Chapter 1: First Day Back
Aubrey sat at her desk, thinking about the last few days. With a shake of her head, she pulled up the file that had all of the Bellas contact information. After pulling each name into a group message, she began to type.
Aubrey: roll call. Did everyone get a replacement phone?
Amy: aye-aye captain.
Esther: she is the general, Beca is the captain.
CR: if I get into the air force, I will be a real captain.
Flo: do we call Chloe Dr. Chloe after she graduates?
Chloe: have to start first, Flo.
Stacie: why did you all need new phones?
Emily: I didn’t. I left mine at the hotel.
Ashley: but I got mine replaced.
Stacie: that’s not an answer.
Beca: busy Posen catch ya later.
Aubrey: ok that’s all 11. Shall we plan a talk next week?
Stacie: this isn’t funny guys. What happened?
Aubrey: call you soon, Legs.
Stacie grumbled as the others logged off. She opened her own text app and sent a message to Emily.
Emily: long story. Look, I have a meeting with my instructors, can I call ya when I’m done?
Stacie: I guess.
Stacie put her phone down. It was bad enough that she missed the tour, but now something happened that screwed up their phones. She took a deep breath as she rubbed Bella’s belly, trying to soothe herself and keep from upsetting the baby all at the same time. She had nearly accomplished it when she heard a knock on her door. With a frown, since she hadn’t ordered anything, she stood up to see who it was. “Beca?”
“Yeah,” Beca smiled. “I brought some stuff from the Bellas for our namesake. Can I come in?”
Stacie stepped out of the way, still stunned. “What’s going on?”
“We decided I should tell you about the tour. I’m the only captain in New York this week.” Beca explained as she put down bags. “But can we do the fun stuff first?”
Stacie nodded, unsure what to say. She had a tight knot in her belly and felt nervous. Everyone responded to the chat so everyone must be ok, but...
“This one is from Chloe.” Beca pulled out a rainbow onesie. “She said all babies are treasures. Well, here, there’s a card.”
Stacie read the card Beca handed over and it did indeed say since all babies are treasures, Bella must be the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. “Well, that’s cheesy.”
Beca shrugged, “of course it is, it’s Beale.” She pulled out a box. “Bella will have to grow into these.” She grinned, “noise cancelling headphones to protect Bella when the hunter gets back in business.
Stacie snorted, but looked through the other gifts of clothes and toys. She looked at Beca with a puzzled expression when the last present was a usb drive. “What’s this?”
“That’s from Emily.” Beca grinned goofily.
Stacie booted up her laptop and inserted the drive. She saw a folder labeled “tour” and a video file called “For Bella.” She double-clicked on it. Her eyes pricked with tears when she realized it was a recording of all the girls singing just as they had the day that she told them of Bella’s birth.
Beca’s grin morphed into a proud smile. “She got someone to record almost all of our performances. Even the one where Taps cuts us off.” When Stacie again looked to ask questions, Beca held up her hand. “I will tell you the whole story, I promise. I thought she was brilliant for thinking to capture all the shows but asking us to try again on the snippet she sang for Bella was the best. She’s grown up well.”
Stacie nodded and closed the laptop. She checked that all of the excitement hadn’t woken Bella then turned to Beca. “So, now will you tell me?”
Beca nodded and launched into the explanation. She didn’t gloss over any of it, from the failed riff-off and Taps interruption, to Khaled’s suite and Amy’s piss-off at Emily. She talked about Chloe’s fascination with the Captain, and Aubrey’s disappointment with her dad, Theo and Khaled’s offer, her turning it down, and the kidnapping. When Stacie’s face paled, Beca patted the back of Stacie’s hand. “We all got away. We might all be a little weird while we process it all, but we are all ok.”
“What do you mean?” Stacie wiped her eyes, “process it all?”
Beca took a deep breath. “Here, let me show you our last show.” She opened the laptop and Emily’s file, then clicked on the video called Freedom. Stacie watched as Beca nervously began her song, smiled as the tension left after making eye contact with Chloe, smirking as she thought to pull the girls on stage, and challenging Amy, who was always up for anything, to join in the song. By the time it was over, Stacie was crying again. “You guys finally got together?”
“No,” Beca took a deep breath and confessed. “I finally got the nerve to say something, but when I tried to find her after the show, she was kissing Chicago, the Captain I told you about.”
“Oh, Becs.” Stacie felt deflated.
Beca shook her head, “it’s ok. I took too long. She had her life threatened and wants to, you know, not waste any more time. My life is gonna be crazy for who knows how long. Better she feels good with him, goes to vet school, all that stuff she’s put off.”
Stacie studied Beca carefully, “I don't buy you are ok with this.”
“That’s what I mean about processing. Today, I’m ok with it. But it’s the first time since I was eighteen that I don’t know when I will see her again.” Beca shrugged, “I don’t think we’ve spent more than a week apart in seven years.”
“I just thought, I mean, I always thought,” Stacie tried to find the words to explain her surprise.
Beca chuckled, “I know. Legacy threatened to clock Chloe. She thought we were together already, and Chloe was cheating.”
Stacie tried not to laugh at the thought of protective Emily. “Poor Legacy.”
“Yeah, I had to do some serious explaining.” Beca smiled ruefully. “I won’t say I don’t still love her. I just,” she shrugged again. “I show, I don’t talk. My showing wasn’t enough.”
“She’ll be back. She’ll miss you as much as you miss her.” Stacie said confidently. “Meantime, what about the rest?”
Beca frowned, not following, “the rest?”
“You said you were the only one in New York?”
“Oh, yeah. Posen is cleaning up with the lodge. She wants to manage me and make sure the record label doesn’t screw me up. Legacy is gonna try and finish school...”
“Try and finish?” Stacie interrupted.
Beca nodded, “she said once she sang and danced for her life, doing it for a trophy seems stupid. And Posen has been encouraging her to go back to songwriting. I talked her into taking Amy’s place in the apartment. She can work on songs, and finish school online. The school part has to get figured out, but if she can make it work, she and I can work on songs together before I go on tour.”
Stacie looked dazed again, “is Aubrey moving to town?”
“Yeah,” Beca confirmed, “a Sony subsidiary called Epic now owns Khaled’s label. They have an office near Madison Square Garden. Posen convinced Khaled to let us work through this office.” Her grin broadened. “I forgot to tell you, she convinced him that what he liked was not my performance, but my mixing, my layering. Theo likes the way I sound, but what touched Khaled was my arrangement. I get six months to try and put material together to prove it.”
“Aubrey did that?”
Beca nodded, “yeah. It was amazing. She must have stayed up all night researching the industry, because she made the turtle man pull his head all the way into his shell.”
Stacie laughed, “turtle man?”
“Theo, he’s Khaled’s ear man, remember?” Beca explained. “CR calls him Mr. Eye Contact. He, like, stares at you when he talks.” Beca shuddered even as she laughed at the memory.
“Ok, now that I’m sort of caught up, where are the others?” Stacie still felt befuddled but kept trying.
“Jessica and Ashley are visiting Ashley’s folks in New Jersey, then plan to go back to Georgia to open a bakery. Flo is franchising her trucks. CR is applying to the Air Force to become a pilot.” Beca ticked off the list.
Stacie arched an eyebrow. “Amy? Lilly?” She paused and said pointedly, “Chloe?”
Beca blushed, “Lilly says Satan left her body after the yacht exploded and calls herself Esther. I didn’t ask what she was doing next. I think she hooked up with the DJ from the tour though.”
Stacie waited, not so patiently. Bella woke and started to fuss. Stacie picked her up and rocked her. “She needs a diaper change. Be right back.”
Beca wandered around the apartment and ended up at the window, looking out at the street. She turned back to the living room when she heard Stacie return. “You have a much better view than I do.”
“Perks of the field. Engineers know people. I helped an architect with a material failure problem. He knows the people who own this building. Back to my question: Amy and Chloe?”
“Amy is working out stuff regarding the money her mom put aside for her. She’ll be overseas for a couple of months at least.” Beca let out a long slow breath. “Chloe is going to hang out with Chicago for the summer before starting vet school. He has one more USO tour to watch over, and she’s going to travel with him, sort of.”
Stacie nodded, “I still think she will miss you.”
Beca shrugged, “surrounded by the beauty of Europe, music, and with a handsome guy to wake up next to? I doubt it. But with any luck, writing songs with Legacy, having meetings with the label and Posen and bugging you to see Bella...and you too, I guess,” Beca teased with a grin, “maybe I won’t miss her as much.”
“I know, you only love me for my child and my formerly banging bod,” Stacie snorted.
Beca scoffed, “even after having a kid, you still got a banging bod, Legs. Now, how about I order in Chinese?”
Stacie lifted an eyebrow. “You buying? Maybe Esther isn’t the only one to have Satan leave.”
Beca chuckled but dialed up her favorite delivery. It was good to be home. Weird, but good.
Chapter 2: Learning More
Stacie finally talks to Aubrey and Emily to learn more about the tour, and her own failings.
Aubrey clicked the connection open.
“Hey, Bree.” Stacie’s face showed on the screen.
“Hi, Stac. Did the Hobbit get there to explain everything?” Aubrey went straight to the point.
Stacie nodded, “it’s a lot to take in.”
Aubrey nodded as well, “I know. I think we are all still just taking it in.”
“I think I’m most surprised at Beale.” Stacie sighed. “After Beca told me what happened, I’m surprised Chloe didn’t choose Beca.”
“Yeah,” Aubrey sighed, “I’m not sure I get it either. Then again, Chloe’s been pretty unhappy of late. I don’t think they had a fight, but something about the arrangement wasn’t working for her. She got really quiet.”
It was Stacie’s turn to nod. “I guess. I mean, at the aquarium, she was miserable. Not just about missing singing with us. She just seemed like she hated her life.”
Aubrey winced, “I guess I should have tried to stay in touch more. I’m supposed to be her best friend, for fuck’s sake. Well, I was until Mitchell showed up.”
“I think you still are, Bree.” Stacie tried to console her friend. “What she and Beca had going was, I dunno, something more than and less than best friends.”
“I really didn’t plan to talk about them,” Aubrey apologetically tried to change the subject. “Since our senior year, Chloe has been making decisions without talking to me about them and didn’t really care if I understood or not.” Aubrey shrugged. “She wants to do things her own way, and if I am going to be a good friend, I have to let her.”
Stacie sighed but nodded again, “ok, Bree. Sorry. I’m just still processing.”
Aubrey smiled, “it’s ok. Like I said, I think we all are. I will be up in New York in a couple of days. I need to find an apartment and help Beca clear out Amy’s and Chloe’s stuff. Do you have suggestions for storage facilities or apartment complexes?”
“Let me check with the management company here. It’s not far from The Garden and Beca said the record company was near it.” Stacie grabbed her iPad to make notes on. “I know the architect, which is how I got in here at a decent rate. Send me an email with your desired specs?”
“I will. Amy’s mom set me up an expense account. Strictly speaking, I work for Amy to manage Beca. She says it’s her way to pay back Mitchell for all the ways she helped Amy over the years.” Aubrey explained. “I don’t even think they have incorporated anything yet. But they apparently have deep enough pockets to make it all come out right.”
Stacie smiled, “it’s hard to believe Amy is an heiress.”
Aubrey nodded again, “she says that’s why she has been so mysterious. I don’t even know what her degree is in! She was still undecided when she signed on my senior year.” Aubrey laughed. “It may take me years to wrap my head around some of the information I learned on this tour.”
“Well, you still have a head start on me. Now, about the storage facility. Need a full 10x10 or smaller?” Stacie asked.
“I think a 5x7 will do. Beca said the place is furnished, so it’s just personal effects we have to pack up and label. Again, Amy will pay for it.” Aubrey ticked an item off of her list. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for Beca to stay there, even with Emily, but I will argue that out with her next month. Any familiarity is a good thing for her just now.”
Stacie nodded, “well, I will check for the suggested location for both of you and for Emily. I’ll get a list of singles, one bedroom, and two bedrooms. Someone can always stay with me if they need to.”
“You have a two bedroom?” Aubrey was surprised.
“Not really. It’s officially a one bedroom with a loft. Only one bathroom.” Stacie explained. “I use the loft for an office right now, but it has room enough for a twin-size bed and a dresser.”
Aubrey smiled, “may be the perfect size for the Hobbit, but too small for me.”
Stacie laughed, “it’s a usable space, but I don’t think any of you will want to live with a squalling baby, anyway.”
“Maybe not.” Aubrey grinned, then tilted her head to one side, “might I borrow it for a day or two when I get to town? It would save me on hotel costs.”
“Sure.” Stacie nodded, “you can also use the fold out couch if you prefer not to climb up and down. But you are welcome either way.”
Aubrey nodded her head once as if that settled things. “Ok, I’ll let you know when I’m coming in, and then we can make plans. Beca told you Emily is coming too, right?” She verified since she already mentioned Legacy rooming with Beca.
Stacie nodded again, “yeah. I hope she doesn’t give up on school entirely.”
“Me too,” Aubrey agreed. “She seems to have a one-track mind, though. She either studies or does music.”
“Poor kid. Life is gonna get tough for her if she can’t multi-task.” Stacie chuckled.
Aubrey snorted, “she could always find herself a good spouse who will keep her fed and watered.”
Stacie tilted her head to one side, “a house husband?” She teased.
“Or wife.” Aubrey smirked, “I don’t think she is picky.”
“Ok, we probably shouldn’t speculate about Legacy’s love life either.” Stacie laughed quietly. “God, it’s like we are back in the Bella house the way we gossip.”
Aubrey wrinkled her nose, “I am so glad I never lived there, although I don’t mind the gossip.” She winked. “Ok, I’m off. I’ll call you in a couple of days when I get everything set.”
Stacie nodded and blew a kiss. “Talk to ya soon, General.”
“Oh, please, don’t start that again.” Aubrey rolled her eyes, but with a good-natured smile on her face. “Talk to ya soon.”
After Stacie hung up, she saw she’d missed a call from Emily.
Stacie: sorry I missed you. Talking to Bree.
Emily: is ok. Did you talk to Beca?
Stacie: yeah. Damn, what a mess.
Emily: it really was.
Stacie: you ok?
Emily: I guess.
Stacie hit the FaceTime button. Emily laughed as she clicked open the connection. “You are quick on the trigger.”
“What do you mean, you guess?” Stacie nearly demanded.
“Relax, mama-bear. I’m fine.” Emily sighed, “it was just a lot, you know?”
Stacie studied the face on the screen. Her skin was tight around her mouth and her eyes lacked their usual sparkle. “Talk to me?”
Emily rolled her eyes, “I dunno what to say. It was fun being around the girls, except I forgot how much Amy liked to put me down. They all wanted to win that damn competition; I just wanted to sing with them again, you know?” Emily’s eyes begged for understanding. “My mom used to talk about the sisterhood, and I thought I’d found it after the retreat and Flashlight with Beca and Worlds. Then everyone scattered.”
Stacie felt a pang of guilt. “We should have tried harder to stay in touch.”
“It’s ok. I mean, in high school, I had friends I had known for eight or twelve years. Then we got to college and drifted apart. I thought the Bellas would take their place. But I was the only one left. If my mom hadn’t been a Bella, I think I would have quit.”
“I’m sorry, Em. How did you get through the next year?”
Emily shrugged, “my mom, mostly. Aubrey would answer questions via text. Benji helped too. He could explain the recent traditions more than mom could.”
Stacie closed her eyes, “god, Em. We suck! I admit, I thought one of the captains would step up.”
Emily interrupted, “it’s not really their fault. It’s no one’s fault, really. It was just awful timing to be a freshman.” She sighed. “I don’t mean to bitch about the Bellas. I’m just not feeling like a Legacy anymore, or a captain either. I gave up the pitch pipe and pulled out of school. My mom is pretty pissed, but after I told her about the yacht, she backed off.”
“Shit, Em. Did we do anything right?” Stacie felt her eyes tear up.
“Yeah, Stac. You did. Aubrey did. She wants me to write again. Beca wants me to work with her again.” Emily smiled, “and you went and had a baby. You are so fucking together.”
Stacie laughed in spite of herself. “That’s not exactly being together, Em. I suck at relationships, so I figured if I had a baby, at least someone would love me. Now, being responsible for another life? I realize that was probably the worst reason to have a kid. But I’m gonna do my best to do right by her. And it certainly isn’t like I did right by you or the other Bellas.”
Emily shook her head, “we all let it go, Stac. I could have asked for help. I probably should have. I was so sure I was a burden to you guys, after the way I screwed up the riff-off and being all St. Bernard puppy with two left feet.”
“Too hard on yourself, Em. Look, come by and see me when you get to New York.” Stacie stopped and realized something Emily had said, “wait, you pulled out of school? Beca said you were going to try and finish online.”
“Too many credits. I withdrew under a medical emergency. My psych professors were more than happy to oblige after I told them about my trauma.” Emily rolled her eyes. “I think psych is not for me. They were almost gleeful falling over themselves to help me.” Emily put the word help in air quotes. “I’m almost done with music, but that’s a performance degree I would have to finish in person anyway. I’m talking about how to convert to a theory degree so I can finish online, but it may not work.”
“You gotta finish your degree, Em.” Stacie almost begged.
Emily shrugged, “I will. Just maybe not now. I will keep talking to my counselor and maybe have an idea by fall.”
Stacie sighed, “I can’t believe we broke you.”
“You didn’t, Stacie. The Bellas didn’t. Not even that asshole Fergus. I just realized that maybe I was putting too much pressure on myself, too much stock in what other people thought. Maybe I just need to follow my own star for a little while and see where it goes.” Emily’s eyes showed a spark that had been missing the entire conversation.
“Ok, I can get that.” Stacie answered quietly, encouraged by the enthusiasm Emily was displaying. “Can I help?”
“Yeah,” Emily grinned. “Let me call and sing to Bella? She’s my muse, I think. I hadn’t created anything in years until the day she showed up.” She winked, “maybe I can finish another song people will like.”
Stacie smiled, “that’s easy. First, I liked that song and Bella loved it. You can call any time. Second, I think you are hella talented as a songwriter. I still think you should release Flashlight.”
“Didn’t Beca tell you?” Emily asked and when Stacie shook her head Emily laughed and continued. “Flashlight went platinum in Australia and the UK. Jesse J covered it. I can have platinum records on my wall. Then Sammy sold another song I helped write, Love Myself.”
“No shit?” Stacie’s smile grew to a beam. “I’ve heard that one! Get them ordered, girl. We’ll find you a wall to put them on.”
Emily laughed again and then looked into the camera. “Thanks.”
Stacie frowned, “for what?”
“I dunno, for listening, for caring, for helping me remember the good stuff.” Emily shrugged and smiled shyly. “I get stuck sometimes.”
“Then call every day. Bella and I will remind you of the good stuff any time you want.” Stacie promised stoutly.
Emily nodded, “I will. What time should I call tonight?”
Stacie considered, “how about 7? Bella sleeps on and off all day, but I usually get a breather to watch television around 7:30”
“Deal! Just carry me around until you need me to sing.” Emily laughed.
“I will. Be warned, diaper changes are not pretty.” Stacie teased. “Talk to you tonight.”
Emily nodded, happily. “Talk to you tonight. Thanks, Stac.”
Stacie winked, “thank you. I am sorry for being a flake before. I look forward to making it up to you.”
Emily shrugged, “already forgiven. Later.”
“Later.” Stacie closed the connection and put her phone down. She still had so much to process.
Chapter 3: Pivots
Beca tries to stay in contact with Chloe; Aubrey and Beca’s plans change, cascading to a change in plans for Emily and Stacie; Aubrey and Beca bicker constantly.
Beca: bad time?
Chloe: nope. Just sitting around right now.
Chloe: what’s up?
Beca: got your stuff into storage. Where do I send the key?
Chloe: oh, yeah. Um. I’ll ask Chicago for an address.
Beca: are things going well?
Chloe: yeah. The people in charge of the tour love volunteers
Beca: yeah? What they got you doing?
Chloe: I do the national anthem at the top of the show. Sometimes I mc
Beca: that’s cool.
Chloe: it’s fun. I still get to hang with the performers when Chicago is working.
Beca: glad it’s working out.
Chloe: how’s the life of a rock star?
Beca: Aubrey thought she had them convinced to give me six months to produce
Chloe: but she didn’t?
Beca: she did, but it’s not first. I have to do some special appearances first.
Beca: a couple on the west coast, then a couple in Chicago. Not all with Khaled.
Chloe: oh? With who?
Beca: Aubrey’s working that out.
Chloe: I’m so grateful she is watching out for you.
Beca: yeah. She says it’s a favor to you, ha.
Chloe: well, it’s still nice.
Beca: yeah. It’s nice to have her around too. Weird it’s not you or Amy.
Chloe: when does Amy come back?
Beca: dunno, has some stuff to work out down under she said.
Chloe: sorry I couldn’t come back and help you move out.
Beca: it’s ok. We all have to leave sometime, right?
Chloe: yeah. Might as well be now.
Beca: well, I’ll let you go. Say hey to the crew for me. And Chicago of course.
Chloe: I will. Talk to ya soon?
Beca: yeah ttys.
Beca sighed as she put the phone down. She looked up as Emily joined her and Aubrey in Stacie’s living room. “Good to see you, Legacy.”
“Don’t feel like a legacy. Can I just be Emily?” Emily blushed. “I mean, I quit the Bellas.” She shook her head, “my 17-year-old self would never believe I would say that.
Aubrey opened an arm and hugged Emily. “Life doesn’t always work out the way we expect.” She tried to be consoling as she rubbed Emily’s back.
Stacie nodded and handed over a bottle of water. “So, the plans changed?”
Aubrey nodded even as she kept rubbing Emily’s back. “The parent label wants to get some money out of this deal up front. Beca is going to join Khaled in Vegas for most of May. She gets to work on new material between shows, but three weekends she has to be ready to perform.” She looked at Beca, “we have a bunch of options for other special appearances. We might be able to do something with Kelly Clarkson, but right now her tour hasn’t been announced. I’m waiting to see who the label suggests.”
Beca smiled tightly. “Clarkson is cool. How many appearances?”
“Right now, just one in L A and three in Vegas all with Khaled. I will keep pushing to have the summer off, but that will be easier if you put something dynamite together for Khaled while in Vegas.” Aubrey grinned.
“Piece of cake,” Beca rolled her eyes. “I’ll try.”
“What happens to the apartment?” Stacie looked at Emily, who had been here only two days.
Aubrey cleared her throat. “I was thinking, if neither of you mind, she could stay with you and we can let that apartment go.” She started to rub Emily’s back again. “When we sort out how long Beca’s tour will be, we can arrange another apartment to rent, maybe two or three depending on Amy’s liquidity.”
Stacie turned to Emily. “If you don’t mind the trials of a baby in the house, you are welcome to stay here. I have a few more weeks of maternity leave, but after that, if you don’t mind helping with Bella while I work, you would save me a bundle.”
Emily smiled shyly, “I don’t mind.”
“Cool. That’s settled. Get your stuff here as soon as you can. Bella and I can take the living room, two of you can have my queen size bed and one of you can crash in the loft until it’s time to go.” Stacie started ticking off her fingers.
“That’s too much, Legs. I can hit the label up to start my per diem so I can get a hotel.” Beca shook her head.
Aubrey agreed, “and I have my expense account. We don’t have to impose.”
“I have my savings from my record sales.” Emily added.
Stacie glowered at all three of them, although Emily was the only one who cowered. “Look, you all damn near got yourself killed. I haven’t counted fingers and toes on anyone but Grumpy here. You two stay with me so I feel like I can trust you out of my sight...”
“What, I can go but they can’t?” Beca protested.
“I’m satisfied you know I will beat you senseless if you die on me,” Stacie replied matter-of-factly.
Emily snorted and clapped a hand over her mouth to cover her laugh.
Beca stuck her tongue out at Emily then froze. “How many records did you sell?”
Emily blushed, “two songs but they both were pretty popular overseas. My mom put my residuals into an account for me.”
Stacie blinked, “how much have you earned?”
“Um, 150k plus interest. I get 2 to 4 cents a sale.” Emily blushed again.
Aubrey smirked, “ok, how about a compromise? Mitchell and I will get hotel rooms but come by to spend every afternoon here until we leave. Unless moneybags here wants her own room.”
It was Emily’s turn to stick her tongue out, but she didn’t have a chance to respond.
“Every afternoon?” Beca whined. “I’ll never get to mix.”
“Bring your laptop; you can use the loft.” Stacie allowed. “Is that fair?”
Beca nodded happily. “If I gotta sell Khaled’s boss, I gotta get a wiggle on.”
“We can work together before you go, Beca. I have an idea I wanna run by you.” Emily smiled with excitement.
Beca laughed. “Write me one that goes platinum, girl!”
Aubrey looked proudly at Emily. “I’m so pleased you are going to start writing again.”
Emily shrugged, “no crushing regrets, right?”
“Easier said than done, Em, but I hope so.” Aubrey replied with a small, somewhat sad smile.
Stacie watched the entire interaction but decided she had won. “Ok, so dinner tonight; Posen and Mitchell get a hotel room.”
“Rooms, Legs. I think we would kill each other if we shared a room.” Beca snorted.
“Speak for yourself, Hobbit. I am a terrific roommate. You don’t know what you are missing.” Aubrey replied.
Beca looked at Emily and whispered, “that weirdo probably makes the bed before housekeeping arrives.”
Aubrey rolled her eyes, “at least I will be out of it by the time housekeeping arrives.”
“Enough,” Stacie laughed. “Get Emily’s stuff here, find your hotel and get back here for dinner. And try to find civility in the meantime?”
Stacie just pointed at the door. Keeping these three in line was going to be great practice for when Bella was older. She could tell.
Hours later, as Stacie returned to the living room from tending Bella, she had to stifle a laugh as the bickering began again. “Now what?” She asked.
“I want to watch a movie. Aubrey prefers a documentary. Beca says both are boring and don’t you have any video games or something?” Emily answered in a rush.
“Really? You three are bickering over entertainment?”
Aubrey shrugged, “I see no reason in paying into the misogynistic patriarchy by watching the indoctrinating tropes found in modern movies, especially of the romantic comedy variety.”
“I was talking about finding a movie musical!” Emily protested.
“Even worse. Every musical since vaudeville follows the same story. Boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. Women merely exist to please men.” Aubrey crossed her arms over her chest.
Beca, meanwhile, was opening and closing her fingers as if her hand was Aubrey’s mouth. “Blah, blah.”
“Jeeze, what did you do on tour?” Stacie sat down, laughing at them all.
“Amy chose,” Emily moped.
Aubrey rolled her eyes, “or CR did.”
“I slept,” Beca shrugged.
Stacie stood again and moved over to her television. “Ok, time to pull out the big guns. My request is no head banging.” She plugged something in, then turned and gestured toward the cabinet, “behold, karaoke at home. Just don’t wake Bella.”
Beca leapt to her feet. “Awesome! I’m so gonna put you down, Posen!”
“Wait! What? How is this a competition?” Stacie looked from Beca to Aubrey to Emily.
“I live for competition.” Aubrey smirked.
“Beca chooses Aubrey’s song and Aubrey chooses Beca’s. They keep track of how many times they hit the wrong note.” Emily smirked, “last time out, Aubrey won by ten.”
Beca shrugged, “she chose dinosaur songs.”
“Songs from the 80s are not dinosaur songs.” Aubrey replied hotly.
Stacie sat down and held her head in her hands. “If only I wasn’t breast feeding. They are driving me to drink.”
Emily rubbed Stacie’s back. “But they will stop bickering for a while.”
“Small victory,” Stacie grumbled as she sat back to watch the competition begin.
When the singing was over, Aubrey still won, although this time by just two.
“You and Stacie gotta choose harder songs!” Beca protested. “I coulda won.”
“I wasn’t playing, Beca.” Stacie laughed as she turned the television off. “Now, I may change my mind about you coming over every day if this is what I can expect from you two.”
“She’ll have her headphones on. Then we grown-ups can talk.” Aubrey offered.
Beca bristled, “are you saying Legacy, sorry, I mean Emily is more grown up than I am?”
Aubrey smirked, “if the shoe fits, Hobbit.”
“Weirdo,” Beca muttered under her breath.
“Enough!” Stacie interrupted again. “Go away. Call before you come over. I’ll decide tomorrow if I can stomach more if it.”
“It’s your fault, always calling me Hobbit,” Beca grumbled over her shoulder as she collected her stuff.
Aubrey rolled her eyes but offered a hug first to Emily and then to Stacie, “I can leave her at the hotel.”
Stacie swallowed another laugh as Beca replied, “I know my way around New York, Posen. I don’t need your help to get here.”
“Please, both of you, get some sleep and find your happy places?” Stacie walked them to the door and gave Beca a one-armed hug, “as a favor to me?”
“I’ll try, Legs, but she doesn’t make it easy,” Beca muttered.
Aubrey smiled anyway, “sorry, Stac. I’ll do better after some sleep. I’m just cranky that plans changed again.”
Stacie nodded, said her goodbyes and locked the door behind them. She leaned against it and looked at Emily. “They were like this the whole tour?”
Emily shook her head, “nah, Chloe was there as a buffer.”
“Oh, right,” Stacie pushed off the door. “Think they will survive working together without her?”
“Yeah,” Emily laughed, “I don’t think they need Chloe exactly. Anyone they don’t know is around and they straighten right up. It’s fun to watch when Theo shows up, they double team him.”
Stacie yawned, “I’m gonna check on Bella and see if I can cheat some sleep. You gonna be ok out here or up there,” she pointed at the loft. “It’s your choice.”
“I’m fine.” Emily smiled and nodded. “You will let me pay my share, won’t you?” She decided she would wait for tomorrow to ask what cheating some sleep meant. Stacie looked wiped.
“Not yet. If you stay longer than a couple of weeks, we have to change the lease anyway and we can talk about it then.” Stacie shook her head.
“Ok,” Emily decided she would figure out other ways she could help. “See you in the morning.”
Stacie yawned once more and waved a goodnight before heading down the hall to see if she could coax Bella into a snack and a diaper change. She wasn’t used to so many people.
Chapter 4: Liquid of Life
A couple of scenes where different pairings bond over coffee, like ya do.
Emily made her way out of the loft, still yawning as she hit the first floor. “Do I smell coffee?”
Stacie looked up from where she sat, Bella in one arm and a cup of coffee in her free hand. “Sure do. Creamer in the fridge. Sugar by the coffee. Mugs in the cabinet behind the machine.” She yawned before sipping more coffee.
Emily nodded and went about pouring and preparing her cup. She smiled at Stacie and Bella as she joined them at the breakfast nook. “The loft is comfy, Stac. Thank you.”
“I’m sorry about the desk. I’m not sure how to get it down without hiring a company. That’s how it got up there.” Stacie winced. “I could pull the futon mattress up, but if you decide you want to stay longer, we can call for different furniture and hire someone to move it around.”
“It’s fine, really.” Emily insisted, “I’ve been living like a student for almost four years. It’s bigger than my dorm room.”
Stacie nodded, “I guess it is.” She put her cup down. “Sorry, I’m not used to company, and Bella still doesn’t sleep through the night.”
Emily’s eyes widened. “That’s what you meant by cheat sleep!” Emily blushed, “I should have realized. I took child development classes. I’m a clod.”
“Be nice,” Stacie said through a yawn. “The pediatrician told me it would be rough, these first few months, but I’d gotten into a sort of rhythm of just sleeping when she does.”
“Then we showed up and messed it all up.” Emily shook her head. “When did she eat last?”
Stacie stretched her back a little. “Um, she finished a little while ago.” She looked at the clock on the oven. “Maybe twenty minutes.”
Emily put her coffee down and stood up. “Ok, give her to me and bring out her diaper bag.”
“Emily,” Stacie began to protest.
“Don’t argue. You won’t be any good to her if you get sick. I’m here now, I can help.” Emily insisted.
Stacie let Emily take Bella expertly and smiled in surprise, “you have experience with babies?”
Emily laughed, “I have fifteen cousins and too many of them have kids. I started babysitting when I was twelve.”
“Ok, then.” Stacie laughed, “if I understand your intentions, I get a nap? I mean a real, no interruptions, ‘sleep till I’m done’ nap?”
“Maybe.” Emily hedged. “Is she able to take a bottle?”
Stacie nodded. “She doesn’t like it as much as mama, but she will take it. I pumped this morning. I left some in the fridge.”
Emily nodded, “then, yes, sleep as long as you can. I’ll tell Beca and Aubs to wait until you wake to come over.”
“I won’t sleep that long.” Stacie protested again.
“You might. Now where is that diaper bag and get thee to your bed.” Emily teased.
Stacie rolled her eyes, but the thought of uninterrupted sleep was a powerful incentive. She brought out a blanket and the diaper bag. “Are you sure you know...?”
Emily nodded as she took the supplies. “Scoot!” She smiled, “I got this. Trust me?”
“Of course,” Stacie said, although she hesitated a moment longer.
Emily ignored her, laid out the blanket, retrieved her coffee and settled down with her back against the couch. She put down the cup, turned on the tv and surfed for an old movie musical. “Great excuse to watch one when no one else can complain.”
Stacie grinned, remembering Aubrey’s stance the night before and nodded, “alright. You win. Wake me if you need anything.”
“I will. But I won’t.” Emily smirked. “I won’t need anything I mean. Sleep well.” She hit play and turned the sound down, so it didn’t carry down the hall.
“Thanks,” Stacie said with a smile as she headed to her bedroom. She fell onto the bed, wrapped herself up in her blankets and sighed contentedly. Oh, the idea of blissful sleep. She was still smiling as she dropped off.
Emily fished her phone out of her robe and started a group text.
Emily: hey guys, don’t come over too early.
Aubrey: I don’t think sleeping beauty is up yet
Beca: haha. What’s up, Em?
Emily: Bella still doesn’t sleep through the night. Stacie is wiped.
Aubrey: oh shoot, I should have thought of that.
Beca: oops late night a bad idea, I guess.
Aubrey: saved me, Hobbit, I would suck as a doula.
Emily: you haven’t trained yet, Aubs. Be nice to you.
Beca: yeah, Posen you woulda been great till the mom puked or something
Aubrey: thanks, I think.
Beca: no sweat. Hey, Em, wanna send me that song idea?
Emily: yeah, I can do that. It’s really rough still.
Beca: what’s it about?
