrey Posen. I will do whatever it takes for you to feel as safe and comfortable as you have always made me feel.”
Aubrey’s knees shook and gave way. She landed on Emily’s thigh, and she laughed shakily. “I never thought I would hear you say...”
“That I love you?” Emily smiled and scooted Aubrey around, so they were both more comfortable. “That’s because I was a coward. I was so worried about losing your friendship that I lost you completely. I don’t want to make that mistake again.”
Aubrey slipped her arms around Emily’s neck. “I don’t want to be lost.”
And as their lips met once more, Aubrey was sure. On a Wednesday in a café, she watched it begin again.