Beca wakes up alone this time.
She spends a good ten minutes just laying there, eyes still closed, completely sure she’s alone because she can only hear her own breathing. No humming. No careful footsteps. None of Chloe’s usual morning sounds. And the bed feels cool. She’s a little disappointed, but a much bigger part of her is relieved.
Because, yeah, she’s definitely got a thing for Chloe. A very massive, very real thing. It feels like she’s been staring at a painting for two years now and just finally turned her head the right way to make out what it was a painting of. And it looks a lot like she wants to hold Chloe’s hand and kiss her when no one is looking. When it’s not to keep up their story or to get her ex to back off. And, god, does she feel stupid. Because it was all so obvious. Of course she likes Chloe. How could anyone not? Hell, she might even lo--
Yeah, nope. Not going there. Too early in the morning to get that real with herself.
When she realizes she’s not going to sleep anymore, she blindly reaches out for her phone on the desk. She nearly knocks it to the floor instead, but manages to catch it by the charger and pull it up. Opening one eye, she types in her passcode and finds her phone has blown up overnight.
She catches Chloe’s name in the slew of unknown numbers and emails from work. She clicks that first. “Going bridesmaid dress hunting with Bree! Be back this afternoon probs. Luv u :) ” There’s no less than fifteen heart emojis after that. Beca tries not to think too much about it. Then, “The girls wanted ur # so, sorry not sorry but my gf is totes popular. Also, u look so cute when ur asleep btw. ”.
Now all the unknown numbers make sense. She rolls her eyes, rereading the message once before responding simply, “Shut the fuck up, no I don’t ”, then switching to her messages from Stacie.
“Becs. ” Then, “Wake up.” and, “Chloe said I’m not allowed to knock or bust in there and wake u but we all know I’m bad at following instructions.” Then it’s just her name, over and over. Her last message says, “U have til 11, then I’m coming in with the cavalry.”
It’s 10:49. She quickly shoots back a text that she’s up and will be out soon.
Emily has also texted her. Jesus, she really is popular. “Stacie’s planning to break into the garage and drag you from bed. Just thought you should know.” She texts her a thank you.
Jesse has sent her some weird gif of a woman twerking on the side of the highway. She has no idea what it means, so she doesn’t respond.
Her unknown messages make her smile more than she will ever admit to.
“Hey, tiny Dj, it’s CR. Hurry up out here. These bitches are trying to get everyone to sing Cotton Eye Joe and I ain’t here for it. Help! ”
“Hi! It’s Ashley. Chloe gave me your num, so just saying hey! ”
“Hey, Beca, this is Jessica! Just wanted to say you were KILLER at the riff off yesterday! ” Helpfully, she’s added a picture of herself giving a thumbs up. She’s glad she was right about which one was which. That would have been awkward.
“Shortstack, do u think I could borrow $20? Every1 said no but thats just cuz they’r not real friends like us.” She scrolls down. “P.s. this is Fat Amy.”
She snorts, dropping her phone on Chloe’s pillow and stretching out. Fucking nerds.
By the time she rolls out of bed and throws on some jeans and a button up, Stacie has made good on her threat and is pounding on the door.
“Mitchell! Get your ass up!”
She unlocks the door and pulls it open. “Whatever you’re selling, I can’t afford it.”
“Ain’t that the damn truth,” Stacie purrs, hands on her hips. She jabs a finger over her shoulder and Beca leans further out the door to find Lew standing there. “He needs his truck back. You’ve got the keys.”
“Oh. Yeah. Gimme a sec.” She sprints upstairs and snatches the keys from the headboard, rushing back down.
“Thanks,” Lew says, taking them. “I’ve got a ton of errands today. You didn’t leave any contraband in my truck, did you?”
“Eh,” Beca scrunches up her nose, tilting her head. “You know. Just a little cocaine and stuff. No big.”
Lew laughs, swinging the keys around his finger. “No big. Right. You kids be good today. Tell Ladybug I said hi.”
“Will do!” Stacie calls after him, watching him leave. She pulls her bottom lip between her teeth.
“Dude.” Beca jabs her in the ribs. “That’s Chloe’s uncle. Quit it.”
Stacie shrugs, only looking away once he’s rounded the side of the house. “Calm down, I’m not going to do anything. The Beales are just genetically gifted. I can’t help but look at them. They’re just so pretty.” She tosses her hair as she rounds on Beca. “You missed breakfast. Mamma put you a plate in the fridge. It’s bigger than you, I swear.”