Emily hesitated; she was unsure she was ready for it to be common knowledge. She chewed on her lower lip, took a deep breath and then typed.
Emily: I wanna be like most girls.
Beca: I’m not following.
Emily: you know how guys say stupid stuff like ‘you aren’t like most girls?’
Aubrey: yeah, like it is a compliment.
Emily: yeah, but it’s not. They don’t get how different we all are.
Beca: ok, I’m listening.
Emily: so, I wanna be like most girls. Smart like Stacie, or graceful like Chloe, or funny like Amy.
Beca: I’m liking it.
Emily: If I do it right, I’ll use a trait for every Bella by the time I’m through.
Aubrey: that’s sweet, Em.
Beca: yeah, as long as bitchy isn’t mine.
Emily: I’ll never tell.
Aubrey: good girl!
Beca: shit, I thought you were the sweet one!
Emily: I haven’t captured the tune yet, but I will sing into my phone after Stacie wakes up, ok?
Beca: just wait, you can sing into my program when I get there.
Emily: ok. I’ll text you guys when she wakes up.
Aubrey: thanks, Em. Hey, Hobbit, wanna grab breakfast since you are up?
Beca: with an invite like that? How can I say no.
Emily laughed as she put down her phone and returned her attention to the movie she was watching. She really wondered if they were going to survive touring together.
About half an hour later, Beca met Aubrey down in the hotel cafe. “Morning, Posen.”
“Morning, Mitchell.” Aubrey was just emptying the second sugar packet into her coffee. “Ordered you a cup.”
“I may have to change my opinion about you,” Beca smirked as she slid into the booth and picked up the cup. “I mean, unless this is poisoned.”
Aubrey chuckled, “what and kill my cash cow?”
Beca pretended offense, “who are you calling a cow?”
The sparring ceased as the waitress stopped by to take their order. When they were alone again, Aubrey spoke while thoughtfully stirring her coffee. “I am sorry I was wrong about the arrangement.”
“It’s ok.” Beca shrugged, “after we packed up Amy’s and Chloe’s stuff, I was starting to think staying there wasn’t such a good idea after all.” She looked up at Aubrey. “It’s really weird not seeing her every day.”
Aubrey nodded sympathetically. “I remember. We had been roommates since freshman year. It was so strange to go from talking almost every night before bed to texting a few times a week.” She smiled, “it must be harder for you.”
Beca rolled her eyes, “I don’t see why.”
“Come on, Hobbit, this is me. I know how you feel about her.” Aubrey said softly.
“She doesn’t feel the same, Posen . If she did, she doesn’t now. I waited too long.” Beca admitted.
Aubrey put her spoon down. “You don’t know that.”
They were interrupted by their food arriving. Once again alone, Beca sighed, “maybe I don’t know that, but I sure think it’s true.”
“Do you want her back?” Aubrey pressed a little harder.
“Yes. No. I don’t know.” Beca growled her frustration. “I tried to show her how I felt. She said she didn’t feel special. I failed.”
Aubrey frowned, “when did she say that?”
Beca sipped her coffee, “I forgot about the aquarium thing. She came home from work with the old Bella uniform on. I asked if she wore it to work. She had, under her scrubs. She said it reminded her of when she was special.”
“Ouch.” Aubrey winced, “but maybe she didn’t mean you. Maybe she meant when we got accolades.”
“Then she bet all the new Bellas had boyfriends.” Beca added, pointedly.
Aubrey frowned, “what does that mean?”
Beca shrugged, “I dunno. But then she tossed us all over for Captain America. It’s clear I’m not what she wants.”
“I don’t understand,” Aubrey shook her head. “She’s impulsive, and has a hell of a stubborn streak, but I’ve never seen her look at anyone like she looks at you.”
“Well, by the time I sacked up, she moved on.” Beca picked at her food, “can we talk about something else?”
Aubrey nodded, “yeah. Sure. Just, if you change your mind, let me know?”
Beca shrugged, “you mean about winning her back?”
“Yeah,” Aubrey admitted, “I really thought you guys could be happy.”
“Nice you worry about her being happy, Posen. I’m not sure she’s as good a friend as you are.” Beca groused.
Aubrey smiled, “you’re just hurt. It’ll all come out right. You gotta believe.”
Beca arched a brow, “for someone against rom-coms that comes close to dialogue straight from the worst of them.”
“Yeah, but two girls? That pisses the patriarchy off.” Aubrey winked.
Beca laughed, and they changed the subject. She did ponder the question, though. Could she get Chloe? She couldn’t say back, since she never really had her. Did she want to try to get the girl? She wasn’t sure. If she was being a good friend, wishing a friend to be happy, shouldn’t she leave well enough alone? She shook her head and took a bite of her breakfast. This was way too much heavy stuff before her second cup of coffee.
Chapter 5: Jump!
Memories back up in the girls in their dreams.
Beca sat up abruptly. She grabbed her phone and hesitated. She bypassed two other names and sent a text.
Beca: you ok?
Aubrey: yeah, what’s up?
Beca: we all got off that damn boat, right?
Aubrey: oh, Hobbit. I promise. Everyone is ok.
Beca: this isn’t home.
Aubrey: I know. I’m sorry. That home isn’t yours anymore.
Beca: it isn’t.
Aubrey: we will get you a new one soon. I promise.
Beca: I suck at change, Posen
Aubrey: I get it. I’ll strong arm Theo.
Aubrey: yeah. I’ll get you a new place and settled and when you have a home base, you will feel better.
Beca: ok. I can do this.
Aubrey: you can
Beca: ok. Sorry to wake you.
Aubrey: it’s why I’m here. No worries.
Beca smiled at the phone, put it down on the nightstand and tried to slow her beating heart. Everyone got off the damn boat. Posen wouldn’t lie.
On the other side of the city, Stacie jumped awake to a loud cry. She checked on Bella, but it didn’t sound right. She hurried out to the living room, afraid there was something going on in the hall or out on the street when it came again. Her head snapped up toward the loft. “Shit.” She muttered. As quickly as she could, she climbed up into the elevated room.
Stacie found Emily tossing restlessly, tangled in the sheets that were only partially still covering the futon mattress. She sat down beside the futon and placed a quieting hand on Emily’s shoulder. “Shhhh, Em, it’s ok. You are dreaming. Come on, sweetie, wake up.”
“Jump!” Emily wrenched free and sat upright then gasped as her eyes flew open in surprise. She looked around and saw Stacie. Without another word, she grabbed on and buried her head in Stacie’s shoulder.
“Shhhh,” Stacie repeated. She settled herself into a more comfortable position and held Emily close, rubbing her back with one hand. She stroked Emily’s hair with her other hand as she gently rocked back and forth as if she were soothing Bella. “It’s ok, Em, it’s just a dream.”
“She wouldn’t jump.” Emily hiccupped. “They didn’t jump.”
“Everyone is ok, Em. We have texted with all of them. Everyone got free.” Stacie murmured softly, still rocking to console Emily. “No one got left behind.”
Some of the tension left Emily’s body. “It was awful, Stac. Aubrey didn’t move to the rail with the rest of us. Then there was fire and an explosion and Amy and Beca were still on board.”
Stacie continued to rock Emily, “they are all ok, Em. We saw Aubrey and Beca just last night. They’re here in New York, remember? Amy was on the chat. She’s with her mom.”
Emily nodded. “It was so real.”
“I know, sweetie. You are just processing. It was scary, what you guys went through. It’s gonna take some time for your memories to sort it out and put it away.” Stacie continued to speak softly. “But you are ok. And you are gonna continue to be ok. I promise.”
Emily tried to pull free from the embrace. Stacie let her, although she kept a hand on Emily’s shoulder. “Oh, god, I woke you up. Did I wake Bella?”
“Bella is fine. I’m fine. Come here.” Stacie pulled Emily close again. “Let me give you another hug.”
Emily let Stacie hold her again and closed her eyes. They flew open again when the first thing she imagined was sitting on the deck. The dream was starting over again. “I don’t think I can go back to sleep. I don’t want to keep you up.”
“Then come with me.” Stacie stood and offered a hand to Emily.
Stacie smiled, “the first rule of nightmares is to change the location. You can come share my bed.”
“I can’t,” Emily shook her head.
“Afraid I will bite?” Stacie teased. “The hunter is still exhausted from Bella forcing her way into this world, Em. I promise I won’t assault you. But if you would feel more comfortable, then sleep on the couch.”
Emily still resisted, although she did put her hand in Stacie’s. “I don’t know.”
Stacie pulled Emily to a standing position. “I do. I’m not kidding. First rule of nightmares is to move to a new space that feels safer. Tomorrow this loft may be fine again. If it’s not, we settle you in the living room.”
“You only have three rooms, Stacie. What if I ruin all three?” Emily grumbled.
“We redecorate. Now, are you gonna let me get some sleep before Bella wakes me again?” Stacie arched an eyebrow.
Emily nodded, “I’m sorry. How about I take the couch tonight. Maybe tomorrow I can get you another good long nap.”
Stacie started down to the living room. “Suit yourself.” She waited at the bottom until Emily was safely on the floor. “Lie down. I’ll get a pillow and a sheet for you. Do you need a blanket?”
“Um, yeah. It’s chillier down here.” Emily rubbed her bare arms where they extended from her t-shirt sleeves.
“On the way. Thermostat is on the wall,” Stacie pointed, “I try to keep it a little cool to keep costs down, but we can change it.”
Emily shook her head as she sat on the couch, “it’s fine.”
Stacie returned from the hall with the extra bedding. “You are still sitting up.” She eyed Emily with a mock glare.
“Sorry,” Emily scooted down and put her head on the offered pillow.
As Stacie covered Emily with the blanket she whispered, “you apologize too much.” Then she kissed the top of Emily’s head. “Think happy thoughts, Em. Everyone is ok.” She sat down and stroked Emily’s hair. “Think about Worlds. We were all there, including your mom. Or maybe the retreat. Remember the mud pit?”
Emily smiled as the hair stroking and soft voice lulled her back to sleep. “Flo tried to kill me on the lake.”
“She never would, although I recall we all got rambunctious on that slippery thing. Remember the big balloon thing and flying through the air?” Stacie kept the stories coming. “And Lilly getting stuck on the zip line.”
“Esther.” Emily corrected Stacie sleepily.
Stacie smiled, “right. Esther. How about the net trap and Aubrey wouldn’t let us have a ladder?”
Emily smiled again, “symbol of the patriarchy.”
“Right.” Stacie tucked a strand of hair out of Emily’s face. “Better sleep before the General makes us get up early for calisthenics.”
“That’s the worst.” Emily agreed as she snuggled under her blanket.
Stacie waited a few minutes longer to be sure Emily had really fallen asleep before she stood quietly and returned to her own room. As she laid back down, she wondered how the rest of them were faring.
Beca was still sitting up in bed, holding her knees to her chest when she heard a noise in the sitting room of her suite. She carefully crept out of bed to see what was going on and then relaxed why she recognized Posen. “What are you doing here?”
Aubrey jumped and then sheepishly touched her messy bun with a hand nervously. “The suite door was still unlocked. I just wanted to check on you. After we talked that stupid yacht showed up in my dream.”
“Ugh.” Beca winced. “Have a seat. Want some water?”
“That’d be nice. Sorry I woke you.” Aubrey said as she sat down.
Beca shook her head. “You didn’t. I hadn’t been able to go back to sleep.” She returned from the kitchenette and offered Aubrey a cold bottle of water before she sat down nearby and opened her own. “I thought about calling Beale or Ames, but it’s still too early overseas.”
“Are you sure?” Aubrey tried to do the calculation. “I thought it was later there, not earlier.”
“Shit, did I go backward again?” Beca snorted as she tried to sip her water. “I keep forgetting if I add hours or subtract.”
Aubrey got her bottle open. “Add. Do you wanna call?
Beca shook her head, “not now. Before. When I texted you.”
“Ah,” Aubrey nodded. “I hope I’m a passable substitute.”
“I didn’t mean that.” Beca blushed. “It’s just habit. I’ve talked or texted to them for years. I gotta develop a new habit is all.”
Aubrey shook her head, “no, you don’t. You just have to remember the time difference. They are still your best friends.”
Beca tilted her head to one side. “It’s too fucking late to figure this out. Look, you wanna stay in here tonight?”
“If you don’t mind?” Aubrey smiled, a little embarrassed. “I just need a change of scenery.”
“No problem, weirdo.” Beca stood up and started out of the room, hesitating just long enough to pat Aubrey on the shoulder. “I’ll pull the bedspread off the bed and bring one of the pillows.”
Aubrey smiled and nodded, still sipping her water. There was a strange comfort to knowing she wasn’t the only one with bad dreams. Then again, she wouldn’t have wished them on her worst enemy. But maybe having survived the experience the first time, they could help each other survive the memories. She made a mental note to check on the other girls in the morning.
Chapter 6: Checking In
After nightmares bothered Beca and Aubrey, Aubrey texts the Bella chat to see how the others are doing.
Aubrey: sorry everyone, need another roll call.
Ashley: it’s ok, I don’t mind
Jessica: yeah, nice to check in
Aubrey: you guys ok?
Ashley: a little rough this week
Emily: me too. Lousy dreams.
Amy: Sorry if I’m late, left my phone on the table
Chloe: hey guys. I’m here
Aubrey: Beca is in the shower but she will be here soon.
Chloe: how do you know Beca is in the shower?
Aubrey: relax Elf, we’re sharing a suite at the Hilton.
Amy: nice choice Posen. Put it on the expense account.
Aubrey: I will, thanks Ames. Anyone hear from Flo, CR or Esther?
Flo: I’m here, just can’t type till I have a lull.
Esther: me too, sorry. Was helping out a buddy.
Aubrey: nice of you Esther.
CR: I’m the buddy.
Aubrey: are you ok, CR?
CR: afraid I got a little out of hand last night.
CR: ima need to spend time in treatment
Amy: what can I do to help, CR?
CR: dunno, Ames. Fell off the gambling wagon, caught a guy cheating, punched him.
CR: he’s pressing charges.
Aubrey: on it, Ames. CR, text me your location. I’ll have a lawyer there by this afternoon.
Amy: See if she can be released to me. I got a trainer and nutritionist here; I can ask my therapist to help and CR, you can stay with me.
CR: that’s too much, Ames.
Amy: it’s not enough, CR. You guys stood by me and then my sperm donor threatened you.
Aubrey: lawyer on it, Ames. CR, do you have a passport?
CR: I surrendered it when Esther bailed me out.
Aubrey: ok, we should get it back after we finish the negotiations. I’ll get the guy to drop charges, it’s easier.
CR: how you gonna do that?
Amy: never saw a guy who didn’t want a hefty settlement
Beca: shit, what did I miss.
Chloe: read and catch up, Beca
Flo: oh, Chica! Go stay with Amy, take care of you.
Beca: Ames, can you help if any of the rest of us need help? I’m still in my first 90 days, no insurance yet.
Amy: you bet, ShawShank. Posen, can you help me set up an account to help the girls?
Aubrey: gotta worry about gift taxes, Amy.
Amy: my accountant worries about gift taxes. I worry about my mates.
Aubrey: ok, I’ll work on it. Thanks, Amy
Amy: you all having a hard time?
Aubrey: Em, where’s Stacie?
Emily: she thought this might be about, you know, the end of the tour. She felt funny watching.
Amy: it is but she’s still a Bella, get her ass on the phone.
Stacie: jeeze, Hobart, I was being respectful.
Stacie: shit, CR, how can I help?
Amy: see, Conrad? We don’t need respect, we need teamwork
Amy: Beale, when are you going back to the states?
Chloe: um, I...
Amy: get your cranky ass back and let me know where you are. Either that or join CR here with me.
Amy: I got no time for Captain America if he takes away your sunshine.
Aubrey: she nailed you, Elf. What’s got you cranky?
Chloe: I don’t wanna talk about it.
Beca: text me later?
CR: Chloe I get you want privacy and shit, but I thought we were all family.
Aubrey: it’s ok, CR, not all of us are as brave as you are. But I got your back.
Chloe: make me sound like a coward.
Aubrey: I don’t mean to. I just mean we all process in different ways. CR felt she could ask for help.
Aubrey: you didn’t. No right or wrong, just different.
Beca: well, Posen and I both had bad dreams, probably like Legacy did.
Emily: can I not be Legacy anymore?
Beca: right, sorry.
Amy: why not?
Emily: quit school, didn’t finish the season.
Amy: shit. Need to bring you here?
Stacie: she’s staying with me, Ames.
Amy: see, Legs? Teamwork. Ok, who else?
Ashley: um, I’ve been struggling too.
Jessica: yeah, I feel bad about, well, you know.
Chloe: oh shit, we all pointed Ashley out. I’m so sorry.
Aubrey: after you got off the phone, your dad asked which was Jessica and Ashley.
Amy: shit, I shoulda castrated him. I’m sorry guys, I made a bad joke out of nerves.
Amy: learning I’m a real shit when I’m scared. Speaking of being a shit, Emily, I was really awful to you and I’m sorry.
Emily: it’s ok, Amy.
Amy: no, it’s not. I started out mad that you were so damn talented.
Amy: then you grew on me
Beca: like mold? Or the way Posen grew on me.
Aubrey: laugh it up, Hobbit.
Amy: guys I’m trying to be sincere here.
Amy: anyway, that morning I dove at you was way too far. I’m really sorry.
Emily: now that I see who your dad is? I get it. I’m sorry too.
Chloe: and I’m sorry, Ashley.
Ashley: I started seeing a therapist, try to deal with my upset.
Jessica: we’re sort of seeing her together.
Amy: that’s like being sorta pregnant, Jessica. Give the info to Aubrey, she’ll make sure the cost is covered.
Ashley: thanks, Amy.
Amy: thanks for not hating me.
Aubrey: ok I think we have nearly covered everyone...Esther?
Esther: I’m good. I know I joked about Satan leaving my body, but the whole thing did change me
Esther: I’m not afraid to just be me anymore. Wanna enjoy life, you know?
Emily: yeah, I know. I couldn’t sing for a trophy after we sang for our lives.
Beca: that’s deep, guys.
Aubrey: well, stay in touch, Esther. Let me know how Amy and I can help.
Esther: I will.
Flo: still here Chica. Catching up.
Aubrey: are you ok?
Flo: si, Chica. Unpleasant as it was, it was not my first kidnapping, or the first time my life was threatened.
Chloe: shit, Flo, you weren’t kidding about the stories you told in college?
Flo: no, Chica. My town is dangerous. I am glad to have lived through my time there, and my time with you.
Amy: do you hate me, Flo?
Flo: not a chance, Chica. Many of my amigas have family who do bad things. They are not their family, and neither are you.
Amy: thanks, Flo. Anyone got something they wanna say? I deserve it.
Stacie: read what she said again, Hobart. You aren’t your family.
Flo: si, mamacita thank you for backing me up.
Stacie: any time, Flo.
Aubrey: ok, did I miss anyone or anything?
CR: just that Chloe won’t fess up.
Chloe: jeeze, CR, dog with a bone.
Amy: you never answered my question though, Ginger. When are you going back to the states, or are you coming here?
Chloe: I think I go back to the states next week. I don’t know where I will be, though.
Flo: you can stay with me in Atlanta.
Chloe: thanks, Flo. I’ll call you.
Stacie: you know we can always make room for you in New York.
Beca: yeah, I gotta go to Vegas in May, but after that me and Posen hope to land in New York, too.
Amy: glad you two can put aside your snark and work together.
Aubrey: it isn’t easy, but the Hobbit is growing on me, too.
Beca: ew, you make me sound like a cancer.
Aubrey: which is worse? Cancer or mold?
Stacie: you are both ridiculous! You guys won’t believe how often I have to separate them.
Emily: good practice for if you give Bella a sibling.
Stacie: bite your tongue. The sibling bullshit between Posen and Mitchell makes me swear off more children.
Amy: well, go do your swearing elsewhere. I’m off to meet with some more lawyers about restitution.
Amy: If I have any money left at the end of the year, I’ll move back and give you girls shit.
Aubrey: have your mom call me, Ames. I want to make sure you don’t blow through all that cash.
Amy: I’m more worried about the court taking it, but I’ll have her call you.
Amy: besides, she can help you set up that fund for the girls.
Aubrey: deal. Ok, back to the subject at hand, did I miss anyone other than Beale?
Aubrey watched her phone as each of the other Bellas declined needing more help and signed off. When the chat was over, she sent a direct message.
Aubrey: what gives?
Chloe: don’t tell anyone yet I wanna tell Beca myself
Aubrey: are you ok? Don’t tell me you are pregnant
Chloe: not pregnant. Chicago treats all of his clients the way he treated me
Aubrey: shit, I’m sorry, Elf. What is your plan?
Chloe: well, I’m going to be a model.
Aubrey: excuse me?
Chloe: not a runway model, I’m too short
Chloe: a photographer here in Paris saw me in a cafe.
Chloe: she took some pictures and is showing them around
Chloe: she expects me to get picked up as the face of some product.
Aubrey: wow! That’s like a story straight out of Hollywood!
Chloe: I know, right? So, I’m waiting for her to tell me where to fly to.
Chloe: she expects New York or Los Angeles, but I may have to stay in Paris
Chloe: I’ll tell the others when I know where and what.
Aubrey: ok Elf I won’t say anything yet. Don’t wait too long though.
Aubrey: you know the Hobbit will be waiting for your call.
Chloe: ok I’ll call her tomorrow. Sorry I was snippy before
Aubrey: yeah, what was that?
Chloe: forgot I don’t get to be the one who shares a suite with her anymore
Aubrey: you guys really gotta talk.
Chloe: we lived together for six years, Elf. If it was gonna happen it would have
Aubrey: you could have said something.
Chloe: she could have, too
Aubrey: what happened to no boundaries Beale?
Chloe: didn’t want to do all the work.
Aubrey: are you sure, hun?
Chloe: let’s see what it looks like when we see each other after a long separation
Chloe: we’ve not been apart for longer than a week in six years
Chloe: let’s see if distance makes the heart grow fonder
Aubrey: just be careful - I’d hate for either of you to get hurt
Chloe: she really is growing on you
Aubrey: eh watching out for you.
Chloe: sure. Thanks. Ttys elf
Aubrey: ttys love ya
Chloe: back atcha
Aubrey couldn’t help but think Chloe was playing with fire.
Chapter 7: Bombshell
Chloe drops her bombshell on Beca, who tries to be a good friend despite her broken heart.
Stacie sat on the sofa, one hand rubbing Bella’s belly as the baby slept beside her. She glanced up at the sounds of people talking in the loft and shook her head. “I didn’t realize how much I was missing that.”
Aubrey smiled as she picked up her cup of tea. “Noise?”
“Happy noise.” Stacie laughed. “The Bella house was almost always full of happy noise. When I went to get my master’s, I stayed in an apartment off campus. The noise there was different. A lot of people came and went, but mostly they were grumbling about work or something. Once in a while a child would laugh or someone’s party would get loud, but it happened so seldom, I forgot what happy noise sounded like.”
“I think I understand.” Aubrey tilted her head and listened to the rumble of two voices talking excitedly over each other. She couldn’t decipher what they were saying, but as Stacie said, it sounded happy. “The last night of most retreats had happy sounds. It was a nice way to cap a weekend that was often dicey at best.”
Stacie nodded, “I forgot, you never really stayed at the Bella house.”
“Nope,” Aubrey shook her head. “You guys got the house after the win. We were not a big enough deal when I was on the team.” She shrugged, “puking on a live streamed event wasn’t exactly something the school wanted to honor.”
“It’s unfair though. You didn’t get to enjoy the spoils of victory.”
Aubrey smiled fondly, “you are sweet. The victory was yours though. I was in the way.”
Stacie rolled her eyes, “you are part of our sound and you know it. When Beca finally figured it out at the retreat, you were the high line. That’s what gave her the idea to include alumni.”
Aubrey was interrupted before she could respond by Emily coming down from the loft. “Hey,” Aubrey greeted her. “How’s the song coming?”
“Pretty good, I think. I want Beca to do the demo and she wants me to do it,” Emily laughed quietly. “But she got a phone call. I thought I would give her privacy.”
Bella started to kick and fuss, and Stacie stood, “nice of you. I think little Miss needs changing.”
Emily hurried over, “I’ll take her. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“You didn’t interrupt,” Aubrey chuckled, “we are just catching up.”
“It’s ok, Em. I got it.” Stacie smiled.
“Please?” Emily smiled shyly, “I really like to help.”
Stacie gave in and handed her daughter over. “Call me if she turns out to be hungry.”
Emily nodded. “I will,” she replied as she left the room.
Aubrey watched her go, then asked Stacie, “there’s not a different sound for hungry?”
“Probably,” Stacie admitted as she sat back down. “Truth be told, I’m too tired to have figured it out. I’m sure I will.”
“Or Emily will,” Aubrey smiled again, “she’s really taken with Bella.”
Stacie nodded, “better she be besotted with Bella then decide she needs her own. I wanted a baby as a freshman. I’m glad I waited until after my master’s. I would hate to see Emily tied down younger than I am.”
Aubrey nodded thoughtfully, “that’s a good point. How long until Bella lets you sleep?”
“I’m crossing my fingers it's three months, but it could be as late as six.” Stacie sighed.
While Aubrey and Stacie continued their chat and Emily tended Bella, Beca was grinning at the person on her phone screen. “It’s really good to see you, Chlo. Did you mean it when you said you might be back soon?”
Chloe nodded, although her smile was more guarded. “Things didn’t work out with Chicago.”
Beca tried to look sympathetic, but her heart started pounding. “Sorry. I know you really liked him.”
“It turns out he is that charming to a different girl every tour.” Chloe shrugged and sighed. “But it wasn’t a complete loss. I got to sing some more.”
“That’s great, Chlo. I bet you were terrific as a mistress of ceremonies.” Beca said enthusiastically.
Chloe chuckled, “I don’t know about that, but it afforded me another opportunity.”
Beca frowned slightly, “opportunity? What do you mean?”
“A photographer likes my look. She thinks I can be the face of a product or two. She’s signing me to Elite Modeling. They just haven’t decided where they want me based.”
“That’s great!” Beca smiled broadly, despite her stomach dropping. “I always said you were the prettiest Bella.”
Chloe snorted, “I never heard you say that.”
Beca fidgeted, “well, I did. Anyway, where might you be based?”
“Paris, New York, Toronto or Los Angeles.” Chloe chewed her lower lip.
“Wow,” Beca said again. “Well, if you end up in New York, maybe we can all be nearby again.”
Chloe nodded. Then she took a deep breath. “This is hard to say, so let me finish?”
Beca nodded, although now her stomach tightened.
“I think us spending time away from each other is a good thing. We got so used to being roommates that I think we started to sort of take each other for granted. Like when we thought we didn’t have to do breakdowns any more senior year. We forgot to work on us.”
Beca opened her mouth and then closed it again.
“I still value you, Becs. But you are gonna go be a rock star. You won’t have time to work on us, our friendship.” Chloe swallowed, “I don’t like feeling like I’m on a shelf.”
“I never meant to,” Beca started.
Chloe smiled and nodded, “I know. You just have this focus. When it’s on me, I feel like we can do anything. But when it’s on something else, I feel left out.” Chloe wiped a tear away. “I’m not giving up on us, Becs, I just want to feel special again.”
Beca nodded, “you are. You should feel that way. I’m sorry I couldn’t be what you needed.”
“You are a great friend, Beca. My best friend. But I need a life that isn’t following you around.” Chloe sighed, “do you understand?”
“Yeah.” Beca smiled as best she could. “Can we still talk and text sometimes?”
Chloe nodded, “I count on it. Who else is gonna keep me from getting a big head?”
Beca laughed quietly. “You are too humble for that.” She hesitated and then added. “I’ll miss you. Love you, ya know?” It was a chicken way to say it, but Beca feared she would never get another chance.
“Love you too, Becs. Let’s see how the next six months turn out. We both may be longing for ramen and that tiny apartment by then.” Chloe smiled warmly.
“Yeah,” Beca smiled in spite of herself. “I already do.”
Chloe tilted her head to one side. “You are gonna be big, Beca Effin Mitchell. And I will always be your number one fan. Talk to you soon?”
Beca nodded, “talk to you soon.” When the connection ended, she sat for a long time, just staring at the phone. She heard a sound behind her and tried to wipe her eyes quickly. “Are you ready to get back to work, Em?”
“She told you she’s not coming back?” Aubrey asked quietly.
“You knew?” Beca whirled and glared.
Aubrey shook her head, “I suspected. She did tell me last night about the modeling offer. Other things made me think she wanted a fresh start on her own, without any of us.”
Beca’s shoulders drooped. “I thought we were different.”
Aubrey sat down next to Beca and slipped an arm around her shoulders. “You were. She forgot. She will remember. Give her time.”
Beca rested her head against Aubrey. “I want to, but I’m scared. What if I wait and she never comes back?”
“Never is a long time, Hobbit. Let’s get through today. You still have Stacie, and Emily. You still have the rest of the Bellas. You even still have Beale. She’s just needing to find herself.”
Beca nodded, “I guess.”
Aubrey squeezed her friend. “You aren’t alone, Hobbit. I promise.” Aubrey just hoped it would be enough.
After Beca pulled herself together, they both went downstairs to join Emily and Stacie. Stacie took one look at Beca and asked, “whose ass do I kick?”
Beca shook her head as Aubrey sat down and picked up her cold tea. “No one, Legs. I guess I ought to wait till Beale announces it, but it looks like a modeling agency picked her up.”
Stacie snorted, “isn’t she a little short for modeling?”
“Media, not runway, Stac,” Aubrey explained quietly.
“That’s a good thing, right?” Emily looked puzzled.
Beca smiled and nodded, “it is,” she took a deep breath, “but she sorta broke up with me.”
Emily blinked, “wait.”
Aubrey interrupted, “not dating, Em.”
“Right, we never dated,” Beca confirmed, “but she said she wanted a life where she doesn’t follow me around.”
“She chose to join you in New York.” Stacie protested.
Beca looked at Stacie, her eyes pleading for understanding. “We got too comfortable. I got used to her being there, took her for granted. Now, I gotta learn how to do this without her. She said she would still be my biggest fan,” Beca broke off.
Emily moved quickly to hug Beca, “she’ll have to fight us for the title.” Emily looked at Stacie.
“Damn right. She’ll be too busy with her damn modeling to keep up with the way we are gonna stan you.” Stacie agreed stoutly. “Em, who has the password to the Bella Facebook and Instagram account?”
“I think I have the most recent. What are you thinking?”
Stacie grinned, “built in fan base. Let’s write an invite to a new Beca Mitchell fan page. We’ll post everything to both accounts until we get a good size following.”
Beca wiped her eyes and laughed, “you are crazy, you know?”
“Eh.” Stacie smirked, feeling better for seeing Beca laugh, “what do you think, Bree?”
“It’s brilliant, I wish I had thought of it.” Aubrey smiled over her teacup at the three of them. Just maybe the Bellas could help Beca through the worst of her broken heart.
Chapter 8: Morning
Stacie and Emily catch up, reminisce and wonder about Chloe.
“You are up early.” Stacie smiled as she held Bella in one arm and sipped coffee with her free hand.
Emily rubbed her eyes under her glasses and nodded. With a yawn she replied, “I thought I should get used to getting up with you. You go back to work soon, right?”
Stacie nodded, “yeah, my maternity leave ends next week. I have a backup plan, where I can work from home part of the time, but my boss would really like it for me to be in the office as much as possible.”
“It is ridiculous people are expected back before babies are old enough to sleep through the night.” Emily was shaking her head as she poured herself coffee. “I mean, it’s bad enough for other family members like husbands, partners or siblings. Moms got the hormone thing going too. It’s like we get punished for having children.”
“We do,” Stacie shrugged. “I think Aubrey would say it’s just another symptom of the broken patriarchy. Did you know women couldn’t have credit cards and bank accounts without their husband’s names on them as recently as the 1970s?”
Emily sat down, pushed her glasses further up on her nose and sniffed. “Ridiculous.” She placed both elbows on the table to hold her up. “I promise, I won’t do this when Bella is old enough to sit at the table. I’m just not ready to be upright yet.”
Stacie chuckled, “somehow I think Bella will turn out all right even if she sees you lean on the table, Em. By the time Bella is old enough, I expect you will not be sitting here having coffee before a reasonable hour.”
“Bold of you to think I will be doing something else.” Emily teased. “I suppose you could kick me out. After all, where are you going to keep me and still have room for your daughter.”
“Oh, god, I hope I’ve moved before Bella is old enough for a real bed. Like hell I wanna climb up that loft to put her down every night.” Stacie laughed again. “This is a great temporary arrangement, but it will never do for long term.”
Bella started to wiggle. Stacie stood up, “I should go feed her.”
Emily rolled her eyes. “Go ahead. You don’t have to hide a natural bodily function from me, Stac. It’s not like I don’t know what a breast is for.”
Stacie sat back down with a laugh, “your mother taught you right.”
“Really, my dad did. I think I was all of 9 years old and we were at the mall. Some guy started giving a woman a hard time when she was breastfeeding under a blanket. I mean, seriously? No one could see anything, including the baby!” Emily sighed, “I got worried the baby was going to suffocate, and this guy started berating her for having no decency. My dad got all up in his face, saying he was the indecent one if the sight of a woman feeding a child was a sexual turn on for him. The weirdo blushed and hurried away, but I never forgot it.”
“He sounds like quite a guy,” Stacie said with a smile.
Emily nodded, “he is. Met my mom when they were both freshmen. She says he was her good luck charm, that she has gotten into every ensemble and production she ever auditioned for, once he showed up in her life.”
Stacie chuckled, “maybe he helped her relax enough to enjoy the process.”
“Never thought of it that way,” Emily grinned back. “Maybe he did.”
“Are you really giving up performing?” Stacie changed the subject without looking at Emily. Her eyes were still on Bella.
Emily shrugged, “I think I am. I mean I did enjoy it, but I enjoyed it more with you guys than with the later classes. Maybe that was because I was the only leader for a while, but I think it was just, well, you guys were special.”
Stacie smiled warmly at Emily before bringing her gaze back to her daughter. “We were. It’s funny, because had you asked me that first hood night if I thought I would even be friends with these girls a year later I would have laughed and said no.”
“How come?” Emily leaned back into her chair, taking her coffee up with both hands.
