The second Beca pushes off, she knows she’s going to win. Her hands slice into the water and she tucks her head down, pulling herself forward stroke by stroke, not ending the stroke until it passes her hips. It’s textbook. It’s easy. It’s quiet. The cheers of the crowd were swallowed by the rushing water and now it’s just the muted hum of paddling hands and churning feet. She breathes out for a six count.
On her next stroke, she twists her head up for a quick breath, opening one eye to see that Stacie is keeping pace pretty well. She is abnormally long. But she’s windmilling her arms as fast as she can, kicking up waves in her wake. Powering through. And as graceful as she manages to look, Beca knows she isn’t pulling enough water to win.
Beca smiles as she turns her head back into her stroke, breathing out for six and pulling more water. On her next breath, she glances forward and finds the rock only a few feet away. She counts two more strokes and twists, bringing her legs around until her bare feet press against it. She kicks off and feels Stacie’s arm clip hers as they pass each other, going opposite directions. On her next breath, she can hear the cheering has started back up, louder than ever. And she really hated most of high school, but this reminds her of the good bits. She turns back into the water and breathes out for six.
Before she knows it, she looks up and finds the dock right there. Feeling cheeky, she slaps her hand onto the edge and hefts herself out of the water, spinning to drop heavily, her legs still dangling in the water. Stacie’s just over halfway back. Everyone is screaming--most that they were ripped off in their bet.
Cynthia Rose offers a hand, which Beca happily clasps, smirking. “You just made me so much money, tiny DJ. I think you’re my new best friend!”
A few feet away, Stacie looks up and catches sight of Beca sitting on the dock. She splashes to a halt, letting out an indignant cry. “What the hell, Mitchell!”
Beca shrugs but can’t rub her victory in Stacie’s face any more than that because Chloe chooses that moment to leap up and grab Beca’s collar, dragging her back down into the water. She surfaces, sputtering and shoving hair from her face. “Chlo!”
“Beca Mitchell,” Chloe hisses through her teeth, which are bared in an almost manic grin. “I knew you were hiding something!”
“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”
Jesse splashes over, slapping Beca’s shoulder. “Beca was on the swim team at our school. Won medals and shit.”
Chloe gasps, throwing water in Beca’s face as she bats Jesse away. “Dude, come on! Just reveal my superhero identity too, while you’re at it, huh?”
He bobs away, grin dipping in and out of the water. “Come on, Becaw. Everyone already knows you’re Mighty Mouse.”
She’s gonna kill him. Which she lunges to do, but Chloe pulls her up short with her arms around her neck. And, oh, that’s close.
“You’re a dirty cheat,” Chloe says, her face only inches away.
It reminds Beca of that moment in the loft, when she’d thought for one stuttered heartbeat that Chloe was going to kiss her. And of the kiss Beca stole before the race. It had taken every ounce of confidence she had, but the look of thrilled surprise on Chloe’s face had been completely worth her organs playing musical chairs inside her. She knows it was probably just Chloe being shocked by Beca’s boldness, thrilled that Beca’s keeping up the charade for everyone. But she’d let herself believe for that second of time that it was because butterflies were also erupting from their cocoons in Chloe’s stomach.
It’s an easy thing to pretend when Chloe’s this close, trailing her fingers down her spine as she pulls her closer and loops her legs around Beca’s waist as they tread water, forcing Beca to hold her up.
“You never told me you were on the swim team.” There’s a vague trace of hurt somewhere in there, like Beca had hidden something important from her.
Which this totally was not. “Only for a year. It just never came up, I guess.”
“Uh huh.” Chloe presses her forearms into Beca’s shoulders, almost dunking her. “Anything else I should know? Captain of the chess team, perhaps? Drama club?” She gasps, her eyes widening until Beca can see white all the way around the piercing blue. “Glee club?” she happily squeals, digging her nails into Beca’s shoulder blade in what Beca assumes is supposed to be a threat for if she lies or an excited reflex at the idea that Beca might have been a singer.
