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Stained Glass

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They’re picking their way back through the trees in the dark to pile into the trucks. The sun’s been down for hours and there was singing and dancing and catching up and reliving old war stories from the Barden a capella scene. Everyone decided to veto Stacie’s vote that they all go to karaoke, instead making plans to do so later in the week. Of the girls sober enough to drive home, Beca was the only one who knew how to drive a standard (surprising Chloe once again), so she had wrestled the keys from Amy.

They swing from her hand as she walks by phone light, the ring occasionally bumping Chloe’s leg as she follows. But Chloe barely notices because she thinks she’s in shock.

Beca . Beca, who gets awkward when she’s complimented. Who once came out of her room in a lacy tank top and when Stacie called her “sexy”, she immediately turned around and went to change into a bulky bomber jacket. Who takes the long way home so she doesn’t have to walk down packed streets just to avoid touching people. That Beca had stood in the middle of a group of people she barely knew and spit Pitbull like she was meant to. And then, because that wasn’t enough to fully short circuit Chloe’s brain, she’d turned on her and smirked, sliding right into Chloe’s space and pressing flush against her as she rasped lyrics into her ear.

Chloe’s never been ashamed to admit when she finds something sexy. She’s very open about the things that get her going. In fact, she and Stacie had first bonded back in college over how willing they were to talk about the things they liked. And, if she’s asked, Chloe would say that Beca is absolutely sexy. She’s got a quiet sort of swagger, a cheeky confidence, and a quick wit. And she’s gorgeous. Not in the overt, obvious way people like Stacie are, the kind of pretty that commands the attention of a room. No, Beca’s gorgeous in the way that at first glance you could miss how stunning her dark blue eyes are, how wicked her smirk can be, how sharp her jawline is. She doesn’t want the attention of the room, just the dark corner where the music is beating from. But the thing about Beca is, if she did want the room? It would be hers.

So, yeah, Beca’s sexy. She knows this. She’d tell anyone who asked that she thinks so.

But maybe she shouldn’t mention right now that Beca singing into her ear had really done a number on her. Because Beca is her best friend, like Stacie and Aubrey. Except she’s never had the sudden urge to shove Stacie or Aubrey against the nearest wall while they were singing. Beca’s voice had lit up every nerve in her body. It had tingled in her ear and down her neck, warm and dragging like fingertips down her spine.

Aside from her visceral reaction to Beca’s singing to her, watching Beca take over a riff off was insanely sexy. It was like a fantasy she hadn’t realized she had, coming true right in front of her. Beca’s voice had slipped into the Bellas’ rhythm and grabbed all of them, tying their sounds together. It had been so easy for the girls to follow her lead. Natural.

Chloe’s seen a lot of riff offs. She’s seen Jesse wipe the floor during them, seen Aubrey and Stacie and Cynthia Rose get a crowd moving with a single line. She’s even taken over herself a few times. It’s fun. It’s a rush. But watching Beca do it? That was a completely different type of rush. One she had never expected to feel for her best friend.

Yet, here she is, stumbling through the dark toward the truck and trying very hard to keep her hands to herself. Beca clicks a button and the truck lights flash. The Trebles tumble around, waving goodbye and catcalling as they get in their own vehicle. Jesse drunkenly kisses all of their cheeks, except Bumper, who is attached to Amy’s face. Then he bounces over and grabs Aubrey’s hands.

“Ride in the back with me?” he says, swaying slightly.

Aubrey sighs. Chloe knows she hates what the wind does to her hair. But she squeezes Jesse’s hands and nods, smiling anyways. “Chloe, are you okay enough to give Beca directions?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Oh, great. We’re gonna end up in Texas.”

Chloe smacks Beca’s arm with the back of her hand. Beca hisses in pain, grabbing the spot dramatically.

“Beca,” Aubrey says, lifting an eyebrow at the shorter girl. “You actually know how to drive this vehicle, correct?”