“First of course was Aubrey. She was already so uptight. Our oath included having our throats torn out by wolves if we slept with a Treblemaker.” Stacie laughed at the memory. “Beca hated being touched and walked around with her shoulders scrunched so tightly to avoid physical contact, I worried something was wrong with her neurologically. CR kept groping the goodies,” Stacie pointed at the breast that had no baby attached to it. “Lilly was so quiet you couldn’t hear her talk even when you sat next to her.”
“That was still true my freshman year,” Emily laughed.
Stacie nodded, “that’s right!” She continued listing her memories. “Amy was as brazen and brash as she is now, but then she was somehow worse. She gave me shit for liking sex but boasted about her dozens of boyfriends too.” Stacie shrugged, “CR’s ex-girlfriend was in the group, which made for an interesting dynamic, and Ashley and Jessica were already hooking up.”
“And Chloe?” Emily prompted.
“She only had eyes for Beca. She was dealing with nodes, and singing hurt, but it was clear to anyone with eyes that the only person she cared about was Beca.” Bella had enough, so Stacie lifted her up to pat her back.
Emily sat quietly and considered. “What changed?”
Stacie thought for a moment. “First, the riff off. Even though we lost on a technicality, we really sounded good together. We fell into parts almost like we’d been doing it for years. And when Beca started rapping, it got so quiet you could hear a pin drop.”
“She is really good, I’ve heard her, even though it sorta looks funny for such a little person to sound so tough.” Emily giggled.
“She is really good.” Stacie admitted. “Aubrey wasn’t willing to let us experiment with that sound though, not yet. Not until after Beca improvised a part, we were eliminated and re-instated and Chloe had surgery without telling anyone.”
Emily nodded. She had heard some of this before but getting it in order started to make more sense. “That was the day Aubrey got sick again?”
Stacie nodded, “yeah. Chloe and Aubrey fought, CR was going to protect me, but really just wanted an excuse to grab the goodies again.” Stacie rolled her eyes at the memory. “But afterward, when Aubrey let Beca back into the group and we started to really talk and listen to each other, Chloe admitted to the surgery she’d had because the season was over.”
Emily leaned forward, “but it wasn’t.” She prompted again.
“No, it wasn’t,” Stacie admitted. “It was something else, watching Aubrey struggle between her pride and her love for Chloe. Suddenly she stood up and called Beca by name. When Beca stood up, Aubrey tossed her the pitch pipe and asked what we should do next.”
“Wow,” Emily smiled broadly, “love wins. How cool.”
Stacie nodded and cleaned up Bella now that she was done eating and spitting up. “We went down to the pool again. Beca deferred to Aubrey and let her pick a song. Beca started singing parts for each of us to match, and then Chloe sang lead. That was cool enough, but then Beca started a second song and sang a low line to Aubrey’s high line. Amy and Jessica, I think, started to echo Chloe’s lines and the rest of us just fell into place. It was magic.”
Emily sighed happily. “My mom and I went to the finals that year. I’d seen videos of the different groups over the years, and mom was really hoping Aubrey could redeem herself after getting sick on stage the year before. She hoped a showing of Bella support would help. You guys didn’t need us. You were awesome.”
“We couldn’t have done it without all of us. Aubrey says we didn’t need her, that Jessica sang as high if not higher. But the blend wasn’t as good without her.” Stacie suggested.
“Oh, I remember! I mean, it was cool, what we did for the convention center before CR got hurt, but the blend at the fire pit during the retreat was...” Emily trailed off.
“Magic.” Stacie smiled and filled in. “It really was. I think that’s why Beca thought to bring in the alumni. She wanted Aubrey’s voice in the blend again.”
Emily grinned, “I can see that. I know my mom loved being able to join in, too.”
Stacie nodded, “it’s a great memory. Those three, Chloe, Beca and Aubrey, blend like no one else I know.”
“But it’s awkward as hell when they are all three together, isn’t it?” Emily sighed.
“Yeah,” Stacie sighed as well. “Aubrey is very protective of Chloe. Chloe thinks Beca walks on water.”
Emily interrupted, “thought. Chloe thought Beca walked on water.”
Stacie nodded and corrected herself. “It’s going to be weird not having Chloe around. She’s either had Beca or Aubrey attached at her hip for as long as I’ve known her. To see them without her is just going to be weird.” She stood up, “much as I’ve enjoyed reminiscing, I should take Miss Thing in and get her changed.”
“Ok,” Emily stood as well. “I’ll start breakfast.”
“Oh, you would be my best friend.” Stacie winked as she headed toward the hall.
Emily laughed and called after her. “You only love me for my cooking.”
Stacie laughed back, “not true. I love you for letting me nap.”
They both laughed as they proceeded toward their separate chores. Mornings were going to be ok, even if Stacie was going to have to get used to having someone to talk to.
Chapter 9: Getting Started
Beca has her first opening night since France, but she doesn’t make it easy for Aubrey or Theo.
A few weeks later, Beca smiled as she closed the video program. Sitting in LA didn’t seem so bad when she could see Chloe Beale’s blue eyes in an ad. It was almost as good as seeing them over FaceTime. She picked up her phone.
Beca: Hey saw your pretty eyes on YouTube. Maybelline, huh?
Chloe: well, it’s a brand I actually use. That made it easier. Nice they didn’t make me talk.
Beca: You’ll be a great spokesmodel. You did well, speaking for the Bellas for years.
Chloe: We’ll see. Right now, I’m just looking to continue to get gigs.
Beca: You will, I believe in you.
Chloe: Thanks, Becs. When’s your first show?
Beca: Tonight. 7 pm LA Time, I have no idea what time that is for you.
Chloe: 4 AM - sorry I will miss it.
Beca: it’ll probably end up on Youtube. Well, Khaled’s part will, can’t promise mine will.
Chloe: You will. You are gonna be a star, remember?
Beca: that’s what you keep telling me.
Beca: I gotta go have another meeting about the set list. Talk to ya tomorrow?
Chloe: Yep. Hopefully I’ll see your grand debut on YouTube before we talk.
Beca: ha. We’ll see. Good night.
Chloe: Have a great afternoon. Mwah
Beca smiled at the blown kiss. It was new. Maybe they were going to find a way through all this weirdness of being thousands of miles apart. She looked up at Aubrey, who was just entering the room. “Hey, time for the meeting?”
Aubrey nodded, “Khaled can’t make it, so we are talking to Theo.”
Beca groaned. “Theo doesn’t get it. He has this weird idea that I’m some star vocalist and I just want to mix! I think I’m making progress with Khaled!”
“I know,” Aubrey replied gently. “We just have to get through May. Then we find your apartment, get you settled and give you time to show them what you can do.”
“I wish I had spent more time on mixing something more my speed than Emily’s song. I really like it; I just don’t think it’s for me.” Beca sighed.
Aubrey shrugged, “She’s pretty disappointed, but she’ll get over it. She’s asked Sammy if he can peddle it around for her.”
Beca found her humor in that, “Who knew Sammy was going to be such a big help with her music?”
“You did,” Aubrey snorted, “Now, are you ready?”
“Yeah,” Beca stood up and headed for the door, “Let’s hear what Theo wants me to do.”
Fifteen minutes later, the meeting was not going well.
“I understand you want to do more layering,” Theo sounded patient but looked far from it. “I’m telling you that what will sell is going to be your voice. Why won’t you do ‘Human’ like that first day on tour?” He paced with his hands behind his back.
“I was inspired, Theo.” Beca said with a bored tone of voice. “I had to come up with something to match the way the other groups were ganging up on us. Hitting that opening note was it”
Theo stopped and looked at Beca, “You hit it once, you can do it again.”
Beca shook her head, “That’s not a good note for me to do cold. We’d already done a couple of songs, and I’d been doing warm up for hours with the girls while we traveled to base.”
“So warm up tonight.” Theo was beginning to sound as exasperated as he felt.
Aubrey cleared her throat. “Can we compromise, Theo?” Theo looked her way and waited for her to continue. “We know Khaled likes her layering. What if she did two layered songs and one straight?”
“We are running out of time to get arrangements to the band.” Theo protested.
“She’s an acapella singer, Theo. She sang Human without any accompaniment. Just give me a couple of hours to run through songs I know she has sung before, and we will put a set list together. I promise.” Aubrey smiled.
Theo sighed heavily. After a long pause, he nodded his head. “If this falls flat, you do songs of my choosing after tonight.”
“How is that developing my own material?” Beca asked, batting her eyes with mock innocence.
“Don’t start.” Theo growled. “I said yes, didn’t I? See you at the walk through and you better have three songs ready for tonight.” He headed for the door muttering, “did she say she was going to be difficult?”
Beca smirked then turned to Aubrey. “What have you got in mind, Posen?”
Aubrey arched an eyebrow. “You’re the mixer. Let’s mix this thing.”
“Oh, that’s…” Beca hesitated and then grinned. “That’s brilliant.”
“What is?” Aubrey waited for Beca to explain what her comment had inspired.
“I can record both parts of Dream we did in the pool.” Beca stood up. “I gotta get to my laptop.”
Aubrey stood and followed, “So you will sing Bruno Mars live?”
Beca nodded, “yeah. Theo will be cranky. I don’t think we have the rights yet, but if we do it right, both artists may give me permission to record it, or maybe even record it with me.” She grinned, “You just might be worth your salt after all, weirdo.”
“Look, Hobbit, we still need two others.” Aubrey hurried down the hall to the elevators. “What else are you going to give him? Is there anything you can think of that will make him happy?”
“Sure, I’ll close with Freedom 90. It’s the only song anyone has heard me do. It will have to be my signature piece until we come up with something else.” Beca shrugged.
Aubrey opened the door to their suite. “Ok, get going. We have,” she looked at her watch, “four hours until the walk through. Can you get a good enough take in that time?”
“I think so.” Beca nodded, “The bigger problem is the song he wants me to do straight. I really don’t think I can make the jump to Human.”
“You lie,” Aubrey laughed, “It’s lower than the note you hit to start us off for Just the Way You Are.”
Beca stopped walking and turned to look at Aubrey. “Is it?”
Aubrey stared at her, trying to decide if she was joking. Finally, she sang the opening background pitch Beca had given all those years ago. As she sang it, Beca hummed the opening notes of Human against her teeth. With a laugh she blushed and nodded, “Shit, I had it in my head it was way higher.”
“I swear you say stuff just to piss Theo off and then we have to clean it up. You have been a pain in the ass since I met you.” Aubrey laughed. “Will you do Human then?”
“Are you kidding?” Beca snorted, “not on your life. I’ll tell him you hit the high notes on my loop.”
Aubrey shook her finger at Beca, “You will not.” When Beca snorted, she continued, “Then what will you do?”
Beca started moving again, heading toward her bedroom and the laptop she left charging there. “I have an idea, but since you ain’t for me, I have to think you are against me.” She stuck her tongue out. “You will find out when Theo does.”
“Hobbit.” Aubrey sounded threatening.
“Nope!” Beca slid into her room and closed the door.
Aubrey dropped into a chair by the kitchenette and closed her eyes. “She is making my blood pressure rise.” Then she laughed, “and she is making me talk to myself.” Food. She needed to figure out food. The Hobbit will never take a break for food.
Several hours later, Aubrey stood off stage with Theo beside her. “I told you, Theo, she won’t tell me either.”
“You promised,” Theo reminded Aubrey.
“And she is difficult.” Aubrey reminded him back.
Theo rolled his eyes, “You got that right.” He tilted his head to one side as the opening bars of the Bruno Mars back track began. “That’s higher than the notes in Human.”
Aubrey flinched. She refused to take credit when she knew it wasn’t hers, even if it was what Beca had requested. “Easier to do in a confined space without an audience,” she suggested.
Theo nodded, “Ok, I can give her that.”
Aubrey breathed a silent sigh of relief and watched as he listened.
His irritated grimace turned to a grudging smile, “It’s a good mix” he suggested as she finished. “I’ll look into rights.” As Aubrey smiled back, he asked again, “but you don’t know what’s next?”
Before Aubrey could answer, her eyes widened. “Oh, no.” She could see a stagehand across the way.
“What?” Theo followed her eyes. From backstage they couldn’t hear what Beca was saying to the audience, so he moved to the speaker and turned it up.
“So, yeah, there I was, trying to figure out what to sing to audition for a group I only wanted to join to get my father off my back.” Beca stepped back as a stagehand brought out a small table and a plastic cup. “This is what I came up with.” She picked up the cup and began the rhythm pattern Aubrey knew so well.
“I got my ticket for the long way round.
Two bottle of whiskey for the way
And I sure would like some sweet company…”
Aubrey looked up as Theo stood, dumbstruck. It was a lower key than she tended to sing these days, but no less as striking. Her warm tones resounded through the venue as the audience sat quietly entranced by the magic she made with her cup as her percussion.
When Beca finished, she flipped the cup over one more time, much like she had on the fateful day at Barden. She flicked a glance at the wings and Aubrey could have sworn she winked. Then the crowd went wild.
“What the hell was that?” Theo asked.
“Her audition for the Bellas.” Aubrey answered plainly.
Theo shook his head. “I don’t know if I should thank her or kill her. I have no idea how to market that.”
Aubrey smirked, “Beca Mitchell does her own marketing.”
“Did we say she was difficult?” Theo sighed as he watched Beca begin Freedom 90. He was going to be busy over night, he could tell.
Chapter 10: Changes
Beca goes Viral and Stacie worries Emily is bored.
Aubrey blinked as her phone shook repeatedly. She rubbed her eyes and focused on the alerts to see the Bella chat had gone crazy. Before she could open it, her phone rang. “Emily, I adore you, but this had better be important,” she growled. Emily was bouncing so vigorously that Aubrey had to close her eyes.
“Have you seen? Beca’s gone viral!”
Aubrey’s eyes flew open. “What?”
Emily grinned, “remember the work we did to set up Beca’s fan Facebook and Instagram pages? Well, the new girls set up a YouTube page, too. They found a bootleg of Beca doing Cups last night.”
“Someone bootlegged it?” Aubrey was trying to keep up.
“Yeah!” Emily laughed with delight. “The girls captured it. They keep posting it, every time YouTube takes it down. I guess someone got tired. The Bella page has thousands of hits!”
“Ok, let me call you back. I have to talk to Theo.” Aubrey rubbed her eyes and disconnected, calling Theo using voice only seconds later. “Theo, have you heard?”
Theo chuckled. “Yes, and legal is trying to decide what to do about it. They first are licensing the song. Epic and Sony want a video out as soon as we can, and a studio cut to release on streaming sites sooner.”
Aubrey took a deep breath. “No problems, though?”
“Not that we anticipate. Legal says this happens, they just have to pay more to apologize for not getting clearance first.” Theo explained. “How’s Beca?”
“I haven’t talked to her yet. I don’t even know if she is awake yet. Will she have clearance to perform it in Vegas?” Aubrey was holding the bridge of her nose as she tried to concentrate.
Theo laughed quietly again. “I promise. I expect that song every time now.”
Aubrey smiled, “I’m not surprised. Ok. Let me get the star moving so we can figure out what the next step is.”
“We will need to get her on a high-definition station. We can use Khaled’s again. If all goes well, we can release a streaming version with a lyric video officially mid-week” Theo tried to reassure Aubrey.
“You can make it happen that fast?” Aubrey was astonished.
Theo gave up and laughed out loud, “she’s easy, Aubrey. Her cup and her voice. There will be little to do but capture a clean take.”
Aubrey laughed at herself, “good point. Thank you. I’m off to find coffee. Talk to you when Beca wakes up. Let me know when you want to record.”
“That works, Aubrey. May she always surprise me so pleasantly.” Theo concluded.
“You should trust her instincts, Theo. She’s more than a pretty voice.” Aubrey reminded him.
Theo nodded, even though Aubrey couldn’t see him. “So, I have learned. Talk to you soon, Aubrey.”
“Talk to you soon, Theo.” Aubrey closed the connection and got out of bed. After putting on her robe, she headed out to the suite common area to find that caffeine she so craved.
Meanwhile Beca was laughing as Chloe related the same information. “I’m telling you, Mitchell. You’re a hit!”
Beca shook her head. “I can’t believe that goofy song struck a nerve.”
“You always do that song so well.” Chloe replied, suddenly more subdued. “I just saw another bootleg. You did the pool mashup?”
“Yeah, it was sort of inspired by Posen. She told me to remix my situation after an argument with Theo.” Beca ran a hand through her hair. “I only had a couple of hours to make a mix. That one sticks with me even all these years later.”
Chloe smiled warmly. “I wish I could have been there.”
Beca managed to bite off a retort, one reminding the redhead whose choice it was to be apart, replying instead, “I wish you were too. But tell me what’s next for you?” She changed the subject to deflect from her pain at their separation.
“I have a few meetings today. The agency still hasn’t decided on which city will be my home base, but as an American citizen, I’m not staying here or Toronto to start. I’ll either be in Los Angeles or New York. Hopefully, I will know by tonight which one.”
“That’s great, Chlo!” Beca really was pleased for her. “Maybe you can come see me in Vegas if you go to L.A.”
Chloe nodded and smiled, “maybe. I’ll let you know. I should get going. I’m so proud of you.”
“I’m proud of you too,” Beca smiled as they said their goodbyes. She sat and thought about how weird the last few months had been, then realized she smelled coffee. She put on a hoodie over her pajamas, slipped her feet into her slippers and headed out to join Aubrey. “Are you my new best friend?” Beca called out.
Aubrey snorted, “fair weather friend. You only love me for my coffee.” She smirked and handed over a poured cup. “No poison, just pure tar.”
Beca accepted the cup and teased back, “Aw, you noticed.”
“Congratulations.” Aubrey changed the subject, “I’m guessing you have heard?”
“Yeah, Chloe called.” Beca chuckled, “I saw some of the chat, too. I just can’t believe that silly diddle is popular!”
Aubrey shrugged, “you struck a nerve. I even saw kids are trying to replicate it. Theo says the label wants a streaming copy with lyric video by the middle of the week.”
Beca snorted, “they can keep dreaming.”
“Not a dream, Hobbit. If they can get the rights, you are going to use Khaled’s set up and do a bunch of takes. Engineers choose the cleanest and we are off,” Aubrey sipped her own coffee. “And Theo expects it at every show.”
“Shit,” Beca groaned, “I hate when a joke backfires.”
Aubrey grinned. “You should be careful, Mitchell. You are an influencer now. And the Bellas past and present are following.”
Beca shook her head, “did I say shit yet?”
“You did,” Aubrey smirked. “Want to order breakfast or head downstairs?”
“Let’s order in. I don’t think I’m ready for people.” Beca muttered as she tried to answer the Bella chat.
Before Beca got very far, Aubrey’s phone rang again. “Sorry, Em. She just got her coffee.”
“What do you think, Beca? It’s pretty cool, huh?” Emily was still excited.
“Yeah, Em. I’d still rather do one of yours. Don’t you have something catchy like that I can do?” Beca grinned at the excited girl.
Aubrey handed her phone over to Beca. “You guys talk, I’ll order food.”
Beca laughed, “I don’t want to hold up your phone, Posen. Em, I’ll call ya right back.” After she closed the connection Beca teased, “mad I’m making time with your girl?”
“She is not my girl,” Aubrey answered abruptly. “I don’t know why she called me when she wanted to talk to you.”
“I’ll call her back. I promise, I won’t steal her.” Beca teased again as she headed into the bedroom to get her phone.
Before she could dial for room service, Aubrey felt like swearing when her phone rang again. “She’s calling on her own phone, Emily.”
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t look.” Aubrey blushed as she admitted she broke one of her cardinal rules.
Stacie smirked, “does that mean Emily and I share a ringtone, or you never assign special tones?”
Aubrey snorted, “assigning tones is a waste of time. What can I do for you, Conrad?”
“Nice to talk to you too.” Stacie chuckled. “Look, I’m worried about Emily. With you guys gone, she watches Bella and television and that’s about it. How about if she comes out to hang in Vegas with Beca?”
“I don’t know,” Aubrey hesitated. “What about you? Don’t you need the help?”
Stacie shrugged, “lots of single moms manage, I can manage too. I may be able to swing a work from home deal.” She smiled, “my boss has kids, and has been very sympathetic.”
Aubrey studied the image on the screen. “Do you think it would help?”
“Emily? Yeah,” Stacie shrugged again. “She misses writing, and Beca and you.”
“Me?” Aubrey sounded surprised.
Stacie smiled, “you encourage her in a way that matters. What do you say?”
Aubrey frowned, “of course she is welcome. Why ask me?”
“She’s more likely to go if you ask. Then I will encourage her as best I can. But she won’t consider it if you or Mitchell don’t ask.” Stacie replied.
“Alright, I’ll see what I can do. Are you sure?” Aubrey was still hesitant to take away Stacie’s only real support.
Stacie nodded. “She’s bored, Bree.”
Aubrey nodded. “I’ll go see if she is interested right now. Take care of you and Bella though, ok? Or else I’ll sic Amy on you.”
“Promise,” Stacie laughed. After they hung up, she waited in her bedroom until Emily came up the hall.
“Aubrey asked if I wanted to come out to Vegas to work on stuff with Beca.” Emily didn’t beat around the bush.
Stacie smiled up at her roommate. “Do you?”
Emily shrugged, “I dunno. What will you do?”
“I’ll be fine, Em. So will Bella. You gotta do what’s right for you.” Stacie stood up and put her hands onto Emily’s shoulders. “Isn’t that why you took time off from school?”
“Yeah,” Emily chewed her lip and looked over at that crib. “If I go, will you be able to sleep?”
Stacie shrugged, “little Miss and I will work out a new schedule.”
Emily nodded before following up, “can I at least call to sing her goodnight?”
“I’d like that.” Stacie knew this was the right thing to do but couldn’t deny she would miss having adult company. “Just like before. Call early enough for bath time if you want.”
“That’s a deal.” Emily looked back at Stacie. “It’s just three weeks.”
It was Stacie’s turn to nod. “Then we get all three of you back and find your apartments.”
Emily’s eyes widened. “I can’t come back here?”
“Of course, you can,” Stacie hurried to assure Emily. “If you want to, you can. Or stay with Beca or Aubrey. You can have your own place. Whatever works for you.” Stacie squeezed Emily’s arm. “Let’s see what happens in three weeks.”
“Ok,” Emily stepped closer and hugged Stacie. “I’m gonna miss you.”
Stacie hugged back. “I’m going to miss you too.” Better to send the girl away now, before she got too used to the company. Besides, Emily and Beca had hits to write. Bella was Stacie’s choice. She didn’t have to be Emily’s.
Chapter 11: Roomies
Emily, Aubrey and Beca share a suite in Las Vegas. The do some processing of the rescue.
Emily sat on the sofa bed, iPad leaning on her knees. She looked up when Aubrey staggered out from her room. “Morning.”
“Is it?” Aubrey sighed, “I have got to figure out how to sleep!”
Emily put her iPad aside. “What’s wrong? We all scattered by 11. Is that too late?”
Aubrey shook her head, “no. I fell asleep pretty easily. I just woke up at 2 and couldn’t get back to sleep until after 4.”
“Ouch.” Emily commiserated. “I started the coffee.” She offered as she slid out from under her sheet and stood. “Want me to pour you one?”
“Please.” Aubrey sighed. “I thought the weird dreams would go away, but they haven’t.”
Emily nodded. She poured them each a cup, adding vanilla creamer to her own and two spoons of sugar to Aubrey’s. She sat down next to Aubrey at the bar that separated the kitchenette from the common room and handed over the cup. “Mine have gotten a little better. I don’t find myself yelling anymore.” Emily blushed.
Aubrey blew on the hot coffee before taking a grateful sip. “You yelled?”
“Yeah,” Emily admitted. “I even woke Stacie up.”
“What were you yelling?”
Emily sipped her own coffee. “I was yelling at you and Beca and Amy to jump.”
Aubrey looked over at Emily. “Have I thanked you, by the way?”
“Nothing to thank me for,” Emily squirmed. “We were all gonna get off that damn boat.”
“And we did,” Aubrey smiled and patted the back of Emily’s hand. “I did because you came to get me.” It was her turn to blush. “I think I froze.”
Emily shook her head, “I don’t. I think you jumped out of Amy’s way and ended up farther inside the cabin than you expected. I just grabbed your hand to remind you we had to go while Amy was distracting her dad.”
Aubrey smiled again, “well, thank you. I don’t know what...”
“Beca would have grabbed you,” Emily responded promptly.
“Beca would have grabbed her why?”
Both Aubrey and Emily jumped at the third voice. They turned and saw Beca rubbing her eyes as she staggered out from her room.
“If Emily hadn’t grabbed my hand,” Aubrey confessed. “I didn’t run with the other girls.”
Beca stopped moving. Her hand still near one eye, she tilted her head to one side. Emily could swear she was watching Beca replay a movie. “Shit.” Beca said, “you didn’t, did you?”
Aubrey blushed again. “No.” She took a deep breath. “I like to think I didn’t just freeze in the moment. But I’m afraid I did.”
Emily shook her head again. “I don’t think so. You were watching Beca and Amy. I think you had some weird idea you needed to help them.”
Beca snorted, “sounds about right. The weirdo likes to have her fingers in everything.”
Aubrey rolled her eyes but being teased snapped her out of her pity party. “It’s not like I can usually count on you or Amy to have good ideas.”
Emily laughed, “well, Amy anyway.”
“I told her that much just before I climbed up onto deck.” Beca laughed as she crossed to the coffee pot and poured herself a cup. “She asked if she had ever let me down and I pointed out more times than I care to count.”
“See? My father used to say never send a boy to do a man’s job. Well, never send a Hobbit or Hobart to a rescue alone.” Aubrey sipped her coffee again.
Beca snorted, “like you had any better ideas?”
Aubrey shrugged, “but Toxic?”
Emily laughed, “god, are you two going to argue over the set list for our kidnapping?”
“Why not?” Beca smirked. “Someone might make a movie out of it. We should have the score set.”
Aubrey chuckled behind her coffee. “Call Jesse lately?”
Beca put a hand to her chest. “Low blow, Posen. Maybe I shouldn’t thank Emily for getting your ass out of there.” She looked over at Emily, “who are you calling?”
“Stacie,” Emily answered promptly.
“Why?” Aubrey asked as she put her coffee down.
Emily smirked, “hey Stac. Just thought you’d like to know some things haven’t changed.”
“Oh, really.” Stacie replied. “Are they still fighting like a pair of tomcats?”
“Yep,” Emily giggled, “this time about the soundtrack for the movie they expect to be made of the kidnapping.”
Stacie laughed out loud, “of course they are. Good morning, ladies.”
“Morning, Legs. It’s their fault. I just came out for coffee and Emily asserted I’d have grabbed Posen if she hadn’t.” Beca snorted again.
“Excuse me?” Stacie frowned.
“I froze, Stac.” Aubrey sighed. “Emily grabbed my hand and reminded me to move.”
“She was thinking about how to help Beca, I guarantee it,” Emily asserted again. “I probably interrupted some grand plan.”
Beca shook her head, “the grand plan was Amy’s.”
It was Aubrey’s turn to snort, “except Toxic. That was all yours.”
Stacie was torn between laughing and crying. She was glad they were bickering, but the more she heard about that night, the more she understood Emily’s bad dreams. “Changing the subject. What are your plans today, girls? Gonna take Emily gambling, to see some shows, what?”
“I’m not 21 yet, Stace.” Emily tried to keep her voice light.
“Shit, really?” Beca stared. “What about all the drinking we did in Europe?”
Aubrey slapped Beca on the arm. “Different legal age, Hobbit. Be nice.”
Beca rubbed her arm as if the slap had really hurt. “I’m nice. Sheesh. I should sue you for assault.”
“Then what are your plans?” Stacie tried to bring them back to the task at hand.
“We probably will take a walk along the strip. I don’t gamble anyway, but the view is worth it. There are some free shows, plus some that are family friendly,” Aubrey admitted. “Ohhh, I bet you would like King Arthur’s feast, Emily.”
Emily smiled broadly, “what’s that?”
Aubrey started searching on her phone. “I don’t recall if that is the real name. Anyway, it is a show where people dress up like medieval knights and royalty: horses, armor, the whole bit.”
“That sounds fun!” Stacie encouraged. “Take pictures for me?”
Emily nodded happily before Beca piped up, “I am supposed to meet with Khaled today.”
“Oh, right,” Aubrey subsided some.
Stacie snorted, “you can go to your meeting without Posen, Grumpy. Find a place to join them after the show and you are done. Isn’t there another show worth watching?”
Beca considered, “I think Cirque du Soleil has a bunch of shows on the strip. I could ask Theo for tickets, they run hundreds of dollars.”
“Then I leave you to your planning. Little Miss wants some attention.” Stacie blew a kiss at the phone, “be nice to each other or Mama Bear is gonna have to come kick your ass.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Aubrey replied with a wink. Beca merely shrugged.
“Call you later?” Emily asked.
Stacie nodded, “tell me all about the shows, and sing Bella good night.”
Emily beamed, “deal.”
After they ended the call, Emily looked back and forth between Aubrey and Beca, “which show?”
Beca studied Emily carefully, “what’s going on with you and Legs?”
“Nothing.” Emily frowned, “I just like talking to her, checking on Bella. She’s by herself, Beca. She needs friends too.”
“Uh-huh.” Beca nodded before shrugging. She looked over at Aubrey, who looked surprisingly unconcerned. She shook her head. With all the ways she had screwed up with Beale, she could never suggest giving advice to other people who seemed to care about each other. “I’ll look up the other shows and see which ones Theo can get us tickets for. When do you wanna go see King Arthur or whatever?”
Aubrey was back on her phone. “We can take a show while you are with Khaled, unless you go this morning.”
Beca shook her head, “Khaled sleeps like normal people. We won’t meet until 2.”
“Then I’ll get tickets at 2.” Aubrey nodded her head definitively. “What about breakfast?”
“Can we order in? I have a song idea I’m working on.” Emily chewed her lower lip.
“Yeah?” Beca’s face lit up, “when can I hear it?”
Emily hedged, “gimme another hour and I should have a verse and a chorus to test out. Can’t promise we won’t have to change it.”
Beca waved her off. “So, we change it. Just keep getting ideas, Em.”
“Can’t stop them,” Emily laughed. She stood, poured herself another cup and moved back to the sofa bed. “Will one of you order food?”
“I will,” Beca offered, “Posen will make it all healthy.”
“You can’t eat junk food forever, Hobbit.”
Beca scoffed, “try me.” She headed to her own room to track down her phone.
Emily laughed quietly to herself. They really were as bad as some of her cousins.
Chapter 12: Vegas
Emily and Aubrey do the town while Beca does business. Funnily enough, there is some overlap
Emily was nearly bouncing as she and Aubrey walked down the strip from the Bellagio to the Excalibur. She started walking backwards to look at Aubrey and the people passing by. “This is wild! I can’t believe people walk around on the street with drinks in their hands. I mean like alcoholic drinks.”
Aubrey laughed, “would you turn around and look where you are going?” She shook her head, “I get the open containers thing is new to you, but you’ve lived in Atlanta and been in New York. Act like you know what a big city is like.”
Emily whirled back around and snorted. “You worry too much what other people think. This is a tourist town and I’m being a tourist!”
“I am here as a corporate representative and a talent manager. I have to worry about appearances.” Aubrey reminded her.
“Beca isn’t that famous yet. And she’s not here. No one knows us. You could wear a silly hat or yellow sunglasses and no one would look at us.” Emily retorted. “Oooh, a baby!” Emily paused and looked in the stroller, “what a cutie.”
Aubrey rolled her eyes and waited while Emily chatted with the couple walking the opposite direction. After a few minutes, Aubrey coughed, “Emily, let the poor people get where they were going.”
Emily blushed, “oh, yeah, sorry.” She waved and returned to Aubrey’s side. “Aubs, they just came from the Excalibur. We have to get that t-shirt for Bella.”
“What t-shirt?” Aubrey asked as she looked back in the direction of the little family.
“It’s got a bear in armor on a horse.” Emily was pulling at Aubrey, “come on, I want time to shop before the show!”
Aubrey laughed again, this time indulgently. “Why does this shirt enamor you so much?”
Emily paused and looked at Aubrey, “you don’t get it?” When Aubrey shook her head, Emily beamed, “it’s an Excali-bear!”
Aubrey groaned. “Oh my god. I’m so glad it’s not for my child.”
“You want kids?” Emily asked, sounding surprised.
“I don’t know.” Aubrey admitted with a shrug. “But right now, I’m glad I don’t have one to wear something as tacky as that bad joke.”
Emily snorted again, “you might need kids to loosen you up.” She started to pull at Aubrey again, “come on, slow poke!”
Aubrey started to laugh again as she let Emily pull her along. It was not going to be a boring day.
Meanwhile, Beca was looking out the window of Khaled’s suite, not sure if she wouldn’t have preferred to see people dressed up as knights rather than wait for this meeting. Theo finally entered. “Sorry, Khaled is stuck on a call. I said we could start.
“What’s this about, Theo?” Beca sighed.
“Your song is climbing the charts.” Theo grinned when Beca blinked. “It’s almost gone gold. We need to get a real video out to capitalize on the success. We also want to have you start doing meet and greets. There are people coming to the event who want to meet you, especially those with children who have been teaching themselves your songs.”
Beca blinked again, “wait. ‘Cups’ is going to go gold?”
Theo nodded, “at this rate, it might be platinum. If we can add another video, one that tells a story of some kind, I think it will go platinum for sure.”
Beca sat down heavily. “It was just a silly thing I taught myself off the internet.”
“Well, it struck a nerve.” Theo shrugged. “The marketing department is talking about selling cups with your image on them. They want an ep as soon as possible. We have Freedom 90 and now Cups. Your other mashup is being a little dicey. Mars is all over it, but....” Theo trailed off. “What’s wrong?”
“I,” Beca started to laugh. “God, Theo, I told the Bellas when I met them that I don’t sing. Beale asked me to audition. I only did it because my dad promised I could move to LA and pursue a producing career if I stayed at Barden 1 year. Now I’m gonna have a gold record?”
Theo grinned and nodded, “and many more, I hope. I need to know what other songs you would be willing to put on an ep. Posen told me to trust you, so I’m going to try. What else can you pull together? I need at least three more.”
Beca nodded mechanically. Posen told him to trust her? She shook her head. She needed to concentrate. “Um, I’m not sure. Do you want straight singing or mashups or layering?”