Unfortunately, it just adds another bullet point on Beca’s seemingly ever-growing list of things that inconveniently turn her on.
“Gross, no.” She pretends to gag and Chloe giggles. “I was on the softball team though.”
Water drops fly as Chloe smacks her shoulder, more in excitement than admonishment, she thinks. “Oh my god, were you a jock, Beca? You were totes a jock!”
“Do you have a Letterman?” Chloe’s almost vibrating in her arms now, grin so wide her cheeks must hurt.
Beca scrunches her nose, thinking of the blue and gray jacket tucked in a box under her bed back home. “Maybe.”
“Beca!” Chloe squeals, actually dunking her this time. When she comes back up, spitting out water and blinking rapidly, Chloe runs her hands up from her shoulders, along the sides of her neck in a way that feels decidedly not friendly. The movement ends with Chloe’s fingers laced through the hair at the base of her skull and her thumbnails trailing slowly down Beca’s earrings. “You’re just full of surprises, aren’t you? I feel like I don’t know you at all.”
Maybe it’s because she’s just realized that she sort of loves it when Chloe’s happy or surprised or excited. And maybe she knows the truth always makes Chloe happier than any witty quip or well-placed joke. Maybe the lake water has infected her with some weird virus that makes her feel like being sincere , of all things. But she says, “You know me better than anyone, Chlo.” Her voice is soft and almost lost in the singing and chatter around them.
But Chloe’s smile softens and she pulls Beca closer to press her lips to her temple. And Beca thinks that, if Chloe does feel anything like the clenching pain she feels in her chest, this would be the moment she’d say something.
Instead, Chloe presses the heels of her palms into Beca’s collarbones and uses her to propel herself backwards. “Come on, jock. Fat Amy has already called dibs on you for the next game of Chicken.”
Beca breathes around the ache in her chest, swimming after her.
Fat Amy does, in fact, force Beca into a few games of Chicken. Perched on the Australian's shoulders, Beca takes down Emily, a dude named Unicycle, and Jessica (who, despite being thin and wispy looking, puts up the best fight). But when Jesse pops out of the water with Eli on his shoulders, Beca knows her winning streak is coming to an end.
Because he looks halfway terrified and simultaneously like he’s just been gifted a meeting with his idol. He squares up, eyes darting between Beca’s hands and her face.
“Ready, dude?” She slides back a little on Amy’s shoulders, putting herself off balance.
“You’re goin’ down, Mitchell!” he says loudly. Then, quieter, “Chloe told me to say that.”
Beca laughs, motioning for Jesse to bring it on. He rushes forward and Eli’s flailing hands aim for her torso. She buffets them away, giving back weak shoves and grabbing his shirt when he does tilt too far back, pulling him into a grapple. Jesse plows into Fat Amy, shoving her back. Unlike Beca, though, Amy doesn’t seem to realize what’s happening.
“I’m gonna shish kabob you, Treble! Hope your wedding presents are refundable!” She drives forward and Jesse staggers back.
So Beca, hating herself already for how stupid this all is, reaches down and grabs Amy’s face like she’s grasping for a hold to stay up. And when Eli’s hands connect solidly with her chest, she flips backward, yanking Amy’s head back with her. Amy screams what sounds like a war cry until the water swallows it and Beca crashes down, kicking away quickly. When she bobs up, Amy is already up again, declaring that they shouldn’t have lost because Eli, along with all the Beales, are freakishly strong and, therefore, unfair opponents.
But Eli hears none of it, too busy taking his victory lap of the group on Jesse’s shoulders, high-fiving whoever they pass.
Arms slip under Beca’s own, wrapping around her waist, and Chloe’s voice whispers in her ear. “He’s going to be insufferable now, I hope you know.”
Beca leans back into her grasp, letting Chloe hold her up as her legs float out in front of her. “Isn’t that just a Beale trait anyways?”
“They teach you how to survive a drowning on the swim team?” Chloe playfully growls, dipping them lower in the water.
Automatically, Beca grabs Chloe’s arms, pushing down to keep her head up. “If you try it, I’ll never speak to you again.”
