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Stained Glass

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Uncle Lew stops to fuel up an hour into the drive. The girls climb out to stretch their legs, arguing with him as he insists on buying them snacks.

“I’ve already got drinks,” he says, slapping a hand against the fender of his truck. “There’s an ice chest in the back so help yourselves.” He heads off inside, Stacie in tow.

“Well, I won’t turn that down,” Beca says, grabbing the tailgate and hopping up with an ease Chloe wasn’t expecting. She swings herself into the bed and bends down, popping the ice chest open. “Water?”

“Yes, please.” She moves to the back of the truck and hooks her arms over it as Beca rolls up her sleeves and digs into the chest. Her dark hair falls over her shoulder and Chloe catches a strand, twisting it around her finger. “You’re cute.”

Beca scoffs but doesn’t pull away. Her hand comes up wet and ice-red, a bottle of water dripping in her palm. A few drops land on her knee, dark spatter on her gray jeans. “Lew’s inside,” she says, her voice low.

Chloe gives her hair a soft tug. “I know. But you are cute. Just wanted to tell you that.” It’s one of her favorite things in the world, making Beca’s ears turn red by telling her the truth. Flustering her with flirty quips and blatant come-ons is funny, but flooring her by simply stating a fact? Chloe loves it. “Hey. Come here.”

Her brow furrows, but Beca leans in. Then leans more when Chloe tugs her hair again. “Chlo?”

“How are you? Slept okay on the flight? I didn’t get to ask.” They’re barely a few breaths away now, Beca’s hair hanging down like a curtain around them. Chloe pushes Lew’s sunglasses up onto her head so she can see the dark lines in Beca’s eyes clearly.

“Yeah, it was fine.” It’s a whisper, like someone could overhear even though they’re alone at the gas pumps. “Are we supposed to look like we’re making out if Lew looks out here?”

It makes her want to whisper too. “Maybe I just like looking at you.”

“Oh, well, you can look from back here then--Ooh!”

Chloe reaches out as Beca leans back, snatching the collar of her shirt and pulling her in. Beca laughs, overbalancing and tilting forward onto one knee, her elbows landing on the tailgate on either side of Chloe. The water bottle in her hand bumps against Chloe’s back and she can feel it soaking through her shirt. It’s the first time Chloe can remember having to actually bend her head back to look up at Beca. “I like looking from here though.” She purposely catches Beca’s gaze and rolls her bottom lip between her teeth, biting down.

It’s just a flicker of movement, but she thinks Beca’s eyes move to her lips. They’ve bounced off and moved to the storefront before Chloe can be sure. She shifts suddenly, her hand wrapping around Chloe’s elbow. “You know, you’re very convincing.”

There’s a subtle tug and Chloe follows it, her forehead bumping Beca’s. “So are you. Are you sure this is your first acting job, Mitchell?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

She would. She would also like to stop thinking about how soft Beca’s lips look. Because she’s sure it would freak Beca out if she mentioned it. As flirty as Beca could be, she was skittish when it came to anything more than playful innuendo. And it’s not like Chloe likes Beca. They’re just friends. But she could appreciate a friend’s lips, right? So Chloe just grins. “You know what you’d be good at? Role playing.” She bites her lip again, sliding her fingers along Beca’s collar. “Doctor? Pool girl? Oooh, my French maid?”

“Oh my god, shut up.” Beca actually pulls back this time. “You’re so weird.” She shoves the water into Chloe’s hand, turning back to the ice chest.

“And yet, here you are. Dating me.” The tailgate creaks as she leans forward just enough to catch Beca’s eye.

“Yeah, keep it up and I’ll dump your ass.”

For that, Chloe braces a knee on the bumper and pops up to slap Beca’s backside quickly. Her squeak echoes around the parking lot as Chloe skips away.

“Chloe!”

“Love you!”

Uncle Lew and Stacie are just coming out of the store and she catches Lew’s eye. From the crooked, too-wide smile on his face, she knows he must have seen something. He throws an arm around her shoulders as he moves to fill up. “She’s cute,” he mutters, shaking her back and forth.

She laughs. “Yeah, she is.”

“I like her.”

Chloe watches as Beca holds Stacie’s water up high in the air, laughing, one foot braced up on the tailgate. Stacie barely goes up on her toes to snatch it and Beca lets out a loud, “Ah, man!”

They laugh, Stacie playfully snatching at the tails of Beca’s shirt as Beca smacks at her.

“Yeah. Me too, Uncle Lew.”


Even after hitting the gas station bathroom and changing into shorts and her favorite, sleeveless floral button-up, it’s so hot, but Chloe really has missed Georgia. She peers out down the road, toward where she knows her family’s big white house is waiting. And Aubrey. All of her best friends from college. It’s enough to make her nearly vibrate with excitement.