“Let’s stick with layering first. The mashups are double the work to get rights to.” Theo put one foot on the table as they talked, leaning over and resting his arm on his leg.
“Emily has a couple of songs, but I don’t really think they are right for me. I can play them for you.” Beca pulled her phone out.
Theo nodded, “I’m not sure we will want something from an unknown writer, but I will listen.”
Beca smirked, “Emily wrote Flashlight, which went platinum on your side of the pond. She co-wrote Love Myself, which is double platinum here in the States.”
It was Theo’s turn to blink. “Why didn’t you say so? Is she signed with anyone?”
“I don’t think so. Residual Heat peddles her songs if I don’t use them, left over from our first demo being for them.” Beca shrugged.
“Let me hear what you have,” Theo pointed at Beca’s phone.
They sat down to listen to the snippets and finished pieces Emily had been working on. Beca enjoyed showing Emily off, even if she wasn’t sold that they were songs she could record. Then again, maybe the “ear-man” could hear something she hadn’t. He was trusting her. She could try and trust him.
Several hours later, Emily and Aubrey sat at Gilley’s BBQ and waited for Beca. Aubrey sipped at a vodka and tonic while Emily chattered with Stacie. “Isn’t this the cutest shirt, Stac? Bella is going to look so cute in it!”
Stacie chuckled, “you are not supposed to be spending your money on Bella, Em, though it is cute.”
“Told you, Aubs!” Emily grinned over her phone at Aubrey, “Stacie thinks it’s cute.” She brought her attention back to Stacie, “Aubrey thought it was tacky.”
Aubrey laughed, “ratting me out, Junk?”
“Did you guys have a good time?” Stacie changed the subject.
Emily nodded her head enthusiastically. “Well, I did. I don’t think Aubs liked there were no utensils.”
“Terribly unsanitary, Stacie. Cute set up, but seriously, drinking the soup from a bowl and eating a game hen without so much as a fork?” Aubrey shuddered, “at least they had cloth napkins.
Stacie tried not to laugh, “but the show was fun?”
Aubrey relented, “yes, the show was delightful. They are very good riders.”
Emily started to bounce again, “our knight won!”
“That does sound fun.” Stacie gave in to a chuckle. “Go enjoy the rest of the night, ok?”
“Oh, I may not be able to call tonight. We’re going to another show.” Emily broke the news.
Stacie nodded, “I expect that sometimes. I even suggested it. It’s ok. Live, Emily. Have fun, enjoy life. That’s what you wanted, right? That’s why you put school on hold?”
Emily nodded, “I guess. Don’t let Bella forget me.”
“She’s 3-months-old, Em. I’m not sure she remembers who I am. You will have plenty of time to play with Bella when you guys get back.” Stacie laughed again.
Beca walked up as Emily was closing the connection. “Did I miss Legs?”
Aubrey nodded, “Emily bought a shirt for Bella. Now that I think about it, it might fit you too.”
“Haha, Posen.” Beca rolled her eyes and sat down, “missed you too.” She leaned back into the chair. “You guys have fun?”
Emily regaled Beca with the story as the waiter first took Beca’s drink order, then the food order for all three of them. When the food finally arrived, Emily finally wound down. She dug into her plate of ribs with delight.
Aubrey laughed quietly, “no one would know we’ve already had one meal without utensils today.”
“Careful, Aubs. I may decide to eat all my meals with my fingers.” Emily winked and teased.
Beca laughed and changed the subject. “Theo likes some of your songs. He’s not sure they are for me, but he wants to talk to you about them.”
Emily looked up, surprised, “if not for you, then why?”
“I think he may want to offer you a job. You don’t have to take it,” Beca reassured her, “but he is impressed with your stuff. Says it hits a certain demographic.”
Aubrey smiled proudly, “I can represent you, if you want. There is wiggle room about needing an agent in the music industry, but we can hire one for both of you until I can get licensed.”
“Don’t you have to be licensed in the state... oh, that’s why we live in New York and work through that office.” Beca started, then corrected herself.
“Right.” Aubrey nodded, “I needed you to decide which state so I could apply for licensing in that state. I don’t mind you chose New York.” She grinned at both of her dining companions. “It’s a lovely city, and of course, Stacie and Bella are there too.”
Beca ducked her head, “it’s why I chose it. I forgot you would travel with me. I wanted a place where I knew someone when I wasn’t traveling, you know?”
“I think it’s awesome!” Emily grinned as well, “four Bellas and Bella. Maybe I need to write a movie, like, you know, three men and a baby?”
Aubrey groaned. “Not again with the dad jokes!”
Emily smirked, “I learned from my dad, what do you think?”
Beca shook her head, “write a song I can sing, Junk. Then think about that movie.”
“Deal, Cap.” Emily winked and bumped shoulders with Aubrey, “you are awfully fun to tease.”
Aubrey merely rolled her eyes and attended her meal.
Chapter 13: Heading Home
Aubrey is worried about Emily’s baby fever; Stacie and Amy rearrange apartments; Beca and Emily are just glad to be home.
“Hey, Bree! When’s the flight land?” Stacie smiled as she answered her FaceTime call.
“7:38 pm local time.” Aubrey answered promptly. “I only have a few minutes, but I need a huge favor.”
Stacie frowned, “ok, what do you need.”
Aubrey looked around, “I need you to let Emily stay with you again.”
“We talked about this, Bree. She should have her own apartment.” Stacie shook her head. “She can still come visit with Bella, but...”
“She’s going baby crazy, Stac.” Aubrey interrupted. “I know you want her to enjoy life, have a little freedom, blah blah.” Aubrey rolled her eyes, “I think growing up in an artist’s family she probably had too much of that.”
Stacie smirked, “not all of us have the honor of a military upbringing, Bree.”
Aubrey sighed, “focus, Conrad. Do you want to deal with a pregnant 20-year-old Emily?”
“Oh,” Stacie stopped teasing. “Good point. I mean I think she will be a good mom.”
“Someday,” Aubrey emphasized. “She has been buying Bella stuff the entire time she has been here and cooing over every carriage that goes by.”
It was Stacie’s turn to sigh, “she’s an adult, Bree. It’s her decision.”
Aubrey nodded, “I know. But....” Aubrey hesitated, “look, has it been easy?” When Stacie shook her head with a laugh, Aubrey plowed on. “Let her be your live-in nanny for a while. Let her see how hard it is. Leave her with Bella while you work or even on an overnight or two. Then she can make an informed decision.”
“Maybe.” Stacie leaned back to think about it. “Why is this so important to you?”
“She’ll put her music on hold again. She stopped writing to tend to a hamster, for fuck’s sake. How much worse will it be if she has a baby? Give her a chance to write for real, Stacie.” Aubrey spoke urgently.
Stacie smirked again, “no ulterior motive? No hoping for a date here or there before she gets tied down?”
Aubrey rolled her eyes, “I’m not having that conversation, Conrad. Will you help?”
“All right,” Stacie relented. “If she wants to stay with me, she can. If she wants her own place, I will ask her to babysit as often as I can. Is that fair?”
“Fair,” Aubrey nodded. She looked around and then back to the phone. “I have to get back; I think we are boarding. See you tonight.”
Stacie nodded and smiled, “have a safe flight, Bree. Hugs to Beca and Em.”
After Aubrey closed the connection, Stacie considered what Aubrey had said. She would have to be gracious about goodies for Bella, even if she thought Emily probably did too much. While she waited for the flight to arrive, she would have to plan a way to dissuade Emily from jumping into motherhood. That was going to take some thought.
Several hours later, Stacie stood waiting near the baggage claim. Bella was a little fussy, wanting out of her car seat, so Stacie was rocking back and forth to keep the child moving while she waited. She saw Emily first. “Over here,” she called out.
Emily darted through other travelers and ran over. “Bella! How’s my girl?”
Stacie laughed as Emily started immediately to tickle and play with the little girl. Emily winked at Stacie and pulled the car seat away, sitting on a nearby bench to ‘talk’ to Bella. Since Bella was now thoroughly entertained and filling the air with delighted baby giggles, Stacie turned her attention to Aubrey and Beca. “Welcome home, girls.”
Beca arched an eyebrow as she saw Emily with Bella. “Jeeze, Em, you could have said hello to Stacie first.”
“Hi Stac.” Emily grinned, not sorry at all.
Aubrey shook her head and then looked pointedly between Stacie and Emily.
With a sigh, Stacie nodded. “So, Em, I was wondering if you would mind staying with me for a little while? Juggling her and work has been tough while you’ve been gone.”
“Would I?” Emily bobbed her head, “I would love to. Me and little Miss get along famously, don’t we Bells?”
“Thank you,” Stacie smiled at the pair. It wouldn’t hurt to have someone help again. She really did want to be able to focus better while at work. Her sleep schedule was still off, and the daycare she found called way too often. “Oh, I moved to a different apartment. You won’t have to stay in the loft.”
All three paused in their various activities of finding luggage and cooing over babies to look at Stacie. “You moved?” Aubrey finally found her voice.
“I’m in the same building,” Stacie laughed at their response. “I hired people to move my stuff, don’t worry.”
Aubrey relaxed and Beca tried to put away her scowl. “Ok, then. Jeeze, Conrad. We give you three weeks alone and you turn the world upside down.” Beca grumbled.
Emily snorted, “we lost sight of her for 8 months and she brought this one around. What’d you expect, Beca.”
Stacie laughed, “you make it sound like I am unpredictable.”
Aubrey merely smirked and crossed her arms.
“Ok,” Stacie relented, “I may not be predictable. But I am reliable, right?”
“Reliably unpredictable,” Beca teased as she pulled Emily’s bag off the carousel. “Hey, Junk, give the kid back and do some real lifting. What’ve you got in this thing?”
Emily squealed and put the car seat on the bench. “Oh, Bells, wait till you see what I found for you. This stuff is so adorable.”
Aubrey watched with amusement, “Emily, you spent half of your signing bonus on that child.”
“It was mine to spend.”
“Signing bonus?” It was Stacie’s turn to look back and forth between Aubrey, Beca and Emily.
Beca grinned, “we talked Epic into signing her as a songwriter. They don’t do that as often as they used to, but Theo saw the promise in her songs, and might even feature her as my opening act, if I ever get a tour of my own.”
“You’ll get a tour, Hobbit.” Aubrey replied. “You are already nearing platinum status on Cups.”
Beca looked around and put a finger to her lips. “Shush, Weirdo. People are gonna figure out I might be somebody someday and want me to sign something.”
Stacie shook her head. “I don’t know what I am going to do with a singer, a songwriter and a model for friends. Who knew what I was getting into?”
Aubrey nodded, “I know what you mean. Being friends with celebrities is gonna suck.” She rolled her eyes, “we will have to watch out for photographers, and autograph hounds.”
“But have money for cute stuff!” Emily giggled as she pulled out a stuffed bear. It wore a t-shirt just like the one Emily bought for Bella. “Look, Stacie! It says Excali-bear!”
Stacie laughed and shook her head. “Never change, Em.”
Beca snorted and pulled on another bag. “Will celebrity mean someone will help me with carrying the damn bags? Why the hell am I the pack horse, when I’m the shortest?”
“Just lucky, I guess,” Aubrey laughed. “Either that, or you volunteered.” She looked around until she found an airport employee. “Wait here,” Aubrey said as she walked over to talk to him. He directed her toward the escalator, where she engaged a cart. She rolled it back to where her friends waited and picked up her own bag to put into it. “Here, is this good enough for today, Hobbit?”
It was Beca’s turn to roll her eyes. “You and your practicality. It’s more fun to complain.”
Stacie laughed as they filled the cart and headed toward her car. She really had missed these girls.
When they arrived at the apartment complex, Stacie’s head was still ringing from various stories, most of which she had heard already. As if triggered by sight of the building, Aubrey asked, “so why did you change apartments?”
Stacie shrugged, “I realized a loft was not going to be easy to make Bella proof. One level is easier. I asked for a two bedroom instead, so she has her own room when she gets older.”
“I can still sleep on the sofa, Stac. Then Bella can have her room and you can get some sleep.” Emily offered.
Stacie shook her head, “no way, Em. But I will put her play pen in your room, if you don’t mind. On a night I really need to sleep, maybe she can sleep there, and you can watch her?”
“We will just get a second crib, Stacie.” Aubrey replied with authority. “We can donate both to charity if no other Bella has had a baby by the time Bella outgrows it.”
“Just so long as it isn’t you, Scribbles.” Beca shook a finger at Emily. “I need you to write songs, not make babies.”
Stacie bit her lower lip. It appeared Aubrey wasn’t the only one who noticed Emily’s baby fever.
Emily blushed but also laughed, “I’m happy to play with this one, aca-dad.” She tickled Bella’s foot and the baby laughed with delight. “I promise.”
“Good,” Aubrey smiled indulgently, “you need to finish school, too.”
“I guess,” Emily shrugged.
“Your mom will kill me, Em.” Aubrey added.
Emily rolled her eyes, “yeah, I know. I’ll handle my mom.”
“Why kill you, Posen?” Beca asked, emphasizing the pronoun.
Aubrey smirked, “I gave Em a way out. If I hadn’t invited her to New York, Katherine thinks Emily would have graduated on time.”
“We both know that isn’t true,” Emily sighed, “but mom doesn’t want to think about the yacht and what almost happened. She wants to pretend nothing went wrong.”
Stacie turned around to look at Emily and Aubrey in the back seat. “You guys are all doing better, right?” She swept her gaze around to include Beca.
Beca nodded, “I think so. I still get weird dreams sometimes, have to check with Beale and make sure she is ok.”
Aubrey also nodded, “we think all the years sharing a room with Chloe makes it easier for her dreams to tease her that the outcome was different, since Chloe isn’t here.”
“Oh, shit. I didn’t think about that.” Stacie squeezed Beca’s hand. “Can I help?”
Beca shrugged, “I think I’m starting to get used to her not being around.” She smiled, but it was not a relaxed smile. “It’s still weird.”
Stacie nodded and let Beca off the hook. “And you two?”
Emily still had her attention focused on Bella. “It is weird. Riding in the van to the airport was hard. I just kept my eyes on the scenery, since we couldn’t see out of the other van; it reminds me I’m not there.”
Aubrey rubbed Emily’s arm, “and we remind each other we are fine. The rest of the Bellas are fine.” She smiled at Stacie, “and your little girl reminds us life goes on.”
Stacie nodded. It was easier for her to forget just how close she came to losing them all. “Well,” she cleared her throat, “let’s get upstairs and get you three settled.”
“We are not all staying at your place, Stac.” Aubrey shook her head.
“No, you are staying at your place.” Stacie laughed. “I managed to get another two-bedroom next to mine.”
Aubrey blinked, “Stacie,” her voice took on a threatening tone.
Stacie held her hands up, “Amy paid the fees, deposit and first month. This gives you time to find your own places. If neither of you,” Stacie looked at Beca and Aubrey, “want to keep it, Amy said Emily can take it over. One more month or so, Bella should let me sleep more than four hours at a time, and my hormones that make lack of sleep harder should be at better levels.”
Emily didn’t respond but kept playing with Bella. Aubrey continued to rub Emily’s arm in a consoling manner. Beca cleared her throat. “Well, I for one am looking forward to a quiet night. Just imagine, Posen, a night without people rolling their suitcases by the door?”
Aubrey smiled in return, “no ice machines chunking behind the wall.”
Emily found her good humor, “no hotel food.”
“Hey, I like hotel food,” Beca protested.
“You would,” Aubrey snorted as she finally opened the car door and started to get out. “Come on, Conrad, show us what you’ve done.”
“Jeeze,” Stacie laughed as she got out of the car and took Bella from Emily, “you make it sound like I’ve committed criminal activity.”
Aubrey shrugged and smirked but didn’t reply.
Stacie shook her head, “so much for being nice.”
“It is nice,” Emily elbowed Aubrey as she reassured Stacie. “I just don’t think we were ready to plan the rest of the year, ya know?”
“There’s no hurry,” Stacie promised. “Amy just wanted Grumpy here to have a place to land since she gave up the old one. You can argue with her about it.”
Beca nodded, “I will. Now, where’s my bedroom?”
Stacie laughed again as she guided the three to the new floor. Did she say she missed these girls? Maybe that was an overstatement.
Chapter 14: Mmmmm coffee
Aubrey is cranky, Beca oversleeps, Emily is dealing with a fussy baby and Chloe is gonna call. Pretty exciting day in the Bella extended household.
Beca cracked one eye open and realized the sun was up. With another blink, she realized it was way up. She groaned before picking up her phone.
Beale: afternoon, sleepyhead.
Beca: hey, still on pacific time. It’s morning there.
Beale: But not where you are.
Beca: ok, you win. Hey, where are they keeping you these days?
Beale: still in Los Angeles. It’s morning, but we’ve been setting up since 6.
Beca: like before sunrise?
Beale: not everyone gets to set their own schedule.
Beale: oops gotta run. Call ya tonight?
Beale: um, 7
Beca: your time or mine?
Beca waited but there was no reply. She put the phone down and dragged herself out of bed. She had to give it to Amy, the new apartment was as luxurious as the hotel. Then Beca groaned, remembering that without room service, she would have to do her own laundry. She wondered if either this apartment or Stacie’s had their own machines. She would have to explore. Beca pulled on a hoodie and some sweatpants to cover the shorts and t-shirt she wore to bed. If she was lucky, Posen had made coffee that would reheat. After tugging the tangles out of her hair, Beca finally felt presentable and opened her bedroom door.
Beca smelled the coffee and smiled. The one thing she and Posen had in common was a penchant for drinking coffee at all hours of the day. She made her way to the kitchen, noticing Aubrey sitting at the keyboard with a headset on. Curious, she paused and watched. Whatever Posen was playing, it was complex. Beca was impressed. She’d never heard Aubrey do more than warmups and scales. Pondering the new information, she found Aubrey’s empty cup, refilled it and added two sugars before pouring herself a cup. She headed into the living room and placed the cup on the back of the keyboard before she dropped onto the couch. She leaned back against the arm of the sofa, one foot up on the cushion and breathed deeply of the black coffee aroma.
Aubrey took the headphones off and turned toward Beca, picking up the coffee as she did. “Thanks. Two sugars?”
Beca nodded, “yeah, I ruined it for you.”
“Ha, just because I don’t drink tar does not mean this cup is ruined.” Aubrey sipped. “Sleep well?”
“Pretty good. How about you?” Beca asked politely.
Aubrey shrugged, “new place. I’ll get used to it.”
Beca sipped again at her coffee, “how come I didn’t know you played?” She pointed at the keyboard with her chin.
“You did. I played every day at rehearsal.” Aubrey deflected.
“Smart ass.” Beca grinned, “you didn’t play like that at rehearsal.”
Aubrey snorted, “no, I actually hit the notes I wanted people to hear.”
Beca tilted her head to one side, “are you saying you wore headphones to cover your mistakes?”
“To keep from waking up a certain roommate who sleeps past noon.” Aubrey corrected her.
“But the piece isn’t performance ready?” Beca insisted.
Aubrey rolled her eyes, “you are nothing if not persistent. I haven’t played in years. You were sleeping. It was something to do.”
“All right, no, I am rusty as hell and it irritates me, ok?” Aubrey bristled.
“Why?” Beca smiled. “You said yourself you haven’t played in years. You jump into something fast then you sort of get what you deserve. Start with something not as difficult to warm up.”
Aubrey sipped her coffee again. “I suppose. Speaking of music more generally, are you and Emily doing any work today?”
Beca shook her head. “Jeeze, Posen we just got in last night. She’s probably already on kid duty. I’ll call her later to set up a schedule. Meantime, do you know if this place has a washer dryer?”
Aubrey nodded and walked over to a closet between the living room and kitchen. “Amy thought of everything,” she added as she opened the closet door to reveal a vertical pair of machines. “Both front loading, so you shouldn’t have an issue.”
“Short jokes already, Posen?” Beca smirked, “I see how you are.”
“Oh, give it up, Hobbit. You said it yourself last night that you just wanna complain. Do it in someone else’s ear. Call Chloe.” Aubrey walked over and leaned on a counter in the kitchen. The open floor plan allowed her to see Beca as her roommate flipped around to face the kitchen.
“I texted her, she’s busy. Still in L.A.” Beca sighed, “she wants to chatter tonight at 7. She didn’t say her time or mine.”
Aubrey groaned, “ugh, 7 her time is 10 our time. I’ll go crash on Stacie’s couch so you can talk all night.”
Beca grinned, “if that’s what works for you.”
“If you have phone sex, do it in your room,” Aubrey commanded. “I won’t have the sofa defiled the first week we live here.”
“But you don’t mind it defiled next week?”
Aubrey pushed herself to a standing position. “I’m going to go to work. When you can have civil conversation, let me know and we will sort out lunch.”
Beca laughed quietly, “Aw, don’t be like that, I was just giving you shit.”
“Well, it worked, and I’m done for a while. Talk to you later.” Aubrey stalked into her room.
Beca pulled her phone out of her hoodie.
Beca: hey, Em, how goes your day?
Scribbles: ok. I think Bella is cranky because her momma is gone. She won’t settle.
Beca: Posen won’t either.
Scribbles: what do you mean?
Beca: she seems restless, got cranky when I gave her shit. Hey, did you know she played piano?
Scribbles: yeah, piano performance before the Bellas.
Beca: no shit? Damn, I didn’t know that.
Beca: maybe I will send her over to help with Bella, be good for everyone
Beca: ok, gimme a few.
She opened another conversation.
Beca: hey Legs got a minute?
Legs: yeah, what’s up?
Beca: can Posen crash at your place tonight?
Legs: yeah, sure. Why?
Beca: call with Beale at 7, but she didn’t say her time or mine.
Legs: oh, yeah, gotta hot video date?
Beca: ha, no. But Posen is cranky. Maybe an early night like you guys get with Bella will help
Legs: ok, Grumpy. I’ll set it up
Beca: thanks, ttys
Beca stood up and headed to Aubrey’s room. She knocked and then opened the door.
Aubrey looked up from where she sat on her bed, staring at her iPad. “What can I do for you, Mitchell?”
“Sorry I teased too much.” Beca smiled ruefully. “I’m just enjoying, I dunno, the normal of this, I guess. Anyway, Em says Bella is being fussy. She wonders if you can come help. And I cleared with Stacie you can stay there if you want tonight.”
“Why are you being so nice?” Aubrey took off her reading glasses and peered at Beca.
Beca shrugged, “you have been really nice to me, making all this shit work out, trying to get licensed as an agent and all. The least I can do is get you a day off from it. Go play with the baby and with Em. They always make you smile.”
Aubrey sighed, “is that how it seems? I don’t smile?”
“Of course, you smile,” Beca ran a hand through her hair. “Shit, Posen, let me be nice once. It may never happen again.”
“Ok,” Aubrey did smile and laugh quietly, “I won’t look a gift Beca in the mouth.”
Beca grimaced, “weirdo.”
Aubrey’s laugh became a chuckle. “I’ll come back before dinner and check on you.”
“Nah, I’ll come over there. Tell Legs and Scribbles I’ll order Chinese.” Beca grinned.
“Do you call anyone by their real names?” Aubrey arched an eyebrow.
Beca nodded and looked innocent, “you and Beale I call by your last names. It’s more respectful.”
Aubrey looked dubious, “I worry what you may call us behind our backs.”
“I’ll never tell,” Beca teased. “I’m gonna hop in the shower. Are you heading over to help with Bella?”
Aubrey nodded, “yeah. Amy and Stacie filled the fridge. You should be able to find something you like.”
Beca nodded, “see you at dinner,” she waved as she headed back to her room.
A few minutes later, Aubrey knocked on Stacie’s door.
Emily opened it, “hey, Aubs!” She leaned forward for a hug. “Beca said you might need a little Bella therapy.”
“Ha, she told me you needed help.” Aubrey arched an eyebrow. “If you don’t,” she began.
“Oh, don’t start.” Emily pulled Aubrey into the room. “Bella is cranky, I’m hungry and you are out of sorts. I think the three of us should find our happy places.”
Aubrey smiled, “I’ll try. And I’m not out of sorts. I just don’t want Beca and Chloe having phone sex on my new sofa.”
Emily snorted and coughed before she laughed, “not asking for much.”
“I’m not!” Aubrey protested before she realized Emily was teasing. “I have a give me shit sign lit up over my head today, don’t I?”
Emily looked around as if craning to see above Aubrey’s head in all directions. “No, I don’t...wait... yep, there it is.” Emily leaned forward and placed a kiss on the side of Aubrey’s head, “there, it’s off.”
Aubrey’s eyes narrowed at first but then she laughed at Emily’s antics. “All right, show me little Miss. Let me see if I can settle her while you eat.”
“Ah, you know the way to my heart,” Emily grinned.
“Through your stomach,” Aubrey replied before she sat down to tend Bella.
Emily giggled all the way into the kitchen.
Chapter 15: Failure to Launch
Stacie discovers she is not ready to date; Emily and Stacie have a late night talk about Aubrey, Beca and Chloe; Stacie and Aubrey have an early morning talk about Beca, Chloe and Emily. All in all, it's a mess.
Stacie quietly unlocked the door, berating herself for the millionth time for thinking she was ready to go on a date again. She spent more than half the night talking about Bella or checking the video monitor in her bedroom. She knew, because of that monitor, that Emily was asleep in her room, and Aubrey did not join her.
That last thought made her blush. Casual as she was about sex, accidentally seeing if Emily and Aubrey were making out would have been terrible. With a shake of her head, Stacie slipped inside. She waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. As she had hoped, Aubrey was not on the couch; she must be in the spare room. Stacie breathed a sigh of relief, locked the door behind her, kicked off her shoes and hung up her purse. Finally, she went to the kitchen in hopes there was some wine still in the fridge. With a thankful prayer to whichever of the girls thought to leave an opened bottle, she poured out a glass and returned to the living room. She put her feet on the table and leaned back into the sofa and sighed.
Stacie turned abruptly, spilling some of her wine. She cursed under her breath.
“Sorry,” Emily ran to grab a towel and brought it back. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“My fault,” Stacie muttered as she dabbed the wet spot on the sofa. “Sometimes it's like I forget I don’t live alone.”
Emily remained standing, nervously shifting her weight from foot to foot. Finally, she knelt down. “You go change; I’ve got this.”
Stacie relinquished the towel, left her glass on the table and headed down the hall. After washing her face and changing her clothes, she stopped to check on Bella, then peeked in on Aubrey. Both seemed to be sleeping soundly. She finally returned to the living room, where Emily now sat curled up on the chair. “Thanks.”
“I really am sorry. I heard you come in. I should have left you alone.” Emily apologized again.
“It’s really ok.” Stacie sat down on a dry spot on the sofa and curled her legs up as well. “How was your day?”
Emily shrugged. “Bella was fussy, Aubrey was cranky. I tried to tease Aubs out of it, but it never lasted. She was happiest when playing with Bella. We watched a couple of documentaries, Beca came for dinner, they picked on each other, Beca left to talk to Chloe. We watched another show, but Aubs got sleepy.”
Stacie screwed up her face sympathetically. “Doesn’t sound much fun.”
“I just don’t see how they can work together. I mean some days they seem to get along, but other times...” Emily’s voice drifted off.
“I know. But they have always been like that.” Stacie smiled, “I know I told you about the way they fought.”
Emily nodded, “yeah. I remember. I’ve just never seen them together in the same place this long before, you know? There was the weekend at the lodge, and the week we were at Worlds. Beca was in New York when Aubrey helped my sophomore year. Even the USO tour, Chloe was there to keep them apart.”
Stacey nodded, “and that dynamic is a mess.” She stood, “want a glass?”
“I’m not 21 yet,” Emily hedged.
“Don’t tell your mother, Aubrey, or the police.” Stacie teased as she poured another glass and brought it over. “Their dynamic is tough on all of us. Chloe and Aubrey were friends for years.”
Emily sipped the wine and her lack of response let Stacie know the girl had learned to drink like most college students. “Aubrey really does care. Not just about Chloe, but about all the Bellas.”
Stacie smiled, “yeah. But Chloe is still her weakness. The tour was to make Chloe happy.”
“Do you think they dated?”
“Who, Chloe and Aubrey?” Stacie considered when she saw Emily nod. “Maybe? I think Aubrey cared more deeply for Chloe than Chloe did.” Stacie sipped her wine. “In a lot of ways, Chloe is most like me. She’s confident in her body, likes to be noticed, you know? When Aubrey was focused on winning, Chloe found someone else to focus on her.”
Emily nodded, “poor Aubrey.”
Stacey smiled, “Aubrey just needs someone who appreciates her way of caring.”
“You think so?” Emily asked.
“Yeah,” Stacie nodded. “Wanna watch something?”
Emily wrinkled her nose. “Not really. I’m sort of surprised you are home so early, though. Is everything ok?”
Stacie chuckled having forgotten she’d even gone out that night. “Oh, yeah, I’m just too new at the mom thing. All I could do was talk about Bella.” Stacie shrugged, “I’m sure it’s all part of that hormone thing they say I’ll struggle with for a couple of more months.”
“Hormone thing?” Emily asked
“Oh, I cry at the drop of a hat, I get anxious when I’m away from Bella, even when I know you are taking good care of her. My doctor says it’s normal and settles down around six months.” Stacie shrugged again.
Emily wrinkled her nose again, “there are sure a lot of things people don’t mention about babies.”
Stacie laughed, “you can say that again! Hopefully, by the time you really are ready I will have a clear laundry list of facts you need to know.”
“I’d expect no less from an engineer.” Emily giggled. “If your plan was to dissuade me from an early pregnancy, you already win.” Emily rolled her eyes, “just the fussy baby part was hard. Then when I couldn’t give her back because you went out? I realized I was not ready to be more than a babysitter.”
“I don’t know anyone is ever really ready, Em.” Stacie sighed, “I thought I was. I thought I was ready to be a single mom, no less. But having someone around to talk to, to help when she is fussy, to give me a nap? I swear, you are a lifesaver.”
Emily’s eyes twinkled, “then I can stay even though I learned my lesson in just a day?”
Stacie nodded, “you can stay as long as you want. You spoil me.” Stacie chuckled, “I expect you will want your own life soon enough, but a few more months would really help me out.”
“Hormones?” Emily teased.
“At least!” Stacie laughed harder as she realized she had started to tear up. “If we aren’t going to watch tv, I guess I should finish this glass and sort out our sleeping arrangements tonight.”
Emily stood up, taking her half-finished glass with her. “You stay out here.” She pulled out her phone, “Bella will wake in about two hours, and you’ll have a hard time getting back to sleep.”
“But I’m not sleepy yet Em. I could just stay up and watch for her.” Stacie reminded Emily.
Stacie arched an eyebrow, “I’m listening.”
“I’ll watch one show with you if you settle on the couch and let it put you to sleep. Wake me when you need to change for work in the morning.” Emily suggested.
Stacie hesitated before nodding. “Ok, let me set up the coffee timer.”
Emily smiled triumphantly, “it’s already set. I’ll get you a blanket and pillow.”
As Stacie watched Emily head down the hall, she had the distinct feeling she’d been played.
The next morning, Stacie sat at the table drinking coffee and checking her mail when Aubrey joined her in the kitchen. “Good morning.”
“It is,” Aubrey allowed. She looked around, “where is Emily?”
“Asleep in my room, I’d guess. She insisted on staying with Bella even though I got home earlier than planned.” Stacie replied.
Aubrey poured herself coffee and doctored it before sitting down. “Lousy date?”
Stacie laughed, “I was. Not ready to be away from Bella yet. Poor guy couldn’t run fast enough.”
“Too bad.” Aubrey smiled at the thought of anyone running from Stacie Conrad. “So, Emily heard you come in?”
“Yeah, you were dead to the world.” Stacie grinned.
Aubrey blushed, “you have a very comfortable home, Stac. I hope to make mine feel as good.”
Stacie leaned over and bumped Aubrey’s arm, “you will. You only just moved in.”
“True. I just wonder if it is a good idea for me to share with Beca.” Aubrey sighed.
“Emily said you guys were picking on each other again.” Stacie poked.
Aubrey nodded. “She is so infuriating. One minute she is sarcastic and snarky, the next she can be really sweet. I feel like I can’t get into rhythm about what to expect from her.”
Stacie nodded, “that sounds about right. We used to use Chloe as our becarometer. If Chloe was more bubbly than usual, Beca was being a pill.”
“That’s perfect,” Aubrey laughed in spite of herself. “If only I could hire Chloe to reprise the role.”
“Since you can’t, we have a couple of options. We can rearrange who stays with me. You are welcome to, if you don’t mind waking with Bella. I don’t think Beca staying here would be a good fit.”
Aubrey was already shaking her head. “Emily needs to stay here.”
Stacie remembered Aubrey had been asleep during the talk with Emily last night, “oh, Emily says she has learned the lesson already. She doesn’t mind staying, but she is in no hurry to join me in the young mother’s club.”
“That’s a blessing, anyway,” Aubrey sighed. “I think I should get my own place.”
“A third won’t open up until June 15,” Stacie admitted, “I have a tentative hold on it, or actually Amy does. Do you think you can last that long?”
Aubrey sighed heavily, “I can try. I need to talk to Beale, too. She has to be specific about times and remember the 3-hour time difference. Telling Beca 7 but not which 7 really screwed all of us.”
Stacie shook her head, “not all of us, but I see what you mean.” She looked at her watch, “I have to get ready. How about you and Emily talk about it and bring Grumpy in when she gets up. Let me know what you all think when I get home.”
“No dates tonight?” Aubrey teased.
“No!” Stacie then laughed, “not until I don’t feel guilty leaving Bella all day.” She stood up, “let me know?”
Aubrey nodded, “I will.” She just had to decide how to approach the discussion. What did she want and how could she get it until the new apartment was ready? She decided she needed more coffee before she could figure it out.
Chapter 16: This Sucks
Chloe pisses Aubrey off and hurts Beca’s feelings. Oops.
Beca glared at the sunlight as it streamed through the window. It couldn’t be morning already. She looked down at the phone that never rang all night. She thumbed through the text messages she had sent as gentle reminders further and further apart as her anxiety rose.
Chloe’s never forgotten to text before.
Beca put her head down on the keyboard, hitting erase on the snippets she’d tried to come up with to kill time while she waited. She sat up and took a deep breath, staring again at the sunlight that promised a new day while her mind threatened her that Chloe couldn’t see it.