“Of course not. You’d be dead.” Chloe laughs against her hair.
“You’d miss me,” she says, laying her head back on Chloe’s shoulder.
“Mmm,” Chloe hums, pressing her cheek to Beca’s and swaying them side to side. “Yeah, probably. Okay, I won’t drown you. But you have to participate in the riff off.”
Beca twists in her grip until she can meet Chloe’s eyes. “What the fuck is a riff off?”
Everyone crashes around in the water for most of the afternoon. The snacks Emily brought quickly disappear from the tree stump and people slowly start to trickle out of the water and onto the logs around the firepit. Unicycle and a guy she learns is Donald start the fire. Uni, who has taken quite a liking to Beca since she beat him at Chicken, steals the last finger sandwich and sneaks it to her when she takes her spot on the logs, beside Chloe’s discarded coverup. Seems Chloe was right. She could like these guys.
Jesse skips over to join her. He has spent the day happily bouncing back and forth between Aubrey, everyone else, and Beca. “It’s like every real friend I’ve ever had is here,” he says slinging an arm around her shoulders.
She snorts, shoving him off. “I didn’t even know your middle name until senior year, dude.”
He shrugs, letting her shove carry him away toward where Aubrey is talking to Stacie and Chloe. “Yeah, but I know that’s just how you do friendship, Becaw. It’s cool.” He twists on his heel and bounces off, puppy-like, to pounce on Aubrey. She squeals and tucks her head away from his kisses, but he’s relentless. Chloe and Stacie stare at them like proud parents, seeing their kids off to school for their first day. Or how Beca imagines that would look--starry-eyed and breathless.
What Jesse said sits heavily on her chest, reminding her that she had purposely stopped messaging him after high school. The second she’d climbed on that plane to L.A. for her first internship, she’d resolved to forget everything back home. It was just easier that way. To his credit, it took nearly a year for him to stop texting her. And it wasn't like she really did social media, so that was it. He still sent her weird gifs on her birthday each year and she sent him subdued, basic “Happy birthday” messages for his, but that was pretty much the extent of their contact. As she watches him grin against Aubrey’s lips, she thinks she shouldn’t have pushed him away. She’s missed so much. And he really is a good guy. Briefly, she wonders what it would be like if she’d stayed in contact.
Would he still consider her his “bestest friend in the universe”? Would she be walking in his wedding, complaining the whole way but secretly super happy for him? Would she have spent late nights at the studio on the phone with him as he rambled away about a capella and the Trebles? Would she have flown out to see him a few times? Met his friends, seen this Barden college everyone seems to love so much?
Would she have met Chloe sooner?
As if she can sense Beca’s thoughts, Chloe turns and catches her eye. Her face breaks into a wide grin and she sticks her hand out, wiggling her fingers. And Beca, despite being warm and comfy on her log, throws her legs over it and strides over to take Chloe’s hand.
Because she’s had a few beers and she’s feeling a little like she might never want to leave all of these fucking nerds.
It turns out she really didn’t want to know what a riff off was.
Uncle Lew passes by and picks up Eli at some point. He hugs Beca so tight that she’s sure something pops, but she pats his head and lets him have the embrace. Seth, who had tagged along, is hard to pull away from Stacie, but eventually they leave and everyone climbs from the water. As Bumper, Amy’s obnoxiously loud boyfriend, hops up to stand on the now-empty snack table, Beca settles down beside Chloe on the logs. The sun’s going down and the fire’s burning higher than before, painting everything and everyone orange. The Trebles produce blankets and towels from their truck, passing them around. Then they settle on the opposite side of the fire from the Bellas. Though they’d spent the day interwoven, they are now clearly two separate groups.
Uni stops by to drop a thick, woven poncho over Beca’s head, turning her into nothing but a walking blanket with a human head. “That’ll keep you warm, Little Bit.” He ruffles her hair, ignoring her hiss of warning, and hurries off.