Beca doesn’t roll her eyes, but Chloe can see she really wants to by the tilt of her head. “Yes, Captain. I’ve got it. Just keep Drunky McGee in the truck.”

“Who?” Jesse tips forward on his toes, looming over Beca.

She pokes his chest, sending him wheeling back with a grin on his face. “You, dude.”

“I’m not drunk. You’re just blurry.”

Beca’s brow furrows and she turns an apologetic grimace on Aubrey. “There’s still time to back out, you know. We’ll get it.”

Aubrey laughs and Chloe’s insides feel even warmer. She had been worried about Beca and Aubrey getting along, honestly. Aubrey likes to control things and Beca hates being controlled. But Jesse’s been easing the reins from Aubrey’s hands since Freshman year and Beca doesn’t seem to mind Aubrey as much as Chloe feared she would. They seem good. Chloe thinks they could be really good friends with some time.

Before they take off, Chloe hops up on her toes to check the bed, ensuring they do, in fact, have everyone. Stacie is stretched out, asleep it looks like. (So much for Miss “KARAOKE, THOUGH, GUYS!”) Her feet are propped against Cynthia Rose’s side, who is also dozing off already, and her head is in Emily’s lap. Emily is running her fingers through Stacie’s hair, absently humming something Chloe doesn’t recognize. She smiles when Chloe catches her eye. Jesse is settled back with Aubrey wrapped tightly in his arms and he’s quietly singing, “You had my heart a long, long time agoooo--”. His pitch is all over the place and Aubrey’s eyes are closed, but she’s smiling wide enough that Chloe knows she’s awake.

Chloe rounds the truck to climb in as Beca starts it up. Jessica, Ashley, and the giant picnic basket take up the backseat and Fat Amy is giving Bumper one last kiss. She finishes and bounds over, grabbing the passenger door before Chloe can shut it. “Scooch, Ginge. I’m already full headlights here, I’m not sitting in the back.”

“Full headli--oh, never mind. I get it. Please don’t explain.” Beca turns up the radio before Amy can do more than motion to her breasts.

Chloe flips up the center console and slides over next to Beca, shifting her legs around to fit. Amy gets in and spreads out, grumbling about “needing tit space”.

She ends up farther over than she’d meant to, turned slightly sideways with her legs jammed down into the passenger area and Amy’s elbow stuck into her side. The coverup she’d tied back on her bottom half is twisted a bit and she shifts, trying to get comfortable. Beca clears her throat and grabs the gear shift, pushing it over so it taps Chloe’s leg. “You’re in my way, Beale. Put one of your legs on this side.”

“Are you telling me to straddle it, Mitchell?” It’s an automatic response, but Chloe feels her face go hot and is glad the truck is dark. Because she can still feel Beca’s breath on her ear and their shoulders are pressed together.

“Yeah, no. We’ll definitely get pulled over and my license is back at the house. Don’t tell Aubrey.” Beca’s teeth flash in the dim glow from the radio’s lit dials. “You will have to spread ‘em, though.”

“Aca-lesbians,” Amy sighs, reaching over to turn the radio up even more. Jessica and Ashley are singing along quietly in the backseat.

Beca just laughs, so Chloe shifts around, tugging her coverup to mid-thigh and slipping one leg over to Beca’s side. Beca nods, reaching over her to jiggle the gear shift. “Everyone in?”

“Yep. Head back over the hill and take a left at the road.”

“Here we go. What was it you said when we were leaving today, Ames?”

Chloe practically melts at the nickname. Beca getting along with the Bellas had been her hope. Beca becoming friends with them thrills her to no end.

“Tits and bits inside the ride at all times,” Amy says, sounding like she’s halfway to sleep.

Beca pushes the gear shift to the right and pulls it down. It presses into Chloe’s thigh, cool metal against warm skin. They back out and turn around. Beca shifts to the other side and up, taking off. For a slightly tipsy moment, Chloe thinks of asking Beca to teach her what she’s doing. But Amy’s snoring suddenly and she stays quiet, not wanting to disturb.