Beca’s sitting on the ice chest when Uncle Lew finishes fueling up and waves his long arms in the air. “Alright! Here we go, ladies. Hop in. Or, well, Beca, if you’re comfy there, settle down. It’s only twenty minutes to the house. You can ride there.”

It’s like a switch being flipped. Beca--slouchy, sleepy, grumpy Beca--sits up completely straight, her eyes wide. “Yeah? Yeah, okay. I’ll just--” She hops off the ice chest and drops down into the bed, just her head sticking up over the tailgate. It’s so much like a child that had just been given ice cream without even asking for it that Chloe wants to hug her.

Resisting the urge, she pops open her door and pulls herself up onto the running board, grinning back at Beca. “You good, Mitchell?”

“I’m about to take a nap, Beale. Leave me alone.”

“Okay, okay,” she laughs. Beca’s so cute.

When they take off, Chloe leans to the side enough that she can see Beca in the side mirror. Her head is leaned back on the tailgate, her eyes closed, her hair whipping behind her. For someone so pale, who almost literally hisses when Chloe comes home and turns on the lights, Beca’s sure soaking up the sun. And damn if she doesn’t look good doing it. The wind slips into her flannel, billowing it like ship sails around her tank top, pulling it back enough that the sun pools in the dips of her collarbones and spills over the curves of her shoulders. Chloe can see the very ends of the flower tattoo on her right shoulder, the vines that creep over toward her chest. She wonders again where Beca’s secret tattoos are.

“Home sweet home.” Uncle Lew’s voice cuts through her wondering and she blinks, looking away from the rearview. Had it already been twenty minutes?

The truck is winding up her parents’ driveway, passing the flowerbeds her mother has been tending since she was a baby, the swing bench her father had hooked up under his favorite tree, the dented mailbox she’d backed into the first day she’d gotten her license.

And the house is exactly as she remembered it. Three stories of blue shutters and white paint, lattice covered in vines and flowers on either side of the steps. Her mother’s wicker chairs and her father’s poker table on the enclosed porch. All the same as it had ever been. It’s been over a year since she’s been here and she blinks against the sudden tears in her eyes. When the screen door on the porch swings open and her mother steps out, there’s not enough blinking to stop them.

The truck’s barely stopped before Chloe is out of it and running.

Her mother meets her halfway, slamming into her hard enough to knock the wind from her lungs. She folds her up tight in her arms, dropping her cheek onto the top of her mother’s head. She’d always been so small but Chloe feels like she’s even smaller this time, her thin arms pinching at Chloe’s waist.

“Oh, my baby girl,” she croons, her Southern Belle accent thicker with tears. “I missed you so much.”

“I missed you too, Mamma.” She squeezes tighter, letting her mother be the first to pull away.

When she does, not quite letting go, she peers up at Chloe with glimmering blue eyes. “My god, you look even taller than last time I saw you. What they feeding you up in New York?” Her hands pat along Chloe’s hips. “Are they feeding you anything? You’re so thin!”

“You say that every time you see any of us,” Stacie says, throwing her arm around Chloe’s shoulders. “Hey, Mamma Beale.”

Chloe takes a step back to let Mamma Beale fuss over Stacie, giving her the same pat down and questions with an added, “Have you been good though? Really, Stacie? Don’t you lie to me.”

“Come on, Mamma. I’m a grown woman--”

“And he’s a hunter, yes, yes, I know. My wild child--”

Beca is climbing down from the back of the truck, moving to help Uncle Lew with their bags. Chloe grins when she catches the shorter girl’s eye. She waves her over. Uncle Lew does the same, shooing Beca away from their luggage.

“Mamma,” Chloe says as Beca approaches. “I’d like to introduce you to my girlfriend.” She reaches out and feels Beca’s fingers slip between hers easily.

It might be her imagination, but Chloe thinks her mother’s never looked prouder. She puffs up as big as her 4’11 frame can and claps her hands together. “Oh, I was hoping it was you, Beca.”

Chloe dodges to the side to avoid being grabbed in her mother’s bear hug. Beca takes the full force of it, squeaking in a way that Chloe knows she’s already embarrassed about even as it slips through her teeth.

In peak awkward-Beca mode, Beca pats Mamma Beale’s back twice. Then her hands just twitch in the air behind her. “R-really? You were?”

“Yes!” Mamma releases her from her bear hug in favor of grabbing her by the shoulders. “You know, the second I met you, I could tell you loved my daughter. I could see it in your eyes.”

It’s hard not to burst into giggles as she watches Beca’s ears turn redder and redder. Nobody really stands a chance against her mother’s love, but watching finicky, “don’t touch me” Beca Mitchell try is hilarious.