She heard the lock click. She knew she should go to her room. She wasn’t sure she could take Aubrey’s pity or panic. Oh, shit, she didn’t know how to tell Aubrey. She stood, tangled in the headphones cord as she forgot to remove them from around her neck. She fell with a thump as the door opened, and she gave up. Tears started to flow.
“Oh, my God, Beca. Are you all right?” Aubrey dropped her keys and kicked the door closed as she darted over to the keyboard.
Beca looked up, eyes rimmed red and tears trickling down her cheek.
Aubrey gingerly pulled the cord free from Beca’s feet, looking her over for a twisted ankle or knee. “How long have you been down here?”
“I just fell, it’s stupid.” Beca dashed tears from her cheek angrily. “Nothing’s wrong.”
Aubrey sat back on her heels, clearly disbelieving. “Let’s get you over to the sofa.” She stood and pulled Beca gingerly to her feet.
Beca rolled her eyes but allowed Aubrey to lead her to sit down.
“Have you had coffee?” Aubrey asked, although she guessed not since she couldn’t smell any brewing. When Beca shook her head, Aubrey moved quietly to start a pot, her mind racing. She couldn’t come up with any reason for Beca to be so distraught. Or could she? Her stomach tightened. She returned to the living room. “Coffee on its way.” She sat down next to Beca and tried to make her voice neutral. “How was your call?”
Beca swallowed and looked away. After a long silence, she finally admitted, “she never called.”
Aubrey closed her eyes, unsure what to say next.
“I don’t even know if she’s ok, Aubrey.”
Aubrey’s eyes flew open. She couldn’t remember the last time Beca used her first name. “I’m sure she’s fine, Hobbit. She’s too ornery to let anything happen to her.” Aubrey saw a small smile grace Beca’s lips, but it wasn’t much. She cursed under her breath. She stood. “Let me pour some coffee,” she suggested as she headed to the kitchen. She sent a text to Chloe.
Aubrey: Call. Beca. Do. Not. Text. Now!
Aubrey poured two cups of coffee and added sugar to her own serving before heading back to the living room. She handed Beca a cup, then crossed back to pick up Beca’s phone. “Maybe she forgot to charge it. I can’t tell you how often she and I fought over that tendency our senior year.”
That made a slightly larger smile appear. “She bought a real alarm clock my sophomore year. She said she couldn’t count on me to wake her up if her phone died, and without you she would always be late.”
“That sounds about right.” Aubrey agreed just as Beca’s phone rang.
“Chlo? Are you ok?” Beca’s voice sounded panicked.
“Of course, I’m ok.” Chloe sounded puzzled. “If you hadn’t texted so much, my battery wouldn’t have died.”
Beca blinked at the response.
Aubrey took the phone out of Beca’s hand. “Elf, I swear to god, I’m gonna kick your ass.” She watched as Beca fled the room.
“What did I do?” Chloe looked confused.
“A- you didn’t define which time zone. B- you didn’t call. C- you didn’t even text to tell her you weren’t going to call.” Aubrey started, her temper starting to rise.
Chloe’s shoulders were high, near to her ears. “It died! I was running late. It died. I didn’t have my charger. How is this a capital offense?”
Aubrey took a deep breath and held the bridge of her nose. “She sat up all night waiting, Chlo. She had herself convinced something bad had happened. Some of us are still dealing with having our lives, or the lives of people we care about, threatened.”
“I just missed a call, Aubrey.”
“I’ll talk to you later. I gotta check on Beca. Just,” Aubrey ground her teeth. “Shit, Chloe, she put her life on the line for you. You could be a little more understanding.”
Chloe had the grace to blush. “I’m sorry, Bree. I wasn’t thinking about that.”
Aubrey nodded, “some of us are not as good at ignoring it, Elf. Have a heart.”
“Tell her I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to her. I promise.” Chloe spoke earnestly.
“I’ll tell her.” Aubrey closed the connection and put the phone down. She walked quietly down the hall. “Beca?”
“Go away, Posen. I’m lousy company.” Beca’s voice sounded muffled. Aubrey opened the bedroom door. “I said go away.”
Aubrey shook her head, even though Beca wasn’t looking. “Not a chance. I’m sorry Chloe is a flake. I love her dearly but, damn, sometimes she just doesn’t think. I’m sorry she hurt you.”
Beca did not sit up. She remained laying on her bed, face down in her pillow. “People suck.”
“Yeah, we do.” Aubrey sat down on the edge of the bed. “We are careless, and forgetful, and focused, and inattentive. We hurt people we care about. We suck.”
Beca flipped over to look at Aubrey. “You remember I said I didn’t have a lot of friends that were girls?” Aubrey nodded. “I didn’t have a lot of friends, period. You let people in, you count on them, they hurt you.” She turned away. “Then Chloe got pushy. And I found I liked all of you girls. Jesus, I even asked my dad to help me figure out what to do after I screwed up. Chloe invited me back.” As if she suddenly realized something, Beca’s shoulders sagged. “You didn’t.”
Aubrey winced. “I was a jealous chit, Beca.”
Beca looked up. “What?”
“You have more talent in your little finger than I would ever have. I am a technician. I play music as written. I can’t relax into jazz or improvise a scat. I can’t hear how two songs can blend together. That’s why we were using the same set. I couldn’t write a new one. Then you show up and you are everything I’m not. Edgy, creative, musical, with a voice I’d die for.” It was Aubrey’s turn to look away. “I was jealous and small, and I nearly threw it all away. Chloe was right, you made us better. If anyone shouldn’t have been a Bella it was me.”
Beca blinked. “They were yours first, Aubrey. You chose us, you heard how we could blend, you understand breakdowns for fuck’s sake.” She sat up and rubbed her eyes. “How the hell did we end up talking about my freshman year?”
Aubrey kept her eyes averted. “Chloe invited you back, I didn’t.”
“Oh, yeah. Well, so here we are. All these years later and it finally happened. Trust people and they leave.” Beca’s voice sounded bitter.
“Not all of them, Beca.” Aubrey replied quietly. “Amy is always on your side, no matter how many miles separate you. Stacie and Emily are right next door and expect you for dinner.” She stood up, “I’ll call Amy about hiring a real agent for you. I get why this won’t work now. I hurt you too badly all those years ago.”
Before Beca could respond, Aubrey was out of the room. Beca scrambled off her bed and ran to the hallway. “Don’t you fucking dare, Posen.”
Aubrey stopped, her back stiff as she faced the front door.
Beca walked closer. “Chloe may or may not call me later and grovel. It depends on how bad she feels. She’ll probably pretend it never happened.”
Aubrey turned slowly to face Beca, unwilling to continue this examination of Chloe’s character. “Beca,” she started.
“Fuck you if you walk away the same day she does. Fuck both of you to hell.” Beca had started to cry again.
“I don’t want to,” Aubrey began.
Beca looked up, “you guys, always together. She gets mad at me; she runs to you. Well, this time she fucked me. You said you were gonna kick her ass. Was that a lie?” When Aubrey shook her head, Beca continued. “Just once, take my side?” Beca’s voice shook. “Are we even friends? Or do you just tolerate me as long as Chloe likes me?”
“Oh, my god, Beca.” Aubrey closed the distance between them. “Of course, we are friends! If you can forgive me my stupidity your freshman year, I’d like nothing more than to be friends. I thought we were.”
Beca leaned her head on Aubrey’s arm. “Sometimes I think we are. Sometimes.”
Aubrey interrupted, “you are my favorite frenemy.” She rubbed Beca’s back in a half hug.
Beca laughed shakily. “Yeah, that.”
“We clash, Mitchell. I am strong willed and opinionated. You are talented and gifted. We have clashed since the day you called acapella lame.” Aubrey explained.
“And you called me a bitch.” Beca laughed harder.
Aubrey shrugged with a smirk, “if the shoe fits, Mitchell.”
Beca looked up, a smile on her face. “You are the only one who calls me on my shit, weirdo. I need you around.”
“Ok,” Aubrey smiled, “I’m just not sure we can stay roommates.”
“Of course, we can.” Beca scoffed. “You get the living room in the mornings; I get it at night. We only have to be civil during afternoons, and one or the other of us has Emily to escape to.”
“I do not escape to Emily.” Aubrey protested.
Beca smiled, “you did yesterday.” Her smile faltered, “I mean it, Posen. I learned my lesson. I can’t wait on Beale. I’ll take what I can get,” she blushed and shrugged, “cuz I still have a stupid toner for her. I still don’t think that’s a word.”
Aubrey laughed quietly, “well, it is a word and it’s about damn time you admit it.” She sighed, “Stacie says a second apartment will open mid-month.”
“Then we will decide then. Ok?” Beca’s eyes almost begged. “I...” she took a deep breath, “I don’t know what would have happened to me if you hadn’t had a key today. I didn’t think to call anyone when Chloe didn’t answer. I gotta learn how to think again. I’m nervous about being alone until I do.”
“She caught you off guard, Beca.” Aubrey held both of Beca’s upper arms to get the girl to look at her. “You are used to seeing her daily. That time is over, and you aren’t used to it yet. You will be fine, Beca Mitchell.”
Beca smiled, “but you will stay?”
Aubrey nodded, “as your roommate until the 15th and I’ll finish the process to be your agent. If you can forgive me for being a jealous bitch 7 years ago?”
“I’m so sorry I brought it up. I didn’t mean it. I was just thinking about how Chloe changed my life and it popped out.” Beca looked sincere. “You gave me the pitch pipe; you chose the first song we mashed up. You trusted me, Aubrey. I wouldn’t be here if you didn’t.”
“You would have.” Aubrey corrected her. “You are crazy talented. I’m excited to get to watch from the sidelines.” She cleared her voice, “now, take a shower, change your clothes and finish your coffee. I’ll rustle up some breakfast.”
Beca nodded and moved away, toward the hallway. “Nothing too healthy?
Aubrey laughed, “I’ll try. Maybe you should grab a nap first.”
“Oh, yeah, sleep, huh?” Beca pulled on her hair, “would you mind?”
“Nah. Mornings, the living room is mine, right?” Aubrey smiled.
Beca nodded, “yeah. See ya in a couple of hours.”
Aubrey nodded back and watched her go. She had no idea how she was going to get those two to talk. Just now, she wasn’t sure if she should. Maybe Chloe was right last month. Maybe they did need time apart.
Chapter 17: Relax
Beca and Emily talk music, then Beca gets on Aubrey’s last nerve during dinner.
Emily looked up from the floor where she was seated next to Bella. She rubbed the baby’s belly and poked it, eliciting a huge giggle.
“Hey, keep it down over there,” Beca teased.
“Hey, hurry it up over there,” Emily mocked in the same tone of voice. “Is this gonna work or not?”
Beca smirked. “It is.” She took her headphones off and hit play back. Emily’s voice floated through the speakers, the beat and rhythm infectious.
Hey, we got a good thing.
Wish I had you right here with me
All day, that I'm thinking
That it ain't gotta be that way.
All that I'm seeing
Is your face on a phone screen
With a call and a message
Maybe we gon' be ok
Emily grinned, “I still think it should be you singing it.”
“Oh, ima do it. I’ve got Theo working on releasing it first through a hip-hop artist, then let me cover it.” Beca grinned back. “I think it’ll be big, but I’m a cover artist. I shouldn’t do shit like this first.”
“I thought Theo was all about you doing your own material?” Emily frowned and returned her attention to the kicking baby.
Beca nodded, “but I wanna produce! He’s pulling a few more songs from the catalogue for me to layer and cover to go with Cups and Freedom 90. That will make Sony happy that they got an ep out of me. But if I can sell him on songs he can peddle to other artists, in house or out, then I have a better chance of getting to move behind the scenes.”
“Ok, I get it.” Emily smiled and shrugged, “I mean, I thought for years I wanted to be a recording artist. I was building it all up in my head, the way I could be the next, I dunno, Taylor Swift. But after the tour and the way it ended, it all lost its luster.”
“I’m not following how they go together.” Beca put her laptop aside and studied Emily. “You think our performance got Fergus’ attention?”
Emily shook her head and tickled Bella again. “I know it didn’t. I mean, it did in that he found his daughter. It didn’t because he didn’t care who we were.” She paused as she gathered her thoughts. “I grew up reading stories about people stalking celebrities. My mom told me about an actress who got shot on her front porch. People can get really scary. I realized, as much as I love to perform, I don’t need to do it. I need to write songs.” She looked up and laughed. “Even when I have writer’s block, it isn’t that songs aren’t coming. I just hate them.”
“Ok,” Beca pondered how to approach this subject. “First of all, you don’t get to throw anything away anymore. Give me all your scraps. Music fragments, phrases or words, everything. Maybe you hate it, but maybe I can remix it in a way you can stand.”
Emily smiled, “that sounds magical and sort of fun.”
Beca winked, “it’s what I do, you know? You write the shit, but I remix it. Let me try.”
“It’s a deal,” Emily nodded, “I don’t know I kept any old stuff but if I find it, I will send it to you.”
“Even new stuff. I don’t care if you don’t like it. Don’t pitch it.” Beca was insistent.
Emily laughed, “I promise.”
Beca nodded her head once, for emphasis. “Good. Now, about performing.” She paused to think. “I never thought to perform. I started because, well, because of Chloe. Then I had fun. But performing without you girls isn’t fun. So, I’m back to wanting to be behind the scenes.” She tilted her head to one side. “Are you sure you don’t want to perform?”
“I’m pretty sure,” Emily nodded. “I really am wanting moments to count, you know?” She paused and looked down at Bella. “Like watching this little one. It’s important. She hasn’t been screwed up yet. I wanna help Stacie make sure she has the best chance to have a great life. That’s important. Writing songs, I don’t know it’s important.”
“It is.” Beca interrupted. “So is performing them. I don’t always get why a song is popular. Take ‘Cups.’ It’s just a silly song about splitting up, really. Or asking someone to come along instead of splitting up. But it struck a chord. Some people really want songs they can cry to, other people want songs to help them forget about crying for a while. Music is important because it helps people express themselves, or examine themselves, or just take a break from the fucked up world around us.”
Emily blinked. She wasn’t sure she had ever heard Beca speak so passionately about music before. “I guess I didn’t think of it that way.”
“You don’t have to perform, but music is important. It takes songwriters,” Beca pointed at Emily, “and mixers,” she pointed at herself. “It takes singers, like the Bellas or Selena Gomez. It takes the orchestra and the arrangers and the recording engineers. There are so many ways someone can help put a song on the air and make someone else smile.”
“I get it, Cap.” Emily replied softly. “I get all in my head and I forget to think things through. Music is important, even the silly competitions like the ICCAs, because the groups get to work together and show what they can do as a team. I forgot for a while, that’s all.”
Beca smiled, “yeah, we all forget once in a while. I forgot I had a whole team who believed in me, not just Beale. Posen had to remind me.”
Emily’s smile grew, “I’m glad she did. I hope Chloe is happy. I really do. But I’m happy that you stuck around. I’m happy you let me stick around.”
“Shit, Scribbles, you are my flashlight, right?” Beca winked.
“I thought you were mine,” Emily teased back. She brought the conversation back to the snippet Beca had played. “Do you think it will sell?”
Beca nodded, “yep. I just gotta talk Theo into finding the right artists.” She put her headphones back on, “I better finish the chorus though or he’s never gonna let me live it down.”
Emily nodded and laid down next to Bella. She started to rub the baby’s belly again as she rested her own head on her arm. “The waiting is the worst,” she told the child after Beca couldn’t hear her anymore.
Beca looked over a few minutes later and smiled. Both girls were asleep. It was too stinkin’ cute.
A few hours later, while Bella slept, Beca had her laptop closed and was fishing cashew chicken out of a take-out container with chopsticks. “Why the hell are we using these archaic utensils? Where’s a damn fork?”
“Slow down, Hobbit. We are having a leisurely meal, remember?” Aubrey replied.
“Ima be hungry all damn night. The first thing I eat will be digested before I get the second one out.” Beca groused.
“Need me to make a plate for you, Grumpy?” Stacie asked as she flipped through the YouTube options for quiet background music.
Emily tried to suppress a giggle, “look, Beca, like this.” She held her own chopsticks between her middle and index fingers, resting one of them on her thumb. “You really only move the top one.”
Beca peered at Emily, watched how the chopsticks worked, then with a bland look on her face stabbed a piece of chicken with a chopstick and stuck it in her mouth.
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Aubrey sighed. “Even if I think that is a little extreme.”
“You do not get a fork just because you misbehave, Grumpy. All that will happen is I will dish some onto a plate and make you struggle through.” Stacie threatened.
“Why am I being tortured like this?” Beca complained loudly. “Aren’t there like egg rolls or something I can eat with my fingers?”
Emily gave in and giggled, “Beca, you play piano, you should have the dexterity to handle chopsticks.”
Sarcastically, Beca started to tap the coffee table as if playing “chopsticks” on a keyboard, making the appropriate sounds.
“Oh my god, Hobbit. Enough already. Show your maturity and let us enjoy a quiet meal?” Aubrey said with an exasperated tone of voice.
Stacie snorted, “grumpy? Mature? Are we talking about the same Beca Mitchell?”
“Low blow, Conrad.” Beca muttered, but she did stop messing around. She grabbed the rice container, flipped some of it onto her plate and then returned her attention to the cashew chicken. While she did not collect individual pieces with her chopsticks, she used the same technique that filled her plate with rice to maneuver the chicken, nuts and sauce on top of the sticky white stuff. Then she put the container down and huffed quietly.
Aubrey suppressed a smile, “thank you. Em, will you show her again how to use the chopsticks?” Aubrey was busy filling her own plate and handing containers to Stacie to do the same.
Stacie was amused that Beca had subsided, but also enjoyed watching Emily teach her grumpy friend how to eat using the wooden sticks. “Not bad, Grumpy. Maybe you have some dexterity after all.”
“You’ll never know, Conrad.” Beca muttered again.
Stacie arched an eyebrow. “Was that a blue comment? Did you just make a sex joke?”
Beca looked up, exasperated. “If you have to ask, I guess it wasn’t funny.”
“Oh, it was funny,” Stacie smirked, “mostly because I can’t remember you ever doing that before. Who is being a bad influence on you?”
“Must be you, Conrad. No one else I know is as fluent as you are.” Beca replied.
Stacie looked at Aubrey, “she says that like it’s a bad thing.”
Aubrey rolled her eyes, “I give up. Put something to distract us on the television, Emily. Stacie, go get forks. I’m going to pour a glass of wine.” She stood up and went to the kitchen.
Beca winced, “oops. Too much?”
Emily nodded, “maybe?”
Stacie stood up, “I’ll see what I can do to settle her down. Em, find us a program.”
Emily nodded and picked up the remote.
Beca chewed on her lower lip. “Um, try a search for a documentary on how to eat with chopsticks or you know, traditional Chinese meals or something?”
“Good idea,” Emily agreed. She hoped they could salvage the night.
By the time they had found “China Food Journey,” Beca was seated with her back against a chair and concentrating on the chopsticks. Aubrey handed her an opened bottle of beer while Stacie handed out forks. “Not now, Conrad, I almost got it.”
Aubrey smiled as Emily presented the program they had found. Stacie sat down next to Aubrey and they all turned their attention to the television while they ate. At one point, Beca sat up straighter and held up the chopsticks, which had a single piece of chicken balanced precariously upon them. She smiled triumphantly.
As they all applauded, Stacie couldn’t help but wonder how the night would have gone had Chloe been here. Maybe they didn’t need a buffer anymore.
Chapter 18: Upheaval
Chloe contacts Aubrey and Beca; Aubrey arranges moving out.
Chloe: still mad?
Chloe: come on, Elf. You know I didn’t mean anything
Chloe: Beca’s not even mad any more
Aubrey: Are you sure?
Chloe: about what?
Aubrey: never mind. Just. Be more careful?
Chloe: I said I was sorry. I am. I just got caught up.
Chloe: I have good news, though. I get to live in New York.
Chloe: a couple of more weeks. I have one more shoot in LA first
Aubrey stared at her phone. Part of her knew she should offer the apartment she’d been waiting for. Part of her worried about Chloe being that close. Then she felt guilty.
Aubrey: need help finding a place?
Chloe: I think my agent found me one.
Aubrey blinked. Right. Chloe would need an agent.
Aubrey: do I know him or her?
Chloe: I don’t think so. The photographer who spotted me in Paris recommended him.
Aubrey smiled in spite of herself. Chloe always landed on her feet. It looked like she did again.
Aubrey: ok. You do know Amy started an agency to support Beca?
Chloe: oh yeah, I forgot. Anyway, see you in two weeks?
Aubrey: yeah, Elf. See you in two weeks.
Aubrey sighed. She wondered if she had to be the one to break the news to Beca. She shouldn’t have worried.
Stacie, however, frowned at the look on Aubrey’s face. “Everything ok?”
Before Aubrey could answer, Beca ran into the kitchen with Emily close behind.
“Hey, Posen, you talk to Beale lately?” Beca’s face was lit up with a huge smile.
Aubrey managed to smile back. “She just told me.” Aubrey then looked at Stacie and answered her question. “Chloe is moving here in two weeks.”
Stacie arched an eyebrow. “Should I talk to the management about another apartment?”
Beca froze. Realizing how close they were to the 15th and their self-imposed deadline to talk about Aubrey moving out, she started to stammer. “Oh shit. I forgot. We still gotta decide.”
Aubrey shook her head. “It’s ok, Hobbit. I asked her about it. She said her agent found her a place already.”
“Her agent?” Emily squeaked. “She didn’t ask you?”
“Nope,” Aubrey shrugged. “I don’t even know his name. But he came highly recommended by the photographer who discovered her.”
Stacie was still frowning. “I think I have to give a certain redhead a piece of my mind.”
Aubrey laid a hand on Stacie’s arm. “Not on my account, Stac. Chloe operates in her own world and in her own time. She’s having new experiences and loving it. She’ll come around and remember the rest of us when it gets old or it gets hard.”
“You sound like you’ve seen her do this before.” Beca was still reeling from the news Chloe had an agent who wasn’t Aubrey.
“I have.” Aubrey shrugged. “I hope it doesn’t take her three years this time.”
Stacie paled as she realized Aubrey was referencing the time between Aubrey’s graduation and the retreat. She cut a quick glance at Beca, who hadn’t made the connection yet.
“Anyway,” Aubrey stood. “I should let you girls get back to your music. I’ll go talk to the management team about my move.”
Beca rocked back and forth on her feet, unsure what to say. “You don’t have to, you know. We got a good pattern going.”
Aubrey smiled fondly at Beca, “which will mean nothing when Beale gets back. I think having my own retreat will be wise.” She started to move out of the kitchen and hesitated before adding, “thanks for making it bearable.”
“Sure,” Beca shrugged. “Thanks for sticking around.”
“Easy.” Aubrey smiled again and before Stacie or Emily could say anything, she was out the door.
Stacie looked at Beca, “you guys did plan on this, right? Aubrey taking the new place?”
Beca shrugged again. “Sort of.” She dropped into the chair Aubrey had just left. “After Chloe blew off my phone call, my busted brain freaked out. I was just sure she’d, you know, died or something. Aubrey and I then had a big fight.”
Emily blinked, “you guys had a fight?”
“Yeah, I said something stupid and she felt bad. She started to walk out. I got mad and said she always sided with Beale.” Beca’s voice caught in her throat. “She said I was her favorite frenemy.”
Stacie was not following. For all the world, it sounded like Beca had developed a crush on Aubrey. “But about the apartment?”
Beca smiled, “sorry. She said she would stay till it opened. She gets the living room in the morning; I get it at night. I joked we had to be civil the rest of the time.” She looked up at Stacie, “I,” she stopped then shrugged again. “I guess it’s time for me to learn to live alone.”
“Oh Grumpy,” Stacie’s eyes widened. “You never have?”
Beca shook her head. “Mom’s house to the dorm, then the Bella house, then the apartment with Amy and Chloe, then the hotel and apartment with Aubrey.”
Emily chewed on her lower lip. “Um, I haven’t either. Maybe I should move in and we can learn to be independent together?”
“You are sweet, Em.” Beca stood up. “But it’s time for me to sack up and grow up.” She moved toward the living room. “Mind if we pick up the music another time?”
Emily shook her head but hugged Beca on her way by. “You still aren’t alone, Cap. We’re right next door.”
Beca nodded. “I’ll make an alert on my phone to remind me.” She laughed at herself. “Just in case I get maudlin.”
“I still expect you here for dinner a couple of times a week, Grumpy.” Stacie insisted. “Until you and Beale get your heads out of your asses, I wanna daily check in too.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Beca managed a smile. She gave Emily a hug and headed out herself.
Emily looked from the door to Stacie. “Why does it feel like they just broke up?”
Stacie shook her head. “I don’t know, but it does, doesn’t it?”
It was Emily’s turn to drop into the chair. “I hope Chloe doesn’t make things worse.”
“They have a weird dynamic, Em.” Stacie shrugged. “That triangle is about as messy as it gets.”
Emily nodded, feeling dejected, “I just hope they are all ok.”
Stacie took a deep breath, “are you ok?”
“Yeah.” Emily frowned, “why wouldn’t I be?”
“I thought maybe you and Posen...” Stacie started.
Emily was shaking her head. “I’m a kid, Stac. I can’t even drink yet. She watches out for me, and is really supportive, but I’ll always be a kid to her.”
It was Stacie’s turn to shake her head. “She’s so proud of you.”
“And she really does want me to do well.” Emily agreed. “I don’t know how to explain it. I just,” Emily shrugged helplessly, “I always have these expectations to live up to, you know? I’m always worried I’m gonna let her down.”
Stacie nodded and sighed. Things were so not what she expected. Maybe she was reading too much into Aubrey’s hurt. She had read too much into Emily’s relationship with Aubrey. “I don’t even know what to say, Em.”
“Nothing to say,” Em smiled. “Worry more about them than me. I’m good.”
“Ok,” Stacie smiled with relief. “At least one of you are”
Emily chuckled, “two of us. Well, three if we count Bella.” She looked at the door again. “But I don’t know about those three.”
Stacie nodded again, “me either.”
Beca sat in the dark apartment, staring at the banner on the wall. Her first ICCA championship. The one she kissed Jesse after. She rolled her eyes at herself. “You are so fucking stupid, Mitchell.” She turned to look at the door when she heard the key in the lock. “Hey,” she called out as Aubrey walked in.
“Hey.” Aubrey fidgeted with her keys. “The apartment is on the next floor up. Two bedrooms, like this one. Amy already paid first and security. We just have to decide who is gonna live there.” She tried to keep her voice neutral.
Beca nodded. She looked back at the banner. “And who gets custody.”
Aubrey smiled, “you do, of course. We wouldn’t have won without you.”
Aubrey frowned. She wasn’t ready for the change in topic, “what of?”
Beca looked back at Aubrey, “I realized after you left, I’ve never lived alone.”
“Oh,” Aubrey nodded and walked further into the room. “It isn’t going to be that bad. You won’t have to worry about me using all of the hot water, or making you eat healthy food.”
Beca smiled, “I can live on ramen and pizza, that’ll be cool.”
Aubrey smiled back, “until we go on tour. Then I’m in charge again.”
“That’s a relief.” Beca turned away again. “You worried about Chloe?”
Aubrey wasn’t sure how to answer that, so she didn’t respond.
“She’ll be ok, you know. I’m sorry she didn’t hire you, but I’m sorta glad too. I think it may be just too crazy for you to try and juggle us both.” Beca shrugged, “but if she asks, just, find me someone I can trust before you go?”
“I’m not quitting, Mitchell. I’m just moving to another floor. I’m giving you privacy.” Aubrey replied firmly.
Beca nodded. “Promise?”
Aubrey nodded even though Beca wasn’t looking at her. “Promise.” She sighed, “I hope her being in New York is good for you both.”
Beca looked up again. “I still don’t think I’m what she wants.”
Aubrey sat down. “What do you want?”
“I don’t know anymore.” Beca answered honestly. “Maybe I just wanted her because I was scared to be alone. I can’t tell.”
“Then live alone in the safety of this building. I’ll be upstairs, Stacie and Emily will be next door. Talk to Beale and see her around her schedule.” Aubrey smiled kindly. “Maybe you can sort it out.”
Beca nodded, “I guess.” She smiled as her eyes drifted to the floor. “It’s sort of embarrassing to realize you may have been lying to yourself for years.”
Aubrey tapped Beca on the arm. “I don’t think you’ve been lying to yourself. I do think you care for her. I just don’t think you realized you were also scared to live alone. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”
“Is that fancy business language for I can be both?” Beca joked.
“Yeah,” Aubrey stood again. “I didn’t realize this would be so hard on you.” She wavered, “I’m not sure what to do.”
Beca stood up, “come on, I’ll help you pack. I used to choose to be alone. I can do it again.”
Aubrey still hesitated, “keep me on speed dial?”
“You and Amy and Conrad and Junk. Maybe someday Beale again.” Beca admitted quietly, “but not yet. I’m not mad anymore, but I’m not ready to trust her yet.”
“I get it.” Aubrey nodded. “I went through that when I graduated, and she didn’t.”
As they walked back toward Aubrey’s room, the quarter dropped for Beca. “Oh, shit. I was the new bauble.”
Aubrey glanced nervously at Beca, “what?” She pretended she didn’t understand.
“The time Chloe had a new fascination, and you hadn’t heard from her in three years. That was me?” Beca pulled Aubrey to a stop.
“Yes,” Aubrey reluctantly agreed. “Your senior year, before the retreat, she started calling. She said you were distracted, checked out, late with deadlines. Before then, I heard from her only sporadically.”
Beca took a shaky breath. “She came back for you, though.”
Aubrey nodded. “I expect her to come back for you.”
“Then...” Beca felt like there was something Aubrey wasn’t saying.
“I just hope something new doesn’t come along and leave you hurting again.” Aubrey admitted. “We have a contract to fulfill and it will be tough if you are emotionally checked out.”
Beca’s back stiffened. “Right.” She should have known, only business matters to Posen. “I’ll be careful. I won’t let you down.” Then she cleared her throat as those words echoed the last performance in France in her mind. “We should start packing.”
Aubrey merely nodded. She hoped it worked out for them. She really did.
Chapter 19: Hurricane Chloe
“I mean, sometimes it is the most boring thing!” Chloe sat on the sofa and regaled the girls with her stories about her modeling shoots. “There was one day we had spent hours in the make-up room, and as soon as I stepped to the door, the skies opened up. We couldn’t shoot in the rain! So, we all trooped back inside and waited. All day long! They finally sent us home at like 7 pm to get rested so we could try again the next day. No one tells you how much time is spent just waiting.”
Stacie nodded and smiled, “no, I hadn’t thought of that. But mostly you enjoy it, right?”
Chloe laughed brightly. “Oh, of course I do.” She looked over at Stacie from her spot next to Beca. “Who wouldn’t love dressing up every day, having a personal hairdresser and make-up artist and having your picture taken all day?”
Aubrey smirked, “well, I wouldn’t. But then again, you know what nerves do to my stomach.”
“Oh, Bree, you would make a great model!” Chloe turned again and looked at Aubrey. “You have terrific bone structures and are just the right height.”
Beca rolled her eyes but didn’t say anything.
Emily watched the interaction. Beca didn’t complain there was a hidden short joke. “So, how long are you gonna be in New York?” She asked Chloe. She saw Beca tense up.
Chloe shifted her gaze again toward Emily. “I don’t know. Right now, they plan on me being here through the summer, but if a new brand picks me up, I may have to fly out at a moment’s notice.”
Stacie nodded, “living the life of a jet setter. We should get all the girls here for a reunion as soon as possible, before you are off again.”
“Oh, not yet,” Chloe leaned back against the sofa cushions. “I’m really quite exhausted. It’s enough to see you girls. When does Bella wake up?”
Emily stood, “I’ll go check on her.” She smiled at the group and headed down the hall.
Chloe smiled again at Stacie, “Emily is quite the help. I guess I never thought about her being good with children.”
“She’s very good with Bella.” Aubrey replied. “And she’s been writing new songs, too.”
Beca also nodded, “Theo has two of them out on the market now. He really thinks Emily’s stuff will strike a nerve with a certain demographic.”
Chloe smiled, “good for her!” She returned her gaze to Aubrey, “who would have thought all those years ago we were putting together such an illustrious group? A model, a songwriter, a producer, an heiress, an engineer.” Chloe started ticking off some of the Bella professions.
“A pair of bakers, an entrepreneur, a security expert, a pilot.” Aubrey added to the list. “Each one was something special, Chloe. You know that.”
“Of course,” Chloe waved her off, “I wasn’t trying to be disparaging. I just never thought so many of us would be so....”
“Famous.” Emily walked back in, a sleepy baby in her arms. “I think she wants you, mamacita.”
Stacie stood and took her daughter, “well, you guys can keep the fame. I’m hoping no one learns my name.”
Aubrey nodded, “me too.” She stood up, “I have a meeting I need to get to, however. One of those songs may have a nibble, Emily. I’ll talk to you all later.”
Beca nodded as Chloe stood to hug Aubrey. “Talk to you soon, Elf?”
“Yeah, soon.” Aubrey hugged Chloe back and waved at the others before she left the apartment.
Stacie soothed the sleepy baby and brought her over for Chloe to see, “Bella, this is Chloe.”
“She’s adorable, Stac!” Chloe tickled the baby’s feet and Bella kicked reflexively. “She is getting so big.”
“Yeah, she is. We have a few more months before she can sit up on her own.”
“But she can push herself up on her arms, and look, she can grab my fingers.” Emily boasted proudly as she held her pinky for Bella to grasp. “She’s doing great.”
Chloe smiled, “you are doing great with her, both of you.”
Emily blushed, “thanks.” She looked uncomfortably around the room. “You know, I wonder if I should have asked to go along to that meeting. I’ll be right back.” Emily scooted off to her room.
Chloe smiled knowingly at Stacie, “she still has a thing for Posen.”
Beca’s head snapped up, “Emily?”
Chloe nodded, “oh, yeah. Weren’t you the one who told me about the way they looked at each other during the tour? Emily was always right beside Aubrey or looking to her for advice.”
Beca nodded her head slowly, “oh, yeah, I forgot.”
Stacie shrugged, “I think that ship has sailed, Chloe. Aubrey is more like a mentor or big sister. She’s really encouraging but I don’t see any sparks.”