Every Southern woman Beca has ever met had done the same thing. Her lunch ladies at school often put double helpings on her plate and didn’t charge her. At friends' houses, their parents would cluck about how small she was and bring her snacks and make her plates to bring home, even if she hadn’t come for dinner. Hell, she’s pretty sure Ms. McKinney back home only brings food over because she’d seen Beca while they were moving in.
Not that Beca ever complained. She ate it all, but never grew.
“Yo, tiny Dj!” Cynthia Rose waves from the back porch. “Eli wants you!”
“Comin’!” Beca calls back. Cynthia Rose ducks into the house and she turns to find Stacie smiling widely at her. “What?”
“Nothing.” Stacie pulls out her phone and starts texting, barely glancing at her again. “Emily and I are about to run to the store for Mamma. You wanna come?”
“Sure. Let me go see what Eli wants first. Gotta grab my wallet.”
“Okay, see you inside, boss!”
Beca locks up the garage and deposits the key by the back door, then stops in the kitchen. Just as Stacie said, there’s a ceran-wrapped plate in the fridge with a pink post-it that says, “Beca” with a chain of hearts underlining it. God, like mother, like daughter, indeed. She wants to shovel the whole thing down, but decides to wait until later. She does, however, snatch the bacon from the plate and microwave them on a paper towel. She quickly eats as she follows the sound of the Bellas talking to the living room.
They look up as she enters, all chorusing hellos and good mornings. She awkwardly lifts a hand in greeting. Eli, who’s sitting by the fireplace, leaps up and bounds over, jumping Cynthia Rose’s legs that are up on the coffee table. “Beca!”
“What’s up, Slugger?”
He grins, obviously pleased at the nickname. “Do you wanna come ride four-wheelers with me?”
Before she can do something embarrassing, like freak out about how much she loves four-wheelers, Mamma Beale sweeps into the room, a laundry basket under her arm. “Is that what you wanted to ask her? Young man, you have homework to finish for tomorrow. And we’re all going over to the Swansons’ for dinner. There’s no time for riding today.”
Beca tries not to look as put out as she feels. It’s probably close to how put out Eli looks. “Sorry, dude. Tomorrow, maybe.”
He grins and bounces in place. She grabs his shoulders, stilling him. He twists under her hands and leans his back against her stomach, arms crossed over his chest. Automatically, she drops her hands to his shoulders again. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Stacie holding her phone up, obviously taking a picture. She ignores her, but lifts one of her middle fingers surreptitiously.
“The Swansons, like Jesse’s parents? They live around here?”
“About thirty minutes away,” Mamma Beale says, settling between Cynthia Rose and Ashley on one of the couches. She puts the laundry basket between her feet and the girls near enough to reach all start folding. “They moved up here when Jesse was in his third year at Barden, I believe. Wonderful lot.”
Beca remembers them pretty well. The first time Jesse had brought her home to hang out, she’d nearly had a heart attack at the size of his house. Rich barely covered what the Swansons were. He was basically a clone of his father. His mother had been a little...energetic. A bit pushy. But nice enough. She hadn’t seen them since senior year.
“Ready, Bec?” Stacie is rising from the couch, towering over everyone in the room. “Em?” She holds out a hand daintily, wiggling her fingers. Emily blinks at it for a second before taking it. Stacie pulls her up and out the door.
Beca squeezes Eli’s shoulders. “Be back soon. Do your homework, dude.”
He nods, eyes wide. “Yeah, okay!” He dashes off up the stairs, barely touching them in his haste.
Mamma Beale shakes her head, folding a t-shirt into her lap. “Next time I can’t get him to listen, I’m just going to call you!”
The ride to the store is...interesting, to say the least. They take Mamma Beale’s little blue Honda and Beca lets Emily ride shotgun, despite her protests. (“Dude, your knees are gonna be in the front seat anyways, just take it.”) Which means Beca has full view of everything from her spot in the middle of the backseat, even slumped down as she is.
The first time, she thinks it’s an accident, barely registers it herself. Stacie drives with her arm up on the center console, her hand resting lightly on the gear shift. Emily, adjusting, leans against the console for a second and her knuckles brush Stacie’s wrist. But then when Emily changes the radio station, Beca clearly sees Stacie reach up as she draws her hand back. Her forefinger slides along the inside of Emily’s pinky, hooking for the briefest moment before Emily folds her hands in her lap again. Stacie turns the movement into adjusting the AC but it’s too late. Beca is locked on now.