“When Aubrey told me Chlo had found someone, you were my first thought.” She squishes Beca’s face. “And you!” Her focus slips to Chloe, letting Beca back quickly away. “When you wouldn’t give me any details, I knew! You thought you could surprise me?”

“How did you know?” Chloe says, trying not to roll her eyes. Even when it’s affectionate, it’s a gesture her mother hates.

“Who else would it be? She’s all you talk about!” Mamma Beale spins on her heel and heads for the porch. “Come on, girls! Go get settled in and meet back in the kitchen in twenty. We’ve got to finish dinner before everyone else gets here. Lew! Hurry up with them bags!”

“Yes, ma’am,” he calls back, straining under the weight of all their suitcases. Beca rushes to grab the case with her mixing equipment--arguably the heaviest.


Uncle Lew leads them inside, stopping off in a guest room on the bottom floor to drop off Stacie’s things. (“Ah! I’m rooming with Cynthia Rose? Oh, she is not ready.”) Then, with a quick wink, he gestures for Chloe and Beca to follow him out the back door.

Last time she’d visited, her old room had been filled with her mother’s exercise equipment. “Your gran hates hearing the elliptical at night, so I moved it all out there.” But when Uncle Lew juggles their bags around to open the side door on the garage, she bounces on her heels happily.

The bottom floor of the garage is taken up by her father’s old 1966 Shelby Cobra. It’s exactly where it’s been since she was a child, sneaking into the garage after her father and peering at herself in the shining gray paint. Pulling at his pants leg until he lifted her up into the passenger seat and let her watch him replace the radio. Handing him all kinds of tools he didn’t need as she chattered away about school and how stupid Mike Warren had pulled her hair again.

She runs her fingers along the car top, letting Uncle Lew and Beca go up the stairs in the corner first. There’s no dust. Her mother’s still cleaning it.

“Beale, they stuck you in the garage? How many siblings do you have?”

Uncle Lew’s chuckle echoes down to her. “She wanted the loft. Asked for years. I had to help them build the bathroom up here and the railings. Almost broke my hand installing the shower. Snatched it back at the last second.”

“Weak. Coulda got workman’s comp.”

When she reaches the tail end of the car, she lets go, hopping the steps two at a time to catch up.

Without the exercise equipment, the loft is back to exactly how Chloe had left it years ago. Her bed is tucked under the little porthole window up near the barn style roof, the sheets probably freshly cleaned, if she knows her mother. Her desk takes up the whole corner to the right of the bed, “Chloe Anne Beale” scratched into the wood. The mini-fridge at the top of the stairs is filled with waters and cokes, she’s happy to find. Her tiny bathroom is cleaned and stocked--her mother always was thorough. All her old framed pictures of the Bellas and her friends from middle school still cover the top of the dresser, surrounded by figurines of unicorns and fairies--gifts from her father, just like the loft she’d begged him for until her first year of college.

Uncle Lew drops their bags on the bed, rubbing his back. “Oh, I’m getting old.” He claps his hands together, heading for the stairs. “I’ll leave you ladies to settle in or whatever kids do these days. Everyone should be back from town by five thirty, your mom said. Your brother has been off the walls all morning.”

Chloe laughs, knowing exactly what he means. Eli’s been hyper since the day he was born and ten years hasn’t tempered that at all. He Skypes her at four in the morning sometimes to ramble about his newest video game or the friend he made at school. She can’t blame him, she was exactly the same growing up.

Uncle Lew leaves and she starts unpacking, filling the empty dresser drawers quickly--her stuff in the left drawers, Beca’s in the right.

Once the door closes below, Beca speaks. “We’re sharing a bed?”

It’s almost hilarious, the amount of panic in that one question. “We’re dating, Bec. And adults. Of course they’d assume we’ve shared a bed before and we’d want to do so again. Everybody’s getting roommates anyways.” She looks up from unpacking to watch Beca fiddle with her equipment bag. “You can set all that up on the desk. I won’t be using it as much as you.”

“Oh, uh. Thanks.” Beca moves to do exactly that, pulling boards and cords and her laptop from the bags with practiced ease. “But really. You cling so much in your sleep. They’re gonna find me dead up here one morning. Suffocated, probably.”

Chloe laughs, throwing a shirt at Beca’s back. “I’m not that bad. You’ll survive.”

“I don’t know. I’m pretty sure you’ve read my will, so. You stand to benefit if I drop dead. If I wake up with a pillow over my face, I won’t be surprised.”

“I have not read your will. What do I get?” She bends to shove the few pairs of shoes she brought under the dresser.

“Everything,” Beca laughs, bent over her computer, her back still to Chloe. “Who else would I leave my stuff to? Stacie?”

There’s a note in her voice--something too steady despite her laugh. Chloe stops. “Wait, seriously?”

