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Stained Glass

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It becomes apparent barely five minutes after they’ve left the garage that Jesse hasn’t changed a bit since high school. He’s still a complete goof with no sense of personal space and an inability to sit still. She’s sort of having high school flashbacks before Lew offers for them to ride along to get drinks, so she nods, texts Chloe, and quickly leaps into the back of the truck.

Jesse follows, so she moves to the other end of the truck bed, sitting up on the toolbox and propping one foot on the side of the truck to keep from sliding. The ride there is quiet aside from Jesse breaking into song halfway through, crooning, “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” into the dust trail behind them. It reminds her of nights spent in the back of Mr. Leblanc’s truck as Brooke Leblanc drove them all out to the levee with stolen beers and ten teenagers piled in the back. She hated those nights most times, hated the kids that got too drunk and came up with worse ideas of what they could be doing. But Jesse had always been okay. Annoying, but okay.

So on the trip back, she calls out to him over the wind. “Do you know?”

He squints against the wind, blinking rapidly. She twists to the side so her hair all blows over one shoulder, out of her face. Then he yells back. “That you and Chloe aren’t…? Yeah, Aubrey told me.”

She nods, watching the trees flash past them. “Tell me about Tom.”

Jesse crawls closer, settling on the wheel well and dropping his arms back over the side of the truck. “He’s a dick!”

Her laugh whips away in the wind, but he must catch it, because he grins. “Isn’t he your cousin?”

“Yeah, but he’s still a dick.” He shrugs, the wind catching in his shirt and billowing it up off his shoulders. “He was never really nice to Chloe, I thought. We all went to college together. I didn’t really see what she saw in him. They broke up a lot and he always went back to her, begging and apologizing, but…” He shrugs again. “Still a dick.”

“Then why’d you agree to him being in your wedding?”

“My mom begged. I needed people to walk on my side anyways. Aubrey has all the Bellas,” he says, grinning like it’s the funniest thing he’s ever heard. “Which, of course, is wonderful. I’m glad they’re all gonna be in it. But I had to match, so. Had to pull in some extras.”

She chews on that for a minute, turning her face into the wind so Jesse can’t see it. Chloe had told her a few times about Tom cheating on her, about them breaking up multiple times. But Chloe has a tendency to make everything sound nicer than it really is, so Beca had taken it all with a grain of salt. “You think he’ll try to get back with her while we’re here?”

It’s impossible to hear what she thinks is him snorting, but she catches his eye roll. “Probably. Even with his fiancee here. He’s a--”

“Dick,” they finish together, laughing.

Lew turns into the driveway of the Beale house, slowing down enough that Beca can open her eyes fully and hear when Jesse goes, “Ah…”

She looks at him and he points to a large truck parked up on the grass, nearly in one of the flowerbeds lining the house.

“Tom’s here,” he says, moving back to the tailgate and sitting on the twelve-packs they’d picked up. “Look for me, but with hair gel and a greasy grin.”

You’ve got a greasy grin.”

“Ouch, Becaw. I missed you too.”

Lew leans out the window. “Yo, hold on tight! Gonna pull it around to the backyard!”

So she braces her foot on the side, her hands on the toolbox, and watches Jesse bounce on the drinks as they bump up into the grass. He winces and she snorts, ignoring his semi-glare.

As Lew heads straight for the big tree with the deep red leaves, she catches sight of Chloe. It’s a little difficult, for the first time ever, because she’s completely surrounded by other redheads. But like a sixth sense, she finds her on her second sweep of the yard. Standing under the tree. With a guy that looks kinda like Jesse, but with hair gel and a greasy grin. And he just grabbed her arm.

The truck stops and Beca’s moving before she really realizes she is. Over the side of the truck and onward, heading straight for the pair under the tree. She ignores the guy, completely, eyes only on her best friend.

She bumps into Chloe enough to move them away from Jesse’s dick cousin, to force Chloe’s arm out of his grip. And Chloe looks so surprised, her face lighting up as she grabs Beca’s shoulders to keep from falling and Beca laughs.

Maybe it’s because Beca just knocked her own wind out and she’s oxygen deprived. Maybe she’s running on a high from finally riding in the bed of a truck again--which she’d always loved. Maybe it’s the frown she sees out the corner of her eye. But whatever it is, it turns off every instinct but one. To protect Chloe from this jerk. Show that she has someone and she doesn’t need or want him. So she kisses Chloe.