So they spend the ride home with Chloe quietly whispering directions, Jessica and Ashley’s soft voices filling the cab, and Beca’s hand perched on the gear shift between Chloe’s knees.

It’s nearly impossible for Chloe to do anything but watch as Beca fidgets, her fingers tapping to the song on the radio, thumb ring clinking against the gear shift. She works the truck like a soundboard, smoothly downshifting at red lights and revving the engine on long stretches of road. Once they get on the last road and Chloe says, “Straight on for ten miles, then the house is on the left.” Beca nods. And Chloe’s stomach flips as Beca’s arm relaxes, her fingers still lightly resting on the gear shift, but her elbow dropping onto Chloe’s thigh.

She places her hand carefully on Beca’s arm, unable to not touch her at that moment. Beca doesn’t pull away. And for ten miles, Chloe memorizes the inside of Beca’s forearm with soft fingertips. It’s with a good deal of reluctance that she pulls away as Beca cruises to a stop at the head of the driveway.

They shake the girls awake and work together to get all of them inside and into bed. Aubrey herds Jesse into their car and waves sleepily, assuring them she’ll be fine driving home and yes, she’ll text Chloe as soon as she pulls in. She hugs Chloe, and Beca to probably everyone’s surprise, if their faces are anything to go by. They stand together, watching Aubrey back out. Once her headlights turn away, Chloe takes a deep breath and faces Beca.

Her thumbs are hooked in the waistband of her trunks and she’s leaning back, her shoulders hunched forward. It’s a stance Chloe knows well, so she folds her own hands behind her back and glances up. The light’s still on in Mamma’s room.

“Do you want to go shower first? I’m gonna head up and tell Mamma goodnight.”

“Yeah, sure.” Beca bobs her head, stepping back. “Uh. Key?”

“By the backdoor. The one with the green tassels.”

Beca clicks her tongue and spins on one heel, watching her feet. “Okay. Tell your mom I said night.”

“I will.”

She follows Beca into the house and pauses on the stairs, watching her branch off into the kitchen. Once she’s out of sight, Chloe hurries up the steps. She pauses at Eli’s open door, sticking her head in.

He’s passed out on his back, his little bare chest rising and falling steadily. There’s a huge pair of headphones still cupped over his ears, the headband fallen forward over his eyes, the cord tangled around his arm. His pajama bottoms are the same midnight blue as his comforter and there’s an open book at the foot of the bed, a popsicle stick holding his place.

Chloe presses her lips together to keep from chuckling as she slips into the room. She picks up the book, closing it and glancing at the cover. Barron’s 500 Flash Cards of American Sign Language. She lays it on his desk beside a half done Lego model of a Ferris Wheel--her birthday present to him last month. It hadn’t really seemed like his thing at first, but then she’d seen it came with a motor and could actually run if put together correctly and she’d snatched it up.

He snuffles as she comes around the bed and starts untangling the headphone cord from his arm. When she carefully pulls the cups from his ears, she realizes she knows the tiny notes coming from them. Following the cord to his phone, she flips it over and grins when she finds she was right.

“Welcome to Spain” by Chicago and Zeke. Beca’s debut song as a producer. She’d hated the guy, Chicago, so much that--in a drunken rage one night--she’d sworn to never even go to the city of Chicago, because it would just make her angry. But the song was really good.

Chloe shuts down the music app and carefully coils his headphone wire like Beca had taught her the first week they knew each other. Then she pulls his blankets up and presses a kiss into his hair. He smells like the same strawberry shampoo Chloe uses, the kind Mamma always bought. She strokes his hair back from his face. He looks so much like their dad.

Mamma’s door is open too and she’s awake, sitting in the cushioned chair by the window with her glasses perched on the end of her nose and a quilt in her hands, a needle between her teeth. She tilts her head down and peers over the glasses as Chloe stops in the doorway. “Hey, baby,” she says, needle bouncing. “How was the lake? Eli said he had a great time.”