Now Beca looks up, one eyebrow cocked. She stops messing with her equipment and turns to face Chloe. “Yeah? You’re my best friend, dude.” One of her eyes closes for a second. “Actually, I did leave something for Stacie. That lacy bra she likes so much.” She gestures, like she’s squeezing her boobs. “Not that it’ll fit, but maybe she’ll frame it. To remember me by. Sounds like some weird shit she’d find touching.”

But Chloe’s chest feels too tight for her to laugh right now. She crosses the room and throws her arms around Beca before the smaller girl can react.

“Chloe? Dude, are you crying?”

“Thank you,” she whispers into Beca’s ear, holding her tight. Beca’s hands flutter to a stop on her hips. “I’ll take care of it all, I promise.”

“Oh, man,” Beca whines. “It’s not a big deal, dude. It’s just junk. I’ll be dead. Just sell it all and take care of yourself.”

Chloe shakes her head, clutching tighter.

With a heavy sigh, Beca slides her arms up around Chloe, hugging her back. It’s not something she does often and Chloe sinks into it, taking every second she can.

Beca seems to sense that Chloe really needs this, because she stays still. Normally, after a few seconds, she gets antsy to escape whatever embrace she’s been pulled into. But she lets Chloe take all the time she needs, not even flinching when a tear escapes and drops onto her neck. Chloe sniffs and wipes it away with her thumb as she wraps her fingers in the back of Beca’s collar.

When her dad had died, he’d left everything to her mother. And Mamma had passed some of it on to Chloe and her brothers. Mickey took their father’s suits and headed off to college in Florida with them. He didn’t call anymore, but she saw him wearing them sometimes on Facebook. Eli was too young to understand that his dad would never come home again, much less that the set of baseball gloves and the jersey in Mamma’s closet were his. And Chloe had gone to college right near home, so she barely needed to use the Cobra Mamma gave her the keys and the paperwork to. She was always scared she’d wreck it, so she stuck with catching rides and borrowing Mamma’s car. But that thing that used to be his and was now hers made her feel like she could still reach out and grab his hand sometimes.

So to think that Beca would leave everything to her? Her mixing equipment, her massive boots, her Christmas stocking, her stack of journals back home with lyrics scribbled into every inch of page? It’s a lot all at once.

“I-uh-I just realized we’re talking like I’m for sure going to die first? Which is insane, because you’ve got years on me. And you jog. In New York. So I’m definitely outliving you.”

Chloe snorts, shoving Beca back into the desk. (“Ah! Watch the equipment!”) She swipes at her eyes, curling her fingers into the hem of Beca’s flannel. “Shut up. You eat like a child and I once saw you fall asleep on a bench at the park. You’re dying first.”

The righteous offense that flashes across Beca’s dark eyes barely lasts a second before she’s smirking again. “Brunettes live longer. There’s studies!”

“There are not!”

“Dude, there totally are--”

Chloe holds up a hand, listening closely. There’s a clatter downstairs and the garage door opens with a creak.

“Chlo? You up there?”

Oh, that’s a super familiar voice. “It’s my Aunt Dana!” Chloe hisses. Her father’s older sister and her favorite aunt. Her favorite aunt that really enjoys teasing her… An idea hits her lightning fast. “Ah! Hang on, Aunt Dana! Don’t come up!” she yells, knowing full well the woman won’t listen. She drops her voice again. “Play along!”

She whips off her shirt and throws it across the room. Beca’s eyes nearly bug out of her head, dropping to the purple bra Chloe had put on this morning. She opens her mouth, probably to ask what the hell Chloe’s doing, but when Chloe seizes her flannel and shoves it off her shoulders, whatever she was going to say is lost in an almost quiet gasp. It’s a sound Chloe decides to think on later, because she can hear Aunt Dana’s footsteps getting closer. Beca swallows it quickly anyways and nods.

As Chloe rushes across the room after her shirt, Beca shoves her hands into her hair and musses it.

Is it weird to say she’s a little proud?

Aunt Dana hops up the last step just as Chloe grabs her shirt from the floor and presses it to her chest.

“Oh!” Aunt Dana freezes, eyes flicking from Chloe to Beca and back before she spins and puts her back to them. “I’m so sorry! I thought you were just telling me not come up so I wouldn’t have to climb the stairs. I should have listened--”

“It’s fine, Aunt Dana,” Chloe says, pulling on her shirt. She glances over her shoulder. Beca is scrambling to fix her hair and straighten her clothes, her ears a very convincing shade of red. “You’re good now.”

Aunt Dana turns slowly, only one eye open. Once she sees them both dressed, her other eye opens. She grins and drawls, “Well, I was coming to offer you girls some sweet tea, but looks like you’re full up on sugar.”

Chloe laughs as Beca groans.