She pulls the poncho off, shoving it at Chloe instead, who’s laughing at her. Chloe grabs it and lays it across both their legs, then wraps her coverup around her shoulders. The temperature is dropping with the sun, so Beca doesn’t think anything of it when Chloe leans into her side.
“Okay, so,” Bumper says, shaking a bowler hat around. “Since someone lost our damn category spinner--not naming any names, Amy--we’ve got our new category hat!” He points to the hat, then whips his finger up into the air and drops his arm back down so the finger is now pointing at his own face. “Which I will be pulling from, because it’s my hat. And I am the Master of Ceremonies this evening. So remember, three songs and we switch categories. If you mess up, you are--”
Beca’s heart nearly stops when the entire gathered group claps twice and screams, “CUT OFF!”
“What the fuck?”
“Language, Becs.” Chloe bumps her shoulder, smirking. Then she sighs. “I wish Lilly and Flo were here. We’re at a disadvantage without them. They’re a lot of our beats.”
“Here we go!” Bumper yells.
“Songs about sex, songs about sex,” Stacie chants under her breath, beating her fists against her bent knees. Beca leans around Cynthia Rose, who’s seated between them, to look down at Stacie. She likes that Stacie’s sitting on the ground with her back to the log. It makes her feel tall.
“Is that seriously a category?”
“Yes!” Stacie stares at her like she’s the dumb one. (Which she totally is, she knows, but not in this instance.) But her expression morphs quickly into a seductive smirk and she blinks up at Cynthia Rose. “Right, CR?”
“I haven’t had enough beers to deal with this bitch,” Cynthia Rose mutters, widening her eyes at Beca.
She laughs. “ Are there enough beers for that?”
Bumper rummages around in the hat for what seems like an inordinate amount of time, bending his legs in some weird ballet-like pose. Then he straightens up, thrusting a slip of paper into the air. “Songs by boy bands!”
There’s a gasping and scrambling and suddenly Emily is up on her very, very long legs and pelting out, “You’ve got no choice, babe! ” The Bellas light up with music and Beca’s more than a little stunned. Ashley starts beatboxing and Jessica’s lips curl around strange warping sounds. The other girls burst into harmonies and reverb and Emily continues singing. “But to move on, you know. There ain’t no time to waste.” Chloe turns to Beca, vocalizing at a pitch Beca didn’t know she could hit and swaying side to side. And she’s smiling that smile. Beca closes her eyes, thinking of stained glass. The girls’ voices mesh together insanely well, which she assumes is from years and years of practice. But Beca’s nothing if not good at mixing. So she nods along for a beat, listening to Emily sing. "Cause you’re just too blind-- ” And she finds that missing snare with the tip of her tongue and her teeth, adding it in. “To see--” She opens her eyes and finds Chloe’s having a hard time singing around her smile. “That in the end, you know it’s gonna be me.” More of the Bellas turn to her, surprised, but they adjust immediately, absorbing Beca’s beat into theirs. Emily sways her hips, arms over her head. “You can’t deny, so just tell me-- ”
“--me just one night! ” Jesse jumps up to meet Emily beside the fire. “Una noche! ” Seamlessly, the Trebles take the beat from the Bellas and twist it, adding in tinkling runs and breathy gasps. “A moment to be by your side,” Jesse sings, arms out as he dances with Emily, who just smiles and dances along. “Give me just one night, una noche! ” He points straight at Aubrey and winks. Beca rolls her eyes. What a ham. “I’ll give you--”
“--you now,” Chloe’s voice lifts beside Beca and she jumps. It’s strained and higher than normal. Her “Britney Spears” voice, Beca thinks, laughing. “There are prices to fame, alri-ight.” Like a tide, the music ebbs back to their side and Fat Amy takes it higher with her, “Bow, bow, bow wow. Bow wow wowow--” which Beca is pretty sure are not really the lyrics. Chloe follows the song up to her feet, the poncho sliding from her lap. “All of our time spent in flashes of light--” It should be illegal, how easily she twists her hips and shimmies her shoulders, her red hair loose and curling down her back. She dances with her coverup like it’s a shawl and it moves between Beca’s gaze and the fire so all Beca can see is the outline of Chloe’s body undulating to the beat through the gauzy pink material. Beca nearly misses jumping in when the rest of the girls burst into the chorus, following Ashley’s well-laid percussion. “All you people can’t you see, can’t you see? How your love’s affecting our--” She catches Stacie winking at Donald across the fire.