She’s so focused on watching them glance at each other and the way Stacie’s hand has drifted off the gear shift to hang between it and the passenger seat, just inches from Emily’s thigh, that she almost misses her name. “Huh? Me? What?”
Stacie laughs, glancing in the rearview mirror. “Well, first off, I can’t even see you in the rearview. Jeez, you really are tiny.” Beca kicks the back of her seat. Then very quickly starts brushing the dirt off of it, remembering this is Mamma Beale’s car. “Second, I asked if you’re doing okay.”
Beca frowns, making sure her footprint is completely gone. “What do you mean?”
Emily twists around, her right hand settling on her left arm on the center console. Beca watches her fingers brush Stacie’s forearm. “Since it’s just us, we thought we should check on you. About you and Chloe. Since, like, we all know.”
It feels like she’s just been sat down to take a test for a class she’s never been to. She rubs her suddenly sweaty palms against her jeans. “What about us?” Us . Huh.
Stopped at a red light, Stacie turns around too, lifting an eyebrow. “Beca. We’re all friends here.” She and Emily exchange a glance. “We just think you and Chloe have been...very convincing.”
What is this? An intervention? Beca crosses her arms, squeezing until the tightness in her chest is actually physical. “We’re supposed to be, aren’t we?”
Stacie turns back to the road. “Well, yeah. We just were talking--”
“I bet,” Beca mutters, narrowing her eyes at their hands, hovering close to each other.
“And we think…” Emily stops, glancing at Stacie.
As usual, Stacie plows on without a blink. “We think you guys might be a little too convincing. But we are totally about it.”
Beca squeezes herself tighter, shifting to get more comfortable. It doesn’t work. “What are you saying?”
Stacie sighs, like Beca’s making her car ride super weird. “Jesus, okay. Be difficult.” She pulls into the parking lot of the grocery store and parks. Then turns in her seat and fixes Beca with the same look she gives Beca and Chloe’s toaster when it malfunctions--like she can make it do what she wants just by staring very intently. She had also taken it apart once and bashed one of the pieces against the counter, before putting it back together. It did work better for a little while, but now Beca wishes she could compare this look to literally anything else. “Beca, do you like Chloe? As in like like, not just like?”
Her first instinct is to deny it. To turn it around on Stacie and ask about those little touches between her and Emily. Point out that what she and Chloe have going on is all for show, for Jesse’s dick cousin and no other reason. Throw herself bodily from the car, maybe.
But then Stacie slips her arm between the seats and wraps her fingers around Beca’s leg, just below her knee. Her fingers press into Beca’s calf and it’s the first time Beca can remember Stacie’s touch not kind of scaring her (because it tended to go from innocent to grope-y in seconds). And Emily--sweet, rambly, naive Emily--is smiling at her from the passenger seat. And it kinda feels okay, right here in this car.
So she shrugs. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
She regrets it immediately because Emily squeals and grabs Stacie’s arm, shaking her and the entire car.
“Okay, shut up. I’m leaving--”
“Oh, Becs, it’s okay.” Stacie stills Emily with a hand on her shoulder. She squeezes Beca’s leg harder. “It’s okay, you know.”
She knows she probably looks like a sulking child, but she can’t seem to stop sinking lower in her seat, her chin tucked to her chest. “Is it?”
Stacie nods, smiling. “Come on, Bec. Chloe totally likes you back. I’ve never seen her with anyone the way she is with you.”
“Yeah.” Her hand is warm and her thumb strokes Beca’s shin idly. “And I’ve known her for a long time. She hasn’t even dated anyone since you two met. Did you not notice?”
Beca thinks about that. Now that Stacie mentions it, she can’t recall Chloe even going out with anyone for a date, ever. She’s heard stories about Chloe’s ex boy and girlfriends, but never met one. But still. Chloe would have said something. She’s Chloe. “She would have said something, wouldn’t she?”
Something passes over Stacie’s face too quick for Beca to catch. “This might surprise you, but Chloe’s a little, uh, careful with her feelings these days. Since, well. Since Tom.”
That tightness in her chest suddenly expands and she feels her ribs push out, breath whistling in through her nose. “Why?”
Stacie and Emily glance at each other again.
“He wasn’t...very trusting,” Emily says quietly. It’s the same thing Stacie said at the airport. Everything inside her feels like it’s burning now.
“What does that mean?”
Stacie shakes her head. “It’s really not our story to tell. I’m not surprised Chloe hasn’t brought it up, though. But ask her, Beca. She’ll tell you.”