She’d thought about it back in New York, that last night before their flight. She’d assumed it would be easy. Chloe would be a good kisser, because of course she would. And Beca knew she was no slob. They’d have a quick peck here and there to appease the family. Easy. Simple. In the years to come, they’d pick on each other about the few kisses they shared that one time and it would be whatever. At least, that’s what Chloe’s playful kiss on the cheek had told her.

But this?

When she was a teenager, she’d accidentally stuck her hand in the wrong part of the breaker box of their house. Her dad hadn’t been home and she thought she could flip the breaker on her own. But it was dark and she was annoyed and in a hurry because her parents’ bedroom kind of freaked her out when the lights were off. And she’d touched something she shouldn’t have and shocked herself right off the ground with a yelp. It was like every cell in her body had come to life and started vibrating in place, shaking her to the core. Like her very blood was buzzing.

And Chloe’s lips on hers feel like that, but softer. Steadier. So she pulls her closer, forgetting for a moment how they got here. When Chloe gasps quietly into her mouth, she almost takes advantage and deepens the kiss.

But then she realizes some of the buzzing in her ears is cheering. Loud, wild, wolf-whistles and whoops. So she breaks away just an inch, just enough to breathe. Enough to open her eyes and see red curls and flushed cheeks. To her utter shock though, Chloe rocks into her, as if she’s going to continue what Beca started. Then she stops, her eyes blinking open slowly. Hooded, bright, trained on Beca’s lips. The cheers seem to register with her too and she blinks again, looking around.

The family is cheering, none louder than a group of women at the last table--one of which is standing on the picnic bench and slapping her stomach like a drum. Beca catches Stacie’s eye and immediately wishes she hadn’t, because Stacie looks too happy. The kind of happy that always makes Beca suspicious.

But Chloe giggles and Beca looks away from Stacie. She’s never seen Chloe shy before, so it’s insane to her when Chloe’s entire face turns red and she buries it in Beca’s shoulder, wrapping her arms around her neck.

It feels like an achievement. Like winning a game she didn't know she was playing. And a laugh bubbles up and out of her before she can stop it. Chloe’s hand lightly smacks against her shoulder blade, making her laugh again as she wraps an arm around her waist and raises a hand to their audience.

The cheers get even louder and she hears Jesse scream, “Get a room!”

Everyone trails off, laughing as they return to the food piled on a table on the back porch. A line heads up the stairs to prepare themselves plates and Mamma Beale appears from the back door, waving around a fork. “Alright, get your plates and get outta my way! I’m starving!”

Chloe lifts her head at her mother’s voice. Her cheeks are still a little red, but she’s grinning. “Beca. Mitchell.”

She can’t help grinning back. “Hiya.”

“Where did that come from?”

“Oh, I picked it up in town.” She shrugs. Her arm is still wrapped around Chloe’s back, but Chloe’s leaning against it like it’s all that holding her up. “Looked like you could use it.” She glances over her shoulder and finds Jesse’s dick cousin is gone.

Chloe’s finger trails down her earrings and she shivers, turning back.

“Was there a two-for-one special, by chance?” And there’s the Chloe she knows, back in all her confident, flirty glory.

Beca’s feeling pretty confident herself, though. “You wish, Beale.” Slipping out of Chloe’s arms, she winks and digs her hands into her pockets.

Chloe catches her shirt before she can get too far though and tugs her back in. She studies Beca's face for a few seconds, her bottom lip held between her teeth. Then she sighs, “Yeah, Mitchell. Kinda.”

Just like that, Beca’s left with her jaw hanging and her voice lost somewhere between the butterflies in her stomach and the twisting ache in her chest. Her shirt slips out of Chloe’s fingers as the redhead turns and heads off toward Stacie’s table.

By the time Beca recovers enough to join Chloe at the table, she and the other girls with her are moving to join the line waiting to get food.

“Beca!” Stacie says, seizing her shoulders. In her ear, she hisses, “We are talking about that later.” Louder, she says, “Look who I found!”

She twists Beca around and she finds herself face to face with her second familiar person of the day. “What the-- Emily?”

“Hi!” Emily says, bouncing in place. Then, with more bravery than Beca had expected from her, Emily throws her arms around Beca in probably the briefest hug she’s ever received. Which is saying something, since she’s hugged her father. “Surprise!”

“What are you doing here, dude?”

Emily, one of the new voices at her studio, is a close friend of Chloe’s and Stacie’s because they’d been in the Bellas together. Beca knows that. But Stacie had told her that Emily wasn’t going to be able to make it for the wedding.