“You just don’t know where to look,” Chloe teased. “It’s all good, I’m here now. I’ll help them out.”
“Chlo, don’t get all up in their business,” Beca begged.
Chloe giggled, “I won’t. I’ll just help them see what they are missing, that’s all.”
Stacie felt her stomach tighten. Why did this feel like a really bad idea? She changed the subject, “when can I call the other girls for that reunion?”
“Oh, I don’t know, give me a week, maybe?” Chloe returned to her spot on the couch. “I wouldn’t mind a week of sleeping in my own bed and catching up with you girls.” She reached out and laced fingers with Beca.
Stacie nodded, “ok. Um, I think Bella needs a change, I’ll be right back.”
As she headed down the hall, she bumped into Emily who was just opening her bedroom door. She indicated with her head that Emily should follow.
“Does it feel weird to you?” Stacie asked as she put Bella down on the changing table.
Emily frowned and then her face cleared up, “oh, Chloe being back. She sorta breezed in like a hurricane, didn’t she?”
Stacie nodded. “Center of the conversation, plopped next to Beca like no time had passed, like she hadn’t hurt Beca’s feelings.”
“You don’t think they sorted that out before now?” Emily was frowning again.
“Maybe?” Stacie shrugged as she continued changing Bella. “Beca seems awfully subdued though. Not excited like I thought she would be.”
Emily nodded, “and Aubs was sure in a hurry to leave. I called her about that meeting. It isn’t for three more hours, although she said I could join her if I want.”
Stacie sighed, “it’s so weird.” She looked at Emily, “do you want to be famous?”
“Not a chance,” Emily laughed. “The infamy of the kidnapping was enough for me. I am happy to write my scribbles and send them off to Theo for someone else to sing.”
“I guess I just never really thought about it.” Stacie said. “I figured Beca would make it in the music industry, and I’m awfully proud of the other girls, especially CR going back to flight school after the hard time she had just a couple of months ago.”
Emily leaned back against the door jamb, “me too. And Ashley and Jessica opened a bakery. It’s doing really well, for being so new.” She tilted her head to one side, “why does Chloe get to decide when we have a reunion?”
Stacie froze. Then she turned her head to look at Emily, “I don’t know.”
“I just wondered if there was some unwritten rule and Aubs and Beca deferred to Chloe.” Emily shrugged.
“I don’t know. I don’t think so.” Stacie smirked. “I’m gonna text Amy and see what she thinks.”
Emily grinned, “rebel.”
Stacie arched an eyebrow, “you expected less?”
Meanwhile, in the living room, Beca had extricated her hand from Chloe’s and stood up. Her fingers fidgeted as she walked into Stacie’s kitchen. “Want some water?” She called out, only to find Chloe had followed her.
“Water would be nice. What’s up, Becs? You seem nervous. Aren’t you happy to see me?”
“Of course, I am.” Beca scoffed. She handed over a bottle and opened her own before leaning against the counter. “You seem really happy.”
Chloe tilted her head to one side, “but?”
Beca shrugged, “maybe you were right.”
“About what?” Chloe frowned.
“About it being time for us to move on.”
Chloe shook her head, “I said I was sorry, Becs. I didn’t mean to be so cavalier about calling. It was insensitive of me.” She moved closer, “I’m here now. Can’t we try again?”
Beca sighed, “I don’t know we can.” Beca took a deep breath, “I will always love you, Chloe Beale, but I don’t think both of us being in the industry is gonna work out. There will always be photo or video shoots, concerts, special appearances. It will be hard to coordinate them.”
“We can do it,” Chloe responded confidently. “We were always good at working things out.”
“We were.” Beca nodded, “then you didn’t tell me you were feeling unappreciated.” She swigged from her water bottle. “I know, I hadn’t told you how I felt yet, but you hadn’t told me either.”
Chloe nodded, “I was waiting for you.”
Beca shrugged, “I didn’t know if you even liked girls.” She laughed ruefully. “I guess our timing always sucked.” She pushed off the counter. “Tell Stac and Em I had to go? I’m gonna check on Aubrey. She seemed a little off to me today.”
“Ok,” Chloe frowned, “talk to you later?”
“Yeah, talk to ya later.” Beca was off before Chloe could stop her.
Stacie and Emily walked out from the hallway. “I heard the door open?”
Chloe joined them in the living room. “Yeah, Beca said she had to go. She wanted to check on Aubrey.” Chloe looked up at Stacie, “she doesn’t want to try again, Stac. She says we can’t make it work.” Her eyes filled with tears, “why is she always walking away?”
Stacie groaned, handed off her daughter to Emily and hugged Chloe. “I think you guys have a lot to sort out if you are going to make it work. Missing that call really fucked with her.”
“I apologized!” Chloe protested as she put her head on Stacie’s shoulder.
“Sometimes an apology is not enough.” Stacie replied gently. “She had worried for hours. She had herself convinced something bad happened to you. Plus, you were the one who suggested time apart would be good. Mitchell can’t tell what’s what anymore.”
Chloe nodded, her face still miserable. “I’m gonna have to win her back, Stac.”
Emily closed her eyes and rocked Bella quietly. How had everything gone so crazy again after seeming to be so normal?
Chapter 20: Salvage
Chloe tried to salvage her friendships and her hoped for relationship.
Aubrey: hey, what’s up?
Chloe: you ok.
Aubrey: yeah, why?
Chloe: both Emily and Beca seemed to think they had to check on you.
Chloe: what’s up?
Aubrey: nothing. It’s just, you know, awkward. I’m their friend, I’m also their agent.
Aubrey: keeping lines drawn is hard sometimes.
Chloe: especially with Emily growing up so well?
Aubrey: don’t start.
Chloe: why not? She’s gorgeous, you are gorgeous. She likes music, you like music.
Aubrey: I’m not having this conversation, Elf. What do you want?
Chloe: for you to be happy.
Aubrey: I’m fine. How are you and the Hobbit?
Chloe: we have stuff to sort out, like Stacie said.
Aubrey: like what?
Chloe: Beca is worried about the distance thing.
Aubrey: well, she was pretty upset that night you didn’t call.
Chloe: Jeeze, make one mistake.
Aubrey: it isn’t just one, Chlo, and you know it
Chloe: what else?
Chloe: he’s old news.
Aubrey: she was on her way to confess her love for you, you idiot.
Chloe: it was just a kiss!
Aubrey: and then you stayed in Europe. You left her to clean the apartment, told her it was better for you guys to see how you did apart.
Chloe: and I missed her. I learned my lesson. I’m back.
Aubrey: for how long?
Chloe: shit, I thought you were on my side?
Aubrey: I’m on your side, but I also worry about Beca.
Chloe: when did that happen?
Aubrey: I’m her agent, Chloe. It’s my job.
Chloe: still, I thought you’d be happy for me.
Aubrey: I am Elf. I want you to be happy. I want her to be happy, too. That’s all.
Chloe: well, then, tell me how to win her back.
Chloe: what do I do? She’s all closed off again.
Aubrey: be no boundaries Beale. That’s what won her the first time.
Chloe: I don’t think that will work.
Aubrey: of course, it will. You focus that laser attention on her, and she won’t know what hit her.
Aubrey: yeah. She is nervous because you stopped. Show her she matters; you’ll win her back.
Chloe: thanks Elf. I’ll give it a try
Chloe: meanwhile, what is taking you so long with Emily?
Aubrey: goodnight, Elf.
Aubrey put her phone back down and stared at the ceiling. She hoped Chloe knew what she was doing.
As soon as Chloe realized Aubrey wasn’t going to text again, she switched messages.
Chloe: you busy?
Beca: just mixing stuff. Got used to working at night again when I shared space with Posen.
Chloe: oh, right, you were roomies.
Beca: for a little while, but it was long enough to develop a new habit. What’s up?
Chloe: I really am sorry I messed up.
Beca: you said that Chlo. We’re ok. I just think maybe you were right. We are better as friends.
Chloe: come on, Becs. We never even gave being more a shot.
Beca: I know. I was too chicken shit to say anything till it was too late.
Beca: but I learned something about myself in the last few weeks.
Chloe: what’s that?
Beca: well, you know how I was hard on you for being too scared to leave Barden?
Chloe: yeah. But you weren’t wrong.
Beca: maybe not. But I recognized it because I couldn’t sack up either.
Chloe: you didn’t stay three extra years.
Beca: no, but I invited you to stay with me three extra years
Chloe stared at the screen as she processed what Beca had just typed.
Beca: so, I was scared to move on from you too.
Chloe: and now?
Beca: I think living alone is good for me. I can still talk and text with you and the rest of the Bellas.
Beca: I live next door to Stacie and Emily. I can be alone without being alone, you know?
Chloe: are you saying you don’t love me anymore?
Beca: I will always love you, Chloe. I just don’t honestly know how we fit in each other’s lives right now.
Beca: you have to be ready to fly off at a moment’s notice. You said so.
Chloe: that’s true.
Beca: I learned in Vegas I really hate being away from home.
Chloe: home used to be us.
Beca: and then it wasn’t for you
Chloe: no, it wasn’t.
Beca: so, it isn’t for me.
Chloe: I really screwed up.
Beca: you moved on. I don’t think we can go back.
Chloe: what if we go forward?
Beca: what do you mean?
Chloe: what if we start over. We can phone date, and date in person as long as I’m in New York. Start over like a real couple.
Chloe: I can meet you for coffee tomorrow morning.
Chloe: that bagel shop we always liked.
Beca: that’s too far.
Chloe: I’ll get the bagels and bring them to you. What time?
Beca: um, I don’t know. Ten?
Chloe: see you at ten, Becs. Have a good mixing session.
Beca: ok, see you at ten.
It was Beca’s turn to stare at the phone. She wasn’t sure what just happened.
The next morning, Aubrey was cursing as she poured coffee into a 24-ounce travel mug. The smell was good, yet she knew if she tried to drink this crap, she would have a stomach ache all day. Pouring the rest down the sink, she restarted the pot, put on her house shoes and headed out to the hallway. She walked down the steps to the floor below, then over to Beca’s door. She knocked but had her key out in case Beca was still sleeping.
To her surprise, Beca opened the door. “Oh, hey, Posen. What’s up?”
Aubrey smiled, “made the coffee too strong again. Wasn’t sure if you had made some yet.” She broke off when she heard another voice.
“Bree!” Chloe chirped happily, “come on in. We have coffee and bagels.”
Aubrey looked past an uncomfortable Beca to see Chloe seated on the couch with bags and cups all over the coffee table. “Oh, hey, Elf.” She shifted her feet uncomfortably. “I didn’t realize I was interrupting.”
“Just coffee and bagels,” Beca repeated as she held her hand out. “Your coffee is better. This stuff is all sweet and shit.”
Aubrey managed to stifle a smile. “Cappuccino?”
Beca nodded as Chloe moved closer. “We have plenty, Bree, come on in and join us.”
Aubrey shook her head. “Really, I am in the middle of my morning. I just made the coffee too strong. I didn’t want to waste it.” She handed over the travel mug and took a step away from their door. “Enjoy your breakfast.”
Beca nodded, unsure what to say. She finally managed, “thank you” just as Aubrey headed into the stairwell.
“Why wouldn’t she join us?” Chloe pouted.
“I’m sure she has lots to do, like she said. Mornings, she usually spends some time with her emails, and makes phone calls.” Beca looked at her own phone for the time. “And we are getting close to rehearsal time for her.”
Chloe frowned, “rehearsal time?”
Beca nodded and guided Chloe back inside to the sofa, closing the door on her way. “She took up the piano again. She only has a keyboard right now, but we found one that had spacing like a real piano so she could get the feel back.”
“Aubrey plays piano for real?” Chloe sounded stunned.
“Yeah, it surprised me too.” Beca laughed. “Emily said Aubrey was piano performance before she got into the Bellas and it took too much time.” Beca sat down and picked up a cinnamon crunch bagel. “I’m surprised you didn’t know, though.”
Chloe was still thinking. “We never had anything for her to practice on, except the piano at the auditorium. She mostly played scales and parts. I should have known.”
Beca shook her head, “nah, she keeps it close to the chest. I teased her about it, but she says she’s just a technician. Nothing special.” Beca took a bite of the sweet treat and washed it down with Aubrey’s coffee. “Oh yeah, that’s good.”
“Why is her coffee better than what I brought?” Chloe felt a pang of jealousy, and then guilt.
“It’s strong and it’s black. I can drink the sweet stuff, but I don’t prefer it if my food is sweet anymore.” Beca explained.
Chloe nodded, “I didn’t know that.”
Beca shrugged, “I’ve always preferred back coffee. I just drank the sweet stuff to keep you company.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Chloe was stunned. How could Aubrey know something about Beca she didn’t? And Beca knew something about Aubrey Chloe didn’t? The world felt upside down.
“It isn’t that important, Chlo. Now, are you gonna eat or do I get two?”
Chloe smiled, picked up her own bagel and tried to salvage the morning.
Aubrey listened after she heard Beca call out her thanks. As soon as the door clicked, she stepped out of the stairwell and returned to Stacie’s door. She knocked quietly.
Emily opened it. “Aubs?” She was surprised.
“Mind if I come in?” Aubrey smiled nervously.
“Oh, yeah I mean, no, come on.” Emily stammered and moved out of the way. “Are you ok?”
Aubrey shook her head. “I’m a mess, Em. I thought I could be friends with them both while they date. But I just feel stuck in the middle, you know?”
Emily felt like she had just had a pail of cold water dumped on her. “Chloe and Beca.”
Aubrey nodded. “It’s dumb. They’ve been playing at this game for years. But it was easy before. I was always on Chloe’s side.”
“But now you aren’t.” Emily made it a statement, not a question.
“No,” Aubrey sighed. “You didn’t see the mess Beca was in when Chloe hadn’t called. She was having a breakdown, Em. She had stayed up all night, she fell at some point, and was just lying on the floor in a jumble of keyboard cables and cords, crying.” Aubrey sat down on the couch. “I told Chloe to call, not text, and you know what her first words were?”
Emily winced as she guessed, “not ‘I’m sorry’?”
Aubrey shook her head. “She blamed Beca for texting too much and burning her phone battery.”
“But they seem ok, now.” Emily hedged.
“They do.” Aubrey admitted, “but for how long? I told Beca that day I wouldn’t walk out, since Chloe had just bailed on her. But last night Chloe accused me of not being on her side anymore. I can’t be stuck in the middle!”
Emily reached over and started to rub Aubrey’s back. “It’s gonna be ok, Aubs. You are gonna be ok.”
Aubrey shook her head and started to rock in frustration, “I can’t do this. I’m gonna call Amy. I think we should find you guys a new agent. I will see if there is another position I can take in the company.”
“I don’t want another agent,” Emily said softly. “I get you feel stuck between them, but don’t make me collateral damage.”
Aubrey stopped moving. “What do I do, Em?”
Emily continued to rub Aubrey’s back. “Take a break. It’s been a hell of a couple of months. Go visit Amy and CR. Go to Georgia and see Jessica and Ashley. Beca has two more months to get her ep together. Let her try to do it with Chloe around.”
“And if she doesn’t?”
“Then she tours. It will be her own damn fault, right?”
Aubrey smiled in spite of herself. “How’d you get so damn smart?”
Emily winked, “you taught me.”
“Well, you learn well,” Aubrey laughed quietly. “How’s Bella today?”
“Good,” Emily smiled back, “you wanna join us for lunch?”
Aubrey nodded, “let me go change into something more presentable.”
Emily scoffed, “you look fine. Lounging clothes are perfect for Bella time.”
“I have to go up and turn off the coffee pot anyway,” Aubrey stood.
“Don’t be too long. And you should think about switching to decaf. You are way too jumpy these days.” Emily suggested with a grin.
Aubrey rolled her eyes, “yes mom. Be back soon.”
Emily nodded, “I’ll leave the door unlocked.” She watched as Aubrey left. How the hell was she going to explain this to Stacie?
Chapter 21: Uhoh
Emily admits her crush on Stacie, Stacie is scared. Aubrey decides she needs a vacation.
Stacie sighed as she unlocked the apartment door. Today had been especially hard, especially with Emily sounding funny all day. Stacie opened the door, closed it behind her and kicked off her shoes. Just before she called out her arrival, she spotted Emily and Bella asleep on the sofa. Stacie felt a tug at her heart and a flutter in her stomach. Bella was snuggled on Emily’s chest and both of them looked so content.
Stacie hung up her purse and crossed over to pick up her daughter. Emily’s eyes opened instantly when she felt the weight shift. “Oh, hey.”
“Sorry, I’d hope to let you sleep.” Stacie smiled nervously.
Emily sat up and rubbed her eyes. “I didn't expect to sleep, but warm baby is hard to overcome”
Stacie laughed, “I know that.” She struggled to keep her voice neutral. Damn hormones. “Have you eaten?”
“Nope, but I did cook a casserole earlier. I'll heat some up. Are any of the girls coming over?” Emily stood.
“Not that I know of. Have you talked to any of them?” Stacie started down the hall to check on Bellla’s diaper.
Emily followed, “Oh, yeah, I haven't told you.”
Stacie shot her a glance, “Told me what?”
“Aubrey feels stuck in the middle.” As Stacie put Bella down on the changing table, Emily leaned, as usual, on the door jamb. “She wants to quit.”
“Quit?” Stacie arched an eyebrow.
Emily nodded, “As an agent. I told her to call Amy, maybe go visit her or Jessica and Ashley. Take a break from Bechloe for a little while.”
Stacie nodded, “why does she feel stuck?”
“Remember when Beca told us about their fight?” Emily explained.
“Right, Frenemies.” Stacie smiled.
Emily nodded again, “yeah, well, apparently Chloe asked Aubrey to pick a side or something.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. Are we in high school?” Stacie muttered.
“I dunno,” Emily sighed. “I wonder how Ashley and Jessica managed to pull off getting together. It seems like the rest of us suck at it.”
Stacie smiled at that, “So why don’t you just tell her?”
Emily frowned, “Tell who?”
“Come on, Em, you’ve been talking about Aubrey since I got home.” Stacie chuckled.
“Did I mention we all suck?” Emily muttered. When Stacie looked up, startled, Emily took a deep breath. “I love Aubrey. I really do.” Stacie smiled as Emily continued, “but she, you know.”
Stacie interrupted. “If she thought you were a kid, Em, she wouldn't have come by looking for help.”
Emily smiled and nodded, “true, but,” Emily took another deep breath. “You gotta not tell her, but it's like talking to my mom.”
“Your mom?” Stacie snorted. “I would expect you to think of me like your mom, since I am a mom.”
“It’s not the same,” Emily groaned and slid down the wall until she sat on the floor.
Stacie finished with Bella and turned, feeling her daughter kicking against her back so she knew the little one was safe. “What is going on with you?”
Emily had her face buried in her hands. “See, you don't laugh at me, or tell me to stop being silly. You don’t ask me over and over when I’m gonna do something, or tell me if I don’t, I will have horrible regrets.”
“No. You are a grown ass woman who gets to make your own mistakes. God knows I've made enough.” Stacie laughed.
“That’s what I mean.” Emily looked up. “I get to just be me around you.” She suddenly appeared shy. “I get to just be Em.”
Stacie shook her head, “I don’t get what you are driving at.”
Emily stood up and moved closer. “I like how I feel when I'm here. I like helping to take care of Bella. I like being here with you.”
Stacie’s smile froze on her face. “Oh, no, Em, don’t.”
“What? Don't care about you?” Emily smiled. “Too late.”
“I’m a mess, Em. I am still full of hormones,” Stacie dashed tears away angrily. “Don’t get hung up on me. I’m the worst.” She shook her head again, “I suck at relationships. Remember, that’s the reason I had Bella?”
Emily shrugged, “so we don't do a relationship. Let me hang out. Just don’t keep pushing me toward someone else.”
Stacie was still shaking her head. Her arms were crossed tightly over her chest. “You deserve better. You deserve to be happy.”
“I am happy.” Emily stepped closer and rested a hand on Stacie’s crossed arms. “Here, with you and Bella”
“You are too young, Em. You should be at parties, enjoying your music, dancing with your friends.” Stacie’s voice shook.
Emily thought for a moment before answering. “A funny thing happened on my way to that life.” She tugged on Stacie’s arms to pull them open. “I realized none of that mattered.”
Stacie looked down at the ground, then over her shoulder at Bella. “Having your life threatened gave you baby fever. That doesn’t mean to give up on everything.”
“I don’t have baby fever, Stac, though I may have Conrad fever.” Emily chuckled. “And I haven't given up on everything. I just realized time with people I care about is more important to me. I almost didn't have any left. I love spending time with you and Bella. I'll stay as long as you let me.” She put her arms around Stacie loosely.
Stacie allowed herself a momentary weakness and rested her head on Emily’s shoulder. “Em, it's too much. You will resent giving up your life so young.” Her voice cracked, “I don’t know what I would do if you resented us”
Emily held on tighter. “We aren't doing relationship shit yet, remember?” She kissed the side of Stacie’s head. “You just aren't gonna push me to see someone else. We are gonna watch over Bella, and I'm gonna watch over you. We’re gonna do all sorts of domestic bullshit that makes life feel normal.” Then she smiled against Stacie’s hair, “one thing I will remind you. I go after what I want, and I seldom regret it.”
Stacie laughed and then jumped as Bella placed a well-timed kick to her lower back. She broke free of Emily and turned to pick her daughter up. “We’ll see how you feel down the line, Junk. You can stay, and I will stop pushing you to date anyone else. But I still find it hard to believe you choose us already.”
“That feels like a challenge, Conrad.” Emily teased.
“Oh, shit, are you as competitive as Posen?” Stacie groaned.
Emily snorted, “No one is as competitive as Posen.” Then as an afterthought, she added, “Except maybe Beca.”
Stacie let Emily start to muse. She was still roiling with unexpected emotions and needed to get herself together. Emily cared about her?
Meanwhile, next door, Beca groaned as she heard her phone ping. She took off her headphones and looked down at the message.
Chloe: Did you have a good day?
Beca: pretty good. How about you?
Chloe: slow. Nothing new yet, so I just sat around the apartment.
Beca: You said you wanted to rest, right?
Chloe: I guess. Not used to being alone
Beca: ha, yeah, know that feeling
Chloe: So why are we?
Beca: why are we what?
Chloe: being alone.
Chloe: I'm here alone, you are there alone. Why aren't we spending time together?
Beca: we spend time together, Chloe. We had a breakfast date this morning.
Chloe: you know what I mean
Beca: I do, but you said we were starting over. If we just start hanging out like nothing happened, that's not starting over.
Chloe: but I miss you
Beca: I’ve missed you too, Chlo.
Chloe: Then let me come see you?
Beca: I mix at night.
Chloe: I’ll just keep you company.
Beca: I can’t mix with you here, Chlo.
Chloe: You never had a problem before!
Beca: That was before you didn’t feel special
Chloe: I didn’t mean you.
Beca: felt like me. Didn't feel special, wanted a boyfriend, found one even.
Chloe: It wasn’t like that
Beca: Don’t, ok? It’s my turn to need time. You asked last night for us to date.
Beca: We had one date, Chlo
Chloe: I know, I just miss you.
Beca sighed and put down her phone. She knew Chloe could be pushy. It didn't bother her before. She wondered why it did now. She picked up her phone again.
Beca: Hey, Posen?
Aubrey: Yeah, Hobbit?
Beca: Sorry I put you in the middle.
Aubrey: Who says you did?
Beca: I do. I asked you to stay, thinking she wasn't ever gonna wanna come back.
Beca: Now I'm pissing her off because I don't know if I wanna trust her and she wants to pretend nothing happened.
Aubrey: Thanks for the warning.
Aubrey: I’m thinking of going to Atlanta to see how the girls are doing with their bakery
Beca: get away from Beale?
Aubrey: just getting away for a little while. Stress, you know.
Beca: oh shit, yeah, I really did you dirt. You were gonna leave the stress world behind.
Aubrey: Nothing to worry about, Hobbit. Just a little rest and recreation. Be back in a couple of weeks to harass you again. Beca: I suppose I can do without ya, weirdo. It’s not like I’ll miss ya.
Aubrey: Ha, back atcha Hobbit
Beca: See ya in two weeks.
Aubrey smiled at the tag. Maybe she would be missed, at least a little bit.
Chapter 22: Out of Sorts
Stacie is under the weather but grates at Emily taking care of her. Chloe realizes she was wrong about Emily and Aubrey.
Stacie put Bella back down in her crib and yawned again. She would just have time for a shower or coffee before she had to leave for work. As she rubbed her eyes and headed toward the kitchen, she felt a hand on her forearm. Her sleepy eyes flew open.
“Shower, I’ll get the coffee.” Emily smiled and winked. Without another word, she headed down the hall, leaving Stacie standing surprised.
Finally realizing what Emily had said, Stacie hurried to grab her towel and robe. The hot water felt so good on her face and body, she realized she could easily stand there and lose track of time. With a shake of her head, she forced herself to finish quickly, donned her robe and wrapped her hair into a towel. She opened the door of the bathroom and was startled again. “Jeeze, Junk, you trying to give me a heart attack?”
“Just practicing moves Lilly taught me.” Emily teased. “Here,” she handed over a travel mug and guided Stacie to the master bedroom. “I heard you get up last night. You must be wiped.” Emily took the towel off of Stacie’s hair and started to rub her head with it. “You steal a couple of sips while I work on this mass for you.”
Stacie sighed heavily and did as she was told. “I really thought we were done with this late-night stuff.” She muttered.
Emily smiled and continued to towel-dry Stacie’s hair. “I think we mostly are. I will pay closer attention when she eats and make sure I burp her right.”
“I am sure it isn’t your fault, Em. Babies just get colicky.” Stacie yawned and took another sip of coffee. “That feels so good.”
“I’ll help whenever you want.” Emily spoke softly so she wouldn’t wake the baby. “Are you still taking your vitamins?”
Stacie shook her head, “It seems silly to take prenatal vitamins when Bella is almost 4 months old.”
Emily leaned forward to whisper in her ear, “you are still breastfeeding, Stac. It takes a lot out of you.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Stacie put her cup down and took the towel out of Emily’s hand. She stood up quickly and then sat down just as quickly.
“Stac?” Emily put a hand on Stacie’s shoulder. “Are you ok?”
Stacie nodded, although she wasn’t as quick to stand again. “Just a little dizzy.”
Emily took the towel back out of her hand. “Ok, that’s it. You are taking the day off.”
“No arguments. You can call your primary or I’ll take you to urgent care. You’ve been too tired and now you got dizzy standing up. You could be anemic. We should make sure you are ok.” Emily spoke firmly. When Stacie started to argue again, Emily knelt down in front of her. “You are no good to Bella if you get sick.” Emily saw Stacie was still resistant, so she relented some. “You said once that your boss is a mom. Tell her how you feel and about getting dizzy. If she says it’s no big deal, I’ll let it go.”
Stacie studied Emily watching her with so much care and concern and she felt her throat tighten. Finally, she nodded. Emily brought her phone over and then returned to standing behind Stacie and drying her hair.
When Stacie finished her text conversation with her boss, she handed the phone over her shoulder and back to Emily. “You win. She wants me to get checked out. And she wants me to go back to working half time from home for the next week to make sure I’m ok.”
Emily smiled, “you have a nice boss.”
“Yeah.” Stacie smiled and looked up at Emily, “she says I have good friends.”
“Are you feeling any better?” Emily deflected.
Stacie nodded, “I really think I just stood up too fast.” Her voice was apologetic. “I’ll be more careful.”
Emily nodded, “you get dressed and I’ll get Bella ready. I can take a shower when we get back.”
“You don’t have to go, Em. I am quite capable of going to the doctor on my own.” Stacie felt her irritation rise.
Emily turned and met Stacie’s irritated gaze. “You shouldn’t drive or take the subway when you just had a dizzy spell. What if you get a second one? Who is going to catch you, or keep you from crashing?”
Stacie’s shoulders dropped, “I hate this.”
“I’m sorry,” Emily sounded truly contrite. “I know you are Stacie Effin Conrad, and you can do anything. I also know I would never forgive myself if something happened to Bella’s mom and I could have stopped it.”
“You play dirty,” Stacie grumbled. “Let me call my doctor. Maybe he’ll just tell me to try the vitamins for a few days. I have to take Bella in next week, I can try and piggyback a visit for me at the same time.”
Emily considered and then once again relented. “Ok. I’ll go see if you have any vitamins left.”
Stacie sat back down and looked through her contacts for her doctor’s number. It was nice to be looked after, but it was disconcerting as well. She wondered if she would ever get used to it.
Several hours later, while both Stacie and Bella napped, Emily started a group text.
Emily: hey guys, we are gonna have to keep dinner nights short for a while.
Aubrey: why? Is Bella all right?
Beca: what about Stacie?
Emily: they are both fine. We have an appointment for them both next week.
Chloe: what’s wrong then?
Emily: She’s been tired. Bella has been waking up a lot again. And this morning Stacie got dizzy.
Beca: shit! I thought you said she was ok.
Aubrey: probably anemic
Emily: that’s what I thought. Her doctor put her back on her vitamins till we see him.
Chloe: you keep saying we.
Emily: well yeah, I’m not gonna let her go alone till I know she won’t get dizzy again.
Aubrey: smart choice, Emily.
Emily: thanks, Aubs.
Beca: need one of us to watch Bella?
Emily: nah, Bella has an appointment the same day.
Chloe: she already said that, Becs.
Aubrey: she’s ok, Beca. New moms get tired. She’ll be ok.
Beca: right. Well, can I at least order food in or something? Keep the workload down?
Aubrey: also a good idea. I can get a chef to come cook so it’s not too salty.
Emily: guys. She’s ok. Don’t do anything weird. Just go home early for a week or so.
Emily: thanks. I’ll cook up something tonight. See you all at 7?
Aubrey: not me, something came up. I’ll tell ya later.
Beca: I’ll be there
Chloe: me too. Should I bring wine?
Beca: nah. Better to keep things quiet with both Conrad’s feeling bad.
Emily: I think Beca is right. We get rowdy when we drink.
Chloe: ok, was just trying to think of a way to help.
Emily: bring ice cream?
Chloe: perfect. See you at 7.
After the group chat finished, Aubrey texted Emily.
Aubrey: I thought I would take your advice and visit some of the girls.
Aubrey: now I’m not so sure.
Emily: she’s gonna be fine, Aubs. I promise.
Aubrey: well, if you are sure
Emily: where are you going?
Aubrey: haven’t really decided, but I hear it’s winter time in Australia.
Emily: hugs to Amy and CR. Safe travels.
When she put her phone down, Aubrey wondered if she could keep up a charade that she was visiting others. It wasn’t that she wanted to lie; she just felt the need for alone time to really feel grounded again.
Later that evening, Stacie sat in her overstuffed chair, rocking Bella on her lap as Emily opened the door to allow Beca and Chloe into the apartment.
“Hey, mamacita.” Beca smiled and walked over, giving Stacie a one-armed hug before tickling Bella lightly. “Are you feeling ok?”
“You told them?” Stacie accused Emily.
Chloe followed Beca over and crouched next to the chair. “Yeah, as well she should.” Chloe looked at Emily, “kick us out when it’s time, ok?”
Emily nodded, “I just asked them to keep the nights a little shorter.”
“I get to work mornings from home, Em.” Stacie sounded cranky and Bella started to fuss.
Emily walked over and took the baby from Stacie’s lap, placing a kiss on the top of Stacie’s head and saying, “say good night, Bella.” She helped the baby wave at Beca and Chloe.
Beca smirked as Emily headed down the hall. “Stacie Conrad, you kept woman.”
Stacie groaned. “Shit, Grumpy. I don’t know what to do.”
Chloe blinked as she took ice cream to the freezer, “wait, I thought Em and Bree.”
“You thought wrong, Beale.” Beca chuckled, “you should have seen Emily when we were in Vegas. She called Conrad at least three times a day and bought all sorts of stuff for Bella.” Beca turned her attention back to Stacie. “What’s to do? Enjoy it.”
“I don’t do relationships, Mitchell.” Stacie growled. “I warned her not to get attached to me.”
Chloe returned from the kitchen and looked down the hall, “but she did anyway?”
Stacie nodded, “she likes taking care of both of us.” She leaned back in her chair. “I can’t say it isn’t nice, but, shit, guys. She’s too young to be saddled with my choices.”
Beca grinned, “weren’t you the one who said she’s a big girl who can make her own choices?”
“Don’t throw my words back at me.” Stacie grumbled again.
Emily returned from down the hall, having heard much of the conversation through the monitor. She walked over and kissed Stacie’s head again. “I thought we weren’t going to worry about labels, or the future, just enjoy the time while we have it.”
Stacie glared, “easy for you to say. You don’t have a guilt button the size of Manhattan.”
Emily seemed to forget Beca and Chloe were even in the room. She raised a hand and smoothed some of Stacie’s hair gently. “No guilt. Just let us be us, ok?”
Beca’s grin softened to a smile. Emily had always been the braver of them. She hoped Stacie would meet her halfway.
Chloe reached over and squeezed Beca’s hand. She was thinking how she wished she had learned that lesson so long ago.
Stacie’s glare softened, “you make it sound easy.”
“It is.” Emily’s smile never wavered. After a few moments of holding Stacie’s gaze, she broke it with a wink and then cleared her throat. “I’ll go serve up. You guys argue over the entertainment.”
Beca shook her head, “you are a lucky lady, Conrad.”
Stacie realized Beca just might be right.
Chapter 23: Realizations
Beca and Chloe realize different things….
Beca tapped on the door. When Emily opened it, she smiled and asked quietly, “everyone up?”
Emily nodded and let her in, “isn’t this early for you?”
“Yeah, well, I was thinking I should try human hours while I can.” Beca shrugged and wiggled the bag she was holding. “Picked up some breakfast soufflés, I thought I could share.”
Stacie called out while walking toward the living room. “Who is it, Em?” She looked up at Beca and smiled, “hey, Grumpy, what are you doing here so early?”
Beca grinned as Emily took the bag of food and walked over to greet Stacie. She kissed Bella on the cheek and squeezed Stacie’s arm. “I brought breakfast. Thought I would try living like a real person, not a night owl.”
Stacie pressed a kiss to the top of Beca’s head. “You are sweet. What brought on the schedule change?”