“I did too.” Like she used to, Chloe comes in and hops onto the foot of the bed, crossing her legs indian style. “He won at Chicken.”

“I heard. Many, many times.” She leans toward the little table under the window, holding the quilt up to the lamp. “He’s done nothing but talk about Beca all day. And yesterday.” She smiles and pulls the needle from her mouth, reaching for a spool of string on the windowsill.

Chloe laughs. “She likes him too, I think. She usually doesn’t like kids.”

“Your brother is a hard person to not like.” Mamma beams at her. “Just like you. Just like your father.”

It always aches a little when Mamma says that. Chloe pulls her knees up to her chest and rests her chin on them. “I think Dad would have liked Beca.”

“Oh, he would have loved her.” Mamma hangs the quilt over the arm of her chair and stands, coming over to cup Chloe’s face. “Because she makes you so happy.”

Her nose itches and her eyes burn and she knows she’s going to cry before she even feels the tears on her face. “Mamma--”

“My Chloe,” she coos, wrapping her up tight in her arms and letting Chloe sob into her chest. “You know.” She pats her back. “When you two moved in together and I flew up? I loved her right away.”

Chloe presses the back of her hand to her nose. It feels like it’s running. “Yeah?”

Mamma nods against her hair. “I got to the apartment just before you did, remember? You had class.” Chloe nods. “And there was this small girl outside, pulling suitcases from a cab with these massive headphones around her neck.”

Chloe laughs, because she can picture the scene perfectly.

“And I knew it was her, because I recognized the pink suitcase Aunt Dana got you. So I walked up and she looked--honestly--terrified that someone was approaching her.” She laughs, the sound rumbling in Chloe’s ear. “But then she really looked at me and she went, ‘Oh, Mrs. Beale?’ And I said yes and she started scrambling to put down some of her bags to shake my hand. It was too cute.”

“You didn’t tell her that, did you?” Chloe asks, leaning back and sucking in a shaky breath.

“No, no, of course not. She was so flustered, poor thing. I grabbed a couple of the bags and we got them upstairs together. Then she put everything down in the hall and sort of just stood there, outside the apartment door. And she said, ‘Chloe said she wanted to go in together the first time. Once it was ours. So.’” She bares her teeth in a fair imitation of awkward Beca.

Chloe remembers that. It had been a passing comment while they were doing the initial walkthrough of the place. She also remembers leaping from the cab and running upstairs to find Beca fiddling with the keys and her mother happily perched on a suitcase, waiting for her. She’d been so happy to see Mamma that she hadn’t thought about it at all when Beca just stood there, watching them tearfully reunite. She had just offered Chloe the key once they were done and Chloe had unlocked the door and grabbed the hem of Beca’s jacket, pulling her inside with her. She thought she’d made it home just in time. Something in her chest clenches in a familiar, but all new way when she thinks of Beca standing by the door, juggling her keys hand to hand. “I didn’t know she waited.”

“She asked me not to tell you. Embarrassed, poor baby.” Mamma chuckles. Then she tilts her head. “You know I think your father would have loved flustering her more than anything. Another thing you have in common. Oh, he used to get me so riled up, I tell you!” She launches into a story Chloe’s heard a million times before about her father showing up to their first date covered in scrapes and bruises and one, very quickly swelling. dog bite. And as her mother had freaked out and tried to force him into a car to go to the hospital, he’d smiled and handed her a bunch of flowers that he climbed the fence the dog was behind to get for her. “I was so worried he was going to lose his leg and he was so proud of those stupid flowers! And the more I freaked out, the more he just laughed and laughed.” But Chloe listens intently. It’s one of her favorites.

When she finishes the tale, they’re laughing, Chloe’s head tucked back under Mamma’s chin. And it feels like a moment to say something, anything, about this warm burn in her chest that she thinks she might have always had. But suddenly, it’s so obvious. Like a kitchen fire she didn’t notice until the curtains were alight and now that’s all she can focus on. “I think I like her a lot, Mamma.”