“But if she doesn’t like talking about it--”
“She’ll tell you.” Stacie pulls her hand back, turning off the car and popping her door open. “She might like to talk it out with you. You’re her best friend.” She stops, throwing a quick glare over her shoulder. “After me, of course.”
She and Emily climb out of the car, laughing. Beca takes a moment without them to breathe in for a seven count, out for six. She’s angry, ready to tear something apart with her bare hands. But she’s also skating the line of ecstatic. What if they’re right? What if Chloe does like her? What the hell is she going to do with this information? She half wishes she had thrown herself from the car earlier, because that would have been easier.
But this feels like something to think on later, so she quickly slides out, hurrying to catch up with her friends’ longer legs.
“Okay, Beca. You take the things on the list that are on the lower shelves and--”
“Fuck you.” Beca snatches one of the parts of the list that Stacie has helpfully torn in three. She grabs a cart and rolls away from Stacie’s stupid laughter.
Generally, she likes grocery shopping. She usually brings her headphones and completely zones out, taking her time to walk down every aisle. Rarely does she make a list. It’s really only when Chloe sends her out that she shops quickly or with anything specific in mind to pick up. When it’s just her, grocery trips can turn into an hour long affair, just her strolling idly from aisle to aisle, bobbing her head to whatever beat she has playing in her headphones.
But now she walks quicker, following the signs to grab everything on her part of the list. Mamma Beale had really given them a long ass list. It had taken up almost a whole notebook page. So she pushes her cart to the back corner to start, picking at the loose bits along the perforation on the page. She picks up strawberries and bananas, Honeycomb, Cran-Grape (because that’s all Eli will drink, the note specifies). It takes a while to locate the bread crumbs, because of course they’re on the top shelf. She glances around to make sure no one is watching, then climbs up on her cart and stretches up. Still too high. She drops back down, debating if she should climb the shelves. Probably not a good idea. An employee on another aisle had already glared at her for simply knocking the box of cereal into her cart as she passed, because another one had fallen to the floor. She’d picked it up, but he had watched her until she exited the aisle. He probably wouldn’t appreciate Beca pulling down a whole shelf of stuff. She could call Stacie? No, she’d never hear the end of it. Emily? No, she’d make that “Oh my god, you’re so cute” face that Beca hates so much.
“Need those?” someone says behind her.
She turns to find a man standing there, pointing up at the bread crumbs. When he smiles, she realizes where she knows his face. Jesse’s dick cousin. God, white boys all just look the same.
“Here.” He steps around her and reaches up. She tries not to immediately punch him in the ribs, which he helpfully leaves wide open. But Chloe probably wouldn’t appreciate bailing her out of jail. Her father surely never had. Jesse’s dick cousin pulls down a pack of bread crumbs, but doesn’t hand it over. “You know, I know you.”
“Yeah?” She shoves her hands in her pockets, glaring up at him.
“Yeah. Beca. Chloe’s friend, right?” He smiles in what she assumes he thinks is a charming way.
“Her girlfriend.” Beca smiles back, close-lipped. “You’re Jesse’s, uh, cousin.”
“Tom.” He extends the hand not holding the bread crumbs. “I used to date Chloe, I’m sure you know.”
She’s so incredibly proud of herself for shaking his hand instead of biting it. She pulls back quickly. “Ah, it sounds familiar. She might have mentioned it.”
He nods, shaking the bag of bread crumbs. His stupid, too handsome face twists into a smirk and he leans in. She leans back. “Come on. You’re not dating Chloe.”
Ice spreads through her limbs and she curls her hands into fists in her pockets. “Excuse me?”
His eyes drag down to her toes, then back up, slowly. It’s like an ice bath and she can feel herself breathing harder, but can’t seem to stop. Everything her old therapist ever said about managing her anger suddenly rushes back and she breathes in for seven. He’s still looking her up and down when she breathes out. “You’re not really her type. That kiss under the tree was hot and all, but come on.” He tilts his head, smiling like they’re friends and he’s trying to help her out. “Chloe’s one of those girls that needs a man to really be happy, you know?”
In for seven. Out for six. She twists her fists in her pocket and realizes she’s crushed the grocery list. “I see.” She can tell he didn’t expect her to speak. His eyebrows jump up and he leans back just a little. She knows his game. She knows jerks like him. And she knows damn well that Chloe doesn’t need anything or anyone. So she leans into the space he’s given her, narrowing her eyes. “Well, next time she’s kissing me , I’ll be sure to let her know you said so.” She yanks the bread crumbs from his hand and winks as his face turns red. “Trust me.”