Emily was in the kitchen reheating the food in the microwave as the others got settled. Stacie sat on the floor to let Bella practice rolling over and the skills she would need to scoot. Beca sat cross legged on the sofa.
“I dunno. Part of it is living alone. I don’t have any built in company. Without Posen around, I don’t have to give up the living room in the mornings.” Beca sighed. “Plus, Beale gets lonesome at night. She wants to talk or text, and I can’t get anywhere mixing with constant interruptions.”
Stacie rubbed Bella’s back as the baby lifted her head and kicked her feet. “Beale sounds like she’s getting to you.”
Emily brought the food in, placed it all on the coffee table with forks and returned to the kitchen for coffee.
Beca winced, “I feel like such a jerk. I spent all spring pining and whining that she’d left, you know? But now that she’s back, she just feels like work.”
Emily brought out a cup for Beca and one for Stacie. As she put Stacie’s on the coffee table, she said, “maybe you need to remember why you were missing her in the first place. What do you like about her?”
Stacie smiled and picked up her cup. “Smart girl. Almost finished a degree in psych.”
“Oh yeah,” Beca smirked. “Careful, Em. It gets dark in here,” Beca tapped her temple.
Emily made one more trip to the kitchen for her coffee, and then sat on the floor beside Bella’s other side. “I don’t need to get in there, you do.”
Beca rolled her eyes.
“What do you like about her?” Emily repeated.
“Oh, you mean, like, tell you now?” Beca laughed. “Shit, I dunno. Let me think.”
Stacie arched an eyebrow. She did not expect Beca Mitchell to have to think about what she liked about Chloe Beale. “She really pissed you off.”
Beca shrugged again and stuck her fork into her soufflé. “I got the three-cheese kind because they are my favorites. Next time I can get one with bacon or spinach if you prefer.”
Emily took a bite and savored the flavor. “This is awesome!” She decided to let Beca change the subject, but Stacie was feeling pushier.
“I don’t get it, Grumpy. You’ve mooned over Beale for years. What changed?”
Beca sighed. “I dunno how to explain it. When she stayed in Europe, I thought I broke. But then she said she was coming back, and I was, like fixed, you know? Chicago didn’t work out and I had a chance.” She poked at her food. “Then she got the modeling gig and didn’t come back. She said time apart would be good for us. Then she didn’t call. Posen had to talk me down. Somewhere that week, I realized I couldn’t keep riding that roller coaster. Now she wants to try, but...l” she shrugged helplessly.
“What if the roller coaster begins again?” Emily asked softly.
“Yeah.” Beca smiled at the sort of couple before her. “It’s like you said, Em. Having my life threatened changes what’s important. I’m looking for something less exciting. Beale is a party all of the time, and if she’s gonna be the face of Maybelline or whatever, it’s not gonna be calm and quiet.” She poked at her food again. “When she first suggested time apart, she said we might start to miss the dinky apartment and ramen. I told her I already did. I don’t think she does.”
Stacie felt her heart break for her friend. “Ah, shit, Grumpy. That sucks.”
Beca shrugged again, “she says she wants to do it right, but then got impatient that I wasn’t ready to have her move in after one date.”
“Terribly het of you,” Emily teased. “Isn’t there a stereotype of lesbians moving in on the second date?”
“Ha!” Beca laughed and both Emily and Stacie were relieved to see her eyes light up. “I guess there is. Well, I’ve never done things the easy way.” She took another bite of her breakfast and washed it down with the black coffee Emily had brought. She stared at the cup and then looked at Emily, “how did you know I like my coffee black?”
Emily snorted, “I’ve never seen you drink anything but, except when Chloe brought you cappuccino.”
Stacie nodded in agreement, “it’s one way I knew you were gone on her. You’d drink sweet shit, just because she asked you to.”
Beca looked at them both, “you know, Posen brought me black coffee the other day. Beale said she didn’t know I preferred it.”
“Even after living with you and Amy? It’s not like you had money for cappuccino every day.” Emily frowned.
“We didn’t. I bought non-dairy flavored creamer like the shit you drink, Em, for Beale to use. Amy didn’t drink coffee and was gone overnight most of the time anyway. We only saw her for lunch or dinner.” Beca looked down at the cup. “I’m just surprised you guys noticed when she didn’t.”
Stacie glanced nervously at Emily. It seemed they were not helping Beca remember the good times.
Across town, Chloe fidgeted while sitting on the sofa. She was waiting for a meeting with her agent, but she hated waiting. She looked down at her silent phone. Neither Beca nor Aubrey were answering her texts.
With a sigh, she turned on her YouTube app. At the top of her recommendations was the video of Beca’s triumphant performance to open for DJ Khaled. She turned it on. Chloe smiled as the camera caught Beca’s nervous face off stage just before her introduction. “Poor Becs. You always hated the wait backstage,” Chloe muttered to herself. She wiped away a tear when she saw the camera also caught the way Beca was looking at her. She noticed Chicago looking between the two of them, and realized he knew Beca cared about Chloe. “Oh, Beale, you are an idiot.” Her smile returned as Beca got her mischievous look and stepped down off of the stage to pull Amy up. “Ames is always up for anything, isn’t that what you told me, Becs?”
Chloe realized she probably sounded crazy, talking to herself like this, but she preferred the sound of her own voice to the silence that filled her apartment during the day. She found herself missing the crazy bustle of the photo shoots, the craft table food, the attention of the makeup artist and hair stylist. With a sigh she focused on the video again, enjoying the way Beca was walking up and down the line, hugging every Bella. As they neared the end of the song and the girls all fell into formation with Beca at the tip, Chloe stopped the tape. She tried to remember what had happened. How had she ended up farther away? Did Amy push her aside, or did she relinquish Beca’s left side voluntarily? She couldn’t remember. She studied the image. When she hit play again, she noticed Aubrey reached for Beca’s hand just before Aubrey smiled and nodded her encouragement. Chloe’s eyes widened so she rewound and watched again. She noticed Aubrey’s face as Aubrey watched Beca sing. She watched when Aubrey grabbed Beca’s hands mid-song and sang directly to her. She watched again as Aubrey reached for Beca’s hand before the song ended. “Oh, shit.”
When Beca needed to know someone would step up to help her, she hadn’t asked Chloe. She’d asked Amy. When Beca needed reassurance that she could perform on her own, she didn’t look to Chloe. She looked to Aubrey. Chloe felt a cold chill down her back. “Did I say I was an idiot?”
She put her phone down and held her face with both hands. “I was so busy worrying about feeling special, I forgot to make Beca feel special.” She lifted her head and looked at the image frozen on her screen. As tears streamed down her face, she looked at the affection glowing on Aubrey’s face. “God, I’ve been a shitty friend.”
She wiped her face with irritation and turned off the phone. “I may have been wrong about Emily, Aubrey Posen, but I’m not wrong now. You loyal, faithful, noble asshole. How long have you been in love with my other best friend?”
Chapter 24: L is for the way…
The Hunter tries to escape.
Emily looked up from her spot on the sofa and whistled. “Damn, you look good. Where ya going?”
Stacie laughed as she put her earrings in. She was pleased her dress fit well, and the baby weight didn’t change the drape. A dark green dress with matching heels paired with a gold chain, bangles and hoop earrings left her almost feeling like her old self. “Meet and greet with the presenters from the in-house conference.”
“Well, they better watch out. You are gonna pull every eye in the place.” Emily was still smiling, although Stacie wasn’t sure it was authentic.
“Thanks. It feels good to dress up. It’s been a long time.” Stacie walked to the door and picked up her purse. “I don’t know when I’ll be back.” She didn’t look up as she said it.
“Oh,” Emily’s smile faltered. “Ok. I won’t leave the door unlocked.”
Stacie looked up then. “No labels, right? Just don’t push you to see someone else. Nothing about relationships or monogamy.”
Emily nodded, “right.” She stood up, and hesitated. She had thought to walk over and give Stacie a peck on the cheek but changed her mind. “Have fun. Be safe.” She turned and headed into the kitchen.
Stacie felt her temper flare. She wasn’t doing anything they hadn’t agreed to. Emily had no right to make her feel bad. She looked good and if that caught someone’s eye, well, what of it? She pulled the door open with more force than she intended, and it slipped out of her hand to hit the wall. “Sorry,” she called out, although she wasn’t. She heard Bella start to cry and watched Emily, without a word, head down the hall. Stacie walked into the hallway and slammed the door again for good measure. She stalked to the elevator and pressed the button, setting her lips into a tight line and crossing her arms across her body as she waited.
Beca opened her door when she heard the first crash at the neighbor’s apartment and watched as the rest unfolded. Without thinking twice, she hurried over to meet Stacie at the elevator. “Hey.”
“Not in the mood, Grumpy.” Stacie growled.
“Ok.” Beca didn’t say a word. She just remained standing next to Stacie and watched the elevator lights indicate which floor the car was passing. When the doors opened and Stacie went in, Beca followed.
Stacie hit the button for the garage. “What floor?”
Beca shrugged, “the garage is fine.”
“What are you doing?” Stacie demanded as she leaned against the back of the elevator.
“Not talking.” Beca smirked and again focused her eyes on the elevator indicator lights. The car stopped twice before finally reaching the garage.
Stacie left as soon as the doors opened and started for her car. Beca walked beside her, although if you asked her, she would say she was more jogging to keep up with the taller girl. When they reached Stacie’s car, she whirled to glare at Beca. “Now what are you doing?”
“Cardio.” Beca answered. She continued to jog in place while Stacie opened the car door and sat down.
“What do you want, Mitchell?”
Beca shrugged and stopped jogging to lean on Stacie’s car door. “I could ask you the same thing.”
Stacie growled under her breath and put the key in the ignition. She pulled the door closed.
Beca leaned again on the door, this time with both arms on the seam between door and roof. She looked in the window and waited.
With a sigh, Stacie pushed the button that dropped the driver’s side window. “What?”
“Just waiting to see if you wanna talk yet.” Beca smiled.
“Why would I wanna do that?”
Beca paused and considered. “Well, in all the years I’ve known you, I can’t remember a single time you slammed a door in anger or frustration. That means today is unusual. I am wondering why?”
Stacie rolled her eyes. “I’m just going to a conference meet and greet. It feels good to be dressed up and looking fine.”
“Yeah, you sure do.” Beca smiled with appreciation. “You clean up well.”
“Thanks.” Stacie frowned. She didn’t expect a compliment.
Beca nodded her head, “you’re welcome. But that doesn’t explain slamming a door.”
Stacie put her hands on the steering wheel and took a deep breath. “I’m not in a relationship. Emily and I are not exclusive. I promised I would stop suggesting who she should date. I never said I would stop dating.”
“Got it,” Beca nodded again. “So, this conference thing is a date?”
“No,” Stacie sighed and rolled her eyes again. “But it might become one.”
Beca smiled, “ah, going hunting.”
Stacie turned her head and glared.
“What?” Beca continued to smile. “That’s it, right? The hunter is on the prowl?”
“You make me sound like a slut.” Stacie growled.
Beca blinked, “you never thought that when I teased you about it before. Why now?”
It was Stacie’s turn to blink. “I don’t know. I don’t care. I’ve gotta go or I will be late.”
“Ok. What do I tell Bella?”
Stacie turned her head back to Beca. “Excuse me?”
It was Beca’s turn to take a deep breath. “You are about to tear out of here, driving while more upset than I have ever seen you. You are planning to pick up somebody to sleep with that you know nothing about. If you don’t come home because you crashed or hooked up with a serial killer, what do I tell her?”
“That’s not fair.” Stacie began as her eyes teared.
Beca crouched down so her head was level with Stacie’s. “What’s not fair is you taking out your fears on Emily. I’m the queen of that dick move, remember? You are scared because that lady loves you. So, you are taking chances you might have taken when we were freshman, but that I didn’t think you would take now you got a little peanut counting on you to come home.”
Stacie felt more tears track down her cheek. “Beca.”
Beca reached over and took the keys out of the ignition. “Come on. You don’t wanna do this. I get you are scared. So, take a break and make me watch a stupid engineering show. Don’t drive upset, don’t get drunk, don’t pick up some rando.” She opened the car door.
Stacie nodded and got out of the car. She crossed her arms again while Beca ran interference on the elevators. Stacie didn’t sob, but neither could she stop the tears that streamed down her face. When they got out of the elevator on their own floor, Emily was standing at their door, rocking Bella.
“Thanks, Beca,” Emily said softly. Then she turned and walked back inside.
Stacie stood, unsure what to do.
Beca turned and handed Stacie her keys. “What do you wanna do, Stac? Wanna talk it out with Em? Or watch a stupid show with me?”
Stacie shook her head. “I,” she looked over at her own door. “I don’t do relationships, Beca.”
“Ok. Go to my apartment. I’ll get you some clothes and be back in a minute. I want Em to know you are ok, and that you are gonna stay at my place tonight. I’ll suggest she pack and you two can swap places tomorrow.”
Beca started toward Stacie’s door. Stacie felt her heart beat faster and her stomach churn. “She doesn’t have to move out.”
Beca turned, “it’s not fair to her, Stac. I did this to Beale for six years; I kept her hanging. Different reasons, but I know what it did to us. I can’t watch you do it to Em.”
Stacie’s tears fell harder. She closed her eyes and crossed her arms tighter but moved toward her own door. “I’ll talk to her.” The voice sounded nothing like Stacie.
“Ok,” Beca rubbed Stacie’s arm. “Still go to my apartment. I’ll watch Bella and let you two have my place tonight. Can I take a minute to grab clothes first?”
Stacie nodded and followed Beca into her apartment. She sat on the sofa, arms still tight across her body, eyes screwed shut. After grabbing her sleep clothes and a change for tomorrow, Beca paused and kissed Stacie on the cheek. “Let her love you, Conrad. Don’t make my mistake. It’s an awesome thing, to feel loved.”
Beca then exited and headed next door.
Stacie could not have told you how much time passed before she heard the door open again, although it was enough that her tears had dried. She still sat on the sofa with her arms crossed as if they were holding her together. She heard rather than saw Emily put something down and close the door. She also heard footsteps that brought them closer together.
“Hey,” was all Emily said.
“I don’t do relationships.” Stacie replied.
Emily smiled. God, she loved this lady, even when she was being petulant. “I think you’ve said that.”
Stacie huffed, “Beca says you can’t stay with me.”
“Excuse me?” Emily frowned. “It is not her decision.”
Stacie rolled her head and eyes. “She says I’d be doing to you what she did to Chloe. She won’t,” Stacie’s voice broke. “She says it wouldn’t be good for you to stay.”
Emily nodded and moved close enough to join Stacie on the couch. “I see.”
“No, you don’t.” Stacie whirled to look at Emily. “I don’t do feelings; I don’t do relationships. It’s all complicated and messy and illogical.”
Emily smiled in spite of herself, “true.”
Stacie closed her eyes in irritation. “Now what?”
“Now,” Emily scooted closer and tugged on Stacie’s hand. “We untie your knots. Logically, to remain this tight will pull muscles and limit your ability to care for your daughter.”
Stacie allowed Emily to pull her arms free. “You are making fun of me.”
Emily shook her head, “never.” She slipped an arm behind Stacie’s back and touched her lightly. “I’m trying to see things your way. You say relationships are illogical.” Stacie nodded. “I assert,” Emily continued, “that relationships can be an integral part of a natural process.”
Stacie tilted her head to one side, “I’m listening.”
“It’s soft science crap, but since that’s my field you gotta give me a little wiggle room, ok?” Emily prefaced. Stacie nodded, banging her head softly against Emily’s shoulder. “Ok. Research shows humans are social creatures. Even the most introverted of us needs interaction. Research also shows that littles fail to thrive without constant touch.” Stacie nodded again. “There is even research that shows chemical differences within bodies when alone, when with friends and for a lot of people when with lovers. Again, lack of any of them limit the release of certain hormones that help keep the body in homeostasis.” Emily turned her head to look at Stacie. “Do you grant my assertions?”
Stacie sighed, “yes, I’ve seen articles and documentaries on these subjects.”
Emily smiled and used her thumb to wipe away some of the mascara that dried on Stacie’s cheek. “Then it is possible that running away from relationships is depriving your body of the chemicals it gains from those relationships. Whether it’s avoiding friends or lovers, you might be hurting yourself.”
Stacie’s head started to spin. She hadn’t thought about any of those documentaries as they might relate to her and her fear of commitment. “I don’t know.” She managed to whisper.
“You don’t have to know, Stac. Just consider it.” Emily brushed hair out of the way. “I don’t know who hurt you, I don’t know why you are so scared to commit. Maybe you like sex but not romance. Only you can tell me that.” She sighed, “I admit, I got jealous when I thought of someone else holding you tonight, but that’s my problem. Not yours. Then I got scared when you slammed the door. I went to ask Beca to watch Bella so I could make sure you were ok.” Emily smiled, “I was so relieved she brought you back, even if I was pretty sure you didn’t want anything to do with me.” She took another deep breath. “I’ll work on keeping my feelings to myself. I never want to make you feel like you have to run from me again.”
Stacie lifted her head. “I was scared.” She admitted softly, “You scare me more than having Bella did.”
“Me?” Emily smiled and caressed Stacie’s cheek. “Nothing to be scared of here. I just love you.”
Stacie reached over and pressed her lips against Emily’s. Emily tightened her arm and pulled Stacie closer. As their bodies melted together, Stacie felt all the fight ebb away. She still didn’t know what tomorrow, or next week, or next year might look like, but just now, this was the most logical response in the world to her.
Chapter 25: Turning Pages
The next day.
When Stacie awoke, she felt disoriented. She couldn’t hear Bella but felt someone wrapped around her. She opened her eyes to an unfamiliar room and her heart started to beat faster. She turned over as carefully as she could, and the memories flooded back.
Emily opened one eye and smiled, “‘morning.”
“It is,” Stacie couldn’t help but smile back. “I’m going to have to go next door soon. Not very comfortable.”
“Mmmm,” Emily nodded and tightened the arm she had laying across Stacie’s stomach. “I brought the pump, or we can roust Beca.”
Stacie’s smile grew wider, “how do you do that?”
Emily wiggled closer. “Do what?” She nuzzled Stacie’s hair.
“You think of everything.” Stacie laughed.
“Not everything,” Emily shook her head. “I didn’t think I could scare you enough to make you run.”
Stacie sighed, “it isn’t just you.” She snuggled back under the covers and rested her head on her right arm. With her left hand, she brushed a lock of Emily’s hair out of the way. “I’m just chicken shit.”
Emily kissed the hand as it passed by, “shush. No one gets to talk trash about my girl.”
“Is that right?” Stacie laughed, “does nothing phase you, Junk?”
“Lots of things. I worry I never really earned the right to be a Bella, that you all tolerate me for my mom’s sake. I worry that Amy’s right and I’m not very smart.” It was Emily’s turn to caress Stacie’s hair. “I worry you will never feel for me what I feel for you.”
Stacie swallowed hard against the sudden lump in her throat. “I warned you, I’m a mess.” She sighed. “I am so a combination of Beca and Chloe it’s embarrassing. I’m as confident in my body as Chloe, and as closed off emotionally as Beca.” She shook her head, “you scare me because I do feel stuff. And to quote our captain, I’m not good at that stuff.”
Emily smiled and let her arm rest again on Stacie’s waist. “I don’t want to scare you, Stac. I want you to feel safe and cared about.”
“Don’t you get it?” Stacie laughed at herself, “that’s what’s scary. I’ll get all comfortable, I’ll feel all safe. Then someone else will catch your eye, or something else will be more interesting. Then I’ll be alone again.” She struggled to control her wavering voice. “Did I mention fear of being alone is a terrible reason to have a kid?”
“Yeah,” Emily replied softly and lifted her hand once more. This time she slowly rubbed Stacie’s arm. “I don’t think there is anything I can say to reassure you. Where I mostly worry about now, you mostly worry about some day.”
Stacie tilted her head to one side. “I guess I do.”
Emily traced up Stacie’s arm to her neck and then lightly trailed her fingers across Stacie’s jawline, finally working her way up until her palm rested on Stacie’s cheek. “I would love to reassure you that I’ll never give up on us. But it won’t matter. You will still fear that one day. All I can give you is today. I’m here, now, and love you. Let me?”
Stacie leaned forward and kissed Emily tenderly, “if you don’t mind being saddled with a tough-looking, terrified mama bear, I’ll try.”
“I happen to adore this tough-looking, terrified mama bear. I bet I out last you.” Emily teased.
“Oh, right, you are almost as competitive as Aubrey.”
Emily’s eyes danced, “only when it comes to you.” It was her turn to kiss Stacie, softly and gently, but full of promise. “So, pump or wake up Beca?”
“Pump.” Stacie’s eyes twinkled. “How often do both of us get a morning off from kid duty?”
“Mmmm,” Emily pretended to consider, “not often. Logically, we should take advantage of it.”
Stacie started to laugh, and it was such a delightful sound, Emily hoped it never ended.
Several hours later, Stacie stuck her head into her own apartment. “Is it safe?”
Beca laughed. “Yeah, I have managed to keep up with the hazmat and the bottomless pit, but damn I’m glad you are back.” She craned her neck to look when she didn’t see Emily, “um, everything ok?”
Stacie pushed the door open further and revealed Emily behind her, their fingers tangled together while Emily carried a bag in her free hand. “Yeah, Grumpy.” She looked over her shoulder at Emily and then back to Beca, “I owe ya.”
“Nah,” Beca stood up and walked over to them both, “it’s what friends are for.” She leaned up to kiss them each on the cheek. “Now, tag me out. I need a nap.”
Emily dropped the bag and pulled Beca into a three-way hug. “Come back for dinner, ok? I mean, unless you have a hot date?”
Beca snorted, “no hot date for me.” She smiled at Stacie, “I missed that boat. But I’ll call before I come over. You guys might want a little more private time before you entertain.”
Stacie laughed, and it was the happiest Beca could remember. “Around a baby? No such thing.”
“You will figure it out.” Beca winked, “catch ya later.” She picked up the backpack that held her clothes from the night before and gave them each a squeeze. “Happy for you both.”
Emily smiled and squeezed Stacie’s hand. “Taking it a day at a time, Cap, but so far it’s looking good.”
Beca nodded and headed out to catch that nap. She really was happy for them. And she really did realize she missed her chance. When she got back to her apartment, she called Chloe.
“Hey,” Chloe answered. “They ok?”
“Yeah,” Beca nodded and replied. “I think so. Stacie has never looked happier.” She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry I was so clueless.”
Chloe smiled, “I’m sorry I was so scared. If I had sacked up and just said something instead of dropping stupid hints you could miss, we might be in a very different place.”
Beca sighed, “starting over isn’t going to work, is it?”
“No,” Chloe admitted, “I guess not. I still might get called away at any minute. I love the excitement, Becs. I don’t want to give it up.”
“Of course, you shouldn’t give it up.” Beca smiled fondly, “you are Chloe Effin Beale, and you are the face of Maybelline and probably a bunch of companies whose name I can’t pronounce. The camera loves you, and you love the camera. Be awesome. Just, remember to text once in a while.”
Chloe nodded, “I will. And you find someone to play with. Find someone who makes you laugh like Amy does.”
Beca smiled, “I’ll find someone who makes me laugh like you did.” She swallowed, “we had a lot of good times, you know.”
“Yeah,” Chloe smiled back. “I loved showing you off.”
“I loved performing with you. I’m just not cut out to be a solo act.” Beca shrugged. “I don’t even sing.”
Chloe laughed at the memory of the activities fair. “You can sing,” she reasserted, reminding Beca of her interrupted shower. “How high does your belt go?”
Beca laughed in return. “I still don’t know. And why is it called a belt, anyway?”
“I don’t know. Ask one of the smart people you hang out with.” Chloe teased. “I failed Russian Lit three times.”
Beca stopped laughing at that reminder. “Thanks for sticking with me so long.”
Chloe smiled as a tear trickled down her cheek. “I will always love you, Beca Effin Mitchell. Go get your platinum records.”
“I’ll try. I’ve sort of lost my muse,” Beca gestured at the phone.
Chloe shook her head, “I was never that. You’ll see. Talk to you soon, Becs.”
Beca frowned, “wait, what?” But Chloe had hung up. What did she mean? Beca didn’t have a clue.
After puttering around the apartment, laying down and being unable to sleep, and getting up to putter around again, Beca grabbed her phone.
Beca: when are you coming back, Posen?
Beca: it’s weird here.
Aubrey: define weird.
Beca: Chloe and I decided we really don’t fit anymore. Stacie and Emily hooked up. I feel like a third wheel.
Aubrey: happy for Stac and Em. What do you mean about you and Chloe?
Beca: she loves the spotlight. I hate it. It’s not going to work.
Aubrey: you don’t know that Hobbit. You’ve loved her a long time.
Beca: I missed my chance. She’s off to a different life.
Aubrey: three years, remember?
Beca: I don’t know I can wait 3 years.
Aubrey: you’ll be ok, Mitchell. I have faith in you.
Beca: but when are you coming back? I need someone to talk to when Stemily are swapping spit.
Aubrey: what a great reason for me to cut my vacation short. Go mix, Mitchell.
Beca: shit. No muse, no songwriting partner, no agent. Life sucks.
Aubrey: channel it into your music, Hobbit. You’ll feel better.
Beca: yeah. Later.
Beca dropped her phone and headed to her mixing station. She hated when Posen was right.
Chapter 26: Wake Up!
Amy shows up, learns about Emily and Stacie, and blows Aubrey’s cover.
“Wake up, pitches!”
Emily jumped when she heard the pounding on the door and Amy’s voice from the hallway. She looked over at Stacie who was already putting on a robe and moving toward the crib to soothe a crying baby. Emily hurriedly pulled on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and rushed toward the front door.
“It’s party day, get a move on,” Amy yelled as she pounded again.
“What the fuck, Ames?” Emily heard Beca say just as she opened the front door.
“Were you raised in the goddamn outback by a pack of dingos, Hobart? Jesus fucking Christ, there’s a baby in here.” Emily’s eyes flashed angrily as she confronted Amy.
Amy stared for a moment, unused to Emily of all people standing up to her. She took in the disheveled hair and the backwards t-shirt and swallowed a smile. “Interrupt something, Junk?”
Stacie walked out from the hallway holding Bella. “Not that it’s any of your fucking business, Hobart. What do you want and what are you doing here?”
“I was inviting you cobbers to the hotel for some rest and recreating, but it seems you were recreating just fine without any help.” Amy smirked.
“Don’t be crass, Ames,” Beca sighed from her place leaning against her door jamb. “You’re just mad you didn’t know about them.”
Amy looked from the little family to Beca. “Like for real, them? Not just fuck-buddies?”
“I swear,” Emily lifted a fist as if to clock Amy, but Stacie put her hand on Emily’s wrist.
“It’s ok, Em. My reputation was well earned.” Stacie said quietly. Then after a tender smile she brought her attention back to Amy. “Did I mention it is none of your business?
“Um,” Amy looked at protective Emily, who still stood between Amy and Stacie, and then she looked at calm Stacie and nodded. “Ok, got it. Sorry.”
Emily relaxed. “Just, you know, we aren’t in college anymore. You know?”
Amy nodded, “yeah. I forget sometimes that some of you lot have grown up.” She cleared her throat. “I got the girls coming to the Hilton tonight.” She looked at Beca, “where you and Posen stayed.”
Beca nodded, enjoying Amy stammering for the first time, perhaps ever. “I remember where. What time?”
“Um, I got the floor for the week. Whenever, your names will be at the front desk.” Amy shuffled her feet.
“A week is a long time, Ames.” Stacie suggested.
Amy nodded, “I figured people needed to come and go, handle business during the day, that sort of thing. So, if I got all week, we could have evenings and the weekend to catch up.” She smiled nervously, “I thought of the ankle biter. I hired a nanny so you can get a break, too.”
Stacie smiled, “thanks Ames. We’ll be there tonight. I’ll see what I can do about my schedule.”
Emily nodded, “I write my own schedule, so I’m good.”
“Promise we’ll work on that new song, Em, and I’ll leave you alone most of the week.” Beca teased.
Amy relaxed. It seemed she was outta the doghouse. “Tell Posen, will ya? She didn’t answer my call.”
Emily frowned, “I thought she was visiting you.”
Beca pushed off the door jamb. “I thought she was with Jessica and Ashley.”
Amy shook her head. “Jessley is already at the hotel. They haven’t talked to her in weeks.” She looked at Emily, “why would she come see me?”
Emily looked at Beca, who sighed. “Chloe and I sorta put her in the middle.” Beca explained.
“Is that another like being sorta pregnant?” Amy asked.
“Yeah,” Beca nodded. “Look, Em can tell you, or Chloe can. I gotta figure out where Posen is. Ok?”
Amy nodded, “Esther thought she was here, but she isn’t answering,” Amy shrugged. “I’ll let you guys get ready. Sorry the fun wake-up surprise wasn’t fun.”
Emily reached out and hugged Amy. “Sorry I was irritable, not used to people banging on the door anymore.”
Amy laughed, “not while you’re banging someone else.” She winked at Stacie, “can take the girl out of the outback....”
Stacie laughed back, “get outta here before I forget I’m actually in a relationship and I start flirting just to make you uncomfortable.”
Emily beamed, “it’s ok. You can make her uncomfortable.”
Amy laughed and backed away. “You win! I’m gone. See you tonight.” She started to say goodbye to Beca, but she was gone. “I’ll sic Esther on being more specific about Posen’s whereabouts.” With a wave, she headed toward the elevator.
After watching her go, Emily beamed at Stacie again, “relationship, huh?”
Stacie placed her palm on Emily’s cheek. “Don’t let it go to your head. Gotta use language people understand. Can’t let her call you my fuck buddy.”
“I don’t care why you say it.” Emily turned her head to kiss Stacie’s palm. “Just keep saying it.”
While all of this was going on, Beca had closed her door and dashed over to the stairwell. She ran up the stairs as fast as she could, wishing for longer legs that would let her take them two at a time. She reached Aubrey’s door and stopped, huffing and puffing and wishing she’d really been keeping up with her cardio. When she caught her breath, she listened at the door, but didn’t hear anything. She took a deep breath and knocked.
After a long silence she heard, “who is it,” in a guarded tone of voice.
“Esther ratted you out, Posen. I know you are in there.”
There was another long pause and the door opened. “I didn’t mean to lie,” Aubrey began.
Beca shook her head, “I get it.” She gestured, “can I come in?” Aubrey nodded and opened the door further. Beca smiled at the immaculate condition of the room. “I bet it’s nice to not have to pick up after a slob like me.”
“You are not a slob. You are just not as tidy.” Aubrey sounded tired or defeated. Beca couldn’t decide which. “What do you want, Hobbit?”
“I just,” Beca started and then stopped. “Look, I get why you felt like you had to hide. You have an agency to run, and Amy gave you responsibility for all of us to get therapy. Then Beale and I start dancing around again, and it’s too much.” It came out in a rush. “I screwed up. I made you choose between us. That’s not fair. It’s not fair to you, it’s not fair to Beale. I’m a screw up. Don’t punish her or the other Bellas for it.”
Aubrey blinked in surprise. “I’m not punishing anyone.”
“You are,” Beca insisted. “When you don’t tell us where you are, or imply you are somewhere else, and when you don’t answer Amy’s calls or rsvp to the surprise reunion, you aren’t planning to attend, you are.”
“Slow down, Hobbit. I don’t understand.”
Beca sighed, “you said you wouldn’t walk away. But you did. You hid from Emily; you hid from Amy. It’s ok you hid from me; I was the fuck up who asked you to choose. But don’t walk away from them.” Beca looked up, her eyes red. “I’m the one who isn’t a real Bella, remember? They need you.”
Aubrey couldn’t stop herself from stepping forward and grabbing Beca into a hug. “You are a real Bella. That was one of the cruelest things I ever said, and I may never forgive myself for it. You pulled us together, Beca. You found our sound. Over and over, you remixed it and made us better, just like Chloe said.”
Beca held onto the back of Aubrey’s shirt. “Don’t go. Please.”
Aubrey swallowed hard. “I didn’t go anywhere. I couldn’t even bring myself to go out of town. I’ve been right here the entire time.”
Beca smiled in spite of her tears. “Watching out for me?”
“Yeah,” Aubrey laughed quietly. “Never can tell when a Hobbit needs bailing out.”
Beca nodded, “weirdo.”
Aubrey snorted, “that’s rich, coming from you.” She cleared her throat, “so what’s this about a reunion.”
“If you checked your messages, you would know.” Beca pulled back and wiped her eyes. “Hilton, tonight and as many nights as we can make it this week, then the weekend.”
“Hobart doesn’t do anything halfway.”
Beca nodded, “you’ll come?”
Aubrey nodded. “I’ll come.”
“Ok.” Beca looked down at her sleep set. “I think I’m going to go shower and shit.” She looked up at Aubrey, hopefully, “coffee later?”
“I’ve already brewed mine. I’ll bring it down.” Aubrey promised. “Be ready in twenty minutes or I let myself in.”
Beca rolled her eyes. “Don’t see you in two weeks and you are already back to your stalker ways.”
Aubrey snorted and pointed to the door. “Beat it.”
“Sheesh, try to be nice. Invite someone to a reunion, they get all pushy.” Beca stopped grumbling when she reached the door. “See you in twenty.”
Aubrey smiled and nodded, “see you in twenty.”
Chapter 27: Bella karaoke
The Bellas learn about Stacie and Emily and Chloe makes a grand gesture.
Amy leaned over to talk to Aubrey as she and the other Bellas watched Beca and Chloe sign autographs. “So, what’s your story?”
Aubrey turned to look at Amy with a frown. “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
Amy pushed over a shot. “You told Legacy you were with me. You told ShortStack you were in Georgia. You were in your own damn apartment the whole time, still doing business. What’s your story?”
“Oh,” Aubrey returned her gaze to the celebrity pair. “It’s a long story, but in a nutshell, I was up to here with Bechloe.” She gestured a cutoff point above her head. “Beca is like a mooning teenager, and Chloe revels in it. If Beca ever stops pining, Chloe hooks her again, reels her in and plays out the line again.” Aubrey drained the Jameson’s.
“Ouch.” Amy pushed another shot over. “I can’t say you are wrong. I saw the same thing when we roomed. Why do ya think I stayed away so often?” Amy drained her own glass. “Now I find Ginger didn’t even let us represent her? What kind of mate is that?”