Mamma snorts, squeezing her tighter. “Well, I sure hope so. If you two break up, Eli might just leave us to go with her.”

Chloe laughs, rolling right off the bed and to her feet. Her nose doesn’t feel as stuffy anymore, but she’s ready for a shower and it’s cold in Mamma’s room. “He would not! He loves me!”

Mamma hums noncommittally, moving back to her quilt. Chloe tugs her braid once, sharply, like Gran used to do when Chloe wasn’t doing her homework. “Ow! You--!”

She dodges Mamma’s swing, dashing out of the room and down the hall.

“You’re grounded!” Mamma calls after her, laughing.

The door’s unlocked, so Chloe lets herself into the garage and locks it behind her. There’s music playing upstairs and she takes the stairs two at a time.

Beca’s stretched out in the desk chair, one arm hooked over the back and her other hand resting on her laptop keyboard as she stares at the screen. Work email, it looks like. Her hair is loose and still damp and she’s changed into a baggy t-shirt and sweatpants. And she looks just as good as she had in underarmor and swim trunks beside the firepit.

As Chloe hops up the last stair, Beca’s head drops back and she peers at Chloe upside down. “Hey, Beale. Was worried you got lost.”

“Mamma likes to talk,” she says, pulling at the knot of her coverup. Beca glances at her hands, then picks her head up, going back to work. “She likes you.”

“Duh, I’m the shit.” Beca closes the email, kicking off of Chloe’s desk to spin around, her heels dragging on the floor. She’s grinning and Chloe pauses as she drops her coverup in the laundry bin.

“Bec?” Her eyebrows tilt up in answer. “Can I touch you for a second?”

Now her brow furrows and she sits up, pulling both hands into her lap. Usually, when she’s overstimulated but trying to push through it, she does this small roll back with her left shoulder, as if settling a jacket on better. But her shoulders are still and she nods once, blinking.

So Chloe walks around the bed and bends down to press her lips to Beca’s cheek. She counts to three, then rocks back on her heels, still eye level.

Beca’s eyes are wide. “What was that for?”

Chloe shrugs. “For coming here with me. For being the best fake girlfriend ever.” Beca rolls her eyes. “For how you are with my family. It means a lot to me.”

She looks genuinely confused. “I--dude, I’m not doing anything, like, special or whatever. Your family’s cool.” She tilts her head, shoulders rocking forward. “I like them.”

“I know. They like you.” She hesitates only a second. “I like you.”

Beca’s lips curve in that confident smirk Chloe loves so much. “Trying to tell me something, Beale?”

And maybe she is. But not tonight. Even if she’s sure this feeling’s been there since day one, it’s new to Chloe and she needs some time to dwell on it. So she resorts to what she knows works for them. “Yes.” Beca’s eyes widen even more and Chloe leans in. “I…” She reaches over Beca to brace one hand on the back of the chair, tilting it a bit. In the same movement, she brings her knee up to rest in the space between Beca’s. “Really…” Beca rocks back with the chair, her hands pulling up to her chest like a kind of shield. “Want…” Her mouth pops open and Chloe grins, tilting her head and leaning closer. Then she shoves the chair back with her leg and it hits the wall. Beca gives an undignified squeak. “This song on my workout playlist. What is this?” Chloe turns and swoops down on Beca’s laptop, clicking the media player and not at all trying to hide the huge grin on her face.

“Dude!” Beca strikes out with her foot, catching the back of Chloe’s thigh.

“What’s wrong, Becs?”


Chloe grins, fully aware she’s still bent over the desk in just her bathing suit. “Did you want me to say something else?”

Beca’s ears flush red and she rolls her eyes, shoving past Chloe to collapse in the bed. “Shut up. No.”

Chloe laughs, leaving the laptop alone to move back to the bathroom. At the door, she spins around and says, “Did you wanna join me?”

“Get out!”

She starts laughing again as she shampoos her hair and something heavy hits the door, making her laugh harder.