“DISNEY!” Bumper yells over the singing, another paper held up in his waving fist.
Like it’s been behind his teeth this whole time, a song bursts from the little guy, Benji, and he leaps forward. “--our lips! You’re in love! ” The Trebles follow him with falsettos and a bunch of them jump up to belly dance around the fire, poking at the Bellas they pass. Beca’s not even sure what the hell the song is, but Benji plows on, giving an awkward roll of his hips. “You’re way off base, I won’t say it! Get off my case, I won’t say it! ” His voice is incredible, his runs ridiculous. And it’s pretty hilarious to watch the other boys go, “Shoo do, shoo do” behind him.
She feels like she’s going to crack a rib when everyone behind him, including Bumper, choruses, “Girl, don’t be proud! It’s--”
But Cynthia Rose jumps up before they can get any further, throwing on a perfect Jamaican accent. “--it’s better down where it’s wetter, take it from me!” There’s a cheer from the boys this time as the Bellas jump in. Beca watches Jessica make loud bubble popping noises by stretching her mouth open and smacking her own cheeks. It’s the most insane thing she’s ever seen. All of this is. “Up on the shore, they work all day--” Cynthia Rose croons, grabbing Stacie’s hands and pulling her up to dance. Beca jumps in with a harmony that she isn’t sure is really in the song, since she doesn’t know it, but it matches the trills Chloe’s making. “Out in--”
“--in Central Park--” Donald calls, jumping up on the tree stump with Bumper. The beats fade, change, and pick up as everyone adjusts. “Then I’m down on Delancey Street--” Chloe grabs Beca’s wrists and pulls her to her feet, laying one extended arm over her shoulder as she dances before her. And, oh wow, Beca was already a little lost in the shifting tunes. Add to that Chloe, her head tucked down and her lips pursed as she sways, tapping out the beat against her own hip? “Said, from the Bowery to St. Mark’s--” Donald dances backwards across the stump. “Heh, there’s a syncopated beat. Alright!”
Everyone joins in for the next part, except Beca, who doesn’t know the song and can’t seem to look away from that hand drumming against Chloe’s hip anyways. “Said whoo-hoo-whoo-hoo-hoo!”
“I’m streetwise!” Jesse sings. “I can improvise!”
Out the corner of her eye, she sees Amy clamber up and snatch the bowler hat from Bumper. He protests, but she’s already pulled a paper from it and is screaming over the harmonizing. “SONGS FEATURING KESHA, ACA-BITCHES!”
Just as Jesse sings, “I’m--” for his next line, Aubrey steps forward and slides her hands up his chest, effectively shutting him (and the Trebles) up. “I’m gonna be it tonight.”
“You can be cool!” Stacie picks it up, spinning so she's back to back with Uni and grinding in a way that should not be allowed in public. “You can be shy. Say what you want, say what you like--” She practically moans the lyrics and Uni woops as they both drop it low. “'Cause--"
“Oooh!” The Bellas throw their arms in the air, Chloe’s hand mercifully leaving its place on her hip.
“Your body talks,” Aubrey sings, patting the beat onto Jesse’s chest. His smile is so wide Beca thinks it might rip something. “Your body talks! You can pretend you don’t want it now, but I--”
“I said no more teachers and no more books!” Jesse leans back out of Aubrey’s grip, his nose scrunching as he sings. “I got a kiss under the bleachers, hoping that nobody looks!” The Trebles clap in perfect synchronicity. “Lips like licorice, tongue like candy--”
Bumper’s voice rises above the group as he gyrates at Amy. “Excuse me, miss, but can I get you out your panties?” Beca almost gags.