Emily shrugs, still bouncing. “I got some things moved around. My mom bought me the tickets. She had some flier miles, it turns out. I’ve got to go back for a week just before the wedding, but I’ll be here to walk in it!”

Beca laughs, clapping Emily on the shoulder. She’s pretty sure the girl almost faints right then and there. She’s always liked Emily, but wow, the girl is sometimes like a chihuahua. “That’s awesome! Good to have you here.”

“Is it?” She squints, tilting her head, even though she’s still smiling widely. “I mean, I know you guys weren’t expecting me. And like, I know, you know.” Her entire body drops with her voice until she’s practically crouching to Beca’s height. “And I’ve got your back, no worries, Beca. I mean, Stacie filled me in and I know you’re not really--But like, you totally sell it! Like I can totally see you two together. I always kinda could, you know? And--”

“Emily,” Beca says, finally catching up with her rambling and realizing what she’s saying. “Shut up.”

Emily nods so quickly Beca fears her head will fall off. “Yeah, yeah. Got it. Zipped.” She pretends to zip her mouth shut, folding her lips together and straightening to her full height, still nodding. Beca is forcibly reminded of the bobblehead doll her father kept on his desk when she was a kid.

“Also, calm down.” She reaches out to pat Emily’s arm, but thinks that might be too much for the poor girl right now. So she changes direction and catches Chloe’s sleeve where she’s standing behind Emily. “Yo, look. Emily.”

“I know!” Chloe happily squeezes Emily into her side as the line moves forward. “She texted me that she was catching a flight like an hour before us.”

“Your flight was full,” Emily says, lifting one shoulder.

“Well, thanks for never telling me anything, guys.”

“Aww. You know we just like surprising you.” Stacie wraps an arm around her neck, pulling her back into her boobs. This catches the attention of the other girls around them and suddenly she’s being introduced to each of them, barely able to hear their names with Stacie’s boobs pressed on either side of her head. She knows their faces. Chloe has framed photos of them everywhere. She misses which one is Ashley and which is Jessica, but she doesn’t get the chance to ask because they reach the front of the line and Stacie lets her go to grab a paper plate from the pile at the end of the table. She passes another one to Beca. “Eat up, Becs. You’re a growing girl.”

“Is she though?” Chloe says behind her, chuckling.

Beca tries to spin around, maybe to whack Chloe or just to give her a glare evil enough to back her off, but Chloe’s arms snake around her waist before she can turn and she squeezes tight.

“I’m just messin’, Bec,” she coos in her ear. “Get your food. Uncle Andy is behind us and he gets very angry when the line takes too long.”

“Well, here, pass him back a bread roll.” Beca snatches one of the small rolls from the basket at the end of the table and shoves it at Chloe’s face. Chloe just laughs, catching it between her teeth and releasing her to grab a plate.

There’s so much food that Beca barely knows what to grab. Not that she gets much choice, because Stacie keeps pointing out things in front of her that Beca “needs” to try and Chloe keeps piling things onto Beca’s plate when she isn’t looking.

She ends up with a small mountain on her plate that she has to use both hands to carry back to their table. She squeezes in between Stacie and Chloe.

Cynthia Rose sits across from her and jerks her chin up when they make eye contact. “Sup? Nice to finally meet you.”

Beca gives her a quick, tight-lipped smile. “Yeah, you too. Chloe talks about all of you a lot.”

“She doesn’t shut up about you, Shortstack,” Fat Amy says, settling in beside Cynthia Rose. “I think I know more about you than I do about dingoes. And I know a lot about dingoes.”

Beca just blinks, unsure how to take that. “That’s nice.”

“Becaw!” Jesse caws, appearing behind her with Aubrey, who sits on Chloe’s other side. Jesse taps a cold beer against Beca’s shoulder. “Brought you a drink.”

Beca snatches the bottle, using the edge of the picnic table to pop the cap off. “Thanks, dude.”

Jesse pats her head, moving to sit beside Aubrey.

Fat Amy launches into a wild story about crocodiles and exotic dancers that has the whole table cracking up, including Beca. She thinks maybe she misses some big chunks of the story, though, because at some point, Chloe’s hand slips onto her knee under the table. It’s very distracting every time she squeezes or swipes her thumb across Beca’s jean-clad leg.

She thinks Amy probably won’t mind repeating the story later.