Aubrey shrugged, “she was overseas.” Aubrey drank the second shot slower, realizing it was the good stuff. “I guess she had to choose in a hurry, and we don’t have any modeling agents on the payroll.”
Amy snorted, “we could have gotten one.” She sipped a second shot, keeping steady with Aubrey. “So, what do we do now?”
“I don’t know.” Aubrey sighed. “I suggested I step out and we hire a new agent but both Emily and Beca shot me down.”
“Good on ‘em.” Amy nodded emphatically. “At least they got loyalty right.”
Aubrey shook her head. “I don’t think it’s about loyalty. Oh wait. More people getting in line. I’m going to get security to clear us a place so the girls can relax some.” She got up from the table and moved away before Amy could look over at the autograph hounds.
It only took about fifteen minutes for the club to arrange a secured location. Aubrey stood at the back of Beca’s line while Esther did the same to Chloe’s line. They politely dissuaded more autograph seekers from extending the night, and then escorted the two away from the main floor.
When all four finally joined the group in the private room, Chloe looked disappointed. “Does this mean we don’t get to sing?”
Beca looked to Aubrey for the answer.
“We have two choices.” Aubrey explained. “We can watch the rest of the bar do their thing, or,” she stood up and walked over to the railing, pushed a button and stepped back. A window dropped out of the ceiling and sealed off the sound. “We can have a private karaoke night.”
Emily squealed with delight. “But who will play kj?”
Beca smirked. “I will, of course. Posen, you are going down.”
“Not again!” Stacie laughed. “Someone stop these two from turning everything into a competition?”
Amy smirked. “Are you kidding? A shot for every missed note. Who’s in?”
Emily laughed and shook her head. “Still not legal, Ames. I don’t know how you got permission for me to be here anyway.”
“The joys of private rooms. I’m to make sure you don’t drink. So. Don’t drink.” Amy winked as she shook her finger at Emily. “You are the designated walker. You have to get us back to our rooms tonight.”
As the rest of the group laughed, Stacie leaned over and whispered. “I’ll help.”
“What’s that, Chica?” Flo asked.
It was Stacie’s turn to laugh. “I said I would help. I’m still breastfeeding. I’d rather not drink.”
Chloe tilted her head to one side. “I thought it only took two hours for alcohol to not be a factor in breast milk.”
“Still would rather not, Chloe.” Stacie smiled sweetly.
Chloe shrugged, “suit yourself. But you will sing.”
Emily nodded enthusiastically. “I will!”
Aubrey smiled, “not too silly a reason to sing?”
“Ouch,” Emily laughed. “I earned that. Karaoke is sillier than ICCA’s.” She shrugged, “but it’s with you guys.”
“Just teasing, Em. It will be nice to hear you sing again.” Aubrey winked.
“Can I go first?” Emily asked.
Beca nodded from her place by the machine. “I’ve almost got this sorted out. Come pick your song.” Emily smiled and headed over. She pointed at the song and Beca let her eyes flicker toward Stacie before she nodded. “Ok, Junk. Knock it out of the park.”
Emily grinned and picked up the mic. Then she put it down. “Sort of a small room for it, don’t ya think?”
Beca nodded and unplugged it. “People can hold it for the sense memory, but yeah, I don’t think this group needs amplification.”
“Ok,” Emily smiled and took a deep breath. She focused on Stacie and said, “For Bella.”
The song began. Its actual title was “For Baby (For Bobbie)” and had been written decades earlier by John Denver. One by one, the Bellas who didn’t know about Stacie and Emily started to figure it out. Jessica smiled and hugged Ashley tight. Flo wiped a tear away, CR let her eyes flicker back and forth between the girls with a beaming grin. Esther nodded with approval.
I'll be there when you're feeling down.
To kiss away the tears if you cry
I'll share with you all the happiness I've found.
A reflection of the love in your eyes
And I'll sing you the songs of the rainbow
A whisper of the joy that is mine
And leaves will bow down when you walk by
And morning bells will chime
Beca watched the scene, trying hard not to cry. Her eyes darted over to Chloe, who wouldn’t look at her. She realized Beale was watching Posen. Beca felt an unfamiliar tightening in her stomach. Oh, shit. Beale must have remembered she loved Posen! Beca dropped her eyes and blinked against the sting in them.
When Emily finished singing, she walked back over to Stacie, who stood when the song ended. Stacie reached out with both hands to cup Emily’s face and the couple shared a slow, lingering, loving kiss
Amy whooped. “Now, that’s what I call putting it all out there, Legacy.”
“She’s not Legacy,” Stacie corrected her without taking her eyes off of her girl. “I would appreciate you remembering that.”
“Right. Emily. Got it.” Amy was still grinning and not in the least cowed by the correction. “Who’s next?”
Aubrey cleared her throat. “What about our recording star? Give her a chance to sing before the drinks ruin her ears.”
“Just pick songs from this century, Posen. I’ll show you who has an ear.” Beca sniped back, both pleased Aubrey was still playing and worried what grand gesture Chloe was going to make.
“Can I go next?” Chloe stood up and walked over to Beca. “Please?”
Beca felt her stomach tighten again, but she nodded. She arched her eyebrow but selected the song and turned to watch Chloe.
Chloe began by letting her eyes scan each of her sisters.
And I never thought I'd feel this way.
And as far as I'm concerned
I'm glad I got the chance to say
That I do believe, I love you
She stopped at Beca, then flicked her eyes to Aubrey.
And if I should ever go away
Well, then close your eyes and try
To feel the way we do today
And then if you can remember
Aubrey joined in singing higher than Chloe.
Keep smiling, keep shining
Knowing you can always count on me, for sure.
That's what friends are for
Chloe looked at Beca again, who took the low line.
For good times and bad times
I'll be on your side forever more
That's what friends are for
CR stood during the harmonica section, and seeing Chloe nod at her, put her arm around Amy and sang.
Well, you came in loving me
And now there's so much more I see
And so by the way
I thank you
Chloe wiped her eyes and sang alone again.
Oh and then for the times when we're apart
Well, then close your eyes and know
The words are coming from my heart
And then if you can remember
All of the Bellas broke into parts as they sang through the chorus several more times. First CR sang lead, then Jessica. Then Stacie and Emily sang a duet. Then Aubrey took the lead, and Beca. Then Chloe finished it off. She looked around the room and said, “you are the most remarkable group of women I have had the pleasure to know. Thank you for letting me be a part of your lives.”
Aubrey walked over and wrapped her arms around Chloe and in moments the entire group was in a massive hug. Then Amy cleared her throat and said, “fucking mood killer Ginger. Who needs a drink?”
Beca removed herself, turned off the machine and reopened the window to the bar.
As they all sat down to have that drink and listen to others sing, Chloe came over to Beca. “You okay?”
Beca nodded, “I’m gonna miss you.”
“Not as much as you used to. But ima need a favor.” Chloe took Beca’s hand and when Beca finally met her eyes, Chloe said. “Keep an eye on the general for me?” Beca shot a glance at Aubrey, who was surreptitiously wiping her eyes still. Chloe added, “she’s gonna need someone she can count on.”
Beca nodded. “Yeah. I can do that.”
Chloe kissed Beca on the cheek and moved away. Beca kept watching Aubrey until she got caught. She smiled and shrugged. Aubrey nodded and then turned her attention back to the person singing downstairs.
Beca sighed. Chloe went for the grand gesture all right. It just wasn’t the one Beca expected. Now what?
Chapter 28: Endings
Beca wakes to a freaked out Aubrey.
Beca rubbed her eyes as she heard a pounding at the door. Pretty sure it wasn’t Amy again, she pulled herself to her feet, pulled on her sweatshirt and pants and finally staggered to the door. “What the fuck?”
Aubrey pushed past Beca and let herself in. “Get the coffee made, Mitchell.”
“Ok,” Beca rubbed her eyes again. “What time is it?” She asked as she closed the door and headed toward the kitchen.
“10:30 but that’s 5 o’clock somewhere, right?” Aubrey sat down at the breakfast table and cracked the seal on the bottle she carried.
Beca turned her head at the sound and stopped making coffee. She sat down and put a hand on Aubrey’s arm. “What’s happened?”
Aubrey sighed and met Beca’s gaze. “She’s gone again.”
Beca frowned and then her face cleared. “Chloe?”
“Yeah,” Aubrey agreed. “Look, I’d rather pour this into coffee, but we can drink it straight.”
“Hang on.” Beca left her hand on Aubrey’s wrist. “What aren’t you telling me?”
Aubrey sighed. “I’d really rather have this in coffee.”
Beca smiled, “I get that. I’d just like to be sober when I learn why we are getting blasted.”
“She’s not coming back.” Aubrey looked at the table.
“What do you mean?” Beca found she had mixed emotions. She was scared on the one hand. On the other she was relieved. She wouldn’t have to pretend that she and Beale were anything more than friends. But it sounded so final.
Aubrey pulled her phone out, unlocked it, slid an app open and handed it to Beca.
I know this is a lousy way to do things, but this industry I got into doesn’t play nice with timelines. By the time you read this, I’m on my way to Edinburgh. I’ve been chosen as the face of a new product. They want to use me and my coloring for some tests first, then photograph and film a series of campaigns.
I had to give up my apartment. My agent says I’ll be living in a castle for the next year or two. Isn’t that crazy? I can’t tell you much more because it’s a new company and everything is still under wraps.
I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. Tell the girls I love them, and make sure Bella doesn’t get too big before I get back. There’s a five-hour time difference, but I will try to get on the Bella chats when I can.
Love you, Elf.
Beca looked up and nodded. She put the phone down and calmly walked over to the sink. Methodically, she rinsed out the coffee carafe and filled it. She took the basket out of the machine, threw away the previous filter, rinsed the basket, replaced the filter and finally filled it with coffee. She poured the water into the reservoir, placed the carafe on the warmer and hit the start button.
Aubrey put her phone away and watched Beca carefully. “I thought you would be more upset.”
“I thought I would be, too.” Beca returned to the table and sat down. “She’s ok, she’s just off on her new adventure.”
“Yeah,” Aubrey agreed.
“I knew it was possible.” Beca shrugged. “She’s been saying it could happen at any time pretty much since she arrived in New York.” Aubrey didn’t respond this time. “She actually did say goodbye, the other night at Karaoke.”
Aubrey nodded and looked down at the bottle she held, “she did.” She looked up again, “I just didn’t think it would happen this fast or for this long.”
It was Beca’s turn to nod. “And who knows, she may come back next year, or in three years,” she bumped shoulders with Aubrey, “and pretend none of this happened either.”
“I don’t think I can do that again.” Aubrey admitted. “I mean, if she stays in the chat or texts or responds to texts, I think we will be ok.” She shrugged. “But I don’t think I could just....”
Beca nodded, “she made you pick up where you left off twice already, maybe three times.” Aubrey looked up sharply. “I’m not an idiot, Posen. Once you showed me the pattern, I saw it.” Beca took a deep breath. “First, I showed up and she didn’t graduate. She dropped back into your life at the retreat.” Aubrey nodded so Beca continued. “Then she moved to New York with me. Maybe she wasn’t as out of touch then, but she sort of expected you to fix when she was so unhappy at the aquarium.”
Aubrey smiled slightly, “you caught that?”
Beca shook her head, “not then. You are too good. You made it sound like it was all your idea. But looking back, she was asking without asking for you to make something happen. And you did.”
“And it went to shit.” Aubrey looked at the bottle. “Are you gonna let me drink some of this?”
“If you want,” Beca stood and poured a cup of coffee for each of them and stirred in two spoons of sugar into one. She handed it to Aubrey. “But have a regular cup with me first.”
Aubrey put the bottle down and accepted the coffee. “I guess.”
Beca smiled, “it gives me a chance to finish processing. We can get drunk later. She’s still gonna be gone.”
“That’s damn logical of you.” Aubrey groused.
“Been hanging with Conrad.” Beca sipped her coffee. “The third time was when she came back here. She dropped in like she hadn’t jetted around Europe and the States, like she hadn’t bolted on the Bellas getting home, like she hadn’t bailed on all of us dealing with the kidnapping, like she hadn’t left me and Amy stuck with her stuff in the apartment.”
Aubrey nodded again. “She was so irresponsible.” It came out as barely a whisper.
Beca smiled again, “you can forgive a lot of things, Posen, but irresponsibility and bailing on friends really chafe your hide.”
“Nice euphemism.” Aubrey chuckled and sipped her coffee.
“Am I wrong?”
Aubrey shook her head, “no. But I was coming here to console you! You weren’t supposed to console me.”
Beca shrugged, “I lost a chance at a relationship. But I lost that months ago, before we ever went on that tour. I just didn’t know it yet. You,” she leaned over and bumped shoulders again, “have known her longer and put up with more shit than any of us gave you credit for.”
“She was a good friend, Beca.”
Beca nodded, “she can be the best. And she can be difficult. Not as difficult as me,” she allowed with a smile, “but difficult. Worse is when her attention changes. I’ve only had to deal with it once. You’ve had to handle it three times.”
Aubrey sighed, “what’s that definition of insanity? Repeat the same action and expect a different result?”
“It’s either insanity or love and sometimes I think those are synonyms.” Beca joked. “Look, I know I can’t make you feel better. I know I’m just a bitchy grump. But the Bellas all adore you. It’ll be tough without Beale, but you aren’t alone.”
“I think I said those words to you a couple of months ago.” Aubrey smiled.
Beca nodded, “and you were right. Now, how about I put that bottle in the cabinet. We can enjoy it slowly over a month or so. I’ll jump in the shower and then I’ll let you bore me to tears with a documentary. You can even teach me to use chopsticks.”
Aubrey laughed and a tear escaped her eye. She brushed it away and nodded. “Maybe not chopsticks, but I’ll find something we can both enjoy.” She stood up and held an arm out. “Thanks, Hobbit.”
Beca stepped into the embrace and hugged Aubrey with both arms. “Any time, weirdo. I’ll be back soon”
Aubrey picked up her coffee and headed into the living room. Beca picked the bottle up and placed it in her liquor cabinet. “Damn, Posen, you were gonna waste Bushmills on a bender?” She shook her head and went to take her shower.
By the time she returned, Aubrey was sitting with her second cup of coffee and had a video selected. “What did ya find?” Beca asked while she poured her next cup.
“It’s the history of Muscle Shoals.” Aubrey watched Beca out of the corner of her eye.
“Now that’s a documentary I can live with. Maybe you have some taste after all.” Beca teased as she settled on the sofa, legs crossed under her.
Aubrey snorted. “Someday, you might be willing to broaden your horizons and learn something about another field. Today, we can stay with music.”
Beca nodded, “fair enough, but don’t hold your breath.”
“I never do, Hobbit. I never do.” Aubrey pressed play.
Chapter 29: Oh!
A few weeks later, Beca looked over at Aubrey who was seated on the couch while Beca worked at her mixing board. “Two questions. Do I really have to tour?”
Aubrey looked up from her iPad and waited, but when the second question didn’t come, she shook her head. “Epic is pleased with the work you’ve done. You might still have to make a few public appearances and some promotional work for the EP, but a full on tour is not in the cards.” She saw Beca’s face light up. “What’s the other question?”
“Why don’t you just move back in?”
Aubrey blinked, “excuse me?”
Beca swiveled on her stool and faced the sofa. “You spend most of your days here. You come over for coffee, you take all of your calls in my guest room. Then you crash here instead of going upstairs. Why don’t you just move in?”
“I.” Aubrey blushed and looked away, “ok, in all transparency, my damn dreams are back. I thought they were gone, but they aren’t.”
“Shit.” Beca stood up and walked over to the sofa. She sat down next to Aubrey, “is that why you hang here? That change of scenery thing?”
Aubrey nodded. “I thought maybe staying here they would subside again.”
Beca tilted her head to one side to see Aubrey better, “but they haven’t.”
“No.” Aubrey still wouldn’t meet Beca’s eyes. “I feel like a failure. No one else seems as broken by it. No one else talks about still having bad dreams. CR has done so well she’s getting her pilot’s license.” She sighed, “just me.”
Beca nodded and thought about it. “I don’t know I’m the right person to talk to about this. I’m such an emotional runt you call me Hobbit.” She leaned back against the sofa. “I don’t dream as much since that night Chloe didn’t call. I think my dreams were all about losing her. Once I really did, there wasn’t anything to be scared of any more.” Beca scrunched her face up, “god I suck at this.”
Aubrey allowed a small smile, “no, that makes sense. I wake up and count noses, you know?” She cut a glance toward Beca and then away again. “I count who responded to the last Bella chat, count up all nine of you, prove to myself everyone is ok.” She sighed, “but I close my eyes and I am right back on that yacht.”
Beca crossed her feet under her. “Maybe we need to figure out what part has you hooked. Like mine was Beale.” She laughed, “I’m not good at guessing and we still don’t talk about shit like that.”
“I don’t know,” Aubrey hedged. She was starting to feel uncomfortable. “I’m sure it will go away. It’s probably just leftovers from losing daily contact with Beale again.”
“Maybe.” Beca nodded. “What keeps showing up?”
Aubrey shook her head, “I’d really rather not talk about it.”
Beca sighed and put her feet down, “ok. I was just hoping to help you the way you help me. Let me know if you change your mind.”
“Thanks,” Aubrey nodded. “I will.”
Beca went back to the mixing table. She replayed the last day of the tour in her mind again. It always played backwards for her. It would start with hugging Chloe, then standing between Aubrey and Amy just before the end. Aubrey was nodding at her and squeezing her hand to give her the courage to step out of the line. Singing to her during the song. Watching her before she pulled the Bellas on stage. Then there was Aubrey encouraging Emily. She sure read that look wrong. There was Beale announcing a vet school acceptance that apparently didn’t mean much, since she threw it over for Chicago so fast. Then there was pulling Amy off the yacht and falling through the air. She always shuddered when she thought of that.
Beca stopped the memories and started messing around with her loop. She didn’t get very far before the pictures came back. Aubrey to her left staring at her before Emily could drag her to the railing. The shock on her face when Beca showed up. Then she could hear Emily saying, “She was thinking about how to help Beca, I guarantee it.”
Beca froze. She remembered Aubrey saying, “I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that so we can still be friends.” Aubrey asking what was going on and “nothing,” coming out of her mouth and Chloe’s mouth simultaneously. Singing with Aubrey during the riff off. Worlds, the retreat, the first finals, the pool, “what do we do now?” Beca looked over her shoulder at Aubrey, muscles all tight as she pretended to study her iPad.
She swiveled around again and watched Aubrey.
Aubrey looked up, irritated. “What?”
“You were, are, worried about me.”
Aubrey’s face paled, but her belligerent attitude remained. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Never send a Hobbit....”
Beca nodded, “yeah. But not because I’m a screw up. You believe in me. You just worry about me.”
Aubrey straightened her back and looked back down at her iPad. “It’s my job.”
Beca smiled and stood up. “It hasn’t always been your job.” She recognized that posture. Aubrey used it before she gave in and let Beca rejoin the Bellas. “It only became your job recently.”
“I was your captain. It’s always been my job.” Aubrey started flipping pages on her document without really looking at them.
“Come on, weirdo. Talk to me.” Beca sat down again. “Maybe you like me, just a little?”
Aubrey snorted, “of course, I do. I told you, you are my favorite frenemy.” But she didn’t look up.
Beca scooted closer. “You know, I realized something.”
“What’s that,” Aubrey’s speech remained clipped but she allowed a quick glance in Beca’s direction.
“I’m an idiot.”
Aubrey snorted. “That’s not even good conversation. If I don’t correct you, you will get offended. But perhaps you are, because you haven’t yet explained what you are an idiot about. For example, if you say you are an idiot for believing you can still eat like you did when you were 18, I would have to agree with you.”
Beca smiled and felt her eyes sting. “Yeah, I’d have to grant you that, but if you tell anyone I’ll deny it to my dying breath.”
“You would.” Aubrey laughed quietly.
“So, do you want to know why I’m an idiot?” Beca pressed.
Aubrey shrugged, “it would be easier for the sake of this conversation.”
Beca chuckled, “I realized I love sparring with you. I love teasing you. I love when you tease and spar with me.”
Aubrey looked up, surprised.
“Yeah, I do.” Beca was grinning now. “I also realized that ever since my freshman year, when I was scared or nervous, all I had to do was look at you and I knew I could do it. From remixing, to the ICCAs to singing breakdowns and jumping off a freaking tower. Have I thanked you for that? I don’t know I could have jumped off that stupid yacht if you hadn’t made me hang off that zip line.”
“You’re welcome.” Aubrey seemed a little less tense, but still uncomfortable.
Beca took a deep breath and kept going. “Chloe asked me why I pulled Amy on stage first.” Aubrey frowned, not following the change in topic. “I told her Amy was always up for anything. She wouldn’t turn me down. When I need a partner in crime, Ames is it.”
Aubrey laughed, “I can see that.”
“When I need grounding, I look to you.”
Beca groaned, “work with me, weirdo. I’m really not good at this stuff.”
Aubrey looked truly penitent. “I just don’t know what you want from me, Hobbit.”
“I’ve been wrong for over seven years. Chloe isn’t home.” Beca cleared her throat, “you are.”
“I mean it.” Beca nodded her head. “I could go off to New York with Chloe and Amy, because I always knew if something went wrong, I could call you and you would be there. Beale isn’t the only person I’ve been taking for granted.” She reached out and placed her hand on the back of Aubrey’s hand. “I’ve been a real idiot.”
Aubrey swallowed, looking down at the hand over hers. A tear fell and landed on the back of Beca’s hand.
Beca scooted closer. “I’m sorry. You have been watching out for me for seven plus years, and I never said thank you. I never noticed.” She lifted a hand to touch the side of Aubrey’s face, “did I say I’m an idiot?”
Aubrey looked up, tears in her eyes and laughed, “emotionally stunted Hobbit, I believe is our agreement.”
“Well,” Beca smiled and leaned closer, “maybe I’m finally growing up.” She pressed her lips against Aubrey’s.
There was not even a heartbeat between the first touch and Aubrey’s response. She turned her hand over to grasp at Beca’s, as Beca moved her free hand to slip into Aubrey’s hair. It was a sweet kiss, with a hint of promise and passion, but mostly just an acknowledgement of the feelings they both had tried to deny. Aubrey broke free first, but Beca kept her forehead touching Aubrey’s.
“Maybe not so emotionally stunted,” Aubrey teased quietly.
“Weirdo.” Beca whispered back before their lips touched again.
Stacie turned over, groggily. Her eyes popped open when she realized Emily was not beside her. Her heart beating fast, her mind raced through the day’s events. Had she been too casual? Was she too aloof? What had she done to cause Emily to leave? Stacie didn’t bother with her robe, or any slippers, she just grabbed a shirt from the floor and pulled it on as she hurried down the hall.
A quiet murmuring caught her ear. Slowing down her movements and her heart, Stacie paused by Emily’s old room.
“That’s my big girl.” Emily cooed softly.
Stacie smiled at the gentle voice and peeked around the door.
Emily sat on her old bed and was feeding Bella from a bottle. Beside her sat both baby monitors, which explained why Stacie hadn’t heard her with the baby. Stacie leaned against the door jamb and listened, hoping not to interrupt.
Emily rocked Bella gently as she held the bottle. “We’re gonna give your mommy lots of rest, aren’t we Bells? Mommy smiles more when she’s rested.”
Stacie blinked back tears. Had she been that irritable? She bit her lower lip.
“Your smile is a lot like hers, baby girl. It’s like the sun rises when either of you smile.” Emily put the bottle down and lifted Bella onto her shoulder. “I know, you think I’m silly. You think your smile is just gas still. I don’t believe it. It’s too much like your mommy’s.” Emily rubbed Bella’s back gently and once the baby was done burping, cleaned up her face and hands. “That’s my big girl. Are you ready to sleep more?” She stood up, intending to walk and rock Bella to sleep, but noticed Stacie in the doorway. “Hey, I was hoping not to wake you.”
“You didn’t.” Stacie whispered past the lump in her throat. She came into the room and kissed her daughter on the forehead and Emily on the cheek. “I just noticed you were gone.”
Emily smiled and ducked her head. “Little Miss was sounding fussy, but you were sleeping so well, I just went and got some of the pumped milk for her.”
Stacie stood, one arm around Emily’s waist and the other resting on Bella as Emily continued to rock the little girl. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Then don’t worry about it.” Emily kissed Stacie tenderly. “Go back to bed, love. I got this.”
“Yeah, you do.” Stacie nodded and walked back to her own bed where she sat up and waited.
When Emily made it back to bed, she paused in the doorway, “I meant to rest.”
Stacie shrugged, “I’m resting.”
“You are not.” Emily laughed quietly as she put the monitor down on her side of the bed. She crawled into bed, and hugged Stacie. “Come on, lay down.”
Stacie scooted down so she was on her side, looking at Emily in the darkness.
Emily smiled, “what?”
“So many things.” Stacie smiled in return. She reached out and tangled some of Emily’s hair in her fingers. “How you are with Bella; the way you take care of me.” She smiled, “I’m gonna get all sappy.”
“Oh, don’t do that.” Emily teased. “You will hate yourself in the morning.”
Stacie laughed. “You are probably right.” She continued to stroke the strand of hair she held in her hand. “I feel like quoting a song or an old movie.” She cleared her throat and softly started to sing.
Free, on my own
That's the way I used to be
But since I met you baby...
Stacie broke off as a tear slipped out of her eye. “I got my foot caught in the door.”
Emily felt tears sting her own eyes as she pressed closer.
Stacie met her half way. As they kissed again she realized that was all Emily had ever wanted...to be met halfway.
Chapter 30: Epilogue
Where the Bellas learn about Beca and Aubrey
Several days later, Stacie opened the door to invite Aubrey and Beca in for dinner. “Come on in. We’re not quite ready. Bella had an accident.”
“She’s a baby, Stac, how could she have an accident.” Aubrey dropped her iPad on the sofa. “Is she sick?” She looked down the hall, “does Emily need help?”
“She’s fine, Bree.” Stacie chuckled. “She’s starting to wiggle a lot and she wiggled right out of her diaper. Then she needed it.”
Beca grimaced and looked down at the living room floor.
Stacie laughed harder. “I have cleaned and disinfected. You have nothing to worry about. I’m just running behind on dinner. You guys want to argue about what to watch?”
Aubrey’s shoulders relaxed. “We’ll think of something, won’t we, Hobbit.”
Beca snorted, “the only way to make everyone but me happy would be a behind the scenes thing. Hey, maybe how they decorate Disneyland?” She grabbed the remote and started surfing.
“Where does she come up with this stuff?” Stacie laughed and looked at Aubrey.
“Truly a sick and twisted mind.” Aubrey agreed. She sat down on the sofa and picked up her iPad.
“Get with it, weirdo. Behind the scenes makes it a how-to for Stacie. Disneyland makes it fluffy for Emily. They always compare this year to past years, you get history.” Beca plopped onto the couch next to Aubrey, leaning against Aubrey’s side.
Without thinking, Aubrey moved her arm behind Beca. Beca was now leaning against Aubrey’s rib cage and under her arm. Aubrey nodded absently and said, “if it keeps you from falling asleep, all the better.” She read an email that recently arrived and grinned, “hey, Em, Most Girls is getting hits! You’re up to thirty on Billboard!”
Emily walked out with Bella in her arms. “Really?” She froze at the comfortable and familiar position of the two women on the sofa. “That’s cool!” When Aubrey looked down at her iPad after nodding and smiling at Emily, Emily hurried to the kitchen. “Have you seen?” She pointed toward the living room with her head.
Stacie frowned but moved to a better vantage point. Still not seeing what Emily was referring to, she walked into the living room long enough to ask, “Whatcha drinking?”
“Water’s fine.” Aubrey replied, then looked up, “need help?”
“No, I’m good.” Stacie hid a smirk. “Grumpy?”
“Water’s cool. Hey! Here’s a show about Disney Animal Kingdom. Cute animals are always good.” Beca turned her head to look at Aubrey.
Aubrey shook her head, “not natural. This is gonna tap dance on all my buttons about treating wild animals as pets. The Magic Kingdom, or one of the studio tours would be better.”
Beca nodded, “ok.”
Stacie watched in mixed amusement and amazement. She returned to a grinning Emily in the kitchen.
“Now we know why all the tension,” Emily joked quietly.
“Yeah, maybe that buffer was more in the way than anyone thought.” Stacie’s eyes danced in merriment. She grabbed two bottles of water and took them to the girls in the living room, then snuck a photo of them snuggled on the couch. Without a caption, she sent it to the Bella chat.
Chloe: about time! I was beginning to think I would have to fly back just to smack their heads together.
Aubrey: Legs, I’m going to kill you.
Beca: wtf Beale?
Chloe: get a clue girls. You’ve been attracted since Beca’s freshman year.
Amy: how you figure, Ginger? Oh, and cute you two
CR: pretty damn comfy, looks like to me.
Esther: Beca calls Posen Weirdo.
Flo: what? And yes, muy adorable.
Chloe: Beca called Jesse weirdo, too
Jessica: oh Em gee
Ashley: you are so cute!
Beca: why do I hang out with you weirdos?
Stacie: see? Proof. Love!
Beca: shut it, Conrad.
Amy: kiss, kiss, kiss.
Aubrey: I do not kiss on demand.
CR: ha, confirmation you do kiss
Jessica: good one!
Ashley: fair caught, you two.
Chloe: can I come back to New York now? I’m bored.
Aubrey: you said you had an entire campaign to film.
Chloe: I lied.
Amy: Ginger, I owe you one. That’s priceless.
Stacie: I’d stay away for a week or two, Red. The General might ream you a new hole.
Emily: just stay here, Chloe. She wouldn’t dare in front of Bella.
Aubrey: babies have to sleep some time.
Stacie: Ames, set up another reunion when Red gets back? Besides the happy couple to harass, Em’s got another song on the charts.
Beca: hey, I’m the producer of record!
Stacie: we are already celebrating you. Selfish.
Beca: rather be known for the song.
Aubrey: I see how you are.
Beca: don’t be that way, weirdo.
Stacie: point and match.
Amy: ok, I’m on it. Call me, Red. I’ll send CR for ya.
Chloe: CR, you got your license?
CR: Yep, Amy’s personal pilot
Aubrey: good for you, CR
CR: not as good as you’re doing, General.
Aubrey: oh ffs
Chloe: Legs, are you corrupting Emily?
Stacie: in all the best ways. Oops, dinner scalding ttys
Emily: ttys guys.
Stacie didn’t look into the living room until the food was ready. She brought two plates out and held them before her. “Peace offering?”
Beca looked at Aubrey, who still looked irritated. “I accept, Conrad, but I may lose my Grumpy designation.”
“Haha, Hobbit. I just,” Aubrey sat with her arms crossed.
“You are terribly private,” Beca leaned over and bumped Aubrey’s shoulder. “But this isn’t public, this is family.”
Aubrey glared at Stacie one more time, then looked at Beca and smiled in spite of herself. “Oh, all right. Maybe they got the teasing out of their system.”
“Don’t count on it. Chloe managed to get you guys together. You may never hear the end of it.” Emily reminded them.
“Ah, shit,” Beca laughed. “She’s right.”
Aubrey buried her face in her hands.
Stacie sat down with her own plate while Emily laid Bella down beside her on the floor. Once they both were seated, Stacie waved at the television. “Turn it off, I wanna know what happened.”
Beca nudged Aubrey, who finally uncovered her face. “You wanna tell them or do I?”
Aubrey sighed, “I wouldn’t know what to say.”
“Then I’ll start and you add if there’s anything I forget,” Beca smiled indulgently. She then brought her attention to Stacie and Beca. “There isn’t much, truth be told.” She chuckled. “I just sort of figured out that,” she looked at Aubrey and back at Stacie, “when I really need someone to count on, it’s always been Aubrey.” She looked at Emily, “you know how it is, she believes you can and then, like, you can.”
Emily beamed. “Yeah, I know.” She looked back and forth between Aubrey and Beca. “I never would have finished Flashlight without you, Beca. But you never would have asked without Aubrey.”
Beca nodded while Aubrey shook her head. “Yeah. I was pretty sure I had nothing original. Aubrey making us do death defying trust exercises while singing breakdowns really got me out of my head.”
Aubrey had to smile then. “That was the idea.”
“And while Bella was the inspiration to start writing again, I probably would have given up when I couldn’t get my shit together after the kidnapping.” Emily continued. “Bringing me here, close to my muse, helped me in so many ways.” She reached over and squeezed Stacie’s hand.
“But what happened!” Stacie nearly pounded the coffee table with her free hand, showing her frustration.
Beca looked at Aubrey, almost as if asking permission. Aubrey nodded. Stacie smiled at the private communication. “She’s still having dreams.” Aubrey shook her head and smiled shyly. “She was still having dreams.” Beca amended.
Emily watched the exchange, torn between concern and merriment. “They are better now?”
Aubrey nodded, and cleared her throat. “I,” she looked at Beca, “I kept worrying about Beca.”
“You were the key, Em. Remember you said you thought Aubrey didn’t jump because she was trying to figure out how to help me?” When Emily nodded, Beca continued. “You weren’t far wrong. She didn’t want to go until she knew I was safe. But she wouldn’t risk you either, so followed you. But in her dreams,” Beca broke off.
“Beca didn’t make it.” Aubrey added softly.
“Oh, shit,” Stacie muttered. “That sucks.”
Aubrey shrugged but Beca briefly linked their fingers and Aubrey smiled again. “I had those dreams about Beale, so I understood. I also realized Beale didn’t wait for me. Posen did.”
Stacie’s eyes widened. “Oh my god.”
Beca nodded, “I’m not saying Beale didn’t love me, or I didn’t love Beale.” She squeezed the pinky linked with hers. “It’s just different.”
Emily nodded and blinked through her tears. “Yeah. It is.”
Stacie squeezed Emily’s hand and then cleared her throat again. “Now that you both stopped wearing your asses as hats,” Beca and Aubrey laughed, and Stacie continued, “what did you find for us, Grumpy.”
Beca snorted and picked up the remote. “Decorating the Magic Kingdoms for the Holidays.”
Emily squealed and turned toward the television. Beca leaned over and whispered, “told you,” in Aubrey’s ear.
Aubrey allowed herself to kiss the side of Beca’s head and whispered back. “Don’t let it go to your head.”
Beca grinned. “Weirdo.”