It’s Uni that takes the next part, his deeper voice ringing out right beside Beca. She hadn’t even realized he’d moved. “In the back of the car, on the way to the bar, I got you on my lips--” Chloe laughs as he crouches until he’s eye level with Beca and sings, “At the foot of the stairs, with my fingers in your hair--”
It’s probably because he crouched down. Short jokes were always the worst. Or maybe it’s because Chloe’s laughing and nudging her side. Or maybe it’s because she catches sight of Stacie spinning by. Whatever it is, a song springs to Beca’s mind. So when Uni opens his mouth to sing, “Baby--”, she jumps in, lifting her hands to clap out her own beat, hoping the girls can pick it up.
“Baby, don’t play, just do as I say and I promise I’ll turn you out.” A hush falls over the group just long enough to make Beca’s insides tense as she plows on. Rapping seemed like a good idea a second ago--fast and harder to jump in on--but now she’s not sure. One more line in, though, Jessica and Ashley join in, spitting bass and snare. And Beca suddenly thinks she might understand a capella. Because this is a rush. “They slip, I grip, that’s simple, that’s it. I’ma tell ya, off rip, let’s rip and dip. I’m wid’ it, you wid’ it, come on, baby, let’s dip. What you waitin’ for? Let’s roll like!” She sees the second the song registers on Stacie’s face and she grins, slipping past Uni to point at her. “Mami, you bi?”
“No, I’m tri, ” Stacie croons, turning away to grab Cynthia Rose by the chin. “I’ll try anything.”
Trebles and Bellas alike burst into the repeating “Hey, oh way, oh way!” and Beca spins, fully planning to get in Uni’s face to sing her lines.
But it’s Chloe’s gaze she catches and Chloe’s not singing. She’s not even dancing. She’s just staring, jaw hanging. Not many people can strike Chloe Beale speechless and Beca smirks, moving into her space.
“Talk to me...” she sings and Chloe’s entire body jolts as Beca, feeling bold, settles against her and slides her hands over her hips. Like in a trance, Chloe moves, arms looping over Beca’s shoulders. Any other time, this would have been terrifying, but there’s so much music around her that Beca doesn’t care. She just bobs her head through the next chorused line. “Tell me how you like it...” It’s so easy to drop her face into the dip of Chloe’s shoulder as they move together. “Talk to me…” Every synapse in her brain catches fire when a small suspiciously moan-like sound slips through Chloe’s lips and lands somewhere behind Beca’s ear. “Now give it to me--”
“Girls, girls, girls, girls, girls, girls--” The Trebles chant.
“I like!” Emily cheers across the fire.
“Girls, girls, girls, girls, girls, girls--” the Bellas call, their voices echoing over the lake.
“I love!” Uni sings from somewhere behind Beca.
“Girls, girls, girls, girls, girls, girls--” Trebles.
“I need!” Stacie moans dramatically and Beca hears Emily laugh.
“Girls, girls, girls, girls, girls, girls--” Bellas.
And they continue, pounding out drum sounds and harmonizing around the beatboxers from both groups. Someone is beating on a log and people are bouncing to the rhythm. But Beca barely registers all that because Chloe’s pressed against her, their hips moving together mindlessly. Beca’s hand has settled at the base of Chloe’s spine somehow, her fingers dipped into the dimples there and pressing silent instructions into her skin. And Chloe follows every one, twisting and grinding exactly the way Beca wants her to. Breathing against her jaw. Curling her hand around the back of Beca’s neck. Pressing closer.
The tap on her shoulder rips her from the haze of swaying pink and red enough for her to look up at Jesse. He’s excitedly bouncing to the beat beside her. “Keep going!”
The interruption has pulled Chloe’s head up as well and Beca watches her blink quickly, like she’s just woken up from a nap. Then her lips break into a wide grin and she nods, dropping back just an inch with her body, giving them breathing space, and hooks her wrists behind Beca’s neck. Her hips move with more practiced purpose now and everyone around them is making music.
So Beca sings. “Baby, I go on and on and I don’t need ecstasy to get you rollin’!”